updated 12/15/2010 11:55:17 AM ET 2010-12-15T16:55:17

Guests: Chuck Todd, Mark Halperin, Sen. Michael Bennet, Robert Greenstein, Chris Cillizza, Ken Vogel, Gov. Charlie Crist, Rep. Bob Inglis

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Senate down, House to go.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

Now the hard part.  The big tax deal brokered by the White House and Senate Republicans has just hit the 60-vote threshold.  That‘s the magic number to beat a filibuster and head toward victory.  So now the tough part in the House.  Can the Democrats and Republicans in that body deliver the 218 votes needed for that big package of cuts and income taxes, payroll taxes, added to, of course, a 13-month extension of jobless benefits?  That‘s our big story tonight.

Part of that story is that show-stopping appearance of President Obama with Bill Clinton in the presidential briefing room.  How much bang (ph) will the scene (ph) of the big two have on fellow Democrats?  This is the most vital political alliance in the country, after all, and certainly rules the Democratic Party.  Will it keep the Democrats together in the strong winds of this debate?

Plus, a shot across the bow of the health care bill.  A federal district judge down in Virginia ruled that a key part of the bill, the requirement that we all buy insurance, is unconstitutional.  Well, it‘s not the end of “Obama care,” but if Republicans get their way, it‘s certainly the beginning of the end.

And with the Republican right and the Democratic left making all the noise these days, what does the political middle have to say for itself?  Could there be a movement there, as well, midpoint between the Tea Party and the most activist progressives?  We‘ll ask two center-leaning Republicans who were elbowed aside by right-wing activists.

And finally, some guy up at Yale has come up with the top five political quotes of the year.  They‘re in the “Sideshow,” and they‘re all pretty bad.

We start with the tax bill.  Senator Michael Bennet is a Democratic from Colorado.  Senator Bennet, thanks for joining us.  You just came into the Senate—or you‘ve just actually been voted in, I should say.  Tell me about this vote today.  It looks like you‘ve got the 60 votes to beat filibuster, to get cloture.  It looks like you‘re going to get the vote.  What put it together?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO:  You know, I was home this weekend, Chris—by the way, thanks for having me back—and I was shopping with one of my little girls.  And we went to Macy‘s, And there was a Democratic senior who runs a Democratic club there who said, How are you going to vote?  I said, I‘m going to vote for it.  And she grimaced a little, and I said, What‘s wrong?  She says, Well, I don‘t like these tax breaks.  And I said, yes, but if we don‘t pass this, three weeks from now, two million Coloradans‘ taxes are going up, and we‘re not going to have unemployment insurance.

So what put it together?  I think that people went home and heard, you know, that people reacted to that and said, You know what?  That doesn‘t sound like a bad deal, which is what she said to me.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a good story because let‘s look at this new number.  I am actually amazed by this number.  The new “Washington Post”/ABC poll finds that 69 percent, 7 of 10, Americans support the deal.  Now, here‘s the interesting synchronicity among the parties -- 68 percent of Democrats, basically the national average, 68 percent of independents, basically the national average, with a little premium of support from Republicans at 75 percent.

Now, Senator, everybody knows Republicans feel they got a little better in this deal because they were holding up everything to get it, but not that big a differential here.

BENNET:  Obviously, I haven‘t seen the crosstabs on the poll, but I‘ll bet you there are two things animating that.  One is people saying, It doesn‘t make any sense to us in the short term to see taxes rise for everybody and—and we‘re glad that there‘s...

MATTHEWS:  You mean go up.  You mean go down.

BENNET:  To go up—taxes—we don‘t think it makes sense for taxes to go up for everybody.  And also, I think people are happy to see that there‘s an instant in time in this town when people are actually willing to work together, which is what I heard for 22 months on the campaign trail.  Republican crowds and Democratic crowds and in between, they‘re sick and tired of everybody screaming at each other and they‘d just like to see something get done.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the noise level, though?  I mean, I hear it on my network.  I hear it on this show with people I have to argue with.  It does seem to me that the people at the points, at the poles, left and right, starting with the Tea Party—but then, of course, you have Senator Moynihan‘s theory of the iron law of emulation, where the other side starts to imitate the other side.

BENNET:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  We know that happens.  But it seems like the middle does get blanked out of the discussion.

BENNET:  I think that‘s true.  And I think what has to happen is that we‘ve got to elevate the policy discussion here.  Look, this is one vote.  It‘s an important vote, but it‘s one vote.  What we really need to be doing is casting our eyes forward and saying, What are we going to do in the way of comprehensive tax reform?  What are we going to do to create a compelling story for the American people and for our trading partners around the world that we‘re going to dig ourselves out of this debt and this deficit?

And I think if we do that hard work, what we‘re going to find is that the people that are polarizing on either side are going to have to come to grips with these stubborn facts that we‘re going to have to deal with, and that‘s what the people in my town halls told me over and over again they wanted us to do.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve got to get to this last point.  I‘m sorry, Senator, this last point—it‘s all over the news late tonight.  It just broke that this federal judge down in Virginia, a district court judge—that‘s the lowest federal bench—has decreed that the individual mandate, the requirement that everyone buy health insurance, is unconstitutional, according to him.  What do you think this augurs for the bill that made Barack Obama famous?

BENNET:  Well, obviously, I‘ll have to read the opinion.  We think it‘s constitutional.  Everything that my guys have looked at suggests that it is.  And this basically turns on, you know, whether or not the federal government has within its power the ability to mandate people to buy private health insurance.  And we‘ll see as it gets litigated in the courts.  I‘m confident that at the end of the day, the courts are going to say it‘s constitutional.

And to answer your question directly, I think what you‘ll hear is people that are opponents of the bill use this as a further pretext for trying to repeal it.  I don‘t think that had any legs before this opinion was reached, I don‘t think it‘s got any legs now.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Senator Michael Bennet—by the way, congratulations on your big victory this year.  You were definitely going against the wind in this country.  Congratulations.

BENNET:  Well, I appreciate it.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Senator—let‘s go to Bob Greenstein.  He‘s one of the people I‘ve trusted for years.  He‘s the founder and director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  And by the way, if you want to know who this guy is, he‘s the guy everybody goes to for the Duncan Hines seal of approval, when they want to know whether budget decisions are the right ones.

You‘re a liberal, a progressive.  Where do you stand on this package of tax cuts, extending the tax cuts for everybody two years, cutting the payroll tax by 2 points, a lot of other things, as well as the extension of jobless benefits?  How‘s it all add up to you?

ROBERT GREENSTEIN, CENTER ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES:  Well, Chris, there are some very positive aspects in this package, but there are also some really unsound aspects to the package.  Clearly, extending unemployment benefits, critical.  In the absence of the package, probably wouldn‘t have gotten an extension for more than three months or so.

Also—this hasn‘t gotten enough attention—it has a critical extension for the next two years of really important tax credits, tax reductions, for millions of low and moderate-income working families with children, lifts millions of kids out of poverty.

MATTHEWS:  Is refundable.

GREENSTEIN:  Refundable tax credits.

MATTHEWS:  That means you can actually get a check from the government.

GREENSTEIN:  And the Republicans wanted to let that die, and if it did, like a minimum wage mother with two kids would have lost $1,500 a year, even though she lives on $14,000 a year.

But on the unsound part, you know, here we are, we had a presidential deficit commission that a couple of weeks ago called for things like reducing Social Security benefits and Medicare benefits for elderly widows with incomes as low as $20,000 a year because of fiscal problems.  And we‘re talking about extending tax cuts that average $100,000 a year for millionaires and on top of that, a really egregious change in the estate tax that would only benefit the estates of the one quarter of 1 percent richest people who die.  And this tax—additional tax cut the Republicans insisted on was worth an extra million dollars per estate for those top estates.

Now, what happened here, as I understand it, is the White House said, We don‘t want to do this additional estate tax cut.  And the Republicans said, Fine, but then we will not agree to extending any of the refundable tax credits for working poor and low-income working families.  So how do you add it all up, positives, negatives?  How do you add it up?

MATTHEWS:  This kind of horse trading that goes on behind the scenes -

this was done, as I understand it, by Joe Biden.  He went over, the vice president, had to deal with McConnell.  So McConnell held him up.

GREENSTEIN:  I think Senator Kyl was heavily involved in this, as well.  But you know, how do you do a bottom line on this?  To me, there are two tests.  Test number one.  Compared to what?  If the deal goes down now, what happens?  I think if the deal goes down, it gets relitigated in the next Congress because no one in the middle of 9.8 percent unemployment wants all the middle income tax cuts to die.  And if it gets relitigated in the next Congress, I think the odds are that all the adverse elements of the package remain, maybe even get worse, and the positive aspects of the package get diluted or disappear.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve heard that argument, Bob.  That is—in other words, once they get control of the House—and it looks like numerically control the Senate, if you add the 47 seats they‘re going to win, plus the four conservative Democrats they picked up in these votes the last week, in terms of voting on this issue of extending the rich people‘s tax cuts—they had a majority in both houses.  They would jam through the tax increases—or tax cuts for the rich and give the Democrats nothing.  Which opens the big question, why did the Republicans agree to this deal?

GREENSTEIN:  Well, the Republicans obviously wanted to continue the high-income tax cuts.  They loved getting a further evisceration of the estate tax.  But what both sides are looking at is 2012.  So if you asked me, on balance, how does this deal play out?  Part of my answer is, in five years, we‘ll kind of know for sure.

Well, here‘s what I mean by that.  Let‘s suppose that at the end of two years, in 2012, President Obama says the economy is somewhat better now.  We‘re doing budget cuts...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREENSTEIN:  ... and education, all these other things.  I will veto any further extension of the high-income tax cuts...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREENSTEIN:  ... or the weakening of the estate tax, takes it to the country and maybe wins on that.  Then we‘ve got all the positive stuff for the next two years.  And this will...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GREENSTEIN:  This package will create over a million jobs.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re the best news this president‘s had in a long time.

GREENSTEIN:  However—however...

MATTHEWS:  I got to go, Bob.  We have to call it...

GREENSTEIN:  But if it gets made permanent...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREENSTEIN:  ... all the high-income stuff...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GREENSTEIN:  ... then it‘s a problem.

MATTHEWS:  But your ruling is yes.

GREENSTEIN:  My ruling is Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Bob Greenstein, the man—I have to tell you, this is the moral authority for people in the progressive movement that I‘ve worked with all these years.  Thank you.  Used to advise us when I worked for Tip O‘Neill.

Coming up: Bill Clinton gave President Obama‘s tax deal his seal of approval in a remarkable appearance at the White House.  We‘ve talked about the numbers.  We‘ve talked about the issues, the values involved.  Let‘s talk about the coalition we‘re looking at right there, the pure politics of this thing.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, new 2012 poll numbers are in, and President Obama is losing support in a new Marist/McClatchy poll, and now Mitt Romney would tweak him out, or actually beat him out by 46 to 44, although that‘s within the margin of error.  President Obama does better against the rest of the Republican field, of course.  He‘d beat Mike Huckabee 47-43.  That‘s a close one.  But he‘s still under 50 percent.  He does the best against, no surprise, Sarah Palin, easily defeating the one-time half-time Alaska governor 52 to 40.  That‘s the widest spread I‘ve seen there.

The poll points out the trouble for the president.  He‘s losing support among liberals right now as he tracks to the center, but he‘s not yet picking up those all-important independents.  My belief—it‘ll take a few weeks, he‘ll come out much better than he went into these weeks.

Anyway, HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I just had a terrific meeting with the former president, President Bill Clinton.  And I thought that, given the fact that he presided over as good an economy as we‘ve seen in our lifetimes, that it might be useful for him to share some of his thoughts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Share some of his thoughts—what an understatement!  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was, of course, President Obama on Friday after meeting with former president Bill Clinton.  Here‘s President Clinton at that press conference, talking about the tax discussion he had with the current president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  So in my opinion, this is a good bill, and I hope that my fellow Democrats will support it.  I thank the Republican leaders for agreeing to include things that were important to the president.  There‘s never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan, and we all see this differently.  But I really believe this will be a significant net plus for the country.  I also think that, in general, a lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief that there‘s finally been some agreement on something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What a brilliant political assessment that is, there‘s a sigh of relief that somebody‘s getting along with somebody.  But what does this strong show of support tell us about the state of the Obama-Clinton coalition that‘s leading the Democratic Party, and since it is the governing party, the country right now?

Chuck Todd‘s the NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director.  Mark Halperin is the senior political analyst for “Time” magazine and MSNBC.

As hard as it is, I‘m going to let you two guys talk completely now because I really want to know.  We think we‘re going to hear from the president any moment now about the Senate vote.  Your assessment of the Senate vote right now, the fact they‘ve already voted cloture, they‘re going to have a vote.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  This was always the low hurdle.  This was the easy hurdle to clear.  They‘ve got this, and you heard Dick Durbin say I mean, because the president negotiated this vote with the Senate.  Everything—his entire presidency so far...

MATTHEWS:  But the Republicans...

TODD:  ... has always been about trying to get stuff through the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

TODD:  Well, don‘t think—Dick Durbin and Harry Reid certainly were more looped in than House Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go—let me go to Mark, the question of this Clinton coalition with the—I‘ve said for months—I mean, we all know this.  We all watch the same thing.  The most powerful reality in the country now is the Democratic Party‘s united as never before.  Despite this kurfuffle this week, they are united, if you look at the numbers, 80-some percent support for the president.  How‘s it going?  What we saw on Friday in that briefing, what‘s it tell us about Bill Clinton and President Obama?

MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well (INAUDIBLE) the interpersonal drama, Bill Clinton was on Friday, as he‘s been throughout this administration, extraordinarily supportive in public and in private with the president, giving advice to people in the administration, having a lot of his people populating key jobs.  And in the press conference, showing Obama—you know, people may talk a lot about the strategy, the Clinton strategy from 1994.  He showed Obama a lot of the tactics that are going to be required for Obama to navigate through next year to keep that support from the base, but also get things done like he did in this case with the Republicans.  Clinton‘s the master at the tactics and the strategy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s more of Bill Clinton, the former president, giving advice to President Obama.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Mr. President, I get the feeling that you‘re happier to be here commenting and giving advice than governing.

CLINTON:  Oh, I had quite a good time governing.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  I am happy to be here, I suppose, when the bullets that are fired are unlikely to hit me, unless if they‘re just ricocheting.  No, I‘m glad to be here because I—I think the president made a good decision and because I want my country to do well.  And after the ‘94 election, I said that the American people in their infinite wisdom have put us both in the same boat, so we‘re going to either row or sink, and I want us to row.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So smart.  He‘s basically in there, it seems to me, because a lot of the people—not all of them—who‘ve been criticizing President Obama in the Democratic Party were really Clinton supporters in the beginning.

TODD:  It is a pattern with that, particularly with some of the louder critiques of this so far.  Paul Krugman is the best example and sort of...

MATTHEWS:  They were Hillary folks.

TODD:  The professional left.  They were—they were (INAUDIBLE) But there are some others that were pretty anti-Clinton.  I mean, let‘s not forget—you know, it‘s sort of weird, everybody made a huge deal out of Bill Clinton supporting the president‘s deal.  And I think it would have been bigger news had he not.  We didn‘t have anybody...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  ... from the left—we didn‘t have anybody from the left of the—you know, this way—it wasn‘t as if President Clinton was—so—

I don‘t know.  This does feel like one of those moments.  I think we‘re enamored with it in the media.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m enamored with it.  I love pictures (ph).

TODD:  I don‘t think—you know, I think there‘s always been people -

there‘s a lot of Clinton Kool-aid drinkers in this respect...

MATTHEWS:  You are getting so hard and so sophisticated!

TODD:  No, this obsession with the shiny medical (SIC) -- metal object that has the Clinton name...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me tell you what I love.  Mark, your thoughts...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The fact that President Obama walked out of the room, left Bill Clinton in there—was that a sign of confidence that Bill Clinton was going to carry on his agenda for the next 20 minutes and the self-confidence that he didn‘t need to be there, if the president was there, he didn‘t have to worry about being shown up?

HALPERIN:  I think that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  What was it a statement of?

HALPERIN:  I think those things and also he knew what was going to happen and he was a little bored and didn‘t want to be a bystander.  Look, I think Chuck is absolutely right.  We‘re all obsessed with this incredible political theater.  Why I think it mattered was it was a bit of circuit-breaker.  It sent everybody into the weekend, the Sunday shows, and the framing of the issue for those House Democrats, not about Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats digging in, but about the fact that Bill Clinton had blessed this in a way that led to the Senate vote, and I think will eventually lead to a House vote that will be successful.  

That circuit-breaker, I think, was vital.   The weekend would have been a lot different had it not occurred.  

TODD:  Well, let‘s remember—and you bring up a good point, Mark, because let‘s remember what the picture—and I joked with a White House staffer earlier that day, I‘m like, hey, are you going to give us anything on this Clinton-Obama meeting because other than that, I‘ve got about eight hours of Bernie Sanders tape to start running on-air, you know, sort of half kidding, half joking.   And then, you know, they bring out the Big Dog, Elvis comes into the building, and guess what, Bernie Sanders, his show ended up getting put on page four.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it always trumps Ben & Jerry‘s.  Here‘s President Clinton on his party.   Let‘s listen. 

Talking about Vermont, of course.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  A lot of them are hurting now and I get it.   And, you know, I did 133 events for them.   I believe the Congress in the last two years did a far better job than the American people thought they did, at least the American people that voted in the midterms.  

And I went to extraordinary efforts to try to explain what I thought had been done in the ways that I thought were most favorable to them.  But we had an election.   The results are what they are.   The numbers will only get worse in January in terms of negotiating.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, it used to be working in politics that anybody who was out of the business for a few months or a couple of years, and certainly the 10 years he has been out, couldn‘t write a speech, couldn‘t keep up with what was going on.  The old Clinton, the former president, is totally in tune.   It‘s like he never left the music.  He‘s there right at the cut.

TODD:  Well, he has been in the middle of it and, look, part of it.  I think at first he stayed in the middle of it, you know, because it was motivating to try to help Hillary Clinton‘s political career.  And he was her chief sort of adviser in that. 

But I thought it was amazing, you know, he came in to the room and he says, you know, I spend an hour a day studying this economy...  

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I believe it.  

TODD:  I believe him on that.  He probably also spends an hour a day finding out what‘s going on with.

MATTHEWS:  And two hours a day studying.

TODD:  . Arkansas politics.

MATTHEWS:  . Obama.

TODD:  . and California politics.

MATTHEWS:  And studying Obama. 

TODD:  . and Florida politics.  Chris, I think it is clear that he is well-read.

MATTHEWS:  Mark, your thoughts, because I think his touch now is back to perfect.  I think he was off touch obviously 2008, it was a very difficult time to have your spouse running.  You couldn‘t be the candidate.  You had to be the enforcer.  Didn‘t quite click.  Your thoughts about how he is doing now?

HALPERIN:  A lot of times when I would run into him in 2008, he would say, I‘m rusty.  And it‘s true.  A lot of politics has changed.  The Internet, so much of the technology now that drives politics were not around when he was a candidate.  He‘s still—as a rusty guy, he‘s still better than everybody else.  And he has clearly gotten really engaged in the politics of all this when he ran—when he was helping campaign for other Democrats in the midterms.  

MATTHEWS:  How does he connect with the netroots, that point, Mark?  Does he help them support Obama, who are very disabused—or, rather, disappointed with the president?  They‘re a bit to his left.  Is he going to help bring them aboard or soften their criticism or what, Mark? 

HALPERIN:  Some, but not all of them.  But I think what he does really well, and you saw it in the clip you showed, is he talks about all of this stuff with a sense of poise and a sense of humor, and a sense of patriotism and optimism.  Again, that‘s a series of tactics that this president, the current president, would do well to adopt.

It doesn‘t totally.

MATTHEWS:  Sure would.

HALPERIN:  . pacify the netroots, but it does give him a counterbalance and an argument to push forward and be big.  The president is bigger than the netroots.  Some times this president gets trapped into going head-to-head with them and going down to this level.  Clinton rises above it in a really big way, in a powerful way that nothing else in our politics can match.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you, Chuck Todd.  Thank you, Mark Halperin.

Up next, from “Second Amendment remedies” to witchcraft, we‘ve got the best political—actually, the worst political quotes of the year, and they belong in the “Sideshow.” You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL now to the “Sideshow.” First, open mike night in St. Petersburg.  This past Friday, former KGB boss Vladimir Putin showed his softer side at a charity fundraiser where he played piano, and later covered Fats Domino‘s great hit “Blueberry Hill.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER: (SINGING “BLUEBERRY HILL”)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What a small world.  A host of Hollywood folks like Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, gave the performance a standing O.  

Next, it‘s that time of year.  A Yale librarian is out with his list of the most notable quotations of 2010.  We at HARDBALL only cared about the politics part, so here‘s a look at the top five political quotes that made the list.  

At number five, Gordon Brown‘s teachable moment.  The then-British prime minister got into a heated change during the height of the campaign with a British subject angry about immigration.  Brown‘s more candid thoughts back in his car were picked up by a live microphone. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON BROWN, THEN-BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  They should never have put me with that woman, whose idea was that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What did she say?

BROWN:  Ugh, everything.  She was just this sort of bigoted woman who said she used to be Labour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Brown‘s party ended, by the way, by losing in a landslide, proof of the old Mike Kinsley rule, you only get in trouble for saying what you actually believe, bad as it is.  

At four, a pitch out of the left field.  Here‘s Speaker Pelosi in March pushing for the passage of health care reform.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER:  But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, we have to pass the bill so you can find out what‘s in it, “away from the fog of the controversy.”  That was her full quote, but the shortened out-of-context sound-bite, however, was the one that became famous or infamous as you would have it.  

Rounding out the top three, Sharron Angle, with her as-of-yet unexplained push for “Second Amendment remedies.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHARRON ANGLE (R-NV), FORMER SENATE CANDIDATE:  I hope that‘s not where we‘re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so lady-like, though, “Second Amendment remedies,” as if she‘s not talking about gun play.  Comments like that helped bring Harry Reid back from the political grave and brought her down to the grave.  

In the runner up spot, a Twitter message from Sarah Palin pushing conservatives to block health care, quote: “Don‘t retreat, instead, reload.”  I‘ve still got to ask why do the right still keep talking about gun play, Mama Grizzly? 

And at number one, you guessed it, Christine O‘Donnell and that most memorable campaign ad of 2010.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE O‘DONNELL (R-DE), FORMER SENATE CANDIDATE:  I‘m not a witch.  

I‘m nothing you‘ve heard.   I‘m you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Impossible to dislike her, impossible to vote for her.  There you have it, proving whatever else you can say about American politics this year, it‘s definitely not all scripted by consultants, that‘s for sure watching that list. 

Anyway, we‘re waiting for the president to come out and make a statement on the Senate tax vote today.  It‘s overwhelming.  It‘s now 80 votes yea to have debate on this, in other words, to move towards passage.  Only 11 nays, and as I count it, only one Republican, Ensign of Nevada voting against it.  The other votes—the other parts, there was 10 votes against it in addition to his, are negative.  Anyway, we‘ve got Chris Cillizza joining us right now.  

Chris, this vote looks like a—well, here‘s the president.  Let‘s go to the president direct.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  At this hour, the United States Senate is moving forward on a package tax cuts that has strong bipartisan support.  And this proves that both parties can in fact work together to grow our economy and look out for the American people. 

Once the Senate completes action on this bill, it will move over to the House of Representatives for its consideration.  And I‘ve been talking with several members of that body.  I recognize that folks on both sides of the political spectrum are unhappy with certain parts of the package and I understand those concerns, I share some of them. 

But that‘s the nature of compromise, sacrificing something that each of us cares about to move forward on what matters to all of us.  Right now, that‘s growing the economy and creating jobs.  And nearly every economist agrees that that is what this package will do.  

Taken as a whole, the bill that the Senate will allow to proceed does some very good things for America‘s economy and the American people. 

First and foremost, it is a substantial victory for middle class families across the country who would no longer have to worry about a massive tax hike come January 1st.  It would offer hope to millions of Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own by making sure that they won‘t suddenly find themselves out in the cold without the unemployment insurance benefits that they were counting on.

And it would offer real tax relief for Americans who are paying for college, parents raising their children, and business owners looking to invest in their business and propel our economy forward.  

So, I urge the House of Representatives to act quickly on this important matter.  Because if there‘s one thing we can agree on, it‘s the urgent work of protecting middle class families, removing uncertainty for America‘s businesses, and giving our economy a boost as we head into the new year.  

Thanks very much, everybody.  

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Chris Cillizza right now. 

Chris, there‘s an overwhelming vote developing in the Senate late today, over 80 votes for this compromise, it looks like heading into the final votes.  

Chris? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Oh, yes, I‘m sorry, Chris.  I just—I was listening to the president.  Yes—no, look, I‘m not terribly surprised by this.  I think when you see like a person like Al Franken, who is pretty—you know, a liberal, he may not be Bernie Sanders, but he‘s definitely a liberal in general on policy.  When you see him vote for it, and in his statement he essentially echoes the president, which is, I don‘t love these policies, I don‘t love extending the Bush-era tax cuts, but I don‘t want taxes to go up and middle class Minnesota families, you seem to get a sense of the log is starting to roll downhill on these tax cuts.  

Look, I think you saw Chris Van Hollen, the kind of lead budget voice for House Democrats, over the weekend essentially concede, oh, we may change something here or there, but this is going through, Chris. 

Look, they want to get to the new START treaty.  They want to get to some of these other things.  And, frankly, let me just point out and make a plug for our own poll, The Washington Post./ABC poll today, 69 percent of people like this tax cut compromise.  

MATTHEWS:  Overwhelming poll, devastating.  

CILLIZZA:  You know politics, Chris.  People don‘t go against things. 

Politicians don‘t go against things that 70 percent of people favor. 

MATTHEWS:  The Washington Post poll was dead on.  What it told me was there‘s not a big differential between Republicans and Democrats.  This looks like a good compromise, both around 68 percent.  You can‘t beat that.  

We have to go now, Chris, but thanks for that assessment.  

CILLIZZA:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, stay with us, by the way.  When we return, a federal judge down in Virginia rules that the key provision in the Obama health care bill is unconstitutional.  Republicans are loving it like George Allen.  He‘s going to run for—try to make a comeback on this baby, but it‘s still not over, it has got to go the appellate level. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

A federal judge in Virginia has struck town a key part—in fact, the key part of President Obama‘s health care law, the individual mandate, which requires us all to buy health insurance. 

Two earlier cases in federal court dealing with the—that portion of the health care law, upheld that portion.  So how damaging will this ruling in Virginia be to health care reform?  And how politically helpful to Republicans will it be to those who want to kill it?  Chris Cillizza is managing editor of postpolitics.com, and an MSNBC contributor.  And Ken Vogel is a senior report for Politico.  

Chris, I know that people like George Allen, who lost to Jim Webb down in Virginia, are just gloating over this thing late today.  They‘re hoping that they can say that this was a disastrous vote, unconstitutional in its nature, and therefore the senators who voted for it acted unconstitutionally. 

I mean, this is a real blast from the right. 

CILLIZZA:  Chris, it is.  One other name to throw out there, Ken Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, he‘s the one leading this lawsuit.  This is a guy who is very, very conservative, who has talked about running for office.  He‘s the state attorney general, talked about running for governor or Senate.  My guess is he‘s boosted by this in Republican ranks.  

But what I would say is, you mentioned, look, that we now have three rulings.  There are 25 legal cases about this law.  We‘ve had three rulings.  Two from Clinton-appointed judges in favor.  One from a George W.

Bush-appointed judge today opposed  

This is proceeding largely along the partisan lines that we thought.  Obviously, health care devolved—the debate over health care devolved into a partisan fight.  Republicans do not like it, want it repealed, Democrats largely supportive of it. 

You know, look, this is going to the Supreme Court.  I mean, you know, this is one step of many.  One important thing though that the judge today, a Republican—a conservative appointee judge, didn‘t say, he did not say that an injunction—that the structures being put in place to implement the bill should be stopped.

So some Democrats actually said, well, look, all things considered, that‘s not the worst solution that we could have gotten out of the legal system today.

MATTHEWS: So, what do you make, Ken, of the fact that this is a Bush appointee and he obviously has some contacts with the consulting firm called, what it‘s called, Campaign Solutions.  He‘s invested in a Republican political consulting outfit.  Is that significant?  Will that diminish the importance of this call by him, this vote—his decision that it‘s unconstitutional?

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO:  Democrats certainly hope so, Chris, and they‘re pointing to that.

This firm Campaign Solutions is not just a prominent Republican consulting firm, but it actually did work for Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general of Virginia, who brought the case and when that contact, when that relationship came to light, it was Cuccinelli who severed the relationship.  Meanwhile, liberals are saying, hey, this judge should have recused himself from the case entirely, kind of missing the point because all federal judges are appointed by someone, and usually come at least to some degree through the political ranks before they got those appointment.  This guy is no different.

And applying Chris‘ logic that we‘ve seen Democratic appointee judges rule in favor of u upholding the health care reform law.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

VOGEL:  And the first Republican one today ruling against it, you‘ve got to think there‘s a potential if this gets up to the Supreme Court, where it seems like—which it seems like headed to where you have a conservative majority that has leaned towards states rights and against government regulation that there‘s a real risk here for President Obama and Democrats that this Supreme Court could see it like this judge.

CILLIZZA:  And, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  Chris, let me ask you about this political piece of this.

CILLIZZA:  Yes?

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I don‘t know many people who invest in political consulting firms as a lucrative operation.  I mean, it seems an odd thing for a federal judge to have his fingers even if it‘s just big money.  It looks like he‘s making 15 a year.  So, he must have at least 100,000 bucks to this operation.

Why would he want to be an investor in a political consulting firm that‘s advising people like Sarah Palin and people like that?  Why does he want to be involved in that if he‘s a federal judge?

CILLIZZA:  Chris, I think let me just reiterate Ken‘s point—which I think is the important one.  These are appointees.  You know, whether—

I‘m sure he probably doesn‘t want to be affiliated with it at this point because the left has made such an issue of it and used it to kind of raise questions about his judgment more broadly, but these are people who at times, not always, but at times, dabble in politics.  So, you know, I don‘t know that it‘s that surprising.

But—to your political point, I think we have to separate it out.  There‘s a legal track that this is going to take that‘s headed to the Supreme Court.  And to Ken‘s point, we don‘t know what‘s going to happen, but, you know, conservatives are semi-optimistic.

There‘s also a political track that relays to President Obama in winning the issue politically.  You got—you know, in “The Washington Poll,” 43 percent support the bill; 52 percent oppose it.  The White House believes as time goes on, in advance to the president‘s reelection campaign, people see that the scary things Republicans talk about won‘t come true, that those numbers will get better for the president.

But that political track is very important, too.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CILLIZZA:  And the legal and the political, they‘re kind of

parallels.  They both matter to the other, but they‘re not that influenced

by the other.

      

MATTHEWS:  You know, Ken Vogel, back in the Great Depression when Franklin Roosevelt came to office, he had to contend with a conservative Supreme Court.  And they declared some of his major legislation, I believe the NRA, the National Recovery Act, at one point, unconstitutional.

This could be history making if the court goes all the way and Anthony Kennedy joins that conservative majority and that makes it a majority and shoots down the major legislative achievement of a president.

VOGEL:  That‘s right.  And we‘ve already seen a very adversarial relationship between this administration and the Supreme Court.  We saw it most recently and perhaps acutely on the Citizens United campaign finance decision—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

VOGEL:  -- where again the judges invoking this idea that government regulation was impinging upon a constitutional freedom, in this case—in that case, the First Amendment, ruled in way that the Obama administration very publicly disagreed with.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  That was a terrible decision.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Wasn‘t that a terrible decision?

VOGEL:  Well, it had a huge effect on the 2010 midterms.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, corporate money, international corporate money, everything thrown in to our politics.  And we have enough problems with corruption without bringing all those interest group money, all that money pouring into campaigns on behalf of international trade that benefits other countries.  The potential (ph) is horrible.  Anyway, that‘s my view.

Chris Cillizza, thanks for sticking with us.  Ken Vogel, thanks for your insights.

Up next, with both Republicans and Democrats moving further to the extremes, is there room in the political center for a new centrist political movement?  We have two Republicans who lost out to the right:

Charlie Crist and Bob Inglis.  Let‘s see what they have to say.  They were at that big meeting in New York called No Labels.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, more Republicans are voicing their criticism of Sarah Palin.  Retiring Senator Kit Bond of Missouri said he‘d be reluctant to support her for president saying, “I have reservations about anyone who quits as governor halfway through the term.”  Wow.

And a similar sentiment from former New Jersey governor, Christie Todd Whitman.  She said, “I don‘t think she‘ll nationwide.  I mean, she was governor.  But the fact that she left office before even completing her first term is well, that‘s just not an attitude I think is necessarily in the best interest of your constituents.

Bond and Whitman, the latest members of the Republican establishment‘s anybody but Sarah club.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is one of many moderate politicians taking part in the No Labels conference in New York today, along with other two guys.

Here they are: independent Governor Charlie Crist of Florida joins us and Republican Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina.

Gentlemen, I wonder—you both want something.  This was Lesley Stahl interviewing speaker-to be, John Boehner, on “60 Minutes” last night.  I think it‘s the root of the problem.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES”/CBS)

LESLEY STAHL, 6O MINUTES:  You‘re saying, “I want common ground, but I‘m not going to compromise.”  I don‘t understand that.  I really don‘t.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, OHIO:  When you say the—when you say the word “compromise,” a lot of Americans look up and go, oh, they‘re going to sell me out.  And so, finding common ground, I think, makes more sense.

STAHL:  Why—you‘re afraid of the word.

BOEHNER:  I reject the word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Governor, afraid of the word.  Reject the word compromise.  Why go to Washington?  Just mail it in if you‘re going to pose everything.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA:  It‘s unbelievable.  You know, to have common sense means that you have to compromise—trying to do what‘s right for the people instead of the party.  I think what you see is evidence of the fact that there are certain segments of both parties view compromise as a dirty word.  And if you say you‘re willing to compromise, in other words, use common sense, try to do what‘s right for the people instead of the party, then you may get shunned by your political party.

And that‘s what No Labels, a meeting that we attended today, is really all about.  You know, having the ability to say, look, you know, it‘s all right to be a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, but you should suppress your labeling in order to move America forward and do what‘s right for the country.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Inglis, Jack Kennedy once said, “Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.”  I wonder if you felt that.  Where there were certain things that you had to eat that you said, I can‘t believe that I have to agree to this today, but I‘m going to have to do it to keep some my red hats happy?  Is that what being a party person is like these days?  You have to go with the far right or the far left?

REP. BOB INGLIS ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  Well, I think that‘s—what the governor‘s just talking about, this is what we‘re trying to do in New York here today, is try to repopulate the discussion around—really cooperation rather than this grudging compromise.  What I‘d rather see, really, is creative collaboration, rather than this grudging compromise, where we pull it out of each other.

The reality is that conservatives like my party, we‘ve got a lot to offer to this country about wealth creation.  Liberals have something to offer by way of fairness and fair rules on the road.  If you hit both of those together and pull the best out of both parties, then we can move America forward.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

INGLIS:  And what No Labels about is not left, not right, just forward.

MATTHEWS:  Well—that sounds like MSNBC.

Let me go to the Governor Crist here—lean forward, you know?  Let me ask you about this thing.  It seems to me that you have a label, and I grew up in Pennsylvania.  You‘re an Eisenhower Republican.  And so, are you, Mr. Inglis, perhaps a more conservative version.

And Eisenhower Republican was for free trade, for fiscal responsibility.  Not too big on the right wing social issues, strong defense.  I mean, why don‘t just say you‘re Eisenhower Republicans instead of pretending that you don‘t have a label?  Because all of you guys seem to be—even Bloomberg fits that category.

CRIST:  Well, I think that‘s true and that‘s why I say it‘s OK to stay Republican or a Democrat.

MATTHEWS:  Or Rockefeller Republican.

CRIST:  Rockefeller, Eisenhower, you know, even Republican Reagan—

I mean, here was a guy—

MATTHEWS:  No, no, you‘re not a Reagan Republican.  No, you‘re not.

CRIST:  He understood at least civility, Chris, which is so important.  You know, he and Tip O‘Neill, who was speaker during much of his term, probably didn‘t agree on much of anything and yet, they have the common sense, if you will, and the civility to be able to get together after hours, a couple of Irishmen, and have a cold one.

And, you know, we have to get back to that point where there can be personal relationships where, you know, some people in one party and those in another party are really treated as traitors if they actually, you know, dare to break bread with somebody else.  I mean, especially in this season, that‘s just not the right thing to do.  We need to come together for the country and put the country ahead of the party in order for the people to be victorious in the end.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re talking about a book I‘m going to write some day. 

It‘s all true, by the way, about those two guys.

Let me—let‘s take a look at Mike Bloomberg.  A lot of people are talking about Bloomberg, including Mike Bloomberg is talking about Mike Bloomberg, Congressman.  I want you to watch what he said what he‘s asked by David Gregory, the key question on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Advisers came to you and said, “You know, Mr. Mayor, we‘ve taken a hard look at this, we think this would not just be a vanity play, you could actually win this thing”—will you change your mind?

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK:  No.

GREGORY:  No way, no how?

BLOOMBERG:  No way, no how.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Inglis, I don‘t think that he‘s running. 

That‘s my assessment right now.  What do you think?

INGLIS:  I don‘t really know.

MATTHEWS:  You were there with him today.  He doesn‘t share his thoughts with me, but, you know, it didn‘t sound much like today.  What it sound like is he was committed to this concept of No Labels where we pull the best out of both parties.

And, by the way, Chris, I just defended something the governor said about Reagan Republicans.  You know, the difference between Reagan and what we got going on now is Reagan believed that the best day are still ahead and—so, he was very optimistic.  I‘m not sure he could have won in this primary environment that we faced in the midterms because the electorate was really, in the primaries, was much more down on America.  Reagan was this optimist who said—

MATTHEWS:  You are sure right about that.

Thank you so much, Congressman Bob Inglis.  Good luck with your career as you develop it now, having Republican politics.

And the same with you, Governor Crist.  Please come by anytime when you‘re in Washington.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with the remarkable return to the White House of Bill Clinton and what it means for Barack Obama.  What a duo, what a duet.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with that incredible American scene from late Friday.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, together in what I‘m convinced is the most vital political alliance in the country today.

Obama and the Clintons, Hillary and Bill both have forged a political bond that is working for the country, for the Democratic Party, and for them.  It was forged initially in Denver at the Democratic National Convention in the summer of ‘08, that rousing festival of unity and excitement.  It was upgraded with the high drama of Obama asking Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state—an offer backed up by Bill Clinton‘s strong endorsement.  He wanted her to accept, seeing both the opportunity, the duty, and no doubt the global stature she would obtain.

Then came the 2010 campaign.  The president‘s people wanted help in three vital states for 2012 -- for 2012, Florida, Ohio and Colorado.  They asked Bill Clinton to hit those states and hit them hard.  The former president spent his additional time on the stump traveling for candidates who helped Hillary in 2008.

Then came this past Friday.  Bill Clinton arrived at the White House, met with the president.  From there, the two headed to the presidential briefing room to meet the press.  There, Bill Clinton gave a full-throated endorsement of the bipartisan compromise on taxes that President Obama had struck.  When President Obama felt he spent enough time making his points, he left the lectern to Clinton.  Quite a show of political confidence at both his predecessor and of himself if you think about it.

Clinton, a master of the tale, hung in there, obviously enjoying the moment, but also showing that he has indeed been spending an hour a day on economic issues—as well as his loyalty, of course, to Obama and his program, which was also on display.  Even the skeptic must see in this Obama/Clinton alliance, the boast kind of politics.

Once president himself, Clinton knows the duty and power of politics.  He knows that certain realities just need to be accepted if you‘re going to continue leading the country.  He knows, too, that President Obama must succeed for his party to succeed.  He knows that even if Hillary has foresworn to any desire to pursue electoral office once again that the best bet for her in 2012 -- or 2016, rather, is a good record for a Barack Obama until then.

The great fact of today‘s politics for Obama and the Clintons is their profound need for each other.

That‘s HARDALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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

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