Hardball With Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/5/2016

Guests: Adam Kinzinger, Susan Page, Jeremy Peters, Jay Newton-Small, Anne Gearan, Andrew Card, John Brabender

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 5, 2016 Guest: Adam Kinzinger, Susan Page, Jeremy Peters, Jay Newton-Small, Anne Gearan, Andrew Card, John Brabender

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The tower treasures.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Well, the visitor`s list to Trump Tower at 5th Avenue and 57th Street in New York has become a who`s who or who was list of American ambition. Those who said the worst about Trump when he was a candidate headed to defeat are showing up hat in hand, hoping to get some of that golden patronage the man`s got to pass around.

The top prize, of course, remains secretary of state. The search to fill that role is widening as I speak, with new names added on like a traffic lineup in Manhattan. There`s still no indication that Donald Trump is anywhere near to making one of the key decisions of his presidency, who will serve as his chief diplomat.

Vice President-Elect Mike Pence ran through some of the top contenders yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE PRES.-ELECT: I think everyone that he`s talked to and has been talked about, whether it be a Rudy Giuliani or Mitt a Romney or a General Petraeus or Senator Corker or John Bolton and others, bring extraordinary background and qualities to this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, NBC News reports that several new names have been added to that list, even if they remain outside contenders. The Associated Press, meanwhile, is reporting the prospects of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, they say, are fading. Well, the new names include former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who was critical of Trump during the campaign, but who wasn`t? Also reportedly in the mix, the CEO of Exxonmobil, Rex Tillerson.

And one of the top contenders, General David Petraeus, appeared on television this weekend to audition for the role. He answered questions about his guilty plea in 2015 for mishandling classified government information.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. ARMY, (RET.): Five years ago, I made a serious mistake. I acknowledged it, I apologized for it, I paid a very heavy price for it, and I`ve learned from it. And again, they`ll have to factor that in, and also obviously, 38-and-a-half years of otherwise fairly, in some cases, unique service to our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s some news out of Trump Tower today on another front. Donald Trump announced he`s nominating Dr. Ben Carson to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson was a former 2016 rival, of course, with a history of controversial statements of his own about Obama, President Obama, about race, and about sexuality. We`ll get to that later.

Meanwhile, there was a surprising face making a visit to Trump`s offices today, former vice president Al Gore, who met with Trump and his daughter, Ivanka.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bulk of the time was with the president-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation. And to be continued. And I`m just going to leave it at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, for the latest on the transition, I`m joined by NBC`s Kristen Welker. I don`t know what`s going on. All I know, Kristen, is the list gets longer. The ones that came to the vineyard earlier aren`t getting much good time out of this. It must be very frustrating for Rudy Giuliani, for Mitt Romney, and the rest. Your thoughts? What do you know?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: You can only imagine. I mean, of course, you had Mitt Romney dining with President-elect Trump last week.

Look, here`s how to think about where things stand right now in terms of this race for the secretary of state. You have Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, who were really the two top contenders. But Chris, as we`ve been reporting, Trump world was so deeply divided over these two top contenders -- a lot of people saw Rudy Giuliani as a lightning rod, too much of a loyalist and an insider. Too many people thought that Mitt Romney had been too sharply critical of Donald Trump during the campaign.

So that`s why you`re starting to see those two contenders start to fall out of favor and the reason why President-elect Donald Trump is exploring new options, including Jon Huntsman, someone who was also critical of him, but of course, he`s the former ambassador to China.

Interesting, given that you have Trump making that controversial phone call with Taiwan, my sources telling me Huntsman didn`t advise him prior to that call. But at the same time, Huntsman`s been supportive of the fact that he made it, saying that it could be a smart foreign policy decision, a warning to China, making it very clear he`s going to be tough with them. Of course, a lot of critics on that front, as well.

And then Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxonmobil. He`s going to be here tomorrow. But look, at this point in time, Chris, Huntsman and Tillerson haven`t met with Trump, so they`re not serious contenders yet.

I think the names to really be focused on -- Petraeus, we know that Donald Trump felt very good about that meeting, and as you said, he was out on the Sunday circuit, sort of doing a test run, answering those tough questions about the fact that he pled guilty.

And also Bob Corker. That`s a name that keeps getting thrown around a lot, the president-elect very impressed by him, and they think he would be a good counterpoint to some of his tougher, more hawkish foreign policy members. So that`s where things stand.

But the overarching theme here, the bottom line, top officials are saying that the president-elect is not in a rush to make a decision. He is going to take his time because this is such a critical choice for him, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Kristen Welker, thank you. And don`t back up, even a foot. The dimensions -- the perspective from here looks like those buses are about an inch from you. Thank you so much, reporting from 5th Avenue.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: As I mentioned, Donald Trump today nominated Dr. Ben Carson to be secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And last month, Carson`s own team seemed to raise doubts about his qualifications to lead a major federal agency.

When Dr. Carson`s name was being floated for secretary of Health and Human Services, his business manager and close friend, Armstrong Williams said, "Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience. He`s never run a federal agency." God, this is honesty! "The last thing he would want to do is take a position that would cripple the presidency." You don`t get honesty like that very often.

When asked what made him qualify for the job at HUD, Dr. Carson said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. BEN CARSON (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I grew up in the inner city and have spent a lot of time there and have dealt with a lot of patients from that area and recognize that we cannot have a strong nation if we have weak inner cities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, during the 2016 Republican primaries, Carson`s background and some of his past statements about his childhood came under fire from, guess who, Donald Trump. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said that he`s pathological and that he`s got, basically, pathological disease. I don`t want a person that`s got pathological disease. I don`t want it!

At a fairly young age, 14, 15 years old. I didn`t. I didn`t. He took a knife and he went after a friend and he lunged, he lunged that knife into the stomach of his friends! But lo and behold, it hit the belt! It hit the belt! And the knife broke. Give me a break.

If you try and hit our mother over the head with a hammer, your poll numbers go up. I never saw anything like it. This is the only election in history where you`re better off if you stab somebody. What are we coming to?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Showmanship matters.

Anyway, joining me right now is the "Washington Post" columnist, a man in deep grief sometimes, MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I read your columns with a handkerchief actually...

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... and former senior strategist to Rick Santorum`s presidential campaign, John Brabender. Let`s talk about this -- first of all, secretary of state really matters. Let`s talk about that.

ROBINSON: Yes. It does.

MATTHEWS: And I sometimes think he`s auditioning for looks, appearances, who`s going to look right as my guy, and he`s going, Oh, well, bring Mitt Romney in, he seems very presidential. And then he didn`t really like him, probably. And by the way, Kellyanne Conway seems to have some power.

ROBINSON: She apparently does. I don`t know! You know, she spouts off and things either happen or don`t happen. Look, let`s -- for a change, let`s take a slightly more charitable view. I hope he takes his time, actually. I mean, he -- this is a man who`s starting from zero on foreign policy, got no foreign policy experience, doesn`t know anything about diplomacy, the history of our relations with any country.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: He just don`t know what`s happened. So...

MATTHEWS: You mean Pakistan has a rivalry with India?

ROBINSON: Well, gee.

MATTHEWS: You mean Taiwan is an issue with China?

ROBINSON: Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS: OK.

ROBINSON: So -- so when -- when these people who do have some experience - - I`m putting Rudy Giuliani aside, but Mitt Romney and General Petraeus and others come in, Jon Huntsman, when he does come in, and they say, you know, This is my view, this is where we (INAUDIBLE) I hope he listens. I hope he`s listening and considering and trying to figure out what kind of foreign policy he wants to implement. That`s the hopeful view.

MATTHEWS: This could be a good fishing expedition and we`ll end up with who? Bob Corker, who`s chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee?

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, I don`t -- if I had to guess, I`d say it`s either Corker or Petraeus. But look, I agree with you 100 percent. He`s taking his time. He`s making them audition. He did the exact same thing for vice president, if you`ll remember, where he said, Here`s who we`re thinking about. They all went out there. They were very public about trying to get their performances up. This is a good thing.

And I got to be honest with you. I think he`s made very good picks so far.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRABENDER: It`s not like he picked somebody from the second season of "The Apprentice" and made them, you know, attorney general...

MATTHEWS: OK, tell...

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER: You might not agree with them...

ROBINSON: No. No, it`s true.

BRABENDER: They`re all credible.

ROBINSON: They`re credible people. Ben Carson as secretary of HUD...

MATTHEWS: Yes, OK -- I mean, he lived in a house...

MATTHEWS: OK...

ROBINSON: you know, so housing. But other than that, I don`t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s sort of like getting married. You don`t have a picture of someone you`re going to marry, you fall in love with somebody you meet. You don`t know who what you`re going to -- who you`re going to meet.

But he seems to be going from such bizarre directions. He`s starts off with -- he`s got John Bolton, who`s a neocon all the way, I would say a hawk, and then he goes all the way over to somebody else who seems like they don`t have a foreign policy. How do you bring a neocon (INAUDIBLE) does he know the difference between the two of them?

ROBINSON: I think he probably knows the difference. He doesn`t know it in detail, perhaps, but you know, you listen to these people...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: We were talking about Mitt Romney, for example. Mitt Romney was so critical of the Muslim ban or anything that smacked of a Muslim ban.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: So how are they going to work out...

MATTHEWS: Well, somebody told me...

ROBINSON: ... a foreign policy?

MATTHEWS: ... he would never take the job as long as there was a Muslim ban in the works because he morally opposed it.

ROBINSON: Well, exactly. So I mean, even if you call it something else, if it`s really a Muslim ban, I don`t see how...

BRABENDER: If you look what he`s doing, thought, he`s not hiring by ideology, he`s doing it by skill set, which -- they have different skill sets. And I think that`s what he (INAUDIBLE). Second of all, the one thing all these people have in common, they`re not somebody who`s just going to say, Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS: OK.

BRABENDER: They`re going to be strong and say...

MATTHEWS: OK, why would he consider a guy like Huntsman, who was named ambassador to China by President Obama, and then took the job, and then went and ran against Obama for re-election? You have to have some measure of loyalty, some history of loyalty, don`t you? You don`t run against a guy who gives you a fantastic diplomatic post (INAUDIBLE)

BRABENDER: Huntsman is certainly the surprise for a number of reasons. One is, he`s pretty moderate. And the conservatives aren`t going to say great Jon Huntsman.

MATTHEWS: And the Mitt Romney crowd hate him.

BRABENDER: Right. Second of all -- but if you say China is everything right now...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRABENDER: ... nobody knows China...

ROBINSON: Jon Huntsman`s your guy.

BRABENDER: ... better than Jon Huntsman.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Mormon mission on Taiwan and he was ambassador to China.

ROBINSON: Right. And...

BRABENDER: That`s a lot.

ROBINSON: ... as you pointed out in the intro, the list of people who were not critical of Donald Trump at some point during the primary season is very, very short.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to Dr. Carson...

ROBINSON: Very short.

MATTHEWS: ... because he`s a very likable fellow. I`ve known him a lot time. He has a history -- he`s obviously a brilliant guy. But he also has a history in the world of politics, which he entered a few years ago, of making very controversial statements about President Obama, about race, and a topic not usually brought up, homosexuality. Here`s a sample.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: "Obama care" is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`ve been told that you said we`re living in a Gestapo age? What do you mean by that?

CARSON: I mean very much like Nazi Germany. And I know you`re not supposed to say Nazi Germany, but I don`t care about political correctness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think being gay is a choice?

CARSON: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you say that?

CARSON: Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight, and when they come out, they`re gay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama -- you referred to him as a psychopath. What did you mean by that?

CARSON: I said he reminds you of a psychopath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And tell me how.

CARSON: Because they tend to be extremely smooth, charming people who can tell a lie to your face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there you have the MO of a psychopath. Smooth!

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: Well, I did notice that Ben Carson is smooth and charming, but - - well, I won`t go there. Look...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He makes a good case for the (INAUDIBLE) right?

ROBINSON: Like you, I`ve known Ben Carson.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) wife, too, wonderful.

ROBINSON: I didn`t know his political views.

MATTHEWS: I didn`t, either. I never knew them either.

ROBINSON: He`s a brilliant pediatric neurosurgeon, one of the best of his time. I think he has insane political views on a number of issues And I would really worry about what he would try to implement as secretary of any department.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`ll see.

Over the weekend, by the way -- a little light-heartedness here -- "Saturday Night Live" did it again. They targeted Trump`s transition effort. Let`s watch them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEC BALDWIN, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Next I`m going to do what I promised my whole campaign and I`m going to build that swamp.

(LAUGHTER)

KATE MCKINNON, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": OK, and don`t you mean drain the swamp and build the wall?

BALDWIN: No, that`s too many things. Just smoosh them together. Smoosh! Smoosh!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, once again, Trump didn`t like it. He tweeted an aggressive reaction to the show. Quote, "Just tried watching `Saturday Night Live.` Unwatchable! Totally biased! Not funny! And the Baldwin impersonation just get worse. It can`t get any worse. Sad." That`s Trump talking.

Well, today Trump tweeted a defense of his Twitter habit. He wrote, "If the press would cover me accurately and honorably, I would have far less reason to tweet. Sadly, I don`t know if that will ever happen."

John Brabender, we are in for a tweeting president.

BRABENDER: And I do think that`s wrong. Of all the things he`s done recently, to tweet about China makes no sense to me whatsoever. I think his picks are great. I think he`s doing a lot of things great with his transition. I wish somebody would just take that thing away from him and I wish he would refrain...

MATTHEWS: Well, you`d have to sleep with him...

BRABENDER: ... from ever using it again.

MATTHEWS: ... to do that because he does it at, like, 5:00 in the morning.

ROBINSON: Five in the morning.

MATTHEWS: And how do you take it away from him?

BRABENDER: Well -- well, I`m just saying it doesn`t help him...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s -- let`s talk about a real thing, seriously. Ronald Reagan succeeded as a president, certainly politically and historically, because he had -- he the made the choice to pick a really serious chief of staff around him, who was willing to say, Mr. President, that`s not a smart thing to do this week. Why don`t you focus on the economy, about jobs and cutting taxes and stay away from the social issues stuff. It`s just going to get in trouble.

ROBINSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: Nancy Reagan did that, too. Does Trump have anybody around him with a bell that just says, Just don`t do that?

ROBINSON: I don`t know. I mean, I don`t know if Reince Priebus can do that, has the stature and the standing to say -- obviously, he doesn`t have the stature or standing to tell him not to tweet. So I don`t know of...

MATTHEWS: How about a seven-second delay like we have on television, where if you start to tweet and it gets out of hand, it doesn`t go?

ROBINSON: Or like a White House jamming -- I mean, don`t have they have control of communications in the -- seriously?

BRABENDER: Mike Pence is a -- I was an adviser to Mike Pence. I know Reince Priebus very well. I know Kellyanne very well. The

one thing they all have is tact, which is what you have to have with Donald Trump. You don`t go in there and you pull him into a room and just blast the hell out of him.

MATTHEWS: That`s for sure.

BRABENDER: What you do is say, Look -- and you have to walk him through why this doesn`t make sense. He won the election because in the final three weeks, he listened to advisers and acted presidential. And I think they`ll get him there this way, as well, quite frankly.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`ll see. I think it`s dangerous for the country to have him in this wacky mode, whatever your politics. Whether you`re a big progressive or not, you don`t want a president of the United States starting wars on his watch.

BRABENDER: I think he`s got to be careful...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: He has to be careful because other countries are paying attention!

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: ... take it seriously.

MATTHEWS: Anyway -- anyway -- anyway -- I don`t know how to say it except please, when you hear our president talk, don`t take it literally.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Eugene Robinson, can you translate into Portuguese?

BRABENDER: Might be brilliance in there, too!

MATTHEWS: Eugene Robinson...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... getting on swellingly (ph) here.

ROBINSON: There`s a problem.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, up -- coming up, Trump`s call with the leader of Taiwan wasn`t the spur of the moment congratulations call he made it out to be. It turns out it was long planned. Now, this is the serious problem. This wasn`t just a Twitter mood, and it could be an opening gambit in a major shift in strategy over how we deal with China, probably the most important relationship we`ve got in the world right now.

Plus, Joe Biden moments ago says he`ll run for president in 2020. We`ll get the latest on that in just a minute. We`ll see what that means.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, just moments ago, Vice President Joe Biden was up on Capitol Hill and he said he will run for president in 2020. NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell was one of the reporters with the vice president. She joins us now.

OK, Kelly, for real, for fun, for what?

KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, that`s what we`re trying to figure out. So let me set the scene. The vice president was here presiding over the Senate while a bill that has now been named in the honor of his son, Beau, who died of cancer, a cancer-related treatment bill -- and so he was here and it was sort of an emotional setting.

He came off the Senate floor. A small group of us were talking to him, asking him about what did this mean, and so forth. I said, you know, These are the final days of your time in office, did that add to the emotion? And he began talking about what it means for him in the Senate.

And then he said, I`m going to run again, and we actually laughed, thinking he was teasing because we assumed his career in public life had come to an end. And I will read exactly what he said.

He said, "I love this place," referring to public life. And there was a question, "Are you going to run again?" He said, "yes, I am. I am going to run, in 2020." "For what," the question. "For president. And also, you know, what the hell, man, anyway." That sounds like Biden, doesn`t it?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

O`DONNELL: And I said to him, Mr. Vice President, we`re going to run with that if you drop something like that. He said, OK, go ahead. Circled back around again. Mr. Vice president, were you kidding? And his answer was this.

First of all, he paused for four long seconds as he thought about what he was going to say. "I`m not committing to not running. I`m not committing to anything. I learned a long time ago fate has a strange way of intervening."

Now, Chris, as you understand, in the Senate, there are places where no cameras are permitted. So I did -- you know, recorded the audio on my iPhone, and I believe we have a clip of that...

MATTHEWS: OK, we have...

O`DONNELL: ... so you can hear it and see what you think based on his voice.

MATTHEWS: OK, Kelly. We`ll do it right now. Here it is.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m going to run in 2020. So...

QUESTION: For what?

BIDEN: For president.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: So what the hell, man, anyway.

O`DONNELL: We`re going to run with that, sir, you know, if you drop that.

BIDEN: That`s OK. That`s OK.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, were you kidding about running for president in 2020?

BIDEN: I`m just -- I`m not committing not to run. I`m not committing to anything. I learned a long time ago fate has a strange way of intervening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "Fate has a strange way of intervening."

He`s not going to claim he`s not going to run. It`s open to possibility. He seems like he wants us to think he might run.

O`DONNELL: That was clearly my impression.

His body language, I was looking him right in the eye. He understood. When I said, Mr. Vice President, we`re going to run with that, meaning, if you`re messing around, having fun, this is going to be a headline, so please think about that.

And my sense is that he wants to keep that door open. Now, he`s 74 years old now. Now the facts of the election have played out. It`s not even a month since the election. There is, I think, in a world, if Hillary Clinton had been president, certainly he would not have challenged her for reelection, but now with Donald Trump, a Republican, about to take office, might he reconsider it?

So, it is tantalizing delicious for those of us who like politics and have watched Joe Biden`s long time in public life and how passionate he is about it. We also saw that he really struggled mightily about the decision not to run in the primary against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and it had a great deal to do with the loss of his son and the healing his family needed.

He was teary-eyed talking about Beau with us just a short time ago. So my takeaway is that he wasn`t kidding. It`s not that commitment to run, but he wanted us to know he has not closed that door. That was my sense of it standing right next to him.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

You know what would be great, Kelly, if they would take a poll in the next couple of weeks, some big pollster, Gallup or somebody else, and they asked people who might run, who should run, I bet you he leads the pack. And that would be a nice present for Joe Biden.

Anyway, thank you, NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell. A great scoop.

So, let`s see where it plays on the front page tomorrow, top of the fold or bottom of the fold. We will see. We will be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was a courtesy call. The democratically elected president of Taiwan had called to congratulate the president-elect. And as a gracious man...

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": So, nothing should be read into it? Nothing new should be read into it?

PENCE: Well, I don`t think so.

I think I would just say to our counterparts in China that this was -- this was a moment of courtesy. The president-elect talked to President Xi two weeks ago in the same manner that was not a discussion about policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a guy that made a good bet when he went on that ticket.

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was vice president-elect Mike Pence yesterday on "Meet the Press." He was downplaying, of course, a telephone conversation we`re all talking about now between president-elect Donald Trump and the president of Taiwan, in what is being described as a breach of diplomatic protocol.

It`s always dangerous with the Chinese. It`s not about manners. It`s about war.

But "The Washington Post" reported today that the call was "an intentionally provocative move and was the product of months of quiet preparations and deliberations among Trump`s advisers about a new strategy for engagement with Taiwan."

Chinese considers Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist government took refuge after losing the mainland to Mao in 1949, to be part of China.

Trump is now the first U.S. president to have spoken with the Taiwanese leaders ever since way back when in the `70s. Anyway, China responded by calling the conversation -- `79, it was -- the conversation a petty move.

But Trump defended himself and the phone call in a flurry of tweets over the weekend, saying: "The president of Taiwan called me today to wish me congratulations on winning the presidency. Thank you."

And then he goes: "Interesting how the United States sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment, but I should not accept a congratulatory call? "Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency, making it hard for our companies to compete, heavily tax our products going into their country? The U.S. doesn`t tax them. Or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don`t think so."

That`s Trump, rousing the whole thing up.

Anyway, Andy Card was White House chief of staff under George W. Bush. And Anne Gearan is political correspondent with "The Washington Post."

Andrew, thank you.

I always think, we have avoided fighting with Russia ever since the Cold War really got going in `47 and with the Truman doctrine. And we have also avoided being too menacing towards China, because it`s a big country with a lot of people. And we saw what happened in the Korean War, where we just couldn`t match their numbers that they`re willing to throw into combat. So we have tried to avoid that.

Are we avoiding trouble with China right now or are we looking for it?

ANDREW CARD, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think we`re looking a bigger deal out of this than we should, candidly.

MATTHEWS: Well, go ahead.

CARD: And I actually don`t think it was wrong for president-elect Trump to talk to the president of Taiwan.

But the United States does not recognize Taiwan the way we recognize China with two systems, one China, two systems. That`s been a very delicate balance for a very long time. I`m not sure that president-elect Trump understood that balance in the conversation that he had. But I don`t fault him for accepting the phone call.

And, yes, I`m sure it was a contrived phone call. I`m sure that it was set up, but...

MATTHEWS: Yes. He wasn`t being punked.

CARD: But there should be recognition. We made a commitment to Taiwan a very long time ago. We do offer some protection to them. And we do have a relationship with them. But it`s a relationship that is not meant to offend China.

MATTHEWS: Right.

CARD: And that`s a diplomatic balance. So this is unusual diplomacy.

I had the privilege of representing the president of the United States at President Ma`s inauguration in Taiwan. I did not represent the people of the United States. I did not represent the United States government. I represented the president.

And that is a balance that has been such that we have maintained a good relationship with Beijing and with Taipei, and it is not an easy thing to do. So words matter. And I always tell a president, or a candidate for president, taste your words before you spit them out. The diplomats help you taste those words.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I always wonder, what speed does China move at? Do they get roused up or do they think long term, make decisions and act long term, and they don`t worry about these little flea-flicker things like a phone call?

ANNE GEARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it`s a little of both. They certainly are looking at a long game here, and they have been studying Trump for years and trying to figure out what kind of leader he would be should he win.

And so they will continue to do that and look at -- and look far into the future at the relationship with the United States that they expect to have 30 years from now, when they see themselves as our full military and economic peer, not only in the Pacific, but in the world, and are ready to challenge the United States much more frontally three decades from now.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GEARAN: They don`t want to do that now. But, on the flea-flicker point, yes, this really ticked them off. And they expressed that first, I thought, very sort of amusingly, to President Obama.

Their first call was to the White House, saying, like, hey, how come you can`t keep your guy in line here? Of course, Obama had nothing to do with it whatsoever. But in the Chinese way of thinking, Obama`s the head of state. He should be able to control that.

MATTHEWS: Do you think somebody in the media who has a big name, today`s Walter Lippmann, whoever that might be, should put out a column around the world, like an APB the police put out, don`t take what Donald Trump says seriously for a few months, because it isn`t that serious?

GEARAN: Trump has sort of tried to do that himself. Right?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Corey Lewandowski over the weekend said, don`t take him literally. You guys in the press take the guy literally. That`s your problem. It`s not fair.

GEARAN: What are we supposed to do?

MATTHEWS: I know. You have got a word processor, and you take notes, and you go with words.

CARD: It`s a big challenge. It`s a big challenge. It will be a challenge for everyone who is working around Donald Trump.

But I also think that he`s reflecting what`s happening in the world. We are a world without discipline right now when it comes to words.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who does a hell of a job, was asked about that phone call today. Here`s what Josh had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it`s hard to determine exactly what the aim was of the president-elect.

And the vice president-elect and his campaign manager were -- when asked about this over the weekend, indicated that these were courtesy calls -- or that this was a courtesy call, and the president-elect was merely returning that call.

"The Washington Post" today tells a different story, with some Trump aides indicating that this was a long-planned call and that this is part of a broader strategic effort. It`s unclear exactly what the strategic effort is, what the aim of this strategic effort is. And it`s unclear what exactly potential benefit could be experienced by the United States, China, or Taiwan. But I`ll leave that to them to explain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I have got to ask you something, now that I have got you here, Andy Card, because I like to grab people and catch them.

You`re here all the time.

Andy Card, what happened to the Republican Party in New England? Because I was counting the senators from New England anymore that are Republican. You have got Susan Collins left in all of the states of New England, where Trump won the election, but the old Republican Party that had some great senators...

(CROSSTALK)

CARD: We have got some great Republican governors, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Chris Sununu coming in, in New Hampshire.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. All right.

What happened to the Republican representation in the United States Senate from New England? It`s gone.

CARD: We need more of it. Yes, I admit that.

MATTHEWS: What happened?

CARD: Well, the Republican Party has got to get back to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s moved south.

CARD: Where it`s an inclusive party, rather than an exclusive party.

And Donald Trump`s victory actually proved to open some doors that hadn`t been opened for a long time. If you look across the nation, he attracted people that haven`t been part of the Republican establishment for a long time and they got engaged. And that will help to redefine the party.

The most popular governor in the United States today happens to be Charlie Baker, a Republican governor in Massachusetts.

MATTHEWS: I thought you were going to be governor.

CARD: You were almost alone.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Andy Card, who had the distinction of being the chief of staff, which is one of the most important positions in American life, with President Bush, the second.

Andy, thank you for coming here.

CARD: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And, Anne Gearan, always welcome.

Up next: Where can Democrats and Republicans work together? This is my dream. I know I`m very romantic about it, but I think there are things like infrastructure and things like that that they can actually do together.

After the bitter campaign, what issues can they work together on?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

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

The death toll in Friday night`s warehouse fire in Oakland, California, has risen to 36. Officials fear more bodies could be still in the rubble.

Tribal leaders are asking non-Sioux protesters to leave the North Dakota camp where they have been demonstrating for months now. The Standing Rock Sioux successfully blocked the Dakota Access pipeline from being built near its reservation after the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit.

Drivers in Portland, Oregon, are taking caution. Snow is creating a slippery situation in some areas -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In the aftermath of the most contentious elections in memory, both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, are trying to meet somewhere in the middle. According to the Pew Research Center, contempt for the opposing side, however, has been on the rise. Nearly 60 percent of Republicans have a very unfavorable view of Democrats; 55 percent of Democrats have a very unfavorable view of Republicans. That`s very unfavorable.

The group No Labels hopes to be the antidote to the rising partisan divide by bringing Republicans, Democrats, and independents together to pass problem-solving legislation.

Over the weekend, there was a glimmer of hope in that regard. Here`s what the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and the Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I really think we have a great opportunity in front of us to fix problems, produce results, and improve people`s lives. That`s why we`re here in the first place. And so that`s what`s going to matter at the end of the day.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We will engage where we can, and we will oppose where we cannot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me now for more is Representative Adam Kinzinger. He`s a Republican member of the Congress from Illinois. And he`s with the No Labels Problem Solvers Caucus.

Congressman, thank you for trying on this one.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Yes. You bet.

MATTHEWS: I would like to ask you about two issues which I think can be dealt with quickly. But I want to go to the one that people think is complicated. I don`t think it is.

Immigration. Every country in the world has a work permit to work in that country. I can`t go to Swaziland tomorrow and just move in and start running a business. You have got to get permission. So you should have permission, no matter how liberal the system is. I think we have to all agree every country has a right to limit to some extent who comes in the country.

KINZINGER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And it doesn`t have to be discriminatory, just the numbers.

And then to say, if you`re going to work here and not become a citizen, you need a work permit. If you want to become a -- citizenship, that will take longer. You have to do more work to do it. You have to learn the language and everywhere else we would have to do, or learn a language.

So, here`s the question. Why`s it so hard? Can`t they just do that? Why do we have to talk about walls and deportation, when what the real problem is, illegal hiring is in a magnet in this country for people to come here? But once they`re here, nobody really wants to throw them out unless they`re felons. So can`t we agree?

KINZINGER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Or both sides want the issue?

KINZINGER: No, I think you can.

And I think actually the way you phrased it, and when you talk about kind of a comprehensive -- and it`s gotten a bad wrap, but a comprehensive reform to immigration, including border security, making sure that`s important, but then figuring out what to do with those here and finding a system that works on the work side of it, it`s an 80 percent American issue.

So, I think, you know, right now, it`s kind of contentious in terms of, we had the build the wall thing, and then, you know, it was just contention on both sides. I think, when it settles down and we kind of take a deep breath, that`s an issue we can attack.

But I think there`s a lot of big issues we can attack first, and I think we`re going to have a really good opportunity to do that.

MATTHEWS: Well, 12-foot walls lead to 13-foot ladders, right?

KINZINGER: Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: So, I don`t think anybody thinks there`s a wall high enough. The Chinese wall didn`t stop anybody.

Let me ask you about this other one. I do think it comes down to hiring. People will come here for a job if you can get one legally. My view is, pay for everybody that`s here now with work permits, no more deportations, except for felons. Give people work permits.

But if they want to become a citizen, they have got to get in line behind the people from Poland and everywhere else that want to come here. Anyway, that`s my -- Chris Matthews` theory, which I think makes sense.

KINZINGER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about infrastructure, because we have a -- almost $20 trillion GDP. We`re getting close to that range.

What would we need in terms of a real make America great infrastructure campaign? What would it take?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Well, I think you`re going to have to have a bipartisan buy-in on this. And this is why it`s so important to say, OK, well, Republicans, you know, we took the chamber out here, we have the presidency now, we can`t just focus on running only our agenda through. We`re going to have to reach across the aisle.

Because on infrastructure, we can all agree that, you know, look, it`s in the Constitution that it`s the role of the federal government to provide post offices and post roads, which is obviously infrastructure.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KINZINGER: The problem is, how do we pay for it? And I think there`s really ways to get this done, whether it`s bringing some of the corporate profits that are parked overseas and taxing them at a lower rate, or even things like having grown up discussions about how we`re paying for that infrastructure in terms of revenue collection. I think if we get some courage out here, a lot of people have courage, but we`re going to need some big courage to tackle these big issues and I think it can easily be done, we just have to be willing to do it.

MATTHEWS: How do you overcome the fact that Democrats don`t want to spend money and Republicans aren`t trusted to spend it? So, nothing gets done.

KINZINGER: Yes, that`s kind of a huge problem. So, that`s why -- look, you have to be honest with the American people. So, you know, if, for instance, we have a program where we`re spending money, we need transparency to show where it is, I think we have to very aggressively try to get rid of --

MATTHEWS: I`m with you.

KINZINGER: Yes, and you have all of these different programs that are redundant. Let`s combine them together. Let`s make government effective and efficient, and I think we`ll earn the trust of the American people.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I like to see people -- people want to see what gets built. They don`t just where you spent the money.

KINZINGER: Yes, that`s right.

MATTHEWS: The problem with the Obama stimulus package is nobody can think of what gets built. It sort of gets peed away, if you will, to use a bad phrase.

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, trying to bring people together.

Up next, when we come back, the HARDBALL roundtable will be here with the latest twists and turns.

And also, this Joe Biden for president, a little thing that just started with Kelly O`Donnell. We have got to get to that, because he sounded, OK, serious. So, let`s find out what`s going on there.

We`ll be back with the roundtable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, DONALD TRUMP`S CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It`s expanding, because of, at the moment, there are no -- there`s not a finite list of finalists, only because he will interview with additional candidates earlier this week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Kellyanne Conway with the sunglasses on her head, yesterday at Donald Trump`s widening search for a secretary of state. Well, new candidates for the job include ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis, and the former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who NBC News is reporting is on the outer rings of contention.

I`m joined right now by the HARDBALL. Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today" and she writes front page stuff. Jay Newton-Small is a contributor at "Time". And Jeremy Peters is a political reporter with "The New York Times."

Jeremy, you spoke with authority during the breaks. So, speak now with authority. Who`s got the best shot to be secretary of state at this hour?

JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The best shot, it changes hour to hour. The Trump camp is very much a camp divided at this point. There are the lines that have been drawn for the last couple of weeks, where you have --

MATTHEWS: Give me the factions.

PETER: -- people who are pro-Romney. There are people who still think that, sure, why not give it to Rudy. He`s been a loyal supporter all along and he`s been adored by the grassroots.

You have people who want a third way. Some of those people want to see a military figure like a general, like General Kelly in there, or somebody even -- the Huntsman thing was curious to me today, because that to me showed that there is real division in the ranks. That didn`t leak intentionally. That leaked accidentally.

MATTHEWS: Is that, Susan, just to tick off Huntsman -- tick off Romney, because they hate each other?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: It`s true. That would be the ultimate way to needle Romney for not supporting him. I assume this circle is widening because Trump is not sold on any of the four people we were told were finalists. The longer it goes on, the less likely it is he goes to Giuliani or to Romney.

MATTHEWS: How about someone traditionally qualified? Is there anybody on that list?

PAGE: Huntsman was reasonably positive about Trump, when most of the establishment Republican was not. He was not a Never Trumper. He spoke in a positive way about Trump, early on, before he even started winning things. And so, while he wouldn`t be a favorite of conservative Republicans, you know, he`s pretty moderate Republican, maybe that gives him a little bit of traction.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk loyalty. Huntsman was named ambassador to China, a hell of a post, by Barack Obama. He then quit the post and ran against Barack Obama.

I mean, would you like that as a story line as someone who`s applying for a job, Jay?

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME: So are you saying that one of these guys are going to go ahead and challenge Trump --

MATTHEWS: No, but I wouldn`t think he would have a loyalty reputation.

NEWTON-SMALL: Well, I mean, look, he named Nikki Haley to his cabinet, who is a U.N. ambassador. He was definitely a huge critic of Donald Trump`s. I mean, so -- and there are -- and part of what he wants here, to some degree, is somebody who can bridge the establishment, somebody who can talk to both sides of the party.

PETERS: He wants someone who looks the party, too.

MATTHEWS: Boy, you are right where I`m at. You are right -- I think that this guy`s appearances -- it`s like, with all the women candidates, all very attractive. It`s the way he looks at things.

PETERS: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Trump Tower is gold. Everything about his family is gold, and everything has to look right.

PETERS: These men they project strength and virility and especially --

MATTHEWS: And swank.

PETERS: Like Petraeus, I was told after he met with Petraeus and the same was true of John Kelly, he admires their appearance.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PETERS: To them, they embody what Trump sees in a Trump secretary of state.

MATTHEWS: You know who`s like this? You know who`s like this? Nixon. He was in love with John Connelly, because he looked like secretary of the treasury.

PETERS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Anyway -- you`re laughing at me! You think I`m off something here?

PETERS: No!

(CROSSTALK)

NEWTON-SMALL: This is a television guy.

PAGE: -- who looks like -- Romney, Huntsman, they look like --

MATTHEWS: They look the part.

Anyway, let`s talk about something. It was -- we all like Uncle Joe. Joe Biden tonight was taped by Kelly O`Donnell, there`s "Roll Call", saying he`s not going to roll out, in fact probably roll in running for president in 2020.

PAGE: We all love Joe Biden, but this seems unlikely to me.

NEWTON: I mean, 20, he`ll be 78 years old. That`s got to be the person ever running for --

MATTHEWS: He`ll just be beating the House leadership at the turn, because they`re all older than him. Clyburn`s older than him, Pelosi`s older than him. Steny`s older than him. They`re all older than Biden.

(CROSSTALK)

NEWTON-SMALL: Really?

MATTHEWS: Don`t argue with me.

NEWTON-SMALL: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I just checked it, because they were taking heat in this case, 77, 76, 78. It`s unbelievable.

PAGE: The Democrats have to eventually move on to a new generation.

MATTHEWS: When would that be?

PAGE: This might be the moment.

NEWTON-SMALL: Maybe after a huge bruising loss.

PAGE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know. Jeremy, who`s going to be the next Democratic nominee for president?

PETERS: I don`t think it`s going to be Biden. Something tells me tonight this was more about being caught up in the emotion of that moment. A bill that just passed that was that was dedicated to his son and I think that could have gotten to him.

MATTHEWS: And I think his son did ask him run.

PETERS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It will make sense.

What a great guy. Joe Biden, I hope you take care of yourself.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, it happened, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has conceded the governor`s race. McCrory, a Republican who pushed the bathroom bill, remember that baby, which critics say were discriminatory against transgender people, ended his campaign today and promised to help his Democratic challenger Roy Cooper get into the job.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

And I`m -- Susan, tell me something I don`t know.

PAGE: I interviewed Tony Blair this afternoon.

MATTHEWS: Tony Blair.

PAGE: And he left 10 Downing Street when he was 54. Next month, Bill Clinton leaves the White House 55 years old. His advice to Bill Clinton is, you need to find something you feel really passionate about and keep doing it so you have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

MATTHEWS: This is advice to Hillary or Bill Clinton?

PAGE: This is to Bill. This is advice to Barack Obama leaving office at a reasonably early age.

MATTHEWS: I think I like Hugh Grant better.

But go ahead.

NEWTON-SMALL: So, you see, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are the two leaders in the Senate absolutely by the end of their tenure hated each other. They rarely, rarely talked.

But I did hear from both of their staffs that when they do talk on the floor of the Senate, the one thing they could always talk about was a mutual love of the Nats. That`s the one thing they bonded overall the way to the end.

MATTHEWS: That`s something I don`t want to know. I`m just kidding. Go ahead. I`m a Philly`s guy.

PETERS: So, talk of Jon Huntsman as secretary of state is probably not going to happen. The real talk is what Jon Huntsman might do in 2018 and that he may primary Orrin Hatch.

MATTHEWS: He`s going to challenge him if Hatch runs again?

PETERS: That`s what some people are speculating, absolutely. He would be a really strong contender. Orrin Hatch is beloved in Utah. He`s getting up there in age and to spend --

MATTHEWS: I think beloved might be overstating it. But anyway, I worked against him in his first race. That`s a long --

PETERS: You`re biased, you`re biased.

MATTHEWS: -- in Utah.

Anyway, Susan Page, thank you, dear. You match up with the -- what are these flowers?

PAGE: Poinsettias.

MATTHEWS: And Jeremy Peters, who`s brilliant. And Jay, my pal, Jay Newton-Small.

When we return, a shameless display by the people vying to be picked by Trump for any job.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Is there no shame? Have you noticed any lately? Romney, Huntsman, by golly, they can`t wait to tell how much they downright adore Donald Trump. Generals practically marching up the escalator right now looking for jobs.

Giuliani has to wait for the word to come. He`s still waiting. First, he`s forgot about it and Trump is loving this too much. Every day, he gets up and shouts out, I`m not seeing anybody in particular, I`m just playing the field.

And so, the beat goes on, the shameless kowtowing continues and nobody even knows what kind of chief diplomat secretary of state Donald Trump wants. Does he want a professional, an ambitious amateur, a realist, a neocon?

Nobody knows if Trump knows the difference between the two or even cares that he doesn`t.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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