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GOP lawmakers push back on Trump's tariffs. TRANSCRIPT: 7/3/2018 Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Aisha Moodie-Mills, Noelle Nikpour, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Shelby Holliday, Jonathan Swan

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 3, 2018 Guest: Aisha Moodie-Mills, Noelle Nikpour, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Shelby Holliday, Jonathan Swan

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: That does it for me. You can always catch me on social media.

HARDBALL starts right now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: The heat is on. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.

As legal challenges mount for several of his associates, it might be President Trump feeling the heat. Trump`s longtime personal lawyer and self-described fixer, Michael Cohen, signaled this week that he might be willing to cooperate with prosecutor even if it means turning on his former boss.

He told ABC, I put family and country first. "Vanity Fair`s" Emily Jane FOX reports that Cohen has begun reconsidering his relationship with Trump. She reports quote "a switch seems to have flip in Cohen`s own head, really Cohen`s friends had begun suggesting that he could change his narrative by cooperating with Robert Mueller`s Russia investigation.

According to Fox, the ABC interview was largely in response to efforts by Trump and his legal team lead by Rudy Giuliani to distance the President from his former attorney. Cohen has not yet being charged with any crime. And it remains unclear if he will eventually cooperate with Mueller.

One Trump associate who is already cooperating though is former national security advisor Michael Flynn. And a federal judge has ordered Flynn to appear in court next week for a possible pre-sentencing hearing. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last December.

There are also new questions about the Russian ties to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort who remains in prison after being indicted by the Mueller probe on witness tampering charges whose three weeks ago during a free wheel and media blitz at the White House, Trump used almost the exact same language talking about all three men all of whom potentially have the ability to create big legal problems for their former boss.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have always liked Michael. I haven`t spoken to Michael in a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he your lawyer?

TRUMP: Not my lawyer. But I have always liked Michael. And he is a good person. I don`t think it is right. I don`t think it is right that they burst into a lawyer`s office on a weekend and early in the morning. I`ve never heard of that before.

Now I feel badly for a lot of those people. I feel badly for General Flynn. He lost his house. HE has lost his life. And some people say he lied and some people say he didn`t lie. I mean, really, it turned out maybe he didn`t lie. I think a lot of it is very unfair. I look at some of them where they go back 12 years. Like Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. But I feel badly about it. They went back 12 years. Paul Manafort worked for me for a short period of time. He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something. A very short period of time.


KORNACKI: I am joined by Julia Ainsley, national security and justice reporter for NBC News. Aaron Blake, senior political reporter for "the Washington Post" and Joyce Vance former U.S. attorney and an MSNBC legal analyst.

Julia, let me start with you. This new reporting we cited there about Michael Cohen and his motivation where for that ABC interview yesterday where he talked about putting country, putting family first. The idea that he wants to change the narrative around -- I`m looking at, and I guess what I am wondering is why, when you are in the legal situation he is in, what does your PR narrative have to do? Shouldn`t you want to be dealing with the legal predicament first? And then when that is all settled, if you can get that settled, then you worry about the PR.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, I am wondering if it has more to do with subtle messages that are going to two different camps, Steve. And we have talked about this on our (INAUDIBLE) that it is not just the message that he is sending to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, since he hired Rudy Giuliani which was shortly after the raids on Cohen`s offices has been on a blitz trying to distance himself from Cohen. Some of the tape you played there saying he wasn`t my lawyer. He has already sort of thrown him under the bus saying that he was responsible for that Stormy Daniels` payment. And that Trump himself gave him that money.

But then there is the other side, the message that he might not wanting to be sending to prosecutors right now. And it seems that Michael Cohen, if you want to talk about the switch flipping, realized that Donald Trump wasn`t going to bail him out. He wasn`t getting these signals he thought he would. He changed his message. He is no longer going to take a bullet for him. And in fact, he might not even take an indictment for him.

And so, he wants to send a message to prosecutors that he is not (INAUDIBLE) their nose. It is summing (ph) his nose with them anymore. He might be willing to cooperate and maybe they are hoping to grease those wheels although it is hard to undo some of the damage that was done after he fought tooth and nail to keep a lot of those documents out of their hands.

KORNACKI: Well, Joyce Vance, you were a prosecutor. If someone who is in your crosshairs legally speaking, goes out and gives the kind of interview Michael Cohen gave, sends the kind of, you know, potential messages he is sending in the interview, are you sitting there as a prosecutor and listening to that? And is it perking your interest there?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: No. Not at all. The only way it might be perking my interest would be if he said something in the interview that I can use in evidence against him.

The reality is Cohen has a new lawyer coming on board in the next few days, Guy Pretolo (ph) who is highly thought of a former narcotics chief of the southern district of New York. If Cohen wants to talk with the U.S. attorney`s office about cooperating, then he should have his lawyer pick up the phone and call him.

This is something prosecutors don`t like to see. It is not the way defends reach out and say they want to cooperate. If anything, it is harmful to Cohen.

KORNACKI: Yes. And to elaborate on that like how -- is there a potentially, it sounds like you are saying this is potentially could backfire. How would that play out?

VANCE: You know, it really could because one of the issues, although, this has been really a very public drama. But typically as a prosecutor working this kind of a case, you want there to be some mystery about who cooperates with you and who isn`t in an investigation. You don`t want it to be a known fact. If someone is helping you build a case, you want to do that under a little bit of cover of darkness at least until you are ready to reach back out with plans for indictment.

So doing with this in a such public format, although, it might make for great drama and almost a reality television feel, it isn`t very good from a criminal defense point of view. And I fell as Cohen`s new lawyer is less than happy about this process.

And Aaron, that relationship then between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, we played the tape there, Julia talking about how maybe Cohen doesn`t feel the President necessarily has his back. Maybe sending him a message. And the President down-playing the relationship, and at the same time saying I always liked Michael Cohen still saying some complimentary things about him. Do we have any sense how this new turn by Michael Cohen, in the court of public opinion, how Trump is interpreting it, how he is looking at it, how he is reacting to it?

AARON BLAKE, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER FOR "THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it is one of the most thoroughly Trumpian moments of this whole saga. We have Michael Cohen basically doing what President Trump does her and putting out these kind bizarre statements that you wouldn`t necessarily expect from him. We are trying to figure out if he is being strategic or if he is just worried about his image.

Look. If this is about him trying to run a PR campaign, the idea that this is going to have any meaningful impact in the long run is pretty short cited. If he is going to be the John Dean of this case, that is determined at a later date. The idea that people are going to remember this interview with George Stephanopoulos from July of 2018, is very short-sighted. And I don`t think that if he is getting legal advice that this is what he supposed to be doing which is doubt, that that doesn`t seem to be very sound advice.

KORNACKI: Well, as we mentioned earlier, former national security advisor Michael Flynn will make his first court appearance next week since he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last December. Flynn has been cooperating with the Mueller probe. And "Politico" reports that next week`s hearing her.

Quote "the repeated delays in Flynn`s sentencing has led to speculation that prosecutors believe his testimony could be useful at some future trial or that the sentencing process might disclose some aspect of the investigation that Mueller still wishes to keep secret."

So Julia, we have a court date on the calendar that is coming up soon, what will we be expecting next week?

AINSLEY: So I think we want to figure out when they are going to set that sentencing day. And that of course we want to see how long he has sentenced. If it is negligible amount of time that could mean that Flynn handed over enough information that he was able to walk back from some really furious allegations.

If you remember, Steve, back early think December, when we saw these final charging documents on Flynn, it really just came down to the fact that he lied to the FBI. Although we knew there was a lot in his past that was not put into those indictment. So at this point, we want to see what they charge him with -- not with they charge him with, how they sentenced him and that would be indicative of those cooperation.

And just the fact that they could set a date might mean they think that they have gotten everything from Flynn than they think they can. Otherwise there would still be this back and forth ever what he can offer on each piece of this investigation, whether it is from where obstruction to collusion to anything else about who might directed him to have those conversations with the Russian ambassador. If they think they have answer all of those questions, it would make sense that they would want to do make sense that they would want to go ahead with sentencing.

KORNACKI: Yes. Joyce, you know, if occurs to me that what we have learned about the status and the scope really of the Mueller investigation. There have just been sort of bursts of news that have come out periodically, sometimes completely by surprise sometimes surprises within those surprises.

Given that history, when you look at this court date for Michael Flynn next week, how much clarity do you think this will give us about, you know, where this investigation is, where it is going, how he fits into it?

VANCE: It really depends on how much information Judge Sullivan the prosecutors provide in court. But you know, look. This is pretty common. Prosecutors don`t sentence defendants until they cooperation is complete. Unless the court absolutely forces them too. And that`s for all of the reasons that you have discussed. But it also hurts the defendant if he or she is sentences too early. It means prosecutors can`t give them credit for all of their cooperation.

We know that Flynn engaged in a lot more misconduct than what he is charged with. The simple one can indictment, charging him with lying to the FBI. It is likely that he has explored with prosecutors the range of his conduct. To see if the cooperation is valuable enough so they won`t charge him with other counts and will keep it to this limited one count indictment which carries a much shorter penalty than those other counts with unavoidably include.

KORNACKI: And by the way here, that quote again from the article about Michael Cohen and his motivation, the idea about changing the narrative here, I wonder whether it is with Cohen, whether it is with Flynn, Manafort, the entire question of Russia and Trump, the 2016 election, is that narrative changeable in the court of public opinion in any way at this point?

BLAKE: Well, I go back to what I said before, you know, he result is what is ultimately what is going to matter here. There are so many machinations over the courses of investigation. Many of which, people like you and me have probably already forgotten about. It seems like ages ago that Michael Flynn agreed to this deal. And now we are finally getting around to sentencing, you know.

This is playing out, this is something that is going to continue. They are still delaying the sentencing apparently. Prosecutors want to buy some more time. They may not be done with Michael Flynn in this case. We still haven`t had President Trump`s interview being scheduled. It seems like we have been talking about that for a number of months here. So this is all kind of in the course of a much broader thing that, you know, these minuscule moments are not going to add up to a whole lot.

KORNACKI: Meanwhile, again, we talk about Flynn, we talk about Cohen, there is also this with another character whose name has come up here a little bit. The "Associated Press" has now obtained internal memos, another business record that show the debt of Paul Manafort`s work with Russia. And according to the report, those documents show Manafort in long time made Konstantin Kilimnik worked to advance Russian interest.

Quote "Kilimnik who special counsel Robert Mueller believes he is currently in Russia and has ties to Russian intelligence help formulate Manafort`s pitches to his clients in Russia and Ukraine. Among Manafort`s clients were Russian oligarch Oleg Derpisaka (ph) and other mega wealthy Russians with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin."

So Joyce, another interesting nugget here. What do you make of this reporting from the AP?

VANCE: This is the first time we have seen an American citizen in close proximity to a Russian and that they have acted together to potentially influenced the outcome of election. The most intriguing think I think about this new reporting is that it shows that this case that so many people have said, the Manafort prosecution, not related to Mueller`s core obligation to look at Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and we are now seeing the point where the Russian relationship originates with Manafort and with Kilimnik. And this will be perhaps what provides going forward the narrative that we will see Mueller fulfill.

KORNACKI: All right. Joyce Vance, Aaron Blake, Julian Ainsley -- and Julia, actually, I want you to stick around. Joyce and Aaron, I want to say thank you for your time.

Julia, we are not through with you yet because you have some exclusive new reporting on those migrant children who have been separated from their parents. We want to tell everybody about that.

Also coming up, President Trump waging a war against our own allies. He is fighting them on trade, tweeting the need to fix some of the worst and unfair trade deals ever made by any country on this issue. Has the President`s finally pushed Republicans on their breaking points? Some interesting indications there.

Plus, the year of the woman. A record breaking number of women are running for the U.S. House with Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance potentially in terms of Supreme Court pick could further ignite female voters and the Democratic base.

And Trump says that the media has gotten it all wrong. The negotiations with North Korea are going well. The HARDBALL round table will weigh in on that. Plus, that seemingly never ending trouble with Scot Pruitt that he may have used his position to get his own wife a high-paying job.

And finally, the roundtable is going to tell us three things we might not know.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border deepens today as the Trump administration issued a new order for separated parents that leaves them with two options, leave the country with your kids or leave the country without them. This according to a copy of a government form that was obtained exclusively by NBC News.

And back with us now, as promised, Julia Ainsley. She broke this story.

Julia, take us through. How many are affected by this? How are they being given this choice? Take is through what is happening there?

AINSLEY: So Steve, there was a lawsuit that was filed I think about a week and a half ago where a judge ruled that they should not be able to separate these children. The have to bring them together and reunite them as quickly as possible. So in response to that lawsuit, the government said, OK great, we will reunite them, but we will reunite them by giving them these hard choices as you just displayed.

The first place where they could sign would be to repatriate, to deport themselves without their children. That would mean allow their children to stay in the United States and seek asylum, that they went without them or they can go with their -- sorry, without their children the child stays in the states and seeks asylum or they could go with their children in order to the reunited at home. These are two really tough choices. And it would also, in a lot of cases, preclude the parent themselves from seeking asylum. This is something DHS is pushing back on. But I have numerous documents and lots of lawyers and in documentation that also proves that there are people with pending asylum cases. That is they have not gotten an order of deportation but they have not yet gotten an order from a judge on whether or not they will get asylum and that process under international law is allowed to play out. So they are being given these choices before they even know if they could get asylum here. And it is a tough spot to put a lot of these families in. And in fact a lot of the people I spoke to who were behind that class action lawsuit to say that they wanted this reunification efforts to begin as quickly as possible, say that the government is simply not acting in the way that the judge ordered them to do.

KORNACKI: And do you have any sense here that all of the folks who are at the border, all of the families I should say at the border in this situation, roughly what share of them this applies to? Is this applying to most? Do we have any sense of the scope of this?

AINSLEY: Yes. I think this is -- that is a pretty wide (INAUDIBLE). I mean right now, DHS isn`t giving us great numbers on how many people have been reunified. Last we checked it was a little north of 2,000. Now they are opiscating a lot of these numbers. But this should apply to most of the parents of those 2,000 because they are able to get deportation orders quickly. It is the asylum process that takes so much longer. So as we understand it, this could be as many as 1800, 2,000 parents.

KORNACKI: All right. Julia Ainsley with that reporting. Again, Julia, thank you for that.

And up next, until now, Republicans have mostly walked in lock step with the President, but have they found an issue where they have reached their breaking point? I will tell you about that one next. You are watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump seems to be fighting a two-front war, but it`s against some of our country`s closest allies.

On issues of trade and security, Trump says the U.S. is being taken advantage of. This morning, the president tweeted: "The economy is doing perhaps better than ever before, and that`s prior to fixing some of the worst and most unfair trade deals ever made by any country."

Trump has picked fights with some of the world`s major economic powers, including our allies.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Frankly, some of our friends treated us on trade worse than the enemies.

Excuse me. The European Union is possibly as bad as China, just smaller, OK? It`s terrible, what they do to us. European Union.

What we`re doing is, other nations have been really hurting this country. They`re taking advantage of the United States. We have massive trade deficits with China, with the European Union, with, frankly, Mexico, with a lot of them.

And we`re reversing that. I`m reversing it very quickly.


KORNACKI: And the president`s actions have prompted some serious pushback.

Canada and China have already issued tariffs of their own against the U.S. And, last week, the European Union warned it would do the same.

Yesterday, the president was publicly rebuked by the prime minister of the Netherlands, a member of the European Union.


TRUMP: We are very close to making some very good trade deals, fair trade. I don`t want to say good. I want to say fair -- fair trade deals for our taxpayers and for our workers and our farmers. And a lot of good things are happening.

I think the E.U., we`re going to be meeting with them fairly soon. They want to see if they can work something out. And that`ll be good. And if we do work it out, that`ll be positive. And if we don`t, it`ll be possible also, because...


TRUMP: Well, just think about those cars that pour in here. And we will do something, right?


TRUMP: But it`ll be positive.


KORNACKI: The president seems unfazed.

According to Axios, he`s asked his staff to prepare a bill that would give him the power to skirt World Trade Organization rules, which help lower tariffs.

Also upsetting our allies, Trump is reportedly warning members of NATO they will have to pay more for their own defense. And in two weeks, he will hold a private summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

For more, I`m joined by Michael Steele, former chairman of the RNC and an MSNBC political analyst, Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios, and Shelby Holliday, business and politics reporter with "The Wall Street Journal."

Shelby, he campaigned on this kind of rhetoric.


KORNACKI: We have seen other candidates for office campaign on skepticism about trade before, but usually, in office, they sort of retreat to the same posture on this.


KORNACKI: He doesn`t seem to be.

Do you have a sense how far he`s willing to go with this?


And that`s what scaring a lot of investors, a lot of business, a lot of economists, because sometimes when President Trump makes a threat, he sort of backs away and doesn`t exactly follow through. But other times, with the Paris climate accord and some other -- the Iran deal -- he makes a threat, he`s willing to walk over that edge, and he actually does it.

So you have a lot of people looking at -- looking at what he`s saying and sort of what his posture is. A lot of economists, a vast majority, say tariffs are just not the way to go. This could ultimately push the U.S. to a recession. There are a lot of negative things that could happen.

And China -- even though China cannot impose as many tariffs on us as we can on them, just purely based on the math of the trade balance, it has a lot of other levers it can pull. It can weaken its currency. It could go after the U.S. in terms of regulations. It could inspect businesses doing businesses in -- doing business in China.


HOLLIDAY: It has a lot of other ways to get back at the U.S. And that -- those are the things a lot of people are scared of.

KORNACKI: And what you`re starting to describe there is a full-fledged trade war.

And when it comes to the idea of triggering something of that scale, where it just becomes totally sort of unpredictable where it`s going to end up...


KORNACKI: ... is there -- is there a red line right now?

Is there something that if this administration decides to do X, then that`s it, we are really in a trade war, there`s no walking back from it?

HOLLIDAY: Well, right now, it`s kind of gradual.

So, the tariffs that will be imposed on Friday are just a small percentage of what`s been overall threatened by President Trump. But he is looking at -- an additional $200 billion in tariffs on China.

So it`s not a massive move, but it is a slow ramp-up. And I think that`s what everybody`s worried about, because the other countries aren`t showing signs of backing down either.

KORNACKI: So, Jonathan Swan, let me ask you about this in terms of the thinking inside the White House, inside the administration.

Yes, we know this is something that Donald Trump has talked about, this style of leadership on the issue of trade, for a long time, predates even his 2016 campaign.

By the same token, he is getting pushback here from Republican leaders who have otherwise stayed loyal to him. Is that moving this is administration at all? Is that causing them to hit the brakes at all on this?

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Well, it has in some small way.

So, Trump really did want to withdraw from NAFTA last year, quite early last year, in fact. And they were all prepared, Steve Bannon, Peter Navarro rubbing their hands, ready do it. They were thinking about the announcement in Pittsburgh, from my recollection.

And then there was an intervention. And people like Gary Cohn and the agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, was very decisive in showing Trump a map of America and saying, here are all your people in these red states, farmers that would get hurt.

And then what`s delayed him is this sort of conga line procession through the White House in the months since then of Republican senators saying, please, Mr. President, do not terminate NAFTA. You are going to hurt my constituents.

And so he still hasn`t withdrawn from NAFTA. So that is an example of where it does seem to have had some effect. But, look, he still went ahead and imposed the tariffs, starting with the washing machines and solar panels, going into steel and aluminum.

And I think the most important thing that we`re not talking about is he`s now in the early stages, as Shelby pointed out, of a trade war with China. President Xi, president for life, doesn`t have a lot of domestic political problems with escalating -- he doesn`t have a whole lot of constituencies to negotiate with and obstruction.

He will have some problems certainly if it gets economically -- but President Trump has a Congress that`s really poised to, who knows, maybe pass some legislation. I think, if he moves on auto tariffs, they certainly will. He`s got his own domestic problems with doing it, all this stuff.

So he`s in a really tough bind.


Well, Michael, that dynamic, the other Republicans have the Congress. They have the majority in the House for now. They have the majority in the Senate. And we have seen -- I think back to the 2016 primaries. How many issues were there where we said, this is the one where Trump has said something that is going to irk the Republican base. They`re going to turn on him.


KORNACKI: He went to South Carolina, I remember. He called Iraq a mistake. We said, he could never say that in South Carolina in a Republican primary. And then he wins every congressional district in the state.

So he`s proven that thinking wrong over and over again. But is it different on trade?

STEELE: It is different on trade.

And I think there are a couple things -- or maybe even three to keep in mind. One is, where we are on trade is where Donald Trump has always been on trade. He has going back to the early 1980s been a hawk for this type of formula in dealing with our economic partners around the globe.

He is -- he`s a single shot player, where he`s going to go mano a mano, as opposed to the sort of group idea of trade.

Second, Republicans kind of bought into this idea of, OK, well, maybe he won`t really go as far. We`re still free traders. We really are. We really are.

And then the president launched, as Jonathan noted, a couple of salvos on steel and other products that began to hit their districts. And this brings us to the third point, where now they`re beginning to hear from their constituencies, who are beginning to feel some of the pain.

Particularly, those in the farming and agricultural sectors are beginning to push back in and make some noise. And now you`re beginning to see some on the Hill respond.

How far they respond, Steve, remains to be seen. How much the president listens remains to be seen. But this is a very fluid and dynamic moment right now for U.S. trade policy.

KORNACKI: And, just quickly, Michael, I mean, you have been in Republican politics for a long time. Is the Republican Party, is your party going to emerge from the Trump era still a free trade party?

STEELE: I don`t see how.

They`re embracing too much of this idea of anti-globalism and sort of American isolationism, economically speaking, in the guise of this one-on- one, sort of our dual partnership, as opposed to multilateral partnerships.

So I think the party is going to have some hardship correcting its course, if you will, particularly if that base stays locked on this idea that what Trump`s policies are doing will make their lives better.

The proof will be in the pudding, however. And that`s going to be hard to reconcile down the road.

KORNACKI: All right, Michael Steele, Jonathan Swan, Shelby Holliday, thanks to all of you for being with us.

And up next, we`re firing up the Big Board. I`m going to walk across the studio, see if it malfunctions on me. And we`re going to try to go through some surprising new numbers, including polling on the question, do you think the president is a racist?

We are going to see how Americans responded to that straight ahead.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: All right, we have had two major events in politics the last couple weeks, obviously, the whole question of what`s going on at the border, the family separation policy, the president seeming to walk back from that, now the vacancy on the Supreme Court, what is going to happen there.

And, of course, the backdrop for all of this, midterm elections a couple months away. Democrats trying to win back the House. Republicans trying to hang on for dear life.

And so the question, how has the public been interpreting all this? What are they thinking about the president right now? What are they thinking about his handling of these issues?

We have got some new polling. We have got a lot a new polling. We figured we would go over to the board and walk you through it.

So, first of all, today, three -- count them -- three brand-new polls on the president`s approval rating. And you can see it got kind of a range here.

We got our own NBC News/SurveyMonkey, this the high end, the high end today, and really the high end of almost anything you`re going to see, Trump sitting there at 48 percent in ours. Of course, the low end today came out around the same time, 40 percent. And then somewhere right in the middle, Politico/Morning Consult, they found him at 43.

If you average together every poll that`s out there right now for Trump, he is sitting at a touch over 43 percent, about 43-and-a-half percent average approval rating. Republicans say they probably want him a little bit higher to have a chance to hold on to the House. Democrats, of course, they say, maybe they could win it at 43-and-a-half. They would like him a little bit lower.

It`s in that sort of gray zone right now. It`s nothing to write home about if you`re Trump and a Republican, but, of course, it is better than it was a few months ago.

But how about those issues? How about immigration? How have folks been interpreting what`s happening?

So, first of all, the bottom-line question here, how do you think the president has been handling immigration? You could see from that Quinnipiac poll there, 39/58; 39 percent approve of the way Trump has been in on this, nearly 60 percent disapproving.

But then Quinnipiac asked some other very interesting questions, like this one, Trump`s motive behind his immigration policy. I mean, this is -- you have heard the rhetoric. The charge has been out there. Certainly, the way the president has talked about this has stoked incredible controversy.

Fifty percent say he has a sincere interest in controlling the border; 44 percent say he is motivated on immigration by racist beliefs, motivated in what he`s doing on the border by racist beliefs. You can take it a step further.

If 44 percent say that, ask this question: Do you think the president is a racist? That was asked by Quinnipiac. And the answer, 49 percent said yes, 47 percent said no.

Basically, look at that divide right there, half and half, essentially. You can look at this in different groups. Among white voters, you have a slim majority saying, no, he is not, but 44 percent say, yes, he is. Among black voters, almost eight in 10 saying, yes, the president`s a racist. Among Hispanic voters, you see there nearly 60 percent saying, yes, he`s a racist.

Again, you average all that together right there, right down the middle asking that question, is the president of the United States a racist, 49/47.

We said the other major issue, of course, the Supreme Court. Democrats right now, they are saying, hey, you got to put off the confirmation, you got to put off the vote until after the election. They think that is their best chance of having influence here.

We asked that question in our poll, the NBC one. When should the nominee be confirmed? But look at that. By basically a 2-1 margin, folks saying hold the vote this fall, hold the vote before the midterms. That`s not what Democrats want.

But then Democrats are saying you have to do that because Democrats say you don`t want Roe overturned. And if you want us to keep Roe from being overturned, you got to stop one of these Trump nominees. That`s the Democratic message.

And on that front, when you ask folks, do you want Roe to be upheld or overturned by the new justice, again, 2-1 margin there, they say to uphold it.

So, sometimes, you see this in polling. You look at the political narratives, you look at the terms the debate nationally, sometimes, the answers, they can be kind of contradictory there, leave you scratching your head about what folks really do and don`t want here.

So, anyway, mixed messages there for the politicians to figure out.

And up next: Trump just days away from announcing that pick for the Supreme Court, and, at the same time, a record number women running for office this year. With one big upset already in the books, how will those two factors impact the midterms?

Our Roundtable is joining us to break it all down.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



As I mentioned just a minute ago, 61 percent of Americans say they want a Supreme Court justice who will uphold the Roe versus Wade decision that legalized the woman`s right to an abortion. That issue likely to loom large over this fall`s midterm elections.

President Trump has interviewed seven potential nominees this week to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy`s seat on the bench. Those picks have all been vetted by the Federalist Society, a group of conservative lawyers.

Meanwhile, as we head into the midterm elections, the number of women running for office in all-time high, more than 450 women have filed to run for the U.S. House alone. That tops the previous record of 298 in 2012.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Aisha Moodie-Mills is a Democratic strategist, Noelle Nikpour is a Republican strategist, and Caitlin Huey-Burns is a political reporter for "Real Clear Politics".

Noelle, well let me start with you. This idea that Susan Collins might sink -- might sink Trump`s court pick when she sees a poll like that that says basically a two-to-one margin folks say uphold Roe, do you think she looks at that and it ratchets up the pressure on her at all?

NOELLE NIKPOUR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, absolutely. I think she and Lisa Murkowski, I think those are the two votes that it when it comes down to the wire these two votes may be resistant if they do not pass the litmus test for the Roe v. Wade.

And I think that that is why Donald Trump invited Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp to the White House a few days ago to, you know, make nice or whatever with them because it is not a given that Susan Collins is going to go the way, if she feels --

KORNACKI: If she breaks, tough, if she breaks, does that give cover to a Manchin, to a Heitkamp, to a Donnelly from those red states to say, hey, look this isn`t just Democrats trying to stop the president, this is this is Republicans too?

NIKPOUR: Absolutely, and look, she`s unrelenting. Susan Collins is not -- she is not going to take any kind of a deal. She`s not going to take anything. If you have -- if you are Trump`s pick and you have some sort of inclination on doing something with Roe v. Wade to overturn that, that`s not going to fly with Collins and she`s -- she stated it. She`s fair.

She said if you look like you`re going to go towards this way, you`re not going to get my vote. It will not happen.

KORNACKI: But, so, Aisha, from the flip side and we`re talking about, you know, Manchin, Donnelly, Heitkamp, folks from when you look at the polling in those states, the polling on abortion, these are the most anti-abortion states in the country, they are some of the most pro-Trump states in the country. These are Democrats running for re-election.

If this Supreme Court fight becomes about Roe and becomes about abortion, is there almost an incentive for the Democrats in those states, in those political predicaments not to be with the party on it?

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think there`s a lot of incentive for those Democrats to go against the party and we`ve seen them do so. But I want to back up a minute and talk about women, right, because we`re also looking at a situation where women are probably going to change the narrative in a conversation about the Supreme Court pick court pick, period, and I think that that`ll be meaningful.

I think that, of course, Collins is going to listen. I think that other Republican men might actually listen. And so, it`ll be interesting to see how the electorate starts to burgeon up and to seize the narrative as opposed to the inner workings of the Senate taking over.

KORNACKI: How do you think this is the cynical take on this you hear from folks is this whole confirmation thing, it`s almost down to a science right now where the nominee is going to get up there and give a very muddled statement, isn`t going to really say anything one way or the other. And so, everybody can have all their suspicions but nobody`s going to have any evidence and then it just defaults to a party-line vote.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right, I mean, just given the limited power that Democrats have at this point to change that the course of this nomination fight. It looks like -- again, we`ll know the nominee on Monday that this will go through.

The question I have though is what kind of factor this does play into the midterms? Remember, we`ve seen Republicans have been very organized on the issue of the Supreme Court fight. If they -- and court fights in general across the country. Remember there are 150 federal vacancies.

Democrats have not are not there yet and so maybe this changes the strategy that Democrats have, we just haven`t seen it in past elections. Now, you mentioned women at the top of the segment, those women have been encouraged to run before all of this. So, I`m curious to see kind of how these women`s groups, how these Democratic groups kind of this energy that we`ll probably see from this fight in the midterm elections.

KORNACKI: Go ahead.

NIKPOUR: Yes, and we -- you know, one of them that`s been brought forth has been Barrett and Barrett I think you see --

KORNACKI: Amy Barrett.

NIKPOUR: Yes, who used to clerk for Scalia. So, the question of it is, is she going to be more of a Scalia vote or what should be more of a Justice Kennedy vote? You know --

KORNACKI: She`s already starting -- you`re starting to see public opposition from top -- you know, Chuck Schumer came out and had an attack on her yesterday.

I want to pivot here a little because we mentioned this too and showing that polling a couple minutes ago. I want to get the panel to talk about this that new Quinnipiac poll with that question about, is the president of the United States, do you think the president is a racist? And again, right there, 49-47 is the finding on that.

And I mean, it says so much I think about the world we`re living in right now that it in this country, that fundamental question about a president is -- it`s essentially a 50/50 question right now.

MOODIE-MILLS: Well, yes, the president`s obviously racist and he`s also a misogynist and we knew that before he got elected. My question is, do the voters care? So, now that they`re saying, oh, well, we know he`s racist, are their votes going to actually penalize the Republicans for going along with his racism?

And the fact that -- you know, we still need to talk about the fact that 53, 54 percent of white women continue to vote for this guy or continue to vote for the Republican Party, I`m curious as to whether those polls are going to bear out in the turnout.

KORNACKI: Noelle, as a Republican, what do you think when you see that?

NIKPOUR: First of all, I mean, this is a real hot seat to be in. Either way, I go -- it`s going on if I say, no, he`s not a racist, I`m going to get hammered from the viewers here, and if I say, oh, yes, he`s a big racist, the conservative side is going to be like, well, you`re not really a Republican.

Here`s the point that I go back to when you bring up Donald Trump and racism. When he was at "The Apprentice", when he had the show, when he was in real estate, when he does all these events and whatnot, he did not have that label. Nobody called Donald Trump a racist when he had "The Apprentice". People were going on his show. They weren`t saying I`m not going to go on that show because that man is a racist. In real estate, he wasn`t called a racist.

When he got to be president of the United States, he was a racist. The only thing that I can possibly think of how he got the label is maybe the association with far-right extremists --


KORNACKI: -- the narrative, I think, I think it was the birther thing. I think that -- I think doing the sort of transitioned from "The Apprentice" to politics, the bridge was birtherism.


MOODIE-MILLS: That`s not true, it`s not true at all actually.


MOODIE-MILLS: We`re talking about his career when he was a developer when he was discriminating black people --


MOODIE-MILLS: The way that he put out a "New York Times" full page article to send black boys to jail for doing nothing, it was racist. I mean, this guy`s entire life --


KORNACKI: The one thing I would say is that the term for this in the industry I think, it I think it`s they call it the Q score or something. You know, it measures celebrities and their -- in their appeal across different demographic groups. And when he was at the height of his "Apprentice" popularity, probably about 10 years ago or so, he had incredibly high scores among African-Americans, and obviously, we just showed you it seen those numbers really dropped though when he adopted birtherism --


HUEY-BURNS: -- because that was his entrance officially really on the political stage, right? I mean, he made this a movement of his.

And I also think the fact that this question is asked in polling I think is very striking and I think kind of tells us.

NIKPOUR: And Donald Trump gave a lot of contributions as a private citizen to Democrats and if they thought, he was a racist, why did they accept his money? Who would want to racist --

MOODIE-MILLS: Well, there are a lot of racist Democrats to be fair, too. So, I wouldn`t suggest it because he gave money to liberals then that means that he is suddenly not --

KORNACKI: That he is not. OK, the roundtable is staying with us. We have much more to come. You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The bad headlines continue around EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Take a look at the last 72 hours alone. There is this from "The New York Times". Former EPA aide says that Pruitt asked her to help find work for his wife. According to "The Post", emails reveal -- emails reveal a rapport between top EPA officials and those they regulate.

There`s also news that a top EPA ethics official has urged additional investigations into Scott Pruitt in this devastating headline, EPA`s Pruitt kept secret calendar to hide meetings. According to "New York Times" reporter Maggie Haberman, Trump is said to have become exasperated by the daily Pruitt corruption allegations, some expect action soon.

We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

I guess that`s a question here, Caitlin, not the first go-round with stories like this. If Trump`s exasperated, why hasn`t there been action. Anything holding him back here?

HUEY-BURNS: Well, I`m curious about whether the Senate could confirm a replacement for him if he were indeed to be let go by this president. Republicans are kind of in a tight -- on a tight rope here, right? On one hand, they really like what Scott Pruitt is doing at the EPA. He`s fulfilling a lot of their own campaign promises.

On the other hand, you do hear from Republicans, even senators who say that they`re tired of these headlines, that this is the epitome of the swamp. You also heard from Laura Ingraham today on Twitter saying Scott Pruitt is the swamp, drain it.

So, I`m wondering kind of how he responds to these headlines, especially since he wants the Supreme Court pick and whoever that is and that should kind of be front and center.

But again, this is a Senate that has a very thin margin to get anybody confirmed these days. It is such an uphill battle, particularly on this kind of appointment.

KORNACKI: Should he go?

NIKPOUR: Oh my gosh, I mean, this guy`s got a huge list of wrongdoings. Yes, I think the guy should go. And I think that what -- I think the most reasonable thing to do is to pick somebody that works next to him like, you know, his executive assistant or somebody that has been implementing the EPA rollback on some of the regulations of stuff that the GOP really likes, because the GOP -- that the left doesn`t like it, you know, but the GOP thinks he`s doing a great job.

So, maybe pick someone in the office down the hallway to continue out his duties until they can find a replacement, because there every day seems like there`s a new rollout of something that a potential violation.

KORNACKI: You should take to take the ethics stuff away for a second. Just on policy grounds, this is one of the biggest lightning rods in terms of Democrats in this administration.


KORNACKI: Do you think if he`s gone, just somebody else slides in with the exact same and anything has any change?

MOODIE-MILLS: No, I don`t think there`s any change. I think the policy is obviously a problem. But I just want to remind us that Donald Trump is the pot calling the kettle black here, because all of these ethics violations and, you know, trying to get us wife a job and taking money from this person and doing that, he`s just doing what the president is doing.

Let us not forget this guy in the White House profiteering right now. And so, Scott Pruitt absolutely is the swamp. We need to drain the swamp. We also, you know, need to acknowledge that the president is the swamp.

KORNACKI: All right. We`re going to stay with us. HARDBALL roundtable not done yet. Right back after this.


KORNACKI: All right. Aisha Moodie-Mills, Noelle Nikpour, Caitlin Huey- Burns, thank you all for being with us tonight. Lively discussion.

That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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