Show: HARDBALL Date: December 28, 2017 Guest: Catherine Rampell
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: It has some of the best moments of the year. A look at what Bob Mueller taught Donald Trump with new analysis and a collection of some of the worst dad jokes I have told on air. My producers actually made us make a reel. I`m not joking but it is about jokes. That`s tomorrow 6:00 p.m. eastern. Please check it out.
Our show is over. "Hardball" with Chris Matthews starts now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Flipping on Flynn? Let`s play "Hardball."
And good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews who was on vacation.
The President`s lawyers are responding to the "Washington Post" report that the President may ultimately turn on his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI earlier this month. As the most senior former Trump adviser who is known to be cooperating with investigators, Flynn could potentially help prosecutors land an even bigger fish in their ongoing probe and that could possibly pose a significant threat to the President himself.
Now as the Post revealed yesterday, if Flynn does ultimately implicate the President or others around him, then the President`s legal team is apparently set to portray one of Trump`s former closest advisers as a liar who is out to save his own neck, referring to Flynn`s admitted crime. One person who helped craft this strategy said, he said it himself, he is a liar.
Today the President`s lawyers are pushing back though. In a statement to MSNBC news, attorney John Dowd slammed the Post`s report as complete nonsense and more fake news. This is the same legal team that has assured the President and others that the Mueller investigation would soon be winding down.
However, there are signs to the contrary. Axios is reporting that quote "members of Robert Mueller`s team have begun reaching out to former Republican national committee staff who were familiar with the digital operations of the Trump campaign. The goal as Yahoo! reports is quote "to determine if the joint effort was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at affecting the American electorate.
This month, Trump attorney Ty Cobb also declared that all, the White House interviews with the special counsel`s team are over. However, former FBI official and Mueller colleague telling "USA Today" I would be shocked if Mueller was done with the White House inner circle. All of these indictments, guilty pleas and interviews could be just round one.
Joining me is Jonathan Swan, national political reporter with Axios. Julia Yaki is a staff writer at the "Atlantic" Julia Ioffe and Barry Grissom is a former U.S. attorney. Thanks to all of you for joining.
Barry, the resident former prosecutor here, let me start with you. So you have this report from the "Washington Post" saying that if Michael Flynn ultimately says President Trump or someone immediately around him committed wrongdoing, the strategy will be to say that Flynn is lying. You have Trump`s lawyer now out there saying this is garbage. This is fake news. What do you make of that denial? Do you take that as this strategy is off the table? How do you interpret that?
BARRY GRISSOM, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, the strategy really is defense counsel 101. I mean, there`s no adage in the law that when you have the law on your side, you pound on it. And when you have the facts on your side you pound on the facts. And when you have neither you pound on the table.
And what it sounds to me is if this effort to discredit General Flynn is really, as I said, a very basic defense tactic. You know, when lawyers make representations to their client that certain things will end by a certain time, the only lawyers in the team that knows anything about when something is going to end are the prosecutors because they are the ones who are collecting the evidence. They are compiling their witness statements and they are doing their work in front of the grand jury. And I think it`s very risky if you are a defense counsel and you tell your client that an investigation is going to end by a certain time certain.
KORNACKI: Jonathan, Barry makes the case that in one sense this is lawyering 101. I certainly makes sense to me. If someone goes and accuses you of a crime you don`t think you committed or you don`t want people to know you committed you say the person is lying. The Trump lawyer though today coming out and saying that report is fake news, what do you make of that?
JONATHAN SWAN, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Right. Well, I mean, they have to. They are not going to say, oh, actually, yes, we have this great plan to undercut Michael Flynn, which we`re going to deviously roll out over the next six weeks.
The interesting thing to me is when that story ran Ty Cobb declined to comment. So he had an opportunity to deny it in the story and he didn`t. But just sort of pulling back, I think a much more interesting point is that it`s a question that a lot of people close to the situation are asking themselves is why did Mueller allow for this prosecutorial vulnerability? Because that`s what it is. He could have charged Flynn on any number of things and he chose to make it this one thing lying to the FBI which really does give a very big free kick to the opposition that can say, well, he lied about this, he could lie -- how can you trust anything he has to say? So it actually is a bit of vulnerability for the prosecution.
[19:05:21] KORNACKI: And Julia, in terms of the timing here, I think one of the questions this raises is are we looking at just sort of a basic potential legal strategy, a contingency scenario that the Trump team is preparing for? Or is there a more specific reason why they`re now talking about this apparently? Has something happened since that plea a few weeks ago in exchange they are thinking about Flynn`s role in all of this?
JULIA IOFFE, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, I can`t -- I can`t speak to the change in their thinking, but I think it fits overall with Trump`s broader strategy, which is any time he disagrees with somebody or he doesn`t like the criticism leveled at him he calls it fake news and he attacks the credibility bearer of that news.
His administration has already gone after Mike Flynn. If you recall, Ty Cobb, one of the President`s lawyers, the day of the plea bargain, Mike Flynn`s plea bargain, he referred in his statement to Mike Flynn as an Obama administration official already trying to put distance between them. So I think this is maybe the least surprising news we have seen about the Mueller investigation.
The other thing I would say is that this is part of a parcel of, you know, the broader Republican attacks on Mueller, on the integrity of the people working on his team possibly preparing the base and in general the American public to not believe and to question the credibility of any indictments or conclusions that might come out of that investigation.
KORNACKI: As you mentioned, there is a precedent if this were to be the direction this ultimately goes, if the President and his team were ultimately to be out there calling Flynn a liar, it wouldn`t be the first time he was trying to distance himself from former advisors who have been snared in the special counsel. You can take a look here at how the President defended Paul Manafort last February and then watch what he said in November after Manafort`s indictment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That`s Mr. Manafort who is, by the way, a respected man. And he said that he has absolutely nothing to do and never has with Russia. And he said that very forcefully. I saw his statement.
You know, Paul was not there very long. What people don`t mention, Paul was not there for a very long period of time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was it that convinced you that he had to be let go?
TRUMP: Well, I think we found out something about he may be involved with all -- with certain nations and I don`t even know exactly what it was in particular.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Trump also once praised his former adviser George Papadopoulos as an excellent guy. That was in an interview in March of 2016. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: George Papadopoulos, he is an oil energy consultant, excellent guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Then after Papadopoulos began cooperating with investigators President Trump said quote "few people knew the young low level volunteer named George who has already proven to be a liar.
Barry, let me ask you. Again, playing this out here because we are on sort of, you know, contingency speculation here. But if this does go to a scenario where Flynn is saying if Trump committed wrongdoing, somebody immediately around Trump committed wrongdoing, the vulnerability that Jonathan is talking about there where Flynn has admitted and pleaded to lying to the FBI, if the Trump argument with Flynn implicating him then becomes, hey, this guy is an admitted liar, he is cut some kind of deal with prosecutors to save himself, to save his son, he will say anything to get off the hook, he will say anything to get off lightly. Strategically, legally how much success is a strategy like that likely to have?
GRISSOM: Well, that type of strategy would probably be more successful if it were in a vacuum by itself. But what we have in this particular instance as your film clips just showed, we have the President being his own worst enemy. When the President vouches for General Flynn even on the day he was terminating him as a good guy, as an honorable person. He is really his own worst enemy when we try to affect the credibility of General Flynn.
The thing that bothers me most about this line or this strategy, if we forget for a moment Republicans, Democrats, what this really is, is an assault on our institution of justice. Long after these folks are gone, I think I saw a Gallup poll that says 30 percent of the people still believe President Obama was born in another country. This kind of assault upon the integrity of the department of justice, the justice system as a whole is going to be an institutional wound that if the FBI agent is out there testifying some place, there may be some folks who are still sitting on that jury years removed from now who remember this time frame and remember how this President attacked the credibility of one of the great law enforcement entities and agencies in the world.
So that really bothers me more than just this President and these individuals. I think there is a much larger issue at play here than merely the personalities we are talking about today.
[19:10:18] KORNACKI: Jonathan, you are well-sourced within this administration. We played the - and we showed the some of the examples there, the folks around Trump have been talking up the idea that his probe is not long for this world. It is going wrap up soon. There had been predictions here they haven`t born out. What is the current thinking? What is your sense of the current thinking in Trump Land about where this is heading, about the timeline, about their exposure here? What is your sense of that?
SWAN: Well, you have to separate Ty Cobb, you know, the legal team from the people inside the White House who really know nothing and they are just listening to the legal team with varying degrees of skepticism. And then you have people in the course all that outside many of whom are more pessimistic.
But I spoke to Ty Cobb about this couple of weeks ago. And the way he laid it out was he said, yes, the investigation will continue. And he uses the word silos. He says there are two silos, the Flynn silo and the Manafort silo. And they will continue. But the White House, you know, that will all be wrapped up and he has moved the timeline. He initially said thanksgiving and he said the end of the year. The last time I spoke to Ty Cobb he said, you know, early next year.
But I can tell you, you know, once you go one ring out from that there is a lot of skepticism that this will be cleanly wrapped up with a bow, you know, by the end of January.
KORNACKI: And Julia, the other wild card is trying to put yourself in the shoes of Michael Flynn. Yet his brother on twitter the other day saying, Mr. President, pardon my brother. You had Trump until now at least publicly and still publicly, we should say, Trump`s posture has been a pretty friendly and generous one. But now you are reading, hey, look, they are worried you are going to say something and they are ready to go after you. What does this have to do with Flynn`s thinking, his calculation, thinking, how he approaches it?
IOFFE: Well, again, I think it would be purely speculative. But if I`m Michael Flynn and I`m watching this guy throw me under the bus more I might talk more.
The other thing is we have to keep in mind the issue of Michael Flynn is an important one because if you recall, one of the reasons that Trump -- or shortly before Trump fired the FBI director Jim Comey, he said he pressured him to go easy on Michael Flynn so Michael Flynn also holds the key to a very important aspect of President Trump and whether or not he obstructed justice.
KORNACKI: All right. Julia Ioffe, Barry Grissom, and Jonathan Swan, great insight from all of you. Thank you for joining us.
And coming up, Roy Moore`s last stand. The Alabama Republican made a last ditch effort to throw out the results of this month`s special election even claiming he had taken a polygraph test to show the allegations of sexual misconduct against him are false.
Plus, Trump closing out the year by launching a twitter attack against "Vanity Fair" magazine and Hillary Clinton. It is never feud in the year like I sure seen plenty of them from Trump`s battles with the media to Congress to those behind the Russia probe.
And we are going to take a look at the year ahead for Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Can Republicans get another big win under their belts after that tax plan and will Democrats see a wave election in 2018 or are they at risk of overplaying their hand?
And finally, the "Hardball" round table is here to tell me something I don`t know.
This is "Hardball" where the action is.
[19:17:03] KORNACKI: Hey, welcome back to "Hardball."
Roy Moore isn`t quite the distant memory some Republicans were hoping for, at least not yet. Earlier today Alabama officials rejected a lawsuit brought by the former Republican candidate alleging that voter fraud took place in this month`s special election citing what he claimed were election experts, Moore`s campaign claimed that quote "with a reasonable degree of statistical and mathematical certainty election fraud occurred."
And as a result this campaign called on the secretary of state to delay certification until a thorough investigation is completed.
Janet Porter, Roy Moore`s spokeswoman, had this warning for the secretary of state in Alabama and that state`s governor ahead of the certification.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was secretary of state, well I would like to get to the bottom of it no matter who it is that I supported. Because here is a thing that governor Ivy needs to know. She is up for reelection, too. And by the way, if they can steal the election from Roy Moore, Governor Ivy, they can steal from you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And Republican Alabama secretary of state Jon Merrill was undeterred at 2:10 eastern this afternoon the election board certified Democrat Doug Jones as the official winner of the election. Senator-elect Jones issued this statement.
I am looking forward to going to work for the people of Alabama in the New Year. I will be an independent voice and work to find common ground with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get Washington back on track and fight to make our country a better place of all.
Jones is to be sworn in by vice president Mike Pence next week. Despite all of that, Roy Moore still refuses to concede. In a statement he says I have stood for the truth about God and the constitution. I have no regrets. To God be the glory.
For more I`m joined by Kyle Whitmire, a state political columnist for the Alabama Media Group. Aisha Moodie-Mills, Democratic Strategist and the former Republican congressman from Florida, Dave Jolly.
Kyle on the ground in Alabama, let me start with you. So look. There wasn`t much -- there didn`t seem to be anything of these claims of election fraud. Election officials, Republicans in your state dismissed them out of hand. So the election is over as far as they are concerned.
I`m curious about the politics in Alabama. Roy Moore was able to win the Republican nomination down there. He is refusing to concede. His spokesman said, boy, these Republicans are making a big mistake here. Are Republican voters prepared to move on from this election or are they going to be just like Roy Moore and say, hey, this thing was stolen?
KYLE WHITMIRE, STATE POLITICAL COLUMNIST, ALABAMA MEDIA GROUP: I think this has been a great demonstration of why Roy Moore was unfit for this office to begin with. And I think that a lot of Republican voters who might have been on the fence, maybe even some who voted for Roy Moore in this election are going to change their minds about him because of the way that he has played this thing out.
Look, it was -- it was a narrow win for Doug Jones but it was not like, you know, something we saw in Virginia where it`s going to come down to a coin flip. This was one-half percent difference. And it wasn`t, you know, while that might look close, it`s not close enough to trigger a recount. And the only thing they have are all these bogus claims of voter fraud. It just looks childish. It looked petulant. It looked to be, you know, he looked to be a sore loser. And I don`t think anybody in Alabama, Republican, Democrat, independent, wants to be associated with that.
KORNACKI: David Jolly, put yourself, if you could, in the shoes, strategically speaking, of Mitch McConnell here looking at that Senate battleground for 2018.
So, on the one hand, he loses a Senate seat in Alabama. His margin in the Senate with this certification, it`s 51/49. It`s razor-thin right now. On the other hand, Roy Moore is not going to be in Washington next year as a leading member of the national Republican Party.
Is that a better outcome strategically for McConnell?
DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Of course.
Yes, look, it`s the best possible outcome, is to have Roy Moore and the horse he rode in on a distant memory of national politics, right?
But, listen, the problem for Republicans and for Mitch McConnell is that there are more Steve Bannon crazy Republican candidates right around the corner. Steve, you know these races. Look, Michael Grimm in New York, who just got out of federal prison, who threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony.
Paul Nehlen in Wisconsin, who is challenging Paul Ryan from the right and has now been caught up in anti-Semitic and white nationalist tweets. Kelli Ward in Arizona, who has suggested that because John McCain is sick, he should resign and she should take his seat.
The Steve Bannon wing of the Republican Party survives the defeat of Roy Moore. So Roy Moore is done in terms of national politics, but this whole division within the Republican Party and the Steve Bannon-ism is still going to be a chokehold around Mitch McConnell`s neck going into 2018.
KORNACKI: Aisha, as a Democrat, I`m curious how you think about that, because we have seen this in the past few years, these Republican primaries.
We were calling it the Tea Party a few years ago. Establishment figures got knocked off in these Republican primaries by candidates who couldn`t win races the party is never supposed to lose. Democrats, looking ahead to 2018, looking ahead at that difficult Senate map, is that a big part of the Democratic thinking strategically now, we`re going to benefit from Republicans doing in other states what they just did in Alabama?
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, absolutely.
They have been on a pathway to self-destruction, I believe, and that`s what we`re seeing playing out. I think the big thing for the Democrats to take away from this is that they need to trust black women. Right? Black women won this election.
There was a knee-jerk reaction to want to kind of deviate away from the core base of the party, which is the beautiful multiethnic race of the party, and, like, figure out how the Democrats go back and get those white guys in Wisconsin, for example, who didn`t show up for Hillary Clinton.
And what we see in Alabama, what we saw in Virginia and what the reality is that, as long as the Democrats stay true to their values of inclusion, of bringing all the people under the tent and to the table, they will win time and time again, even in those red states.
And so I think the lesson to be learned is that, as we go out and we fight these 2018 battles, we need to make sure that we`re doing it the way the Democrats know how to run the playbook, that we bring black people, that we bring Latino people, that we bring young people into the process in an authentic way.
We will win every time and defeat all of this bigotry that is really running rampant within the Republican Party.
KORNACKI: Kyle, something you said a minute ago struck me, that maybe this moment with Roy Moore refusing to concede, claiming election fraud, may be sort of an aha moment for Republicans in Alabama, where they say, maybe we don`t need to go down this road again.
I`m curious. Roy Moore is 70 years old. We have seen him in the past decade-and-a-half. He`s been thrown off the state Supreme Court twice. He keeps coming back. He was on the brink of a Senate seat this year. Do you think there`s a political future for him at all, or is this the last chapter?
WHITMIRE: I think he`s done.
He`s still going to have his core base of devout followers. But beyond that, his ceiling has always been his floor, and his floor has always been his ceiling. And that`s what really caught him in this election.
Look, if he had had a strong opponent, not Luther Strange, he would not have been in this race, right. If Mitch McConnell had not tried to get involved in this race and force Luther Strange on Alabama Republican voters in the primary, and allowed someone like Del Marsh, our Senate -- our state Senate majority leader, to run, and not blackballed campaign operatives who were working for other candidates, there might be a Republican, another Republican in the Senate next week.
And I think that is going to be something that a lot of people are going to remember here. But as far as Roy Moore is concerned, look, he`s already embarrassed Alabama enough. I think a lot of Republican voters last -- two weeks ago now voted for Doug Jones.
This guy is through. Any time he steps back up to the plate, people are going to say, remember, there`s a Democrat in the Senate right now because of Roy Moore. We don`t want to be associated with him ever again.
KORNACKI: And, David, what I`m hearing Kyle say, I`m thinking back, though, over the last six or seven years. I feel around the country at different points we have heard versions of that.
KORNACKI: If only Republicans in Delaware had nominated Mike Castle in that Senate race in 2010, that`s not a loss. If only they hadn`t gone with Mourdock over Lugar in Indiana, not a loss.
JOLLY: Todd Akin in Missouri.
KORNACKI: Is there a point where this -- is there a point where pragmatism starts to win out with these things, because it feels to me like there`s this anti-establishment energy that`s just unabated in this party for almost a decade now.
JOLLY: This is the problem with the Republican Party right now. And it`s the angry base that has captured -- captured it. And Mitch McConnell is right.
Listen, if you`re not a good candidate, then you don`t get to make policy in Washington, D.C. We`re going to continue to see these candidates.
To the earlier comment, all of the energy, all of the energy right now is in the left. The left cannot wait to vote in November of `18. And that left is a very multicultural, diverse left.
And one of the funniest things that came out of that Tuesday night in Alabama is when Roy Moore said, God is in control. And somebody said, rightfully, he didn`t realize that that Tuesday night in Alabama, God was an African-American woman.
JOLLY: Going into November of `18, Republicans cannot hold a diverse constituency across the country. And they`re going to lose because of it.
KORNACKI: It one of those -- becoming a truism in politics, nothing motivates the base of one party like the other party controlling everything in politics.
JOLLY: That`s right.
KORNACKI: We may be seeing another version of that.
Kyle Whitmire in Alabama, Aisha Moodie-Mills up here in New York, former Congressman David Jolly, thanks to all of you for joining all us.
And up next: President Trump`s feud with Hillary Clinton still going strong. We are going to take a look at Trump`s latest salvo. That is straight ahead.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.
In Erie, Pennsylvania, people are digging out from a record 65 inches of snowfall. And there is more to come. Forecaster predict another 16 inches over the weekend.
Police are ramping up security in Times Square in what is expected to be a very cold New Year`s Eve celebration. Revelers can expect bomb-sniffing dogs, snipers, and bag checks. Temperatures could dip down to 10 degrees.
Apple has apologized for its decision to slow down older iPhones to protect battery stability. The tech giant has offered discounted battery replacements for anyone with an iPhone 6 starting in late January -- back to HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Donald Trump`s latest feud is with the magazine "Vanity Fair."
This morning, the president tweeted: "`Vanity Fair,` which looks like it is on its last legs, is bending over backwards in apologizing for the minor hit they took at crooked Hillary. Anna Wintour, who was all set to be ambassador to the Court of St. James and a big fund-raiser for crooked Hillary, is beside herself in grief and begging for forgiveness."
The apology Trump mentioned was for a video showing editors offering mock advice to Hillary Clinton, including a line that maybe she should take up knitting.
It`s not clear exactly why the president weighed in on the controversy this morning, but it certainly fits a pattern.
Since taking office, the president has feuded with senators, the press, actors, athletes, and the Justice Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.
He came out with this horrible book. And I said, who is this guy? His poll numbers are terrible. He`s done terribly for the great people of Arizona.
I noticed that Chuck Schumer yesterday with fake tears. I`m going to ask him, who is his acting coach?
We have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You heard what he said yesterday, Senator McCain.
TRUMP: Yes. Well, I hear it. And people have to be careful because, at some point, I fight back. I`m being very nice. I`m being very nice. But at some point, I fight back. And it won`t be pretty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: President Trump also called his own attorney general beleaguered. He said Senator Bob Corker was a lightweight and incompetent. He attacked the leadership ability of the mayor of San Juan in the wake of a hurricane there.
He said football players who kneel during the anthem were showing total disrespect for our great country. He called LaVar Ball, the father of a basketball player detained in China, an ungrateful fool after he attacked the president. He called "Saturday Night Live" not funny and really bad television. He even said that Meryl Streep was one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood.
For more on all of this, I`m joined by Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root and an MSNBC contributor.
And, Jason, maybe -- we tried to take maybe the big-picture look at all of this. We`re a year in. I think we weren`t sure, when Donald Trump was elected -- I know, in an interview right after the election last year, he said, I`m probably not going to tweet at all.
Safe to say this has been institutionalized as part of this presidency. We can certainly look at his poll numbers and say there`s a good reason to believe that speaking this way, tweeting this way is negatively affecting his numbers.
We have never seen anything like this. I`m wondering, though, is there also something in this formula? When you look at the support that he does have...
JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
KORNACKI: ... this does seem connected somehow. There is something here in terms of the appeal that he does have to a certain type of voter, I guess.
JOHNSON: Well, it`s true.
But, honestly, Steve, all we have to do is go back to what Trump was saying when he was running for president last year. There`s a certain segment of people in America that Donald Trump could run down the street and shoot somebody in Times Square, and they would still support him.
So it doesn`t matter if he tweeted all the time. It doesn`t matter if he tweeted nice things. It doesn`t matter if he tweeted mean things. There`s about 35, 37 percent of the U.S. population that are going to love Donald Trump no matter what he does.
But it`s everybody else in the country who tends to find the tweets distracting and disturbing.
And I just want to point out that, earlier this year, when you had a lot of people, a lot of analysts saying, oh, don`t worry, these Trump`s -- they`re strategic, it`s part of some three-dimensional chess that the president is playing to distract us, no.
This is how he feels. This is his personal id on the computer. It`s not to distract us from other policies. It`s because I really don`t think he has anything else to do with his time.
KORNACKI: Well, it`s interesting, too, because before Donald Trump came along, the eternal lament about politicians was, I wish they would stop being so phony. I wish they would tell us what they really think. I`m tired of these formulaic statements, very carefully practiced, very carefully choreographed.
It seems now, this year is the year I`m hearing the exact opposite lament. I miss those boring prewritten statements.
You know what? Everybody wishes babies could talk, until they start, right? Once children start, you`re like, wait, I don`t want to keep answering these questions from a 2-year-old.
The same thing about the president, right? Remember, I`m old enough to remember back when Barack Obama was first elected and he was giving speeches every other month. And people were saying, get back to work, President Obama. Quit talking so much.
Well, the problem with Trump tweeting is not simply that he`s saying mean things. It`s that his tweets are often -- they`re inaccurate, they`re hostile. They deliver information that is untrue. They attack other countries.
The tweets don`t build anything that we actually need in this country. And one thing, Steve, I think is real important to point out, these aren`t feuds that we`re talking about here.
Like, a feud is like Golden State and the Cavs. Right? Those are teams that are feuding. They`re fighting with each other.
Donald Trump simply picks targets and attacks them. He goes after people who have never said nothing to him.
Yes, Jeff Flake has issues with Trump. Yes, Bob Corker has issues with Trump. But Jeff Sessions has been nothing but loyal, and Donald Trump still attacked him.
LaVar Ball has nothing to do with Trump, and the president still attacked him. So, these are not feuds. These are the ranting and ravings of a president who should be much more busy actually, I don`t know, working on policy than attacking random people on Twitter.
KORNACKI: Well, as if on cue, just moments ago, we can tell you about this one, President Trump tweeting, again minutes ago, about the weather.
He mocked out the concept of global warming because it`s cold outside, the president writing: "In the East, it could be the coldest New Year`s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming that our country, but not other countries, was going to pay trillions of dollars to protect against. Bundle up."
You know, Jason, on this show the other night, we had a guest who said, what the president does on Twitter often is trolling. He puts stuff out there to intentionally provoke and inflame his critics and to get a reaction.
I read that tweet, I say, it seems like that that`s what he`s trying to do there.
JOHNSON: Well, Steve, to me, it seems like this is another feud. The president consistently has a feud with science and facts and common sense and policy.
I don`t -- I honestly don`t think it`s trolling. I don`t know think that most of the things that President Trump does are because he`s trying to inspire the ire of his enemies. I think it`s just honestly how he feels and what he wants to say that time.
But it speaks to sort of this larger problem that we have here. Look, whether or not you believe in global warming, even though there`s lots of scientists who say it`s real, the issue is that global warming is not about things getting hotter. It`s about more erratic weather.
It`s about having summertime temperatures in the middle of the winter and having wintertime temperatures in the middle of the summer.
And the fact that the president, even if he`s attempting to mock the issue, doesn`t seem to understand those basics is a reflection of the kinds of problems that we have with this presidency.
We want you to at least be smart and witty if you`re going to troll people, not sound like a fool.
KORNACKI: All right, Jason Johnson, thank you for joining us.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
KORNACKI: All right, up next: Trump and his fellow Republicans ended 2017 on a high note legislatively, passed that big tax reform plan. What is their agenda, though, for 2018?
Trump plotting strategy with GOP leaders next week at Camp David. The question is, can they all get on the same page?
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STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Congressional Republicans notch their first big legislative win in 2017 with the passage of their tax plan. With 2018 just a few days away now, the looming question is, what should they tackle next?
President Trump will meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Mitch McConnell next week to plan their agenda, but the congressional leaders aren`t on the same page about where to go. On Wednesday, "Politico" reported that McConnell and Ryan are at odds over entitlement reform, writing that Ryan has detailed an ambitious effort to dramatically reshape Medicare, Medicaid and welfare programs the GOP has targeted as right for reform.
But here`s what McConnell told reporters last week.
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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The sensitivity of entitlements is such that you almost have to have a bipartisan agreement in order to achieve a result.
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KORNACKI: McConnell is hoping Congress will have better luck with an infrastructure package. The White House has indicated President Trump may renew that push in 2018, although he`s also got his eye on Obamacare, tweeting this week, quote: The Democrats and Republicans will eventually come together and develop a great new health care plan. The president will need to talk that over with McConnell. He said the Senate is moving on from health care.
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable for tonight. Beth Fouhy, senior editor for politics at NBC and MSNBC, Catherine Rampell, opinion columnist for "The Washington Post", and Nick Confessore is a political reporter for "The New York Times".
Beth, let me start with you. We know Paul Ryan`s dream has been entitlement reform. We know Donald Trump campaigned saying, I`m not going to touch this stuff. And clearly, Mitch McConnell is looking at that and saying that`s a third rail. Stay away.
What`s going to give here?
BETH FOUHY, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR: Yes. And Democrats are not going to help with any sort of entitlement reform the way that McConnell just suggested that it would have to get down to be successful. No, they`re in a real jam, Steve. Entitlement reform is likely to go forward in any meaningful way. The infrastructure bill which President Trump has said he wants to tackle this year perhaps should have been done last year when he probably could have brought some Democrats aboard.
Typically, Republicans are not really excited about devoting billions of dollars to these big capital projects. Now, a year later with so much bad blood between Democrats and the White House, they`re not going to help with that. Republicans are not likely to say, yes, let`s go throw billions of dollars into roads and bridges. Plus, they just passed this tax cut which basically blew a $1.5 trillion hole into the deficit. So, there`s really not a lot of money left over for them to do a whole lot with infrastructure.
KORNACKI: Yes, I think, Catherine, it becomes almost psychological question for Republican lawmakers. It`s an election year, it`s a midterm year. If they`re looking at the midterms in 2018 and saying, geez, look, this isn`t looking good. This might be our last chance to do anything, maybe it`s throw caution to the wind that you talk about something like entitlement reform. You think Democrats passing Obamacare in 2010 knowing it wasn`t polling too well. But if they think it`s salvageable for them ultimately, the midterms probably a different political calculation.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, if Paul Ryan is a fatalist, maybe he will say it`s time to, yes, make my fantasy -- my other fantasy come true, not just tax cuts but entitlement reform.
You know, I`m into the optimistic actually that either of these major pie- in-the-sky types of proposals will get through, because remember, there are so many time sensitive issues that Republicans or Congress in general have to deal with in the next couple of months. They have to actually fund to the government because that`s coming up again. They only temporarily funded it through January. They have to deal with the debt ceiling. They have to deal with DACA. They have to deal with CHIP which was again only temporarily funded.
So, all of that is going to tie up a lot of political capital. It`s hard to imagine them really having the room to run with any of these other kinds of proposals which as Beth mentioned have lots of their own problems.
KORNACKI: Yes, and, Nick, when you think back to tax reform, so much had to line up for Republicans to get that through. There was just a sense of urgency. We have to get something done. We have failed everywhere else. This is the last chance.
There is a lot of consensus in general on the issues of taxes. Can you see any issue, whether it`s infrastructure entitlements, anything else that could get all those forces sort of merging together in 2018 today?
NICK CONFESSORE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: All of the above, in fact.
Look, they just passed an historically unpopular tax reform. So, why stop now, right? They`ll go forward with this and they have the playbook from tax reform, right? The playbook is draft the bill in secret, push it out at the last minute, do it quickly, call it something else.
So, let`s say we`re going to save Medicare, when in fact they`re going to cut Medicare. And they`ll do this. This is a good play to play. And it worked.
We are the past where the goalkeeper is, you know, kind of madder and scorekeeper madder. They can push through on this stuff.
KORNACKI: You think you can sneak through something on Medicare?
CONFESSORE: It could be as small changing the growth or doing chained CPI on Social Security benefits, right? They can do all kinds of things. The goal is to slowly change the goalposts and slowly shrink the spending overtime.
RAMPELL: I disagree. I think taxes are a completely different ballpark from entitlement reform because voters don`t generally turn out at the polls or show up at town halls when it comes to taxes. I mean, maybe a few very devoted ones who care about taxes like myself, but Medicare, that`s completely different. You threaten to change the formula for Medicare, you threaten to change funding for Medicare, that`s going to mobilize a lot of old people and old --
KORNACKI: And I do get the sense, Beth, listening to Republicans in this. I don`t know if they`re correct politically, if they`re correct in terms of their calculation. I do get the sense that they genuinely feel opinion is going to change on this tax bill once people start looking at their paychecks next year, or maybe if the economy gets another burst of growth. They sort of look up and say, well, things are good, whatever the Republicans did must have been a good thing. I get the sense they do think the politics are going to change.
FOUHY: Well, that`s the only thing that they`ve got. They have to believe that because everything is looking so bad for them right now going into the midterms in terms of the right track/wrong track polling. The country is very unhappy with the direction of the country right now. Even with this great economy, even with it booming, the stock market booming, almost complete employment. We have a very unhappy population of people who do not want to see these policies continue.
So, the only way the Republicans can hope to hang onto the majority in Congress is to say, look at what we`ve done. Stick with us. The economy is really strong. We did put the money back in your paycheck as you said.
These are policies that people can get behind. Maybe we can make a couple of little reforms around the edges on some of these other things to put money back into the economy. To stay with us, we`re the responsible party whether you like Trump or not. That`s their only hope.
KORNACKI: Starting to have flashbacks, 1994, Democrats, Bill Clinton. The economy was starting to turn around. They thought maybe that would make the midterms not so bad, worse massacre in 40 years. Let`s see if history repeats itself. We`re going to talk about that up next.
The roundtable is sticking with us. Democrats feeling emboldened heading into 2018. They hope a wave election is coming, but are they relying too much on anti-Trump sentiment?
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KORNACKI: A program note for you. Tomorrow, you can catch a special edition of HARDBALL with Chris Matthews. Chris is going to be taking a look back at some of the biggest stories of 2017 from the Russia investigation to President Trump`s tumultuous investigation with his own party. That is tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m., right here on MSNBC.
And we`ll be right back.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Democrats are feeling emboldened as they head into 2018, aiming to take back both the House and maybe even the Senate from Republicans. NBC News reports that in every midterm election since the civil war, the president`s party has lost on average 32 seats in the House and two in the Senate. Next year`s battles, Democrats need 24 seats to flip the House, and two to take back the Senate.
An "Economist"/YouGov poll out yesterday shows Democrats with an 8-point lead over Republicans in a generic congressional ballot, another sign of hope for Democrats in that same poll. The president`s approval rating which stands at just 38 percent.
So, will 2018 usher in a Democratic wave?
I`m back here with the roundtable.
Nick, all these factors we`re trained to look at with midterm elections, the approval rating, the generic ballot, just the fact that Republicans run everything, the other party usually tends to do well. If you`re Republican and you`re looking for some glimmer of hope that it`s not going to be that bad, where`s the best place to look?
CONFESSORE: I think the economy. Look, if the economy is improving, stock market is up, unemployment is up, of all those things are positive, I think it`s very different. Now, you know, obviously, the president being a dead weight for his party is a big deal. But if people are saying that the economy is going well, jobs are improving, I think that is very helpful to the Republicans.
CONFESSORE: And, Catherine, that`s one of the mysteries I guess of this presidency, oddities at least, is if you look at the public`s assessment of the economy, you`d normally expect the president and his party to be faring a little better in polling.
RAMPELL: Yes, but these are not normal times, right? There`s the Trump factor. Trump is different from every other president.
Trump has been surrounded by scandal after scandal after scandal, by crazy tweets, by all sorts of other distractions that would maybe make the economy not the most salient factor in how people judge how well the country is doing and how well they assess the presidency.
CONFESSORE: And, Beth, something else I picked up on talking to Republicans, we talk so much about motivation, who`s going to turn up and vote. And as we see the Democratic base very motivated right now. I have Republicans telling me, though, their folks are still motivated by Trump himself and if you don`t have his name on the ballot, the party label`s not doing it for them.
FOUHY: Yes, and you could make that argument given what we saw happen in Alabama and Virginia and the sort of other races in 2017. His name was not on the ballot, and they did poorly or less well than they could have. So, that`s an argument that Trump supporters are going to make.
The other hand, though, as Catherine said, I mean, this really has all come down to a referendum on Trump, whether he`s on the ballot or not. Everybody is so transfixed with this presidency for good or for bad, and frankly exhausted by it in a lot of ways. That even as you said with the economy so strong, with unemployment looking fantastic, with just basically all the facts on the ground, should be in support of this president, people -- they`re just not. Pollsters have never seen this before.
So, we`re getting to the point now where it is a referendum on Trump. Not the way the Democrats ought to run, but because that`s where people`s minds are and their voting hearts, that`s why Democrats are so motivated. And those like hard core Trump voters might come out, but the people he needs to pull those congressional Republicans over the transom may not be there.
KORNACKI: All right. Well, that`s where things look heading into 2018.
By the way, the last two presidents whose parties lost the House in their first midterms, Clinton and Obama, went on to win re-election. Keep that in mind if things go a certain next here.
The roundtable is staying with us.
Up next, three scoops you`ll be talking about tomorrow. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: And we are back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Beth, tell me something I don`t know.
FOUHY: Did you know that Donald Trump made a very noteworthy cameo on "Sex and the City" season 2. I have been rewatching the series to take my mind off of politics and lo and behold, last night I stumble upon Donald Trump in "Sex and the City" sitting at a bar with Samantha`s date, he says to the guy: I`ll see you back at Trump Tower. He evidently threw that line in, he wasn`t supposed to have a line at all, but he wanted to promote Trump Tower and so he did. He was in "Sex and the City."
KORNACKI: Kick it away.
RAMPELL: Along with other films.
So I think in the same YouGov poll that you cited earlier, it actually found that less than half of Republicans expect Trump to win re-election in 2020. Also, less than half of Republicans think Trump is honest. So there you go.
KORNACKI: Interesting findings.
CONFESSORE: Only six people have served for multiple terms as House speaker without going consecutively. If Dems can retake the House, Speaker Pelosi could be the seventh one to do it.
KORNACKI: There you go. A little bit of history there potentially. Thank you to Beth Fouhy, Catherine Rampell, Nick Confessore.
And before we go, I want to take a moment to say thanks to Anne Klink. She`s the executive producer of HARDBALL and is retiring. This is going to be her final show with us.
I know I speak for the entire HARDBALL staff when I say, I have seen firsthand how much passion, how much insight, how much fun she brings to this program. She is one of the very best people I have met in this business.
Ann, thank you for everything. We wish you all the very best.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
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