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Trump mocks Senator Warren and #MeToo movement. TRANSCRIPT: 7/6/2018, Hardball with Chris Matthews.

Guests: Aaron Blake, Bobby Ghosh, Sonam Sheth

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 6, 2018 Guest: Aaron Blake, Bobby Ghosh, Sonam Sheth

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: A festival for the rest of us. And the President is airing his grievances. Let`s play Hardball.

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

Well, the shock jock as President is at it again. Pressure up the resignation of his embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, President Trump did what he does best. He willed up his base and he attacked his critics.

He was at a rally last night in Montana. Trump delivering a meandering hour long speech that played like an extending -- extended airing for grievances. He mocked the media. He mocked the Democratic Party, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Senator John McCain, even former President George H. W. Bush. And he renewed his attacks on Massachusetts`s Democratic senator and possible 2020 White House candidate Elizabeth Warren, even poking at the Me Too movement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let`s say I`m debating Pocahontas, right. I promise you I will do this. I will take -- you know, those kits they sell in television for $2, learn your heritage. And in the middle of the debate, when she proclaims that she is of Indian heritage, because her mother claims she has high cheekbones. We will take that little kit and say, but we have to do it gently, because we are in the Me Too generation. So we have to very gentle. And we will gently take the kit and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn`t hit her and injure her arm. And we will say, I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity paid for by Trump if you take the test that shows that you are an Indian.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And ahead of his trip to Europe next week, Trump also took aim at American allies vowing to demand more money from NATO countries.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will see NATO and I`m going to tell NATO, you have got to start paying your bills. United States is not going to take care of everything. They kill us with NATO. They kill us. Germany pays one percent. One percent. And I said, you know, Angela, I can`t guarantee it, but we are protecting you. And it means a lot more to you than protecting us, because I don`t know how much protection we get by protecting you. So they want to protect against Russia, yet they pay billions of dollars to Russia and we are the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: There was no criticism though when the topic turned to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I am meeting with President Putin next week, they are going, will President Trump be prepared, you know, president Putin is KGB and this and that. You know what? Putin is fine. He is fine. We are all fine. We are people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And Trump also making no mention of Scott Pruitt`s ouster from the EPA at that rally last night. But according to "New York Times" report, Magie Haberman, it may not have been far from his mind.

Quote "Trump`s presentation at the Montana rally was steeped in grievance. People close to him believe he was angry about having to fire Pruitt and lashed out publicly in almost everyone else except Putin in his remarks.

For more, I am joined by Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter for Bloomberg News, Evan Siegfried, the Republican strategist and Tara Dowdell, the Democratic strategist.

Shannon, to you first. A lot of what we heard from Trump last night, you know, it is almost like the musician playing his greatest hits. I mean, these are the themes he has been pressing since he got into the presidential race a couple of years ago. But there did seem to be certainly some of the parts we played there, an extra edge to it. Was it about Pruitt? He also mentioned he was in Montana. Ronny Jackson, he hold John Tester, the Montana senator running for reelection, responsible for what happened with Jackson. Was that what it was? What do you think contributed to what we saw last night?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I mean, I think we are starting to really see a shift towards campaign Trump. This was obviously a campaign rally. He said he was there to hurt Jon Tester`s reelection bid because he blames Tester for the failed nomination of Ronny Jackson for the VA secretary. But -- I mean, the Trump campaign is really off to a start. They are raising money. They are organizing these rallies. They are becoming more and more frequent. And I think what we are seeing is him starting to test out themes for 2020. And I have been told that he uses these rallies to see how crowds react to things. So I think that Elizabeth Warren section was testing out an attack on Elizabeth Warren to see how the crowd would respond.

So I think this is campaign Trump. This is who we saw in the campaign. He maybe became a bit more Presidential for a while when talking about his economic and tax plan and his healthcare issues. But now we are definitely switching more of an attack mode and campaign mode.

KORNACKI: Tara, what did you make of the -- it is not the first time he is going after Elizabeth Warren, but is it about -- is he trying to bait Democrats? Does he thinks this is the opponent he wants in 202 and he is trying elevate her through attacks? What did you make in that part of it?

TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, he has been attacking Elizabeth Warren for quite a while now. And I think it is because to the point that was made earlier, he gets instant gratification and instant reaction it that line of attack. So for one thing, I do think he uses these rallies to test out these divisive material and his newest set of lies. That`s one thing.

These rallies are also used as a form of destruction. I don`t (INAUDIBLE), the things that Donald Trump is dumb. Donald Trump is a very strategic. Now he may not be intellectually curious, but he is strategic and he knows how to push-buttons. He knows how to push the buttons of his supporters who we saw were eating up everything that he said. Every vicious attack, every offense statement, ever new lie, they ate it up. That gives him, as I mentioned, (INAUDIBLE). It also gives him reaction. And he knows what materials works best. I think he believes that his base is enough. If he can get his base out, if he keep them energized, if he can keep them riled up, if he continue to distract them from the fact that his policies are actually hurting many of them, I think he is fact his pathway to victory.

KORNACKI: How does -- what do you think in terms of the midterm, because we have seen -- the energy is there on the Democratic side. I don`t think there is any question. It seems that the question will it ultimately be matched on the Republican side or not? We have seen a lot of indication, in these special elections. Lot of places that Republican energies have been missing. Can he generate it? Can he go out there and he give speeches like this in the fall? Provoke reaction from Democrats? Pick targets like Elizabeth Warren and sell the kind of attitude he is selling there. That sort of me against the media, me against the world, me against the Democrats. Could that get comparable energy?

EVAN SIEGFRIED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, we have to look back and look at his approval ratings within the Republican Party. They are 90 percent. But nobody is saying the reality that is staring them right in the face.

The Republican Party has shrank since he became President. And that is why, only the people who really love Donald Trump are staying. There is a reckoning coming for the Republican Party and it is in the form of women. And when he went off on Me Too last night, that was a fatal error.

Me Too impacts women from Wall Street to Main Street, from liberal to conservative. Already, Republicans have always had a gender gap problem. And typically, we run for a midterm. It is D plus seven with women. And now we are seeing polls with D plus 12.

There was a poll from Quinnipiac this week. D plus 25 with women. My hair went on fire when I heard that. Yes, a lot of people tune out what Trump says at these rallies, to say that is Trump being Trump. But when he goes and hits Me Too, my God, I think Democrats were smiling and popping champagne corks because it is so beneficial to them.

KORNACKI: I have got to ask though, and I`m just -- I`m asking this just because of what we watch in 2016. People said after the revelations of the "Access Hollywood," tape, exactly what you just said, Democrats are popping their champagne corks. I can`t believe what the gaps are going to be like with women right now. Nobody can let -- and he did get elected. Is there a possibility we are missing something here?

SIEGFRIED: There is not in my mind. I think we are seeing from the evidence from since 2016, we are seeing it in special elections in 2017 and 2018 as well as selections in 2017.

Look at what happened on the ground in Virginia, how people organized. The women`s march, I said it was the most dangerous thing to the Republican Party when it happened. It was the equivalent of almost the tea party in terms of its legality of the ballot box. And we are seeing women across the country independently organized.

The DNC might have its host of problems, but these grass root organizations are going out and winning races that nobody saw coming. Look at the Virginia house of delegates in 2017. We are not winning as a party.

There is a demographic problem. Republicans haven`t addressed women`s concerns. And the one key group that we have been losing or the group that we actually use to get the majority in the house and senate and that is white, married, suburban women with kids and they are turning on Trump saying this is disgusting. His behavior is vile. And it is time that we make a change.

KORNACKI: And that is the districts, there is 25 of them out there where Republicans represented. They voted for Clinton in 2016. That`s were the first line, the Democrats. They need 23 if obviously if they are going to get the house. That`s a big place they are going to be looking.

We mentioned Me Too in those Trump`s comments last night. They come and they came I should say on the same way that his White House announced the hiring Bill Shine as the new assistant to the President and deputy chief of staff for communications.

The "New York Times" describing the former quote "president of FOX News and FOX Business" as well regarded for his ratings success as a top FOX News executive but who carries the weight of accusations that he help cover up sexual harassment scandals at the network. Shine was force that out of the job last year over his handling of those scandals.

Shannon, the impetus to bring him in to the White House, the role he is going to play there, the concerns about how this looks giving what we just said, what was the thinking there inside the White House?

PETTYPIECE: Well, President Trump really showed over and over again that he doesn`t concern himself too much with accusations of sexual misconduct by anyone. From Roger Ailes, Bill O`Reilly, who he defended and when we saw Rob Porter, the staff secretary who is accused of domestic abuse. He was still very hesitant to turn on Rob Porter.

So these allegations of abuse that are out there, there has just never been anything that has stuck with the President, that has caused him to turn his opinion on anyone and Bill Shine has been someone out there whose name has been around for a while the White House as a possible communications directorial role for him. Sean Hannity has advocated that to the President for months, we have been told. It was fine, you know.

So finally, they were able to work out a deal to bring him on. I think that is what the President thinking about, what can he do for me? What he can do for my administration, not these accusations which in the past was anyone else and they haven`t really carried any weight.

KORNACKI: Tara, we are four months from today, is midterm Election Day. You say the Democrats need a net gain of 23 if they are going to pick up the house. You heard what Evan was saying there about the gender gap. We are talking about this thing with Bill Shine. We are talking about what Trump says with Me Too. We are looking at these districts, the Democrats have the Clinton already won. The Democrats are targeting.

I mean, is this at a point where if Democrats don`t win this thing in November, would that be a crisis for the party?

DOWDELL: I don`t think so. I think that there is a ton of energy out there. I worked in one of the districts that is being targeted. And I worked on the campaign in one of those district. And I can tell you that amongst suburban white women, there is a new kind of, a new-found just angst around Trump there. There is a new-found concern around Trump.

Because look at this. The fact that he has had all these people on his team who have been engaged in sexual assault. The fact that he himself has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women. That Access Hollywood take Bill Shine, all of this swirling around him is problematic because he has shown in interest in actually doing anything to address the issue.

Instead, he is actually embracing it by bringing people around it who covered up sexual assault or who committed it. And so, that is not lost on voters and it is not lost on women, especially in those districts. Women in these affluent districts, suburban districts are embarrassed by Trump`s behavior. Even those who lean in support of him, who lean to the right, they are embarrassed. And I think that is what you are seeing. You are seeing that embarrassment. And you are seeing it manifest itself in activism.

KORNACKI: New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia and California, there is a bunch of these districts. We have that board fired up all fall. We will be talking about the exact question, is that going to be the difference for Democrats, those suburban women in places like that.

Tara Dowdell, Shannon Pettypiece, Evan Siegfried. Thank you all for joining us.

And coming up, President Trump`s former fixer, Michael Cohen, hires longtime Clinton ally Lanny Davis as his new attorney. What message is that sends especially giving new reporting that Cohen no longer thinks the President has his back.

Plus, with just 72 hours to go until President Trump announces his Supreme Court pick. Speculation in politicking both reaching a fever pick. Who is the front runner ahead of Monday`s prime time announcement?

And how is this for international diplomacy? President Trump reportedly giving as a gift to Kim Jong-un, a CD of Elton John`s rocket man. Well, it comes just one day after Trump blasted NATO or well arguing that Vladimir Putin is just fine.

All that, plus plenty more to get to with the HARDBALL roundtable.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Government lawyers told the federal judge today they are unable to locate the parent of almost half the migrant children under the age of five, currently in government custody. Parents of 19 of those children have already been released into the U.S. The whereabouts are unknown. The Parents of 19 more have already been deported.

Government lawyers are asking the judge to extend the current July 10th reunification deadline. The judge says he will consider doing that if the government can produce a complete list of all those children and the status of their parents by Monday morning.

We will be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I always liked Michael. I haven`t spoken to Michael in a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he still your lawyer?

TRUMP: No, he is not my lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to know if you are worried if he is going to cooperate with federal thing?

TRUMP: No, I`m not worried because I did nothing wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Got it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump last month saying in no uncertain terms that Michael Cohen, his longtime attorney and fixer was no longer representing him. Cohen for his part appears to be trying to cut any appearance that ties to Trump. And in a surprised move, he has also hired attorney Lanny Davis, an ardent Clinton loyalist and Democratic lobbyist.

David saying yesterday that quote "Cohen deserves to tell his side of the story."

"New York Times" reports that quote "Cohen has told allies that he no longer wants to be the villain in the narrative about Mr. Trump`s behavior.

CNN is also reporting that last week, Cohen told others that he did not believe Trump would wipe his slate clean using the Presidential pardons. According one of Cohen`s friends quote "his mindset is of someone who is operating under the assumption that he is not getting that.

I`m joined now by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst and Ken Vogel is apolitical reporter with the "New York Times."

Ken, let me start with you. I think name Lanny Davis to viewers of cable news, is somebody who has been around for a while. We know him as a Clinton loyalist also. We know a lobbyist there. I know he has come to some criticism in the past for some of his activity there.

Talk a little about who Lanny Davis is. And what he could potentially do with somebody like Michael Cohen?

KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. Lanny Davis is a real expert, Steve, in navigating the Washington scandal culture and the Washington sort of media political culture. He has done that effectively obviously going back to Bill Clinton and his impeachment scandal. But more recently with other clients. And is also someone who has shown that he doesn`t necessarily have ideological rigidity that would keep him from working with for some on the other side or even client who might not necessarily fit with what one might consider a traditional Democratic capital, Democratic sensibility. He is currently lobbying for a check defense contractor.

And actually in that capacity, he has invited Steve Bannon, the former Trump White House adviser to debate at a form of sponsored by this check defense contractor. And actually interestingly, Steve Bannon when he was first -- when he was in the White House and trying to advise Donald Trump on how to navigate the then unfolding Mueller probe, he actually reached out to Lanny Davis to pick his brain about it. So Lanny Davis, a recognized expert in this. And one who is showing a willingness to work with people who aren`t necessarily on his partisan team.

KORNACKI: Well, yes. And so, Paul, I think it is an interesting question here because the activity Michael Cohen has been sort of undertaking here in public recently, the ABC News interviews, changing his social media profile. Now this with Lanny Davis. I think there has been a question here about whether this is about a legal strategy or a public relations, public image strategy.

Do you read Lanny Davis as somebody who can help him navigate the court of public opinion or the court of law more?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So both.

So, Lanny Davis is kind of like Rudy Giuliani, in that he can into full-on attack dog mode. He loves to go on TV and defend his quiet. So he could be that TV lawyer for Michael Cohen, the way that Giuliani is for the president.

But he`s also got mad skills, mad legal skills, in a way that so far we haven`t seen from Giuliani. And so I think is part of the clap-back. This is the week that Michael Cohen clapped back on President Trump. We see him ghost the president on social media.

We hear him say that his loyalty is to his family and country, and not President Trump. And so he`s either really sending a message to the president, yo, if you`re going to pardon me, you better do that fast, quick and in a hurry, but more likely he`s sending smoke signals to special counsel Mueller, I`m ready to talk if you are. Give me a ring.

KORNACKI: Yes.

And, again, we mentioned the issue here of Lanny Davis being so close to the Clintons, his hire raising eyebrows too because in his latest book he argues that the FBI`s actions in 2016 effectively robbed Hillary Clinton of victory.

In an appearance on HARDBALL earlier this year, Davis argued that Rudy Giuliani received the leaks from the FBI which were used to pressure James Comey to reopen the investigation of Clinton`s e-mail, something Comey, of course, did in the letter to Congress just days before the election.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Fact, on the 25th of October, three days before the Comey letter, Mr. Giuliani went on television and said hah-hah -- this is FOX -- something`s coming.

On October 28, in the morning, before the letter was written, he went on the Hugh Hewitt show, and he said, I have heard from active and former FBI agents something bad is coming.

Giuliani and many of the New York City FBI agents have been identified as leaking to pressure James Comey to reopen an investigation that turned out to be a nothing burger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Ken, what do you know about the state of his relationship, Lanny Davis`, with the Clintons right now, with Hillary Clinton?

It is still close? Is this the sort of thing he would have discussed with them at all, he would have cleared with them at all? Any sense of that?

VOGEL: Not necessarily whether he would clear his potential -- his representation of Michael Cohen with them.

But that argument that he heard -- that you heard him making -- and he wrote a whole book of how that argument about Comey throwing the election for Donald Trump -- that`s one that he did talk with the Clintons about, and that we know that the Clintons have told their allies that they believe in.

So to the extent that he is still seen as a Clinton surrogate or least a Clinton ally, that could be helpful for Michael Cohen, because you have Michael Cohen trying to shift the narrative about himself now to distance himself from Trump and to establish himself as a sort of an independent figure in this narrative, that -- who could be one who -- who Democrats or Trump opponents might want to support.

Having Lanny Davis on board could help facilitate some of that support, at least in the court of public opinion.

BUTLER: And, Steve, if I could add to that, it`s true that, in the courtroom, Larry Davis is a hired gun. He will work for who -- whatever client he thinks deserves his services.

But in political realm, he`s a big old dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. And I don`t think he needs this case. The guy is 72 years old. He is doing well. I think this may be part of his political agenda. He thinks that President Trump stole the election from Hillary Clinton.

He and Hillary are besties, at least when it comes to politics. Again, I think that he`s interested in how his new client, Michael Cohen, can help Mueller make the case against Trump.

And just to remind everybody, in terms -- the Russian -- the Steele dossier, in that dossier, Michael Cohen is the star. He`s the key to collusion. He was the link between the Trump Organization and the Russians.

And so if there`s a story to tell about collusion and Trump, Michael Cohen is the person to tell it.

KORNACKI: All right. We will see how it plays out.

Paul Butler, Ken Vogel, thanks to both of you.

And up next: We are just days away from President Trump`s announcement on his next nominee for the Supreme Court. Trump says his pick will reject judicial activism and show a deep reverence for the Constitution. What does that mean for the future of Roe v. Wade and the Mueller investigation?

We will find out next.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump is set to announce his Supreme Court pick on Monday night. The president, who prides himself on building suspense, teased the grand reveal last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, there`s now a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And if you turn in Mondays at 9:00, think you`re going to be extremely happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: A source close to the president tells Politico that the president wants to maximize television exposure, warning his associates against any leaks, because -- quote -- "He wants to be the person who discloses the pick."

But that hasn`t stopped the speculation, of course. Numerous outlets, including NBC News, have reported that the three most serious contenders are federal appeals court judges Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Raymond Kethledge.

The most contentious part of the confirmation hearing is likely to revolve around the issue of abortion, an issue the court will almost certainly face in the near future.

A number of abortion-related cases are working their way through lower courts right now. And, according to NBC News, no nominee has said outright what their position is, but -- quote -- "Their use of coded language will send a signal on where they stand."

Experts tell NBC to both Kavanaugh and Barrett have sent those signals to conservative activists who want to overturn Roe v. Wade.

For more, I`m joined by Heidi Przybyla, who wrote that article for NBC News, and Aaron Blake, senior political writer for "The Washington Post."

Yes, Heidi, it`s interesting. I mean, like the most extreme example of this in these hearings, I think it was David Souter in 190 claimed he had never thought about abortion in his life, and ended up getting on the Supreme Court.

So they can be cagey about these things. But you`re saying two of these potential picks have used code language on this that activists recognize. That seems particularly significant, given that Susan Collins is now saying she`s not automatically a yes for Trump`s pick here.

Who are the two nominees you`re talking -- potential nominees you`re talking about? And what is the code language?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

So Roe will be the threshold issue, because Susan Collins has said as such. At the same time, as you point out, many nominees have been cagey about it, really dating back to Robert Bork, when his nomination was torpedoed by civil rights and women`s rights groups.

Since then, consultants have trained these nominees not to answer the question. But what we found was that there is a good way to read some of this language that actually lines up with the same language that activist groups up for pro-life organizations use, like the Susan B. Anthony Foundation, National Right to Life Foundation.

And what I found was that two out of the three, Kavanaugh and Barrett, have used those code words. There are only a handful of them. One of them is referring to Roe as abortion on demand.

Steve, we already have a number of restrictions in states on abortion passed 20 weeks. And so if you`re calling our current laws on abortion on demand, then essentially what you`re referring to is taking away some of those exceptions for the life of the mother.

The second one -- and that`s been used by both Kavanaugh and Barrett.

The second one is when you refer to someone as a strict constitutionalist. That is almost always, I`m told by impartial constitutional observers, a reference to Roe v. Wade, that you`re not supportive of Roe v. Wade, because there`s nothing specific in the Constitution, in the Fourth Amendment on privacy related specifically to abortion.

Brett Kavanaugh has said very specifically that the Constitution should be read explicitly that -- quote, unquote -- "the text matters." That is viewed by many in the pro-choice community as a code word as well.

KORNACKI: Are the pro-choice folks saying that they see no signals either way from Kethledge then, the third we`re talking about here?

PRZYBYLA: Kethledge is, interestingly, not on the record on a lot of the things. And we scrubbed the records. He has not given, as far as we can tell, a speech, for example, like Barrett did on the 40th anniversary of Roe, where she made a number of these references to abortion on demand and talked about the fact that the states really have no role anymore, kind of disparaging -- talking about that in a disparaging tone.

We didn`t really see that from Kethledge. And I think that`s why he`s considered by some members to be the safer choice. He doesn`t have the same record as either Kavanaugh or Barrett.

KORNACKI: Yes.

I mean, Aaron, look, if Republicans -- if McCain is sidelined, Republicans are sitting on 50 votes, and Susan Collins is saying Roe is fundamental to her choice here, based on what we hear from Heidi there, is that potentially advantage Kethledge?

AARON BLAKE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it could quite possibly be the case.

I think Kethledge is the one that would certainly mitigate the Roe v. Wade attacks during the confirmation hearings. At the same time, we are talking about code language here. These nominees are going to be coached on the ways that they should answer these questions during the confirmation hearings.

We talk about somebody like Susan Collins saying that she won`t vote for somebody who is hostile to Roe v. Wade. Well, she has voted for people, as Heidi has reported, who have used some of these code words, and have weighed in, to some degree, on Roe v. Wade, like John Roberts and like Neil Gorsuch.

So I think that, unless there is a moment in these confirmation hearings that makes clear these nominees are going to vote against Roe v. Wade, if you`re Susan Collins, as a Republican senator, are you going to be the one who`s going to vote against Republicans getting a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court?

I think that`s a really difficult vote, even if we`re talking about a moderate from Maine.

KORNACKI: And is there any indication, just the politicking that we`re seeing, whether it`s Democrats -- we certainly saw Democrats, at least early on, a couple days ago, going after Barrett.

Different conservative groups have different favorites here. They have been sort putting the word out about who they -- is there any indication that it has swayed the White House, that it has swayed the president all in his deliberations?

BLAKE: It`s hard to say, because I think that there was at first a little bit of a conservative backlash against Judge Kavanaugh, who has authored some Obamacare decisions that conservatives have issues with.

An interesting part of this is, Senator Rand Paul has apparently expressed some reservations about Kavanaugh. If he were to actually follow through and vote against him, that would imperil the nomination in a way that would go beyond just Susan Collins.

Amy Coney Barrett is the favorite of social conservatives, but she`s also gotten some pushback because of her lack of a record on the bench. They say that there`s not enough of a track record to trust what she would do if she got on the Supreme Court.

I think, if you`re Raymond Kethledge, you`re looking at what`s happened with these two other nominees, and you`re probably liking the fact that you`re the guy who`s kind of sitting back and hasn`t really seen fit to irritate anybody through this whole process.

Maybe he`s the guy that the president will go with, knowing that it`s not going to be the one who`s going to irritate either portion of his base, either the establishment or the social conservatives.

KORNACKI: All right.

Well, again, we`re probably about three days away from knowing who the nominee will be. And then the real fight will begin.

Aaron Blake, Heidi Przybyla, thank you both for joining us.

And up next: President Trump is punching the reset button when it comes to America`s traditional standing on the world stage, antagonizing allies and aligning himself with traditional adversaries.

Today, we have some new examples of that. We will tackle that next with the HARDBALL Roundtable.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is back in Pyongyang meeting with North Korean officials to work out details for that denuclearization agreement signed by President Trump and Kim Jong-un during last month`s summit.

South Korean media is reporting that Pompeo is planning to president the North Korean leader with a gift from President Trump, an Elton John C.D. containing the song "Rocket Man," of course, a reference to the nickname the president gave Kim Jong-un last year as tensions were running high between the two countries.

NBC News has not confirmed that report, we should note.

Meanwhile, as we mentioned earlier, President Trump last night lashed out against our NATO allies, while seemingly delivering praise to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I`m going to tell NATO, you got to start paying your bills. The United States is not going to take care of everything.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: He`s fine. They`re going, will President Trump be prepared? You know, President Putin is KGB, and this and that.

You know what? Putin is fine. He`s fine. We`re all fine. We`re people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: I`m joined now by the HARDBALL roundtable, Bobby Ghosh, foreign affairs analyst, Sonam Sheth, Business Insider politics reporter and Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press, White House reporter and MSNBC political analyst.

Well, Bobby, let`s just start out what we heard there, you know, Putin, he`s fine, don`t worry, we should be trying to get along. That message is a version of what he`s been selling for a long time here despite all the Russia questions that are swirling around him, what`s the -- what could come out of this meeting next week?

BOBBY GHOSH, FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: The reason we don`t know is that he hasn`t said what he wants from Putin, nor has Putin clearly articulated what he wants from this meeting. Unlike the North Korea Summit in Singapore, where the bar was set too high, denuclearization on bust (ph).

Here, there`s no bar. We don`t know what Trump is really going to ask from Putin, we don`t know what Putin is going to ask from Trump. So, this could be all much ado about nothing which frankly is the way Trump summits tend to go.

KORNACKI: Yes, and just the bigger picture here that you see in that speech again has been so striking, Sonam, for a couple of years now is, traditionally, the American president makes friends, gets as close as possible to like our NATO allies and in a situation like this with Putin, there`d be a lot of tension there. It seems reversed here and it seems that that is something where this president has been consistent. He wants to reverse those postures and relationships.

SONAM SHETH, BUSINESS INSIDER POLITICS REPORTER: Trump is pretty much doing Putin`s job for him right now. Putin`s main form policy goals are two things. One, for the rest of the world to recognize that Russia and ex-Crimea and to fracture what sort of (ph) lines and Trump is pretty much helping him on both those counts.

We saw reports that he, you know, wanted to recognize that Russia had annexed Crimea, he even said he was open to discussing that with Putin. And, I mean, most recently, we saw during not only the -- not only his rally but also during the G7 summit last month when he indicated that, you know, these U.S. allies are not paying their fair shares and not doing their -- what they should be doing. He`s, you know, alienating some of the U.S.` closest allies like Canada and Germany and France, and like we said, cozying up to Putin so it`s completely mind blowing.

GHOSH: It`s classic bully boy behavior from the schoolyard. You take your friends for granted because you feel that they are -- you think of them as all being your supplicants, they all need you and so you can kick them around. But you look at the other bully and you say, that guy, I admire.

That -- this has been the consistent pattern with Trump. He`s not making this up. He genuinely likes and admires Vladimir Putin. He`s done this, he said this long before he was even running for president. So, at the very least, we can`t accuse him of sort of basically leading us the wrong way. This is a what you see is what you get situation with Trump.

KORNACKI: And Jon, you`re going to be on this trip next week, what is the mood around the White House when it comes to preparation, when it comes to expectations? You have the president out there saying, hey, don`t worry, I`ve been prepared for this my whole life. But what are you hearing around Trump in terms of expectations?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Right, the president has never been one who`s particularly fond of like lengthy briefing books or still extensive study on his leaders. He goes with his gut. So much of America, the way he views American foreign policy is his personal rapport with the other leader.

And I think we`re seeing that here, he is desperate to have a good relationship with Vladimir Putin. He believes that it is in America`s interest to do so. There are also, of course, other questions of what his motivations might be. But it`s very clear, he is not shy about up ending sort of the natural order here that, you know, let`s remember what he did in NATO a year ago.

He went in to their new headquarters in Brussels and upbraided them to their faces about how much their headquarters cost and how about -- how much -- how not nearly enough they were contributing to defense. We saw him at the G7 again leave, you know, with a Twitter storm against Justin Trudeau and refusing to sign the communique at the end of the meeting, withdrawing his name from it.

And it`s the timing of this week that has so unnerved a lot of American -- traditional American allies, where he`ll start in NATO which is likely will be a very tense meeting. Head to the U.K., where the protests are expected to be so great, that the White House officials are largely keeping him out of London, keeping him out in the countryside where he won`t see as much demonstrations. And then, after a weekend of golf in Scotland, he goes to meet -- goes to Helsinki to meet Putin and there are a lot of American allies who are very nervous about what he might give away then.

KORNACKI: And this is a continuation, obviously, of stuff he said in the campaign that there is this posture on the world stage. This attitude, this reversal of a lot of what we`ve become used to. There is at least among his base, it seems, an appetite for this.

SHETH: Absolutely, and it`s very interesting because Trump is a Republican president, and Republicans have traditionally been so hawkish on Russia. We`ve seen that with Republican lawmakers also, they`ve expressed concerns about Trump`s affinity toward the Russian leader and his apparent liking toward Putin. So it`s very fascinating this kind of shift, this evolution that we`ve seen not just with Trump but like you said among his base also.

KORNACKI: It is striking too and, of course, you go back a few years ago, it was the initiative of the Obama administration to have a reset with Russia --

GHOSH: Right.

KORNACKI: -- and, of course, then Crimea happens, the 2016 election. There has been a pretty dramatic reversal here.

GHOSH: Yes, and look, it`s not unusual for the American president to go and shake hands with bad guys. You know, let`s not forget that Richard Nixon went and shook hands with Chairman Mao. One of the baddest of the bad guys, if we could call it that, millions of people killed.

But here`s the thing, Nixon went, he read those agenda papers copiously, he went with a clear agenda of what he wanted from that meeting and he didn`t then feel compelled afterwards to say, oh, Mao is a terrific guy, you know, he`s misunderstood, his people love him. None of that stuff.

The thing with Trump is that there`s a lack of this egregious sort of -- first of all, there`s a lack of preparation, which is frightening enough as it is, and then afterwards, there seems to be the sort of really egregious need to say nice things about unpleasant people.

The other thing Nixon didn`t have to worry about that our allies wouldn`t have his back. Trump is going in there with our allies saying, whoa, we don`t -- we`re not responsible for what he`s going to go and promise to Putin.

KORNACKI: And it is interesting what you`re saying, that basic attitude, you see this in the polling that, should the president -- should this president, should Donald Trump be sitting down with Kim Jong-un with Vladimir Putin. The polling now, on that basic question is, yes, the attitude seems to be as discussions are worth having.

Obviously, what they -- what emerges from that seems to be more of concern to people. The roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, reporting that President Trump asked top aides about invading Venezuela, what happened to the guy who promised to put an end to stupid words. You`re watching HARDBALL.

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KORNACKI: President Trump likes to tout his America first policies but the winter White House is looking to staff up with foreign labor. According to data posted this week by the Labor Department, Trump`s Mar-a-Lago Club has applied for permission to hire 61 foreign workers during the winter season at the Palm Beach Resort. The openings are positions as waiters and cooks as the "Washington Post" points out.

The postings show that despite Trump`s insistence that immigration is holding down wages and crowding out native-born American workers, his club believes it cannot find any Americans in South Florida who are qualified to hold two very common restaurant industry jobs. Be right back.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor. This is -- you know, we`re all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away. And the people are suffering, and they`re dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Trump last summer floating the idea of a military option in response to the political unrest in Venezuela. As the Associated Press points out, at the time the public remarks were initially dismissed in U.S. policy circles. But according to the A.P., the day before those remarks, Trump "turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question, with a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can`t the U.S. just simply invade the troubled country?"

He also raised the issue with the Colombian president. He discussed the military option in September with four Latin American leaders reportedly leading off the conversation by saying, "My staff told me not to say this." Trump repeatedly campaigned on a, "no stupid wars platform" during the 2016 campaign.

Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You`re tired of the reckless foreign policy, the crazy wars that are never won. We will abandon the policy of reckless regime change. My foreign policy will emphasize diplomacy not destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: We are back with our roundtable, Bobby, Sonam and Jonathan.

Jonathan, this was a year ago, we`re getting new reporting on it now. What do we know about what`s happened between a year ago and now? Is this something that just died in the White House, has he talked about it again? Is this a theme he`s returned to at all?

LEMIRE: So I was at Bedminster that day when he brought it up. And at the time, it seemed like it came out of nowhere. In fact, us -- we in the press corps were saying like, what? But my colleagues in the A.P. have reported out very well, this is something that he had brought up before. It is not something that he is focused on particularly since.

Let`s also remember, though, when this happened. It was last August. This was the height of the fire and fury, the harsh rhetoric with North Korea. And there`s a sense around the president that he was like really looking at military options then. He was like sort of feeling the bluster of the force of the American -- United States Armed Forces. And that he was sort of floating this idea as possible.

According to our reporting, we don`t expect -- this was not something that he was actively pursuing since. People around the president really talked him out of it and saying, sir, this is a bad idea. You haven`t thought through the destabilizing consequences if you were going to do this.

KORNACKI: And this situation in Venezuela, then versus now, what can we say about it?

GHOSH: Well, the situation in Venezuela is -- it`s a world-class snafu. It`s in a very, very bad place. You have an absolute tyrant of a leader who, you know, messes around with the political opposition. They conducted an absolute farce of an election.

One of the -- potentially, one of world`s richest per capita, one of the richest countries given the small population and enormous amount of oil on which that country is sitting. But so badly managed and so corrupt that it`s one of the poorest countries in all kinds of social and economic indices.

So the situation is really, really, really desperate. But war is not an answer to that. Venezuela does not directly threaten the security of the United States. I can`t imagine any of the Latin American leaders with whom the president spoke would have approved of such an idea. I`m sure they would have been horrified to hear that the American president was even thinking about such.

KORNACKI: And quickly, Sonam. That was 2016, Trump saying Iraq was the stupidest decision the country had made.

SHETH: Yes. I mean, setting aside the fact that Trump pretty much has gone back on everything he`s said about not being a warmonger. I mean, that was the biggest thing that he criticized Hillary on. He said Bush took us to war and Hillary Clinton is going to do it again. So I`m your best bet and that`s why you should vote for me.

So setting aside the fact that he`s going against that, it`s really important to emphasize, like Bobby said, that the problems that Venezuela faces are largely political and economic. They`re not issues that are going to be solved by military invasion. So it`s kind of hard to figure out what Trump was thinking when he floated that idea in the first place.

KORNACKI: OK. So a little more context we learned from new reporting this week to something from a year ago looks a little different now with what we know. The roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. It is not a hard job at all. You`re watching HARDBALL.

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KORNACKI: And we`re back with the HARDBALLL roundtable.

Bobby, tell me something I don`t know.

GHOSH: Hot (ph) rumor in London that Trump skips the golf and goes -- as a grand gesture, goes to Moscow next Sunday to watch the World Cup final with Vladimir Putin as his guest. If that is true, then you have the prospect of Russia playing in the final against a NATO country and the president of United States rooting for Russia, sitting next to Putin. If you`re thinking about political symbolism, it doesn`t get stronger than that.

KORNACKI: A lot going on in there. Sonam.

SHETH: Russian media is loving all the hullabaloo around the NATO summit and the Trump-Putin meeting. They have largely driven this story from the beginning because of the general lack of transparency from the White House. And so we`ll see if that continues into the summit.

KORNACKI: And Jonathan.

LEMIRE: In the light of Scott Pruitt`s resignation, the A.P., we did a big story looking at the cabinet on who`s up and who`s down. And for a while, long-time Secretary of Defense Mattis was seen as the most influential cabinet member, these days Trump is tuning him out more. Our reporting suggests it`s Pompeo if he gets North Korea done.

KORNACKI: Very interesting. Bobby Ghosh, Sonam Sheth, Jonathan Lemire on his way overseas. Good luck there.

And thank you all for joining us. That is HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Chris Matthews will be back Monday. And 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

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