STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: The President caves. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews. Ever since the earliest days of his presidency, Donald Trump and his administration have sought to put the question of citizenship on the U.S. census. And today, after a hard fought battle that eventually reached the Supreme Court, President Trump announced he was standing down.
But as a face-saving alternative, the President rolled out a new executive order. He says the citizenship question will not appear on the census form that is sent out to every American household but that he`ll still gather the citizenship data that he wants. Here is how he put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I am hereby ordering every department and agency in the federal government to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens in our country. They must furnish all legally accessible records in their possession immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Now, the problem is, according to experts, Trump`s executive order mirrors what the federal government already does and is able to do when it comes to that kind of data. Trump also blamed those who opposed him in his census fight launching some pointed attacks on democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Are you a citizen of the United States of America? Oh, gee, I`m sorry, I just can`t answer that question, and that`s after spending billions and billions of dollars.
There used to be a time when you could answer questions like that very easily. There used to be a time when you could proudly declare I am a citizen of the United States. Now, they`re trying to erase the very existence of a very important word and a very important thing, citizenship.
Far left democrats in our country are determined to conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst. They probably know the number is far greater, much higher than anyone would have ever believed before. Maybe that`s why they fight so hard.
This is part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of the American citizen, and it`s very unfair to our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Now, this comes just two weeks after the Supreme Court rebuffed the President, rejecting the argument that a citizenship question is necessary to protect voting rights. In fact, the ruling stated that the administration`s rationale seems to have been contrived, in other words, saying they basically made it up.
Trump`s announcement from the Rose Garden will likely come as a relief to those who oppose the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census. Trump`s concession averts some of the consequences that many had feared, namely that undocumented immigrants would be discouraged from participating in the count. An inaccurate census could have a big impact on congressional representation, on appropriations of federal funds, even on the Electoral College itself.
But while the President is backing down on one front, he is also gearing up on another. Today, NBC News reported the President`s long anticipated deportation raids are now set to begin this Sunday. Those raids will target about 2,000 families in roughly ten major cities across the United States.
For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California, Susan Page is Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today and Glenn Kirschner is a former federal prosecutor. Thanks to all of you for being with us.
Susan, let me start with you. The President and his Attorney General for that matter at this press conference today very clearly did not want this to look like he was backing down, but this was a president who was saying he was going to fight through the courts to get this question on the census next year. He now says that`s not going to happen.
And what he says is going to happen instead, basically all these agencies, all these departments coordinating is something that the Census Bureau had already recommended as an alternative to putting this on the census next year.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Yes. So just saying it`s not a cave does not make it not a cave, just the Attorney General saying, congratulations, Mr. President, does not make it a congratulatory moment. And the executive order, it is not at all clear that it`s necessary to have a new executive order to give publicly available data from federal agencies to the Commerce Department. That would seem to be something that would be easy to do. And, in fact, as you noted, the government already calculates the number of illegal immigrants and the number of non-citizens who live in this country, and they`ve done that for some time.
KORNACKI: So, Glenn, on that point, so what -- again, what the President was saying today is going to happen. And what he said, the official purpose of this press conference and what Barr was saying congratulations for was this plan he is saying to get all the departments, to get all the agencies coordinating, as Susan says, and as Pete Williams has reported here on NBC, that`s something the government is already capable of doing, the government already does. Is there an executive order -- he was saying something about streamlining. Is there an executive order here with a purpose?
GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It doesn`t seem so. As Susan said, this is not a congratulatory event. This was Bill Barr and Donald Trump spiking the football, even though the other team scored the touchdown.
So I do think that, you know, maybe the best news of the day is we`ve avoided a constitutional crisis. Maybe the worst news of the day is that we`ve avoided a constitutional crisis.
The reason I say that is because it does seem like President Trump, since the day he was inaugurated, has been marching towards, perhaps goose- stepping toward a constitutional crisis. And because it seems like the republicans in Congress seem unwilling to stand up to him for any other transgression, I only wonder would they stand up to that.
KORNACKI: And so where would this have gone to a constitutional crisis? How do you define that here and where was that point?
KIRSCHNER: I think a true constitutional crisis, we use that term a lot, is when the Supreme Court announces the law of the land, i.e., administration, President Trump, that is unlawful. And president Trump does it anyway. That`s a constitutional crisis because there is no one above the Supreme Court to address that lawlessness that contravenes the Supreme Court`s ruling.
KORNACKI: Well, the Attorney General, Bill Barr, we`ve been talking about him, he actually went further than the President. He said the Justice Department will look into whether only citizens should be considered when apportioning the number of representatives and electoral votes each state should receive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There is a current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes. Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this data may be relevant to those considerations. We will be studying this issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: However, as NBC News noted earlier today, the constitution bases that apportionment on the census, which counts persons, not citizens.
Congresswoman Lee, let me go to you on that, because I think that moment at the event, say, in the Rose Garden caught a lot of people by surprise and they`re trying to interpret it. How do you interpret what the Attorney General was saying there? Is he teeing up broader legal fight about how to count people who actually should be counted in the census when it comes to apportionment?
REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): You really laid out exactly what their motivation has been all along, and that has been to make sure that the count in the census is reduced, targeting, of course, people of color, intimidating and trying to scare people of color from filling out the proper census forms.
I think they`re doing this for political reasons. We have redistricting coming up. And, of course, they want fewer people who would more than likely vote as democrats.
And so I think from day one, that`s been their motivation. And I think it`s really an attack on our democracy. It`s an attack on our constitution. And this president is showing us once again who he really is.
And so I`m certain that when we begin to look at the lawsuits, if, in fact, they move ahead on that, people will really realize who they are, what they are up to.
Remember now, the census determines the funding for schools, for hospitals, for roads. And so we have to make sure we have an accurate count so that the most vulnerable people receive the type of services and benefits that the constitution requires.
KORNACKI: So the argument though against the citizenship question that you`re making there and folks on your side have been making, one of the arguments has been it will not end up leading to an accurate count for the reasons you`re saying. There is not going to be a citizenship question now. We know that. It`s unclear if this executive order the President is announcing today is going to change much in terms of what the government is already doing.
But do you think by having such a public fight over this, and the President and his Attorney General talking the way they did today, is that going to have any effect, do you think, on who does and doesn`t ultimately answer the census next year?
LEE: Well, I think the public fight, he is really -- but if he throws down like he`s trying to do, then we have to have that public fight, because this president cannot violate the constitution. And when you look at what he`s trying to do and when you look at how he is trying to -- now that he lost in the courts because this is -- he is a lawless president, quite frankly, and their administration is acting in a lawless way, this public fight will put the debate out front so that everyone will know what they`re up to.
And, in fact, it really is an attack on our democracy and the census is extremely important for many, many reasons, including what I just said, in terms of building hospitals, for schools, for roads and for every other public service that the most vulnerable communities need. And so if he wants to fight, our lawyers are ready for the fight.
PAGE: So, you know, this public fight may have this unintended -- or maybe it`s an unintended consequence which is to make illegal immigrants and also even immigrants who are here legally skittish about participating in the census. I think if you`re nervous about your status or if there is somebody in your household who is here in an undocumented way, even if you`re here legally, it could make you suspicious about doing anything with the government that you don`t trust. And so it could contribute to an undercount even without having the census question on the document.
LEE: Sure. Even people now are already skittish. I know for a fact in my district, people are worried, quite frankly. Once this proposal to put this question on the census forms came forward, people got worried. They`re afraid right now. And so, yes, the chilling effect is happening as we speak.
And so it`s going to be up to us to try to make sure we communicate the realities of what the protections are of the constitution and why members of Congress, quite frankly, especially democrats, are going to fight to make sure that they have the opportunity to fill out these forms without the intimidation and without the bullying of this White House.
PAGE: Susan, just one other thing quickly on this that caught me, and I want to run by you. We did not hear from Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary. He was there. He didn`t speak. Both the President and the Attorney General went out of their way to say, hey, the Supreme Court told us we could do this. We could ask the citizenship question. They just didn`t like the argument from the Commerce Department. It sounded like they were serving up Wilbur Ross. He didn`t speak. Is his standing in the administration -- we talked so much about Acosta this week. Is there any question about Ross just after this whole --
PAGE: I think so. I mean, there have been various problems with various questions about Ross in the past. But you heard both the President and the Attorney General basically blame the Commerce Department for making the wrong argument, for not laying the groundwork so that you could have resolved this in a legal way because of the argument that they made that they then had to back off. That was what Attorney General Barr said was the reason the question didn`t make it on the census.
Now, we don`t know that for a fact. We don`t know that a different argument would have prevailed, but we know that the argument that they made didn`t.
KORNACKI: Didn`t, right. And meanwhile, The New York Times reporting that those deportation raids that will take place this weekend will include collateral deportations where, quote, the authorities might detain immigrants who happen to be on the scene even though they were not targets of the raids.
Today, democrats on the Hill blasted this plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, lateral means kids being left. It means moms, dads, families being torn apart. It is absolutely disgusting.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): The President is proceeding with what I would call his terrorizing of the immigrant communities.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): This is fundamentally unfair. It has nothing to do with the security and safety of the United States.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I`m going to appeal to the people of faith, the faith-based organizations, to appeal to the President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Glenn, the President walked up to the line with this before a couple of weeks before then backed off. And they said they were talking about apparently 2,000 families, ten cities, something along those lines. What is the purpose of telegraphing it this way in public days ahead of time? Is there a purpose to that?
KIRSCHNER: The purpose has got to be to whip up his base. You know, hate is a powerful motivator and unifier, and it`s red meat for some people. So you wonder what is really being accomplished beyond what I would say is a misguided sort of P.R. benefit.
KORNACKI: So does it serve in terms of executing these raids? Does it serve a legal purpose? Does it serve an administrative, a procedural purpose putting it out there ahead of time that this is going to happen?
KIRSCHNER: Zero. In fact, it can have the effect of endangering the public servants who are apparently going to be mobilized, the law enforcement officials to go out and carry out this nonsensical plan. I mean, that`s one reason before we, at law enforcement, execute search warrants. We don`t announce it. You want to minimize the risk to people. I`m not saying this is a good idea, but what I am saying is it`s a bad idea for all reasons.
KORNACKI: All right. Congresswoman, you mentioned again, we saw the President kind of walk up to the line with this a few weeks ago, then call it off. I think it was on Twitter on a Saturday night. What are your expectations? Do you think he is actually going forward with it this time or do you think he`ll be talked down from it?
LEE: You never know what this President will do from hour to hour. But I have to tell you one thing. Using law enforcement, using ICE agents to round up children and babies and mothers and fathers is un-American. And so in my community, like in many communities around the country, we`re making sure that we protect our immigrant community and we`re going to push back on any of these raids to take place. It`s outrageous.
And this president, from moment to moment, you know, shows that he is totally -- this effort to demonize immigrants is awful. It`s un-American.
And I hope the public understands that this is catering to his base. This is trying to get more votes for his re-election. But I think what`s going to happen is he`s going to lose more votes because people are seeing how he has come after and allowed family separation at the borders, has allowed the abuse of children and women. I mean, this policy of this Trump administration on immigration is downright inhumane and un-American.
KORNACKI: Susan, quickly, is there a -- politically, a relationship here that today Trump backs down on a citizenship question on the census and then sort of tees this up in a way?
PAGE: Well, it is his fundamental issue, right? It`s the issue that has animated him since he announced he was going to run for president.
It did have one extraordinary effect today which was the Speaker of the house, second in line of succession to the Presidency, reading to America the rules that ICE agents have to follow, telling immigrants that if they don`t have a judicial warrant signed by a judge, you don`t have to let them into your house. Basically trying to urge immigrants who may be part of this roundup what legal tools they can use to avoid being taken, which I thought was pretty remarkable.
KORNACKI: Well, we had not seen that certainly in a while. Susan Page, Glennn Kirschner, Congresswoman Barbara Lee from California, thank you all for joining us.
And coming up, lawyers for Jeffrey Epstein say the accused sex trafficker is entitled to bail. Meanwhile, Trump`s Labor Secretary is getting slammed by legal experts for his explanation of the sweetheart deal he approved for Epstein. How long will Trump continue to back Alex Acosta?
Plus, breaking news, brand new NBC News polling numbers just released. The state of the 2020 democratic race, somebody is down, somebody is up, a lot to talk about.
And the gloves are off. There`s more. Look at this, what a show. And the House Democratic caucus, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling Speaker Nancy Pelosi outright disrespectful, while Pelosi tells democrats to stop Tweeting their complaints. How big of a problem is this divide for democrats?
There is, as I said, much more ahead, so please stay with us.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It`s now been more than 24 hours since President Trump`s labor secretary, Alex Acosta, made a public appeal to save his job. His comments did little to quiet the chorus of voices, though, calling for his resignation for his role in cutting a lenient deal for sex offender Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago.
A Trump insider tells Axios -- quote -- that "Acosta did little to help himself" and remains in a tough and shaky position.
Acosta, who was pushed by the president to hold the news conference, blamed a state attorney for the circumstances and told reporters it was the best deal he could get.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: The grand jury convened by the state attorney, the district attorney of Palm Beach County, reviewed the evidence and recommended a single charge, and that charge would have resulted in no jail time at all, no registration as a sexual offender, and no restitution to the victim.
Without the work of our prosecutors, Epstein would have gotten away with just that state charge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Yesterday, the former Palm Beach County state attorney called Acosta`s account completely wrong.
A number of former federal prosecutors didn`t agree with Acosta`s arguments either. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: If he had really wanted to swoop in and save the day, it sounds like there was a 53-page indictment that his office had drafted. Why not go forward with those charges?
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: If they didn`t feel they had the quantum of proof they needed, they simply could have continued the investigation until they did. There was no sort of time stamp on this. There was no urgency to negotiate a non-pros agreement.
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You`re part of the Department of Justice. If you really feel like you`re being overcome, overpowered, then you have the resources of the government, and your point, your role is to stand up for the victims and resist that.
And everything here about this just is what people are disgusted with about the justice system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And a lawyer for a 14-year-old girl who was the first to come forward to Florida police about allegations involving Epstein told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "Mr. Acosta`s office did not take this matter seriously back in 2008, and still refuses to accept responsibility for his failed leadership, which led to a sweetheart deal for a pedophile."
"The New York Times" is reporting that Acosta has -- quote -- "privately reached out the political allies for help handling the public relations debacle, and inquired about potential post-government work should he be forced out."
For more, I`m joined by Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press White House reporter, and Mimi Rocah, former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
Jon Lemire at the White House, let me start with you, because that`s where all the questions are right now when it comes to the future of Alex Acosta.
Does he have a future in this administration? We show that reporting from Axios. Apparently, the president not yet convinced. What will it take one way or the other for the president to come to a collusion on this? And when do you expect to know?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Right.
The secretary`s future is still very much in doubt at this moment. He was urged by the president to hold that news conference yesterday. It has done little to quiet his critics, certainly by Democrats, but also those in the law enforcement community.
It remains to be seen what the president himself thinks. White House aides conveyed to Secretary Acosta that he did well. White House aides told President Trump that the secretary did well. The president himself has yet to weigh in.
Our reporting suggests that he wasn`t particularly impressed yesterday, but also not -- did not necessarily think that it was the end of the secretary necessarily either.
We did see that he took his cues from the president there, no apology. That`s a hallmark of the Trump administration. Acosta did not say he was sorry at all or to -- including to the victims.
But he also lacked the fire that now Justice Kavanaugh did when he was faced with a similar round of questioning during his confirmation hearings.
What will happen next remains to be seen. In part, it`s going to depend on how it plays out in the media. As you know, this president is more attuned to the media coverage than probably any of his predecessors. He is going to watch this play out on cable, in the newspapers the next couple of days.
That may lead him to a decision one way or the other. As much as he is reluctant to seem that he is bowing to pressure, whether it`s from the press or from Democrats, if this becomes untenable, if it becomes too much of a distraction, and there is no sign the story is going away, you may see the president move to oust him or ask for his resignation, particularly because so much of his reelection pitch is about the economy.
And if the secretary of labor, with jobs, of course, being a big part of the economy, if he can`t be a part of this, that`s going to be a problem for the president, who does not like persistent negative headlines.
KORNACKI: Mimi Rocah, we showed some reactions yesterday from former prosecutors. You`re one of them. You were not impressed by his performance yesterday.
Let me ask you about one -- one argument he seemed to be making, or at least seemed to be suggesting at, was that the cultural shift we have seen when it comes to allegations of this nature over the last few years, he seemed to be suggesting, maybe, if I understood him, that the case would be handled differently now than he handled it because of that.
What did you make of that -- that line of argument he seemed to be venturing down at some points there?
ROCAH: That was the most offensive of all of his arguments, I mean, really, truly made me physically ill to hear him saying that.
As someone who was a prosecutor back at the time that he was negotiating this plea, I can tell you that no prosecutors, no FBI agents, no one that I worked with or knew of would ever have turned away a case regarding child sex exploitation because of -- quote -- "cultural norms."
Yes, our society has evolved on its view of rape and adult victims, but not when it comes to minors. No one ever thought it was OK to victim-shame a minor in a sex trafficking case, first of all.
And, lastly, you know, that isn`t a reason for a prosecutor not to do a case anyway. You base your case on the strength of your evidence, on all sorts of factors, but not whether or not you think people are going to look down upon your victim.
So, I thought every one of his excuses -- and that`s what they sounded like -- fell flat. I thought that one was also offensive.
KORNACKI: Jon, we`re also wondering if we`re going to hear from some Republicans here, some Republicans on Capitol Hill.
A lot of eyes on Republicans in particular who are up for reelection next year in difficult races on the Senate side, folks like Cory Gardner in Colorado.
Are they waiting just for a clear signal from Trump, or is there a possibility we`d hear from them before them?
LEMIRE: It`s certainly rare that Senate Republicans speak out in contrary to the White House. Most of them still seem very intimidated by this president and his Twitter account.
I mean, Senate Majority Leader McConnell yesterday gave a pretty lukewarm endorsement of Acosta, but didn`t outright call for him to go either.
We have certainly heard a number of Senate Republicans be very critical of Jeffrey Epstein, but they have yet to really be so about Secretary Acosta.
So, it is -- it does seem like they`re waiting for some sort of signal from the building behind me as to what to do. They seem very reluctant to defy this president, if he indeed wants to dig in his heels and defend Acosta.
And that is still a possibility here. We know that he is prone to defend powerful men accused of crimes -- or accused of wrongdoing in this case, I should say, or poor judgment, beyond most Republicans would be willing to do so, beyond it would seem to be politically tenable.
But at the same time, I think if this -- the bottom line is how long this story drags out. It`s showing no signs of dissipating. If this continues to dominate the news in the coming days here, as the summer starts to move forward, I think the president, people around him seem to think that he will get tired of those headlines, he will get tired of the coverage, and he will look for Acosta to go.
KORNACKI: All right.
Well, also today in a court filing, defense lawyers argued that Epstein is entitled to bail. His lawyers are asking that Epstein be released into home detention, and that he be monitored by an electronic tracking device, with his bail secured by a mortgage on his Manhattan home, which his lawyers value at $77 million.
In documents submitted to the court, his lawyers wrote that Epstein -- quote -- "intends to fight the current charges on their merits and, more, to contest their legality, given the inextricable intertwining of the current investigation and his non-prosecution agreement, which promised him immunity."
Mimi Rocah, does he have any chance of getting bail here?
ROCAH: Yes, there is a chance, but I don`t think it`s a good one.
Look, this is exactly what the Southern District of New York expected would happen. This is not going to come as a surprise to them. First of all, almost every defendant asks for bail. And, certainly, ones with a lot of resources and high-paid lawyers are going to ask to put up those assets that they have.
The key here, though, is, I think, and the reason he won`t get bail ultimately, that he will be detained, is, first of all, you can put up your house as collateral, but if you`re that wealthy, as he claims to be, you`re going to be willing to let that house go if you have a chance to get out of here, given the amount of time that he is facing.
And I think, knowing the amount of resources he has, and also because he is a threat to the witnesses, potentially -- and that`s going to ring very strongly with the judge.
KORNACKI: OK. We will see.
Mimi Rocah, Jonathan Lemire, thank you both for joining us.
And up next, I`m going head over to the Big Board. We are going to break down some brand-new, hot-off-the-presses polling on the 2020 Democratic presidential race.
It`s our first readout not just here at NBC since that debate. It`s our first readout of the entire campaign, and some big surprises in there.
Stay with us.
KORNACKI: All right, welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, here we go. This is our first NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll of the Democratic race since the big debate. Also, really, it`s our first NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" Democratic poll of the entire campaign. We weren`t taking them earlier in the year. We`re starting now.
The race is heating up after the debate. So, where do things stand as we take our first poll?
Here it is. Joe Biden is the front-runner, but, hey, 26 percent. He is only seven point ahead of second place, notable there, Elizabeth Warren in second place in our poll, 19 percent, seven points behind Joe Biden.
This is one of the better -- this may be the best poll Elizabeth Warren has right now, Kamala Harris, of course, 13 percent, hitting double digits. We have seen her in other polls rise since that debate. She is tied here for third place in our poll with Bernie Sanders.
Bernie Sanders, remember, of course, a couple of years ago, against Hillary Clinton, he had a one-on-one race, now more competition, falling back a bit perhaps in this poll, compared to where he was at the outset of this campaign. Pete Buttigieg, 7 percent, Andrew Yang, Beto O`Rourke. What a fall it has been for Beto O`Rourke since those lofty expectations.
Now, we can show you where the support is coming for these candidates, because some interesting divides, some demographic divides to take you through.
Number one, we have been looking at race. Among white voters, it`s a tie between Biden and Warren in first place, both with 22 percent right there. Check it out, though. When you look at black voters, that`s the reason still, that`s one of the reasons, black voters one of the reasons Biden is still in first place. He is getting 46 percent among black voters, Kamala Harris now second place, but a distant second place in our poll among black voters.
I would keep a close eye on those numbers as this campaign evolves, as Harris gets her moment in the spotlight here. Does she make it more than a moment? Does she close that gap?
Remember, next year, about one out of every four votes cast nationally in the Democratic primaries are going to be from black voters.
Another divide we can tell you about, it`s the ideological divide. Among those who call themselves liberals, look at that, it`s a runaway, Warren in first place, 29 percent, Sanders in second, more than 10 points behind her, Biden behind him.
Now flip it around, go to the other end, moderates and conservatives. Again, there is Biden`s strength, 35 percent, Harris a distant second place there. You see Sanders and Warren not so well.
And then there is one of the most dramatic divides in our poll. This is one of the most Democratic divides we have been seeing in every poll of the Democratic race. It is the divide when it comes to age.
And let me show you what I mean. Among voters under 50 years old, 18 to 49 years old, Bernie Sanders is in first place, 25 percent, Elizabeth Warren right behind him. Joe Biden is barely in double digits among Democratic voters under 50 years old.
Flip this around and go to Democratic voters over 50, and look at Biden. He goes from 11 percent all the way to nearly 40 percent of the vote. And then look at this. Sanders goes from 25 percent in first place. He crashes to just 3 percent.
The oldest candidate, Bernie Sanders, the oldest candidate in the Democratic field, do you want to know why he is struggling a bit in the polls right now? One of the big reason? Older voters. Voters over 50 do not support, have not been supporting Bernie Sanders in these polls, only 3 percent there for him.
So, some of the interesting divides, again, Biden the front-runner, but only at 26 percent, and, in our poll, Elizabeth Warren moving into second place at 19 percent.
We will see how that evolves.
Anyway, up next: A freshman Democrat ups the ante in her ongoing feud with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Why are newly elected progressives angry with the leader of their caucus?
Find out next on HARDBALL.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The extraordinary public battle between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and some of her party`s most high profile progressive freshmen escalated again today. Pelosi had taken issue with the four congresswomen known colloquially as the squad. They are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, criticizing their votes against a border compromise in what she called their public whatever in their Twitter world, in an interview with "The New York Times".
Speaking to "The Washington Post" about Pelosi`s effort to isolate the group, Ocasio-Cortez said, quote, when those comments first started, I kind of thought she was keeping the progressive flank at arm`s distance in order to protect more moderate members, which I understood. But the persistent singling out, it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful, the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.
The public airing of grievances came on the same day that Speaker Pelosi warned her members without naming names to not tweet complaints about other Democrats. But what did Speaker Pelosi have to say today about the increasingly public war of words threatening to divide her party? That is coming up.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I said what I`m going to say on the subject. We respect the value of every member of our caucus. The diversity of it all is a wonderful thing. Diversity is our strength. Unity is our power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this morning on her ongoing public dispute with a group of outspoken progressive freshman Democrats. Just one day after admonishing Democrats to keep their infighting private and not to tweet their disagreements, the speaker was responding to the very public charge from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that Pelosi was, quote, outright disrespectful in explicitly single out herself, and Representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley as freshman women of color.
Pelosi said her comment about tweeting in Wednesday`s private caucus meeting was in response to a now new deleted tweet from Ocasio-Cortez`s chief of staff last month comparing moderate Democrats to segregationists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: I`ve said what I`m going to say in the caucus. That`s where this is appropriate, and I said what I`m going to say in the caucus. They took offense because I addressed at the request of my members an offensive tweet that came out of one of the members` offices that referenced our Blue Dogs and our new Dems essentially as segregationists.
Our members took offense at that. I addressed that. How they`re interpreting and carrying it to another place is up to them, but I`m not going to be discussing it any further.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And for more, I`m joined by Nadeam Elshami, former chief of staff to Speaker Pelosi, and Eugene Scott, political reporter for "The Washington Post."
Nadeam, let me start with you. There is what happened in the caucus meeting, and there`s also what the speaker said in this "New York Times" magazine interview. She went public with some pretty negative comments about this group of congresswomen as well.
I covered her many years ago. My impression of her was, oh, she is not somebody who vents that much in public. She is somebody who says things with a strategic purpose.
What`s the strategic purpose here?
NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO NANCY PELOSI: Yes, she knows that would be a colossal disaster if Democrats are divided. She knows what`s at the end of the road here, and that is an election in 2020 against Donald Trump. And the more divided and the more infighting is between members of the caucus, whether you`re a progressive or whether you`re a conservative, it doesn`t matter. She has lived through this.
Back in 2006, against President Bush when he wanted to privatize Social Security, she told both progressives and moderates, let`s not have a plan on Social Security. Let`s stick together.
KORNACKI: When she goes after them in "The New York Times Magazine", as opposed to making comments behind closed doors. Does that serve the purpose you`re talking about strategically?
ELSHAMI: Well, here is the thing. She is hearing it from her own members. Her members are saying enough. They are on Twitter, for example.
Look, you know, you have to understand that when you get a pin, as a member of Congress, that comes with responsibility -- responsibility to your district, but also responsibility to your colleagues as well. Some of these moderate members are feeling a lot of pressure from outside groups, from their own colleagues for, quote/unquote, not doing the right thing.
Look, purity should not be a test in the Democratic Caucus in 2019. It should not happen. That`s unfortunately what some of the members are faced with.
KORNACKI: So, Eugene, if her goal here is unity, and not having public dissent, do you think she is going to achieve that here?
EUGENE SCOTT, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I don`t know. And, I mean, one of the people who perhaps put unity at risk even more was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with her original statement to "The Washington Post." I don`t think she was trying to communicate anything about the intentions and the heart from Nancy Pelosi, and she went on to clarify that.
But what she didn`t want to illustrate was that these lawmakers came to Congress, these four with a mandate, to represent women, to represent people of color, to represent the more progressive Democrats and liberals in this country, and they want to be heard, and they want to be respected and paid more attention to than they believe they are getting from leadership from the Democratic Party. And I think what they wanted to do was make it known to their constituents that if we aren`t able to move forward doing the things that you all sent us here to do, it`s not because we aren`t trying. It`s because we`re trying and we`re not being heard.
KORNACKI: Well, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus plan to raise concerns with the speaker about her criticism of this freshmen quartet. Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal told "Politico", quote, I don`t think the speaker is used to having a group of members who has bigger Twitter followings than her. I don`t think most of us are.
Asked if she agreed with comments from Ocasio-Cortez about being singled out, she added: We women of color have faced this for such a long time. We`re in a body of mainly old white men. You don`t get to be here without having dealt with that most people.
Nadeam, you mentioned this before. Maybe you can elaborate on this. Pelosi seems to feel she is channeling a broader sentiment in the caucus, within specifically the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Does Pelosi feel she is actually speaking for a majority of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus here?
ELSHAMI: Well, I think she is speaking for the majority of her members, if not a large majority of her members. Nobody has a more progressive record than Nancy Pelosi when it comes to actually enacting legislation.
There is a difference between being an advocate and a legislator, you know. What Nancy Pelosi is, she is a legislator and an advocate both.
I think what she is trying to communicate to these members, these progressive members who have been elected from great districts with a lot of support is this: use what you have. You have an incredible voice, an incredible following. Let`s work together. Let`s be united, and let`s go out there and get something done in 2020, and by beating Donald Trump, by maintaining the majority.
See, that`s kind of what`s forgotten here, is that if Democrats are going to be fighting against each other because you`re not pure enough, you could end up losing some of these districts, and you`re not going to be in the majority. These members have never served really in the minority.
KORNACKI: Eugene, I`m having flashbacks listening to this thinking of the Republicans and the struggle that John Boehner had with the Freedom Caucus -- strong-willed members, highly visible publicly with a vision that Boehner said is going to cost the party unity and ultimately cost the party at the polls. Is there a parallel there?
SCOTT: There certainly has been some fear that the four would split off and form some type of Freedom Caucus version in the Democratic Party, but that hasn`t happened yet, even though there has been some discussion at some point about maybe primarying some of the more moderate Democrats to get more people in Congress who see things the way the four have.
But that`s not what`s happened yet. Perhaps it won`t happen. Obviously that`s what Pelosi is happening will not happen, because she`s going to bat every day against conservatives, and she wants these Democratic lawmakers to join her, not to focus on people in their party who might not be as left as them.
Ultimately, I think everyone is looking at 2020, and everyone is trying to make sure that Democrats keep the House, but also get the White House and the Senate.
KORNACKI: All right. Eugene Scott, Nadeam Elshami, thank you both for joining us.
And up next, the new dynamics that are coming to define the Democratic presidential primary.
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KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We showed you our brand-new NBC News poll a few minutes ago. That`s where the Democratic race stands right now. But where is it going?
Well, there is Joe Biden, the front-runner still, yes, but a more wobbly one after that first debate. The question for him was his shaky performance that night in Miami a one-off? Was he a guy who hadn`t debated or even campaigned that much in years showing some understandable rust?
If that was the case, then it`s still very easy to see Biden ending up the Democratic nominee. Democrats think he is electable now. And if his performances end up reassuring them, then he could solidify his hold on this race.
The other possibility, though, that it wasn`t a one-off, that it`s the new normal for Biden, and that we`ll keep seeing the same Biden in big moments. If that`s the case, then Democrats may start asking themselves just how electable he really is.
What about Kamala Harris? Biden`s loss in that first debate was her gain. Her attack on Biden was very well-choreographed. It was brilliantly executed. She was a well-prepared prosecutor, and the more Democrats see that Kamala Harris, the better she`s likely to do.
But we`ve also seen her struggle in the spotlight on questions where she didn`t seem to have a rehearsed answer. Twice, she seemed to endorse ending private insurance, then she`s tried to walk it back. She also seemed open to letting violent criminals like the Boston marathon bombers vote, only to walk that back, too.
Coming off the debate, Harris has the spotlight now in a way she hasn`t before. Let`s see how she handles it.
How about Bernie Sanders? He has been falling back in polls, ours and others. He is very well-known to Democrats, but he`s got a lot more competition this time around. Somehow, he needs to get a fresh look from voters who probably already know his message by heart.
Here is Pete Buttigieg too. He is doing better than anybody thought he would when all of this started, but he also hasn`t grown his support much in the last few months. Look at it this way, with black voters, Buttigieg is at 3 percent in the new poll, and that`s actually better than he has done in just about every other poll. He is going to need to make some major strides to contend for the nomination.
And then, there is Elizabeth Warren. Slow and steady. She has been climbing for months now, and her ascent hasn`t been one that`s built on a breakout moment or a sudden burst of attention. She really stepped in it when she entered the race last year, making a show of that DNA test. She was trying to show Democrats that she`d figured out how to take on Trump, but of course that blew up in her face.
Since then, though, since then she has made just about all the right moves for a Democratic primary, and it`s really starting to pay off for her. We will see if what was true in that old fable is true in this campaign, that slow and steady wins the race.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
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