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Interview with Pete Buttigieg. TRANSCRIPT: 5/28/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Nicholas Burns, Susan Page, Bret Stephens, Michael Steel, GregBrower, Pete Buttigieg, Juanita Tolliver

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  And it should be a doozy of a town hall.  Don`t miss it.

But don`t go anywhere right now because, of course, Chris Matthews is about to talk to Mayor Pete on "HARDBALL,"next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Torah, torah Trump.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in South Bend, Indiana, where I spent the day with 2020 democratic presidential candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.  I asked him about President Trump siding with his friend, the North Korean dictator, and comparing him favorably to former Vice President Joe Biden.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN):  It`s not like it`s the first time he`s aligned himself with a dictator, and probably won`t be the last.  So the real question on my mind is what was going on that they were distracting us from with the outrage of the day, what kind of bad policy decisions were being made out of public view in Washington or elsewhere.  But we`re not talking about it because we`re talking about how the President has decided that he agrees with a murderous dictator when it comes to a ridiculous thing to say about our former Vice President.


MATTHEWS:  I will have my interview today with Mayor Pete coming up later in the show.

Plus, the lone republican member of Congress calling for the impeachment of President Trump took his case today to the voters in his home town hall, where he was welcomed by the crowd with a standing ovation.  These are republicans.  We`ll get to that in just a bit.

But we begin tonight with President Trump`s attack on Joe Biden and political standards themselves during his four-day state visit to Japan, siding with North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un and openly engaging in partisan politics while representing our country on foreign soil.

In a Tweet this Saturday, President Trump wrote, North Korea fired off small weapons, which disturbed some of my people and others but not me.  I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me and also smiled when he called swamp man Joe Biden a low I.Q. individual and worse.

Well, during a press conference yesterday, the President, again, stood by Kim over Japanese Prime Minister Abe and Trump`s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, on the question of whether North Korea`s short range missile test violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.


REPORTER:  Does it give you pause at all to be appearing to side with a brutal dictator instead of with a fellow American, the former Vice President, Joe Biden?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Well, Kim Jong-un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low I.Q. individual.  He probably is based on his record.  I think I agree with him on that.


MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump later went on to call Biden a disaster and wrapped up his trip with a pair of Tweets slamming Biden`s work as a senator on the 1994 Crime Bill.

Well, this, in turn, earned a strong reaction from Biden`s campaign after President Trump returned from his overseas trip earlier today, quote, the President`s comments are beneath the dignity of the office to be on foreign soil on Memorial Day and to side repeatedly with a murderous dictator against a fellow American former Vice President speaks for itself.  And it`s part of a pattern of embracing autocrats at the expense of our institutions.

Well that includes that President Trump`s embrace, of course, of Vladimir Putin last year in Helsinki, siding with the Russian president in the 2016 election meddling over the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community itself.

For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs who is serving in an advisory role to the Biden campaign, Bret Stephens, Columnist at the New York Times, and Kimberly Atkins, actually, Senior Washington News Correspondent for WBUR.

Let me talk with the Ambassador first.  Ambassador Burs, what do you of this, Trump over there blasting Biden, making a fool of Abe by saying he has nothing to fear from weapons that could have easily reached him from North Korea, and whatever else, backing Kim Jong-un against the U.N. Security Council?

AMB. NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO:  Well, Chris, you are the best student of American politics, but I can`t remember any American President over the last 100 years saying anything quite like this, where you side with one of the worst human rights violators in the world, a tyrant Kim Jong-un versus our former Vice President, who`s an honorable man and a very effective person.  So I think most Americans -- almost all American s would say it`s outrageous for the President to comport himself like this, especially on foreign soil, but in any kind conversation.

Secondly, on the big issue of North Korea`s nuclear weapon, so the President said he was not disturbed by those small weapons.  They are ballistic missiles.  They are contravened by the very Security Council resolutions that his own administration has supported and those missiles are directed at Japan and at the tens of thousands of American troops in Japan, so he has given away a lot of leverage in a few Tweets over the weekend and that`s a mark of a very weak, frankly, and ineffective president.

MATTHEWS:  One quick psycho babble here.  Why do you think this President thinks he can charm Kim Jong-un, a man who kills relatives?

BURNS:  Well, he hasn`t been able to do it.  We`re coming up on the one- year mark of the Singapore summit next month.  And I thought the President was right to go to Singapore to get to know Kim, to test whether he was serious, we know the answer.  Kim is not serious about giving up his nuclear weapons.  Secretary Pompeo obviously sees that.  John Bolton sees it.  And the President appears to disregard their advice by continuing to think that somehow, magically, Kim is going to transform himself and rid himself of nuclear weapons.  It`s not going to happen.

And we have given away a lot of our leverage.  We can`t get the Chinese and Russians back to impose sanctions on North Korea.  So we are far worse off, I think, today than we were a year ago today.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Let me go to Susan on this, the politics on this.  Is this -- apparently, this has caused reaction, negative reaction for republicans, even a couple of them.  They think Trump should never have blasted Biden from -- in the midst of a state visit.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY:  You know, here`s what`s remarkable.  He called Joe Biden, the former Vice President and veteran U.S. Senator a low income individual, which is a historic slur.  I mean, we don`t -- in the past, politicians have not talked about their potential presidential opponents in that way.  He did it on foreign soil.  He did it aligning himself with an authoritarian -- a bloody dictator, and he did it on Memorial Day.  So you put all those things together and, surely, a fair number of Americans are going to be offended by parts of it.

Although, you have not heard -- I have to say, you have not heard a big outcry from republicans over this.  There has been mostly silence from republican members of Congress from republican senators.  And silence from John Bolton, the National Security Adviser, who also got thrown under the bus during the Japan trip.

MATTHEWS:  What`s with the I.Q. thing?  Let`s go over to that, again, Susan, because you have got a great sense of humor about this thing, and I share it.  Why would he pick out certain people with I.Q.?  It seems pretty clinical.  What`s the point?

PAGE:  Well, I think he is -- I think he thinks Joe Biden would be a strong opponent in the general election with appeal in places like -- crucial places like Pennsylvania and he is always testing with opponents, what kind of criticism, what kind of nickname is going to gain traction.  You know, he tried a couple things before.  He settled on Crooked Hillary in 2016.

So I think he is doing that now with Joe Biden, which, by the way, underscores the point Joe Biden has been trying to make, that he has already moved on to a general election against Donald Trump.  In an odd way, I think Trump`s actions are helping Joe Biden avoid a democratic primary on the assumption that he is the strongest candidate against Donald Trump.  Let`s just move on to that.  So that may be an interesting unintentional consequence of what President Trump is doing.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Bret on this.  I loved your last column, by the way, Bret, in the Times.  But, you know, they used to be elite liberals, I have to say to you, because I know a lot of them who are intellectually elite that love to put their noses up in the air and look down on republicans as not quite as I.Q. as they are, not quite as intellectual.  This is a strange thing for a guy who runs as a populist to run on relative I.Q.  It`s unusual and he did it from Tokyo.

BRET STEPHENS, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  I think the psychological term for art critics` projection, when you fear that you are yourself a low I.Q. individual.  You claim it of your enemy or your opponent.  I just wanted to briefly take exception with Nick.  I don`t think he is going to disagree.  He said this is unprecedented for the last 100 years.  I would say, it`s unprecedented in American history.  I was thinking over presidents in the 19th century going back to the 18th.  And the idea that an American president would openly side with a, if I may say, psychotic or certainly murderous dictator against an honorable opponent, whatever else you say of Joe Biden, and a fellow American, is absolutely astonishing.

The person I`m thinking of, the people I think of right now, really, are the parents of Otto Warmbier, the young American who was murdered at the hands of Kim`s regime, and what a betrayal this represents, never mind of the United States, never mind of our tradition of bipartisanship in foreign policy, but of them very personally to have suffered as grievously as they did at the hands of this man, Kim Jong-un, who has now held up as some kind of moral exemplar and authority on American politics by none other than the President of the United States.  It is historic in the worst possible way.  It is a stunning repudiation of two centuries of American foreign policy tradition.

And I cannot believe it is amazing to me as someone who identifies as a conservative that so many of my fellow conservatives are just mum on this subject.  Can you imagine for one second where Sean Hannity, where the crowd at Fox News would be if any democratic predecessor, President Obama or President Clinton, had uttered anything like this.  They would be demanding impeachment on the spot.  And here they are as silent and compliant as any group of ideologues and partisans have ever been.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  You know, Kimberly, you have been using the word unprecedented.  One thing that`s not unprecedented is Donald Trump playing ball with a foreign power, a hostile power.  In 2016, there is all kinds of evidence, he did it.  And here he is with Kim Jong-un playing ball with him against his political opponent here in the U.S.

KIMBERLY ATKINS, SENIOR WASHINGTON NEWS CORRESPONDENT, WBUR:  Yes.  I think that`s absolutely right.  And while I agree with everyone, I will say that what Donald Trump is doing is unprecedented up until 2016.  What he is doing is actually exactly what he has been doing for two years.  In that sense, it is not surprising at all.  It is not surprising that he would be drawn to authoritative dictators and to coddle them and to praise them and all while criticizing his political enemies even when he is abroad.

It is not unusual for him to go against members of his own administration on policy, sometimes even surprising them in that process.  It is not unusual for him to punch at political enemies when he should have other things on his mind, like North Korea`s missile program.  This is what he has been doing since 2016, since his inauguration speech was unprecedented too.  This is the new Donald Trump.  Donald Trump sees himself as the equivalent of America, if his enemy is the enemy of America.  We see him do that with the press.  We see him do that with his enemies.

So in that sense, criticizing Joe Biden on Memorial Day, on foreign soil, I don`t think he sees that as unpatriotic.  I think he sees Joe Biden as an opponent and the most American thing in Donald Trump`s world for him to do would be to attack him.  I think that`s his view.  He doesn`t have the same sort of ideological view.  The one thing that is unprecedented, as Bret mentioned though, is before at least in the beginning, certainly when he was a candidate, you would see republicans say, okay, well, that`s not presidential.  He shouldn`t do that.  That`s not right.  Now, there is silence because the Republican Party has largely folded right behind Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump`s stance on North Korea`s missile launch earlier this month runs directly counter also to his National Security Adviser, John Bolton.  Just hours before President Trump landed in Japan, Bolton told reporters, in terms of violating U.N. Security Council resolutions, there is no doubt about that.

The New York Times notes the President has also undercut Bolton on a rant in recent days, raising questions about the administration`s policy and personnel in the middle confrontations with both long-term American adversaries.

And, by the way, I think we have to come up with a term for Trump`s attacks on Biden.  I think we`ll call it Trump syndrome, because he can`t seem to get used to it.

Mr. Secretary, let me ask you about this whole problem.  I never liked the idea of putting John Bolton there.  I think that was a provocation with Iran and other countries right to start with putting him in there.  But it seems like they are not even in kilter.  The President says, we are not going for a regime change in Iran, which is good news, meanwhile, he has got a guy, his Chief -- Security Aide Chief who, since 1998, has been pushing for a regime change in Iran.  How do you square the boss with the Security Chief?

BURNS:  Well, it`s Trump undercutting himself, because you can`t, in the modern age, have an effective administration when the President routinely, not just this time, but routinely undercuts the National Security Adviser and the Secretary of Defense.  The President did this with H.R. McMaster when he was NSC Adviser.  He did it with Rex Tillerson.  You all remember that.

And what John Bolton said over the weekend in Tokyo was actually correct.  These missiles, these ballistic missiles are a complete violation of everything that the Trump administration stands for.  He was, as I read him, simply trying to support the President`s policy.  The President undercut Bolton.  He undercut himself because he reduced the leverage we need against Kim Jong-un.  So you have to grade the President as failing in addressing the North Korea issue nearly a year after Singapore.

MATTHEWS:  What a bizarre trip abroad the President has just taken to Tokyo.  Anyway, thank you so much, Susan Page, Ambassador Nick Burns, Bret Stephens and Kimberly Atkins.

Coming, the lone republican member of the U.S. Congress calling for Trump`s impeachment today laid out a scathing assessment of Attorney General William Barr`s actions.  And tonight, the Congressman took his case for impeachment to his voters in Michigan and he got a standing O for that.  You`re going to here all about that in just a moment.

Plus, my conversation with presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.  I spent the day with the Mayor, Mayor Pete, here in South Bend, and we covered a lot of ground, including President Trump`s repeated attacks on Joe Biden.

And today`s Supreme Court ruling on a new abortion law in the State of Indiana.  You don`t want to miss this stuff.

And be sure to watch our live Town Hall, by the way, coming up next Monday with Mayor Pete and the voters.  That`s Monday night at 7:00 P.M. Eastern, live from Fresno State in California.

Much more ahead tonight, actually.  Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Michigan Congressman Justin Amash remains the lone republican lawmaker in the country, apparently, calling Trump`s Actions impeachable.  And tonight, he held his first town hall since making that call and explained why volume two of the Mueller report moved him.  That`s what the Special Counsel describes ten potential instances of obstruction of justice.


REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R-MI):  I`m confident that if you read volume two, you will be appalled at much of the conduct.  And I was appalled by it.  And that`s why I stated what I stated, that`s why I came to that conclusion, because I think we can`t go -- we can`t let conduct like that go unchecked.  Congress has a duty to keep the President in check.

We have a job to do.  And I think we owe it to the American people to represent them. 


AMASH:  And that`s why I took the position I did.  And I would do it whether it was a Democratic president or a Republican president.  It doesn`t matter to me. 



MATTHEWS:  Well, the town hall that came late today came hours after Amash wrote an extensive Twitter thread accusing Attorney General William Barr of misleading the public on the facts in the Mueller report, simply in order to help the president`s false narrative that the investigation was unjustified. 

The Michigan congressman, a lawyer by training, first called the president`s behavior impeachable earlier this month.  In return, the president called him, of course, a loser. 

Amash is a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, which was created actually to promote open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution, and the rule of law.

Amash has been denounced now for what he said about the president by his party and is already facing two Republican primary challenges. 

According to "The Washington Post," one of them has raised $60,000 in the eight days since Amash made his statement about the need to impeach this guy. 

For more, I`m joined by Michael Steel, former spokesman for the House Speaker John Boehner, and Greg Brower, a former U.S. attorney and partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck. 

Let me start with Michael on this.

What do you think about this situation this guy found himself in when he decided the president should be impeached, and then the decision to hold a town meeting?  Your thoughts for the whole thing? 

MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER JOHN BOEHNER SPOKESMAN:  Look, I mean, I think that Justin Amash has been a pain in the neck to Republican leadership in Washington for a long time. 

And he`s a pain in the neck because he is a principled, nerdy guy willing to speak up, when it would be easier to stay silent.  I think that what he`s doing right now is entirely consistent with the principles he`s stood for, the libertarian principles he`s stood for, since he began running for office. 

I think that he should be admired for doing it, whether or not you agree with his conclusions. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the principle which I grew up with understanding, of course, the limited government concept of a conservative government, it goes back to Lord Acton, too much power corrupts, and the idea that the less power given to the hands of public officials, the better.

That`s a conservative idea, and that`s what he`s for, you say? 

STEEL:  Absolutely. 

I think that he believes in checks and balances.  He believes that the executive branch of the United States government has grown too powerful, at the expense of the legislative branch.  There`s a reason that the legislative branch is Article 1 and the executive is Article 2. 

And he sees this as a small step towards correcting that imbalance and making sure that the legislature holds the executive accountable when necessary. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, U.S. Congressman Amash told participants in the town meeting tonight that the president of the United States, as you just said, Mike, has to be held up to a higher standard. 

Let`s watch. 


AMASH:  We should expect the president to uphold the law, to have the highest standard, more than anyone else, more than anyone in our government. 


AMASH:  We need the president to be ethical, to be of high moral character, and to do the right thing. 

And the pattern you find in the Mueller report is of someone who does not meet that standard. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Greg, it seems to me that what I`m getting out of the reporting since we have been on the air tonight is the town meeting had a number of voices tonight, some standing O. for his principles, but then you had the people who are partisans saying they don`t like at all what he`s doing. 

GREG BROWER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, Chris, I would say that most Americans should applaud the representative for what he`s doing, for two reasons. 

One is, he`s acknowledging that he has read the Mueller report, and he understands just how important the findings are -- of the report are, particularly the volume two findings and conclusions with respect to obstruction of justice. 

And, second, and most -- more importantly, he`s willing to say so out loud.  As you know, Chris, many members of Congress, even Republican members of Congress, agree with everything Justin Amash is saying, but there`s simply afraid to say it out loud. 

So to see a member stand up and so articulately explain why he`s saying what he`s saying, why he has concluded what he has concluded about the Mueller report is remarkable. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think -- just objectively, do you think this president can defeat a member of Congress? 

BROWER:  Well, it depends on the district, of course.  It`s certainly possible. 

I think increasingly, though -- and I think the reaction from a Amash` constituents reflect this -- increasingly, people are figuring this out.  The Mueller report helps.  Live testimony in a congressional hearing by Bob Mueller would help a lot more.  That needs to happen. 


BROWER:  But, increasingly, I think the president is losing his grip on members of his own party, even in Congress, as the facts come out. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, you might be right. 

To my earlier point, by the way, while the congressman, Amash, received praise from some Democrats for what they called his courageous stance tonight at his town meeting, Republican constituents tore into the five- term member. 

Let`s watch that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You get to make the political grandstanding that raises your national profile.  You are now a national household name.  That`s called political capital. 

And you are hoping to launch your star bigger and brighter than District 3.  You just talked about how you did better in District 3 than Trump. 

Do you want to talk about how, the last election, you got the least amount of support that you ever have because you haven`t supported the MAGA agenda?

AMASH:  That`s not true.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Now, that`s your right to do so, but -- it`s your right to support whatever you want, but you also know that you have no future in this -- in this district because of that, as a Republican. 


MATTHEWS:  You know, Michael, that sounds like the MAGA hat talking. 

And that is what I hear.  In every poll I look at in the Republican Party, about 90 percent, roughly nine out of 10 Republicans, do not want any deviation from Trumpism. 

STEEL:  Yes.

I mean, the NBC/"Wall Street Journal," he was at 90 percent support among Republicans this month.  That ties his record high.  I think that the perception of the Mueller report`s reception helped that. 

And I think that`s why Representative Amash`s actions are so rare and so striking.  He is doing something that decreases the chances that he will be an elected official in January of 2021.  He`s going to have -- he has, as you mentioned, two primary challengers. 

He`s going to have a tough road.  The president will target him.  The president`s allies will raise money for his opponents.  And that`s why it`s so striking that he`s willing to stand up, publicly offer his opinion, and publicly defend it, not only on national television, but in front of his constituents, in what looks like a high school or elementary school in his district in Grand Rapids. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go back to Greg on the same question. 

What do you make of the fact that he is out there, he stood up, he made this declaration?  It`s almost like Martin Luther, here, I stand.  And he goes out and does this.  Apparently, based on tonight`s town meeting, he wasn`t reaching any of the other Republican MAGA hat-wearing people.  So who is he listening to? 

Who`s listening to him?  Who is he trying to talk to you? 

BROWER:  Well, I think, at bottom, Chris, he`s listening to his -- his inner conscience.

He is doing what Jim Comey and others have told us is important to do.  And that is speak up, not just shrug and sort of conclude that, well, that`s just Trump being Trump, there`s nothing we can do about it, let`s move on. 

He`s calling out the facts as he sees them.  And I think that`s important.  And I will say, Chris, one more thing, that, as a former Republican elected official, I will tell you that there is nothing worse than deciding what to do and what to say exclusively based upon the next election. 

It is a miserable experience and existence for a politician.  And we need, obviously, more politicians to do and say the things that are right, that are based upon standards and principles and what they think is factually correct, and maybe politically unwise, but to say the right thing, to do the right thing, as opposed to worrying about the next election. 

MATTHEWS:  It sounds right to me.  Of course, I`m not running.

But thank you, Michael Steel.  Thank you, Greg Brower.  Great assessments here. 

Up next:  I was fortunate enough to spend part of today out here in South Bend, Indiana, talking with the mayor out here, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, ahead of our live town hall next Monday night.

You`re going to hear what he had to say on Trump`s controversial performance on the world stage this weekend and Indiana`s recent attempts to restrict the woman`s right to choose, after this, a lot of hot stuff from the mayor, from Mayor Pete, in about a minute.

Thank you. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We`re back.

We`re bringing you the show tonight from South Bend, as I said, South Bend, Indiana, where, earlier today, I sat down with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, in advance of our town hall coming up next Monday night. 

Among other things, we discussed the Supreme Court`s ruling today on abortion, which allowed a new Indiana state law requiring the burial or cremation of the remains after an abortion, but allowed the lower court`s rejection of another Indiana statute restricting reasons for terminating pregnancy. 

And we began with a discussion about the president`s foreign policy, especially the president`s weird behavior over in Tokyo. 

Let`s watch. 


MATTHEWS:  You know, I was watching the president over the weekend over there in Tokyo taking shots at the -- at Joe Biden, the former vice president, in fact, retweeting or tweeting what the government news agency attacked him on, said he was a -- what is it, a fool of low I.Q. 

And the president of the United States put that out.


MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that? 

BUTTIGIEG:  I mean, we used to say that politics stops at the water`s edge, right?  I think that`s still a pretty good principle to go by, and especially when it comes to aligning yourself with a dictator.

But it`s not like it`s the first time he`s aligned himself with a dictator.  It probably won`t be the last. 

So, the real question my mind is, what was going on that they were distracting us from with the outrage of the day?  What kind of bad policy Decisions were being made, out of public view, in Washington or elsewhere that we`re not talking about because we`re talking about how the president has decided he agrees with a murderous dictator when it comes to a ridiculous thing to say about our former vice president. 

MATTHEWS:  But the cover-up is pretty bad itself.  I mean, isn`t this what we spent two years investigating, the role of another government with our politician, him, and whether they were playing footsie with each other?

And here he is publicly playing footsie with Kim Jong-un to attack his potential opponent.

BUTTIGIEG:  Look, the U.S. today does not have a foreign policy under this administration, but there is a pattern.

And one of the patterns is bad -- bad actors on the world stage get rewarded.  You see this with the Saudis getting a pass on murdering an American resident.  You see this with the Russians getting a pass on what they did to us in the election. 

And you see it in this decision to give the North Korean regime the legitimacy that it has long craved, in return for, as far as I can tell, nothing at all. 

It`s not even -- it`d be one thing to do this if it was part of an elaborate, well-thought-out strategy, if there was some give or take going on, and it was three-dimensional chess.  But there`s no evidence of any process at all, just kind of a personal high-wire act by the president, thinking that he can form relationships with dictators and be rewarded.

Maybe, in a certain narrow sense, he will be, but America is not being rewarded by any of this. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of him being -- being so well-received by the Japanese, by the emperor, by the prime minister, Abe, and then to dump all over them by saying that the North Korean missile testing was -- no problem with it, when Japan was in range of those missiles?

BUTTIGIEG:  It`s unbelievable. 

I think Japan obviously has a very high regard for the office of the presidency and for their relationship with the U.S., but he really was pressing it when he talked about something that`s obviously a tremendous threat to Eastern -- Eastern Asia security, but also a global threat that is...

MATTHEWS:  Nuclear weapons.  They`re the country that was hit by nuclear weapons.

BUTTIGIEG:  Yes, exactly.

This is not a laughing matter for anybody, but least of all for the Japanese.  And he`s talking about it like he`s just going to offer his own assessment over whether it`s a problem or not, without even, evidently, checking or caring what his own intelligence community or the U.S. military or the national security community or the global community had to say about it.

MATTHEWS:  His foreign policy record wasn`t too strong in Vietnam.  He didn`t go to Vietnam.  You were tough on him last week.  I was there at "The Washington Post" when you were talking about it.

How would you describe the way in which he used his phony physical impairment to get out of the war? 

BUTTIGIEG:  Yes, look, I wasn`t around for Vietnam, but what I know is that this president used his status as a very wealthy, very privileged person to create a fake account of having a disability, so that he didn`t have to serve. 

Now, I get that a lot of people face tough personal decisions about whether to get involved in that conflict.  Some people went the route of being conscientious objectors, which I`m sure would not have been easy, just as going over was not easy. 

But what was easy for him was to pretend he was disabled.  And it`s an insult to the flag.  It`s an insult to the country.  It`s an insult to people who served, whether it was that generation or my generation of people who went over.

And, of course, it`s an insult to anybody who actually has medical disabilities...


BUTTIGIEG:  ... that would have prevented them from doing anything from being an athlete to being in uniform. 

MATTHEWS:  What is he, a chicken hawk or a draft dodger? 

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, we`re going to find out, based on what happens in Iraq.

He pretends that he was against the Iraq War the whole time, even though we know that it`s true.  Now he`s saying he doesn`t want conflict with Iran, but he`s taking a number of steps that add up to a kind of escalation. 

And it raises the question for me, not just of, is he really averse to having a conflict, but is he really in control? 

Look, it`s safe to assume...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he didn`t order the aircraft carrier task force going over here, he didn`t send the bomber squadron over there?  Who did? 

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, he may have.

MATTHEWS:  He didn`t seem to be aware of it.

BUTTIGIEG:  Technically speaking, he did. 

But it`s hard to tell what`s going on in there, right?  I mean, it`s the same as a few weeks ago with North Korea.  He announced sanctions.  The next day, he took it back.

It`s really hard to figure out who`s in charge.  And it`s really hard to figure out if he even believes the same thing from one day to the next.  And while that`s disastrous in any policy-making context, it is potentially catastrophic when it comes to matters of war and peace, where the lives of everybody in uniform and, frankly, the lives of everybody on this planet are at stake. 

It is exactly in these situations that you need an American president to know exactly what he`s doing.  And we do not have that right now.

MATTHEWS:  Why would he pick a -- why would he pick a chicken hawk like John Bolton as his national security adviser if he wanted peace?

BUTTIGIEG:  It`s mystifying that a president who says he was against war all along would put in one of the architects of the Iraq War, the greatest policy disaster in this country in my lifetime, and put him in charge of matters of war and peace. 

It makes me think that he just doesn`t care.  And I think that`s the real problem we have here.  It`s a problem if you`re in uniform in a chain of command with this guy at the top.  It`s a problem if you`re a citizen of this country, living with the decisions that are made there, is that the president of the United States does not care. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the Indiana laws. 

You have two statutes coming out of this state, Indiana, went before the Supreme Court.  One, they let lie at the appellate level.  They`re not going to question.  They`re not going to review it.  But the one they are reviewing, 7-2, they decided to go along with the one. 

It`s, what do you do in terms of burial after an abortion?  Tell me what -- your feelings.  Would you have been with the 7-2?

BUTTIGIEG:  This is part of a bigger agenda. 

And it`s a systematic effort that`s been under way for longer than I have been alive to erode the foundation of Roe vs. Wade and reproductive rights in this country, to find any angle, any story, any case law, anything that can be overturned.

MATTHEWS:  How does -- OK, lay it out.

How does requiring a burial after -- a burial after an abortion to be an infringement on -- on Roe?

BUTTIGIEG:  Or after a miscarriage? 

I mean, come on, we`re talking about putting women in an even harder position than they`re already in. 

But, more importantly, this is about the message that they want to send.  And the message is that we, the government, not you, the family, get to decide this metaphysical question of life.  The government`s going to decide, and we`re going to tell you what to do about it. 

MATTHEWS:  So we put you down with the two?

BUTTIGIEG:  Yes, you can put me -- well, I`m not a constitutional scholar, but when it comes to protecting that right, you can put me down there. 

MATTHEWS:  See you later.  Thank you. 


MATTHEWS:  Up next, President Trump attacks from Tokyo.  American politicians launched attacks from home and with Trump as president, that`s out the window. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Japan rolled out the red carpet for President Trump during his four-day state visit.  But it wasn`t enough to hold the president`s personal attention.  Halfway around the world, the president appeared fixated with politics at home and in particular and one of his potential 2020 rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden. 

And while it`s a long standing position not to attack a domestic political rival while on foreign soil, especially on a state visit, this president, as we`ve seen, is not necessarily one for following such traditions. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  But I can tell you that Joe Biden was a disaster.  His administration with President Obama, they were basically a disaster when it came to so many things.  Whether it was economy, whether it was military defense, no matter what it was, they had a lot of problems.  So, I`m not a fan. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump also took a swipe at Biden for his role in passing the 1994 crime bill.  He tweeted that Sleepy Joe Biden was so heavily involved in passing the bill that was in a dark period in American history.  But has Sleepy Joe apologized?  No!

Why does he care about the crime bill?  Trump? 

And while golfing with the Japanese prime minister, President Trump wrote on Twitter that it made him smile that the North Korean dictator Kim Jong- un called Joe Biden a low IQ individual. 

Well, the president was responding to a report that the North Korea state media labeled Joe Biden, quote, a fool of low IQ, following Biden`s criticism of the North Korean leader. 

Well, tonight, the president saying he was actually defending the former vice president with his tweet.  Wait until you hear this explanation. 

That`s next. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Biden campaign late today reacted to President Trump over his repeated attacks on the former vice president during his weekend state visit to Japan, calling him beneath the dignity of the office. 

Well, tonight, the president responded to that with a new tweet.  He wrote, I was actually sticking up for Sleepy Joe Biden while on foreign soil.  Kim Jong-un called him a low IQ idiot and many other things, whereas I related the quote of Chairman Kim as a much softer low IQ individual.  Who could possibly be upset with that?

Well, I`m joined by Michael Steele, former RNC chair, and Juanita Tolliver, chairman -- actually, campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Thank you very much, Michael and Juanita. 

Michael, first.  Trump is rubbing it in, sticking the knife in and turning it a few times.  What is this?  I mean, it is a state visit paid for, every nickel by us or by the Japanese government.


MATTHEWS:  And he is using that platform to take a cheap series of shots against a guy he doesn`t even know will be his opponent. 

STEELE:  Yes, well, I think a lot of that has to do with no boundaries with this president.  So, whether Trump is in Great Britain which he will be shortly or in, you know, Asia, wherever he happens to be, that`s no different than being in Kansas or being in New York, or anyplace else here in the United States.  For him, it`s all the same when it comes to laying down the kind of political claptrap that he wants to lay down. 

The fact of the matter is the idea that we held as rather important and somewhat sacrosanct, that whether you are Democrat or Republican you don`t o after the president of the United States on foreign soil that we least upheld the dignity and the respect of the office despite our political differences with the individual who may hold that office.  That doesn`t matter here.  That doesn`t carry the same level of concern nor weight for President Trump.

And sort of the mealy-mouth response from a handful of Republicans, you know, Republican leaders and elected officials reinforces that attitude among Trump and his people. 

MATTHEWS:  Juanita, what do you make of this?  Because I thought the Trump strategy going into 2020 has been try to stay in the low 40s, hold on as much -- maybe as high as 42 or 43, and then knock a bloc off the opponent so that the opponent has a bigger negative than he has, if that`s possible.  Why is he going so early in this strategy?  Why is he doing it in May of 2019, that strategy? 

JUANITA TOLLIVER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR:  Well, I think it`s two-pronged here.  One, he is clearly threatened by Biden.  We are seeing how he reacted to Biden being endorsed by the firefighter`s union where his pettiness rose to a new high where he proceeded to tweet the names of individual firefighter who endorsed him. 

I think the other side is this is another example of President Trump trying to distract from ineffectiveness on this trip to Japan by tweeting and changing the narrative to something that he better enjoys -- this playground of calling people names and really engaging in politics in an inappropriate way while abroad. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Michael, I go back to Juanita, with the same question.  It seems that Biden can benefit from this because Biden is arguing it`s a battle between any Democrat who can beat Trump, that`s what this is about. 

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Who can beat Trump, who is he afraid of?  Isn`t Trump building him up as the guy he is afraid of, making the case for Biden? 

STEELE:  Well, you know, maybe indirectly.  I don`t think Trump is looking at it that strategically.  I think he sees in Biden someone who can go after a significant addition to his base Republican vote.  And that is -- you know, those white working class voters out of places like Pennsylvania, who you know coming from Pennsylvania. 


STEELE:  Michigan and so forth.  That vote is in play in the election cycle.  And so, he needs to lock it in and hold it down.  And going after Biden is his way to say that this is the difference between the two of us.  I`m the guy, remember, who will fight for you and stand with you.  Biden is the guy, remember, just recently as he said in Pennsylvania, Biden is the guy who forgot about who you are and what your occurrence are. 

So, I think for Trump, it`s sort of telegraphing early on this concern that may exist there inside this campaign about exactly what Biden potentially means, you know, full throated presidential election next year. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the rest of the Democrats running for president.  As Jonathan Martin and Reid Epstein pointed out in "The Times" today, with the 2020 Democratic field apparently set, now begins a series of primaries, little primaries, intramurals if you will, among the candidates within the larger Democratic primary fight.  Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both African-American, are competing with Mr. Biden for the support of black voters, of course.  Pete Buttigieg and Beto O`Rourke who are both under 50 are vying for the mantle of a generational change candidate.  Senator Elizabeth Warren is encroaching on Senator Bernie Sanders`s support from the party`s left. 

What do you make of that one?  I do think there are separate aisles here of action.  Your thoughts?

TOLLIVER:  Yes, definitely separate aisles of action, but I don`t think anyone has shored up a clear base at this stage in the election cycle.  I think in that same article, Buttigieg even was quoted as saying, people have not even tuned in yet, right?  It`s still so very early for that. 

But one thing that is clear is in 19 days with the first Democratic debate, that`s the first time we`re gong to hear from candidates and to have the opportunity to contrast them and juxtapose them based on their vision for the nation, their policy ideas and other things that make them stand out and highlight that they have been listening to voters and working to alleviate some of the challenges that voters are facing.  So, that first debate is going to be extremely telling about this primary within the primary, about who`s able to set themselves apart from the crowded field at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  Just a follow up on Juanita`s thinking here, do you believe, Michael, the candidates who attack each other in those first big nights, Wednesday and Thursday night  --


STEELE:  I think --

MATTHEWS:  I mean, attack each other and saying, I`m a better lefty, I`m better progressive than Sanders if you`re Elizabeth Warren.  Is anybody going to talk like that? 

STEELE:  If I`m a Democratic candidate, you know, I am hoping that what Juanita just laid out, too, is the way this thing plays out, that everybody gets on that stage and they are all sort of kumbaya, this is my fellow Democrat, yes, and we are all good --

MATTHEWS:  No, they`re not going to do that.

STEELE:  No, they`re not, Chris.  They`re not.  They`re not.

TOLLIVER:  Exactly right.  Everybody is finding their footing in this first debate.

STEELE:  Exactly.

TOLLIVER:  And so, no, I don`t expect anybody to come out swinging just yet.  But there have been hints of it, right?  Like we`ve seen a couple of things from the trail most recently where there are hints at other people`s comparison and policy ideas, or lack thereof. 

STEELE:  I think there will be some hits.


MATTHEWS:  As a faithful employee of my network, I hope it`s not kumbaya. 


MATTHEWS:  I hope that that night, people are going to make their move. 


STEELE:  No, I think you`re going to see some moves.  And I think they`re going to see some moves and I think you`re going to see some folks land a few punches.  Those who are in that six in below percentage block have to punch up.  They got to get into double-digits after the debate.  And I think the only way to do that is to land a few blows. 

MATTHEWS:  I can see Kirsten Gillibrand and a couple other people just going out like, you know, going out like fireworks.  But they`re not getting out (ph) as easy.  They`re going to fight for it, fight for those double digits.

STEELE:  That`s right.

TOLLIVER:  Every step of the way. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Michael Steele -- thank you, Michael Steel.  Thank you, Juanita Tolliver. 

We`ll be back in a moment. 

TOLLIVER:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You are watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Mayor Pete Buttigieg joins me next Monday, a week from now, for a live HARDBALL town hall out in Fresno, California.  What a night that`s going to be.  The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend has emerged from relative obscurity to become a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination next year. 

Does he have what it takes to compete against the crowded field of candidates?  We`ll tackle the issues in the minds of primary voters out in California, a state that will have a big influence in 2020. 

And tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, tonight, Senator Kamala Harris joins Lawrence O`Donnell for a live town hall down in South Carolina. 

And that`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.