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HARDBALL
December 26, 2013

Guests: Michelle Bernard, Clarence Page, Barton Gellman, Alan Dershowitz, Josh Marshall, Matt Katz, John Nichols

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Will the new year bring new and
improved fortunes for President Obama?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

Leading off tonight: 2013 was one hell of a year for President Obama.
When the country turned the page on 2012, there was an expectation that the
president`s resounding reelection victory would mean a path forward. It
was the president`s own reelection slogan, an idea that despite the ugly
battles of the past four years, there was hope yet for something. But gun
control failed, immigration reform stalled, the government shut down, and
embarrassments plagued the NSA, the IRS, and Affordable Care Act. As the
Brits might say, call it his annus horribilis, which is essentially how his
own former press secretary, Robert Gibbs, described it during an interview
on Sunday`s "MEET THE PRESS."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No doubt about it, I
would say this is the worst year of the presidency. It does beats out
2011. But -- well, and especially given sort of where he started, the fact
that the first year of a second term is historically the most productive of
the second term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: The worst year of his presidency, which has been
compounded by the far right`s war of obstruction and path of political
destruction. The slogans catching fire these days aren`t about moving
forward, they`re about "embracing the suck." That`s a phrase that Nancy
Pelosi used to describe the Ryan/Murray budget deal, the only real piece of
truly forward-looking and bipartisan legislation of the entire year.

But if you`re one of President Obama`s allies, there`s more than
enough reason for optimism, even confidence. The economy is rapidly
improving. Enrollments in the Affordable Care Act are up, and picking up
strength.

And the Tea Party fringe, the self-described (sic) wacko-birds on the
far right, which have blown up every major piece of the president`s agenda,
are finally seeing some real resistance from a tag team that includes
powerful Republican House leaders and the big spenders who bankroll the
party`s primaries.

Make no mistake about it, there will be opportunities for the
president to triumph over his political enemies in 2014, to defeat the Tea
Party fringe, to ring up some major legislative victories, like raising the
minimum wage or passing immigration reform, and to regain the credibility
and trust of a doubting public. He just has to find them.

And there`s a lot more at stake than just policy. It`s a battle over
the concept of what government, what we as a nation can do.

Clarence Page is a columnist for "The Chicago Tribune." Michelle
Bernard is the president of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and
Public Policy.

Michelle, look forward into 2014. You know some the milestones that
are about to unfold. There`ll be the State of the Union address in
January. March will bring an enrollment deadline for the Affordable Care
Act. In the summer, there`ll be a deadline with regard to Iran, et cetera,
et cetera.

Where do you see opportunity for President Obama to right this ship?

MICHELLE BERNARD, PRES., BERNARD CENTER: Well, you know, it
absolutely starts with the State of the Union address coming up in January.
It is by far going to be the largest audience that is going to sit down and
watch anything the president has to say for the rest of the year. And he`s
got to take the State of the Union address and lay out his legislative map,
his policy map.

But I think just as importantly, he has to lay out for the country
what his vision is for the future of the country, and quite frankly, what
his vision is for the people who feel that they no longer have a voice.

I mean, you just ran through all the statistics. Most people are not
just upset with the Obama presidency, but they`re also, like, very upset
with Congress and the fact that our government does not function. It is
the American public that has been the big losers in 2013, and President
Obama needs to remind the public who he was, who is the Obama that people
fell in love with at the Democratic convention in Boston many, many years
ago.

He needs to revive that person and give us trust that he can right the
ship.

SMERCONISH: Clarence, I`ve often wondered if a president, any
president, would be better served giving, of course, an overview of the
state of the union, but then using that time, using that bully pulpit
moment to drill down on a single priority for the coming year, to sort of
put all the chips in play on one issue.

Too outside the box, you think, for this president?

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, I think you`re onto
something. The three words I would have the president remember are "Get
out more" -- get outside the White House and Washington. Talk with the
American public more.

Certainly, he has to now usher the Affordable Care Act into full
enactment. There`s still bumps ahead, and he has to get ahead of that
issue. I think the whole NSA controversy -- this is one where he agrees
they`ve gone too far in the past, really testing the outer limits of the
rules. Some kind of rollback, safeguard, new regulation in that regard
would show he`s an activist president, really actively involved in
protecting freedoms as well as security.

And the Congress right now, you know, you touched on something earlier
that`s been a pushback now of the so-called wacko-birds. The donor
community is divided. You`ve got some donors that are backing the Tea
Party faction. You`ve got others, more establishment Republicans, that
want to see more reason, compromise, more forward movement. So I think
there are opportunities ahead.

SMERCONISH: You know, there`s a major bright spot for the president,
and I`m speaking of the economy. Look at the headlines. In today`s "Wall
Street Journal" -- "Economy entering new year on a roll." In "USA Today,"
-- "GDP surprise, economy expands at 4.1 percent rate."

The turnaround since the president took office has been pretty
dramatic, no matter how you cut it. For example, look at the stock market
when the president took office in January of 2009. The Dow was below
8,000. Today, it`s well over 16,000. The unemployment rate has dropped
significantly, as well, by nearly a full percentage point.

And the economic growth rate -- the pace of growth in the GDP -- has
undergone a tremendous turnaround. When he took office, the economy was
contracting at a rate of more than 5 percent, and now it`s growing at a
rate of over 4 percent.

None of this, of course, is lost on the president. In his year-end
press conference, the economy was front and center when it came to looking
at next year`s agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I look at the
landscape for next year, what I say to myself is we`re poised to do really
good things. The economy is stronger than it has been in a very long time.
Our next challenge then is to make sure that everybody benefits in that,
not just a few folks. And there`s still too many people who haven`t seen a
raise and are still feeling financially insecure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Michelle, he addressed, obviously, the economy in the
statement that you just heard. But I don`t think he sells his success in
this regard all that often. And I can`t help but wonder if maybe part of
the reason that he doesn`t is because he knows it brings forth discussion
about income inequality, something that obviously bothers the president.

Do you think that he`s been an effective salesman for those
achievements he can claim credit for relative to the economy?

BERNARD: Not in the sense -- not in the way that you`re describing
it, Michael. I think that he could go out and he could toot his horn and
he could say that his vision for the country and how we sort of got out of
the mess that he, quite frankly, inherited from the Bush administration
when he came into office in `08, that he understood the right path and he
has taken us there.

But I don`t necessarily believe that the people who would completely
appreciate that argument are the people who are going to actually go out
and vote for Democrats, for example, in the midterms and are trying to
figure out who to vote for in 2016.

I actually believe that the strategy of focusing on, to a small
extent, the way he`s doing it, what he`s done for the economy but really
focusing on the fact that he knows the way forward.

And you know, when he talked about income inequality being the most
pressing issue of the day, if you go back and you look at the numbers and
you look at the people -- at the demographics of the people who have been
true to the president, who put him in office and I think who are going to
be very important in the midterms and in 2016, those are the people who
want to hear that he knows the way forward but also that he understands
their pain.

So he`s got to talk, I think, continually. And I think he`s done a
pretty good job about, for example, talking about the black unemployment
rate, talking about fair wages and comparable worth for women.

I think over the next couple years, although he`s not running for
president again, he is running for his legacy. And I think that the
president needs to be on a two-year-long campaign to talk about the America
that is and the America that should be, and he as the president and chief
who understands how to get us there and using where we are today as an
example that he can do this for all Americans.

SMERCONISH: Well, something else, Michelle and Clarence. The
president is facing a tall order when it comes to limiting the damage in
the midterms next year. According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, Republicans
have taken a 5-point lead in the generic ballot. That`s 49-44 percent.
That`s a big turnaround compared to a couple of months ago, when the
government shutdown sent Republicans` favorability ratings plummeting.

And here`s something really interesting. Historically, the sixth year
of a presidency is poison for the party in power. According to the "Cook
Political Report," since World War II, the party in power has averaged a
29-seat loss in the House and a 6-seat loss in the Senate.

Clarence Page, how does he get ahead of that curve?

PAGE: Oh, there`s no doubt about it, he`s facing a real crisis here
and that -- comparable to 2010, when you saw the Republicans take the House
again.

He`s got to work both externally and internally -- externally with
limiting the damage with the public. His polling numbers began to plummet
when the Affordable Care Act launched after October 1st, right during this
government shutdown, what knocked him on his heels, and he is still
recovering from that even as "Obama care" continues to roll out.

He also has to work with his fellow Democrats insofar as getting that
spirit together that enabled him to get elected and reelected. That whole
apparatus has kind of fallen apart between presidential elections. And now
is the time to work with the people around the country who can help the
Democrats to be able to hold their ground at least in the House and the
Senate.

SMERCONISH: Michelle, quick final thought.

BERNARD: No, I was just going to say quickly, Bill Clinton in his
second term, you know, the Democrats were able to pick up 4 seats in the
House of Representatives, and maybe President Obama needs to go back and
look at what Clinton did and use that strategy and do everything he can...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: ... Clinton was the outlier when you look at all that
data since World War II.

BERNARD: I know. I know. I know, but...

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Clarence Page. Thank you, Michelle Bernard,
as always.

Coming up: NSA leaker Edward Snowden takes to the airwaves, saying the
government`s surveillance is far worse than anything George Orwell imagined
in his book "1984," and that for him, his mission`s accomplished.

And a HARDBALL exclusive. Talkingpointsmemo is announcing the biggest
political scandals of 2013. And for the winning scandal-laden politician,
it was a bit of a runaway.

And Chris Christie seems to relish his tough guy image. But as he
plans a possible presidential run, does he run the risk of coming off like
a bully?

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with why I think "Duck Dynasty`s" Phil
Robertson should keep his show, at least for now, despite all those
horrible things he said.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer and his wife,
Silda, have ended their marriage after 26 years. The Spitzers announced
the news in a joint statement. Silda Spitzer was by her husband`s side
when he resigned from the governorship in 2008 after that prostitution
scandal, but she did not campaign for him in his campaign for New York City
comptroller earlier this year.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. On Christmas day, a greeting
came from an unlikely source, NSA leaker Edward Snowden. He sent out what
he called an alternative Christmas message to the U.K.`s channel 4. And
here`s a portion of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: Privacy matters. Privacy is what allows
us to determine who we are and who we want to be. The conversation
occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the
technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And Snowden made news again a new interview published
Christmas Eve in "The Washington Post" in which he says, quote, "For me, in
terms of personal satisfaction, the mission`s already accomplished. I
already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that
I had been trying to do was validated because, remember, I didn`t want to
change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it could
change itself.

I`m joined by the "Washington Post" reporter who interviewed Snowden,
Barton Gellman, who`s also a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, and
Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has written a terrific new book
called "Taking the Stand."

Barton, let me begin with you. How can he say that he won, where the
programs that he`s protested against and leaked about all continue, at
least as of this moment?

BARTON GELLMAN, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, it`s the second half of the
quote you just read. He is not saying he wanted single-handedly to change
society or to undo half the NSA`s programs. He wanted the public to be
able to take part in the decisions about how much domestic surveillance
there`s going to be, for example.

He believed that there was an unlawful program taking shape, that it
was all being decided in a secret world, that the public would be disturbed
if it heard, that courts might say it`s unlawful. In the last sort of 10
days of December, both those things have happened.

SMERCONISH: But where you`ve got both the House and the Senate under
leadership from different parties, and the presidency in similar fashion to
his predecessor, all sort of still in disagreement with Snowden and
pursuing those policies, how is that anything but a loss for Snowden?

GELLMAN: Look, I`m not going to declare him a winner or loser. He
said he wanted to launch a public debate. If -- you know, if you think
that sort of putting something out on the table and having six months of
intensive conversation internationally, which is picking up momentum as the
year comes to a close, and a federal judge has found the thing he
criticized most to be almost certainly unconstitutional -- if you think
that`s failing, then, you know, you`re entitled to that view.

I think he`s done a pretty good job of putting it on the table. Now
it`s up to us collectively to decide what we want to do.

SMERCONISH: Professor, the federal judged it to whom Mr. Gellman
referred, Richard Leon, call these program Orwellian and probably
unconstitutional. From a con law point of view, how do you read the
judge`s opinion?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, he`s right. As it relates
to American citizens, it almost certainly is unconstitutional. But you
know, we were taught in elementary school that the ends don`t justify the
means, especially when the means are criminal.

To me, there are three criteria for evaluating somebody who engages in
criminal civil disobedience. First, it has to be a last resort. He has to
have tried everything else first. Second, he has to cause the least amount
of harm consistent with making his point. Third, he has to take
responsibility and remain there and pay the consequences.

And Snowden has failed all three of those tests. Number one, it
wasn`t a last resort. He could have easily gone on "60 Minutes," disclosed
the existence of the program without disclosing the contents, some of which
is extremely damaging to our national security.

Second, he did far more damage than was necessary. For example, the
fact that we intrude and overhear foreign leaders may raise some questions,
but it`s not unconstitutional. We have an absolute right under our
Constitution to listen to the prime minister of Israel, to listen to the
prime minister of Germany, the chancellor of Germany. That is not a
constitutional issue. And yet he disclosed, or people acting on his
behalf, disclosed the fact that we are using surveillance outside the
country, where the Constitution doesn`t apply.

And third, he ran away. He didn`t face the consequences. He should
have stayed home, gone on trial, and made his point. So for me, he`s a
deeply flawed hero who has taken with him millions of items of secret
material in order to bargain for his release and to try to receive amnesty.
That`s very, very selfish.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Gellman -- and you were just with Richard -- with
Edward Snowden -- pardon me -- when you were in Moscow. How does he
respond to the points that Professor Dershowitz just raised? Chiefly, the
point that he could have worked within the system, rather than choosing the
route on which he traveled?

GELLMAN: Well, I`ve been reporting about national security for 20-
some years. I`m not familiar with any case of a national security
whistleblower, ever in my 20 years covering this stuff, who was able to
make an impact inside or who wasn`t crushed by the system for bringing his
complaints.

He did, by the way, talk to four superiors, two in each of two
divisions, about his concerns, and 15 co-workers, and showed them specific
programs on the screen. And he said he thought they were unlawful. He
said that -- also, that he thought the American people would react very
badly to their disclosure, which is a fairly brave thing to say when you`re
actually about to leak it yourself.

So, his view is that he -- he brought it to people`s attention inside.
But he had watched previous whistle-blowers quite closely. He had watched
the case of Bill Binney. He had watched the case of Tom Drake, who had
disclosed, in fact, just speaking about them, some of the very same
programs he was talking about. And they were dismissed and they weren`t
believed because the Intelligence Committees and the president and the
director of national intelligence said, not true.

SMERCONISH: In your "Washington Post" interview, Mr. Snowden also
talks about where he felt his allegiance lay.

And here`s an excerpt -- quote -- "In his interview with The Post,
Snowden noted matter-of-factly that Standard Form 312, the classified-
information nondisclosure agreement, is a civil contract. He signed it,
but he pledged his fealty elsewhere. `The oath of allegiance is not an
oath of secrecy, he said. That is an oath to the Constitution. That is
the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not.`"

Professor Dershowitz, how do you react to that?

DERSHOWITZ: No, he didn`t. He didn`t keep his oath. The
Constitution does not forbid surveilling foreign leaders.

And he disclosed thousands and thousands of items that were perfectly
permissible. And it`s nonsense to say that he signed a civil contract. It
is a crime. And he knew it. Otherwise, he wouldn`t have run away. Of
course it`s a crime to disclose confidential classified material.

And he had to know that. How -- I would be interested in asking your
other guest, how does he justify disclosing the surveillance of foreign
leaders, which is constitutional? Why didn`t he simply disclose the
existence of the program on "60 Minutes" and then say, I`m prepared to give
you my million pieces in a classified debriefing in Congress?

He would have had the same result. It wouldn`t have caused the
enormous damage to our national security, and then he could have faced the
consequences. You know, you say people were crushed. But that`s the price
you pay when you engage in civil disobedience.

SMERCONISH: Barton Gellman, time for just a quick response. Did you
raise that issue with Mr. Snowden, and what did he say in your most recent
interview?

GELLMAN: Well, he`s got a broader set of concerns than just domestic
surveillance. He was looking for a big national debate about any kind of
mass surveillance, any kind of surveillance of people without specific
reason to believe that they have either done something wrong or that they
have -- that they`re a legitimate target of foreign intelligence.

DERSHOWITZ: But that`s not the law. The law is, we`re entitled...

GELLMAN: No, he doesn`t say -- he doesn`t say that it`s about the
law. He says it`s a matter of policy.

(CROSSTALK)

GELLMAN: I thought you wanted an answer, Alan.

(CROSSTALK)

GELLMAN: I thought you wanted an answer.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Barton Gellman.

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ: But do he answer the constitutional point?

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Alan Dershowitz.

To be continued.

Up next: When it comes to "Duck Dynasty," Sarah Palin shoots first
and asks questions later?

And don`t forget, if you want to follow me on Twitter, you just need
to figure out how to spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Back to HARDBALL. Time now for the "Sideshow."

The first family spent Christmas in Hawaii yesterday, where President
Obama took the opportunity to thank U.S. troops stationed at the Marine
Base at Kaneohe Bay. It`s been the traditional destination for the Obamas
for the last five years.

And it`s no surprise that BuzzFeed celebrated their presidential
Christmas in their typical fashion, with a list titled "The 17 Most
Excellent Presidential Christmastime Photos." The compilation included
some offbeat images from various administrations going back to Ford and
Carter. But here`s the one that BuzzFeed clearly overlooked.

Yes, that`s former first lady Nancy Reagan with Mr. T dressed in a
sleeveless Santa Claus costume. The unlikely pair held a joint event in
the State Dining Room of the White House back in 1983 as part of Mrs.
Reagan`s Just Say No to drugs campaign.

And here`s how Tom Brokaw portrayed that scene 30 years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: And what happens when you team up Mrs. Reagan
and Mr. T? You get the A-couple of course. And that`s what happened at
the White House today. Mr. T made a hearty, but slightly menacing Santa
Claus at the White House Christmas press tour.

MR. T, ACTOR: Who`s been bad?

BROKAW: We don`t know what Mrs. Reagan asked for, but Mr. T got
something a little extra from her.

MR. T: All right. Oh, wow. Now they will start some scandals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Next up; It`s a case of shooting first and asking
questions later. Sarah Palin was the first and perhaps the most vocal
defender of Phil Robertson after he was suspended from "Duck Dynasty" for
the anti-gay comments that he made in "GQ" magazine.

Well, as it turns out, Palin never bothered to read the "GQ" article
at the center of the controversy. Her admission came earlier this week on
FOX News with Greta Van Susteren.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST, "ON THE RECORD": If you actually read the
article, there`s a rather graphic and offensive -- at least I think
offensive description of it.

There are two ways to say different things. And his -- in the article
-- and I know he`s a graphic-type guy, but do you have any objection on the
manners aspect, how he said it?

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I haven`t read the article.
I don`t know exactly how he said it. He was quoting the Gospel. So people
who are so insulted and offended by what he said evidently are offended by
what he was quoting in the Gospel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: If she had read the interview before defending Robertson,
she`d probably know that some of the objectionable language he used in the
interview was a bit more graphic than what she`d consider Gospel.

Finally, everybody knows that reindeer are popular Christmas symbols
this time of year. But for Iowa Congressman Steve King, they were also
Christmas dinner. The Iowa Republican spent the holiday this year in Oslo,
Norway, where he had a meal of reindeer meat and cured cod. Both are
considered traditional foods in the Scandinavian country.

Up next, the biggest scandals of 2013. We will reveal Talking Points
Memo`s Golden Dukes Awards for political scandal. We will do that next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CRAIG MELVIN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Craig Melvin. Here`s what`s
happening right now.

FedEx and UPS are both under fire for failing to deliver packages that
were supposed to arrive in time for Christmas. Those delays are blamed on
bad weather and heavy volume.

A computer glitch at Delta had some travelers smiling earlier. Fares
that normally go for about $400 were selling for less than $50 online. The
airline says it will honor those low prices.

And a new report says it was not such a blue Christmas for retailers
after all. SpendingPulse says holiday sales were up 2.3 percent over last
year -- now back to HARDBALL.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

For the seventh straight year, Talking Points Memo is awarding its
Golden Dukes Awards for the biggest scandals of the year. They certainly
had many to choose from. After all, this was the year of Weiner, of
Filner, of Ford, and of Paula Deen.

So how did they choose? First, the left-leaning Web site solicited
nominations from the public in several categories, including Best General
Interest Scandal, the Meritorious Achievement in the Crazy, and the
Outstanding Achievement in Corruption-Based Chutzpah.

It then submitted the names to an expert panel of judges, including
"The New Yorker"`s Rick Hertzberg and author Dan Savage. The winners have
been chosen.

In a HARDBALL exclusive, we`re now going to reveal who they are.

Joining me to go over the winners is Josh Marshall. He`s the founder
and editor of the Talking Points Memo.

All right, Josh, we are ready.

We`re starting with the big award, Best General Interest Scandal.
There was some major competition in this category, starting with our friend
up north Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto, who made this shocking confession
earlier this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROB FORD, MAYOR OF TORONTO, CANADA: Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine.
But no -- do I? Am I an addict? No.

(CROSSTALK)

FORD: Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors,
probably approximately about a year ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: How do you outdo that?

Joining Mayor Ford, another embattled mayor, Bob Filner of San Diego.
This year, Mayor Filner was sentenced to 90 days of home confinement for
three counts of sexual harassment. But that was just the tip of the
iceberg. Multiple other women came forward with stories of unwanted sexual
harassment at the hands of the mayor.

One of these women, Irene McCormack Jackson, a former Filner
communications director, described what became known as the notorious
Filner headlock.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IRENE MCCORMACK JACKSON, ACCUSER: I was placed in the Filner headlock
and moved around as a rag doll as he whispered sexual comments in my ear.

We didn`t have a relationship other than work. That is all I wanted.
And I never gave him any reason to think otherwise. Mayor Filner
challenged me to give him one example of how his behavior towards me was
improper. I pointed out that he had asked me to work without my underwear
on. He had no comeback.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Yet another Bob, another nominee, the former Governor of
Virginia Bob McDonnell. McDonnell was forced to pay back more than
$120,000 in loans from a wealthy business owner and major campaign donor.

In a statement this summer, the governor said -- quote -- "I am deeply
sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon
my beloved Virginia and her citizens. I want you to know that I broke no
laws and that I am committed to regaining your sacred trust and
confidence."

The fourth and final nominee, not named Bob, it is Southern cooking
titan Paula Deen, who admitted this year to using the N-word. She then
went on "The Today Show" and offered this teary response to the uproar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

PAULA DEEN, CELEBRITY CHEF: If there`s anyone out there that has
never said something that they wish they could take back, if you`re out
there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it
kills me, please. I want to meet you. I want to meet you. I is what I
is, and I`m not changing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: So, to review the nominees for Best General Interest
Scandal, Bob Ford, Bob Filner, Bob McDonnell, and Paula Deen.

Josh, the winner is?

JOSHUA MICAH MARSHALL, FOUNDER AND EDITOR, TALKING POINTS MEMO: The
winner is Rob Ford.

And, actually, more than that, this is the first year where we had
basically like a Rob Ford blowout. He won in three categories this year,
and he tied for a third. Everybody kind of figured this year that Anthony
Weiner was going to be -- I mean, how -- if you have a -- if you have a sex
scandal that actually leads to the production of a porn movie based on your
sex scandal, it`s hard to compete with that, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MARSHALL: I mean, you can`t really do much better than that. But Rob
Ford actually tied Anthony Weiner even in the sex scandal category.

So, this -- in case anybody can see here, this -- we have commissioned
-- this statuette was put together by a sculptor down in Maryland named
Kristen Benefil (ph) -- Benefil (ph) -- and we are going to present this
statue in person to Rob Ford up in Toronto.

SMERCONISH: You know, I have to tell you, Josh, I will bet he will be
thrilled to receive it.

MARSHALL: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Everybody else on that list would be embarrassed by the
distinction. My hunch is, you will get a photo-op out of him.

MARSHALL: You know, that`s the thing, because this is -- you know, as
would be appropriate, you can see that the statuette is a little crooked on
the pedestal, and that`s on purpose, because, obviously, What is it an
award for?

And it is -- it is actually cast aluminum painted gold, again,
appropriate, because, you know, a corrupt politician is not what -- on the
inside what he looks like on the outside. But when we were putting this
together and we were thinking who might have won, there was always the
chance that the honoree might use this as a weapon to attack our staffer
who tried to present it to them.

And that could totally happen in Toronto. But -- but, yes, I could
really see Rob Ford like being into this.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Let`s move on to another category...

MARSHALL: Sure.

SMERCONISH: ... because you called the other category -- another
category Meritorious Achievement in the Crazy.

Now, there were five nominees for this one. We will start with this
bizarre outburst from a participant at the CPAC conference this spring.
Scott Terry accused Republicans of trying to reach out to minorities to
find new voters -- quote -- "at the expense of young white Southern males
like myself."

But he didn`t stop there. The most ironic thing, this took place a
forum named "Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a
Racist When You Know You`re Not One?"

Here`s what happened when the speaker at the event tried to engage
Terry by talking about the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

K. CARL SMITH, SPEAKER: When Douglass escaped from slavery, I think
10 years or 20 years after he escapes from slavery, he writes a letter to
his former slave master and said, I forgive you, for all the things you did
to me.

SCOTT TERRY, CONFERENCE ATTENDEE: Forgiving for giving him shelter
and food all them years?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: All right, you plucked your second nominee from an
episode of "The Daily Show." Don Yelton is a Republican precinct chairman
in North Carolina who supports strict new voter I.D. laws. And here`s why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

DON YELTON, NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PRECINCT CHAIRMAN: The law is
going to kick the Democrats in the butt. If it hurts a bunch of college
kids that`s too lazy to get up off their bohonkas and -- and go get a photo
I.D., so be it.

REPORTER: Right, right.

YELTON: If it hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of
lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it.

REPORTER: And it just so happens that a lot of those people vote
Democrat.

YELTON: Gee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: The third nominee, Congressman Louie Gohmert who warned
the Obama administration was under the influence of members of the Muslim
Brotherhood.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: Thank God for the moderates that don`t
approve of what`s being done. But this administration has so many Muslim
Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong
decisions for America.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Then there`s Congressman Steve King, a long-time opponent
of immigration reform this summer. He made these comments about people
coming over the border illegally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: For everyone who`s a valedictorian,
there`s another hundred out there that -- they weigh 130 pounds and have
got calves the size of cantaloupes because they`re hauling 75 pounds of
marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same
act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Rounding out this group of nominees, Texas Congressman
Steve Stockman. Stockman has supported impeaching President Obama,
questioned whether the president`s documentation was, quote, "fraudulent",
and compared him to Saddam Hussein.

During his campaign last year, Stockman proudly boasted these bumper
stickers, quote, "If babies had guns, they wouldn`t be aborted."

Well, stiff competition in this category.

Josh Marshall, your victor is who?

JOSH MARSHALL, TPM: Steve King. I was actually a little surprised.
I considered him a sleeper for this. I might have gone for the guy who
wanted to stand up for oppressed whites.

But, no, Steve King was the winner and it was almost a unanimous
choice by our judges. We had one vote for Steve Stockman. Susie Bright
(ph), one of our judges. But, yes, Steve King ran away with it. Depending
on how things go up in Toronto, we may try to present one to him down in
Washington, D.C.

While I`m on this, I want to thank all the judges. Dan Savidge, Susie
Bright, Rick Hertzberg, Julianne Molinski (ph), and also our sponsors this
year for the golden dukes which is Media Matters. They have their own
award called misinformer of the year which they`re also bestowing tonight
to CBS News.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Josh Marshall, thanks very much for breaking all
this news here on HARDBALL. We appreciate it.

MARSHALL: Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: Up next, Chris Christie is a Republican front runner for
2016. But will his tough guy persona sell outside of New Jersey or does he
run the risk of coming across as a bully?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: We`ll be right back with whether Chris Christie will play
in Peoria or perhaps Des Moines.

HARDBALL after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: We`re back.

According to many of the latest polls on the 2016 presidential
contest, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appears to be the strongest
Republican to take on presumptive Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.
But does Christie have an Achilles heel?

"The New York Times" run a front-page story by Kate Zernike, on
Christmas Day, under the headline, "Stories add up as bully image trails
Christie."

The governor`s reputation for score-keeping and exacting political
retribution on anyone who defies him may work in New Jersey, but it`s not
clear it will work on a national stage. Here`s one example cited by
Zernike.

She describes in "The New York Times" story, quote, "How in 2011, Mr.
Christie held a news conference where he accused State Senator Richard
Codey of being combative and difficult in blocking two nominees. Mr.
Codey, a Democrat who had served as governor following the resignation of
James McGreevey responded he had not only signed off on nominations but had
held a meeting to try to hurry them along. Three days later, Mr. Codey was
walking out of an event in Newark when he got a call from the state police
superintendent informing him that he would no longer be afforded the
trooper who accompanied him to occasional political public events, a
courtesy that was granted to all former governors."

Will Christie`s reputation for seeking pity political revenge hurt his
chances to win the White House?

Matt Katz is a reporter with WNYC, who has covered Christie. And John
Nichols is with "The Nation."

Matt, as I read "The Times" story yesterday, I was thinking this is a
portrayal of him as jolly old Saint Nick. In other words, he`s making a
list and he`s checking it twice.

Now, you`ve covered him for years. Does that comport with what you`ve
seen in Trenton?

MATT KATZ, WNYC REPORTER: It does. There were a number of examples
in there. He doesn`t go by the naughty or nice list. He has referred to
it on the record at press conferences as the penalty box. That`s what he
calls it when those in his circle or outside his circle are not towing the
line and are not doing what he thinks needs to be done for him to govern
the state properly. That`s how he would frame it.

SMERCONISH: John, this is a show called HARDBALL. I mean, it`s clear
that he plays hardball in the Garden State, and apparently it works. Will
it work in Des Moines? Will it work in Peoria?

JOHN NICHOLS, THE NATION: No, it will not. It will be highly
problematic for him.

One of the subtleties of the Republican presidential process is that,
first off, it begins very, very early. It begins about now.

And secondly, people shuffle. They move their preferences.

And for somebody like Chris Christie, if he moves into Iowa or,
frankly, South Carolina, and starts making lists and deciding who`s on his
side and who isn`t, that is an incredibly destructive way of going at it
for him. Because as candidates drop out, as they get in, people move from
camp to camp, you don`t burn your bridges and you don`t let people know
that you`re mad at them early on if you expect to close the deal in 2016.

SMERCONISH: Matt Katz, one person`s bully is another person`s
decisive leader. Maybe there`s a yearning for this sort of leadership in
the heartland.

KATZ: I think there might be. I mean, the -- the knock against the
president right now is that he doesn`t know how to work and maneuver the
levers of power. And Chris Christie has managed to do that.

I mean, when Republicans vote for a bill in New Jersey and Christie
vetoes that bill and then the Democrats try to override that veto, all
those Republicans ended up changing their votes. Because Christie knows
how to work those people.

And I`ve actually seen him in audiences. I was at the Republican
convention last year, and he went to sort of a sleepy breakfast, North
Carolina Republicans, and he, at the end of his speech, he said, listen,
you better go out there and vote for Romney or I`m coming back Jersey
style.

And he made what was clearly a "Sopranos" Jersey reference and the
crowd loved it. They mobbed him out the door. He couldn`t leave, because
they wanted to get a picture with him.

So, there might be a yearning for something tough. You know, one
man`s bully, like you said, is another guy`s governance.

SMERCONISH: John Nichols, Christie`s punitive political punishments
are not limited to his opponents on the Democratic side either. He`s taken
out retribution on members of his own party as well.

In 2010, said the piece, when a blizzard paralyzed the state, State
Senator Sean Kean, a Republican, told a reporter that one mistake the
senate, president, and governor had made was not calling earlier for a
state of emergency, which might have kept more cars off the road. Mr.
Christie was smarting from criticism that he had remained in Disney World
during the storm.

When he returned, he held his first news conference in Mr. Kean`s home
district shortly before a member of the governor`s staff called Mr. Kean
and warned him not to show up. His seat was eliminated in redistricting
the following year.

Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski told "The New York Times,"
quote, "Every organization takes its cues from the leadership as to what`s
acceptable and what`s not, and this governor, in his public appearances,
has made thuggery acceptable." And, I guess, therein lies the divide.
Some see it one way, some see it another.

You can have the final word, John Nichols.

NICHOLS: The final word is that the Republican presidential process,
at least for now, starts in a state called Iowa and there`s a phrase called
"Midwest nice." The bottom line is that you don`t start telling people who
can come to the living room or the church basement or the community center
to meet you and talk to you. You play games like that, and you`re going to
find that a gentleman named Mike Huckabee is going to come sneaking up on
you very quickly.

Chris Christie cannot bring this style to the Midwest and be a big
winner.

SMERCONISH: I felt as if I saw the starting gun truly be fired on
Christmas Day with that "Times" piece.

Thank you both.

Thank you, Matt Katz. Good luck in your new venture.

Thank you, John Nichols.

When we come back, let me finish why I think "Duck Dynasty`s" Phil
Robertson should stay on the air, at least for now.

We`ll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this:

Just because I find Phil Robertson`s comments about gays to be
appalling doesn`t mean that I think A&E should have suspended the "Duck
Dynasty" star. As a cable TV star, Robertson is dependent upon fickle
viewers for his livelihood. So why can`t the court of public opinion
render its judgment instead of employers?

Robertson should lose his TV show when the public scorn impacts their
ratings. Not because the media outlet exercises its discretion on our
behalf. Now, make no mistake, Robertson didn`t just quote Scripture and
cast doubt on gay`s admittance to the kingdom of God, he equated a
lifestyle predetermined at birth, with a choice to kill 3,000 on 9/11.

Quote, "We never, ever judge someone on who`s going to heaven or hell.
That`s the Almighty`s job. We just love `em, give `em the good news about
Jesus, whether they`re homosexuals, drunk, terrorists, we let God sort them
all out later. You see what I`m saying?"

Well, yes, Mr. Robertson, we see what you`re saying. Namely that you
believe in a moral equivalency between gays, drunks, and al Qaeda, a pretty
ungodly view.

Still, A&E should not have put the star on indefinite hiatus from
filming. In a statement, A&E network said, "We are extremely disappointed
to read Phil Robertson`s comments in `G.Q.", which are based on his own
personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series, `Duck Dynasty.` His
personal views in no way reflect those of the A&E networks who`ve always
been strong champions of the LBGT community."

The network has placed Robertson under hiatus from filming
indefinitely.

Well, that`s ridiculous. It`s a contradiction in terms to suspend an
actor from a program that bills itself has a reality TV show. My hunch is
that the hiatus is a calculated move. Note, the indignation didn`t stop
A&E from milking the controversy by running the program on a loop the last
couple of days.

I`d never seen the show, but had no trouble finding it while the
controversy was raging. And five minutes` worth was all I needed to
appreciate that Robertson`s faith is not inconsequential to his persona,
but rather, it`s a large part of his appeal. How surprised can A&E really
be when he`s exposed as a rube, or worse?

In his own statement offered to Fox 411, he continued to, quote,
"cloak himself in religion." He said, "I would never treat anyone with
disrespect, just because they are different from me. We are all created by
the Almighty and like him, I love all humanity. We would all be better off
if we loved God and loved each other."

Hey, spare me! Wrapping yourself in your interpretation of the good
book or any other book, for that matter, can`t cloak insensitivity.

But fire him? Nah. Leave that to the rest of us.

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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