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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 9/20/17 Graham-Cassidy plan

Guests: Carmen Yulin Cruz, John Kasich, Michael Schmidt, Tom Hamburger, Natasha Bertrand, David Ignatius, Susan Page

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 20, 2017 Guest: Carmen Yulin Cruz, John Kasich, Michael Schmidt, Tom Hamburger, Natasha Bertrand, David Ignatius, Susan Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A Matter for Impeachment.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

This is the city, the nation`s capital, where special counsel Robert Mueller seems to believe President Trump committed major wrongdoing. Did the new president obstruct justice in his attempts to kill the Russian investigation? Did he use his office to keep the FBI from doing its job? Did he throw his official influence behind efforts to bend justice from the truth? This is the quest Robert Mueller now pursues, to see if the president obstructed justice and therefore warrants impeachment.

We start with breaking news from "The New York Times" late today that reveals new details about the materials the special counsel has requested from the White House, requests that shed new light on the direction of the ongoing probe.

We also tonight are following two natural disasters, of course. In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria made landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm, knocking out power already to the entire island. Officials there say it may be months before it`s back on.

And in Mexico, more than 200 people are dead after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. The death toll is expected to rise, of course, as rescue crews continue to search the rubble in the country`s capital city. We`ll have live reports from Puerto Rico and Mexico coming up.

But first to the Russia investigation and the document request special counsel Robert Mueller has made of the White House. According to "The New York Times," the document requests provide the most details to date about the breadth of Mr. Mueller`s investigation and show that several aspects of its inquiry are focused squarely on Mr. Trump`s behavior in the White House.

They report that the requests include documents about the president`s Oval Office meeting with Russian diplomats on the day after he fired FBI director James Comey, documents related to the firing of Trump`s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and documents pertaining to the White House response to questions about Donald Trump, Jr.`s, campaign meeting with Russians last year at Trump Tower.

"The Washington Post" reports further that Mueller has also asked for more e-mail or document the White House holds that relates to Paul Manafort, Trump`s former campaign chairman. This comes after we learned this week that prosecutors warned Manafort that he will be indicted.

Joining me now is the author of that "New York Times" report, Michael Schmidt. Tom Hamburger, by the way, is a reporter for "The Washington Post." Paul Butler`s a former federal prosecutor and an MSNBC legal analyst, and Natasha Bertrand is a reporter covering the Russian probe for "Business Insider."

Michael Schmidt, thank you for this. Talk about what you see is from what documents there`s (ph) pursuing from the White House at this point. Is it centering more on obstruction of justice than initial possible collusion during the campaign?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, all we know about is this request. We don`t know about requests that may have gone to the campaign or the transition team.

But what struck us about this was how much it was focused on things that have happened since the president has been in office and things that he had a direct hand in, the firing of Flynn, the firing of Comey, how to respond to questions about the 2016 meeting between his son and the Russians who promised derogatory information about Hillary Clinton.

We have -- Mueller`s investigation to this point has been a bit of a black hole. We`ve only known so much. But by looking at these requests, we sort of were able to see through his eyes a little bit and see what he`s looking at and see the things that he cares about. And for a White House that`s insisted that the president has done nothing wrong here, it certainly looks like there`s a lot of things that Mueller wants to look at that the president was involved in.

MATTHEWS: This seems to be focused based upon your reporting on the president himself, not on Manafort or Flynn or the others, but mainly, what did he, the new president, do to use his office improperly.

SCHMIDT: Well, naturally, the questions that would go to the White House would pertain to him. But you`re right, there is a certain -- much about this that is directed directly at his behavior.

The other thing that struck us was this meeting that he had with the Russian officials, the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office the day after Comey was fired. Mueller`s asking for information about that meeting. Why would Mueller want to know? We know that in that meeting, Trump said that firing Comey had relieved pressure on him. So is Mueller trying to get inside the mindset of why Comey fired -- why Trump fired Comey? We really don`t know.

It`s also in that meeting that we know that Trump disclosed classified information to the Russians that had been given to the United States by one of our allies.

MATTHEWS: You know, Michael, I`ve covered politics and been it in for a long time, and I look at things rather simply. I look at motive in a simple way, self-interest. And I look at Robert Mueller, who took this job as special counsel. He had been FBI director for many years, a great one. He`s friends with Comey, who was an FBI director, I believe a competent one. He saw him fired over this issue, apparently. He took the case on that basis.

It seems to me -- let me ask you in terms of your reporting, and the documents now being pursued -- it looks to me like he`s on the path we always thought he was on, that the president -- the new president, Donald Trump, used his office to protect himself from prosecution and investigation by the FBI.

SCHMIDT: Yes. I mean, when we look at this document and we sort of try and see this thing, it does seem like he is focused a lot on what Trump did. Look, we don`t have a document that says that Trump is a target of the investigation, That is not in the document that what we saw. But if you look at the request, it is very focused on Trump.

And this is something that we have thought for a long time. There`s been some indications of this early on, that they were looking at issues related to the Comey firing, whether other intelligence officials, the president tried to enlist them to help, you know, convince Comey to kill the Flynn investigation. But this to date is the most details that we have. This is the most that we know.

Mueller runs a very tight ship. It`s not leaky at all. So it`s been very hard for us to get inside the investigation and try and see what the investigators are looking for.

MATTHEWS: Well, hold on there, Michael. Let`s go to Tom Hamburger, who broke the -- he broke the story in "The Washington Post" tonight, reporting that Paul Manafort offered to provide briefings about the 2016 election to a Russian billionaire during the campaign. Tom, you know, briefings in this business in Washington tend also to be basically another way of lobbying. You tell body what`s going on -- tell somebody what`s going on. You`re really advising them on what to do.

What do you make of this evidence that Manafort`s overture was received? Look at this. Investigators believe that the exchanges which reflect Manafort`s willingness to profit from his prominent role alongside Trump created a potential opening for Russian interests at the highest level of the U.S. presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the probe.

Manafort`s offer to give that briefing to the billionaire was contained in a batch of e-mails turned over to congressional investigators. By the way, his spokesman -- that`s Manafort`s -- has confirmed the authenticity of the e-mails to NBC News and calls the exchange "innocuous." Well, that`s not the way I look at it. Briefings get -- people in this town make a lot of money, the big insiders, on a quarterly retainer basis in many cases, to tell people what`s going on. If get a briefing from the guy who`s been chairing the president`s campaign, or look -- the president-elect`s -- or the president -- presidential candidate`s campaign, who may well be the next president, you`re going inside. Your thoughts. What`s this mean, what you got?

TOM HAMBURGER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, Chris, it`s another example that`s emerging, one of several that`s emerging from this big batch of e-mails that`s been turned over to investigators, that shows there was more communication with Russians and with some very prominent Russians than we knew before. Now, Paul Manafort`s spokesman says, as you just quoted, this is innocuous. This was really simply an attempt, he confirms, by Paul Manafort to use the position he had as campaign chair to try to recover some old debts from the region. He had been very active as a consultant in the Ukraine, former Soviet Union, and felt that he was owed money and wanted to be sure that those who owed him were aware of his new position in the campaign and the good press he was getting.

MATTHEWS: Well, this is tricky, Tom, because also have heard reports or been given reports in the major papers that this guy, Manafort, also owed something like $17 million to these oligarchs. What`s going on? There`s huge amounts of money going both ways. Your thoughts. Your reporting.

HAMBURGER: So Paul Manafort is among those targets of the special counsel. We know that Paul Manafort, along with General Michael Flynn, are two very prominent targets, and not just because they have some connections to Russians and they were top advisers to the campaign, but also in both cases, there are potential legal liabilities for them, in part, in Paul Manafort`s case, he was an international businessman who had tens of millions of dollars flowing through investment accounts that he had around the world. So he`s already a target, an interest of Manafort. One of the theories is that -- I`m sorry, of Bob Mueller. And one of the theories is that the special counsel will hope to press Paul Manafort with piling up charges and hope to flip him, hope that he`ll have information that he can deal that will implicate the president or members of his team.

MATTHEWS: Seems plausible as hell. Thank you so much, Tom Hamburger, for that great reporting...


MATTHEWS: ... for "The Washington Post." Let me go back...

HAMBURGER: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... now to Michael Schmidt, who`s still with us, and to Paul Butler and Natasha Bertrand. What do we make of this fact that they`re fighting in a restaurant the other day. Ken Vogel picks up on it. He`s sitting next to them in a lunch -- well, a block from the capital. I`m start with you, Michael. Next to them a block from the Capitol. I`ll start with you on this, Michael, because you`re close to this.

And he`s sitting there and he overhears a conversation between two lawyers for the president, one`s Dowd and the other guy is another guy we`re talking about all the time, Ty Cobb. Oddly named, a former baseball star from 100 years ago.

And they`re talking about whether to release documents or not. I mean, it seems to me like this is pretty heated up right now, based on your reporting and Vogel`s. This is right at the heart of the president. It`s like in Watergate, when they say what -- should there be a limited modified hangout or a stonewall. These are phrases I was brought up with. Your thoughts.

SCHMIDT: SO there is tension inside the White House among the lawyers about how to deal with the requests from Mueller. Should they hand over as many documents as possible? That`s sort of Cobb`s point of view. The idea is just get as much of this to Mueller as possible because we`ve got nothing to hide. We shouldn`t put executive privilege on them. Don McGahn, the White House counsel, is a little more conservative on that point and is concerned about the precedent of waiving executive privilege and just freely handing this stuff over to the White House.

But there`s another issue there which is between Cobb and McGahn about how McGahn is going to be handled by the special prosecutor. McGahn needs for Cobb and the president to make a decision about whether the president is going to exert privilege over McGahn or he`s going to allow McGahn to freely speak with the special prosecutor.

Now, McGahn is important to all this stuff because he was involved in all of these decisions that were in the list of information that we wrote about today -- the firing of Comey, the firing of Flynn, how to deal with questions about Russian meddling in the election. And if someone like McGahn can speak to what the president was thinking, but at the same time, it`s hard to believe that a judge would ever allow you to use a lawyer to speak to the intent of someone -- so it`s a difficult question and something that the folks in the White House are continuing to wrestle with.

MATTHEWS: Well these are box office reports tonight, so very little time for Paul and for Natasha, but I do want your thoughts as a prosecutor, Paul, and one who covers business. Each of you quickly -- I know it`s short now -- Give me your assessment of what you`ve heard tonight in these two big reports, basically the one that seems to be focused on obstruction of justice by the president. Paul, you first.

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Special Counsel Mueller is moving very quickly and very aggressively just four months, 18 prosecutors hired, tens of thousands of documents subpoenaed, two grand juries empaneled. He`s looking at three issues all involving President Trump`s dishonesty.

First, why did he create this false narrative about the Donald Trump, Jr., meeting with the Russians? Second, why did he hang onto Flynn when President Trump -- Sally Yates told the president that Flynn was dirty? Trump still hires him, then tries to protect him afterwards. And then why did he fire Comey? Why did he create this false narrative to try to get Rod Rosenstein to gin up a reason when we all know the real reason? So why is he lying? Why is he creating a false narrative. If the intent is to impede an investigation, that`s a federal crime.

MATTHEWS: Natasha, I`m looking at the same thing that the expert there, Paul Butler, is that the president of the United States did not want to be investigated and he used his power to prevent it. Your thoughts, your reporting.

NATASHA BERTRAND, "BUSINESS INSIDER": I completely agree. I think that today`s reporting really puts everything that we`ve heard in the past couple weeks about Ty Cobb`s disagreements with other members of Trump`s legal team in context. They feel that President Donald Trump is very, very vulnerable when it comes to the possibility that he might be charged with obstruction of justice. And even if he`s not charged with the crime of obstruction of justice, Mueller is building a very strong case that he can then bring to Congress and recommend impeachment, which will ultimately be a political question, not a legal one anyway. So as Mueller...

MATTHEWS: You`re so smart. I`m sorry. I`m not patronizing you. That`s the bulls-eye. I`ve just heard it because in the end, this special counsel can produce a pile of evidence against this president, and I`m not betting on the current Republican leadership in the House to bring impeachment action against him. I`m not counting on the regular constitutional processes with this Republican crowd who seem to be so institutionally and almost automatically loyal to Trump, even when there`s no reason to do it except they`re in the same political party.

Thank you so much, Natasha. I`m sorry to cut you off. It`s been a long session with a lot of news. Michael Schmidt, again, you are amazing at "The New York Times." Thank you, Paul Butler, for putting the expertise you have behind it, and Natasha, thank you so much, and Tom Hamburger, as well.

And by the way, to those of our friends out there who (ph) we`re honoring it (ph) tonight, shavat tava (ph).

We`ll get back to the politics in a minute, but coming up, the latest on two major natural disasters. They`re actually catastrophes. First, the deadly earthquake in Mexico right now that happened yesterday, the death toll there is well over 200. It`s where it`s certainly going to rise as rescue crews continue to comb through the rubble. They`re listening for any sound of life. It`s so human.

And Hurricane Maria -- the big storm devastated Puerto Rico, knocking out power across the entire island already, no more electricity there. It`s the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 90 years. We`re getting a live report coming up live from Puerto Rico.

Plus, "Obama care" on the brink. Republicans are trying one last time I think to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but they`ve got some pretty big opponents in talk show host Jimmy Kimmel and a lot of Republican governors. Ohio`s John Kasich is one of them. He`s against the repeal bill. He joins us tonight here on HARDBALL.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." He won`t like this one, but he is playing this game. That`s Donald Trump. And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. At least 200 people are dead now after a massive 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck southeast of Mexico City yesterday late afternoon, less than two weeks after an 8.1 magnitude earthquake off the country`s Pacific coast shook Mexico City. In terms of perspective, the historic -- this is the big one to think (ph) about. In 1906 in San Francisco, that earthquake had a magnitude of 7.8.

Well, here`s a glimpse of what residents experienced. Imagine being there. Well, at least 44 buildings collapsed, and thousands of people were forced to evacuate their office buildings, as you can see. Look at that..

Rescue crews worked throughout the night and spent today searching for children trapped under a collapsed school, where at least 25 people -- I guess a lot of the kids were killed. I`m joined right now by NBC News correspondent Ron Mott who`s in Mexico City.

Ron, it`s a country next door, and there they are, something else, those pictures.

RON MOTT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hey there, Chris. Well, we got some good news today on the death toll. It was reduced downward by two. So that`s good news. And in terms of that school -- this is not the school, but in terms of that school, they`re still looking for upwards of three dozen school children and adults. They were able to get two young people out of that school rubble today. So that`s good news.

Now, here behind me, this was an employment agency, and so it was packed to the gills yesterday with people looking for jobs, especially young people. And we understand that there are a number of people alive in this rubble you see behind me, Chris. This was a six-story building. I don`t know how well you can see it.

But there are a group of engineers and safety officials on top of the building, and the plan, we think, is that they`re trying to get down to the fourth floor. There`s a group of people on the fourth floor. They have managed to communicate with them. They have managed to get food and water down to them. They have managed to get messages to those friends and families of those folks inside, but they have not managed to get them out.

And so they are going to work through the night to try to find a way, a tunnel to try to get them out of a fourth floor conference room, and what they`re calling this is essentially a triangle of life. The floor above them collapsed at an angle, left them just enough room for them to breathe, and the back side is a wall that is holding up at this point.

Now, I even hate to mention this, but as far as I can tell, the ground has remained relatively stable today. If there have been any sort of aftershocks from yesterday`s quake, they have been very, very minor. But it doesn`t take much to take a precarious situation like this and turn it into a real tragedy.

They managed to get a lot of people out of here. At the last count, Chris, we`re talking 40, 41 structures that have collapsed here in Mexico City. Most of the deaths have come here in Mexico City, the capital. The quake itself was centered about 75 miles to our south and east, and one of our team members who lives here in Mexico City said this was a pretty scary quake yesterday that went on for a long time. If you`ve never been in one, they are quite unsettling, if you will.

So this scene is going to go on throughout the night. We imagine that the same is going on south of town, where that school is, and then a number of other areas where people are trapped still in buildings. But obviously, every minute counts now, and the longer we go -- we`re 25 hours plus now -- the less likelihood of getting people out alive -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: What a human report you gave us. Boy, I was listening to those -- watching those signs, "SIlencio," they were there -- they want everybody to be quiet so they can hear the cries of people buried there. What a -- what a -- what a human situation. Anyway, NBC`s Ron Mott in Mexico City.

We`ll be right back with the latest on Hurricane Maria, which has knocked out power in the entire island of Puerto Rico, the whole island without electricity.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Hurricane Maria delivered a massive blow to Puerto Rico today, making landfall as a Category 4. It`s the strongest hurricane to hit the island of Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years. Power is out, as I said a moment ago, across the entire island. Look at the wind there. Well, now it`s stopped.

Half of San Juan was flooded. Roads turned into rivers. Power lines and trees are down. Roofs have been ripped off of homes. The island faces a major recovery effort, obviously.

Well, today, President Trump approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico.

NBC`s Gabe Gutierrez is in San Juan.

Gabe, it`s nighttime there. Tell us, is it over?


Well, the storm itself might be over, but the aftermath is just beginning. The power of the storm was immense. We have seen overturned cars, collapsed buildings throughout the afternoon as we have ventured out and spoken with some of the residents here.

Many of them are just stunned. This was a storm that came onshore, as you mentioned, as a Category 4 storm. And we were hit hard for several hours with these hurricane-force winds. The big concern, though, was that storm surge and the flooding.

That is still continuing tonight. So, right now, the mayor says its search-and-rescue missions are just beginning now that the storm has passed. The governor has imposed a curfew. There is no firm total on the number of dead or injured here, but that assessment is just beginning now and expected to continue for several days.

Now, Chris, as you know, for several months even, there are -- some areas of this island are expected to be without power, so certainly a massive storm. The full impact is still being assessed -- back to you.

MATTHEWS: Something else, those pictures of wind there. Looks like they can knock everything over.

Anyway, Gabe Gutierrez in San Juan.

I`m joined right now on the phone by the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz.

Mayor, thank you much for joining us, Madam Mayor.

Well, it looks like everything is over in terms of the horror, but now you have got to deal with the fact of the calamity. CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: That is right, Chris.

First of all, thank you for the opportunity. I`m a big fan of your show and a big fan of yourself.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

YULIN CRUZ: But here we are outside already.

We have about 200 people, employees, municipal employees, working to do the first phase of what we call, not only search-and-rescue, but we have to open the area so that ambulances can go by, so that people can reach the hospitals, so that the aid and help that people need can actually go into the different communities.

All of San Juan and all of Puerto Rico, as you said, has no electricity. We have no running water. Right now, the governor has had to set a curfew because people are in some areas looting our stores and so forth.

But we have already 200 people from the municipality working, cutting trees, moving them aside, just making sure that the recovery begins right away, because have no doubt, we will prevail over this, and we will push on. And we will make sure that we reinvent ourselves, rebuild ourselves, and we do everything humanly possible to just overcome what has hit us.

MATTHEWS: Well, you have got a lot of spirit out there on that island. I have been a number of times. I have got to tell you, I`m really rooting for you.

Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, good luck. And thank you for being a fan of this show.

YULIN CRUZ: Thank you very much, sir.

MATTHEWS: It`s not as important as the challenge facing you, but thank you for saying that.

Before landing in Puerto Rico, Maria, the hurricane, laid siege to the U.S. Virgin Islands, of course, as a Category 5.

Stacey Plaskett is U.S. representative, the congresswoman from there. And she joins me now.

Well, thank you for being here.


MATTHEWS: But I have been to Charlotte Amalie. I have been to St. John. I have been to St. Thomas.

It`s an amazing part of the world. But it`s also exposed to weather out there.

PLASKETT: Exactly.

And we got it not just from Maria yesterday on the island of St. Croix, but prior to that two weeks ago on Irma on St. Thomas and St. John, which annihilated those islands. They have lost power on both St. Thomas and St. John. We lost our hospital on St. Thomas.

St. Croix was being used as the base for the reconstruction and for the rescue, and now that is out as well. There`s a lot of work that`s going to be done. We have got a lot of support from FEMA, and we`re just now looking to the rebuilding.

MATTHEWS: You know, that part of the world is really -- those islands are volcanic. And you get in a little boat nearby, and you know you`re really in deep ocean.


MATTHEWS: That you`re really out there.


MATTHEWS: I`m asking you about the money that comes into those parts of the world, the place you represent, the Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands.

When is the season when you have to get back in shape, they bring the money in?

PLASKETT: Well, right now, because of the way our economy has gone over the last several years, we are now a tourist economy.

And we`re going to lose this season, this year, which begins in November, end of October.

MATTHEWS: That`s right. When it gets cold up here, people go down there.

PLASKETT: Exactly.

And then runs through April. The island, not only have we lost structures, but if you look at the foliage, everything is Brown. The salt blasts. All the trees are...


MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, let`s encourage people to go, no matter what`s going on, because I remember seeing the Redskins play the Super Bowl, and I`m watching it at some bar down there.


MATTHEWS: And I realize Americans love to leave the mainland to go to the Virgin Islands and places like that to watch what`s going on here. It`s very American.


Well, Chris, the thing we need you to do is really keeping the emphasis on those areas, particularly for federal support post-FEMA.


PLASKETT: When FEMA leaves, to see if there`s going to be additional assistance from my colleagues in Congress to help us with the rebuilding.

MATTHEWS: Well, you have got a voice.

And, as my father says, it`s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

So, I`m glad you came on the show tonight.

PLASKETT: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Maybe it will help keep the noise in the White House for this.

And it`s great to have you on, U.S. Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett.

Anyway, up next, we`re going to talk to Governor John Kasich of Ohio on why he`s opposed to this latest last-minute attempt, this 11th-hour attempt to kill Obamacare. He`s against killing Obamacare. This is an interesting Republican that I like. I will admit it.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.



JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": A politician, a senator named Bill Cassidy from Louisiana was on my show, and he wasn`t very honest.

He said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on preexisting conditions, lower premiums for middle-class families, and no lifetime caps.

And guess what? The new bill does none of those things.

This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was ABC`s Jimmy Kimmel trashing the newly resurrected Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, legislation known as the Graham-Cassidy bill.

The seven-year quest to repeal Obamacare has taken on new life this week.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: People are starting to think that it has a chance.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: My Republican colleagues are certainly recognizing the fact that, if we don`t pass something, Obamacare remains the law of the land.

So, anybody saying, well, it just doesn`t do enough, it leaves 90 percent of Obamacare in place, well, a no-vote leaves 100 percent of Obamacare in place.


MATTHEWS: Well, in a sign of just how optimistic Republicans are, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has decided to bring the bill up for a vote next week.

The renewed push has left many senators scrambling to figure out, what exactly is in the bill and how would it affect their states?

Republicans have 11 day to pass the bill using a process that keeps the minority Democrats from blocking the proposal.

Here`s what we know about the legislation. If enacted, it would replace Obamacare`s insurance subsidies with lump sum grants to states. It would end the individual mandate, which brings the young, healthy payers into the market. It would end requirements that employers provide health care to their workers and end the requirement that insurers can`t deny coverage or charge more for preexisting medical conditions, something that President Trump himself promised he wouldn`t do.

What`s not in the bill? Opioid funding, a former must-have for moderate Republicans whose states have been hard-hit by the opioid epidemic.

All eyes are now on three senators who killed the last attempt, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who is leaning no, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Republicans already have one firm no. That`s Rand Paul of Kentucky.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: This is not repeal. It`s not even -- it`s barely Obamacare-lite. It keeps Obamacare.


MATTHEWS: So, Mitch McConnell needs 50 votes, with the help of the vice president. He can`t afford to lose more than two.

The bill is already losing support from big-state governors across the country like Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.

And, yesterday, a bipartisan group of 10 governors, including Governor John Kasich of Ohio, opposed the bill because of its partisan approach.

For more now, I`m joined by Governor John Kasich of Ohio.

Governor Kasich, thank you.

What is wrong with this bill?

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Well, Chris, what it does is, it takes the Medicaid expansion, along with the money that was set aside to provide subsidies to people so they could buy health care, it cuts it right off of the bat by 17 percent.

It has no guardrails to protect people who are the mentally ill, the drug- addicted, the chronically ill. And you mentioned this business of the preexisting condition. Yes, it`s right they cannot deny you coverage for preexisting conditions, but they can charge you what they want. So, if the cost becomes unaffordable, it doesn`t matter what they say.

So, Chris, look, Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado, myself, Brian Sandoval, who is head of the National Governors Association, we came up with a proposal to stabilize the insurance market.

It`s bipartisan. It started to gain some ground, or the notion that we could do this in a bipartisan way, stabilize the insurance markets and deal with Medicaid later. Then, all of the sudden, that kind of got snuffed out. And so now we have this bill.

We won`t have a Congressional Budget Office score. We won`t know what the damage of it is. But if you`re cutting stuff that much, then, you know, it`s clear that there are going to be losses for people. And that`s what I`m worried about. The bill doesn`t affect me. I`m only governor for another, I don`t know, 15 months or whatever.

But into the future, it could have a dramatic impact on people. And it`s not just about numbers. It`s about people.

MATTHEWS: Well, where do you think that we`re going to end up on health care? Because some of the Democrats, of course, Bernie Sanders from Vermont, who almost won the nomination of the Democratic Party last time, is pushing his single-payer. He`s basically pushing a Medicare for all, he calls it. That`s sort of on the progressive or left side.

And the Republicans, where is the...

KASICH: Yes. Yes, the hard left, hard left side.

MATTHEWS: I can accept that.

KASICH: Hard left.

MATTHEWS: Where is the Republican -- where is the centrist Republican vote? What do you want? Do you want health care -- do you want a national health care system sort of like the one from the Heritage Foundation which Obama created, or nothing?


KASICH: Yes, what I want, Chris, is, I want to have an exchange where people can go and buy insurance, that we have a system that allows them to get some subsidies, so they can afford that coverage.


KASICH: I would like to be able to reform Medicaid to give ourselves some more flexibility, but with guardrails.

One of the things that we proposed in our insurance reform was to give states the flexibility to create their own program and let states that want to clean -- or support Obamacare could still do it.

And if Republicans or any governor wanted to have more flexibility, they just had to meet a couple of conditions. You just couldn`t offer somebody coverage that wasn`t very meaningful. And, secondly, you couldn`t drop a bunch of coverage for a population.

And it still continued to say that we need to cover people for preexisting conditions.

This can be done. And they were starting down the right road, Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray. And then, all of the sudden, I don`t know, it smells a little bit like politics to me, the thing was declared dead.

But, Chris, we`re in a ping-pong match. You and I worked together on Capitol Hill. Nothing can be sustained that is just one party.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

KASICH: So, the Democrats passed Obamacare, no Republicans. Knock the ball over. Then the Republicans knock the ball over.

It`s going to be like a ping-pong match. And you know who loses in a ping- pong match? The public.

MATTHEWS: I can`t figure out what -- you have said that, and I understand that.

But here -- before we had Obamacare, we had nothing. Then we have Obamacare, which isn`t perfect. Everybody admits that.

KASICH: Right.

MATTHEWS: And even some progressives, and certainly moderate Democrats agree it was a mistake and moderate Republicans.

So, why -- so we`re not -- we`re not going back to square one. We`re going to something that is a hybrid, something of Obamacare that needs to be fixed.

Why can`t we just agree on fixing Obamacare?

KASICH: Well, I think, Chris, that`s what I`m trying to tell you, what Hickenlooper and a bunch of us, bipartisan, proposed.


KASICH: That we get the insurance market stabilized.

And there were ways in which to do it which also had guardrails, so people were going to protected.


KASICH: And then we were going to turn to Medicaid and a fundamental reform of health care and also Medicare and Social Security, because these entitlements have to be brought under control.

So, you know, look, my sense is that Obamacare was very flawed, but there`s way to fix it if we do it together. You remember, when we wrote the welfare reform bill, it was a give and take.


KASICH: And the welfare reform bill that was passed in, I don`t know what year it was, `96, `97, it`s still in place. Needs reformed, but still in place.

MATTHEWS: Well, where are you on politics right now?

You just mentioned that you`re going to end your governorship in a year- and-a-half, or a little less than a year-and-a-half.

Do you plan to run for president in 2020?


KASICH: No, I don`t plan anything other than get through today. Hopefully, this interview doesn`t screw me up.

Be a good governor. And then I don`t know what the future is going to bring, Chris. I want to have a voice out there.


KASICH: And I -- honestly, as hard as it is to believe, I know things will happen that will be good. The lord will provide -- he will fulfill the purpose of my life and I will go with it. I`m not panicked.

Do I seem panicked? I`m pretty calm about everything.

MATTHEWS: No, I don`t think you are.

But let me ask you this. If you had to go in a voting booth and you had two names on the general election ballot, one was Bernie Sanders, one was Donald Trump, who would you vote for?

KASICH: Well, I`m not voting for Bernie Sanders. He`s hard left. And I don`t have -- that`s not a choice I have to face at this point.

Look, all I can tell you, Chris...

MATTHEWS: Can you be an alternative to both of them? Can you offer yourself as an alternative, as a third-party candidate?

KASICH: I -- I -- very -- Chris, I`m not doing anything now to plan, other than to have an organization, so I can do these kinds of things that I`m doing and say the things I`m saying now, because you know what?

There aren`t a lot of people that come on your show and talk about this that are Republicans --


KASICH: -- because they get ouched. But I can do it and I want to continue to do it. I don`t know what the future brings. Maybe I can co- host HARDBALL, you never know.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK, thank you for that. Keeping all of your options open, including that one. Thank you, Governor John Kasich.

KASICH: Chris, thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next, President Trump`s top aides are defending his new nickname for the North Korean dictator to say Trump was right to call him rocket man. But did that speak play with the president`s base? Well, you bet they love it, they love all of this red meat.

We`ll get back to that with the round table tonight. You`re watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has great strength and patience. But if it is forced to defend itself for its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I can never get over the fact that he`s always good at putting his hand like this, because in all of the religion books I had growing up, that was Jesus putting his hand like this and Trump does it as he talks about destroying an entire country. It`s a little incongruous.

Anyway, that was President Trump, of course, yesterday, during his address to the U.N. Well, that rhetoric may be bread for the base, some new polls out today indicate his recent bipartisan approach, outreach if you will, on hurricane relief and DACA doesn`t bother his core supporters. Get that -- a new Monmouth University poll shows among those who voted for Trump, only 15 percent say his actions in the last month have raised questions -- even raised questions about his conservative principles. Seventy-seven percent, more than 75 percent of his peeps said it didn`t even raise any questions with them.

And a "Politico" report, actually, "Morning Console" poll shows President Trump`s job approval ticked up in the last week, 53 (ph) percent approve of the job he`s doing, while 52 percent disapprove. That`s not so great, but it`s about where he was when he got elected.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL round table. David Ignatius is a foreign correspondent and columnist for "The Washington Post", Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today", and Eugene Robinson is a columnist for "The Washington Post".

OK, we have the top three journalists in the country right now. I really mean it. So, tell me, what do you make of Trump`s little he does this and then he does the crazy, he does the high school Harry number, rocket man.

Meanwhile, he is showing brains in going into these deals with the Democrats.

DAVID IGNATIUS, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT/COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: He is moving toward being able to govern. He had a catastrophic first nine months. I think he knew that he was just nowhere and I think he`s reshuffled the deck as Trump does.

He is the disrupter. He realized the Republicans were getting him nowhere. They`re not a governing party, so he`s reached out to Schumer and Pelosi.

I thought the speech at the U.N. had some dreadful moments, you know, the belligerent rhetoric. But you boil it down, it was a fairly conventional speech.

And I actually think it`s a good thing in terms of limiting the damage of the Trump presidency that he`s bringing his supporters to the idea that the U.N. is a good institution. That he supports it. He wants it to work. He wants to work through the U.N.

To me, that was the core of the speech, outside the headline zingers. And I think that`s a positive.


SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: I guess I would disagree. I think the language that he used that accepted the United Nations that we`re going to remain a part of was the stuff that was written down for him that he read. But the stuff that he meant was the America first, sovereignty first, the rocket man on a suicide mission and we`re going to destroy you, the tough language about the Iran deal, we`ll see in the next two weeks about whether he actually upsets that deal.

I think that was the stuff that he actually means. This was an articulation of the same policies that he took during the campaign and that kind of pivot that people waited for to see once he`s in governing if he is seeing things for complicated having to moderate those positions. I didn`t hear that in that speech.

MATTHEWS: Gene, break the tie.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, look, I don`t think we can say there`s a Trump doctrine in foreign policy that`s dramatically different from what we`ve seen before. I just haven`t seen it.

MATTHEWS: From other leaders?

ROBINSON: In Iraq, in Afghanistan, and, you know, our long running foreign wars. It`s what his predecessors did. He said he wouldn`t do that but he`s doing it.


ROBINSON: He did pull us out of Paris because he doesn`t believe in climate change. And so, he`s made some changes. but I don`t see a radical departure. The rhetoric was harsh and was not something you see in the United Nations and that was jarring and should have been jarring. But again, I`ll believe it when -- you know, this huge departure when I see it.

MATTHEWS: Well, is his rhetoric separate from his actions? I mean, he goes along with DACA. He`s not going to do it by E.O. There`s no other play. He`s not really going to break up the Iranian nuclear deal, I don`t think, but he`s talking about it`s the worst thing in history, the most humiliating thing in American history. And yet we`re sitting here wondering, well, maybe he will keep it going.


ROBINSON: Well, so far, look, every time they`ve had to do so they`ve certified that Iran is complying.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Isn`t it frightening that he would kill it, David? That`s your area. It`s frightening if we go back to a war footing with Iranians.

IGNATIUS: It would be a generously dangerous mistake. I think it would harm U.S. security. I think it would harm Israeli security. I think adding another nuclear problem, nuclear crisis when we`re dealing with North Korea would be folly.

So, I have to assume that a rational president in the end won`t do that. You know, is Donald Trump in the end rational? We`re finding out.

MATTHEWS: Is he rational?

IGNATIUS: Well, you know, he`s crazy like a fox. He throws these grenades for political purposes. What I learned watching his businesses, he takes a lot fewer risks than you think he does. He doesn`t expose his own capital generally.

So -- but I think the fact that a lot of his supporters hate the U.N., think the U.N. is dangerous. The fact that he was there speaking to the U.N., being part of that whole process, I think, you know, that`s good. Bringing those people into the idea that the U.N. is a good thing. Good.

MATTHEWS: The same thing he did with tough neighborhoods, rough urban neighborhoods in this country, he trashed them. He trashed poor countries, they`re going to hell. It`s the same sort of elitist. It`s not elitist, it`s middle class attitude towards the countries having a hard time in the world.

We know they got all kinds of climate problems, they`ve got poverty problems, and he trashes them in a way that seems to bring delight to a certain kind of chauvinist American.

PAGE: Of course, here he is trashing the Iranian deal and we`ll see whether or not he actually pulls out of it, at the time he`s trying to get North Korea to negotiate a nuclear deal with him. How does that persuade them to go along with a nuclear deal? And isn`t the scariest thing that he faces?

IGNATIUS: It`s crazy. Is he trying to do a diplomatic deal with North Korea, the idea that he would show that he`ll walk away from another nuclear deal he did, what more does Kim Jong-un --

ROBINSON: Yes, exactly.

IGNATIUS: -- need to know.

MATTHEWS: That`s very smart. You`re actually talking consequence, which I think this president should really honor.

Anyway, the round table is sticking with us. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: When we come back, the HARDBALL table will tell me something I don`t know. In fact, it`s going to be a really big "tell me something I don`t know". Back in a moment.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

We have time for David Ignatius for a great prediction.

IGNATIUS: The Pentagon thinks it has an answer to North Korea`s missiles. They are super fast, airborne lasers carried in drones. Just outside North Korean air space. The only problem is, it won`t even be ready as a prototype until 2023. Sorry.

MATTHEWS: Not a good use but it sounded great.

Anyway, David Ignatius, Susan Page, and Eugene Robinson.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". He`s not going to like this one because it`s about what he`s really up to.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, September 20th, 2017.

I watched President Trump`s recent political moves with interest. I believe it`s based on an old formula from the days of the Caesars: bread and circuses.

First, the bread. On the one hand, he takes care to keep the economy and society moving along calmly. He works with the grownups to deal with Hurricane Harvey. Whatever else the hard right says about Washington, they want its help when there`s trouble.

People on the right also like the economy to keep cooking along. They don`t want a government shutdowns screwing up the stock market, so Trump, smart to Wall Street, cuts a deal with the Democrats, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, to keep the government paying its bills.

As for circuses, do you have to ask? On that front, he never lets up. When you wake up in the morning, his tweets are the first thing you hear about, all aimed at keeping his base thrilled as it can be. He retweets a scene of him whacking a golf ball off the head of Hillary Clinton. He goes to the U.N. and New York and mocks the leader of North Korea as rocket man, attacks the third world of going to hell. His people love it.

Bread and circuses, one and then the other and then the other again, never stopping the action. Is it working? Check today`s polls. More than three-quarters of his supporters in a brand-new poll are fine with his doing business with the Democrats, the other political party.

Only 15 percent, one in six, says it even raises questions. They are with him on this. Notice how this works for him. He cuts deals with Democrats over the debt ceiling and avoids a government shutdown. He accepts DACA for those who came to the country as children.

He decides not to kill the Iranian nuclear deal. Al the time, he keeps his people entertained with humiliating shots at his enemy in Pyongyang, Tehran, and Chappaqua. Again, they want the bread. They want the circus. Hail Caesar.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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