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Biden on defense as all sides attack his record. TRANSCRIPT: 8/1/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Joel Payne, Carlos Curbelo, Natasha Bertrand, Jon Meacham; ZerlinaMaxwell; Robert Costa; Ben Rhodes

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Is this as bad as it gets?  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington.

After spending two hours on defense last night, former Vice President Joe Biden today went before the press and cameras to make a positive case for the legacy of the last democrat to occupy the White House, Barack Obama.  A short time from now, the man, Biden, would like to defeat President Trump will speak in Cincinnati at his first campaign rally since the racists send her back chants directed at a Somali-born congresswoman broke out at his last rally.

But we begin tonight with the democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden, who weathered an onslaught of attacks on his record at last night`s debate as some of his challengers even tried to call into question his association with the former president.  In this afternoon, in Detroit, the former Vice President fired back with a reminder of what the 2020 election should be about.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Look, I hope the next debate we can talk about how we fix our answers to fix the things that Trump has broken, not how Barack Obama made all these mistakes.  He didn`t.

I want to make it clear is that this going back 10, 20, 30 years is just a game that`s a game to make sure that we hand the republicans an election coming up.

Some of these assertions being made were absolutely, how can I say it nicely, not true and taken out of context.  And the idea that somehow it`s comparable to what this guy is doing is absolutely bizarre.

The world has changed.  The President Trump has turned it upside down internationally.  He has turned it upside down economically.

Now, we face a problem that the economy as well as the soul of this country is collapsing because of this presidency.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Vice President Biden fended off attacks.  They came from all sides actually last night as several of his challengers liked to try on, certainly tried to land a strong punch against him.  Here it goes.


JULIAN CASTRO, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn`t.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY):  Vice President Biden, I didn`t hear your response when the issue came up of all those deportations.  You were Vice President of the United States.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA):  Mr. Vice President, your argument is not with me, it`s with science.  And unfortunately, your plan is just too late.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA):  The Vice President has still failed to acknowledge that it was wrong to take the position that he took at that time.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ):  Mr. Vice president, you can`t have it both ways.  You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign.  You can`t do it when it`s convenient and then dodge it when it`s not.


MATTHEWS:  Well, today, Vice President Biden was asked if the attacks on the Obama legacy were a sign the party is being pulled too far to the left.


BIDEN:  It`s not about moving left or right.  I think I represent the party.  I think my views are where the vast majority of the Democratic Party are.  There`s a lot of really, really good people who got elected who are really pushing the envelope, and it`s good.  It`s healthy to do that.  But the idea that they represent what the party is today does not comport with who gets elected.  It does not comport with how we won last -- in `18.  It does not comport.


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Adviser under President Obama, Zerlina Maxwell, Senior Director of Progressive Programing for Sirius X.M. Radio, Jon Meacham, NBC News Historian and author of Songs of America, and Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post.

Thank you, Jon, you`re first.  What did you think watching for a couple of hours last night on the CNN debate?  What did you think you saw there for two hours?

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Two things in terms of analogies.  One is it began to feel a little bit like 1976 on the other side with the Ford and the Reagan forces juking it out.  In this case, you have the more progressive folks who are trying to pull the party to the left.  In `76, it was pulling to it the right, in that cast, Joe Biden in the Gerald Ford role.

The other thing that struck me was it was a little bit like 1988 and Joe Biden is in the George H.W. Bush position, being dinged for everything he could be dinged for, being attacked for not taking responsibility for the things that might not have been so wonderful in the Reagan administration.  But one thing to remember about that year is that Vice President Bush became President Bush, and Vice President Biden, it seems to me, going to his case, still, it seems to me, has the best chance at this distance to go all the way.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Zerlina.  You`re an expert on programming and broadcasting and it was two hours.  I heard a lot of things from people like Dan Balz of The Washington Post.  We all read his commending comment today.  We saw the new David Broader.  He didn`t like what he saw last night.  What did you see last night that you didn`t like or didn`t like in terms of those?  It was a long night.  Let`s put it that way.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PROGRESSIVE PROGRAMMING, SIRIUS X.M.:  Well, I mean, I think the debates are too long, and they start too late, Chris.  I need to go to bed.  But I think --

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Hey, I come on afterwards to do the spin room.  I`m on at midnight.  Go ahead.

MAXWELL:  Well, that`s what I was saying.  I think we need sleep, especially in the Trump era.  But I think last night, I think that opening section about healthcare was a little bit too confusing for the average American.  I think that it almost felt like the candidates were talking past each other on the issue of healthcare.

I think that one of the candidates just needs to stand on the stage and explain the taxes versus the premium costs and how that will shake out under a future plan and the difference there.  And they need to explain that to the American people.  I spent two nights watching debates about healthcare, and that wasn`t explained, not a single time.  And that`s a very important issue.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I got into a scrum over that myself, because I think having paid into Medicare for 50 years, I notice it`s coming out of my paycheck.  I know the amount that comes out of my paycheck.  I know I do that, or else I go to jail.  Okay.  How is the new system going to cover my healthcare for my whole life, it`s going to cost more.  How much more?  Will it be more than I`m paying for my health insurance?  I think these are very legitimate questions, because the issue isn`t about healthcare, really.  It`s about financing of healthcare.  How is it going to get financed, who is going to pay the bill?

Anyway, at last night`s debate, several candidates denounced President Trump`s ongoing efforts to stoke racial division, including his recent attacks on Congressman Elijah Cummings and Baltimore itself, the city.  Let`s watch.


BIDEN:  Mr. President, this is America.  And we are stronger and great because of this diversity, Mr. President.

So Mr. President, let`s get something straight.  We love it.  We are not leaving it.  We are here to stay, and we`re certainly not going to leave to it you.

BOOKER:  Donald Trump from Charleston, to Baltimore, to even the border is using the tired old language of demagogues, of fear-mongers, of racists to try to divide our country against itself.

CASTRO:  First of all, the President is a racist, and that was just one more example of it.

INSLEE:  We can no longer allow a white nationalist to be in the White House, number one.

HARRIS:  He has done nothing except try to beat people down instead of lift people up.  And that`s what we want in the next President of the United States.


MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Robert Costa.  Political analysis here, not just reporting, there are two ways to look at this fight for the democratic nomination.  One is we run the safest bet we`ve got, Biden.  I know the argument.  It may be wrong.  But that`s one argument and other people will disagree with that.  Some people think that`s the argument.  He is the safest bet.  He may not be.  He may be too old.  He may not be strong enough on the argument.

The other argument is here is the chance for a real progressive to win because we have an unsightly president now.  This guy expects to get re- elected.  He`s awful.  And here is our chance, like Reagan did when Carter was weak.  Here is a chance to put a conservative in there like we never could before, like in `76.  Which one`s right?  What`s the smartest analysis here or are they both equally valid until one is proven?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  The energy in the democratic ranks among activists is with those on night one, Senator Sanders, Senator Warren, who won overall on healthcare.

MATTHEWS:  They got the applause.

COSTA:  They got the healthcare.  But the rank and file, when I go to South Carolina and go to a historically black church or go to a suburban area, the energy is more with Vice President Biden, for someone who is just going to be a change from President Trump.

I was up on Capitol Hill today at the Senate, pulled aside some Democratic Senators for private conversations.  They said they were happy to see Vice President Biden talk about President Obama last night, not to be talking about segregationists, not to be talking about busing, but to be talking about President Obama.  That to them is the safest zone if he wants to be the nominee.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s so true.  Let me go back to Ben here -- to Ben, because it seems to me that it`s surprising about democrats, and I`ve noticed this for all my life.  Democrats shoot their wounded.  Republicans run them the next time.  They`re just different.  They don`t protect their own.  In this case, why do you have to protect Obama?  He is one of the most popular presidents we`ve ever had.  Steve Kornacki last night pointed out 97 to 3, he is among the Democratic Party voters right now, 97.  Nobody is like that.  And yet there wasn`t much martial defense of the guy last night.

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Yes.  Well, Chris, I think the reason that Joe Biden was out there today embracing essentially this contrast is it`s good for him.  It is bad politics and bad policy to criticize someone who has a 97 percent approval rating with the democratic electorate and is the most admired man in America.

And by the way, you can even talk about building on what he did.  I don`t see democrats criticizing LBJ over Medicare because it didn`t create a universal single payer system.  Barack Obama did more to advance healthcare than any American president since Lyndon Johnson.  He was the first democrat to get elected with over 50 percent of the vote twice since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I think the argument that these candidates can make is how do you embrace and build on that legacy.  And the attack should be with Trump.  The fight should be republicans, not with our own past.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in April, President Obama issued a warning about the dangers of democrats beating up on each other over ideology.  Let`s listen to what he had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States, maybe it`s true here as well, is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, I`m sorry, this is how it`s going to be.  And then we start sometimes creating what`s called a circular firing squad, where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.

And when that happens, typically, the overall effort and movement weakens.


MATTHEWS:  Zerlina, you know, I watched Biden today.  He was ten times better than last time.  Last night, he was twice as good as he was the first time.  But I still think this campaign is going to get down to probably Elizabeth Warren winning in Iowa, and her number one challenger in the weeks ahead is going to be Kamala Harris.  I just think that.  I`ve just been watching that.  I just see that pattern.

But I think this battle is interesting.  And my question is, are we in danger?  We, I`m on the center left, are we in danger of doing again what the democrats did in `72 when they were so thrilled to defeat Richard Daley of Chicago, so thrilled to defeat Tip O`Neill in Boston, that they ran a candidate who was not going to beat Dick Nixon?  George McGovern was not going to beat Dick Nixon.  Everybody knew it.  We knew it from the beginning to the end, but they wanted a more important -- they wanted to beat the moderates.

Did the people on the left risk being so determined to get rid of the moderates they end up commit suicide in the general?  Your thoughts.  And it`s an open question because I don`t know the answer.

MAXWELL:  No, I think it`s a good question.  I think that what`s happening right now in the Democratic Party is we`re having a robust discussion.  And many of the issues that we were also talking about during the Obama administration, like the level of deportations, those were things that progressives were, you know, doing, engaging in activism around at the time.  So this is not new.

And the circular firing squad, yes, is a danger.  But I think as long as the candidates are sticking to the policy disagreements and staying away from my personal attacks or challenging someone`s integrity or perhaps their motivation for supporting a certain policy, we`ll be fine.

I think that the key here is turnout.  Donald Trump only won by 77,000 votes, Chris.  And as you know, Hillary Clinton still won the popular vote.

So the fact of the matter is if we pick a candidate who isn`t going to drive turnout to match those Obama coalition numbers, then we`re not going to win.

But there are candidates in this race that can do that.  I believe that Kamala Harris can build that coalition.  Elizabeth Warren has been showing signs that she can build a coalition of diverse set of communities, and we don`t have to rely on those Midwestern white Trump/Obama switch voters.

MATTHEWS:  What do I know of this fight?  I know what`s behind this fight.  I know it is and I understand it.

Let me ask you, because the historic nature of Barack Obama running in `08 and `12 was so dramatic, I can understand why people of color who don`t normally vote, think it`s all B.S. and whatever, showed up because it was so thrilling.  I mean, I was thrilled.  And I think -- I get thrilled thinking about what happened in `08.  It`s still thrilling to me.  It was thrilling what he said in `04 at a convention up in Boston, Obama.

But you`re not always going to have a thrilling, charismatic African- American person of either gender or any background to come on and say, I am the candidate for president.  Does it take that or can Elizabeth Warren running with, say, Buttigieg or something, could they excite the inner city?  Could they excite people of color to the degree you`re talking about that needs to win?

MAXWELL:  Yes, because black people care about policies, not just the personality of the politician.  Barack Obama is a once in a lifetime politician.  There are very few people in the history of the world.  They`re as charismatic and good at giving amazing speeches as President Obama.

But I think Elizabeth Warren is charismatic.  Anybody who can argue with me on that point, I mean, I`ll see you outside, because I think Elizabeth Warren is incredibly charismatic.  And I don`t think she gets enough credit for that, frankly.

MATTHEWS:  I think they`re waiting outside, but that`s okay.

Let me ask you this.  Everybody here can jump on this.  Jon, you`re the historian.  Last night, Michael Moore said something that was outside the ballpark, but sometimes, he says those things, like last time that he said Trump is going to win, you`ve got to listen to him.

He is pushing Michelle, Michelle Obama.  He says Michelle Obama was on a book tour, and you`ve been through book tours.  15,000 people show up to see her and they hear she is 70 percent.  Politicians don`t get 70 percent.  She is incredibly positive as a personality, and she`s tough on issues.  She knows history.  She is not particularly happy about American history going back.  But, boy, is she popular.

Can she jump in this race at this point?  Your thoughts.  Is that reasonable, what Michael Moore said last night?

MEACHAM:  Well, I have no idea.  I do know that you and I are on our best day have not exactly gotten 15,000 people at a single book event, maybe close here and there.  She is a remarkable cultural and political figure.  When she came to Nashville here on her book tour, people were coming down the steps of the Ryman Auditorium after shaking her hand, weeping.  It was like they were lords.

And I think that`s part of what Moore might be getting to is people are looking for a miracle in this because they see him as something that has to be overcome.

And the other thing that I would just say about Biden, and the excitement factor is Thomas Jefferson once wrote a love letter called the Head and the Heart to a woman, not his wife.  But anyway, and it was the argument between the head and the heart.  And that seems to be what`s going on here.  And the heart of the Democratic Party may be with Warren and Sanders, but the head, I think, is with Vice President Biden.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to one of the questions with Ben.  It is important to me.  I worry about this.  Will Barack Obama, who has laid back during this primary fight, will he come on like Richard the Lionheart coming back from the crusades, will he come on next October, November, maybe starting in September and really be the lion of the Democratic Party for whoever the nominee is?  Will he?

RHODES:  Yes, Chris, absolutely he`ll be out there, just like he was out there before the midterms, an effective message.

And I think one thing you can learn from Obama is you don`t necessarily have to choose between this idea of inspiration and progressive policies versus trying to reach out to people who are in the middle.  Barack Obama found a way to do both.  And the way that he did is he identified progressive policies that help people in their own lives, like expanding healthcare, for instance, but he also rooted a progressive message not in a complete rejection of the past and not in a complete rejection of people on the other side of the political divide.  He rooted it in American history, in America`s progressive tradition, in America`s founding documents.

I think there`s way for the democratic nominee to straddle this divide and have progressive policies that are quite popular with people, but not present it in way that seems like a complete rejection of the American past.  And Obama, I think, holds a lesson for how you can do that.

MATTHEWS:  The only thing I`ve ever had against Obama is when he recedes from us, when he goes away.  I want him back.  Anyway, that`s my only problem.  Go ahead.

COSTA:  The Democratic Party turning its lonely eyes to the Obama family is revealing.  It`s a testament about how --

MATTHEWS:  Are you Paul Simon?  Turn your lonely eyes to them.  Go ahead.

COSTA:  It`s a testament to how this party feels about the presidential field.  When you`re out on Capitol Hill, they say, the leader of this party right now is Speaker Pelosi.  The leader for the past eight years during the Obama presidency was obviously President Obama.  They want someone to step forward in this presidential field and take control.  They have deep respect for President Obama.  But who`s going to lead the party in 2019?

MATTHEWS:  We`ll see.  I think they need a leader to push -- if impeachment is to go anywhere, it needs a strong leader like the head with Tip O`Neill against Nixon.  You have to -- I don`t think they believe in it yet though.  We`ll see with the numbers.  We`ll talk about that later tonight.  Are the numbers still there?  Are they growing there to get to 218 to get rid of this president?

MAXWELL:  They are growing.  They`re growing every minute, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they are growing but 218 is the magic number.

Ben, I like your cheerleading there so much.  In fact, you don`t even have to be called on.  I know because the Mayor of New York taught us that last night.  Don`t wait to be called on.

Anyway, Ben Rhodes, thank you so much, Zerlina Maxwell, Jon Meacham and Robert Costa.

Coming up, Robert Mueller warned America that Russia was still interfering in our elections.  Let`s listen to his warning.


ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL:  Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy.  The Russian government`s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious.


MATTHEWS:  But President Trump still hasn`t gotten that message.  Once again, he is coming to the defense of the Russians.  Wait until you hear what he said this time -- I mean, by today.

Plus, what the candidates told me last night in the spin room, there was a lot of talk about the frontrunner, Joe Biden.

Much more ahead.  Stick with us.



REP. WILL HURD (R-TX):  Did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election, or did you find evidence that suggests they will try to do this again? 

ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL:  No, it wasn`t a single attempt.  They`re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was the stark warning we got from the former special counsel Robert Mueller delivered just last week, that Russia interfered in 2016, and they`re doing it again right now. 

Well, unbelievably, when asked about that warning late today, today, President Trump questioned whether there is really interfering at all. 

Here he goes.


QUESTION:  Mr. President, Robert Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in U.S. elections right now.  Did you raise that with Vladimir Putin yesterday?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You don`t really believe this.  Do you believe this?  OK.  OK.  Fine.

QUESTION:  Mueller said right now, he believes, Russia is interfering with the election.

TRUMP:  Well, I watched Mueller.  I`m not sure Mueller knows what`s going on.


MATTHEWS:  Well, the president`s remarks directly contradicted members of his own administration, who have repeatedly raised alarm over the threat of future Russian interference. 

Here goes. 


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR:  The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections. 

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  Interference in American elections is unacceptable. 

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  Our focus here today is simply to tell the American people we acknowledge the threat.  It is real.  It is continuing, and we`re doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, I`m joined right now by former Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida, and Natasha Bertrand, political, national security reporter.

Let me ask you, Congressman.

Carlos, why is this president instinctively defending the Russians, when he -- when in doubt -- remember, there is a bear in the woods?  There might be a bear in the woods.  That`s the way the Republicans have always been.  There might be a bear in the woods, and if there is, we better be ready for that bear, meaning the Russians. 

He`s saying, don`t worry about the bear.  Why?   

CARLOS CURBELO (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  The reason the president refuses to openly acknowledge this is because any time he hears this discussion about Russian interference in our election, he thinks that that delegitimizes his election in 2016. 

In reality, the two things are completely separate.  No one is out there saying that Donald Trump won because Russians interfered.  Some people may theorize that, but no one can actually prove that. 

But, for the president, this is so personal, and he gets so insecure, that he doesn`t want to acknowledge a simple fact that pretty much everyone else in the government has acknowledged. 

So if the president could just understand that, when people are talking about Russian interference in our elections, we`re talking about trying to protect our country, trying to guarantee the integrity of our elections, we`re not criticizing him, then he could perhaps finally openly admit this. 

But, as long as this is a complex for him or he has a chip on his shoulder about it, he is going to keep dismissing this.  And it`s dangerous and it`s just dishonest. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  I think that was very smart. 

Natasha, it seems like he also doesn`t want anybody to say anything offensive against his pal in Moscow. 

NATASHA BERTRAND, POLITICO:  And I think it goes a little bit further than him just being afraid that this is going to delegitimize his election. 

One of the things that the president cares most about is money, Chris, and one of the things that keeps getting overlooked in all of this is that he wants badly to do a business deal with the Russians. 

MATTHEWS:  After his presidency? 

BERTRAND:  He is going to leave eventually.  And when he gets out of office, he will need to have maintained this relationship in order to fulfill his lifelong dream of building a Trump Tower Moscow. 

He was doing it during the election.  What makes us think that he is not in talks with the Russians perhaps right now to do the same thing once he leaves office?

We only learned about a phone call that he had with Vladimir Putin after the Russians already reported it.  And this happens constantly.  We learned just today -- or yesterday that they had a long phone call supposedly about the fires that are ravaging Russia right now. 

You know, we don`t get details of their conversations and of their personal interactions until way after the fact.  And so much of this is still so secretive that, of course, it`s going to prompt suspicions about what`s actually going on behind the scenes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, now to another big story very much related. 

Since the outset of the Trump administration, the White House has refused to explain how Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, and Ivanka, his daughter, obtained those security clearances necessary to access -- access this country`s top-secret intelligence. 

And now we`re learning that, according to a letter obtained by NBC News -- quote -- "The Trump administration`s intelligence watchdog has declined a request from four top Senate Democrats to investigate how the White House has handled security clearances for Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and others.  That watchdog, the inspector general of the intelligence community, said he is willing to investigate, but could only do so if President Trump allows him to."

In response, the four Democratic U.S. senators yesterday wrote to the president asking him to authorize a review of those security clearances granted to his daughter and son-in-law. 

It`s another example of how difficult it is, of course, to conduct oversight during the Trump administration, a president who has installed his own family in the positions of power. 

As we already said, as we already know, the White House overturned the recommendation to deny Kushner`s security clearance application last year, which was rejected due to -- quote -- "questions about his family`s business, his foreign contacts, his foreign travel, and meetings he had during the campaign."

So a couple of questions here in terms of the smell test.  Why is Jared Kushner unable to get a normal security clearance?  What is there stinking about his background that stops the president`s son-in-law from getting approval to do this work? 

BERTRAND:  Well, foreign officials have been caught in intercepts.  It`s been reported they have been caught in intercepts by the U.S. intelligence community discussing ways that they can actually leverage Jared Kushner`s business ties, so that they can influence him, and maybe craft policy.

MATTHEWS:  He can be leveraged. 

BERTRAND:  Basically, that he could be blackmailed. 

And this -- his foreign contacts and the fact that he failed to document them on his security clearance application the first time around, over 100 foreign contacts that he had he just left off, raise obvious red flags, because, obviously, if you`re going to have access to classified information, and you`re constantly talking to foreigners who have incentive to blackmail you with certain information, especially related to your money, then that is going to prompt career security officials to say, we need to take a second look at this. 

And Ivanka, just by virtue of being married to Jared Kushner, might have issues of her own there too. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Carlos, we didn`t elect a family.  We elected one guy in the Electoral College, of course.

And it seems like he has outsourced it to this -- the stuff of power that he has given to Jared is unbelievable.  Jared is now cooking up what he thinks is a Middle East deal for peace, which I don`t think is going anywhere, because it`s not creating a Palestinian state. 

He is involved with running the 22 -- 2020 election.  He is doing everything in the world, without any kind of portfolio, any kind of responsibility to the public, no accountability. 

Who is this guy?  And he can`t even get a security clearance.  These are serious problems. 

CURBELO:  Well, Chris, I think this is yet another example of how Congress has rendered itself impotent and is unable to hold the executive accountable. 

Over the last few decades, we have seen the growth of the imperial presidency of the United States. 


CURBELO:  Congress has turned over its constitutional powers and authority to the executive.

And now not even congressional Intelligence Committees can find out why certain people were given security clearances, why the president overruled career staffers. 

I`m not saying Congress should have the last word on who gets security clearances.  Obviously,  any president has the right to build his or her team.  But Congress should certainly know what concerns exist and what grounds, under what grounds the president or anyone else overruled career staff in handing out security clearances. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  You have just alerted me to the constitutional fact I should have had in mind all these last two years, certainly year- and-a-half. 

The Congress of the United States, the House of Representatives, the Ways that Means Committee, the Appropriations Committee of the House have absolute power over all government spending, all government taxation.

They could stop anything they wanted.  They have stopped wars in the past.  They could stop this administration in its tracks with its dirty dealing.  And they have been afraid or unable to do it.  They have been unable to exercise their subpoenas for documents and testimony.  They have not been able to use the power of the people`s house. 

And that`s a question we have to ask why. 


CURBELO:  Well, and, Chris, that`s not...


CURBELO:  ... the way our founders designed the government. 

Congress is the Article 1 institution.  It should be the most powerful.  It is the one that`s closest and most responsive to the people, and yet they can`t do any of the things you just stated. 

MATTHEWS:  And every day the president guess like this to the U.S. Congress. 

Thank you, former Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida. 

Natasha Bertrand, you`re a great reporter. 

Up next: some of the best, most illuminating moments from my spin room last night.  As I said to somebody earlier tonight, I work the midnight shift on these debates.  I get to get them after they`re out, and, sometimes, they come in wounded. 

We will talk about what I heard from the candidates last night in the spin room. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

I spoke to many of the presidential candidates last night in the spin room. 


MATTHEWS:  Why would you want to bleach the White House?  It`s already a white house. 

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I was talking about the Oval Office. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  And that is because?  Say it.  There is something unclean about this president? 

GILLIBRAND:  Yes.  I think he is degrading not just our country.  He is degrading our democracy. 

MATTHEWS:  You said we have a white nationalist in the White House.  Explain.


MATTHEWS:  A white nationalist.

INSLEE:  Yes. 

This is a president who has built his political fortunes on white nationalism.  Now, that is a strong statement, and I make it advisedly. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe Biden said it was about weapons of mass destruction? 

INSLEE:  So, here`s what I...

MATTHEWS:  It was never about that.

INSLEE:  Here`s what I don`t understand about the vice president.


INSLEE:  He said, well, I only sort of voted for inspectors. 

Everyone knew George Bush wanted a war. 

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  What I said tonight in my conversation with Vice President Biden is that, look, you know, one of us has learned the lessons of the past.  And some of those lessons are that you can`t deport your way to the negotiating table with Mitch McConnell and the Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  You said you can`t marry Obama, basically, Mr. Vice President, without defending his deportation position, his record. 

Did he defend it today?  Did he get back to what he did in terms of counseling the president at the time? 

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think he needs to speak more candidly about his record. 

When you say, when you brag all the way up to 2015 and call these bills your bills, he said -- his words, not mine -- every crime bill, major and minor, since the 1970s has had my name on it. 

Now, by the way, I think he should call out that he was wrong, but he hasn`t even done that. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did you choose to go after Kamala Harris on her record as attorney general? 

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I think it`s important for the American people to know what is in her record that she is so proud of and how it has so negatively impacted people`s lives in California, and that, when she was in a position of power to do the right thing, she failed to do so. 

We`re not talking about a record of 50 years ago, in the case of Senator Harris.  We`re talking about her recent record in the last few years. 

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Elizabeth last night saying, you know, well, we`re not for big ideas.  Just because it`s big doesn`t mean it`s good. 

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  For me, $1,000 a month is a sweet spot.  But this is a move we have to make to build an economy that is actually going to work for us in the 21st century. 

MATTHEWS:  If you can`t make this nomination, if you can`t win this presidential election, and you`re an underdog, would you like to see that in the platform? 

YANG:  Oh, yes.  That`s one of the purposes...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, that would be your legacy?

BILL DE BLASIO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don`t buy this analysis already tonight that somehow people were attacking the Obama administration.  We were asking the vice president about his role on certain policies. 

MATTHEWS:  You were asking about...

DE BLASIO:  Look, why do we have primaries?  You know this so well.  Because we need to sort this stuff out.  Let`s have the fight here in the family.  And whoever is going to be our nominee better be ready for Donald Trump, a low-down, dirty player. 

I think you got to know how to answer a question like that. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he a racist? 


The microphone that is held by the president of the United States must always be used in a way that is about lifting people up and finding the commonalities between us, and talking about that, and encouraging Americans to see those things we have in common, instead of what he has done, which is continually try to sow hate and division among us. 

It is making us weak.  It will make us weak as we go forward, unless we get this guy out of office. 

I plan to be the next president of the United States.  And I`m going tell you how I use that microphone.  It will be about lifting people up and saying hey, guys, the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us, and that is the strength of who we are as a nation. 


MATTHEWS:  It is so great, I got to tell you, professionally, to go one on one with these very ambitious people who all want to lead our country, Senator Kamala Harris there and several of the other candidates with me last night in Detroit. 

Up next:  President Trump is holding a campaign rally right now as we speak in Cincinnati.  Are we going hear -- are we going hear more of that "Send her back" crap, that chant? 

If so, will Trump do anything to discourage it?  Will he have perhaps, in a million years maybe, a John McCain moment, when he says no? 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 



Right now, President Trump`s hosting a rally in Cincinnati, and the big question tonight is whether the president will let his crowd chant "send her back" when referring to Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar?  His closest advisers tell the associated press that even they are uncertain what he is going to do. 

And this Cincinnati rally, by the way, comes after weeks of deepening divisions fanned by a series of racist presidential tweets directed at now, count them, five minority members of Congress.  It started when President Trump tweeted that a group of minority congresswomen, three of them born in the U.S., should go back.  Those are his words, to the, quote, crime infested places they came from. 

Well, last month while in North Carolina, his audience chanted "send her back."


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds. 

CROWD:  Send her back!  Send her back!  Send her back!  Send her back!  Send her back!  Send her back!  Send her back!  Send her back!


MATHEWS:  Well, President Trump at first disavowed those chants, only to double down on them a day later. 


REPORTER:  Why didn`t you ask them to stop saying that? 

TRUMP:  It was quite a chant, and I felt a little bit badly about it, but I will say this.  I did, and I started speaking very quickly.  But it started up rather fast, as you probably know. 

REPORTER:  So you`ll tell your supporters never to say that again? 

TRUMP:  Well, I would say that I was not happy with it.  I disagree with it.  But, again, I didn`t say -- I didn`t say that.  They did. 

Those people in North Carolina, those are incredible people.  Those are incredible patriots. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, this week he went full throttle on his racially incendiary language, insulting Baltimore, the city, as a disgusting rat and rodent infested mess and attacking its congressman, Elijah Cummings, calling him a racist who should pay more attention to his district than his oversight duties. 

The "Cincinnati Enquirer" editorial board has implored the president to take the higher road tonight in his rally in this city, writing, quote, America doesn`t need to see another raucous and repetitious sideshow at this rally.  And Cincinnati needs a voice of reason, of civility, a brotherhood to bring this community back together.  We don`t need more inflammatory rhetoric that puts us at one another`s throats. 

Well, stay tuned after this break to find out what he did or didn`t to heed that warning.  You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Tonight, as I said, President Trump is holding a rally in Cincinnati, a state he won in Ohio of course by eight points in 2016.  It`s the state his campaign sees as crucial to getting reelected.  The rally follows this week`s debate of the Democrats who want to replace him in the White House. 

For more, I`m joined by Sam Stein, "Daily Beast" politics editor and Joel Payne, Democratic strategist. 

Does either -- do either of you know whether this is the end of the line for Trump, that he is not going to go any further on this racial fever betting thing?  Is he going to say, OK, I went too far by pulling out these four women by saying they should go back to the countries they came from, which is the United States in most cases, going after a very popular statesman from Maryland, Elijah Cummings. 


MATTHEWS:  Is he going to say you know what?  This is going to kill me among whites in the suburb.  You can`t be overly racist in this.  Even the country with a racial bad troubled history, you can`t have people expect to like you if you call yourself a racist or act like one. 

STEIN:  There is one thing we know about Trump.  He is known for his introspection and restraint. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you don`t think he got the whistle from inside, stop it.

STEIN:  I think there`s something guttural about what he does.  This is who he is.  He cannot deny it nor can he contain it.  And people have been telling him forever, tone it down, you`re making too big splash, you`re risking too much politically, but he can`t help it. 

A lot of people ascribe this to some grand strategy about ginning up the base, and maybe that is there.  But my suspicion is and from talking to people who know him, this is just who he is.  He can`t stop it nor will he. 

MATHEWS:  Well, here`s Donald Trump moments ago talking about "The Squad".  That`s the four women, of course, on the progressive side of the Democratic Party and American cities.  Let`s watch them and then Joel responds. 


TRUMP:  The Democrat Party is now being led by four left-wing extremists who reject everything that we hold dear.


No one has paid a higher price for the far left`s destructive agenda than Americans living in our nation`s inner cities.  They have paid a dear price.  You see what`s happening. 

You see our inner cities.  We spend billions and billions and billions for years and years and years, and it`s stolen money, and it`s wasted money, and it`s a shame. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s the historic attitude of the suburbs towards the big city machines.  We all know that.  He makes it`s an ethnic thing here. 

JOEL PAYNE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It`s familiar language. 

You know, Chris, I`m thinking about this entire thing.  You know, this president, normally when you get this kind of language, it`s from a Lee Atwater, like a faceless adviser in the background.  It`s from Jesse Helms or George Wallace like a regional politician. 

Even when Ronald Reagan didn`t the welfare queens, he wasn`t president then.  He was a candidate or a young buck.  But usually you don`t get this type of --

MATTHEWS:  Did you read what happened today in the paper? 


PAYNE:  The Nixon -- 

MATTHEWS:  Recall the monkeys in Africa and Tanzania. 

PAYNE:  Yes, yes, we`ll put that to the side.

MATTHEWS:  I would say deserved a little more credit than that.  He is a great leader. 

PAYNE:  Yes, but you get the point.  Generally speaking the leader of the free world, the titular leader of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, they don`t speak like this.  And, you know, we saw some rough housing at the rally already tonight.  And it`s just scary because you don`t know how people get ginned up by this, and you don`t know where it stops. 

You asked the question at the beginning.  Is this the end?  I don`t think we can say that.  He has no -- there is no pit.  There is no bottom to the bottomless pit that Donald Trump thinks is in bounds or out of bounds. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, there is some boundary to him.  He seems to go after states he doesn`t have a prayer of getting, New York state, Maryland, Chicago. 

STEIN:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  He doesn`t go after states like Ohio -- 

STEIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  -- which he desperately needs or Florida, which he desperately needs or Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. 

STEIN:  That`s true.


MATTHEWS:  -- language using it last night.  But he goes after states he knows are off the scope for him. 

STEIN:  Every now and then, he`ll slip.  Once he called New Hampshire drug- infested for instance, and he made fun of the people of Iowa, but those are slips and he always kind of walks back those comments. 


STEIN:  But to your point, this is calculated in the sense he knows that these are states that he can write off.  I mean, inner cities are places he can write off. 

MATTHEWS:  Back to you, Joel.  Look, I`m in broadcasting for 25 years now.  I know the danger of saying things, because you say something or somebody is the bad guy, they can say oh, they`re the bad guy and a little flipped out?  They go after them. 

What happens if somebody gets hurt here?  Is Trump going to take the responsibility? 

PAYNE:  Well, look, it`s at his feet, but he is not going take the responsibility.  The only thing he is better at than ginning up crowds is passing responsibility. 

STEIN:  Look, but we know people have gotten hurt.  I mean, there is documented statistical evidence of -- 


PAYNE:  We`ve seen Biden uptick over the last few weeks.  I would say there is a straight line between the president being more erratic and Biden going up in the polls. 

MATTHEWS:  The stakes are rising, and the higher the stakes, the safer the bet most people want to make.

Anyway, thank you, Sam Stein.  Thank you, Joel Payne. 

Up next, the importance of choosing sunlight over darkness.  You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Today, I saw a splash of sunlight in what`s been a grim Democratic tussle for president. 

Joe Biden went out into the streets of Detroit today, his face toward the sun, took questions from a gaggle of reporters.  In an instant, something was different.  In place of the mean backbiting of last night, the nasty nitpicking shots back and forth between him and an assortment on both sides, I saw optimism today, optimism that Democrats, the party of opposition, had the good humor, the hopeful nature to show daylight to a country so dismally denied it by the dark curtain of the Trump era. 

Hope.  Hope itself is the heart of the Democratic Party.  Hope that things will get better.  Hope for all the families that came here over the decades.  Hope for all the families who have pulled themselves up over the generations with the help of government programs like the G.I. bill and Social Security and low interest student loans and Medicare.  Hope that because of this combined effort, the government and the country itself will become a better place for all its many peoples. 

I understand politics too.  I understand what the challenges and why the challenges to the front-runner Joe Biden have to hurt him and his legacy to get their shot.  I understand the people now getting 1 percent or less in the national polls need to get up to 2 percent, and the surest way to score a goal is to attack the front-runner.  I know that that being the goal, the front-runner Joe Biden has to spend his valuable debate time defending his old record rather than posting an agenda for the future. 

I know all this politics, but it sure doesn`t look good, doesn`t serve us as an uplifting couple of hours, doesn`t show me the route to victory.  Or if it does, it shows only a road that leads through more national division, including an assault on President Obama and even more destruction of our national unity. 

As "The Washington Post`s" Dan Balz put it today, Democrats took the stage last night without offering much in the way of an aspirational message or connecting directly with the voters they will need to win the presidential election. 

So count me in.  I like more of the Joe Biden I saw today with his sun in the face facing that gaggle of reporters than I did watching him as a halting target in last night`s human crow shoot.  And besides, I`ve argued for years, the historic fact that the person who wins presidential elections is the one outside facing the American people, talking about the future with the sun in their face. 

We thank god are simply that kind of people, which is why we are too good of people to keep Donald Trump as our president. 

And that`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.