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updated 1/4/2011 11:49:19 AM ET 2011-01-04T16:49:19

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Rep. Dan Lungren, Rep. Jim Moran, Mo‘Kelly, Stephen A. Smith, Mark Meckler

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Health warning.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

Kill that bill.  Kill the health bill.  That‘s number one on the Republican to-do list, not job creation.  Having attacked Democrats for being obsessed with health care and avoiding action on jobs, the Republicans are obsessed with health care, in their case killing it, and avoiding action on jobs.  The GOP is salivating over a House vote to undo the president‘s top achievement.  But with Democrats still controlling the Senate and President Obama still in office at the White House, it‘s just a symbolic vote.  To say that—well, we‘ll see.

For Democrats, however, it‘s a second chance to build their case for health care reform and turn what was a political liability, perhaps, into an asset.  Can they do it?  Can they let the voters know and let the Republicans hear them knowing it and what it means if they get rid of those preexisting concerns and let the insurance companies have their domination back?

And they‘re going to be opening with a prayer and ending with a probe.  Is this the outlook for Darrell Issa, the new top congressional investigator?  Just yesterday, he called this White House one of the most corrupt administrations ever.

Plus, the Tea Partiers are coming to town.  They‘re not that happy with the Republican establishment.  They say party leaders cut too many deals in the lame duck session and denied them top positions in the House.  Can those Tea Party zealots be accommodated?  Will they take down the GOP leadership?

Also, what‘s all this nose about President Obama‘s defense of the Philadelphia Eagles for hiring Michael Vick?  Is this really the hot story of the new year?  And if so, why?

“Let Me Finish” tonight with what Republicans need to do—to watch out for in this new year as they take control of the House.  They could be committing an old mistake.

Let‘s start with the Republican effort to repeal the health care bill.  Congressman Jim Moran‘s a Democrat from Virginia and Congressman Dan Lungren is a Republican from California.  Gentlemen, Holy Cross and Notre Dame!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s what I don‘t get, Congressman.  You guys are the—you guys are in charge now.  You‘re going to be back in charge now.  What lesson have you learned, being out of power?  Why did you get thrown out of power?

REP. DAN LUNGREN ®, CALIFORNIA:  Oh, because we forgot who we were and what we were supposed to represent.  We became a part of the problem, as opposed to someone who came to Washington to defeat the problem.  When I came back to Congress back in 2005, one of the things I noticed was that our leadership had gone astray.  We were competing, in essence, in the area of spending.  We had lost our way in terms of us being the party that was supposed to be fiscally responsible.  And I remember complaining to some of our leadership at the time, and one of the responses I got at that time was, Dan, you don‘t understand what it takes to be in the majority.

MATTHEWS:  So power corrupts?

LUNGREN:  Well, my response was we‘ve become what we came here to defeat.  So in a sense, we were here so long that, in fact, we became part of the problem.  And I think we‘ve learned that lesson.  I think our leadership is very, very specific about us being different not only from the Democrats as they ruled...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

LUNGREN:  ... over the last four years, but the way we ruled the previous (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Congressman Upton.  He said this the other day

he‘s the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee—on Fox on Sunday with Chris Wallace.  Let‘s listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. FRED UPTON ®, MICHIGAN:  As part of our pledge, we said that we would bring up a vote to repeal health care early.  That will happen before the president‘s State of the Union address.  We have 242 Republicans.  There will be a significant number of Democrats, I think, that will join us.  You will remember when that vote passed in the House last March, it only passed by seven votes.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST:  But you‘re not going to repeal it.  I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE:  ... in the House.  It‘s not going to happen in the Senate.

UPTON:  Just wait.  It passed—if you switched four votes from last March, that bill would have gone down.  I don‘t think we‘re going to be that far off from having the votes to actually override a veto.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he didn‘t answer the question, obviously, Mr. Moran.  The question was, How are you going to repeal if you don‘t have control of the Senate or the White House?  You‘re not going to get a two thirds vote in both house to override the president.

REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA:  I agreed with Dan on everything until he said, We‘re not going to repeat the—it‘s going to—I think this is the same old story.  It‘s a political scam on their base, Chris, because they know there‘s no way that health care‘s going to be repealed.  It won‘t get through the Senate, let alone be signed by President Obama.  So they...

MATTHEWS:  But that congressman just said so, didn‘t he, or did he? 

Or did he...

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  I heard what he said.  He dodged the question.

MATTHEWS:  He seemed to dodge—did he dodge the question?  Do you guys have the votes in the Senate to kill health care?

LUNGREN:  We‘ll find out.  I will tell you this.  We will vote specifically to repeal health care, and then we will go through the funding process.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

LUNGREN:  And you can defund this process.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

LUNGREN:  You can defund the program of implementation.  And that‘s what we‘re going to do.  We are not going to go back on the promises we made because the promises we made to the American public were, in fact...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s the promise I heard you making.  Tell me if I‘m wrong.  You‘re the Republican.  You ran for office.

LUNGREN:  Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t you fellows and women, when you ran this last couple of years, say you‘re going to repeal and replace?

LUNGREN:  Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happened to replace?

LUNGREN:  Oh, it‘s going to be done.

MATTHEWS:  When?  What is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re going to keep preexisting conditions concern, younger adults living at home.  You‘re going to deal with these kinds of issues?

LUNGREN:  We‘re going to deal with all...

MATTHEWS:  How do you do all those issues?

LUNGREN:  ... of the issues that are Legitimate issues, and we are going to repeal the idea that my friend Jim and his friends like around this place, which is that Washington knows best and the federal government has got to be directing these programs.

MATTHEWS:  Where are all these new insurers going to come from, though?  The problem—I‘m just going to ask one question.  I‘m going to get out of this.

LUNGREN:  I‘ll (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me the problem is you can‘t get people protection against preexisting conditions unless you put a lot of healthy people and young people into the system.  If you don‘t get them into the system, it‘s not going to work.  It‘s just old, sick people in the system, it‘s not an insurance system.  You say get rid of the individual mandate, right?  You get rid of that, well, what‘s left?

LUNGREN:  You know something you got to realize?  The U.S.  Constitution is an inconvenient truth, and the inconvenient truth is that an individual mandate does not fall within the realm of what the federal government is allowed, if you believe there are any limitations on the federal government.  If you don‘t believe that...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

LUNGREN:  ... then, in fact, you can have it.

MORAN:  Chris, if we do what Dan and his cohorts want to do—we‘ve got—both of us have healthy sons.  We‘re going to tell them, Don‘t sign up for insurance.  Wait until you‘re sick or you get in an accident because then you have to be given an insurance policy.  So why would you ever—it‘s like, you know, wait until you get into a car accident, then you sign up for car insurance!

MATTHEWS:  Yes, how do you...

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  It‘s a scam.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Hillary Clinton—Hillary Clinton in her campaign with President Obama argued his against position, which was against the individual mandate.  She said you got to get the young people involved in health insurance.  And they don‘t want to do it on their own, so you got to force them.  He said, No, don‘t force them.  Then he changed his mind.  Are you saying young, healthy people are going to insure themselves without being pushed to do it?

LUNGREN:  First of all, let me say we are not repealing health care. 

We‘re repealing the “Obama care” system.

MORAN:  Oh!

LUNGREN:  There are alternatives to that.  One of the ways you could do it is to show people that if, in fact, they don‘t have insurance and at the time that they do need care that the costs involved are to be borne by them, and in fact, they cannot discharge those in bankruptcy.  That is a tremendous incentive for people to do the right thing.  You have to try and do it in a constitutional way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You say you have a plan to replace.

LUNGREN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  You fellows and women were in power from 1994-‘95 all the way until 2007, right?

LUNGREN:  Republicans were.

MATTHEWS:  And all that time...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Where was your health care bill in all that time?  You keep saying...

LUNGREN:  We got a number of different things...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happened to them?

LUNGREN:  Well, one of the things that we passed and one of the things that started in the states—not enough states adopted it—was to have...

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  You didn‘t do—you were a congressman.

LUNGREN:  No, no, no, no, no!

MATTHEWS:  Republicans keep saying, We‘ve got an alternative.  And every time the Democrats lose, you guys don‘t do anything.

LUNGREN:  No, no.  One of the alternatives that we actually presented and that some states picked up on was to have specific pools for those people who, in fact, had preexisting conditions, and that does require some subsidy by the government.  And what we ought to do is try and determine...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But we don‘t have that system.

LUNGREN:  ... how you can make those—we do, several states do have those...

MATTHEWS:  What about the federal government doing something?

LUNGREN:  Well, I think we ought to have a mix of the federal government with respect to that.

MATTHEWS:  All right. OK.

LUNGREN:  But it ought to be done on that basis, rather than doing this mandate that is...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The Republicans—I was listening to Fox this morning on the radio...

LUNGREN:  We have alternatives...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... anybody that says they don‘t like the health care—here‘s a number.  CNN just put this poll out.  Right down the line, 43 percent say they liked the president‘s bill and 13 percent say it‘s not liberal enough.  In other words, you add that up, it‘s 56.  So why do you guys keep saying the bill‘s unpopular?

LUNGREN:  Because if you will look at virtually every poll—I‘m not sure what the poll you‘re talking about...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s CNN.

LUNGREN:  ... about 61 percent...

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s 56.

LUNGREN:  Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.  Sixty-some percent of the people are against the program.  It does not serve the needs of...

MATTHEWS:  But some of them want more.

LUNGREN:  ... the people...

MATTHEWS:  Some of them are against it because it‘s not liberal enough.

LUNGREN:  Of course, some want more.  But the vast...

MORAN:  Oh!

LUNGREN:  No, no!  The largest number of people reject it because it‘s too much of the federal government...

MATTHEWS:  Well, the CNN poll says 56 percent say...

LUNGREN:  No, no.  Come on.

MATTHEWS:  ... it didn‘t go far enough or it‘s good as it is.

LUNGREN:  Look—look, the idea is...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you...

(CROSSTALK)

LUNGREN:  Maybe I‘m biased on this...

MATTHEWS:  Why do you ignore the poll?

LUNGREN:  ... because my dad was a doctor and...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you ignore that poll?

LUNGREN:  Wait a second.  The whole time that I grew up, the idea was that the doctor-patient relationship was sacrosanct.  That‘s what people don‘t like...

MATTHEWS:  Suppose you don‘t have a doctor?

LUNGREN:  ... the federal government involved...

MATTHEWS:  This is for people that don‘t have a doctor.

LUNGREN:  There are ways of doing that that don‘t require us to up-turn (ph) the whole system!

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  ... get a word in?

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go.  Your turn, Mr. Moran.

MORAN:  Thanks.  Dan knows that this is about their base.  It‘s about appealing to their base.  That‘s the poll that they‘re looking at.  The fact is, this goes counter to what they‘ve promised.  For one, when it‘s fully implemented, bringing 40 million people onto the rolls, it‘s going to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the health professions.  This kills that potential for job-making.  It will save a trillion dollars over the long term.  We want—they say we want to be number one.  We‘re 37th in the quality, the affordability and the accessibility of health care.

LUNGREN:  That is just not true!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I just got the word.  You‘re going to vote January 12th

You‘re going to vote to destroy health care.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re going to vote against it, but the bill‘s going to be...

LUNGREN:  We‘re not voting against health care.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the bill‘s going to be...

LUNGREN:  I‘m voting against...

MATTHEWS:  ... kill the bill.

LUNGREN:  ... “Obama care”!  That‘s the problem.  You folks think there‘s only one solution...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... because you keep talking about this Republican plan that never actually exists.

LUNGREN:  We have...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You were in from ‘94 to 2006.  Where‘s the health care bill that you guys passed?

LUNGREN:  Let me give you one fact.  We had...

MATTHEWS:  You had a president.

LUNGREN:  We had...

MATTHEWS:  You had both houses and the president, but no health care bill.

LUNGREN:  Let me tell you...

MATTHEWS:  Now you‘re dumping on the Democrats‘ health care bill.

LUNGREN:  We had 80 -- eight-zero—amendments to “Obama care” that were presented to the Rules Committee with our alternatives.  You know how many they allowed us to have, present on the floor?  Zero.  We had 80 separate alternatives to the parts of the “Obama care.”  We were not even allowed to debate it on the floor.  We do have alternatives!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I thought every Republican voted against health care.

LUNGREN:  You keep equating health care with “Obama care.”

MATTHEWS:  Because there‘s only one bill!

LUNGREN:  Yes, because we weren‘t allowed to bring any bill to the floor.

MATTHEWS:  Just because all you fellows and women had said you were going to vote against the bill anyway.  Why have amendments if you‘re going to vote against the bill anyway?

LUNGREN:  We weren‘t allowed to—we weren‘t allowed to have one bill passed.

MORAN:  Can I stand up for air (ph) for a moment here?

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  Let‘s use the number 80 that he referred to.  We had 80 bipartisan hearings.  We made this bill available for a month to consider before we brought it to the floor.  They‘re going to bring it right to the floor.  This party supposedly of transparency and open government—right to the floor for a vote...

MATTHEWS:  January 12th, without hearings.

MORAN:  ... without any hearings.

LUNGREN:  Oh, no.  The hearings...

(CROSSTALK)

LUNGREN:  ... under “Obama care”?  You just told...

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  ... not considering the ramifications, the adverse consequences of...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think...

MORAN:  ... of repealing it, and it‘s a whole...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... this bill before he even gives the State of the Union. 

I mean, isn‘t this sort of embarrassing him just on purpose?

LUNGREN:  We‘re not embarrassing him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he gives the State of the Union...

LUNGREN:  We are...

MATTHEWS:  ... at the end of the month.

LUNGREN:  ... a co-equal branch of government.

MATTHEWS:  No, but...

LUNGREN:  Did you ever figure that out?  We don‘t have to wait for the president to tell us what to do.  In fact, the first president of the United States, George Washington, just sent his State of the Union up.  There‘s no requirement that we‘re supposed to sit there like students waiting for the teacher to tell us what to do.

We are going to act right away.  That‘s what we‘ve told the American people we‘re going to do.  What is surprising to Jim and the Democrats is we‘re actually going to do what we said we were going to do...

MORAN:  Without hearings!

LUNGREN:  ... before the election.

MORAN:  Without even showing us the bill...

LUNGREN:  You folks...

MORAN:  ... you‘re going to bring it right to the floor!

(CROSSTALK)

LUNGREN:  You know all about your bill.

MORAN:  On a bill that passed.  You‘re talking about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You raised (ph) a very successful campaign that led to very good victories in November by saying the president was off base.  He was focusing on health care and not on economic.

LUNGREN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  What are you going to do to create jobs?

LUNGREN:  Oh, we‘re...

MATTHEWS:  Where‘s your big bill?  What‘s the big one?

LUNGREN:  Well, there are going to be a number of bills, but one of the things I would say is we‘re to try and get jobs created in the private sector.  That‘s what this is...

MATTHEWS:  How do you do that?

LUNGREN:  How do you do that?  You allow the private sector to have some oxygen.  And it‘s called having some responsible regulatory programs and it‘s called having some responsible tax programs and it‘s called giving some certainty in the tax code and not having this massive...

MATTHEWS:  But you had all this...

LUNGREN:  ... increase in...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All that existed.  You had a Republican president, Republican policies leading into the big crash that led us to where we are now.

LUNGREN:  We had...

MATTHEWS:  You had all the...

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  ... controlled the White House.  You even control the Supreme Court.

LUNGREN:  Have you guys forgotten what you Democrats said at the time? 

We didn‘t have to worry about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

MATTHEWS:  OK...

LUNGREN:  When there were only 38 of us that voted to...

(CROSSTALK)

LUNGREN:  Come on!

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right on that one.  I want to see that investigation of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

LUNGREN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re dead right.  You‘ve hit the bull‘s-eye.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to know how that contributed to the problem.

LUNGREN:  It was the precipitating factor...

MATTHEWS:  I want to find that out.

LUNGREN:  ... not the only factor.  It was the precipitating factor.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve done it.  You‘ve done it.  Notre Dame...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Notre Dame 6.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Congressman Dan Lungren.  And to Congressman Jim Moran, thank you.  Happy new year, gentlemen.  And congratulations on being reelected.

Coming up: Republican congressman Darrell Issa says that the Obama administration is one of the most corrupt in history.  Wow!  And the new oversight committee chair—that‘s him—is planning to investigate everything about WikiLeaks to Fannie Mae to everything and corruption in Afghanistan.  Well, that‘s a happy hunting ground over there.  What‘s his goal?  Is it better government or just better for Republicans?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Here‘s a story close to home.  Police in Delaware say a man who served in the administrations of both President Reagan and the first President Bush and fought to get the Vietnam veterans memorial built was murdered.  John Wheeler, seen here on HARDBALL back in 2005, was found dead in a Delaware landfill this Friday, and his death has been ruled a homicide.  Wheeler had a long career of military-related service here in Washington.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  California congressman Darrell Issa will emerge as one of President Obama‘s chief antagonists when he chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  Issa already plans to investigate the White House‘s strategy for combatting the leaked State Department cables, as well as how government regulation has affected job creation.

For an indication of where he‘s headed, check out how he characterized this president on Rush Limbaugh back in October, and then what he said on Sunday.  Let‘s listen to both.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA ®, CALIFORNIA:  It‘s going to be acrimonious.  There‘s no question.  He has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISSA:  In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there—when you hand out a trillion dollars in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, a trillion dollars nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s an example of never talking on television to please the person who‘s interviewing you.  Don‘t talk to Rush like you want to be a dittohead.

So how aggressive will Darrell Issa get, and how worried should the White House be?  Eugene Robinson‘s, of course, a “Washington Post” columnist and MSNBC political analyst.  And Jonathan Martin‘s senior political writer at Politico.

Gentlemen, Gene, it seems to me that this guy‘s the guy to watch.  He‘s the Dick Nixon—and I don‘t mean that disparagingly, the Dick Nixon of 1947 back again, open the hall (ph) every day with a prayer, end it with a probe.  That‘s where the action‘s going to be.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what they used to say back in those days.

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: 

Something about that image.  I don‘t know, Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s constant hearings.  A friend of mine used to say it was a stop and shop.  You could go to any hearing on the Hill, and there was an anti-communist (INAUDIBLE) whether it was HUAC or Ed and Labor.  And by the way, there were a few communists, enough to keep them going for a while.

ROBINSON:  Yes, of course.  So how is he going to make this show interesting?  I mean, you know, it‘s not the most corrupt administration ever.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You want to play defense tonight, Gene?

ROBINSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  All right, play defense.  Fannie Mae.  Wouldn‘t you like to get in there and see all those top salaries and how (INAUDIBLE) people actually did with their...

ROBINSON:  Sure, sure, sure...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... with the whole meltdown of our financial industry?

ROBINSON:  Well, that would be interesting.

MATTHEWS:  That would be fun.

ROBINSON:  You can‘t pin the whole—you know, there was...

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t?

ROBINSON:  ... a little firm called Lehman Brothers that was also...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... but you ant to go after the government agencies because they‘re...

ROBINSON:  ... or a firm called AIG...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you want to go after the government agencies because they‘re getting paid by the government.  Jon, you try.  You want to play defense on Fannie Mae?

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM:  How much are they (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  No, do you want to play defense against Darrell Issa?

MARTIN:  Not particularly.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, OK.

MARTIN:  How much of a bulldog is he going to be, though?  Note the contrast between those two clips right there.  I mean, on CNN yesterday, he was trying to be statesmanlike, clearly was trying walk back what he had said on the Limbaugh...

MATTHEWS:  Why did he pander to...

MARTIN:  He‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  Why did he pander to Limbaugh?

MARTIN:  Oh, I think he was among friends and probably got a little loose and (INAUDIBLE)  But look, he wants to be seen less of a bomb thrower and more of someone who‘s going to do...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MARTIN:  ... and do oversight.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Bomb-thrower—less of a bomb-thrower. 

Now I‘m going to take your side of this and get the anti side.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ACORN, is that a big issue, or is that just a really good, fat target for the Republicans? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They can show the hooker thing again.  You can show that scene again.

MARTIN:  Of course.  Of course.  But that‘s not on his list, though, of these first sort of targets that he‘s going out and—he‘s trying to start off on substance, talking about WikiLeaks, talking about Fannie Mae, because he doesn‘t want this rap as the next Dan Burton, basically. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Shooting cantaloupes. 

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

MARTIN:  Or pumpkins, whatever it was.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  The government spends a lot of money.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Right.  His bill of particulars is, well, with all this money, most of which approved by Bush...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you the premise.  Let me give you the premise why I think issues like—I think that John Boehner‘s a smart guy.  He‘s opening with a mass on Wednesday morning, which I think is right, and he‘s opening with by showing no big—it‘s not going to be like Nancy Pelosi.  It‘s not going to be gowns.  And Tony Bennett is not going to be singing and all.

I think the American public can‘t understand trillions.  They can‘t understand billions.  They can‘t understand millions.  They can understand thousands in many cases.  And when they see wasting money on earmarks, on big extravaganzas, or wasting government that cuts into our lives, is going after—if he can catch the Democrats wasting our money, even in the thousands or tens of thousands, the public says, I get it, stop it. 

MARTIN:  And that‘s his whole pitch. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think that works more than this trillion-dollar stuff.

MARTIN:  And that‘s also why ACORN‘s not on that list, because he wants to try and start out with substance. 

The question is though as time goes along here and as we get closer to the political season, closer to 2012, is he going to be sort of dragged or at least persuaded by the Republican base, by the Limbaughs of the world, to sort of go after...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, won‘t they be getting up every morning and hoping, if you‘re a Rush, or you‘re a Sean Hannity or me, you are going to be checking what Issa got the night before for what—the day of.  I will be looking to what he did today every day he does it to see if there‘s anything exciting there. 

MARTIN:  That‘s the temptation is that he gets more media attention and more...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  ... on TV if he goes after fatter targets.  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Which means you have to deliver, though.  You have to keep delivering.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, wouldn‘t you like to be a young guy on that staff whose job it is to catch real pay dirt, finding real cases where government wasted your money?  I would like to be that.  That‘s a great job. 

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  Or White House staff malfeasance.  That‘s even sexier than talking about Fannie Mae.

MATTHEWS:  Well, where would you go if you were him you were smart? 

And you are smart? 

MARTIN:  Do I want to do substance or politics?

MATTHEWS:  If you were completely non-politics.  You wanted to find where government could be improved because it‘s being blown apart right now, wasted money. 

MARTIN:  Sure.  Contracts in Afghanistan. 

MATTHEWS:  Contracts in Afghanistan.  Blackwater, Halliburton.

MARTIN:  Substance.  Substance.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And that money gets blown away because of what?  They‘re just too money being thrown away over there? 

MARTIN:  It‘s the volume of money, sure.  But if you want to do politics and get good cable hits, good hits online, what do you do?  White House staff playing politics, intervening in primaries.  That‘s what we all thought he was going to be doing.  But it‘s interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me.  He originally started off by saying...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  Sestak.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Sestak and whether President—somebody—President Clinton or somebody on the phone may have relayed a message about something or other. 

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  He‘s backing off that. 

MATTHEWS:  He said he wasn‘t offered a job?

MARTIN:  He was saying yesterday, that, though there was this huge corruption scandal, he was not going to pursue that.  They‘re trying to start out here doing substantive policy.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, Issa backed off that. 

MARTIN:  Issa did yesterday.  So the fact that he‘s not going after the White House folks on the Sestak-Specter issue to me is very, very telling. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What blew him back? 

MARTIN:  I think wanting to be perceived at least initially as somebody that is more interested in doing oversight than politics. 

ROBINSON:  Yes.  No, that would be pure politics.  That would be a Republican going after the Democrats in a partisan way. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me give you an advantage on the guy.  I always say to kids, you only have to find one gold mine to be a gold miner.  You can go out there with a peg for years and years.  But if you catch one, you‘re in.

All right?  If he goes out there and he digs and digs and digs and he finally finds his Alger Hiss, he finds somebody who did something really bad, then he becomes the guy that caught that person.  Doesn‘t he get to be Dick Nixon?  He gets put on the ticket or he gets to run for senator, governor?  Isn‘t there a real win out there for him if he does find somebody doing something really bad? 

MARTIN:  Of course.  And that‘s the temptation, that and the fact that he gets more press if you do the sexier political stuff.  And that‘s why I think he‘s going to be awfully tempted here to drop Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Afghanistan... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Remember Harry Truman? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Harry Truman got on the ticket in ‘44 because he was investigating waste in the military, like you‘re talking about.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  It‘s got to be really sexy.  It‘s got to be really good, if he really expects to be... 

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  And what sells now...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What‘s the White House afraid of now, do you figure?  What is their interstices worry right now?  If you‘re Axe or somebody over there, Gibbs or the president, or Joe Biden, who‘s aware of what‘s going on, are you worried, where is this guy going?  Here‘s what happened.

The House put, what‘s his name, Cummings?  What‘s his first name?

ROBINSON:  Elijah.

MARTIN:  Elijah, Elijah Cummings.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A smart guy.  He‘s very good on television.  They put him on that case as the ranking member.  Why?  They know this guy, he‘s going to be dangerous.

ROBINSON:  Well, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  He‘s a smart guy.  He‘s a tough guy.  If I‘m the White House, I‘m thinking that Eric Holder might have a tough time in the next couple of years.  And I‘m concerned about Issa summoning him to the Hill to ask about New Black Panther Party, this nonexistent threat? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How does a ranking Democrat...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How does having a top Democrat on that committee stop him from doing his worst? 

MARTIN:  Well, you can play interference, at least to a certain—at least better than the previous ranking member could have there.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  Towns from Brooklyn, exactly.  So, I think Cummings is more able.  And I think....

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Better on the tube.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  ... he could actually play tougher defense and try to portray...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we want them both on.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I will tell you, my idea would be a debate with Elijah Cummings and Darrell Issa every night on this show about where the corruption is.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, when you say the most corrupt government in history, you are pandering to Rush Limbaugh.  That‘s not true.  This president‘s clean.  You may disagree with his ideology.  I haven‘t heard anybody saying he‘s corrupt.  Throwing that word around just debases...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  Which is why...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  ... he changed that from president to administration. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  And he qualified the administration by saying, well, what I meant was, that‘s a lot of money. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I would call that chicken salad, wouldn‘t you?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Martin and Eugene Robinson.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  Is that a Philly term, Chris, chicken salad?

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a nice way of saying it.

Up next:  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a rising star in the Republican circles, defends his decision to stay in Disney World during the massive snowstorm.  Wait until you hear his defense.  It‘s pretty—pretty tough guy.  Check out the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

He said:  I wouldn‘t be driving one of those plows.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL and time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up: missing in action.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got flak last week, of course, for leaving town just before a major snowstorm walloped his state.  He was on a family vacation to Disney World.  And as the world and New Jersey all knows by now, he got back this Friday.

Christie said he has no regrets about it—quote—“I wouldn‘t change the decision even if I could do it right now.”

Well, the Republican star may have also been referring to Newark Mayor

Cory Booker, who got a lot of positive reviews for getting there, shovel in

hand, to help out stranded constituents, when Christie added this—quote

“I would have been doing the same thing here in New Jersey as I was there in Florida.  I would not have been out driving a plow.  OK?  I would have been in a room someplace on a telephone saying, what is going on?  What do you need?”

Well, was that a dig against Correctly Booker?  Anyway, they‘re allies.  There will be more on this.  There‘s going to be more snow coming this winter.  Let‘s watch and see how the governor handles the next big dump. 

Next, who‘s leading the 2012 pack?  Well, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham yesterday named his pick while curbing his enthusiasm. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Do you have a candidate yet for—a Republican candidate in 2012? 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  Yes, the most electable conservative. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Who do you think—

GRAHAM:  Whoever that is.

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Who is the leading contender in your mind? 

GRAHAM:  Probably Romney.  Mitt Romney has his problems as a candidate, but so does everyone else. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, is that enthusiasm? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It shows you that Lindsey has got his head screwed on, as usual, but, God, not exactly thrilled by the prospect of Mitt Romney. 

Anyway, on the flip side, you have got President—or Pennsylvania senator-elect Pat Toomey.  Here he is with his own 2012 prediction. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

GREGORY:  Do you really think a Sarah Palin, if she were the nominee, could carry a state like Pennsylvania? 

PAT TOOMEY ®, PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR-ELECT:  Well, I think it is possible.  I think it‘s—you know, we went into this election cycle with a 1.2 million voter registration deficit and with a Republican brand that was in a really bad way, and I still won this election. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why they‘re all taking in the backroom about maybe Jeb Bush.  I think it‘s possible.

Toomey got in under the wire himself, just two-points win in this past November in a very bad year for Democrats and a great year for Republicans.  I think he‘s being very kind to Mrs. Palin—or Ms. Palin—by saying she has a shot in Pennsylvania.  In the best year in history, maybe.

Speaking of the next governor, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Catch this.  At today‘s Republican National Committee debate, all five candidates for chairman of the party were asked weather Sarah Palin can win a general election for president in this country.  And their verdict?  All five gave the dutiful answer, like good ditto heads, yes. 

The next time, someone should give them a dose of sodium pentathol with the question, or maybe—well, they may have even thrown in a Breathalyzer this time.  I can‘t believe these five serious people said she could be elected president of the United States—tonight‘s “Big Number,” five for five.

Up next:  Did President Obama take an unnecessary risk politically when he praised the Philadelphia Eagles to their owner, when he gave support to troubled quarterback Michael Vick in getting his second chance there?  We will see.  It‘s become a hot debate. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SIMON HOBBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Simon Hobbs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks gaining late in the session, slightly off where we were earlier, but still a solid rally to kick off the new year, the Dow Jones industrial average soaring 93 points, the S&P up 14, and the Nasdaq surging 38.

The first trading day of the year is when a lot of investment companies adjust their ratings, so we saw investment movement in both directions today based on that. Apple boosted by an upgrade from Oppenheimer and breaking the $300 billion market cap milestone.  It‘s still the second most valuable company in the world behind ExxonMobil.

Take a look at some of the other big-name companies boosted by upgrades today.  Rare earth metals producer Molycorp soaring 15 percent on an upgrade from Dahlman Rose.  Retailers faring not as well after downgrades for Ann Taylor, Coach, Aeropostale, and Tiffany‘s. 

Finally, Bank of America leading financials higher after agreeing to pay $3 billion to settle claims about toxic mortgages sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS:  Now, I‘m a Christian.  I have made mistakes myself.  I believe fervently in second chances.

But Michael Vick killed dogs.  And he did in a heartless and cruel way.  And I think, personally, he should have been executed for that.  He wasn‘t.  But the idea that the president of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs, kind of behind the pale. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a bit of hyperbole from my friend Tucker Carlson.  He told me this afternoon he is against capital punishment for any reason. 

Anyway, that was him on FOX last week commenting on the Michael Vick story, again with some hyperbole, after President Obama‘s phone call with the Philadelphia Eagles owner, Jeff Lurie, last week.  Lurie said Obama—quote—“praised the decision” to give Michael a second chance. 

So, was the president right to weigh in on this issue as such as he did, and does Vick deserve to be back in the NFL?  These are bigger questions than we‘re used to asking on this show.

Joining me now is Stephen A. Smith, a friend of ours, national syndicated radio host, and columnist for “Philly Sports Daily,” and Mo‘Kelly, a newcomer to the show who writes for The Huffington Post. 

Gentlemen, I want to start with Stephen, since I have known you before.

This case, I thought it was to bed.  I thought this guy is doing well.  He‘s 10-6.  When he‘s been quarterbacking, they‘re 8-3.  The Eagles like to win.  Knowing my Philadelphia fans, they‘re rather indiscriminate.  They just players that can play.  They can go for a guy like Allen Iverson, with all his entourage and everything else.  They love him as long as he‘s winning for the Sixers.  They got no problem with Vick, being this scrambling, incredible, athletic quarterback.

Your view of the right or wrongness of this debate?

STEPHEN A. SMITH, SPORTS COLUMNIST:  Well, I don‘t think there should be a debate at all.

I personally think that it is perfectly within the president‘s, President Obama‘s purview to speak on the issue.  And I definitely think that you had a lot of animal rights activists out there who have been against Michael Vick and who are now going to continue to be against Michael Vick, a lot of animal lovers, Chris, who are against him as well.

But he has been a model citizen and clearly the voice against animal cruelty since he‘s been released from a federal penitentiary after staying in Leavenworth for 18 months.  So, I think there‘s any question that there shouldn‘t be a debate at all.  He‘s been a model citizen.  He‘s been the voice that the Humane Society has wanted him to be.  And I don‘t think anybody can even debate that.

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother you that there‘s evidence that he was sadistic with animals?  He didn‘t just put them to death.  He was doing—like hanging them, electrocuting them, perhaps for his own weird joy.  Does it bother you that someone like who gets a kick out of that kind of torturing of an animal gets to be a superstar?  Does that bother you?

SMITH:  Well, it bothered you if they didn‘t pay the price for it. 

But when you serve 18 months in a federal penitentiary, and you‘re confined, and you lose more than $100 million, you have paid your debt to society.  Every time I turn around, I hear everybody talking about how America is the land of second chances.  And this is somebody who definitely has appeared contrite. 

He‘s going, he‘s giving speeches.  Chris, I have talked to him on numerous occasions.  He definitely appears contrite.  He goes of his own volition and speaks to a lot of different groups, a lot of kids about animal cruelty, and, more importantly, get into specifics, not just about his actions and how heinous they were, but how ridiculous he was as an individual who wasted away the talents that were given to him throughout his career in Atlanta with the Falcons. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go to Mo‘Kelly on this.

Your view?

MO‘KELLY, THE HUFFINGTON POST:  Well, it comes to this.

Michael Vick deserved a second chance.  No one was actually questioning whether he deserved a second chance in the general community. 

But the larger issue is whether Michael Vick is the correct person to begin

the discussion about ex-felons who are reintegrating themselves into the

community

President Obama, I need him to be presidential.  It‘s not a question of whether it‘s his purview to make a comment.  But it‘s a matter of whether he‘s being presidential enough to expand the conversation and using Michael Vick to talk about ex-felons is the wrong starting point.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  OK.  Let‘s take—I know what you‘re talking about, which is the implication of this.  And I—we had Michelle Bernard on last week who said the reason the president brought this topic up when he was talking to the Jeff Lurie, the owner of the Eagles on another matter, he brought up in that what he thought was a conversation, one-on-one, because he does think there‘s a question of people who have spent time for crimes they committed, and doing so, but they shouldn‘t have their lives ruined forever.  It‘s not good for society.

Here‘s what the White House did to expand that point, I want you to get back on this.  Here‘s what the White House said about it.  “The president did place a call to Mr. Lurie to discuss plans for the use of an alternative energy at Lincoln Financial Field.  He, of course, condemns the crimes that Michael Vick was convicted of but, as he‘s said previously, he does think that individuals who have paid for their crimes should have an opportunity to contribute to society again.”

Look, we‘ve got 2.3 million people, gentlemen.  You‘re both more aware of this than I am.  You cover the streets.  You cover the city.  You cover life more than I do.  We cover politics.

This is 2.3 million people who committed bad crimes.  They wouldn‘t be in the penitentiary if they hadn‘t been convicted.  They‘re in there and here‘s the president reaching perhaps accidentally to a larger point.  There has to be a second chance of (INAUDIBLE) society.

STEPHEN A. SMITH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts.  Steve, you want to get you on this.  Go ahead.

SMITH:  First of all, I feel emphatic about that.  The reality is that, you know, this is a land of second chances.  And you got to ask yourself, you have to reach to a point where you‘re asking yourself a question, what on earth are we going to do?  Certainly, you look at a guy like Tucker Carlson and you know, speaking beyond—talking about Michael Vick should be executed.  That‘s absolutely ridiculous.

But at the same time, if you‘re not going to execute individuals and ultimately, they‘re going to be let go from prison, then they need to make a contribution to society.  Clearly, Michael Vick has done just that.  Not just because he‘s performed admirably on the football field.  And it‘s got the Philadelphia Eagles by a way of position, Chris, as far as I‘m concerned, to legitimately compete for a Super Bowl championship.  But off the field, he has been a model of redemption.  He‘s conducting himself on that fashion.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SMITH:  You look at the president of the United States

MATTHEWS:  OK.  He‘s a model, that‘s the issue.

SMITH:  Speaking to that.

MATTHEWS:  Mo, you say he‘s not a model.  Go ahead.  Why?

MO‘KELLY:  He‘s a model citizen, but he‘s a person who came out of prison with multi-million dollar contracts on the table from both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles.

SMITH:  That‘s not true.  That‘s not true.

MO‘KELLY:  According to Len Pasquarelli of ESPN, there was a $2.3 million two-year contract on the table from the Cincinnati Bengals prior to the Philadelphia Eagles.

SMITH:  But he has more millions in debt.  The of the matter is you‘re talking about the millions—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They put him out there in starting position, maybe that‘s a start.  And then the fact that Reid—Andy Reid put him out there on the field as his number one quarterback, I know there‘s some accident to this, some serendipity.  But there is a real statement here.

Here‘s a guy who is going to be the star of the year maybe.  I mean, he and Brady, of course, will compete for the titles.  But he is going to be the star.  I have never seen an athletic quarterback before, OK?

MO‘KELLY:  Chris, he‘s on his way.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not a sports junkie like you guys, but I have to tell you something.  When I saw, he‘s not scrambling.  That‘s running.  That‘s athleticism out there for the quarterback.  He doesn‘t need the pocket.

This guy is something out there to watch.  If he can pull off what he did against the Giants, against the Skins and he does something of that in the playoffs, we‘re going to see the best football—

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  But here‘s the problem.  It‘s like people are hating on him because of his athletic prowess.  Well, excuse me, when you‘re let back out back into society—

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  What are you into here?  They‘re hating him because of his athletic prowess?

SMITH:  No, no.  What I‘m saying is I‘m not going there.  What I‘m saying is that you have a lot of people that are looking at it.  They always bring up money.  Oh, he‘s got the opportunity to make this amount of dollars, everybody that they‘ll get.

Well, guess what?  Everybody can‘t play like Michael Vick.  There‘s a whole bunch of scrubs running out here.  It‘s a whole bunch of wannabes in this society.  The man can play some football.  He‘s doing what he‘s supposed to do.

MATTHEWS:  In our crowd, we call it begrudgers.  I know what a begrudger.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Begrudgers.  Let me ask you this, gentlemen, nobody gets any confusion out there—when a guy or woman, mostly guys, serve terms for violent crimes, in this case, violence against animals, which we all agree—and I despised the idea of cruelty of animals here—the idea that this happened, the fact that he served in couple of years basically in federal prison, which is no fun.  And the people he got to deal with—and I don‘t know what it was like for him.  And maybe being a jock was a little better being a star.  But I don‘t think it was that great—the fact he had to spend that time in federal prison, served his time legally out—don‘t we want a role out there for people who are watching this stuff on television?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, we do.

MATTHEWS:  Some guy sitting in a prison education camp, learning English, learning arithmetic, learning some basics or engineer so he can come out and do something in society, mechanical drawing or something—doesn‘t he need a role model to inspire him to get out there and try again?

(CROSSTALK)

MO‘KELLY:  Chris, most of these felons are not going to have the opportunities of Michael Vick.  We celebrate his athleticism.  That‘s not the issue here.  President Obama forfeited the opportunity to expand his discussion for the fullness of ex-convicts coming back into the community.

(CROSSTALK)

MO‘KELLY:  He had a chance to talk more about a second chance act of 2007 and he did not.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me tell you something.  This came up in a conversation with Jeff Lurie.  Jeff Lurie put the story out.  Obama didn‘t issue some press release on this thing or statement.  But we‘re all talking about it.  May be one of those cases where we all benefit to the fact he did say something he wasn‘t intending us talk about.

But, Stephen, it‘s great to have you on.  Happy New Year, guys. 

Mo‘Kelly, we‘ll have you back on.  Thanks for coming on.  I love the—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You guys know what you‘re talking about.  Go Eagles! 

Eagles, pronounce it right.  It‘s not Eagles.  It‘s Eagles.

Up next: a rift is emerging within the Republican Party between the Tea Partiers and the establishment, or is it?  Maybe the liberals just want to see the fight.  The progressives want to see them fighting on the right.

Can the Republicans keep their new members in line?  Do they want to keep them in line?  How do you keep the engine room from taking over, the running of the ship?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, add another name to the list of possible Republican candidates to run for president in 2012.

“Newsweek” magazine says U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, is not ruling out to a run for president.  He looks good.  He quoted an unidentified source saying Huntsman discussed the prospects of a run with former political advisers while in the U.S. for the Christmas holiday.  Huntsman was governor of Utah when President Obama named him ambassador of Beijing.  The appointment is seen by some as an effort by the president to get a potential rival out of the way.  It didn‘t work.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Tea Party comes to town this week.  And with it, the potential for intraparty conflict in the Republican Party.  Already, Tea Partiers are not happy with deals have been cut by the Republican leadership in the lame duck session, of course.  So, how will they mesh with the new colleagues and the new Congress?

Mark Meckler has cofounded the Tea Party Patriot.

Sir, do you trust people like John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, the big shots in the Republican Party?

MARK MECKLER, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS:  Absolutely not.  We don‘t trust anybody here in D.C.  We know what happens when they come here and drink from the Potomac.

MATTHEWS:  And what happens?

MECKLER:  Basically, they forget the people back at home and they‘re more interested—

MATTHEWS:  What happens?  What do you think that happens though?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you don‘t believe that it‘s the water.

MECKLER:  No, specifically, what happens is they come here and they‘re subject to the pressure of incumbency.  The incumbents tell them how—

MATTHEWS:  They want to get elected.

MECKLER:  Well, incumbents tell them how it‘s going to be.  These are the rules.  If you want anything done, if you want to be in a committee, if you want the right parking space, these are the things you have to do—and a lot of people get caved into that pressure.

MATTHEWS:  And what is that they get promised that they—to get along, go along?  You know, the old thing.

MECKLER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But what do they get?  What Boehner—what‘s he going to say a young hot shot who just got elected in Utah or somewhere who‘s beaten an incumbent?  What is he going to say, cool it, buddy?

MECKLER:  He is going to say, cool it, buddy.  And they do it all the time.  We hear it from congressmen all the time.

He‘s going to say, if you want to be on appropriate—look at what happened to Jeff Flake, right?  Here‘s a guy who was serious.  He was a serious conservative.  Boehner made sure that he wasn‘t on the committee that he wanted to be on, he was too serious.

And so, these guys get do an immense amount of pressure.  That‘s part of the reason we‘re here, is to make sure that they know they have the backing.  If they do the right thing, we‘re going to back their play.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at health care.  They‘re going to have a very dramatic vote on January 12th.  You just heard about it.  That‘s the week after next.  What‘s it going to tell you?

MECKLER:  I think it‘s going to tell us how the Republicans are going to stand.  It‘s going to tell us a lot about the—

MATTHEWS:  But voting to kill health care in the House won‘t kill it in the Senate, won‘t kill in the White House, the bill will still work.  Will that accomplish—you like the symbolism of it?

MECKLER:  I do like the symbolism of it.  And the bill won‘t work. 

They‘ll defund it in the House and they‘ll kill that way.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about something you guys don‘t like and nobody in Congress likes.  It‘s called debt ceiling bill.  It‘s one of these things that nobody pays any attention to, it‘s like hanging chads.  You don‘t pay attention until there‘s a close election.

Well, every year, the Congress has to pass what they called the debt ceiling extension, which is up about $13 trillion.  They got to raise it a notch to $13.5 trillion to $14 trillion.  If they don‘t do it, the government defaults because the government can‘t make payments beyond that amount.

What will you recommend that your Tea Party votes in the House on debt ceiling extension?

MECKLER:  Well, it‘s not my recommendation.  This is what Tea Partiers across the nation are telling us.  They recommend that they vote against the raising of the debt ceiling.  At some point, you said they have to raise it every time.  Is there a rule somewhere that they have to raise it every time?

MATTHEWS:  But what are consequences of not raising it?

MECKLER:  I think the consequences are we shut down certain programs.  We cut spending.  We do things that every family is required to do—

MATTHEWS:  But if the government can‘t make payment on its obligations, what happens next?

MECKLER:  Then they cut spending.  And there is money to be made from cutting spending.

MATTHEWS:  You mean that night, the government‘s about to default, they go around selling off properties—or how do they make that money up?  They can‘t raise taxes overnight.

No, I‘m serious.  I‘m asking a serious question.  What‘s the next step?

MECKLER:  What you‘re talking about is created crisis.  In other words, you say “that night,” but they have known this for a long time.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Are the Tea Partiers going to warn the House, the Republican leadership, you‘re not going to get to 218 votes, so you better start to get rid of federal programs because we‘re not letting that debt ceiling, that debt go up?  Are you saying that?

(CROSSTALK)

MECKLER:  It‘s not our choice whether the debt goes up?  We don‘t have the vote.  But we‘re definitely going to say that we don‘t want them to vote for that debt ceiling.

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re hoping somebody else will, though?

MECKLER:  Absolutely.  We hope that they vote not to raise the debt ceiling.

MATTHEWS:  And then what happens?

MECKLER:  Then they cut programs and it starts to get real.  It‘s going to take some real pain to fix this nation, and until the folks over here on the Capitol get serious about it, we‘re on a dangerous path.

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re willing to push it right to the edge?

MECKLER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  And what consequences are you willing to accept, the government shutting down.

MECKLER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  And what happens if the government can‘t make its payments?

MECKLER:  Well, again, they cut spending.  You‘re acting like it‘s a one-sided equation.  It‘s not about—all about borrowing.  It‘s about cutting spending.  Until these guys get serious about cutting spending, we‘re on an unsustainable path.  Everybody agrees with that.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that Newt Gingrich did the right thing taking on Clinton this way?

MECKLER:  You know, it worked for him

(CROSSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And how will it work for you?

MECKLER:  But again, he‘s not an elected official right now.  How it works for us is our job is to reflect what the Tea Party -- 

MATTHEWS:  How are you going to do it better than Newt did it?

MECKLER:  It‘s not our job to compare to Newt, our job, my job -- 

MATTHEWS:  No, but how are you going to shut down the government and not get blame for it?

MECKLER:  Well, the difference is that the public is an entirely different sentiment now.  You just saw a Tea Party revolution.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll see.  When the government stops, we‘ll see if the public says good work or who in the hell did this.

MECKLER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

MECKLER:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks for coming in Mark Meckler of the Tea Party.  We see—the battle lines have been drawn, Tea Party Patriots here.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with what Republicans need watch out for as they take control of the House.  They could make a big mistake.  Too many speeches, not enough action.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the New Year that now stretches before us.  December 2011 will come at end of this year, let‘s have faith.  And when it comes, what will be the result of what men and women do in this city, Washington, D.C., this year.

Look, every Congress has two purposes to write the policies and laws of the country and to debate the philosophy of government that should lead us.  Both are important.  Parties get into trouble when they do one and not the other.

President Obama spent two years getting what he wanted from the Congress and the Democrats in Congress devoted these past two years giving him what he wanted, without bringing the country along with him—the logic of government stimulus spending, the rescues of the financial and auto industry, the effort to reform Wall Street and make health care something that Americans can count on instead of plea for or connive for are all sound and worthy national efforts.

But they need an argument behind them, a philosophy why we‘re doing them, why the alternatives didn‘t work.  They never really got those arguments.  And the (INAUDIBLE) on that failure was delivered last November.

This is what happens when do you without giving a rationale, when you push without selling, what you‘re pushing.  And why when action itself become the goal as if politician‘s only job is the job, when we know full well that in a democracy, the voter, the citizen, needs to know why their leaders are doing what they‘re doing, what their goals are, how they want to affect our lives.

We‘re possibly on the verge of seeing the Republicans make a very different mistake, spending the next months and years making political argument and not actually joining in the process of governing us.

If all the Republicans do in the next two years is spend those two years shouting their contemporaries, what the Democrats did in the last two years, they will blow of what could be a very good chance they won in 2010 to reclaim their opportunity to be part of the national leadership.  Something they blew in 2006 and 2008 when a beautifully sold and but dishonestly justified war in Iraq and their blind ideological love of free markets that underwrote their systematic abject failure to control the greed of certain elements on Wall Street.  Wow.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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

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