Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 6/20/17 Polls now closed in Georgia Congressional Race

Guests: Claire McCaskill, Bill Cassidy, Geoff Bennett, Annie Karni, Peter Baker, Astead Herndon

Show: HARDBALL Date: June 20, 2017 Guest: Claire McCaskill, Bill Cassidy, Geoff Bennett, Annie Karni, Peter Baker, Astead Herndon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Unreality TV.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

At 7:00 PM, and that`s what it is right now, Eastern, and polls are now closed in Georgia for that special election. We`re expecting the first results within this hour. And this has risen to a major test for both parties in the age of Donald Trump.

Democrats are hoping to win a Republican seat, of course, and claim momentum heading into the 2018 elections. Republicans are hoping simply to stop their momentum, as they did in Montana. We`re following the latest and we`re going to bring it to you as the results come in as soon as we know them.

The other major story, of course, is Russia. Sean Spicer said today the president will make an announcement, probably this week, about the existence of taped conversations between him and James Comey, the FBI director he fired. I don`t believe they exist.

Anyway, this comes as one Democratic senator suggested Michael Flynn might already be cooperating -- he might already be flipped with the FBI. And Jeff Sessions became the latest Trump associate to lawyer up. The attorney general is joining the president, the vice president, Jared Kushner in retaining personal legal counsel. We`ll get to that huge story in just a minute.

But first, let`s take a look at that congressional race down in Georgia between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel.

The Washington Post`s" Robert Costa is at Handel headquarter in Atlanta with the latest. Is there any way to know which way the wind is blowing right now?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Chris, I`ll tell you where the wind was blowing all day. The wind was blowing intense here in the Atlanta suburbs. It was torrential rain, downpours. There as flash flood warnings across Georgia`s 6th congressional district.

So turnout`s an open question right now as polls close. There was heavy turnout in the early vote. Twenty-five percent of all registered voters came out and voted early. But there was a lot of rain today, and so you wonder how that plays out.

MATTHEWS: Who needed the election day vote the most? Who was winning going into election day? Do we know?

COSTA: This is a Democratic -- tough district for Democrats. Republicans needed to turn out regular voters, those who may be a little wary of President Trump, who aren`t really happy with the congressional agenda. But Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, is running an uphill battle here. He`s raised $23 million. It`s the most expensive House race in history, yet at the same time, it`s not enough for him just to have energetic grass roots Democrats. He has to get suburban Republicans to flip.

MATTHEWS: Tell me about the residence issue. And I think it depends where you live. I mean, I don`t know about carpetbagging. They call it mattress dragging in Massachusetts, where you look for a district to run in even if you don`t live there. This guy saw an opportunity. He ran in this district even if he didn`t live there. Is that going to be -- is that going to be in the first paragraph or the second paragraph if he loses?

COSTA: We`ll see what paragraph it`s in when I write the "Post" story tonight, Chris, but I think it`s a key issue. When I talk to voters, even Democrats, they say that`s been a burden for Ossoff. He does not live in the district. He lives just outside of it with his fiancee. But he`s 30 years old. He`s a political novice and a first-time candidate. So in a district that`s wealthy, that`s Republican, that`s got a lot of manicured lawns and coffee shops, that kind of trait, being outside a district, could matter.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you an analytical question. When people are asked, Does it matter whether your candidate lives in the district or not and they say, No, it doesn`t, are they being honest? Or are they just trying to be sophisticated when it does bother them?

COSTA: I think it`s a revealing question not just about this race, Chris, but about the depth (ph) of challenge facing Democrats nationally as they look toward the 2018 midterms. Candidate recruitment`s an issue. They don`t have stat senators and state reps in a lot of these Republican states.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COSTA: That`s why they`re turning to millennials like Ossoff because there just -- there`s not a farm team for the Democrats because a lot of these rising stars, as you remember, got wiped out in 2010 and 2014.

MATTHEWS: Nobody`s in the on deck circle. Thank you very much, Robert Costa, with your analysis, We`re watching for those results in Georgia throughout this hour, of course, and later throughout the evening, whatever time it takes.

Now to the latest on Russia. Sean Spicer today told reporters he didn`t know -- catch this -- he didn`t know if Trump accepts that Russia did try to influence our elections last year. He doesn`t know whether Trump accepts that or not. That`s the latest. He said he`ll get back to us. But here he is today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Does President Trump believe that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing. Obviously, we`ve been dealing with a lot of other issues today. I`d be glad to touch base (INAUDIBLE)

QUESTION: Generally speaking, I mean, this conversation about Russian interference in our elections -- there`s 16 intelligence agencies that say that they did. The former FBI director said that without a doubt, the Russians (INAUDIBLE)

SPICER: I understand. I`ve seen the reports.

QUESTION: Does the president share those views?

SPICER: I have not sat down and asked him about a specific reaction to them. So I`d be glad to touch base and get back to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Sean Spicer also said the president would likely make an announcement this week disclosing whether he has tape recordings of the conversations he had with former FBI director James Comey. That`s a threat President Trump first issued in a tweet following Trump`s firing.

Last week, the president told reporters he would disclose whether tapes exist in the very near future. Those were his words. All this as special counsel Robert Mueller came to Capitol Hill today to meet with top members of the House Intelligence Committee. Anyway, that`s going on now.

For more, I`m joined by MSNBC national security analyst Jeremy Bash and Julia Edwards Ainsley of Reuters.

You know, I sometimes say to myself when I get up in the morning, the biggest news today, like all days in the last six months, is that Donald Trump was elected president. That is still the biggest incredible news. And the behavior he follows makes it even more incredible every day. He`s out there saying -- I`m sorry, I can`t blame -- I don`t even know Spicer. But I don`t blame him for not being able to interpret what the president is saying when it doesn`t make any sense what the president is saying. How can you interpret nonsense? Seriously.

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Chris...

MATTHEWS: I mean -- because here`s the problem. If he doesn`t believe 17 intelligence agencies on this and he was running around saying Obama was some sort of illegal immigrant for about eight years, what basis does he have in reality? Does his feet ever touch the ground when it comes to real fact?

BASH: And the intelligence community is based in fact and they have to present facilities to the commander-in-chief to defend the country. But basically, the president has tweeted himself into a corner because if he acknowledge that Russia has been a threat and is a threat, then basically, he is going to give credence to the argument that he fired Comey to get rid of that investigation. And so it really...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... the investigation into Russia is already complete. They know Russians were involved. The question is, did he -- Trump or his campaign people collude with the Russians.

BASH: That`s right. That`s right. But if he gives credence to that idea Russia was a threat and that cooperating with them was dangerous to American national security, which of course, it was, then his firing of Comey looks all the worse.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about stonewalling, OK, because stonewalling is an old practice. The Nixon people (INAUDIBLE) You just deny everything all the time. So his lawyer, Sekulow, was on "MEET THE PRESS" and the other shows, on Chris Wallace this weekend, and he just denied everything. He denied everything that (ph) was an investigation of Trump. There`s no - - and then he finally stupidly admitted twice that there was one, but he was mainly with talking points.

So Trump denies, or at least Sean says Trump doesn`t admit -- he doesn`t know (INAUDIBLE) there was a Russian influence in the campaign or an attempted influence. And now we have the lawyer, Sekulow, saying, I don`t believe Trump`s under investigation -- deny, deny, stonewall, stonewall, and somehow, reality will conform to that, and the 30 percent that still trust Trump will buy that 30 -- the 30 percent will buy the nonsense.

JULIA EDWARDS AINSLEY, REUTERS: Well, that`s why it is so hard these days to be a spokesperson for the president. As we saw this weekend, like you said with Jay Sekulow, he`s trying to come out and say the president is not under investigation, but he`s having to go up against a tweet from the president saying, I am under investigation. These people are really put between a rock and a hard place either by denying what their boss has said or by confirming things that are negative. And we`re seeing Spicer try...

MATTHEWS: Well, how...

AINSLEY: ... to crawl away from that.

MATTHEWS: OK, it is a -- what a job it is. I don`t know what it is because is he actually supposed to, without cracking a smile, refer to these tapes that nobody believes exist?

BASH: Well, he`d get fired, Chris. I mean, he can`t step out of line. But it`s worse for a lawyer. It`s worse for Jay Sekulow because he`s an officer of the court and the court of public opinion, and you`ve got to tell the truth. And once his credibility is undermined...

MATTHEWS: He`s also a mouthpiece.

BASH: Well, but -- and...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) say just about anything.

BASH: But if he holds himself out there as an attorney for the president of the United States and he just states misstatements, then that is really going to undermine his credibility and the president`s.

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, we don`t have to live in the unreality world of that universe over there.

The White House continues to tease a quote, "announcement soon" on whether tapes exist of the president`s conversation with James Comey. If that sounds familiar, it fits a pattern with Donald Trump going back to his birther nonsense in 2011. Just to get Trump in your vision again, the clear -- the focus, watch this performance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I have people that actually have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they`re finding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have people now down there...

TRUMP: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... searching, I mean, in Hawaii?

TRUMP: Absolutely. And they cannot believe what they`re finding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) everybody knows there was nobody down there in Hawaii. There`s nobody saying they couldn`t believe what they`re finding. And he`s trying to talk -- and here`s a person, a reporter, an anchorwoman trying to talk sense to a person who`s making no sense and just making it up!

AINSLEY: Well, this is...

MATTHEWS: Nobody believes he sent investigators down there! Nobody believes...

AINSLEY: But people believed at the time, and they may believe him now. He`s trying...

MATTHEWS: There`s no belief (INAUDIBLE)

AINSLEY: The birthers, sure.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) no one (INAUDIBLE)

AINSLEY: But he`s trying to sow a seed of doubt into people`s minds, just like he`s trying to undermine the investigation of Bob Mueller. We`re going to see people start to bring up whether or not Mueller has a conflict of interest because of his time at Wilmer Hale (ph). Wilmer Hale, of course, representing some of the people who are now under investigation, like Kushner. It is all about not necessarily coming out with hard evidence, but just enough to undermine another fact that may be negative against

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This is what is supposed to be balanced news reporting. On the one hand, President Obama says he`s an American born in this country. He was born in Hawaii. On the other hand, Trump says he wasn`t. We want to make sure we`re fair and balanced here. That`s the nonsense about -- anyway, Republican allies of the president are pushing back hard against the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign`s ties to Russia. Dennis Nunes -- Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- remember, him, midnight ride down to the EOB? He`s telling donors in California this weekend that the Russian collusion story is made up. Quote, "I was telling the truth. There was never any collusion between Donald Trump and the Russians. We have to stop chasing Russian ghosts around the closet and actually get to real work."

Well, other Republicans echoed that thinking. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: We have to question the entire special investigatory process that brings in these head hunters who are very high-powered lawyers. They`re not going to leave until they get somebody.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: This has now become like Russia, Trump conspiracy birther conspiracies, you know, sort of truthers.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Listen, this is all a political circus at this point. Democrats, and sadly, much of the liberal media are using this as an excuse just to attack the president. They want this president to fail. They want the administration to fail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What a hoot! Did you just hear Hannity? He just compared to it birtherism. In other words, the nonsense of Trump is now a standard for nonsense, even though it was Trump himself he was defending.

BASH: It`s a great clip. And this is...

MATTHEWS: Doesn`t he know that that was Trump`s -- that was his birtherism? Doesn`t Hannity keep a file cabinet. This is Trump`s crap. This isn`t somebody else`s. It`s amazing!

BASH: No, he doesn`t know. And of course, it`s not a Democratic hoax. These are three federal investigations, one led by the FBI, one led by a Republican chairman in the Senate, one led by a Republican committee in the House. These are not the invention of the Democrats. These are three professional investigations of serious misconduct and threats to national security.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about some reality here. First of all, Sheldon Whitehouse, a very calm senator from Rhode Island, suggested today that Michael Flynn possibly made a deal with the FBI, that he`s already flipped. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: I think there is a fairly good chance, just reading the tea leaves here as a former U.S. attorney, that Michael Flynn is already cooperating with the FBI. It would be consistent with, first of all, that they`ve got him dead to rights on the false statement that he gave to the FBI and the White House, but then that business of going back and cleaning up his Foreign Agent Registration Act filing retroactively, his unaccustomed silence for months, the eastern District of Virginia subpoenas all being kind of one hop away from Michael Flynn. That all suggests that he`s already in play.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I would think, Julia, that he is definitely in play for the simple fact we got new evidence today that not only did he deal with the Turks, not only did he deal with the Russians, but (INAUDIBLE) gave that speech, he`s getting money from the Turks, now he`s getting money on some fandango over in the Saudi Arabia, where he`s putting nuclear -- nuclear power over there, and he didn`t report that. He hasn`t reported anything! Three stripes, you`re out with this guy. What is it, a bad memory? It`s like Sessions`s memory, I don`t remember?

AINSLEY: Right. I mean, I`ve talked to people who are in this space, people who represent either people from foreign countries or foreign governments. And they say it is a no-brainer that you file a disclosure...

MATTHEWS: What is the down side of being honest?

AINSLEY: ... or a disclosure -- well, the down side of being honest is if you`re trying to then enter an administration and get a security clearance, these things could be heard against you, so...

MATTHEWS: Well, why not just say the truth and then you won`t get into any trouble?

AINSLEY: That would be a simpler way to do it. I agree. I can`t go back and read his mind, but I think what Whitehouse said today made the hair stand up on a bunch of necks at the White House because if they can get Flynn to flip, they`re looking like they could be in some trouble, too, if he has people to turn on.

BASH: I think he thought they were going to lose the election. He wanted to cash in while he still had some cachet.

MATTHEWS: Wow. Anyway, Jeremy Bash, thank you, Julia Edwards Ainsley.

And coming up, why is there so much secrecy around the Republican effort to repeal "Obama care"? What do you think? Senate Republicans haven`t produced a bill, haven`t held an open hearing and are shutting Democrats completely out of the action, and yet they want to hold a vote before July 4th. Could they be rushing this through in secret because they know it`s unpopular? That`s what I think.

Plus, we`ve got -- we`ve heard the rumors of Sean Spicer`s imminent demise for months. It`s like Generalissimo Franco. Anyway, now the president may move him to a role behind the scenes. In other words, kick him upstairs. And Spicer is leading the search for his own replacement. Could it be Laura Ingraham? Wow. We keep hearing it. We`ve got the Spicer sendoff coming up with the roundtable tonight.

And back to the special election in Georgia. We`ll get back there to wait (ph), see what kind of results we`ll have later in this hour, the most expensive race in American history, maybe 50 million bucks. It`s a major test for President Trump`s popularity and the Republican agenda, and it`s got a lot of water down there.

Finally, let me finish tonight with the legacy of last week`s shooting across the Potomac River. It`s a proud one for the Capitol Police.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the Russia investigation is pulling down President Trump`s poll numbers, and for the first time, we`re seeing signs it`s hurting him among members of his own Republican Party. A new CBS News political finds Trump`s job approval rating down at 36 percent. That`s 5 points lower than the last poll, which was in April. His approval rating among Republicans has dropped 11 points since the April poll. It now stands at -- still pretty strong, 72 percent among Republicans.

And we`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The House has passed a bill. And now the Senate is working very, very hard and specifically the folks in this room. And I really appreciate what you`re doing if you come out with a bill that`s going to be a phenomenal bill for the people of our country, generous, kind, with heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He is a good salesman. Welcome back to HARDBALL. That`s the president. That was him just last week pushing Senate Republicans to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

And that legislation is currently being drafted behind closed doors by a working group of 13 senators. The details of the bill are shrouded in secrecy so far and few have actually seen the draft. It`s unclear how the legislation will differ from the House legislation that could cost $830 billion from -- take $30 billion. (sic) It could strip 23 million Americans from health insurance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters today that he would release a draft of the legislation this Thursday -- that`s two days from now -- and given the timeline, Senators would have 10 days hence after that to review a bill that affects one sixth of the economy, of course.

Not even HHS secretary Tom Price, who`s in charge of implementing the bill, has seen it. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Have you or anyone in your department seen what the Senate Republicans are working in terms of their version of "Trump care"?

TOM PRICE, HHS SECRETARY: I`ve had multiple conversations with senators who are interested in making certain that we have a health care system that works for patients. My staff has provided technical assistance. I haven`t seen any legislative language.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Democrats have slammed Republicans for a less than transparent process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: There`s only one reason why Republicans are doing this. They`re ashamed of their bill!

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: There`s a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making these decisions!

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: The most important discussion that is happening right now, which is not in this committee, it is not anywhere that the American public can see. It is behind closed doors, where there are a certain number of Republican senators that are perpetuating a fraud on the American public.

And they`re not here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, ratcheting up the pressure, a recent "New York Times" poll estimates the Republican bill that just passed the House is one of the most unpopular bills in decades. Less than 30 percent of Americans support it.

Well, joining me right now on the latest on where things stand, we`re joined by Geoff Bennett. He`s NPR`s congressional correspondent.

Geoff, thank you.

Just quickly, do we know, is anybody -- how many people are in on what is going on in terms of this bill that is going to replace Obamacare?

GEOFF BENNETT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: A small group of aides to Republican leadership and a few senators who are in Republican leadership as well.

But I`ll tell you, for all the talk about the secrecy surrounding this bill, the real secret of the actual policy is that it looks a lot like the bill the House passed. The fundamentals are the same. It repeals the individual mandate. It repeals a lot of the Affordable Care Act taxes.

What is different about the Senate bill -- and I know this based on the conversations with staffers and some lobbyists -- is that what it does is, it gives more money for tax credits, so that older and poorer people won`t go without coverage.

And it also slows the eventual phase-out of the Medicaid program and also cuts funding for the Medicaid program as well.

MATTHEWS: Right. I know that.

Thank you so much, Geoff Bennett, for the update.

While most of the action on the legislation has been behind closed doors, all eyes are on the minority group of Republican senators who have been competing, offer competing visions of what they want in this bill.

I`m joined by Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He`s a physician. And also with me, with us now is Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Let`s start with Senator Cassidy.

You`re a doctor, and so you know this. And I guess what I found hard is the illogic of repeal -- in other words, get rid of the government`s commitment to people that have health care -- and replace. Aren`t they contradictory?

You`re getting rid of the government`s commitment to have people have health insurance, and then you`re replacing it. But that means you`re undoing the repeal. You`re taking -- you`re accepting a new government responsibility for health care.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: The premise of your question is that there`s only one way to cover folks. And I personally don`t agree with that.

The individual mandate, for example, Americans don`t want the federal government telling them what to do. What I propose, with five other Republican senators, is automatic enrollment, much like when you`re 65, you`re on Medicare.

And you can call them up and say you don`t want to be, but otherwise you are. You could actually have coverage numbers higher than the mandate, but without the mandates.

So, I don`t think that Americans -- Americans do want coverage. They just don`t like the mandates and some of the other things went along with the Affordable Care Act.

MATTHEWS: What about the issue of reducing the number of people who are getting Medicaid, working poor, people above the poverty line, usually the people we all root for, the people who are a bit above the poverty line, working hard, not living on welfare, doing their best?

And this would take away, it seems to me, under -- all these Republican plans take away a lot of that coverage.

CASSIDY: Well, under the Patient Freedom Act, what Susan Collins and I and others put up, no, they didn`t lose coverage.

But I will say this. If you move somebody from Medicaid into private insurance, much -- for example, on the exchanges, sure, they no longer have Medicaid, but they still are insured. And some of the original proposals in the ACA, for example, were to cover folks up to 100 percent of federal poverty, not the 138 that eventually was.

One of the things that is not well-understood, states are on the hook for 10 percent of the expense of the Medicaid expansion population by 2020. States cannot afford that 10 percent.

In California, that percent is $2.2 billion, in Louisiana, $310 million. So, under status quo, it is not sustainable for the state taxpayer or for the federal.

MATTHEWS: So you`re committing to voting for a bill that would keep the same people covered under Medicaid with private insurance?

CASSIDY: So, I don`t know what the bill is, frankly. I know...

MATTHEWS: But, in principle, would you want...

(CROSSTALK)

CASSIDY: But, in principle, if we could move somebody -- John Kasich said -- John Kasich suggested that we move back eligibility to 100 percent of FPL, and put those others with cost-sharing reduction payments and with other subsidies, until we can perhaps transition to something else, into the private insurance market.

That`s what they have done in Florida, for example, a state that did not expand, but as a high uptake of the exchange population being...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And it would cover as many people, working poor?

CASSIDY: If you do the automatic enrollment feature, it actually could. Price today in our conversations said that, under the waiver process, states could apply for an automatic enrollment feature.

And so that`s one of the things we had in the Patient Freedom Act as well. So, you could insure those folks, but just insure them differently.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Senator Cassidy of Louisiana.

Let me go back to Claire McCaskill.

I saw you were pretty tough there on the floor. What are -- the Democrats` role here? Is it to watch, complain the lack of transparency and watch the Republicans not get 50 senators? That seems to be what`s going on right now. It`s watch them fail.

MCCASKILL: We would like to have the same opportunity that Republicans had in 2009 with the Affordable Care Act, where we had dozens of hearings, where there were over 150 Republican amendments added to the bill in committees, both the Health Committee and the Finance Committee.

But there`s no hearings. There is no chance to amend. There is no chance to weigh in. And let`s be very clear. We can dress this up, but at its core, this is a tax cut for wealthy people. And to pay for it, they`re going to cut Medicaid.

MATTHEWS: How is the wealth -- how does taxes get involved in a discussion of health care?

MCCASKILL: Because we increased taxes in order to pay for...

MATTHEWS: Which taxes

MCCASKILL: For example, investment taxes for people who make more than $250,000 a year. There`s other little taxes that were put in. But they all impact the 1 percent. These aren`t taxes that...

MATTHEWS: So that`s part of the Republican bill, which is to eliminate those taxes, because -- yes.

MCCASKILL: Absolutely. This is all over $1 trillion in tax cuts for wealthy folks to pay for an $840 billion cut in Medicaid.

And, remember, Chris, Medicaid isn`t just for people who are young. In my state, you can`t be able-bodied and get Medicaid. It is for rural hospitals. It`s for rural nursing homes.

MATTHEWS: It`s for longtime care for older people too.

MCCASKILL: The elder people in this country are being cared for by Medicaid.

MATTHEWS: OK, here`s why I think you are going to win, OK? Because it is the reason why conservatives generally don`t like any improvement in social welfare programs of any kind, health care, retirement programs.

Because once people have it, they want to hold onto it. Once you establish the principle the government`s response for helping you have health care, then it is up to the Republicans or anybody who is contrary to that has to come up with another way to do it. But the argument has been held. I don`t think you are going to get the 50 votes.

Do you think they will get them?

MCCASKILL: I can`t tell. But if they go too far one way to get the Susan Collins, then they don`t get the folks on the other end.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCASKILL: I think it`s really hard.

MATTHEWS: Do you know what I compare it to? Husband and wife fighting over the same blanket. If one person pulls the blanket one way, the other person`s feet are freezing.

MCCASKILL: You`re cold.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And how is that for a...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCASKILL: And what I`m worried about...

(CROSSTALK)

CASSIDY: There`s common ground. You could snuggle. And I would to think that we could actually smuggle.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s -- you know, that`s a very good marriage.

Anyway, thank you, Senator Claire McCaskill and Senator Cassidy.

Up next: Sean Spicer was back at the podium at the White House today, first press briefing in a long time, but word tonight is that his days are numbered. Of course, Generalissimo Franco`s were numbered too, but he stuck around.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the briefing is one aspect of what we do. We`re here really early in the morning and really late at night, available to all your questions, whether it`s e-mail or in person. This is one avenue to do that. And I understand you will always have issues. You always want more. And that`s fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in his first on-camera briefing in about eight days, trying to explain why the White House is holding fewer and fewer press briefings like his.

And a story in "The Atlantic" titled "The White House Press Briefing Is Slowly Dying," chief strategist Steve Bannon, of all people, showed how little regard the White House has for the press and the briefings.

"Asked why the briefings are now routinely held off-camera, Bannon said in a text message, `Sean got fatter.`"

This is high school. This is so Trumpian. This is supposed to be the greatest country in the world. And it is. But the government? He said it`s -- the guy is too fat to respond to a follow-up. Anyway, whatever.

This comes amid reports that Spicer`s time in the Briefing Room may soon be coming to an end. They keep leaking on this guy. "According to Politico, Spicer is leading a search for his own replacement on the Briefing Room podium as part of a larger plan to shake up the White House communications operation."

This is a clown show.

Among possible replacements" -- catch this -- Laura Ingraham.

Anyway, this is amazing.

During his five months on the job so far, Sean Spicer has had -- gone to great lengths to push back against the president`s critics and defend even his most outrageous claims. Let`s take a look at Sean in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.

The default narrative is always negative, and it is demoralizing.

QUESTION: But he says it`s a ban.

SPICER: Well, he is using the words that the media is using.

QUESTION: Is he confused or are you confused?

SPICER: No, I`m not confused.

It is ironic that, no matter how many times he talks about this, that it is never good enough.

Bureaucrats have had a problem with it, I think that they either should get with the program or they can go.

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Hold on. Hold on.

If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow, that`s a Russian connection.

QUESTION: The transition officials were not overly concerned by this relationship.

SPICER: It is not a question of overly concerned, Glenn. The question is, did they provide him the avenue that they were supposed to?

I`m sorry that that disgusts you. You`re shaking your head. I appreciate it. But -- OK, but understand this, that at some point the facts are what they are.

Someone as despicable as Hitler who didn`t even sink to the -- to using chemical weapons.

The president used the word wiretap in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities. When he talked about wiretapping, he meant surveillance.

I think the president`s comments speak for themselves.

I think the president`s tweets speak for themselves.

His tweets do speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Does he think it is appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?

SPICER: I don`t think that`s -- that`s not a threat. He simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I`m moving on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: "I`m moving on."

I`m joined right now by the HARDBALL Roundtable tonight.

Astead Herndon is a national politics reporter with "The Boston Globe." Annie Karni is a White House reporter with Politico. And Peter Baker is chief White House correspondent with "The New York Times."

OK, we will start with "The Times." We`re going to break the story tonight right here.

Is Spicer gone?

(LAUGHTER)

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, you know, it`s gone, but not forgotten. Right?

It`s -- he is on the way up. And you know how that works. You get promoted upstairs, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. And the spin that he is leading the search for his own replacement, of course, is to some extent spin, in order to make it look like something other than what it is, which is they don`t want him out there anymore.

They have a problem, though, which is finding somebody to do the job, somebody who is willing to do it and who might actually be pretty good at it and good enough for the boss. And that`s a real -- that`s a tough job to fill right now.

MATTHEWS: Annie, I don`t know how you translate Trump into rational.

ANNIE KARNI, POLITICO: That`s the thing.

MATTHEWS: How much time -- how much license do you have to take to get it straight?

He`s talking about tapes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, but it sounds like he has got a screw loose. What are these tapes? What is he talking about?

KARNI: I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Nobody believes it.

KARNI: There`s no tapes.

But the job -- I think Sean Spicer might look better when we have another person. Like, Sarah Sanders hasn`t fared much better than Sean Spicer has. It is an impossible job when the president is tweeting and serving as his own communications director, his own press secretary, to do this for this guy.

Sean more and more seems to say, like, I haven`t talked to the president about that, the tweet speaks for itself.

MATTHEWS: How about this, that very point?

KARNI: That`s all you can do.

MATTHEWS: Well, that was a great point you just made.

What about he says, instead, I haven`t talked to the president about whether the Russians influenced our election or tried to influence it? That has been the topic for months now. And he never walked in the Oval Office and said, what do you make of this Russian connection? Do you think there was one?

ASTEAD HERNDON, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": That was jaw-dropping.

MATTHEWS: Nobody asked him. He never asked him? What do they talk about?

HERNDON: He also said that he was unaware if the president had seen the Senate -- the Senate health care bill. And that leads to you wonder, what are they talking about? Are they talking? Or is this a strategy on Sean Spicer`s part to be able to deflect some of these questions, to evade some of these questions and say, I`m pushing this back on the president.

I don`t even know if he`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s like Sessions saying, I don`t remember. I don`t remember. He doesn`t remember anything.

HERNDON: Yes.

BAKER: You know a press secretary is in trouble when he uses the words, the president says or the president has said or as the president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: My client argues.

BAKER: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s a criminal lawyer`s way of talking.

BAKER: Because you can`t vouch for it yourself.

And how many times has Sean Spicer or other members of this White House gone out there on a limb and discovered the limb cut out from behind them, because the president ends up giving a completely different version of events than they had just given?

MATTHEWS: Look up the word mouthpiece in Webster`s Dictionary. A mouthpiece is a criminal -- a lawyer for criminals, not a criminal lawyer, a lawyer for criminals.

And a mouthpiece is someone who simply says what isn`t true, because the client has to say something. You know what I mean?

(CROSSTALK)

BAKER: I do. But the problem for any press secretary is to maintain your own credibility, because there is going to be...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He hasn`t done that. He hasn`t done that.

BAKER: And that`s a trick for any...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s broken his pick on this thing.

So, here`s the problem with the president, unreality. The president doesn`t accept there`s a Russian investigation. He puts out this guy Jay Sekulow over the weekend who said there isn`t any -- he`s not even being investigated.

It is stonewalling. All the evidence that we get, he just denies. What is the strategy? Just to held the 30 percent he`s got, because they want to hear this?

HERNDON: It leads to Annie`s point about, is there a person who could even do that job correctly, if the president is going to say things like, I have the biggest inauguration of all time? It is not a matter of Spicer being up there.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Laura Ingraham would laugh if she said that. She would start laughing.

HERNDON: Anyone.

KARNI: Laura Ingraham has a book coming out in the fall, which I think will prevent her from taking the podium job.

MATTHEWS: If she wants that tour.

KARNI: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Well, also, she has got a personality. Does he really want somebody with a character up there that has a personal identity separate from his?

BAKER: That`s always been a problem in any Trump world is when you get to be too big for the boss. Right? You don`t want to be somebody who is...

MATTHEWS: Comey.

BAKER: Comey.

MATTHEWS: He is bigger than I am.

(CROSSTALK)

HERNDON: And Kushner.

BAKER: Even Jared Kushner, right? He`s getting more famous than I am.

You don`t want to be on the receiving end of that comment. And Laura Ingraham is in fact famous. And she does have a long-established identity within the conservative world that predates Donald Trump and presumably would postdate him. So, that`s...

MATTHEWS: So, I`m talking to a U.S. congressman today. And we`re sort of sharing thoughts. And I have known him a long time.

And the one thought we agreed on is that Trump is probably not impeachable now. But if he keeps going in this erratic behavior and reacting to things with more and more anger and almost weirdness, someday, he is going to get to the point where he is going to do something he shouldn`t have done under the Constitution.

What do you think, Peter? Does he behave in a way that is erratic to the point where it could just become totally out of control?

BAKER: Well, one thing...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, what is the pattern? OK, report it. Report. Just report.

What has been his pattern? Has it been an explosive pattern of behavior? It just keeps getting more explosive?

BAKER: His pattern is that he doesn`t respect the boundaries that have constrained other presidents, right?

Why does a president not fire his FBI director? Because if you do it, you`re likely to generate the kind of controversy that Donald Trump has generated. You`re going to make things worse, not better.

He doesn`t recognize those boundaries. He doesn`t seem to understand some of those Washington rules, hardball rules. And I think it is very possible to see him in the next year-and-a-half do things that trip-wire again.

The trick is, though...

MATTHEWS: He`s been doing this since he named Kushner his top aide. He doesn`t care what the rules are. He finds ways to -- he ignores them. Everybody knows that nepotism is a bad idea. He breaks it.

KARNI: Well, and the other thing about -- Kushner was at Bedminster the weekend he decided to fire Comey and encouraged him to do so, and then, from my reporting, sort of has pinned the blame how badly it went on the communications department.

He thought that they could paint Democrats as hypocrites because they hated Comey before they liked Comey.

MATTHEWS: Whose idea was that?

KARNI: Jared`s.

MATTHEWS: But he doesn`t know anything.

KARNI: No, but I`m saying...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why did he ask his son-in-law to be his consigliere? You get a guy, you get an old pro who has been around, got a little blood on him, who has done some fighting in the trenches. You bring that person in. You don`t bring in your son-in-law in because he`s cute or he`s your son-in- law.

(CROSSTALK)

KARNI: I think they all got a little full of themselves in the campaign, where everyone who was supposed to be anything was wrong, and these novices were right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, but Kushner didn`t -- but, Annie, Kushner didn`t get him elected.

KARNI: He served as the de facto campaign manager and encouraged him to stay in after..

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. All right, I`m sorry. You`re ahead of me on that one. I didn`t know that.

KARNI: Yes.

HERNDON: I mean, this is a president who on inauguration night was driving to "My Way". That has been his theme throughout his candidacy and through the presidency. He believes he has the best ideas.

MATTHEWS: OK. We got to go.

The roundtable is staying with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Now, this is very early, of course, I`m caveating that. But it`s the first vote in from Georgia, from that district down there. The early vote is from Fulton County. We continue to watch this as they come in. Karen Handel is winning in an area where she is from and should be doing well and she is there. That`s all we got to give you, 1 percent.

We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Astead, tell me something I don`t know.

HERNDON: Well, here`s a trend worth watching. The president has used his personal Twitter account to condemn terrorist attacks that are done by Muslims but rarely when Muslims are victims. He still has not tweeted about the attack in London and going back previously, faced criticism about not saying anything about the Kansas bar shooting or hate crimes.

MATTHEWS: You`re saying he doesn`t care about Muslims.

HERNDON: That`s what you`re saying.

MATTHEWS: No, I`m listening. That`s all. That`s all I`m doing is listening.

I mean, Annie?

KARNI: Jared Kushner is off to Israel tomorrow for a one-day trip. The advisers, Greenblatt and Friedman on the ground there, I`ve been told, no longer share Trump`s confidence that peace will be easier than they thought. They`re losing a little confidence and some think that Jared Kushner hack sent there so he can be the one to tell Trump that it might --

MATTHEWS: Friedman is our ambassador, right?

KARNI: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Chinese Gordon goes to Khartoum. That`s what I`m thinking of. That`s how ridiculous.

Go ahead, Peter.

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, the president today tweeted that he greatly appreciates the efforts of China to influence North Korea, but it didn`t work.

Well, just like that. Who was surprised? The Chinese were surprised. The North Koreans were surprised and the White House staff was surprised.

They had no idea the president was going to tweet something like this and they don`t know what it means. Is it the end of the policy that he`s had, which is for four months now, to try to use China to pressure North Korea, or not. Nobody knows, and the president isn`t saying.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I was saying about explosive behavior.

Thank you, Astead Herndon, Annie Karni and Peter Baker.

Well, we have gotten the early returns so far in a highly anticipated congressional race down in Georgia. It`s the big politics right now. We`re going to get an update on that race when we come back here.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, we continue to watch the results on the special election down in Georgia sixth congressional district. And there`s another race there we`re watching tonight, the special election in South Carolina`s fifth congressional district. That race to replace Mick Mulvaney, of course, who became head of the OMB, Office of Management and Budget. That race pits Republican Ralph Norman against Democratic Archie Parnell. Norman, the Republican, is heavily favored there.

Well, Trump carried South Carolina`s fifth district last year by 19 points. It`s bigger for him.

But keep your eye on Georgia. Georgia is a real nail biter. We`ll be right back with the very latest from Georgia right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Now back to that special election results down there in Georgia, between Democrat Jon Ossoff, who`s 30-year-old newcomer and Republican Karen Handel, who`s run a number of times down there. The race, of course, has gained national attention as a referendum, if you will, on President Trump, who tweeted this morning, he`s very much in this. Democrat Jon Ossoff who wants to raise our taxes to the highest level and is weak on crime and security doesn`t even live in the district.

Well, later, Trump added, Karen Handel for Congress. She will fight for lower taxes, great healthcare, strong security -- a hard worker who will never give up. Vote today.

Well, Ossoff grew up in the sixth district but currently lives just outside the boundary. We hear about six miles and that issue flared up again today in the final hours of the race. Here it goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN HANDEL (R-GA), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: At the end of the day, it`s about the voters and the people who can come out and vote today. The people of the sixth district are going to be looking for someone who`s been part of this community for nearly 25 years.

JON OSSOFF (D-GA), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Folks here in Georgia`s sixth district care about how the representation is going to impact their daily lives. And, frankly, if this is best argument my opponents have against me, I`m feeling pretty good about the outcome tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now from Ossoff headquarters in Atlanta is Jason Johnson, politics editor for "The Root".

Jason, what do you make of this? I mean, he -- maybe that was too flippant on his part to say it doesn`t matter where you live, but that is the system we have, you live in your district, generally speaking. Your thoughts? How is it going to matter tonight?

JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT: Chris, I`ve got to be honest with you. The people I`ve talked to here, they really don`t care. He lives six miles out. He is living with a fiancee. She`s in medical school at Emory. This really -- every single person I`ve spent on to here, they`re not that excited about Handel. They`re not that excited about Ossoff.

This is a race where they`re talking about how they feel about Donald Trump. So, you know, the district issue on where he lives, it hasn`t mattered to anybody I talked to on the street.

MATTHEWS: So, you`re betting on Ossoff? Who are you betting on? I shouldn`t say that, I take that back.

JOHNSON: I`m betting on Karen.

MATTHEWS: OK.

JOHNSON: I think Handel is going to end up winning this. This is a plus nine Republican district. There was torrential rain today which always depresses turnout, and the highest early voting actually came from her county. I think she`s going to pull it out in a squeaker.

MATTHEWS: I like your thinking. Thank you. I like your guts, Jason Johnson at Jon Ossoff`s headquarters.

Let`s bring in MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki, a guy we always look to where things stand right now.

Steve, I don`t know if you`re as gutsy as Jason but he just called it for Handel. Your thoughts?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, let`s take a look. We`ve got some real votes here. They may be telling us something, maybe, maybe not. Let me take you through what we can -- what we know.

You put the headline on the screen here. Handel early with this lead over Ossoff.

Now, the key question is, where is this coming from? And when was the, were these votes cast? That`s what I want to take you through right now.

So, all those votes we`re showing you there, one county there, from Fulton County, Fulton County is the largest the three counties that are part of the district, almost half the votes are probably going to come out of Fulton County. So, this is the biggest county in the district. Now, what we`re showing you there on your screen, that`s basically the early vote from Fulton County.

Let me take you through a series of numbers here where that bottom line is, these are some ominous numbers, at least early for Jon Ossoff. Here`s the deal, if he wants to win the district, his target in Fulton County, he probably needs to get close to 50 percent of the vote in Fulton County to twin district, maybe a hair under that, 49.5, something like that, probably that is his target.

Here, what we just showed you in the early vote, it looks like he is coming in under that, at about 48.6 percent. So, that`s lower than he would like, and then the extra kick in this. It`s the early vote. The early vote was supposed to be more favorable for Jon Ossoff, all those Democrats you saw out there for the past couple of weeks, voting early, being organized, being motivated.

The idea here, at least in theory, was that Ossoff would be higher in the vote. That number would come down as the same day when that was factored in and he would want to land somewhere around 50. What we`re seeing is that in this early vote, he is landing at about 48.6.

I am not calling this by any stretch of the imagination. This is early. This is early vote. We haven`t seen the same day, but that`s the first indication we`re getting in the numbers here.

It is an ominous first indication for Jon Ossoff, but there`s a lot of suspense here still to come. No early vote -- no same day vote in right now. So, we`ll keep you posted. That`s what we had so far.

MATTHEWS: Three questions. How much is the weather affecting the election? Is it worse for the people who are Democrats or worse for the people who are Republicans? And who was winning coming into today, before today? The bad weather?

KORNACKI: Well, that`s the question -- so, what we`re seeing again, this is the early vote. So, you`re asking about before -- actually, I got to show the other screen. You`re asking about before today. What we`re getting here is before today, in Fulton County.

MATTHEWS: I see.

KORNACKI: Karen Handel ahead. And again, that`s a bit of a surprise because the expectation was Ossoff would probably want to come very close to winning Fulton overall, but that in the early vote, he would have an advantage. So, it`s a bit of a surprise to see this.

MATTHEWS: Thanks so much as always, Steve Kornacki. You know your stuff.

We`ll be following that race in Georgia throughout the night on MSNBC.

When we return, let me finish tonight with the legacy of last week`s shooting right here across the Potomac River. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the legacy of last week`s shooting across the Potomac River. I`m speaking about the shooter who arrived at that early morning practice of a congressional baseball team.

And while U.S. Congressman Steve Scalise remains in serious condition, it is clear to all that the horror could have been far worse that day were it not to brave action of Capitol Police officers, Crystal Griner and David Bailey. I have to say, I took personal pride in once being a member of the Capitol Police.

I remember the commitment of those officers and danger that comes with wearing a uniform and protects what I consider the country`s very symbol of represented democracy. I remember the officer told me one night how he would certainly take a bullet to defend it. I remember sitting one evening and in fact near the escalator to the Capitol that connects it to the underground subway that leads over to the Senate.

A friend of mine there, a building engineer, told me about the one liberal U.S. senator who made a point of always greeting the Capitol Police officers as he passed. His name was Robert Kennedy. Yes, even back then in the 1960s, there was a division between progressives and police.

And that`s why I like hearing about what Senator Kennedy did. He included cops among those he called his people. Isn`t it interesting that the man who was most identified back then with the concerns of minorities was also the one demonstrating the most regard for the cops?

Again, I was always proud to have served my time with the Capitol Police, but all the more so after what a couple of those great people did last week. They rose to the occasions, did their duty and that saved lives. That`s one of the several divisions we have today that it would be good to close, don`t you, between police and people that they should be serving.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END