Show: HARDBALL Date: September 11, 2017
Guest: Rachel Bade, Clarence Page, Lenny Curry, Charlie Dent, Annie Linskey, Michael Isikoff CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bannon rips the scab off.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
We`ve got news tonight on the recent developments in the Russia investigation as well as Steve Bannon`s remarks about the firing of former FBI director James Comey.
But first, just a word on Hurricane Irma. It has left a trail of destruction across much of the state of Florida, as we know, triggering severe flooding now in Jacksonville, Florida, the state`s largest city. More than seven million homes and businesses are without power tonight across the southeast. And officials are going house to house now in the Florida Keys, which took the brunt of the hit as the storm first made landfall.
Here`s what it looked like here on MSNBC when the big storm moved through.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the rain that`s...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... hitting me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow. Why don`t you get under the overhang there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This came off one of the palm trees to the east of me. And I`m not going let go of it because it actually could just fly around. Probably weighs about 25, 30 pounds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The angle of approach can make all the difference. And a storm that`s more parallel -- Oh! That hurt!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That hurts. We`ll get the latest on Irma, now a tropical storm, ahead on HARDBALL.
But now to the Russian investigation and what former White House strategist Steve Bannon is now saying. Just weeks after he was ousted, Bannon is reigniting the debate over President Trump`s firing of former FBI director James Comey, a subject the White House has tried to avoid amid the obstruction of justice investigation into the president. Bannon said on "60 Minutes" that Trump`s decision to cut Comey loose was the biggest mistake in modern political history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS: I don`t think there`s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel.
CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: Someone said to me that you described the firing of James Comey -- you`re a student of history -- as the biggest mistake in political history.
BANNON: That would be probably -- that would probably be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.
ROSE: So the firing of James Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history?
BANNON: If you`re saying that that`s associated with me, then I`ll leave it at that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: "I`ll leave it at that." Anyway, the remark reignited the debate over Comey`s ouster and forced the White House to once again defend the president`s decision to fire him. In the briefing today, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Comey -- there they go again -- of making false testimony, among other things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to Steve Bannon`s comments on "60 Minutes" saying that the firing of James Comey was the biggest political mistake in modern history?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, I think that it has been shown in the days that followed that the president was right in firing Director Comey. Since the director`s firing, we`ve learned new information about his conduct that only provided further justification for that firing, including giving false testimony, leaking privileged information to journalists. He went outside of the chain of command and politicized an investigation into a presidential candidate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Perfect flackery. Anyway, meanwhile, following reports that Robert Mueller`s team of investigators want to talk to multiple current and former White House aides, some are now lawyering up, as you might expect, including interim communications director Hope Hicks -- they`re all hiring lawyers -- White House counsel Don McGahn, a lawyer himself, and former chief of staff Reince Priebus. They`re all getting ready for their testimony.
Joining me right now is Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent Yahoo News, Ann Linskey -- Annie Linskey and -- chief national correspondent at "The Boston Globe," and Paul Butler is a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst.
Paul, you know, I listen to the flackery -- and that`s what it is from her, from Huckabee -- she`s the perfect part for this, you know, a little country, a little, you know, sincerity. But basically, she was reading from a list of flackery notes.
Everybody knows he fired him. He fired Comey because Comey was getting too close on the Russian investigation. Now we have this guy ripping the scab off, and not -- in an indelicate way of saying they`re back to where they don`t want to be, defending the firing of Comey, which was done to prevent any further progress on the Russian investigation. And everyone watching now knows the motive. Now they are back to the BS again.
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: That`s right. It`s so ironic because there actually were credible reasons to fire Comey, although (ph) those unsupported allegations he made against Hillary Clinton. But that`s not why Comey was fired. And so now we have this spectacle.
You know, when he says that it`s the biggest blunder in political history, he`s got insider knowledge. So that makes me think, is this a bigger blunder than Bill Clinton allegedly lying about whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky? Because Clinton got impeached for that. He wasn`t convicted in the Senate. But Bannon is implying this could go even further.
MATTHEWS: Well, I -- Annie, I find it interesting because there`s a Catch- 22 buried in this. You know, if Trump is guilty as hell and knows it, firing Comey makes sort of instinctive sense. One guy knock him down, now knock the next guy down, just keep knocking them down.
ANNIE LINSKEY, "BOSTON GLOBE": True.
MATTHEWS: And this sort of assumes that what Bannon and his weird strategizing is saying is, Oh, he`s clean as a whistle. Why did he fire Comey? I don`t think anybody up there thinks he`s clean as a whistle, so Bannon is flacking it his way for the guy.
LINSKEY: I think that Bannon is seeing sort of the knock-on effect as the biggest mistake in modern political history. I mean, I think he`s seeing the hiring of Mueller as an existential threat to the White House and to the presidency.
MATTHEWS: By the way, when is Steve Bannon some intellectual?
LINSKEY: Well, he`s -- he`s...
MATTHEWS: Some thinker and historian.
LINSKEY: He`s called things pretty darn well.
MATTHEWS: I want to see him on "Jeopardy" first (INAUDIBLE) say how good he is!
LINSKEY: He`s pretty -- he`s a smart guy. He went to Harvard Business School. And he has done pretty well in the last two years.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) the theory of credentials, the establishment has just got it made in this country.
Anyway, Michael, you`re reporting on Yahoo News now that the FBI is investigating the Russian state-funded news outlet propaganda organ Sputnik to determine whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law intended to check foreign propaganda.
The bureau has interviewed -- that`s the FBI -- a former White House correspondent for Sputnik, Andrew Feinberg (ph), who says that his supervisors regularly would say, Moscow wants this, or Moscow wants that. Feinberg says he was directed to raise questions in the White House briefing about a now discredited report that cast doubt on Russia`s role in the DNC hacking, and also suggested Syria`s Bashar Assad was not behind the chemical attack. So he was told by his bosses (INAUDIBLE) propagandize in the press room. He said no, they fired him.
You know what this reminds me of? "The Americans." It`s like the center. It`s like Moscow says, the center says, you know? And then Frank Langella comes in with the big news in that series, and it`s always bad.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO NEWS: Look, this is...
MATTHEWS: So you`ve got this story. Tell me what the story is about (INAUDIBLE)
ISIKOFF: Well, first of all, this is significant because you have these two Russian news organizations in the United States, Sputnik and RT...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Are they accredited anywhere, like up on the Hill or in the White House? Are they allowed in the door, given press credentials?
ISIKOFF: Well, they -- I mean, Andrew Feinberg, the reporter who...
MATTHEWS: He`s an American?
ISIKOFF: He`s an American from the Washington suburbs who was the White House reporter. So he had White House press credentials to go in there on behalf of Sputnik. Now both Sputnik and...
MATTHEWS: But he -- he seemed -- he just sort of choked on this crap. He wouldn`t do what they finally told him to do, go in there and BS this thing and propaganda.
ISIKOFF: Right. That`s how -- and he talked to Yahoo about it, about how he was fired after he refused to ask that question about Seth Rich, that they wanted him to give circulation to this bogus conspiracy theory. And then he wrote a piece for Politico about it. And then it was after that that the FBI reaches out to him, says they want to talk to him.
MATTHEWS: Well, is there any doubt that the -- I mean, it seems like the FBI`s got a simple one here. Is RT and is Sputnik a propaganda operation? Isn`t the answer obviously yes?
ISIKOFF: Well, the U.S. intelligence community basically said that in its January report, saying that both RT and Sputnik played a role in the Russian influence campaign during the 2016 presidential election, that they were there to further Kremlin propaganda, to boost Donald Trump, to attack Hillary Clinton.
MATTHEWS: So they were already there?
ISIKOFF: They were -- they were doing...
MATTHEWS: But what`s your news? What`s your scoop then?
ISIKOFF: Well, the fact that the FBI is investigating this and trying to bring them under the orbit of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
MATTHEWS: What`s the find? What`s the find that they catch? Is it, OK, you`re just a bunch of...
ISIKOFF: It`s a criminal offense. It`s not -- it`s not often that...
MATTHEWS: Can you put some Russians in jail?
ISIKOFF: You could, conceivably. But the more important thing...
MATTHEWS: Well, that would be exciting.
MATTHEWS: I think a lot of people watching would like to see some of the Russians involved in screwing with our election put behind bars.
ISIKOFF: If I may make the point here that what`s significant...
MATTHEWS: You`re not getting enough time here, is that your problem, Michael? Make your point. Let`s go.
ISIKOFF: What`s significant here is that if you`re covered under FARA, anything...
MATTHEWS: FARA being?
ISIKOFF: The Foreign Agents Registration Act. Anything you disseminate has to be labeled as propaganda.
MATTHEWS: And the word...
ISIKOFF: In every piece of information you put out.
MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t that discredit every word you said if you said this is propaganda?
ISIKOFF: Exactly! If you`re a news organization, you`re presenting yourself as reporting news, and it would have to be labelled, This is propaganda, at the end of every story, I think it would undermine your credibility.
MATTHEWS: You can`t say fair and balanced.
MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, last week...
ISIKOFF: ... have a problem.
MATTHEWS: ... "The Washington Post" revealed -- good reporting there -- revealed that the Washington -- Russian firm bought ads attacking or targeting American voters through fraudulent Facebook accounts. A report in The DailyBeast now estimates that those propaganda posts were likely seen by a minimum of 23 million people and might have reached as many as 70 million. Annie?
MATTHEWS: A lot of power out there in the propaganda operation.
LINSKEY: I think this is one of the most insidious stories, actually, to come out in this entire sort of discussion about how Russia has influenced or sought to influence our election because you wonder how in the world were those 20 million people targeted? And that is the question that we don`t have answered yet.
But that`s where you begin to wonder if there`s any sort of nexus at all between the Trump campaign or supporters of his campaign and information about where exactly those ads should go because they didn`t go randomly. I mean, I certainly didn`t see any of those on my Facebook feed. You know, I don`t know many people who did sort of in my immediate family, in my network, which is sort of very truth-based. So you have to wonder, you know, who was -- how did they get the targeting on that? And I think that is the key question here.
MATTHEWS: But do we know what`s in those ads yet? Do we know what`s in those ads?
ISIKOFF: That`s a very good point because Facebook has refused to disclose them. They say they have to protect the privacy of its users. Now, its users in this case were fake account holders tied to a Russian troll agency.
ISIKOFF: But they say they have to follow the rules.
MATTHEWS: How is that private information if it`s already been posted? I mean, how do you maintain the privacy of a client when you`ve already put out their propaganda as the relationship you have with them?
BUTLER: So it`s waived. Of course, the Department of Justice has firm guidelines whenever there`s a concern about infringing on the press because of the 1st Amendment. But at the end of the day, if Robert Mueller or some official of the Justice Department wants this information from Facebook, they will get it.
MATTHEWS: Well, on Friday, a reporter with "The New York Times" released a letter of intent between the Trump Organization and a Russian developer for a planned -- catch this -- Trump Tower in Moscow. It`s the latest evidence that Trump was pursuing business deals in Russia during his campaign for president. Get it? He was pursuing business deals during the race for president, the campaign, despite his numerous public denials on the record that he has nothing to do with Russia. Let`s watch those denials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, OK?
I don`t have any deals in Russia.
I have no relationship to Russia whatsoever.
I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever.
I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we`ve stayed away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The word "liar" is a cruel word, but there you have a guy saying, I`ve had no relations, business relations, and now we have documentary evidence of a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
LINSKEY: Yes. That`s right. I mean -- you know, but I`ve got to say, is this the first time a politician has lied? I mean, it`s not exactly against the law. He was not under oath in any of those circumstances.
BUTLER: But at least make it a lie about something. It`s not illegal to have business in Russia. So when he lies about it, it sounds like a cover- up, like he`s afraid of what the investigation will reveal.
MATTHEWS: If I`m a prosecutor like you have been, I would begin to think this guy`s covering up because he instinctively covers up. You say business in Russia, why would he deny it?
BUTLER: Yes. Again, there`s no reason...
MATTHEWS: If it`s a document sitting out there he`s trying to build a building over there, a big one, a real big building like Trump likes to, why would he lie?
ISIKOFF: Actually, if you parse every one of those...
MATTHEWS: I`m not parsing anymore. Sexual relations...
ISIKOFF: ... "is" is.
MATTHEWS: I know how they go, these games (ph).
ISIKOFF: He was speaking in the present tense.
MATTHEWS: You know what, Michael?
MATTHEWS: You`ve been beaten up too many times. Thank you, Michael Isikoff. He`s been through two many wars. Annie Linskey -- great reporter, though. Annie Linskey and Paul Butler.
We`ll be back with the politics in a minute.
But up next -- Irma may have left Florida, but not without triggering severe flooding in the state`s largest city of Jacksonville. That`s going on right now. And of course, the damage has been done in the Florida Keys, where the hurricane first made landfall. And that was a vulnerable place down there. It still is. The devastation down there is widespread. We`re going to have the latest on the devastation left in Irma`s path in just a minute.
Plus, we`re starting to see the first retirements, and they`re not nice retirements, from moderate Republicans in Congress. And that`s a bad sign for a political party that hopes to keep control come 2018 and the midterms. One reason for those moderates are calling it quits, Steve Bannon. He`s basically declared war on mainstream Republicans and is plotting right-wing primary challenges, purges if you will, against several key senators. But a lot of them just don`t want to be associated with Trump and the party right now.
Finally, the HARDBALL roundtable will be here with three things you might not know tonight. You`ll know them later here.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: In her first television interview since losing the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton pulled no punches in talking about her former opponent, President Donald Trump. She mocked Trump for underestimating how difficult the presidency would be, and had this to say about the, quote, "out of body experience" she had while attending the inauguration. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I had a big decision to make. Was I going to go to the inauguration?
JANE PAULEY, CBS NEWS: Well, defeated candidates don`t necessarily show up.
PAULEY: But you`re a former first lady.
CLINTON: But I`m a former first lady and former presidents and first ladies show up. So there I was on the platform, you know, feeling like an out of body experience. And then his speech, which was a cry from the white nationalist gut...
TRUMP: This American carnage stops!
CLINTON: What an opportunity to say, OK, I`m proud of my supporters, but I`m the president of all Americans. That`s not what we heard at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As the sun sets over Florida tonight, thousands are surveying the damage left in Hurricane Irma`s wake. Flooded streets, downed trees, you see them all over the place, and crushed cars litter the sidewalks from Miami all the way to Tampa. And currently. Irma is sitting over Georgia. Irma has now weakened into a tropical storm as it continues its damaging trek north, however, heading towards North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama -- not in that order.
Downtown Jacksonville is under a flash flood emergency right now as the city`s experiencing record storm surges. Statewide, more than seven million homes and businesses are without power, and 220,000 people continue to huddle in shelters tonight. Officials have warned that it could take weeks to restore power to people down in Florida.
Here`s Governor Rick Scott.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Power outages. We have about 65 percent of the state without power. It`s going take us a long time to get power back. I know for our entire state, but especially for the Keys, it`s going to be a long road.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, residents in the Keys have only begun to assess the damage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water damage and certainly wind damage here. Homes are obliterated.
Looks like Tornado Alley in some places here, where they have been shredded to pieces. So it`s a mix here of what we have been seeing over the last several blocks, the high water damage that has flooded out neighborhoods, but also homes that have been just torn apart by Irma`s powerful 130-plus- mile-per-hour winds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What a beautiful part of the country.
Anyway -- not now, of course, with this damage.
But on the tiny Caribbean island of Saint Martin, desperation is mounting. "The New York Times" reports that the disintegration of law and order has set in as the survivors struggle in the face of severe food and water shortages, in the absence of electricity and phone service.
For the very latest, we turn to NBC News correspondent Catie Beck, joining us from Jacksonville, Florida.
Catie, tell us what is happening right there as the storm has passed through.
CATIE BECK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Chris.
Yes, this is a low-lying neighborhood in downtown Jacksonville. It is right next to the Saint Johns River. And this is really the storm surge that is wreaking havoc on this city right now. You can see this entire neighborhood behind me is submerged.
The further you go down, the deeper the waters get. So, unfortunately, we can`t show you what`s at the end of that block, which is waters that we`re told are as deep as five feet at this point.
We have been told that authorities here have been in rescue mode all day long, taking canoes and kayaks throughout these communities here along the riverfront, making rescues, getting people out of harm`s way.
And the reason for that is because, as the tide comes in and out, these water levels are going to continue to rise and fall. Low tide is at 8:00 tonight. So what we`re seeing right now is probably the lowest the waters have been all day.
Around 2:00 a.m., that surge is going to come right back in and fill in this neighborhood. This process, we`re told, could take a week or more for all of the waters to recede. Their power outages here are substantial. Almost no one in Jacksonville has power, and nothing is open.
So, folks are really hunkering down in those shelters and trying to find the resources they can. Some people are trying to come back and survey the damage in their home. Not wise at this moment, especially with the tides coming in and out and being unpredictable, but certainly a long way from back to normal for is the city of Jacksonville.
MATTHEWS: Thanks so much, NBC`s Catie Beck.
For more, we`re joined right now by the mayor of Jacksonville himself, Mayor Lenny Curry.
Mr. Mayor, thank you for joining us by phone.
You know, I have to tell you that I`m not often in this mind-set, but I am impressed by the urgency with which the officials in Florida, led by the governor, Governor Scott, have addressed this threat. They have talked about it as a serious threat from the first moment it appeared over the horizon from the Caribbean. They have gotten people in their ear sight.
They have got the people ready. People are being told by officials what to do. It does seem that, if we have a more limited loss of life than expected, it`s because of public action. Your thoughts.
LENNY CURRY, MAYOR OF JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA: That`s right, Chris.
And thank you, and good evening.
The governor has been on top of this, working with us well before the storm. President Trump`s White House has been in touch with the governor and reached out to us before the storm. And we here locally, you know, we began evacuations on Wednesday.
We told people, these are voluntary, but they`re eventually going to be mandatory. And we`re starting them early because of the traffic flow coming into South Florida. We moved to mandatory on Friday. Unfortunately, some didn`t leave. And now we`re dealing with a once-in-a- lifetime flood surge -- flood surge, storm surge.
MATTHEWS: How deep is the water in Jacksonville? I`m looking at somebody about two or three feet, but that`s just the tide coming in.
CURRY: Chris, we have got people -- so, the information that was available to us this morning that was not previously available to us was that we have Category 3 storm surge and tropical storm weather.
So we had to move quickly this morning. I had to tell people that we need you to call us. We need to know where you are. We need you to put a white flag or something white to represent that on your home, so we can see it from the outside and we can come get you.
MATTHEWS: I see.
CURRY: And that`s what our search-and-rescue teams, firemen, policemen, state assets sent in by the governor have been doing all day. We remain in rescue mode at this moment.
MATTHEWS: Well, are some people staying behind and just resisting all direction, all advice to the contrary?
CURRY: There are certainly people who stayed in areas that we wish they would not have.
But now it`s time for us. That`s behind us. The event is -- the storm is gone. The floods are here. And we just got to get in and save lives, save lives and take care of our people.
MATTHEWS: Well, thanks so much. I have got friends down there. And I hope they`re well right now tonight, Mayor Lenny Curry of Jacksonville, Florida.
Meanwhile, in the Florida Keys, officials say there is no fuel, no electricity, running water, or cell service. Many homes were devastated. Look at these pictures. And residents are unable to return home to even look at the damage.
I`m now joined by Miguel Almaguer, who surveyed the destruction in the Keys earlier today, and joins us now from Florida City, Florida.
Thanks so much, Miguel.
Give us a sense of what you`re looking at down there. You got to look at it all. MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Chris, it was our first time to actually get a good look at what happened in the Florida Keys.
As you know, Irma made landfall first in the Keys with wind speeds of 135 miles an hour plus. We also are told that the waves there were towering up to 15 feet tall. So, imagine the damage there. We saw some homes that were clearly ripped apart, ripped to shreds by those powerful winds.
We also saw homes, entire neighborhoods, city blocks that were still underwater, under a couple of feet of water. And some folks were actually wading through their neighborhoods. We know that the military is now on scene. The National Guard is going in to help. The Navy is just offshore with three warships prepared to help in search and rescues which they will deploy tomorrow, and also with an arrange of supplies, everything from food and water for folks that may be trapped there.
During the peak of the storm, we`re told about 10,000 people remained behind. They did not choose to evacuate. They were there when Irma made landfall on Sunday and tore through the area.
One person who was there told us it sounded and looked like a nuclear bomb went off. That`s how hard and how fast this impact was. Many people still remain there today. Others cannot return home. The police have actually shut down US-1 behind me. It`s the main artery, the iconic road...
ALMAGUER: ... that leads in and out of the Keys. That`s shut down. Only emergency personnel and construction crews are allowed to go back in.
They`re still assessing the damage, taking a look at roads and other infrastructure to see how they fared in this storm, so, certainly several days of cleanup, if not weeks or months, ahead, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, that main drag, it has got to be one of the most beautiful drives in the country, maybe only in comparison or challenged by Northern California, because, when you drive down, you can see the ocean on one side, the Caribbean on the other side. And you see the Gulf of Mexico on the other side. It`s all there and all beautiful.
Was that road closed during this? Could you still travel that during this event?
During the storm, they had opened it for folks to evacuate one way out. But when the storm actually touched down, they closed it. Much too dangerous for anyone to be on that fairly narrow strip of road...
MATTHEWS: Yes, it is.
ALMAGUER: ... as the storm was coming over.
Over my shoulder here, you will see this is probably the National Guard that`s arriving here now. These high-water rescue vehicles will likely be used to go and snake through those neighborhoods and pull people out of homes that remain stuck there.
So, you can see the Guard, the Navy working tonight, working overtime to do what they can to pull out anyone that may need help, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is an amazing time to say it, but I have to say everybody should get a chance in their lifetime to see the Keys. They are something else in our geography. And you`re down there reporting on the worst time ever to be down there. But it is generally one of the real wonderful spots in our country.
Thank you, Miguel Almaguer, for this great reporting.
ALMAGUER: You got it.
MATTHEWS: Up next: A top Republican senator and frequent critic of President Trump signals that he just may quit in 2018. That`s Bob Corker there of Tennessee. A number of moderate Republicans say they plan to give up their seats, just walk away. Why are they leaving? And does it have anything to do with President Trump?
What do you think?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: There is a lot of polarization around here. It`s going to be difficult to get some things done.
So, I`m going to continue to be a voice for the sensible center, and might just do it from the outside, rather than from the inside.
I am concerned about this growing isolationism, nativism, protectionism, with a touch of nihilism, which these are not attributes of a great nation. I will not rule out running for office again, but I have no plans or desire to run in the 2018 cycle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Charlie Dent on why he is not running for reelection next year.
Along with Dent, moderate Republicans David Trott and Dave Reichert have announced they`re stepping down in 2018, opening up for Democrats, I suppose, to win those swing district seats.
As NBC News points out, the more GOP retirements, the better chance Democrats have.
Well, on the Republican side, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker said today in a statement that: "Running for reelection has never been an automatic for me. While we are in a strong position, I`m still contemplating the future and will make a decision at the appropriate time."
I`m joined right now by Representative Charlie Dent in his first on-camera sit-down interview since he announced his retirement.
Well, I`m kind of surprised, because it seems to me that you have been a stalwart Republican, and the kind -- the kind we all grew up with in Pennsylvania. We don`t have right-wing Republicans generally in Pennsylvania, except for Santorum. And he is sort of gone.
And yet you fit the mold of Tom Ridge, of Bill Scranton, of Arlen Specter, of all the leaders that I grew up with, moderate Republicans. I don`t know if I voted for any of them. But I used to really like, when I was a kid, Scranton. I knew there were some really good moderate Republicans.
Why are you leaving the band? Because you`re leaving it to the Trump world. You`re leaving him to run the show.
DENT: Well, I`m leaving, Chris, because I have been thinking about this since September of 2013, since the government shut down.
I have had these conversations with my family. I did 14 years of elected service at the state level. I`m in my seventh term now. It will be 14 years at the federal level.
And I thought I want to leave at the top of my game. Some people hang here too long. And of course there is some frustration.
MATTHEWS: If it weren`t for Trump, would you stick it out?
DENT: Probably not. I really -- I really feel strongly that the...
DENT: Look, some of the challenges...
MATTHEWS: Why am I getting the sense that Trump is just bad news for you, and you don`t want to be in his world?
DENT: Well, it`s not just the president.
We were having challenges prior to Donald Trump. I mean, the simple basic task of governance, just funding the government through a continuing resolution or preventing a default, these shouldn`t be very difficult things to do. But they became excruciatingly hard, just these really basic acts.
I mean, we have some responsibilities. And we just can`t get them done. And if you can`t take care of the basics, the fundamentals, then how can you advance big policy initiatives, like tax reform, health care reform, infrastructure?
That`s, I guess, the frustration for me. But don`t get me wrong. I love this job. It`s fun. You get to do a lot of interesting things, meet a lot of great people. But it`s just getting harder to do the basics.
MATTHEWS: Is the Republican Party a governing party right now?
MATTHEWS: Is it interested primarily in governing the country? Is that`s what it`s doing?
DENT: We don`t have...
MATTHEWS: Because we don`t see that.
DENT: Well, I will tell you what.
The battle prior to Donald Trump was this. We had the purists vs. the pragmatists. And the pragmatists were largely the governing wing of the party, of which I was a part. That was the battle. That was the litmus test.
Now, since Donald Trump has become president, the litmus test is more Trump loyalty, you know, are you loyal enough?
But we still have this underlying fight between the pragmatists and the ideologues.
DENT: But I think, in many respect, the ideologues have an upper hand, because you look at all the big issues that we had to deal with, from budget agreements, debt ceilings, Violence Against Women Act, Sandy relief.
We always had a small number of Republicans, in many cases 80 or 90, who would vote for the bills, along with a substantial number of Democrats, many more...
DENT: ... to actually enact them into law.
MATTHEWS: You know what bothers me? I have always wanted government to work.
I`m just sort of that -- whatever ideology it is, I tend to be progressive, but I also want it to work. And when you had something like the immigration bill, where you had the Republicans and the Democrats found a compromise a number of years ago, and this House Republican leader wouldn`t even bring it up. The speaker wouldn`t bring it up, because he didn`t have a majority of Republicans behind it.
So it wasn`t going to be majority rule. We weren`t going to get anything done.
MATTHEWS: We have got enough checks and balances in this country, without having new ones like the Hastert rule.
And I see -- what did you feel than when that came up? There wasn`t going to be an immigration bill because the leadership in the Republican Party said, we`re afraid that it will pass.
DENT: Well, what I have always said, the so-called Hastert...
MATTHEWS: The compromises.
DENT: The so-called Hastert rule, a majority of the majority, I would argue that that rule has never been violated.
There are always -- there was always a majority of support in the House Republican Conference for these initiatives. There weren`t a majority of votes, but there was always a majority of support.
So, I have never bought into the Hastert rule so much. When -- we violate it whenever we must.
DENT: That`s way it`s been.
Now, a lot of us want to deal with this -- with these children, the DACA children.
DENT: We want to deal with them. And we have a bill. And I think many of us, now that president has acted on that issue, we have to -- we must do something legislatively.
And there is going to be a big push to move that.
Well, as you leave next year, I want you to consider -- because we will have you back a number of times.
DENT: Yes. Sure.
MATTHEWS: I keep wondering why good compromise doesn`t solve the problem.
For example, if you want to have a big immigration -- a big infrastructure bill, and the Democrats run around saying, oh, we can`t do it unless it`s if -- it not -- if it`s not Davis-Bacon, if it`s not labor unions, if it`s not all -- and the Republicans say, no, we don`t need -- we don`t want that.
I say, why don`t you double-breast? Just say half, some of the jobs will be union and some won`t be. There are ways to compromise and still put millions people to work.
Why doesn`t that happen? Why don`t they sit down and say we will double- breast, some union jobs, some non-union jobs, but let`s spend some money and build some stuff?
It doesn`t seem like anybody wants to compromise. Just cut the cards, move forward.
DENT: You can you move forward on an infrastructure bill.
MATTHEWS: Nobody does.
DENT: And, truthfully, on the bill of Davis-Bacon, I`m not a fan of Davis- Bacon, but it`s going to be a part of an infrastructure bill, because the votes are there.
Well, why don`t they get around all these things?
DENT: Well, I`ll tell you what, because we need to finance it.
An infrastructure bill is not hard to do. The trick is financing it. And that`s why we got to get this tax reform right. And we have to put some revenue on the table to finance infrastructure.
DENT: That`s the key thing right now. Right -- the highway bill is not going to be that hard.
MATTHEWS: How did Lincoln build the railroad during the Civil War, huh?
MATTHEWS: How did Ike, Mr. Do Nothing, create the interstate highway system during the do-nothing `50s?
They built the Empire State Building in the depths of the Great Depression. We built this city in the depths of the Depression. Why don`t people do things like they used to?
DENT: Yes, I`ll tell you what. I`ll tell you, one thing on infrastructure, we don`t live in the 1950s anymore. We didn`t...
MATTHEWS: But what do we live in?
DENT: Well, we have a lot more rules and process that you have to go through.
You can`t just say, we`re going to pass a highway bill, we`re going to take the spade and put it in the dirt. It`s not so easy anymore.
MATTHEWS: Are you proud of Amtrak, Acela, getting on that train, that ridiculous train? Compared to any train in the world, it`s a joke.
DENT: Well, and, by the way, if you ride the train from Philadelphia down here to Washington, that`s the best leg of Amtrak. That`s the one that works.
MATTHEWS: Well, you don`t get on that crazy jalopy feeling you get around Baltimore.
Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent.
DENT: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Actually further up.
Up next: The HARDBALL -- I hope you stick around.
The HARDBALL Roundtable weighs in now on Steve Bannon`s declaration of war on the Republican establishment. He wants to get rid of guys like this. Is he succeeding?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, BREITBART.COM: They`re not going to help you unless they`re put on notice they`re going to be held accountable if they do not support the president of the United States. Right now, there is no accountability. They have totally -- they do not support the president`s program. It`s an open secret on Capitol Hill. Everybody in this city knows it.
CHARLIE ROSE, 60 MINUTES: And so, therefore, now that you`re out of the White House you`re, going to war with them?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was, of course, Steve Bannon declaring war on Republican leaders in Congress.
Bannon blasted House Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell saying they don`t want President Trump`s agenda implemented. Interesting point. Maybe right.
The White House responded to questions about Bannon`s statement earlier today. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president wants to work with all members of Congress. Obviously, that includes Republican leadership as well as Democrats.
REPORTER: Would you like to see different leadership in the Republican Congress?
SANDERS: Look, right now the president is committed to working with the leadership we have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: My God.
"Politico" reports that Bannon is also plotting primaries against several Republican Senate incumbents. He is specifically targeted four senators -- Dean Heller out there in -- where is it, Nevada. Jeff Flake in Arizona. Bob Corker, Tennessee. And Roger Wicker I believe in Mississippi.
The challenge from the right is yet another headache for Majority Leader McConnell, who was snubbed last week by the president after Trump struck a deal with Democratic leaders. Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says he got a call from the president raving about the press coverage of the deal that`s struck.
Here is what he told "The New York Times."
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I got a call early this morning. He said, this was so great. And here`s what he said. He said, do you watch FOX News? I said, not really. He said, they`re praising you, meaning me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.
Rachel Bade is congressional reporter for "Politico". Clarence Page is a columnist with "The Chicago Tribune", and John Heilemann is national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
Rachel, thank you for joining us. First time you`re here. But let me ask you about this. Is Bannon relevant? Can Bannon by himself destroy an incumbent?
RACHEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Absolutely he is relevant right now. I can tell you.
MATTHEWS: Did he get rid of somebody?
BADE: He`s going to try. He got a president-elected. So, yes, I think he`s got some oomph behind him right now. And plus, we talk about him potentially primarying some Republicans in the Senate, also trying to take out Speaker Paul Ryan.
He`s found an alliance with a bunch of conservatives in the House who are also really upset right now because they keep -- you know, they`re not getting Obamacare repeal done. They`re still stalled on tax reform. They`re ticked at leadership.
And so, he is whispering in their ear, potential ally to take out Paul Ryan.
MATTHEWS: So, you`re betting he is going to dump Ryan?
BADE: I think he`ll try.
MATTHEWS: At least try, try, try. Do you think he`s going to win with any of these cases?
BADE: I think that potentially on primary, it could be a big problem for McConnell when it comes to Senate primaries and pushing candidates further to the right. And then when they go in the general election --
MATTHEWS: That is true. That is attention.
John Heilemann, I`ve heard of presidents like Franklin Roosevelt saying he`s going to get rid of people who don`t play ball with him. It never seems to work because the people in the districts say stay out of our voting. Don`t come in and tell what`s to do.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That`s true. However, it`s fair the say at this moment that "Breitbart" is a more powerful media institution and a more powerful institution on the right than FOX News. And I think all of us would agree for the last 20 years, if FOX News decided to get behind the candidate, that was trouble of a primary challenge, that was trouble for the incumbent.
If Steve Bannon decides to train all "Breitbart`s" fire on an incumbent Republican and the president of the United States decides to do the same or not support the incumbent, you`re going to have a vulnerable incumbent in that circumstance. Whether they will get rid of them or not, that`s going to be a messy primary if that`s the way the game lays out.
MATTHEWS: Let me challenge one of the other grassroots on this. Clarence, it seems to me that the people at the local level like this guy in Alabama, this guy running against Strange, Moore, the guy with the Ten Commandments, that whole things.
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Right.
MATTHEWS: He`s got grassroots support. It looks to me like Trump is playing a little triangle there. I think I`ll go with the guy who is winning. So, Moore is really leading the band because the people are behind him because they like that fundamentalist right wing thing. It`s not so much Trump or Bannon. It`s people.
PAGE: Moore has been the Donald Trump of Alabama for decades.
MATTHEWS: Mississippi still has the Confederate battle flag, its flag.
MATTHEWS: I mean, it`s a pretty conservative state.
PAGE: And Moore was responsible of the Ten Commandments on public property.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I`m not sure Trump or -- I`ll go back to you. I`m not sure if it`s Trump or Bannon. It`s the conservative grassroots far right thinking of voters in places like Mississippi in primaries.
BADE: You know, it`s interesting you bring up the point. Is Bannon going to be effective? Is Breitbart going to be effective?
This whole thing, there was a series of stories last week where, you know, reports that Bannon was talking to the freedom caucus about who could take out Paul Ryan. It -- I think it showed the limits of that actually, because there were a lot of Republicans who heard these stories, heard these rumors, and it had the reverse effect with Speaker Ryan. I saw a lot of Republicans who were ticked at leadership read these stories and go, what the heck, man. If you`re going to do blind quotes, why don`t you come out and say these things publicly.
We saw "The Wall Street Journal." Same.
MATTHEWS: I don`t like snakes in the White House, no matter who is president.
Let me ask you about Tarkanian. I saw him today. He impressed me, John. Can he beat Heller, even with Trump`s help?
HEILEMANN: You know -- maybe. Look, I get a lot of fire training against Dean Heller. Tarkanian has run before and has not been able to get through primaries, let alone to get through further than that. He is an impressive guy.
MATTHEWS: I thought so.
HEILEMANN: He`s a relatively impressive guy. Very TV friendly. Again, I don`t think it`s like that Bannon guarantees a win for a challenger. And I don`t think that Trump will always go with challengers, to your point.
My only point is that in terms of the disarray that can -- that unfolds for the Republican Party, if this is going to be a jihad, which is everything Bannon is trying to -- is signaling here, that is an ugly way to win, even if you`re an incumbent who survives that primary. It just creates a lot of chaos and disarray on the field as you get down to the election.
MATTHEWS: OK, I`ll start with you in your reporting. You start, Rachel. Will there be casualties next year because of what Bannon is up to?
BADE: Very possibly I think, yeah.
MATTHEWS: Will there or won`t there?
BADE: Yes, there will.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.
Clarence? I`m sorry to be pushy, but it is HARDBALL.
PAGE: I suspect there will be. And --
MATTHEWS: That means there will be?
PAGE: Well, Bannon is bullying his way to the front of the pack here and into control. And because it`s an off-year election and "Breitbart" readers tend to be the core voters for the Republican Party and primaries, that just gives him extra oomph right now. But I would just love to see his effort lose, because I hate to see bullies.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I see the tree branches rotting and falling more than I see people chopping them down. That tends to be the case. You can sense when somebody is going down.
MATTHEWS: Who was the guy from Virginia who was a big leader in the Republican party and all of the sudden he is gone? The professor beat him?
HEILEMANN: Good old Eric Cantor.
MATTHEWS: This stems from the voter.
HEILEMANN: Good old Eric Cantor. That`s the case with some of these incumbents. They are pretty distant from voters.
But I think Clarence has gotten the right vote here, which is to your thing earlier. Yes, it`s the people. But in these primaries, especially in relatively low turnout primaries, Breitbart is channeling that part of the party. The reason why all this kind of comes together is that there are just a lot of really, really angry Republicans who are energized by what Steve Bannon is saying, by what Donald Trump is saying on the days when he`s saying the things that we hear.
HEILEMANN: It`s the synergy between the media organ, the angry Bannon, the powerful Trump and a bunch of people who are just the same things that were driving them in 2016, only they`re now bringing it to Republican politics.
MATTHEWS: Last question, tie breaker. Who would win a debate on stage, Michael Moore or Steve Bannon? Who would win the debate when it went head to head? John Heilemann?
HEILEMANN: Man. That`s --
MATTHEWS: They look sort of alike. Go ahead.
HEILEMANN: I think Michael Moore has been in a lot more of those debates than Steve Bannon has been. He`s better around television show. I give to it Michael Moore.
MATTHEWS: Who would win that debate?
BADE: I`m going to go with the same, yes, performance wise.
PAGE: Bannon is a seasoned talk show host, too, though. But the thing about this debate, facts would have nothing to do with it. I know that.
HEILEMANN: That`s a radio show.
MATTHEWS: -- loopy, he`s tough to deal with.
Anyway, roundtable is sticking with us. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable will tell me three things I don`t know. Be back with HARDBALL right after this.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Rachel, new kid on the block, tell me something I don`t know.
BADE: House Republicans booed and hissed at White House officials, Mick Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. Basically last week, they came in try to rally Republicans around this deal that Trump suddenly struck with Democrats, totally going against GOP leadership. And for the first time, a lot of times, we hear House Republicans defend the White House and stick up for Trump, they actually booed and hissed at them and drove them out and basically lectured them for going against leadership. And I think it`s significant because it shows the souring relationship.
MATTHEWS: Between the leadership and?
BADE: Between House Republicans and the White House.
PAGE: Well, outside the beltway, I got to salute. Kimberly Page Barnett, a candidate for the Republican primary for the mayor of Charlotte, who recently on Facebook advertised that she should be a mayor because she is, quote, Republican and smart, white and traditional, unquote. That little white in there has gotten her in trouble with the county party to say the least.
MATTHEWS: You can`t argue about it. It`s just -- it`s irrelevant.
Go ahead, John Heilemann.
HEILEMANN: Clarence mentioned Facebook. You talked about it earlier today on the show. The combination of this fake news story and the story about fake users from last week and the connection to Russia, we have seen about I think about 120th of the degree of the problem. And Facebook will be forced to come clean about this stuff. And it`s going to be a huge, huge story about both 2016 and --
MATTHEWS: Reaching some 50 million people.
Anyway, Rachel Bade, Clarence Page and John Heilemann.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Today, the country paused to remember the attacks of September 11th, just 16 years ago today. Together with the first lady and White House staffers, the president observed a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., marking the moment the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center.
A short time later, the president attended and remembered ceremony at the Pentagon. And tonight in lower Manhattan, two vertical columns of light are shining into the sky at the site of the World Trade Center in the memory of those who were lost this day 16 years ago.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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