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GOP pushes back against Democrat claims. TRANSCRIPT: 9/12/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Alexi McCammond; Kate Bedingfield; Michael Steele, Derrick Johnson,Madeleine Dean

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Fight night.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Houston, Texas, and something is going to give tonight.  Can the Democratic left like Joe Biden continue to dominate the 2020 nomination fight?  Can Biden show the stuff he needs tonight that he can win this thing?

Well, it`s the first time former Vice President Joe Biden takes the stage with both of his two closest rivals.  He`ll be up there on stage, there he is, joined center stage by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders right next to him.

Also tonight, Trump is in Baltimore, Trump is, a city he trashed as a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess early this summer.  His in the gutter tweets for Congressman Elijah Cummings, well, that earned him some rebukes from even some Republicans for what he said about the Baltimore congressman.

And days after firing his national security adviser, there`s more evidence today of the White house all over the place, in total chaos when it comes to domestic and even foreign policy.

We begin tonight with the fight here in Houston.  All eyes will be on the first face-off between those two, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.  It will not only pitch the Democratic frontrunner against the race`s hottest climate right now, it also brings the divide within the moderate and the progressive wings of the parties front and center literally right on the stage tonight for three hours.

According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls right now, Senator Warren has risen seven points since Memorial Day.  That`s a good climb for the summer.  And the Boston Globe reports Warren`s successful summer makes her a target tonight.  Quote, she will arrive with momentum on her side and a bullseye on her back.

Biden and other candidates have taken thinly veiled shots at her in recent days saying the party`s nominee must have more than just ambitious plans.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell today got hot.  He endorsed Biden and, of course, he took aim at Warren today.  In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Governor Rendell called Warren a hypocrite for swearing off big money fundraisers.  He wrote, Warren attacked former Vice President Joe Biden for holding a kick-off fundraiser in Philadelphia in April, which he criticized as a, quote, swanky private fundraiser for wealthy donors.

Here`s more from Rendell.  Warren didn`t seem to have any trouble taking our money in 2018.  But suddenly, we were power brokers and influence peddlers in 2019, the year before we were wonderful.  I co-chaired one of the events for the senator and received a glowing handwritten thank you letter from her for my hard work.

Well, for more, I`m joined Alexi McCammond, Political Reporter for Axios, and Jonathan Allen, National Political Reporter for NBC News Digital.

Let me ask you guys about the fight tonight.  Is Biden going to go on the offensive?

JONATHAN ALLEN, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  I think he is.  I think what he has to do right now is show that he is aggressive.  I mean, it`s beyond just going after one candidate or two candidates.

Folks are looking to see whether the former vice president has mojo, if he`s got this energy, if he`s got the stamina.  And also you`ve been watching Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren continue recently to have bigger poll numbers combined than Biden has had.  This is not a candidate who is just holding to a lead, he`s one who is holding on to a shrinking lead.

The left between the two of them has basically about 34, 35 percent.  He`s got like 26, 27 percent according to that RealClearPolitics average, you`ve cited before.

You`re going to have to make the case for the center left against the left.  That`s going to take some punches.  He`s going to have to get out there and make a vibrant case for his candidacy and something that is -- even if he says it`s not incremental, it`s something less than what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are selling.

MATTHEWS: How do you do that, Alexi, when these audience are seeing filled with progressives?  I mean, you`ve got Bernies people out there somewhere.  You`ve got Elizabeth Warrens.  You`ve got Kamala Harris` people out there.  You attack the progressive left for pushing for too much stuff the country can`t afford.  And the young people out there especially are going to say, what`s the problem for the old guy?

ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS:  Right.  Well -- and his campaign has already been out sort of telegraphing these various strategies that they have, saying things like the Democratic primary electorate is not made up of everyone on Twitter.  It tends to be older, which is what we know.

MATTHEWS: But the people in Twitter in the audience.

MCCAMMOND:  Well -- exactly, right.  But he is thinking, I think, longer term strategy.  So what he`s planning on trying to do, as we`ve seen in the past, is build on that Obama sort of reputation that he has built up.  But what I`ve heard from other campaigns, especially a Kamala Harris adviser, is that she`s going to make this argument that it`s not -- if we want transformational change, we can`t look to the past and have this nostalgia --

MATTHEWS: We`ll she go after him again tonight?

MCCAMMOND:  That`s exactly who she`s alluding to.

MATTHEWS: Okay.  She got a lot of points back in June for going after Biden in the first debate.  Then she seemed to have sort of a fall after that.  Is that a danger this time?

MCCAMMOND:  Well, I think that`s exactly right.  We saw that she had this sort of small boost right after it happened.  But she since has stumbled in the polls, whereas Joe Biden has stayed sort of relative to where he`s been all along.

I think it`s a tricky strategy, especially for someone like Kamala Harris, who didn`t really work out for her in the second debate.  But I don`t think that means we`re not going to see her try it again.

MATTHEWS: I`ll bet, you and I have been watching, you in the last several (ph) years perhaps.  But we`ve all been watching politics for a long time.  It seems to me if you take the first punch, the people root for the one you`re punching.  They don`t like aggressive behavior in the Democratic Party against other Democrats.  But if you defend yourself, you`re god.

So it seems to me what you want, I`m just suggesting strategy tonight.  Isn`t Biden better off taking a punch and defending himself?  You first on that one?

MCCAMMOND:  We`ve seen the ways in which he`s tried and, I think, failed to defend himself in the past.  He admitted that he ran out of time in the first debate.  And I think that was sort of a --

MATTHEWS: He was the timekeeper.

MCCAMMOND:  Well, exactly.  And I think that`s because he couldn`t really defend his record because the record is there.  That is something hard to argue against when that`s what you have to show for yourself.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Warren.  She is winning.  I mean, if you just do a projection line from now to next February, this February, she`s going to be on top if she runs at this rate for now, right?

ALLEN:  Yes.  I mean --

MATTHEWS: But is it in her interest to just let it go the way it`s going, don`t attack, just keep surfing up higher and higher, so that by the time it`s February 3rd in Iowa, she`s number one?

ALLEN:  She`s the only candidate in this race who is consistently talking about other people, meaning the voters, and what she wants to do for them.  And I think you`re going to continue to see that in this debate.  You saw in the last two debates, she didn`t have to get into fights with anybody else.  So that question who gets hurt when there`s a fight between two candidates is the one that does the punching and the one who takes the punch.  She hasn`t had to deal with that yet.

And she talk about what she wants to do with the other voters.  She`s not saying, this candidate is bad, that candidate is bad, I`m doing great, I`m the best person in the world.  She`s been able to float above it all this time.  So I think you`re right, she`s got a pretty good crew so far.

MATTHEWS: First to Alexi.  How long can this little sweetheart relationship between her -- and it`s clever politics.  She keeps loving Bernie to death.  I know he`s older and he was a yesterday`s man.  But I really like him.  So she`s all the time absorbing Bernie`s voters, pulling them over.

At some point, Bernie is going to recognize maybe tonight she`s stealing my lunch.  What`s he going to do?

MCCAMMOND:  I feel like tonight is too early for Bernie Sanders.

MATTHEWS: Who`s going to keep the --

MCCAMMOND:  I think that they could team up to go against someone like Joe Biden because that`s where the voters are they could pull from.  Not necessarily from each other but from someone like Joe Biden.  And that`s what the polls show time and time again.

ALLEN:  His supporters want him to go after her.

MATTHEWS: I love my favorite question.  How`s that?  Who`s got the most at stake tonight?  Biden?

ALLEN:  All of the (INAUDIBLE), everybody below the top five, everybody below by Sanders or -- yes, they`ve got to make something.

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that?

MCCAMMOND:  Someone like Beto O`Rourke whose campaign --

MATTHEWS:  A lot of chance?

MCCAMMOND:  Yes.  So whose campaign is --

MATTHEWS:  So they`re going to be shooting for everybody.  They`ve got to get in this game.

MCCAMMOND:  Well, I think that someone like Beto O`Rourke has tried to stay above the fray.  I think tonight is a do or die moment.  And he`s in his home state.  So that might give him a little more --

ALLEN:  This is a big swing.

MCCAMMOND:  I`ll tell you the big swing of all times.  Going for the fences, Cory Booker, because he always goes for the fences.  It`s a good prediction.  Thank you guys.  Alexi McCammond, you`re tall tonight.  Good.  (INAUDIBLE).  Thank you, Alexi McCammond, and thank you, Jonathan Allen.

Tonight -- well, it won`t be the first time former Vice President Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have faced off, because back in 2005, 14 years ago, then Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren and Senator Biden sparred in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over the bankruptcy bill.  Let`s watch the old fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA):  I admit (ph), Senator, that there are many in the credit industry right now who are getting their bankruptcies prepaid, that is they have squeezed enough out of these families in interest and fees and payments that --

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Then what you`re talking about is usury rates then.  Maybe that`s what you need to talk about, not bankruptcy.

WARREN:  Senator, I`ll be the first --

BIDEN:  I know you are.  But let`s call the stage has stayed (ph).  Your problem with the credit card companies is usury rates from your position, it`s not about the bankruptcy bill.

WARREN:  But, Senator, if you`re not going to fix that problem, you can`t take away the last shred of protection from these families.

BIDEN:  I got it.  Okay.  You`re very good at professing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Joining me right now is Kate Bedingfield, who is deputy campaign manager and communications for the Biden campaign.  Kate, I`m glad we got you tonight.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER, BIDEN FOR PRESIDENT:  Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS:  Tonight is the third debate.  How is it going to be different for Joe Biden?  The first one, it didn`t look good and looked a little bit better in the second one.  Is he in his game yet?  Is this his top game yet?

BEDINGFIELD:  He is ready tonight, absolutely.  And he`s going to make the case about the difference between talking about big plans and getting things done.  And I think he`s the person on that stage who has the longest track record, the strongest track record of getting real progressive change done.

And so you`re going to hear him tonight make a case for not just talking big things but getting them done.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the hottest candidate right now in the polling going up is Elizabeth Warren, but she`s talking about Medicare for all.  And yet, so far, she hasn`t answered the question of what it will cost.  Right now, you pay $1.50 for every $100 you make for the Medicare tax, everybody of them.  How much you make or how little you make, $1.50 for every $100 you make.

How much do you think her program will cost the average taxpayer?

BEDINGFIELD:  Well, we know that she actually hasn`t really said how she`s going to pay for it.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

BEDINGFIELD:  But we know that Senator Sanders has said it is going to mean a tax increase on middle tax families, I think about $6,000 for a family of four making $60,000 a year, so a significant cost.  And I think you`re going to hear Vice President Biden draw those policy distinctions tonight.  He believes that building on Obamacare and adding a public option is the way to get help to people who need it now quickly and that also is not going to mean additional tax burden on middle class families.  So that`s definitely something that you`re going to hear him draw that important distinction on tonight.

MATTHEWS:  How about a tax on Trump tonight, because it seems to me now that the courts may strike down Obamacare completely.  What are the Republicans -- I may be making your argument for you.  What are the Republicans who say they`re going to protect pre-existing conditions and young adults in their early 20s for their insurance coverage when it`s all gone?

BEDINGFIELD:  Well, that`s exactly right.  I mean, we fought an election in 2018 largely on this very issue.  And part of the reason that Democrats were able to win the House back was because they were making the strong case for the protections that Obamacare has meant for working people, for middle class families.

And so that`s certainly something obviously Vice President Biden was integral in getting that done and that`s been a cornerstone of his campaign and something you`re going to hear him talking about tonight.

MATTHEWS:  How do you keep Bernie alive for three or four months?  Because as long as Bernie and Elizabeth are dividing up the progressive vote, you guys can win.  But the minute Bernie drops out or Elizabeth drops out, it`s you against the progressive left, which is beating you right now two to one.

BEDINGFIELD:  Well, look, another thing you`re going to hear --

MATTHEWS:  No, that`s a good question.  I want an answer.  Just a good -- how do you beat a united left?

BEDINGFIELD:  Well, look, I think that what you`re seeing in the polls today is that actually more Democrats are aligned with the kind of policies and the argument that Joe Biden is making than they are with, you know, as you would describe, the far left of the party.

Although I would say another point that Vice President Biden will make tonight is to reject the notion that the things that he`s putting forward are incremental.  I think there is this kind of preoccupation about a divide between candidates on the left and candidates on the center.  And I think when we`re out on the campaign trail talking to voters, they`re not coming up and asking Joe Biden, where do you fall on the ideological spectrum.  They`re asking him, how are you going to help me get healthcare, how are you going to help up shore up my retirement, how are you going to combat climate change?

So I think one of the things you`re going to hear him do tonight is reject the notion that the ideas that he`s putting forward are incremental or anything less than progressive.

MATTHEWS:  But just the argument on the other side is going to come.  And you know if he gets into the general against Trump, he`s going to accuse all the Democrats of being socialists, big spenders, open borders, of late term abortionists, the whole thing, but Joe Biden is not going to say, I`m part of them.  At that point, he`s going to separate from the other Democrats.

BEDINGFIELD:  That is part of the reason that Joe Biden is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump next fall because people know him.  They know what he stands for.  They believe he has character and empathy.  They believe he`s the polar opposite of what Donald Trump is offering right now.

MATTHEWS:  Iowa has been the decider now for a long -- many, many cycles now.  Can Joe Biden win if he doesn`t win in Iowa?

BEDINGFIELD:  Yes, absolutely.  But, look, I think this is a -- I think it`s very clear that this is going to be a long campaign.  You have a lot of candidates who have said that they are looking to go the distance.  We think that, you know, the nomination runs through South Carolina and Super Tuesday, and that, you know, a diverse coalition is an important part of becoming the Democratic nominee.

MATTHEWS:  So a lot of weekends with Bernie from now on.  See that movie?

BEDINGFIELD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Kate Bedingfield.  Great to have you.

Right now, President Trump is in Baltimore, the city he called a disgusting, rodent-infested mess.  I`m sure they`re welcoming him.  Well, American cities are one of his favorite targets.  And now, he`s reportedly going to war with California over the problem of homelessness.  Of course, he`ll never carry California, so no loss.  But instead of attacking the underlying cause of homelessness, reports say, he`s looking for simplistic solutions, big surprise.

Plus, the Democrats impeachment light, are they really doing it?  Chairman Nadler and others would have you believe a, quote, inquiry has already begun but the facts suggest otherwise.  They`re not passing a resolution in the House to even begin a resolution of this problem.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In just a few minutes, President Trump will address House Republicans at their annual retreat up in Baltimore, Maryland.  It`s the president`s first trip to the city of Maryland since he attacked it and its representatives in the Congress, especially Congressman Elijah Cummings of the city earlier this summer.

It started with Trump referring to Baltimore itself as a, quote, disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess.  Saying, quote, no human being would want to live there, a human being, nice phrase.  He called the congressman from that city who had just ramped up investigations into the president a racist and blamed him for the problems in Baltimore.  Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Those people are living in hell in Baltimore.

It`s a corrupt city, there`s no question about it.

Billions and billions of dollars have been given to Baltimore.  It`s been misspent.  It`s been missing.  It`s been stolen with a lot of corrupt government.

And as you know, Cummings has been in charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president took another swipe at the Congress from Baltimore last month following reports that he, his home, had been burglarized.  The president wrote on Twitter, quote, really bad news, sarcastically.  Really bad news.  The Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed.  Too bad.  Isn`t that something for a president?

That sarcastic comment didn`t sit well with some of Trump`s Republican allies.  Nikki Haley, Trump`s former Ambassador to the U.N., tweeted, this is so unnecessary.  Good for her.  And Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger wrote, this is so beneath the office you hold.  It`s childish and getting really old.

Well, even after all that, Congressman Cummings told NBC News that he wishes the president a pleasant visit today and, quote, I hope he gets a chance to see quite a bit of Baltimore because it`s a beautiful city, which it is.

For more, I`m joined by Michael Steele, former RNC Chair and former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, and Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP.

It`s hard not to believe, Michael, my friend, that that was as racist shot against the city of Baltimore, which was majority African-American, and that no human being would live there, okay, then who`s living there?  Get it?  Your thoughts.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR:  No, I agree completely.  And it`s stunning that the president who -- yes, Baltimore has its challenges, like every major urban center does, and we can break it down along partisan lines if you want to get partisan.  Democrats have run the city for well over 60 years, Republicans have not.  Okay, we can do all that.

But let`s get into the space where you bring solutions and you talk about how you help the city get up off its knees after some really, really tough times.  Yes, bad leadership, poor decision-making, all of those things are there. 

But that`s not what the city is looking for.  They`re not looking for recrimination and abuse and blaming.  They`re looking for leadership that can help it turn the corner. 

It`s a beautiful city.  It`s got a strong economic face, vibrant businesses that are trying to grow, an educational system that is spotty here and there, but needs a lot of help.  All these factors are there and available for the president to be a champion of the city, not someone who puts it down as a place that no human being would live. 

And his coming there today, Chris, is not there to take a walk about, as I invited him to do when I was in the city a few weeks ago, or to sit down with the city leadership to talk about the very things I just put on the table. 

He`s there to meet with Republicans to talk about whatever Republicans are going to talk about, which will not be Baltimore City. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Derrick, going after Elijah Cummings -- and I know him pretty well.  He`s a very respected public official.  He`s a fine man in many, many, many ways.  And everybody looks up to him. 

I mean, everybody thought he could have been elected U.S. senator from Maryland if he even thought about it. 

For going after the finest man in the community, I think, what does that say about Trump? 

DERRICK JOHNSON, NAACP PRESIDENT:  Well, it shows the lack of character that he has an individual. 

And it also is a sad display with the demeanor and the posture he put the office of the presidency.  Any time he is -- he feels threatened, he`s under attack, he goes to middle school antics and words.

And that`s something we should no longer tolerate as a nation. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I would have said 8 years old.  You`re giving him high school. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, before the president`s arrival tonight, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy defended the president`s past comments about Baltimore, and said his appearance at the Republican retreat tonight shows he truly cares about Baltimore. 

Here he goes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  I think the president coming here symbolizes, yes, he cares about Baltimore, he cares about the people who live in Baltimore, and he does not accept that you have to stay in poverty. 

He has found from his entire life how to bring people out of poverty, give them a better opportunity.  And that`s what he`s doing in his job as president.  And that`s why he`s coming to Baltimore as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to my friend Michael about an issue which is certainly apparent in most major cities now.  It`s homelessness. 

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of reasons for homelessness.

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Some of it is drug problems.  Some of it`s just people had bad breaks in life.  Who knows what the rest of it`s about?  Mental problems, perhaps.  Well, certainly. 

But Trump says he`s got a solution.  What do you think of it, a big, big place to put everybody? 

STEELE:  Yes, I mean, institutionalizing people is not dealing with the underlying problem. 

Throwing people out of a city or putting more homeless people into a city to prove a political point is not a problem -- is not solving the problem. 

The question is, particularly as we look at urban centers that are more and more and increasingly gentrified, where the poor and the miseducated, undereducated individuals, low-skilled workers are pushed to the edges and forced into these situations, because you want to put the really hot, sexy coffee shop in the neighborhood, that`s great, but why can`t everyone in the neighborhood benefit from that?

Why do people wind up finding themselves losing their homes, losing their jobs, and losing their ability to stay where they are?  And so those -- again, going back to my first point, Chris -- are opportunities for the president to present real solutions that Republicans like Jack Kemp, who would look at a city of Baltimore and go, man, what a diamond in the rough, what we could do here to really turn this city around.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STEELE:  With their -- with those folks leading the charge, Chris, not the government. 

And I think that that`s something that, again, it`s a missed opportunity. 

MATTHEWS:  Who`s Jack Kemp today? 

STEELE:  Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE:  Oh, man.  OK.  Yes, you -- you being funny now, right? 

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE:  Who`s Jack Kemp today?

MATTHEWS:  OK, anyway. 

Derrick, do you have a thought about that?  Because what happened to the Republican moderates who were pro-diversity, who were pro-minorities, like Jack Kemp was.

JOHNSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He was not acting like an outsider.  He was part of the community.  He was a good guy on everything like that. 

JOHNSON:  You know, in fact, the NAACP, we had a relationship with Jack Kemp. 

We had several members of our board who were active Republicans, and so it was easy for us to reach out and talk to the moderates.  I don`t think that -- that no longer exists, particularly in the Senate and definitely not the House. 

And that is a sad state of where we are in this current environment, the complete loss of civility, the complete -- our complete inability for people to reach across communities, to reach across the aisle. 

We cannot truly be the great nation that we claim to be if we continue down this road. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you. 

You`re a Republican still, Michael.

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I never -- I want to keep up to date on that.  You`re still  a Republican?

STEELE:  Yes.  Hey, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there`s any chance a Republican can shake off this legacy after maybe eight years of this guy?  Who knows?  Who knows? 

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Eight years of this guy identifying the Republican Party as basically the white supremacists.  That`s what he`s doing.  He trashes all the other minority groups. 

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He`s basically circling the wagons.  You know what he`s doing on tribal lines.

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Can the Republican Party shake loose from that legacy if it lasts another five years?

STEELE:  It`s going to be hard as hell to do, Chris. 

But I`m a little bit like Motel 6.  Someone`s got to keep the lights on.  And I think there are those of us out there who really believe that the foundational principles and ideals that we -- that drew us to the party, that drew me as a young man to the party are still valid.

I refuse to have Trumpism define away the legacy of Reagan, define away the legacy of Jack Kemp, define away the legacy of so many other smart individuals who helped put brick by brick what became the Republican Party and was so successful for many, many years in many communities across the country. 

So, this will be hard work.  It will be a heavy lift.  And I think a lot of folks, with the retirements you`re seeing, certainly someone like a Nikki Haley looking down the road...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

STEELE:  ... going, hmm, I don`t know if I want to be a part of that. 

MATTHEWS:  Sometimes, you remind me of those Japanese soldiers on those islands who continued to fight decades after World War II was over. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Michael Steele. 

STEELE:  I got my bayonet, baby.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Derrick Johnson.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Are Democrats serious about impeachment or not? 

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, for example, say they`re moving the process forward.  But Speaker Pelosi is not even using the word impeachment. 

One House member who has already come out in favor of impeachment joins me next. 

You are watching it, HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Real change begins immediately with the repealing and replacing of the disaster known as Obamacare.

I never said repeal and replace Obamacare.  You have all heard my speeches.  I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days. 

Now, I have to tell you, it`s an unbelievably complex subject.  Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

"Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated."

Sorry to surprise you, President Trump.

Well, President Trump has been all over the map when it comes to repealing and replacing Obamacare.  After his Republican Congress failed to repeal the health care law and Democrats successfully centered the 2018 midterms around preserving Obamacare, Trump`s Justice Department took the side of Republican governors in their lawsuit to overturn it, to declare it unconstitutional.

In April, the president caught his party off-guard by tweeting that: "The Republicans are developing a really great health care plan that will be far less expensive and much more usable than Obamacare."

Well, he promised that a vote will be taken right after the election, and that the Republican Party will be known as the party of great health care. 

But now reality.  "The Washington Post" is reporting the Trump administration has moved away from seeking in Obamacare replacement, has instead now focused on damage control should a judge rule next month to topple the entire Obamacare law. 

"The Washington Post" notes that a ruling against Obamacare would put the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services in a tight spot politically, forcing officials to answer questions about what would happen to the millions of people who rely on provisions in the ACA itself. 

Well, this is far from the only chaotic policy move from the White House lately.  Last night, President Trump tweeted that he was delaying increasing tariffs against China. 

Well, this comes as Politico reports that Trump`s top advisers are rushing to find an escape hatch for a series of tariff increases in the coming months, worried about the potential for further economic damage. 

And new reporting says that Trump may have swung so wildly on the topic, that he`s actually found himself with a similar view to Barack Obama. 

And that`s up next. 

They`re all over the place, and no place.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  When they make the Iran deal, they give them $150 billion, terrorist state.

How stupid are we to allow this to happen?  Our leaders are incompetent. 

And the ridiculous deal, where they were given $150 million billion.

So, we made a horrible deal.  This is what happens when you make bad deals.  They become emboldened, because they think you`re stupid people.  They became emboldened. 

With all of the money, all of the humiliation, we gave them $150 billion back, and they become nastier. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump frequently criticizes former President Barack Obama for the Iran nuclear deal, including a provision that gave Iran what he called billions of dollars in sanctions relief, in exchange for agreeing to curb its nuclear program. 

Well, now The Daily Beast is reporting that Trump is actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion credit line to the Iranians if Tehran comes back into compliance with the Obama nuclear deal. 

Well, The Daily Beast points out that the French proposal would require the Trump administration to issue waivers on Iranian sanctions.  Ironically, during his time in office, President Barack Obama followed a not dissimilar approach to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table. 

I`m joined right now by Shannon Pettypiece, former -- senior White House reporter for NBC News Digital, and former Republican Congressman David Jolly. 

David, I want you to take the big bite out of this thing.  Why is Trump getting nervous?  Has he actually grown up enough to know we might face a nuclear problem from Iran if we don`t go back to the deal, bring them back to the deal?

DAVID JOLLY, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Well, I think that may be giving him too much credit, Chris, that he understands the complexities of the Iran deal and the consequences of his pulling out. 

I think what you`re seeing is a continued repetition of his strategy, both with foreign affairs, but, frankly, domestic policy as well, which is to break the glass. 

If you use a Humpty Dumpty analogy, shove Humpty Dumpty off the wall and then try to be the president that puts it back together again.  But each time, he realizes he can`t.  He doesn`t actually have a policy to do that.  And he`s not surrounded now by people with the competence to do it. 

So I think what we`re seeing on Iran is simply a president who continues to try to reach for a deal, reach for a legacy moment.  But what is becoming increasingly apparent time after time again is, there`s no there there. 

This is a president who`s all hat and no cattle.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s go to Shannon on this other question closer to home, which is health care. 

Sometimes, you get what you ask for, and you wish you hadn`t got, the old Chinese curse.  It looks like there`s a chance that Obamacare will be struck down by the Supreme Court. 

What happens with all those people with preexisting conditions, all those people who benefited from the expansion of Medicaid, all those young adults whose parents wanted to make sure they`re still insured for health care?  All that goes kaput. 

And all those people and the millions and tens of millions who are sitting out there facing this election with no health care, is that what the Republicans had any idea they`re facing, Shannon? 

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC DIGITAL SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  And, as you noticed, in 2020, so right as the election is approaching, you could have a bit of chaos in the health care system. 

This administration, though, has already done so much to get rid of Obamacare and destabilize the system and sort of leave Obamacare in tatters and a lot of ways that, for many people, it`s almost been like a slow- motion train wreck for them. 

They have been seeing their health care costs go up already, and their plans change and losing benefits, even though the administration says they`re doing things on the periphery and on the edges, like with small businesses or group buy-in plans. 

So health care is supposed to be one of the number one issues for voters in the 2020 election.  It would be terrible timing.  There are people in this administration who are so fundamentally against Obamacare that they have been pushing even this court ruling that could throw out the whole plan and scrap it altogether...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

PETTYPIECE:  ... because they feel like no Obamacare is better than any Obamacare, even though they have already gotten so much of it taken care of already.

MATTHEWS:  David -- David, you know the Trumpian mind, I believe.

How can a Trumpite, a person who is loyal to him to a fault, believe the absolute B.S. of having protection for people with preexisting conditions, diabetes, for example, when there`s no plan left to get it from?  There is no Republican substitute.  They have not replaced and repeal, there is no replacement. 

How can he say, our plan will protect you if there isn`t a plan?  How could they fall for it?  It`s not there. 

FORMER REP. DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes, Chris, the thread that brings all of Trumpism together, and I think the Democratic candidates tonight and the eventual nominee should speak to this.  The thread that brings it all together is that Trump is a fraud on all things, from Iran, to Mexico is going to pay for the wall, to North Korea, to Obamacare repeal and replace. 

And understand the cruelty when it comes to health care is this, not only is it the Republicans attorneys general from around the state suing to invalidate the law, not only is it Trump`s Department of Justice who has said, yes, let`s invalidate it, but it was the Republican Congress, the tax bill that Donald Trump touts that included the provision that gives these attorneys the ammo to undermine it, this notion that the tax law no longer covers the validity of Obamacare. 

And so, I think what Democratic candidates need to do is yes, hit policy, health care is number one.  And we know for the first time in ten years, the rate of insured is going up, costs are continuing to go up, but you`ve got to drill down to Trumpism and at its base, he`s a fraud, he`s a huckster, he is somebody with whom you can`t put your trust.  So, if you`re a Trump voter, he had broken his promises to you including on health care. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s a problem for members of the House.  Shannon, you covered this.  What are members of the Republican House trying to fight them for their seats back or hold onto what seats are left but they have to go ought to their voters, real voters and the real voters say, we don`t have protection for pre-existing conditions and we don`t have protection for our young adult children because you don`t have a replacement. 

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Right, and the way this is talked for months now about some sort of health care plan replacement, it`s now about mid-September.  There are I believe less than 40 days left in a congressional legislative session before we get into 2020.  No legislation is going to be passed in 2020 because House members will be too afraid to vote for anything that close to the election cycle. 

So, nothing is going to get done in Congress.  Whether the Fifth Circuit throws out Obamacare or if not, there is still a major problem with health care in this country.  And I was just having a conversation with someone the other day in an airplane who asked me, you know, I said, it`s $1,500 a month for their health insurance, and they said, is there anything going to be done about it soon?  And I thought about it and the answer is just, no, there`s nothing in the works, nothing anybody is going to be doing anytime soon to help you with your $1,500 a month health care bill. 

So that`s really where we`re at, and I think there are some things the administration can try to do around the edges without Congress here and there, but it is going to be in the periphery and minimal, and that`s at this point what they are facing 2020, and I don`t think there`s much way around it or to change that narrative when people are concerned about their health care costs. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s healthcare.  Let`s get back to Iran for a minute.  That was a big part of the campaign. 

David Jolly, I`m trying to figure out what Trump is up to.  He`s saying he supports -- the word is he will support the French plan to try to get the Iranians back to the table and comply with the nuclear bill so they won`t be building nuclear weapons.  Is there -- apparently, that`s to get them back to the table, or to the table for Middle East deal.  Is all this to protect Jared`s chances, his son-in-law`s chances of cooking -- you`re laughing -- a Middle East deal, which gives away the Palestinian territories on the Jordan Valley?

I`m sorry, the thing is crazy.  It`s crazy. 

JOLLY:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  We`re going to bring the Iranians in now on a way of denying the Palestinians their homeland?  Why would any -- nobody is going to agree to such a deal.  No person in the Middle East would agree to a deal to give away the territories along the Jordan Valley.  That`s the end of any two- state solution. 

I`m yelling.  I don`t get this guy at all on any front.  He`s not a hawk.  He`s not a neo-con.  He gets rid of John Bolton.  One day, he`s kissing up to Sheldon Adelson, picking his man, the next day, he`s kicking him out the front door. 

What is he doing in foreign policy?

JOLLY:  Look, he is a man who is desperate for a win.  Consider all the bluster, the entire three years he tried to control the narrative as it comes to Russia and the meddling and interference with Russia threat, and his unwillingness to confront Russia.  What he did to kind of break up the traditional alliance with NATO, questioning our NATO participation when he came in, what he did with North Korea reaching for a deal, what he did in Syria saying he was going to be different than Obama. 

And now when it comes to the Middle East and particularly the Iran deal to pull now but now to go back in, and Jared is going to solve Middle East peace, if you look at the last three years, the president has been a failure and he`s desperate for a legacy moment. 

And the interesting thing on this to your point, Chris, I think he`s so ignorant on the complexity of Middle East peace, as well as the complexity of the domestic politics when it comes to Iran and Israel, he`s already stumbled a few times when it comes to the domestic policies around policy related to Israel, and he very well might stumble again.  He`s gotten a pass the past few times, but it will be interesting if he suggests, for instance, sitting down with Rouhani because he`s going to strike a deal with Iran.  He won`t be able to and what he may do is actually erode his domestic support. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I`ve got to tell you, he`s going to screw up anybody that cares about Israel, will go, who do you for vote with this guy?  He says he`s pro-Israeli, he moved the embassy and all that, but here he is talking about the Jordan Valley, giving it to Israel, letting it be annexed by Netanyahu so he gets reelected next week.  At the same time thinks that`s going to be underwritten by the mullahs who spent everything they can to screw Israel?  It`s crazy talk. 

Shannon Pettypiece, thank you.  David Jolly, thank you both for this interesting conversation. 

Up next, impeachment light.  The Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee today voted to move the process forward, maybe.  But it`s very different from impeachment investigations we`ve seen in the past.  And Speaker Pelosi is not even using the word impeachment. 

A congresswoman on the Judiciary Committee joins me next. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

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MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As we`ve seen in the past, formal impeachment inquiries into a president have traditionally been launched with a vote of the full House of Representatives.  We saw that take place in February of 1974 when the House of Representatives voted 410-4 to investigate President Nixon.  Similarly in October of 1998, the full House authorized the impeachment probe of then President Clinton, voting 258 to 176. 

But this time, the speaker of the House is opposing a formal impeachment proceeding.  Perhaps she couldn`t get a majority of the 218, even if she tried. 

Well, this raises the question what we should make of today`s action by the House Judiciary Committee, where the Democrats in that committee, the Democrats alone, voted to approve procedures for what the chair, Jerry Nadler, is calling an impeachment inquiry of the president. 

But is this a real thing or is it a means of pacifying Democratic voters hungry for action? 

Republican certainly took issue with the Democratic game play today.  Here`s how ranking member Doug Collins of Georgia clashed with Chairman Nadler in today`s hearing. 

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REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  Some call this process an impeachment inquiry, some call it an impeachment investigation.  There`s no legal difference between these terms and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature. 

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA):  The difference between formal impeachment proceedings and what we`re doing today is a world apart no matter what the chairman just said.  This is not anything special. 

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MATTHEWS:  Well, while the Democrats today voted to step towards possible impeachment, they don`t appear to have the support they need on the floor of the House.  By NBC`s count, only 135 members of the Congress have expressed public support of an impeachment inquiry of President Trump, an inquiry.  That`s still 83-vote short of a majority necessary to even pass a resolution on the floor to begin an inquiry, formally.

I`m joined right now by U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Dean from Pennsylvania who serves on the House Judiciary Committee. 

Congresswoman, thank you for coming. 

What do we make of the House Judiciary Committee action today, given the fact there`s been no resolution by the House of Representatives or the Democratic majority of the House representatives to begin a formal resolution, to begin a formal process of impeachment? 

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA):  Chris, thank you for having me on and I was pleased to be a part of today`s process, where we passed a resolution that really set forth the procedure for us moving forward with an impeachment investigation.  It`s as clear as that.  We have been investigating the wrongdoing of this administration since March, but this really sets forth in a much clearer way the fact that we are in an impeachment investigation. 

Unfortunately, Ranking Member Collins is just simply wrong.  He made some false arguments about the filter through which we are looking at this.  This is a really grave, serious moment and I don`t think that the Republican members of our committee should make light of it, that we are in a moment where we have to investigate for purposes of analyzing whether we will bring forward articles of impeachment, the corruption of this president. 

We`re going beyond the four corners of the Mueller document.  I`m very pleased with that.  We`re looking now at what the president has done in terms of payoffs, pardons, profiteering.  We have to look at the corruption, the obstruction of justice, the lawlessness of this administration.

So, what we did today was an important grave step to analyze -- to identify for the American people we are in robust impeachment investigation. 

MATTHEWS:  But how do you do that without a resolution by the House? 

DEAN:  That`s not necessary actually, and that historical reference is actually -- 

MATTHEWS:  It`s not?

DEAN:  No, it isn`t.  We do not need a full vote of the House for us to do our work.  In fact, in the Nixon administration, the House Judiciary Committee then without power of subpoena, the rules have changed in the meantime, worked for five to six months investigating President Nixon.  So, that`s just a false notion people have that you must have a vote first in the House.  We actually have the job, we have the jurisdiction in judiciary to investigate the wrongdoing of this president. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.  There was a lot of investigation leading to Nixon`s impeachment or almost impeachment when he left office, with resignation. 

DEAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  But the fact that actually did, you get into this detail, which was started by Senator Kennedy in the Administrative Practices Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  He did all the laying out and the whole thing, and what was done, sure.

But the problem you`re facing here is, how do you proceed towards impeachment?  Not investigation, not getting a lot of mud on the president`s face.  He deserves all of it, you`re doing good work.

But why do you call it impeachment if it`s not going to lead to impeachment?  How`s it going to get there from your committee to the full house?  How does it happen? 

DEAN:  Let`s be really clear, I take no pride in putting mud on anyone`s face.  What I do take very, very seriously is upholding the Constitution, upholding the rule of law and saying that the president is going to be held accountable. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, but how do you get him impeached?

DEAN:  We get the evidence before us, and we get the evidence before the American people.  How about paying off mistresses days before a national election for president? 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

DEAN:  How about the profiteering, the violation of the emoluments clause?  I`m very happy that we will have next week Cory Lewandowski on the 17th and we -- the obstruction of justice that he was asked to participate in is well-versed in the Mueller report.

And then later in this month, we will be looking at the emoluments clause.  Imagine having the vice president`s stay at his failing hotel in Ireland at the cost and extra expense to the taxpayers.  The founders of our country anticipated -- 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DEAN:  -- that someone could n possibly hold this office and seek to get rich.  This president is seeking payments in violation of both emoluments clauses in our Constitution, and we need to stop it. 

MATTHEWS:  Why Speaker Pelosi and Majority leader Hoyer saying this is not impeachment? 

DEAN:  I actually don`t agree with what you`re saying.  If you saw Speaker Pelosi and she said this consistently over the course of many months, she said we are legislating, which we are doing and I would love to talk to you about the important legislation we passed this week regarding guns and the environment.  We are litigating.  You`ve seen we have been in court up holding -- 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

DEAN:  -- the rule of law, but we are also so investigating.  She says those three things every single time.  And what she has said is bring the case to the American people and we will go where those facts take us.  If that leads to impeachment, it does.

MATHEWS:  OK, thank you. 

I agree with everything you`re doing except calling it impeachment.  It`s not going to happen. 

But thank you very much, U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

DEAN:  Thank you. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Stay with MSNBC tonight for our special analysis and coverage of the third Democratic debate here in Houston, Texas, tonight. 

Coverage starts at 11:00 p.m. Eastern here.  I`ll be back then, or earlier from the spin room.  Check with us about 20 to 11:00.  I`m going to be on earlier.

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

"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