GOP-led legislatures move to restrict voting rights. TRANSCRIPT: 5/3/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Jackie Speier, Adrienne Elrod, Juanita Tolliver

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YASMIN VOSSOUGHIAN, MSNBC HOST:  That does it for me.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Rusky business.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews up in Washington.  Tonight, a big question facing America, what do we do when an American President and a Russian President agree to not only forgive Russia`s intervention in our 2016 election but to forget it?  And that`s precisely what happened today when the two leaders chose to ignore the Mueller report`s of sweeping and systematic Russia interference in the 2016 election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Mr. President did you address the election meddling issues that came up in the Mueller report with Mr. Putin today?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We discussed it and he actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse.  But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion, whatsoever.  So, pretty much as to what it was.

REPORTER:  Mr. President, did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP:  Excuse me, I`m talking.  I`m answering this question.  You are very rude.  So we had a good conversation about many different things, okay?

REPORTER:  Did you ask him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP:  We didn`t discuss that.  Really, we didn`t discuss it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What Trump`s effort to end all questions about Russia`s 2016 interference has forced stay constitutional crisis between Trump and Congress unlike anything we have seen before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  So is it done?

TRUMP:  I would say it`s done.  We`ve moved through this.  Nobody has ever done what I`ve done.  I`ve given total transparency.  It`s never happened before like this.  They shouldn`t be looking anymore.  This is all.  It`s done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It`s done.  But the American system of governance, of course, as we learned it in 6th grade is grounded in the fundamental idea that we have three separate but coequal branches of government, in each branch I think is a check and balance, on the other ensuring none holds too much power.  But President Trump and his administration have obliterated public confidence in those checks and balances.

In 2018, Americans sent the President a warning by handing subpoena power to democrats after they won control of the House, a warning they`ve chosen by to ignore by circumventing and undercutting Congress, he has.

Earlier today, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was wary of impeachment, however warned the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  I do think that the path of investigation and getting more information and you never know that one thing can lead to another.  Impeachment is never off the table.

MATTHEWS:  So in a move towards impeachment, there she was.  The House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerrold Nadler, put Attorney General William Barr on notice today, provide the unredacted Mueller report or, quote, the committee will move to contempt proceedings and seek further legal recourse.

For more, I`m joined by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a democrat from California, who is a member of the House Intelligence and Oversight Committees, Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School, Michael Beschloss, NBC News President of Historian, and Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent at The New York Times and author of Obama.  The Call Of History.

Peter, thank you for joining us tonight.  And I want to know what we`re facing here.  Because it seems to me that this President is willing to push it all the way.  He`s going to ignore subpoenas, he`s going to ignore threats of contempt of Congress citations with the belief that the courts will not get in the way, will not force him to behave any differently and that Nancy Pelosi is not going to impeach him so he has got nothing to lose.

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Yes.  There`s a risk here for him, obviously.  One of the articles of impeachment that was drawn up against Richard Nixon back 1974 was defying congressional subpoenas.

MATTHEWS:  Article III.

BAKER:  Exactly, defying the legitimate power of the legislative branch.  So this could, in fact, provoke congress into something of Democratic Congress into doing something that was not likely to do otherwise.  Nancy Pelosi`s line is change.  Her line was, impeachment is not worth it.  Today, it`s impeachment is not off the table.  And she`s sending a message.  The question is whether or not the President is going to listen or whether she -- you know, he`s going to continue to fight the battle.

MATTHEWS:   On that point, Michael, you Tweeted this image of the front page of The New York Times of 1974, 45 years ago, Nixon rejects subpoenas, tells Rodino he will get no more Watergate data.  He just -- it`s like just today, he says, enough.  He just declares, safety (ph), we are not doing this anymore, as if the President decides that he can be his own judge.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, MSNBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  It was almost as if Trump is taking out of the Nixon playbook, not remembering perhaps --

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he`s right, anything like the Nixon playbook?  And then (INAUDIBLE) read anything?

BESCHLOSS:  No, but he does have people around him who were around Nixon and certainly know that history would be a very dumb thing for him to do, because defying the congressional subpoenas and oversight, just as Peter is saying, led to his impeachment a couple months later.

And the other thing he did at the same time was he was defying the special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who was saying, you have to give up tapes and papers, Nixon was saying no, they are shrouded with executive privilege.  Jaworski said, executive privilege does not apply if there are no military secrets, diplomatic secrets and also this may be concealing a crime.

It went to the Supreme Court, and this is another historical parallel.  Nixon may have felt that the Supreme Court would save them because there were four members of the court that he had appointed.  He was hoping that they would loyal.  You sort to wonder whether Trump thinks that because he appointed Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, that he has now tipped the court in a direction that will save him as well.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he must be.  Let`s go to the Congresswoman Speier.  Do you have teeth?  I mean, in the end after all, the threats, all the -- you can`t do this.  We`ve got the subpoena power.  You ignore the subpoena power.  We can cite you for contempt of Congress.  He`s laughing at that.  You aren`t even willing to talk impeachment.  I think Trump says you`re a paper tiger, you democrats in the house.  I`m guiding you here because I think he is goating you.  I think that`s what he`s doing.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA):  Well, he`s a foolish man if he pursues that because that`s going to raise the ire of every House Democrat.  And if he thumbs his nose at the legal process, he will pay a price.  There`s no question.

MATTHEWS:  What`s the price?  What`s the price, what will happen?

SPEIER:  Well, the price, slowly but surely, the screws will be tightened on him.  And I think before long, you`re going to see more and more people willing to be very aggressive.

I think, frankly, our membership has been very respectful and has tried to accommodate everyone in terms of having them come without subpoena.  I think subpoenas are going to fly now.  And when they are not complied with, we have what`s called inherent contempt proceedings, which means we send to the sergeant-of-arms out to handcuff the individual who is declining to testify.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Who are you going to handcuff?

SPEIER:  Well, I`m going to start with Mr. Barr and bring him in.

MATTHEWS:  You are going into the Justice Department and go through the guards at the door with a couple of sergeant-at-arms troops and you`re going to put this guy in handcuffs and take him up to some calabash (ph) you have up on the Hill somewhere.  You are serious.  Are you really serious about that threat, because he`s laughing at that?

SPEIER:  Well, you know, he won`t get the last laugh.  I mean, he has to comply with the subpoena.  And so far, he has been -- it`s all been negotiated.  But once there are specific subpoenas and he does not comply with them, he can be brought before the House, he can be tried.  He can either be held there to testify or he can be punished.

And there is actually a jail in the Capitol which has been used as recently as 1930.  And there was actually the brother of a former Attorney General during Tea Pot Dome that was actually brought in from Ohio with a deputy sergeant-at-arms to be required to testify.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I know this in the rule book.  Let me go to Maya because I don`t think the rule book works anymore, because I think Trump is going to -- and here`s what the story is.  And, of course, that`s all true.  The Congressman knows what the rules are.  But the rules say basically you can cite someone for contempt of Congress if you can get the Justice Department to bring that as the case, this Justice Department, you are lucky.  And if the Justice Department brings the case and you win in court, six months to two years from now, you can win the case and you know what the penalty is for contempt to Congress?  Somewhere in the months -- six months maybe, if that`s -- and then the President pardons that person --

MAYA WILEY, THE NEW SCHOOL SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE:  A year.

MATTHEWS:  Okay, it could be a year.  We will see.  But it`s still a misdemeanor, so it`s not quite a year.  So it`s a misdemeanor.  And my question is does the Congress in the end, as long as Speaker Pelosi says, I need republicans to begin impeachment, as long as that`s her standard, isn`t Trump walking free?

WILEY:  I think the issue -- there are two different issues here that we should separate out.  One is winning a conviction on impeachment.  The other is getting witnesses before you so you can establish whether or not you are going to go and push an impeachment vote.  I think what she has been really focused on is that latter one, not what the actual vote outcome would be at this point.

MATTHEWS:  You mean now, like there`s a -- excuse me, the process is, we saw this with Bill Clinton, Congress has to resolve in the full house.  They have to resolve to begin an impeachment proceeding, then they begin the investigation, the hearings and all, and then they vote on it.  Do you think Speaker Pelosi is ready to begin by calling for a resolution to begin impeachment proceedings?  Do you think she`s there?  I don`t think she`s there.

WILEY:  I don`t think she`s there.  I don`t think she is there either.  I think what she is saying is, or at least the way I hear it, if you keep interfering with constitutional powers of our coequal branch of government, you will give us no choice but to go the nuclear option.  And I think part of that is, at least in the initial phase is, go to court, go to court and see if you can get the court to expedite a process for making a determination on the witness subpoenas.

I think the issue of the Mueller report unredacted is a longer fight.  I think the witness issues are clearer because there is less of a defense.  There`s not really any grounds, legal grounds, that I can find for witnesses not to appear.  Certainly William Barr does not have a reason if he`s saying, I just don`t want to be interviewed by the council staff.  That`s just he doesn`t have the power to say no because of that.

But I think the bigger question here really is getting Mueller, getting McGahn, getting McGahn`s Chief of Staff who was taking the notes when -- about the meetings with Trump.  I mean -- I think the issue here is getting the witnesses who can provide the American public a direct story that is embedded in the Mueller report in 448 pages, but where William Barr has been able to cast a misleading narrative about what that report says.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Let me go to Peter on this hold question because, looking at it, big picture stepping back from the -- what is a constitutional fight.  I think Trump is going to play it all the way out.  He says McGahn will not testify.

BAKER:  He might.  But remember, he often, you know, talks a good tough game and then off, you know, pulls back and accommodates, right?  I mean, he`s done done a number of occasions while he actually wants to take it all to Supreme Court.  I think Michael`s point about the Supreme Court is a very interesting one.  I think Chief Justice Roberts has sent signals in the last few months that`s he`s an institutionalist, as well as a conservative, and that may or may not play in the President`s favor.

And Bill Clinton, as you point out, Bill Clinton, tried this.  He went and he challenge a lot, Ken Starr`s subpoenas, that there were privileges that didn`t exist, according to the courts, and it made bad law for future presidents.  That`s not going to help Donald Trump right now.

MATTHEWS:  I think it`s stunning because I think there`s -- I`ll get to the Congresswoman after you, Michael, but there is a lot of unwritten protocol.  A subpoena is taking seriously.  You don`t just say I`m going to push it to the end (ph).

BESCHLOSS:  That`s a tradition as old as any in American history.  And the other thing is that Sam Ervin, the Chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, Richard Nixon originally said, I`m not going to let you, you know, ask my aides to testify.  And Ervin said, I`ll have them arrested if you take that position, and Nixon folded.

The other thing is that the reason why Nixon, 45 years ago this month, said to Congress, I`m defying your subpoenas is that he knew that if the subpoenas were met, Congress would find out that he had obstructed justice by asking the CIA to tell the FBI not to investigate Watergate.  He knew he would be impeached and convicted, which calls the question, why is Donald Trump so eager to cut off this investigation?  Is he afraid that one of these witnesses my unearth facts that may be very damaging to him in the future and, if so, what is he afraid of?

MATTHEWS:  I love this.  This is intriguing.  It`s everything.  It`s got espionage, this story, and it`s not going away, Mr. President.  You can`t just call safety (ph), it`s over.  It`s not your job.

Well, Peter, in your updated biography of President Obama, there is a fresh one, I always like to see that guy again.  You write that he was flabbergasted that he would be replaced by a buffoonish showman whose calling cards had been repeated bankruptcies, serial marriages and racist dog whistles.  You`re going to recount that he took the loss as a personal insult.  This is President Obama after meeting with the President-elect, Obama complained to staff that Trump peddles in bull, the rest of that word applies to.  And that -- but it`s rich.

BAKER:  Yes.  This is the President`s point of view, by the way, the ex- President`s point of view, just to be clear.  But he had spent eight years in the Oval Office.  He had spent eight years, he thought transforming the country, his very election seemed to suggest a different United States and the one that he had grown up in, where we`d grown up in.  And then he was replaced by someone who couldn`t have been more opposite and it seemed like a rejection, not just of Hillary Clinton, but in some ways of him.

And he was frustrated.  He was very frustrated.  He told his aides maybe I came along 20 years too soon.  Maybe we pushed too hard.  And he was struggling, I think, through all these faces of grief, just like his staff was, as to try to explain what happened.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Congresswoman, last thought, you could be big on this.  It`s just seems amazing.  Here is a country we benefited from having a clean as a whistle President, great husband and father.  I mean, he was a little aloof.  Let`s be honest.  But, you know, the guy did everything right.  By all Christian-Judeo standards, he did everything right in his life.  He was a perfect gentleman in the way he carried himself.  And we bring in this guy.  I mean, I don`t think we did it because of him.  I think we -- I don`t know what we were thinking.  But apparently according to the new book here by Peter, he couldn`t believe what happened to him by history.

SPEIER:  Well it has.  It`s less of a reflection on former President Obama and more of a reflection unfortunately on our candidate, Hillary Clinton.  And I just want to say, Chris, that one of the things that happened today that we`re not talking about is that he talked with Vladimir Putin who just spent 2018 messing with our elections again and is intending to do it in 2020.  And I think what they were talking about is what is Vladimir Putin going to do for Donald Trump this time?

MATTHEWS:  Unbelievable.  By the way, thank you, guys.  And by the way, you are standing in front of, sitting in front of the one case in American history, perhaps human history, where mankind improved on the natural landscape, the Golden Gate Bridge.  And everybody should go see it sometime in your life, the most beautiful structure ever put up.  Every time I drive across that, I`m in heaven.  I love that bridge.

Anyway, thank you totally unrelated, but what a great country we live in.  Thank you so much, U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, of California.  Maya Wiley, thank you, Michael Beschloss and Peter Baker.  We`ve got a lot of long headed thinking here tonight and it has been helpful.

Coming up, a new poll shows several of the democratic candidates leading President Trump head-to-head, you will be surprised how many are beating him.  And while our separate poll shows a huge gender gap, most American men right now like Trump.  Put that in your head.  Let me get this all through the weekend.  On paper things look bad for the President, of course, but could it really be this easy to defeat Trump?

Plus, the vast wasteland of broken reputations, the high price people pay in public respect, their own respect for hitching their wagons to this guy.  Much more ahead, stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We`re exactly 18 months now for the presidential election itself.  That`s, of course, November next year.  An early snapshot, by the way, of voter preference doesn`t look good for President Trump. 

Look at these numbers.  A new CNN poll shows, if the election were held today -- and it won`t be -- look at this -- Beto O`Rourke, who hasn`t had the best month, look at him beating the president 52-42 -- 10-point spread is unbelievable.  Biden is up, of course, by six, Bernie the same, up by six.

Kamala, pretty darn strong, four points up, Buttigieg up by three.  And look at this, Elizabeth Warren.  Of the six they polled -- they only threw six names out to the pollster -- to the people -- she lost by a point.  Figure that one out.

That`s an early snapshot with a small sample.  But it is going to be -- is it going to be this easy to beat Trump?

By the way, a new poll comes as President Trump continues to spar with his potential rivals, this time over comments front-runner Joe Biden made earlier this week on the threat posed by China.  Here`s what Biden said, followed by Trump`s response last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  China is going to eat our lunch?  Come on, man. 

They`re not bad folks, folks.  But guess what?  They`re not a competition for us. 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Everyone`s competition.  I view everybody as competition. 

QUESTION:  Is he being naive about China?

TRUMP:  Oh, he`s very naive about China.  China just -- during the Obama years in particular, just took advantage of our country so badly. 

A very, very big competition, China.  And I have stopped it.  And I am stopping it.  But for somebody to be so naive and say that China`s not a problem?  If Biden actually said that, that`s a very dumb statement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Very clever. 

Anyway, for more, I`m joined by Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton`s campaign for president last time, and Michael Steele. 

Michael, I will start with you, former RNC chair.

I know Biden.  We all know Biden.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He`s talking up America.  And, by the way, he has made a point before that -- talked about this with the former president of Singapore, that respected fellow. 

He said, why does America make -- why are we so resilient?  Every generation, we`re doing it again.  We can -- it`s immigrants.  These people come from all over the world to work here.

STEELE:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  The Nobel Prizes, two-thirds of them come from people who came here, like Wernher von Braun, people like that, and Einstein. 

A lot of it`s the fact that we enrich ourselves with new people who are ambitious who come here.  And he said, that`s why the Chinese can`t beat us.  And I thought that`s a nice pro-American exceptionalism argument.  Now, right or wrong, the president jumps on him, jumps all over him.

STEELE:   Yes, he`s right on the economics.  And he`s a little off on the politics.  And that`s just the way it is. 

But you`re absolutely right. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is off?

STEELE:  Biden was right on the economics and what he said, but the politics was a little bit off, because of how it sounds to people. 

MATTHEWS:  He sounded what?  What did he sound like?

STEELE:  Well, you know, how does a union worker who hears that take it? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STEELE:  How do they get an impression of what Biden is saying, actually, in that piece?

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to hurt because he supported NAFTA? 

STEELE:  No.  No, it`s not going to hurt Biden at all.  This is just one moment in a campaign that`s just starting. 

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR AMERICA:  Yes. 

STEELE:  But I think it`s an early lesson for Biden that, yes, you have got to be precise, because the politics is what`s going to drive the narrative, not necessarily the truth of the economics or the facts around the economics.

The politics is what is going to drive it.

ELROD:  Well, and those sound bites can hurt you too.

STEELE:  And those sound bites...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, I don`t care what anybody says.  He`s afraid of Biden.

(CROSSTALK)

ELROD:  Of course he is.

MATTHEWS:  Biden takes -- he takes away the very people that Trump stole from the Democrats.

ELROD:  Yes, yes, absolutely. 

I mean, he`s going right -- Trump knows this. 

I mean, he`s not exactly the most intellectual person, but he has a good gut instinct.  And he knows that somebody like Joe Biden can go after those white working-class voters that we lost, unfortunately, in 2016, in the Rust Belt, and he knows that Joe Biden can claim them back.

So he`s scared of him.

MATTHEWS:  And he`s not an elitist. 

ELROD:  No.

MATTHEWS:  One thing you cannot hit him with, he`s not an elitist.  He`s not some pie-in-the-guy, well, super Ivy League type that looks down on people.  Don`t -- Biden is one of them. 

By the way, he doesn`t go to Scranton.  He`s from Scranton.

STEELE:  Right.  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  And there`s a big difference.

ELROD:  Exactly. 

STEELE:  But Biden is the guy you see on the train going to work. 

ELROD:  Yes. 

STEELE:  Biden is the guy you see at the lunch counter in the local neighborhood.

MATTHEWS:  Have you asked around about him on the train, about the people?

STEELE:  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And what do they say about him? 

STEELE:  Oh, yes, they -- Biden is very popular on Amtrak, trust me. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He knows everybody`s name. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  He knows everybody`s name, the conductors, the porters, everybody.

ELROD:  The hall is named after him in Delaware.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  That blue-collar spirit.

MATTHEWS:  We`re going to a topic for you here, Adrienne.

A separate poll found the president facing a wide gender gap.  The latest Quinnipiac poll -- that`s a poll we always use -- 62 percent of women disapprove.  Now, look at that.  More than three out of five don`t like this guy`s performance.

Among men -- this is startling as well.  Most men, including minorities, including liberals, woke guys, all kinds of Connecticut, New York, whatever, California guys, included, he still beats.

ELROD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Trump still is approved in a plurality by men, men, per se. 

ELROD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It`s astounding to me. 

ELROD:  Yes. 

And guess what?  Women won 2018.  They won the midterms, right?  So you`re sort of seeing these numbers reflected here.  And if Democrats take back...

MATTHEWS:  Explain.

ELROD:  If Democrats take back the presidency in 2020, it will be because of women.

MATTHEWS:  Explain the difference in the gender.  You`re the political expert.  You`re the major communicator.  Why do women detest this guy`s performance, and men say, I sort of like him?

ELROD:  Because he`s been a misogynist.

He`s -- all of his policies have been so anti-women, from his embracing of the NRA.  We know that the gun safety issue has been a wedge issue that has really -- that drove women in 2016 to support -- college-educated working- class -- college-educated women to support Hillary Clinton, especially Republican college-educated women. 

We`re going to see that again this time.  But there`s a whole array of reasons why women don`t support him.  I don`t see that changing.

MATTHEWS:  OK, flip the question.  Why do men like him?  Go ahead.

STEELE:  Because he`s the guy at the bar.  He`s the guy who talks trash.  He`s the guy who...

ELROD:  And all guys like that.

STEELE:  And all guys like that. 

He`s the guy who`s...

MATTHEWS:  So, we`re dumb, right?  You`re saying we`re dumb.

ELROD:  I don`t know.  I don`t know what to think about that.

STEELE:  Let`s put it this way.  We`re just a little bit base.  And he`s a little bit more base than most out there. 

But here`s the thing about the women`s -- I appreciate that 62 percent.  And those numbers say a lot.  But when it comes to the vote, how will they vote?  Because, at the end of the day, you still have to deal with just looking at white educated women went for Trump three years ago. 

ELROD:  Well, and we were saying before the break that just because somebody disapproves of the president or an elected official...

STEELE:  Exactly. 

ELROD:  ... does not necessarily mean that they are going to vote against them. 

STEELE:  That`s right. 

And that`s where Trump -- that`s his ace.  That is his...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me about -- I got a weird thing.  I started looking at all the pictures of all the 21 candidates. 

And I`m thinking now, of the front-runners -- this is not totally fair, but two old guys in their late 70s. 

ELROD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Biden and Bernie.  All these B`s drive me crazy, all these B`s. 

OK.  One young guy, Buttigieg, and two women really doing well.  That would be certainly Kamala and Elizabeth Warren.

ELROD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It`s interesting, just that race.  There`s no young -- there`s only one young guy running.  Isn`t it interesting?

ELROD:  Yes.  It`s early. 

And I think that a lot of this is still focused on name I.D.

MATTHEWS:  There`s no African-American guy, by the way, in the top.  yes. 

ELROD:  Yes, but Cory Booker -- is -- he`s...

(CROSSTALK)

ELROD:  ... a very strong campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I met him.  I really like him.  But he`s not running at the top of this poll here. 

ELROD:  He`s not, but this is also -- I mean, we were talking about this is May of 2019. 

We have got 39-and-a-half weeks until the first caucus, which is in Iowa, so we have got some time. 

But a lot of this is literally focused on name I.D. right now, right?

MATTHEWS:  Kamala Harris is not that well-known.

ELROD:  Joe Biden, 99 percent name I.D.

MATTHEWS:  She`s doing well. 

ELROD:  But she`s doing well.

MATTHEWS:  I think she`s got three tickets.  She`s young.  She`s the right age, early 50s, which is perfect for president. 

ELROD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  She`s a woman of color, which I think in the Democratic fight helps this year. 

ELROD:  Correct. 

MATTHEWS:  People tell me African-American women are going to be dominant in picking the election winner. 

And what else?  She`s a woman. 

ELROD:  Yes.  And she`s going to do well in the early states.  I mean, I think she will do well in Iowa.  And I think that she will certainly do well in South Carolina.

And then, of course, California is now...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wait until we get to the Black Belt, we get to the Deep South.  I think she`s going to walk away with it. 

STEELE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Starting in South Carolina. 

STEELE:  Yes, I think you`re right about a lot of that. 

But I...

MATTHEWS:  See, if you come on this show, I build you up.  And she was on this week. 

ELROD:  Yes.

STEELE:  Right.  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pass the word.

ELROD:  She had a good week.  She had a very good week. 

MATTHEWS:  Pass the word.

STEELE:  She`s had a very good week.

But this is a long stretch, you just noted, Adrienne.  And so we`re 39 weeks out.  We have got -- we have got the first round of debates coming up.  And who`s on that...

MATTHEWS:  NBC.

STEELE:  Who`s on that stage will matter out of the gates.  Not everyone`s going to be there.  So there`s still a lot of dynamics at play.

MATTHEWS:  Eighteen, I believe, have made it. 

STEELE:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It`s going to be one -- exciting.  It`s coming, by the way.  It`s not next year-and-a-half.  It`s this June, which is next month this thing starts. 

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Adrienne Elrod, thank you for coming.

ELROD:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  You`re very careful tonight.  You`re supporting everybody, including Cory Booker.  You`re pushing...

(CROSSTALK)

ELROD:  I am, absolutely.  I support Cory Booker.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  I want them all in.

MATTHEWS:  You want them all in.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Michael Steele.  You want a real crazy jamboree.

Up next, we`re 550 days from the actual election, not the first debate.  But Republican lawmakers across the country are wasting no time making it as difficult as possible for people to vote. 

You know they`re trying to stop from voting.  Democrats.  A chilling roundup of the boldest, most egregious voter suppression efforts in America happening right now. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump is not alone when it comes to engaging in obstructionist behavior.  Republicans across the country now are following his lead in state legislatures they control, particularly when it comes to, you guessed it, voting rights. 

In Florida, voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative last year -- actually -- yes, last year, to restore voting rights to former felons.  In other words, you serve your time, 10, 20 years, whatever it was, once you`re out, you can become a member of -- a citizen again.  You get the 15th Amendment back.  You can vote. 

But now Republicans are making it more difficult for those people who have served their time.  Today, Florida lawmakers, the lawmakers, passed legislation requiring those former felons to pay all their court fees at the time they were arrested and tried and all restitutions, if there is any involved, before they can vote. 

Florida is not alone.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there are at least 18 bills out there restricting voter rights actively right now moving through nine states with Republican-controlled legislatures.

For more, I`m joined by our friend Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root. 

To me, some of this stuff is partisan and some of it is just predatory.  You are just going to kind of make lives miserable.  A guy -- mostly guys - - get out of prison, hard time. 

JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  The one thing that might give them a sense of citizenship again is, you know what, you`re allowed to vote now. 

JOHNSON:  Right.  Right. 

And we`re talking local city council things.  And here`s the thing, Chris, about Florida.

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean local city council?

JOHNSON:  Because that`s where people are going to start.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

JOHNSON:  You want the guy who served five years for armed robbery to be like, you know what?  I do care about school board.  I`m back here with my daughter.  I`m engaged in the community again.

This is a way for people to reconnect -- 64 percent of the population in Florida wanted this bill.  More people wanted felons to vote again than wanted DeSantis. 

MATTHEWS:  That includes a lot of Republicans too.

JOHNSON:  Exactly, Republicans, white people, black people, Latinos.

So the Republicans in the state legislature are suborning the will of the people in that state and taking away people`s rights.  It`s anti- democratic, and it`s horrendous politics.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it`s not that many votes too.

But, anyway, do you think some of the gamesmanship by the Republican Party is they are shrinking ethnically?

JOHNSON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, and they say, well, maybe we can hang on, like the Federalists hung on because they controlled the courts all those years back in our beginning.

JOHNSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They think, well, we can maybe squeeze out another victory. 

JOHNSON:  That`s -- that`s the goal. 

Look, the Republican Party has become not state by state, but, nationally, it`s a white people party.  They have lost Latinos.  All that stuff was under Reince Priebus.  They have lost Latinos.  They have lost African- Americans.  They have lost the growing Asian population. 

Their only way of winning...

MATTHEWS:  I think they still have Vietnamese.

JOHNSON:  Well, yes, maybe.

MATTHEWS:  No, really, and Cubans.

JOHNSON:  Yes, smaller ethnic groups, but that`s mostly state by state. 

If you`re talking sort of nationally, they`re still having difficulty.  That`s why you see them ending voting rights in different states.  That`s why you see the voter I.D.  That`s why you see things in Tennessee and Arizona and Ohio.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why did George W. -- I`m not a big fan of George W. because of the Iraq War.

JOHNSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But he was one Republican that said, darn it, I`m going to make my case with the Mexican-American voter down in Texas.  And he did.

JOHNSON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He got high 30s.

JOHNSON:  Thirty-something percent.  He got 25 percent of the African- American vote.

But that`s not the current Republican Party.  And this is the biggest sticking point.  If you`re going out into the community and saying, yes, I`m Donald Trump, what have you got to lose with the black community, and then your party in Georgia, in Florida, in different states is saying, but we don`t want you to vote, what kind of message are you sending? 

And that`s clearly what the Republican Party doesn`t care about. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What more can I say? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What are you -- are you -- I got nothing more to say.  you`re so right.

Anyway, another tool for obstruction has been political gerrymandering, drawing in states -- we know this one -- their congressional map to give one party an unfair advantage.  Today, a three-judge panel in Ohio ruled that the state`s congressional map is unconstitutional, that map we`re looking at, and needs to be redrawn ahead of the 2020 elections, before next year. 

The current map was created in 2011 under full Republican control, with Republicans consistently winning 12 of Ohio`s congressional seats, compared to the Democrats, who have just four.  And that`s despite Democrats getting almost half the statewide congressional vote. 

Ohio is not alone.  A number of other states are facing questions about partisan gerrymandering, including cases in Maryland -- that`s where the Democrats did the bad stuff -- North Carolina, where the Republicans did, that are pending before the Supreme Court. 

I really do think this cuts -- I think most people hate gerrymandering. 

JOHNSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Especially when they get a look at a map and it`s got a salamander-shaped district with weird curly Q`s. 

In Maryland, just not to let the Democrats off the hook, you got like -- you got Frederick...

JOHNSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... that is stuck in one district that`s really surrounding another district.  And what is that about?

JOHNSON:  It`s cutting and slicing the pizza.  Nobody wants a district that looks like a Slinky, right? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

JOHNSON:  Here`s the problem, though. 

Number one, we`re all waiting for what the Supreme Court says, because ultimately this court is going to determine if partisan gerrymandering is OK.  They have said you can`t racially gerrymander.  But they have so far wanted to avoid whether or not partisanship gerrymandering is a problem.

That`s what we`re really concerned about.  But here`s the other issue.  It is anti-democratic.  If you look at Ohio...

MATTHEWS:  They know.  That`s why they do it.

JOHNSON:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  What did the Democrats do for years in California? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Phil Burton.

JOHNSON:  They cut -- they cut everything...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  To make all the incumbents safe.

JOHNSON:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  So that a voter who`s a good voter, man or woman, couldn`t go into the voting booth and make a change.

JOHNSON:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Because the incumbents were unbeatable. 

JOHNSON:  Exactly. 

Here`s the problem.  When you have a state like Ohio -- I used to be an Ohio voter -- the voters in 2018 voted to have an independent commission draw their districts.  So, actually, what`s happening right now is, again, the Republican state legislature is fighting against the will of the people.

The people want their districts cut fairly.  They will vote for you if you`re good.  You don`t need this incumbent protection.  And you don`t need this party protection.  It`s the most dangerous thing we`re facing in 2020. 

MATTHEWS:  And I think the problem is, with gerrymandering, like a lot of this stuff, it creates parties which are only hard left or hard right.

JOHNSON:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  You don`t get to choose, because the only thing you fear is a primary.

  JOHNSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And if only thing you fear is a primary, you`re always going to edge a little bit further than you normally would think you would be.

Anyway, thank you, Jason.

JOHNSON:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  This is very vigorous here between me and you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up next, what is it about Donald Trump that makes so many people willing to sacrifice their personal and professional reputation?  Why do they get smeared by joining this guy? 

Remember, if you roll with dogs, you get fleas?  That`s what`s going on here. 

Stick with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

After Attorney General Bill Barr`s unflinching defense of the president this week, many were left asking, what happened to that guy?

Well, Susan Glasser writes in "The New Yorker" that: "The Trump presidency has been a great wrecker of reputations.  In his short time in politics, Trump has managed to shred the careers, professional integrity and dignity of many of those who work for him."

Let`s watch it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  You just can`t subpoena a person because you`re a member of Congress.  You can`t ask for a person`s tax returns because you want them.  You got to have a reason.

Let it be said that any president who cheats our institutions shall be impeached.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  If it was based on false allegations, the president does not have to sit there, constitutionally, and allow it to run its course. 

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA):  So if the president orders the attorney general to halt a criminal investigation...

BARR:  I think it would be a breach of the president`s duties to faithfully execute the law.  It would be an abuse of power.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  From early in this administration, President Trump has taken steps to ensure that the federal government will never, ever penalize anyone for their religious beliefs ever again.

TRUMP:  Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And those aren`t even the most sycophantic comments for this week. 

And that`s up next on HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

After Attorney General Barr`s testimony this week, former FBI Director James Comey wrote in an opinion piece: "Accomplished people lacking inner strength can`t resist the compromises necessary to survive Trump.  And that adds up to something they will never recover from.  It takes character to avoid the damage, because Trump eats your soul in small bites."

Well, earlier this week, Trump`s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, gave us the ultimate evidence of a sacrifice for Trump, tweeting about his boss that: "Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation."

Boy, that`s pious.

Joining us right now is syndicated columnist George F. Will, and Juanita Tolliver, campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Thank you.

George, I have never seen -- sycophant is probably too nice a word.  What is it about people?  Is it the position, the prestige, the nearness to power, the glory?  Why do people -- Lindsey Graham, a likable fellow, why does he do this? 

GEORGE WILL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  It`s been said, if these people didn`t have situational ethics, they`d have no ethics at all. 

(LAUGHTER)

WILL:  First of all, there is the cult of the presidency itself.  That`s the title of a wonderful book by Gene Healy of the Cato Institution.

The grotesque inflation of the institution and all its trappings.  Well, as power wanes -- you talk about the dictator Trump.  He can`t get to people on the Federal Reserve Board. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WILL:  So, he`s hardly a dictator. 

Second, there`s the cult of him.  The Republican Party, having thrown away almost all its beliefs, small government, free trade, all of that...

MATTHEWS:  Fiscal responsibility.

WILL:  ... is now a cult. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WILL:  And there`s fear enters into this, because these people are terrified of him.

They remember Congressman Sanford, Senator Flake, Senator Corker.  All of them paid the price. 

MATTHEWS:  Those are people in South Carolina, two members of Congress down there, just gone, because he decided they weren`t worthy of his patronage. 

JUANITA TOLLIVER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND:  Yes. 

I mean, he has made it very clear, if you cross me, there will be repercussions.  And what Comey -- the picture that Comey painted was one of, as soon as he makes the call that you`re on his roster to be recruited to his administration, he starts lying about you, lying to you, creating this environment where, as Comey said, if you have weak character, there is no way out and you feel trapped. 

But the other side of this, too, is like working in administration is a bit of a revolving door.  Right?  There`s some cash in, cash out here.  We just saw today that John Kelly signed on to the board of the largest company running the largest facility for unaccompanied minors. 

And so there`s some benefits here once they leave the administration. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.

What struck me, the way that Lindsey Graham -- Janet Reno, when she was attorney general for Clinton, whatever you think of either of them, every time he called her up, she said, let me get my notebook. 

I mean, she was going to be an attorney general. 

WILL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  She wasn`t going to be his lackey. 

WILL:  Did you ever read Arthur Koestler`s novel published in 1941 called...

MATTHEWS: "Darkness at Noon"?

WILL: ... "Darkness at Noon"?

It was -- it`s about the Soviet Union during the purge trials on how people loyal to the party -- the party was all things to them -- would trust themselves into terrific intellectual pretzels to follow the party line.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WILL:  And there`s a character in there named Gletkin, who`s the inquisitor for the party. 

And the Republican Party now has a large number of Gletkins.  It`s worse than fear, because this is twisted conviction. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, in a piece for "The New Yorker" this week, Susan Glasser, actually the spouse of Peter Baker, also points out Trump`s crude efforts to humiliate those who work for him. 

Just yesterday, Trump dropped his Federal Reserve pick in a tweet, hours after Stephen Moore said in an interview that the nomination was full steam ahead.

His former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus also found out that he was fired via a tweet, and was then left standing alongside Air Force One as the president`s motorcade sped back to the White House without him in it. 

And former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in the bathroom, doing what you do in the bathroom, when he was told he would be getting fired.  The humiliation of people. 

And the other day, I was watching at -- a rally out in Green Bay, and he makes fun of this Sarah Huckabee Sanders, "You`re fired," as a joke.  And in a split-second, I said, that`s not funny. 

TOLLIVER:  It`s sport for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did he do that to her?

TOLLIVER:  It`s sports for him.

Remember, this is a reality TV star who did use to point out people and say, "You`re fired."  This is all fun and games for Trump.  And, honestly, we`re going to see more and more people get played.

MATTHEWS:  You think he`s a sadist?

TOLLIVER:  I mean, if anything, I`m looking at people who join the administration knowing how he treats his staff, knowing how he humiliates people.

And if they make the decision to sign on with this administration, then whatever negative externalities come from that is fully on their shoulders. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I remember when I first came to Washington, George, I asked a friend of mine who actually got me in the door, a former congressman, Wayne Owens of Utah.  I said, do you have any advice about life?

And usually you wonder what people are going to say when you ask an open- ended question. 

TOLLIVER:  I`m waiting.  Come on.  Let`s hear it. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what he said?  It`s who you associate with.

WILL:  You forgot about Chris Christie. 

Christie campaigns against him as a menace to conservatism, a menace to the party.  Then he endorses him.  He flies with him down to Texas.  I think it was down to Texas to the border.  And Trump gets done with his speech, turns to him and says, get on the plane and go home. 

TOLLIVER:  In and out, easy peasy, right?  This is fun and games for Trump.  And the people who sign onto this administration know exactly what they`re signing on for.

You started the segment with this, what happened to Barr, right?  Barr signed on knowing full well the treatment that he would receive.  And he made a decision to play to a party of one this week in the hearings.  And he played well to Trump.

MATTHEWS:  Well, not to get sectarian, but I always get back to "A Man for All Seasons" and the people that went with King Henry on the divorce issue, the marriage issue.  And those who didn`t had their heads chopped off. 

And those who did didn`t look too good in history. 

TOLLIVER:  Didn`t look too good in history and...

MATTHEWS:  But they cared about their horses.  They didn`t care about their souls. 

And Richard Rich, "But for Wales," one of the best lines in movies. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You`re giving your soul away to be head of -- to be given the title of duke of Wales or whatever?

WILL:  It avails a man nothing if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul, and you`re doing it for Wales. 

(LAUGHTER)

TOLLIVER:  Well said. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we`re getting biblical here. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And I don`t mind that at all.

My one question to you is, was it like that working for other politicians?  You have worked for politicians.

TOLLIVER:  I have definitely worked for politicians. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they all insist on slavery?

TOLLIVER:  Come on.  You`re talking to a woman of color here, right?

MATTHEWS:  No, I`m serious.

TOLLIVER:  Like, nothing compares to what happened to my ancestors.

MATTHEWS:  Some bosses are notoriously bad to people, and they do humiliate their people. 

TOLLIVER:  I mean, bad to people, humiliate people, still very short of slavery. 

But, yes, there have been some bad bosses out there, but nothing to the degree of what we see happening in the Trump administration, where he is actually creating this web where people get entrenched in it and can`t find a way out. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TOLLIVER:  But, honestly, there is a reality that there are some people who are in his administration who completely feel fine doing his bidding, because they believe in what he`s doing. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Lyndon Johnson was an awful man to his staff people.  He did treat them like slaves.  And the fact is, it didn`t get -- we didn`t hear about it until later. 

WILL:  That`s true. 

But they stuck with him because they knew big things were happening.  And they were important to them, because he also treated the well, in the sense that he involved them in big events. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I remember how he treated McNamara.  He made him cry.  He, I like that to show that I can make this guy cry.  That was the secretary of defense. 

TOLLIVER:  Geez.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, George Will and Juanita Tolliver. 

TOLLIVER:  Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS:  Great to have both of you on.

Up next, on this Free Press -- World Free -- Press Freedom Day, President Trump makes clear his own regard, which is pretty low, for a free press. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Today is World Press Freedom Day.

And if you did not have the person we have now sitting in the Oval Office, this topic would naturally have us thinking about conditions overseas.  But, today, we cannot have that luxury, because the freedom of the press guaranteed to this country by our founders does not stand here today as an uncontested value. 

Today, this country is governed by a president who believes the free press is to be derided, not just on certain occasions, but relentlessly.  A day doesn`t begin, it seems, until Donald Trump has launched his sunrise ceremony of assault on the country`s leading newspapers and news networks. 

Here he is making his personal statement for world press freedom today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election? 

TRUMP:  Excuse me.  I`m talking.  I`m answering this question. 

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP:  You are very rude. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What you just heard there was White House correspondent for NBC News Kristen Welker asking the president of the United States, following the report from the special counsel of sweeping and systematic Russian intervention in our last election, if he had just told the Russian president not to meddle in our next election. 

Wow.  A reporter doing her job, a president smacking her with an insult. 

It`s no wonder why Thomas Jefferson, author of our founding document, would say these memorable words: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Fortunately, thanks to Jefferson and the others, we don`t have to choose.  What we need is a president who respects the spirit, however, of our Constitution.  Journalists have died doing their job of trying to get the truth to us. 

And "The Washington Post" highlights today in its new ad all about that.  Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  When we go off to war, when we exercise our rights, when we soar to our greatest heights, when we mourn and pray, when our neighbors are at risk, when our nation is threatened, there`s someone to gather the facts, to bring you the story, no matter the cost. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And that`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END