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Trump rolls back climate protections. TRANSCRIPT: 1/9/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Ro Khanna, Mieke Eoyang, Eli Stokols

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  That does it for us. I`ll be back tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  It`s not supposed to be that way. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The House of Representatives have just voted to agree with that old Willie Nelson song, It`s Not Supposed To Be That Way. Within the past hour, the House sent a message to the president. He can`t do anything he wants whenever he wants.

The House passed a non-binding resolution largely along party lines that asserts that President Trump does not have the unchecked authority to take military action. This comes as the Trump administration has argued that the president has the legal authority to order even the assassination of a top Iranian official, General Soleimani.

Shortly after the debate this afternoon, Speaker Pelosi called the administration`s position dismissive of Congress` constitutional authority to declare war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  It was disdainful in terms of not consulting with Congress, dismissive and the cavalier attitude of this administration, it`s stunning.

We have no illusions about Iran, no illusions about Soleimani. He was a terrible person, did bad things, but it`s not about how bad they are, it`s about how good we are.

We all would die for our country. We take pride in saying that. But to kill for our country is a pretty traumatic thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, that`s well said.

President Trump has argued that the Constitution grants him and him alone the authority to do whatever he wants, his words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Article II allows me to do whatever I want.

Also take a look at one other thing, it`s a thing called Article II. Nobody ever mentions Article II. It gives me all of these rights at a level that nobody has ever seen before.

I have an Article II where I have the right to do whatever I want as president, but I don`t even talk about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, yesterday, President Trump dispatched some of his top loyalists or sycophants to Congress to convince members that under his expansive notions of his powers of executive, he is justified to do anything. Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, however, called that rationale absolutely insane. In fact, this morning on NPR, he went even further.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT):  What I`m most concerned about is about where that goes from here. What comes next? Is there another strike coming against Iran? If so, at what point do they need to come to us seeking an authorization for the use of military force? The fact that they were unable or unwilling to identify any point at which that would be necessary yesterday was deeply distressing to me.

It was terrible. I think it was an unmitigated disaster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here is how President Trump responded to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Did your national security team really say that it would be wrong for Congress to debate military action on Iran?

TRUMP:  So here is what happened on that. I had calls from numerous senators and numerous congressmen and women saying it was the greatest presentation they`ve ever had. Mike and Rand Paul disagreed because they want information that honestly I think is very hard to get.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California who`s a member of the Housed Armed Services Committee, Mieke Eoyang, Vice President of National Security Programming at Third Way, and Eli Stokols, of course, with the L.A. Times as the White House Reporter.

Congressman Ro Khanna, my point is this, what did Congress want the president to do prior to calling that strike that killed the general? What did you guys want him to do?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Well, first of all, he needed to explain what the rationale was. If this was an attack, why didn`t he attack the munitions there or the warehouse or the militias? But to take out the number two person in Iran is not self-defense. And if he wanted to go after Soleimani, for whatever other reason, he needed to come to Congress for authorization.

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute. You`re saying -- and this is so ridiculous, the sounding that what I`m going to ask you. Do you want to give the okay on an assassination?

KHANNA:  No, of course, he would never have gotten the okay. But there are two problems here. First, that he conducted the assassination, second, that he did it in total defiance of Congress. And let`s just be real. I mean, yes, Soleimani has blood on his hand, yes, he`s killed Americans and there have been people in this administration who hold a grudge about Iran since 1979 and they want to go have this regime fall.

And if that`s their rationale, it`s not some imminent threat. It`s that they want the Iranian regime to fall, they want to have retaliation for our troops that have died, then they need to make that case and come to Congress. They didn`t because they know Congress would never approve that.

MATTHEWS:  I like the way you break it apart. So let`s start with the first one, Congressman. This is very important to me. Personally, it`s a moral issue, a historic issue. I don`t think assassins ever look good, even when we killed Yamamoto during World War II, the guy who launched the attack on Pearl Harbor. But the fact is it`s an assassination. It`s not shooting someone in the field. Do you believe that should be outlawed? Do you think -- I mean, no American president, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, nobody should be allowed to assassinate. Is that your view?

KHANNA:  That is my view. Now, look, it`s different if you have terrorists, and when President Obama went after terrorists that weren`t part of a sovereign state, that`s fine if you`re killing terrorists who are a threat to the United States. But when you have a sovereign state, then you have diplomacy. You have other options.

MATTHEWS:  I`m with you. And for what it`s worth, I`m with you, and I`ve been with you for the first second I heard about this. I think we should not be in the business of assassinating foreign leaders.

Anyway, the House adopted the measure tonight, the non-binding resolution saying Congress should be talked to by the -- at least talked to, if not, getting confirmation from on a matter of war, an act of war. The measure was adopted today just a couple of minutes ago, 224-194.

Three Republicans voted in favor of the resolution limiting the president`s power. They include Trump ally Matt Gaetz, libertarian Thomas Massie and retiring member Francis Rooney. Rooney is no surprise. The other guy, Matt Gaetz, is. I thought he was a sycophant.

Eight Democrats voted against the resolution. The only one I really jump on there is Max Rose because I know he`s from a predictably Republican district of Staten Island, also McAdams, who represents a Utah district. I understand that.

Mieke, what do you make of this vote and the breakout, the fact that it was overwhelming by the Democrats, eight Democrats did not go along with it, three Republicans did?

MIEKE EOYANG, NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM VICE PRESIDENT, THIRD WAY:  Yes. Look, the last time we had a vote like this in the House, which was actually Congressman Khanna`s amendment to the defense bill, you had about seven of these Democrats say, no, I`m not going to support limiting the president`s power here. I think there are Democrats who have expressed concern about Iran targeting U.S. troops in the region.

Now, obviously, the rest of the caucus doesn`t feel that way. They think that going to war with Iran is a step too far and that the president --

MATTHEWS:  It`s an act of war.

EOYANG:  It`s an act of war and the president needs to come to them first.

But there are some who really have this concern about the security of the troops and the flexibility of the president.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, the morning ahead of the vote, the president tweeted, that was today, hope that all House Republicans will vote against crazy Nancy Pelosi`s War Powers resolution. Well, today on the House floor, Republicans did fall in line defending the president`s authority. Here they go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX):  The president has clear authority, a duty, in fact, to respond to attacks against American citizens and U.S. forces. That isn`t my opinion. It`s clear from Article II of the Constitution.

REP. SCOTT PERRY (R-PA):  The resolution is insincere and unserious. It`s insincere because this is just -- we don`t like the president and he took action and we can`t stand it.

REP. AUSTIN SCOTT (R-GA):  This is another partisan attack against the president of the United States for killing General Soleimani, who is a terrorist in an area where the president had the absolute legal authority to operate.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  President Trump`s decisive leadership was justified and it was right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I get the feeling here, Eli, and, Congressman, we`ll get to you in a second, because it`s your branch of government. The president really wants to send a message to Congress, screw you, I don`t care what you think. I`m not even going to call you the night before.

I remember the old days when Reagan attacked Grenada. Okay, it wasn`t the biggest military operation in history but it did cost lives on both sides. They called up the Democratic speaker of the House and said this is what we`re doing. And I think Tip said something like, well, do you want my agreement, I won`t give you my agreement, but thanks for calling, basically. But at least there was the courtesy. They didn`t even get that courtesy this time.

ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, L.A. TIMES:  No. And the president has been delivering that since he took office, his disregard for Congress, you play all the clips and talking about his idea of Article II of the Constitution and the powers that it gives him. I mean, that`s just who he is. And he has been flouting Congress.

And now, I mean, you heard the comments from the Republicans saying this is just Democrats, they don`t like the president, so they`re doing this. That`s how they explain away the impeachment inquiry, that`s the response to everything, is that it`s personal. And the president believes that everything is personal. He talks about how well he gets along with Mike Lee. He thinks it doesn`t matter what the Democrats are doing, just as them being against him for personal reasons, not based on his behavior --

MATTHEWS:  Yes, for calling her Crazy Nancy all the time.

STOKOLS:  Correct. And you`ve heard a lot and I`ve heard from people this week close to the president, close to his campaign, say, what, you expect him to tell Congress? They`re trying to impeach him. Why would he tell the Democrats? It`s interesting that when the missile strikes were coming from Iran the other night, the vice president was dispatched to get on the phone with not just Republican leadership but with Democratic leadership also.

So as they bluster about this, and I don`t think this is going to deter the president anyway from behaving exactly the same way going forward, but it was interesting that the other night, they were in touch with leaders on both sides.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Congressman, as a member of the House, by the way, it`s a wonderful thing to be a member of the United States Congress. It`s a wonderful thing, and I think of the State of the Union. And the great thing about our State of the Union address, which is coming up in a month, the 4th of February, the night after the Iowa caucuses, we`re all going to watch. Every American practically who has any brains is watching the State of the Union.

And you see up there the statement of the speaker of the House, the vice president of the United States from another party in this case and the president all there in this trinity picture. They`re there to signify the fact of how the government works together.

I don`t -- here`s the president saying he`s basically flipping the bird, if you will, to be crude about it to the Congress. I could call them up, I`m sure some staffer said to the president, maybe you should notify the speaker or at least call up Mitch McConnell and tell him what`s going on and he said the hell with that. I`m not going to tell them nothing. That`s what`s going on now, an act of war without any consultation at all.

KHANNA:  Well, Chris, the problem has been that the Congress hasn`t been willing to use our ultimate power, which is the power of the purse. You remember this because you`re a student of American history. What brought the Vietnam War to an end wasn`t just the protest. It was Senator Frank Church who introduced an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act and basically told Nixon, we`re not going to give you any more money for our troops in Vietnam. And six months later, Nixon brings the troops home.

Gaetz and I had an amendment in the National Defense Authorization to say no dollars were going to an offensive war in Iran. This was two months ago. It passed the House with 27 Republicans, it was stripped in committee and we then gave the Pentagon $738 billion without those amendments.

There used to be a time where Congress actually exercised the power of the purse and that`s what we need to do again.

MATTHEWS:  Well, on the today show this morning, Vice President Pence was asked why the administration did not share detailed intelligence with members of Congress, even in a classified setting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  If we were to share all of the intelligence and, in fact, some of the most compelling evidence that Qasem Soleimani was preparing an imminent attack against American forces and American personnel, also represents some of the most sensitive intelligence that we have, it could compromise those sources and methods.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, yesterday, Senator Mike Lee, a Republican of Utah, slammed that kind of talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT):  We never got to the details. Every time we got close, they`d say, well, we can`t discuss that here because it`s really sensitive. We`re in a SCIF. We`re in a secure underground bunker where all electronic devices have to be checked at the door, and they still refused to tell us. I find that really upsetting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mieke, and that statement by the vice president was sycophancy, writ large. He could have said -- they could have called the speaker and Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer and the rest and they could have said, here`s what we`re doing tomorrow or this is what we`re doing in a couple of hours. They didn`t have to give them all the details of their sources and everything. That`s ridiculous what the vice president said. But we know why he said it because he had to cover for the president.

EOYANG:  Yes. I mean, it is absolutely ridiculous. If you remember, in the Bush administration in the gang of eight, they would brief Nancy Pelosi on some of the most sensitive intelligence that the nation had. Rendition programs, detention, all these torture techniques, she never said a word of it to anyone even as she was out there forcefully opposing the president. She is a woman who knows how to keep a secret. They could have told her. She wouldn`t have said anything to anybody.

MATTHEWS:  Well said. Eli, the idea that the speaker would get on the phone, get me Soleimani, incoming is coming. I mean, it`s absurd.

STOKOLS:  It`s absurd. But if you live in that world where she is the enemy and the president is the hero of the story, people are willing to believe that. I mean, that`s just -- and that`s something that the president will continue to spin out there. I mean, you know, he`s always attacking Crazy Nancy, Nervous Nancy. I mean, this is the world we live in.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think? And let`s be blunt about it. You know the Hill how it works, they passed a non-binding resolution. Now, this is operated on a provision of the War Powers Act of 1973. It was to curb presidents in situations like Vietnam and these operations, like assassinations, is this going to do anything to calm or limit rather a president like Trump?

STOKOLS:  No. I think what`s going to limit President Trump and the reason we saw yesterday, he seemed eager to kind of step back from the brink here, it was the politics. It was understanding after he made this decision to approve that strike, which surprised the generals who gave him the option that he took that severe option.

MATTHEWS:  To assassinate.

STOKOLS:  To assassinate. That surprised them.

I think once the reaction -- once he saw what that unleashed what was going to come back from Iran, he realized, I`m going into an election year, I don`t know where this is going, he became a little more circumspect in trying to be the tough guy. That`s what did it. It`s the politics. It`s self-interest, it`s not the fear of Congress coming back and reprimanding him.

MATTHEWS:  The fear of war.

STOKOLS:  Correct.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you so much. U.S. Congressman Khanna, thank you, Sir, from California. Thank you for joining us, as always, Sir Ro Khanna. Mieke Eoyang, as always, great to have you, and Eli, of course.

Coming up, what are the dangers of President Trump`s mixed and muddled Iran strategy? He alternates between making threats and offering olive branches, like Eli said. It`s very hard to get the clarity here of what we`re doing over there.

Leon Panetta who served as defense secretary and CIA director joins me next.

Plus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi responding to calls from Democrats to turn over the impeachment articles says she`ll do it soon probably. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  No, I`m not holding it indefinitely. I`ll send them over when I`m ready.

I think we should move smartly and strategically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But the delay is setting the stage for a major collision of events with impeachment, Trump`s State of the Union Address and the Iowa caucus all potentially happening at the same time. So what`s the speaker`s exit strategy here?

We`ve got much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast.

Finally, to the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a future and a great future, one that you deserve, one of prosperity at home and harmony with the nations of the world. The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Trump extending a threat and an olive branch, you might say, to Iran during his speech at the White House yesterday. The president offered an Iran policy that The New York Times` David Sanger called a strategic muddle.

Sanger writes that the speech "made it hard to see how the two countries could break out of their cycle of confrontation and revenge."

He added: "It showed that, after three years in office, Trump has yet to resolve the two conflicting instincts on national security that emerge from his speeches and his Twitter feed, bellicosity and disengagement."

The lack of a coherent strategy has already caused the two countries to misread each other`s intentions.

During a spike in tensions last May, "The Wall Street Journal" reported that the flash point may have started with a misunderstanding, noting that U.S. intelligence shows Iran`s leaders believe the U.S. planned to attack them, prompting preparation by Tehran for possible counterstrikes.

The president continued his own series of mixed messages towards Iran yesterday, doubling down on economic sanctions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  The United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime.

Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognize this reality.

They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA.

We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper, and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by Leon Panetta, who has served as director of the CIA, of course, as secretary of defense, White House chief of staff, as well as a longtime member of the Congress from California.

Mr. Director, I -- Mr. Secretary, I have to tell you, I`m going to ask you to unpack this bag here, because I don`t get it.

You have got Pompeo, the secretary of state, and you got Mike Pence, who are religious zealots, who are neocons, you might say, total fanatics about going after war with Iran. They seem to want regime change.

You have a president who is a political bandit, basically, a guy will take these ideas, the zealotry, you don`t know what he thinks. I don`t think he hates Iran. Those two do.

So you get a speech from him yesterday with language like regime, all the favorite language of the neocons, and a president who talks about wanting to love the people of Iran at the same time he killed one of their biggest heroes and threatens to destroy all their cultural objects, everything of value to them historically.

Figure it out, sir. You`re a pro. Tell us what it`s about.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Well, look, the bottom line is that this administration has no clear or concise strategy to deal with any of the flash points in the world.

We don`t know what the policy is really in North Korea. We don`t know what the policy is on China, on Russia. And we don`t know what the policy certainly is in the Middle East.

The president says one thing about how he would want to withdraw our forces from the Middle East, how he would like to leave those countries in the Middle East to take care of themselves. He talks about withdrawal. He criticizes alliances.

And in the end, he then talks tough about having to deal with them. And so do people that are close to his national security team.

So it`s mixed messages, Chris. And I think that`s what we`re dealing with. We`re dealing with the situation where there are so many mixed messages and the potential for miscalculation is so great that it is totally unpredictable as to what will happen between the United States and Iran.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mr. Secretary, you and I grew up the same way, with the same values, I think. I think it`s fair to say that.

And I wonder -- the word assassination doesn`t make me happy. It makes me morally bleak. I didn`t think we were assassins. We had a hand, of course, in the coup in Vietnam that led to the assassination of Diem, President Diem, our ally over there. You could argue about Patrice Lumumba. You know some of the crown jewels of the CIA.

We have played roles we shouldn`t have played over the years. Are we doing it again? Are we back to that, to assassination?

PANETTA:  I -- I hope not, Chris.

You know, as you said, we have been through an awful lot, and I think learned a lot of lessons about what we should and should not do. And I think it`s pretty clear that this country ought not to engage in the assassination of leaders in other countries.

Now, what we did do was, we went after the terrorists who were involved in the 9/11 attack.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PANETTA:  And I think that was justified, and that was something we had to do for the defense of our own country. It was the right thing to do.

I will tell you, even in the raid to go after bin Laden, we -- I personally went up to Capitol Hill, and I briefed all of the Gang of Eight, the key players...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PANETTA:  ... so that they were aware of the fact that we had -- we thought we had found bin Laden and that we would be conducting an operation. It was the right thing to do.

Nothing leaked as a result of that. But what it did do was, it established a partnership that is extremely important to our form of government when it comes to military action.

MATTHEWS:  Was that an assassination of -- I don`t even think the right word.

I think assassination should refer to government officials, generals, people like Yamamoto, people like that. In that case, was that the purpose, to kill him or to bring him back dead or alive, or what? What was the mission?

PANETTA:  The mission was to go after bin Laden.

And, clearly, under our rules of combat, if he -- if it looked like he would surrender, they were to take him as a prisoner of war.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

PANETTA:  So that was the direction.

When he fought back, obviously, the team there shot him and killed bin Laden.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

PANETTA:  But that -- we were abiding by the rules of war. And that`s the way we should operate as a country.

We should not -- I mean, this talk about going after cultural targets is against everything the United States stands for, because the last thing we want to do is act like terrorists do.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PANETTA:  We are the United States of America. We have a very different set of values, and we ought to stick to those.

MATTHEWS:  And I thought -- last night, I said it. I don`t know if you agree or not.

But when you go after people`s cultural, the things they grew up -- in our country, it`s the Liberty Bell. It`s the Statue of Liberty, and things that mean so much to us as Americans. You blow them up, you`re really getting to every American. It`s not a government-to-government thing. It`s the people. It`s attacking a people.

And I wonder how Trump understands that. He said yesterday he wants to be friends with the Iranian people. And I wonder. You start going after cultural things, you`re really going after Persian history going back 6,000 years or 8,000 years.

I mean, you`re going after the Pyramids, in the case of Egypt. You`re basically saying, let`s fight, it seems to me.

PANETTA:  Look, Chris, we`re operating right now on the brink of war in the Middle East.

And the problem I see with this president is that he is totally inconsistent about what he says. I mean, he talks from the guts. He tries to talk tough. He talks about going after cultural sites.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PANETTA:  At the same time, they asked the secretary of state and secretary of defense. And they said, no, it`s against the law to go after cultural sites.

Finally the president says, no, we shouldn`t go after cultural sites.

It`s those kinds of mixed messages, at a time when there`s a tremendous amount of tension between the United States and Iran, that creates the basis for a miscalculation that can lead to war.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.

Mr. Secretary, do you have a candidate for president yet?

(LAUGHTER)

PANETTA:  Not yet, Chris.

But I`m -- I just -- I just want somebody who can beat Trump. That`s all right now.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s fair enough.

Thank you so much, former Secretary of Defense, former everything, Leon Panetta. Thank you, sir. Good luck with the institute out there, the Panetta Institute.

Thank you so much.

Up next: more reports today of behind-the-scenes grumbling about the delay in sending those documents of -- those articles of impeachment, both of them, over to the Senate.

But, publicly, the Democrats are walking back their problems with that, with the impatience. They don`t have any more impatience with Speaker Pelosi.

She is calling the shots at her will. She says, when I`m ready, I`ll send them over.

That`s tough. That`s leadership.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she`s holding firm, despite Mitch McConnell`s plan or push to begin the president`s impeachment trial.

Reasserting herself again today, she said she still needs to see the formal terms of that trial before she allows it to begin in the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  I`m not holding them indefinitely. I will send them over when I`m ready. And that will probably be soon.

We want to see what they`re willing to do and the manner in which they will do it. But we will not let them say, oh, this is just like Clinton, fair is fair.

It`s not. Documents, documentation, witnesses, facts, truth, that`s what they`re afraid of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this comes as wavering Democrats appear to have gotten Pelosi`s message.

Earlier today, Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state, for example, appeared to second-guess the speaker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA):  Yes, I think it is time to send the impeachment to the Senate, and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Now, watch this.

Hours later, Smith said: "I misspoke this morning. I do believe we should do everything we can to force the Senate to have a fair trial."

Well, likewise, Senate Democrats today appeared to be falling in line with Speaker Pelosi`s position.

Here they go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Would you like to see the speaker send the articles over now?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA):  Well, I think that`s up to the speaker.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE):  Trials have witnesses. Cover-ups don`t. It`s appropriate for Speaker Pelosi to do everything she can to secure witnesses.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT):  I think she will make the right decisions at the right time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  While this impasse continues, it`s McConnell`s questionable statements last month that are still fueling the concerns at the heart of the standoff.

That`s because he actually admitted last month that he`d conduct a biased proceeding in favor of the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  Everything I do during this, I`m coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president`s position and our position.

I`m not impartial about this at all.

Exactly how we go forward, I`m going to coordinate with the president`s lawyers.

I`m not an impartial juror.

Again, I`m going to take my cues from the president`s lawyers.

I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, as the country awaits the president`s trial in the Senate, the timing could have big implications for the month ahead.

You will see what is in store coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With the schedule -- while the schedule of Trump`s impeachment trial is still in the hands of Speaker Pelosi, clearly, the timing carries big implications for the month ahead, in fact, this month.

Even as it starts by -- even if it starts by next Tuesday, for example, look at the calendar. You only have three weeks there. That would leave just three weeks until the State of the Union, which is the fourth -- it`s circled right there -- the day after the Iowa caucuses, which is that Monday, the 3rd, giving McConnell more reason to push for a quick acquittal.

Well, that schedule would give Democrats just three weeks until the Iowa caucuses and a month until the New Hampshire primary a week after that, taking five presidential candidates off the campaign trail. The senators can`t campaign while they`re sitting in their chairs.

In other words, we`re already looking at a collision of major events in the month coming.

I`m joined right now by Geoff Bennett, who did a great job substituting last week, looking really good up there, NBC`s White House correspondent, Michael Steel, the Michael Steel from the Republican side, former spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, and Nadeam Elshami. Why am I having problems tonight? Elshami, former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi.

So, I`m giving you a chance to shine for the old boss.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody thought it was brilliant by her to hold this thing up, because it has shined a big light on this awful behavior by Mitch McConnell, saying, I`m the president`s kiss-butt, basically. Embarrassing, but that`s what she got him to do.

At what point does her power dissipate? How long can she -- she said, I will do it when I`m ready today.

NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO NANCY PELOSI:  That`s right.

And she knows that. As long as we`re hear talking about the trial and the fairness of the trial, she can continue to do this, and as long as Democrats remain in line.

The point that she has to get out of this whole thing is that this trial is going to be tainted unless Mitch McConnell agrees to witnesses.

MATTHEWS:  But suppose he never agrees and just goes ahead and goes mum?

ELSHAMI:  Well, then -- Then Republicans will talk process and Democrats will talk about a --

MATTHEWS:  OK, what I was watching, good work, OK. Speaker and I agree with you up to a point.

Here`s the question, I watch serious senators the other day and Congressman Smith and a lot of people like Dianne Feinstein, the grown up, all saying it`s time for this to end, all right? And then within the last several hours, they`re all back in line.

It reminded me, look at this picture, of Lyndon Johnson with his dog holding the dog up by its ears. That is what it looked like.

MICHAEL STEEL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Yes, look --

MATTHEWS:  Michael, it looks like the Democrats were told, get back in line.

STEEL:  Of course, they were because this is a stunt. It only works if they maintain --

MATTHEWS:  A stunt?

STEEL:  Yes, if they stay in party -- 

MATTHEWS:  But he said it`s a powerful position.

STEEL:  He`s said it`s a powerful position, that`s what he`s going to say.

Look, Mitch McConnell doesn`t want to impeach the president. Therefore, he doesn`t want articles of impeachment from the House. Therefore, she`s threatening to withhold things he doesn`t want.

This is like saying, I have a sack full of skunks and you don`t get it unless you do what I want you to do. That is a really stupid strategy.

MATTHEWS:  OK, that`s (INAUDIBLE) says.

But here`s the question, suppose, Geoff, an objective person here, suppose Senator Kaine from Virginia which he promised to do exploits a privileged motion and calls for the call, you know, subpoena of the witness, John Bolton.

GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  How do Republicans senators who are at the edge of being defeated for re-election this November vote against that?

BENNETT:  Well, Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor today that Mitch McConnell knows that the Republicans were standing with him now to start this trial without witnesses will stand with him as it progresses, when there is a question about whether we call witnesses and Chuck Schumer said, you know, this question of we`ll deal with this later, later might not ever come.

And the House speaker --

MATTHEWS:  But isn`t it a privileged motion for any senator to say I want to bring in John Bolton by subpoena?

BENNETT:  You`re right about that. It is. But the thinking now is that those Republicans who Democrats had hoped would break with them likely won`t.

But here`s the other part. This is the reason why -- one of the reasons why the speaker is still delaying the transmission of these articles of impeachment. Mitch McConnell has said he wants the Trump trial to mirror the Clinton process. Well, the Clinton process had a thing in it called a motion to dismiss which is what it sounds like.

And there`s a concern that Republicans, namely Mitch McConnell, will try to introduce that toward the beginning of the process, not near the middle or towards the end.

MATTHEWS:  OK, that`s called timing.

BENNETT:  And so, that`s one of the reasons why Democrats are trying to negotiate that motion to dismiss --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, Geoff, you know this as well as anybody, this weird calendar we have, right?

Nadeam, here`s the question. We have really important events coming up like the picking of a Democratic candidate to beat the president that begins at the all important Iowa caucuses which you know and everybody here knows has become a great predictor of who is the nominee.

ELSHAMI:  That`s right.

MATTHEWS:  Winning that baby and you`re probably going to be the nominee. So, we`re all watching that. At the same time we know the night after that, in Washington here, coming out of Iowa, will be a State of the Union Address, watched by every American.

Can a president be in the act of being tried at the same time he`s addressing the country -- the State of the Union is great, of course, I`m in ray trial right now. What kind of situation is that?

ELSHAMI:  Well, a couple things. One, I don`t think president Trump would ever pass up an opportunity to be on TV, so he will go to the State of the Union. He will deliver the State of the Union. He will stick to the script that he usually does.

MATTHEWS:  And the speaker will introduce him.

ELSHAMI:  Absolutely. Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Do you realize the absurdity of that?

ELSHAMI:  Absolutely, she will do that.

But in terms of the presidentials and term of the trial, the people that get hurt the most are the Democratic senators who are running.

MATTHEWS:  Right, I agree with that.

Well, Senator Lindsey Graham, who`s not running for president, who has said he`ll vote to acquit the president, already said that, today threatened to move forward without the articles of impeachment.

Here goes Lindsey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  If she doesn`t deliver the articles of impeachment, my goal is to do it without her and get this thing done.

REPORTER:  How do you move forward with the Senate trial without the articles of impeachment?

GRAHAM:  You`d have to change the rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is he a victim of the invasion of the body snatchers? What happened to that guy?

STEEL:  It`s a little bit different than what you would have expected a few years ago, certainly.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, what happened to Lindsey Graham? He`ll do anything now. His tail wags no matter what the president says.

STEEL:  He really likes to be part of the conversation. He likes to be relevant and he wants to get re-elected, and these are things that are going to help him do those things.

MATTHEWS:  You have to do that in South Carolina?

STEEL:  In order to get through the primary, yes.

BENNETT:  Well, I was going to say, he`s running for re-election, yes, and he knows that President Trump is more popular in South Carolina than he, Lindsey Graham, is popular in South Carolina. So, all of his decisions are made through that prism.

MATTHEWS:  We`re going to have his opponent coming on, Jamie Harrison, coming tomorrow. And he`s only a couple points behind him, according to some polls, although it`s kind of hard to believe in South Carolina.

Anyway, Geoff Bennett, great job last week on HARDBALL.

BENNETT:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Steele, Nadeam Elshami, thank you so much. Good luck. By the way, you really thought that speaker how to do it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. Up -- they should get you for that.

Up next, new polling shows what`s shaping up to be a knockdown, drag out fight for votes in the early primary states. It is getting really strange. Steyer is back. Tom Steyer is back in the debate.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Less than a month now until the Iowa caucus. It`s coming on. The New Hampshire primary a week later.  Polls in early states show that the Democratic presidential race, you heard it here, is wide open now.

In New Hampshire, for example, a new Monmouth University poll shows Pete Buttigieg, New Hampshire with 20 points, followed by Joe Biden at 19, Bernie Sanders at 18, Elizabeth Warren down at 15. 

And since Monmouth`s September poll, look at this progression, Buttigieg has doubled his support, warren is down 12 points in her neighboring state because you have the media market of Boston goes right into New Hampshire.

And just out tonight two new polls from Fox News and that`s a good poll, by the way.  In Nevada and South Carolina, also show Warren losing ground in those battleground states. She`s now either tied with or behind, guess what, Tom Steyer. Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren.  Because of these polls, he`s now qualified for next week`s Democratic debate.

For more, I`m joined by Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign and Cornell Belcher, Democratic pollster.

I don`t have anything to offer here. I`ve been following this like a lot of you guys since the dawn of my life, and I -- all I see is more people either changing their minds, pulling back from the front-runners, a little drift to the center, a little bit. But I`m not sure.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER:  But this is what happens in campaigns, right? You have a back and forth and people move, right? One of the things I always say, look, I`m a pollster but people obsess about the horse race number way too early when we shouldn`t be.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s only -- it`s three weeks, four weeks out.

BELCHER:  Well, we`ve been obsessed this for the last four or five months, right? And we`ve been talking about Joe Biden as the frontrunner and will he remain a frontrunner?  Will he remain the frontrunner?

MATTHEWS:  OK, excuse me, Cornell. Sportscasters obsess about sports. I obsess about politics.

So, look, I thought there was a pattern here. I thought Elizabeth Warren was really strong a month or two ago, really strong.

BELCHER:  Things happen.

MATTHEWS:  I thought she was going to jump to the left of Bernie, you know, eat his lunch or breakfast to whatever, and he was going to be yesterday`s news. He`s coming back.

BELCHER:  Really quickly, the debates matter, right? And debates mattered a lot for her. The attacks that you saw them leveling both Klobuchar, Mayor Pete and Biden leveling at her about her health care plan, they hurt her.

MATTHEWS: Who did it help?

BELCHER:  Well, clearly, it helped Mayor Pete who wanted that sort of -- that lane anyway. There is two things helping Mayor Pete.  One is that if in a Democratic primary there is always this outsider, challenger, sort of anti-establishment challenger. I think -- I think Sanders had that lane last time against Hillary and (INAUDIBLE), and to a certain extent Mayor Pete is trying to capture that lane right now and it`s not bad lane because the guy worked for it in `08, rode that lane to the nomination.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about a guy who is 37 years old? He represents the small -- 300th size city in the country who is a column today by a woman writer who questioned him, saying why aren`t we going after people with at least some experience like Warren and Biden. Why are we going after a guy who`s just a new kid on the block? He got I think 8,000 votes in his reelection, 8,000 votes.

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL:  It`s incredible.

MATTHEWS:  That`s his claim to fame.

ELROD:  Yes, it`s incredible. I mean, you also think about, Chris, the fact that at this time last year, he was virtually unknown. He had no donor base. He had, you know, essentially no name ID.

And he raised $76 million in 2019. It is really significant. And he`s winning in Iowa and New Hampshire right now. Look --

MATTHEWS:  Both.

ELROD:  We`re talking about, by the way, what we`re obsessing over about, you know, the horse race, what we`re also obsessing over is the first four states.

BELCHER:  Yes.

ELROD:  We`ve got to keep in mind, Chris, and you both know this, 5 percent of the delegates will be awarded in this primary contest after the first four states. 40 percent will be awarded after Super Tuesday, largely more diverse.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Mike Bloomberg is already leading in Michigan.

ELROD:  Yes, exactly.

BELCHER:  Well, my point I was going to you earlier, you said Iowa was a determinative. I think, historically -- 

MATTHEWS:  It has been.

BELCHER:  Historically, it has been. I think you`re going to see Iowa and New Hampshire mean so much -- so very little moving down the road historically. I think Donald Trump turned over sort of the tables in the primaries last time around. And I think you will see the tables turned over in the primaries again this time around.

I think when you look at the states that are much more diverse going into March, I think Pete is going to -- Mayor Pete is going to struggle and Elizabeth Warren will struggle because they have struggled to connect with minority voters and the diversity of the Democratic Party kicks in in March.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

ELROD:  And to that point, Chris, you`re not going to have a front runner that comes out of the first four states.

BELCHER:  That`s right.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, today, Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, announced his first endorsement from the member of the Congressional Black Caucus. We know him, Maryland Congressman Anthony Brown, who ran for the governorship recently. This comes as Buttigieg has struggled to attract support from African-American voters, as Cornell now said.

Anthony Brown who will also serve as a national campaign co-chairman says African-American voters only need to learn more about Buttigieg`s record as mayor and his, quote, forward-looking vision.

Here is the congressman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ANTHONY BROWN (D-MD):  He worked with a coalition, a diverse coalition to address housing issues. He reduced unemployment in the African-American community by 70 percent, poverty by in the African-American community in South Bend by 40 percent.

I think when he takes that experience, eight mayors -- eight years as a mayor and he couples that with a forward looking vision, he`ll be very attractive to the African-American community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I wonder. I don`t know, Cornel, because he`s young. He`s gay. He`s married to a man, and all that -- it`s all in the public record now. There is no hiding his baseball card.

Why is he not working with the African-American community?

BELCHER:  Well, I think if you look at the troubles that he`s had there in his city with the African-American community, I mean, it`s kind of hard to argue that you can make a profound sort of resonating case broadly with African-American voters when you are having so much trouble with African- American voters right in your own city.

MATTHEWS:  What does it mean to you -- just forget the polling data for a second.  What does it mean to you when you say -- in this case, a white candidate doesn`t know how to -- he doesn`t have finesse. He doesn`t have rapport. 

What would you -- and doesn`t have the chemistry. What do you think is his problem if he has one?

BELCHER:  I think his problem is you have seen the African-Americans in his city rebel against him and you`ve seen --

MATTHEWS:  Firing the police commissioner?

BELCHER:  Right. You have seen him have a lot of issues. I`ve heard African-American -- and, look, the social media is not doing him any justice. I have heard the influences on social media make this case.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BELCHER:  If you -- if you can`t solve for criminal justice reform in your own city, how can we trust you on the national stage?

MATTHEWS:  Who do you see winning?

ELROD:  The overall race?

MATTHEWS:  Well, the first couple months.

ELROD:  I think it`s going to come down between Biden and Bernie Sanders. I think it`s going to come down and that`s going to be the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. Biden is going to represent the moderates. Bernie Sanders is going to be able to coalesce the progressive wing of the party, and we`re going to see the two of them battle it out.

MATTHEWS:  And the more we talk war, the more it helps Bernie.

Anyway, Adrienne Elrod, thank you. Cornell Belcher, thank you both.

Up next, with our eyes on Australia right now, boy, who can`t keep your eyes with the hell that`s going -- hell literally going on there?  Trump dons his blindfold.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  As I speak to you tonight, fires continue to burn across Australia, the Land Down Under that looms as the current climatic catastrophe that has claimed the lives of a billion wildlife.  Just look at that.

President Trump was given the opportunity today to expand his views on climate change. Here`s what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  That`s a very serious subject. I want clean air, I want clean water.  I want the cleanest air, I want the cleanest water. The environment is very important to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But here`s what he did today. He proposed degrading half century old environmental impact statements. He proposed killing the ability of local communities, native tribes and others to delay or block mining, drilling infrastructural construction in order to protect the environment.

Trump did all this to speed the digging of new mines, new pipelines and other projects that harm the environment. It`s a classic case of a politician. In this case, the country`s top politician saying what he knows people want to hear but doing what he sees as in his political interest, not much more to say.

And that`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END