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Trump says $5 Billion for wall "insignificant". TRANSCRIPT: 1/2/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Andriano Espaillat, Lanhee Chen, Jeremy Peters, Laura Bassett, Steve Herndon, Noah Rothman


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

As the partial government shutdown dragged into its 12th day today, President Trump made it clear he is not backing down on his demand that Congress fund wall on the border with Mexico.  The President made his case at his first cabinet meeting of the New Year.  He opened the one-and-a-half hour meeting claiming he would work with Democrats before digging in on the issue of wall funding. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is there a number below $5 billion that you might be willing to accept in order to reopen the government and get this thing moving forward? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I would rather not say it.  Could we do it for a little bit less?  It is so insignificant compared to what we are talking about.  The $5 billion -- $5.6 billion approved by the House is such a small amount compared to the level of the problem. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How long will the government stay shut down? 

TRUMP:  It could be a long time or it could be quickly.  It could be a long time. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How long are you willing to keep the government shut down in order --? 

TRUMP:  As long as it takes. 


KORNACKI:  Trump reiterated his demand that Congress provide funding despite reading on twitter this morning, Mexico is paying for the wall through the USMCA Trade deal.  And while the President gave few details on how he plans to end the impasse, he accused Democrats of playing politics. 


TRUMP:  We are in the shutdown because of the fact that the Democrats are looking to 2020.  They think they are not going to win the election.  I guess a lot of signs point to the fact that they are not going to win the election.  I hope they are not going to win the election.  But they view this as an election point for them.  I`m not thinking about the politics.  I`m thinking about what`s right and what`s wrong.  And we noted a physical barrier. 


KORNACKI:  Trump spent much of New Year`s Day slamming Democrats on twitter because they allocated quote "no money for a new wall."  He also said they do not care about open borders.  He later seemed to shift tactics writing quote "border security and the wall thing and shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as speaker.  Let`s make a deal?" 

This afternoon, Trump hosted Democratic leader Pelosi along with top congressional leaders from both parties in the White House situation room for what the administration called a briefing on the border wall and border security with homeland security officials.  This comes as Democrats prepare to take control of the House tomorrow with Pelosi as the presumptive house speaker. 

Late today, Pelosi said the House plans to bring up legislation to open up the government tomorrow.  Joint Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in blaming the President for the stand-off. 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA:  We are asking the President to open up government.  We are giving him a Republican path to do that.  Why would he not do it? 

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER:  Bottom line, it is very simple.  On our last meeting, the President said, I am going to shut the government down.  They are now feeling the heat.  It is not helping the President to be the owners of the shutdown.  Today we gave them an opportunity to get out of that. 


KORNACKI:  But moments later, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters at the Capitol the Senate would not take up the bill that House Democrats plan to pass. 

For more, I`m joined now by New York Democratic congressman Adrian Espaillat, Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today" and Charlie Sykes is an MSNBC contributor. 

Congressman, I will start with you.  Yes, we are in the final hours of eight years of Republican rule of the House.  Tomorrow, your party takes over, supposedly going to put a plan on the floor, vote for it.  You are the leader.  You are the incoming speaker as you have to votes to pass it that would reopen the government.  She says this would be a Republican path, her words we just played there, a Republican path to reopening the government.  What does that mean?  What do you plan to pass tomorrow? 

REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D), NEW YORK:  Well, that means this particular deal, this particular piece of legislation, both pieces were already approved by the Senate almost unanimously.  And so now we are going back.  We feel that the government should open. 

There should be no greater responsibility for us than to bring ease to 800,000, close to a million Americans that are feeling -- hurting by this Trump shutdown.  So we are doing what they asked us to do which is to lead, to govern. 

KORNACKI:  OK.  So to reopen the government, specifically, when it comes to the issue of the border, when it comes to money, what kind of money are we talking about here?  What kind of money -- would this money go to?  Is it a wall?  Is it fencing?  What do you have in this point? 

ESPAILLAT:  Well, the second piece of legislation provides for a CR, a continuing resolution that up through February 8th, and that will give us plenty of time to talk about border security.  Now in the past, both the Senate and the House have passed bipartisan legislation that provides relief for dreamers, for TPS recipients and border security every single time the President has shut it down. 

KORNACKI:  That`s the question to me there because there has been in the background here, and sometimes this spills over a little bit, but some semantic questions here.  Because the President says a wall, other times he says fence, steel, slat, fence, the terminology is mix here.  What kind -- where is the line?  You call a wall immoral.  What short of a wall though in terms of border security are you willing to accept here? 

ESPAILLAT:  It seem to me that the President is his way or the highway.  And it is his interpretation of what the wall is would seems to shift every single day.  So this is very difficult to negotiate with someone who shifts his position on a daily basis now. 

We can work with ports of entry.  No one disagrees that we should stop human trafficking, drugs and illegal arms from coming through ports of entry.  I think that should be a high priority for government.  But the best priority, the most important thing that we could do right now is to end the Trump shutdown and bring back relief to 800,000 Americans.  They are asking for it. 

KORNACKI:  Well, in his remarks today, President Trump compared his proposed border wall to former president Barack Obama`s home and to the Vatican. 


TRUMP:  There is a reason why politicians and wealthy people build walls around their Houses and their compounds.  President Obama recently built a wall around his compound.  There`s a reason for it and I don`t blame him.  When they say the wall is immoral, well then you have to do something about the Vatican because the Vatican has the biggest wall of them all. 


KORNACKI:  Well Susan Page, again, this question here of what the President`s bottom line is, he said today, $5.6 billion.  That`s what he wants right here.  We have reporting that his vice President Mike Pence was offering behind the scenes about $2.5 billion.  He seemed to wave that off today.  You have got Democrats. As we are just talking about with the congressman here, poise to pass money for border security tomorrow.  It looks like it is going nowhere further than the House.  But the President at other times has said that that turmoil has suggested it might be a little flexible.  Do we know exactly where the bottom line here as in terms of negotiating from the White House`s standpoint? 

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY:  We do not.  And in fact, the President has telling moved away from compromise.  You know, there was originally, as the congressman was saying a short term, continuing resolution to keep the government open until February 8th.  That the President had indicated he was willing to sign and he backed away from it which is the reason the House, the Republican controlled House refused to bring that up and we ended up in the shutdown. 

Today he sounded like he had never met Mike Pence.  Who is this Mike Pence who is suggesting $2.5 billion would be an acceptable number? 

So the President has moved toward a harder line, not a softer one as this shutdown is extended now into its 12th day.  And it is not clear at what point, it is not clear when he might be able to move from that.  Saying he would not yield from any deal that does not have wall funding while Nancy Pelosi said she would not agree to any deal that includes wall funding.  So there is no grounds there at the moment for compromise. 

KORNACKI:  Yes.  And Charlie Sykes, just in terms of the President`s posture on this, we hear so often, he is thinking of that Trump base that elected him, that Rump base. 


KORNACKI:  What is their bottom line on this?  Is it definitely $5.6 billion?  Is it a concrete wall along the border that has to be there in some form by 2020?  Is it more?  You have Lindsey Graham the other day saying now the wall is metaphorical?  Is it just the idea that he is showing toughness?  Is there a bottom line you can discern from the Trump base that he is apparently listening to here? 

SYKES:  Well, I mean, the first thing to note is, you know, number one, the President said Mexico is going to pay for this wall.  Number two, remember when -- I`m old enough to remember when Republicans, if they were going to shut down the government, at least claimed whose they were fiscally conservative.  This is a very costly (INAUDIBLE). 

But in terms of the bottom line, look, Donald Trump is enjoying this right now.  He is talking about something that he is comfortable with.  He has a foil not with the democrats to blame for all of it.  And he hasn`t given himself an on-ramp.  I mean, really, as long as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are pushing for the wall, I don`t see a way out of it.  But others have tried to suggest that it was a metaphor, you know, a soft landing and the President comes back and says no, no, I`m talking about the wall.  Why the wall?  Well, because this was the line that he uses in the rallies.  It is simple.  Of course, it is ineffective.  It is crude.  But it is a great talking point for the President.  So I don`t know what his exit strategy is here. 

The Democrats are not going to be giving him any money for the wall.  He insists the wall is not a metaphor.  So I think the government is going to be shut down for a very long time. 

KORNACKI:  On New Year`s Eve, meanwhile, President Trump made a point of noting that he was still in Washington amid the stalemate. 


TRUMP:  While I`m at the White House working you are out there partying tonight, but I don`t blame you.  Enjoy yourselves.  We are going to have a great year.  Have a really, really happy new year. 


KORNACKI:  And in today`s cabinet meeting, Trump repeatedly referenced his time many Washington in an attempt on cast doubt on his democratic counter parts. 


TRUMP:  I was here on Christmas evening.  I was all by myself in the White House.  It is a big, big house.  Except for all the guys out on the lawn with machine guns.  I was hoping that maybe somebody would come back and negotiate, but they didn`t do that.  And that is OK. 

I was lonely over the weekend and over the last hours in Washington hoping that we would see a little action.  I would get a call and say let`s get together and let`s work hard.  But they chose Hawaii over Washington. 


KORNACKI:  Congressman, you had the President today, too, also seeming to suggesting in some of this expensive comments here.  This could go on for a while.  You just heard Charlie Sykes say a second ago.  He is starting to feel the same.  Mitch McConnell has already said you pass this out of the House tomorrow, it is going nowhere in the Senate.  How long do you think this is going to last? 

ESPAILLAT:  Well, I hoped that it doesn`t go too long.  The American people want a resolution to this.  I think the world is looking at us as being dysfunctional.  There has to be a middle ground.  I think we are providing that.  We are providing a two pieces legislation that we are already approved by the other branch of government.  We are an independent branch of government, duly elected and we plan to exercise our duties. 

KORNACKI:  Again, I`m trying to see, if there does end up being some kind of, almost semantic base common ground that gets both sides out of this.  And I guess I keep coming back to this term, fencing. 

You, as Democrat, are comfortable with some kind of money going to fencing, is that correct? 

ESPAILLAT:  This is not about semantics?  I think most experts seem agree that the wall would not work.  In fact, it is a symbol of the past.  It shouldn`t be a symbol of the future for this great nation of ours.  And I think that we should find ways to bring back the American people to work, to open government again, 800,000 Americans. 

KORNACKI:  But again, we have the stand-off here.  The reason I`m pressing this is because the President has, it has been a few days now but he put this idea out there of steel slat fence.  And I hear the position from Democrats, is a wall is an absolute nonstarter.  No money.  Not a penny for the wall.  Zero dollar.  I got that. 

But I also see you are putting money out there for border security and the word fencing does enter into it.  Is there room for some common ground there with him and then a compromise that would have involve fencing? 

ESPAILLAT:  I would not support a wall or a fence here.  A rose is a rose by any other name.  I will support some level of border security that makes sense, that is humane, that would it stop his humanitarian crisis from emerging at the border. 


And Susan Page, just what is your sense overall?  You have covered some of these before the government shutdowns.  This one, I think there might have been some expectation at the beginning this would be resolved by now.  Here we are.  The Democrats taking over in a few hours.  And you see the possibility this could linger.  How long do you think this will go on for? 

PAGE:  So this is my sixth government shutdown.  The first one we thought was like the apocalypse.  We thought it was such a big deal, much less urgency when you come around to this shutdown.  In the previous ones, it is the reason they finally got settled because one side or the other, felt they were taking the brunt of the blame and they made a compromise.  And until one side or the other feels like it is costing them politically, I don`t see any end of this. 

KORNACKI:  And I guess that`s the question, Charlie Sykes.  The President doesn`t feel this is costing him politically.  Is there going to be any daylight between his assessment of the political situation and Republicans in Congress at all? 

SYKES:  Right.  Well, there ought to be particularly after that performance today where he endorsed the soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  And how far they are going to actually go down this rabbit hole?  What circle of hell are they willing to accompany the President to? 

But you are right about - they are asking about the terminology.  I would hope that everybody would crack open up some thesaurus to determine here.  What can we call this that everybody can claim a win? 

Look.  The President isn`t necessarily bound by reality or by telling the truth.  I think that we have learned this by now.  So what can you give him that he can pretend is what he promised?  What he can sell his base that he can pretended?  Because here is a guy who can basically sell you a pile of you know what and say that he is selling you a pony. 

So, you know, the Democrats are going to have to figure out something that is going to enable him to save face.  That he can call or wall or call something or rather.  But I don`t know because every time people throw him a life line, he has rejected it.  He is enjoying this.  He is not bothered by the dysfunction.  He is not bothered by the chaos.  His base does not care about the cost of the government shutdown or what it means to federal employees and he knows that. 

KORNACKI:  And congressman, another thing that the President sort of throwing at you as saying, hey, Democrats taking over Congress tomorrow.  This is not how they want to start things up. 

What is your sense on this?  It has been eight years.  You have been waiting to get back.  Your party has been.  You are getting it tomorrow.  Are you comfortable with this being sort of the defining issue of January? 

ESPAILLAT:  This is not going to be a defining issue.  This is a Trump shutdown.  The Republicans, up until tomorrow, run the House of Representatives.  They run the Senate.  They control the White House?  And so they run government.  And they haven`t been able to reach an agreement.  So this is a Trump shutdown. 

We are going to start tomorrow.  We are going to do what the American people want us to do which is to a forward two pieces, two proposals, two pieces of legislation.  One that will reopen the government and will bring people back to work.  The other that will give us a continuing resolution through February 8th with regard to homeland security issues.  That`s the responsible thing to do.  And that`s what the American people want. 

KORNACKI:  OK.  Democrats again, it`s - I`m look putting at the clock here, I think about 15 hours from now - 17 hours from now that official transfer of power will take place.  My math maybe a little bit off there.  You can check me on that. 

Thank you to Congressman Andriano Espaillat from New York.  He is heading down to Washington I think after this. 

Susan Page, Charlie Sykes, thank you as well for being with us. 

Coming up, Mitt Romney said Donald Trump has not risen to the mantle of his office.  Trump`s response?  I won big and he didn`t. 

Plus, Elizabeth Warren takes a major step toward a run for president.  I will head to the big board to look at her chances. 

And in a brand new interview, former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is lashing out at President Trump calling him weird, amoral and the worst president we have ever had. 

And finally, let me finish tonight with a question for Republicans heading into 2020. 

This is HARDBALL where the action is. 



TRUMP:  I wish he could be a bit more of a team player, you know.  I`m surprised he did it this quickly.  I was expecting something but I was surprised he did this quickly.  If he fought really hard against President Obama like he does against me, he would have won the election.  Does that make sense to you?  If he fought the way he fights me, I`m telling you, he would have won the election.  I think people are very upset with what he did.  He hasn`t even got into office yet. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump today responding to a scathing op-ed in "The Washington Post" by incoming U.S. Senator from Utah Mitt Romney, Romney, of course, the Republican Party standard-bearer back in 2012.

He writes of Trump that -- quote -- "On balance, his conduct over the past two years is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office."

Romney promised he will -- quote -- "speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions."

The op-ed sparked pushback from the president`s allies, but even Romney`s own niece -- that`s Republican national chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel -- piled on Romney, signaling that the party is firmly under Trump`s control. 

Speaking of her uncle, McDaniel said -- quote -- "For an incoming Republican freshman senator to attack Donald Trump as their first act feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive."

According to "The New York Times" -- quote -- "Her attacks stunned other members of Mr. Romney`s family, with one suggesting she would regret putting her political loyalties over her family."

Romney stuck to his criticism of the president in an interview later today, leaving the door open to endorsing a challenger to Trump in 2020.


MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH SENATOR-ELECT:  I haven`t decided who I`m going to endorse in 2020.  I think it`s early to make that decision.  And I want to see what the alternatives are. 

But I have pointed out there are places where we agree on a whole series of policy fronts, but there are places that I think the president can, if you will, elevate his game and do a better job to help bring us together as a nation. 


KORNACKI:  And I`m joined now by Lanhee Chen, a former policy director for the Romney campaign.  And Jeremy Peters is a reporter with "The New York Times."

Thanks to both of you for being with us. 

Well, Lanhee, let me just start with you, because, look, this is in some ways a continuation of a drama that started, we can say, in the 2016 campaign.  Mitt Romney was one of those Republican voices who offered a scathing take on Trump during that campaign. 

And, of course, after the election, there was that brief moment when maybe he was going to be the secretary of state or something.  Now, here he comes into the Senate. 

I guess my first question is, when Mitt Romney speaks critically of President Trump, as he does in this op-ed today, and potentially as he might going forward, does he convince anybody within the Republican universe who wasn`t already anti-Trump? 

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER POLICY DIRECTOR, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN:  Oh, Steve, I`m not sure that that`s what the purpose of this was. 

I think the purpose of the op-ed was for senator-elect Romney to put down a marker, to say, look, this is what kind of senator I`m going to be.  This is what I`m going to focus on.  This is the way I`m going to approach my relationship with President Trump, less than about convincing other Republicans or having other Republicans come along. 

I know there`s been some dialogue about that.  But the reality is, this was about Mitt Romney saying where he stands.  And, by the way, it`s where he stood on Donald Trump all along.

KORNACKI:  So, what do you make of it, Jeremy, too?

Because there`s this other fascinating element we just get into there.  Romney`s niece, the chair of the national -- of the Republican National Committee right now, comes out against him on this. 

JEREMY PETERS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  Yes, that`s right. 

And I think, Steve, it comes down to a question of, whose Republican Party is this right now?  Is it Mitt Romney`s Republican Party, the party that was in 2012, or is it Donald Trump`s Republican Party? 

And I think the answer to that question lies in the fact that, when Ronna Romney McDaniel took over as chair of the RNC, Trump asked her to stop using Romney, her maiden name.  So it pretty -- that pretty much says all you need to know about whose Republican Party this is.  It`s Donald Trump`s. 

Now, does that mean that I think that Mitt Romney is being politically unsophisticated by doing what he did today?  No, I just think it shows that you have two leaders who have two very different sets of values and two very different approaches to leading.

And right now, in the Republican Party, there are many voters who see in Trump somebody who has the same common enemies that they have.  And they see somebody who is willing to take on those enemies.

And in today`s Republican Party politics, those are the identity politics that I think, frankly, are more important than the values that Mitt Romney described in his op-ed, as unfortunate as many people may see that to be. 

KORNACKI:  Yes, Lanhee, look, on a policy front, if you look at this op-ed, and Mitt Romney there talks about Syria, talks about national security trade.

These were areas too, if you think back to the 2016 primary, where Trump was sort of separated from where traditionally the Republican Party had been.  A lot of voices were critical of him back then.  Of course, he was able to get the Republican nomination.

Romney speaking critically of Trump on those issues and on his character -- I guess the other question is, whatever Romney`s motive is in doing this, just in terms of looking at the universe of Republican voters today, where`s the market for -- how big is the market for that style of conservatism, trade, national security, that Romney`s talking about, and the primacy of character? 

CHEN:  Well, I think it`s a market that probably is a lot smaller than it was in 2012 or maybe even in 2016. 

But there are certain values that are emphasized there, for example, the notion of a robust American national security policy, one that would be very much counter to what the president is trying to do in Syria, for example.

I think there are certain elements of this that will remain, even if the entire package, the sort of pro-hawkish national security, pro-free trade, that particular coalition as a whole may be shrinking.  I think there are elements of these policies that remain very popular. 

Now, bear in mind, the op-ed also illustrated that there are areas where a senator like Romney very much agrees with the president, whether it`s corporate tax cuts or other areas.  So it`s not as to say that Mitt Romney`s going to come in and suddenly vote like a Democrat.

Mitt Romney is still going to vote as a Republican, as a conservative Republican.  And I think it`s important to recognize what that means in this era where things have gotten a little more confused because you have the president embracing things like a protectionist trade policy, which traditionally had been associated with Democrats. 

KORNACKI:  Yes, Jeremy in that interview too this afternoon over on CNN, Romney says, "I am not running in 2020," does leave open the possibility there, it seemed like, of maybe endorsing a Republican primary challenger, if Donald Trump gets one.

Look, there`s -- everybody can always be cynical on the president -- on the two-time presidential candidate who says, I am not running.  So, he`s using the present tense right now.

Where do you think Romney`s going?  Is this a guy who just wants to be in the Senate, that`s it, he`s found a place to sort of finish up his public career?  Or do you see -- do you read this a little bit more cynically, that this is a guy who might have an eye on 2020 and still a role for himself there? 

PETERS:  Well, look, I know, Steve, that there are an awful lot of Republicans right now, especially in the Senate, who are looking at what the Republican Party is beyond Donald Trump, because Donald Trump is not going to be president forever. 

Now, whether that means he`s not going to be on the ticket in 2020, if he decides to not to run again, which I know a lot of people have speculated about, including several who are very close to the president, we just don`t know. 

But I think that Romney is looking at the Republican Party and seeing a disconnect, disconnect with his values, the values he ran on in 2012, and the values that he believes Republicans have always fought and stood for.

And he wants to lay down a marker there and show people that, look, being a Republican today isn`t all about being pro-Trump.  And that`s part of the problem, I think, is, there are an awful lot of Republicans who conflate those two things.  You are either pro-Trump or you are anti-Republican. 

KORNACKI:  The president today also took a parting shot at his now former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, claiming to have fired him, even though Mattis resigned in protest last month.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  But what has he done for me?  How has he done in Afghanistan?  Not too good.  Not too good.  I`m not happy with what he`s done in Afghanistan.  And I shouldn`t be happy.

But he was very happy.  He was very thankful when I got him $700 billion and then the following year $716 billion.  So, I mean, I wish him well.  I hope he does well.  But, as you know, President Obama fired him, and, essentially, so did I.  I want results. 


KORNACKI:  Lanhee, that`s interesting to listen to, only because Romney says that that -- Mattis` exit and Mattis` comments on his way out in his resignation letter were the precipitating event for him writing this op-ed, one of the precipitating event for it.

Has Mattis` departure, has the way it went down, comments like this today from the president, are those going to change the way that others, Republican Party leaders in Washington, approach this presidency at all?

CHEN:  I think Jim Mattis` departure was different from a lot of the other previous departures we have seen, because he is so highly regarded. 

And the way in which he approaches national security policy is so similar to so many Republicans.  So his departure certainly is disquieting.  The way in which it went down, the way in which he was critical of the president`s policy just highlights how much distance there is between some Republicans in their views on foreign policy and where the president is. 

So I absolutely think that this is one of those things to keep an eye on.  Now, Mattis` departure alone might not do it.  But combined with the departure of John Kelly, his chief of staff, if there are others who leave the administration as well in a similar fashion, expressing policy disagreements with positions that are traditionally Republican positions, then I think maybe you might start to see more of an uproar. 

But, clearly, this was a factor that influenced senator-elect Romney in his thinking in the writing of his op-ed. 

KORNACKI:  All right, Lanhee Chen, Jeremy Peters, thank you both for joining us. 

And coming up next:  Elizabeth Warren enters the presidential race.  How electable is she?  I`m heading over to the big board to drill down on her particular strengths and weaknesses. 

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 



SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  We want a government that works not just for the rich and the powerful.  We want a government that works for everyone.  And we can make that happen.  We have to do it together.  I think that`s how we win.


KORNACKI:  All right, that is Elizabeth Warren.

2019 is here, and that means, 2020, it has officially begun.  You have got a Democrat in the race for president now, Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts. 

So we thought we would head over to the big board and give you just an early look at what numbers do we have about Elizabeth Warren as a potential presidential candidate. 

One thing to keep in mind, a couple polls -- a bunch of polls, I should say, have been taken since the 2016 election.  There are three names on the Democratic side that have consistently sort of popped.  A lot of it just has to do with their name recognition, how well-known they are. 

Number one is Joe Biden, the former vice president, number two, Bernie Sanders, because he ran in 2016, and Elizabeth Warren, probably the three most well-known Democrats, just when you look at the polling in the last couple years. 

And so, with that in mind, the most recent national poll of Democratic primary voters, potential Democratic primary voters, was taken just under a month ago.  Our friends over at CNN did it.  We can put it up on the screen, hopefully show you how Warren did in that poll. 

Can we get it up on the screen?  Guess what, folks?  They don`t have that. 

Why don`t you put -- do we have a graphic?  Let`s see what we got.  It`s just -- going to sort of choose your own adventure here.  We got nothing.  We got nothing, folks. 

I can`t believe it.  I thought we -- I had all sorts of polling information for you. 

Let me just do this.  Let me just tell you what we had. 

Here`s the thing that happened late November, early December.  Elizabeth Warren, you remember the whole controversy about the Native American ancestry, the DNA test? 

Basically, what happened?  One of the three most well-known Democrats, one of the three Democrats who`s done the best in the polling we have seen in the last couple years, she was only at 3 percent nationally among Democrats in this poll.

And you ask that favorable/unfavorable question, her numbers were markedly lower than Sanders and then Biden.  That was with all of general election voters.  So it raised the question, that whole controversy over the DNA test, is that something that`s going to be sort of forgotten in a few months?  Is she going to learn valuable political lessons from it?  Is she going to get her numbers back up? 

Or did that mark a turning point, potentially, in her numbers?  Did it reveal something maybe about her political methodology that`s going to haunt her in a national campaign?

Kind of posed that question.  We were going to show you all the different numbers we had. 

I literally thought we had the numbers as I stood here, introduced the segment.  I didn`t mean to set it up so elaborately, and then have absolutely nothing to show you.  Life with this board.  Guess what?  It`s 2019.  And it`s never been less cooperative.  I`m sorry. 

OK.  Quick break. 

Up next:  President Trump is not wasting any time in targeting his potential 2020 opponents.  Here`s what he had to say about potentially facing off against Elizabeth Warren.

We will show you that, play that for you, after the break, God willing. 



TRUMP:  I hope she maybe gets the nomination.  That would be a wonderful thing for me. 

I wish her well.  I hope she does well.  I would love to run against her. 

QUESTION:  She says she`s in the fight all the way, Mr. President.  Do you -- do you really think she believes she can win? 

TRUMP:  Well, that, I don`t know.  You would have to ask her psychiatrist.


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was the president reacting to the news that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is moving toward a presidential run by setting up an exploratory committee. 

It was roughly a month ago that her hometown newspaper, "The Boston Globe," urged her not to run because she was too much of a divisive figure, the paper said. 

On Monday, she responded to that criticism.  Let`s watch.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The problem we`ve got right now in Washington is that it works great for those who`ve got money, to buy influence.  And I`m fighting against that, and you bet, it`s going to make a lot of people unhappy.  But at the end of the day, I don`t go to Washington to work for them. 


KORNACKI:  For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL roundtable.  Laura Bassett, senior political reporter for "Huffington Post", Astead Herndon, national politics reporter for "The New York Times", and Noah Rothman, associate editor at "Commentary Magazine".

Astead, you`re covering this race.  Let me just start with you.  If that board had cooperated, we would have shown some interesting numbers. 

It looks like the end of the year, Elizabeth Warren took a hit.  It seemed related to the DNA test.  It seemed that her -- the willingness of Democrats to say they`re going to vote for her, ready to vote for her in 2020 had fallen.  And also, if you look at the sort of the wider electorate there, that question of divisiveness, the unfavorability number was up and the favorability number was down. 

In terms of that DNA test, is that a blip?  Do you think it will be forgotten?  Or is there some more lasting political damage that was revealed at the end of the year? 

ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Yes, it will certainly be an issue that she`s going to have to address in early 2019.  There are two things that happen there.  The conservative energy that tries to slur her as Pocahontas, using those racial terms that Native Americans have called racist. 

And there`s also the -- there`s also when she took the test and angered some progressives and some Native Americans who think that in taking the test, it acted like Native American citizenship is related to blood when it`s really related cultural kinship, and that angered some folks.  And she`s aware of that. 

Our reporting is that Senator Warren met privately with Native American leaders, has heard out their concerns, and has mulled things like an apology or a response that some of her advisers want.  Whether that comes, we`ll still yet to see.  I don`t think we should overcorrect it too much. 

This is an issue.  This is something that`s going to have to come up.  There will be something for each candidate that they will have to address. 

The reason Democrats love Elizabeth Warren six years ago is still true, still fights the big bang, she still fights corporate greed.  And when we see in Iowa this week, I`d imagine there will be some excited crowds for her.

KORNACKI:  Yes, and, Laura, I`m curious too.  Look, there`s a very large field that`s taking shape here.  We`ll see what Biden says, Sanders is sitting out there.  Dramatically, there`s a lot of obvious overlap between where Sanders has been, where Warren, but there are names out there as well. 

How successful you think she`s going to be in just standing out and distinguishing herself in this field? 

LAURA BASSETT, THE HUFFINGTON POST:  Look, I think it is really hard, even in 2019, for women to run for president.  We keep learning this.  We learned at this time hard way in 2016 with all the sexist coverage of Hillary and people saying, she doesn`t inspire me.  I don`t know why, the e-mail scandal. 

I have a feeling that in the next couple years, if Warren doesn`t win, if Trump wins again or something like that happens, people will say, but her DNA test, the way they said about her emails, about Hillary, because little things like, is she likable, is she aloof, is she -- these things get said about women candidates.  They don`t get said about male candidates. 

KORNACKI:  Let me ask you this way, though.  I wish the board would cooperate, because if you`re a Democrat, how do you think about this?  The numbers were these, national poll a month ago, these are all voters, general election voters here, favorable/unfavorable.  You ask that question all the time about politicians.  Biden was 54-29, favorable/unfavorable.  Sanders was 51-35, favorable/unfavorable.  Warren was 30-32.  Those were the only three that had more than 50 percent recognizing names and having an opinion. 

So, there seemed to be a big different.  Does that factor into Democrats and their thinking about Warren as a potential general election, even if you think it is up fair, does that factor in? 

BASSETT:  Yes.  Well, I think she has two things running against her.  One is that the Democratic establishment is a little afraid of her.  Just like they were afraid of Bernie, they think that she is too liberal.  That she might not represent the views of centrists, who -- they need centrists to peel off voters from Trump. 

And then, of course, you have the faction of people who are saying now, that, I don`t know, is she likable?  She`s not doing it for me.  She`s not inspiring me.  And I think that`s the part that comes down to sexism a little bit.  So, I do think that she does have a tougher run in this election than some of the men. 

KORNACKI:  How do you think, Noah, she would -- given all the sort of possible Democratic opponents out there for Trump, in terms of the ability to beat Trump potentially, where would she stack up in your mind? 

NOAH ROTHMAN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE:  Well, I mean, it`s hard to gauge this early in the process.  I think she is a very competitive candidate but probably farther behind more fresher blood.  I think -- part of the problem is, is that Elizabeth Warren came on as a very authentic progressive in 2012, 2016, and she was positioning herself vis-a-vis against the Republican Party that was more plutocratic, that was much more interested in buttressing the top and pursuing a free trade agenda and what-have-you. 

And what Donald Trump did with the Republican Party was sort of undercut her issues a bit.  She`s a market skeptic.  Donald Trump is a market skeptic. 

He issues a bunch of mean tweets.  She`s been talking about her tweets and how proud she is so she goes to the mat with Donald Trump.  It`s a brand that I don`t think it`s her authentically, and I think it comes off as her campaigning and undermining her own value as a really wonky progressive economic figure. 

KORNACKI:  Astead, another feature of this sort of rollout from Elizabeth Warren, too, it seemed to be some pretty direct specific outreach to the African-American voters.  That`s a huge story here for just any Democratic candidate heading into 2020, the role of black voters just in terms of the share of the vote we`re talking about here, some of the key states, especially you look at the path Hillary Clinton took to the nomination over Sanders in 2016.  Black voters looming particularly important here.

HERNDON:  Right.  For any of these Democratic candidates, they`re going to have to make that outreach because that constituency is so keen, not only in states like South Carolina and as we move to the South, but even when you look at the Midwest and some of those urban centers.  That`s something that Senator Warren knows.  She`s been the most aggressive, even more so than some of the African-American candidates.  We`re going to see with reaching out to black leaders and making that the forefront of the pitch. 

I would point folks to her announcement video where she highlighted the black/white wealth gap in this country and not only did that, but specifically tied it to legacies of discrimination.  That`s something she`s been very intentional about.  I was with her at Morgan State in Baltimore at a historically black college where she made another pitch directly to voters, saying that there are two Americas, one that works for white families and one that works for everybody else. 

She is very, very cognizant of these issues, and I think that`s where she separates herself from someone like Senator Sanders or some of the other progressives that she views that that`s a constituency that she make real inroads in and she`s going to spend a lot of the next year trying to do so.

KORNACKI:  And now, interesting too with the potential here for multiple African-American candidates.  You have Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, could factor in as well.  "The New York Times" meanwhile recently interviewed retired Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid out in Nevada.  Senator Reid said he is fighting pancreatic cancer with not much longer to live.  He was unrepentant about his political decisions, most notably, to get rid of the filibuster for judicial appointments, something President Trump has now benefited from.  Referring to Donald Trump, Reid told "The New York Times", quote, I think he`s, without question, the worst president we`ve ever had.  We`ve had some bad ones and there`s not even a close second to him.  He`ll lie, he`ll cheat, you can`t reason with him. 

Just terrible news on the medical front for Harry Reid and obviously, we wish all the best for him, for his family there.  In terms of the politics of this, too, it is Harry Reid in an era before Trump was sort of, he was the sort of go to talking point enemy for a lot of Republicans. 

ROTHMAN:  Sure.  A pugilist in action and before his time in Congress, he was very much a fighter.  He does give some short shrift to those antebellum precedents, those first terms, those one termers before the Civil War.  There was a string of really awful ones.  I think they would give this president a run for his money. 

His colleagues have said pretty unequivocally, they could regret damage they did to the filibuster.  The Senator Chuck Schumer is already considering restoring that.  Not by any sort of altruism on his part, but by giving centrist Democrats cover to maintain the 60-vote super majority. 

So I think his legacy as a legislator is a little bit mixed.  But as a man, you can judge him by his deed and the people that he has around him and I think he`s got a pretty legacy there. 

KORNACKI:  And, Laura, just in terms of the leadership, it was interesting in this article, it sounds like the relationship between him and Schumer just not maybe that good the past couple of years.


KORNACKI:  How do Democrats look at the Senate that Harry Reid, he was their leader, versus where Chuck Schumer is now?  Do they view one as superior to the other?

BASSETT:  You know, I can`t speak for Democrats.  I`m not sure which one they view as better.  I think it is fairly normal and human for Harry Reid to suddenly retire at the most interesting time in American presidential history.  This crazy pivotal moment, the way he described Trump as this very weird commander in chief. 

And suddenly, he`s out of the fray.  He`s not getting the same attention anymore, he doesn`t have the same power and he`s watching Schumer be a little lighter on Trump than he would be.  And I think Schumer, you know, as he said, they`re both New Yorkers.  They kind of go in back rooms and make deals.  They have their grandfathers did business together, whatever.

And I think Reid would prefer to throw bombs the way Pelosi is more inclined to do.  So, I think they just have different styles of leadership, and it`s just killing Reid that he is not in the ring. 

KORNACKI:  And it`s also interesting quote.  Dick Durbin describing those between Schumer and the president saying basically, you can`t decipher it if you`re not from New York. 

The roundtable is staying with us.  Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


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

Laura, tell me something I don`t know. 

BASSETT:  So, a Gallup poll in 2016 said 66 percent of Americans said that immigration was good for this country.  This year, that is up two 75 percent.  A new poll today coming out from Gallup says.  So that`s contrary to anything Trump would have you believe about the country. 

KORNACKI:  All right.  Noah? 

ROTHMAN:  Something the president doesn`t seem to know, when he inexplicably said that the Soviets were justified in invading Afghanistan, said the Russians got out and learned their lesson because of terrorism.  Well, it turns out the Russians are in Afghanistan, American brass has testified for the last two years that the Russians have been providing material support to the Taliban.  So, not exactly fighting terrorists. 

KORNACKI:  All right.  Astead?

HERNDON:  Why did Senator Warren announce so early?  For staffing and fundraising.  We saw four key hires today that she made at a really high level to really tell the rest of the field that could be pretty big that she`s serious and there to stay. 

KORNACKI:  OK.  Wasting no time there. 

Laura Bassett, Astead Herndon, and Noah Rothman, thank you for being with us. 

When we return, let me finish tonight with a question for Republicans heading into 2020.  You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI:  Let me finish tonight with a question for Republicans heading into 2020. 

And it is this: How many of them are ready to stand with Donald Trump in a re-election campaign?  The question is raised once again by incoming Senator Mitt Romney`s new op-ed in the "Washington Post."  Publicly, it`s resonating with many conservatives who are already on the record not liking Trump.  Privately, we are told, there are many Republicans in high places who also agree with it. 

And outside the Republican universe, well, not surprisingly, it`s resonating there, too, except with some who say that Romney and others like him aren`t doing nearly enough to oppose Trump. 

But there`s also something familiar about all of this.  I think back to the early days of the Trump campaign.  He would poll at 10 percent among Republicans.  And his conservative critics would say, sure, he has 10 percent but that means 90 percent will never be with him.  When he was at 15 percent, they said, OK, 85 percent won`t be with him.  Then he was at 20 percent, and then 25 percent and 30 percent and on and on until he was the Republican nominee. 

Then those same voices said, well, look at all those Republicans who still didn`t vote for Trump in the primaries.  They won`t be there for him in November.  But, of course, they were there for him in November.  Republican voters were. 

And now, as the third year of Trump`s presidency begins, they are still there, it would appear.  In Gallup`s latest polling, 88 percent of Republican voters approve of Trump`s job performance, that`s about as strong as any recent president has been with his own party at this point. 

I say this not to claim that Trump`s overall political health is strong.  It is not.  It is very tenuous.  He may very well lose to a Democrat in 2020.  But when it comes to a potential Romney-led move on Trump within the Republican Party, my starting point is skepticism.  There may be plenty of party leaders who privately agree with every word Romney wrote, but as long as 88 percent of Republican voters are still with Trump, few of them are likely to ever say it publicly. 

That is HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.