updated 11/20/2008 1:02:35 PM ET 2008-11-20T18:02:35

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Guests: Pat Buchanan, Robert Kuttner, Rep. Robert Wexler, Rep. Phil Gingrey, Denis Leary, Dominic Carter, Chris Cillizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Unity bites.

Let's play HARDBALL.

That's right, unity bites. Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews.

Welcome to HARDBALL from Los Angeles. I'm out here to do Jay Leno. Leading off tonight: Can you spare some change? Barack Obama ran for president promising change, but consider the following. Item: Obama today tapped Eric Holder, who was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, to be attorney general. He was, notwithstanding his recognized virtues, the official who had approved the infamous Marc Rich pardon that marred President Clinton's departure from office.

Item: Hillary Clinton is still a trial balloon for secretary of state. Item: We learned just today that Senator Joe Lieberman, despite all that he's done, gets to keep his Senate chairmanship and remains a member of the Democratic caucus despite campaigning full-time for John McCain against Barack Obama. At what point do Obama supporters say, Enough is enough, we need that change we can believe in?

Also, can you spare $25 billion? American auto industry executives have a plan and they brought it to Capitol Hill today: Give us $25 billion more to buy us some time. Well, here's a plan from me. The executives responsible for bringing GM, Ford and Chrysler to the brink of bankruptcy shouldn't make any more than the president of the United States. If they're going to be paid, basically, by the government of the United States, they ought to get government salaries. And let's limit those salaries at the president's level, $400,000 a year. Can they live on that? We'll talk to two members of Congress about the bail-out bill and how much the auto industry wants from the public.

And President-elect Barack Obama is selling magazines, newspapers. And by the way, his interview on "60 Minutes" delivered the show its highest ratings in almost 10 years. We're in Hollywood tonight, so what do celebrities think about Obama's rise to stardom? We'll ask the very funny and very caustic comedian and actor, author Dennis Leary.

Plus, think the culture wars are over? Well, listen to what Newt Gingrich-that's right, himself-had to say to Bill O'Reilly last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, who's calling who fascist? Anyway, more on that little sugar plum in a minute. You can make of that what you want.

And the first shots of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign.

That's also coming here in the "Politics Fix" tonight.

And do remember how, before the conventions, we had a feature here on HARDBALL called "Name That Veep" all about who might get the VP running mate slots? Well, tonight we're going to begin a somewhat bleaker contest named "Name That Pardon," a look at all the rogues, scoundrels and convicts President Bush might possibly pardon between now and when he leaves office.

But first tonight, as President-elect Obama assembles his governing team, some of the members of the new administration charged with change look awfully familiar. Joining me, MSNBC's political analyst Pat Buchanan and "American Prospect" editor and author of "Obama's Challenge" Robert Kuttner.

Pat, let's take a look at some of these faces. I mean, they are not the new kids on the block, Eric Holder tonight for attorney general, Hillary Clinton for secretary of state, Joe Lieberman stays on as senator from Connecticut and prime member of the Democratic caucus. Look at this list, we got Lieberman on, Podesta, Emanuel, Holder, Clinton. The list goes on. I'm looking for the new face. Pat?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, we're in retread city, is what's going on. This is a Nixon-I mean, a Clinton alumni association show and...

MATTHEWS: No, you're in the Nixon alumni association!

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: I'm a Nixon alumni. But you know, Eric Holder, I mean, he's a very competent, able man, but the thing he's most famous for, as you mentioned is, a pardon, Frank (SIC) Rich's pardon, which he expedited on behalf of Bill Clinton. He was going to run for mayor of D.C. He's as local as you can get. I mean, I don't see anyone from outside, real change here. I mean, These people are undeniably competent, but this is what you'd expect if someone else had won.

MATTHEWS: This is what you do when you don't have elections. You simply promote the people, Robert Kuttner, who had the deputy jobs. You can do this in any bureaucratic state. You could do it in the old Soviet Union, do it anywhere you have a bureaucracy. You don't need to hold elections to promote deputies to the top job when it comes time, right? You don't need elections for this crap, do you?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Robert?

ROBERT KUTTNER, "THE AMERICAN PROSPECT": Well, I...

MATTHEWS: You just keep promoting people from within. In any old tired bureaucracy, that's what you do. You don't think. It's very Republican thinking, Pat, by the way. By the way, he didn't pardon Frank Rich of "The New York Times"...

BUCHANAN: It was Marc Rich.

MATTHEWS: ... he pardoned Marc Rich. I know you've got Frank on your mind, but-just kidding. We all make mistakes here. Go ahead, Robert. Your thoughts.

KUTTNER: You know, the baffling thing about Hillary Clinton being put forward for secretary of state is he did not need to do this. Supporters of Hillary Clinton were pretty well resigned to Obama being president, expecting Obama to be a good president who would be good for their issues. This was a case of not letting a sleeping dog lie. And you have to ask the question, why he did it. Did he do it because he had some kind of understanding with Hillary before the election, where she would support him enthusiastically in exchange for being named secretary of state?

MATTHEWS: That's illegal.

KUTTNER: Well, it's illegal, but it happens in politics all the time.

MATTHEWS: Well, you're suggesting he broke the law.

KUTTNER: No. Come on. I'm speculating.

MATTHEWS: I'm just listening to you. Well, I'm listening to what you're speculating about.

KUTTNER: But I'm trying to imagine what was in his mind because Hillary comes attached to Bill, and Bill is full of complicated messes. Hillary can make all kinds of commitments, but she obviously can't commit Bill to doing anything that Bill doesn't want to do. So why do you need this mess?

BUCHANAN: Chris, let me just say it. I'll say why. Hillary Clinton got 18 million votes. It's been a long tradition in American history-you can go back to Lincoln and Seward, you can go back to Wilson and William Jennings Bryan-of bringing into your cabinet the person who carried enormous numbers-in Hillary's case, 18 million voters, put them together with yours. Hillary Clinton has a vested interest, just as she had in endorsing and working for Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS: Right.

BUCHANAN: ... in doing a great job as secretary of state.

KUTTNER: Yes, but...

BUCHANAN: She's more able and competent, I think, than any of the other names. She's more famous worldwide. And I don't-I mean, I think this is a positive move on Barack Obama's part. I don't agree with either of them, but it's a very big move.

KUTTNER: Well, as you know, Seward wasn't...

MATTHEWS: Robert, I guess the question is, what posting? If the biggest issue between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was judgment over foreign policy and whether it was right for America to go into the war in Iraq-and that's where Pat and I agree it was wrong-why pick the person who was 180 from you, in fact, was really the reason you won the nomination because people disagreed with her position? They went with yours because you were change and she was experience. You were against the war, she voted to authorize it. And then to go pick the very person who people campaigned against for a year-and-a-half. That's the question. Not whether she deserves a post or not but the one on foreign policy, I guess, is the question, isn't it, Robert?

KUTTNER: Well, sure. And "Team of rivals" is one thing, but Seward was not married to Bill Clinton. And what makes this really messy is the Bill Clinton problem. Hillary Clinton is a very talented woman, and Pat's right that if 18 million people voted for her, it's a party unity gesture to bring her in. But how do you deal with the Bill problem, Pat?

BUCHANAN: Well, Bill-I think Bill is-with due respect, I disagreed with his war in Kosovo, but he's very knowledgeable, very experienced. He worked his heart out for peace in the Middle East. I think he understands it. And Chris, to your point, I mean, by your standards, he would have ruled out Biden for vice president. Biden was big pro-war, and Biden got beat, I mean, 50 times...

MATTHEWS: Right, but he recanted.

BUCHANAN: ... as badly as Hillary did.

KUTTNER: Yes, but...

MATTHEWS: He recanted.

KUTTNER: If I may, my concern is that Bill Clinton has his own foreign policy that's all enmeshed with his presidential library, his business interests, his fund-raising interests. Who needs this?

BUCHANAN: Well, you...

KUTTNER: I mean, there are lots of other...

BUCHANAN: You're implying, though...

KUTTNER: ... competent people to be secretary of state.

BUCHANAN: But what you're implying-Robert, you're implying that-you're implying corruption. I mean, you're implying that Bill Clinton will persuade his wife to make decisions on behalf of his business clients.

KUTTNER: I can't believe I'm debating Pat Buchanan and Pat Buchanan's defending Bill Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Pat, let me ask you about-Pat, you've been through these things. You and I have been through these things.

BUCHANAN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: They're called the full-field investigation, to get any appointment in the government.

BUCHANAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: You had Peace Corps, I had to go through it. I went through it with the White House job. You have to go through a full-field FBI investigation of every neighbor-in fact, you have to list every house you ever lived in, every apartment you ever let.

BUCHANAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: You have to tell them everybody you ever hung out with, practically. It's an amazingly exhaustive process. Does Bill Clinton really want to go through that in terms of all his relationships around the world? I'm not getting cute here.

BUCHANAN: Well, look...

MATTHEWS: But does he really want to have a full-body search on this kind of-every time he took a trip from somebody, every airplane ride he ever took? I mean, it is really complicated.

BUCHANAN: Right. I think, Chris, it is complicated, but if he were not prepared to do that, I think he would have tried to persuade Hillary Rodham Clinton not to have run for president because the same things would have come out. And I think he wants to see her as secretary of state...

MATTHEWS: Not necessarily.

BUCHANAN: ... and my guess is...

MATTHEWS: First husbands don't have to go through a full-field FBI search. They get the job that comes with the marriage. That's not-Pat, you're wrong. It's a totally different question.

BUCHANAN: Well, look, Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS: The rules of engagement here for appointment are different than election. You know that.

BUCHANAN: I know they are. I know they are. But Barack Obama couldn't probably pass a full-field FBI investigation, given Bill Ayers and all that stuff. Look...

MATTHEWS: Whoa! I didn't say...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Pat, you've escalated here. I didn't say pass it. I said, Do they want to go through it. And the question is, at the end of it all...

BUCHANAN: Obviously, he's willing to.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well...

KUTTNER: You know...

BUCHANAN: If he weren't willing to, she would be-she would have ruled herself out. It's as simple as that.

KUTTNER: Well, it's very...

MATTHEWS: Let me-let me-let's change the tire here to Lieberman. I am stunned at the Democratic Party. Here's Harry Reid, the tough guy, leader of the Senate in the Democratic Party-here he is talking about Joe Lieberman, who spent the last year campaigning on national television against the party nominee on every issue. I think he was there when McCain called Barack a socialist and everything else he could throw at him. Here he is, scolding but not doing anything about Joe Lieberman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: It's very clear that the vast majority of the Democratic caucus wants to keep Senator Lieberman as chairman of this committee, member of the Armed Services Committee, and that was done. It's all over with. Joe Lieberman is a Democrat. He's part of this caucus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: The guy chewing the gum, by the way, in the back there is Whitehouse from Rhode Island. He should lose the gum before the picture taking.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway-I don't get this, by the way. Today's standards, Pat, have gone down after the '50s. What do you make of this Lieberman getting a clean bill of health? I think he lost a subcommittee. He kept Homeland Security.

BUCHANAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: He's a member of the caucus, as if he had been the biggest fund-raiser for Barack Obama. He's got as much clout as anybody now. Look him there.

BUCHANAN: Well, I think Lieberman's been pardoned. But look, I think it's a smart move for this reason, Chris. Look, don't-I mean, what Barack Obama does-and Robert and I disagree with a lot of what he's going to do, but he's very smart. He wants 60 votes. He wants a filibuster-proof Senate. There's a lot of pleasure and vindictiveness in taking a chairmanship away, booting him out, and Then maybe you go back to 57 senators or 58. Don't do that. Do the smart thing.

MATTHEWS: Right.

BUCHANAN: Swallow hard. Then you've got his support, Chris. You ought to look at the big picture of what (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: I'm asking a question, Pat. You keep thinking I'm giving you answers. I'm giving you questions. Robert Kuttner, your answer. Is it smart to keep Lieberman, to let him get away with what he did?

KUTTNER: Oh, it's a very close question. I mean, I think Lieberman obviously owes the caucus now, and Lieberman is more likely to vote with the caucus than vote against it. If we have a very close situation where they're at 58 or 59, as they may well be, they're going to need Lieberman to be that 60th vote. This is politics. You know, this is not schoolyard stuff.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, it is schoolyard stuff. Let me ask you-Pat, you start, then Robert. I want your thoughts. Here-I'm going to try to be big picture here, both you gentlemen, be bigger than us all. But you always lap (ph) me, Pat. Unity. This candidate, Barack Obama, who will be our next president, has promised unity. We all like the sound of it. It has a kumbaya, "Gee whiz" quality to it. But it hurts...

BUCHANAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... because it means forgiving. It means accepting. It means dealing with people who were against you and hurt you. Is this something bigger than we're used to, Where he says, Hillary, not only do I forgive you for being against me and the shots you took against me and your husband took against me, I'm going to give you the best prize there is for a president to give, secretary of state. I'm going to let Joe Lieberman come back in my-could unity be the real change? In other words, it's not changing the tires, it's changing the car.

KUTTNER: Well, it depends...

BUCHANAN: I think you've got a point, Chris. But let me...

MATTHEWS: I'm asking.

BUCHANAN: I think Hillary-Hillary's-I say yes. Look, but he's got to do something that you're suggesting. If he brings in Hillary, we ought to-he ought to get somebody who really makes Daily Kos and the rest of those people enthusiastic, somebody they got in the cabinet, or two or three in there.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BUCHANAN: The Holder thing doesn't make a great deal of sense to me. Obviously, he's competent, but I don't know what that does for him. But if you're going to bring the unity side, you also got to bring the folks in who carried you through the primaries...

MATTHEWS: Right.

BUCHANAN: ... and won it for you. That's the way to do it.

MATTHEWS: Well, that the question, what are you going to give Bill Richardson? What are you going to give the people that stuck their necks out, like Claire McCaskill, not that they want anything?

KUTTNER: No, I...

MATTHEWS: Robert, who gets something here in terms of the victory on the left, if you will?

KUTTNER: Well, the American people get something, if he leads, if he really takes the country in a whole different direction, if he's prepared to regulate the financial system so we don't get these bubbles again, if he's prepared to spend serious public money so that a recession doesn't turn into a depression. That's ultimately more important than whether Hillary Clinton is secretary of state. And unity needs to be...

BUCHANAN: Still, Chris, you'd have people in there-you still should have people in there who folks can look to. Just like if it's a Republican administration, you want someone the conservatives can look to, or two people, in the cabinet who are arguing their case. So I agree with you on that. They ought to find someone who really represents those folks, give him a big position, a prominent position. And so that-make those people happy. You can't make everybody happy all the time.

KUTTNER: Well, I'll tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I agree with you guys. Please come back, both you gentlemen. Robert, please come back. (INAUDIBLE) because I want somebody from the liberal side of things to offset Pat here. But let me tell you something. Anybody who thinks that politics ended on election day is missing the beat here. It's just begun.

KUTTNER: Right.

MATTHEWS: Pat Buchanan, Robert Kuttner.

Coming up: Should taxpayers pay out-well, should they bail out the big three auto makers and keep these guys at the top at full salary? I say limit their salaries to what Barack's going to get. Twenty-five billion dollars more to keep them afloat? Is it smart? Is it necessary? But look at all those jobs out there. We'll be back in a minute. Is bankruptcy right or the bail-out? We'll be back on the big three when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Should Congress bail out the big three auto makers in Detroit? What'll happen if one of them, or all three, go bankrupt? Joining us right now, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Florida Democrat Robert Wexler and Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey.

Before we move on to substance, sir, let's have one word on politics here. Mr. Wexler, is Hillary Clinton a smart pick for secretary of state, or is she yesterday?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: She's a very smart pick for secretary of state. There is no finer pick, in my view, than Senator Clinton for secretary of state. She got 18 million votes. But even more than that, she has a very wise hand when it comes to foreign policy, and I think the team of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on foreign policy would serve the country very well.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Gingrey, the same question to you as a Republican. Is this good for the republic to have Hillary Clinton as secretary of state because it looks like that balloon is still floating high?

REP. PHIL GINGREY ®, GEORGIA: Well, I wouldn't suggest my opinion to Barack Obama-President-elect Obama, but I think Bill-former president Bill Clinton brings a lot of baggage to that position for Hillary. She's brilliant. I agree with Robert on that.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let's talk about-you start, Mr. Gingrey, about the autos. The big three autos are in trouble. That's GM-we grew up with these brand names as kids-GM, Ford, Chrysler. We've known them as kids. We loved these cars as teenagers. We wanted to drive them as fast as we were 16. Now they're in trouble. Should the U.S. government save these jobs, save these companies by a bail-out, or let them go to bankruptcy? Mr. Gingrey first.

GINGREY: Chris, we were driving them way too fast when we were 16, and we're doing the same thing today. No, I don't think we ought to bail them out. I think that's totally inappropriate. In this country of ours, a great democracy, we allow people and companies to succeed and we have to allow them to fail, too, if that's the case. I don't want them to fail, but there are other alternatives than just a massive bail-out package, especially money coming from the $700 billion economic emergency relief fund that's...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GINGREY: ... supposed to be going to the troubled asset program. And now we're down to what, $60 billion left of the first $350 billion tranche. Where's the money coming from to go to our community banks, as an example?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We're borrowing it. That's where it's coming from. We're borrowing it, largely from abroad.

Let me go to Mr. Wexler.

Should we bail out these big three and save the three million jobs that may be lost if the full multiplier impact goes on, and all these jobs lead to other jobs, like suppliers jobs, parts jobs, restaurant jobs, every job that depends on an auto sale?

WEXLER: Well, Congress...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If we lose them all, what happens to us?

WEXLER: Well, that-that is the danger. That's why I don't think we can be cavalier.

We have already provided $25 billion in low-interest loans to the

automobile industry. I want to see a business plan from these companies, a plan on how they're going to make themselves into 21st century automobile companies.

You know, we're on the brink of Barack Obama's presidency, which will usher in a new era in-in regard to energy efficiency. We need higher fuel-efficiency standards. These automobile companies need to provide us with the plans on how these standards will enable them to become more profitable.

And, if they can pass that test, then I think we need to do all that we can to ensure those-those three million jobs that you're talking about, Chris. The way to go from a recession into a depression is to let the automobile industry...

MATTHEWS: OK.

WEXLER: ... and the manufacturing base of this country just dissipate.

MATTHEWS: What do you think about my idea of limiting-if we're going to put these guys on the government dole, why not give them government salaries? How about limiting the CEO salaries and all the executive salaries to what the president of the United States makes? Why should the government and taxpayer pay for an industry, and, yet, their industry executives make capitalist salaries and incomes?

Mr. Wexler, why should they make...

WEXLER: You're...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... multimillion dollars a year if they're living on the government dole, and on the sympathy, really, of people in the country-in the country? They're living on sympathy and regard. Gee whiz, help out these guys. And, yet, they're making salaries of people that earned their income. Are they earning it or is it sympathy? What is it?

WEXLER: You-you're exactly right, Chris.

And the fact of the matter is, many of these executives have made large sums of money for a long period of time. They shouldn't even make as much, candidly, as the president of the United States makes. There ought to be strict limitations until they turn their companies around.

MATTHEWS: You know, Mr. Gingrey, Babe Ruth, the great slugger, was once asked why he made more than Calvin Coolidge. And he said, "Because I had a better year." Well, he did.

These guys don't have as good a year as-as Barack Obama has had, yet, they're probably making 10 or 20 times what he is. I'm not kidding here.

GINGREY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Why does the government put people on the dole, and say, we're acting out of sympathy and regard, and these guys walk around like captains of capitalism, when they have failed at capitalism? They're winning at socialism, is what they're winning at...

GINGREY: Well, you know, Chris...

MATTHEWS: ... or something.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... state capitalism.

GINGREY: Chris, first of all...

(CROSSTALK)

GINGREY: First of all, you call in a consultant to help you restructure your business and give you a business plan, you going to call in some consultant who is $10 trillion in debt and runs up a deficit of a trillion dollars in the-in the last fiscal year? That's what you're going to call in, the U.S. government, to advise...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GINGREY: ... you with a business plan?

And I hear you and, of course, my good friend Robert Wexler talking about what you're going to do in restricting the-the-the executive salaries, and anybody over $200,000, no bonuses. This is very clearly spelled out in the plan. Of course, I didn't see the plan, but my attorney friend who sits on the Armed Services Committee as a member of the majority party did.

Where is there any restrictions on the labor unions in regard to restructuring their contracts, when they have a benefit package that gives them, plus salary, of $77 an hour, where the foreign motor companies that -that build great automobiles in this country, it's $44 an hour?

So, I mean, your-you know, I don't trust the government to do this, not at all. And we have got 300 million taxpaying Americans that don't like this one darn bit, especially in my 11th Congressional District of Georgia.

MATTHEWS: Well, look, a lot of UAW members would probably say they work as hard as a congressman. I would just argue that on their side.

GINGREY: Well...

MATTHEWS: But let me ask you about this question. Is Washington a better designer of cars than Detroit, Mr. Wexler?

WEXLER: Of course...

MATTHEWS: Can you guys in Washington design a car that will be green, efficient, get 40 miles to a gallon, if the engineers in Detroit can't do it?

WEXLER: Well, of course, we're not.

The point is, though, when we're asked, as representatives of the people, to provide enormous sums of money to keep these essential manufacturing jobs in America afloat, we have the obligation to ask, how are going to make your company be profitable? How are you going to make your cars so that they are attractive to the new kind of consumer?

The-the capitalistic nature, unfortunately, of the American car industry has not prevailed, in the context of the...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WEXLER: ... Toyotas of the world are outcompeting.

So, this is what we have in terms of our responsibility of making certain that the money is used as widely as possible.

If I could just say one thing about the UAW, though, they have given a great deal in terms of concessions in the last several rounds of employee-labor negotiations. So, there's always room for improvement, but I think it is misplaced blame if we're talking about putting this on the automobile workers.

(CROSSTALK)

GINGREY: Well, they have also given a great deal to the Democratic Party in these past elections and every election. So, don't ask my people to be supportive of that.

And, furthermore, I'm sure Mr. Wexler is very familiar with bankruptcy law. Why couldn't these companies go into Chapter 11, and restructure? And let's see that restructure plan.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GINGREY: This current bill shows nothing.

MATTHEWS: Hey, this is a good argument.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This is a good argument. The best argument for not letting these companies go down is, these American brands are important to our morale in this country. And if we lose these brands, if people stop buying our cars, American cars, because they think the companies are going bankrupt, they won't be able to get the cars repaired down the road, that's a big loss. That's a big loss, if we lose these companies.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Robert Wexler...

WEXLER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: ... and U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey.

GINGREY: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: 63 days left in the Bush presidency, 63 days left for President Bush to hand out some pardons. So, who might be tops on the list? The "Sideshow" is next with the debut of our new feature, "Name That Pardon."

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."

We reported earlier that Eric Holder will be nominated for attorney general. Holder is, of course, known for his involvement in the infamous pardon of Marc Rich back in the last days of the Clinton administration.

And that begins our pardon watch for a new feature we're calling "Name That Pardon." For the next 63 days, we will profile potential candidates for a last-minute pardon from President Bush.

First up tonight, this one-time high-powered lobbyist pled guilty in 2006 to charges of fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials. While this Republican insider once boasted of his ties to the Bush administration, the White House pled ignorance once the scandal broke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 4, 2006)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president does not know him, nor does the president recall ever meeting him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 26, 2006)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I, frankly, don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: More than a dozen people were convicted as a result of the lobbyist corruption investigation.

Who is he? Jack Abramoff, of course. He will serve at least another four years in federal prison, barring a pardon from President Bush.

Speaking of the president, this morning, he gave a nod to some of the perks he has enjoyed in public office. Here he is addressing Transportation Department employees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: You have done a terrific job, as far as I am concerned. For the past eight years, I have not seen a traffic jam...

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: ... waited for an airplane...

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: ... or had my bags lost.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: With all due respect, this is the last president who needs to give a speech on how he's been out of touch.

Next: How is this for an uphill fight? California Republican Dan Lungren is looking to replace John Boehner as House minority leader. He first hinted on the run here at HARDBALL. Well, Lungren tells "Politico" he's having trouble getting Republicans to meet with him about his candidacy.

Just check out some of the excuses in his colleagues in the House-quote-"One was out bow hunting," I guess with a bow and arrow. "Another was exercising. "Still another, "said Lungren, "was on his ranch preparing to go to a Country Music Awards ceremony."

After losing 20 seats in the House this year, I guess Republicans are just trying to get the job off their minds.

Anyway, time now for the "Big Number."

"The Washington Post" reports today that the D.C. officials are preparing for a big crowd on inaugural day. How big? Four million. By the way, the previous record for an inaugural crowd, 1.2 million for LBJ back in '65. Could Obama draw four million people? That's eight times Washington's population. We will see what happens in January-tonight's "Big Number."

Up next: I'm here in Los Angeles. So, what are Hollywood types saying about Obama's election? The very funny Denis Leary, one of the stars of HBO's "Recount," joins us next.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Margaret Brennan with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

Stocks rallied late in the session after another volatile day. By the close, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 151 points, the S&P 500 up by eight. And the Nasdaq gained a little more than one point.

The heads of Detroit's big three automakers and the autoworkers union are pleading right now with Congress for $25 billion in emergency loans to avoid collapse. They're testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, but the proposed auto industry rescue plan does appear to be stalled. That's because Republicans and the Bush administration are opposed to taking the $25 billion from the government's $700 billion financial rescue program.

Meantime, Hewlett-Packard shares soared almost 15 percent, after they the compute-maker announcing better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings. It also issued an upbeat forecast for next year.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Actor Denis Leary was nominated for an Emmy for his outstanding role in the movie-HBO movie, political drama "Recount."

Check out this clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "RECOUNT")

KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: Yes, Ron Klain.

DENIS LEARY, ACTOR: Ron, I think the networks have the wrong numbers.

This is going to sound insane. I just got off with Baldek (ph). But a machine in Volusia went crazy. Get this. It actually added 3,000 votes to Bush's total and subtracted thousands of votes from Gore. It went backwards. I mean, Gore's count right now is negative 16,000 in that county.

SPACEY: So, what are the real numbers?

LEARY: Well, when you recalculate the entire state, we're down by less than 15,000.

SPACEY: So, it's a machine recount?

(LAUGHTER)

LEARY: We're still alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I have seen that movie so many times.

Denis Leary...

DENIS LEARY, ACTOR: Hey.

MATTHEWS: ... he is also the creator and the star of the critically acclaimed television series "Rescue Me." And he's author of a new book entitled?

LEARY: Do you want me to say the title?

MATTHEWS: I'm not.

(LAUGHTER)

LEARY: All right.

"Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid."

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you this about-since our show is political, I want to congratulate you on playing the inimitable-well, inimitable is the right word-Michael Whouley, the great ground guy who really won so many races for the Democrats.

What do you think of an election that didn't require a recount, where there was a clear victor? Isn't that good for America?

LEARY: Yes, I think it's great.

I mean, I-you know, listen, I'm biased, because I voted for Obama. But I do. I think it's great. I think it's great to have some hope and some change and a president that, you know-that is-let's put it this way-a good public speaker.

For comedians, I think it's going to be a little bit hard for us to have dig and find stuff. It's not going to be offered up on a silver platter, as it was during the Bush administration. But, yes, I'm-I'm hopeful. I mean, could we give this guy more crap to deal with, after we elected him, and after everybody talks about hope and change?

It's, like, yes, guess what? We have no money, we have two wars, and we're going to make the auto industry disappear. And good luck, all right? Have a good time.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of today's news, Denis? We have got Hillary Clinton back as secretary of state, potentially. She's up there as a trial balloon. And he wouldn't put her up there if he didn't want her up there. And have got Joe Lieberman back in good graces, completely forgiven. What's changed?

LEARY: I haven't had time to work on my comedy material for that yet.

(LAUGHTER)

LEARY: But you know what? I'm not against-I'm not against...

MATTHEWS: It's not funny. That's why.

LEARY: I'm not against Hillary being involved somehow. I think that's interesting.

MATTHEWS: OK.

LEARY: I would get worried if he picked, you know, A-Rod as secretary of state.

MATTHEWS: OK.

LEARY: But I'm OK with Hillary.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about making fun of this guy.

It was said several months ago-and you're in the business-that it's going to be a problem, because, if you can't make fun of this guy-he's African-American. He's so far clean as a whistle. If you can't make fun of the guy, you can't really get your hands around him as president. We like to be able to make-we made fun of the first family when Jack Kennedy was president, and the-and-and his accent and everything else.

Is it going to be a problem?

LEARY: No.

First of all, he's a politician. And politicians screw up at some point. Second of all, that much exposure, you are guaranteed to find something. I mean, listen, there's something to be said for already he intimated on the "60 Minutes" interview that his mother-in-law may be moving into the White House. Right there, that's going to be 15 minutes of material if I'm on stage tomorrow night. I mean, come on! The dog thing, the dog choice. He can't win that one. No matter what dog he picks, he loses.

These things present themselves. This a president who quit smoking at the wrong time, in my opinion, speaking as a fellow smoker. I mean, with two wars, no money and the auto industry disappearing, this is the time he chooses to quit smoking. I think there's going to be some secret cigarettes smoked in the White House. That's what I think.

MATTHEWS: I want to know who has the job to be the pooper scooper in the White House. Who gets the job to go after the first dog, and make sure the White House stays clean? That's a joke right there.

LEARY: I think that might be Joe Lieberman, if it's my White House. Joe, thanks. Here you go pal. Put on the rubber glove. You're in the great graces of everybody here. Give me a hand, will you?

MATTHEWS: So what do you do? You're a regular guy, Irish-American. That's always perfect. What do we do with the auto industry? We may have some bad guys, some clunkers at the top who have blown it for 50 years and haven't made a car we're in love with for a while, but three million jobs at stake. What do we do, give them the bailout or bankruptcy? What do we do?

LEARY: We've got to do something, because obviously the auto industry

we cannot have the biggest democracy on the planet, the model for democracy and not be manufacturing our own cars, OK? Look, I can't speak for other people, but I've always been one of those guys-my father was a mechanic when I was growing up. My father worked on cars. My father was one of those guys who could listen to an engine and go, it will take me about ten minutes. You go away and have a cup of coffee and I'll fix it.

You know as well as I do, now, cars basically now run off a computer chip. It's almost an insane situation, when you think about manufacturing a car that's going to work and last a certain number of years.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

LEARY: But we've got to save it, because there's no way-you cannot have the United States without an auto industry. I don't have an answer to it. I do know this; I don't think the answer is in-I discussed this in the book actually. At one point, they were talking about making car seats bigger because that's how fat Americans are getting. Somewhere-they're talking about cars running on corn, I don't know if that's the answer. I think we need to make cars that runs on cheeseburgers.

MATTHEWS: Dennis, what's the name of your book again?

LEARY: "Why We Suck, a Feel-Good Guide to Staying"-

MATTHEWS: You're on Youtube, not me. You said it. Let me ask you, Dennis, if you look for another gig, when Barnicle's not around, I want you to be my sub. You're perfect for this show.

LEARY: You know what, can I just tell you something, having grown up listening to Mike Barnicle and reading Mike Barnicle, that would be kind of an honor if I got to pinch-hit for Mike Barnicle.

MATTHEWS: Well, he pinch hits for me. It was great seeing you in Nantucket. Was that your wife you were with?

LEARY: That was my wife and my two lovely children.

MATTHEWS: You're too lucky. You're too lucky, friend, too lucky.

Up next, Barack Obama promised change. Do Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman represent change or is burying the hatchet? By the way, unity does bite, doesn't it? It certainly does tonight. It's the politics fix coming up. HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix. If we have a little news for you right now. They're continuing to count the votes in Alaska in the Senate race. Right now, the incumbent Republican felon Ted Stevens is falling further behind. He now trails Democrat Mark Begich by 2,374 votes. That's more than 2,000 votes. That looks real. If Begich wins, that could mean the Democrats will have gained seven Senate seats. They're up to 58, counting the two independents. That's 58 seats, almost to the 60.

We're joined-by the way, there's two more races in Georgia and Minnesota. Al Franken is still in that race out in Minnesota. We're joined right now by Chris Cillizza of the "Washington Post," and Dominic Carter, the senior political reporter of New York One. Gentlemen, it's great to have you.

Let's take a look at this little turkey trot from Bill O'Reilly. Here it is. Newt Gingrich speaking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: Look, I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, there's a man who if he had his finger on the apocalypse button would push it. That's Newt Gingrich. What do you make of that, Dominic? He wants to claim that the people interested in gay equality, on gay marriage and other issues, are fascist and they're violent. What do you make of that?

DOMINIC CARTER, NEW YORK ONE: I think, Chris, the bottom line is many Americans would disagree, respectfully disagree with the former speaker. He's been known over the years to say things that are out there. I think this is one where the country would perhaps believe we should just move on from. There's not much to be gained from really discussing it.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, that wasn't much. What do you mean? Do you think he's dangerous or what, Dominic?

CARTER: Well, I'm trying to be respectful to the former speaker.

MATTHEWS: Why?

CARTER: Because this is the same guy, Chris, that complained when he was kicked off of Air Force One by President Bill Clinton. So he's known sometimes to have, with all due respect, the foot in mouth disease. I think this is all coming on the heels of what happened in California, and it's something that perhaps-he made his opinion known, and we should move on.

MATTHEWS: I think there's something smart here. I think he's crazy like a Fox, Chris. I think he's out there in a very sort of clunkish way, going for that hard-right vote, that harder cultural vote that's angry, that likes Sarah Palin, that thought she was abused, that's really in an angry mood right now. They don't like Barack. They don't like the Democrats being in the White House. He's out there banging on the pipes.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Chris, I hate to say it, 14 days after the last presidential election, but, look, when I first read it, the first thing I thought of was, this is about 2012. Newt Gingrich has made no secret of the fact he's interested in national office. Remember, he briefly semi-entered the race and then got out when there were some questions about his affiliations with a group that he maintains.

So I think this is almost entirely about 2012. He looks at the primary field. He knows that social conservatives, especially in Iowa, are the ones who wind up deciding this thing. Did he say it in exactly the right words? He may have gone even more over the top than he intended.

MATTHEWS: No, no. I have a theory. He is fighting for the outside rail. He's fighting for the outside rail, not the inside rail. He wants to be the most extreme, the one that's willing to say the politically unacceptable. There are politics to be won there. If you're the most right wing candidate for president, Chris Cillizza, you have a chunk of votes right there, don't you?

CILLIZZA: You do, but I think you have to be-I would say this on the left as well. I think you have to be careful not to be too far right or too far left. I agree with you 100 percent that usually there is a spot for the most liberal candidate and the most conservative in the primary field, but you can't be written off as a Dennis Kucinich or a Ron Paul. You have to be seen as credible. Now, he is the former speaker of the House. That will give him some instant credibility there. I do think you're in the right in the main, which is this is about 2012, it seems to me, and trying to make sure social conservatives know he is one of them.

MATTHEWS: I think at a time of nice and a time of unity, that Barack Obama is teaching us all, including me, about unity, that it hurts sometimes, but he is for unity. This guy is still for mean and mean still sells to some people. Let's bring in Joe Lieberman here. Dominic, you're up there near Connecticut. This guy did everything but stand on the head of John McCain cheering him. He was as loyal as Lindsey Graham, which is pretty damn loyal to John McCain. He stood there while the Democratic candidate for president was disgraced, attacked as a socialist and worse. And he was all part of that, not just on issues he cares about, but everything. Here he is back in the fold, forgiven in two weeks. What do you make of that?

CARTER: Well, some of President-Elect Obama's supporters, Chris, may say that they may feel alienated with the fact that the president-elect is not punishing Senator Lieberman. But one could make the case that it shows that our new president is not vindictive as he starts into office. The campaign is the past. Perhaps we should take the new president at his word here, one aspect, that he is trying to be bipartisan.

The other is how you started this segment, mentioning that race, that Senate race. Democrats, they're trying to get to 60. There are still these three races to be decided. Democrats may not like this, but they still need Lieberman right now. It might be counter-productive to go after him.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, George Washington, Chris, executed the spy in that case, Benedict Arnold case, Lieutenant Andre (ph), and nobody liked to do it, because he was a good guy. He had to do it to prove his authority. Doesn't, at some point, Barack Obama have to say, loyalty counts?

CILLIZZA: I think he does, Chris, but I think Dominic is right on this one. If Barack Obama is going to try to make good on this post-partisanship that he ran on that was clearly very appealing to the American public, I don't think one of his first acts should be to say-or he thinks one of his first acts should be to say, well, this guy was against me in the race, he spoke out against me, we should throw him out of the caucus.

MATTHEWS: Name another Democrat or another Republican who has ever campaigned on the other side, besides Zell Miller, who has disappeared. Who else has done this? I've never seen it.

CILLIZZA: I don't disagree with you about the historical precedent. All I'm suggesting is I think it is in Obama's political interests to welcome Lieberman back for the point Dominic made. Both because it speaks to the post partisanship, but also because there remains an outside shot, and it is an outside shot, but it is a shot nonetheless, that Democrats could end up winning in Alaska, winning in Minnesota and winning in Georgia on December 2nd. And they add Lieberman to that and, all of a sudden, they have 60. I don't think you upset that apple cart, especially if the president-elect says let's welcome him back.

MATTHEWS: So you would count on Joe Lieberman to override a filibuster?

CILLIZZA: Maybe not every time, Chris, but he's going to vote with Democrats more than Republicans.

MATTHEWS: We'll be right back. As I said at the start of the show, unity bites. It does hurt. Nice isn't always nice. We'll be right back with Chris Cillizza and Dominic Carter. A lot of people on the left are not happy tonight because there is too much nice out there. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with Chris Cillizza and Dominic Carter. Dominic, do the people of New York, the Democratic people of New York, do they want to lose Hillary as senator to the secretary of state position?

CARTER: I think, speaking of-frankly, Chris on, this issue, folks feel, from talking to them, that she's almost owed something major in terms of this campaign, in terms of the fact that she traveled around the country passionately for President-Elect Obama. I think New Yorkers don't want to lose her, but they expect that it is time for her to move on for a greater good of the country.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the greater good of the country, Chris Cillizza. The Clintons are never simple. They're always complicated. Do you think it is possible to imagine Hillary Clinton being a public servant, simply put? In other words, giving up politics for at least four to eight years, getting into the mold as really a public servant, being a foreign minister, basically, focusing on that, without any complications from the former president? Is that plausible?

CILLIZZA: That last part, Chris, I think is where you hit the nub of it. Yes, I can see her doing that. I do think that there is a real unknown in her life. I think she spent a lot of time assuming, running for, spending all of her time focused on winning the nomination and eventually being president. With that dream now gone, maybe forever, maybe not, I think she is trying to refocus her life. I could see her being a public servant, as you define it.

The question is, and it always is, I feel like, is the Clintons are a package deal. You don't get one without the other. The question is could Bill Clinton, who has readily acknowledged on the campaign trail, he loves politics; he will miss politics. He was wistful towards the end of her campaign that he would never get to do this again. Could he keep himself out of the political arena? Could he do what was best for Barack Obama, as opposed to what was best for Hillary Clinton? That to me is a really tough question to answer. I think he is more the problem as it relates to that than she is.

MATTHEWS: He doesn't have to quit politics. He can still do JJ Dinners and campaign for or against people. Can't he?

CILLIZZA: He absolutely can, Chris, but I think what it come down to, I think, is at the end of the day, when Bill Clinton is asked questions about Barack Obama's foreign policy, which he will be, because he is a former president of the United States, will he answer thinking of Hillary Clinton, his wife first? Or will he answer Barack Obama first?

MATTHEWS: I love playing good cop to you. Thank you very much, Chris Cillizza. Dominic, please come back. We'll have more time next time. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Lots of stuff happening. Right now, it is time for "1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE" with David Gregory.

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END

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