Show: HARDBALL Date: December 18, 2017 Guest: Margaret Carlson, Leonard Lance, Charlie Dent, Shannon Pettypiece, Nayyera Haq
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: If you want to come to our Facebook page, facebook.com/thebeatwithair or email if you don`t like Facebook, ari@MSNBC.com and you want a pen and you tell us, we will give it away. We have been doing that for some viewers. I will show you those later in the week.
"Hardball" starts. Now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump attacks justice. Let`s play "Hardball."
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
As the Trump Russia probe into potential collusion gets closer to the White House, Trump`s defenders and allies have escalated their attacks on the special counsel, the justice department itself, and the FBI. This line of attack ramped up with the news that a demoted FBI official exchanged partisan text messages with a colleague during the 2016 election.
And despite the fact that the official, Peter Strzok was removed from Robert Mueller`s team last summer, Trump allies are calling for a purge of the country`s top law enforcement institutions, even suggesting that the investigation itself represents a coup to disenfranchise Trump voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOU DOBBS, HOST, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK: I think it`s safe to say we now know we have the most corrupt FBI, the most corrupt justice department in our country`s history.
REP. MATT GAETS (R), FLORIDA: This bias is like an infection. It`s like an incurable cancer that is inoperable. And we have got to end this Mueller probe.
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: The only thing that remains is whether we have the fortitude to not just fire these people immediately but to take them out in cuffs.
MICHAEL CAPUTO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We are looking at this and we are seeing more and more that this is an attack on the presidency at levels we have never seen before.
JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR: We may now have proof the investigation was weaponized to destroy his presidency for partisan political purposes. And to disenfranchise millions of American voters. Now if that`s true, we have a coup on our hands in America.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, we know the talking points now, don`t we?
Amid that growing chorus, President Trump assured reporters on his return from Camp David yesterday that he is not thinking about - catch, this, I`m not thinking about firing the special counsel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you considering firing Mueller?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. What else? What? You surprised?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: However, as "the Washington Post" reports, President Trump may have his sights set on the man who has ultimately authority over the probe, ultimate authority, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
According to two advisers, Trump has complained that Rosenstein has shown insufficient accountability on the special counsel`s work. Furthermore, Trump has ranted about Rosenstein as a Democrat. One of his advisers said and characterized him as a threat to his presidency.
Rosenstein is actually a Republican. And the story notes that former president George W. Bush appointed him U.S. attorney in Maryland. Well, despite all this, a White House spokesperson tells "the Washington Post" that a shake-up at the department of justice is not on the way.
Simply, "the New York Times" is reporting that the President is frustrated with the attorney general Jeff Sessions and the FBI director, the new guy, Christopher Wray. Mr. Trump has said that Mr. Wray has not moved quickly enough to move the bureau of senior officials who are biased against Mr. Trump.
I`m joined right now by Ken Dilanian, investigative report with MSNBC News. Jennifer Rodgers, former federal prosecutor and John Heilemann, a national affairs analyst with NBC News and MSNBC.
I want to start with Ken about this. What is this? Is this is a build-up? Is this setting the table, shaping the battlefield for "Saturday Night Live" -- I`m sorry, a Saturday night massacre, not live, dead.
KEN DILANIAN, MSNBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE REPORT: I think it absolutely could be that, Chris. It`s also aimed at the audience of house Republicans who may be one day presented with evidence by Robert Mueller that amount to impeachable offenses, right. I mean, so there is clearly a coordinated campaign here. Some really remarkable to me. I didn`t think that it was possible to try to demonize a guy like Robert Mueller, a Republican, Vietnam combat veteran who has spent his life and service to this country, who took the helm of the FBI after 9/11 and made it a counterterrorism organization.
But that`s exactly what`s happening. Despite the fact that at the end of the day, the facts are what is going to matter here. The proof, I mean. Look, Ken Starr, the special counsel investigating Bill Clinton was demonized as a right wing Republican, which he was. But at the end of the day he proved that Bill Clinton lied under oath and that was without question.
So, you know, I`m not sure that this demonizing Robert Mueller in the investigation is going to matter in the end unless Trump actually goes through with a plan to either try to remove him or otherwise take action against him, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Jon, I want you join in this, purely political question. What about this use of the word coup, like coup d`‚tat. Like overthrowing an elected government. The Trump people are now saying that this whole thing, every Washington institution whether it`s the FBI, the press core, anybody, the court, everybody is out to kill the republic, basically get rid of the results of the 2016 election.
[19:05:05] JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. Look, it`s a much more flagrant kind of a language that`s designed to rile people up. Deep state is what they are talking about.
HEILEMANN: But deep state is not the kind of thing that inspires outrage and panic and insurrection. This language is dangerous. And you know, we have been around long enough to see what this kind of virulent anti- government language leads to. It leads to blowing up the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. This hopefully will not get there.
But that is what this is. It is - that`s the potential consequence of it. But the politics of it, I think to Ken`s point, I think it could be also consequential on the thing that where it is setting up Republicans, House Republicans if they maintain control of the House after the midterms.
They may be faced with an impeachment question. And if they have things to cling to, arguments to make to the Republican base that this has all been the fix has been against Donald Trump, as Kellyanne Conway said, that`s the kind of thing that you can imagine House Republicans who are taking up this language increasingly as if getting talking points directly from the White House. You can imagine him saying we can`t impeach him no matter what Mueller says because he has been this the bag from day one.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk Turkey. And when do you expect these results to come in from Mueller? Do you expect next year while the Democrats are still out of power or possibly in 2019 when they`re in power in the House?
HEILEMANN: I always thought this was going to be a long running investigation. And if you think about the history of these kinds of investigations, getting the kinds of plea deal he has gotten, the Flynn thing happening this late. The notion that this thing is going to come to a conclusion as some people around Trump seem to think over the course of the next few months, you know.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it would run through next year?
HEILEMANN: I think it could easily run through next year because there are things about the investigation that seem to be widening rather than narrowing.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jennifer. I mean, Jennifer Rogers, you know, you are a prosecutor. It seems to me that even criminals, you know, hard street criminal, they go to jail, they may rail against the system, but they don`t call the whole system corrupt. They don`t take on the government and say everything is -- it sounds like third world talk, the kind of situation where if you lose an election, it was corrupt. If somebody is prosecuted, it`s corrupt. Or it`s prosecutorial overkill where the guy loses the election so you put him in jail or hang him. I mean, that`s the language Trump is using now of a third world nation, I would say.
JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It is. I mean, you know, it is one thing to hear it on cable news from, you know, right wing pundits. It`s another thing to me when you have lawmakers and former law enforcement officials talking this way. It`s really irresponsible. I mean, talking about some sort of lawless uprising against the government when the people running this investigation and the people running these agencies that are now under attack are Trump`s people. These are Republicans. These are people that Trump and his people put into power. And there is not a shred of evidence that anything that Mueller in his investigation has done has been improper.
So to throw around words like corrupt and conflicts of interest and certainly coup, to me it`s irresponsible, especially from the people who have a legal background and really should know better in terms of what they are saying is not matching up at all with the law.
MATTHEWS: You know, I worked for years with Jeanine Pirro. We had her on our program all the time. And I always liked her book about, you know, some of these horrific cases about wife beating, if you will, and killing people and horrible domestic situations. And now she is saying things like they shouldn`t just be knocked out of power. They should be put up I handcuffs.
What would be the crime? I`m trying to imagine, what would be the crime that Mueller is guilty of or that Rosenstein is guilty of or any of the people prosecuting the President? What crime can she be talking about?
RODGERS: Right, exactly. So from the former Westchester County district attorney talking about taking Mueller and his team out in handcuffs, it`s just silly, right? It`s just for news. I mean, there is no way in the world there are any crimes anyone is talking about. You better believe that if anyone has any sense that Mueller on anyone his team had committed a crime, we would be hearing about it loud and clear. So it`s just rhetoric. The problem is it is dangerous rhetoric. And really, to me, someone like Jeanine Pirro and also the lawmakers really shouldn`t be saying things like this. They know better.
MATTHEWS: Let`s clear here. Amid looming threat that the President may try to end the federal investigation of him. There are signs the Republican-dominated investigation in the House of Representatives will soon come to an end.
Quote "senior Republicans on the House intelligence committee tell NBC News that they hope and expect to draw their year-long investigation to an end in the coming weeks, though Democrats say they have requested as many as 30 additional interviews with new witnesses, none have been scheduled beyond the end of the month."
Ken, what`s up with the House Republicans? Are they just willing to play ball for Trump to quash this investigation for his purposes?
DILANIAN: In a word, yes, Chris. This is great reporting by our colleague Mike Memory (ph) who actually, you know, went to the Hill and got in the faces of these guys and got them to say On the Record what we have long been hearing privately which is they want to wrap this thing up. And he confirm some behind the scene anecdotes that Republicans like Trey Gowdy were basically like helping some of the witnesses.
In one case, Jared Kushner who wanted to stay and answer some more questions from Democrats and Gowdy said, you know, you don`t have the stay because no matter because no matter what you say, they are still going to say you didn`t answer all the questions. So you might as well leave.
That kind of stuff infuriated Democrats behind the scenes. It`s very clear there is an incredible inconsolable partisan divide here. The Republicans want to wrap this up. The Democrats feel like there is about 30 witnesses they would still like to call, lots of documents they would like the get and they just don`t have the power to do it. So the Republicans are moving this train down the track, whether anybody likes it or not.
[19:10:23] MATTHEWS: Well, this barrage of attacks comes amid a new development in the Russian story.
NBC News reports that just after he received the nomination in the summer of 2016, catch this story, Donald Trump was warned, warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter." However quote "t`s unclear whether the warning about Russia was passed on to other campaign officials."
So back to you in Ken, and everybody on this, what do you make about the fact that Trump got a warning not to engage himself with the Russians? Be careful, they are coming to deal with you.
DILANIAN: Well, I think this really undermines the defense that we have been hearing all along about the Trump campaign`s contacts with Russians which is hey, these guys are political novices. They didn`t really understand that, you know, it`s not normally done. That, you know, campaigns don`t meet with Russians or foreign adversaries.
Well, somewhere along the way, Donald Trump was told, was put on notice by the FBI that yes, there was a threat here, that these people want to spy on your campaign, want to infiltrate, want to recruit your people and you should watch out for it.
Now, we don`t know is the specificity of those warnings. And we don`t what if anything Donald Trump did about it. But we do know there is no evidence that anybody ever reported any of these contacts, including that Trump tower meeting that his son hosted with the Russians to the FBI. And we know that meetings happened after this FBI counterintelligence briefing, and you know, including an exchange between Don Jr. and WikiLeaks. And then Jeff Session went and met with the Russian ambassador. And then of course, during the transition you had Mike Flynn meeting with the Russian ambassador talking about sanctions and allegedly lying about it. So the briefing did not seem to have the desired effect, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Jennifer, I want to hear your thoughts on this. Because does ignorance of the law even count? I assume it doesn`t with all these people.
Carter Page, some of these people you wonder if they know anything. And Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, he is a wealthy young guy. He knows nothing about the world. And then you have the other guy, Eric Jr. -- I mean Don Jr. and Eric. They are out there engaging in worldwide global diplomacy with one of our adversaries, Russia, acting like they are going to the baseball game for the weekend. Are they in trouble for just being dingbats? Is that going to protect them?
RODGERS: Well, no, typically not. Ignorance of the law is no excuse as the saying goes. And that actually the law. But you know, here we even have ignorance of the facts. I mean, I think another thing that`s interesting about this notion of this briefing is that not only, you know, it is like Ken said, but Trump maintained from the beginning that there were no contacts. That there was no effort.
So you know, I mean, yet again here is another piece of evidence on the pile of there were so many contacts with the Russians, and he could expect that that was going to happen. And you know, we never heard a word of it from him when he started getting asked about the Russians and, you know, were there contacts and what contact there were.
MATTHEWS: You know, I want to talk to John and everybody jump here. I think there is a big fight going on. It`s starting right now. It`s a battle between the Trump people who believe that they can hold 30 to 40 percent of the country on their side in a battle against not just the liberal press, if you will, or the media, even that, but against all institutions -- the courts, the FBI, everything. Even moderate Republicans. The Republican Party establishment. They think they can blow out, they can just blow all that stuff out and survive. That seems like a pretty big fight historically.
HEILEMANN: Well, it`s a pretty big fight. They have a lot of evidence to work with that they have so far. And throughout the history of the Trump campaign and now into his presidency, there have been people like you, people like me who said well, there has to be a breaking point with the Republican establishment.
HEILEMANN: With moderate Republicans, whatever that means in our world today. And there hasn`t been. I mean, Trump has been able to basically hold the loyalty of most of his congressional Republicans, who might privately say terrible things about them. Many of them do. But you look up Bob Corker, you know, turns around.
MATTHEWS: Look at that guy.
HEILEMANN: After saying the Trump -- essentially Trump`s not fit for office and he would never vote for a tax plan that increases a dime of the deficit, he comes out over the weekend and votes for the Trump tax plan.
And I used that just as example of someone who would couple of weeks ago people were painting him as a profile in courage. The Republicans have stayed loyal to Trump. They have held their nose throughout. And I think that that`s one of the thing that give that fuels this notion in Trump`s immediate orbit that they can win because the press is always going to be the liberal media in quotes, is always going to be a whipping boy for Republicans and for him.
But even the places where you would need to have a break, those key elements of the Republican Party, every time they have stress tested it, the Republicans have stuck with them. So they are encouraged that they won`t leave him.
MATTHEWS: Well, the tax bill, looks like they are aboard. When I watch that cross with that (INAUDIBLE), that baseball cap, one in the attitude and the strut, I do not see an elected leader of a republic. He is one, but he doesn`t act like one.
HEILEMANN: He is one. And I`ll just say just to bring this conversation back to the Russia topic where we were a second ago. I was astonished to see today on CNN Jim Clapper, you know, the one of the longest standing people in the intelligence community of 50 years of experience, essentially calling the President a Russian asset today. He came out and said about Vladimir Putin, he knows how to handle an asset, and that`s what he has been doing with the President. That`s an extraordinary thing. Put aside the baseball half.
[19:15:26] MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Robert Mueller`s goal in life is to find out if that`s true.
Thank you, Ken Dilanian, it`s always great to work with a pro. And Jennifer, it is so great to have you on the show with your expertise and John Heilemann, my friend.
Coming up, after Virginia and Alabama, Democrats are revved up for 2018. They have got a real shot. Look at these numbers we are going to show you at winning control both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Our new polling points to a blue wave that may be ripping across the country. And that`s ahead. Lots of good numbers for Democrats watching.
Plus, the Trump tower tax cut. That`s what we call it. It`s on its way to passage, even though it raises taxes on the middle class, raises them, cuts taxes for the very wealthy, and doesn`t simplify. No this thing about we are going to be able to do our taxes on a postcard. Forget about it. Forget about it. No wonder half the country thinks the bill is going the raise their taxes.
And in his America first speech today on national security strategy, Donald Trump called Russia and China our rival powers. But this is tough talk match his action? We are going to get to that with the "Hardball" round table. What do you hear? The main elements of his strategy for the world.
Let my finish tonight with Trump watch. You will not like this one, but it`s right. It`s right to say.
This is "Hardball," where the action is.
[19:17:39] MATTHEWS: Well, Senator John McCain is back home in Arizona. And he will miss the Senate tax vote expected in the next few days. Senator McCain plans to undergo physical therapy while spending Christmas at home with his families.
By the way, last week McCain spent at Walter Reed Hospital medical center getting treatment for the side effects of his cancer treatment. The side effects are very tough. His doctor says he is responding positively to the treatment. McCain`s office adds that he looks forward to returning to Washington come January. I hope so.
And we will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll has very some good news for Democrats ahead of next year`s congressional elections. Catch this. Fifty percent of registered voter says they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress. Only 39 percent say they want Republicans running the Congress. That`s the biggest lead for Democrats since September of 2008, of course, right before Obama got elected president.
Also in the poll, 59 percent of Democrats say they have a high level of interest in the campaign -- in the election, rather. Among Republicans, that number is down to 49. A lot more Democrats want to show up.
By the way, people voted for Hillary Clinton, 62 percent can`t wait for this election. Only 50 percent of the Trump voters are looking forward to it. Big difference in intensity.
According to "The Washington Post," the White House is planning a full- throttle campaign to plunge the president into the midterm elections -- quote -- "The president has told advisers that he wants to travel extensively and hold rallies, and he is looking forward to spending much of 2018 campaigning."
Well, today he pushed back on the doom-and-gloom narrative -- quote -- "Remember, Republicans are 5-0 in congressional races this year." This is Trump. "The media refuses to mention this. I said Gillespie and Moore would lose."
MATTHEWS: "And they did. I also predicted I would win. Republicans will do well in 2018," he said, "very well."
Well, the president is leaving out the fact that he endorsed Gillespie and Moore, and they both lost. We all know that. He doesn`t.
For more, I`m joined by Daily Beast columnist Margaret Carlson and "New York Times" columnist Bret Stephens.
Thank you, all.
Let me start with Margaret.
It seems to me that midterm elections are never good news for any White House. This time, I have a sense there is a lot of rematch mentality going on, if not revenge, from the Hillary voters especially.
MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. They`re rethinking their choices.
And, you know, the blue wave is going to take place I think among women and in the suburbs.
MATTHEWS: The millennials.
CARLSON: And millennials.
MATTHEWS: The young people. Right.
CARLSON: You still have to put a face with this generic desire for a Democratic-controlled Congress. And coming up with good candidates is always hard.
I want to mention the Nassau County election that just took place in November. It`s never had a woman, hasn`t had a Democrat for four decades. A woman who ran for the school board and won, ran for county supervisor and won, but not a big name, went against the Republican machine and won that.
Nassau is the 14 -- is larger than 13 other states. And, by the way, this candidate is Laura Curran.
MATTHEWS: "Great Gatsby" country.
Yes, it is. There are working-class parts. But it is a Republican place. And she won there. And I think that`s what we`re going to see. We`re going to see these places that have been traditionally Republican, and we`re going to see a lot of women running.
MATTHEWS: And that is exactly what happened in Delaware County, one of the most Republican counties historically in Pennsylvania.
Let me go to Bret Stephens on this.
Look at these numbers. Women, 20 percent spread for the Democrats. A 20 percent edge among women. A 48 percent -- 48 difference. Republicans are running 21 percent among people under 35, and Democrats 69 percent. I have never seen a spread like that in any age group. What is that about?
Can you figure that? The kid army out there waiting for Democrats.
BRET STEPHENS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, maybe.
But, look, I think viewers should be cautioned not to read too much into these polls. First of all, we`re still 11 months out from the midterms. A few other numbers the Democrats should be worried about, 4.1 percent, that`s the unemployment rate; 24 percent is the jump in the Dow in the first -- in the last year.
And, you know, look, this election is going to go one two of ways, Chris. Either it`s going to be 1994, big wave election against an incumbent president who had made himself suddenly unpopular. But the alternative is, it`s going to be 1998, scandal-ridden president, half the country wants to impeach him.
There is a moral fervor. There is a sense that he has behaved very badly towards women. That was the year Clinton was facing charges with respect to Monica Lewinsky. And at the end of the day, the Democrats still ended up with, I think, four or five seats in Congress, exceeding expectations.
So, in many of these cases, economy trumps morality. Just beware.
MATTHEWS: OK, Margaret. It seems to me there is a difference between -- the Democrats back then said personal life doesn`t matter. That was the move on argument. Now it`s the other party`s idea. They say that now.
But the Trump probe compared to Monica, it`s hard to say that the Trump -- the probe of Russia is not relevant to our national security, that another country invaded us basically politically.
CARLSON: Right, and that he doesn`t care about it. And he still doesn`t care about it. And the president is still not going to do anything about it. It never comes up. There is no study going on within the Trump administration.
But you have MeToo. Plus, you have Russia. Plus, you have an administration that doesn`t really govern. There is not a lot of governing going on, except to dismantle rules and regulations.
One thing you had to give to Clinton, all through that awful Monica business, was he kept governing.
MATTHEWS: Well, he was able to live in a very compartmentalized world.
CARLSON: He did.
MATTHEWS: Let me get back to Bret on this, because you said something that might be true, may not be, which is a good argument to have.
If you get -- the market keeps going up, the Dow keeps rising, people`s 401(k)s keep getting better, people with wealth and equity in stock keep getting wealthier, but how much does that affect the average person`s salary and the money that comes to the person making $70,000 a year, for example, for a family? Are they better off?
STEPHENS: Well, look, that`s obviously the proverbial $64,000 question, because while you have had kind of good top-line figures, you have had stagnant wage growth.
STEPHENS: And if that continues to be the case, then that`s problematic.
On the other hand, it`s the people who have been hardest hit by stagnant wages that have been most emphatic in their support for Trump. And I don`t see that voting bloc moving.
I`m not trying to make -- what I`m trying to make an argument here for is not putting -- making the wish the proverbial father of the thought.
Democrats need to be a party that`s about more than just being opposed to a temperamentally and intellectually unfit president.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I`m saying.
STEPHENS: They have to be a party that stands for things and communicates those things very clearly to voters before next November.
MATTHEWS: I think you can be both, Margaret.
I`m afraid I agree with Bret. I think that what unites the Democrats today is contempt for Trump, because he has contempt for the country.
CARLSON: But, also, we know from every survey that`s been taken of the people that are going to get the tax break, corporations and the top 1 percent, that they`re not planning to spend it on raising wages. They`re planning to spend it on dividends or reinvestment.
And to Bret`s $64,000 question, we do have the answer, that trickle down, it never trickles down.
MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going to get to that right in the next segment.
Bret, it`s great have you on, as always, Margaret, as always, my friend for a thousand years. Thank you so much. I mean, a long time, many decades.
Up next, we`re going to look at the Republicans` false claims about the Trump Tower tax cut, because it is for people like him. It helps the rich. It hurts the middle class and it doesn`t make the tax code any simpler. You`re not going to get a postcard tax form. No. Trump is not delivering on that. It`s going to be complicated. And when you figure it out, you`re going to learn that you lose.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger with breaking news.
At least three people were killed and dozens injured when an Amtrak train derailed from a highway overpass in Washington state.
NBC News` Jim Forman has a live update from the scene.
JIM FORMAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That`s right.
I just talked with the chief of the Washington State Patrol. They tell us now that three people are confirmed dead. The fire chief here tells me that they have now searched the entire train, and they do not expect to find anyone else dead on the scene here.
However, some of those who have been transported, 100 transported to area hospitals, some of those are in critical condition. At this point, investigators really have no clue. There is nothing jumping out at them as to why all of the sudden this inaugural run of this train that was supposed to bring East Coast Acela-style high-speed rail to the West Coast derailed just after it left Tacoma, Washington on what was a very, very big day for this project that`s been years in the making.
The NTSB is on the way. The coroner says their job here is done.
I`m Jim Forman -- now back to you.
REHBERGER: Jim, thank you -- back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My whole life, I have been greedy, greedy, greedy. I grabbed all the money I could get. I`m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States. I want to grab all that money. I`m going to be greedy for the United States.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: 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.
In all fairness, this is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. Believe me, this is not good for me. Me, it`s not so -- I have some very wealthy friends. Not so happy with me. But that`s OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: P.T. Barnum at work.
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That`s Donald Trump campaigning as a man of the people. But the couple Republican tax bill shows he is focused on boosting America`s elite.
Late this evening, Republicans in the Senate locked up enough votes to pass a tax plan that a majority of Americans disapprove. The House of Representatives is set to vote on the bill tomorrow. The bill will then head to the Senate for passage. Looks like it`s done.
According to a new Monmouth University poll, 47 percent of American disapprove of the tax reform bill. They`re up against it -- 2-1, they don`t like it. The poll also says half Americans believe their own taxes are going up because of this bill.
And according to "The Washington Post," the groups that get the most out of the bill are major corporations and America`s top earners, who will see their rates slashed. President Trump`s own family stands to gain a lot over this bill, which would extend tax breaks for corporate real estate ventures in particular, and would double estate tax exemptions.
And despite Republican promises, catch this, it does not simplify the task of -- forget about the postcard return. The bill will also get rid of Obamacare`s individual mandate, which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will increase premiums and leave 13 million Americans without health care insurance by that one provision.
For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Leonard Lance, Republican from Jersey -- that`s New Jersey -- and Congressman Charlie Dent, Republican from Pennsylvania.
So, Congressman Lance, where are you on this bill? You`re going to have to vote.
REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I`m voting no tomorrow. I want retention of the deductibility of state and local taxes in their entirety.
MATTHEWS: So you`re voting blue state?
LANCE: I`m voting New Jersey.
MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s right.
So, why do you think Trump is going after states like New York, New Jersey, California? Why did he pick them out? Do you think it has to do with the fact they voted against him in the last election?
LANCE: No, Chris, I think this is coming out of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. And, unfortunately, there are no United States senators from these states.
And many of my colleagues are from the South and the Rocky Mountain West.
MATTHEWS: No Republican senators, yes.
LANCE: No Republican senators. And I can understand the perspective of other states. But New Jersey is a sending state, not a receiving state. And I think that has to be taken into consideration.
MATTHEWS: Right. In other words, you send more to Washington than you get back.
Mr. Dent, let me ask you about your vote, because I`m kind of interested in your vote. You`re giving up the Congress, but you`re voting pro-business, aren`t you?
REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, yes. I`m leaning yes. I`m still reviewing the bill.
MATTHEWS: The top rate goes from 39.6 down to 37. That`s a huge bundle of money for wealthy people. If you make in the millions, these are $100,000 for every million bucks you make tax cut, just right like that. So, if you`re making a lot of money, it`s $100,000 per million.
These people make a lot of money in the tax cut here because of Trump.
DENT: Yes, I think part of the reason why that was put in, I was -- I would have preferred keeping it at the higher rate. But I think part of the reason was, was because of the state and local tax deductions. They wanted to give some benefit to those who were...
MATTHEWS: Why would you vote to double the exemption for estate tax, so that somebody can give $22 million without paying any estate tax? That`s a lot of money.
DENT: Well, you may remember a few years ago the fiscal cliff. We took it up to the current exemption level, about $5.5 million and $10.5 million for...
MATTHEWS: Per person.
DENT: Per person. Correct.
And we did that because we wanted to protect a number of family farms and family businesses. Now, taking it up to 20, that should protect most family farms and family businesses.
MATTHEWS: Is that the purpose of this thing?
DENT: Yes. I think this is better than repealing it outright.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s put this together bill, a little Christmas gift to the wealthy.
The corporate tax goes down from 35 to 20. That`s a lot more reserved -- a lot more money they keep in the corporations in their till.
MATTHEWS: OK. Then you have got -- OK, 21 -- 35 to 21. That`s the cut.
Then you take down the top rate down from 39.6 down to 37. Then you get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax. Then you get rid of -- you double the exemption for estates.
If you`re making a loft money, you get breaks everywhere in this thing, maybe not with the tax deduction for the state and local. But everywhere else, you`re making a bundle.
LANCE: I do think that certainly those who pay the most will benefit the most.
I also do favor, however, Chris, doubling the standard deduction. And that will help quite a few Americans. On balance, I`m not voting for it. But I do think doubling the standard deduction will be helpful to many Americans.
MATTHEWS: Well, Republicans are getting some serious pushback over a last- minute change they inserted into their tax plan.
News of the change was uncovered by "International Business Times" over the weekend, which reported -- quote -- "The new provision was not in the bill passed by the House or the Senate. Instead, it was inserted into the final bill during reconciliation negotiations between Republicans and both chambers."
The last-minute tweak would supply tax breaks to companies based on investments in, guess what, real estate.
The number two Republican in the Senate, Senator John Cornyn from Texas, was asked about the change during his interview on ABC News. Let`s watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: So, picking out one piece in a 1,000-page bill and saying, well, this is going to benefit somebody, I just think that takes a whole bill out of context.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Well, but except that this provision wasn`t included in either the House or Senate bill. It apparently was added at the last minute. Why was that done?
CORNYN: We were working very hard. It was a very intense process. As I said, the Democrats refused to participate. And what we have tried to do is cobble together the votes we needed to get this bill passed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK, pure political expediency. The change would be a multimillion-dollar tax windfall for real estate investigators like President Trump, his children and several members of Congress.
You know, when the Senate doesn`t pass something, Congressman Dent, and the House doesn`t pass it, how are the people involved? How does this come out of a meeting between the House and the Senate and say, why don`t we give a little break to the real estate industry, and then we can get a couple more votes out of this?
That`s what he just said, John Cornyn. The top whip for the Senate said, the reason we`re putting this in is to help pull together enough votes to get it passed in both houses.
But it wasn`t passed in either house. The public, their representatives, never voted for this thing, and yet it`s being thrown in over the weekend. Is that democratic government, Congressman Dent?
DENT: Well, it`s certainly not idea.
MATTHEWS: It is government by the people?
DENT: Well, I will tell you, as I understand that provision -- I just left the meeting to discuss that provision.
MATTHEWS: Well, why is getting thrown it in over the weekend when nobody is watching and just before the bill is vote on? So, it doesn`t come from the people.
DENT: I understand.
And I will tell you, I think part of what that was is a provision that dealt with real estate investment in industrial parks, because the pass- through -- the pass-through provisions of this bill are very complex.
DENT: And most of the benefits are going to be accrued to companies that invest in capital that are manufacturing enterprises.
MATTHEWS: So, some lobbyist parachuted into the conference room and pushed it?
DENT: Well, I`m not sure who parachuted in. But there was a -- but I understand.
MATTHEWS: I know how it works.
Congressman, you think this is a nice piece of legislation?
LANCE: I`m voting no tomorrow, Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, sir.
U.S. Congressman Leonard Lance voting New Jersey, and Congressman Charlie Dent voted for the bill.
Up next: President Trump makes an America-first speech about national security. And he blamed his predecessors, of course. But does this talk match his actions? It`s a pretty interesting speech that has nothing to do with Trump.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To seize the opportunities of the future, we must first understand the failures of the past. For many years, our citizens watched as Washington politicians presided over one disappointment after another. Our leaders drifted from American principles. They lost sight of America`s destiny, and they lost their belief in American greatness. With every decision and every action, we are now putting America first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump today blaming the failures of past leadership on national security strategy. While his remarks centered on his America first policy, his scripted rhetoric didn`t sound very different from the strategies of his predecessors. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Our ability to live in freedom. We`re fighting for the cause of humanity against those who seek to impose the darkness of tyranny and terror upon the entire world.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. This is our strategy to destroy ISIL. It is designed and supported by our military commanders and counterterrorism experts together with 65 countries that have joined an American-led coalition.
TRUMP: Our strategy emphasizes strengthening alliances to cope with these threats. It recognizes that our strength is magnified by allies who share principles. We will not allow inflexible ideology to become an obsolete and obstacle to peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: All right. Well, let`s bring in HARDBALL`s -- tonight`s HARDBALL round table.
Vivian Salama is national political reporter for NBC News, and Shannon Pettypiece is White House reporter from Bloomberg News, and Nayyera Haq is a former State Department senior adviser for President Obama.
So, I want your takes one at a time. What did you make of it? Is it Trumpian or is it standard stuff?
VIVIAN SALAMA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It was extremely Trumpian. And the thing is, is that it`s quite different from the actual text the national security strategy which is a lot more moderate in tone.
The speech today was very much his trademarks. A lot of his go-to that we want a wall, we need to protect our borders, et cetera, and while the strategy does --
MATTHEWS: -- are the Mexicans?
SALAMA: Well, I mean, that`s one of his biggest campaign promises and he is trying to still assert that. It does come in the strategy, but not the same rhetoric, the same tone that Trump used in the speech today.
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes, I definitely would agree with you on the differences between the text, the 60-some page document that was put out, and the speech. I would just point out one example of Russia. The text of the strategy is, you know, very strict on Russia. It calls them out for the cyber actions. It calls them out for trolls and fake Internet personas. It calls them out as a threat to democracy.
And yet in the speech, Trump spent most of his time talking about the great relationship he has with Putin and how they thanked each other and how they`re helping each other and working together.
So, I was very struck when I read the text and then watched the speech to hear those two different things.
MATTHEWS: Nayyera, there is the question here that looms. Did he read this thing he put out, this multipage document because it doesn`t square with the words he spoke? I would think he would at least breeze through it at once.
NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SENIOR DIRECTOR: Well, he certainly had a heavy hand in the cover page.
MATTHEWS: A summary.
HAQ: That sounds exactly like the Donald Trump we have all seen on the campaign trail and have seen on Twitter, a very bleak view of the United States` place in the world right now, where we`re the victims of economic aggression, we`re part of a failing economic and world order.
But the rest of the text is clearly written by staff who are hoping to have some kind of consistency in U.S. foreign policy. And the theory that it might help our allies. They actually even talk about maintaining relationships with allies while Donald Trump in his own speech, in his own efforts has been undermining that in the State Department.
MATTHEWS: So, you`re a former world leader. You worked at state. You know all this stuff. I mean it. What does somebody over in England or somebody in Germany or someone in Afghanistan when they read the president`s speech on "Reuters" or whatever, Agence France Presse, and then they read this document. Which do they go with?
HAQ: They`re absolutely going to go with what the president says. They will go with an errant tweet over anything that`s written in this strategy. And that`s the unfortunate thing that`s been clearly a lot of thought put into it to get it out in the first year, which is a big deal. Usually, Obama and Bush did not get it out so early.
MATTHEWS: Enough intellectualism, I`m going to go that way when I think of Trump. He moves the embassy. He says he`s going to move the embassy, which is not he`s going to do.
He`s already started the third intifada. A lot of people are going to -- it`s not going to stop. My belief is it`s going grow and grow and grow, this trouble over here. The Arabs hate, because they do have a dream of having East Jerusalem as their capital of the Palestinian state. They want that. They have been always sort of teased with it.
You know, everything else he does, it just looks like, you know, I can`t even start. The Paris accord, dropping that. You know, he just seems to knock everything. Everything the world was trying to get together on, and he is also pretty much pro-Brexit. He wants to blow up that thing over in Europe. He seems to want anything that makes sense.
HAQ: He has taken a foreign policy document and made it entirely about delivering to his base. There is nothing really in his activity and his action that plays well for the outside world and shows that he is willing to support or work with other people.
MATTHEWS: It looks like trouble.
Anyway, the round table is sticking with us. And up next, three scoops are coming our way. We`ll be talking about tomorrow. Don`t you think? I know it.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Remember that Trump nominee for judgeship who couldn`t answer basic questions of the law? Well, he has withdrawn his nominations to the federal bench. His name is Matthew Petersen. He admitted in his confirm nation hearing last week he never tried a case, and he couldn`t answer questions from Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.
Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Have you ever tried a jury trial?
MATTHEW SPENCER PETERSEN, DISTRICT COURT JUDGE NOMINEE: I have not.
KENNEDY: State or federal court?
PETERSEN: I have not.
KENNEDY: Do you know what a motion in limine is?
PETERSEN: Yes. I haven`t -- I`m, again -- my background is not in litigation.
KENNEDY: Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is?
PETERSEN: I`ve heard of it, but, I -- again --
KENNEDY: How about the Pullman abstention doctrine?
PETERSEN: I --
KENNEDY: You`ll see that a lot in federal court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It reminds me of Gary Johnson`s answers when I asked if he admired any world leader. He couldn`t name one. That tape went viral, of course, with Petersen calling it a distraction in his resignation letter to the president. It was the only attraction. We`ll be back after this.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.
Vivian, you`re first. Tell me something I don`t know.
SALAMA: Well, since we`re all dressed for holidays, I want to talk Christmas. So, 98 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, according to a new Pew Research survey. But the role of religion is declining in the holiday. More people are actually --
MATTHEWS: They`re cynical.
SALAMA: -- more people are talking about the cultural aspect of it instead of religion. In fact, it`s down to 46 percent who say they celebrate for religion versus 51 in 2013. Millennials less likely.
MATTHEWS: I sense that`s true.
PETTYPIECE: One thing that has been overlooked in this national security strategy is the absence of climate change in there. And climate change is a national security issue. And that probably shouldn`t be a surprise given this administration`s stance on climate change and the Paris climate agreement.
But General Mattis has come out and said he believes national security is dependent on climate change. And the Pentagon and the Defense Department have been looking into it. So, it is a definite shift that this is no longer a priority.
MATTHEWS: How does it work? What is the national security aspect impact?
PETTYPIECE: Everything from bases, making sure that they`re not on islands that are going to be underwater, famine, drought, and how that could shift the power dynamics in different regions. Even infectious disease and how it could spread differently in climate change.
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you.
HAQ: Stunning article in "The New York Times" over the weekend about the use of Trump as a racial divisive epithet. There is a story out there about how in several small towns across America, as you have high school students, white suburbia, inner city students playing against each other, you start hearing chants of "Trump, Trump, Trump" as if that is evidence of the racial divide we have in this country.
MATTHEWS: So, the African-American countries hold it against the white suburbs who are voting for the guy? Is that it?
HAQ: Well, actually, it`s more the other way. It`s Trump is going to send you home. Trump will take care of this problem.
MATTHEWS: What? White kids are doing it?
HAQ: Yes, and that has been -- instead of the full sentence, it now comes down to just chants of Trump as symbolizing that`s kind of divide --
MATTHEWS: Like your father is going to work for my father, that kind of stuff.
HAQ: Yes, and there`s -- I don`t think anybody ever did that with Lincoln.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I don`t think so. Thank you, Vivian Salama, Shannon Pettypiece and Nayyera Haq.
This is one of our best so far, the ideas here. When we return -- I mean it.
When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Trump watch. Monday, December 18th, 2017.
I think what will save the country in the coming months are the same American institutions that saved us during the final months of Richard Nixon.
First, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There is a reason why President Trump`s first step to establish unquestioned power in this country was to fire the FBI director. It`s the same reason why Richard Nixon tried to quash the FBI investigation of the Watergate break-in. That effort that formed the smoking gun, the White House audiotape that cost Nixon the presidency.
Robert Mueller was a long-time director of the FBI. I sense, though I can`t prove it, that it was Trump`s firing of FBI Director Comey that led him, Mueller, to accept the position of special counsel. Institutions have pride. People are proud to associate with them and dedicate their lives to them like the FBI.
Second, honest politicians. I believe that the special counsel Mueller unearths hard evidence of presidential wrongdoing in the Russian probe, lawmakers like North Carolina`s Senator Richard Burr and Virginia`s Mark Warner will do the right thing. It was North Carolina`s Sam Ervin, after all, a conservative Democrat who spearheaded the Senate Watergate committee that drove the public verdict on Nixon.
Third, and obviously a free press. "The Washington Post" is famed for breaking the story of the Watergate cover-up, tracing the break-in all the way to the Oval Office. Today, the country`s major metropolitan newspapers, "The Times", "The Post" and "The Journal" are doing the same with the Russia probe.
In the end, it will be the quiet men and women who work in the city of Washington who despite the all the brickbats thrown against them will end up protecting this republic. They will do so not as participants in a coup, as a Trump ally just argued, but as people doing their jobs.
And that`s HARDBALL for now.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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