STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: The fight over Trump`s attorney general could be heading to the courts. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Mathews.
There is breaking news tonight from the "Washington Post" on Ivanka Trump and the use of personal emails for government business. Some of President Trump`s advisors were reportedly alarmed because it bore striking similarities to Hillary Clinton`s use of personal emails as secretary of state. We will have much more on that coming up.
We begin, though, with President Trump continuing to grapple with questions about his new acting attorney general as three Democrats challenge the constitutionality of that appointment. The lawsuit filed today in Washington, Senators Richard Blumenthal, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Mazie Horono, ask a federal judge to remove Matt Whitaker from the position of acting attorney general arguing that anyone serving in that role needs Senate confirmation.
This comes as the President responds to criticism that Whitaker may be biased against the investigation he now over sees as acting attorney general. President Trump said he did not previously known Whitaker before appointing him. Now he is saying he didn`t know Whitaker was such an outspoken critic of the Mueller probe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Did you know before you appointed him that he had that record and was so critical of Robert Mueller?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not know that. I did not know he took views on the Mueller investigation as such.
WALLACE: And when you found that out?
TRUMP: I don`t think it had any effect. If you look at those statements, those statements really can be viewed either way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: According to "The New York Times," though quote "Whitaker first came to the attention of Mr. Trump because he liked watching Mr. Whitaker express skepticism about aspects of Mr. Mueller`s investigation.
In numerous media appearances throughout 2017, Whitaker was an outspoken -- was outspoken on the subject, I should say, of the investigation. Here are some of Whitaker`s views, again, which the President says he was unaware of.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There is a red line here, and Bob Mueller doesn`t have the authority currently to look into unrelated Trump finances.
I just -- I think the premise as to why he was appointed in the first place was wrong and I don`t think it was necessary.
There`s no evidence of anything illegal happening in the 2016 election related to the Trump campaign.
The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And Trump also said he agrees with Whitaker`s stated view which you just heard, that there was no collusion in 2016. And he added that he shouldn`t have to take somebody for the job who has stated otherwise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don`t think it would have --
WALLACE: He says no collusion --
TRUMP: Chris, I tell you what.
WALLACE: You can starve the investigation.
TRUMP: What do you do when a person is right? There is no collusion. He happened to be right. I mean, he said it. So if he said there was no collusion, I`m supposed to be taking somebody that says there is because then I wouldn`t take him for two reasons. But the number one reason is the fact he would have been wrong. If he said that there`s no collusion, he is right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And now the President is also suggesting he might not stand in the way if Whitaker seeks to stifle the investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: If Whitaker decides in any way to limit or curtail the Mueller investigation, are you OK with that?
TRUMP: Look, it`s going to be up to him. I think he is very well aware politically. I think he is astute politically. He is a very smart person, a very respected person. He is going to do what`s right. I really believe he`s going to do what`s right.
WALLACE: But you won`t overrule him if he decides to curtail --
TRUMP: I would not get involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And joining me now is Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today." Paul Butler is a former federal prosecutor. David French is a senior writer at the "National Review" and Jonathan Lemire is a White House reporter for the "Associated Press."
So John Lemire, let`s just start with you. Look, the President says he wasn`t aware of what Whitaker was out there saying about the Mueller investigation. Obviously, in the terms of the role he just walked into that Trump has just put Whitaker in, the Mueller investigation is front and center right now. What do you actually know from your reporting in the White House when it comes to Whitaker, what he had said previously about this investigation, and what bearing that had on Trump`s decision to appoint him?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes. The President`s claim that he wasn`t aware of Whitaker`s stands defies credibility (ph). He was very much aware as you read from that report. He was a fan of Whitaker`s appearance on cable television. That`s where he first came across the President`s radar. And he was very much aware that he was very critical of the Mueller probe.
And that was part of his thinking here as to why he is being installed as acting attorney general. Not just on Mueller but he felt like this was someone who would be loyal to him. That was always his complaint about Jeff Sessions. That he recused himself from the Russia probe which he felt like was not something he shouldn`t have done, but more than that reflected that he wasn`t loyal to him personally. Like he deemed Bobby Kennedy was for his brother or Eric Holder was to President Obama. His Roy Cohn if you will. Of course, that`s not the attorney general`s job but that`s how President Trump viewed it, that he wanted him to be his own sort of attorney, if you will.
He has been very frustrated with the push back that he has seen from both sides of the aisle on the choice of Whitaker. He believed that Republicans would have his back on this, that he thought Whitaker was someone he could leave in this post. He wouldn`t be a permanent choice but he could stay in there as the acting attorney general for a while. But now there`s been such criticism and such -- you saw like this lawsuit today filed, that he feels like there is pressure now that he might need to move to appoint a permanent attorney general sooner than he might have wished.
And we saw some of that frustration bubble up in his interview over the weekend. His tweets last week saying, pushing back against the idea that Whitaker shouldn`t have that post because he wasn`t confirmed. In fact, even saying, well, Bob Mueller, the special counsel, he wasn`t confirmed leaving out the idea. He doesn`t need to be confirmed for that position and of course had been previously FBI director.
KORNACKI: That is an interesting point to pick up on, Susan. So this idea that Trump is invoking a 20-year-old law here in on appointments on vacancies saying that basically 210 days, about seven months, Whitaker under this original plan could stay in this job without confirmation. The interpretation there from the White House, this obviously the subject of a lawsuit right now. We can talk about that in a minute.
But that idea that initially, at least, that seven-month window might take you through the conclusion of the Mueller investigation because we have gotten these indications that might be drawing near an end. How do you feel right now about the likelihood or the potential of Trump being able to keep Whitaker in this job through the conclusion of the Mueller investigation? Does that seem less likely now than it did, say, a week ago?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You know, I think it does. We don`t know whether this lawsuit that was just filed will succeed or not, but it is one more thing that Democrats and critics are trying to do to just put the White House on warning about Matt Whitaker and about the concerns about him serving as acting attorney general.
I think the President has been taken aback by the response, heavy response he has gotten, not just from Democrats, but from some congressional Republicans against Matt Whitaker in this very crucial job. And I think they do feel like they need to move forward more rapidly than they expected to find some kind of nominee. It`s going to be hard to find somebody President Trump trusts who thinks will have his back who is also going to be acceptable to folks on the hill.
KORNACKI: And Paul Butler, the fear from critics here is that obviously they say there is always the potential of Whitaker in this position to try to kill the investigation completely. But short of that, I`m curious from the standpoint of critics of this, people who worry about the independence of the Mueller investigation potentially being threatened here. What are the steps that Whitaker in this position as acting attorney general, short of just doing away with the investigation wholesale, what are the steps he could take in that position?
PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So, Steve, those concerns may have already been realized. Under the law, if Whitaker were to fire Mueller, he would have to notify Congress immediately. But Whitaker has the power to curtail all of these significant actions, and there`s no requirement that Congress be told right away. And so Whitaker can say, don`t subpoena Trump to the grand jury or don`t indict Roger Stone or Donald Trump.
And here`s a crazy thing. Again, if that`s already happened, we wouldn`t know because under the law, those kinds of actions, those kind of limits by the attorney general don`t have to be reported until the end of the investigation.
But here`s the saving grace. There are right now 36 sealed indictments in the federal district court in D.C. that`s way more than normal. They are secret. But we don`t know if they are brought by Robert Mueller or somebody else. But what was known is that immediately after the midterms, that the President was going to replace the attorney general with somebody like Whitaker who might try to impede the investigation, so this could have been very strategic action on the part of Robert Mueller to try to insulate the investigation. Again, 36 sealed indictments, 14 filed just since August.
KORNACKI: Well, David French, hearing the Republicans may be losing a little bit of patience with this idea. What is your sense of this? Because the administration, again, is saying here they got 200 days. They can leave him in the position. You have got Democrats filing suit today saying, no, it`s unconstitutional on its phase. How long do you think this is sustainable politically and perhaps even legally for the administration?
DAVID FRENCH, SENIOR WRITER, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: I don`t think it`s sustainable as Trump wanted it to be. I think that much is very clear. There is widespread discontent with this move. This is a consequence of a hasty, ill-considered effective termination of his attorney general without a replacement lined up. And so, this is something that`s causing a lot of discontent.
And I think ironically enough it is working exactly the opposite way that Trump intended. I think that when you have an acting attorney general who is already hamstrung an important sense by lacking the unanimous support of the President`s party, when he is already hamstrung in an important sense, he now has as a practical and political matter, I think, far less of a firm hand on the Mueller investigation than you would want to see and an attorney general who is confirmed by majority of the Senate, comes in under a constitutionally proper process. Lacking that, he is hamstrung. If he takes strong action in the Mueller investigation, it`s going to dramatically magnify the extent -- magnify that scandal.
KORNACKI: Susan, if this goes to -- happens to take the direction now that there is an appointment placed before the Senate for confirmation with the Mueller investigation outstanding, I have got to imagine the Senate confirmation hearings are going to be almost exclusively about that investigation.
PAGE: Yes, no kidding. They will be fierce and, of course, Democrats will be fierce about it. But some Republicans also are concerned about what`s happening here and want to preserve standards of the rule of law. And remember, Republicans hold the Senate, but not by that much. So you could have a defection of two or three Republican senators. You could have a nomination in peril.
You also have a President -- say he puts forward a nominee for attorney general who just squeaks through without any Democratic votes. That does not serve to bolster kind of the public trust that they can believe in whatever it is that attorney general is going to do and is to be fair and accurate and in the interest of the rule of law.
KORNACKI: Well, shifting topics a little bit here. We said this at the top of the broadcast, there is also some breaking news being reported by the "Washington Post" at this hour. The Post reporting that Ivanka Trump used a personal email account to conduct government business, sending hundreds of emails last year, many of them apparently in violation of federal records rules.
According to The Post quote "some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump`s personal emails and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. Trump said she was not familiar with some details of the rules according to people with knowledge of her reaction."
Spokesperson for Ivanka Trump`s lawyer acknowledged her use of a private email, but tried to delineate her conduct from that of Hillary Clinton.
Quote "to address misinformation being peddled about Ms. Trump`s personal email, she did not create a private server in her house or office. There was never classified information transmitted. The account was never transferred or housed at Trump organization. No emails were ever deleted. And the emails have been retained in the official account in conformity with records preservation laws and rules." That again the statement from Ivanka Trump`s spokesperson.
Jonathan Lemire, what more can you tell us just in terms of context here with this news just breaking?
LEMIRE: Has the use of a private email server ever been a political hot button issue lately? Yes, this is coming to light tonight. Certainly this is less than ideal. Some White House advisors are sort of -- were taken aback as a post reports. Just the sheer number of these. So it began during the transition and has continued. It is in violation of federal records rules. But it`s also just, again, it`s a moment of optics.
I mean, of course, every night I covered the Trump campaign. I was there every night of the rallies, you know. He railed against the use of her private emails every day. It was a huge talking point. It became the center piece of everything the FBI did and the James Comey letter at the end that many people think was the deciding factor in the selection. You can imagine Democrats across the country tonight are just pounding their heads against the desk saying like this is happening again, the hypocrisy.
I mean, there are some differences here I just laid out in the lawyer`s statement. But it is something that just shows -- it points again to sort of the sloppiness of this administration in so many ways. That you know, it was known previously that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and a few other key aides had been using private email servers when they first took office. The sheer volume of it, the fact that it continued, that`s the center piece of this terrific "Washington Post" story tonight.
But it goes to show that, again, this White House has had such a haphazard system of having -- starting to actually govern, and now almost two years in they are still grappling with something that should have been addressed long ago.
KORNACKI: Yes. And David, I think my reaction is a little bit of what John was just saying there in terms of if -- one of the sort of fundamental bases of the Trump campaign in 2016 was this email question. They are pointing to all these distinctions in the statement here, but how would you not be on top of that from the very beginning after running that kind of campaign?
FRENCH: I mean, it`s sloppy. It`s definitely a problem. But let`s be really clear about one thing. It`s not a minor detail to say that there`s no classified information on those emails, at least so far as we know. The inclusion of top secret information in these private emails with Hillary is something that put it on a whole different plane that implicated potentially the espionage act. So we are dealing with different orders of magnitude, but it`s still sloppy. It`s still a problem. It`s still not what you want to see. This is something that should have been dealt with immediately at the start of this administration.
KORNACKI: All right. David French, Susan Page, Paul Butler, Jonathan Lemire, thank you all for being with us.
And coming up, President Trump as the commander in chief of the armed forces, after missing several military events around veteran`s day, he is now attacked the retired admiral who led the raid that killed Osama bin Laden am 2011.
Plus, election night has turned into election week, maybe even election month. Now finally almost all the races are called so I`m going to head over to the big board. We are going to take a fresh look at what kind of a mark this midterm left on our political landscape.
And President Trump seems to want it both ways. He told FOX News that he won when it came to Senate races this year, but at the same time, he said he can`t be blamed for any losses because he wasn`t on the ballot.
And finally let me finish tonight with Nancy Pelosi`s fight to regain the house speakership.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump has touted his support of the military as one of the core elements of his presidency. But in his interview with FOX News, Trump attacked a respected retired admiral, William McRaven, the man who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Bill McRaven, retired admiral, Navy SEAL 37 years, former head of U.S. operations --
TRUMP: Hillary Clinton fan.
WALLACE: Special operation --.
TRUMP: Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan.
WALLACE: Who led the operations, command of the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and killed Osama bin Laden, says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy.
TRUMP: He is a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer and frankly -
WALLACE: He is a Navy SEAL 37 years.
TRUMP: It would have been nice if we had gotten Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that. Wouldn`t that have been nice?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Trump lashed out again today on twitter writing in part quote "of course, we should have captured Osama bin Laden long before we did."
McRaven has been critical of the President`s attacks on the press and his leadership style. In August he pend an open letter calling for Trump to revoke his security clearance after former CIA director John Brennan had his revoked.
In a statement, he responded to the president`s comments, saying: "I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times."
Joining me now, Yamiche Alcindor, who is the White House correspondent for "PBS NewsHour," and retired Four Star-General Barry McCaffrey, who is an NBC News military analyst.
General, let me start with you first. And just your reaction to the president choosing to mix it up like this with a decorated admiral like this.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you know, there is actually a comical aspect to this.
Admiral Bill McRaven is probably the epitome of a heroic warrior defending America. He commanded JSOC, career Navy SEAL, Special Operations guy, modest, sort of a quiet professional type, just widely respected by everybody in the community that`s run into him, and apolitical.
The senior military leaders are not partisan and will support whoever is the president of the United States. So his attacks on Mr. Trump must have hurt badly, and now he`s taking -- acting like an eighth grader with this counterattack.
KORNACKI: Yamiche, when I looked at what the president said here, my mind went right back to the summer of 2015, when he was at that event on the campaign trail early in the cycle.
John McCain had criticized him publicly. He was asked about it, Trump was. And he immediately said, basically, I don`t think heroes get captured -- paraphrasing there what the president said.
And it seemed like the instinct there was just, anybody who says anything that he perceives as negative, he`s got to find some way to throw it right back in their face, and it doesn`t matter what kind of status that person enjoys, in McCain`s case, as a decorated veteran, in McRaven`s case, as sort of the mastermind of the bin Laden raid.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "PBS NEWSHOUR": Well, the president`s motto and what he lives by is, if someone punches you, you punch them back harder, and then you punch them again and get someone to laugh at that person.
That`s the way that he got to be president. That`s the way that he`s acted his entire life. I have talked to so many Trump supporters who are veterans who back the president`s mocking of John McCain even after John McCain passed away.
I had a conversation with a farmer and a veteran in West Virginia who said: Well, John McCain shouldn`t have been captured. He wasn`t really a hero. Who cares? He shouldn`t have talked about President Trump.
So it`s not only that President Trump can make these arguments and really pick any fight he wants. And it`s the fact that there are people who will stick by him throughout all of this ordeal.
And when I heard all that he was saying about this general, I went back to the idea of President Trump also getting into a fight -- into a fight with a Gold Star family. There was that family whose son died serving the military, and the president was relentless with that family.
So this is a president who is -- as soon as he perceives any sort of threat, his strategy that he thinks is working and his strategy that he thinks will carry him to 2020 is to be strong in his mind. And that is -- and that means to never let down his rhetoric.
KORNACKI: It also seems too, Yamiche, it`s -- I said right back in their face, but it also seems part of the instinct here is to take the thing that`s perceived as a strength, or even the thing that`s perceived as untouchable -- John McCain`s war hero status, McRaven and the bin Laden raid -- and basically say, oh, no, no, that`s not off-limits. I will go after that, too.
ALCINDOR: I think that that`s very much true.
I think there`s this idea that the president sees any -- any part of your biography as up for game to ridicule you. You think about the fact that, when he was out on the campaign trail, he ridiculed what Carly Fiorina looked like.
I think about that because he`s thinking about, oh, you know what, I need to get and really -- and really get at anybody under people`s skins any way I can. And, as a result, he will talk about your family. Think of Ted Cruz, the fact that he was talking about his wife, talking about his father.
His strategy, though, has worked, which is I think why the president continue to go back to that place where he can go as low and in the gutter as he needs to go in order to look strong for his people.
KORNACKI: Barry McCaffrey, the president talks about being supportive of the military, surrounding himself and his administration with generals. He talks about the generals all the time.
At the same time, there are instances like we`re talking about right now. How is he perceived within the military community? How is he perceived?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I wouldn`t want to speak for the active-duty military. There`s various viewpoints.
I think the "Army Times" polling numbers show his support has been steadily dropping. That`s neither here nor there. I think the armed forces are and should be totally responsive, legally and practically, to the commander in chief.
Having said that, it`s not lost on anybody the nature, the sort of inane, childish attacks on senior leadership. And, by the way, what we should underscore is our reliance on Secretary Jim Mattis as a law-abiding, intellectual defense expert to keep the Department of Defense straight in terms of service to the American people.
We better not end up with an acting SecDef, an acting homeland security, and an acting attorney general. That would be a concern to the security of the American people.
KORNACKI: It also seems, when I look at that statement from McRaven singling out former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, in talking about a sense of honor in serving in their administrations, serving under their command, I should say, there is a -- almost a ceremonial aspect to the president traditionally, the president as the head of state, the president as the commander in chief of the armed forces.
It seems that aspect of the presidency is one that Donald Trump, for all I can see, maybe isn`t that interested in pursuing, in terms of he`d rather be engaged in the day-to-day, trying to win the day, political point- scoring.
MCCAFFREY: Yes, it`s almost as if he`s actually not working very hard at this. He spends a good bit of the day watching TV, brooding, tweeting, attacking his enemies.
And, by the way, to underscore something that bothered me when I see -- hear it in the media, the president has got five roles under the Constitution, chief of party, chief of state, et cetera. Only one of them, commander in chief, refers only to the U.S. armed forces. He`s not commander in chief of anything other than the 2.0 million men and women of the armed forces.
KORNACKI: All right, General Barry McCaffrey, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you both for joining us.
And up next, I`m going to head over to the Big Board. We`re going to put the recent midterms -- finally, not all the results are in, but most of them are in, enough that we can take a fresh look, try to put that in some perspective, exactly what happened. How are the country`s increasingly diverse demographics changing our political landscape?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": In this election, the House picked up, so far, it`s 36 seats. it may be on the way to 40 seats. And your reaction was that it was almost a complete victory.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I won the Senate. You don`t mention that.
WALLACE: But, well -- I...
TRUMP: Excuse me. I won the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Well, the president wants to talk about the Senate. We will talk about the Senate.
But we will talk about the whole picture here, because Election Day and how a little bit more than a week in the past, it feels like maybe a lot longer than that.
But the counting, the late vote being counted, being tallied, all sorts of races that weren`t called election night, they took days to come in. We now finally have a much more complete picture of what exactly happened and what exactly didn`t happen in the 2018 midterm election.
So let`s try to take you through all of it. Let`s start on the House side, because this is where so much of the drama was throughout the year.
Coming into this election all year, we talked about the Democrats being at 193, the Republicans 235. There were those vacancies. Basically, when you account -- put everything into account, the Democrats needed a net gain of 23.
Some of these vacancies, it was clear who was going to win. And the Democrats needed a net gain of 23 seats. This is what it looks like. This is what our flip chart looks like here. There were three Democratic seats that Republicans actually picked up.
But, at this point here, you see there are 40 Republican seats that Democrats have picked up. What that is at this moment, according to our chart, is a 37-seat net gain for Democrats. That`s where things stand right now. They needed 23 to get back the House. They have easily surpassed that. It sits at 37.
And there actually still are a couple of uncalled races. For Democrats, this one is their best bet right now. This is the 2nd District of New Mexico. We have not actually called this, but the Democratic candidate is -- you would rather be the Democrat than the Republican. We will put it that way.
Utah 4, a lot of suspense here around Mia Love, Ben McAdams, the Democratic challenger running against her. Of course, Donald Trump wrote off Mia Love the day after the election at that press conference.
Mia Love has taken the lead in some of the late tabulations. We still haven`t called that race.
So, for Democrats, the margin here in the House, they could end up getting to 38, maybe even 39 seats. There`s even a district in California that`s been called for the Republicans, but that late tabulated vote has brought the Democrats tonight within 900 votes. That`s the 21st District in California. So we`re still keeping an eye on that one as well.
But, again, for the Democrats, one way to look at this -- we talked so much about these Clinton-won districts. These were districts that, in 2016, they didn`t like Donald Trump. They voted for Hillary Clinton, but they sent Republicans back to Congress.
A lot of these were suburban districts. This was sort of the first line of attack for Democrats in 2018. And look how many of these they won. There were 25 of them coming into the election. And 21 of them, we think, have flipped; 21 of them have now said, hey, they didn`t like Trump in `16, and now they`re taking it out on Trump`s party, everybody with that Republican label, in 2018.
So that was kind of ground zero for the Democratic charge here. But, again, it extended. They won a lot of those districts that have gone Obama to Trump. They even won a couple of these districts that were Trump, Trump -- had voted -- had Romney, Trump -- excuse me -- Republican in 2012 and 2016.
So that`s the picture on the House side there, again, approaching 40 seats for Democrats.
In terms of the U.S. Senate, what Donald Trump did want to talk about, again, going into the this election, it was 51-49 Republican advantage there. So, on paper, the Democrats were within two of taking the majority. But, of course, we talked so much about how Democrats, what was the challenge? They were defending so many seats in Trump states.
Trump had won them in `16, Democrats trying to defend them in `18. Well, as things shake out -- this is why Trump wants to talk about it -- Republicans right now 52 seats. They did knock off Bill Nelson in Florida. They won in Indiana. They won in Missouri. They did get some pickups here.
We have one race left to go. This is that runoff in Mississippi, Republicans certainly favored here. If Republicans do win that race, they will end up with that net gain of two. If Democrats were somehow to win that, you would be right back where you -- you would have 52-48 right there.
But, again, Democrats, they would look at the Senate, and they would say, this could have been a lot worse. Republicans would say, hey, the bottom line is, we did get gains. And Republicans, frankly, would say, it could have been worse for them at a certain point this year.
Anyway, up next -- I think I went over my time here.
Up next: Trump gives himself another A-plus as president, says his White House is running like a well-oiled machine. But when it comes to results from the midterms, he was quick to point out his name wasn`t on the ballot.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I would give myself an A-plus.
Nobody has done what I have been able to do. And I did it despite the fact that I have a phony cloud over my head that doesn`t exist.
QUESTION: What grade to you give yourself so far?
TRUMP: So, I give myself an A-plus. I don`t think any president has ever done what I have done in the short -- we haven`t even been two years.
I would give myself -- I would -- look, I hate to do it, but I will do it. I would give myself an A-plus. Is that enough? Can I go higher than that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump has repeatedly given himself the highest grade possible for his performance in office.
The verdict from the American public two weeks ago on election night was far more mixed. Despite his party`s less-than-stellar performance, President Trump is still claiming that the midterm election was a tremendous victory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")
TRUMP: Are you ready? I won the Senate, and that`s historic too, because if you look at presidents in the White House it`s almost never happened where you won a seat.
We won -- we now have 53, as opposed to 51. And we have 53 great Senators in the U.S. Senate. We won. That`s a tremendous victory. Nobody talks about that. That`s a far greater victory than it is for the other side.
Number two, I wasn`t on the ballot. I wasn`t...
WALLACE: Wait -- wait a minute you said -- you kept saying...
TRUMP: No, I said, look at me. I said, look at me.
WALLACE: You said, pretend I`m on the ballot.
TRUMP: But I have people -- and you see the polls, how good they are -- I have people that won`t vote unless I`m on the ballot, OK? And I wasn`t on the ballot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And for more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL Roundtable, Beth Fouhy, NBC News senior editor for politics, Aisha Moodie-Mills, Democratic strategist, and Evan Siegfried, Republican strategist.
And a bit of news. I was just over at the board a minute ago going through the -- the Democratic gains in the House. And I said that New Mexico 2nd District race had not yet been called.
Literally, 30 seconds after I finished that, the race was called. Xochitl Torres, the Democrat, NBC News, has now declared is the apparent winner in New Mexico`s second district. That is a pickup for the Democrats. That gives them a net gain, I said 37? It is 38 -- 38 for the Democrats in the House now that that has transpired.
Beth, in terms of the meaning of the midterm election, so it seems -- the question with these is always, we`ve seen a few times the president now, we saw Bill Clinton, we saw Barack Obama. They came in, they lost the House in their first midterm. They managed to win reelection.
So, the question about these midterms is always, does it leave a mark that will still be evident two years later in the presidential election? How do you feel about this one?
BETH FOUHY, NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR: Well, who knows in two years? In Trump time, every day is a week and every week is a month as we always say.
I think in this case yes, it`s going to be because unlike the last two presidents you mentioned, Obama and Clinton, this midterm happened in the midst of extraordinary economic growth, record low unemployment. The recovery has been in process for nine years. And President Trump still lost fairly substantially in the House.
So he can say that he wasn`t on the ballot, but certainly absent any other major seismic event that could have caused this, what else was there? It was the conduct of the president in office. People uncomfortable, particularly those suburban voters, folks who are highly educated who often voted for Republicans in the past, who are just -- who expressed with their feet in record numbers of voters going to the polls, showing their discomfort with this president despite all the economic progress that had been made over many years.
So, certainly, it is a bit of a scar on him.
KORNACKI: Evan, you saw his claim there was, of course, in the midterm, in the homestretch of the campaign, Trump had been saying, I am on the ballot, I embrace this. Treat me like it. Now he`s walking away from it.
But he did say to Chris Wallace there, he put the argument out that hey, it will be different in a presidential election. When my name is on the ballot, there will be certain voters that show up for that, that don`t for this. What do you put in that?
EVAN SIEGFRIED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, he said, I won the Senate seconds before he said my name wasn`t on the ballot. Then he said my name wasn`t on the ballot. So, that`s a little bit of a confusing statement on the president`s part.
I think that the president is this all-consuming entity in American politics right now. And while his name was not on the ballot, every voter was there who showed up and was thinking about him. We saw record turnout that we haven`t seen since before women were able to even vote. We saw record turnout among younger voters, among African Americans, among Hispanic voters. Everybody turned out.
Whether you like Donald Trump or not, he was actually good for civic participation. And I think his name was not on the ballot officially, but it was certainly on the minds of every voter.
To what Beth was saying with the economy, the House won percentage by Democrats is looking like it could be 8 to 9 points when all the votes are finally tallied. That is extraordinary. And when we have great economic times, the things Republicans missed was that -- or the majority of the country said they didn`t feel like they were benefiting from it. It`s like you go on Facebook and you see these great pictures of the party and you realize you`re not invited.
The Democrats won. People 2-1 who said their economic situation is not improved under this president.
KORNACKI: Well, in terms of Democrats looking to sort of maintain this for -- we saw Republicans in 2010 have a big 63-seat gain in the House. If you took the House popular vote, they won it big. 2012, Mitt Romney didn`t lose, on election night it wasn`t that suspenseful as things turned in 2012.
So, for Democrats to avoid that kind of whiplash in 2020, what do you think the biggest trap is for Democrats coming off a strong performance like this?
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it`s going to be two things. One, the Democrats cannot get caught up in this infighting that`s starting to surface around trying to dethrone Nancy Pelosi. It`s completely raining on the big parade and a big win of picking up 38 seats in the House, and taking back the majority. So, that`s one issue the Democrats need to control.
The second thing is going to be about the candidate. The reason why we also saw record turnout, especially on the Democratic side is because people were fired up about the folks that were running. And a lot of those folks didn`t exactly win, but because they were running, they brought more people out.
And so is 2020 going to produce the same kind of enthusiasm and galvanize the hopes and the dreams in the minds of all these young people, all these people of color, all these progressives, all these women in the suburbs and beyond who came out this time, that`s going to be the trick and the question. And I think it`s going to matter who actually the nominee is in 2020.
KORNACKI: Speaking of Nancy Pelosi, you just set that one very nicely because today, 16 Democrats signed the letter saying they will vote to oppose Nancy Pelosi for House speaker. They write, quote, we promise to change the status quo and we intend to deliver on that promise.
Now, currently counting the races that have been called, Democrats will have 233 seats in the upcoming Congress. Remember, there are a couple still not called yet. Pelosi will need 218 votes, the absolute majority on the House floor in order to win the speaker`s gavel. She can lose only about 15 votes right now by this map. While that letter has 16 names, one of the signees on it, Ben McAdams of Utah, he`s in a race that is yet to be called, he may lose this race. So, it`s a bit of a fluid situation.
But it`s interesting, Aisha, you just said, you don`t think Democrats should depose Nancy Pelosi. A lot of these Democrats, a lot of the messages in the campaign this fall was, I will not vote for Nancy Pelosi, it`s time for the party to move forward. Why do you feel strongly about that?
MOODIE-MILLS: Here`s the thing, and this is really frustrating me. Nancy Pelosi has been the most successful speaker of the House in 100 years. What this woman accomplished during her career, I mean, the list is long in terms of all the legislation that she passed. She is deft and a maneuver.
If someone can possibly whip and navigate the work that needs to be done in Washington right now, then there may be an alternative. These folks are saying, not Nancy, but we don`t have anybody else. It`s insulting and I think that is also sexist.
And the last thing I`ll say is it really frustrates me that we have this very, very, very right wing faction of the Democratic Party that is trying to dethrone her. I don`t think that that`s the future. I think that`s going backward --
KORNACKI: When you say right wing, what is the right wing faction look like?
MOODIE-MILLS: The folks again her are extremely conservative. They are not moving forward with what the Democratic Party says it`s wanted. The enthusiasm I talked about, of the voters who came out, came out because they believed in something around progressive ideals.
And so, to then regress back into this blue dog mentality, I don`t think is the way forward. And I don`t think that those are the people who are going to excite folks for 2020. I do not think it is a winning strategy.
FOUHY: Yet the ironic thing is Nancy Pelosi is so good at managing those different factions. I mean, that`s what she`s been good at throughout this entire time as a Democratic leader, because the factions are going to exist. They`ve existed before, they`re going to exist in the future.
She knows how to work with these groups, get them all united behind a message, behind a strategy. That is something that these Democrats very much need, going into this confrontational posture with President Trump. He`s a very difficult guy to run against or to oppose. Pelosi has the experience and has the know-how to do so.
And yet there is a need for some new leadership, and she has even indicated that she would --
KORNACKI: But isn`t that -- that is -- that`s the knock you hear on her from some Democrats. I covered the House ten years ago and I remember hearing it then. It was that -- Nancy Pelosi was a shrewd inside player. But one of the things she understood was self-protection.
And that meant insulating yourself from anyone who might be a long-term threat to your leadership. And we`re sitting here in 2018 saying, Democrats, you got Hoyer who is 79, Pelosi who`s 78, Clyburn, 70. Is that a consequence of Nancy Pelosi being a skilled inside player and protecting herself?
SIEGFRIED: Absolutely. Listen, you don`t even have a bench. You have a stool at this point for the Democratic Party.
The other thing that`s happening here, the American people two weeks ago went out and voted because they were sick and tired of the chaos in Washington. They want Congress to function and actually get results for the American people.
And when you start -- right out of the gate -- having a leadership fight which is turning over to drama and infighting, that`s not healthy. It`s not healthy when you have incoming members having sit-in protests and acting like activists now in Pelosi`s office. They have now been elected. They have been chosen to govern. They are now part of the government which they are protesting, and they need to put on their adult pants and actually say, we are here to govern.
If they don`t do that and continue on this righteous crusade, I see the Democratic Party moving further left and where the Republican Party was in 2010. We got the Tea Party. They felt they were entirely righteous on their own cause, and look at the dysfunction.
KORNACKI: Brinkmanship at 2012, you had Newt Gingrich in 1995 probably helped Bill Clinton get reelected -- all the variable, if Congress changes hands, there is a new variable there obviously in D.C.
The round table staying with us. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. Very easy job.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: And we`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Beth, tell me something I don`t know.
FOUHY: Joe Biden, he`s coming up with a paperback version of his book about his son and his son`s death. He`s going on a book tour out west, next week. He`s going to California, Montana, a whole bunch of places. Again, among speculation he will or will not run for president, we`ll see if we get any more --
KORNACKI: That speculation will be coming to a head.
SIEGFRIED: Last week, the president actually did something good. He endorsed the First Step Act which gives more judicial destruction to federal judges and actually helps to end the racial disparity of African Americans being sent to prison.
But you wouldn`t hear it from the Republican Party. There are several Republicans who support it. The party didn`t back up the president when he came out in favor of it. This is yet another missed opportunity including Philando Castile`s murder at the hands of a police officer, as well as Jemel Roberson`s (ph) for the party to make inroad.
KORNACKI: All right. Aisha, can we get in 10 seconds.
MOODIE-MILLS: Beto O`Rourke is going to be drafted by Democratic donors.
KORNACKI: All right. Aisha Moodie-Mills, Beth Fouhy, Evan Siegfried, thank you for being with us.
And when we return, let me finish with the two different versions of Nancy Pelosi. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Let me finish tonight with the two versions of Nancy Pelosi.
There`s the Nancy Pelosi that Republicans love to run against, and that plenty of Democratic candidates, especially this year, tried to run away from. This Nancy Pelosi is a liberal Democrat from a liberal city, San Francisco. She is also a guarded public communicator. It makes her especially vulnerable to caricaturing.
And all that coupled with the fact that individual congressional leaders tend not to be that popular to start with -- well, it helps to explain why polls like this show that Americans tend to have a much more negative than positive view of her, and all of this explains obviously why Republicans tried to make the midterms a referendum on Pelosi this year, and why so many Democrats distanced themselves from her, and why there`s even a question of whether she`ll actually get to be the next House speaker even after an election that for her caucus can only be called a smashing success.
But there is another Nancy Pelosi, too, a political leader who absolutely excels when it comes to the inside game of politics. And when it comes to Congress, it is still the inside game that defines power and legislative success, and also personal survival. Nancy Pelosi has been at this for a long time now.
Her big breakthrough came 17 years ago back in 2001 in a race for the number two spot in the House Democratic leadership. Not surprisingly, the most liberal Democrats in the house were with Pelosi in that race, but if that`s all she had back then, she would have lost. And Pelosi knew that. And she knew how to build a much bigger and a much broader coalition, a winning coalition.
She made an alliance that was totally ad totally at odds with her public image. She teamed up with a gruff, old school Democrat from Pennsylvania, John Murtha, antithesis of a San Francisco Democrat. Murtha had a lot of friends, friends you would not expect to be Pelosi supporters, but that`s what they became. And Nancy Pelosi won that election.
And now, maybe, she is about to become, excuse me, the House speaker again. There is a new letter today from 16 Democrats pledging that they will not support her on the House floor. But one thing is still missing, someone to actually step forward and run against Pelosi.
There is still silence on that front, and that has everything to do with how she has played the inside game all of these years. How behind the scenes she has managed the competing power centers within the Democratic caucus, how she has insulated herself strategically, even at times ruthlessly, her critics like to say, from potential threats to her leadership.
Knock on Pelosi from Democrats is that she`s been so good at protecting herself, that it`s inhibited the development of a robust bench of emerging talent, a new generation of House Democrats who can take the torch from Pelosi and the other Democratic leaders -- Hoyer, who is now 79 and 78- year-old Jim Clyburn and carry that torch into the future.
That is an issue for Democrats to grapple with if they want to. But in this moment, when the question is whether Nancy Pelosi will get the speaker`s gavel back this coming January, just about every move she`s made on the inside points to the answer being probably yes.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
And "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.
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