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Trump guts protections for endangered species. TRANSCRIPT: 8/13/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Marielena Hincapie, Leah Wright Rigueur, Katty Kay, Paul Henderson,Jason Johnson, Anthony Brown


KASIE HUNT, ANCHOR MSNBC: Thanks for watching. That`s all for tonight. Chuck is going to be back tomorrow with much more MEET THE PRESS DAILY. But right now, "THE BEAT" with Ari Melber.

Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, ANCHOR MSNBC: Good evening, Kasie. Thank you so much.

HUNT: Thank you.

MELBER: We have a lot in the show. A provocative new 2020 ad linking Donald Trump`s rhetoric to, yes, that horrific El Paso massacre. Attorney General Bill Barr under pressure with new details emerging tonight about what happened in the jail that the Trump administration ran where Jeffrey Epstein died. An activist demanding gun control action from Mitch McConnell. All of that tonight.

But we begin with the Trump administration defending its plan targeting low-income legal immigrants. It`s basically become a new flash point, a full defense of this rather unusual change to immigration policy, an attempt to punish legal immigrants if they participate in legal programs like getting food assistance or participating in Medicaid.

A Donald Trump`s top immigration official, Ken Cuccinelli saying today the Statue of Liberty poem should basically, in his words, be kind of rewritten based on this new Trump policy. It requires immigrants to prove they`re unlikely to ever need any public assistance.


RACHEL MARTIN, HOST, MORNING EDITION AND UP FIRST, NPR: Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus`s words etched on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor," are also part of the American ethos?

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP & IMMIGRATION SERVICES: They certainly are. Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.


MELBER: It`s very Trumpy, what you`re hearing there, because it`s kind of a trolling. Trump`s immigration chief who`s responsible for these very real powers saying, "sure, give me your tired and your poor, but" upending his own addition, "stand on their own two feet." Now, that`s striking enough because a lot of people feel a lot of sentimentality for at least the rhetoric, if not the reality, of the Statue of Liberty`s goals. But it`s also, we have to note for you, very different from just hours before when he commented on the very same topic. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re implementing a public charge rule for the first time. Is that sentiment, "Give us your tired, your poor," still operative in the United States or should those words come down? Should the plaque come down off the Statue of Liberty?

CUCCINELLI: Well, I`m certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty.

CUCCINELLI (voice-over): Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.


MELBER: Tangle with the popularity of the Statue of Liberty at your own peril. Mr. Cuccinelli saying he`s not going to take it down and then now taking it down and putting up his own revisions. Now, this is not just obviously a rhetorical discussion. That`s not why it`s leading the news tonight. This is very, very real.

And this attempt to sort of defend the targeting of low-income legal immigrants comes with a context. It comes, of course, after these heartbreaking accounts that emerged from the fallout of the massive ICE raid that left many families separated and left up this public cry, call it testimony if you want, that we`ve all heard now, and that`s worth hearing again from an 11-year-old girl in tears.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need my dad. My dad did nothing. He`s not a criminal.


MELBER: Today NBC`s Gabe Gutierrez interviewed the Acting ICE Director asking for reaction to that very video.


MATTHEW ALBENCE, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: We conduct our operations with professionalism, with compassion and with humanity. And we tried our best to minimize the impact on the innocent people of this - of the situation. However, we have to enforce the law. The parents or the individuals that are breaking the law are ultimately the ones that are responsible for placing their children in that situation.


MELBER: You see the very different ways to defend these policies. Cuccinelli picking a fight with poetry, the Acting ICE Director talking up compassion, blaming the parents. Now, just think for a second. Would compassion and professionalism involve a process where there was communication when you have a minor who is now separated from her parents? I put that question to you with this reporting. Five days later, she doesn`t know where her father is.

And this immigration policy is the reality right now. Raids that leave these children in tears in the wake of a mass shooting targeting Latinos, no effort to communicate with people about the realities of those folks who are now separated, ripping children away from their parents at the border. There`s a new court filing from the ACLU that says that family separation policy is still very much on while the Trump administration has claimed it`s not.

Speaker Pelosi is speaking out on this effort. She says it is to demonize and terrorize immigrants. She calls these new policies that have come out here while Congress is on recess, hateful and bigoted. Trump`s border chief, Ken Cuccinelli, we actually profiled on this show when he was up for this job for his extremely conservative record is pushing back himself. He says, as you heard, it`s not too much to ask migrants to be "self- sufficient."

So before I turn to the panel, I want to leave one final thought on all of this news you`ve just heard as it all jumbles together. Mr. Cuccinelli is carrying out the Trump plan, the Trump agenda. And that idea that everyone must be self-sufficient, it misreads America in two ways.

First, there is nothing wrong with people who happen to receive federal benefits sometimes, whether they`re seniors on social security or veterans who get health insurance or workers who get unemployment insurance because they`ve lost a job by no fault of their own in a recession or a corporate decision or children who get food assistance.

Let`s just take a breath and remember, there is no insult, no failing in participating in those programs at some point in your life. It`s part of our social safety net. Long funded and operated, if you want to get political, by, yes, administrations in both parties. Then there is the immigration piece of this.

Second. America`s ethic has strived to welcome people regardless of what they look like or what they make. In fact, when it does come to struggle, when that is a part of the analysis of where people are coming from and what they went through, our rhetoric and our asylum policies have long noted that sometimes it`s the people in the most trouble who need America. And while we don`t let them all in, that`s not the rule, we can`t let them all in, say many politicians, and while we haven`t always lived up as a country to that goal, we`ve certainly strived for it, we`ve certainly talked about it.

That`s why we all know the rhetoric in the Statue of Liberty poem that everyone is fighting about today, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." The idea there is pretty simple. America is where some of them might get to come for a better life. Not that the door to America is completely shut unless you already have one.

And with that, we turn to our talented expert panel tonight. Leah Wright Rigueur from Harvard`s Kennedy School of Government; Marielena Hincapie, I should say, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center; and BBC Washington Anchor, Katty Kay. Marielena, your thoughts?

MARIELENA HINCAPIE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL IMMIGRATION LAW CENTER: Thank you, Ari. As a Latina, as an immigrant from Colombia and as a lawyer, it is deeply offensive to hear Acting Director Cuccinelli talk about this as self-sufficiency. That`s a myth about who we are as a nation. The fact is that this is the country, the land of opportunity. That is the story we have told ourselves for several centuries now.

And we know that, in fact, the majority of Americans at some point in their lifetime are going to need to rely on certain types of safety net programs, whether it`s unemployment, whether it`s nutrition assistance, health care, whatever it is. These are anti-poverty programs for that very reason. They`re anti-poverty. They`re meant to help people make ends meet when they`re facing a hard time, which was my own family`s experience when we first arrived in this country in the 1970s from Colombia.

MELBER: Leah, listen to the President on all of this today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe there ought to be a different poem on the Statue of Liberty. Do you think that should be changed?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, I don`t think it`s fair to have the American taxpayer - you know, it`s about America first. I don`t think it`s fair to have the American taxpayer pay for people to come into the United States.



LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Well, Ari, I think cruelty is the point. That much is apparent. And the President is being explicit about it now. This isn`t about the law. If it was about the law and if it was about taxpayers and things like that, we`d actually see that the corporations that are involved in bringing people over or who break these rules and who profit from these rules that the government would be paying attention to them. They`re not. We see that all the time.

Instead, what we see is that this is about Donald Trump`s quest to make America look a very particular way. He was very honest about that in that statement he just gave to the press. This isn`t about bringing America back to, say, the 1960s or the 1970s. This is looking more and more like bringing are America back to the age of 1924 and that Johnson-Reed Act. It is about making a certain kind of America, one in which it`s not just undocumented immigrants who are targeted but also legal immigrants who are from particular backgrounds who are of certain ages, who are from certain countries. That much is clear.

MELBER: I didn`t know you wanted to go there, get into the Johnson-Reed Act. We could do that, Professor.


MELBER: You`re referring to the last time that the federal law explicitly acknowledged that kind of discrimination, which was later revised in `65, not perfected by any means, but at least the government was no longer on record admitting that it was going to ban people based on, for example, national origin, from Asia, or in religion, with quotas against Jews. What do you see as the way they`re kind of giving the game away and how far back they want to go in these policies?

RIGUEUR: I mean - so immigration reform in this country has been far from perfect, particularly in the last 20 years. But one of the things that is striking, really striking about the Trump administration is the rhetoric and the language that - around immigration and how that is tied explicitly to policy.

So Donald Trump saying that Mexico is sending its worst, sending rapists and sending drug dealers, saying that Mexican drugs are discriminatory, making racist statements around that, using language about invasion, about a coming hoard, about the dangers of migrants, that and then explicitly tying it to policy, that for all purposes really is about excluding people from this country and about creating a system that, since it can`t be done through Congress and hasn`t been done through Congress, really kills immigration, legal and undocumented immigration. But I want to pay particular attention to the legal portion of this. Legal immigration through a thousand backdoor cuts. And that part is important and that part is different.

MELBER: Very well put. I appreciate both of your edition. Stay with me. I`m turning here in New York to Katty Kay. I don`t think it`s a secret to regular viewers that you happen to be from somewhere else.

KATTY KAY, WASHINGTON ANCHOR, BBC NEWS: Yes. I`m an immigrant in this country, first generation immigrant. I pay taxes. So I am effectively a taxpayer in this country. It might surprise many Americans to know that actually a lot of illegal immigrants also pay taxes in this country. So I think the idea that this is something to do with the taxes or welfare is a total red herring.

MELBER: And that`s what I want to drill down with you on, which is who is being targeted. And let me have, for your analysis, Ken Cuccinelli oppressed with that question. Well, wait a minute. It has now become quite clear that certain groups are being targeted. Targeting the poor has always, at least since `65 and if not before, disfavored, and targeting people by where they are from and what they look like is supposed to be unconstitutional. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why shouldn`t the Latino community feel targeted by this?

CUCCINELLI: This is not new. This was - the same question might have been asked when my Italian immigrants were coming, immigrant ancestors who were coming in and all through that 140 years. This will apply across the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think (ph) that this will apply to more Latinos than any other - likely more Latinos?

CUCCINELLI: Well, if we had been having this conversation a hundred years ago, it would have applied to more Italians.


MELBER: I`m going to make an observation and then lean towards your analysis. My observation is I`m not sure Mr. Cuccinelli is the best advocate and most convincing presenter of these ideas. It seems that every time we`ve thrown (ph) a clip, he`s putting his foot in his mouth, claiming he - by the way, not Senate confirmed or anything else - he should be rewriting the Statue of Liberty poem and then he is making these Latino- Italian comparisons. I leave that to him.

To you I ask, is this accurate, and what is he missing?

KAY: So the idea that somehow immigrants are going to take out more welfare based on the color of their skin is already a complete misnomer, because as we know, the vast majority of recipients of food stamps in this country are white, they are not African-American, they are not Hispanic. In fact, I think there`s only about 10% of recipients of food stamp who are Hispanic.

So let`s put that to one side. The professor took us back in time. Let`s jump forward in time. I think this is all about 2044 when America becomes a minority white country. And a bit like King Cnut, the Trump administration is desperately trying to stop the tide of that.

Stephen Miller, one of the longest standing members of the Trump administration, came into the White House, wanting to target illegal immigration, yes, but wanting also right from the very beginning of this administration to target legal immigration to try to make America in the image that the Trump administration would like to have it, which is majority white, which is why we know that they have spoken about taking Norwegians and not people from African countries and not people from Hispanic countries. This is about race. It`s about keeping America white. It`s not about welfare, it`s not about taxes, and it`s not about economics.

MELBER: Marielena?

HINCAPIE: Yes, completely agree. In fact, I would say that not only is this not about welfare because what this racially motivated rule does not do is change the eligibility rules about immigrant access to nutrition or health care, but what it does do is actually change the political power dynamics. What they`re trying to do is have millions of immigrants not be able to become permanent residents, prevent them from becoming citizens and eventual voters. So this is their way to eventually have minority rule, a country that will be majority people of color in the future.

MELBER: And so this really tracts perfectly with the next question I wanted to ask the professor, which is - you`ve also done a lot on the politics of this. And I wonder what you think about the politics here after the President has had, let`s be clear, rough times even by his standards - you know, this convicted sex offender that the Trump administration was accused of having a staff who was lenient on, then mysteriously dies in jail, with the Trump administration overseeing that. A series of reports about his handling of these mass shootings that while not causal, certainly had a shooter echoing language of the President and all these other problems.

And here are the politics, Leah, of here we go again. What I mentioned at the top, which is the insinuation that participating in any public program makes you somehow suspect. And Reagan would do that in a domestic context with African-Americans. We`re seeing this in the immigration context. I wonder here - I think having - with the policy and the ethics of it, if you could walk us through your view of the political playbook here.

RIGUEUR: Well, in times of crisis for Donald Trump, he very quickly falls back on the - on the culture wars, and what is it amounts to the race wars and the immigration wars. So this is his favorite - this is his favorite and perhaps the easiest punching bag for him. This is how he started his campaign. This is how - this is how he ran his campaign. This is what he did, what he focused on in the 2016 special elections and especially in the 2018 elections. And he`s pulling it out again to try and rile up and really appeal to his base. So this is not about growing his base. This is not about that.

One thing, though, that I would push back on and really think about is, how often has this been successful for Donald Trump? We may point to 2016, but we can look at 2018 and see that this idea of the so-called hoard, this myth of the hoard, the fear of the hoard--

MELBER: "Caravan," quote-unquote, yes.

RIGUEUR: --didn`t actually play out at the - right. Right. The caravan didn`t actually play out in his favor at the ballot box. What it ended up doing is creating - playing a role in the increased frenzy and rhetoric around race--


RIGUEUR: --that had devastating consequences, but politically didn`t seem to - didn`t really pay off for him.

MELBER: Leah and Marielena, thank you both. I really appreciate it. I have one more thing here in New York for Katty Kay. And that is Stephen Miller. Stephen Miller has maintained a tremendous amount of influence over immigration policy. He worked for Jeff Sessions. He`s now outlasted Jeff Sessions. And viewers may know him as someone who isn`t on camera all that much compared to some of these other officials and yet sometimes seems to, as I mentioned outlast and outrank the Attorney General, DHS, the border czars. It is remarkable.

And so we have to deal - I mean, some people say, oh, I wish we didn`t have to deal with this or that person, or this or that fact. We have to deal with what`s out there, whether you want to listen to Mr. Miller or not. I say that as a kind of disclaimer for viewers. Here with Mr. Miller on the very issue that now has become front and center, the Statue of Liberty, at a time when it seemed much more like a - a kind of a macabre blooper. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Statue of Liberty says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." It doesn`t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR FOR POLICY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The poem that you`re referring to was added later. It`s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty. But more fundamentally, the history--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re saying--

MILLER: But more fundamentally, the history--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re saying - you`re saying that that does not represent what the country has always thought of--

MILLER: I`m saying that the notion--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --that immigration coming into this country?

MILLER: I`m saying the notion of the - I`m saying the notion--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stephen, I`m sorry. That sounds like--

MILLER: No. Here - here--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That sounds like--

MILLER: Let me ask you a question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That sounds like some national park revisionism.


MELBER: 2017, and that was something they backed off of because they didn`t want to go to war with the Statue of Liberty. Is this now in the playbook? Is this now not something they`re backing off? This is from what 2017 was too extreme is now being normalized in 2019.

KAY: So Lazarus`s poem goes on to say give us your wretched refuse and your homeless. It`s very hard in Stephen Miller`s America - this ideal America to imagine this White House embracing the wretched refuse and the homeless of the world. They have normalized a lot. And there is this is this battle going on continuously over the wall. They haven`t managed to build the wall. They are trying through other means to satisfy the base on immigration policy.

But specifically what`s new here is this idea of targeting legal immigrants. And that is Stephen Miller. That`s something he has wanted to do. I`ve heard him say it right from the very beginning of this administration and now he feels with this order that he can do it. It will be challenged in the courts.

MELBER: We always learn from you when you`re here and you just put your finger on it that they have slowly but finally moved from talking about the undocumented where there is a legal line to admitting, no, they don`t like - and I say this if you don`t mind. Check me if you do. They don`t want certain people who have your status, who are just legally here participating in our economy, we learn from, we listen to, paying taxes, you mentioned. Now they`re saying the fact that you came here itself should be targeted.

KAY: Yes. I have four American kids who are Americans and I have an American-British husband. So - I find it hard to believe that I will be chucked out, but I`m very conscious of the fact that people who come who don`t look like me, who come with more difficult circumstance as me to this country where you have always welcomed migrants. It has been the value of America. It is the thing that distinguishes this country from other countries. And I fear that`s going.

MELBER: We really appreciate your clarity here. Katty Kay, always good to have you on. And my thanks to all of our guests.

Want to fit in a break, and we have so much more. The Justice Department now ducking responsibility in the apparent suicide death of Jeffrey Epstein. Details emerging also about larger failures in the prisons under the Trump administration. Later, 2020 Dem is going there and trying to turn Trump`s race baiting back against him. And you`ll never guess where this new attack is airing. We`ll explain. And later, House Democrat leading the charge in reforming gun laws is here. Plus, a report on the administration`s attack on the Endangered Species Act. I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER: New questions tonight about whether Donald Trump`s Department of Justice will take full responsibility for what we`ve now seen as one of the greatest law enforcement failures of the Trump era, the apparent suicide of the high profile prisoner Jeffrey Epstein. Today the Attorney General is taking related action reassigning the warden who was at the federal detention center where Epstein died and placing two of the staffers on leave. Mr. Barr, though, continues to ignore how he and Donald Trump are, of course, in charge of all this and responsible for that prison.

Take a look at "The New York Times" report that one of the two officers charged with checking on Epstein the night of his very death was actually not a "full-fledged correctional officer." Now, we don`t know from that reporting yet why one of the guards wasn`t apparently a full-blown guard. Here is some broader context though that we have been reporting on.

Prison employees have been warning publicly about what they say are these dangerously understaffed prisons. Workers forced to serve 16-hour days. And prisons regularly compelling teachers, nurses, secretaries or other support staff members to step in and basically work as corrections officers. That can stoke a dangerous situation, and these employees are saying it`s a product of policy of understaffing of, yes, the Trump administration, which has famously bragged about limiting federal spending, having acting secretaries, leaving positions vacant, and even instituting department-wide hiring freezes.

I`m joined now by a veteran prosecutor who knows many of these issues, Paul Henderson. Thanks for coming on THE BEAT, sir.

PAUL HENDERSON, VETERAN PROSECUTOR: Happy to be back, Ari. How are you?

MELBER: I`m good. We look at this issue, and as with any individual case, journalists, lawyers, viewers will all agree you can`t immediately know the full causality and the exact situation. And that`s what reporting and investigations are for.


MELBER: But in a broader sense, do you think this case could shine a light on the potential problems and the potential linkages with how these prisons are being run by Bill Barr and Donald Trump?

HENDERSON: Well, I think it already has. I mean, these are tough jobs that many of these wardens have, trying to balance out costs against public safety. But it`s clear from this case - and I think we`re having more discussions now that - I have concerns as well as many others do about the standard of care in government facilities. And what this means for the Trump administration and whether or not there`s a shift in priorities through default economics into privately for-profit institutions. I mean, that`s the question that`s being raised when we`re looking across the country at how these institutions are being run, and that`s obviously at the forefront.

Now that we`re talking about this big case that everyone is talking about, and this is a real tragedy--


HENDERSON: --that should not have happened and could have been prevented, and that`s why we`re seeing some of the actions that we`re seeing now. And all of this is going to be under review about what took place in that institution and why although--


HENDERSON: --we can presume--


HENDERSON: --some of the why is going to be associated with shortfalls in staffing and costs.

MELBER: And whatever - as you say, whatever that picture looks like, whether there`s going to be accountability, it`s the job of the Attorney General and the President to say the buck stops here. These reassignments may or may not be a necessary corrective. I think that`s in the mix. But as of tonight, Mr. Barr has not taken full responsibility. He left this acting official in charge of the whole Bureau of Prisons. The deputy position vacant, as we`ve been reporting.


MELBER: And then you get into the receipts. And I happen to know you a little bit. So I know you like evidence and receipts. It`s not about people`s general ideas about what was Obama like, what`s Trump like, who gives more speeches about law and order. Some of this comes down to the minutia. The almost dry aspect--

HENDERSON: And the minutia is what we`re going to--

MELBER: Yes, I want you to look at this and then tell us. The dry aspect of who is actually serviceably running the government. Look at how Obama did this.


MELBER: They had over 2,000 additional correction officers hired, not because Obama did or didn`t like corrections officers but because he dealt on a policy level with running the federal government.


MELBER: And with Donald Trump, it`s about 372. Your view?

HENDERSON: My view is that there are shortfalls that are now systemic in these institutions. And so when we examine why the standard of care is what it is, you can`t have that conversation without evaluating what these budgets are, what these staffing issues are, and that`s exactly what this case is bringing to the forefront.

We know the measurable shortfalls in this case with Epstein already from the press. We know that he wasn`t being monitored on the schedule that he should have been monitored. We know that people were moved in and out of his room. We also know that he ended up dead. I mean, that`s--


HENDERSON: --that`s a real issue.

MELBER: And final question, if he did commit suicide, which is DOJ`s current statement, they say, "apparent suicide," do you think he did that because he saw no way out and just was too much of a coward to face the rest of the process?

HENDERSON: I don`t know that we`re ever going to get to answer that question but I do know that his death is going to open the door to a lot of lawsuits both against the correctional facility, but also in the secondary aspect in the civil courts against many of his victims that are now going to be suing his estate because the criminal court against him -- the criminal case against him may go away, but the civil case cases are just beginning.

And the estate is going to be being both proactive against the correctional facility and trying to say that the standards were met, and also having to pay out whatever money they could be liable for on the suits that are coming from a lot of his other victims and all of the unanswered questions about what can be proven or shown from his behavior before he died.  Whether or not the government`s going to be able to use any of that information to answer some of these questions, we`ll wait for the autopsy to get some of those answers and then to start more of the litigation.

MELBER:  Counselor Paul Henderson, thank you, sir.

HENDERSON:  Thanks for having me.

MELBER:  Absolutely.  Turning next to a 2020 Democrat trying to use Trump`s race-baiting against him.  Jason Johnson joins me when we`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER:  Donald Trump continues to come under fire of course for his record on race, something we`ve been covering tonight.  Now there is a 2020 Democratic hopeful taking aim at his policies and somewhere that might reach not only Donald Trump but his "base."  Julian Castro buying air time explicitly on Fox News to run this ad speaking directly to Trump.


JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  President Trump, you referred to countries as (BLEEP).  You urged American congressmen to go back to where they came from.  You called immigrants rapists.  As we saw in El Paso, Americans were killed because you stoked the fire of racists.  Innocent people were shot down because they looked different from you, because they look like me.  They look like my family.  Words have consequences.


MELBER:  No word yet on how that`s playing with the Fox News audience, but the Trump administration, of course, is facing off these political threats with a lot of real policy.  So you have to factor that in consider this new rule that basically says now this government, this country wants to favor wealthy immigrants over all other ones, and that experts say could limit family-based immigration from places like Mexico, Central America, and Africa.

I`m joined now by Jason Johnson, Politics Editor for The Root.  Good to see you, sir.


MELBER:  Let`s start.  We`ve been doing a lot of policy and a little bit of history and ethics tonight.  I`m going to start you on the politics then we can get back to the ethics.  How do you rate as a political writer the impact of that ad?

JOHNSON:  I think it`s good.  The first time I saw it, it kind of looked like the background of like this is America from Childish Gambino.  Like he just -- I wondered what he was about to do in this sort of open garage space.  But what I like is Castro is doing something that I think too many Democrats forget to do.

There is no problem with going on Fox News.  There`s no problem with going on conservative or right-wing radio shows, but you got to keep your message consistent.  So I like the idea that Castro is saying look, I know this is Fox News, but I still believe there`s people there who and this message that these kinds of policies are dangerous.

MELBER:  And that it stands out for that decision among others.  We`re going to put the -- you mentioned him in the -- in the deserted parking lot.  We`ll put that back up.  There are other possibilities.

You know, Eminem famously did his freestyle battle against Trump in the similar empty lot.  I don`t know why that`s considered such a great staging ground.  The other possibility, Jason, is like all of us because we`re all people, he had a long night and can`t find his car.

JOHNSON:  It could be that as well.  He could have actually been lost and just had the camera crew there talking to him on a regular basis.

MELBER:  You know, anything could happen.  Now, I`m going to make a hard turn from that terrible joke, my bad, my apologies, to again we said the politics and now the ethics and something you have spoken a lot about.  I know our viewers have heard a lot of your great analysis on this, which is what does it mean in 2019 to deal with a president who acts this way, this blatantly, this repeatedly from Charlottesville to El Paso?

Senator Warren coming out here and making this as far as I could tell something she is not sugarcoating.  It`s a theme now of her current battles with the President and it echoes what Castro is doing.  Take a look.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA):  A man who has used racist language and racist imagery over and over and over.  And most of all a man who winks and nods at the white supremacist and who in turn is embraced and celebrated by the white supremacist.  You know, when the white supremacist called Donald Trump one of their own, I tend to believe them.


MELBER:  What is the significance of that?

JOHNSON:  Well, I like the fact, Ari, in all honesty, I think most of the Democratic candidates Warren, Buttigieg, Castro, Booker, there`s been a bit of hedging from Harris and Biden, but most of them have been very clear.

Look, the President is a racist.  The President is a white supremacist and there are negative consequences to this.  And that`s what I think is important about what Warren just said.  She`s like look, it`s not just that he`s a bad guy.  It`s not just that he`s putting forth white nationalist policies, but the people, the violent organizations that had these beliefs see him their leader.  And I think that`s a very important message not just for the soul of this country which is important but to make people recognize especially white America, hey this is dangerous for everybody.

A president who encourages this behavior leads to more shootings, more violence, and higher levels of terror.

MELBER:  I got one more thing and you laid that out and it`s serious.  I got one more thing before we go.  You know, we talk sometimes but right you didn`t tell me before this interview that you were going to mention Childish Gambino, right.

JOHNSON:  I did not tell you that.

MELBER:  I didn`t -- just real talk, I did not know you`re going to do that.  THE BEAT team is so on it that as you were making that comparison, we have now built live out of the control room side by side.  You`re right.  I mean, look, those are similar backgrounds.

JOHNSON:  Yes, it`s the same thing.  Yes, yes.  I just wanted to see Castro dance.

MELBER:  Castro is coming out of Iowa City, Iowa, always a good place for politics.  I don`t know at this hour where Gambino is coming from.

JOHNSON:  Right.

MELBER:  Jason Johnson, fascinating comparison.  We appreciate you.  I`ll see you again on THE BEAT, sir.

JOHNSON:  All right, thanks, Ari.

MELBER:  And one more piece of MSNBC housekeeping, everyone should know that Julian Castro will be on "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell at 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.  We recommend you always check out "THE LAST WORD" and definitely for that interview.

Now, up ahead, why is Trump gutting protections for endangered species, something Republicans used to champion?  We`ve seen gun control activism more is planned.  We`re going to get to that as well with Democrats uncorking a new push.



AMERICAN CROWD:  Do something!  Do something!  Do something!


MELBER:  Do something!  From the streets of Dayton, Ohio to now the U.S. Congress.  House Democrats demanding Senator McConnell do something on gun control.  They`re talking about a background check bill that passed six months ago.


REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD):  It takes no courage to put on the Senate floor a bill that is supported by 90 plus percent of Americans.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI):  They`ve got to act.  We`ve got to start to do something so our kids can start school and not look at me and say, are we safe?

REP. DON BEYER (D-VA):  The House has done its job to save these lives and now Mitch McConnell needs to do his.

HOYER:  What takes courage is to look a special interest group in the eye and say enough is enough.


MELBER:  This activism comes as we still learn details about these shootings.  Dayton Ohio Police now estimate that the killer shot 26 people in 32 seconds.  I just want to pause on that because think about that.  We`ve covered these things, we talked about them, were exhausted by them.  That is the fact of the technology of the weaponry, 26 people in those 32 seconds with this assault weapon.

Congressman Anthony Brown was an Army veteran also talked about the role of weapons today.


REP. ANTHONY BROWN (D-MD):  We make this nation safe and secure when we take weapons out of the hands -- particularly weapons of war out of the hands of people who have no business having those weapons.


MELBER:  And we`re happy to say on THE BEAT here, amidst this difficult topic, Congressman Brown has made time for us.  Thank you, sir.

BROWN:  Ari, it`s great to be on with you this afternoon.

MELBER:  Yes, sir.  You said "weapons of war."  Why is that important to you?

BROWN:  I think it`s important because when you look at the weapons that have been used recently in fact over the years in these mass shootings, they`re assault rifles and weapons with large-capacity magazines.  These are the very types of weapons that were issued to me when I went to Iraq, when my colleagues went to Afghanistan.

They were issued to us so that we could do a very important mission if called to do and that`s to kill people.  That`s what we do when we go to war.

MELBER:  Let`s reflect on that point.  You`re saying and you know a lot more about this than a lot of us.  You`re saying those weapons in their structure, in their weapon design technology are for killing others and not for defending yourself in a civilian context?

BROWN:  They are designed to inflict as much harm, and casualty, and death as is humanly possible.  That`s how we outfit the American soldier.  That`s not what we should --

MELBER:  Can I ask you another -- I want to ask you one more on this and then I`m going to -- you know, your time, sir, as they say, we`ll yield it back to you.  That`s what you guys say in the House floor, right?  I`ll yield it right back to you.  But just because I want to get this from you as a lawmaker and as a veteran, you`re saying there is not a lawful civilian context where someone would ever need to shoot and kill 26 people in 30 seconds in the United States.

BROWN:  Absolutely.  I think there`s no place on the streets of America or even in the homes of America where you need an AR-15 or something like that to defend yourself.  Look, we -- handguns, shotguns, no one`s talking about denying that to Americans.  We`re talking about these assault weapons, high-capacity magazines that have been used time and time again to inflict mass carnage in schoolhouses, in theaters, in nightclubs.  We have to take those off of the streets of America.

MELBER:  My final question is about whether this time is different.  And one indicator we`ve been covering on the show here is Senator McConnell now says he`s open to some of this stuff but of course as you know, he`s been fighting it, and he hasn`t put -- your Democratic bill hasn`t put a vote to it.

Now, the president claims he`s open to it.  Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have spoken to Mitch McConnell.  He is a good man.  He wants to do something.  He wants to do it I think very strongly.  He wants to do background checks and I do too.  And I think a lot of Republicans do.

There`s nobody more pro-second amendment than Donald Trump but I don`t want guns in the hands of a lunatic or a maniac.  And I think if we do proper background checks, we can prevent that.


MELBER:  So Congressman, my final question to you.  You know, part of my job is sometimes I have to ask questions that are so basic they might even sound -- make me sound a little stupid.  Are you ready?

BROWN:  I`m ready.

MELBER:  If Mitch McConnell wants to do it, why hasn`t he done it?

BROWN:  Well, obviously the NRA has got a stranglehold around his neck because as we`ve reported, 90 percent of Americans support universal background check.  There`s a bipartisan support in the House.  And I am certain that there are Republicans along with Democrats and independents in the Senate that will vote yes on that bill.

Mitch McConnell has to honor the Democratic process.  Bring the bill to the floor.  If there are differences, that`s OK.  We can hammer those out.  But he should be able to pass a clean bill for universal background checks that the house sent to him now 165 days ago.

MELBER:  You`ve been there, you`ve done it, you speak with clarity, and I think a lot of people are edging including in Ohio and other parts of country, edging towards OK, is it time to do it?  Congressman Brown, thank you so much for being on THE BEAT tonight.

BROWN:  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  Yes, sir.  I appreciate it.  We`re going to fit in a break, and then we turn to a whole different topic that we think is important around here.  Donald Trump now trying to undercut the very law led by a Republican back in the day that protects our endangered species and what`s really going on when we come back.


MELBER:  Here`s new Trump campaign gimmick that you could just dismiss as a kind of a joke, a dig at people who are concerned about the environment on a daily basis, but it`s actually linked to something much larger.

Donald Trump`s campaign is now selling Trump-branded plastic straws because they say "liberal paper straws don`t work."  OK, people do all kinds of things in politics.  But the Trump administration is also taking direct policy aim at America`s most important conservation law, so important you`ve definitely heard of it, the Endangered Species Act.

It has been credited by experts with saving from extinction the humpback whale, the grizzly bear, and panda bears.  Now, come on, who is against panda bears?  The Trump administration has released new guidelines that try to gut the way the law works basically making it easier to take a species off, yes, the Endangered Species Act list.  That`s kind of a key part of the Endangered Species Act.

Now, these rules make it harder to also deal with the threat of climate change when considering the protections for animals.  Think about polar bears or sea lions and over 1,600 other species that have been protected by the act at some point in time.

The rule change comes as the United Nations warns a million plant and animal species face the risk of extinction because of us, because of people even though as I mentioned many of us love animals.  Now, Donald Trump`s rollback would let mining and drilling companies proceed with projects that would otherwise be banned under the law.

And this is big.  For the first time regulators could be allowed to consider what they call the economic impacts, a.k.a. losing money before animals get listed for this protection.  And that falls in line with something else which is the goals of at least certain top Trump officials including the Interior Secretary who`s a former oil lobbyist and his department, yes, drafted these changes.

All of this adds to really a litany of Trump actions that we journalists have been tracking and environmentalists say clearly we can key protections.  You have to pull out from the Paris Climate Agreement, you have Obama era fuel efficiency standards that have been diluted, and a whole lot more.

Now, think about the politics of all this because it`s easy to look at this, and the straws, and the trolling, and say well, this is how it always is and that`s what happens when Republicans are in control of the White House.

Well, I`m actually here to tell you that talking point wasn`t always the case.  Remember, this Act was passed by a Republican President Nixon who argued a strong economy and clean environment can go together.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are those sometimes who say that the two are in conflict, that it is impossible to have a great productive society like America, the most industrialized nation in the world and a clean environment.  We can have both and we shall have both.


MELBER:  And we shall have both.  You know, you see any video Nixon and you remember Democrats these days are often comparing Trump to him on issues like obstruction of justice or what`s impeachable.  Well, here is a contrast to Nixon and it`s one many Democrats and environmentalists object to.  They want Donald Trump to be more Nixonian when it comes to protecting these animals.

And when we come back, I`ve got something you might want to see.  Late- night comedians absolutely roasting Donald Trump`s new conspiracy theory when we`re back.


MELBER:  Here on THE BEAT, you may know we don`t just repeat Donald Trump`s conspiracy theorists with no basis.  In fact, we`re very careful not even to mention the targets to launder his conspiracies.  But we will show you this tonight, some material he has given to late night comedians.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN:  This has set off a wild wave of conspiracy theories online, the sort of stuff that only unstable tin foil hat loons could possibly believe.  So Donald Trump --

TREVOR NOAH, COMEDIAN:  He`s basically the dad that when a fight breaks out in the little league game, he runs into the field, but instead of breaking it up, he starts body slamming the third graders.  Yes, take that, take that, take that!

SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: The president`s tweets are so insane the news can`t even show them now.  It`s gotten to the point where when he talks to reporters, they`re going to have to blur out his entire face.


MELBER:  Only a slight stretch, we don`t show some of those lying tweet.

That does it for THE BEAT.  "HARDBALL" starts now.