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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/13/2017

Guests: Philip Rucker, Leon Panetta, Jonathan Swan, Karen Bass, Margaret Carlson, Jeff Mason, Sahil Kapur

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: April 13, 2017 Guest: Philip Rucker, Leon Panetta, Jonathan Swan, Karen Bass, Margaret Carlson, Jeff Mason, Sahil Kapur

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bannon to Siberia.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Donald Trump ran for president pushing "America first" -- no more illegal immigration, no more bad trade deals, no more stupid wars. The trifecta won him the election.

Now, as might be expected, some of his backers on the far right say they`re losing their faith he will pursue his hard-nosed nationalist agenda. The big sign yet is the sidelining of Steve Bannon, his chief strategist and the beating hart of the nationalist movement in the West Wing.

There are indications he`s been put in a refrigerator, or in the usual Russian parlance, sent to Siberia. He`s still alive in the White House, but so far from the action, it doesn`t much matter.

Well, "The New York Times" reports that President Trump complained that Bannon is not a team player. Those were his words. And "The Washington Post" suggested Bannon`s days may be numbered at the White House. Quote, "One Bannon friend likened Bannon to a terminally ill family member who had been moved into hospice care."

Well, President Trump himself has publicly rebuked his chief strategist. He told "The New York Post," "I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I`m my own strategist." That`s Trump talking. And he described Bannon to "The Wall Street Journal" as "a guy that works for me."

Well, former Trump adviser Roger Stone told Chuck Todd today that Bannon is alone and surrounded by what he calls "globalists." Let`s watch.


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: Well, I think Steve made an error by not spending any of his political capital to bring other Trumpites and non- globalists into the White House circle. So now...

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": He didn`t do a good job staffing the White House.

STONE: He`s alone.

TODD: Reince Priebus and Jared Kushner did.

STONE: Yes. And so therefore, now he`s alone and he`s surrounded. I think unfairly, perhaps, he takes the rap for the fiasco surrounding health care. Maybe Reince should be wearing a bit more of that.


MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, in the past few days, there`s been a breathtaking amount of 180-degree policy departures from the Bannon position. The president has softened his rhetoric on China. He said the Export-Import Bank is a good thing, that NATO is no longer obsolete, that he likes and respects Fed chairman Janet Yellen, and that Vladimir Putin is partly to blame for the Syria conflict.

Well ,could it be the biggest development out of President Trump`s first 100 days is not an achievement, but the change in him personally.

I`m joined right now by NBC`s Kristen Welker, "The Washington Post`s" Philip Rucker and Jonathan Swan from Axios. Thank you, all.

Kristen, you first. It is interesting. In all these directional changes that we`ve been seeing, and particularly the last couple of days -- in fact, week, I guess -- all of them seem to be moving toward the center, into the more conventional presidency.

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, that`s right. I think you are seeing a president who is transforming from being a campaigner to actually being someone who inhabits the Oval Office and all of the realities that come with that, Chris.

These challenges that he`s facing on the world stage, for example, in terms of the fight against ISIS, Syria, Russia, recent provocations by North Korea, and he`s realizing, just to use one example in terms of NATO, calling NATO obsolete doesn`t help him to achieve the types of things he wants to achieve in terms of dealing with some of those foreign policy crises. So he is moderating to some extent.

In terms of the makeup, though, here at the White House and this struggle that you and I have been talking about for days now, Steve Bannon has been sidelined, certainly, but I`m also told there is a detente going on within the White House, as I think he tries to salvage his standing here.

I wouldn`t be surprised if the president used this holiday weekend to reassess the situation behind the scenes, but I also wouldn`t count Steve Bannon out, Chris, for one simple reason. Not only is he a check on the president`s populist message and all of those campaign promises that he made to his base, but he could be a lot more dangerous outside of the White House...


WELKER: ... criticizing the president.

MATTHEWS: ... I`ve heard that expressed, an old LBJ expression, Better have them doing it out than doing it in, I think it was. Go ahead, Phil Rucker.

PHILIP RUCKER, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, that`s exactly right. And Bannon - - you know, he`s still at work. He was in the meetings with President Trump yesterday in the Oval Office, acting like business as usual. And there wasn`t a sense of negative tension between the two of them, according to the people I was talking to, even though his portfolio has been diminished and his standing externally (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s left for him?

RUCKER: ... is damaged.

MATTHEWS: If you look at the -- if you look at the president, he got elected for the three things I talked about. You know, illegal immigration to the point of really almost zealotry, losing all those manufacturing jobs to bad trade deals, again to the point of zealotry, and relentlessly making fun of W. for these stupid wars, as he called them.

All those appealed to the white working class. They were the trifecta. Is he loyal to any of those right now?

RUCKER: Well, it`s a great point, and it`s one of the reasons why the Bannon allies on the outside are putting a lot of pressure on President Trump to keep Steve Bannon empowered because they see him as the conduit to this base and the person who`s going to keep the president focused on those issues that he campaigned on.

MATTHEWS: Well, Politico recently interviewed nearly two dozen Trump loyalists, and according to their reporting, quote, "Donald Trump`s true believers are losing the faith. He`s failing, in their view, to deliver on his promise of a transformative `America first` agenda driven by hard-edged populism."

Breitbart News has also thrown a few gentle jabs at the president. A headline today read, "Is Bannon in peril? Trump comments worry his populist base."

And Ann Coulter -- you know, she`s pretty fringey -- criticized the president for his bombing in Syria. Quote, "We want the president of America back, not the president of the world," making it very clear that he seems to be betraying that anti-globalist view.

And Steve King -- we know him -- from Iowa tweeted this message to the president. "Steve Bannon is the linchpin of your energized base. Conservatives are an endangered species in your White House."

What do you make of that?


MATTHEWS: These people are not -- I wouldn`t call them the base, but they`re the fringe.

SWAN: Well, it`s also...

MATTHEWS: I mean King and Coulter. They don`t want to be the base. They want to be fringe.

SWAN: I think it`s also -- I mean, polling shows that Trump voters actually aren`t disapproving with him in huge numbers. So you have to distinguish between the noisy people on social media and people who`ve got...

MATTHEWS: I agree.

SWAN: ... large platforms and actual voters. I don`t think we`ve seen any evidence yet, any real evidence that the base has turned on Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: I get a sense -- let me stick with you because I think it`s attitude they like, the voters. His attitude is anti-establishment. It`s, We`ve been kicked around too much, taken advantage of. You know what? We`re going to be tough Americans now. And whatever way he can dramatize that, whatever way he can act that way, be that way, they`re going to like whatever he decides to do.

SWAN: And he dropped the "mother of all bombs" today. I mean, I...

MATTHEWS: Well, he didn`t do it, he said.

SWAN: The military did. I`m just saying that some of his more muscular foreign policy moves -- I think we shouldn`t assume necessarily that because there is an anti-war element in the base that they`re all going to be monolithic about that. I think some people will see this is Trump being tough.

MATTHEWS: Phil, I agree with that. I think if he comes off as macho man on the weekends, you know, people are going to -- - be a macho man, even if he seems to be dragged into that Middle East quagmire -- so you know, he`s on the edge of it. One bombing raid doesn`t make him a neocon, but he does -- takes that risk. He takes that risk.

RUCKER: Yes, and I think Jonathan was exactly right. And the difference here is we`re not -- he did the one raid, the bombing exercise in Syria. He`s done the one bomb today. He`s not marching to war necessarily.


RUCKER: And I think he can tell the base, Look, I`m doing targeted executions here that are in America`s interests. I`m not leading us into a quagmire again (ph).

MATTHEWS: Tell me, Kristen, from the inside point of view about Bannon because he was the tough guy in the campaign. He personified the nationalist, "America first" movement that really did energize a lot of Republican base and certainly the fringe. And my question is, what is his job now compared to what it was a month ago? Because he set out the agenda. As I remember, he was the one that ticked off -- what was the first -- couple hundred -- certainly a 100-day agenda at the outset?

WELKER: You`re absolutely right. Now, remember, he was put again in charge of trying to revive health care. That didn`t go anywhere. He`s still in a lot of these meetings, but of course, he`s not on the National Security Council anymore, so to that extent, he has been significantly sidelined.

But look, we were looking to see if he was going to be in that press conference yesterday. He was. So again, I don`t think the president`s completely ready to cast him aside.

At the same time, I think what you`re seeing, what is underscored by what the president said -- he`s not a team player. I don`t think anyone who really knows Steve Bannon had any illusions that he was going to be a team player. That`s not how he operates. He operates essentially in a state of battle. He picked a battle with the wrong person, the president`s son-in- law. And so in this instance, he`s not winning.

But again, it goes back to that sort of the president learning to navigate the realities of the office, Chris, and dealing with some of these crises as they come at him and having to pivot.

MATTHEWS: I`ve worked for politicians, Jonathan, and one thing I`ve noticed, to an extent, they don`t mind you becoming a bit of a star yourself, to an extent. You go past that line, you`re in big trouble.

Has he gotten a reputation for getting his face on the cover of "Time" magazine, for "Saturday Night Live" putting him in the big chair in the White House Oval Office and putting the president in a little kid`s chair to the side? Does that get to Trump at some point?

SWAN: A source of mine who`s worked for Donald Trump for some time said to me the worst thing you could ever do in Trump world is to be described in print as the brain behind Donald Trump.


SWAN: That is...

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s true of anybody!

SWAN: ... the ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong.

MATTHEWS: That would be trouble for most anybody...


SWAN: But particularly with Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: A vain man...

SWAN: So he did not enjoy the "Time" magazine cover, and we`ve been told that he did not enjoy that "Saturday Night Live" skit.

MATTHEWS: Of course, he`ll say he didn`t see it. Anyway, Sean Spicer was asked today about the president`s changes in policy, the big stuff -- China, NATO, Janet Yellen, keeping her on at the Fed, and others. Spicer focused on NATO and argued the president hasn`t changed his views, but rather, NATO has shifted closer to him. The mountain has come to Mohammed, I guess he`s saying. Let`s watch.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think in some cases, the issues evolve that it`s not just a clear and fast statement that this is -- this -- that the entity itself is moving towards his or the issue is evolving towards the position that he articulated. And that can`t be proven more true in the case of NATO, where he laid out two very clear positions that he had an issue with NATO and as far back as September of last year, started to recognize that that institution was moving much more towards his position...


MATTHEWS: Well, his position -- that would be the president`s -- on NATO was that it was obsolete because it did not fight terrorism, he said. Well, according to Politifact, that`s false. Quote, "In reality, NATO has been actively dealing with terrorism since the 1980s, and since 9/11, it has played a significant role in the war on terror, including deploying troops in Afghanistan for more than a decade."

So Phil, why is Trump changing? Is it all Jared? Is it just experience? Is it a learning curve?

RUCKER: I think...

MATTHEWS: Is it just knowing stuff now he never knew before?

WELKER: Donald Trump is someone who`s constantly changing. He`s not an ideologue. He doesn`t have rigid beliefs on things. We`ve seen this throughout his career of many decades, and certainly through the campaign and right now as president. He`s always adapting. He`s always flexible. He sees that as a good thing, actually. And you know, when the environment changes, as he gets new information, as he gets new sort of political objectives that he wants to achieve here, in terms of deal-making and working with some centrists and Democrats, he`s going to start to shift, and he sees it as advantageous for him.

MATTHEWS: Kristen, it reminds me of a married couple that has this big spread on their bed, and they -- when it gets cold out, one pulls it over and the other side starts to get cold. I mean, the fringe -- now to include Ann Coulter -- they`re getting cold right now and even Bannon`s getting cold. What happened to that spread I had on top of me? The middle is grabbing it. Jared Kushner is grabbing it. And that doesn`t make him too happy because somebody`s got to get -- well, they all have to have the spread, but that`s pretty hard if you`re Trump because he`s got to make movements. Your thoughts on that interesting metaphor.

WELKER: It`s a good point, Chris, but I`m not sure how many of his voters -- I mean, is it just the fringe who`s becoming really frustrated with him? Because remember, so many of his supporters said, We don`t take him literally. You in the media take him literally.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that.

WELKER: We don`t. We support what he stands for, which as he is trying to prove, is strength on the world stage and someone who is able to adjust when needed.

So we`ve been out at some town halls, some of our producers, talking to some of his supporters, and they`re not expressing the same level of anger that you`re seeing in an Ann Coulter.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you.

WELKER: What`s also interesting is, could he actually win over some moderates, some Democrats with this flexibility?

MATTHEWS: You know what? I think he should on some of these issues. I said last night the monkeys type merry Christmas. You know, sometimes he says things that make perfect sense for three or four minutes at a time, and he did last night. And I do think you can`t knock the guy for being wrong and (INAUDIBLE) he`s right to say he`s -- he`s a flip-flopper. One side is right, in most people`s perspective. The other side`s wrong. If he adjusts to your side, accept it and move on.

Kristen Welker, you`re always discerning. Thank you so much for giving us that report...

WELKER: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... and the analysis. Philip Rucker, thank you, and Jonathan Swan.


MATTHEWS: Coming up -- one week after launching cruise missiles against Syria, the Pentagon dropped the biggest conventional bomb. It`s called "the mother of all bombs" -- where`d they get that name from -- on an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan. Most of us didn`t know ISIS was that big in Afghanistan to deserve that kind of bomb.

Anyway, when President Trump was asked whether he authorized the Pentagon to drop that bomb, he referred to one point in the -- at one point, in the military as -- this is not good for the president -- "my military." It`s not yours, Mr. President.

Of course, he`s talking about the United States military, and I`m going to ask former defense secretary Leon Panetta about Trump`s sense of proprietorship.

Plus, "The Guardian" reports that British spies were first to spot links between Trump`s campaign and the Russians back in late 2015, and they passed that intelligence on to the U.S., kick-starting the FBI`s investigation into the Trump campaign`s connections with Russia.

And if Steve Bannon falls out favor, so does Trump`s nationalism. He`s finding out that things on the world stage are more complicated than he made them sound during the campaign.

And finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch."

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, at a town hall yesterday, Colorado Republican congressman Mike Coffman was asked about Sean Spicer`s comments this week that seemed to ignore the Holocaust when he compared Adolf Hitler and Bashar Assad`s use of chemical weapons on their citizens. Let`s watch.


REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: Spicer made a terrible mistake yesterday, and he admitted it. If you`re not familiar with what he did, is that he -- I mean, he needs to go, you know...


COFFMAN: ... because I just don`t think he`s serving the president well.


MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back after this.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Today, the United States struck an ISIS target in Afghanistan with the largest non-nuclear bomb that the military has ever used on the battlefield. The GBU-43, which is nicknamed the "mother of all bombs," was dropped to destroy an ISIS tunnel system in a sparsely populated area near the Afghan border with Pakistan. Look at it go there!

According to NBC, the strike was a battlefield call made under the authority of the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. When President Trump was asked today if he authorized this strike, he referred to the U.S. military at one point as being "my military."



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody knows exactly what happened, so -- and what I do is I authorize my military.


MATTHEWS: He also had this to say about the fight against ISIS under his administration.


TRUMP: We have given them total authorization, and that`s what they`re doing. And frankly, that`s why they`ve been so successful lately. If you look at what`s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that to what -- really, to what`s happened over the last eight years, you`ll see there`s a tremendous difference.


MATTHEWS: While the bombing was not specifically ordered by the president, he did make this promise on the campaign trail.


TRUMP: I`m going to bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them!


TRUMP: It`s true. I don`t care. I don`t care. They`ve got to be stopped.


MATTHEWS: "I don`t care." Great line.

I`m joined right now by Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and former secretary of defense under President Obama.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us tonight. It couldn`t be more timely. Do you believe a battlefield commander would have made a decision to drop the biggest ordnance we have without checking with the president under President Obama? Would they have done that under your leadership?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don`t think that a military commander who is going to use this kind of weapon for the first time. He may have had the authorization to make the decision to use that kind of weapon, but I clearly think they would have informed the president of the United States to make sure that he was aware of it.

MATTHEWS: Ahead of time.

PANETTA: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: What about the president`s term of "my military"? He said that today. He said "our military," and then he got around to -- in a kind of a way you can imagine him saying it, with a bit of a swag, "my military." Does that concern you?

PANETTA: Well, you know, I think this president obviously at some views use these things a lot differently in terms of the role of a president. But when it comes to the military, the military belongs to the country. Our defense system belongs to the country. And it`s not the president`s military, it`s the military of the United States of America.

And he has responsibility, obviously, as commander-in-chief, to be able to make decisions with regards to our military, but I think if you ask the men and women in uniform who they are responsible to, I think their answer would be, We`re responsible to the United States of America.

MATTHEWS: Well, there are also some new developments, Mr. Secretary, today about the potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Today, "The Guardian" newspaper`s reported the British intelligence organization, GCHQ, quote, "First became aware in late 2015 of suspicious interactions," that`s the phrase, "between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents. This intelligence was passed to the U.S. as part of a routine exchange of information."

Well, sources also told "The Guardian" that, quote, "The FBI and the CIA were slow to appreciate the extensive nature of contacts between Trump`s team and Moscow."

What do you make of the -- you were head of CIA. You were director of CIA. And what do you think of what we know? Can you have a conversation -- if you`re a Carter Page, or you`re a Manafort, a Paul Manafort, or someone connected to an American presidential candidate, can you have a conversation on the phone or in person with a Russian intel person without our intel people knowing about it? PANETTA: Well, you know, I can only tell you from my own experience as director of the CIA that, clearly, our intelligence was focused primarily on our adversaries, whether it`s Russia, whether it was Iran, whether it`s China, whether it`s ISIS, whether it`s North Korea.

Those were the primary targets in terms of our surveillance. And I will tell you that our allies, other intelligence allies, were focused on those same targets. So, I`m not surprised that they would pick up that kind of - - through surveillance, would pick up those kinds of conversations, particularly if they`re focused on the Russians, and then obviously find out who those Russians are talking to.

So, clearly, it doesn`t surprise me that they would find that same information. I think the question of how we reacted to that is one that, ultimately, I believe the FBI will have to find out.

MATTHEWS: Does it surprise you that there`s so much traffic that we`re picking up between the Trump people, whether it`s Carter Page, Manafort, all those people, that keep going back and forth to Russia?

Is that because Russia has a lot of money and can hire U.S. political consultants sort of so freely? What -- doesn`t it -- it just amazed me, so much activity between these -- the small group of people around Trump and the leadership of the Russian intel operation.

What does it -- how does it strike you, just in general, looking at it?

PANETTA: There`s a lot going on here in terms of what Russia was doing during that period of time.

And whether these individuals were operating on their own or whether they were operating under the direction of the Trump campaign is something that I think obviously the FBI is investigating, as well as the committees on the Hill.

But the reality is that we have several individuals here who were receiving money from the Russians or those connected to the Russians, did not declare their role and the fact that they received that money, are now talking about declaring themselves as foreign agents.

So, it raises a lot of questions about just exactly what the hell was going on here.

MATTHEWS: And what good does it do to declare your role with regard to a foreign power way after the fact? I guess that`s what you`re saying. It`s a -- the cow is out of the barn.

PANETTA: Well, I think -- I think their lawyers recommended that they file as foreign agents.


PANETTA: I do think the one thing that`s interesting is that all of this gives the FBI the opportunity, by virtue of, I think, violations of the law that have taken place here that they will have leverage to try to get further testimony from individuals like Manafort and Flynn and Page and others, because they will have the leverage of potential legal violations to use against them.

MATTHEWS: Here`s something I know you`ve been thinking about, even as a professor and private citizen, this North Korean thing.

That country -- Pyongyang appears ready to test its sixth nuclear weapon, which could come as early as tomorrow night at this time, apparently.

President Trump tweeted this morning that: "I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the United States, with its allies, will."

The president was asked later today whether the use of a large bomb in Afghanistan today sent any message to North Korea. And here`s what the president said:


QUESTION: Mr. President, did you send a message to North Korea? Did you send a message to North Korea?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t know if this sends a message. It doesn`t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.

I will say this. I think China has really been working very hard. I have really gotten to like and respect, as you know, President Xi. He`s a very special man. So, we`ll see how it goes. I think he`s going to try very hard.


MATTHEWS: Mr. Secretary, this is the most confounding thing on our horizon. How do you stop what seems to be a young, murderous, well, idiot maybe from using a nuclear weapon in our lifetime?

PANETTA: Well, I think the president, to his credit, is doing the right thing in trying to put pressure on President Xi to put pressure on North Korea.

Look, Chris, there are no good options here. You know, presidents in the past would have pulled the trigger a long time ago if there were easy options.

The fact is, we`re dealing with a nuclear-powered nation. If we were to try to attack them, they would virtually wipe out Seoul and 20 million people who live in Seoul. And if it became a nuclear war, which is likely, millions of lives would be lost. And that`s the reason we haven`t pulled the trigger.

The fact is, we`ve used both containment and deterrence as a principal policy here. I think, frankly, in the end, that`s we`re left with, whether we like it or not. And, frankly, it was containment and deterrence that ultimately resulted in the Soviet Union self-destructing.

I hope that that will happen here.

MATTHEWS: Well, we had a rational leader, set of leaders, the Russian leadership in the Soviet era. We had people like Khrushchev who actually had consciences at some point.

How do we deal with somebody who doesn`t apparently have one?

PANETTA: Well, he comes from a long line of very unpredictable and unstable leaders.

But his father and his grandfather, just as I assume this leader understands, that if they engage in any kind of peremptory attack here in that region, that it is committing suicide for their regime. I think they understand that. And it`s for that reason that we`re engaged in this period of provocation.

I think the biggest concern I have is that, in engaging in these provocations, that somebody may miscalculate, whether it`s South Korea, whether it`s somebody else, whether it`s us. Somebody may miscalculate, and we could be in a war. That`s probably the greatest danger we face right now.

MATTHEWS: I hate to hit you with all these questions, but one last one, Mr. Secretary.

President Trump`s director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, today called out WikiLeaks, an organization that Trump frequently praised on the campaign trail for helping him in the election.

Let`s watch this bizarre statement.


MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: It`s time to call our WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia.


MATTHEWS: Well, there he has an acknowledgment. I think it`s a pretty direct acknowledgment that Russia and WikiLeaks were working together to help Trump win.

What do you make of that?

PANETTA: Well, frankly, it doesn`t surprise me.

You know, I`m glad the director of the CIA made the point. The fact is that Russia, I`m sure without question, was involved with Assange and WikiLeaks, because WikiLeaks had a ton of classified information from the United States.

And it`s for that reason that they were, I`m sure, collaborating with him in the effort that went on in terms of the hacking that went on during the last election.

So, there`s no question that there`s a lot of collusion here between the Russians and between WikiLeaks.

MATTHEWS: Do you think they had him trapped with the information they had?

PANETTA: I think that WikiLeaks, by virtue of the classified information they had, and the fact that the Russians knew what kind of classified information was there, that Russia used that information as part of the hacking attack on the United States to influence our election.

I would not be surprised if the FBI and the investigations that are going on confirm that kind of collusion.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, former Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director and former U.S. Congressman for many years Leon Panetta.

Thank you, sir, for coming on the program.

Up next: President Trump reverses an Obama era rule, now allowing states to block funding for Planned Parenthood. Wow.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

When it comes to NATO and China, President Trump is moderating his tone, but, when it comes to social issues, he`s tacking far to the right again.

Earlier today, President Trump rolled back on Obama era regulations that stopped conservative governors from defunding family planning providers like Planned Parenthood. The president signed the bill rather privately, behind closed doors, with a few pro-life supporters in the room.

Typically, of course, President Trump proudly displays -- look at him -- displays the regulation he`s rolling back to the press and the public, you know, all those fancy signing ceremonies, like the ones we`re looking at.

Well, Planned Parenthood issued the following statement shortly after the president signed the resolution -- quote -- "People are sick and tired of politicians making it even harder for them to access health care, and this bill is just the latest example."

Anyway, the resolution signed today does not totally defund Planned Parenthood, but it could negatively affect low-income families, who often rely on health clinics like Planned Parenthood.

For more, I`m joined by Democratic U.S. Congresswoman from California Karen Bass.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.

Explain, if you can, in regular terms, everyday terms, what this action by the president he conducted behind closed doors today does to women.


Well, what it does is that it essentially gives a license to states who have been trying to defund Planned Parenthood to begin with, it allows them to do that, because what President Obama tried to do in the last few days of his administration was to prevent states from just defunding Planned Parenthood because they didn`t like what they were doing.

So, President Obama said it had to be for a specific reason, like the services were inappropriate or something like that. This, then, essentially gives a green light to states. It`s just another attack on women, and especially low-income women.

MATTHEWS: How is this going to affect people that you know in your district, for example? If you -- you`re going to get some constituent calls on this, I imagine, some case worker problems.

What will be real about the people out there when they see this action that the president did in secret today?

BASS: Well, what it`s going to do is create a lot of fear in my district.

I have several Planned Parenthood clinics. And a lot of women, especially younger women and immigrant women, use Planned Parenthood. And so they`re going to see what the president did today, and they`re going to think, then, that now Planned Parenthood is defunded.

Of course, that`s not going to happen in the state of California, but it will happen in a lot of the conservative states that have been looking for many opportunities to roll back these services.

There`s just no excuse for this. And, you know, Ivanka Trump is supposed to be the conscience when it comes to these issues. And either, clearly, she supports this, or he wasn`t listening to her this time around.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think she was in the signing ceremony today, to be blunt about it.

Let me ask you about -- for conservatives watching right now, pro-life people, I understand that the federal government, under the Hyde Amendment, doesn`t provide funding for abortion services. That`s correct, right? Is that still correct?

BASS: Yes, that`s absolutely correct.

And I think that there are so many misunderstandings about what happens in a Planned Parenthood clinic. Planned Parenthood basically provides your primary health care services. That means if you have a cold, if you need a Pap smear, if you need a breast exam, basic health services, so if you think about HIV services.

And men also can go to a Planned Parenthood clinic too. So, this is really a general health provider that essentially, you know, will really be compromised in a lot of states around the country.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much.

It`s very helpful for women and men as well to hear what`s going on with Trump and Planned Parenthood, which is extremely popular in this country, I know.

Anyway, U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass of California, thanks for joining us tonight.

BASS: Thanks for having me on.

MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump`s foreign policy. He`s finding out that it`s more complicated than he made it sound in the campaign, don`t you think?

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you look at our deals, our military deals, our trade deals, all of the deals, we don`t put America first. I don`t think anybody negotiating any of these deals even knows anything about what they`re doing, and I don`t think they care about America being first. I care, and you care, and that`s the way it`s going to be.



That was President Trump campaigning while championing his skills as a deal maker and promising he`d put America first. But now that he`s actually in the Oval Office, things aren`t as simple as he thought, or said he thought.

When asked how he`s changed since he became president, he told "The Wall Street Journal" that, quote, "The magnitude of everything is so big and also the decisions are so big. You know, you`re talking about life and death. You`re not talking about you`re going to make a good deal." That`s the president admitting his transformation maybe from butterfly to caterpillar.

Anyway, President Trump made dealing with North Korea look easy during the campaign.


TRUMP: What I would do very simply is say, "China, this is your baby. This is your problem. You solve the problem."


MATTHEWS: Anyway, but according to "The Wall Street Journal," Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korean threat. Well, Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, and Mr. Trump said after listening for ten minutes, I realized it`s not so easy.

Well, the president also promised that Russia and the United States would get along because of his leadership.


TRUMP: Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I`m leading it than when other people have led it.


MATTHEWS: And just yesterday, or but just yesterday admitted that their relationship with Russia and Putin was at a low point.


TRUMP: We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia. This has built for a long period of time.


MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL round table, "Daily Beast" columnist Margaret Carlson, "Reuters" White House correspondent Jeff Mason, who was called upon by the president just yesterday. In fact, he asked the first question at that press conference. And Bloomberg`s national political reporter, Sahil Kapur.

Sahil, you`re first. This president came in as an America firster. I didn`t like the phrase. It has pre-World War II overtones or undertones. He came in as a nationalist.

Now, he`s being accused of being a globalist because he wants to work with China. He loves -- he calls him a special man, the head president of the China getting along with NATO. He likes NATO now. What`s going on?

SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG: Well, I think the president when he was campaigning, the people who were running his campaign were from the economic nationalist America first mindset. They were running his messaging. They were writing his policies and he deferred to them. That worked very well for him in the Republican primary and it worked well for him in the general election as well. It made him president.

Now, he`s hearing from a very different set of people who are dealing with realities on the ground.

Let me give you a partial list of some things he`s changed on -- Bombing Syria, NATO, getting along with Russia, labeling China a currency manipulator, Export-Import Bank, DACA, the permits for DREAMers, Janet Yellen, interest rates, and universal health insurance. Other than that, he`s doing what he said he would do.

MATTHEWS: That`s a lot. That`s a lot.

Jeff, what`s the story here? I get the feeling is it as simple as the advice of his son-in-law? Is this Jared Kushner`s, his worldview, that he has swallowed whole? Is it that idiotic?

JEFF MASON, REUTERS: I don`t think it`s that simple. I think it has to do with the president came in with a steep learning curve, particularly on foreign policy. This was a businessman who has been very successful in real estate but had no background in foreign policy. And a lot of these other issues that he`s had to deal with.

And he may have presented sort of a simplified view of it as a candidate, and that went over well. And now, he`s in the White House. He`s confronted with the realities of governing, and that learning curve is evening out.

MATTHEWS: OK, Jeff, I want to ask you this question. You make it sound like he got into first grade but hadn`t done pre-K. OK, my question, didn`t his parents or anybody around him ever talk about public affairs? Didn`t they ever talk about world affairs? Didn`t they ever talk about the issues he`s now confronting as president?

Most of our viewers are fairly familiar with everything he`s had to deal with and seem to be ahead of him on this learning curve. What`s he been thinking about all these years?

MASON: I can`t answer that. I mean, I don`t know how he was raised, how he grew up --

MATTHEWS: Hasn`t he thought about climate? Hasn`t he thought about women`s concerns?

MASON: I think he has. He`s talked about it, and I think he also said during the campaign that he learned a lot as he was going. You do when you`re out campaigning. He learned a lot then about politics. He learned what was being received well by the supporters and the base of his party, and of the people who put him into office.


MASON: Now, he`s in office --


MASON: -- he`s rejecting a few of those things. But he`s still constantly learning and changing.

MATTHEWS: Margaret, you know he`s talking about aliens, not a nice word in this country, but he`s an alien. He shows up as president of the United States as if he`s not lived in this country for the last seven years, like he hasn`t picked up a newspaper, hasn`t read a book, hasn`t read anything about issues he`s confronting. What`s he been doing all his life? Doesn`t he actually pick up a newspaper out of curiosity?

MARGARET CARLSON, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, businessmen are sometimes very narrowly focused, and real estate developers are really narrowly focused. And In fact, I don`t think he did pick up anything about "The New York post" to see what they were saying about him. He --

MATTHEWS: Does he just read mansion sections of the "Wall Street Journal", the McMansion part?

CARLSON: The (INAUDIBLE) part, yes. No. And then he said what pleased his crowds during the campaign without much thought, and Sean Spicer today said that what`s happening is he`s evolving. NATO is evolving towards Donald Trump. Trump is not changing.

MATTHEWS: It is scary because some of these things we`ve talked about. I mean, I`ve been in this business on television and newspapers and politics for 50 years, or pretty much 50 years.

Anyway, President Trump called the military "my military." What do you make of that, Jeff? Mine. LBJ said something like this once. They`re all my helicopters.

MASON: He`s commander in chief, and he`s taking ownership.

MATTHEWS: What about the possessive adjective there?

MASON: Well, he`s the commander-in-chief and he`s taking ownership.

MATTHEWS: Personally, proprietary relationship, Sahil?

KAPUR: It`s obviously not his military. It`s the people`s military. He uses a variety of words and vernacular. Maybe he means it. It`s hard to tell.

MATTHEWS: A very sober American guy who knows how the system works in our country, the way the military works and the job of president works. Former CIA director, former secretary of defense, former U.S. congressman, Leon Panetta. Here`s how he reacted earlier in the program to what Trump said about it being his military.


MATTHEWS: What about the president`s term "my military"? He said that today. He said "our military," and then he got around to in a kind of way you can imagine him saying it, with a bit of a swag, "my military." Does that concern you?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, you know, I think this president obviously sometimes views these things a lot of differently in terms of the role of a president. But when it comes to the military, the military belongs to the country. Our defense system belongs to the country, and it`s not the president`s military. It`s the military of the United States of America.

And he has responsibility obviously as commander-in-chief to be able to make decisions with regards to our military, but I think if you ask the men and women in uniform who they are responsible to, I think their answer would be, we`re responsible to the United States of America.


MATTHEWS: You know, when he says something like, "my military", that`s not a faux pas. That`s the way he looks at it now.

CARLSON: He feels that way. I mean, this is something Vladimir Putin or the Philippine President Duterte would say. It is my military.

And, you know, the most praise he`s gotten is for the drone strikes on Syria, and I think this is --

MATTHEWS: Did it go to his head?

CARLSON: This is a chest-thumping moment.

MATTHEWS: OK, Jeff, let me ask you about the decision by the battlefield commander, Nicholson, to strike with the largest weapon we have that`s not nuclear. Do you think that decision was made with a sense of who our commander-in-chief is, that he would have checked with Obama? Do you think going ahead with that kind of a use of ordnance, the biggest one we have, without checking is a little derivative of who we have as president right now, that Trump says, when he said bomb the hell out of them or worse?

MASON: It`s hard to answer that. I`m sure there was a lot of intelligence that went into that decision and a lot of strategic planning. It`s clear that it`s something that the Obama administration also knew about --

MATTHEWS: Yes, but they didn`t use that weapon, and this guy didn`t think he should check with the president.

MASON: Well, it`s hard to interpret his thinking on that.

MATTHEWS: Sahil, not even checking with President Trump about using the biggest weapon we have.

KAPUR: So, earlier today, one of President Obama`s advisers said that their administration had not considered using that. But the bigger picture thing here, Chris, I think is that this reflects just how much he has shifted. In a matter of two weeks, he has gone from opposing intervention in Syria and the Middle East broadly to dropping a bunch of missiles against Bashar -- to counter Assad`s use of chemical weapons, to using the most powerful non-nuclear weapon.

MATTHEWS: I think he`s on a tear right now. It`s a little scary.

Anyway, the round table is sticking with us.

And up next -- I`m burping. I`m sorry. They`re going to tell me something I don`t know. We`ll be right back.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: President Trump has touched down in Florida again. He`s spending yet another weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate. And the travel bills are adding up. Trump has spent seven of 13 weekends at his southern estate and NBC estimates he has spent 28 percent of his presidency traveling to or from or staying at Mar-a-Lago.

Taxpayers are picking up the tab for those trips, of course, which come at a price tag as high as $3 million per trip. At this rate, Trump cost taxpayers as much in travel this year alone as President Obama did for his entire eight years. And there are additional security costs shouldered by the city of Palm Beach. Officials there want the federal government -- us -- to reimburse them for costs of added security, which are straining local budgets. Wow.

We`ll be right back.


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

Margaret, tell me something I don`t know.

CARLSON: So, Chris, the sculptor who made Charging Bull, that huge iconic statue on Wall Street, is threatening to sue the city because of a statue of a four-foot-tall Fearless Girl. So Mayor De Blasio has said, if I might quote, "don`t sue just because there`s this girl standing with her hands on her hips. Men who don`t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the fearless girl."

MATTHEWS: I like the fearless girl down there.

Yes, Jeff?

MASON: We talked about President Trump changing his positions. The next big question in terms of whether he`s moving into that centrist spot is on climate change. By the time of the G7, he may have to decide or --

MATTHEWS: Is he winnable for the climate people?

MASON: The question is, is he going to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement?

MATTHEWS: Oh, bad news.

KAPUR: Chris, Congress turns on April 25th after Easter recess, and when it returns, it will have four days to avoid a government shut down. We don`t know how that`s going to turn out, but if it does -- if Congress isn`t able to pass a bill to keep the government funded by then, it will be the first time in at least half a century, a government where one party runs the White House, the House and the Senate, has overseen a government shut down.

MATTHEWS: Tough to pass those bills.

Thank you, Margaret Carlson. Thank you, Jeff Mason and Sahil Kapur.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Thursday, April 13th, 2017.

Today, the president of the United States referred to the United States Armed Forces -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines -- as "my military". Well, that possessive adjective is interesting, some say troubling choice of words "my" as in telling a waiter, I`ll have my coffee now.

As a great comedian Robert Klein once asked, when does that coffee coming from the kitchen restaurant become, quote, "my coffee". For Donald Trump, the answer to that is when the U.S. military became his is January 20th or was it the day last week he ordered that strike on Syria? Dangerous thinking going on here. What`s your reaction?

I recall Lyndon Johnson correcting someone when they said, "Your helicopter is ready, Mr. President." He said, "They`re all mine, son." Well, now we have another president like that, like the one that got us deep into the Vietnam War.

What do you think about this "my" thing when it comes to the forces fighting for our country?

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN" with Joy Reid, filling in for Chris Hayes, starts right now.


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