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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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REP.-ELECT STEVE SOUTHERLAND ®, FLORIDA: Well, I"ll tell you, we"re busy learning the lay of the land. Even the floor plans are all new to us. We"re learning about our budgets and how to go about hiring our congressional staff, which will certainly be helpful, you know, going forward. So it"s been a lot of information, somewhat overwhelming at times.

SMERCONISH: Do you feel more of an allegiance to the Tea Party or to the Grand Old Party at this stage? And are the two yet in conflict in any way that you can discern?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, let me say this. I am a candidate who has run on the desire of representing all the people of Florida"s 2nd congressional district, so I believe that the Constitution is the law of the land. I believe it should be honored. But I also believe that common sense and accountability must always be honored and recognized in this great House, the people"s House.

SMERCONISH: Congressman-Elect, tomorrow Nancy Pelosi presumably gets elected as minority leader. Does she have your support?

REP.-ELECT KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: Absolutely, she has my support. I was, frankly, very excited to serve as speaker of my house, as the first African-American woman, and have been very honored to see her leadership over these last couple of years.

SMERCONISH: But Congressman-Elect, to an outsider, one looks at the recent election results and says perhaps in the best interests of her party, she should stand down and not be seeking that position.

BASS: Well, I think what one has to remember is four years ago when, she became Speaker, she did bring us to the majority. And I have to say that I think the number one message from voters and the number one problem was unemployment. In my state, for example, unemployment is 12 percent. What we have to focus on is on jobs. There was all of the outside money that we don"t even know where that money came from that also helped to defeat the Democrats.

SMERCONISH: Any lesson in what happened to Congressman Rangel today for either of you? I"ll start, Congresswoman-Elect, with you. I note that on your agenda in the last 48 hours was a briefing on standards of official conduct and legal issues. When you put that together with the recent experience of Congressman Rangel, it tells you what about carrying out responsibilities?

BASS: Well, I"m sure that both of us agree that what we heard yesterday in terms of standards and ethics means that we always have to keep our eye on the ball. We, frankly, have a lot more to learn in that area. We were given a very thick handbook and encouraged to read it, and I will certainly make sure that I do that.

SMERCONISH: Congressman-Elect, any surprise for you when you got the briefing on the do"s and don"ts as member of Congress?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, there"s a lot to digest, as the Congresswoman just outlined. We must be patient. I"ll tell you, it"s impossible, as she would probably attest to, to digest everything that we"ve got. I think that we must be committed to right, as opposed to wrong, and I think that no matter how long you"re a part of this great institution that you must be committed to accountability and committed to what is right.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Southerland, what must you do, sir--and please be specific--so that in two years, presumably, if you wish to stand for reelection, you can face those who just sent you to Washington and say, There, I got it done?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, I think the American people spoke very loudly and with great clarity last week. They"re concerned about the economy. They"re concerned about jobs. I know down in my own state of Florida that we are running almost historic unemployment numbers, near 12 percent. And I think that if people do not have gainful employment, then they cannot realize the American dream of home ownership and sending their children to college. And I think that they"ve been very, very clear. They want government spending at the federal level to be drawn back, and they want more power in their own family budgets and family pocketbooks.

SMERCONISH: I noticed, in looking at the agenda of some of the briefings that have been offered to you, Congressman-Elect, and not to Congresswoman-Elect Bass--heck, I just want to call you each Congressman, if that"s all right--


SMERCONISH: -- and Congresswoman. I"m getting all tongue tied. But Mr. Southerland, if I may stick with you, sir, I noticed that there were briefings offered by Tea Party Patriots, by FreedomWorks and also by the Claremont Institute. And you know, those are groups that represent the grass roots of change on the GOP side. And yet when I look at who the speakers were, it"s the same old, same old. It"s Bill Bennett. It"s Ed Meese. It"s Dick Army. You know, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

BASS: Sure. Well, I will tell you, on Sunday, we took advantage of the time we had here. We interviewed potential candidates for chief of staff. We were not able to attend any of those functions and organizations and the meetings that they had because we felt like we needed to get a drop on maximizing our time here. So I had--you know, as far as attending those, I was not able to do so, so I can"t really go into what was said and how it was said or how it was interpreted.

SMERCONISH: Congresswoman Bass, tell me about the minutiae. Did you pick out your office? Do you know where to park? Did they give you the double-top secret pledge pin yet?


BASS: No, we don"t have the pledge pin until we are sworn in on January 5th. We pick our offices on Friday. And no, frankly, you know, we have been immersed in the day-to-day work of what it means to be in office, learning about it. And for me, it"s a bit familiar because, you know, I was sworn in six years ago in the state assembly. And so some of what we"re going through in our orientation is very familiar.

SMERCONISH: But that"s a pretty quick career--that"s a pretty quick career path for you. Six years ago, and you"ve been the speaker of the California Assembly.

BASS: Well, you know, in California, we have very strict term limits. And so that"s right. I was speaker in my third term. And our current speaker, John Perez (ph), is actually a freshman, so he"s finishing his second year in office. That"s California.

SMERCONISH: Let me ask you, if I may, the same question that I put to Congressman Southerland. What must you do so that in two years, you can go home, if you choose to, and say, You wanted me to do it, I did it?

BASS: Well, let me just tell you, first and foremost, what I can do is move our country forward in terms of jobs, to make sure that health care reform continues and goes forward, making sure that there"s transportation resources for the state of California. And then having gone through the crisis that we went through in California over these last couple of years, I know that all of my colleagues in the state legislature are very hopeful that I will be able to bring some resources back to California so that we get out of this economic crisis. But order number one, two and three is jobs, jobs, jobs. That"s what we have to move forward on.

SMERCONISH: You"re each joining an organization that is not held in the highest of regard by the public. I"ve got some data I"d love to show to you. Bottom line is that only 26 percent approve currently of the way that Congress is doing its job, 71 percent disapprove. You know the old adage, everybody hates Congress, but they seem to love their member of Congress. Congressman Southerland, what can you do, sir, to raise the esteem of that collective body?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, you cannot have any trust among the people if you don"t have a conversation, if you don"t listen to them and hear them out and understand their needs and where they are. I think the American family is disenchanted. They know that this institution, and in many ways, Washington, D.C., has not been a reflection of the American people. So we got to start with that conversation. We got to listen. Great leaders listen and they listen well, and they act in an honest way, hard work with honest dealings.

SMERCONISH: Does that also go for listening to your opponent? Congresswoman Bass, are you ready to reach across that aisle? You both seem awfully reasonable.

BASS: Oh, you know what? You know what? I am used to reaching across the aisle. I"ve reached across the aisle for six years. I will continue to do that. But let me just say that if you look at it historically, when you look at the numbers, the poll numbers for legislative bodies, whether you"re talking about on the state or on the federal level, it tends to go along with the economy. So when the economy turns around, when we actually have the jobs, when health care reform is implemented, I do believe that the prestige of this institution, as well as the institution that I"m leaving. will go up.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Southerland, many say that those elected with Tea Party support have been sent to Washington simply to put the brakes on this administration. Is that a fair characterization?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, I think that not just the Tea Parties, but those that are not a port of a formal Tea Party organization, they want common sense. They want the unemployment numbers, as the congresswoman mentioned. They want jobs. They want this economy moving forward. And they want--they do want the brakes put on federal spending. It has increased 20 percent over the last two years while the family budgets and small businesses who have been crushed over the last two years have decreased. So I think they spoke loud and clear on that subject.

SMERCONISH: And Congresswoman--

BASS: And--

SMERCONISH: Go ahead. I"m sorry.

BASS: Yes, let me just say that having gone through the crisis that I mentioned in California when I served as speaker, I came here and we desperately needed the help of the federal government, frankly, so that the state of California didn"t go over the cliff. And it wasn"t--if it wasn"t for the resources that were sent to us, for education, for public safety, not only would you have a higher unemployment rate in the state of California, but our economic crisis really would have been severe and we would have been thrown into a depression.

So on the one hand, I do recognize that people are concerned about federal spending. On the other hand, our country was in an absolute crisis. We needed that economic stimulus dollars, and those dollars have helped California from going over the edge.

SMERCONISH: Congratulations to both of you. I wish you all good things and appreciate you being on HARDBALL.

SOUTHERLAND: Thank you very much.

BASS: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: All right. Congressman-Elect Steve Southerland, Congresswoman-Elect Karen Bass.


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