ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Now, stay tuned for "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Showtime. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. It`s a big week for the 2020 democratic candidates with just now two days to go until the first debate. And while some candidates are calculating how to stand out on a crowded stage, two frontrunners are wishing they were getting less attention.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg spent part of the weekend back home in South Bend where he faced criticism and anger in an emotional town hall following the shooting two weekends ago of a black man by a white police officer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get the people that are racist off the streets. Re- organize your department. You can do that by Friday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, after the town hall, Buttigieg discussed his decision to return home from the campaign trail in South Carolina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN): I just think it`s my job. I don`t know if it`s smart or not. I don`t know if it`s strategic or not. But it`s my city.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: In a statement today, Buttigieg said it was a tough conversation. Hearts were broken. My heart is broken. It was a painful but needed conversation.
Meanwhile, frontrunner Joe Biden is trying to shift his focus to immigration with an op-ed he wrote for the Miami Herald slamming President Trump`s policies as morally bankrupt. But Biden faces lingering criticism over his remarks last week about the civility he knew in working with southern segregationist senators back in the `70s. The former V.P. defended his comments on Saturday in an interview with the reverend, Al Sharpton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL SHARPTON, AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: It hurts when you talk about, boy. It means something different. It hurts when you call a racist like you normalize. You know, that`s not the Biden I got to know. Don`t you understand that?
JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I do fully understand that. That`s not what I said though. They didn`t print the whole deal. Do you know what I mean? The context of this was totally different.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, several other candidates capitalized on the days before the debate to make last-minute pitches to voters. Senator Bernie Sanders rolled out his plan to cancel more than $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. And while former Congressman Beto O`Rourke is outlining his plan for a war tax to care for veterans of any future U.S. military conflict.
For his part in his interview with Meet the Press, President Trump criticized Joe Biden by once again invoking his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: They always say she was a lousy candidate. I actually think that Hillary Clinton was a great candidate. She was very smart. She was very tough. She was ruthless and vicious.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: You`d rather run against her again, wouldn`t you? You`ve only talked about her in your announcement speech. You spent a lot of time talking about her.
TRUMP: No. I would actually rather run against Biden. I think that would be my preference.
TRUMP: Sleepy Joe. He is sleepy. She was not sleepy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Jaime Harrison, the former Chairman of the House of the South Carolina Democratic Party, there`s an important post, and 2020 candidate for U.S. Senate in South Carolina, Michael Steele, former RNC Chairman, and NBC News Correspondent Heidi Przybyla.
Let`s talk about these two guys taking a beating right now. Buttigieg, Jaime, tell me about that. I call you Jaime. I haven`t met you before, but it`s a nice name, so I`ll call you Jaime. Tell me about this Buttigieg thing. Is there some wall against him that was there before not just -- well just before, before this incident of last -- or two weeks ago?
JAIME HARRISON, DNC ASSOCIATE CHAIR: Well, Chris, I think what Pete is experiencing right now almost isn`t personal. This is what we`re seeing is the frustration within the African-American community about a number of issues that have been plaguing the community for years. And people are just getting to the point where they`re frustrated and they`re saying enough is enough.
And I think what we`re seeing is Pete just happens to be the person where they`re getting a lot of that frustration out at this particular moment. But this is something that all of the candidates have to be very, very sensitive to, that folks are just very, very frustrated in the African- American community about the shootings, about the fact that their unemployment is always higher than everybody else`s unemployment, that the systematic disadvantages that we see in the African-American community, and folks are just saying enough is enough.
MATTHEWS: Let me -- let me bottom line you. Let`s go to the -- all the way to the finish line here. Do you think it`s possible, plausible, good that the Democratic Party runs an all-white ticket next summer, president/V.P., both white people?
HARRISON: Listen, I believe, and I`ve said this from the very start, that the ticket -- the next ticket has to be reflective of the diversity of the Democratic Party.
HARRISON: Ergo, I see that either there is someone of color on the top of the ticket or on the bottom of the ticket, but I believe that there will be at least one ethnic minority, either as president or vice president.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to my friend, Michael. No, I`m going to go to -- I`m going over here, Heidi. You`re a republican.
MATTHEW STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: I have a few thoughts on this.
MATTHEWS: Let`s get to some straight reporting here. This thing about Biden and this thing about Buttigieg, both is about race. I do think, you know, I`ve always said race in this country is the San Andreas fault. It`s right below. It is earthquake potential at any time and people trample on it at their very peril. You talk about race, you better be careful.
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I think there`s a difference though between Biden and between Buttigieg. And what Jaime said can be true, but it can also be true that there is a bigger kind of structural problem here with Buttigieg`s campaign. Because, Chris, I spoke with some of the African-American elders in the Democratic Party a month or two ago, and they told me, and we kind of ticked on the list of candidates, and on him, they were very skeptical that because of his profile and because he hadn`t really had a really strong base of support in the African-American community within South Bend that he would ever ascend to actually, you know, get the nomination. And this has been there. It`s been there to your question.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I keep thinking about it. Isn`t it our turn is the mentality, I keep thinking, women. Isn`t it our turn? All right, Hillary may have had some problems, but isn`t it our turn still? We`re almost half the party -- more than half the party, I guess, numerically. African- Americans are waiting their turn since 1865, you know, in terms of getting the Democratic Party, which is the party now of African-Americans by choice of not putting somebody on the ticket again like Obama.
STEELE: But you`ve elected a black president who was a democrat. So that`s a big box that`s been checked in some respect.
MATTHEWS: What, I gave you the office?
STEELE: Not -- but it`s not a question that I gave you office, but I think the mindset for some whites out there is like, okay, we`ve been there, done that, not that we won`t do that again, but I don`t think they`re looking at it the same way.
And this is what you`re going to see play out. I think on two areas, race and sex, is why when you look at who is leading the charge for democrats right now, it`s not Kamala Harris or, you know, some other individual, right? It is a series of white men who are there. So there is this breakdown, I think, that`s occurring within the democratic ranks and how rank and file democrats are looking at this race as not the same way the vice chairman said.
MATTHEWS: I want to get back to Jaime for a second because I think you were gutsy to say what you did. I`m asking because I keep doing this simple arithmetic thing. I go, can you have an all-white ticket? No. Can you have an all-male ticket? No, I don`t think. So that means Kamala Harris is Joe Biden`s running mate. Why do we go through all of this rigmarole? It`s all done. I mean, I`m kidding. But isn`t that sort of the way it works out mathematically and arithmetically if you say those are the rules? I mean, only one was your rule. But does there have to be a woman in the ticket, Jaime?
HARRISON: Well, you know, a number of the candidates, Chris, have said that, you know, if they are elected the nominee -- a number of the male candidates rather, put that caveat, have said that if they`re the nominee, then they are going to select a woman to be a part of the ticket as well. And so, you know, that`s part of all the -- all of the things that are factored in.
But at the end of the day, hopefully, what we have is a ticket that is well prepared to send Donald Trump home and I`m happy to help send Lindsey Graham home with him.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about -- anyway, meanwhile, for many of the candidates, this debate is a chance to introduce themselves out of nowhere. Let`s face it, you get on network broadcast television and you get on this network and you get to Telemundo, millions of people, maybe 80 percent of the people watching all together have never looked you in the face before. Well, The New York Times reports the debate is, for some, the only opportunity to stand out from an enormous throng of competitors and build national (ph) momentum in the democratic primary, it has in The Times.
Many of the 20 democrats who will debate have spent long hours holding their own debate simulations and rapid fire policy drills. In each debate, the candidates could have as little as six or seven minutes of speaking time over two hours to put all that practice into work.
Heidi, this is a challenge, but I like the -- I`m going to say it at the end of the show. I like the fish fry rule that Jim Clyburn did last Friday night, which is you`ve got a couple -- you got a minute or two here. Get it done, because then it forces you to crystallize why you`re there.
PRZYBYLA: Well, it`s going to be a divide between Biden and pretty much everybody else. On the second night, it`s going to be very interesting to see how Bernie and Biden interact. But if there is any kind of stumble there for Sanders, there are going to be other people like Kamala Harris who can step in and have that moment.
You cannot predict who that person is going to be. I mean, I --
MATTHEWS: Would somebody take him on the way they`ve been taking on Biden? It hasn`t happened yet. I mean, take him on by name. Sanders is wrong.
PRZYBYLA: I don`t know. I don`t have an inside track on what Sanders` campaign strategy is, but I can`t imagine that there isn`t, you know, some strategy there to try and draw a clear distinction there between the two of them.
MATTHEWS: Nobody on the left has done it. Hickenlooper has done it for the moderate side.
MATTHEWS: But I have not seen anybody making -- whereas he is taking a direct shot at Warren, Elizabeth Warren, saying she`s the corporate candidate. What? I don`t think so.
STEELE: Yes. I think Heidi is right on in terms of how this thing could personal play itself out. That Biden/Sanders tension is -- really, it`s going to be the driver over both nights.
MATTHEWS: And they`re next to each other.
STEELE: And they`re next to each other. So it really almost, in one sense, it doesn`t matter so much what happens the first night because everyone is going to be focused on the second night in terms of that. And you`re right, there could be some bleed-in to that where someone could sort of put themselves against Biden or against Sanders from the first night.
But that`s the tension because if Sanders falters or Biden falters, then that opens up the entire race. So that`s not going to come from --
MATTHEWS: Well, the way Reagan faltered in one of these debates where he looked too old to be president, remember, in the first debate against Walter Mondale. He looked like -- even The Wall Street Journal in their news pages said this guy may be losing it.
STEELE: Right. So that fight could open up the door and because you`ve got so much, so little space. So I`ve got to introduce myself. I`ve got to lay out my policy. And then I`ve got to decide if I`m going after Biden or Sanders.
MATTHEWS: Also you have to do another thing. You have to answer the freaking questions.
MATTHEWS: Now, that would be nice.
PRZYBYLA: The philosophical divides in terms of Biden`s strain of moderation and his general philosophy that, by the way, got him in trouble by invoking the wrong names, but he was trying to make the point that you`ve got to work together. We still need 60 votes in the Senate. And you`re going to see that challenged from a lot of the stage which is full of progressives that don`t agree with that.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk to Jaime about South Carolina. You know, we`re used to this sort of white people`s primary system that`s really going on for really long. And I think you would be -- I can see your smile. I mean, we go to Iowa. Okay, I get it. Let me go to New Hampshire with about 500 minority, maybe, of minority people up there. I don`t know if that many. And then you go to Nevada, which is pretty diverse. And you got Nevada thinking about its first, right?
STEELE: South Carolina and Nevada.
MATTHEWS: South Carolina first. Well, South Carolina, we get to the first one of people of color, 60 something percent of the voting -- primary voters are African-American, because history and geography and all that. What does it mean? Do you think these candidates will be anticipating South Carolina long before they get there or what, Jaime?
HARRISON: They will, Chris. And this is why South Carolina is important and why I`m so proud of this state because it has now made its way into the upper echelon of the early states. It is because not only is there a significant African-American population in our primary, but we`re the gateway for Super Tuesday.
So, you know, if you win the South Carolina primary, where there is significant African-American population, you then go in a few days, you take that momentum and you go into Super Tuesday where there are six or seven other southern states that are in that primary with similar demographics.
So this is an opportunity to fine-tune your message to see what works with younger African-Americans and older African-Americans to make sure that you have a staff that is diverse that can go across the country. And that is how Hillary Clinton won the nomination in `16. That is how Barack Obama won the nomination in 2008. South Carolina is the linchpin as it relates to the nomination for this party.
MATTHEWS: I`ve got to ask you about one big question. How are you going to beat Lindsey Graham?
HARRISON: I`m going to beat Lindsey Graham and I`m going to send him home because he no longer represents South Carolina. This is a guy who cares more about golfing with the President than addressing the issues here in the state.
I mean, we had rural hospitals that closed and then he comes up with a healthcare bill that he came up with in a barber shop with Rick Santorum. This guy is no longer the serious maverick that he was when John McCain was alive. And it`s really shameful.
MATTHEWS: Why does he wag his tail for the President? I`m serious. Why does he seem to giggle in his delight with this guy?
HARRISON: He wants to be relevant, Chris. You know, George Will said it perfectly. Lindsey Graham is a political wind sock. He wants to be relevant. And we`re going to let him be as relevant as he wants to be. He can continue to be Donald Trump`s golf caddie down at Mar-a-Lago all the time that he wants. I`m going to give him a permanent retirement. That`s why it`s important for you folks to go to jaimeharrison.com. We`re going to send him home.
MATTHEWS: You got a (INAUDIBLE) challenge. It`s hard to turn a windsock into a punching bag. It doesn`t work. It`s hard to hit nothing. How do you hit nothing, sir?
Anyway, thank you so much, Jaime. Please come back and good luck with the race. Jaime Harrison running for the U.S. Senate down in South Carolina. Michael Steele, sir, as always, Heidi, as always.
Coming up, President Trump announces hard-hitting sanctions on Iran after calling off a retaliatory strike last week. I am so glad he called off the strike. Let me just say that upfront. We`ll talk about the rest. Is there a strategy here? Is there a plan behind the President`s maximum pressure campaign or is he just winging it day-to-day, hour-to-hour?
Plus, there were red flags about a lot of presidential appointments. We`re looking at them right now, but Trump hired them any. Leaked vetting documents outlined what the transition team and president-elect Trump knew about candidates for big jobs for candidates in the administration but hired them anyway. Why were more swamp creatures allowed to enter the swamp?
Much more ahead tonight, stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Sanctions imposed through the executive order that I`m about to sign will deny the supreme leader and the supreme leader`s office and those closely affiliated with him and the office access to key financial resources and support.
We will continue to increase pressure on Tehran until the regime abandons its dangerous activities and its aspirations, including the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump today announcing -- actually reading what he called hard-hitting sanctions against several of Iran`s top leaders, including the supreme leader ayatollah Khomeini. This comes after President Trump called off a retaliatory strike against Iran last week for the downing of that U.S. drone worth about $100 million, by the way, that vehicle.
The President says the new sanctions are proportionate and a proportionate response to Iran`s recent actions, but warned U.S. restraint is limited. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us, a lot of restraint. And that doesn`t mean we`re going to show it in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, this afternoon, the U.N. Security Council met to discuss the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran and the Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. said his country would not give in to U.S. threats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJID TAKHT-RAVANCHI, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: So nobody is -- in a clear mind can accept to have a dialogue with somebody who is threatening you with more sanctions.
So that -- as long as this threat is there, there is no way that Iran and the U.S. can start a dialogue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, in addition to sanctions, there are reports that the U.S. launched cyberattacks against Iran the same day President Trump canceled the military strike. Interesting.
Today, the president said -- had this message for the supreme leader of Iran:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My only message is this. He has the potential to have a great country and quickly, very quickly. And I think they should do that, rather than going along this very destructive path, destructive for everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more I`m joined by Elise Labott, foreign affairs analyst, and Jeffrey Prescott, former senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf states on President Trump`s National Security Council.
Let me start with you, Jeffrey.
It`s interesting that the president sort of left them off the hook by saying it was some regional commander, some general that knocked down our drone. And now today he said any action taken by that government is taken by the supreme leader. I`m blaming the top guy.
Why did he do that?
JEFFREY PRESCOTT, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, I think -- I think that`s a real challenge of the administration`s approach.
They have been looking to de-escalate, but at the same time taking steps that seem to re-escalate the situation. I think there are mixed messages coming out of this administration, whether you look at what the secretary of state has been saying, what the national security adviser, Bolton, has been saying, what the president has said just over the last couple of days.
They have sent different messages about what we`re seeking out of this negotiation. And that leaves us really at...
MATTHEWS: Elise, if you were on the other side -- do a little reporting from the other side. Think about, what are sending? What signal are we sending to the people in Tehran?
I mean, we crushed the deal. We said no deal more.
ELISE LABOTT, FOREIGN AFFAIRS JOURNALIST: Right.
MATTHEWS: So you were going to lay off nuclear development for five years. You say, America won`t take that? OK. We will do something else.
But what do they think we`re up to? Do they think Trump is sane?
LABOTT: I`m not sure, really.
I think, in one way, the Iranians are trying to wait President Trump out. They don`t know if he`s going to get reelected.
LABOTT: And, meanwhile, they`re trying...
MATTHEWS: Well, we don`t know either.
LABOTT: We don`t know.
But they`re trying to show with all of these actions, with the drone, with those tankers, with, you know, hitting Saudi assets, that there is a cost for what the U.S. is doing with the -- with all these economic sanctions.
And it`s kind of their two timelines are hitting up against each other. The U.S. is hoping that Iran will capitulate and surrender. And Iran is saying, we`re not going to surrender, we`re going to show you that there is a cost.
But I don`t think that the Iranians aren`t willing to negotiate at all. You heard one of the -- President Rouhani`s advisers. It didn`t get a lot of play, but was saying if you want something a little bit more than this Iran deal, then you have to show us something.
They`re looking for something a little bit like Kim Jong-un is getting. And what really surprises me is, they haven`t started to play President Trump like Kim Jong-un has.
LABOTT: Because President Trump is showing a lot of leg for Kim Jong-un. And he seems to be willing to show it for the Iranians if they`re willing to, you know, play the game.
MATTHEWS: Well, he`s got a whole bunch of neocons and all floating around his administration who hate Iran. Let`s face it.
And Netanyahu hates Iran and all. I understand this stuff. We all understand it. It`s a pretty transparent situation.
Anyway, President Trump is calling for maximum pressure right now, economic pressure, on Iran. But the president has pursued that strategy with other countries, and so far it hasn`t proven very successful. Let`s be honest.
As "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof points out, Trump tried maximum pressure on North Korea, and it is continuing to produce nuclear weapons. With China, we may be facing a trade war. With Venezuela, exacerbating -- exacerbating hunger in the streets, but leaving the dictatorship in place. And with the Palestinians, who responded by refusing to even meet with administration officials.
So, now, with Iran, we may now be on the brink of war.
So, here`s the question. Does it ever work, tightening the screws? That`s what he`s doing.
PRESCOTT: In the Obama administration, we learned if you had a point to your sanctions, if you got your friends together with you, if you had allies together, if you worked in concert toward an objective, the objective was getting Iran to the table to get an agreement.
And that was the Iran nuclear deal that we got in 2015. So the problem is, the Trump administration has said, we want to use maximum pressure and Iran will buckle. That`s not going to happen. They have said, we want to get a better deal. No attempt to reach out and start diplomacy.
PRESCOTT: They have said that Iran is going to take this pressure and they will stop messing around in the region. We have only seen escalations increase.
So the approach that they have tried is just not working.
LABOTT: I don`t think Iran won`t buckle. I mean, they buckled for the Obama administration because those sanctions really hit.
But you also -- while they offered the stick, they also had a carrot. And so I think the Iranians are looking for that carrot. And I think you`re going to see the G20. Leaders are going to be meeting and they`re going to be discussing some way to have a way to de-escalate.
I think, ultimately, President Trump is pretty clear by saying, let`s make America -- Iran great again, I think they`re going to be a great country, I will be their best friend.
He`s practically begging for the Iranians to sit down with him.
MATTHEWS: Well, it makes sense if they were secular in their thinking over there, and they weren`t so, you know, crazy, the ayatollah, because Iran`s got the people, it`s got the work force, it`s got the technology.
It`s a modern country with a -- they could become the great economic power of that whole region, if they`d just stop screwing around. And we`d leave them alone. I think we would. Netanyahu would still be mad at them, but I think we`d leave them alone.
I don`t get it. I think there is a real opportunity there.
Anyway, in a new op-ed, former ambassador -- former Obama National Security Adviser, rather, Susan Rice writes that following the -- quote -- "mess" of the canceled military strike on Iran, she sees an opening for President Trump to restart the talks.
She says the first step is for the president, he needs to sideline his out- of-control national security adviser plus his hawkish sidekick, the secretary of state. That means John Bolton and Pompeo.
Why does he have these people in his administration? This is a rhetoric -- rhetorical question. He said no more stupid wars. Then he brings Bolton in. And Pompeo seems to be getting as worse as Bolton. They want war.
PRESCOTT: And what they have done is box him into a corner, where he really doesn`t have a good way out.
I totally agree with Ambassador Rice. There is an opportunity here. There are two reasons I`m skeptical that the Trump administration is going to take it. First, the people around Trump.
MATTHEWS: What, Sheldon Adelson?
PRESCOTT: The people around Trump. That`s exactly right.
The second is, to your earlier point, they have tried this approach over and over again. It`s not actually delivering results on North Korea, on Venezuela and now on Iran.
MATTHEWS: Well, he just put out the word as we speak that the president is saying he doesn`t need congressional authorization to go -- to take military action against Iran. Isn`t that nice? Again, erratic, erratic.
LABOTT: I mean, listen, there are some advisers and some -- obviously, you have Pompeo and Bolton.
And I think Pompeo is really doing it more because he wants to side -- he`s thinking about his own political ambition.
MATTHEWS: Another Lindsey Graham.
LABOTT: Another Lindsey Graham. But John Bolton, I don`t necessarily think wants a deal. I think Pompeo...
MATTHEWS: No, he doesn`t care who the president is.
MATTHEWS: He`s John Bolton.
LABOTT: No. But I think...
MATTHEWS: I want to say one thing.
I don`t -- I`m going to make a little editorial, because if Trump had taken military action, I would have come down hard on him. I think it`s good that he hesitated.
I think hesitation before using military action, and asking how many casualties there are going to be on the other side is a good question, the fact he found out it was 150 or so people.
We went into Iraq, everybody said it was going to be quick and easy, it was going to be a slam dunk. We may have killed somewhere between 150,000 people and a million people, Iraqis, who were just there. They are just Iraqis. They weren`t the bad guys.
And we only make that calculation now. It`s time that -- I like the fact that the president asked up front to his NSC people, how many people will die if we take this step? I think it`s good.
And I`m glad he did it.
LABOTT: I think it`s pretty clear that he doesn`t want a military escalation. There is some, you know, debate over when he asked or whatever.
Clearly, he didn`t want a military escalation. I think the question, though, is Iran going to keep testing them? The Iranians are saying they will put down another drone. Are the Iranians going to keep testing them? Are -- is an American serviceman or someone, you know, going to get killed?
And then President Trump is going to find himself in the exact same space that he did last week, backing down or imposing military action. So I don`t think we have seen the end of it.
MATTHEWS: Well, they`re not completely crazy, because after they held our hostages for a year, 50 of them...
LABOTT: They let them go, but John Kerry had that channel to Foreign Minister Zarif. And now the administration is it talking about sanctioning Foreign Minister Zarif.
MATTHEWS: Well, we have had success in dealing with them. They`re not completely crazy. They`re not crazy. They didn`t kill any of our hostages. And I was working as a speechwriter to President Carter.
And I remember, it was horrible, it was humiliating. I hated it as a patriot. I hated it. But they did show restraint, which is interesting.
We ought to think about that once a while. And I do think we got to go to Rouhani people, the secular people, and work with them and try to move them again.
Thank you, Elise. Thank you, Elise Labott. And thank you, Jeffrey Prescott.
Up next: President Trump says his administration is doing a fantastic job dealing with migrants down at the border. So, why are authorities now removing hundreds of migrant children from a detention facility down in Texas following reports of inhuman, inhuman conditions?
Wait until you hear what they`re doing to these kids down here.
That`s coming up next.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Nearly 300 children were moved from a border facility in Clint, Texas, today after a public outcry over what lawyers described to "The New York Times" as a chaotic scene of sickness and filth.
According to multiple reports, lawyers who interviewed children at this site say they lacked access to showers, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, everything. They described children sleeping on the floor, of flu and lice outbreaks, and young children caring for infants.
Some of the children had been there for up to 27 days. And though many of the children crossed the border with family members, they are considered to be unaccompanied if they cross with someone other than their biological parents or legal guardians.
Legally, immigration officials are required to hold minors in facilities that are safe and sanitary. But, last week, a government lawyer argued that basic toiletries and items like a blanket weren`t necessarily required by law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA, NINTH CIRCUIT U.S. COURT OF APPEALS: It is within everybody`s common understanding that, if you don`t have a toothbrush, if you don`t have soap, if you don`t have a blanket, it is not safe and sanitary.
Wouldn`t everybody agree to that? Do you agree with that?
SARAH FABIAN, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ATTORNEY: Well, I think it`s -- I think those are -- there`s fair reason to find that those things may be part of safe and sanitary...
TASHIMA: Not may be, are a part. Why do you say maybe?
You mean there are circumstances when a person doesn`t need to have a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap for days?
FABIAN: Well, I think in CBP custody, there`s frequently -- it`s frequently intended to be much shorter term, so it may be for a shorter- term stay in CBP custody, that some of those things may not be required.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
Thank you so much, Erika.
And I guess what people need to do is get a picture of what it is like -- what it was like over the last several weeks in that situation these kids were in, very young kids. What grabbed me was kids 7 years old taking care of even younger kids.
ERIKA ANDIOLA, REFUGEE AND IMMIGRANT CENTER FOR EDUCATION AND LEGAL SERVICES: Yes, absolutely.
Well, let me just start by saying that this is not a new situation. This is a situation that has been happening for many, many years. And I can tell you that, you know, these new facilities are popping up now where there are actual tents.
People are really starting to see what`s going on in there. But I can tell you that migrants have been treated this way for a really long time under the custody of Border Patrol agents.
And we talk about -- we see on social media a lot of people outraged about the toothpaste and the toothbrushes, et cetera, but it goes even beyond that. We have seen a lot of people who are represent -- who we have been representing at RAICES that people sometimes don`t have the ability to go to see a doctor.
A lot of people -- there`s children who have died because they have said, I`m sick, I don`t feel good. They get ignored.
It`s really a huge problem that has happened for awhile. And, to me, the most unbelievable part of this is that this is not a new crisis. Every year, there is a wave of migrant children who come either unaccompanied or with family members who get either separated, you know, as you said before.
And so it`s not new. The problem is that DHS and Border Patrol have never actually tried to make, you know, the problem go away by actually providing the right, you know, places for children to be at without being in the hands of Border Patrol in these places that are really cold and terrible, or, you know, being in facilities where they can actually be treated as children.
MATTHEWS: Well, what grabbed me was the portrait of a kid standing on a toilet to try to get fresh air, because the room was so crowded he had to get above the crowd of people around him, jammed into this situation to breathe.
ANDIOLA: That`s right.
Yes. And if people want to actually look up, I mean, there`s actually photos on social media and on the Web of something called an ice box, right, hielera, which is a Border Patrol processing center, where there`s literally tiny jail cells where they crowd tons and tons of people, put them in there with some foil blankets on them.
They`re super cold. That`s the reason why they call them hieleras or ice boxes. The migrants, when they come out, they call them that. There`s the perreras, the dog kennels, the migrants also call them. In many instances, they get placed in other pens that literally looked like dog kennels that are also super cold.
And they don`t have the ability to, again, access some of the most basic human needs, whether there`s children in adults. In many ways, children and adults get placed in a lot of these processing centers for many, many days.
And we have seen people who have actually died.
ANDIOLA: And so it is a crisis. And it`s not going to be solved with just saying that we need to either build a wall, or, you know, it`s not going to be solved with any more politics in D.C. It has to -- we have to have something change now.
MATTHEWS: Well, NBC News reports now that a different team of attorneys said they had also encountered children in similar conditions when they visited the central processing center in McAllen, Texas, this month.
Let me -- what happened in the last 24 hours? Apparently, the heat is on, so to speak. The government did recognize this is very bad publicity, the kids not having any basic health products. You need a toothbrush to brush your teeth. And these kids didn`t bring one with them, obviously.
And they get stuck there. They don`t stay clean. They have lice. They got flu. They got terrible, obviously, digestive problems that come with being in a place like this.
And now, all of a sudden, overnight, 300 of these kids were moved. What`s their new situation like? Do you know?
ANDIOLA: We don`t know. We don`t have access to a lot of these places where, you know, they`re probably going to be moved.
What I can tell you is that I wouldn`t be surprised if it`s the same or worse conditions. And, again, to me, this is the moment where Congress needs to make sure that there has to be a solution right here, right now, where these folks can actually have some of the most humane treatment that you can ask for.
I mean, any American, any human being who needs something to sleep on, you know, can tell you, like, it just needs a mat and a toothbrush, yes, and medical attention. We can do that right now.
And in the long term, we still have to be looking at, you know, why are people leaving Central America? Why are people leaving other countries? And what are we doing to change the system in the long run?
But, for now, let`s try to figure out how to best, you know, make sure that these children and their families are being taken care of in a humane way, and making sure that they`re not under Border Patrol for more than 72 hours.
They shouldn`t be there for longer than that. And they have been.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much, Erika Andiola.
By the way, I do want to know what the Congress is doing. I think this is pressure on the Congress, as well as the president.
Up next: Remember when candidate Trump promised to hire only the best people and to drain the swamp, you know, all that lobbying going on and deal-cutting between the Congress and the lobbyists and the regulators?
Well, now we have got leaked documents detailing his administration`s shockingly dysfunctional approach to vetting prospective hires. Wait until you figure out these people that got through the wall here, so many swamp creatures brought in by Trump. He said he`d keep them out.
More after this. Stay with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In the 2 1/2 years since his election, President Trump has struggled to keep two of his core promises, to hire the best people, which he hasn`t, and drain the swamp, which he hasn`t. Yesterday, "Axios" obtained 100 Trump transition vetting documents which identified red flags for various candidates for big jobs in the administration. And some of whom were later selected for his cabinet.
According to the documents, a number of individuals were flagged for a range of issues. Scott Pruitt, who resigned as EPA administrator amid a swirl of questionable practice and expenses was flagged for his cozy contacts with big energy companies.
Tom Price, who was forced out as HHS secretary after spending $400,000 in taxpayer money for travel, was flagged for criticism of his management ability.
Mick Mulvaney, the president`s current acting chief of staff, was flagged for his, I like this one, his criticism of Trump for saying, quote, "stupid things". Well, he`s smarter than that.
And, finally, Rudy Giuliani, the president`s personal lawyer throughout the Mueller investigation was so concerning to the transition team that they created a 25-page dossier, that`s the word, dossier, exploring problems he had with his international business ties.
But it wasn`t these individuals who gave the president any pause. It is someone else who Trump is calling his biggest appointment regret.
Stay tuned after the break to find out who that -- well, that figure is. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In an interview on "Meet the Press" yesterday, Chuck Todd asked President Trump about his biggest regret as president. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": If you could have one do-over as president, what would it be?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it would be personnel.
TODD: Who is it?
TRUMP: I would say if I had one do-over, I would not have appointed Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. That would be my one --
TODD: That`s -- in your mind that`s your do-over?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He does it with such cerebral consciousness. We all knew that was coming.
Anyway, I`m joined right now by Vivian Salama, a White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." Timothy O`Brien, Bloomberg Opinion, the executive editor.
You`re laughing, so you go first, Tim. This is like, you know, tell us the obvious. I mean he has been blaming him for all of this troubles and travails ever since he made that appointment because he recused himself.
TIMOTHY O`BRIEN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And Jeff Sessions was trying to do the right thing, Chris.
O`BRIEN: He was trying to comport with the rule of law and honor some of the specifics of his office. Meanwhile, you had Ryan Zinke, Tom Price and Scott Pruitt running roughshod over the perks of their office, using taxpayer dollars to take private flights, get police escorts to restaurants, have staff pick up dry cleaning for them and Trump isn`t bothered by any of that.
The person on his staff who sticks out to him as the worst decision is the person who actually tried to do his job ethically and with honor for public service.
MATTHEWS: Well, I agree with you completely. I`ll go to Vivian, though. Why did he pick so many people with sleaze problems if he said he was going to get rid of sleaze?
VIVIAN SALAMA, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, it`s a vetting problem ultimately. This is something not just from the first year in office. He`s talking about Jeff Sessions. We just saw this play out last week with Pat Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, where all of a sudden all of these issues started to bubble --
MATTHEWS: He had personal family issues that go way back. Yes, well- known.
SALAMA: He had personal family issues.
And the president last Tuesday told us -- the reporters at the White House that he had only found out about those issues the night before Pat Shanahan withdrew himself. We asked him, is this a vetting problem? Why are you just finding out now?
And he defended his administration`s vetting. So, it was very interesting to see him come out on "Meet the Press" and acknowledge that personnel was an issue and continues to be.
MATTHEWS: Well, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who was in charge of the transition before he was replaced by Mike Pence was asked to read his own file and respond to the leak. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: And just to be clear, these are the suggested questions that the vetters wanted you to be asked by the president or Reince Priebus?
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Do you believe your previous position as U.S. attorney who prosecuted Charles Kushner has damaged your relationship with the Kushners to the point where you and Jared Kushner could not co-exist in the Trump administration? Do you believe that your removal as head of the Trump transition team was orchestrated by Jared Kushner?
Yes, I do, and the reason I do is because that`s what Steve Bannon told me. And by the way, the interesting part of this, which shows you how disorganized they were, was they had an entire vice presidential vetting file on me, had all of tax returns, had all of the stuff from U.S. attorney years, and my years as governor. That`s what makes this even funnier that they would go through this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Tim, what struck me not just the swamp creatures that he brought back in, but Mulvaney who expressed personal disdain for this president`s behavior. Is this some kind of weird psychological, he wanted people around him willing to bow down to him even if they didn`t like him? The best slaves in the world.
You know, as Michael Kinsley (ph) said years ago, phony flattery was the best in Washington because it showed you really were debasing yourself to get what you wanted from somebody.
O`BRIEN: Well, you know, Trump has had this myth going for a long time, Chris, that the Trump Organization was populated by A-listers, and that, you know, within Manhattan real estate circles, he was regarded as a premier real estate developer. He was not. He was considered a carnival act by major real estate developers in New York and the Trump organization was never seen as a magnet for top-tier talent.
So Trump actually had no experience in his past in terms of actually vetting a staff of size and making sure he was getting the kind of people he needed. And I don`t think he had his hands on the wheel at all with this process. We know that, in fact, he didn`t. He turned most of it over to Jared Kushner.
O`BRIEN: And, of course, Kushner wasn`t going to keep Chris Christie around. The larger issue is that Jared Kushner hasn`t really earned his junior g-man badge yet either. You have a very naive, inexperienced young man running a process that requires a lot of experience.
MATTHEWS: And now he`s running our Middle East policy.
Anyway, the leak of these documents come just a week after internal polling data was leaked showing President Trump trailing Joe Biden by double digits in key states. The president`s administration is suffering a string of damaging leaks from reports that the president called Haiti and African nations S-hole countries, to leaks of private schedules showing the president spending 60 percent of his working day doing executive time, in other words, doing nothing.
According to "Politico", his 2020 re-election campaign has grown so tired of the leaks they`ve implemented a no cell phone policy to keep from releasing possibly damaging information.
Vivian, I`ve never seen a more disloyal administration. There is somebody right inside there that keeps pouring -- they put out hundreds of vetting documents.
SALAMA: This is very troubling for President Trump and for those closest to him. And something -- we`re talking about a man who in his previous life as a businessman dictated all of his relationship through nondisclosure agreements. He was very, very much a believer in confidentiality. And suddenly, all of this internal workings are leaking out to the press, and it`s been something that has been very frustrating for him since day one.
And despite the fact that we had a number of chiefs of staff come in, John Kelly was supposed to implement some sort of order at the White House and prevent these things from happening, it still continues even in now we`re in the third wave of chief of staff, a number of staffers have come and gone. It`s still going on.
MATTHEW: You know, I guess I`m so traditional that Tim and Vivian that I thought if you work for somebody, you wanted to work for them. I guess these people should be running podcasts somewhere. They`d rather be on the inside killing this guy.
SALAMA: They keep asking people to leave if they don`t believe in him. Ultimately some people feel they need to reach out to the press sometimes.
MATTHEWS: You can argue that --
SALAMA: I never try to explain the reason.
MATTHEWS: I know that argument. It may well be true in some cases. This is a regular flow of dirt on the person you`re supposedly working for. I don`t know. It doesn`t work for me.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, Vivian Salama, thank you, and Tim.
Of course, we feed off this. I shouldn`t be completely hypocritical. We love this stuff. Keep it coming.
Anyway, the Democratic presidential candidates make an impression this week, can they?
Here`s a hint: keep it short, punch it out, headlines, do it quick, bite it off and walk off. People will be impressed.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: It`s an old rule of politics that it`s harder to give a short speech than a long one. But tell a speaker that they only have a moment to speak and he or she has to hit the heart of the message and get off the stage.
South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn did just that on Friday night at his annual fish try. With 21 Democratic candidates dying to speak, he told candidates to watch the clock.
Here`s how some of them used their time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Whomever the Democratic nominee is, we have to stay together and elect a Democrat president of the United States of America.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are the 99 percent. And 99 percent is a hell of a bigger number than 1 percent.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Imagine not just a woman having a seat at the table, but imagine a woman at the head of the table.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m in this fight because I believe that the time for small ideas is over. We need big, structural change in this country!
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a fight for our future and a vision of our future and a vision of our future of our America.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This election is not about one person and one office, it is about who we are as a nation and who we must be to each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Again, keep it short and you make it clear who you really are.
That`s HARDBALL for now.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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