Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/29/2016

Guests: Hunter Walker, Annie Karni, James Woolsey, Jeremy Bash, Paul Singer, Catherine Rampell, Autumn Withers

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 29, 2016 Guest: Hunter Walker, Annie Karni, James Woolsey, Jeremy Bash, Paul Singer, Catherine Rampell, Autumn Withers

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Punishing Putin.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in tonight for Chris Matthews.

President Obama struck back at Vladimir Putin, this afternoon the White House announcing sweeping new actions to punish Russia for what our intelligence agencies conclude is its role in interfering in this year`s presidential election.

Thirty-five Russian diplomats who the president called "intelligence operatives" were given 72 hours to leave the United States. Russian intelligence services were sanctioned, as was the head of one of those intel services and three of his deputies. Three companies were also sanctioned. They allegedly provided support to Russia`s cyber-operations. In addition, two facilities in the U.S. owned by the Russian government are being shut down.

In a statement, the president said, "All Americans should be alarmed by Russia`s actions. In October, My administration publicized our assessment that Russia took actions intended to interfere with the U.S. election process. These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government."

And he said, there could be additional moves made against Russia, "these actions," the president`s statement saying here, "are not the sum total of our response to Russia`s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized."

Late today, President-elect Donald Trump released his own statement. He said, "It`s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interests of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation."

For more now, I`m joined by NBC`s Ron Allen. He is at the White House. So Ron, just in terms of what the administration did today, there are a couple different fronts that they are proceeding on when it comes to these sanctions. What exactly did they do? And what effect -- practically speaking, what effect will all of this have on Russia, any?

RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I think some. They certainly hope so here at the White House.

And what`s most important, I think, Steve, is that these sanctions, which basically freeze assets and restrict business dealings with Americans go to the highest levels of the Russian government and they name names in the intelligence service. And those individuals may not have a lot of assets that the United States has access to, but this, I think, is meant to serve as a deterrent to others in Russia that this is what -- part of what the United States will do.

I also think it`s significant that the allegations were not just about hacking into the election, but also about harassing diplomats abroad and about spying, Russian spying here in the United States, which is why those 35 so-called operatives are being expelled and why those two Russian-owned compounds are being shut down. They`re allegedly involved in espionage.

And there are a number of Russians who were named to our allegedly well- known cyber -- cyber thieves, who have been accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets from the United States, from financial institutions, and from e-commerce companies. So this was sweeping and it was beyond the election.

And also, I just want to point out that, apparently, there was no involvement by the incoming Trump administration in this. Lisa Monaco, the director of homeland security and counterterrorism here, made a point of saying that they were notified this morning, the Trump administration was, that something was going to happen and presumably what was going to happen, but they were not consulted. They were not brought into the loop and into the decision-making process about what the United States would do.

Also, the administration -- the Obama administration has hinted strongly that the public portion of this is only a small part of what they`re going to do. They`ve hinted strongly for weeks now, for months, that A, we`re not even going to tell the public anything that happened, so it`s significant they did reveal all of this, but I think it`s pretty safe to assume and based on President Obama`s statement that there is much more that they are going to do or are doing that`s covert, that the administration says the targets of this action will know something has happened, but the public may not.

And I`ve heard a number of analysts say that that might be more punishing and more -- and get the attention of Vladimir Putin perhaps more directly because this is the kind of stuff he does, or he`s been known to do, covert activities, when he was back in the spy community, in the KGB.

So a very sweeping set of actions taken here by the administration under mounting pressure to do something, by the way, of course. And it remains to be seen how President-elect Trump will react to this, what he will do. But clearly, the Obama administration has tried to lay out a set of steps that they have taken that, to some extent, President-elect Trump has to respond to. He has to either continue these sanctions or stop them.

And by doing so he takes a position. And obviously, there`s a lot of pressure in Congress, bipartisan pressure, to take very strong action against the Russians because the election, because of a number of other things, as well -- Steve.

KORNACKI: All right, Ron Allen at the White House. Ron, thanks for that.

The White House today also saying Russia`s cyber activities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in U.S. democratic institutions, sow doubt in the integrity of our electoral process and undermine confidence in the institutions of the U.S. Government.

For more on today`s big announcement, I`m joined by James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA. He was an adviser to Donald Trump`s campaign on national security and intelligence issues. And Jeremy Bash -- he was chief of staff to former defense secretary Leon Panetta.

James Woolsey, let me start with you because Donald Trump, a man you`ve given advice to, has a big decision to make. He`s coming into office 22 days from now. The president who is leaving office just put these brand- new sanctions in place.

If Donald Trump`s asking you for advice, does he keep those sanctions in place or does he get rid of them? What would you say?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FMR. TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, rather than forecast what I would advise him, let me just say what I think, myself.

I think that the Obama administration missed a bet on this by not taking legal action. Now, for anybody who is overseas and was hacking into us, we`re probably not going to get him extradited by Russia to the United States. But for people in this country and people who have done something that there is evidence of, that is a crime, I don`t see why not to proceed under the criminal law with some of these individuals.

I think that puts us more in a position of having made a judgment that -- have enough evidence for it to be an indictable offense. And I think that then the Russians are in the position of having to explain or defend themselves, and rather than being in this curious situation that the Obama administration has gotten us into, which is...

KORNACKI: Does that mean you -- do you think...

(CROSSTALK)

WOOLSEY: ... just politics.

KORNACKI: Do you think the sanctions then are not a good idea?

WOOLSEY: Well, I think some of them are. And I think they would have more teeth, the ones that can be utilized this way, if they were brought into our legal system. I don`t see a reason in this case not to do that.

KORNACKI: Jeremy, you hear James Woolsey mention the word "politics" there. This is interesting. In 22 days, a new president is coming into office. There was no -- there was nothing compelling President Obama to take this step today, as opposed to collecting all the information, collecting all the evidence -- and apparently, they`re telling us they think they`ve got more coming in the next 22 days -- and handing it off to the next president and saying, Here`s what we`ve got. You`re the president. You have to live with as president whatever sanctions you decide to impose or not to impose, and let the next president make a decision.

There was an affirmative decision to do this now and to take this out of the purview of the next president. Does that demonstrate, do you think, on the Obama administration`s part, a judgment they didn`t think Donald Trump was going to make the decision they wanted?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, the most interesting document that the White House released today here was an assessment by the FBI and by the Department of Homeland Security. And it`s called a joint analysis report. And this lays the factual predicate, the unassailable factual predicate that Russian intelligence services were, in fact, behind the effort to put a thumb on the scale of the U.S. election, which is an astounding statement in and of itself.

And what this document does is it actually gives the basic information -- which actors within the Russian government, what were their Internet protocol addresses, what was the malicious code that they used to try to infiltrate our democratic process.

And I think -- I just want to mention one line from this document because it`s so revelatory. It says, "This activity by Russia was directed at the U.S. government and its citizens."

And I think the point is that the next administration, when they come in, they will find that Russian hacking and Russian cyber-activity will be directed at the whole government, not just the Obama government, it`ll be directed also at the Trump administration and the government under Donald Trump.

And so they`re going to have to deal with this one way or another. This is not something they can turn a blind eye to.

KORNACKI: Are we -- let me -- let me...

BASH: This is nothing they can sweep away.

KORNACKI: Let me ask you this, though, just a bigger-picture question here. Is the -- are we just discovering this now? I mean, there are some specifics here, obviously, in terms of what came out through this Wikileaks, through the e-mails from the Democratic Party and everything.

But the idea of Russia, the idea of an adversary, the idea of a country that has the ability to potentially hack, at least, would be trying to get into a political party, into the government, into an educational institution -- I mean, that`s one of the things this report seems to say, that this has been happening for a long time before now.

BASH: It`s been known since the summer, and then it was revealed publicly in October. And now here we are post the election by a few weeks, and the full complement of information can now being released.

WOOLSEY: To come close to quoting former president Clinton in a different context, it all depends on what the "this" is. The Russians have a program called "disinformatsia," disinformation. They doctor photographs. They rewrite things. They forge. They have a lot of people, thousands of people involved in doing it, and they`ve been doing it since the 1930s, anyway.

And they use it to go against institutions in the West that they believe damage them. They go against democratic political parties in Europe. They go against the Catholic church. They go against Jews. They believe that anybody that might resist their views and the kind of power they want to have, they would like to undermine their credibility.

And so Russians have been doing this for nearly three quarters of a century. What they -- What`s new is cyber, which has this characteristic of being able to be masked much better than the other methods of moving militarily (INAUDIBLE)

KORNACKI: And so -- and so the Obama administration is saying today they`ve unmasked it. They`re putting this report out there. They`re putting these details out there. And yet the man you advised still given no public indication that he`s persuaded Russia was actually trying to do this. He`s made public comments saying, Hey, you really can`t prove that anybody did it. He`s saying we should -- you advised...

(CROSSTALK)

WOOLSEY: He may well be thinking and consulting his senior people, which I would suggest is what you want him to do. And let me add...

KORNACKI: Is he -- is he -- is he taking it seriously enough, though? You`ve been around him. Is he taking this seriously enough, in your judgment?

WOOLSEY: Well, I`m certain he`ll take it seriously. But that -- "seriously" may not mean make a decision in one day. It may be better to take it seriously and take it seriously for several days. Anyway...

BASH: But -- but let me also add, because Director Woolsey led the Central Intelligence Agency and knows how important it is when there is strong trust between the intelligence community and a president and also when there isn`t strong trust, how damaging that can be in both directions.

And I personally believe, having served at the CIA -- and I believe Director Woolsey would agree with this -- that it is going to be very important for this White House, this administration to listen to the intelligence briefings, to receive those intelligence briefings, to hear from the non-partisan professional analytic cadre at the agency and across the other intelligence agencies and to take that into consideration and put it into the policy mix.

They may come out with a policy view that some will agree or disagree with, but at least to have that factual basis of the intelligence picture has got to be a critical part of presidential decision making.

WOOLSEY: And they don`t need to talk about it. Teddy Roosevelt had it right, Speak softly and carry a big stick. And sometimes, the softly is so soft, you don`t -- aren`t heard at all.

They would be far more effective, I think, by using their cyber and other tools in such a way as to brace (ph) Russia substantially. And instead of issuing awful statements and insulting and getting into this crazy kind of spin that they`re starting to get into, it looks like, what about saying something that`s friendly...

KORNACKI: Well, wait, wait. When you say...

WOOLSEY: ... and helpful because they`ve just lost 90 people, military people, and the Red Army Chorus, which is a big institution in Russia. Why not offer sympathy for that?

KORNACKI: You said getting into this...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: I want to be clear what you`re talking about. You say, "getting this crazy kind of spin." Where are you seeing the crazy kind of spin in this?

WOOLSEY: I was thinking of the Obama administration, and I`m thinking particularly of their trying to make the overall situation back (ph) with the situation with Israel look as if Israel is the problem and its settlements. And I think that is very far from true. I think the heart of the matter is that the problem is that the Palestinians want to kill...

KORNACKI: Right. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: I just wanted to be clear, you weren`t talking about today`s -- announcement today and the report that was put out there. I just want to be clear what you`re...

WOOLSEY: One needs to pay attention, I think, to what has happened and has led up to it. That`s what...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: And Steve, if I could just...

KORNACKI: Very quick final word, Jeremy, yes.

BASH: A different frame, of course we`ll express sympathy for the plane crash that took down 90 members of the Russian vocal chorus, but Russia today is doing a number of nefarious things around the world. They are allowing the liquidation of Aleppo and the assault on a civilian population. They are confronting NATO and NATO allies all across Europe. They have annexed Crimea and have controlled Ukraine. They`re doing things that are not helpful. They attacked out election process.

And I think that`s got to be the frame. That`s got to be the mode. I agree with Senator McCain and Senator Graham. This has to be job number one for the next administration.

KORNACKI: Yes, no, I -- and the irony -- boy, if anybody remembers four years ago, it was Mitt Romney, President Obama`s opponent, who said, Russia, Putin our number one geopolitical foe. He was ridiculed by the Democrats, ridiculed by Barack Obama, and this is how the Obama administration ends. There is definitely some irony there.

James Woolsey, Jeremy Bash, thank you both for joining us. Appreciate that.

Coming up, the first big fight of 2017 will be about "Obama care." Trump and the Republicans want to repeal it, Democrats trying to protect it at all costs. That`s ahead.

Plus, call it a Rockette revolt. Several members of the famed dance troupe don`t want to perform at Donald Trump`s inauguration. Tonight, we`re going to meet a former Rockette who says they shouldn`t perform at Trump`s big day at all.

And a special end-of-the-year edition of HARDBALL roundtable. We`re going to pick the biggest game change moments from politics from the 2016 campaign, and we`re going to make some predictions about what to expect in the year 2017. And finally, three things you might not know as we wind down the year 2016.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: All right, tomorrow on HARDBALL, join Chris Matthews for a special look back at some of his hardest-hitting moments from the presidential campaign. He`s going to have highlights from his college tours, from town halls with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, even Gary Johnson. That is tomorrow, 7:00 o`clock Eastern.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL. Democrats are preparing for battle in the next few weeks as Republicans in Congress and President-elect Donald Trump have repeatedly said their first order of business in the new year will be to repeal President Obama`s landmark health care bill, "Obama care."

The incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders -- they are all calling for a national day of action on Sunday, January 15th. That`s just a few days before Trump will be sworn in.

And in their first stand against Republican efforts to roll back health care reform, Democrats are pushing for organized rallies across the country to oppose any changes to Medicare and the Affordable Care Act.

The Democrats say, quote, "It is important to bring the American people together to fight this radical proposal. Millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump after he promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He must be held to those promises and should veto any legislation which cuts these vital and necessary health programs."

Earlier this month, when pressed by reporters, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell failed to describe the GOP`s replacement for the millions of American receiving health care through "Obama care."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We will move right after the 1st of the year on an Obamacare replacement resolution, and then we will work expeditiously to come up with a better proposal than current law, because current law is simply unacceptable and not sustainable.

QUESTION: Will there be any framework established before you guys do a repeal in terms of what a replacement..

MCCONNELL: We will let you know after the 1st of the year.

We`re going to move forward first, first with the Obamacare replacement resolution. What comes next is what comes next.

QUESTION: Does that mean...

MCCONNELL: That means that, as I said earlier, we will move first with the Obamacare replacement resolution and then we will come with what the replacement actually will be. I don`t know how many times I have to say the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: All right, Paul Singer is a White House correspondent with "USA Today." Catherine Rampell is an opinion writer with "The Washington Post."

So, Paul, what will this look like? Practically speaking, Obamacare was passed in 2010. Every Republican running for office since then has been campaign on repeal and replace. You will now have a Republican president, a Republican House, a Republican Senate. They have got that trifecta they have been looking for to repeal and replace Obamacare.

I know there`s no detailed replace plan out there right now, so take us through it. Practically speaking, what do you think is going to go down in January?

PETER SINGER, "USA TODAY": Practically speaking, what we expect the Republicans to do is to pass what they call a budget reconciliation bill, which does not require a 60-vote majority in the Senate. That`s the key.

They only need 51 votes to pass that thing. And it can have in it some fairly simple language saying that we are repealing these chunks of Obamacare, comma, effective date a couple of years from now, because they have been pretty clear that you can`t just pull the plug all at once.

What they`re going to do, as I think the majority leader is trying to explain, is first you pass a thing saying, yes, we are closing down this law. But you also say, but it remains the law of the land until we pass some other legislation that replaces it. You can`t just have no health care system at all.

KORNACKI: So, Catherine, they have got this -- the Democrats have this day of action on the 15th. Hillary Clinton spent the entire campaign saying, don`t elect Donald Trump, he wants to repeal Obamacare.

Donald Trump`s going to be the president. Democrats aren`t going to have the votes. Is there anything they can do?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The best thing that they can do is to educate voters, because the problem is that Obamacare as a brand is very unpopular.

The things that Obamacare does, for the most part, very popular. And Americans don`t actually realize that the things that they like about the law are part of the law itself. So what Democrats need to do is to gin up support, to educate their base, and even beyond their base to get them to say, hey, keep these things around. Maybe rebrand it, sure, do whatever you want, call it Trumpcare for all I care.

But they need to gin up some constituent support.

KORNACKI: But is there an indictment of Democrats that they haven`t been able to do that in six years?

RAMPELL: Oh, absolutely.

KORNACKI: Because I have been hearing that since that began, since this thing came in. They said once people learn the basics of this thing, once they learn what is in it, they are going to like it. I haven`t seen the numbers turn in six years.

RAMPELL: No. Americans don`t like Obamacare. Again, it`s the name Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, whatever you want to call it, but they actually like the things that it does.

They like the fact that you can`t be denied insurance based on preexisting conditions. They like the fact that young people can go on their parents` insurance plans. They like a lot of these various features. They like subsidies, for that matter. They like being able to get Medicaid if they`re poor enough to get Medicaid.

There are many components of it that are crucial to people`s lives, that people don`t expect to be going away that could potentially go away, for that matter, if Republicans get their agenda.

KORNACKI: Paul, you mentioned the comma, the idea that, hey, this will be repealed, comma, effective whatever. You kick it -- excuse me -- kick the can down the road a little bit.

What about, too, I`m kind of imagining a scenario here where Republicans -- quote, unquote -- "repeal it," but they also leave in the ban on denying people coverage with preexisting conditions, they leave in some kind of language that allows kids to stay on the parents` policy after they`re 18, after they`re 21.

They keep doing it year to year as an emergency extension or something. So they have repealed it, but they have left the popular stuff in place. Is that where this could go?

SINGER: Yes.

In fact, Speaker Paul Ryan has laid out some proposals for how he would change the health care system, and they`re very clear that they want to maintain some of those provisions, as you`re saying, you know, preexisting conditions in particular, that are popular and that they see as useful and are sort of broadly supported.

I think what they`re really going to aim for is the mandate that you have care, that you have health care, the mandate that employers provide it. Those are the sort of things that the Republicans really want to target. The question is how you do that without just throwing a whole bunch of people off of health care or making health care completely unaffordable.

RAMPELL: And the whole thing unravels, right? If you say that insurers cannot deny people coverage who have expensive preexisting conditions, but you don`t require healthy people to get coverage, which is essentially what this one unpopular piece of the law does, the individual mandate, then the whole system unravels, because the people who would be cheap for insurers, who offset the risk of the expensive sick people, drop out.

And then that jacks up prices. And so then the next layer of people drop out.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: I get what you`re saying.

But is there a bigger picture lesson here for Democrats? The idea that after six years of trying to explain what you`re explaining right now to the American people, the idea of trying to say, hey, look at this component, this component, this component, that if you`re going to do some kind of major addition to the social safety net, it`s got to be easy to understand.

It`s got to be Social Security. You turn 65, you get Social Security.

(CROSSTALK)

RAMPELL: Ideally, that would be lovely. The problem is that health care is really fricking complicated.

KORNACKI: What if the lesson is -- because this has been a thing liberals have been calling for years, the idea of Medicare for all?

RAMPELL: That would be simpler, both to understand and probably to administer, than having this patchwork of an increased Medicare -- Medicaid -- excuse me -- system, this, you know, graduating subsidies, Medicare, et cetera.

The problem is that Medicare for all sounds like socialism to a large subset of the American population. It`s a single-payer plan.

KORNACKI: Paul, you just had a socialist win I think 15 or 20 Democratic primaries. I`m kind of wondering if this -- if Obamacare unravels, if Republican essentially kill it off, and the legacy is it wasn`t a very -- a program that never got that popular, do Democrats move to the left on health care going forward and start saying, let`s simplify?

SINGER: It`s possible. It ended up being a very popular thing for the Democrats during the primaries.

I think, you know, you have to keep in mind, this was a law that passed without a single Republican vote. I am not assigning blame to anybody for that fact, other than the fact that there was no bipartisan support for this thing from the start.

As soon as it was called Obamacare, it became something that Republicans could uniformly disparage and despise. If it had a better name for the bill, the polls always showed that, if it was called Obamacare, people opposed it. If it was called the Affordable Care Act, people didn`t oppose it nearly as much.

So to the degree this is tied to Obama`s legacy and passed without a single Republican vote has made it easy for Republicans to oppose throughout the tenure of the Obama presidency and to prevent it from being implemented fully.

Really interesting question now is, if they pass a Trumpcare, could you see a position where Democrats in the Congress refuse to allow them to pass legislation they need to implement that, at which point we just have partisanship essentially trumping policy entirely?

KORNACKI: One party changes the traditions a little bit on Capitol Hill, the other party takes that and runs with it, that`s the -- that`s part of our history.

SINGER: Right.

KORNACKI: Thank you, Paul Singer, Catherine Rampell. Appreciate the time.

Up next: Trump`s inauguration just over three weeks away. And according to reports, some members of the Radio City Rockettes do not want to perform at the inauguration. When we return, we are going to meet a former Rockette who says they shouldn`t.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD PIRO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Todd Piro. Here`s what`s happening.

A Syrian cease-fire is in effect between the government and mainstream rebel forces. The truce excludes the Islamic State group and al Qaeda`s Syrian branch in the war-ravaged country.

Meteorologists say power outages and travel delays are expected as a blizzard moves through Northern New England, that storm expected to dump up to two feet of snow.

And after dying just a day after her daughter, sources say Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher will be honored side by side in a double memorial service -- now back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

KATE MCKINNON, ACTRESS: Also, I have put together a list of people who have agreed to perform at your inauguration. It`s...

(LAUGHTER)

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: So many great names here, really. I love them both.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was "SNL" having a little fun with Donald Trump over the reported difficulties his transition team is having when it comes to finding people who want to perform at his inauguration.

Among some of those who have declined requests so far, Elton John, Garth Brooks, Celine Dion, Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli.

The Trump team has secured performances from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Radio City Rockettes and Jackie Evancho from "America`s Got Talent" -- I hope I said that right -- who will sing the national anthem.

But on Tuesday, in an exclusive interview with "Marie Claire," one Rockette described the turmoil that`s ensnared the dance troupe since they have been asked to perform.

The dancer, speaking anonymously, under the pseudonym Mary, told the magazine said -- quote -- "We do a lot of events, but there have been no events that could cause trauma. And doing this would add trauma for some people." She added: "This is making our show, our job, our name branded as right-wing."

She goes on to tell the magazine that some Rockettes fear losing their jobs if they refuse to perform. Now, last week, the company managing the Rockettes told NBC News that for a Rockette to be considered for an event, they must voluntarily sign up, are never told they have to perform at a particular event.

For more now, I`m joined by former Rockette Autumn Withers.

Autumn, thanks for joining us.

I`m trying to figure out. So we have got one Rockette, one current Rockette speaking out, not -- anonymously right now saying she doesn`t want to be there, saying you would be branded as right-wing if you go to that.

I guess I`m having a little hard time, though, seeing where the outrage or the controversy is here. It`s not a Trump rally. This is the inauguration. And the Rockettes, as I understand, have performed at past inaugurations. These are generally national events. And the individual Rockettes are being told, hey, if you have got a problem with it, if you don`t want to be there, you don`t have to be there.

AUTUMN WITHERS, FORMER RADIO CITY ROCKETTE: Sure. Correct.

I think, for a minute, we have to put all political leanings aside and kind of look at the overall Rockette brand, which is, you know, they`re strong women, they`re intelligent women, they`re classy women. They represent an 84-year legacy of artistry and athleticism.

And they have been invited to perform at many, many, many events and even past inaugurations, where we have had a Republican president.

However, I think what`s different is, we have never had an incoming president who has publicly and repeatedly demeaned women and said derogatory things about women. And I think that`s what makes this a really unique situation and elevates it above a situation of just doing your job as a Rockette, as you would for any other event, and really elevates it to a moral issue, a woman`s rights issue.

What does this say? The optics of having the Rockettes perform at Trump`s inauguration, how does that normalize this -- these comments and remarks that Trump has made to women at large? And is that OK?

KORNACKI: Well, let me ask you from this perspective, then. Donald Trump is going to be inaugurated as president because he won the election. This is an evenly divided country, pretty much, right now. In fact, between Trump and Hillary Clinton, neither got an actual majority of the votes, and Hillary Clinton got more popular votes.

That said, tens of millions of women voted for Donald Trump in this election. And you described the Rockettes as strong, intelligent, classy women. From everything I have seen, I certainly wouldn`t disagree with that. But I bet those tens of millions of women who voted for Donald Trump would also describe themselves as strong, intelligent, and classy.

Doesn`t that make a statement here that`s a little more complicated than saying you can`t perform because he`s anti-woman?

WITHERS: But I think you`re dismissing his actual comments.

I mean, he has talked about grabbing women`s genitals. He has called them names, from dogs, pigs, slobs, crooked, nasty. And to have a beautiful line of women dancing behind him, I think, on a larger level kind of normalizes his derogatory comments.

And I think, you know, I have Republican female family members, and even when you bring up his comments, they`re very uncomfortable, and they still agree that this is a women`s rights issue. This surpasses political leanings.

And this isn`t saying, you know, they don`t accept Trump as the president and they don`t accept the election results. Clearly, he is going to be our next president of the United States. But we`re not really looking at kind of, if you`re Republican or a Democrat, yes, you have strong, classy, intelligent women on both sides, but it doesn`t discount what he said.

And I think, as the cultural conversation is, you have to consider, you know, normalizing this. And to have this iconic line of female dancers dancing and kicking in celebration of somebody who has said the things that he has said about women, without remorse, is problematic.

KORNACKI: All right.

Autumn Withers, a former Rockette, thank you for joining us.

WITHERS: Thank you.

KORNACKI: All right, and up next: a special end-of-the-year edition of the HARDBALL roundtable. We will look back at the biggest game-changing moments of 2016. We will get some predictions for 2017.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC GUEST HOST: All right. Welcome back to HARDBALL.

2016 has been a year full of memorable moments for some and forgettable moments for others. Before we ring in the New Year, we figured tonight may be a good time to look back and see which political moments from 2016 were the real game changers.

For that, I`m joined by our roundtable, Annie Karni, politics reporter with "Politico", Hunter Walker, national correspondent for Yahoo News, and Beth Fouhy, senior editor for politics at NBC and MSNBC.

So, game changer -- let`s retire the term after this segment. We`ve heard it enough over the last decade. We`ll come up with a new one for the next election. It will get equally as grading.

But the game-changing moments for the year 2016. Amy, let`s start with you.

ANNIE KARNI, POLITICO: Well, this is I think say something about it in that I just realized the moment I chose was actually in 2015, it`s like a morass of 18 months. But I think it was the first Republican debate in the primary. I went to this postmortem conference at Harvard, and every one of the Republican candidate who is ran against Trump, when asked what was the moment when you realized Trump was for real, pointed to that debate.

It was when he took on Megyn Kelly. It was when he refused to sign the pledge, saying he would run as a Republican. It was when he proved that someone who had never done a political debate in his life could come out still standing, having kept the spotlight on himself, and I think that`s when everyone realized this was real, this wasn`t going away.

KORNACKI: That was August 2015 --

KARNI: It wasn`t a side show. So, I --

KORNACKI: 2016 is a state of mind. It`s not a literal definition of time here. Hunter, how about you?

HUNTER WALKER, YAHOO NEWS: For me, I would say the two Bernie Sanders campaign launches. And I feel like a lot of people don`t remember this, because his official launch was actually sort of under the radar, he walked out in front of the Senate, and there were a handful of reporters there.

It was in April, and it was peak Bernie Sanders. His first word was, oh, when he saw all the cameras. And he said, I`m not going to take an endless amount of questions here, you know?

KORNACKI: Not a bad Bernie.

WALKER: I am from Brooklyn. And so, he proceeded to launch his campaign and then the next month, he had a real launch that was on Lake Champlain, 5,000 people.

And I think this showed, first off, that he was totally unconventional. I talked to a Bernie Sanders source who said that he did the little launch, because he thinks exploratory committees and all of that, you know, all of that considering is sort of a joke. And he was like, if we`re going to launch, we`re just going to do it. And that`s why he did that.

But also, the same source told me that when they had the big crowd in Vermont and then Hillary Clinton had a smaller crowd at Roosevelt Island in New York City a little bit later, that`s when they started to realize that they might have more momentum than they expected.

KORNACKI: And that was also -- I think -- we can play that. What Hunter`s talking about, in case we forgot it, probably a lot of people did. This is what he`s talking about. That was that first Sanders campaign launch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: OK, thank you all very, very much -- whoa -- for being out here today. Let me just make a brief comment and be happy to take a few questions. We don`t have an endless amount of time. I`ve got to get back.

This capitol, this beautiful capitol, our country belongs to all of us and not the billionaire class. That`s not raising an issue, that`s winning elections. That`s where the American people are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: It`s funny you mentioned, too, the second one in Burlington where they had 5,000 people and they got more than Hillary Clinton, I wonder, too, if that is the moment -- it`s so easy to say this in hindsight, though, when the Democrats who are already ready for Hillary 2013, 2014, 2015, make sure no one else was in the race, started to wonder if maybe they oversold her.

Beth, what about you?

BETH FOUHY, MSNBC SR. POLITICAL EDITOR: So, my game-changing moment, if we`re going to use that term, is not the "Access Hollywood" release, but actually the next day.

KORNACKI: You`re actually in 2016. Good job.

FOUHY: I`m zooming ahead to the end of the campaign. It was after the "Access Hollywood" came out, the famous "Access Hollywood" tape where everybody thought that Trump was done, the Republican Party, the leadership were telling him he had to apologize, questioning whether he could go on, distancing themselves.

Donald Trump made the decision to double down. He was not going to back off. He was not going to do anything more than that really sort of minor apology that he taped the night before.

He showed up at the debate at Washington University in St. Louis with women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault or sexual harassment and seated them in the chairs in front of Hillary Clinton, to say, you know what? It`s all men. Men do this. I did this, your husband did this, and you abated his behavior -- and that basically defanged that situation for Trump.

It was very risky. It looked like a stunt, but it really pulled off, because you know what? After that, the whole discussion of that "Access Hollywood" tape went way down.

KORNACKI: It was always awkward for the Clintons, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton to be going after Donald Trump on that front, because of Bill Clinton`s own complicated history.

FOUHY: Exactly, exactly.

KORNACKI: And Hillary Clinton defended him back in the `90s. I`ve got to put mine out there as well. Mine is from 2016.

Think back now, the Iowa Republican caucuses, Ted Cruz beats Donald Trump. Remember this, Trump comes in second and there`s that moment there where you`re like, maybe this Trump thing is going to fall apart.

And the other thing that happened, Marco Rubio was right on Trump`s heels. Third place in Iowa, very close, almost got hit for second place, goes to New Hampshire, Rubio`s got the early momentum and people are saying, if Rubio could zoom up the here in New Hampshire and you could clear the field, you could get Rubio versus Trump, maybe Rubio could beat Trump and then this happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: When you`re governor of a state, the 30-second speech when you talked about how great America is at the end of it doesn`t solve one problem for one person.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Your state got hit by a massive snowstorm two weeks ago, you didn`t even want to go back. They had to shame you into going back, and then you stayed there for 36 hours and then he left and came back to campaign.

(BOOS)

Those are the facts. Here`s the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn`t know what he`s doing is just not true --

CHRISTIE: There it is. There it is! The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: How good would Chris Christie have been as a candidate if it hadn`t been for all that bridge stuff, I still wonder. I mean, look, at that point, he wasn`t going to be the nominee, but he made a decision, if it`s not going to be me, it`s also not going to be Marco Rubio.

And wow, he took him down and took him out. And who knows? Maybe Trump wins anyway if it`s not Trump/Rubio, certainly I think change things.

The roundtable is sticking with us.

When we come back, predictions. The end of 2016, the start of 2017, what does the New Year have in store. They`re going to tell us.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Take some time out of your New Year`s weekend to keep up with HARDBALL online. Follow HARDBALL on Twitter and Instagram and like the show on Facebook. You`ll get access to exclusive interviews, videos, and behind the scenes photos, as we turn the page on 2016 and cover the brand- new political year.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: We are back with the HARDBALL roundtable and their political predictions for the -- we were just talking about this off the air, Beth said do we want to make predictions anymore? This was -- the 2016 campaign was not the best for punditry.

That said, everybody makes predictions for the New Year. Most of the time they forget them at the end of the next year, so no pressure here. No one will pull this tape out a year from now.

But, Annie, give us a prediction for 2017 in politics.

KARNI: Well, I think that one thing that we were all discussing badly made the prediction that Hillary Clinton was going to win is that the Republican Party was deeply fractured and 2017 was going to be about Republican rebuilding. That discussion shifted to the other side since Trump won and the Republicans control the entire government.

But that rift is still there. It`s just been covered up. So, I think that a prediction is that the Republican Party, like, we will see how the Senate takes on Trump, maybe this Russian hacking will be the first --

KORNACKI: Is this McCain and Lindsey Graham against Donald Trump?

KARNI: Right.

KORNACKI: Susan Collins.

KARNI: See where the rifts start to show, but that rift that we were all talking about is still there, even though Donald Trump won. So, my prediction is the story of 2017 will still be about a fractured Republican Party and where that starts to show itself.

KORNACKI: All right. Hunter, how about you?

WALKER: Well, you know, like you were saying, I think one of the big lessons of this year was predictions often go wrong. I personally don`t like to make predictions. I would love to see more reporting and less predicting from the media. But one prediction I am willing to make is that won`t happen, people will keep predicting and many of those forecasts will be wrong.

KORNACKI: You just -- yes, I want to see more reporting, too. We got a couple blocks of this show. Come on, what`s going to happen here? Give us one thing you think will happen in the year 2017.

WALKER: OK. One thing I`m comfortable saying, we did see Preet Bharara come to Trump Tower, and it was kind of unexpected visit. Trump announced he wanted to keep Preet on. I think he`s doing that partially because he`s hoping to keep heat on Cuomo and de Blasio.

KORNACKI: All right. This is the U.S. attorney from New York.

WALKER: Yes, I think we`re going to see more investigations and indictments in New York.

KORNACKI: Indictments, that`s a hard one to predict, New York politics, who knew?

Beth Fouhy, how about you? Give us --

FOUHY: Pretty straightforward, I am predicting that the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare gets eliminated immediately, as soon as Donald Trump takes office. Price who`s coming in as the HHS secretary and Mike Pence, both very strongly against Planned Parenthood and other ways of protecting women`s health, it`s a very easy thing for them to do, with an administrative --

KORNACKI: How does that go over politically, what do you think happens?

FOUHY: I think it`s going to go over badly but it is something they have promised part of their base, it`s something these two men feel very, very strongly about. It`s something that`s very easy and is very symbolic. It`s a way to say, hey, you know what, Obama, you overreached here, you don`t promise everybody free birth control and we`re taking that back.

Sure, there will a lot of political backlash but they`re going to do it, anyway.

KORNACKI: All right. I`ll give you mine. So, we were doing 2015 for 2016, I`ll give you a 2018 prediction for 2017.

FOUHY: Whoa.

KORNACKI: This is a hunch. It will probably be totally wrong. I got to put that before it.

We were just talking about this off the air, what happens to Chris Christie the New Jersey governor? Of course, he`s been shut out when it comes to a big appointment with the Trump administration, obviously didn`t get the V.P. slot he wanted this summer. So, what happens?

He has to leave as governor of New Jersey at the end of 2017 and then he`s looking for a job. Here`s where I think he`s getting up, I think he`s going to be a radio talk show host. I think there a station here in New York, a sports station, WFAN, supposedly, the big host there, Mike Francesa says he`s leaving at the end of 2017, that is when Chris Christie`s term as governor ends.

Chris Christie has already done fill-in stints on this station. Chris Christie is a big Mets fan. This is the Mets station. Chris Christie could definitely be a radio host as far as I can tell. I think they`re going to need a big personality.

I got a feeling Chris Christie has a future in the media and specifically in radio, sports radio.

KARNI: Sounds like you`re going do listen.

KORNACKI: I would definitely listen. Maybe I`d call in, too. Who knows?

Anyway, the roundtable is staying with me. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: All right. We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Now, it is the tell me something I don`t know segment. This is the easiest assignment in the world.

But, Annie, tell me something that I don`t know.

KARNI: Well, I just came back from a few days off for the holidays and the thing that most people asked me and want to know is who is really running the show for Donald Trump? People still have the impression somebody else must be planning to run the government for him. And is it Jared Kushner? Is it Steve Bannon? Is it Mike Pence? Is it going to be Paul Ryan? Who is running the show? That is the question that everyone is asking.

KORNACKI: Do we have an answer? Do we have any idea? Maybe it`s Donald Trump.

KARNI: Sometimes it`s Donald Trump. No, I don`t have an answer to give you right now, but that is the question America wants to know.

KORNACKI: I know. I think every time somebody sees, whether it`s a tweet coming from Donald Trump, or whether it`s, you know, a statement today, sort of who had his ear. Sometimes you could tell, guy look at the TV and sounding off, sometimes you wonder who has his ear.

Hunter, how about you?

WALKER: Well, I just came from Mar-a-Lago, here with the couture and architecture report. First off and Donald Trump came out with Don King last night, I don`t know how many people noticed this, but Don King was actually wearing a large button with Donald Trump`s face on it. And the building at Mar-a-Lago is equally interestingly decorated. There are all these statues of human gargoyles. One looked like two guys about to embrace. I don`t know, don`t show it to pence. Another one, it was like the cherubs and weird almost Egyptian rams` heads. It`s really quite ornate.

KORNACKI: Wow. Beth Fouhy, we`re down to ten seconds. Tell me something I don`t know.

FOUHY: Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Well, today, the Buffalo school board voted to oust Carl Paladino, the Trump`s campaign co-chairman in New York, amid very racist comments about President Obama, Michelle Obama. No word yet as to whether he`s going to take the ouster and go. He may have to be physically and forcibly removed by a state official.

I interviewed him in 2010 as an A.P. reporter when he was running for governor in New York, and he told us he wanted to put welfare recipients in upstate prisons.

KORNACKI: Very controversial guy.

FOUHY: And give them hygiene lessons.

KORNACKI: All right. Beth, Hunter, Annie, thank you for joining us.

That`s it for HARDBALL.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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