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Trump withdraws nomination of Vitiello. TRANSCRIPT: 4/8/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Ayesha Rascoe, David Jolly, Lloyd Doggett, Betsy Woodruff, NadeamElshami, Michael Steel, Susan Page

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  And the legal Robert Redford himself, John Flannery, also joins our special coverage tomorrow night.  I hope you`ll come back, 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

That does it for me.

"HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Is America full or is Trump?  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Donald Trump, who promised to create jobs, made his bones, of course, by famously ending them.




MATTHEWS:  In the past 24 hours, the President has done just that to two top officials at the Department of Homeland Security.  Last night DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned under pressure after meeting with the President at the White House.  And just this afternoon, Secret Service Director Randolph Alice, who answers to Nielsen, was removed from his post.  The latest shake-up comes just days after the President withdrew the nomination of another DHS official, acting ICE Director Ron Vitiello, who he tapped to lead the agency permanently.

Well, President Trump may have previewed the House -- I mean, the DHS before leaving to visit the border this past Friday.


REPORTER:  What is going on with the ICE Director Vitiello?  What is happening with Vitiello`s nomination?

TRUMP:  We`re going in a little different direction.  Ron is a good man, but we`re going in a tougher direction.  We want to go in a tougher direction.


MATTHEWS:  A tougher direction.  A tougher direction.  And that desire reportedly led to Nielsen`s departure.  The New York Times reports that the President called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the morning to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from even seeking asylum.

Meanwhile, NBC News reports that Nielsen and the President clashed on his desire to reinstate the policy of separating migrant families, extremely unpopular in this country, noting that according to two sources familiar with the White House meetings, Nielsen told Trump that federal court orders prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from reinstating that policy of separating families and that he would be reversing his own executive order from June that ended family separations.  Well, that didn`t stop the President.  The departures lead the leadership of the Homeland Security Department in tatters.

With Nielsen`s departure, a host of top posts at the agency are now staffed by unconfirmed officials, including the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, the Head of FEMA, the Director of ICE, the Inspector General, and on Wednesday, Customs and Border Protection as well.  The current Commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, has been tapped to replace Nielsen as acting DHS Secretary.

For more, I`m joined by Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, Ayesha Rascoe, White House Reporter for NPR, and David Jolly, former Republican Congressman from Florida, who we have to say is no longer associated with the Republican Party.  Thank you all.

I want to start with Peter.  This looks like something big.  Like, is this Trump getting ready for re-election saying, I`m going to be Mr. Big, I`m going to be tough as hell on illegal immigrants?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, look, we know, of course, he`s been frustrated for quite some time his own administration is unable to carry out the wishes that he has imposed on it.  Now, as you say, in some cases, that`s because they are telling him we can`t do it.  We don`t have the authority to do it under the law or under the court orders or what have you.

And he has been lashing out.  He`s lashed out last week.  He said, I`m going to close the border entirely to all trade and traffic, and even legal immigration until he was warned by economics officials that that would do great damage to the economy.  He backed off that, but clearly in deciding to get rid of Secretary Nielsen and some of these other people who also on the way out, he`s trying to, you know, shake things up until he can find people who will carry out the orders he wants to have carried out.

Now, the trick is, who can he get that will actually do that and will be confirmed by the Senate?  Even some of the republicans on the Hill are a little upset about this right now.  They think that they`re looking for scapegoats and pushing out people who actually agree with the President on his policies even though they`re not able to do all the things he wants them to do.

MATTHEWS:  Ayesha, you`re next.  I mean, it seems to me Trump run against illegal immigration.  It couldn`t have been simpler.  That`s how he got elected in Pennsylvania and places like that.  He ran against basically Hispanic people coming into the country across the border.  He can`t seem to find the law on his side, like he often finds himself.  American law is apparently more patient, more discerning, whatever.  It doesn`t go along with his sort of clobbering idea of if you come across the border, I clobber you back to the other side.  No law will do that, nor will anybody under him agree to enforce something like that.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR:  Well -- and that`s the issue.  This isn`t really a personnel issue.  It`s an issue of the courts and the law and them just not allowing him to do what he wants to do.  He can bring in someone who is really tough and looks really tough and talks really tough, but is that person going to break the law?  They just had another court case that said you`re not going to be able to keep people in Mexico while they apply for asylum.  That`s another blow against this administration in what they`re trying to do.  Unless you`re going to change the laws, which with a divided Congress, I don`t know how that happens.


RASCOE:  But unless you do that, he`s going to be stuck in this situation.

MATTHEWS:  And, Dave Jolly, it sounds to me like he is in need of a different law to enforce because he doesn`t have law now that meets the standards he set in his own campaign, which is I`m going to stop illegal immigration flat.  That`s what I`m going to do.  No more people coming across that border illegally.  And he doesn`t seem to have the law on his side.  So what`s he got going except rhetoric at this point?

FMR. REP. DAVID JOLLY (R-FL):  You`re right, Chris.  I mean, this story kind of has the perfect Trumpisms in it, if you will.  We know by reporting today that he actually ordered government officials, from Secretary Nielsen down to border agents, to actually break the law, which in any other environment would be subject to congressional hearings immediately.  We also know that he`s been exceedingly brash.  He`s displaying no root cause analysis.  A man who likes to meet with the North Korean dictator, frankly, should be bringing together Central American leaders and Mexico and say, let`s figure out how we humanely deal with this crisis.

But at the end of the day, Chris, what I think Donald Trump is overlooking and why he can never get past that threshold of his base, is this issue lays bare the President`s soul to the American people in many ways, the Trump administration`s soul, that in response to humanitarian crisis, his answer is to be harder on the people --


JOLLY:  To be swifter to punish them.  The American people see that and they`re afraid what he`s doing is projecting that as the soul of America to the international community.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Peter, just back to you on that very thought.  It could be that his constituency is just as tough as he is, that the people in Pennsylvania and places like that who don`t like new Hispanic neighbors, if you will, who are angry about illegal immigration, usually for ethnic reasons, those people aren`t that sympathetic to people coming up here for asylum reasons or foe asylum reasons, or whatever, economic reason is the usual reason, they`re not happy with them.  They want them pushed back.  And Trump`s problem is he`s between his promises to red-hot constituency he drummed up in the campaign and the law, seems to me.  Peter?

BAKER:  Yes, sure.  I think a lot of voters who supported Donald Trump see immigrants as competing with native-born Americans for jobs and for government benefits and so on, whether, you know, the studies will show different things.  But in their communities or in their media environment that they are watching, that`s the way they perceive it.  And they look at the President and say, well, why can`t you do what you said?  And he wants to be able to do what he said.  He says, I don`t understand.  I`m President of the United States.  How come I can`t simply make this happen?  And he`s frustrated by the laws and by the bureaucratic rules and the various, you know, things that have been in place for many, many years that are beyond a president`s ability to simply snap his finger and change.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he comes off as a football owner that just keeps firing managers, is what`s going on, and coaches.  Anyway, the shake-up at Homeland Security comes as President Trump reviews or renews rather his focus on the southern border after Customs and Border Protection reported a surge of apprehensions this past March, this last month.  On Friday, during a briefing at the border, the President seemingly tried to warn off migrants looking to come to the U.S.  Here he goes.


TRUMP:  It`s a colossal surge and it`s overwhelming our immigration system and we can`t let that happen.  So, as I say, and this is our new statement, the system is full.  Can`t take you anymore.  Our country is full.  Our area is full.  The sector is full.  Can`t take you anymore, I`m sorry.  Can`t happen.  So turn around.  That`s the way it is.


MATTHEWS:  On a series of tweets yesterday, the President doubled down on that argument, repeatedly saying the country is full.

Dave Jolly, the politics of this are pretty devastating because Americans say we`re a country of immigrants but we`re not really.  It depends on ethnicity.  We all know that.  That`s the way it has been in this last presidential election.  But the issue of illegal immigration didn`t work for the republicans in 2018.  It seemed to have a presidential power but not in a congressional way.  How does he get the Congress to go along with any law change if he even goes that far?  So now, he`s just firing people.  Like Nielsen is the first head that rolled.

JOLLY:  He won`t, Chris.  And, look, this is a hard conversation.  But let`s finish the President`s sentence for him because apparently he`s too scared to do so.  What he`s saying in his mind is that the nation is already full of Mexicans and those from Central America.  It is full of Hispanics.  That is what the President is saying, because he`s not trying to close any other border.

Recall just 12 weeks ago, he suggested that it was ISIS that was coming through the caravans.  That`s why he had to close the border.  He does not have the law on his side, nor should he.  The asylum laws are there so that we can give a fair hearing to those who want to offer a petition that they are escaping harm in their home country.  This is where the President, by responding by treating these people more harshly, will disconnect from those voters that we saw come out last November.

MATTHEWS:  So the big question I think everybody on the show right now is what does tougher mean.  I want to go to Ayesha on that in a minute.  But Secretary Nielsen`s resignation comes this White House Adviser.  Stephen Miller is reportedly consolidating his control over administration policy.  An administration official told The Wall Street Journal President Trump recently told Miller, one of his most hard-line advisers of this administration on immigration policy, you`re in charge.

Meanwhile, Politico reports the person close to Nielsen said there is definitely a larger shake-up abreast being led by Stephen Miller and the staunch right wing within the administration.  They failed with the courts and with Congress, and now, they`re eating their own.

Here it comes.  What does it mean when Trump says, you didn`t like family separation, get ready for this.  I`m getting even tougher.

RASCOE:  Well, it`s not really clear because the one thing that happened with family separations is he had to pull back on that, like he had to reverse that.

MATTHEWS:  It looked awful.

RASCOE:  And so, now, he wants to bring it back again.

MATTHEWS:  It looked like Sophie`s choice.  It looked terrible.

RASCOE:  It may work with his base, but it also is going to mobilize a lot of people against him and against republicans.  That`s why you even had republicans at that time saying this won`t stand.  You cannot continue this type of policy.  And so if he tries to bring back the family separation, you`re only going to see more people mobilized against that.  And I don`t know what he could do that would be more tough than that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Peter on this because I think it is a front page analysis reality here.  We`re looking into a much more, hard to believe it, more polarized election in 2020 than in 2016, and the President seems to want it more polarized.

BAKER:  Well, he`s playing on these issues, of course, that are very, very divisive in the United States right now, the immigration being his central signature issue.  And it`s so important to his identity, his sense of this administration, this presidency.  He was elected on this, as far as he was concerned.  He was elected on build the wall.  He was elected on protecting the country.  And he`s willing -- he has said that he`s willing to sacrifice other priorities in order to make this happen.  Even the economy he says it`s not as important as security at the border.

So he has made very clear through the shutdown that lasted five weeks, he`s made very clear through the actions of the last week or two that this is going to be his number one priority going forward into this election.  So this election may be fought out on this very issue.

MATTHEWS:  Will the democrats let it become that clear cut, that therefore something like leniency, compassion, open borders in some sense, rather than being with Trump, are they willing to let the divide open up that clearly?  Peter?

BAKER:  Well, I think their message is a little fuzzier than his, right?  His is relatively straightforward.  I`m going to protect the country.  I`m going to stop them from coming in.  Democrats are, to some extent, divided between those, like Beto O`Rourke, who says, let`s tear down the wall we`ve already got there at El Paso, where he was a congressman.  And those who say, no, no we`re for border security, but we`re also for more rational immigration system that provides at least some sort of  path to residency or citizenship for people who are already here and doesn`t try to make deportation the only answer to the question.  That`s a harder message to sell, right?

But on the other hand, the President, as you said, went out on the campaign trail last fall, he tried to sell the idea that the democrats were for open borders to the electorate.  It didn`t work in a congressional year.  A presidential year is a different year, different kind of electorate, larger turnout.  Let`s see how that plays out.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s go to David on this one because it seems Stephen Miller taking over tells us, basically, he`s bringing in Frank Rizzo, he`s bringing in the toughest guy he`s got here.  You`re not a republican anymore.  Is this going to make you personally less a republican if we go to, really, you know DEFCON 2 here or whatever going towards with this president and immigration?

JOLLY:  Look, Stephen Miller, according to a former White House aide, reportedly has said he`d be happy if not one single -- additional foot of an asylum-seeker ever set ground on American soil.  Chris, this is the interesting thing to your last conversation with Peter.  No politician today should accept this as a binary choice between open borders and security.

The person who can succeed on this issue, and, frankly, Donald Trump could accomplish much of what he wants to do on security, if you led by showing that you`re actually going to take care of the human crisis.  That doesn`t mean you have to admit everybody in.  Publicly deploy healthcare workers and education workers, teachers, to take care of these families and these young children and make that the face of American immigration policy that we`re going to attend to this very human crisis while also supporting border security.

The American people want border security.  But their heart is in a very different place than the President of the United States` on this.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  I think the family separation killed Trump for awhile, not too long, he came back.  But I also think a conservative point of view, a republican point of view was voiced very well on Chuck`s show here yesterday on Meet the Press.  I thought that Mitt Romney sounded very solid on immigration.  More conservative view, but he sounded like a traditional republican, not a Trumpite.  Anyway, he looked good.

Thank you so much, Peter Baker, thank you, Ayesha Rascoe and thank you, former Congressman David Jolly.

Coming up, the fight over Trump`s tax returns.  His Chief -- well, his acting Chief of Staff says democrats will never, ever get their hands -- forget the alibi about audits.  They`re even talking audits anyway.  He`s just saying, you`re never getting my hands, your hands on the President`s tax returns.  What`s that about?  But never is a long time.  And the law says the IRS has to -- shall turn over those forms.

Plus, Barack Obama warns democrats not to kill each other.


BARACK OBAMA, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States, maybe it`s true here as well, is a certain kind of rigidity.


MATTHEWS:  The former president talking about ideological purity and warning democrats about what he calls the circular firing squad.  That`s an image.  Much more ahead on that one.  Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The battle for President Trump`s tax returns is well under way after the House Ways and Means Committee issued a formal request to the IRS last week.  The Chairman of that Committee, Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, has set a deadline of Wednesday, that`s tomorrow.  However, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said yesterday that the democrats will never -- this sounds like an eight- year-old again -- never get the tax returns.  Listen to the guy.


BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS SUNDAY HOST:  To be clear, you believe democrats will never see the President`s tax returns?

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  Oh, no, never, nor should they.  Keep in mind that that`s an issue that was already litigated during the election.  Voters knew the President could have given his tax returns.  They knew that he didn`t and they elected him anyway, which, of course, is what drives the democrats crazy.


MATTHEWS:  That`s the lamest argument.  In other words, if he continued talking like he did on the Access Hollywood tape in his inaugural address, that would be meeting the concerns of the voters.  This is crazy.  Nobody voted for him because he wouldn`t release his tax returns.  The problem for Trump is that the law appears firmly on the side of the Ways and Means Committee.  The tax law makes clear, upon written request, the Secretary of the Treasury shall furnish such committee with any return or return information.  That`s pretty clear.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in New York State are attempting to use another route to obtain the President`s taxes, as The New York Times was first to report.  Quote, under a bill that is scheduled to be introduced this week, the Commissioner of the New York Department of Taxation and Finance would be permitted to release any state tax return requested by leaders of three congressional committees.  That`s U.S. congressional.

According to the bill`s sponsor, the proposed law is designed to be a safety valve for any attempt by the White House to block the Congress from doing this at the federal level. 

I`m joined right now by Betsy Woodruff, politics reporter for The Daily Beast, and Robert Costa, national political reporter with "The Washington Post." 

I want to start with Robert on this. 

It`s interesting to me that Mick Mulvaney blew the president`s cover this weekend by saying never.  The president has always said, I`m being audited.  That`s the only thing stopping me from doing what I want to do, which is release the tax returns to you.

What happened to the alibi?

ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST":  Mick Mulvaney is playing spokesman for the president there, as well as acting chief of staff. 

Talking to White House officials today, they believe, Chris, this goes to the courts, that, regardless of what Mr. Mulvaney or even the president says, because Richard Neal, the chairman, sent the letter to the IRS, and the Department of Justice may try to protect the institution of the presidency, it will likely be up to federal courts to decide what actually gets released, if anything. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s the law.  OK.  I think the law makes it clear.  It goes to the court.  We have a 5-4 Republican court.  We will see. 

But the politics of it, do they think they`re solid because their some 40- some percent or 40-ish percent of the voters don`t give a damn about the tax returns, they don`t care if he holds them -- hides them?


COSTA:  They believe that they were able to win in 2016 without the president releasing his tax returns, and they still believe his core voters will be with him regardless of what`s in those returns. 

There is sensitivity in the Trump circle about his brand politically.  They want to be seen as the billionaire working man`s candidate.  That`s the pitch they give us behind the scenes when they`re talking to reporters about how they want to cast him for 2020.  And so the tax returns could complicate that, should he have different tax arrangements. 

And at this point, not having the returns out there makes that political sale easier for them. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let`s go to Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas. 

Thank you, sir, for coming on. 

What can you do?  There is a deadline of Wednesday.  I was wrong.  It`s Wednesday this week.  Richie Neal, the chairman of your committee, Ways and Means, says you got to give me the tax returns. 

What happens when the president blows you off? 

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX):  Well, Chris, you have been talking about the wall along the border of my home state of Texas. 

This is the wall the president really cares about.  He wants his minions to erect a wall around him and protect him from any oversight.  The law is clear.  As you have pointed out repeatedly, shall means shall.

And this IRS commissioner has a legal responsibility to fulfill what is really just a ministerial task of giving the committee what the law commands. 


MATTHEWS:  Yes, go ahead.  I`m sorry.  Go ahead, Congressman. 

DOGGETT:  Yes, I`m sorry. 

The only question is whether now we have obstruction in this area also, and whether the president is instructing Mr. Mulvaney, the treasury secretary, the IRS commissioner to interfere and ignore the law, since this president never believes the law applies to him. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you going to do if he says no? 

DOGGETT:  Well, I think...

MATTHEWS:  The IRS commissioner?

DOGGETT:  Well, I wouldn`t prejudge this, because he does have a public trust. 

But if he says no, there are a variety of legal remedies available, and we need to use them promptly, because I think never means never.  And Mr. Mulvaney appears to indicate the president`s view that he will never disclose this voluntarily, even though back in 2016 he said he would have them available in three or four months and, like everything else with Trump, that they would be great. 

Well, I`m ready to see those great returns.  If we get them, of course, they won`t be on your program or on the front page of "The Times."  They will be reviewed carefully in private by experts, subject to penalty for disclosure. 

And if that investigation indicates that some of it or all of it should be made public, then we would need to take a vote at that time. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas, sir. 

DOGGETT:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr is under increasing pressure to release this special counsel`s full report as he prepares to face the House and Senate Appropriations Committee tomorrow and Wednesday, the House tomorrow, Senate Wednesday.

Barr`s opening statement, which was obtained by NBC, makes no mention, however, of the Mueller -- big surprise. 

But as "The Washington Post" reports, his testimony will be scrutinized for any sign he`s trying to protect the president. 

While Barr`s expected to release a redacted version by the middle of this month, redacted, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said yesterday he`s fine with releasing the whole shebang of it to the House Judiciary Committee. 

Watch Rudy. 


MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST, "FACE THE NATION":  Would you like to respond to the congressman, who says he has the right and the committee has the right for all of this information?  Do you agree that the public has the right?

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:  I -- I would like him to get all the information.

BRENNAN:  Including the things that are protected...

GIULIANI:  Everything.

BRENNAN:  ... grand jury material?

GIULIANI:  I can`t control that, and I can`t change the law. 



MATTHEWS:  Rudy`s amazing. 

Betsy, let me ask you about the state end of this.  Big story today.  There is a chance, using the New York state legislature, to try to get the tax returns, get the state returns.  They have got all this stuff, too. 


I had a long conversation earlier today with a former prosecutor in the Justice Department`s Tax Division who spent years and years very much in the weeds of sort of the nitty-gritty side of how tax law works. 

He was anonymous for client reasons, but what he said is that, if he were in Trump`s position, he would be most concerned about what New York state is doing.  His view is that the question of whether or not Ways and Means can get the president`s tax returns is an unprecedented legal question.  It`s going to get litigated.  And it`s hard to perfectly predict how it will fall out. 

However, if New York state is able to pass this legislation, and the legislation stands up against inevitable legal concerns, the IRS won`t necessarily be able to intervene, because these tax returns in the New York state don`t belong to the IRS.  They belong to the state itself. 

MATTHEWS:  State sovereignty and a Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. 

WOODRUFF:  It`s called federalism. 

MATTHEWS:  And a Democratic legislature.  They can do the whole business. 

What will -- let me go back to -- what do you make of Giuliani, Robert?  Giuliani always amazing me.  I mean that positively.  He says -- some days, he`s a toady.  Some days, he`s sort of whimsical.  What do you make of him saying, yes, you ought to have the whole report? 

Is that because he doesn`t have the responsibility for keeping it from the public, or what?  What`s he up to here? 

COSTA:  He`s a politician as well, as the president`s personal attorney. 

He`s trying to appear to be open to disclosure of these documents.  At the same time, he knows the fight`s going to be settled in court.  And he knows he doesn`t need to protect his client so much at this point, because the Justice Department could step in to protect the institution of the presidency.

And, as a personal attorney, he can say his client wants disclosure, but he knows the process is playing out far beyond his own control. 

MATTHEWS:  Now, Barr still works for the president, William Barr. 

WOODRUFF:  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  He`s had an interesting history, a long one.  So, I`m not going to prejudge what he`s going to do tomorrow. 

But Barr is going to testify about appropriations to the Senate and House committees, starting with the House tomorrow. 

Is he going to -- is he just going to walk in there and give an opening statement has that nothing to do with the Mueller report, gets his first question from the chairman, and then he goes, yes, I won`t be talking about that today?

If he going to just stonewall?

WOODRUFF:  I think it`s quite likely any questions about the contents of the Mueller report he will stonewall. 

One of the biggest questions from Congress -- and I don`t know if this particular committee is going to grill him on it.  But one of the biggest questions from Congress writ large is whether Barr will work with Chairman Nadler, who runs the House Judiciary Committee, to try to get a federal judge to authorize the release of some of the grand jury material in the Mueller report. 

Nadler has already asked Barr help him out with that to try to minimize the number of redactions.  Democratic staffers said that Barr`s response to Nadler was, I will think about it.  Well, he`s had some time to think about it.  So, it`s certainly a possibly that Democrats will ask what his thoughts are. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he may show a little leg. 

Like Rudy Giuliani.  I think neither one of these guys want to be known for the rest of their lives as toadies of Trump.  They don`t want to be looked at that way.  Nobody -- well, Mulvaney may want that job right now, chief toady. 

Anyway, thank you.

COSTA:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Pardon me? 

COSTA:  Well, it`s also not just about political alliance with Trump.

You`re going to -- listen tomorrow to what the attorney general says about executive power.  That`s going to be his term when he references executive power a way of protecting the institution of the presidency.  That will tell us a lot about if he`s protecting President Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said. 

Thank you so much.  Betsy Woodruff and Robert Costa. 

Up next:  Barack Obama`s warning Democrats not to engage -- I love this phrase -- circular firing squads, where no Democrat wins, only Trump.  Are rigid ideological divisions hurting Democrats` chances already of defeating Trump already come 2020? 

More after this. 


  MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In 2020, Donald Trump will campaign on a dark warning about the Democrats. 

According to "The Washington Post," Trump will focus on a foreboding populist message about the perils of lax immigration policy, socialist health care plans and foreign economic threats. 

But, according to "The New York Times," two years into office, Trump`s aides are saying that he`s tired and only willing now to commit to one event a day. 

His record`s already under assault, of course, from what could end up being dozens of Democratic contenders looking to take him down. 

This weekend, Barack Obama had a word of warning for those Democrats. 

That`s coming up next.  You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

With the field of Democratic presidential candidates now nearing 20 -- it`s going to go beyond 20 -- I think we`re going on two dozen now -- we`re starting to see some big differences in policy. 

Former President Barack Obama, while in Germany, warned Democratic voters against being too rigid ideologically. 

Catch this warning from offshore. 


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And one of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States -- maybe it`s true here as well -- is a certain kind of rigidity, where we say, ah, I`m sorry, this is how it`s going to be.

And then we start sometimes creating what`s called a circular firing squad, where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.  And, when that happens, typically, the overall effort and movement weakens. 


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Nadeam Elshami, former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi, who is fabulous, I must say.  Ever since you left her, she keeps getting better and better. 


MATTHEWS:  Just kidding. 

And Michael Steel, former spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. 

I love the way -- and everybody knows I like Obama, but that slow cadence of the way he spoke there, just a couple of beats between some of the words, so that the people there -- all Germans speak English now -- but their ability to pick up on every word was so well-delivered. 


MATTHEWS:  But, also, can the Democrats pick up on it? 

Do you think, when they hear him, these persons saying, well, wait a minute, I`m over here with Bernie, or over here with somewhat to Bernie, but not quite with Kamala Harris -- and I`m over here maybe with Biden or somebody.  Maybe Terry McAuliffe is coming in next week. 

There is a divide.

ELSHAMI:  That`s right. 

There`s -- 100 percent, there is a divide.  This was a message that was sent by President Obama.  He lived it.  He understands what it`s like to be getting fired on from the left and sometimes from the right of his own party. 

The problem that Democrats are going to be facing over the next few months is just that.  There`s going to be too many candidates.  And they`re going to be running a rigid ideological campaign. 

I tell them this.  Go out and get the votes.  You know, if you believe that your philosophy and your policies are going to win, go out and do it.  Don`t go after your own candidates. 

MATTHEWS:  You`re a Republican. 



MATTHEWS:  So let me ask you this.  You`re watching this from the other side.  It does look like -- you know, Napoleon said never get in the way when people are shooting themselves in a firing squad. 

STEEL:  I think the president -- former president is 100 percent wrong. 

I think these Democratic candidates need to take off the kid gloves, start doing some hardball, start doing some smashmouth, because they need to start knocking some candidates out of this race quickly.

Otherwise, the Democratic Party is going to nominate Bernie Sanders.  And if we have a race between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, I`m voting for the White Walkers. 

MATTHEWS:  Why -- I think I might be with you in terms of the analysis. 

Why do you think Bernie wins in a wide-open 24-person field? 

STEEL:  Because Bernie supporters are Bernie supporters.  They are ideologically committed.  They are on his side.  They`re in for the long haul.  And they are a substantial chunk of the party. 

If the rest of the party divides between these 50-some-odd other candidates, he wins. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Pete Buttigieg here, who has got all the heat right now -- the warmth, I should say.

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is having great success, drawing good crowds, raising a lot of money.  This weekend, the mayor attended the LGBTQ, actually, Victory Fund brunch. 

And during his speech, he had this to say about V.P. Pence. 


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I can tell you that, if me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. 


BUTTIGIEG:  And that`s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand, that if you have got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me.  Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator. 


MATTHEWS:  Boy, pretty hard to argue it.  We`re all God`s children, we believers believe.  And we don`t think we picked our orientations.  Nobody I know thought they did. 

Trent Lott used to say that we made our choice, like it`s like Lionel Richie and Coke and Pepsi, like we made our choice. 

Not exactly.  It`s nature, not nurture. 

ELSHAMI:  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Or, at least as far as we understand, it`s nature.  We don`t understand everything. 

ELSHAMI:  Mike and I agree on many things, but I completely disagree about taking the gloves off.  What voters want to hear is exactly what Mayor Pete just said.  They want to hear genuine.  They want to hear him take on the administration in a way that they can connect with. 

Look, Bernie is doing it.  Senator Harris is doing it.  Mayor Pete is doing it.  And this is what needs to happen over the next few months.  If we start attacking each other as Democratic candidates, guess who wins?  President Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happens when some candidates like right now, the Democratic action`s on the left and it`s on the youth. 

STEEL:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I can see this.  Bernie comes along and said I`m for basically national health care.  Call it Medicare-for-All is a nice way of saying it, but that`s basically what it is, a nationally-run government health insurance program.  I want college tuition paid for for everybody.  No means testing, or even means testing. 

He comes out with positions and somebody says no more ICE, no more enforcement of immigration.  No country in the world has no enforcement. 

STEEL:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And another candidate is a woman, wait a minute, I better catch up to that team.  You have everybody over there.  That`s where Trump wants them. 

STEEL:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Trump wants everybody bunched on the hard-left.  You know that. 

STEEL:  This is what`s scaring me about what`s happening in the Democratic primary right now.  Everybody chasing, look, the president trades --

MATTHEWS:  You said you want them to fight it out. 

STEEL:  I want a strong candidate to emerge to make sure my choice isn`t between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  The American people`s choice isn`t between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders because Donald Trump trades between 43 and 46 percent approval.  He needs a hard-left Democratic candidate so he can rail about open borders and socialism --

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know. 

STEEL:  And be right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he`s got -- open borders, socialism and late-term abortion.  I know the whole three he`s figured out for Pennsylvania. 

Anyway, tonight, a field of Democratic presidential candidates grows as we sit here.  California Congressman Eric Swalwell, a great friend of this show, told Steve Colbert tonight, it will be on at 11:30 that the country is in quick sand plagued by inaction and that`s why he is running for president. 

Here is Eric Swalwell. 


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And none of that is going to change until we get a leader who is willing to go big on the issues we take on, be bold in the solutions we offer and do good in the way that we govern.  I`m ready to solve these problems.  I`m running for president of the United States. 



SWALWELL:  Thank you.  It`s official. 

COLBERT:  Now, it`s official. 

SWALWELL:  Boy, did it feel good to say that. 


MATTHEWS:  He`s in the Bay Area of San Francisco, the Bay Area.  He beat an incumbent, Pete Stark.  Pete Stark was a little over the hill when he beat him, but he did win a primary against the incumbent, which is what Nancy Pelosi doesn`t like right now.  Don`t come -- don`t challenge incumbent Democrats.  He did.  Now he`s running for president. 

ELSHAMI:  That was back then.  We`re talking about now. 


ELSHAMI:  Look, he`s an interesting candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  He`s good on TV. 

ELSHAMI:  He`s good on TV.  He`s young.  He`s in a Judiciary Committee, Intel Committee.  He`s got his pulse.  He knows how to help elect Democrats, young Democrats in tough districts.  He can go in any district in the country and have a conversation about who he is, what he wants to produce for Democrats.  And, look, he is someone who is completely not aligned with a Bernie Sanders, but his message is going to resonate across --

MATTHEWS:  You know, I always want to know when is the filing deadline for re-election? 


STEEL:  Right.  If he`s going to give up the House to do this. 

MATTHEWS:  That would run right up until the filing deadline and be right back in the House.  Eric`s a good guy and a good candidate. 

Nadeam Elshami, thank you so much.  It`s great to have you.  Good work.  The way you built up Nancy Pelosi to be the greatest politician of our time. 

Anyway, thank you.  Thank you, Michael. 

Up next, Susan Page joins us to talk about a woman who left a lasting impression during the course of her role in American politics.  A lot of these first ladies are much tougher and bigger at home in advising their partners, their spouses than you ever figured out from television. 

Back after this. 


MATTHEWS:  It`s been nearly a year since the death of Barbara Bush, the matriarch of the Bush political dynasty.  Both the wife and mother of presidents, she was an iconic figure in the Republican Party for decades, remembered for her dry sense of humor. 


BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY:  Please notice the hair, the makeup, designer clothes.  I want you to watch me all week.  And remember.  You may never see it again. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mrs.  Bush, would you like to see your son Jeb run? 

BUSH:  He`s by far the best qualified man, but, no, I really don`t.  There are other people out there that are very qualified and we`ve had enough Bushes. 

Who knows, somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president`s spouse, and I wish him well. 



MATTHEWS:  Well, in the final months of her life, the former first lady said she no longer considered herself a Republican.  In a new biography that offers a definitive look at her life, author Susan Page writes, that with Trump`s rise, she saw it as a party she could not continue to support, a party she no longer recognized, even as one of her grandsons was on the ballot as a Republican down in Texas.

According to Page, Bush saw Trump as a symbol of greed.  Well, Trump responded in an interview with the "Washington Times" saying: I`ve heard she was nasty to me, but she should be.  Look what I did to her sons -- referring to comments he made about former President George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, the one he ran against in 2016.

Well, joining me right now is the author, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of "USA Today," frequent guest on HARDBALL, and most importantly, author of "The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of An American Dynasty." 

Thank you so much.  Susan, you`re a great person to have you on our show.  I want to congratulate you on this book. 

But I think the most interesting thing right now is how the life of Barbara Bush relates to right now, today, in terms of the Republican Party and to President Trump.  She really couldn`t stand Trump.  Tell us about it. 

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY:  Well, right.  And it`s true, President Trump is right that she resented the attacks he made on Jeb Bush during the 2016 Republican primaries and also the fact that, of course, he defeated Jeb Bush in the race for the Republican nomination.

But her antipathy for Donald Trump went back decades.  I read in her diaries in 1990 that she wrote that Donald Trump was a symbol of the greed of the 1980s, and that antipathy just grew when he got involved in politics.  She was quite stunned when he managed to be elected president. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the countdown clock?  I`d never heard about that until your book.  Tell us about that. 

PAGE:  Well, you know, to those around her it was no secret that she didn`t like President Trump.  A friend in Kennebunkport gave her one of those digital clocks that counts down the days and the hours and the seconds until President Trump`s term will be over.  And she put it on her bedside table in Kennebunkport and liked it so much she carried it back to Houston when the summer was over, and it was sitting on her bedside table until the day she died. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Anyway, not everyone adored Barbara Bush, of course.  Your book describes the rocky relationship she had with another first lady, Nancy Reagan. 

Quote: Nancy Reagan`s antipathy for Barbara Bush, hidden from public view, created grievances behind the scenes that would persist for the rest of their lives.  She really hated us, Bush, that was Barbara, mused in an interview with me.  That`s you writing.  I don`t know why, but she really hated us.

Well, in 1985, the Bushes` names were crossed out not once but twice as invitees for the prestigious White House dinner that the Reagans hosted for Prince Charles and Princess Diana.  Well, that was the number one thing to go to and she didn`t want to see them there. 

PAGE:  You know, amazingly she crossed out their names off the guest list and, Mike Deaver, then the deputy White House chief of staff, who was her closest ally in the White House, called her and said you cannot cross the vice president off the list for this dinner.  And she said, just watch me. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why?  What`s that about?  What did you figure out? 

PAGE:  You know, I think part of -- part of it is that their husbands ran against each other in 1980 for the nomination.  There were some scars from that.  But I think they were so different in their priorities and their personalities. 

Barbara Bush was not a clothes horse.  Nancy Reagan was.  Barbara Bush put family above all -- the wonderful relationship that the Bushes had with their children and grandchildren.  The Reagans had quite a dysfunctional family and I think they looked at each other and saw someone they didn`t recognize, someone they didn`t like, someone who wasn`t like them. 

MATTHEWS:  Talk about the, you know, I`ve learned a lot about Pat Nixon, who was called Plastic Pat in the old days.  It turned out, from what I`ve been able to figure out, is quite an extraordinary person. 

But tell me about how Barbara was also, Barbara Bush was always in the background.  She didn`t dye her hair.  She didn`t try to compete, as you say, in the fashion industry with Nancy.  What was the role that she played that you found in the lives of their husband and son? 

PAGE:  It changed over time.  You know, initially in 1980 during Bush`s first run for the presidency, she was not a central figure.  She was not seen as an asset in the campaign, but by 1988, she had a voice that Bush was listening to.  She was a critical voice in encouraging him to do some negative ads against opponents that helped him get elected. 

She said I think it would be all right, George, when he was reluctant to air them.  By 1992, George Bush was practically trying to ride her coattails in his reelection bid.  She was more popular than he was. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about that campaign.  That was a pretty rough campaign by George Bush, the first George Bush in 1980.  He talked about Willie Horton, he talked about Michael Dukakis, wouldn`t find teachers for not -- for not leading their classes in the pledge of allegiance.  He went after the ACLU.  It was a rough, nasty campaign. 

Did she say go that way? 

PAGE:  I`m not sure she said go that way on all those particulars, but on the issue of the prison furlough program in Massachusetts, there was a controversy within the campaign about whether to air an ad about it.  This one the very controversial Willie Horton ad that was aired by an independent group, but it was still a pretty tough ad. 

She argued that the prison furlough program was something that Dukakis supported.  It did turn out to be catastrophic.  So, it was fair to attack him for that. 

She had a generally -- she was comfortable with combat in a way -- I don`t mean military combat.  I mean she was comfortable with political combat and back and forth in a way that sometimes George Bush was reluctant to do.  And he listened to her.  Her permission that it would be all right to air these ads mattered to him in the final decision about whether to air them. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, a surprisingly political book by Susan Page about Barbara Bush who we think about as a noncombatant.  Turns out she very much was in the fight "The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty" by the great Susan Page. 

Thank you so much, Susan. 

PAGE:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next -- coming up, which 20 Democratic contender has the ability to become a truly national leader?  That`s my question.  You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  It seems to me that the Democrats have to make a basic decision next year, to pick a candidate they genuinely believe will make the best American president.  That means someone who makes the country proud again, of course.  A leader who can truly lead, who builds on the vote he or she gets in November to a larger level of support by inaugural day and continues to grow a larger popular base a year into his or her service. 

Is this asking too much to have a president who actually rises in public support, not one that continues to falter like Trump?  In a partisan sense, I`d like this new leader of the Democratic Party to restore and rebuild the patriotic nature of the party, to reconnect that traditional love for this country with the belief we are meeting its challenges, its new challenges to build a sense among the boomers and the younger generation that we`re in this together.  In other words, in Democratic terms, an un-Trump president who doesn`t end his or her presidency with the same backing he or she began with like Trump and his 30-something hard rock bitter enders. 

So, which of the candidates can we see having the aptitude and the will to get majority approval?  Because absent that capability, the next president will be the second one in a row to fail, promising all sorts of stuff isn`t going to turn stuff towards that direction.  What will get something moving is a president able to grow support well beyond just enough to squeak through on Election Day. 

So, who`s got the ability to build, to grow, to truly become a national leader?  Kamala, Beto, Joe, Bernie, Pete, Elizabeth?  Who else?  Keep thinking. 

The important thing is to pick a leader, not just another protester like Donald Trump.  A protester.

That`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.