Show: HARDBALL Date: September 28, 2017 Guest: Scott Shane, Mark Martin-Bras, Marcy Kaptur, Dana Milbank, Susan Page
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bad deal.
Let's play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington.
Donald Trump ran for president promising to fight for the middle class against the elites. Well, as president, Trump just released a tax plan that benefits the elites. In other words, the plan directly helps people like Donald Trump and his family.
Today, the president and his top aides insisted that wasn't the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Who is your tax plan intended to help?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Really, the working people. We say the working people, middle class, the people that really haven't been treated right (INAUDIBLE) and have been treated wrong for a long time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But our tax plan is purely aimed at middle-class families. A typical family of four earning $55,000 in America today is going to have a substantial tax decrease.
STEPHEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: It's not a tax cut for the rich. And as the president has said, he's focused on income taxes on the wealthy not going down. This is about giving people a middle income tax cut.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the reality is the tax plan will help the wealthy in a number of ways. It lowers the top taxed (ph) individual rate from 39.6 down to 35 percent, about 5-point drop. It ends the estate tax, a benefit that will save the country's wealthiest families, those couples with over $11 million to leave their children. It ends the Alternative Minimum Tax, which has prevented people like Donald Trump from using deductions to get out of paying taxes.
And while it does all that for the wealthy, according to the Center (ph) on Budget and Policy Priorities, quote, "The end result would likely be close to a wash for many low and moderate income families." "The New York Times" reports that while it would be a potentially huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans, it would not directly benefit the bottom third of the population. As for the middle class, the benefits appear to be modest.
According to the 2016 exit polls, Donald Trump had his highest margin of victory among middle class voters, those making between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. But for those voters, this plan doesn't amount to anything.
I'm joined by MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle, CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin, of course, and U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur of Ohio.
I want to start with Stephanie on this. It just seems to me that these big sparkling diamonds of tax cuts are out there for people with a lot of diamonds. I mean, first of all, the estate tax. It means nothing to people that have less than $3 million to leave their kids. Why does he want to get rid of that? Why get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax which helps people like him -- or stops people like him from escaping like a bandit? And why bring down the top rate and bring up the bottom rate and still claim you're Robin Hood? He's the opposite of Robin Hood. He's the sheriff of Nottingham.
STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC ANCHOR: If you're going to do all these things, make the argument that that is somehow going to help the economy. Instead, the president is straight up lying when he says he's not going to benefit from this. If he is worth $10 billion, like he says he is, well, don't you think that's going to be a massive win if there's no death tax? That's going to be $4 million in his kids' pockets.
RUHLE: If you get rid of the AMT -- remember, the one year we saw a couple pages of his taxes, if you didn't have the AMT, that could have helped him to the tune of $31 million.
So spare me the president telling us this isn't going to help him. And Gary Cohn himself, who knows better, says, Well America doesn't care. They just care about their own pocketbook. You know what? They do care about their own pocketbook, and they care about leadership lying.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to the congresswoman from Ohio, Congressman Marcy Kaptur. Thank you for joining us. What do you make of this bill?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D), OHIO: Everything I've been able to decipher up to now, over half the benefits go to the top 1 percent.
And you know, I've been in Congress a long time. I remember another president who was able to railroad a tax cut through the Congress back during the 1980s. And the Wall Street bankers, the transnational corporate presidents, and so forth, took that money and outsourced our jobs from the region of the country that I represent. So there's no requirement in this bill that that money be invested in America, even if they get it, right?
So it's a really lopsided teeter-totter to the top, the very same billionaire class that has caused so many of the problems that we're facing today in regions like I represent. And frankly, as a member of the Defense Committee, I have to say that we're a nation at war, and for any president who be sort of hanging out a tax cut to the very wealthy at a time when we're at war -- there isn't a single veteran in his family, including himself. I think it's a really dangerous position for the country to be in. Where's the infrastructure bill?
MATTHEWS: I'm waiting for it.
KAPTUR: Where's the improvements to health care? Where's the NAFTA renegotiated deal?
KAPTUR: Where's the steel deal that was supposed to be announced at the end of June? It didn't happen.
MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, Donald Trump made this...
KAPTUR: So what's going to happen with this?
MATTHEWS: ... astonishing claim yesterday about his tax plan and what it would mean for him personally. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Our framework includes our explicit commitment that tax reform will protect low income and middle income households, not the wealthy and well connected. They can call me all they want. It's not going to help. I'm doing the right thing. And it's not good for me, believe me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Gary Cohen, the director of the National Economic Council, was pressed on that today. Let's watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: How can you say this is not a plan that would help him?
COHN: The thing that the American people are concerned about is their financial position.
QUESTION: But this tax plan, as it stands now, appears it will benefit the president and his family. Why not just be candid about that?
COHN: Look, I told you it will benefit the middle class. I think that's what American -- American...
COHN: American taxpayers care about what they take home. They care about what they have to spend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there's a guy having to be Baghdad Bob tonight because there the (ph) Gary Cohn knows it helps the president and he knows he dodged every single question about how it affects the president.
Here's are two ways the president will indeed benefit from his own tax plan that he put out. First, ending the estate tax. According to NBC News, the estate tax is currently 40 percent. Trump has claimed in the past he is worth $10 billion. If his children inherit that $10 billion, they'd save $4 billion of that in taxes -- $4 billion. That's a good tax cut.
Second, ending the Alternative Minimum Tax. According to "The New York Times," the Alternative Minimum Tax has been unkind to Mr. Trump. In 2005, it forced him to pay $31 million in additional taxes he would have avoided.
So let me go to Andrew Ross Sorkin. Just let's talk about Trump and his benefits. Why psychologically -- what is it about Republicans, and no matter who they are, Trump or the most establishment character like Mitch McConnell, they're obsessed with the estate tax. They call it the death tax. They're obsessed with building, like, Latin American plantations that go on for generation after generation of wealth.
Why do they want to have wealth go on and on and on in their families? It seems to be a big obsession with them.
SORKIN: It is the continuation of the aristocracy, and it is coming back to America if this were to pass and clearly would impact and benefit the Trump family.
I would add one thing to your list, Chris, which has not been noted as much today, which is one part of the tax plan also includes what's called a pass-through tax for corporations, personal corporations. Donald Trump has more many, many personal corporations. He would not be taxed at the 35 percent rate that everybody else is taxed at because most of his money is in such pass-through corporations and pass-through entities, and therefore, he would be taxed at 25 percent, a rate that he has offered up as being a benefit to small businesses, but in fact, it's probably one of the greatest giveaways of this plan for the wealthy.
RUHLE: Chris, it is absolutely...
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Stephanie...
RUHLE: When you think about what these pass-throughs are, they include massive hedge funds, they include law firms, and exactly to Andrew's point, President Trump's businesses. So 90 percent of the pass-throughs that exist in this country are held by the top 1 percent of the population.
So spare me this argument that we're making it look like it's just these little mom and pop shops.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congresswoman -- let me go to the congresswoman on this because it seems like Trump, the president, looks like a chump here because he's offering up all these obvious delicacies, shining delicacies to his rich friends. Everybody knows he's called for a reduction in the corporate rate down to 20 percent. Everybody knows he's called for a reduction in the top individual rate, getting rid of the estate tax, getting rid of -- getting rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax to -- everything is a big bennie for him out there. Why is he stupid as to display his unfairness so clearly?
KAPTUR: I think because he has proven to be a president who says one thing and does another. And you have to pay attention because he promises everything (INAUDIBLE) promise (INAUDIBLE) page (ph), or whatever that old expression is...
MATTHEWS: I remember.
KAPTUR: ... and then it doesn't happen. And he keeps diverting the public's attention, and they so want to believe that he is going to clean out the swamp and drain the swamp. And I'll tell you what this is going to do. Any time you have a tax bill before the Congress, you have every lobbyist come out of that swamp and all kinds of deals are being cut far above the knowledge of the American people.
And between now and next year's election, you're going to see the worst in Washington because of what this might promise to certain interest groups and they're all going to be contributing to those campaigns and so forth, and to his favorite candidates. And so it's kind of a call to arms for those who want to influence elections. And I think they intend to do that...
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Andrew.
SORKIN: One other point. This is a battle, not just an economic battle, but a battle between red states and blue states. One of the things that people aren't talking about enough is the state and local tax deduction, which if you're in a blue state, where most people...
MATTHEWS: New York.
SORKIN: ... who have the biggest deductions are, like New York, like California, they will pay more. They will pay a lot more even with the 35 percent rate. Some of the wealthiest, not all (INAUDIBLE) given all the issues we've just talked about, will We'll pay more. If you got -- if you're being paid $75,000 of household income in New York, you're going to end up paying more. This is -- this -- to some degree, you could talk about whether he's trying to soak the rich or not. This is about, you know, in some ways, soaking blue states relative to red states.
MATTHEWS: Stephanie, it seems to me that Gary Cohn's is an honest man. The man will not BS. He was offered several chances today to say that Trump and his crowd are not benefiting from this tax bill that Trump has written here. And it seems to me that he wasn't willing to BS and he just said, Look, I'm going to talk about the individual.
He -- this is a calculation I think the Trump people have made. As long as the average Joe and Jane gets a few crumbs, they don't care if the rich get a zillion dollars. That's their -- do they?
RUHLE: Except here's the difference. In general, Chris, people don't mind -- if I win, I don't mind if you win, too. But it is a massive insult to the American people to say, Well, I'm going to win and I'm going to lie to you about it. So you watch Gary Cohn up there and he was floundering because remember, this is the first time he's been back up on the podium shining in the light in the house of Trump in weeks because after Charlottesville, when Gary Cohn made a clear statement against the president, he was practically banished. You haven't heard his name as a possible Fed chair choice in weeks.
RUHLE: This is his moment back there. He doesn't want to get off-sides with the Trump, but he also doesn't want to tell the truth.
MATTHEWS: Well, he avoided not telling the truth, which is very clever today. He avoided not defending the fact -- no saying the president doesn't gain personally from the tax cut he's proposed, which is pretty preposterous.
Anyway, Stephanie Ruhle, Andrew Ross Sorkin...
RUHLE: Gary also said -- Gary also said nobody buys a house who's interested in the mortgage deduction. Baloney. Lots of people do.
MATTHEWS: Well, I've done it. Thank you, Stephanie Ruhle. Thank you, Andrew Sorkin, and thank you, U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur of Ohio.
Coming up, new information tonight about how Russia won -- Russia won! -- the 2016 election here in the United States for Donald Trump. A new study finds fake news and misinformation was shared much more widely on Twitter than real news in swing states that Trump ended up winning. More fake news went out through Twitter than real stuff, including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania. Trump won them all. So did the Russians. All three flipped from blue to red in 2016.
Plus, first the power went out, then the water ran out. Now the money's running out. The situation in Puerto Rico is growing truly dire tonight. Is enough being done to help the people of that part of the United States recover from the devastation of what some have called the biggest hurricane catastrophe in U.S. history?
And President Trump sounds more and more like Baghdad Bob, as I said. He says he's got the votes to repeal "Obama care." But his latest false excuse is that one Republican vote is in the hospital. Is Trump oblivious, or does he think his people are?
Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." He won't like it.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: An emotional day at the U.S. Capitol as Congressman Steve Scalise returned to the House floor more than three months after he was shot and critically wounded at a congressional baseball practice. Scalise entered the chamber on crutches and was met by, as you see, a standing ovation from colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
And later, in his first floor remarks since June 14th and that shooting, he thanked his friends, family and doctors, as well as -- and well he should - - the Capitol Police officers who saved his life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: Even after being shot both themselves, continued to engage the shooter and ultimately got him down, which not only saved my life but saved the life of a lot of other people that are here in this chamber today. Krystal (ph) couldn't be with us, but David Bailey (ph) is with us. David, you are my hero. You saved my life. Thank you so much.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And there he is waving his hand. Anyway, Scalise's office says that starting today, the congressman will be back at work while also undergoing outpatient therapy.
And we'll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Facebook has been under intense scrutiny since disclosing the extent of Russian-linked accounts and ads during the election last year. Now "The New York Times" reports that Russian influence may have been more pervasive on Twitter and that attempts to sow dissension among the American public continues even to this day, most recently in an apparent effort to deepen the political divisions over the NFL protests during the national anthem. Quote, "A network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia seized on both sides of the issue with hashtags such as #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee.
Well, today, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees met behind closed doors with representatives from Twitter. And while twitter says it's taken steps to combat Russian influence, Senator Mark Warner called their efforts inadequate. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: The presentation that the Twitter team made to the Senate Intel staff today was deeply disappointing. Their response was frankly inadequate on almost every level. For any who think that this is an occurrence that only took place during the 2016 elections, I would simply point to the front page of "The New York Times" today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I'm joined right now by U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He's the ranking Democrat, of course, on the House Intelligence Committee. Also joining us is Scott Shane (ph). He's national security reporter who authored that report in the "New York Times." Thank you for joining us, Scott.
Let me ask you about Kushner, the president's son-in-law. Was he candid with the committee about his use of e-mail?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, we're looking through the documents that he produced. We've had questions even before this about whether that document production was complete. We're certainly looking to see whether he produced any from this new private e-mail that we've been hearing about...
MATTHEWS: Did you ever know he had a private e-mail?
SCHIFF: I did not know he was using a private e-mail account while he was a part of the administration.
SCHIFF: But again, that depends on whether he used that account to discuss things that were pertinent to our investigation. We generally ask the witnesses that come before us what e-mail accounts they use, what, you know, applications they use, do they use encrypted apps. So we're going to scrutinize again that testimony, and we also expect we very well may need to bring him back.
MATTHEWS: This investigation, which you're responsible for pursuing so effectively, has grown like -- they used to talk about people who would come back from Florida and buy a little bitty alligator. Next thing you know is there's an alligator roaming the New York sewer system, a giant alligator. It just grows and grows.
The proliferation of Russian activity, doesn't it stun you? They're using Twitter. And they seem to understand our map of red and blue states and the states that could be swung over to the Trump side. They seem to understand all our issues right up to today, understanding this fight over the take a knee display at the NFL games during the national anthem.
They seem to know everything there is about us. And they manipulate, manipulate, to the effect of getting Trump probably elected.
SCHIFF: Well, the -- it's absolutely true that they are incredibly manipulative.
And what's so striking to me is deeply how cynical it is, how exploitive of the divisions in our society they are. And, of course, this isn't just happening here. This is what they are doing in other liberal democracies. They want to weaken the whole idea of democracy and set us against each other.
And I think one of the best antidotes is exposure.
SCHIFF: You know, during our open hearing, I want to show these ads. I want the American people to see them and see just how they view these divisions as a vulnerability.
It ought to be a lesson to us. This is a vulnerability that we need to deal with.
MATTHEWS: Isn't that our problem?
When they came here to bomb us, hit the World Trade Centers back in 2001, did you notice how they came here for flying lessons? And Americans gave them flying lessons down in Florida. And the guy giving them flying lessons said, I thought they were from Germany.
Come on, a little sophistication about who is coming to get the bombing lessons, controlling an airplane to take it into the Twin Towers. And now these guys just casually take Twitter. They exploit the hell out of it. It's free. They exploit Facebook. They pay a few bucks.
And these numbnuts that give them his authority, they treat these platforms like they are open to anybody. Come on. The bank's open.
Doesn't it amaze you that people like Zuckerman (sic) act like they are so neutral on this fight between the bad guys and the good guys? Are they neutralists?
SCHIFF: Well, I think it certainly has taken the social media companies a long time to come to the realization that, in addition to all the good their platforms do, bad actors can also exploit it.
MATTHEWS: You think they are not a little bit open to this because just it keeps the door wide open for money?
SCHIFF: Look, this is going to be part of our oversight. How soon did they discover how their platforms were being used? What steps did they take?
Were they willing to do the hard internal analysis, or did they not really want to see what was there? We have a lot of unanswered questions. We have even more, I think, after our briefing today with Twitter.
It was an important beginning of the discussion. But a lot of Twitter's work was derivative of what Facebook did. So, basically, if you present Twitter with, OK, look at these accounts, they may be able to say, OK, those are Russia-linked.
The question is, can they reach those conclusions on their own without being told which accounts they need to scrutinize, or do they not have enough information because they don't require it of their users? And can that be sustained, if it's going to result in this kind of malevolent use of their platform?
MATTHEWS: What about the knowledge, the political knowledge? You know politics because you get elected. I cover it.
But I watch these people, the way their -- the intuition, the sense of our psyche in this country, what unnerves us, what makes us fight with each other. They know seem to know this.
Do you think they have Russian experts -- American experts over there or they got spotters here on the ground?
SCHIFF: Well, they absolutely have experts our in politics, in our parties, in our divisions.
MATTHEWS: In here? Americans?
SCHIFF: Well, I'm sure they get plenty of advice from Americans, some witting. Some may be unwitting, in terms of information they give the Russians about how issues play out in the United States and the dynamic of the campaigns.
MATTHEWS: Well, are they hired hands like Manafort and Flynn, or are they Trump people, or just people that just are looking for some bucks?
SCHIFF: Well, there's an allegation that we need to get to the bottom of that, for example, Manafort was communicating with the Russians, saying, I will offer you information on the campaign at the same time the Russians were, as that meeting at Trump Tower indicated, offering them information on Hillary Clinton.
So all this, we need to thoroughly investigate. But you're right. The Russians can now do, not just here, but, from the luxury of the Kremlin or St. Petersburg, the organizing of rallies, the organizing of protests in America, the provoking conflict between Americans.
It's breathtaking, what they can do. And, unfortunately, the Web has made that very possible, easy, low-cost, deniable, and pernicious.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe they had an influence in who won the election last year?
SCHIFF: They certainly had an influence.
Whether it was decisive or not, I don't think we're ever going to be able to definitively say. But the social media stuff is only one element of their active measures, the hacking and the dumping, the fact that Hillary had to constantly be on the defensive with these daily dumps of information.
In an election that was won or lost by 70,000 votes, you cannot say that wasn't influential. And...
MATTHEWS: Well, how long will it take us -- I hate to push you, but we have time constraints.
How long do you think it's going to take us? We have heard a year-and-a- half for Mueller to do his job. When do you think the American people -- will it before or after next November's election?
Will they have a pretty clear idea of the role that the Russians played, a pretty clear idea of what Trump's people played in this whole fandango?
SCHIFF: Well, as you were saying, investigations have sort of a natural rhythm of their own.
We're in the expansionary phase, in that we are continuing to learn more. We learn more about the meeting at Trump Tower. We learn more about the Russian use of social media.
At a certain point, the investigation starts to constrict, when we have fully identified the issues that are the most fruitful, productive, important, concerning.
I think we're still closer to the beginning than the end. Bob Mueller's investigation may very well take a lot longer, because that may involve criminal proceedings against some that lead to criminal proceedings against others, if that's where the evidence leads.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Congressman.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.
Scott Shane, is with "The New York Times."
He's going to tell -- Scott, give us a sense of where you think -- you have listened to this conversation. Where are we at in terms of -- it seems like we have discovered an awful lot about the proliferation of Russian involvement through Twitter, through Facebook, and knowledge of the states getting involved in our red-blue swinging situations, as one state flipped to the other.
They seem to know exactly where the fault lines are. They are so -- I have to ask you, is this ever going to stop? I wonder whether we can stop it in '18 or '20, it's still going to be going on, the way it's heading.
SCOTT SHANE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think what's interesting about what we have learned about the Russian influence campaign is, its kind of experimental nature and its many different arms.
There's very good evidence that it was the Russian government behind the hacking and leaking of Democratic e-mails and documents, for example.
We certainly could see the open propaganda on outlets like R.T. and Sputnik. And now we're learning more and more about how the Russians used in a covert way Facebook and Twitter.
And we still don't know the whole story with Google and other platforms. But I'm assuming that we will find their fingerprints there as well.
But I think, as Congressman Schiff suggested, we only really have begun to understand even what they did on Facebook and Twitter. Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, has said that they don't know if there were other Russian entities active on Facebook, and they are still looking into that. They don't know if the Russians were working through third parties in Eastern Europe, for example.
And there's some evidence of that. Twitter, in its presentation today, as far as we have learned so far, has not even addressed a lot of suspected Russian activity that other researchers, outside researchers, had already documented and pointed to.
Instead, Twitter looked only at Twitter accounts that it could link to the Russia -- Russian accounts that Facebook had found. So, I think both companies have been very slow to look into this.
And Twitter in particular, I think, disappointed and surprised folks with Congress, who expected them to at least discuss and say what they knew about the hundreds of accounts that have been identified by outside researchers as probably put there by Russia.
MATTHEWS: Boy, this is just expansive, so much. You're right. That was the right word, expansive period in this investigation.
Thank you, Scott Shane of "The New York Times."
And thank you, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He's from California.
Up next: President Trump has cleared the way for more supplies to reach Puerto Rico. But with the island paralyzed, I mean really paralyzed, everything is shut down there, it's still going to be without power, and not enough money to deal with this disaster. Do we have enough? We have to report on that from the ground.
Is this going to work, this effort to save Puerto Rico from this natural disaster?
We will be right back.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Milissa Rehberger. Here's what's happening.
HHS Secretary Tom Price has apologized for using private charter jets at taxpayer expense. Price has promised to pay back close to $52,000. That's about 13 percent of the total cost reported by Politico. Politico also reported tonight that Price used military jets for international trips, at an additional cost of $500,000.
Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus has breast cancer. The "Veep" star revealed the news on Twitter and called for universal health care.
And a tragedy at Yosemite National Park. A British couple was struck by a massive bolder as they rock-climbed. One of them has died -- back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It's been over a week since Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. In the eight days since, the island has gone without power. Citizens have limited access to water, and now they're nearly out of cash. The ATM machines are broke.
Puerto Rico, with a population of 3.4 million people, is in the midst, of course, of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis and it's struggling now to get help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: What we're seeing right now is the biggest event of devastation in the modern history of Puerto Rico. It's a perfect storm, if you will.
REP. NYDIA VELAZQUEZ (D), NEW YORK: This administration's response has been inexcusably slow and ineffective.
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: This is Katrina 2017. Let's have no misunderstanding about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, as Wednesday, nearly all of the island's 1.6 million electricity customers were still without power.
And since Maria's downfall -- or landfall, rather, the small island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico has been completely isolated, desperate for federal aid.
The Trump administration is facing intense criticism it has not done enough. And late today, U.S. officials privately acknowledged to NBC News that the Trump administration was too slow to involve the military in the Puerto Rico response.
Publicly, in the face of that criticism, the administration is ratcheting up its response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: We're not going to be able to move as fast as everybody would like us or as I would like. But we're pushing everything that we have.
TOM BOSSERT, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: The people of Puerto Rico have every bit of support from President Trump.
ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The relief effort is under control. It is proceeding very well, considering the devastation that took place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Earlier today, the administration finally granted the island a temporary waiver from the Jones Act, a law that requires goods shipped from one American port to another be transported on U.S. ships.
It's expected to help somewhat with the immediate disaster relief. But some are saying it's a little late.
For the latest, I'm joined now by NBC correspondent Gadi Schwartz from San Juan.
GADI SCHWARTZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good everything, Chris.
As soon as you get outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico, you go south to a place like Naranjito, you start to see what the big problem is. And that is a lack of infrastructure. Just to give you an example, we went down that road towards Naranjito.
It's a mountainous area, curvy roads, and we found a roadblock. Just past that roadblock, there was an area where there was a washout. There are more landslides in that area than you can count.
And there was a road crew that was trying to reopen that road. But there was a stream of people. Some people had been walking seven miles carrying gas cans. These were people that knew they had to get back to work, but, for the last few days, have been digging out.
Many of their homes had been destroyed. In fact, one of the homes we saw, the roof had been pried off. Everything inside has been thrown to all directions of the wind. And the neighbors there said that that man was a truck driver. In fact, there was a truck that had sitting next to the house that was tossed down into a ravine.
Those neighbors hadn't seen that man since the hurricane hit. And that man, that profession, truck drivers, that is what the island needs the most right now, that, electricians, people that can restore that infrastructure.
So less, right now, it seem as though less than 20 percent of truck drivers have reported back to work. And there is a ton of aid at the ports that is trying, waiting to get out to the rest of Puerto Rico. But without truck drivers able to drive those trucks, it's going to be quite some time to get aid out to the hard-to-reach areas.
And those truck drivers, many of them have had their homes completely destroyed. Those who have not are having trouble getting gas, walking miles to gas stations carrying gas cans.
And that's the situation for basically a lot of people out in those rural areas. So, it almost seems as though the people that Puerto Rico needs the most right now, road crews, electricians, truck drivers, are some of the people that are in the most need -- Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, NBC's Gadi Schwartz in San Juan with that amazing report.
As I mentioned earlier, the island of Vieques, a formal Naval testing range seven miles off the coast of Puerto Rico, has been destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Food, water and fuel supplies are running low there.
For the latest, I'm joining by Mark Martin-Bras, a longtime resident of Vieques and director of community relations for the Vieques Conservation and Historic Trust.
Mark, thank you.
Tell us what it's like right now. MARK MARTIN-BRAS, VIEQUES CONSERVATION AND HISTORIC TRUST: Well, right now, we're waking up from the blow that Maria was. And Maria was a monster.
I know many other places received a lot of blows. We felt it all the way to our heights here. We had no casualties, thank God, but we were able to survive.
But what happened when we came to, it was that we really didn't have any support. And here started a community movements. There are very limited resources. The municipalities started working.
But we didn't see a response. And apart from the United States Coast Guard, who came first to our aid and has been here throughout the thing, our help has been too slow.
And it created a very scary communal anxiety, like a trauma after this -- basically, like a humongous hurricane that we got that has left everybody reeling. We have no water, except the running water.
We just received some of the first shipments of drinking water. We have no electricity and probably no electricity coming in the next month. We have a problem with the community in general.
We're a group in Vieques, love. And they have -- an incredible story of people in the state of Puerto Rico and Vieques pulling together to try the recover this island. And we're on that brink of at least not getting into a chaos situation, but it's unbelievable that we are left out here through these days.
And just today, we started seeing the things go by. When water goes by, people clap. And, again, everybody is OK. We have some areas that environmentally -- we're hoping to recover. We have to make sure we have the best stuff. We have to work on that.
But I think this is a great opportunity for the federal government to make up some of the things that have happened to Vieques throughout the years. And it's also a great opportunity that we rebuild in a way that we don't make the same mistakes and put stuff back in the same place.
I just don't see it quick enough, and I'm hoping that I'm proven wrong, and I'm hoping that people come to our aid.
MATTHEWS: Mark, you're great. Great reporting from you, sir, about a tragic situation, Mark Martin-Bras out there in Vieques Island just off the coast of Puerto Rico.
Up next: President Trump is talking like Baghdad Bob right now. He says he's got the votes to repeal Obamacare, even though he doesn't. And he can't seem to come to terms with the fact he has just beaten by Steve Bannon down in Alabama. He doesn't seem to be getting it right now.
You're watching HARDBALL.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: He says he's got the votes to repeal Obamacare even though he doesn't. And he can't seem to come to terms with the fact he was beaten by Steve Bannon down in Alabama. He doesn't seem to be getting it right now.
You're watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm also going to meet with Democrats and I will see if I can get a health care plan that's even better. So I will negotiate with Democrats, but from the Republican standpoint, we have the votes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump yesterday painting a rosy yet untrue future for Obamacare repeal. Despite the fact that three Republican senators opposed the latest repeal effort, leaving Republicans without the necessary 50 votes to pass it, the president doubled down on his claim about having the votes with an even more dubious defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I just wanted to say, though, on health care, we have the votes for health care. We have one senator that's in the hospital. I feel we have the votes. I'm almost certain we have the votes. But with one man in the hospital, we can't display we have them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, for the record, there was no U.S. senator in the hospital. And meanwhile, "The Washington Post" reported that the Alabama defeat leaves Trump weakened, isolated amid mounting challenges, after his candidate in the Alabama Republican Senate primary, Luther Strange, was defeated handily by conservative firebrand Roy Moore.
And Trump is now enthusiastically supporting Moore who was backed by his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who he pushed out of the White House.
Anyway, Bannon told "Politico" Moore's victory could pave the way for more renegade candidates saying, we're going to war. This is not a pillow fight. This is a fight fight.
Taking aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Bannon said, we're going to make him so toxic, we're basically going to tell people if McConnell endorses you, you're finished. That's going to put the fear of God on everybody.
That's Bannon talking the Bannon talk.
Let's go to HARDBALL roundtable. Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of "USA Today", Dana Milbank is political columnist for "The Washington Post" and Sophia Nelson is an NBCNews.com contributor.
Susan, have you ever seen a president just make up stuff so completely out of whole cloth? There is no senator in the hospital. They don't have the 50 votes, and he kept repeating and repeating that, no matter how many times you ask the question, he talked like Baghdad Bob. Baghdad is falling, sir.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: No, I've never seen anything like this. I mean, even the line that MSNBC was putting up as he spoke said, repeats false claims, because he said it over and over again, and yet it's been fact-checked over and over again that nobody is the hospital. As you said, no senator, and that's irrelevant.
You know what else? Even --
MATTHEWS: He doesn't have 50 votes.
PAGE: Even if you flip, one thought was that he thinks he's flipped Rand Paul. Even if you do that, there's no guarantee that the senators, all the other Republican senators are going to vote for - -
MATTHEWS: You're helping Trump. You're doing what Obama said, don't help him use logic when he just said something to me, I'm sorry, you can do what you want.
MATTHEWS: He's so clearly said we got the votes. We got the votes, Dana.
DANA MILBANK, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, the best part of that was he's presumably talking about Thad Cochran being ill.
MILBANK: And poor Thad Cochran has to tweet out saying, I'm not in the hospital. I'm OK.
MATTHEWS: If that's 48 to 49, it's not --
MILBANK: It's like a "Monty Python" scene when he says, I'm not dead.
MATTHEWS: He slices it up.
Sophia, what do you make of this guy? Is it delusional or does he think that his peeps are delusional and they will swallow this?
SOPHIA NELSON, NBCNEWS.COM CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think --
MATTHEWS: Which is it?
NELSON: I think the president is delusional if that's the word we're using. He simply doesn't live in a place of reality, vis-a-vis what he's saying about people being in the hospital, and that he is not intellectually curious. That's my biggest problem with this man.
He doesn't fact check. He shoots from the hip. And you simply can't do that when you're the president and you need to get health care passed.
MATTHEWS: Do you think if somebody said, there's a guy in the hospital, otherwise, we'd have 49. But we don't have 50, Mr. President. No matter how many people are in the hospital, we don't have 50.
MATTHEWS: And yet he didn't even say, what's the guy's name or woman's name, or are you sure they are in the hospital? Let me throw it out there.
MILBANK: Think about what he did after Roy Moore's victory. He goes back or he has somebody go back and delete all of the tweets in which he's endorsing Luther Strange as if it didn't happen, as if we're in the Soviet Union and we can just reinvent and create our own reality. So, of course, maybe he believed when he said it.
MATTHEWS: That's probably the way Kim Jong-un runs the operation over there. Don't you like my haircut? I think it's perfect. Yes.
NELSON: There comes a point where we the people really are the problem and those we elect because at some point, we have to ask the hard question about Trump's fitness. And I mean this -- I'm the Republican sitting up here. At some point, we have to ask the hard question. Is he all there? He says he thinks he does these things that we have never seen presidents do before.
MATTHEWS: Well --
NELSON: I'm just saying.
MATTHEWS: I think you're talking about the Founding Fathers there. I think we should ask about the Declaration of Independence, because the Russians, you know what I mean? How about we have our own country here, don't mess with us.
Anyway, the question is you raised this issue about the president is being attacked on the right. He got a two-front war going on right now. The progressives on one side, and clearly would never like him. Now, he got the right wing, they're taking apart his caucus. They're not going to get 50 probably on any vote they come up with because Rand Paul will never like it. The deficit hawks are waiting. It does wonder -- I wonder when they will get anything through in four years, if he's there four years.
PAGE: You know, the extraordinary thing about the civil war that -- the war that you saw there, it's a civil war. Democrats played no part in the combat there. And it leaves -- it does leave President Trump pretty isolated because he's not making friends on the Republican side. The fact that his chosen candidate lost in a state that he carried by double digits is one sign that he tapped this mood of the country, but doesn't control it.
MATTHEWS: Well, maybe he shouldn't pretend he does. Maybe he should admit the people of Alabama are going to pick their nominee and I'm going to live with it. Instead of going down like bigfoot and saying, I'm going to decide, Roseville, you couldn't even do that in Georgia. You can't pick people to tell them who to vote for. They don't like it.
MILBANK: It's a force larger than Trump is.
MATTHEWS: It's called the vote.
MILBANK: 2006, Roy Moore ran in another primary and lost by 33 points. Now wins by 10 points. It's wholesale change. This party is unrecognizable. Trump captured that.
MILBANK: But he didn't create it.
MATTHEWS: I know. Corker is out, Moore is in. That's --
NELSON: Well, I think that -- I'm sorry.
MATTHEWS: No, don't be sorry.
NELSON: I think that Bannon is more dangerous out than he was in. And I've always thought that, and he said it's a civil war. And I think they are going to teach Trump a lesson. We put you there and if you don't hold to what you say, we are going to put other people who will do this and we'll take you out.
MATTHEWS: We'll see how smart Bannon is in the end, too. These guys are big shots with big mouths.
The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don't think.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, the state of California has just moved up its presidential primary for 2020 to the beginning of March. That gives the country's largest and most-diverse state a right-sized role in the presidential nominating process. The move could benefit California Senator Kamala Harris, who's one of the candidates who could be in the mix in 2020. In 2016, Californians went to the polls in June after Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had all but won their parties' nominations.
We'll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We're back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Susan, tell me something I don't know.
PAGE: You know, the president yesterday said that his tax plan was not designed to help rich families like his. He said they were going to repeal the estate tax to help millions of farmers and small business owners.
Well, the Tax Policy Center calculated how many farmers and small business owners would pay the estate tax this year. Eighty.
PAGE: Total nationwide.
MATTHEWS: The agra businesses.
Anyway, Dana? That's something. That's $11 million. Go ahead.
MILBANK: Well, Trump may think the health care bill failed because of a phantom senator in the hospital, but let's listen to Lindsey Graham, honest to a fault, saying why his bill failed.
We didn't know how to do it. I thought everybody else knew what the hell they were talking about but apparently not. So, now, they tell us.
MATTHEWS: Ha! I love Lindsey, he's so honest.
NELSON: New FBI Director Christopher Wray apparently told the Senate that the FBI's conducting about, get this, 1,000 investigations of suspected white supremacists. How's that for scary? A thousand of domestic terrorists.
MATTHEWS: They're on them, though. They're on them on, Sophia.
NELSON: They're on them, they're on them.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Susan Page, Dana Milbank, and Sophia Nelson.
When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." He'll like this one -- not at all.
You're watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Thursday, September 28th, 2017.
Until yesterday, I tried resisting the tendency to speak of President Trump's basic competence. Not being a professional in that area, I've kept my observations of his behavior on the political level. But yesterday, I watched and heard the president of the United States say something that was obviously untrue, as obviously untrue as that Iraqi spokesman we nicknamed Baghdad Bob who kept denying that 2003 U.S. invasion, even as we all watched it on television.
Trump said that he had the votes for that bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. He had a total of 50 Republicans, all set to give him the big victory he'd been touting. He said the only reason he didn't have the Senate pass its vote to repeal Obamacare is because of a senator who he said was in the hospital.
None of this was true. The reason Republican health care bill failed is that three Republican senators out of 52 declared their intention to vote no on the bill. That left 49, one senator short of passage, given the expected tie-breaking vote of Vice President Pence.
So, why did the president insist again and again yesterday it was only some senator in a hospital that was keeping him from killing Obamacare? You have to wonder about this kind of behavior because there are only two explanations for it. This president was either caught mentally off base, which is unlikely given the heat around this bill, or he thinks a sufficient number of his core supporters live off base, that they have no idea what he's up to here in Washington.
So, I'm asking you, which gives you the worst jitters?
That's HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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