updated 1/3/2011 4:39:10 PM ET 2011-01-03T21:39:10

Guests: Richard Wolffe, David Corn, David Brock, Richard Socarides, Dianne Feinstein, Bob Corker, Steny Hoyer, Mike Kenny

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Big day.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Wild finish.  Winston Churchill once said, “There are two kinds of success, initial and ultimate.”  Well, Republicans began this late fall season as the big winners.  Thanks to the election, they came back to this city dancing and strutting like a New Orleans funeral band, the funeral being for the Democrats, of course, and the president.

Some funeral.  This morning in this city of the intended burial, the president opened the day signing the—saying good-bye to “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”  The Senate saluted the afternoon by passing the new START nuclear arms control treaty and capped it off—capped off the day by passing the 9/11 health care bill, as did the House.  What a day.

Plus: What happened today was also more about the ending of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”  It signaled a change in American attitudes, let‘s face it, towards gay people.  Before today, there was the assumption there must be something wrong with gay people because what, Look, it‘s official, you couldn‘t serve in the military if you said you were gay.  No more, as of the signing this morning.  And certainly, as the years now pass, we will be a country proud to send our gay citizens, as well as our straight citizens, to help defend us.

Also, that new START treaty was approved 71 to 26, including 13 Republicans who voted for it.  Tonight, we‘re going to welcome one of those 13 who voted differently than his party leaders.

Plus, who would have believed that the Senate could even get—even get to the 9/11 health care bill for those Ground Zero responders?  Well, they got to it.  The House got to it.  They both passed it.  What a wild finish for a wild year.  It was the little year that could.

Finally, how do you explain the director of national intelligence getting stumped about a potential terror threat that had been on television hours before?  Give the man a television set for Christmas!  How about we give out his address and everybody send their old TV sets to the director of national intelligence so he‘ll know what‘s going on.  Don‘t you think?

Let‘s begin with the big debate between President Obama and Republicans led by Mitch McConnell.  David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” and Richard Wolffe is an MSNBC political analyst.

Gentlemen, I don‘t know how you could get a better argument than this, the great debate, you might call it.  The president‘s, of course, accomplishments for this year are quite graphic.  We‘ve got the health care bill for 9/11.  Let me go through.  Here‘s the Obama—well, let‘s (INAUDIBLE) the press conference today because he does it better.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think it‘s fair to say that this has been the most productive post-election period we‘ve had in decades, and it comes on the heels of the most productive two years that we‘ve had in generations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at those major accomplishments of what he calls those most productive years in the Congress for generations.  The new START treaty ratified, repeal of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” the auto industry, especially General Motors, was rescued, the economic stimulus plan to stop the second Great Depression, Wall Street reform, health care reform for the first time since Harry Truman began the effort.

David Corn, he‘s saying that.  Now, let‘s listen to what—I‘ll just read you what Mitch McConnell said today to really draw the line here.  He said, “Election day 2010, they, the American voter, made it very clear that they‘d had enough of the Democrats‘ two-year experiment in big government.”

You can‘t have a more crystal clear debate.  Who‘s right, the president or McConnell?

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES”:  Well, right now, the president has results.  You know, you can point to the rescue of the auto industry.  You know, you can make the argument the CBO says the stimulus saved 3.5 million jobs.  And if you look at what Mitch McConnell is saying, he‘s basically saying, We would have survived, everything would have been fine if we had done nothing.  We should not have any government intervention after that great crash that came at the end of the Bush-Cheney years.  You know, 9/11, food safety—he has nothing to say about these government interventions.  Health care—it should have just continued on as it was.

So yes, the public did see, the voting public in November, to take the side of Republicans who are—about being anti (ph) about this much government intervention.  But Mitch McConnell can‘t offer any proof that they would have—that the Republicans, had they been in charge in the last two years, would have done anything to help on any of these fronts.  This is what Obama‘s doing today.  This will be the continuing debate of the next two years going right into 2012.

MATTHEWS:  Richard—Richard Wolffe joins me now.  He‘s quite a literary figure.  Wasn‘t it Mark Twain who said the reports of my death are premature?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  This president had a funeral this past election in November.  It seems like the Republicans were—I said it was like a New Orleans band, dancing and strutting and enjoying the occasion.  They were a bit premature, weren‘t they?

WOLFFE:  Well, yes, and Mark Twain is selling a lot of books even now.

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE:  You know, what‘s interesting here is comparing and contrasting the fates of Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama because not only did everyone write off the president just six weeks ago—and you can have that list of legislative accomplishments, but you got to add to that list what he has done or what Mitch McConnell has done to himself because McConnell has given up, first of all, on the tax debate, this position of centrism and reasonableness.  He‘s now handed over the mantle of bipartisanship to the president, something he denied him for two years.

But also today, what happened today with the START treaty, not just the treaty but Mitch McConnell lost his caucus.  He lost his leadership authority, that rigid discipline that has been so successful for him for the last two years.  Now, who could have predicted, in six weeks, not only the president getting this list of accomplishments, but Mitch McConnell would be weaker after coming within a whisker of taking back the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘m looking at numbers.  I don‘t have them all here tonight because people don‘t need all the numbers because they know what‘s going on, moderate Republicans moving back to supporting the president in some numbers, the independents moving back and supporting the president.  And then, of all things, in the midst of this sort of war over ideas, John McCain becomes the poster boy for the Republican Party again, out there serenading generation-wise how he doesn‘t want gays to be in the military, when everybody who‘s ever been in the military knows they‘ve served with gays, except him.

CORN:  Right.  Well, what happened was the Republican caucus came to be taken over by the cranky end of the caucus.

MATTHEWS:  Cranky party.

CORN:  You know, Lindsey Graham complaining about having to work too long, and then John McCain saying, Well, if you don‘t—if you take away DADT, “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” then maybe I‘ll vote for START.  I mean, is that putting country first?

I tell you, this week, when Barack Obama‘s relaxing back at home in Hawaii, there‘s a new movie coming out, “True Grit.”

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  I think he‘s going to—

MATTHEWS:  A great revenge movie.  Anyway—

CORN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Rooster Cogburn—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The new one good?

CORN:  The new one‘s good.

MATTHEWS:  I love Jeff Bridges.  Take a look now at the president talking about the Republicans.  Of course, he‘s being very polite.  Let‘s listen to what he‘s saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  My sense is the Republicans recognize that with greater power is going to come greater responsibility.  And some of the progress that I think we saw in the lame duck was a recognition on their part that people are going be paying attention to what they‘re doing, as well as what I‘m doing and what the Democrats in Congress are doing.

END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wishful thinking, Richard?  More responsibility will come with more power?

WOLFFE:  Well, Maybe.  But they actually did get a lot done in the last few weeks, and the White House believes—Obama‘s aides believe that part of the changed dynamic here is that Republicans feel the burden of governing now.  It‘s a shared burden, I‘m not convinced about that.  And of course, everyone expects—you know, they traded these big deals, these big landmark pieces of legislation, for a thousand skirmishes over the budget now with the House Republicans.  Moving forward, they‘ve got that continuing resolution, but the debate over the budget is going to be painful on every single item of policy going forward.

So let‘s see how responsible they are moving forward.  I don‘t think it will last, and I don‘t think anyone in the White House seriously thinks it will, either.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I think we all agree—I think, right, left and center, anybody watching now knows the president has an incredibly high IQ, just intellectual acuity.  Let‘s agree on that.  Forget the politics.  I sensed today that he is not addressing the people he was addressing a year ago or even this year.  He‘s not talking to the Democratic Party, saying, Hold together, be solid.  He is talking to the middle and the middle right now and saying, You can join me.

I hear a president now today again talking to the Republican Party out loud, saying to them, I‘m going to be presenting in my State of the Union something you may want to buy, rather than something I just got to get my crowd to go along with.  What do you think, Richard?  You‘re the expert.

WOLFFE:  Absolutely.  Independent voters—that‘s all they‘re focused on.  Those are the group that he‘s lost.  And by the way, one thing that he actually mentioned in his press conference I think we‘re going to come back to is energy.  I mean, that‘s going to speak to middle America in a way that all of this other stuff that we obsess about in Washington just doesn‘t.  He can pick off people like Senator Murkowski.  and that‘s the group that was there, right there, talking in the Oval Office with him, people like Scott Brown, those moderate Republicans who are newly empowered in this new dynamic.  But yes, independent voters.  The Democratic base—

MATTHEWS:  Here are the candidates, by the way—I want to go particularly to what you said a minute ago, not just the general electorate out there.  Look at this list—Lugar from Indiana, Isakson, Georgia, Corker, Tennessee, Murkowski, Alaska, who‘s no Palinite, Olympia Snowe from Maine, a very independent state, Susan Collins from Maine, a very independent state, Scott Brown, who has to go to the Senate to get reelected up in Massachusetts, Lamar Alexander, also from Tennessee, a very sophisticated guy, as we know, and Thad Cochran and Mike Johanns.

I mean, it looks like he‘s got a candidate list there of people to form his coalition.  He can‘t just go Pelosi and to the left.  He has to go Pelosi and to the right a bit.

WOLFFE:  We‘re seeing the return of moderate Republicans who were counted dead a year or two back.  But at the same time, I think while Obama has increased his bipartisan—

MATTHEWS:  Or Steny Hoyer and to the right.

WOLFFE:  He‘s increased his bipartisan street cred.  McConnell has none of it.  In fact, he shot it—he purposely said, I‘m not going to work with the president unless he comes over to our side.  So in appealing to independents, Obama has the edge in saying, I‘m trying to be reasonable.  But at the same time—you asked I think earlier in the day, why did he talk about Gitmo?  Why did he talk about the Dream Act?  I think Obama is doing what every candidate has to do, keep your base happy—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What did he do to keep them happy, by saying, I‘m going to keep fighting for what you and I believe in?

CORN:  For—for—for—

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  For the rule of law and the war on terror, for immigration and

you know, so that‘s what he has to do.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s talking to you, isn‘t he.

CORN:  He‘s talking to a lot of people, yes.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s talking to you.

CORN:  Yes, but with “Don‘t ask”—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s talking to you.

CORN:  -- “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell”—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s talking to you, isn‘t he!  OK.

CORN:  Yes.  I‘ll take that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

CORN:  I don‘t think I—he‘s—I‘m what he has in mind exactly, but nevertheless—

MATTHEWS:  OK, maybe younger.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But talking about the netroots—and I think you‘re so smart—I hear him talking to the netroots.  He may have gotten them to go along with him on the tax cut deal that they really hated, but he was saying to them, Don‘t worry, I‘m still with you on the stuff you care most about, these foreign policy—

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  He has to do both to win.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CORN:  He needs the base and the independents.

MATTHEWS:  This is the most exciting day of the year so far!  David Corn, thank you, Richard Wolffe. So much is happening, so many questions, so many possibilities out there of new coalitions.  Things are happening in this country.  This is not a dead polity, by any means.

Coming up: President Obama signs the repeal of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”  We‘re going to get to that very issue with some people who really care about it, an historic day for the military, the gay rights movement, and let‘s be honest, the country.  We‘re moving forward.  We‘re moving forward.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:   Florida, Florida, Florida.  My late colleague, Tim Russert, used to say that it‘s still the biggest swing state in presidential politics, a state President Obama carried back in 2008.  So how does he look heading into 2012 down there?  Well, pretty good.  A new PPP automated poll finds President Obama leading the potential Republican field in Florida.

Among the Republicans, Mitt Romney does best.  He trails the president by just 2 points in Florida, 46-44.  That‘s darn close.  Mike Huckabee lags behind 49-44.  That‘s 5 points.  Then there‘s Newt, 47-42.  And President Obama does his best against, who else, Sarah Palin.  I think Palin‘s not too good down there -- 52-38.  Anyway, Sarah Silverman can beat her down there.  Those are good numbers for the president, and they mirror what we saw from a previous poll, another key battleground state, Ohio, just yesterday.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot! 

We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal!  Those are the ideals that generations have fought for!  Those are the ideals that we uphold today.  And now it is my honor to sign this bill into law!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Obama, of course, today, signing—it sounds like someone wrote singing, and that‘s true—into law the repeal of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military for the first time.

David Brock is founder and CEO of Media Matters for America, and Richard Socarides is—boy, that‘s a great name—is a former Clinton adviser and president of the new Group Equality Matters.  Thank you, gentlemen.

Today is a day, I say in my opening, big for America, big for the military, big for gay rights people.  You‘re first.

DAVID BROCK, MEDIA MATTERS:  OK—

MATTHEWS:  Important because one of the things I think is when you let people defend your country, it‘s very hard to give them a hard time.

BROCK:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Once they‘ve defended your country.

BROCK:  Well, let me tell you, it‘s a big day for me personally and why we‘re doing Equality Matters going back a couple years.  You know, I saw the movie “Milk,” and I came out of there and I said, culturally, for 30 years, a lot of progress.  Politically, still a lot of discrimination in the law.  And I felt like I could do something and I‘m in a position to do something.  So that‘s why we started this project.

And today, I mean, what you were saying about it‘s a celebration of democracy.  You saw Democrats, Republicans, military people on that stage.  I was really proud of our Democrats on that stage and—

MATTHEWS:  Why is it still—Richard, you can take this.  Why is it still a partisan issue?  And this is not—this is an objective statement.  You look at, generally, you got very few (INAUDIBLE) have the numbers here, we‘re going to show them—very few Republican senators, very few Republican members of the House.  Generally the party, as a party—look at this, 31 Republicans voted against repealing “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” just 8 voted for it.  In the House, 160 Republicans voted against, just 15 for it.  It‘s almost like an apple pie issue the wrong way with them.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, FMR. PRES. CLINTON ADVISER:  Well, it‘s really a glass half  empty-half full sort of thing—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, come on!

SOCARIDES:  No, I mean, I tell you, listen—listen, the Democrats have—

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a drop in that glass for you guys—

SOCARIDES:  No, no, no.

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES:  The Democrats have really led on this historic—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes, they have.

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES:  -- starting with President Clinton.  President Obama‘s been terrific on this and—

MATTHEWS:  Why are you—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why are you being so nice to Republicans?  They are completely against this bill.

BROCK:  I won‘t be.

SOCARIDES:  I‘m being nice to Republicans only because we need Republicans to be successful—

MATTHEWS:  OK, OK.  So you‘re—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- be objective here.

SOCARIDES:  Dick Cheney, Laura Bush—

MATTHEWS:  Why is John McCain coming out like a troll on this issue?

SOCARIDES:  Because—

MATTHEWS:  Why is he a poster boy against this?

BROCK:  Look—look, Richard referred to President Clinton.  Look, he had the original vision and the commitment to Civil Rights to do this.  You remember in ‘93, ‘94 --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, David, way before the campaign, in the very beginnings of the primary campaign of ‘92, I had him on the stage in San Francisco.  He said he was for open service, period.

BROCK:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” let‘s remember, was a compromise on the way to open service.

BROCK:  That‘s right.  But I was in the right wing then, and I knew what they were doing then and I know what they‘re doing now.  It is a phony wedge culture war issue—

MATTHEWS:  For who?

(CROSSTALK)

BROCK:  -- the right wing.

MATTHEWS:  For (INAUDIBLE) old people?

BROCK:  For their base.  They exploit gay people and they exploit the fear the of gay people to gin up their base.  That‘s what they do.  It‘s a totally cynical thing.  Half of them don‘t even believe it.  I know, I was in the right wing.  So that‘s what‘s going on here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do gay Republicans put up with this—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a lot of gay Republicans (INAUDIBLE) there are.

SOCARIDES:  I don‘t know how they justify it.  I mean, I—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- hell of a lot of staff people.  I just know (INAUDIBLE) a fact.  Why do they put up with it, their party being so homophobic publicly and politically?

BROCK:  I used to be one.  I put up with it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how did you put up with it?  Why did you—what were you thinking?

BROCK:  I think—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a good question!

(LAUGHTER)

BROCK:  I‘ll tell you.  Self-loathing.  I wasn‘t confident enough myself—

MATTHEWS:  So you joined the party—

BROCK:  -- to come out.

MATTHEWS:  -- that hated you.

BROCK:  That‘s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  Incredible.  Incredible.

SOCARIDES:  Right.  I think there‘s a lot of that.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s true?

SOCARIDES:  I don‘t know because I—because I—you know, I haven‘t

don‘t have that in my personal background, but it‘s pretty extraordinary.  I mean, I think if you talk to people like Ken Mehlman, who‘s been very brave recently, has talked about his journey.  I mean, he says he deeply regrets not being more open and honest about his sexual orientation along the way and things that could have been different if he had done that.

But you know, everybody is on their own journey.  You can‘t judge people for what they did or for their conduct.  But I—you know, definitely, the Democrats have been better, but the Republicans are coming around on this, slowly but surely.  I mean, the Democrats have been way ahead, but look at Dick Cheney, who supports gay marriage.  Look at Laura Bush, who just said it‘s going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not sure Dick Cheney‘s all the way on that—Chee-nee, by the way.

SOCARIDES:  Our former vice president.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SOCARIDES:  But other people, like Cindy McCain and Megan McCain—I mean, there are Republicans—Ted Olson, the solicitor general—

MATTHEWS:  The wives and daughters are great.

SOCARIDES:  I know, but Ted Olson, the former solicitor general—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re making your best case. 

BROCK:  What I would like them—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the—here is the president on the gay marriage issue today.  Let‘s listen to him, because he wants to talk about his, as you say, personal journey.  Here is his.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My feelings about this are constantly evolving.  I struggle with this. 

I have friends, I have people who work for me who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions, and they are extraordinary people, and this is something that means a lot to them and they care deeply about. 

At this point, what I have said is, is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have.  And I think—and I think that‘s the right thing to do. 

But I recognize that, from their perspective, it is not enough.  And I think this is something that we‘re going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Interesting thing for a president to say he is wrestling with an issue he hasn‘t come down permanently. 

BROCK:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He is saying, I think—well, what do you think he is staying? 

BROCK:  Well, look, I think he‘s saying—I mean, wrestling is an interesting word. 

And I think that he has talked about evolving.  There is also the question of devolving, because he originally was for gay marriage, as we all know—

MATTHEWS:  When he was a state senator.

BROCK:  -- when he was a state senator, right.

MATTHEWS:  Is that because of his constituency at the time? 

BROCK:  Right. 

See, here is what I think happens.  No.  I think what happens is because there is a lack of effort, like the one we are going to make, is that Democrats are fearful.  They have—they feel politically vulnerable on this issue.

Richard has some statistics here that would show that they don‘t have to be, that they can have the passion and they can the leadership exemplified by Harvey Milk. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BROCK:  So, I think we don‘t have to be in a defensive crouch.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Name a presidential candidate who supported gay marriage nationally? 

BROCK:  I think there hasn‘t been one. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just to put it—just for the state of play to be known here. 

SOCARIDES:  But—but, next time, there‘s going to be one.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s know the state of play.  Who on the Republican side is going to go that way, go that far? 

SOCARIDES:  I don‘t think anybody on the Republican side, but I think on the Democratic side, you‘re going to have somebody who is going to go that far. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you your next agenda.  I know what it is

I‘m looking at the state of Iowa, unusual state.  It‘s a moderate state politically.  In fact, it‘s hard to read it some time.  And you know, politically, it is hard to read.  They have gay marriage in that state.  They have same-sex.

Massachusetts, no surprise, Connecticut, no surprise, D.C., no surprise, Vermont, no surprise, New Hampshire.  So it‘s a New England phenomenon so far. 

SOCARIDES:  California and New York you‘re going to have.  By the next time—the next presidential election, you are probably going to have California and New York in that column. 

MATTHEWS:  Where are you on the Ted Olson-David Boies fight?  Are you guys—because I have heard that, within the gay community, the gay rights effort, there‘s a lot of skepticism that that was the right way to go, to try to go to the Supremes to knock out Prop 8.

BROCK:  Look, it was an outside-the-box, unconventional strategy.  I was totally in favor of it.  And—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, you are for the risk? 

BROCK:  That‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROCK:  And, in fact, that night, when that decision came down, I proposed to my boyfriend. 

MATTHEWS:  So, what‘s your best hope?  It is going to happen in your lifetime nationally? 

BROCK:  Oh, sure.

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES:  Oh, it is going to happen.  And don‘t—it is going to happen two to five years, marriage equality. 

MATTHEWS:  You give the president credit for today? 

SOCARIDES:  I give him a lot of credit for today. 

BROCK:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we all agree on that.  Thank you.  Thank you. 

You want to shake hands on this.

SOCARIDES:  Thanks a lot. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go—

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES:  Thanks.  And thank you for all your help, for your help on this. 

MATTHEWS:  I have supported this.  Thank you so much. 

BROCK:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I think gay service in the military is very important to the development of this country.  And I think that, once you have served in the military—I‘m going to say at the end of this show—it changes everything. 

Catholic people, Jewish people benefited more than you can imagine in World War II by breaking into the mainstream American society.  Once you have carried a gun in defense of your country, things change. 

Thank you, David Brock. 

Thank you, Richard Socarides. 

I don‘t know keep meeting you in new roles. 

Up next:  How does the director of the national intelligence operation not know about a major terrorist arrest that occurred hours before he went on television?  He was stumped.  There he is, the poor guy, didn‘t know what we were talking about.  We will find out what that means.  Check out “Sideshow” next. 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  It is time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up: out of the loop.  On Monday morning, word spread that 12 terror suspect had been arrested in London.  That news flash must have had a very slow time getting across the Atlantic Ocean, at least to the headquarters of our director of national intelligence. 

When asked about the London incident Monday afternoon, Washington time, the DNI boss, James Clapper, hadn‘t gotten his heads-up.  Watch Clapper look somewhat vacant in an interview with ABC‘s Diane Sawyer. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC NEWS)

DIANE SAWYER, CO-HOST, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”:  London, how serious is it?  Any implication that it was coming here?  Any of the things that they have seen were coming here? 

Director Clapper? 

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR NOMINEE: 

London? 

JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  The arrest of the 12 individuals—

SAWYER:  The arrest of the 12.

BRENNAN:  -- by the British this morning. 

SAWYER:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

BRENNAN:  This is something that the British informed us about early this morning, when it was taking place. 

SAWYER:  I was a little surprised you didn‘t know about London, Director Clapper.

CLAPPER:  Oh.  I‘m sorry.  I didn‘t. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, he is the guy, the guy you saw trying to interject on behalf of the DNI boss, did the damage control today. 

Anyway, I think—let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRENNAN:  Should he have been briefed by his staff on those arrests?  Yes.  And I know there was breathless attention by the media about these arrests and it was constantly on the news networks. 

I‘m glad that Jim Clapper is not sitting in front of the TV 24 hours a day and monitoring what‘s coming out of the media. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  I think John Brennan is one hell of a colleague, don‘t you?  Talk about having your back?  I still say send your old television sets to—to Mr. Clapper.  He needs a TV to watch. 

Next:  Let them eat s‘mores.  The food fight started when Sarah Palin on her reality show whacked at the first lady‘s campaign against childhood obesity. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SARAH PALIN‘S ALASKA”)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  Where are the s‘mores ingredients?  This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Should not have desserts.

Anyway, Mike Huckabee, a diabetic who recently overcame his own struggles with weight, had a different take.  Here he is today. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) 

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR:  With all due respect to my colleague and friend Sarah Palin, I think she has misunderstood what Michelle Obama is trying to do.

Michelle Obama is not trying to tell people what to eat or not trying to force the government‘s desires on people.  But she is stating the obvious: that we do have an obesity crisis in this country. 

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Score three for the Huck.

One, as someone who struggled with weight himself, he has credibility on diet issues.  Two, he defended the first lady, a bit of class regardless of your party.  And, three, he stuck it to his 2012 rival, Sarah Palin.  In hockey, that‘s called a hat trick. 

Up next:  The Senate approves the new START treaty with Russia with the help of a group of Republicans, 13, who voted against their party‘s leadership.  Is this the moderates‘ last gasp or a sign of their increasing influence on Capitol Hill?  Senator Dianne Feinstein joins us, along with Republican Senator Bob Corker, who defied his party leadership to vote for START.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks struggling to extend a holiday week rally.  The Dow Jones industrials adding 26 points, the S&P 500 up 4.25, and the Nasdaq tacking on nearly four points. 

Another relatively quiet day on this shortened week.  We did get an update on the third-quarter GDP, revised slightly higher, but not quite as much as analysts were expecting.  Financials are higher across-the-board on a flurry of experts predicting a big year for banks as investors look to take on more risk. 

Energy stocks climbing as oil prices crossed $90 a barrel on a larger-than-expected decline in stockpiles. 

Walgreens‘ shares jumping more than 5 percent on better-than-expected earnings, thanks to improving margins. 

Activision up 2.5 percent, as sales of its video game “Call of Duty:

Black Ops” crossed the $1 billion mark. 

And Office Depot soaring 9 percent on a report labeling the office retailer a prime takeover target. 

But Nike shares tumbling almost 6 percent on strong sales, but disappointing future orders. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  This is the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades.  And it will make us safer and reduce our nuclear arsenals, along with Russia. 

And this treaty will enhance our leadership to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace of a world without them. 

The strong bipartisan vote in the Senate sends a powerful signal to the world that Republicans and Democrats stand together on behalf of our security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Today, President Obama became the first Democratic president who successfully negotiated and ratified, got ratified, a nuclear arms reduction treaty.  The Senate ratified the New START treaty with Russia after 13 Republicans broke with their leaders and backed the resolution. 

The final vote—look at this -- 71-26, the way a treaty should be passed, dramatically. 

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California is the chair of the Intelligence Committee. 

Senator Feinstein, this was a near-miss—this could have been a near-miss, in the sense that the Republican leadership was saying, if you didn‘t give the tax cuts to the wealthy people, this wasn‘t even going to come up. 

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  So, people were playing politics with this. 

FEINSTEIN:  Well—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What would have happened if it hadn‘t been passed? 

FEINSTEIN:  Well, there are a lot of allegations, I think, back and forth.

I think we ought to put those aside.  I think this is really a significant thing.  First of all, we have stood behind our president as he has negotiated a major treaty with a major power in the world.  And I think it‘s going to be a major power that‘s going to be more important to America in Afghanistan, with Iran, with North Korea. 

So, this treaty, in addition to cutting nuclear warheads and deployed and non-deployed launch vehicles by about 30 percent over seven years, essentially opens a new day of cooperation and communication between the United States of America and Russia. 

And that is significant and important for the world‘s security. 

MATTHEWS:  What would have happened if it hadn‘t passed, regardless of the reasons?  If this had failed to be ratified, what would have been the significance in our relations with Russia? 

FEINSTEIN:  Oh, I think it would reinforce the hard-liners who say in Russia, still, the United States can‘t be trusted, that the only way is their way. 

You know, we have got two young reformers as presidents, President Medvedev and President Obama.  They worked this.  They put it together.  I went to Geneva last November, had an opportunity to meet with our negotiators, spent some time with them, with the Russian negotiators, spent some time with them. 

And this treaty was somewhat difficult to negotiate, but, nonetheless, it got done.  And, today, it got ratified and supported by Eastern Europe nations, by the NATO nations, by our allies all over the world.  I‘m delighted.  I think it is a most important achievement. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s good policy for the United States, if it is the policy, to try to eliminate nuclear weapons in the world? 

FEINSTEIN:  Yes, absolutely. 

There are too many.  We could blow up the planet Earth many times over.  You know, I think people—I was around—I was 12 years old when bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki went off, a 21-kiloton bomb and a 15-kiloton bomb. 

The bombs, although these—these figures are classified, so I will be very careful, but they are huge.  They are five, six, seven times bigger than the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  And what they can do is incinerate literally millions of people.  

So, I think to begin to ratchet down these arsenals—the number of bases in Russia are cut in half from 70 to 35.  We have got the verification that‘s necessary, the monitoring that‘s necessary, inspections I think that are much more in-depth and much more comprehensive than the inspections under old START.

So, new START is, in a sense, a new beginning in communication and cooperation with Russia. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Senator Dianne Feinstein -- 

FEINSTEIN:  You‘re welcome.   

MATTHEWS:  -- who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Thank you, Senator. 

FEINSTEIN:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go now to a Republican senator who voted for the treaty, Bob Corker, senator from Tennessee.  He‘s one of the 13 Republicans who defied, well, their leaders, Kyl and McConnell. 

Let me ask you, Senator, what was it that led you towards adoption, towards supporting the treaty? 

SEN. BOB CORKER ®, TENNESSEE:  Well, you know, Chris, I have been working on this for at least six months.  I‘m on the Foreign Relations Committee.  I voted it out of committee.  I said I would vote for it on the floor if certain issues were resolved by the time we voted. 

And they have been resolved.  And the fact is that, yes, this is a good arms control agreement.  I don‘t think anybody has debated that 1,550 warheads deployed is less than we need.  I think people forget we have another 3,500 warheads in storage. 

And I think what we ended up with was a balance.  I mean, what Republicans, I think, should feel good about is, the president has absolutely committed to modernizing our nuclear arsenal in a way that I don‘t think he—I know he wouldn‘t have committed to if it weren‘t for this treaty. 

We got strident comments from him and statements that we codified in this ratification agreement, that speaking to missile defense, (INAUDIBLE) after the approach that we have in Europe, our ground-based—to our ground-based interceptors.

So, I think Republicans should feel very good about a balance agreement.  I believe that, you know, this is absolutely in our national security interests.  I think we‘re elected here to look at that first.  And I felt that that was very much what we achieved in this agreement.  I‘m proud of that.

And at some point, Chris, I think you have to say yes to yes.  I mean, the fact is, the administration answered every concern that I had.  We were able to document it.  Codify it.

And there‘s no question that this makes our country more secure.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the ideal and maybe pragmatic idea.

President Reagan was a very much an anti-nuclear guy.  Even though he‘s a man of the right, he didn‘t like mutually-assured destruction one bit.  He grew up with it in his later years, hated the idea that we would have the threat of all-out nuclear war as the main way of preventing a war between the two superpowers.  He wanted to get rid of it.

But his plan included a strategic defense, some kind of missile defense shield that would be successful enough to really make the other side useless in terms of attacking us.

Is that the only road to go if we want to get rid of nuclear weapons? 

Do we have to have a shield?  Is that the only route?

CORKER:  Well, I think we have taken a little different posture and that the offensive nature of our nuclear armaments is our defense.  I think that any country knows if they were to attack our country, literally, they would be obliterated.  And so, we‘ve taken a little different approach.  We do not have that shield.

I do hope and I think what we got out of this commitment was a—again, strident efforts on behalf of the administration going forward as it relates to certainly what we were doing in Europe.  I think our biggest concern right now is really not Russia but it‘s Iran, it‘s North Korea, it‘s other sort of rogue countries.

And so, the president has committed to going forward strongly with those.  Again, Chris, I don‘t think we would have had that conversation.  I don‘t think we would have got those commitments without this treaty.

So, again, I think for both sides aisle, this was a very good agreement.  I think it‘s one that speaks to the strength of this country and, you know, to me it wasn‘t even a close decision.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s a very gratifying to watch.  It‘s 71 to 28 vote on a very historic issue like this.  I think we need strong bipartisan support for all history-making events.  That‘s my view.

Thank you very much, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

CORKER:  Thank you.  I appreciate it.

MATTHEWS:  Have a nice holiday.

Up next: a wild finish for the 111th Congress with Democrats and Republicans agreeing to that deal on the health bill for 9/11 responders.  I never thought that would even come to a vote, most people didn‘t.

Anyway, the House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer joins us next.  He‘s coming here along with first responder, one of the people that‘s really hurting because of the work they did in dealing with that mess, that horror, of course, at 9/11 at Ground Zero.

We‘ll be right back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  So, what was the biggest news story of the year?  Well, here‘s the “Associated Press‘” five big stories of 2010, as voted on by editors across the country, in importance going toward upwards.

The earthquake down in Haiti—that was number five.

Number four: the U.S. economy, which was the dominant issue.

And number three story of the year: the midterm elections.

Number two and going upward: the overall health care bill.  And it‘s going to be something progressives in this country have tried to do for nearly 100 years.

And the “Associated Press‘” biggest story of the year, almost forget it: the Gulf oil disaster.  That‘s all we talked about.  I guess it doesn‘t it turn out as bad we thought.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back.

A big week for President Obama.  The Democrats capped off by the passage late today by the way of the health care bill for 9/11 responders.

U.S. Congressman Steny Hoyer is a Democrat from Maryland.  He‘s the House majority leader.

Mr. Leader, I have never seen you so strong.  I have never seen such a nation powerhouse as you.  I‘m serious.  This plan—what happened the last two months that allowed you folks on the Hill to come back from a blistering election and yet show such strength in supporting the program here, including this one?

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND:  Well, I think we had a lot of very important things that we wanted to get done and what the election did was it took away the high motivation for obstructionism that I think existed prior to the election.  As a result, we were able to sit down at the table and agree on some things and move forward.

The 9/11 bill, as you know, just got 70 percent of the votes that were cast in the House of Representatives, very important bill, but the tax bill we did in a bipartisan fashion.  We moved the COMPETES bill, we moved the CR.  We moved a lot of very, very important legislation.

And today, of course, as you know, the president signed “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” which is supported by 70 percent of the American people, but we couldn‘t get done before the election.

So, I think what happened was the motivation for obstruction and a lack of cooperation was eliminated when the election occurred and there was an ability to come together, and we were—and we were committed to doing the kinds of things and the specific things that we told the American people we wanted to get done.

And I think President Obama has had a victory.  I think the American people have had a victory.

MATTHEWS:  Did you see coming out of the election—in fact, going into it and seeing you‘re an expert on how the votes were going to go—seeing the damage that was going to be done to your caucus?  Did you see the importance of making a tough call on the tax issue so that you wouldn‘t have all this collateral damage?  A lot of people, and I think the president and you, did see that if you hadn‘t cut a deal on taxes, as difficult, as excruciating as it was, you would have lost probably “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell”?  You might have lost new START?  You would have lost this thing for the 9/11 responders?

HOYER:  I think the president—and I agreed with the president on this—knew that we need to move through that issue.  We wanted very strongly not to increase any taxes on working Americans in this country.  We didn‘t think that would be good for the economy.  And we were committed to making sure that didn‘t happen.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HOYER:  And we had to make a compromise.  We may not have agreed on all of it, but I think on balance, it‘s going to help grow the economy.  And I think the American people think it was the right thing to do.

MATTHEWS:  Do you see any opening Republican Party?  They‘d been pretty party line on issues on taxes and things like that.  Do you see any opening for the potential—of different coalitions next year, like we‘re seeing in this lame duck?

HOYER:  I see a potential for that.  I think that the new speaker, Speaker Boehner, as I have said before, has facilitated transition that has not been as confrontational, not as poisoned as the transition of 1994-‘95 was.  I think that sets a good base on which we can work.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HOYER:  And the country needs us working together, needs us to find common ground, because we‘ve got some tough problems.  And, very frankly, the competition around the world is much keener than it used to be.  And, therefore, we need to be more united than we had been.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s great to have you on and I do salute you.  I think that you‘ve been a strong leader.  I mean that‘s an objective statement.  Regardless of party label, you‘ve been a very strong leader, sir.  And thank you for coming on HARDBALL and have a happy Christmas, sir.  Thank you.

HOYER:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Steny Hoyer from Maryland.

Let‘s bring in Mike Kenny, who was down clearing the pile of rubble at the World Trade Center for seven months, working 12-hour days.  He‘s suffering from asthma and upper respiratory issues.

Welcome.  Mike, thank you so much for joining us.  And what do you think is going to come out of this bill today that might be of help to you and other people who worked at 9/11?

MIKE KENNY, 9/11 RESPONDER:  Well, today, I was proud to be an American—to see them working and crossing the aisle like that, and to actually help out the sick and suffering.  And there‘s a lot of us that are really ill because of our time spent on the pile.  And it was—it was an amazing day to be down here to see it happen.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the common symptom of people like yourself that have worked at 9/11 at Ground Zero?

KENNY:  It‘s like my doctor says, it‘s the aging process.  But it ain‘t the normal aging process.  It‘s sped up.

You know, I get a little cut, it takes months to heal.  You know, I‘m just—I‘m not the man I used to be.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about the respiratory?  Because that‘s one that really clicks with me, because it seems you‘re breathing a lot of horrible stuff, grains of glass and grains of plastics and all kinds of chemical stuff that got blown up there.  Did you sense at the time you were inhaling horrible stuff, chemically, when you were down there?  We‘re looking at pictures now.

KENNY:  When I was down there, my skin was already breaking out in a rash.  But the job was too important, you know?  We had a commission and we were driven to get it done.  And you take cement that‘s pulverized and you put it in your lungs and it gets wet it just becomes cementing again and that‘s what happens to those guys.

You know, Our lungs, you know, I‘m wheezing going up a flight of steps.

MATTHEWS:  So, that stuff we saw in the air, that dust, that was

filled with bad, bad chemicals.  It wasn‘t just bad for the eyes.  It was -

it was going inside you.

           

KENNY:  That was everything then.  That was human DNA that we were breathing in.  And you know what?  There‘s people coming down with really crazy diseases because of their time spent down there.

MATTHEWS:  You mean biological stuff?

KENNY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  God.  Well, thank you for coming on, Mike.  When do you think this is going to get through the pipeline, this money to help you guys, medically?

KENNY:  Well, it won‘t go into effect until July.  And the help program is up and running and they‘re going to transition it over.  So, it really shouldn‘t affect us at all except now that we know for the next five years that we don‘t have to worry about, you know, politics.  This is an American issue that should have been taken care of a long time ago.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘ve got two strong senators I got to tell you, Gillibrand and Schumer.  They are powerhouses.  I would say that they got the job done.

Anyway, thank you.  I hope that you get better.

KENNY:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you on behalf the country and thank you to your service to our country.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with what the repeal of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” shows about the greatness of this country, I mean it.  What a day.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a story of American greatness.

It‘s been my conclusion watching this country‘s history that we make progress on an uneven but increasingly uplifting basis.  We get better in honoring the rights of the people as the years go on, as voices are raised, as consciences are tweaked.

I look at abolition in the early 19th century, the suffrage movement of the early 20th, the civil rights movement of the later 20th.  Each of it has expanded American liberties and our protection of human rights.  Again, it took time in each case, raised voices and awakened consciences.

And there we were today, early in the morning, the president with a pen signing the end of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell”—itself a transition from the old ban on gays serving in the military, period.

What will be the impact?  Well, think of it this way: once people get to serve the country and war, once we see them fighting for us, our common security, something profound begins to happen.  What begins to happen is that all Americans, all of us, see who is doing their duty for the country, who‘s out there on the line risking life and limb for us.

Until today, the military service of a number of Americans was, to some extent, incognito.  They were serve, sweating, doing, risking all for this country, but not with their full identity known.  What happened today is their identity, as gay men and women, will be known.

Not everyone will like it right away, but everyone will know it.  And in the years to come, people grow up knowing that gay and straight people, both, are serving the country, risking their lives.  They will know it and it will matter.

How do I know this?  Because it‘s all happened before.  And we‘ve seen how it mattered.

When did Roman Catholics, my crowd, win full assimilation of the American mainstream?  When did religion stop keeping them from jobs and allow the open acceptance of other obstacles to Catholics here in this country.  It happened in 1940s, when we fought in World War II, and Catholics found themselves fighting the war right there along with Protestants.

How many war movies have we seen with the kids from Boston and Brooklyn fighting with country boys from Alabama?  The same is true with Jewish people and later, when the services were integrated for African-Americans.

As soon as we saw them in the fighting units, working and serving and risking all, along with other Americans, that‘s when the big barriers begin to fall.  The full acceptance begins to emerge.

This is why open service matters for gay people, because it lets gays fight for their country without any of the negative pretense of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell”—serving openly and proudly and courageously to keep this country free.  Free.

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

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

           

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