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Trump: GOP is "gonna win a lot of elections" Transcript 1/18/18 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Kimberly Atkins, Gave Debenedetti, Adam Schiff

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 18, 2018 Guest: Kimberly Atkins, Gave Debenedetti, Adam Schiff


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: That does it for me. "Hardball with Chris Matthews" is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: White House rumble. Let`s play "Hardball."

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We are hours away from a government shutdown and the President of the United States is feuding with his chief of staff. It`s not the first time this President has publically picked a fight with the top member of his team, but it may be the worst.

Yesterday according to "the Washington Post" White House chief of staff John Kelly quote "told democratic lawmakers that some of the hard line immigration policies President Trump advocated during the campaign were uninformed." Kelly was asked about those very comments during an interview with FOX. Here`s what he said.


JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This President, if you have seen what he has done, he has changed the way he has looked at a number of things. He is very definitely changed his attitude toward the DACA issue and even the wall once we briefed him. He has evolved in the way he has looked at things. Campaign to governing are two different things and this President is very flexible in terms of what is in the realm of possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Mexico is not going to pay.

KELLY: So, in one way or another, it`s possible that we could get the revenue from Mexico but not directly from their government.


MATTHEWS: He talks like he is feeding the President of Gerber`s baby food.

Anyway, according to the "New York Times" the President was livid when he heard that interview and he turned to his favorite weapon to fire back.

Early this morning, of course, he tweeted. Quote "the wall is the wall. It has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. The wall will be paid for directly or indirectly or through longer time reimbursement by Mexico."

The Associated Press is reporting that privately, the President complaint to friends that he felt that Kelly made him look like a flip-flopper and portrayed him as a child and had to be managed. A source close to the President tell the AP that he upgraded Kelly after his FOX interview. That would have been interesting. Public of the President, well, the President had a different message. Let`s take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is great. I think he is doing a great job. I think General Kelly has done a really great job. He is a very special guy.


MATTHEWS: Well, despite that show of support today, Kelly`s comments undercut the President and his repeated promise to actually build a wall. Here we go.


TRUMP: We will build a wall, this guys. Don`t worry about it. It will be a great wall. It will be a real wall, folks.

I promise we are building the wall and Mexico will pay for the wall.

Mexico will pay for the wall. And I think they will end up actually being very happy to do so.

The wall just got 10 feet higher. We love it.

We are going to build the wall. It will be a real wall. A real wall. Who is going to pay for the wall?

CROWD: Mexico.


CROWD: Mexico.


MATTHEWS: Well, the back and forth between boss and top kick on the President`s immigration position has not help congressional Republicans get any closer to a deal that would solve the DACA problem and keep the government opened. If their deal reached there will be a shutdown of the United States government tomorrow at midnight, Friday at midnight.

For more I`m joined by Jennifer Rubin, "Washington Post" opinion writer and MSNBC contributor Cornell Belcher, Democratic pollster and MSNBC contributor and Kasie Hunt on Capitol Hill right now, gives us the update.

Kasie, thank you. You are smiling because I did talk about Gerber baby food because this chief of staff talks about the President as this cartoon character that has to be made into a real person by saying, well, he has evolved. He understands it`s not really a wall. He really understands DACA. He is finally-- since he has been briefed. In other words when I told him what was going on he seems to have gotten it. This is condescending talk from the chief of staff. The President doesn`t like it one bit. He is livid. He apparently embarked, whatever that is. That is the word from the White House.

How does this going vickerson (ph) number going at the White House affect the chance of not shutting down the United States government tomorrow night at midnight?

KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s how we got here, Chris. It is all of this. I mean, the President, this all started the President had an open door meeting. He said to the lawmakers around meeting, our cameras were there for like 45 minute, unprecedented. And said whatever these guys come up with I will sign. And then two days later, we have that infamous closed-door meeting where John Kelly or someone at the White House invited more conservative members to sit with Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin who went over a bipartisan compromise on DACA. The whole thing fell apart when the President used inflammatory language about Haiti and Africa. And Lindsey Graham in that meeting went right back at him and said, you know, my ancestors came from countries like that. They didn`t have any skills and here I am.

So what you have now is a Democratic Party that`s been given a rational for this potential shutdown, the bro-ha (ph) over the last week has energized their base and made it much easier for Democrats to say we can`t possibly work with this guy on these issues. I mean, when he says things like these, we can`t possibly do it.

Whereas Republicans privately are with John Kelly. They think that this President says one thing one day, another thing the next, doesn`t really understand the issue. He has tweeted about a multiple FISA was in danger this morning. There was a moment where we thought the President was opposing this because it included a long term extension of the children`s health insurance program. I mean, this is the President that they are dealing with. And quite frankly it`s a big part of the reason we are here.

MATTHEWS: I get a sense we are going to be here for a while. I got a sense - I mean, Trump gave a barn burner of a speech in Pittsburgh today. I will talk about that later. That he is good at. He is good at standing in front of a bunch of supportive people giving a hell of speech. It was probably one of his best today. But he doesn`t seem to know how to run this government.

What`s going on in the minds of capitol, the people you cover all the time, who do they think is going on in his mind? How are they are going to figure the guy what he will buy? Does he wants it? Will he take DACA if it`s forced down his throat, for example? Will he take it?

HUNT: I got to tell you, Chris, I think that they are the same place that many people who are watching this unfold and not understanding what goes on with this President, I think. Even the people who have worked really hard.

Take Lindsey Graham, he is a great example. He is somebody who wasn`t antagonist and then he turned around and he decided, you know what, the best way to try to figure this President out, is to go and be his friend, play golf with him, get him on the phone.

He did that. And now, days later, after that White House meeting where they have the show down, the reports are that the President is not taking Lindsey Graham`s calls. He can`t get to the president. So instead he is back, you know, making cable news appearances try to send messages down, you know, the TV tubes that the President pays a lot of attention to.

It`s really unlike anything I think a lot of the people up here have ever seen. And I mean, one of the dynamics that work here on the hill as we raised towards the shutdown is how much of it feels unprecedented. There was a sense that, yes, we will figure it out. They always figure it out. There`s no way the government is going to shut down over this.

But then over the weekend, the s-hole debate comments, it just - it changed the entire landscape. And I guess one question is, we have no idea what`s going to happen tomorrow. You and I could be, you know, here tomorrow at 7:00 having a completely different conversation because, you know, I certainly every day covering this. The people that I talk to in these hallways, nobody has any clue what`s going to happen in the following 15 minutes. I mean, it is just - we are in such uncharted territory. Maybe that is an obvious thing to say now but it is till --.

MATTHEWS: Kasie, you are giving us a wonderful capsule of insanity. And that is what is going on. Thank you so much Kasie Hunt on the Hill on what is going on and mentally what is not going on. Thank you.

Let`s go to Cornell Belcher and to Jennifer Rubin saying nice to me.

This thing, I don`t think there is any press - and I don`t buy the idea. This is just the usual turbulence you feel on an airplane. Don`t worry it is just turbulence. The plane is flying fine

No, this something is whack job because you have people who do not like immigration. They don`t even like regular or legal immigration. They don`t like. And they got people who insist on basically meeting the needs of a consistency, the Hispanic people of the country, the Latinos, they want to them. They want to help those kids, especially. I don`t see the give here. I just don`t see it.

JENNIFER RUBIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: The irony is if they put this on the table, it would pass. They actually have a lot of votes. They have the majority of votes.

MATTHEWS: You mean, the middle?

RUBIN: Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS: The middle that doesn`t call the shots?

RUBIN: If you have all of the Democrats voting one way and this pact of group -- Lindsey Graham is expanding the people who now say that they are in favor of a solution, it would work. But Trump won`t let them put it on the table. McConnell won`t let him put in on the table. Ryan won`t. And so we are at locker heads. And I think what is going to happen is, even if the House passes it through, what`s Mitch McConnell going to do? He is going to turn around and make a deal with--.

MATTHEWS: How do you get this? Here`s the story. You know, an uncertain Trumpet, what is the message from the White House that the President will give on this wall thing? Is it the President understands DACA and understands he can`t fight it? That`s the message from the chief of staff to the Hispanic caucus the other day. The President completely undermine that today saying I don`t change. I am still a wall guy and I`m tough.

CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: The leadership matters, Chris, right. And what we are seeing right now is what happens when we don`t have leadership. This level of dysfunction and chaos in our government is unhealthy, either Republican or Democrat. You can`t have this level of chaos and dysfunction that they have of our government where they are all over the place.

Look. Nancy Pelosi I think nailed this. It`s amateur hour, right. Then this is dangerous and terrible and particularly for those thousands of young Americans who known nothing but America. And this is their country. You know, they are in the lines of fire because of this absolute chaos and dysfunction at the top.

You know, be a leader. Take one side and stake with that side. The President is absent in this.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, as we said earlier, Democrats and Republicans have until midnight on Friday, that`s tomorrow, to find a way to fund this government. And the two parties are struggling to find something like a compromise.

Candidate Trump ran on the promise that he would be a deal maker, remember that, in instances just like this one. Let`s take a listen.


TRUMP: If I`m elected President, I`m going to be in the White House a lot. I`m not leaving we have deals to make. Who the hell wants to leave?

I will bring America to a new level. I will negotiate deals that nobody can negotiate deals like I do. No body. I know everybody that I`m running against. I mean, nobody is going to be able to do the kind of things I can do. It`s supposed to be you get along with Congress, and you conjure and you go back and forth and we everybody gets in a room and we end up with deals.


MATTHEWS: Well, earlier today, Missouri Democrat senator Clare McCaskill tweeted, compromise is the essence of democracy. If there ever was a time for a deal maker right now. I think she like to be the dealmaker.

Let`s look at it this way. It seems to me that the deal is there. I mean, we are going to take care of the dreamers. You are right. Your case has been solved to the American - 81 percent, four out of five American say let those kids stay here. Leave them a moment. They become regular Americans down the road. I mean, making clear.

Nobody wants to send them back. They didn`t come on their own (INAUDIBLE). Don`t send them back on the government`s say-so. At the same time there has got to be something about enforcement of the immigration laws. There has to be something, whether it`s a wall, punishing big business guys for hiring people illegally. Something has to stop the magnet of immigration. Not everybody wants to say that but they will buckle to that reality.


BELCHER: Be but Graham and Durbin argue that the deal is already there. And you know, Durbin just recently tweeted, you know, unification check, border security, check, DREAMERs check. The deal is there in the senate. It is right there. That the hardliners have a problem with it but Durbin and Senator Graham of South Carolina had the deal right there.

MATTHEWS: Has this use of the term, the s-hole term which we all say ridiculously s-hole, but we do. Because he said it worse, is not created a poison so that the Democrats don`t want to sit down with this President and shake hands over any deal? I got the sense he has poison the deal with that language, especially with minority people.

RUBIN: I don`t know that they are so offended by it. But now they know that they have him. He looks bad. He looks like a racist.

MATTHEWS: It is a deal breaker. But what do they get out of it?

RUBIN: What do they get out of it? Their base is cheering them along the way.

MATTHEWS: What do they get in the end? If they cut a deal, they look week and give in to a bad guy who seems like a racist. If they do that, they don`t look at to their own people. So in the end what`s this chip worth?

RUBIN: This chip eventually they have to do something on DACA and they will be heroes.

BELCHER: But I don`t agree that the Democrats are holding on a chip. The votes right there for the Democrats. Again the Durbin/Graham bill, Democrats would vote for this bill.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you.

RUBIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: Lindsey Graham, whatever he think is always right on immigration, and so Durbin. There`s always been that middle. Ted Kennedy was in that middle, by the way.

Anyway, Jennifer Rubin, we all agree. Cornell Belcher. We can do it better here actually. I think we can give the deal here.

Coming up, President Trump`s attorney, as his lawyer, says he is eager to speak with special counsel Mueller in the Russia investigation. He suggested Mueller might kind of set a perjury trap. Have you ever heard a lawyer saying he is worried ahead of time his client is going to lie under oath? This is what his lawyer say, my guy might lie. Think about that? You think the chief of staff has low estimate for the brains and the guy in the White House. His lawyer thinks he can`t tell the truth. We will get to that next in a minute.

Plus, Trump missed the campaign trail. He hasn`t worked so hard. So somebody is vowing to spend four to five days a week helping Republicans win in 2018. That this (INAUDIBLE) today went to Pennsylvania at the Pittsburgh where Democrats think they do have a chance to flip a Republican district and pick on up.

And as Trump heads to chill, President Obama is gearing up to do the same I think in a more dainty way, however. Trump versus Obama. We will who is going to win this fight. The "Hardball" round table tackles that tonight.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. I think this is going to be a factually frightening close for tonight`s show.

And this is "Hardball" where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, led by the congressional black caucus today, House Democrats introduced a resolution, catch this, to censure President Trump for referring to African countries as s-holes. The measures call on the House to state his support for those countries Trump denigrated and demands that the President retract his comments and apologize. That is what it all says. It is unlikely the Republicans. Of course, who will bring it up for a vote. But today the chairman of the congressional black caucus congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana condemned House speaker Ryan for not coming out more strongly against Trump`s comment. Let`s watch him.


REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), LOUISIANA: He said his words for unfortunate. No, it`s unfortunate when I miss my bus or it is unfortunate when the airlines lose my luggage. But when the President of the United States decides to call Africa, Haiti and El Salvador the words he used, that`s not unfortunate. That is wrong. That is disgusting. That is hurtful. There are a number of words for it, but unfortunate is not one of them.


MATTHEWS: He is good. We will be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to meet with him without condition or would you demand that a strict set of parameters be placed around any encounter between you and the special counsel?

TRUMP: Well, again, John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. And certainly, I will see what happens. But when they have no collusion and nobody`s found any collusion at any level it seems unlikely that you`d have an interview.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."

Just last week, President Trump said it was unlikely that he would be even questioned by the special counsel Mr. Mueller in connection with the Russia probe. However, Trump`s top lawyers now say otherwise.

In an interview with major Garrett of CBS News, Trump`s attorney said he believes it`s a virtual certainty that the President will sit down with Mueller`s team but he suggests that he is worried about perjury by the President. Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it from your advantage point right now, Ty Cobb, a virtual certainty that the President will have some Q&A with the special counsel Robert Mueller?

TY COBB, TRUMP`S LAWYER: That`s my belief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And do you think there`s any danger for the President in that encounter?

COBB: You know, I would hope that a fair-minded office of special counsel would approach it in a -- in a dutiful way consistent with precedent and it wouldn`t be a mere perjury trap.


MATTHEWS: Additionally, after incorrectly predicting the probe would wind down last year, Trump`s lawyer, that man there, still express confidence that it would conclude soon. Here he goes again. Here he comes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do you believe this investigation will reach its conclusion?

COBB: There is no reason for not to conclude soon.


Cobb: Well, and soon to me would be within the next, you know, four to six weeks.



I`m joined right now by U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, you know all about this stuff, but I wonder if even you are a little baffled by a lawyer for the president, his top lawyer, saying he might commit perjury because somehow the questioning would be so brilliant that he would be forced into what he called a perjury trap.

What do you make of it?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, at one level, I guess I`m only surprised with that level of candor, but wouldn`t you be surprised, as the presidents` lawyer, knowing his propensity to say things that are simply true, that the president might perjure himself?

So I can understand counsel`s concern about that. But, look, he is going to have to be interviewed by the special counsel. He`s made a number of statements. Some of the most incriminating have come from obviously the president himself, such as his comments about what he had on his mind when he fired James Comey.

So the interview is going to have to take place. Certainly, a lot of mine fields, I`m sure, for the president`s lawyer, but if we`re going to get to the truth here and get to the facts, he`s an essential witness.

MATTHEWS: Why do they seem -- maybe this is nuanced, but they seem less worried about or less intending to avoid commenting or letting the president testify to Mueller`s team than they are to testify to your committee?

What is it with these guys? It looks like they want to use executive privilege to stay away from you guys, especially the Democrats on your committee, but they`re willing to accept the fact, at least the lawyer is, they have got to go face the special counsel?

SCHIFF: Well, it`s a good question.

We saw this week they shut down Steve Bannon, basically said, we`re imposing a gag rule on Steve Bannon, we won`t let him testify to anything he learned after he left the campaign or any conduct, meetings, conversations during the transition or during his time in the administration and many thereafter.

Similarly, Corey Lewandowski ended up doing exactly the same thing, saying, I`m simply going to refuse to answer questions because I`m not prepared to do it today.

And then the third witness that was supposed to come in tomorrow, another administration official, they canceled altogether. So they`re plainly concerned about testimony before Congress. They`re most concerned, frankly, about Steve Bannon.

They may have good reason for that concern, or this may be just a broad effort to stifle the congressional investigations because they feel they have a home court advantage with the Republican chairman of our committee.

MATTHEWS: Well, they do.

Anyway, today,your committee released the testimony of Glenn Simpson, of course, the founder of Fusion GPS, who was hired to investigate Trump`s connections to Russia.

The transcript shows that Mr. Simpson told you that he discovered that there were an amazing number of people from the former Soviet Union who had purchased properties from Mr. Trump and that -- quote -- he "saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering."

That is powerful stuff. What do you make of it?

SCHIFF: Well, this is a concern I have had all along, that this one area of the investigation could be potentially the most compromising of the president.

And it ought to be, in the exercise of due diligence, investigated, like the other allegations that we have faced. Now, when we began this investigation, there were allegations of secret meetings with Trump campaign people, which we now know in fact took place.

There were allegations of what General Flynn was doing, which we now know proved to be true. And there have been persistent allegations of money laundering, which we have really not been allowed to investigate.

Steve Bannon is concerned about money laundering, Glenn Simpson as well.


SCHIFF: And I think it would be irresponsible for us not to look into this and either find out, OK, it`s not true, it was just highly suggestive, or, no, actually, it looks like there`s merits to these allegations and the president could be potentially compromised.

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s three areas of exposure, it seems to me, as you outline it. There`s the president may have colluded with the Russians. That`s still out there.

There`s the president may have obstructed justice in terms of this investigation. And, third, the one you just mentioned, he may have been involved with money laundering, he and his family. All three of them still hot to you in terms of investigating, all three topics?


I think we have a lot more work to did on all of these topics. And you can see some of the limitations we`re operating under, when Bannon won`t talk about what he saw during the transition or his time in the administration, and the majority, in the case of Corey Lewandowski, is willing to take "I`m not prepared to answer that today" as an adequate response.

So there`s a lot more work we need to do. There`s a lot more, for example, just about the Trump Tower meeting, people that knew what went into the Trump Tower meeting that have not been brought before our committee, the telephone records we want to obtain, so we can determine whether Donald Trump Jr. spoke with Donald Trump Sr. about that meeting.


SCHIFF: But, yes, money laundering, of all of the allegations, could be, if there were merit to it, the most compromising, in a sense that the Russians would know they engaged it, would have a powerful lever over the United States.

And we have simply not been permitted by the majority to look at the issue.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

I`m joined right now by Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst.

You have watched it all. What did you make of all that, all of it.

Money laundering is hot because of Simpson`s testimony, that that`s what they were looking at that led to the dossier. The president clearly doesn`t want to talk about that. I get the feeling he`s just going to fire Mueller the minute he goes in that direction.


So, what the Simpson transcript says is that Eric Trump -- now, this is a new name.

MATTHEWS: Son of the president.

BUTLER: Yes, that he could get any money he wanted from the Russians.

So, we have that. We have this suspicious pattern of real estate transactions between the Trump Organization and people in Russia that looks like money laundering. And then we have Steve Bannon, the guy who knows the president best, or knew the president best, who says if the Trump team goes down, it`s going down because of money laundering.

This is -- again, as you say, they have been focused on collusion, on obstruction of justice, but this could be the thing that undoes the administration.

MATTHEWS: Of course, it raises the whole question of whether his campaign for president was partially a criminal enterprise. It was all using the prestige of a presidential campaign to get some money with the 666 property, right, through Deutsche Bank, and the whole question of, were they actually selling them land so they could get their money laundered?


And when you think about the political organization of the campaign, that`s another area where Bannon is key, because a question that they will ask him is, how did it work and would it be possible for people like Carter Page and George Papadopoulos to meet with Russians and Trump not know about it?

If Trump knew about it, then -- and -- again, and he testifies otherwise -- he`s already said on TV that he didn`t -- if he says to the grand jury or to the FBI that he didn`t know about it, and he did, that`s perjury.

MATTHEWS: OK. We`re watching these pictures. I always like these pictures that show Steve Bannon sitting very comfortably in the Oval Office, like he belongs in that chair.

He says in his testimony the other day, by accident, apparently, oh, yes, we were worried, we were talking in the White House about those meetings, about that meeting at Trump Tower. We talked about it, which opens up the gate to he knew.

They obviously talked about it, but now we know he said they talked about it, Bannon.

BUTLER: And how could he not? Because he also said he thought it was treasonous, the fact that they were meeting with the Russians to talk about the election on behalf of President Trump.


BUTLER: So, again, Bannon has a lot to tell Mueller. I would love to be a fly in the room.

MATTHEWS: You know they separated the two Menendez brothers when they interviewed them? I always loved the idea they separate the two suspects.

In this case, you have Bannon, who doesn`t like these nepotism people. He doesn`t like Eric and Donald Jr. and Jared and all that stuff sitting around benefiting by their father. He`s at war with them. He may want to testify against them.

BUTLER: He`s a prosecutor`s dream witness.

Again, he doesn`t at this point have exposure. He only gets in trouble if he doesn`t tell the truth. So, they`re going to tell him, yes, Steve, now you`re not talking to the grand jury, you`re talking to agents. But you still have to tell the truth. If you don`t, you`re going to jail.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of this -- I don`t know if we`re ever going to get to the bottom -- executive privilege?

It was wiped away because the Nixon case was a criminal case. It was an impeachment case, high crimes and misdemeanors.


MATTHEWS: All about cover-up and everything else.

There, the Supreme Court said, sorry, buddy, no executive privilege. Where is it going to play here at all?

BUTLER: So, here`s the deal.

There is some claim, limited claim in a congressional hearing before the grand jury, which is what Mueller is working with, and no credible claim of executive privilege. Even with these congressional committees, I think Trump has waived it, because the things that they want to -- the witnesses have talked about, like Michael Flynn and why he fired James Comey, Trump has been all over the news talking, making various inconsistent statements about that.


BUTLER: So you can`t talk to the high heavens about something and then prevent people from other talking about it on the grounds that it`s secret.

So, I think as soon as it gets to the court -- and, again, that`s where the congressman was right. It`s the Republicans who are running these committees who are not forcing the witnesses to talk, because they can say, if you`re claiming executive privilege, make the president send a letter or file a motion, because it`s not these witnesses` privilege. It`s the president. So, he has got to claim it.

MATTHEWS: I can`t let you go, because you know all about this stuff.

What is a perjury trap? Is there such a thing? Or is that some sort of rhetorical device by a lawyer to set up the innocence of his client who he thinks is going to lie?


So, a perjury trap is when the prosecutor intentionally sets someone up to try to trick them into telling a lie before the grand jury. The best way to prevent it is to tell the truth.


BUTLER: And, apparently, the president`s lawyer thinks that his client has a hard time doing that.


BUTLER: And that`s why he is concerned a perjury charge.

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. I shouldn`t laugh about the criminal behavior.

Anyway, thank you, Paul Butler. It`s great to have you on, as always.

BUTLER: Always a pleasure.

MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump hits the campaign trail ahead of another hotly contested special election in Western Pennsylvania. But he`s not the only president looking to make an impact in 2018. President Obama is coming off the sidelines. We will see how he handles it and how these two match up.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The House, as you can see, is now voting on the short-term spending measure to avoid a government shutdown tomorrow night. The measure is expected to pass, short-term, after the right-wing Freedom Caucus has just agreed to get into it.

If it passes the House tonight, as it`s expected to, it still needs to go to the Senate, of course, and then to the president`s desk, or the government will shut down tomorrow night.

They need 60 votes in the Senate, by the way. That means a lot of Democrats.

Meanwhile, President Trump was in Pennsylvania today making his first campaign speech of 2018, expressing his support for Republican candidate Rick Saccone in the March 13 special election coming up for that 18th District seat.

The president told Reuters yesterday -- quote -- "I am going to spend probably four or five days a week helping people because we need more Republicans."

That`s the president talking. Though he was technically giving a speech on the economy, the president couldn`t resist throwing some meat to his base. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Americans do anything, build anything, and create anything, as long as we have pride in our country, confidence in our values, and respect for our great American flag.

Something I`m really proud of, because I have been saying it, what do you have to lose? African-American unemployment is at its lowest level ever recorded.

And remember the deplorables. The deplorables.


TRUMP: We`re all deplorables.


TRUMP: Who would have thought that was going to turn into a landslide? That was not a good phrase that she used. Oh, some things, you would like to have back.


MATTHEWS: Well, he also bragged about how great the country is doing right now. Let`s watch that.


TRUMP: Nobody thought we were going to have this kind of success so quickly.

There`s never been a better time to hire in America, to invest in America, and to believe in the American dream than right now.

We can keep it like this, we`re going to win a lot of elections. That, I can tell you.


MATTHEWS: Well, but it remains to be seen, of course, if voters will buy Trump`s argument that he`s made America great again.

According to a new poll conducted by NPR, "PBS NewsHour" and Marist, 51 percent of registered voters think the president`s first year in office was a failure, 42 percent describe it was a success, and 7 percent said they were unsure.

Well, HARDBALL Roundtable is here. And we will hear from them right after this.

You`re watching it, HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The U.S. House of Representatives has just approved a short-term spending bill, in an attempt to avoid a government shutdown. We saw the vote there. The House passed the measure after the right-wing Freedom Caucus came out in support of it late today.

And now the measure goes to the Senate, where its fate is, well, unclear is putting it nicely.

The federal government will shut down at midnight tomorrow night if they fail to pass it in the Senate.

Anyway, President Trump is hoping to use his political capital to help Republicans avoid a blue wave this November. But he will face a formidable Democratic opponent on the trail. It turns out to be Barack Obama himself.

A spokesman for the former president told "The Chicago Tribune" Obama will "continue to be politically active in 2018, with more endorsements and more campaigning."

Meanwhile, Politico reports Obama is already strategizing on his approach with Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez. According to the Politico, "Obama is determined not to become the foil that he can see President Trump clearly wants him to be and resist being the face of the resistance for his own party."

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable, Kimberly Atkins, chief Washington reporter for "The Boston Herald." Howard Fineman is contributor to And Gabe Debenedetti is political reporter for Politico, all of you.

I want to talk to Howard, because I think we actually agree on something right off the bat here.


MATTHEWS: Excuse me if I jump to him, Kimberly.


MATTHEWS: I thought Trump`s speech today was a barn burner. I never heard him give a better speech. I watched all the speeches in the campaign, for whatever reason, he rose to the occasion. I know it was home cook or home court.

I think if he behaves like that, the Democrats are going to need a powerful, powerful candidate to knock him off --

FINEMAN: I think, Chris, there is a big blue wave or wind blowing --


FINEMAN: -- in `18. But if he`s going to sail against it and get through it, it`s going to have to be with speeches like the one he gave. He talked about his strongest calling card, which is the economy, even if he personally didn`t create all of this by any means, and Barack Obama deserves credit for it to some extent. The economy is good, unemployment is low, minority unemployment is low.

He made his best case today and he stayed on message. He spent the whole year getting in the way of whatever good message he has, which arguably is the economy. And that`s what he did today. Light touch, some humor, salesmanship, just enough rah-rah. I mean, that was as good as Donald Trump --

MATTHEWS: And no rabid punches.

FINEMAN: No, that`s --

MATTHEWS: And none of those cheap shots.

FINEMAN: That`s as good as he`s going to get on the stump.

MATTHEWS: Let me talk to you about the president, President Obama, to some people he`s still the president. I was watching David Letterman, that interview, he`s still the president. How does he get into this fight without getting his face dirtied by Trump who loves to turn his opponents into dirt?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, BOSTON HERALD: Yes, very carefully. President Trump is going to punch at Obama if he`s on the campaign trail. That`s a given. So it`s up to President Obama to pick his message carefully and to make a very careful approach at his. Make this not --

MATTHEWS: How do you make yourself a stand back weapon?

ATKINS: He can. I think if anybody can do it, it`s this president. Look, he`s very popular. He has that over President Trump, much higher popularity.

He also knows how to speak to issues and speak about candidates and speak to what`s going on in the districts he campaigns in a way that doesn`t make it about Trump and certainly doesn`t overshadow the candidates themselves or some of the other up and coming Democratic stars that might also be able good on the campaign trail, to serve as good surrogates. I think that`s where he comes in --

MATTHEWS: Judge, give me your matchup. The president and former president go out there by October 15th, they`ll both have their faces on the nightly news, you know it.

GABE DEBENEDETTI, POLITICO: Yes, absolutely, the difference is the elections are going to be a referendum on President Trump whether he likes it or not. And there`s basically no world in which the midterm elections in 2018 bare going to be a referendum on the president who had at that point left office two years ago.

So, Obama has been pretty clear and his world has been pretty clear, that they`re going to pick their spots very carefully, try to make an affirmative message out there. They`ll take on Trump occasionally, but he`s going to shy away from the idea it`s one versus the other. But Democrats are happy with the comparison because one of them is very popular, right now, overall in the country, and especially with the base.

And one of them -- with the Democratic base. And one of them is not that popular overall in the country, including with his own Republican base. So, Democrats are not concerned about this matchup.

MATTHEWS: Well, in stage today, President Trump largely stuck to his script about the economy. But off stage, he offered this exclamation for the impasse over keeping this government going tomorrow night. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really believe the Democrats want a shutdown to get off the subject of the tax cuts because they`ve worked so well. Nobody thought, including the Democrats, they could work this well. They`ve been so good that I think the Democrats would like to see a shutdown in order to get off that subject. That is not a good subject for them, the tax cuts because of the way they worked.


MATTHEWS: Kimberly, is that true? The Democrats don`t like the president getting credit for the tax cut and that`s why they`re holding up the government.

ATKINS: That`s not true. I mean, some Democrats, particularly in the Senate, want to see DACA action. What`s the action on DACA and will see tomorrow some effort to try to negotiate that in before they give their approval of this bill.

But, no, this isn`t about the tax cut. This isn`t about the Democrats wanting to shutdown the government. This shouldn`t be about up anybody wanting to shutdown the government. That`s one of the least popular things can you do and I think in the end, people will hold both parties responsible.

MATTHEWS: Maybe I`m a skeptic. How about people want the deal in the fight and how many want the fight?

ATKINS: Well --

MATTHEWS: Because sometimes the fight is better than the deal. If you`re looking out for a minority community that`s growing every day in this country, Hispanics, Latinos, there`s all -- you know, by time, 10 years from now, it`ll be 20-some percent you want that community behind you and against other side, right?

DEBENEDETTI: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Here`s the chance for the Democrats to stick the Republicans with being the anti-immigrant party.

DEBENEDETTI: Yes. And it`s not only that. They`re also trying to build up their base politically speaking. But they`re also making the calculation that people realize that Republicans control everything in Washington right now, whether it`s the White House, the House or the Senate.

And so, for Republicans to try to push this back on Democrats right now, well, the Democratic leadership just doesn`t believe that`s going to work. So, they think it`s a win-win right now. They can convince their base, convince a lot of minority voters that they`re standing for them against the Republicans.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you. I think Democrats don`t mind this fight a bit.

ATKINS: It`s not a fight for the sake of a fight. It`s a fight for the sake of --

MATTHEWS: No, it`s a fight to be on the right side of the fight. Although sometimes fights are good.

Go ahead, like here.

FINEMAN: No matter what the Republican leadership thinks, I think that Donald Trump thinks that he can win that spin war. That he can win that war.

MATTHWES: He`d rather be on the anti-immigrant side?

FINEMAN: He`d rather by on the anti-immigrant side. Don`t forget, he`s not a government guy. His people don`t like the government here, at least they profess not to like it.

MATTHEWS: So, shutting it down is not a sin.

FINEMAN: Shut it down is not a sin in his world.

MATTHEWS: I think your -- Kimberly, it`s a weird world. What do you make of what he just said?

ATKINS: It is -- I found it really interesting that on the one hand, you`re saying because he looked great, because he read from a teleprompter for ten minutes and didn`t say anything offensive, but now you`re saying that he wants to be the anti-immigrant --

FINEMAN: I didn`t say that he looked great, I said that`s as good as he can do.

MATTHEWS: I said he was great.

ATKINS: I just think in the same sense --

MATTHEWS: Because I watch politics all these years and try to figure out who looks good. And I thought he looks good today.

ATKINS: It`s the same guy who you said wants to be anti-immigrant candidate, the same guy who just called a bunch of countries whatever he wants. I think if he comes out in 2018 being the Donald Trump that we have seen for the last year, I think it will be the best Democratic get out the vote vehicle they have.

MATTHEWS: Democrats hope for that. They`re hoping for the worst case situation in politics for Republicans, which is stupid in politics. You got to stand (ph) up against somebody tough.

Gabe agrees with me? I hope he does. Go ahead.

DEBENEDETTI: Yes, they`re obviously hoping for the worst case scenario. But they`re not --

MATTHEWS: They hope he`s a klutz. They hope he`s a fool saying s-hole every day of the week. Of course, you want your opponent to do that, but is it likely?

Anyway, in his limited campaign appearances last year for Democratic candidates for governor in Virginia and New Jersey, President Obama took on his successor, although not by name. Let`s watch.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: I`ve been commenting a lot on politics lately, but here`s one thing I know -- if you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you`re not going to be able to govern them.

What we can`t have is same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before. That dates back centuries. Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s my religion.

ATKINS: Yes. I mean, look, I think one of the biggest things that former President Obama has going for him is the same thing that made everyone so excited about Oprah, is that they give a speech and they inspire people. And there`s not a lot of that in Washington right now.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you, totally with you. That`s what I`m talking about Trump. By the way, I agree with you. And the people who are against -- who might beat Oprah if she were to run are also positive people like Biden.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, three scoops coming from these people and they`re going to be really good, especially from Kimberly. It`s going to be rock `em, sock `em prediction.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Well, during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that the United States got no respect under President Obama.


TRUMP: They laugh at us and what do they do? They have no respect for Obama whatsoever. They`ll have less respect for crooked Hillary. She`s the worst.

But they don`t respect us. They don`t respect our country, they don`t respect our president, they don`t like our president.

Our rivals no longer respect us. Putin has no respect for Obama whatsoever.

The Iranians like to taunt us because they don`t have like respect for our leaders, right?


MATTHEWS: That was Rodney Dangerfield.

Actually, it turns out the world respects us less now that President Trump is in charge. The new survey found that global confidence in the United States leadership has fallen to a historic low right now. Gallup surveyed people in 134 countries and found just 30 percent approve of American leadership under Trump. It`s an 18-point drop from President Obama`s final year in office from 48 to 30.

Anyway, Germany has now replaced the United States as top-rated global power. Isn`t that wonderful? The U.S. also falls slightly behind China and is barely more popular than the Ruskies. We should note that this poll was conducted before Trump -- oh, my God -- before he started talking about Africa as a bunch of s-holes. We`ll be right back. Geez!


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Kimberly, tell me something I don`t know.

ATKINS: Well, this would have made big news on any other day, but the House is on track to change the way that sexual harassment is reported against members of Congress. They introduced a bill, that has support that not only will get rid of this publicly funded settlement --

MATTHEWS: Right, I know --

ATKINS: The settlement fund, but it would force lawmakers to pay out of their own dollars. It would give extra support to people making these claims. And also on the other side to prevent blackmail.

MATTHEWS: This is the new system.

ATKINS: This is a new system.

MATTHEWS: It`s in place now?

ATKINS: Well, the bill has been filed and it`s likely to pass and that will be the new rules --

MATTHEWS: And the House can make this decision by itself? Without the Senate?



FINEMAN: Chris, I checked with some agencies and departments. Unlike past administrations in past years, there`s been very little if any guidance about what to do if there actually is a government shutdown. Either out of ignorance or chaos or knowing something that we don`t, the departments and agencies have not been fully briefed in the way that they have been in the past about exactly what happens if there`s a shutdown.

MATTHEWS: So they turn the lights off in the zoo?

FINEMAN: They turn the lights off.

MATTHEWS: What do the animals do?

FINEMAN: I put it down to general chaos and it`s still understaffed and under-experienced Trump`s administration.

MATTHEWS: Sticking with the military, too.

Go ahead, Gabe.

DEBENEDETTI: The other night, there was a little known special election for a state Senate seat in rural Wisconsin.

MATTHEWS: Oh, we know. Well known here, though, Gabe.

DEBENEDETTI: Well known here. But what I want to say, there have been 34 state legislative seats now since last November, since November 2016 that have flipped from Republican to Democrat over the last year. And you have --

MATTHEWS: Which tells you?

DEBENEDETTI: Which tells us that there`s something building.


DEBENEDETTI: I don`t know if it`s that wave yet, but Scott Walker himself was saying, it`s time to sound the alarm.

MATTHEWS: Every president since 1862, it`s been an average of 32 seats lost by the president`s party. So, that`s not a high bar. It looks like the Democrats could win back the House.

Thank you, Kimberly Atkins of "The Herald", "Howard Fineman", Gabe Debenedetti.

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

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch Thursday, January 18th, 2018.

There`s a giddiness about the congressional elections coming up this November. Talk of how the Democrats are going to sweep away Republican incumbents, especially in the suburbs. All this could happen, just as imagined, just as the signs from New Jersey and Virginia, Alabama, and most recently in Wisconsin indicate.

We could see a Democratic wave that comfortably grabs back control of the U.S. House of Representatives, maybe even the U.S. Senate.

But don`t think this is over. Don`t think that a good year in 2018 means Democratic victory necessarily in 2020. Why do I say that?

Because I watched every minute of the president`s stump speech this afternoon in Pittsburgh. It was a barn burner. He hit all the high notes, never a flat one, he spread out the good news, hitting strong on minority employment numbers, taking a general clip at his 2016 rival without any obvious nastiness. His pitch uplifting, gung-ho, with all the flags flying.

I`m trying to think of a Democratic rival that could match the performance -- maybe you can help me out here -- someone who can sell this country while making a case for herself or himself, someone who can make people feel empowered, feel like they matter. And still give them hope that they will win in the end?

My point, which I expect to make often in the next three years, is that you can`t beat someone with no one. To defeat Donald Trump will take a political combatant able to take the blows and give them back, to speak with hope and power, to go over Trump, and not just get caught going under him, trying to undermine him, someone who will be bigger than him.

Why? Because this is not a parliamentary or congressional country, like in England, where the party is what matters. It`s a presidential country, where the leader matters.

To win, Democrats will need a better leader than the one we saw today. And those who despise Trump, I feel, required to say, ignore this truth at their peril.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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