IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/18/2017

Guests: Greg Bluestein, Susan Page, Eli Stokols, Ayesha Rascoe, Sabrina Siddiqui, Molly Ball

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 18, 2017 Guest: Greg Bluestein, Susan Page, Eli Stokols, Ayesha Rascoe, Sabrina Siddiqui, Molly Ball

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Georgia on his mind.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The polls have just closed in that special election in Georgia`s sixth congressional district.  Jon Ossoff, the leading Democrat in the race, has a chance to wrap it all up and win the seat if he reaches the 50 percent mark tonight.

If he does, it will be a huge whack at Donald Trump, and this explains the relentless tweets coming out of the White House.  Donald Trump is taking this one personally, tweeting about the race five times in the last two days.  And clearly, the guy`s got Georgia, as I said, on his mind.

Late today, before the polls closed, President Trump took one final swipe at Ossoff, tweeting, "Just learned that Jon Ossoff, who`s running for Congress in Georgia, doesn`t even live in the district.  Republicans, get out and vote."

Well, this morning, President Trump fired off two other tweets about Jon Ossoff tweeting, "Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress, very weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes.  Say no.  And Republicans must get out today and vote in Georgia`s sixth, force runoff, an easy win.  Dem Ossoff will raise your taxes, very bad on crime and 2nd Amendment."

Well, and last night, the president also recorded a robocall to be played on people`s phones.  Here it goes.  It`s for Republicans.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I  need you to get out to the polls tomorrow, April 18th, and vote Republican.  That way, we can cut spending and get our economy back on track and keep America safe.  It`s already happening.  There`s only one way to stop the Washington liberals from taking your congressional seat and your money and your safety, and that`s by voting Republican for Congress tomorrow.


MATTHEWS:  Well, the affluent suburb outside Atlanta -- there it is, north of Atlanta -- is exactly the kind of district the Democrats are eying if they (INAUDIBLE) hope to ever take back the House in 2018, which is why President Trump wants to fight off any loss.

Voters had 18 candidates to pick from today, 11 Republicans, five Democrats -- it`s an all-candidate primary -- and two independents.  But Donald Trump, who hasn`t endorsed a candidate -- no personal person, just against this Democrat -- is focused on that Democratic front-runner, Jon Ossoff.  Democratic front-runner Jon Ossoff is feeling confident with his chances.  Let`s watch him.


JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS:  The atmosphere, the energy is electric in Georgia right now.  The early reports are that turnout is high.  We`re doing everything we can to encourage folks to make their voices heard and to make history here in Georgia by flipping the sixth district.


MATTHEWS:  Flipping the sixth district from R to D.  Anyway, he needs to get 50-plus percent tonight in order to avoid a runoff.  The top Republican contender, Karen Handel (ph), says not so fast.


KAREN HANDEL (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  This is a Republican district.  It`s a conservative district.  And once we get through this, I think you`ll see, whether it`s me in the runoff or someone else, that this district will stay in the hands of a Republican.


MATTHEWS:  Well, millions of dollars have flooded into that race, which has turned it into a proxy referendum on President Trump`s first 100 days.

For the latest, I`m joined right now by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and MSNBC contributor, of course, and Greg Bluestein, who`s the political reporter for "The Atlanta Journal Constitution."

I guess I should start, just to be fair, with the local guy, Greg.  This race has gotten a lot of national attention.  Explain to me these candidates.  How does Ossoff run without living in the district?  I know it`s legal, but it doesn`t seem to be politically very smart.  He`s living with his girlfriend nearby the district.  It`s just -- and he`s bringing 95 percent of the money from outside the district.

I would think that any Republican could use that easy against him, all three of those points, and they don`t seem to be doing it.

GREG BLUESTEIN, "ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION":  Yes.  Well, they are, in a way, but it is his biggest liability.  He lives just off of the district.  He lives near Emory University, where his girlfriend is a medical student.  And from day one, Republicans have been attacking him as an outside of the district sort of creation of liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and outside Washington groups.

And so this is only going to heighten if there is a June 20th runoff between him and a Republican contender.

MATTHEWS:  Can he get (INAUDIBLE) A&B (ph) or something?  Can`t he move into the district or get an apartment somewhere?  I don`t -- I mean, how hard is it to move 10 minutes if you`re going to run for -- just move!  I don`t get it.  Does he ever explain why he doesn`t do that?  I mean, they`re spending -- he`s spending, what, a huge amount of money in this race.  Can`t he get carfare to get into the district?  I`m being sarcastic because I don`t quite get it.

BLUESTEIN:  He has raised more than $8 million and already spent pretty much most of that sum.  He says he`s doing sort of -- he`s supporting his girlfriend, who`s a medical student who`s about to finish at Emory University, and will move to the district once she does.  But again, this has exposed a giant liability for his campaign that we have not heard the last of.

MATTHEWS:  Robert Costa, you`re also down there.  What do you make of it as a guy that`s just arrived down there doing dateline reporting?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think Ossoff has a lot of electricity on the ground.  Democrats are enthused.  But remember, this is a Republican district.  This was Newt Gingrich winning in `78.  It was Johnny Isakson, then Tom Price, now the president`s Health and Human Services secretary.

And a lot of traditional Republicans think this is going to go to a runoff in June and that once they can get behind one candidate, they`ll have a pretty good shot.  Democrats got this narrow window right here in this non- partisan primary to slip in, get to 50 percent.  It`s a tough call for a first-time candidate like Ossoff.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what good does it do to win a race in a special if you`re going to lose it the next general -- if you`re going to lose it the next general election next year because once regular voting patterns set in, he`ll be blown away.  I`ve seen these people get elected to these seats as a fluke, usually after a scandal.  I don`t get the long-term plan for that seat for the Dems.


MATTHEWS:  ... why they`re going for it.

COSTA:  Well, I was in Boston a few years ago, Chris.  You remember that.  We were talking then about Scott Brown.  It`s all about, for the Democrats, getting away from being a beleaguered party that lost big in 2016, getting their mojo back, starting to think about a wave perhaps.  They got to win 24 seats in 2018...


COSTA:  ... to take back the House.  If they`ve got any hope of doing that, they`ve got to win in places like Georgia`s sixth district.

MATTHEWS:  Susan, let`s talk about that because that sounds to make -- I love to be devil`s advocate around here, which I`m pretty good at.  But it does seem like they need to get some wins, and it seems to be bothering Trump a lot, the fact that he could lose this outpost down there.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY":  You know, if this wasn`t going to be a referendum on Trump, he made sure it would be by tweeting about it...


PAGE:  ... by doing the robocall.  Maybe he didn`t have any choice.  Maybe it`s going to be a referendum on him and his presidency in any case.  I mean, and that`s why, in a way, Jon Ossoff`s residency matters less because he is the vehicle for Democrats who are really enthused about the possibility of perhaps...

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Daily Kos and all -- all these people are putting money in there, people on the center left even.

PAGE:  Exactly.  And of course, there are Republican voters in this district who are not so enthusiastic about Donald Trump.  He just won it by a point-and-a-half over Hillary Clinton.


PAGE:  So that opens the possibility.  This is a Trump versus anti-Trump kind of election, it seems to me.  And nobody is looking down the road to 2018.  Everybody`s looking at what happens tonight and what signal that sends.

MATTHEWS:  They want to shake him up.  Anyway, nationally, Jon Ossoff has become a vessel, as we said, for discontent from President Trump.  I asked him about he -- last night about what he thought about the president.  Let`s hear what he says.  This is interesting.


MATTHEWS:  What do you make of him personally?  Do you think -- is he a mixed bag, or do you think he`s bad?  Give me a word for him.

OSSOFF:  Well, I have great respect for the office.  I don`t have great personal admiration for the man himself.


MATTHEWS:  Robert Costa, this guy is pretty professional for a young newcomer.  I mean, he answered the question -- I thought I was pretty tough on him last night.  He didn`t get hurt at all.  I mean, I asked him the questions.  He came with a comprehensive immigration program, including enforcement, stopping illegal hiring, which I`m focused on occasionally -- more than occasionally.  He seemed to hit everything I could throw at him.

COSTA:  It was classic Matthews.  I was watching that interview, and he was staying on his talking points, Chris.  This is what Democrats have to watch out for.  It`s helpful for them in these fragile, narrow districts to have a candidate who`s pretty disciplined.  Ossoff just keeps saying the same thing over and over, trying to appeal to moderate Republicans, independents, knowing it`s going to be a tough path for him ahead.

But he hasn`t become this huge character yet in the district.  He`s someone who lives outside of the district.  He`s 30 years old.  He worked for Hank Johnson (ph), used to intern for John Lewis, two respected congressmen from this area.  And so he doesn`t have a high profile, even though he`s got high recognition.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of him, Greg?  Is he is a man of the left, a man of the center?  Would you put him in the Bernie category, the Hillary category?  Where would you find him if you had to- if you were a moderate centrist, say there is such a thing left anymore in this country, somebody that`s sort of in the middle, how would that person view this Democratic front-runner?

BLUESTEIN:  I would put him just left of center.  He voted for Hillary Clinton.  He was a Clinton supporter in the primary here last year.  His ads and his rhetoric are a lot about, Make Trump furious, stand up against Donald Trump.  But at campaign events, he rarely uses the word "Trump."  He rarely talks about Donald Trump.  Instead, he talks about more moderate- leaning ideas like cutting spending and fixing but not repealing "Obama care."

MATTHEWS:  Has he been open about his resume?  Has he explained who he voted -- I don`t know -- has he put out the word that he voted for Hank Johnson, a liberal Democrat?  Is that in his literature?

BLUESTEIN:  Oh, yes.  I mean, he worked for Representative Johnson...

MATTHEWS:  Does he have it in his literature?

BLUESTEIN:  ... for about five years.

MATTHEWS:  But does he put that out in...

BLUESTEIN:  Yes.  I mean, it`s sort of the backbone of his campaign is that he worked for Johnson for five years.  That`s where he says he has his political experience in Washington, as a -- as what he calls a national security adviser for Hank Johnson.

Republicans say he`s overinflated that, that working for a back bench Democrat is no resume to run for Congress on.  But he says that it gave him his grounding in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Harry Reid got elected attorney general of Nevada because he was a Capitol cop like I was.  And I tell you, it made him look like one tough customer.  So sometimes, resumes get inflated coming out of Washington.

Robert, you had something there.

COSTA:  No, (INAUDIBLE) Greg was saying.  He`s spot on.  I mean, this is a careful candidate.  You think about who Democrats are going to run in the next couple years.  Is it going to be Bernie Democrats?  Is it going to be more progressives to really try to get that base of the party?  Or is it going to be kind of these polished former staffer types, like we`re seeing with Jon Ossoff?  He`s not an out-there progressive.  He`s being pretty careful in his interview with you and when he`s on the campaign trail.

MATTHEWS:  Susan, what do you make of this, and how big`s he going to be?  You write for the paper that sort of tells us what to do on television sometimes, front page, top of the fold.

Here`s my suggestion.  If Ossoff gets 50 percent tonight, he`ll be top of the fold "New York Times" tomorrow, maybe top of the fold your paper and "The Washington Post."  If he comes in in the 40s, mid-40s, somewhere below the fold, not as big -- it`s a bigger story if it`s anti-Trump.

PAGE:  I think that`s right.  It`s a -- no, it`s a surprise if he gets 50 percent.  That would be a political -- if not an earthquake, definitely a tremor in a district that ought to be going Republican.  If he gets 40 percent, that`s a pretty respectable showing.  It gets him into the runoff, but it`ll be harder for him in the runoff against a single Republican...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think of Handel right there?  Do you think she`s got the fire in her belly to run?

PAGE:  She`s a former secretary of state, but she`s lost some elections before.


PAGE:  She`s tried to walk this middle line...

MATTHEWS:  She didn`t seem like a fireball to me.

PAGE:  You know, it`d be also interesting to look at which Republican...

MATTHEWS:  By the way, she kept saying Republican, Republican, Republican, like it`s all she`s got going for her is a party label.

PAGE:  But let`s look which Republican comes in second.  That`s not guaranteed.  She`s been favored, but Bob Gray, who`s backing Trump -- if he came in second, that would send a different kind of message if it`s in a runoff with a Trump guy and a Democrat.


PAGE:  So the results tonight will tell us something about how people, at least in this district, are feeling about the president at the 90-day mark.

MATTHEWS:  This reminds me something from Churchill, guys, that I have to say has never -- so many people spend so much time talking about one congressional race in Georgia.

But thank you (INAUDIBLE) down there, Robert, always on the spot, Robert dateline.  There you are.  Thank you.  Anyway, Susan Page, Robert Costa and Greg Bluestein.  Greg, welcome to the show.

Coming up, the anger against Trump isn`t about to stop with town halls and protests.  The president is under fire right for his refusal -- and he won`t do it -- to release his tax returns.  And Democrats say they`re not going to let him off the hook.

Can Trump get anything done when Congress comes back from Easter recess?  How can they do tax reform when he won`t even admit he pays taxes, if he does?

Later, why is President Trump obsess obsessed with his predecessor, Barack Obama?  It seems like the only thing Trump has been focused on is dissing Obama in his rearview mirror.  It`s all he talks about, trying to lower the bar of his own success, I guess.  Anyway, the HARDBALL roundtable is going to talk about that, why Trump keeps looking in the rearview mirror and he worries more about that than anything else.  All he wants to do is destroy President Obama.  Anyway, we worries more about that than building his own legacy.

Plus, we`re going to continue watching that hot special election.  We should be having results through this show, through HARDBALL tonight.  Anyway, NBC`s Kasie Hunt`s ready to join us as soon as we get those results.  She`s down there.

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

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS:  Well, former president Herbert Walker Bush has been hospitalized, but his spokesman said Bush was admitted to the Houston Methodist Hospital on Friday due to a persistent cough.  That`s all.  The 92-year-old has been treated with (sic) a mild case of pneumonia, is said to be in good spirits while he recovers.  Great man.

We`ll be right back.



SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  The issue is not over.  He promised during the campaign that he would reveal his taxes.  In fact, how many clips have you got here?  He would reveal them after this.  He would reveal them after that.  I think that people are going to keep demanding it, and they`re going to keep demanding it and making their voices heard on this.

Look, why is it the case that people at the very top should get a bunch of tax breaks, should be able to hide their business dealings, when everybody else pays, everybody else gets out there and makes our roads and bridges work, makes our schools work?  Let`s see what Donald Trump is up to.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Of course, that`s Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts pushing President Trump to release his tax returns.  So did former congressman Joe Walsh on MSNBC yesterday, of all people.


JOE WALSH (R-IL), FMR. CONGRESSMAN:  I`m a Trump supporter.  He should release his taxes, absolutely, Katy.  And I do think this issue will come back and bite him in the butt.


MATTHEWS:  Well, today in Kenosha, Wisconsin, President Trump said his administration is working on a plan to overhaul the tax code.  However, "The New York Times" reports Donald Trump`s refusal to release his own tax returns is emerging as a central hurdle to that campaign promise.

Democrats have seized on that decision, uniting around a pledge not to cooperate on any rewriting of the tax code unless they know specifically how that revision would benefit the billionaire president and his family themselves.  In other words, Democrats are saying, No taxes, no tax reform.  No tax -- no taxes (INAUDIBLE) tax reform.

Joining me right now are two White House reporters, "The Wall Street Journal`s" Eli Stokols, newly branded, and the Reuters Ayesha Rascoe.

It seems to me that the Democrats have got him over the barrel here.  First of all, they`re not going to do the debt ceiling thing, which no party likes to do, unless if they get the wall out of it and put Planned Parenthood in it, and now nothing on tax reform unless we see your taxes to see how it affects you.

ELI STOKOLS, "WALL STREET JOURNAL":  Well, the Republicans have struggled to move the ball on any legislative priority even with control of both the Senate and the House.  We`ve seen that on health care and I think on tax reform, and you see the president vacillating, going back and forth saying, We`re done with health care.  We`re moving on tax reform.  Now he`s saying we`re going back to tax reform, or we`re going to back to health care, that quagmire.  Why?  Well, because tax reform`s not ready.

And this situation -- Democrats realize they can weaponize this because it looks pretty obvious that for some reason, the president is hiding something related to his tax returns.  And you know, if they are going to rewrite the tax code for the first time in 30 years, the public should have a right to know whether the president`s personally going to...

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ayesha, I think there`s always anger from the public now.  If you voted for Trump, it`s anger at what I might call the cultural liberals that run the country or look like they`re running the country, run Hollywood (INAUDIBLE) run some of the newspapers, they think.  But if you`re a populist of the center-left or the left, you don`t like big money kicking butt around this country, and Trump represents that to you.

And here`s a guy that makes all this money, lives lavishly, spends all the government`s money on his airplane back and forth to Mar-a-Lago, lives practically in Mar-a-Lago, and won`t tell us he pays taxes, if he pays any.


MATTHEWS:  I think that sparks a lot of resentment out there.

RASCOE:  Yes, I think that that`s what the Democrats are going to try to tap into, this idea of, Well, what is he hiding?  He wants to reform taxes.  Oh, well, maybe he`s just trying to help himself, you know, and he`s going to stick it to the little guys, this idea.  And they can use that kind of as a boogeyman, as you said.  I mean, tax reform is going to be difficult anyway.  So this is just something else they can use to poke at Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s watch the people poking.  At town halls around the country, Republicans are facing crowds demanding that they push the president -- demanding that the congress people push the president to release his taxes, as if they have any influence over him.

Let`s watch some of the anger. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I`m wondering if you will take the initiative to have him release those returns, so that we can see what kinds of connections he has with different countries around the world. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As far as I`m aware, the president says he`s still under audit.  


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My record is clear.  I voted against the action in the committee that would have forced the IRS to...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you ask Donald Trump to release his taxes? 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I`m not going to ask the previous president that I served under to show his birth certificate, any more than I would ask this president to show his taxes. 


MATTHEWS:  Those are weak defenses, because voters have to show -- voters have to pay taxes.  Voters have to vote on -- they expect you to vote on tax law.  They expect it to be progressive, at least focused on the average person.

And they won`t push this guy to do what they think everybody ought to do, is to say, show your pockets.  What have you got in your pocket? 

STOKOLS:  I mean, Donald Trump has Republicans in Congress in a really tough spot as they go home to town halls. 

They`re just being attacked.  And what you`re seeing is, it`s the same thing that`s manifesting itself in Georgia`s Sixth Congressional District, this uprising. 


STOKOLS:  It`s all about a backlash to Donald Trump, and it doesn`t really matter what the issue is, whether they`re protesting that he`s not releasing his tax returns, whether they`re throwing money at a 30-year-old they have never heard of to win a congressional seat in Georgia. 


STOKOLS:  It doesn`t matter what the issue is.  This is all driven by frustration, and I think in some ways by regret from voters. 

You hear first-time canvassers.  There was a report in Politico this morning about a first-time canvasser said, why are you doing this in Georgia?  And she said, well, I just have all this regret from the election...

MATTHEWS:  About last November.

STOKOLS:  ... about not doing more last year. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Fair enough.

STOKOLS:  And this is a way for them to kind of, as she put it...


MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think you have got it right, Eli.

I think -- I think it`s really a gut anger at Trump and who he is, who he is, not even particularly what he does, who he is.  This guy has all this money, all this glamour around himself, seems to be living like a regal person, a royal person. 

But the protesters, is it about the fact he doesn`t -- they think he doesn`t pay taxes?  Is it about his arrogance in not showing his tax returns?  Or is it this thing about entanglements we`re hearing?  Is that just the latest reading on it?  Or people just say, I don`t like him, I want him to do it?

RASCOE:  I think it`s all of the above.  I think it could be the entanglements.  He`s very rich.  Is he paying taxes? 

But I think also is that, even for people that -- some people who may be more sympathetic to him, because he hasn`t had a lot of legislative achievements and a lot of things that he`s promised aren`t necessarily coming through as fast as he said, I think, as that happens, then these issues of the taxes, these issues of transparency become more salient to people. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Yes. 

RASCOE:  People start really caring, like, well, what is going on with these taxes? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he doesn`t know a lot of history, Trump, OK.  We can agree.  Can we stipulate that?  He doesn`t know a lot of history.  He doesn`t know like you can`t talk -- like, in the civil rights movement, I remember it well.  You can`t talk about outside agitators. 

The Southern guys would always say, they`re outsiders.  They`re not from around here.

Well, here he is.  He`s saying people basically the out -- the people are all being paid now.  All the demonstrators out in the street are getting paid. 

Anyway, Trump was in Kenosha today, where he signed an executive order aimed at tightening rules for companies hiring skilled foreign workers. 

Here is the president earlier today. 


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The buy and hire American order I`m about to sign will help protect workers and students like those of you in the audience today. 

This historic action declares that the policy of our government is to aggressively promote and use American-made goods and to ensure that American labor is hired to do the job. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, "The Washington Post"`s Philip Bump wrote today that his position -- you just heard it there about buying America -- is hypocritical. 

It`s coming -- it`s right, because it said he sold foreign-made products under his name for years.  "His daughter now is an unpaid White House staffer.  Of course, she continues to do the same.  President Trump buys foreign products for his hotels and his properties, and the Trump family has consistently sought to hire foreign workers for their properties."

You know, I think he`s like everybody else.  You buy what`s inexpensive, and you look for the best product, and you don`t always know it`s American or not.  That`s a fact. 

RASCOE:  Well, the White House`s argument on that is that, you know, Donald -- President Trump, he used the system for years. 


RASCOE:  So now he knows how to fix it. 

So, that`s their argument that they`re selling.  Whether people will buy it, that`s the question. 


STOKOLS:  He`s really beyond shame and parody.  He`s not going to shamed by this.

But this did hit a nerve.  We were in a briefing yesterday with some White House officials, and when this question came up, you could tell they were not happy about it.  The official sort of snapped back at the reporter who asked that question. 


MATTHEWS:  What, don`t step...

STOKOLS:  And it was obvious that they don`t have a good answer on the hypocrisy of the hiring, using these visas at Mar-a-Lago, and then saying basically trying to say, oh, these are -- these are undercutting American workers. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  One of the great ironies -- and I don`t know how to handle it -- but he talks about infrastructure. 

Guess who are going to be most of the workers out on the roads when we build the roads again?  Hispanic workers.  It`s just going to be a tremendous draw for the people.  A lot of people have come in, some legally, some not.  It`s just going to be one hell of an operation, just...

STOKOLS:  Well, and they`re talking about buy American on all these infrastructure projects, but those rules only apply if these are publicly funded. 


STOKOLS:  I don`t know that a lot of these projects will be publicly funded. 


STOKOLS:  They may be incentivized with tax cuts, with some federal money.


STOKOLS:  But, you know, this sounds good.  This is the note he hit during the campaign, but whether it makes a material difference in the lives of the blue-collar workers who supported him remains to be seen.


MATTHEWS:  I agree.  I think there`s so much emotion in this campaign last time that the details don`t really grab anybody. 

Anyway, Eli Stokols, thank you, sir, of "The Wall Street Journal."

Thank you, Ayesha, for joining us, Ayesha Rascoe.

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Donald Trump did his best to do away with former President Obama`s policies to combat global warming, did that lickety- split.  And he still has his sights set now on repealing and replacing Obamacare, although you can`t do both, Mr. President. 

So, why is President Trump obsessed with dismantling all the work of his predecessor?  What is this rear-view mirror about?

And that`s coming up next.  And this is HARDBALL, where the action is. 


MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I`m Milissa Rehberger.  Here`s what`s happening.

Police say the man who murdered a 74-year-old man and posted the video to Facebook shot and killed himself following a police chase in Erie, Pennsylvania. 

Three people were killed in a shooting spree in downtown Fresno.  The suspect, Kori Ali Muhammad, wrote about racial conflict on Facebook.  He is also wanted in connection with a shooting from last week. 

A tree branch fell and killed a U.S. Capitol maintenance worker this morning.  The man leaves behind a wife and two children -- back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

From championing the birther movement, to accusing President Obama of wiretapping his phones, or attempting to dismantle Obama`s legacy on health care and the environment, President Trump can`t stop looking into that rear-view mirror politically.  He`s been fixated on his predecessor ever since he got here.

And there isn`t much the 45th president hasn`t blamed on the 44th.  Take a look. 


TRUMP:  So, look, Obama`s gone, smart guy.  He put things on.  Seventeen is going to be the worst year, because he`s gone.  He knew that was the year.  Let him be out before it implodes. 

Remember this.  When I came into this job, I inherited a mess.  It was a mess in the Middle East.  Whether you like it or not, the economy was very, very weak. 

This was a mission that was started before I got here.  This was something that was, you know, just they wanted to do.  They came to see me.  They explained what they wanted to do. 

QUESTION:  It turns out his organization seems to be doing a lot of organizing at some of the protests that a lot of these Republicans are seeing around the country and against you. 

TRUMP:  I think that President Obama is behind it, because his people are certainly behind it.  And some of the leaks possibly come from that group. 

You look at different things over the years with President Obama, everybody, he`s been outplayed.  They have all been outplayed by this gentleman. 



Well, last month, the president, this president, tweeted: "Terrible.  Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped -- my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory.  Nothing found.  This is McCarthyism.  How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process?  This is Nixon Watergate.  Bad or sick guy."

That`s a grownup talking. 

And, today, he tweeted: "The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama administration allowed bad MS-13 gangs to form in cities across the U.S.  We are removing them fast."

Anyway, when will President -- this president stop obsessing over the last president and focus on governing the country himself? 

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable, Molly Ball, politics writer for "The Atlantic," Jeremy Peters, political reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor, and Sabrina Siddiqui is a political reporter for "The Guardian."

Sabrina, thank you. 

Let`s just start at your end tonight and talk among yourselves, because this is the question. 


MATTHEWS:  It`s like he wants to set the bar really low.  The mess, everything is terrible.  So, if he has an even mediocre first couple of years, it`s better than it was.  That`s my theory. 

SIDDIQUI:  He wants to set the bar low so that he can sell the narrative that he is improving things, turning around the economy, taking us in a new direction on foreign policy, when he doesn`t have the substance necessary to back that up. 

So much of Trump`s success has been incumbent on delegitimizing the Obama presidency, some of which you can`t separate that it incites a faction of his supporters, his base that also rejected Obama, were not comfortable, of course, with the first black president.  That`s where you get the birtherism, that Obama was actually the foreign agent. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, that was the original sin of Donald Trump. 

SIDDIQUI:  Exactly. 

And he wouldn`t be where he is today without that.

MATTHEWS:  Unfortunately, that`s true too.  The ends justified the means for him, not for the country. 

SIDDIQUI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Jeremy, this is -- I have a thing.  It`s almost like a disease.  Well,, it`s a tick.  When he`s talking about almost nothing else, Obama comes in his ear, and he starts talking about Obama being -- you know?


It`s the same thing with Hillary too.  I mean, the grievance list that Trump has and the grudges that he holds, I mean, he makes the Clintons look magnanimous.  He just -- he holds grudge after grudge after grudge.  But I think it`s more than that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is this, this bitch, bitch, bitch?  I mean, he`s supposed to be a positive, make America great guy, and it`s all this whining about the job he took. 

Hey, look, he knew Obama was president, the last president.  He knew he was coming in after Obama, who was actually quite successful. 

PETERS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  And now he blames it all on the conditions of the job. 

PETERS:  Sure, but it`s two things there.

One, nothing is ever Trump`s fault, ever. 


PETERS:  Number two, it is hard to overstate his desire for validation and affirmation. 

So, therefore, if he`s criticizing how horrible Obama has done, by extension, he`s doing a much better job. 

MATTHEWS:  Molly. 

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC":  Well, and Trump is someone who needs an enemy.  He needs a foil. 

So, during the campaign, it was just as much of a tick for him to talk about crooked Hillary, and you actually didn`t hear him talk about Obama so much.  But now that he`s beaten Hillary, now that the Democrats are so powerless, as to be almost irrelevant, now that he`s not supposed to pick on Paul Ryan anymore, who can he possibly have as his foil?

Because he doesn`t know what the dimensions of the fight are if he doesn`t have someone to square off against.  And I would say too that it`s still early days.  You know, Republicans would always make fun of Obama for still blaming the Bush administration for Iraq and the state of the economy years after he took office. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he had a right to do that.  He inherited crapola. 

PETERS:  He actually did inherit that.  He did inherit...

MATTHEWS:  Come on, he did inherit -- he inherited the greatest recession in history and two unpopular wars.  These are facts.


BALL:  Well, it`s also true that an incumbent president is not responsible for the conditions that he faces immediately coming in. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me make a bet.

Trump is lucky if the unemployment rate is as low as it is now when he leaves after four years -- he runs for reelection.  That`s what I think he`s deathly afraid of, that the numbers won`t be better than they were under Obama. 

SIDDIQUI:  And I think that Molly`s point is critical here, because Trump is not the first president to inherit a mess. 

But, at the same time, now that he is the president, he has no one else that he can shift blame upon.  He has no opponent that he`s running against.  And he has to be held accountable.

But as we have seen throughout the course of the last 18 months, Trump is - - Donald Trump is accountable to no one, and he does not take responsibility.  So, if you`re pointing to the fact that he`s not articulated a particular foreign policy, he`s just going to revert back to saying, well, the only reason that we`re in this situation is because of Obama, whereas, yes, Obama mentioned that he inherited a lot of this mess, but then he tried to at least articulate what his vision is, which direction he wanted to take the country in.

MATTHEWS:  We used to have grown-up presidents, OK?  I can remember them, maybe because I`m the oldest person here.

But I remember they came in and they actually served with honor and pride, and they didn`t have to trash their opponents.  I doubt if Eisenhower ever mentioned Truman`s name.  I don`t think Jack Kennedy ever trashed Eisenhower, ever.

And a long of period of presidencies were like that.  They just didn`t do that. 

SIDDIQUI:  Right.  And Obama didn`t trash Bush. 


MATTHEWS:  Jimmy Carter didn`t run around trashing Jerry Ford.  He didn`t trash Jerry Ford all day.  It isn`t what you did. 

And Bill Clinton never trashed George Herbert Walker Bush once he got to be president.  They were all positive presidents, whatever their limits were.  They didn`t spend all day trashing their predecessor.  They just didn`t.  This is new.


PETERS:  We have never exactly had a president with the temperament of Donald Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I just want to point that out.  It`s not normal. 


BALL:  Obama also has been more critical of Donald Trump since he took office than George W. Bush was of Obama. 

PETERS:  That`s fair.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s self-defense.

BALL:  George W. Bush famously retreated from the spotlight and never said a word in criticism of Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Who threw the first stone?  Who threw the first stone, Trump or Obama? 

BALL:  But the point is that Obama has come out of the woodwork repeatedly, or he`s been asked, but he has weighed in on things that Trump has done.  And so I think Trump feels he`s justified. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I think -- I don`t think so.  I think...


SIDDIQUI:  I think, during the course of the campaign, he weighed in, but...


PETERS:  You hit on something with the low unemployment, Chris, because what happened there is -- as simplistic as it sounds, he needs to make America great again, or he needs to...

MATTHEWS:  I think he needs numbers.

PETERS:  ... be able to tell people that America is great again. 

MATTHEWS:  Numbers.

PETERS:  And it`s all about those numbers. 

If the unemployment numbers, if the economic growth numbers show that America is not great, it`s just -- it`s the same question that Reagan asked in `84, only the inverse of it.  Are you better off than you were four years ago?  And Democrats will be asking that.  And that`s how he could lose...


MATTHEWS:  We will get a number sometime at the end of the next three years, official number of the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States.  And if that is down, if it goes down, not now.


BALL:  Unemployment`s still low.  Everybody said the stock market was going to crash as soon as he got elected. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it`s true.

BALL:  That didn`t happen. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m just saying that he will be judged by the numbers, not by his B.S.  Yes. 

SIDDIQUI:  Well, a lot of Trump`s success in the campaign had -- very much had to do with the salesmanship. 

It`s about the very simplistic message, we`re making America great again.  And so he may not actually have the numbers to back that up, but only by setting the bar so low, as you said, can he sell this idea to voters, especially as he`s up for reelection, that he has actually made some kind of positive change. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s see if he gets a bill passed.  He`s not going to do health care.  He hasn`t done tax reform.  I don`t know what is next on the agenda, but as long as there is nothing there, he`s got to keep trashing Obama.

The Roundtable is sticking with us.  And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know, I think starting with Molly. 

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is. 


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  We`re back with our roundtable. 

Molly, tell me something I don`t know. 

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC:  A lot of theories about what happened in the 2016 election, what decided the election.  How about the vapor vote?  Grover Norquist, remember him?  I have a new article about him on, and his theory is that the 10 million vapors in this country rose up and voted Republican and tipped multiple states. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are vapors?  Help me.

BALL:  People who smoke electronic cigarettes -- 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, those.

BALL:  -- instead of regular cigarettes. 

MATTHEWS:  And they voted which way? 

BALL:  They voted Republican because they want to get the government off their backs because the Obama administration was going to regulate e- cigarettes.  Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, where Trump was today, he campaigned actually pretty hard on being in favor of keeping vaping legal, and he barely won the state. 

MATTHEWS:  It`s called vaping? 

BALL:  It`s called vaping.

MATTHEWS:  You`re so ahead of me, Molly. 


MATTHEWS:  Jeremy? 

JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  So, tonight, the special election in the suburbs of Atlanta.  Already --

MATTHEWS:  We`re waiting for results.  They haven`t come in yet.  Go ahead.

PETERS:  They have not come in.  It looks like the Democrat is probably not going to cross the 50 percent threshold, though you never know.  Already, though, Republican outside groups backed by some of the biggest donors on the right are moving their reinforcements in. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I predict a very negative special election. 

PETERS:  Well, yeah, absolutely because all of these outside groups are coming in and they`re going to attack the Democrat.  They already are, though.  They already are. 


SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN:  So, federal agents we`re just learning have deported the first DREAMer who was protected under Obama`s DACA program. 


SIDDIQUI:  He`s a 23-year-old who came to the U.S. when he was just 9 years old.  He`s now back in his native Mexico.  He had left his wallet in the car.  The agents wouldn`t even let him get the wallet, retrieve it, so he could show his paperwork, that he was allowed to stay. 

MATTHEWS:  So he was legal? 

SIDDIQUI:  He was granted protection under DACA. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, under DACA.  I got you. 

SIDDIQUI:  It had not expired and he had the paperwork.  They wouldn`t even let him go to the car --

MATTHEWS:  Can he get back to the country now without paper? 

SIDDIQUI:  Immigration advocates are trying to get involved, but obviously this would be a question for --

MATTHEWS:  Why wouldn`t they let him get his wallet?  Why wouldn`t they, if he said, at this point, I`ve got protected status, why wouldn`t they let him do it? 

SIDDIQUI:  They didn`t provide a response, and this is notable because, obviously, Trump said he was leaving DACA in place and that he would not interfere. 

MATTHEWS:  I hope an immigration lawyer is watching because it seems like a good case. 

Anyway, thank you, Molly -- Molly Ball, Jeremy Peters, who loved Havana, and Sabrina Siddiqui. 

Coming up, we`re going to head -- just kidding -- we`re going to head back to Atlanta to check on that congressional special election, see if we`ve got the results in there now.  It`s 15 to 8:00.  We might have it. 

This is HARDBALL.  We`re going to have the reaction in a minute. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Vice President Mike Pence reassured Japan of the United States` commitment to resolve issues with North Korea. 


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In the face of provocations across the Sea of Japan, the people of this country should know that we stand with you in the defense of your security and prosperity, now and always. 

Now, the United States will continue to work with Japan, our allies across the region, and China, to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear until North Korea abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.  But all options are on the table. 


MATTHEWS:  We`ll be right back.  


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Let`s go right now to NBC News Kasie Hunt, and national political reporter of "The Washington Post" and MSNBC contributor, Robert Costa.  Both are with the Ossoff campaign headquarters down in Atlanta. 

Robert, you first.  What do you know about why we`re not getting results now?  We`re supposed to get them by now. 

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Polls closed at 7:00, but some of these polling locations, we`re told at "The Post" -- I`m sure NBC is hearing the same thing -- had to be left open just to let -- more people come in.  They were not working properly at some times during the day.  And so, we`re probably going to get results at first around 8:00. 

MATTHEWS:  Kasie, what do you know down there?  Do you have any word from the turnout?  Is it high? 

KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS:  Isn`t that always the question, Chris? 

Look, I think that there were -- there was some thinking that if we saw more voters than expected at the polls today, that might actually bode well for Republicans only because there was a lot of concern about the early vote and the Democratic advantage.  But Republicans did catch up to Democrats in the late-breaking early vote.  The question, of course, those independents, 18 percent or so of the early ballots were from independents. 

When we first do start to get results, those could be some of the earliest results we see here.  But I think another question and one that`s been put to me by the sources I talked to today is how many low propensity voters are there.  Are those polls that are showing Jon Ossoff -- and obviously it`s a special election in one congressional district.  So, we have to be skeptical about all of the polls.  But if they`re using traditional models, they may not be picking up the voters that we think are driving Jon Ossoff`s enthusiasm, which are people who were taken by surprise by President Trump and suddenly feel energized to get out and vote now.  And that could potentially get him closer to the 50 percent mark. 

I will say there are some Republicans who are spinning me that they think Ossoff will get to 50 percent.  I think Democrats are trying to do the other thing. 

COSTA:  Hey, Chris, one of the things I`m hearing right here in this ballroom, Ossoff`s headquarters tonight, from the Democratic insiders, is they`ve got to do well in the southern part of this sixth congressional district.  That`s that lip right around Atlanta, before you start stretching up to Roswell and the more Republican strongholds in the district.  The college educated, 25, 35, 45-year-old voters who live in Chamblee, in Brook Haven, they need to come out in droves for Ossoff if he wants to run up the numbers. 

Remember, Clinton came close here in 2016, didn`t win the district.  So, they`ve got to do pretty well in those tight suburban areas near Atlanta. 

HUNT:  And, Chris, can I just to add that?  To -- one thing I`ve think they`ve been trying to do is run Jon Ossoff as kind of generically as possible a Democratic ballot test, but somebody with a millennial pedigree, to try to reach those very voters, to say, hey, look, this is the new face of the Democratic Party, but who also doesn`t put a foot wrong on the issues that older Democrats care about. 

I challenge you to get Jon Ossoff to say something very interesting or personal.  I asked him in an interview what do you like to do for fun, and he couldn`t -- he had trouble answering the question.  He said, I haven`t had time for very much fun.  Eventually said I like to walk in the woods.  That`s my favorite thing. 

You probably noticed having interviewed him yesterday, it`s very hard to push him off message right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I got a feeling that he has a very narrow focused appeal.  It`s very regimental. 

It`s -- you know, I always like to look at the back page of a pamphlet somebody hands out, a brochure.  I want to know where they went to school, where they came from, where they grew up.  I like to know the high school.  I`d like to know all that stuff.  I`m not sure he wants to sell that. 


COSTA:  It`s true.  I mean, he went to a private high school here in the area.  His parents still live here, and he`s someone who is really -- when I was sitting in a doughnut shop called Dandy doughnuts today, right outside one of Ossoff`s -- one of his field offices, they had all these ads playing.  The whole local TV, Chris, is all Ossoff ads and he keeps emphasizing in these ads that you can`t stop seeing that he worked as a, quote, "national security aide" for Hank Johnson, the local congressman Democrat, and this has become kind of a campaign issue because Republicans say he`s overstating the kind of policy work he did for Congressman Johnson. 

But that`s the kind of voter he wants to reach, kind of the national security moderate who may be uneasy about Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but isn`t that true that he voted for a guy, look at Hank Johnson, who was a man of -- I`m there too, political left on foreign policy.  I think that`s probably to offset, saying oh, you voted for Hank Johnson.  I looked at his record in the Middle East, he`s a man of the left.  We`re not going to vote for you.  So, he comes out and says, I`m a nationalist -- I understand the politics.  The spin, I`m sort of soldier out there defending the country, even though I had a staff job.

It`s an image thing, but I think they must have worked it up in their council fires.  They figured it out, Kasie.  Make him look like a soldier, a tough guy. 

HUNT:  Well, I think it`s a classic pitch from a Democrat in a conservative state, right?  And this, of course, is a conservative district. 

I remember when Michelle Lund was running for the Senate, she did kind of similar messaging around national security, and she very rarely said out loud, hey, I`m a Democrat.  And Jon Ossoff doesn`t say that either.  He says, you know, you ask him what`s at stake here?  He says, well, this is a chance for our community to stand up, and he won`t even say Donald Trump`s name often enough.  He`ll talk about kindness and decency and saying that we`re not for division.

But he`s very, very careful in his language. 

COSTA:  Real quick, let`s talk about the Republicans.  Remember, there`s not a big foot Republican running in this race.  This was the district of Gingrich, of Johnny Isakson -- 


COSTA:  -- of Tom Price.  He got 11 Republicans, no big name, Karen Handel has been around for about a decade.  This should be an easy win for the GOP.  But they`ve got no big name, some face everybody knows to make sure it`s safe. 


HUNT:  I mean, remember back in 2010?

MATTHEWS:  Have you guys taken any heat back, out there with the people?  Anybody, Trumpians taking shots at the media?  Have you felt in there, anywhere? 

HUNT:  I`ve had Democrats taking shots at me. 

MATTHEWS:  You`re laughing, Robert.  Any attacks? 

COSTA:  I am, Chris, because --

MATTHEWS:  Are there any attacks? 


COSTA:  Well, I mean, I`m not getting attacked, Chris, but I mean, I`ve heard the phrase "fake news" uttered by a few of these Republicans I`ve met, but it`s something I`m used to.  We`re all used to it.

HUNT:  Yes, I`ve had Democrats come up and criticize us for saying what they think are false narratives about Ossoff.  In my view, it`s been flipped down here. 

MATTHEWS:  I love it.  You`re in the action.  Thank you.  Where the action is, dateline people.

Anyway, thank you, Kasie, and thank you, Robert. 

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

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Trump Watch, April 18th, 2017. 

You`d think this was Donald Trump`s re-election campaign.  I`m talking about today`s primary down in Georgia to replace his HHS Secretary Tom Price. 

Trump seems obsess with the possibility voters will pick a Democrat to replace him, afraid this will send an SOS around the country, news that an outpost of Trump`s America has fallen.  We`ll see. 

I think the obstacle facing this president is not the other party.  It`s not the loss of a seat here or there.  It`s within the party itself.  How is he going to get a majority of the House of Representatives to raise the federal debt ceiling?  How is he going to get that debt ceiling raised if it`s to pay for a wall along the Rio Grande River, if it`s to kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood? 

Want more?  How is he going to get a majority of the House to vote for any tax reform bill when he won`t show his tax returns?  How is he going to get the House to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare?  Yes, the president has obstacles facing him, but his biggest worry right now tonight is, his old worry of not looking big enough. 

That`s why he`s watching the race in Georgia.  It`s because he`s afraid not of losing real achievements, but because he`s afraid of losing the image of achievement.  He`s afraid it will look like tonight, people don`t like him. 

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

"ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.