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

Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcripts 9/26/17 NFL controversy fires up.

Guests: David Catanese, Shannon Pettypiece, Denny Heck, Leonard Lance, Bret Stephens; Sally Jenkins

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 26, 2017 Guest: David Catanese, Shannon Pettypiece, Denny Heck, Leonard Lance, Bret Stephens; Sally Jenkins

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Unnecessary roughness.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump has clearly decided that his political livelihood depends on widening this country`s racial divide. While he certainly didn`t create it, he just as certainly wants to perpetuate and aggravate it. He cheers for division even in the one area besides the military where even the most embittered Americans have long honored a racial truce, the world of sports.

Why, we have to ask, does this man keep picking at the scab of ethnic anger? President Trump stirred it up all last Friday, criticizing NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem. He`s doubled down again and again since then. NBC News reports he told dinner guests at the White House just last night he won`t back down and is confident he`s on the winning side of this issue.

Well, today the president was asked whether he was preoccupied by this story at the expense of other important issues. Let`s watch him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wasn`t preoccupied with the NFL. I was ashamed of what was taking place because to me, that was a very important moment. I don`t think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem. To me, the NFL situation is a very important situation.

I`ve heard that before about, was I preoccupied. Not at all. Not at all. I have plenty of time on my hands. All I do is work. And to be honest with you, that`s an important function of working. It`s called respect for our country.


MATTHEWS: Well, last night, the Dallas Cowboys and the team`s owner, Jerry Jones, took a knee in unison before the national anthem -- before the national anthem. President Trump responded this morning on Twitter, noting, The booing at the NFL football game last night when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees was loudest I ever heard. Great anger. That`s Trump`s tweet this morning.

He later praised the team for standing up for the national anthem itself after their protest.

Why doesn`t the president want to put this issue to rest? Great question. Bret Stephens is a columnist for "The New York Times." Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for "The Washington Post." And Michael Steele`s a former chair of the Republican National Committee.

Bret, thank you. You know, I love the speech you gave over in Australia recently about the right of people to disagree -- in fact, the need in a civil society to live with disagreement because that`s the very heart of what democracy is, to have different opinions, different views, different things -- impulses that you want to speak and to demonstrate for, if you will. And here we have this side of the argument showing up. Tell me how you put it all together.

BRET STEPHENS, "NEW YORK TIMES" COLUMNIST: Oh, look, it`s amusing to hear conservatives -- I think rightfully -- complain about excessive campus orthodoxies and then go berserk over Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players trying to break this other taboo and be iconoclasts and champions of freedom in their own right.

I mean, we don`t worship the flag as a totem, like it`s the obelisk that descends on Planet Earth in "2001: Space Odyssey." We admire the flag because of what it represents, and the chief thing that it represents is freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to think unpopular thoughts despite the booing of crowds or the views of a president intent on rabble rousing.

MATTHEWS: Do you think people on the right -- or on the left -- I`ll ask the same question. Do you think they see each other in the same way when they see somebody who`s an alt-rightist come to Berkeley perhaps to stir up trouble, but that`s part of free speech, too, to stir up trouble, and somebody in a football stadium taking a knee because they don`t like the way the police have been handling African-Americans over the years, in fact, too long.

Do they see the polar reality of what the situation they`re confronting, which is the need to allow public expression of even unpopular views?

STEPHENS: You know, conservatives should see it most of all. This is a point that I`ve been trying to make to some of my fellow conservatives. Texas v. Johnson, 1989 Supreme Court decision on flag burning. Who is the justice who makes the case that a fundamental right is also the right to burn the flag? It`s that well-known, left-wing, progressive, crazy Antonin Scalia voting with the majority in that case.

And so Republicans or conservatives who think of themselves as constitutionalists, who think they have a grip of what this country is about ought to be the first to support this form of protest and to oppose the president instead of going along with -- I mean, the whole -- his whole line about anger is something out of a paronis (ph) or a playbook from the 1930s of populism and a kind of a quasi-fascism. It`s unbelievable to hear the president like this.

And by the way, the language he used about Colin Kaepernick, and I guess by extension his mother, was stunning. It would behoove conservatives to wash his mouth with soap.

MATTHEWS: Yes, "son of a bitch" is a great phrase coming out of the mouth of our president. Anyway, I think -- I hate flag burning, Bret. I don`t know you well, but I hate flag burning. And I guess that`s why it works because so many of us do hate it. But that`s why people burn the flag because they know we hate it.

Anyway, the president tied the protest to wounded and killed American soldiers. He did? He did. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: Many people have died, many, many people. Many people are so horribly injured. I was at Walter Reed Hospital recently,, and I saw so many great young people, and they`re missing legs and they`re missing arms and they`ve been so badly injured. And they were fighting for our country. They were fighting for our flag. They were fighting for our national anthem. And for people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem I think is disgraceful.


MATTHEWS: Sally Jenkins, I know you`re not a political type, but I will ask you to talk about the feelings among the people who have been taking a knee, Kaepernick and the others. And it -- I don`t know how you connect somebody`s knee to somebody else`s lost limb, but Trump just did it and it`s pretty grotesque because I don`t think that`s at all in the minds of people who have opinion about what happens in the streets of this country regarding the police and African-Americans and the whole situation we`re all aware of. And we know it`s divisive and people have different perspectives, but it`s got nothing to do with fighting for the country. It has nothing to do with the service people give to the country and the sacrifice they make for the country. And to tie it together I think is grotesque. Your thoughts.

SALLY JENKINS, "WASHINGTON POST" SPORTS COLUMNIST: So the players would tell you that they don`t intend disrespect to the flag. Now, you know, whether it`s being interpreted that way by others, you know, obviously is a separate question, but the players keep trying to stress, We don`t disrespect the military. We have deep respect for the military.

The NFL actually has very, very deep ties. In 2011, a survey showed that over 100 NFL players had relatives serving. Kenny Britt (ph), one of the guys who`s taken a knee -- his sister serves in Iraq. You know, we have a half a dozen coaches in the NFL whose parents served in the military -- John Fox (ph), the Chicago Bears coach. Rod Marinelli (ph), defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, fought in Vietnam. So I think there`s two groups of people talking past each other instead of to each other.

Both sides are offended. Both sides keep saying, But that`s not what I meant. So people who defend standing for the anthem say, I`m not a racist,, we`re not racists to demand you stand for this flag. And then the kneelers in the NFL are saying, We are not disrespecting the flag, we are simply asking for this country to be better. And so it seems like both sides could do a little more talking to each other instead of around or about each other. And the president didn`t help that happen.

MATTHEWS: My friend, Michael, here, it seems to me that if you look at the history of this country, poor people go in the military. (INAUDIBLE) They don`t have many other options. They get killed more commonly than other people do. They fought in Vietnam more than anybody else. There`s 40,000 native Americans fought in Vietnam. A number -- I heard it the other night on the PBS series. And also, it`s one of the few -- and this has a little irony, ironic -- it`s more of an equal opportunity employer in the military, one area where people have made progress in terms of equal respect.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I want to pick up on that last point about what this is and what it isn`t. This is not a protest against the flag. It never has been. Colin Kaepernick, when he first raised the subject, raised it around a particular issue. Colin Kaepernick never said, Oh, I don`t like the flag. What he said was, I`m concerned about the violence that`s occurring in the black community, the tension between police and the black community, and his only way to really bring that to the nation`s attention was to do something symbolic. It was not anti-flag, it was about the symbol that he could create around this issue. And that symbol was one of a prayerful symbol. I mean. of all things,if you want to be disrespectful for the flag, the last thing you do is take a knee, to take a genuflection, a sort of reverent posture. You would be much more militant. We`ve seen militancy...

MATTHEWS: Well, this is -- thank you...

STEELE: We`ve seen more...


STEELE: We`ve seen militancy towards the flag in the past.

MATTHEWS: Raising your fist in here...

STEELE: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: How do you defend your Republican Party on...

STEELE: I don`t.

STEELE: Why is the president making the Republican Party, which has had such a difficult time with the race issue over the years, because of the Southern strategy -- we know (INAUDIBLE) history -- and then to dive back - - he seems to be wallowing in this fight. He likes this.

STEELE: He wallows in this fight because this fight focuses on things other than he wants -- what he wants...

MATTHEWS: You think it`s distraction.

STEELE: It is ultimately distraction. I mean, where was this...

MATTHEWS: I think it revs up the base.

STEELE: Where was this a year ago? Where was this when (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to Bret on that. Bret, what do you think he`s doing this for? He`s -- he`s rash -- I don`t buy this theory he`s crazy. Maybe some people think he does, fair enough. I think he`s figured this stirs people`s blood, this baby.

STEPHENS: Yes, but you know, the famous line from the French foreign minister, It`s worse than a crime, it`s a mistake.

I think his calculation is that this is a winning political issue because who likes someone like Colin Kaepernick, who`s supposedly disrespecting the flag, although of course, he isn`t. But when you stir up this kind of hornet`s nest, when you ruin football for the entire country, when you have Lebron James and even Tom Brady against you, not to mention Robert Kraft, the team owners, I`m not sure you`re coming out on the winning side of this.

And so for those of us who oppose the president, have been opposed to the kind of demagoguery, maybe there`s a blessing in disguise here. At last he has a losing issue.

MATTHEWS: Sally, this is hard for you, but I`m going to throw it at you because I always throw it at the Trump voter, as one of those guys at a Bills game or a Green Bay game, big jobber (ph) on (ph), freezing, his face is red, he`s rooting for his home team. The home team`s losing all the time, but he`s still out there. Eagles fan`s a classic. These guys are tough, working class guys, a lot of them. They may spend the little money they have to get to a game. And if there`s a championship, they`ll take out a loan -- a housing loan, a house (ph) repair (ph) loan to go down to Jacksonville or somewhere to watch the game.

My question to you is, Trump, I think, believes those are his people and those are the people that voted for him, and he thinks they don`t like what happens with taking a knee. That`s what I think. And that`s what I think he is logical. And I don`t like it, but I think he knows what he`s doing.

YATES: Well, I agree. You know, you can feel it. I mean, you can see that Villanueva`s jersey overnight became the best-selling jersey in the NFL, you know, the one guy for the Pittsburgh Steelers who stands for the anthem.

You know, he`s definitely tapping into something. This bothers fans, there`s no question. And you can have a perfectly legitimate argument about whether Colin Kaepernick and Kenny Britt (ph) and those other guys have closed more ears than they have opened by choosing to do this during the anthem. You know, that`s a very interesting debate that we could have. But you know, having that debate is more difficult when you have the president basically telling a bunch of young black men, Shut up and sing.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, 53 percent of the American people don`t like what you just said, that he`s telling people to shut up and sing. Listen to this. 53 percent of adults, according to a new Reuters poll just out tonight, think it`s inappropriate for Trump to comment, even comment on how NFL players observe national anthem, even comment on it. Unfortunately, we know Trump doesn`t go gunning for 53 percent. He likes that smaller percent, in the 30s that`s loyal to him, and they`re probably on the opposite side of this particular poll.

It`s great having this diverse group on. Bret Stephens, thank you. Sally Jenkins, I read you all the time. Michael Steele, you`re my brother here...

STEELE: There you go, my friend.

MATTHEWS: ... although you`re sometimes way too reasonable.


Coming up, we`re learning more about how the Russians used Facebook to sow division during the 2016 election. By the way, who`d they get help from here? That`s the question, and it still remains, the big one. Who was helping the Russians direct their fire, find the voters they were looking for? This as long-time Republican trickster and Trump pal, Roger Stone, testified today on Capitol Hill. That`s ahead.

Plus, as President Trump attacks everyone from the NFL to John McCain, are Republicans nearing the breaking point? Will they ever get to it? Will they ever stand up to the man at the top of their party or on top of their party? And as Alabama Republicans head to the polls tonight, Trump is taking a big political risk, as his candidate looks to be heading for defeat in that Senate runoff down there. We`re going to go to the -- look at the high stakes for the president with the HARDBALL roundtable tonight prior to the closing of the polls.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." It`s going to be interesting for him to hear this one tonight. His ears will sear.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



RICARDO ROSSELLO, GOVERNOR OF PUERTO RICO: My call (ph) is clear. The administration, they`ve been helpful up until now, but I -- but we need more help.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello this morning asking the Trump administration for help with the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Well, today, President Trump emphasized the good job he`s doing in Puerto Rico. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: We have been really treated very, very nicely by the governor and by everybody else. They know how hard we`re working and what a good job we`re doing.

As Governor Rossello just told me this morning, the entire federal workforce is doing great work in Puerto Rico, and I appreciated his saying it. And he`s saying it to anybody that will listen.

And the governor said we are doing a great job. In fact he, thanked me specifically for FEMA and all of the first responders in Puerto Rico. We have had tremendous reviews from government officials.


MATTHEWS: Wow, he`s bragging about himself.

Anyway, the situation in Puerto Rico is dire due to the hurricane wiping out all communication and shutting off power to almost the entire island. Families on the mainland have been unable to even reach their loved ones because phone and power lines are down and conditions in many areas outside the city are still unknown, or they`re without food, potable water or even electricity, according to NBC News.

I`m joined right now by NBC News correspondent Gadi Schwartz, who`s in San Juan. Gadi, give us a sense of what it`s like where you are.

GADI SCHWARTZ, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, that message that you heard from President Trump, those words from President Trump, are something that Puerto Ricans here did not hear. There are more than three million people that live on this island, and as you mentioned, all of them are without power, without access to a solid working electrical grid. They don`t have basic necessities in many cases. They are cut off from power, from electricity, from water, from gas.

In fact, if you live here in Puerto Rico, chances are, if you need gas or you need cash, you`re going to stand in line for as long as four, six, even eight hours. Earlier today, we were out in some of those lines talking to people about what they thought, asking them if they had heard about the talk in the United States when it comes to getting aid in Puerto Rico and what President Trump has been saying about Puerto Rico`s debt.

One of the things that a woman said was, We don`t care about any of that because we`re trying to get our own money out of ATMS. And some of those ATMs are running out of cash. This has become basically a cash-only society now that all credit card readers are down. And that`s here in San Juan. That`s where a lot of people consider themselves lucky.

If you go to some of the isolated areas, it`s a whole different story. Those people do not have access to gas. In fact, some of them are walking for hours to get to other towns. Yesterday, we were with a Blackhawk crew. We went to this small place called San Sellafian (ph). There they have not been able to get the message out that they are OK. It`s one of those regions where people are asking, Where is the aid? Where is FEMA?

Yesterday, we were able to deliver a little bit of aid to that town with that Blackhawk crew, but they are asking, Why isn`t the United States doing more? We pay our taxes, we are part of the United States and we`re hoping for aid. One good news -- one good piece of news out of here, we were with that Blackhawk crew that I was just talking about, and I don`t know if we have some video, but I want to show you this specific video. This is an oil drilling rig that was off the coast of Puerto Rico. It was headed for a crash course into Puerto Rico, and the Blackhawk crew was able to land on top of that, get some mooring rigs out so that that rig that was carrying over 100,000 barrels of oil did not crash into Puerto Rico, if you can imagine what kind of an environmental catastrophe that would have brought after such a devastating hurricane. Chris, back to you.

MATTHEWS: Oh, thank you so much for a devastating report, NBC`s Gadi Schwartz in San Juan.

Up next, new reporting that those Russian Facebook ads were very sophisticated and showed a deep understanding of the racial and social divides in this country. The question is, who gave them marching orders for these ads? Who was the home -- the stateside spotter?

We`ll be right back.


New reporting today sheds additional light on how Russian-funded political ads on Facebook were designed to inflame racial tensions during the 2016 election here.

According to "The Washington Post," the batch of more than 3,000 Russian- bought ads shows a deep understanding of social divides in American society, with some ads promoting African-American rights groups, including Black Lives Matter, and others suggested these same groups pose a rising political threat.

Other ads highlighted support for Democrat Hillary Clinton among Muslim women. Well, those ads bought by fake Kremlin-linked accounts are now being turned over to members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who are investigating whether members of Trump`s campaign coordinated with the Russian operatives.

"The Post" also notes that the divisive themes seized on by Russian operatives were similar to those that Trump and his supporters pushed on social media and on right-wing Web sites during the campaign.

Also tonight, NBC News reports that special counsel Robert Mueller`s team could begin interviews with current and former Trump aides as early as this week.

I`m joined right now by Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Washington state, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and Howard Fineman, who is global editorial director of The Huffington Post and an MSNBC political analyst.

Congressman Heck, give us a sense of what you think is the connection between the Russian payment into Facebook and those ads and any American help given them on how to target those ads.


First of all, the idea of being able to identify the issues which would maximize sowing discord and disunity, which, after all, was their objective, I would imagine that that would be something that the Russian intelligence community could do on their own.

But the second part of this is, the actual purchase of those ads, the microtargeting associated with that, it begs the question as to whether or not that didn`t require someone who was on the ground and had a better sense of where it is that they should purchase and direct those ads to have the maximum effect.

MATTHEWS: Well, Howard, you jump in here, because it seems to me one thing we noticed about the Trump campaign last year -- it seems like a million years ago -- was the incredibly smart way they went into places like Wisconsin. They targeted certain communities in Southeastern Wisconsin.

They did the same in Pennsylvania and Michigan, all the states they grabbed and needed to grab. They knew where they were going. Unlike Hillary, they went just where they needed to go and got what they needed and came back with it.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that`s a combination of the big data approach that they took.


FINEMAN: Don`t forget, Jared Kushner and various other people bought a lot of big data services in order to target.

But in addition...

MATTHEWS: Did they share?

FINEMAN: Yes, in addition to on the ground, you also need a surer sense than I think the Russians could get of how to divide the Democratic Party with wedge issues.

This goes back to the Nixon years.


FINEMAN: And this goes back to -- that`s what a wedge issue is. It`s not between you and the other party. It`s in the other party, how to get Democrats fighting with each other.

That was what was brilliant about what they were doing. And that has a long history in Republican circles.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at this.

Former Trump adviser and longtime Republican henchman -- I think that`s a nice word for him -- Roger Stone spoke behind closed doors to staffers of the House Intel Committee Today. There he is. He looks like he`s proud to be there.

Stone, who got his start in the Nixon campaign back in `68, partnered with Paul Manafort in the `80s and `90s and also worked as a top adviser to Trump during Trump`s multiple flirtations with a presidential bid.

For example, he joined Trump and his then girlfriend, the current first lady, at my 1999 HARDBALL College Tour, when Trump was talking of a run back then in 2000. There he is sitting next to Melania, Melania Knauss then.

Earlier this year, Trump claimed -- or Stone claimed to have a back channel with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, who released the e-mails hacked by Russia during the election. And he said they communicated through an intermediary. That`s Stone talking.

But Stone said he told the committee today he wouldn`t reveal the intermediary`s name because he`s a journalist.

Let`s hear his defense here.


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: The reason I am not submitting that name is because the intermediary is a journalist, and our conversation was off the record. I`m an opinion journalist. He`s a journalist. I`m not going to burn to somebody who I spoke to off the record.

If he releases me, if he allows me to release it, I would be happy to give it to the committee. I`m actually going to try to do that.


MATTHEWS: Well, noting that Stone did not respond to all the questions, Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff told Reuters today: "Hopefully, he will cooperate in the future. If not, it will be necessary to subpoena him to bring him back to answer those important questions."

Congressman Heck, why did this guy get by with call himself a journalist? Roger Stone is a political henchman, an operative, whatever, a dirty trickster. He`s never written for a newspaper or any media organization I have ever heard of.

HECK: So, Chris, you assert that he...


MATTHEWS: What does he mean by he`s an opinion journalist?


HECK: Chris, you -- you assert that he got by with self-describing himself that way, as though you know what went on in that room.

And, by the way, those questions and answers weren`t with staffers. They were with members of Congress. He got by with that in front of a group of journalists, your peers. I don`t know how he got by with it.


MATTHEWS: Good point. Touche, sir.

Well, let`s agree he should not have gotten by with it in front of any group, alive or dead, in fact.

Howard, he just caught me there.

Why did the journalists at that presser let him get away with calling himself one of them? He`s never even pretended to be a journalist.

FINEMAN: Well, I talked to Roger Stone after his appearance.

MATTHEWS: And did you challenge him on his identity?

FINEMAN: And he didn`t attempt to assert to me that he was a journalist, OK?


Well, what do you think he`s up to here? What is this thing about claiming that he has -- he`s protecting his sources because his source has Assange as his source or her source?

FINEMAN: I think it`s...

MATTHEWS: This intermediate argument.

FINEMAN: I think it`s possible, but I think we`re going to find out who it is, for sure, one way or the other. He`s either going to be subpoenaed, or, if he`s telling the truth, that person will come forth.

But, to me, the news out of there from what happened inside the room is that they probed Stone on the question of the Facebook ads.


FINEMAN: And, to me, that was the headline. That`s what I wrote for The Huffington Post, because that`s clearly on their mind, the "Washington Post" story from today and the whole question of whether those ads are a thread that they can pull to find any evidence of collusion.

And they were clearly on that case with Stone. At least, that`s what Stone told me.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, last thought. How close are we to finding collusion?

HECK: Chris, as I have told you before on this program, this is a long and painstaking process.

President Trump seems to be a bit enamored with the NFL of late, so, by analogy, I would suggest to you we`re in the second quarter, maybe midway through the second quarter.


HECK: We have got a long way to go.

I want to make another point, Chris. Much has been made about this Facebook issue, and it should be. But there`s a bigger issue here as well at work. Mr. Stone in public and in writing, other places, has indicated that he just doesn`t simply believe or accept that the Russians necessarily hacked our election in 2016, all of this in spite of the fact that, just in the last 10 days, the secretaries of state in 21 states were told that the Russians hacked their voter registration rolls, and Facebook admitted that a considerable amount of ads were purchased by Russians in order to sow discord.

We have to get beyond that point with those who are running around with tin hat -- or tinfoil hat-type theories about what did or did not happen. The Russians hacked our system. It`s our job to find out how. It`s our job to arm ourselves going into the future, period.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman Denny Heck.

I accept your challenge to me as well.

Thank you, Howard Fineman.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump has spent the last few days doing battle with the NFL, blasting Senator John McCain, taunting North Korea`s Little Rocket Man.

Is his party about tired of all this bluster? Will his party ever have enough of it?

We`re going to ask a Republican congressman coming up next.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


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

Firefighters are battling a 2,000-acre brushfire in Corona, California. That is near Los Angeles. About 5 percent of it is contained, according to local officials. The Canyon fire started yesterday, prompting mandatory evacuations that are still in effect. A local high school is serving as a shelter.

The Outer Banks are under a tropical storm warning tonight, as Hurricane Maria creeps up to North Carolina. Heavy rain and some coastal flooding is expected through tomorrow. Hurricane Maria will then head into the open Atlantic for good.

Equifax CEO Richard Smith has abruptly retired after a massive data breach at the credit reporting agency. Smith will not get a bonus this year, but is walking away with an $18 million pension -- back to HARDBALL.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were very disappointed by a couple of senators, Republican senators, I must say. We were very disappointed that they would take the attitude that they did.

At some point, it will be repealed and replaced, but we will see whether or not that point is now or will it be shortly thereafter. But we are disappointed in certain so-called Republicans.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump once again taking on members of his own party, going after Republican senators who opposed the latest Obamacare repeal effort, the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today abandoned a planned vote on that bill because it lacked enough Republican support. It comes a day after the president repeatedly attacked Senator John McCain, blaming him for previous failures to pass health care and calling that opposition a slap in the face to the Republican Party itself.

Trump also tweeted a video of the Arizona senator talking about repeal and replace, saying -- quote -- "A few of the many clips of John McCain talking about repealing and replacing Obamacare. Oh, my, my, has he changed. Complete turn from years of talk."

Lindsey Graham defended McCain last night.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So, to any American who`s got a problem with John McCain`s vote, all I can tell you is that John McCain was willing to die for this country, and he can vote any way he wants to. And it doesn`t matter to me in terms of...



MATTHEWS: Well, late today, another Republican target of the president`s criticism, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, announced he would not seek reelection next year.

But on the president`s other political storm, his recent stance on NFL protests, some Republicans seem to be in line with the president.

Let`s listen.


REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: Anything that shows disrespect for the flag, I`m very troubled by. I think there`s better ways to express you`re objections to concerns you have in America than disrespecting the flag.

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: I think I`m probably with the majority of most Americans. I certainly don`t approve of people taking a knee during a national anthem, whether it`s ours or anybody else`s.

I mean, I would stand up for the national anthems of countries we have fought against, for the national anthems of people we have difficulties with, like Russia and North Korea. It`s just a sign of respect.


MATTHEWS: So, when will Republicans reach their breaking point with this particular president?

Joining me right now is New Jersey Republican Congressman Leonard Lance.

Congressman, what`s it like, I mean, when you get up in the morning and realize this guy has tweeted something, that he`s going to war with the NFL, a lot of their players, the owners and everyone else, and you are on the sidelines, but you`re identified with him?

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think he has had his best weeks when he`s been concentrating on policy, for example, on the hurricane matter and on funding the government, where he made the agreement with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. And Republicans voted for that. I voted for that.

And I hope, when he visits Puerto Rico on Tuesday, he can indicate his position that he`s trying to help the people in Puerto Rico. That`s where he`s at his best, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of his going after people like McCain? It`s a thin majority the Republicans have in the Senate. It`s only two-vote extra, two votes to spare.

And every -- there`s going to always almost be two -- I mean, even the Democrat -- I don`t know any party that`s that united. There`s always going to be two or three people off. You can`t count on passing something with 52 votes.

Isn`t that his biggest mistake, thinking, 52 votes means I run this place?

LANCE: I don`t really think we should pass major legislation based on reconciliation. I think we should govern from...

MATTHEWS: With 50 votes.

LANCE: ... the center out, 50 votes, with the vice president.

MATTHEWS: You should have to go for 60, yes.


And I don`t really like the filibuster, but I do believe in bipartisan cooperation, moving from the center out. I`m a member of what`s known as the Problem Solvers Caucus, half Republicans, half Democrats. And we have a proposal on health care reform. And I hope that the White House might look at it.

MATTHEWS: Is that -- is your group out to fix Obamacare or get rid of it?

LANCE: It`s to make sure that we can move forward in a bipartisan capacity, and repeal and replace can be considered reform.

MATTHEWS: What about the cultural thing?

The Republican Party has had its problems on the racial front, with the Southern strategy. Nixon played that card. People -- other presidents have played it, I have noticed.

Trump seems to be delighting in it. It doesn`t seem to bother him at all that the racial divide is, he`s on one side, and a lot of the African- American people in this country see him as the enemy because of it. They do. And liberals do too.

LANCE: The first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln. I identify myself as an Eisenhower Republican.


LANCE: And I think that we have to try to make sure that everybody is included in our society.

I might not agree with some on particular issues, but I do think that it`s the responsibility...

MATTHEWS: Well, what happened to that? Trump is out there calling Mexicans rapists, calling the president, the last president, an illegal immigrant.

I mean, he`s not exactly showing a lot of racial harmony, this guy.

LANCE: On the recent racial issues, perhaps he ought to have a beer summit, the way President Obama had a beer summit.


LANCE: I thought that was a good idea.

MATTHEWS: With who?

LANCE: Perhaps with some of the football players.

MATTHEWS: Yes, that might be an interesting -- well, you have made a proposal.

LANCE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Let`s see what happens.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey.

Up next: Alabama Republicans are voting in a bitter runoff tonight. And they`re voting today. The results will be coming in tonight. That has the party very divided. Even President Trump and Steve Bannon are taking different sides on this baby. Polls will be closed at the top of this hour.

We are going to take a look at what`s at stake in Alabama with the HARDBALL Roundtable.

You`re watching it, HARDBALL.



Republicans in Alabama headed to the polls today to vote in a runoff election for the Senate seat once held by the great Jeff Sessions. The race pits the president`s pick, Luther Strange, against the candidate preferred by many in Trump`s own base, Roy Moore. That`s the guy with the hat -- well, the guy with the cowboy hat. Polls in Alabama will be closed at this top of this hour.

Well, yesterday, Steve Bannon rallied supporters on behalf of Moore. Here he is.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE STRATEGIST: They think you`re a pack of morons. These are the same people that have tried to destroy Donald J. Trump from the first day he announced for office. All the instruments to try to destroy Judge Moore and his family, your day of reckoning is coming.



MATTHEWS: Well, Judge Moore is a controversial figure, best known for installing a monument of the Ten Commandments at the Alabama Supreme Court during his time as chief justice. He has a history of making inflammatory comments on a range of topics. Here he goes.


BILL PRESS, INTERVIEWER: Do you think that homosexual -- homosexuality or homosexual conduct should be illegal today? That`s a yes or no question.

ROY MOORE, FORMER ALABAMA SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: Homosexual conduct should be illegal, yes.

We were torn apart in the civil war. Brother against brother, North against South, party against party. What`s changed? Now, we got blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting.

I think they can holler political question all they wish, but it`s a simple fact that if he`s not a natural-born citizen, he`s not qualified to be president, and I don`t care who he is.


MATTHEWS: There`s a birther at large.

Anyway, this morning, the president urged his supporters to back Strange, tweeting: Alabama, get out and vote for Luther Strange. He has proven to me that he will never let you down. Make America great again. That`s Trump, with his usual fashion.

Anyway, current polling shows Roy Moore ahead. What does a Moore victory mean for the president and the Republican Party?

For more, I`m joined by our panel tonight, Yamiche Alcindor, national political reporter for "The New York Times" and NBC political analyst as well. David Catanese is senior politics reporter for "The U.S. News & World Report". Shannon Pettypiece is White House correspondent with "Bloomberg News".

Yamiche, I guess the president will likely wake up tomorrow morning with a new bedfellow, someone to his right, if that means anything anymore, but probably to his right.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It means something because this is essentially a proxy war for what Donald Trump`s base is really going to be about. So, there`s this idea that President Trump kind of awakened the sleeping giant and he has this new brand, but in this regard, it could be that he`s losing control of that brand and that the very people who backed him are wanting someone who`s even more extreme than him. So, if Roy Moore comes to Congress, he could be challenging the president.

MATTHEWS: The Democrats are going to run against Moore all across the country. He may be OK for Alabama. But as goes Alabama, not goes the nation. This is going to be what the Democrats are dying for, a real bad guy they can run against.



MATTHEWS: -- give people for example is brutal.

CATANESE: They`re going to put his statements up there and put them to every Senate candidate, do you agree with Roy Moore?

But I think the margin is going to matter tonight as well. I`m hearing it could be double digits. If it`s a blowout, that`s a big rebuke to the president and a big black eye for him considering he went down there and campaigned. And he`s tweeting, oh, you know, I closed it for Luther, Luther wouldn`t even be in the game without me. But not if he loses by ten points or more.

MATTHEWS: Well, is this going to warn off Trump to know that he can`t go around culling the Republican caucus like he thinks he can, going out to get Jeff Flake, going out to get anybody else? Will this teach him a lesson?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: I think it means that you just can`t put the name Trump on top of something and it`s automatically golden. You can`t put the face on your mailer and guarantee you`re going to get elected. But I would caution people reading too much into this about 2018, because a Republican primary in Alabama is a very specific niche group of Americans to some extent.

MATTHEWS: Is it the most conservative state? Most right wing?

PETTYPIECE: Well, I guess it depends on how you measure that, but it is a very deep red state. We`re not talking about a primary in the Philly suburbs. We`re talking about a Republican primary in Alabama. So, this is deep, deep red country. So, I don`t think that says anything about what`s going to happen in Arizona or what`s going to happen in Pennsylvania.

But I do think it will continue raising the question about whether Trump has the tiger by the tail. Is he the leader of this movement or is this movement leading him? Some people like him, who he is as a messenger, but there are definitely some people who would prefer the message instead and they will go with those ideologies regardless of who the messenger is.

MATTHEWS: Well, Yamiche, I`ve been watching politics since Goldwater ran and the Deep South went for Goldwater because he voted, for a different reason that many race, he voted against the civil rights bill. He became the hero down there among white right wingers.

ALCINDOR: But if you think about what he`s saying, he`s really speaking to a particular base, the idea that in 2017, you`re OK with saying some of the things that he`s saying about homosexuals, saying the birther -- anything about the birther movement. If you`re OK with saying those things and still be elected, that says something about whether or not this movement is going.

And I would also say, I think this says a lot about Steve Bannon. When he left the White House, people were wondering is he really going to have the amount of influence that he could have had inside the White House. If he`s able to actually go out there and have the gall to campaign against the president and can almost create this character that isn`t what Donald Trump is actually saying, but is convincing people that this is the best interests of Donald Trump, he`s essentially capitalizing on the Trump name without Trump having his back. That to me is remarkable.

MATTHEWS: David, they got 52 votes in the Senate. After this is over, they`ll have 52 votes, just a different 52. My question is, can they govern with 52?

Because I brought this up with the congressman a moment, the Republican from New Jersey. How do you govern with 52? Because there`s always a fall-off of two or three votes in every fight. I mean, this isn`t North Korea. We march around and smile at the same time and all that. You actually can have a different opinion in the majority. And it`s always going to be two or three, isn`t it?

CATANESE: They haven`t been able to govern with 52.

MATTHEWS: But is it the magic majority they thought they had?

CATANESE: No, I think that`s -- that will be part of the 2018 campaign for Republicans, saying we can`t, this isn`t a good enough majority. We need to get closer to 60. We need to elect more senators in these states and preserve the seats we have. That will be the message but --

MATTHEWS: David, we`ll see how that sells.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: North Korean officials are trying to figure out what to make of President Trump`s rhetoric toward Kim Jong-un and they`re reaching out to Republican-linked foreign policy analysts here in Washington for help. According to "The Washington Post," quote: The outreach began before the current eruption of threats between the two leaders but will probably become only more urgent as Trump and Kim have descended into name-calling that many analysts worry sharply increases the chance of potentially catastrophic misunderstandings.

"The Post" quotes one person with direct knowledge of North Korea`s outreach who says their number one concern is Trump. They can`t figure him out.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We are back with the HARDBALL round table.

Yamiche, tell me something I don`t know.

ALCINDOR: President Trump`s domestic policy council is out with talking points for a bill that would replace DACA and the DREAM Act. The White House is set to ask for a reduction in legal immigration, more immigration officers and Democratic aides that I`m talking to say they are nonstarters. So, we`re not really that close to an agreement even after the president sat down with Chuck and Nancy.

MATTHEWS: Why not just have a clean bill?

ALCINDOR: That`s not going to happen.


CATANESE: Tonight, we`re talking about Alabama. Tomorrow, it will be the next Republican Senate primary war -- Tennessee, Bob Corker`s retirement, and Mississippi. Steve Bannon is talking to candidates there. Mark Green in Tennessee and Chris McDaniel who ran against Todd Cochran came really close in 2014. They are trying to recruit him to run against Senator Bob Wicker next year.

MATTHEWS: Shannon?

PETTYPIECE: Tomorrow, the president is going to unveil a big tax plan. I know this doesn`t sound like the sexiest issue but --

MATTHEWS: It could be.

PETTYPIECE: -- there`s one reason you should care. The economy, the jobs number, the stock market, all really being propped up by companies hoping they get a big corporate tax rate. If they don`t get that, if it looks like there`s going to be opposition, which is already mounting from Republicans on the Hill and some of these high tax states, expect this to be a battle way bigger than health care and that could really see the stock market go down. A lot of companies retrench in their hiring.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to see how stupid those people are right now, because if they go after New York taxes, the home mortgages or charitable giving, forget about it.

Anyway, Yamiche Alcindor, David Catanese and Shannon Pettypiece.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Tuesday, September 26th, 2017.

It is strange to be in a country where the leader is out there on television urging us to fight with each other. You might expect to hear about this happening in some poor, developing country but not here in this veteran democracy. President Trump had a chance today to tamp this fire down. He could have said that the athletes protesting police conduct are entitled to their views, entitled to express them. He could have said disagreement is not only permissible in a democracy, but that it comes with the territory.

So, why didn`t he?

I don`t know about you, but every time I see a picture from North Korea, I`m reminded of how great we are here. Not just better off but better. What kind of people would freeze their facial expression so as not to offend the dear leader, where people not only march in unison but adjust their faces in unison who smile when everyone else does, who show interesting when everyone else does, all for fear that some commissar will notice them in the game pictures and we`ll see who was politically correct to a fault, see anyone who dare show a hint of individual attitude, individual thinking, individual impulse.

Well, showing our individual impulses, our individual thinking, our individual attitudes about all sorts of things is what makes this country great. We love being ourselves. Love booing politicians when they show up in a baseball stadium, love giving the Bronx cheer when the umpire blows a call.

I love the way that Adlai Stevenson put this. Quote: When an American says that he loves his country means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and which a man can draw the breath of self-respect. We respect ourselves because we live in a country we are free to be ourselves, think for ourselves, speak for ourselves and let anyone who wants to know what we can.

This fight over the knee is really about the heart. We`ve got no right as Americans to diss on (ph) silence what`s in another man`s heart. Do we?

That`s "hardball" for now. Thanks for being with us.

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.