Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/18/2017
Date: April 18, 2017
Guest: Greg Bluestein, Susan Page, Eli Stokols, Ayesha Rascoe, Sabrina Siddiqui, Molly Ball
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Georgia on his mind.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
The polls have just closed in that special election in Georgia`s sixth
congressional district. Jon Ossoff, the leading Democrat in the race, has
a chance to wrap it all up and win the seat if he reaches the 50 percent
If he does, it will be a huge whack at Donald Trump, and this explains the
relentless tweets coming out of the White House. Donald Trump is taking
this one personally, tweeting about the race five times in the last two
days. And clearly, the guy`s got Georgia, as I said, on his mind.
Late today, before the polls closed, President Trump took one final swipe
at Ossoff, tweeting, “Just learned that Jon Ossoff, who`s running for
Congress in Georgia, doesn`t even live in the district. Republicans, get
out and vote.”
Well, this morning, President Trump fired off two other tweets about Jon
Ossoff tweeting, “Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress, very
weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes.
Say no. And Republicans must get out today and vote in Georgia`s sixth,
force runoff, an easy win. Dem Ossoff will raise your taxes, very bad on
crime and 2nd Amendment.”
Well, and last night, the president also recorded a robocall to be played
on people`s phones. Here it goes. It`s for Republicans.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I need you to get out to
the polls tomorrow, April 18th, and vote Republican. That way, we can cut
spending and get our economy back on track and keep America safe. It`s
already happening. There`s only one way to stop the Washington liberals
from taking your congressional seat and your money and your safety, and
that`s by voting Republican for Congress tomorrow.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the affluent suburb outside Atlanta – there it is, north
of Atlanta – is exactly the kind of district the Democrats are eying if
they (INAUDIBLE) hope to ever take back the House in 2018, which is why
President Trump wants to fight off any loss.
Voters had 18 candidates to pick from today, 11 Republicans, five Democrats
– it`s an all-candidate primary – and two independents. But Donald
Trump, who hasn`t endorsed a candidate – no personal person, just against
this Democrat – is focused on that Democratic front-runner, Jon Ossoff.
Democratic front-runner Jon Ossoff is feeling confident with his chances.
Let`s watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS: The atmosphere, the energy
is electric in Georgia right now. The early reports are that turnout is
high. We`re doing everything we can to encourage folks to make their
voices heard and to make history here in Georgia by flipping the sixth
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Flipping the sixth district from R to D. Anyway, he needs to
get 50-plus percent tonight in order to avoid a runoff. The top Republican
contender, Karen Handel (ph), says not so fast.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREN HANDEL (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: This is a Republican district.
It`s a conservative district. And once we get through this, I think you`ll
see, whether it`s me in the runoff or someone else, that this district will
stay in the hands of a Republican.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, millions of dollars have flooded into that race, which has
turned it into a proxy referendum on President Trump`s first 100 days.
For the latest, I`m joined right now by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief
for “USA Today,” Robert Costa, national political reporter for “The
Washington Post” and MSNBC contributor, of course, and Greg Bluestein,
who`s the political reporter for “The Atlanta Journal Constitution.”
I guess I should start, just to be fair, with the local guy, Greg. This
race has gotten a lot of national attention. Explain to me these
candidates. How does Ossoff run without living in the district? I know
it`s legal, but it doesn`t seem to be politically very smart. He`s living
with his girlfriend nearby the district. It`s just – and he`s bringing 95
percent of the money from outside the district.
I would think that any Republican could use that easy against him, all
three of those points, and they don`t seem to be doing it.
GREG BLUESTEIN, “ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”: Yes. Well, they are, in a
way, but it is his biggest liability. He lives just off of the district.
He lives near Emory University, where his girlfriend is a medical student.
And from day one, Republicans have been attacking him as an outside of the
district sort of creation of liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and
outside Washington groups.
And so this is only going to heighten if there is a June 20th runoff
between him and a Republican contender.
MATTHEWS: Can he get (INAUDIBLE) A&B (ph) or something? Can`t he move
into the district or get an apartment somewhere? I don`t – I mean, how
hard is it to move 10 minutes if you`re going to run for – just move! I
don`t get it. Does he ever explain why he doesn`t do that? I mean,
they`re spending – he`s spending, what, a huge amount of money in this
race. Can`t he get carfare to get into the district? I`m being sarcastic
because I don`t quite get it.
BLUESTEIN: He has raised more than $8 million and already spent pretty
much most of that sum. He says he`s doing sort of – he`s supporting his
girlfriend, who`s a medical student who`s about to finish at Emory
University, and will move to the district once she does. But again, this
has exposed a giant liability for his campaign that we have not heard the
MATTHEWS: Robert Costa, you`re also down there. What do you make of it as
a guy that`s just arrived down there doing dateline reporting?
ROBERT COSTA, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think Ossoff
has a lot of electricity on the ground. Democrats are enthused. But
remember, this is a Republican district. This was Newt Gingrich winning in
`78. It was Johnny Isakson, then Tom Price, now the president`s Health and
Human Services secretary.
And a lot of traditional Republicans think this is going to go to a runoff
in June and that once they can get behind one candidate, they`ll have a
pretty good shot. Democrats got this narrow window right here in this non-
partisan primary to slip in, get to 50 percent. It`s a tough call for a
first-time candidate like Ossoff.
MATTHEWS: Well, what good does it do to win a race in a special if you`re
going to lose it the next general – if you`re going to lose it the next
general election next year because once regular voting patterns set in,
he`ll be blown away. I`ve seen these people get elected to these seats as
a fluke, usually after a scandal. I don`t get the long-term plan for that
seat for the Dems.
MATTHEWS: … why they`re going for it.
COSTA: Well, I was in Boston a few years ago, Chris. You remember that.
We were talking then about Scott Brown. It`s all about, for the Democrats,
getting away from being a beleaguered party that lost big in 2016, getting
their mojo back, starting to think about a wave perhaps. They got to win
24 seats in 2018…
COSTA: … to take back the House. If they`ve got any hope of doing that,
they`ve got to win in places like Georgia`s sixth district.
MATTHEWS: Susan, let`s talk about that because that sounds to make – I
love to be devil`s advocate around here, which I`m pretty good at. But it
does seem like they need to get some wins, and it seems to be bothering
Trump a lot, the fact that he could lose this outpost down there.
SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”: You know, if this wasn`t going to be a referendum
on Trump, he made sure it would be by tweeting about it…
PAGE: … by doing the robocall. Maybe he didn`t have any choice. Maybe
it`s going to be a referendum on him and his presidency in any case. I
mean, and that`s why, in a way, Jon Ossoff`s residency matters less because
he is the vehicle for Democrats who are really enthused about the
possibility of perhaps…
MATTHEWS: Well, the Daily Kos and all – all these people are putting
money in there, people on the center left even.
PAGE: Exactly. And of course, there are Republican voters in this
district who are not so enthusiastic about Donald Trump. He just won it by
a point-and-a-half over Hillary Clinton.
PAGE: So that opens the possibility. This is a Trump versus anti-Trump
kind of election, it seems to me. And nobody is looking down the road to
2018. Everybody`s looking at what happens tonight and what signal that
MATTHEWS: They want to shake him up. Anyway, nationally, Jon Ossoff has
become a vessel, as we said, for discontent from President Trump. I asked
him about he – last night about what he thought about the president.
Let`s hear what he says. This is interesting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What do you make of him personally? Do you think – is he a
mixed bag, or do you think he`s bad? Give me a word for him.
OSSOFF: Well, I have great respect for the office. I don`t have great
personal admiration for the man himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Robert Costa, this guy is pretty professional for a young
newcomer. I mean, he answered the question – I thought I was pretty tough
on him last night. He didn`t get hurt at all. I mean, I asked him the
questions. He came with a comprehensive immigration program, including
enforcement, stopping illegal hiring, which I`m focused on occasionally –
more than occasionally. He seemed to hit everything I could throw at him.
COSTA: It was classic Matthews. I was watching that interview, and he was
staying on his talking points, Chris. This is what Democrats have to watch
out for. It`s helpful for them in these fragile, narrow districts to have
a candidate who`s pretty disciplined. Ossoff just keeps saying the same
thing over and over, trying to appeal to moderate Republicans,
independents, knowing it`s going to be a tough path for him ahead.
But he hasn`t become this huge character yet in the district. He`s someone
who lives outside of the district. He`s 30 years old. He worked for Hank
Johnson (ph), used to intern for John Lewis, two respected congressmen from
this area. And so he doesn`t have a high profile, even though he`s got
MATTHEWS: What do you make of him, Greg? Is he is a man of the left, a
man of the center? Would you put him in the Bernie category, the Hillary
category? Where would you find him if you had to- if you were a moderate
centrist, say there is such a thing left anymore in this country, somebody
that`s sort of in the middle, how would that person view this Democratic
BLUESTEIN: I would put him just left of center. He voted for Hillary
Clinton. He was a Clinton supporter in the primary here last year. His
ads and his rhetoric are a lot about, Make Trump furious, stand up against
Donald Trump. But at campaign events, he rarely uses the word “Trump.” He
rarely talks about Donald Trump. Instead, he talks about more moderate-
leaning ideas like cutting spending and fixing but not repealing “Obama
MATTHEWS: Has he been open about his resume? Has he explained who he
voted – I don`t know – has he put out the word that he voted for Hank
Johnson, a liberal Democrat? Is that in his literature?
BLUESTEIN: Oh, yes. I mean, he worked for Representative Johnson…
MATTHEWS: Does he have it in his literature?
BLUESTEIN: … for about five years.
MATTHEWS: But does he put that out in…
BLUESTEIN: Yes. I mean, it`s sort of the backbone of his campaign is that
he worked for Johnson for five years. That`s where he says he has his
political experience in Washington, as a – as what he calls a national
security adviser for Hank Johnson.
Republicans say he`s overinflated that, that working for a back bench
Democrat is no resume to run for Congress on. But he says that it gave him
his grounding in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Well, Harry Reid got elected attorney general of Nevada because
he was a Capitol cop like I was. And I tell you, it made him look like one
tough customer. So sometimes, resumes get inflated coming out of
Robert, you had something there.
COSTA: No, (INAUDIBLE) Greg was saying. He`s spot on. I mean, this is a
careful candidate. You think about who Democrats are going to run in the
next couple years. Is it going to be Bernie Democrats? Is it going to be
more progressives to really try to get that base of the party? Or is it
going to be kind of these polished former staffer types, like we`re seeing
with Jon Ossoff? He`s not an out-there progressive. He`s being pretty
careful in his interview with you and when he`s on the campaign trail.
MATTHEWS: Susan, what do you make of this, and how big`s he going to be?
You write for the paper that sort of tells us what to do on television
sometimes, front page, top of the fold.
Here`s my suggestion. If Ossoff gets 50 percent tonight, he`ll be top of
the fold “New York Times” tomorrow, maybe top of the fold your paper and
“The Washington Post.” If he comes in in the 40s, mid-40s, somewhere below
the fold, not as big – it`s a bigger story if it`s anti-Trump.
PAGE: I think that`s right. It`s a – no, it`s a surprise if he gets 50
percent. That would be a political – if not an earthquake, definitely a
tremor in a district that ought to be going Republican. If he gets 40
percent, that`s a pretty respectable showing. It gets him into the runoff,
but it`ll be harder for him in the runoff against a single Republican…
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think of Handel right there? Do you think
she`s got the fire in her belly to run?
PAGE: She`s a former secretary of state, but she`s lost some elections
PAGE: She`s tried to walk this middle line…
MATTHEWS: She didn`t seem like a fireball to me.
PAGE: You know, it`d be also interesting to look at which Republican…
MATTHEWS: By the way, she kept saying Republican, Republican, Republican,
like it`s all she`s got going for her is a party label.
PAGE: But let`s look which Republican comes in second. That`s not
guaranteed. She`s been favored, but Bob Gray, who`s backing Trump – if he
came in second, that would send a different kind of message if it`s in a
runoff with a Trump guy and a Democrat.
PAGE: So the results tonight will tell us something about how people, at
least in this district, are feeling about the president at the 90-day mark.
MATTHEWS: This reminds me something from Churchill, guys, that I have to
say has never – so many people spend so much time talking about one
congressional race in Georgia.
But thank you (INAUDIBLE) down there, Robert, always on the spot, Robert
dateline. There you are. Thank you. Anyway, Susan Page, Robert Costa and
Greg Bluestein. Greg, welcome to the show.
Coming up, the anger against Trump isn`t about to stop with town halls and
protests. The president is under fire right for his refusal – and he
won`t do it – to release his tax returns. And Democrats say they`re not
going to let him off the hook.
Can Trump get anything done when Congress comes back from Easter recess?
How can they do tax reform when he won`t even admit he pays taxes, if he
Later, why is President Trump obsess obsessed with his predecessor, Barack
Obama? It seems like the only thing Trump has been focused on is dissing
Obama in his rearview mirror. It`s all he talks about, trying to lower the
bar of his own success, I guess. Anyway, the HARDBALL roundtable is going
to talk about that, why Trump keeps looking in the rearview mirror and he
worries more about that than anything else. All he wants to do is destroy
President Obama. Anyway, we worries more about that than building his own
Plus, we`re going to continue watching that hot special election. We
should be having results through this show, through HARDBALL tonight.
Anyway, NBC`s Kasie Hunt`s ready to join us as soon as we get those
results. She`s down there.
Finally, let me finish tonight with “Trump Watch,” interesting tonight.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, former president Herbert Walker Bush has been
hospitalized, but his spokesman said Bush was admitted to the Houston
Methodist Hospital on Friday due to a persistent cough. That`s all. The
92-year-old has been treated with (sic) a mild case of pneumonia, is said
to be in good spirits while he recovers. Great man.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The issue is not over. He
promised during the campaign that he would reveal his taxes. In fact, how
many clips have you got here? He would reveal them after this. He would
reveal them after that. I think that people are going to keep demanding
it, and they`re going to keep demanding it and making their voices heard on
Look, why is it the case that people at the very top should get a bunch of
tax breaks, should be able to hide their business dealings, when everybody
else pays, everybody else gets out there and makes our roads and bridges
work, makes our schools work? Let`s see what Donald Trump is up to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Of course, that`s Elizabeth Warren of
Massachusetts pushing President Trump to release his tax returns. So did
former congressman Joe Walsh on MSNBC yesterday, of all people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE WALSH (R-IL), FMR. CONGRESSMAN: I`m a Trump supporter. He should
release his taxes, absolutely, Katy. And I do think this issue will come
back and bite him in the butt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, today in Kenosha, Wisconsin, President Trump said his
administration is working on a plan to overhaul the tax code. However,
“The New York Times” reports Donald Trump`s refusal to release his own tax
returns is emerging as a central hurdle to that campaign promise.
Democrats have seized on that decision, uniting around a pledge not to
cooperate on any rewriting of the tax code unless they know specifically
how that revision would benefit the billionaire president and his family
themselves. In other words, Democrats are saying, No taxes, no tax reform.
No tax – no taxes (INAUDIBLE) tax reform.
Joining me right now are two White House reporters, “The Wall Street
Journal`s” Eli Stokols, newly branded, and the Reuters Ayesha Rascoe.
It seems to me that the Democrats have got him over the barrel here. First
of all, they`re not going to do the debt ceiling thing, which no party
likes to do, unless if they get the wall out of it and put Planned
Parenthood in it, and now nothing on tax reform unless we see your taxes to
see how it affects you.
ELI STOKOLS, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Well, the Republicans have struggled
to move the ball on any legislative priority even with control of both the
Senate and the House. We`ve seen that on health care and I think on tax
reform, and you see the president vacillating, going back and forth saying,
We`re done with health care. We`re moving on tax reform. Now he`s saying
we`re going back to tax reform, or we`re going to back to health care, that
quagmire. Why? Well, because tax reform`s not ready.
And this situation – Democrats realize they can weaponize this because it
looks pretty obvious that for some reason, the president is hiding
something related to his tax returns. And you know, if they are going to
rewrite the tax code for the first time in 30 years, the public should have
a right to know whether the president`s personally going to…
MATTHEWS: Well, Ayesha, I think there`s always anger from the public now.
If you voted for Trump, it`s anger at what I might call the cultural
liberals that run the country or look like they`re running the country, run
Hollywood (INAUDIBLE) run some of the newspapers, they think. But if
you`re a populist of the center-left or the left, you don`t like big money
kicking butt around this country, and Trump represents that to you.
And here`s a guy that makes all this money, lives lavishly, spends all the
government`s money on his airplane back and forth to Mar-a-Lago, lives
practically in Mar-a-Lago, and won`t tell us he pays taxes, if he pays any.
AYESHA RASCOE, REUTERS: Well, I think…
MATTHEWS: I think that sparks a lot of resentment out there.
RASCOE: Yes, I think that that`s what the Democrats are going to try to
tap into, this idea of, Well, what is he hiding? He wants to reform taxes.
Oh, well, maybe he`s just trying to help himself, you know, and he`s going
to stick it to the little guys, this idea. And they can use that kind of
as a boogeyman, as you said. I mean, tax reform is going to be difficult
anyway. So this is just something else they can use to poke at Donald
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s watch the people poking. At town halls around the
country, Republicans are facing crowds demanding that they push the
president – demanding that the congress people push the president to
release his taxes, as if they have any influence over him.
Let`s watch some of the anger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m wondering if you will take the initiative to have
him release those returns, so that we can see what kinds of connections he
has with different countries around the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I`m aware, the president says he`s still
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My record is clear. I voted against the action in the
committee that would have forced the IRS to…
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you ask Donald Trump to release his taxes?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not going to ask the previous president that I
served under to show his birth certificate, any more than I would ask this
president to show his taxes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Those are weak defenses, because voters have to show – voters
have to pay taxes. Voters have to vote on – they expect you to vote on
tax law. They expect it to be progressive, at least focused on the average
And they won`t push this guy to do what they think everybody ought to do,
is to say, show your pockets. What have you got in your pocket?
STOKOLS: I mean, Donald Trump has Republicans in Congress in a really
tough spot as they go home to town halls.
They`re just being attacked. And what you`re seeing is, it`s the same
thing that`s manifesting itself in Georgia`s Sixth Congressional District,
STOKOLS: It`s all about a backlash to Donald Trump, and it doesn`t really
matter what the issue is, whether they`re protesting that he`s not
releasing his tax returns, whether they`re throwing money at a 30-year-old
they have never heard of to win a congressional seat in Georgia.
STOKOLS: It doesn`t matter what the issue is. This is all driven by
frustration, and I think in some ways by regret from voters.
You hear first-time canvassers. There was a report in Politico this
morning about a first-time canvasser said, why are you doing this in
Georgia? And she said, well, I just have all this regret from the
MATTHEWS: About last November.
STOKOLS: … about not doing more last year.
MATTHEWS: OK. Fair enough.
STOKOLS: And this is a way for them to kind of, as she put it…
MATTHEWS: OK. I think you have got it right, Eli.
I think – I think it`s really a gut anger at Trump and who he is, who he
is, not even particularly what he does, who he is. This guy has all this
money, all this glamour around himself, seems to be living like a regal
person, a royal person.
But the protesters, is it about the fact he doesn`t – they think he
doesn`t pay taxes? Is it about his arrogance in not showing his tax
returns? Or is it this thing about entanglements we`re hearing? Is that
just the latest reading on it? Or people just say, I don`t like him, I
want him to do it?
RASCOE: I think it`s all of the above. I think it could be the
entanglements. He`s very rich. Is he paying taxes?
But I think also is that, even for people that – some people who may be
more sympathetic to him, because he hasn`t had a lot of legislative
achievements and a lot of things that he`s promised aren`t necessarily
coming through as fast as he said, I think, as that happens, then these
issues of the taxes, these issues of transparency become more salient to
MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.
RASCOE: People start really caring, like, well, what is going on with
MATTHEWS: Well, he doesn`t know a lot of history, Trump, OK. We can
agree. Can we stipulate that? He doesn`t know a lot of history. He
doesn`t know like you can`t talk – like, in the civil rights movement, I
remember it well. You can`t talk about outside agitators.
The Southern guys would always say, they`re outsiders. They`re not from
Well, here he is. He`s saying people basically the out – the people are
all being paid now. All the demonstrators out in the street are getting
Anyway, Trump was in Kenosha today, where he signed an executive order
aimed at tightening rules for companies hiring skilled foreign workers.
Here is the president earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The buy and hire
American order I`m about to sign will help protect workers and students
like those of you in the audience today.
This historic action declares that the policy of our government is to
aggressively promote and use American-made goods and to ensure that
American labor is hired to do the job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, “The Washington Post”`s Philip Bump wrote today that his
position – you just heard it there about buying America – is
It`s coming – it`s right, because it said he sold foreign-made products
under his name for years. “His daughter now is an unpaid White House
staffer. Of course, she continues to do the same. President Trump buys
foreign products for his hotels and his properties, and the Trump family
has consistently sought to hire foreign workers for their properties.”
You know, I think he`s like everybody else. You buy what`s inexpensive,
and you look for the best product, and you don`t always know it`s American
or not. That`s a fact.
RASCOE: Well, the White House`s argument on that is that, you know, Donald
– President Trump, he used the system for years.
RASCOE: So now he knows how to fix it.
So, that`s their argument that they`re selling. Whether people will buy
it, that`s the question.
STOKOLS: He`s really beyond shame and parody. He`s not going to shamed by
But this did hit a nerve. We were in a briefing yesterday with some White
House officials, and when this question came up, you could tell they were
not happy about it. The official sort of snapped back at the reporter who
asked that question.
MATTHEWS: What, don`t step…
STOKOLS: And it was obvious that they don`t have a good answer on the
hypocrisy of the hiring, using these visas at Mar-a-Lago, and then saying
basically trying to say, oh, these are – these are undercutting American
MATTHEWS: Yes. One of the great ironies – and I don`t know how to handle
it – but he talks about infrastructure.
Guess who are going to be most of the workers out on the roads when we
build the roads again? Hispanic workers. It`s just going to be a
tremendous draw for the people. A lot of people have come in, some
legally, some not. It`s just going to be one hell of an operation, just…
STOKOLS: Well, and they`re talking about buy American on all these
infrastructure projects, but those rules only apply if these are publicly
STOKOLS: I don`t know that a lot of these projects will be publicly
STOKOLS: They may be incentivized with tax cuts, with some federal money.
STOKOLS: But, you know, this sounds good. This is the note he hit during
the campaign, but whether it makes a material difference in the lives of
the blue-collar workers who supported him remains to be seen.
MATTHEWS: I agree. I think there`s so much emotion in this campaign last
time that the details don`t really grab anybody.
Anyway, Eli Stokols, thank you, sir, of “The Wall Street Journal.”
Thank you, Ayesha, for joining us, Ayesha Rascoe.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Donald Trump did his best to do away with former
President Obama`s policies to combat global warming, did that lickety-
split. And he still has his sights set now on repealing and replacing
Obamacare, although you can`t do both, Mr. President.
So, why is President Trump obsessed with dismantling all the work of his
predecessor? What is this rear-view mirror about?
And that`s coming up next. And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
Police say the man who murdered a 74-year-old man and posted the video to
Facebook shot and killed himself following a police chase in Erie,
Three people were killed in a shooting spree in downtown Fresno. The
suspect, Kori Ali Muhammad, wrote about racial conflict on Facebook. He is
also wanted in connection with a shooting from last week.
A tree branch fell and killed a U.S. Capitol maintenance worker this
morning. The man leaves behind a wife and two children – back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
From championing the birther movement, to accusing President Obama of
wiretapping his phones, or attempting to dismantle Obama`s legacy on health
care and the environment, President Trump can`t stop looking into that
rear-view mirror politically. He`s been fixated on his predecessor ever
since he got here.
And there isn`t much the 45th president hasn`t blamed on the 44th. Take a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: So, look, Obama`s gone, smart guy. He put things on. Seventeen is
going to be the worst year, because he`s gone. He knew that was the year.
Let him be out before it implodes.
Remember this. When I came into this job, I inherited a mess. It was a
mess in the Middle East. Whether you like it or not, the economy was very,
This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something
that was, you know, just they wanted to do. They came to see me. They
explained what they wanted to do.
QUESTION: It turns out his organization seems to be doing a lot of
organizing at some of the protests that a lot of these Republicans are
seeing around the country and against you.
TRUMP: I think that President Obama is behind it, because his people are
certainly behind it. And some of the leaks possibly come from that group.
You look at different things over the years with President Obama,
everybody, he`s been outplayed. They have all been outplayed by this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Well, last month, the president, this president, tweeted: “Terrible. Just
found out that Obama had my wires tapped – my wires tapped in Trump Tower
just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism. How low has
President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election
process? This is Nixon Watergate. Bad or sick guy.”
That`s a grownup talking.
And, today, he tweeted: “The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama
administration allowed bad MS-13 gangs to form in cities across the U.S.
We are removing them fast.”
Anyway, when will President – this president stop obsessing over the last
president and focus on governing the country himself?
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable, Molly Ball, politics writer for
“The Atlantic,” Jeremy Peters, political reporter for “The New York Times”
and an MSNBC contributor, and Sabrina Siddiqui is a political reporter for
Sabrina, thank you.
Let`s just start at your end tonight and talk among yourselves, because
this is the question.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, “THE GUARDIAN”: Yes.
MATTHEWS: It`s like he wants to set the bar really low. The mess,
everything is terrible. So, if he has an even mediocre first couple of
years, it`s better than it was. That`s my theory.
SIDDIQUI: He wants to set the bar low so that he can sell the narrative
that he is improving things, turning around the economy, taking us in a new
direction on foreign policy, when he doesn`t have the substance necessary
to back that up.
So much of Trump`s success has been incumbent on delegitimizing the Obama
presidency, some of which you can`t separate that it incites a faction of
his supporters, his base that also rejected Obama, were not comfortable, of
course, with the first black president. That`s where you get the
birtherism, that Obama was actually the foreign agent.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, that was the original sin of Donald Trump.
And he wouldn`t be where he is today without that.
MATTHEWS: Unfortunately, that`s true too. The ends justified the means
for him, not for the country.
MATTHEWS: Jeremy, this is – I have a thing. It`s almost like a disease.
Well„ it`s a tick. When he`s talking about almost nothing else, Obama
comes in his ear, and he starts talking about Obama being – you know?
JEREMY PETERS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
It`s the same thing with Hillary too. I mean, the grievance list that
Trump has and the grudges that he holds, I mean, he makes the Clintons look
magnanimous. He just – he holds grudge after grudge after grudge. But I
think it`s more than that.
MATTHEWS: Well, what is this, this bitch, bitch, bitch? I mean, he`s
supposed to be a positive, make America great guy, and it`s all this
whining about the job he took.
Hey, look, he knew Obama was president, the last president. He knew he was
coming in after Obama, who was actually quite successful.
MATTHEWS: And now he blames it all on the conditions of the job.
PETERS: Sure, but it`s two things there.
One, nothing is ever Trump`s fault, ever.
PETERS: Number two, it is hard to overstate his desire for validation and
So, therefore, if he`s criticizing how horrible Obama has done, by
extension, he`s doing a much better job.
MOLLY BALL, “THE ATLANTIC”: Well, and Trump is someone who needs an enemy.
He needs a foil.
So, during the campaign, it was just as much of a tick for him to talk
about crooked Hillary, and you actually didn`t hear him talk about Obama so
much. But now that he`s beaten Hillary, now that the Democrats are so
powerless, as to be almost irrelevant, now that he`s not supposed to pick
on Paul Ryan anymore, who can he possibly have as his foil?
Because he doesn`t know what the dimensions of the fight are if he doesn`t
have someone to square off against. And I would say too that it`s still
early days. You know, Republicans would always make fun of Obama for still
blaming the Bush administration for Iraq and the state of the economy years
after he took office.
MATTHEWS: Well, he had a right to do that. He inherited crapola.
PETERS: He actually did inherit that. He did inherit…
MATTHEWS: Come on, he did inherit – he inherited the greatest recession
in history and two unpopular wars. These are facts.
BALL: Well, it`s also true that an incumbent president is not responsible
for the conditions that he faces immediately coming in.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me make a bet.
Trump is lucky if the unemployment rate is as low as it is now when he
leaves after four years – he runs for reelection. That`s what I think
he`s deathly afraid of, that the numbers won`t be better than they were
SIDDIQUI: And I think that Molly`s point is critical here, because Trump
is not the first president to inherit a mess.
But, at the same time, now that he is the president, he has no one else
that he can shift blame upon. He has no opponent that he`s running
against. And he has to be held accountable.
But as we have seen throughout the course of the last 18 months, Trump is -
- Donald Trump is accountable to no one, and he does not take
responsibility. So, if you`re pointing to the fact that he`s not
articulated a particular foreign policy, he`s just going to revert back to
saying, well, the only reason that we`re in this situation is because of
Obama, whereas, yes, Obama mentioned that he inherited a lot of this mess,
but then he tried to at least articulate what his vision is, which
direction he wanted to take the country in.
MATTHEWS: We used to have grown-up presidents, OK? I can remember them,
maybe because I`m the oldest person here.
But I remember they came in and they actually served with honor and pride,
and they didn`t have to trash their opponents. I doubt if Eisenhower ever
mentioned Truman`s name. I don`t think Jack Kennedy ever trashed
And a long of period of presidencies were like that. They just didn`t do
SIDDIQUI: Right. And Obama didn`t trash Bush.
MATTHEWS: Jimmy Carter didn`t run around trashing Jerry Ford. He didn`t
trash Jerry Ford all day. It isn`t what you did.
And Bill Clinton never trashed George Herbert Walker Bush once he got to be
president. They were all positive presidents, whatever their limits were.
They didn`t spend all day trashing their predecessor. They just didn`t.
This is new.
PETERS: We have never exactly had a president with the temperament of
MATTHEWS: Well, I just want to point that out. It`s not normal.
BALL: Obama also has been more critical of Donald Trump since he took
office than George W. Bush was of Obama.
PETERS: That`s fair.
MATTHEWS: Well, it`s self-defense.
BALL: George W. Bush famously retreated from the spotlight and never said
a word in criticism of Obama.
MATTHEWS: Who threw the first stone? Who threw the first stone, Trump or
BALL: But the point is that Obama has come out of the woodwork repeatedly,
or he`s been asked, but he has weighed in on things that Trump has done.
And so I think Trump feels he`s justified.
MATTHEWS: No, I think – I don`t think so. I think…
SIDDIQUI: I think, during the course of the campaign, he weighed in,
PETERS: You hit on something with the low unemployment, Chris, because
what happened there is – as simplistic as it sounds, he needs to make
America great again, or he needs to…
MATTHEWS: I think he needs numbers.
PETERS: … be able to tell people that America is great again.
PETERS: And it`s all about those numbers.
If the unemployment numbers, if the economic growth numbers show that
America is not great, it`s just – it`s the same question that Reagan asked
in `84, only the inverse of it. Are you better off than you were four
years ago? And Democrats will be asking that. And that`s how he could
MATTHEWS: We will get a number sometime at the end of the next three
years, official number of the number of manufacturing jobs in the United
States. And if that is down, if it goes down, not now.
BALL: Unemployment`s still low. Everybody said the stock market was going
to crash as soon as he got elected.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s true.
BALL: That didn`t happen.
MATTHEWS: I`m just saying that he will be judged by the numbers, not by
his B.S. Yes.
SIDDIQUI: Well, a lot of Trump`s success in the campaign had – very much
had to do with the salesmanship.
It`s about the very simplistic message, we`re making America great again.
And so he may not actually have the numbers to back that up, but only by
setting the bar so low, as you said, can he sell this idea to voters,
especially as he`s up for reelection, that he has actually made some kind
of positive change.
MATTHEWS: Let`s see if he gets a bill passed. He`s not going to do health
care. He hasn`t done tax reform. I don`t know what is next on the agenda,
but as long as there is nothing there, he`s got to keep trashing Obama.
The Roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me
something I don`t know, I think starting with Molly.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: We`re back with our roundtable.
Molly, tell me something I don`t know.
MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: A lot of theories about what happened in the
2016 election, what decided the election. How about the vapor vote?
Grover Norquist, remember him? I have a new article about him on
TheAtlantic.com, and his theory is that the 10 million vapors in this
country rose up and voted Republican and tipped multiple states.
MATTHEWS: Who are vapors? Help me.
BALL: People who smoke electronic cigarettes –
MATTHEWS: Oh, those.
BALL: – instead of regular cigarettes.
MATTHEWS: And they voted which way?
BALL: They voted Republican because they want to get the government off
their backs because the Obama administration was going to regulate e-
cigarettes. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, where Trump was today, he
campaigned actually pretty hard on being in favor of keeping vaping legal,
and he barely won the state.
MATTHEWS: It`s called vaping?
BALL: It`s called vaping.
MATTHEWS: You`re so ahead of me, Molly.
JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: So, tonight, the special election in
the suburbs of Atlanta. Already –
MATTHEWS: We`re waiting for results. They haven`t come in yet. Go ahead.
PETERS: They have not come in. It looks like the Democrat is probably not
going to cross the 50 percent threshold, though you never know. Already,
though, Republican outside groups backed by some of the biggest donors on
the right are moving their reinforcements in.
MATTHEWS: OK, I predict a very negative special election.
PETERS: Well, yeah, absolutely because all of these outside groups are
coming in and they`re going to attack the Democrat. They already are,
though. They already are.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: So, federal agents we`re just learning
have deported the first DREAMer who was protected under Obama`s DACA
SIDDIQUI: He`s a 23-year-old who came to the U.S. when he was just 9 years
old. He`s now back in his native Mexico. He had left his wallet in the
car. The agents wouldn`t even let him get the wallet, retrieve it, so he
could show his paperwork, that he was allowed to stay.
MATTHEWS: So he was legal?
SIDDIQUI: He was granted protection under DACA.
MATTHEWS: Oh, under DACA. I got you.
SIDDIQUI: It had not expired and he had the paperwork. They wouldn`t even
let him go to the car –
MATTHEWS: Can he get back to the country now without paper?
SIDDIQUI: Immigration advocates are trying to get involved, but obviously
this would be a question for –
MATTHEWS: Why wouldn`t they let him get his wallet? Why wouldn`t they, if
he said, at this point, I`ve got protected status, why wouldn`t they let
him do it?
SIDDIQUI: They didn`t provide a response, and this is notable because,
obviously, Trump said he was leaving DACA in place and that he would not
MATTHEWS: I hope an immigration lawyer is watching because it seems like a
Anyway, thank you, Molly – Molly Ball, Jeremy Peters, who loved Havana,
and Sabrina Siddiqui.
Coming up, we`re going to head – just kidding – we`re going to head back
to Atlanta to check on that congressional special election, see if we`ve
got the results in there now. It`s 15 to 8:00. We might have it.
This is HARDBALL. We`re going to have the reaction in a minute.
MATTHEWS: Well, Vice President Mike Pence reassured Japan of the United
States` commitment to resolve issues with North Korea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the face of
provocations across the Sea of Japan, the people of this country should
know that we stand with you in the defense of your security and prosperity,
now and always.
Now, the United States will continue to work with Japan, our allies across
the region, and China, to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear
until North Korea abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But
all options are on the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Let`s go right now to NBC News Kasie Hunt, and national political reporter
of “The Washington Post” and MSNBC contributor, Robert Costa. Both are
with the Ossoff campaign headquarters down in Atlanta.
Robert, you first. What do you know about why we`re not getting results
now? We`re supposed to get them by now.
ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Polls closed at 7:00, but some of these
polling locations, we`re told at “The Post” – I`m sure NBC is hearing the
same thing – had to be left open just to let – more people come in. They
were not working properly at some times during the day. And so, we`re
probably going to get results at first around 8:00.
MATTHEWS: Kasie, what do you know down there? Do you have any word from
the turnout? Is it high?
KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS: Isn`t that always the question, Chris?
Look, I think that there were – there was some thinking that if we saw
more voters than expected at the polls today, that might actually bode well
for Republicans only because there was a lot of concern about the early
vote and the Democratic advantage. But Republicans did catch up to
Democrats in the late-breaking early vote. The question, of course, those
independents, 18 percent or so of the early ballots were from independents.
When we first do start to get results, those could be some of the earliest
results we see here. But I think another question and one that`s been put
to me by the sources I talked to today is how many low propensity voters
are there. Are those polls that are showing Jon Ossoff – and obviously
it`s a special election in one congressional district. So, we have to be
skeptical about all of the polls. But if they`re using traditional models,
they may not be picking up the voters that we think are driving Jon
Ossoff`s enthusiasm, which are people who were taken by surprise by
President Trump and suddenly feel energized to get out and vote now. And
that could potentially get him closer to the 50 percent mark.
I will say there are some Republicans who are spinning me that they think
Ossoff will get to 50 percent. I think Democrats are trying to do the
COSTA: Hey, Chris, one of the things I`m hearing right here in this
ballroom, Ossoff`s headquarters tonight, from the Democratic insiders, is
they`ve got to do well in the southern part of this sixth congressional
district. That`s that lip right around Atlanta, before you start
stretching up to Roswell and the more Republican strongholds in the
district. The college educated, 25, 35, 45-year-old voters who live in
Chamblee, in Brook Haven, they need to come out in droves for Ossoff if he
wants to run up the numbers.
Remember, Clinton came close here in 2016, didn`t win the district. So,
they`ve got to do pretty well in those tight suburban areas near Atlanta.
HUNT: And, Chris, can I just to add that? To – one thing I`ve think
they`ve been trying to do is run Jon Ossoff as kind of generically as
possible a Democratic ballot test, but somebody with a millennial pedigree,
to try to reach those very voters, to say, hey, look, this is the new face
of the Democratic Party, but who also doesn`t put a foot wrong on the
issues that older Democrats care about.
I challenge you to get Jon Ossoff to say something very interesting or
personal. I asked him in an interview what do you like to do for fun, and
he couldn`t – he had trouble answering the question. He said, I haven`t
had time for very much fun. Eventually said I like to walk in the woods.
That`s my favorite thing.
You probably noticed having interviewed him yesterday, it`s very hard to
push him off message right now.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I got a feeling that he has a very narrow focused appeal.
It`s very regimental.
It`s – you know, I always like to look at the back page of a pamphlet
somebody hands out, a brochure. I want to know where they went to school,
where they came from, where they grew up. I like to know the high school.
I`d like to know all that stuff. I`m not sure he wants to sell that.
COSTA: It`s true. I mean, he went to a private high school here in the
area. His parents still live here, and he`s someone who is really – when
I was sitting in a doughnut shop called Dandy doughnuts today, right
outside one of Ossoff`s – one of his field offices, they had all these ads
playing. The whole local TV, Chris, is all Ossoff ads and he keeps
emphasizing in these ads that you can`t stop seeing that he worked as a,
quote, “national security aide” for Hank Johnson, the local congressman
Democrat, and this has become kind of a campaign issue because Republicans
say he`s overstating the kind of policy work he did for Congressman
But that`s the kind of voter he wants to reach, kind of the national
security moderate who may be uneasy about Trump.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but isn`t that true that he voted for a guy, look at Hank
Johnson, who was a man of – I`m there too, political left on foreign
policy. I think that`s probably to offset, saying oh, you voted for Hank
Johnson. I looked at his record in the Middle East, he`s a man of the
left. We`re not going to vote for you. So, he comes out and says, I`m a
nationalist – I understand the politics. The spin, I`m sort of soldier
out there defending the country, even though I had a staff job.
It`s an image thing, but I think they must have worked it up in their
council fires. They figured it out, Kasie. Make him look like a soldier,
a tough guy.
HUNT: Well, I think it`s a classic pitch from a Democrat in a conservative
state, right? And this, of course, is a conservative district.
I remember when Michelle Lund was running for the Senate, she did kind of
similar messaging around national security, and she very rarely said out
loud, hey, I`m a Democrat. And Jon Ossoff doesn`t say that either. He
says, you know, you ask him what`s at stake here? He says, well, this is a
chance for our community to stand up, and he won`t even say Donald Trump`s
name often enough. He`ll talk about kindness and decency and saying that
we`re not for division.
But he`s very, very careful in his language.
COSTA: Real quick, let`s talk about the Republicans. Remember, there`s
not a big foot Republican running in this race. This was the district of
Gingrich, of Johnny Isakson –
COSTA: – of Tom Price. He got 11 Republicans, no big name, Karen Handel
has been around for about a decade. This should be an easy win for the
GOP. But they`ve got no big name, some face everybody knows to make sure
HUNT: I mean, remember back in 2010?
MATTHEWS: Have you guys taken any heat back, out there with the people?
Anybody, Trumpians taking shots at the media? Have you felt in there,
HUNT: I`ve had Democrats taking shots at me.
MATTHEWS: You`re laughing, Robert. Any attacks?
COSTA: I am, Chris, because –
MATTHEWS: Are there any attacks?
COSTA: Well, I mean, I`m not getting attacked, Chris, but I mean, I`ve
heard the phrase “fake news” uttered by a few of these Republicans I`ve
met, but it`s something I`m used to. We`re all used to it.
HUNT: Yes, I`ve had Democrats come up and criticize us for saying what
they think are false narratives about Ossoff. In my view, it`s been
flipped down here.
MATTHEWS: I love it. You`re in the action. Thank you. Where the action
is, dateline people.
Anyway, thank you, Kasie, and thank you, Robert.
When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, April 18th, 2017.
You`d think this was Donald Trump`s re-election campaign. I`m talking
about today`s primary down in Georgia to replace his HHS Secretary Tom
Trump seems obsess with the possibility voters will pick a Democrat to
replace him, afraid this will send an SOS around the country, news that an
outpost of Trump`s America has fallen. We`ll see.
I think the obstacle facing this president is not the other party. It`s
not the loss of a seat here or there. It`s within the party itself. How
is he going to get a majority of the House of Representatives to raise the
federal debt ceiling? How is he going to get that debt ceiling raised if
it`s to pay for a wall along the Rio Grande River, if it`s to kill federal
funding for Planned Parenthood?
Want more? How is he going to get a majority of the House to vote for any
tax reform bill when he won`t show his tax returns? How is he going to get
the House to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare? Yes, the president has
obstacles facing him, but his biggest worry right now tonight is, his old
worry of not looking big enough.
That`s why he`s watching the race in Georgia. It`s because he`s afraid not
of losing real achievements, but because he`s afraid of losing the image of
achievement. He`s afraid it will look like tonight, people don`t like him.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
“ALL IN” with Chris Hayes starts right now.
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
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