STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Golf, Twitter and cable news. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
President Trump left Washington this morning, but his problems will most certainly follow him on his ten-day vacation at his New Jersey golf club. As Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press notes, his summer vacation comes as he is confronting a storm of crises. Quote, his poll numbers stalled and his ability to rally a country questioned, he is being tested by an escalating trade war with China that may slow the economy, rising tensions with both Iran and North Korea, and in the aftermath of the latest mass shootings, pressure to act on guns and face accusations of his own role in fostering an environment of hate adding. But aides say his attention will be focused on golf, cable news and Twitter.
As the president was leaving the White House this morning, he was asked about one of these crises, being called a white supremacist by eight Democratic presidential candidates in the wake of the massacre in El Paso.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don`t think it helps. First of all, I don`t like it when they do it, because I am not any of those things. I think it`s a disgrace. And I think it shows how desperate the Democrats are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The president`s own language characterizing Hispanic migrants as an invasion was echoed in an online declaration of hate by the suspected gunman. Today, law enforcement officials confirmed the El Paso suspect said he was specifically targeting Mexicans.
Meanwhile, President Trump insisted today that gun control legislation, strengthening background checks is coming, despite reports the NRA warned the president it would be unpopular with his base.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I spoke to Mitch McConnell yesterday. He`s totally on board. He said, I`ve been waiting for your call. He is totally on board on background checks. We have tremendous support for really common sense, sensible, important background checks. But we`ll see where the NRA will be. But we have to have meaningful background checks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he actually hasn`t endorsed any specific gun legislation at this point.
For more, I`m joined by Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Interim President of the Latino Victory Fund, and a Democratic candidate for Congress in New York`s 15th district, and John Podhoretz, Editor at Commentary Magazine. Thanks to everybody for being for being with us.
John Lemire, you wrote the story we`re quoting from there. Let me ask you what you`re hearing behind the scenes from folks in the White House, folks around Trump at the end of this week? Do they feel there was a missed opportunity here this week? Do they feel that this is something that`s going to reverberate for weeks, for months, for the rest of his -- at least first term as presidency? Do they think there is a lasting damage here?
JOHN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: There`s a few things going on at once. I think there is a sense around the president that Wednesday did not go as well as it should have. Then Wednesday, of course, he went to visit the mass shooting sites in Ohio and Texas. He ended up spending a day that was meant to be to console the grieving into a day of airing his own grievances. He made the day very much about himself while he was there.
And I think as much as those around him were sort of forced to echo that statement, members of his staff who sort of Tweeted again attacking Senator Brown, that the mayor of Dayton suggesting they were being too political, there is a sense there that that was a moment where he could have shown some real leadership and it didn`t work out.
He left today for Bedminster. He was at a fundraiser -- a rather controversial fundraiser in the Hamptons first and now on to Bedminster, where he`ll remain for ten days. We expect to see him a few times. There will be a couple of events in New Jersey. He is going the travel to Pennsylvania on Tuesday. He has got a rally coming up as well in New Hampshire later in the week. But largely, he is going to be out of sight.
And there is a sense here as to what happens next with this issue of guns. He is under extreme pressure right now to make something happen. You saw him on the south lawn when he left the White House today, suggesting that he was -- he had talked to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, he had talked to the NRA. He portrayed it as if there is some momentum there. We don`t know how reliable a narrator he is. McConnell has balked previously about certain measures. The NRA has not signed off on the background checks idea.
The president certainly is wildly popular with Republicans. He has the ability, if he wants, to provide cover for Republicans. This is a moment to act on background checks, even in a limited way, to give them something, to show some sort of victory on gun control, if you will.
But those around him aren`t sure what`s going to happen, particularly over the next days or weeks. Does the momentum sort of dissipate? We have seen the news cycle is so fast. As tragic as this was last weekend, will this still be what we`re talking about in a few days. And if we`re not, the president might ease off the gas pedal and not push forward.
KORNACKI: And you mentioned too, I think, everybody can remember going back to the campaign certainly since he`s been president, Trump going to these conventions NRA conventions, an annual event, the hero`s welcome he receives there, that`s also part of the backdrop. We`ll talk more than in a minute.
But Melissa and John, I want to ask you both the same question here. In some ways what we saw this week, it was, in some ways, something we`ve never seen before with the president. In other ways, it`s a continuation of the story we`ve sort of seen with Trump. There are ceremonial moments, ceremonial aspects of the president, sort of national grieving taking place. And he takes it in a direction we have not seen modern Democratic or Republican presidents do.
I ask you this, Melissa. Is there anything new or different that you think Americans take from this week and how the president handled it in terms of as they take the measure of him or do they just end up viewing this as par for the course?
MELISSA MARK-VIVERITO, INTERIM PRESIDENT, LATINO VICTORY FUND: Now. Anyone that is waiting for some sort of dramatic shift in tone from this president, I`ve got a bridge to sell you. I mean, this individual has shown his true colors. The fact that he would take a moment like Wednesday where he is visiting both Ohio and Texas to make it all about himself, to basically push back on people that are saying, we need to grieve. We don`t need you here right now, and not taking that message. Then go to the hospital and take photos and utilize it for some sort of a campaign. I mean, this is all about who he is.
We as Latinos have just witnessed possibly the most incredible moment, negative, obviously, of a domestic terrorist attack targeted to us as Latinos for who we are. And this was under this administration. And so I -- we are very concerned, right, that we are not going to see any changes. We`ve heard before the bluster about, oh, we`re going to do something about background checks. I would hope that something gets done. I don`t really have a lot of faith that is going to get done. And so we are at a crossroads. We continue to go down a path that`s very dark.
Reverend Dr. Barber was in El Paso the other day. I was there. And he talked about white supremacy, it is about the words of racism it is about the works of racism and it is about the war of racism. And this is what this administration is perpetuating, The words, the rhetoric, when you talk about the policies is the works of racism. And then when you see the war that now is being taken in terms of violence against communities that are particularly of color in this country. It`s a very dark moment, and I have a -- it`s very hard for us to find any sort of silver lining right now.
KORNACKI: Same question to you, John. Is there anything different, more lasting, deeper that you sense in how people are reacting to and processing this past week?
JOHN PODHORETZ, EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE: No, no. I would say that what we see here is every couple of months, something happens and the president behaves in a certain way that then reminds people who might conceivably start feeling more positively about him because of the state of the economy and the fact that we haven`t had the military adventurism and all of that.
And it`s like he strums the guitar, and they remember his discordant performance. So what we have here is a kind of moment of, oh, no, not again. Like once again, we have a president who can`t rise to this kind of occasion. This is not among the people who are solidly definitely going to vote for him.
KORNACKI: These are the reluctant Trump voters?
PODHORETZ: Either the reluctant Trump voters or the people on the fence or something like that. The people in those 40 Republican districts in November 2018 who went the other way, that he`s got to get back or got to get some of them back in order to prevail in November 2020.
And I think this is the danger for him. Like the thing that he should do right now is go silent and play golf. He should go on vacation, go have meetings on national security and do all that. He will not be able to resist getting into fights on Twitter, you know, yelling at people, doing all of that at a moment at which we just spent five days watching him be extremely uncomfortable with the trappings and bearings of the classical responsibilities of the presidency.
In no way, shape or form can this even be imagined that it could help him. It may be something that fades or evanesces. But, as I said, I think it just -- it leaves kind of a residue. All of these moments where he fails leaves a residue.
KORNACKI: And that`s what I`m wondering too, John, for the time of voter that John is describing here. Say they`re a reluctant Trump voter, however you want to define it, folks who did not go into this with a strong opinion of Trump, but either voted for him anyway in 2016. Maybe they didn`t like Clinton even more. Maybe they`re still open to it, but they`re not wild about him.
Is there a breaking point for them? Is there a walk away point? Does this potentially rise to a higher level than some of these other moments that John is describing? Is there a sense in the White House that that`s a risk?
LEMIRE: There is some nervousness about it. I mean, that is the question. He will have a second term or not depending on those voters, by a lot of analysis. There is concern around him that he has not, as John just said very rightly, has not risen to the moment here. And that he has not -- there have been a number of occasions like this. Let`s remember Parkland, the shooting a year-and-a-half ago at this point where he also vowed to be tough on guns. As soon as the NRA got in his ear, he walked away from it.
I think that will be a little harder for him now. He certainly has the ability. The NRA is in a weakened position at the moment. Wayne LaPierre is at the center of more scandals than I can count. So he would be in a position where perhaps the president who is so popular among Republicans can provide some cover and move forward.
But I think there are suburban voters, there are independents, you know. This is like he Democrats we might have caught last time around who even now might still be pretty happy with where the economy is, but those in the White House are worried that the president is letting them down.
And it`s not just this moment. It`s the last couple of weeks. Take those at once, the idea of the undeniably racist rhetoric towards the four Democratic congressmen of color, the attacks on Representative Elijah Cummings in Baltimore.
And now as he goes on vacation, this sort of series of storms he is going to have to confront, the idea of not just the aftermath of the shooting and what responsibility he made there for his rhetoric, for his anti- immigration rhetoric mirrored by the shooter in El Paso, but also the chickens are coming home to roost perhaps with North Korea and Iran and particularly China and that trade deal.
And if the economy slows down, that is the number one thing the people around the president are panicked about, because that is his number one argument for re-election, the good economy.
KORNACKI: And, of course --
LEMIRE: The economy tanks --
KORNACKI: And the folks around him, of course, want him to be talking than a lot more than he is.
MARK-VIVERITO: And the other issue, obviously, I think a more generally, we have to talk about the Republican Party. Because you have both the Senate that is out of session and refuses to even consider an emergency like this where this is a crisis that the nation is going through. It is a crisis that certain communities are living. Each and every day, us as Latinos wake up every day wondering what is the new level of depravity that this administration is going to inflict on us in terms of ripping our families apart? We just saw the raids also that occurred, over 680, and how many children are being separated from their parents again.
This is a violent administration against communities of color. And so it is generally the lack of inaction, right, how alienated, right, that this administration is to the reality that communities live, like the fact that the Republicans won`t come back into session in the Senate, when you have a president that is going to the Hamptons and in this gilded moment, right, in this bubble that he is in with people that are wealthy and are giving money and I`m really completely removed from the reality that is being lived. It`s a crisis.
I understand you probably --
PODHORETZ: No, no. What I was going to say is that I don`t know the specifics of whether or not the Senate comes back in session or doesn`t or that he has fundraisers are large enough to, you know, turn people against him, or they`re too specific. They`re too political and people don`t follow them.
What he says, what he Tweets, how he acts, when he looks uncomfortable, what he does when he has that rally next week in New Hampshire, those will matter in this sense also, even dwelling on background checks.
So if he pushes the Republican Party to accept background checks and somehow mysteriously makes it into law, that`s kind of small beer. Like people who really want gun control, you could say, well, this is really -- but it`s only a first step.
And everybody who believes that, you know, any step down that road is a step toward confiscation and the seizure of their guns and the abrogation of their second amendment rights is going to be unhappy. No one`s going to be that happy. And so his back is against the wall.
Like if he does -- if he does some kind of stopgap measure, yes, maybe he`ll say, oh, I did it, I did it, I did it. But the people who like him won`t like it, and the people who don`t like him won`t be satisfied.
KORNACKI: But at the same time, even if he does that, it seems an open question if he can do that. If the NRA says no, we`re still against this, you know, we`ve been with you, Trump, but we`re still against this. You`ve had this background check bill has not made it through the U.S. Senate, has not made it through the Republican, has not made it through mostly Republican opposition. And there are Democrats who have opposed it too. So there is an open question if it could even get through.
We`ve got to cut it short here unfortunately, but thank you to Jonathan Lemire, Melissa Mark-Viverito, John Podhoretz, good discussion there.
Coming up, a shakeup at the top level of national intelligence as another career official fails the loyalty test. The country`s number two intelligence official has handed in her resignation. She says the president should have his team, this just weeks after Dan Coats announced his departure, leaving two top intelligence posts unfilled.
Plus, after the roundup of nearly 700 undocumented workers in Mississippi, why aren`t more employers being punished for hiring undocumented immigrants? We`ll look at that. And a new report that the president himself continues to employ undocumented workers at his properties.
Much more ahead. Stay with us.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The two top positions in the U.S. intelligence community are now vacant after the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Sue Gordon, resigned her post yesterday.
According to NBC News, Gordon tendered her resignation after she learned she would be passed over for the top job that outgoing Director Dan Coats is leaving next week. By law, Gordon was supposed to be next in line. And Coats even recommended that she replace him. But the White House objected.
In a handwritten note, Gordon told the president, quote, I offer this letter as an act of respect and patriotism, not preference. You should have your team.
Hours after the news broke, the president revealed that he will instead appoint Joseph Maguire, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, to be the acting Director of National Intelligence.
This latest shake-up follows Trump`s botched attempt to install Congressman John Ratcliffe into that job last week, but Ratcliffe`s name was dropped amid concerns over his lack of experience.
Now the president is signaling that he is in no rush to find a permanent replacement for Maguire once he takes over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m in no rush because we have a great acting.
Admiral Maguire is a very talented man. He`s a great leader, as an admiral, was always a great leader. He is a man who is respected by everybody, and he`s going to be there for a period of time. Who knows? Maybe he gets the job. But he`ll be there for a period of time, maybe a longer period of time than we think. We`ll see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Maguire will become one of numerous Trump administration officials fulfilling their roles in acting capacities.
I`m joined now by Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, and Chuck Rosenberg is a former senior FBI official and a former U.S. attorney.
Thanks to both of you for being with us.
Well, Evelyn, let me start with you, because sort of an extraordinary series of events here.
When you look at Gordon, somebody who had such strong institutional support, somebody who had the support of the outgoing DNI, being told, you`re not even going to get this on an interim basis, and then attaching this note: "This is an act of respect and patriotism, not preference."
She says this to the president in her note.
What do you make of what happened here? What do you make of Trump and the White House`s reluctance and refusal to appoint here? What do you think that stems from?
EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, I think, Steve, it was an act of frustration on her part, certainly, because she fully expected that she should be at least acting, if not considered for the top job, although usually those people are a little bit more high-profile and a little bit more political.
So it was a slap, a slap in her face. And so she was essentially telling the president, I don`t like this, but because you are passing me over as acting, I can`t stay on any longer. And, you know, effectively she would be demoted eventually.
And so, unfortunately, what that tells the rest of the intelligence community is that the president doesn`t respect a serious professional like her. I have met her before. I have heard her speak. I know that she is very well-respected deeply and also widely across the intelligence community.
And so here the president is telling someone like that, I don`t value who you are and what you stand for.
That`s disturbing to the community writ large, because they`re a lot like her.
KORNACKI: So, Chuck, pick up that point because, obviously, yes, the president is entitled to have whoever he wants in positions like this, but the concern that`s being expressed is, hey, you had Dan Coats there, who had this reputation, certainly the last couple of years on both sides of the aisle, of being sort of, for lack of a better term, unafraid to give truths to the president that maybe he didn`t want to hear.
That was the reputation, at least. The concern is that the president maybe isn`t interested in somebody who would continue that legacy.
Joseph Maguire, who the president is going with instead here, instead of Gordon, is that a valid concern about Joseph Maguire? What do you know about him?
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, Admiral Maguire has had a long and storied career in the United States Navy. He is well-regarded and well-respected, but he doesn`t have the deep background in intelligence that Sue Gordon does.
And to Evelyn`s point -- and I think she is exactly right -- all of this sends a signal to the intelligence community. Like law enforcement, intelligence has to be two things. It has to be apolitical and it has to be perceived as apolitical.
And so you want to be very careful in selecting top leaders in those lines of work, because you need people who will be divorced entirely from politics and will speak truth to power.
Sue Gordon had that reputation. I have no idea whether or not Admiral Maguire will be good or bad or permanent or temporary. He is well- regarded. He comes from an important and respected Naval background, but he`s not an intelligence professional.
KORNACKI: Well, in a statement on Maguire`s appointment, Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said that: "Maguire`s success or failure in this position will be judged by the quality of work produced by the intelligence community, not by how those intelligence products make the president feel."
Evelyn, the fact that this is, at least for right now, going to be an interim appointment, going to be an acting appointment, and there are so many like this in this administration right now -- and, as we showed in the president`s comments, there is the prospect that this will be an interim appointment that extends for some period of time, potentially.
Does that affect the quality of work that will be presented to the president from the intelligence community?
FARKAS: Hopefully not.
I mean, Steve, certainly, the quality of work that will be produced, I`m sure, will be as excellent as it has been to date. These people are trained professionals.
The question is what is put in front of the president. Now, here I also think that Admiral Maguire will be a professional. I know him, actually. I have known him a long time, since he was a SEAL and since he was top commander of the U.S. Navy SEALs. He is professional. He is apolitical.
I don`t know how he will be in this role. We have never seen him in a role that is a little bit more political under this kind of pressure from the president.
So the question is, yes, what will he present, and what will the president be willing to see?
I think what`s more troubling is that it`s an interim position, because it adds uncertainty to the work force. And, of course, he himself will be a weaker leader.
KORNACKI: Meanwhile, other developments out of Washington this week.
After the House Judiciary Committee debated for months about whether to open a formal impeachment inquiry, the chairman, Jerry Nadler, he now says the committee`s investigation is an impeachment inquiry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): This is formal impeachment proceedings. We are investigating all the evidence. We`re gathering the evidence. And we will, at the conclusion of this, hopefully by the end of the year, vote to vote articles impeachment to the House floor, or we won`t.
That`s a decision that we will have to make. But that`s exactly the process we`re in right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, Chuck, this has confused quite a few people, I think. There has been no formal vote by the House to convene an impeachment inquiry of the Judiciary Committee. There has been no formal vote of the committee to do that.
What it sounds like Nadler is saying is, hey, we are going to do the legwork that would be done in a formal impeachment inquiry, and that can lead to a vote on whether to proceed at some point in the future.
Do you read this as a sincere move potentially towards impeachment on the part of Democrats? Or do you view this more as a sop to activists, to members of the party who want to have some sort of impeachment inquiry, maybe even Nadler himself, who apparently wanted to have some sort of impeachment inquiry?
ROSENBERG: How about option C, Steve? I see it as something else. I see it as a legal strategy.
Let`s go back four-and-a-half decades. In 1974, the United States Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Nixon, said executive privilege is a real thing, but it`s a qualified privilege. And, sometimes, it has to give way to more important incent -- or more important things.
That thing back then was a grand jury proceeding. And so by calling it an impeachment inquiry, what Nadler is doing is setting up the House in a better litigating position to challenge assertions of executive privilege or to get documents in ongoing court cases.
So I don`t know that it`s a sop. I don`t see it through a political lens. I see it as part of a legal strategy to strengthen their hand in ongoing court cases.
The calendar, of course, just the politics of it, the calendar is obviously a factor. You have Nadler out there saying by the end of this calendar year reaching some kind of decision on what to do.
You have had other Democrats out there already who support impeachment saying, got to make that decision by September 1. I heard one say, got to make it by Thanksgiving. Now you have got Nadler saying end of the year. And, of course, November 2020, you do have an election. That`s going to happen no matter what.
Thank you to Evelyn Farkas, Chuck Rosenberg. Appreciate the time.
And up next: The mass arrest of hundreds of undocumented immigrants at food processing plants in Mississippi has torn families apart and sent a chilling message to Latino communities. But many are wondering why the employers aren`t being punished.
HARDBALL is back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I want people to know that if they come into the United States illegally, they`re getting out. They`re going to be brought out. And this serves as a very good deterrent.
If people come into our country illegally, they`re going out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump this morning defending what ICE officials are calling the large largest statewide immigration sweep in the country`s history.
Nearly 700 workers suspected of being undocumented immigrants were rounded up from seven different food processing plants in Mississippi. Nearly have been released, leaving hundreds more still in custody and separated from their families.
However, no charges have been filed against any of the employers of those plants.
One of the companies releasing a statement today, saying they are fully cooperating with the authorities in their investigation and that they -- quote -- "adhere strongly to all local, state and federal laws, including utilizing the government-based E-Verify program."
Data shows that, for employers, the chances of criminal prosecution remains low. One analysis found that from April of 2018 through March of 2019, 11 employers were prosecuted for hiring undocumented immigrants. That is compared to over 120,000 undocumented immigrants prosecuted through ICE.
For more, I am joined by Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant U.S. attorney general from the Obama administration. He oversaw all civil immigration litigation for the federal government.
Leon, thanks for taking a few minutes.
OK. You saw the stats. Large number of undocumented immigrants, small number of employers -- by employers, we`re talking individuals here -- prosecuted over that one-year period.
Why that vast gulf?
LEON FRESCO, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, Steve. That`s because the law in this area is a mess.
It`s the easiest thing for ICE to do in this situation is to actually pick up the undocumented worker, detain them, break up their family and remove them.
In order to deal with the company, the ICE has to determine that the company either has a pattern or practice of immigration violations or actually was complicit in making fake documents and engaging in visa fraud.
If the employer simply accepted documents that looked reasonable enough, the employer can`t be prosecuted in that situation, which is why we see so few prosecutions of employers in that situation.
KORNACKI: Is that a reasonable standard, in your experience? Do you think that`s a reasonable standard to hold employers to, or should the law be toughened? Should it be -- should it be there be more latitude to go after employers?
FRESCO: The problem is, the law was designed to 1986, when we didn`t have any technology.
In the 2013 Senate comprehensive immigration bill, it actually would have given employers a very simply red light/green light system that would have been based on biometric identification that would have said, if you`re the person you claim to be, we will either take your picture or a fingerprint. And, at that point, we will determine with a green light/red light system whether you can work or not. And if anyone else is found at the employer site, that is fine.
But, right now, the employer is in a difficult situation, because they cannot accept certain documents if they think they`re fake. But if they think a document is fake, and they`re wrong, but they can actually be sued by the employ for discrimination. So the laws are terrible, and they have to be changed.
KORNACKI: Well, in his remarks this morning, President Trump made no mention of the companies that hire undocumented immigrants. It could be because the Trump Organization has reportedly relied on undocumented workers.
"The Washington Post" reports that a Trump-owned construction company has continued to use undocumented workers for his projects at his properties going back nearly two decades.
One of those undocumented immigrants worked for the company for nine years, told "The Post": "If you`re a good worker, papers don`t matter."
Leon, obviously, the -- having the president overseeing these -- his administration overseeing these ICE raids and that story in "The Washington Post" on the same day raises all sorts of questions.
But take us through how the law works when it comes to a company like Trump`s and news like that. What is -- is there any potential liability for a company like Trump`s with that kind of reporting?
FRESCO: Well, sure.
Any company who engages in a pattern or practice of knowingly hiring undocumented workers can have criminal violations for both the company and for any employee of the company who helped to engage that.
If someone were to say, well, does President Trump face a violation for that, well, the government would have to prove that the president himself helped to knowingly hire undocumented workers, meaning they`d have to prove that the president knew that a specific worker was undocumented and said hire them anyway, or that he helped people to get false documents.
So none of the stories at the moment say anything like that. But that kind of pattern or practice could still lead organizations like the Trump Organization, for instance, to face a violation if they were going to be investigated, be the organization, and not anyone specifically in it.
KORNACKI: All right, thank you, Leon Fresco. Appreciate you taking a few minutes.
FRESCO: Thank you.
KORNACKI: And up next: an avalanche of new polling on the Democratic presidential race.
We know who the front-runner is, but guess who is moving up?
I`m heading over to the Big Board. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We have been talking for months about Joe Biden, the front-runner in the Democratic race for president, but some new polling putting a spotlight on Elizabeth Warren, who has been moving up in the Democratic race in some very interesting ways.
Let me show you, this is the average of all the national polls right now. You still see Bernie Sanders in second place nationally, barely, but Elizabeth Warren back in third place, Biden, of course, as we say the front-runner.
But we don`t have a national primary, you always hear. We start in Iowa. And the race in Iowa looks different than this. It looks significantly different than this, if you believe the Monmouth poll out this week, Joe Biden still in first place, Bernie Sanders not in second place in Iowa. He is all the way down in fourth place, back in single digits, and fading in this new Monmouth poll.
It`s Elizabeth Warren who has moved up dramatically in Iowa. It`s Elizabeth Warren who is in second place in Iowa. It`s Elizabeth Warren who is within single digits now of Joe Biden, the leader in Iowa.
Of course, when we talk about Iowa, the Democratic Caucus electorate, we tend to be talking about more liberal voters, more activist-oriented voters. And that is indeed where the energy is behind this Warren surge in Iowa.
This is among self-described very liberal Democrats in Iowa, Warren doubling up Bernie Sanders. You see Biden, he is back in single digits. Warren has moved up significantly in Iowa.
Also, this poll suggests those who are most likely who are to go out for the caucuses -- you have got to be there for hours -- those who are most likely to go out and put that time commitment in, a little bit more supportive of Warren than sort of more general interests of voters.
So, Warren moving up in Iowa, in striking distance.
Here`s where things get interesting, because, if Warren -- let`s imagine a world where Warren actually catches Biden in Iowa, where she beats Biden in Iowa. What would come next? New Hampshire. That`s the next-door neighbor state for Elizabeth Warren.
And there she is, right? She is in third place right now. Remember, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, the shared media market, all of that. She is seven points behind Joe Biden. A world where Elizabeth Warren wins Iowa, where Bernie Sanders falls back far in Iowa, and where Joe Biden, the front-runner, loses Iowa, is that a world where Elizabeth Warren can make up that seven points and win New Hampshire?
In a world where Elizabeth Warren wins Iowa and New Hampshire, well, guess what, folks? This is the history. Candidates who put that one-two punch together on the Democratic side in modern times, if you win Iowa and New Hampshire, you win the nomination.
Now, I`m not saying any of this is going to happen. And, of course, that would leave -- if this does happen for Warren, that would leave the big question mark. Iowa and New Hampshire do not have a lot of nonwhite voters. That is the big question mark with her campaign nationally.
Among white voters, she is neck and neck with Joe Biden. Among black voters, you see she is back in single digits, Biden up there near 50 percent.
That`s the question. If Warren can put Iowa and New Hampshire together, can she also build her black support, her nonwhite support? That becomes the million-dollar question for her.
But the polling now suggesting there is at least for Elizabeth Warren a real pathway potentially to the Democratic nomination, not something we were saying six months ago.
Up next: The Trump campaign says labeling the president a white supremacist will actually help him get reelected.
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KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Many 2020 presidential candidates have now escalated their criticism of President Trump following last weekend`s mass shootings, with eight candidates, eight candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, now explicitly calling the president a white supremacist.
Others haven`t gone quite as far. Biden has said that Trump encourages white supremacists. Kamala Harris said that Trump empowers them.
Axios reports that -- quote -- "Trump campaign officials believe Democrats` extraordinary charge that the president is a white supremacist will actually help him win in 2020, not only emboldening his base, but also alienating some mainstream Republicans who think Democrats have gone too far."
Trump was asked this morning if he thought being called a white supremacist helped him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don`t think it helps. First of all, I don`t like it when they do it, because I am not any of those things. I think it`s a disgrace.
And I think it shows how desperate the Democrats are. For them to throw out the race word again -- racist, racist, racist. That`s all they use to anybody. They called Nancy Pelosi a racist. She`s not a racist. They call anybody a racist when they run out of cards.
I`m winning in the polls. They`re desperate. They`ve got lousy candidates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I`m joined now by Beth Fouhy, NBC senior politics editor, Noah Rothman, associate editor at "Commentary" magazine, and Basil Smikle, who is a Democratic strategist.
Beth, I`m trying to -- look, a lot of our assumptions about politics are kind of scrambled and up in the air after 2016.
But if this is what the Trump folks are putting out there, that being called a white supremacist will actually help him, can you conceive of a voter who is on the fence who is pushed in his direction by that? Does that sound plausible to you?
BETH FOUHY, SENIOR EDITOR, NBC.COM: It doesn`t sound plausible to me.
Look, it`s -- we have a couple of camps that are very hard in their position. We have got Trump supporters who love the guy, are not going to budge from him. They might feel a little emboldened by this: Yes, come at me with these names and all of that, like sort of the deplorables of 2016.
There`s a large group of people who can`t stand Trump and are going to -- are rushing to get rid of him.
The folks who are left are those who basically perhaps don`t like his character, don`t like his behavior. They like his economy. And Democrats have to persuade those folks to come their way.
I don`t see how any of this is going to push those voters one way or the other. And those are the voters it`s going to take for one side or the other to win.
KORNACKI: And, Basil, look, we`re in this -- I can`t remember. I don`t think there has been a time in modern history where eight candidates for president have called the president a white supremacist.
At the same time, we were up at that...
BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, but we have actually had a president who was a white supremacist.
KORNACKI: Well, we had a poll last week. I was at the board; 51 percent in the Quinnipiac poll last week said the president is a racist.
So I do think it is important that, in the face of racism and white supremacy, you have to call it out whenever you see it. In the history of this country, 10 of the first 12 presidents were slave owners, all the way up to the birther movement started by Donald Trump going after the first African-American president.
You have to call it out. Otherwise, you -- if you`re silent, you`re acquiescing to it.
Having said that, I do think it`s appropriate for the candidates to speak on it. But I would say this no matter what. Anger only gets you to 49 percent. Democrats and voters generally have to embrace their candidate, to fall in love with them, essentially, to get to that 51 percent.
So we still need to be able to talk to voters about other things, how we`re going to make their lives better going forward. Just the anger towards and pointing out the anger and frustration with Donald Trump really just isn`t enough.
We still, again, as I said, need to embrace our candidate. And I hope that they can pivot to that.
KORNACKI: In terms of understanding the politics of this, Noah, is Beth`s framework right? We`re talk about never -- excuse me -- not never-Trump.
We`re talking about these reluctant Trump voters who kind of swung the election in 2016, didn`t like him, but voted for him anyway. He needs to win them back. Does it hurt that cause?
NOAH ROTHMAN, "COMMENTARY": I think it does. I`m actually of a different opinion than Beth on this.
If you`re theory of the race is that you don`t need Trump voters at all, you can erect a new coalition out of low-propensity voters, this doesn`t matter.
If, however, you`re trying to appeal to those Trump voters who voted for the president and are hearing that they supported white nationalism and maybe are culpable for white nationalism, in an effort to perform moral suasion, you`re now turning them defensive.
You`re accusing them of violating precepts that are so foundational, so antithetical to anything that we accept in society, that you`re going to turn them off, because they`re simply not going to respond to this attempt to impose a moral quandary on them.
I think that the sounder strategy is Kamala Harris` tragedy, is Joe Biden`s tragedy, which is to say that this president is far too comfortable with white nationalists, is giving them a lot of succor. And you don`t approve of that. I don`t approve of that. So, what are we doing here?
I mean, that`s the kind of moral question I think voters would respond to.
SMIKLE: There is also the Stacey Abrams strategy, which is, here is a constituency, an African-American community and others, who feel the way we do. The party may or may not be engaging them on a regular basis. We can actually dig down and bring those folks to the process, which is what Stacey Abrams was saying.
And she got flak for that, right? She said, look, here`s a constituency.
FOUHY: She also didn`t win.
SMIKLE: No, I understand. But she came close. And we can also blame that on voter suppression.
Having said that, yes, there is that strategy of saying, look, we have a constituency here that cares very deeply about this; 4.6 million Trump -- Obama voters from 2012 did not vote in 2016. A third of them are African- American.
If we actually focus on those with some of this language and some of this emotion tied behind the president, maybe we can actually turn the tide.
FOUHY: And to Noah`s point -- and I would agree with you on that -- that once voters are somehow feeling accused of being racist, white supremacists, that is problematic.
In fact, we asked Elizabeth Warren that question today, because she is one of the candidates who has said, has called him a white supremacist. We said to her, what does that say to the people who support him? And she blew right by it. She knew it was not a place where she wanted to go.
I agree with you. There is a caveat to that strategy that I laid out, that if Trump is able to convince people that they are being demonized by simply the fact they even responded to him four years ago, that could be something that helps him a bit.
KORNACKI: I guess the question I`m asking too, Noah, in a way, is, is there an audience -- if you`re talking about these reluctant Trump voters, I take your point.
Maybe they view this as an indictment, that kind of attack as an indictment on their own character. Or is there a risk here that Trump`s own behavior, especially what we have seen in the last couple of weeks, makes them reconsider the charge, not about themselves, but about him?
ROTHMAN: Well, it probably does. It most certainly should. I`m not sure what argument Democrats are going to make for themselves in 2020, but that the president is unfit for office dispositionally and in terms of character, because they can`t, as we said, argue against the economy, unless it takes a nosedive in the next year.
They`re really going to stay away from that. They can`t argue foreign instability, foreign wars. Even corruption in the White House, there are a lot of -- there is a constellation of scandals, but that doesn`t necessarily mean you have to have to one sentence where you can say, this scandal will upend the White House.
So, what can they say? They can say the president is temperamentally unfit. And that argument centers around his language around race, his incitement, his behavior patterns, which are really quite frustrating, particularly when you see him in front of a child, an orphaned child, thumbs-upping today, I mean, that sort of thing that you can really marshal a moral argument.
But you can`t indict voters for voting for Donald Trump in 2016. They will turn off.
Listen, one of the questions we have been asking here just about Trump and all of these eruptions, all of these moments, all of these episodes, we talk about how fast they fade.
But I do wonder, are there some that do linger? I feel Charlottesville might have lingered a little bit.
KORNACKI: A question about this one.
We will see.
Beth Fouhy, Noah Rothman, Basil Smikle, thank you all for being with us.
And up next: a hero`s long journey home.
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KORNACKI: It has been a difficult week in the news, and we wanted to end it with the story of a military hero finally coming home.
On Thursday, Love Field in Dallas came to a near standstill as a plane arrived carrying the remains of Air Force Colonel Roy Knight. Colonel Knight was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. His remains were recovered earlier this year, decades later, and were identified just two months ago.
Travelers paid their respects, and workers on the runway stood silently in honor of Colonel Knight.
This was the same airport where, 52 years ago, Colonel Knight said farewell to his family before heading off to war. His son Bryan was just 5 years old at the time.
And 52 years later, Bryan Knight is now a captain with Southwest Airlines, and he was the pilot who flew the plane that completed his father`s journey home.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END