IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 9/22/17 McCain blocks Obamacare repeal

Guests: Jennifer Rubin, Joaquin Castro, Jonathan Swan, Margaret Carlson, Sabrina Siddiqui

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 22, 2017 Guest: Jennifer Rubin, Joaquin Castro, Jonathan Swan, Margaret Carlson, Sabrina Siddiqui

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Feeling the pressure.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The special counsel`s probe is closing in on the White House, and with each turn of the vise, Robert Mueller makes it more clear that the president is at risk.

Also today, Senator John McCain of Arizona has dealt what could be a death blow to the Republican plan to repeal "Obama care." McCain announced he can`t in good conscience vote for the Republican plan, which was scheduled to come up for a vote next week. We`ll get to that in a minute.

But today, the president is showing what it feels like having investigators breathing down his neck. Resulting to Twitter, Trump is again indulging his obsession with former rival Hillary Clinton and lashing out at the media. Most tellingly, he`s resumed his denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election. This time he`s casting doubt on the Russian-linked propaganda campaign on Facebook, something that Facebook`s own CEO has confirmed. Quote, "The Russian hoax continues. Now it`s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest media coverage in favor of crooked Hillary?" That`s Trump tweeting this morning.

That tweet was quickly followed by another. Quote, "The greatest influence over our election was the fake news media screaming for crooked Hillary Clinton. Next, she was a bad candidate."

Well the president`s outburst comes in the wake of Mark Zuckerberg`s announcement yesterday that Facebook would give Congress the ads that Russian operatives deployed last year. But in calling that story a hoax, Trump`s tweet echoes the denials made by the Kremlin. As a Putin spokesman said today, We have never done it, and the Russian side has never been involved in this.

It also comes as the White House faces a slate of document requests from the special counsel, requests that indicate that Mueller is building a case for obstruction against the president himself.

Joining me now is Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios. Carol Lee is a reporter with NBC News. And Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, I want you to start tonight. You`re a politician. You know how politicians behave. How`s Trump behaving right now, yelling in every direction, tweeting in every direction, getting up at dawn? Is Mueller getting to him with these demands? Is Facebook getting to him with its acknowledgment that the Russians were running dirty ads in the campaign to help him?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, he`s obviously a politician right now who is very agitated and disturbed, and you see him basically respond with the same things whenever he feels the heat, so to speak. First he deflects. He usually tries to go back to "crooked Hillary" or talk about somebody else.

And then the second thing that he tries to do is to undercut the credibility of the people investigating him. You saw him do that with James Comey and the investigation itself. And today`s tweet was another round of exactly those things.

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s funny, Congressman -- it`s not funny, it`s a little sick funny. But he seems to go back to the same almost redundant language about the media, like he hasn`t thought of a new way of saying what he`s saying. It`s almost like, as you say, he just says, I`m mad, and I`m going to talk. I`m mad. It`s almost like it`s a pout more than a thought.

CASTRO: Well, and I think he realizes that in some ways -- look, if this thing does pan out, if Robert Mueller does find, for example, that there`s cause for declaring that there was obstruction of justice, then Donald Trump is essentially in a race to undercut the credibility of the investigation before that finding comes out, so that by the time it comes out, at least a significant portion of the American people will say, Look, I don`t believe anything that comes out of the mouth of Robert Mueller or anything that comes out of this investigation. And I think that`s exactly what he`s trying to do.

MATTHEWS: Carol, I`m trying to figure out what started him at dawn this morning. Some people says he reads the papers at dawn. That`s (INAUDIBLE) it seems to me if you`re the president and your lawyers are saying to you now they want all your e-mails, if you use any -- does he use e-mail? -- well, your phone calls, maybe they have transcriptions. They want all the transcripts of all the phone conversations with the Russians, perhaps, they want to know everything he said at any time, Air Force One transcripts. They`re really coming to him.

And also on this, he`s hearing that Facebook is about to come clean and turn to over state`s evidence all these ads the Russian people have been paying for, and that will lead to which Americans helped him. Your thoughts about how close this is getting to him personally.

CAROL LEE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: That`s right. What we`ve seen in the last few days are those three things, the investigation into possible obstruction -- those tentacles are expanding. They now include Air Force One. They include, you know, the president`s firing of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. You see the pressure on Paul Manafort is really heating up. It`s almost every day that we learn something new about that. And then the Facebook piece.

And the most interesting piece about the Facebook -- Facebook has said that there are certain ads that were targeted to specific geographical areas, and that is going to be the key question that they`re going to look at, is whether or not anyone helped them target those ads, whether it`s a Republican operative, whether it`s somebody in the Trump campaign.

The Trump campaign has taken a lot of credit for winning the election based on how they strategized on Facebook and on Twitter. And Twitter -- you know, we haven`t heard so much from them, but they`re going to be testifying -- or talking to the Senate Intelligence Committee next week.

MATTHEWS: And this is the essence of collusion.

LEE: That would -- I mean, that is one piece of -- yes.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) the Russians target.

LEE: If -- if the Trump campaign helped the Russians target ads that they bought through social media, you could -- yes, that is one thing that...

MATTHEWS: That wouldn`t be an impulsive move. That would be a deliberate move to help the Russians help them win the election.

Let me -- let me ask you about this thing, Jon.


MATTHEWS: I want to tell you about Trump himself, the psycho part of this thing. Not psycho, psycho-babble part maybe. Why does he get up in the morning and show that they`re getting to him? Why does he want his prosecutors to know this hurts? Because he seems to show it with his face.

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: I don`t know. But what I do know is that Twitter is basically his last toy. Kelly has taken away all of his fun during the day. His last moments of freedom are in the residence at night and in the residence in the morning. And his...

MATTHEWS: You make him sound like Idi Amin. I mean...


SWAN: I`m just saying...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) raid his house, all he`s got are toys he`s playing with.

SWAN: I`m just saying that Kelly has really nailed it down during the day. And he used to have so much fun with Scavino and all of his buddies in there. He still has Scavino, and Twitter...

MATTHEWS: Who`s Scavino.

SWAN: Dan Scavino, former caddy, former Trump Organization and runs his social media, and very much goads Trump, you know, baits him, agrees with him, all of those memes that Trump tweets, Scavino loves that...

MATTHEWS: I thought he was a loner on this. Anyway, President Trump has consistently called the Russian investigation a witch hunt fueled by Democrats. Let`s watch him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason why Democrats only talk about the totally made-up Russia story is because they have no message, no agenda and no vision.

They have phony witch hunts going against me. They have everything going. And you know what? All we do is win, win, win.

The entire thing has been a witch hunt. How many times do I have to answer this question?

QUESTION: Can you just say yes or no?

TRUMP: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


MATTHEWS: Congressman, tell us about this. I don`t know how well we define obstruction of justice. Clearly, he`s showing motive there. (INAUDIBLE) showing motive, I want to crash this prosecution down to nothing right now. I don`t want it to exist. I`m trashing it every day I can. Certainly,he`s showing a motive. He hates the prosecution, but you`re allowed to hate the prosecutor if you`re a defendant, I guess.

But where does obstruction come in, and where does just being president, you know, crazy man end?

CASTRO: Well, the first thing is that Robert Mueller is obviously doing a very thorough job in requesting all of these documents, if all the reports are true. And he`s been doing it at a very quick pace, a lot faster than either the Senate or the House investigations.

So I`m glad to see that he`s moving at a brisk pace. But you know, it means that Donald Trump is brooding over this right now, that he`s concerned about where it`s going, how fast it`s moving, the fact that it may even touch upon his direct family members, like Donald Trump, Jr. And so I`m sure that`s got him very concerned.


CASTRO: As far as obstruction of justice, I`ve said before that it will be a big problem in the Congress if we find -- if we confirm, either through our investigations or if Robert Mueller confirms, that Donald Trump ordered the firing of James Comey specifically because of the Russia investigation.

MATTHEWS: I`m looking at the Alamo over your right shoulder there. There (INAUDIBLE) Just curious about one thing. Speaking of the Alamo in modern terms, suppose Robert Mueller finds an article of impeachment regarding obstruction of justice, he (INAUDIBLE) he just sends the indictment over to the House Judiciary, to the speaker`s office. Do you think there`s a possibility that the very partisan Republican leadership in the House and the Judiciary Committee will simply say, We`re not going to act on it? Can you imagine them just simply saying, Prosecutor says you should be impeached, we`re not going to act?

CASTRO: I can imagine that. We should act on it if that`s the case and it`s confirmed. But remember, I`ve said before that the main difference between now and Watergate is that in Watergate, the opposing party to the president was in control of Congress.


CASTRO: Here you have the president`s party in control, and these guys have shown for a while that their tolerance for ignoring bad deeds is pretty high. So I wouldn`t be shocked if that happens.

MATTHEWS: Of course, the opposite party was in charge during Clinton`s problems, too. It seems to work that way. Anyway, Congressman, let me look at two things you`ve said about the eventual outcome of this investigation. The first statement was in April and the second was in July. Let`s take up two of the things you`ve said about this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen any hard evidence of collusion yet?

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

When I gave that answer, I was speaking not only of the possibility of collusion, but also based on everything I`ve seen, possible obstruction or coverup or other things. And so I stand by that answer.


MATTHEWS: Well, here we are all these months later. It`s late September. Where are you on that? Do you want to update what you said there about people go to jail?

CASTRO: Well, I mean, I stand by my answer. And obviously, if the reports are true about what we`ve heard from what may happen with Paul Manafort, then there`s one case there. And the obstruction of justice question is still one that needs to be answered and confirmed. So I wouldn`t change anything that I said.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, amid the Russia investigation, Politico reports that morale at the White House is very, very low among the staffers. According to an adviser, everyone`s unhappy and everyone is fighting everyone else. That`s dangerous. One Republican lobbyist also predicts there will be an exodus from this administration come January.

Carol, I`ve seen that, too. We hear stories about people bugging and people afraid each other are wired. (INAUDIBLE) afraid to say anything because they`ll be giving some ammo to someone to use perhaps against them. You know, Corey Lewandowski the other day says, Oh, you know, they may all go to jail. I mean, it`s amazing the stuff -- it is cat on a hot tin roof right now there.

LEE: Yes, we haven`t seen anything like this before. Morale in the White House -- I mean, if you talk to people there, it`s very low and people are suspicious of each other. There`s still all sorts of infighting despite the turnover that they`ve had that was supposed to resolve some of that. There are frustrations, you know, whether -- concerns about whether Russia is going to somehow touch each individual staffer in some way. Are they sitting in a meeting that`s, you know, going to wind up being under scrutiny or something like that.

And so it`s a really -- you know, it`s a very increasingly despite -- you would think at this point, things would be getting better, and they seem to be getting more tense.

MATTHEWS: Don`t do the crime if you can`t do the time.

Anyway, thank you, Carol Lee and U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro. Jonathan will be back with us in a little while.

Coming up, the battle to save health care. John McCain today says he`s a no in the Republicans` last ditch effort to dump "Obama care," and that could end up killing the bill.

All this as Trump`s point man on health care racks up huge bills at taxpayer expense for private jets.

Plus, President Trump didn`t just lash out today about the Russia investigation, he blasted North Korea`s dictator on Twitter today, calling him a madman and saying he`ll be tested like never before. It`s a war of words that may bring us frighteningly close to the real thing.

And who best to make sense of the schoolyard bully stuff? We continue to hear from Trump, but our own Katy Tur, her new book, "unbelievable" is a must- read account of what she calls "the craziest campaign in American history."

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch."

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, former FBI director James Comey made a rare public appearance today and he faced loud protests during a welcoming ceremony for students at Howard University here in Washington.

Well, in his speech, former director Comey said nothing about the Russia investigation or his firing by President Trump this past May.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Senate Republicans` 11th-hour last ditch effort to repeal and replace "Obama care," the Graham-Cassidy proposal, is in critical condition. Arizona Republican John McCain announced in a statement late today, "I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal." Wow.

In addition to McCain, Kentucky`s Rand Paul is also a no vote. One more Republican vote is going to kill this bill if it has any chance anyway. Two no votes on the last repeal effort are publicly up in the air, Alaska`s Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins of Maine, who told constituents today she`s leaning against the bill. Murkowski is being heavily courted meanwhile. Politico reported Alaska could get relief from Senate repeal bills` Medicaid cuts.

Anyway, an analysis of the bill out today says 21 million would lose coverage by 2026 under this plan. In other words, 21 less million people covered than are being covered now by "Obama care."

Meantime -- or meanwhile, the man who would be charged with implementing the bill, should it pass, HHS secretary Tom Price -- there`s his picture -- is facing serious scrutiny of his own, Politico reporting that Price traveled by private plane at least 24 times since May on taxpayer expense. The cost of the trips identified by Politico exceeds $300,000. He always gets on a chartered plane, private plane, rather than just taking a scheduled flight so he can live more dandily.

Anyway, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Margaret Carlson is a columnist for the DailyBeast. Jonathan Allen is national political reporter for NBC. And Sabrina Siddiqui is a political reporter for "The Guardian."

OK, here`s what I think. So let`s start off with Sabrina, you first. I think this thing`s dead as a cucumber, or whatever it is, dead as what? A doornail. And number two, the reason I think it is because you got 32 Republicans now, no matter what they say in the leadership, who haven`t even committed to the bill.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": It`s hard to imagine that Mitch McConnell can bring this bill to the floor when the math simply doesn`t add up. They can only afford to lose, as you pointed out, two Republican senators. You had at least a couple of holdouts in Murkowski and Collins. But then you also have a lot of senators who have privately expressed concerns and were looking for some sort of cover to not have to take yet another vote on an "Obama care" repeal bill that`s not going to pass, and in turn, they don`t pass it by anyone (ph), whether it`s from the right while they`re fending off primary challenges or whether it`s when you look down to tough reelection battles, all the attacks that they`re going to face from the left for kicking people off of health insurance.

MATTHEWS: Jon, what would you rather do if you`re a United States senator, Republican from a -- sort of a red state, close to the mark. Would you rather face people mad at you because you couldn`t repeal "Obama care," even though you tried, or would you rather have repealed "Obama care" and be faced with defending the new system you put in, which sucks?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think we`re basically going to find that out if this bill comes to the floor for a vote. We saw it in the last one. Those who were afraid of primaries voted for the thing, those who were afraid of losing in the general election to a Democrat were against it.

Susan Collins in Maine obviously in a tough spot. She`s -- looks like she`s waiting to see what the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, says about this, which is basically her saying, I`m waiting until they come out and say this is a terrible bill before I vote against it.

MATTHEWS: Margaret, I don`t think they want this. I said before 32 -- I went through it today with one of our producers -- 32 senators of the 52 Republican senators haven`t committed.

MARGARET CARLSON, DAILYBEAST: Right. Well, to your prior question, it seems to me that all Republicans will be delivered from having voted for a bill that`s going to destroy the health care system. I mean, this is the meanest and the worst of the bills...

MATTHEWS: And you have to defend everything that`s wrong with it.

CARLSON: ... everything rolled into one. Everything that`s wrong with it, you own it, whatever...


MATTHEWS: OK. It doesn`t have -- it doesn`t have an individual mandate. It doesn`t have an employer mandate. So, a lot of the young people say, the heck with this. It won`t have any funding. It will be starved to death.

Most importantly, it doesn`t have the selling pitches. It doesn`t have protection for preexisting conditions.

CARLSON: Preexisting, yes.

MATTHEWS: It doesn`t have the stuff that everybody fights about.

SIDDIQUI: And hard to overstate the significance of the insurance lobby coming out against this bill, because they had been -- they had kept their cards close to their chest in some of these previous iterations that were being debated.

They have a lot of clout with respect to Republican negotiations on health care.

CARLSON: Every lobby.


SIDDIQUI: And every lobby, the physician groups, the hospital groups, they unanimously have opposed this bill.

CARLSON: They`re usually against each other, together now.

MATTHEWS: And Jimmy Kimmel is very popular with a lot of people, and also especially younger people that can stay up all night, right?

And he comes out and says, this wouldn`t have taken care of my kid, and you said it would.

CARLSON: And the fact-checkers said he was more right about the bill than Senator Bill Cassidy.

SIDDIQUI: And every concern still stands. They have not gone through regular order. The same concerns over Medicare remain -- in fact -- Medicaid -- in fact, they`re amplified, because the would eliminate the Medicaid expansion entirely.

ALLEN: And, Chris, your point earlier, the better solution for a lot of these Republican senators is to not have this vote at all.

MATTHEWS: OK. Here`s how I think it might work tonight. And this I a dangerous prediction because it may not be true by midnight.

I think the president -- I think they`re going to pull the bill. They`re going to make it official this weekend. They`re not going to have a vote, because why have a vote and have 10 votes for it? They want to blame it on McCain, because they have already blamed one of these on McCain.

They know McCain has got a vendetta against this president. They can say he does. They can say it`s all personal. And blame it on McCain, who is - - you can`t hate the guy because of what he`s been through and what he`s facing now.

But you know what? That`s the smart move. Blame it on McCain and walk away.

What do you say?

SIDDIQUI: Well, certainly, I think that`s been a lot of the narrative leading up to this, that McCain is thinking about his legacy. He`s weighing a lot more than...


MATTHEWS: What`s his legacy? He`s a maverick.

SIDDIQUI: Well, there`s a maverick component. And there`s the fact that he also right now is dealing with his own health issues. And so he`s really weighing how he wants to be remembered.

And then he`s very, very close friends of Lindsey Graham. So, they can also point to the fact that he was arguing on the merits.

MATTHEWS: What about the personal? How the stuff I like in politics, the personal, Jon? Didn`t President Trump say something nasty about the guy who spent seven years in Hanoi Hilton?

ALLEN: He did. He said a lot of nasty things about John McCain before.

I`m sure that Senator McCain is not bringing the personal into it at all. I`m sure he doesn`t think about that ever when assessing how he`s going to deal with politics.

MATTHEWS: Well, that...


MATTHEWS: ... tells me he is.


ALLEN: But it makes it harder for the president to convince him if he`s on the fence.


MATTHEWS: Can you imagine that little...


MATTHEWS: ... note the phone? Yes, we really need -- I could really use your help, John. I could really...


MATTHEWS: Imagine John McCain. Is this phone call over yet?


MATTHEWS: Are you finished?

Who thinks the bill will pass next?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I don`t even know if they will get to a vote. And if they do, I don`t think it passes.

MATTHEWS: Anybody thinks it will pass?

CARLSON: Don`t think it will pass.

MATTHEWS: So, we have Obamacare now.

And now the question is, moving ahead -- this is the part I do care about - - fixing it. Is there any chance that Trump will now say, if he faces defeat next week, OK, we couldn`t fix it, so we`re going to let the Democrats have a couple years to work with Republicans and fix the problems?

Will he actually be positive about that, instead of letting it atrophy by killing the advertisement, not really supporting the recruitment of people to be a participant in it?

CARLSON: Well, Trump called the House bill mean. He had second thoughts. He`s not been plumping for this bill the way he did the House bill originally.

And he says, I want to let it fail. Go ahead, let it fail, and then you will see how much you need me.

However, nobody wants the health care system to collapse. And now he`s surrounded by people who see that. So I think they will go back to the way of fixing it, because no matter how partisan you are, you don`t want the system to collapse.

MATTHEWS: I agree. Well, I hope Trump has a heart. That`s an open question.

CARLSON: We will find out.

MATTHEWS: As I said, Jimmy Kimmel was a leading critic. He put the stink on this bill. And last night, he took on its co-sponsor, Senator Bill Cassidy, for the third time this week. Let`s watch Jimmy Kimmel.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": I don`t know what the point of speaking to him is. We spoke. He told me one thing, he did another. Are we supposed to do that again?

Some people tell me I should give him the benefit of the doubt. And you know what? I do give him the benefit of the doubt. I doubt all the benefits that he claims are part of the new health care bill.



MATTHEWS: Well, after John McCain announced his opposition to the bill today, Kimmel tweeted: "Thank you, Senator John McCain, for being a hero again and again and now again."

What a duo. They`re doubling. They`re tag-teaming this guy, Jimmy Kimmel and John McCain.

CARLSON: Yes. I mean, a late-night comedian and a U.S. senator defeated this really bad bill.

SIDDIQUI: Just to your earlier point, Democrats are pushing for a bill to stabilize the insurance markets, which have suffered from a great deal of uncertainty because of these repeal efforts.

We saw Trump team up with them for the debt limit short-term deal. We saw him potentially team up with them for DACA. I think this will be the real prize for them, if they can push this in December.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s a break for Trump to lose this baby. It`s a big break.

The Roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

Be right back.


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

Seventy thousand people are being urged to evacuate immediately in Northwestern Puerto Rico. A hurricane-damaged dam is in imminent danger of failing. The National Weather Service calls it a life-threatening situation. The entire island of Puerto Rico remains without power, with the death toll climbing to at least 13 people.

Mexico is reeling after that devastating earthquake; 286 people are confirmed to be dead, according to local officials. Time is running out, as rescue teams work around the clock to get to survivors trapped beneath the rubble.

Back in the U.S., President Trump is heading to Huntsville, Alabama, tonight to Trump for incumbent Senator Luther Strange. Strange is in a tight runoff race against former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. The race is pitting Trump against his former strategist Steve Bannon. The candidates are running to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL Roundtable.

Margaret, tell me something I don`t know.

CARLSON: Because Trump is continuing to taunt Rocket Man, but the airlines are showing him some respect.

Swiss Airlines, Lufthansa, and Scandinavian Airlines are rerouting their plans around the Sea of Japan and Japan to not come in contact with anything Rocket Man might do.



ALLEN: The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation`s legislative conference is in town this week.

MATTHEWS: The weekend, yes.

ALLEN: Every year, they have this.

This year, the big stars are members of the Congressional Black Caucus Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. All the chatter is about them and whether they`re going to run for president in 2020.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I they are the hot two.

Yes, go ahead.

SIDDIQUI: Trump is on his way to assembly the most male-dominated government in decades.

We saw a new analysis at "The Guardian" showing that 80 percent of nominations for top jobs in the Trump administration have gone to men. Absent a change, men will outnumber women 4-1 in this administration.

MATTHEWS: There needs to be a form of punishment.

Just kidding.

That was Margaret Carlson, Jonathan Allen and Sabrina Siddiqui.

Still ahead: the war of words between President Trump and the North Korean dictator.

Plus, NBC`s Katy Tur on her new book, "Unbelievable," about covering the Trump campaign.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Amid the life-or-death stakes of the nuclear crisis with North Korea, there is this risky sideshow, a tit-for-tat war of words between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Insults are flying in both directions. And the dangers couldn`t be greater. On Tuesday, President Trump threatened to wipe North Korea off the map. And he gave the country`s young leader a nickname. Let`s watch that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has great strength and patience. But if it is forced to defend itself or 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: Well, yesterday, Kim Jong-un responded, attacking President Trump and threatening to make him pay dearly.

That in turn goaded President Trump to respond this morning via Twitter -- quote -- "Kim Jong-un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman, who doesn`t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before."

Well, is there any strategy behind Trump`s name-calling?

We`re going to back with Jonathan Swan of Axios and Jennifer Rubin joining us now. She`s an opinion writer with "The Washington Post."

Well, both of you, look, here`s the thing. I don`t take moral equivalence here for a second. Kim Jong-un is the aggressor. He`s building nuclear weapons and threatening to use them against the United States. He`s going well beyond where the status quo is. We`re not advancing past the 38th Parallel toward him.

He may feel threatened, but that`s psychological. He`s threatening us with weapons.

Your thoughts, Jennifer? And why does this president think that this High School Harry routine is somehow going to force the guy to just close in about himself and give up his nuclear weapons?

JENNIFER RUBIN, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Because he knows nothing about anything. He`s just a bully.

This is how he`s blustered through his entire life, through business, through television.

MATTHEWS: It`s worked. It got him the presidency.

RUBIN: Exactly. And so he thinks this is the way to do it. And...

MATTHEWS: Well, treat him like little Marco.

RUBIN: Right. Exactly.

MATTHEWS: There`s what he`s doing.

RUBIN: That`s right. He tries to diminish him. And he think that`s going to -- he`s going to go away.

The real downside of this is, China has always wanted to separate us from our allies in that part of the country -- part of the world. And when they see this behavior, America looks out of control, they look unreliable, they look shaky.

And so we`re doing the Chinese work for them. If they want to separate Japan out and they want to separate some of our other allies...

MATTHEWS: Taiwan, Japan.

RUBIN: Exactly.


MATTHEWS: Thailand.

RUBIN: This only helps them, because we look like we`re nuts, we look like we`re undependable.

MATTHEWS: I learned this. You have watched politics. I have been studying it for years.

And I`ll tell you. There`s an old rule. Nixon had it. Always attack up. If you`re not president, attack Lyndon Johnson. He attacks back, you win. That`s who he got the presidency in `68. He got Johnson to attack back. He got himself the nomination doing that.

You don`t attack down. And the United States is the greatest country perhaps in history, certainly today. And to attack a crackpot over there with a bad haircut and get involved in a peeing match with the guy is insane. It`s the very opposite of...

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Punching down.

MATTHEWS: Well, yes, in a way that maybe the guy will fight.

Who knows? Suppose he starts bombing South Korea because he`s upset at a taunt? We don`t know.

SWAN: The calculation, when you talk to people in...

MATTHEWS: Look at this crazy stuff he puts on, these crazy shows.

What are they for, with all the braid and all the medals? Look at all those ridiculous medals. That`s not a serious country. But look at all the medals. They`re obviously deluded as to who they are.

Look at those big hats they wear, too.


MATTHEWS: It`s ridiculous. They don`t know who they are.

He thinks he`s great-looking. So, how do we know he will react anyway? Who is he clapping at, by the way? This is real stuff. Look at him now marching. He knows these guys.

Oh, what a great day I had today. Everybody is afraid of him.


SWAN: Right. Right.

You could do a show where you just narrate North Korean footage for an hour. I would watch that.

MATTHEWS: Well, I just think it`s delusional to begin with.

SWAN: Here`s the thing.

I don`t think Trump would have tweeted that if he believed that Kim Jong-un would actually -- here`s the thing.


MATTHEWS: Who is he doing it for? The people up in Erie, Pennsylvania?

SWAN: It`s the only way he knows.

RUBIN: Yes, actually.

SWAN: Actually, his alpha male shtick is his shtick.

MATTHEWS: For who?

SWAN: For his people? They love it. They love it.

MATTHEWS: For Melania? For Melania? For Ivanka?

RUBIN: No, for his voters. They love it. He`s being direct. He`s being candid. He`s not being diplomatic.


MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, but those guys, those people up in Erie, in real America, have uncles and fathers who fought in Korea. They do not want to go back to Korea in a war. Nobody does, nobody.

RUBIN: No. No, they don`t.

SWAN: Here`s the thing.

When you talk to people in the administration, yes, they all project, oh, we`re worried and all of this stuff. But when you actually talk to them, they don`t think of it. There`s a reason he`s firing missiles in the range of Guam, but not at Guam. Their genuine view is that this guy is not suicidal.

MATTHEWS: Who is that? Who?

SWAN: Kim Jong-un.

MATTHEWS: Who is that?

SWAN: A lot of people in the administration at a senior level who are involved in decision-making, because their view is, if he does shoot at Guam, we could shoot it out of the air and we will take him down.

MATTHEWS: Let me try to apply something else.

You take climate change, and the liberals who care about climate change, the smart people, they go, well, even if there`s a 1 percent chance we`re burning up the planet, let`s not do it.

You think there`s better than a 1 percent chance, looking at that guy, he might blow up?

RUBIN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Look at him.

Better than a 1 percent chance? I would say.

RUBIN: Absolutely.

SWAN: If he fires a missile at Alaska, what happens? We use anti- missile...


MATTHEWS: No, I`m talking about doing something against other people, a real missile.

SWAN: You mean firing a missile...

MATTHEWS: San Francisco.

SWAN: Sure.

RUBIN: Or Japan.

SWAN: But we have anti-missile defense, and we could take him out.

MATTHEWS: Do you have point defense adequate enough to defend?

SWAN: Pretty good.

MATTHEWS: Do we have Iron Dome, stuff like that? I didn`t know we had that in San Francisco.

RUBIN: Listen, the bigger risk is that he decides to take out or hit Japan, not overfly them, but hit them, because he thinks we`re bluffing.


MATTHEWS: Suppose there`s a hydrogen bomb he blows up doesn`t quite make it to its target and hits someplace real?

SWAN: I`m not saying it`s -- the risks are low. I`m just...

MATTHEWS: I think he`s crazy, because he is.

Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Swan.

By the way, they did attack in 1950, when we thought they wouldn`t. And they did it basically on their own.

Anyway, Jennifer Rubin, thank you, as always, and Jonathan Swan, who is much more optimistic about this nut than I am.

Up next: Katy Tur covered Donald Trump`s presidential campaign from the moment it began.

By the way, Astoria is closer.


MATTHEWS: But she`s been on the receiving end of his attacks and knows better than anyone else why this guy continually plays the schoolyard bully and can`t seem to get over his election victory last year. Get over his own victory?

Katy Tur joins us next. It`s a great interview coming up. We just taped it. It`s really good. She`s something. "Unbelievable" is the book`s name.

And later: John McCain once again topples the Republicans` plan to repeal Obamacare.

Don`t you think McCain really likes dumping this guy`s truck?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: President Trump is in Alabama tonight. He`s set to attend a rally for Republican Senator Luther Strange who is in a tough battle with former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Moore is leading in the polls. He`s the guy with the Ten Commandments in his courthouse. Trump is taking a risk backing Strange, a candidate who could get bounced in next Tuesday`s runoff. By the way, he will be bounced. Moore is going to win.

We`ll be right back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Katy, you`re not reporting it, Katy but there`s something happening, Katy. There`s something happening, Katy.

Katy Tur, she knows nothing about my campaign. She`s said, you know, things about my campaign like she`s an expert. We don`t even let her in. We don`t talk to her. We don`t let people talk to her because she`s not a very good reporter.

Be quiet, I know you want to save her. She`s back there. Little Katy. She`s back there. What a lie it was.



Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump, of course, in this case going after NBC News`s Katy Tur during the 2016 campaign.

In her new book "Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History", Katy Tur details what it was like covering Trump. She asked the reader to imagine someone calling you a liar. Now amplify the experience by 1,000 of the presidential candidate calls you a liar, and then tack on another factor of ten if that presidential candidate is named Donald J. Trump.

While the election is long over, Trump hasn`t moved on from criticizing the press. This morning, he tweeted: The Russian hoax continues and now it`s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest media coverage in favor of crooked Hillary.

And the morning that Tur`s book came out, the president tweeted: Fascinating to see people writing books and major articles about me and yet they know nothing about me and have zero access. #fakenews.

I`m joined now by the writer, NBC`s own Katy Tur.

Katy, I have been waiting for this book because --

KATY TUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You told me to write the book on like day one.

MATTHEWS: I watched you as his weirdly focused nemesis and yet you were just reporting what he was saying. It was all fact. You`re not a commentator. You`re a straight reporter. That seems to bug him.

TUR: You always said that, that that is what bugs him more than the commentator, more than those on television during prime time.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he reads the op-ed pages for example? He didn`t care what people -- the commentary --

TUR: Well, no, I think he did early on because she had beef with Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks and a few others.

MATTHEWS: But they`re on the right.

Tell me about this, because I think the book is really well-written. You write like new journalism. You write really quick and brisk and has this sort of a life -- it isn`t boring prose. It`s exciting prose. It gallops.

This is a page turner. You can read this on the plane, if it`s a long plane right. You can get it done.

I`d tell you, too bad it`s not coming out at the beach time because it`s perfect for the beach. When he called you a liar and you`re out there in your first huge assignment covering a presidential campaign and you`re all alone on this, did you take it personal when he used words like liar, third rate, or whatever?

TUR: I don`t want to be called a liar, I never want to be called a liar, especially for doing my job. If I`m being called a liar, I`m going to go back and make sure that I didn`t report anything inaccurately. I do take issue with calling me a liar when I`m only reporting the facts. Did I take it personally?

MATTHEWS: Did it hurt?

TUR: I don`t -- no, it didn`t hurt. I don`t think it personally.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he does it to hurt you?

TUR: No. Well, I think he does it to discredit me and other journalists.


TUR: I think he does it because he doesn`t like the facts sometimes. He doesn`t want to be held accountable for the words that he says or for the lies that he has a tendency to tell.

MATTHEWS: You know what I like about the book is, you know, you talk about yourself, you`re having a boyfriend at the time, you just talk about that, and that sort of gets in the way of being a professional. You got to get back to work, you got to make a decision. You know, life -- it`s very real, you know?

And then you get into, you know, this guy gets in your face.

TUR: It`s whiplash.


TUR: It`s whiplash. I mean, yes, I was a foreign correspondent before I moved to -- came back to New York to cover Donald Trump. I just started a life there. Yes, I had -- I had a lovely --

MATTHEWS: A French life.

TUR: A lovely French boyfriend --


TUR: -- which is every girl`s dream come true.

MATTHEWS: And then you get the man in your life is the guy this awful, this guy, look --

TUR: And then, one morning, I`m in Paris, the next morning, I`m standing in the rain in New Hampshire and Donald Trump is yelling at me from the stage, and I`m thinking, how in the world did I get here and what is happening?

MATTHEWS: You also talk about what it`s like to be a woman reporter. You`ve got to have variety. You said something earlier, you said something really true. You said guys could go on the air wearing the same suit every day and no one notices. Women have to have variety.

TUR: Yes.

MATTHEWS: They got to look good, the whole thing.

TUR: There was an Australian anchor who did an experiment. For a year, he came on television wearing the same thing every day for a year. No one said a word and everyone was commenting on his co-hosts outfits, which is just a sad fact, the sad of reality of I think just females in business, period.

But the way I got around it is I bought the same J. Crew sweater in 17 different colors and rotated it. You can go back and look at the footage. I`m wearing the same sweater, I just had different colors.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s Katy Tur in the book writing about the president. Multiple people close to him have told me that he does respect what I do even when he criticizes me. He also knows the truth.

Now, here he is saying one point in the book, he talks about how I`m boycotting NBC because of Katy Tur, blah, blah, blah, blah and then he --

TUR: You remember that.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and then he calls -- I do remember it. And then he calls up and chats away with you.

TUR: Yes, we had a phone conversation and he wanted to talk about whether or not I thought that he had a real shot. How was he doing against Ted Cruz? What did I think of the polls?

And I told him, yes, you know, I do think you have a real shot to win this. And I did at the time. And I said, that is precisely the reason why journalists are being so tough on you, because you`re not just some joke any longer. You are seeing a lot of support. You`re getting 20,000 people to show up --

MATTHEWS: I think he liked that, I`m sure.

TUR: I`m sure he liked hearing it, just as when he was at a press conference and you could get him to pay attention to you if you just mentioned a good poll number. He likes hearing compliments. He wants to be liked. He does not like the pushback.

I don`t think he likes confrontation. He can do it from afar. But when it`s one on one, he has a tendency to try and charm you into his corner.

MATTHEWS: What did you make of that Jimmy Breslin line in your book, New York City columnist who said, he has gotten great ink and it`s made his business career because he gets -- he warms up to reporters, he makes them feel cozy with him.

TUR: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: You say nice things about them and their column.

TUR: He creates a razzle-dazzle.

MATTHEWS: And then it creates a sort of a vibe out there in the business world. People start investing in him again.

TUR: He said, never count Donald Trump out. And he was -- he was cruel to Donald Trump in his columns. But he said, never count hem out because Donald Trump has the ear of journalists and he`ll call, he`ll them, he`ll create a razzle-dazzle.


TUR: He`ll sell himself as this bigger than life businessman who can do things nobody else can do. And people will buy into it. And they`ll prop up the image they have of him.

Donald Trump is the living embodiment of the old adage: if you say it enough, people will start to believe that it`s true.

MATTHEWS: You describe how voters felt in 2016. You can`t tell a joke without worrying you`d lose your job. You`re 20-something, can`t find work, your town is boarded up. Patriotism gets people called racist.

Your food is full of chemicals. Your body is full of pills. You call tech support and reach somebody in India. Bills are spiking out, your paycheck is not. And you can`t send your kid to school with peanut butter.

You talk about these new rules we have about health, about everything, about language, ethnicity, and all these sensitivities, and you`re trying to explain the people in the crowd.

TUR: Yes, well basically those are people who just feel like, what happened? I just want to tell you a joke, I think it`s funny, I`m not trying to make -- I`m not trying to be too offensive. But I feel like I cannot say what I`m thinking anymore because people are too PC.


TUR: This PC culture has run amok.

MATTHEWS: Is that what you heard when you`re in the crowd?

TUR: All the time, Donald Trump says the things I am thinking. He says the things nobody else will say, and he never apologizes for it. And I understand that to a degree.

MATTHEWS: You`re talking to the crowd right now.

TUR: This is what people would say in the crowd. I understand why they felt like that.

MATTHEWS: You`re the first person to say that, when you say -- I`d be sitting here and you`d be on location, you were the first person I know to say, these people are going to stick with him.

TUR: Yes, because they were devoted. And they believed. They believed in the man, not necessarily the party. They came from a wide variety of ideologies. They -- different things were important to them.

You couldn`t just say, these are Donald Trump`s supporters, they`re this, they`re that, they`re this, period. It was a wide spectrum.


TUR: And -- but the common thread was that they felt like Donald Trump was finally speaking his mind and finally standing up to all of the constraints that seemed to be getting tighter on American society. And they wanted someone to go to Washington and to shake things up. They felt like it didn`t work, it was in gridlock, they needed somebody to loosen up the gears.

MATTHEWS: African-American guy, shining shoes in Logan Airport, told me the exact same story. And he said, I voted for Trump.

And I said, you can`t make all these predictions ethnically and everything else. Anyway, I`m finished with your book let`s keep going, Katy portrays President Trump almost as a cartoon, writing this: His mouth seems to have two positions. One is a perfect oval where his words seem less pronounced than ejected. The other is a straight line that cuts his face in two. No teeth. Lips stretched. Self-satisfied.

I`ve been watching him last couple of days. And I`m beginning to think he begins to look like the cartoons on the editorial page, the distorted look of his face.

TUR: Donald Trump has such a big personality, he`s the kind of person that when he walks into a room, the air ripples with his presence.

MATTHEWS: He`s going to like that.

TUR: I`m sure he will like that.

He is also somebody who, when he does smile, it does seem to cut his face in two. He just -- he`s larger than life in every sense of the word.

MATTHEWS: Well, whether you hate Trump, dislike him, are amazed he`s even there on this planet, this book is great, because it captures the iconic nature of the guy. And it`s not a hateful book. It just captures the guy in a very tough, journalistic way, what it`s like to have that guy in your face for a year.

And I think it`s -- it`s fun.

TUR: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And it`s journalistic. Anyway, the book`s called "Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History" -- thank you, my colleague.

TUR: Let me say one thing before we go. Whenever I was at a Trump rally, people would come up to me and say, you know what I love most? I love Chris Matthews the most at MSNBC.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, and that was unsolicited.

Thank you, Katy Tur.

Up next, let me finish up with "Trump Watch." This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch" Friday, September 22nd, 2017.

Here`s thing. If the Republicans pass this Graham-Cassidy bill, they will find themselves completely responsible for the country`s health insurance system. The 21 million people that drop from coverage will have the Republicans to blame in the next elections. If the system implodes again, it will be the Republicans that people blame. If you or your loved one has diabetes or another pre-existing condition and can`t get a reasonable health policy, you`ll know it was the party of Donald Trump that did it to you.

And who will be the person tasked with managing the country`s health insurance system? HHS Secretary Tom Price.

Now, he`s the one who will be standing behind the counter when people come demanding their insurance be restored, that their doctors and hospitals get paid. Tom Price. Heard that name lately?

He`s the one who`s been caught spending HHS money to fly on private planes and last week alone, he chartered five different private jets rather than take regularly scheduled flights like other business travelers. How`s all this going to look to the family facing health challenges, getting cut out of the coverage by a government that has plenty of money to spend flying the guy running health care wherever he wants to go on a private plane?

Someone, I think the president, is smart enough not to want this Republican bill to pass. It`s the only way he, Donald Trump, escapes being CEO of the country`s health care with the complaint window being right there in front of the White House.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.