Show: HARDBALL Date: December 13, 2017 Guest: Rosie Gray, David Mastio, Michelle Goldberg, John Feehery, Hakeem Jeffries, Jennifer Rubin; Sheila Jackson Lee; John Hammontree
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The stars fell in Alabama. Let`s play "Hardball."
Love that sign. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in New York.
Democrats are celebrating after the stunning results in Alabama last night. In a rebuke of President Trump and his ally Steve Bannon, voters in that deeply red state chose a Democrat for the first time in a quarter century to send to Washington. Well, today Trump said he endorsed Roy Moore because he wanted to hold on to the Republican Senate seat. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of Republicans feel differently. They are very happy with the way it turned out. But I would have -- as the leader of the party, I would like to have had the seat. I want to endorse the people that are running --.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Richard Shelby, the senior senator from Alabama, pointedly refused to endorse Moore, saying Alabama deserved better. Here is senator shell by today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: People that I spoke, talked to Doug Jones, 30 or 40 minutes ago. Congratulated him. I have known him a long time. And I told him that I look forward to working with him up here for the great interests of the nation and the people of Alabama. I think basically the voters, the majority of the voters in my state chose principle over politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Principle over politics. Well, Doug Jones rode to victory thanks to a coalition of support from young people, women and African- Americans mostly who voted in record numbers. Ninety-six percent of black voters said they backed Jones and they turned out in big numbers.
Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey, he was a big winner yesterday. He campaigned for Doug Jones. He said it felt like a movement down in Alabama, but he also credited moderate Republicans. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: This was an extraordinary grassroots effort by a lot of folks that were working on the field, not just for weeks but for months, even before these allegations came out. And when I was down there I was calling back to people here in the Senate and telling them, this is not a campaign, this has a movement feel to it.
This was a choice between someone who is about bigotry, about hate, about misogyny, that was violating the rule of law. I mean his career is a stain on the ideals we hold precious, and so many Republicans rejected that including my colleague Richard Shelby who has a profile of courage, for him to come out days before the election as strongly as he did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, in my book for what it is worth, that senator`s stock is rising very high after his performance down in Alabama. Cory Booker looks like a big winner coming out of that because he looked good there. He was right about the whole thing. It wasn`t just the African-American vote. It was also moderate Republicans really turning away from a bad candidate.
There are huge questions now, none good for Republicans. What does the Jones` victory mean for the Trump agenda in the Congress? Well, the blame gaming in the Republican Party itself make the GOP even more unruly, but most important was yesterday. The start of a democratic wave that will crest next year, will it be that? Do the Democrats have a good shot of taking back not just the house next year, which they had a good shot at, but the U.S. Senate as well.
Joining me right now is somebody should know U.S. congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of the state of Texas, John Hammontree, managing producer for the Alabama media group and Jennifer Rubin, we know her often, opinion writer for "the Washington Post."
Let me go to Congresswoman Jackson Lee. What do you think is the trajectory coming out of yesterday`s vote in Alabama?
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TAXES: That we haven`t won the final race but we are on a very good target and we are working and running at a pace for victory. I think Democrats recognize that yesterday was stupendous and all of the Democratic help from senators and Congress persons like Congresswoman Terri Sewell made a difference.
Ninety-eight percent of that vote was African-American women. They obviously said to America that we are going to be your rescuers. But what it does say is that there will be coalitions with moderate Republicans maybe in some part to win states, blue color workers, along with our wonderful base of young people, Hispanics, working Americans.
And so Alabamans has really put the big tent together that represents the Democratic Party. That should be a big threat for Republicans because Republicans have tried to go it alone on a single race community, single issues that divides Americans, and here we had whites and blacks and Hispanics, LGBT, religious community, and certainly a large number of African-American women combined with white women that made a difference in Alabama. I think that`s a winning combination, and what the Republicans have is nothing but toxic, and it is not going to sell in 2018.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I`m going to say a big loud amen to what you said at the end of the show, congressman. Thank you for starting the show this way.
Donald Trump was one of the only national Republicans to endorse Roy Moore and even record a robo-call for him. That`s what he did, the President did. But he down played that role today.
He tweeted, the reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange and his numbers went up mightily, is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the general election. I was right. This is Trump speaking. Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him.
Let me go to John Hammontree on that. What do you think was the -- these elections are decided as you saw by two or three points. This went the way of the democratic candidate. It was an upset. What was it that did it?
JOHN HAMMONTREE, MANAGING PRODUCER, ALABAMA MEDIA GROUP: Yes. It is hard to say that the deck was stacked against Roy Moore when Democrats typically lose by 20 to 30 points in the state of Alabama. And it was every single thing matters. You know, Congress -- excuse me. Senator Booker coming to town and former President Obama recording a robo-call, those certainly helped drive out African-American vote. Even Charles Barkley may have helped drive out African-American vote. But the courage of senator Shelby to come out and speak against his own party`s nominee certainly helped lead to either the overwhelming and record number of crossover voters that we have seen as well as the record number of write-in votes that we have seen. And every single thing added up to a very, very narrow margin of victory, but the Democrats pulled it out.
MATTHEWS: You know, there`s been a lot of conversation -- I`ll get back to the congresswoman. I will get back to you, congresswoman, right on this question because I think it is right in your wheelhouse here. People thought that only Obama, the President could bring out the African-American vote. It had to be a positive reason to go vote. Here is a chance to keep the first black President. That`s a great call. But now it seems there was nothing really positive to get excited about down there but something negative to get excited, making sure this guy, Trump`s guy, didn`t win. How did it energize the community do you think?
LEE: Thank you. Let me first say, I am excited, Chris, that we elected a southern Democrat. I want there to be a big, across-the-nation announcement in "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" and every media source. We now have a full-fledged southern Democrat United States senator. And how did that come about? Because we have thinking voters. African-Americans are thinking voters. And what they did was they voted their issues. They voted their dignity. They didn`t want someone who said we were happy during slavery. They didn`t want someone who preyed upon young girls because we as African-American women know what that has been throughout history. They wanted someone who would respect them.
And let me just say this. Senator Shelby as was said earlier was a profile in courage, and he put a sharp contrast between President Trump, who frankly, I believe is becoming a non- entity. President Trump did a robo- call. President Trump endorsed Mr. Moore, and as well caused the Republican national committee to do so.
In doing that, he showed that he was completely irrelevant in this process. It was close, but we did something that no one expected us to do, was to pull out a southern Democrat to now represent United States Senate -- to represent Alabama in the United States Senate.
So I think the story is we are back to our big tent Democratic Party with southern Democrats, people from diverse background, who can sit in the same tent together from east coast to west coast, to north, to south, and the President has been marginalized by his own party. Republicans, McConnell and others who stepped aside from this man, Mr. Moore, who had had this long history of being a child predator.
And I will just say this. As you well know in the Judiciary Committee I question about the women who made charges against Mr. Trump, and I want them to have a place to have their complaints heard. I asked the deputy attorney general can these women who have never been heard from a President who said he would sue them and he has never done so and he is a chief law enforcement officer, I think the department of justice should open an investigation on the complaints of these women if they make that complaint to the DOJ. And I have indicated in my public statement as a deputy attorney general said that they can do that.
MATTHEWS: Well, another big loser is Donald Trump`s ally Steve Bannon who campaigned repeatedly for Moore, for Roy Moore. Josh Holmes, a former top aide to Mitch McConnell, said the results yesterday should be a wake-up call for the Republicans. He told "the Washington Post," it should be a hurricane siren for every Republican. This is what the death of a party looks like. And without an immediate course correction and rejection of the Steve Bannon view of the world, you can lose races in states like Alabama. Well, several Republicans on Capitol Hill today took shots at Bannon. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about Steve Bannon? Was there a message to Steve Bannon?
SHELBY: I`ll leave it up to you all. He surely didn`t win.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I don`t really have a lot to say about that particular individual. I sometimes feel like that there are people in our country who see a train moving in a direction and -- or a parade and jump in front of it and think they`re leading it.
[19:10:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean it is a loss for Steve Bannon do you think?
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I hope he pays attention and he would be good canvass to win the senators (ph).
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I don`t think Steve Bannon has anything positive at all to the dialogue in the country. I don`t know who would identify with him. And to see him on the stage this week with the big American flag behind him, he looked like a disheveled drunk that wandered in off the street. To have him become the face of major politics and have a major voice in politics I think is wrong. I think we should shun him. I think we should cut him off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Some disheveled drunk that just wandered in off the street. That`s from Peter King.
Let me go to Jennifer on this. Jennifer Rubin, your thoughts about the GOP and its construction now because it clearly can`t be a big enough tent for this guy, Roy Moore to be in the tent. Nobody wants him in the elephant tent.
JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. I think two things happened. One, as the congresswoman said, Democrats were able to both energize their base and get some disaffected Republicans. And there are a lot of disaffected Republicans. It was the same thing they successfully did in Virginia. And if they can do that, I think the Republican Party is going to get a shellacking in 2018.
Next thing, that at this point the Democrats really do have the issues. What the Republicans are pursuing if they want to get back to their economic message, their economic message stinks right now. The tax bill is very unpopular. They tried to take away Obamacare, that`s not popular. The President`s rating is down to low 30s. So I think Democrats kind of have a field day here. They have to run I think in some sense a negative campaign running as a check, as a counterbalance against Trump, but also to put forth I think a traditional bread-and-butter democratic message which is this guy is not for populous, not for the working man and woman. That`s who we are.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask John Hammontree on the ground about that because that is a question. And I have a dog in this fight, because I want the Democratic Party. I want it to be bread and butter. I want it to be about jobs and economic growth. I don`t think it should be pushing these social issues to the wall like abortion to the last minute and all of that stuff, I think that is just a losing direction politically as well as for me morally.
John, what was the issue that helped Doug Jones? Was it that he is a bread-and-butter Democrat and he didn`t pushed the far-out social issues although at one point he did on the abortion rights. He went all the way to late term. What do you think got him acceptable to moderate Republicans, let`s put it that way?
HAMMONTREE: I think he was running on an agenda that was very palatable to a lot of Alabamans, you know. He talked about the children`s health insurance program and needing to secure funding for that. (INAUDIBLE) statewide. He talked about making sure that we keep hospitals open in rural Alabama and the need to expand Medicaid. Alabama is one of the state that hasn`t done that yet. And I think that spoke to working class voters around the state. And he also talked about the needed to recruit job. And you know, he didn`t really run a very negative campaign when it boils down to it. He did draw a sharp contrast between himself and Roy Moore, but he did so in a way where he said, do you think Roy Moore is going to be able to help recruit jobs and industry to the state of Alabama.
Alabamans are not that different from the rest of the country. They care about the same type of issues and I think that job development really helped flip people in the Birmingham suburbs and in Huntsville suburbs especially.
MATTHEWS: Yes or no, can he get re-elected in 20 if he runs again for a full term?
HAMMONTREE: It is going to be really tough. You know, 700,000 Trump voters stayed home yesterday. You would have to assume that unless Trump continues to crater they are going to show up again in 2020. But the power of incumbency is strong. And if he and senator Shelby can work together to do things like deepen the port of mobile or bring industry to the state, I think people like Doug Jones, he has pledged to speak to voters all around the state in town halls and to keep his doors open, and he has been calling for unity and reaching out to both sides of the aisle. I think today he had a phone call with Senator Shelby and outgoing senator Luther Strange as well as President Trump. So I think he is a true southern Democrat who will reach across the aisle.
MATTHEWS: I think dredging is a great issue for infrastructure. Create those jobs by bringing in the big ships. Thank you.
U.S. congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, as always. Ma`am, thank you so much for coming on "Hardball" tonight.
LEE: Thank you for having me.
MATTHEWS: John Hammontree, great insight look at the situation in Alabama economically. And Jennifer Rubin, who knows all things that we need to know here. You know a lot. Thank you very much, Jennifer. That`s why you are writing on the editorial page.
Coming up, after last night`s stinging defeat, Donald Trump is jumping through hoops to say he was right all along in Alabama. Didn`t you notice? Despite endorsing and embracing Roy Moore tonight, the White House has to be worried. There`s a reckoning heading their way. And a scathing editorial in "USA today" is calling Trump unfit as a person to be President. And that`s ahead.
Plus the Russian investigation. Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein tells Congress there`s no good reason for Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. But as Mueller closes in on the White House will Trump listen to that or be scared and fire him.
And one day after the Republicans train wreck in Alabama, they are plowing ahead with the unpopular tax plan. We will get to it with the "Hardball" round table tonight.
Finally, let me finish tonight with a picture of unity we saw last night in Alabama. I don`t know about you, I liked what I saw.
This is "Hardball" where the action is.
[19:16:25] MATTHEWS: Omarosa, the former "Apprentice" star turned White House aide is leaving the Trump administration. According to press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Omarosa resigned from her post in order to pursue other opportunities. But numerous reports indicate that she is not leaving on her own accord. Long-time White House reporter April Ryan tweeted, sources say General Kelley did the firing. And Omarosa is alleged to have acted very vulgar and cursed a lot and said she helped elect President Trump. The word is General Kelley had it and got rid of her.
"New York Times" reporter Yamiche Alcindor added that according to sources Omarosa was escorted off of the White House grounds by security. Meanwhile, a White House official tells NBC News that the timing of her departure was unexpected.
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[19:19:23] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s time to get our priorities straight. So get out and vote for Roy Moore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."
That was President Trump stumping for Roy Moore on Friday. The President is now facing a reckoning on two fronts. Republican voters in deep red Alabama offered a sharp rebuke of Trump`s candidate at the polls. Meanwhile, he is facing renewed scrutiny did was own increasingly toxic brand.
"Politico" reports the Alabama race handed Trump a big black eye in a state he won by 28 points in 2016, in part by creating a self-inflicted wound when he ignored the advice of both Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and his own political team with the White House to stay out of the race.
NBC News reports that a White House official acknowledged the obvious less of Alabama. Quote "candidates matter. Republican just can`t ride the anti-establishment sentiment to victory to matter what."
But the Alabama race was only one condemnation of the president today, as he faces more fallout over his sexually suggestive tweet directed at New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
On Wednesday, Trump said the senator went to his office, begged him for campaign money and said she would do anything.
Well, in a scathing editorial, the "USA Today" editorial board took Trump to task for that, writing: "A president who would all but call Senator Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Obama -- the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush."
Well, Senator Gillibrand struck back at the president this morning on "The Today Show." Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: It was certainly just a sexist smear, intended to silence me. And I`m not going to be silenced on this issue. I have heard the testimony of many women, numerous accusers. I believe them, and he should resign for that.
I think Congress should do an investigation. I can just tell you, the president`s trying to certainly silence my voice on this issue of these allegations against him, and he`s often berated women and made them feel that they cannot be heard as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Michelle Goldberg. She`s a columnist, of course, for "The New York Times." John Feehery, of course, our friend, Republican strategist, and David Mastio, "USA Today"`s deputy editorial page director.
So, David, I have to go to you.
I`m wondering. I`m thinking, that is about the strongest, toughest news editorial, unsigned editorial, by the -- speaking for your newspaper I have seen you guys run.
DAVID MASTIO, "USA TODAY": I think it is.
Certainly, we do not often speak with such fire. "USA Today" tries to be a practical, centrist newspaper, and we try to keep our fire reasoned and -- and focused on the issues.
But with Donald Trump, there has become such a glaring and growing character issue, that we felt it was time to speak with a little bit of a louder voice.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of Trump`s Sinatra-esque -- I remember when a reporter went after, a columnist went after him -- Maxine Cheshire, I think it was -- he called her a $2 hooker.
And that kind of language, reducing a woman to that when you disagree with them politically or editorially, it just seems to be -- he seems to have the same sort of quirk. His mind thinks like that.
How would you describe your critique of him in that manner, for that manner?
MASTIO: Sometimes, it is hard to see whether his mind thinks at all. He just -- he just reacts from the heart, from some kind of a dark place.
MATTHEWS: What`s it say about his view of women as a gender?
MASTIO: You know, I don`t know, but I`m awfully glad that I have never been a woman and in his -- in his presence.
I think, you know, the record speaks very loudly about what a dangerous place to be that is.
MATTHEWS: I`m only thinking of a little bit empathetically to the guy or woman who gets to clean the toilets at the Obama Library someday and thinking they`re being compared to Donald Trump. Jesus.
Anyway, let me go to Michelle.
Go ahead, you, David.
MASTIO: We were saying that that person is a lot better than Donald Trump.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I hope you`re saying so. Thank you so much. I like to be democratic here, and I am.
Anyway, Michelle, you`re the woman on the panel, and I want you to speak loud on this, because I don`t think there was any ambiguity. I mean, sometimes, there is ambiguity in every line. People sometimes speak in metaphor and people take it literally. I know how this works.
But he wasn`t speaking in any complicated way. He was accusing her of coming to offer herself to him for money. It was pretty clear.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right.
And, I mean, what was so fascinating was that his response to being accused of sexual harassment was to sexually harass a female senator in front of the world.
And I think part of what he gets off on is the impunity, is the fact that all these other men are being punished, are being held to account, in a lot of ways due to a kind of sublimated rage about his own election that`s been redirected towards all these other figures because he is untouchable.
And so the question now is, how untouchable really is he, right? If we`re going to have a new -- if we`re going to finally say that people who sexually harass women do not belong in public life, how can we say that, when the president of the United States, by his own account, sexually assaults women?
MATTHEWS: Michelle, you`re the first one I have heard say that. It`s almost -- I`m going to ask you to clarify that, what you just said.
I`m thinking about the reaction people have to what Trump has been accused of and what he has bragged about on that tape at "Access Hollywood." He has bragged about experience, not about what he would like to do, but what he has done, grabbing people, whatever, groping, the whole thing, using people physically that he doesn`t even know.
And then I see what happened to Al Franken and others, and Al Franken especially. And I also think there`s a tendency, when you have had a tough time at the office, you go home and yell at the kids, because you can`t yell at the boss. So, I mean it. I mean it.
So, is that what you were saying, something like that has happened with the other perpetrators of bad behavior toward women?
GOLDBERG: Yes, I think that it is hard to overstate how degrading, how traumatic Trump`s election has been for a lot of women.
And one result of that was that women all over the country poured into local politics, because they wanted to exercise power in -- they wanted to find places where they could still exercise power, because they were so disempowered nationally.
And I think you see something similarly with women kind of cleaning house in their own industries, right? So we can`t do anything about the sexual assault in the Oval Office, but you can finally tell your story about your boss or...
MATTHEWS: I see. That`s a positive way of explaining what you`re saying.
Let me go to John Feehery about this.
John, the Democrats feeling -- seem to feel a need, a moral need -- I might even dare say moral these days, when it seems an amoral political atmosphere -- a moral need to deal with their own situation, even to the point of knocking off one of their best senators, of course, Al Franken, but saying, he did wrong, he must pay, or else we can`t be honorable. I understand that.
But what do you think of what Michelle was saying, that the anger, the antipathy towards Trump`s ruthless, willful, heeding-less -- he just doesn`t care what anybody says. And he keeps it up, to the point of yesterday of basically taking a shot at a top senator because he doesn`t like her politics?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, from a political perspective, I can tell you it is not working that well for Republicans.
You saw what happened in Virginia. You saw what happened in Alabama. I mean, the huge influx of conservative women who voted against the Republican candidates in both states should be troubling for Republicans, and we need to figure out a way to handle this, because, if we don`t, we`re going to get killed in the next election.
So, this is problematic for the Republican Party. And you saw what Michelle was saying, the anger felt toward the election of the president was manifested right after the president was elected with the Women`s March on Washington.
This is a real thing. And Republicans have the deal with it, because, if they don`t -- they have got to come up with a strategy. If they don`t, they going to be in big trouble in the 2018 election.
MATTHEWS: You are a Republican tonight. I mean it positively for you.
Look, there`s five or six tough Senate races coming up next year. They are going to start pretty soon now, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, certainly Nevada, where those races could possibly go either way. We don`t know, but they`re highly contested.
Would you, as the Republican candidate, want Trump with you, in the room with you, on the stage with you in those states?
FEEHERY: Well, I would want him with me on things that would help my campaign.
For example, I thought it would have made sense for him to campaign with Ed Gillespie in fixing transportation problems in Northern Virginia. That might have gotten some votes for him.
FEEHERY: You know, focusing on Confederate monuments and, you know, insulting women, that`s no way to win the election.
So, I think that there are ways that Trump could be helpful, and he`s got to get on an economic agenda. He`s not on the economic agenda. His tweeting has been a real distraction and really hurt the real kind of -- the brand for the Republicans, if they are going to win, has got to be about the economy, because that`s the best thing about the Republicans right now.
MATTHEWS: Barletta, the candidate probably in Pennsylvania for the Senate against Bob Casey, is a big anti-immigration -- anti-illegal immigration, I should say, guy.
Would you bring in Trump on his issue?
FEEHERY: Well, I think that Barletta has made his case on that.
You know, I think that that has other ramifications, though, on other issues. I think the best thing the Republicans can do is have some effective immigration enforcement, and then also fix the DACA problem, because the DACA problem is something that needs to get fixed.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
Michelle Goldberg, it`s great having you on, John Feehery, as always, and David Mastio for that very tough editorial from "USA Today."
Up next: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies before the Congress and pushes back against the right-wing effort to undermine the Mueller investigation. He says he`s seen no good cause to fire the special counsel. But will Trump listen to him?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.
Senator John McCain`s office has issued a new statement on his health after the Arizona Republican missed a number of votes this week. His office says McCain is undergoing treatment at Walter Reid Medical Center for normal side effects of his ongoing cancer therapy.
The governor of Minnesota has tapped Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith to take over Senator Al Franken`s seat. Franken is resigning in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.
And the Federal Reserve is hiking interest rates for the third time this year, signaling confidence in a thriving U.S. economy -- back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We have seen in recent weeks that the president`s allies have been making a case that the special counsel`s probe into Russia is tainted bipartisan politics. Well, today, the man overseeing the special counsel`s probe into possible collusion and obstruction of justice was on Capitol Hill to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.
And it was not a friendly reception up there. In the hearing, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein drew sharp fire from conservative Republicans seeking to discredit Mueller`s probe as a hit job on the president.
They cited reports that the wife of a Justice Department official had worked for the research firm that produced the dossier on Trump. They also seized upon the news that a former FBI official was removed from the special counsel`s team in July for exchanging text messages with a colleague in 2016 that disparaged Trump.
Well, those messages, which the Justice Department made public last night, said, among other things, that -- quote -- "Hillary Clinton just has to win" and described the potential Trump victory as "terrifying."
Their release gave Republican lawmakers even more resolve today to accuse the Justice Department of bias against the president. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: We`re beginning to better understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller`s team.
REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R), TEXAS: These texts are also evidence. They`re not evidence of an appearance of impropriety. They`re evidence of an evidence of an actual vitriolic bias, of actual prejudice, of actual hatred for the subject of the special counsel`s investigation.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: You`re the guy in charge. You could disband the Mueller special prosecutor and you can do what we have called for, appoint a second special counsel to look into this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: At the same time, Rosenstein took heat from Democrats who want to ensure that the department is not being politicized by President Trump or his allies.
Here is Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Is it ever appropriate for a president, any president of the United States to encourage the Department of Justice to launch criminal investigations against his or her perceived political enemies?
ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I`m not going to comment on that, Congressman.
As I have explained previously, the president has put a team of experienced folks in charge of the Department of Justice, and we`re not going to be influenced by anything other than the facts of law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Congressman, thank you.
Give us a sense of what it smells like to you. Are they just trying to distract, deflect, discredit? Where would you put their target zone? What are they up to, the Republicans around the president?
JEFFRIES: Well, Chris, you`re absolutely correct.
They feigned anger and outrage at the alleged politicization of the investigation by this one FBI agent that has no basis in reality. There`s no Department of Justice regulation that they can point to that was violated.
FBI agents are allowed to have political opinions and to express those opinions in a private setting.
We know that Bob Mueller, who is leading this investigation, for decades has been widely respected by both Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives. He`s a talented law enforcement professional.
He`s not going to allow politics to influence this investigation. He will follow the facts, interpret the law, and that will result in whatever conclusion he ultimately reaches.
MATTHEWS: It seems to me, with the people around the president who are at least formally loyal to him are worried about is that Mueller is good?
What do you make of that, that he`s smart, that he`s going to catch the bad stuff?
JEFFRIES: Well, he has absolutely proceeded in surgical fashion in terms of conducting this investigation that has already ensnared the campaign chairman, of course, who has been charged with crimes that include conspiracy against the United States of America, as well as Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, who has pled guilty, Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser.
So, he is approaching with a degree of surgical precision that I think has Donald Trump clearly rattled. That`s why he has directed his allies on Capitol Hill to suggest that this is all a witch-hunt or a hoax or a fraud, when that has no basis in reality.
MATTHEWS: Well, throughout the hearing, Congressman, Rosenstein, the deputy, has said there`s no good cause to fire the special counsel, Mueller.
And he defended Mueller`s conduct in carrying out the investigation. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why -- after you have heard all the concerns expressed here today, why are you satisfied with the course of the investigation?
ROSENSTEIN: I`m satisfied, Congressman, because, based upon what I know, which is different from what accounts may appear in the media, based upon what I know, I believe Director Mueller is appropriately remaining within his scope and conducting himself appropriately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a tough endgame question here, Congressman.
If the special counsel comes in with what is basically an indictment of the president for obstruction of justice, do you believe the House Judiciary Committee will act on that and begin an impeachment proceeding? Will they do what they`re supposed to do?
JEFFRIES: Right. I don`t think that the House Judiciary Committee, under Republican leadership, will proceed in that fashion.
As you know, Chris, we, constitutionally, are separate and co-equal branch of government. We don`t work for the president of the United States, Donald Trump. We work for the American people.
But my colleagues on the other side of the aisle don`t seem to have gotten that memo, even though it was written by James Madison and the founders of the Constitution.
The only way this president will ever be held accountable is if the gavel is in the hands of the Democratic Party.
MATTHEWS: Well, that may well be in 2019, sir, based upon what happened in Alabama yesterday.
Thank you, U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York state.
Up next: Democrats pulled off a win in the reddest of red states last night, of course. We all know that now. But Republicans are not letting last night`s message get in the way of their big help-the-rich agenda. They`re barrelling through their deeply unpopular tax bill.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The election of Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate race is a stinging defeat not just for Senate Republicans but also for President Trump and his agenda. It was the third consecutive loss for the president and the blame game has just begun.
But despite the defeat Senate and House Republicans are plowing ahead with their deeply unpopular tax plan. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, more than half, in fact almost two-thirds, 65 percent of Americans believe that the bill benefits the wealthy with only 21 percent, about one in five, thinking it benefits the middle class.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is asking to wait until Doug Jones is seated before voting on the plan, but Majority Leader McConnell has said no. No surprise there.
For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL table: Kimberly Atkins, chief Washington reporter for "The Boston Herald", Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer with "The Washington Post" and both are MSNBC analyst, and Rosie Gray, White House correspondent for "The Atlantic." Thank you all.
Let me go with Kimberly. It seems to me if Moore was elected to the Senate Democrats would have two issues to run against Republicans next November, one would be Moore who is stinking up the place with all his stuff, and all his baggage, and the tax bill. Now all they have is the tax bills. Seems all of the guns will be pointed at the tax bill and the unfairness of it for the Democrats.
KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, BOSTON HERALD: Yes, and I think that`s a smart move. I mean, I think it is odd for the Republicans to really insist on pushing what is, as you said, a very unpopular tax bill. Every poll shows that Americans not only don`t think it`s going to benefit them, but that it will probably hurt them, that they might be paying more. So, the fact that other Republicans are rushing this through in order to get some sort of victory is really -- is really odd.
What do they consider victory in the eyes of the American people? It seems more of an effort to please the president, who is still looking after yet another electoral sting of looking for some sort of legislative victory.
MATHEWS: John, there`s so many goodies at the top under the Christmas tree for rich Republicans. I mean the goodies are, you know, the lower corporate tax rate, the estate tax exclusion is doubled to 22 million people that they can give their kids, $22 million is a lot of money. Then you get the minimum tax is gotten rid of, all kinds of things. Carried interest is continued.
But the one that jumps out at me is the top rate now. It`s going to go down from 40 percent down to 37 percent. It is almost 3 percent. If you are making millions of dollars, 3 percent is a huge amount of money. I mean cash in the pockets of the richest people, and everybody`s going to know about this. Why would they do it?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Again, it goes back to what Kimberly was just saying. The president is looking for a win. Republicans are looking for something they can take home and say, look, we promised we were going to do this and we`ve done it.
But, I mean, as we all know, in Washington the devil is in the details. They still announced the framework, and you mentioned some of the provisions, but when you start down the road of actually trying to secure the votes in both the House and the Senate to get this done, a lot of these things could change. These folks are so desperate for something, anything that they can pass both chambers and get to the president`s desk and signed before the New Year that we won`t know probably until the middle of the night what is actually in the final bill.
MATTHEWS: Let`s go to Rosie on this. Rosie Gray, what do you think? Why are they go into the valley of death politically? I don`t know how many votes -- they already have the votes of the very rich. Why are they going to make it so clear they`re going for the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent in the face of everybody else watching?
ROSIE GRAY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTIC: Well, look, the Republicans have had very few legislative accomplishments this year. The White House is desperate, like Jonathan was saying, for a win. And the fact of the matter is they just lost a Senate seat, making their majority even slimmer.
So, next year, it`s going to be harder for them to get stuff done, so I think they`re feeling a time crunch to get this tax bill through.
MATTHEWS: Well, a day after losing in Alabama, the Republicans in the U.S. Senate were forced to reflect on their loss. Here is what they said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: This isn`t a rebuke of conservative values or agendas. This is a rebuke of a candidate can. I think President Trump is right.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I mean, this is not a new phenomenon. Both political parties have divisions within the party, and it is important for -- in our case for us to nominate people who can win a general election, because that`s what it is all about.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: The people of Alabama, they had a difficult election choice before them.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, we -- we had a blemished candidate, everybody knows that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Kimberly, what do you make of the Republicans? There`s two kinds of Republicans, those who walk fast when they say they`re for the tax bill and ones who standstill when they`re for it, but they seem to be unanimously for this bill from what I can tell, except for Corker who is going home. He doesn`t count.
ATKINS: Right. I mean their reaction to the election is interesting. They`re all blaming Roy Moore on this squarely, but, remember, this is not the first election where the Republican was dealt a defeat. We have the gubernatorial race in Virginia and others that is starting to spell out that the new approach to elections, sort of appealing to white working class, you know, aggrieved people is not enough to win elections. It helped win the election for the president in 2016, but they`re going to have to bring more to the table to convince voters moving forward.
I still think it is a lesson to Democrats. I don`t think Democrats expected, for example, the black vote to turn out the way that it did last night in Alabama. Remember, even a year after 2016, Democrats don`t have a cohesive message. They better put one together quickly that not only reaches out to white middle class or working class folks but also doesn`t forget other core members of their base. I think both parties have a lot of work to do.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about that for a second. Jonathan, jump in here, your turn. The idea that you need a positive African-American candidate like Barack Obama for president is probably going to be elusive in many cycles, who really will be the nominee although it could happen again with Cory Booker. He looks very good coming out of this race yesterday. It seems to me there`s an incentive just to let people get a chance to vote against Trump. I get the feeling it is a powerful incentive to vote, just a totally negative voting opportunity, say no.
CAPEHART: Right, say no. I think the president makes it easy for Democrats to set up a stark contrast. It is not just being against President Trump, but you`re against President Trump as the person and who he is as he fills the office, the Oval Office. But it is against President Trump and what he`s proposing, and there are so many ways that Democrats can run against the president and what he`s proposing, what his agenda is, that allows people to see what the Democrats have to offer.
So I will differ with Kimberly in that I don`t think that the Democrats don`t have a message. I think that the Democrats do have a message. They have to figure out a much more effective way of getting it out there. I think we`ve seen in the gubernatorial races in Virginia in particular and the Senate race in Alabama that the message is getting through.
MATTHEWS: I`m with Kimberly, John.
Anyway, the round table is sticking with us.
And up next, three scoops you will be talking about tomorrow. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: I`m up in New York for a couple of events tonight. I`m attending the Robert F. Kennedy Foundations` Ribbon of Hope Gala. Then, I`m appearing later as a guest there on Comedy Central`s "The Opposition", to talk about my book, "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit". It`s up there in "The New York Times" best-seller list.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.
Kimberly, tell me something I don`t know.
ATKINS: So, today, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified before Congress. He defended Robert Mueller in front of some tough questions in front of Republicans. But I`m hearing that there are lawmakers on it both sides of the aisle that are concerned that President Trump might try to fire Robert Mueller. Republicans are trying to remind him not to reminding him of the calamity that ensued after Jim Comey and saying he wants this to move forward and end and not create another controversy.
CAPEHART: Chris, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida tells me the remains of the Sergeant LaDavid Johnson who was killed in that ambush in Niger, the additional remains that the Pentagon found were his teeth.
MATTHEWS: What`s that tell you? Horrible.
GRAY: Well, you might know this but I think a key in Alabama that`s been overlooked a little bit is the Democrats did not even run a candidate against Jeff Sessions in 2014 for the seat that`s now been won by Doug Jones. It just sort of goes to show that, you know, if you don`t compete, you can`t win, and I think that`s sort of key lessons for the Democrats going into next year.
MATTHEWS: I didn`t know that. Thank you so much, Kimberley Atkins, Jonathan Capehart and Rosie Gray.
When we return, let me finish tonight with that wondrous picture we saw last night from Alabama. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with that wonderful picture we saw last night from Alabama. There up on that platform was the happy team celebrating Doug Jones`s victory in the race for U.S. Senate. You saw Jones and Congresswoman Terri Sewell. It showed the Democratic coalition of white and black that has won elections in the past and could reel do it again in 2018 and in 2020.
The fact is Doug Jones owes his victory to a balance of African-American and white votes. He couldn`t have won without both, couldn`t have beat the all white Republican party that`s been dominating state politics down there for decades. This means that tribal politics, Donald Trump politics is beatable. It means we can find decent candidates to defeat indecent ones. As Thomas Friedman wrote in "The New York Times" today, in the past moments of raw tribal, cultural divisions, our system has always been able to summon our better angels and pull us together to rise to the challenges of the day.
Well, this is what Robert Kennedy hoped to do before he was killed in `68. He spoke of all of us working together. He said we are great country and an unselfish country. What made him so unique then and now is that he felt the same empathy for white working men and women that he felt for blacks and Latinos. They were the people who lined the railway tracks when he was carried south from New York, down to Arlington cemetery to join his brother.
It`s the spirit of "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit" which I am urging you to get for this Christmas, this holiday season. The perfect gift, I believe the best tonic for a challenging time politically, one that has just gotten to look just a little bit better in the last 24 hours.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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.