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updated 1/6/2014 11:40:10 AM ET 2014-01-06T16:40:10

HARDBALL
December 19, 2013

Guests: Michael Tomasky, John Feehery, Rep. Donna Edwards, Amy Davidson, Steve McMahon, Dana Milbank


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Grabbing the rebound.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. President Obama is facing some
tough challenges right now, but when you think about it, we`ve been here
before. Remember in 2007, when he was 20 points behind Hillary Clinton in
the polls, 20 points, and people like me were worrying out loud that he was
letting his rival get too far ahead, so far ahead, he`d never be able to
catch her. I can remember that.

How about after that first disastrous debate, when Mitt Romney seemed
to have the better of him? Remember how people felt watching that debacle?
I remember him later saying he`d caused me a stroke with that performance -
- me! Anyway, I can remember his quiet confidence when he told people like
me to calm down, that he had the race -- the 2012 race under control.

Well, now he`s facing a tough one, not just the ridiculously fouled-up
rollout of his number one historic priority, but the subtler reality that
he`s not been as exciting as some figured he`d be as president, the boredom
that regularly sets in with any politician long in office.

So the big question as we all take a break across the Christmas and
New Year`s holidays is this. Can this president in this environment pull a
big comeback? Can he get the wind at his back, like he did in 2008, like
he did lickety-split in winning those later debates last year and then the
reelection itself? Can he excite again, as he once did better than any
president since Jack Kennedy?

Mike Tomasky is a special correspondent for the DailyBeast and
Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an
MSNBC contributor. Gentlemen, thank you for coming in.

Since you`re smiling, Jonathan, I want you to go first here.
Perspective -- we`ve seen him drive us crazy before in the past, those of
us who`ve rooted for him, especially his policies...

JONATHAN CAPEHART, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... that he is -- he`s ran (ph) a different kind of game,
if you`re willing to use athletic references here, a different pace, his
own clock. And we`ve been very scared that he wasn`t catching up, in fact,
that he was falling so far behind, he`d never catch up. And here we are
again in probably the biggest test since 2007, when he was behind, since
2012, when he was getting murdered in that first debate.

Here he is again behind the eight-ball. Can he come around?

CAPEHART: Well, here`s the perspective, Chris. We have a president
who takes the long view, or to use another sports metaphor, he plays long
ball. He`s a guy who doesn`t worry himself about the ups and downs of the
daily news cycle. He looks at the end game. Where`s -- we`re at point A,
I need to get to point B. How do I get there? And everything else that
happens in between, I don`t care.

But we here in the media and folks around the country who are watching
what`s happening, well, we focus on all the steps in between. And that
makes for a weird dynamic, where you have a long -- a president who thinks
in the long term but who`s leading a country that is filled with short-term
thinkers and can`t -- they don`t care about point Z. They care about the
fact that we`ve started on point A, and here we are at point B, and he`s
way, way behind.

Now, that`s not to say that the rollout -- and I`m going to use the
Healthcare.gov situation as an example...

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

CAPEHART: It`s horrendous, what happened. It should never have
happened, especially since it was the president`s signature legislative
achievement. Getting the Web site up and running was something that he
told them had to be done right, and the fact that it wasn`t done right...

MATTHEWS: OK...

CAPEHART: ... is disappointing. But the overall thing, the
Affordable Care Act -- that`s the big -- hat`s the big deal. And I think
for him and for his administration, getting that working and making sure
that the American people...

MATTHEWS: I know.

CAPEHART: ... know what it does and how it`s helping them...

MATTHEWS: OK...

CAPEHART: ... right now as we speak -- that`s more important.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, you can`t unpeel a banana.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s done. It`s done.

Let me go back to Michael Tomasky. The unkindest cut against this guy
-- and I think far too ferocious at this point -- is to compare him to W.
W took us into a war that was a war of, what`d he say, choice? By the way,
bad choice, OK? It was based on the idea that somehow, we were threatened
by weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, blah, blah,
blah, blah, blah. And only later did we learn, or actually during the
course of it, well, that was really a way to get the Europeans aboard. And
there was bigger reasons, the "freedom agenda." OK, nobody thinks that was
a good idea.

Nobody thinks that president, the most recent president, W, showed any
real empathy for the people -- the mostly African-American people down in
New Orleans during Katrina. Not the -- that wasn`t, like, a slipup. That
was a character flaw, if you ask me, a social character flaw.

To compare Obama today because of a screwed-up rollout of a program to
a guy who took us into the wrong war and cost us 5,000 lives and killed
tens of thousands more people, I don`t think that`s fair.

MICHAEL TOMASKY, DAILYBEAST: I don`t think it`s right, either. And
you didn`t even mention W`s biggest problem in 2005, the first year of his
second term, which was the Social Security privatization. Remember, the
day after the election -- "I have political capital and I intend to use
it." You remember he said that.

MATTHEWS: No, actually, I`d forgotten.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I do.

TOMASKY: OK. I remind you that he said that. And so then he comes
out in January, he tells us Social Security privatization is how he`s going
to use that political capital. He has all these town hall meetings...

MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t we be in great shape during this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Right now, it looks good to have the stock market paying
for our Social Security.

TOMASKY: But anyway, it failed. It failed by Memorial Day of that
year. And it didn`t fail because the opposition party in Congress blocked
it. His own party wouldn`t go to bat for him.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TOMASKY: His own party snuffed his top legislative priority. And
that was really devastating for Bush`s credibility as president and as
leader of his party. What Obama faces has been very tough, but this can be
rebounded from in a way that I would argue that could not.

MATTHEWS: Yes. By the way, I think that would be -- that think he
planned (ph) on Social Security was like taking all your money and putting
it on number 13 on the roulette table.

Well, anyway, here`s a message by the -- the message on the Affordable
Care Act from the right has been, Repeal, repeal, repeal, get rid of the
whole darn thing.

Here was John Boehner just last month. Obviously, he is making Obama
look relatively safe here because if you`re offering nothing on the other
side, even a pathetic performance is better than not even getting to the
starting blocks. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let`s be clear. The
only way to fully protect the American people is to scrap this law once and
for all. There is no way to fix this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, meanwhile, a pro-Mitch McConnell outside group is
running an ad in Kentucky highlighting just how much of a fight McConnell
and Senator Rand Paul are putting up to get rid of the health care law
(INAUDIBLE) nihilism. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, fighting
"Obama care" isn`t about politics. It`s a fight for the Kentucky families
who are losing their health coverage. McConnell and Paul are working
together to stop "Obama care." McConnell and Paul say start over, repeal
this bad law and cut costs, not choice. Tell Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul
to keep working to replace "Obama care."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: How`s that for a brace of geese, those two guys.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, "The New York Times"/CBS poll showed that a
majority of Americans disapprove of the president`s handling of health
care, but an even larger number, 73 percent, disapprove of how the
Republicans in Congress have handled the issue.

Jonathan, again up against nothing.

CAPEHART: Right. Look...

MATTHEWS: But again, I want to go back to -- let`s go back to how
Obama comes back -- proactively. You`re sitting in the corner. You`re
sitting there with the people around them, you know, McDonough and now
Shelera (ph), or whatever his name is, and you`ve got Podesta there. You
got a whole team of -- the Sanhedrin is getting large now, the priesthood
of advisers sitting around him.

What are they advising him? How does he get back? Hit some singles,
hit some doubles?

CAPEHART: You got to...

MATTHEWS: Get on base? I mean, what are we doing here for the next
six months?

CAPEHART: Chris, they have to do it all. The problem all along has
been people don`t -- people don`t know, or maybe they don`t realize, that
the entirety of the Affordable Care Act is not Healthcare.gov, that the law
has been up and running, pieces of it, since it was passed and that there
are several provisions that have been in place for a very long time.

So what they need to do is get out there and make sure that people
know about what`s in the law, but also to remind them that when Republicans
say that they want to repeal the law and replace it, to get -- to force
Republicans to say replace it with what? Because what they`re doing right
now with all this repeal talk is trying to take advantage of the fact that
people don`t understand it, they don`t like it, and get them to vote
Republican.

And then when Republicans get into office -- let`s say they succeed in
taking over the Senate -- well, the pressure will be on them to then -- now
what? You`ve replaced it. What -- you`ve repealed it. What are you going
to replace it with? And so far, even in that ad, they say replace "Obama
care," but they never say with what.

MATTHEWS: I know. Well, speaking of replacement, there`s an old
phrase that a zealot is someone who won`t change their mind and won`t
change the subject. But it`s the president`s job to change the subject.

Now, look at this, Jonathan and Michael. In the latest NBC News/"Wall
Street Journal" poll, which is a good poll, only 39 percent of Americans
approve of his handling of the economy -- that`s the president -- 58
disapprove.

But look at this. What`s the reason for this number? They don`t make
any sense. After all, the economy is getting better. We`ve got a decent
growth rate, about 3-some percent now, last quarter, as I said, 3.6 percent
in the GDP went up the last quarter, which is good. Unemployment has
reached a five-year low of 7, not 4 where it should be, but 7, not 12, or
whatever it was. The stock market is roaring right now. The Dow just hit
its 13th high of the year yesterday.

Everything at least -- if a Republican were president right now,
they`d be putting off fireworks.

TOMASKY: Oh, sure.

MATTHEWS: They`d be having -- Tom Donahue of the U.S. Chamber would
be hanging around the White House. They`d be cheering each other. Seven
percent got Reagan reelected! That was "morning in America," 7 percent!

TOMASKY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) The stock market is double what it was when
this -- W left him with it. Double!

TOMASKY: Double. And you know...

MATTHEWS: People are twice as rich at the top as they were because
this lefty socialist commie president has doubled their wealth!

TOMASKY: Well, not just...

MATTHEWS: Explain.

TOMASKY: ... at the top -- not just at the top. Middle class people
with 401(k)s...

MATTHEWS: I know.

TOMASKY: ... (INAUDIBLE) took a big hit in 2008...

MATTHEWS: I`m wondering why the right won`t give him a break.

TOMASKY: Well...

MATTHEWS: We`re talking about a comeback. This would be a comeback.

TOMASKY: Yes, and...

MATTHEWS: If he were to say, How about if I double the stock market?
How about if I reduce unemployment down from double digits down to where
Reagan got it? And what...

TOMASKY: And what percentage of Americans do you think know the stock
market has doubled under Barack Obama? I bet it`s not more than 15
percent.

MATTHEWS: Well, "The Wall Street Journal" ain`t going to put it on
the front page.

TOMASKY: Yes, well -- you know, it`s true that the White House hasn`t
done as good a job as it could of telling...

MATTHEWS: Is he...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about that.

TOMASKY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about (ph) comeback to politics and PR.
Michael, why doesn`t this president brag on the economy? Because he has a
lot of poor constituents, because he has a lot of working poor constituents
that would be offended by that. That`s how Al Gore lost the election in
2000. He wouldn`t brag on the Clinton economic record...

TOMASKY: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... because somebody around him said, Oh, don`t do that.
That might offend somebody who hasn`t won out. Tell me why Democrats don`t
know how to brag.

TOMASKY: Yes, there`s -- you know, there`s something in that, Chris.
There`s something in this idea that the Democrats represent, you know, the
bottom half of Americans. It`s actually about the bottom 85 percent and...

MATTHEWS: But if you`re right, and the middle class has done a little
bit better under this, why doesn`t he say so?

TOMASKY: I think he does say so sometimes, but I don`t think he
handles it as consistently...

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, explain that to me. Why doesn`t Obama know how -
- a friend of mine who`s a senator said his mother said, If you don`t enjoy
the good times, all you get is bad times. So why doesn`t he -- I know I`m
a positive guy, generally, on the air, especially, and I always say, Look,
look at what`s working well. There`s no sense in just -- I meant (ph) you
can`t repeal -- or unpeel the banana. You can`t keep going back over how
we had the bad rollout and the bad this and...

CAPEHART: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: Hand wringing is a waste of time!

CAPEHART: Chris, you raise a very good point about why the president
doesn`t brag about his economic record from -- you know, economic
performance, from the stock market-

MATTHEWS: From the crap hole it was in in the spring of 2009!

CAPEHART: Right. But you know -- and you raise a good point that
maybe it`s because the bedrock of the Democratic Party is worried about
income inequality and the unfairness of what`s been happening since 2008...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CAPEHART: ... that that`s where -- in another life, I used to be in
big, bad corporate PR. And one of the things we would always tell clients
is, You need a third party validator to go out there and say the things and
to cheerlead what you`re trying to do, and also to say things that you
can`t or shouldn`t say yourself.

The president can`t go out there and be his own cheerleader. He needs
to have other people from outside the administration, from credible
groups...

MATTHEWS: Well, why don`t -- why aren`t people like Eric Schmidt (ph)
and Jeff Immelt and all those guys that join him in these big powwows...

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART: ... they should be out there...

MATTHEWS: ... and Reed Hastings (ph) and all these guys. Big shots.

CAPEHART: They should be out there constantly all the time, praising
what the...

MATTHEWS: OK. Anyway -- well, I hope he`s listening. I hope
somebody at the White House is listening. Maybe we have an educational
role here, as well, sometimes, Jonathan, as you know. In your columns, I
know you take that seriously, to educate.

Anyway, thank you.

TOMASKY: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Happy holidays to both you guys...

CAPEHART: You, too.

MATTHEWS: ... Michael Tomasky and Jonathan Capehart.

Coming up, the latest helpful suggestion from a conservative on how to
improve the lives of poor children -- we`re being very sarcastic here --
make them work for their food. Remember the phrase "No work, no food"?
That`s right, you want a free school lunch, grab a broom and start
sweeping. This is not a -- by the way, it`s not from a Tea Party type.
It`s from a -- what you might call a regular Republican.

Plus, one of the country`s top political reporters says the biggest
hurdle facing Hillary Clinton is Hillary Clinton. You`re the problem, he
says. Hillary, he says -- and he has a prescription how she can fix her
image, if she wants to, and help the Democrats hold onto the White House in
2016.

Also, how did an EPA employee, so-called, convince the agency that the
reason he wasn`t showing up for work for, like, two-and-a-half years was
because he was away on a CIA mission? How did he -- this is unbelievable.
And how did he wind up living in the guest room of another EPA official?
This is what does not build confidence in government.

Finally, the right comes to the aid of a man (ph), of course, the
"Duck Dynasty" star, who got a bit too graphic about why he`s against
homosexuality.

Well, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: President Obama`s choice of the retiring U.S. senator Max
Baucus of Montana to be the next ambassador to China may give Democrats a
bulwark against a possible Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate next
year.

Baucus was retiring and Republicans were eying Montana as a strong
pickup opportunity, but now the Democratic governor of Montana gets to name
a replacement for Baucus before his term ends, and many observers think the
likely choice is Montana`s lieutenant governor, who`s already running for
Baucus`s seat. If so, he would run next November as an incumbent.
Remember, Republicans need to net six seats to take over control of the
Senate.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, the far right will say and
do some pretty crazy things to prove that they`re real conservatives. But
what began as a purity contest has now descended into purity madness.

Catch this. Congressman Jack Kingston, a Republican running in
Georgia`s Senate primary, was taken to the woodshed by his opponents for
not being extreme enough in his dislike of the Affordable Care Act. Well,
(INAUDIBLE) was caught in an uproar when he made the mere suggestion that
letting the ACA fail would not be the responsible thing to do. Those were
his words.

Now it looks like Kingston is out to prove beyond any reasonable doubt
that he can talk the Tea Party talk. So how do you prove your loyalty to
the hard right? You attack the poor, apparently. This is Congressman
Kingston just a few days ago cranking the crazy up to 11. This is what he
told a group of supporters on the subject of school lunch programs for poor
kids.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JACK KINGSTON (R-GA), SENATE CANDIDATE: One of the things
(INAUDIBLE) secretary of agriculture about -- why don`t you, you know, have
the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in
fact, no such thing as a free lunch, or maybe sweep the floor in the
cafeteria?

And yes, I understand that would be an administrative problem and I
understand that it would probably lose you money, but think of what we
would gain as a society in getting people -- getting the myth out of their
heads that there is such a thing as a free lunch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Now, this is something we`re going to have to get used to
on this program, which is going to be bad sound for the simple reason this
is not an official recording. This isn`t coming out of a mold (ph) box
(ph). This isn`t going out to the local affiliates, like NBC affiliates.
This is a somebody with a cell phone picking (ph) this, obviously, and this
guy maybe didn`t want us to hear it. But we did, didn`t we (ph).

And it gets even stranger. This is what Kingston`s spokesman said
when his boss, the congressman, was attacked for those comments. Quote,
"It is sad that trying to have a productive conversation about instilling a
strong work ethic in the next generation of Americans so quickly devolves
into the usual name-calling partisan hysteria."

Anyway, U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards, a Democrat from Maryland,
and John Feehery is a Republican strategist.

Congresswoman, it seems like every time we get inside a meeting -- and
I`m not sure this is not true of all parties, but it`s been lately the case
with the hard right -- we catch them at it. They didn`t broadcast this in
press releases, Let`s make the kids work hard, let them sweep the floor for
the sandwich or the French fries. But here he is caught doing it.

What is your view of the politics of a regular conservative like Jack
Kingston, who`s not a full-mooner, thinking that the best way to get
elected in a Republican primary in Georgia is this Dickensian thing about
making sure the poor kids raise their hand and say, I`m the poor kid in the
class, I`m the one sweeping up while you`re having lunch. Your thoughts.

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: Well, I thought Jack was not the
crazy in the crazy group, and so it`s really disappointing, frankly, to see
that, and especially to see it from somebody who purports to come from the
mainstream of the Republican Party.

And what it demonstrates to me is that the Republican Party
fundamentally does not understand what it means to be poor in this country.
And to punish kids because of their parents` poverty is seen -- is
ridiculous. I mean, it`s enough that we have been fighting Republicans
tooth and nail who want to cut $40 billion from food stamps for poor kids
that fund things like our school nutrition programs and food pantries and
Meals on Wheels.

But here we have a stalwart in the Republican Party running for the
Senate who wants to punish poor kids for being poor. It`s very
disappointing.

MATTHEWS: Well, John, I don`t know much about public schools, because
I went to Catholic school all the time, but I do know there`s a certain
equality that is sort of part of the culture. You go to public school, you
get a meal. They don`t -- they don`t graduate according to income level.
You go sweep the floor, you get it for free. Go ahead.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I did go to public school.

Let me object...

MATTHEWS: Did you get free meals?

FEEHERY: No. But -- and I worked throughout high school. And I
think working is an important part.

I think the congresswoman is right, though. You don`t want to have
the separation based on class -- in the classroom. You want to make sure
that all kids are working together. And I think the basic job of a child
in school is to learn, because that gets them to the next level.

That being said, I like Jack Kingston. I think he is a very rational.

MATTHEWS: Well, who`s he playing to here?

FEEHERY: Well, I think he was just having a conversation, trying to
have a deeper conversation with his constituents.

MATTHEWS: Well, why did he bring it up?

FEEHERY: You know, because he probably talked to the Department of
Agriculture`s Vilsack about this.

And the idea is not a bad one of getting kids, all kids to work,
because you learn valuable lessons when you work. You worked in high
school. I worked in high school.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: It`s an important thing. But the fact of the matter is you
cannot have this division with kids in a classroom. I think that`s a bad
sign.

MATTHEWS: So you`re with the congresswoman on this?

FEEHERY: I think that she makes some sense.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

Well, here`s another bit of Tea Party derangement syndrome when it
comes to attacking the working poor. This is Lee Bright, a Tea Party
challenger to Senate Lindsey Graham. He may be his toughest challenger,
rallying the base with that old attack on the so-called welfare queens.
That was the Reagan term. This is where he stands, at least playing to a
certain crowd, apparently of people with some money. He`s trying to get
some money from them.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE BRIGHT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Here`s the
problem. And it`s not politically correct to say this, but we have got a
lot of people that won`t work.

And they won`t work because we will provide them food, and we will
provide them housing, and we will provide them some spending money. I
mean, you think about it. We have all seen it the folks in line that are
used -- I guess they call it WIC here too -- to buy their food, but yet
they got the nicest nails and the nicest pocketbook, got the get nicest
car, and we`re getting the bill.

And how many times do they turn around and say thank you? Never.
Able-bodied people, if they don`t work, they shouldn`t eat. It`s just that
simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, that is so loaded with vitriol.

I mean, first of all, to get the nicest nails, that`s all ethnic
stereotyping. That has nothing to -- most people who get food stamps are
poor kids, white kids in the South. He`s obviously making an ethnic
comment about black women. He`s going after them in some sort of
stereotypical fashion, which has nothing to do with food stamps as an
issue.

But he has decided, but let`s go attack somebody`s that`s vulnerable
among a wealthy white audience. It seems to me it`s pure politics and
racial politics. I don`t know what you think. When I see this stuff,
nicest pocketbooks, nicest pocketbooks, this is all ethnic stereotyping.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But your thoughts?

EDWARDS: Well, it`s stereotyping, and also it doesn`t bear any
relation to reality.

The fact is that most people who receive those -- that kind of public
assistance actually do work for a living. People who receive food stamps,
they work for a living. They just don`t make enough. And so on the one
hand, you`re talking about a group of people who don`t want to raise the
minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour so people can make at
least a decent wage.

And, on the other hand, they want to take away their food benefits.
This is so ridiculous, and so it`s poisoned.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s put that together.

EDWARDS: It`s poisoned.

MATTHEWS: Put together the logic of -- the logic of not helping
people that they think aren`t working to not trying to help out people who
are working.

Why would they be tough, if they are consistent about the work ethic,
and they think some people are freeloading and sitting around watching TV,
or whatever their image is, why would they want to screw a person who`s out
there catching the bus at 6:30, working 40 or 50 hours a week, OK, making
hamburgers? How would you -- it`s nice to make a hamburger. How would you
like to make them from 8:00 until 6:00 every day, all day long in a hot
oven, all day long?

It doesn`t have quite an appeal to it. But if a person wants to make
10 bucks an hour doing that, which comes out to, what, $15,000 or $20,000 a
year after taxes, if it comes out that far, why are they against that
person? That`s my wonder. Why don`t they want to give that person a break
for getting to work and working all day to the extent of the job that they
can get their hands on, Congresswoman?

EDWARDS: Well, I can`t -- you know what?

MATTHEWS: What`s the knock on them?

EDWARDS: I can`t explain it, but I`m going to -- but I`m going to
tell you something.

What is the knock on them for people who are really working hard and
trying to take care of themselves and their families and need a little
assistance in that? That is something we actually should value.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

EDWARDS: And yet they seem to fight against it. And it really is --
if it`s a war on anything, it`s a war on poor people. And a lot of those
poor people are women.

MATTHEWS: And they`re black too. Let`s face it. I`m sorry. When I
heard that word about the nails and the -- John, what else could he be
talking about?

FEEHERY: Well, listen...

MATTHEWS: I mean, honest, what kind of lingo is that? We know. We
grew up with it. It`s tribal talk. It`s ethnic talk. It`s what one group
says about another group when they`re mad at something.

FEEHERY: Yes, listen, I think we do have to have a fulsome
discussion. I think Paul Ryan is doing it about poverty and also getting
people to work and making sure people are working.

There are a lot of people -- and this is not a racial statement.
There are a lot of white people -- let`s put it that way -- that are
ripping off the system.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FEEHERY: There`s a lot of people who are not working. They`re on
disability. It`s been on "60 Minutes."

And so we have got to make sure that we clamp down. But people who
want to work, who have the ability to work, they need the help.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: We need to make it easier. We need to have a party agenda
that gets people out of poverty and into the middle class.

MATTHEWS: OK.

The trouble is the people who are the bums you talk about, the few
that are bums that play the system, they`re not watching this show. The
ones watching this show are the people working hard and trying to make it.
Anyway, that`s who I`m talking to.

FEEHERY: Right.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Thank you, U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards, for coming on, and happy
holiday to you.

And, John Feehery, same to you. Merry Christmas.

Up next: Some on the right, including Sarah Palin, don`t seem to get
that the right to free speech doesn`t give you the right to be on TV.
Well, we will talk about that. Actually, I like being on TV.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": As you may have
heard, Dennis Rodman is now in North Korea teaching them basketball. He`s
coaching them.

And -- and -- and...

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: And CNN asked its viewers today if Dennis could, in fact, be on
some sort of secret mission in North Korea.

Yes, I`m sure that`s what it is. Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: Dennis is like James Bond. The only difference, 007 is his
I.Q. That`s the only difference.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s pretty brutal. Time for the "Sideshow."

That was of course Jay Leno just last night making fun of Dennis
Rodman`s most recent trip to visit North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who he
calls a friend. Well, maybe this time he will decide to extend his stay.

Next up, it`s not often that reality TV drama becomes real-life news.
But this story has become so politicized that it`s got everyone talking
today. "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson is in hot water with A&E after
making some anti-gay comments in an interview with "GQ" magazine.

In an article for January`s issue, correspondent Jim -- Magary asked
the self-described Bible thumper to describe what is sinful. And Robertson
responded with this -- quote -- "Start with homosexual behavior and just
morph out from there, bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that
woman and that woman and those men."

And quoting Corinthians, he said: "Don`t deceive yourself. It`s not
right."

Well, that and some other more graphic descriptions the A&E network to
suspend Robertson from the show indefinitely, a move that set off a
cultural firestorm on the right. Amongst those defending Robertson is
Sarah Palin, who says it`s A&E that`s being intolerant, not Robertson.

She tweeted earlier today that -- quote -- "Free speech is endangered
species. Those intolerance-hating and taking on `Duck Dynasty` patriarch
for voicing personal opinion take on us all."

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal followed suit, saying -- quote --
"It`s a messed-up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh and Phil
Robertson gets suspended."

Well, it`s not the first or last time that politicians have
politicized pop culture, but, putting the cultural wars aside, Ben White of
Politico might have put it best in a tweet earlier today: "I don`t know why
we have to constantly relearn that the First Amendment doesn`t include a
right to a cable TV gig."

Well, finally, this one takes the concept of dirty campaign to a new
more literal level. U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas, the Tea
Party challenger to incumbent Senator John Cornyn, has come up with an
Obama-themed barf bag, you know, like the kind you find on airplanes. And
he`s offering them as thank you gifts to his contributors.

The bag features an image of the president of the United States and
reads, "Socialism makes me sick."

Speaking of messes, Stockman`s Webster, Texas, campaign office was
recently closed by a fire marshal there because it was so ill kept, it was
deemed a safety risk. Now new photos acquired by Talking Points Memo
reveal just how disgusting it was. Taken during an inspection in November,
the images there show the makeshift office inside a rundown former
motorcycle shop.

Anyway, Stockman campaign workers used to work and even sleep in this
place, which officials have described as unsafe for habitation. Hmm.

Up next: Hillary Clinton`s biggest obstacle may well be, according to
this writer, Hillary Clinton. That`s according to one of the country`s top
political reporters. But he has a way she can fix it. This is his
prescription coming on that diagnosis. And also he thinks she can win.

And you`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. I`m Veronica De
La Cruz. And here`s what`s happening.

More than 80 people were injured, seven seriously, when part of a
ceiling collapsed at a Central London theater. About 700 people were in
the theater at the time.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in New Mexico. The state Supreme Court
ruled it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian
couples.

And former NBA star Dennis Rodman is in North Korea meeting with Kim
Jong-un. Rodman is trying to organize an exhibition game to take place
there next month.

I`m Veronica De La Cruz -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

You know, I love it when somebody writes a column that everybody else
has been thinking about and somebody actually puts it in print. Anyway,
Hillary Clinton was named the most fascinating person of the year by
Barbara Walters last night. And this exchange with Barbara Walters makes
it clear she could be the most fascinating for 2014 and headed forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: I have to push for the answer about
whether or not you might run for president.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes. I
haven`t made up my mind.

WALTERS: You really haven`t?

CLINTON: I really have not. I will look carefully at what I think I
can do and make that decision some time next year.

WALTERS: Does your husband want you to run?

CLINTON: He is very respectful. He knows that this is...

WALTERS: He does want you to run.

CLINTON: Well, he wants me to do what I think is right.

WALTERS: If you ran and you became president, what would they call
your husband? First spouse?

(LAUGHTER)

WALTERS: I have no idea. First mate. I don`t know.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, today in "National Journal," Ron Fournier gets even
more serious about Hillary in 2016 with an article laid out as a memo with
advice he culled, he said, from interviews with people close to Hillary
Clinton, who spoke on the condition of keeping their names out of it.

Here`s the consensus of opinion, he said. "Your biggest hurdle isn`t
your age, the president`s record, your husband, or even Benghazi,
Whitewater, et cetera, et cetera. It`s you, Hillary. You`re the problem,
that is, if you once again present yourself as an institution of Washington
awaiting a political coronation. To win, you must be the anti-Hillary.
You need to blast the public`s caricature of you to smithereens and replace
it with what we know as the real Hillary."

Well, joining me now is Amy Davidson, a senior editor at "The New
Yorker," and Steve McMahon, who is a Democratic strategist and does this
all the time with candidates.

Amy and Steve, let`s look at Fournier`s memo, in which he lays out
what Hillary Clinton, he says, needs to do in bullet point form, with short
explainers for each.

I will read a portion of each bullet point.

First of all: "Accessible. Be a constant presence on Twitter and
Facebook and other social media, you, not your staff. Two, be honest and
authentic. Take tough stands and state them clearly. Make mistakes and
own up to them. Number three, be vulnerable. Remember choking up in New
Hampshire? You looked human. And people like humans. Be flexible. Be
quick to change your strategy, your message, even your staff. Number five,
be small. People are tired of big institutions. Travel light and run a
lean operation.

"Number six, obviously, be competent. A model for your 2016 campaign
would be -- you`re going to hate this -- no drama Obama. Number seven, be
a populist. Income disparity and declining social mobility are cliches in
Washington, but, in the rest of America, they are facts of life."

Amy, you know, this is fascinating stuff. And I think it`s always
hard to play the role of doctor when someone -- when no one asks you to be
a doctor. You`re making a house call right here right now...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: ... by somebody who hasn`t exactly opened a door for you.

But here goes. In good faith, if you were in her ear, and you were
helping President -- perhaps future President Hillary Clinton to get ready
for the big game, two years of hard campaigning, what would you do? Would
you accept these ideas?

AMY DAVIDSON, "THE NEW YORKER": I think that these are good ideas,
but I wonder how much of them can be changed -- how much they can be
changed just by sheer force of personality. You know, for instance, with
the small. You know, the idea of just being against institutions, running
against big institutions. One of her first moves after leaving the State
Department was to join another institution, the Clinton Foundation, to add
her name to that and bring on a lot of its questions and structures.

That gets to the first question about accessibility. Does Hillary,
the idea of accessibility there really seems to be about visibility. But
one of Hillary`s problems might be a little too -- or the Clintons`
problems may be being too accessible for example to donors, to insiders.

So, I wonder if that`s going to be read in the way that, you know, the
author hopes it`s going to be read. Or if it`s -- or if what she`s been
doing so far is getting away from where she needs to go and getting herself
in more trouble.

MATTHEWS: I think I like the way you said that. Your thoughts,
Steve. Let`s go to the question can you change somebody? Can you change
their public face in a genuine way?

Our producers come up with the idea look at how Bobby Kennedy, how he
changed in the `60s after his brother was killed, became a softer, bigger
person than the nastier sort of Joe McCarthy guy. And of course, Jerry
Brown, 28 years later, came back as a grownup.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Lost the propeller on his head. I always liked him even in
the old days, I liked him personally. But he`s come back as an authentic
leader in California.

MCMAHON: I`ve worked for Jerry Brown in the past and you`re
absolutely right. That guy was always there, but you didn`t always see it.

I think for Hillary Clinton, the key here is to come out from under
the bubble. And if you think about every problem that she`s had, whether
it was the 2008 campaign, where she was in a bubble surrounded by all the
old operatives from the Clinton years, or the accessibility or lack of
accessibility, it all comes from the same thing, it`s being in the bubble.

I think that Ron Fournier who you know came to Washington with the
Clintons, he was "The Associated Press" reporter in Arkansas -- so, he
knows her better than any reporter -- is giving good, sound advice here.
I`m not sure about the populism because populism can often turn to sounding
too angry and coming from a woman --

MATTHEWS: I agree with that.

MCMAHON: -- coming from a woman, it`s especially dangerous.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about and pull out, let`s -- Amy, let`s
pull out the gender part of this, because it always gets tricky, especially
for Steve and I to be males to be talking about this. But I do think we`re
in a totally different environment than we were in the `60s, `70s, and even
the `80s, where there were fights going on. There were fights like the
(INAUDIBLE) and things like that. If you come out as a fighter and try to
yell above the applause lines like the Clintons do and, of course, Hubert
Humphrey used to do it -- I`m telling you it`s time for a change, and I
think it`s -- you know, Nixon used to do that, that climbing above the
applause to make a higher point.

I don`t think people want that because they look at people like Cruz
and Rand Paul, they maybe the political rivals, but they`re not big enough
to yell about. I think the country wants performance. It wants
effectiveness. It wants to have a more confident look at the future. It
doesn`t want more political fisticuffs. I don`t think, it may be different
in two years.

Your thoughts.

DAVIDSON: I think that -- I have to disagree a little bit about
inequality and populism. I do think that`s an important issue for her.

MATTHEWS: Who said we disagreed with that? I didn`t disagree with
you. Who are you fighting with? Who are you fighting with?

DAVIDSON: I think that the idea that a woman --

MATTHEWS: Who are you fighting with? Wait a minute. Nobody said
we`re not pushing populism. That`s one of the memo points here. Who are
you arguing with right now?

DAVIDSON: Just with the idea that for a woman that it would sound too
angry coming out --

MATTHEWS: No, no. I didn`t say that. I said I don`t think the times
-- tell me I`m wrong. Are the times right for someone to be that
combative, I`m asking you?

DAVIDSON: I think that they are. I think that the times pretty much
demand it. And they demand it of her especially since she has to push
against the idea that she`s part of a dynasty which is not what the
populist moment might demand.

She has to push against the idea that she, you know, that we might not
want to be a country where we have four out of five presidents in a row
from two families. And she also has to break away from the idea she and
her husband have become too associated with Wall Street, with money, with
everybody who`s helped them do good things with the Clinton Foundation.
But those relationships might not help in a Democratic primary in a real
campaign, and especially in one which she wants to show who she is if she
can.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that.

Look at that. Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer just said, he
took a swipe at the Hillary Clinton in a concept, in an interview that will
air next week on Iowa public television, Iowa public radio reporter O. Kay
Henderson reports that Schweitzer said, quote, "We`re a democracy and we
don`t just choose the royal families. Gosh, we had Bush, Bush, Bush and,
Clinton, Clinton. And wow we`re talking about a Bush or a Clinton again. I
think in America, we`re always looking for leadership that takes us to the
future. We`re not often looking in the rearview mirror for our
leadership."

Steve, that`s a shot.

MCMAHON: Listen, I -- authenticity is something that was in the memo.
And for the Clintons to suggest they`re not friendly with the people on
Wall Street is not going to be authentic. I did say that I think it`s
harder for a woman to be an angry kind of populist. And, by the way,
there`s a difference between talking about income inequality, which Barack
Obama did, but nobody did, but nobody accused him of being Elizabeth
Warren, and being angry and expressing rage about wealthy people making
money and taxing them as a way to make up for it.

Everybody in this country, whether they`re middle class or less
affluent wants to be more affluent. They all want to be the rich person,
and a better message for anybody, anybody politician is, let`s grow from
the middle class out. And that`s the message that Hillary Clinton needs.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

MCMAHON: She cannot be the angry woman --

MATTHEWS: Every time I`ve seen a candidate, Amy, about to lose the
election on the Democratic side, I`ve almost always been rooting for that
person. Inevitably about two weeks before the election, they go populist.
Ted Kennedy, you were with him when he lost to Carter. They go populist.

That`s always the sign they`re going to lose the election. They want
45 percent out of this baby (ph) --

MCMAHON: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: They`re afraid they won`t get the 45 percent. It`s not the
way to win, though. Thank you.

The message is right. Sometimes, it`s the clamor.

Amy Davidson, thank you so much for your thinking here. Steve McMahon
as well.

Up next, the EPA employee who convinced his bosses he wasn`t working
up -- showing up for the job even because he was on a mission for the CIA.
How this guy could do this, convinced bosses for 2 1/2 years, he had other
things to be doing for the country without any documentation apparently.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Yesterday, we met Pastor Frank Schaefer here on HARDBALL.
He`s the United Methodist minister who was suspended for officiating at his
own son`s same-sex wedding. Well, today, Pastor Schaefer was officially
defrocked by his church. Schaefer says had he won`t go quietly and he`s
committed to changing the church laws from within that prohibit same-sex
marriages.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

If you thought Washington was dysfunctional before you hear this
story, wait until you hear it. The EPA`s John Beale, this fella convinced
his boss, government boss, family, and friends that he was a spy for the
CIA.

Beale the admitted to missing more than 2 1/2 years of work at the
EPA, during which he claimed to be working on CIA missions and defrauded
the government out of over $900,000 in unearned pay. He was sentenced
yesterday to 32 months in prison. He also got an $8,000 a year handicapped
parking space for free and for claiming to have a disability.

Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" has more on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, THE DAILY SHOW: How far would this man go to get how
little?

REPORTER: Beale got a coveted parking space by representing that he
had malaria.

STEWART: Malaria! Malaria!

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: He has told people he has malaria so that he may park closer
to the job he does not show up for.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: And, pray tell, how did this gentleman contract malaria?

REPORTER: Malaria, contracted while he was serving in Vietnam.

STEWART: Oh, I almost hesitate to ask, but --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn`t have malaria and he`d never been to
Vietnam.

STEWART: Exactly!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, of course, that`s not a funny line.

Dana Milbank joins us from "The Washington Post". He`s wonderful at
satirizing these things.

But let me tell you, this is what people think. The government is a
joke. They think people don`t show up. There was once a poll that asked
people, do you think that members of Congress go out every time and steal
typewriters and office equipment on their way home?

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right.

MATTHEWS: And the answer was yes.

MILBANK: Right.

MATTHEWS: They think they`re looting the place.

Here`s this guy, this character who is obviously smarter than his boss
is, apparently without any documentation, any secret code or anything,
convinced his boss, I`m on a higher mission here, I don`t have to come to
work.

MILBANK: Now, it`s an outrage, but on one hand, you have to admire
the guy for the sheer depths he went to --

MATTHEWS: You may. I consider him, look -- some guy in the street
corner, some street corner who steals a car, grand theft auto, right? He
goes away for five or 10 years.

This guy steals $900,000, he could be stealing a fleet of cars, and
yet this guy gets three years.

MILBANK: There are charlatans in every line of work. The difference
is, we`re all paying for this guy to do his shenanigans. Now, I think the
only reason this won`t blow up into a major scandal is the Republicans
would probably like more people not to be doing their jobs at the EPA than
that --

MATTHEWS: Oh, they don`t think --

MILBANK: They get exactly what they want to.

MATTHEWS: No, they like this story, though. You laugh -- I`m not
laughing, you laugh and some people might laugh, and certainly Jon Stewart
is good at it. But I`m telling you what it does -- it reinforces.

OK, I`ll play Debbie Downer here. Who wins if they think the
government`s a joke? Republicans, the right wing, because they say it`s a
joke.

MILBANK: It`s one more piece. The only -- I think the only place I
disagree there is that there are so many outrages in this government.
Here`s one guy who defrauded them of $1 million and paid it --

MATTHEWS: Do you know how he pulled it off?

MILBANK: He was clearly devious and --

MATTHEWS: Did he have -- did he have a secret -- did he have a CIA ID
card? Did he have a letter from somebody?

MILBANK: I don`t think we know the particulars, but the man even
fooled his own family. But the reason, I think, it`s not as much of an
outrage is, think of all the other outrages. You know, Congress is staying
in the Senate day after day, they`re staying in, delaying things right now.
This is costing $2 million a day.

This guy defrauded them of $1 million and paid it back. I`m not
defending it to any extent.

MATTHEWS: You know what I`d do t him? You know that little place up
in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where they play tennis and lift weights, you
know? A lot of sort of white collar guys go. Give him ten years up there.
That`ll sharpen these people up.

Ten years playing tennis in Allenwood. I don`t think it`s funny,
because I believe in the government and I don`t think there are yo-yos like
this around. But we call one.

Thank you, Dana Milbank. And it`s your job to have fun with this. My
job to curse them.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.

Early in the Obama presidency, I said I wanted it to succeed. I said
it for two big reasons. One, I want all presidencies to succeed, in
principle, for the basic reason that failed presidencies normally result
from something that`s gone wrong for the country itself. Successful
presidencies normally mean something good has happened, like the end of the
Cold War became clear in the last months of the Reagan presidency.

Two, I want this presidency to succeed, because I believe this
president has done two very good things that needed to be done for the
country. He`s brought to reality, if imperfect reality, a plan to get
health care coverage to people who haven`t had it, the tens of millions who
haven`t had it.

And secondly, he`s followed the same anti-war course he promised as a
young Illinois state senator. And as a Kennedy for the White House, he`s
wound down the wars in Iraq and now Afghanistan, avoided an American war in
Syria, and is doing his very best to avert a possibly never-ending war with
Iran, a war that will start with a bang and end years later after a
succession of trouble, we will wish, we`d never had the to endure.

For these reasons, I hope the president gather his assets, rallies his
staff and cabinet, and gets his act together -- for his good, for our good,
for the good of those who know, that the only way to sell progressive
government in this country is to show that it works.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" 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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