ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And that does it for me. We`ll be back here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.
One more thing before we go. You should know Brian Williams has an interview with the controversial former NSA employee, Edward Snowden on "THE 11TH HOUR" tonight. You can catch that right here on MSNBC.
But don`t go anywhere right now because "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Locked and loaded, really? Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
President Trump threatens military action against Iran following an attack on the world`s largest oil facility. Early Saturday morning, drone attacks at key targets in Saudi Arabia cutting its oil production in half. The Houthi rebels in Yemen claim responsibility but the United States sees Iran behind the attacks.
And within hours (ph), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of an unprecedented attack on the world`s energy supply promising that there they will be held accountable.
The president says the evidence points to Iran. And here is what he said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Have you seen evidence of proof that Iran was behind the attack?
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: It`s looking that way. We`ll have some pretty good -- we`re having some strong studies done. But it`s certainly looking that way at this moment and we`ll let you know. As soon as we find out definitively, we`ll let you know, but it does look that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, now, NBC News is reporting that according to three people familiar with the evidence, quote, American intelligence indicates the attack was launched from Iran. Additionally, a congressional source says Democrats familiar with the details do not dispute that the attack was carried out by Iran. And this comes after the president warned yesterday that the United States, as I said, is locked and loaded depending on verification, but is waiting to hear from the kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack and under what terms we would proceed.
Well, The Washington Post also reports that the administration is contemplating with U.S. officials characterize as a serious military response. And amid all of this, the president is attacking the media, disputing reports that he was ready to meet with Iran`s leadership.
Trump claimed late yesterday, the fake news is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, no conditions. That is an incorrect statement, as usual. However, the president has repeatedly said exactly that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet.
REPORTER: Do you have pre-conditions for that meeting?
TRUMP: No pre-conditions, no. If they want to meet, I`ll meet any time they want, any time they want. It`s good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world, no pre-conditions. If they want to meet, I`ll meet.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC NEWS HOST: Is it one-on-one talks, you and the ayatollah or just with the president?
TRUMP: It doesn`t matter to me. Here is what I want. Anything to get you to the result, you want to talk good, otherwise you can have a bad economy for the next three years.
TODD: No pre-conditions?
TRUMP: Not as far as I am concerned, no pre-conditions.
REPORTER: Will you meet with Rouhani?
TRUMP: It could happen. It could happen. Yes, no problem with meeting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Furthermore, both Secretary of State Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said last week that Trump would meet with Iran without any condition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I think you know we`ve done more sanctions on Iran than anybody and it`s absolutely working.
Now, the president has made clear he`s happy to take a meeting with no pre- conditions.
REPORTER: Secretary Pompeo, for clarity on this, can you foresee a meeting between President Trump and the Iranian leader later this month surrounding the United Nations?
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Sure.
REPORTER: Would the president support that and do you support that?
POMPEO: The president made it clear, he is prepared to meet with no pre- conditions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I`m joined now by former director of the CIA, John Brennan, and Eugene Robinson, Columnist of The Washington Post.
I said at the front of the show, locked and loaded, really, because I don`t know what`s going on. Do you? Is this president ready to go to war with Iran or is he ready to meet with Rouhani, the prime minister without conditions?
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I don`t know and he doesn`t know either. It`s quite unfortunate that he`s gotten us into this situation, which is basically a crisis now with Iran. And it`s clear that we cannot allow this devastating attack on Saudi oil facilities to go unanswered. But how do you do that without leading to some type of escalatory spiral that is going to make the situation worse?
And I think the Saudis has now realized just how vulnerable they are to strikes, whether it`d be from drones that came out of Iran or wherever. But it just demonstrates just how much the Iranians can hurt the Gulf States and our allies.
MATTHEWS: What do you think they are up to?
BRENNAN: The Iranians?
BRENNAN: Well, I think they`re clearly upset at, not just the abrogation of the Iranian nuclear agreement but this economic war that has been declared on Iran by the Trump administration. It`s not just U.S. sanctions on Iran, it`s the U.S. insistence that other countries honor those sanctions. And therefore, the Iranian economy is hurting badly and the Iranians believe that the status quo is unacceptable.
So how did they respond? Well, there were some strikes against some oil tankers in the gulf and now they have ratcheted up. I think it`s clearly a signal from some people in Iran, whether or not it`s Khamenei and Rouhani, the supreme leader and the president who have done it, or are some of the radicals within the Revolutionary Guard, the (INAUDIBLE), who want to try to provoke something.
MATTHEWS: Well, it`s the second time that President Trump has threatened military action against Iran since June when he said the United States was cocked and loaded to retaliate for reportedly shooting down a U.S. drone. Well, Trump is now citing that incident to express his skepticism about Iran`s denial of responsibility this time. Quote, now they say they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We`ll see. At the same time he`s saying he wants to avoid war with Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. Presidenti, do you want a war with Iran?
TRUMP: Do I want war? I don`t want war with anybody. I`m somebody that would like to not have war.
REPORTER: You said the United States is prepared for war?
TRUMP: The United States is more prepared than any country in the history of -- in any history if we have to go that way. As to whether or not we go that way, we`ll see.
But I will tell you, that was a very large attack and it could be met with an attack many, many times larger very easily by our country. But we`re going to find out who definitively did it first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Eugene, this is a question of how do you restrain the climbing up of actions by both sides. And this president doesn`t have the preparation mentally or start to lead us in war. He doesn`t have any idea what it means. I think he has instinct against it because of that but he does want to be macho man. Where are we at?
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, he wants to be macho but he has as a very strong instinct, I think, against taking military action because he doesn`t want to get bogged down in another Middle East war.
He may or may not have some an idea of what an actual war against Iran would be. He may or may not be sorting through options for a more sort of limited strike. But I doubt that he is able to really parse what the implications are, what next steps would be.
This all started when he canceled the Iran nuclear deal basically because it had been negotiated by President Obama. And that seems to be the only reason. And now, he seems to want to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal. He wants to negotiate the same deal only it will have his name on it.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. I don`t think Scarlett O`Hara was a good role model for the American president. Fiddledeedee, fiddledee -- you know, one day, he`s against his crushing in his attack on the Iran deal that President Obama struck. Now, he looked like he was trying to get back into some kind of a deal even at the point of backing the French concessions to the Iranians. And now, he`s saying we`re locked and loaded for war and at the same time, you clearly know he`s not interested in going to war. Can you read him?
BRENNAN: No. Well, I can read how --
MATTHEWS: If you were Iranian, could you read him?
BRENNAN: Well, I think the Iranians, as well as others, are very uncertain about what he`s going to do. But I think they are pushing him now. I think, as Gene said, he frequently touts the capability of his military but he is very reluctant to engage in a new conflict in the Middle East, which he knows could be long and bloody.
So he now is in this cul-de-sac that he`s got us in and he doesn`t have a national security adviser. And in previous times of crisis, you would have a national security adviser convene (ph) with a national security council and come up with options that they could present to the president and talk about the upsides and downsides of various options.
But there has been no real interagency process and Mr. Trump, I think, is now sort of continuing to act in a very ad hoc manner. And this is a very, very dangerous period because you cannot allow this attack to go unaddressed somehow.
But Mr. Trump has been the bully in the schoolyards, pushing the Iranians around. Now, the Iranians pull out a knife. And so you cannot allow a person with a knife to continue to go in that playground. But it`s the bully who actually got us into this position.
With the Iranian nuclear agreement, we had the Iranians in a place that you could have built up on that negotiated agreement so that the Iranians will continue to move in some degree of moderation. But we`re now back to square one. And so I don`t know how you fix this problem and I don`t think a lot of people in the Trump administration know how to either.
MATTHEWS: Politically, it`s -- go ahead, Gene.
ROBINSONS: No. I was just going to say his process seems to be talk to Mike Pompeo and maybe talk to Jared Kushner, and that seems to be the president`s problem (ph).
MATTHEWS: Yes. But the joke is fired John Bolton, the super hawk, who has been dying to go to war with Iraq since he was born, practically. And what`s he -- what`s this is the fiddledeedee, the weirdness of this thing.
ROBINSON: No, it is weird. And you talk about can the Iranians read him, can our allies read Trump like Mike Pompeo can read Trump. The one person that Trump seems to rely on for foreign policy advice these days can`t read him and says he`s ready to talk with no pre-conditions and the, of course, president now says that`s a lie.
MATTHEWS: Well, it`s a strange situation.
Meanwhile, in a tweet complaining about the investigations into his presidency and his business records, Trump suggested the House Judiciary Committee should, quote, look at the Obama book deal or the ridiculous Netflix deal.
Now, Gene, this is your territory. This is general insanity of this guy. He is so weird about --
MATTHEWS: We are going to end up talking like eight-year-olds because I`m calling him weird. I don`t know what a better word for it is when he seems to be in the midst of this international worry we are all in right. He is mad about Obama -- Mrs. Obama, the former first lady, has sold, by latest the count, I think, eight million copies. I wouldn`t call that a deal. I`d call that the best thing publishing has ever come upon. That`s what -- it`s not a celebrity deal, the cost of money, they`re making money. Four bucks each for her but a lot more for the publishers.
ROBINSONS: They`re making a lot of money. Look, it`s Obama envy (ph). I`ve written about this. He has this thing about Obama. Anything with Obama`s name on it, he wants to get rid of it. Anything with -- that Obama does, there has to be something wrong with it.
And it goes all the way back to the whole birther thing, to Obama`s humiliation of him at that 2012 correspondent`s association dinner. He has a thing about Obama.
MATTHEWS: But Obama, I go back to you, Mr. Director, he did put together with John Kerry, the Secretary of State, a deal with Iran that looks better all the time. And now, we`re possibly in a worse situation with Iran instead of a long-term deal with them. Obama looks better.
BRENNAN: Well, absolutely. And I think in the Obama administration, we knew that it was not the perfect deal but it was a damn good deal, and it was one that a future administration could build upon. But where are we now? I think Trump would love to get back to the situation where the Obama administration got the Iranians, which was to destroy all those centrifuges and put its nuclear program on hold.
ROBINSON: And under inspection, by the way, with (INAUDIBLE) everything that`s going on.
BRENNAN: And Iran was adhering to the level (ph) and spirit of that agreement.
And Mike Pompeo is a person I think who has encouraged Trump down this road, not just Bolton. But Pompeo is a very, very hard line hawk on Iran but they both have gotten us into this situation and there is no good exit.
How do you address it? I`m hoping that there`s going to be some type of congressional bipartisan effort that is going to have some adults in the room look at how we`re going to get out of this without engaging in another major Middle East profit (ph).
MATTHEWS: Maybe. I`m always a romantic about this. Maybe Trump and his mentality will say this is what I didn`t want from Bolton. I don`t want it from anybody else either. I`m not going to war. I don`t know how wage war. This country doesn`t want to wage war. And they`ll get rid of a president who starts one.
Anyway, thank you, Director John Brennan. Thank you, Euguene Robinson, as always, sir.
Coming up, several of the Democratic Presidential Candidates call for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh today after another allegation of misconduct, pretty bad misconduct, was published in The New York Times this weekend. Is there any real chance he might be removed from the bench? And why wasn`t the newly revealed allegation investigated by the FBI before he was confirmed?
Plus, Democrats back President Trump into a corner on gun legislation, making him an offer on background checks. I don`t see how he refuses. But his response remains purposely muddled so as not to anger his pals at the NRA. He is scared right now. Trump doesn`t know what to do. This is one time on guns.
I think he knows that Nancy and Chuck have put something on the table a firm offer to do background checks and background checks alone. He better do this or he`s going to look very stupid.
We`ve got much more to get to. Stay with us.
MATTHEWS: Well, here we go again. Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Almost a year after Christine Blasey Ford testified before Senate Judiciary Committee that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school, a charge he denied, and other misconduct allegation against Kavanaugh has come to light.
Over this weekend, The New York Times published an essay adapted -- actually excerpted it from an upcoming book on two of its reporters -- by two of its reporters. The authors say they have found new corroboration for accusations that Kavanaugh exposed himself to Deborah Ramirez, a classmate at Yale, with her consent. Kavanaugh has also repeatedly denied that allegation.
The reporters found at least seven people, however, including Ms. Ramirez`s mother, heard about the Yale incident long before Mr. Kavanaugh was a federal judge. NBC News has not spoken with any of those individuals but Ramirez made the allegation known during the judge`s confirmation hearing, but was never allowed to testify.
The book also found that the FBI declined follow-up on any of the 25 witnesses Ramirez provided to corroborate her allegation. And this matches previous NBC News reporting that many involved in the incident were not contacted.
Additionally, the book uncovered a new accusation. Another former Yale classmate, believe it or not, claims to have witnessed a different episode of sexual misconduct involving Kavanaugh, an allegation NBC News reporters was known to the Judiciary Committee, very much like the earlier one about exposing himself. Well, that classmate declined comment to NBC News and the woman described that the new ones seem to decline to be interviewed.
Her friends, however, told The Times, The New York Times, she did not remember the alleged incident. That information was not included in the original Times article that she didn`t remember it, said she didn`t, but it was later added in an editor`s note in The New York Times. NBC News reached out to Kavanaugh who declined to comment.
President Trump defended Judge Kavanaugh, tweeting, he`s an innocent man who has been treated horribly. Such lies about him. They want to scare him into turning liberal.
For more, I`m joined Heidi Przybyla, NBC News Correspondent, Stephanie Schriok, President of Emily`s List, and Sam Stein, Politics Editor at The Daily Beast.
I want to start with Heidi on this. This new claimant who has been identified by Max Stier, a prominent Washington figure in a non-profit organization, she doesn`t say -- well, you know, we`re getting the second hand. Does she not remember this exposure by Kavanaugh in her face, basically?
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: We don`t know what she remembers because she hasn`t spoken to us and it sounds like she hasn`t spoken to The Times. Her friends have spoken on her behalf. And I would just note that this is coming after her witnessing what`s happened with Anita Hill, with happened with Christine Blasey Ford and also Debbie Ramirez.
What we do know though is that this information was before the Judiciary Committee for -- during this supplementary investigation and that not only were all of these classmates ignored who were contacting the FBI but actually a sitting of the member of Judiciary Committee, Senator Christopher Coons, who wanted this allegation to be investigated.
MATTHEWS: How many were ignored?
PRZYBYLA: Dozens based on our reporting from last year. This was the conclusion in The New York Times as well, which was Brett Kavanaugh said in his testimony, look I did something like that, it would have been the talk of the dorm. Well, based on our reporting and also "The Times"` reporting, it was the talk of the dorm.
And, actually, in the original "New Yorker" story, you even had people Mr. Appold, who were not participants in it, but heard about it, saying that straight up at the very beginning of all of this. And so you had, going all the way back to the very first version of this story, people in fact saying that they had heard about this at the time.
MATTHEWS: What this adds up to, Steve -- Sam, let`s talk about it.
SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST: Sure.
The image that comes forth is drunken freshman behavior at college. There`s a drinking in college. I mean, William F. Buckley used to talk about, Yale was where we drink our beer. I mean, it`s just what you did. You got Bluto in many cases.
His behavior wasn`t exactly what you would call -- what`s the right word? He wasn`t trying to dominate. He was just trying to gross out. It`s gross-out behavior.
STEIN: I don`t know if I...
MATTHEWS: Well, you describe it.
STEIN: Well, not -- first of all, I don`t call it gross-out behavior.
MATTHEWS: I`m not diminishing it. I`m saying...
STEIN: No, if accurate as described, that is a form of assault. Putting a penis in someone`s face is a form of assault. And we have to call it what it is.
STEIN: I was a member of a fraternity and an Ivy League school that was known for its drinking. I don`t recall ever...
MATTHEWS: I don`t either.
STEIN: ... witnessing that type of behavior. And I think we need to set standards that are higher than just gross-out behavior.
MATTHEWS: Stephanie, were you surprised that the FBI didn`t follow up on this?
STEPHANIE SCHRIOCK, PRESIDENT, EMILY`S LIST: Yes.
I mean, this entire process from the beginning has been a sham driven by the FBI`s failure, as well as the Republican Senate`s failure. And this should land right at the desk of Leader McConnell, frankly, that pushed this all through.
They have got to do something. And I will tell you, I mean, we always talk about where women are in this country and if they`re -- if they`re mobilized, if they`re motivated.
I have got to tell you, there`s so much outrage across this country, not just on this. It`s just a continuation of one thing after another, another predatory story that we have to live through to have a conversation about whether it`s assault or it`s gross.
It`s assault, and it`s upsetting. And we have to do something. We don`t have leaders, particularly in the Senate right now under McConnell, that`s willing to do anything. And that`s what`s got to change here.
PRZYBYLA: Can I say that something that`s significant that`s been underlooked in this case, the second case, is a real question as to whether the FBI interviewed actual eyewitnesses or participants, because what we know is that there was a close circle of buddies who hung out.
And based on our own reporting, Brett or Brett`s guy...
MATTHEWS: Just like in high school.
PRZYBYLA: ... were in touch with them prior to the "New Yorker" story. So were they setting the narrative? Or were they eyewitnesses who had no participation in any of this who would have no reason not to tell the truth about what actually happened?
It sounds like Max Stier didn`t want his name out there, but he witnessed something, and he wanted that to be relayed to the FBI and to be relayed to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
So what we do know is that there was a very limited number of people who were interviewed by the FBI, and that that was dictated by the White House and the Judiciary Republicans.
MATTHEWS: I`m trying to get an eye on this, as we are.
You told me before we went on tonight there was a context of awfulness that was going on before this behavior by Brett. Can we describe that on television?
PRZYBYLA: Well, that`s been reported by other news organizations that there was -- there was a culture around this and that there were certain people who participated.
But I really can`t go beyond that right now based on my reporting.
MATTHEWS: But was it -- I`m trying to find -- can you get a fix?
Was this behavior by an "Animal House" environment? What was...
STEIN: The context of the "Times" story in the presentation even was looking at it from a socioeconomic -- socioeconomic perspective.
MATTHEWS: That she was a working person.
MATTHEWS: ... elite environment.
STEIN: She was a working person. She was a...
STEIN: ... of an elite -- and so privilege accompanied him, but not her. And Yale in the early `80s was this debaucherous place where people just got wasted drunk and took liberties with their intoxication.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I was trying to get at, yes.
STEIN: All which is not to excuse the act.
MATTHEWS: No, I`m trying to figure out -- nobody would.
STEIN: No, no, what I`m trying to -- what I think the bigger picture here, though, is that, presented with this body of evidence and the need to contextualize it politically, what ended up happening was an abbreviated investigation and an aborted investigation in some respects.
SCHRIOCK: For one of the highest appointments -- the highest appointment in the country.
SCHRIOCK: I mean, we all deserve as Americans to have justices who are not just meeting a basic standard, that this is going to be a higher standard. And they rushed this through.
MATTHEWS: You`re an expert on elections and how people -- you encourage them to vote.
How should the Senate Judiciary Committee have addressed behavior that`s clearly got a pattern here, drunken, gross, disgusting, sexual assault, the whole thing? Should he be a justice of the Supreme Court?
Where do you draw the line in terms of age misbehavior? E.J. Dionne in "The Post" today had a very interesting -- or yesterday -- had a very interesting thing.
He said, if the Republicans had simply tried to stipulate what goes on in high school or early college, 18 years old, we`re going to put that aside. They didn`t do that. They brought in Blasey Ford. And once they introduced that, the whole thing`s open.
But where do you -- how far back do we go?
SCHRIOCK: We just had a -- started this interview saying that this is -- you were part of a fraternity. You did not see this behavior.
MATTHEWS: No, but how do we go back in terms of vetting? Vetting.
SCHRIOCK: I think there`s certain behavior...
STEIN: What do we do with youthful indiscretions? And how do you judge them in a political context?
The problem here is that this is not a usual appointment, right? This is an appointment to the Supreme Court.
MATTHEWS: And it`s not usual behavior.
SCHRIOCK: I was going to say, it`s not a usual youthful indiscretion.
STEIN: I just want to make two points.
The other problem is that Kavanaugh himself -- this is a problem for Kavanaugh himself, is, he opened himself up to these types of accusations by claiming he had never really been involved in this type of behavior at all. He never drank.
MATTHEWS: He lied his way through it.
STEIN: And so that`s a problem.
And the other thing which I think goes unnoticed here is, there`s this notion that Democrats are vindictive here and going for the kill shot. In fact, if that were the case, wouldn`t they have gone after Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court appointment prior to him.
PRZYBYLA: We can`t answer that question, Chris, if we don`t have a discussion about it.
And in this case, the investigation was one-week-long. They talked to 10 people. And let`s all go back to that time. We had a midterm election approaching where the Republicans thought that there was a real possibility they might see a wipeout, and that this was their chance to get their guy on the court.
MATTHEWS: This is aimed directly at you, because I know politics is your life right now.
And I want to tell you this. I keep talking to our producers about the stunning possibility that the way this thing`s going with the Supreme Court, within the next couple years, with Breyer -- he seems very healthy - - and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has got all kinds of health challenges -- you could have a 7-2 court for the next 30 or 40 years, a 7 -- we haven`t had a 7-2 court in one ideological direction like this in our lifetimes.
And we have a very good chance of having a 7 -- if this keeps going, if we get another Kavanaugh after this, and other Kavanaugh after that, and if Trump gets reelected, or even next year, because you got to bet Mitch McConnell says I will jam somebody through the minute somebody dies, basically, the minute somebody is out of there.
SCHRIOCK: And they will clearly do it rapidly.
I mean, look, that`s what they did last fall, like no investigation.
MATTHEWS: Run it through.
SCHRIOCK: Run it through. Ignore everything. Get somebody who`s young who is going to do we want.
MATTHEWS: Can you arrest the attention of the American voter on the progressive side, the pro-choice side? Do you people know -- just like the gun people know only about guns? Can you know this one?
SCHRIOCK: Oh, they`re there.
I was just going to say, the outrage is there. I mean, the problem is, we don`t have control over the Senate. I mean, the one way to fix this is to win the next election.
MATTHEWS: Or the presidency.
SCHRIOCK: Both. Both.
SCHRIOCK: No, I mean, we need to we need to win both those things.
And I think, actually, we have a real chance of winning both the Senate and the presidency.
MATTHEWS: Do your voters get this, that they decide on the Supreme Court, as far as picking presidents and senators, that they do it?
STEIN: To your point, they`re getting it more. Democratic voters are getting it more, in part because group started in the wake of the 2016 loss to educate them and rally them around this cause.
But I do think what it`s honestly going to take is for a defeat on an item like abortion rights, where it becomes not just theoretical, but becomes exceptionally real, that the consequences of these court decisions really do matter for progressive priorities.
That`s when you see the galvanization.
PRZYBYLA: It`s happening a little bit now at the state level.
STEIN: If you`re a minority voter affected by some of these immigration laws and the Muslim ban and things like that, of course it matters. But I don`t think it has taken hold broadly.
MATTHEWS: We have here with us someone who fights the good fight, Stephanie Schriock with EMILY`s List.
SCHRIOCK: Thank you. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you much. Thank you, everybody.
Thank you, Heidi Przybyla, for your reporting. Thank you, Stephanie Schriock and Sam Stein, for your reporting and analysis.
Up next: Democratic leaders put a firm offer on the table, a really good one, for President Trump on gun safety. They say, let`s just do background checks. We will have a signing ceremony. The flags will go up. They will play "Hail to the Chief." It`s a deal.
And then Trump, what did he do? Wiggled out of the thing. Anyway, we will be back with that one. What is his excuse to hide this time?
By the way, stick around for "The 11th Hour" tonight. My colleague Brian Williams interviews the world`s most famous whistle-blower -- there he is - - Edward Snowden. Does he have any regrets? It`s going to be an interesting reason to stay up late tonight.
You won`t want to miss it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): It`s been six weeks since President Trump, in the aftermath of two tragic mass shootings, signaled that he`d be surprised of expanding background checks.
It`s been over 200 days -- 201, I believe -- since the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that would strengthen background checks in the most comprehensive way.
And yet, despite those two facts, we have -- still have no idea what policy President Trump might support.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer this afternoon, who, along with Speaker Pelosi, has put a firm offer on the table on gun legislation.
In a phone call with President Trump yesterday, the two top Democrats in Congress said -- quote -- "We made it clear to the president that any proposal he endorses that does not include the House-passed universal background checks legislation will not get the job done, as dangerous loopholes will still exist and people who shouldn`t have guns will still have access."
And knowing the president`s penchant for TV moments, as an incentive, they added: "We even promised the president that, if he endorses this legislation" -- that`s the background check legislation -- "and gets Senator McConnell to act on what the House has passed, we would both join him for an historic signing ceremony at the Rose Garden."
Well, the White House called the conversation cordial, and said that the president -- quote -- "made no commitments" on the legislation, but they would continue to work to find a bipartisan solution.
But, today, the president cast doubt on that. In a tweet, he quoted former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, who told FOX News: "Democrats would rather talk about gun control than get something done."
In his own words, Trump added: "The big questions will -- are -- will they move the goalposts? And is this just a ploy to take your guns away? I hope not on both counts, but I will be sure to figure it out."
But is the president now caught between the popular position that the Democrats hold here for background checks and the NRA? It seems he seems to be scared he might offend the NRA if he does anything good.
And that`s coming up next. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump has kept both Democrats and Republicans in the dark on what, if anything, he will do for gun legislation for safety, what he`s ever willing to support. Who knows.
Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring anything to the Senate floor until the president makes clear where he stands.
And, yesterday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway did little to clarify the president`s position.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: So, Mitch McConnell says he wants to know what the president will support. Has he made a decision on that?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: The president has been actively engaged on the Second Amendment issue the entire time, and in particularly after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, and then, of course, the deaths after that.
And he has talked just this week. I was there. He talked to Republican and Democratic United States senators, who also are actively engaged. Support...
QUESTION: I just -- I don`t hear support for a specific piece of legislation. Does that mean that decision has not yet been made?
CONWAY: There is.
Well, there are pieces of legislation that already exist that we have looked, at the president has been briefed on. Many of my colleagues in the West Wing missed their summer vacations. They have been working on this every single day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Actively engaged.
I`m joined right now by Democratic Congresswoman Dina Titus from Nevada, pronounced Nevada, and former Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo.
REP. DINA TITUS (D-NV): Correct.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for the correction -- for the affirmation.
I didn`t hear jack from Kellyanne Conway there. I think the Democratic leadership has pulled a very smart pro-American move by saying: Here`s a firm offer, Mr. President. You sign background check legislation. It really fills the loopholes in, and we will be there to help you celebrate it on the Rose Garden with flags flying, "Hail to the Chief," the whole works.
And he goes back into God knows where to hide. They got him, I think.
TITUS: Well, I agree with that.
I don`t think the president knows what to do. This isn`t difficult. This bill has been on the table for over 200 days. It`s the least you can do and it`s supported by 90 percent of the American public.
It`s real easy to tell Mitch McConnell to get it moving and sign it and we`ll come over and sing kumbaya. But he goes back home and gets a phone call from Fox News or from the NRA, and then, suddenly, he`s wavering again.
MATTHEWS: I think, Carlos, the president is scared, I can`t say the word, but really scared of the NRA.
FORMER REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R-FL): Chris, if I had to bet, the president personally supports universal background checks but whenever it comes time to compromise and maybe that requires him to get at odds with his base a little bit --
CURBELO: -- he struggles with it and he dithers. I think that`s process we`re seeing now.
Now, I do think --
MATTHEWS: Does he want the most far right vote in the country? That`s my hunch. The most craziest, I`m sorry, far out, right wing, almost whatever, because he`s afraid that if he loses any of that from the far right, he`ll never make it up in the middle.
CURBELO: For the president, his base is sacred. He knows that he won with the very strong base, people who turned out, people who are very intent about their views. So, even though he personally -- and I think he`s expressed this a number of times, that he does support stronger background checks. Politically, he`s worried that that could cost him in 2020.
Now, I think Dems should also -- they have a hard offer out there that`s good, but they should also express a willingness to negotiate.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the question, Congresswoman, I want to ask you about that.
I think the Democrats should stay what they`ve offered. I think they`re exactly where they ought to be and not go over the other direction, to the left, and start talking about confiscation, ala Beto. Because that`s just going to give the NRA what they want. They already got Beto as a poster boy, you don`t want the Democratic Party to be on that face.
TITUS: Well, that`s` right. This is a minimum. You don`t back up from the minimum. And as I said before, 90 percent of the public, including gun owners, support this. So, to say the president believes in his heart but he won`t do it is like saying we`re offering thoughts and prayers to the victims.
Here it is. Let`s get it done. The House has passed two of these bills. The House Judiciary has passed three bills. Next week, they`re going to have a hearing in judiciary on assault weapons. It`s not something that you can back up from. This is the minimum.
MATTHEWS: Well, presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg pushed back yesterday on fellow candidate Beto O`Rourke`s tough talk on gun control, and putting his proposal for a mandatory buyback for weapons like AR-15s. Here`s what Buttigieg told CNN yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did Beto O`Rourke say something that`s playing into the hands of Republicans?
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. Look, right now, we an amazing moment on our hands. We have agreement among the American people for not just universal background checks but we have a majority in favor of "red flag" laws, high capacity magazines, banning the new sale of assault weapons. This is golden moment to finally do something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, former Congressman Beto O`Rourke responding on Twitter, writing: Leaving millions of weapons of war on the streets because Trump and McConnell are at least pretending to be open to reforms. That calculation and fear is what got us here in first place.
Well, I don`t know about Beto in this one. Beto is getting a lot of good ink on this because he`s showing a lot of passion. The question is, is he hurting the Democratic Party position?
CURBELO: Beto is doing what the president does. He`s going for his base. He`s going for those hard core Democratic voters, and obviously, in a primary, that might be smart politically, but what Buttigieg is doing is saying, hey, the president is going to go all base, I`m going to go for those centrist voters in the middle that can actually deliver the White House in 2020.
MATTHEWS: You`re not -- you`re being nice to him than I am.
Congresswoman, how do you buy back 10 million AR-15s and other assault rifles? Mandatory, you must turn them in. This is confiscation.
I think, I think Pete Buttigieg, the mayor, is right. Don`t screw up your position when it`s really strong. Your thoughts?
TITUS: Well, I agree with the mayor because he mentioned all the bills we have passed or introduced including the one that I`m a major co-sponsor of about the multiple clips. That you don`t need more than ten bullets at one time. That`s what called the most harm in the most recent, egregious shootings.
Beto has put that out as goal. If you want to get some of those weapons out, first, you outlaw the sell of future assault weapons and then you do a voluntary buyback. Maybe you use tax credits to get people to turn them in.
But you`re going to see that clip over and over again because NRA won`t say that they want to take your assault weapons. They just say the Democrats are coming for your guns, which is not true.
MATTHEWS: Well, Beto is. Anyway, thank you, Congresswoman Dina Titus. It`s great to have you on, madam, so much.
TITUS: Thanks. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: It looks great out there. I see the strip moving behind you. There`s a lot of action tonight. Thank you.
And, Carlos Curbelo, thank you.
TITUS: Thank you.
CURBELO: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next, an Obama cabinet member makes his pitch for 2020 as Elizabeth Warren holds a big rally up in New York tonight.
Your 2020 news is coming next on HARDBALL, in just a minute.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Right now, Elizabeth Warren is holding a big rally up in New York`s Washington Square Park where she`s detailing her new anti-corruption plan in front of a crowd of several thousands. There it is, that`s in Washington Square, right in the Greenwich Village there.
Yet another sign that Warren stealing some of Bernie Sanders thunder on the progressive left, Warren has picked up the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a progressive group that backed Sanders back in 2016.
Meanwhile, yesterday, former Vice President Joe Biden delivered what NBC describes as his most significant speech yet on race at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which was, of course, bombed by the KKK in 1963.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We must acknowledge that there can be no realization of the American Dream without grappling with the original sin of slavery. Domestic terrorism and white supremacy has been the antagonist of our highest ideals from before the founding of this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Biden picked up the endorse endorsement yesterday of Texas Congressman Vicente Gonzalez who switched his support from Julian Castro after Castro picked that fight with Biden last debate. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. VICENTE GONZALEZ (D-TX): And we need to narrow the field and unite as Democrats to defeat Trump in November 2020, and that`s why I believe I`m moving my support to Vice President Joe Biden. If you`re polling in the low single digits and you`re not raising any resources and you`re fracturing your party and you`re just getting your supporters to be upset at other candidates, it certainly can`t be a good thing for our party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I`m joined next by Ken Salazar, former secretary of interior under President Obama and former Democratic senator from Colorado. He`s got a big announcement for us on 2020. Stick with us for a minute.
In fact, here he is. I thought it was coming up.
Senator, thank you so much. Mr. Secretary, what is your announcement tonight? We`re all ears.
KEN SALAZAR, FORMER SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR: Chris, I`m honored to endorse Joe Biden for president of the United States. Joe is a uniter. He is results-oriented and he is one of the guys -- I mean, we need to have him in the White House today because the country more than ever before needs somebody that can unite our country. And right now, we live in a very dangerous world, both here at home and across the world, and there`s nobody that knows the world issues or the national issues as Joe Biden does.
I had the honor working with him in the U.S. Senate, serving alongside him in the Barack Obama cabinet. I know how effective he is at delivering results for the American people.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he has the political stamina to fight it through all the way to Milwaukee?
SALAZAR: Absolutely he does. When you think about his life and the suffering that he has encountered and persevered, he`s picked himself up and he`s kept on going because he has a heart of a public servant. He wants to make sure that our world delivers on that covenant that we so believe in America that we`re on the arc of progress as Dr. King would say.
And that`s the arc of progress that Joe Biden has been working on for all of his life. When you think about what happened in his own family life, more recently with his son Beau, and back when he was 29 with the death of his wife and his daughter, the car wreck, in all those circumstances, he`s always pulled himself back up and he`s always persevered and he`s going to persevere again.
So, I`d look more forward to working with him on this campaign and I look forward to him being president of the United States.
I`m here in Denver, Chris, and I remember very well in February of 2009, I flew out with President Obama on Air Force One. He signed the recovery bill to save the country from a second Great Depression. And on the way back, Joe Biden on Air Force Two received a call from President Obama. I want you to run this recovery.
And so, Joe Biden did that, and because of that, the United States avoided a second Great Depression and the economic foundation which was set forth by President Obama and Joe Biden is essentially the economic strength that we have here in this country today.
So, he knows how to get to results. Here home, on the domestic front, but then also around the world, dealing with issues from the Middle East, to Latin America. I watched him close up as he has dealt with issues that would escape resolution for most people.
You know, today, health care. We have health care in America, Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act because Joe Biden was out there working with the members of the House and the Senate who were not sure they wanted to vote for it. At the end of the day, we have more than 20 million Americans who have health insurance because of the fact that Joe Biden fought for it.
So, when you have those kinds of results and that kind of a track record, that`s what the United States needs today. We need to avoid the huge divisiveness and the hate that we see being promulgated by the White House and around this country, and have somebody like Joe Biden who can really bring the United States of America and its people together to solve the challenges that we face in this country.
MATTHEWS: It`s great to have you on and great to have you make news on the program.
Anybody is welcome to make big news like that.
Secretary Ken Salazar, speaking from Denver, his home state and city -- thank you so much, Senator and former HUD secretary -- I`m sorry, interior secretary, somebody`s correcting me. I know it`s interior secretary.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary and Senator. Thank you.
Up next, could a Democratic push too far -- can Democrats push too far left, push Americans to stick with the devil they know? Should they do that next year?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s a warning label for 2020. In 1994, early in the Bill Clinton era, the Gallup poll found that a quarter of Democrats called themselves liberals, a quarter. Today, that`s doubled to half the Democrats. Well, this explains why the progressive left of the party, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are showing more combined support in the polls than the moderate Joe Biden is.
The 2020 question is, how this progressive advantage in the primaries adds up in the general election? Would a liberal victory in the Democratic primaries bring liberal victory against Donald Trump?
Well, let`s look at the arithmetic. The Gallup poll from this January finds that half the Democrats describe themselves as I said now as liberals -- half. It finds some of it only a quarter of all voters are liberals. According to an August NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, only half of the self-described liberals view themselves as very liberal.
Well, that`s the rub. It doesn`t mean the liberals would be outvoted in November 2020. It does mean the other side, the forces backing Donald Trump, will make ideology the issue in 2020. It could mean that by sheer forces of numbers and advertising money, the 2020 debate will be turned on the bold Democratic proposals on health care, education, immigration. It means the progressive quarter of the electorate who want a liberal president will be by next summer playing defense.
To recap, victory in the Democratic caucuses and primaries is not the same as victory for next November. For a victory in next November will require a liberal Democratic candidate to win over the moderates, she or he has beaten in the caucuses and primaries first. It will then mean beating Donald Trump who will try to scare moderate Democrats into believing they`re better off with the devil they know.
That`s HARDBALL. Thanks for joining us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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