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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/28/2017

Guests: Tom Perez, Rep. Keith Ellison, John Heilemann, Eli Stokols, Jack Reed

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: February 28, 2017 Guest: Tom Perez, Rep. Keith Ellison, John Heilemann, Eli Stokols, Jack Reed


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

Well, tonight, President Trump will deliver his first speech to a joint session of congress. It won`t be a room filled with his fiercely loyal supporters, however, but instead the president will lay out his plans and priorities for his administration to both parties tonight, each side of a divided country.

Expectations have been heightened today after the White House indicated that immigration reform is on the table, and the president is expected to be making a major announcement on that issue.

Well, the president told TV reporters, or anchors, at the White House that, quote, "The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there`s compromise on both sides." That`s a Trump quote from today. And according to a senior White House official, the president is open to legal status for undocumented immigrants who haven`t committed serious crimes. Well, those individuals would not need to leave the country first.

Well, this could constitute a major shift in policy and rhetoric, certainly, following his presidential campaign. Could this be the ultimate overture for unity coming from President Donald Trump? We`ll find out in a just a few hours from now.

Meanwhile, it`s been a big week for Democrats, as well. The party that`s had its hopes dashed with a crushing defeat across the board last November elected a new leadership team to steer the party into the Trump era.

Joining me right now is the new leader, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the first Latino American to hold that position, former Labor secretary Tom Perez, and his former rival now deputy DNC chair, Minnesota U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison.

Well, this is a major show of unity. I love this, gentlemen. First of all, a little levity here for you, Congressman Ellison. Was this election rigged? Donald Trump says it was rigged. Your thoughts?

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D-MN), DEPUTY DNC CHAIRMAN: You know, with a guy who`s getting help from the Russians, for him to call anything rigged is quite ridiculous.

No, you know, this was a good election. It was a fair election. I was very proud to support Tom. He won this thing fair and square. And I`m glad to be part of the leadership team, and we`re just asking all of our supporters to come together, as we have, so that we can not just stand up to Trump, but to go much beyond that, to project a positive vision for our country, which includes standing up to Trump.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Perez, this is something out of "West Wing," to give the guy you beat in a close election the number two job in the DNC. So what job are you going to give him? I mean, what actual role is the congressman going to play here?

TOM PEREZ, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, I mean, Congressman Ellison wrote the book on grass roots advocacy. Look at the turnout that he was able to produce in his district. You look at state- level offices in Minnesota, the reason -- one of the main reasons they`re all Democrats is because Keith Ellison turns out voters. That`s what we have to do.

We lost this election in this past November in no small measure because we didn`t turn out voters in Michigan, we didn`t turn out voters in Wisconsin, we didn`t turn out voters in Pennsylvania. And frankly, over the last eight years, you look at what`s happened in state legislatures, we have to turn out voters.

And between the two of us, it`s definition of synergy, getting out there, getting back to basics, building strong parties. When you build strong parties and you define your mission as electing people from the school board to the Senate, not just the president, that`s the definition of success. And I`m confident we can move forward.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Ellison, I was always amazed -- I`m always amazed, having grown up with Hubert Humphrey and Gene McCarthy and Mondale, to see how close the election was last November in Minnesota. It was very close. You won, but it was pretty tricky there.

My question to you is, what -- I`m not talking Hillary Clinton. She had her turn. What could Democrats have said last November that would have turned the trick and -- for the states in the Midwest -- Indiana -- maybe not Indiana, but let`s start with Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio. What would have turned the tide for the Democrats, what message on economics? Let`s start with that.

ELLISON: Well, no one really knows, but the Democratic Party has to always be about jobs, has to always be about the kitchen table issues of putting people to work. I`m talking about things like retirement, education. Everybody wants their kids to have a future, and of course, a good, solid livable wage. These are the key issues that we have to pound on time and time again. And we got to recognize that over the last 40 years, we`ve seen wages stagnate, we`ve seen plants go away, and we have got to be responding to that reality in Minnesota and all over the country.

PEREZ: And Chris, I completely agree with that. Another issue in those states is that we didn`t have a presence in a lot of zip codes in those states.


PEREZ: I was in northwestern Wisconsin about three weeks ago in connection with the campaign, and I remember meeting a guy -- this was Dave Obey`s district -- and you`re a political junkie...


PEREZ: ... northwestern corner of the state, a good Democrat there fore a generation. And he said, I feel politically homeless because the national Democratic Party stopped showing up.

And the story of Wisconsin, the story of Michigan was, you know, underperformance in big cities, whether it was Detroit or Milwaukee.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you.

PEREZ: And then we got our butts whupped in the rural portions of the state because we didn`t show up. And we have to have a 12-month organizing presence. That`s what we have both...

MATTHEWS: Showing up.

PEREZ: ... been talking about relentlessly. We`ve had passionate agreement on just about everything, and one of the main things is that we got to get back to basics. The solutions to the challenges we confront as a party are not rocket science, but we`ve got to execute and we`ve got to execute everywhere, and we`ve got to do so relentlessly.

MATTHEWS: Well, the Democratic leader of the United States Senate, New York senator Chuck Schumer, responded to reports tonight of a compromise offer coming from the White House on immigration. Well, let`s see. Let`s watch him, and I want your reaction.


QUESTION: Do you think he has credibility on that issue, considering what has been done with these executive orders?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: He`s got a lot to undo. I mean, the immigrant community is rightfully scared of what President Trump has done.

Once again, it`s an administration that they don`t seem to know what they`re doing. They simply come up with these proposals that sound good, and then they can`t implement them. They don`t make any sense. They don`t meet the law. It`s -- it`s -- it`s amazing in a month how -- how incompetent this administration has been. Incompetent!


MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Mr. Perez. You`re the first Latino leader of the Democratic Party, and maybe that`s -- well, that`s history, and now you are. And the question is, how are you going to -- what`s the Democrats` bargaining position on immigration? Are there going to be -- it looks like if he`s going to allow everybody here who`s come here without papers to stay, unless they`ve committed a felony, that seems to be a pretty good offer because that`s what he was fighting against the whole campaign! I don`t know. It sounds almost overwhelmingly surprising.

PEREZ: Well, two points. We should have passed 2014 immigration bill...

MATTHEWS: I remember that.

PEREZ: ... in the House that was passed in the Senate in a bipartisan...

MATTHEWS: They should have brought it up for a vote! They never brought it up for a vote!

PEREZ: And if it had been brought up for a vote, a majority of that body would have passed it, Chris.

Point number two, you heard what he said today in his offer. He`s -- he has been in the last week deporting (INAUDIBLE) He`s deporting, you know, kids. He`s deporting, you know, someone who dropped off their kids at school.

I judge people by their actions. I find his offer utterly lacking in credibility when at the same time he`s communicating his offer, there are folks who have not done anything that fits any remote category of danger and they`re getting deported...


PEREZ: ... whether it was the mother -- the undocumented mother of two citizen children in Phoenix, the dreamer in Seattle, there was someone recently in -- closer to home who, again, was literally dropping his kids off.

This president demonstrated no creditability whatsoever with this community. If he wants to take that 2014 bill and bring it to an up and down vote in the Senate and the House, well, then I`d say that would be real progress because we need a pathway to citizenship.

ELLISON: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Well, I -- I count three votes for that! Let`s -- if we ever get that vote again- that was, to me, a perfect bill. Ted Kennedy (sic) was for it. I mean, Schumer was for it. Lindsey Graham was for it. I mean, some good Republicans were for it. In fact, a dozen senators and that...

ELLISON: John McCain.

MATTHEWS: And that -- and then John McCain, and that Boehner character wouldn`t even bring it to a vote because of the Tea Party.

Thank you, gentlemen. Congratulations. I like the looks of this.


MATTHEWS: This looks like unity to me. Anyway, thank you, Congressman Keith Ellison, the first runner-up...


MATTHEWS: ... and Tom Perez. Thank you both for being here together.

Michael Steele`s the former chair of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC (INAUDIBLE) Michael, you`re smiling always. You`re a good guy on this. I guess you`re seeing -- by the way, just take a look at that team. What do you think of it? As an R, what do you think of that D team?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it`s a good team. It`s a good team. As I like to say, yes, everybody`s doing the high-fives and the laughing and the dancing, and then the running and screaming starts because that`s where the real work is going to have to get done.

MATTHEWS: What`s the last time the Republican Party danced? I didn`t know they were dancing.

STEELE: Oh, we danced when I was chairman.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about tonight. Do you -- I think Trump has got one up his sleeve. If he comes out and says, basically, If you`re here illegally, if you`re here without paper, and you`re going to -- if you`ve cleaned up your act or have a cleaned-up act the whole time you`ve been here -- because I never thought he was going to do 10 or 11 million people out of the country.


MATTHEWS: I never thought that would -- you think Elian Gonzales was a problem for the administration, you yank a kid out of a closet, you yank, you know, a couple million kids out of houses, and you`re just finished, no matter how hard-nosed you are.

STEELE: No, I see...

MATTHEWS: You think he might just do a deal that -- I hope the Democrats match him...

STEELE: No, he is.

MATTHEWS: ... and say, yes, we`ll match you on enforcement now. We`ll have e-verify. We`re going to do it right this time, like we did in that bill.

STEELE: I think the wall is one piece. It`s a separate bone, and folks will chew on that. Meanwhile, I think the substance of immigration reform -- you saw a salvo. I don`t know how big a salvo it was tonight with -- with those editors and others -- where he kind of laid out this little bombshell that, yes, I`d be -- I`d consider, you know, DACA. That`s basically what he talking about.

So I think the president recognizes that he`s got some holes in this wall that he`s trying to build, and he`s got to fill this hole the right way. And it goes to exactly what the chairman was saying about the community as a whole. You still got 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, 29 percent in the election. So that`s something to start with to rebuild that relationship. And if he comes to the table with a modification on the 2014 bill, or whatever the "gang of 8" was proposing back in the day, that is a great entree for him. The problem, Chris, is navigating that with his conservative caucus in the House, and that...

MATTHEWS: Do you think that both parties want a deal? I am -- OK, call me a skeptic, but I think a lot of Democrats like the issue of Republicans being SOBs, if you will, on illegal immigrants.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And a lot of people on the other side like it -- Republicans like it because they just like to be anti-Hispanic. And it seems to me that the solution probably takes away from some of the firepower on both sides.

If we solve the problem and have a rule where people here get paper, they all become legitimate to stay in the country, and henceforth, anybody who wants to work in this country has to have paper, therefore, the only losers would be the felons...

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... and people coming in illegally tomorrow night.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And I don`t know what the constituency is for felons or future illegal immigrants. It seems to me there`s a deal there if they want to make a deal. My skepticism is, does both parties equally like the issue more than the solution?

STEELE: Well, that`s a good question. The deal has been there since Bush 43 second term.


STEELE: So that`s how long the deal has been there. I think at the end of the day, what you`re describing is process. How do you get through this process? How do you deal with the immigrant who`s here illegally when a lot of Americans resent that?


STEELE: And that has been more the political foil, as opposed to the substance of dealing with the process of getting those folks either in the back of the line...


STEELE: ... or what are you going to do with them? I think that`s going to be the rub. The politics of this is I think going to be overwhelmed by Donald Trump, to be honest. I think Donald Trump wants to cut the deal. And I think Donald Trump will be prepared -- President Trump will be prepared to sit down with Schumer and others on the Democratic side to do that.

MATTHEWS: Well, if -- if they do sign a bill, there`ll be three losers, and I don`t feel a lot of sorry for them. One, the felons who`ve committed felonies since coming into this country illegally.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: OK, make your own bet, buddy, but you don`t have a -- (INAUDIBLE) a claim to moral superiority.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Number two, the guys who hire people when they just get across the border because they`re the most desperate, willing to work for the least amount of money, exploit the hell of out them.

And three, people planning to come here legally tomorrow. I`m sorry, there`s going to be losers and winners. I can live with that deal. That`s a good deal. Clean up the system, be American about it, have a liberal policy for people coming here, but damn it, enforce the law.

STEELE: Another piece of that...

MATTHEWS: And do the job and treat people like people who are who`ve really become Americans. They`re not papered. They`re not legal under the law, but they`ve come here 20 years ago and they`ve tried to make a life here. They haven`t committed a crime. They`ve done their jobs. They`ve paid payroll taxes in most of the cases.

STEELE: Well, let`s get them -- let`s get them identified and get them in a line...


MATTHEWS: Make them Americans, eventually. OK, Michael Steele?

STEELE: You got it.

MATTHEWS: We agree.


STEELE: Thanks, man.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Coming up, as President Trump gets ready to address Congress and the country tonight, he`s blaming -- this is rotten stuff -- blaming his predecessor, President Obama, for both the protests around the country and the leaks that have dogged the Trump administration. What`s he talking about? And of course, he also accused Barack Obama of having entered the country illegally. Remember that? So you can`t trust a lot of what Trump says. Remember he had evidence, he had people, investigators, telling him -- I have people down in Hawaii, they`ll tell you how he snuck in the country. You believe that, you`ll believe this.

Plus, Trump`s proposing a big increase in military spending partially paid for by deep cuts to just about everything else, including the State Department, which isn`t sitting well with leaders of both sides. We`re going to talk to the top Democrat in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

By the way, I`m going to ask him how many nuclear weapons do we have now? How many thousands of them do we have, warheads? And how many more do we need?

And even though Trump`s overall job approval numbers are under water, there`s a lot more to the story, as our new polling shows.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch."

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, don`t miss a late night edition of HARDBALL. Tonight following the speech, we`re going to have an all-star cast. Look at these people! Bill Maher is coming on live, Michael Moore, live, Kathy Griffin, certainly live, Rob Reiner, Bradley Whitford (ph), Robert Downey, Nancy Giles. We`ll hear all of that and all their thoughts about Trump`s speech, live reaction to a live speech tonight. You`re going to hear a lot of noise, some of it (INAUDIBLE) I don`t know, censor some of this. It`s going to be pretty wild. This is HARDBALL late night tonight, midnight Eastern tonight.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. President Donald Trump`s much anticipated first address to a joint session of Congress represents a major, certainly, opportunity for the president to outline his priorities and unite his party, as well as the country, behind his agenda, which we haven`t seen yet.

Well, tonight`s speech couldn`t have come soon enough for some Republican lawmakers who believe the president needs to issue more specific guidance to his allies in the Congress. As "The Washington Post" reports, "The biggest problem for Hill Republicans is that Trump so far has not moved beyond vague pledges. The lack of direction from the new president, who is defining his own brand of Republicanism, is making it harder for Hill Republicans to coalesce around the specifics of his -- of their own priorities

Well, those fault lines are become apparent between the president and his party and his approach to federal spending and health care. Here`s what the president said about discovering that health care is, as he put it, complicated.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, I have to tell you, it`s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.

And you know, health care is a very complex subject. If you do this, it affects nine different things. If you do that, it affects 15 different things. I think we have a great plan, and I think Congress is absolutely taking a lot of blame, but it`s not their fault. And don`t forget, I`ve only been here for, like, four weeks. Somebody said, He hasn`t done health care! They`ve been working on health care for 30 years! I`ve only been here for, what is this, my fifth week?


MATTHEWS: He`s only been on the planet for five weeks?

Anyway, and while the president is expected to propose a build-up of the military, his plan notably leaves out entitlement reform, which Speaker Paul Ryan has pushed for years. Here`s Trump on how he`ll pay for all this stuff.


DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States: I think the money is going to come up from a revved-up economy.

You look at the kind of numbers we`re doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1 percent. And if I can get that up to 3 or maybe more, we have a whole different ball game.

QUESTION: You have an OMB director finally. He says you have to take an axe to entitlements. Your treasury secretary says, we`re not touching it.

Who is right?

TRUMP: Well, I will tell what -- who is right. If the economy sails, then I`m right, because I said I`m not touching Social Security.


MATTHEWS: Well, additionally, the president is proposing to offset increased military spending with cuts to discretionary programs affecting the EPA and the State Department.

Anyway, those cuts have also rankled some of his party. Senator Lindsey Graham said today the budget is dead on arrival.


QUESTION: State Department, 30 percent cut, are you OK with that?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, it`s dead on arrival. It`s not going to happen. It would be a disaster.


MATTHEWS: All said, tonight`s speech is an opportunity to put some of the meats on the bones of the new president`s agenda.

Joining me right now is John Heilemann, executive producer and co-host of "The Circus" on Showtime. Heidi Przybyla is senior politics editor at "USA Today" and an MSNBC political analyst as well. And Eli Stokols is White House correspondent for Politico.

Let`s not get into the weeds. I want to get into the main strokes of what the president is going to have to do tonight. Immigration, I think -- I said it before with the new chair of the Democratic Party and his new deputy. I think a lot of politicians like the issue.

I think, on the right, we`re against Hispanics. We want to get them out of the country, blah, blah, blah. Nobody believes it`s ever going to happen. They`re part of our country now.

And Democrats, who like defending them politically, because that`s building up the Democrats` demographic time bomb, which is going to make them the majority party some day.

Who really wants to end this discussion by having a way to put paper in the hands of people, make them legal, stop the cheap hiring of future immigrants, and settle down, settle the system down like other countries, John Heilemann?

JOHN HEILEMANN, AUTHOR, "GAME CHANGE": I think there`s been a lot of people who wanted to do that.

MATTHEWS: Politicians?

HEILEMANN: Well, you think about the Gang of Eight, right?

There was always -- you could have passed it through the Senate. If you had a vote on it, you could have passed it through the House.

MATTHEWS: Well, they didn`t do it.

HEILEMANN: Well, they didn`t do it because of the fact that Republican politics of that on the right, as you point out, are toxic. I keep thinking about the fact that...

MATTHEWS: What`s changed?

HEILEMANN: Nothing`s changed, except this, which is I think that the fact that they are floating this idea, it may be a ploy.

But at least it`s -- it seems to suggest they are cognizant of this fact, which is that Donald Trump has spent his entire time in office so far playing to his base and they know that if he going to get big things done, he has got to start to add to that base.

And that is at least a symbolic gesture that suggests he wants to try to add to his coalition, rather than just play to the existing 46 percent that voted for him in November.

MATTHEWS: Well, Heidi, I think it`s more than symbolic if he actually puts it on the Hill and puts it in the form of a bill.

If we start talking about legalizing, allowing people to stay here illegally, if not getting citizenship right away, without having to leave the country, that`s 10 million people possibly. You don`t count the felons. I don`t think there`s more than a million felons.

So, that`s a lot of people who are going to go, wow, I can breathe easily, my kids can be OK, I can go to the shopping mall again, I can go get gas in my car, I`m not afraid to go in public again.

This is a wonderful thing. It`s not just symbolic. It`s real, if he passes it, if it`s proposes it.


HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: What if it was all along about packaging?

Because I went back and looked at Donald Trump`s big immigration speech. And he actually never vowed in that speech -- it wasn`t until later, when he got press, that he said, yes, these immigrants need to go home first.

In his speech, he only talked about criminal aliens and he talked about rolling back the president`s executive orders. He never said everybody had to go home.

So, what if it`s all about packaging and Donald Trump is wrapping this all in a big beautiful wall and emphasizing enforcement and emphasizing the wall, in a way that Obama was unable to do, even though he became the deporter in chief? It was all about messaging and that Donald Trump is the messenger who can do this.

And he is not going to call it a path to legalization, even though we know, if you allow people to stay here, it`s inevitable that somehow that door eventually opens up, whether you call it legalization or a path to citizenship. It`s politics. It`s kind of the same thing.

MATTHEWS: Eli, if it does become clear, this leak, this trial balloon, whatever it is, if it does become a hard proposal, who would be against it?

Because if you say everybody here who has not broken -- committed a felony gets to stay here legally without worry and live a life here, who would be against it, except people who do want more illegal immigration?

It seems to me, I don`t know who would be against it. You would have to come out and say, I want no wall because I want people to come in illegally. But nobody ever actually says that, do they? More illegal immigration? We have 11 million people. You want more illegal immigrants? I don`t think so. Nobody says it. So, what is wrong with making legal the people here and then stopping any more illegal immigration? That always seems to me the best deal.

ELI STOKOLS, POLITICO: Yes, I think this would be hypothetically an amazing test of just to what degree Republicans and conservatives are willing to just sort of cede whatever he wants to do.


MATTHEWS: No, but in exchange for stopping illegal immigration some way, some kind of enforcement that works. I`m not sure a wall would do it.

STOKOLS: Right, but Donald Trump won the Republican primary by mobilizing the far right, the base of the party that basically forced Speaker Boehner to not bring the Gang of Eight bill to a vote.

The irony of him -- Trump being elected on that platform and then coming through and saying, OK, we`re going to basically do the Gang of Eight bill, is sort of stupefying. It`s hard to hold in your head.

MATTHEWS: Well, the problem is, guys, and lady -- I`m sorry -- the problem with this is -- everybody is a guy these days, it seems.

Anyway, the problem is that this hard-line approach of the Tea Party people hasn`t worked, because nothing get done. E-Verify never gets passed. There is no enforcement of anti-hiring laws. They keep coming into the country, depending on which recession there is, how bad the economy is south of the border. The flow is really determined by somebody who wants to hire somebody illegally. And nobody has fixed the problem.

So, this hard line on the right wing doesn`t work.

HEILEMANN: There`s no question about that being true.

MATTHEWS: What does it solve?


HEILEMANN: This opens up an opportunity for, instead of a Nixon to China thing, it`s a Trump to Mexico City, right?

Trump is one who could get the deal done, in theory, if he could command the kind of loyalty among the Republican Party that it would test it, as Eli just said.

MATTHEWS: Would the Democrats vote for it?

HEILEMANN: I think Democrats would.

The political pressure on the left to Democrats to not sign onto anything that Trump proposes is intense. On the other side, it is correct. This has been a litmus test. A litmus test in the Republican Party has been...


MATTHEWS: The Hispanic organizations have to race out and say yes. They can`t let the Democrats...


MATTHEWS: If it happens.

HEILEMANN: But the real pressure here is on the right, where this litmus test, are you in favor of a legal path or legal status or citizenship? Forget about citizenship, just even legal status.

It`s been toxic in the Republican Party to be in favor of that. Can Trump burst through that by adopting this undoctrinaire position?

MATTHEWS: Well, if he`s tough on enforcement, Heidi, it seems like he would be the one, as John says.

The only way you`re going to trust a person who supports legalization, which we`re talking about really, in other words, work permits, basically being allowed to live here legally without fear, is somebody who looks like he is tough on enforcement, whatever that is, whether it`s a wall, it`s a barb-wired fence, or it`s outlawing people hiring people illegally here, which is the magnet for jobs.

PRZYBYLA: That`s why you see him doing this with messaging. We will see what he unveils tonight or it`s any symbolic change. This may all be a big smokescreen and we`re going to be wrong about it.

MATTHEWS: Why would he tease something like this if he is not go to do it?


PRZYBYLA: Well, he`s teasing it, but look what he`s also doing with the messaging which further backs up this strategy of kind of emphasizing his tough on illegal immigration message, having half the people that he has invited to be in the chamber tonight are families who were victims of illegal immigrants who were here -- crimes.

He is going to emphasize that with his messaging and not call whatever he does, God forbid he call it path to legalization or a path to citizenship. He will never call it that. It might be some kind of half in between bridge package of just providing some kind of legal status, because you know what?

As toxic as it was, there`s only a small percentage of the American people who are actually for a mass deportation. When they understand that that is the alternative, it`s a small percentage.

MATTHEWS: Well, Charles de Gaulle, the greatest leader in the history of Europe besides Churchill once said, I don`t like what is going on in Algeria. He comes into office and he lets Algerians become independent.

You never know how these things work. If you have the prestige with your people, they let you do a lot of interesting new things, like Nixon going to China.

Anyway, some of the president`s recent remarks might hamstring, as everybody has been saying, his ability to effectively build a consensus tonight. In his interview with FOX, he said he believed former President Obama might be behind the recent protests taking place at Republican town halls across the country. President Obama is not playing golf. He`s not retired. He`s organizing rallies.

Let`s watch.


QUESTION: Do you believe President Obama is behind it, and if he is, is that a violation of the so-called unsaid president`s code?

TRUMP: No, I think he is behind it. I also think it`s politics. That`s the way it is.

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, some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks, because they`re very bad in terms of national security.


MATTHEWS: Well, Attorney General of Pennsylvania Josh Shapiro, a good guy, said that, in a meeting today, the president suggested to him that the recent desecration of Jewish cemeteries like the ones in Philadelphia and bomb threats called into Jewish community centers across the country could be politically motivated.

And here`s how Shapiro described what Trump said.

"Well, first, he said the acts were reprehensible. Second, he said: `And you`ve got to be careful, it could be the reverse. This could be the reverse, trying to make people look bad.`"

Heidi -- I`m going to back to Eli.

I`m just trying to figure out somebody who believes this cockamamie. He is saying that people, knowing that the right wing might have a whiff of in some cases anti-Semitism, then these would be people that went out there to make it look like the anti-Semites, meaning the right wing, committed it.

This is the most backwards, crazy, blunderbuss of stupidity. He is accusing his own people of being -- assumed to be anti-Semitic and therefore the people who commit these acts are doing it to further incriminate his people, because they`re assumed to be anti-Semitic.

This takes a lot of thinking, Eli and everybody on this baby.

STOKOLS: Yes. It takes a lot of gall.

And really it is sort of characteristic blame shifting from Donald Trump. He blames President Obama for the mess he inherits.

And on this, he says it`s reprehensible. But then he is also saying, but it may be the Democrats. He`s sort of giving whoever is carrying these acts out some cover by saying, you know, don`t necessarily believe that it is what it looks like. It might be this other politically motivated thing.

And that is giving cover to whoever is doing it. And it really is sort of undercutting the authenticity of what he says when he condemns those acts.

MATTHEWS: Eli, I agree with you.

I think it is the wackiest conspiracy theory I may have ever heard.

HEILEMANN: It is Alex Jones crazy territory.

PRZYBYLA: I meant to check Infowars before I came here.

HEILEMANN: Yes. It`s ridiculous. It`s ridiculous.

It raises the question, again, in the same way that we ask the question over and over again why doesn`t Donald Trump say -- why can`t he ever say anything bad or be tough with Vladimir Putin, the other question is, why can`t a president, this president, come out in a straightforward way and just condemn anti-Semitism?

It`s the easiest thing in the world to do for any politician, right, left, or center.

MATTHEWS: Who does it hurt him with?

HEILEMANN: Other than anti-Semites.


John Heilemann, Heidi Przybyla, great panel, by the way, Eli Stokols. Not by the way, either.

Up next, the White House is proposing a big boost in military spending and a big splash to just about everything else -- slash, rather -- including the State Department. Nobody looks out for the State Department, but there isn`t $54 billion to take and spend on defense funding either. And the Democrats and Republicans aren`t very happy about it. Neither party is.

And that is ahead. And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the White House released a blueprint for President Trump`s budget. It includes a $54 billion increase in defense spending that he says will be offset by cuts at the State Department, the EPA and other agencies.

Well, here is the president previewing the budget in his meeting with governors yesterday.


TRUMP: One of the most important responsibilities for the federal government is the budget of the United States.

My first budget will be submitted to the Congress next month. This budget will be a public safety and national security budget, very much based on those two, with plenty of other things, but very strong. And it will include a historic increase defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it.


TRUMP: This defense spending increase will be offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the federal government. We`re going to do more with less.


MATTHEWS: Well, do these numbers add up? That`s the big question.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the president of it, Maya MacGuineas, told Andrea Mitchell today that she doesn`t see how focusing on such a small area of the budget, the foreign affairs budget, that`s the State Department budget, would reduce the federal deficit.

Watch this.



So, paying for all new initiatives makes sense. But the places he is looking to pay for things are the smallest areas of the budget. So you can`t actually finance big increases in defense spending or even the automatic increases that are already on the books if you`re just going to look at tiny slivers of the budget.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, told reporters today he doesn`t think a budget that involves major cuts to the State Department could even be approved. Here he is.


QUESTION: Do you think the Senate could approve a budget that slashes State Department funding by about a third?



MATTHEWS: Anyway, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, he`s a Democrat. He`s ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

He released this statement on the president`s proposed cuts to diplomacy. "It is shortsighted to slash foreign aid and diplomacy, and they know it is a lot more cost-effective to clean your gutters than it is to ignore the problem until you have water coming in through the roof. President Trump`s lack of foresight could cost Americans dearly."

Well, Senator Reed joins us right now.

Senator, I worked for the Senate Budget Committee as a staffer for three years. And one thing I learned is, there`s no shortcuts.

And why do we need more defense spending? Do we need more nuclear missiles? How many missiles do we have? Don`t we have tens of thousands of nuclear warheads? And Trump doesn`t seem to get that we use missiles as deterrence, not to use them. Why would need to use more if we`re not going to use them? Why are we building more? I don`t get it. I don`t get it.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, the first thing we have to do is ensure the security of the United States. That`s a given.

But we have to make wise choices. And what the president is proposing is something that, by gutting the State Department, you`re actually taking away one of our most effective national security tools.

When General Mattis, now Secretary of Defense Mattis, was the CENTCOM commander, he essentially said if you cut State Department, then I have got to get more ammunition.

So, I don`t think he is making the wisest choices. Also, I don`t think he has articulated yet a strategy. He has just picked a number out of the air. Yes, we do have to provide additional resources for improving the quality of our maintenance, making sure that our training is under way.

But we just can`t throw a number at it. We have to throw a strategy and make some really wise choices.

MATTHEWS: Does the arithmetic add up here? Does Trump know what he is talking about when he says he`s going to shift $54 billion from State To defense?

REED: Well, shifting it out of State would be catastrophic and would actually, I think, again, not help our national security, but complicate it.

For example, in Afghanistan, a lot of what we`re doing is assisting the training of Afghan forces, but we`re also trying to build governmental capacity, trying to build ability of that country to function in terms of public health, education, et cetera.

That`s not the job of the military. That`s the job of the State Department and other federal agencies. And if you take those resources away, the military will buy you some time, but you will get nothing done.

MATTHEWS: Well, in an interview with "FOX & Friends," President Trump seemed reluctant to take full responsibility for the Yemen raid. Let`s watch him on this one.


TRUMP: Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know -- just, they wanted to do. And they came to see me. They explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected.

My generals are the most respected that we have had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.


MATTHEWS: I don`t understand this. Why is the commander in chief blaming his generals or his officer corps for a casualty?

REED: Well, the commander in chief is indeed the commander in chief. He is responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen.

The decision was made in his administration. It was carried out by very brave soldiers, sailors, SEALS. And one of them was Ryan Owens. And to his family, we owe our deepest, deepest regards and sympathy. But his job and the American people believe it, he is the commander-in-chief. He is responsible.

MATTHEWS: Well, after the Bay of Pigs, Jack Kennedy, our president, said - - when they said, who`s responsible of us, he said, "I was the officer in charge" and his numbers went through the roof.

So, this president is not being Jack Kennedy here in accepting responsibility, for every mission can go wrong. That`s why they`re called mission. They can go wrong and you have to accept when they go right, when they go wrong, right, I think.

REED: You absolutely do. That`s the first rule of the command. If you`re the commander, you`re responsible. And he is commander in chief, and there`s no way around that. And it was approved under his administration. There was preparatory work that`s being done for years and years in that respect, but certainly months before he took office.

But the decision emanated while he was commander in chief. He has to stand up. As you recall, with the respect of Bay of Pigs with President Jack Kennedy, he said it was being planned President Eisenhower, but it was my call.

MATTHEWS: Actually, it was Jack Kennedy`s call ultimately -- thank you so -- and he took the hit for it appropriately. Thank you, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode.

REED: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next, President Trump`s approval rating may not be huge. But there`s another poll that shows Americans are more optimistic than they`ve been since 2009. Strange country, heavily divided, Trump`s a minority in terms of popularity, but he`s holding his people. That`s an interesting piece to watch tonight.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The stock market closed slightly lower today in anticipation of President Trump`s speech tonight, but it has sustained a three-month upswing since he was elected. Here`s what the president told FOX News earlier today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take a look at what`s going on with the stock market. Trillions of dollars of value have been created since I won the election. I mean, trillions. No, I mean, the stock market is very enthused and that`s jobs.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, according to most recent NBC/"Wall Street Journal" Poll released on Sunday, 40 percent of Americans feel like the country is headed in the right direction, 51 percent think it`s off the track. However, the last time Americans felt this up was at April of 2009, shortly after President Obama was elected. That`s when 43 percent said we were on the right direction.

So, it is better than it`s been for eight years, believe it or not, in terms of optimism.

For more, I`m joined right now by our roundtable that knows it. MSNBC anchor and correspondent Ali Velshi, NBC News correspondent, the great, the great Katy Tur, who`s covered this story like nobody, and MSNBC political analyst and former U.S. Congressman Harold Ford, who was something of a financier himself.

What`s state of the union like right now?

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Economically, things are getting a lot better. Look, we`ve got unemployment, in the old days, we used to think, if you had unemployment below 5 percent, everything was fantastic. Things have things a little bit because people have jobs but they`re not great paying jobs, but wages are starting to go up.

Interest rates are starting to go up but they`re still low. Oil prices are low. It gives people a little more to spend. Things are definitely better than they`ve been.

MATTHEWS: Why are wages going up? Is there a labor shortage out there?

VELSHI: No, it`s not shortage, because we had such an excess for so long after resection, we finally soaked up a bunch of that. So, it`s a possibility that there might be -- you know, you can get a job that`s better than the one you`ve got.

MATTHEWS: It`s very hard to find a typical American today, as you know, Katy. You meet people that are the hardline Trump. You`ve said this to me before, these people will applaud anything he says. He said, if I shoot somebody up Fifth Avenue, they`re still going to like me.

So, I don`t know where we find this random voter. It seems like you got this cocoon in New York, in Washington, along the Amtrak route, which everybody is a liberal. Not in the West Coast.



TUR: You get in taxis, you talk to construction workers, you talk to cops, you talk to -- I mean, I talk to a lot of folks in New York who are Trump fans. They`re just not extraordinarily vocal about how much they do like Donald Trump. They exist on the East Coast.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he`s underpolled?

TUR: I do think he`s underpolled. I think he was underpolled to a degree during the campaign. I think there are a lot of folks out there who didn`t want to admit that they were voting for Trump and once they got into the polling booth. They poll the lever for him.

MATTHEWS: Explain that to people watching.

TUR: Because I think a lot of folks just wanted to see something change. They wanted -- and we say this, it`s a cliche now -- but they wanted to throw a bomb into the political system to she what shook out, and what survived. There was frustration in Washington. There was the feeling, the people -- the politicians were out for themselves. They were out for their friends and their special interests.

Hillary Clinton represented that.

MATTHEWS: Can`t beat. I think that`s a great take on it.

TUR: And Trump, for how distasteful he was to many of those voters who voted for him, just represented something -- somebody who would do something differently.

MATTHEWS: Throw a grenade into the room and shake it up. It can`t be any worse, and it can be worse, of course.

HAROLD FORD, JR., MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: When the marches went on right after the protesters, marches went around the country right after he was sworn in, I was walking my dog and my kids from the west side over back to where I live, on highway. And it was a group of people who had been to the march wearing anti-Trump stuff, we got to the corner, and a fellow on a pickup truck passed by, he let his window and yelled "give him a chance" as all the anti-Trump stuff was going on.

Katy said it better, it`s been said a long time. I just think people -- even people feel like they`ve been put upon and people thought they are looked down upon, they view him as someone -- even though he doesn`t fit, you wouldn`t have drawn this caricature, a portrait of a person who would stand up for that group. He made himself into that, and made himself into the champion for the middle class which he deserves a lot of credit for.


MATTHEWS: Well, let me read you something. He`s got -- we`ve got an excerpt from tonight. "The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights", who`s talking here, "is behind us." Birtherism, come on.

"We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts."

VELSHI: Stephen Miller didn`t write that.

MATTHEWS: Kellyanne? I don`t know where it came from.

VELSHI: Somebody optimistic, somebody who decided --

TUR: Ivanka potentially.

VELSHI: This is going to be -- everybody talks about this pivot. A lot of people don`t believe it. He`s now actually going to talk to Congress, not yell at them, not blame them as a group of people behind him who got us into this mess. He might actually say something interesting.

And there are enough people, to Harold Point`s point, who will give him a chance, because they want prosperity. They want better markets. They want more jobs. They want higher wages. If he can do it, there are a lot of promises he can`t keep no matter how hard he tries.

MATTHEWS: He said he`s going to stop illegal immigration. He`s going to stop the bad trade deals that caused working guys their jobs. And he`s going to stop stupid wars.

Well, I don`t what -- when is an acid test going to be? When are we going to know, when somebody is going to say he hasn`t created more manufacturing jobs, is that a year from now, two years from now? What`s the good date on this?

FORD: Ali said it best. If we grow at 3 percent or more next year, you`re going to feel -- every American is going to feel some growth. They`re going to feel some upward mobility.

MATTHEWS: What makes that happen?

FORD: I think a number of things. I think if he relieves some -- if he relieves some of the tax burden on middle class families, if he relieve some burdens on some big industry to be able to do some things, I think some of this --

VELSHI: It`s not impossible, but it`s hard.

TUR: It is a heavy lift and the key, if they don`t find a way to replace or fix Obamacare, then that`s going to be a big problem because people are scared about that, and number two, I think we`ve got to pay a close attention to West Virginia and see if those jobs come back in coal mining country. If they don`t --


MATTHEWS: You know what this business means time.

The round table is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know as we await President Trump`s first address to the Congress.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Stay with us. After the president`s address to Congress tonight, we`ve got a great midnight show. Wait until you catch this lineup. I can`t believe it`s coming on my show. Big names including the great Bill Maher, the great Michael Moore, Kathy Griffin, Rob Reiner, Bradley Whitford, Robert Davi and Nancy Giles (ph).

All those faces you`re looking at are coming on live tonight at midnight, our special edition of HARDBALL, to talk about what Trump had to say or didn`t have to say tonight, whatever gets them. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

And somebody is going to tell me something I don`t know.


VELSHI: All right. Real fast, I went back 30 years to look at manufacturing in this country. Take a look at this. Since 1987, we have shed 5.2 million manufacturing jobs but here`s the rub. Since 1987, we`re manufacturing 85.3 percent more stuff in this country.

MATTHEWS: So, Marx is right.

VELSHI: We don`t have a manufacturing problem. You can`t get -- it`s going to be hard to get these jobs back.

MATTHEWS: This was Marx predicted, that automation was going to kill jobs. Anyway, Ali Velshi, Katy Tur, Harold Ford, Jr.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, February 28, 2017.

Donald Trump once said, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn`t lose voters." Well, you know, he has a point. With all the oddities of almost six weeks of his presidency, his numbers are holding firm. Nine out of ten Republicans approve of what he`s being doing. Nine out of ten.

So, tonight, I expect to see a couple things out there on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. One, I expect to see Republicans standing and applauding like a Roman phalanx, showing solid support for the president. There`s nothing in it really for any of them showing their contempt or resistance to Donald Trump.

Two, I suspect Democratic members, especially those from solid Democratic district, to be sitting there frowning -- you heard it -- frowning. There`s simply nothing for them to be seen applauding Donald Trump, smiling at him, showing any sign of contentment in his presence.

Look, if the picture you`re seeing or going to see tonight, this picture of a country down the middle, in this case down the aisle, strikes you as disturbing, don`t avert your glance. Look at it and think about what it means to the country. I could be wrong. Trump could say something tonight that inspires even progressives to rise out of their seats, but that would also cause conservatives and certainly Tea Party folk to look at each other in terror, and that`s the country we`re living in right now, divided, accusatory, embittered.

Anyway, stay up tonight and feel a lot better about our national condition. We have a special late night edition of HARDBALL, and with me will be an all-star cast including Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Kathy Griffin, Rob Reiner, Bradley Whitford, Robert Davi and Nancy Giles. It`s a real all- star cast tonight, live, to react to a big Trump night.

I expect we will expect our minds, this crowd certainly will, and that`s why we`ll be there at midnight Eastern Time to hear all of them.

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

Stay tuned for the complete coverage of President Trump`s address to a joint session of Congress.


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