Date: December 23, 2014
Guest: Kim Masters, Ted Johnson, Marq Claxton, Charles Ellison
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Barack Obama, ready for his close-up.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
President Obama scores another big day. Sony Pictures gets a bad day.
Remember last week, when Sony said they had to kill its movie about killing
the head of North Korea because the theaters wouldn`t show it? Well, "The
Washington Post" reports today that that claim is factually untrue. Some
theaters in the country were ready to show the film. It was Sony that
refused to let them. Again, that`s what "The Post" is reporting today.
So once again, in a winning streak that began with his big opening
with China on climate change and has extended through big immigration
initiative and last week`s historic decision to send an American ambassador
to Havana, reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba, the man in the White
House has what we call on the basketball court a hot hand.
Kim Masters is editor-at-large with "The Hollywood Reporter" and was a
reporter for "The Washington Post." And Ted Johnson, as we all know now,
is senior editor at "Variety."
Well, today, Sony announced it will release, quote, "The Interview,"
the name of the movie, on Christmas Day in as many as several hundred
theaters. Sony`s CEO, Michael Lynton, put out a statement today bearing
what seems to me hard to believe bravado.
Quote, "We have never given up on releasing `The Interview,` and we`re
excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day. At the
same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more
theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience. We are
proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who
attempted to suppress free speech."
Here`s the White House reaction, which feels like it carries more than
a bit of irony. "The president applauds Sony`s decision to authorize
screenings of the film. As the president made clear, we are a country that
believes in free speech and the right of artistic expression. The decision
made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own
choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome."
Kim, this is so ironic. First of all, Sony, which said they were
going to kill the movie last week, not release it because the theaters
wouldn`t show it, now say, We`re continuing with our plans to show it on
Christmas Day, as if nothing happened. They did a 180. And there`s the
president applauding them as if they hadn`t changed their minds! I mean,
what kind of a Kabuki dance is this?
KIM MASTERS, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": Yes, it`s exactly that. Yes,
Sony has been on the back foot from the beginning of this, the original
sin, of course, in the minds of the studios, I think, is having made the
MATTHEWS: Good for you. We have to get back to that.
MASTERS: And now they`ve sort of -- really, just, it`s been, like,
one thing after another, where Sony doesn`t really seem to quite know what
it wants to say. Michael Lynton, as you pointed out, went on the air and
said, We`re going to -- we`re -- we can`t show the movie. We didn`t cave.
The theaters wouldn`t show it. The theaters would show it. And guess
what? They are going to show it.
MATTHEWS: Ted, what do you make of this? This is more embarrassing -
- used to say that about John Kerry, I was for the $80-some billion before
I was against it.
MATTHEWS: And every time somebody flips, whether it was McGovern --
flip-flopping, we know, in Washington is the worst possible decision. They
say if you take a position on something as tricky, morally tricky for most
people, like abortion rights, stick to that decision. Don`t be flipping
all over the place, like the new fish in the boat.
TED JOHNSON, "VARIETY": Yes!
MATTHEWS: Do what you believe and stick to that, and people will find
a way to respect it in some way. But flipping around like this, you look
like a loser. Your thoughts.
JOHNSON: Well, I mean, it was just confusion last week when Sony
originally announced this decision. The best that I can think is that
Sony, in saying, We`re not going to show this movie, thought that they
could just end this crisis right there, and not really thinking what were
the long-term consequences, not thinking that the creative community in
Hollywood would be outraged by this, not thinking that the president would
come out with a statement and say, Hey, Sony, you made a mistake here.
And looking back, you know, President Obama really did have to say
that because otherwise, he risks looking weak to North Korea.
JOHNSON: But I don`t think that the studio really looked at the long-
MATTHEWS: Are these guys too young...
JOHNSON: ... of this decision.
MATTHEWS: ... to remember Munich, or too young in Hollywood to even
remember something called Reagan`s deal with the Iranians to buy -- you
know, to send them weapons? That cost Reagan 20 points permanently.
Munich cost us the war. Don`t they know that looking like appeasers is bad
MASTERS: I will say this...
MATTHEWS: I mean, honestly, don`t they know?
MASTERS: ... in all fairness to Sony...
MASTERS: ... a little tiny bit fair, very small...
MATTHEWS: OK. Go ahead. Go ahead.
MASTERS: ... very small. They were in the middle of a devastating
hack attack. They were completely, obviously, just flummoxed as to what to
do about it. Their employees` Social Security numbers, their employees`
children`s Social Security numbers were being flushed out onto the
Internet, their private conversations, insulting comments about movie stars
-- all of this is going on. They`re in chaos and pandemonium...
MATTHEWS: You mean about Adam Sandler?
MASTERS: ... Angelina Jolie...
MATTHEWS: None of these criticisms were surprising.
MASTERS: They are not surprising, but nobody says those things
publicly on the record, so then they were on the record. So Sony
reactively tried to force the theaters into making them, Sony, pull the
movie, and nobody bought it, including Barack Obama.
MATTHEWS: Is there a -- either one of you, is there, like -- I always
argue about this in politics, with the president, even, who I normally
support -- there`s no clear chain of command. Is there somebody at these
studios where the top person makes a decision, everybody else -- a John
Wayne kind of approach -- or is it a kind of a group, they all sit together
with their flacks and try to -- PR people -- and try to figure out what
MASTERS: Well, bear in mind, this is a company -- this is the only
studio that`s owned by a Japanese company, by Sony.
MASTERS: So there are people in Tokyo who are miles away culturally
and geographically from the studio, and they`ve been pretty hands-off.
They did express concern in this case, but generally speaking, that studio
has been let to do a lot of things that no other studio would do. I
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you a question...
MATTHEWS: ... jumped in there. Could it have been that they put
their thumb on the scale in putting out a movie, or green-lighting a movie
which is really, really sticking it to the North Koreans? We`re going to
have your head blown up on the movie screen? I mean, that`s pretty
MASTERS: I think no other studio...
MATTHEWS: Did the Japanese support that...
MATTHEWS: ... the North Koreans?
MASTERS: No, they were obviously very nervous about it, and they made
a decision to allow the studio -- you know, they have this notion about how
Americans do it and what we do with talent, and do we let a movie star and
a filmmaker have their way? And they let them do it, and then it totally
blew up. And I don`t -- I really maintain no other studio would have done
it in the first place. You wouldn`t have seen Time Warner, certainly not
Rupert Murdoch. None of these other people would have waded into this
MATTHEWS: What do you make of this, Ted, the course of this, the
decision to allow the film to be made and allow it to be ready for
distribution, then a decision to pull it from distribution, then a decision
to blame it on the theater -- exhibitors, and now -- and then all the while
saying, Well, we might get to it someday, and then here we are today
saying, We`re going to go with it, we`re going to put it out there in
perhaps a couple hundred theaters on Christmas Day, which by the way, is
two days from now? So they`re going to get it to the theaters. It`s
JOHNSON: Well, again, I have to think that it finally got to a
situation where Japan, Sony in Japan, just kind of said, Let`s get -- try
to get rid of this thing. Let`s try to get rid of this crisis.
In Japan, I think your view of North Korea is a lot different than
your view in the United States. So you know, we were talking about how
this project got approved. I think, you know, here, it was probably a lot
easier to say, Oh, isn`t this a funny movie? In Japan, they probably had a
very different view of it, yet the parent company still prides itself on
giving their subsidiary, Sony Pictures Entertainment, this degree of
latitude to do what they want.
Now, the problem now for Sony is that there is -- there`s all this bad
blood between the studio...
JOHNSON: ... and the exhibitors because of what went on last week
because they were essentially trying to shift blame on the movie theaters
for backing out of this.
MATTHEWS: Well, before we run out of time on this topic, I`m
fascinated by your political -- your commercial judgments. First, Kim,
will this movie -- I would think that every guy in his 20s, and maybe late
teens, guys mainly, will go to this out of macho now. They`ll find where
the theaters -- they have never been to some art house, and they`ll go
there, pack it in...
MASTERS: People will (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Some people will say, Oh, I`m a little nervous about
MATTHEWS: ... but I think the guys...
MATTHEWS: ... American guys and some girls...
MATTHEWS: ... women, young people, will say...
MATTHEWS: ... young people...
MATTHEWS: ... are going to say, Damn it, I`m going to show these
people, and I`m going to have some fun.
MASTERS: Sure, but there`s only -- it was going to open on a few
thousand theaters, not a few hundred theaters.
MATTHEWS: But will they pack the little houses?
MASTERS: They`ll pack the little houses, yes, but it`s not going to
help Sony -- I mean, Sony`s going to...
MATTHEWS: I`m just curious about the macho aspect. I`m happy with
the testosterone showing here. Ted, you think the young guys -- I think
they`ll go in groups of four guys for strength. I just have a sense that
it`s going to be a pack animal...
JOHNSON: Oh, sure!
MATTHEWS: ... visit to the movie theater. Your thoughts.
JOHNSON: Oh, yes. And I think this is going to get a lot of
attention than it otherwise would have gotten. But as Kim just pointed
out, we`re talking about just several hundred theaters, not in the
thousands, not this wide release that...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but once everybody goes to see it and tells their
buddies what a wild-ass movie it is, I would think then the next weekend,
the weekend after that, would just go exponential.
MASTERS: It`s actually gotten terrible reviews...
MATTHEWS: Well, that doesn`t matter.
MASTERS: ... and I don`t think Seth Rogen...
MASTERS: But you know what? People are going to go because it`s an
event now, because...
MATTHEWS: By the way, two great movies I just saw. You`re the buffs
here. I just saw "Wild" last night. It was great. It was really a good
movie. And I really, really, really liked "The Imitation Game."
MASTERS: You and many members of the Academy!
MATTHEWS: What did you think, Ted, about those two flicks?
JOHNSON: "The Wild" I haven`t seen yet. "The Imitation Game" I
really liked. I thought it was really well done, tough story to put on
screen, but you came away and you kind of admired how that was put
MATTHEWS: So much better than "Unbroken." "Unbroken" just -- I`m
sorry, it just didn`t make it. It didn`t make it. It neither had a
feminine sensibility nor a masculine sensibility. Didn`t have any -- I
didn`t know what I was watching!
MATTHEWS: It was a good book.
MATTHEWS: And it reminded me of the great Pearl Harbor. Now there
MASTERS: Don`t forget "Boyhood."
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank -- I saw that movie when it first came out,
up at the Nantucket film festival. Loved that movie. Thank you. Enough
jabber about movies. It is, however, Christmastime. Kim Masters, thank
you for coming on. And I do know the difference between women and young
girls. I`m talking about young people, OK? I mean...
MATTHEWS: Please believe me! Anyway, Ted Johnson, thank you, sir.
Coming up, here`s a winner -- Pope Francis goes populist. The Holy
Father blasts Vatican leaders themselves, calling them a group of power-
hungry bureaucrats with, quote, "spiritual Alzheimer`s" -- in other words,
they forget why they`re there.
Plus, which politicians made the HARDBALL naughty list this year?
Stick around and find out. Cheney -- you bet he`s one of them.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Staten Island congressman Michael Grimm pleaded guilty to
federal tax evasion today. Guilty! The Republican from New York was set
to stand trial in February on charges that he hid more than a million
dollars in sales and wages obtained from his Manhattan restaurant. But
today`s plea means he`ll now be sentenced on June 8th and could face up to
30 months in prison, which is a lot lower than he would have faced.
Back in October, U.S. Congressman Grimm said he would step down if he
was not able to serve, and the DCCC, by the way, is now calling for that
resignation. That`s the Democratic Campaign Committee.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It turns out that that historic
breakthrough between the United States and Cuba this month owes a lot to
Pope Francis. The leader of the world`s 1.2 billion Catholics personally
lobbied for the deal, and the Vatican hosted, actually, the final meeting
between the two sides that led to the breakthrough. Amazing history there.
Last Wednesday, the pope celebrated his 78th birthday over there.
Thousands danced the tango in St. Peter`s Square because, of course, he
comes from Argentina.
Well, this week, the pope again shook things up by blasting the
church`s hierarchy, calling it -- calling the curia a sick body. Those
words came in the pope`s pre-Christmas address to cardinals, a sort of
State of the Union speech for the church itself.
This headline from Religious News Service says it all, "Pope Francis
to Curia; Merry Christmas, you power-hungry hypocrites." Amazing stuff.
Here`s NBC`s Jim Maceda.
JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his traditional
Christmas speech, the pope lashed out at the Vatican bureaucracy, calling
it a sick body, hypocritical, arrogant and out of touch. At times,
cardinals in the room looked stunned by the pope`s scathing indictment.
PHILIP PULLELLA, REUTERS: In the past, he`s decided to use a softly,
softly approach, but this time, he came down literally like a ton of
MACEDA: It got worse, Francis claiming some acted as if they had
spiritual Alzheimer`s, blinded by worldly goods and petty rivalries,
forgetting why they even became priests.
MATTHEWS: Strong stuff. Michael Steele`s the former chair of the
Republican National Committee and a former seminarian, actually, and Joan
Walsh -- well, you never in the seminary or in the convent...
MATTHEWS: ... but she`s editor-at-large now of Salon and an MSNBC
But I`ve got to start with you, Joan, because you`re somebody who`s
hard to read on these spiritual matters. I am struck -- they go after the
curia, including the great -- I mean, really sarcastic -- Cardinal Law from
Boston, who`s hiding over there still after his embarrassments...
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
MATTHEWS: ... and covering up the hell up there in Boston with the
priests. They got a whupping today from the pope. I mean, he called them
out and said they`re spiritually Alzheimer`s victims, they forgot why
they`re there, calling them hypocrites for leading dual lives, whatever
that means, all kinds of stuff. I mean, he -- and they`re sitting there,
like -- not just penitents, they looked like the convicted.
WALSH: They did. And he`s speaking to Cardinal Law and he`s speaking
to all the cardinals who propagated this sexual abuse scandal and they hid
it and they protected one another, rather than protecting young children
and their parishioners.
So it`s a message that a lot of us find, you know, shocking, yes,
shocking and bracing. It obviously shows that this pope feels that he`s
meeting a lot of opposition within the bureaucracy. And you know, take the
harshness out, or some of the harshness out, it`s -- he`s really modeling
what he`s been saying to us since he became pope, Chris, which is that
Catholics are supposed to lead a life where they model the love of Christ,
where they don`t judge, they lead by example. They show, they don`t
He did lecture them. He lectured them for sure, but I think it`s
because he feels that they`ve lost sight of what the message of Christ was
and that they`re into power and gossip and intrigue and...
MATTHEWS: Yes, you nailed it all!
WALSH: ... and wealth.
MATTHEWS: The gossip part grabbed me...
MATTHEWS: It`s like a high school description of kids talking about
who`s doing what and who likes who and who doesn`t.
MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s very --
it`s a very insular culture. And he knows it very well, having grown up
into it, becoming a priest, the bishop, and now pope. And I think he --
you know, he`s seeing how much it tears away from exactly the things that
Joan was talking about. You can`t deal with abuse in the church, you can`t
deal whether it`s physical, money, whatever type abuse it is, if you`re so
concerned about your position and your station. And so this pope is, I
MATTHEWS: And fancy clothes.
STEELE: And fancy clothes. So this pope is deconstructing that. And
you know what it reminds me of? It`s -- it`s -- one of the things they
teach you when you enter the seminary is dying (ph) to self, you know,
giving back to others, and being a sign of contradiction in the world. In
other words, you`re supposed to live contra the world...
STEELE: ... not in it, not of it, but be against those things that
draw people away from Christ.
MATTHEWS: Well, it`s one of the reasons why we have Protestants, to
be blunt about it, because of all these trappings seem to have little to do
with the life of Christ.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, according to "The Boston Globe," among the ailments
of Pope Francis -- he cited where, excessive melancholia producing a
theatrical severity of pessimism, which the pope called symptoms of fear
and insecurity. Officials should never forget, he says, how much good is
done by a healthy sense of humor.
And you know what he meant! He was meaning that sort of solemn look
you get sometimes in the church, don`t you, Joan, you know, where people
are just -- everybody`s so solemn and down...
MATTHEWS: ... because it shows that you`re deeply penitential and all
that good stuff (INAUDIBLE) everybody baleful around you!
MATTHEWS: You know, it`s -- I think that`s what he signaled looking
at those hounddog faces out there.
WALSH: It`s the language of...
MATTHEWS: Didn`t he?
WALSH: It`s the language of a novelist, Chris. It really is. It`s
kind of the detail that a novelist would bring to a great story about the
Vatican. And you know, he`s got the soul of a novelist. He`s got the soul
of an artist. He`s really in touch with things on a lot of different
And you know, yes, I think that a lot of Catholics are more focused on
hell than they are heaven, and they`re more focused on rules than they are
joy. And you know, people dancing the tango for his birthday is a perfect
-- this pope doesn`t seem like someone who`s turned against life and turned
against joy and turned against what it means to be human. He embraces it
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, he is a Latin.
STEELE: Well, he is Latin...
MATTHEWS: He comes from Argentina. Anyway, the pope`s had a big
year. As I said, he played a major role in that historic breakthrough
between the United States and Cuba that just happened.
As "The New York Times" put it, Pope Francis is being credited for
helping bridge the divide by first sending letters to President Obama and
President Raul Castro of Cuba and then having the Vatican actually host a
diplomatic meeting between the two sides this October.
Earlier this year, the pope made these comments on the Big Bang and
evolution theory. Quote: "God is not a magician, but the creator who
brought everything to life. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with
the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of things
And in the summer, he met with victims of sexual abuse by priests and
asked for forgiveness. He told them: "Before God and his people, I express
my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes" -- that`s the right word -- "of
clerical sexual abuse committed against you. I humbly ask forgiveness."
And last year, the pope said this about gay priests. "If someone is
gay and he searches for the lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?"
You know, that`s the great -- the great statement, because people I
think people are born gay. Everybody gay I know they were born -- and the
question is, if you`re born gay, God made you.
STEELE: Well, I think this pope is really trying to get us to focus
on the humanity of the individual, not how they live their lives, not about
the choices they`re making. We were not put here to judge. We were put
here, as the church teaches, to lead back to Christ.
And I think that`s what this pope is trying to get the clerics in the
church, starting with the bishops, the hierarchy, to understand. You
cannot preach openness to the world when you yourself are closed off from
it. And I think that`s a very important message this Christmas season by
MATTHEWS: Boy, do I want him to last, don`t you, Joan?
WALSH: Yes, for a long -- a long, long life.
MATTHEWS: I want him to be around for 20 years.
MATTHEWS: Thanks so much, and merry Christmas to you both, guys.
MATTHEWS: Michael Steele and Joan Walsh, my friends.
Up next, the rough road ahead to repair the fractured relationship
between New York City police officers and Mayor de Blasio. Those wounds
run deep, we`re learning, and we`re learning a lot more each hour now.
Politico is reporting that de Blasio`s team was convinced that members of
his own police detail that protected him were spying on him during last
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BRATTON, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Can you point out
to me one mayor that has not been battling with the police unions in the
last 50 years? Name one. Name one. So the experience of this mayor in
terms of some cops not liking him is nothing new.
It`s part of life. It`s part of politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
Of course, that`s New York police commissioner Bill Bratton defending
Mayor Bill de Blasio in a joint press conference yesterday. The mayor is
struggling to mitigate the backlash from the police community. And, today,
he visited the memorial for the two slain officers out in Brooklyn and is
calling for a political cease-fire until they`re laid to rest.
Well, the backlash from the NYPD was apparent following the
assassination Saturday, when officers turned their backs to the mayor as he
visited the hospital where the victims, the two police officers were
pronounced dead. And it culminated when Pat Lynch, the president of New
York`s largest police union, said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK LYNCH, PRESIDENT, PATROLMEN`S BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION: There`s
blood on many hands tonight. That blood on the hands starts on the steps
of City Hall in the office of the mayor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: While some police distrust de Blasio -- and that goes all
the way back to his campaign -- Politico is now reporting that those
tensions ran both ways.
Quote: "According to a former de Blasio aide, during the general
campaign in 2013, de Blasio`s team was even convinced that members of his
police detail were eavesdropping on his private conversations in his city-
assigned car. Things got so bad that de Blasio, according to the staffer,
would step into the street to make sure he was out of earshot of
plainclothes officers, those people defending him."
It looks kill a tough road ahead for the New York mayor.
Joining me right now is MSNBC political analyst Harold Ford, former
U.S. congressman of Tennessee. And Marq Claxton, director of the Black Law
Marq, I want to go to you first.
Do you think de Blasio is responsible personally for the rhetoric that
made police officers feel he was on the other side from them?
MARQ CLAXTON, DIRECTOR, BLACK LAW ENFORCEMENT ALLIANCE: No,
As a matter of fact, much of the rhetoric is par for the course given
the history of New York relationships between the police unions and City
Hall. Nothing new. The rhetoric is much more heated and stepped up and
amped up. And the timing of some of the rhetoric, including the blood on
the hands comment, really was ill-timed by Pat Lynch.
But it`s par for the course. This has been a longstanding tradition
in New York between the police unions and City Hall.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Harold Ford.
Harold, it seems to me that there`s a zero sum attitude here. You`re
either for the people in the streets protesting or you`re for the police.
That seems the way it is working in New York pretty dramatically right now.
You look at it, you see that.
HAROLD FORD, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, there`s no doubt about
And I think officer Claxton -- and I don`t know his rank. Forgive me
if I don`t -- mean to give him the proper accord and proper respect, but he
probably has a better answer than I do around a lot of these things.
But I can tell you, as a citizen, there`s broad, broad concern that
the relationship between the -- between the rank-and-file police and this
mayor is fraying and that it could have an impact on public safety. I`m
reassured to hear from officer Claxton that obviously there`s a history
And I interpreted commissioner Bratton`s comments a night or two ago,
when he talked about the differences between the mayor`s office and the
police, really being about wages and benefits and other things that union
leadership is tasked with dealing with.
But I can tell you, as a citizen, there`s a sense that this frayed
relationship between City Hall and the police force could begin to have an
impact, unfortunately have an impact on the way policing is done across the
One of the things that an officer said to me, someone I`m close to
within the -- a retired officer said to me is that one of the things that
they should do is look at retiring this notion of quotas. And I would love
to hear officer Claxton speak to this, the fact that the issuance of
summons that officers have to engage in and perhaps that plays some role in
the unfortunate interaction that we see between law enforcement and some
members of the community across New York City.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, do you want to follow up on that,
officer? Do you want to respond to Mr. Ford?
CLAXTON: Sure. Sure. Sure. Absolutely.
I mean, the quota -- the quota system has driven a lot of the divide
in the communities. And I have to reiterate this again. And I want to
make this point really strongly. The PBA themselves, their own board, have
indicated their opposition to quotas, to the use of stop and question and
frisk as a direct law enforcement strategy.
They`re well-documented. As a matter of fact, they made mention of
this most recently at one of their press conferences. They referred to it.
So this is a dynamic. Stop and frisk -- stop, question and frisk and the
quota system is part of a larger discussion that needs to be had about what
damage there is to police-community relations when you engage in this kind
of targeted law enforcement strategy.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Marq Claxton. Merry Christmas to you
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, gentlemen, for coming on.
Up next: Jim Webb vs. Hillary Clinton. This is going to be fun. I
mean it. It is going to be fun. We have already seen Hillary Clinton`s
allies launch a preemptive assault on Webb after he began to lay the
groundwork for a run at the Oval Office. Could he be the biggest obstacle
standing between Clinton, the secretary of state formerly, and the
presidency? Well, let`s stick around for that little fight.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Here`s what`s happening.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will attend the funeral
for slain New York City police officer Rafael Ramos. He will laid to rest
on Saturday. Arrangements for his colleague Wenjian Liu are still being
made. At 9:00 p.m. tonight, the lights in New York City, including here at
30 Rock, will be a little bit dimmer to honor the two officers who were
shot in their patrol car last weekend.
And at least two people are reported dead following tornadoes in
Mississippi. Crews are still assessing damage in the affected areas -- now
back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Jim Webb, remember that name, the former Virginia senator who is
running for president in 2016, could present a unique challenge for Hillary
Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Webb`s anti-war positions, especially
when it comes to Iraq, could give some of those Democratic voters who
bristle at Hillary Clinton`s hawkish positions a place to go.
A column in today`s "New York Times" headlined "The Real Threat to
Hillary Clinton" lays out her vulnerabilities against a candidate like
Leslie Gelb of the Council On Foreign Relations says -- quote -- "Jim
Webb has to become a serious candidate. At that point, Hillary Clinton
would find him much more complex than dealing with liberals. He`s not a
liberal. But a lot of what he says might appeal to liberals. He does not
get carried away by humanitarian intervention," which means don`t go to war
in Iraq or Libya.
Webb`s appeal is summed up neatly in the column -- quote --
"Attracting anti-war progressives, as well as conservative-minded Southern
white men, whom he believes the party can win back, his credo is as simple
as it is persuasive. Rather than squander its power and resources, America
I`m joined by the HARDBALL roundtable tonight, and a great one it is,
MSNBC political analyst and Huffington Post editorial director Howard
Fineman, MSNBC contributor and Voter Latina president Maria Teresa Kumar,
and contributor to The Root and Washington correspondent for "The
Philadelphia Tribune" Charles Ellison.
Howard, take this on. Is the threat that Hillary Clinton has never
been -- according to this article, has never been able to properly,
convincingly explain why she did support the Iraq war, knowing everything
everybody else knew, and a lot of liberals knew all that she knew and said,
knowing that, I`m against the war. Knowing everything you know, I disagree
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, you
said earlier in the show that the worst place to be if you`re in politics
is to look like a flip-flopper, look like you`re in the boat changing
FINEMAN: Now, the fact is that during -- Hillary Clinton after much
agonizing -- and I was in the gallery watching her give her speech --
supported the resolution that led to the war in Iraq.
She had all kinds of complex reasons for doing it, but she did it.
And in the book she wrote just last year, or earlier this year, she said,
you know, after a lot of thought and a lot of evidence in the intervening
decade, I realize I made a mistake. And I...
MATTHEWS: She thought she wanted war with Iran? What was the
mistake? Mistake means you get like the -- you do something wrong, you
give the gift at Christmastime or Hanukkah to the wrong person. What was
her mistake? She did what she wanted to do.
FINEMAN: Yes, I know she did what she wanted to do at the time.
But because of the fact that she`s running again for president, I
think everybody is convinced, she trimmed her sails, and that`s what got
people like Webb interested in this.
MATTHEWS: Do you know what Hillary Clinton is getting really good at?
And she`s obviously a very hardworking, smart, good person. She`s really
good at last week`s or last year`s questions of five years ago`s questions.
But when is she going to get good at next week`s question? Because
that is what a politician has to be. Now, Bill Clinton could be slippery,
but he would have an answer, even if it was depends what your definition of
is, is, but he would have an answer that wouldn`t get him in trouble,
MATTHEWS: I think she played, as they say in the "Godfather"
parlance, she played the smart move. Being for the war in 19 -- 2002
thinking was the smarts.
MATTHEWS: She represents New York. That makes sense. A lot of
people are very pro-Israeli, are worried about anything in that region.
She also knew that supporting wars has a better track record for
people running for president than being doves.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s exactly right.
But I think that what her challenge is going to be is that she comes
off as not wanting to go off script. She comes off as inauthentic. So
when Webb basically comes forth and is saying, look, I don`t believe -- I
think that what we did was wrong at the war, he`s talking fresh speak and
that`s what the American people are going to look for.
And I think she`s going to have a really hard time actually being --
talking frankly to folks when it comes to this issue. She doesn`t want to
say she made a mistake, because all of a sudden...
MATTHEWS: She did, though.
KUMAR: Right. But she doesn`t want to say that because then she`s
that -- but Howard is right -- she`s going to be seen as a flip-flopper.
So, if she can`t basically say, look, I made a mistake and this is how
I would move forward, and at the same time, you have someone that I think
is viable because he is going to attract a lot of the Southern white
independent men that don`t want to vote for Hillary because they make --
she makes them uncomfortable, I think she`s going to have a really tough
MATTHEWS: See, my argument is that Hillary Clinton had information
more than we had. She has access to the Intelligence Committees on the
Hill as a United States senator from New York. If she wants to get
information, she can pretty much get it.
MATTHEWS: If she thought for a second that Iraq had nuclear weapons,
or was about to have them, she didn`t tell us. She had no evidence to
that. She didn`t have any more evidence than we have. She made a judgment
like we all did. And she made a decision for the war, and most of us said
CHARLES ELLISON, "THE PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE": I`m trying to sort of
wrap my head around how realistically Jim Webb expects that he will be the
next nominee for the Democrats in 2016.
MATTHEWS: Iowa. Iowa is a dovish state. Let`s talk about -- well,
Let`s talk about what -- the damage he can do. Iowa is pretty
isolationist. I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about what damage he could do. Can he raise the
ELLISON: Everybody likes the maverick model.
People think that he`s going to be sort of like this new John McCain.
Right? And it`s just like, I don`t know if people really want that, I
mean, unless they want to return back to sort of the old white man model
who is -- sort of who is hawkish as well as far as president. They have
got their fill of eight years of Barack Obama.
KUMAR: I actually think that he could be more like the Ross Perot or
the Howard Dean, where all of a sudden he becomes the populist rhetoric,
bringing a lot of folks that are turned off, unfortunately, by Hillary.
FINEMAN: Well, you`re focusing on -- you`re focusing on his aura of
authenticity, which I think is one of his big things.
MATTHEWS: Military man.
FINEMAN: But let`s talk a little bit about who he is.
He`s a military man. He was serving in the military when Rand Paul
was worshipping the Aqua Buddha in college.
FINEMAN: That makes him -- that makes him -- that makes him a
different kind of isolationist, Chris, or -- or somebody who`s skeptical of
war, because he comes at it from a 200-year tradition of mountain fighting
people that he wrote a whole book about.
ELLISON: Right. He`s an expert. He`s an expert on warfare.
FINEMAN: No, wait. He wrote a whole book about...
KUMAR: And that`s why you`re talking about John McCain, right.
FINEMAN: He wrote a whole book -- he wrote a whole book...
FINEMAN: ... about the Scotch-Irish in the mountains of Southern
FINEMAN: Those are his people. He is saying, I`m a warrior. I`m
from the warrior class.
FINEMAN: But I`m afraid of...
MATTHEWS: You`re scaring me, Howard.
FINEMAN: No, no.
MATTHEWS: You are. You`re scaring me.
MATTHEWS: That`s a great tradition, by the way. The warrior who --
it`s war, whether it`s Eisenhower or whether it`s Yitzhak Rabin or it`s
Anwar Sadat. You root for those people.
CHARLES ELLISON, THE PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE: Presidential contests, I
mean, they are beauty pageants. And also people, I mean, look at 2008,
McCain, Barack Obama. You go for the guy who`s on the cover of AARP, or
you go for the guy who`s on the cover of "GQ". And even though voters want
authenticity, correct, you know, they like that kind of maverick attitude,
at the end of the day -- Jim Webb, I got a lot of respect for him, but he`s
this gravely-voiced serious dude --
MATTHEWS: I`m sorry, Charles. You were not around when Gary Hart
upset Walter Mondale in every primary. Or that McGovern knocked off the
guy who couldn`t be beat.
FINEMAN: It`s not -- the threat to Hillary Clinton from Jim Webb, if
there`s going to be one, is not going to be in Iowa. It`s going to be in
New Hampshire. Because Jim Webb`s profile, as a sort of vaguely
libertarian yet conservatively social in some respects, skeptic of military
involvement, but an authentic guy with a military background, that`s
perfect for New Hampshire. And New Hampshire is the place where it`s easy
to vote in the other party`s primary.
Part of this is premised on the idea that white conservative men are
going to vote in Democratic primaries. Not a whole lot of them, but the
only place early on the scale where he might be able to do that would be
Iowa -- excuse me, New Hampshire and maybe South Carolina.
MATTHEWS: The Hillary people, run of the runners, putting the word
out he`s nuts. Are they going to keep that up?
FINEMAN: Well, I think it`s to their -- I don`t agree with the
premise of the article in "The New York Times." I think Jim Webb pushing
Hillary to the left would be great for her in the primary.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, VOTO LATINO: Absolutely.
ELLISON: Running for running mate?
FINEMAN: But it isn`t clear. The problem with him, what makes him
difficult to run against, he`s going to run from the left and the right
MATTHEWS: I know. (INAUDIBLE)
ELLISON: Well, it`s interesting.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. The roundtable is sticking around.
Everybody is revved up. We`ve got some great stuff. We`re going to issue
the naughty and nice list, which normally would be kind of childish if not
juvenile, but this year, it does seem to fit. There are good people out
there this year, and some really bad people.
The HARDBALL naughty and nice list is coming up in about a minute.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: The U.S. economy received an early Christmas present last
quarter with a big boost from consumers, growing at its fastest rate,
that`s the U.S. economy, since 2003. The Dow Jones Industrial Average
closed today for the first time in history above 18,000 points. Don`t the
Republicans like this?
Anyway, the government says the economic boost is thanks to consumer
spending on health care and business spending on structures and software.
That doesn`t hurt that Americans have a few more bucks in their pocket with
falling gas prices helping.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with our roundtable. This is the last show
Although it will be a while before politicians will have to account
for themselves again to voters, here`s a HARDBALL accounting right now.
We begin, of course, with the naughty list. At the top of that is the
man who not only has no remorse for the use of torture, even on some people
who turned out to be innocent, but he says he would do it again in a
minute, of course. I`m talking about former vice president Dick Cheney who
after all was in charge of all intelligence operations in the Bush
Let`s watch him in defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I was prepared and we did,
we got the authorization from the president, and authorization from the
Justice Department to go forward with the program. It worked. It worked
now for 13 years, we`ve avoided another mass casualty attack against the
United States. We did capture bin Laden. We did capture an awful lot of
the senior guys of al Qaeda who were responsible for that attack on 9/11.
I`ll do it again in a minute.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But torture made them talk, he`s saying and gave us
information we need, but it wasn`t torture. It was painful enough to get
the information, but it wasn`t actually torture, but really painful.
FINEMAN: Look, you can criticize Dick Cheney for pushing a bad policy
to begin with when he was vice president, about going to war in Iraq, lots
of questions about whether we should, about pushing the torture strategy,
which he did. About whether it was effective and there are many questions
What I fault him for in this year, since we`re talking about bad
people for this year, is his utter lack of nuance. It`s as though he wants
to say, I`m going to wade through the blood. It`s almost a sort of Russian
novel kind of thing that he`s into and I think it doesn`t serve him well.
It doesn`t serve the course of the country well.
MATTHEWS: But isn`t that his public personality?
FINEMAN: Yes, that`s who he`s become. I don`t think he was always
that way. I think he`s resigned himself to some kind of martyrdom which is
MATTHEWS: Here`s Governor Christie, of course, the New Jersey
governor, has made an art form of confronting and yelling at his own
constituents, which has landed him on our naughty list. Let`s watch him in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: After you graduate from law
school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end is
going to get thrown in jail, idiot.
And you know what, and you know what, and you know what? Let me tell
you, let me tell you this, you know what? It`s people who raise their
voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country. We`re
here to bring this country together, not to divide it.
I`ve been here when the cameras aren`t here, buddy and done the work.
I`ve been here when the cameras weren`t here, and did the work.
Damn, man, I`m governor, could you just shut up for a second, you
Sit down and shut up!
When they yell and scream at me, you know, some days I sit and listen
and take it and give a reasonable answer and response. If I`m in a cranky
mood, some days I yell back at them.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MATTHEWS: Well, I`d say, what do you think? Here`s the thing, he`s
denying as he displays bullyism that he`s a bully in private, in terms of
bullying those Democratic mayors up there in the bridge closing and all the
rest of the thing. And, basically, using on the border front tactics with
the mayor of Hoboken. Isn`t it hard to deny that you are what you look
ELLISON: You are what you are. I mean, you know, as a bridge-gate
wasn`t enough, you know, this Jersey attitude gate. And he feels like, you
know, that sells, that works with Jersey voters. We grew up across the
bridge from Jersey. We know how people --
MATTHEWS: But his numbers are down. His numbers are down.
ELLISON: His numbers are down in Jersey because people are kind of
like, they`ve had enough for Christie. I mean, he just -- he thinks that
that`s going to work in 2016, but wait until he gets down South and out
Midwest for --
MATTHEWS: I agree with you.
Maria, what do you think of this? Lame duck U.S. Congresswoman
Michele Bachmann attended a White House Christmas party this year, just
recently, her last as a member of Congress. She said she wanted to tell
the president personally something substantive about what she thinks is the
person of the day.
Here`s how she describes that conversation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: After the photo was done, I
turn to the president and I said, Mr. President, with all due respected,
I`m concerned about the Iranian nuclear program and I think it would be
wise to bomb the program before they obtain a nuclear weapon, because once
they obtain the weapon, the world changes.
And the president smiled and it was fairly condescending and
patronizing and said, well, it`s not quite that easy, Michelle. But that`s
OK, like I`m just, you know, an idiot and I don`t know anything.
And I said, no, Mr. President, seriously. This is on your watch.
They cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and I`m very concerned.
And so, anyway, that was it and I said, merry Christmas, and he said,
merry Christmas, and on I went.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I think Michele Bachmann can make the obvious seem
important. Everybody knows this president, any president, cannot allow
Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
KUMAR: Well, I think --
MATTHEWS: I say this as almost always a dove, there`s no way any
president can survive who did, because then the next president would have
to deal with it.
KUMAR: Well, good riddance to Michele Bachmann because she was a Tea
Party candidate who hated government and all of a sudden, she made her
whole career in government, right? No, she first was an IRS lawyer and
then basically moved up to become a member of Congress, and now, she`s
basically telling the president, hey, be careful with Iran. Thanks for
MATTHEWS: Are you Catholic?
KUMAR: I am.
MATTHEWS: OK, you can start with the nice list. I got one on the
inside here. That`s all I want.
MATTHEWS: Pope, what a year. Cuba, the whole thing, going up to the
bad priest and the curia, the whole thing.
KUMAR: So, two years ago, Chris, you`ve basically brought me in to
ask me this question. What I thought about the pope? And I said, he had
to basically soften his position on poverty, he had to talk a little bit
about gay marriage and he had to become -- a new generation of Catholics
walking them back into the church.
He`s been doing that. He`s been doing it in a way that is authentic.
He`s been talking about --
MATTHEWS: Why is he popular outside the church? Because he really
KUMAR: Because he`s saying what everybody has been saying behind
closed doors. Not in the last ten years, but the last 30 years. He`s
finally speaking truth to power, and they`re like, and people are
MATTHEWS: What`s wrong with the Catholic Church is for too many
years, Charles, it had too many closed doors.
ELLISON: It did.
MATTHEWS: Too much stuff behind the door.
ELLISON: Right, and the pope is willing to kind of address that and
take that --
MATTHEWS: And, let me tell you, who is your favorite? McCain or
Colbert, which one are you --
FINEMAN: I`ll take John McCain because I suggest we praise him. And
I will praise him for one specific thing, which is going against his party
and a whole lot of the military establishment, a whole of the other people
in the intelligence community in saying torture is morally wrong, it
doesn`t work. And is not worthy of American values.
And he went on the floor of the Senate and he told everybody and
anybody exactly how he felt which he has experienced. I`ve traveled to
Vietnam with John McCain.
MATTHEWS: You`ve been in that place.
FINEMAN: I went with him into the place where he had to survive for
five or six years. I think that gave him a moral vision on this particular
thing that he was utterly unafraid to state in front of the whole country
and the world.
MATTHEWS: Well-said. Thank you, Howard Fineman.
FINEMAN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Happy holidays, buddy.
And, Maria Teresa Kumar, thank you for this. And, Charles Ellison
from Philly, go Philly.
ELLISON: I wore a red tie, but I didn`t --
MATTHEWS: I did go all the way.
When we return, let me finish with the real meaning of naughty and
nice this year. Those words are childish and they seem to fit politics
these days rather nicely.
We`ll be right back with the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the year 2014.
Did you notice something about the naughty or nice list? The phrase
President Obama actually used in his press conference on Friday. Well,
normally, it would seem juvenile or even childish phrase to use on a
political show. Naughty, nice, are those adult words to use in
characterizing those engage in public affairs, those operating on the world
Well, right now, it seems they are. Let`s start with the naughty
list. Is there any doubt that Dick Cheney, Mr. Perpetrator and defender of
torture, deserves top billing, or that Chris Christie who`s public bullying
was once taken by me and others as cute and refreshing, is now seen as the
real thing? The thing we hated in high school, bullying. Find despicable
as a grown up.
And, finally, not to be indecent, but isn`t Michele Bachmann a
useless, disastrous holder of public office? Give me a good kernel of
reason why she even held it.
And now the nice, Pope Francis makes me happy, makes a whole lot of
people happy. People who never gotten much before, but the back of
religion`s hand. He speaks humbly of not being able to judge God`s
decision in creating gay people, who is he has to do such a thing, to think
such a thing as if he were God himself`s quality controller? God made gay
people, it`s Francis` job as he sees it, to help them. Help them find
truth, goodness and happiness. It`s his job to root for them in life as if
they were his own children.
John McCain, well, I`ve spoken well of him lately. He stood up for
Barack Obama when that woman in the campaign said he was something he
wasn`t. He called the president . And lately, he stood up against torture
based on personal, patriotic experience.
Steve Colbert, my God, the man knows how to make politics funny. He
knows how to make you feel good about it being funny. Let`s you enjoy
liberal progressive sentiments, even if you don`t share them by showing the
ripe absurdity of he other side politically.
There`s no one more seditious to the right than this imposter who
mocked it by doing a hilarious impression of it.
Naughty and nice after a tough year, but one that`s ending
surprisingly well. I`ll take it.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
Wishing you and your family a merry Christmas and the happiest of
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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