Show: HARDBALL Date: December 19, 2017 Guest: Joyce Vance, Carol Leonnig, Michael Steele; Catherine Rampell; Michael Bennet
[19:00:00] ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: That`s why investigators are looking at Jill Stein. It`s no surprise that the reaction to the Russian meddling is polarizing is polarizing. But it doesn`t matter whether the investigation goes right or left. These leads need to be run down. So if the committee is doing it, maybe that is a good thing.
That`s our show. "Hardball" starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Bad Santa. Let`s play "Hardball."
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington where it was a day of high drama at the capitol.
At this hour, we are awaiting a Senate vote on the Republican tax bill that could come at any time. The House voted this afternoon, passing the bill despite every Democrat opposing it, along with 12 Republicans.
Well, late today there was a wrinkle. House Republicans said they will slightly alter the bill and revote tomorrow to ensure it fits with Senate rules that allow it to pass with a simple majority. The Senate parliamentarian had rejected several provisions snug into the bill that aren`t budget related. They included, catch this, something on home schooling from Ted Cruz and a tax benefit for a college, guess where, in Mitch McConnell`s home state of Kentucky, earmarked just for that college.
Well, despite those snugs, it is expected to pass the Senate. Tonight, he tax bill slashes corporate tax rates. It also cuts individual tax rates though the wealthiest will disproportionately benefit. Today, Republicans celebrated in what amounts to the most sweeping tax overhaul in a generation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This is a day I`ve been looking forward to for a long time. We are about to achieve some really big things. Things that the cynics have scoffed at for years, decades even. Today, today we are giving the people of this country their money back. This is their money, after all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How big of a deal do you think today is for Republicans voting on tax reform?
REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: I think it`s gigantic. We think it`s a really big deal. We think it`s the right thing for the country. It will speed up growth. It will create jobs opportunity and it will lower the tax for American people. It is all great thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And this bill is deeply unpopular. Are you are sure that this is going to translate into a political win?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Total winner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is about cutting taxes for the American people and this bill does that. I feel very comfortable with that. And it`s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it will be a historic day for Americans from coast to coast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, this morning the President tweeted, stocks and the economy have a long way to go after the tax cut bill is totally understood and appreciated in scope and size. Immediate expensing will have a big impact. Biggest tax cuts and reform ever passed. Enjoy and create many beautiful jobs. That`s Trump talking.
Independent analysts say the wealthiest Americans will benefit the most from this bill. According to the nonpartisan tax policy center, if you are making under $25,000 a year, you get about a $60 tax cut, $60. For middle class Americans the average tax cut comes to just under $1,000. But if you`re one of the top one percent, making over $730,000, you are getting an average of $51,000 back with a lot more at the top. All-in, 65 percent of the bill`s benefits would go to the top 20 percent of earners in 2018.
And it`s worse when the bill`s temporary tax cuts expire. According to VOX, by 2027, more than half of all Americans, 53 percent, would pay more in taxes. And nearly 83 percent of the bill`s benefit would go to the top one percent.
For more on the dramatic day in Washington I`m joined by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. "Washington Post" columnist Catherine Rampell. And Republican national committee chair Michael Steele. Thank you very much for this.
Well, the Democrats, what is the feeling on the Senate side, senator? Are you feeling, my God, the Republicans are putting their head into the lion`s mouth? Why do they want to be hated by 99 percent of the country to benefit one percent?
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), FINANCE COMMITTEE: I think the feeling is -- you heard Paul Ryan say that he has been waiting for this for a long time. I think we all think he has been waiting from the first time he read at lag shrugged and that is what he is trying to put.
MATTHEWS: So it is ideology?
BENNET: It is totally ideology. It is a bill -- we could have had a bipartisan bill that lowered the corporate rate, maybe to 25 percent, cleared out some loopholes, increased the earned income tax credit or the child tax credit, and spent money on infrastructure. That could got (INAUDIBLE) votes tonight. Instead, we are passing a bill that is a radical Republican that bares no relationship between what their description of it is and what the President`s description of it and what is actually in the bill.
MATTHEWS: Catherine, you have written on this, tell us about this bill. It`s really a shift of wealth to the top as if the health at the top was any, you know, needier than anybody. What do you make of the fact that that seems to be shrouded in the way that Trump`s people understand this so far?
CATHERINE RAMPELL, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it is bizarre in that almost every talking point that Republicans have made about this legislation is false, right. It`s not going to primary benefit the middle class. It is not going to raise taxes on the rich. It`s not going to pay for itself. It`s not going to super charge growth and so on.
So the question becomes, if in fact this is such a great idea, why not sell it on the merits? Why not say, you know what? We think that rich people deserve to have fatter paychecks, deserve to be able to keep more of their investment earnings, their passive income, and just sell it on those measures alone? And instead they are just trying to hoodwink America.
I think for that -- I think because Americans are following this bill more closely than they might have otherwise, they are learning that a lot of these talking points are false. In fact, possibly all of them are false, and that`s part of the reason they don`t like the legislation.
[19:05:49] MATTHEWS: Well, the polls show the Republican tax bill is extremely unpopular in the country. The brand-new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll out tonight shows 41 percent disapprove, only 24 percent, less than one-quarter, like this bill. A Monmouth poll this week says an even bigger gap, 47 percent approve, while 26 percent disapprove. And a CNN polls how -- I think that`s wrong. I have to say they oppose the bill. I think that other on is wrong, the middle one. Those were opposed as well. Look at that, disapprove 47 percent, approved 26 percent. So all three polls, Michael, say that your party`s tax bill is against their interests.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Yes, and that`s a problem. And I don`t know how you go out to the country to Middle America and make the case when middle America - because remember, particularly with the last poll, 55 percent that includes Republicans. That`s not just Democrats and independents in that number. So clearly, there are enough people out there to the senator`s point who have been paying attention to this and trying to decide whether or not this does exactly what the leadership says it does, for me. And their conclusion so far is, it does not. And I think that`s going to be a problem when it comes to selling the bill.
MATTHEWS: Here`s a problem I have. I grew up with Republican parents who are modern Republicans, you know, (INAUDIBLE) Republicans. They weren`t well off. And they didn`t benefit from this Republican bounty for the very rich. Why do regular Republicans who are not rich, including the rural people who voted for Trump, cheering for a tax cut which goes to people that will they will never meet in their lives and maybe see in a movie somewhere or hear about on Wall Street. They will never meet these people. Why do they say, great work, Donald Trump? Keep giving money to the top one percent of one percent, people I will never be invited to their homes, never meet them on the street because they are not on the street. Why did they vote this way? Explain.
MATTHEWS: I`m not sure I can explain that. I can tell you that consistent with your polling, the Republicans in Colorado, a lot of them hate this bill. And --
MATTHEWS: Yes. But they still are going to vote for Trump.
BENNET: Maybe not again. Because what he is saying is completely conflicts with what he said on the campaign trail.
Let me give you one example and I bet your mom and dad would have -- it would have driven them crazy. In this bill, the top 572,000 households, these people that make more than $1 million, they are getting $37 billion in this bill. Year after year after year. And we are not paying for it. We are borrowing that money. So your parents would look at that and say, wait a minute.
MATTHEWS: Where`s the fiscal responsibility of the Republican Party?
MATTHEWS: Since I was born I heard the good thing about the Republican Party, was looked out for debts. It wasn`t crazy in spending. And the Democrats were the bad guys. They didn`t care about the deficit.
STEELE: Look. I was on the campaign trail for almost 18 months in 2009 and 2010 talking about that very point, finding out there a lot of people who wanted to come to Congress on that very point, to cut the nation`s debt. To cut the nation`s deficit spending.
Remember the language. We weren`t - we are going to come to Washington, not spend one dollar more than we take in. We are not going to put a further burden on the backs of our kids and grandkids. And yet this is what this bill does. They had this trigger in here. They are saying in year 2025 when all these great tax cuts that middle class is getting goes away, that that future Congress and president is going to -- no we are going to make it permanent. Well, that`s going to add further money to the nation`s debt.
MATTHEWS: Well, I know. It is Billy Bob Thornton is now in the White House, bad Santa has taken over. Donald Trump --. Go ahead.
RAMPELL: I was going to say, remember you were asking about don`t Republicans care about deficit? I mean, this goes back over 30 years, the idea of the two Santa Claus, right? Democrats were the Santa Claus for spending. Giving out goodies to their constituents through the spending side. And Republicans were the Santa Claus of tax cuts. Both parties had their own form of giveaways to their own constituents.
MATTHEWS: Except for one modest difference. Democrats` idea of a goody was healthcare for kids.
MATTHEWS: They didn`t get healthcare -- it`s called C.H.I.P. and that is a program the Republicans are trying to kill.
BENNET: And if you add up $1.4 trillion, which is the projected deficit here, that represents a huge amount of money. If you are going to deficit spend that you could spent on, you know, treating people for opioids where we are losing 50,000 people a year -- Americans. You could fully train the 1,100 pilots that the air force --.
[19:10:10] MATTHEWS: How about trains that go over 35 miles an hour.
BENNET: How about that.
MATTHEWS: That would be a start. And blame the engineer but the trains ought to be able to go faster than 35 miles an hour.
BENNET: And the roads and bridges that your mom and dad and my parents built for us.
MATTHEWS: Well, Donald -- our pioneer parents, I think. I don`t know if I have any.
BENNET: Not that far back.
MATTHEWS: And we were immigrants from Ireland or somewhere.
Anyway, Donald Trump ran as a populist, promising to fight for the forgotten man. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are fighting for every American who believes government should serve the people, not the donors and not the special interests.
I want to save the middle class. You know, the middle class, the hedge fund guys didn`t build this country, these are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky. The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder. They are making a tremendous amount of money. They have to pay taxes. I want to lower the rates for the middle class.
I will never stop fighting for you against the Washington establishment.
I`m an outsider fighting for you. That`s what I`m doing.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
Tax reform will protect low income and middle income households, not the wealthy and well connected. They can call me all they want. It`s not going to help. I`m doing the right thing. And it`s not good for me, believe me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Catherine, you write a column, you have to write the truth. How does a guy get away by telling the not-truth? I mean, everything he said there, I`m going after Wall Street. Carry inches that could fully protected here. Everything is about the top, reducing it from 39 to 37, huge amounts of money at the top. Getting -- bringing the corporate rate down from 35 to 21. Basically getting rid of the estate tax altogether. I mean, getting rid of, admit in there, the tax that made companies pay at least something, at least 21 percent, and now everything he promised he lied about. I shouldn`t say lied. He mis-promised about. And it`s going the opposite direction. And the people are still cheering him. The people that were promised for what he is not doing are cheering that he is not doing it. Why are they cheering?
RAMPELL: Yes. Why are they cheering? I think it`s more of a performative thing. It is an expressive thing. They feel like his demeanor, his affect is simpatico, right, with them, with his voters. It doesn`t really matter what he does. It doesn`t matter what his policy actually looks like. And it`s not only on taxes, right. I mean, if you want to talk about ways in which he has forsaken the forgotten man, he has again forgotten the forgotten man. It`s on knee-capping the consumer financial protection bureau. It`s on rolling back protections for students who have been defrauded on student loans. It`s rolling back protections for people who might get black lung, for crying out loud, you know. He is supposed to be looking out for coal miners. And even in that case he is deregulating.
So there are so many policy frontiers on which he has let down his public. But you know what these policies are complicated. And beyond that, again, I think that they just feel like he gets them, he speaks for them, they don`t really care what he actually does in office, so long as he makes liberals angry.
MATTHEWS: He does not only make liberals angry, I, talking about me here. But he also makes your crowd, Michael, your crowd, you take this, right?
MATTHEWS: Why does every damn -- every darn Republican in the Senate say yes, sir? Because they have a different value system than Trump.
STEELE: Well, because they look back at their states and they see where the President is polling in their neighborhoods that they have got to go to over the Christmas break and next year and campaign. And right now, despite everything else that we may think and feel about what`s good, bad or ugly about this bill, those members know that that is polling 60 percent, 70 percent back in their states or in their districts it could be higher.
So that`s a political pressure that`s been brought to bear for a lot of these members as well which makes this much harder for them. If the pressure back at home was a lot less, if the numbers at home reflected what the national number is for Trump at 30-some percent, trust me, this would not be the bill you would see.
MATTHEWS: OK. I don`t trust it. But let me ask you, it seems --
STEELE: You have got to trust me.
MATTHEWS: The bill is to give money to the rich, who will give him back money to run TV come 2018 and 2020. They will pay for all the ads to tell the regular people that he is on their side. In other words the money will come from the people who gave them a big tax cut. And the money will be used to bamboozle the regular people. It seems like a perfect little system that works for Trump.
BENNET: And it has worked. And for some reason, whenever he is out there telling his tales, like he was in Missouri the other day, he gets away with it. I think the rest of us need to be explaining what is actually in this bill. And somebody asked me the other day, well, how could these guys vote against it? And I think Michael, your explanation is a very good one. I`m looking forward to going back to counties in Colorado where the President won 70 percent and 80 percent, and explaining why I voted against this bill. In fact, I would like to be able to go back and say I voted twice against this bill because it is so inconsistent with the fundamental promises that they made during his campaign.
[19:15:10] MATTHEWS: I hope your leadership like Schumer and Pelosi get the word out that this is a bank robbery of the average person. But we will see.
Anyway, thank you. Nuances are important here. This is the time for populist Democrats to make their noise.
Senator Michael Bennet, I don`t have to teach you guys. Sometimes I think I do. Michael Steele and Catherine Rampell, beautiful columns, thank you.
Coming up, what is going to happen when White House attorneys who want the Russia investigation wrapped and up quashed actually meet Mueller`s prosecutors who look like they have got a year or more to go? Mueller`s work is nowhere near done. We can tell that.
And that`s going to enrage Trump and his allies who have been bamboozled, there is my word again, into thinking this is over. This is the former director of national intelligence says Putin is using Trump as an intelligence asset, an asset of the Russians. That`s ahead.
Plus, Trump is pushing back against a report that he nearly pulled the nomination of Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch because Gorsuch criticized the President for attacking federal judges. Not the first time we have seen Trump test the loyalty of his nominees, but it might be one of the most damning.
And the Trump tower tax cut hands Democrats a silver plate issue, don`t you think, to run on next November. Can they do it? Can they win? Can they capitalize on a bad Santa tax cut? And how can Republicans defend a tax plan that helps the rich while hurting nearly everyone else?
Finally, the "Hardball" roundtable tonight with three big scoops you will be talking about for a while.
This is "Hardball" where the action is.
[19:17:38] MATTHEWS: Well, Democrats appear to have won a key local race in Virginia creating a 50/50 split in the statehouse delegates. Election officials in New Port News Virginia conducted a recount earlier today and determined that Democrats Shelley Simonds defeated Republican incumbent David Yancey by, catch this, a vote, one vote. So it proves your votes do matter. A three-judge panel must still certify the results and that is scheduled for some point tomorrow. This thing is moving with this victory Democrats have flipped 16 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. Two districts are still awaiting recounts.
And we will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Donald Trump`s legal team is set to meet with special counsel`s investigators later this week to discuss the status of the Russia probe. And while the president`s attorneys have fueled Trump`s hope that he will soon be exonerated, "The Washington Post" reports that there are few indications that that will actually happen.
Quote: "People familiar with the probe say that such assurances are unlikely and that the meeting could trigger a new, more contentious phase between the special counsel and a frustrated president."
Furthermore, "Members of Mueller`s team have told others they expect to be working through much of 2018 at a minimum."
That`s how I see it. This thing is going all through next year.
And this meeting comes after dozens of conservative lawmakers and TV personalities have escalated their attacks on the Mueller probe. New reporting shows that their strategy of discrediting the special counsel appears to have the blessing of Trump himself.
Quote: "A White House adviser said the president has enjoyed the attacks on Mueller. In recent weeks, he has spoken to a number of FOX News hosts, Republican lawmakers and others who have castigated Mueller`s team."
I`m joined right now by a co-author of that report in "The Post," Carol Leonnig of "The Washington Post." Joyce Vance is a former federal prosecutor. And Malcolm Nance, of course, is MSNBC terrorism and national security analyst.
Thank you, all.
Carol, thank you much for joining us.
When is this going to happen? Why do you -- first of all, tell us how you put together this story, a little bit about tradecraft. How do we know -- is Trump being told, don`t worry, be happy, you will be through this by Christmas, they`re folding their tents? Are they telling this to sort of keep him calm? Do they really believe it? Is this strategic, so that the country will feel, especially the Trump folks, that, oh, they`re just overdoing it, they`re on a fishing expedition?
How do you see the whole situation here?
CAROL LEONNIG, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So, without revealing too much tradecraft, Chris, I will just say that we have talked to people who have spoken with the president very recently.
And he has, in their mind, described himself as very sure that he will be exonerated. As you know from your own coverage and ours, he has said for the last several months there was no collusion, I had no participation with Russia, I did no business with Russia, I don`t know what this probe is about, and it`s a terrible shadow over my presidency.
And, indeed, very, very recently within the last few days, people who are with him were surprised that, even now, after one of his most senior advisers has pled guilty and is cooperating with Mueller`s probe, even now, the president has said he has no worries, his lawyers have told him he`s in the clear, and he should learn of some confirmation of that soon.
We obviously have different reporting that suggests, as is natural with a very large criminal probe, that this is going to go on for a long while.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Joyce on this.
It seems to me, Joyce -- I`m not a prosecutor or attorney, but it seems to me they have got their star witness now, Michael Flynn. They haven`t begun to put him under the microscope of testimony, public testimony, if they`re going to do that.
In terms of indictments of top people, they have really not gotten near the president yet. I don`t know why anyone would honestly believe that this thing`s coming to a head right now.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I don`t know why anyone would think that either, Chris. This investigation looks like it`s still fairly early. Prosecutors have only just finished their first round of interviews of key White House players, witnesses like Hope Hicks, whose interviews will probably lead to a lot more questions, a lot more lines of investigation.
We have learned this week prosecutors have this treasure trove of documents from GSA, transition team e-mails. We know that they also have financial records. That`s the lengthy core part of any investigation. It takes awhile to follow that paper trail.
And then, as you say, there`s still witnesses either to testify or defendants who will go to trial. A lot more work comes in that stage. And, finally, key witnesses at the top of the food chain, people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Pence, yet to be interviewed. The president himself, it`s unlikely that this investigation closes without an interview of him.
So these same lawyers who have been saying, it will be over on Thanksgiving, it will be over by Christmas, I think it`s equally likely that they`re wrong when they say it will be over end of the year, and this will go for at least an additional year.
MATTHEWS: Malcolm, it seems like we have got a Baghdad Bob situation of people saying, we`re winning, it`s over, the fight is over, we`re not going to be -- Saddam Hussein`s not going to fall.
Why are they saying something that will be -- I mean, Churchill once said, don`t say something that`s going to be disproven later, or you`re going to lose all your credibility.
MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, the question here is what they actually believe.
They live in sort of a hermetically sealed bubble, in which they actually believe this information. I mean, the president doesn`t consume information that is negative to him. He only consumes information which comes from trusted sources that he believes.
NANCE: And if his lawyers are telling him that this is going to be secured by the end of the year, it`s quite possible that he`s waiting for the House Intelligence Committee to do some cursory wrap-up and then call it all a victory.
I don`t think the Mueller investigation is going to finish, certainly not within a year. But some of the biggest hits of what could come potentially out of the Mueller investigation are going to come in the middle of next year, and it`s going to blind -- if that`s going to blindside the president, then he`s in very serious trouble.
MATTHEWS: Well, Carol, that`s a great question. It looks to me like if the president truly believes that they have exhausted all evidence, that they`re basically done, and then he gets the word, oh, by the way, Mueller`s on this for another year, he`s only begun to fight, is that going to intensify the chance that he tries to dump Mueller?
LEONNIG: Well, there`s been a real drumbeat of concern about that, the idea of a Saturday Night Massacre or, in this case, a Christmas Eve massacre.
LEONNIG: There`s been some significant uptick in the furor of criticism of Mueller`s team, more importantly of the FBI agent that were involved.
The FBI honestly had a very bad week recently, revelations about internal e-mails, affairs, pro-Hillary/anti-Trump commentary in texts. And you see all of these opinionaters coming out in the conservative world saying that this is just terrible, and we`re going to have to get rid of this team because this whole process is tainted.
It may be this is just a way to soften the ground for that moment. If Mueller doesn`t give the president the answer and his legal team the answer he wants, look, we`re going to wrap this up, your client has no problem, clean bill of health, if he doesn`t get that answer, we may see a different kind of communication from some of this group, this campaign that is pushing to end this probe.
MATTHEWS: Well, the former director of national intelligence, we know him, James Clapper, had some sharp criticism for the president after Trump said that Vladimir Putin thanked him for the U.S. intelligence that averted a terrorist attack over in St. Petersburg.
Well, here`s what Clapper had to say of Putin`s relationship with Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset.
And that`s what he`s doing with the president. I`m saying this figuratively. I think we have to remember Putin`s background. He`s a KGB officer. That`s what they do. They recruit assets. And I think some of that experience and instincts of Putin has come into play here in his managing a pretty important account for him, if I could use that term, with our president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Joyce, what does that do to a prosecution case?
It`s almost like, if you can claim that everything adds up, all the communications with Kushner and the president`s son and all his people and Flynn and Carter -- everybody, Carter Page, all of them, all that stuff constitutes sort of a RICO charge, that what in effect they`re doing is operating altogether under the leadership of the president.
And what this guy Clapper is saying, James Clapper is saying, he`s basically operating like he`s basically been taken in by the brilliant KGB guy we`re looking at here, and somehow Trump is orchestrating something on behalf, on behalf of Putin. Is that criminal?
VANCE: You know, this is a question that the Mueller team will have to decide. And they will decide it based strictly on the evidence.
The question will be, was the president a knowing participant in Russian efforts? And one suspects that they will reach a bright-line decision on that based on evidence of meetings, knowledge, what they`re hearing from witnesses, and they will either decide, no, he was an unwitting participant in this with no criminal culpability, or perhaps they will decide that they have to push harder, look further to see if in fact the president did have knowledge, did willingly participate in some sort of a scheme.
MATTHEWS: Malcolm, your thoughts about that term asset, one of Putin`s assets being Trump?
NANCE: Well, to be generous to Director Clapper, I think that what he was saying was just being illustrative from the intelligence community perspective of how a former human intelligence officer like Vladimir Putin, a former officer of the KGB, then-director of Russian intelligence, would see everybody and certainly a character like Donald Trump as an easily manipulatable entity.
And the word that we would use in the intelligence community, when you become a positive force once manipulated, is an asset.
I have been saying for almost 17 months now that Donald Trump was an unwitting asset of Russian intelligence and Vladimir Putin. But, you know, it`s quite possible, you could argue, that he became a witting asset on the day that he asked Russia to hack or release Hillary Clinton`s hacked e- mails and knew that Russia was doing efforts in his favor.
It`s quite possible, based on some of the cursory information we have seen, that he also knew that his son and others were out looking for Russian information. So, you know, you could use it that way. But I think Clapper was trying to be coy.
I don`t think Mueller`s going to be coy at all. I think he`s going to come up with a case, whether he was actually a puppet or a puppeteer.
MATTHEWS: Well said.
Thank you, Carol Leonnig, great reporting, as always, for "The Washington Post," Joyce Vance and Malcolm Nance.
Up next: President Trump reportedly talked about pulling Neil Gorsuch`s nomination to the Supreme Court over his concerns that he wouldn`t be loyal. Trump`s pushing back on the news, but it does fit into a pattern we have seen from this president. He wants loyalty from everybody, the FBI Director Comey and his Supreme Court nominees.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.
Crews have begun removing mangled train cars off the tracks after Monday`s Amtrak derailment in Washington state. Three people were killed. Investigators are also waiting to interview the hospitalized engineer and crew members. The train was going 80 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone when it crashed on its inaugural trip from Seattle to Portland.
At least a dozen tourists are dead and 18 injured after a tour bus flipped on a Mexican highway. Americans were on board that bus. It was carrying cruise ship passengers from town of Mahahual to the Mayan ruins.
The nationalities of the dead have not been disclosed yet. The tour bus was carrying 27 passengers from two cruise ships when it crashed -- back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: I have no difficulty ruling against or for any party, other than based on what the law and the facts and the particular case require.
And I`m heartened by the support I have received from people who recognize that there`s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch asserting his independence from President Trump during the confirmation hearing.
Gorsuch`s confirmation to the Supreme Court was one of the president`s biggest accomplishments, almost a lone accomplishment before the tax bill. But "The Washington Post" reports the president worried that Gorsuch would not be -- quote -- "loyal" and told aides he was tempted to pull Gorsuch`s nomination.
He was "especially upset by what he viewed as Gorsuch`s insufficient gratitude for a lifetime appointment to the country`s highest court" and told Republican leaders that -- quote -- "He`s probably going to end up being a liberal like the rest of them."
Well, this concern came after Senator Richard Blumenthal said that Gorsuch had called the president`s attack on federal judges -- quote -- "disheartening and demoralizing."
Well, today, the president tweeted that the story is: "fake news. I never even wavered. I am very proud of him and the job he is doing as a justice of the Supreme Court. The unnamed sources don`t exist."
Well, "The Washington Post" says that their account is based on interviews with 11 people familiar with the episode.
I`m joined right now by one of the writers, one of the reporters for that article. That`s Ashley Parker, of course, who writes for "The Washington Post," and is an MSNBC political analyst.
Ashley, it`s great insight here.
And I have so many questions about Gorsuch. One is, well, first of all, the thing about Trump having second thoughts, was this sort of like Popeye in the cartoons, who is always mumbling and talking out of his brain and just things bugging him? Or did he really assert that he made a mistake here with this guy to somebody like in a serious conversation?
ASHLEY PARKER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: So that`s a fair question and a good question.
And the White House told us that the nomination was never in actual jeopardy. But what we understand is that the president did what he often does, or what you say Popeye does, which is, he sort of vents his frustrations aloud and asks questions and expresses his anger to advisers, and that he was basically saying he was very frustrated with Gorsuch, he believed he was being disloyal, he felt that there would be a lot of other judges who would want that position on the Supreme Court -- he`s certainly right about that -- who would be perhaps more grateful and more loyal.
So these were all things he was saying to aides. But as with the president often, it was unclear if the nomination was ever in actual jeopardy or if this was a president quite angry and blowing off . MATTHEWS: One question I have to ask, it may not be in your reporting, but it`s certainly a great question.
I got the sense when Gorsuch was going before the senators, going around door to door among the senators, making courtesy calls, and then testifying, like we`re watching now, that he came across as sort of a moderate, modest sort of conservative, not some further than Scalia type, Antonin Scalia type.
And now I think the image he`s gotten is just that, that this guy is a very hard-right justice.
PARKER: Yes, his tenure is quite young, but I think that`s a fair assessment for now.
And that`s sort of one of the central ironies, was the president was very worried about him early on when he was going through the process. But if there`s been a single knock on him, it`s not what the president feared, that he would be a liberal like the rest of them. It`s that he`s actually been quite conservative and maybe almost overly paying deference to the president and the Republican senators who pushed him through.
MATTHEWS: Well, also, "The Washington Post" reports that a source familiar with the incident "largely faults the White House for failing to explain that Supreme Court nominees asserting their independence from the president who appointed them was a natural part of a successful confirmation process."
But this wasn`t the only time the president asserted the right to loyalty from an independent member of his government.
Let`s listen to former FBI Director James Comey on that point.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He asked specifically of loyalty in the context of asking me to stay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, Ashley, this is such a profound question.
Does the president know that being elected president doesn`t mean the acquiring of an asset, that he doesn`t own the United States government, it`s a republican form of government, it has all kinds of branches and all kinds of checks on power, and tensions that are natural?
Like, sometimes, your Supreme Court nominee ends up much different than you thought he was. And that`s part of the -- part of how the game is played. They don`t have to stay like they looked when you picked them.
PARKER: That`s exactly right and the president`s frustrations do seem to be rooted in a little bit of a misunderstanding of how this process works and how the Supreme Court works, which is the president gets to choose his nominee, he or she tries to choose someone who`s in line with their judicial philosophy.
But then the justices of course, an independent justice, he or she is beholden not to the president who appointed them but to the law and to the Constitution. And that`s how it should work. And that`s exactly what Gorsuch was saying when the president got so frustrated.
MATTHEWS: Well, you`re right, so much great reporting. Ashley Parker of "The Washington Post."
PARKER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: My own view on this is that people vote for Trump next time, they`re voting for a very different constitutional order in this country, from a president who doesn`t recognize the need to understand limited government and limited powers of the presidency.
Anyway, up next, the Trump Tower tax cuts, a Christmas present for the very wealthy, but maybe an electoral gift to Democrats, perhaps. They have to have a key issue to run on. They`ve got one in 2018. Can they capitalize on this very unfair tax bill?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: This piece of legislation is the single worst piece of legislation I`ve seen in my time in the Senate. And it will take a decade for us to undo some of the damage that`s been done.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: This is the worst bill to ever come to the floor of the House. It`s an all-out looting of America, the wholesale robbery of the middle class.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Let me be clear. This tax bill will be an anchor around the ankles of every Republican. If they haven`t learned it yet, they`re going to learn it next November.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
With congressional Republicans who are on the verge of passing a major tax overhaul, despite polling that shows roughly half the country disapproves. Only 10 percent of the bill`s tax cuts would go to the middle class according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. That`s a government committee.
And "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" warns the bill does little to generate exciting in Juno, Wisconsin, Trump country. One Republican voter there told the newspaper: We`re not going to feel any tax relief, and if anything it will get a little worse.
But the tax bill`s also the Republican Party`s only legislative accomplishment in 2017. And they`re desperate for something that looks like a win.
But will a win on this issue mean losses for Republicans in next year`s midterm elections?
For more, I`m joined by the roundtable tonight, Anita Kumar with me right now, White House correspondent from "McClatchy Newspapers", John Feehery, GOP strategist, and Cornell Belcher, Democratic pollster and strategist for MSNBC.
Let me -- let me go with this pollster we got here, Mr. Belcher. No, because this -- I have a hunch.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: And it`s not positive. It`s just the way I`m looking at things it, it`s the way I`m looking at things. Who`s ever voted against a politician for cutting taxes, even if their tax cut is smaller than somebody else`s?
BELCHER: This is what`s different about it. When you look into the numbers, you actually have a plurality of American voters who think they`re going to be worse off because of this tax bill. And that`s the real difference. It`s not like it`s neutral.
MATTHEWS: You mean like in 1993, `94, when they voted against Clinton on this.
BELCHER: When you think you`re going to be worse off. When you look at the economy, what most people`s grievances, rich aren`t paying their fair share, there`s a lot of inequality. And when you look at the polling, they think this actually increases the inequality, because they do think most of it`s going to the wealthy people. That`s from NBC`s polling which, by the way, most of the fact-finders agree with.
MATTHEWS: You know, I`m looking at this, Anita. If you`re a rich Republican, this is great. No more regulation on the environment. Just rape the land, take -- strip mine the country, in Wyoming, they can`t wait to get into those government lands. Let`s get that land back, Bears Ears and all that stuff.
And then you get a huge tax cut on corporate, you get a huge tax cut on individual, you got a huge advantage now on exclusions for estate taxes, you get elimination basically of the corporate minimum tax. So, it`s all great. It`s all great.
And how does the average stiff out there, doesn`t get a raise? People are not getting raises in the middle income level. Whatever the unions are doing, nobody`s getting a raise.
ANITA KUMAR, MCCLATCHY NEWS: The Republicans and the people at the White House I talk to feel really good about it.
MATTHEWS: Of course they do.
KUMAR: They think that Americans will come around -- John can probably talk more about this -- next year when they start to see their paychecks being a little bit bigger, when the economy gets better, they think they have a good leg to stand on, that it`s going to sell well.
MATTHEWS: John Feehery, the defense. Is this something you can sell in the burbs?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Eighty percent of the American people are going to get a tax cut, 9 percent are going to get a tax credit. Those 9 percent who will get a tax increase live in New York City or San Francisco. Too bad, they deserve a tax increase.
MATTHEWS: Remember horse and rabbit stew? Who`s getting the horse, who`s getting the rabbit?
FEEHERY: The number one keystone of this whole thing is the corporate tax cut. And that is going to grow the economy substantially, much more than 3 percent. Up to 4 percent --
MATTHEWS: What are they going to go with the corporate tax rate? What are they going to do with the money?
FEEHERY: It`s going to bring about $3 trillion coming in from overseas, repatriated. The rest is going to make America more competitive. I think the Republicans are betting that they`re going to be able to hitch their wagon to a growing economy, 3 percent or 4 percent, wages are going to go up, and that`s going to be really good.
Democrats are betting this won`t happen. I think the Republicans are right. We`ll see what happens.
MATTHEWS: If the money doesn`t come back from overseas --
FEEHERY: It will come back from overseas.
MATTHEWS: Are you up for resetting this thing?
FEEHERY: It`s going to come back.
BELCHER: The fundamental problem is we`ve seen this. This is not theory. Go to Kansas, right? We know that these things don`t pay for themselves. Take billionaire Miami Bloomberg who said, you know what, in the end, you know, what`s going to happen, these corporations, sitting on as much cash as they`ve ever sat on before in history, what they`re going to do is they`re going to buy stocks and go to dividends.
This is not -- look, if we want to help the middle class, let`s help the middle class.
FEEHERY: We`ll see what happens. We`ve already seen what`s happened --
BELCHER: Ronald Reagan had to raise taxes because they didn`t pay for themselves.
MATTHEWS: A new study out by the tax policy center shows people making between $50,000 and $90,000 a year will see $900 in their bank account. The middle class might not notice, in 2009 Obama in his economic stimulus package gave married couples $800 and 12 percent of the voters noticed it. Anita, I don`t quite understand it because $1,000 is shoes for every kid, at least a night out with your wife a couple times a month. Today, it costs so much to go to the movies --
KUMAR: I had not heard that statistic and that is unbelievable.
MATTHEWS: By that calculation, the less than $1,000 a year that the average family gets out of this will not look significant politically.
KUMAR: I mean, I think it`s going to look significant. But look, the polls show it`s not doing well. So, obviously, the Republicans have some selling to do.
MATTHEWS: Maybe people are in a bad movie because they don`t like Trump. Anyway, nothing looks good to them. I`m telling you, I think it`s serious, because they --
FEEHERY: I think that`s a big problem. I think a lot of people don`t like Trump. I think Democrats have really successfully messaged on this.
But to Anita`s point, this is not only going to cut taxes of 900 bucks per person in that range, what the Obama tax cuts didn`t do is rapidly grow the economy.
BELCHER: But the longest peacetime increase in our economic --
MATTHEWS: I have to tell you, I don`t think --
BELCHER: That`s absurd.
MATTHEWS: You think the Democrats` message machine is really good?
FEEHERY: They are on this one.
BELCHER: That`s laughable.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.
KUMAR: You know what the reality is, nobody knows what`s in this bill. Both sides are being -- saying thins that aren`t true. And so, no one really knows what to do with it, no one knows what to think.
MATTHEWS: OK, Judge Gorsuch.
Thank you. The roundtable, the big thought coming up next, you`re first.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: According to our new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll just out this evening, Democrats have regained the advantage when it comes to which party better handles the economy. This is very important. Thirty-five percent of Americans say the Democratic Party does a better job on the economy, only 30 percent of Americans think the Republicans do a better job. These are close numbers but it`s the first time the Democrats have been on top, first time the Democrats lead in this question since 2013.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
And guess who`s first.
Anita, tell me something I don`t know.
KUMAR: Right. I`m going to tell you about an analysis that my colleagues did that showed in two of the biggest races, the Alabama Senate race, the House race in Georgia, the Democratic candidate shared 1,300 donors in common. That`s way more than the last two midterms. Way more than the Republicans --
MATTHEWS: The public just loves hearing the fact that they`re all in bed together. The donors on either side.
KUMAR: It`s big-money people, it`s out-of-state people that are energized.
MATTHEWS: Nobody played roulette by putting chips all over the place so they can`t lose.
Go ahead, John.
FEEHERY: All right. So, Paul Ryan, a lot of rumors about Paul Ryan retiring, he raised $30 million for House Republicans, he could raise $10 million more to hit $40 million, if he retires, it`s really bad for the fund-raisers.
MATTHEWS: Is he going to retire? Make some news.
FEEHERY: I don`t think he will. I think he`s going to stick around.
BELCHER: Why would he want that job?
Mine`s from NBC plus four. And not on the economy but on taxes. It`s a historic moment when Democrats have an advantage on taxes. It`s a fundamental pillar of the Republican Party. Hit the panic button when Democrats are pulling ahead on the party best dealing with taxes.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much. Great panel tonight. Anita Kumar, thank you. John Feehery, thank you. And Cornell Belcher, I love that name.
We`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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