Show: HARDBALL Date: January 3, 2019 Guest: Denny Heck, Basil Smikle
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Madam Speaker, let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi in the newly elected Democratic leadership are currently speaking to reporters holding a press conference. We begin keeping an eye on that. We begin with the latest developments in what has already been a momentous day on Capitol Hill.
Tonight that newly Democratic-led House of Representatives is going to begin voting on a pair of short-term bills to end the partial government shutdown. A clear signal if he needed one to President Trump that divided government has arrived in Washington. It is the first major order of business for Nancy Pelosi who today reclaimed the speaker`s gavel 12 years after she became the first woman ever to wield it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The honorable Nancy Pelosi of the state of California having received a majority of the votes cast is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives for the 116th Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Pelosi also becomes the first former speaker to return as speaker in 64 years. Sam Rayburn`s comeback back in 1955 was the last time we saw this. Pelosi welcomed the new 36 seat Democratic majority saying the American people had spoken.
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOSE SPEAKER: We have no illusions that our work will be easy and that all of us in this chamber will always agree, but let each of us pledge that when we disagree, we respect each other and we respect it. We will debate in advance good ideas no matter where they come from and in that spirit Democrats will be offering the Senate Republican appropriations legislation to reopen government later today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: In a clear move to regain the spotlight hours after that President Trump made an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room. His first time at the podium there flanked by a variety of border patrol and immigration authorities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to start off by congratulating Nancy Pelosi on being elected speaker of the House. It`s a very, very great achievement. And hopefully we are going to work together and we`re going to get lots of things done like infrastructure and so much more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Trump left just ten minutes later without taking any questions from the reporters who were there.
As the partial government shutdown grinds into its 13th day President Trump is holding firm on his demand that Congress fund a wall on the southern border with Mexico. But in an interview with NBC News, new speaker Pelosi made it clear the House will not provide any funding to build a wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you willing to come up and give him some of this money for the wall?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because apparently that`s the sticking point.
PELOSI: No. No. Nothing. We are talking about border security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: In fact, as we mentioned, the House will take up a bipartisan package of Senate bills, six measures funding government agencies through September and one funding the department of homeland security until February 8th.
As Democrats move to try to reopen the government again tonight a Republican senator, Colorado`s Cory Gardner, has said just in the last few hours that Congress should reopen the government even without a border deal. First crack on the Republican ranks on the Senate side.
Meanwhile, NBC News reports that President Trump told congressional leaders yesterday he quote "would look foolish if he supported the six measures not related to homeland security or the wall."
And today, he again accused Democrats of playing politics over the standoff writing on twitter quote "the shutdown is only because of the 2020 Presidential election. The Democrats know they can`t win based on all of the achievements of Trump."
But the ongoing standoff is only one issue facing Trump in a newly divided government. Democrats have promised to use their new majority and the committee subpoena power that comes with it to investigate the President.
For more I`m joined by Kasie Hunt, Capitol Hill correspondent for NBC News. Ohio Democratic representative Tim Ryan, Eugene Robinson columnist for the "Washington Post" and Michael Steel, former spokesperson for House speaker John Boehner.
Thanks to all of you for being with us.
Congressman Ryan, let me start with you because we said one of the first orders of business, I think they are voting on the rules right now as we speak or they may have finished that up. But then you, the new Democratic majority, are going to pass this a bill to reopen the government.
Exactly what would that bill provide when it comes to what the President has been talking about here for border security? And with the President saying it is dead on arrival, what happens if he doesn`t budge after you pass it?
REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: Well, it`s going to, as you said, I open up six departments of the government and yet no wall funding and that funding for those six parts will be until September and then give us a month to have a discussion about border security until about February 8th. And I think that`s the important part. Like let`s figure something out. If we have four weeks or so, let`s think a little bit bigger.
You know, we are talking about security. Some of us don`t want a wall, but there`s plenty of technology out there. We know that most of the problem from people that are undocumented in our country come from visa overstays. We know that 90 percent of the drugs that come into the country come in through ports of entry.
Those are the two key areas we need to focus on if we`re going to secure the border from drugs and know who is in our country. So let`s have that conversation and then let`s talk about DACA or let`s talk about comprehensive immigration reform. And maybe over a few weeks we can come to some agreement.
KORNACKI: I ask this question too, we have Democrats on, because the line, and we heard the new speaker, Nancy Pelosi in the clip we just played, say again to NBC News here, the wall is a non-starter. No money for the wall. There is not going to be a wall. You are saying have a discussion. Is there a discussion where you are OK with fencing? Is fencing OK but a wall not OK to Democrats? Is that correct here?
RYAN: I think what we should do is let the experts tell us. There are Republican senators on border states who don`t want a wall. I mean, that`s like us sitting here saying we want a model T car or glider plane or rotary phones back. We are talking about let the experts tell us. We have had so many advancements over the past few years, what is that technology? And I think if we make the argument over the next two, three, four weeks, and that`s the sole argument we are having, let`s talk about this issue to the American people. And I think the American people are going to continue to side with us and you see Cory Gardner broke today. I think there will be other senators that break. But let`s have that conversation over the next three or four weeks.
KORNACKI: Yes, Kasie, let me pick up on that point because we mentioned Corry Gardner. Cory Gardner, Republican senator from Colorado, swing state, Cory Gardner is going to have to run for reelection next year in 2020. Now the first Republican in the Senate to come out and say basically let`s just pass a continuing resolution. Let`s get this reopened here. No bigger deal on the border. Is that going to spread now beyond Cory Gardner quickly or is he going to be on an island on the republican side?
KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Susan Collins, the senator from Maine has made some noises to that effect as well. And I don`t necessarily think it`s going to be a sweeping movement though because the reality is the Senate map isn`t necessarily all that terrible for Republicans in 2020.
Cory Gardner arguably one of the most vulnerable Republicans who is up for reelection. And don`t forget, the growing Latino population in his state in the suburbs of Denver. So I think the dynamics that he is facing here is somewhat unique to Cory Gardner.
But that said, I do think the more this piles up -- the question in my mind is are the impacts that people are feeling from this shutdown, are they going to drive the political realities? And that`s why I can`t quite get my head around how we solve this impasse. I mean, the fact that previous shutdowns were going to end at some point felt inevitable here on Capitol Hill, I have now covered a number of them. But they felt inevitable because you could feel the political pressure on one side or the other, usually on the antagonist of the shutdown.
And you know, in 2013 it was Ted Cruz. And the winner it was Chuck Schumer and, you know, Democrats who are not pushing for the shutdown over very same issue. Now it`s the President who seemed to do it on I don`t want to necessarily want to call it a whim but it was a day of negative coverage from conservative media.
And I`m not necessarily sure how you put that genie back in the bottle. And I neither side seems incentivized at all to fix it. And nobody up here can explain to me - I mean, it is just simply somebody has to give in and this President doesn`t seem like he`s one to just throw up his hands and take the embarrassment. I mean, if we ever seen him do anything like that? So it really just leaves the people that are directly affected by this shutdown really stuck.
KORNACKI: Well, right. And the puzzle pieces here, of course, they change a little bit today. As we say, Democrats now can`t pass provided they can keep all of their votes together. They can pass what they want out of the House but Republicans still control of the Senate. And as we said, even if Democrats do pass those funding measures tonight, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is saying he will not bring them to the Senate floor for a vote.
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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I made it clear to the speaker we are not interested in having show votes here in the Senate. We are interested in bringing up something the house has passed, 60 senators will support and the President will sign. In other words, I want to make a law.
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KORNACKI: Two weeks ago McConnell was on board when the Senate pass a similar funding measure by unanimous consent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: Republicans will continue to fulfill our duty to govern. That`s why we will send takeoff simple measure continue government funding into February so we can continue this vital debate after the new Congress has convened because make no mistake, Mr. President, there will be important unfinished business left in front of us and we will owe it to the American people to finally tackle it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Michael Steele, just on the Republican side, what is your sense of that question Kasie Hunt just raised about the political pressure. Cory Gardner, it sounds like he is stealing he political pressure to get Mitch McConnell to change his view on that, multiple Republican senators are going to say that. Is that kind political pressure developing do you think at all?
MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER SPOKESPERSON FOR HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: The way I would look at this right now is the House is playing checkers, the Senate is playing chess and the President is playing tidy-winks (ph). I think that the House is advancing simple, easy to understand formerly by partisan legislations. The Senate is operating on a very strategic level.
Vulnerable senators are coming out as Cory Gardner did. Susan Collins is Kind in a same place. Mitch McConnell is holding on to his cards very close to his vest saying that we are in the going to have show votes. We are not going to have test votes. The Senate will not act until we have something that`s can passed the House to be signed by the President.
The President doesn`t seem to be concern with this at all. He is worried about his base shoring up his support, appearing tough on border security and appearing tough on the wall which is a completely different universe from the reality on Capitol Hill.
KORNACKI: Yes. And Eugene Robinson, again, just three different very, very different puzzles here.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Yes.
KORNACKI: That possibility that Kasie raised. I mean, I have sort of have been playing with the same thing in my hear for couple of weeks here. What is the solution where you can get all three those lined up and in for a shutdown that I think in the beginning instinctively felt was going to be a brief one, a limited one, I still can`t quite see what that solution looks like on paper? What is your sense of the timing for how long this will go on for?
ROBINSON: Well, I think it might last a while because I don`t think we are near to having a solution that bridges those great, lively separated points where the house is, where the Senate is, and where the President seems to be. It`s hard to tell from minute to minute.
But you know Mitch McConnell was careful to say we are not interested in show boats. You know sometimes you are not interested in doing. If it`s required -- and you know the effects of these shutdowns do melt so, you know, most of the national parks are still open, they are going to have to be closed because, you know, there`s a ton of garbage waste filed up in (INAUDIBLE) by now. They are going to have to shut down national parks. People are not going to get their checks. Not just government workers but some of the, I believe some of the farm subsidies that are meant to make up for the effects of the trade war. Some of those checks are not going to go out. There are salaries of really, really important government workers that are not going to be paid. And as this mile, there is going to be increasing pressure to do something. And I think the senators are going to start feeling it.
KORNACKI: And Congressman, I have to ask you, too, because Nancy Pelosi coming back as House speaker, somebody you said for months should not be the next the next speaker. You have signed a letter at one point saying there would be a challenge or two or you wouldn`t vote for it. You did end up voting for her today? What do you make of her leadership in the showdown fight here.
RYAN: I think she is doing a good job of representing our views in the caucus. And she is a great negotiator.
Look, we are on her turf at this point. She is very good with the internal game. The congressional leverage that you need, counting votes, the legislative process, negotiating with the President. This is her sweet spot. And so we are in good hands as we move through these negotiations with her. Hopefully we can come to some resolutions resolution.
But just to kind of build on what Eugene was saying, every day we are talking about this issue. Every day the President is talking about the wall. He is not talking about the economy. He is not talking about jobs, wages, pensions, health care, prescription drug prices. He is going to get punished by the elector rate for that because we are saying we want border security, too, we just want the kind of border security that`s not in the 14th century or 11th or 12th century. We want technology to be used and everything else. So we want border security. He is the one who is stuck in this particular wall that doesn`t make any sense even the Republican senators. He will start to carry that political baggage as the economy softens, as interest rates go up and as we see what is continuing to happen in the stock market.
KORNACKI: Eugene Robinson, let me jus go back with you. Do you share that assessment, too? I`m just looking at the sorts of factors that congressman Ryan is outlining there. And I`m having flashbacks to the 2016 campaign, first two years of the Trump presidency. How many times you would hear he will respond to this, he will response to his traditional few, that traditional matrix.
ROBINSON: I have no idea what he will respond to, you know. I think I have some idea what Republicans and Democrats in the Senate will eventually respond to and how they will eventually feel squeezed by their position in all of this.
President Trump, you know, he painted himself into this corner and he doesn`t have an easy way out. So I can imagine him coming up with some formulation in which he says whatever money there is in an eventual bill is a win. And, anyhow, the wall is already built and then he sort of moves on.
But once he has demonstrated to his base that he is willing to fight and go to the mat and shut down the government, now what? And I don`t think he saw that through. I don`t think he knows now what. And that`s why I have no idea when this will end.
RYAN: Steve, my point was I don`t know if it`s going to change his behavior at all, but it will accumulate politically in the negative column for him over time.
KORNACKI: All right, understood.
Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio, Eugene Robinson, Kasie Hunt, Michael Steel. We appreciate you all being with us.
And we have much more to get to on the still unfolding drama in Washington.
Up next, is President Trump in for a rude awakening? I`m going to speak to two congressmen about what the see change on Capitol Hill could mean for the President now the House is under Democratic control.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) a (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: You have said it would be sad and divisive for the country to pursue impeachment. Are you willing to rule it out?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, we have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report. We shouldn`t be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn`t avoid impeachment for a political reason. So we will just have to see how it comes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, keeping the door open to impeaching President Trump. It is among the many perils the president potentially faces with the House now under Democratic control.
Unlike their Republican predecessors, the new Democratic chairmen who now lead the key House committees are eager to exert their oversight powers over the executive branch. These are powers that include the ability to hold hearings and, crucially, to issue subpoenas.
For President Trump, who has never experienced the checks and balances of a divided government, that could be a rude awakening.
To give you an idea of what to expect, potentially, consider that, in the House Oversight Committee alone, Republicans used the powers of the majority to block Democratic subpoena requests a total of 64 times during Trump`s first two years as president.
These new congressional investigations will take place against the backdrop of the Mueller probe, the results of which could certainly loom large over the next two years.
And to that point, Pelosi suggested today that the president could be indicted even while he`s an office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Everything indicates that a president can be indicted after he is no longer president of the United States.
QUESTION: What about a sitting president?
PELOSI: Well, a sitting president, when he`s no longer president of the United States.
QUESTION: A president who is in office. Could Robert Mueller come back and say, I am seeking an indictment?
PELOSI: I think that that is an open discussion. I think that is an open discussion in terms of the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I`m joined now by Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Washington. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thank you for taking a few minutes.
Let me try to get a taste of this week. We put the powers in perspective out there that Democrats now have running these committees, the oversight potential there. You have been sitting on that committee for a while.
Give me one area that you have been waiting and eager to dive into that you can now dive into you couldn`t before.
REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: The phone call before the Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016, we`d like to know to whom that call was made -- or from whom it was received by Donald Trump Jr.
That`s something that we had sought to actually subpoena when we undertook our investigation over the last couple years, but were denied the opportunity to do. But it`s just one example, Steve. There are literally dozens of them that any proven investigator would have followed up on.
KORNACKI: How is your investigation going to -- I mean, I guess the question is, is your investigation or any investigation that you launch, is that going to work in tandem at all with the Mueller investigation? Are these going to be just existing in completely separate worlds?
Do you have to rely on Mueller in some way, at least what`s publicly known about his investigation, to pursue your work?
HECK: We don`t have eyes on the Mueller investigation. He is very, very secretive about his deliberations, as is the professional thing to do.
So I couldn`t tell you exactly what the status of his deliberations are. What we know is that there have been 36 criminal indictments and four prison terms meted out to various characters within the Trump orbit.
But we really don`t know what the status is. Just like you, we hear from a lot of different people that he`s nearing its completion. So, we will be undertaking, where we think is appropriate, a separate, and may or may not be parallel, follow-up to some of the things we think merit it, as a consequence of failure to follow through in the last couple years.
KORNACKI: I`m curious, how do you anticipate working with -- and do you anticipate working at all productively with the Republicans on your committee?
Obviously, there was a lot of tension there the last two years between the majority Republicans, the minority in your party. How`s that relationship going to work in reverse the next two years?
HECK: Well, the dirty little secret in Washington, D.C., is that, when we weren`t working on the Russian investigation, there were actually a lot of areas where we worked together on very well.
Yes, the relationship was strained. Clearly, it was strained. But it was not all-defining in terms of our work, either with respect to reauthorization of the Intelligence Authorization Act or a variety of other measures that we undertook.
We completely modernized CFIUS, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. And the Intelligence Committee had a strong hand in that. And we did that in a bipartisan way. So it was really pretty much along the lines of the Russian investigation where the relationship got, at a minimum, pretty rocky, Steve.
KORNACKI: We mentioned too -- we showed that clip, Nancy Pelosi leaving the door open to the possibility of impeachment there.
One of your colleagues, Brad Sherman, he already did this a couple years ago, introduced a resolution, an impeachment resolution already.
Let me ask you the question. I know, when he was able to force a vote on this a while back, you were a no at that point. But let me ask you this question. If this conversation moves toward impeachment over the next few months, is there, roughly speaking, a cutoff date where Democrats would need to initiate that by, just given the fact that the 2020 campaign is going to begin, where the country will be in full presidential campaign mode?
Does this have to be launched, if it is going to happen, by this summer, say?
HECK: Well, I think whether or not we ever take up impeachment is going to be largely dependent, as Speaker Pelosi suggests, on the final work product of the Mueller investigation.
And I think that we ought to be, frankly, guided by the substance of what it is that he finds. And we are not in a position to be able to indicate what that is at this time, because we simply don`t know what it is, Steve.
So it depends on what he recommends as to whether or not we should take it up. If it`s serious enough, I don`t know that there would be a cutoff for it. But, again, there`s no point in having this largely academic conversation until and unless we have additional information from Director Mueller.
KORNACKI: All right, Congressman Denny Heck, thank you for taking a few minutes.
HECK: You`re welcome, sir.
KORNACKI: Meanwhile, there also remains the outstanding question of whether Donald Trump`s tax returns, which could be key to numerous investigations, will actually be made public.
Politico reports the new Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee -- that`s congressman Richard Neal from Massachusetts -- plans to take a cautious approach before he demands those returns.
Trump is the first president in 40 years to refuse to release his tax returns. He claims he is withholding them because they`re under a routine audit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will absolutely give my returns, but I`m being audited now for two or three years. So I can`t do it until the audit is finished, obviously.
Because it`s under audit. I will release them when the audit is completed.
My tax returns are very simple. They`re under a minor audit, routine- ordered, as they have been for many years. Every year, I get audited.
At the appropriate time, I will release them, but right now, I`m under routine audit. And nobody cares.
You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, OK?
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You don`t think the American public is concerned about that?
TRUMP: No, I don`t think so. I won. I mean, I became president. No, I don`t think they care at all.
QUESTION: If the audit is still on, you will not turn over the tax returns, or you will fight to block it?
TRUMP: When it`s under audit, no. Nobody would. Nobody turns over a return when it`s under audit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And I`m joined now by Republican Congressman Tom Reed from New York. He sits on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Congressman, thank you for joining us.
Let me just ask you. We showed the president there, candidate Trump, now two, three years ago, 2016 -- it`s 2019 now -- saying, hey, I`m under audit, I`m under audit.
Critics say that he was just stalling there to avoid providing an answer. There`s a law, apparently, a 1924 law that gives your committee, the tax- writing Ways and Means Committee, the power from the IRS to get tax returns and then, if decided by a majority vote, to release those tax returns to the public.
Do you think there`s a public interest in the Ways and Means Committee doing that now?
REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: You know, I don`t agree with the committee going down that approach to go after an individual, even the president of the United States, and disclose -- enforce the disclosure of that personal private information that the president has made clear he didn`t want to release it, didn`t release it.
And that was part of the public debate in the election. Now`s the time to unite America, not divide it. And this issue of tax reforms (sic) is just one of those divisive issues that`s not going to solve people`s problems back home in regards to issues that we`re facing here on a day-to-day basis.
KORNACKI: Is the matter of Trump`s tax returns, then, to you, ultimately, a voluntary one? He can be criticized for not doing it, he can suffer whatever public consequences come with that, but he should not -- you believe there`s no mechanism to force him to do it?
REED: Yes, I believe that decision has been made by him. It was part of the public election process.
And when you go after tax returns, you use that power that the Ways and Means Committee has, that`s a very slippery slope. If you go after one, this president, who are you going to stop it? Can you go after your neighbor? Can you go after another private American citizen?
And that is the slope that we`re on if we go down this path.
KORNACKI: We mentioned the House just before you came over was voting on its official rules for the next two years under Democratic control. You voted yes on these rules.
And that`s a significant vote. For folks at home who don`t necessarily follow this all the time, usually, these are strict party-line votes. The Democrats drew these up. You, a Republican, voted yes
I think there may actually have been two other Republicans who did as well. I can`t remember the last time you had crossover votes on the rules.
I want you to explain why you did that. But, also, you said there were some threats -- I saw an interview with you where you suggested that you were threatened with -- quote -- "consequences" from your own party.
Is your seat on Ways and Means in jeopardy in any way because of this vote?
REED: Well, I will tell you, kudos to my colleagues John Katko and Brian Fitzpatrick for joining me.
And when we negotiated these rule reforms, that not all of them in our package of the Problem Solvers Caucus got into the final rules package, but some significant reforms got in there. And we wanted to show good faith.
So I applaud my fellow Republicans for putting partisanship aside and start governing for the American people and break this gridlock.
As to consequences, I`m not going to comment upon that. I go into this eyes wide open, and it`s about doing the right thing at the right time to get America its solutions out of D.C. it deserves.
KORNACKI: I just -- was your seat on the committee or your status at all threatened?
Just to say publicly you were threatened with consequences raises a number of questions, you can imagine.
REED: Well, I appreciate that.
And, obviously, there is concern by folks who want to make sure the herd mentality, us-vs.-them politics, is the status quo of D.C. And so there were concerns raised and issues and potential consequences raised, but we will see how that goes.
But, at the end of the day, we`re very comfortable in where -- what we did, and we will stand and take whatever responsibility comes with that decision.
KORNACKI: Congressman Tom Reed, Republican from New York, thank you for taking a few minutes.
REED: Great to be with you.
KORNACKI: And up next, I`m heading over to the big board. We`re going to drill down on what today`s events tell us about partisanship in the Trump era.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
KORNACKI: All right, welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, the new Congress, it convened today, Democrats back in control for the first time in eight years.
We thought we would zoom out. And, remember, we were at this board all last year trying to figure out, who`s going to win this district in this date, this district in that state? This is all those folks you saw there in the chamber voting today. This is sort of the breakdown.
When you look at the map, the blue districts and the red districts. This is what was elected in November and what took its seat collectively in Washington today.
You notice, by the way, there is still that one outstanding race, the 9th District in North Carolina, the election fraud allegations there. That is a total mess. That could be weeks. That could realistically be months before that`s potentially settled.
Everything else is settled, though, numerically, 235 Democrats right now in this new House of Representatives. That number there, you remember a 40- seat net gain that they have posted, Republicans down 41, sitting at 199 right now.
Now, here`s the interesting thing, though. If you start to dig deeper into these districts, we talked so much about how the Democrats had such luck in November, in particular in suburban districts. A lot of these were districts where either Hillary Clinton had already won in 2016, or maybe Donald Trump had won. but only narrowly.
Check this out. Just take a look at sort of the breakdown here. In this new Congress, what you see here, every one of these, these are Democrats in the new Congress who now represent districts that voted for Trump in 2016. So there are 31 Democrats now -- that`s a big jump from before -- who come from what you might call Trump country.
But keep in mind, when we say Trump country, we`re generally not talking about places Trump won by 10, 20, 30 points. That`s not the kind of Trump country. A lot of these are places Trump won very narrowly.
Look at it this way. Break it down a little further. Places where Trump won by even five points or more, there`s only 13 Democrats in the entire U.S. House, 434 seats there right now -- remember, one vacant. Thirteen -- excuse me -- of the 434 come from districts that Trump won by more than five points.
How about the flip side of it? After that suburban wave in November, how many Republicans in this new -- within this new Congress, how many Republicans now represent districts that voted for Hillary Clinton back in 2016?
Check this one out, three. There are three Republicans now -- 434 people are seated in Congress. Three of them are Republicans who come from districts that voted for Hillary Clinton.
Remember, that number was 25 going into Election Day. We watched those all fall off the map for the Republicans a couple months ago standing here.
Anyway, the new Congress back in session today. We thought we`d take a look at that. Not a lot of Democrats in deep Trump country. Not a lot of Republicans in deep Clinton country. That is the story of red and blue America.
Up next: Is Trump on the outs with the Republican establishment? Should we view Mitt Romney`s critique of Trump`s presidency as an outlier or a sign of things to come?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Just hours into a newly divided government and President Trump is still fighting to suppress criticism from members of his own party. "The Washington Post`s" Robert Costa is reporting a day after Senator Mitt Romney`s public rebuke, that the notion of Trump`s presidency being in deep descent has become a near-daily discussion throughout the broader Republican establishment.
According to "Politico", Romney`s piece reignited fears among party officials of a primary challenge in 2020, which set off a search for ways to cut off any potential challengers.
Robert Costa joins me now, along with Susan Del Percio, our Republican strategist, and Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist.
Robert Costa, that term deep descent, a presidency in deep descent, what in January 2019 is leading Republicans to say this in a presidency that began in January 2017.
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Divided government changed everything. Spent the day at the Capitol talking to Republican senators and House members, they know the dynamic has changed. The president comes out for a statement on immigration, the government continues to be shut down.
Privately and somewhat publicly with Senator Romney and others, people are starting to talk more in the GOP about are there going to have to be options for 2020? Is someone going to have to step forward beyond Ohio Governor John Kasich?
KORNACKI: Are there other names? Romney said he`s not running in the present tense. Take that for what it`s worth. Are there other names, though, besides a Romney, besides a Kasich?
COSTA: At this moment, talking to senators today, they say they`re keeping a close eye on the senators who just retired. Senator Corker of Tennessee and Senator Flake of Arizona. Now, they don`t have the political capital, the stature of Senator Romney inside the Republican Party, but if they start heading to Iowa and New Hampshire, maybe some senators maybe not publicly yet are going to at least listen.
KORNACKI: Susan, what do you make of that? On the one hand you have the reporting -- the excellent reporting Robert just detailed there. On the other hand, you look at the Gallup poll. They tracked him every week. He is still sitting at 88 percent of approval rating among Republicans. It looks like George W. Bush at the end of 2002, within his own party. Not outside his own party.
SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Of course. I think what they`re operating off of and what you hear a lot in Washington now is fear. They are afraid of what they don`t know because Donald Trump we just have no idea what can happen in the Mueller investigation or the southern district of New York, their investigations.
They are not -- I don`t think anyone sure that he`s actually going to run. I personally don`t think he will be running in 2020, so I think they want to start keeping that open. It`s not the worst thing to think you`re not 100 percent, maybe 99.5 percent, but just to get the feelers out, because he can explode at any given time. This could be a problem -- the party has enough problems, this will be another one.
KORNACKI: How are Democrats looking at this? Are they confident -- maybe confident is not the right word -- but the degree of likelihood Democrats treat the prospect of running against Trump again in 2020?
BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, you know, to Susan`s point, this fear is a huge motivating factor because on one hand, we`d love to run against Donald Trump in 2020. On the other hand, do we want to run against Mitt Romney?
What I think is also unknown here is what happens if Trump capitulates on the wall? What are his core supporters going to do? What do other Republicans, how do they handle that when you have, you know, these really die hard Trump supporters sort of now pissed off -- excuse the French -- at the president?
So, I think there`s a tremendous amount of uncertainty. But the truth is, regardless of what happens in 2020, if Democrats do not put forth real good positive policy for the electorate, none of it is actually going to matter because those folks are still going to be upset at us and they`re still going to look outside of our party for support.
KORNACKI: And, Robert, that`s an interesting question, too, because we look at -- we`re trying to figure out the posture for Trump and the showdown and the shutdown here. You got Cory Gardner and the Senate Republican there now saying let`s do this continuing resolution, get the government open again. Is the dynamic you`re describing, is Trump -- is that factoring into Trump`s calculation at all? Is he aware of it? Do you think it`s shaping his posture with the shutdown in terms of trying to shore up that base?
COSTA: What`s fascinating talking to senators today on the Republican side is that they don`t have a lot of engagement with the White House. To them, this shutdown is about the president sending a signal to his core voters, political base, that he`s with them on the wall, that he`s going to go to the brink to try to secure funding for that.
This is not about him bringing the party along. He believes -- the president and the White House believe he has enough of a grip on Congress with the Republicans there to really just try to cultivate his own voters. So, whatever comes over the horizon, whether developments in the Mueller probe, economic downturn, that base will be there and be the foundation of a rattled Republican Party.
KORNACKI: We`ve been saying the Democrats with the majority in the House were planning tonight to take action on the government shutdown. Moments ago, the House did begin debate on a bill that would end the shutdown. Speaker Nancy Pelosi who just held a press briefing on the shutdown was asked if there was any situation where she would allow the president`s wall. Let`s watch.
(BEGN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Is there any situation where you would accept even a dollar of wall funding for this president in order to reopen the government?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: A dollar? A dollar, yes, $1. You said a dollar. That`s not your question. You said a dollar. I`ll answer your question.
The fact is a wall is an immorality. It`s not who we are as a nation. We`re not doing a wall. Does anybody have any doubt that we`re not doing a wall?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Basil, OK. Maybe a dollar from Democrats for the wall, but we had Tim Ryan, congressman from Ohio on earlier. I do wonder. So much of this is what is ultimately the appetite for compromise I guess from the principal players` side of this thing. But fencing, did Democrats have that same attitude towards fencing?
Pelosi will say the wall is morally unacceptable? Is fencing morally unacceptable?
SMIKLE: It`s giving into the president whether it`s the wall, whether it`s slats. I said this before, whether it`s camouflaged, a dome like they have in Wakanda, whatever it is that`s being presented, it`s going to seem like the leadership has given in. I think for there are 15 people, 15 Democrats that didn`t vote for Pelosi today. I would see that number of folks would grow if the leadership were to go that route.
But I have to say this, even if it`s at that $5 billion amount, it`s a lot of money but it`s relatively small when you consider the entire federal budget. If we have the opportunity to get DACA done, if we can support these Dreamers and change their lives for a generation, that`s going to be --
KORNACKI: That would be a deal --
SMIKLE: That`s a hard calculus.
DEL PERCIO: That`s the deal with $25 billion.
KORNACKI: Now we`re going back in time. It seems we`re moving away from all of the proposed compromise that have been out there before, over the last year.
So, anyway, Robert, Susan, Basil are staying with us.
Up next, we`re going to take a look at the most diverse Congress in history. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
This afternoon, the most female and most racially diverse Congress in history was sworn in by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first and only woman to have held that role. It is a day of many firsts on Capitol Hill, with the first Native American women and first Muslim women to serve in Congress taking their seats. Many have also made note of the contrast, visual and statistical, between the incoming classes from both parties.
We are back with our HARDBALL round table, Robert, Susan, Basil.
Susan, the statistics are all out there. I don`t have them right in front of me, but the number of women on the Democratic side in the new Democratic class compared to the Republican side, the number of non-white members. There are big differences between these two party coalitions right now.
DEL PERCIO: Yes, there sure are. In the big picture level, it`s great more people are being represented in Washington. That`s a great thing to see that diversity. On the political side, it`s horrible for Republicans. It is -- shows that the Republican Party has nowhere to go.
KORNACKI: Is there a way for them to fix it in the short-term? Is there anything to do?
DEL PERCIO: No. Not in the short-term. I wouldn`t just blame Donald Trump. It`s easy just to say, look what happened, the wave election, it was all about Donald Trump. It was.
But the candidate selection, the grooming for candidates, that is years in the making. And Republicans have been looking to seek to go into Republican primaries on the conservative side and they`re not willing to expand and open up the party. And that is a disaster for it. And it can`t grow.
Of course, we`re going to see things like swing districts disappear because Republicans in the suburbs, those women are not voting in the -- for the Republican candidate. They just can`t. So, it is basically a slow death for the Republican Party unless they do something with a bigger plan.
KORNACKI: Yes. It`s also -- this is just -- there`s a lot of new faces. New faces powered by a lot of grassroots energy. Just -- from that standpoint, this is a Democratic caucus that may want to assert a little bit more political aggression than you`re used to seeing from an incoming class.
SMIKLE: Absolutely. And among there`s also ideological diversity as well. That`s not going to be difficult not for the conference, but also for presidential candidate that`s going to have to find a way to aggregate all of those interests, to the point where he or she gets to the primary.
But to the point about growing parties, I think there`s a way for both parties to grow and going back to the older point, if we tackle immigration. There`s a report that says that the natural growth population growth of this country is the lowest it has been in 80 years. So immigration is going to play a much bigger role in the future prosperity of this nation. From a narrow perspective, it could be good for both parties.
DEL PERCIO: The Republican Party used to support that. Now --
KORNACKI: That was George W. Bush`s second term and we`re reliving the McCain/Kennedy situation.
Basil Smikle, Robert Costa, Susan Del Percio, thank you all for being with us.
When we return, let me finish tonight with the transfer of power. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Let me finish tonight with the transfer of power. With the banging of that gavel, control of the House went from Republican hands back to Democrats after eight years today. There were moments in those eight years where Democrats wondered if they`d ever see this moment again.
Four years ago, in Barack Obama`s second midterm election, Republicans reached their modern high water mark in the House, their biggest majority since before the Great Depression. But that majority is gone now, thinned a little in 2016 and ravaged by the suburban fueled Trump backlash of 2018.
It`s pretty much how our politics seem to go these days. A breathtaking high for one party, predictions of an enduring majority, then soon enough, a shattering defeat over and over again.
It wasn`t always this way, believe it or not. Go back a generation to the early `90s. Back then, there was no suspense over which party was going to control the House. It was always the Democrats. For 40 straight years and the majorities were massive.
The speakership was handed down from one aging Democrat to the next like an inheritance. There was a nickname back then. The permanent Democratic Congress they called it.
Then came Bill Clinton. He was the first Democratic president in a dozen years. He came to power with that giant House majority. But he faced something new, a far more aggressive Republican opposition led by Newt Gingrich.
In 1994, Gingrich and the GOP stirred a backlash that shocked all of Washington, a 54-seat Republican gain. But Gingrich overrode his mandate, it helped Clinton get re-elected in 1996 and Newt himself was forced out two years later.
Then, George W. Bush got his shot with the Republican Congress, complete Republican rule of Washington. But after Iraq and Katrina and scandals, there was another monster backlash. And by 2006, the Republican Congress was history. And two years later, Bush was gone replaced by Barack Obama.
But that led to yet another backlash fueled by the Tea Party and Democrats lost the House again in 2010. Then, of course, came Donald Trump, another president coming to office with his party running Congress. And now another president who has seen his party`s majority crumble.
It`s been this way for a generation now. We have seen each party build up enough power to finally push its agenda through. But what we don`t see is the public then reward either party for what it`s done. Backlashes in waves have become the norm. So have transfers of power like we watched today.
That`s HARDBALL for now.
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