Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/18/2017

Greg Bluestein, Susan Page, Eli Stokols, Ayesha Rascoe, Sabrina Siddiqui, Molly Ball


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

mark tonight.


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.





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.




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.





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





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.




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.




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.



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

last of.


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?



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.




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.




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

high recognition.


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.






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.




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.




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.




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.




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. 




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

under audit.  




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? 




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. 




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,

this uprising. 




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

these taxes? 


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

around here.


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. 





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. 




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. 





what`s happening.


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





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,

very weak. 


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







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

“The Guardian.”


Sabrina, thank you. 


Let`s just start at your end tonight and talk among yourselves, because

this is the question. 




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. 


SIDDIQUI:  Exactly. 


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. 


SIDDIQUI:  Right. 


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?




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. 


PETERS:  Sure.


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. 


MATTHEWS:  Molly. 


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

under Obama. 


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

Eisenhower, ever.


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

Donald Trump. 


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. 


MATTHEWS:  Numbers.


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. 




MATTHEWS:  Jeremy? 


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

good case. 


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. 





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. 




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

other thing. 


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

it`s safe. 




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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