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updated 1/6/2014 11:48:08 AM ET 2014-01-06T16:48:08

HARDBALL
January 3, 2014

Guests: John Feehery, Josh Green, Hogan Gidley, Sam Stein, Hogan Gidley, Nia-Malika Henderson, Nancy Giles

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST: Meet the GOP`s new plan, same as the old
plan, cripple "Obama care." Let`s play HARDBALL.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

Leading off tonight: Retreat or reload? That`s a question now
facing the GOP. Yesterday in "The Washington Post," Greg Sargent posed
an interesting question. He wondered whether it would be possible to
envision a future in which Republicans and Democrats would enter into
real negotiations over the future of the Affordable Care Act, in which
case each side will get something in exchange for the other. In other
words, negotiating benefits from the other side. Maybe Republicans get
the sale of insurance across state lines, and Democrats get a Medicaid
expansion.

Well, don`t hold your breath because today, Republicans, in the
form of Eric Cantor, tipped their hands with regard of how the battle
over health care will be fought in 2014, and it seems like a repeat of
2013, rather than the negotiation contemplated by Sargent.

The GOP spent the bulk of last year trying to repeal the entirety
of the president`s health care law. And when that didn`t work, they
tried to defund it in mid-September. And when that didn`t work, they
tried to delay it. By September 30th, on the eve of a government
shutdown, they tried to delay just the individual mandate, which failed.
By mid-October, it was pretty clear that the shutdown was a disaster for
the party, so they scaled back their demands, instead trying for a
symbolic victory, to repeal the law`s medical device tax, which -- you
guessed it -- also failed.

By mid-November, they had abandoned outright attempts to kill the
law, instead trying to ease restrictions on so-called junk insurance
plans as a way to disrupt the law. And that didn`t work.

So today, party leadership outlined a new strategy for 2014.
According to a party memo from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the
plan is to introduce legislation to, quote, "strengthen security
requirements" of the Web site, including a law to require the government
to publicly disclose every time personal information is compromised.

Well, the law`s administrator, CMS, put out a response to Cantor
basically telling him, If you`re looking for smoke, keep looking.
Quote, "To date, there have been no successful security attacks on
Healthcare.gov, and no person or group has maliciously accessed
personally identifiable information from the site.

Meanwhile, there are signs that the battle will soon shift to the
local level, including ad blitzes and legal challenges, which begs the
question, is the Republican Party signaling a retreat or just a
different kind of assault when it comes to health care, the most
important issue of 2014?

Joy Reid is an MSNBC contributor and with TheGrio.com. John
Feehery is a Republican strategist.

You know, Joy, I run through the litany of what the GOP attempted
to do in 2013, and I say this failed and that failed and this failed.
But with regard to 2014 at the ballot box, maybe that`s not a bad
strategy.

JOY REID, THEGRIO.COM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Michael,
when you show all of that litany of things that the Republicans did last
year, it was sort of like a sine wave, right? There was escalation, and
then there was diminution. When the Republicans were on stronger ground
was really before the law was actually passed, in 2010, when they were
arguing a very simple message, Do not let this law happen. "Obama care"
is bad, right?

Then after the law passed, they had another very simple message,
Repeal, repeal, repeal. Now what you`re seeing is Eric Cantor and
others signaling an increasingly complicated message -- Well, we`re
going to get at these specific security breaches. We`ll find them when
we get them.

And as you drill down the strategy to things that are more complex
but also smaller-bore, it makes it more difficult to use as a political
message. What Republicans are counting on is being able to maintain,
not dislike for the Affordable Care Act, but rage, anger. That`s what
you had in 2010 against the law.

Can you maintain that for a full year, when people then have the
lived experience of either having insurance or of not being affected by
the Affordable Care Act? I don`t think so.

SMERCONISH: But I guess -- I hear what you`re saying, and I guess
what I`m thinking, John Feehery, is what`s the real objective? Is the
real objective to maintain control of the House, to win reelection in
2014, or to do something about health care in this country?

In other words, why does Greg Sargent have a bad idea? Why not
negotiate for selling insurance across state lines in return for an
expansion of Medicaid?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that would
require both the president and the congressional Republicans to come to
some sort of agreement, which has been pretty hard to do, Michael. I
think right now, you know, as you pointed out, over this long litany,
the Republicans have tried many ways to try to fix this law or repeal it
or get rid of it or defund it or delay it or do all kinds of things, and
they`ve reached no common ground with this president on any of those
things.

I think that what Eric Cantor and other Republicans are going to do
is keep pointing out some of the concerns about this law. Privacy`s a
big concern, especially post-Target -- the Target fiasco. People are
worried about what`s happening with their privacy on a wide variety of
things.

But not only that, you know, they`re worried about their health
care costs going up, their inability to find a doctor. A lot of these
things are going to keep popping up. And you know, this all goes back
also to the president`s credibility. When the president said, If you
want your health care, you can keep it, that proved to be demonstrably
false. And now, you know, this is not only about "Obama care," it`s
also about the president, and I think that that is going to be what this
election`s going to be about.

SMERCONISH: Joy, this is day three for me being insured through
insurance that I procured from Healthcare.gov. I`m worried about my
privacy. I had to hand over a number of personal details about my wife
and me, as well as our children. Is Eric Cantor onto something when he
proposes this today?

REID: I mean, I would say that, you know, it`s -- you know, sure,
everybody is concerned about privacy. But first of all, since they
don`t have actual violations of anyone`s privacy, it sort of seems a
little desperate.

And I think what you just heard more importantly from John Feehery
was an answer to your question, Michael, which is, Is this about the
2014 elections, or is it about health care provision (ph)? It`s about
the election! It`s 100 percent about not agreeing on one thing, not a
bunch of things but one thing, that the Affordable Care Act is the law.
If Republicans agreed on that, then maybe they`d have an interest in
fixing the law, but they don`t agree on that!

SMERCONISH: To your point about the election, Americans for
Prosperity -- and that`s a political arm of the conservative billionaire
Koch brothers -- is going local now. They`re launching a multi-million-
dollar series of attack ads targeting vulnerable Senate Democrats up for
reelection this year, including Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mary
Landrieu in Louisiana, and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.

And the goal is to continue to exploit the president`s misstep when
he said that if Americans like their insurance plans, they could keep
them. Here are a couple of excerpts from those ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those individuals who like the coverage they
already have will be able to keep their current plan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a very accurate description of this
bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But now Louisianians are finding out that they
lied.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was shocked when I got the notice that my
health care policy was canceled. Kay Hagan told us if you like your
insurance plans and your doctors, you could keep them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s the lie of the year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can keep your insurance if you like it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Senator Shaheen kept telling it. The
truth is, thousands have already had their insurance canceled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: John Feehery, isn`t that advocacy for the right to be
underinsured? And doesn`t that run contrary to a sort of bedrock
Republican principle, which is individualism, take care of yourself,
don`t show up at the ER and become a burden to society?

FEEHERY: Well, I think it also says that there`s an issue for
conservative Democrats and Democrats in difficult elections. Are they
going to keep with the president and keep with "Obama care," keep
defending "Obama care," or are they going to have to start running
against "Obama care" and trying to distance themselves from the
president?

And I think this is a very strategic choice, difficult choice for a
lot of these Democrats in very difficult states, red states especially.
And I tell you, as you see Democrats starting running away from the
president, it puts him in a much more difficult spot and weakens his
hand. And I think that`s what you`re going to see as this election year
rolls around.

SMERCONISH: But Joy Reid, what they`re saying in those spots
essentially is, We`re fighting for your right to not have catastrophic
coverage, to have a bare minimum, something that doesn`t comply with
federal law. And if you show up in an ER, then you become that burden
to society that the Affordable Care Act in part was designed to take
care of.

REID: Yes, and you know what? It`ll take about 20 minutes for a
decent reporter in one of those states to find out if, A, that person
saying that they lost their insurance is an actor, or B, if it`s a real
person, if they were able to get another insurance policy, which means
their insurance isn`t gone, they still have insurance.

And number two, I`m not in politics anymore, but all Mary Landrieu
has to do is say, In my state, X thousand people now have health
insurance. And I`m proud of the fact that I voted to make sure that
they were covered. So Democrats can all repeat and rinse and repeat
that ad.

And you know what? Barack Obama`s not on the ballot in 2014. They
can keep saying Obama, Obama, Obama, but all the Democrats have to do is
find people who have insurance and put them on TV.

FEEHERY: Joy...

SMERCONISH: John Feehery, here`s another strategy that`s at work
by the members of your party. Republicans at the national level have
largely failed in crippling the health care law, as we`ve described.
Resistance from Republican state leaders has proven to be a major
obstacle. Republicans in more than 20 states have refused the law`s
expansion of Medicaid, and now 11 states` attorney general are accusing
the president of breaking the law.

They contend that the administration acted illegally when it made
certain administrative changes to the law without congressional action,
something the administration says is well within its legal right.

If you take a look at this map, these AGs come from -- you guessed
it -- conservative states. And all but three hail from states that, as
I`ve mentioned, have tried to cripple the law by rejecting its expansion
of Medicaid, a part of the law that would have extended health insurance
to millions of low-income working Americans at basically no cost to the
states.

Long-term, John, do you think that`s a successful strategy, or will
the people in those states begin to say, Wait a minute, why hasn`t
Medicaid been expanded in our geographic area?

FEEHERY: You know, it`s a good question, Michael. And I`m not
sure how it plays out long-term as these costs expand (ph). The big
question, I think for a lot of Republican legislators -- yes, we get the
short-term, but long-term, are we going to have a lot more that we`re
going to have to pay for? And we`ve already seen with a lot of these --
more Medicaid patients going into emergency rooms almost immediately
when they`re getting signed up. So you`re going to have an increasing
burden on the system.

Listen, I think the bigger problem here for Democrats is they`ve
got to decide, are they going to run with the president and try to -- as
Joy points out, try to defend this program, like she advises Mary
Landrieu to do, or are they going to try to run against it and try to
run against it into the enemy lines? It`s (INAUDIBLE) really tough
decision...

REID: Michael...

SMERCONISH: It`s going to be a great year.

REID: No, but Michael, listen...

SMERCONISH: Real quick, Joy.

REID: ... going into ERs, where the Medicaid reimburses the
hospital, as opposed to hospitals going bankrupt because governors are
leaving people uninsured -- they`re still going to the ER, they`re just
not getting reimbursed.

SMERCONISH: Going to be...

REID: Hospitals start going bankrupt, let`s see if these guys hold
out.

SMERCONISH: It`s going to be a great year for debates like this.
Thank you, Joy Reid.

REID: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, John Feehery, as always.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up: weeds, smoke signals, Rocky Mountain high -
- the jokes over Colorado legalizing marijuana -- they`re easy. But
there are legitimate questions. Is this is a smart thing to do? Does
it promote the kind of behavior that society should discourage? Is
smoking pot no better or worse than drinking? We`re going to debate
that.

Plus, American children continue to fall farther and farther behind
other countries in science and math. And here`s one symptom -- 33
percent of Americans don`t believe in evolution, including 48 percent of
Republicans. Much of the world shakes its head over that one.

And guess which big city mayor just filed for reelection, calling
himself, The best mayor this city has ever had. That would be Rob Ford
of Toronto, just one of many politicians who might want to rethink their
decision to run for office in 2014.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with the political parties` selective
reading of that "New York Times" report on what really happened in
Benghazi.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: What countries do Americans like and which ones do
they dislike? A new Pew poll has the answer. Coming in at number three
on the good side is Japan, with 70 percent viewing Japan favorably.
Number two, the country we fought a revolution to break away from, Great
Britain. And at number one, Canada, with 81 percent having a favorable
opinion. Probably a good thing because we share a 5,500-mile border.

On the other side, in third place for leased liked is Russia. Just
barely edging out Russia in the unfavorable category is China, now the
world`s second biggest economy. And topping the list as the country
Americans like the least, Saudi Arabia, with 57 percent viewing it
unfavorably. Fair or not, that probably has something to do with the
fact that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marijuana does not have to be a burden on our
community. It doesn`t have to be a burden on our criminal justice
systems. And it does not have to be a burden on our economies. In
fact, the sale of legal marijuana can be a boon.

In Colorado, we expect almost $400 million in sales next year. And
across the nation, the marijuana industries will create $2.34 billion of
economic activity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The great mile high
experiment is under way. Yesterday, Colorado officially became the
first state allowing legal recreational sales of marijuana. For the 24
pot shops across the state, that meant huge lines and even bigger sales.
All told, the industry estimates that it raked in over $1 million in
just 24 hours.

And as you heard in that clip, some in the industry are predicting
windfalls in the billions of dollars when all is said and done in 2014.
It`s a remarkable turnaround from the days of propaganda films like
"Reefer Madness," which while unabashedly over the top, reflected a
broader American attitude demonizing pot use.

That attitude has all been snuffed out. Look at this. Back in
1969, only 12 percent of Americans supported legalizing marijuana,
according to Gallup. By the year 2000, support had swelled to 31
percent. Today, support stands at a record level of 58 percent.

It`s even more remarkable when you consider the bitterly divided
political makeup of the country. And even the slow-moving Senate, not
exactly renowned as a body that`s in tune with the times, held its
first-ever hearing on the issue of marijuana legalization last
September.

But while there`s growing momentum for legalization, what`s
happening in Colorado is still an experiment, and experiments can go
wrong, sometimes quickly, sometimes badly. So the question now is,
Where does the movement go from here? And will the politics of pot
light up the electorate in 2014 and beyond?

Ed Rendell was the governor of Pennsylvania and is an MSNBC
political analyst. Josh Green is a columnist with "Bloomberg
Businessweek" and a former Coloradan. He attended the Oksterdam (ph)
University pot-growing school in California as part of a series that he
wrote for "The Atlantic."

Hey, Governor, let me start with you. I can`t wait to see what
happens among the Republican field headed toward 2016 because, you know,
on one hand, you can make a states` rights argument. You know,
possession is still against the law federally, but isn`t it a state
right kind of notion to yield to a state like Colorado? But isn`t that
at odds with the law and order tenets of the GOP?

How do you see the party leaders handling this issue?

ED RENDELL (D-PA), FMR. GOV., MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I
think if they`re smart, they`ll take a position where they`re for
medical marijuana as an exception. And that`s -- 10 states have passed
laws allowing marijuana for medical uses. And they`ll say, We`ll wait
and see how the Colorado and Washington experiments go.

We`ll see what happens to revenue. We`ll see what happens to young
people. Are young people using marijuana before their adulthood?
That`s obviously a bad result. Are there more people driving under the
influence of marijuana? That`s obviously a bad result.

So I think they`ll be cautious and say, Let`s take a look at
Colorado and Washington. You know, Michael, we always use the term the
states are the laboratories for the federal government.

SMERCONISH: Sure.

RENDELL: Let`s see how those experiments go before we make a
judgment. But I think it`s on safe ground to be for a medical marijuana
exemption.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Josh, let me ask you -- pot has a higher
acceptance level than gay marriage. And yet the politicians don`t seem
ahead of the curve, not embracing that social change the way that they
did same-sex marriages or unions. What accounts for that?

JOSH GREEN, "BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK": Well, I think it`s a little
bit harder for a politician to defend. In the case of same-sex
marriage, you have a clear disparity between heterosexual couples who
enjoy the right to marry and homosexual couples who historically have
not. And that`s obviously just -- just isn`t fair, and there`s no real
reason for it.

In the case of pot, you don`t really have one subset of Americans
who kind of get to smoke pot and it`s regarded as a good thing, and then
another group that doesn`t. And I think politicians, who are naturally
risk-averse, want to steer away from that kind of issue. And that`s why
I think this has been driven really by the grass roots and by state
ballot initiatives, rather than taking the lead, either, you know,
President Obama and the Democrats or the Democratic governor of
Colorado, John Hickenlooper, who also wasn`t in favor of this initially.

SMERCONISH: But Governor Rendell, as the politician among us,
maybe those figures are deceiving. And maybe you need to sort out,
where does the passion lie? Maybe the country by a majority is
supportive of legalization of marijuana, but maybe those who are opposed
are more passionate, and therefore, are coming out to the ballot box
against it.

RENDELL: Well, that`s an interesting point, and that`s always the
gun argument.

SMERCONISH: Right.

RENDELL: Gun control, you know, polls terrifically well, but do
people who are for gun control vote on that single issue? No. Do
people who are gun rights voters vote on that issue? Yes.

But it`s interesting. In Pennsylvania, as you know, Michael,
there`s six Democrats running for the right to oppose Governor Corbett.
One of them, John Hanger, has endorsed the legalization of marijuana.
Let`s see how he does particularly among young voters. I think this is
an issue that may have a lot of young voters who are single-issue voters
in favor of it. It`ll be interesting to see how John Hanger does.

SMERCONISH: Well, Colorado may be the first state to make
recreational pot legal, but likely it`s not going to be the last.

Wait until you see this. Washington State is planning to open up
its own recreational pot industry this year. Supporters of legalization
say that they have enough signatures to put legalization on the ballot
this year in Alaska. By 2016, they`re making a push for similar
measures in Oregon, Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana,
and Nevada.

And if all goes well, the attention would then turn to Delaware,
Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Josh Green, this has a feeling of inevitability to it, does it not?

GREEN: Well, it has a feeling of partial inevitability, in the
same way that the states` movement toward same-sex marriage is.

What you see happening is that these are being driven by ballot
initiatives in Democratic blue states and also in more libertarian type
of red states like Arizona and Alaska. I think it`s going to be a long,
long time before you see marijuana legalized in states like Alabama and
Mississippi and other states in the Bible Belt.

But, yes, this thing has a momentum of its own. And while we don`t
have a lot of national politicians who are coming out and championing
this, I think what you`re going to see less and less of are politicians
coming out and trying to make a name for themselves stopping this.

You don`t want to get in front of a moving train. So, I think this
is going to happen largely outside the realm of the Senate and the White
House and national politics.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Governor, you cut your teeth as a prosecutor.
What concerns do you have in terms of how this could take a turn for the
worse?

RENDELL: Well, number one, it could create a black market -- the
black market, because young people still cannot buy pot legally.

It can create a black market there. It could lead to more usage
among young people, because here`s $10, go in and buy some pot for me
and my buddies, and the guy does it. It could lead to more usage. It
could lead to more driving under the influence of marijuana, which is as
dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.

So there are a lot of potential pratfalls down the road. But in
the last analysis, which is more damaging to the health of an
individual, smoking pot or smoking cigarettes?

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Or drinking alcohol. I have a hard time telling
somebody -- I have a hard time telling somebody that I`m going to have a
martini tonight, but they can`t have a joint.

Hey, thank you both. Thank you, Governor Rendell. Thank you, Josh
Green. Good to see you both.

GREEN: Thanks, Michael.

Up next: why Tea Partier Allen West says Hillary Clinton isn`t the
Democrats` best chance for the White House 2016.

And remember, if you want to follow me on Twitter, and I hope you
will, all you need to do is learn to how to spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Will we be seeing you shovel outside of Gracie Mansion
as well?

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Let`s not get crazy here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Time for the "Sideshow." That was newly sworn-in
Mayor Bill de Blasio outside his home in Brooklyn this morning. They
said today`s snowstorm would be his first big challenge in office. But
it`s his son who`s getting all the tough questions.

Sixteen-year-old Dante de Blasio was inundated with Facebook posts
last night all from his fellow classmates who wanted to know if school
would be canceled. "The New York Times" obtained one of those
exchanges. And while it seems the first son of New York had little
inside information, he was willing to lobby his father for a day off.

Quote: "Everyone is asking me this," he said. "Old man winter will
decide, but I`m trying to convince my dad."

The typo there should be a to, of course. But young de Blasio`s
mother had other plans for him. She responded with a photo of a snow
shovel, explaining: "That`s what Dante will be doing if he doesn`t go to
school tomorrow."

Turns out school was canceled. And Dante picked up where his dad
left off later in the morning.

Up next: Former Florida Congressman and Tea Party darling Allen
West sees a new threat to Republican prospects for the White House in
2016. In an interview on "Boston Herald"`s radio show "Trending Now,"
West said that he`s more concerned about a potential Elizabeth Warren
candidacy than he is about another bid from Hillary Clinton.

But listen to his explanation. Quote: "Elizabeth Warren is their
darling. That`s who they want. And they have to run another woman
because they need the marketing gimmick of the first something. We had
the first black president. And now we`re going to have the first woman
president."

There it is, a gimmick, he says.

Finally, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie amplified speculation
that he may run for president in 2016 after sending Christmas cards to
several Republican officials in Iowa over the holiday. BuzzFeed
reported that at least five people in the first caucus state received
the cards, including some who had never met the governor. One state
representative seemed to reasonably suspect that Christie intended to
say although more than just seasons greetings.

Quote: "Governor Christie sent me a Christmas card. I mean, it`s
only three years until the Iowa caucus. That`s called thinking ahead."

Actually, the caucus is two years away, but Christie`s latest
flirtation with Iowa might foreshadow a more overt campaign to come. To
be continued.

Up next: why more and more Republicans are rejecting science, even
evolution.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Here`s what`s happening.

The impact of the storm that slammed the Northeast is still being
felt in the form of sub-freezing temperatures. It`s also been a
headache for travelers. Thousands of flights have been canceled.

The passengers rescued by helicopter from their iced-in ship in
Antarctica are moving again toward home. Their new vessel had been put
on standby in case other nearby ships needed help as well.

And flu season is in full swing, with widespread reports of the
virus in 25 states -- back to HARDBALL.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Here`s an interesting number from a recent Pew Research study.
Fewer than half of registered Republicans say they accept the concept of
evolution. Is that evidence that Republicans are an anti-science party
or does that have more to do with religious faith?

The new study finds that the gap between Republicans and Democrats
on the question of evolution has widened since 2009. There`s widespread
consensus among scientists that evolution is a fact of nature.
Democrats and independents both overwhelmingly say they believe in it.
And 67 percent of Democrats now say evolution is real. That`s up three
points from 2009. And yet only 43 percent of Republicans agree, an 11-
point decline from four years ago.

So what`s going on? Why are Republicans devolving on the issue of
evolution?

Sam Stein is political editor of The Huffington Post. Hogan Gidley
is a Republican strategist.

Gentlemen, here`s an interesting puzzle. In the general
population, the percentage of people who believe in evolution has
remained consistent over the last four years, about 60 percent. But
among Republicans, the numbers have dropped 11 points to 43 percent in
that same period. And why is that?

Well, the easiest explanation might be that the Republican base has
grown smaller and more right-wing. But Pew found party I.D. remained
pretty consistent between 2009 and 2013. Furthermore, according to Pew
-- quote -- "Differences in the racial and ethnic composition of
Democrats and Republicans or differences in their levels of religious
commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about
evolution. Indeed, the partisan differences remain even when talked --
even when taking these other characteristics into account."

Hogan Gidley, how do you explain what`s gone on with regards to the
numbers that I just showed?

HOGAN GIDLEY, FORMER MIKE HUCKABEE SPOKESMAN: That`s a great
question.

And, quite frankly, Michael, I`m not real sure. I do know that
science and religion can coexist. They have done that since the
founding of this country. It`s no surprise to anyone out there. This
country is a Christian nation founded on the Judeo-Christian ethical
moral principles. And we have been a leader in scientific -- scientific
study for our entire existence.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Right. But this seems to run contrary to being a
leader in scientific existence, because look at the numbers among our
kids. And we will get to this soon in terms of how we`re trailing
behind so many countries in math and science.

Sam Stein, I think it has to do with is the whittling of the party.
I know Pew doesn`t buy into this, but I think of people like me who have
left the Republican Party because of the rightward shift of the GOP, and
those who have been left behind, with no disrespect to Mr. Gidley, are
more dedicated to their Bibles and their religion.

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes, I think the number of people
who identify themselves as Republicans can stay relatively consistent
while the composition of the Republican Party itself can change.

And what you have seen in the past couple years is that more
moderate-minded Republicans, environmentalist Republicans, have drifted
away from the party. And, increasingly, conservatives, social
conservatives are defining what the party believes in.

And I went and researched this topic a little bit beforehand. And
I was struck by the fact that for awhile now, the leading Republican
presidential nominees have said that they have doubts with evolution.
It started back with Reagan. And it continued to George W. Bush. Even
John McCain had to clarify when he said that he did believe in
evolution, that he thought the hand of God had created the Grand Canyon.

So, there`s always been this tension within the Republican ranks
between people who want to be outright in favor of evolution...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Sam, to your -- to your point, anti-science rhetoric
has become pretty much a mainstay of conservative Republican
politicians.

STEIN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: And suspicion of evolution is practically seen as a
political litmus test for some. Watch this.

STEIN: Well, do you remember that Jon Huntsman...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Here, let me show you something. Here we go.

STEIN: Go ahead. Go ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: There is a controversy among
scientists about whether evolution is a fact or not. Patty has reached
a conclusion that evolution is a fact. There are hundreds and hundreds
of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in
intelligent design.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: I hear your mom was asking about
evolution. And, you know, it`s a theory that is out there. It`s got
some gaps in it, but, in Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution
in our schools.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ask him why he doesn`t believe in science.

PERRY: Because I figure you`re smart enough to figure out which
one is right.

REP. PAUL BROUN (R), GEORGIA: And all that stuff I was taught
about evolution, embryology, Big Bang Theory, and all that is just lies
straight from the pit of hell. I believe that the Earth`s but about
9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them.
That`s what the Bible says.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And, by the way, Congressman Paul Broun, who you just
heard calling evolution a lie from the pit of hell, is a medical doctor.

Jon Huntsman -- and I think you were making reference to this, Sam.

STEIN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Jon Huntsman was so annoyed by the rhetoric that he
was hearing from people in his party when he ran for president in 2011,
he tweeted -- quote -- "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust
scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."

And then one of his opponents, Rick Santorum, responded by saying:
"I believe in genesis. God created the heavens and earth. If Governor
Huntsman wants to believe that he is the descendent of a monkey, then he
has the right to believe that."

Mr. Gidley, is it good or bad news, politically speaking, the data
that we have been discussing, that fewer and fewer Republicans are
believers in evolution?

GIDLEY: I don`t think that that really moves the needle one way or
the other as it relates to who you`re going to vote for.

I mean, look, this isn`t news. Right? I mean, the Jewish people,
the Christian people, Muslims, they all believe in a creator, God.
That`s not out of the mainstream. And 80 percent of the country -- 86
percent of the country believe there is a God.

So I don`t understand the hay you`re trying to make over this whole
deal. I mean, look, these two things can coexist. But scientists
forever told us the world was flat. They told us forever the Earth was
the center of the universe. They were wrong on that.

This is a theory. And that is fine. They have that right to
believe that theory. But if these statements by scientists were
absolutely true, the whole point of science is to challenge each other`s
theories. If that was true, there would be no more science.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: I think the word theory gets abused in a conversation
like this.

You can use the word theory. Theory still necessitates that
something be tested. Theory still believes that scientists are
believers in it.

GIDLEY: sure.

SMERCONISH: You and I just can`t come up with an idea and say,
well, that`s our theory.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Sam, go ahead and you respond to this.

STEIN: Yes, I would argue that science as a study has matured
probably since the days when the Earth was considered flat.

But I think the bigger picture here is that we aren`t really
valuing science as much from our political culture as we once here. And
this is part of the bigger issue, which is that our funding for
scientific research and development has actually dropped in terms of
public funds over the past couple years, as the stimulus money has run
out and as sequestration kicked has in.

And there was a new research report that came out two just days ago
in "The New England Journal of Medicine" that shows that even private
industry is funding scientific biomedical research and development at
much fewer percentage ranks than they were in the pass.

We have devoted -- I wanted just -- this is an important statistic
-- 9 percent in terms of private and public funds -- we had a 9 percent
decrease between 2007 and 2012. In that same time period, China had a
313 percent increase.

So we are losing our position as a global leader of scientific
research. And I think that does dovetail into some of these poll
numbers.

SMERCONISH: Well, I -- I think it -- that`s what I was referring
to earlier when I said it makes me wonder about our competitiveness
moving forward if we`re turning out backs on science.

Look, despite the partisan divide, it is still shocking to many
scientists how many Americans say they don`t believe in evolution and
other scientific theories.

Art Kaplan, a professor of bio ethics, tied that news to the news
American students were slipping further and further behind their peers
when it comes to test scores. His conclusion for why students are
falling behind. Quote, "Children are not going to flourish at science
in a society that treats science either as something you can believe in
selectively, something that is simply one point of view, or something
about which anyone can have a credible opinion no matter how ill-
qualified, dumb, or misinformed."

Mr. Gidley, take that on, because I know you disagree with it.

HOGAN GIDLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I mean, look, that`s
ridiculous. I don`t understand where this comes from. We`re talking
about science as though it can`t coexist with religion or belief or
faith in a Creator God. That`s absolutely ridiculous.

As I said before, this country was founded on those principles.
Yet, we`ve led the world in innovation in planes, in cars, in computers,
in health advances. My gosh. We`ve had the longest life span in the
history of the world in the United States of America and that includes
starting from the 1600s until today, because of the medical advances we
make in science.

And we are a Christian nation. So, the two can clearly coexist --

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Let me just add to Hogan.

SMERCONISH: Sam Stein, go ahead.

STEIN: To Hogan`s point, one of the personification of coexistence
is the current head of the National Institutes of Health, a man named
Francis Collins, who is avowedly religious but also a man of science.
And he makes that same exact point, which is that these things don`t
have to necessarily be at odds.

However, he also makes the point that if science is to succeed in
America, we do need to devote more public resources to it and we need to
emphasize it in our education systems. I think it`s inarguably from a
statistical standpoint that we are letting ourselves fall behind in
those respects. It`s just you can`t argue those.

GIDLEY: That`s a policy debate.

STEIN: It is. And we should it. It`s a good policy debate.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: It occurs to me, it`s also a debate that will never
end, right? Because neither side gives in a debate like this.

Anyway, thank you, both. Thank you, Sam Stein. And thank you,
Hogan Gidley.

Up next, why Toronto`s Rob Ford is running for re-election. He
thinks he`s the best mayor the city has ever had.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: The New Year is a time for reflection and projection.
So, the folks at Marist have polled Americans to see which political
words or phrases they would least like to hear in 2014.

Coming in at number five at 4 percent, sequestration -- an
excellent word to avoid. Number four, fiscal cliff clocking in at 10
percent. In third place with 11 percent, gridlock. You see a pattern
developing here?

The first runner up at 30 percent was shutdown, which could happen
again if there`s gridlock on the debt ceiling.

The number one word or phrase Americans do not want to hear in
2014, Obamacare at 41 percent.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Do you smoke crack cocaine?

ROB FORD, TORONTO MAYOR: Exactly. Yes, I have smoked crack
cocaine.

REPORTER: When, sir?

FORD: But no -- do I? Am I an addict? No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: We`re back.

That was Toronto`s infamous Mayor Rob Ford admitting to using crack
cocaine last fall. Now, yesterday, Ford tweeted out a picture of
himself filling paperwork to run for re-election in 2014. Indeed, 2014
is turning out to be a banner year for surprised political candidates.

Texas Republican Congressman Steve Stockman opted not to run for
re-election and instead to challenge Texas Senior Senator John Cornyn in
a GOP primary. You may remember that Stockman openly questioned
President Obama`s birth certificate. He once said, quote, "One of the
things I always questioned was the documentation of the president,
whether that was fraudulent."

And then, just today, it was reported by "The Washington Blade"
that "American Idol" star Clay Aiken is considering a run for Congress
against North Carolina Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers. "The
Blade" also said that Aiken, quote, "talked to the Democratic campaign
committee and has met with figures in Raleigh, North Carolina, about a
potential bid."

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for "The Washington
Post". Nancy Giles is a social commentator.

Ladies, this is what Mayor Ford had to say yesterday to reporters.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: I`ve got the strongest track record. I`ve been the best
mayor this city`s ever had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: He may have a point. The last poll taken on his job
approval stood at 42 percent, which at that time was one point higher
than President Obama`s.

Nia-Malika, does his buffoonery actually help him? Is there a
constituency out there, not that I expect you to be so conversant in
Toronto politics.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right.

SMERCONISH: But do you think that there`s a constituency out there
that says, you know, "hell yes" every time he does something stupid?

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, that is certainly a theory. It`s sort of
all publicity is good publicity, that nothing could essentially hurt his
standing there, because as long as he`s getting out there, even if it`s
him, you know, dancing like a fool in church or wherever he was doing
that at some point, that ultimately it doesn`t hurt him.

I mean, at some ways, I`m glad that he`s running, because I want to
see his antics. I mean, it has been enjoyable to watch. I mean, here
we gripe about Washington, the gridlock here and the ideological kind of
back and forth, and, you know, this guy sort of makes our political
system look good in some ways.

And the other thing is what does this guy, what can he do other
than run for mayor. I mean, how easy would it be for him -- his
perspective to get another job? So, many ways --

SMERCONISH: Nancy, maybe Toronto voters feel the same way that
Nia-Malika does and frankly that I do. I mean, this guy is good copy
and maybe for them, he`s entertainment.

NANCY GILES, SOCIAL COMMENTATOR: He`s very entertaining. I mean,
maybe he`s gunning for his own reality show, because it`s already got
the clips to get it started.

I think -- I was thinking that if the Toronto voters really like
them, I guess they deserve kind of what they get. And I don`t live in
Toronto, so I don`t know for myself. But I agree with Nia-Malika, this
guy is kind of bred to just be sad to say this, a politician/celebrity,
because it`s more about kind of ego and being in the limelight than I
think any kind of a political record. What is he -- what is he standing
on? How could he say he`s the best mayor ever? I`m so confused.

SMERCONISH: Nia-Malika, I mentioned that Texas race. And, you
know, it doesn`t cease to surprise that you get these conservative
candidates coming out and saying to another conservative -- well, you`re
in the conservative enough. I don`t know what the outcome is there,
although the polls are lopsided. It can`t be good, though, for the GOP
to continue to have those ideological battles taking place.

HENDERSON: That`s right. And you see this with that Liz Cheney
battle in Wyoming. It`s the same thing there, where someone is
challenging them from the right.

The thing about Steve Stockman though is he`s massively in debt. I
think he`s got about $7 million in the bank. Steve Stockman is trying
to get that Tea Party support. But Tea Party folks are essentially
saying, listen, Cornyn is conservative enough for us.

So, it looks like to me, that Stockman doesn`t have much of a
chance and even the constituency that he`s going after in Texas isn`t
much paying him -- isn`t very much paying a much mind down there. So,
this just looks like sort of like a vanity run. He`s obviously not
running for his congressional seat. It doesn`t seem to have a real shot
of doing much of anything unless he`s trying to other route, too, which
is becoming something of a celebrity politician himself.

SMERCONISH: Well, Clay Aiken is seeking to become a celebrity
politician.

Nancy Giles, how do you see his prospects?

GILES: Well, you know, it`s so bizarre on so many different
levels. The first thing I thought is, well, winning or coming in second
on "American Idol" because people vote for you. That`s not same as
winning a candidacy for political office.

And then, of course, I thought, wow, in North Carolina, it`s easier
to call up and vote for Clay Aiken than it is for African-Americans to
actually go to the polls and vote. But I don`t know if this guy has
ever been on a committee, a task force, anything.

And when you think of it, Congress has done such a bad job that if
you get selected, all you have to do is say no. So, maybe, why not, you
know?

Maybe Clay should run for Senate, I don`t know.

SMERCONISH: You know, your point is a great point. And, frankly,
I don`t know much about him other than he`s got good pipes.

But, Nia-Malika, it used to be you had to pay your dues. You know,
before thinking that you were going to run for Congress, you would serve
on the local town council.

GILES: Right.

HENDERSON: That`s right. And this guy had a great story, right?
He comes in second. He becomes a big superstar after "American Idol".
He was a special ed teacher before that. He`s got a great set of pipes,
that big broad voice he`s got.

But this is very strange. I think some people are thinking that
maybe he`s just floating this idea to see how folks actually receive.
And I do think there`s also this case where people think being a
politician and running for office is much easier than it actually is.

GILES: Right.

HENDERSON: But here`s a guy, you know, who came in second on
"American Idol." He`s a big superstar. But it`s hard to run for office
and it isn`t a clear --

GILES: He needs to know things.

HENDERSON: Yes, he needs to know things, yes.

SMERCONISH: If he`s successful, he will not be the first or last
celebrity, I`m sure, to make that transition.

Anyway, thank you, Nia-Malika Henderson. Thank you, Nancy Giles.

GILES: Thank you.

HENDERSON: Thanks, guys.

SMERCONISH: Up next, what we learned and didn`t learn from that
"New York Times" report on Benghazi.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this:

The political world is still buzzing about David Kirkpatrick`s
lengthy December 29th story in "The New York Times" titled "A deadly mix
in Benghazi". And here`s a key paragraph.

He wrote, "Months of investigation by `The New York Times` centered
on extensive interviews by Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge
of the attack there and its context turned up no evidence that al-Qaeda
or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.
The attack was led instead by fighters who had benefited directly from
NATO`s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising
against Colonel Gadhafi.

And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled
in large part by anger at an American made video denigrating Islam.

Now, sadly and predictably, the story has become a partisan
Rorschach test with each party reading into it that which suits their
objectives. Democrats point to the confirmation of the role of the
incendiary movie, and Republicans say, well, "The Times" overlook
connections to al-Qaeda and they assert that its real purpose was to
inoculate Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that her name doesn`t appear
amidst the 7,000 words.

I question whether anybody who cries whitewash took the time to
wade through the piece -- and that`s because at its core, the story
framed the vulnerable and unprotected situation in which our ambassador,
Christopher Stevens, and three others lost their lives.

Inescapably, while Steven spent the 11th anniversary of 9/11 in the
Benghazi compound for quote, "security reasons", "The Times" reported
that, quote, "There was even less security at the compound than usual".
And when the attack came, it was by just a few dozen fighters who were
easily able to break through the gates. Despite warning signs, the
compound had a total of just eight armed guards that night. Five
Americans and three Libyans.

Benghazi was both a miscalculation and gross security failure. Too
bad that legitimate questions about why a senior U.S. diplomat in one of
the hottest trouble spots on the globe was left defenseless, they`ve
been obscured by seemingly unfounded charges of conspiracy.

We owe Ambassador Stevens better than that, and our eye mustn`t be
distracted from bringing his executioners to justice.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thank you so much 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.
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