Speaker Nancy Pelosi TRANSCRIPT: 5/5/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.
And while, many nights, we begin these newscasts these days with the grim
data, the number of coronavirus cases, the death toll, tonight`s urgent
breaking news is more about how we got here, as a medical expert with a
rare inside view of the U.S. government, of the Trump administration, of
how these key life-and-death decisions are made, this individual making
waves with some major allegations you`re probably going to want to hear
His name is Dr. Rick Bright. You may have heard about him before. He worked
in the Health and Human Services Department for a decade. He began his
career with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and he
focused on something that is pretty important right now. He focused on the
medical science and working on influenza viruses and antiviral drugs.
He is right now in this country and probably around the world one of the
people that you want to be involved in these big policy decisions as
everyone learns on the go.
He is also right now tonight the source for a new and explosive whistle-
blower complaint against the Trump administration, the doctor alleging the
White House basically mixed cronyism and profiteering, trying to steer
virus-related financial contracts to political Trump allies based on –
quote – “political connections.”
Dr. Bright tells a story that echoes what other civil servants have alleged
against President Trump in more than one area, arguing, alleging that this
was all about Donald Trump`s own needs and his friends and his politics,
not about doing his job looking out for the American people.
The doctor alleging he was partly removed because he says he did the right
thing. He says he followed science and evidence on the job, and he says
Donald Trump didn`t like it, the doctor having opposed a potentially
dangerous type of experimentation with a drug that Donald Trump infamously
touted as a potential cure-all for the virus.
The doctor noting it was – quote – “promoted by the administration, but
lacked scientific merit.” And he says – quote – “I rightly resisted
efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public.”
If you follow the news – and you`re watching the news, so you probably do
– you probably remember Donald Trump at the task force briefings and in
other places hyping the drug.
This goes well beyond the bad medical advice, though. The doctor`s new
story here is alleging a scandal for the COVID era. And he is now speaking
out publicly – this was by phone – after formally filing this whistle-
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DR. RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH AND
DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: Time after time, I was pressured to ignore or
dismiss expert and scientific recommendations, and instead to award
lucrative contracts based on political connections.
In other words, I was pressured to let politics and cronyism drive
decisions, over the opinions of the best scientists we have in government.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s the story. That`s the allegation.
It is on the record. This is not anonymous sources. This is not leaks. This
is not some sort of mysterious sniping.
I told you who the doctor is. I played his voice for you. He is on the
record telling you what he says happened, his version of events, his
concern, which, of course, will affect the ongoing managing of this crisis,
if what he says is true.
So what now? It is all true? How does the United States get to the bottom
of something like this in the middle of an unfolding, ongoing public health
and economic crisis that we are all living through together?
Well, here`s what the doctor says. He`s asking for his job back, and he is
asking they put someone new on the job to get to the bottom of all this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BRIGHT: We are in an extraordinarily different global crisis, and the worst
might still be ahead of us. Today, I`m asking for the special counsel to
investigate what happened to me and for this administration to reinstate me
in my job.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: The government has a job to do. It has a bunch of people who work
in government that take a constitutional oath to fulfill this job.
The government has an obligation to listen to Dr. Bright`s story, his
testimony, his evidence, and to weigh it, to corroborate what it can and,
if some of it is somehow untrue or unfounded, to deal with that as well.
The context here is quite clear. He is one of several medical experts both
inside and outside of this administration that has raised these type of
concerns. Congress is already digging right into this step, because I can
tell you tonight, as part of our news report, Dr. Bright will be testifying
to the U.S. House next Thursday.
So, this is a big story. This is a big development.
And I want to bring in our experts tonight to get into this part of it. We
have a lot more in the broadcast.
But joining me right now on this, David Frum, who served in a White House
as a speechwriter to President Bush. He also writes for “The Atlantic,” his
new book “Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy,” Dr. William
Schaffner, professor at Vanderbilt and a CDC adviser, and Neera Tanden,
president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and a former top aide
to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
With apologies to Dr. Schaffner, I would say, for the last six weeks or
more, I always go to the medical expert first in our broadcasts, but I am
going to go to Mr. Frum first on the government piece of this, and then,
the doctor, I`m going to go to you on the medical piece.
But, to David Frum, as someone who served in a White House – and we all
know there are types of debates that are valid, internal debates that are
perfectly valid about policy, about ideology, about what to do, and then
there are these kind of complaints. This is an allegation at least that
political cronyism, that political rhetoric, that the president trying to
sell something that didn`t medically exist, that those things trumped
science and may have, may have endangered lives.
Your view of this on the government side?
DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
Normally, the value of a whistle-blower is that they bring forward
something that has been concealed inside the government.
The government has a secret, either the president or somebody below him,
and the whistle-blower brings light.
In the Trump administration, everything happens in the light of day. There
has never been any secret. The president`s reliance on miracle cures, on
fantasy, the president`s preference for cronyism, all of this has happened
in the light of day.
And the president`s determination to put his reelection first, his hope for
some kind of miracle that will allow him to reopen the economy, goose the
stock market, get some kind of positive economic indicator, no matter how
many lives it takes, he is telling you that.
So thank you, Dr. Bright, for your courage in stepping forward. You`re
taking a tremendous risk with your career, with your future. You are going
to be subject to attacks. So we applaud you for that. You are doing a civic
But – and the details are always important. But the main story here, my
theme for throughout this administration has been, for the Trump years, is
many secrets, but no mysteries. Everything is happening right on the table,
like a drug bust.
MELBER: And, Dr. Schaffner, your view of what we should make of this
individual based on his public credentials and record.
Most Americans aren`t familiar with Dr. Bright outside of the context of
this. What does it mean to you that he has served in these posts
previously, and what do you make of the medical part of his concern?
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, DEPARTMENT OF PREVENTIVE MEDICINE CHAIRMAN,
VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, Ari, I don`t know Dr. Bright personally, but I
certainly know of his background, and it seems just excellent.
He has a long history of service, and he is professionally very qualified.
Obviously, we want decisions regarding treatments and vaccine development
to be based on the very best science.
What we want then are products we can use to treat our patients that are
safe and effective, and we want those same qualities to characterize a
vaccine, so that when we speak with our patients or speak to the public
whom we wish to vaccinate, we can tell them exactly what to expect and we
can tell them how much protection they will get and hopefully for how long.
And those decisions must be based on the very best, rigorous scientific
MELBER: And, Doctor, his allegations, in my view, have two components.
There is what you might call the cost of stupid. What does it mean when the
president or anyone in a position of power stupidly recommends things that
people shouldn`t do? Don`t experiment with disinfectant. Don`t experiment
with bleach. Don`t experiment with drugs outside of medical guidance.
That`s all obvious, and we have all heard the countervailing advice or
things floated by the president. That`s the cost of stupid.
Then, in the rather detailed complaint he has filed, he writes about other
things that we might not have known, we could have only inferred, that
there was another cost, which was that he and others within HHS were trying
to say, hey, we need masks in January, we need to do other things, and that
those things took a back seat to the – what he calls the political agent
coming out of the White House.
Obviously, Doctor, we`re using you as an expert. You weren`t there, but
what do you think of that portion of the complaint?
SCHAFFNER: Well, if you had asked any of us before COVID, we physicians and
public health practitioners, what the single characteristic, what the
single characteristic that`s most important if an epidemic strikes, and we
would all, I think, have said clear, thorough, careful, sustained
And I have said, as a consequence of events, listen to the public health
authorities. Listen to the senior medical persons who are before you and
giving advice, and I would continue to say to do that.
NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I mean,
respectfully, I`d say I think we`re perhaps undercounting for some of the
challenges here, and really what this means.
As was just stated, it is vital that we have clear evidence, clear data,
clear facts. And when the president of the United States pressures public
health officials to support a medication that doesn`t work, we know what
happens, because it did. People take the medication. They digest it. People
get very ill.
And I think one of the consequence here is – really, there is two. One
consequence is, we have very little trust. We have very little trust of the
president. We have very little trust of information.
That is – I hate to use this word, but it is quite deadly in a pandemic.
And, secondly, Dr. Bright is really talking about a political pressure
campaign to do the White House`s bidding, over the needs of the public. The
public really needed a mass supply of PPE. We needed testing. We needed a
whole range of things.
And what he is talking about is that the president`s corporate interests
really flouted our public health. And that is what I think is the deep and
damaging aspect of this.
MELBER: Amidst all of this, I want to get you all to also consider this
President Trump and Vice President Pence have basically been floating the
idea, now confirmed, reports that they could shut down the Coronavirus Task
Force. It`s been having meetings in the Situation Room that have gone
shorter. They`re no longer daily. Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci under this plan
would still go to work, but their public roles here might be pared back
further without the actual format of the task force.
David, I guess this is the part of May 2020 where I ask you, what do you
think of shutting down the emergency virus task force in the middle of the
FRUM: It won`t be missed.
Any task force with Larry Kudlow on it is a task force you can do without.
The point of this task force was to create a flanking chorus of faces for
the president`s press conferences, his sources of narcissistic supply.
When the press conferences stopped being a source of narcissistic supply,
he – the president stopped doing them. He didn`t need people flanking him.
And so this task force, which was just their faces behind him, doesn`t
MELBER: So, let me draw you out on that, because you`re actually making an
You`re reflecting – and you have worked in the White House – how these
things can be – they can obviously be set up in a more substantive way.
But you`re saying that, basically, all these people can still go to work
and try to do what they do. And so the fact that we`re hearing about the
cancellation of the thing, the task force, right after the cancellation of
the briefings, reveals that it was all about a televised spectacle, in your
FRUM: Yes, everyone competent just got two extra hours in their working day
to do something useful.
And the people who are not competent, well, they have more time to do
mischief, but they will be doing that mischief anyway.
Look, and the thing that is really sinister, as we learned from “The
Washington Post” today, is that the response has really been run by this
private group of amateurs collected by Jared Kushner, who have been
stumbling all over each other.
It`s hard to imagine anything useful that the Trump administration has
done. The good work that has been done since the virus dropped has been
done by state governments, California leading the way, New York stumbling
at first, but then catching up, Ohio, other states.
Many of them have been doing very, very good jobs. And they have had to
post National Guard troops to defend their supplies in these raids from
buccaneers who have federal badges.
But I don`t think – it`s a symbolic – the cancellation of this task force
is a symbolic abdication. I don`t think anyone in the real world is going
to miss it.
MELBER: Dr. Schaffner…
TANDEN: But can I just say that we`re…
MELBER: Well, let me – Neera, I`m just going to go to the doctor and then
TANDEN: Sure. Sure.
MELBER: And what I did want to get the doctor on was, the president was
confirming this while he was out on a visit. So he is back out in Arizona.
He was touring a facility that makes masks. That`s a good thing. The state
of Arizona, though, Doctor, has hit its highest daily death toll, 400
people. And we`re seeing a lot of places – it`s not one story, but
depending where you go in the country, Doctor, it seems like we`re seeing
places where Americans want to turn the page.
We talk about partial reopening. We`re seeing places that are hitting their
Your view of the medical outlook there and why – for people tuning in, why
is it so bad in some places when we`re this far into taking these measures?
SCHAFFNER: Well, it`s still bad because the coronavirus is out there and
It`s infecting very vulnerable people.
And we`re trying to strike a very, very tenuous balance here. We`re trying
to open up the social and economic part of the country and not do too much
damage on the medical side. And it`s a real tightrope.
And some parts of the country are being more conservative. Other parts of
the country are being more aggressive. And we really need to watch that
very, very carefully.
It`s very possible that, as we open things up – in fact, I think it`s
quite likely – that we will see more cases again, an increase in hospital
admissions with patients who have diagnosed coronavirus infections. We`re
going have to watch this very, very carefully.
MELBER: Neera, you wanted to get in?
TANDEN: I really wanted to say, I agree with David about the task force.
I just have to say two things about that, though. First, what a low bar. I
do think we should expect public officials in the middle of a pandemic to
actually be working to save lives.
And I appreciate that we don`t have that perception of this task force,
because it hasn`t been very successful at doing that. It hasn`t really been
directing the country. It`s really been left to the states.
But I`d also say that the task force itself is just – I worry what`s
happening is that the president is thinking that, if he just doesn`t talk
about the virus, we don`t have briefings, the task force goes away, then we
will just stop talking about it and it will go away from the headlines.
I really think that`s a little bit of the theory, which is to drive it off
the pages, because he is not changing any behavior. He is not improving. As
you can see, he hasn`t told states that are reopening too early or probably
likely too early that are seeing surges of cases and reopening the
challenge that may pose to public health.
He is not having a public health response to this.
TANDEN: And I think the idea of the task force ending or stopping is,
frankly, ludicrous in a moment like this.
And I think both David and Neera are gesturing at the obvious tell. There
is a tell here, because no person, whether you`re experienced in disaster
preparedness or not, thinks that anything is disaster-related would end far
before the disaster, which goes to David`s point that this was about
We have a lot in the show, including the speaker of the House.
I have to fit in a break here.
My thanks to David, Dr. Schaffner, Neera Tanden. Thanks to each of you.
Up ahead, Speaker Pelosi joins me live on THE BEAT. So much to talk about.
We`re obviously going to ask about this whistle-blower complaint that is
rocking the White House.
Later tonight, we have a lot more planned for you, including Golden Globe-
winning actor Jeffrey Wright stepping up to try to show tributes to our
health care heroes. We have that later in the hour as well.
I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Turning now to our most significant segment on tonight`s show, the
action in Congress, as the Trump virus insider files that explosive
whistle-blower complaint, slamming the abuse of political connections by
That is from Dr. Rick Bright, who next week will face Congress and the
public to tell his story.
And it`s in Congress where crucial work continues on the very next virus
relief bill targeting support at the ground level for state governments. A
vote on that could come as soon as next week.
Now, there have been, count them up, four virus bills already, but this one
may be the hardest to pass, with looming battles over labor protections and
Senator Mitch McConnell threatening hardball over these potential state-
level bankruptcies he has been talking about.
So, what will Democrats do?
Well, the most powerful Democrat in the nation is here on THE BEAT, House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi tackling all the questions – when we`re back in 30
MELBER: Welcome back.
Joining me now is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
I know you`re busy, thanks for making time tonight.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Yes, thank you, my pleasure. I wish it were under
different circumstances, I say that every night.
Thank you for what you`re doing to spread the word about the challenges we
MELBER: Sure. And I hear you on the circumstances, I`m sure a lot of
Americans watching at home feel similarly no matter what they`re going
As you know, Madam Speaker, Dr. Bright making waves today. This new
whistle-blower, let me play a little bit of what he is saying, take a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIGHT: Time after time I was pressured to ignore or dismiss expert and
scientific recommendations and instead to award lucrative contracts based
on political connections.
In other words, I was pressured to let politics and cronyism drive
decisions over the opinions of the best scientists we have in government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Madam Speaker, what`s your response to his allegations? And what do
you hope your party in the oversight process will get out of his looming
PELOSI: Well, I`m very saddened by the testimony of Dr. Bright. We will
have hearings under the leadership of Congresswoman Eshoo, the Chair of the
Health subcommittee, of the Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Frank
Pallone of New Jersey, he`s the Chair of the full committee.
And so that will happen, I believe next week, to bring before Congress the
testimony of Dr. Bright. It`s very damaging.
But you know, the thing is, is that this points to the larger issue, where
are the ethics in all of this. That`s why we`re so, so excited about the
bill that we`re going to put forth, because it`s about ethics.
It`s ethical for us to have the tests that we need so that everyone is
tested, and certain communities are not left behind because we didn`t have
enough or didn`t have the right thing.
And when we have a vaccine or a drug as Dr. Bright is referencing,
innovation or invention or discovery, that it be available to everyone. But
it can`t be available to anyone unless we have the supply chain, that we
had the ingredients, and we have the delivery system of syringes and vials
and the rest to deliver it to everybody so that no one is left behind.
And everyone in our country knows that they will be treated fairly and
freely, that this is not a market opportunity for business. It is a moral
imperative for public health in our country.
So we`ll be eager to hear the testimony that is presented. But the last
thing we need is political interference into science, because science is
our key, is our exit, it`s testing. Science is the way to end the – unlock
the lock out.
MELBER: All of that makes sense the way you put it. I`m curious, as you
negotiate on this next bill, your view of Mitch McConnell talking about
maybe potentially state bankruptcies. He also wants liability protections
in the next bill.
Your response to that, and what should Americans expect on what would now
be the fifth bill?
PELOSI: Well, let me just say this; I hope that that was a moment in the
life of Mitch McConnell, because it certainly is not a reflection of what
people are thinking in our country. And when I say people, I mean
Republican and Democratic governors, Republican and Democratic mayors,
county executives, throughout the country want us to go forward with state
We don`t call it that though, we call it our heroes bill. This is about
protecting those – those who are – those who are risking their lives to
save lives, and now at the risk of losing their jobs – our health care
providers, our first responders, our teachers, our police, fire, as I`ve
said, emergency services, our transit workers, all of the people who are
part of delivering service to us, again, at this time of coronavirus at
some risk to their own health.
And so this is very popular. And all it is, is about the money goes to
replace the money that has been spent by states and local governments on
the coronavirus specifically and the revenue loss because of the
So when the president…
MELBER: Well, let me – let me ask a follow-up on – let me ask a follow
up, Madam Speaker, and I apologize. i know we`re on a little bit of a
But on that point, let`s put up a map, because the president and Mitch
McConnell have talked about the funding.
When you look at the states that rely most though on federal aid
traditionally, many of them are red states and many of these quote, unquote
blue states, to quote Mitch McConnell, since I guess he wanted to make it
political, many of the blue states actually give more into the Federal
government than they take.
Do you think that is a relevant part of this? Because the – President
Trump`s making it sound like, well, even your state of California or New
York would be taking more than they deserve.
PELOSI: Well, it – please let me not have to act upon anything the
president has said. But I will refer to McConnell, because he has said that
– and the president has endorsed that we`re not bailing out states for
what they did.
No, he referenced Illinois. Illinois is a state that was taking down the –
I`m trying to find a euphemism for the word I want to use – a bad path by
Republican governor now rescued by a Democratic Governor Pritzker, very
proud of him.
So when he says that, oh, we`re not bailing out for past mistakes –
listen, what we`re saying is this is about the coronavirus. What did they
spend, what are their outlays, what are their revenue loss because of the
They know that, they`ll come around on this. You know why? Democratic and
Republican, Republican and Democratic governors need this. They`re united
MELBER: Got it.
PELOSI: Same thing with mayors and county executives and the rest. So when
they say that, it`s not a reason, it`s an excuse, and it might get play
We want those red states, even though they may be giving in less than they
receive, we want them to have what they need. This isn`t about pitting
states against each other. It`s about serving the needs of the American
people, saving their lives, their livelihood, and actually the life of our
MELBER: Let me ask you a policy question, because on health care – this is
a health care crisis obviously for so many Americans. You and President
Obama have advocated for trying to support health care funding through
Obamacare, and Medicaid and other initiatives, even if people are without a
job or between jobs.
Here I`m going to play a little bit, although I think folks remember, but
here was the president – and you were up there with him – as he made that
argument about why you need health care even if you lose a job. Take a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: More and more
Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you`ll
lose your health insurance too.
More and more Americans pay their premiums only to discover that their
insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick or won`t
pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Does this crisis underscore why a strictly employer-based health
care model with no safety net is actually a public health danger? And what
is your response to new reports that Attorney General Barr is even telling
Donald Trump they should back off efforts to weaken Obamacare in the
courts, given this pandemic?
PELOSI: Well let me just say, first of all, I do not think Obamacare is a
danger to health with its strong – a strong part of it being employer-
based – 150, say, million families get their health insurance that way.
We want it in the House, a public option, and I hope that we will get one
in just six months from today when we have an election, but not to get into
the political side, you said this is a policy issue.
We have asked the president to have a special enrollment period for
Affordable Care Act for people who do not have insurance now, so that they
can sign up. Overwhelmingly the American people support that.
I do wish the president would back off his case in the court, because what
he`s doing is saying to the American people, if they paid attention when he
says something like this, that he no longer supports the preexisting
condition benefit and he`s in court to remove it – this and other benefits
that are contained therein.
So I`m a big supporter of the Affordable Care Act, I want health care for
all Americans. There are many proposals on the table, but we can`t take the
Affordable Care Act table off until we have something else…
PELOSI: … whenever that may be, or the Affordable Care Act can be the
MELBER: Right, or the path.
Well it`s interesting hearing you say that, because, as you say, there`s
what Obamacare does, a public option or further support, adds to it.
As a non-ideological observation, it seems like having things that can
support Americans even when they don`t have a job for health coverage is
needed right now, and you`ve obviously done a lot of work on that.
Before I lose you, and I know you`re busy, I did want to play Joe Biden`s
response, as viewers may know, he`s now publicly addressed this allegation.
Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is not true, I`m saying
unequivocally it never, never happened – and it didn`t. It never happened.
I`m asking the Secretary of the Senate today to identify whether any such
document exists. If it does, make it public.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joe Biden speaking out just days ago on that allegation of a sexual
assault. Now that he has given that answer, do you view this as a closed
issue, or what is your response?
PELOSI: Well, it is for me. I have said I am proud to support Joe Biden for
president, I believe him when he says it didn`t happen. But I also believe
him when he said let them look into the records, and that`s what they
should do. But I am not going to answer this question again.
I will just say I have every confidence that Joe Biden will be a great
president of the United States, not only because of the person of integrity
that he is, but the person of vision that he is for just some of the things
you talked about – about health care for all Americans, about job
security, about the kitchen table issues that he`s so familiar with in his
own family, when his father lost his own job.
Joe Biden is Joe, and again, he brings those values and his personal
experience to a vision for America that is about fairness and not trickle-
down economics, but bubble-up from that kitchen table, from working
families in our country.
And now we hope to have in this bill a reflection of meeting the needs of
everyone in our country and not trickle-down or have science – research
and science that`s dominated in anything other than by the best possible
science, and I salute our scientists for what they are doing to free us
MELBER: Well, Speaker Pelosi, we`ve covered a lot of ground, and that`s the
last thing I wanted to button up on the virus bill, just on you making some
news on that.
It sounds like, in conclusion, your view is you`re going to get this bill
through the Congress and you expect to do that without Mitch McConnell`s
talk of states going bankrupt.
PELOSI: No, but we want it to be bipartisan. We`ve had four bills and all
of them have been bipartisan, and we`re very proud of that, and we hope
that this fifth bill will as well.
And we look forward to working together to find our common ground. I never
took seriously any thought that they wanted states to go bankrupt. But you
know, we`re in an arena, you gave it a lot of attention – you`ve been
talking about it for a couple of weeks.
We`ve been talking about great things we want to do for the American
people, maybe if we phrased it that way you`d be talking about it for
We`ll see when we put forth our bill. I look forward to sharing more with
you in our next conversation. Thank you.
MELBER: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much for making the time. We
We will have further reaction to the speaker and a lot more in tonight`s
show when we come back.
MELBER: We are back.
And David Frum is with me. He was listening to the speaker of the House`s
I have questions for you. But, first, any reactions in general?
FRUM: Nancy Pelosi has a very challenging situation ahead of her.
She is playing three-handed negotiation. She is playing negotiation with
Mitch McConnell, who is a cool, savvy negotiator, very aware of the
political realities, very protective of the interest groups he cares about.
She is also negotiating with the president, who is not fully connected to
reality, who doesn`t quite understand what`s going on. And McConnell and
Trump are not a unit. And so her – as she seeks to prevent, for example,
red states from plundering blue states, she is also dealing with a
president who doesn`t understand the severity of the economic crisis and
doesn`t quite understand how much trouble he is in.
In his own interests, he should be flooding the zone with money, but he
won`t do that because Mitch McConnell, who has got a keener grasp of
realities, doesn`t want to, for his own reasons.
And the speaker made a point of criticizing the press, which sort of
includes us, obviously, for giving attention to Mitch McConnell`s talk of
bankruptcy and sort of what she views as a canard.
You have been writing than as well and documenting how, however seriously
one wants to take Mitch McConnell or is it a negotiating strategy, you were
documenting in “The Atlantic” how there is a larger piece of work at play
here, if you want to speak to that.
FRUM: Well, I don`t think many people understand exactly what Mitch
McConnell means when he talks about bankruptcy.
They think – we all play “Monopoly” – bankruptcy means not paying the
bills. But that is a default. When a state doesn`t pay its bills, that`s a
American states have been defaulting on bills since the beginning of the
republic. Eight states defaulted in the 1840s. Arkansas defaulted in the
What is different from the bankruptcy in a default is, a bankruptcy is not
a default. It`s a process by which bills are paid, under the supervision of
the federal courts. Under the U.S. Constitution, bankruptcy is a federal
So, when Mitch McConnell talks about bankruptcy for states, what he is
talking about putting states` financial troubles under the control of the
judges that he is busily confirming right now.
And that really lays out part of the stakes here, which is, as you have
explained, there is a larger question of whether this particular crisis,
beyond the obvious spending that is going on, will be used to rewire or
reorder larger agendas.
And I know, in your piece, you also said you believe part of the stakes are
that some Republicans are worried Trump could lose, and thus this is as a -
- as you put it, a bit of a last chance.
I have got to fit in a break. So, David Frum helping us on more than one
story with your insights, thank you, sir.
FRUM: Thank you.
MELBER: Appreciate it.
Something we try to do around here, as you may know if you watch THE BEAT,
we try to stay positive and look for the fact that, even during these tough
times and bad news, there is good news and hope around the corner.
We get into one of those stories when we come back.
MELBER: Can we talk about the real heroes?
All of these health care workers and the first responders and people on
these front lines. Of course, we see ways the people are trying to show
their appreciation every day.
But we want to tell you about one person who is doing that. Award-winning
actor Jeffrey Wright is working on providing food for health care workers.
He will join me in a moment.
You may recognize the face, of course. He is the star of the hit HBO series
“Westworld.” He won a Golden Globe for the 2003 series “Angels in America,”
which was, by many accounts, groundbreaking.
And you may also recall his portrayal of – and this would be hard for
anyone – Martin Luther King in the movie “Boycott.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “BOYCOTT”)
JEFFREY WRIGHT, ACTOR AND ACTIVIST: There comes a time when time itself is
ready for a change. And that time has come in Montgomery.
Our opponents – and I hate to think of our government officers as
opponents, but that`s what they are – they have tried all sorts of things
to break us, but we still hold steadfast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Jeffrey was in London shooting a movie when the COVID-19 outbreak
began to spread.
He was working with this project, as we mentioned, with health care workers
in his Brooklyn neighborhood sponsoring food deliveries from local
restaurants with local workers.
What started with two restaurants and basically a hashtag spreading online
has turned into a larger campaign. It`s called Brooklyn For Life and now
supports 32 different restaurants in Brooklyn feeding people and helping
people who serve in four of the hardest-hit medical centers, because, of
course, New York is the epicenter, as well as seven different paramedic
Jeffrey Wright is here now.
Looking forward to this, not only to talk to you, which I like, but I like
that you`re doing something great, and I know there are people like you
who, in all sorts of ways, local, big, small, whatever you can do, people
are doing things.
So thank you for doing that. Tell us what you`re up to.
WRIGHT: Well, I appreciate it, Ari.
Well, I have got to correct you, though. We`re serving all 11 FDNY EMS
stations in Brooklyn, and we`re up to 11 medical facilities as well, 10 in
Brooklyn, one in Lower Manhattan. And that`s through a circle of now over
40 restaurants, and,as you said, started with two.
And it was really a very simple idea. Our health care workers, our front-
line folks need to eat in the midst of all of this. Of course, restaurants
in our neighborhood have been shutting down. This was in late March.
And so there was a void to fill. So, there is a restaurant here called
Brooklyn Moon owned by a very good friend of mine for 20 years, since I
have been in the neighborhood, named Michael Thompson, been in business 25
I was trying to help him convert to delivery mode, because he is more a
social space. You will love this. Brooklyn Moon was the epicenter of the
Brooklyn spoken word scene back in the `90s.
Chris Rock, I believe, performed here at some point, Erykah Badu, first NYC
performance. Anyway, storied place.
But, you know, I promoted on social media that he was converting to
delivery service. I called him up and said, how are you doing? He said,
man, I got five orders today. So that wasn`t sustainable.
Another friend at a place call Graziella`s, been in the neighborhood 15
years, was having customers call in and order pies on behalf of Brooklyn
Hospital, which is here in Fort Greene. His name is Vito Randazzo. Known
him since he`s been in business.
So, I reached out to Vito. He connected us with the hospital. And we asked
their V.P. for external affairs, Lenny Singletary, over there if there was
something more than we could do. So, that was March 27. We started with
these two restaurants, providing 200 meals per day to Brooklyn Hospital to
augment their cafeteria.
You had staff that were working 15, 16 hours a day, many not going home,
staying in hotels nearby. And they needed support.
So, from there, we grew to the point where we crossed the 100,000-meal mark
yesterday, averaging about 2,500 meals per day.
WRIGHT: We`re – we have spread our outreach across Brooklyn. That was
MELBER: And, you know, let me jump in, Jeffrey, because one thing that`s
wild about this is, as you tell the story, it didn`t start with you saying,
I got to do the biggest thing with, as you said, hitting all 11 or 100,000.
It sounds like, as people try to figure out where they can plug in, you –
obviously, you have relationships in your neighborhood, and you have some
visibility, but it sounds like you just started day by day, and it grew.
WRIGHT: Yes, you know, not everybody can – you know, nobody can do
everything, but everybody can do something.
It was really about, very simply, trying to help out a couple friends of
mine, particularly Mike. And it just mushroomed from there.
What`s been exciting, too, is, you know, we put the video together, but,
prior to the video, we raised the bulk of our money on a GoFundMe page.
We`re up to about $295,000 now. We have raised and additional 180 or so,
close to 200, on the outside of that, through direct donations to our
You can go to Brooklynforlife.org and check that out.
But it`s been evenly split between small, $5, $10 donations, and larger
donations. Daniel Craig (AUDIO GAP) for example, my James Bond brother, was
one of the folks I reached out to. He helped us out. Jay-Z helped us out,
But it was ordinary Brooklynites that stepped up as well, almost at an even
And so what I`m really excited about now is that we found our first
corporate partner in AT&T. They`re going to come in and help us out at
$250,000, which is really going to, ideally, allow us to extend a bit
further, but still looking for additional corporate partners to step up at
that level, so that we can allow these restaurants, all small businesses,
mom-and-pop joints, we can allow them a lifeline that will allow them to
ride through this thing, ideally until greater public funding becomes
available to them or they can reach some level of commercial viability
again or commercial normalcy.
WRIGHT: So, and we understand it`s a stopgap.
MELBER: Yes, and you`re hitting the link there, that there`s local business
that still needs to work, because people want to work, and then there`s a
lot of people working these long shifts, particularly in hard-hit areas
like New York, health care workers that need to eat.
So, I love all that.
You know I keep in touch with all my fellow nerds, right? So, you know I
can`t end the interview without making sure we talk “Batman,” right?
WRIGHT: OK. OK.
MELBER: You were shooting “Batman,” playing Commissioner Gordon, when this
all happened, obviously.
So, what happens with the future of that film? And what energy do you bring
to playing Commissioner Gordon, who, in a different “Batman,” famously said
that sometimes the hero we need is the person who doesn`t even think of
themselves as a hero?
WRIGHT: Well, your nerd friends and you would be impressed.
I got a couple old-school Batman comics up there on the shelf behind me,
just keeping them there for quick reference when I need – yes, I was in
the middle of filming “Batman” when this all – well, not when it began,
but when the lockdown started to happen in Europe.
That was March 15. I got on a plane and made it back here. So, we pumped
the brakes pretty hard. But I`ll tell you, we were having a ball up to that
You know, you asked, how are we going about it? Listen, every – Batman`s
fascinating. It`s evolved from 1939 until now. We`re still, you know,
recycling these stories and reinventing these stories.
And what we were trying to do is create a film and a tone and a mood and a
setting that is contemporary, is grounded in some – you know, in a Gotham
that we might all relate to in some ways.
And we`re doing it together. So, what I`m doing as Commissioner Gordon is
really reflecting off what Rob Pattinson is doing as Batman. And we`re all
in it together, but we were – yes, we were doing some pretty cool stuff,
bro, I got to tell you.
MELBER: It sounds – I think people will be psyched to see it, obviously, a
lot of things on hold, but culture doesn`t stop.
So, we`re going to look forward to it.
I`m running over on time, but, of course, I have to end by asking you, you
know which Batman character is CDC-approved?
WRIGHT: Which would that be?
MELBER: Bane, because he`s – Bane is always in his mask.
WRIGHT: Of course. Of course.
But see, I know where tony Fauci was born. I – those are the kind of
questions I was ready for. Tony Fauci was born right here at Brooklyn
Hospital, right here in Fort Greene.
MELBER: Hey, shout-out to Brooklyn.
But, look, Tony Fauci would approve. Bane is – he never takes his mask
WRIGHT: I don`t know where Bane was born. Fauci – I know where Fauci was
born, you know?
MELBER: Jeffrey, we appreciate what you`re doing and the sneak peek on the
And I want to make sure everyone knows what you mentioned earlier. For
those who want to get involved with what you`re doing, you can go to
Brooklynforlife.org, Brooklynforlife.org. Support. Check it out.
We will be right back.
MELBER: That does it for us. You have been watching THE BEAT WITH ARI
Please rejoin us tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, if you are around.
And don`t go anywhere. Keep it right here, right now, on MSNBC.
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prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
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