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updated 1/31/2013 10:49:43 AM ET 2013-01-31T15:49:43

HARDBALL
January 30, 2013

Guests: Mark Glaze, Nia-Malika Henderson, Dana Milbank, James Dale

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Gun safety. Will the GOP just say no?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in tonight for Chris Matthews.
Leading off: Gun fight. The pictures alone were dramatic. Former
congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, nearly killed by an assassin`s bullet,
seated at the same Senate witness table as the NRA`s Wayne LaPierre.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), FMR. ARIZONA CONGRESSWOMAN: You must act. Be
bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: As the rest of the country comes to the realization something
must be done to prevent gun violence, the NRA and its allies in the
Republican Party are digging in. We`ll look at what President Obama can
and can`t accomplish on gun safety at the top of the program.

Plus, does President Obama want a deal on illegal immigration, which would
be huge for his legacy, or does he want the issue hanging around so
Republicans continue to get punished at the polls by Latino voters? That`s
a real HARDBALL question, and we`ll get some answers tonight.

And it may be last call for the Tea Party. Consider this. Republicans
with national ambitions want the GOP to stop being the "stupid party."
Conservatives in the Senate are working with Democrats on illegal
immigration. And FOX News parts ways with Sarah Palin. "The Washington
Post`s" Dana Milbank says it`s all evidence the Tea Party is losing steam,
and he`s with us tonight.

Plus, the Boy Scouts of America are considering dropping their ban on gay
volunteers and members. It`s another sign of the progress this country has
made on gay rights, but it`s not without controversy.

And finally, is the most powerful Republican in the Senate the next victim
of the GOP`s purity effort?

We begin with that dramatic Senate hearing on gun safety. Mark Glaze is
with the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns and MSNBC political analyst
David Corn the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" magazine.

Mark, let me begin with you. You were there. You`re covering this. Were
there any surprises, or did everyone play their usual role?

MARK GLAZE, MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS: Well, you know, there`s a certain
amount of kabuki to every hearing, and certainly, there is on something
like this, where the sides are fairly dug in.

But I will say there was a fair agree of civility, given the tenseness of
the issue. And there were, you know, Republican members on that committee
who are not gun control fans but who are quite thoughtful and kind of
showed by their demeanor that they get the gravity of the moment and are
open to thinking -- rethinking the issue.

SMERCONISH: David Corn, let`s look at more of former congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords`s powerful testimony earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIFFORDS: Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important.
Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many
children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now.
You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.
Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: David, what brought it all home for me, these are the notes
that Gabrielle Giffords wrote herself for her testimony at today`s violence
hearing. They were posted on the Facebook page of her PAC, Americans for
Responsible Solutions. Giffords`s husband, Mark Kelly, co-founded the
organization with her. He gave powerful testimony, as well, today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK KELLY, FORMER ASTRONAUT, HUSBAND OF GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: We believe
wholly and completely in the 2nd Amendment and that it confers upon all
Americans the right to own a firearm for protection, collection and
recreation. We take that right very seriously, and we would never, ever
give it up, just like Gabby would never relinquish her gun and I would
never relinquish mine.

But rights demand responsibility. And this right does not extend to
terrorists. It does not extend to criminals. And it does not extend to
the mentally ill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: One more thing I want you to see. Following this morning`s
testimony, Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, met with President
Obama in the Oval Office.

So David Corn, I show you all that and I ask how can the momentum, to the
extent that momentum exists right now on the president and the White House
side -- how can it be maintained? How do you maintain that level of
emotional testimony?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it was a quite
emotional moment watching Gabby Giffords get up there courageously. And
her husband, who I`ve met in the past, I have to say, is just really damn
impressive. He was a hero for going up in the space shuttle, and now he`s
a hero for taking on this very hard issue and doing it with such great
aplomb.

But it`s important -- keep him and Gabby Giffords and the families of the
kids in Newtown -- keep them in the spotlight. Let them have the platform
that they want because the only way anything happens on the gun violence
prevention front is if the intensity level remains on the side of people
looking to change the status quo.

You know, you know that on the side of the NRA and the gun fanatics, the
extremists on that side, there is already the intensity. It`s always been
there. They care about this. It`s often their top issue. And for those
who want to change and have some common sense solutions about high-capacity
magazines and other provisions, you`ve got to fight that intensity with
intensity of your own. And it`s always a challenge.

SMERCONISH: You know, I agree with -- I agree with your assessment about
the intensity, about the emotion. But still, even in the face of it -- and
Mark, you were there, you can speak to this -- the NRA not giving an inch.
The NRA`s Wayne LaPierre -- in fact, let me show this -- got in a heated
exchange with Senators Durbin and Leahy over background checks. And he
made clear that the NRA would not give an inch on that issue. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: We got to get in the real
world on what works and what doesn`t work. My problem with background
checks is you`re never going to get criminals to go through universal
background checks.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Mr. LaPierre, that`s the point! The
criminals won`t go to purchase the guns because there`ll be a background
check. We`ll stop them from the original purchase. You missed that point
completely. I think it`s basic.

LAPIERRE: Senator, I think you missed...

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Let there be
order!

LAPIERRE: I think you`re missing...

(CROSSTALK)

LEAHY: Mr. LaPierre, please wait. (INAUDIBLE) As I said earlier, there
will be order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick
Leahy, also tried to pin down LaPierre on the same issue, background
checks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEAHY: Should we have mandatory background checks at gun shows for sales
of weapons?

LAPIERRE: If you`re a dealer, that`s already the law. If you`re
talking...

LEAHY: That`s not my question. Please, Mr. LaPierre, I`m not trying to
play games here. But if you could (INAUDIBLE)just answer my question.

LAPIERRE: Senator, I do not believe the way the law is working now,
unfortunately, that it does any good to extend the law to private sales
between hobbyists and collectors.

LEAHY: With all due respect, that was not the question I asked, nor did
you answer it.

LAPIERRE: But I think it is the answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Mark Glaze, if we can`t get it done on background checks,
where the polling data that I`ve seen suggests seven in ten Americans are
supportive, what gives us reason to believe that magazine clips or assault
weapons are going to be fair game?

GLAZE: Well, first I think they`re (ph) farther than that. Seven or eight
in 10 NRA members actually think that everybody should have to pass a
background check because they passed background checks.

So I would not take this too seriously. I mean, this is people staking out
their positions. But I think Wayne LaPierre would find it very hard to
stick until the end of this process with the position of rejecting
something that 70 percent or 80 percent of his base actually thinks is a
pretty good idea. So I think we can get background checks done. There`s
overwhelming support for it.

But there`s also right now quite strong support for a limit on magazines
and also for a ban on assault rifles, so -- but your initial question and
David`s answer were exactly right. This is only going to happen if the
American people make it happen. And that means they have to call their
representative, they have to write the White House, and they have to get
behind the effort to make sure that members are hearing about this when
they go home to their districts for recess.

SMERCONISH: There was a heart-breaking article in today`s "Washington
Post" by the parents of Daniel Bardon (ph), one of the children killed in
the Newtown massacre, who called for action on guns.

And it says, in part, "Any improvement to our laws, no matter how small or
reasonable, should not be decried as the forward wave of an attempt to ban
guns or take away rights. Even those of us who have lost the most are
suggesting no such thing."

And yet, David Corn, that`s the argument that I hear when I go to phones
from radio listeners. It`s the slippery slope. If we give an inch on
this, all of a sudden, they`ll be coming for everything.

CORN: Like, if you put a speed limit on the highway, pretty soon, they`re
going to take your car away from you. I mean, again, this issue has been
demagogued by people just like Wayne LaPierre and his allies, that any
regulation, any common sense limitation on guns or ammo means that your
gun`s going to be swept up by black helicopters.

One point that they made today over and over again, Wayne LaPierre and the
people on his side amongst the senators, is that we already have existing
gun laws and they`re not being enforced effectively.

SMERCONISH: Enforced, right.

CORN: But one reason why they`re not enforced effectively is because the
NRA and Republican senators have time and time again tried to defund and
handcuff the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and anything else they
can do to get in the way of enforcement.

So there is just so much phoniness and demagoguery and hypocrisy on that
side that keeps the flame going. I mean, we just have to trying to -- like
the op-ed, you know, that you just quote, have to just keep trying to douse
those flames to try to get some of these modest limitations.

SMERCONISH: Well, and the epidemic continues. I mean, meanwhile, gun
violence continues day in and day out. Just yesterday, 15-year-old Hadia
Pendelton (ph) of Chicago fatally shot in a park not far from her high
school a little more than a week ago. She was in Washington with her high
school band, where she performed in the president`s inaugural Heritage
Music Festival.

Mark Glaze, another criticism that I hear from those who don`t want any
change relative to gun laws is that if you take all of that which is now
being discussed and contemplated and you apply it to the mass shootings
that have been so much a part of the news, they would not have prevented
those incidents. I`m sure you`ve heard and deal with that.

What`s your response?

GLAZE: Well, it`s -- it`s true in some cases. I mean, no law you pass is
ever going to stop every killing. There are, 300 million, at least, guns
in the country, and the NRA is largely responsible for that. So it`s true
that you`re not going to stop everything.

But this is what you do with laws. You close the loopholes you can. And
by doing that, you can make an enormous difference. I mean, all these mass
shootings are mass because of a high-capacity magazines and an assault
weapon was involved. And in fact, the Tucson shooting did probably happen
because Jared Loughner`s records were not the National Instant Criminal
Background Check...

SMERCONISH: It`s a good point.

GLAZE: ... data base, and they probably should have been.

SMERCONISH: It`s a good point.

CORN: You know, Mark Kelly today...

SMERCONISH: Mark Glaze, thank you. David, I`ve got to run, but thank you,
David Corn, as always.

CORN: OK.

SMERCONISH: We appreciate your being here.

CORN: Sure thing.

SMERCONISH: Coming up: would President Obama rather get a deal done on
illegal immigration or let the issue fester so that Republicans continue to
get punished at the polls by Latino voters?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick has named a placeholder
to fill the Senate seat of John Kerry. Mo Cowan served as Patrick`s chief
of staff, and he`d be the second African-American in the Senate. Tim Scott
of South Carolina, another appointee, is the other. It`s the first time in
history that two African-Americans have served in the Senate at the same
time.

In selecting Cowan, Governor Patrick passed over former congressman Barney
Frank, who openly lobbied for the job. Cowan will serve until a special
election on April 30th, when Massachusetts voters will choose someone to
fill out the remainder of Kerry`s term.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason I came here today
is because of a challenge where the differences are dwindling, where a
broad consensus is emerging, and where a call for action can now be heard
coming from all across America. Now`s the time.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Obama in Las
Vegas yesterday, where he laid out his vision for immigration reform.

The president`s approach is very similar to what a bipartisan group of
eight senators called for earlier this week. Now the question is, can
something get done? Will Republicans in the House be willing to vote yes
on a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants
who are in this country illegally? Given that many distrust the
motivations of the president on this issue, that could be a hard sell.

Many Republicans say President Obama is all too happy to let the issue
fester and watch as their party continues to struggle with Hispanic voters.
However, Politico`s Mike Allen says that doesn`t pass the smell test, the
political smell test.

Quote, "This is one of the few Washington mysteries that has an
unambiguously correct answer. Top Dems tell us that if President Obama is
going to have a big legacy accomplishment this term, it has to be
immigration. There`s not going to be a fiscal grand bargain. There are no
signs a comprehensive gun control package is feasible. So the president
wants immigration to pass and is making an historic test of whether his
campaign machinery can translate to governing."

For more, we`re joined by the HuffingtonPost`s HOward Fineman, who is also
an MSNBC political analyst, and "The Washington Post`s" Nia-Malika
Henderson.

Nia-Malika, let me begin with you. What`s your answer to the question of
the president`s true objective here?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think his true objective
has been what it always was, even going back to 2008, when he campaigned on
the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. Obviously, wasn`t able to
get it done in his first term, gave a bunch of speeches that essentially
laid out the same thing he laid out yesterday, the sort of guiding
framework for where he wants to take this.

I think it always has been an issue for Republicans. He doesn`t
necessarily have to make it an issue for them. He certainly isn`t standing
for reelection. I think he already won the political fight in 2012. So
now it is about his legacy and whether or not he can get this big grand
bargain around immigration.

SMERCONISH: Howard, how do we get beyond the triggers, that difference
between the Senate plan and what the president has put forth? I mean, how,
in fact, do you prove the borders are now secure?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Right. That`s the practical difficulty in all this. And it`s one thing to
go out and say, Let`s do it when we secure the border. But the question
is, how you measure it, how you achieve that.

Do you put troops down there? Do you have drones flying overhead? What
statistics will you use? And so forth. But the larger issue is the
sequence. When it`s clear that people are going to be on that path to
citizenship that the president discussed, only after some kind of security
is enforced and proved or not? And that`s where the sticking point`s going
to be.

But I agree with Nia and I agree with Mike Allen, which is that this is
part of the president`s narrative. This makes sense for the president.
This is a president who comes, in a sense, from immigrant stock himself,
who sees himself carrying America into a new demographic and a new day,
who`s always reading Lincoln, who`s giving his State of the Union address
on Abraham Lincoln`s birthday.

I think for the president, to have a new birth of freedom in terms of
settling this immigration issue for this generation -- it always comes up,
but settling it again for this generation I think is something...

SMERCONISH: Big feather in his cap.

FINEMAN: ... that he very much -- very much cares about.

SMERCONISH: Well, let`s talk about the other side of the aisle. Senator
John McCain, one of the architects of the "gang of eight`s" plan, has said
the Republican Party risks a, quote, "descent towards irrelevancy" if they
fail to do something on immigration.

This morning, he explained what`s at stake for the Republican Party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The Republican Party has failed to
understand to a significant degree the importance of this issue to our
Hispanic voter.

We are elected to office because the voters think we will help them achieve
their hopes and dreams and aspirations for the future. If you have a large
block of Americans who believe that you are trying to keep their brethren
and sisterhood down, their fellow Hispanics down and deprive them of an
opportunity, obviously, that`s going to have an effect on their voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: A number of Republicans have taken issue with that mode of
thinking. By way of example, here`s what Congressman Lou Barletta of
Pennsylvania said. Quote, "I hope politics is not at the root of why we`re
rushing to pass a bill. Anyone who believes that they`re going to win over
the Latino vote is grossly mistaken. That majority that are here illegally
are low-skilled or may not even have a high school diploma. The Republican
Party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out.
They will become Democrats because of the social programs they`ll depend
on."

And a Republican Senate aide told "The National Review" that Republicans
should take a deep breath on this issue -- quote -- "Don`t walk the plank
on immigration because Romney only got 29 percent of the Hispanic vote and
then sell out on deeply held conservatives principles to bump up to 33
percent."

So, Nia-Malika, I`m surprised by the candor, the openness with which those
views were expressed, particularly Congressman Barletta.

HENDERSON: That`s right. And some of the language there used, there has
been this attempt by some Republicans to change the rhetoric, change the
language that they use around immigration, not wanting this to be an issue
going forward.

But I think realistically when you look at what`s happening on the House
side, they really only need 20 or so Republicans to back this bill for it
to get through the House. You saw, of course, with the fiscal cliff they
were able to get enough Republicans to agree to raising taxes. I think one
of the things that you`re seeing is there is this sea change. I think it`s
happened much more quickly than a lot of people thought it would, McCain
reverting back to the old McCain, Lindsey Graham, who is facing probably a
primary test down in South Carolina, a state that is now 5 percent Latino,
one of the fastest-growing states in the terms of Latino population down
there.

So I think we`re going to see the sort of bloodletting that is going on, on
the Republican Party along all of these issues, but I think at the end of
the day McCain speaks for a majority of Republicans who are looking at a
way to reform their party and looking at these changing demographics.

SMERCONISH: Howard, the stakes are high for one Republican in particular.
Senator Marco Rubio has been front and center on conservative media outlets
like Rush Limbaugh`s radio program making the case for immigration reform.
And while Limbaugh praised him, he`s also made his share of critics.
Listen to what Senator David Vitter told Laura Ingraham on her radio
program today.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE LAURA INGRAHAM SHOW")

SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: I love and respect Marco. I think he`s
just amazingly naive on this issue.

This is the same old formula that we have dealt with before, including when
it passed in 1986. And that is promises of enforcement and immediate
amnesty. And, of course, the promises of enforcement never materialize.
The amnesty happens immediately.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Rick Perry, Howard Fineman, and Newt Gingrich both got stung
when in the primary process they stepped out of that GOP rank and file on
this issue. Could it happen to Marco Rubio?

FINEMAN: It could. But this is how he will define himself as a national
figure. There`s no doubt that Marco Rubio is running for president in
2016.

He`s going to think that he`s going to try and bring the Republican Party
along with him, if he can. Did he get out there maybe a little too visibly
and a little too enthusiastically on day one with that gang of eight?
Perhaps for the internal politics of the Republican grassroots.

But I think he`s thinking he`s going to make a big national play. And he`s
going to work from the outside in. He`s going to be the conservative who
can appeal to the hardworking, intense people at the grassroots in Iowa,
South Carolina, et cetera, but also give them the sort of Ronald Reagan
promise of being able to reach back to the middle. And that`s the argument
that Marco Rubio is going to make.

Is that naive? On one level, perhaps. But it also may be very shrewd.

SMERCONISH: Howard Fineman, thank you. Thank you for being shrewd.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Nia-Malika Henderson as well.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: Up next: travels with Hillary. Before Hillary Clinton steps
down as secretary of state, we thought we`d look back at some of the
lighter moments in her global adventuring.

And if you want to follow me on Twitter, hopefully, you know the rules.
You just need to spell Smerconish. This is HARDBALL, the place for
politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": It`s a compare
and contrast kind of a deal.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: Cool, not cool. Take a look.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the first trip for
some of these players. But a few of them were here a couple years ago for
a Pickup game on my birthday.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Back to HARDBALL.

You may think you have heard all the arguments for and against gay
marriage. Here`s a new one. Laws upholding traditional marriage are
needed to protect society from too many unplanned pregnancies among
straight couples.

According to lawyers like Paul Clement, who was hired by House Republicans
to argue in favor of keeping the Defense of Marriage Act, traditional
marriage laws -- quote -- "reflect a unique social difficulty with
opposite-sex couples that is not present with same-sex couples, namely, the
undeniable and distinct tendency of opposite-sex relationships to reduce
unplanned and unintended pregnancies."

Are you still baffled about how that applies to same-sex marriage? Well,
in sum, Clement and others say that since gay couples don`t run the risk of
burdening society with unplanned pregnancy, they don`t need to be included
in any laws regarding traditional marriage. The case is set to the hit the
Supreme Court this spring.

Also, with the push for immigration heating up in recent weeks, have you
noticed that the same highly successful companies and individuals seem to
get a nod when the president talks about immigration policy? Hat tip to
"New York" magazine for picking up on this trend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: In recent years, one in four high-tech startups in America,
companies like Google and Intel.

After all, immigrants helped start businesses like Google and Yahoo!.

It`s worth remembering there was a time steel was about as advanced as
manufacturing got. But when the namesake of this university, Andrew
Carnegie, an immigrant, by the way...

Great ventures of Andrew Carnegie`s U.S. Steel and Sergey Brin`s Google,
Inc. All this was possible because of immigrants.

Look at Intel. Look at Google. Look at Yahoo!. Look at eBay. Every one
of those was founded by, guess who, an immigrant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Singular mentions from the president have spanned from Irving
Berlin to Mike Krieger, the co-founder of Instagram.

Finally, travels with Hillary. We have seen no shortage of high-stakes
international situations over the past four years. But, all the same, the
secretary has been game for the lighter moments of her job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Can I put one on like you
have over there?

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Things got musical on several different occasions. Then there
was this photo shoot in Hawaii with Hong Kong`s chief executive.

That was, in fact, a half-dressed torch-bearing man dashing behind them.

And then there`s her speech at "TIME" magazine 100 gala featuring a knock
at the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Time has honored so many national and global leaders. There`s
many I haven`t had a chance to meet yet. I was sort of hoping Kim Jong-un
would show up.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: I don`t think he`s here, but if you catch sight of him, let me
know. We`re still trying to figure out what he`s all about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Finally, we can`t forget the Clinton-approved meme texts from
Hillary with highlights like, "She`s going to love the new Justin Bieber
video" and "Back to work, boys."

Up next: Is it last call for the Tea Party? That movement that powered
Republicans the past couple of years seems to be losing steam. That`s
ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

Another pullback for stocks. The Dow falls 44 points. The S&P`s off five.
And the Nasdaq sheds 11. A factor in today`s selling, the latest GDP
showing the economy unexpectedly shrank by one-tenth-of-a-percent in the
fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Fed wrapped up its two-day meeting and in a
statement said growth paused in recent months.

And Facebook shares are lower after hours, despite better-than-expected
earnings and revenue.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We have got to stop being the stupid
party.

(LAUGHTER)

JINDAL: I`m serious. It`s time for a new Republican Party that talks like
adults. It`s time for us to articulate our plans and our visions for
America in real terms.

It`s no secret we had a number of Republicans that damaged the brand this
year with offensive and bizarre comments. I`m here to say we have had
enough of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

For more than a year now, we have seen stories asking whether the Tea Party
was on its way out. And during all that time, it has only strengthened its
hold on the Republican Party. But Dana Milbank provided a great ticktock
in his "Washington Post" column looking at notable events in the past week
that suggest that many Republicans and their supporters are growing wary of
the Tea Party`s grip on the GOP.

Let me run you through the chain of events. Last Thursday, Governor Bobby
Jindal from Louisiana told the RNC, as you heard, that it`s time for the
GOP to stop being the stupid party. On Friday, Virginia Governor McDonnell
put an end to the talk of rigging the electoral system to benefit
Republicans.

That same day, FOX News said thanks but no thanks to Sarah Palin. On
Saturday, word leaked that Speaker John Boehner had called some of his own
members hardheads. And on Monday, John McCain and Tea Party darling Marco
Rubio both signed onto an immigration proposal that`s not all enforcement.
It includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in
the states.

Dana Milbank is with me tonight, along with MSNBC political analyst Joan
Walsh of salon.

Joan, are you buying the demise of the Tea Party argument that Dana has
made?

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I would love to, but I think it`s a
little too soon.

And Dana says that himself. All of these data points are real, Michael. I
guess one -- the only one I would take issue with is the Bobby Jindal
characterization, because Bobby Jindal, I think, remains -- I guess talks a
good game, but remains a very, very conservative force and a Tea Party
force, because he`s trying to do away with personal income taxes. And he
wanted to eliminate hospice care for Medicaid patients.

And so this perspective on spending that the Tea Party brought certainly
hasn`t gone away. Any time you have got 36 United States senators who
voted down Sandy relief a couple days ago, you know that something has
fundamentally changed about the way that Republicans talk about government.

So I think it`s too early to say that they`re dead, but all the things that
Dana points to are good signs of -- signs of some kind of sanity seeping
in.

SMERCONISH: And, Dana, maybe it`s all in a name, because I think what
continues on for sure is this conservative domination, particularly in
Republican primaries.

I mean, here you have got Mitch McConnell being threatened now in Kentucky
in next year`s election from the right.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right.
Right.

And the Tea Party`s never really been an organized political force. And
I`m using that as sort of a shorthand for the far right that`s been
dominating the party right now. And, as I point out in the column, that
force really isn`t going anywhere, because of the redistricting, because of
the way things are structured in the House, and because of this primary
system.

We also have Saxby Chambliss in Georgia bowing out, rather than face a
primary challenge. This element of the party is going to be dominant for
some time to come. So, the Tea Party itself isn`t over, but what I think
you have is some of the more sober revelers in the Tea Party are heading
for the exits because they realize this thing is getting rowdy and the
police are going to be showing up and it`s going to get really ugly.

(LAUGHTER)

MILBANK: I think that`s what`s going on here. People who have national
aspirations, who are interested in 2016, who realize the party has to
change are growing a bit of bravery right now in saying, we can`t continue
to tolerate this.

SMERCONISH: Well, let`s take a look at where the Tea Party stands among
Americans.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll taken this past November shows that the Tea
Party has a 50 percent unfavorable rating. That`s nearly double what it
was in 2010. Meanwhile, the Tea Party`s favorable rating has pretty much
stayed the same.

Joan, I think that Dana makes a great point when he talks about hyper-
partisan districts. I will use that language.

WALSH: Right.

SMERCONISH: Nate Silver had a tremendous analysis recently and said, you
know, 435 congressional districts in the country and really only 35 of them
are in play.

Well, those that are held by Republicans are still going to have this
influence in them, regardless of whether we refer to them as the Tea Party
types.

WALSH: That`s exactly right.

You know, I call -- we -- I call it gerrymandering. I`m fine with that
word..

But, basically, what you`re seeing is that those districts, people are only
afraid of a primary challenge from the right. They don`t have to fear any
Democrats or centrist Republicans.

And then you also have the states that are solid red states like Georgia,
for example. You know, you could have a Paul Broun that he`s going to --
there will be a couple of tests. That will be one of them.

And I think Iowa will be another one. Does Steve King somehow emerge to,
sadly, tragically, possibly take Tom Harkin`s seat? Or does somebody more
centrist come out with the Republican nomination because Iowa is not a red
state. It`s certainly purple.

So -- you know, but in the red states like Kentucky and Georgia and in the
really red districts, you`re still going to have this extremist view about
government and about spending and also about immigration. I`m really
curious to watch this unfold and see, you know, the education of Marco
Rubio and whether he is doing this to appear centrist, appear reasonable
but quickly backs down to the forces of reaction? Or whether he perseveres
with this and really tries to get something done.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Well, let`s not forget the Tea Party
aligned folks such as Christine O`Donnell, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle and
Richard Mourdock, plus Todd Akin who I guess is technically a Tea Party
candidate but was in spirit only. They all lost Senate elections that
should have been slam dunks for the Republicans.

Dana, the GOP needs to be careful, because they want to keep that as part
of their constituency. They just don`t want them running the show, I
guess, is what I`m trying to say.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. And if you put together all of
those candidates that you just mentioned and these were all safe seats for
the Republicans in the Senate. Had they won those stats, they would be in
charge of the United States today. So, it`s not just an abstract notion.
They`ve really blown it. So, they needed to harness the energy that was
coming from this Tea Party from the far right but not be taken over by it.

I think a lot of sensible voices in the party are saying we`ve got a
problem here. If we ever want to win again, we`ve got to do something
about it. But, yet, they`ve structured the system this way so that all of
their members are just terrified -- as Joan was saying -- of losing in a
primary far more than they are of defying the general will of the American
electorate.

So, the problem is going to be here for a long time. But you`re seeing the
Chris Christies, the Marco Rubios, and even if not in policy at least in
rhetoric, the Bobby Jindals, beginning to say, we`ve got to change
something.

SMERCONISH: And, Joan Walsh, briefly, the GOP cannot afford those folks
bolt the party and form maybe some form of a libertarian effort on their
own. That would be a death knell for the GOP.

WALSH: Right. And, you know, Chris Christie isn`t a libertarian. So, you
know, the strains they represent, too, are different strains of the
Republican Party. But the party needs to hold together to be a national
party. So I don`t think that`s going to happen. But if those voices of
slight reform get completely muddled, something is going to happen because
it will not be a national party.

SMERCONISH: Joan Walsh, thank you very much. Dana Milbank, congrats on
what you wrote.

Up next, the Boy Scouts are considering dropping their controversial ban on
gay scouts and scout leaders. But not everybody`s on board. That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: The big rig is on life support. GOP officials in key states
are taking a stand against rigging the Electoral College system in favor of
Republicans.

The latest: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says he`s against any scheme that
would split electoral votes.

And in Ohio, a spokesman for Republican Governor John Kasich says there are
no plans to push the plan in the Buckeye State.

Earlier this week, Virginia`s governor and attorney general said they were
against the idea.

And Florida officials also nixed it.

So, that leaves Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where both governors have yet to
rule out tinkering with the electoral vote.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREKA)

SMERCONISH: We`re back.

It could soon be the beginning of a new era for the Boy Scouts of America.
The group`s board will decide next week whether to allow gay scouts and
scout leaders among their ranks reversing their long-held ban.

My guest tonight: James Dale took on the Boy Scouts in a case that went all
the way to the Supreme Court which in 2000 decided the Boy Scouts were
allowed to refuse gays, including Dale himself.

Also with me tonight, NBC`s justice correspondent Pete Williams, who broke
this story earlier this week.

Welcome to both of you.

Pete, what`s the latest? Is this is a done deal?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It seems like it. People
we`ve talked to that both support and oppose this move who have been
briefed by the scouts and scouting insiders all tell us they strongly
expect it will pass when the board meets in Texas next week to talk about
this.

What it would do, Michael, is remove the long-standing national membership
requirements. It could leave it up to individual organizations to decide
for themselves. Some may well say we want to admit them. Some may well
say they don`t. And then the scouting organization says parents and
sponsored could decide for themselves which one they want to send their
children to.

It has support within the board, they say, and they strongly expect it will
pass.

SMERCONISH: James Dale, is that enough for you?

JAMES DALE, FMR EAGLE SCOUT: Thank you.

It`s a great first step, but I don`t think they should kick the can down
the road. This issue is not going to go away. You can`t have children in
one group thinking that discrimination is acceptable and scouts in a
neighboring group to think that discrimination is not unacceptable. I
think they need -- the antigay policy was top-down. I think that
nondiscrimination needs to be top-down as well.

SMERCONISH: What I didn`t realize until reading up on this subject over the
last couple days after Pete broke the story is the presence of the LDS and
Catholic Church within scouting. And it would seem to me, Mr. Dale, that
neither of those groups is going in a direction that you would like.

DALE: I think what`s interesting, I think America, whether those two
churches, or I think if we look at inauguration last week, America has
evolved. This isn`t the America it was 13 years when the Supreme Court
ruled or 23 years ago when my case first started. I think that there`s a
lot of evolution that`s gone on, and I don`t think that America believes in
discrimination, as maybe they were afraid in the past.

We`ve really come pretty far in the past 23 years.

SMERCONISH: Let me put up the Scout oath, if I might. You certainly know
it, sir, by heart I`m sure.

"On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to
obey the scout law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself
physically strong, mentally awake," here`s the key part, "and morally
straight."

Pete Williams, when I tell my sons, that, you know, they`re going out of
the house and I want them to be on the straight and narrow. Or if I were
to refer to Pete Williams as a straight arrow, I`m not referencing
sexuality at all. You know, from the outside looking in, one looks at the
scout oath and wonders how did this become a conversation about sexuality?

WILLIAMS: Well, and, of course, the Scouts will tell you, and they made
the same claim during James Dale`s case before the U.S. Supreme Court, that
they don`t mean that word "straight" in the straight or gay context. It`s
the morally that they`re focusing on. And, by the way, what the Supreme
Court said in Mr. Dale`s case was that the scouts have a First Amendment
right to decide who will speak for them and if that`s their view, they can
hold it because they`re a private organization. Other federal courts have
looked at this and said that Scouts have a First Amendment right of
association.

So, this isn`t a legal issue. This is very definitely a decision by the
Scouts. They claimed that it is not just top-down. There are very
prominent members, CEOs, on their board who`ve said they want to change it.
But they say it`s come from the ranks and chapters as well.

DALE: I certainly believe that this has come from the ranks and file. But
I think what`s most interesting, they went to the United States Supreme
Court for a First Amendment shield from New Jersey`s law against
discrimination in 1999. So, now, they`re saying that they don`t stand for
anti-gay discrimination and gay is not immoral, I wonder if that calls the
whole legal issue into question again. Are they going to be getting
lawsuits?

I think the best thing for the Boy Scouts to do to prevent other people
from finding themselves in a situation like I was 23 years ago is to just
do it once and do it the right way.

SMERCONISH: James, I had a fella call my radio program yesterday as a
matter of fact, a guy who identified himself as being gay and said that he
has two sons in scouting, which raised an interesting question of what
applicability does this have to parents, hopefully none. But it brought
out the issue of -- at 8 years old, do they really know their direction? I
mean, how could this possibly be enforced if it has a sexual connotation?

DALE: I think the enforcement that`s taking place is self destructive. I
think what they`re doing is they`re teaching young kids, whether they`re
gay or not, that gay is immoral and that it`s harmful. I think that
they`re sending a really bad message. I think the better question is, are
they still going to be relevant if they don`t catch up with the times?

SMERCONISH: Hey, Pete Williams, correct me if I`m wrong, but wasn`t this a
subject of agreement? In the recent presidential cycle, weren`t President
Obama and Governor Romney both in the same page that scouting should be
open to all?

WILLIAMS: Yes, they both were. They both said so during the campaign that
they thought that they should -- that scouting should change the view.

And I think, Michael, what I`ve seen in the last couple of days in response
to the reports about what the scouts are going to do is, you know, a
feeling all over the map. Some who feel as James does that this doesn`t go
far enough. Some who welcome it, though.

There are many chapters, even some associated with churches who`ve been
saying they welcome this new policy. They probably will admit gay members.
And then there are other organizations that you referred to earlier who
probably won`t. So, you`re seeing a response across the spectrum.

SMERCONISH: James Dale, we ought to find out next week, I guess. Just 10
seconds left, but this ought to come to some fruition next week?

DALE: I definitely look forward to. And I really hope that they`ll do the
right thing and just do it once, and like, so the scout troops can move on
beyond sexual orientation and get back to scouting.

SMERCONISH: Thank you for that. Thank you, Pete Williams. Thank you,
James Dale.

DALE: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: You bet.

SMERCONISH: When we return, let me finish with the most powerful
Republican in the U.S. Senate who could be taken down in his own party.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this:

Sometimes, 90 percent just isn`t good enough. Ask Mitch McConnell, the
most powerful Republican in the U.S. Senate, who despite that lifetime
approval rating from the American Conservative Union is now out of step
with some Kentuckians on the right.

A recent "Courier-Journal"-Bluegrass poll of 609 registered voters found
twice as many people promising to vote against McConnell than those
committed to supporting him. And only 34 percent of Republicans said
they`d support him against all competitors. Some of the blue grass state
are clamoring for a primary challenger for McConnell.

McConnell`s supposed misstep, the positively audacious acts of helping to
craft the 2008 Wall Street bail out and negotiating with Vice President
Biden, an aversion to the fiscal cliff, a couple of weeks ago. It all
raises the prospect that yet another GOP Senate seat could succumb to the
Grand Old Party`s ongoing purity effort.

And, worse, instead of halting these self-inflicted wounds, many
Republicans are focused on changing the way electoral votes are tabulated
in presidential elections. GOP officials in Pennsylvania, Virginia,
Florida, Michigan and Ohio have considered abandoning the winner-take-all
approach to electing presidents. The ramifications would be significant.
If every electoral vote in the country were awarded by congressional
district, plus two votes for the statewide victor, Mitt Romney would have
won the Electoral College 276 to 262. If Florida, Michigan, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia adopted the new system, Obama`s
sizable margin would have been reduced by just 4, 271-267.

Luckily, Republican leaders in several of those states are throwing cold
water on those efforts. And I think they`re doing their party a favor.
It`s crazy to tinker with the Electoral College system while losing
winnable Senate seats to the fringe factor. And fixing that dynamic should
be the party`s priority before it jeopardizes somebody as conservative as
Mitch McConnell in Kentucky where, by the way, Democrats still maintain a
registration edge. Instead, McConnell might turn out to be the Republican
whose willingness to compromise was deemed unacceptable by a relatively
small but passionate cadre of primarily voters.

The GOP would be better served by embracing leaders with a sensible streak,
or fighting for a system of more open primaries.

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.
END

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