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updated 12/14/2012 11:48:11 AM ET 2012-12-14T16:48:11

HARDBALL
December 13, 2012

Guests: Bob Shrum, John Feehery, Chris Van Hollen, Nia-Malika Henderson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Looks like Kerry.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Begin" tonight with this. President Obama deserves the best
possible secretary of state. He picked a great foreign policy officer in
the first term. He deserves to have one in the second.

It`s been my view, some distance from the White House, that the president
was truly undecided on whom this person should be. Late today, Ambassador
Rice`s removal of herself from consideration made his decision, through all
the pain involved, easier.

John Kerry, if he is the one appointed, could end up a fabulous secretary
of state, someone to make this country truly proud. He lost the presidency
by a single state in 2004, then went on to become a deeply effective
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He projects a grace under pressure that we see in the president himself, a
noble attribute most of us take as quiet courage. And as embarrassing as
it is to admit, he is one of the few top politicians in this democratic
country of ours to master foreign languages, not a small talent in world
diplomacy.

I like Kerry because he`s had the guts to run for office, just like Hillary
Clinton. He`s had the nerve to stick his neck out and ask the voter to
like him or not like him, to trust him or not trust him. That to me is the
key to true democratic government.

I`ve said so before. I hope the president makes him his secretary of
state. It would be the first strong move to building a powerful second
term cabinet, to building the team that will, with God`s blessing, take
Barack Obama into global history. We Americans need to be the peacemakers.
John Kerry can help Barack Obama be just that.

Joining me now is NBC News chief White House correspondent and political
director Chuck Todd and "The Washington Post`s" Nia-Malika Henderson.

Chuck, this has been fascinating. Do you know when the president decided
with or along with Ambassador Rice to decide that she should formally
remove herself from consideration?

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIR.: Well, this is
not just the story, but it was my understanding the president was never --
never asked her to do this.

She came to this conclusion on her own sometime in the last 24 hours and
decided it wasn`t worth it, that this was causing the president a share of
political problems. This was causing extra headaches that weren`t
necessary, so she made this decision on her own.

I can tell you the president has been conflicted on this for some time, and
he`d been getting conflicting advice. I mean, some of his -- some of the
political advice he`d been getting is, you know, Mr. President, how many
fights do you want to have on the Hill? Democratic senators were quietly
sending word to the White House, We`ve got a lot of heavy lifts to do for
the president, a heavy lift on whatever the fiscal deal ends up being or
not being, a heavy lift on immigration, some heavy -- don`t add to the
angst. Don`t add to the anxiety.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: Look, I think that she`s a victim of an old-fashioned media feeding
frenzy that we`re going to look back on and feel as if -- this is pretty
unfair to her, the way this wept down. But those are the breaks in
Washington, and she made this decision that she made.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you -- I know it`s a question of tradecraft,
and you`re the best at it, so I`m not questioning how you find out things.
But this one is so tough. There`s so many disparate streams of thought and
emotion in this White House about this appointment, people that have their
own interests, people like Tom Donilon, people on the national security
staff, those people, the people close to the president from Chicago, like
Valerie Jarrett. Everybody has their interest. There`s aspects of
feminism, aspects of challenges of -- accusations of sexism, so many
swirling emotions and sentiments.

TODD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: How can you tell me what the president wanted? It seems so hard
to get to him, not just to people around him with their own agenda.

TODD: I think you`re right. There was a split, if you will. You had sort
of the -- the cold pragmatists all thought John Kerry at State makes a lot
of sense. He`s earned it. He deserves this. This is a good thing.

And then there`s a lot of foreign policy hands who say, You know what?
Secretary of state should be somebody who used to run -- who almost was
president, you know, and the heft of a Hillary Clinton being replaced by
the heft of a person that was a football stadium away from being president
themselves -- that`ll impress people that this secretary of state has to
sit down with foreign leaders around the world.

Then there was another part of this administration, people here in this
West Wing. Susan Rice is somebody they know very well. They`re very loyal
to her. This is somebody who has worked her way up through the diplomatic
ranks in a way that`s different from John Kerry.

John Kerry worked his way up to the political ranks. Susan Rice -- she has
done every job you need to have done in unelected politics, if you will, to
be qualified, to have the resume, to have the experience to be secretary of
state.

And by the way, don`t forget there was also the fact that Kerry and Rice in
some ways, some could argue, see the world a little bit differently. Susan
Rice is somebody a little more of an interventionist, wants to get
involved. Look at Libya. She was somebody that was strongly there. John
Kerry is somebody who has seen war firsthand and is somebody who is very
much hesitant as an interventionist when it comes to things...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: ... voted against these -- so there was a lot here, I think...

MATTHEWS: So smart.

TODD: ... that was more than just, Am I going to, you know, do something
with my friend or do something to reward the party, more complicated than
that.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I guess that`s why, as a commentator, I feel more
comfortable with Kerry. Just that`s my opinion.

Let me go now to our other great correspondent -- couldn`t get a better one
-- Andrea Mitchell, on foreign relations and the White House intrigue here.

I said that there were different swirling -- or swirling sentiments here,
loyalty to someone who the president is very fond of, and then there`s sort
of the guy whose turn it is, if you will.

What do you know about that -- what can you report from that sort of swirl
of interest and self-interest?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I think it`s been very obvious that he
wanted Susan Rice, that that was his first choice. They even floated the
possibility that John Kerry take Defense, a job he did not want...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MITCHELL: ... that he was not really well-qualified for. He`s not a
budget guy. He`s not someone to deal with the results of the sequester.

But people knew in the White House that John Kerry has really felt a desire
to get into the cabinet, to get out there, to get out of a Senate that is
largely dysfunctional. And so they felt they owed him something.

He has taken a number of very tough secret missions on behalf of this
president to places like Pakistan and Afghanistan and worked out some
things that were publicly known and others that are not publicly known,
some really dicey situations that could not be done by the sitting
secretary of state.

MATTHEWS: OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How do you know -- how do you know what the president himself --
we know you can talk to Valerie, you can talk to Tom Donilon, you can talk
to people around the president. How do you figure out which one is truly
talking for the president?

I think the point you`re right about is when you said they floated the name
of Kerry for Defense, knowing he didn`t want it, must have been done with
the president`s approval...

MITCHELL: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: ... because it was floating out there for many days and the
president never shot it down.

MITCHELL: I think...

MATTHEWS: That`s my thought.

MITCHELL: ... the best evidence, aside from my reporting of people who
talk to the president and talking to people in the White House team -- my
best evidence is what you saw yourself, the first news conference after the
election when this reelected president said basically -- you know,
channeling Aaron Sorkin, said to McCain and Graham, Don`t come after me.
If you want -- you know, don`t go after her, come after me...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MITCHELL: ... if you want to attack me. Don`t go after my U.N.
ambassador. And it was right out of, you know, Michael Douglas and "The
American President"...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MITCHELL: ... as we all noted at the time. And you know, you`re a film
guy. You know what was going on there. So he made it very clear he wanted
her. Again, in a cabinet meeting, he led the applause of Susan Rice. He
signaled in every way possible.

But she was twisting in the wind. She was left in never -- in
nowheresland. She wasn`t a nominee. She didn`t have all the armor of a
nominee, who would have the White House counsel`s office...

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s that question...

MITCHELL: ... around her...

MATTHEWS: What stopped him from -- once he stuck his neck out for her in
personal terms at that press conference, what stopped the president from
then doubling down and saying, This is my appointment here? This is it.
She will be my next secretary of state?

MITCHELL: Well, the fact that some of the people he`s closest to, as Chuck
knows better than anyone, the reporting that people were advising the
president, You do not need this fight, and it is going to be a fight. You
don`t need to expend all this political capital on what is going to be an
interminable Benghazi investigation, this hearing...

MATTHEWS: OK.

MITCHELL: ... and now this week, John McCain signaling he wants to go on
the Foreign Relations Committee. He was going to lead the way.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go back to Chuck. I`ll be back to you in a moment.
Let`s get this from Chuck, as well. Who do you -- do you think that
Clinton, Secretary Clinton or former president Clinton -- they have done
this, I know, in private, said what they felt about this. They were for
Kerry. But did they ever express that or lobby for Kerry or against Rice
in this case, do you know, Chuck?

TODD: It`s my understanding they didn`t. I mean, I think that Hillary
Clinton understood where the president`s loyalties lie, that he was leaning
towards Susan Rice, and she wasn`t going to start a debate and try to --
and I think that, in fact, those close to Secretary Clinton -- I think
Andrea can speak to this -- really tried to snuff out those stories that
somehow, Secretary Clinton wanted Kerry over Rice, didn`t want to have Rice
replace her. She wasn`t going to get involved with that. I think she
stayed out of that a lot.

So it is -- I don`t think that they were going to step into that at all. I
mean, I know that there`s always been speculation that Susan Rice and
Secretary Clinton weren`t close, and it all goes -- some of that all goes
back to the `08 primary campaign.

Don`t forget, Susan Rice was a very prominent surrogate. And in fact, you
have some people who believe that that`s what -- that`s the issue John
McCain has with her, that this goes back to the 2008 campaign, when Susan
Rice was the prominent foreign policy surrogate on behalf of then candidate
Obama.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me go back to -- let me go back to Andrea on that same
question, the role of the Clintons here, because I have heard it a couple
very strong ways, good reporting from people, that the Clintons did have an
opinion in this matter.

MITCHELL: I`m sure they had an opinion, but I do not think they voiced it.
I think they were very, very careful. This was dynamite, to come out
against Susan Rice for Hillary Clinton? She said everything that she could
to support her.

And they did work out their relationship. Clearly, Susan Rice was in the
camp, as Samantha Powers and other foreign policy advisers, were of Obama,
not Clinton, during those primaries. But Hillary Clinton has been pitch
perfect on being a loyalist to Barack Obama and on working out her
relationship with his former advisers, even those in the White House who
have kept her at arm`s length.

MATTHEWS: OK. You`re at bat right now, Andrea. What do you think about
the appointment? Has it come down to -- did it come down to two, and
therefore is it Kerry`s?

MITCHELL: That is my betting. Barring something completely unforeseen, I
think John Kerry is going to be nominated, and I cannot imagine him not
being confirmed. But then again, we said that about John Tower.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: Oh, wow!

MITCHELL: No comparison. No comparison. But he was-

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

MITCHELL: He was the chairman of the Armed Services Committee...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL: Let me just make my point, guys. I know you`re laughing at me,
and I don`t mean to be hoisted on this petard. But when committee chairmen
then become nominated, their colleagues look at them with great deference.
But you never know what you don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MITCHELL: John Kerry is completely qualified, healthy, despite, you know,
a scare back in `04, and we could imagine a very quick and easy
confirmation...

MATTHEWS: Yes, far better this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Andrea, I`m not laughing at you, I`m enjoying one aspect of the
way you said something. Do you think this is a much better appointment,
from Kerry`s point of view, than had he been put up for Defense...

MITCHELL: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: ... when there was the old issue of his anti-war activities,
which would be much more central to the question?

MITCHELL: And of his qualifications. I mean, he has foreign policy
experience, but the military street cred, even though he was a war hero, it
was in a war that`s very controversial. And he doesn`t have the budget
experience...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MITCHELL: ... you know, primary budget experience that Leon Panetta had as
a former budget director.

TODD: Hey, Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: One thing that this does potentially reopen back up, so there`d been
a lot of -- there`s been a lot of reporting -- Andrea`s done a lot of
reporting on this -- Chuck Hagel among the leading contenders to be Defense
secretary, former Republican senator of Nebraska.

However, I think the developments here -- and I`ve talked to some senior
officials who sort of confirm this. The developments here may change the
calculus a little bit. You know, the president wants a second term cabinet
that is both powerful and that looks like America.

MITCHELL: Right.

TODD: There`s not going to be -- so I wouldn`t be surprised if you see
some of the prominent women candidates that were already being talked about
for Defense, including Michele Flournoy ...

MATTHEWS: I agree completely!

TODD: ... being reconsidered for Defense and seeing that glass ceiling
broken, which would be very significant.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Andrea. Go ahead.

MITCHELL: And the only thing I can add to that is that she was on my show
yesterday, and she said she wasn`t being vetted. So maybe -- I mean, I
don`t know what to make of that.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, Andrea -- really tough -- you`re a student
of politics, as well as we are. Here`s the question, doesn`t he need a
balanced ticket at the top -- defense, State, Treasury, and AG? We have
one African-American as attorney general. Doesn`t he have to have a woman
in the big four? Don`t you think? Doesn`t he have to?

MITCHELL: Absolutely. I mean, Janet Napolitano for AG, but maybe there is
a woman for Treasury secretary.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: Lael Brainerd, who is somebody who`s -- yes, Lael Brainerd...

MATTHEWS: Laura Tyson!

TODD: ... who`s well respected international business -- in the
international finance, been involved in the European debt crisis. I think
she could be somebody who you see sort of re-emerge as a potential leading
candidate.

MATTHEWS: I think looking like America is a big deal these days, a very
big deal.

Thank you so much, Andrea Mitchell. Thank you, Chuck Todd. Chuck, you`re
staying with us on this political thing we`re doing next.

Coming up, the results of our new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll are
in, and one thing is clear. The Republican Party has a sorry reputation
right now. Do you believe that? Big-time. The most frequent words people
use to describe the party are "bad," "weak" and "negative." For all the
millions the party spent to sell its candidates, the American public really
doesn`t like what it sees when it hears the word "Republican."

Plus, a preview of coming attractions? Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie
coming soon to a presidential primary near you. We`re talking 2016. Could
Clinton versus Christie be the dream match-up for every political junkie
this side of heaven?

And President Obama and John Boehner are talking again. Can Boehner
deliver enough votes in his caucus? Big question tonight.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with that old question, why not the best?

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: One headline from our NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll. For
the first time ever, a majority of voters support marriage equality. Catch
this, what a change, 51 percent now say they support same-sex marriage.
And all you have to do to look at our polls from the past few years to see
how fast public opinion has changed on that issue.

Back in 2004, for example, when Republicans used the issue to defeat John
Kerry, only 34 -- 30-zero -- 3-0 percent supported gay marriage. In 2009,
it was up to 41 percent. Earlier this year, support for same-sex was up to
49. As I said, it`s up to 51, a solid majority, if a small one.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We`ve been saying for a while that
the Republican Party has an image problem, a reputation problem. Now new
numbers from the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll just out prove the point.
The Democratic Party`s favorable number is now 44 percent, and the overall
favorable is plus-9 -- in other words, better positive than negative.

The Republicans just have a 30 percent favorable right now. That`s pretty
bad, a negative-15 if you subtract the bad from the good. And it gets
worse. A word cloud covering or showing the most commonly used words to
describe the GOP in the new poll has words like -- oh, you`ll love these
words -- "bad," "weak," "negative" showing up the most, with other words
like "uncompromising," "broken" and "out of touch" rounding out the top
terms.

Joining me again, Chuck Todd, our holdover from that segment, NBC News
political director and chief White House correspondent and host of "THE
DAILY RUNDOWN" -- he does everything! -- and "The Washington Post`s" Chris
Cillizza, who`s also an MSNBC political analyst.

Back to you, Chuck, for this question. Let`s just be -- as you always are,
but I`ll be as well -- totally analytical. What has skunked the Republican
name in this country in the last several months more than any time before?
What`s wrong?

TODD: Well, what`s wrong is you`ve got to realize it`s not been several
months, it`s been several years. The trend data is unmistakable. This is
not -- this has basically been in the wrong direction for the Republican
Party going back to 2005.

They`ve had a small blip in 2010, when they won control and the president
was pushing an unpopular health care bill. That was their -- that was
their moment that they were able to get power again, get back into
government.

But if you look back, this has been a five-year trend of a very slow
erosion. And by the way, you don`t just see it in polling. If you look
over the last 10 years, but particularly the last 6 years, in exit polling,
in people who self-identify with the Republican Party, there has been a
slow percentage (ph) over time the trend is down.

I think that this is a party that is simply -- isn`t -- I thought somebody
really put it well. A conservative said the biggest problem with the party
isn`t necessarily that it is too conservative. It`s that it`s out of
touch. You can be conservative and in touch, conservative and relevant,
and they`re coming across as not relevant, I think whether it`s with
Hispanics, whether it`s with women, where the conservatism and there`s too
many voices that are dominating on the wrong side and giving the party
brand a bad name.

Look at it. The party brand -- I have always believed, Mitt Romney could
have been Ronald Reagan, but the party brand was in worse shape than when
Reagan ever ran. And I have always thought there was a 50-pound weight
Mitt Romney was dragging around.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about the specifics. We know what the -- let`s
go through them. Apparently, they`re not popular with Hispanics at all.

They`re not popular with suburban women, not with younger voters under 35,
not with even white independent voters, which surprises me.

What do you make of that, all these negatives?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you just outlined sort of
the future swing vote for the 2016 and 2020 election.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I mean, in theory, look, Hispanic...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, young people will get older and they will vote. And they
will still vote.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Suburban women, voters 18-34, that`s a place where Republicans
have to do better, and white independent -- look, white voters in general,
white independents.

This is the problem, Chris. It`s across the board, and that`s why it`s not
just -- Chuck rightly points out, it`s not just an election. It`s just not
a candidate. You`re making a mistake, well, this is about Mitt Romney.
Not really. This is about the fate of a Republican brand.

Chuck mentioned 2010. It`s fascinating. You look at 2010, 2010 almost in
retrospect looks like a false positive. I think a lot of Republicans
thought, OK, we got beaten bad in `06, we got beaten bad in `08 and they
thought maybe now is the time to reform the party.

Well, then `10 comes along and they win everything and they say, oh, people
do like the Republican -- but the brand, is it back? No, it`s just in a
binary choice election if you decide you don`t want what the Democratic
brand is currently offering, you go with the Republican brand.

They don`t love the Republican brand and haven`t for a while.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you suggest this. The importance, Chuck -- and
you`re the expert, as well as Chris -- the importance of Hispanic voters,
the importance of voters, younger voters is that they don`t all vote in
midterm elections, but in a general election for president, you have all of
a sudden all the negatives in the Republican Party blossoming into the most
important things in the party.

TODD: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: So its position against legalization of people that have been
here a while, its position on abortion rights, all the issues which affect
young people, on same-sex marriage, all the issues which are salient with
minorities and salient with young people, they`re wrong on.

TODD: But, Chris, here is the thing.

If they just sit here and say -- and I have heard this from some
Republicans -- oh, you know what? We will be fine in 2014, you know,
because turnout won`t be the same, it will be a better electorate, but you
know what?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: Over time, that electorate is going to change, too. It takes a
little bit longer, but we saw evidence of that. Harry Reid is still a
United States senator because the electorate has changed in Nevada even in
a midterm.

Michael Bennet is now a full-term United States senator because the
electorate changed in Colorado even in a midterm. So this stuff, it is --
you`re just suddenly protecting shrinking and shrinking turf.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CILLIZZA: They do have to come to realize. And I think that that`s --
that`s what`s going to make, for instance, watching the immigration debate
-- I somehow believe Republicans are just going to go en masse, but maybe
they won`t.

And if it ends up being more divisive and if it ends up being harder to get
done and the Republican brand is sullied even more with Hispanics, they
could lose a whole generation.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Just to make that point, a new study released by a prominent
Republican pollster shows that the Republican Party is in big trouble --
quote -- "Republicans have run out of persuadable white voters for the
fifth time in the past six presidential elections. Republicans lost the
popular vote. Trying to win a national election by gaining a larger and
larger share of a smaller and smaller portion of the electorate is a losing
political proposition."

Chris.

CILLIZZA: I mean, Mitt Romney won the white vote by 20 points, 59/39. He
won the white vote by 20 points, Chris. He won voters who said the economy
was the most important issue. He won political independents, and he still
lost convincingly.

I would add to the five out of six popular vote. Here`s -- amazing. In
the 1980s, right, Democrats always worried and they said, golly,
Republicans have a lock on the Electoral College. Reagan won twice with
over 500 electoral votes. H.W. Bush won in `88 with over 400 electoral
votes. Go -- now, the Republicans` sort of ceiling in Electoral College is
probably the 286 that George W. Bush got.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: That`s the danger. And Chuck makes the point, New Mexico,
Arizona, Colorado, Montana, if those states start to be swing states or go
over to the Democratic side, it`s not even the popular vote they have to
worry about. It`s the Electoral College.

MATTHEWS: Well, Chuck and Chris, I have to use a Philadelphia reference
here. Growing up, Frank Rizzo needed to win 87 percent of the white vote,
because that was his strength, the white vote in a city which was
increasingly minority. He got 83 percent. It got to the point where you
almost had to get 90 percent of the white vote to survive politically.

And it just got to be fewer and fewer whites and more and more minorities.

CILLIZZA: You can`t do it.

MATTHEWS: It can`t be done

TODD: And, by the way...

MATTHEWS: Yes, sir.

TODD: And, by the way, in order to do -- in order to accomplish that, you
know what kind of campaign you have to run?

It`s not a campaign -- that`s not a way to govern, because, when it`s over,
if you happen to win under that circumstance where you create a racially
polarizing environment, ethnically polarizing environment, then good luck
governing.

MATTHEWS: You mean if you have a nightstick in your cumberbund, that might
be trouble? Just kidding. That`s what he had.

Anyway, Chuck, Chuck Todd, and Chris Cillizza.

Coming up: Santa Claus takes on Paul Ryan -- wow -- next in the
"Sideshow."

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And now to the "Sideshow."

It`s Santa Claus vs. Paul Ryan. That`s right. Action.org, a coalition of
progressive groups, turned to Santa to spread the word about extending
middle-class tax cuts. And he has a run-in here with the House budget
chairman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Oh, Yes. Hey, Santa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul, I was looking for you.

RYAN: I got to run. I got people waiting for me in my office. So, I got
to get going. Sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to give you the heads-up, two weeks. You
have coal on the list right now, my friend.

Don`t be a scrooge this Christmastime. Call Congress today and urge them
to vote for tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans.

Ho, ho, ho.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: A politically charged Santa Claus might be too much to handle,
though. A PPP poll earlier this week showed that a plurality of Americans
think Santa Claus is a Democrat.

Next: The Muslim infiltration conspiracy strikes against. This time, it`s
in Texas. Back in October, school officials in the Dallas district
received a bizarre chain e-mail linking to this Web site. Check out that
headline: "Islam in Texas schools. Why can`t teachers disclose the
content?"

Wow. Far from writing it off as a dose of crazy talk, concern within the
school board about some kind of Islamic bias in the curriculum led to an
investigation. Who did the organization that puts together the curriculum
select to do the review, according to "The Dallas Morning News"? "The
director said she hired a very socially and fiscally conservative former
social studies teacher who watches Glenn Beck on a regular basis to seek
out any Islamic bias."

Well, anyway, it turns out that the Glenn Beck did come across some bias.
Here it goes: "Christianity got twice as much attention in the curriculum
as any other religion. If there was any Islamic bias in the curriculum, it
was bias" -- quote -- "bias against radical Islam."

So, the conclusion from the 72-page handout that school officials received,
thanks to the random chain e-mail, Texas students are not being
indoctrinated by radical Islam. There you have it.

Finally, there may be gridlock in Washington over the fiscal cliff, but
members of Parliament in Ukraine spent the first two days of the
parliamentary session literally fistfighting over the election of
parliamentary officials. This was the scene from today. Geez.

Anyway, yesterday`s session was suspended due to a similar brawl, with one
man having his ear torn. The elections did wind up happening today.
Anyway, Ukrainian law dictate that the police -- the police cannot
intervene in parliamentary fights, and the members can`t be punished for
what they do in them. I guess that explains that.

Anyway, up next, Chris Christie vs. Hillary Clinton in 2016? Wishful
thinking for all of us political junkies. What a matchup that will be.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

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The Dow manages to end off session lows, but still falls 74 points. The
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Best Buy shares bucked the downward trend today. They surged nearly 16
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And on the economic front, jobless claims fell by 29,000 last week to
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Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the gritty state of New Jersey`s home to the Boss, Bruce Springsteen,
and the "Boardwalk Empire" fame. It`s also the home of an increasingly
popular brash politician by the name of Chris Christie. He may have sat
out the presidential race in 2012, but he later earned high marks of course
for his handling of Hurricane Sandy. Now he`s leaving the door very open
for a bid for president in 2016.

Here he was on ABC with Barbara Walters just last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC)

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWSrMD-BO_: When you were pressed to run for
president this time, you said you didn`t think you were ready. What did
you mean by that?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, NEW JERSEY: I wasn`t ready to undertake a campaign.
That`s an enormous decision to make for yourselves and your family. And I
just didn`t feel ready.

WALTERS: How do you think you`re going to feel in 2016?

CHRISTIE: Well, you know what? I have no idea.

WALTERS: In your fantasies, when you`re just talking to yourself, do you
say, President Chris Christie?

CHRISTIE: No. No, I don`t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Nobody doesn`t like Barbara Walters.

Anyway, President Chris Christie, it could happen, of course, but he might
need to get past Hillary Clinton on the way to the actual Oval Office
itself.

John Feehery is a Republican strategist and Bob Shrum is a Democratic
strategist and columnist for The Daily Beast.

Gentlemen, sometimes, I feel the cosmos, as Norman Mailer would say, shifts
and all of a sudden things are all of a sudden different. Over and over
and over again, starting with "The Sopranos," this incredible focus, John,
on Jersey, "Boardwalk Empire," "The Wives of New Jersey," the Boss,
Springsteen, on both major tabloids of New York City today, front page with
the fund-raiser, everything, the Four Seasons, the Jersey Boys.

Everything is about Jersey. It`s always been overlooked. It`s a commuter
city. All of a sudden, it`s in the foreground, and all of a sudden Sandy
is the biggest tragedy in the country for a lot of people. And who is
leading it? This big guy with a real Jersey attitude. And every time you
talk to him now, we`re talking president.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, there`s a reason all those
Wall Street financiers were begging Chris Christie to run last time,
because they thought he could win. And I think if he had run this time, he
had just the kind -- he could have got those -- all those blue-collar guys
in Michigan, all the blue-collar guys in Ohio, all the blue-collar guys in
Wisconsin.

He`s a blue-collar guy, and he would have won the South anyway. He would
have been a great candidate. The question is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: When did you start saying this, by the way?

FEEHERY: Oh, a long time -- I said it on your show.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FEEHERY: The question is, has the time -- in four years, can he maintain
that? The question is...

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, let`s not talk about four years from now. Let`s talk
about right now.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: OK. Don`t do that. Don`t do what you just did.

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY: Right.

MATTHEWS: This is what it looks like right now.

FEEHERY: Right now. Right now, he would be a great candidate.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MATTHEWS: Shrummy, let`s talk about culture. You`re a student of popular
culture. Something says to me it`s Jersey`s turn. It just is. If you
don`t buy that, say you don`t buy it.

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, I don`t buy that.

Look, I think this guy is really interesting. He`s a big winner in 2012 in
the sense..

MATTHEWS: Would you ever back a Republican under any circumstance against
any Democrat ever?

SHRUM: Well, it depends who the Democrat was, but...

MATTHEWS: No. Have you ever done it?

SHRUM: ... as a general proposition, no.

MATTHEWS: Have you ever done it?

SHRUM: No.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, then make that clear. That`s all. Don`t act like
you`re vetting the guy.

SHRUM: Oh, no, no, no. That`s -- no, wait a minute, Chris, I voted for --
you will get mad at me. I voted for Gerald Ford in 1976.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Oh, you`re a PUMA. You`re a PUMA-wannabe.

OK. You`re made your bones. Go ahead. Keep going. Let`s talk Chris
Christie. Let`s talk today.

SHRUM: Look, Christie has got a big personality. He`s going to be a huge
factor on the national stage, but he`s also got big problems in the
Republican primaries.

This is a guy who favors not marriage equality, but civil unions. That`s a
problem in Iowa, South Carolina, all those states where an increasingly
shrunken base is not going to like that and may just look at him and say
he`s too far out. He used to be pro-choice. He`s changed his mind.

MATTHEWS: But he`s pro-choice -- I mean, he`s pro -- no, he`s pro-life is
what he is.

SHRUM: No, he`s pro-life now. He`s like Romney. He`s flip-flopped on the
issue. And I think there will be some suspicion of that in the Republican
Party.

And Sandy, which helped him in New Jersey, makes him virtually a lock for
reelection, has left a lot of bad taste in a lot of Republican mouths, and
that`s why he`s only running at 14 percent in that first poll.

MATTHEWS: Because? What`s the bad taste about? Lay it out.

SHRUM: Embracing the president.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SHRUM: I mean, you know, there are all these explanations. Sandy came
along, that`s why Obama won. Christie was too nice to him, that`s why
Obama won. None of it is true.

But there`s a lot of anger in the Republican Party, a lot of disbelief
about the outcome of this.

MATTHEWS: OK.

SHRUM: I think he would be a formidable Republican candidate.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this, Bob, what you`re on. If he had picked him
for his running mate, if Romney had, he would have neutralized him. He
wouldn`t have been in the embrace of and working with the president so
closely I don`t think, as the running for Romney. He wouldn`t have been
that guy who turned out to be politically worthless, Ryan.

Wouldn`t that have been a smarter move?

SHRUM: Oh, I think it would have been infinitely smarter move. And, in
fact, given what happened with hurricane Sandy, all the attention would
have been on Christie at that point. And, by the way, I think he would
have embraced the president and it would have helped Romney and Christie
not Barack Obama.

So, yes, I think it was a dumb move. I mean, he would have been a better
choice, almost anybody would have been a better choice than Paul Ryan.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go back to you. Do you agree with that? Because you
said he`d be a presidential nominee, would have been a better --

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The thing about Chris Christie is
he`s real. What people want is authenticity, they want someone who has
real pragmatism and can run thing. And mostly, they need leadership. And
what Christie gives you is this real pragmatic leadership.

And that`s why he said, that`s why he gave the president a wet kiss. He
said, I need help, give me that help.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FEEHERTY: And people respond to that. And I think there are partisans who
dislike Christie for that --

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at the match-up potentially of the woman everyone is
waiting for in 2016, of course, it`s Hillary Rodham Clinton -- also spoke
to Barbara Walters and she too didn`t completely rule herself out for
running for president.

Let`s watch the secretary of state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I`ve said I really don`t believe that
that`s something I will do again.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: You know your husband wants you to run in 2016.
What do you say to him?

CLINTON: He wants me to do what I want to do. He has made that very
clear. And some of what I want to do is just kick back. I mean, it sounds
--

WALTERS: Yes, but after you have slept --

CLINTON: Well, but I haven`t had a chance to do that yet.

WALTERS: OK. So, let`s give you three months.

CLINTON: Oh, no.

WALTERS: What would it take to convince you to run in 2016?

CLINTON: You know, that`s all hypothetical because right now I have no
intention of running.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: One thing, Bob, no candidate, male or female, Democrat or
Republican, ever admits to his ambition. It`s not in their memoirs when
they`re 90 years old and about to die. They never admit it. They never
admit it when they`re 25 years old.

And this is the one thing you never admit but everybody knows you have.
It`s the weirdest thing about politics, only doing it for children, only
doing it for old people, only doing it for somebody else or world peace.
They never say I want to be president.

Now, when you watch Hillary Clinton, I do believe she hasn`t made up her
mind. But do you take that as an acting role there when she says I haven`t
thought about it, or do you take it for real?

SHRUM: Oh, I think she thinks about it. And when people say they don`t
intend to run, that`s usually a signal that they`re going to run. Look,
she`s --

MATTHEWS: They`re going to intend to run.

SHRUM: Yes. She could surprise us and decide not to run. I don`t think
that`s going to happen. I think there`s a very good chance that she will
run. She`s very formidable candidate this time.

Women will overwhelmingly support her, number one.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SHRUM: Number two, she`d have tremendous financial advantage. And number
three, Chris, she`s a lot better off running not for a Clinton restoration
but much more in her own right having been secretary of state, as a
successor to Obama, and out there articulating the kind of populist themes
that worked so well for her at the end of the primaries in 2008 and which
have now become central for the president.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I agree. By the way, every time I have a poll at a dinner
party or lunch with a bunch of people, I ask do you think she`s going to
run? Everybody thinks it`s unanimous until you ask them, it`s usually a
slight majority think she`s going to run. It`s never a big majority.

People really have second thoughts because they know it`s a 12-year run
you`re talking about.

SHRUM: Right.

FEEHERY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Four years running, eight years serving. It`s a really brutal
road she`s setting for herself. I think she`ll run but I don`t think it`s
an easy decision.

FEEHERY: And I think she`s exhausted.

MATTHEWS: I, too. I think she ought to do what she says she`s going to
do.

FEEHERY: Being in that public eye that long -- I think that`s right. You
know, she`s going to be a tough candidate. There`s no doubt about it.

MATTHEWS: Nobody can beat her, I don`t think.

FEEHERY: I think it depends what the economy is like.

MATTHEWS: We`ll have you back for Christie.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Thank you -- you`ll be press secretary for Christie. By the
way, that would be a great job. You could speak for him.

None of your business. The governor says none of your business. The
governor says none of your business. Every day you say it all day long.

Anyway, thank you, Bob Shrum.

SHRUM: Take care.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, John Feehery, who will be known as the guy who before
the governor says, none of your business.

Up next, the fiscal cliff. President Obama met again today with House
Speaker John Boehner. But can Boehner deliver his caucus? That`s the
toughest job for him and for the country. Can he deliver enough
Republicans to be a respectable Republican leader?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Tonight, I`ll be speaking at the Smithsonian Institution here in
Washington about my book, "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero". I have big crowd
tonight.

It`s on "The New York Times" best-seller list and really is an incredible
for the season because it`s a great American story about hope. Boy, do we
need that? And it will take you to a different time, a different man, a
different American. If you`re like me, you will love it, that time.

You`ll be right back. And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Late this afternoon, President Obama and Speaker Boehner met at the White
House in their first face-to-face meeting since fiscal negotiations last
Sunday, and Boehner is scheduled to return home to Ohio on Friday for a
long weekend.

Earlier today, the speaker made clear that there would be no compromise
without more cuts to spending. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have been pushing all
year for us to address this problem. But here we are at the 11th hour, and
the president still isn`t serious about dealing with this issue right here.
It`s this issue, spending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is Maryland Congressman Van Hollen, who is
a ranking member on the Budget Committee and a man many expect to be the
next Democratic speaker of the House.

Anyway, thank you -- I do mean that.

So, let`s start. You don`t have to take that back. You`re young, you have
a shot. Let`s talk about -- let`s talk about --

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: I like your book, by the way.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about -- thank you. The book on Kennedy.

VAN HOLLEN: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Let`s talk about the speaker of the House. You made a tough charge. You
said in the press the last couple hours or day that Boehner is waiting to
get re-elected speaker so he can have the Republicans behind him before he
cuts this deal.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, my point is this, the big holdup right now is the fact
that Speaker Boehner cannot get a critical mass in his caucus to endorse
what every American would think was a reasonable deal, with increased rates
on wealthier individuals. And if he doesn`t have critical mass, he has to
have a choice.

He could easily bring a bill to the floor of the House that allowed for a
vote. It might require less than half of Republicans joining with
Democrats, but we can get it done. There`s nothing in the Constitution --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VAN HOLLEN: -- there`s in the House rules against that.

MATTHEWS: Where they did get -- where they did they get the idea, the
Republican side at least, that you have to have a majority of the majority?

VAN HOLLEN: We call it the Hastert rule after former Speaker of the House
Hastert, who was a Tom DeLay invention. And people need to know -- this is
just something they made up. I mean --

MATTHEWS: Well, how can you by bipartisan if you set as a rule, you`ve got
to have a majority of your party?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that`s exactly right. That`s what we`re saying, be a
leader. Take into account the interest of the country, not just the
Republican Party and the House. Bring a bill to the floor that can get a
majority of the vote, Republicans and Democrats working together. That`s
what the American people want to see.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about --

VAN HOLLEN: So my concern is that -- my concern is that because he might
think he`s going to put his speakership at risk if he does that before the
end of the year, he may be, in fact, holding out until January 3rd, which
is when he`s officially sworn in. He has to be voted on by his colleagues
as speaker of the House for the next term.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VAN HOLLEN: And so, my worry is that he`s dragging things out for
political purposes.

MATTHEWS: Is it possible you can get a deal that`s not the biggest deal in
the century but big enough to get through the cliff? Like, more of the
cliff.

What about a little bit more around a trillion in revenue and a little
around a trillion in spending cuts? Does that -- we had Jared Bernstein on
this program a couple of weeks ago who said that look like it would be a
solution? Does it look like it could be one now, a trillion each for -- $2
trillion in savings from the debt over 10 years?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look, I think the president says that in order to get a
balanced approach and really deal with this issue, you need more revenue
than that.

The president has been willing to take additional --

MATTHEWS: Do you think you need $1.2 trillion?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, no, I think the president is at $1.4 trillion. Look,
that which is less than Simpson-Bowles, which is less than the revenue
embedded in Simpson-Bowles.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VAN HOLLEN: But, Chris, here`s an issue. The speaker keeps talking about
these cuts. The president already agreed to adopt a trillion dollars in
cuts as part of the Budget Control Act. He has called for another $6
trillion in cuts as part of his plan and he spelled them out.

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s the Republican -- let`s ask here -- what`s the
Republican problem? Why could they accept -- I thought it was hard to
budget the caucus. The Democrats beyond $400 million. He`s talking $600
million, which is really pushing your caucus. What do they want? The
Republicans?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, they won`t -- they won`t tell us what they want. They
won`t even tell us how they would get their $800 billion, which is not
enough. But they can`t tell us how they would get the $800 billion in
revenue. Why? Because as soon they show the country how they would do it,
people are going to start to see that eliminating deductions like your
charitable deduction is going to be something people don`t support.

MATTHEWS: Of course not. And by the way, raising the age for many people
makes no sense. You`re driving a truck. You`re working on a trip hammer.
You`re working on a roof somewhere. Why should you have to wait to get
Medicare?

VAN HOLLEN: The problem, here`s the way Republicans defined Medicare
reform: simply transferring and passing on the costs to seniors. As
opposed to the way the president and Democrats did it, trying to control
overall all health care costs. In fact, the president has more savings in
his budget over the next 10 years, Chris, than the Ryan Republican budget
than he gets in a very different way, not by asking seniors to foot the
bill.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Chris Van Hollen, thank you, sir.

I do think you`ll be speaker some day.

Joining me now -- if you want it -- joining me now is "Washington Post"
reporter Nia-Malika Henderson.

Nia, let me -- I don`t have to call by a title, which is easier. Nia, OK,
here we go.

Watching this thing as of tonight, are we looking like we`re going to get
to the cliff, not over it? Where would you say we`re headed right now?
End of December, how does it look to you watching this thing as an
observer?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. Well, there`s certainly
a debate inside the White House about whether or not to go over the cliff,
whether or not it`s actually a politically more advantageous for the White
House to actually go over the cliff, maybe that strengthens the president`s
hand. The same conversation is going on among House Republicans about
whether or not they would be strengthened if in fact, this happens, the
cliff if we go over the cliff.

Two things happened today. One of which is Bernanke came out and started
talking about the volatility of the market. The other thing that happened
was Boehner essentially came out and seem today give a non-answer around
this question of whether or not he could -- he would back just voting on
the middle class tax cuts.

So those two things, I think, both show -- on the one hand, Bernanke, there
could a point when the rubber meets the road here, when the stock market
really starts to react in that way, people would be more jittery and the
sort of the reality of fiscal cliff would actually be upon us. And then,
with Boehner sort of essentially saying --

MATTHEWS: OK.

HENDERSON: -- that there`ll be a sort of middle path, to get passed this.

MATTHEWS: Are there really people in the White House who believe that it`s
a bungee jump? That if we go over in the cliff, we`ll come right back up
again in the market? It won`t really cost us? Are there people -- because
that`s not what Bernanke thinks. Is that what the president thinks, it`s a
bungee jump, we`re over that and back up again?

HENDERSON: You`re right. I mean, that`s not what Bernanke -- that`s not
what Bernanke thinks. But there is this sense that maybe the politics of
it and the optics of it --

MATTHEWS: Yes, well --

HENDERSON: -- would strengthen the president`s hand, which you`re right,
if people start looking at their 401(k)s and seeing that decline, it could
spell trouble for the White House --

MATTHEWS: OK.

HENDERSON: -- because ultimately, I think the economy and the stock
market, it ends with the president.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think it`s a bungee. I think it`s a cliff.

Anyway, thank you, Nia-Malika Henderson.

We`ll be right back with my thoughts about what`s going on right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let finish tonight with this:

Call me a romantic, call me a political junkie, call me naive. But what I
like is the big time, I want the best possible people running this country.
I want the heavyweights out there.

I want to know when I`m paying attention, the first team is out there on
the field, that this country of ours, the best country in the world --
there I`ve said it -- has its best people out there doing their best for
us.

So, when I root for Kerry to be secretary of state, when I root for Chris
Christie to get out there and run for president, it`s for just as a
glorious reason.

I don`t like it when we have a show, a clown show, like we witnessed and I
had to cover early this year. It was a joke to have the Republican
nomination for president contested by the likes of Santorum, Cain, Bachmann
and Gingrich. It was a shame that one of the country`s two major political
parties got to select its nominee at the jamboree of the unacceptable.

And, yes, I want President Obama to go out in this country and grab the
best possible people for the second term cabinet.

I think Michael Bloomberg is about to become a board. He`s out there today
with a big, leading op-ed about how we can end this blind man`s bluff we`re
playing on the fiscal cliff. He wants in the debate.

Well, why not call his bluff and ask him to get in the arena? A man who
made billions in business in economic communication is the best possible
person to communicate this administration`s fiscal policy and world trade
policy, don`t you think?

So let`s get at it, America. The best country in the world, I`m in.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

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