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First debate with Bloomberg TRANSCRIPT: 2/18/20, Hardball w/Chris Matthews

Guests: Sam Stein, David Plouffe, Susan Page, Barry Grissom, Yamiche Alcindor, Emmy Ruiz, Don Calloway

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We wanted to tell you, jurors have begun deliberating today. They spent five hours. They`ll be back tomorrow.

Weinstein faces up to possibly life in prison if convicted. And we will keep an eye on that verdict and bring it to you on MSNBC when it breaks.

That`s our show. "HARDBALL" starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  What happens in Vegas. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The stage is set for a clash between Vermont Senator Sanders and the billionaire, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in tomorrow night`s MSNBC presidential debate in Las Vegas. A new poll, by the way, tonight shows Sanders opening up a big lead in the Democratic field with Bloomberg surging into the top tier.

The just-released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Sanders leading at 27 percent. That`s a familiar number with him, by the way, in both the primary and the first caucus in Iowa, a double-digit lead over his four closest rivals who are bunched almost completely together. Former Vice President Joe Biden is at 15. Biden had lost 11 points since January while Sanders remains unchanged. Bloomberg and Senator Elizabeth Warren are each at 14 percent followed by Pete Buttigieg at 13. I said they`re close, basically tied with the poll`s margin of error. Amy Klobuchar is down at seven, however.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll also released today showed Sanders at 31 percent and Bloomberg in second at 19 percent. Sanders has gained nine points in that poll since December. Bloomberg has gained 15 points. Anyway, Joe Biden is next with 15 percent followed by Warren at 12 percent, Klobuchar and Buttigieg are in single digits. So these polls depart a bit.

The NPR officially earned, by the way, Bloomberg a spot on tomorrow night`s debate stage even though he will not be on the ballot for Saturday`s Nevada caucuses.

Senator Warren blasted his inclusion in a tweet, saying, it`s a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate. But at least now primary voters are curious about how each candidate will take on Donald Trump can get a live demonstration on how each of us would take on an egomaniac billionaire.

Along with his rise in the polls, Bloomberg has faced increased scrutiny, of course, particularly on his stop-and-frisk as New York City mayor and with The Washington Post describes as profane, sexist comments towards women, both of which, well, likely to come up in tomorrow night`s debate. I`d bet they will.

His Democratic opponents have also taken the opportunity to criticize him on the record.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Michael Bloomberg, with $62 billion, can buy every ad he wants, but he can`t, in fact, wipe away his record.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  But as for what Michael Bloomberg did, stop-and-frisk, that is unconstitutional. And I`ll say this, I am on your show right now, Margaret, answering these tough questions. Where is he? He just keeps running a bunch of ads.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don`t think that the Democratic nominee ought to be somebody who`s got a bunch of non- disclosure agreements for having harassed women.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Today, we say to Mayor Bloomberg, we are a democracy not an oligarchy. You`re not going to buy this election.


MATTHEWS:  They`re all laying out the welcome mat for Mike Bloomberg, as you can see.

For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, Sam Stein, Politics Editor of The Daily Beast, and Zerlina Maxwell, Senior Director of Progressive Programming for SiriusXM.

Zerlina, I see you smiling. I can never figure it out, so I`m going to ask you. What are you thinking? I mean, it seems like it is not exactly the welcome wagon party. You go into this party, you get punched right in the face coming into the door. Here we go, Mike Bloomberg, nice to have you. Let`s go, what do you think?

ZERLINA MAXWELL, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PROGRESSIVE PROGRAMMING, SIRIUSXM:  Look, I think that the Democratic base has been talking about the influence of money in politics, not just Bernie Sanders and not just Elizabeth Warren. And I think their voters are not necessarily primed to support a billionaire, but we will see. Because tomorrow night is actually where Michael Bloomberg will actually be able to compete against the candidates that he`s avoiding by just going up on radio and on television.

And I think that when he`s standing side by side with the women, I looked it up, I think Elizabeth Warren might be taller than him, Chris, so I`m interested to see that. But when you see him --

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that`s funny? Do you think that`s funny that he`s short?

MAXWELL:  No. I think it will just be an interesting visual considering the historical fact that the taller candidate has won in every single presidential election.

MATTHEWS:  Richard Nixon beat George McGovern in 49 states.

MAXWELL:  Sorry, one example, one exception.

MATTHEWS:  Okay, thank you. I love this stuff. Anyway, thank you.

Sam, your thoughts about this? It`s going into basically a wrestling match right now. They all are primed. I think Zerlina is right. I think they`re going to go after Bloomberg, as they should, as they`ve always said, money and politics is bad. Although, I might say that a candidate running around telling people in their 20s and 30s, I`m going to pay off all your student loans, you don`t have to get a real job because you`re going to get healthcare automatically, what else, yes, and getting free tuition in college if you go to public school.

That`s a lot of money in politics here. It`s not just -- a lot of people are promising things based on money. Go ahead.

SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST:  Those are receipts versus payments. First of all --

MATTHEWS:  Well, the government is going to pay the bills.

STEIN:  -- yes, incredible recall on the McGovern thing. That`s impressive. Secondly, you could not see them --

MATTHEWS:  Try me with another one.

STEIN:  I can.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY:  Wasn`t Carter shorter than Gerald Ford?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but he never told us his height just like Wilt Chamberlain told us his height. Some people keep these things secret.

STEIN:  Back to Bloomberg, you could not tee it up more perfectly for Bernie Sanders` candidacy, right? A man who`s been warning about oligarchies and billionaires, comes in --


STEIN:  Finally gets someone to come in, who plays the role. And I think what you`re --

MATTHEWS:  Yes. Do you think these guys and women, I call everybody guys now, when they get together, they all seem to pull their punches though. They all -- they`ve given the ad, they say it to other people on Sunday shows.

STEIN:  What`s going to happen, I think, on Wednesday, and my predictions have been well before, is that Bloomberg gets the worst. And it creates this irony, which is you have someone who`s clearly the frontrunner in Bernie Sanders, popular vote winner in two contests straight, clear momentum in the polls, likely to pull out the Nevada caucuses, is going to get --

MATTHEWS:  Did you say Nevada?

STEIN:  Nevada.

MATTHEWS:  Okay, go ahead.

STEIN:  Is going to get the secondary focus of the night. And everyone is going to --

MATTHEWS:  Okay. I think that`s a great point. I want to start with Susan and Zerlina.

It seems to me if you look at all the polls we just showed you, there`s a battle between Bernie, who`s got the plurality right now. And the plurality right now. And that plurality might be enough to win the nomination. He`s at 27, probably it would be higher later, that against about half the votes that are bunched among four moderates. So the moderates are going to kill each other, including Bloomberg, so that Bernie gets a higher number next time, and they`re even more at the launch (ph).

PAGE:  So something like what happened last time around for the Republicans, right? So you had Donald Trump with kind of a lane to his own and you had several establishment moderate conservative candidates who battled each other --

MATTHEWS:  Actual Republicans.

PAGE:  -- and who divided the field. And it created this pathway for Donald Trump that was very useful. So maybe you`ve seen the same thing happen.

STEIN:  And just like Jeb Bush was the perfect foil for Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it`s like old breed Republican.

STEIN:   Yes, old breed Republican. Michael Bloomberg is the perfect foil for Bernie Sanders.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. Anyway, the NBC News poll shows that among Democratic primary voters, that`s who they polled, who identify as liberal, Bernie Sanders is a clear front-runner, no surprise there. Although these words like liberal, progressives, Democratic socialist, they`re all, I guess, redundant at this point, but among Democrats identifying as moderate or conservative, Biden and Bloomberg lead with 23 and 19 percent respectively, followed by Sanders at 16 percent. So Sanders is preferred -- a lot moderates like him.

As for concerns about a candidate being a Socialist, the majority of Democratic primary voters, 53 percent said they were enthusiastic or comfortable. That`s a -- well, I would think there`s a big difference between enthusiastic or comfortable, but they`re both -- that`s the majority. Give to it Bernie on that one. 42 percent say have reservations or uncomfortable with a socialist.

Let me go back to Zerlina on this, because it is an interesting -- I`m going to say it at the end of the show -- shape of the field that defines the winner. If you`ve got four moderates and one man on the left or a progressive, he or she is going to win because it`s based on a plurality.

At some point, of course, before we get to Milwaukee, you need to get it up to a majority. Your thoughts.

MAXWELL:  Absolutely, whoever gets 1,991 delegates. And if you come up short, we`re going to have a mess at the convention. I do think the likelihood of that is growing each day we go past because with Michael Bloomberg`s really buying his way into the top tier, he has not talked to a reporter like yourself, Chris, on a national television interview like all of the other candidates. So in a lot of ways, he hasn`t been tested yet.

So I agree with Sam and Susan that tomorrow is very important to have him alongside the other candidates to see if his message actually resonates with this base of voters. This electorate is not the 2016 electorate, it`s not the 2012 electorate. Somebody turns 18 every single year, Chris. And so even young voters are more and more engaged, particularly since the Parkland shooting, you saw the Millenial voter engagement go up in the 2018 midterms.

So I think what we are trying to see -- what we`re going to see is a new coalition. And whoever can get that coalition to the polls will be successful. I don`t know if it`s Michael Bloomberg, but all of the candidates need to do that same work and he has to actually answer our question for a change.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about that. You can start, Zerlina. This is the question. Michael Bloomberg will be hit on stop-and-frisk. He`ll be hit on redlining. And what he said about that, that was getting rid of -- what was it, getting rid of redlining caused the financial crisis of `08 and `09. That`s not going to help him at all. The NDAs aren`t going to help him, the complaints about his manner at the office. It seems to be -- what are they going to hit him with hardest? What do you think? You don`t think all three? He`s going to play defense on everything or what? Zerlina?

MAXWELL:  As a black woman, all of those things impact me. And so I would say when you`re thinking about who the base of the Democratic electorate is, the primary electorate and particularly a state like South Carolina. Now, he`s not going into the race until Super Tuesday, but we`ll be able to see if those things are hurting him in South Carolina.

And I think that certainly the racial issues, and it`s not just stop-and- frisk. I keep bringing up the Central Park Five. And the reason why is because America collectively, including Oprah, just went through a whole moment where they became the exonerated five. And Michael Bloomberg was the person in charge of the New York City administration that blocked their settlement. I don`t know why he did that. He should be asked at the debate tomorrow. He should have an answer for that.

So I think some of these issues are going to come up and it`s going to be up to the voter to decide whether or not they`re going to hurt him at the polls or not or whether they`re going to support him or not.

MATTHEWS:  Well, before this, it`s up to the performers. And Bloomberg knows all this is coming. This is all telegraphed. And his question, how does he turn it back to where he can talk turkey about the economy, he can talk of his strengths, because if he plays defense on this stuff, he`s going to lose.

PAGE:  And I think he knows that. But one problem he has, he hasn`t been in a debate for 11 years while these other candidates have now -- I think this is their ninth debate. They`ve gotten accustomed. Debating on a national stage is hard and it`s hard not to be defensive when you`re under attack, especially if you`re a billionaire. Because I`ve never been, but my understanding is people don`t challenge you that much if you`re a billionaire. This will be a new experience.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the business press is never as tough as the political press. But he was mayor of New York and went through that crazy every minute media world there.

STEIN:  He`s got competent people around him who have done this stuff and I think can prepare him. And if I were him, the pivot is fairly easy, which is, I apologize for what happened in the past but my current record is the most important one and I helped elect candidates up and down the ballot for Democrats in 2018, I`ve pushed gun control legislation in the states, I`ve been at the vanguard of public health and climate activism. The pivot is easy.

The question becomes --

MATTHEWS:  He won`t say, I`m out of time, like Joe Biden did?

STEIN:  No. Yes. By the way, I need to stop talking.

No, the question is -- two questions I have. One is what are the moderators going to do? Because Zerlina is right, no one has been able to ask this guy a question. Is it so tempting for the moderators to go right at Bloomberg or are they going to treat Senator Sanders like the frontrunner, which he is.

And the second question is what does the rest of the stage do? Do they let Bloomberg bury himself or do they jump in to see if they can do the kill shot, so to speak? And I don`t know. That`s a tough one.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in addition to Bloomberg in tomorrow night`s debate stage could take some of the focus away from Bernie Sanders, the target of criticism in recent days, not only for his policies on the left but attacks from his online supporters. Here we go.


BIDEN:  Bernie acknowledges that he doesn`t even know how much his program is going to cost. It`s going to be well over $30 trillion. He said we`ll all find out. How do you ever pass anything in the United States Congress?

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You know, it`s really disturbing to see the Culinary Union attacked when these are workers who have stood up and fought for among other things, good healthcare plans. They`re not interested in Washington taking away their choice.

WARREN:  We are all responsible for what our supporters do. And I think Bernie has a lot of questions to answer here.


MATTHEWS:  I think, Zerlina, you first, the question, does this confirm notions people have about the toughness and anger of the people around him, not just the people out in the country, the Twitter people, but actually the people they have confronted personally? If this matches up with his anger and sort of his manner, does it matter or not? I think it does, but I`m not sure it matters to voters, just to people who have to cover him.

MAXWELL:  I think it matters because some of the attacks are very tinged with sexism and racism. I`ve been personally attacked by Bernie Sanders supporters for saying critical things of him. I`m critical of all the campaigns, I haven`t endorsed and I won`t. I think that he -- it`s an issue that he will have to address, because to your original point at the beginning of this segment, he stays around 27 percent. And until he`s able to grow his coalition, he`s talking about droves of new voters coming to the polls. That has not yet manifested in the early states so far. So he`s going to have to pull from the existing pool of voters or register new ones in time for the upcoming states to grow his coalition.

And I honestly believe that the chickens are coming home to roost in a way. He`s never adequately addressed the harassment online that his supporters absolutely are participating in, including some members of his staff. And so he needs to get that into check in order to attract new voters to his coalition because there are people that are being harassed and they`re not likely to vote for him when they are the target of harassment.

MATTHEWS:  We`ve all met his aggressiveness face-to-face. And I just wonder in an election where you choose, as somebody said, between a socialist and a sociopath, how much turnout there`s going to be.

STEIN:  Well, anecdotally --

MATTHEWS:  That`s not a hell of a popular choice.

STEIN:  No. And, anecdotally, on the ground in New Hampshire, I talked to tons of voters at different rallies who were considering Bernie but were hesitant to vote for him precisely because of the culture around him. I don`t think it`s necessarily all his fault. There`s so much --

MATTHEWS:  What is that culture?

STEIN:  Well, it`s sort of a fandom that borders on angry sometimes, but like that`s online culture. People are familiar with it. But it hurts him in this sense. Elizabeth Warren -- he and Elizabeth Warren had that fight over who was saying what about a female running for president. His supporters responded with vitriol. They put snakes emojis into everything, they called her a rat, a backstabber. If you`re an Elizabeth Warren supporter who is looking for another candidate, if she does drop out, that`s not a great sell, right? You don`t really want to be part of that crap.

MATTHEWS:  Is that how they do it in Denmark?

STEIN:  I don`t know.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Susan Page, thank you, Sam Stein.

MAXWELL:  You don`t even have to support Warren. Just a woman could be mad about those things.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think -- well, I`m hoping, by the way, and I should say hope, but I am thinking there might be an Elizabeth Warren comeback in Nevada. We`ll see, Zerlina. Everybody will see. I think there`s going to be some surprises out there.

Susan Page, Sam Stein and Zerlina Maxwell.

Coming up, President Trump broadens his assault on the rule of law, attacking judges, prosecutors and jurors. He thinks he can do whatever he wants.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I`m allowed to be totally involved. I`m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.


MATTHEWS:  And now, he`s commuted the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Is he sending a signal to his friend, Roger Stone, just sit tight, it`s okay?

Plus, Trump`s historic rivalry with Barack Obama won`t quit. He can`t quit that guy. He says Obama deserves no credit for improving the economy. The facts say differently.

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The U.S. justice system faces a deepening crisis tonight as the president continues his assault on the rule of law. Intervening again today in the case of Roger Stone, Trump threatened to sue the Justice Department attorneys who prosecuted his former political adviser. He`s going after the prosecutors in his own Justice Department.

He said: "Everything having to do with this fraudulent investigation is badly tainted. And I, in my opinion, should be -- "and, in my opinion, it should be thrown out. If I wasn`t president" -- this is the president talking -- "I`d be suing everyone all over the place, but maybe I still will."

This is the president again.

In his continued political meddling, Trump is openly defying Attorney General Bill Barr, who specifically asked him not to tweet about criminal cases last week.

But Trump today refused to stand down, even through -- though the openly -- he openly admits he`s making Barr`s job more difficult.


QUESTION:  He said that your comments on Twitter are making it impossible to do his job.


QUESTION:  Are you making his job impossible?

TRUMP:  Yes, I do make his job harder. I do agree with that. I think that`s true. He`s a very straight shooter. We have a great attorney general, and he`s working very hard.

And he`s working against a lot of people that don`t want to see good things happen, in my opinion.


MATTHEWS:  Most astonishing is that, in defending his tweets, the president actually usurped the attorney general`s job description.

Trump described himself, not Barr, as the chief law enforcement officer of the country.


TRUMP:  I`m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country. But I have chosen not to be involved.

But he is a man of great integrity. But I would be -- I could be involved if I wanted to be.


MATTHEWS:  Now, in a possible sign of things to come, the president today used the power of his office to grant clemency to former Governor Rod Blagojevich and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

Much like Roger Stone and other convicted Trump allies, both were high- profile political figures who were found guilty of lying to authorities, among other charges.

I`m joined right now by Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for "PBS NewsHour," and Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney for Kansas.

First, the law here.

Barry, it seems to me that the president wants to show everybody how powerful he is and how much arbitrariness there is in his decision-making. He gave Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom. He`s showing he can do anything he wants to his friends. It seems to me a message to his -- the guy, the cellmates, the guys out there waiting for their -- their sentencing, that, look, don`t worry, sit tight. I will take care you.


What we I have heard a term used today, banana republic. And that`s really what we have if the president of the United States thinks that he can step in as the chief law enforcement officer and do all the things that the attorney general and the Department of Justice does.

We talk about we`re losing the rule of law if we allow a tyrant -- and that`s what it would be, a tyrant -- to take over and to take up prosecution of people who he wanted to go after as his enemies.

I mean, it reminds me of, going back 40 years ago, to Richard Nixon`s enemy list, wanting to use all the apparatus of government to go after people who disagreed with him.

Thank goodness, in Watergate, we had two attorney generals who were convicted and sent to jail, both Gray and Mitchell. And it took us Attorney General Levi a long time to get the credibility of the Department of Justice back.

And I know that, when this president is no longer in the White House, the next attorney general is going to have a pretty tall order trying to restore the dignity of that institution to the respectability that it should command.

MATTHEWS:  Is there any real restraint on the part -- I mean, infamously, notoriously, Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich.

Could a president simply say, OK, it`s January 19. I`m about to leave office. I`m going to pardon everybody I sort of like the picture of. I just looked at a bunch of pictures of prisoners. I sort of like him or her. I want to pardon them.

Can he just or she -- does a president have unlimited to pardon even people with whom he`s been associated with politically?

GRISSOM:  The quick answer is yes.

But using your example of Marc Rich, there was a process in place at the Department of Justice. And that process, as I understand it, still exists, but apparently it`s not being utilized, where you have a team of lawyers go through the application that someone might have petitioned for being pardoned.

I know that`s what Mr. Rich did. And I think that was roundly criticized later. But what the president is doing now, I doubt very seriously he`s going through any vetting process or any of the procedures that are already in place at DOJ to assist in the process of finding out whether or not someone deserves a pardon.

MATTHEWS:  Apparently, the president liked -- and I like her too, just to watch her. she`s very loyal to her husband, Patti Blagojevich. She went on FOX a number of times, made her case for her husband to get clemency to get out of prison.

He`d been in there for eight years. Trump responds to what he sees on FOX. And in this case, it does show some compassion, I suppose. I mean, I think eight years is a lot for what Blagojevich did, but your thoughts.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "PBS NEWSHOUR":  Well, I think we`re at a crossroads as a country.

The country is learning that there is an honor system that the Department of Justice and White House have been operating on, and that President Trump is changing the way that that honor system is working.

And what you have is President Trump`s saying very plainly, I can do whatever I want. And legal experts I talk to say, the president pretty much can do whatever he wants when it comes to the Department of Justice. He can be as close to the attorney general as possible.

He can be talking about what he wants to do and what sentences he wants for his friends. None of that is illegal. And I think the fact that President Trump is continuing to underscore that scares a lot of people, a lot of his critics, but it`s something that`s actually true.

And when it goes to Rod Blagojevich and his wife going on FOX News, we have seen over and over again that this president is someone who watches TV very closely and who can be swayed when it comes to things that he thinks kind of tug at his heartstrings.

It`s happened in this case. It`s also happened on foreign policy with Syria. So, what we see is the president continuing to be this kind of reality TV president in the fact that he`s very, very moved by the television.

MATTHEWS:  He`s also like -- the guy in "Being There," Chauncey Gardiner. He sees it on TV, and it`s reality to him.

All of this comes as Roger Stone`s lawyers seek a new trial for their client. And so far, it appears the president is trying to deliver just that, a new trial.

Last week, Trump attacked the jury foreman -- woman in that case -- client complaining she had expressed opinions that were critical of him, the president.

And, today, he`s quoting a FOX News commentator on Twitter to call on the judge to order a new trial. NBC News reports the Judge Amy Berman Jackson will consider, however, Trump -- Stone`s motion for a new trial, but will not do it until she proceeds with sentencing on Thursday.

Barry, what do you think of the chances of having a new trial because a juror was tweeting against the president?

GRISSOM:  Well, if that tweet was occurring during the trial, that might be something to look at.

But as I understand it, that was not the case. When you sit on a jury, you go through a process of jury selection, what they refer to as voir dire. And Mr. Stone had very competent, very good legal counsel that engaged in a very rigorous question of every potential juror.

I`m sure they asked them about political persuasions, asked them what they thought about the president, all those kinds of things. If, in fact, they did not do that, it really is on them. That`s their job to vet out who may or may not be favorable to their client`s position.

But this idea or this notion of reaching out to people who are on juries, and, from my perspective, intimidating them -- it`s tough not to get folks sometimes to sit on jury duties. The idea that the president of the United States might send out a tweet against you, and, goodness knows, a lot of people read those tweets, and a lot of people behave irrationally.

And I just hope that nothing happens to any person, particularly a juror...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I understand.

GRISSOM:  ... doing their civic duty. Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Barry, do you think there`s any outside chance that the lawyers working for Roger Stone purposely let someone who`s problematic onto the jury pool, into the jury, so that they could, if they didn`t get the case, they could always go on appeal and say, look at this person, they are a total partisan, they were out to get me?

GRISSOM:  That could be possible.

But I have got a feeling that Judge Jackson will review what their motion says, that she will review her own notes and the court record about the questions that were asked during voir dire.

And if they were intentionally, from her perspective, shying away from somebody for that purpose alone, I think that would play into how she would rule on this motion.

The great thing about this judge, and all federal judges -- and this is -- got to give credit to our founding mothers and fathers -- basically, fathers -- is that we gave lifetime tenure. This is not a political position that they have to worry about being voted out or being unhappy.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. I understand.


GRISSOM:  So I think she`s going to carry out -- as she would any case like this.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Barry Grissom. Thank you, as always, Yamiche Alcindor.

Up next:  President Trump has never let facts get in the way of an all-caps Twitter rant, but his latest assault on the truth about who gets credit for the current economy is so easily disproven, it`s a wonder he even tried.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don`t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems, nor does it constitute all of what we`re going to have to do to turn our economy around.

But today does mark the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs, the beginning of what we need to do to provide relief for families worried that they won`t be able to pay next month`s bills.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former President Barack Obama back in 2009 at the signing of his signature Recovery Act.

And, yesterday, Obama commemorated the 11th anniversary of that event, writing on Twitter that it paved the way for more than a decade of economic growth and the longest streak of job creation in American history.

Well, that`s actually all true, but not in President Trump`s book of revisionist history.

Trump tweeted: "Did you hear the latest con job? President Obama is now trying to take credit for the economic boom taking place under the Trump administration. If Dems won in 2016, the USA would be in a big economic depression and military trouble right now."

But the numbers tell a different story, actually, if you look at these numbers. President Trump gloated that his presidency would bring 4 or 5 or even 6 percent GDP growth each year, but in his first three years, the average was 2.5 percent. That is only slightly better than the last three years of President Obama. That was 2.5 vs. 2.3 growth rates each year for the last three years of Obama and the first three years of Trump.

As for jobs, since Trump took office, the economy has added an average of 189,000 jobs per month. But during the final three years of Obama`s administration, his average of producing jobs was 224,000, several more.

For more, I`m joined by David Plouffe, former Obama campaign manager, and Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential story.

David, thank you for joining us.

First of all, the psychological part of this. What is -- what is Trump`s problem?

DAVID PLOUFFE, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he is a lying narcissist. So we know that. We`re reminded of that every day.

But let`s not forget Barack Obama won reelection in 2012 with the unemployment rate of almost 8 percent, because people thought he would fight for people like them. And I think voters generally don`t view the economy through macroeconomic statistics.

And I think there`s a very powerful argument to be made against Trump on the economy, on the tax cuts for billionaires. They went to companies that didn`t create jobs. And, eventually, we will have a nominee to do that.

But I think anything -- what`s interesting to me, Chris, is, if you were just giving Trump political advice, he might say, listen, I didn`t agree with what Obama did, but compared to this cast of characters, he`s actually like a centrist.

But his ego and his narcissism prevents him from doing that. So, I think he is quite vulnerable, though. And at some point, our primary will be over, and job number one for our nominee will be to prosecute a winning economic case against Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS:  But aren`t you curious about when Trump went to psychological war with Barack Obama?

Was it the -- was it the White House Correspondents Dinner, when Barack took him down rather brilliantly, just took him down? You could see his face. There was some jutting of the jaw there. There was something going on there at that moment, I thought.

What do you think? When did it start?

PLOUFFE:  Well, that might have -- that might have intensified his nature, but if you look at his -- and it`s really hard to do, but if you look at his tweeting history, which goes back a long, long time, his hatred for Obama, I think, was there in the beginning.

It maybe intensified through that personal episode, but went through all of 2012 and really through 2016. So -- but I think, at the core, Donald Trump can`t give credit to anybody for anything but himself.

I mean, occasionally, he will say good things about our troops, but I think even that`s a challenge for him. And that`s what makes me so concerned about four more years of this guy, is someone who is this much of a narcissist, this one who`s -- somebody who`s this ungenerous, who`s not intellectually curious.

At some point, he is going to be faced with a real crisis. And I think we should all be very, very scared about that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, General Grant, after the Civil War, of course, Michael, wrote his own history, which is pretty smart. Churchill wrote volumes of it.



MATTHEWS:  Won the Nobel Prize for Literature for it.

And -- but Trump seems to be trying to do it in real time. The first draft of history is written by Trump now, it looks like.

BESCHLOSS:  Well, that`s right.

And, just today, he was defending his use of social media, saying that, if he depended on the press to get his word out, he would ever get his word out. So we have got a president giving his version of events in real time.

But, as you know, that`s what presidents who are running for reelection do anyway. And you remember, pretty early in this administration, he said, when I came to power, I had to deal with this mess that Barack Obama left me.

Well, it adds the storyline. And adding even for the storyline would be a claim that, when he came in to power, the economy was on its back. Of course it wasn`t. And, someday, historians will sort it all out.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s not just the economy. President Trump can`t seem to get past his predecessor on a whole array of issues. Look here. Look at this.


TRUMP:  They asked me, what about race relations in the United States? Now, I have to say they were pretty bad under Barack Obama. That, I can tell you.

So, President Obama had separation. I`m the one that brought them together.

Most of the ISIS fighters that we captured, we, we, not Obama, we -- we captured them, me.

And we have gotten rid of a lot of really bad pieces that were signed by President Obama, believe me.


TRUMP:  President Obama has been the most ignorant president in our history.


MATTHEWS:  I don`t know what to say, David Plouffe.

I mean, this man is not a gentleman. And I don`t know why he obsessed. He has two things. This sort of fits the pattern. One is, he wants to expunge everything to do with his impeachment, like remove the judges, remove -- he wants to get rid of everybody.

He wants to get rid of Mueller, get rid of Pelosi. Anybody that had anything to do with it, he wants to blame. He wants to blame Mitt Romney for it. Everybody has to be blamed, so that he can have the -- his history book that says he wasn`t impeached.

But, as Pelosi points out, the history book will say he was impeached, David. And there`s nothing he can do, with all his erasure, to change that.


Well, he`s kind of the inverse of Roosevelt. I mean, Trump walks loudly and carries a small stick and a pretty big bag of grievances. But I think -- listen, he lives in a reality distortion field.

I`m not even sure he thinks he can rewrite history books. It just makes him feel better, to Michael Beschloss` point. Trump is a marketer. I mean, that`s what he has been his entire life, and he understands the power of social media.

He`s not relying on journalists to interpret events or economic data. He`s just going to shout as loudly as he can into his phone and create his own version. And, again, only he knows, I guess. But I`m not sure how much of this is to convince others vs. himself.

But he sees himself -- I mean, he often talks about how he`s more popular than Abraham Lincoln. I mean, he sees himself as this grand historical figure.

And that`s why I think he is more obsessed with reelection than any president we have ever seen, maybe more obsessed than all of them. And they all had more than a passing interest, because he understands that, if he gets defeated, he is going to be, historically, I think, in a much more challenging position than he already is, with all his lies and distortions.

And so that`s why I think, to Michael`s point, I mean, he`s running for -- he started running for reelection the day he put his hand on the Bible on January 20, 2017. We have never seen anything like it.

MATTHEWS:  Michael, your last thought?

BESCHLOSS: I think what we are seeing is a president who is determined to get re-elected and particularly knew from the very beginning how much a strong economy has to do with presidents getting re-elected. You look at modern times, Chris, how often have we seen a president in office who has a strong economy who has a hard time getting a second term?

MATTHEWS:  Wow, thank you. I know, these numbers are something else.

Anyway, thank you, David Plouffe.

By the way, Obama`s numbers were pretty good at the ending too.

Michael Beschloss, thank you, both gentlemen. By the way, enjoy San Francisco, David, love that city.

Still ahead, the Biden campaign is hoping to bounce back in upcoming primaries as the contests move into states with voters -- well, more diverse voters. The latest on the high stakes primaries in Nevada and South Carolina coming up next here on HARDBALL.



STACEY ABRAMS, VOTING RIGHTS ADVOCATE:  Right now, the results from the two smallest -- two of the smallest states are being seen as predictive of America`s values, and that`s just not true. We`ve got 50 more contests coming, right? We`ve got a whole lot of people who want to be heard, and our responsibility is to not start telling people what they have decided before they have had a chance to --



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams telling viewers and voters that Iowa and New Hampshire do not represent the entirety of America.

The 65 delegates apportioned from those two states come from a pool of nearly all white voters. In fact, according to recent census data, Iowa is 90 percent white, New Hampshire`s population is even more disproportionate with more than 93 percent identifying as white.

With the Nevada caucuses four days away, all that is about to change. The candidates will take their messages to states that are dramatically more diverse and representative of the party as a whole. Nevada, the most diverse state so far is 29 percent Latino or Hispanic, 10 percent black, 10 percent by the way Asian American. South Carolina, which is set to vote on February 29th is 27 percent black and 6 percent Latino or Hispanic.

While these -- while those voters will have their voices heard this Saturday in Nevada, according to a new poll out today, one candidate is leading the pack by double digits. We`ll get to that next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A Univision poll out today shows that Senator Bernie Sanders is the strong favorite among Latino Democrats registered in Nevada. One in three Latino Democrats who were 33 percent registered to vote say they intend to vote for Sanders at the caucuses this weekend. He has a double-digit lead over former Vice President Joe Biden who is at 22 percent in the same group. Businessman Tom Steyer is third at 12 percent.

For more, I`m joined by Emmy Ruiz, former state director for Hillary Clinton in Nevada and former senior advisor to Kamala Harris. Don Calloway, by the way, he`s here with me, former senior advisor for Deval Patrick in America.

Well, let`s just hear the voices, a little preview since we`re not going back to Iowa and New Hampshire for a while. Let`s look at the preview of what`s coming up next.

Amy, what`s going to be different or more interesting maybe or is this different between the voters who are about to vote in places like Nevada and South Carolina and then on Super Tuesday a few days later than what we heard from in Iowa and New Hampshire?


Well, I`m really excited for the Nevada caucus. I will tell you, one of the reasons it`s so important, not just because it`s the first in the west, but it is also the most reflective of our country. As you mentioned earlier, 30 percent Latino, 10 percent African-American, the fastest growing AAPI community, urban, suburban, rural, you name it, Nevada is reflective of our country.

Also, you know, there`s going to be a lot of engagement. There are campaigns that have already been posted up in Nevada for more than a year. So, it really comes down to organizing and who can get their supporters out.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about, Don, about this thing, because normally said minorities, or they generalize, they say poor people, which is too much of a generalization, but they say that. They are more left than the regular Democrat. So, how can you get more left than Bernie Sanders? He won the first two in popular vote, he is there.

DON CALLOWAY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO DEVAL PATRICK FOR AMERICA:  It`s going to be hard, and we`re not further left than normal Democrats.

Minority voters are extraordinarily pragmatic and that`s why Joe Biden is going to win South Carolina. He will not win by as much as he would have won six, eight months ago because Tom Steyer is going the take a significant chunk out of that.

MATTHEWS:  Who is Tom Steyer to a voter? Who is he to a voter?

CALLOWAY:  He`s a guy who has put a lot -- I thought you were asking for real, so what -- 


CALLOWAY:  Tom Steyer in South Carolina, he`s a guy who has invested a lot of money both on the ground and on the airwaves, and he`s got real people who know --

MATTHEWS:  Who is he as a voter? When you say I`m voting for Steyer, what does that mean?

CALLOWAY:  He`s actually made a pretty good argument with green stuff. And you`ve got to remember South Carolina is coastal, so they have a whole of climate change issues. He`s also made really good investments charitably throughout the state. So, he has hired a lot of people who are native to the state, who is hiring folks, grandsons, and aunts and uncles, people who really they know, he`s put to work on the ground. He`s going to do -- he`s going to be about third in 8 percent to 10 percent, but he made real investments in the state and it is taking out of Biden`s statement.

I expect Bernie to finish a solid second in South Carolina and he`s going to be able to come out of there with a legitimate claim to have African- American support.

MATTHEWS: I mean, let`s talk about Nevada because we go out there in Clark County, which is basically Vegas. And he found -- he`s lucky enough to go on vacation, it is pretty family friendly unlike it used to be. You are going out there. One thing I think is good for the union labor movement is that you spend most of your time face-to-face with members of a union, whether it is a wait person or it is a croupier or a pit boss, everybody is in the union.

And everybody thinks like that, what side are you on mentality, which is great. What is that going to do? All of these working Hispanic women with the basic job, does minimum wage mean a bigger deal out there than elsewhere? What are the issues that grab people out there in their daily lives?

RUIZ:  Yes, I mean, Nevada is definitely a labor state. It is also the strongest of the first four in terms of the labor population. You have the culinary union, you have SCIU, NSCA, a lot of really, really strong unions.

So, what does it mean? That means that these unions have really created a lot of opportunities for the candidates to speak firsthand, one-on-one with their members. I mean, we are seeing it just this past weekend. Vice President Joe Biden was doing a back-of-the-kitchen tour of a casino to talk directly to culinary members. These unions are also doing a lot of work around caucus education and turnout, and so you`re going to see a really high percentage of their membership reflected in the caucus results.

And so, some of the issues they care about, I mean similar to other states. They care about the economy. In Nevada as we mentioned, it is an incredibly diverse state. Latinos care about immigration, more so than other states.

And so, that`s going to be an issue, an issue that`s been popping up a lot especially over the last week has been health care. And so, where the candidates stand, if they`re supporting Medicare for all or building upon Obamacare is really important to them.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think happens to people call in this campaign? What happened?

CALLOWAY:  You know, let`s be honest about something. Two billionaires in a race fundamentally altered the political marketplace in South Carolina as well as in the earlier states. I hope that -- I`m more excited for South Carolina than I am Nevada, to disagree with my friend Emmy, because Nevada is a caucus.

RUIZ:  Yes.

CALLOWAY:  We need to move away from a caucus system and to a more pragmatic system. So, I think that`s a problem. Secondly, I think --

MATTHEWS:  Who does the caucus hurt?

CALLOWAY:  The caucus hurts lesser organized candidates, candidates who haven`t been running for president for the last four years, candidates who have less rabid supporters, more pragmatic supporters.

You know, the more immutable voter, the voter who is not going to change is more likely to support throughout the arduous caucus process. That supports Pete Buttigieg, that supports Bernie Sanders.


MATTHEWS:  You think like me. You think like me.

CALLOWAY:  Let`s be clear about this.

MATTHEWS:  She wants to get in here on you.

CALLOWAY:  Sure, sure.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Emmy.

RUIZ:  Let me say something -- yes, let me saying something about the Nevada caucus, is that they are really taking the steps to make it the most transparent, most openly accessible caucus. So, we`ve had early vote in Nevada for the first time ever, so people who wouldn`t be able to attend on Saturday have had the opportunity across the state, across tens and tens and tens of locations to show up to register to vote.

MATTHEWS:  I think you will do better than on Iowa. I am betting you do better than Iowa.

Thank you, Emmy Ruiz, and thank you, Don Calloway. It`s great to meet you.

Up next, what the numbers from the latest NBC/"Wall Street journal" poll really tell us about the Democratic race.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  There`s old expression in politics. The shape of the field determines the winner. Right now, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination includes a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders, in the lead, followed by four moderate Democrats, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.

Look at these numbers released today in the NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" survey of Democratic primary voters.

Bernie Sanders is at 27 percent. Former Vice President Biden at 15 percent, down from 26 percent last among. Bloomberg is at 14 percent. Warren is at 14 percent. Buttigieg at 13 percent, Klobuchar at 7 percent.

That puts Sanders at a bit above a quarter of the Democratic vote. If you throw in the vote of fellow progressive Warren, it comes to 42 percent. If you throw in the moderate vote it comes to 50 percent.

This means if Sanders can keep Senator Elizabeth Warren from staging a comeback he can win the race by polling in mid 20s. When each of the moderate Democrats duking it out for the same position, Sanders never has to widen his appeal, never have to adjust his process. He could win with just his core supporters.

And if he doesn`t need to moderate -- go to moderate Democrats to win the nomination, why would he try to woo them?

So, buckle your seatbelts. We are heading into some serious turbulence.

That`s HARDBALL for now. I`m heading west to Las Vegas for tomorrow`s Democratic debate hosted by NBC News and MSNBC.

Be sure to tune in at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for a special of HARDBALL tomorrow night out there. The debate is at 9:00 and I will be back in the spin room with the candidates post-debate. That`s always the best night for me. You won`t want to miss it.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.