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WAPO TRANSCRIPT: 5/25/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: John Stanton, Amy Sherald, Rich Benjamin, Brittney Cooper, Anne Rimoin

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: In the meantime, my own personal breath of fresh air, Ari Melber, joins us.

Hey there, Ari.

THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts in a moment.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: It`s true, Katy. Nice to see you.

Obviously, tough times overall, and appreciate the tribute you were just doing.

But how is the rest of your life doing now that you are through working -- I hope you are through working and you have the rest of your Memorial Day?

TUR: I don`t know if anybody could hear it, but upstairs it sounded like my son was going through Civil War surgery, he was screaming so loud.


TUR: So I`m not sure. I`m not sure what I`m about to ascend to upstairs. But it`s better than the alternative.


MELBER: Is that one positive? Is your family enjoying all the extra togetherness, or are you ready to go back outside when it`s safe?

TUR: We love being together. And Teddy is certainly getting spoiled. But we`re ready to get back to work.

Ari, how are you? I miss you. This has been -- it`s been forever since we have had this moment together.

MELBER: I miss you.

Look, I can hear the silence even across -- even in a holiday landscape, I can hear our silence across America. So, I enjoy having a chance to see you this way. I think our viewers know, I think a lot of folks know, like everyone else, a lot of us are working, you`re working mobilely.

So, really, this is the only way I ever get to say hi.

TUR: I know. And it`s been months. And I feel an emptiness in my heart without -- an emptiness that can only be filled by a long, pregnant pause.

MELBER: Well, there you go. And I will try to give you that any time.

Katy Tur, thank you for working on a holiday. My best to you and your family.

And let me turn now to tell everyone at home what we`re doing, because, right now, as I mentioned with Katy, we`re all working with live shows on this Memorial Day. We have a special two-hour show.

I am Ari Melber.

And I want to tell you, we have several special things planned over these next two hours with you. We have, of course, the latest news on what`s happening on this holiday, including what you do need to know to stay healthy and safe during the pandemic.

But that`s not all. We also have news about who Donald Trump is eying to replace the watchdog that he ousted. One report suggests the details may be troubling.

Later, in the second hour that I`m going to be with you on tonight, if you stay with me, we have a special report on the warnings that Bill Gates issued about this looming pandemic, including a direct appeal to Trump, and what we can learn about that going forward.

And, also, of course, May is graduation season, but this is a very different graduation year, with virtual addresses from the likes of President Obama and other artists and celebrities trying to cheer on this class of 2020.

Well, later in the next hour, singer Teyana Taylor joins us live to look on the bright side. We have all that ahead.

But we begin with, yes, a Memorial Day unlike any this country has probably ever seen, a nation honoring many fallen soldiers throughout history, with heavy hearts as well for all of the people around us who have been dying right now.

We are approaching a grim milestone of 100,000 American lives lost. These, of course, are not lost on a battlefield, but right here people who were just living what was so recently something we took maybe for granted, just normal life, going outside, interacting with people.

Today, President Trump visiting Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown. You can see him there.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden appeared in public for the first time in two months. You can see him also laying a wreath and wearing a mask, along with Dr. Jill Biden, honoring the fallen at a veterans memorial in Delaware.

Trump also traveled to Baltimore. The mayor there had publicly ordered him not to come. And he delivered some scripted remarks at Fort McHenry.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Together, we will vanquish the virus and America will rise from this crisis to new and even greater heights.

As our brave warriors have shown us from the nation`s earliest days, in America, we are the captains of our own fate. No obstacle, no challenge, and no threat is a match for the sheer determination of the American people.


MELBER: So, that`s the president`s address.

And this is a day, of course, that the U.S. government, the federal government that he leads, explicitly devotes this day to focus on fallen soldiers.

But Donald Trump did not hold back from also launching new attacks online, picking fights with the North Carolina governor over how to get the state ready for the Republican National Convention there, attacking a range of other phones, including "The New York Times."

But Trump did not remark on a "New York Times" front page that captures where we are that so many have been discussing. It has people reflecting on what 100,000 lost lives looks like. What does it mean?

This is an image that, even in its overwhelming detail, reflects 1 percent of the American lives lost thus far to this often deadly virus.

Joining us now on our Memorial Day special is Brittney Cooper. She`s the author of "Eloquent Rage" and a professor at Rutgers University, John Stanton, co-founder of the Save Journalism Project, and Dr. Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Hello, everyone.

Doctor, I`m curious. When you look at the very rare contrast, at least since Joe Biden`s become the presumptive nominee, of what it looks like to have a leader come out and be wearing a face mask while doing his ceremonial duties, what did that contrast look like to you?

DR. ANNE RIMOIN, UCLA EPIDEMIOLOGIST: It showed that the Joe Biden is taking this very seriously and trying to have a -- to create an example for the world.

I think that there`s been so much mixed messaging on masks. And when the world does not see -- when we in the United States don`t see our president wearing a mask, it creates a lot of confusion.

And there`s no -- actually, what fills the void of confusion is politics. So, I`m really glad to see Joe Biden wearing a mask, taking this so seriously, and showing an example, not only to the U.S., but to the world.

MELBER: John, let me play for your analysis, in addition to any response you have to the Bidens, here`s some Republican governors discussing this. Take a look.


GOV. DOUG BURGUM (R-ND): If someone is wearing a mask, they`re not doing it to represent what political party they`re in or what candidates they support.

They might be doing it because they have got a 5-year-old child who`s -- who`s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have COVID and they are fighting.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): This is not about politics. This is not about whether you`re liberal or conservative, left or right, Republican, Democrat.

We wear the mask. And it`s been very clear what the studies have shown. You wear the mask not to protect yourself, so much as to protect others.



JOHN STANTON, FORMER WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, BUZZFEED: Yes, I think it`s interesting to see them to come out and say these things.

I think that there are a lot of Republicans that are very much sort of, like, normal, rational human beings, and see what`s going on right now and realize that this is a very dangerous situation that has become politicized by people within their party, and particularly the president.

I think, unfortunately, they are largely the minority within their party. I think both of those governors have been pretty outspoken, particularly the Ohio governor, in trying to sort of make the case that this is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with.

But too many people within the party, I think, over the last especially month or so have really made the calculation that, because they`re voters aren`t the primary demographic, so to speak, that is being affected by this, that they`re willing to basically sacrifice everybody else, if the president -- if that`s what the president wants.

And we have seen that in a lot of other instances, politically, within the country and within the Republican Party. But when you have 100,000 people dead, and, what, maybe a half -- a half-a-million people that are not mourning those dead people, it`s kind of a stark and remarkable moment to decide to go along with some pretty cross political maneuvering.

MELBER: And, Brittney, the vice president has to continue to wage a campaign during a national crisis, during a pandemic, and part of that is showing, implicitly or explicitly, whatever contrast he wants to offer about how we do it differently.

There`s a new Biden now. We will just show some of the visuals from it to give you the flavor. But it`s the idea that while all this goes on, the mounting death toll you see here, that`s reality on one side, and the president golfing, an image of him sort of out to lunch.

Now, in fairness, I can note that many presidents take some leisure time. But this seems to key in, Brittney, on something that the Biden folks feel is a larger contrast with Donald Trump and sort of not being allegedly up to the job.

BRITTNEY COOPER, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: I mean, Donald Trump is not up for the job. And I think that we should say that as many times as we can.

And we have got 100,000 folks, nearly 100,000 folks did in less than three months. Let`s be clear that we haven`t even reached the three-month mark in terms of the formal quarantines that we have been experiencing as a nation, and 100 -- nearly 100,000 people have died.

And that is shocking. So, I think it`s smart on the part of the Biden campaign to point out Donald Trump`s inadequacy and ineptness for managing this moment.

I still have some deep reservations about whether running simply as the anti-Trump is going to work for Biden, because, in many ways, Trump continues to sort of win the information wars here, mostly because the thing he has shown us is that there is no level of carnage that actually shifts his focus on the optics of things.

So, 100,000 Americans have passed away in less than three months` time, and he is still doing public memorials on Memorial Day not wearing a mask.

And when you have that brazen kind of show of ego, the Democratic Party is still hard-pressed to figure out -- the American people are hard-pressed to figure out how you beat that, when the facts cease to matter, when we have only 1 percent of the lives on the front of "The New York Times," and still folks can`t grasp the magnitude of it.

We`re seeing the stories all over the country of people being on beaches and things like that today celebrating Memorial Day. And that`s because the president hasn`t shown leadership.

And so we can continue to talk about how he`s inept, but the fact is that people, even folks who are on the left side of the line, are following conservative talking points in terms of their behavior in parts of the country that have not yet been hit so hard.

And so I think we have a real uphill battle here. But I`m very glad that Joe Biden is doing his part in this moment.


STANTON: Yes, I think -- I think I tend to agree.

I think -- I look at what`s going on in my community here in New Orleans -- and we have been hit very, very hard by the coronavirus. And, thankfully, our mayor and our governor did show a lot of leadership and a lot of community leaders here early on, because the numbers here would have been way worse than they are.

And it`s horrendous what`s happened in the city already. But the idea that this -- we didn`t need to do what we have done already is terrifying to me, because I think that, as we start to see these spikes, you have governors, like in Arkansas and other places, saying, well we`re going to have spikes, c`est la vie, basically, right?

And I think that is born out of this sort of, like, dumbing down of the threat, I think. And that comes directly from the president. And I think that we have to be very careful, as people in the media, to make sure people understand that this is a very real ongoing crisis, that it hasn`t gone away. And it`s going to maintain itself, at a minimum, or come back even harder than it already is.

MELBER: And on that point, Doctor, we also wanted to get your view here on this. We have covered some aspects of the holiday. But in the latest reporting on the national testing that is a part of a phased reopening, we have this from "The New York Times."

Experts took issue with this assertion that continuing to test only about 300,000 people a day, targeting only those likely to be positive, would be enough to contain the outbreak -- quote -- "On the face of it. The idea that 300,000 tests a day is enough for America is absurd," says the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Dr. Rimoin, are we at a place, three months in, give or take, for America where the federal government is sort of giving up on comprehensive testing and just saying, here we go?

RIMOIN: This is really a big problem here.

We need good testing. We have talked about the need for testing that needs to be widespread, available to everyone, accessible, and testing not just people who are likely to be positive, but looking at asymptomatic infection as well.

We do not know where we are. And, Ari, we have been talking about this for months now. I`m saying the same thing today that I said two weeks ago, three weeks ago, four weeks ago. It`s the same song I`m singing here, which is that we do not have adequate testing.


RIMOIN: ... strategy.

MELBER: Doctor, you could hold up a newspaper that would say Memorial Day to prove you`re on live television saying what you said months ago.

RIMOIN: Right. No.

And so the national strategy -- your point is important. We still need a national strategy. As we are opening up, it is more important than ever that we double down on testing, national strategy, more testing available to everybody.

As the country is opening up, we are going to be seeing more cases. And we need to have all of these things that we have been talking about in place all of this time, testing, contact tracing, good disease surveillance, numbers that we can trust. We are not there.

And so we are at great risk as the country is opening up.

MELBER: All important context.

Dr. Rimoin, I want to thank you.

Brittney comes back for another segment.

John, we do need to deal briefly with your decor. Can you tell us anything about what`s mounted there in the background?

STANTON: Well, God, there`s so much.

Chuck Brown on the one side. There`s a poster -- or a painting of Little Freddie King, one of our local legends, who`s thankfully still with us. Yes, it`s chaotic as my brain is, I think, pretty much.

MELBER: And why the mouse ears on the apparent bowl or whatever it is?

STANTON: That`s a bull. Why not, right?

I got those last year when I went to Disneyland for the first time. So...


MELBER: I love it because I love learning from people.

Not everyone`s interior decorating strategy is, why not? Because that could lead you in all kinds of directions. But I think you`re doing you. And now we know a little bit more. We love learning about people through their background, sir.


STANTON: Yes. It`s definitely...


MELBER: Thanks to John and the doctor.

And, as mentioned, Brittney comes back for another special discussion.

I will see you soon.

Let me fit in a break and tell you what`s coming up. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo now dismissing these questions about these watchdog firings. Reporting, though, shedding new light on the people Trump is trying to get in to replace the very people supposed to oversee him.

Also, the federal judge in the Michael Flynn case hiring his own lawyer. Have you heard about this? It`s new developments, with an unprecedented series of actions involving the Barr Justice Department. We have a special report on that with Joyce Vance coming up.

And then coronavirus and the race, new insights into how communities of color are at risk in this pandemic. That`s an important discussion we`re going to bring you tonight.

Stay with us.



TRUMP: We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials.



MELBER: If you listen close, you could hear right there members of Congress laughing in the president`s face at his claim that he was still trying to drain the swamp.

Now, as the nation is grappling, of course, with this approaching milestone of 100,000 American deaths from the coronavirus, which is a big story, there are other stories that are very important that we want to bring you, including new twists in Trump administration controversies over bias at Bill Barr`s Justice Department.

This is a case we have been tracking. You have certainly heard about it, because it began in the Mueller era, but now the judge overseeing the Flynn case facing an appeal over his refusal to choose to immediately drop the case at the request of the Trump administration and specifically Bill Barr`s rMD-BO_DOJ.

"The Washington Post" reporting this federal judge, Emmet Sullivan, has now hired his own lawyer to handle this appeal.

This is very unusual, but let me be clear, so is this whole legal situation, because the attorney general tried to reverse a legal victory his own Justice Department had won because Michael Flynn had already pled guilty.

And that`s not all. Meanwhile, Donald Trump`s handpicked FBI director, Christopher Wray -- this is the man who replaced Comey after Trump fired him -- is asking for an internal review of the FBI`s handling of this same case.

Then you can widen out further to stories the Trump administration may not want you to know over the holidays and during everything else going on. But beyond these developments, which stem, of course, from the initial Mueller probe, new questions face Secretary of State Pompeo over ousting the watchdog investigating matters that involved him, including arms sales to Saudi Arabia that Congress opposed.

Pompeo has not fully explained the controversial dismissal.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Let`s be clear. There are claimed that this was for retaliation for some investigation that the inspector general`s office here was engaged in.

It`s patently false. I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general`s office. Couldn`t possibly have retaliated for all the things. I have seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner.

I mean, it`s just crazy. It`s all crazy stuff.


MELBER: And that`s not the only government watchdog to be suddenly fired by the Trump administration, again, during a pandemic, when people are focused on other things, four now gone.

And a new appointee that is supposed to combat fraud inside the Trump administration has a dual role running another part of a Trump agency. "The Washington Post" reporting this candidate`s appointment was the fifth in just two months where Trump basically replaced a career investigator with an appointee considered more loyal.

In three of the cases, they write, "Trump has installed new leadership drawn from the senior ranks of the agencies that the inspectors general oversee," in other words, a deliberate conflict of interest.

We have two very special guests that I rely on for these exact kind of stories, David Corn and Joyce Vance, right after this break.


MELBER: We are back with Joyce Vance, the former federal prosecutor and a professor at the University of Alabama Law School, and David Corn, Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones," both MSNBC analysts.

David going with a pandemic beard.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I like to call it my Tom Hanks beard. "Cast Away"?

MELBER: Well, I am -- I will say, full disclosure, I have become friendly with you enough over our years working together that I can say, dream on.


CORN: Well, that`s what we`re doing during the shut-in period.


CORN: We`re dreaming on.

MELBER: Well, we`re both -- we`re dreaming along. We`re both -- we`re both a long ways from Tom Hanks.

Having chided David, I will return to him for his reporting. He`s reported on these cases in detail from the inception of the Mueller probe.

But on the law, Joyce, I want to just go to you first. Walk us through what we were just speaking about before the short break, how unusual these twists are. What does it mean?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think we have used the word unusual so many times during this administration, Ari, that it`s run out of steam, so I will say irregular, highly unusual, and really something that would have been unacceptable in any other administration.

Senator Grassley, the Republican champion of the inspector generals, one would expect to be really beating a drum at this point, because it`s critical to have independent inspector generals who don`t work for the secretary or for the head of their office, so that they can fully investigate any allegations of fraud, waste or abuse.

That`s what this is all about. President Trump didn`t like it when the inspector general for the intelligence community forwarded the whistle- blower complaint about Ukraine that ultimately led to impeachment.

Now he seems to be retaliating against the entire I.G. community, making sure that they won`t be able to bring forward any additional misconduct by anyone in his administration.

MELBER: And can you say, under the law, Joyce, whether that looks like an effort to -- all of this to undercut the way these watchdogs are supposed to work, which, by fighting fraud and abuse and other issues, whether it`s from the president or within the agency, that`s supposed to protect the American taxpayer and our civil liberties, et cetera?

VANCE: It absolutely looks that way. And it does it in multiple ways, Ari.

There`s this technical legal violation with the State Department inspector general, Linick, where Trump is required to give Congress 30 days` notice before he removes him. Instead, Trump immediately puts Linick on leave locks him out of his office and his e-mail, so he can`t continue his work, which reportedly includes investigations, including the fact that Secretary Pompeo was throwing dinners at taxpayer expense, lavish dinners, that looked an awful lot like early politicking for a future political run by the secretary.

So, that sort of thing violates the law.

Trump also sends a message to all 74 inspector generals in the I.G. community, telling them, don`t investigate. Don`t get too close, or you will find yourself removed. That`s what happened to David Fine, the acting -- or, rather, Glenn Fine, the acting inspector general at the Department of Defense, who was removed so that he couldn`t take over oversight of $500 billion in small business grants and other loans that were going out as part of the COVID enterprise.

And other inspector generals also have to be questioning whether they risk their job by continuing to act with independence.

MELBER: And, David, on the Mike Flynn side of it, this is someone who literally pled guilty.

Let`s briefly recall the way he was campaigning for Trump and against Hillary Clinton in 2016.


AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Lock her up, that`s right. Yes, that`s right. Lock her up.

If I -- a guy who knows this business, if I did a 10th, a 10th of what she did, I would be in jail today.


MELBER: David?

CORN: Well, I think he did more than a 10th, and he might have been heading towards some jail time, but Donald Trump and his lackey Bill Barr are trying to prevent that from happening.

And we have to remember what this is all about. The FBI was investigating contacts between the Trump campaign and the Trump transition team after the election and Russia, while investigating the Russian attack on the 2016 election, to see if there was anything between -- any cross-pollination between those two acts, right?

And Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. That made him vulnerable to compromise by the Russians, who knew about these contacts. He ended up lying, at least to Mike Pence, the vice president. At least Pence said he did.

So it put him in a really difficult situation. And Trump fired him and said, I don`t like liars. He lied to me.

So it`s pretty clear what he did here. What`s not covered by this case, which gets to the I.G. issue as well, is that while he was working with Trump on the campaign during the transition, he was a secret lobbyist for Turkey.

He made over a half-million dollars lobbying for Turkey without doing what he`s supposed to be doing. That is registering with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. So he was the swamp. He epitomizes the swamp. And he was able to get rid of that charge, that accusation, which he admitted to, actually, by pleading guilty to the lying to the FBI charge.

So, it`s all about corruption. It`s all about the Russia investigation. And that`s why Trump wants to get rid of the investigation, want to get rid of Michael Flynn and the person -- and the prosecution of Michael Flynn, because, at the end of the day -- this gets to Joyce`s point -- Trump doesn`t believe in the public interest.

He really doesn`t believe in the public interest. That`s why I.G.s are there. That`s why you prosecute cases like Michael Flynn. He believes only in the Trump interest.

MELBER: And, Joyce, we have just 30 seconds, but what does it tell you that the appeals court is even getting involved before Judge Sullivan rules?

VANCE: Usually, judges on appeals courts wait until a trial judge has made a decision and created a record before they consider whether or not that judge got it right.

So, this is very unusual, worth paying attention to. This is a petition for mandamus, where this circuit court could perhaps order district Judge Sullivan to dismiss the prosecution about Mike Flynn, removing his discretion to hear the case.

MELBER: It`s really striking and one -- one of the several stories we are going to stay on for the reasons stated.

Joyce and David, thanks to both of you for joining us on this Memorial Day. We`re better for your insights. Appreciate it.

I`m going to fit in a break.

When we come back: The coronavirus does have issues with discrimination. Reporting on how communities of color are hard-hit and what can be done about it.

And later tonight, an honor every president usually expects in the modern era. It`s a courtesy you extend to your successor, but apparently not with the Trump-Obama relationship. We`re going to get into all that with a very special guest.

You`re watching MSNBC.


MELBER: This coronavirus death toll continues to rise and impacts so many people, but not always equally.

Data shows that essential workers, poorer households and racial minorities are disproportionately impacted. Take New York City. Blacks and Latinos are nearly twice as likely to die from the virus there and thus represent a larger portion of deaths than their share of that population.

And let`s be clear, this trend goes well beyond any particular big city. It has also been documented in places like Illinois, Michigan, and Kansas. We see similar disparities.

Now, medical experts stress that this virus may be technically blind, it`s a virus, but our society and the history it`s intersecting with are not. Longstanding inequities in the job market, in health care access, and housing make these problems much worse for certain communities.

Digging into this important conversation now, I`m joined by Rich Benjamin, political analyst. He is the author of "Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journal" -- "Journey," I should say, "Into the Heart of White America," an interesting and prescient book that was written before the Trump era began.

And rejoining us, as promised, is professor Brittney Cooper. She is the author of "Eloquent Rage."

Thanks to both of you for being a part of this discussion.


MELBER: This is something that we have been covering in a range of ways.

Thank you, Rich. Good to see you.

We have been covering this in a range of ways. We have talked to doctors. We have talked to people in affected communities. We heard from the chief of police in Detroit, who has an overwhelmingly African-American police force and community. And we have seen this in a lot of ways.

Both of you are writers, scholars who think and have studied a lot of these larger issues pre-virus.

And so, Rich, what do you take from this? What needs to be done?

RICH BENJAMIN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Ari, sometimes, we hear these dramatic statistics about how black and brown people are dying, but we should go back sooner and look at per capita in terms of E.R. rooms, in terms of health care access, in terms of ventilators.

So, we didn`t just suddenly get to these deaths. There`s a long history, there`s a long context of these disparity of resources. And I should also mention, the flip side of segregation isn`t just black and brown people. It`s, what do white communities look like? How can they marshal local and state and federal resources to advantage themselves in terms of the health care that they get, the better hospitals, the better schools, the better housing that we have seen to impact this virus?

MELBER: And, Brittney, there`s many ways to measure it.

One of the difficulties during this time -- we showed the "New York Times" report -- is that the numbers only take you so far. Each person is a life. We struggle with how to even reflect that at these times.

But one way to think about, that we want to report from the APM research, one way to think about this with regard to the systemic structural racial inequities is this statistic.

If these individuals had simply died of COVID at the same rate as white Americans, then, right now, there would be about 12,000 black Americans, 1,300 Latino Americans and 300 Asian Americans who would be alive right now, today, every death a tragic loss for the people affected no matter the color.

But that is another way that experts are pointing to literally what that means, Brittney.

COOPER: You know, it`s super devastating to see those numbers.

And one of the things that African-Americans knew, if you think about voting behavior in 2016 was that there would be terrible consequences from a Trump presidency. And the mismanagement of COVID means that we are 12,000 less African-Americans.

But I also want to make sure to note that Native American communities are also being ravaged by coronavirus and have the highest per capita rate of infection of any group in the country. And they`re often not part of this conversation.

But there are two additional things that I want to say here. One is that, when we think about why African-Americans are dying at such high rates because of underlying issues that make them have more fatal instances is with this disease, I want us to connect that to the killing of brother Ahmaud Arbery in February, something that African-American communities have been outraged about of late.

Because there`s been a lot of preaching and moralizing that black people are dying of COVID because we don`t take care of ourselves, we don`t eat right, we don`t exercise, but we`re not the about the fact that that brother was killed because he was out for a jog, and that that`s one of the structural inequities that we have been talking about when we are wondering why we see more of these comorbidities in African-American communities, because the simple act of trying to exercise in public can be the difference between life and death.

The other thing is, anecdotally, I`m hearing lots of stories from black folks about going to get tested and being turned away. And we`re hearing lots of anecdotal stories about folks being turned away multiple times -- excuse me -- and then dying or having really terrible consequences from coronavirus.

And that is part of the research that we call the racial empathy gap, wherein health care providers who are certainly on the front lines and are our heroes still have these biases, where they don`t believe what people of color are saying about what is happening in their bodies.

And there`s -- I think, once we get to the other side of this, and we can study it systematically, we`re going to find out that that turning away of care, that refusal of care and refusal to believe because of these implicit biases, and sometimes explicit biases, are also leading to this cascading amount of deaths.

And so tears came to my eyes when you said those numbers, because it`s folks who look like me who are being devastated and ravaged by this. And the challenge that we have in this country is that it`s precisely because the dead and dying are people who look like me and people who are black and brown, that is leading to folks taking this so cavalierly, from the president on down.

MELBER: You make several important points, Brittney, including your reference to empathy, and the crosscutting ways that can distort what would be the right thing, if, medically, the right thing is help as many people as possible within the resources you have, or, ethically, the right thing, people can debate to some degree, but it involves trying to do right by people, so we don`t have unnecessary death and tragedy.

You`re reminding me of the empathy gap here that, obviously, the United States battled both internally, with these disparities we`re discussing, and also internationally, because we struggle sometimes to see a crisis or a threat as real until it starts killing Americans.

COOPER: That`s right.

MELBER: And so we had this advance notice internationally, and we missed that in many ways.

Rich, for a final thought, I want to share with you another piece of this. Again, there`s so many layers. We`re just trying to get through some of it. But this is also the statistics when we hear the talk about, well, we`re reopening to some degree, or, yes, essential workers got to get back out there, someone`s got to deliver your food.

But if you`re in the creative class, and you have a decent job, and you haven`t lost your job, maybe you could work from home, fine, and provide for your family. No one`s blaming you.

But let`s understand who`s taking the risk, Rich. "Heroes or hostages?" the ABC News headline. "Communities of color bear this burden. People of color account for 43 percent of essential workers in the nation right now," Rich.


And I want to highlight what Brittney said about empathy. When you have segregated communities residentially, you lack that empathy of the sacrifices that these working-class people of color are making.

And, therefore, those people of color are facing a double jeopardy, or even a triple jeopardy. One is economic. The second is the threat of catching the virus. And the third is catching people`s anger when they ask them to put on a mask, or when they ask them to abide certain rules.

And at the leadership at the top, when you have such a mixed, scandalous response to this disease, on the one hand calling it a hoax, on the one hand saying it`s very urgent, this confuses people on the ground.

And it really frays the social tension and the goodwill between people. And we shouldn`t be surprised when we have a lack of empathy, not just in terms of the workers, but in empathy, as Brittney pointed out, in the bedside manner, in the treatment, in the testing, in all the dynamics that go if -- if when people of color get sick.

So, it`s a huge, huge issue. And we should point out that it just didn`t come from the clouds. It didn`t just descend from nowhere.

MELBER: You`re right. Right.

BENJAMIN: A certain type of lack of leadership is making this empathy gap worse.

MELBER: Right.

BENJAMIN: And it`s putting people in all kinds of triple jeopardy.

MELBER: Well, and that`s why we wanted to make sure to continue to convene these reports and different voices and a range of expertise, so we can keep this in the headlines and to make sure people are thinking constructively about what to do about it.

Rich and Brittney, I want to thank you both. I will see you again.

We`re going to fit in this break.

Up next: This is a courtesy that has gone traditionally beyond politics. The president invites their predecessor to the White House to unveil the official portrait. You can see a version here with Obama and George W. Bush. Happy memories.

But, apparently, the custom, well, it`s in danger, along with a lot of other efforts at bipartisanship these days.

It`s an important story about art and politics. And we have a very special guest making her debut here, renowned artist Amy Sherald, who made that famous portrait of the first lady Michelle Obama, when we come back.


MELBER: Welcome back.

No matter how tense politics can get, there are a few traditions that still tend to bring political rivals together, like tributes to veterans and fallen soldiers on this Memorial Day, or, of course, funerals of major figures.

And then, beyond the solemn, there is another modern tradition with some unity that comes with the official unveiling of a former president`s portrait in the White House.

In fact, here`s how President Obama approached that task when unveiling President George W. Bush`s portrait in 2012.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this job, no decision that reaches your desk is easy. No choice you make is without costs.

No matter how hard you try, you`re not going to make everybody happy. I think that`s something President Bush and I both learned pretty quickly.


OBAMA: And that`s why, from time to time, those of us who`ve had the privilege to hold this office find ourselves turning to the only people on Earth who know the feeling.

We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences.


MELBER: Worthwhile sentiments.

But the tradition appears to be ending. No plans right now to hold any official unveiling of President Obama`s White House portrait. NBC reporting neither Obama, nor Trump appeared interested in trying to come together for it this year.

The article noting it`s too soon to know whether the absence of the uniquely harmonious occasion is just a reflection of a singular dynamic between those presidents, or whether it`s symbolic of a broader, bitter political era.

Now, that is unfortunate, especially because it denies the public one official moment to take in this fusion of art and history, with the benefit of a few years of history behind us.

In fact, both Barack and Michelle Obama tapped a new generation of artists for the honor. The president chose Kehinde Wiley, while Michelle chose Amy Sherald, who painted the iconic image you see here of Michelle that now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution`s National Portrait Gallery.

And, right now, very special announcement, Amy Sherald joins us.

Her art also spans far beyond that portrait in history. She`s distinguished yourself for documenting the contemporary African-American experience and is both the first woman and the first African-American to win first prize in a National Portrait Gallery competition.

Thanks for joining me.

AMY SHERALD, AWARD-WINNING ARTIST: Hi. Thank you for having me. How are you?

MELBER: I`m all right.


MELBER: This is an interesting one.

And we wanted to get into it with you.

First of all, just big picture, pun intended, what is the value, in your view, of both these portraits of the ceremony? It`s obviously not your call that these presidents aren`t doing one. But what`s the value here?

SHERALD: I think that the opportunity for the unveiling to happen in the White House is a great opportunity.

The White House is not only a symbol of our democracy, but it`s also a de facto museum of sorts. And it holds an archive of -- and artifacts of the people that lived in the White House before.

And I remember watching the unveiling. And I remember being heartened seeing these two political parties come together. And all politics aside, it was a beautiful celebration that us as artists are able to take a part of.

And I think it`s really sad that he`s leaving this tradition behind. And I think it`s also very disheartening for the artists that have the opportunity to participate to create these portraits and become a part of a historical legacy.

MELBER: That makes perfect sense, what you`re saying.

And that legacy, again, is part of it. We`re talking about the prestige, the symbolism, the history. And we`re talking, of course, as well obviously about the first black family in the Oval Office, in the White House.


MELBER: We will put back up some of the imagery of your Michelle portrait.

Many people will remember this. It was striking. It was different than some portraits we have seen in the past, with her big flowing dress. You see her there on the right.


MELBER: Walk us through what you did there, what you were going for.

SHERALD: For my -- for my portrait?

MELBER: Mm-hmm.

SHERALD: I -- you know, the first thing that I thought about when I got the commission was that I wanted to create an image of her that was universal - - universal and something that was different than all of the images that we saw of her in the media, something that felt more private and more personal to who she was.

I worked with her stylist, Meredith Koop. I wanted to be able to have history somewhat tied into the dress. And so, when we came across this dress that had this print, it really did connect me to the history of the Gee`s Bend women and their quilting.

And that was a way for me to connect her to not only American history, but black history, without being too didactic.

And -- yes, I just -- we discussed the way that I paint. We discussed the fact that her image would be in gray, en grisaille, because that`s the way that I -- that I produce my figures.

And she was OK with that. It`s a moment in history that needed to be documented, and they wanted it to be documented in the way that, when people came into a museum, they realized that something happened here, that something was different here, and there was a space and time that was different than any other space and time.

And I think that you could really see Trump not holding this unveiling as an act of erasure of that history, but they hold a legacy that`s so great that they can never be erased.

And I think he could try to do so. But, by doing so, he almost is admitting that it`s greater than anything that he could ever try to belittle.

MELBER: Very interesting, you saying that.

I only have about 30 seconds here at the end of our hour. But your work -- also, in dealing with race and America, you take a particular approach to the palette and how you want people to see things.

Could you talk briefly about that before we let you go?

SHERALD: Well, when I started making these pieces, I really wanted to make work that was going to be universal, that could be employed in many different ways.

And so representation is important. These images are black figures. And the way that they sit in museum institutions are -- is important. But I also need them to be relatable to all kinds of people, because, sometimes, images are the only way that we encounter each other. And so I think it`s important that we`re able to see each other in different -- in different ways.

For me, as a black woman, to walk into a museum and to see a representation of myself that`s positive, and for somebody else who may have no other interaction with people of color to walk into a museum and see the same thing, I think it makes a huge difference in our psyche.

MELBER: It`s really striking. And there`s a lot of thought, obviously, behind your work. So, learning a little bit more about it, now that we have seen some of these iconic images, is great.

The painter, artist Amy Sherald.

Hope to have you back. Thank you.

SHERALD: Thank you.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Next hour, we are here live. I will be anchoring. We have new reporting on Memorial Day weekend heading into summer, how people are facing or ignoring virus risks.

And later next hour, we look at these very different graduation scenes right now around the country. In fact, the iconic singer Teyana Taylor joins us live in the 7:00 p.m. hour Eastern on what she`s doing for the class of 2020.

And I want you to know, later tonight, we`re going more in-depth. I will be doing an exclusive live interview with Teyana on Instagram live 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You can go @TeyanaTaylor or @AriMelber.

And go text your kids or grandkids about this right now, and I bet you they will think you`re pretty hip.

We will be right back.