Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 7/25/2017 Trump Cabinet Growing Uneasy

Guests: Sheldon Whitehouse, Cheri Bustos, Susan Page, Joaquin Castro, Ginger Gibson, Jonathan Swan, Geoff Bennett

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 25, 2017 Guest: Sheldon Whitehouse, Cheri Bustos, Susan Page, Joaquin Castro, Ginger Gibson, Jonathan Swan, Geoff Bennett

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Pressure Cooker.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Late today, standing in the Rose Garden, Donald Trump gave us a look inside his mind. He views himself as cheated by Jeff Sessions, betrayed by the man he entrusted to be his attorney general. He wanted Senator Jeff Sessions to protect him, as any attorney should, to ward off legal threats, to go on the attack when Trump, his client, is threatened, to defend the man who gave him his grand position of U.S. attorney general.

What did Sessions do wrong? In the eyes of Donald Trump, he gave a shield and sword to a man who owes no such loyalty. Worse than that, worse than not protecting Trump, Sessions gave up his ability to protect him. He recused himself from that ability. He let someone else, someone with no loyalty or history with Donald Trump, decide Donald Trump`s fate.

And what he did was go out and name a special prosecutor to look for every bit of dirt he can find on Donald Trump, perhaps enough to bring Donald Trump down altogether.

President Trump continued attacking his attorney general today, leaving Jeff Sessions`s future employment an open question. This morning, the president tweeted, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton`s crimes -- where are e-mails and DC (sic) server -- and intel leakers."

At a news conference this afternoon with the Lebanese prime minister, President Trump called Sessions`s decision to recuse himself bad for the presidency. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: I`m wondering if you would talk to us a little about whether you`ve lost confidence in Jeff Sessions, whether you want him to resign on his own, whether you`re prepared to fire him if he doesn`t, and why you`re sort of letting him twist in the wind, rather than just making the call for him? Thank you.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don`t think I am doing that, but I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office. And if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have quite simply picked somebody else.

I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies, which are leaking like rarely have they ever leaked before, at a very important level. I told you before, I`m very disappointed with the attorney general. But we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Time will tell. A number of Republican senators voiced support for Sessions, however, today. But according to Axios, President Trump recently called a long-time political associate and asked him out of the blue, What would happen if I fired Sessions?

The president`s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, likened the strained relationship between Trump and Sessions to the tensions that lead to divorce. According to NBC`s Peter Alexander, Scaramucci said they need to either get together or separate.

I`m joined right now by "The Washington Post`s" Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, and "USA Today`s" Susan Page.

Let`s start, Robert, with your reporting and then Ashley`s on why is Trump doing this? Why doesn`t he just lop the guy`s head off? If he wants to fire him, why doesn`t he fire him?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... a technical reason?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there`s a political reason at the top of my notebook, Chris, talking to people inside and outside of the West Wing today. They say the president is reluctant to fire another top law enforcement official after he went after former FBI director James Comey. Because of these ongoing probes, he`d rather see the attorney general just quit.

MATTHEWS: Well, isn`t just quitting begin to look a little thin in difference from being fired when you`re publicly humiliated? I counted four times today he said "disappointed." He`s using every medium of transmission, from tweeting to press conferences to word of mouth to let the guy know, I want you out of here.

COSTA: It`s entirely right. The lines are being blurred. Plus, what`s complicating this situation for the Trump White House is the attorney general, as much as he does value a rapport with the president, a rapport that`s disintegrated, he sees his job at the Justice Department as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream going after the hard-line immigration and law enforcement policies that`s he`s always championed.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, he`s told him basically -- it seems kind of cruel. He said, Go out there and fire, basically, a bunch of your leakers. Fire your own loyalists to show your loyalty to me, when we all get the sense from what Trump says his original sin, if you make it sort of religious about it -- the original sin was recusing himself, taking himself away from a position where he could protect Trump from a special prosecutor.

ASHLEY PARKER, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That`s exactly right. He blames Sessions`s original recusal for two things. Number one, the president is a combatant. He likes people who fight. So he inherently just emotionally on a gut level does not like that instead of fighting, Sessions recused himself with no heads-up.

But more importantly, he also believes that that initial step is what set in motion the process that led to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now causing tremendous headaches for the president and his family.

MATTHEWS: Susan, his understanding of the role of the attorney generalship -- can you square that what most people think an attorney general should be today? Man or woman since at least Janet Reno, they`re seen as really the country`s attorney general, not the president`s personal lawyer.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": That`s right. There have been presidents who`ve appointed people who are very close to them as their attorney general, like Kennedy, for instance, or -- or Attorney General French...

MATTHEWS: Or Bobby Kennedy.

PAGE: Or Bobby Kennedy would be the prime example of that. But that is not what we think of today. We don`t think of the attorney general as being the president`s lawyer. We think of him as being the lawyer for the country in a way that`s very important institutionally.

And you know, it`s interesting that Jeff Sessions, who was -- Democrats were not big fans of Jeff Sessions when he was named attorney general, but now I think he is seen by Democrats as someone who is standing up for the institution, someone who served in the Senate...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: ... who kind of...

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t somebody tell Trump that, that attorney generals today are a bit independent?

PAGE: Well, I think -- I think...

MATTHEWS: They`re almost part of the court system.

PAGE: You know, if you`re -- if you`re -- if you`re a business leader, maybe your chief lawyer, your chief counsel is watching your back. That`s his number one client. But for the attorney general, the president is not, in fact, his number one client.

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump got it wrong, didn`t he.

Anyway, in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" today, President Trump seemed to dismiss the significance of Sessions`s early endorsement of his candidacy. In other words, he`s saying, I don`t own this guy anything.

Quote, "When they say he endorsed me, I went to Alabama. I had 40,000 people. He was a senator from Alabama. I won this state by a lot, massive numbers. A lot of the states I won by massive numbers. But he was a senator. He looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, What do I have to lose? And he endorsed me. So it`s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. But I`m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.

Robert Costa, explain this thinking here. In other words, I don`t owe this guy anything. He just jumped on the bandwagon, ergo I can dump him from the bandwagon.

COSTA: Based on my reporting, the history is a little different. I was at that rally in August 2015 with then Senator Sessions, then candidate Trump. They had a real bond ideologically. Sessions provided an intellectual core, this populism, nationalism to then candidate Trump`s pugilistic instincts.

And it was perhaps opportunist on some part by Senator Sessions, but you have to remember, by 2015, Senator Sessions was a veteran senator in Alabama, ensconced in a safe seat. He was not looking -- he did not need Donald Trump to win re-election. I think he was looking for Trump as an ally to try to forward what they saw as a shared agenda.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, does he have anywhere go to? I mean, everybody assumes these guys have 50 options. He`s obviously an attorney. He`s obviously been respected by the people back in Alabama. He`s been elected a number of times -- too conservative for my blood, but I think he fits right in with that state down there.

So does he have a home to go home to? As Thomas Wolfe would say, could he go home again?

PARKER: I`m sure he does have a number of options, but I think what`s so disconcerting to him and anyone who look at this is this is someone who gave up a safe Senate seat, a seat he had held for 20 years, to come in, as we mentioned earlier, to sort of serve a lifelong dream. And just six months in, he`s being publicly and scathingly trashed by the president for doing what many people think was the appropriate thing to do in recusing himself. And this is one thing.

So no matter where he ends up, he`s already been deeply humiliated. And this is one reason the Trump White House is having trouble attracting top talent to go in.

MATTHEWS: So he may get the Kennedy Profile in Courage award, but he may not be attorney general for long.

Anyway, there are multiple reports of frustration among the president`s entire cabinet. Conservative commentator Erick Erickson quoted one unnamed secretary criticizing the president`s disparaging comments about Jeff Sessions. I love this line. If he can get treated that way, what about the rest of us? That`s how people think, by the way, in the real world, Donald.

And meanwhile, Reuters reports foreign policy officials have grown frustrated with their own roles. Quote, "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told friends he will be lucky to last a year in his job, according to a friend, while two officials say national security adviser H.R. McMaster was frustrated by what he sees as disorganization and indiscipline on key policy issues inside the White House."

Susan, you write the big picture. You write those big stories on the front page of "USA Today." In all seriousness, is there a restiveness among the cabinet, saying, If that guy can swing it, he`s a close pal of the president`s, we`re all in trouble?

PAGE: Oh, absolutely. And you know, it goes beyond the cabinet. Look at the chief of staff at the White House, speaking of people who`ve been...

MATTHEWS: Who is that, by the way?

PAGE: ... publicly...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I can never tell he`s the chief of staff.

PAGE: Yes. I mean...

MATTHEWS: Reince Priebus.

PAGE: The level of instability and possible disruption in this administration is extraordinary. Top White House staff, two of the top- ranking cabinet officials, both Tillerson and Sessions, in some turmoil, the national security adviser, people in -- people who have given the administration the credibility that it craved at the beginning with some of these big names coming on board are now thinking about leaving.

And you know, it affects also the relationship with senators. I mean, senators who see what`s happened to Jeff Sessions, who wasn`t, like, the most popular senator, but he was a respected senator, a senior senator from a state, to then be treated this way -- that...

MATTHEWS: He`s treating him like Spicer.

PAGE: It undercuts...

MATTHEWS: Like he treated Spicer.

PAGE: It undercuts the willingness of Republican senators to walk the plank for this White House.

MATTHEWS: This is LBJ stuff, by the way, regular ritual humiliation.

Anyway, the newly installed White House communications director is looking to shake up his staff. According to "The Washington Post," Anthony Scaramucci is exercising a broad mandate from the president and intends to follow through on threats to purge -- isn`t that a Russian word? -- aides he believes are disloyal to Trump and leaking to the presses.

Well, today, Scaramucci was asked how he`ll stop the leaks. His answer, I`m going to fire everybody. That`s how I`m going to do it. You`re either going to stop leaking or you`re going to get fired. I`ve got the authority from the president to do just that.

In fact, one communications staffer has already resigned. Michael Short was reportedly close to Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer. That didn`t help him. It`s not exactly clear what led to that resignation.

Finish up here, Robert. What is the mood? If you talk to the cabinet secretary confidants -- and I`ll get to Ashley on this, too -- do they -- do they basically breathe a sense that they`re not really intimates of the president, they`re not his men or women, or are they still loyal instinctively to this guy for the appointment itself?

COSTA: Because of all the tensions and all the dramas inside of the White House, the confidants of some cabinet secretaries who I`ve spoken with recently say their whole M.O., their approach, is to just kind of keep their distance right now from the president. Be an ally. Support his policies. But if they don`t have a deep personal relationship with him, they`re in protection mode inside of their agencies and their departments trying to weather this storm with the attorney general and with Russia and so many things.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, it`s your reporting. What about the cabinet? What about the whole feeling? Do they feel like this guy`s not loyal downward?

PARKER: I think they feel that. I think some of them have a longer leash. For instance, Ambassador Haley has often, for whatever reason, been able to be a bit more out in front of the president.

But one challenge they`re facing is they represent the president, but oftentimes, they`re overseas, they`re traveling, they`re trying their best to represent the administration, and something the president says or does or a tweet undercuts them as diplomats in the eyes of the world. And so they`re always scrambling to recover from that.

MATTHEWS: You can see his favorites out there. One is Nikki Haley, the other one is Hope Hicks. He`s got a few others...

PARKER: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: ... that have been described by you and others as "untouchable."

Thank you, Robert Costa, Ashley Parker, both of "The Washington Post," Susan Page of "USA Today."

Coming up, as Trump lets Jeff Sessions twist in the wind, the Russian investigation heads forward. Today, Jared Kushner was back on Capitol Hill answering -- oh, in his way, lawyered up answering questions about his contacts with the Russians. You don`t get a peep out of that guy. We`re going to talk to a key Democratic member of Congress who was in that meeting with Kushner today behind closed doors coming up right way, in fact.

Plus, John McCain returns from treatment for brain cancer to help Senate Republicans start the process to repeal "Obama care." It`s the first step toward taking health care away from millions of Americans -- I don`t think they`re going to get another step, however -- something Trump and the Republicans are now close to doing. They`re not going to get it done.

And did the president`s speech last night to the Boy Scouts once again destroy political convention? He used the Scouts as props, as a -- what, I don`t know, studio audience for a political speech. And tonight, he`ll be at it again, ripping his political opponents in a speech -- well, a campaign-style speech out in Ohio. We`re going to get to that with the HARDBALL roundtable tonight. He`s using every -- well, he`s breaking every norm, using every audience.

Finally, let me finish tonight, "Trump Watch." He will definitely not like tonight.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: A short time ago, the House voted overwhelmingly to slap new sanctions against Russia and other U.S. adversaries despite objections from President Trump. The legislation passed by a veto-proof margin, by the way, 419 to 3. And all the dissenting votes came from House Republicans.

In addition to new financial sanctions, the bill includes a provision that would make it harder for Trump to roll back any measures imposed against Russia. It now heads to the Senate for final approval.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It`s already been a busy week for the congressional committees involved in the Trump-Russia investigations. Jared Kushner was up back on Capitol Hill, this time for an interview under oath with the House Intelligence Committee. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed Paul Manafort on the subject of that now infamous campaign meeting with Russians linked to the Kremlin. That was last June of 2016.

NBC reports that, quote, "a source close to Manafort says he turned over to the Senate Intelligence Committee notes that he took during that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting." That`s important. He took notes at a meeting the other guy, Jared Kushner, thought wasn`t very important. Well, Manafort thought it was. And as we know, Manafort was forwarded the e-mails proposing that meeting, which indicated that the Russian government was supporting Donald Trump. By the way, Jared got that same e-mail.

Despite that, Manafort denied any campaign relationship with Russia during the campaign and repeatedly dismissed Kremlin meddling as a Democratic talking point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign, and Putin and his regime?

PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: No, there are not. It`s absurd. And you know, there`s no basis to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul, let`s go back to this question of Russia and hacking. Can you tell us what you know about the relationship and what the campaign knows and that Donald Trump believes?

MANAFORT: We have no relationship. This is an absurd attempt by the Clinton campaign to try and get the focus off of what the real issue is.

They`re pretty desperate pretty quickly. That`s all I have to say on that. It`s a far reach, obviously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was chuckle-worthy early last summer, but today it`s not a joke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro, member of the House Intelligence Committee, who was at that meeting with Jared Kushner today. Also, Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He`s from Rhode Island. He`s on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I want to start with the congressman. Congressman, can you tell us -- I know the rules are what they are. But can you tell us, was he helpful, did he -- or is he just lawyered up to the teeth and was so careful, you couldn`t even read anything new on what he had to say?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: No, he was helpful. I think the committee appreciated that he came in voluntarily, the he stayed for an extra hour to speak with the committee. And so he didn`t answer, or couldn`t answer every question that we asked him, but he certainly had a demeanor that was forthcoming. And we`ve got more questions that we want to ask of him, so I know that once we have a chance to go through the transcript of this interview, hopefully, he`ll come back for another interview when the committee`s ready.

MATTHEWS: Where are you -- where are you on the estimate of this guy? Is he the Fredo character out of "The Godfather" (INAUDIBLE) as not too sophisticated, not too book smart, or is he a guy that is worthy of all the portfolios this president has dropped on his lap, which is, like, the Middle East, everything you can imagine being responsible for, and yet they`re trying to say, Well, he`s not too sophisticated.

Which is it, sophisticated or not?

CASTRO: You know, I think the jury is still out on that.

MATTHEWS: How about you, as a jury member? As a juror, where are you?

(LAUGHTER)

CASTRO: Well, I will say this.

It`s clear -- two things are clear to me, first, that the president has a - - puts a lot of trust on Jared Kushner, I think, perhaps more than anyone else in his immediate family, and also that Jared Kushner very much wants to protect the president.

Those two things, based on what I heard, stood out for me.

MATTHEWS: How many times did Abbe Lowell stop him from answering a question?

(LAUGHTER)

CASTRO: They were -- they were pretty forthcoming.

As in any deposition situation that you have seen in, there are times when an attorney will step and ask for clarification of a question or advise his clients. But I think they tried their best, at least it seemed to me, to answer the questions.

MATTHEWS: You said there are some questions he -- quote -- "couldn`t" -- close quote -- answer.

What did you mean by couldn`t answer?

CASTRO: Well, you know, as with any witness, there are things that other people may have knowledge of that the person doesn`t have firsthand or direct knowledge of, and so can`t speak to.

But that`s part of an investigation. You`re not going on get the full story from any single witness, which is why this investigation and this witness list is extensive, because it is really like putting a puzzle together.

MATTHEWS: Can you imagine being -- asked to a meeting with some Russians who came with e-mail that said they`re on your opponent`s -- actually, they`re on your side of a coming election, they`re on your side of a coming election, they want to help you, they have got some dirt on your opponent, and they want to have a meeting about it, including they want to talk about the sanctions and whatever the issues are appropriate?

Is that credible, that someone could take that position? Is it credible generally?

CASTRO: Well, you know, and as he issued -- he made clear in his own statement this idea that he didn`t -- he thought that the meeting was a waste of time.

That, honestly, is hard to believe, because the e-mail said something like private and confidential.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

It also said they were they were helping his father -- his father-in-law win the election.

CASTRO: That`s right.

And so I think, not just for committee members, but for any American who sees that, at first glance, that`s quite hard to believe.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Let me go over to the Senator.

Senator Whitehouse, thank you for coming on again tonight.

Let`s talk about Paul Manafort. From the beginning, he`s had Russian connections. I always thought that was one reason why Trump liked him, that he was worried that he owes $17 million to the oligarchs over there. He`s been in this thing up to his neck.

Is he going on testify or is he lawyering his way out of this or what?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, we will see.

I am very happy that Chairman Grassley actually issued a subpoena for him, which I think gets everything set up right. And, in response to that, there are document requests that are pending and the possibility of staff interviews that are being negotiated.

And, ultimately, I both hope and expect that he will be brought before the committee in a public hearing. Obviously, it`s not going to be tomorrow at this point. And it`s going to be up to the chairman to pick the date.

But I believe that`s the direction that we`re heading in. It is not uncommon to do that kind of preparatory work before you bring on a witness in a public hearing.

MATTHEWS: Speaking of preparatory work, he walked into that meeting that Jared Kushner says was a waste of time with a notebook, a notepad. He wrote down contemporaneous notes of what happened in the meeting. He was a Russian guy, knows Russian connections. He knew a meeting with these top Russians that were represented to be supporting basically for the government in an effort to try to help Trump win the election against his opponent to smear his opponent.

He took that dead seriously. How would you square that with the claim -- I will call it a claim -- of Jared Kushner, that it was just a casual stop-by kind of thing?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, it is very hard to square, as you have pointed out.

It is not often, the turbulence of a campaign at that juncture, that you get the candidate`s son, the candidate`s son-in-law, the candidate`s campaign chairman all in room together over nothing.

And it gets particularly strange when the memo that sets it all up that was circulated amongst all of them describes this as being part of the Russian government`s plan to interfere in the election.

And they all look at that, and say, well, I`m coming in anyway. A lot of people would look at that memo think and that it was a setup, it is so obviously incriminating. But they all came anyway.

MATTHEWS: Like a sting. Like a sting. Yes.

Anyway, Congressman Castro, let`s watch something you said about this investigation back earlier in this spring in April.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Have you seen any hard evidence of collusion yet?

CASTRO: Well, I guess I would say this, that my impression is, I wouldn`t be surprised, after all this is said and done, that some people end up in jail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you think collusion constitutes?

It seems to me, Congressman, the word collusion could include showing up at a meeting to conspire against your American opponent with foreigners, in this case adversaries Russia. Isn`t that collusion?

CASTRO: Well, absolutely.

And when I gave that answer, I was speaking not only of the possibility of collusion, but also, based on everything I have seen, possible obstruction or cover-up or other things. And so I stand by that answer, not in a malevolent way towards anyone.

But, based on everything I have seen, if you ask me honestly, my impression is that people won`t get out of this completely unscathed, and that they will face some kind of criminal penalty.

MATTHEWS: It looks pretty good three months later.

Anyway, thank you, U.S. congressman Joaquin Castro of Florida -- I`m sorry -- Texas.

CASTRO: Texas.

MATTHEWS: Of course Texas. That`s your -- anyway, San Antonio.

And thank you, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Up next: Senator McCain returns to Capitol Hill in a dramatic moment to cast a crucial vote on health care. But can Republicans agree on what that bill is going to be?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After weeks of setbacks and confusion, the Republicans finally took the first step towards repealing Obamacare and potentially stripping 22 million people of health insurance, potentially. Keep that in mind.

The vote came amidst loud chants of "Kill the bill, don`t kill us," and cries of "Shame" from protesters up in the gallery, who were actually dragged out later.

Let`s watch that mayhem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Kill the bill! Don`t kill us! Kill the bill! Don`t kill us!

Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I haven`t heard that before. In many years, I haven`t heard that before.

Anyway, nearly all 100 senators took their seats in the chamber as a roll call motion to proceed to debate began.

McConnell, the Republican leader, could afford to lose only two of the 52 Republican senators. And as the votes were counted, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Maine voted against the motion.

Roughly an hour after the vote began, with their quest to repeal Obamacare teetering on the edge of defeat, Senator John McCain, the maverick senator, strode into the chamber and cast a dramatic vote to move debate forward. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. McCain.

Mr. McCain, aye.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, because not one Democrat voted, of course, for the bill, Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the deciding 51st vote, which he did.

And after the vote, McCain, who had returned to the Senate from his home in Arizona, where he was recuperating from surgery, he called on his colleagues to find a common ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The administration and congressional Democrats shouldn`t have forced through Congress without any opposition support a social and economic change as massive as Obamacare.

And we shouldn`t do the same with ours. Why don`t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act? If this process ends in failure, which seems likely, then let`s return to regular order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, forcing the vote was a risky move by the majority leader, McConnell, who required his members to take a leap of faith because it is unclear what this bill is going to be that they`re going to begin to debate.

And for the latest, I`m joined by former RNC chairman and MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele, and also U.S. Democratic Congresswoman from Illinois Cheri Bustos.

Congresswoman, I don`t know. You voted against it, but the Republicans in the House jammed through a version of this. I don`t think the Republican Party is a governing party. I will stake. I will be very broad about this. I think they`re still a protest party. They`re still running against Washington and the government.

They don`t have the slightest idea of how to square this circle of repeal and replace.

REP. CHERI BUSTOS (D), ILLINOIS: Well, all we have to do is look at the last six months and what has gotten done.

The election season talked about a trillion-dollar infrastructure package, a jobs bill. We have gotten nothing done because we have these constant distractions.

I think John McCain even pointed it out, that the American public deserves more from the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: He also said he will vote against the bill he`s looking at.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he did.

MATTHEWS: So, his move to proceed was simply procedural.

And I think a lot of people on the left say, oh, that was terrible, what he did. All did he was move the -- to me, the mayhem into the spotlight. Now we`re going to have three or four days, maybe a couple weeks, of hell on earth, because there is no Republican health care philosophy, except don`t do anything on health care.

And that won`t sell.

STEELE: Well, not only is there not a clear -- I think there`s a philosophy that is just not very clear.

MATTHEWS: What is the philosophy of the Republicans?

STEELE: Well, I think...

MATTHEWS: Do you believe the federal government would have ever moved on health care if the Democrats hadn`t have done it under Obama? Would the Republicans have ever come up with a health care bill?

STEELE: No. They wouldn`t have.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s your philosophy. Don`t do anything.

STEELE: Well, no, that`s not the philosophy don`t do anything.

There were issues with the previous system, for sure, with respect to the 30 million or so people who didn`t have health care.

MATTHEWS: There wasn`t a system before.

STEELE: But it wasn`t about so much health care as it was insurance.

And I think that that`s always been a very, very important distinction in the debate.

MATTHEWS: Well, help me on that.

STEELE: Because this whole thing has been geared towards the insurance companies.

Doctors haven`t been at the table. Health care providers haven`t been at the table. This has always been about the insurance, as opposed to helping the cost of health care.

MATTHEWS: Does the federal government have a responsibility to help people -- give health insurance to people? Does the federal government have a responsibility to make sure people have health insurance, yes or no?

STEELE: No. I don`t think that is the federal government`s role.

MATTHEWS: OK.

You think yes.

BUSTOS: Absolutely. I worked in...

MATTHEWS: I think that is the difference.

BUSTOS: I worked in health care for 10 years. I worked in health care before, during and after the Affordable Care Act was passed.

MATTHEWS: Is it fair to stay the Democratic Party veers either from center-left to left either for a public option, single-payer, or at least something like Obamacare, that they have a philosophy, they believe in doing something?

BUSTOS: Well, absolutely.

But, for right now, Democrats stand with our arms wide open, saying, we will work with you, Republicans. We want to bring down the cost of prescription drugs. We want to make sure that co-pays and deductibles and premiums are affordable. Those are the areas where we should be able to come together.

STEELE: And I think the way you can begin to do that is, this week and over the next few weeks, begin to roll out what your plan would be to help move Republicans into that space, because I will tell you right now.

The Democrats are in the exact same position the Republicans were in during Obamacare season.

MATTHEWS: Well, they rolled it out yesterday. Didn`t you read the report?

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Sit back and just let others do it.

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry to interrupt.

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders on both sides, rolled out a plan, three pegs of it. And one of the pegs was, one of the - - what do you call it, legs was prescription drugs.

BUSTOS: Pillars. Pillars.

STEELE: Have they had it scored? Get it scored. Get it scored and put it on the floor and let`s talk about it. It hasn`t -- so that is just an idea.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, Ms. Manners.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m just listing the proposal. They made a proposal.

STEELE: Well, fine. You have got a proposal. You have got your colleagues in the House and Senate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In other words, we`re back to Alphonse and Gaston. I`m putting it off to, oh, you go first, you go first.

STEELE: No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: "The Washington Post" obtained sound of former Speaker of the House John Boehner telling a business gathering last week that Republicans weren`t going to repeal Obamacare. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There are never -- they`re not going to repeal and replace Obamacare. It has been around too long. And the American people have gotten accustomed to it.

Governors have gotten accustomed to this Medicaid expansion. And so trying to pull it back is really not going to work.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: True or not true?

STEELE: I think he`s right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Didn`t you just say you`re going to do something?

STEELE: That`s the reality. But that`s the reality.

They should do something. But the reality is, you tell me what is going to get passed in the next three weeks before they go on recess.

MATTHEWS: Nothing.

STEELE: Right. Then OK, then. John Boehner is right.

MATTHEWS: That`s why I`m not worried about the move the right by -- John McCain`s vote to proceed. That`s just going to expose the fact a little slower that they ain`t got nothing to do.

The Republicans do not believe in national health care. They just don`t.

STEELE: No, they do not believe in national health care.

MATTHEWS: OK.

BUSTOS: Well, what you referenced earlier, yesterday, we rolled out what we`re calling a Better Deal. And it is not just a slogan.

MATTHEWS: Who came up with that one, by the way?

BUSTOS: You know, actually...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Yes, I would like to talk to that ad person.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, I think make America again, whatever you think of Trump, was a good slogan.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But go ahead.

BUSTOS: No, it`s solid. It`s solid. We`re talking about better jobs, better wages, a better future.

STEELE: But rMDNM_who are you calling to that table?

Look, when we rolled out fire Pelosi, that was a call to action. That was something that gave people...

MATTHEWS: That`s positive.

STEELE: It was. It was.

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: No. You know why?

MATTHEWS: Fire somebody.

STEELE: That`s right. It was. And why do you think it works for Trump, Chris?

MATTHEWS: OK, all right, all right. It`s not positive.

STEELE: So you`re going to tell me, what is the call to action? We got a better deal for you, or we need you to go out and take out some folks?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. We got to go.

Michael, you`re getting so passionate now. Fire Pelosi seems to have lit your fire.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, one of the great members of Congress.

And up next: President Trump has declared a war on political norms. Last night, he gave a wild, rambling speech before thousand of Boy Scouts. I thought they were like protected from politics. And, tonight, he`s taking the stage again, this time at a campaign-style rally. More of that coming up with the HARDBALL Roundtable.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, we put aside all the policy fights in Washington, D.C. you`ve been hearing about with the fake news in all of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The fake news and all that.

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump last flight in his speech to, you won`t believe it, the National Boy Scout Jamboree. The president opened his remarks by saying he would put politics aside.

But here`s some of what he had to say after that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I`m in front of the Boy Scouts, right?

(CHEERS)

You know, I go to Washington and I see all these politicians. And I see the swamp, and it`s not a good place. In fact, today, I said we ought to change it from the word swamp to the word cesspool or perhaps to the word sewer.

Secretary Tom Price is also here today. Dr. Price.

By the way, you`re going to get the votes?

TOM PRICE, HHS SECRETARY: I hope so.

TRUMP: You better get them. He better get them. Oh, otherwise, I`ll say, Tom, you`re fired.

As the Scout law says, a Scout is trustworthy, loyal -- we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.

So I have to tell you, what we did in all fairness is an unbelievable tribute to you and all of the other millions and millions of people that came out and voted for make America great again.

By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?

(BOOS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you say? Boy Scouts are like 11 years old to start with. And here he is out campaigning with them. It is supposed to be a nonpolitical crowd which they are, I think.

Anyway, maybe they like just having them there.

The Boy Scout Jamboree is an event for tens of thousands of Scouts, most of them children, from across the country. President Trump is the ninth president to address the group, but probably the first to talk politics.

Last night after the speech, the Boy Scouts of America issued a statement clarifying their position. The Boy Scouts of America is wholly nonpartisan. The invitation for the sitting U.S. president to visit the national jamboree is a longstanding tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies.

So, they got it straight at least. He didn`t.

Tonight, the president is back out there. He`s holding a campaign style rally in Youngstown, Ohio. That`s a smart place to go, and here`s what he had to say a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And now tonight, I`m back in the center of the American heartland, far away from the Washington swamp to spend time with thousands of true American patriots.

(CHEERS)

I`m here this evening to cut through the fake news filter, and to speak straight to the American people.

(BOOS)

Fake news. Fake, fake, fake news.

Is there any place that is more fun, more exciting, and safer than a Trump rally?

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEOI CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in our HARDBALL roundtable to swallow that. Ginger Gibson is a political correspondent for "Reuters", Jonathan Swan is a national political reporter for "Axios", and Geoff Bennett is a congressional reporter for NPR.

Wow, seems pretty liberal to me this group. But let`s talk about it tonight. Yes, Geoff. Yes. In fact, you`ll start by laughing.

What do you make of Trump using the Boy Scouts? What do you think of a more general question, just this breaking of all the norms, I mean, going after Obama as an illegal immigrant. It is like he`s shooting the moon, like in hearts. Everything he does is against the normal way to do something and has kept them there. He is still running, what, in the high 30s. He`s there.

GEOFF BENNETT, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, NPR: Well, I mean, we clearly have seen with this president that in his mind, every stage a campaign stage and every audience deserves a show or a spectacle. But to your point --

MATTHEWS: But these aren`t voters even.

BENNETT: Exactly. And to your point, you know, there is an art of addition in politics. You try to turn people who didn`t support you before and you try to make them support you. And every time he does, it`s a missed moment to reach across the aisle, to find people who --

MATTHEWS: But he doesn`t win by uniting. He wins by passionate division.

BENNETT: Well, so far, that was enough to get him to the White House, clearly.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BENNETT: But that does not -- that`s not the way effective presidents heretofore anyway have --

MATTHEWS: Well, I think it`s fair to say he`s kissed off the big cities all across the country and it doesn`t seem to bother him much. What`s he up to? What is going to the Boy Scouts for breaking all the norms? It`s like what -- I don`t know how to describe except he doesn`t accept any rules.

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: He just can`t help himself. I mean, you know, in the speech, there are these moments when you`re president where you can soar above, you know, you can elevate things. You can set an example.

And, you know, Lord knows, 40,000 Boy Scouts is one of those moments. But he talks about Hillary and Obama in Michigan, and, you know, yes, I understand the theory that they have, which is that you don`t need to reach out to the 54 percent. You can just stick with the base.

But let`s just are imagine there`s a chance that theory is wrong. This is one of those chances, you get to reach out and he just he didn`t take it.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of the -- even his somewhat mild mannered bullying when he says to Tom Price there, HHS guy, his pick to run that huge department. If you don`t get this bill, through, I`m going to fire you. I mean, that`s a street corner drugstore cowboy, we used to say, standing on the street corner saying, you don`t mess with me. You`re out of here.

GINGER GIBSON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: This is not what the scouts would have liked in terms of role modeling for the scouts that were there. And if you want to drain the swamp and fill with people who are good and want to do the best thing for America, a crowd of scouts might be the best recruiting place you could go to.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GIBSON: And instead of being a role model, you know, he was disparaging Washington and telling them, don`t get involved unless you`re going to be that loyal to me.

MATTHEWS: It would have been great if he wore a scout uniform, though, wouldn`t he? I mean, you guys. Love the kerchief and everything, and merit badges. Scouters wear those uniforms, a guy behind them with the campaign hat on, you know?

They do that. It would be more appropriate, I think. Wouldn`t it?

BENNETT: Well, perhaps. Who knows? But Donald Trump wasn`t a Boy Scout and definitely wasn`t an Eagle Scout, even though some of the members of his cabinet were. I mean -- and then to have, to encourage the Boy Scouts to boo Hillary Clinton I think was a definite low moment.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think there`s a merit badge in hate. Anyway, last night`s speech to the Boy Scouts wasn`t the last time in the last few days the president turned to public ceremony into a political rally. Here`s what he said on Saturday at the commissioning ceremony for USS Gerald Ford.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now we need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher, stable and predictable funding levels for our military needs, that our fighting men and women deserve and you will get. Believe me. President Trump, I will tell you. You will get it. Don`t worry about it.

But I don`t mind getting a little hand. So call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it.

And, by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you at option, Geoff, you`ve got to start. It`s stuff. It will take some guts probably.

Full terms for this guy. Two full terms or not a full term? Where would you put him? Give me your predictions.

BENNETT: My prediction?

MATTHEWS: Full term, two full terms or not a full term?

BENNETT: I will say he gets a full term. I will say this, though, that we have not seen the end of Trump unleashed I think with Anthony Scaramucci as communications director already signaling that he`s going to let Trump be Trump and encourage him --

MATTHEWS: I think he`s going to be chief of staff --

BENNETT: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jon here. Full term, two terms or no full term?

SWAN: Two terms.

GINGER: I`ve given up on guessing what the American electorate is going to do. But let me say this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You have to do it. Full term, two full terms, or not a full term?

GIBSON: He`s still full term, maybe two.

(CROSSTALK)

GIBSON: I need to see turning point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about you, Chris?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I`ll think about it. I`m going to think about it.

The roundtable is sticking with us and up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. We`ll be right back with HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s some positive news from Africa`s fight against HIV virus and, of course, AIDS. New data from the country of Swaziland where I served in the Peace Corps shows a massive drop in the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections. In 2011, for example, Swaziland had the highest rate of infection in the world. Nearly one in three people estimated to be living with HIV.

But by 2016, five years later, the rate of new infection was cut nearly in half and that`s in large part because of increased testing and access of virus suppressing drugs, something for which former President George W. Bush deserves a lot of credit. Thanks to the PEPFAR program he launched back in 2003. Credit where credit is due here.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ginger, tell me something I don`t know.

GIBSON: Trump wants to attack Amazon.

MATTHEWS: Oh, wait, did you say Trump would last one or two terms? Go ahead.

GIBSON: Trump wants to attack Amazon. Our "Reuters"/IPSOS poll found that two-thirds of his voters say they shop online this last holiday season and more than half of them on Amazon. So, he is attacking a company that`s really popular with the folks who voted him into office.

MATTHEWS: But they all say merry Christmas.

GIBSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Jon?

SWAN: Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications --

MATTHEWS: The Mooch.

SWAN: The Mooch -- says he`s going to fire, quote, everybody. I would narrow that substantially to people who are really nervous inside and have RNC on their resumes.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think Hope Hicks is in trouble, and Ivanka.

SWAN: She`s certainly won`t.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

BENNETT: Democrats appear to be in a good position to take advantage of a wave election in 2018. If it happens, Brookings crunched the numbers and found there are 209 candidates, Democrat candidates, who are going to challenge Republicans. There are only 28 Republicans who --

MATTHEWS: Are you betting on the Democrats to win the House back?

BENNETT: All these tough questions.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re an expert, 24 seats.

BENNETT: I think they`re in a good position.

MATTHEWS: What do you think, Jon? You`re betting (ph) with this?

SWAN: Sure. Why not?

MATTHEWS: Ginger?

GIBSON: I would --

MATTHEWS: Twenty-four seats.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`ll give my answer. If the economy stays the way it is, pretty good, not great, pretty good, better than it`s been, I think the Republicans will hold. If it doesn`t, look out. I think they lose.

It`s all about the economy`s health. Look at the top issue, every we poll, the economy.

BENNETT: It`s politics 101.

MATTHEWS: Well said, academically said.

Thank, Ginger Gibson. Thank you, Jonathan Swan and Geoff Bennett.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. He won`t like it. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, July 25th, 2017.

This president believes that the attorney general should be his attorney. He believes that Jeff Sessions betrayed him by giving up his ability to defend him just as any other hired attorney does. In other words, he sloughed off the very job he was hired for, to protect Donald Trump from the law.

Is there any other way to explain the righteous indignation we witnessed in the Rose Garden this afternoon? A man who feels stiffed by this guy from Alabama, this Southern senator who he gave the big time job of attorney general to, only to have the guy go south on him when the heat got up there.

So, fasten your seatbelts. I believe we`re going to experience some turbulence in this city. A U.S. attorney general seems on his way out, perhaps after few weeks of twisting slowly in the wind Watergate-style, or in Trump style, briskly in the wind.

Trump offered to put off the execution only if Sessions spends the next weeks and months firing his own people, one by one for leaking. In other words, he can save himself, Sessions can, at least for a time if he shows his loyalty to Trump by exiting the people he`s brought to Washington to work for him. He can show loyalty to Trump by showing disloyalty to those who loyal to him. Wouldn`t it wonderful?

Well, none of this will save him from Trump`s wrath eventually. His original sin, Sessions that is, was to give up the sword and shield he was given to protect Donald Trump himself. By recusing himself in the Russian matter, he advocated his role as palace guard to an emperor that will not forgive an act he sees as treasonous to him personally. And in the world view of Donald Trump, it`s unforgivable.

So, some day or hour very soon, someone will come to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and deliver the message -- leave now while you can still walk out the door with a minimum of grace.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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