Senate acquits Trump TRANSCRIPT: 2/5/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Jeff Merkley, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Andrew Smith, Mark Thompson, David Frum, Annie Kuster


Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. Chuck. Thank you so much.

And thanks to you at home for joining us on this edition of THE BEAT, our first full show, really, in weeks.

And you join us on a historic night, the Senate concluding the impeachment process with a verdict, 52 senators voting to allow President Trump to keep his job.

But in another new development, one of the votes to convict Donald Trump late today was bipartisan. And it`s the first time ever in American history a senator in the president`s own party votes to convict him, a rebuke that Presidents Clinton and Johnson never received from their own party.

So we have that story for you tonight, that history, along with new numbers from Iowa, and some special guests on the ground and New Hampshire.

Plus, later, Jelani Cobb is here on accountability for Donald Trump seizing the power to confer -- confer, I should say, civilian honors on Rush Limbaugh.

But our top story right now is this resolution of Donald Trump`s impeachment. Tonight, everyone can now see how it is ending. After that Mueller investigation, after the Ukraine scandal broke, after the House`s exhaustive probe and the Senate`s decision really not to probe it all, it ended like this: many senators finding Trump guilty, including one Republican, but the number still far short of the supermajority required to remove a president in our Constitution.

Let me tell you the facts. You might remember where you were on this night, when this all finally happened.

On abuse of power, the first article, the vote 52 to 48. On obstruction of Congress, the second article, a party-line vote, 53 to 47.

Now, under the Constitution, that means the Senate has found this president not guilty on both articles. That`s good news for Trump. It also came, though, with bad news that Trump`s allies had fought hard to avoid, as Mitt Romney, the last Republican presidential nominee before Trump, agreed with other Republicans who said Trump did it, and went further than them to find that what he did was an egregious high crime.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The grave question the Constitution tasked senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor.

Yes, he did.

The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.

What he did was not perfect. No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values.


MELBER: Now, that guilty verdict from Senator Romney shatters the White House`s attempt to cast this as a purely partisan split today, and makes history.

Unlike the presidents who have gone on trial, who, as I mentioned, no member of their party voted to convict, Donald Trump makes history with this rebuke from his own side, and which comes as other Republicans went out of their way to want to announce that Democrats proved the allegations against him.


SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): The question for me was, do I need more evidence to conclude that the president did what he did? And I concluded, no.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): It was wrong for President Trump to mention former Vice President Biden on that phone call.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): The president`s behavior was shameful and wrong.

ALEXANDER: I think he shouldn`t have done it. I think it was wrong.


MELBER: Wrong. Shouldn`t have done it.

Now, those are things you only say if he did it. And that`s why I want to tell you, it shows why all of this matters tonight, why facts matter, and why this investigation and this process has mattered, even if it was also incomplete and, at times, yes, maddening.

But look at the words of these senators, proven, inappropriate, wrong, shameful. That`s bipartisan. They are admitting it happened.

And that`s miles away from where the Republican Party was when Speaker Pelosi launched this probe just a few months ago, as the force of the House pressure also, of course, got evidence out, got those call notes released, and even got some witnesses talking.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Committees, the American people have heard the testimony of truly patriotic career...

GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Was there a quid pro quo? The answer is, yes.


MELBER: There was quid pro quo extortion.

There was a plot to shake down election help. And the Trump allies and lawyers who argued that the best defense was just denial, remember, we can see now they lost the room. They lost most senators.

Now, the lawyers who argued that the best defense was basically admit it and then debate the law, it`s that radical argument that this president should just get away with it, well, they did hold most of the Republican Party.

And now the public, you, now you know that. And, tonight, that`s useful information, because Senate Republicans didn`t sign on to some abstract defense of the presidency or say, you know what, somebody made a tough emergency call maybe in the middle of a war, and we`re going to let the commander in chief have it.

Those are closer calls. No, they signed onto this premeditated mistake of choice, blatantly pursued for self-interested politics, admitted as such, committed by a man who, remember, take the senators` own words in even the Republican Party, who they long said was not trustworthy to begin with.

So, on this historic night, take a look at something we put together from the factual archive.


ROMNEY: Dishonesty is Donald Trump`s hallmark.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This man is a pathological liar.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think he`s a kook. I think he`s crazy.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Donald Trump is a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag.

CRUZ: The man is utterly amoral. Donald is a bully, a narcissist.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): The most vulgar person.

GRAHAM: He`s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.

ROMNEY: A business genius, he is not. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny.

GRAHAM: That he`s a jackass.

PAUL: A speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president.


GRAHAM: I think he`s unfit for office. We should have basically kicked him out of the party.

ROMNEY: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.


MELBER: Those are the Senate jurors. Now we know exactly where they stand.

And you can keep track very clearly of who stood by those public positions and who did not.

Tonight, I`m going to get right into all of this with Maya Wiley and Mark Thompson.

We begin first with Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who has just voted to convict President Trump.

Explain to us your final vote.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Ari, so good to be with you on this very dark and tragic day, dark and tragic because the Senate, for the first time in U.S. history, didn`t do its responsibility to hold a full and fair trial.

And we should remember that, without a fair trial, which every American understands is witnesses and documents, there is no exoneration for this president.

My votes are based on the information presented before us. And as relayed by my Republican colleagues, which you have been quoting, it was clear and convincing on both counts.

MELBER: What do you make, then, as we just showed, many of your colleagues having said things about him being unfit for office and a liar, out of that group, only Senator Romney voted to convict?

MERKLEY: Well, let me just say that that was a real act of courage, because my colleagues have been under enormous pressure.

Realize that, the more we learn, the more the threads of this went into the highest levels of the Cabinet, the secretary of energy, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, multiple ambassadors, we had a plot that covered a year, a plot that involved a private attorney overseas, being sent overseas.

Then we had the removal of an anti-corruption U.S. ambassador. And then we had the power of the state being brought to pressure the new president of Ukraine.

I mean, this was an extensive plot. They were under such pressure, my Republican colleagues, to shut this down before the American people...

MELBER: Right.

MERKLEY: ... could see any more.

MELBER: Well, and, Senator, let me -- let`s drill down on that, because it would be easy to forget -- and who keeps track of this stuff? It`s sort of a dark arts of bad trivia for presidents who`ve run into problems.

But the history of the Senate process has been highly partisan. What does it tell you that, with Mitt Romney`s one vote tonight, it`s actually the first time in history it`s gotten slightly less partisan, that there was a vote against him in his party?

MERKLEY: Well, it was an extraordinary act by that individual who said, I have considered the evidence. Mitt Romney said, I took an oath before God.

And he was referring both to his oath of office and his oath to this trial to do impartial justice. And he waited, and he did what we all had a responsibility to do, impartial justice.

I feel that, in general, this process was more partisan than previous processes, despite that one vote, because, look, we had the foreman of the jury, the majority leader, saying from the beginning, I`m going to work hand in glove with the defendant for the purpose, of course, of exonerating the defendant.

In other words, the fix was in from the first moment.

MELBER: Senator Jones is one of the several Democratic senators who are in states that Trump carried.

He spoke about how he disagreed with or pushed back against those who looked at that as a matter of political courage, that this today, tonight, this vote was something more. Take a look.


SEN. DOUG JONES (D-AL): There will be so many who will simply look at what I`m doing today and say, it is a profile in courage.

It is not. It is simply a matter of right and wrong. Doing right is not a courageous act. It is simply following your oath.


MELBER: Your view of that part of this?

MERKLEY: Those are comments of a man of incredible integrity, because if it was simply an issue of right and wrong, we would have had 100 senators voting to convict.

But the pressure of the party, the pressure that they could not resist, in this case, the challenge of a home state electorate that had supported Trump in the last election, and yet Doug Jones stand up -- stood up and said: Here I am. I`m pursuing the truth.

And he did it despite whatever aspersions he may receive from his electorate back home. It was a profile in courage.

MELBER: Senator, thank you very much for joining us right after that vote.


MELBER: We appreciate it.

MERKLEY: You bet.

MELBER: Maya and Mark are here.

Mark, what does this mean?

MARK THOMPSON, "MAKE IT PLAIN": The vote today, you mean?

Well, and thank you for having me.

I think it shows -- and you two are the attorneys. I`m not.

There is a difference between being found innocent, obviously, and being found not guilty. And you showed the mash-up, very effectively done.

There are those who voted not guilty, but still acknowledged what he did and what he did was wrong. Nancy Pelosi is right. He will be forever impeached.

Now his side is saying he will be forever acquitted. But no president who`s ever been impeached has ever been forever acquitted. Bill Clinton will always be remembered for being impeached and the circumstances around that impeachment.

Most certainly, Donald Trump will as well. I think they made -- they may think they have won some victory momentarily, but they really had an opportunity to have had witnesses, one witness in particular, John Bolton.

If they had had him, that would have taken some of the sting away from his forthcoming book. That book is coming out. And when it comes out, it`s going to show how much fear they had or what lack of courage they had by not calling him as a witness.

So, they may think they have a momentary victory, they meaning the Republicans, they meaning Donald Trump. But in the long run, I think it shows that this is not a victory, he was impeached, and he was wrong.

MELBER: Maya, viewers have seen you at this table and other tables in the newsroom from the beginning, when impeachment was looked at as very unlikely, in the Mueller probe, when Bob Mueller clearly laid out incidents that he thought were potential crimes, the crime of obstruction of justice, and the debate was to -- is that a high crime? Do they want to move on it?

It wasn`t enough. Then, as we all know now, after getting past that and past Mueller`s testimony, the president continued to execute on this plan, which, according to Bolton, had begun even before Mueller`s testimony, and that pushed it over the edge.

What is on your mind now that we`re at this point with this constitutional acquittal that Mark says is not anything like innocence?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: What`s primarily on my mind is the question that Senator Kamala Harris asked at the trial, which was, what does this mean for justice?

And I think one of the things that is so important about the very points, Mark, that you have made, and that you laid out, Ari, in those clips, is that justice is not something that necessarily happens in one moment.

And the Constitution is our most treasured document, but it`s also the law of the land. And we have one more opportunity for justice. And that`s how we vote and how we petition our government.

And I think Senator Coons really laid out some of those next steps for justice very, very clearly when he said, will you stand with us to strengthen whistle-blower protections? Because, remember, that Rand Paul got up there during the trial and put the chief justice of the United States in an abhorrent position, and did a despicable thing when it comes to what our public policy is.

He asked, will you think of -- will you work with us? Will we work together on passing legislation, since there is so much that we agree was wrong, to make clear what cannot be done again?

And I think, to Mark`s point, there`s also, the floodgates have been opened on evidence, and they can`t turn the spigots off.

MELBER: Well, and part of what you`re talking about, and what this involves is, according to many senators, a plot that happened, so many Republicans admitting it happened -- so we could say allegedly, or we could say overwhelming evidence of, or we could say Trump`s own party says it happened -- to abuse power to hold onto power.

And that is a threat that many different countries face. The American exceptionalists like to say, well, somehow we are just better. Well, there`s some great things about America that we can be proud of. And there`s some other things that need a lot of work. So it can be both.

But I wonder about the experience of people who have been up against the abuse of power historically in this country. It is political dissidents. It is people of color. It is people who have sometimes unpopular views.

So, you are more likely to be concerned about this if you organize for civil rights, or super far left stuff that you called equality or socialism and someone else called communism. We have had those experiences before.

The fact that it took a long time for Joe McCarthy to have his day or that Richard Nixon did in a certain environment, but that wasn`t automatically guaranteed, doesn`t seem like it should be a reason tonight for people to say, well, I guess, because none of this worked, just stop.


I mean, Mark?

THOMPSON: Well, I would agree. I mean, you`re right.

The arc -- as Dr. King said, the arc of the moral universe is long. That`s the operative word, long, but it bends toward justice.

I would add another category. I would even dare say some who Trump might consider in his constituency who are often on the other side of justice, and can`t afford legal representation, they wouldn`t have gotten off like this.

See, at some point, people are going to look at this and say, wait a minute, how is it once again that a certain class of people can get away with something, but another class can`t, which actually strengthens the argument that those who would call themselves socialists would make?

So this is -- this is not over. I predict -- and we have known this about him. He is a self-impeaching individual. We all have a friend or a cousin who always gets in trouble, just manages to. And then, when they call us, man, don`t call me, because, if you hang out with them, you`re going to get in trouble too.

That is who Donald Trump is. He is -- I promise -- and I think Schiff said it when he -- Congressman Schiff said it. He is going to do something else. He may do something worse. He -- this is today. He may do it tomorrow.

He called Ukraine the day after Robert Mueller -- Robert Mueller`s testimony.

And, lastly, I think that this is a shameful day. I remember when Nancy Pelosi first described the whole process as being sad. But today is even sadder.

I was troubled a couple of weeks ago when Politico ran a headline where they quoted some Republicans saying, he is our O.J. That`s what they were - - which was incredible, that he is our O.J.


WILEY: Except the glove fit.

THOMPSON: Well, that`s -- the`s my point.

In this case, even if the glove does fit, you must acquit. And that`s what these Republicans have done.

MELBER: Well, and I -- you know, I always try to be careful with O.J. analogies.


MELBER: But O.J. at least waited to seem to confess until after he was acquitted.



MELBER: This president -- again, my job is to say, we follow the constitutional process. So you can debate whether it is a high crime, but I can report the facts.

Everyone has to know this president admitted to it, Maya, in public before the trial.

THOMPSON: That`s right.

WILEY: So he admitted to it. He admitted it to -- and then he doubled down on doing it again, because...


WILEY: China.

He looked dead in the cameras and said, I will use my trade negotiations to tell China to open investigations.

This statement that Adam Schiff made so powerfully from that Senate well in his closing of, you know he will do it again, goes to Mark`s point.

And if we wrap that back to your previous point, Ari, I think we have -- as a people who were excluded from the protections of the Constitution, who have fought for it nonetheless, fought for inclusion with it -- within it, and fought for and continue to fight for the more perfect union, the Donald Trump that got up before that State of the Union last night and honored Rush Limbaugh, the man who talked to a black person and said, take the bone out of your nose, the man who said of women that they were feminazis and calling the rape police if they called in rape for not giving consent to sex, the man who has stereotyped Mexicans, the man who stands for everything that the Republican Party today on the floor pretend that he doesn`t stand for, and then acquit him when they know he does wrong are actually the biggest threats to our Constitution.

MELBER: Well, I appreciate you bringing that up.

And we have a little more on that with Jelani Cobb a little later in the hour.

Maya Wiley, Mark Thompson, my thanks to both of you.

Ahead, we get more into what we saw on the Senate floor, including some very emotional words from Mitt Romney.

I have new numbers from Iowa tonight, Joe Biden taking a turn on defense and trying to punch back.

Later, as mentioned, we get into a lot of the highlights and lowlights from the State of the Union.

Stay with us. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.



ROMNEY: The allegations made in the articles of impeachment are very serious.

As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am.

I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.


MELBER: Senator Mitt Romney there.

And you see it for yourself. He was getting emotional on the Senate floor discussing his faith, his God, and his vote to convict the president, the first time ever a senator has broken with their own party to convict their president.

Romney now facing huge backlash.

I want to bring in David Frum, who served in the Bush administration and knows these players and these issues well.

First of all, good evening. Thanks for being here.


MELBER: What do you think of what we just saw there from Mitt Romney, a burst of perhaps real grappling with the role, with the oath in a way that perhaps some others in politics do not?

FRUM: Yes, I`m feeling pretty good about my 2012 vote tonight. I haven`t always, but, tonight, I do.

I listened to a lot of the commentary tonight. I hear a kind of tone. I feel a little bit like I`m in that living room with the frat brothers of "Animal House." We`re all saying, it`s over.

And I want to say with John Belushi: Over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? It is not over until it`s over.

And this is so not over.

Yes, President Trump has extracted an acquittal for himself. Now he is about to face an election, in which the nominee of the Republican Party is going to face commercials featuring the last nominee of the Republican, not a Republican who had a low role and who now sometimes appears on MSNBC, the last Republican nominated...


FRUM: ... to be president of the United States calling the current Republican president a criminal, and not just any kind of criminal, but a high criminal.

That doesn`t matter?

There is -- Donald Trump fought this fight by shoving every piece of information into a corner and locking the door.

When Bill Clinton -- when the Bill Clinton impeachment ended in January of 1999, every -- I remember it well. Everyone was exhausted. We all knew what had happened. We all had our views. There was nothing more to say. The facts were all on the table. You could judge them for yourself. And everybody wanted -- decided, this is closed.

The facts aren`t on the table, and there are going to be subpoenas now. Before, there wasn`t time to litigate whether John Bolton should answer a subpoena. Now there`s time to litigate.

And one more thing. And this -- on this show, it`s especially important say. There are four consolidated cases about Donald Trump`s business documents, one from the district attorney in Manhattan and three from different committees of Congress, heading to the Supreme Court.

They will be argued, probably in March, and they will be decided sometime before the end of June.

Now, one of two things is going to happen. Trump is going to lose, and some of that information is going to come out, or Trump is going to prevail on probably a 5-4 decision, with the deciding vote maybe cast by Brett Kavanaugh.

Is that not -- is that something that the country is going to submit to? This -- with Donald Trump, every day is an explosion. And there are more explosions lying ahead.

I`m sorry for such a long answer.

MELBER: Well, no, we -- I invited you here one on one to hear your answers.

And you lay out something that I can imagine people listening are wondering about, which is, what`s the point of something if it doesn`t end the way you want?

But, as you just reminded us, that assumes it ended. That assumes a resolution.

FRUM: Yes.

MELBER: And there may be allies of the president, just like allies of other people who have tried to get away once or twice with, in this case, I will call it alleged wrongdoing.

And you say, well, wait a minute. What about the rest of us, what about facts, what about journalism, what about social movements, if it`s not over?

FRUM: Yes.

MELBER: The other thing I want your views on -- again, and I want to play this for viewers who may have seen part of it or not all of it -- was -- again, I`m not here to tell you whether you should like Mitt Romney or not.

Everyone is going to decide that for themselves. But I did think that he seemed to really give a real speech in a land of incredible fake posturing. And he spoke about the lobbying, or whatever you want to call it, the pressure, the messages, all the stuff he was receiving.

Take a listen.


ROMNEY: In the last several weeks, I`ve received numerous calls and texts. Many demanded, in their words, that I stand with the team. I can assure you that that thought has been very much on my mind.

Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history`s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.


MELBER: I`m curious what you think of his formulation.

Team politics. Are you on the team vs. does evidence and facts mean anything?

FRUM: Well, I think of so many of the Republican senators, people like Lamar Alexander, or people like Bob Corker, who used to be in the Senate from Tennessee.

And these are people where you would think, they had nothing to lose by doing the right thing. They were older. They were at the end of their careers. They usually were at least financially independent, Bob Corker quite a wealthy man.

And all that awaited them was the judgment of history. Why could they not do the right thing? And there was some kind of inner weakness.

Donald Trump has this one genius, which is, if there is a moral flaw anywhere in your character, he will put, and like in ice breaking a piece of stone, he will infiltrate that crack, and he will work on it and he will smash you.

And people we thought were people of some character have been broken by Donald Trump all around him. And something happened with Mitt Romney, where that -- whatever you think of Mitt Romney -- I like him, other people may not -- but he -- that -- his character was somehow proofed to that infiltration.

And that -- when it comes time to judge Mitt Romney in the long arc of history, something Mitt Romney is clearly thinking about, I think that`s the piece of judgment that will always matter most, as the opposite will matter most about many other senators who did many, many good things in their careers.

MELBER: Right.

And that`s a good point that goes to the political calendar, which is other people are retiring. Mitt Romney doesn`t have a race for a while. But if Donald Trump were to be reelected, he has a race against someone who we, as you just said, is out to smash and will not forget.

And he did it anyway.

FRUM: Right.

MELBER: David Frum, appreciate your time tonight, sir.

FRUM: Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you.

We`re going to fit in a 30-second break, and when we`re back, brand-new numbers from Iowa and a ground report from New Hampshire.


MELBER: New numbers right now in this fluid Democratic primary race, 86 percent of the vote in, in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders vying for the lead. You see Elizabeth Warren right there in third.

So, now that we can see a lot of what happened in Iowa, here are the implications, a huge finish for newcomer Buttigieg and progressive Bernie Sanders.

And when you take this raw vote count in, it tells us even more, because, by the end of the night, there were under 1,000 votes separating the two of them, while Warren was 10,000 votes ahead of Biden, and Klobuchar just 2,500 votes behind him.

Translation: a good night for the top three, a distant fourth for Biden that had him actually very close to fifth.

And that is powering the arguments we`re now hearing in New Hampshire.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have landed in New Hampshire, and we`re out here fighting for every vote in New Hampshire.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is an astonishing victory for our organization, our values, our campaign and our candidates.


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m not going anywhere. I`m counting on New Hampshire. We`re going to come back.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we can do right now is to make sure we have the largest voter turnout in the history of New Hampshire. That`s the most important thing we do.



MELBER: And now we have a great panel with insights from the ground.

We start with Congresswoman Annie Kuster of New Hampshire.

I should mention she is Pete Buttigieg`s campaign co-chair and has been with him in Manchester, New Hampshire, as recently as last night.

And then we will go on to the rest of our panel.

But we wanted to hear from you directly.

It doesn`t really matter to me when we get the results. I think that the takeaway here I just showed in Iowa is a very big night for Pete Buttigieg. What do you make of it?

REP. ANNIE KUSTER (D-NH): Well, it was a very exciting night for Pete Buttigieg in Iowa.

And we`re thrilled that he`s coming to New Hampshire next.

MELBER: Let me show a little bit of what we pulled as well, which is, there you are with him, big hug, walking around the state.

What do you think -- given your work with him there as clearly a surrogate in the next state, what do you think is connecting? What are the issues or policies that you think people are talking about, from your experience on the ground?

KUSTER: Well, what people are excited about with Pete are his vision for the future. That`s number one.

He`s got a vision of everybody getting health care, and it`s affordable. He`s got a vision of a clean planet, where climate change is not an issue, as it is right now in New Hampshire, and then, most importantly, his temperament.

They`re very focused in on issues of character, his experience as a veteran, his service to our country, the idea that he can speak about faith so comfortably and so clearly, and the idea that he is unflappable.

We used to talk about no-drama Obama. I was very early on in the Obama campaign, when -- people saying he`s too young, it`s not his turn, we can`t pronounce his name.

And I feel the same way about Pete, but there`s tremendous energy, lot of organizers, a lot of volunteers. And he`s going to do very well in New Hampshire.

MELBER: Are you arguing he`s the Obama of this cycle?

KUSTER: Well, I`m saying he brings that same new energy. He doesn`t have the same history with Washington, D.C.

Think about this extraordinary week. Monday night is Iowa. Tuesday night is the State of the Union. Wednesday is the acquittal of the president. And just look at the dysfunction last night.

He comes from outside, with new energy...

MELBER: Right.

KUSTER: ... new ideas, and a new excitement that`s very different than what the other candidates are offering.

MELBER: And last thing before I lose you, Congresswoman.

Take a listen to Joe Biden speaking about the candidate you`re supporting today.


BIDEN: Is he really saying the Obama-Biden administration was a failure? Pete, just say it out loud.

I have great respect for Mayor Pete and his service to this nation.

But I do believe it`s a risk, to be just straight up with you, for this party to nominate someone who`s never held an office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 people in Indiana.


BIDEN: I do believe it`s a risk.



MELBER: He certainly has less statewide or big-picture experience than some of the competitors.

Your response?

KUSTER: Well, let me tell you, I -- my first Joe Biden campaign, I was pregnant with my son 31 years ago. I have tremendous respect for the vice president.

But I have got to tell you, it`s a risk to go after this campaign with the same message, the same ideas, the same issues that we have been litigating.

I think we need new energy. I think we need a new approach. And I think bringing people together the way Pete does -- look, in New Hampshire, 40 percent of the voters are independents, OK? They`re not affiliated with the Democratic Party. But they can pick up the Democratic ballot.

So we need progressive Democrats, independents, and those Republicans that have Fed up with Donald Trump. I think Mitt, Mitt Romney, if he was on the ballot on Tuesday would do very well. But those Republicans are going to vote, vote for Pete.

And I think we have got a winning coalition to demonstrate to the country how well this coalition will do next November on the ballot.

MELBER: Congresswoman Kuster, a surrogate for Mayor Pete, thank you so much.

KUSTER: Great to be with you, Ari. Thanks.

MELBER: Great. Of course.

KUSTER: And we will see you in New Hampshire.

MELBER: We will see you on the road. I will see you in New Hampshire.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel is here, of course, editorial director of "The Nation" magazine, and Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

We`re going to get all into the New Hampshire field stuff with you, sir, because we like to know what`s going on out there. That`s where the race is headed.

But, Katrina, big picture, in the ideas primary, the policy primary, something that your magazine has done a lot of work on -- and, full disclosure, I used to write for you -- what do you see here? And what do you see specifically in what I just showed, which was Bernie Sanders having a good night in Iowa?


I mean, what you see is sort of what we witnessed with the Electoral College system, where Bernie wins the popular vote and Buttigieg wins the equivalent state delegates.

But I do think Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren win the ideas primary hands down. And I think that`s very important to millions of people who feel left behind, who seek bolder ideas.

Structural reforms is unsexy, but bolder ideas, a Green New Deal, the wealth tax Elizabeth Warren has talked about, Medicare for all in different incarnations.


MELBER: Let me ask you this, because you have been through these cycles. The congresswoman has just given Biden a little shade for being perhaps through too many of them.


MELBER: But you have been through them.

There was a time when the smart money in Washington for the Democratic Party was always tack center, I mean, no matter what. That does seem to be changing because...

VANDEN HEUVEL: It was always what?

MELBER: Go to the center, no matter what.


MELBER: In the old days.

That`s what they used to say in D.C. I`m not saying whether it`s right or not.


MELBER: It seems now there`s a lot more awareness that, boy, whether you`re AOC, or you`re Elizabeth Warren, or you`re Bernie Sanders, there`s a lot of energy around standing for something.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Absolutely. And there`s a passion.

And there`s a passionate coalition being put together around those who stand for something.

The great populist in Texas Jim Hightower used to say, what`s in the middle of the center of the road? Yellow armadillos -- dead armadillos and yellow lines.

I think these are times when people seek not restoration and not just new energy, but ideas that will improve the condition of their lives.

I will say to you one thing, Ari, that struck me last night was the democracy deficit in this country.


VANDEN HEUVEL: We have failed to invest in democracy, so that you witness coming -- remember 20 years ago chads and the...

MELBER: Butterfly ballot, the whole thing.

VANDEN HEUVEL: We haven`t -- where have we moved since then? We have apps that don`t work and paper ballots.

MELBER: Well, a lot of people feel like technology has made it worse.

Let me bring an Andrew, who`s been waiting by.

First of all, do you have any polling on dead armadillos?



MELBER: I mean, survey says, they`re dead, I guess.


MELBER: All right, he`s new here. He`s new.


MELBER: Let me show something for you, and then get your breakdown of all of New Hampshire.

When we look at Biden -- I just want people to understand this, because we look at the actual numbers. Look at the Iowa that Biden entered, a place where he had ran before. In `08 -- all this talk about Obama -- when you look at the state delegates, Obama did 37 percent against Biden, who did under 1 percent in `08.

Now look at what we know from this week, Buttigieg up at 26, Sanders right behind him, Biden down at 15 percent.

Going into New Hampshire, where I want your breakdown, we do also have some numbers from 2008, where, remember, Biden ran. Clinton did 39. Biden did 0.2.


MELBER: What`s he up against, Andrew?

SMITH: Biden`s in a very, very difficult spot here in New Hampshire.

I think, as Katrina said, the energy in the Democratic Party is certainly on the progressive wing with Sanders and Warren. And I guess the best thing that Biden has going for him is that Sanders and Warren divides that progressive wing of the voters here.

Buttigieg, on the other hand, is in an excellent position, not only because he`s very acceptable to the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party here. He`s the second choice for Biden voters, the second choice for Klobuchar voters.

But he`s also very well-liked among the progressive wing of the party. So he can pick up some of the vote maybe from the Sanders voters or the Warren voters, who think that maybe they`re a little bit too far to the left.


MELBER: Let me ask you this.

How do these campaigns deal with what has been mentioned? Iowa is weird in some ways. New Hampshire has independents in there. How do they figure out which independents might be voting this time?

And who do they -- who do you see the independents going to?

SMITH: Well, first of all, it`s a misnomer to call them independents in New Hampshire. They`re really undeclared. About a third of them are really Democrats. They behave like Democrats. About a third of them are Republicans, and they really behave like Republicans.

MELBER: Right.

SMITH: And about a third of them are nonpartisans, and they won`t show up in this primary at all.

So I think the independents in this case are not too much different than the Democrats who are registered, except that they tend to be younger, tend to be newer arrivals to the state.

And I think that they are -- in 2016, they broke heavily for Bernie Sanders. And I think they still have a lot of that progressive energy going their way. Sanders and Warren are likely to benefit from them.

VANDEN HEUVEL: And may the turnout in New Hampshire be stronger than it was in Iowa.

That was something that I was troubled by, because I think it was down to 170,000 as opposed to 240,000 four years ago. And Bernie Sanders and I think Warren have the ability to bring people out. Maybe Pete Buttigieg will.

But Joe Biden, I fear, this may be the end of him, coming in fourth, maybe fifth, because we only have 85 percent, I think, as of now, reporting from Iowa.

MELBER: Andrew, how does that square with what you`re seeing on the ground?

SMITH: I think that`s pretty much the case here.

Historically, Iowa has really low turnout. Their record turnout is 16 percent, whereas, in New Hampshire, we often have turnout above 50 percent. That really means something that we have -- the voters who come out here are more regular folks. They`re not activists. They`re not real hard-core partisans.

And they`re more like a regular general election electorate. That -- I think that probably is going to help Buttigieg and Biden -- or -- excuse -- Biden -- excuse me -- Buttigieg and Sanders...


SMITH: ... the most in New Hampshire going forward.

MELBER: Really interesting.

And we have hit a lot of it, both with elected, a little polling, and Katrina on some of the big ideas.

And that`s how we`re going to try to continue to cover this race, with evidence and also why it matters.

And I want to thank everyone on the panel. Appreciate you guys.


MELBER: Absolutely.

SMITH: Thank you.

MELBER: Up next: a question of accountability, as Donald Trump gives the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh.

Jelani Cobb is here on that and, of course, the ripping of the speech -- when we come back.


MELBER: We have a lot to get into right now with Columbia University professor and "New Yorker" writer Jelani Cobb.

Good to see you, sir.


MELBER: I want to tackle a few things with you, going big picture, as we sometimes do.

If you watched this State of the Union, the president arrives with Republican senators saying he did it. Today, he, of course, got this vote where he was acquitted by them. And there was thunderous and repeated Republican applause.

And I couldn`t help but think of "Star Wars," of Queen Amidala: This is how liberty dies, to thunderous applause.

COBB: Right. Right. Sure.

I mean, I think there`s a kind of stagecraft element of this, which is that this was a reality TV kind of production. And so there are two tracks of this. If you`re thinking about just the entertainment value of it, like, the people who are tuned in who are supporters of his, then this -- everything is going to send them through the roof.

If you`re a person who`s actually thinking about democracy, then you`re probably cringing and under the couch by the end of that speech, because it was the kind of mainstreaming of his most demagogic personality traits.

It is an affirmation. The Senate vote is one thing, because you could say that you, on principle, which is a difficult case to make -- I don`t believe it. But you could say, on principle, that you believe that this is wrong, but it doesn`t rise to the level of a removal, of a conviction.

But the real statement about how they feel about Donald Trump`s behavior was the reaction that you saw when he entered that room, that it was tribal, it was completely affirming, it was completely a kind of -- almost like a wedding ceremony between him and the modern version of the Republican Party.

MELBER: Well, and what you`re saying goes to something you have also written about, which is, bearing witness to the facts is important, whether there is power behind it or not, or whether that is still being contested.

COBB: Right.

MELBER: And this is not normal.

I want to take one point from this and show everyone. Let`s look at some of the past winners of the Medal of Freedom from presidents in both parties.

You look at these. You have Mother Teresa, Jackie Robinson, Bill Gates, John Lewis, Maya Angelou, Stephen Hawking, these kind of individuals.

Now, under Donald Trump, as of last night, you have added to this list Rush Limbaugh.

Does he belong anywhere near that group?

COBB: I mean, just look at the group, the person who integrated baseball, the person who was globally the most recognized advocate for impoverished people, a civil rights hero, an icon of poetry and literature, Stephen Hawking, who was a person who was triumphant not only in his intellect, but in his ability to wield the intellect despite the debilitating disease that he had fought for decades.

And then we have the person who said that the NFL was like Crips and Bloods without weapons, the person who compared Barack Obama to a monkey, the person who said that Donovan McNabb was only in the NFL because they wanted to have a black quarterback succeed, and the kind of lineage of things that can go down -- the misogynistic things that are in his history.

MELBER: So striking.

The last thing I want to get you on is culture. Politics operates often behind the culture. People are more interested in it.

COBB: Right.

MELBER: Super Bowl, so many ads, so many jokes, so many things happen.

Salesforce just released new data. And we can show this to people. Whether you like Donald Trump or not, the most talked-about Super Bowl ad was the ad featuring this woman Johnson that was let out of prison. And also the chatter around it was -- quote -- "positive."

Your thoughts?

COBB: I mean, it`s not entirely surprising. There`s a reason that Donald Trump is in the place that he`s in.

He has a particular kind of -- I think, one, a particular kind of malignant charisma, and a particular ability to understand, like any showman -- and we have people who know this who speak in public, people who are entertainers, people who have anything to do with the public know that ability to sense what people want, where the audience wants you to go.

And he`s phenomenally good at that. And so it is not surprising that you have that kind of...

MELBER: And that that story is about one woman.

COBB: That`s right.

MELBER: And you don`t have to think about politics. You should think it`s good that she got out of prison, something good happened, even if it cuts against every policy of civil rights the administration has.

COBB: Sure.

But, also, bear in mind that this is the same time that he`s banning Nigerians from coming to the country.


COBB: So, there is always the kind of distraction of like, don`t look at what this hand is doing. Just pay attention to this hand over here.

And so there`s a kind of politics of symbolism. We don`t want to talk about the fact that he insulted John Lewis, this icon of the civil rights movement. We don`t want to talk about the fact -- his entire lineage and history of these things.

Eric Holder pointed out that, while he signed the FIRST STEP Act, he also has made it more difficult to keep some of the reforms that the Holder DOJ put in place in effect.


COBB: We remember that he told the -- ordered Jeff Sessions to have the U.S. attorneys be more strict on low-level drug offenders.

We have forgotten about that part of it, when he told police to not be gentle and take care with people when...


MELBER: Right.

COBB: There`s a whole list of those things, right.

MELBER: Those facts have to stack against what is literally a commercial.

But I did want people to know, everyone should know just how well that one ad is doing.

COBB: Right.

MELBER: Jelani Cobb, as always, great to see you. Thanks for being here.

We will be right back with one more thing on this historic day.


MELBER: The Trump family wasting no time hitting back against Mitt Romney.

You see Donald Trump Jr. here saying he`s now a member of the resistance.

Here is Mitt Romney in a new interview.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Do you believe that Donald Trump is unfit to serve as president and should be removed from office?

ROMNEY: I do believe he should be removed from office. That`s the vote that I will take in just a short while.

But I`m absolutely convinced that this is exactly right, at least in heart.



MELBER: Thanks for joining us on THE BEAT on quite a night. We will be back tomorrow 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

As always, I`m Ari Melber, signing off.