Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 7/26/2017 WH: Trump "Very Clear" on Sessions

Guests: Sasha Buchert, Bob Shrum, Bill Johnson, Mike Quigley, Philip Bump, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Azi Paybarah

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 26, 2017 Guest: Sasha Buchert, Bob Shrum, Bill Johnson, Mike Quigley, Philip Bump, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Azi Paybarah

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Civil War.

ANNOUNCER: Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

Well, the battle between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is escalating. Tonight, we`re watching a civil war between mostly Southern senators loyal to the man from Alabama as he challenges the president out there loudly trying to dump him. The fight is now making Republicans take sides between Donald Trump, a former Democrat from New York, let`s remember, and Jeff Sessions, a favorite of the old Confederacy.

Well, the president`s latest assault is to hit Jeff Sessions for not removing the acting FBI director. Remember that one? He tweeted, "Why didn`t Attorney General Sessions replace acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend, who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars for his wife`s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the swamp." That`s Trump.

But once again, Trump`s bugle call was unrelated to reality. For one thing, Sessions wasn`t even attorney general when the FBI was going after the Clinton`s e-mail. And second, President Trump himself has the authority to remove McCabe, and he hasn`t done so.

Well, the president`s real problem here with Sessions is that he can`t protect Trump from special counsel Bob Mueller. For this reason, Trump has spent this week leveling a steady stream of attacks. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Sessions should have never recused himself. And if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.

I appointed a man to a position, and then shortly after he gets the position, he recused himself. I said, What`s that all about? Why didn`t you tell me that you were going to do that, and I wouldn`t have appointed you?

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: Well, that`s pretty menacing. Anyway, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today the president hasn`t made a decision yet on whether to remove or to sack Sessions. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president has been very clear about where he is. He`s obviously disappointed, but also wants the attorney general to continue to focus on the things that the attorney general does. He wants him to lead the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: If he is so frustrated and so disappointed in him, why doesn`t he just ask him to resign or fire him? Why does he continue to just tweet about him instead?

SANDERS: Well, he can be disappointed in someone but still want them to continue to do their job. And that`s where they are.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) that job?

SANDERS: I think that I made clear last week if there comes a point he doesn`t, he`ll make that decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, according to Sanders -- that`s the press secretary there - - President Trump and Jeff Sessions haven`t spoken in the past week. Well, that`s hard to have a conversation if you`re not having a conversation.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Senator Chuck Schumer warned that if the president fired Sessions and tried to replace him during the August recess, that would lead to a constitutional crisis.

For more, I`m joined by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois -- he sits on the Intelligence Committee -- and Philip Bump, political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Congressman, I always like elected officials to speak first, since you are elected. What do you think is the political reason why the president`s doing this Chinese water torture of his attorney general, the guy he picked, his loyalist, rather than just doing the whatever you call it, the manly thing, or whatever you might say, and make a frickin` decision about whether he wants him as attorney general and make it public?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: I think the first...

MATTHEWS: Why is doing this?

QUIGLEY: I think the first reason is he wants to squash the Russian investigation. He`s positively obsessed with it, as evidenced by his tweets and his actions. He`d be better off letting us do the job and let Mr. Mueller do the job. He wants people to stop talking about it, he should stop tweeting it.

But the nightmare that you see from this is -- I guess his idea is if he fires Sessions, puts in a lapdog, the lapdog fires Rosenstein and Mueller and either guts or ends the investigation into how the Russians interfered in the democratic process.

MATTHEWS: Well, why doesn`t he do that? Why doesn`t he just fire Sessions, use the recess appointment in -- later in August to do just what you said, fire Rosenstein, if he doesn`t fire Mueller, put somebody else in there, a lapdog. If he -- and get that lapdog to do it. If he doesn`t get him, he goes to another lapdog. Just keep doing it until he fires Mueller and ends this thing.

Why doesn`t he just do that?

QUIGLEY: You know, I pride myself on the fact that I can`t read this man`s mind, and I have no idea what he`s going to do tomorrow and that`s also a little scary.

MATTHEWS: Paul Butler, sir, thank you for this. Give us -- I don`t know if there`s a legal analysis as you says (ph) -- the congressman just said it`s hard to read Trump`s mind, let alone his legal thinking. Is he getting legal advice? Has he been lawyered up himself to be told, Be careful? Get this guy to jump. Don`t push him.

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Probably, but we know this is a client who does not listen to lawyers.

So he has three options with regard to Sessions. He signed an executive order that says if the attorney general leaves, the position goes to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who the president is also not crazy about. His other option is the Vacancy Act, which allows him to appoint anybody who`s already been confirmed by the Senate for any position as the acting attorney general for 210 days.

Third option, recess appointment. We heard all about this during the Obama administration. So the Senate would have to go in recess for 10 days, and then Trump would be able to appoint anyone he wants in that office, again, as long as they`ve been confirmed by the Senate until 2019 when the Senate is out of session.

MATTHEWS: But legally, wouldn`t he be within his power, this president, to fire Sessions, and during this August recess, use that opportunity to pick somebody he`s given an ambassadorship to and has been confirmed and say, Come on, I need you for a couple days` work here. I`ll give you the ambassadorship back in a week. But you`re here to fire -- you`re here to fire Mueller. That`s all I want you here for. Then you can have some other job, an ambassadorship, again, if you want one.

BUTLER: Well, two problems with that. One, under the Vacancies Act, you can -- the president can appoint an acting, if that permanent person has resigned. It seems like if the person`s fired by the president, then the president isn`t allowed to go that route.

More importantly, Chris, if he does any of these routes, fires Mueller, everybody knows it`s because he`s trying to stop the investigation. That`s obstruction of justice. That`s trying to impede an official investigation. So Congress could use that as an article of impeachment.

MATTHEWS: Wow! Let me to go Philip Bump. What do you make of this history? What`s the pattern of Trump that we`re seeing here? He`s been pretty ruthless so far, meaning willing to do what is necessary to get where he wants to get, which is to kill this investigation.

PHILIP BUMP, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, no, that`s true. I mean, obviously, the fact that James Comey is no longer the FBI director points to the fact that Donald Trump is willing to pull the trigger on occasion.

MATTHEWS: And Sally Yates was also good-bye`d.

BUMP: Exactly. Well, though Sally Yates I think was a slightly different enemy and a much better cause for Sally Yates, I think, than he did for Comey. I mean, the interesting thing here is that Jeff Sessions was his guy. He was a guy who was there early on in the primaries. He was down with Donald Trump. He was a loyalist to Donald Trump. And Trump turned on him solely because of the Russia investigation. It`s clear he doesn`t want to fire him outright. It`s not really clear why that is. But...

MATTHEWS: What isn`t clear?

BUMP: It`s not clear why Trump doesn`t just fire him...

MATTHEWS: Yes, right...

(CROSSTALK)

BUMP: ... trying to push him out.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Butler suggested there`s a legal reason, but I think it`s pretty clear he wants him out of there.

BUMP: Right.

MATTHEWS: He wants Mueller quashed.

BUMP: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: He wants no more (INAUDIBLE) prosecutor name (ph). And I don`t blame him. If I were worried about things about (INAUDIBLE) because you -- you know the history of special prosecutors. Guess what they do? They prosecute.

BUMP: Right.

MATTHEWS: They don`t give up and say, Oh, I guess there`s nothing wrong here. They spend months and months and months, as history, whether it`s Lawrence Walsh or it`s Jaworski or it`s -- or it`s -- or it`s Ken Starr.

BUMP: Sure.

MATTHEWS: They look and look and look until they find some crap on the guy, then they move.

Anyway, the president`s attacks on Jeff Sessions have drawn significant criticism from Republican senators and (INAUDIBLE) Watch these. They`re mostly Southern senators. There`s a real sort of regional thing here. They consider Sessions one of their own, sort of an old Southern guy. You can almost hear "Dixie" in their voices. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would fire somebody that I did not believe could serve me well, rather than trying to humiliate them in public, which is a sign of weakness. He`s trying to get Sessions to quit. And I hope Sessions doesn`t quit. And if the president wants to fire him, fire him.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Jeff Sessions is an honorable man. He did what I believe any ethical attorney general would do under the circumstances.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: He is one of the most honest people you would ever know. He is a man of very high integrity. And he is an Eagle Scout. Jeff Sessions has my confidence.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: He`s a man of courage. He`s a man of purpose. And he`s a man of substance.

SEN. THOM TILLIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I think that his independence has been proven by his willingness to recuse himself.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Jeff has been very loyal to the president, and I think he deserves loyalty back.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: I personally would strongly recommend against firing Sessions. Sessions has been remarkably loyal to the president, and loyalty I think has to be a two-way street.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Congressman Quigley, you`re from Illinois, but figure this out. There seems to be a regional loyalty to one of their own, to Sessions. I mean, he`s one of the (INAUDIBLE) you know, post-1964, I mean that seriously, Southern Republicans now. They used to be all Southern Democrats, Dixiecrats. Now they`re all very loyal to Trump. And it looks line he`s the leader among them. They`re all sticking to him.

QUIGLEY: Yes. It doesn`t make any sense. The president has to remember something. This battle will be over someday. Heck, the health care battle will be over someday. He`s only got 52 votes in the Senate. You can`t go alienating them when you`re having 50-50 votes on critical issues. Obviously, the president doesn`t understand that old notion, the buck stops here. If you watched the first half this year, everything is somebody else`s fault. The raid in Yemen was the generals` fault. It`s either the press, the Democrats, the Republicans or his staff, anybody but himself.

MATTHEWS: Paul Butler, give me a sense of how all these machinations by Trump over the last several weeks and months now begin to look like obstruction, if that is a determination by the special counsel Mueller. Where do you see him heading toward putting the -- as we say in journalism, collecting string, pieces of the argument?

BUTLER: Yes, that`s what prosecutors do. That`s what Mueller`s doing. He chases leads. It`s very clear that President Trump`s end game is to stop this investigation. So if we look at the obstruction of justice statute, it says you`re guilty if you attempt to impede an official investigation. So under criminal law, President Trump might not be guilty, but under the articles of impeachment, that could still be used along with abuse of office. Again, it`s clear he`s very afraid of a Russian collusion investigation.

MATTHEWS: OK...

BUTLER: He`s doing whatever he can to impede that. Again, if it`s not a crime, it`s a ground for impeachment.

MATTHEWS: Phil, I keep thinking about this all day when I come to work. I think Trump, whatever you think of the guy, makes sense. He`s fighting what he thinks is an existential threat to his existence as president. He believes if he lets Mueller work with that a top group of lawyers he`s got, they will find something in his business. They`ll go after his tax records. They`ll get his tax records with a court order. They will dig and dig and dig.

And we saw what happened. I`m not saying fair or not, although (INAUDIBLE) Trump`s got problems here that`s he made himself.

BUMP: Right.

MATTHEWS: If you look at what happened to Clinton, a guy a lot of people who watch this show liked, and I liked, he got in trouble because it had something to do with Whitewater, which may have been nothing, but that led to Paula Jones, which led to Monica Lewinsky. This stuff metastasizes. And I`m sure this president is not stupid enough or not ignorant enough of history -- although sometimes I wonder -- that he must know these things can blow up...

BUMP: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... even if he didn`t do anything wrong -- that`s an even "if"...

BUMP: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... it`ll find something that he did do wrong. And he knows Mueller`s going to find it if it`s there.

BUMP: I think the thing that we`ve learned about Donald Trump over the course of the past 18 months is does not think four steps ahead. He thinks one step ahead. He thinks about what he can do to get out of the predicament he`s in now. He`s been very good at that. I mean, he got into a lot of predicaments on the campaign trail that no one would have expected him to be able to get out of.

MATTHEWS: He`s got to cut the fuse. He`s got to cut the fuse.

BUMP: Right. Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: Because the fuse is coming to him.

BUMP: Yes. Exactly. I don`t think he knows what the -- the -- he`s in a whole different infrastructure now, right? I mean, he`s used to being in the corporate world, having lawyers...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Oh, we know all that.

BUMP: This is a whole different thing.

MATTHEWS: He`s never feared something like this, total national humiliation after becoming president of the United States. It is a real fear I think he has. I don`t think he can get it out of his head in the middle of the night. He`s thinking Sessions at 3:00 in the morning. That`s the phone call he`s getting.

You`re laughing, Paul. I think that`s the -- the phone call that keeps ringing in his ears, the one hasn`t rung yet. This guy is coming after you, and this guy`s got the best resume I`ve ever seen of anybody in American life, this guy Bob Mueller. This guy is a winner.

Anyway, thank you, Paul Butler, sir. Thank you, U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley. I really appreciate coming on. And Philip Bump of "The New York Times." (sic)

Coming up, President Trump -- well, he bans transgender individuals from serving in the military. Where did that come from? What are the politics behind Trump`s surprise announcement today? Is it an appeal to the Trump troops out there, I mean, political troops?

Plus, while Republicans are struggling to get the votes they need on health care, President Trump is taking aim at the holdouts. Any Republican that stands against him is his enemy. He`s threatening them on Twitter and calling them out by name at public events. Will all that bullying get GOP senators to fall in line? Well, I don`t think so.

And the president says that with the exception of the late great Abraham Lincoln, he`s more presidential than anyone who ever held the office. Grand delusion, don`t you think? That`s ahead in the roundtable tonight.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." Ain`t going to like this one, either.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the president`s son Eric -- that`s Eric -- Eric, whatever his name -- appeared on FOX News this morning and was asked about the increased scrutiny of his family in the Russian investigation. Here`s what he had to say. This is Eric Trump. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: (INAUDIBLE) under siege, right? I mean, they attack us for anything. You see what they`ve done to Don. You see what they do to Jared. You see the nasty things they say about my pregnant wife. You see the nasty things that they say about Baron. I`ve raised $20 million for St. Jude. They attack me. I mean, it`s -- it`s unthinkable what they`ll come after us for. I mean, it`s really unthinkable. But we`re always under siege, but it is what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s right, the Trumps among life`s victims.

We`ll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Ask yourself, who is really the friend of women and the LB -- and the LGBT community, Donald Trump with actions, or Hillary Clinton with her words? I will tell you who the better friend is, and someday, I believe that will be proven out bigly.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s proven, but not the way you said. Back to HARDBALL. That was President Trump on the campaign trail saying that he would be a friend to the lesbian, gay and transgender community.

Well, today, he apparently went back on that pledge -- I`d say apparently - - reversing an Obama administration policy from last year that allows transgender people to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces. In a series of tweets, the president wrote, "After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you."

Well, it`s not clear what prompted this sudden announcement, but the decision caught the Pentagon off guard. A Defense Department spokesman issued a statement saying, "We refer all questions about the president`s statements to the White House. We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the commander-in-chief on transgender individuals serving the military."

Well, in 2016, a Rand research study estimates there were as many as 7,000 transgender people now on active duty in our services.

Today, lawmakers from both parties blasted Trump`s sudden policy reversal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: At the end of the day, I want a strong, vibrant military. But I want to be fair, and the best way to do this is have a hearing, not a tweet.

SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: The president is sanctioning discrimination. Our nation is not safer when we sanction discrimination. It should be all about the security of America.

REP. RODNEY DAVIS (R), ILLINOIS: And we ought to be thinking about one thing, and that`s readiness. And every debate we have about whether or not somebody can serve because they`re transgender or not takes away from the debate.

REP. JOE KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Today, the president of the United States told thousands of American service members that, though they will lay down their lives for us, that he, that we will not fight for them.

To every single transgender man, woman in our military, and our shores and well beyond, please know that we will never take your service, your courage, your patriotism for granted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Joe Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy`s grandson.

Before we get to politics here, I want to deal with the human aspect of this story.

I`m joined by Sasha Buchert, who is a transgender U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

Sasha, give me a sense of your duty quickly. We only have a minute or two on this. And how this affects you or how does it affect your thinking and feeling and thinking about what the president just said today?

SASHA BUCHERT, U.S. MARINE CORPS VETERAN: Yes, it`s just a terrible message that the president has sent to our active service, openly transgender active service members who are putting their lives on the line to defend this country and protect freedom.

And it just sends a terrible message to them that they`re not worthy of being protected. And we`re confident that we will stand up against this, this awful move. People shouldn`t have to live in the shadows. This has been done in many other countries. And it`s been working out.

MATTHEWS: I know in Israel and places.

BUCHERT: Yes.

MATTHEWS: How was your experience as a military person in regard to your orientation?

BUCHERT: Yes, it was really difficult, because I had to hide who I was.

And I lived in constant fear that I would be outed. And at the time that I served, you would be discharged if you were openly transgender. And so you lived in the shadows. And I was constantly afraid that I would get a call in to a commanding officer and be informed that I was going to have to leave the military.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, why do you think it never happened? Why do you think you were able -- for years before, we allowed open service. My dad was in the Navy. There were gay people in the Navy for years long before -- decades, generations before they ever -- quote -- "legalized" it, whatever.

But your experience was bad because you had to hide your identity, is that it?

BUCHERT: Yes, absolutely, absolutely.

But with the ban removed and people being able to bring their authentic self to the workplace, we see nothing but -- nothing happened. And, similarly, we have seen the same situation in countries like Israel and the United Kingdom, where trans folks serve open and proudly.

MATTHEWS: Well, keep your voice out there. Speaker on it. You got to keep doing what you`re doing right this moment, to be heard, because people are going to hearing from you and they`re going to root for you.

Thank you very much, Sasha Buchert. Thank you for your service, by the way -- not only by the way.

BUCHERT: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you for your service.

Anyway, the president`s policy reversal was met with backlash from several members in the Senate Armed Services Committee, including two prominent Republican veterans, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst. Of course, she`s a military person -- quote -- "Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity."

That`s straightforward.

John McCain called Trump`s tweet unclear, adding: "There`s no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train and deploy to leave the military, regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so and should be treated as the patriots they are."

Boy, you can`t say it better than that.

For more on the politics of Trump`s decision, I`m joined by Democratic strategist Bob Shrum.

Apart from the inhumanity of singling out 7,000 people who have chosen to serve their country in the military, what are the politics? What is Trump up to by joining this fight on the side he`s taken?

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the Twitter storm is transparently fraudulent pretext.

His generals didn`t tell him to do this. In fact, General Mattis has testified this is not an issue that affects military reality or the capacity in the military to fight.

The question of money that is spent on health care for transgender people, it is a teeny fraction, less than 1 percent, of what is spent on health care in the military generally. And, by the way, more is spent on Viagra by the armed forces than on that.

MATTHEWS: So Viagra is actually covered? Come on. Is this is a clever -- I know you love these one-shot shooters. But does the military really pay for Viagra or not? Do they?

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: Yes.

MATTHEWS: You know that?

SHRUM: Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: OK. Go ahead. That surprises me, but go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

SHRUM: But I think what happened here, Chris, was, number one, there`s an appropriations bill that is going through the House that has $1.6 billion to build 60 miles of Trump`s wall, which tells us, by the way, how much the whole wall would cost.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SHRUM: And a lot of Republicans on the far right introduced an amendment saying, transgender people couldn`t have any of the medical services they need to achieve their transgender status.

And that amendment was voted down. Some of them then started saying, we`re going to vote against the whole bill. The wall would have gone down. They went to the White House. They went around Paul Ryan. And they demanded that the president do something about this.

Now, he did far more than they asked. They asked him to do something about the medical services. He banned transgender people.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who is going to like what he said today, and who is not going to like it? Be clear on this.

SHRUM: The religious right is going to like it. People who are hard-core in his base are going to like it.

But when they put out the -- earlier today the argument that, well, this is really going to help them in the Rust Belt, look, the people who care about this issue so deeply that they would vote against somebody aren`t going to vote against Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, for example, in the first place.

So, I think that he is appealing to a very narrow slice of his constituency. And, at the same time, he`s pursuing an objective that has nothing to do with this, which is the wall. It is a shameful abuse of presidential power.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this.

While the White House says that was merely, purely a military decision, Axios is reporting today -- quote -- "This issue had been quietly burning for months, with social conservative leaders pressing the White House on why it hadn`t made a decision on this. Social conservatives and a large part of the base, including many veterans and current serving officers, will be thrilled by the decision."

That`s what you say. Well, I`m not sure how many people are going to be thrilled by -- I don`t think people are that interested in -- by the way, who cares? Who is focused on this, besides people affected by it, allowing people are transgender to serve?

SHRUM: I care. I care.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, that -- you care positively. I`m talking about the other side that will get a kick out of this.

SHRUM: Oh, look, I think that`s right.

This is the Jerry Falwell crowd. This is the Ralph Reed crowd. They pushed the president. He`s given in to them. I don`t know whether he would have if the wall had not been at stake. But the idea that somehow or other they are going to make this a wedge issue in those Rust Belt states, it is preposterous.

The voters in Michigan in Macomb County are not running around saying, how do we keep the transgender people out of the armed forces? They`re running around saying, how do we protect our standard of living, how do we protect our jobs, how do we earn more, how do we send our kids to college?

MATTHEWS: Could it that be Trump is very sophisticated, and he knows that people like you and me will yell about this, and therefore he makes the case he wants to make all time?

You know what I`m talking about, us against the elite, us against the media. If he can start up another range war with the media and liberals, progressives, he won again, because that makes the people that don`t like us more excited about being for him, another one of -- it is not just a distraction. He wants the war to stay hot in the culture war. He wants that fight.

SHRUM: Listen, Chris, I think everybody likes you, so I wouldn`t worry about that.

MATTHEWS: Shrummy, you`re a sweetheart. Thank you so much, Bob Shrum, singing my praises.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think that`s the issue tonight.

Up next -- thanks for coming on.

SHRUM: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Trump goes after Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, saying, she let the country down by voting against efforts to repeal Obamacare. He`s getting personal. Are these attacks helping anybody or hurting actually the GOP efforts on health care?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Taiwanese manufacturing giant and top Apple supplier Foxconn will build its first U.S. plant in Wisconsin. The $10 billion investment could lead to the creation of thousands of jobs. Governor Scott Walker calls the deal this largest economic development investment in his state`s history.

The TSA is rolling out stricter security rules for electronics at U.S. airports. Devices bigger than a cell phone will now have to be removed from luggage and screened in a bin by themselves -- back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary Tom Price is also here today.

Dr. Price -- by the way, you going to get the votes? He`d better get them. He`d better get them. Oh, he better. Otherwise, I will say, Tom, you`re fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump on Monday, two days ago, joking that he would fire Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price if he doesn`t get the votes to repeal Obamacare.

President Trump has demanded that Republicans pass something, anything to help him deliver on one of his top legislative promises.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have been here just six months. I`m ready to act. I have pen in hand, believe me. I`m sitting in that office. I have pen in hand. Inaction is not an option. And, frankly, I don`t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we can give our people great health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And he`s not afraid to go after members of his own party if they fail to show their loyalty to him.

Just this morning, President Trump attacked the senior senator from Alaska, tweeting: "Senator Lisa Murkowski of the great state of Alaska really let the Republicans and our country down yesterday. Too bad."

Senator Murkowski was one of two GOP senators who voted yesterday against the motion to proceed on the health care repeal effort.

And, last week, Trump did the same thing to Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, using one of the favorite tools in his arsenal, public humiliation.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This was the one we were worried about. You weren`t there. But you`re going to be. You`re going to be.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn`t he? OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, public humiliation hasn`t worked just yet.

This afternoon, the Senate rejected a proposal to repeal Obamacare without offering a replacement.

But seven Republicans voted against that measure.

For more, I`m joined by Republican Congressman from Ohio Bill Johnson, who joined President Trump in Youngstown, Ohio, just yesterday.

Congressman, what do you -- I have never actually seen it. I think FDR tried this back in 1938 or so, when he went after a couple of senators he didn`t like, Senator George from Georgia, a few others. He went nowhere.

Do you think it is good politics for this president to call out people Heller and Murkowski because he doesn`t like their votes?

REP. BILL JOHNSON (R), OHIO: Well, first of all, Chris, I was not with the president yesterday in Youngstown. I had votes here on the sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran. So, I was here in the Capitol.

But, look, this is the same president that got elected last November. And I don`t see that he`s changed his tactics. And the people that elected him, especially the people in my district, Chris, they are refreshed by the idea they have got a president who says what he thinks, and he is not afraid to call people out when they`re not helping to do what they promised they`re going to do for the last six years, which is repeal and replace a failing health care system that has destroyed our health care system, especially in districts like mine in Ohio.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of these seven Republicans that didn`t vote to repeal?

JOHNSON: Well, they have to answer to the people that hired them.

I can tell you that, in my state -- take Anthem, for example, that has pulled out of our state. We now have 18 counties that don`t have a health care provider or a health insurance carrier, rather, in -- on the exchanges.

And a third of those are in my district. And people want us to do what we said we would do and what the president promised he was going to do. And so he is holding people accountable to that promise.

MATTHEWS: If you were called to vote up or down on straight repeal, where would you vote?

JOHNSON: I would vote absolutely yes.

Now, is that the perfect solution? No, it`s not the perfect solution. But we have got to move the ball forward, Chris, because this -- this -- Obamacare as it is, is failing.

And in those 18 counties that now have no insurance carrier on the exchanges, where are the people with preexisting conditions in those counties going to get health insurance from?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Were we better off before Obamacare?

JOHNSON: I believe we were.

MATTHEWS: In other words, with no national program on health care, we were better off?

JOHNSON: Well, I will tell you that we knew we needed major reforms in health care.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, before we had a national program like Obamacare, we didn`t have anything back before `09.

So, do you think we were better off back then before `010, rather?

JOHNSON: I think we were better off without Obamacare, but we certainly needed health care reform.

MATTHEWS: Without national program? But we didn`t have anything before Obama. The Republicans never cooked up anything. The Democrats were never able to get a vote to do it.

It wasn`t there until Obama. You`re saying Obamacare is worse than nothing?

JOHNSON: Absolutely it is, because we don`t want the federal government running health care. We simply don`t.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Well, anyway, over the past year, Kaiser health tracking polls have shown the Affordable Care Act has been -- has seen an increase in its actually popularity. June`s polling showed that 51 percent of voters have a favorable view of Obamacare, while 41 have an unfavorable view.

In fact, one Pennsylvanian voter who originally opposed Obamacare explained why he was against repealing it, telling "The New York Times" -- quote -- "As much as I was against it, at this point, I`m against the repeal. Now that you have insured an additional 20 million people, you just can`t take the insurance away from these people. It`s just not the right thing to do."

Where are you on that, Congressman, taking it away from people who have it now?

JOHNSON: Look, I -- Chris, I don`t -- I wasn`t elected by polls. I don`t base my votes based on polls. I represent people, not polls.

MATTHEWS: Do you think most of your people want to get rid of it?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: Absolutely the people in my district want to get rid of it, absolutely, because they have lost access. They have seen skyrocketing premiums.

They don`t have access to their doctors. Thousands have been driven onto the Medicaid rolls in my district because they simply can`t afford anything on the exchanges, or there`s nothing available on the exchanges.

MATTHEWS: So, you never hire a pollster?

JOHNSON: Oh, I hire a pollster. But I don`t...

MATTHEWS: Well, you say you don`t believe in pollsters. Which is it? You hire them and pay for them. If you don`t believe in polls, why do you pay for them?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: You put words in my mouth. I said I don`t represent polls. I represent people. And I represent what the people say in my district.

MATTHEWS: Well, why do you say the polls show that Obamacare more popular than unpopular don`t mean anything?

JOHNSON: I didn`t say the polls don`t mean anything.

I said I don`t respond simply because a poll says one thing over another. What I responds to is what the people in my district say, Chris. And the people in my district who are now in six of my counties have no influence under Obamacare and have seen their premiums skyrocket, they don`t like it. They want us to do something. And I want to follow through with that.

MATTHEWS: So, just to finish discussion, to clear the record, your view is that the people of your district in Ohio basically would be better off before we had Obamacare and would like to go back to that as a starter for anything now?

JOHNSON: I think the people in my district want to get rid of Obamacare. And they like what we have done in the House. And I`m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the Senate, so we can get the people more choice, to better quality and better access to health care.

MATTHEWS: OK. Congressman, sorry about getting that wrong. Somebody told me that you were at that rally yesterday. You obviously weren`t. Thank you for clearing us up on that.

JOHNSON: No, I wasn`t.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Congressman Bill Johnson of Ohio.

JOHNSON: You bet.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Does President Trump think he`s ready for Rushmore, Mount Rushmore? He says he`s more presidential than anyone except for Abe Lincoln.

Anyway, the HARDBALL Roundtable is here to weigh in on that one next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Anyway, President Trump made it clear last night that he won`t leave it to the historians to judge his presidency. He has already determined he ranks among the best. At a campaign style rally in Ohio yesterday, the president addressed criticism of his governing style, saying that his ability to, quote, act presidential, close quote, is second only to Abraham Lincoln. Let`s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP; PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is much easier, by the way, to act presidential than what we`re doing here tonight. Believe me. And I said, with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that`s ever held this office. That I can tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`ve never heard of Lincoln referred to as the late great. That`s usually for sportscasters, that kind of language.

Anyway, the president then praised or raised the prospect that his face might one day be added to Mt. Rushmore, but said the press wouldn`t understand that he was just joking. Well, let`s take a look and judge for yourself. Was he serious?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now, here`s what I would do. I would ask whether or not you think I will someday be on Mt. Rushmore but -- no.

(CHEERS)

But here`s the problem. If I did it, joking, totally joking, having fun, the fake news media will say, he believes he should be on Mt. Rushmore.

(BOOS)

So I won`t say it, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think did you, sir.

Whether there`s any truth behind Trump`s joke or not, a 2009 poll conducted by "60 Minutes" and "Vanity Fair," the magazine, showed that Americans would favor actually John F. Kennedy on Mt. Rushmore if a fifth president would be added to that historic monument. By the way, if you ever have a chance, go to Mt. Rushmore, it`s overwhelming.

I`m joined now by the roundtable. Ari Melber is NBC`s chief legal correspondent and host of the great new show that precedes this show, I`m glad to say, "THE BEAT" on MSNBC, and Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics", and Azi Paybarah is a reporter for "Politico".

My colleague, sir, my colleague, what`s Trump doing here? The other night, he made a -- I mean, I would say, troubling reference to the fact that Napoleon lost a battle of Moscow because he had an assignation, like a date, an illicit date. So, he wasn`t able to fly over from Paris to Moscow.

In those days, we didn`t even have trains. We had wagons and feet. And that`s how you got somewhere. And what was he talking about? This is dizzy history.

And talking about Abe Lincoln as the only great president we`ve had, we did have FDR somewhere in the middle there. And what is he talking about, that he`s in league with Lincoln?

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, "THE BEAT": I think he is so self-obsessed, the only way he knows how to give a compliment is to say that someone might --

MATTHEWS: Does he know the other presidents?

MELBER: -- measure up to him.

No, I don`t think he`s got a good historical track record. I`m reminded of a "New Yorker" profile of Christopher Hitchens, a long time HARDBALL guest, who talks a lot about himself and the writer said, you know, it is hard to draw a portrait in the shadow of such a large self-portrait. And that debate of what it`s like with Trump --

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Christopher did have an ego but he was also brilliant.

Caitlin, this -- you`re so young. It`s insane. I don`t know if it has anything to do with age. Why would anyone compare himself to perhaps the greatest president? Most people would say Lincoln was the greatest president because having united a divided country and to hold it together and to forgive the South, and to bring the healing to begin --

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: -- and all the time with the rebel troops basically almost across the river, that`s where, you know, Robert E. Lee`s mansion was, and he could see the lights of enemy when he took office.

HUEY-BURNS: Well, if you think about -- you know, having covered lots of Trump rallies, there`s so much theatrics involved. So many theatrics involved in this. He plays to the crowd in this way. He also doesn`t have any legislative, major legislative accomplishments to go back to a state that he won and said, look, this is what I`ve done. When you think about Trump and history, one day it sticks out to me and I think that sticks out to him, which is November 8th, 2016. He repeatedly references the election, and the fact he won the election over and over and over again.

MELBER: Well, it was very impressive to come in second in the popular vote. It`s impressive.

MATTHEWS: No, he won. Break your heart. You`re counting hits. Count runs.

MELBER: No, he won. I think it is a mixed -- I think it is a mixed memory.

MATTHEWS: I think the amazing thing is he got 46 percent, which is a hell of a vote. Anyway, we were talking about that today off camera.

Let me ask you about Trump and the behavior, the buffoonery. You can argue -- I think there are three things to worry about Trump. One is the buffoonery, this kind of stuff.

The other is we don`t have an actual presidency ready in case something really bad happened. We don`t have like a -- even with Nixon, we had a Middle East war, and Nixon, in the middle of Watergate and all the hell that was going saved Israel. And he did the job of delivering weapons to the arms there. And in this case, I`m not sure we have a ready operation.

The third thing is there`s nothing getting done.

AZI PAYBARAH, REPORTER, POLITICO: Right.

MATTHEWS: But let`s talk buffoonery. Suppose Trump was a boring president like President Mondale might, or maybe Hillary in a little way, would he be better off being boring? Honestly, here`s a question, I`m not so sure -- a boring Trump might be worse than a wild Trump. Your thoughts?

PAYBARAH: I think in Trump`s mind, attention is power. And as Caitlin was saying, no, legislative accomplishments, and as Ari was saying, the only way Trump understands the world is solely through himself. Things only exist in relation to him.

The idea of being presidential also is, for him, that`s synonymous with weak. The only thing he understands is power. So, when he says someone -- so when he says, you know, being presidential is easy. What he really is saying -- is signaling to his supporters is that it`s weak. He doesn`t do anything that requires sustained effort, that requires sacrifice.

MATTHEWS: It`s all momentary.

Anyway, Trump often cites history to exaggerate his own achievements. The only problem is, he usually gets his facts wrong. Earlier this month, he claimed incorrectly that he had signed more bills than any other U.S. president. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What we`ve done over a short period of time, and what we`re going to be doing over the next six months, will be incredible. We`ve signed more bills and I`m talking about through the legislation, than any president ever. For a while, Harry Truman had us. And now, I think we have everybody, Mike. I`d better say think. Otherwise, they`ll give you a Pinocchio. I don`t like those -- I don`t like Pinocchios.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, stop earning them anyway.

Anyway, "The New York Times" and other outlets were quick to correct the record, calculating that Trump has signed fewer bills than any recent presidents. They show that Roosevelt and Truman signed more bills within their first hundred days than Trump did in his first six months.

Anyway, I just think that Azi just said something pretty brilliant, it`s what I`m trying to work here, but no so succinctly -- attention is power.

MELBER: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Every movement that occurs, Trump has to dominate, whether it`s calling somebody "Little Marco", or he`s attacking Hillary or it`s making some absurd historic event. An historic claim or it`s going after transgender people. As long as he`s the topic, he thinks he`s winning.

MELBER: This is not a policy presidency. It`s a content presidency. Richard Haas said this, a long time ago in the `60s, in paranoid-style American politics. There is interest politics. There`s do-gooders. There`s people who sit around the table and say how will health care work? That`s a great thing.

And then there`s status politics. If you`re interested in status and you see him as an icon of your people. It doesn`t matter so much what he does. The content for him is the story and that`s four years of --

MATTHEWS: That tie of his makes a big statement. Quickly?

HUEY-BURNS: Right. Well, I also -- I also think that --

MATTHEWS: Do you agree? Attention is power?

HUEY-BURNS: -- Trump thinks of himself as his own historic figure, right? He ran against over president. I mean, he ran against Obama, he against the Clintons, ran against the Bushes. He sees himself as his own element really. And to your point, I mean, it`s ratings, right? He thinks it`s ratings.

MATTHEWS: Smart roundtable is sticking with us.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, U.S. Congressman Steve Scalise has been discharged from a Washington, D.C. hospital. That`s good news. Scalise was critically wounded, of course, last month when a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice.

A statement from the hospital says that the congressman will now begin rehabilitation. Well, every one here at HARDBALL wishes the congressman a full recovery.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ari, my colleague.

MELBER: As they say --

MATTHEWS: Have you learned how to say that yet? My --

MELBER: My esteemed colleague.

MATTHEWS: My esteemed colleague.

MELBER: Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, tell me something I don`t know.

MELBER: They said travel ban would be a 90-day pause to come up with a fuller immigration policy. Look for the president to come up empty-handed. No actual holistic policy.

MATTHEWS: Passed a goal in `86, enforce it.

HUEY-BURNS: Lots of --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Simpson-Mazzoli was a good bill. Go ahead.

HUEY-BURNS: Lots of palace intrigue in the White House. Who is leaving, who is staying. My colleague Alexis Simendinger scooped that the White House may actually be under construction next month. So, everybody is going to have to leave the building.

MATTHEWS: Oh, come on. That`s so chicken. Come on, who is going to get sacked?

HUEY-BURNS: We`ll see, right?

MATTHEWS: Reince Priebus, is he gone?

HUEY-BURNS: That`s the perpetual --

MATTHEWS: Azi?

PAYBARAH: Among the presidents on Mt. Rushmore, Trump tweeted the most about -- the most quotes from Abraham Lincoln, including one that says: a friend is one who has the same enemies you have. Trump knows maybe something about history but he cares about certain quotes.

MATTHEWS: Well, somebody else knew it because there it was on the screen.

Anyway, thank you, Ari Melber, Caitlin Huey-Burns and Azi Paybarah.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, July 26th, 2017.

Donald Trump doesn`t mind casualties. He doesn`t mind leaving political bodies along the road if he can get where he wants to go. He dumped Paul Manafort, Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie. He dumped Michael Flynn and fired Sally Yates and James Comey. He is based on his rap sheet about to dump Jeff Sessions, the loyalist he made attorney general.

Well, along the way today, he had announced the 7,000 transgender people now serving in the U.S. military forces. He did so because it would give him street cred with his base and, of course, distract from the Russian investigation. This isn`t personal as far as he`s concerned. As the guy said in "The Godfather", it`s just business. It`s the business Trump has chosen.

And when it comes to defending his real estate on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he will treat even his people like small potatoes.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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