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Speaker Nancy Pelosi TRANSCRIPT: 5/5/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: David Frum, Neera Tanden, Jeffrey Wright, Nancy Pelosi, William Schaffner

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And while, many nights, we begin these newscasts these days with the grim data, the number of coronavirus cases, the death toll, tonight`s urgent breaking news is more about how we got here, as a medical expert with a rare inside view of the U.S. government, of the Trump administration, of how these key life-and-death decisions are made, this individual making waves with some major allegations you`re probably going to want to hear about.

His name is Dr. Rick Bright. You may have heard about him before. He worked in the Health and Human Services Department for a decade. He began his career with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and he focused on something that is pretty important right now. He focused on the medical science and working on influenza viruses and antiviral drugs.

He is right now in this country and probably around the world one of the people that you want to be involved in these big policy decisions as everyone learns on the go.

He is also right now tonight the source for a new and explosive whistle- blower complaint against the Trump administration, the doctor alleging the White House basically mixed cronyism and profiteering, trying to steer virus-related financial contracts to political Trump allies based on -- quote -- "political connections."

Dr. Bright tells a story that echoes what other civil servants have alleged against President Trump in more than one area, arguing, alleging that this was all about Donald Trump`s own needs and his friends and his politics, not about doing his job looking out for the American people.

The doctor alleging he was partly removed because he says he did the right thing. He says he followed science and evidence on the job, and he says Donald Trump didn`t like it, the doctor having opposed a potentially dangerous type of experimentation with a drug that Donald Trump infamously touted as a potential cure-all for the virus.

The doctor noting it was -- quote -- "promoted by the administration, but lacked scientific merit." And he says -- quote -- "I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public."

If you follow the news -- and you`re watching the news, so you probably do -- you probably remember Donald Trump at the task force briefings and in other places hyping the drug.

This goes well beyond the bad medical advice, though. The doctor`s new story here is alleging a scandal for the COVID era. And he is now speaking out publicly -- this was by phone -- after formally filing this whistle- blower complaint.


DR. RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: Time after time, I was pressured to ignore or dismiss expert and scientific recommendations, and instead to award lucrative contracts based on political connections.

In other words, I was pressured to let politics and cronyism drive decisions, over the opinions of the best scientists we have in government.


MELBER: That`s the story. That`s the allegation.

It is on the record. This is not anonymous sources. This is not leaks. This is not some sort of mysterious sniping.

I told you who the doctor is. I played his voice for you. He is on the record telling you what he says happened, his version of events, his concern, which, of course, will affect the ongoing managing of this crisis, if what he says is true.

So what now? It is all true? How does the United States get to the bottom of something like this in the middle of an unfolding, ongoing public health and economic crisis that we are all living through together?

Well, here`s what the doctor says. He`s asking for his job back, and he is asking they put someone new on the job to get to the bottom of all this.


BRIGHT: We are in an extraordinarily different global crisis, and the worst might still be ahead of us. Today, I`m asking for the special counsel to investigate what happened to me and for this administration to reinstate me in my job.


MELBER: The government has a job to do. It has a bunch of people who work in government that take a constitutional oath to fulfill this job.

The government has an obligation to listen to Dr. Bright`s story, his testimony, his evidence, and to weigh it, to corroborate what it can and, if some of it is somehow untrue or unfounded, to deal with that as well.

The context here is quite clear. He is one of several medical experts both inside and outside of this administration that has raised these type of concerns. Congress is already digging right into this step, because I can tell you tonight, as part of our news report, Dr. Bright will be testifying to the U.S. House next Thursday.

So, this is a big story. This is a big development.

And I want to bring in our experts tonight to get into this part of it. We have a lot more in the broadcast.

But joining me right now on this, David Frum, who served in a White House as a speechwriter to President Bush. He also writes for "The Atlantic," his new book "Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy," Dr. William Schaffner, professor at Vanderbilt and a CDC adviser, and Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and a former top aide to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

With apologies to Dr. Schaffner, I would say, for the last six weeks or more, I always go to the medical expert first in our broadcasts, but I am going to go to Mr. Frum first on the government piece of this, and then, the doctor, I`m going to go to you on the medical piece.

But, to David Frum, as someone who served in a White House -- and we all know there are types of debates that are valid, internal debates that are perfectly valid about policy, about ideology, about what to do, and then there are these kind of complaints. This is an allegation at least that political cronyism, that political rhetoric, that the president trying to sell something that didn`t medically exist, that those things trumped science and may have, may have endangered lives.

Your view of this on the government side?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Normally, the value of a whistle-blower is that they bring forward something that has been concealed inside the government.

The government has a secret, either the president or somebody below him, and the whistle-blower brings light.

In the Trump administration, everything happens in the light of day. There has never been any secret. The president`s reliance on miracle cures, on fantasy, the president`s preference for cronyism, all of this has happened in the light of day.

And the president`s determination to put his reelection first, his hope for some kind of miracle that will allow him to reopen the economy, goose the stock market, get some kind of positive economic indicator, no matter how many lives it takes, he is telling you that.

So thank you, Dr. Bright, for your courage in stepping forward. You`re taking a tremendous risk with your career, with your future. You are going to be subject to attacks. So we applaud you for that. You are doing a civic service.

But -- and the details are always important. But the main story here, my theme for throughout this administration has been, for the Trump years, is many secrets, but no mysteries. Everything is happening right on the table, like a drug bust.

MELBER: And, Dr. Schaffner, your view of what we should make of this individual based on his public credentials and record.

Most Americans aren`t familiar with Dr. Bright outside of the context of this. What does it mean to you that he has served in these posts previously, and what do you make of the medical part of his concern?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, DEPARTMENT OF PREVENTIVE MEDICINE CHAIRMAN, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, Ari, I don`t know Dr. Bright personally, but I certainly know of his background, and it seems just excellent.

He has a long history of service, and he is professionally very qualified. Obviously, we want decisions regarding treatments and vaccine development to be based on the very best science.

What we want then are products we can use to treat our patients that are safe and effective, and we want those same qualities to characterize a vaccine, so that when we speak with our patients or speak to the public whom we wish to vaccinate, we can tell them exactly what to expect and we can tell them how much protection they will get and hopefully for how long.

And those decisions must be based on the very best, rigorous scientific evidence.

MELBER: And, Doctor, his allegations, in my view, have two components.

There is what you might call the cost of stupid. What does it mean when the president or anyone in a position of power stupidly recommends things that people shouldn`t do? Don`t experiment with disinfectant. Don`t experiment with bleach. Don`t experiment with drugs outside of medical guidance.

That`s all obvious, and we have all heard the countervailing advice or things floated by the president. That`s the cost of stupid.

Then, in the rather detailed complaint he has filed, he writes about other things that we might not have known, we could have only inferred, that there was another cost, which was that he and others within HHS were trying to say, hey, we need masks in January, we need to do other things, and that those things took a back seat to the -- what he calls the political agent coming out of the White House.

Obviously, Doctor, we`re using you as an expert. You weren`t there, but what do you think of that portion of the complaint?

SCHAFFNER: Well, if you had asked any of us before COVID, we physicians and public health practitioners, what the single characteristic, what the single characteristic that`s most important if an epidemic strikes, and we would all, I think, have said clear, thorough, careful, sustained communication.

And I have said, as a consequence of events, listen to the public health authorities. Listen to the senior medical persons who are before you and giving advice, and I would continue to say to do that.

MELBER: Neera?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I mean, respectfully, I`d say I think we`re perhaps undercounting for some of the challenges here, and really what this means.

As was just stated, it is vital that we have clear evidence, clear data, clear facts. And when the president of the United States pressures public health officials to support a medication that doesn`t work, we know what happens, because it did. People take the medication. They digest it. People get very ill.

And I think one of the consequence here is -- really, there is two. One consequence is, we have very little trust. We have very little trust of the president. We have very little trust of information.

That is -- I hate to use this word, but it is quite deadly in a pandemic. And, secondly, Dr. Bright is really talking about a political pressure campaign to do the White House`s bidding, over the needs of the public. The public really needed a mass supply of PPE. We needed testing. We needed a whole range of things.

And what he is talking about is that the president`s corporate interests really flouted our public health. And that is what I think is the deep and damaging aspect of this.

MELBER: Amidst all of this, I want to get you all to also consider this other development.

President Trump and Vice President Pence have basically been floating the idea, now confirmed, reports that they could shut down the Coronavirus Task Force. It`s been having meetings in the Situation Room that have gone shorter. They`re no longer daily. Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci under this plan would still go to work, but their public roles here might be pared back further without the actual format of the task force.

David, I guess this is the part of May 2020 where I ask you, what do you think of shutting down the emergency virus task force in the middle of the emergency?

FRUM: It won`t be missed.

Any task force with Larry Kudlow on it is a task force you can do without. The point of this task force was to create a flanking chorus of faces for the president`s press conferences, his sources of narcissistic supply.

When the press conferences stopped being a source of narcissistic supply, he -- the president stopped doing them. He didn`t need people flanking him. And so this task force, which was just their faces behind him, doesn`t exist.


MELBER: So, let me draw you out on that, because you`re actually making an important point.

You`re reflecting -- and you have worked in the White House -- how these things can be -- they can obviously be set up in a more substantive way. But you`re saying that, basically, all these people can still go to work and try to do what they do. And so the fact that we`re hearing about the cancellation of the thing, the task force, right after the cancellation of the briefings, reveals that it was all about a televised spectacle, in your view?

FRUM: Yes, everyone competent just got two extra hours in their working day to do something useful.

And the people who are not competent, well, they have more time to do mischief, but they will be doing that mischief anyway.

Look, and the thing that is really sinister, as we learned from "The Washington Post" today, is that the response has really been run by this private group of amateurs collected by Jared Kushner, who have been stumbling all over each other.

It`s hard to imagine anything useful that the Trump administration has done. The good work that has been done since the virus dropped has been done by state governments, California leading the way, New York stumbling at first, but then catching up, Ohio, other states.

Many of them have been doing very, very good jobs. And they have had to post National Guard troops to defend their supplies in these raids from buccaneers who have federal badges.

But I don`t think -- it`s a symbolic -- the cancellation of this task force is a symbolic abdication. I don`t think anyone in the real world is going to miss it.


MELBER: Dr. Schaffner...


TANDEN: But can I just say that we`re...

MELBER: Well, let me -- Neera, I`m just going to go to the doctor and then you.

TANDEN: Sure. Sure.

MELBER: And what I did want to get the doctor on was, the president was confirming this while he was out on a visit. So he is back out in Arizona.

He was touring a facility that makes masks. That`s a good thing. The state of Arizona, though, Doctor, has hit its highest daily death toll, 400 people. And we`re seeing a lot of places -- it`s not one story, but depending where you go in the country, Doctor, it seems like we`re seeing places where Americans want to turn the page.

We talk about partial reopening. We`re seeing places that are hitting their worst.

Your view of the medical outlook there and why -- for people tuning in, why is it so bad in some places when we`re this far into taking these measures?

SCHAFFNER: Well, it`s still bad because the coronavirus is out there and It`s infecting very vulnerable people.

And we`re trying to strike a very, very tenuous balance here. We`re trying to open up the social and economic part of the country and not do too much damage on the medical side. And it`s a real tightrope.

And some parts of the country are being more conservative. Other parts of the country are being more aggressive. And we really need to watch that very, very carefully.

It`s very possible that, as we open things up -- in fact, I think it`s quite likely -- that we will see more cases again, an increase in hospital admissions with patients who have diagnosed coronavirus infections. We`re going have to watch this very, very carefully.

MELBER: Neera, you wanted to get in?

TANDEN: I really wanted to say, I agree with David about the task force.

I just have to say two things about that, though. First, what a low bar. I do think we should expect public officials in the middle of a pandemic to actually be working to save lives.

And I appreciate that we don`t have that perception of this task force, because it hasn`t been very successful at doing that. It hasn`t really been directing the country. It`s really been left to the states.

But I`d also say that the task force itself is just -- I worry what`s happening is that the president is thinking that, if he just doesn`t talk about the virus, we don`t have briefings, the task force goes away, then we will just stop talking about it and it will go away from the headlines.

I really think that`s a little bit of the theory, which is to drive it off the pages, because he is not changing any behavior. He is not improving. As you can see, he hasn`t told states that are reopening too early or probably likely too early that are seeing surges of cases and reopening the challenge that may pose to public health.

He is not having a public health response to this.

MELBER: Right.

TANDEN: And I think the idea of the task force ending or stopping is, frankly, ludicrous in a moment like this.

MELBER: Right.

And I think both David and Neera are gesturing at the obvious tell. There is a tell here, because no person, whether you`re experienced in disaster preparedness or not, thinks that anything is disaster-related would end far before the disaster, which goes to David`s point that this was about something else.

We have a lot in the show, including the speaker of the House.

I have to fit in a break here.

My thanks to David, Dr. Schaffner, Neera Tanden. Thanks to each of you.

Up ahead, Speaker Pelosi joins me live on THE BEAT. So much to talk about. We`re obviously going to ask about this whistle-blower complaint that is rocking the White House.

Later tonight, we have a lot more planned for you, including Golden Globe- winning actor Jeffrey Wright stepping up to try to show tributes to our health care heroes. We have that later in the hour as well.

I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER: Turning now to our most significant segment on tonight`s show, the action in Congress, as the Trump virus insider files that explosive whistle-blower complaint, slamming the abuse of political connections by Trump aides.

That is from Dr. Rick Bright, who next week will face Congress and the public to tell his story.

And it`s in Congress where crucial work continues on the very next virus relief bill targeting support at the ground level for state governments. A vote on that could come as soon as next week.

Now, there have been, count them up, four virus bills already, but this one may be the hardest to pass, with looming battles over labor protections and Senator Mitch McConnell threatening hardball over these potential state- level bankruptcies he has been talking about.

So, what will Democrats do?

Well, the most powerful Democrat in the nation is here on THE BEAT, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tackling all the questions -- when we`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Welcome back.

Joining me now is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

I know you`re busy, thanks for making time tonight.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Yes, thank you, my pleasure. I wish it were under different circumstances, I say that every night.

Thank you for what you`re doing to spread the word about the challenges we face.

MELBER: Sure. And I hear you on the circumstances, I`m sure a lot of Americans watching at home feel similarly no matter what they`re going through.

As you know, Madam Speaker, Dr. Bright making waves today. This new whistle-blower, let me play a little bit of what he is saying, take a listen.


BRIGHT: Time after time I was pressured to ignore or dismiss expert and scientific recommendations and instead to award lucrative contracts based on political connections.

In other words, I was pressured to let politics and cronyism drive decisions over the opinions of the best scientists we have in government.


MELBER: Madam Speaker, what`s your response to his allegations? And what do you hope your party in the oversight process will get out of his looming testimony?

PELOSI: Well, I`m very saddened by the testimony of Dr. Bright. We will have hearings under the leadership of Congresswoman Eshoo, the Chair of the Health subcommittee, of the Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Frank Pallone of New Jersey, he`s the Chair of the full committee.

And so that will happen, I believe next week, to bring before Congress the testimony of Dr. Bright. It`s very damaging.

But you know, the thing is, is that this points to the larger issue, where are the ethics in all of this. That`s why we`re so, so excited about the bill that we`re going to put forth, because it`s about ethics.

It`s ethical for us to have the tests that we need so that everyone is tested, and certain communities are not left behind because we didn`t have enough or didn`t have the right thing.

And when we have a vaccine or a drug as Dr. Bright is referencing, innovation or invention or discovery, that it be available to everyone. But it can`t be available to anyone unless we have the supply chain, that we had the ingredients, and we have the delivery system of syringes and vials and the rest to deliver it to everybody so that no one is left behind.

And everyone in our country knows that they will be treated fairly and freely, that this is not a market opportunity for business. It is a moral imperative for public health in our country.

So we`ll be eager to hear the testimony that is presented. But the last thing we need is political interference into science, because science is our key, is our exit, it`s testing. Science is the way to end the -- unlock the lock out.

MELBER: All of that makes sense the way you put it. I`m curious, as you negotiate on this next bill, your view of Mitch McConnell talking about maybe potentially state bankruptcies. He also wants liability protections in the next bill.

Your response to that, and what should Americans expect on what would now be the fifth bill?

PELOSI: Well, let me just say this; I hope that that was a moment in the life of Mitch McConnell, because it certainly is not a reflection of what people are thinking in our country. And when I say people, I mean Republican and Democratic governors, Republican and Democratic mayors, county executives, throughout the country want us to go forward with state and local.

We don`t call it that though, we call it our heroes bill. This is about protecting those -- those who are -- those who are risking their lives to save lives, and now at the risk of losing their jobs -- our health care providers, our first responders, our teachers, our police, fire, as I`ve said, emergency services, our transit workers, all of the people who are part of delivering service to us, again, at this time of coronavirus at some risk to their own health.

And so this is very popular. And all it is, is about the money goes to replace the money that has been spent by states and local governments on the coronavirus specifically and the revenue loss because of the coronavirus specifically.

So when the president...


MELBER: Well, let me -- let me ask a follow-up on -- let me ask a follow up, Madam Speaker, and I apologize. i know we`re on a little bit of a delay.

But on that point, let`s put up a map, because the president and Mitch McConnell have talked about the funding.

When you look at the states that rely most though on federal aid traditionally, many of them are red states and many of these quote, unquote blue states, to quote Mitch McConnell, since I guess he wanted to make it political, many of the blue states actually give more into the Federal government than they take.

Do you think that is a relevant part of this? Because the -- President Trump`s making it sound like, well, even your state of California or New York would be taking more than they deserve.

PELOSI: Well, it -- please let me not have to act upon anything the president has said. But I will refer to McConnell, because he has said that -- and the president has endorsed that we`re not bailing out states for what they did.

No, he referenced Illinois. Illinois is a state that was taking down the -- I`m trying to find a euphemism for the word I want to use -- a bad path by Republican governor now rescued by a Democratic Governor Pritzker, very proud of him.

So when he says that, oh, we`re not bailing out for past mistakes -- listen, what we`re saying is this is about the coronavirus. What did they spend, what are their outlays, what are their revenue loss because of the coronavirus.

They know that, they`ll come around on this. You know why? Democratic and Republican, Republican and Democratic governors need this. They`re united in that.

MELBER: Got it.

PELOSI: Same thing with mayors and county executives and the rest. So when they say that, it`s not a reason, it`s an excuse, and it might get play some places.

We want those red states, even though they may be giving in less than they receive, we want them to have what they need. This isn`t about pitting states against each other. It`s about serving the needs of the American people, saving their lives, their livelihood, and actually the life of our democracy.

MELBER: Let me ask you a policy question, because on health care -- this is a health care crisis obviously for so many Americans. You and President Obama have advocated for trying to support health care funding through Obamacare, and Medicaid and other initiatives, even if people are without a job or between jobs.

Here I`m going to play a little bit, although I think folks remember, but here was the president -- and you were up there with him -- as he made that argument about why you need health care even if you lose a job. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you`ll lose your health insurance too.

More and more Americans pay their premiums only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick or won`t pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.


MELBER: Does this crisis underscore why a strictly employer-based health care model with no safety net is actually a public health danger? And what is your response to new reports that Attorney General Barr is even telling Donald Trump they should back off efforts to weaken Obamacare in the courts, given this pandemic?

PELOSI: Well let me just say, first of all, I do not think Obamacare is a danger to health with its strong -- a strong part of it being employer- based -- 150, say, million families get their health insurance that way.

We want it in the House, a public option, and I hope that we will get one in just six months from today when we have an election, but not to get into the political side, you said this is a policy issue.

We have asked the president to have a special enrollment period for Affordable Care Act for people who do not have insurance now, so that they can sign up. Overwhelmingly the American people support that.

I do wish the president would back off his case in the court, because what he`s doing is saying to the American people, if they paid attention when he says something like this, that he no longer supports the preexisting condition benefit and he`s in court to remove it -- this and other benefits that are contained therein.

So I`m a big supporter of the Affordable Care Act, I want health care for all Americans. There are many proposals on the table, but we can`t take the Affordable Care Act table off until we have something else...

MELBER: Right.

PELOSI: ... whenever that may be, or the Affordable Care Act can be the path.

MELBER: Right, or the path.

Well it`s interesting hearing you say that, because, as you say, there`s what Obamacare does, a public option or further support, adds to it.

As a non-ideological observation, it seems like having things that can support Americans even when they don`t have a job for health coverage is needed right now, and you`ve obviously done a lot of work on that.

Before I lose you, and I know you`re busy, I did want to play Joe Biden`s response, as viewers may know, he`s now publicly addressed this allegation. Let`s take a listen.


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is not true, I`m saying unequivocally it never, never happened -- and it didn`t. It never happened.

I`m asking the Secretary of the Senate today to identify whether any such document exists. If it does, make it public.


MELBER: Joe Biden speaking out just days ago on that allegation of a sexual assault. Now that he has given that answer, do you view this as a closed issue, or what is your response?

PELOSI: Well, it is for me. I have said I am proud to support Joe Biden for president, I believe him when he says it didn`t happen. But I also believe him when he said let them look into the records, and that`s what they should do. But I am not going to answer this question again.

I will just say I have every confidence that Joe Biden will be a great president of the United States, not only because of the person of integrity that he is, but the person of vision that he is for just some of the things you talked about -- about health care for all Americans, about job security, about the kitchen table issues that he`s so familiar with in his own family, when his father lost his own job.

Joe Biden is Joe, and again, he brings those values and his personal experience to a vision for America that is about fairness and not trickle- down economics, but bubble-up from that kitchen table, from working families in our country.

And now we hope to have in this bill a reflection of meeting the needs of everyone in our country and not trickle-down or have science -- research and science that`s dominated in anything other than by the best possible science, and I salute our scientists for what they are doing to free us from this...

MELBER: Well, Speaker Pelosi, we`ve covered a lot of ground, and that`s the last thing I wanted to button up on the virus bill, just on you making some news on that.

It sounds like, in conclusion, your view is you`re going to get this bill through the Congress and you expect to do that without Mitch McConnell`s talk of states going bankrupt.

PELOSI: No, but we want it to be bipartisan. We`ve had four bills and all of them have been bipartisan, and we`re very proud of that, and we hope that this fifth bill will as well.

And we look forward to working together to find our common ground. I never took seriously any thought that they wanted states to go bankrupt. But you know, we`re in an arena, you gave it a lot of attention -- you`ve been talking about it for a couple of weeks.

We`ve been talking about great things we want to do for the American people, maybe if we phrased it that way you`d be talking about it for weeks.

We`ll see when we put forth our bill. I look forward to sharing more with you in our next conversation. Thank you.

MELBER: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much for making the time. We appreciate it.

We will have further reaction to the speaker and a lot more in tonight`s show when we come back.


MELBER: We are back.

And David Frum is with me. He was listening to the speaker of the House`s interview.

I have questions for you. But, first, any reactions in general?

FRUM: Nancy Pelosi has a very challenging situation ahead of her.

She is playing three-handed negotiation. She is playing negotiation with Mitch McConnell, who is a cool, savvy negotiator, very aware of the political realities, very protective of the interest groups he cares about.

She is also negotiating with the president, who is not fully connected to reality, who doesn`t quite understand what`s going on. And McConnell and Trump are not a unit. And so her -- as she seeks to prevent, for example, red states from plundering blue states, she is also dealing with a president who doesn`t understand the severity of the economic crisis and doesn`t quite understand how much trouble he is in.

In his own interests, he should be flooding the zone with money, but he won`t do that because Mitch McConnell, who has got a keener grasp of realities, doesn`t want to, for his own reasons.


And the speaker made a point of criticizing the press, which sort of includes us, obviously, for giving attention to Mitch McConnell`s talk of bankruptcy and sort of what she views as a canard.

You have been writing than as well and documenting how, however seriously one wants to take Mitch McConnell or is it a negotiating strategy, you were documenting in "The Atlantic" how there is a larger piece of work at play here, if you want to speak to that.

FRUM: Well, I don`t think many people understand exactly what Mitch McConnell means when he talks about bankruptcy.

They think -- we all play "Monopoly" -- bankruptcy means not paying the bills. But that is a default. When a state doesn`t pay its bills, that`s a default.

American states have been defaulting on bills since the beginning of the republic. Eight states defaulted in the 1840s. Arkansas defaulted in the 1930s.

What is different from the bankruptcy in a default is, a bankruptcy is not a default. It`s a process by which bills are paid, under the supervision of the federal courts. Under the U.S. Constitution, bankruptcy is a federal responsibility only.

So, when Mitch McConnell talks about bankruptcy for states, what he is talking about putting states` financial troubles under the control of the judges that he is busily confirming right now.


And that really lays out part of the stakes here, which is, as you have explained, there is a larger question of whether this particular crisis, beyond the obvious spending that is going on, will be used to rewire or reorder larger agendas.

And I know, in your piece, you also said you believe part of the stakes are that some Republicans are worried Trump could lose, and thus this is as a - - as you put it, a bit of a last chance.

I have got to fit in a break. So, David Frum helping us on more than one story with your insights, thank you, sir.

FRUM: Thank you.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Something we try to do around here, as you may know if you watch THE BEAT, we try to stay positive and look for the fact that, even during these tough times and bad news, there is good news and hope around the corner.

We get into one of those stories when we come back.


MELBER: Can we talk about the real heroes?

All of these health care workers and the first responders and people on these front lines. Of course, we see ways the people are trying to show their appreciation every day.

But we want to tell you about one person who is doing that. Award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright is working on providing food for health care workers. He will join me in a moment.

You may recognize the face, of course. He is the star of the hit HBO series "Westworld." He won a Golden Globe for the 2003 series "Angels in America," which was, by many accounts, groundbreaking.

And you may also recall his portrayal of -- and this would be hard for anyone -- Martin Luther King in the movie "Boycott."


JEFFREY WRIGHT, ACTOR AND ACTIVIST: There comes a time when time itself is ready for a change. And that time has come in Montgomery.

Our opponents -- and I hate to think of our government officers as opponents, but that`s what they are -- they have tried all sorts of things to break us, but we still hold steadfast.


MELBER: Jeffrey was in London shooting a movie when the COVID-19 outbreak began to spread.

He was working with this project, as we mentioned, with health care workers in his Brooklyn neighborhood sponsoring food deliveries from local restaurants with local workers.

What started with two restaurants and basically a hashtag spreading online has turned into a larger campaign. It`s called Brooklyn For Life and now supports 32 different restaurants in Brooklyn feeding people and helping people who serve in four of the hardest-hit medical centers, because, of course, New York is the epicenter, as well as seven different paramedic stations.

Jeffrey Wright is here now.

Looking forward to this, not only to talk to you, which I like, but I like that you`re doing something great, and I know there are people like you who, in all sorts of ways, local, big, small, whatever you can do, people are doing things.

So thank you for doing that. Tell us what you`re up to.

WRIGHT: Well, I appreciate it, Ari.

Well, I have got to correct you, though. We`re serving all 11 FDNY EMS stations in Brooklyn, and we`re up to 11 medical facilities as well, 10 in Brooklyn, one in Lower Manhattan. And that`s through a circle of now over 40 restaurants, and,as you said, started with two.

And it was really a very simple idea. Our health care workers, our front- line folks need to eat in the midst of all of this. Of course, restaurants in our neighborhood have been shutting down. This was in late March.

And so there was a void to fill. So, there is a restaurant here called Brooklyn Moon owned by a very good friend of mine for 20 years, since I have been in the neighborhood, named Michael Thompson, been in business 25 years.

I was trying to help him convert to delivery mode, because he is more a social space. You will love this. Brooklyn Moon was the epicenter of the Brooklyn spoken word scene back in the `90s.

Chris Rock, I believe, performed here at some point, Erykah Badu, first NYC performance. Anyway, storied place.

But, you know, I promoted on social media that he was converting to delivery service. I called him up and said, how are you doing? He said, man, I got five orders today. So that wasn`t sustainable.

Another friend at a place call Graziella`s, been in the neighborhood 15 years, was having customers call in and order pies on behalf of Brooklyn Hospital, which is here in Fort Greene. His name is Vito Randazzo. Known him since he`s been in business.

So, I reached out to Vito. He connected us with the hospital. And we asked their V.P. for external affairs, Lenny Singletary, over there if there was something more than we could do. So, that was March 27. We started with these two restaurants, providing 200 meals per day to Brooklyn Hospital to augment their cafeteria.

You had staff that were working 15, 16 hours a day, many not going home, staying in hotels nearby. And they needed support.

So, from there, we grew to the point where we crossed the 100,000-meal mark yesterday, averaging about 2,500 meals per day.


WRIGHT: We`re -- we have spread our outreach across Brooklyn. That was with...


MELBER: And, you know, let me jump in, Jeffrey, because one thing that`s wild about this is, as you tell the story, it didn`t start with you saying, I got to do the biggest thing with, as you said, hitting all 11 or 100,000.

It sounds like, as people try to figure out where they can plug in, you -- obviously, you have relationships in your neighborhood, and you have some visibility, but it sounds like you just started day by day, and it grew.

WRIGHT: Yes, you know, not everybody can -- you know, nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.

It was really about, very simply, trying to help out a couple friends of mine, particularly Mike. And it just mushroomed from there.

What`s been exciting, too, is, you know, we put the video together, but, prior to the video, we raised the bulk of our money on a GoFundMe page. We`re up to about $295,000 now. We have raised and additional 180 or so, close to 200, on the outside of that, through direct donations to our 501(c)(3).

You can go to and check that out.

But it`s been evenly split between small, $5, $10 donations, and larger donations. Daniel Craig (AUDIO GAP) for example, my James Bond brother, was one of the folks I reached out to. He helped us out. Jay-Z helped us out, Spike Lee

But it was ordinary Brooklynites that stepped up as well, almost at an even split.

And so what I`m really excited about now is that we found our first corporate partner in AT&T. They`re going to come in and help us out at $250,000, which is really going to, ideally, allow us to extend a bit further, but still looking for additional corporate partners to step up at that level, so that we can allow these restaurants, all small businesses, mom-and-pop joints, we can allow them a lifeline that will allow them to ride through this thing, ideally until greater public funding becomes available to them or they can reach some level of commercial viability again or commercial normalcy.


WRIGHT: So, and we understand it`s a stopgap.


MELBER: Yes, and you`re hitting the link there, that there`s local business that still needs to work, because people want to work, and then there`s a lot of people working these long shifts, particularly in hard-hit areas like New York, health care workers that need to eat.

So, I love all that.

You know I keep in touch with all my fellow nerds, right? So, you know I can`t end the interview without making sure we talk "Batman," right?


MELBER: You were shooting "Batman," playing Commissioner Gordon, when this all happened, obviously.

So, what happens with the future of that film? And what energy do you bring to playing Commissioner Gordon, who, in a different "Batman," famously said that sometimes the hero we need is the person who doesn`t even think of themselves as a hero?

WRIGHT: Well, your nerd friends and you would be impressed.

I got a couple old-school Batman comics up there on the shelf behind me, just keeping them there for quick reference when I need -- yes, I was in the middle of filming "Batman" when this all -- well, not when it began, but when the lockdown started to happen in Europe.

That was March 15. I got on a plane and made it back here. So, we pumped the brakes pretty hard. But I`ll tell you, we were having a ball up to that point.

You know, you asked, how are we going about it? Listen, every -- Batman`s fascinating. It`s evolved from 1939 until now. We`re still, you know, recycling these stories and reinventing these stories.

And what we were trying to do is create a film and a tone and a mood and a setting that is contemporary, is grounded in some -- you know, in a Gotham that we might all relate to in some ways.

And we`re doing it together. So, what I`m doing as Commissioner Gordon is really reflecting off what Rob Pattinson is doing as Batman. And we`re all in it together, but we were -- yes, we were doing some pretty cool stuff, bro, I got to tell you.

MELBER: It sounds -- I think people will be psyched to see it, obviously, a lot of things on hold, but culture doesn`t stop.

So, we`re going to look forward to it.

I`m running over on time, but, of course, I have to end by asking you, you know which Batman character is CDC-approved?


WRIGHT: Which would that be?


MELBER: Bane, because he`s -- Bane is always in his mask.

WRIGHT: Of course. Of course.

But see, I know where tony Fauci was born. I -- those are the kind of questions I was ready for. Tony Fauci was born right here at Brooklyn Hospital, right here in Fort Greene.

MELBER: Hey, shout-out to Brooklyn.

But, look, Tony Fauci would approve. Bane is -- he never takes his mask off.

WRIGHT: I don`t know where Bane was born. Fauci -- I know where Fauci was born, you know?


MELBER: Jeffrey, we appreciate what you`re doing and the sneak peek on the new "Batman."

And I want to make sure everyone knows what you mentioned earlier. For those who want to get involved with what you`re doing, you can go to, Support. Check it out.

We will be right back.


MELBER: That does it for us. You have been watching THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER.

Please rejoin us tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, if you are around.

And don`t go anywhere. Keep it right here, right now, on MSNBC.