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GOP Senator calls out Senator McConnell. TRANSCRIPT: 12/26/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Glenn Kirschner, Azi Paybarah, Richard Ben-Veniste, Sonam Sheth,Ryland Barton, Adam Frankel

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST:  What will happen next in 2019?

That does it for me.  I`ll see you back here tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern filling in for Lawrence O`Donnell on THE LAST WORD.  "Hardball" is next.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Crack in the GOP wall?  Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

President Trump went on the attack today slamming Democrats, in particular, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over his impeachment.  The president fired off a series of tweets this morning saying in part, quote, do nothing Democrats said they wanted to rush everything through the Senate and calling Democrats liars.

It followed a pair of tweets on Christmas night going after Pelosi for holding those two articles of impeachment from the Senate and demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell negotiate details on a Senate trial.

The president wrote this, quote, why should crazy Nancy Pelosi, just because she has a slight majority in the House, be allowed to impeach the president of the United States?  Adding Dems want to run majority Republican Senate.  Hypocrites.

The holiday tweet storm came just hours after the president`s Christmas message, which called on Americans to remember, quote, the bonds that unite us.

It also comes as Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska expresses concerns about McConnell`s plans for the Senate, revealing at least one potential crack in Republican support for President Trump as the Senate ponders what to do.

Murkowski said she is uncomfortable with McConnell`s comments that he plans to be, quote, in total coordination with the White House over a trial.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK):  Well, and in fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed.  And if we are tasked as the full Senate to do impartial justice under the Constitution and the law, to me, it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense.

And so I heard what Leader McConnell had said, I happen to think that that has further confused the process.


KORNACKI:  Murkowski is one of several wild cards in the Senate.  And while she remains publicly undecided, she stressed that she takes her role as an impeachment juror seriously.


MURKOWSKI:  I need to be able to sit back and look at both sides of this, both what the House managers will present and what the White House managers will present.  I need to do that.  That`s what I am going to do.  I`m going to sit back and look at that and judge fairly and fully and honestly.

So for me, to prejudge and say there`s nothing there or, on the other hand, he should be impeached yesterday, that`s wrong.  In my view, that`s wrong.


KORNACKI:  For more, I`m joined by Sonam Sheth, Political Correspondent for Business Insider, Republican strategist Susan Del Percio and Richard Ben- Veniste, who served as assistant Watergate prosecutor.  Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Richard, let me just start with you.  In terms of this sort of public standoff here between the House,the Democratic-controlled House, the Republican-controlled Senate, what Trump is doing and saying publicly today, the day after Christmas, going after Nancy Pelosi with the words he`s going after her with, in terms of Pelosi`s posture in that standoff, how will this affect it?  Will it affect it at all?

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, ASSISTANT WATERGATE PROSECUTOR:  No, it`s just another tweet, tantrum that the president is fond of employing, attacking, bullying, making fun of people.  He`s just the master of this kind of disruptive and over-politicizing process.

Senator Murkowski gives us a breath of fresh air and actual stating of the obvious.  If you`re going to have a trial, you should have witnesses.  You should have access to evidence.  You shouldn`t have a president saying, oh, you`re going too slow now, before you were going too fast.  It sounds like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

What was too fast about the impeachment?  Didn`t he have time, the president, to give a sworn statement if he wanted to?  Didn`t he have time to release the witnesses who he has told could not testify?  All of this makes no sense at all in terms of getting to the truth of what actually happened.  So that reasonable people can then make judgments about it.

KORNACKI:  Sonam, in terms of the Democrats` strategy here in withholding this at least for now from the Senate, one of the ideas that has been advanced is that, basically, that will make Trump squirm, this idea that, hey, the House has impeached him.  There is no immediate acquittal forthcoming from the Senate.  That reaction from him to that reality would somehow then force McConnell`s hands, force Republicans` hands in the Senate.  Do you see any indication of that at all in what he`s saying now, or is this somebody who is going to sort of be taking this posture no matter what?

SONAM SHETH, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, BUSINESS INSIDER:  Well, we think it`s really interesting to look at his reaction.  Because we have to remember that this is the first time in his entire life that Donald Trump is being held publicly accountable for something.  This isn`t a lawsuit that he can just settle and sweep under the rug.  And his ranting and raving about it is kind of indicative of the fact he hasn`t dealt with this before.

And so for Pelosi to withhold those articles, from the Democrats` perspective, was likely meant to box Trump in and to not give him the one thing that he wants most, which is, quote, total and complete exoneration, which is what he would look forward to from the Senate.

So as long as Pelosi and Democrats withhold these articles, there is absolutely nothing that Trump can do to bend them to his will.  And I think that`s why we`re seeing him kind of unravel and come unhinged in real-time.

KORNACKI:  I think the argument that`s out there in terms of why this might not work for Democrats, Susan, would be that Trump is basically going to be on the attack and basically going after Democrats and going after them no matter what.  So he says he wants the trial, that was his initial posture.  If it doesn`t look like there`s going to be a trial, he`ll switch to arguing, oh, they didn`t have a strong enough case to bring in the Senate, I`m effectively exonerated.  Do you think there is leverage there for Democrats?

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I don`t even see any of that actually going all the way through past.  January 6th is which when I think Nancy Pelosi will send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.  But what`s important is that I was originally of the thought that, oh, Nancy Pelosi just wanted to let Donald Trump squirm a little bit, but there`s something else that`s happening over this two-week break, is that the argument for evidence to be presented is growing.  It`s something that people understand.

And I think Lisa Murkowski was signaling to Leader McConnell, you can`t be in lockstep because I may want to see some evidence too, I may want to hear from some witnesses too.  And that`s an argument the American people can really get behind because it`s so easy to understand.  If there`s a trial, of course, there`re witnesses.

So I think that Pelosi may have -- I don`t know if it was planned or not, but done herself a big favor.  The trick is to get those articles of impeachment sent over within the first few days that she`s back.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Let`s take a closer look at what Murkowski is saying, what it means.  As we mentioned, Murkowski, she`s one of the handful of senators who at least conceivably could break with President Trump on impeachment or maybe just the procedural questions around the impeachment.  Those can be just as important here.

Others on that list, folks are watching may include Maine`s Susan Collins, Utah`s Mitt Romney.  All of them, in some way, have been critical of President Trump at some point.  Collins, of course, facing a tough re- election next year, so does Colorado`s Cory Gardner.  Worth remembering, they also have to get through Republican primaries to get to those re- election campaigns in the fall.

President Trump tried curry favor with Collins earlier this week, he endorsed her and he quoted a tweet from Senator Lindsey Graham saying, quote, she showed unbelievable courage during Justice Kavanaugh`s confirmation, adding I agree 100 percent.  For her part, Murkowski said she has not discussed her plans with other senators.


MURKOWSKI:  If it means that I am viewed as one who looks openly and critically at every issue in front of me rather than acting as a rubber stamp for my party or my president, I`m totally good with that.


KORNACKI:  So, Richard, we talk about -- there`s the question of, ultimately, who`s going to vote how on convicting or acquitting President Trump.  There`s also the procedural, the more immediate procedural question the Senate would have to face at the beginning of a trial.  How does the trial look?  What are the rules?  Are there witnesses?  Which witnesses?  Take us through that process.  Because I think when Murkowski makes a comment like that, it does raise the question of put the acquittal question aside, does McConnell have the votes to force through the rules that McConnell wants?

BEN-VENISTE:  Right.  The rules that McConnell wants are shameful.  The idea of complaining about the failure to call witnesses when it is you, President Trump, who has told the witnesses they cannot testify, when you say we haven`t seen all the evidence, you`re rushing this through, when it is the president who has prevented the documents from being released.  Why don`t we have the documents surrounding the decision to withhold the aid to our ally, Ukraine, who`s in a shooting war with the Russians.

What sense does it make to withhold that evidence, and what is the president hiding?  I think these two weeks will show that most Americans with common sense applied to this will say, why don`t we have a trial that has the release of the available evidence to provide to the American public as well as to the Senate who, as Senator Murkowski has said very strongly and forcefully, in my opinion, rationally, if we`re to be judges, we must see the evidence of the crime that has been alleged, in this case, the articles of impeachment that have been alleged, so that we can make up our mind fairly.

Americans don`t go for the idea of hiding the ball.  That`s what happened with Nixon.  And Mr. Trump is courting the same thing.

KORNACKI:  Let`s take a closer look at Murkowski, Sonam.  She is sort of an interesting story, politically.  She lost her Republican primary at one point back in 2010, ended up winning re-election as a write-in candidate.  So I think she`s sort of shown the ability to exercise more independence just in terms of political survival than some of her colleagues there in the Senate.

How far do you think she is willing to take a comment like this?  Is it just sort of sending a public message, getting that on record to McConnell, or is it actually following through and potentially voting against McConnell on a key procedural question?

SHETH:  Well, look, I mean, Murkowski has definitely been more than willing to buck her party in the past.  Whether we think about Justice Kavanaugh`s confirmation hearings, the 2017 Trumpcare votes, there have been a number of issues where she has been willing to speak out when she thinks that there is a need for it.

I think the reason that her comments are significant also is because it creates an opening for other moderate or vulnerable senators on the Republican side to be asked where they stand on it.  So we could potentially see people like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins and Cory Gardner, potentially Martha McSally come out and say that they`re siding with Murkowski and call for witnesses, call for a more fair and impartial trial the way the Senate should be holding this.  And so if we see that, then I think we`ll see McConnell`s calculus change.

KORNACKI:  So, Susan, that`s what Democrats are hoping for here.  Nut let me ask you specifically about some of those names we just heard from her.  Because Murkowski not up until 2022, has survived losing a primary before.  Mitt Romeny, former -- well, just put him in a different category.  Thom Tillis, Martha McSally, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, yes, they all have to run for re-election next year in difficult or at least potentially difficult circumstances, but none of them have yet won the Republican primary to get to the general election.

Can they realistically, in the party of Donald Trump that we talk about all the time here, can they survive voting against Trump on a key procedural question that would allow all these witnesses into a Senate trial and then survive Republican primaries?

DEL PERCIO:  Well, it depends how far -- how much McConnell wants to hold the Senate too, because he could push back on a primary against Susan Collins, for example, or Cory Gardner.

The other name I`d like to throw into that next that doesn`t fall into either category is Lamar Alexander.  He has been also willing to show -- do the right thing, if you will, and he is not running for re-election.

So to go back to these Republican senators who could very likely be primaried, I think if they want to win the general, they`ve got to do the right thing here.  And I think the thing is is most of them want to.  So if they could be kind of bookended by a Lisa Murkowski, a Mitt Romney or maybe a Lamar Alexander, then that`s a good group of people you have going in.  Now you`re four, five, six.  That`s enough cover.

KORNACKI:  All right.  We will see as the days progress here in this standoff, who blinks on it.  Sonam Sheth, Susan Del Percio, Richard Ben- Veniste, thank you all for being with us.

And coming up, on his way out the door, now former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin handed out hundreds of pardons, including clemency to a convicted murderer and child rapist.  Now, the FBI is reportedly looking into some of those pardons.

Plus, we are just weeks away now, can you believe it, weeks away from the first votes finally being cast in the 2020 presidential race.  I`m going to head over to the big board, see if that thing is working for 2020.  It`s got a big year ahead.  We`re going to take a look at where things stand, especially in that critical early State of Iowa.

We have got much more to get to.  Stay with us.


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has come under fire for a number of controversial pardons that were made as he was leaving the governor`s mansion this month.  And now the FBI is asking questions.

Many of the more than 600 last minute pardons and sentence reductions were for low level drug offenders, but Bevin sparked outrage by giving clemency to a convicted murderer and a man convicted of raping a nine-year-old child.

Kentucky State Representative Chris Harris, a Democrat who is called for an inquiry, told the Louisville Journal that -- the Courier Journal, he`s been contacted by an investigator.  The FBI is not commenting.

In the case of one man pardoned for murder, his relatives hosted a political fundraiser for Bevin last year.  Bevin is defending his pardon, saying they are all based on the merits and he denies that politics played any part in his decisions.


MATT BEVIN (R-KY), FORMER GOVERNOR:  Whether somebody had a relative that gave money to a campaign, I got campaign donations from tens of thousands of people. I couldn`t begin to know who`s related to whom.


KORNACKI:  For more, I`m joined by Ryland Barton, Kentucky Public Radio Capitol Bureau Chief, and Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor.  Thanks to both of you for being with us.

Ryland, let me just start with you.  In terms of what we know here, you just heard the governor.  He is denying there`s any political significance to these decisions, these two in particular that I highlight there, the man convicted of raping a child and a murderer as well, he`s denying any political influence in that.  So what is known publicly about how these landed on his radar and why he made the decision he did?

RYLAND BARTON, CAPITOL BUREAU CHIEF, KENTUCKY PUBLIC RADIO:  A lot of what we know publicly is from what the Louisville Courier Journal has been reporting over the past couple of weeks.  They have reported that Governor Bevin, in his last weeks in office, was kind of on his own with a lot of these decisions.  He had been investigating many of these pardon requests as all -- imagine governors across the Kentucky -- across the country, but certainly in Kentucky, get requests throughout their terms.  And there`s a bit of tradition in Kentucky to -- that a lot of these pardons end up getting issued towards the end of the term. 

We know that he`d been investigating some of these requests.  He had people who were very close to him encouraging him not to issue some of those most controversial pardons that we have heard of. 

And he ended up, in those final days and really final hours of his term, issuing some of those pardons, which we now see have drawn a lot of outrage from prosecutors and citizens and people who were involved in those cases. 

KORNACKI:  And, again, just in terms of what`s -- what`s known and what is publicly available in terms of information here about his, say, connections to these cases, there`s the fund-raiser we mentioned.

BARTON:  Right. 

KORNACKI:  Are there any other connections that have been drawn just in terms of, again, how he might have been aware of some of this? 

BARTON:  Sure. 

I mean, there -- there`s a case in which he pardoned an individual who is a young man on gun and drug convictions, and he happened to be the son of a former state lawmaker.  And then these are convictions that are from recent years.

There was also a case of somebody who was close to the governor`s wife -- or the governor`s sister, and that man had been convicted of hiring a -- of hiring somebody to kill somebody years and years ago. 

So there are definitely some -- some controversial, just kind of on their face, that there were some connections, besides just the merits of these cases, to the governor.

Granted, can we really separate his rationale for pardoning these people?  Because, certainly, there are plenty of people who have access to the governor.  And they were requesting him and requesting action on these.  It just happened -- I think, that what he`s going to argue is that, well, yes, this is just how some of these cases that he thought were meritorious came across his desk, were from political donors. 


Glenn, I`m curious.  We see the FBI apparently looking into this.  What could they be looking at here?  Because you have controversy -- I mean, this seems a very extreme case of it, but you have controversies about outgoing governors, outgoing presidents, certainly, issuing pardons on their way out the door that are -- often seem very distasteful, very much - - it`s not something they would do if they were about to face the voters again. 

But in terms of finding something that`s illegal there, what would the FBI be looking at? 

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  You know, so, Steve, it looks like the Kentucky governor`s pardon power is very broad. 

Some states actually require some checks and balances, where there will be a part in commission, which will also have to look at the propriety and the legality of a pardon before the government grants it.

But, in Kentucky, it seems like the pardon power is pretty unconstrained.  So what I think the FBI would be looking into is whether there was any corrupt purpose for any of these pardons. 

You mentioned the Baker -- Patrick Baker, who was pardoned.  When you look at the facts of the case, where defendant Baker apparently pretended to be a police officer, broke into somebody`s home, and then shot a husband in front of his wife, he was sentenced to 23 years.

And a pardon was granted.  Now, when you look at who Baker was, he happened to have family members who either directly contributed to Bevin`s reelection campaign to the tune of $4,000 or were involved in fund-raising activity for the -- Bevin`s reelection campaign, to the tune of 21 -- 24,000-plus dollars. 

So, if the FBI is looking into it, I think they will have to see whether these pardons, any of them, were actually issued for corrupt purposes. 

KORNACKI:  And quickly, Glenn, just given what you`re describing here in terms of a broad power here for clemency, for pardons from the governor, does that mean that, to prove correct purposes, it`s -- how direct does the evidence has to be, given how strong the pardon power is?

KIRSCHNER:  It would have to be pretty direct. 

And just because a lot of these pardons are ill-advised -- and I saw some reporting that said the victims and their family members weren`t even contacted before their killers in some instances were pardoned.  That`s pretty horrific. 

Just because they`re ill-advised doesn`t necessarily make them illegal. 

KORNACKI:  All right, Glenn Kirschner, Ryland Barton down there in Kentucky, thank you both for joining us.  Appreciate it. 

And up next, going to head over to the Big Board.  We are going to look at the state of the Democratic presidential race, just five weeks and counting from the Iowa caucuses. 

Can Pete Buttigieg maintain his front-runner status, or is someone going to catch him?

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


KORNACKI:  And welcome back to HARDBALL. 

I can remember -- look at this number right here, 39.  I can remember when this was three digits.  I can remember when this was four digits.  I remember when Iowa was long -- far, far, far in the future. 

And now we are inside of 40 days to go before the all-important leadoff Iowa caucuses, the race that is going to shape the race, shape the rest of the Democratic race. 

Let`s take a look here.  Where do they stand?

What you`re seeing here, this is the national poll.  This is the average of all the national polls out there.  You`re pretty familiar with this.  Joe Biden, he has consistently been in first place, almost 10 points ahead of Bernie Sanders back there in second, then Warren.  Remember, she surged earlier in the year.  Then that surge kind of backed off a little bit. 

Everybody else, starting with Buttigieg, back in single digits.  That`s the picture nationally.  It`s been a pretty stable picture nationally.

But that is not the picture in Iowa, where they vote in less than 40 days.  Pete Buttigieg, not a lot of polls we have had in Iowa, but those that we have had, if you average them together, Pete Buttigieg leads in Iowa, Bernie Sanders close behind him in second, Biden, again, very close here, but back in third place, Warren in fourth place there, but really almost a four-way jumble there of candidates within six points of each other between first and fourth place. 

And then, by the way, Amy Klobuchar farther back here, but registering, at 6 percent here, starting to get a little bit more media attention, a little bit more press, obviously somebody from a neighboring state, Minnesota -- so a question there if Klobuchar perhaps will be able to move up in Iowa.

We talk all the time about why Iowa is so important, small state, not a lot of delegates.  Well, the word for it, the term for it -- it was coined back in 1980 by George Bush Sr.  He won Iowa in a big upset.  And he told the world, he said, "I have the big mo`," meaning momentum.

Iowa gives you momentum.  If you`re a winner, you get a lot out of that.  If you`re a loser, that can hurt your campaign nationally, too. 

So, that is the question here, obviously, in Iowa.  What comes out of here? 

But take a look here.  Past Iowa races, where did they stand at this same point?  What can happen in the homestretch?  The last time around, about 40 days out before Iowa, December 2015, remember, two-way race basically, then, Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders.  Clinton was at 51 percent.  She got just about 50 percent.  So that was pretty stable. 

You look, in 2007, November 2007, it was about 40 days before the caucuses.  That year, Hillary Clinton was the leader at 27 percent.  Barack Obama, he was right behind her in that poll.  He ended up catching her and winning.  Clinton actually, technically, finished third in the 2008 caucuses buying John Edwards.  Remember that name? 

And then how about this one?  2004.  Forty days before the caucuses that year, Howard Dean was the leader out in Iowa, with 29 percent.  Dean faded out in the final days of the Iowa campaign.  He finished with 17 percent.  The winner, John Kerry, this is somebody who came from about 10 percent.  He ended up winning with 38, basically, nearly 38 percent of the vote in Iowa in 2004. 

And, of course, the Iowa win for Kerry rolled into New Hampshire.  He won that.  And then he won just about everything after New Hampshire and the nomination, not the presidency, but he did get the nomination. 

2004 is a reminder, when you have a very clustered race, like we do right now, four candidates within six points of each other, there can be a lot of movement, a lot of dramatic movement in those final days in Iowa.  2004 tells you.  That movement then was decisive. 

Will we see that kind of movement again this time?  And will Iowa be decisive again this time?  Questions that will be answered pretty soon.

Up next:  Joe Biden is hoping his centrist approach translates into support across party lines.  Is a self-styled moderate in this day and age a viable voting alternative for moderate Republicans who don`t like Trump?

You`re watching HARDBALL. 



QUESTION:  What evidence have you seen that Republican elected officials or Republican voters have any interest in finding ground -- common ground with you? 

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think Republican voters have interest in finding common ground, and because, again, I -- wherever I go, there`s an enormous number of independents and Republicans know and think we have to find common ground. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We are, as we just said, weeks away now from the Iowa caucuses.

And "The New York Times" is reporting that -- quote -- "The voters at campaign events for Joe Biden here in Iowa aren`t just shopping for a candidate for themselves.  They`re considering the political leanings of people close to them who are uncomfortable with the most liberal presidential contenders, but who hate the chaos of the Trump era and are receptive to the kind of centrist, seasoned candidacy Biden offers."

However, "The Times" notes: "Some Democrats have been warning the party not to obsess over these potential swing voters, arguing that electability calculations about mythical undecided moderates are futile at this moment of extreme political polarization."

I`m joined now by Beth Fouhy, NBC News senior politics editor, and Azi Paybarah, a reporter for "The New York Times." 

Beth, I will start with you.

This discussion among Democrats, a strategic discussion about, how far do you go, how do you try to reach out to these sort of disgruntled Republicans, for lack of a better term, what do you make of it?

On the one hand, Biden -- Biden, I think, acknowledges polarization, because says there are gettable votes out there.  And the cynics say you`re chasing fool`s gold.  How do you look at it? 

BETH FOUHY, NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR:  Well, for now, they have to win the Democratic primary. 

So, all of these candidates have got to be going primarily for Democratic voters.  But Biden, being the leader in national polling, as you described earlier, is thinking through the long game probably more than some of the others.

His appeal, obviously, is that he`s somebody who can, like, reach into those sort of more rural areas.  He`s the guy from Scranton.  He`s got a progressive record, but he also understands the concerns of working Americans.  So that`s a big part of his sales pitch. 

It`s really hard to say whether one should obsess more about getting out the base or reaching into to -- among Republican voters.  You have to do a little bit of both.  Of course, what Hillary Clinton got criticized for in 2016 was sort of focusing almost all her energy on the base voters, really not spending a lot of time in those rural areas or in those parts of Michigan and Wisconsin that ended up turning against her. 

So you need to get out as many base voters as you can, but then mitigate losses in the areas that are going to be less receptive to you.  And a successful candidate figures out how to do that. 

KORNACKI:  And it`s interesting, Azi.  And that article we quoted from says it.

It does seem like, and the reporting I have been -- I have been reading and listening to suggests, Democratic voters are thinking about electability. 


KORNACKI:  And they probably all define it differently, but, ultimately, the thing that`s on their mind is a strategic question:  How do you beat Trump? 

PAYBARAH:  Well, what`s what`s fascinating about this is, you`re hearing voters talk more and more like pundits. 

A lot of times, you go to any campaign, you talk to any candidate, you talk to any poll worker, and they will -- and they will sort of explain to you - - any campaign worker -- and they will explain to you the path to victory. 

What you`re seeing now is, more and more voters are more openly discussing not just their own preferences, but doing some kind of bank shot about who they think other people are going to support. 

And I don`t -- I don`t recall a time when as many voters were speaking as openly about this kind of idea.  Everyone is now a pundit.  Everyone is on Twitter.  Everyone is seeing how everyone else is talking about, and now they`re taking this idea of electability.  A lot of Democrats want this in their candidate.

And they`re openly talking about, well, I`m a pundit, and I`m figuring out who`s going to like who, and that`s how I`m basing my vote. 

KORNACKI:  It`s interesting.  When a candidate a party really doesn`t like wins an election the party really didn`t think the candidate could win, I think it does stir some of that kind of thinking.  It is unusual. 

Meanwhile, Politico is reporting that some Democratic -- quote -- "insiders" are starting to think that Bernie Sanders could win the Democratic nomination -- quote -- "They are rethinking Sanders` bid for a few reasons.  First, Warren has recently fallen in national and early state surveys.  Second, Sanders has withstood the ups and downs of the primary, including a heart attack.  At the same time, other candidates with once high expectations, such as Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Beto O`Rourke, have dropped out or languished in single digits in the polls."

But, well, Beth, we`re talking about this lens Democrats are looking at the primary through, electability.

FOUHY:  Right.

KORNACKI:  Let`s consider Sanders for a minute, because, sort of traditionally, you would say that a self-styled Democratic socialist wouldn`t fare well in a general election.

But we are in the age of Trump.  You see in these in these polls, when you look deep, Sanders tests very well on honesty and authenticity, these sorts of things. 

FOUHY:  Right.

KORNACKI:  What do you make of Sanders from the standpoint of Democratic voters and how they`re looking at this race? 

FOUHY:  Well, to Azi`s point about how everybody seems to be shopping right now and wondering who`s going to be the right person to beat Trump, that`s not the case for Bernie Sanders voters.  They are with him.  They have been with him throughout.

They were with him and 2016.  They`re with him now.  And they`re not going anywhere.  And that`s pretty -- in a very sort of -- sort of a field in flux, the way this one is, that`s pretty important, sort of durable sign of potential. 

And a lot of people talk about, oh, the overlap between the Elizabeth Warren voters and Bernie Sanders voters.  Actually, he`s got a lot more sort of working-class voters, blue-collar folks than she does. 

That`s a larger group.  And yet he also appeals to students, he appeals -- so, he has an interesting coalition that`s proven to be very durable.

So, the question is, can he -- can he do really, got slingshotted out in Iowa with a strong showing, and obviously, everybody`s competing for those three spots out of Iowa, as we always sort of think about it, and then he`s in a very good spot in New Hampshire because -- a state he won by 20 points in 2016. 

So, he could, sure, theoretically get rolling and keep it going, and I think it would be a mistake for anybody to discount him at this point. 

KORNACKI:  How -- if he does, Azi, get going, Iowa, New Hampshire and win both of those, maybe Nevada could then setup well for him and as I think about it -- South Carolina would we an interesting puzzle there.  But this so-called Democratic establishment, however you want to define it, I`m curious what you think their reaction would be, what their comfort level would be with Sanders who starts winning?  Is the attitude, OK, let`s take this and try to win with it or is the attitude, let`s fight this? 

PAYBARAH:   It`s a great question.  And I don`t know, if I had the answer I may not be sitting here.  But I think some people who are loyalists to Sanders have been loyal to him for years, and they also don`t have to take their cues from media or reporters as great as this show is, as great as our reporting is.  There are years from Bernie Sanders speeches on it floor from when he was in Vermont, when he was Burlington as mayor.  And people can see for themselves what he`s been saying over a long period of time which feeds into the idea of authenticity, which feeds into the idea of honesty, which people are really craving for.

Other candidates who are newer, if you`re not Andrew Yang and catching fire online and sort of leaning into it, you`re going to have a hard time building it when there`s other candidates.  I think that`s something that Bernie Sanders is relying on -- how the Democratic establishment captures this and if it is Sanders, how they sort of combine their interests in defeating Trump with Sanders.  I think it`s going to be perhaps a fight for the soul of the party in a way we haven`t seen in many years. 

KORNACKI:  Yes, I mean, if the Republican establishment didn`t quite know what to do with Trump, the Democratic establishment might not know quite what to do with Sanders, at least to start, and then you saw, they did get comfortable on the Republican side. 

Anyway, Azi Paybarah, Beth Fouhy, thank you both for joining us. 

Up next, Chris Matthews going to talk to former Obama speechwriter Adam Frankel about his new book and his time in the Obama administration.  You`re watching HARDBALL.



BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  America, our moment is now.  Our moment is now.  I -- I don`t want to spend the next year or the next four years refighting the same fights we had in the 1990s.  I don`t want to pit -- I don`t want to pit red America against blue America.  I want to be the president of the United States of America. 



That was then senator Barack Obama at the Iowa Jefferson Jackson dinner now known as the Democratic Party`s liberty and justice celebration.  That was back in 2007. 

Well, that speech considered one of the best of his campaign changed everything for candidate Obama, of course.  One of the speechwriters that helped write it, Adam Frankel, had his own life altering experience not long before joining the campaign in March of 2007, learning at the age of 25 that the man he`d always known as his father was not his biological parent.  Frankel details how exploring the family legacy of his maternal grandparents both Holocaust survivors led to the shocking discovery about his own origins, and more in his new book, "The Survivors: The Story of War, Inheritance and Healing". 

Adam Frankel joins us right now. 

Adam, thank you for joining us tonight. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about that.  Just renew that because that experience of leading two lives, one, the new speechwriter for Obama in the campaign and the other, the kid, the one trying to figure out where he came from. 

FRANKEL:  Yes, it was incredibly difficult, Chris.  Some months before joining the campaign I learned my dad was not my biological father and more than that.  I learned this was a secret that my mom had kept not only from me but our entire family and my dad.  It would be another almost 10 years before I would come and talk to my dad about it and tell him I`m not his biological son. 

And so, I carried that with me throughout the campaign, into the White House, and during that time just I tried to bury it deep down and focus on the job at hand, being as good a speechwriter for Barack Obama as I was capable of being. 

MATTHEWS:  Someone told me recently because I`m on a project like that, that every memoir involves hurting somebody. 

FRANKEL:  Well, this memoir brought healing to me, to our family.  I hope it brings healing to others.  There is an explosion family disclosures with 23 and Me and and these other home DNA kits, right?  And I think a lot of people try to make sense of these family disclosures that are so painful and confusing.  And more than that, Chris, look everyone has trauma in their family history, in their histories and their own lives, whether it`s in my case, the wounds of World War II and mental health issues, and other cases, addiction, abuse, racism. 

And I think by think about and reflecting how the trauma can reverberate across the generations, at least in my case, it helped me process it and move forward with my life.  And I hope offers the path for others as well.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe you have insight on this because it`s something we talk about on HARDBALL a lot.  This is obsession -- an obsession, personal, psychological weirdness of this president of ours, President Trump.  He seems to not be able to get over the fact that his predecessor was Barack Obama, and he was a popular president, a successful president. 

What do you figure that`s all about having worked for Obama? 

FRANKEL:  Well, look, Obama is in contrast in numerable ways, you know, Obama -- for us, one of the reasons I wanted to work for the man is not just because I believed in his vision and policies, he was a model of integrity, set an ethical standard that -- for the office that Trump is a fundamental departure from, and, you know, I think that he doesn`t like the fact that Obama was so widely popular and still is, by the way, in this country, you know?  And I think that`s a big part of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it sort of parallels Putin, Vladimir Putin`s -- well, jealousy of our cleanliness, of our country`s historic democracy and liberty, compared to Russia, which has been tyranny under every form of ideology.  As someone likes to say to me, I don`t want to put words in your mouth but it seems like Trump seemed to have the same attitude towards Obama you worked for that Putin has towards the West and American democracy -- jealousy. 

FRANKEL:  Yes, it is -- it`s jealousy.  Trump is a -- you know, a fraction of the man that Barack Obama is and was.  You know, it`s hard -- it`s hard for me to even wrap my head around the Trump presidency, Chris, having worked for Barack Obama who would hue to those high standards of integrity, who was so thoughtful and considerate, you know, who tried to make the best decisions for American people and really took all these -- you know, had a process for making decisions. 

You know, was thoughtful -- the way I interacted with him with the speeches and give so much thought to the words that he used.  This is such a radical departure and such a dangerous moment that, you know, I worry for the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the partnership, it`s not really an even partnership but the partnership between senior and junior in the case of President Obama and Joe Biden.  He`s now back again and doing well in the race at least in the polls right now for president.  It always seemed to me that Obama got some help from Biden.  It wasn`t a one way street. 

Biden sort of brought the, you know, the sort of working class people who was slow to go for an African-American candidate.  I was always kidding around and say that, you know, he put the apostrophe in Obama, you know, one of the boys a little but --


MATTHEWS:  And yet -- and clearly Obama is helping Obama today -- helping Biden today.  How did you see that partnership working as a speechwriter right there in the White House? 

FRANKEL:  Well, look, I think when he was running for president, his whole message was change, right?  That was his whole change about message and he was new on the scene.  And part of what he needed was somebody who brought that broader experience in Washington and reached out to other different kinds of voters. 

And that -- and I know it was a close partnership, it was a close friendship.  And it still is.  And, you know -- and Joe Biden, there`s a lot of love in this country for Joe Biden.  And to your point, you know, you see that reflected -- you see that reflected in the state polls. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, the name of your book of course, Adam, my friend, is "The Survivors: The Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing".  You`ve got everything, a rich legacy you`ve got there, young guy.  Good luck with this book with this holiday season. 

FRANKEL:  Thank you.  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  That`s when people buy, sir.  I know all about it.

FRANKEL:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  We`ll be right back.  Thank you. 


KORNACKI:  The year is ending and I`m taking stock.  What surprised me in politics this year and what didn`t. 

Let`s start at the top.  The president has now been impeached, and his approval rating is slightly up.  He`s at 44.5 percent in the Real Clear Politics average now.  When the House voted to open the impeachment inquiry at the end of October, it was 42.5 percent.  But it`s moved upward at all is somewhat surprising, and for Democrats it ought to be at least a little concerning. 

But the fact that Trump`s approval rating hasn`t moved much at all and the big drop that some Trump opponents predicted never materialized, well, that really isn`t surprising at all. 

Polarization, of course, is the word for this era.  Tribalism even, each side has dug in and not moving.  For three years, there`s been nonstop controversy, and yet Trump`s numbers have been more stable than any modern president -- the high 30s at worst for him, the mid-40s at best.  Frankly after everything that`s come since 2016 before now, it probably shouldn`t be surprising that even impeachment didn`t cause the floor to fall out from under Trump, just as it continues to be unsurprising that the strong economy isn`t giving him a strong approval rating. 

Let`s move to the presidential race. 

Joe Biden was the Democratic front-runner at the start of 2019 and is still the front-runner at the end of 2019.  I`m not surprised the attacks on his old Senate voting record, busing back in the `70s, crime and policing in the `80s and `90s.  I`m not surprised that those attacks haven`t moved the needle beyond hard core activists.  I am surprised that his performance on the campaign trail and the debate stage for much of this year hasn`t caused more alarm and defections from Democratic voters. 

Compared to the Biden of just a couple of years ago, the man we saw much of 2019 seemed far shakier and more hesitant in public.  And I wondered if he would lose the confidence of his party because of it, but so far, he has not.  I was also surprised by Biden`s debate performance just last week, much more crisp and much more clear.  It was like the Biden of old was back.

After seeing him for a few months this year, I thought that Biden`s performance would not improve.  It looks like it might be improving, though. 

I wasn`t surprised that Elizabeth Warren moved up in the polls for much of this year and she got a sudden burst of scrutiny back in the fall when she did start to rival Joe Biden for the lead.  But I was surprised at how poorly her numbers held up in that moment.  There are plenty of theories for why this happened, but I suspect it`s that word we`ve been talking about tonight, electability, hard to define but on a lot of voters` minds.  Watching Warren face tough questions about her Medicare-for-All plan and private insurance seemed to give pause about whether this was actually the fight they wanted to have in the fall.

The good news for Warren, her numbers have stabilized since and she still has time to answer the doubts that were raised.  We will see if she can. 

Was I surprised that the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, became one of the top national candidates this year?  You bet I was.  But by now, I`m also not surprised by the apparent limits of Pete Buttigieg`s appeal.  All year, his growth in the polls failed to extend to black voters and there`s still at the end of 2019, no sign that is changing in a big way. 

And then there`s Bernie Sanders, he`s actually in second place nationally right now.  I`m not surprised he`s holding onto a large base of support.  He`s a very distinct and well-known candidate.  I am surprised, though, that his standing improved in October when he suffered a heart attack.  I wondered then that might be it for his campaign.  Instead, Sanders is finishing the year in better shape both physically and politically. 

What surprises 2020 brings for him and everyone else, we will soon find out and I can`t wait. 

That is HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.