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updated 1/7/2013 10:29:56 AM ET 2013-01-07T15:29:56

HARDBALL
January 4, 2013

Guests: Dana Milbank, Steve LaTourette, Barney Keller

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Another government shutdown showdown?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish in New York for Chris Matthews.

Leading off tonight: There they go again. Republicans are smarting from
the results of the fiscal cliff talks, so now they`re doing what comes
naturally when they don`t get their way, threatening to shut down the
government when the next fight comes up.

Two senators are making that threat, and Speaker John Boehner says he`s
ready to use the debt ceiling fight to get the spending cuts that he wants.
Fasten your seatbelts.

Also, a few days late, but the House finally voted for aid to Hurricane
Sandy victims, you`d think a no-brainer. But the conservative Club for
Growth promised to punish members for approving the aid, and 67 House
Republicans voted no. We`re going to ask an opponent of aid to defend that
one.

Plus, the movie "Zero Dark Thirty" has already stoked controversy by
suggesting, perhaps, that torture led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Now the Senate is looking into whether the filmmakers had inappropriate
access to confidential CIA information.

And leave it to Vice Presidential Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hey, Mom!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey!

BIDEN: How are you? Good to see you. I`m Joe Biden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got a smile lights up the whole chamber.

BIDEN: Spread your legs, you`re going to be frisked.

BIDEN: Need any help on your pecs, let me know. Look at that guy! He`s
still working out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: His glad-handing at yesterday`s congressional swearing-in has
drawn snickers from critics, but let`s praise the vice president for
showing the world how it`s done, how to be a pol.

Finally, Michele Bachmann is at it again, trying for the 34th time to do
what she tried to do 33 times before. Check out the "Sideshow."

We begin with the Republicans threatening to shut down the government if
they don`t get the spending cuts they want. Ohio Republican Steve
LaTourette just retired from the House of Representatives, and former
Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell is an MSNBC political analyst.

Gentlemen, I want to show you three quick things. First, in a meeting with
his Republican conference today, Speaker John Boehner vowed to fight for
spending cuts. Here`s what he said. "The president says he isn`t going to
have a debate with us over the debt ceiling. He also says he`s not going
to cut spending along with the debt limit hike."

And then, citing a poll conducted by Republican David Winston (ph), Boehner
said, "72 percent of Americans agree any increase in the nation`s debt
limit must be accompanied by spending cuts and reforms of a greater amount.
The debate is already under way."

Number two, Texas senator John Cornyn took that fighting spirit even
further. Threatening a partial government shutdown, he said in an op-ed,
"The coming deadlines will be the next flashpoints in our ongoing fight to
bring fiscal sanity to Washington. It may be necessary to partially shut
down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal wellbeing of
our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain.
President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan
to avoid it immediately."

And finally, Pennsylvania Republican senator Pat Toomey voiced the same
sentiment earlier this week on "MORNING JOE."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Our opportunity here is on the debt
ceiling. The president`s made it very clear he doesn`t even want to have a
discussion about it because he knows this is where we have leverage. We
Republicans need to be willing to tolerate a temporary partial government
shutdown, which is what that could mean, and insist that we get off the
road to Greece.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Governor, I don`t doubt that 72 percent want to see the
spending cuts. Which way do you think the public sentiment swings if there
is a government shutdown?

ED RENDELL (D), FMR. PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well,
I think Pat Toomey`s a little confused, Mike. It`s a continuing
resolution. If they didn`t fund the continuing resolution, the government
would shut down.

If they don`t lift the debt ceiling, the economy shuts down -- not only the
U.S. economy, maybe the world economy -- and the consequences are drastic.

Look, the bottom line on this, Michael -- and you know this -- is nobody
should be threatening or rattling sabers. Everyone -- President Obama,
Harry Reid -- everyone knows we need significant spending cuts. It`s about
time we act maturely and get together and try to find out what the spending
cuts that we have to make can be made in the least onerous way for the
American people, but spending cuts we need.

We also need to raise more revenue. The fiscal cliff only raised $600
billion of revenue. We need to raise another $600 billion of revenue, and
we`ve got to go about finding a way to do that as well.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, do you agree with that sentiment? I constantly,
in my role as a talk radio host, hear from people who say the spending is
out of control. And if this is spun as Republicans standing up to all that
spending and saying, Enough is enough, I think the wind could be at the
GOP`s back.

STEVE LATOURETTE (R-OH), FMR. CONGRESSMAN: Well, I don`t know if the
wind`s at our back. And first of all, Governor, nice to see you again.

RENDELL: Hi, Steve.

LATOURETTE: I would tell you that spending is the problem, but where we
missed the boat was by resisting on the tax side so long that it became all
about the taxes, that the spending got lost. As the governor correctly
points (ph), this fiscal cliff deal only raises $600 billion over 10 years,
which is $60 billion a year. And if you look at the Sandy package that`s
coming up, that`s $60 billion. So that money is already spent, and we`re
still borrowing a trillion dollars.

And so -- but the governor hits the right tone. People have been afraid to
look for that common ground. I happen to be a Simpson-Bowles supporter,
and we really need the big deal to fix the country.

SMERCONISH: Governor, I think that many people don`t appreciate the fact,
don`t understand the fact that when we talk about the debt ceiling, we`re
talking about bills accrued. I mean, this gets a little complicated in the
messaging, is my point.

RENDELL: Sure. But I think it`ll be clear to the American public by the
time the debt ceiling -- let`s assume we don`t lift the debt ceiling.
It`ll be clear because Wall Street will make it clear, the banking
community will make it clear, what the ramifications are to Americans by
not lifting the debt ceiling.

And you`re right, Mike, all this about, as the president said, is paying
for the bills that Congress has already voted to fund. And it`s not
lifting the debt ceiling to pay for future spending, it`s to pay for the
bills that we`ve already accrued.

But regardless of that -- regardless of that -- the people want us to get
together and do something. It`s why I was sad to see Steve decide not to
run for reelection because we need Republicans. We need more Republicans
who are going to stand in there and say, Yes, spending is the issue, but
we`ve got to realize that we`ve got to have reasonable revenue that comes
into the mix.

And we`ve got to look at everything when it comes to spending. Defense
cannot be a sacred cow. We`ve got to look at everything. And we`ve got to
have legitimate entitlement reform.

And on our side, Mike, we`ve got to do this. I was on "THE CYCLE," one of
MSNBC`s shows, and I suggested that raising the age on Medicare, given the
fact that we`re living longer, isn`t a necessarily bad idea. The three
progressive hosts, you would have thought that I proposed treason to the
American government.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: Congressman, let me ask you a question about your next
endeavor.

LATOURETTE: Sure.

SMERCONISH: Politico pointed out today the Republican Party has a primary
problem. GOP primary voters have become so conservative that they`re
nominating candidates who are losing winnable elections.

In the past two cycles, these five candidates lost Senate elections that
should have been walkovers for Republicans and would have given them a
majority in the Senate -- Delaware`s Christine O`Donnell, Colorado`s Ken
Buck, Nevada`s Sharron Angle, Missouri`s Todd Akin and Indiana`s Richard
Mourdock.

And then you add in the fact that the rightward-leaning GOP electorate has
also attracted some fringy candidates to the presidential race, who led,
according to the polls, at different points. Let`s take a quick walk down
memory lane and revisit these names and faces. Donald Trump led at one
point. Michele Bachmann led at one point, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt
Gingrich, Rick Santorum.

What do they have in common? As I say, they were leading in the polls.
What`s your prescription for this primary problem?

LATOURETTE: Well, my next endeavor, the non-paying one, is going to be to
head up the Republican Main Street partnership to give comfort and cover to
both center-right Republicans and center-left, I guess, Democrats to stand
up from the fringe groups on the right and left, who have the courage to do
the right thing.

You know, if Governor Rendell and I were in charge, we would have fixed
this thing in about a week-and-a-half. And everybody knows what the
solutions are.

But people are scared to death when these votes come up that a group like
Heritage Action or Club for Growth or one of these other organizations will
come in and sort of carpet bomb them, and there`s no cover for those folks.
And my goal is to create a place for them to be.

SMERCONISH: Well, you say everybody knows what the solutions are. I don`t
know what the solutions are. I think part of the problem -- and Governor,
weigh in on this -- is that in a closed primary system, the ideologues come
out. And there`s been an exodus, I`ll tell you -- I think of people like
me. I`m one of the people you need to try to woo back. And therefore, the
only folks who are coming out are very conservative, and who do they
nominate? They nominate the Christine O`Donnells.

Governor Rendell, you know that Mike Castle would have won that seat in a
cakewalk!

RENDELL: Going away. But Michael, it`s because all the money in primaries
comes from the Club for Growth, comes from the Tea Party. There hasn`t
been any moderate-to-right money that weighs in on behalf of the moderate-
to-right Republican candidates. And that`s why what Main Street`s trying
to do, I think, is so important.

And look, even if it means there are a few more Republicans in the Senate,
in the Congress, if they`re reasonable Republicans who are moderate
conservatives, that`s a good prescription for America. We need people who
are going to work together.

And Lord knows, talk about any poll you want, Michael, the exit polls
showed 73 percent of the American people, overwhelming majority, want us to
compromise, want us to get things done.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, might a potential solution be that which they`re
doing? Governor Schwarzenegger, I think, deserves credit for this in
California, where it`s top two finishers who then square off in a general
election, regardless of party affiliation.

Is that the sort of thing you`d embrace for the GOP to try and break free
of this stranglehold that extremists have on the primary process?

LATOURETTE: No, as I looked at the California races, I don`t think that
they produced the best results with this sort of jungle (ph) primary and
the top two finishers. I think there needs to be a Republican and a
Democrat facing off.

The challenge is in the primaries, with the way the districts are
configured. There`s really no motivation for a lot of members of Congress
to come to the center because their districts have been drawn in such a way
that they`re either bright red or bright blue.

SMERCONISH: Right.

LATOURETTE: And so they`re busy defending themselves from a potential
primary challenge, rather than worrying about the November election. And
we often say up here most members of Congress are going to be reelected
unless they get caught with a live sheep or a dead girl, and it shouldn`t
be that way. You should have to be able to talk about issues in November.

SMERCONISH: Nate Silver pointed out in the Fivethirtyeight blog recently
that there are probably 35 competitive districts out of 435.

Thank you, Congressman Steve LaTourette. Thank you, Governor Rendell.
Good to see you.

RENDELL: Thanks, Michael. Happy new year.

SMERCONISH: Coming up: The House finally got around to voting on an aid
package for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. It might sound like a no-
brainer, but the conservative Club for Growth promised to punish anyone who
voted for it, and 67 Republicans voted it down. That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Vice President Biden presided over a joint session of Congress
today to officially count the electoral votes for president. It`s a
formality required under the U.S. code, but it`s worth noting this fact.

According to the official tally from November`s election, President Obama
won 51.1 percent of the popular vote to Mitt Romney`s -- get this -- 47.2
percent. And that makes Obama the first president since Dwight Eisenhower
to win at least 51 percent of the vote in back-to-back elections. And he`s
the first Democrat to do so since FDR.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After a week in which lawmakers from the Northeast, Democrats and
Republicans, were livid that Speaker John Boehner pulled a vote on
Hurricane Sandy aid, the House finally got around to voting on it today.
It overwhelmingly approved nearly $10 billion for flood insurance, but not
before a number of frustrated congressmen said it was about time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: This legislation is vital. This is not a
handout. This is not something we`re looking for as a favor.

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: This action by the House Republican
leadership is too little and too late.

REP. MICHAEL GRIMM (R), NEW YORK: These are human beings, human beings,
children that have been completely displaced, and it`s up to us to get them
back on their feet.

REP. BILL PASCRELL (D), NEW JERSEY: This is a total, total disaster in
helping those people that we are pompously saying today and pontificating
about we`re helping them. Isn`t that wonderful! What`s our jobs? We`re
not doing anybody any favors. That`s why we were sent here! Try it once
in a while, democracy. You might like it!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Still, the bill has its critics on the right. The Club for
Growth, a group that opposes adding to the deficit, encouraged Republicans
to vote against the aid, and 67 members of Congress, all of them
Republicans, voted no.

Joining me, communications director for the Club for Growth Barney Keller,
and Ron Reagan, author and MSNBC contributor.

Mr. Keller, let me start with you. What`s the nature of the opposition to
the Club for Growth to this aid package?

BARNEY KELLER, CLUB FOR GROWTH: Thanks for having me, Michael. And first,
I should say that, you know, the club wants the victims of Sandy to get the
relief that they need from the government.

But unfortunately, what happens is, is every time the government has a
disaster relief bill, what they do is they come up with a big spending
bill. It`s not paid for. There`s no accountability or oversight. And
it`s loaded with pork.

And I`m afraid that`s what we saw in the Senate bill. I`m afraid that`s
what we`re going to see going forward is just another big spending bill
that isn`t paid for, that isn`t offset with anything...

SMERCONISH: But to be clear, because I was confused about this, the House
version did not have pork. We can agree on that, right?

KELLER: Well, the bill that passed today was just an extension of flood
insurance, but it wasn`t paid for, again. You know, pork is just one of
the many issue that were in the big Senate bill that Governor Christie and
others were upset about and members of Congress that you showed were upset
about.

SMERCONISH: But Barney, let me -- let me -- just so that I`m clear -- if
this were a funding bill for nails to be used in shingles for people`s
roofs, you`d have still been against it on the basis that there was no
offset. It`s the offset, not the nature of what it was that drives your
opposition, is that true?

KELLER: Well, no, that`s not entirely true. In today`s bill, the nature
was just that it wasn`t offset. The offset is just one of the many things.

We think that the bill could be parcelled out into smaller chunks. There`s
no reason why the government has to go and appropriate $10 billion in one
day. We don`t know if that money is going directly to Sandy victims. You
know, the flood insurance program itself is broken. People should be
asking why, you know, people are paying premiums but yet the fund doesn`t
have enough money...

SMERCONISH: Well, let me -- let me...

KELLER: ... to pay out the claims, you know? These are fundamental
problems, and every time we get into a disaster, we do the exact same
thing. We just keep kicking the can down the road and asking our children
to pay for it. And that`s what we`re doing right now with this Sandy bill.

SMERCONISH: Let me ask Ron Reagan to weigh in. And Ron, I should mention
that after the Senate earlier passed its version of the Sandy aid bill,
Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn put out a list of what they called
questionable spending in it, including, for example, $2 million to repair
damage to the roofs of museums in Washington, D.C., while many in Hurricane
Sandy`s path still have no roof over their heads, $150 million for
fisheries as far away from the storm`s path as Alaska, $15 million for NASA
facilities, though NASA itself has called damage from the hurricane
minimal.

All of those provisions were stripped from the bill the House approved
today. I want to underscore that. It was pork-free. Ron Reagan, what do
you make of this?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as far as those provisions being in
there in the first place, unfortunately, that`s how sausages are made in
Washington, D.C. and let`s remember, we`re talking about an appropriation
that is some 10,000 million dollars. You cited less than $200 million out
of that 10,000 million dollars that is questionable.

It was stripped out, but even if it wasn`t stripped out, even if that was
the price you pay for greasing the skids of government to get needed aid to
people, I would argue that it is necessary, that you must do that. It`s
unfortunate, but we must do that.

Now, look, if you want to have a discussion about flood insurance in this
country or what FEMA does and how it does it or how effectively it does it,
that`s fine.

But you don`t do it when you have thousands of people in desperate need.
You don`t hold those people hostage, in a sense, to your ideological
predispositions. That is an ugly, thuggish way to do business.

SMERCONISH: Barney, he`s essentially saying when the house is on fire, put
the water on it and then sort this out.

KELLER: But that`s not entirely fair. What Ron neglects to mention is
that the reason the House has broken up this Sandy relief bill into three
different parts is because they also want a $33 billion appropriation to go
towards future disaster mitigation projects.

Now, I don`t know exactly how that $33 billion is supposed to grease the
skids of Washington. I guess I can think of a couple different ways, but,
you know, again, we can`t keep adding money to the debt that we don`t have.
And we can`t keep borrowing money from China to pay for it.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: Is there something wrong with disaster mitigation, future disaster
mitigation?

KELLER: There is nothing...

REAGAN: I think that would probably be a pretty good idea, given what
happened with Hurricane Sandy.

(CROSSTALK)

KELLER: Ron, how does -- Ron, I don`t -- Ron, I don`t understand how
building levees five years down the future in New York helps a person who
is looking for disaster relief right now who is homeless on the street.
Perhaps you can explain that to me.

REAGAN: What`s wrong with thinking ahead? I don`t really understand this.

(CROSSTALK)

KELLER: Then it should be considered.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: You seem to be so upset the government would spend -- would spend
money without any offsets. You must have been absolutely furious about the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were totally unpaid for.

KELLER: We`re furious about all the profligate spending that went over --
that went on during...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Barney, one question, if I might. Barney, Barney, for
consistency, was this your position on Katrina?

KELLER: Yes. We opposed the Katrina relief bill. It wasn`t offset as
well.

And look what happened with Hurricane Katrina, the Hurricane Katrina relief
bill. They passed a huge spending bill. It wasn`t offset. There was no
accountability. And, afterwards, we heard all sorts of stories about FEMA
trailers being left untouched in New Orleans while people were starving in
the streets. This is again...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Ron Reagan, if I can make an additional point reflecting on
the first segment of the program, there are votes, and there are key votes.

Club for Growth says this is a key vote, which means it factors in --
Barney, you correct me if I`m wrong -- it factors into the rating that they
give to members.

KELLER: That`s correct.

SMERCONISH: And so, therefore, Ron Reagan, this plays a role in primary
season. You know, this is the sort of thing where if you voted for that,
you got lesser of a score for the Club for Growth. You have increased the
odds that you will draw a Republican opponent in the next midterm election.

REAGAN: Yes, I understand.

And that is the threat, of course, but again playing that sort of game when
you have got people in need just seems to me to be strangely ugly. And it
puts Republican candidates -- forget about the Democrats -- it puts
Republican candidates in a very difficult position. They have to toady to
the Club for Growth and not vote their conscience, I imagine, in many
instances.

Many of these Republicans, I assume, really wanted to help people, but they
felt like they couldn`t because they`d pay politically down the line.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Barney, respond to that.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: It reminds me of the whole Grover Norquist issue and the
pledge against tax increases.

KELLER: Well, I would just say that the problem with Republicans is that
they don`t act like Republicans.

You know, people send Republicans to Washington supposedly to cut taxes and
limit government. After the fiscal cliff deal they voted for, if they had
voted for the Sandy bill they would have voted to increase taxes and expand
government. So I think the Republican Party, you know, if they`re really
serious about saving America from its debt crisis -- I`m a young guy, but
I`m not too old to remember when the national debt was $14.6 trillion.
That was just last August.

We just hit the debt ceiling at $16.4 trillion. Again, we just can`t keep
spending this...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Ron Reagan, a very quick final word. Go ahead, sir.

REAGAN: Well, listen, you know, the -- the Republican administration that
preceded the Obama administration is responsible for most of our debt and
our deficits.

KELLER: Absolutely, they are. Absolutely, they are.

REAGAN: Yes, indeed.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: All right, there we go, common ground.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: But, again, you don`t hold people who are suffering hostage.

SMERCONISH: Thank you both.

REAGAN: It`s not the right way to go, not politically smart.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Ron Reagan.

Thank you, Barney Keller.

REAGAN: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: We appreciate you both.

KELLER: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Up next: Michele Bachmann is trying to do something that`s
failed the previous 33 times it`s been attempted. That`s next in the
"Sideshow."

And, remember, if you want to follow me on Twitter, you just need to figure
out how to spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the "Sideshow."

First: photo-op Photoshopped. No doubt, Nancy Pelosi is proud that the
House Democratic Caucus for the 113th Congress has more female members than
any previous session. A photo-op of the congresswomen took place on the
Capitol steps yesterday. And Pelosi later posted this image to her Flickr
account.

The problem? Those four women at the top were not at the photo-op. Well,
they got there eventually, but it was late, everybody was cold. It`s a
case of the Photoshop, and people noticed. Today, Pelosi was asked if the
photo could really be taken as an accurate historical record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: It was an accurate
historical record of who the Democratic women of Congress are.

It also is an accurate record that it was freezing cold and our members had
been waiting a long time for everyone to arrive, and that they had to get
back into the building to greet constituents, family members to get ready
to the floor -- go to the floor. It wasn`t like we had the rest of the day
to stand there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Evidently, they were running a tight ship.

Next: Out with the old, on with the old news? Any guesses what the first
bill introduced in the 113th Congress happened to be about? A couple of
hints. House Republicans have done this before -- in fact, 33 times, all
of them unsuccessful. Here is another hint. Michele Bachmann was behind
it this time.

She broke the news on Twitter yesterday, saying -- quote -- "I introduced
the first bill of the 113th Congress to repeal Obamacare in its entirety."
Somehow, I just don`t think the 34th time is going to be the charm.

Next, it`s everybody`s dream to walk into a deli and find out that a
sandwich has been named after you, right? Well, not in this case. If the
words total baloney sum up your thoughts about how Congress handled all the
fiscal cliff chaos, you will want to head to Virginia`s Roanoke Bagel
Company and order the Congressional Sandwich Special.

It`s a mostly baloney sandwich. One of the shop`s owners gave the scoop on
how the sandwich made the menu.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMELIA GOLDACKER, OWNER, ROANOKE BAGEL COMPANY: Listening to the nonsense
and, you know, waiting for Congress, as we always do, and waiting and
waiting and waiting, and we had ordered baloney. So, I thought, well, we
need to do a baloney sandwich.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: The Congressional Sandwich is, for now at least, a limited-
time offer.

Finally, has Capitol Hill really seen the last of Barney Frank? Yesterday
marked his final day as a Massachusetts congressman, but apparently Frank
is game to prolong things a bit.

On "MORNING JOE" today, Frank broke the news that he wants to take on the
position of interim senator when John Kerry becomes secretary of state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MORNING JOE")

BARNEY FRANK (D), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS CONGRESSMAN: A month ago -- no, a
few weeks, in fact, I said I wasn`t interested, which is kind of like
you`re about to graduate and they said you have got to go to summer school.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK: But that deal -- that deal now means that February, March, and
April are going to be among the most important months in American
financial...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: So you`re considering it.

FRANK: If I -- yes. In fact, I`m not going to be coy. It`s not anything
I have ever been good at. I have told the governor that I would now like,
frankly, to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Frank`s version of summer school, as he put it, would last
until a special election takes place for the seat, most likely this summer.

Up next: "Zero Dark Thirty." The Senate is looking into whether the
filmmakers behind the movie about the killing of bin Laden had
inappropriate access to confidential CIA information.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Mandy Drury with your CNBC "Market
Wrap."

Oh, if every week of 2013 could look this good, the Dow gaining another 44
points, the S&P up by seven, hitting a high not seen since 2007, and the
Nasdaq gaining two points.

In another sign of a healthier economy, the auto industry says last year
was its best U.S. sales year since the financial crisis began. Meantime,
employers added 155,000 jobs last month, pretty much as expected. And for
the first time in six years, more women are looking for work than men.

And that is it from CNBC. Have a great weekend, everybody. We`re first in
business worldwide -- back over to HARDBALL now.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The controversial new movie "Zero Dark Thirty" about the hunt for Osama bin
Laden has already racked up a slew of critical praise and Oscar buzz, but
it`s also received some real-world criticism for its depiction of torture
as a key element in finding bin Laden. Well, now it has sparked a Senate
investigation.

Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain want to know whether
the CIA provided misinformation to filmmakers. In a statement yesterday,
the three senators wrote: "Given the CIA`s cooperation with the filmmakers
and the narrative`s consistency with past public misstatements by former
senior CIA officials, the filmmakers could have been misled by information
they were provided by the CIA."

So what are the facts about the role enhanced interrogation played in the
investigation? How accurate or inaccurate is the movie?

Roger Cressey is a former White House counterterrorism official and an NBC
News terrorism analyst, and David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for
"Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Roger, the reason why I think the filmmakers can`t just say, well, it`s a
movie is because, when I went to see it, the first words that came up on
the screen said, "Based on firsthand accounts of actual events," which
tells me as a filmgoer, you`re about to see the way it really went down.

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Right.

And that -- of course, that`s Hollywood`s way of trying to suck you in and
be a little misleading at the same time. Michael, anyone who is relying on
Hollywood for an accurate depiction of foreign policy should have their
head examined.

(LAUGHTER)

CRESSEY: I was there at the White House on 9/11. I saw how the events of
9/11 were portrayed. There was a lot of healthy liberal, if you will, not
in the political way, use of the facts.

We need to keep that in mind first and foremost. And I think what you have
seen so far in some of the commentary is there is some accuracy in how they
portray broader story, the narrative of how long it took to get bin Laden
and all the different pieces.

The scenes at the beginning on torture clearly were taken not accurately
from what we know of how enhanced interrogation was done, but yet the
viewer is left with a certain image, and that, of course, is the big issue.

SMERCONISH: No doubt. I`m telling you two-and-a-half-hours later, you
walk out and you say, we kicked the crap out of that guy and, therefore,
were able to bill bin Laden.

And, David, here is the interesting thing. The insiders can`t agree.
Three people with access to classified information about the interrogation
program have come to very different conclusions about its effectiveness. I
want to share this with you.

For example, today in "The Washington Post," Jose Rodriguez, the former
director of the national clandestine service, wrote: "I was intimately
involved in setting up and administering the CIA`s enhanced interrogation
program. I left the agency in 2007 secure in the knowledge that not only
our program worked, but that it was not torture."

Then you have Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had access to millions of pages
of evidence. She came to a very different conclusion. She said in a
statement -- quote -- "The CIA did not first learn about the existence of
the Osama bin Laden courier from detainees subjected to coercive
interrogation techniques. Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the
courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA
detention and interrogation program."

And then, finally, Michael Morell, the acting director of the CIA, mainly
agreed with her, saying, the impression that enhanced interrogation was the
key to finding bin Laden is false. And he also said, "Whether enhanced
interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain
information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of
debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved."

So, David Corn, how are we going to resolve it?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, actually, I think the director,
the acting director is wrong.

It can be resolved if you have enough information. And what the Senate
Intelligence Committee did that is chaired by Senator Dianne Feinstein
looked at, as you noted, millions of pages of CIA records, and they had a
whole investigation into CIA interrogation practices, and they produced a
report that came out a few weeks ago that was 6,000 pages-long on the CIA
detention practices.

And I know you`re dying to read that report, as I am, but it happens to be
classified. But she and Senator Levin and John McCain have put out
statements saying that their report -- this is part of what you just read -
- indicated to them that there was basically nothing that came from
enhanced interrogation, what I would call torture, water-boarding, that led
to -- that was significant in finding bin Laden.

And so what they have done, what they have done on the committee is they
have asked Acting Director Mike Morell to send them whatever information he
shared with the filmmakers to see if there was any sort of misleading going
on there.

You can see that Mike Morell was trying to walk a line between what Jose
Rodriguez says, people who worked in the CIA who did this sort of
reprehensible actions, and what the investigation found, which is based on
the CIA`s own records.

SMERCONISH: Well, Roger -- Roger, here is, I think, an area of common
ground, and I have paid close attention to this issue. The Ammar character
in the first half-hour appears to be died to Mohammed al-Qahtani, who would
have been the 20th hijacker.

Was he water-boarded? No. Was he treated with enhanced interrogation? He
was. And did he give up the name of the courier, al-Kuwaiti? Apparently,
he did.

So, in so far as that is the representation, it would seem accurate.

CRESSEY: Yes, I think there`s a lot of truth to that, Michael.

There`s a lot of fast and loose with the actual events and how they`re
portrayed. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was given enhanced interrogation and he
was water-boarded. And I think there is a difference between the two.
Water-boarding did not really -- did not produce any actionable
intelligence.

It`s arguable whether or not any of the enhanced interrogation did as well,
because it`s all still classified. So, people are trying to take two and
two here and come up with four. And, in fact, it is really 200.

SMERCONISH: Well, I`m glad you -- I`m glad you brought that up.

And you will want to see this. Ali Soufan was an interrogator for the FBI
who was successful getting information from al Qaeda detainees using non-
coercive means.

Now, listen to what he told "60 Minutes" about what happened after a CIA
interrogator showed up to take over the questioning of one of the detainees
that he`d been dealing with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI SOUFAN, FBI INTERROGATOR: Supposedly, he`s an expert in the field, so
I asked him, do you know anything about Islamic fundamentalism? He said
no. Have you ever interrogated anybody? No. He basically said, no, he
knows human nature.

REPORTER: And how does Abu Zubaydah react to this?

SOUFAN: He basically stopped cooperating.

REPORTER: The information dried up?

SOUFAN: Yes, totally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And also in the interview with "60 Minutes", Jose Rodriguez
conceded that enhanced interrogation failed to get key pieces of
information from the most senior al Qaeda detainee in U.S. custody, KSM,
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11.

Here that is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: The truth is about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, you really didn`t
break him.

JOSE RODRIGUEZ: Why do you say that?

REPORTER: Well, he didn`t tell about Osama bin Laden. He didn`t tell you
how to get him. He didn`t tell you how to find him.

RODRIGUEZ: Some of these people were not going to tell us everything.

REPORTER: So you don`t break them, and they told you lies.

RODRIGUEZ: There is a limit to what they will tell us.

REPORTER: Now here is what I had heard. That Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told
you the courier had retired and threw you off the scent for a while.

RODRIGUEZ: That was the one secret he was going to take to the grave, and
that was the protection of the sheikh. He was not going to tell us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: So, David Corn, there are two of the principals, Ali Soufan,
Jose Rodriguez telling significantly different stories. How are we to
sorts this out?

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Well, you know, Mike Isikoff, who`s familiar to
the viewers of the show.

SMERCONISH: Sure.

CORN: And I wrote a book called "Hubris" a few years ago when the case has
gone in Al Libi, who the FBI was getting information from, very similar to
what Ali Soufan just talked about. And the CIA came in and took him away
from the FBI. He ended up in an Egyptian cell.

And it wasn`t just that he didn`t give information that was useful. He
gave false information. He cooked up a whole story that Saddam Hussein was
working with al Qaeda and training them to use chemical weapons. And
George W. Bush, president of the United States, used that information,
which ended up being false, to sell the war in Iraq.

So, sometimes this stuff not only doesn`t work but it goes in the opposite
direction, and this is why I`d love to read that 6,000 page report.

SMERCONISH: So, would -- David, speaking of going in the opposite
direction, let`s remind everybody, this is the movie that critics of the
president feared would cement his re-election. It was supposed to be a
valentine to President Obama --

CORN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: -- being released in October of the presidential year and he`s
a bit player at best. He`s not even in the movie. There`s a portion of
the "60 Minutes" interview and, I say, it`s of no consequence.

So, people should go see it and make up their own minds as to what they
make of it all.

Anyway, thank you, Roger Cressey.

Thank you, David Corn.

CORN: Sure thing.

CRESSEY: You bet, Michael.

CORN: Up next, no one works it like Vice President Joe Biden. That`s
ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is in Newtown,
Connecticut, today. She`s having a private meeting with the families of
victims of last month`s Sandy Hook school shooting massacre.

Giffords stepped down from Congress in 2012 to focus on her recovery after
being shot in the head at a campaign event in Tucson. You will remember
that six people were killed in that attack two years ago.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Vice President Joe Biden, as he swore in new senators yesterday, was
absolutely relishing the job of being a politician. Let`s watch him work
the room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hey, mom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey.

BIDEN: How are you? Good to see you. I`m Joe Biden.

Guys, other than my mother, this is the finest lady I`ve ever known.

You know this lady?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I met her.

BIDEN: How are you doing?

She is the best. She is the best thing to come here. I have been here for
200 years.

You`re a good looking bunch. Howa are you, man?

I want you next to me. You got a smile that lights up the whole chamber.
Come on, sis, get in here.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SMERCONISH: This kind of schmoozing and glad handing is innate to some
politicians and torture for others, and it`s often the key ingredient in a
politician`s success. Some politicians have it and some don`t.

The vice president, he`s got it.

Joining me: "The Washington Post`s" Dana Milbank, and managing editor of
thegrio.com, Joy Reid.

You know, Joy, he`s being criticized in some quarters. They`re ridiculing
this and saying, oh, you know, look at this phony Biden. I`m sure to ask
the people who were there and on the receiving end of those greetings.
They were probably elated to be in his company.

JOY REID, THE GRIO: Absolutely. And you know what, Michael? It`s funny.
In an age where people hate Washington and hate politicians, here is a guy
you can actually like. Here is a guy who seems like a regular person, who
seems like somebody who`d be approachable, who would be fun to be around.

And at a time when Washington is at its low ebb of popularity, I think it`s
actually great to see at least one guy enjoying his job.

SMERCONISH: Dana, earlier today, the vice president`s son Beau talked
about his father`s style. Here`s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEAU BIDEN (D), DELAWARE ATTORNEY GENERAL: He`s the same person at home.
He`s the same person at Home Depot. He`s the same person in the halls of
Congress. And I think that`s why he`s so successful among Democrats and so
successful across the aisle with Republicans over the course of 36-plus
years on the national stage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: What do you think, Dana Milbank? It makes sense?

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, Michael, I think the appeal
is that -- it`s not that he was particularly brilliant or funny. In fact,
some of the things he said if you played more of the tape were just
bizarre. Some of them were sort of close to the edge in terms of taste.

But you can never say that Joe Biden is being affected. He`s just out
there saying whatever comes to his mind. He`s sort of like this giddy guy
at a party who may have had one or two too many. So, in a time when
everybody seems to be guarding themselves and, certainly, if you look at
the other politicians we`re covering these days -- the president, the
Senate majority leader, minority leader -- very button-down guy. And then
you have Joe Biden --

SMERCONISH: You know, it`s funny you say that, as a guy at the party who
may have had one too many, because you still want him at the party, right?
And the next time you entertain him --

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK: Oh, yes, he`s everybody`s favorite uncle. Yes.

SMERCONISH: Mitt Romney, less than the consummate politician when he
commented on the cookies from the local bakery. Let`s watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m not sure about these
cookies. They don`t look like you made them. Did you make those cookies?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no.

ROMNEY: No, they came from the local 7-Eleven, bakery or whatever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: It just didn`t come naturally to him, Joy.

REID: And you know what, Michael? I sort of have this like cinematic
theory of politics, right? That since the television age, the politicians
who do well kind of have that Hollywood-quality, right? So, JFK, people
who were in that age when it was a grandeur to Hollywood. If they had that
kind of grandeur like a Ronald Reagan, like a Kennedy, they did well.

But now, Hollywood is more accessible. You can talk to them on Twitter.
So, we like people who are like clerks, right? So the politicians who seem
like a regular person, who seem approachable, who seem like an approachable
celebrity tend to do well.

Mitt Romney was awkward at either of those two venues. He just doesn`t
know how to come across on television or in person and it shows, and it`s
painful to watch.

SMERCONISH: All right. Let`s then implement what we call the Biden scale.
Here`s an image of JFK on the stump.

Dana Milbank, did he have that quality or did he not have that quality?

MILBANK: I suspect JFK would have been chewed up today, perhaps, because
he was -- we certainly, rightly, revere him for his quick wit and for his
gift as Joy was saying on television. But I don`t think you would have
seen him in the same retail politics capacity we`re talking about now and
we would have picked him apart, I think.

SMERCONISH: Joy Reid, here`s the Gipper on the stump. Did Ronald Reagan
have that same type of quality?

REID: I totally disagree with Dana on JFK. I think he had the "It"
factor. We would have more known for his scandals, but he definitely had
the cinematic quality. Reagan had it, too. He was an actor, he came from
that world. He knew how do the ceremonial duties of president, whatever
you thought of his actual job performance.

SMERCONSH: Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the gold standard. I
think we`ll agree on this. There is, the big dog.

Dana Milbank, he`s got that quality.

MILBANK: Right. It`s hard to hear about Bill Clinton without thinking
immediately I feel your pain. He`s the human empath. And that`s the
standard by which all since have been judged and have failed.

SMERCONISH: Well, and I still have the image -- and you`ve mentioned Bill
Clinton in a funny way, in a good way. I think of "SNL" and him jogging
through Micky D`s in a sweat suit.

REID: No matter what he did -- it was - -it was classic Bubba. Elvis is
definitely at the top of the scale.

SMERCONISH: Listen, I love Bush 41, I don`t know that he had it. But Bush
43, we`ll put the image of him up working the stump. I think he had those
characteristics. Joy, would you disagree or agree with that?

REID: Again, clerks. That`s all I`m going to say.

SMERCONISH: Dana?

REID: He`s the regular dude you know, even if you don`t think he`s too
competent.

MILBANK: Yes, I think that`s right. He came out of Yale Business School
but had the ability to convey himself as the ordinary man, the common guy.

SMERCONISH: One word, he might be worth a hundred million more than he was
last week. Vice president and presidential candidate, Al Gore -- not a guy
who has that quality?

REID: No, he was in that Romney territory. He had that sort of patrician
bearing. He always seems stiff and uncomfortable in his own skin. And
that comes across so painfully on television.

SMERCONISH: Joy Reid, Dana Milbank, many thanks. We appreciate you being
here.

MILBANK: Thanks.

REID: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: When we return, let me finish with a thought about the new
movie, "Django Unchained."

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this:

Over the Christmas break, I saw Quentin Tarantino`s new movie, "Django
Unchained". You know him from his prior work, including "Pulp Fiction,"
"Reservoir Dogs," "Inglourious Basterds."

This one was worth the price of admission. After I saw it, I tweeted the
following, `Saw Django, doubt Spike Lee would be upset if he`s watched.
It`s twisted, engaging, farcical, bloody, but mostly a condemnation of
slavery."

I was referring to the fact that in "Vibe," Spike Lee said that he would
not see the movie. He said, quote, "I can`t speak on it because I`m not
going to see it. The only thing I can say is it`s disrespectful to my
ancestors to see that film."

No doubt he was making reference to the use of the "N" word in that movie.
Tarantino responded in an interview he did with Harvard Professor Louis
Gate.

He said, quote, "Personally, I find the criticism ridiculous because it
would be one thing if people were out there saying you use it much more
excessively in the movie than it was used in 1858 in Mississippi. Well,
nobody`s saying that.

If you`re not saying that, you`re simply saying I should be lying. I
should be watering it down. I should be making it more easy to digest.

No, I don`t want it to be easier to digest. I want it to be a big,
gigantic boulder, a jagged pill and you have no water."

Jamie Foxx leads an all-star cast playing Django, a freed slave who joined
a dentist-turned-bounty hunter played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz. They
team up to kill the murdering, thieving, Brittle brothers and then to free
Django`s wife, a slave named Broomhilda. She`s being held at a Mississippi
plantation owned by Leonardo DiCaprio`s character and the plantation is
called Candy Land.

Does it sound insane? Well, it is, it`s Quentin Tarantino. But Tarantino
does a masterful job depicting the abhorrent nature of slavery. You root
for Jamie Foxx.

Foxx recently made a joke in an opening monologue on "SNL" about how it was
great to kill all the white people in the movie. Well, believe me, you
want his character to kill the white people who enslaved him in the movie.

And one other thing, there are many A-list actors in this movie. But the
one who steals the show, in my view, is Samuel L. Jackson. He plays a
house slave at the plantation and he`s a vile character. He`s smart. He`s
arguably the smartest character in the movie. He`s been corrupted. He`s
turned on his own and he`s black.

So this is not exactly some hate whitey movie, either. There`s something
in "Django Unchained" to offend everybody. But that`s not a reason to stay
away.

The film packs a powerful message. And, like I said, Spike Lee ought to
see it. Four stars.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thank you 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.
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