Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/30/17 Harvey hits Beaumont

Guests: Chris Buskirk, Zerlina Maxwell, Jonathan Turley, Sheila Jackson Lee, Noah Rothman, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Philip Bump

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 30, 2017

Guest: Chris Buskirk, Zerlina Maxwell, Jonathan Turley, Sheila Jackson Lee, Noah Rothman, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Philip Bump

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Harvey on the move.

This is HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews.

Harvey is continuing to wreak havoc across southeast Texas and into Louisiana now, the record-shattering storm dumping rain on the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur. Flooding in Beaumont has turned much worse after more than two feet of rain fell there. And we continue to see dramatic emerge of helicopter rescues as Navy helicopters rushed to lift stranded civilians people to safety.

In Port Arthur, even the shelters are filling with water now. In Beaumont, authorities confirm that a woman was killed. She was swept into flooded drainage canal, her young daughter rescued. She was found clinging to her mother. And six family members were killed in Green`s Bayou after their van was swept away by floodwaters. The death toll in Texas from Harvey -- it now stands at 21.

Texas governor Greg Abbott activated 14,000 Texas National Guard troops, says the worst is not yet over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Bottom line, we are now up to our highest level of the number of Texas National Guard members who are deployed to help our fellow Texans deal with these challenges.

There are more than 32,000 people currently in shelters in the state. Importantly, we have approximately 30,000 beds that are available for sheltering as needed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: In Houston meanwhile, the rain has now stopped, but flooding persists with evacuations ongoing. And that city`s mayor, Sylvester Turner, has already blasted the federal response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D), HOUSTON: I`m hoping that people at the federal level, at the very top, will understand that this was catastrophic and that they will be responsive and not put us on, You do the cleanup and send us your bills later on. That is -- that would be totally, totally unacceptable. We need a whole lot of FEMA representatives on the ground now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: It all comes as President Trump tries to answer critics who say he didn`t do enough to talk about the victims of those floods yesterday. We`re going to get to that in a minute.

But for more on the situation on the ground, I`m joined by NBC`s Miguel Almaguer. He is covering rescue efforts in Orange, Texas.

So Miguel, where you are -- you`re east of Houston. So much of the attention`s been on Houston the last few days. That storm has now moved, cutting through where you are. Set the scene for us, if you would.

MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS: And Steve, we`re pretty close to Beaumont. That`s where so many of these rescues happened. We`re actually about as physically close to Beaumont as can you get before water divides this city. And Beaumont -- there is -- if you can think of the city of Beaumont, it is literally an island tonight.

We were with the Navy, who was also carrying Coast Guard members who were getting ready to launch near Texas A&M this morning, over to the Houston area when they got the call to come to Beaumont because there were so many people in distress.

During our time here in the air, we were landing over Beaumont, where we could see several many people that needed rescue. One by one, the Air Force and the Navy working together, working in tandem, hoisted about 300 people to safety suddenly here as the floodwaters began to rise in Beaumont. They were able to airlift all of those people back to this area, to Orange, Texas, where at this facility, they came to a convention center, were able to get checked in and get some help and also kind of get their lives sorted together.

We were with them, though, in that helicopter as one by one, young children as young as 7, even 11 years old and their parents were pulled to safety. They were certainly very terrified and also very relieved. Imagine, they were at their homes, they went to bed overnight, there was no water in front of their homes. And then by the time they woke up, they say, it was at their feet, near their bed.

That was a terrifying situation for so many people that were hauled out of that area today, those terrified faces we were with the air as they were finally brought to safety. They were hauled up on those rappelling systems, those emergency baskets as the winds ripped around, as the rain blew sideways. It was a harrowing experience for those who made it out of that flood zones, many of them, 300 of them, lucky to be here and very relieved that they`ve made it out of that -- out of Beaumont alive -- Steve.

KORNACKI: OK, NBC`s Miguel Almaguer, down there in Orange, Texas. Miguel, thank you for that.

And the response to the storm -- well, it is bringing out the best in the community, video emerging of neighbors forming a human chain -- check this out -- to help a pregnant woman in Houston, volunteers using their own boats to join the search, to rescue victims of flooding caused by Harvey.

And Toney Wade, Jr., is one of those volunteers. He`s a commander with the Cajun Coast Search and Rescue team. They`re headquartered in Louisiana. He joins me now by phone from Sulfur (ph), Louisiana.

Toby, thank you for -- Toney, thank you for taking a few minutes. So you are manning this rescue operation in boats going to houses that are flooded in. We see so many of these scenes on our screen of rescues from these homes. Take us through that process.

When you`re coming to a flooded home, trying to rescue the occupants, what is the biggest challenge for you in trying to do that?

TONEY WADE, CAJUN COAST SEARCH & RESCUE (via telephone): Well (INAUDIBLE) right off the bat, the biggest challenge (INAUDIBLE) that we face is a logistical issue. (INAUDIBLE) is there`s so many hazards that we have to cross, submerged cars, submerged objects that we can`t see (INAUDIBLE) by boat, you know, and just lifting the people out of the water into the boats or out of their homes into the boats is just -- it`s a physical struggle constantly.

KORNACKI: And we`ve talked so much here about -- and we`re looking at some of the scenes here. This was from Houston. I don`t think you can see it, but this was from Houston, volunteers helping a pregnant woman. The assistance you`ve received -- you`re a volunteer squad. Talk about that -- the work that`s being done by people, just members of the community, by volunteers. What are you seeing on the ground there in terms of just community members helping community members?

WADE: (INAUDIBLE) staggering, and it actually gives you a lot of faith in humanity. People are leaving their own families to come out here and help, offer support to the victims of this flood, offer us support. We`ve been fed by multiple people over the days that we`ve been out. And it`s just -- I mean, it`s just heart-warming to see (INAUDIBLE) come together for -- for the better of their neighbors or community members who have lost everything, are just basically in despair.

KORNACKI: Well, what`s the -- what`s the reaction? What`s that moment like when you get to one of these houses, you know, maybe they`re up in the attic, maybe they`re on one of the top floors, on the roof maybe, and you`re able to bring your boat up, you`re able to rescue these stranded -- these stranded people from their homes.

What`s that moment like? What`s that`s their reaction like? What are they saying?

WADE: Well, a lot of times, they`re not saying a lot. I mean, it`s extremely emotional. They`re stressed. They`re scared. They`re confused. They don`t know what`s going to happen to them.

And just to see that there -- one of the -- one of the persons we saved said that were like -- it was like heaven opened up and just placed us on that spot. It was -- it`s very emotional.

We rescued an Asian family a few days ago that spoke very little English, but it`s just -- there was no need for words to be said. I mean, the faces, the expressions, the hugs, the kisses, it was all self-explanatory. It`s a wonderful feeling on both sides, a feeling of relief for them but also a feeling of (INAUDIBLE) for us that we were actually able to get them out of there alive and in good condition.

KORNACKI: And I imagine you are getting a view of your community and of that area that probably you never thought you`d see. I mean, we`ve seen so many before and after shots in the media of highways that had cars on them a week ago, now that look like rivers, that look like oceans in some case.

I know this is well in the future, but are you -- as you -- as you move around the area, is part of you thinking ahead to when these waters recede, the rebuilding project that comes after that?

WADE: Yes, well, we`re going to have several phases that we`re going to go through. You know, right now, we`re doing the rescue phase, and actually tomorrow, we`re moving to another area where the water has receded and we`ll (INAUDIBLE) our K-9 teams to -- to actually start the recovery process, to help look for deceased victims or anyone trapped under rubble that haven`t been found yet. And (INAUDIBLE) that`s going to be very emotional for all of us guys (ph).

But after that`s cleared, yes, we (INAUDIBLE) to helping these communities clean up, get rid of the debris, and then we`ll move into helping people rebuild their homes, get them cleaned up, get them back home again.

KORNACKI: All right, well, Toney Wade, you`re doing hero`s work. The folks working with you are, as well. Thank you for taking a few minutes -- Toney Wade with the Cajun Coast Search and Rescue team.

Meanwhile, NBC`s Kerry Sanders -- he`s joining us now. He is on a rescue helicopter. He`s over Beaumont, Texas. We`ve been talking about what`s going on in Beaumont. Kerry, what are you seeing?

We`re having some trouble hearing Kerry there, I think. We`re going to see if we can set that connection up again. He is over Beaumont, Texas, in a helicopter. If we get that reestablished, we`ll check in with Kerry.

Meanwhile, even as rescues in Houston continue, the politics of this -- well, today, Texas Senator Ted Cruz offered his assessment of the local response. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We`re seeing Houstonians come together, but every one of us also gives thanks. This disaster could have so easily had a much, much higher death toll.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Cruz said that he and the state`s other senator, John Cornyn, will lead the funding fight in Congress over recovery efforts. But he doubled down on his own vote on Superstorm Sandy funding from back in 2013.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: It was a $50 billion bill, 70 percent of which was not emergency aid. Only 30 percent of that bill was emergency aid.

KORNACKI: That comes as New Jersey governor Chris Christie took his own shot at Cruz last night for that claim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two thirds -- where do you get a number like...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) lying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... two thirds?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Well, he just made it up. I mean, you know, Ted`s particularly good at that. He just made it up. You know it and I know up. He made it up.

You know, he talks about playing politics, that`s what he did with people`s lives in 2012 and 2013.

Well, he should just stand up now and say, You know what? I was wrong. I was wrong in 2012.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

CHRISTIE: It was the wrong thing to do, and now I hope that the people of New Jersey and New York are willing to let bygones be bygones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Texas governor Greg Abbott said today the federal funding response to Harvey will far exceed the $120 billion federal dollars that were provided after Katrina.

Joining me now is Democratic congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. She represents downtown Houston. Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.

Well, look, I got to ask, you`ve got Governor Christie there in New Jersey, who went through this with Sandy a few years ago. You`ve got Ted Cruz. I think you were with him today. This issue of the reluctance of some members of Congress to go along with the Sandy funding plan five years ago, four or five years ago -- is that going to factor at all in the Congress debate over deciding how much money Texas gets in the wake of this tragedy?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Well, I`d like to look to the future, and the future is that this is a catastrophic incident that no one has ever seen. I am empathetic and sympathetic to every disaster, whether it was Sandy, whether it was Katrina, whether it was Rita, whether it was tornadoes in Alabama. Wherever the American people are suffering, we in the United States Congress got to get our act together.

And frankly, I think what I hear from those in Washington -- my colleagues have called me nonstop. I spoke to the speaker of the House, the Democratic leadership. And what they said is that there would be no divide, no sunshine between them on what Texas needs, and I`m going to take them at their word.

Right now, I`m writing a bill of aid for the House that I hope to introduce for $152 billion. And frankly, it may go up even more. And I welcome the support of our two United States senators and their leadership, and I look forward to the bipartisan leadership.

Let me tell you, people are dying. People are still needing to be rescued. As the mayor of Beaumont said, they`re under water. People have been heroic. We lost a wonderful member of the Houston Police Department, who left his home and said, I`ve got to go to work. And tragically, he lost his life. We lost that wonderful family in my constituent area. And so I feel the pain of people who are still suffering.

And let me say this. We`re probably losing 30,000 to 40,000 homes, hundreds of thousands of cars. These numbers are going to be astronomical. We have no time for anyone dividing on the funding for the state of Texas.

KORNACKI: Yes, you mentioned some of -- the cars, the homes. Do you have a sense -- are you able at this point to get your head around what day-to- day life in Houston and in the area is going to be like in the months -- first few years after this? What`s it going to be like a year from now as a result of this storm?

LEE: Well, let me tell you, we have heard from those who have been through this, and as well, experts, FEMA representatives, that this may be years of recovery, our local officials, mayor and county judge and others, years of recovery.

What I`ve seen is already in places where it`s flooded before -- yes, last year, we had something called the tax day floods, Memorial Day floods back to back. One of my areas that I represent, Green`s Point, those people, those families have suffered more than double, triple time.

But what`s happening is people are taking their water-logged carpet up again. Maybe some of it is brand-new. They`re looking at their lost appliances. They`re looking at lost clothing. They`re looking at school books lost, mementos lost. This is going to be a process that is going to be step by step.

May I just tell you, last night when I was in the shelter, a lady came on a walker and she was walking up to the office of FEMA that we finally got set up, finally got it into the shelter. And she started walking up, and she just broke down. She said, I don`t know -- I`ve got a house. I don`t know what to do. Now I`ve lost my phone. She`s thinking that because she doesn`t have a phone, she can`t sign up to get on -- her tracking number. She just needed a hug.

And thank goodness I was there, but we -- we -- the FEMA people were still open. It was about 10:30 at night. And they took that lady in. That lady needed a hug, a personal hug, but she needed the hug of the federal government to be able to recognize that we are going to stay here with you.

And look, I don`t run away from what the mayor said. FEMA has got to stand up. The federal funding has got to stand up. President Trump has got to stand up.

And I hope that we can put the border aside, closing the government aside - - the border wall, excuse me -- and that we can look at this catastrophic emergency because these people need hugs. They really do.

KORNACKI: All right, well, that is -- obviously, the storm still very much front and center, but as it recedes, that will become the political question here, what exactly will constitute the long-term federal response to this. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee from Houston, thank you for the time.

LEE: Thank you, Steve. Can I just thank the volunteers, please? And I just want to say to you it has been the world of diversity that has come out, people from all racial, ethnic, religious backgrounds. I`m so proud of America and I`m so proud of Houstonians for all that they have done for all of these people.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: ... sentiment that everybody watching these images, seeing these images that last few days would share. Congresswoman, thank you for the time.

We are going to try again now with NBC`s Kerry Sanders. He`s in a rescue helicopter. They`re circling Beaumont, Texas.

Kerry, if you can hear me, tell us what you`re seeing there.

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: OK, we`re in Customs and Border Protection aircraft right now. This is the air and marine operations unit.

And we went over Beaumont and went to Port Arthur, where we were able to pick up two victims here. Now, this victim here is paralyzed. I`ve spoken to him as much as we can in the noise of this aircraft. We`re going to try and ask him a question, but he told me that because of his paralysis, were it not, as we just heard the guest say, the warm hugs of the federal government coming to rescue him, he would still be in the misery down there in the water. In some cases, the water chest level.

Let me see -- they`ve given him some EKGs. They`re monitoring his health. They`re monitoring his health. Let me see if I can (INAUDIBLE)

How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

SANDERS: What do you feel when you saw the helicopter come and the team come in to rescue you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had no idea. (INAUDIBLE) made it out.

SANDERS: OK. It`s a little hard in the helicopter for me to hear him, but you could probably hear him.

We have another person right over here who was also rescued. This aircraft (INAUDIBLE) airborne all day. In fact, they started Monday. As soon as the weather finally cleared up, they were working in Houston. Then they moved themselves over to Katy, but as they were heading to Katy today, then everything developed in Beaumont and also in Port Arthur. They`ve been running operations around the clock.

We`re with them right now as they`re getting ready to come in, and we`re going to land, I think, perhaps near the hospital. And I`m not sure even what city we`re in right now.

But Steve, this is sort of the dynamic operations of all the different aircraft that are airborne. Again, this is the folks from the CBP. But as we look at the aircraft in the area, you can see that there is also the Texas Air National Guard. You have the helicopters from the Coast Guard. In fact, there are sheriff`s aircraft that are not even really set up with the hoists and the litters to bring people up that are actually doing that terrible dance for a helicopter pilot to come down in an area that`s not a traditional landing zone.

We`re touching down right now in a landing zone, and if you look out the window right now, you can see that there is an ambulance waiting, and the ambulance will immediately take this patient, who`s going to be taken off the aircraft now, to a hospital.

So Steve, this is going on just about every which way you look, and it`s been like this all day.

KORNACKI: All right, NBC`s Kerry Sanders again. That hospital was above Beaumont, has now landed. Kerry, thank you for that.

We`re going to take a quick break here.

Coming up, though -- one day after his trip to storm-ravaged Texas, President Trump heads to Missouri today trying to sell tax reform. He`s looking to get some sort of legislative victory on the board, but he offered nothing in the way of specifics, at least today.

And he`s still dealing with some criticism over his trip to Texas yesterday. That is ahead.

Plus, Trump`s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been panned by both sides. Chris Christie says he wouldn`t have done it, and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says the Arpaio pardon could be an ominous sign of things to come in the Russia investigation.

And Axios is calling Trump, quote, "The incredible shrinking president." He`s been stymied by Congress over health care and the border wall. There`s growing disappointment in his presidency, even according to a new focus group among his own voters.

And finally, the HARDBALL roundtable will be here to tell me three things that I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Well, President Trump`s budget proposal would slash the federal government`s funding of agencies that help with disaster relief, like the ones being called to action by Hurricane Harvey.

"The Washington Post" notes that Trump`s proposed budget would cut funding to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps rebuild home after natural disasters, but also it`s the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Many of Trump`s proposed cuts would erode funding that was put in place after the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As most of America continues to monitor the situation in Texas, President Trump pivoted today from commander in chief to salesman in chief.

Today, while in Missouri, the president waded back into political waters, making his hard sale for tax reform. The speech, void of specifics, was more about why reform should happen and not the particulars of how it should happen.

He called on Congress to come together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So let`s put, or at least try to put, the partisan posturing behind us and come together as Americans to create the 21st century tax code that our people deserve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: But minutes before he delivered that call to unity you just heard, he took direct aim at Missouri`s Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, who`s up for reelection in 2018. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We must, we have no choice, we must lower our taxes. And your Senator Claire McCaskill, she must do this for you. And if she doesn`t do it for you, you have to vote her out of office.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: The renewed presidential focus on tax reform comes one day after his visit to Texas.

For the latest, I`m joined by "New York Times" White House correspondent and MSNBC political analyst Glenn Thrush.

So, Glenn, two very different scenes here, obviously in Texas yesterday, Missouri today. But in terms of the politics of what the president is looking for, is asking for today, he wants Congress to move on tax reform when they come back to town.

How much of what is happening in Texas in terms of Congress having to respond to that, come up with some money for that, how much of that is going to derail the ability of Congress to act on anything else, including tax reform?

GLENN THRUSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, Steve, that`s a good question.

Look, we have covered -- those of who have been here too long have covered a lot of these government shutdowns. Really, since 2010, we have covered the Tea Party movement on the Hill. And what they are about is, every time that you increase spending, for each dollar of increased spending, they have often demanded a dollar in cuts.

Same thing holds true with tax cuts. If you`re going to cut taxes, you have to offset with spending cuts. If you go for both of these things, a massive tax cut, plus a massive -- and, again, Governor Abbott is referring to, what, a $100 billion-plus recovery plan, and you throw a bunch of other stuff on to it, as will happen in these bills, you`re throwing the budget entirely out of whack.

So, there is really a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on here, a total schizophrenia in the administration. You have Mick Mulvaney`s budget that you just talked about which zeros out Community Development Block Grants for HUD, which is never going to happen, by the way, and which is very specific, by the way.

So, the budget document they put out is fairly specific. These tax cuts are very vague and add to the deficit. So the president and the Republican Party at large are going to have to decide whether or not they`re a party of big spending or a party of cuts.

And that`s I think where this entire package is going to wind up having big trouble, and I mean the tax package.

KORNACKI: Yes.

Spending vs. tax cuts, I remember those debates from the Bush years, too, in the Republican Party.

Glenn Thrush there at the White House, thank you for that, Glenn.

More now, I`m joined by Zerlina Maxwell. She`s the director of progressive programming for SiriusXM and the former director of progressive media for the Clinton campaign. And Chris Buskirk is the editor and publisher of the conservative Web site American Greatness and the author of "American Greatness: How Conservatism, Inc. Missed the 2016 Election."

Well, Chris, let me start with you and that question that Glenn just raised seems like it`s a philosophical one for the Republican Party in the Trump era that may be coming to a head when Congress returns in September.

On the hone hand, you have got an unprecedented disaster down there in Texas into Louisiana that`s going to require some big federal money. On the other hand, you have got the president out there today saying, hey, I want tax reform, I want tax cuts.

You are going to have the question of how can you pay for tax cuts, especially in the light of what`s going to be a pretty hefty price tag for the cleanup down there in Texas? Does something have to give here when it comes to Republican priorities?

CHRIS BUSKIRK, AMERICANGREATNESS.ORG: Yes, I don`t know.

This is a debate we have had going on, on the right for 20 years. This is not something that is new. The problem that the Republicans in Congress have always had is they wanted to have their cake and eat it too, which is to say they wanted to talk tough about spending cuts, wanted to tell their voters what they wanted to hear about getting tax cuts, but they weren`t really willing to do both at the same time.

They weren`t willing to walk and chew gum. I think you`re right in the sense that they have to own up to the fact. And it`s not just Republicans, by the way. It`s the way the system works. Democrats play the same game too. Everybody wants to spend money. Everybody also wants to cut taxes to make their voters happy. But you can`t really have both.

KORNACKI: Where should the give be? Should the Republican position be, I`m sorry, folks in Texas, what you`re asking for is not going to be enough? Or it should be led by the tax side?

BUSKIRK: No. No. No.

No, I think -- no, certainly not. I think that`s clear. I think there`s bipartisan support, as there should be, that what`s happened in Texas is a unique situation, that it`s an act of God and the country needs to respond in a way that is appropriate, gives Texas the help that it needs to get back on its feet and to recover from the hurricane.

I don`t honestly thinks that that changes the debate about taxes vs. spending or about the budget. This is something that happens every few years. It probably, quite honestly, is something that needs to be factored into a long-term budgeting plan, because we know that hurricanes happen and we need to deal with it honestly in the way that we account for our federal budget.

But Republicans also need to own up to the fact that, yes, look, on the one hand, tax cuts will stimulate growth, which also increase tax revenues. We have known this for a long, long time.

But at the same time, they can`t talk tough on cutting spending and then not do it. At some point, this is going to give. We have got a $20 trillion federal debt that at some point we need to think seriously about reducing.

There`s been a lot of talk about it, but not too much in the way of concrete plans of dealing with it.

KORNACKI: Well, also an interesting thing we want to share here too, there is what the president is saying in Missouri today. There`s also what his own voters, some of them at least, are saying about him.

Look at this. In a Pittsburgh focus group last night, Trump voters described what they said is their disappointment with the president`s first few months in office. Here`s how they portrayed him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outrageous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Abject disappointment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unique.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Off the scale.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Crazy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: One voter said the president is overshadowing his own agenda. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What most disappointments me is, he`s such an incredibly flawed individual that has articulated many of the values that I hold dear, and the messenger is overwhelming the message. I wish he was on the opposite side of where I hold dear, because it would be better for the causes that I like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: The focus group was conducted by pollster Peter Hart on behalf of Emory University.

We`re going to have much more, but it`s fascinating. We will have some more clips for you ahead in the show.

Zerlina, let me ask you. Trump voters, the criticisms there are harsh. But I`m noting they also seem to be not so much about policy, but about style.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR OF PROGRESSIVE MEDIA: Right. Yes.

KORNACKI: I wonder from the standpoint of Democrats, if you`re talking about folks who voted for Trump, and their criticism is style, do Democrats have anything to offer them? Is it just, we will behave ourselves better?

MAXWELL: I do think it`s important to talk about his behavior, because I think one of the words that didn`t come out of their mouths was dangerous. Right?

And I think many of the things that they`re highlighting in their criticisms of Donald Trump have to do with his temperament and fitness for the office in terms of tweeting things early in the morning about foreign policy or doing things that may upend the legislative process in Congress.

And I think that those things, those things that tangibly impact people`s lives, their safety -- foreign policy is something you cannot tweet about. You can`t do it by the seat of your pants. And Donald Trump has done that in the past eight months. And I think that`s concerning to people who even voted for him.

I think it`s important that you have somebody who doesn`t undermine the institutions of government and our democratic norms, but also who holds true to the behavior we expect of a president. Donald Trump hasn`t met that standard. And I think that`s what you`re seeing in these focus groups.

KORNACKI: It`s interesting, though, because when I look back to the campaign -- and I don`t know about these folks in particular here, but I was looking through some of the poll numbers today.

And we talk all the time a lot of voters didn`t like Trump. They also didn`t like Clinton, they went for Trump, they went for change. And that`s obviously a huge part of it.

But when you look at the degree to which they didn`t like him, and still voted for him, these are folks saying that he didn`t have a sense of decency, they didn`t think he was honest, they didn`t think he was competent, they didn`t think he was qualified.

And they still voted for him. When I look at that, I sort of say is there something deeper that`s binding them to him, that did then and maybe still is now in a way that we don`t necessarily see?

MAXWELL: I do think there`s a dynamic where people were hoping that he`d rise to the challenge of being president of the United States.

Certainly, being president is something you`re not before you actually are president. And so when you actually are in the office and you`re the commander in chief, there are certain expectations for decorum, behavior, not just style, but also your conduct in office, how you`re dealing with foreign leaders, how you`re talking to the American public, you`re not lying at every single turn about little things and big things.

And so I think that the American public probably expected him to pivot or change, as we talk about often in the media. But that`s not going to happen. The Donald Trump we saw last year in the campaign is the Donald Trump that`s in the White House now. He`s going to be the Donald Trump next year in the White House, barring some sort of unforeseen circumstance.

I thought it was interesting that a voter who voted for Donald Trump brought up impeachment, saying, well, he might be removed or impeached. That was a Trump voter saying that. I think that that is particularly interesting eight months into your presidency.

KORNACKI: Yes.

And I saw another new poll out tonight that actually showed a fair number of Trump voters aren`t even sure he`s going to finish out his term. Again, it`s a fascinating focus group. We will have more from it later.

Zerlina Maxwell, Chris Buskirk, thanks to both for joining us.

Up next: President Trump`s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio continues to get bad reviews even from Republicans, while some Democrats say -- worry that it could be a sign of things to come when it comes to Russia.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, close confidant of Donald Trump, is the latest Republican to express his disagreement with the president`s decision to pardon former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

In a "USA Today" op-ed, law professor Jonathan Turley calls the pardon -- quote -- "unwarranted and unwise," but also says that it -- quote -- "pales in comparison with some past misuses of pardon authority. Left to their own devices," he writes," "presidents have repeatedly used this power for their personal, political and familial interests."

Many of Trump`s critics now say the pardon of Arpaio could also signal Trump`s willingness to use his pardon power in connection with the Russia investigation.

Here`s the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: This pardon in the midst of the case, because, of course, the case against Arpaio wasn`t over, he hadn`t even been sentenced yet, sends a message, which I think very likely deliberate, to other people, if you have my back, if you stick with me, I will protect you. In fact, I won`t even wait until criminal proceedings are over to use the pardon power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: I`m joined now by Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University.

Professor Turley, thanks for joining us. Really, I enjoy your work. I find it very fair-minded and very informed.

Let me ask you this. You`re writing here in this piece we quoted from that you`re not wild about the pardon of Arpaio, but, in perspective, we have seen worse when it comes to pardons.

Let me take a step back and ask you this question. We have a court system in this country. We have judges, we have lawyers, we have trials, we have juries. Why do we even have a presidential pardon? What`s the purpose of the presidential pardon?

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, that was debated by the framers. Some framers did not want to give the president this authority, which was the same authority that the king had.

And they actually talked about the use of a pardon authority by a president to conceal his own crimes. So, all of that came up. But they decided that it was necessary to bring an element of mercy, of humanity to the criminal system.

They were assuming that the president would be the last possible resource for people who were either unfairly sentenced or, in a few cases, even unfairly convicted.

In the case of Arpaio, he was neither. He was correctly held in contempt. And, of course, he hadn`t actually been sentenced.

KORNACKI: Right.

And now so, obviously, there`s first of all the question of what the original intent of the pardon power was vs. how it`s being used here by Trump. But the other thing, and we mentioned this in the intro, folks are looking ahead to what is going on here with the Russia probe, with Mueller.

We know the investigation bothers Trump. If Donald Trump is looking at this investigation right now and saying, you know what, I don`t want this going any further, I want to shut it down, could he potentially do that with the power to pardon?

TURLEY: Well, he couldn`t shut it down.

But certainly the pardon power can frustrate a prosecutor. You can use pardons tactically. The most important power that a prosecutor has is to turn witnesses. People like Manafort and Flynn are the most obvious targets for a prosecutor.

And what they do is they find a crime. May be -- it may be an unrelated crime that they can charge, and they press and they say, you know, this might not be something we normally prosecute, but we`ll do in your case unless you turn evidence against higher ups, including potentially the president.

A tactical pardon removes that coercive ability. It basically tells people like Manafort, here`s your pardon, you don`t have to cooperate anymore. But the key about a tactical pardon, putting aside the ethics of it, is that it has to happen sort of now.

I mean, that window is closing. Manafort, particularly, is being approached on all sides it appears by these investigators. This is the time, if you wanted to remove that pressure for a pardon to come down. I think if he did that, it would be viewed by most people as an abuse of that authority.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: And that`s the question, because -- I mean, there`s the political question how would the voters react? Would his poll numbers drop? Would his ability to win a reelection drop? Would Republican chances in 2018 take a hit?

But beyond the political question like that, if there`s a consensus in the political system that this president or any president abuses the pardon power, is there any other recourse?

TURLEY: It really is impeachment or election. And presidents have, as my article says, abused it in incredible fashions. You know, Harding pardoned a guy known as Lupo the wolf. He was actually a mob hit man who rejoined a mob war in New York. These are outrageous types of abuses.

Just because you have discretion doesn`t mean you can`t abuse it and it can be relevant to impeachment. If people believe your use of the pardon power is to tactically obstruct an investigation into your own conduct, that obviously can become relevant for Congress to look at.

KORNACKI: All right. Jonathan Turley from George Washington University -- thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

TURLEY: Thanks, Steve.

KORNACKI: OK. And up next, he is being called the incredible shrinking president. I think they called Bill Clinton that once, "Time Magazine", June `93. Anyway, Donald Trump wrapping up summer with no shortage of troubles and Republicans and many of his own voters seem to be wondering what has going wrong.

That`s next. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

What`s happening to the Trump pa presidency? Well, Mike Allen in "Axios" today wrote about what he called the incredible, shrinking president. The most powerful man in the world, he writes, is suddenly looking mighty powerless.

The list of people defying Trump seems to be growing. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from the Senate on the issue of taxes. Gary Cohn and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his response to Charlottesville. Of course, the military on his transgender ban. Courts, Congress, CEOs, foreign leaders. Where does that leave the president and the Republican Party heading into the fall?

Joining me now, the HARDBALL roundtable. Noah Rothman is associate editor of "Commentary Magazine", Caitlin Huey-Burns is a political reporter for "Real Clear Politics", and Philip Bump is a political reporter for "The Washington Post".

Noah, take us inside Republican world. You`re Paul Ryan, you`re Mitch McConnell, you thought you hit the lottery last November. We`ve got control of everything. We want to pass all this stuff.

This is what President Trump is actually like as a president. Can you come up with a strategy at this point?

NOAH ROTHMAN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE: No. You can`t come up with a strategy for tomorrow, let alone for the next year, or 2018, or God forbid, 2020. Yes, it`s a paralyzing situation for the Republicans. Trump`s election was, as I said the other day, the torment of Tantalus. The agenda was right within reach. All of a sudden, they thought all these things they had given up on, tax cuts reform, health care, were out of reach.

And now, they see it, but they`re going to be forever sabotaged by this president`s efforts to, you know, position himself.

KORNACKI: I mean, Caitlin, it just seems the -- the question with Donald Trump, and it remains an open question to me, is how interested is he in actually achieving anything legislate -- I mean, he wants to do health care. He wants to do tax reform.

But none of the work is there. It doesn`t seem like this really is his agenda.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right, exactly. But, you know, what`s interesting -- I`m trying to think of what the consequences of him would be, because he is an unconventional president. When it comes to the agenda, though, Republicans have as much if not more interest in passing their legislative items than the president does.

So, they`re not going to vote against a tax reform measure just to spite the president because it`s not in their best interest. And they`re also looking at polling that shows that they will take the blame for a lack of accomplishments if there aren`t any in Congress. So, in some ways, their own responsibilities I think can be helpful to the president because is he not going to sign something that they send him.

KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, Philip, I just feel with Donald Trump -- his election last year, were trying to understand his standing right now politically, we know what the poll numbers look like. It feels to me sometimes, though, like there are some questions that maybe need to be asked and explored about the nature of Donald Trump`s support, the reason for it, what he`s tapping into, and whether we`re equipped to fully measure it at this point.

PHILIP BUMP, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, and you`ve written some good pieces of that I`ll say.

KORNACKI: Oh, thank you.

BUMP: I think that one of the things that`s happened here, and I have to disagree with Noah, one of the things that happened is, Donald Trump won the presidency. It was a surprise he won the presidency. He won it in a weak position. He came into office and I think that leaders on Capitol Hill were expecting a president who might step up and be a strong president, who might guide things and he remained weak.

I mean, I don`t think this is what Mike Allen noted this morning is anything different. He`s been weak consistently. And so, I think if Congress were to come forward and say, here`s our bill, sign it, Trump would sign it. We saw him do that with the House health care bill. He had a celebration in the Rose Garden for as bill who he later said was mean. He doesn`t care what`s in the policy because he doesn`t have any strong opinions about these things. I think what`s happening is Congress is realizing, oh, he`s not going to lead us on this, so let`s do what we need to do anyway.

KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, it`s an arrangement we`ve never seen before. So, I think we`re finding out how it could -- if there`s in anyway it could actually work.

We`re going to stay on this. The round table is staying up. Up next, we told you about the focus group in Pittsburgh. Trump`s woes are not escaping some of his supporters. We`ve got more from the focus group. Trump`s own voters, some of them saying he`s let them down.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.

More now from that focus group of Pittsburgh voters last night. They included six backers of Hillary Clinton, one for Jill Stein, and five people who voted for Donald Trump last year. Those Trump voters all expressed concern about the direction of his presidency.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The thing that drives me crazy is all the tweeting he does. It drives me crazy because the television is on all the time, and why doesn`t he just quit that tweeting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Crazy.

MODERATOR: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was a lot of it, the tweeting. It has to stop.

MODERATOR: Did you vote for him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unfortunately, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As much as I thought he would be a quick learner and delegate to top notch individuals, he hasn`t done that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m still going to sort of hold off judgment. It is short into his term, and I`m hoping things can turn around but it`s unique right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has got to be his own worst enemy. He -- he -- he couldn`t be any worse at achieving goals in politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And I`m back now with tonight`s roundtable, Noah, Caitlin and Phillip.

And, Philip, I guess what strikes me, we talked about this a little bit earlier. This is an indictment from his own voters of his behavior. It`s his -- almost a basic question of what kind of a leader would behave like this.

BUMP: Right.

KORNACKI: How deep is that, do you think, does that go in terms of defecting from him?

BUMP: I think there are two parts to Trump`s base, the people who sort of, grudgingly, or sort of hopefully voted for him last November, who are more moderate Republicans, or Republicans voting because he was the Republican candidate. And then there`s the hard core Trump base. So, they`re usually who we think about when we talk about Trump`s supporters.

The people in that video seem to be from the first group. And I think that one of the things we`ve seen from that first group, is we have seen a noticeable decline in approval levels, in their willingness to say that he`s good at leadership. And all these characters, we`ve seen a decline among Republicans in that regard and I would guess that those folks fall into that category.

KORNACKI: Yes. No, Caitlin, when I say this sometimes I can already anticipate looking on Twitter and everybody calling me a Trump apologist. I`m not doing this to say he`s invincible. I don`t think he`s invincible. I just don`t know that we fully understand the support, and the reason I say that is because we`ve never had a president who was elected with a greater number of voters, having a more deeply negative view of that person.

The negative views of Trump, even among some of his voters last year, I was looking at it earlier, they said he didn`t have a sense of decency.

HUEY-BURNS: Right.

KORNACKI: He wasn`t qualified. He wasn`t confident. This wasn`t just -- hey, he`s not good. She`s not. And I just -- I don`t know that we have a full grasp on what got them to vote for him.

HUEY-BURNS: Exactly. I was looking at polling too from September and October. A lot of them said he was dishonest before they voted for him. I think the sentiments expressed by the woman in that group who said she`s disappointed to him and using all these adjectives, did you vote for him? Well, yes, I did.

The question I have, though, are -- you know, when we talk about whether Republicans are going to distance themselves from him, I think that Trump still has a very long leash even when it comes to his Republican critics. Saw this exemplified last week when a lot of them criticized him for the response to Charlottesville, then he gave an address on Afghanistan, and they came back and praised him. If he`s able to go out and successfully sell tax reform, I think you`ll see some of them come back.

KORNACKI: We got to squeeze in a quick break. And Noah gets all the time in the next block.

Roundtable is staying with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Noah, you were on that focus group. If you were, one word to describe Trump.

ROTHMAN: Show prep.

KORNACKI: That was two.

Noah, Caitlin, Philip, thank you.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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