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Trump rallies at Mt. Rushmore TRANSCRIPT: 7/3/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber Special

Guests: Tony Schwartz, Hakeem Jeffries, Michelle Goldberg, Vin Gupta

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

And we have a very special show for you tonight, right now, including a report we have been working on and a very special guest to discuss it. I`m going to explain more about that later on.

But, first, right now, our top story is, of course, the surging coronavirus across the nation, putting heat on the president and, of course, Americans. This affects everyone`s life.

There are major concerns over Donald Trump now plowing ahead with another in-person event that will break his own administration`s guidelines, 7,000 people together, many without masks, at Mount Rushmore.

It will not be a socially distanced gathering. The White House telegraphing Trump will use his speech to pick fights tonight over monuments and how America views its history, while Native American leaders are protesting the monument because it has been built on sacred land, they stay.

On top of all that, there are wildfire concerns. Donald Trump still pushing, though, for fireworks that officials say will add unnecessary risk.

Take it together, and you have a pandemic breaking records right now, a president leading a high-profile event modeling the exact conduct that would make pandemic infections worse, and reengaging in a racially fraught culture war, and demanding fireworks that officials thing could spark an actual wildfire.

Welcome to Independence Day 2020.

We have our experts lined up.

And we begin with MSNBC`s Cal Perry on the ground first -- Cal.

CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: What a convergence of stories, Ari.

You have those three storylines. There will not be social distancing. We heard that from the South Dakota governor, saying to people, if you`re not comfortable with it, don`t show up. Watch it on TV.

That wildfire danger, the National Park Service saying they will keep a close eye on the areas surrounding the national park. In the next 12 to 24 hours, there is a three-mile cordon the Secret Service is enforcing.

And, finally, this is sacred ground, the Black Hills here promised to Native Americans in 1868. That treaty was breached less than 10 years later. So we will see protests on the vicinity of that cordon -- Ari.

MELBER: Cal Perry, you will be keeping busy out there. And we will be coming back to you throughout our special coverage this evening. So I will see you again.

I want to thank you for the update on the ground.

And bring in "New York Times" columnist Michelle Goldberg and Dr. Vin Gupta, pulmonologist, global health policy expert and a professor from University of Washington or, as we know it in Seattle, UDub.

Good to see you both.



MELBER: Michelle, a lot of stories combining tonight. Your thoughts?

GOLDBERG: So, look, when Donald Trump was elected, I was bereft. I was unconsolable.

But never in my wildest nightmare could I have imagined that America would become a global pariah, that our ordinary lives would grind to a halt because of the raging incompetence of this administration, because of its continuing failure, unlike any other developed nation in the world, to address the seriousness of what`s befallen us.

At this point -- Donald Trump likes to call this the Wuhan virus. This is now the American virus. Most other countries in the world have this under control. And the president`s approach is basically -- actually, I think NBC News has a story (AUDIO GAP) new official approach is, learn to live with it.

And so we see it. New York went through weeks and weeks and weeks of trauma being locked down, seeing businesses destroyed, seeing people`s ordinary lives ground to a halt to try to quash this thing. And yet, because of this president, it is now on fire all over the country.

And there is no leadership to stop it.

MELBER: Doctor?


And I couldn`t agree more with Michelle`s comments. You just saw -- you`re showing a clip right now in Mount Rushmore at the rally. And this is so disheartening, is so demoralizing to myself, I know to my colleagues on the front lines, to everybody in public health care, Ari.

Everything that we have been working for, messaging on for the last four months, conspiracy theorists now think we have other incentives in mind. I get attacked, not infrequently, suggesting that I`m not for the interests of American public health.

What`s really difficult to understand here, Ari, is how the South Dakota governor is not relieved of her duties. If I did something willingly wrong, or if I knew I was doing something that was harmful to a patient, I would be -- my medical license would be pulled tomorrow. I would not be able to practice intensive care medicine.

I wouldn`t be able to care for critically ill COVID patients anymore. Why is she allowed to govern her people, when she`s doing something so obviously political to curry favor with the president?

She`s saying no social distancing, no masking. There`s nobody even there -- nobody -- everybody`s together as though nothing`s happened, the last four months have not happened. It`s wrong. This mixed messaging is public health malpractice.

And at what point do we say, these governors are -- should be relieved of duty, and we invoke the equivalent of the state-based 25th Amendment? I mean, I wish there was a state-based 25th Amendment-type policy in South Dakota , because the people of South Dakota deserve better.

MELBER: Both of you speaking, I think, from the heart here about public safety. And, obviously, you`re talking about the public safety of individuals, many of whom are coming to follow the president, who are supportive of him, or MAGA supporters.

But you`re worried about their public health in a way that, according to your analysis, their own leader, in the president, and some of the people planning these events are not. It`s striking.

I want to play South Dakota`s governor. Take a listen.


GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home, but those who want to come and join us, we will be giving out free face masks if they choose to wear one, but we won`t be social distancing.


MELBER: Doctor?

GUPTA: It`s her duty, as the head of that state, to not just recommend policies, but she should know now that masks should be mandated.

She should be learning from what Texas and Florida are going through. She should be learning and changing her policies. And she`s not practicing -- she`s not encouraging social distancing. She should be mandating it. They should be mandating these things. That`s the job of a governor, of an elected official, is to do what`s right for your people, not just leave it up and say, you`re on your own.

It`s entirely wrong. It`s dereliction of duty. She`s essentially given up leadership. What`s the point of leadership, if you`re not going to tell and guide people? So I couldn`t disagree more.

MELBER: And, Michelle, the politicization of this continues to take a very real toll, something you and others have discussed.

Take a listen to a sheriff in South Dakota discussing whether the people who are going to keep the public safety, sheriff deputies and others, are even going to follow, again, what are Trump administration mask guidelines. Take a listen.


KEVIN THOM, PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA, SHERIFF: It`s an outside event, so that lowers our concern. Masks are available for attendees. Masks are optional for our deputies.

Generally, they won`t be wearing them. We believe in our independent nature here, freedom of choice. And if they want to wear a mask, they can. If they don`t want to, they don`t have to.


MELBER: Michelle, if you could analyze for us, being the critical thinker and "New York Times" writer that you are, the difference between freedom of choice, which is fine for citizens, and what public sector and government professionals should do, according to safety rules and their actual governmental obligations?

GOLDBERG: Look, I think this is a psychotic conception of freedom for a couple of reasons.

I mean, and we see this, I think, on a lesser scale in other parts of American life, the freedom to own heavy weaponry, the freedom to March around public demonstrations armed to the teeth.

But what`s different here is that you don`t wear a mask to protect yourself, right? You wear a mask to protect other people. The protection is from kind of the people expelling the virus, as opposed to a mask offers less protection for breathing in the virus.

So it`s not -- so, by making these personal choices, they`re also making a choice that everyone that they come in contact with is going to be in heightened danger.

And, look, everyone who has faced this in real life has come around to this point of view. The only people who still think that this is the flu or this is a hoax are the people who haven`t seen this thing become a steamroller in their communities.

You just saw Texas mandate masks, right? This is not because they`re a bunch of coastal liberals. It`s because they see what this thing can do. And yet he talked about the governor being relieved of her duties. This is the president of the United States.

He has become a kind of roaming COVID hot spot. You saw people -- there`s been reports of people getting sick at his sad little Tulsa rally, which, even though it didn`t have as many people as it could have, still had enough people to spread the disease, including to one of his guests, Herman Cain, who could have gotten it there.

MELBER: Right.

GOLDBERG: There`s numerous reports of service getting it.

And so...


MELBER: And I will tell you -- while you`re talking, I`m going to tell the control room, can we see any of the crowd?

We have got a little bit of the stage, but, to Michelle`s point, do we have -- we`re in live footage here, so we will see what we can get. But do we have a look at the crowd about what`s going on out there?

And, if not, maybe we have some of the older crowd stuff, because what we have seen, to Michelle`s point, is previously -- previously, Michelle, in other states, they packed the crowds in for this thing.


I mean, and you saw, I think, a little bit of that. They didn`t have to do that in Oklahoma. There was enough space to social distance, but they chose not to. And, again, this is a sociopathic level of denial. This is Trump`s showing contempt, not just for his followers, but for the entire country, because, as we have learned in New York, it`s not as if you can contain this thing to one community, right?

Because of the grotesque, murderous irresponsibility of our president, all the sacrifices that Americans have made during a lockdown are going to turn out to be for naught as it comes back.

MELBER: Yes. Yes.

Michelle Goldberg. Dr. Gupta, thank you both.

Coming up, I want to tell you, we have a lot more in tonight`s show. Tony Schwartz, a friend of THE BEAT, is here, talking about Trump and a leadership vacuum.

Also, new reports about what aides are urging Trump to do to deal with Vladimir Putin.

And a live conversation with a member of Democratic leadership, Hakeem Jeffries.

We will be right back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Actually, I had a mask on. I sort of liked the way I looked, OK? I thought it was OK.

It was a dark black mask, and I thought it looked OK. Looked like the Lone Ranger.

And I think we are going to be very good with the coronavirus.

I think that, at some point, that`s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.

And the crisis is being handled.


MELBER: We`re joined now by "Art of the Deal" co-author and friend of the show Tony Schwartz, who knows all about Donald Trump`s rhetoric.

Good to see you, sir.

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP: THE ART OF THE DEAL": Nice to see you. Miss seeing you in person.

MELBER: Likewise.

When you look at the number of problems facing Donald Trump and what many see as, even for him, a series of truly consequential failures, what do you see right now? What do you think is on his mind?

SCHWARTZ: Well, I think I`m more interested in what`s on my mind than what`s on his mind.

On my mind, I think this is a story about the limits and the costs of extreme self-interest, of extreme self-interest in a very, very complex time. Now, Trump`s the leading practitioner of self-interest, but it is not a story just about him. It`s also a story about (AUDIO GAP) and about the (AUDIO GAP) the limits of individualism.

That`s where I think this all starts. And you see it in the coronavirus. Why did he deny it at first? And why has he gone back to ignoring it, even as it spirals to wholly new levels and out of control?

The answer is that he didn`t want it to be true because he thought it would hurt his reelection chances. It wasn`t good for him. And that was more important to him than protecting American lives.

I have talked before about this psychopathic quality, one aspect of which is a lack of empathy. So, he doesn`t care about what is going on with other people. He only cares about him, about what`s going on for him.

MELBER: Yes, you lay that out. And, as you allude to, there are things much broader than any particular politician.

They used to talk about the me generation, and spurred on by misinformation and politicians, and, as we have reported, what FOX News was initially saying, although they have also changed gears, a lot of people in the country, to your point, Tony, who look at this narrowly, rather than understanding that we are dealing with the classic public interest tragedy of the commons-type question of, what do we do, given that some people will bear the brunt of this and face more risk, based on others` behavior, Tony?

SCHWARTZ: Yes, it`s really a level of development. It`s a perspective on the world. How wide is your perspective?

And is it is it narrow like this, or is it wide like this? And you used the word -- you used the phrase and tragedy of the commons. What -- I`m not sure everybody knows what that is.

But when -- here`s the notion. When each person acts solely out of self- interest, some people will win, and some people will lose, but the collective will suffer. So, the collective will suffer, because the inequity and the unfairness of it will come back to haunt.

So, now, as Michelle was saying in the last segment, you have got this situation in which Trump is not wearing a mask, and, therefore, lots of these followers aren`t wearing masks. And that is a classic example of individualism, I have by personal freedom, at the expense of the collective, I`m going to end up giving this to many other people.

I mean, it`s a time when we need another phrase I have used with you, but we need an evolutionary leap. We need the ability to see how incredibly interdependent we are. We can`t make these choices anymore without considering not only their impact on other people, but the long-term impact vs. the short-term impact.

We want to open up or Trump -- go ahead. Go ahead.

MELBER: No, I think you lay it out very, very well. And you have written about it. We have talked about before. And it`s where the politics fits with the wider culture and the work we have to do.

This is, as our earlier guests were explaining, a very tragic way for everyone to be reminded of interdependence and our responsibilities.

Tony, going into a long holiday weekend here, it`s nice to see you one-on- one. Thanks for being on the program.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

MELBER: We have a lot coming up in this show.

Concerns inside the White House about real problems with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. It is a big story. We`re staying on it.

And then later, as mentioned, something very special we have been working on, a report on the history of police brutality, protests in America, and the cause for hope.

All of that up ahead tonight.


MELBER: President Trump now considering a possible response to Russia for paying bounties to kill U.S. troops, a scandal that emerged from U.S. intelligence reports and newspaper accounts.

After much delay, advisers now recommend a snub of Putin by keeping him out of the big G7 summit. But Trump has not even committed to that yet, The Daily Beast reports.

Now, this issue is more than just bad news for Trump. It`s a national security dilemma for the United States, facing down Putin. And what will the United States do and stand for after his series of attacks on U.S. interests, elections, and now, reportedly, U.S. troops?

Very important stuff.

We have the right guest for it. General Barry McCaffrey is actually going to walk us through each of these issues. That`s going to be in the next hour right here on MSNBC, as we go deeper into the Putin relationship.

So, we will get to that big story.

But, right now, I want to tell you about something special that we have been working on, our whole BEAT team of journalists.

Now, as a news viewer, you have probably noticed just how much has been happening, breaking news on the virus, the recession, the election, the series of police killings, and then the protests, which captivated the nation during all of this.

So, we try to keep up with each new thing. But, sometimes, you got to go deeper. So, we are digging deeper tonight into the politics, the activism, the history of this police brutality problem in our country and the movements to stop it, what we can learn going forward, with some footage and some lessons that we don`t think you would see anywhere else, plus a very special guest afterwards.

So, I`m clearly excited about it, because I think it`s important. I want to share it with you, and I hope you will stay with us for it, because it`s up next, right after this break.


MELBER: And now to our special report.

In the many cases where police kill innocent people, we hear a recurring plea from the victims` families: When will Americans believe what is happening and say, enough is enough?


PHILONISE FLOYD, BROTHER OF GEORGE FLOYD: This is 2020. Enough is enough. The people marching in the streets are telling you, enough is enough.

GWEN CARR, MOTHER OF ERIC GARNER: The police officers come into our neighborhoods. They brutalize. They terrorize. They murder our children. And we have done nothing.


MELBER: This is not new. Police kill roughly 1,000 people every year in America, killing black people at double the rate of other victims.

The pleas to stop killing were ignored for decades.

So, tonight, right now, we report on why, on the voices demanding change to try to inform the path ahead.

So, we begin in 1963, as Dr. King led the March on Washington against segregation and racism. And singer Sam Cooke that year was barred from a hotel because he was black, and then arrested for objecting.

Afterward, Cooke wrote "A Change Is Gonna Come," saying he was moved by that incident, the protests, as well as Bob Dylan`s "Blowin` in the Wind."

Like the year`s protest, the song pleaded with America to confront government racism and violence, recounting personal hardship and also hope, making it a civil rights anthem.


SAM COOKE, MUSICIAN (singing): It`s been a long time, a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come. Oh, yes it will.


MELBER: Did Cooke predict the change or drive it?

Well, the song brought Jim Crow and its realities in front of more Americans, just as Billie Holiday drew attention to lynching with "Strange Fruit."


BILLIE HOLIDAY, MUSICIAN (singing): Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root, black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze.


MELBER: Those haunting words echo like horrific poetry.

Holiday adapted that song from a political poem by a labor organizer, pushing 1930s Americans to face the lynchings of what is now a total of over 4,000 black people.

Despite corporate pressure to censor that song, "Strange Fruit" actually became her highest selling record.

Those black artists, aligned with activists, were drawing attention to racist realities that many ignored. They led us here. So, we should really listen and learn some of the lessons, from Sam Cooke, to Grandmaster Flash, who recounted life inside the concrete jungle in his 1982 anthem "The Message."

 That music video ends with police harassment and this unlawful arrest.

Now, just as N.W.A. shocked 1980s America the aggressive anthem "F the Police," let`s listen to what was being said then, as it echoes now. That song wasn`t against the concept of police. It was against the system`s routine racial profiling and killing that recounted police harassing brown people and police thinking they have the authority to kill a minority, a point that is literally echoed today, as protesters quote those very words, like earlier generations quoted Sam Cooke.

But in the Bush era `80s, the anti-police anthem by N.W.A. was actually banned. It was attacked by the FBI, which rebuked the group for disrespecting law enforcement, even warning its label that the FBI opposed the song and its message.

Fact-check: The FBI can`t control free speech, and it`s not supposed to spend your tax dollars writing album reviews.

Many artists pleaded with America to see and believe and react to the reality of police brutality, from Wu-Tang Clan recounting cold-hearted killers with blue suits slaying our black youth, to KRS-One highlighting real footage of police beating protesters in an iconic song, arguing that, while many white Americans may see police as protectors, a source of safety, many black Americans live in a reality where police are the source of danger.

That`s why KRS-One told us, people fear the very sound of the police.


UNIDENTIFIED MALES (singing): That`s the sound of the police. That`s the sound of the beast.


MELBER: That iconic 1993 song says that the modern police system replaced plantation overseers, arguing the overseer had the right to get ill and the right to kill the officer. The officer has the right to arrest, and, if you fight back, they put a hole in your chest.

That was 25 years ago, KRS-One stressing the racist historical framework for modern justice, a once perhaps radical view that`s now central to the political focus today on structural racism.

The `90s also saw a rise in home videos that confirmed these same stories. Rappers like Sister Souljah and Tupac stressing how the system would ignore even hard video evidence. And as many demand today that we say the names of so many black people killed by police, we should listen to how artists have been doing that for years, when others weren`t paying attention, memorializing the lives and the names in a tragically long list of songs by Prodigy, The Game, Nicki Minaj, Kanye, Jay-Z, Wyclef, Papoose, and many, many more I don`t have time to mention.

So, how did America take in that storytelling, the names, the facts, these sad recurring realities?

Well, I want you to think about this tonight, because it`s important. America did not take it well, which brings us to another part of tonight`s report.

And I admit, we`re already detailed here, but this is important for the road ahead.

Those stories told by black artists and activists were often met with two reactions. From the police, black artist criticism of police brutality was met with police brutality, a crackdown we have seen in protests this year, as well as in decades past.

And then from the broader political system, a different crackdown, which I`m going to show you.

So, let`s go all the way back to Sam Cooke, where we began, who faced discrimination that inspired his very song. Well, we must also remember that, while change did come, it was not in time for him.

Activists were literally quoting his song on signs and posters in 1964, marching his words in front of America. The Voting Rights Act passed next year, but, by then, Cooke was dead at 33, shot by a motel manager in a controversial incident that authorities ruled a justifiable homicide, which was widely contested.

As for Billie Holiday, she died in a hospital where police were trying to hold her for drug charges handcuffed to the hospital bed, cruel measures so severe that a court ordered police out of the room for her final hours. She was 44.

Now, some might think that was a long time ago, but every other recent artist quoted thus far tonight has also faced documented discrimination, police harassing N.W.A., and pulling out shotguns for Wu-Tang Clan, which they told America about in the very first year they got famous on "Arsenio."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next thing I know, I look back. I see like three cop cars. They`re radioing in for backup. They got shotguns and stuff pointed at us.

So, I`m thinking, is they going to kill us, or what did I do?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on. Hold on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They got us on the concrete with our faces down on this hot concrete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether you`re successful or unsuccessful, you know what I`m saying, if you kind of got this tone of skin, you know what I`m saying, they`re kind of really bring it on you.

So, it`s the same thing everybody be going through. It`s just it happened to us.


MELBER: Same thing everyone was going through.

And, later, police arrested a member of that group for charges so flimsy that, even in 1999, a grand jury, which legally tends to approve virtually any proposed indictment, voted down the proposed charges, as a lawyer explained in an appearance with the rapper O.D.B. and his mother, who says she`s used to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A Kings County grand jury voted yesterday to exonerate Russell Jones of all wrongdoing.

Clearly, the incident did not take place as reported by members of the New York City Police Department.

CHERRY JONES, MOTHER OF RUSSELL JONES: I gave him a cell phone for Christmas, and they thought it was a gun.

RUSSELL JONES, MUSICIAN: No, I didn`t have no gun. I don`t use guns.

QUESTION: What is it like as a mother to see all...

C. JONES: Well, I`m used to it. I`m used to it by now. All I do is, I pray.


MELBER: "I`m used to it by now."

It was the same out West, where Tupac, who was the son of a Black Panther activist, found that his songs about police harassment were met with a police choke hold that led him to sue the Oakland P.D.


TUPAC SHAKUR, MUSICIAN: They were charging me with jaywalking.

Next thing I know, my face was being buried into the concrete, and I was laying face down in the gutter, waking up from being unconscious in cuffs.

Next thing, I knew, I was in a choke hold, passing out.

QUESTION: You are suing them.

SHAKUR: For 10 mil.

QUESTION: We will see what happens.

SHAKUR: What else can I do?


SHAKUR: We will see what happens. You know how that go.


SHAKUR: Rodney King still fighting for his, and they got it on tape.


MELBER: They got it on tape.

They had it on tape in `92. We have it on tape in 2020. Why weren`t we listening?

You had those police officers, some of them, cracking down. But police power stems from a wider system, which not only ignored those artists` accounts over and over, on tape or not, documented, they ignored it and attacked it at the time and tried to make hip-hop an example of something terrible, turning the tables to attack the artists.


GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS HOST: Hip-hop has done more damage to black and brown people than -- than racism.

JEHMU GREENE, FOX NEWS HOST: It`s just despicable. It`s outrageous. It is filled with misogyny.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Many young blacks are unsupervised and prone to imitate bad behavior, like what Lil Wayne puts out.


MELBER: Now, we just showed you clips from FOX News, but let`s be historically clear and accurate. It went way beyond just the right wing.

While, right now, some stories of racism and policing are getting more of a hearing, let`s recall this was a bipartisan attack on black artists and rappers, with the leaders of both parties elevating it to a presidential issue, from George Bush and Bob Dole on the right to Bill Clinton -- listen for it -- literally likening Sister Souljah to David Duke.


BOB DOLE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A line has been crossed, not just of taste, but of human dignity and decency.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The kind of hatred that you do not honor today.

DOLE: From songs about killing policemen and rejecting law.

B. CLINTON: If you took the words white and black, and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.


MELBER: That was a kind of political consensus.

It was incorrect. And it also helped repress these stories of police brutality that America is still trying to reckon with, to such a degree that, in 2020, many Americans view the reports of police killing black people for no reason as a newer revelation, decades later.

It`s a revelation to some because people didn`t listen before, didn`t believe. And now more people are believing. Now more people are seeing the reality of black lives narrated by black artists and activists, saying the names of black lives taken, so America might someday finally act like black lives matter.

A lot of this comes down to listening and believing evidence.

They give the Pulitzer Prize for journalistic reporting to work that captures events accurately as they occur.

By that standard, some of these artists deserve a Pulitzer, accurately capturing things that many Americans missed, an award that some of them would only receive posthumously, because, throughout American history, the cost for advocating black lives is often another black life lost.

What now? These facts are known and have been known for some time. Now, in this current era, there`s more information and more videos and more evidence than any other time in history, technologically.

But the human question remains the same as it was when Billie Holiday and KRS-One and Sam Cooke tried to tell us.

This time, will we really listen? Will we act? It`s been too hard living. Well, you have been listening, right? So you know the rest time.


COOKE (singing): It`s been too hard living, but I`m afraid to die, because I don`t know what`s up there beyond the sky.

There have been times that I thought I couldn`t last for long, but now I think I`m able to carry on. It`s been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come. Oh, yes, it will.



MELBER: We`re back with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who represents Brooklyn, and is a member of Speaker Pelosi`s leadership team.

He spent years working on civil rights and has spoken about the role of rap and protest music on the House floor.

Thank you for being here tonight.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Ari, good evening. And thank you for having me.

Thank you for that very powerful compilation of the story of black artists communicating the soundtrack of the African-American experience in real time, as it relates to discrimination and police brutality.

And for far too long, that story has not been received. And, hopefully, now it will.

MELBER: Appreciate you saying that.

And that`s why we wanted to hear from you, as someone who has traversed this in your work. What lessons do you draw from the history here of black activism, protest music, and what people need to do to listen and change?

JEFFRIES: Well, systemic racism has been in the soil of America for 401 years.

And it`s long past time that America confront it in a meaningful and transformational way.

And I think, at the end of the day, our view, certainly within the Congressional Black Caucus, is that in order for this time to be different, we have to put the history of the African-American experience in the context of why we are still, at this moment in time, dealing with issues of police violence and police brutality and the police abuse of power, when the evidence has been in front of the American people for a long period of time, but it has not been believed.

MELBER: You talk about that disbelief.

And we look at the history there, particularly artists who had a platform, who used, risked their -- some of their profits, and et cetera. And it still was fought, and then the retaliation police brutality, which echoed in 2020, police brutality at protests against police brutality.

What do you think the lesson is for people who look at that and feel at times discouraged?

JEFFRIES: Well, we have to continue to move with the fierce urgency of now at every level of government.

I`m so thankful for the peaceful protesters who have been out in the streets, raising their voices, and exercising what is fundamentally one of the pillars of our democracy, protest, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and the right to petition your government for change.

And, certainly, within the House of Representatives` side of the Capitol, we hear you, we see you, we are you, in terms of demanding change in policing. That is why we moved forward the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act with the fierce urgency of now.

That is why we are demanding that the United States Senate do the same. And that should just be the beginning in terms of dealing with injustice in America.

MELBER: Well, you saying that is why it`s such an interesting part of this, an important, powerful part, because, having covered these issues, years ago, members of the Democratic leadership were not embracing Black Lives Matter to that degree.

I mean, tell me if you disagree, but I think there`s been a shift, as well as in the public. I want to show. "The New York Times" has been charting this, and they have got a lot of reporting, support for Black Lives Matter really surging.

I mean, you could see it what they call underwater in polling on the far left, and, over time, just exploding. And we heard in our reporting, and our correspondents talked about this, they heard from people who said, OK, some of this was a revelation, that it took protest to take facts that existed and make them the lead story long enough where people, that support spike includes moderates, it includes some conservatives, it includes plenty of older white people, who may have come slower to this, according to the data.

What is important to you about activists forcing people to look at evidence that, in a perfect world, they would have accepted a long time ago?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think this time is different in part because America was a captive audience.

At the beginning of the year, you had the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, America was at home. We were with our families. People were socially distancing themselves. And then you see the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

And then we learn about the killing of Breonna Taylor. And then we see the manner in which the New York Police Department and other police departments across the country were enforcing social distancing guidelines in a discriminatory manner, where they were handing out personal protective equipment to sunbathers who were not socially distancing themselves in white communities, and violently arresting people in black communities.

And it was all playing itself out on videotape.

And then, of course, you see a Harvard-educated birdwatcher have his race weaponized against him in Central Park in an encounter that could have turned deadly.

And then it all culminates with George Floyd narrating his own death for eight minutes and 46 seconds, with a knee violently put to his neck. And the desperation was so significant that all he was left to do was call out for his mama.

And America is captive as an audience seeing it all.

And so I think, for the first time certainly since the days of the civil rights movement, were people of every race and goodwill able to process the deep and dark nature of systemic racism, and it`s -- as it manifested itself in police violence.

And, hopefully, that will lead to providing an opportunity for real change, transformational change, at every level of government.

MELBER: Yes, it`s heart-wrenching to hear you relay it, because it never gets easier to hear, and, also, as a leader that you are, with plenty of savvy about how people`s minds and -- change and movements coalesce. Your point about people being home together captive is very striking.

Because this is a special discussion, I wanted to delve into something else that you have worked on, which is, you represent Brooklyn, Bed-Stuy. You went to the House floor and gave a tribute to Christopher Wallace, the rapper Notorious B.I.G.

And as we approach Independence Day, and the president and giving his view of history tonight, and history being very alive and very painful in America, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about that, because that was an artist who was popular in the `90s, and then, of course, was tragically murdered.

At the time, he was talking about seeing body after body, and Mayor Giuliani didn`t want to see a black man turn into John Gotti, the way he saw the mayor and the police system being afraid of black power.

You went down to the House floor and turning the page of leadership to give tribute to that. And yet I don`t think we should forget that, during that period in real time, in the `90s -- I mentioned the right wing and I showed the FOX News, and that`s all true -- but it was also a lot of prominent Democrats that were joining, we showed earlier, not only the attacks on certain artists, but also the tough-on-crime crackdown agenda.

So, with that in mind, living history, let`s look at some very prominent Democrats from the `90s on crime.


B. CLINTON: Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets and undermined our schools. There must be no doubt about whose side we`re on, not the criminals or those who would turn away from law enforcement.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: They are often the kinds of kids that are called super predators, no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way. But, first, we have to bring them to heel.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: More cops, more prisons, more physical protection for the people. You must take back the streets.

They will, or a portion of them will become the predators 15 years from now. They are beyond the pale, many of those people.


MELBER: Everyone can change. You came into leadership in the Democratic Party as leading some change.

But what is important to you for everyone to reckon with this history? We live in a polarized time, where sometimes big problems are pushed on one opponent or one party.

Our observation in our reporting -- and interested in your response -- is, this is an American problem, not any single part of America.

JEFFRIES: That is correct. It`s an American problem.

And when you look at mass incarceration as an epidemic that has had its knee on the neck of African-American communities for decades, that was brought about by Democrats and Republicans.

That is why our view within the Congress has been it`s going to take both parties to solve it. And we took a step in that direction in 2018, and struck a blow against mass incarceration with passage of the FIRST STEP Act.

But that was just a beginning in terms of meaningful criminal justice reform. Part of the problem with the 1994 crime bill is that it included $9 billion in prison construction money to be allocated to the states, if the states would adopt things like mandatory minimums, or truth in sentencing laws, or reduced judicial discretion, or three strikes, you`re out.

And so the federal government incentivized bad behavior. And the prison population at that time went from around a million or so in 1994 to approximately 2.2 million today.

So, my view -- and I have said this directly to Vice President Biden, and believe he is authentically and genuinely receptive to the notion -- that we have to reverse-engineer the damage that Washington, D.C., did to communities of color across the country.

We can`t just stop at reform at the federal level, which is a modest part of our incarcerated population throughout the nation. We have to reach back into the states and heal those communities that were hurt by the 1994 crime bill and decades of a failed war on drugs.

MELBER: Right.

Congressman, you have been working on these issues a long time. They are intricate. I know they`re near and dear to your heart, so I really appreciate you being part of our special coverage tonight.

JEFFRIES: Ari, thanks again for having me.

MELBER: Thank you, sir.

We`re going to fit in a break, but we have a lot more coverage ahead, including all of the fireworks -- when we come back, a lot more.

Stay with us.