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GOP bracing for possible 2018 "bloodbath." Transcript 12/22/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Ruth Marcus, John Brabender, Annie Karni, Francesca Chambers

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 22, 2017 Guest: Ruth Marcus, John Brabender, Annie Karni, Francesca Chambers

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Gets no respect. Let`s play HARDBALL Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. President Trump is down at Mar-a-Lago for Christmas. But before leaving Washington today he enjoyed one more victory dance for7 his tax bill. At a hastily arranged bill signing in the oval office the President touted all the achievements from his first year in office and he complained the media doesn`t give him any credit.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And just to conclude, our country is doing very well. We have tremendously cut regulations. Legislative approvals, for which I`m given no credit in the mainstream media. We have I believe it`s 88, which is number one in the history of our country. Second now is Harry Truman. A lot of people say he needed this because he has had no legislative approvals.

Now if you look at VA accountability act and so many other bills having to do with the VA, having to do with the military, having to do with many things, we have more legislative victories than any other President not including this but this is the capper because this is, again, the biggest tax cut, biggest reform of all time.


MATTHEWS: Well, according to NBC News, President Trump in fact does not have more legislative victories than all past Presidents. Earlier he also tweeted about his lack of recognition. Sadly the fake mainstream media will never talk about our accomplishments in their end of year reviews. We are compiling a long beautiful list.

Did you notice how President Trump is beginning to sound more and more like Rodney Dangerfield?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s the story of my life. No respect. I get no respect.


MATTHEWS: Well, despite the rosy sheen he has ladled onto his presidency so far, there are multiple reports of troubles ahead for the Republican Party, especially in next year`s midterm elections. According to "Politico," those closest to Trump are bracing for a possible bloodbath in the 2018 mid-terms. They report the head of the Republican national committee Rona Romney McDaniel delivered a two-page memo to White House chief of staff John Kelly outlining the party`s collapse with female voters. Female voters. And Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said privately that both chambers could be lost in November. House speaker Paul Ryan has told donors that he fears a wave of swing district Republican lawmakers could retire rather than go for re-election.

And then there are the reports this morning of infighting among Trump aides and outside advisers over their political strategy for next year. Tensions boiled over in a meeting this week that included the President, his political director Bill Stepian, chief of staff John Kelly, Hope Hicks, and Trump`s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

According to the "Washington Post," the gathering saw tempers flare as aides vented their frustration with the electoral defeats this week and concerns about the 2018 map. While the Republicans get their act together in time or is 2018 already shaping up to be a bright blue wave at the polls?

I`m joined by "Washington Post" columnist Ruth Marcus, Republican strategist John Brabender out there in Pittsburgh, and Joy Reid is host of "A.M. Joy" on MSNBC.

Let me start with Joy. Your thoughts about just an analysis here of how the numbers look and how there would be reason if you are a Republican sort of, you know, cheerleader or manager like the chair of the Democratic -- of the Republican national committee to worry about whether they can hold their 21-seat loss -- hold their loss to 21 or so seats in the House and hold on in the Senate to no more than two or three losses.

JOY ANN REID, MSNBC HOST: Yes. I mean, history obviously is against them when one party controls both chambers as well as the White House. You know, historically American voters tend to like divided government.

But for this particular Republican Party I think there are a lot more headwinds facing them. One of them is just the absolute lack of self- awareness of Donald Trump. He doesn`t understand how unpopular he is. So he has already imposing himself on gubernatorial and future candidates.

Ron Desantos in Florida got an endorsement I`m sure he wasn`t thrilled about in a state where there are a lot of Puerto Rican voters and Rossello who is the government of Puerto Rico has already said they are going to get revenge on the Republican Party for Trump`s, you know, itinerant response to the hurricane Maria.

So I think what you have with Republicans is you saw in Alabama a lack of core enthusiasm in their base. A lot of the marginally attached Trump voters got what they wanted already last November. They are not necessarily attached to the Republican Party. Donald Trump has turned them in some cases against establishment Republicans.

So there`s not a core enthusiasm to vote for Republicans to re-elect them. And then on top of it Donald Trump who just endorsed Roy Moore, the accused child molester in Alabama, is toxic and doesn`t know it. So he is going to impose himself on all of these races where he can only hurt Republicans, particularly with women voters, and he can only motivate Democrats, particularly people of color.

MATTHEWS: OK. So you put Trump down as a negative.

REID: Total negative. He should stay away.

MATTHEWS: I`m just saying sarcastic. Very clear on that subject. Thank you.

I want to go to Ruth Marcus so we will get to John Brabender in a minute.

Do you think, you know, things are so unpredictable in politics? That`s why I enjoy covering it. We all do. Because you don`t know for sure. Certainly in 1998 the Republicans thought they had it won because of Monica and all that nonsense that went on, terrible stuff maybe, but nonsense too in its way, too. That`s why the President seemed to be behaving nonsensically. Is there anything that can turn the wind between now and next November besides women very upset about Roy Moore, very upset about Trump`s 23 cases and whatever?

RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: If you wanted to just sort of pick a team that you`d rather be on for 2018 you would definitely rather be on the blue team. That`s just not an ideological thing. That`s the history joy talked about.

MATTHEWS: Good time to run.

MARCUS: Good time to run. But the economy is doing well. There is good reasons to think the economy could continue to do well after the tax cut begins to kick in. Companies are happy with the outcome that they got. So I think this tax cut, by the way, just to be really clear, worst piece of domestic policy in our lifetime.

MATTHEWS: Which way does it go politically?

MARCUS: Politically, going to be really interesting. I think it doesn`t depend to me as much on the full content of the tax cut itself. There`s a pretty small amount of money. People are going to be seeing in their pockets. Now he owns the economy. So anything that happens in the economy, anything that happens in health care --

MATTHEWS: Good or bad.

MARCUS: -- the onus is on Trump. Good or bad.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I wonder when the Democrats can match a tax cut when they don`t have something, a benny to give out.

John Brabender, and I`m sure you have that thought. The Democrats don`t have a candidate in the race for best tax cut unfortunately for them.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that`s right. I mean, let`s remember one thing and I am a media consultant. I think in terms of how am I going to use this in an election. Republican candidates can tell 80 percent of taxpayers they cut their taxes. And we can tell them that the Democrats refused to cut their taxes.

We talked a moment ago about saying that, you know, Trump owns the economy right now. That`s not really a bad thing to do. You have the stock market going through the roof. And remember, of people who make 30,000 plus, 70 percent of them get some income based upon the stock market.

We have jobs numbers that are very good and we have companies that are now handing out large Christmas bonuses because of this tax cut. So the real lesson is we now have something to run on, do we use this to move forward to pass other legislation that we can run on? And I think that`s the real wild card at the moment.

REID: But Chris, can I just say? You know, a very wise guy called Chris Matthews once said many years ago at a talk that I was at that politics is about where you put the wedge in. And when you put the wedge in between the middle class and the poor, so that the middle class identify with the rich, Republicans win. You put that wedge in between the rich and the middle class, such that the middle class identify with people below them, Democrats win. That tax bill that`s going to give an average of 18 bucks a week to people making under $75,000 a year, versus the $15 million Donald Trump will get --


REID: Hold on a second, John. The fact is the messaging on that tax bill, the reason it`s so unpopular and the reason that two-thirds of people hate it and only like a quarter of people even kind of like it is because it`s a giveaway to the very rich, permanent tax cuts for corporations and almost nothing for the average person. That`s why people hate it. Even Democrats, as bad as they are sometimes at politics, can figure out the messaging on that.

MATTHEWS: John, let me ask you this. Are you afraid the Democrats will actually learn how to run against, as if Joy were running for President? I mean, Joy has got the juice here. I don`t see the same juice from -- I`m sorry. I don`t dislike them. I do like them personally. But I have got to tell you, I don`t hear Schumer or Pelosi or any of the leadership talking with that kind of pizzazz, that kind of excitement. They read the notes in front of them. Usually they have to read them because they haven`t bothered to even memorize their points, which is ridiculous. That`s their job. They come out and they read something on camera. Then they go back, they have lunch or something. I don`t know, count votes.

John, do you fear the Democrats` ability to exploit this tax bill, to exploit it?

BRABENDER: I can`t wait to see that because I can`t figure out is the argument that we didn`t cut taxes enough or you`ll hear some of my Democrats` friends say well, it drove up, you know, a trillion dollar in deficit. Where were all these deficit --?

REID: That`s not the argument.

MATTHEWS: They`re not deficit hawks.

REID: It`s simpler than that. You get 18 bucks. Trump gets $15 million. Your CEO gets millions. You get 18 bucks. It`s real simple.

BRABENDER: When you say -- when you say corporations are getting tax cuts, everybody tries to think, oh, that must be these big companies. Most of them are small companies who are corporations.

REID: No. Small businesses -- wrong.

BRABENDER: Number one. Number two is what this has done is made America more competitive internationally --

REID: No, it hasn`t.

BRABENDER: -- which means you just made somebody`s hard-working family job more secure than it was.

REID: International -- other countries aren`t just going to take it lying down. They are already cutting their corporate tax rates. It`s a race to the bottom. And when you say corporations, people think their boss. People think my CEO, my boss. I go to work every day. I`m unappreciated. My boss, the CEO, the boss of the conditioner is getting millions. And I get 18 bucks? Nobody`s going to side with you and the rich on this. Sorry.

BRABENDER: Would the Democrats prefer to raise taxes?

REID: Joy, just give him a paragraph or two without that brilliant anthem. I just love you because he is trying to catch up to you here. Let him try. OK.

Go ahead, Brabender, your shot.

BRABENDER: Well, I don`t understand the argument. So under that guise I guess what the Democrats are saying, shame on those Republicans, cutting your taxes. We should have raised taxes. We should have raised them on corporations. You know, I`m very anxious to go do an ad next year apologizing that we cut taxes, apologizing job growth is up. Apologizing the stock market`s up.

REID: You missed it.

MATTHEWS: This is a good debate. And I like the debate but let me go to - -

MARCUS: So should have brought my popcorn here.

MATTHEWS: This is important because it is a fight for the middle. And that`s where the votes are. We all know this is about that wedge thing that Joy mentioned which I forgot I taught. But it is a very important question.

When the economy`s going down, for example, then the middle identifies with the poor. When the economy is going up, the middle oftentimes -- I want to be part of that rich crowd. So it`s a different thing. But when the treasury money, the tax cuts seem to be divvied out so disproportionately to the people worried about estate taxes and alternate minimum taxes and not 39.6 tax rate and that kind of stuff, and corporate tax cuts, it looks like it is being ladled out to the rich.

MARCUS: I mean, the problem with John`s argument is if this tax cut is so great why is it polling so terribly right now?

MATTHEWS: That`s a great question, John. To you, sir.

BRABENDER: First of all, here is how people judge their income. Particularly working families, middle income. Is take-home pay. If they start to see their take-home pay rise, believe me, they`re going to be very happy.

REID: Eigtheen bucks?

MARCUS: That`s not accurate because --

BRABENDER: OK. Can I ask you this? Do you think Democrats --?

MARCUS: Hang on one sec. President Obama, when he engineered a very -- pretty small rise in take-home pay, you know how much political credit he got for it? Nada.

REID: It was a bigger tax cut than this. The stimulus bill was a bigger tax cut than this. People look and say wait a minute, these guys are flying around on private jets, laughing at me, they are getting millions of dollars. Donald Trump and his fat cat friends are scooping all the money. And they`re going to cut healthcare. They are going to cut Medicaid. And they gave me 18 bucks? Easy messaging.

BRABENDER: Joy, I hope all your Democrat friends next year run on ads announcing that they voted no on the tax cut.

MATTHEWS: I now will make a prediction for all of you and I think this is the American debate we are hearing right here which I often like thanks to Joy and John. The American debate occurs on "Hardball."

What you are hearing now if you are a new American that just got here and you are learning English, this is what we fight about. You got it? I will say this for my Arco, whatever, thought. I think your side, John, since we are calling ourselves Democrat and Republican here, I think your side of the argument, will win three or four points next week in the polling. Just because of all the ballyhoo. One thing Trump is, is a salesman. I wish he would sell my House someday because he could probably get millions for it.

And I`m telling you, he is a good B.S. artist. He is the best. Everything he said this week is wrong. He isn`t the greatest President in history. Orrin Hatch is wrong about him maybe beating Lincoln and Washington and FDR. That`s all wrong. But God, who has the nerve to talk like this guy?

Anyway, Joy Reid, thank you. It is great to have you. Good luck this weekend. And everybody is going to be watching you as they increasingly do. Ruth Marcus of the "Washington Post." nice movie, by the way, "the Post."

MARCUS: It is great. Go see it.

MATTHEWS: And John Brabender. Anyway, thank you, gentleman. Good luck up there in Pittsburgh.

Coming up, the Russia investigation. We are the best at that, and we are going to cover it tonight to keep you up to date on that one. This one will bring down the presidency if anything does. Trump`s long-time gatekeeper, by the way, met with the House intelligence committee today.

Rona Graf (ph). I`ve talked to her for years trying to get Trump on the show. Worked for Trump for decades. What secrets will we learn from her testimony today? That`s ahead.

Plus, virtually every country at the United Nations voted to rebuke the United States over Trump`s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump threatened any country who voted against us and bad Santa`s making the list. And some of our closest allies are on it.

And after notching his first big win Trump touts a year, a year of huge legislative victories. Didn`t you notice them? Boy, they just went past us so fast. And he said he doesn`t get any credit as the year comes to an end.

Anyway, the White House is bracing for a staff exodus. And Trump`s looking for some familiar faces to fill the holes. Oh, my God.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. It`s about how we`re getting through, you and I. This period. This is "Hardball." where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, just days after stumping for the winning candidate in the Alabama Senate race, Democrat Doug Jones, NBA hall of famer Charles Barkley`s once again jumping into the political fray. Last night Barkley mocked the President`s tax bill, thanking Republicans for quote "taking care of us rich people." Let`s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will be my second one this week. My second big gift.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more shot at it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that Republican tax cut. I was going to say, Shaq, they say it`s going to trickle down. You know what I`m going to do? I`m going to trip --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you going to do, chuck?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were on a roll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trickle my fat ass down to the jewelry store to get a new Rolex. I`m not going to pass it to nobody.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Republicans. I know I can always count on you all to give us rich people, the one percent. Sorry, poor people. I`m hoping for you all, but you all isn`t got no chance.


MATTHEWS: I wish the Alabamans would elect that guy senator.

Anyway, we will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."

We already know there is a lot at stake for Republican Party come 2018. But among the many troubles that they have is also the looming Specter of potential impeachment. While Democrats have been careful about raising that prospect the promotion of a key member of the Judiciary Committee leaves them in a better position to deal with that shouldn`t arise. I`m talking impeachment.

According to the "Washington Post" the selection of Representative Jerrod Nadler as the ranking democrat on the Judiciary Committee was the clearest sign yet of how seriously house Democrats consider the policy of a full- blown constitutional showdown with Trump.

A constitutional lawyer from New York, now a long-time Trump antagonist who butted heads over the developer`s real estate proposals long before Trump entered politics. If Democrats win back the House in 2018, Congressman Nadler would lead the committee, he would be chairman that traditionally drafts articles of impeachment. The move comes as democratic lawmakers sound the alarm that the President and his allies will stop at nothing to end the Russia investigation.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: I believe that the president wants all of this shut down. He wants to shut down these investigations and he wants to fire special counsel Mueller.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: These truly are red lines and simply cannot allow them to be crossed.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Look, if he wants to follow in the footsteps of Richard Nixon, he`s welcome to try, but it will not end well for him.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: This is a fight for the soul of our democracy, nothing less. And so I`m going to work hard to make sure we save that democracy, and I will fight until I die.


MATTHEWS: Wow. Anyway, I`m joined right now by Julia Ainsley, investigative reporter with NBC News. And Ned Price is a former special assistant to President Obama and an MSNBC contributor. Thank you. Julia, I want you to go through the importance of the committee. It is the Judiciary Committee. I remember going back to Peter Rodino bringing down - - he was a moderate Democrat, big city Democrat -- bringing down Nixon. It happens that way.

They`re the tools of impeachment, that committee.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It does. And, obviously, it would be a big boon in their favor if they actually had the majority in the next Congress.

MATTHEWS: They can do that. They`re close.

AINSLEY: So, with that in mind, that is why whoever becomes this next Democratic leader of this committee matters.

And so with Jerry Nadler`s election, that means that Democrats, first of all, are looking at the person with the most seniority. So it`s not completely surprising. But it`s interesting that when he ran, he was really touting his experience as a constitutional lawyer should a constitutional crisis arise.


AINSLEY: Exactly. No one wants to say the I-word yet, not impeachment, but we have heard a lot of talk about a constitutional crisis and they would want someone in that position, Chris, who would be able to do a very thorough and professional job.

MATTHEWS: You know, Ned, you haven`t been on much, but I will tell you something. I think there are about 25 Democrats that would have voted for impeachment on inaugural day. So, that`s OK. They`re on the hard left. They just don`t like what Trump stands for. Fair enough.

It`s political, in many ways, this process. But the ones that are going to make the difference, as we know, the moderates, the thoughtful people, the senior people that have been around a while. When they move, it matters.

NED PRICE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that`s exactly right, Chris.

And I think you have seen the tide changing, especially in recent days, as rumors have ramped up that Trump could be making a move against Bob Mueller, the special counsel, in the coming days, potentially even around the holidays.

MATTHEWS: When the Congress is out of session.

PRICE: When the Congress is out of session. People are distracted. I think the floor speech you saw, you showed a snippet of it, of Senator Warner laying down a red line, saying if Trump were to move against the special counsel, that would constitute a red line.

We have seen Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intel Committee, come out and say very strongly that he feels that the Republican majority is trying to shut down his investigation. They are trying to conclude this by the new year with a lot of business yet to be done, according to Adam Schiff, this top Democrat.

So I think you are starting to see these very mainstream, these very middle-of-the-road individuals come out and say, these are our red lines, enough is enough, justice has to be done here.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of the meeting with his secretary for all these years, his top assistant? She`s now moved on to a much bigger position, but she`s really been his confidential assistant for all these years.

Whenever you wanted her -- you wanted to get him on the air or something, you had to deal with her. And she was great, I must say, very professional.

AINSLEY: Sure. I mean, she was known as the gatekeeper for decades. You had to go through Rhona Graff in order to get to Donald Trump. And that is, of course, why Rob Goldstone wanted Donald Trump Jr. in June of 2016 to go to his father and say, we have dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Whether or not that got to Rhona Graff, whether or not that got to Trump, we will see. I`m sure Mueller`s looking into that. But the committee, of course, who is interviewing her, or interviewed her today, is the House Intelligence Committee, Chris.

And we know that they...

MATTHEWS: Nunes isn`t worth much.

AINSLEY: Well, they have been accused of being very political.

MATTHEWS: Very, very much the tools, the tools of the president.

AINSLEY: And Democrats are really upset that they did this meeting in an undisclosed place in New York just a few days before Christmas, not in an office space across the Hill, where everyone could go join.

So a lot of people are saying they did that in a way that they couldn`t be...


MATTHEWS: Were there Democrats in the room? Were there Democrats?

AINSLEY: I think a few who were in town could go. But it wasn`t something that it`s walking across the street. It`s a little...


MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Ned? Because I wonder -- it`s almost like executive privilege. When somebody works with you for all those years, that person knows everything. And they also can sniff out what happened, really. They know what really happened.

If you work for somebody for a while, you can figure them out and what they`re up to.

PRICE: Well, and Rhona Graff is especially well-positioned, because, in addition to being a political and social dinosaur, Donald Trump...

MATTHEWS: I think political adviser too. I think she advised him...


PRICE: Well, and a political adviser. But he`s also a technological dinosaur. He doesn`t use e-mails. He doesn`t use a computer.

And so what Rhona would do, she would actually print out memos and e-mails, show them to him. And so she was, as Julia was saying, truly the gatekeeper. And so she would have a lot more fidelity.

MATTHEWS: Are they easier to grab? When the government wants to grab a piece of paper you have to pull out of your trash can or some drawer, is that easier to get than some e-mail?

PRICE: It could well be. I have a feeling that people like Rhona...

MATTHEWS: It might be harder. It might be smart on his part not to do all this on e-mail. I think you should never use e-mail for sneaky stuff, if you have...


PRICE: Well, I also have a feeling she was very scrupulous in covering tracks and getting rid of the paper trial, if there was something nefarious there.

But what she has in her head, I think, is the most important, the fact that she knows where Donald Trump was.


PRICE: She knows what meetings he was included in. She knows the decisions he weighed in on. And I think key will be this June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

MATTHEWS: Would she know whether he was capable of a purely national political decision or everything would be mixed in with his desire to make money? Would she know that? I would think she would know. If Donald wants to do it, it must have something to do with money.


AINSLEY: Yes, she knows the ins and outs. She knows what his motivations are.

She also knew him before he got into politics. So, she`s definitely a key witness. The question is, is this the right committee to get those answers out of her?

MATTHEWS: All I know is every time -- when he -- 2000, he was teasing he was going to run for president, in 2004. It started, I think, in the `90s.

And every time, I would call her up, I would say -- she`d say, well, he really is running this time. And I thought, really? And it`s like Charlie Brown now. You really going to hold the football this time or drop it?


MATTHEWS: Every time, I would say, is he really running? And she would, oh, yes, I think he`s very serious this time, very serious.

Yes, it took a while, but he did run eventually.

Let me ask you about the -- Pence. Anyway, despite rumors that the president will attempt to remove the special counsel, here he is, Vice President Pence told CBS that the White House will continue to cooperate with Robert Mueller. Here`s the V.P.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My view of all these matters is that the special counsel has a job to do. We`re fully cooperating.

QUESTION: When you say you will cooperate, you mean you personally are willing to cooperate with Bob Mueller?

PENCE: Oh, we have been fully cooperating with the special counsel`s office. And we will continue to.


MATTHEWS: Well, the vice president dodged when asked whether he knew that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI.


QUESTION: Just clarify how you understand what happened with Mike Flynn. When he was fired, did you know he had lied to the FBI?

PENCE: What I can tell you is I knew that he had lied to me. And I know the president made the right decision with regard to him.


MATTHEWS: What do you make of this guy? Is he waiting his turn or what? He`s so religious in the way he talks. It sounds like a sermon or something. Go ahead.

AINSLEY: He`s keeping his hands clean.

MATTHEWS: He`s prayerful.

AINSLEY: He`s keeping his hands clean. That`s what any vice president would be doing right now.

MATTHEWS: That`s right. He said, I`m playing ball with the guy. I`m not going to undermine for one second this prosecution, right?

PRICE: Well, I don`t think that should give anyone a lot of comfort.

Let`s recall that the day Mike Flynn was fired and maybe the day before Mike Flynn was fired, the administration said the president had confidence in Mike Flynn.

Six days before Jim Comey was fired, the president had full confidence in Jim Comey. So I don`t really think these claims by the administration should give us much solace.

But Mike Pence is a very interesting character. He`s been the Teflon vice president. He has...

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. That`s nice. But that`s not his job to be -- you`re supposed to take the heat.

You know, V.P.s are supposed -- whether Richard Nixon or who it`s supposed to be, you`re supposed to be the one out there spearheading the attack on the enemy, taking shots at them, and taking the brunt of the attack. He looks like he`s being protected by Trump.

If I were Trump, I would say, what am I here for, to protect Mike Pence? Pence never says anything.

AINSLEY: He certainly had to be the one to go out and sell to the American people that Michael Flynn never discussed sanctions with Kislyak.

So, depending on what went on behind the scenes then, he may have been taking some of the dirt. But it`s clear that they are trying to distance Pence from all of this. They can have the president`s legal team. They can have the president himself. They can have Republicans on the Hill all undermining Mueller, building all this heat, so that if he does get fired overnight, they can say he deserved it.

MATTHEWS: All I know is I root for the football player with mud all over him at the end of the game, not the guy with the clean uniform. I mean, it`s just weird. This guy`s got the clean uniform.

Have you been in the game, sir?

Anyway, Julia Ainsley, it`s great. Happy holidays, Ned too, Ned Price.

Up next: Despite threats from the Trump administration, the united nation voted to condemn the U.S. decision on Jerusalem. Now U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is finding a friendship party, a holy one, a friendship party. And she`s purposely leaving out many of our major allies off her list at least.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


GIGI STONE WOODS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. I`m Gigi Stone Woods. Here`s what`s happening this hour.

The FBI has arrested a man they say was plotting an ISIS-inspired attack in San Francisco. The 26-year-old tow truck driver was allegedly planning a suicide attack on the popular tourist destination known as Fisherman`s Wharf.

And the U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved tough new sanctions on North Korea in response to its latest ballistic missile test -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Yesterday, 128 countries took a symbolic stand against the United States, voting to nullify America`s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The nonbinding resolution on -- quote -- "illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of occupied Palestinian territory" declared actions on Jerusalem`s fate as null and void.

The vote took place despite direct threats of reprisal from the president and his ambassador to the U.N.

Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For all of these nations, they have taken our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council, or they vote against us potentially at the Assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us, well, we`re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We will save a lot. We don`t care.


MATTHEWS: Well, Nikki Haley, the ambassador, had warned that the United States was taking names.

Well, few countries took those warnings to heart, apparently. In fact, some of our closest allies, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, voted in favor of that measure. A defiant Nikki Haley said little would deter the embassy`s move.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The United States will remember this day, in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.

America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do. And it is the right thing to do. No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that.


MATTHEWS: Well, according to a recent poll, a majority of Americans, 63 percent, oppose moving the embassy.

That`s classic Trump-speak. Say what you want, ignore the truth.

Late Thursday, Ambassador Haley invited the 64 countries that did not vote for the U.N. resolution to a -- quote -- "friendship" -- close quote -- party. While only nine countries actually objected to the resolution, others, including Canada, Colombia, and the Czech Republic, did not cast votes. They abstained.

For more, I`m joined by the global editorial director of The Huffington Post, Howard Fineman.

Howard, this is what -- I`m trying to compare this like we`re the odd man out on climate change. We`re the odd man out on a lot of things, TPP, and we just say we don`t care about the world. This is a strange kind of, I don`t know, narcissistic nationalism. What do you call it?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as Donald Trump said, "We don`t care."

And that`s something that the United States hasn`t said as a country until arguably some people said it in the 1930s.


FINEMAN: Certainly, since World War II, we have been engaged hook, line, and sinker as a country in the cause of freedom and Western values all around the world, self-determination, human rights.

That`s where the human rights declaration came, from here, came from Eleanor Roosevelt, came from the original U.N.

So, for Donald Trump as president to kind of fold his arms and say, "We don`t care," is a radical departure in America`s sense of itself. Donald Trump is betting that that`s how we as a country want to view ourselves now.

I`m not sure that`s correct. And that vote that you -- that poll you mentioned about moving the embassy is an example of that. The American people understand that just because you can do something doesn`t mean that you should do something, if you`re going to try to play a role as peacemaker and diplomat in the world.

MATTHEWS: Well, this part, I can understand his position. It`s a hard- right, hawkish position on the Middle East. I get it. It`s been talked in every campaign we can remember.

FINEMAN: Yes, people have promised it.

MATTHEWS: They have all promised. So it`s not odd to say it.

But it seems to me there`s something of the rich kid here, because, you know, the rich kid who takes his ball home when he`s losing an argument. I`m taking my ball home.

We pay to the U.N. because we believe in the U.N., not we believe in individual votes in the U.N. And him to say, we`re going to stop paying our proportional dues because you guys are voting against is to say, we bought you. How come you`re not part of our team? He`s saying money talks.

FINEMAN: Well, sure.

And there have been talks when we have withheld payments and so forth, but we haven`t made it a central principle of how we understand the United Nations.


FINEMAN: Once again, it`s Donald Trump extrapolating from what he grew up with in New York.

MATTHEWS: Yes, pay to play.

FINEMAN: You pay to play in the real estate business, in the banking business, in the rough and tumble of New York streets.

That`s not what this is supposed to be. And don`t forget, the United Nations wouldn`t exist without the United States. That was the main outcome of World War II, that we`re going to set up this system that we`re supposed to believe in.

MATTHEWS: It was based on compromise, too, because we allowed all those Soviet republics to be individual members, all that stuff, to get them in, to get the Russians in.

FINEMAN: Sure. Sure. Sure. Right.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the intifada. I do believe in the Middle East that rumors, rumors can kill people, that you can spread the word that something`s going, and it may not be true at all.

This time, we know it`s true. We are going to recognize Jerusalem, it seems, as the exclusive capital of the Israelis. And that`s theirs. There`s not going to be a piece for the Palestinians. They`re not getting their piece. They`re not getting anything. They`re going to have to go somewhere else. They`re not going to have a country really.

How long is this going to go on? It just seems like it`s a slow-burning fire, a few people killed every week, but it`s in the streets of Gaza, the streets of Lebanon, I believe, all over the place in the Middle East. There`s these little, slow-burning wars. And I wonder if there`s any idea when they will every end on this thing.

FINEMAN: Well, Chris, my sense of this, from talking to people on all sides of the controversies, from all countries...

MATTHEWS: Look at this.

This is what is going on since he did this.

FINEMAN: This -- this looks like what the main response is going to be.

But I would argue that the real threat to Israel here and the real threat to peace in the Middle East is that Israelis misunderstanding where they are in the world right now. They have won militarily, essentially. They have won economically. They have won with technology.

But what they don`t understand is that they`re losing diplomatically, they`re losing in terms of world standing.

You mentioned rumors killing people. Well, what is social media, if not the rumors of the world?

MATTHEWS: Yes, I agree.

FINEMAN: You have to control and be seen as a good actor in that part of human consciousness now, or you`re not going to have legitimacy.

The real risk to Israel now is not, I don`t think, the fighting in the streets, because, in many ways, the Palestinians, they`re exhausted. I mean, they -- I mean, they`re exhausted. They`re exhausted.


FINEMAN: They have lost the economic battle and the military battle and so on. But it`s the lack of moral standing.

MATTHEWS: Well, they lost the French, the British, the Germans. They lost all them.

FINEMAN: Right. Everybody. They lost everybody.


FINEMAN: But what they have is moral standing here.

And that`s what Israel is losing. And it`s the moral -- it`s just something that the world looks on now as completely unfair. And if there was ever any doubt about it, I think that`s gone. And that is a bigger threat to Israel and to peace in the Middle East than anything else.

MATTHEWS: Profound. You couldn`t have anybody say it better.


MATTHEWS: No, profound. I mean it.

FINEMAN: Happy holidays.

MATTHEWS: Sometimes, I kid you. Not there. It`s really good work there. I think people understand the issue now.

Up next -- Howard Fineman with Huffington Post.

Up next: As 2017 comes to a close, White House staffers are said to be looking for the exit door. Isn`t that something? People want to leave the White House? And President Trump is looking to fill those spots with some old buddies, some cronies.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

We know their names.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to wait for a formal signing sometime in early January, but then I watched the news this morning and they said, will he keep his promise? I said the bill will be on my desk before Christmas and you are holding me literally to that.

So, I have some beautiful pens over here. I think I`m probably going to hand some of them to the press.

Does the media -- would any of the media like any -- look at these camera guys. Many of you have worked very hard. Many of you have worked very, very fairly and we really appreciate that. So here --


MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Ha! I`ve never seen anything like that. That was the president giving out his signing pens to people who cover him.

Anyway, President Trump spiked the football once more over the Republican tax overhaul. You saw him there. He didn`t take many questions. Instead offering the press as you saw his bill-signing pens.

They usually go to members of Congress.

Anyway, the president`s only held one formal press conference this year, but he`s had many mishaps when it comes to talking to the press. Of course, let`s watch him in action.


TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.

I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

I think there`s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it and you don`t have any doubt about it either.

REPORTER: Only the Nazis --

TRUMP: And if you reported it accurately you would say.

INTERVIEWER: You call them sick and bad.

TRUMP: Look, you can figure it out yourself.

INTERVIEWER: But you stand by that claim?

TRUMP: I don`t stand by anything. I just -- you can take the way you want.

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Earlier, you said that President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers. How can you make that claim?

TRUMP: I don`t know if he did. I was told he didn`t.

ALEXANDER: Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information of being accused of being fake when you`re providing information that --

TRUMP: Well, I don`t know. I was given that information. Actually, I`ve seen that information around.

And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you`ve ever seen.

We`ve just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way.


MATTHEWS: A highly personal presidency.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL round table. Annie Karni is a White House reporter for "Politico". Jonathan Allen is national reporter for NBC News digital. And Francesca Chambers is White House correspondent for "The Daily Mail".

Well, this is a group -- as always an important group. I don`t know what to make of that pen thing. Was he sort of working the camera guys against the print people, the pencil guys or what? What`s he doing there?

ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Hey, sure. And he was in a great mood. He`s off to Mar-a-Lago for a week. He has an actual victory.

He is spiking the football not prematurely like he did over the House health care vote where he had this Rose Garden ceremony for nothing. He has an actual big legislative win to celebrate here. I think this is Trump in a good mood, you know, acknowledging that he`s reacting to what he`s watching on television.


MATTHEWS: That`s the biggest pen I`ve ever seen in my life.


MATTHEWS: It`s huge.

Jonathan, I mean, I have to say, we can be tough on him, and we are, and proudly so, but I have to say, we give him a lot of attention. The idea we don`t give him attention is crazy. I mean, we cover this guy every -- I`ve got a Trump Watch. How can he say I don`t pay attention to the guy?

You can`t have it both ways. We do pay attention. It doesn`t have to be positive attention. But he keeps on we don`t recognize him. The Rodney Dangerfield thing. We do give him respect. We just dislike a lot of what he`s doing. That`s all.

ALLEN: He thrives on the attention. He gets the attention. He knows how to get the attention, how to manipulate the media focus only on him. And when he`s not getting it he gets upset and finds a new way to get attention from us.

So, you know, look, and he said he`s in a good mood. This is Trump as most generous with the press. Have some pens. Do you want the box?

MATTHEWS: I want to go to Francesca on this. Did you ever go to New York City lately, last couple of years and you go around Times Square, you can walk there in the street. There`s always people walking around dressed up with paint all over them like the Statue of Liberty.

That`s Trump. That`s all he is. It`s all a show. He`s walking around on stilts with Statue of Liberty hat on with this weird makeup.

It`s like performance art. It`s street art. It`s street performance. It`s all about that.

What we just saw, that`s not a president of the United States behaving. That`s some guy playing around with pens like what? It`s a performance.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, THE DAILY MAIL: He certainly knows what he`s doing. What you couldn`t see after that is then he comes outside, and I was outside waiting for him and all of us are waiting for him hoping he talks to the press. Because remember, he was supposed to have a press conference. He said he was going to have a press conference --

MATTHEWS: What does that mean, show up?

CHAMBERS: He said he was going to have a press conference this week. He didn`t do that.

MATTHEWS: The White House backyard of the Truman balcony. That was supposed to be a press conference.

CHAMBERS: And that didn`t happen. And there was some sense that perhaps there would be an end of the year press conference today which Obama used to do. That didn`t happen. So, we`re all on the south lawn of the White House like this is the moment, he`s going to stop and he`s going to take questions from us. He keeps walking, goes "Merry Christmas, everybody." you know, just mouths it. And then just keeps walking.

And the entire press corps`s like "no, come back, no!" And you knew exactly what he was doing. They told us to be outside. We`re all out there waiting.


KARNI: That`s surprising. He usually takes -- is actually pretty accessible in those moments when he`s walking to and from --

MATTHEWS: He wants to be. He is accessible.

CHAMBERS: Hut he didn`t yesterday. He didn`t yesterday. He didn`t today.

And he did so very disciplined yesterday. He talks about the tax cuts. He said -- or yesterday was Walter Reed. I`m going to Walter Reed. I`m going to meet with the soldiers. Walks away.

MATTHEWS: OK, Annie, you report in "Politico" that behind closed doors, the president has lately been talking up the outside advisers who helped usher him into the White House, fueling speculation about new additions in 2018. Who are the old -- golden oldie buddies of his coming back?

KARNI: The golden oldies are ones that never really go away like Corey Lewandowski who was fired as campaign manager but never lost his close bond with Trump. At a Christmas party at the White House for staffers, he name- checked Jason Miller, his former communications director, three times from the podium.


KARNI: David Urban a few times from the podium.

MATTHEWS: Urban is a smart guy but he`s a lobbyist. Does he want this job?

KARNI: He`s Trump`s top pick to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia. But people are talking about him, about coming in if he doesn`t get that. Larry Kudlow is being talked about as a replacement for Gary Cohn.

MATTHEWS: These are smart people. These are not dummies.

KARNI: The question is, these are -- this is like Trump`s comfort food. These are the guys he trusts. These are the guys --


KARNI: The question is these guys also have a lot of enemies. There are people who if Corey Lewandowski gets very close to having a senior job in the West Wing are going to do everything to block it.

MATTHEWS: I thought these guys caused him a lot of trouble along the way.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, these three will tell us some scoops we`ll be talking about through Christmas.


MATTHEWS: Well a little family bulletin. Kathleen and I are heading to a far off adventure and I`ll tell you where I`ve been and share some pictures, of course. In the meantime, and especially as we head to Christmas, go out and pick up a copy or copies of "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit". It will pick up your spirits. It is about the spirit a lot of us hold dear.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We are back with the HARDBALL round table.

Annie, tell me something I don`t know.

KARNI: To build on what you were just talking about, a name, a survivor in the White House, Kellyanne Conway, two White House officials unprompted this week, said to me, Kellyanne is going to be the next chief of staff.

MATTHEWS: She`s tough. I`ve known her forever.

Go ahead.

ALLEN: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has a political action committee called Off the Sidelines that has given $1.4 million to House and Senate candidates over the last several years, all of them women.

MATTHEWS: Now I think she`s on the ticket next time and she`s working to get there.

And by the way, why doesn`t she do more TV? I`m confounded by it, for people running.

Go ahead, Francesca.

CHAMBERS: All right. There is a lot of talk about how there could be a DACA deal in January but a Democratic member of Congress said they will not trade the border wall for DACA, that they`re not going to sell out the parents of illegal immigrants, they`re saying, and other family members in order --

MATTHEWS: Will DACA make it through? Will have it a year from now? To protect the young people who were brought here as kids.

CHAMBERS: Democratic members of Congress are saying, the congressional Hispanic Congress saying they will not make this deal with Trump. This is the red line.

MATTHEWS: I can understand.

Annie Karni, Jonathan Allen, Francesca Chambers, happy holidays to all of you.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch".

You are watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Friday, December 22nd, 2017.

I`ve done a lot of traveling these last three months out on book tour for Bobby Kennedy and you know what the nice people who say hello almost always say? It`s almost the same thing all the time. They look me in the eye, they pause for a second and then they say, again, and in dead caring seriousness, thank you for keeping me sane. Thank you for keeping us sane.

I know what they mean. And I cherish it because I`m not here to tell you how to think. I`m here to remind you because you know what this country stands for. It is what we`ve stood for all along, it is why we`re great. A free press and independent judiciary, a country where free speech and the right to criticize government is at the heart of our democracy, and has been since the late 18th century.

For Christmas, for the holidays, for the New Year, I want to leave you with the words of the great man of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine. He wrote them two days before Christmas in 1776, the year of our independence, the independence, he, Thomas Paine, was first to call for. They fit today, this day, in December 2017.

These are the times that try men`s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and women.

Let`s stand by our country. Let`s never surrender it to whoever tries to tear down what it stands for.

I want to leave you with a special appreciation to Ann Klenk, my executive producer for so many years. Ann is a Pennsylvania woman and if you noticed the fighting spirit of Erie, Pennsylvania, you`ve got good hearing. And she is retiring next week.

She put this program together night after night after night, together with our executive producer in New York, Court Harson.

Ann has provided the rocket fuel, the human working class passion that has given this show the gung-ho, rock em and sock em spirit. Of course I`ve helped. Thanks, Ann. Thanks a ton.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. From everyone here at HARDBALL, have a very merry Christmas.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES", of course, starts right now.



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