Show: HARDBALL Date: April 10, 2017 Guest: Susan Page, Nicholas Confessore, Adam Smith, Kevin Robillard, Nathan Gonzales, Robert Ford, Ashley Parker, Astead Herndon, Tara Palmeri
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The enemy within.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Donald Trump`s problem isn`t the people he`s hired, it`s the enemy in his own brain he hasn`t been able to fire. All the talk this weekend about how he wants to stop the warring in the White House between nationalist- Leninist Stephen Bannon and Trump embed Jared Kushner ignores the fact that this same fight is going on in Trump`s own head. It`s a battle between the bad boys who got him elected, Bannon in the lead, and the people, starting with his family, he has to deal with now that he`s president.
The fight is real and isn`t going to end no matter how many "bury the hatchet" meetings they hold. The fact is, as we`ve seen even from the outside, there were three different parties all jockeying for power inside Trump`s White House. The nationalists represented by Stephen Bannon, the family party represented by Jared Kushner and others close to him. They are mostly New York business people and not very ideological. Then, not to be forgotten, there are the traditional Republicans, people like chief of staff Reince Priebus, and of course, Speaker Paul Ryan and most of the House Republicans.
The Bannon and Kushner wings, however, are now in open dispute, and it`s all playing out very publicly thanks to an abundance of leaks from inside the West Wing, leaks that never stop, by the way.
Today, Sean Spicer addressed those reports.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The reason the president has brought this team together is offer a diverse set of opinions. I don`t -- he doesn`t want a monolithical kind of thought process going through the White House. He wants a diverse set of opinions. That`s -- he is the decider. I think the president wants to have a series of ideas and thoughts put forward to him. That`s how he`s going to make the best opinion -- or best decision possible for this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Sure. When asked if President Trump was considering dumping Bannon, Spicer said the president is, quote, "is confident in the team he has."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: He understands that we have some pretty smart, talented individuals who are opinionated on a lot of subjects but that our battles and our policy differences need to be behind closed doors. We need to focus and ultimately all come out to committed to advancing the president`s agenda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, keeping it behind closed doors is definitely not happening. Here`s just some of what`s come out in the past few days. NBC reported sources close to Bannon said he`s not going anywhere. His message, Democrats will never run the White House. That`s a reference to Jared Kushner and economic adviser Gary Cohn, who he`s called Trump -- Bannon has called the "West Wing Democrats." That`s what he calls them.
"The New York Times" reported, quote, "No staff changes are imminent, but the president is considering a range of options, including a shift in role from Mr. Bannon who`s become increasingly isolated in the White House as other power centers have grown."
Politico quoted a White House official talking about Bannon`s open revolt against Trump`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Quote, "For a Svengali, that doesn`t seem like a smart thing to do. I don`t think that ends well for him."
And "The Wall Street Journal" reported the president is considering a major shakeup in the West Wing. Well, quote, "Two people close to the White House said Mr. Trump has been talking to confidants about Mr. Priebus`s performance and has asked for names of possible replacements." Well, look out, Reince!
Joining me right now, NBC`s Kristen Welker, "The New York Times`s" Nicholas Confessore and "USA Today`s" Susan Page.
Well, somebody once said no one`s ever late in this town for a hanging. We do enjoy it. There`s a lot of Schadenfreude.
Kristen Welker, Bannon is Bannon. He will always be Bannon. Jared Kushner will always be the son-in-law, I guess, at least for a while. He`s an embed -- I think I got that right -- in the Trump family. You can`t get him out of there. He knows what they`re thinking. He`s one of them.
Why would Trump break the nepotism rule of bringing -- you`re not supposed to bring family people in -- bring them in and set them down in direct contradiction, in conflict, really, with his nationalist-Leninist consigliere? That`s just asking for trouble, and to me, it reflects the trouble inside Trump`s brain. He can`t decide whether he`s a nationalist- Leninist ideologue or he just wants to get damn (ph) reelected. Go ahead, your thinking.
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head that they reflect the two sides of President Trump`s own thinking. Steve Bannon is a real touchstone to the base, the populist messages that helped to get President Trump elected. And by the way, that`s why you see him digging in right now. He knows that his son-in-law, the president`s son-in-law, can`t get fired. At the same time, he sees his job as safe because he thinks he`s the person who holds up a mirror to President Trump and reminds him of all of those campaign promises.
On the other hand, I think that President Trump understands the necessity of having someone like a Jared Kushner to temper what a lot of people feel is a much more conservative populist message, nationalist message, if you will, by Steve Bannon. So that`s how this all works.
In terms of where these tensions stand right now, Chris, it`s really interesting. I think that they are facing that first 100-day mark. I think they`re staring it down. They know that they want the headlines over the next several days and weeks to be positive, so that that big headline, when he reaches that 100-day mark, is positive. And I think that`s why you`re seeing all sides right now at least publicly tone it down a little bit.
But I think you`re also right. Steve Bannon`s not doing to change his views on a whole host of policy issues, and Jared Kushner isn`t going to back down, either, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Susan, this reads like -- I mean, I`ve done study over the years of what it was like in the Japanese cabinet (ph) before Pearl Harbor. You had the gung-ho people that want to fight. They just want to fight. They`re martial -- they`re militarists. And others that say, This is crazy. Going to war with the United States is crazy. We`re going to lose, eventually.
And I just think here, you`ve got Bannon, who wants to fight. He calls himself a Leninist because he wants to destroy institutions. He doesn`t believe in them. You`ve got his son-in-law, who looks the part. He looks like a prince. You know, he`s been well tended to growing up. The other guy looks like a fighter. They really do look like what they are. And they`re both in Trump`s head.
But I want to know what`s going to blow up when they blow. What`s it going to be like?
SUSAN PAGE, "USA Today": And you know, the problem is, it`s not just that they don`t like each other, it`s that they have different views on what the role of government ought to be, what they think Trump should -- what policies he should pursue. And they also have different attitudes toward how you get to where you need to go. You know, Steve Bannon describes himself as disrupter. That`s what he wants to do. That`s the kind of strategy he wants to follow...
MATTHEWS: Look at him! Look at that guy!
PAGE: Jared Kushner...
MATTHEWS: That guy looks like what he is! He looks like he wants to trade punches!
PAGE: Jared Kushner is a guy who wants to work in the system. He`s a smooth negotiator. They are different in every possible way, where they want to go and how they think they ought to get there.
MATTHEWS: Yes, and then this guy Kushner looks like he`s never -- well, he`s never had a hangover or a fistfight in the schoolyard. What do you think, Nick? I know you`ve had both, but -- I`m just guessing, just kidding.
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, look, I think Jared Kushner is where Trump is from, which is the world of finance and real estate and Manhattan high society. And Steve Bannon is where he got to, which is this nationalistic impulse in American politics.
I think the main difference is that Bannon has a set of policy priorities, and Kushner has a role and turf. But it`s very different, you know, because Kushner -- I don`t think he`s pursuing a particular discrete set of policies that you or I could describe or identify. I`ve not heard him talk a lot about specific policy issues that he`s invested in. He`s stretched so thin and his job appears to be mostly to represent the president.
But Bannon has a particular world view and a set of issues he cares about on ISIS, on trade, on manufacturing. And there`s a certain power in having that kind of focus, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, you dance with the one that brung you. Kristen, let me go back to you. The rule in politics has always been dance with the one that brung you. I mean, the people that got him elected were not, you know, Jared Kushner and Ivanka. They didn`t bring him to the White House. What brought him to the White House was this nationalist fervor about losing industrial jobs, upset about illegal immigration, just (INAUDIBLE) stupid wars, a trifecta of issues that grabbed the white middle class right in their gut.
What`s -- what`s -- why is he listening to Jared Kushner now? Is it just family? Why doesn`t he listen to Bannon? Bannon`s the bullet train that took him here.
WELKER: Well, I think it`s partially family. And remember, his other closest adviser is Ivanka Trump, his daughter. So I think he trusts Jared Kushner and Ivanka implicitly. I think he also trusts Steve Bannon. As you point out, his viewpoint is really what helped him get to the White House in the first place.
And that`s why I don`t think a Bannon ouster is necessarily imminent. I think that the president is likely taking a hard look at his entire staff right now.
WELKER: But what we also know is that Steve Bannon`s role seems to be limited to some extent. Of course, he was taken off of the National Security Council. Whereas we see Jared Kushner`s role expanding. He`s been given new duties. And of course, he was in Iraq just last week, kind of assessing the situation on the ground.
So it -- what it seems to be if you read the tea leaves is that the president is taking a hard look at his entire team and assessing if they`re in the right places and if it makes sense to have these two squaring off...
WELKER: ... on a whole host of policy issues all of the time. But I can tell you Steve Bannon isn`t backing down from this. And if you talk to folks who are close to him, he thinks he`s winning this fight. And as you point out, Chris, he welcomes a good fight, a good war.
MATTHEWS: Yes, he looks like it. Yes.
WELKER: He`s the one using all these war terms and throwing the bombs. So he`s not backing down. He`s not intimidated by the possibility of being ousted, that`s for sure.
MATTHEWS: Let`s end by talking about the stakes here. Susan, you know all this stuff, big picture, whether we go to war or not, whether we get more aggressive with Syria, for example, how we handle the situation in North Korea, how we handle the future of "Obama care," how we handle the future of all our entitlements, the things people care about, the questions of climate, the issues that people vote on and care -- and go to bed at night worrying about.
Which of these two sides wins? How`s it reflect (ph) -- who`s going to be more moderate, more safe than the other person, or most (ph) dangerous?
PAGE: Kushner is going to be -- offer a safer course than Bannon because Bannon wants to do bigger things. And I think the reason that Trump -- President Trump has -- now has some qualms or some reservations about Bannon`s role is because he didn`t serve him well particularly on the health care debate. Bannon had a big role in the strategy toward the Congress that did not work. It did not work...
MATTHEWS: ... bupkis out of it. They got nothing.
PAGE: So if you`re reading the reviews in the papers, you might think Jared Kushner serves you better in terms of becoming -- getting rave reviews, getting positive reviews, getting some things done than Steve Bannon even if Steve Bannon played a key role in getting you into the Oval Office.
MATTHEWS: So is -- who`s better for the presidency if you want mild- mannered government, if that`s even feasible from Trump, not nuts government? Nick, give me a sense. Can you judge the patterns of who wins, who doesn`t and what it means for us, as people in this country?
CONFESSORE: Well, here`s the important thing. Steve Bannon, I think, has had the upper hand on policy in the early days of this White House. His hands are all over the immigration policy, the wall. Syria was the first big battle he lost internally in the White House.
CONFESSORE: And of course, as you say, he`s a disrupter. You know, he wants to break some eggs along the way, and to some extent, he is the chaos candidate for the chaos candidate. But again, it`s hard to predict exactly what Jared Kushner wants to accomplish, aside from having his father-in-law have a successful presidency. Again, he sees himself at the right hand of the king here, right, the right hand, the guy who makes it work for the president.
And the real problem here is what is the president`s own vision. And as you said before, unless the president can decide what kind of president he wants to be and rule in a clear way within his own White House, he will keep having these problems with his own staff because it goes back to the guy at the top.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, we`re going to have either a junta in the next threes or we`re going to have the Romanoffs.
Thanks you so much, Kristen Welker. It`s great to have you in our panel tonight, mixing it up with everybody else.
WELKER: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Susan Page -- it`s more fun than just having you at the top. Thank you. And Nick Confessore -- you guys at "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" are unbelievable this year. Coming up -- not always, but yes, they are pretty much.
CONFESSORE: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: But I`ve been reading you for a hundred years, and I think you`re unbelievable right now.
Four days, by the way, after hitting Syria with cruise missiles, the Trump administration`s facing a big question. What now? Three top officials are saying three different things about where we go from here with regard to war, including U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley talking about regime change -- never liked that phrase much, it`s a neocon term.
And what about those Trump promises during the campaign when he said, We`re not going to start wars, we`re staying home here, we`re going to be America first? He talked like Bannon during the campaign. Now he`s shooting off cruise missiles, Tomahawks, all those Tomahawks. That`s ahead.
Plus, the resistance -- progressives are going to like this. Democrats have three chances to pick off red states in special congressional elections in the next couple weeks. Republicans are starting to sweat a little. How strong are the prospects for a Democratic wave in the age of Trump?
And the HARDBALL roundtable takes a close look at Nikki Haley`s role inside the Trump administration. She may well be the one star in an otherwise rough couple of months lately.
Finally, let me finish tonight with Peggy Noonan, who just won herself the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, the Republican governor of Alabama has resigned rather than face impeachment. Governor Robert Bentley was facing increasing pressure over allegations he abused his powers to cover up an extramarital affair with an aide.
NBC`s Kerry Sanders is in Montgomery with more. Kerry, give us the story.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, first of all, there is a new governor here in Alabama. It is the lieutenant governor now governor Kay Ivey. She was elevated, a Republican, to become the second only female governor ever of the state of Alabama following the resignation by disgraced governor, former governor, Robert Bailey (sic).
As you noted, he had tried to cover up a relationship with one of his aides, a female aide who was about half his age, at one point taking a salary of more than $400,000. The coverup may have been bigger than the problem. He claims throughout all of this that there was an inappropriate relationship but that there never was a physical relationship.
But no matter what, today he resigned. He has already pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges associated with campaign finance laws and ethics violations. Those guilty pleas could have carried up to 30 days` jail sentences because they`re misdemeanors. But the judge accepted the plea, waived the sentences and ordered him to do some community service. He`s a doctor, so he`ll do about 100 hours of free medical care. Some folks here in Alabama say that they`re disappointed. They felt that at least a little jail time would have been appropriate, Chris.
MATTHEWS: As my uncle used to say, my uncle Bill, it`s like everything else. What a familiar story in politics. NBC News`s Kerry Sanders in Montgomery, Alabama, thank you, sir.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Two members of the Trump administration appeared to be at odds yesterday over the fate of Bashar Assad, issuing mixed messages about the long-term policy we in this country have towards Syria. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made it clear the United States does not see Assad having a role in Syria`s future and that regime change, quote, "will happen."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government.
Regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s strong. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not seem to share that priority when he repeated his assertion from last month that, quote, "The Syrian people will ultimately determine whether Assad is their legitimate leader." Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We can navigate a political outcome in which the Syrian people, in fact, will determine Bashar al Assad`s fate and his legitimacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, today, White House press secretary Sean Spicer tried to explain the apparent dissonance between these two statements, saying the goals expressed by both Haley and Tillerson are not mutually exclusive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: I don`t think that`s -- I don`t think those are mutually exclusive statements because I don`t think -- I think that you can -- one of them saying we don`t see peace with him in charge, the other one saying we need to -- we need to have him gone. I think that`s -- that`s the point of both.
QUESTION: Can you defeat ISIS with Assad still in power?
SPICER: Yes. Sure. But I think that -- I think you can defeat ISIS with him in power. I think that, obviously, to your point, it`s not like there`s a single track that says you have to do -- I mean, if we can get both at the same time or one happens after another, that`s fine, as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Remember Baghdad Bob, the guy that said they were winning in the Iraq War against us?
Anyway, of course Spicer`s statement runs contrary to what the president said on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to get rid of ISIS first. After we get rid of ISIS, we will start thinking about it. But we can`t be fighting everybody at one time.
So, Assad is fighting is. We have dot to fight ISIS.
QUESTION: What you`re saying is, Assad can stay in power. That`s not your interest.
TRUMP: No, what I`m saying is...
TRUMP: Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why are we -- why do we care? I look at Assad. And Assad, to me, looks better than the other side.
You can`t fight them both. You have got to pick your guy. You have got to pick your guy. And I will tell you who I pick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It`s like putting together a fight card for Friday night.
Anyway, I`m joined right now by the former United States Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who is a fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington and a professor at Yale University`s Jackson Institute, as well as Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. He also joins us from the state of Washington.
Congressman, let me ask you about this.
What is our policy towards Syria? Are we trying to dump the Assad family and get them out of there, or are we trying to live with them? What is it?
REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: Well, right now, Trump doesn`t have a policy, so we don`t have a clear policy.
But, look, I think there`s a policy here, and that is to recognize that, as long as Assad is in power, there will be chaos in Syria. Now, there`s no question about that. He is an illegitimate ruler. And that is the way most Syrians view him, frankly, both the extremists in ISIS and the moderates who started the protests, gosh, five, six years ago now.
So, as long as he`s in power, there`s going to be chaos. But the trick is, number one, it`s not easy to get him to leave. And, number two, what comes next? And that`s where our policy has always fallen short.
This is what President Obama tried to do. He tried to build up a coalition of Syrian moderates who could offer an alternative to Assad. You Assad. You know, the U.S. military going in there and just taking him out would not be a good policy. But it`s also not a good policy for us to say that Assad is somehow OK. He`s very clearly not.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean by legitimate or not legitimate?
Except for Israel, which has democratic elections, I`m trying to figure out, the Baathists and the monarchists in the Middle East, who has elections. What is a legitimate leader in the Arab world, as you see it, Congressman?
SMITH: Yes. That`s a much more complicated...
MATTHEWS: What does legitimate mean to you? But you just said he`s not legitimate. Who is? El-Sisi? King Abdullah? Which Abdullah? I mean, are they all illegitimate, as you see it?
SMITH: It`s a very complicated question.
But a leader like Bashar Assad, who has murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people, is clearly not legitimate.
Look, there`s a huge problem with governance throughout the Arab world, legitimate governance that has the support of the people and respects human rights.
SMITH: But I think we can all agree that Assad has taken that to a level way beyond any of the others, in terms of the way he has systematically butchered his own people and destroyed his own country.
SMITH: I don`t know, you know, what you would say about the folks who haven`t stepped over that line, but Assad unquestionably has stepped over that line and is no longer a legitimate leader for a people that he`s more interested in killing than he is in leading.
MATTHEWS: Pretty toughly said.
Let me go to the Ambassador.
Ambassador, what do you make of this? Ambassador Ford, do you -- why does he do something that the whole world hates him doing, using chemical weapons? I mean, is he that desperate? I didn`t think he was. I thought he was stabilizing the situation.
ROBERT FORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: Chris, he does not care about world opinion. Let me say that very clearly. He does not care about world opinion. He cares about a balance of power.
It`s a police state. And so, especially with Russian and Iranian health, he`s winning in the civil war. He`s not going anywhere. Basically, the war against Bashar al-Assad is winding down, and Assad is going to stay.
MATTHEWS: Does he have tickets for an airplane to the South of France or to Moscow?
FORD: He doesn`t need tickets.
MATTHEWS: What`s plan B for these guys? Because -- oh, you think he`s definitely going to stay? He`s going to win?
FORD: Absolutely he`s going to stay.
He took Aleppo, the last major opposition-held city. The eastern part of Aleppo, he took it in January, and the war is winding down.
And so, as much as all of us who had hoped to see Syrians gain a chance for accountable government that better respected human rights, it`s not going to happen.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is pretty pathetic.
Anyway, Secretary Tillerson said...
MATTHEWS: Just listen to this -- first said Assad`s fate was up to the Syrian people late last month, just five days before the chemicals weapons were in Syria.
And then went -- and then he appeared to contradict himself -- this is our secretary of state -- this past Thursday, before reverting back to his original position on Sunday morning.
And, yesterday, Senator John McCain said that Tillerson`s original statement, before the chemical attack, was partially to blame for Assad`s behavior using the chemical weapons.
Let`s watch McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN DICKERSON, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Do you think the administration did anything to encourage this behavior by the Syrians by saying that the Syrian people would determine Assad`s fate, and that removing him is not a priority, things that were said before the use of chemical weapons?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it probably was partially to blame.
And I -- and Secretary Tillerson basically is saying the same thing, after kind of contradicting himself and then saying the same thing, argues vigorously for a plan and a strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And here is how Secretary Tillerson addressed the question of whether his statement was responsible for emboldening Assad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Are you worried at all that that was taken as a green light by Assad to launch that chemical attack?
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: George, I don`t -- I don`t see how that could be the case. This is not the first chemical attack launched by Assad. In fact, there were two other chemical attacks. So, this was just the latest in a series of violations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ambassador, what`s our policy? Is it to dump Assad or not, to try to dump Assad or not? I can`t -- I will go back to the congressman on that. He said we don`t really have a clarity there.
What is it?
FORD: The policy in Syria, clearly, in the Trump administration, as it was in the Obama administration`s last several years, is, first and foremost, to defeat the Islamic State, to take its territory in Syria.
The United States and its allied forces in Syria, mostly Syrian Kurds, are actually making a lot of process on that. There is no particular policy now about getting rid of Bashar al-Assad. And we couldn`t anyway, Chris.
There are tens of thousands of Iranian-backed militias there. There are Russian -- 4,000 to 5,000 Russian soldiers there. The days of thinking that we, the Americans, can just go in and sweep Assad out are gone.
It may frustrate us immensely, but it is what it is.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, is that accepted on the Hill?
SMITH: I think it is. I think it is unfortunate.
I think the ambassador described the situation perfectly. And the Russians have to be held accountable for this. The Iranians have been helping Assad for a long time. But Assad was actually in trouble until the Russians stepped in, gave him air support, gave him ground support, stepped and really made the difference.
But, look, the policy is frustrating and difficult, because Assad is everything that he has been described as. The question, how do you get rid of him, you know? What`s the cost of getting rid of him? I mean, what comes next?
And, look, Assad is no dummy. I mean, he let ISIS people out of jail as the revolution was starting, because that`s who he wanted to fight. That`s who he wanted to pit himself against.
SMITH: But I will say that, if it comes down to Assad still being in power, I don`t believe we can defeat ISIS.
As long as he`s out there as a symbol of oppression, then you will have people who, you know, support ISIS still coming into Syria to fight Assad as an illegitimate ruler. So, there is no clear path. There`s no easy path.
We cannot just say, we accept Assad, period. That sends the wrong signal.
MATTHEWS: Well, OK, thank you, gentleman. Thank you very much, Ambassador Robert Ford and Congressman Adam Smith.
I will just say, the American people will not stand for that point of view. It is a fact, however, that we have to get rid of Assad before we are going to get rid of ISIS. But if we can`t get rid of Assad, we`re stuck with ISIS. And I don`t think American people are going to accept that for eight more years, let alone four more years.
Anyway, up next: the Trump resistance. Three special elections in three states are giving Democrats hope they can win in traditionally Republican territory.
That`s coming up right next. And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. And here`s what`s happening.
An 8-year-old student died in a school shooting in San Bernardino, California. The gunman opened fire on the teacher, who was his wife. The gunman shot her as she did two students behind her, before shooting himself.
And United Airlines has apologized for an incident showing a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight. The airline is investigating.
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has been sworn in, filling a seat left open over a year ago by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia -- and now we take you back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: That scene of that guy being dragged through the airplane looks like something from "Lockup" over the weekend on this network.
Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Trump resistance has talked the talk, but now it`s time to walk the walk. Democrats are hoping to turn their grassroots to Trump into wins at the ballot boxes in some special elections coming up in Georgia, Kansas and Montana.
In the race to replace Health and Human Services Tom Price in Georgia`s 6th District, 30-year-old Democrat Jon Ossoff -- or Ossoff -- leads a 17-person field in all recent polls. Ossoff needs to clear 50 percent, however, in the April 18 primary in order to -- that`s next week -- in order to avoid a run-off.
He`s raised an 8 -- look at this -- he`s raised $8.3 million so far. That`s a huge amount of money for a House race. And it has Republicans going on and attacking him.
Republicans are also sending in the cavalry to the Kansas 4th District to boost their chances in the vacant seat to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The GOP fears low turnout and an unenthusiastic conservative base could hurt Ron Estes` chances against Jim Thompson.
Ted Cruz, by the way, flew out to stump for the Republican today. And Vice President Pence is recording robo-calls -- that will excite people -- on Estes` behalf.
And in a Montana at large race to fill Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke`s seat, progressive groups and leaders alike, people like Bernie Sanders, are boosting the populist insurgent out there, a banjo playing bluegrass singer -- sounds like Billy Davis from the old days -- Democrat Rob Quist.
Well, Nathan Gonzales is editor and publisher of "Inside Elections." And Kevin Robillard is with me as a reporter for Politico.
Thank you so much.
Nathan, you first.
What`s your best bet for something exciting for the progressives to hear, the resistance to hear in the next two weeks?
NATHAN GONZALES, "INSIDE ELECTIONS": Well, I think it`s been good news so far. Just the fact that we`re talking about Georgia, I think it`s a toss- up right now.
We changed our rating on Friday. The fact that we`re talking about Kansas, the 4th District that Donald Trump won by 27 points in the November election, I think it`s already been good news.
I think victory in one or both would just be icing on the cake to Democrats and the liberals...
MATTHEWS: Dare you -- dare I ask you again my first question? Best bet? What should we look for?
GONZALES: Best bet?
MATTHEWS: What story should we read the paper about the next week?
GONZALES: I think, tomorrow, Kansas is going to be closer than what people expect.
And I legitimately think that Jon Ossoff has a chance at reaching that 50 percent majority. And I think that`s his best bet on the 18th next week, because, if it extends to June 20th run-off, that`s going to be two more months that Republicans have to tear him down in attack ads. And I think he`s doing the right thing in going for it in next week.
MATTHEWS: Yes. It`s one of the Southern campaigns where they have the rule of the -- it was the old purpose of the run-off was to keep the blacks from winning. I remember that old -- because they made sure it was a final run-off. Therefore, the white, who was the majority voters, would be able to keep the white candidate in office.
It was a terrible old system, but they still have it. And there so this guy Ossoff has to get the quick knockoff. He has to get 50 percent in the primary, so he doesn`t have to face the run-off.
KEVIN ROBILLARD, POLITICO: Yes.
So, really, what the Democrats are trying to do right now is boost up Democratic turnout, specifically African-American turnout. The DCCC today announced that they were airing get-out-the-vote ads on African-American radio stations in Atlanta. They`re sending get-out-the-vote mail to every single Democrat, registered Democrat in the district.
They really want to get turnout out, specifically African-American turnout. It`s tended to average around 7 percent of the electorate in primary elections.
ROBILLARD: They need it to get way higher than that if they really need it.
MATTHEWS: You know, let me go to Nate for this.
I know from our ratings that audiences of all kind of programs, like ours and other ones, people are very excited at the base. And I wouldn`t say just the left. I mean center-left. I think a lot of people are really upset, obviously. It`s so obviously about Trump.
And they know that votes matter, because there was an upset last November. Trump won in the Electoral College. That was wasn`t supposed to happen. If more people had voted against Trump, he would have lost. If people hadn`t thought, oh, Trump can`t win, he`s not going to win, I will have some fun voting for him, well, that attitude is gone, I think.
There`s no more joking about it. The guy won.
So, will that boost excitement on the left?
I think the reality that Donald Trump is president of the United States is certainly affecting turnout. And what`s key in what Kevin is talking about is that Democrats, it looks like they`re changing the makeup of electorate.
If all things were equal, Republicans would hold Georgia`s 6th District. But within those early vote numbers, Democrats are not only outpacing Republicans in early and absentee voting, but they`re also turning out voters that didn`t even vote in the 2016 elections, didn`t -- aren`t normally primary voters.
And so changing the makeup of the electorate is important, and it looks like Democrats are doing just that.
MATTHEWS: Isn`t that what Trump did last November?
MATTHEWS: It`s the flip side of that.
ROBILLARD: Yes. That`s what you have to do. That`s how you win elections, is by shifting who actually comes out to vote, for the most part. It`s not by...
MATTHEWS: OK. Will this Gorsuch thing help?
MATTHEWS: Will Gorsuch help?
ROBILLARD: Gorsuch probably helped a little bit.
MATTHEWS: Because if Anthony Kennedy quits later this year, that`s another Supreme Court justice. There`s a lot of stakes here.
ROBILLARD: Yes. Neither one of these are Senate seats, so there`s not a direct impact.
But anything that gets a progressive angry is probably a good thing for the Democrats.
Well, it`s interesting to see if people are voting the way they`re watching television and listening to radio right now, because, if they are, there`s going to be big progressive surge in the next couple weeks.
Nathan Gonzales, sir, it`s great to have you on. You seem to know your stuff. And I love that in people, because I`m a nut like that, too. I know all this stuff. I used to anyway.
Kevin Robillard, thank you. Thank you both.
Up next, the HARDBALL Roundtable is coming here with a look at the one Trump administration player who has got a bit of stock quality. I`m going to The star -- what is it, the starfish commercial or whatever it is.
Anyway, you`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
When Nikki Haley was chosen to be President Trump`s ambassador to the United Nations, she had no foreign policy experience at all. Last week in a defining moment, however, Ambassador Haley delivered the harshest criticism of the Assad regime in Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Look at those pictures. We cannot close our eyes to those pictures. We cannot close our minds of the responsibility to act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, as Governor Haley, of course, first broke when she ordered the quick removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house. Since then, she`s made no secret of her "take no prisoners" foreign policy approach.
Here is what she said just a few weeks ago during AIPAC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: Changing the culture of the U.N. is very important, and the way you change the culture of the U.N. is the United States tells them what we`re not going to put up with, we start to change the culture to what we should be talking about, and then we actually act on what we say.
I wear heels. It`s not for a fashion statement. It`s because if I see something wrong, we`re doing to kick them every single time.
So, for anyone that says you can`t get anything done at the U.N., they need to know there`s a new sheriff in town.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, much like Daniel Patrick Moynihan under President Ford and Gene Kirkpatrick under President Reagan, Ambassador Haley is talking tough and shaking things up at the U.N.
For more, I`m joined by our roundtable tonight: Ashley Parker, White House reporter for "The Washington Post", Astead Herndon, national politics reporter for "The Boston Globe", and Tara Palmeri, White House correspondent with "Politico."
So, you`ve got a great group here tonight. I guess I`m looking for a diamond in this costume jewelry display here of the Trump administration. What do you think, Ashley? Does she got it? Is she going to be a figure - - are you going to call her secretary of state in a couple of years or what?
ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, she was already a political star before the president tapped her and I think she`s done a very job because she`s distanced herself from the president on a number of issues, sort of with no backlash against her.
MATTHEWS: How do you explain that? She doesn`t seem to be leashed or controlled by Tillerson or the president?
PARKER: I mean, I think part of it is she`s in New York. She`s away from sort of the madness of Washington. I think you mentioned Tillerson, he`s sort of created a vacuum for her to step up in. He`s press shy, she`s not about being out front in public.
And on Syria, especially, you saw her sort of lead by going to the U.N., showing those photos, and then it almost seemed as if the president and then Sean Spicer today in the briefing was following her.
ASTEAD HERNDON, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I will piggyback off of that. I mean, I think there`s a vacuum that has been created by the secretary of state because he has been press-averse as Ashley mentioned.
MATTHEWS: Explain that press averse part. Because I know -- but you tell me in your words. He doesn`t want anybody around him from the reporter world.
HERNDON: Exactly. I mean, we have trouble being --
MATTHEWS: He flies alone.
HERNDON: He flies alone, being able to answer some of those tough questioned. And what that does is it creates a space that someone like Ambassador Haley can step into. And then even though she`s saying things that may be repeated by other Republicans, it seems that in this White House, where there can be some mixed messages, that people are looking for that kind of stronger voice.
TARA PALMERI, POLITICO: I just -- I was --
MATTHEWS: By the way, space is a good term.
MATTHEWS: It`s very generational, but I was reading, it said, create a space, and then you can move into that. Like somebody said that about Jack and Jackie Kennedy, there was a space there. And somebody else can move into it. Go ahead.
PALMERI: I was going to say that though her job, though, at the end of the day, she sounds like a great politician. But her job is to be a diplomat. But really, from the reports that I`ve been seeing, it doesn`t seem like she`s actually really doing that job.
MATTHEWS: This is a kiss ass part of the formula there, it made Moynihan, senator from the New York, 24 to 30 years. I made Gene Kirkpatrick a star.
PALMIERI: It will help your political career, but what does that do for us in foreign policy?
MATTHEWS: What do you think you should as U.N. ambassador? What`s the job?
PALMERI: The job is to get on with your peers and get them to agree on resolutions that the United States wants and she was not able to do that, especially on Syria. I think at the end of the day, this is going to be great for her political career. Maybe she`ll be secretary of state, maybe we`ll see --
MATTHEWS: How do we do that? How do we move the U.N., which tends to be poor countries, third world countries, very much against Israel, and still all the time, right? We know its pattern. How do you get them to be on our side which tends to be more pro-Israeli than pro-Arab at times? How do you do it? How do you get them on our side to knock off the Assad regime?
PARKER: Well, there`s two-fold. As Tara was saying --
MATTHEWS: If that is our policy?
PARKER: -- you can sort of try to be a diplomat and negotiate and talk to people and listen. But I think Nikki Haley model, even if she can`t sort of get the U.N. to go where she wants, she can publicly, as she said that first time she went up there, you know, she`s taking names and she can still send the message even if she`s not getting the whole council to agree.
PALMERI: She doesn`t seem to know the details. People, foreign policy experts said she knows the tune, but not really the lyrics.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I heard.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s watch. Governor Haley while discussing Syria received a rougher reception. This is what I heard from a friend of mine, my wife. It didn`t go over very well here.
Here is the Women of the World Summit. She didn`t do so well at this. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: How do you rationalize with some of these people who are dictators?
HALEY: Again, you call them out when they do something wrong and you work with them when you can find ways to work with them.
VAN SUSTEREN: I would find that frustrating.
HALEY: We have to express America`s values. We are always the moral conscience of the world and so our focus is to make sure --
VAN SUSTEREN: Any way, moving right along.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What was that yelled?
PARKER: I think it was about the refugees, right?
MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s what I heard, she didn`t respond, didn`t say anything about refugees, even she`s tough on the chemical weapons used on children, no such sympathy or empathy for the kids who are drowning out of boats and stuff like that.
PALMERI: I think it`s telling when she said we`re not going to be using soft power, I guess that includes empathy, as well, and, you know, charity towards others. But I think, you know, at the end of the day, that silence is deafening and I think that tells you the policy that they haven`t made up their minds on this yet and they realize they`re walking a fine line. Even Sean Spicer in the briefing today seem to be repeating questions back to himself when asked --
MATTHEWS: Yes. Trump -- I wouldn`t say a fine line with Trump, I will say he doesn`t like refugees. He`s tough.
PALMERI: But how are you suppose to talk tough when -- and say my heart was moved by these children but not be moved by them when they`re on the border.
HERNDON: That`s the limits of the role that she has, I mean, at the end of the day. She has to convince votes based off of a policy that many wouldn`t find empathetic. And so, even when she`s talking about empathy in terms of seeing the children and the images coming out of Syria, she would also need to defend other foreign policy initiatives that come from that White House and she might have trouble there.
MATTHEWS: By the way, one part I agree with Trump about, don`t jump on me on this, the use of pictures, because of all the sermons I heard at church and all the lectures I heard at college and high school, I can`t remember a handful of them. But I remember every movie you`ve ever seen. Pictures do have power, thousand words, it`s all true.
And showing pictures at the U.N. whether it was Adlai Stevenson back there in the Cuban missile crisis, you`ve got to show in your face. You`ve got to bring the pictures out and put them in your face and I think that`s powerful stuff, intellectual sometime missed that.
Anyway, roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: Former President Bill Clinton, and George Herbert Walker Bush, he`s the older fellow, hung out yesterday in Houston. Clinton tweeted out this picture of their meeting saying, "Great to spend time with George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Bush in Houston today. We caught up about kids, grandkids, old times and new times. And socks."
There you go. Clinton gave Bush a pair of colorful socks, something Bush has become famous for in his later years. Any way, Clinton and Bush who he defeated in `92 have become actually good friends. And I believe this. This isn`t political B.S. I think they are friends.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.
Ashley, tell me something I don`t know.
PARKER: You may know this but I think it bears repeating, and it got lost with the Syria news and the White House infighting. But Judge Gorsuch sworn in the Supreme Court today cannot be overstated how important that is a victory of Trump, how much it means to his base, how much it means to the Republican establishment and how many of his other sins will be forgiven because of this, at least for a while.
MATTHEWS: I think the life issue is big, even when he said that crazy stuff to me. I think it matters.
MATTHEWS: That life issue.
HERNDON: Just a few hours ago, a federal court ruled that Texas legislature voter ID law was intentionally discriminating against minority voters, and that`s big because that means that some of those Texas voter ID laws can go back under federal control under the --
MATTHEWS: Great. Thank you. I never liked those things.
PALMERI: I have a fun fact for the first day of Passover.
MATTHEWS: Oh, by the way, we should recognize that. But thank you.
PALMERI: Yes. The White House is celebrating Seder right now. It`s unclear if Trump is there but he`s the only U.S. president to have an immediate family member who is Jewish, his daughter, Ivanka, although she converted to Judaism. And --
MATTHEWS: She`s very observant, too.
Anyway, thank you, Ashley Parker, Astead Herndon, and Tara Palmeri.
When we return, let me finish with tonight actually with Peggy Noonan, my friend, winning the Pulitzer Prize today.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the news that Peggy Noonan has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
How can I not applaud this decision?
One of the reasons I love Saturday morning and there are so many, is the chance to open "The Wall Street Journal" and turn to a pair of genuine favorites, the review section of best of any daily and the remarkable delightful, beautifully written columns of Ms. Noonan.
I think I know why she won this year, though, it could have been many others. Just as Eugene Robinson of "The Washington Post" and our colleague here on MSNBC understood the power Barack Obama`s elected in 2008, Peggy grasped the deep reasons for Donald Trump`s in 2016.
Here`s her first column after the fact: "Those who come to this space know why I think what happened happened. The unprotected people of America who have to live with Washington`s policies rebelled against the protected who make and defend those policies and who care little if at all about the unprotected. Tuesday was in effect an uprising of the unprotected. It was part of the push back against detached elites."
I know what she`s getting to there. I believe most of us do, even those who would never vote for Trump. Never.
She was talking about the people left behind in today`s rush of technological and cultural change, those who come from areas that had opportunity but no longer do. Those who see the educated haves looking down on them, whether above them physically, high above the fly-over country, or above them in cultural hipness, they see a party in progress, a winner`s circle of political elite and entertainment elite and know deep in their souls they didn`t miss the invitation, it never came and never will.
Peggy gets that. While so many people could be as smart as her don`t because they don`t want to get it.
Well, good for you Peggy. You Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. I love to know where your heart is on Saturday morning, my favorite time of the week. And though we never vote the same, certainly not consistently, you teach me. Better yet, you remind me.
That`s HARDBALL for now.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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