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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/14/2017

Guests: Christopher Hill, Max Baucus, Kelly Magsamen, John Pomfret, Ned Ryun, Paul Singer, Clarence Page, Ginger Gibson, John Lithgow

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: April 14, 2017 Guest: Christopher Hill, Max Baucus, Kelly Magsamen, John Pomfret, Ned Ryun, Paul Singer, Clarence Page, Ginger Gibson, John Lithgow


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump faces rising tension on the Korean peninsula right now. The question is, what`s his strategy to deal with Kim Jong-un? The world`s attention is on North Korea, which is celebrating the 105th birthday of its founder, Kim Il-sung.

It`s already morning over there right now, and some observers expect that the country, which promised a big event, will use the anniversary to test another nuclear weapon, like right in the next few minutes.

Anyway, the Pentagon ratcheted up pressure by sending an aircraft carrier strike group to the area. In fact, Chinese -- China foreign minister -- he warned storm clouds gathering over the peninsula there.

Well, for the past few weeks, President Trump has toughened his rhetoric toward North Korea. He said, quote, "North Korea is behaving very badly. It is looking for trouble." He referred to the "menace" of North Korea, and he tweeted, "I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S. with its allies will. USA."

Well, here`s what he told reporters just yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


MATTHEWS: Well, North Korea`s vice foreign minister responded to the president`s rhetoric. He told the Associated Press today, "Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words."

Well, meanwhile, Japan`s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, warned there is a possibility that North Korea is already capable of shooting missiles with sarin gas warheads. There is no more serious threat in the world, by the way, facing President Trump today.

What does his reaction say about what kind of commander-in-chief he is? Christopher Hill is a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and former assistant secretary of state for East Asia. He`s in Seoul, South Korea, right now. John Pomfret is the former Beijing bureau chief for "The Washington Post."

Max Baucus is, of course, a former U.S. senator and former ambassador to China. And Kelly Magsamen is a former senior Pentagon official in charge of Asia in the Obama administration.

Let me start with Ambassador Hill over there. What are the options? Let`s start with the options of our president, President Trump. What can he do to shake Kim Jong-un off the course of going to an active nuclear power, for lack of a better phrase?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FRM. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: Well, as everyone says, the options are pretty bad. The issue is not to choose even worse options. So I think what we need to do is to continue to work with the Chinese. That sounds like, you know, an example of hope over experience, but clearly, China has more leverage than anyone else. They`re doing some things, as the president suggested.

The question is whether the things they`re doing in terms of the sanctions -- whether that train is going to move along as fast as the North Korean development of nuclear weapons. So in China`s case, it may be, with respect to sanctions, a little too little, too late.

MATTHEWS: Senator Baucus, do the Chinese have the same intense interest in preventing North Korea from getting -- using a nuclear weapon?

MAX BAUCUS (D), FORMER MONTANA SENATOR: I think that China at all costs wants stability in China domestically, as well as on the peninsula.

I think there`s still time for a diplomatic solution here. China does not like instability on the peninsula. They don`t like Kim Jong-un. I`ve been in many meetings where President Xi himself speaks very disrespectfully, President Xi. I`ve spoken to the Chinese ambassador to the six-party talks many times. They don`t like him. They`re trying to find a solution.

My view, though, is that Trump has kind of done the right thing here by stepping up the pressure, the carrier group and the -- signaling China with the strike on Syria. But we have to take advantage of that pressure now and work with China to find a joint solution to (ph) North Korea. China wants this solved, too. There`s no question about that.

But we have not been sufficiently creative. I think the past practice of strategic patience was wrong. It was naive, frankly. U.S. policy has been feckless. We haven`t been focused on the real problem here. But now the strategic patience is gone. We`re faced a new -- we`re working on a new reality here, which is a new reality about Kim Jong-un.

And we have to take advantage of the tension now and the additional pressure, working with China to find a solution. There`s no solution to this problem without working with China.

MATTHEWS: Do all these people clapping -- we`re looking at stock footage here of all these people clapping like robots. Is that the way they are, Senator? Are they robotic mentality people? Because they don`t seem -- they all have a certain facial expression. They all have to act -- I mean, it`s frighteningly controlling. Is this who they are, or are they all faking? How would you describe the culture of that country?

BAUCUS: I think they`re scared to death of the paramount leader (INAUDIBLE) Kim Jong-un. They`re scared to death. He`s killed many people. He`s assassinated many people. They know which side their bread`s buttered. They`re scared. They`re going to follow the line.

MATTHEWS: OK. In an interview last night I did with former secretary of defense Leon Panetta, and here`s what he told us about our options with dealing with North Korea. Let`s watch.


LEON PANETTA, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: 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.


MATTHEWS: You know, he`s a great man, Leon Panetta. I`ve known him forever. But he used the word "pull the trigger" there, an unfortunate, I think, metaphor.

But the question I think a lot of us worry about, and he talked about earlier, is what happens if this guy over there, Kim Jong-un, gets nervous and he hears talks coming out of this country about preemptive strikes or whatever, and he says, Well, there`s my excuse. I`m going to unleash my artillery on Seoul. I`m going to level that South Korea -- and This is my pretext for doing so. To me, that`s scary.

KELLY MAGSAMEN, FMR. ACTING ASST. SEC. FOR ASIAN SECURITY AFFAIRS: Yes. So I think a lot of people right now are focused on whether or not North Korea is going to do a nuclear test or...

MATTHEWS: Tonight.

MAGSAMEN: Tonight, or potentially an ICBM test, which actually...

MATTHEWS: An underground test, the sixth they`ve had.

MAGSAMEN: This would be the sixth test they`ve done. Of course, the last one was in 2016. I think that is less of a concern than their testing an ICBM successfully, a rogue (ph) -- you know, a KN08 (ph), for example, something that could reach the United States homeland. So that is concerning to me.

But also, besides just, you know, demonstrations of their nuclear capability, the North Koreans could also do a provocation, an actual provocation, as you suggest, as somebody sending artillery over the edge or sending a naval force out, for example, to potentially confront our Navy forces.

I mean, there are other means, conventional ways that Kim Jong-un could test the U.S. alliance relationship with Korea.

MATTHEWS: John, how do you -- John Pomfret, how do you deal with the fact that you basically -- I`m going to use this phrase at the end of the show - - grab the cheese without snapping the trap? I mean, we want something done. We want this guy to get off his course. But it`s very tricky. We`ve got to get Kim Il -- Kim -- Kim Jong -- Kim Jong-un to do something he wants to do. We got to stop him -- he wants to be the big shot and have nuclear weapons that look like they`re ready to go.

How do we get him back from that sort of Defcon One of his, or whatever that he`d like to be on?

JOHN POMFRET, FMR. "WASHINGTON POST" BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: I think right now, the only option we have is China. And clearly, Trump is putting all his eggs in that basket again, but he`s also trying to be transactional about it. For example, he offered China a better deal on trade if the Chinese would play ball on North Korea. But it`s very clear that he`s put significant pressure on China and also that he used the strike on Syria as a way to show the Chinese that he means business.

So from that perspective, I agree with Ambassador Baucus that he`s playing this relatively correctly right now. The question is whether the Chinese take him seriously enough to actually put the added pressure that is needed to be put on the North Koreans to get them to begin to change their behavior. That`s a big question.

MATTHEWS: Let me go over to Soul again to Ambassador Hill...

BAUCUS: Sometimes...

MATTHEWS: Go ahead. Go ahead.

BAUCUS: Sometimes, it`s important to think out of the box. China very much wants Kim to realize that there will be no regime change. If Kim is guaranteed no regime change, and if somehow, we could figure out a way for us to guarantee no greater nuclear capability -- nukes are frozen, or some way that we`re more assured that the peninsula is going to be more stable - - that might be the beginning of a result here.

If somehow, we can guarantee that to Kim -- I know that`s unconventional, but somehow, if we could, at the same time make sure that our interests are protected, that could be an approach.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ambassador Hill because a couple questions keep coming to mind. One is my -- I`ve been thinking a lot, researching the Cuban missile crisis, and the danger there was Khrushchev decided to put in offensive weapons, offensive weapons capable of reaching pretty much every capital in North America on Cuba, not defensively. He saw it as a chance to grab the strategic advantage and equalize the two strategic arsenals by getting this close to us.

He got it all wrong. Castro told somebody I know once, Big mistake. Why did he do it? So mistakes are made even by reasonable people like Khrushchev. How do you find reason from Kim Jong-un? How do you get him to make a rational decision about the future of his country and his own life?

HILL: Well, first of all, as everyone said...

POMFRET: Want me to answer that?

HILL: ... this is -- this is very tough.

POMFRET: Go ahead, Chris.

HILL: And the big problem is Kim Jong-un -- the big problem is Kim Jong- un, unlike his father, seems to have zero interest in negotiations. His father had some interest in it, and his interest was because he cared about the relationship with China. Kim Jong-un has essentially no relationship with China. They`ve never even invited him during his five years of rule. So there`s a real problem getting to Kim Jong-un.

I`d also like to point out that some of these -- the ideas of preemptive strikes -- I think we need to remember that our relationship here on the Korean peninsula is not with North Korea. It`s with South Korea. It`s with our ally. And so for us to get into a kinetic strike against North Korea without full understanding, full consultations with the South Koreans could create a lot of problems, especially if North Korea were to fire back as -- in retaliation.

So I think we need to be very close to the South Koreans. Right now, we have no ambassador here. We have no ambassador in the pipeline. I think there`s a real problem in terms of our ability to communicate out here.

Finally, I`d like to say that I understand why some people say we ought to freeze in return for something that we would give the North Koreans. I`d be careful of that stuff. We did a lot of that. In fact, we set out a whole agreement in September `05, a whole issue of giving them assistance, of assuring mutual recognition, and they walked away from it. It`s clear they want nuclear weapons, and I think we need to be very tough on this issue.

I worry, however, that sending a carrier strike force up there and then having it come back without having done anything may also create the impression that somehow, Kim was somehow tougher than we are. So we have to be very careful. You know, big powers don`t bluff, as they say. So have to be very cautious about that.

MATTHEWS: Kelly, let`s talk about the problem that`s just addressed there by Ambassador Hill.


MATTHEWS: That is, if he wants true reciprocity, he wants mutual assured destruction, basically, to the extent he can do it, that he wants to be able to reach us with an ICBM because he feels that`s the only way to protect himself from being invaded, right?

MAGSAMEN: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: That seems to be on his brain. Does that sound right?

MAGSAMEN: That`s right, but it`s not just hitting our homeland, it`s also hitting our allies in the region. So...

MATTHEWS: He seems to think he needs that to protect himself, or is there some other goal besides self-protection?

MAGSAMEN: I think he certainly feels he needs that for self-protection and to demonstrate a capability that cannot be undone and to give him a better set of negotiating -- if he was going to negotiate, a better set of negotiating...

MATTHEWS: OK, part of our promise to get missiles out of Cuba -- then going back to the Cuban missile crisis -- was to promise not to invade Cuba again.

MAGSAMEN: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) Can an American president promise the durability of the stability of North Korea, a country we really have no respect for, and say, We will never try to unstable you -- destabilize you?

MAGSAMEN: Well, destabilization has never been our objective, certainly. Denuclearization has been our objective.

BAUCUS: Chris, could I jump in on that?

MATTHEWS: Just one second. Go ahead.

MAGSAMEN: Sure. So denuclearization has been our stated diplomatic objective...

BAUCUS: Chris, if I could jump...

MAGSAMEN: ... but I do think there is something to what Ambassador Baucus is saying in terms of taking a look at what might be necessary to engage on short of denuclearization. Is there something that we could live with on the peninsula that our Korean allies could live with? I don`t know if there`s an answer to that, but I think looking creatively at a diplomatic roadmap of negotiation is worth the shot.

I think Donald Trump is clearly running a play here. He is going to double down on the China play, which is something, frankly, that the Obama administration did quite a bit in the last two years. I`m deeply skeptical that the Chinese will really, really engage the way we need them to with North Korea. And I also think there are questions about whether or not China really does have the level of influence over Kim Jong-un that they had...

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, we`re going to find out very soon. Go ahead, sir.

BAUCUS: I might say I was over there the last few years. We did not pressure China as credibly and as strongly as we could have. This is -- our strategy, American strategy, of strategic patience was really no strategy. You won`t believe the meetings I attended where it`s kind of like a drive-by. We talked to China about North Korea and earnestly, but it was not well thought through, not creative. Now we have an opportunity to do so.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, gentlemen...

POMFRET: But also to...

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, John.

POMFRET: To Ambassador Baucus`s point, there were a panoply, an enormous number of Chinese companies who were involved in helping North Korea break sanctions. And under the Obama administration, I think only one of those companies was sanctioned. That should be clearly on the table, and under Trump, you know, for better or worse, it is.

So I think you see the Trump administration putting significantly more pressure on the Chinese on this issue than the Obama administration has.

MATTHEWS: It`s going to be interesting. It looks like Trump may be -- his aggressive strategy may be a real change from the past. We`ll see if it`s safer.

Anyway, Ambassador Christopher Hill over in Seoul, John Pomfret, thank you, Senator Max Baucus. By the way, Senator, I always call you senator because you were elected to that. Ambassador is for guys who haven`t been elected yet. Anyway, and Kelly Magsamen, thank you very much for joining us.

Coming up, President Trump has shown a willingness to use military force lately. Remember what he told us -- or told me last March at our HARDBALL town hall? Watch this.


TRUMP: Look, nuclear should be off the table. But would there be a time when it could be used? Possibly.

MATTHEWS: OK. The trouble is when you said that...

TRUMP: Possibly.

MATTHEWS: ... the whole world heard, David Cameron in Britain heard it, the Japanese -- well, we bombed them in `45 already. They`re hearing a guy running for president of the United States talking of maybe using nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to hear that about an American president!

TRUMP: Then why are we making them? Why do we make them?


MATTHEWS: Why do we make them if we don`t want to use them? That is strange. Anyway, the political dangers of Trump`s new, well, interest in firepower. That`s next.

Plus, progressives are fired up. Democrats are raising record levels of money, actually, and Republicans can`t escape those angry town halls. Wait until you see some tonight. The latest one happened last night in Arizona, where Republican senator Jeff Flake, a fairly reasonable guy, got hammered over "Obama care."

And tonight a real treat, actor John Lithgow on the Trump effect in the movies. He plays a guy like Trump in this new movie. Alec Baldwin`s Trump, by the way, has become must-see TV on "Saturday Night Live." Now Lithgow plays a very Trumpian character in that new movie, and he`s with us tonight.

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, this is disturbing. The Trump administration`s ending a policy of releasing White House visitor logs. The practice began with the Obama administration in 2009, but the Trump administration says grave national security risks and privacy concerns are behind their decision to stop putting out the logs.

Administration officials say they`ll decide whether to release the names of those who visited the president, vice president and their staff. They`ll decide.

A coalition of watchdog groups filed suit this week to force the release of those records, which were published on the White House Web site during the Obama years, but not anymore.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As a candidate, Donald Trump campaigned against what he deemed pointless wars and predictability.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must, as a nation, be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We`re sending troops, we tell them. We`re sending something else, we have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable.

As a country, we have to be more unpredictable. Everything we do, they know.

I`m the most militaristic person in this room. I am. I mean, I believe -- I am all in. But I don`t want to have wars.


MATTHEWS: Well, eight days ago, in response to Syrian President Bashar al- Assad`s deadly chemical attack on his own people, Trump ordered a targeted Tomahawk assault on the Syrian airfield that was the home to the airplanes that carried out that chemical bombing.

Let`s watch.


TRUMP: Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad`s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically.


MATTHEWS: Well, Trump`s foreign policy about-face won him positive reviews from some. They called his actions decisive and presidential.

A senior administration official tells Axios news group that this was the beginning of his "leadership week" -- in quotes.

Well, yesterday, in an even stronger display of American force, the United States military dropped the -- I can`t stand these phrases -- the Mother of All Bombs on a network of caves used by ISIS in Afghanistan.


QUESTION: Did you authorize it, sir?

TRUMP: Everybody knows exactly what happened. So -- and what I do is I authorize my military. We have given them total authorization, and that`s what they`re doing.

And, frankly, that`s why they have been so successful lately. If you look at what`s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that to really what`s happened over the last eight years, you will see there`s a tremendous difference.


MATTHEWS: The Associated Press reports the Trump administration is now exerting maximum pressure to engage with North Korea, so that they can give up actually their push for nuclear weapons. We talked about that last segment.

Well, taken together, all of this shows an evolution of President Trump`s military posture. The question is, does he have the ability to pull it off?

I`m joined right now by Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for "The Washington Post," and Ned Ryun, the CEO of American Majority, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush.

I guess the concern here is, the guy is commander in chief, with tremendous authority, even in decision-making about attacks on countries. He can always pick his country. We saw that with Afghanistan. We saw that with Syria.

He -- I`m not saying he has an itchy trigger finger. We don`t know that, no reason to believe that yet. But during the campaign, he talked rather loosey-goosey about nuclear weapons. We could use them perhaps in Europe, which is almost unimaginable.

He seemed to have the idea that you have this ordnance to use it, not as deterrence, but to use it. And now there seems to be a growth in his willingness to use it. We will see.

I see dot. I see a dot. I see Syria. I see a second dot, Afghanistan. And then I see all this talk about North Korea. I worry about the dots connecting at some point with activity.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the thing here, though, is, what`s it all going to lead to? What are...

MATTHEWS: That`s what I`m asking. What`s the answer?

CAPEHART: But that`s the question. What is the -- really, what is the foreign policy underpinning -- underpinning of all this?

MATTHEWS: Is he getting more militarist? He ran as an anti-militarist. He ran against going to war in stupid wars.

CAPEHART: Well, he said in stupid wars, but he also said on the campaign trail, I`m going to bomb the blank out of them.



MATTHEWS: Well, put that together, Ned. What is it? How can you be dovish on actual on-the-ground troops, but hawkish on use of airpower and artillery or whatever?

RYUN: I mean, here`s the thing. He definitely knows how to draw a bright red line in regards to Syria. Used chemical weapons, 63 hours, we respond.

Dealing with ISIS, I`m going to bomb the crap out of ISIS. He`s been saying that for two years. Also realizing that we -- do we really want a crazy fat kid in North Korea with nuclear weapons?

MATTHEWS: Why don`t you keep calling him names? That`s going to help.

RYUN: Well, no, I`m merely quoting -- I`m merely quoting John -- Senator John McCain here. And so I think what I`m seeing here is, a lot of Trump supporters, we don`t want to see nation-building.

MATTHEWS: How do you do -- how do you go in -- and, look, everybody in this country -- Americans are pretty similar about this. They like neat, bite-size wars, quickies in and out, get out of it -- accomplish a goal, send a message, and get out.

RYUN: Right.

MATTHEWS: But, sometimes, they`re sticky situations.

You start bombing somebody, they might bomb you back. Then you have to go in. Vietnam was the great example of an escalating thing that we thought was just an air attack. It became a half-million troops.


RYUN: No, and I think what we want to see here and what we are seeing up to this point is setting -- a reset of America, coming back to the international stage, saying you will accommodate us. You will accommodate our interests.

I think the real breaking point will be, though, if for some reason we go towards this, we`re going to send in 10,000 troops for regime change and nothing-building. He will lose a lot of supporters.

MATTHEWS: Well, remember Muhammad Ali? Muhammad Ali said he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. That`s great policy, if you can do it.


CAPEHART: Well, look, if you think about it, the Obama administration was all about covert action. We will send SEAL teams in.


CAPEHART: SEAL teams, drones. And President Trump is all about the big, ostentatious show of power.

MATTHEWS: Big hands.


CAPEHART: Yes, 59 Tomahawks, Mother of All...


CAPEHART: Yes, MOAB, Mother of All Bombs.

But the question here is, what comes after that? What`s the policy after sending in 59 Tomahawks, after dropping...


MATTHEWS: Well, the other point is, these other sides are not disarmed nations either. They have the ability to wreak havoc the other way.

And I just wonder. North Korea has got enough conventional firepower along the 38th power to eliminate South Korea. They could just -- they could just start -- you have seen these pictures of all those guns firing at once.

They could just do it. And they can do it because we said the wrong thing in a press conference.

RYUN: But...

CAPEHART: Or a tweet.


RYUN: There`s a certain amount -- you know, this unpredictability -- and I think...

MATTHEWS: You like that?

RYUN: I do like it, because I think it`s throwing our enemies off-balance.


MATTHEWS: Do you ever take a look at the other guy on the other side? Do you want to confront him with unpredictability, that guy with the haircut?

RYUN: But here`s the -- well, here`s the deal. It`s, he`s off-balance. We will see what happens. I think to solve the North Korea...

MATTHEWS: Would you be unpredictable with a person you thought was off- balance?


That`s the -- no, you wouldn`t, Ned. You know you wouldn`t.

RYUN: No, I think -- right now, I think we`re throwing him off-balance. I think...


MATTHEWS: OK. A guy is standing there with a gun pointed at you, Ned. Would you call him a fat kid? Hey, fatty. You would be done.

RYUN: If he had a gun pointed at me? Of course not.



MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what we`re talking about.

RYUN: No, it`s not.

MATTHEWS: That`s what we`re talking about.


CAPEHART: That`s where we are right now.

RYUN: We`re taking a strong stance. China is going to have to be a part of this. We`re hearing talk of them cutting out 90 percent of -- they provide 90 percent of...


MATTHEWS: We had the experts on a few minutes ago.


MATTHEWS: And the experts seemed to say that China, under Max Baucus, who was our ambassador there for three years, they`re not really willing to go all the way and put the pressure on.

There`s a lot of skepticism that they want to take on their communist ally in North Korea and really push them.

RYUN: But I think Trump is pushing it to say we have to deal with this now. We know that he has nuclear weapons. We know that he has not gotten to the point of putting those on an inter -- ballistic missile.



RYUN: So we have got to stop it right now.

MATTHEWS: Ned, one question for both of you. I don`t know your answers yet.

Ready? Tell me something I don`t know. Is he smart to gin this up, to heat it up, rather than go the slow, strategic waiting thing that went on before? Is it better to push this thing now, before they get strategic weapons that can reach us, push it now, bring it home now, force the reckoning now, rather than wait? What`s better, now or later?

RYUN: We have taken eight years. We have tried that path. Let`s take this path and say we`re not going to get to that point.

MATTHEWS: Jon, where are you? Pressure him now? Pressure him now, or wait?


CAPEHART: It`s a gamble. And, look, we`re pressuring him right now.

MATTHEWS: What would you do?

CAPEHART: And the -- I would still keep -- I would ratchet up the pressure a little bit, not like he`s doing now.

But here`s the one thing we have to keep in mind, Chris. In the last interview that Susan Rice did as national security adviser with journalists, the Wednesday before inauguration, she was asked, what`s the number one thing President Trump is going to have to worry about? North Korea. And so I think that`s...

MATTHEWS: I think that, too. But you and I know that. We all know that.

I mean, we`re all reading the papers. It`s scary, because we don`t have a Khrushchev or a Brezhnev, somebody on this side who may be an ideologue, but does have interests.


MATTHEWS: We don`t even know what Kim Jong-un`s interests are. We can`t even figure that out. Is it survival? We don`t even know that.

RYUN: But here`s the thing. Do we deal with them now, before they get to that point, or do we let them get to that point?

MATTHEWS: I think you make a good point. I think it might be the right point.

Jonathan, I think, may agree.

CAPEHART: It`s scary.

MATTHEWS: It`s scary. It`s a little scary.

CAPEHART: It`s a scary point.


RYUN: At some point, you got to make a decision.

MATTHEWS: Who wants to wait for him to have his full arsenal ready?

RYUN: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Anyway...

CAPEHART: All you need in that gun is one bullet, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Frighteningly true.

Jonathan Capehart, that`s why you write the big stuff. Ned Ryun, thank you, sir.

Up next: Republicans back home are facing angry town halls. Wait until you catch these town halls. Of course, talk about a catch-22. If you have a town meeting, they come and attack you. If you don`t have one, they come and attack you.

Watch this.



AUDIENCE: You work for us! You work for us! You work for us!


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Senator Flake, and he`s fairly reasonable compared to some of these other guys. "You work for us." That`s Republican Senator, as I said, Jeff Flake taking the heat last night in Arizona.

The Roundtable joins us next to talk about it.

Look it, he`s got his hands down. He can`t even talk back.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

This is amazing. Republicans may be home for spring break, but they certainly don`t get to relax. Those who have chosen to hold town halls continue to face the consequences of having control of the government. They`re being held responsible.

Trumpcare is one of those hot-button issues out there with members of both parties actually concerned the Trump administration wants to kill Obamacare. We`re talking about constituents of both parties, not members.

Let`s watch.


MAN: I`m a registered Republican in your House district. I`m sorry to say I was shocked that you declared your intention to vote for the American Health Care Reform Act, so-called Trumpcare bill...


MAN: ... and to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. That`s not the way we do things here in Colorado.

The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land now.


MAN: Please tell me specifically what you`re going to do going forward, what you intend to do to revise, strengthen, and bolster Obamacare, so that it will support the health care needs of your constituents here in House District Six.



MATTHEWS: Politicians are also facing anger from the left on Judge Neil Gorsuch`s nomination to the Supreme Court, actually his confirmation now.


MAN: If Neil Gorsuch was the first to be filibustered, what happened to Merrick Garland`s vote?



MATTHEWS: And while congressmen hold town halls so they can have face-time with voters, they could also run the risk of saying something unfortunate on camera that provides fodder for future attack ads.

Let`s watch Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin yesterday.


REP. MARKWAYNE MULLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: And, by the way, if I choose not to get insurance, I take that risk. That`s my risk.


MULLIN: I get that. Guys, I get that. But it`s still my decision. I want to make that decision.

You said you paid for me to do this. Bullcrap. I pay for myself. I pay enough taxes before I ever got there and continue to through my company to pay my own salary. This is a service. No one here pays me to go. I do it as an honor and a service.

WOMAN: Pays you to go where?


MULLIN: I`m just saying, I`m just saying...

WOMAN: Pays you to go where?

MULLIN: Don`t -- don`t -- this is a service for me, not a career, and I thank God this isn`t how I make a living.

WOMAN: Oh, please.


MATTHEWS: Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL, "Chicago Tribune" columnist Clarence Page, Reuters political correspondent Ginger Gibson, and "USA Today" Washington correspondent Paul Singer.

Ginger, you`re right. I mean, I just think this is unbelievable. These guys, they`re earning -- I think they are earning their pay. They`re getting whacked.

GINGER GIBSON, REUTERS: Markwayne Mullin made a big mistake when he said that he -- they didn`t pay him.

I mean, these are his constituents.

MATTHEWS: And $170,000 a year, to a lot of constituents, that`s four times the average income in this country.

GIBSON: And he clearly got complacent. He walked into a room that looked like constituents. It was mostly senior citizens.

And he thought that he was going into a friendly territory. It`s the biggest risk many of these Republicans are making, going into these events.

MATTHEWS: Is that going to hurt him, that scene?

GIBSON: That scene is likely going to get played over and over again. He`s in a fairly safe Republican district, got elected by big margins. But no doubt that will haunt him for a long time.

PAUL SINGER, "USA TODAY": And the fact of the matter is, Mullin already had a problem with the Ethics Committee because he made his money working for his family plumbing company, which he then was advertising for while he was still a member of Congress.

So, he`s got other issues beyond this.

MATTHEWS: Clarence, this is a catch-22. Right?

Do you go out and meet your people, get slammed in the face? Because there`s a lot of -- by the way, Republican congresspeople have Democrats in their districts, and senators definitely do.


Well, no, this is the problem. If you`re in a swing district, then you have got to really be brave to go out there these days., they surveyed members of Congress and especially in the swing districts. They found only two Republicans, Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey and Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania, who were going to have town halls with live people there.

The rest have found other things to do during the Easter break here.


MATTHEWS: But this is called district work period, isn`t it?

PAGE: Yes. Yes, that`s right.

GIBSON: The important thing to remember, this is how they campaign in off- years is holding town hall meetings. It`s the way they get face-time with their constituents.

And everyone who is not out there holding town hall meetings, they`re, in effect, delaying their reelection campaigns. And that could come back to them next year.

MATTHEWS: Everyone has told me that the best thing -- let`s take a tricky issue like abortion rights.

It couldn`t be trickier as an issue, moral issue, with a lot of people. If you take a position and you stick to it -- you answer to this, Paul -- people will respect it. If you say, OK, excuse me for living, but I`m pro- choice, or excuse me for living, I just value life, once you say that to the voter, there`s not much they can do with it. They can yell at you, but they can`t debase you.

SINGER: And part of the problem that the Republicans are facing now is that their answer on Obamacare particularly is so murky.


SINGER: I will be interested to see...

MATTHEWS: They`re chicken, you mean.

SINGER: ... how Mr. Palmer, Congressman Palmer down in Alabama, who has got this problem where he`s a member of the Freedom Caucus, and he opposed the Obamacare repeal bill. How does he explain that to his constituents.

MATTHEWS: Well, what is his position?

SINGER: Well, again, his position is, it was not conservative enough. It was not a full...

MATTHEWS: Can he say that?

SINGER: That`s what he`s going to say. Let`s see what his constituents say about that answer.

PAGE: And that`s the Freedom Caucus position.

SINGER: That`s right.

PAGE: They say that the -- Ryan`s plan is still Obamacare. They want even less support. They want to get rid of it all.


I worked in politics for years. And one thing this is teaching me is, people don`t ask about Korea or what`s happening in Mesopotamia. They care about what`s happening on their table when they got to pay the bills.

And so this is all about usually disability payments, Social Security checks, Medicare problems. Am I eligible for this? Not -- what about -- Notch Babies. That`s -- this is the real politics in real politics country.

GIBSON: And it`s personal problems.


GIBSON: You`re talking to people who are talking about what directly affects them.

It`s their health insurance. It`s their Social Security. It`s not talking points. And it`s not nameless, faceless people you can tell some reporter on the Hill that you may have met at one point in time. It`s actual people and interactions.

MATTHEWS: You know what there aren`t anymore? Applause lines.


MATTHEWS: These are too close to the gut.

Anyway, the Roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, they will tell me something I don`t know, all three of them.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: We`re back with the round table.

Clarence, tell me something I don`t know.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, "Financial Times" had an interesting story today about the FBI is going to set up a special office to deal with the Russia investigation because it`s gotten so vast, and people tell me this means this could go on for years actually.

GINGER GIBSON, REUTERS: We did an analysis of census data looking at congressional freedom caucus members and found their constituents have about the same health insurance rate as the rest of their colleagues, so they`re not dealing with a different population, the same realities of people would are uninsured.

PAUL SINGER, USA TODAY: The Congressional Prayer Caucus is concerned that perhaps Mr. Trump is not moving fast enough to make moves for religious freedom, particularly appointing someone to run that office of faith-based programs in the White House.

MATTHEWS: Where is the religious freedom issue cutting right now?

SINGER: Well, right now, they see it as we need to make sure that we are getting government money available to churches, particularly through school vouchers, that that is being protected and the government is not going to try and exclude churches particularly from being involved in social programs.


Anyway, thank you all.

We`ll be right back. Thank you all.


MATTHEWS: Well, here`s a real world effect of Donald Trump in the White House. Democrats are shattering fund-raising records. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the group responsible for getting Democrats elected to the House brought in $3.1 million -- or $31 million over the last three months. That`s $10 million a month. The DCCC hopes those donations translated into grassroots energy and votes to help Democrats take the House back next year. They need to flip, by the way, 24 seats to take control of the House.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

From "Terms of Endearment" to "The Sweet Smell of Success" on Broadway, actor John Lithgow has proven himself in a range of diverse roles. In his latest film he plays alongside Salma Hayek in "Beatriz at Dinner," which is out June 9th.

It`s a dark comedy that critics have called the first of its kind in the Trump era. The story pits Beatriz, a physical therapist who emigrated from Mexico, against a brash real estate developer whose top concern is his bottom line. Let`s take a look.


UNINDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my dear friend Beatriz.

SALMA HAYEK, ACTOR: Hey, nice to meet you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beatriz is a healer.

HAYEK: I do massage downstairs. (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s like birds fly out of the sky and land on her shoulder.


JOHN LITHGOW, ACTOR: Can I get another bourbon, hon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, Doug, this is Beatriz. She`s staying for dinner.

LITHGOW: Oh. You were hovering. I just figured you were part of the staff.

HAYEK: Do I know you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doug`s famous. He has been on the news.

HAYEK: I don`t know why, but I think know you.

LITHGOW: Ever dance in Vegas?


HAYEK: I would just like to say to Cathy and (INAUDIBLE), thank you for having me. When I first came to the United States a long time ago --

LITHGOW: Did you come legally?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tenderloin was amazing. It`s true what they say, those animals would basically be gone if it wasn`t for the (INAUDIBLE).

LITHGOW: I don`t consider it murder. It`s like this original dance of man and beast, the struggle for survival.

HAYEK: (INAUDIBLE). I don`t think it`s funny, I think it`s sick.

LITHGOW: The world doesn`t need your feelings. It needs jobs. It needs money. It needs what I do.

HAYEK: The world doesn`t need you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Doug is a great philanthropist.


LITHGOW: OK, you`re done.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by legendary actor John Lithgow who also stars in the hit NBC comedy "Trial & Error" as well as "The Crown," which everybody loves, on Netflix in which he plays Sir Winston Churchill.

Mr. Lithgow, it`s an honor to have you on in so many ways. What`s it like? I saw the movie this afternoon. And I have many thoughts about it.

But one thought was, you`re a very likable bad guy, that`s my thought.

LITHGOW: Mm-hmm. Well, when I play a --

MATTHEWS: It was actually perfect.

LITHGOW: When I play a bad guy, I never consider him the bad guy. I always consider him the good guy. Everybody else thinks of him as the bad guy. And that`s particularly interesting in this film.

Yes, he`s almost irresistible, a man who is completely self-satisfied, confident, has absolutely no doubts and no conscience.

It was fascinating to play it. Makes you kind of sick to your stomach watching him. But he`s not sick to his stomach. He`s perfectly happy.

MATTHEWS: There`s sort of Trumpian themes here, a guy who is sort of a real estate developer, what we used to call in the `60s a pig, up against this absolute, true-believing, somewhat humorless good person. You capture the human-ness of the bad guy. She doesn`t capture exactly the human-ness of the good guy.

It`s interesting. It`s an interesting counterplay.

LITHGOW: It`s very interesting. It`s -- Mike White is a very ingenious writer. He wrote the screenplay. Miguel Arteta directed it. The two of them work together quite often.

Mike is best known as a comic writer. It`s a very witty screenplay. But he`s also a very smart writer who is after bigger game here.

When he set out to conceive this film, he wanted to write about class divides, economic inequality, the degradation of the environment, the future of the human race, big, big ideas. But he all -- he reduced it to this group of seven people at a dinner party.

And it begins very funny. You almost think you`re seeing a comedy. And it just gets darker and more --

MATTHEWS: It sure does.

LITHGOW: It is an unsettling film mainly because what`s happening all around us right now.

MATTHEWS: Exactly. I thought you`d throw that phrase big game in there usefully because one of the obnoxious scenes in there is your character posing with a dead rhino. And as many times I`ve been to Africa on safari, I`ve loved it every time, I despise big game hunters.

And I know all the arguments about the economics. And they bring it out in the movie. And I don`t like the fact that Trump`s kid, although they`re not politicians, I don`t like the fact of them posing with big game they`ve killed either.

But here`s something we all can agree on. Here`s your widely praised scene. You`re depicting the great Sir Winston Churchill in "The Crown" on Netflix.

Let`s watch this scene.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is your health better now?



But is it sufficiently better? Fit for office better? I would ask you to consider your response in light of the respect that my rank and my office deserve, not that which my age and gender might suggest.

LITHGOW: I look at you now and I realize that the time is fast approaching for me to step down, not because I`m unwell or unfit for office, but because of you are ready. And therefore I have discharged my duty to your father.


MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, I`m trying not to cry. That is one of the great scenes ever. And you passed muster with the Pommies, I guess, huh, they liked you. I haven`t heard a word against your performance.

LITHGOW: They`ve nominated me for a BAFTA award. And --

MATTHEWS: Unbelievable.

LITHGOW: -- I`m acting there -- thank you so much, Chris. And I`m acting there with Claire Foy, who is just radiant, absolutely superb actress. She really makes the entire series sing. I`m very, very proud to be a part of it.

MATTHEWS: You know, I think very little has been said about the second premiership of Churchill, the part that wasn`t so glorious. It was difficult for him. He was getting old. He had stayed on too long, you know? He left --


MATTHEWS: He should have stepped down. And you played it staying on (INAUDIBLE) -- the wonderful thing you did to raise the queen.


MATTHEWS: Great stuff.

LITHGOW: Well, it`s an unexplored moment of history really, the early 1950s, in Britain in particular, a nation that supposedly had won a war and yet they felt like a defeated country. And Churchill was the old Victorian, the child of empire. And the empire was slipping away. That`s his particular drama.

You know, the series has like six concurrent stories. His story is the man who is growing old and is hanging on too long.

MATTHEWS: Well, I have to congratulate you on everything you`ve done. I have to tell you, we all love "Terms of Endearment," where we first met you in that Safeway checkout counter when you were desperate for sex. And I thought that was one of the greatest things ever about a guy.

And I also loved your audio recording of "Bonfire of the Vanities." You did all the --

LITHGOW: Oh my goodness.

MATTHEWS: Now, you did all the ethnic accents of New York, every accent. You did, you know, Ed Koch. You did everyone.



MATTHEWS: -- those great lines from the guys in the street.

LITHGOW: That`s wonderful. I never get a compliment for that, Chris. I was very --

MATTHEWS: Well, you deserve more than that.

LITHGOW: -- proud of that.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, John Lithgow.

LITHGOW: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And great movie coming out.

When we return -- thanks for coming on HARDBALL.

When we return --

LITHGOW: It`s a real pleasure, Chris.

MATTHEWS: When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch, we had a hint of it there in the movie.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Friday, April 14th, 2017.

How does the United States get North Korea off its dangerous course toward nuclear weapons, and how do we convince Kim Il-sung personally that he should pull off that course?

The enterprise is nothing to take lightly. We get Kim nervous and he could attack South Korea with all his conventional fire power. We do nothing, and he keeps heading towards having deliverable nuclear weapons.

What we need is a way to grab the cheese if you will without setting off the mouse trap. That will take cool nerve and experienced finesse. Both are rare. A combination of those two, rarer still.

The smart move may be to build an enduring alliance that the North Korean leader can see will brook no use by him of a nuclear weapon in any way whatsoever. It`s not to do anything crazy ourselves as well. It`s as simple as that.

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

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


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