Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 6/22/17 Senate GOP unveils Health Bill

Guests: David Avella, Ami Bera, Shannon Pettypiece, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Azi Paybarah

Show: HARDBALL Date: June 22, 2017 Guest: David Avella, Ami Bera, Shannon Pettypiece, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Azi Paybarah

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: For the Republican health care plan, now you see it. For President Trump`s White House tapes, now you don`t.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

And good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews here in New York tonight.

Well, it is finally here, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today unveiling that secretly crafted Republican plan to repeal and replace "Obama care." Also today, President Trump announcing that he did not secretly record conversations with James Comey.

For weeks, of course, the president has teased the possibility that those tapes did exist. His original tweet was read by as many a warning shot to the former FBI director, and Trump has repeatedly over the last few weeks refused to clarify. Now, though, he says he doesn`t have any tapes. We`re going to have much more on that in just a moment.

We begin, though, with the big news, the newest development on health care. And for President Trump, this was a campaign promise months in the making.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Real change begins with immediately, immediately repealing and replacing "Obama care"!

Don`t forget "Obama care." Thousands and thousands of pages, and in Congress, I think they said almost nobody even read it! And that`s why -- look, it was a disaster anyway, whether they read it or not.

We will repeal and replace the horror known as "Obama care"!


KORNACKI: For the Republican Party, though, that goal of dismantling President Obama`s signature achievement was years, seven years in the making.


JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Every day are as "Obama care" is being implemented, Americans are reminded of what happens when you have big legislation rammed through Congress with minimum support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`ll do everything I can to repeal and replace "Obama care"!


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We need to repeal and replace "Obama care" with a better system.


KORNACKI: Now, it appears that the bill introduced in the Senate today by Republicans may be more of a reworking of "Obama care," rather than a complete wholesale repeal and replacement, "Wall Street Journal" outlining what the bill does, saying, quote, "The plan operates like the 2010 Affordable Care Act in reverse. Instead of raising taxes to pay for expanded insurance coverage, it reduces coverage and cuts taxes."

So what exactly does the 142-page bill known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act actually propose to do? Well, it would phase out "Obama care`s" Medicaid expansion. Right now, that covers millions of low-income Americans. It would also include additional cuts to the Medicaid program. Those would be phased in more deeply in years to come.

Also, the bill would provide smaller subsidies for less generous plans, would repeal the individual mandate that currently forces healthy people to buy health care. And it would cut taxes for the wealthy. Also, it would defund Planned Parenthood for one year.

Now, almost immediately after the draft posted today, 43 disabled health care protesters were arrested outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They`re opposing the legislation.

And on the Senate floor, Democrats were just as vocal today.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The president said the Senate bill needed heart. The way this bill cuts health care is heartless. The president said the House bill was mean. The Senate bill may be meaner.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a continuation on the war on Medicaid.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: These cuts are blood money! People will die!


KORNACKI: From the Republican side so far, though, the response has been muted, and even in some cases, critical. In fact, Republican senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson came out against the bill in its current form. Here`s what some of them had to say.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I just didn`t run on "Obama care" lite.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is not enough just to pass a bill that has "Obama care" repeal in the title.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I`m not a yes for it. I need a lot more information.


KORNACKI: All right, for more now, I`m joined by Kasie Hunt, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent, Eugene Robinson, columnist with "The "Washington Post" and MSNBC political analyst, David Avella, Republican strategist and executive director of GOPAC, and Representative Ami Bera, a Democrat from California. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

Kasie Hunt, let me start with you with the news on this. Let me ask you what the bottom line question is to me. And we just heard Rand Paul there. He says he doesn`t like it right now. He says he`d like to get to yes. You`re hearing objections from conservatives on the Republican side in the Senate who are saying this doesn`t dismantle it enough. You`re hearing concerns from moderates in terms of those three Republican votes that would actually sink this thing.

Where is the biggest threat to this? Is it on the right, is it on the left?

KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Look, Steve, I think that the outlines of the bill that we saw today give you a sense that the Republican leadership, at least, believes there`s more of a threat right now from the right. And the fact that they`re out here already trying to push it farther to the right I think does not necessarily bode well for them getting to 50 votes.

To a certain extent, I think it`s a similar dynamic to what happened in the House, right? The conservatives seem to be more willing to kind of jump off the deep end and follow through on these threats than moderates who do want to try to govern, to try to retain their majority. It`s just a little bit of a different attitude.

But I think that there`s real risk and I think -- the people I`ve talked to up here today have said, like, Look, we don`t know whether or not there are going to be 50 votes for this at the end of the day. Shelley Moore Capito said, Look, if they push this farther, I`m going to have to fight back against this.

I do think, Steve, Rand Paul is perceived to be probably a hard no, potentially ungettable. I think the person on the other side, on the moderate side, that they would like to be able to let go here is Dean Heller, the senator from Nevada. He has the toughest Senate reelect coming up in 2018. If leaders were able to tell him, Hey, it`s fine, go vote no on this health care bill, I think that would be helpful for him. But it`s not clear that they`re going to be able to give him that pass if they do want to get to 50.

KORNACKI: Yes, that`s right, Dean Heller, the only Republican senator next year up in a state that Hillary Clinton won, Nevada, a blue state.

OK, David Avella, the conservative side of this then -- let me go to you on this, on that broader question of how Republicans could sell this to the American people. You heard Democrats taking to the floor one after the other to denounce this thing today. You didn`t have much of a full- throated endorsement from the Republican side.

Let me ask you the bottom line sort of talking point that Democrats are going to use here. We don`t have a CBO score on this Senate bill. We know on the House bill, though, which is similar to this -- on the House bill, the estimate was 14 million people currently covered, after a year of implementation under this Republican plan, would not be covered. Democrats are saying, Hey, Republicans are taking health insurance away from millions of people, and the CBO says that`s basically correct.

What would the Republican response to that be?

DAVID AVELLA, GOPAC EXECUTIVE DIR.: Steve, a senator saying, I`m not quite there yet is Senate speak for, I have an idea that wants to be considered. And never in the history of the U.S. Senate has a piece of legislation had all 100 senators sit down and write it. And so this is the beginning stage.

And Republicans are going to put ideas in here. But I`ll tell you (INAUDIBLE) equally important to put ideas in here, these nine or 11 Senate Democrats who sit in states that Donald Trump won because if Tuesday`s election is any lesson, it is more for the U.S. Senate than it is the House and that there are -- the Democrats don`t have enough progressives in states for them to be able to win reelection. And if they want to...


KORNACKI: David, you`re trying -- David, I get the tactic. You`re trying to put the pressure over on Democrats right now, and we will get to that. We`ll address the point you`re trying to make.

But I want you to get back to the question I asked because right now, when we get this question of health care, the polling that is available suggests the Republican plan that`s circulating in Congress, certainly the one that passed the House, is not popular with the American people.

We just have our new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll tonight. It shows Democrats opening up their widest advantage on the issue of health care since before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a 17-point advantage. Now, I`m asking you, Democrats on the House side have come after Republicans hard and said, You are forcing millions of Americans to give up, to surrender their health insurance with your bill. That is going to be the same case made against this Senate bill.

I`m asking you, what is the Republican response? Is it, Yes, millions will give up their coverage, but that`s a good thing? Is it, No, that number is wrong...

AVELLA: Steve...

KORNACKI: ... the CBO`s completely wrong? What`s the defense?

AVELLA: Let me hop in here. Millions of Americans are losing their health care right now! Are you watching the news reports? Indiana, "Obama care," out. Ohio, people losing their health care. Go state after state -- Iowa, out, "Obama care" out. People are losing their health care. People are losing their health care coverage right now!

We need to move to a system that gets rid of the absurd taxes that were put on the health care system. We need to bring more free market ideas in so that health care insurance companies come in and offer better plans that people actually want, get rid of these mandates that make people take coverage they don`t want. That`s where this bill starts.

When the final bill that passes the Senate -- is it going to have some tweaks, and are senators going to be able to put their ideas in? Absolutely. It`s called the legislative process, and today started that process!

KORNACKI: All right, Ami Bera, Democratic congressman, let me get you in here. You heard David Avella. OK, so it sounds like the Republican argument on this is, yes, the CBO says people are going to lose their coverage or they`ll give up their coverage under this Republican plan, but you know what? That plan is better than "Obama care." It`s not even going to exist. He`s making the death spiral argument. What do you say to that?

REP. AMI BERA (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I don`t think David`s ever been a doctor. I`m a doctor by training. And the Affordable Care Act actually has added 20 million people to the rolls of the insured. The CBO score for House bill says 23 million people are going to lose coverage, so it absolutely takes us backwards.

I don`t think David`s ever been a legislator, either. You know, this is about solving problems, coming together. So yes, I`d love to see Democrats and Republicans come together and address the cost of health care because at the end of the day, it`s about those kitchen table conversations. You know, David`s a political operative. This is political suicide for those Republicans.

KORNACKI: What is -- Congressman, let me just ask you, though. What should the strategy be here for Democrats in the Senate? Because it looks like the battle on the Senate floor is going to start with these amendments. Like, this issue of Planned Parenthood, for instance. They`ve put the defunding, the one-year defending in there. It sounds like Susan Collins may introduce an amendment that says, Let`s strip that out. Should Democrats vote for that amendment? Should they boycott the process? How should they handle it?

BERA: Well, look, if you have a chance to put Planned Parenthood funding back in there, go for it. Put it back in there because it`s a vital health care provider for women and low-income individuals. If you have a chance to add coverage to Medicaid, put that back in there. I think Democrats should play an active role in here. I don`t think any of these Republicans are going to take any of the Democratic amendments, though.

KORNACKI: All right, Eugene Robinson, let me -- with this politics we`re talking about here in terms of selling this to the American people, I mentioned that poll, new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, Democrats with a 17-point advantage on this issue.

I took a look at the long sort of 20-year history here of polling on this, and it`s striking. In the `90s, Democrats, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton tried to do health care. Democrats` advantage on the issue shank as they tried to push that through. Then it exploded again. Obama touched it. It shrank again.

Now Republicans are touching it, and suddenly, Republicans are falling apart on the issue here. It just seems like there`s a lesson here that if you tinker with health care at all, the politics are going to be good for you.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, if you own the health care issue, you`re in danger. It`s bad for you. And the basic reason is that when you own the health care issue, when you`ve put your plan in place, you get blamed for everything that goes wrong with everybody`s health insurance.

So you know, I have employer health insurance. I wasn`t affected by the Affordable Care Act. I probably won`t be affected by this abomination. But my premiums will go up because that`s what premiums do. They just go up for various reasons. And so I`ll be angry. And who do I train my anger at? I train it at the Republicans.

I mean, you know, if this were to pass, if this actually passes -- and I`m not sure that it will -- Democrats have a pretty easy target. You know, repeal and replace. Repeal the American Health Care Act, or whatever the Senate is calling it, and replace it with something that was working for 23 million people who are not going to have insurance in a decade.

KORNACKI: I mean, David, is there a political argument here from the Republican standpoint that it would be better if this doesn`t get through the Senate or it would be better if it doesn`t -- it has to go through the House again. They got to reconcile. There`s that whole how a bill becomes a law thing. But is there an argument there, just given how fraught the politics are on this, that Republicans are better off say, We tried. We couldn`t get it through. Hey, the Democrats fear-mongered, whatever, and try to move on to something else?

AVELLA: Well, first, the congressman and I have never met, so I won`t take his attacks personally. But what I will also say is, is that I don`t live in a bubble of progressives that has them continuing to not want to address what real issues impact the last couple years in the health care system.

We have a terrible doctor shortage in this country. We`re not doing the innovation that we need. We`re not up to speed on that. We`re not dealing with junk lawsuits, all things that Congress during the time that the congressman and his team had the majority, did nothing to fix. And so that`s the biggest problem for Republicans.

If we do nothing, if Republicans pass a bill that moves us more to giving people more choices, keeps taxes lower, and gets more people becoming doctors, gets more people having access, we will be rewarded, and all the dark clouds that everybody wants to say, Oh, raining down, and politics is going to be terrible in 2018 -- when a system gets puts in place that makes the health care system better, Republicans will be more victorious in 2018.

KORNACKI: All right, you`re making the case, better to do than to do nothing. I wonder if a lot of Republicans looking at that special election in Georgia -- if they`re making that same political calculation. We will see.

Want to thank Kasie Hunt, Eugene Robinson, David Avella and Congressman Ami Bera. Thank you all for joining us.

We are going to take a quick break. But coming up, boy, we have a jam- packed show tonight. We have much more from that brand-new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll I`ve been telling you about, lots of surprising new numbers about President Trump, his standing right now, this as his party pushes ahead with their health care effort, something the public is telling us in this poll right now they don`t like.

Plus, looks like we will not be getting any tapes of President Trump and his conversations with the now former FBI director, James Comey. The president certainly hinted that there were takes last month. The was promised an announcement this week. Today, the president himself said, No, there are no tapes.

And there is a real debate brewing among Democrats. The question here -- is it time for Nancy Pelosi, their leader in the House, to go? We will get into that.

And finally, the Trump show was back on full display last night out in Iowa, for the president a chance to feed his base some red meat. And they are still eating it up.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: All right, well, I said we got -- I got to get back to the home screen here. I don`t want to give away all the goods. I got caught by surprise here. That was a quicker break.

We`re going to start at the beginning. I said we had a brand-new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll about Trump, about the state (ph) of pause (ph). We want to take you through some surprising findings.

Here`s the bottom line for Donald Trump, what jumped out at me looking at this poll, and I want to take you through it. Couple ways to interpret it. So start with this, the bottom line number. What`s Donald Trump`s approval rating right now? Well, 40 percent.

Now, historically, you`d say, My God, a president, June, his first year in office, all the way down to 40 percent. That is a disaster. That`s historically how we would look at this.

The question, though, may be -- may be a little more complicated with Trump. Here`s what I mean. Take this in mind here. 40 percent approval rating right now. Take a look back during the campaign. This was election day last year. This was Gallup, favorable, unfavorable view of Donald Trump. Do you remember this? His favorable was 35 percent on election day. Just 35 percent of voters had a favorable view of him. We were looking at that number, and we were saying, Disaster, toxic, landslide material, cannot win the White House with that number, with a 35 percent favorable number.

I don`t need to tell you, Donald Trump won the White House, just barely, but he did win the White House. So is there maybe more support beneath the numbers than it appears at 40 percent? That`s one thing to keep in mind.

There`s also this. During the campaign, remember Donald Trump`s support, at its worst, he hit 36 percent in the summer of 2016. At his best in the polls, he hit 43 percent. That was the range, 36 percent to 43 percent. Of course, he got 46 on election day.

Well, look at the range so far of his approval rating as president. Does this look familiar? This is basically the same graph! His low point is 35. His high point is 45. His approval rating as president is operating in the exact same range that Donald Trump was as a candidate last year, as his support as a candidate was. It`s like we never took a break from the election.

So we look at these numbers with Trump, and you got to think this is something the president himself might be thinking about when people tell him, Wow, your approval rating is so low. You got to make changes. He might be thinking back to the campaign, and frankly, some Republicans who doubted him during the campaign might be thinking back to the campaign and saying, We were seeing the same numbers then when we thought it was a disaster, but he ended up winning. It complicates how to think about these Trump poll numbers.

A couple of other things we can quickly show you. This question of, Is he competent, is he incompetent? Well, 45 percent say competent, 55 percent incompetent. Obviously, you don`t want that number if you`re president, but it is worth noting Barack Obama, the number actually wasn`t that much different, speaking to a really deep division in this country. It was 50 percent competent, 50 percent incompetent when NBC News surveyed this question a few years ago.

And then you ask people this question. All of these problems, all this noise you`re hearing about Trump -- chaos, crisis -- what does it reflect? 42 percent say it reflects the establishment fighting him. And 50 percent say it reflects that lack of experience and competence. And you ask people, What is the establishment? Who is the establishment? There`s two things they tell you, traditional politicians and the news media.

So you can see there, there are a lot of people -- there`s certainly a lot of people with a very negative view of Trump. There`s a lot of people, though, who take all of this noise you`re hearing about, crisis and chaos, and say, Hey, that is the sound of a guy trying to change the system. That`s how that 42 percent at least seem to be interpreting it.

Anyway, some of the numbers we wanted to highlight for you. We will be right back with the president`s big admission today. Guess what? There are no tapes.

Back after this.


KORNACKI: All right, Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump today ended the suspense that he himself generated about possible tapes of private conversations with now former FBI Director James Comey, Trump tweeting out: "With all of the recently recorded electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking, and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are `tapes` or recordings of my conversations with James Comey. But I did not make and do not have any such recordings."

The president first suggested the possibility of tapes in a tweet shortly after he fired James Comey -- quote -- "James Comey better hope that there are no `tapes` of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."

Well, if that was a threat of some sort, it may not have worked. In his testimony earlier this month, the fired FBI director told senators, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."

The next day, President Trump again addressed the possibility of tapes. Take a look.


QUESTION: Do times exist of your conversations with him?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will tell you about that maybe some time in the very near future.

QUESTION: You seem to be hinting that that there are recordings of those conversations?

TRUMP: I`m not hinting anything. I will tell you about it over a very short period of time.

QUESTION: When will you tell us about the...


TRUMP: Over a fairly short period of time.


KORNACKI: All right, again, the news tonight, President Trump says there are no tapes.

So why the weeks-long tease?

NBC News intelligence and national security reporter Ken Dilanian joins me. Shannon Pettypiece is a White House reporter for Bloomberg News, and Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent and MSNBC national security analyst.

Well, Shannon, let me start with you.

Do we have any sense here from the White House? Donald Trump puts this out on Twitter. It`s before James Comey has that much anticipated testimony. Was this a strategic calculation on Donald Trump`s part? Was he trying to deliver some kind of message to Comey to affect his testimony, or was this just Trump popping off and then forgetting about it 10 seconds later?

Where did this come from?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, I think almost every tweet, except for the ones that he doesn`t write himself, is just Trump being Trump and the way he expresses himself.

One of my colleagues at Bloomberg News, Tim O`Brien, he had been threatened by Trump before with tapes, saying there are tapes of my conversation. And, of course, when it got to the time, when the case was in court, there were no tapes.

One of my colleagues Jennifer Jacobs, she talked to someone familiar with this situation who basically said that it was Trump trying to send a message directly to Comey to be honest before you start leaking things. Be careful what you say.

So, whether it was a threat or intimidation, I don`t know. But it was certainly a way to send a message to Comey, rattle him a little bit, and maybe shake him up a little bit.

KORNACKI: Do you have a sense ,just talking to folks at the White House, do they think it achieved that goal? Do they think that Comey got the message, that it affected his testimony somehow?

PETTYPIECE: I think there`s a sense that it did, that it was effective.

Now, maybe that`s just them trying to defend the president and this sort of shooting-from-the-hip-type tweet, but, yes, I think they feel like it did, because they feel like the testimony was a victory for him, the fact that he said he wasn`t under investigation, and he didn`t really drop any big land mines that they weren`t expecting.

KORNACKI: And, Ken, do we have a sense? James Comey, folks around James Comey in his orbit, do we have a sense of how he`s interpreted all this? We heard him say he hopes there are tapes, but what he thinks Trump maybe was trying to achieve?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Steve, remember, he also said that Trump`s tweet about the tapes led him to think about the memos that he wrote and hand them over to his friend at Columbia University, who then leaked them to the news media.

And then so we had weeks of stories, where it maybe only would have been one day, about these conversations and the pressure that Trump allegedly put on Comey and how he made him feel inappropriate.

So, in that sense, I can`t imagine the White House thinks that was a good thing. But just in general, like, the way I look at this is, I think Newt Gingrich said it well today. He said to the AP that Trump was just trying to bluff Comey. And he has a history of doing this.

As the AP pointed out, he said he had dramatic revelations about Barack Obama`s birthplace back in 2011, and there was nothing there. During campaign, he said he had a secret plan to expedite victory over ISIS. And in office, there is no such secret plan. He is basically following Barack Obama`s plan.

So, this is Donald Trump in a nutshell. The thing is, you can do this as a real estate tycoon in New York, but it is really difficult to do as a politician, because you have to go back to the same people you bluffed, who have called your bluff, and you have to deal with them again.

And particularly foreign leaders are watching and wondering whether they can take the president of the United States at his word. And, today, we learned they can`t.

KORNACKI: Well, and, of course, the backdrop for all this, the subtext, whatever you want to call it, is that investigation of Russia, of meddling in the 2016 election, and the investigation now playing out today.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said the Democrats and the media have become obsessed with this.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: The media and the Democrats have this Russian concussion. And they have lost like muscle memory to be able to function in any other way to talk about anything he`s doing.

But that doesn`t mean the people don`t see it. People aren`t talking about Russia. You have got the Democrats talking about Russia. You have got Donald Trump and the Republicans talking about America.


KORNACKI: But Donald Trump himself is talking about Russia today, talking about it quite a bit this morning, a series of tweets.

He wrote -- quote -- "If Russia was working so hard in the 2016 election, it all took place during the Obama administration. Why didn`t they stop him? Why did the Democratic National Committee turn down the Department of Homeland Security offer to protect against hacks long prior to election? It`s all a big Dem hoax. Why did the DNC refuse to turn over its server to the FBI and still hasn`t? It is all a big Dem scam, an excuse for losing the election."

And, yesterday, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said the Russia issue has become a distraction for his party. He said his constituents in Connecticut don`t talk to him about Russia, that they care about the economy.

Here`s what he said.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: The fact that we have spent so much time talking about Russia has been a distraction from what should be the clear contrast between Democrats and the Trump agenda, which is on economics.


KORNACKI: All right, a couple things to talk about here.

Clint, let me start with you on some of the content of these tweets from Trump today. So, he is raising -- one of the questions he raises here, one of the charges he`s making is, hey, this happened. This hacking, this interference in the election, this played out when Barack Obama was president of the United States.

I do know there`s been plenty of reporting from Hillary Clinton`s orbit that she was a little frustrated during the campaign. And certainly she found out after the campaign the extent of the knowledge that existed in the administration and feeling and wondering a little bit about, why didn`t, publicly, the administration say more? Why didn`t they do more?

Do we know the reasoning there?

CLINT WATTS, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think part of it actually comes down to Trump.

If you remember, Trump was parroting the secondary line of effort of the Russians, which was, the election is rigged, the election it is full of voter fraud. And they were actually doing hacks of databases in 21 different states, which creates the illusion that they did break in or there was the potential of voter fraud.

So if the Obama administration comes out publicly and says, hey, we have seen all this hacking going on, it actually confirms what Trump was saying during the campaign. So, Trump is playing it both ways.

I think the other thing we need to look at is, there was a two-part failure really in terms of intelligence. One was the intelligence community failed to anticipate that what they were seeing overseas -- Russia had meddled in other Eastern European elections, we saw them around Brexit -- that it would come to our shores.

The next part was, hacking drove influence. So we were investigating these hacks as one-off breaches. But no one was putting together the bigger piece until it was much too late, that the hacked information was used to drive and influence the election and the campaign.

I don`t think they knew that was happening until it was too late. And then how are going to you intervene against that without also meddling in the election or making it look like you`re tipping it one way or the other?

KORNACKI: Yes, no, an interesting dilemma here that would put the administration in.

Shannon, let me just pose to you the other question that this raises to me, just watching Trump do this today again, trying to figure out, is there a strategy to these tweets or is it just Trump being Trump?

That quote from Chris Murphy, though, did stick with me. And I have heard some Democrats to starting to raise that question in the wake of the Georgia special election. Is this Russian issue something that really animates our base, that our base is following every little development in?

But in terms of reaching out to new voters, voters who weren`t there for Hillary Clinton last November, maybe it is not Russia. Maybe it is something else.

Is their strategy -- is this like a Brer Rabbit thing from Donald Trump putting Russia out there on Twitter, trying to get Democrats to keep talking about it? Is there any strategy to that, do you think?

PETTYPIECE: There could be.

I do know that this Russia investigation does really get to Trump. It is really a weight on him, something that really grinds at him, and the for feeling that there`s this cloud hanging over his presidency that he is only there because of Russia.

So I can that this is something that does bother him, his people close to him have told me. But also everyone keeps saying, oh, well, it is distracting them from talking about the domestic agenda. Well, it is not like there is amazing, fantastic domestic agenda that is happening that no one is talking about.

Do you want to talk about the health care bill and then the CBO score, with millions of people losing coverage, the tax plan that they`re not any closer to today than they were months ago? So maybe it is distracting from bigger things like health care.

KORNACKI: All right, we actually are getting word here that on the South Lawn of the White House right now, they`re holding the annual Congressional Picnic. Members of Congress, both parties, go to spend an evening there.

Here`s the president speaking. Let`s just listen in for a second.


TRUMP: ... gotten to know many of you over the last weeks and months and developed many friendships with politicians. Can you believe it?


TRUMP: And some really great people, I have to say, mostly, mostly.


TRUMP: A couple of bad ones, but that`s OK.


TRUMP: But we`re honored to host you at the White House and privileged to count you as our very close friends, so many.

Tonight, our thoughts and prayers remain with one friend who is not here, a man that we have all come to know and respect and to love, Congressman Steve Scalise.


TRUMP: The outpouring of support for Steve and his family has been truly inspiring. We are so touched that joining us here this evening are Steve and Jennifer`s children, Harrison and Madison.


TRUMP: Beautiful children. In fact, we just gave them a tour of the White House. Just gave them a beautiful tour of the White House. They got the A tour. You know, sometimes we give the B, the C, the D and the F tours, just like, here it is, let`s get out of here.


TRUMP: We gave them the A tour.

And I want them to know that the whole country is praying for their courageous dad and all of us are praying for them. It`s been amazing. The recovery is going now well. For two days, they were saying it`s really tough. But, today, I can report things are looking very, very good. So we`re very happy about that.


TRUMP: I also want to give a very special thanks to Special Agents Griner and Bailey of the Capitol Police.


TRUMP: Lucky they were there, for their lifesaving actions and all of the members of Congress, a lot of brave people in Congress who acted in those moments of danger and protected each other.

They cared for the wounded. They shielded the vulnerable. And they really did put their own safety aside. So, I want to thank -- some of those people were really very, very brave. We would have never really found out about them, except we got to see them in action. So now we know for sure. But we want to thank them. There was a great deal of bravery on behalf of everybody.


TRUMP: And, you know, agents Griner and Bailey, they came rushing in from the outfield, somebody with a rifle, and they had handguns, and that`s not a good -- that`s not a good deal.

But one of those bullets struck at the right place. And that was really -- that was really incredible, or that would have been a far worse morning, believe me. So, we want to thank them.

America is also filled with pride over the display of character and sportsmanship at the Congressional Baseball Game. I heard it was very special. I wanted to go there, but our folks from Secret Service says, maybe we better take a pass.

I wanted to be there so badly, you have no idea. But I spent a little time at the hospital instead with Steve.


TRUMP: It`s our hope...

KORNACKI: That is the president there.

Back here in New York.

That`s President Trump. That`s the South Lawn of the White House, the annual Congressional Picnic, members of both parties there, members of both parties from Congress, for an evening at the White House, a traditional event.

While that event continues in Washington, we will now turn our attention to the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Their leader, Nancy Pelosi, she is the minority leader. And she is feeling some heat today, as Democrats play the blame game in the wake of their defeat in Tuesday`s special election Georgia. After losing four close special elections this year, there are Democrats who are calling on Pelosi, who has been her party`s leader in the House for 15 years now, to step aside.


REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: You see these commercials that tie these candidates to Leader Pelosi week in and week out in the last several months. You have got to beat the Republican and you have got carry this very toxic Democratic brand on your back, too. That`s a tough thing to ask a candidate running for Congress.

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Nancy Pelosi was a great speaker. She`s a great leader. But her time has come and gone. Yes, she is a great fund- raiser, but if the money that we`re raising with her -- through her leadership is not helping us win elections, then we have to have this difficult conversation now.

The rationale for getting new leadership is, we are losing. And we have been losing since 2010.


KORNACKI: And one of the points these Democrats make is that Pelosi was featured in nearly every attack ad that was run against Democrat Jon Ossoff in that Georgia special election.

The San Francisco congresswoman is portrayed as the embodiment of liberal values, a tactic used by Republicans in races since 2010 to fire up their base.

Today, Pelosi punched back at her critics.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I feel very confident in the support that I have in my caucus.

We`re paving a way for a new generation of leadership. And, again, I respect any opinion that my members have. But my decision about how long I stay is not up to them.

But I think I`m worth the trouble, quite frankly. I love the fray.


KORNACKI: All right, for more, I`m joined by Harold Ford Jr., former Democratic congressman from Tennessee, an MSNBC political analyst.

And we should note, Nancy Pelosi, 2002, her first race for House Democratic leader, you did oppose her in that race. So, some history with her.

And I actually -- I covered the House a couple years after that, 2005, 2006. Here`s the thing I noticed about Nancy Pelosi. She insulated herself in a way I have not seen frequently in congressional leaders from potential intraparty challenges. If you were aligned with somebody she thought was her enemy, she made sure you didn`t climb any of the leadership rungs.

She kept Steny Hoyer`s people out. She kept Hoyer at arm`s distance. I just hear her there say she wants to pave the way for new leaders. But it seems part of this story is Nancy Pelosi has kept new leaders for her own survival. And maybe it`s a smart move. But she has kept new leaders from emerging in some cases.

HAROLD FORD, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No one questions her commitment. No one questions any of that leadership team`s commitment to winning, to passing legislation and enacting policies that help a majority of Americans.

The problem is, they seem incapable of winning enough elections in order to do that. I think Kathleen Rice said it very well in some questioning this morning on "Morning Joe" with Sam Stein. The record speaks for itself.

If you were in the actual real world, in the business world, even if we really liked you and said you had done a great job, you have to find ways in which to move people to positions they can perform better in.

This is nothing personal against Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Hoyer, any of them. But the reality is what Tim Ryan said. Ms Pelosi is featured in all of these ads, in many of these ads that these Democrats are running in these tough congressional districts.


KORNACKI: You`re from Tennessee. You`re from a red state.

What does that communicate to voters? When there`s Nancy Pelosi and they say Nancy Pelosi and her values, what does that say to you?

FORD: I`m not smart enough. We could get into it. But I think one thing we do know, it translates into a loss in a lot of ways.

Now, to your point about her insulating herself, if all of that was resulting in victories, in legislation being passed on infrastructure on taxes and health care in favor of the things that we Democrats want, it is hard to quarrel with.

But when that is not happening, I think you to have to be willing to have the uncomfortable conversations that need to take place now. And the reality is, Ms. Pelosi was as toxic among Republicans in Georgia in that district as Mr. Trump was amongst Democrats.

The difference is, more Republicans came out and voted against Jon Ossoff and presumably what Ms. Pelosi represented. Now, I hate that that`s the fact and that is the reality. But we can`t run away from it and pretend that it doesn`t exist.

Now, the real losers are not members of Congress. And the only thing I find disturbing about what Ms. Pelosi said, she serves certainly at the will of these members of Congress, but these members of Congress represent people all across this country, who are hoping and believing and praying that these members of Congress can do the very best job on their behalf and the country`s behalf.

And when you handicap Democrats` ability to do their job because they can`t win the majority, you have got to think long and hard about what that means. And that`s the problem they`re facing. And I hope they come to some decision more quickly, because if we go into next year when you have this challenge --


KORNACKI: Let me just ask you very quickly here, she was opposed by Tim Ryan at the start of this most recent Congress. She won -- she won in a landslide. He was not close to her.

Is she still leader realistically speaking with that kind of endorsement? She`s going to survive this, isn`t she?

FORD: It sounds like according to Ms. Pelosi`s numbers, she has the support of the caucus. But that could change and that caucus needs to think long and hard tonight, are you loyal to Ms. Pelosi or are you loyal to your constituents and the values and the policies and the things they`re looking for you to do?

And, unfortunately, you`ve got to choose one or the other. And if you choose Ms. Pelosi, then, we`re going to be put probably put ourselves in a disadvantage heading into next year`s election cycle. Now, if Democrats aside, we don`t want to compete in the south and parts of the Midwest and parts of out West and Northwest, fair enough and we should sit down and do the math and determine, can we win enough seats to gain a majority or just states we want to play in?

I don`t think you can. I don`t know where that math, how you reach 218. And if you can`t, you have to figure out how you can compete in those states that allow you to win a majority. And up to this point, it doesn`t appear that this leadership team can do that. And it`s the only point I think some in the Congress are making.

KORNACKI: Look, it`s a fascinating conversation here. There are a lot of issues.


KORNACKI: Fifteen years, it`s rare to see a leader last for 15 years. She`s been in the minority. She`s been speaker. She`s back, 15 years is a long time.

FORD: Look, your numbers earlier, I`m looking at the 55, the 62 and all these things with Trump, there`s something happening in the political body and just a normal way we`re looking at this. I thought your analysis earlier is one of the best things you`ve done. Your analysis all the time is good with numbers.

But those numbers are going back to the campaign, Democrats in that caucus should take a long hard look at that because if we couldn`t translate that into a victory in Georgia, or any of these places, we`re not going to win a majority. These are states that we have to win to win a majority.



KORNACKI: On that point, former Congressman Harold Ford, thanks for stopping by.

Quick break here, up next, President Trump put on quite a show last night out in Iowa. Is he overpromising and under-delivering? Does his base care?

That is ahead with the roundtable. You`re watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have phony witch hunts going against me. They have everything going. And do you know what? All we do is win, win, win.

We won last night. I can`t believe it. They say what is going on? What is going on?


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump last night, thumbing his nose at critics, a campaign style rally out in Iowa. As "The New York Times" described it, the rally served as a venting session for a pent-up president who has stewed and brooded from inside the, well, they really wrote this one up, a gilded cage of the White House. An epic version of the fact challenged, meandering and even for his detractors, mesmerizing speeches he gave during his upstart presidential campaign.

I wish I could write like that.

Well, he touched on many familiar themes. Trump unveiled a modification to his proposed border wall with Mexico which he says will offset the cost of construction. This is what he had to say.


TRUMP: We`re thinking of something that`s unique. We`re talking about the southern border. Lots of sun, lots of heat. We`re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall, so it creates energy and pays for itself.

And this way, Mexico will have to pay much less money. And that`s good, right?

The higher it goes, the more valuable it is, its like. Pretty good imagination, right? Good. My idea.


KORNACKI: The president also had his fair share of unscripted moments in talking about his billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as well as his economic adviser Gary Cohn. Trump told the audience he wouldn`t want a poor person running the economy.


TRUMP: Somebody said why did you appoint a rich person to be in charge of the economy?

I said because that`s the kind of thinking we want. And I love all people, rich or poor. But in those particular positions, I just don`t want a poor person. Does that make sense?


KORNACKI: And I`m joined now by the roundtable. Nick Confessore, a political reporter with "The New York Times", Caitlin Huey-Burns is reporter with "Real Clear Politics", and Azi Paybarah is a reporter with "Politico".

Caitlin, that clip we just played at the end, I know that got a little bit -- I wouldn`t want a poor person running the economy. It seems like that`s the essence of Trump right there, because if you want to be outraged by that, I heard so many people take that quote, my God, a president saying this, it`s terrible. And it seems like half the country feels that way when they hear it and then the other half of the country says, no, I kind of get what he means. It`s not as -- you know, you hear what you want to hear with them.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Exactly. I was going to say, this is the blot test presidency for sure.

What I think he was alluding to there was that he has taken a lot of criticism for filling his cabinet with swamp-like characters, right? People who were of Goldman Sachs. Of course, he ran -- criticized Ted Cruz very heavily for his wife`s connections and that sort of thing. He is kind of defending these choices.

And you do talk to his supporters and they don`t really mind. They think that his cabinet is filled with people who will do a good job. So that message is resonating with his base of support.

KORNACKI: And, Nick, that`s the thing I`m always wondering about because he -- there`s so much criticism and mockery of him for -- he said drain the swamp in the campaign and then there`s lobbyists and there`s Goldman Sachs and there`s Wall Street and there`s Jared Kushner`s business and I could go on and on. And they say, this isn`t draining the swamp.

But I feel like what his supporters, people who voted for him, take as draining the swamp is the noise from the media, the noise from the critics. There`s never been this much outrage generated on a daily basis by a president that I can -- probably in history. His critics will say it is entirely justified, but I wonder if the volume of that criticism translates to his voters as, hey, yes, we sent that guy there. He must be doing something.

NICK CONFESSORE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think you`re right. Look, first of all, if he had put a poor person in charge of economy, I think his policy proposals would be a lot different on Medicaid.

But more importantly, look, I think the things that for a normal president would be a struggling problem or evidence of a struggle are to his supporters` evidence of his success and that is what is so different about this presidency. When he gets attacked by the media, when people are outraged by him, when he is having problems in Washington, his supporters look at that and say this is why I voted for him.

And I think people can`t quite get their heads around that conventionally, because a guy at 33 percent or 40 percent is not conventionally doing well.

KORNACKI: I mean, that`s the big picture question I`m asking myself constantly and I`m trying to figure out. I mean, during the campaign, he put up all sorts of numbers that we said you can`t be a candidate for president and have a 35 percent favorable rating and win. And then he won.

And, Azi, it sort of it becomes the same conversation for his presidency. You can`t go through your first six, seven months with Republicans controlling the House, Republicans controlling the Senate. You`ve got the White House. You don`t have anything to show for it.

You can`t do that and tell your supporters you`re delivering. But that poll I showed you at the top, not a majority, but more than 40 percent of the country reads his lack of accomplishments right now as a sign that the system is fighting him.

AZI PAYBARAH, POLITICO: Right. They see him as going in there to break the system. Not to make it better. And every time he comes up with an obstacle, every time he comes up short, every time a court intervenes and says what you said on Twitter or at a campaign rally disqualifies your executive order and underlies your policy proposals, he points a finger back at them and says: they`re the problem.

Nobody sent Donald Trump to Washington to make Washington somehow more functional place. They went -- they sent him there to literally break it apart and build it from scratch. And every time he fights, every time he gets to a scandal, it`s validation for the reasons why they voted for him.

KORNACKI: Look, it`s just a fascinating discussion -- we got to do a quick break here. But it`s a fascinating discussion from my standpoint. I know a lot of people say, oh, you`re trying to understand him. Maybe you`re trying to support Trump, or anything.

I`m just trying to understand I think what binds people to Donald Trump because I think it is different than we`ve seen with any major political figure, certainly with any president. I think it is worth trying to grapple with and trying to understand.

Still ahead, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACK: All right. Well, take a look at this. More from our NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll fresh out tonight. Look at this -- Democrats have an 8-point lead right now over Republicans over the generic House ballot, asking who would you vote for for Congress next year? The last time the Democrats had an advantage that big, eight points, you`ve got to go back to October 2013. Of course, that was the government shut down.

Remember, though, a year after that Republicans won big in the midterms, their highest number of seats in the House since World War II.

So take these things worth a grain of salt. We`ll back after this.


KORNACKI: Well, his signature achievement is in the news and former President Barack Obama reacted today to that new Senate Republican health care bill saying on Facebook: Small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

That`s Barack Obama.

When we come back, HARDBALL roundtable is here with three things you might not know.


KORNACKI: All right. Back with HARDBALL roundtable.

Nick, tell me something I don`t know.

CONFESSORE: All right. A debate this week if Democrats need some new blood in the House. I run the numbers. No member of the GOP leadership in the house qualifies for a senior discount at the movies. Every member of the Democratic leadership does. Average age is 71.

KORNACKI: You`re saying they`re elderly.


HUEY-BURNS: Perfect.

Iowa Republican Party chair going after Ben Sass, Republican, I think it exposes the divide that exists between Republicans in Washington and outside the states. Talking to Republican chairs outside, they`re loving Trump.

KORNACKI: All right. Azi?

PAYBARAH: Solar panel walls that Donald Trump is talking about? One of the people behind it is Bruce Blakeman ran for Senate, for Congress, once ran for mayor with an ad featuring a talking duck.

KORNACKI: There it is. Azi gets the obscure New York political reference in. I love them. I can`t get enough of them.

Thank you, Nick, Caitlin, Azi.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.