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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 1/18/2017

Guests: Yamiche Alcindor, Kathleen Parker, Marty Walsh, Frank Bruni, Steve Cortes, Al Franken, Eli Stokols, Jenna Johnson, Glenn Thrush

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 18, 2017 Guest: Yamiche Alcindor, Kathleen Parker, Marty Walsh, Frank Bruni, Steve Cortes, Al Franken, Eli Stokols, Jenna Johnson, Glenn Thrush

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A fine good-bye.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

In less than 48 hours, the Obama presidency will be history. Today, he answered questions from the press one last time and reflected on his tenure. President Obama defended his decision yesterday to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, and he offered this insight into what his successor, Donald Trump, will do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Having won an election, opposed to a number of my initiatives and certain aspects of my vision for where the country needs to go, it is appropriate for him to go forward with his vision and his values. It may be that on certain issues, once he comes into office and he looks at the complexities of how to, in fact, provide health care for everybody -- something he says he wants to do -- that may lead him to some of the same conclusions that I arrived at.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, President Obama said he wants to be quiet for a while and spend time with his family, but he said there were certain issues that would cause him to speak out under a Trump presidency. They include if he saw systemic discrimination or additional obstacles put in place of people trying to vote, of efforts to silence the dissent or the press, and any effort to round up "dreamers" -- that`s the young kids who were brought here without documentation -- and send them out of the country.

Yet the president ended the press conference with an incredibly hopeful message. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad. I think there`s evil in the world but I think that at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we`re true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time.

That`s what this presidency has tried to be about. It is true that behind closed doors, I curse more than I do in public.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: And sometimes I get mad and frustrated like everybody else does. But at my core, I think we`re going to be OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Joining me right now, syndicated -- incredibly successful syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, "New York Times" reporter Yamiche Alcindor, and the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and a great author, Walter Isaacson.

Walter, you`re the long-head guy here, so I want you to start this thing. I think he`s a fine man. I think he`s been a fine president. We can argue about policy. That`s what we do in this country. I thought the way he raised his family, the way he presented himself today, the way he talked about his daughters and how patriotic they`ve been raised -- I don`t know how anybody, right, left or center, could have had a problem with what he said today.

WALTER ISAACSON, CNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I thought the end of that press conference in particular, when he talked about his daughters, how his daughters reacted to the election, he was talking to all of us as a country, and that sort of beautiful ending of, I believe in this country, I believe that people are more good than bad. That type of thing is exactly what we needed now.

There was an elegance to him, as well as an eloquence. And I hope everybody watches that press conference because it makes you feel really good about democracy, even if you`re on the losing side. This is the way countries...

MATTHEWS: Yamiche...

ISAACSON: ... work.

MATTHEWS: Yamiche, I thought it was a bookend to the "hope" poster that a lot of people were thrilled by when he ran. But I also thought he had a great line there to the people who are actually very grim right now about what faces us on Friday and beyond. He said -- he said -- what did he say about the end of the world? There`s nothing that -- the only end of the world is the end of the world.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Which is -- I think we should all remember that when things are not going our way. But this is big picture stuff.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "NEW YORK TIMES": I think it is big picture stuff. And I think -- the line that I liked also was when he said, I curse a little bit behind closed doors. And I think...

MATTHEWS: Who doesn`t?

ALCINDOR: I think it was a message for all people to say, especially people in this country who are cursing and are angry, that this country is going to be OK and that we need to move forward and that this message of hope, even if it was a little I mean perfect, even if things weren`t as happy or things didn`t get done like the way he wanted them to get done, that, essentially, it`s up to you to carry this forward and that things will get better a little bit at a time.

MATTHEWS: I thought he was trying to coach us a little bit, too, the press. He said, You`re not here to compliment. You`re not, you know, sycophants.

KATHLEEN PARKER, "WASHINGTON POST": Right.

MATTHEWS: Do your thing. Get on this guy a little bit. I thought he was warning the press, Don`t get meek all of a sudden.

PARKER: Yes. Exactly. But I also thought he was being very artful in sending a message to Donald Trump because Donald Trump has been, you know, calling us, legitimate news organizations, fake news and he`s (INAUDIBLE) his administration`s now alerted people that they`re going to be losing their place in the press room at the White House.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PARKER: So in way, without naming Trump, and without -- you know, without casting aspersions on him or anyone else, he was able to say, This is the reason we have a press. These are the things they need to do. And this is what we need for it not only for the country to understand what`s going on but to hold our feet to the fire. So that was a very important message without naming names.

MATTHEWS: And here`s the -- always -- the backdrop that everything he does is about race, of course. Here is President Obama spoke about the state of race relations in the country. Let`s watch, and then we`ll pick up on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We`ve got more work to do on race. It is simply not true that things have gotten worse. They haven`t. Things are getting better. And hopefully, my presidency maybe helped that along a little bit.

When we feel stress, when we feel pressure, when we`re just fed information that encourages some of our worst instincts, we tend to fall back into some of the old racial fears and racial divisions and racial stereotypes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Is his optimism warranted, or is it just -- he`s an elite guy. He`s president of the United States. His kids go to elite schools. He hangs around with elite people. Is that a general feeling, you think, in the community?

ALCINDOR: I think that there`s a general feeling in the community of two things -- and I say African-Americans -- on the one hand, you have this African-American president and you saw this country kind of almost -- the person who asked the question said, You saw the rubber band of inequality spread as far...

MATTHEWS: April did.

ALCINDOR: Yes, as far as it could and you saw it expand and there was all this hope and possibility. But the Black Lives Matter activists that I talk to, the people who are on the streets, the mothers who have lost their children to racially charged incidents with the police -- they are not optimistic. They are very scared of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

So I think -- I think people will take issue with his optimism. And in some ways, they`re very warranted because even though he was the first African-American president, we saw this movement calling to question race in this country under his presidency.

MATTHEWS: You know, Roosevelt (INAUDIBLE) the famous line of all times in an inaugural address -- Trump`s not going to match it. He`s probably not going to match Kennedy`s, you know, "Ask not." But he did say "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," which was a national condition brought on by a -- you know, a frightening set of economic events, where all of a sudden, 25 percent of the people were out of work and everybody else is thinking they`re next.

Trump is what the people fear. It`s not nothing to fear but fear, they fear Trump.

ISAACSON: Well, you know...

MATTHEWS: I talk to enough people on this show -- Jonathan was very good on it the other night, and April asked that question. I mean, people -- I can see it in people`s faces...

ISAACSON: Well, you know...

MATTHEWS: That they`re worried. It isn`t political BS.

ISAACSON: One of the things that the president said today was when people are fed information that incites their hatred and they`re fed false information -- and I think that`s what you`re seeing a lot today is that there`s stoking up of this racial thing instead of the calming rhetoric that would bring people together.

The best speech Obama gave before he became president, other than the one at the convention, was that wonderful St. Louis speech, I think with the arch behind him, where he quoted Dr. King as saying that the arc of American progress bends slowly but it bends towards justice. And that`s what he was saying at the end of his press conference today.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I thought it was interesting he said about the people who -- I don`t think they should fear -- I mean, LGBT people probably have made progress, which is so strong as a trend that it`s not going to be broken with a cycle. I mean, people -- it`s moving from, I can`t even explain to my kids what it was -- you know, gay jokes 30 years ago are so out of place now, so unacceptable and comments that were made in conversation. That`s all gone.

ISAACSON: Real quickly, you have to remember that Obama...

MATTHEWS: It`s gone!

ISAACSON: ... was against gay marriage when he ran for president.

MATTHEWS: Well, yes, well, that was a positioning, let`s be honest.

ISAACSON: Well?

MATTHEWS: Well, Joe Biden of all people, Mr. Joe with traditional values...

(CROSSTALK)

ISAACSON: I`m saying times have changed rapidly.

PARKER: My gay friends and -- are very, very concerned, and I`ve heard reports from a variety of people saying that they`ve actually experienced pushback like they haven`t felt in decades.

MATTHEWS: What kind?

PARKER: Meaning that -- just overheard comments, one in a restaurant, which I hate to even say, but these people were talking and they said, Oh, the good thing about Trump is now we don`t have to be nice to Mexicans and gays anymore, you know, that kind of thing, where people feel like they can give voice to these comments and these feelings that we haven`t heard in a long time.

MATTHEWS: Well...

PARKER: And so the concern is only the president can change that tenor, and we hope he does.

ISAACSON: He better.

MATTHEWS: I think he will, but I don`t know if he will. I think he will. Do you think he will say something on Wednesday -- or Friday? God, there`s two more days. That says no matter what was said in the campaign, this is a free country. It`s a good country. And we`re all in this together.

ALCINDOR: I think he`s going to say something to that effect because if you go back to the night where he won, he sounded like someone who was ready to bring the country together. The issue is whether or not he can keep that tone and whether or not he`s going to go on Twitter the next day and start Attacking African-American icons, or whether or not he`s going to start nominating another person who maybe had given money to organizations that believed in conversion therapy for homosexuals. So I think it`s going to be in actions and not words. That`s what`s going to really...

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going to get to that later in the show -- I`m sorry, Yamiche. Like, why did he go after Khizr Khan. Why did he go after a totemic figure in our history, I mean, and one we really look to, almost as if he`s been gone 30 years, John Lewis? He has that role in history.

Anyway, the president today -- he`s still our president -- also had a message about the press itself. He said reporters weren`t meant to be sycophants -- look it up if you need to -- but to hold powerful people accountable. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: America needs you and our democracy needs you. We need to you to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress. And so my hope is, is that you will continue with the same tenacity that you showed us to do the hard work of getting to the bottom of stories and getting them right and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, I think Trump -- he knows the jungle rules. He knows how you can get people to fight each other. He knows how it works. You noticed the other day with CNN, he said, I`m not taking any questions from you people. The press at that moment should have stopped and said, There`ll be no more questions until you answer that one.

PARKER: Right.

MATTHEWS: Instead, it was every man for himself, jungle rules. He knew everybody else wanted their hand -- their question answered. They didn`t care if he`d stomped on one of them. That was a problem. Wasn`t it a problem?

(CROSSTALK)

ALCINDOR: I think it was a -- I do think it was a problem. I think it`s a problem you can divide and conquer the media. And I think that one of the things that Donald Trump -- we can argue about whether or not he`s ready for the job, whether or not he understands policy, but he understands the media and he understands how to manipulate people.

And it`s really going to be up to reporters to say, You can`t do this. And we`re not going to report just on tweets. We`re going to demand press conferences. And if we don`t do that, it`s going it be a tough four years.

MATTHEWS: And the hardest thing to do, Yamiche, is to avoid him when his hand comes over to pat you on the head. Oh, you`re OK! It`s Buzzfeed I don`t like this week! (INAUDIBLE) argue about Buzzfeed, but CNN we don`t like, either, you know?

PARKER: Well, he also used the word "fake news," when he said, You`re fake news, we`re not even going to talk to you. Well, that`s a very, very dangerous thing that he`s doing right now by throwing that out there and making -- and I don`t know about you, I get a lot of mail and I`m now being, you know, labeled -- I`m fake news, so they`re not paying attention to...

MATTHEWS: Well, at least some of the left will say he`s a fake president.

PARKER: Well...

MATTHEWS: I mean, if you want to start playing that stupid game, because it is a stupid game...

PARKER: But people need to understand why the press is so important. And he -- as president, as the current president just said, it`s essential to a free country.

MATTHEWS: I love it when somebody says, Why don`t you guys talk about something, and hey name a topic they like or are concerned about. And I say, Where did you hear about it? Well, I read about it in the paper yesterday.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But I mean, you just heard about it from the media, and you`re mad at the media telling you about it because they didn`t tell you about it?

ALCINDOR: But I do think in -- on -- when I think about what I`m going to be doing and going to be covering here on the Hill, just moved here -- I`m going to be trying to explain to people out in the country why I`m important, and to do that, I`m going to be writing about stories about their lives and hoping that that will translate to them that we`re not just some elitist place that`s trying to tell you what to think, but that we really want to know what your lives are.

I think that that`s what`s going to be essential, too. We can`t just assume that people should read "The New York Times." We have to give them something that`s in valuable.

MATTHEWS: I read your review the other day, David Leonhardt, what you guys are going to do, find the people that we`re going to write to and write about them and find reporters who have their common experience.

PARKER: I assume you will not...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In other words, no more elitism, it sounded like to me, which everybody should hear from.

Anyway, Kathleen Parker, Yamiche Alcindor and the great Walter Isaacson.

Coming up -- two days before the inaugural, and Donald Trump`s slamming the media, and of course, his political opponents. He says he`s not a divisive behavior. Bit what`s he going to do to bridge the gaping divide in this country as he gets ready to take office? That`s our question tonight.

This is -- by the way, plus, Democrats grill two of Trump`s most controversial cabinet nominees and Minnesota senator Al Franken led the charge. Senator Franken is going to be with us tonight here.

And we`ve got some top reporters assigned to cover the White House, the Trump White House, and all the challenges that will come with that job. We had some from Yamiche here. They`re on the HARDBALL roundtable coming up tonight.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the president -- and I`m going to get serious here -- the president we`re about to lose, a fine man.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Well, chief among Donald Trump`s campaign promises was to vow to create jobs, especially when it comes to the millions of working class Americans who`ve been affected by the exodus of manufacturing from this country. Additionally, Trump also promises to rebuild failing airports, roads and bridges in our cities.

I`m joined right now by a guy who could use that help, Boston mayor Marty Walsh, who delivered the state of the city address just last night. Mr. Mayor, thank you.

MAYOR MARTIN WALSH (D), BOSTON: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: Boston, one of our great cities. And I just wonder, isn`t there something that you can look forward to, even though you`re a Democrat, to hear from Trump? Can Trump deliver, will he deliver, rebuild our airports, rebuild our systems of the T up in Boston?

WALSH: Well, I would love to see infrastructure money come in for the MBTA, expansion of the commuter rail. Our city is growing every day. I would love to get more people into our city, more companies into our city, more jobs into our city. And by really having good, dependable rail would work. If he does that, that`s great.

MATTHEWS: How do you guys get him to do that, you big city mayors, because you`re the real thing. You`ve got real people with real votes that probably didn`t vote for him.

WALSH: Well, I think he -- well, first of all, cities are economic engines, so I mean, Boston, New York, LA, any city in America, Chicago, they didn`t vote for him, but still you need them to be successful to move the country forward. So I think that that`s one piece of you can`t ignore those cities.

The second piece is, they keep talking about we haven`t seen a plan on infrastructure yet. He talks about public/private partnerships. I`m not sure he`s going to offer some public money if we get private investment. Those are things that -- those questions have to be answered to see really about how they want to move the country forward.

MATTHEWS: Just talk about the fear of the people in your city. You got a lot of minorities in your city. You`ve got a lot of liberals, progressives. What`s the mood about Trump on this Friday? What`s it going to be like in Boston?

WALSH: Our immigrant community is fearful. I mean, they really are fearful. Our kids and our schools are fearful. I think some people are concerned about women`s rights. We have a march on Saturday, where were going to have 20,000 women marching in the city of Boston. So health care is a fair piece of it, as well. So there`s a lot of uncertainty. And he`s said a lot of things, but he hasn`t necessarily backed them up since he said them as a candidate for president.

And I think that a lot of people are not really sure what to be afraid of. And what I`m trying to do is just calm fears down, saying that we are a safe, open, progressive city that`s open for everybody.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about -- you`re a labor guy. I know you`re pro- labor. Most big city mayors are. And I`m wondering whether there`s going to be any possible deal that can be made. I mean, labor wants jobs. They want high-paying jobs. You know, they want Davis-Bacon protections. They want to (INAUDIBLE) labor rates. You know, they want what they earned in the collective bargaining. Do you think there`s something there, there`s something down the road that you wouldn`t have expected until Trump came along?

WALSH: Well, I`ll tell you, one of the things that would concern me there is Mike Pence. You know, his state of Indiana took workers` rights away. You know, he seems to be...

MATTHEWS: Yes, right to work state.

WALSH: He seems to be that type of -- was the type of governor. Now he`s going to become vice president of the United States of America. Obviously, there`s an influence there. So if I`m a union member or a worker in this country, even a non-union member working on Davis-Bacon prevailing wage jobs, I`m a little concerned because they`re going to look to potentially repeal it nationwide. That`s what would concern me.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, I hope something happens we didn`t expect, something good. I am an optimist. This Sunday, 6:40 in Foxborough stadium, Massachusetts -- 6-and-a-half points -- not quite a touchdown for the Patriots.

WALSH: That`s all right. Listen, my Patriots are playing. I`m looking forward to it. A win is a win...

MATTHEWS: Have you ever seen a team more ferocious than the Steelers, though? Those guys are tough!

WALSH: Listen...

MATTHEWS: They -- they keep hitting and hitting...

WALSH: We have the best coach in the league...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: We got the best owner in the league.

MATTHEWS: After the play, they`re hitting!

WALSH: We got the best quarterback. We got the best defense. You know, it`s a winning combination right there.

MATTHEWS: They are tough guys! Tough guys.

WALSH: I`m looking forward to the game...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... quarterback, though. You got one of those. Anyway, thank you, Boston mayor. I want Green Bay against you guys. That`s the one...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Aaron Rodgers (ph) against you guys.

WALSH: A rematch of `96.

MATTHEWS: It could be great. Yes, a rematch, but new quarterbacks. Thank you...

WALSH: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: ... Mayor Walsh.

Up next -- Donald Trump has chosen a new -- well, he`s chosen to be a disrupter, let`s face it, not a healer. He hasn`t been a healer since winning the election, even. Is that going to change? Is Friday the time he actually says, I`m not going to be actually belligerent up there on that West Wing stage -- or West Front stage? Be nice. We`ll see if it happens.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, since becoming president-elect, Donald Trump has taken a path of belligerence vs. healing on his road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And few have been immune from Twitter and verbal attack or counterattack from the incoming commander in chief, including -- here`s the list -- the cast of the Broadway show "Hamilton," "Saturday Night Live," "The New York Times," Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meryl Streep, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, the U.S. intelligence community, and, of course, civil rights icon John Lewis.

But will Trump`s inaugural address, itself, finally begin the mending and unifying the country needs and wants after a contentious election and an unusually dramatic presidential transition?

Steve Cortes is a Trump supporter. And Frank Bruni is an opinion writer, a great columnist for "The New York Times."

So, gentlemen, let`s just do predictions.

Now, do you have access to what Trump has got for his speech yet?

STEVE CORTES, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I do not.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CORTES: And if I did, I wouldn`t share it, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s -- that`s honesty. But let`s talk about what you think.

CORTES: Right.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he`s going to be capable of something like some stunning magnanimity that will -- everybody will say, well, God, he said that pretty well?

CORTES: You know, Chris, I do. And I expect he will. I can`t wait to be there in person for the celebration.

It`s not just a celebration of Trump. It`s a celebration of America and democracy and I believe a return to growth. Now, I`m not saying, though, that he`s going to stop being a tiger.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the Republicans celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama?

CORTES: Yes, certainly.

MATTHEWS: They celebrated it?

CORTES: Well, celebrated in it terms of -- certainly by showing up, right? That`s the first...

MATTHEWS: They met that weekend to decide how to screw him, to make sure he never got anything done. They did that.

CORTES: But Donald Trump is a fighter. And he`s not going to lose it, I think not in this inauguration, these celebrations, and certainly not in this administration.

It`s one of the reasons he won. He`s the best counterpuncher since Floyd Mayweather. The American people...

MATTHEWS: Will he tweet from the inaugural platform itself?

CORTES: He will not.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: He won`t? You`re sure he won`t? I could see him saying...

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: He will not.

MATTHEWS: ... I see somebody out there 100 yards away from me with that stupid sign.

I could hear him do that.

CORTES: I think one of the reasons he won is, a lot of Americans who are really sick of politicians who maybe speak very carefully and elegantly, but say very little in the end.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s true. Well, that`s true.

CORTES: And they want a fighter who`s going to fight other countries, fight cronyism, fight for them.

MATTHEWS: Frank, you`re a pretty progressive guy. And I wondered if there`s -- I know I`m the only half-full guy around here. But I have to be half-full. It`s what I do in my life.

I do believe in the country. I believe in everything Obama said this afternoon at that presser, which is, you know, it`s a good country. It`s better good than bad. It isn`t the end of the world. We have got to move, and keep an eye on this guy every day.

FRANK BRUNI, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I believe -- I`m with you. I believe in the country, too.

And I`m actually rooting for Donald Trump. And what I mean by that is, I want to see Donald Trump take that inauguration stage, give an address that does unify the country, or at least tries to, that is modest, that is restrained, that is realistic, that`s responsible.

The problem I have is, whatever he says on that day, there`s the day after. There`s his Twitter account. He came out, if you remember, and gave a victory speech back in early November, where he said, you know, I want to reach out to everyone. I want the support of the people who didn`t vote for me...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRUNI: ... and then, in short order, began gloating, bullying, taunting, back to his old Twitter ways.

So, the question isn`t, what does he say on Inauguration Day? The question is, how does he behave in each of the days that follow it?

MATTHEWS: Do you think it matters?

Sometimes, I wonder whether you go up there and sing "What`s New Pussycat" up on the stage, and that his supporters would still be with him and his opponents would still be against him. I wonder if it matters

But here`s the question. Why doesn`t he pick his shots a little more carefully? I know it`s this shtick about his about challenging the establishment and not doing P.C. all the time.

Why did go after Khizr Khan, who lost his son in the -- fighting for our country? Why did he go after John Lewis? John Lewis is an older guy, a good guy. He is a liberal. He doesn`t like Trump.

Why doesn`t he just let a couple of those balls -- like a batter, don`t swing at every pitch.

BRUNI: Right.

MATTHEWS: Why does he swing at every pitch, Trump? He`s your guy.

CORTES: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Explain.

CORTES: And, Chris...

MATTHEWS: Why does he do it?

CORTES: I will not defend the fact that, at times, he is not -- in my opinion, he is not careful enough about which battles...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Can`t he let some things go?

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: ... about which battles.

But, again, I think this is important, too. What he is doing -- and, you know, he`s so pugnacious, OK, and sometimes I think a little overly so, but the reason that people rallied to his fierceness is because we have a rigged, crony system right now, which works very well for people over in Davos, it works very well for Washington, D.C. It`s not working for Dayton. It`s not working for Waco, Texas.

Donald Trump has promised that he`s not coming to Washington...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. And, by the way, you have got a good point there.

You know what your good point is? You didn`t say it right. Both parties have call time rooms over on Capitol Hill. You know what these young members of Congress do in their first and second terms? They go there in the morning. They get a bus that takes them to vote once in a while on the floor. And they go right back to dialing for dollars all day long, calling up people who want something from the government, who have special causes.

They`re not regular people. The system is corrupt that way. He`s right. But he doesn`t talk about that. He talks about, well, Davos.

CORTES: Davos.

BRUNI: But I could just challenge something Steve said?

You used the phrase counterpunching. And even you said swinging at things.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRUNI: I think it`s important to note it`s not always reactive with Donald Trump.

I mean, some of the most horrifying tweets, I think, are some of the most kind of curious ones or ones that weren`t reactive to anything. Why did he send out that New Year`s tweet gloating and taunting, taunting anyone who didn`t believe that he`d win and saying "love" at the end?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You think that was sarcastic?

BRUNI: Why did he feel the need to tweet that Arnold Schwarzenegger`s ratings were below his? He`s not always doing this counterpunching.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why did he do that? Why did he go after Schwarzenegger?

BRUNI: Yes, why?

MATTHEWS: Didn`t he pick him for that job?

CORTES: That one, I don`t know. I don`t know why he did it. But I think what was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know why. Schwarzenegger backed Kasich.

CORTES: Well, sure, and I think also, by the way, was an incredibly ineffective governor of California.

But, listen, I think what is important here, again, I think, at times, he picks battles that he doesn`t need to engage in.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CORTES: But it`s important that he is battling. And I think that is part of why he won. I think it`s part of why he will be a very successful president.

BRUNI: Not if he doesn`t pick his battles.

CORTES: He`s going to battle a crony system on behalf of American workers who haven`t had a pay raise in this century. That`s a tragedy.

BRUNI: If he picks his battles. He`s got to pick battles. Everything is not a fight, you know?

MATTHEWS: Well, as the late William Seymour Hoffman once said -- Philip Seymour Hoffman said, who we lost -- and what a great actor -- he said, we will see. Remember "Charlie Wilson`s War?" We will see.

BRUNI: Yes. That`s true.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Steve Cortes.

And thank you, Frank Bruni. Read you all the time, twice a week. What days are you in?

BRUNI: Wednesday, Sunday.

MATTHEWS: Wednesday and Sunday.

Up next -- oh, the biggies, Wednesday and Sunday.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, up next: Senate Democrats are sharply challenging several of Donald Trump`s Cabinet picks. When we come back, one of the senators leading that fight, Minnesota`s Al Franken -- he`s a hard get for us. And he`s here. He says he will come again.

HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On Friday, Donald Trump will take the oath of office and become the 45th president of the United States. And, right now, it`s looking like he could 

be a little lonely. Trump is set to take office without most of his Cabinet in place. And according to analysis by Politico, this is the longest it`s taken since Herbert -- George Herbert Walker Bush in `89 to get the Cabinet through.

Well, today, four of his nominees from Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, and his pick for U.N. ambassador, faced a slew of questions from senators on both sides of the aisle.

First up, Scott Pruitt at the EPA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM CARPER (D), DELAWARE: In you, he`s put somebody in place who`s actually defunded or led the defunding or the environmental protection unit within your own agency. And yet you joined in a dozen or more lawsuits over the last six years, ever since you have been attorney general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simply as a matter of appearance and morality, for that matter, you were able to do it. Why not the president?

WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I`m not familiar enough, Senator, with the exactitudes of his holdings to have any judgment as to how easy or hard it would be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you support moving the embassy from Tel Aviv into that consulate?

GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Absolutely. Not only is that what Israel wants, but this Congress has also said that that`s what they support.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: You guys want to end the expansion of Medicaid. That has people in Minnesota scared out of their mind.

REP. TOM PRICE (R-GA), HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY NOMINEE: The concerns that were expressed by the senator are valid concerns. The conclusions that he drew on the policies that I have promoted and will continue to promote are absolutely incorrect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Last night, Trump`s nominee for education secretary, billionaire mega-donor Betsy DeVos, faced suspicious Democrats who took her to task on a range of issues, from guns in schools to sexual assault on college campus.

Joining me right now is Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken. He serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which heard from both Tom Price and Betsy DeVos.

Senator, thank you for coming on.

FRANKEN: Great to see you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Two big issues that we can all talk about, one is violence at school and guns at school, guns anywhere near a schoolyard, and also Title IX.

The president was great on Title IX this afternoon, saying it`s the reason we win Olympics, it`s the reason we`re the country that we are. Women have full -- well, they have as full as they have ever had in history a chance to be themselves in every sphere.

Now, let`s start with guns. What does this guy -- or this woman DeVos think about guns in the schoolyard?

FRANKEN: Well, I didn`t like her answer on that.

Chris Murphy, of course, from Connecticut, who represents the people of Sandy Hook, asked her about this. I think the president wants to get rid of gun-free schools. And he asked her about that. And her answer was not satisfactory.

And, frankly, very few of her answers were -- showed any kind of real grasp of education policy.

MATTHEWS: Does she understand Title IX and all its implications?

FRANKEN: I don`t know.

I don`t remember her being asked about that. I remember, once we had a hearing on Title IX, and Billie Jean King came. And when she was in college, I think it was with Stan Smith, was a full scholarship -- I think it`s USC or somewhere in California -- he had a full scholarship as a tennis player, and she had to work in the gym and fold towels.

And Title IX has changed all that. I don`t know if she -- she kind of didn`t know much about education policy at all. And what she does know is about defunding public schools through vouchers.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FRANKEN: So, I`m not going to vote for her.

MATTHEWS: Oh, good for you.

Let me ask you. That`s news. Well, by the way, my wife played on the national championship team and tennis team at Stanford, and she had to pay her way on away games, OK? That`s how things were different back then. The guys got on the bus. The guys got on the plane. The women players on a national championship team had to pay their way.

Anyway, here`s some of the fireworks from last night`s confirmation hearing for a millionaire and donor and nominee for secretary of education you have been mentioning, Betsy DeVos. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: You can`t say definitively today that guns shouldn`t be in schools?

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY NOMINEE: Well, I will refer back to Senator Enzi and the school that he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there`s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My question is -- and I don`t mean to be rude, but do you think, if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?

DEVOS: Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility.

FRANKEN: I`m talking about the debate between proficiency and growth.

DEVOS: Yes.

FRANKEN: What your thoughts are on that.

DEVOS: Well, I was just asking to clarify then...

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: Well, this is a subject that is -- has been debated in the education community for years. It surprises me that you don`t know this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Senator Franken, you knew she didn`t know the issue, didn`t you, when you asked the question?

I`m just thinking that you were ready. She didn`t know the difference between comparing one school to another and comparing one class with what it was when it came into school in first grade and how well they`re doing in terms of growth, as opposed to how really a neighborhood which is tough against a school where there`s some wealthy suburban kids who have parents who have been reading to them since they were 2 years old.

Is that what the difference is?

FRANKEN: Well, she -- I had a courtesy visit with her, and I was kind of shocked at how little she knew about school education policy.

This difference between proficiency and growth is just a basic argument we have been having in schools.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FRANKEN: Proficiency is judging kids against sort of this artificial line of proficiency.

And the problem with that is the kids just above and just below get all the attention from the teachers, because the teachers are judged by how many kids are above proficiency. And they end up ignoring the kid up there, because, no matter what you do, that kid`s not going to fall below proficiency. The kid down here is not going to get to proficiency.

MATTHEWS: Good thought.

FRANKEN: With growth, if you have a fifth grade teacher who takes a kid from a second grade level of reading to a fourth grade level of reading, that teacher`s a hero.

And under growth, that gets measured, but, under proficiency, it doesn`t. And this is something that is basic to how you assess how a school is doing.

And if you`re talking about taking money out of our public schools and doing vouchers, it`s really important to assess how schools are doing. She didn`t know any -- she doesn`t have a clue what I was even talking about.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

What role is the unions, the NEA and the AFT, playing? They don`t like vouchers. They don`t like charters generally. What do you think? How much does that influence your vote on this?

FRANKEN: I kind of missed that a little bit.

You were talking about teachers unions?

MATTHEWS: Yes, Randi Weingarten and all the people in the unions, they can`t stand her as a nominee. How much of an effect is that having politically on her chance of getting confirmed?

FRANKEN: Well, I mean, they don`t like her as a nominee because she wants to really defund public schools, take that money to go to private schools and to religious schools, where, very often -- in Indiana, they did this.

A lot of the kids that were in those religious schools who got the money from the vouchers had just been in a religious school anyway. And so this money is leaving the public school system. That`s why they don`t like that.

We have charter schools, public charter schools in Minnesota. Some are very successful, some not so. I have nothing against that. But this is about taking money from public schools and sending it over, so that kids who are already going to private or religious schools are just getting money that`s being taken away from our public schools. And I`m against that.

MATTHEWS: OK. I know where you stand, sir.

Thank you, Senator Al Franken. Thanks. Please come back again.

Up next: Donald Trump`s...

FRANKEN: I will.

MATTHEWS: ... war on the press.

We have got a special edition of the HARDBALL Roundtable coming up next, four reporters charged with the challenging job of covering Trump, the Trump White House. They just got the job. Let`s see how they`re going to do it.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President-elect Trump who has a well-documented tendency to exaggerate or use truthful hyperbole, as he once called it, and to shade the facts when it suits his interest. The challenge for reporters, of course, those who cover him in the White House, is to untangle the truth from the spin.

Well, "Washington Post" media columnist Margaret Sullivan describes what she calls a hellscape of lies and distorted reality that awaits journalists saying that, quote, "He will pull out all the stops to make people think they should believe him, not their own eyes." That`s a Groucho Marx reference, obviously.

I`m joined right now by NBC`s Hallie Jackson, who`s just been named NBC`s new White House correspondent.

Congratulations, Madam Correspondent. You got the most interesting job in the world. Although, I still advise you, the Hill is going to be just as exciting.

What is -- what are challenges reporters have facing, an in your face approach to Trump, to the person he sees in front of him when a tough question comes?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so I think there`s a couple of interesting challenges here, Chris, and a point that I think is going to be essential for reporters to understand as we turn the corner now, starting Monday, and covering him at the White House. The phone, of course, ringing here on the Senate booth which is where we are today given all these confirmation hearings are happening.

You know, I think that Margaret Sullivan`s quote you just cited is particularly interesting, a hellscape, as she puts it.

Here`s the thing: reporters have had to distinguish what is fact from what is fiction. But there is now what Donald Trump likes to call fake news, right, that he`s sort of change. The meaning of this has changed in his view. He`s taken it to mean something else.

Point number one is, this plays well with those people, many of the folks, who elected Donald Trump into office, right? They don`t trust the media to begin with and so when Donald Trump points at a reporter and says, you are fake news, that resonates with some folks regardless of how factually correct it is or not. So, I think that reporters in that briefing room and as they`ve done on the campaign trail need to be pretty unflinching in pressing the president-elect, soon to be president, on where that line is, right?

Point number two, though, anybody who sits here and says that -- well, when Donald Trump takes that podium in the Brady briefing room for his first press conference or in the East Room, or wherever, he`s going to be more presidential has not been looking at history, right?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

JACKSON: You know that I`ve been on the campaign trail for 18 months. People said that about Donald Trump, never-Trump folks that I`ve covered said, well, when he gets to be, you know, when we get into the primary debates, he`s going to be different -- he wasn`t. They said, when he gets into the general, he`s going to be different -- he wasn`t. They said, he`s in the transition as president-elect, he`s going to be different -- he wasn`t.

He`s not going to be different as president. And I think that the White House press corps is prepared for that or should be prepared for that.

MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you. Congratulations, Hallie Jackson --

JACKSON: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: -- who`s been covering for NBC, and I hope MSNBC, the White House.

JACKSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Now to the roundtable, I`m joined by three new White House correspondents. Eli Stokols is a friend of the show here, will be covering the Trump White House for "Politico". Jenna Johnson is with the "Washington Post." And Glenn Thrush, a well-known name, with "The New York Times."

Thank you, all.

And I guess the question is how do you keep it from getting personal? I mean, Katy Tur -- Trump`s been bashing her personally and she just takes it and moves on. How do you do that?

ELI STOKOLS, POLITICO: Well, that`s your job. We`ve had two years of practice with Donald Trump. It`s going to be maybe more adversarial than it`s been with other press corps and other presidents. But that`s just the nature of the job. I think we`re all prepared for that.

I think you have to be careful because having conversations like this, really important, you know, when you degrade and delegitimize the news and facts and journalism generally, you`re jeopardizing one of the pillars of democracy. That`s an important conversation to have. But even if you feel like, you know, you`re in somewhat of an existential crisis, I think it`s also important to just continue to do our job, to delineate fact from fiction, and to let people have the response they have.

I think the more you sit here and make it about ourselves as journalists, it starts to sort of play into what people already, you know, don`t like about the press. It can`t be too much self-regard and all.

MATTHEWS: I know. They`re all Ivy Leaguers. They all went to better schools. They look down on us.

But let`s get to the job of a reporter. A lot of reporting, I respect -- I used to ride around the bus with you guys and I`d have an opinion column I could write and I`d be watching people do long front-page stories that go into a big jump, incredibly reported.

I`d say, how did you do that? I was watching your hands. How did you do that? And yet you got to get what he said, you got to get it accurately, you got to get it recorded generally.

And yet, if Trump says it doesn`t matter, you`re not supposed to quote me. I mean, a lot of the Trump people say you`re being unfair if you simply quote Trump saying what he said. How do you deal with that?

JENNA JOHNSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: You`re not going to make everyone happy. Every story I write, there are liberals who feel like I normalized Trump. There are Trump supporters --

MATTHEWS: By quoting --

JOHNSON: Yes, by quoting him.

And Trump supporters who think that by quoting him, I`ve been unfair and taken him out of context.

MATTHEWS: You`re snarky.

JOHNSON: Yes. You just have to focus on what he says, put it in the context of other things that he said. Just keep very, very focused on what he says and how that compares to what he`s done in the past and going forward, how does it match with actions that he actually takes?

MATTHEWS: Is he susceptible, Glenn, to actually representing in news print? I mean, is the Trump phenomenon -- I`m serious about it, he`s cosmically so different. He picks fights with everybody. His 40 percent- some of the country is with him. I looked at the stats the other day. White working class guys, 64 percent, still with him, they like this transition.

How can you like the transition? It`s been chaotic. How do you bring him into a newspaper, say this is Donald Trump, I`m writing about -- this is really the guy?

GLENN THRUSH, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Here`s how you have to understand this. We`re viewing this as we have to, as Eli said, and I agree with you, 100 percent. We can`t take every bit of bait this guy says and can`t whine about it either, right? We just got to do our job.

We are a political foil for this guy. We have a fundamental part of his strategy. Hillary Clinton is gone. Barack Obama is leaving the stage. Chuck Schumer isn`t that much fun to beat up. What he`s got is us.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

THRUSH: And this is a guy, by the way --

MATTHEWS: You`re the stage.

THRUSH: -- 37 percent to 41 percent approval rating right now. His political success has always been about driving his enemies` numbers down. You can`t get much lower numerically than we are already, so I think fundamentally, his entire strategy as president right now is to go after us.

MATTHEWS: The roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these people tell me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s another big name who`s skipping Donald Trump`s inauguration. Secretary of State John Kerry, the former senator and 2004 Democratic nominee for president, didn`t give a reason for why he won`t be attending on Friday.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Eli, tell me something I don`t know.

STOKOLS: Only two days left in the transition. Donald Trump still yet to name his last cabinet appointee, ag secretary. And there are a lot of candidates and they have no idea where they stand. Abel Maldonado, one of the guys from California, was at the Trump Hotel last night, tweeting videos of how nice it is. I mean, if only flattery got you somewhere for Donald Trump.

But the fog, the uncertainty, it`s not just to the media. The people groveling for jobs in his administration don`t know where they stand.

MATTHEWS: Jenna?

JOHNSON: Donald Trump loves crowds. Inauguration is coming up and he is spending money on advertising, trying to get people to sign up for free tickets to come to inauguration.

MATTHEWS: To fill the seats?

JOHNSON: Yes, to fill the seats.

MATTHEWS: Glenn?

THRUSH: The book everyone is reading to really understand Trump is Wayne - - the great investigative reporter Wayne Barrett`s biography of Trump from 20 years ago. It`s as fresh as it was when it was first published and a must read for anybody who wants to understand the new president.

MATTHEWS: A permanent take on the new president.

Anyway, thank you, Eli Stokols, Jenna Johnson, and Glenn Thrush.

When we return, let me finish with the president we are about to lose.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the American president we`re about to lose.

Barack Obama is, above all, a fine man. Just look at him. Is there a husband, a father that we would wish more as a model for our sons, for our sons-in-law to have and raise our grandchildren? Is there anyone who carries himself better in word, and sentiment and temperament optimism?

Hope -- that was the word on that poster. It`s the feeling he exemplified today in his last press briefing. He talked about being proud of raising patriotic daughters, about people being more good than bad, that at his core, he thinks he can -- we can be OK. That the only thing is the end of the world is the end of the world.

Well, this president has said all this knowing full well who won this election, who`s going to sit next to him in that car right up to Capitol Hill on Friday, who`s going to take his place at noon.

The only thing that`s the end of the world, he said, is the end of the world. He spoke not just as a political leader but as a man looking to the problems that still divide us, he said we need to imagine being that other person, growing up in the inner city without a job within 20 miles, being that guy stuck out in the country who, too, doesn`t have the prospect of a job in some different 20 miles.

He talked about imagining being in the other guy`s skin and that`s when we`ll make progress.

But he`s not leaving us before saying that we have made progress. He came to office when we were divided by an unpopular war, crushed by a great recession with unemployment heading to 10 percent. He`s leaving us having cut that rate in half and tripled, by the way, the stock market, and by the way, a lesson hopefully learned of no more wars like Iraq.

He came in with decades of unfulfilled promises for health care in this country from both parties and met the promise with a program that the incoming president has now made clear he needs to match or better. He came into a country where marriage equality was well over the horizon and brought the LGBT community into the sunlight of recognition, freedom even because of his own fine goodwill, admiration.

To say that no person can make a difference, I give you the fine case of that fine man, Barack Obama.

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