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FMR. NSA Bolton unloads on Trump. TRANSCRIPT: 9/18/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Cornell Belcher, Susan Page, Ted Lieu, Nicole Hockley, CharlieSykes; Vivian Salama; Jeremy Bash, Susan Wild

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Declaration of war.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington with breaking news.

Amid the crisis between the United States and the leaders of Iran and with the president still unclear about how to respond to Iran`s recent attack on Saudi Arabia, President Trump is now under siege and taking fire from the rear, from his recently fired third national security adviser, John Bolton.

Bolton ripped the president`s foreign policy at noon today on practically every front.  The news was first reported by Politico, an attendee confirmed the account to NBC News.  Bolton who was attending a luncheon break and conservative think tank with high profile Republican figures criticized the president`s willingness to negotiate with the Taliban at Camp David and said it sent a terrible signal.

He also added that it was disrespectful to the victims of 9/11 because the Taliban harbored Al-Qaeda.

Additionally, Bolton said that any negotiations with either North Korea or Iran were doomed to failure and that there was no signs either country was serious about giving up its nuclear program.

NBC News reached out to Bolton and his representatives for comment but have not heard back.

Just moments ago, in fact, President Trump was asked about Bolton`s attack.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  That`s better than somebody that goes around and saying we want to use the Libyan model.  He said the Libyan model.  That set us back very badly when he said that.

So I think John really should take a look at how badly they`ve done in the past and maybe a new method would be very good.

Now, with all of that being said, maybe a very powerful attack.  Guys like Bolton and others wanted to go into Iraq and that didn`t work out too well.  All right, that did not work out too well.  That was a horrible -- it was - - and I put him in anyway.  And, frankly, everybody knows, if you move wrong, he wants to -- you know, he doesn`t realize that you get stuck, you get stuck.  And they got stuck, and I`m unsticking it.


MATTHEWS:  Wow, that`s pretty profound.  Bolton`s attack came on the midst of an international crisis, of course, where President Trump is trying to cobble together a cohesive response of the recent attacks by Iran on those two major Saudi oil fields.

The critical comments came on the same day that President Trump announced Bolton`s replacement.  Trump selected Robert O`Brien, currently serving as the State Department`s Chief Hostage Security Negotiator, as his fourth national security adviser in just three years.

For more, I`m joined by Vivian Salama, White House Reporter at The Wall Street Journal, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Department of Defense, and Charlie Sykes, Editor-in-Chief at The Bulwark.

Charlie, this really rips the scab of the whole fight.  There he is taking a shot just now a few moments ago at the guy he made his national security adviser for taking us into Iraq, saying that got us stuck there, he doesn`t want to get stuck, he doesn`t want to follow the advice of the neo-cons, like Bolton, but there they are fighting it away, person-to-person, mano-a- mano, the very time he`s got to be focused on what do we do with the ayatollah and Rouhani over there in Iran.

CHARLIE SYKES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE BULWARK:  I was actually struck by how mild the president`s comments were.  I mean, given the way he`s ripped some of his critics in the past, that was pretty restrained for Donald Trump.

But, you know, John Bolton obviously is not going to go quietly.  And I think it was very interesting where he delivered the remarks and what he said.  He was introduced to that luncheon by Rebekah Mercer, who was one of the most important donors on the right and conservative Republican causes.  It`s a very high powered group.  So there`s no question about it, John Bolton still has a constituency for his approach to foreign policy.

And, again, the problem here is not whether or not Donald Trump is going to be too hawkish or too dovish.  It`s whether he`s going to be too erratic, whether he is going to blunder into this and send mixed signals that will lead miscalculations.

MATTHEWS:  Vivian, it seems to me -- I went to New York City, the media capital of the world, if you want to make noise, if you want to get word out, you do it at lunch in New York, and he did it with all those bold print names on the right.  He wants the president to hear this, John Bolton.  He wants this war.

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  100 percent.  And exactly like what Charlie is that it`s really not what he said because we`ve known that he was sparring with the president over the Taliban coming to the United States and talking to them in general over Iran and a number of other issue.  He felt like the North Korea talks were probably doomed from the start.

But it`s the crowd that he was speaking to.  You go out there and you try to basically create a schism within the Republican Party as to the view -- the foreign policy view, the president obviously taking a more conciliatory approach to things like Russia, with Iran.  He`s saying he was willing to talk to them.  And North Korea, just being the fact that we`ve had three summits with the North Koreans.  This is all for a number of the more traditional Republicans a very unsettling thing.

And so John Bolton trying to reach out to some of those folks and say, listen, this is what we are working with and you make the decision.

MATTHEWS:  Now, here`s the president of the United States, he`s our Commander-in-Chief, he sets the world order, basically.  What`s he going to do now?  He dumped this guy, John Bolton, he`s gone, he`s trashed in the trash can, he hires a new guy today.  At the same time, he`s got to make a big decision, how do we whack back at Iran without starting a war, which he doesn`t want?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA AND DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  I don`t think he`s going to respond militarily to the attack on Saudi Arabia.  He didn`t respond in June to the shot that Iran took downing an American aircraft, which, by the way, Chris, was the first time an American aircraft was downed by an adversary nation in international airspace since the Korean War.  He didn`t respond then.

This was not an attack on the United States.  This was an attack on another country.  They can respond if they so choose.  And Pompeo and others can give them rhetorical support.  It was an act of war against them, not us.

MATTHEWS:  Why did Pompeo say it was an act of war?  He meant an act of war against Saudi?

BASH:  Against Saudi Arabia, absolutely.  He wants to signal that this was serious, this was unprecedented, this was definitively Iran, which by the way is all accurate, but he also wants to signal this doesn`t mean, per se, that the United States is going to respond militarily.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Charlie, this is sort of -- I hate to use Latin terms, but it is one of those inflection points.  And it`s, are we going to go back to what W did and Cheney and the whole crowd and Liz Cheney still wants to do, keep fighting, looking for wars we can start in the middle east, or are we going to try to find some other approach to getting stuck, as Trump said a few moments ago?

I don`t think the American people want to get stuck again.  We`re stuck in Afghanistan.  We`re still stuck a bit in Iraq.  It`s easier to go in than it is to come out.  I think we`ve learned now over the last 30 or 40 years.  Your thoughts.

SYKES:  Well, we have.  But this is also where it`s very important for the president of the United States to have credibility and to have reliable allies, neither of which this president has done a very good job cultivating here.  You know, this is the kind of -- this is the moment where if you want to avoid war, you need to have maximum pressure on this regime and you need to have a credible diplomatic offensive against the Iranians who are going to keep testing him until there`s some sort of response.

But the problem is, you know, has Trump assembled that kind of coalition alliance (ph).  And then, of course --

MATTHEWS:  Well, you`re answering your own question.  Charlie, you just answered the question.  He doesn`t have allies in the (INAUDIBLE).  He`s got Netanyahu, has potential -- he may be gone in a week.  I don`t know who his friends are, this president.  I hope we have long lasting friends but we`ve been butchering those relationships.  I agree with you.

You don`t do sanctions without allies.  You can`t just sanction a country.  You need a lot of allies to do it.  Your thoughts, how do you do it at this point?  How do we go after Iran right now, a big question.

SYKES:  Well, again, this is the problem that he has.  He needs to be believable.  He needs to be credible.  When he makes a threat, he needs to follow through on it.  I think a lot of the world is looking at Donald Trump and thinking, we got this guy, we understand how he bluffs, and therefore, we can keep testing him.

The one thing Donald Trump -- the real danger is that Donald Trump does not want to appear to be weak.  He does not want to appear to be backing down, which could lead to the kind of miscalculation that leads to war.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Pompeo`s tough message on Iran was echoed on Capitol Hill today by Senator Lindsey Graham.  Let`s listen to him and his unusual break with Trump.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  This attack on the oil refinery, by any reasonable definition, is an act of war.  It is attacking the world economy.  It`s a stability of the oil markets throughout the world.


MATTHEWS:  Well, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, went even further in the right wing direction telling reporters that the United States should consider a proportional military response.  This is Dick Cheney back again.  Let`s got to war again against Iran.

Utah Senator Mitt Romney, on the other hand, while agreeing that Iran was responsible, doesn`t see the United States has to respond somebody at all.  This is the Republican Party peaking its head up, the real Republican Party, Mitt Romney.  Here he is.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT):  This is up to Saudi Arabia.  We`ve been selling them weapons over the years so that they`re able to defend themselves.  But we`re not the policeman of the world.  And if Iran attacks Saudi Arabia, as Saudi Arabia should be the nation who decides exactly how they`re going to respond.


MATTHEWS:  Jeremy, sometimes that guy talks like a president and I like it.  I mean, restraint, intelligence, a smart use of our power.  Not proportional response, somebody who shoots a spitball, we don`t shoot it back.

BASH:  That`s right.  And Robert O`Brien, the new national security adviser, actually advised Mitt Romney.  And I think O`Brien --

MATTHEWS:  He did it before?

BASH:  Yes, he did.  And I think O`Brien really comes from that more traditional Republican mold.  Yes, hawkish on some issues, muscular internationalism, if you will, that`s the way they would characterize it.  But, certainly, they would not abide by cozying up to Vladimir Putin, cozying up and having a bromance with Kim Jong-un, inviting the Taliban on the week of 9/11, and of course, you know, playing a very weak hand in the Gulf.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Vivian, he`s the new kid on the block, this new guy, O`Brien.  Okay, what`s his story with him and the Afrikaners?  Why did he got to school down there in the old Orange Free State, the home of the Afrikaners, learned fluently Africans?  What`s that -- I`m not saying he`s evil but it`s a strange propensity.  What`s this guy about, the new national security adviser?

SALAMA:  So I don`t know why the back story to why he ended up at that school but, I mean, you just heard Mitt Romney speaking and he is much more of a traditional Republican as far as the establishment goes.  He has served Mitt Romney twice in 2008 and 2012 and also has served on the George W. Bush administration.  He`s a career lawyer.  But the fact of the matter is --

MATTHEWS:  But this is Pat Buchanan stuff.  This is the old sort of love affair with the South African whites.  What`s that about here -- Charlie, do you know anything this guy`s background and his interest in Afrikaner culture and language?  What`s that about?

SYKES:  Chris, I know absolutely nothing about that.  So I`m not going to comment.  All I really know is what we`ve been, you know, hearing about that he was a Romney guy.  He obviously has curried favor with the president.  He understands what the formula is.  You praise the president, you are as sycophantic as possible.

But I guess my take on this it could have been a lot worse.  I mean, considering who the president sometimes brings in it, it could be a lot worse.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, yesterday, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham seemingly looking to goad the president into a more aggressive response to Iran, tweeted, the measured response by President Trump regarding the shooting down of an American drone was clearly seen by the Iranian regime as a sign of weakness.  The problems with Iran, it only gets worse over time.  So it is imperative we take decisive action.

Earlier today, President Trump was asked about Graham`s criticism of him.  Let`s take a look.


TRUMP:  I actually think it`s a sign of strength.  We have the strongest military in the world now.  And I think it`s a great sign of strength.  It`s very easy to attack.  But if you ask Lindsey, ask him how did going into the Middle East, how did that work out, and how did going into Iraq work out?

So we have a disagreement on that.


MATTHEWS:  I love Trump in one way and it`s only a very, very narrow way.  He always knows the other guy`s weakness.  He`s got this thing, whether it`s slow reaction jab or whatever.  He`s going after Lindsey for the right wing`s real problem.  They took us into Iraq.  They took us into a war.  Nobody looks back and said, smart move getting stuck in there.  He took the same shot (INAUDIBLE) he took at Bolton, his buddy.

BASH:  That`s right.  And the Bolton statements today in front of this audience in New York shows that the Trump administration in these aspects are really at war with itself because this is major schism.  Trump is not cut from the same foreign policy mold, as certainly not Bolton, but also not some of the traditionalists, like Lindsey Graham.  And I think Donald Trump is weary of getting involved militarily with Iran.

We do have the strongest military in the world but they are not prepared to deploy by the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands --

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about that.  Does anybody at this table and in Charlie Sykes land think it`s plausible that we would get into a real war with Iran, Vivian, a real war?

SALAMA:  I don`t think we that would instigate it.  The question is whether we get pulled in because Saudi Arabia goes ahead and can`t defend itself.  I think that`s much more of a possibility.

MATTHEWS:  You mean they attack?

SALAMA:  In terms of if they decide to instigate any kind of aggression, and we`ve heard today that they have gone after a few targets, if they decide to go into a full-scale attack, they might have --

MATTHEWS:  Dick Cheney talked to the Saudi Princes, Charlie, into giving us Desert Shield, a base for our operations to go after Saddam Hussein.  By saying the Kuwaiti elite, the royal family are staying in your hotels in Riyadh, what hotels are you guys going to stay in if Saddam Hussein grabs Saudi Arabia?  If they were vulnerable to Saddam Hussein, they must damn well be vulnerable to Iran.  Would they reasonably ever attack Iran, Charlie?

SYKES:  Yes, they might do it.  But, again, they`re going to be calculating on exactly what we`ve just been talking about that if it becomes a larger conflict, will the United States come in and back them.  And this, again, is the miscalculation.

And, you know, remind everybody that the Trump administration apparently did not have a plan once they threw out the Iran nuclear deal, whether that was the right thing or the wrong thing.  Did they have a plan to be able to respond to the way events have played out?  Because in a lot of ways, this was predictable.  If you follow the Iranians, this is the kind of way that they are going to respond.  You know, did he establish, you know, the alliances?  Did he establish a game plan?  Does everyone involved in this, do all of the players understand who will do what under what circumstances?

So that is the danger.  Nobody wants a war, nobody is planning for a war.  But can you be drawn into one if you don`t have a plan?

MATTHEWS:  same as he did with Medicare -- I`m sorry with Obamacare, the president voted to destroy Obamacare.  He had no replacement at all.

Anyway, thank you Vivian Salama, thank you, Jeremy Bash, as always, and thank you, Charlie Sykes.  You`re all great.

Coming up, Trump versus the blue states, catch this.  Anybody who got their taxes raised know how Trump is playing this game.  If you come from a blue state, he raised your taxes.  He`s in California, high tax state, taking on the homeless problem, as if he cares because he says it hurts real estate prestige.

He`s also removing the state`s right to set its own emission standards.  Why`s he doing that?  It`s a state that he can`t win next year, so he`s not concerned about ruffling feathers out there.

Plus, the president is blaming Beto O`Rourke for the lack of movement on gun legislation, and, by the way, as a chilling new video is released on gun safety and violence.  This is scary ad.  Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This new sneakers are just what I needed for the new year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This jacket is a real must-have.


MATTHEWS:  We`ve got more to show you on that.  This is one scary thing.  It gets much scarier for these kids.  It`s about when Sandy Hook happened.  Stay with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump has made clear he views himself as a pro-red state president, continuing to disown, disregard even punish those states that offer him no Electoral College votes.  His target today, California, whose 55 Electoral College votes he has no chance at all of winning in 2020, and he knows it.

And yet that`s where the president was today.  In fact, that`s why he was there today, completing a two-day swing attending top dollar fundraisers expected to add $15 million for his re-election coffers.

Axios reports, Trump is at war with California over environment, homelessness, tax returns, immigration and virtually every topic he touches.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on his way to the Golden State, President Trump maligned the state`s homelessness problem in some cities. 

He said -- quote -- "We can`t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what`s happening."

He went on to lament the problem for residents, saying: "In many cases, they came from other countries." 

He cares about immigrants now. 

"And they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city.  And, all of a sudden, they have tents."

Well, Trump had more to say just moments ago.  Let`s watch. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In the case of San Diego, the mayor is doing the right thing.  He`s doing a good job.  In the case of Los Angeles, it`s a disaster. 

In the case of -- if you look at San Francisco, it`s a total disaster, what`s happening, where they`re going to ruin those cities.  And we`re going to get involved very soon on a federal basis if they don`t clean up their act. 


MATTHEWS:  I love it where he said, stay classy, San -- San Diego, where they have a Republican mayor. 

Well, this morning, he fired another salvo in his war on California, revoking the state`s power to set tougher emission standards than the federal government does, a right California has had since 1967. 

But his trip out West wasn`t all about scoring political vendettas.  He also stopped by the U.S. border with Mexico near San Diego for a show and tell of border wall completed under his watch that replaced a section of shorter wall.  He argued that there`s still a national emergency with regard to border security. 

And for more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Cornell Belcher, Democratic pollster.

You`re laughing, but I -- let`s go back to the pure partisan conversation. 

It seems to me that, from the beginning of his presidency, he said, screw you to states that voted against him.  So, he raises -- no more deducting state taxes in high states like New York, Massachusetts.


MATTHEWS:  Where I live, Maryland, all the -- we`re all -- we`re all going to get screwed.  And he did.  He screwed us.

And then he does all kinds of things.  He goes after cities with terrible, tough neighborhoods like Baltimore.  A lot of cities have tough neighborhoods, but he goes after a state he can`t possibly win.  He doesn`t touch Philly or Milwaukee or Detroit, because he needs those three states. 

It`s very interesting how he does this. 

BELCHER:  But I was in focus groups last night talking to suburban swing women.

MATTHEWS:  What is a focus group?

BELCHER:  A focus group is where we try to gather information from a likely group of voters...

MATTHEWS:  Twelve people?

BELCHER:  ... and just -- and listen to them -- 12, 13 people, and try to listen to them.

We ask them a lot of questions, get outside the bubble, ask them questions about what`s going on, sort of their issues and their preferences. 

And one of the things that kept coming up over and over is the division.  And I remember one woman said, I wish he would spend half as much time trying to bring America together as he does as dividing it. 

And this is a perfect example.  And I tell you, when you look at the -- that nine million more voters and white Democrats did so well in the suburbs with college-educated white women, it is because of Donald Trump and it`s because of this division.  It`s because of this ugliness that they viscerally do not like.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about why he trashes cities especially, trashes Baltimore. 

He makes it sound like it a sinkhole, like it`s -- it`s a mixed city like any city.  It`s got nice neighborhoods and rough neighborhoods.  We all know what cities look like.  And it`s a city that obviously has challenges.

But he goes after them.  Now he`s going up to San Francisco, but not San Diego.  He`s very discriminatory in who he attacks.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY":  Because he attacks Democratic cities. 

And he attacks cities like San Francisco, which is represented, by the way, by Nancy Pelosi, his biggest -- his biggest counterpoint.  And he`s taking on issues that alarm California, like these tougher emission standards.

But they could help him in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan.



PAGE:  Pennsylvania.

MATTHEWS:  So, he`s for fracking, of course.  He will come out for fracking. 

PAGE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But why does he come out against emissions standards? 

Because I thought Kamala, Kamala Harris, said -- I think it was she -- she said something really nice about government, what it can accomplish.  She said, years ago, 20 or 30 years, you arrive in L.A. airport, LAX, and the sky was like Martian.  It was yellow.  It was weird. 

There was so much crap in the air.  And now you see blue skies out there.  And so she said, we can do this. 

Why does he want to go back on that with emissions standards, the wrong way?

PAGE:  Well, another reason is because that was something Barack Obama did. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, Jesus.

PAGE:  And we have seen the president over and over again try to repeal whatever...


BELCHER:  Everybody.


PAGE:  ... Barack Obama...


MATTHEWS:  But who wants dirty air?

BELCHER:  But there may be the...


MATTHEWS:  No, really, who likes dirty air in your focus group?

BELCHER:  None of them. 

But I would also connect the dots back to your last story.  Them rolling back these emissions mean a half-a million more barrels of oil are consumed.  It means Americans are spending more on gas. 

Who does that benefit?  Remember that last story we just had about Saudi Arabia?

MATTHEWS:  The oil industry.

BELCHER:  The oil industry benefits from that. 

So I think he`s crazy like a fox.  He`s looking out...

PAGE:  That`s pretty conspiratorial.

BELCHER:  Does the oil industry benefit from the rollbacks of this? 

PAGE:  Well, yes, but to think he`s denying California this power to set tougher emissions standards to help Saudi Arabia?  That`s -- that`s pretty conspiratorial. 

BELCHER:  I`m going to stick with it.


MATTHEWS:  To help Saudi Arabia.

Anyway, because we`re very proud of the fact that I think Americans -- we`re basically much more fuel-independent than we ever were. 

Anyway, California`s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom slammed President Trump for revoking the emissions waiver today, pointing out that it was a Republican governor, Ronald Reagan, who set the stage for the state`s initial waiver back in `67.  Let`s watch. 


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA):  I don`t know what the hell has happened to the Republican Party. 

And, by the way, where is the Republican Party right now?  Where are they pushing back?  Why aren`t they pushing back?  They believe in federalism.  They believe in state rights.  At least they assert that.

And they`re nowhere to be found.


MATTHEWS:  States` rights, by the way, he didn`t say it right, but the governor is right. 

The Republicans like to believe in federalism.  They talk -- they have a Federalist Society.  They talk about it all the time, states` rights.

And here`s the president going and saying, nice try, California.  You`re not going to be cleaner than us. 

PAGE:  This is not Ronald Reagan`s Republican Party. 

Ronald Reagan would not be comfortable in this Republican Party. 

BELCHER:  A news flash.

PAGE:  That`s -- on a lot of issues.  On immigration, he wouldn`t be comfortable.  On federalism, he wouldn`t be comfortable.

MATTHEWS:  Nixon created the EPA and the Council on Environmental Equality.  Nixon did that.

PAGE:  It`s not Nixon`s Republican Party either.  It`s Donald Trump`s Republican Party.

BELCHER:  It`s Donald Trump`s -- it`s Donald Trump`s Republican Party and why you see a lot of moderate, sort of middle-of-the-road Republicans really uncomfortable with being...


MATTHEWS:  Who wants dirty air?


MATTHEWS:  Meanwhile, if you want an indication of where the president`s mind was -- well, that`s an illusion -- mind was this morning in California, there`s always Twitter.

He wrote in Twitter 4:08 a.m. -- that`s when he Twittered -- tweeted -- California time -- "As Corey Lewandowski stated very clearly yesterday in front of the House Judiciary Committee, President Trump didn`t do anything wrong or illegal.  But they all know that."

Well, that was just one of several early morning tweets about his former campaign manager during a run of more than 20 tweets or retweets over the course of this early morning.

Who`s an expert?  You are.  What`s Trump doing at 4:00 in the morning tweeting about Lewandowski? 

PAGE:  Well, a friendship is a beautiful thing. 


PAGE:  And Lewandowski had an audience of one yesterday.


MATTHEWS:  Where he admitted he lied to the media and to the public. 

PAGE:  And he was talking to Donald Trump, and Donald Trump was talking back to him on Twitter. 

It`s a conversation between two men who obviously get along very well. 

MATTHEWS:  His kind of guy, Cornell, Trump`s kind of guy, an openly admitted liar.

BELCHER:  Right.

And so you now have the president -- you -- to serve this country, you now have to sort of bow down and -- to the president.  It`s like, we don`t take an oath to the Constitution anymore.  You got to take an oath to Donald Trump. 

I think that`s fundamentally dangerous, and it`s fundamentally un-American. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, even Lindsey -- Lindsey Graham has stopped his tail from wagging for an hour or two today, which was kind of impressive.  At least he`s not toadying all the time. 

Anyway, thank you, Susan. 

You`re looking at me in surprise.  You know, it`s true.


MATTHEWS:  Cornell Belcher, Susan Page. 

Up next:  President Trump is now blaming Beto O`Rourke for holding up progress on gun reform.  He jumped on this.  I could -- I knew he was going to do this.  O`Rourke is not taking that lying down, however, saying Trump`s cowardice is the real problem. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As President Trump continues to dither on gun legislation, children across the country have begun a new school year, of course.  It`s September.

And, well, today the gun violence advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise promised -- actually released a frightening new public service announcement that has struck a chord with a lot of people, especially parents.  Wait until you see this.

A warning:  Some may find this video disturbing and even hard to watch. 


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  This year my mom got me the perfect back for back-to- school. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  These colorful binders help me stay organized. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  These headphones are just what I need for studying.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  These new sneakers are just what I needed for the new year. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  This jacket is a real must-have.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  My parents got me the skateboard I wanted.  It`s pretty cool.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  These scissors really come in handy in our class. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  These colored pencils, too. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  These new socks, they can be a real lifesaver.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  And I finally got my own phone to stay in touch with my mom. 


MATTHEWS:  One of the Sandy Hook parents responsible for that PSA will be joining us next.

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump speaking out today about the ongoing gun debate, but instead of finally putting on the table what he`s willing to support, he`s blaming a Democratic presidential candidate for why a deal hasn`t been made. 

The president tweeted: "Dummy Beto made it much harder to make a deal, convince many that Dems just want to take your guns away.  We will continue forward," whatever that means.

Let`s be clear.  The president`s been skeptical of making any deal well before O`Rourke had his viral moment during last week`s Democratic debate, calling for the mandatory buyback of assault weapons. 

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will continue to do -- catch this word -- nothing until President Trump makes the first move.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  I want to know what the president supports.  It`s not unimportant to my members.

QUESTION:  What do you understand to be the remaining sticking points?

MCCONNELL:  And what I would like to know is what he thinks would make some progress and he would sign. 

And until we get that kind of guidance, we`re in a holding pattern, so to speak.


MATTHEWS:  Holding pattern.

Well, joining me right now is Nicole Hockley, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise.  Her 6-year-old son, Dylan, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.  We also have joining us in a moment Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California. 

Nicole, thank you for joining us tonight. 

Tell us about the ad we just saw.  It`s horrific.  It`s powerful.  What would you like it to accomplish? 

NICOLE HOCKLEY, CO-FOUNDER, SANDY HOOK PROMISE:  I want this ad to really engage parents across the country in the new reality that our kids are facing every day in school. 

And only by engaging in this issue and focusing on prevention, you know, strategic prevention, rather than tactical, reactionary measures, that`s the only way that we`re really going to stop gun violence in our schools and keep them safe. 

MATTHEWS:  Why don`t you talk right now, because you have got the opportunity to talk to Congress, people who vote, Democrats and Republicans, senators and members of Congress?

After they watch this PSA, this ad, what do you want specifically from them in terms of a bill the president will sign?  Or what do you want the president to sign?  Maybe that`s another way of putting it.

HOCKLEY:  Well, you know, there are so many members of Congress and the president who are also parents, so pay attention to this ad. 

These are kids talking.  This is what kids are experiencing.  And it`s within their power to do something about this at a legislative level.  It`s not about doing nothing.  It`s about doing what America wants.  And America wants safety. 

They want their kids to be safe in school. They want safe communities.  There`s a lot we can do at a community level.  But we need legislation at a state and federal level to help support that. 

MATTHEWS:  Would background checks be good for you?  Would that be a start this year?

HOCKLEY:  Background checks would be an amazing start.  I have been working on it for seven years, and I would love to see that cross the finish line. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, today, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway would not give a timetable for when the president would offer a plan on gun legislation, and proceeded to grossly mischaracterize the gun legislation passed by the House earlier this year. 

Let`s watch Kellyanne.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER:  Senator McConnell, Leader McConnell, has said something super smart that the Democrats in the Congress seem to not understand, which is, let`s put something on the floor the president will sign.

Let`s do something that will -- can actually become the law.  When the Democrats say, well, just go ahead and pass what we passed in the winter or the spring, that`s not reality, because their bills are gun confiscation. 


MATTHEWS:  That wasn`t true, Congressman. 

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA):  That`s correct.

MATTHEWS:  Your bill is not a confiscation bill. 

LIEU:  It is not. 

In fact, the House passed on a bipartisan basis universal background checks legislation that has 97 percent support among the American people.  It is before the U.S. Senate. 

All Mitch McConnell has do is put it up for a vote, and it will get to the president`s desk. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think, as a political figure, the president of the United States won`t support something that has 97 percent support, background checks? 

LIEU:  I believe is being a chicken and being beholden to the NRA.  There`s no reason to not have this bill become law.  It`s been shown to be effective in preventing felons and people who committed violent crimes from getting these guns.  And we know that in the last mass shooting, they would have prevented that person from getting a gun. 

MATTHEWS:  They`re now saying on the right, the evangelical right the -- I`m going to get to this later in the show -- that owning a gun and not having to have a background check, in other words, gun safety runs against God`s will.  They`re saying they have a sacred right to own whatever guns they want, they say that`s a sacred right, that God, Jesus I guess in most cases gave them -- I don`t want to be sacrilegious but they`re saying this. 

LIEU:  Right.  So, I`m just a simple Catholic.  I read the Bible.  It turns out the word gun is actually not in the bible.  They`re just making that up. 

And what we have here is a president who`s been completely ineffective in getting any legislation through Congress that helps the American people.  He`s blaming people like Beto O`Rourke for his inability to get legislation passed.  All he has to do is say, I will sign that legislation and it becomes law. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m with you.

A new report from the House Joint Economic Committee describes the growing epidemic of gun violence in America.  According to this report, in 2017, for the first time, more people were killed by guns in this country than by car accidents.  Nearly 400,000 people were killed by guns.  Approximately 2,500 of them were kids in school. 

The report also found compared to other high income countries, our country`s firearm related fatality rate is nearly 50 times higher for teens and young adults. 

Nicole, back to you.  And I guess the question is what do you want to say to the president of the United States if he`s watching? 

NICOLE HOCKLEY, SANDY HOOK PROMISE CO-FOUNDER:  President Trump, you`re a father.  Please take action.  Our kids need to be kept safe.  This is what the Americans across the country want.  Allow the vote to happen, and then allow it to pass and move into law. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, your leadership is not always brilliant, not always.  But they`re brilliant on this, because they put to the president this week, Chuck Schumer in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, said to the president if you sign background check legislation, not all this other stuff, just background legislation, we`ll be there for the signing to celebrate that event. 

And Trump has been mumbling ever since.  I think you guys have finally caught this guy so off base, I don`t think Trump knows what to do. 

LIEU:  That`s correct.  And let me just thank Nicole for her amazing leadership with Sandy Hook promise.  If the president is watching I compel him to watch this ad.

And the statistics are sobering.  We know from the Centers for Disease Control that over 39,000 people die annually from gun violence.  That`s over four people per hour.  So by the time your show is over, Chris, another four people would have died of gun violence in America. 

We need to pass this legislation now.

MATTHEWS:  Nicole, what is it about America when you look at these stats, are we an angry people, a violent people?  What is it?  Is it access to guns pure and simple?  What is it about the shooting that goes on in this country? 

HOCKLEY:  In my opinion, it`s a mixture of a lot of things.  Definitely easy access to guns is significant problem and needs to be addressed.  But also I think just being aware that these acts continue and they`re preventable, there`s a lot we can do in terms of upstream violence and helping people before they ever reach that point. 

We`re not a country that has more violent video games or more mental illness than anywhere else, but we do have a lot of problems that need addressing and one of those is the unfettered access to guns and there are measures we can do to help improve that. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you`re doing what any mother can do.  Thank you so much, Nicole Hockley.

HOCKLEY:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  And thank you, U.S. Congressman Ted Lieu for coming in tonight.

Up next, a freshman congresswoman opens up on the House floor to share her own actually painful memories of her partner`s suicide.  She`s hoping to raise awareness about mental issues that can lead to suicide, and also reduce the stigma attached to even asking for help if you`ve got a mental illness problem. 

We`re back after this. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In a speech on the House floor in June this summer, Democratic Congresswoman Susan Wild of Pennsylvania shared the very personal story of her life`s partner suicide earlier this year. 

Let`s watch her on the floor of the House. 


REP. SUSAN WILD (D-PA):  As some are aware, today marks the one-month anniversary of the death of my beloved life partner, Kerry Acker.  What most people don`t know is that Kerry`s death was a suicide. 

Why am I sharing this very personal story?  Because we all need to recognize that mental health issues know no boundaries.  I do not want anyone else to suffer as he suffered nor for any family to suffer as mine has over the past month. 

This is a national emergency.  Every community in our country has been touched in some way by major mental health challenges.  Removing the stigma cannot just be a slogan.  We need to make it real through our actions. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, as "The Washington Post" noted in an interview with Congresswoman Wild, quote, the video went viral and prompted an outpouring of people thanking her for sharing her story. 

Well, Congresswoman Susan Wild joins me right now, during National Suicide Prevention Month which we`re in right now, to discuss the legislation she`s planning to introduce on Friday to raise awareness about suicide and reduce the stigma around mental health. 

Thank you so much. 

WILD:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  So I guess the big question, what took you to the House floor to talk about such a personal loss? 

WILD:  Well, it was a month after it happened.  It was the hardest thing I`ve ever gone through in my life, heartbreaking and still is.  I just felt as though some kind of - something constructive had to come out of it and that we had to elevate this discussion not just about mental health but all the causes of suicide. 

Sometimes it`s chronic pain as it was in his case.  Sometimes it is a quick something that happens in somebody`s life. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that`s what we hear. 

WILD:  Yes, and somebody`s spouse asks for a divorce, and I`ve spoken to people who were in exactly that kind of situation.  But for me, it was just really important that I use my public platform to try to bring -- shed some light on this. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s talk about this because is there something that can be done by government to help people who are in distress, who are feeling serious chronic depression and are ready to do something like your partner did? 

WILD:  I believe there`s something that can be done by government.  And I also believe there`s something that can be done by all of us. 

As far as the government`s role in it, it is to support and give the resources necessary for communities and families and people to fight this - - this illness and this epidemic.  And, you know, we can do things as simple as a bill that`s currently pending that I`ve cosponsored, a three digit number for a suicide hot line as opposed to --

MATTHEWS:  Yes, there isn`t one now. 

WILD:  Well, no three-digit number.  There`s a long ten digit number that I can`t even remember as I sit here now.  So I think that`s a really simple fix. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens when you have a person like Alcoholics Anonymous has a program where you`re about to go drink and you shouldn`t, because it`s going to take you back to where you shouldn`t be, you call up somebody.  You know, what would it be the appropriate situation for someone feeling really serious chronic depression? 

WILD:  Well, you know, the problem is we don`t talk about chronic depression.  Alcoholics Anonymous has done a terrific job over the years in dealing with alcoholism.  We don`t have anything similar for people who are suffering from terrible depression, which is brought on by all different kinds of things. 

The truth of the matter is that we try to depress the subject.  One of the things that I always say to people is imagine if you were seriously depressed, and would you go to your employer to tell him or her that you were seriously depressed and needed treatment?  Probably not.  If you were diagnosed with cancer and you needed treatment and needed time off from work to go to your chemo treatments or whatever, you would absolutely go to talk to your employer. 

MATTHEWS:  How do we change that? 

WILD:  How do we change that?  Well -- 

MATTHEWS:  On Friday, you`re going to declare -- your announcement of your program.  How does that deal with that difference? 

WILD:  We talk about it.  We elevate it.  We make people realize that there are people all over the country who are dealing with this. 

We know that 47,000 people committed suicide in 2017.  We know, this is surprising, that the highest -- the highest rate of suicide recently has been white men over 60, which includes my beloved partner. 

And, you know, so this is a problem that has no boundaries.  We have to be much more open about it.  We`ve accomplished a lot in the world of mental health, but not on this issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what kind of reaction you got when you went on the floor of the House this summer? 

WILD:  You know, Chris, when I went on the floor of the House, I really did it as a way of -- my colleagues were so wonderful and there for me right after, but more importantly afterwards I started hearing from people all over the country, including a former NFL player who`s going to appear on Friday at a round table that we`re hosting on this very subject.  I hear from people all over the country about their own experience, family members. 

I heard from an official in my district whose mother committed suicide when he was very young and he had never told anybody about it.  People have been coming out of the wood work.  I talked to at least three people a day who have been affected by this. 

MATTHEWS:  Remember Richard Cory, the poem?

WILD:  Uh-huh.

MATTHEWS:  We all grew with it, the guy who had had it made took his life.

WILD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Richard Cory, what a poem that was.

WILD:  We`ve got to stop this. 

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, especially from the Allentown area -- by the way, we`ll have to have you on, a brighter subject, how Pennsylvania is going to go next year because you are from the swing district, I`ve always been told.

WILD:  Can we end on a positive note? 


WILD:  My dog Zoey was voted the cutest dog on Capitol Hill just this evening before I came over here. 

MATTHEWS:  My heart is full. 

WILD:  There you go. 

MATTHEWS:  A more happy note.  Anyway, thank you so much. 

If you are having suicidal thoughts, back to the serious, or if you are worried anybody you think does, there is help available.  The National Suicide Prevention lifeline, now, this is long number but it`s a 1-800, you can remember that, as you can start with 1-800, and then you have to go to 273-TALK.  That`s pretty good, 273-TALK.  That`s 1-800-273-8255, 273-TALK, pretty easy to remember, 800 that. 

HARDBALL back after this. 


MATTHEWS:  Christianity, let`s admit, has been used for some terrible causes over the centuries.  In the fourth century, Emperor Constantine conquered his enemies under the sign of the cross.  In the 14th century, the Inquisition, of course, in the name of the Christianity.  In the 15th century, Joan of Arc was burned for heresy, the charge been that she`d worn men`s clothing. 

In the 17th century, women were put to death as witches in Massachusetts again in the name of Christianity.  Plantation owners in the American South used Christian scripture to justify their brutal subjugation of human beings.  Whites in South Africa used a Christian bible to treat blacks as unworthy of human rights. 

Well, this week, still here in the 20th century -- 21st century, arrived a new claim on behalf of Christianity, guns.  Specifically opposition to background checks for those who want to buy a gun. 

Donald Trump now speaks of what he calls our sacred right to keep and bear arms.  Sacred?  Apparently, this new sensation is spreading. 

A Texas state senator accused or actually opposed gun safety in the name of Christianity.  Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders did the same.  Ted Cruz made a similar claim tying it to a scripture, a reference in Exodus to the right of self-defense against a nighttime robbery. 

I would guess that, I`m not a theologian, while Christianity like other religions has been used to support the worst of human horror, it can also and has been used to promote good as did during the civil rights movement.  It can certainly be used to be support our best human efforts to end the mass shootings at churches, synagogues and schools. 

The Sermon on the Mount was not a case for assault rifles, multi-round magazines and silencers.  It was about love, not lock and load. 

That`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.