A.G. Sessions testifies before senate committee Transcript 10/18/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Ashley Parker, Yamiche Alcindor, Rachel Bade, Annie Karni, Charlie Savage, Maria Cantwell, Anne Gearan, Eli Stokols, Jeanne Shaheen

Date: October 18, 2017
Guest: Ashley Parker, Yamiche Alcindor, Rachel Bade, Annie Karni, Charlie
Savage, Maria Cantwell, Anne Gearan, Eli Stokols, Jeanne Shaheen


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

With precious few legislative days this year and a White House agenda
crammed with tax cuts, health care and other priorities, the headlines
today were all about President Trump`s handling of a phone call with the
family of a fallen soldier.

One reason is because President Trump decided to engage in this fight,
showing once again he`s unwilling to let any perceived slight go, no matter
how sensitive the topic. It began with this statement by a Florida
congresswoman, who was with the family of Sergeant La David Johnson when
the president called. Johnson was one of four soldiers killed in Niger
earlier this month. Here`s what the congresswoman said the president said.


REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: He was almost, like, joking. He said,
Well, I guess you knew he – something to the fact that he knew what he was
getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway – you know,
just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens. She was in tears. She
was in tears. And she said he didn`t even remember his name!


MATTHEWS: Well, the president responded, “Democrat congresswoman totally
fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action, and I
have proof. Sad.”

He was asked about that tweet later this morning. Let`s watch.


QUESTION: Mr. President (INAUDIBLE) Sergeant Johnson`s widow on the phone?

congresswoman said. Didn`t say it at all. She knows it. And she now is
not saying it. But I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the
wife, who was – sounded like a lovely woman, did not say what the
congresswoman said. And most people aren`t too surprised to hear that.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) the proof, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Let – let her make her statement again and then you`ll find out.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) had said this.

TRUMP: OK, let her make her statement again, and then you`ll find out.


MATTHEWS: Well, Congresswoman Wilson tweeted after that, “I stand by my
account of the call.” And she criticized Trump for not using the widow`s
name, Myeshia Johnson. Anyway, the aunt of the fallen soldier who raised
him as her son supported Congresswoman Wilson`s account, telling “The
Washington Post,” “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter,
and also me and my husband.”

Well, what exactly was the proof President Trump was referring to?
According to spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders today, the conversation was
not recorded, but there were several people in the room with the president,
including chief of staff John Kelly. She was pressed today during the
White House briefing about whether the president denied saying what he was
accused of saying. Let`s watch.


as accounted by – multiple people in the room believe that the president
was completely respectful, very sympathetic, and expressed condolences of
himself and the rest of the country and thanked the family for their

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) didn`t say those words, it was that the context. He
felt that she put it in the wrong context? Is that it?

SANDERS: I`m not going to get into the back and forth. I think that the
sentiment of the president was very clear. And I think it, frankly, is a
disgrace of the media to try to portray an act of kindness like that and
that gesture and try to make it into something that it isn`t.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m not trying to portray anything. Trump`s engagement
with Gold Star families has been a story for three days now, thanks to
comments he`s made. On Monday, he falsely accused President Obama of not
making calls to soldiers` families, and yesterday, he invoked the son of
his chief of staff who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

I`m joined right now by “The Washington Post`s” Anne Gearan, “The Wall
Street Journal`s” Eli Stokols, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire,
who`s on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator, I mean, as United States senator and a member of the Armed
Services Committee, you have some sensitivity, I think, about these kinds
of conversations which occur. I`m holding my powder dry on this one
because I just don`t know what happened on that phone call. And I don`t
know the full context. And I wonder why the president would make a call of
sentiment and conciliation and in any way take a shot at the guy who died
for his country. It doesn`t make any sense to me in that context. How do
you see it or hear it?

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, I think the American people
expect their president to honor the sacrifices of fallen soldiers and their
families, to console families when service members are lost. And to
politicize something as sacred as that is just unforgivable.

MATTHEWS: Well, who`s doing that? Who is doing that?

SHAHEEN: I`m disappointed that this has become a political issue, that the
president has made this a political issue.

MATTHEWS: How has he done that?

SHAHEEN: By – by raising questions about what previous presidents have
done, by – by making an issue of a response from the family of one of the
soldiers that he called.

Look, I`ve been in the position, as governor and now as senator, to have to
make some of those very difficult calls to families. And what I want to do
when I`m talking to the families is to let them know how much I appreciate
the sacrifices that they have made, how much I honor the person who`s been
lost, and how I want to help in any way that I can. And the last thing I
want to do is to make public any of the information on those calls.

MATTHEWS: Well, I agree with you. What do you think of – what would you
do if some member of Congress accused you of making a disrespectful comment
to a widow of a soldier? What would you do? Would you say nothing?

SHAHEEN: Well, what I would say, again, is to honor that soldier and the
sacrifice that the soldier has made and the family has made. That`s what I
think we need to do at times like these, to console the families, to
recognize the heroes that we have lost.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m with you on that.

Anyway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked today about General John Kelly,
the president`s chief of staff. Let`s watch.


QUESTION: Can you describe how General Kelly feels about it? Is he
comfortable with the way his son is…

SANDERS: I think that General Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has
been politicized and that the focus has become on the process and not the
fact that American lives were lost. I think he`s disgusted and frustrated
by that. If he has any anger, it`s towards that.


MATTHEWS: Well, who is actually politicizing this issue? Let`s watch what
the president has said since Monday.


TRUMP: The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other
presidents, most of them didn`t make calls. A lot of them didn`t make

As far as other representatives, I don`t know. I mean, you could ask
General Kelly. Did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people.
I don`t know what Obama`s policy was.


MATTHEWS: Anne, I think we can agree that the president began this sort of
stream of consciousness discussion of this whole thing. I think it`s very
hard when we don`t hear the conversation with him and the congresswoman and
the aunt of the person who was killed in the war over there in Niger, and
of course, his widow. We don`t know what the wording was, what Trump –
maybe he mishandled it.

But to say that he knew what he was getting into could – to me, it covers
a whole lot of bases, the possibility of how you could say something like


MATTHEWS: I mean, he was a man of courage. He knew he was facing horrible
danger in Africa. He knew all this. I mean, that could be said in a way
of saluting him. I can hear it a number of ways.

GEARAN: Yes, it is entirely possible to hear that a number of ways. And I
think, you know, we`re at a disadvantage here because we honestly don`t
know the full content of any of these conversations. What we know…

MATTHEWS: But the congresswoman wanted us to know about the conversation.

GEARAN: The congresswoman…

MATTHEWS: Apparently, the widow wanted us to hear about it. And the aunt
wants us to hear about it. And so we`re hearing about it. And the
president reacts to it. Once again, we`re caught in one of these back and

GEARAN: Yes. I mean, there`s a he said/she said/she said going on here.
And to your point, the conversation with La David Johnson`s family, it
could have been simply the president saying, Look, you know, your son made
a – and your husband made a terrible sacrifice, that`s what members of the
military sign up for, in a sympathetic way.

What we have is the congresswoman`s account that that – whatever was said
upset the widow, left her in tears, and the woman who raised the soldier
corroborating that in a conversation with “The Washington Post” today. So
that`s – I mean, that`s all we know, is how those…

MATTHEWS: Right. We also know the woman`s politics. The congresswoman`s
politics, Eli, are pretty tough on Trump. I mean, we`re tough here, too…


MATTHEWS: … his lack of mental health. Well, she went after his lack of
mental health. She talked about impeachment. She`s very strong from the
other side politically…

ELI STOKOLS, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”: But she`s not the only voice here, as
Anne just said. We have the voice of the woman who raised this soldier.
And we have Sarah Sanders`s own words today. While she excoriated the
media for taking Trump`s words out of context, she did not deny, when she
was asked, point-blank, Did he say that exact – that word, that phrase,
about him knowing what he signed up for…

MATTHEWS: But how do we – how do we know what that meant, though in terms
of that (INAUDIBLE)?

STOKOLS: We don`t. But another thing that she said that was honest, when
asked about General Kelly being in the room, she said, General Kelly and
others in the room felt that the president conveyed as best he could his
empathy and condolences. So that may be a true statement. It`s just that
the president`s best in terms of…

MATTHEWS: I agree with you. Boy, there`s so many…

STOKOLS: … trying to convey empathy may not have been good enough for…

MATTHEWS: Senator, so many options here. One is he just handled it very
bad – an almost bedside scene very badly. The other is he may have meant
something that may not have come over as well as it should, which is
soldiers face death. They go into the jungle, as he did. They are Green
Berets. They are men and women of incredible physical courage. They know
when they go into – on the line, they go up the line, they go into combat,
in a situation like they are over there, and they know what they`re facing,
is a way of saluting the guy.

I don`t take it on face value as some kind of insult or slur. I just
don`t. But obviously, the relatives have a right to take it any way they
want. How do you take it?

SHAHEEN: Well, as you point out, I don`t think we can speculate on what
was in the conversation. I think what we need to do, as I said, is to
honor this sacrifice, to thank the family, tell the family how much this
country appreciates what their husband, son, brother have done and to
continue to honor that and not politicize the loss of our soldiers.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s a whopper. By the way, I`m trying to be very
defending of the president here in this instance. But here`s a whopper.
“The Washington Post” reports now President Trump in a personal phone call
to a grieving military father offered him $25,000, 25K, and said he would
direct his staff to establish an on-line fund-raiser for the family, but
neither happened, the father said.

Well, he offered the money – I don`t even know if that was right – and
then the money didn`t come, nor did the money fund-raising operation.
Anyway, a White House spokesperson responded “The check has been sent.
It`s disgusting the media is taking something that should be recognized as
a generous and sincere gesture made privately by the president and using it
to advance the media`s biased” – well, there we go again.

Eli, how do we – how do we straighten out this another kettle of fish? On
one level, it strikes me, at least, as crass to offer a check to somebody
who`s lost a child, a son, in battle, but…

STOKOLS: I think it struck the family as crass and surprising when they
were made that offer. And it just – this is a president who really
struggles not just with empathy, but with identifying…

MATTHEWS: We have a reporter here.

STOKOLS: With sacrifice. Right and…

MATTHEWS: You broke it.


MATTHEWS: Tell us what you think of it?

GEARAN: It was a colleague of mine. And…

MATTHEWS: Did they find it offensive, the 25K, or what? Or not the – or
that the money hadn`t come?

GEARAN: No, I mean, what my colleague who spoke with the father some weeks
ago – he didn`t find the offer offensive at all. In fact, he found it
welcome. He was upset only that the check hadn`t arrived.

MATTHEWS: And now they`re saying it`s in the mail. That`s a government


MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think? Is that conceivable?

GEARAN: Well, I mean, we don`t know. We…

MATTHEWS: But it was two weeks ago, and the check hadn`t come.

GEARAN: It was a number of weeks ago that the conversation happened, and
as of…

MATTHEWS: So we have to check the postmark then?

GEARAN: We don`t know when the check was sent or whether it has arrived.

MATTHEWS: When did your story arrive?

GEARAN: Our story arrived at approximately the same time as the
spokesperson`s comment.

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, I think the postmark will probably be very close to
your deadline.

Anyway, thank you, Anne Gearan. Thank you, Eli Stokols. And always thank
you, Senator Jeanne Shaheen. This is a tough one.

Coming up, the Russian investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
testified on Capitol Hill today, but was hesitant to say whether he`s been
contacted by Bob Mueller, the special counsel. Why is he being so
squeamish on that point? This comes amid news that Mueller`s team has
interviewed Trump`s top former aides, Reince Priebus, and of course, Sean

Plus, in the past 24 hours, President Trump has done a 180 on health care.
He`s done it again. At first, he was on board with a bipartisan plan to
stabilize the insurance markets. Today, he`s distancing himself from the
same proposal he was for the other day. So where is he on something really
important to a lot of families?

And a party in meltdown. Steve Bannon is once again going after McConnell
and little Bob Corker or Bobby Corker, but he`s not the only Republican
doing battle with members of his own party.

Finally, “Let me finish” tonight with something truly important. It`s
about nuclear war. And we`re getting close to it in North Korea sometimes,
and I worry about it in Iran.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the ongoing protests
within the league earlier today. Goodell said players should stand during
the national anthem, but he stopped short of imposing a rule that would
require them to do so. Let`s listen.


ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: We believe everyone should stand for the
national anthem. That`s an important part of our policy. It`s also an
important part of our game that we all take great pride in. And it`s also
important for us to honor our flag and our country, and we think our fans
expect us to do that.


MATTHEWS: God, he gets $35 million a year to do that. Anyway, Goodell
says he has not spoken with the president. But Trump responded (sic) the
NFL`s decision on Twitter – to the decision, writing, “The NFL has decided
that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our national
anthem. Total disrespect for our great country.”

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Most, if not all, of the president`s
men have come under increasing pressure in connection with the ongoing
federal and congressional Russian investigations. In his testimony before
the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was
extremely hesitant to say definitively whether special counsel Bob Mueller
had interviewed or contacted him in connection with the probe.

Here he goes.


QUESTION: Have you been interviewed or been requested to be interviewed by
the special counsel either in connection with Director Comey`s firing, the
Russian investigation, or your own contact with Russian officials?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I`d be pleased to answer that. I`m
not sure I should without clearing that with the special counsel. What do
you think?


QUESTION: I`m just – have you been interviewed by them?


QUESTION: Hasn`t your office been contacted to request an interview with
you by the special counsel? That`s a yes or no…

SESSIONS: Well, I don`t – I don`t think so.

QUESTION: You don`t think so? Are you sure?

SESSIONS: I don`t recall that I have been contacted. My staff handed me a
note that I have not been asked for an interview at this point.


MATTHEWS: Much like in June, Sessions also refused to answer any questions
about his private conversations with President Trump.

This comes after Politico reported that former press secretary Sean Spicer
was interviewed by Mueller`s team yesterday.

“Spicer was grilled about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and
his statements regarding the firing, as well as about Trump`s meeting with
Russian officials.”

Well, that`s a lot.

Former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was also interviewed, last Friday in
that case. And Corey Lewandowski met today with the staff of the Senate
Intelligence Committee.

I`m joined right now by the author of that story, Annie Karni of Politico,
Charlie Savage, who is covering the Sessions hearings, of course, for “The
New York Times,” and Malcolm Nance, of course, MSNBC`s analyst.

Thank you.

Hold on, Malcolm, for a second.

I want to go to Charlie about this Sessions thing.

What`s this mealy the mouse thing going on here, this mousy, gee whiz,
cute? I mean, he`s a grown-up man. Why can`t he answer a question yes or

CHARLIE SAVAGE, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: There were a lot of weird moments in
this hearing. And surrounding the weirdness was an unwillingness to answer
questions about his conversations with Mr. Trump, both about Russia and
about other issues as well.

MATTHEWS: How about with Mueller?

SAVAGE: At first, he didn`t even want to say that.


SAVAGE: You get the sense of a man who`s really being careful not to get
tripped up.

He said this thing in his confirmation hearing about not having
communications with Russians that has just really damaged his reputation,
when it turned out he had. And he said, well, I didn`t understand the
question as to be what you were asking.

And now he`s just dancing around these things and, on top of that, refusing
to say anything about topics like his conversations with the president
surrounding the firing of Jim Comey or about the attitude towards the
Mueller investigation or about whether it would be appropriate to
preemptively pardon people who Mueller wants to talk to and derail that

One of the interesting themes that emerged from this hearing was not just
that he was refusing to answer questions, but he was invoking the notion
that this stuff might be covered by executive privilege over and over as
the shield to not answer these questions.

And Democrats, you could tell, were extremely frustrated by that, because
President Trump has not invoked executive privilege. They`re saying he`s
stretching this doctrine way beyond the limits of where it can go.


You know, Malcolm, I`m reminded. I have been doing a lot of reading about
Roy – Hoffa, the crooked labor leader of old days, the dirty old leaders
with the Teamsters, and he never took the Fifth. He just kept doing that
kind of waddle, that constant waddle of, oh, I don`t know what you mean,
maybe, I don`t know, could be, I forgot, blah, blah, blah.

What`s he up to? He`s the attorney general of the United States, this guy.
He`s not some guy off the street that got caught up in some sort of gang –
what do you call it? I`m trying to think of something. What? Just what
– man in the street interview, is like he`s behaving.

MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I heard today that, you know,
Sessions may have been playing around with the limitations of, you know,
the questions, so that he could avoid perjury.

I mean, several times before, twice, it was brought out that he had
actually said that he had no contact with the Russians. And then he had
incidental contact with the Russians. And now it was contact with the
Russians, but it didn`t involve me collaborating or, you know, colluding on
the campaign.

Those are really big loops to jump through, when the question originally
was, do you have any information or knowledge of this?

I think he`s very cognizant that the Mueller campaign is eventually going
to come to him as a witness or as somebody, as a person of interest. And
he just does not want to put himself out there.

That being said, he had an audience of one today. Trump wants to see him
push back from these things.


NANCE: And he did a good job of saying, I was offended. You know…


MATTHEWS: Yes, well, let`s – we have a tape of that. Let`s take a look,
if we can, at all the things that Sessions has said about his possible
meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak.

The attorney general has exhibited a pattern of what I like to call rolling
disclosure after the last nine months.

During his confirmation hearing in January, as you said, Malcolm, Sessions
said at first that he had no communication with the Russians.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I didn`t have – not have
communications with the Russians, and I`m unable to comment on it.


MATTHEWS: “I did not.” That`s pretty clear.

Once his meetings with the Russian ambassador were revealed, however, by
the press, Sessions said in March he said he never discussed the Trump
campaign with the Russians.


SESSIONS: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian
intermediaries about the Trump campaign.


MATTHEWS: And now let`s watch what Sessions said today when asked if he
had discussed the Trump campaign with Russian officials.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Have you discussed with them any policies
or positions of the campaign or Trump presidency?

SESSIONS: I – I – I`m not sure about that. I don`t think there was any
discussion about the details of the campaign, other than it could have been
that, in that meeting in my office or at the convention that some comment
was made about what Trump`s positions were. I think that`s possible.


MATTHEWS: That`s possible.

It`s like we`re sitting on a porch in Mayberry. Like, it`s like, OK,
maybe, I don`t know.


MATTHEWS: He`s under a probe here. This is serious business.

Let me just talk about Sean Spicer. What were they getting out of him and
what do you think they got out of Spicer in these interviews with him?

ANNIE KARNI, POLITICO: Well, it was a daylong thing, about seven hours, is
what I was told.

And they grilled him about the firing of FBI Director – former FBI
Director James Comey, his statements afterwards, the drafting of the Don
Jr. statement about his meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian officials
aboard Air Force One. And what else? There was a few other things that –
oh, and there was also some questions about the timeline surrounding
Michael Flynn`s exit.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk to both of you.

Annie, you start.

Who`s in the room when Trump is first president, the first couple of
months, when he`s sitting around there, you know, like politicians do? I
have been with them. They`re blue-skying it. They`re thinking about what
they should do. They`re thinking out loud, including about stuff that`s
tricky, like legal stuff.

KARNI: Well…

MATTHEWS: Who was in the room? Spicer wasn`t in the room that much.
Reince must have been in there a lot, but he shooed him out of the room
when something tricky got going, remember?


MATTHEWS: He moved him out.

Who was a trusted, in-the-loop person?

KARNI: Jared Kushner was in the room a lot. Hope Hicks, who`s now his
communications director, has been in the room since before there was a
room, since before the campaign started.


KARNI: That`s why I think that Mueller`s team is going to talk to Hope
Hicks. They`re going to talk to Don McGahn. Those interviews are probably
going to be next month.

I think those will potentially be more interesting than Spicer, because for
the same reason that Spicer is no longer in his job now is why he might not
be the most important witness, in that he was not an insider player the
whole time.

MATTHEWS: This whole thing revolves, I think, about obstruction of justice
in the White House. And the question is, I think the cardinal question is,
did Trump – and this goes way back to his original sin of firing Comey –
did he fire Comey to protect himself from legitimate prosecution?

And now, again today, he`s attacking Comey, saying he was looking out for
Hillary Clinton, he was a partisan.

Charlie, why is he doing that? Why is she showing again motive why he
would want to get rid of Comey?

SAVAGE: I mean, it`s interesting in many ways that Trump keeps returning
to Clinton as if he`s still in the campaign of 2016.

MATTHEWS: Or returning to the scene of the crime.

SAVAGE: Well, I think he`s reminding his base that might – or the
Republicans, normal Republicans, who might be frustrated with all his
antics is that the alternative is a Hillary Clinton presidency.

He really needs that foil to keep people in line.


SAVAGE: And he just constantly returns to that theme, as if we`re still in
last year and these issues still matter, which they don`t, except for this

MATTHEWS: Malcolm, I feel like I`m sitting in your study somewhere and
hearing your casual remarks to all of this.

Tell me what you were nodding about or concern here. What do you make of
all of this we have been hearing? What do you think he`s up to with going
after Comey again, claiming that Comey`s a partisan?

NANCE: Well, I think he`s afraid. And it`s very patently clear that he`s

Bringing Spicer in and bringing Priebus in sets up two sets of guardrails
that can only channel Trump in one direction. They`re going to give up the
casual information that the chief of staff would know before he has those
closed-door, Boss Tweed-like sessions with his gang of four, right, the
people who he is most concerned with.

Mueller is going to want to know every witness who – that he can bring in
that will show the pathway right up to where obstruction was done. And if
Spicer has no information about that, he will have all of the information
about what went on in that hallway right up to there or on Air Force One
right up to the minute that he was shut out.

And that`s where Mueller will have every – you know, the three – or four
people that were in the room that could have had some form of, you know,
discussion, he will have them in a box at that point.

MATTHEWS: You`re thinking like I am. Thank you so much, sir.

Annie Karni, of course, and Charlie Savage, thanks for your reporting here
that helps so much. And Malcolm Nance, as always.

Up next: President Trump is sending mixed signals on health care again.
First, he was for this bipartisan stopgap deal. Now he`s doing an about-
face. Will the president get on board with this thing to keep people from
getting hurt in the next several months? And does the Senate have the
votes to pass the bill?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


what`s happening.

Authorities have apprehended the man suspected of shooting six people in
Maryland and one in Delaware. Radee Labee Prince allegedly killed three of
his co-workers and injured two others at an office park in Maryland.
Police say Prince then drove to Delaware, where he shot and injured a man
at a car dealership.

IBM gave Wall Street a boost today. The Dow gained 160 points, closing
above 23000 for the first time ever – back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Washington is trying to figure out just where President Trump stands when
it come to the Senate`s bipartisan deal to fix the Affordable Care Act.
The president has changed his position a number of times in just the past
24 hours. Let`s take a look.


QUESTION: Has the White House been involved in those negotiations? And
will you support that deal?

And this is a short-term deal, because we think, ultimately, block grants
going to the states is going to be the answer. That`s a very good

While I commend the bipartisan work done by Senators Alexander and Murray -
- and I do commend it – I continue to believe Congress must find a
solution to the Obamacare mess, instead of providing bailouts to insurance

We`re going to see the bipartisan, and Lamar Alexander`s working on it very
hard from our side. And if something can happen, that`s fine. But I won`t
do anything to enrich the insurance companies.


MATTHEWS: Well, the draft legislation proposed by Republican Senator Lamar
Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state is a
stopgap measure, as Republicans decide if they want to negotiate a future
for the Affordable Care Act at all.

Late today, Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch rejected this deal,
saying the bill was too costly.

For the latest, I`m now joined by MSNBC political analyst Robert Costa of
“The Washington Post.”

Robert, I have got to ask you the first question. I know I`m catching you
off-guard with this.

How do you figure out this conversation that the president had with the
widow of the serviceman who was lost in Niger, and he got somehow bollixed
into a situation where he was offending this woman, or this Gold Star wife?
How did this happen? You think Trump

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The president has made calls to
some of these Gold Star families, tragic situations.

And to one mother, he reportedly said that he – the soldier knew what he
was getting into. That statement was reported by the mother and by a
Democratic congresswoman, who said they were offended by that statement.
The White House denies, the president denies that that`s exactly what he

He also stirred some controversy today, the president did, when a father
claimed the president said he would donate $25,000 to the family. And then
it took four months, until today, for the White House to say they would pay
that up.

We`re seeing the president having these kind of conversations and be very
extemporaneous, and in the minds of some of his critics, offensive.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this deal.

Are we going to get a deal on this stopgap thing, so that people who are
getting subsidies under Obamacare, people who have the Affordable Care Act?
Are they going to get it or not? It doesn`t look like it right now,
because the president is going 180 on this thing.

COSTA: I was calling around House Republicans today, and, Chris, they say
this is going nowhere in the House.

So Senate Republicans may want to see some kind of action to prop up the
Affordable Care Act and really address the question of the cost subsidies.
At the same time, you have a conservative House GOP, and they don`t want to
take it up.

MATTHEWS: Sounds right to me. That`s the same difference I have seen on
the Hill for 40 years. The Senate tends to be a little more bipartisan,
because senators represent whole states. Congresspeople represent
districts which are clearly conservative or pretty clearly liberal, and
they don`t want to play ball.

Thank you, Robert Costa.

Senator, thank you for joining us.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: Well, I think here is an issue of
whether you`re going to stabilize markets or whether you`re going to try to
sabotage markets.

And this plan by my colleagues Senator Murray and Senator Alexander was
about stabilizing things, while we still explored ways in the individual
market to bring down costs.

MATTHEWS: Stabilizing means what?

CANTWELL: Stabilizing means, for those states that expanded Medicaid, they
actually saw in the private market a decrease in premiums.

So covering more people got them out of the emergency rooms and basically
helped us drive down the price. So now, if you pull the plug on all of
that, it`s just going to raise the price in the private market, and we
don`t want to see that.

For the individual market, 7 percent of the health care market, those small
employers, individuals, we want them to have leverage in the marketplace,
just like a big employer would, in buying a package of insurance. And
that`s what we should be talking about.

MATTHEWS: You know what I find just completely confusing about the
Republicans. And I understand the Democrats are for Affordable Care Act.
They voted for it, they believe in it. It`s a landmark achievement. I
think most people watching this show are for it.

The Republicans seem to be schizoid about it, to use a clinical term. They
like to say they don`t like it, and they will vote against it as long as it
doesn`t get signed into law. And they will vote to repeal it 60-some

But when it comes down to the reality, they`re scared to death to get rid
of the only national health care plan we have, and they don`t want to
replace it, because that makes them look like socialists to themselves.
They don`t want to do anything. They can`t replace. That`s why they`re
afraid to appeal, because they don`t know how, ideologically, to do


CANTWELL: Well, I would say – I agree, but I would probably go one step
further, in that, what ideas do they have for the individual market?

If you take this association plan idea across state lines…

MATTHEWS: Oh, that thing, yes.

CANTWELL: … it`s literally – so it`s either cut people off or basically
cut the health care benefits.


CANTWELL: And we don`t want junk insurance.

MATTHEWS: It`s the least common denominator.

CANTWELL: We don`t want junk insurance.


CANTWELL: We want individuals to have the same clout as if you work for a
large employer.

MATTHEWS: So, if you work in New York or New Jersey, you can get an
insurance plan that comes out of Mississippi, and as long as it – it
covers catastrophic, and that`s about it. Right?

CANTWELL: Well, you don`t want to show up in an emergency room and not get
health care because you`re not covered for a procedure.

MATTHEWS: What do you think about this president and this phone call to
this widow, the military widow? Do you think he blew it, or he just didn`t
know how to talk or what? Or are they screwing him?

CANTWELL: I don`t know the details on it.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s an honest answer.

Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you very much, Maria Cantwell of
Washington state. It`s great to have you on. We don`t have you here

Up next, Senator Bannon – actually, Steve Bannon – he`s not a senator yet
– wanted a civil war in the Republican Party, and now he`s got one.
Bannon is crusading against Senator McConnell now. He wants to bop him off
politically. McCain`s calling out the president now. And now Senate
Republicans are turning on each other.

That`s next with the HARDBALL Roundtable. It`s going to be a real scramble
coming up here.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: My goal as the leader of the
Republican Party in the Senate is to keep us in the majority. The way you
do that is not complicated. You have to nominate people who can actually
win, because winners make policies and losers go home.



That was, of course, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell taking a shot
at Steve Bannon over the war with the Republican establishment.

Bannon returned fire last night out in Arizona.


Mitch has been saying this big thing. Hey, you`ve got to win. You know,
winners make policy, losers go home.

Hey, Mitch, note to self, Mitch. Big Luther Strange and Little Bobby
Corker are both going home. These people, Mitch, it`s 2-0.


MATTHEWS: Well, Bannon called for a civil war on the Republican Party.
Now, it appears he`s got what he wanted – a full-blown range war on his
hands. It comes amid the warning from Senator John McCain on Monday.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To abandon the ideals we have advanced
around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and
our duty to remain the last best hope of earth, for the sake of some half-
baked spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find
scapegoats than solve problems –


REPORTER: You heard what he said yesterday, Senator McCain.

people have to be careful, because at some point, I fight back. I`m being
very nice. I`m being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back and
it won`t be pretty.


MATTHEWS: Well, Trump says his fight with McCain won`t be pretty, the
battle between Republicans and Congress has gotten downright dirty,
threatening to derail the party`s agenda.

Here`s what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say about his colleague, Rand
Paul`s opposition to the Senate budget.


REPORTER: Senator Paul just said that you are torpedoing the budget. Are

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think Senator Paul was trying
to find a way to vote no, and he always does. Senator Paul can`t vote yes
on anything because it`s never good enough.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Lindsey Graham wouldn`t know a conservative
if he met one, all right? He`s never been a conservative. He`s probably a
big part of why we have such a massive debt in this country.


MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ashley Parker is White House reporter for “The Washington Post.” Yamiche
Alcindor is national political reporter for “The New York Times.” And
Rachel Bade is congressional reporter for “Politico”.

So, we got all the heavyweights here.

Look, I don`t know where to start, so why don`t you start, Ashley? It so
seems to me that when you only have a two-vote plus to get anything done,
you know, if they lose 51 and 52, they`re left with 50, that`s barely
enough. And now, they`re fighting as if they`ve got some surplus of votes
they can have a lot of fun in the schoolyard with.

really have the room for that sort of philosophical debate, intellectual
debate. What they need is a strong leader in the president, strong leader
in Mitch McConnell to sort of say, look, fall in line. This isn`t all
perfect. Let`s come together. And that`s clearly not happening.

MATTHEWS: Yamiche, that doesn`t look like anything what we`re seeing here.
They`re not going to get anything done this year. How`s that for a bet?
They`re a loser team. As the president would say, losers. They`re not
getting anything done, because they can`t figure out on 50 – they can`t
figure one thing that 50 people agree on. How`s that?

that what Ashley said is really important and key, the fact that they need
a strong leader who could bring them together. But instead, people are
essentially mirroring President Trump`s actions. They`re going after each
other much like President Trump went after Mitch McConnell, much like
President Trump went after Jeff Sessions.

So, yes, when they have all this laundry list of things to do, remember,
tax reform, health care. Let`s not even talk about infrastructure and the
opioid crisis. All the things that the president –

PARKER: Immigration.

ALCINDOR: Right, immigration. All the things that they have to get done,
they have no room for this. But this president is essentially saying, this
is what we do. We – this is attack dog mentality that the Republicans are
going to have. And when you have Steve Bannon out there saying that he`s
going to primary people, why wouldn`t they be arguing with each other?

MATTHEWS: You know, Bannon`s out there like Luca Brasi in “The Godfather”.
I mean, he sends them out there to scare the hell out of people, right?
He`s Luca Brasi. He`s a henchman, and he basically acts like when he talks
like a street brawler, you know, he`s 2-0, you know, 2-0.

Is that going to bring any victory? He doesn`t care about past – and
then, of course, you know, McConnell just sounds like a Washington inside
swampland hero, who all he cares about is keeping his 50 votes, so he keeps
his job and extra money as leader. He just says it. All we`re here for is
to keep the majority – not any ambition for the country, not any policy
ambition, or agenda. Just to hold on to these jobs.


MATTHEWS: Isn`t that what he talks like? I just heard him do that?

BADE: Look, Republicans are in the middle of a civil war right now,
because you have Steve Bannon and the populist wing of the party behind
Trump. They`re getting frustrated with the establishment leaders who
control Congress, not getting the president`s agenda through. There`s no
repeal, the wall hasn`t been – there`s no down payment on the wall. Tax
reform is stalled right now.

So, the irony here is that the more they attack and the more that they go
after leadership, Bannon goes after leadership or talks about primary
fights, the more – the less likely it is that Republicans can actually
right this ship that`s going off-course right now. I mean, there`s a
reason that Speaker Paul Ryan and every single press conference says, I am
not going to comment on the inner party drama.

You know, we are always trying to get him to say, what do you think about
the president`s latest tweet at Bob Corker or Bob Corker saying the White
House is basically a day care where they have to baby sit the president?
And that`s because he doesn`t want to get off message and he wants to keep
the talk about agenda, but the problem is they can`t do that because
there`s so much blood.

MATTHEWS: Is Trump interested in the agenda as such?

BADE: Well, I think –

MATTHEWS: Is he interested in the scoreboard? Does he care about these
things? Do you think he cares about what we`re doing for the subsidies on
affordable care? Do you think he cares?

ALCINDOR: I think he does want wins.

MATTHEWS: He wants to win.

ALCINDOR: But one of the things I should say that helps President Trump is
when we have reels like that where you have senators going after each
other, because President Trump can say, I tried, I tried through my
executive orders to do all that I can do, but Congress just doesn`t
function, so I need new people. I can see them making that argument in

MATTHEWS: Let me (INAUDIBLE). Three smart people, and you can (INAUDIBLE)
these things without opinion. What do you think Trump would rather have, a
second term or a wall?

PARKER: A second term.

ALCINDOR: A second term.

BADE: Absolutely, a second term.


MATTHEWS: OK, what would you rather have, a tax reform to help the middle
class or a second term?

PARKER: A second term.

ALCINDOR: A second term.

BADE: I`m going to take issue with that, though.


MATTHEWS: You tell me whether he cares about something besides his own

BADE: He might not have a second term if he doesn`t get tax reform done.

MATTHEWS: No, don`t change the question. What`s his priority?

PARKER: He actually does care about – when it comes to the actual issues,
he cares about tax reform more.


PARKER: Because it`s something he inherently understands.

MATTHEWS: He wants to get rid of the estate tax? He wants to get rid of
the high corporate tax?

PARKER: It`s something that affects his cohort. He understands it more
than he understands health care.

MATTHEWS: He understands the 1 percent will benefit. Well, also, the
stock market will keep growing. If he gets a huge tax cut through, let`s
give him that. If there`s a lot more cash flowing into the stands of
stockholders, obviously, by definition, there`ll be more stocks sold.

BADE: And there`s redemption, if he gets tax reform passed, I feel like
Republicans can really come back in the midterms and actually keep
Congress. Another thing is, there`s a poll this morning –

MATTHEWS: Did you see the number on the Democrats, way ahead now on the
generic? Democrats are way ahead in who`s going to run Congress, almost -

BADE: That`s because Republicans –


YAMICHE: Look at Alabama, right? Alabama being split, right? How –

MATTHEWS: Just let me tell you something, you are as expert as I am,
Yamiche. It says registered voters.

This is not the way the poll, you register likely voters. This is an odd-
numbered year, all right?


MATTHEWS: `17. OK. Do you think the people that – all registered voters
are going to show up? No. The best way to do it, who`s voted in the last
two elections and who`s just registered?

Now, they`ll vote, but not this number. I think I could make a lot of
money voting on the Republican to win in what, Alabama, yes, I think so?


MATTHEWS: The roundtable is sticking with us. This is HARDBALL, where the
action is.


MATTHEWS: The roundtable sticking with us. And up next, they`re going to
give me three scoops I promise you that you`ll be talking about tomorrow.
I`m raising the bar here tonight. And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ashley, tell me something I don`t know.

PARKER: Bannon world said there`s no one that Steve Bannon respects more
than Donald Trump. He`s fighting for his agenda. But I ask a top Bannon
associate what he would say if the president called him and said, cut it
out, and they said, he`d listen respectfully but I don`t know that he`d
change his behavior.

MATTHEWS: He`s on his own?

PARKER: Exactly.



ALCINDOR: The widow of Sergeant La David Johnson was actually weeping in a
fetal position while she was talking to President Trump. Both
Representative Wilson told me that, but also the mother of the sergeant
told me that that version is accurate.

MATTHEWS: What do you think was wrong with the president? Why did he do

ALCINDOR: I think – well, the idea is that he really hadn`t prepared for
this idea. Hadn`t really talked to people about who he was talking to and
as a result was kind of rushing through this talk.


BADE: News nugget. Even though we`re hearing that Alexander/Murray is
dead, we are hearing from Republican sources on the Hill that they are
considering adding these subsidies to a bipartisan budget deal in December.
So, this fight is not going anytime soon.

MATTHEWS: Alexander/Murray is not a person but a bill. Lamar Alexander
and Patty Murray.

Thank you both, all three of you – Ashley Parker, Yamiche Alcindor and
Rachel Bade.

And when we return, let me finish tonight about something truly important.
It`s about avoiding nuclear war.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with something truly important. It`s
about the role of an American president in the age of nuclear weapons.

Fifty-five years ago today, President Kennedy was confronted by the
startling fact that the Soviet Union was facing intermediate range nuclear
missiles on the island of Cuba. These weapons were capable of reaching
every major city in the United States with the possible exception of
Seattle, up in the far northwest.

Our first reaction was to carry out a surprise attack on Cuba. The danger
of such an attack on Soviet ally, Cuba was clear, the Russians had
threatened to counter any invasion of Cuba with an invasion of West Berlin,
which the United States could only resist using nuclear weapons. We were
simply too outmatched in conventional weapons.

Then on October 18th, again, 55 years ago, someone raised a second argument
against a Cuban invasion. Quote: For 175 years, Attorney General Robert
Kennedy said, we had not been that kind of a country. A sneak attack was
not in our tradition. Thousands of Cubans would be killed without warning
and a lot of Russians too. It would be like the United States carrying out
a Pearl Harbor in reverse.

Well, the decision was then made to blockade Cuba (ph) rather to invade it.
It worked. The scariest episode in the nuclear age was resolved basically
because the American leaders decided to act in the best moral tradition of
the country.

And today, we have a leader who appears to lack a moral compass. He speaks
of destroying all of North Korea, tries to undercut the nuclear weapons
deal we have with Iran.

But a country that loses its sense of moral direction, its sense of who it
is, will face a terrible time finding the patriotic unity that is the heart
of our national strength.

“Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” arrives at the end of this month.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
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
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the