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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/2/22

Guests: Brian Chesky, Philip Breedlove, William Taylor


Russia takes its first major Ukrainian city, as it continues a shelling campaign. The Republican Party`s turn towards Putin and Russia is examined. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson learns when her confirmation hearing will start. The invasion of Ukraine sets off a major refugee crisis. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky discusses helping arrange free temporary housing for 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.



Hi, Ari. Happy Wednesday.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Happy Wednesday. Hi, Nicolle. Thank you very much.

Welcome to THE BEAT, everyone. I am Ari Melber.

Russia has taken its first major Ukrainian city. This is according to Ukrainian officials, who told "The New York Times" that Putin`s military has formally taken over the port city of Kherson. You can see the city in the country`s southern region, close access to the sea. Russian military tanks were rolling through the streets of that city today.

Their mayor says there`s no Ukrainian army here, and the city is surrounded. Also more devastation just outside Kyiv, targeting civilian locations, an apartment building destroyed by Russian bombers.

The Russians increasingly hitting what many view as clearly civilian targets. Ukraine says more than 2,000 civilians have now died. Today, there was a strike at a school in Kharkiv that killed at least 21. Twenty miles outside of the capital city of Kyiv, there was 40 miles of a Russian convoy. We have reported on this for several days. We have seen the overhead shots.

It still appears effectively stalled. The Pentagon, still, though, reiterating warnings that Russian forces could escalate and get more aggressive. There are also these images coming out of Ukraine, hundreds of citizens forming a blockade on this road, doing whatever they could courageously, in the hopes of stopping Russian advances from seizing control of a nearby nuclear power plant.

President Biden says Putin does not know what`s coming at him, with more sanctions against both the administration itself and also targeting his allies, his rich Russian oligarchs. And the United States secretary of state announces sanctions on Belarus and Russia`s defense industry, with more warnings for the coming days.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is shameful. The numbers of civilians killed and wounded, the humanitarian consequences will only grow in the days ahead.

President Biden likes to say big nations can`t bluff. The United States doesn`t bluff. And President Putin has gravely miscalculated.


MELBER: Against that, though, we have an unfolding humanitarian crisis, which got attention at the U.N. today, over 850,000 people formally fleeing, according to the counts, that number growing.

NBC`s Richard Engel speaking with a mother who has a special needs child.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The result of the vote is as follows.



RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oksana`s daughter Nicole (ph) was born with complex needs and requires constant care.

(on camera): How`s Nicole?

(voice-over): "We were giving her a blood transfusion every two weeks, but now her condition is getting worse. And she feels worse," Oksana says.

(on camera): How are you feeling? I have a child myself who has special needs and has extra health issues. And I know how powerless you can feel to be a parent with a sick child.

(voice-over): "It is very hard," she says. "We want this war to stop because our kids suffer, and we cannot go home."


MELBER: Our coverage tonight begins with Ambassador William Taylor, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine, and retired General Philip Breedlove, a former supreme allied commander for NATO.

Ambassador, your view of where the conflict is today, the Biden administration`s policies and what we heard from him last night.

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: So, Ari, it`s a tribute to the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian people that they are holding out, fighting fiercely.

They are following their president, President Zelensky, who stepped up to lead this nation, this Ukrainian nation, the Ukrainian armed forces. The military is proud to be following him, following his lead. He`s staying there in Kyiv under attack.

You have shown all the shots of all the military that is coming down on him. And he is bravely -- and encouraging the Ukrainian people this be brave in this thing. So that`s the big message out of this.

However, it is going to be -- it`s going to be ever harder. The odds are clearly against them. And they are -- they`re tough times coming. That said, the Russians are not doing very well. They are not doing as well as they thought and they have got big problems at home.

President Putin has got to worry that this aggression, with thousands of civilians being killed, is not supported by the Russian people. The economic sanctions are going to -- are going to make the Russian people very angry, as well as the deaths of soldiers coming back.


So this is a problem for the Russians.

MELBER: General, your assessment, likewise, of the Russian advance at this point?


I think that maybe Mr. Putin and his leaders made some bad assumptions. And they have miscalculated in ways that have left some of their armored forces in some pretty tough places. And the Ukrainians have dealt with them.

And what we, I think, also have learned is, for the last six weeks or seven weeks, we were all very myopically forced -- or looking at the buildup of forces along the borders. And what we probably didn`t pay attention to was the way that the Ukrainian military was preparing.

And we need to give them great credit for how they have -- how they have comported themselves so far. But as the ambassador rightly said, there is a lot of force still headed towards Kyiv.

MELBER: When you look at the international pressure, which both of you alluded to, we just spoke with the Biden sanction czar. They were quite proud or really touting the effect they have had thus far. Take a listen.


DALEEP SINGH, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Let`s look at the course that he`s on. Right now, what Russia is looking at is double-digit inflation, 15 to 20 percent. Right now, Russia is looking at a very deep recession. Russia is looking at a complete isolation from the global economy.

At some point, this strategic failure, we think, will dawn upon Putin, and the de-escalation may have a chance. But, until then, we will continue to impose costs.


MELBER: Ambassador you deal in diplomacy and soft power and all the different ways that complex multilateral arrangements can sometimes do as much or more than the military and in ways that for all the obvious reasons are better, less deadly, if you can get to the right outcome.

What is your assessment of this sanctions policy? How well do you think it`s working, and compared to other modern corollaries, and what the administration says, which might it actually constrain Putin, although we`re not seeing that on the ground yet?

TAYLOR: So, Ari, it`s clear that this is a major effort, a major diplomatic effort. You got to give the administration credit for this surge of diplomacy to pull together an alliance on sanctions, an alliance in NATO, to provide the kind of weapons that they are doing.

However, let me just say -- and General Breedlove knows this very well -- that you need that military, you need that force behind you.

We are providing a lot of weapons. We`re providing a lot of cover. We are doing a lot on that side that is going to help the Ukrainians. And they need that military support as well.

MELBER: General?

BREEDLOVE: Ari, I would just -- listen, we are behind what the White House is doing. These are a strong set of sanctions.

But we also have to be academically honest. We sanctioned him after `08. And we ended up in `14. We sanctioned him in `14. And here we are again.

And what is clear is, these sanctions are hurting Russia. They are hurting the economy. They are hurting the people. But what we have not seen, what we have not seen yet in `08, `14, or at the start of this is that sanctions have changed Mr. Putin`s behavior.

And so now we need to look at that combination of things, as the ambassador has laid out, that might change his behavior. Our measure of merit is not, do we hurt Russia? Our measure of merit is, have we changed Mr. Putin`s behavior? And I think that combination of sanctions and military actions, maybe additional military actions will be required to change his behavior.

MELBER: Well, General, I don`t know you, but I will say you sound like a general in your emphasis of results and not just tactics. Let`s not raise a sort of a sanctity of tactics on their own, if they don`t get where you want to go.

And so expound for us, if you would, on what else that would look like, because it seems that, right now, the alliance -- the alliance is on a course where, if Ukraine falls, then Putin gets the land and whatever other treasure he thinks is in there, and everyone else is just in a long-term sanctions posture.

And that, I guess, is the new Cold War for potentially a very long time. Correct or refine me as you see fit, but, General, what else would you do? And then same question to the ambassador.

BREEDLOVE: Well, let me answer the first part of your question a little bit first.

If we all look back to not too many months ago, we were talking about the fact that Russia`s economy is already struggling and, frankly, they were sort of hemorrhaging money just to maintain the Donbass.


And so if we end up in a situation where Russia is trying to manage a much bigger part of Ukraine with a huge population, and then, on top of that, the crushing sanctions that are there, that cost may be a bridge too far for him.

And then, finally, there are those who say that Mr. Putin will not stop until he runs into steel. And, again, the sanctions haven`t stopped him yet. We need to keep after it. We pray they work.

But we may have to also begin to consider steel. I mean, how many Europe -- Ukrainians have to die before we think about new tools?

MELBER: Ambassador?

TAYLOR: So, Ari, let me go back to your early part of your question as well, as General Breedlove did.

And that is, no matter what Mr. Putin does, if he is able to get into Kyiv or not, Ukrainian government, President Zelensky and all of his people, all the people that support him, they will continue. They will continue.

Maybe they continue at a different place, Ari. Maybe it`s not in Kyiv. He`s stuck -- he`s sticking very hard to stay in Kyiv for the morale of his trip, for the morale of his country. But at some point, it`s possible that he would have to move to another part of Ukraine.

And we should support him then. He will continue the resistance. President Zelensky will continue to resist. The nation, the Ukrainian nation will continue to resist whatever President Putin has sent in there, and they will succeed. They will succeed. Again, they will -- Putin will not be able to hold this country, this country of 40, 44 million people.

They will resist. They will be in the streets. They will reject any puppet that President Putin tries to put in. So we will continue to support that government in every succession that it takes.

MELBER: Understood. And, as you say, it`s an open question what that resistance looks like and for how long.

Ambassador Taylor and General Breedlove kicking us off tonight, thanks to both of you, gentlemen.

TAYLOR: Thanks, Ari.

BREEDLOVE: Thank you. Good to see you.

MELBER: Absolutely.

We were talking about soft power. Well, coming up later, we have a very special guest in the center of trying to deal with this refugee crisis and help people find homes right now. We`re going to get into that. It`s important.

Also, I have a special report for you coming up on the history, with the Republican Party turning towards Putin and Russia. Chai Komanduri is here.

And it`s also crucial day for Biden`s Supreme Court nominee. Judge Jackson gets news we`re going to share with you about her confirmation hearings. That`s coming up.



MELBER: The Western world continues to unite against the seventh day of Russia`s invasion of Ukraine.

On foreign policy, there`s virtually no debate that Putin is the aggressor, proactively starting a war of choice, violating the territorial integrity and the human rights of the people in this neighboring independent country.

On economic policy, which we were just discussing, there are these punishing sanctions that show a consensus for multilateral action, even at high costs for many other citizenry that could have said they just want to sit out the conflict, but, again, are united in standing up to Putin.

And across the U.S., there`s wide support for U.S. policy on these fronts and against Putin, except for one persistent wing of the Republican Party, where backing Trump now overlaps with extreme tributes to Putin, including Trump marveling at Putin`s -- quote -- "smart invasion" just this weekend, which comes after Trump dubbed him a genius, while also saying that the military incursion was appalling.

Then you have Trump`s former CIA director and secretary of state on a similar path, noting that he has -- quote -- "respect" for Putin`s shrewd, capable leadership.

And that`s a hard angle to play right now, considering Russians are in these long lines for cash as their currency crashes. And let`s be clear. There are multiple ways to look at any complex foreign conflict. It`s one thing to claim a kind of neutrality about Russia`s squabbles with their former republics. It`s another thing to claim with a straight face that Putin is showing some great, capable results right now.

The American right-wing project to coddle and minimize this Russian dictator is, quite honestly, one of the strangest developments in the politics of U.S. foreign policy ever. I mean that.

Now, Donald Trump had his personally conflicted and cozy relationship with Putin, but you don`t reverse decades of Cold War culture in a single term, even one as eccentric and intense as Donald Trump`s.

If you look, this actually goes much deeper. And it matters, as the U.S. is now part of this alliance trying to contain an aggressive nuclear Russia under Putin. How did the Republican Party go from the party of McCarthy and his Red Scare, of crushing on Ronald Reagan, of demanding walls be torn down, to this now open and somewhat common Putin praise, even in wartime?

It`s a bizarre evolution. And the reasoning for it has something of a bizarre answer. It dates back, we think, at least when Republicans turned to really prioritize style and trolling and reality TV-type comebacks to Barack Obama as their primary political language. And they were pushing up more brash personalities, like Sarah Palin, or, in the talk realm, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O`Reilly back in those `90s days too, because they began to view Putin not through policy.

Ronald Reagan would have obviously opposed Putin`s foreign policy right now. But the right started to view him through style, a kind of reduction of foreign policy to who might just make the most supposedly macho leader on the cover of a right-wing "GQ."

FOX personalities even dreamed about a strongman like Putin being president, instead of Obama.



KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE, FOX NEWS: Can I just make a special request in the magic lamp? Can we get like Netanyahu or like Putin in for 48 hours head of the United States? I don`t know. I just want somebody to get in here and get it done right.


MELBER: Yes, Putin would get it done right for America, despite being literally against American interests and NATO and everything else.

And back to that era, pre-Trump, you had conservative voices like Bill O`Reilly and Sarah Palin lavishing praise on Putin as a way to hammer Obama.


FMR. GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK): People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bearers and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.

BILL O`REILLY, FORMER HOST, "THE O`REILLY FACTOR": The Russian leader sees himself as a macho man who`s going to do pretty much what he wants.

The president sees himself as a renaissance man who wants to accommodate.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Putin decides what he wants to do. And he does it in half-a-day. He makes a decision and he executes it quickly. Then everybody reacts. That`s what`s you call a leader.


MELBER: Yes, it was very, very dumb. It did not age well.

But it`s not irrelevant. It matters. And it may have seemed then in some of those clips I just showed you as a method to merely evince contempt for President Obama.

But a former aide to that president actually says it goes much further and deeper to a disturbingly authentic admiration for the non-democratic, ethnic petro state that Putin`s created, kind of like an ideal red state that Republicans would like America to emulate.

That aide, Chai Komanduri, notes Putin also has his raft of anti-LGBTQ laws, which is why major MAGA voices like Steve Bannon and GOP Senate candidates like J.D. Vance cite Putin`s anti-equality domestic policies.


J.D. VANCE (R), OHIO SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We did not go serve in the Marine Corps to go and fight Vladimir Putin because he didn`t believe in transgender rights, right, which is what the U.S. State Department is saying is a major problem with Russia.


ERIK PRINCE, BUSINESSMAN: The Russians, people still know which bathroom to use.

BANNON: They know how many -- how many genders are there in Russia?



MELBER: Some of that could sound like just sort of cherry-picking political hobbyhorses, as those folks have to make their content, but Donald Trump very literally wanted America to treat democracy here like Putin does over there.

Donald Trump was caught and investigated for trying to get the FBI and authorities to go after his opponents, which is what Putin already does quite blatantly at home.

All of this came full circle today, as a top Putin diplomat, the ambassador to the U.N. for that country, both trolled Biden and basically was echoing Trump by falsely casting his loss as a big lie that overthrew what would have been his second term.


VASSILY NEBENZIA, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The United States, where the legitimately elected president of the country was overthrown.


MELBER: This is not a drill.

That Obama veteran I mentioned, Chai Komanduri, is here when we`re back in just 60 seconds.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I look at Russia. Can we give a round of applause for Russia?



CROWD: Putin! Putin! Putin!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, absolutely.


MELBER: The happy cheers for Russia and Putin at a far right political conference, that was just this weekend.

I quoted former Obama aide Chai Komanduri. He is my guest tonight.

Good to see you, sir.


MELBER: We quoted you in looking at the roots of this because it goes way beyond Trump. And it has to be, in a time of all of these problems and some unpredictable develops, I would say, in America in the last five years, particularly strange to see the party of Joe McCarthy at the extreme edge of the Red Scare, or Ronald Reagan at more of the muscular foreign policy plank, go to cheering Putin as he invades Ukraine.


Your breakdown?

KOMANDURI: Yes, I think it`s very important to note that the GOP admiration for Putin actually predates Donald Trump. He did not necessarily initiate it or lead it when it really began.

And the reason it began is because, in many ways, Vladimir Putin`s Russia really exemplifies a lot of the ideas that Republicans talk about. Russia is the ideal red state. And I mean red as in Republican, not necessarily red as in communist.

Russia is a fossil fuel economy. It is a country where the religious right has a tremendous power in making social policy, which you discussed when it came to LGBTQ issues. It is a country that is a militaristic power -- a military powerhouse, perhaps maybe not as much as we thought so before this invasion, but they are a country that actually spends more of their GDP on the military than the United States does.

It is an ethno-state that prioritizes the identity of white Russians. It is a country where democracy has been successfully rolled back and an alpha male leader is now in place. In all of these areas we are seeing Republicans articulate a lot of these ideas, Vladimir Putin has put them in practice, which is why so many of them have admired him all these years.

MELBER: And we look at the strong nature of the right-wing media machine.

I don`t know what that would have done in the Reagan era. In many ways, he was, of course, a very effective communicator, the first Hollywood president, et cetera. But whatever you want to say about Reagan`s policies, he had some, and he had a view of trying to box in through arms control and arms escalation, so both mechanisms, hard power, as well as soft, as we were discussing earlier the hour, ways to deal with Gorbachev and the Soviet Union.

We don`t see any of that here in the discussion about Russia and Putin. As I put it, it`s all at a "GQ," reality TV level. And I mentioned that in showing a little bit of Tucker Carlson, who I just want to say before I show this clip, we know from Tucker Carlson`s writing that he is not this dumb.

KOMANDURI: You`re right.

MELBER: We know that he is pitching a level of foreign policy analysis that is far beneath his ability. Call this the soft bigotry of expectations of Tucker Carlson from 10 years ago, if you will.


MELBER: But he knows what he`s doing when he does this. Take a look.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Democrats in Washington have told you, you have a patriotic duty to hate Vladimir Putin. It`s not a suggestion. It`s a mandate.

It might be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist?



KOMANDURI: Well, what`s really interesting is, I remember when conservatives criticized Muhammad Ali when he took the Olympic Torch in 1996 at the Olympics, and they criticized him for his opposition to the Vietnam War, remember, because he said, no Vietcong ever used a racial slur against him.

It`s interesting that that is the exact logic that Tucker Carlson is now using to really justify this invasion. And we have to remember Muhammad Ali never, in no way really supported the North Vietnamese.

MELBER: That`s wild. I hadn`t -- Chai, I hadn`t thought -- I hadn`t thought -- I don`t know if I have heard anyone else draw that connection, Muhammad Ali`s memorable phrase, but, yes, that it`s sort of being flipped in a weird right-wing perversion, which is fascinating when you say that.


MELBER: What do you think of the breakdown of Tucker trying to convince people that there is no substantive reason to have adversaries abroad, I mean, as if you would just accept all foreign leaders and not have any U.S.-based interest?

How does that truck with American exceptionalism or America first or any of that?

KOMANDURI: Well, it`s completely morally bankrupt. And it`s completely the opposite of what Republicans and conservatives have talked about really going back to the Cold War era.

I mean, Tucker Carlson said, just because it doesn`t affect him, therefore, America should have no role, it should stay out. But I think it`s actually even more insidious, if you think about like the history with Tucker and Viktor Orban and the Republicans in general, in how much they have admired Putin over the years.

One of the big aspects was, is that Vladimir Putin`s Russia is very much the opposite of Barack Obama`s America. Barack Obama was somebody who believed in diversity, democracy, a knowledge-based economy. He very much was comfortable being a gentleman leader, not a Putin-ish thug.


The Republicans didn`t like that model. And they went and found a Putin of their own in Donald Trump. And that`s exactly -- that`s someone who they still admire. And that`s exactly where they went. And that`s where Tucker still wants to go. That`s why he talks up Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, and these other dictators now.

MELBER: Yes, you make a very subtle point about the sort of elevation of that version of their politics abroad.

Have you seen "The Great" on Hulu yet?

KOMANDURI: No, I have not. You`re talking about Catherine the Great, that miniseries about Catherine the Great?


They have a character in -- and it`s a satirical view. And it`s old Russia of a different era, but they have a religious character from the sort of imagined Russian Orthodox Church who`s very against any reform, science, art, the future.

And at one point, he`s scripted saying, why does everyone always talk about the future like it`s an improvement? It may be a decline...


MELBER: ... which is a traditional, sometimes conservative view. Buckley and others talked that way.

And you seem to be arguing that, in part, this sort of right-wing obsession or fascination with these certain places, as you call them, ethno- nationalist, and also the kind of throwbacks to, again, someone who ran -- Donald Trump ran on Reagan`s slogan. The plagiarized slogan of Reagan was make America great again, which is a throwback, the idea that for some people, the `50s in the right-wing fantasy were better than today, Chai.


And that is always a hallmark of conservative thinking. It`s always the idea that the past was somehow better, and that we need to reach back to the past and find models for the future, if you will. And that`s -- it`s interesting that, last night, the one of the responses of the Republicans made to Biden`s State of the Union was basically saying, drill, baby, drill. I mean, that`s more or less what Governor Reynolds was saying when she said, we need more oil and more gas production.

Fossil fuel economies have the kind of Russia has actually lend themselves to social conservatism. We see that with the Middle East. We see that with red America here. That is actually a thing that we should really keep in mind when we talk about climate change and fossil fuel economies.

It`s not just about air pollution and climate change. I would also argue it has some level of protecting democracy and creating a better future for people, which is why I think Republicans are so staunchly talking about coal mining jobs, fossil fuel economies. Vladimir Putin, very much -- Russia, John McCain said, is a gas station masquerading as a country.

MELBER: From Muhammad Ali, to "The Great," to the late John McCain, we have been around the bend, but plenty to think about.

And that last point is really interesting about the petro politics and what is the cost of that, because the human cost could not be higher right now in that troubled region.

Chai Komanduri, good to see you, as always, sir.

KOMANDURI: Good to be here, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely.

I mentioned the human cost. And that`s part of our special coverage tonight. This humanitarian crisis is so touching, it`s so gut-wrenching, and so many people are asking, what can you do about it? Well, we have a special guest on that who`s getting involved in housing for 100,000 people over there.

But, first, Judge Jackson meeting with senators and news about her confirmation hearings -- when we come back.



MELBER: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson`s Supreme Court confirmation hearings begin in less than three weeks.

That`s news. And it`s the first step towards history, which begins today, actually, Jackson meeting on the Hill with key top senators, including Schumer, Grassley, Durbin and McConnell you see on the lower right there. If confirmed, she would become the first black woman ever on the Supreme Court.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the most serious constitutional responsibilities a president has is nominating someone to serve on the United States Supreme Court, as I did four days ago. I`ve nominated Circuit Court of Appeals` Ketanji Brown Jackson.


BIDEN: One of our nation`s top legal minds, who will continue in Justice Breyer`s legacy of excellence.


MELBER: Major applause there at the State of the Union last night.

And with so much going on around the world, it was one of the unadulterated, big, positive victories as far as the president was concerned, touting the history and eying a crowd where, if he can hold his party together, he wins. You only need 50, after McConnell`s rule change, to confirm the Supreme Court nominee.

President Biden also on the road today and touting the agenda after that address last night.


BIDEN: There is no greater testament to the grit and resilience of the American people than the progress you have all made in the middle of a pandemic.

Vice President Harris and I, we ran for office with a new economic vision for America.


MELBER: Much of the speech was altered by foreign events. But one thing that clearly seemed in the works from before the Ukraine war is an emphasis for the first time on a new normal, an endemic America, a post-pandemic America.

Also, Biden making news with another new initiative.


BIDEN: And thanks to the progress we`ve made in the past year, COVID-19 no longer need control our lives.

I know some are talking about living with COVID-19. But, tonight, I say that we never will just accept living with COVID-19. We`ll continue to combat the virus.

And now we`re launching the test-to-treat Initiative, so people can get tested at a pharmacy, and if they prove positive, receive the antiviral pills on the spot at no cost.




MELBER: That is free treatment and quick information.

And CVS and Walgreens, Walmart all confirming they will be involved in this. It is a very practical step and one that departs from the vaccine wars and some of the other politics in all this, this president leading Americans to understand that, as you move away from an obsession with emergency and prevention, you can find out if you`re positive and mitigate accordingly.

Now, coming up -- I mentioned this before, and we`re excited about it -- a special guest on how to actually help people facing this refugee crisis right now, today.

That`s coming up.



BIDEN: Every Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination literally inspires the world. Groups

Ukrainians are fighting back with pure courage. But the next few days, weeks, and months will be hard on them.

The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States is here tonight sitting with the first lady. Let`s each of us, if you`re able to stand, stand and send an unmistakable signal to the world, to Ukraine.



BIDEN: Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


MELBER: President Biden touting the courage of the Ukrainian people at last night`s State of the Union.

Many are leading, many are resisting, many others taking flight. Ukraine prioritizing safe passage for women and children first, a sadly familiar echo of past refugee crises in Europe. This one already has led over 800,000 to flee in just this first week, per the U.N. Experts say the number will top a million and could end up at multiples of that.

It is difficult to pick up everything in your life and flee, as many of recounted when reporters caught up with their grueling journey.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Me and my kids and my mom, we are going to travel to Poland first. I don`t know which way now. We`re going to try, because it`s really hard to do now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s very difficult, very difficult situation. People, we`re just driving and crying, because seeing how people are desperate, it`s just impossible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody`s stressed and everybody`s -- like, wants to leave because the situation is really difficult.


MELBER: Most wars are conflicts between the governments of two countries.

And yet we know it`s the people who pay the price. That last World War that`s been referenced so much lately, it took the lives of over 70 million people, all told. And then it displaced another 50 million people who lived.

It`s virtually impossible to get our minds around the reality of numbers like that. But recent conflicts have driven major refugee flows across the world. Just within the last three years, the refugee numbers rivaled World War II, again, according to a U.N. count.

And we could see that example. These numbers are hard to digest. But you can look at individual people`s stories. Take one man now fleeing Ukraine as a refugee. This is actually his second recent displacement from home. He got to Ukraine as a refugee fleeing the recent war in Syria.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I left Syria 2013 because of the war, and I came to Luhansk. I stayed there for one year. After that, the war starting there, I left to Kharkiv. The situation is so bad in Kharkiv. Yes, I left to here, to Europe.

Ten years. I saw the war for 10 years. It`s so bad. Also, for children, it`s so bad.


MELBER: As war grinds on, it takes all kinds of efforts to help and absorb all of these refugees with different stories and different needs, from the U.N., to foreign governments, to charities and NGOs.

And now, in our digitized world, there`s another part of the solution that may come from the connected economy. Airbnb, the tech company that enables anyone to rent out their own home, is helping arrange free temporary housing for 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, tapping their network of hosts in neighboring countries.


MELBER: And joining us now is Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky leading this effort.

Thanks for joining me.

BRIAN CHESKY, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, AIRBNB: Thank you very much for having me today.

MELBER: Walk us through what you`re doing. How does it work?


So, Airbnb, we are committed, in partnership with and our hosts around the world, but, in particular, hosts in Europe, to provide housing for up to 100,000 refugees that are fleeing Ukraine.

So, here`s how it works. If somebody is in Eastern Europe -- so let`s say a person is in Poland, or Hungary, or Romania, or Germany, or really anywhere in Western Europe where they`re going to -- potentially people are migrating to -- they can go on, and they can list their home. They can list their home for free, or they can list their home at a discount.

We will make sure, no matter what they charge, that the housing is 100 percent free to refugees. So that means that, even if the host charges money, Airbnb and donors will pay the remaining difference, but people can host for free. We don`t know how many people can house.

But that being said, let me just say one thing. We have already housed 21,000 refugees that have fled Afghanistan. We have committed to housing 40,000 refugees from Afghanistan. We have housed over 50,000 refugees for free in our history.

So this is not new for us. We have been doing this for a decade. But this is by far the biggest commitment we have ever made. And we`re going to need help. We`re going to need people to house.

MELBER: As you say, there`s a bit of a test case here. And yet this is broader, for all the reasons I think people understand, given what`s going on.


You have contacted over a dozen countries. Can you tell us anything about that process and those responses?

CHESKY: Yes, I mean, we have contacted the governments of, as you can imagine, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Germany; 14 different countries, we have contacted.

They have all responded with very positive outreach, saying, yes, we really appreciate the help. The last I have heard -- and this number is probably going to go up -- more than 600,000 people have fled Ukraine. And this number presumably is going to be over a million.

So we`re not going to be able to, our community on our own, house everyone. But we have reached out to these countries saying, if you can help us get the word out to your citizens, we can provide a lot of the infrastructure. So we`re limited to the number of people that will host refugees.

MELBER: I`d read that you were looking at about two weeks as a time frame. How did you come to that number, and why not longer?

CHESKY: Well, it could be longer, Ari.

For Afghanistan, the average stay of a refugee was 17 days. We actually expect that these stays will probably be longer. So, typically, these are short-term housing. Not every family is prepared to host refugee for months on end. So we do want to make sure that are asks are things that people can do.

But if people can house people for longer than a couple of weeks, it`s no question that people are going to need housing for longer than just a couple weeks.

MELBER: The people who have been displaced and who are refugees have the most immediate need.

Without casting any aspersions on any of them, the journalist in me also wants to ask you, so people can find out the information, what do you say to someone in one of these regions perhaps who wants to participate, but has the question of, how would they be sure that their facility is going to be kept safe or that someone`s not going to be there and want to overstay?

Again, just as an informational matter, what would you tell potential hosts?

CHESKY: What I would tell them is that we are working with resettlement agencies. We`re working with the IRC, HIAS, Church World service.

These are resettlement agencies that have a huge history of screening refugees, and making sure that they don`t put the refugees in harm`s way or that the people hosting refugees aren`t put in a situation where they`re hosting people and there are major problems.

We have a really good history. We have housed 54,000 refugees to date with these resettlement partners. And I`m quite confident that they can do their job very effectively.

MELBER: I`m also curious if you could just walk us through why you and your company are doing this. There`s obviously ways that businesses can play a constructive role.

And yet I`m sure you`re aware there`s a lot of skepticism of corporations in general and of, quite frankly, so-called big tech. It`s a complicated story. We`re not going to deal with all of it this second. But help us understand, if someone was curious or skeptical about that, why you see this as part of your mission, in addition to making a profit.

CHESKY: Great question.

Ten years ago, Hurricane Sandy broke out, obviously, in New York City, and there were people displaced. And a host reached out to us, saying: I`d like to host people for free.

From that date, we have provided housing for more than 100,000 people that were displaced either for disasters or because they`re refugees displaced from their country. We do this in partnership with our hosts. We provided housing for front-line workers, nurses, EMTs, doctors, firefighters during the pandemic, especially in the United States, France and other countries.

We have prided housing in Afghanistan. And I will just say one thing about this question. This crisis obviously was -- it became clear to us late last week that there were likely to be hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Ukraine.

I organized our executive team Saturday night. I asked everyone to, like, dial in. And we had a conversation. And one of the things we said is, if this was another era, if this -- if Airbnb was around during World War II, how would we want to have helped?

And so, obviously, that`s a hypothetical question. But the answer is very clear, I would want to be able to say we did everything in our power to be able to help those in need by leveraging what our greatest asset is. Our greatest asset are that we have six million homes by four million hosts all over the world.

So that`s how we can help. And I think it`s just -- it`s in our DNA, like, parents and social workers. So this is not that unfamiliar to us to be able to help.

MELBER: It`s a really striking way to use, as you say, those collective resources, which are sort of shared. So, that`s what`s innate to your business model. And that`s relevant in the region as we see this humanitarian crisis.

So we wanted to learn a bit about it on THE BEAT. Brian Chesky, thanks for joining us.

CHESKY: Thank you very much for having me.


MELBER: Appreciate it.

And the spirit of Ukrainian citizens in the war zone, we`re going to show you the video next.



MELBER: Here are some of the voices from inside these war zones in Ukraine, civilians who`ve been sheltering from the bombing, trying to keep up their spirits, and pregnant women taking refuge in the basement of a hospital.


SVETLANA, SPORTS JOURNALIST, KYIV RESIDENT SHELTERING IN SUBWAY: My boyfriend, my future husband, he`s -- from the first day of from the war, he went to the territorial -- territorial defense. And now he`s defending Kyiv.

SOFIYA, KYIV RESIDENT SHELTERING IN SUBWAY: I`m on the subway now. And it`s terrible, how many kids are there. I hope all this violence and cruelness end soon.

ALENA, PREGNANT UKRAINIAN WOMAN SHELTERING IN KYIV HOTEL: I heard the explosion, and then I heard women started to cry and scream, "The war started."

Hopefully, this one will see peace.


MELBER: We hear about military maneuvers and strategy and policy, but, ultimately, this all comes back to people, so many people affected in Ukraine. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the innocents.

That does it for us.