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Trump signs order ending his family separation policy. TRANSCRIPT: 6/20/2018. Hardball.

Guests: Ayesha Rascoe, Eugene Scott, Christina Fialho, John Jenkins, Norma Pimentel, Joe Strauss, Terry McAuliffe

Show: HARDBALL Date: June 20, 2018 Guest: Ayesha Rascoe, Eugene Scott, Christina Fialho, John Jenkins, Norma Pimentel, Joe Strauss, Terry McAuliffe

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Backflip. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Well tonight, the verdict announced by the President himself is in. America wins, Trump loses. He wanted to troll his enemies, get them angry, get his own people rolled with anger. He wanted to show how tough he was on illegal immigration, showed that he would separate kids from parents and if that caused a storm, all the better.

Well tonight, Trump himself had to say he has lost. He did so with a backflip so high and wide it could put him in the Olympics, a back flippers. Was it because the policy of tearing children from parents was wrong? No, he said with neither blush nor air brush it was because it looked bad.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The knowledge that American authorities were separating children from their parents was horrible enough. But when word reached the country that some of these children were being lost in the system, that must have been too much and the President buckled.

Under mounting pressure, the President today signed an executive order to keep immigrant families together after they are detained at the border. According to "the Washington Post," a driving force behind Trump`s backflip today was first lady Melania Trump who urged her husband to stop the policy.

Quote "the past couple of days she has increasingly made clear to the President that he should use his power to fix the problem."

But in signing today`s order, the President today effectively took credit for solving a problem he had personally created.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we have done today is we are keeping families together. Ivanka feels very strongly, my wife feels very strongly about it, I feel very strongly about it. I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don`t like to see families separated. At the same time we don`t want people coming into our country illegally. This takes care of the problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATHEWS: Well, Trump`s backflip comes a day after he blamed Democrats and insisted those crossing the border are infesting our country. The initial revelation that Trump allowed babies to be separated and detained added even more pressure to do something.

As Republican senator Orrin Hatch remarked this morning tender age shelters is a chilling phrase we will not soon forget.

Well, despite those haunting images out of Texas, the President reportedly said his policy of zero tolerance will help the party in the November midterms. According to the "Associated Press," Trump has told advisers he believes he strong on the matter suggesting it could be a winning culture war issue much like his attacks on NFL players who take a knee for the national anthem.

Well, to that effect, the President has tried to cultivate a false narrative arguing that Democrats are to blame for his policy decisions. However, that calculation royaled (ph) his party and spurred some Republicans to take action.

In a letter to the President yesterday, Texas House speaker Joe Strauss called on Trump to rescind the zero tolerance policy saying it is wrong to use those scared vulnerable children as a negotiating tool. Today`s executive order ends the policy of separating families but does not end the broader zero tolerance policy which requires that everyone who crosses the border illegally is prosecuted.

With me now is Kristen Welker, White House correspondent of NBC News, also joining us is the author of that letter to the President, Texas House speaker Joe Strauss and Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic governor of Virginia.

Let me talk to Kristen about this. What broke the Trump`s back on this?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have been talking to senior administration officials. They say he has been speaking to his advisers and his family members, Chris, about in this in private conversations. The first lady Ivanka Trump essentially saying they were very disturbed by the images at the border. And I think ultimately the personal and the political pressure just became too much.

In terms of when officials here learn about it, they say they learned this morning that the President would be signing that executive order. And remember, last night, Senator Hatch gave him a way out, gave him this executive order idea to essentially allow him to get out of this crisis, which as you pointed out, he created by enacting that zero tolerance policy. So I think all of those factors bubbled up, Chris, and that`s why he made this decision.

But look, the political pressure has been mounting for days. You and I have been talking about this, this is a former reality TV star who knows what makes good and what is bad TV. And the images of the children, the sounds of the children crying who had been separated from their families, I think, was too much for Republicans. They started speaking out against this President. That was something that we haven`t seen frequently here. And you again had privately his own family members saying he had to take action.

So ultimately, Chris, I think this was a combination of a number of factors, but the realization that he was losing the political argument here.

MATHEWS: I mean, I want to slice a little thinner if you can help me here. Is it -- I think Trump didn`t like the pictures because he is a PR guy at heart. He is a TV producer at heart.

But Melania, I have a sense that she is a civilian when it comes to this. She is not a politician. Is it -- do you think knowing her as much as you can report on this that it was her feelings about what was being done with these kids and not the PR that move her?

WELKER: I think that`s a significant piece of it. Remember, she issued that statement earlier this week that we all tried to interpret was she breaking with her husband when he she said that we have to of course, have strong laws but at the same time, we have to govern morally. And that really was seen by a number of people as publicly sending a signal that this policy cannot stand.

And so I do she was a significant factor here, Chris. I think there`s no doubt about that. But then you go back to the images and the President`s own sensibilities about them. He knew on a gut level as a dad, as the President, as a politician that those images were devastating and that ultimately, they were just getting worse.

And remember also, Chris, they were struggling to answer very basic questions about what was happening to these kids? Where were the girls? Where were the young toddlers?

MATHEWS: Yes.

WELKER: They were struggling to answer those questions and I think ultimately, they determined this was indefensible.

MATHEWS: Thank you so much, Kristen Welker. The White House in this case. Thank God for the television camera.

Speaker Strauss, your feelings about this because I think you are talking about more than image here. You are talking policy, sir. Go ahead.

STATE REP. JOE STRAUSS (R-TX), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Yes, Chris. Good evening. I think it`s really important to hold all of our public officials accountable especially when they are not at thing it the truth and when they cross clear moral boundaries as was the case here.

I think this week also the President, the administration conflated several issues. There`s immigration policy. There was a zero tolerance policy. And then there was his desperate attempt to find funding for a border wall. And he miscalculated thinking that by this policy of stripping away innocent terrified young children from their parents and putting them in metal cages that he could bring people to the table to negotiate for his border wall. And it blew up on him. This was a crisis of his own (INAUDIBLE).

MATHEWS: Where is the lie here? Tell me about the lie. What was the lie from Trump?

STRAUSS: Well, I mean, he was not telling it the truth when he said it was the law that these family members had to be separated. And they also were not being truthful about what could be done to correct it. And that`s what I called for in my letter was for the President to call the attorney general, speak to his homeland security secretary and reverse this horrifying policy.

MATHEWS: Well, Trump`s border policy has pushed some long-time Republicans to their limit like you, sir.

Today, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt who served as John McCain`s campaign manager in 2008 announced he is leaving the GOP all together.

Quote "today I renounce my member to the Republican party. It`s fully the party of Trump. He is corrupt, indecent and immoral. He says that this child separation policies connected the worst abuses of humanity in our history."

Schmidt by the way is now calling for the quote "utter repudiation of Trump and his vial enablers in the 2018 election by electing Democratic majorities. I not say this is as an advocate of a progressive agenda. I say this as someone who retains belief in democracy and decency."

Well, Mr. Speaker, you are not going that far. Tell me where you draw the line with Trump and where you don`t.

STRAUSS: Well, you draw the line when he crosses that line. When he crosses the moral boundary line which he did in this case. But I think Steve Schmidt makes very good points. Now, I`m not -- I don`t have a party to go to that I believe in more than the Republican Party. I`m part of the stay and fight faction. I mean, November elections are upon us. And let`s see which Republicans are rewarded in November. Those who blindly follow a self-described strong man leader who won`t be President forever or those who served like I did or remember at least President Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush and President Bush 43 and some of the principals that made this grand old party the grand old party.

MATHEWS: This President.

STRAUSS: If we are going to have a future, we have to grow.

MATHEWS: Well, this President helps them look all the better in history.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, Joe Strauss of Texas.

Let me bring in a Democrat who has no problem with a partisan issue, Terry McAuliffe who may well be playing a role in keeping Trump to one term.

Governor, tell me about this view. I mean, tell me the politics. You are a politics, as well. Why did Trump wait until the day, play his cards to the end, say he couldn`t change this policy, denied it was his policy and then flip late this afternoon? What`s it all about?

FMR GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: First, he created the mess and he actually, he thought it was working for him. And he doubled down yesterday. And I think with the pictures coming out and the uproar all over the country, I think he realized once again, he had taken us down the low road. He has done this time and time again.

You know, I was hopeful after he got elected that when he took the oath of office and I served as chairman of the national governors association, all the governors, we thought that he would rise to the occasion and be President of the United States but he hasn`t. He has continuously taken the low road and what he has done in the situation with the children is appalling.

Not only in America, but Chris, all over the world. They are looking at the United States of America, the greatest nation on earth, the beacon of democracy, the beacon of morality. And what he has done has questioned people`s thoughts about how they think about America.

And for the people who follow us and for people who do things we don`t like around the world, they look to what America is doing now and I`m afraid of what their behavior will be going forward. This man has taken America in the wrong direction. He is a walking nightmare. He is erratic. He did it in Charlottesville when we had neo-Nazis and all-right and white supremacists come to Virginia. He had an opportunity to stand up and morally do the right thing.

He didn`t. He took the low road. He said it was both sides` fault. It wasn`t. 32-year-old Heather Higher who lost her legs that day, she was protesting against hatred.

So I think he realized that he had no one left. His wife wasn`t with him anymore. People around the country weren`t with him it. People around the world with him and he figured he had better cut his losses.

But this will be a dark moment in America`s history. To put these children in steel cages like internment camps is something people will never forget. Ad it was Donald J. Trump, it was his policy. He has hurt this country around the globe.

MATHEWS: Will this remain in the minds of people for -- we have learned one thing, governor, that the minute by minute changes in public focus is something that Trump has been able to exploit, the change of mind, the change of topic. Will this stay in the minds and hearts of people months from now?

MCAULIFFE: I think this is something that is burned in the minds of Americans. This was something so abhorrent that nobody could actually believe it. And when the tape came out with the children crying for their mother, that is something that people will remember forever. It has hurt America and the moral leader that we are. So this is going to be well into the elections.

But put the politics aside for a second, Chris. This is about America. What this man has done to America, what he has done to the G-7 to our allies and the EU, to our allies in Canada and into Mexico, he has created chaos in the world. The only person looking back satisfied today is Vladimir Putin who has to be sitting back laughing of all the actions he took to disrupt the 2016 election and he saying to himself, boy, look what I caused in the United States of America.

MATHEWS: You know, I had Elizabeth Warren on yesterday, the senator from Massachusetts. I had her on for a reason. The reason I have always want her on is because I think she is one of the nominees possible nominees of the Democratic Party in 2020. And I think you are a possible nominee. Do you think this is going to make it more likely for people to take the moral plunge against Trump this incident?

MCAULIFFE: I think it has outraged so many people. And I think the one thing as you saw today the poll is, the Pew research came out today, voter interest is up the highest level we have had in 20 years. I think what you are going to see, Chris, is a huge turnout in the midterms as they go in and vote for the House and Senate and these 36 governors` races.

It is coming against Donald Trump. We have had it with Trump`s antics. We have had it with him getting rid of all America`s allies around the globe. We want a President literally who unifies people who works together. You can work on both sides for the common good of jobs, on infrastructure. Look what he has done to health care. Premiums are up all over the country. He has tried to roll back the ACA. People are feeling that at home. They are paying a higher premiums today. They are stuck in traffic. Infrastructure isn`t working.

President Trump has taken America down account wrong road. And I do think you are going to see a lot of people step up to the plate rightfully so and they should.

MATHEWS: Trump`s strongest supporters have shown a degree of callousness that threatens to emanate moderates in the wrong party. Just last night Trump`s former campaign chairman mocked a Democratic strategist for showing concern for a separated 10-year-old girl with down syndrome. Let`s watch this seen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, look I read today about a 10-year-old girl with down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage. I read about -- .

Did you say wa-wa to a 10-year-old with down syndrome? How dare you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you cross the border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How absolutely dare you, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATHEWS: Speaker, Mr. Speaker what, do you make of that, this, what`s the right word, callousness of the Republicans.

STRAUSS: Disrespect.

MATHEWS: Defending the President to the point of making fun of a kid with down`s syndrome separated from his parents. I mean, that is a callosal tragedy to treat a kid who has challenges to begin with and then separate them from the parents he needs.

STRAUSS: No, there`s no doubt it was a cruel and horrifying policy. And it didn`t work. The good news in all of this that the American people rose up and expressed themselves.

Laura Bush was clear and eloquent. All of the former first ladies and the current first lady, business leaders, faith leaders and millions of Americans spoke up. So the system really did work today or this week. And that`s a good lesson I hope.

MATHEWS: I love the fact that you were out there. I hope you run for office again because we have heard too many outspoken Republicans are on their way out the door. I like Republicans that are still running for office having to say something about Trump. It shows a lot more guts. Your thoughts.

STRAUSS: I`m not known to be shy in the past. I`m serving my fifth term as speaker of the house. I think that is enough. I`m not planning to go away.

MATHEWS: Good. Well, run again, please.

Anyway, the former Virginia governor himself Terry McAuliffe, I`m hopeful will run for higher office.

And thank you, Kristen Welker for the straight story.

And again, Joe Strauss, thank you.

Coming up, the lost children. Now that Trump is reversing course at least for today in ending his policy of separating children from their parents, what`s the plan to reunite them? Some of them have been taken so far away as Michigan and New York up in the Bronx. Will they ever see their parents again? That`s ahead.

Plus, many migrants coming to this country are escaping living hell back home. Let`s talk about that. We are going to talk to a roman catholic sister and nun who works for the asylum seekers about the hardship choices they are force to make when they come to leave their home countries to come here to our border.

And we expect Trump will try to use immigration fight as one of the cultural issues he helps to run on in 2018 and again in 2020. But after this week, that is not looking like a very good strategy, does it? Not so safe, is it?

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. He won`t like this one.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATHEWS: Michael Cohen, President Trump`s long-time personal lawyer and fixer, has resigned from his post on the RNC finance committee. According to ABC News, Cohen cited had his ongoing legal trouble as a reason for his departure.

However, the RNC chair, Ronna Romney McDaniel, Cohen also took a shot at Trump`s family separation policy. According to ABC, Cohen said as the son of a Polish holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family`s separation policy is heart wrenching. I strongly support measures that will secure our porous borders, children should never be used as a bargaining chips. That`s Michael Cohen.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The disturbing images of small children being torn from their parents were troubling enough to push the president to act, but nobody really expected that it could get worse.

Well, last night, it did. According to the Associated Press, Trump administration officials are sending babies, as well as small children, to what are called tender age shelters in South Texas.

Lawyers and medical providers who spoke to the Associated Press described scenes of playrooms of crying preschool age children in crisis. And while they insist the facilities are safe, they add that the small children have no idea where their parents are and are hysterical, crying and acting out.

Four days ago, Homeland Security officials told reporters -- quote -- "We are not separating babies from parents."

We now know that`s not true. "The Detroit Free Press" is reporting that two baby boys aged 8 months and 11 months were shipped to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the middle of the night. We`re also hearing stories of children being sent as far as Kansas or even New York City, up to Harlem, where New York once shot this video of five young girls being escorted to a foster center after being separated from their parents.

There those kids are.

One Honduran woman told "The New Yorker" magazine that she has not seen her 5-year-old son in nearly six weeks and is extremely worried that she might be deported without him.

Well, given the president`s new executive order late today, it`s unclear what happens to the children already separated, the thousands of them already separated from their parents.

For more, I`m joined by NBC`s Jacob Soboroff, who is in McAllen, Texas, Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, and Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Freedom For Immigrants.

Well, I`m glad to have all three of you.

Jacob, first, the facts of this story. Of those thousands of kids already torn from their parents, including kids that are just at the tender age level, are they going to get back to their parents anytime soon, or at all?

JACOB SOBOROFF, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don`t know, Chris.

I just got off the phone actually within an official from HHS, the agency that has been responsible for housing these children that have been separated from their parents once they leave the custody of the Border Patrol. And they tell me that, ultimately, whether or not those 2,500 or so kids that have been ripped from their parents down here on the southern border end up back with their parents, grandfathered, essentially, under this executive order, is up to the Department of Homeland Security.

And I reached out to the Department of Homeland Security tonight. We still don`t have an answer. And that also leaves all of these children in limbo who, I got to remind you, we still have not seen. We know about those three tender age shelters, but we still have not actually had our eyes on the girls that are detained and the toddlers and the infants that are detained.

And we continue to ask to see them, because despite the fact the kids moving forward will be detained with their families, whether or not it`s in ICE detention or some sort of other detention center, maybe even indefinitely, we don`t know what happens to these 2,500 children that were the victims of the Trump...

MATTHEWS: So, it`s not a retroactive executive order? Just to be simple...

SOBOROFF: We don`t know.

MATTHEWS: ... it`s not a retroactive executive order?

SOBOROFF: We don`t know. Correct.

MATTHEWS: OK, I want you to stay there.

SOBOROFF: We don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Father Jenkins, because, Father Jenkins, you hold a seat which is treasured in our country in terms of human rights, going back to Theodore Hesburgh on the Civil Rights Commission.

I wanted you on the show tonight before I wanted -- before we knew what Trump was up to this afternoon, I wanted to know what people like yourself in the clergy and in academics think about this moment in history, because I think it`s a moment in our history, and it`s not a good one.

REV. JOHN JENKINS, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: Well, I agree, Chris.

It is a moral outrage that you`re seeing across the political spectrum at this. And the reason is that families are so central to what holds us together as human beings. Saint John Paul II called them the fundamental building blocks of society.

And when the state intervenes to tear families apart, it`s intervening at what is really at the heart of our values. And this is never what America has stood for. It`s never been who we are as Americans.

And I think that`s why you`re seeing such outrage at this practice of separating parents from children.

MATTHEWS: What do you say to those who support the president generally on immigration issues who are sort of hard-liners in this case?

JENKINS: Look, we need secure borders. Everyone agrees with that.

What worries me is, the rhetoric demeans these people. To talk about them as rapists and criminals, it just isn`t true. Most of them are people looking for a better life for their families.

Now, I`m not saying that we shouldn`t have border security. We should. But treat these people as human beings. Don`t treat them as animals or as someone that is -- that we can take their rights away.

That`s what I think people are saying. Again, you could think what you want about immigration reform, but the starting point should be treat these people with decency and treat these families with decency.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Father.

Let me go to Christina on this, Christina Fialho.

You know, what Father just talked on is a very bad point in our history. For hundreds of years, the white people of this country, just to be ethnic about it for a moment, separated black people from their families. That was what slavery was all about, people each having a -- each person having a price on their head, basically, that you could sell people and separate them for money.

And that went on for hundreds of years in this country. This was not a one-week thing, like this thing. But this sort of goes back to that. The willingness for national policy to separate and break up families is now on the head of this country and those who support the government.

CHRISTINA FIALHO, CO-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FREEDOM FOR IMMIGRANTS: That is correct, Chris.

The Trump administration`s executive order to stop the separation of families, but to put them into family immigration detention facilities, is not the solution.

My organization, Freedom For Immigrants, has been visiting and monitoring immigration detention facilities for a decade, including family detention facilities. And we know what happens inside of there. It`s awful.

We released a report last year that found widespread sexual and physical assault in immigration detention facilities, including a young girl under 18 who filed a claim at the current family detention facility, a family detention facility in Texas, about sexual assault. A medical examination showed vaginal scarring and an STD.

I know the American public really wants to see an immediate solution to the brutal reality we`re living in, but family immigration detention is not the solution.

We need to abolish the immigration detention system and create true community alternatives to detention.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. We talked earlier about that. You have so much information on that. I hope everybody gets it eventually.

In honor of World Refugee Day did, former President Barack Obama weighed in on the Trump administration policy today of separating families.

In a Facebook post, former President Obama wrote: "To be an American is to have a shared commitment to an ideal that all of us are created equal and all of us deserve the chance to become something better. And that`s the legacy our parents and grandparents and generations before created for us, and it`s something we have to protect for the generations to come. But we have to do more than say, this isn`t who we are. We have to prove it through our policies, our laws, our actions, and our votes."

Let me go back to Jacob on that.

Just to go back to you just to seal this off, you don`t know, we don`t know, nobody knows what`s going to happen to the 2,000 kids, some of them sent up to New York, some sent to Michigan. Their parents have no idea where they are. And some of the parents were lied to.

I was reading today that some parents were told, oh, you will see your kid in a couple days.

SOBOROFF: Yes, they could be in 17 states in 100 different shelters, Chris.

But I just want to go back to what President Obama said there, because the words are inspiring, but to echo the point that we just heard, President Obama and his administration operated and opened shelters just like the ones that we got a look into just this past week, the ones with the cages and the mats and the Mylar blankets.

If you were displeased, disgusted by seeing children alone in them, that`s a policy that dates back not -- not the children, but the detention center itself, to administrations before this one.

So, when it comes to immigration, if you feel like you want a change after what you have seen, it`s not just about children being detained alone, but how all immigrants are detained when they come into this country illegally.

MATTHEWS: This debate is going to go on and on, and it`s human now. And we have seen the human face of like we never thought we would see.

Thank you so much, Jacob, of course, from McAllen, Texas, Jacob Soboroff.

And thank you, Father John Jenkins of Holy -- I was going to say Holy Cross. That`s my school. From Notre Dame. Thank you. University of Notre Dame.

And, Christina Fialho, thank you.

Jacob will be reporting on the border crisis on "Dateline" Sunday. That`s "The Dividing Line," it`s called. It airs at 7:00 Eastern on NBC.

Up next: President Trump has claimed that those crossing the border are intent bringing drugs and crime into this country. But, in reality, many of the migrants are escaping horrific violence down in Central America. We are going to talk to a Roman Catholic nun, a sister who is working to help those asylum seekers.

We want to -- we haven`t talked about this yet. What`s forcing them to do this kind of pilgrimage to get away from hell?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think you have to understand we`re keeping families together, but we have to keep our borders strong. We will be overrun with crime and with people that should not be in our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump this afternoon, late this afternoon, announcing his executive order to end his own policy of family separations at the border.

Trump has consistently painted those crossing the border as criminals seeking to -- here`s a word for you -- infest this country like vermin. It`s really an awful word for people.

"The Washington Post"`s Philip Bump took a closer look at the choices faced by those who cross, noting that: "That view of immigrants coming to the United States as latent criminals sneaking across the border to plunder intentionally ignores a more accurate depiction of the migrants, people driven from their home countries seeking a better life in the United States."

And many of those seeking asylum come from Central American`s Northern Triangle, it`s called. These are three troubled countries, violent countries, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. You probably studied them in geography.

Anyway, NBC`s Gabe Gutierrez spoke with several migrants from Honduras waiting to cross over into the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC CORRESPONDENT: She says gangs threatened her life, and that`s why she had to leave Honduras with her 3-year-old child.

She says it`s not good to be in her home country of Honduras because of the violence. And she says this is her second time trying to get into the United States. She says she was at the border once before, but she`s having to try again because she`s afraid to go back to Honduras.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities at the Rio Grande border.

Sister, thank you for joining us.

And all I want to do is ask you to tell us what you have heard from the migrants who have come up particularly from Central America to try to get asylum.

NORMA PIMENTEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY: Thank you, Chris.

Yes, well, I welcome so many families here in our Humanitarian Respite Center.

And the stories that we hear are stories of a lot of pain and hardship. Many families go through having to leave their country because the situation they have to face, and then go through a journey of a lot of fear, and people abusing them, and finally entering our country, and finding themselves scared and frightened.

And so, finally, when they arrive at our door in our Respite Center, we actually are able to help them feel better.

MATTHEWS: Are they escaping their own governments?

PIMENTEL: Yes.

Well, they`re escaping the reality of violence that is produced by all the corruption and all the gangs that are after them and their children and trying to recruit them and threatening to kill them.

And that story just goes on and on all the time.

MATTHEWS: I heard that some of the young kids, the young boys, very young boys, are recruited for like MS-13. But also the girls are told if they don`t support that, their parents will get killed. It`s that frightening.

PIMENTEL: That`s true. That`s totally true.

And the families -- even today, we had a mother that was actually sharing how her 15-year-old daughter was really very frightened because they told her, you need to join us and be part of us. If not, we will kill your family and we will kill you as well.

MATTHEWS: Tell me about the path. Is it your sense that pretty much all the people coming from those three countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, that those countries are all -- are really -- they`re all honest cases for asylum, as you see it?

Are they mostly all or mostly? How would you describe? Are all the people coming up -- how would you describe the percentage of people coming up who really do face fear at home?

PIMENTEL: You know, I can hear their stories, and the majority of the families that I see that are -- actually arrive to our center are families who really are frightened, who fear for the lives and the life of their children.

I think that they have a legitimate, credible fear for their life and the life of their family. And that -- I think that that is a valid reason to - - one, to be in this country, to ask for protection, for safety, and to apply for political asylum.

MATTHEWS: Sister, thank you so much.

My two aunts, my mom`s two sisters, were sisters of St. Joseph. I`m glad to have you on the program. We don`t have enough nuns on this program.

Thank you so much, Sister Norma Pimentel.

PIMENTEL: Thank you so much, Chris. It`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Up next...

(CROSSTALK)

PIMENTEL: ... being here.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

President Trump is holding a rally with supporters. Do you believe he`s having a rally tonight in Minnesota, tonight, despite today`s policy? What a night to celebrate.

Trump reportedly considers immigration a winning issue heading into the midterms. So, we`re ready for what could be a wild ride. What a great, fun night for him, Mr. Backflip.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s about to hold a "Make America Great Again" again rally in Duluth, Minnesota, hours after he signed the executive order to undo his own policy of separating kids from their parents.

As "The Washington Post" reported earlier this week, Trump had originally been defiant as protests grew over his immigration policy. According to "The Post," the president considers immigration a winning issue for him politically. He has complained repeatedly in recent months that he looks weak on border enforcement and has been concerned his base could turn on him for not being tougher.

Well, Trump`s tough stance on legal immigration is central to his 2016 presidential campaign, of course. We all know that.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Mexico sends its people, they`re not sending their best. They`re bringing drugs, they`re bringing crime. They`re rapists.

A lot of the places they`re illegals. And they`re tough dudes. They`re tough. They`re out of here.

I`ll tell you what? Before I even get the wall started, they`re gone the first day. One of the first things, they`re gone.

One of the reasons we`ve done so well here is because we are going to stop illegal immigration and if we don`t stop it, we don`t have a country, folks. We don`t have a country. We don`t have a country.

And, you know, I have as big a heart as anybody here. I have as big a heart as anybody. It`s like with the migration. Help them. Let`s do something. But we can`t let them come over almost more importantly than anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. You`re going to have to be hard-headed for this one.

Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor of "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor, Ayesha Rascoe is a White House reporter for NPR and Eugene Scott is a reporter also for "The Washington Post".

You know, some of these I think what Trump does is he sort of masks ethnic prejudice by saying it`s not that we`re against Hispanics, we`re against rapists. You know what I mean?

RUTH MARCUS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Masks. Very cleverly.

MATTHEWS: I mean, masks, for the purpose of his audience not feeling bad about it, saying what they`re cheering. Go ahead. And it didn`t work. Kids don`t look like rapists.

MARCUS: The mask comes off pretty quickly where Trump is concerned. You know, he`ll always hedge it a little bit. And some of them I guess are good people, right, was what he said.

MATTHEWS: I mean, that speech said they`re all rapists --

MARCUS: Yes, they`re rapists and some of them I suppose are good people. But it`s very -- it is not subtle. It is racist at its core and fundamentally -- and this is how we got I think to the family separation policy, which is not understanding that these people who are crossing the border as the sister said to you are taking their children on this dangerous journey because they are desperate.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MARCUS: They are desperate to get out of the dangerous situation in their countries to try to build a better life for their children here. And he does not see them as people and that is the reason he is not treating them as people.

MATTHEWS: Ayesha, what do you make of the first lady getting involved in this?

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think when she --

MATTHEWS: I think she did.

RASCOE: I think there`s definitely a narrative where there are officials who want to us feel like she got involved.

MATTHEWS: OK, you`re skeptical.

RASCOE: I think that there is a picture being put out that she did try to.

MATTHEWS: You think it`s a lie.

RASCOE: To lobby the president. I`m not going to say that is not true, but I think that it is --

MATTHEWS: What is it OK? I see the little smile you got because I know that skeptical smile. You think they`re trying to say Trump did the right thing. He was the tough guy and the wife`s a little softer and that sort of softened him a little bit.

RASCOE: Ivanka --

MATTHEWS: But it sort of takes the edge off the back flip.

RASCOE: I think it`s interesting they`re putting this in the mouths of Ivanka and Melania, the first lady.

MATTHEWS: Why are they doing it? Why are they doing it? Tell me the politics.

RASCOE: These are the women, they`re saying, look, you got to be soft. And as you said, President Trump wants to be tough. He said today, you know, I think you got to be tough but then you get these horrible images. So, he`s trying to say that`s what he wants to show.

MATTHEWS: OK, Gene, I`m trying to be a little nicer here. I`ve only met Melania a few times and I always think she`s nice.

She`s an immigrant. Her parents are immigrants. She does obviously have some knowledge of an immigrant experience even if these she`s very fortunate, come in as a top model and all that, and marry the president. I have to believe she knows what`s it feels like to be somebody from another country.

EUGENE SCOTT, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. I think it`s worth noting he`s often defended Trump on some very problematic ideas and not encouraging him to apologize and saying he punches back and needs to double down. And so, she doesn`t have a consistent track record of speaking out for the least of these --

MATTHEWS: So, what does it mean that she`s doing it this time?

SCOTT: Well, it`s not clear she`s doing it as strongly as the White House perhaps is putting out there. I think far more importantly, she didn`t do it when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and murders on day one.

MATTHEWS: You think the -- OK, we`re getting very political here which is fine with me. Do you think the president and his people approved that press release she put out that tweet where she said this is wrong, this separation of children from their parents? Do you think that got approved by the big shots in the White House like Kellyanne and the rest of them?

MARCUS: My gut is not because I just have --

MATTHEWS: So, you think it`s for real.

MARCUS: I think it`s -- that was a very carefully crafted statement where you could read it as --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And wouldn`t offend the bear, wouldn`t poke the bear.

MARCUS: Did not poke the bear. You know who poked the bear, the former First Lady Laura Bush really poked.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Rosalynn Carter, too.

Anyway, reporting on the president`s distortions of the truth, "The Washington Post" notes that President Trump has been outdoing himself with falsehoods in late days. According to a psychology researcher, quote, Trump`s use of repetition is a particularly effective technique for convincing his supporters of the veracity of his false claims. By the way, this has been done before. It`s called the big lie.

There are many signs that such falsehoods have take among many in Trump`s base. As one New York Times reporter noted on Twitter, a Trump support in Duluth, Minnesota, just told me she has compassion for separated families but ultimately believes that the detainment center photos and videos are fake and photoshoped.

Ayesha, faked and photoshopped like the people that say we didn`t go to the moon. It was all fake. They believe this is faked.

RASCOE: It seemed like the people that were trying to defend this policy couldn`t really decide where they wanted to land, like on the one hand, they were saying, this is a horrible policy. The president himself said it was horrible, these images. But then they were also trying to say that this really wasn`t a big deal.

MATTHEWS: These kids, knee high kids like that cute girl in the red jacket we see the pictures of looking up. She`s an actor? That`s what they`re saying.

MARCUS: She`s in crisis but she`s not an actor.

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: By the media that they consume. I mean, we`ve seen anchors on really pro-Trump networks clearly say, whatever the networks say, it`s the exact opposite. If that`s all they`re consuming -- that`s what they believe.

MARCUS: And why do they say that? They say that because the president of the United States has told them that the scum fake news is pervading this - -

MATTHEWS: By the way, I turned on Fox as I flipped the channel this morning to make sure I`m getting all the points of view. They`re talking about the FBI and I.G. and all that stuff. They`re not even talking about this.

SCOTT: No, absolutely. We have a "Washington Post" reporter in Duluth right now who said even before Trump has come on stage, they`re chanting "lock her up". They aren`t focused on what we`re talking about right now.

MATTHEWS: Locking Hillary up.

SCOTT: Hillary up. They`re talking about Hillary Clinton in 2018.

MATTHEWS: She`s got a life after political death. She`s a ghost to these people.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us.

And before I go, I want to recognize someone, I have to slow down who has been here, you might say, from HARDBALL` earliest innings. HARDBALL executive producer, my friend Court Harson, there he is, he is leaving the show after 18 years. What a great run. There we are with the Stanley Cup.

Court has been universally admired and loved and will be missed by everyone here in HARDBALL and MSNBC.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: President Trump`s meeting with congressional Republicans yesterday was supposed to be about immigration. But the president couldn`t resist using that occasion to take a shot at outgoing Congressman Mark Sanford who just lost his primary to a pro-Trump challenger. According to "The Washington Post", President Trump mocked Sanford sarcastically saying, I want to congratulate him on running a great race. Well, the comment reportedly drew awkward silence among Republicans. And today, Trump disputed that reporting, writing on Twitter that House Republicans applauded and laughed loudly when I mentioned my experience with Mark Sanford. I have never been a fan of his.

Well, Republican Congressman Justin Amash who was in the meeting responded: House Republicans had front row seats to the president`s dazzling display of pettiness and insecurity. Nobody applauded or laughed. People were disgusted.

They`re finally challenging this guy.

We`ll be right back.

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MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Ruth, tell me something I don`t know.

MARCUS: Well, my very smart "Washington Post" colleague E.J. Dionne has an interesting column in which he talks about the incredible shrinking Republican Party. It`s gone from about 32 percent of people who right before the election identified themselves as Republicans to about 28 percent now. But E.J. makes the point that the impact of this is actually like cooking down the stock for your soup. It makes the Republican that remaining part of the Republican Party is more and more conservative, harder, much more tied to Trump.

MATTHEWS: From 32 to 28.

MARCUS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: That`s a little bit of a chop. That`s a lot of people that buy Trump.

Go ahead.

RASCOE: So, the trade dispute between the U.S. and China is heating up. China has told its farmers to grow more soybeans. They told them to set aside 1.6 million more acres to grow soybeans. That has a huge impact on U.S. farmer who`s supply like a third of China`s crops.

MATTHEWS: Oh.

SCOTT: One of the organizers.

MATTHEWS: Import substitution it`s called.

RASCOE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

SCOTT: One of the organizers of last year`s Unite the Right rally has received initial approval to hold an anniversary rally in August across from the White House. So that will be happening this coming summer.

MATTHEWS: Give me the history of Unite the Right. What`s that group?

SCOTT: Well, it`s one of the groups, the movement of the white supremacists, the white nationalists --

MATTHEWS: Oh, Charlottesville.

SCOTT: -- who came together in Charlottesville to celebrate the Confederate memorials.

MATTHEWS: What a great history they`ve got.

Thank you, Ruth Marcus. Being sarcastic. Thank you, Ayesha Rascoe, and Eugene Scott.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. He won`t like it.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

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MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Wednesday, June 20th, 2018.

The president`s language late today was a giveaway. He was reversing his policy on separating parents from their children at the border for reasons particular to him. It wasn`t the policy, it was the images.

He said right up front without a note of shame or irony or any other respectable tone of voice that it was the images, the look of those children down there in Texas that caused him to do his backflip. His announcement of an executive order he said just yesterday he didn`t have the right to issue.

It was the images -- the look of what was happening to those children that forced him to undo what had he done in the first place, required by executive action that children should be separated from their parents. There will be good reporting because there has been a lot of good reporting on Trump on what constituted the straw on Trump`s back that caused him to perform this political backflip.

But a backflip it was. Not even his most stone-eyed supporter on immigration, perhaps he more than anyone will deny Trump flipped. He flipped faster than Michael Flynn, faster than George Papadopoulos, faster than Rick Gates.

He did it because the pictures he kept seeing on the Trump reality show were reality itself.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END