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Trump's oval office meeting Transcript 1/16/18 HArdball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Jackie Speier, Ken Vogel, Sabrina Siddiqui, Toluse Olorunnipa, Steve Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 16, 2018 Guest: Jackie Speier, Ken Vogel, Sabrina Siddiqui, Toluse Olorunnipa, Steve Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The s-hole shutdown. Let's play "Hardball."

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump faced a barrage of anger from Democrats today for his explosive comments about African countries with the threat of a government shutdown growing by the day.

On Thursday, last Thursday, the President reportedly told several lawmakers the country should have more people coming from places like Norway and he referred to countries in Africa as s-holes. That's how he phrased it here. He brushed aside a question about his comment. Here he is.


Mr. President, did you say that you want more people to come in from Norway?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that true, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you very much. I want them to come in from everywhere. Everywhere. Thank you very much, everybody.


MATTHEWS: Well, the President's secretary of homeland security defended him in testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kirsten Nielsen said she did not hear Trump call African countries s-holes during that fiery oval office last week. But a new report from the "Washington Post" tells a very different story. Quote "the meeting was short, tense and often dominated by loud crosstalk and swearing including the President's use of the expletive to refer to African countries."

According to "the Washington Post," President Trump began the day telling Senator Richard Durbin at 10:00 a.m., he was pleased with the immigration compromise worked out by six senators including Durbin and Senator Lindsey Graham. The President invited the two of them to meet in the oval office. But when the senators arrived at noon just two hours later they were surprised to find the President surrounded by hardline lawmakers and dismissive himself of the bipartisan compromise. What happened in those two hours?

Conservative White House staffers seemed to have intervened with the President. According to the "Post," some White House officials including conservative advisor Stephen Miller feared that Graham and Durbin would try to trick Trump into signing a bill that was damaging to him, it would hurt him with his political base.

Well, additionally in the late morning, Chief of staff John Kelly quote "talked to Trump to tell him that the proposal would probably not be good for his agenda," White House officials said. Well, Senator Graham today was deeply critical of the White House interference. Here he is.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I will say, I don't think the President was well served by his staff. I think the President's that we saw on Tuesday is that that Donald Trump exists. And somehow by 12:00 on Thursday, something happened. And I don't think he was well served by his staff, but he is responsible for the way he conducts himself and so am I.

I think somebody on his staff gave him really bad advice between 10:00 to 12:00 on Thursday.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me now is one of the authors of that "Washington Post" article Robert Costa.

Robert, two points here. One was the word s-hole used in that meeting?

ROBERT COSTA, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: "Post" stands by its reporting, Chris, that that kind of language was used, that specific word was used. There has been some spin out of the White House that it was a different variation of that vulgarity. But the bigger point is the headline in today's "Post" might as well as have been blindsided. Senator Durbin and Senator Graham, they felt they had a deal on Tuesday, a deal on Wednesday and it all fell apart on Thursday.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's talk about that because last Tuesday, the President was there in that sort of grand minute 15-spray where the reporters were allowed to watch him engage in negotiation. I thought it was (INAUDIBLE), but it looked good. He was talking. He was listening. Everybody was having a say. Looked like they wanted to actually come together on a deal to keep the government going and allow for the DACA people to stay in this country legally.

And then Thursday, at 10:00 that morning it looked like they still had something going thanks to Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin. Two hours later, there is people who walked in the White House and they are basically bushwhacked in there in the White House by a couple of right wing aides, at least one Steve Miller. And by the time that they brought in the senator from Arkansas and the one from Georgia that basically killed the deal.

How does that -- you know the White House and you know Trump. Why was he affected so much by the hardliners having made it look like he was willing to deal?

COSTA: Every side was playing on the different impulses of the President. The moderates, the Democrats knew the President wanted a big victory. Something to follow up that tax bill. So Durbin and Graham, those senators thought they could bring the President along. But the right wing of the Republican Party was watching all of this closely. They kept telling him privately, Senator Perdue, Senator Cotton, White House chief of staff John Kelly, Stephen Miller, all telling him your base may desert you if you cut this kind of immigration deal. So the President had these warring sides inside of the oval office telling him to go in a different direction. And so far he has sided with the right.

MATTHEWS: Well, the dark side won this fight.

Thank you, Robert Costa. Great reporting as always.

But that same "Washington Post" article in that article, Donald Trump is quoted dismissing concerns by the congressional black caucus. When is Senator Durbin told Trump the caucus would be more likely to go along with the deal if certain countries were included in proposed protections, Trump was curt and dismissive saying he was not making immigration policy to cater to the black caucus and did not particularly care about that black's depend according to people briefed on the meeting.

I'm joined now by Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of the congressional black caucus.

Mr. Clyburn, what do you make of the preemptory rejection of the cause confident black caucus by this President?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: Thank you so much for having me, Chris.

Well, we are not surprised at that. The fact of the matter is the members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been observing this President for decades. And we are all -- we were all caught up in what happened to the - - to those kids up in New York that he insisted upon debilitate penalty for that he refused to even capitulate when it was shown by DNA evidence that they were not guilty. This guy we have been watching for a long time. And that's why so many of us were very, very concerned about his campaign and his election.

Now that he is in office, we don't expect much more from him. And so, what we would hope, because many of us have relatives and close friends who are Republicans, my parents were Republicans, I would hope that the Republican Party will do what is best for the country irrespective of what Mr. Trump's attitudes are.

We don't expect any more from him. As we are not surprised at any of this. I am a bit surprised at some of the Republicans who seem to fall into that category that we were warned about by Dr. King when he said to us that the people of ill will in society seem to be making a much better use of their time than the people of good will. And Mr. Trump is using his time very good and the good people in the Republican Party seem not to be willing to be -- make good use of their time.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the President -- I didn't know you were going to say this, but we all know that he said he wanted those kids executed in that wilding incident where it turned out they weren't the guilty parties. They did not rape that young woman who was jogging that day. It was clear and chemically proven they were not guilty.

Why do you think he would want to execute people who were proven to be actually innocent? Why would he want to execute, end the lives of young people who were proven in this case to be innocent, actually innocent? Why would he want to do that?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, Chris, I think that there's a little thing that we talk about a lot and it's already been mentioned on this show. It's one thing to have a base of support. It's something else to have base supporters. Those are totally two different things.

I beg to differ with those who say that this President is doing things because to appeal to his base of support. No. He is doing things to appeal to his base voters. Those people who are ignoble in their pursuit of stuff.

And I would ask any of your listeners to look it up and you see a base voter is totally different from a base of voters. And that is what's going on here. And so every time I hear them saying his base supporters, I think of the real meaning of a base supporter and the word, the best word I can think of is ignoble voters.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. U.S. congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. It is great to have you on, sir.

As I mentioned, the secretary of homeland security was in that Thursday oval office meeting where that word was used said she never heard the President slur African countries in that way, using that word. Let's watch her in action.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did the President say about immigrants from Norway?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I heard him repeating what he had learned in a meeting before that they are industrious, that there are a hard working country, they don't have much crime there. They don't have much debt. I think in general, I just heard him giving compliments to Norway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said on FOX News that the President used strong language. What was that strong language?

NIELSEN: Let's see. Strong language, there was -- apologies. I don't remember specific word. What I was struck with, frankly, as I'm sure you were, as well was just the general profanity that was used in the room by almost everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear me use profanity?

NIELSEN: No, sir, neither did I.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear Senator Graham use profanity?

NIELSEN: I did hear tough language from Senator Graham, yes sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recall the strong language he used repeated exactly what the President had said prior to that?

NIELSEN: I remember specific cuss words being used by a variety of members.


MATTHEWS: Well, that was dodgy.

Anyway, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey criticized Secretary Nielsen, the person just speaking there, for what he called convenient amnesia. And he delivered a strong message to the President himself. Let's watch Cory Booker.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW YORK: Our greatest heroes in this country spoke about people who have convenient amnesia or who are bystanders. King said a man dies when he refuses to stand up for what is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand.

I'm sure you remember the six words from our President, the six words that he said after Charleston, Virginia, when he said there are very fine people on both sides. When the commander-in-chief speaks or refuses to speak, those words just don't dissipate like mist in the air. They fester. They become poison. They give license to bigotry and hate in our country.


MATTHEWS: I think we just heard the democratic keynote address for 2020.

For more, I'm joined by "USA Today's" Washington bureau chief Susan Page and "New York Times" columnist Brett Stephens, both of you.

First of all, Susan, we have been sitting here watching all this, so what seems to be happening is a collision coming that really is going to be the worst possible collision because of the word the President used.

Using that word s-hole, we have to keep saying it that way, we chose to, the President can say it his way. We have to say it the nice way, he seems to have poisoned deal making. The chance of a democrat sitting down next to him and said where are the deal? Let's sign the bill together is almost remote now. They don't want to be in the same room with this guy now.

So whatever challenges there were prior to getting the government rolling again after this deadline Friday night, seems to be gone. The best we are going to do is a week or two delay and keep the government vaguely open. And it's a disaster for the greatest country in the world I think to keep operating like this.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: We may get a short-term extension. But we may not - I mean, it's not clear to me they will get a deal on anything.

MATTHEWS: So they turn the lights out at the zoo and hurray, the Smithsonian.

PAGE: I don't think it's clear. I think before the meeting where the word was said, we thought they are going to do a short term deal so that they can make arrangements for a long-term deal. I don't think that is necessary. (INAUDIBLE). Did he look like somebody who is eager to make a deal?

And you know, the consequences of the President's use of this offensive word go beyond that. We now have Senator Cotton and Senator Perdue accusing senator Durbin of lying about that word and whether he actually heard it in the meeting. What's going to happen the next time that they need to be involved in a conversation about coming to some kind of agreement which requires some level of trust?

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the Republican side. Bret, thanks for coming on. It seems to me that he has put Republicans in a position, either you defend me or you tell the truth. I mean, that's not a nice position to be in. And it is certainly poisons this atmosphere completely. You have to lie to be loyal.

BRET STEPHENS, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's exactly it. I mean, it's one of the many reasons why I remain a never Trumper even though I have agreed with some of the President's policies which is that he has a talent for turning anyone who might be on his side into a toadies. And it's sad to see that happen with Cotton and Perdue. It's particularly sad to see the way in which Lindsey Graham rubbles consider the man of honor has twisted himself into a pretzel to maintain - to stay on the President's good side and to maintain radio silence as to what exactly the President said.

And more than that, it is trashing I think the Republican brand among anyone, certainly under the age of 30. I think it's trashing the Republican brand among minority voters that the party, the long-term desperately has to attract if it's going to remain a viable party. This is a short-term gain for a long-term disaster for conservatism in America, at least the one that I recognize from growing up under the Reagan administration.

MATTHEWS: But there's a free choice involved here. Donald Trump had to choose between apologizing for unfortunate word. All people make mistakes. And he could have said - should have said that I meant poor countries. I meant countries in great economic difficulty (INAUDIBLE). He can say anything he wanted to say except that word because he made fun of the people of those countries. Or by denying it, he has taken away the chance to apologize for it. So he is stuck with it.

This is going down to history books. This word is now attached to the Republican Party. I'm going to ask Brett about that. I think it is attached. If I were a moderate African-American voter who occasionally votes Republican, I would feel a little embarrassed by this guy.

PAGE: Well, in fact, what could happen to the Republican Party national is what happened to the California Republican party after 1994 when Pete Wilson signed on to an initiative that offended minority voters, diverse voters in its fundamental way.

MATTHEWS: Hispanic voters mainly.

PAGE: Hispanic voters. Now in California, there's not a single statewide elected Republican. And they may not even be fielding candidates after the jungle primary for senator and governor.

MATTHEWS: They might not even be coming in second.

PAGE: Yes. They might not come in second. They might have two Democrats come in second in these primaries. So as Brett was saying there are consequences, long-term consequences for political parties from incidents like this.

MATTHEWS: Bret, he was calling around the other day, the President. (INAUDIBLE). How is it playing? Is it playing bad? Is it playing good? My s-hole comment. He seemed to be trying to figure it on for size. In other words, will this help me with the base to make up for any possible fallout in the media? To me, that was a decision he was making slowly which I'm going to stick with the s-hole. I can live with that. It seems to be his decision.

STEPHENS: Yes. Well, first of all, I think it's a tacit admission that in fact he used exactly that word. It's clear that he was attempting to replay the tactic that he used with the football players which I think he is convinced went well for him.

And it goes to the sort of nature of modern Republican politics which has been to sort of sharpen divisions rather than broaden the party's base. You know, one of the demographic groups that ought to be mentioned of course, here, are immigrants. There are millions of American immigrants. One of them is my mother. My mother came to the United States as a displaced person, a refugee from wartime Europe. You can rest assured she is not thrilled with this President. She is someone who used to consider herself a conservative.

Millions of immigrants are looking at this and saying, this is the country that we came to? This is the President that we want representing us? And I think those are permanently alienated constituencies. So whatever the Republicans think they are gaining in the short term, they are losing for a generation.

MATTHEWS: I get the feeling Trump's satisfied with the idea of people voting along tribal or racial or ethnic lines. If all the whites vote for him and all the blacks in this vote for the other guy, he seems to be happy with that. That seems to be his deduction here and it is awful because it is tribal voting. It is where haunts some other countries in the world where everybody votes their tribe. And if that is all we do, democracy is a joke.

Anyway, Susan Page, thank you. And Bret Stephens, thank you for coming on.

Coming up, the Russian investigation. Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed now by special counsel Robert Mueller. And today Bannon testified before the House intelligence committee. We are going to find out what investigators hope to get from Trump's former chief strategist. He knows a lot. And they have got him legally now.

Next, plus, Trump's vulgar talk about immigration is an attempt to shore support among the base. We are talking about that. Out of the top 2018 and 2020 elections, he wants people to vote tribally. And there's already talk inside the White House about the kind of Democrat the Trump crowd is most scared to face in a Presidential campaign. I think it is Biden.

And how democracies die. Trump is taking us dangerously close to the edge of that of dying here democratically. We are going to talk to two experts who have watched the trends around the world and found out what can we do to save our democracy. We need to know that.

Finally, we finish tonight with Trump watch. He won't like this when this is "Hardball" where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Rear admiral Ronny Jackson, White House physician who conducted President Trump's recent physical exam brief the reporters early this afternoon. Doctor Jackson said that while the President is overweight, he remains in excellent health. He also said that Trump asked for a cognitive screening and that the results were normal. Let's listen.


DR. RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: The reason that we did the cognitive assessment is plain and simple because the President asked me to do it. He came to me and he said is there something we can do, a test or some type of screen that we can do, to assess my, you know, my cognitive ability. We picked one that was a little bit more involved. It was longer. It was the more difficult one of all of them. It took significantly longer to complete but the President did exceedingly well on it. So that was not driven at all by any political concerns I have. It was driven by the President's wishes. And he did well on it.


MATTHEWS: We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Embattled former Trump strategist Steve Bannon has emerged this week as a witness in both the congressional and the federal Russia investigations.

Bannon was on Capitol Hill testifying before the House Intelligence Committee today when "The New York Times" broke the news that he was also subpoenaed last week by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to testify before a grand jury.

As the story notes, the move marked the first time Mr. Mueller is known to have used a grand jury subpoena to seek information from a member of Mr. Trump's inner circle.

And this comes just weeks after the president disowned his former confidant for the damaging quotes he gave to author Michael Wolff. Bannon said in that book, among other things, that Mueller's probe of potential money laundering would ultimately lead to the president himself -- quote -- "This is all about money laundering. Their path to 'expletive' Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner."

Separately, Politico is reporting that Bannon did not cooperate fully with the House Intelligence Committee during his testimony today -- quote -- "Bannon refused to answer questions about his time in the White House, prompting panel members to subpoena him on the spot."

So, he's got two subpoenas coming for him now. The committee is also expected to question former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and current White House Communications Director Hope Hicks in the next several days.

I'm joined right now by a congresswoman, the Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you so much.

I have 50 questions to ask you. But the first is, I want to get to the heart of this. I think Steve Bannon has got it out for Trump now. He went and talked to all stuff to Michael Wolff. He seems to think that the route for prosecuting and removing President Trump from office potentially are the business dealings engaged in by his son and namesake Don Jr., by Jared Kushner and by Paul Manafort.

Money laundering is the root to the demise of Donald Trump's presidency. What do you smell here?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I would basically agree with you that money laundering is a component of what the problem is with the Trump Organization and the Trump presidency.

I will say, though, that Steve Bannon today wanted to cooperate more fully than he was able to. And I think that he will be called back again. His attorney did not make available any production of documents, which was very regrettable.

And, again, I think we're going to have to demand that as well. You can't do a legitimate investigation if you don't get the documents in which you can compare them to other documents you have received and ask the kinds of questions that will give us the answers we need.

MATTHEWS: You said Bannon was trying to tell you the truth. What stopped him?

SPEIER: Well, I think there's a question that is being discussed right now as to whether or not there will be an assertion of executive privilege. And I think that that will be determined in the near-term.

I will say though to you, Chris, that whenever a president has asserted executive privilege, more often than not, when it goes to court, they fail in that. So, I don't anticipate that the president's going to be successful.

You could only assert executive privilege if it's national security or the privacy is important to protect the public interest. And that's just the reverse of what we're trying to make available to the public right now.

MATTHEWS: I got a sense that, whatever you think of Bannon's politics and weirdness, if you will, politically, he's smart. And he has a good memory. I sense he has a good memory, don't you? And he overheard a lot in that White House when he was a confidant of the president about all kinds of things he heard sitting in that room in that Oval Office.

He heard telephone conversations. He heard scuttlebutt. He heard all sort of political strategizing. He also probably heard the president's fears, his fears of prosecution and what he's -- the president's worried about.

So he shows up to your committee today, his hair combed. He didn't have the military jacket on, his barber jacket on. He looked like a gentleman, not that that is good.

SPEIER: He was shaved. Yes.


MATTHEWS: Well, he obviously wanted to make a good impression on you folks. Was he there to tell the truth?

SPEIER: Well, I think he's -- everyone who comes before this committee has to swear under oath. So, he would be perjuring himself if he wasn't going to be telling the truth.

And I hope that that was not the case. But, again, there were many questions he was unable to answer, at the request of his attorney.

MATTHEWS: Well, if he knows about money laundering, knows the president's involvement in it, the son's involvement in it, Jared's involvement in it, Manafort's involvement, will your subpoena get that information from him?

SPEIER: We will have to wait and see.

What we will attempt to get certainly are the documents. And then the invocation, if that's what is in the offing from the White House, of an executive privilege, I think would fail miserably in a court.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much, U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, members of the Intelligence Committee.

SPEIER: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Is Trump's vile description of African countries just a play to his base ahead of the '18 and '20 elections coming up?

There's already talk that one Democratic presidential candidate is striking fear in Trump world. I think it's Biden. We're going to find out from the panel.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, President Trump is looking ahead to what promises to be a difficult - - I would say -- midterm election this November. According to a Gallup poll, he's capping off the year in office with the lowest average approval rating of any president during their first term ever.

Isolated and angry, the president often turns to his base for comfort.

"The Washington Post" reports Trump wasn't particularly upset with that initial coverage of his derogatory language last week. He was also told by his supporters that the comments would actually help with the base. At least some thought that.

Here's what is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii had to say, however, about the president's choice of words.


SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: The president's immigration policies, which he made clear that day that he met with Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham that he wants basically white people to come to our country.

QUESTION: So, that is your interpretation? You believe...

HIRONO: It's hard not to have a that interpretation. It's not just my interpretation.


MATTHEWS: Well, that was a pretty good comeback.

Lashing out against criticism that he's a racist, the president spent the morning today indulging in some executive time, tweeted his approval ratings with black Americans had doubled, he said.

Well, that's not true.

Meanwhile, there's new reporting today that the kind of Democrat the White House is most afraid of facing in 2020, who that is, we will get to that.

Let's bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable, Ken Vogel, of course, political reporter for "The New York Times" -- that's impressive -- Sabrina Siddiqui, a political reporter for "The Guardian," also, and Toluse Olorunnipa, who is White House reporter for Bloomberg, all impressive people.

Let's talk about this thing.

Trump seems to be happy -- not that that's the right word -- content, satisfied with everybody thinking he said that word, the S-hole word, about black countries. It doesn't seem he's ready to apologize for or try to get out of his craw. It's there and he seems to be happy with it.


And as that "Post" reporting and other reporting suggested, immediately afterwards, as takes story broke out, he felt out the people around him and kind of boasted gleefully about this comment and how it would play.

And there is some suggestion, looking at the polls, that his hard-core base of support likes the hard line on immigration.

MATTHEWS: Of course, but that's never been his problem.


VOGEL: Well, I mean...

MATTHEWS: Sabrina, his problem is enlarging his 30-something base to something like 40-something to eventually get 5-0 and win an election.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": I think, certainly, that would be the conventional wisdom. But one thing that we actually saw in the 2016 election was that, yes, there is an evidence to support that Trump did especially well among working-class white workers, but he also did well among white voters of a higher median income household -- household income.


SIDDIQUI: And you saw Republicans rally around him at close to 90 percent, including those suburban voters who Hillary Clinton had thought that she could potentially convert, because he had already made so many disqualifying comments by then, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and killers, campaigning on banning Muslims in the U.S.

And that was not actually deemed disqualifying in the end by the majority of Republican voters who turned up in the election. So, I don't think that he necessarily sees any reason to stay away or shy away from making the same comments that he's made in the past.

MATTHEWS: Toluse, I think your country of heritage is probably on his list of bad news countries, Nigeria.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes. Well, according to "The New York Times," the president said the fact that 40,000 people had come from Nigeria to the U.S. means they are never going to go back to their -- quote -- "huts."

So, obviously, the president has some views about various countries that is reprehensible to a number of people who are American citizens or who have friends and family from these various countries. And he doesn't seem to be upset by the fact that there's this large swathe of the country who, as we saw from Senator Booker, is really emotionally affected by the words that are coming out of the Oval Office.

And he seems to be really focused on his base, the people who put him in office. And he believes that, even though that's a very small number of people when you take the broader electorate, and when you look at the broader electorate, he believes that catering to those people will keep him politically popular and give him an opportunity to win reelection.

It seems like he's getting a lot of information that really sort of feeds his ego, and not really the hard numbers, the low approval rating and the fact that the midterms are looking really bad for Republicans. Those types of numbers would probably cause him to change his mind. But it's not -- it doesn't seem like...


MATTHEWS: Well, doesn't he seem to talk like a real estate developer all the time? He judges people's value by the value of their real estate. Huts, S-holes, right? This should be a gleaming gold tower here, not the way they live.

Anyway, meanwhile, fellow Republicans have been forced to answer tough questions about the president's behavior lately.

Take a look at this recent town hall exchange with Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. This is a lot of fun in a dark way. Let's watch.


SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: He is standing up for a lot of the countries that -- where we have seen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Name a few. Could you name a few?

ERNST: Yes, you bet. Norway is one of them.


ERNST: No. Well, OK.

How many of you think -- you know, you laugh, but, folks, who borders Norway? Russia.


MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Sabrina? He's standing up for countries -- it sounded like Sarah Palin, and I can see Russia from here. He's standing up for Norway.

I mean, I didn't know that was a big threat there.

SIDDIQUI: Well, Republicans have been in this position time and again, where they're forced to somehow come up with a defense for comments that are ultimately indefensible.

But I think that that actually highlights why this is not just about the politics. This is very revealing about Trump's actual attitude toward immigrants and how he views the system.

He doesn't want us to just...


SIDDIQUI: ... on illegal immigration.

MATTHEWS: Non-European immigrants. Non-European immigrants.

SIDDIQUI: He wants to slash legal immigration by half.

And he -- his administration moved to revoke temporary protective status from Haitians, as well as people from El Salvador. That affects roughly 60,000 Haitians, roughly 200,000 people from El Salvador.


SIDDIQUI: And so there's a lot more context to his questioning as to why we should be accepting people from certain countries.

He certainly has proposed policies that seek to discriminate immigrants who are brown or black and predominantly support white immigrants in his policies.

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump is barely through his first year in office, as I have noticed, actually just barely. He's already handicapping the 2020 election.

According to Politico, the president's team is most worried about Vice President Biden, who they feel appeals to Trump's base. The concern, according to one White House official, is that "Trump's policies will continue to be popular all the way through his reelection campaign, but his approval rating will never crack 45 percent, creating an opening for Biden or someone like him to recapture the loyalty of white Rust Belt Democrats, who helped elect Trump in 2016."

That's fairly understandable. I'm not sure it's true, but that makes sense, except how does Biden get through the primaries? That's always my question.

Your thoughts?

VOGEL: Right. And that's a smart bit of political analysis, that someone who could eat into that base that continues to support him, and just erodes maybe a little bit around the edges, would be the biggest threat, because Democrats are automatically going to win -- whoever the Democratic nominee is going to win all those people who have been alienated by Trump that we just talked about.

MATTHEWS: They're going to win the East Coast and they're going to win the West Coast.

And the problem is Wisconsin, Pennsylvania -- Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, those kind of states. The trouble is, none of those primaries come early, Sabrina. The primaries the Democrats contest in are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and now California.

So, they're never going to get to those Rust Belt states, where a guy like Joe Biden would do well.

SIDDIQUI: Absolutely.

But I think that, ultimately, the point that I made earlier, there's been so much focus on this idea of reclaiming white working-class voters. And I think that, in some ways, that ignores that this election was about a lot more than just economic populism.

It was very much about nationalism in the context of the changing demographics of America.

MATTHEWS: So, how do you win, if you're the Democrats?

SIDDIQUI: Well, you have to -- I think Obama's campaign is one of the few that effectively showed how you can build a coalition that includes people of color, that includes single women and millennials, while also prevailing among working-class white voters.

And that's because of a message of optimism that is rooted more in framing around the middle class.


We will be right back. The Roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these three will tell me -- well, they will give me some headlines for tomorrow. We like them, headlines that last through the night.

You're watching HARDBALL.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: We're back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ken, tell me something I don't know.

KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, a lot of focus on Oprah Winfrey --


VOGEL: -- among the Democrats and professional class. I talked to a number of operatives who are trying to figure out who are the political people around her and what they have found, my sources tell me, is she has none. She's so distant from politics that she doesn't really --

MATTHEWS: A lot of celebrities have one political aide.

VOGEL: She doesn't, as far as I can tell.

MATTHEWS: Which says she doesn't want to run.

VOGEL: Or she hasn't been active in politics before.

MATTHEWS: I don't know. The lure may come.

Anyway, Sabrina?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: While we're talking about immigration, according to the U.S. citizenship and immigration services, nearly 15,000 DACA recipients have already lost their status since September when Trump moved to rescind the program that averages to roughly 122 Dreamers a day who are losing their protections. The numbers projected to rise from 15,000 to 22,000 by March.


TOLUSE OLORUJNNIPA, REPORTE,R BLOOMBERG NEWS: This question about, is the president -- is President Trump a racist or not? The White House has a new strategy for sort of responding to that. They say because the president had a television show for 10 years, that means he can't be a racist. Obviously, that's a very specious argument and the president lost his television show after he started attacking Mexican immigrants during the beginning of his campaign.

So, is the president a racist? The answer: he had a TV show, so maybe not.

MATTHEWS: It's amazing how these arguments work these days.

Thank you, Ken Vogel, Sabrina Siddiqui and Toluse Olorunnipa.

Up next, the president has attacked the press again, shown contempt for the judiciary and threatened to jail political rivals. It all rise raises the question can our democracy survive Trump? We'll talk to two experts with a fascinating new book on that very subject.

You're watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: "The New York Times" reports the president's vulgar comments could set back U.S. interests in Africa. According to "The Times," South Africa and Nigeria have joined a chorus of nations condemning President Trump's inflammatory remarks on immigration. The State Department meanwhile has instructed diplomats not to deny Mr. Trump's remarks but simply to listen to complaints.

We'll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the new book "How Democracies Die" takes a look at the demise of democracies around the world and seeks to answer the question, does Donald Trump's presidency put our democracy in danger?

The authors write: Anti-democratic leaders are often identifiable before they come to power. Trump even before his inauguration tested positive on all four measures on our litmus test for autocrats.

The authors go on to outline four key indicators as follows: a weak commitment to the democratic rules of the game, the denial of the legitimacy of one's opponents, the toleration or encouragement of violence, a readiness to curtail the civil liberties of rivals and critics. They add: with the exception of Richard Nixon no major party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century.

That is until Donald Trump. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You remember when I said that some of the voting is rigged. OK, everybody knows.

The FBI and the department of justice created a fraud in allowing Hillary Clinton to get away with her terrible, terrible crimes.

I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in place like this? They would be carried out on a stretcher, folks. That's true.

I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you.

If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general who get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception.


MATTHEWS: Well, for more, I'm joined by the authors of "How Democracies Die", Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both are professors of government at Harvard University.

Steve, thank you. And also, Daniel, in that order, why don't you talk about Trump, it seems to me in the video we just show, it seems to have met all the standards. And one of them is this rigged elections.

All my life I've been reading newspaper. And I'm not going to mention names of the countries. But some countries every time somebody loses they claim the election was stolen and when they win, they hung the loser. It's always corrupt, it's always unfair, and they always tell people don't believe anything that causes us total -- any loss of total rule.


STEVE LEVITSKY, CO-AUTHOR, "HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE": Right. I mean, that's the part of the world that I study. I study Latin America and I study regimes that either fail democracies or authoritarian. As you said, very, very common in non-democratic regimes or failing Democratic regimes is that losers in elections claim that the election was rigged and refuse to accept the results of elections.

We were both shocked and we began really thinking about this book when we heard Donald Trump prior to the election claim that he might not accept the results of the election. Calling into question the integrity of the American electoral process. That was pretty unprecedented.

MATTHEWS: And as for the First Amendment and free press, Daniel, it seems to be Trump is notorious here. Everything is fake news. He makes fun of reporters personally. He makes fun of any opponent.

He calls -- just the other day, Dicky Durbin. I mean, everybody respects Richard Durbin. They disagree on the account of the meeting. He calls him Dicky, just diminutive, it's like Little Marco or Pocahontas.

What do you make of that in terms of the international experience we've had with the declining democracies?

DANIEL ZIBLATT, CO-AUTHOR, "HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE": Yes. So, I think there's two points you just made there, Chris. One is attacking media certainly is something that electoral authoritarians and authoritarians around the world have always done. It's a way of empowering themselves to weaken their -- and silence their critics.

But also, the point about Senator Durbin, you know, by ridiculing electoral rivals for power and, in some ways, often of course, Trump did this with Hillary Clinton, as well, ridiculing Hillary Clinton, not really accepting his rivals as legitimate contenders for power. That's also very dangerous thing. MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the verbal thuggery of this guy. It is verbal thuggery. We showed the clip what he said what to do with protesters, free protesters. I mean, everybody in politics gets used to hecklers. It's part of the business of public expression.

He says beat them up. Steve, he says beat up those people that are protesting me. That's pretty close to thuggery.

LEVITSKY: Again, it's an autocratic response, right? One of the key elements of leadership in a democracy as you well know, Chris, is tolerance, right? You've got to get a lot of ugly stuff thrown at you and essentially turn the other cheek if you're a political leader in a democracy. You're not allowed to hit back at the press or at your critics. You have to take it. That's part of the responsibility of an elected leader in a democracy.

And Trump's instincts are obviously other. Luckily, so far, the press hasn't backed down, it hasn't been intimidated. And that's a good thing for our democracy.

MATTHEWS: Daniel, tell us about what good is going on now? You noticed resistance began the day after he was inaugurated. We saw the huge expression of people pouring down from southern Manhattan all the way up Fifth Avenue. It was amazing flow of human beings, mostly young women.

And there was this reaction and the resistance seemed real. Do you think it's been buoyant enough, powerful enough, the resistant to him, to offset his negatives?

ZIBLATT: Yes. So, you know, as Steve just said, Trump, President Trump certainly has these authoritarian tendencies. But our checks or societal checks as well as institutional checks have actually worked quite effectively, I would say, and not allowing him to implement things that he threatened on the campaign trail.

One of the major factors, certainly it's been societal resistance, societal organization, the robustness of civil society. And this is something when we look around the world, that plays a major role in helping support democracies. This is a robust civil society. So, this has been all to great benefit I think in the United States. I mean, there's other things more worrisome though.

MATTHEWS: I think America reactions pretty well. They don't always take the initiative but they react pretty well in this country. Anyway, when all else fails, we do the right thing.

Steve Levitsky, professor, thank you, and Professor Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard. The book once again is "How Democracies Die." That is stark.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. He won't like this.

You're watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, January 16th, 2018.

President Trump has decided, it appears, to let the word which we on television can only intimate as s-hole stand in the record books as his personal attitude toward the black populated countries of this world. But why would he want that word, the s-word, to go down into the history books at how he viewed men and women of children of color? Why would he want to be seen as so, to use the best possible word for it, tribal?

Why? Because this is one of the changes he is working in American politics, all of which are tearing down what we have long prized as our American democracy. To have people voting on ethnic lines, the majority of whites for Trump, most blacks and Latinos voting against him, is what happens in many countries. You don't vote the candidate. You simply vote your tribe. And so, the largest tribe wins.

But is that what we call democracy? This is only part of the Trump assault on a truly free society.

A free press is another of his targets. From the moment he arises in the morning, he assaults news people as fake media. He thinks it's a punch line.

What it really is at a punch at one of the key elements of a democratic society. If people are not free to criticize those in power, can we truly claim to live in a free democracy? Same goes for our judicial system. Trump has dumped on our courts, claiming they cannot be fair because of the ethnicity of a particular judge.

Trump has dumped on our elections claiming he won the most votes notice 2016 but had them overwhelmed by the votes of people here illegally. Trump mocks his political rivals most recently, calling the Democratic senator from Illinois "Dicky", just as he's called from the senator from Massachusetts "Pocahontas" and as he called a Republican senator from Florida "Little Marco". Ending civility and debasing your rivals is another way to denigrate democracy.

On all these fronts, this Trump has acted less like an American leader and more like those leaders of lesser democracies where dictators denounce any threat to their power, where newspapers and TV stations are intimidating to tow the government line where people are pushed to vote strictly along tribal lines, thereby permitting the widest possible berth for corruption.

This is what is happening assure as the turning of the earth. We're entering into Trumpland and leaving the land of our Founders.

That's HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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