Show: HARDBALL Date: December 26, 2017 Guest: Carrie Sheffield, Mark Thompson, Matt Welch
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: That's our show. "Hardball" starts now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Jeff Flake warns the GOP. Let's play "Hardball."
And good evening. I'm Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews, who is on vacation.
Donald Trump stayed out of the public eye for the most part today. He did send out a pair of tweets earlier in the day. He labeled the FBI as quote "tainted" and boasted about essentially repealing the affordable care act. We will have a lot more on both of those stories.
But we begin with some stark warnings for the President and for the Republican Party from some fellow Republicans.
Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona are both retiring in 2018 and both are on record as outspoken critics of the President. But over the weekend they sounded huge alarm bells about their party's future under the leadership of President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Clearly, you know, Republican -- my party, the Republican Party, is going to experience losses, you know. It remains to be seen whether or not we are going to lose the majority. I tell my colleagues, look, we are going to be running into a headwind. You would better be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. But let's be prepared for the worst because this could be a really tough year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the risk if the party continues in that direction, the Bannon direction, the Trump direction? That you could lose -- could you lose the Senate?
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Most definitely. Most definitely. When you look at some of the audiences cheering for Republicans sometimes. You look out there and you say, those are the spasms of a dying party. When you look at the lack of diversity sometimes. And it depends on where you are obviously. But by and large, we are appealing to older white men. And there are just a limited number of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And on Sunday the President tweeted quote "the fake news refuses to talk about how big our base -- how strong, excuse me, our base is. They show fake polls just like they report fake news. Despite only negative reporting, we are doing well. Nobody is going to beat us."
So who's right? Is Trump's base big and strong or is the party appealing to a smaller and smaller fraction of the population?
Susan del Percio is a Republican strategist. James Peterson is an MSNBC contributor and host of the remix on WHYY. And Ken Vogel is a political reporter for the "New York times."
Ken, let me start with you on this. Look, historically the out of power party, the Democrats in this case, they do well in midterm elections barring some very, you know, sort of unusual circumstances especially if the President's approval rating is low.
So you hear these Republicans saying next year could be ugly. The President's approval rating is very low. We also saw the President sort of defy political history in 2016. Do you see variables that might be at work in 2018 that could save President Trump from the kind of electoral rebuke that a President in his shoes would normally be facing?
KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Potentially. But I think that those variables don't offset the electoral trends that you just laid out there, including particularly when you look at the generic ballot. This is where voters are asked basically which party they trust more to steer the country. And Democrats have a lead anywhere between 13 and 18 points. That's huge. To put that in perspective, that's bigger than in 2006, when Democrats retook both chambers of Congress. And bigger than what Republicans had headed into 2010 at this point, where they retook the House of Representatives. So I think all things look very bad for Republicans.
That said, as you pointed out, they didn't look particularly good in 2016 and obviously there was something that wasn't being captured in the polls that redounded to President Trump's benefit, now President Trump's benefit and Republicans' benefit.
Then the other thing, to go back to the broader trends that we are talking about and that Charlie Dent laid out and Jeff Flake have flagged as potentially problematic for Republicans long term. That is this idea that they just continue to appeal to white men and particularly, you know, white sort of middle-class and working-class men and this is a shrinking slice of the pie whereas women and minorities and young people are a growing slice of the pie.
You know, Republicans and demographic analysts and Democrats have been predicting that we would eventually reach that tipping point. It was the point of no return for Republicans. And it didn't come in 2016. Trump showed that that shrinking piece of the pie, working class, middle-class white men, was enough to win an election. It's going to be tested again in 2018.
[19:05:03] KORNACKI: So Susan, what do you do with that if you are a Republican candidate? If you are in one of these districts, you are a Republican, maybe Hillary Clinton won your district. Maybe she was only a few points behind Donald Trump. You are looking at it. You are saying, hey, if this is a wave year, I'm in trouble. What do you do? I mean, do you go out there and do you denounce Donald Trump? How do you handle an atmosphere like this if you are an endangered Republican?
SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It depends. In some of these districts, some of those members may be viewed as somewhat moderate, which means they could be facing a primary. So if the current member is going to be facing a primary on the right that is going to be particularly difficult in a swing district. Because then you are going to have to somewhat embrace Donald Trump or at least some of the things he has done, which is probably the way you go. You say Gorsuch, you say appointees, you say tax cut, and you try -- deregulation. And you try and move the ball that way on your primary.
But once you get to a general election, if you are in a moderate swing state, I don't know how Republicans overcome that especially when we see the turnout that happens from the local elections in big counties in New York and Pennsylvania and Virginia. The turnout on the Democratic line increased anywhere from 16 to 46 percent in some districts. That's tremendous. That turnout number.
KORNACKI: And James, I'm curious what you make of that energy? How you would define it? Because we spend a lot of time in politics trying to analyze elections and saying, well, this party, what's their message, what's their strategy, and there's a school of thought when you look to midterm elections that the out of power party, again, in this case the Democrats, actually doesn't need a message. It's a referendum on the in- power party, the in-power President. If the President's approval rating is low, the opposition party is hey, this is how you register your protest. Is that all Democrats need in 2018 for big win?
JAMES PETERSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I would hope the Democrats would come up with a much more sophisticated and much more intelligent around this particular moment. But it is a unique opportunity.
I think both of my co-panelists are right. There are certain issues Republicans could run on in this midterm election but Representative Dent and Senator Flake don't have those options because of the demographic thing that Ken is talking about. So when you look at 15th district in the state of Pennsylvania which is Charlie Dent's district, it's a very demographically developing, evolving region. It is becoming much more Latino, becoming much Browner. It is becoming much younger. And in that environment the only response for someone like representative Dent is to retire.
People in Pennsylvania hope he will take the same route that senator Toomey did which is to move from the 15th district to the actual Senate. But it barring all sorts of political things that emerge in this kind of moment in the midterm moment there is hardcore facts around demographic demographics, around Trump's approval ratings that certain Republicans will not be able to overcome.
KORNACKI: Yes. Just hearing this in the air, though, it is -- I get echoes of what we heard in October of 2016 --
DEL PERCIO: But you know, the autopsy of Republicans on the 2012 election, that autopsy they did on the election wasn't necessarily wrong. It was just that Donald Trump blew up everything and Hillary Clinton was extremely unpopular. And that's the other thing for some of these swing districts. Let's not forget you have Donald Trump there and you no longer have Hillary Clinton there that a lot of people --
KORNACKI: Right. And again, the nature that --.
KORNACKI: But if there is an issue here that Republicans think might give them a little traction next year, it's what happened last week. Republicans celebrating a major victory with their tax plan passing Congress. The President then signing into law. The message was simple, they said, this was all about the middle class.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
I consider this very much a bill for the middle class and a bill for jobs. And jobs are produced through companies and corporations. And you see that happening. Corporations are literally going wild over this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Yes, that was last week. President Trump has been at his country club Mar-a-Lago all weekend, though. His message to the other guests there may have been a little different.
According to CBS News quote "President Trump kicked off his holiday weekend at Mar-a-Lago Friday night at a dinner where he told friends, you all just got a lot richer," referencing the sweeping tax overhaul. CBS cites two anonymous sources. NBC news, we should say, has not verified the report.
President Trump is probably right about his friends getting richer, though. According to the non-partisan tax policy center, the vast majority of the benefits go to the richest Americans while the middle class will make a few hundred dollars back. The top one percent will get tens of thousands of dollars under the new plan.
But Ken, let's talk about the politics of this plan because part of this too was for Republicans just to say hey, we did something. We had the White House, we had the house, we had the Senate, now we have done this big ticket thing.
We know the polling on this tax plan is not good as it passes. I guess my question is we also know the economic numbers overall have been encouraging. If this economy does for whatever reason pick up steam over next year is there a political bank shot here for Republicans where voters sort of look at the economy come October and they say, well, I don't know exactly what you did but it seems to be working. Can Republicans get credit that way at all?
[19:10:04] VOGEL: That is certainly what they are hoping for, Steve. And that has been the messaging. And even as polls have shown that more voters believe Trump's private message as reported by CBS News as well as the analysis of folks like the tax policy center that you cited, that this would benefit the rich more than it would benefit the middle or the working class.
Republicans nonetheless believe that eventually -- and maybe sooner rather than later that folks will start seeing some benefits in their paychecks as the withholdings are reduced and they get more money in their paychecks. Ultimately, they won't actually see it on their taxes until after the midterm elections. That is, until April of 2019 on their 2018 taxes. Nonetheless, that's what Republicans are hoping that they will be able to sell as the message of their one big accomplishment thus far legislatively.
I think it's going to be a lot tougher to get any more legislative points on the board in 2018. So I think we already sort of see the parameters of what this election is going to look like and Democrats are gearing up to run hard against this tax bill.
KORNACKI: You know the other thing that strikes me, Susan, when we think back of history. We think of the recent Presidents who have had brutal midterms for their parties, Barack Obama the Dems lost 63 seats in 2010. You had Bill Clinton in 1994. Reagan in 1982 had a really bad midterm too. They bounced back and they won reelection because politically it was easier for them not to be aligned with their party's congressional leadership, to have some friction, to have some opposition there.
Think of Trump in 2016, it seemed like a big part of his appeal was that he wasn't aligned with Ryan and with McConnell and the Republican establishment. Is there an angle here for the White House where you take a hit in 2018 and it helps you in 2019 and 2020 politically?
DEL PERCIO: No, I think this White House is only what works for President Trump at any given time --
KORNACKI: But does that work for President Trump is what I'm asking.
DEL PERCIO: Well, it won't --
KORNACKI: To be able to rail against the Democrats every day instead of having to try to sort of this. We have seen this awkward, you know. They try to pass something with Ryan and McConnell, then he is bashing Ryan and McConnell, then we are asking why he is doing that. Is it cleaner if he just gets to attack Pelosi and Schumer every day?
DEL PERCIO: No, because if he has Pelosi, if it is Pelosi as potential leader, he is going to be facing -- he thinks it is bad now, the investigations into him. He can't -- what Donald Trump needs to learn and the team there, which I believe they know, is that they have to bend over backwards and do everything humanly possible to do not just what's good for Donald Trump but more importantly whatever they can do to keep the Republicans in the House in the majority. That is more towards his best interests than anything else at this point. Otherwise, we are going to see impeachment hearings. It's going to get really ugly.
KORNACKI: That's the question. Are Democrats -- is impeachment part of the message for 2018 for Democrats?
PETERSON: It absolutely should be. And I'm a little bit more cynical here about the tax cuts. My sense is that the only way that you get Republicans McConnell and Ryan to come together with President Trump is for the donor class. It's a way of sustaining the GOP. A lot of this is about what the future of the GOP can be. The demographic shifts suggest that the future of the GOP is not good in terms of where they are politically, but in terms of the financing and the way the political campaigns work, speaking and reaching out to the donor class through tax cuts is actually smart political strategy. It is sustaining in terms of getting the donor class to support what they are doing.
KORNACKI: Let me ask you quickly. You say you want impeachment to be part of the message. Do you get the sense the Democratic leadership is comfortable with that or do you think -- is there a fear there --?
PETERSON: When I see speaker Pelosi or former speaker Pelosi, she doesn't seem very comfortable with that right now. But when you talk to the base of the Democratic Party, you talk to the folks out there in the streets, the folks who are claiming hashtag resistance, impeachment needs to be part of the messaging if the Democratic Party --
DEL PERCIO: No. I wonder --.
KORNACKI: I think that's a key question for this year.
DEL PERCIO: It's going to be tough in those swing districts, though, we were talking about. Impeachment in campaigning may be a bridge too far whereas the President should be more concerned about it and shouldn't necessarily tweet or talk about it.
KORNACKI: All right. Thank you to Susan del Percio, James Peterson and Ken Vogel.
And coming up, President Trump is stepping up his attacks on the FBI, claiming the bureau is quote "tainted" and that the Russia probe is politically motivated. It all comes amidst a growing outcry amid some conservatives to oust the special counsel Bob Mueller.
Plus, former intelligence experts say that Russia is still aggressively using social media to spread propaganda. Russian operatives have used accounts to discredit the FBI and attack Republican politicians who have been critical of the President.
And President Trump reportedly fumed about immigrants coming into this country following his travel ban, allegedly telling aides that Haitians quote "all have AIDS."
And finally, the "Hardball" round table is here to tell me something I don't know.
This is "Hardball" where the action is.
[19:15:59] KORNACKI: The "Salt Lake Tribune" has named Senator Orrin Hatch Utahn of the year. But don't let that designation fool you. It is not meant to be a compliment. In a blistering editorial the newspaper said the title recognizes the person who has had the biggest impact on the state quote "for good or for ill." And among other things the paper then blasted Hatch for "his utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power." The editorial urges Senator Hatch to call it a career and says if not quote "the voters should end it for him."
We will be right back.
[19:18:29] KORNACKI: And welcome back to "Hardball."
President Trump spent part of his Christmas holiday attacking the FBI and one of its top officials. This morning President Trump was back at it again, claiming the agency used a quote "pile of garbage dossier" to target his campaign.
Trump tweeted quote "dossier is bogus. Clinton campaign, DNC funded dossier. FBI cannot after all this time verify claims in dossier of Russia-Trump collusion. FBI tainted."
The President added quote "they used this crooked Hillary pile of garbage as the basis for going after the Trump campaign." The President also targeted FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe tweeting "how can FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe the man in-charge along with leaking James Comey of the phony Hillary investigation be given $700,000 for wife's campaign by Clinton puppets during investigation." He added, FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. Ninety days to go."
Over the weekend the "Washington Post" reported that McCabe was planning to leave his post around March, when he was eligible for retirement. Now the attacks seem to be part of a broader strategy by some on the right to undermine the FBI and the special counsel Robert Mueller. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: He is a problem.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Real quick, do you have faith in Mueller?
GOHMERT: No. I have no faith in Mueller. I haven't from day one.
MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: I think the director has to get control of his investigation. I think also the President is taking it upon himself, I think successfully, pointing out the very obvious bias that some members of the investigation and former members of the investigation have. The problem we have here is that the FBI appears to be inherently political, inherently biased.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MILBANK: Department in this and they had to take it seriously. And Trump at the moment is trying to have it both ways, disparaging, also cooperating, counting on the House Republicans, many of which you showed there to do the dirty work for him.
So far, it hasn't bled into the larger Senate Republicans and others. That'll become very worrying if it becomes an across the board focus on Mueller who after all, is a Republican appointed by Rosenstein, a Republican looking into what Comey, a Republican had done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Sabrina too, just talking about the dossiers, it's the most confusing part about this to all -- in all of this to me because it's so expansive in terms of what was in there. There's a lot of specificity. There's this idea that some has been -- I think there's a range of possibilities that seems to exist out there.
Yet, nobody seems -- in public domain at least seems to have a great grasp of it right. And it raises a possibility to me, I guess at least -- and you played this out a little bit, there's always sort of this assumption that one way or the other Mueller is going to wrap this up, we're going to know everything definitively this way or that way. And I wonder if there's also the possibility, when all this shakes out, there's a lot of sort of in the middle there. And it's very much open to interpretation.
SIDDIQUI: Well that's all the more reason why the investigation needs to be ongoing and should not be forced to be concluded by Republicans who increasingly in Congress are saying that it's time for Mueller to wrap up which seems to be now shifting tone and echoing some of Trump's attacks on the independence of the investigation almost laying the groundwork for the -- to support the president if he does in fact chose to fire Robert Mueller.
But I think one thing that's important to remember is it's a totality of events. We've seen a pattern in which Trump associates or officials who worked on the campaign communicated with the Russians, they were offered incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, that we know Donald Trump Jr. was directly offered. We've got emails to prove it.
The question here is intent. And that's what's going to be a lot more difficult for Robert Mueller to prove. Was the Trump campaign intentionally trying to collude with the Russians? Or actively colluding with the Russians to sway this election and that's something that I think he's putting together very meticulously.
But what we do have is a pattern of events. And you cannot undermine the significance of those and that they certainly prove that there was an intention to at least accept help from the Russians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Sabrina Siddiqui and Dana Milbank. Thanks so much to both of you for joining for joining us.
MILBANK: Thanks Dave.
SIDDIQUI: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. And up next, former intelligence officials say that the Russia disinformation campaign is still going strong long after the 2016 election. Kremlin trolls have even targeted politicians who are critical of President Trump. This is Hardball where the action is.
KORNACKI: And welcome back to Hardball, a stunning new report offers insight into the Russian effort to upend the 2016 election and our government's flatfooted response to it.
"The Washington Post" reports that, prior to the election top U.S. officials underestimated a threat posed by Kremlin trolls online, noting that intelligence and law enforcement agencies quote, "Saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States, but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin's ambitions."
The report adds that quote, "Top U.S. policy makers didn't appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back." Now, quote, "one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act."
Meanwhile, two former intelligence officials, Michael Morell, President Obama's acting CIA Director and Mike Rogers, former Republican Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, both warned that Russian disinformation campaign rages on in an op ed in today's "Washington Post."
They write that Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspects of it's 2016 toolkit. The use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.
For more, I'm joined by Ellen Nakashima, National Security Reporter for "The Washington Post," and Natasha Bertrand, political reporter for "Business Insider."
Ellen, let me start with you. We hear this so many times I feel in stories like this, the warning signs were there, they were interpreted the wrong way, they were missed. Take us back though, when did we get the first warning signs that this was happening, that this might happen? What did those warning signs look like and how could they be missed?
ELLEN NAKASHIMA, NATIONAL SECURTY REPORTER: Well, one of the first significant glimpses we got of what Russia might do to the United States was during the 2014 conflict in Ukraine when the Russian Military Intelligence Agency, they GRU, launched an all out propaganda blitz in Ukraine and it's lead up to it's annexation of Crimea.
They created fake personas, put them up on Facebook and Russian social media websites to try to influence the opinion of Ukrainians there to drum up support for the pro-Russian separatists against the pro-Western sympathizers who wanted to be closer to Europe. That was really sort of the first glimpse and American officials, use officials saw that. Some of them were concerned and they started a debate over whether or not to take some actions.
KORNACKI: But we saw that the story here that is that the flag was sort of waved there by some people, but not much was done. Why not? Was it just sort of, ah, it's too far fetched? What was the thinking that led to the flatfooted response?
NAKASHIMA: So what we've learned was there actually was an effort in 2014 and 2015 to -- there was debate over whether or not to create a presidential finding against Russia, which would have been the first such finding to conduct covert action, influence operations, cyber actions and others against Russia.
Something like that hasn't been done since the Cold War had ended. But, during that period of time the options that were being considered, which included doing fake personas, fake websites, perhaps even zapping websites and servers. Some of that was considered either not to be - to be effective or to result in retaliation, and some officials even thought that the U.S. spy shouldn't be involved in such counter propaganda efforts.
In the end about - after two of the date and drawing up of options, it went nowhere, the package never hit the president's desk, and so that whole effort was tabled.
KORNACKI: And Natasha, to fast forward to the present day, you've got Morell (ph) out there now saying, "look, this is still going on. Russia's still basically using this playbook here that we got an election coming up here in 2018. It's a midterm election year. We've got 2020 right on the heels of that."
If Russia is up to what it was doing in 2016 this coming year or in 2020, will those efforts land differently now or is it set up for a repeat?
BERTRAND: Not necessarily. They won't land differently. That's was intelligence officials are really raising the alarm about right now is the election system and the voter system hacking, the potential that they will be hacked, and the potential that Russia will not only continue its propaganda efforts on social media through this year, but actually intensify them leading up to the 2018 elections as we saw last year.
And what we're seeing now is that the Russians are still using these troll accounts that are operated outside of Russia to so disaccording the United States to defend right wing allies, primarily of Donald Trump. They're attacking any members of Congress that are critical of Donald Trump, they're defending media personalities like Sean Hannity. They are attacking the FBI. There's been a whole lot of controversy over the FBI over the last few weeks and they have essentially aligned themselves with GOP members of Congress who are calling for a purge to take place within the FBI and saying that there's a kind of coo going on against the president.
So these are all efforts by Russia really to disrupt. That's really what they're goal is all about. They want to disrupt. They want to sew chaos in order to distract attention away from what's happening domestically in Russia and focus the world and the United States' attention on our own domestic problems.
KORNACKI: All right. Natasha Bertrand and Ellen Nakashima, very interesting report there today. Thank you to both of you. Appreciate that. And up next, the White House is pushing back on an explosive report in the New York Times. The president reportedly fumed about immigrants entering this country, complaining that Nigerians will never "go back to their huts after coming to the U.S." You're watching Hardball..
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, it's very simple. What we are demanding is merit-based immigration. We want people that are going to help our country. We want people that are going to keep our country safe. We don't want lotteries where the wrong people are in the lotteries. And guess what, who are the suckers that get those people?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: And welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump has never been shy to share his opinions on immigration. But a new report details particularly offensive comments allegedly made by the president.
According to a "New York Times" account of a June Oval Office meeting, the president, quote, vented that so many foreigners had flooded into the country since January that it was making a mockery of his pledge to secure the borders. More than 25,000 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained. Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They, quote, all have AIDS, he grumbled. Forty thousand have come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never go back to their huts in Africa.
The White House strongly denies the president made those comments saying it's both sad and telling "The New York Times" would print the lies of their anonymous sources.
Let's bring in tonight's HARDBALL roundtable. Carrie Sheffield is founder of Gold Media and a conservative commentator. Mark Thompson is the host of "Make It Plain" on Sirius XM Progress. And Matt Welch is the editor at large of "Reason Magazine".
Maybe we could stipulate that you can make what you want of this particular "New York Times" story. They cite this to their sources. They've printed that. The White House denies it.
But we know the tone, Carrie, that the president uses to address these issues, that the sort of -- the bluntness of those comments. Negativity and even hostility of those comments is not really at odds with things he said publicly. I think back to his speech announcing his candidacy when he talked about Mexicans coming across the border, only in passing after saying rapists and murderers. He said, I suppose some of them are good people.
This is the tone. How does that affect when the president of the United States is talking that way, how does that affect the United States standing in this world?
CARRIE SHEFFIELD, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Sure. So again, as you noted, you know, the most inflammatory comments have been disputed by other people who were in the meeting as well. So that is important to note in addition to the official comments from the White House.
But I think in terms of tone overall, 2016 was a wake-up call to the, quote/unquote, political establishment, Chamber of Commerce, conservatives Republicans who were taking this unfettered approach to immigration. We need to be more like Canada and I think that's what Senator Tom Cotton is doing as well, to say it should be merit-based --
KORNACKI: But I'm asking about the tone here because --
KORNACKI: -- the first clip we played there coming in is November 1st. He's president of the United States.
Again, we can take "The New York Times" one aside here. The overall tone when he talks about immigration is not, hey, let's consider this proposal from Cotton. He's talking in some very, very blunt terms in a way presidents haven't before.
SHEFFIELD: Well, I think, again, it's a wake-up call because that -- a lot of conservatives felt like Republicans had been asleep at the wheel. So when someone is asleep at the wheel, what do you do? You need to jolt them to be awake.
Again, to the Canada issue, 50 percent of Canadian immigrants have a bachelor's degree. It's only about a quarter here in the United States. So, when Trump is saying in that clip you played at the beginning, he said we need to make this merit-based, we need to make this based on substance, not based on a lottery, not based on the fact that maybe your parents muscled their way in. That's not a rational, reason-based, metric-based, accountability view of immigration.
KORNACKI: So, you're making -- let me ask Mark what you think.
You're make the argument here essentially this is shock therapy, this is what somebody needs to -- you have the bully pulpit, you're engaging in shock therapy, that's how the president focuses people on an issue that nobody else will focus on. What do you make of that argument?
MARK THOMPSON, HOST, "MAKE IT PLAIN" ON SIRIUS XM RADIO: Well, I think it's a little beyond shock therapy. This is language he's always used. We've always known him for what he is.
I believe he said those things. I have no doubt about it, even if the White House denies it, because that's the way he talks. We also know that by the company he keeps.
He's constantly playing to his white nationalist, Nazi base. And to say that Haitians all have AIDS, to say that Nigerians won't want to go back to huts as if people still live in huts, add that to what he always says about Muslims with his Islamophobic comments, as you said, and what he said about Mexicans, these are all racist statements made --
KORNACKI: When you say the white nationalist Nazi base, how big of his base do you think that is?
THOMPSON: Well, membership maybe not so big. But ideologically and from a philosophical point of view, I think it's pretty broad. You don't have those who vote for him and those who voted for Roy Moore renouncing white nationalism and Nazism even if they aren't a member of a neo-Nazi group or Stormfront or something like that.
So, in terms of the hard numbers of membership I don't know that we'll ever know, to be quite frank. But there are a lot of people who agree with that and watch Fox News every day and buy into that rhetoric.
SHEFFIELD: And I just think you're going to lose in 2018 if that's the playbook, to say that if you support strong immigration controls that you support these things. That's incredibly offensive. I have a lot of family and friends who support Trump who reject all of what you're saying.
THOMPSON: And they say Haitians have AIDS?
KORNACKI: Let me ask you -- let me -- let me try to reset and ask you this question. So, you're speaking up, you're saying, look, Trump supporters, folks you know, friends, family members, that kind of comment does a disservice to them. That's what you're saying.
Does the president, though, when he speaks the way in public that he speaks about this issue of immigration, does he make it easy for critics to say those things about your family and friends?
SHEFFIELD: Sure. Well, look, I was not a fan of Trump in 2016. There's no secret about that in terms of I found some of his comments to be crossing the line.
But again, I think this is -- they say in negotiation terms the ZOPA, the zone of possible agreement has been moved, in terms of -- you know, it's one of those things on the airplane when you're facing a tragedy, you've got to put your own mask on before you can save others. That's what for a lot of the Trump voters, that's what this is about. Our country -- you know, the mortality rate is declining in this country -- or in terms of like the life span.
For the first time in a long time, our life spans are going down. The opium crisis is horrific right now. There are so many problems right now that this was the sense of a lot of Trump voters is we need to --
KORNACKI: What do you think he is tapping into, because this was one of the issues in 2016, 17 candidates on those stages, right? This was the issue that separated him from all the others.
MATT WELCH, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, REASON MAGAZINE: Absolutely.
KORNACKI: Immigration. Was it the emotion of it? Was it's stuff Mark's talking about that was resonating or was it the policy, the stuff Carrie's talking about?
WELCH: Just to throw out quickly, I don't think America needs a gas mask at this point, that immigrants are the gas. I think there's problems with that metaphor.
Part of it is that Trump said that he would actually do what Republicans always promise and then forget about once they become elected. They were playing phony populism this whole time. Now he's going to say I'm going to do real populism, I'm going to open the embassy in Jerusalem, I'm going to actually say merry Christmas and keep talking about it after election day and all this kind of stuff.
Now, immigration was the most symbolic one part of that. But this is a big departure not just rhetorically -- and rhetorically it is a huge departure and an ugly one and an un-American one from my point of view. But it's a departure on policy. We are at this point accepting almost the smallest number of refugees in this country than we have in the last 40 years at a time when the worldwide refugee population has nearly doubled in the last five years. It's a staggering number of refugees.
We have completely absconded with leadership on this issue and we're trying to cut under Tom Cotton and other benighted individuals out there, we're trying to cut the number of legal immigrants into this country. If you look at immigration as fundamentally a criminality problem, then this kind of makes sense. But if you think, hmm, if we have more than -- we have millions of people living outside of the law, maybe there's something prohibitionist about this problem, which is how George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan viewed this problem, then making that number smaller is going to create more illegal people. That is a problem.
KORNACKI: All right. The panel will stick around. We've got to squeeze a quick break in here. We will not stop the conversation.
The round table is staying with us, up next. Also, Trump says the phrase "merry Christmas" was under assault until he took office. The tape says something else, though.
You're watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Still ahead, President Trump says he's proud to have led the charge against the war on Christmas. We'll tackle that next with the HARDBALL roundtable.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.
This weekend, President Trump tweeted out this. He said, quote, people are proud to be saying merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. Merry Christmas!
The implication there, of course, this is some new phenomenon. Of course, you can see here, President Obama wished the nation, at least I think we have this, merry Christmas. Here's a tweet from President Barack Obama and, of course, this is not an aberration. He did that publicly many times as a president. This has caused a lot of conversation about what President Trump is trying to achieve.
Mark, I'm curious, tell us all what do you think. Mark, what do you make of this? Is this Trump trying to claim an empty compliment or does it go deeper than this?
THOMPSON: Well, he's not making an (INAUDIBLE). He's making things up with the help of Fox News. They pushed forward this propaganda for several years of there's a war on Christmas. There's never been a war on Christmas. There was a video released yesterday of President Obama saying merry Christmas at least 17 times.
The real war on Christmas is the tax bill they just passed. It's going to be devastating to the working class and the working poor. They should have called it the scrooge bill if anything.
So, no, there's never been a war on Christmas, and he's mixed this up to again feed whatever base he thinks he has out there.
KORNACKI: So, what's he feeding here, Carrie? What's the response to, hey, President Obama said this dozens of times as president. There was no war on Christmas from the last president.
SHEFFIELD: Right, no, no, absolutely, President Obama supported Christmas and said "merry Christmas" multiple times. But I think it's a deeper issue here and that is that question of religious liberty. So, even Michael Weir (ph), who is President Barack Obama's faith director, he wrote a book earlier this year where he gently -- it was a gentle critique but he did critique President Obama on his approach to people of faith, on issues around, for example, contraception, issues around gay marriage and issues where religious people in good faith felt like they had been shut out of the Obama administration in a way that was sort of demoralizing over the course of his presidency.
KORNACKI: I gather what you're trying to say. It's a bit symbolic. Let's get the libertarian "Reason Magazine" perspective.
What do you think of the war on Christmas here?
WELCH: The president derives not a small amount of his political power by trolling people with pointless culture war feuds that don't really amount to anything that he can't control. He doesn't have any impact on what I say to a shopkeeper, what a shopkeeper says to me. The fact that we're talking about this for a week says that his troll game is still better than the response game at this point. He wants you and everybody spluttering with rage about it, then he wins.
KORNACKI: All right. The roundtable is staying with us.
Up next, three scoops you'll be talking about tomorrow. You're watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: All right. We're back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Matt, tell me something I don't know.
WELCH: Baseball hall of fame is voting right now. They'll announce next month.
Why would anyone care about baseball? It's kind of interesting from a voting perspective. This stuff is being public, the votes are being tallied publicly at the time it's changing the behavior of the voters, I think, when they can see how it's going to affect.
If we know how our votes are going to be tallied, how it's going to be impact the election, we might change our voting behavior.
KORNACKI: This is like California voting when all the East Coast is in on election night.
SHEFFIELD: So, the media -- mainstream media, but I'm glad we're talking about here, black and Latino unemployment is at record lows. It's the lowest it's been, at least through 2000. So, dating back to W. Bush as well as Obama administrations, things are going well.
The black-white unemployment gap, the differential is the lowest it's been since 2000. The economy is turning up its broader improvement of employment.
THOMPSON: As a result of Trump's comments, even the most recent ones about Haitians and Nigerians, there's going to be a greater interest this season with regards to Kwanzaa. More people are going to be interested in it, celebrating Kwanzaa, as a reaction to this president. So I think we'll be hearing more about that.
KORNACKI: OK. That'll do it for tonight. Carrie Sheffield, Mark Thompson, Matt Welch, thanks to all of you joining us on the panel.
I'm Steve Kornacki. I'm filling in for Chris Matthews. He's on a very well-deserved vacation at the end of this year.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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