KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Katy. Thank you very much.
And thank you for watching at home.
We join you tonight as the world is reeling from a significant escalation in skirmishes between the U.S. and Iran, after President Trump ordered a covert strike killing a top Iranian military commander who was in Baghdad.
We have experts to report out what this all means and how to understand what comes next as Iran vows revenge.
Tonight, we will also bring you a report about Commander Qasem Soleimani, one of the most powerful leaders in the Middle East, with a hand in battles in several different countries who may not yet be a household name in America, although that could be changing. So we have all those facts for you.
Before we turn to the guests or the wider report, here are the details as we know them right now.
The president ordered last night`s airstrike as a deliberate escalation to months of wrangling between the U.S. and Iran, including new pressure by pro-Iranian protesters who tried to block the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Now, long before Trump took office, the U.S. has viewed Iran as an especially dangerous foe, a state sponsor of terror, an agitator in the region, from Iraq, to Syria, to Lebanon, to Israel, and a potentially looming nuclear threat.
Different administrations have tried different tacks, Obama offering famously this diplomatic deal, Trump bailing on it. And the Trump administration now has officials who say Soleimani was leading Iran`s active plans for new attacks targeting U.S. diplomats, military personnel and facilities that house Americans throughout the Middle East.
That`s what we`re hearing from the Trump administration.
This, of course, is not the first administration to warn of sometimes vague threats by an adversary, even a well-deserved adversary.
President Trump breaking his silence today about this strike by stating that those attacks were potentially imminent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel. But we caught him in the act and terminated him.
We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s a big claim. And, honestly, it`s a big question.
Journalists and citizens should always look for evidence when you get this kind of talk from politicians, from any politician, especially those trying to lead these kind of aggressive measures.
Tonight, the White House has failed to offer much evidence about these supposedly imminent attacks. Defense officials say they knew of only generalized threats, none that would appear, according to "New York Times" reporting, to be technically imminent.
Now, in Congress, both parties have been pretty critical of Iran and this general, but many in Congress are warning the strike, at least without a broader strategy or a clear off-ramp, could actually cause more damage than benefit for U.S. interests.
For its part, Iran is vowing revenge. Officials in the United States taking that seriously, the State Department urging all Americans to now leave Iraq immediately, while roughly 3,500 more U.S. soldiers are heading to the Middle East.
Many are wondering what comes next and how fast this can all change. A day ago, Americans were coming back from New Year`s break. Politicians headed back to Washington. And the big story undoubtedly was where the president`s trial, the Senate trial, where it was headed, when it would start.
Here we are one day later, America facing what many national security experts call the most fundamental policy shift in this dangerous Middle East region since the Iraq War itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Today, what experts are calling a watershed moment in the 40-year cold war between the U.S. and Iran`s regime.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The risk of doing nothing was enormous.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): I want to see, what was the intelligence behind this that led us to this decision that it was imminent?
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": This is nothing but a massive victory.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I do not believe the administration has gamed out how very badly this could go.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN: Soleimani is a bad guy. There`s no question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our strategy is going to put a lot of Americans at risk globally.
ZAKARIA: We appear to be, without, by the way -- I`d say without congressional authorization, entering into another Middle East war.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": I don`t know how much they have prepared for what the response is going to be, but we are about to see it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I want to welcome MSNBC`s Ayman Mohyeldin, years of experience, of course, as a foreign correspondent, including time on the ground in the Middle East, and who you may have seen across our programs today charting this story, talking to his sources, and Evelyn Farkas, a deputy assistant defense secretary in the Obama administration, former executive director of the WMD Commission, and running for Congress in New York.
Good evening to both of you at a serious time.
On the reporting, what do we know right now about where this is headed?
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: So, we are now getting the kind of initial reactions from the Iranian government and their posturing and their response to this.
And I will start with some of the official statements that have come out from the Quds Force. That is the force that Soleimani himself was heading. He has now been replaced by a new general who has come out.
Him and the supreme leader went to the family of Soleimani, paid their condolences at his house, and afterwards issued a very straightforward statement. They said, be patient. The bodies of Americans will be seen all over the Middle East, and then left it at that.
You now have statements from the Iranian foreign minister, a little bit more diplomatic, saying, the response that will come out of this is out of Iran`s control, suggesting perhaps that it`s Iran`s proxies in the region who will take matters into their own hands.
He said that they will take matters up in the international community, meaning legally, perhaps at the U.N., or try to pursue this legally, as one point. But he also left this open door about Iran now has a right to respond. It will respond wherever it wants to, whether it`s through its proxies or directly as a state actor.
MELBER: From your experience, then, in covering this region and what we hear, how are Americans to understand the facts of that rhetoric?
There`s plenty of rhetoric in life, in politics and diplomacy. But how serious is this? Do you look at this, as an observer, of, it`s a matter of if, not when, that there will be an attempt at a deadly attack? Or is it too early to tell because there`s so many other variables?
MOHYELDIN: So I have spoken to a lot of Arab sources today, diplomats here in the U.S., as well as those in the region. Every single one has told me they`re expecting an Iranian response.
So, as an observer, I would say their assessment of how Iran`s behavior has been over the last several years is that Iran would not let something like this be carried out without a response.
Keep in mind, we`re kind of asking ourselves today, are we at war with Iran, are we going to war with Iran, we avoided a war with Iran?
Iranians born from 1979 onwards have been at war with the United States for 40 years. This is not a new campaign for them. They have been under economic sanctions. They have been starved. They have had airliners bombed. They have had all kinds of problems directly as a result of American confrontation in the region. They see themselves at a war either directly or through their proxies.
So, as an observer, I would say the likelihood of Iran responding is definitely. I would not be so quick to say that the response is going to happen today or tomorrow. They play a long game. They don`t play checkers, as someone said to me. They play chess. And so for them, they`re thinking steps several moves ahead of what we`re planning right now.
EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
I mean, if you look back in the past, when we did things like bomb Libya, it took a while before Pan Am 103 was hit. And I think we need to really understand -- I know you`re going to talk about who the general is. But the reality is that this is somebody who was very high up in their system.
He was a government figure. It`s not like taking out some non-state actor. And so Iran as a state is going to have to act.
And what`s terribly tragic about all this, I`m not upset about the death of Soleimani, by any stretch of the imagination. He was an evil man. However, we did not -- I see no evidence that we thought through the strategy.
FARKAS: And it`s making things more dangerous for Americans around the world. It`s making things more dangerous in Syria for our allies. It`s certainly making things more dangerous for Israel.
So it`s not -- it`s something that was reckless. It was a one-off. We have seen this with the president before, when he took the strikes in Syria, which I actually supported in April of last year, because of the chemical -- use of chemical weapons. There also wasn`t a follow-on strategy with diplomacy or anything else.
And we see that he did this without informing Congress, without informing the allies. It`s pretty shocking. Again, now, today, we are at greater danger as Americans here and worldwide because of the policy, the Trump administration policy towards Iran.
When we left the Obama administration, which I was part of, we had a deal in place. Was it perfect? No. But were we at the precipice of war with Iran? No. I mean, now we have a situation where not only are we facing imminent military action, but the nuclear program, believe you me, that`s going to be rapidly unsealed, to the extent that it`s still under lock and key, if you will.
MELBER: Secretary Pompeo says it was not only that this general and this regime was so bad, but, rather, this was effectively preemptive. We have heard that before. But this was a kind of way to deal with imminent risk and threat.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POMPEO: There was an imminent attack. The orchestrator, the primary motivator for the attack was Qasem Soleimani. He`s got hundreds of American lives` blood on his hands.
But what was sitting before us was his travels throughout the region, his efforts to make a significant strike against Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Are you in a position to say whether that`s true?
FARKAS: No. But I would like to hear from the intelligence community. Let`s bring the heads of intelligence before Congress, where they`re sworn to tell the truth, and hear from them. Have them tell the American people, because, unfortunately, this administration doesn`t have credibility when it comes to these kinds of statements.
And Secretary Pompeo himself very recently has been caught leaving out truth when it comes to Ukraine. So...
MOHYELDIN: And I was just going to add to that point.
I mean, we can take the State Department statement that came out later today, which essentially was a blanket statement from an unnamed source at the State Department speaking on condition of anonymity, saying, the threat was imminent against American targets in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, against housing facilities that housed Americans in Iraq, diplomatic posts.
And at the end of the day, you have pretty much had this blanket general statement, which doesn`t meet the legal threshold of international law of an imminent attack.
I mean, the U.N. special rapporteur on this said that this definition by the Americans of a blanket imminent attack does not meet the justification for violating Iraqi sovereignty and for killing a state actor by a drone strike that not only violates bilateral agreements that they have with Iraq, but, more importantly, just doesn`t meet the threshold of, well, what are you actually averting by the killing of this person?
And now they`re walking it back by trying to say, oh, there was definitely an imminent threat. It`s a blanket statement across the entire Middle East. And that`s just not -- I mean, I don`t see any evidence or fact based on that.
MELBER: Well, do you think, in this situation, we are likely to find out in reasonably recent, real time, whether this is something that the president pushed onto the policy process or whether it served this up as a reasonable option for him?
FARKAS: That`s a really good question, Ari.
The way this administration has operated, the way people target one another in this administration, my sense is that we will find out soon. And if the intelligence community feels that they were somehow used or abused in the process, we will find out soon.
Both of you, stay with me.
As promised, we wanted to do this in pieces. So let me explain now.
The U.S. has long battled with Qasem Soleimani, whose reach went beyond Iran. U.S. military and intelligence officials viewed him as a military and a strategic leader, a potential future leader of the entire country of Iran and -- quote -- "arguably the most powerful and unconstrained actor in the Middle East."
That`s according to General McChrystal, who, of course, oversaw U.S. Special Forces in the same region.
Soleimani helped direct attacks on U.S. troops during the Iraq War, hundreds of Americans` deaths there. He brought in militia fighters to prop up the Assad regime during Syria`s serious civil war. And he also orchestrated the Hezbollah campaign that helped lead to Israel`s withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, and also maneuvered Iran into kind of a strange bedfellows alliance in confronting ISIS, the infamous terrorist group, which was ideologically opposed to Iran.
Soleimani was personally designated as a terrorist by the Obama administration in 2011, although he also serves in the government. As we have explained, there is that complexity. U.S. troops also had him in their sights back in 2007, according to reporting, but they did not order an airstrike at the time, given the potential risks and fallout.
That is a little bit more.
I want to bring the panel back on just zeroing in on this individual.
There is a tradition in modern, recent, at least post-9/11 American policy across parties that, if you get any of the bad terrorists on the loose, it`s an unmitigated celebration. This is different, even though he supports terror, according to many experts. Why?
FARKAS: Because taking him out actually created a bigger problem for us.
If you take out a head of one terrorist movement, what you`re trying to do is decapitate to cause confusion. You know that that person will be replaced. But, because it`s not a state actor, because it`s not a government, you can fight it that way, and they will not strike back. They cannot strike back at the United States with the same brute force.
Iran is the state. They can -- yes, they can use diplomacy at the U.N., which is also bad, but they have a lot of proxies. They have their own military, which is quite strong. They have nuclear weapons that they`re building. This is not a laughing matter.
And we have U.S. forces in the region. We have just put them in greater danger.
And, by the way, that the thing that irks me the most about what you talked about with Secretary Pompeo was, he said, we took out an imminent danger, and then, right after that, said that American citizens should be evacuated from the embassies in the region. And there are still some working in Iraq.
Of course, sometimes we do keep them there even in extremis, but the point being that, if suddenly, we have made everything safer, why do we have to evacuate after the fact?
And I understand, OK, the safety won`t come right away, but I don`t see a strategy in place. Again, the fact that our allies are quiet or critical, depending on who you speak to, tells me that this was not well-thought-out.
And even President Trump, for all of his hugging verbally of Vladimir Putin, didn`t coordinate this with Vladimir Putin. And Vladimir Putin also, of course -- Iran is his ally, but he has an understanding of the region and the repercussions.
The Russians, as much as they want us weak, I don`t think they want to see an all-out war between the United States and Iran.
MELBER: Well, and that`s the question, the administration citing the idea that there is deterrent power, given the escalating skirmishes, in doing -- quote, unquote -- "something."
But if that`s something is seen, rightly or wrongly, but widely in the Middle East, as an attack on a government, as a warlike posture, then are you making potential war more likely? How do you measure that? I have no idea. I`m just asking the questions.
What I want to do is fit in a break.
Thanks to Evelyn Farkas for being part of our expert analysis.
Ayman will have extended coverage, we should mention, of all these developments starting at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow. And I`m going to bring him back in our coverage tonight on THE BEAT as well.
After the break, I`m going to speak to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson about the warnings that Trump was trying to recycle, potentially an Iraq playbook, and what to do about it.
Plus, the other crisis for America. There is still a looming Senate trial. And the people you see on your screen, both leaders in the Senate, coming out with new statements today. We`re going to brief you on everything that they are saying about putting the president on trial.
And, tonight, as promised, we have a live interview with presidential candidate Andrew Yang. That`s later in the hour. He`s been quite critical already of the president`s moves on Iran.
I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: We`re back covering the unfolding crisis in the Middle East following the president`s order launching the airstrike to kill Iran`s top general.
"New York Times" correspondent David Sanger writing that Trump`s action "turns a slow-simmering conflict with Tehran into a boiling one, perhaps the riskiest move made by the U.S. in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003."
For more context, we go to Retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, a 31-year veteran of the U.S. Army.
We should note, nearly a year ago, he wrote a piece repenting in his role regarding the Iraq War and saying Donald Trump was using the -- quote -- "same playbook, creating a false impression that war is the only way to address the Iran threat."
Good evening to you.
What do we need to know about the state of escalation here on this policy now?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT CHIEF OF STAFF: I wouldn`t be quite as dramatic as that you quoted. But I would say that this is a dramatic escalation in this tit for tat.
What al-Sistani, a friend of ours in 2004 in 2005, as the moderate Shia cleric, what al-Sistani called settling scores on the territory of his country, that`s precisely what we`re doing.
But here`s the dramatic strategic result of this that could happen. Not just war. That`s definitely a strategic outcome that could happen. But what is going to happen is, the Iranians are going to back away completely from any adherence to the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement.
They might even be talking after their period of grief they declared, two to three days, they might even be talking about abandoning the nonproliferation treaty and all that`s associated with that.
We`re talking about a mirror image of what has already happened on the Korean Peninsula. We`re talking about Iran making a decision and going to a nuclear weapon. If that remains an unacceptable outcome for the United States, then we definitely will have a war, a big war, a war like we had in Iraq, and that will be catastrophic.
MELBER: What is the counterargument to that concern, as you lay it out, that those things are more likely because of this action?
What`s the counterargument to that, when a lot of the defenders of this say, look, you have an administration that, like other Republican administrations that might be, say, less chaotic than Trump`s, would not want to go along with the Iran deal, didn`t think in the long run it would work, view this as a state terror sponsor, and that the lack of diplomatic breakthrough was baked into the situation?
WILKERSON: I think you would have to take the line there that if you had an administration that felt that way and was thinking sanely, strategically and sanely, you have to have a replacement.
And that replacement is another agreement. And that other agreement takes into consideration all the ramifications of Iran`s destabilizing behavior, whether it`s ballistic missiles, terrorists or what.
And you have to be willing to sit down. You have to send Bill Burns to Oman. You have to have secret talks. You have to open a wider array, a wider arena of negotiations. Otherwise, your only alternative is war, if you have said your ultimate position is Iran having a nuclear weapon is an unacceptable situation.
It means Saudi Arabia will have a nuclear weapon. It means proliferation in that region of the world, already a very dangerous region of the world. It means Pakistan will probably pick up 30 or 40 and give them to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia right off the bat.
So this is a much, much more dangerous situation than people are giving it credit for, especially those people who think that we can declare a state entity and one of the institutions in that state entity, its National Guard, if you will, its militia commander, a terrorist organization, and then take action to kill the leaders of that organization.
This is unprecedented. This hasn`t been -- as far as I know, it hasn`t been done since 1648, when the state system was initially set up. No state has ever declared the entity, the institution of another state a terrorist entity and, under the law, therefore pursuable with military action at any time at that state`s discretion.
WILKERSON: It`s just nonsense.
MELBER: Look, you know the issues better than I do.
I suppose there`s someone that would argue, in the Nixon administration and some other prior U.S. administrations, you had what verged on off-the-books assassination policies, which -- but that is that sort of the last thing I want to ask you about.
Does this look to you like something that opens the U.S. to more retaliatory measures that target U.S. government, U.S. senior officials, if that`s what the U.S. just did?
WILKERSON: Well, this is why Eisenhower and others who contemplated taking out foreign leaders through covert operations did just that, covert operations, and then disavowed them when they became public.
We have made it incredibly more dangerous now for every tourist, every businessman, every diplomat, certainly, and certainly every soldier, sailor, airmen, and Marine deployed overseas. We have made it 10 times more difficult for those people to remain secure.
And we did it with the fecklessness of going at hole number one and striking a golf ball. That`s what really alarms me about this, because I don`t think the president wants a war. You notice what he said in his statement.
His most powerful sentence was, this was not to start a war or cause of war. This was to stop a war, because someone has told him in his entourage, someone has told him, this is very dangerous. This was a dramatic escalation.
MELBER: Right, particularly if you don`t have a plan for an off-ramp or a limiting principle.
MELBER: Colonel Wilkerson, thank you so much.
MELBER: When we come back, we get into the other piece of this, the combination, the collision of this politics abroad, the geopolitics, and the looming impeachment of Donald Trump.
And we`re back in 30 seconds.
MELBER: By all accounts, were facing a potential international crisis right here at the beginning of the year, as, of course, the Senate is still trying to figure out how to put the president on trial, the Trump administration planning for what happens next with Iran.
And, at the same time, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer still went out and did their normal business on the Senate floor, along with a pretty unusual clash on both the airstrike and the trial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): No man alive was more directly responsible for the deaths of more American service members than Qasem Soleimani.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The lack of advanced consultation and transparency with Congress can lead to hasty and ill-considered decisions.
MCCONNELL: The operation that led to Soleimani`s death may prove controversial or divisive.
SCHUMER: The president does not have the authority for a war with Iran.
MCCONNELL: We also anticipate that another totally different, very serious item will be heading the Senate` way soon.
SCHUMER: Will we fulfill our duty to conduct a fair impeachment trial of the president of the United States, or will we not?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: There you have it. That`s happening right alongside this crisis, no resolution on any trial timeline, and no details on what Donald Trump is actually going to do next after this escalation with Iran.
So you have the battle over the fair, impartial trial, and some today suggesting it`s not a coincidence this is all happening.
Consider Ralph Nader, a liberal critic, arguing -- quote -- "Bloody Donald opens his 2020 reelection campaign with a `wag the dog` act of war," a phrase taken from a famous movie that imagines a president trying to distract away from a domestic scandal by using military powers.
If that sounds like just the fringes, consider what Donald Trump himself said right before Barack Obama`s reelection: "In order to get elected, he will start a war with Iran," discussing Obama`s -- quote -- "desperation" to launch a strike.
And then there was this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Our president will start a war with Iran, because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He`s weak and he`s ineffective. So the only way he figures that he`s going to get reelected, and, as sure as you are sitting there, is to start a war with Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I`m joined now by former Obama diplomat and journalist Richard Stengel.
Nice to see you, sir.
RICHARD STENGEL, FORMER U.S. UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Good to see you, Ari.
MELBER: When you look at this situation, before you even decide whether the idea that Donald Trump accuses of others may also exist in his own mind, I don`t know, what does it mean to have this tension between the foreign policy powers and the president awaiting trial?
STENGEL: Well, it`s really kind of extraordinary, I mean, in the sense that second charge of the House in the impeachment trial is obstruction of Congress. And you heard Chuck Schumer saying that the president didn`t consult with Congress or the Gang of Eight about this.
I mean, it`s another example of obstruction of Congress.
If I can say one thing, as a former diplomat, Ari -- and I listened to all your...
MELBER: You`re a diplomat. You will probably say more than one thing.
STENGEL: Yes. Well, I will try to keep it to one thing.
So I agree with all of the wonderful observations of your guests. But one thing that people are not talking about is why this is so inflammatory, why it could be a prelude to war, is because the reaction is not proportionate.
In diplomacy, countries can do something to each other where it`s kind of equal. But to take out someone in the Iran hierarchy, the kind of lifetime secretary of defense, for whether it was the attack on the U.S. Embassy, whether it was the killing of the contractor, is massively disproportionate.
And Americans might say, yes, we`re killing the guy who killed a lot of Americans. That is true. But it takes two to tango. The way the Iranians perceive it is an act of war against someone who is central to their government.
That`s -- there`s no other way to see it.
MELBER: Well, what you`re saying that`s so ominous, and I want to be careful, because we`re not beating the drums of anything here -- we`re just trying to understand it.
But what you`re saying is, according to your proper understanding of the situation in Iran, an act that is seen as this extremely escalating boxes in the leadership of the government, they have to do something big.
Remember, there have been protests in Iran recently, which we support. We want people to protest against the government. But now the government has to react to this. They have to show that they`re strong. I mean, now they have to do something that is proportionate to the disproportionate thing that we did.
MELBER: You mentioned the Gang of Eight. And viewers understand, especially given all the international intrigue we have had lately, that not all members of Congress are equal, that you don`t have to go tell the whole the whole body everything.
But the Gang of Eight is this formal group in our co-equal system of government that have the security clearance that get the intelligence.
MELBER: Let`s take a listen here to some of the discussion, not only of that, but also the idea that, if he`s cutting out the Gang of Eight even from the very basic notification, and we are headed towards war, is this a president who will court a separate crisis in, as you put it, obstructing Congress and not working with them on any potential debate before you go to war?
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): We should only go to war with Iran if there`s a congressional vote, pursuant to the Constitution, saying that we need to be at war.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): I think, without a declaration of war, without Congress and the American people behind it, what you get is a messy mission.
You get a mission of escalating, intermittent violence, but it really has no purpose or plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STENGEL: Yes, I mean, Congress should be flexing their muscle here.
I mean, this whole administration should be an incentive for Congress to flex their muscle. That being said, we haven`t had a proper declaration of war since World War II. It didn`t happen in Vietnam. It didn`t happen in the Korean War.
MELBER: Well, the authorization of force.
STENGEL: But an authorization of force is something different.
I do think that when somebody does something this reckless, to have the Gang of Eight be involved, someone could say, look, Mr. Trump, have you thought this through? Do you know the consequences of what`s going to happen?
And that`s what these consultations are for. That is a benefit. And he doesn`t even trust these folks enough to do something like that.
MELBER: Rick Stengel, great context, and we rely on you on so many stories. Thank you so much.
STENGEL: Thank you, sir.
MELBER: Next: There he is, presidential candidate Andrew Yang back on THE BEAT with, of course, some supporters right behind him. I believe that`s called the Yang Gang.
We will see him on the other side of this break.
MELBER: We`re joined now by Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, a former tech entrepreneur, campaigning live from Iowa.
We are 31 days now from those caucuses. And he`s also making headlines this week with the fund-raising haul.
Take a look at how Tulsi Gabbard, Cory Booker, members of Congress running for president have brought in less than $10 million here in the last quarter, while Yang raising over $16 million, the same ballpark, many say, with candidates like Warren, Biden and Buttigieg.
He`s also making news today, taking on the president`s strike on Iran, saying: "It highlights the need to get Trump out of office. We need better decision-making in the White house that does not escalate violence."
Welcome back, Andrew Yang, on THE BEAT. How you doing?
ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m doing great. Thanks for having me, Ari. Happy New Year.
MELBER: Happy new year to you. And happy new year to the folks I see behind you, a campaign tradition.
But we, of course, begin with a very serious foreign policy standoff.
You are critical of what the president did. What would you, as president, do different?
YANG: Well, I never would have pulled out of the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran that ended up causing all of these provocations that have now been escalating, to a point where we`re at the brink of war.
We need to head the opposite direction. The vast majority of Americans want nothing to do with a war in Iran. And I would lead us back from the brink and reinvest in diplomacy to try and get tensions under control in the region.
MELBER: What if that doesn`t work? What if, as the folks in this administration say, and, frankly, as many in the last administration said, although they did ultimately reach a kind of deal, that Iran does sponsor terror, that it does sow discord in the region, and it does work against U.S. interests, and that, if that doesn`t work, then what?
YANG: Well, we have had a series of escalating provocations. We need to keep them in line, where, if Iran does something problematic, we need to let them know that that`s not something we will accept.
But you don`t do something that`s going to precipitate a larger-scale armed conflict.
We have been in a constant state of warfare for the last 19 years, Ari. And that`s not the will of the American people. That`s not the way it was drawn up in the Constitution. It`s an act of Congress to declare war.
That`s where we need to head back as a country. I would repeal the AUMF and restore Congress` historical power to make these kinds of military decisions.
MELBER: You`re talking about repealing the authorization that was used leading into Afghanistan and that some say they could have tried to apply elsewhere.
Because I want to hit a range of topics with you, you`re out in Iowa. What`s the biggest issue you hear voters care about there?
YANG: Well, here in Iowa, they care about the fact that 30 percent of their stores and malls are closing forever. Their kids` future looks more insecure than ever before.
We need to rewrite the rules of the 21st century economy to work for us, to work for our families, to work for the next generation.
And my message to people here in Iowa is that, if it`s not working for you, it`s not working, and we have to change it. That`s one reason why we`re growing and growing, when other campaigns are pulling back.
MELBER: Does that mean -- when you say change it, does that mean change the way the economy works, change the rules, change the system? Or does that also mean change what people are doing to get in and out of the job market?
Because one of your competitors, Joe Biden, was talking about that balance. I will just play it for you. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anybody who could go down 300 to 3,000 feet in a mine sure in hell can learn how to program as well.
Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God`s sake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Does he have that right?
YANG: He does not.
I get along with Joe very well, but suggesting that former coal miners learn to code is not productive at all. And it doesn`t line up with the reality that we all experience.
The fact is that coding is like learning a foreign language that you have to become expert in. And that`s not a realistic recommendation for millions of Americans.
Instead, we have to stop confusing economic value and human value, and put a dividend in place where we can all share in the incredible gains of the 21st century economy. That goes for the miners that Joe is referencing. That goes for the manufacturing workers here in Iowa. That goes for all of us.
That`s the centerpiece of my campaign. And that`s, again, why we`re growing and poised to make history next month.
MELBER: Does that mean that you think, basically, Vice President Biden doesn`t understand much of the way the economy works now and technology, that he said that because he thinks it sounds good, and you`re saying that it`s a fundamental misunderstanding, that coding is a language that basically is more likely to be pursued in earlier education?
YANG: Well, one of the things I have said, Ari, is that someone who suggests that coal miners become coders is generally neither of those things.
YANG: If you look at the numbers, 8 percent of Americans work in STEM fields; 92 percent do not. It is not realistic to say to 92 percent of Americans to somehow shoehorn themselves into the 8 percent.
We have to think much, much bigger about what the jobs of the future look like, not based upon a narrow conception of market value, but instead what our actual needs and desires and values are in our communities.
MELBER: And you hit on this interview, and we mentioned it, you have raised a lot more than other people who started out politically potentially ahead, in that they had run for office before, that they`re known.
I think some of our viewers might know some of these senators or these other folks to the left have you in this chart more than you.
What exactly are you saying your $16 million shows here? And does that mean, in your mind, there`s no way you would have to drop out in the first several states, no matter what happens? Are you in this to the convention? What does it mean tangibly?
YANG: We are going to have the resources to fight all the way through the spring, all through the primary season.
And we`re growing because we have had a very clear vision from day one. We see the real problems that got Donald Trump elected, the fact that we blasted away millions of manufacturing jobs in the swing states, and now we`re doing the same thing to millions of retail jobs, call center jobs, fast-food jobs, eventually truck driving jobs.
And we have real solutions that will help move the country forward. So this is why the $16.5 Well, is just the beginning for our campaign.
YANG: We`re going to grow and grow. And we`re going to peak right when the voting starts.
MELBER: And you know what the last question is, Andrew. You have been on this show before. You know we throw some curveballs in here, right?
MELBER: What is your New Year`s resolution, sir?
YANG: My New Year`s resolution is to become president-elect of the United States of America.
MELBER: We already knew that about you.
Do you have any other New Year`s resolutions that an actual normal human would have?
YANG: The other thing is to cut down on all of the snacks in the car, because I get in there, and my team`s really good. They have munchies there. And I have been indulging a little bit too much, Ari.
MELBER: What`s your favorite snack?
And I have worked out in Iowa. I even worked out in the Iowa caucus, if you go back far enough. There is great fried items, the crab rangoon and the fried...
MELBER: Do you have a favorite fried Iowa food yet?
YANG: I love the turkey legs here in Iowa. Like, the pork products are delicious. But it`s not like those are waiting for me in the car.
When I get in the car, it`s KIND bars, SkinnyPop, barkTHINS.
MELBER: KIND bars.
YANG: But I have been indulging a little bit too much.
MELBER: The KIND bar is just a fancy Snickers. But we could get into that debate some other time.
MELBER: We covered a lot of the serious policy, some of where your campaign is headed, and some of the lighter stuff, as we try to do around here.
I really appreciate your time, making time on the campaign trail, Andrew.
YANG: Thank you, Ari. We will see you soon in the new year. We`re going all the way.
MELBER: OK. Yes, sir.
Andrew Yang, thank you very much.
Coming up, we have an update on some of the other aspects of the airstrike killing Iran`s top general and a note of caution from an American commander who actually led U.S. forces in Iraq.
MELBER: The Iran crisis has many looking for what different experts are saying.
We want to bring you a note of caution that`s interesting, coming from a potential hawk, after this airstrike killing Iran`s general, David Petraeus, who, of course, led the U.S. forces in Iraq for years. This was when Qasem Soleimani was organizing attacks which killed hundreds of American troops, including those serving under Petraeus.
So, take a look at his measured statement new to "The New York Times."
Quote: "There will be an escalation. I assume the Iranians have to do something. And the only question is, over time, have we created more deterrence than if we had not acted?"
It is, to say the very least, not a full endorsement of the Trump move.
Now, when we come back, we`re doing something a little different. I`m going to bring Ayman Mohyeldin back. And we have something very special to round out the week.
Stay with me.
MELBER: It`s hard to believe it, but we are just three days into the new year, 2020, as the president waits to go on trial, literally, and the world reels from this airstrike that is, of course, upending the Middle East.
So we`re going to dig into some of that right now, as well as some wider topics on, yes, our first "Fallback Friday" of 2020.
The new year has a tradition in hip-hop, a year in review by the man you see here, Uncle Murda, a Brooklyn rapper who`s worked with Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey and more.
His new "Rap Up" tackles the top moments in 2019, from politics to culture to music, and some disses and some fallbacks, I think, along the way.
I should mention also the new album coming out, "Don`t Come Outside Vol 2." That actually drops next week.
And also dropping some science, MSNBC anchor Ayman Mohyeldin. He`s one of the first Western journalist who covered the trial of Saddam Hussein. He knows his way, of course, around this big story in the Middle East and is host of "MORNING JOE FIRST LOOK" right here on MSNBC.
Nice to see both of you.
MOHYELDIN: Nice to be here.
UNCLE MURDA, MUSICIAN: Yes, same. Yes, same. Great to be here.
MELBER: You handled the end of the year.
UNCLE MURDA: Yes.
MELBER: For those that know, this is a hip-hop tradition. For those that don`t, well, they`re going to know right now.
UNCLE MURDA: Definitely.
MELBER: I want to get into the politics.
UNCLE MURDA: Let`s go.
MELBER: This is this is from your new year-in-review song.
You say, Trump getting impeached made America great again. If the Senate don`t approve it, the impeachment irrelevant. And Trump`s racist expletive, he`s still going to be the president.
What are you getting at there?
UNCLE MURDA: I just feel like that was his slogan, make America great again.
So I felt like him actually getting impeached is a step to making America great again. And more so, we know that, if the Senate don`t approve it, the impeachment is irrelevant. And then we still got to deal with this guy being the president, which we can see like things he done done just in the last couple of days.
When he feel like the press is against him, he make rash decisions.
MELBER: You sound like a lot of the pundits and the experts we talk to, who say, OK, impeachment happened, but if the Senate doesn`t do it, or, as some critics put it, if the Republican fix is in, what was the point?
UNCLE MURDA: Exactly.
So, I just feel like Trump is just using this to just try to just stray away the attention from what`s really going on in his impeachment.
MELBER: Let me read another one, because you -- these are what they call sometimes shots fired.
UNCLE MURDA: Yes, definitely. Oh, definitely shots fired, yes.
MELBER: Now, this is about a friend of Trump, Kanye West, who upset a lot of people this year.
You say in the new song, Kanye promoted God because his new album coming out, but he in it really for just the bankroll. He didn`t even write that famous Jesus Walks record. Ask J., J. Cole.
And then you go on to say, Gucci did some racist expletive. We wasn`t feeling it. Stop rocking it for a couple months. Now we back wearing it.
Who are you calling out here?
UNCLE MURDA: Sometimes, the hip-hop community could be a little 50/50.
I feel like we was against Gucci for a couple of months. Then they quieted down. Then everybody just kind of went back to wearing Gucci, like we kind of forgot the whole blackface thing that they did.
And -- but Kanye, I just felt like he is seeing that people was getting tired of his politics and certain things he was doing, so I think he tried to go the God route to like, look, I changed. I`m with God now. Support me again.
And I just thought that was kind of corny. So that`s why I called it out in the Rap Up.
MELBER: Well, and wasn`t it Pusha T who said, I believe there`s a God above me, I`m just the God of everything else?
MOHYELDIN: That`s pretty powerful. But I`m not going to weigh in on that one, Ari.
MOHYELDIN: Let me just say, in the Middle East, whenever you crack jokes about God, it doesn`t end well. So, I`m going to -- that`s one of the nice things about...
MELBER: Now, hold on. I wasn`t joking about the lord. I was just quoting from...
MOHYELDIN: No, I know. I`m just saying, any time -- in the Middle East -- I`m just saying, politics and religion, even in culture...
MOHYELDIN: ... you got to try -- you respect those boundaries.
MELBER: That`s fair.
We have got to get into something that happened so late in the year, it didn`t fully make your end-of-the-year write-up, which is Drake, who`s, of course, a singer and actor and a rapper, artist of the decade, according to streams, 28 billion streams. He did this new interview.
We put together a few of the key moments from the new interview. Let`s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DRAKE, MUSICIAN: I pulled my way when it came to my pen. I mean, I guess I just make music for like dusty guys.
The pitch was far-fetched. Like, OK, so you`re telling me this Canadian Jew child actor is going to be what? Is going to be like someone that we say is in our top five, top 10, whatever?
It`s like it was a hard sell.
Can you tell the chef to make me another glass of wine, please, because I`m parched? I don`t know if you guys went to the toilet yet. But the toilet plays Pac.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did. I did pee.
DRAKE: Yes, I know. Yes. Yes. It`s just like just curating the space. But it`s...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So this is my fallback. Shout out to Drake.
I think Drake needs to fall back a little bit when he`s being extra. But I have a double fallback. I think the Drake critics need to fall back from never being able to hear anything he does, just holding the success against him.
Where do you come down?
UNCLE MURDA: I`m actually a big fan of Drake. And I`m working on trying to get a record with Drake this year. So I don`t want to get him mad.
So I just want to say, I`m team Drake and I`m with Drake.
MELBER: Hey, at least he`s honest.
MOHYELDIN: That sounds like a quid pro quo to me.
MELBER: Ayman, we`re not going to make you get into all this.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. Please don`t.
MELBER: I`m going to ask you, what`s your fallback?
MOHYELDIN: All right, so, I don`t like to call out other journalists.
But today`s "Fallback" Friday for me is definitely "The Boston Globe," because I`m going to put this up right here on the screen.
Pretty monumental day in world affairs. Lots going on around the world, possibly on the brink of war.
MELBER: Yes. And you got what? You got....
MOHYELDIN: But you got "The Boston Globe" here putting up "Just a home game for Brady or the end of the road?"
I mean, I get it. It`s like -- I know it`s like -- it`s a New England Patriots game. It`s like the NFL playoffs, but the world is on the brink. Uncharted territory. And it`s not -- it`s not on -- it`s not even below the fold, Ari. There`s nothing on the bottom part.
And, listen, when "The New York Post," the tabloid magazine...
When the tabloids are covering international affairs...
MOHYELDIN: Every single paper has got a mention of something to do with the Iraq...
MELBER: Look at Ayman bringing receipts.
MOHYELDIN: Like I said, I don`t -- I have a lot of respect for American journalists and American journalism.
MOHYELDIN: I don`t like to call them out, but I think "The Boston Globe" missed this one completely.
I don`t know if this was a late post, so they weren`t able to get the Qasem Soleimani in before publishing, but there`s just no excuse.
If "The New York Times," "The Washington Post" the "USA Today," "The New York Post" can do it, just...
UNCLE MURDA: ... "The Boston Globe" in the Rap Up for you. I got you.
MELBER: And, Uncle Murda, I heard, though -- I heard, when Tom Brady cheats, when Tom Brady cheats, it doesn`t go in "The Globe" at all.
UNCLE MURDA: Yes, it don`t. They biased.
MELBER: We`re out of time.
Thank you, Ayman, for putting up with us.
Uncle Murda, thanks for coming through. I hope you do it every year.
UNCLE MURDA: Thank you. Yes.
MELBER: That`s THE BEAT.
HARDBALL starts now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END