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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 10/6/21

Guests: Stuart Stevens, Libby Casey


Senator Mitch McConnell and Republicans back down on their threat to block the raising of the debt ceiling. Reports emerge that Trump aides will defy new insurrection probe subpoenas at Donald Trump`s direction. Matt Gaetz speaks out on the sex crime probe looking into his actions. A new approach to addressing vaccine hesitancy is explored. Has the Republican Party embraced nihilism?



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thanks so much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we`re tracking news in a congressional clash that can seriously impact the whole nation. Negotiations continuing over Biden`s proposed spending. And as the president huddles with business leaders today concerned about GOP threats that could make the U.S. default, well, that is the big story tonight.

Republicans have been threatening to complicate basically everything in Washington and around the country by pushing the U.S. to default on its debt. Even Mitt Romney recently saying: "We`re not voting in any way to help raise the debt ceiling. As a group, we`re all together."

And that`s been the Republican line. Now, an actual default would not only hurt President Biden. It would rattle Wall Street and risk spreading broader turmoil in the U.S. economy during a sensitive time in this recovery that we`re all living through.

And I mention that because that may be why all the pressure just started really getting to Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell. He is making news tonight, as the first to apparently blink in this standoff.

I`m going to show you exactly what`s happening and some of the clues as to why. The context is, Republicans had said the Democrats would have to tackle the debt all on their own or face this potentially cataclysmic default.

Tonight, McConnell backing down partly, now saying he will at least delay all of this until December. Now, McConnell, of course, brags that he`s the Grim Reaper, but, apparently, he thought about this and thought better of killing the U.S. credit rating.

And the move came pretty quickly today, "The Times" reporting it shows McConnell bowing to the immediate threat of a federal default and reflects the nervousness on the part of Republicans, a marked shift from his recent talk.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Let me be crystal clear about this. Republicans are united in opposition to raising the debt ceiling.

We will not support legislation that raises the debt limit.

They will not get Senate Republicans` help with raising that.


MELBER: Fact-check, not true anymore. Democrats will get Republican help for at least this temporary raise that`s being floated.

The whole episode is actually revealing. Politically, McConnell wants big fights with Biden to look tough for his base, acting like he wants the confrontations, like he wants to smoke. But when it gets hot, he bails. McConnell doesn`t really want to fight he would lose with a financial target on his back.

This kind of fronting is common for fake tough guys. As 21 Savage explained, say you want smoke, but the fire come with it. Money on your head. We will come get it.

Well, Wall Street was coming for Mitch. And he wasn`t ready for the fire that comes with the smoke.

I`m joined now by Libby Casey from "The Washington Post" and Cornell Belcher, a former pollster for President Obama and an MSNBC analyst.

Cornell, was it too hot for Mitch McConnell? Could he not handle the fire?


CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Mitch is the king of the smoke.

But I will give you -- I will say this. I think there`s a different variable in here. I think, when the president and Dems started talking about really getting rid of the filibuster, because this is -- they`re going a step too far, I think the calculation started -- I think the calculation started to turn it and Mitch and Republicans had to blink on this.

But I will also say this. I think the more extreme Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in both the House and the Senate behave, the more likely they are that that filibuster is going to go away. And I think a lot of people are going to want to filibuster to go away.

I think we saw some good news on that when, quite frankly, now Joe Biden is at least talking about and considering it. I got to tell you this, Ari. If Joe Biden really puts his shoulder to the wheel, and says the filibusters needs to go away, I think it`s going to be really, really hard for the Senate Republicans, even Manchin, to hold out when Republicans are doing these sort of extreme acts of foolishness.

MELBER: Yes, Cornell, you`re talking about the heat, and then the mechanism to apply that pressure and heat.

We had a former Schumer aide on THE BEAT last night who talked about as well the idea that you could use the widespread pressure here on trying to get the Republicans out of the way, so you could raise the debt ceiling, which is something the United States has to do regardless, and use that to reform the filibuster to make an exception.

One exception could lead to two, could lead to three. And, as you say, President Biden hitting that last night. That leads to another question before I bring in Libby on the economy, which is, Cornell, if they can find possible exceptions to this filibuster rule for bankers` rights, what about for voting rights? What about for human rights?


BELCHER: I think that`s the thing, right?

Well, and it is all B.S. anyway, because you know just -- Republicans just eliminated the filibuster for the Senate mean. They changed the rules on the filibuster all the time. And I think Democrats are going to have a hard time looking at especially communities of color and going back and say, you know what, we will remove the filibuster to protect banking, our bankers and our credit ratings, but we won`t remove the filibuster to protect your voting rights and protect your franchise.

I think that`s not -- I don`t think that is sustainable, quite frankly. I think if they moved to do away with the filibuster around this, it`s going to be really hard for them to tell a lot of Americans, especially Americans of color, who put them in power, that I`m not going to do it to protect your franchise.

MELBER: Yes, I appreciate your point there and you bringing that up.

And it really does speak to some of the problems in the way the government works. And, again, we`re just talking about whether there`s an up-or-down vote. Everyone in the country voted in 2020. They put in their new representatives. Georgia went blue from red.

And so whether it`s voting rights or these other issues, the question is whether there`s going to be a vote. If Libby, there is a vote in a democracy, and people don`t vote to pass the voting rights bill or these other things, fine? I`m not here, certainly not my job to say where it all lands.

But the notion that this minority can choke-hold everything, from the dead to voting rights to the other issues, it does make you question whether we`re living in a democracy or not.

Senator Bernie Sanders said some really interesting stuff today. I do want to get to that.

But, first, before I go there, Libby, your view on all the above and the debt standing?

LIBBY CASEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Democrats cannot go home and say, look, we couldn`t get things done because of this thing called the filibuster.

I was talking to an audience of my mother today, who was saying -- a very educated voter, who was saying, what is up with the filibuster? Like, what is this thing?

There is so much frustration among voters on both sides of the aisle over this gridlock in Washington. So this old idea of collegiality and trying to have decorum in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has not played by those old- fashioned rules for a long time. So Democrats are going to have to decide how they`re going to play.

The problem is, though, it`s not just President Biden who needs to be able to be flexible on the filibuster. It`s also Joe Manchin and Senator Sinema, and we don`t have a sense yet that they`re willing to bend on this.

Ari, when you talked about the pressure on Republicans and Democrats right now to deal with the debt ceiling, the White House hosted some of the top CEOs in the country today to talk about just how terrible and devastating and, to use your word, cataclysmic not dealing with this would be.

They also were touting a letter that was signed by former defense secretaries on both sides of the aisle. And you know one person who signed it? Dick Cheney, the former vice president. He even signed that, saying you cannot let this -- we cannot even approach the debt ceiling.

Ten years ago, I covered when they approach this debt ceiling, when they tiptoed up to it and tried to do this under President Obama. And there were problems with the credit rating. There were issues that were already unfolding. It`s not the kind of thing they can save until midnight. They have got to get this dealt with in advance, which is why there`s so much conversation and focus on it right now.

MELBER: And what does your mom think we should do about the filibuster?

CASEY: I mean, I speaking for Alice (ph) Casey, she wants to see action in Washington. She wants to see the Democrats, who control all three bodies right now, pass some things.

Now, as a reporter, I have to put my mom`s opinions on the shelf there, but she`s an example of someone who wants to see action and is frustrated by someone like Joe Manchin, someone like Kyrsten Sinema, because Democrats control all of these bodies.

And so Republicans, I will say, are staying remarkably lockstep on this issue of the debt ceiling. We`re not seeing any wiggles from even the moderates. We`re not seeing wiggles from them about, well, maybe I will come over and help Democrats just to deal with this issue. They are staying in lockstep.

What we`re focused on is a lot of tension and disagreement in the Democratic Party. And even though Mitch McConnell is offering this temporary move forward, he`s saying maybe we can talk about dealing with this, pushing it about two months ahead, it still is in Democrats` hands to try to resolve this. Republicans are not helping at all.

And Democrats are frustrated, because not only does this mean that they have to get closer to this cataclysmic cliff, but it`s also distracting the focus on the two big bills they are trying to pass, this major infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better bill, this bill that could overhaul the social systems of America. they can`t work on that and focus on that if we`re all talking about this.

MELBER: Yes, all fair points.

And shout-out to your mom.

I mentioned Senator Sanders here going at his own colleagues, the Democratic holdouts. Let`s show a little bit what he said about Manchin and Sinema.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): But the time is long overdue for him to tell us, with specificity, not generalities -- we`re beyond generalities -- with specificity, what he wants and what he does not want, and to explain that to the people of West Virginia and America.


Senator Sinema`s position has been that she doesn`t -- quote, unquote -- "negotiate publicly." I don`t know what that means. We don`t know where she`s coming from. Tell us what you want.


MELBER: Tell me what you want, Cornell.


BELCHER: Well, you know who doesn`t want to smoke in the end? I think the smoke is going to too much for Joe Manchin and Senator Sinema, quite frankly.

Imagine this scenario. Imagine that we -- they have to go home in the end and they couldn`t, in fact, move on Build Back Better or infrastructure, all these things that you know a state like West Virginia wants and needs, and all these things that the middle-class families of Arizona want and need.

And then you could point to them and say, you know what, Senator Sinema, none of that happened because of you, right? That`s an awful lot of smoke. I got to think, Ari, that`s more smoke than either one of those two can put up with.

MELBER: At this point, Cornell, I don`t know what we have talked more about tonight, the 21 Savage view of smoke and confrontation or Libby Casey`s mom, who`s clearly interested in civics and news. At this point, it`s a toss-up.


MELBER: I did want to show another point, because, again, there`s been a lot happening on the Senate side.

Senator Hirono not impressed with Mitch backing down, because, although it does buy time, she still feels the overall problem is people who ran up the bills and won`t pay for them and are taking everyone hostage and distracting from other real priorities. So, while everyone, I think, breathed a sigh of relief, for the reasons stated already in our coverage about this teetering out of a real immediate showdown, she says that biding time is still, in her words, B.S.

Take a look.


SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): What`s my reaction to his so-called offer?

Just what I said. It`s B.S. He`s heartless. He could give a rip. He should stop playing games, get out of the way, so that the 50 Democrats can avoid what would be an economic catastrophe.


MELBER: Libby?

CASEY: So, one of the complaints that Democrats have over what McConnell is doing is, they say this will take too much time, this will eat up too much time.

So, in a way, McConnell`s calling their bluff and saying, oh, well, if we kick the can down the road by two months, you have plenty of time. But that`s not addressing the very fundamental problem of whether or not Republicans are going to get on board and pay the bills that they helped rack up over these last years.

MELBER: Yes, all important points here.

Libby Casey, Cornell Belcher, thanks to both of you.

I want to tell people what we have coming up.

There are reports that Trump aides will defy these new probe subpoenas at Donald Trump`s direction. Neal Katyal is going to get into it, including why this could lead some to risk going to jail.

Matt Gaetz now speaking out on the story we have been covering, along with his friendship with a Republican convicted of sex trafficking. Why is Gaetz speaking out? We have that update later in the hour.

Also, a new approach to addressing vaccine hesitance from a very unlikely source that even includes some laughter, which we always welcome. We have that later this hour as well.

So, stay with us. You`re watching THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER.



MELBER: The January 6 riot probe is going full steam ahead with consequences.

They`re preparing for this showdown with Donald Trump. A legal deadline looms. Trump must act quickly if he wants to even try to block the archives from releasing his records. Meanwhile, his subpoenaed aides are now facing a deadline of tomorrow to comply and turn over their evidence and records.

Now, there are signs they won`t cooperate, one aide in particular who hasn`t even turned up. You may remember the name from all the talk of Twitter over the last four years. This is an aide named Dan Scavino. Technically, he was elevated to deputy White House chief of staff.

But he dealt a lot with Twitter and the Internet, and now he`s gone missing entirely. The House committee -- this is pretty interesting and unusual -- says they can`t physically serve him under the rules with a legal subpoena because they can`t even find him.

The committee says they`re also preparing for Trump and his aides to be defiant. Now, Trump`s not backing down. He recently told a podcast about how the real insurrection was the election.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The insurrection took place on November 3. That was the insurrection, when they rigged the election, the big insurrection, the real insurrection, really the crime of the century. That took place on November 3, but not on January 6.


MELBER: Well, what can you say? It`s wordplay. It won`t beat subpoenas.

So this goes beyond just who`s the loser of the election or the sore loser the election, but why Donald Trump has reasons to worry. People around him are talking, the House committee starting interviews. And one of the first is Trump`s number two at the DOJ, another obscure person who vaulted into the sloppy coup talk.

And he had a closed-door interview on Friday. So what did he say? And what happens to people who defy subpoenas?

Well, we have one of the foremost legal experts in the nation. Neal Katyal is here live in 60 seconds.



MELBER: I`m joined by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal with these developments coming out of the riot probe.

Your thoughts, sir?

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think Republicans have been banking on stalling out this investigation, but the congressional committee investigating January 6 has called them on it.

And, Ari, if you behave like a dodgy witness, expect to get subpoenaed like one. And that`s what they have done with the investigation. It makes a lot of sense. It`s, of course, unusual for the House to subpoena itself. I`m not sure it`s ever been done to its own employees. But that`s for a simple reason. The House employees generally, ordinarily comply when they`re faced with a request.

And, here, they`re not, and not just the House, but, as you just said, these White House officials like Dan Scavino on the lam basically, acting like fugitives from justice or something, because they`re so afraid to have to tell the truth under oath.

And so these subpoenas are definitely unprecedented. But January 6 was unprecedented. We had an armed attack on our Capitol and a president who kind of stood by and didn`t do anything.


And I want to make sure people understand that there are plenty of avenues to debate the scope and the approach of evidence requests and subpoenas. That`s -- standard lawyering might debate or protest aspects of that. That`s valid. I don`t at all suggest that, say, the former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows or others don`t have the right to avail themselves of that.

But what they`re doing it -- as former officers of the government, it`s all the more all the more outstanding -- is just openly, wantonly defying this. And so that raises the question of having consequences.

In a different proceeding, but also the context of lawful requests to cooperate, involving executive branch officials, you had a Clinton case, where Susan McDougal famously refused to testify, also somewhat defiantly. Rather than saying, hey, here`s a reason, let`s debate it, no, just I`m not going to cooperate at all.

I`m going to read here from some of the coverage. She refused to testify. And McDougal cited for contempt. That`s that criminal contempt we hear about, given until a deadline to cooperate or go to jail, and she did go to jail.

Should that kind of potential precedent weigh on the minds of any of these Trump officials? Or is it apples and oranges?

KATYAL: A hundred percent, not apples and oranges at all.

So, legally, if they defy these subpoenas, which have the immense gravity of this committee and a massive investigation, investigative need behind them, yes, I think they`re looking at contempt, both civil and criminal.

But, Ari, there`s an even more important point, which is just, what makes good, prudent sense? When I was in the government, whenever we had a request for information, we tried to get it. We didn`t want to be accused of hiding anything. And that was for minor accusations or whatever.

We always wanted to try and open our books and be as forthcoming as possible. Here, you have got one of the most serious investigations this country`s ever faced, and these people are running, afraid to even turn over a single document? That is not a good look for Republicans, not a good look for any former government official.

MELBER: And just briefly, when people say, oh, Trump has instructed them to do this or that, I mean, they don`t work for him anymore, and they don`t work for the government anymore.

This is ultimately their call. And they will face the legal exposure themselves, right?

KATYAL: Correct.

It`s their documents or the archives` documents, and, ultimately, the American people. I mean, when you work for -- as a government employee, generally, that stuff gets turned over. Sometimes, there`s narrow privilege reasons, but none of that seems to apply here.


I do have to get into something else. And it`s fun. It involves Neal Katyal going full Katyal, which I don`t know if that`s an expression before tonight, but now it is, because we got ahold of your cameo on this Showtime program "Billions," which has a lot of interesting stuff regarding the law. It looks at the Southern District and other things that legal nerds care about.

Let`s take a look at your cameo.


PAUL GIAMATTI, ACTOR: Well Mr. Wagner, we find ourselves across the table once again. Only, this time, you don`t have your own master to high behind.

DAVID COSTABILE, ACTOR: I have Neal, here, though.

GIAMATTI: Afraid that`s not going to be much help. Let`s do this.

KATYAL: Mr. Wagner, please let me represent your interests here. It`s my job.

COSTABILE: Thank you. And, respectfully, you`re the best lawyer in the world, but zip it, Neal. You will paid either way.



MELBER: What was it like? And were you just playing yourself, or did you act?

KATYAL: Well, Wags was certainly an interesting client, Ari.

And it was such a privilege because I love this show, the writing, the acting, my God. And, yes, I tried to just be myself as much as possible, which is intimidating when you have Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti in the room.

But, I mean, it was really cool. And one of the neatest things was, they cared so much about authenticity. Behind me, I have the quills. Every time you argue a case in the Supreme Court, they give you a quill. And I have 44 of them in there. The set designers wanted to recreate that.


And they actually got the same feathers that the Supreme Court passes out and put that in the center of the room, which you just saw a moment ago.


KATYAL: So it was just a -- this is a really seriously great show with people who really take themselves incredibly seriously. And it was a real privilege.

MELBER: That`s great.

And I didn`t realize that, 44, but who`s counting? That`s my follow-up question. Most lawyers, you go to law school, you go research, you litigate, you go to trial. The vast majority of lawyers never do a single Supreme Court argument. I certainly never gotten near doing that. I imagine it`s nerve-racking.

Where would you rank the difficulty of your acting vs. being before the actual Supreme Court?

KATYAL: It was super hard to do this, and just intimidating.

But on the other hand, you get do-overs. You have to do the thing repeatedly from every different camera angle. So, if you mess up once, it`s different. And so unlike this show, in which, A, you can tell me to zip it, and, B, if I mess up, it`s on live TV, that did -- the do-overs was a really nice thing.


KATYAL: And -- but it was a real privilege to do.

MELBER: Yes, it is different, as you say, with tape. You make a fair point here, where -- and I think you know this, Neal -- we`re live right now. Right now, it`s live TV.


MELBER: So, get it right. Get it right every time.


MELBER: Congratulations on that, Neal.

Go ahead.

KATYAL: I was going to say, Ari, next week, I`m actually doing a Supreme Court argument, and it`s live in person again for the first time in 18 months. And so I think all of us are looking forward to that.

MELBER: No kidding? Well, there you go, another example of sort of the post or quasi-post pandemic shifts, getting people back in the courtroom.

So I`m sure we will catch up with you about that.

Neal Katyal on more than one program, as it were, thank you.

And you can always go to, where we have Neal`s past live performances, none of the Showtime, all of the MSNBC.

Now, coming up on the program tonight: Matt Gaetz actually facing questions about the sex crimes probe. And he changed a little bit of his position about some of this. We`re going to explain and give you the breakdown.

And, later, a new take on how to address vaccine hysteria. You can even do it with a smile on your face.

And before we`re through, "The Big Lebowski." Remember the nihilists? What does it have to do with Mitch McConnell? We will explain.




UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We believes in nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We believes in nothing, Lebowski, nothing.

JEFF BRIDGES, ACTOR: They were nihilists, man. They kept saying they believed in nothing.


I mean, say what you want about the tenets of national socialism, dude. At least it`s an ethos.


MELBER: The Coen brothers classic "The Big Lebowski" reminding everyone about that concept of nihilism, an extreme ethos that increasingly applies to many elected Republicans, who openly tout that they don`t care about governing consequences, from defying medical experts on COVID, risking lives, to using their own power in government to say the government itself can end.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Shutting the government is not -- shutting it down is not a big deal. Shut the government down, because the real world knows how to run without the government.

We do not need the government.


MELBER: It`s a long road from limited government to no government.

That would be like no countries. And the concern about this creeping nihilism is, it`s not just coming from outsiders or headline writers or even critics of the Republican Party, a longtime GOP operative warning about nothing matters, Republicanism, a world view where actions are just believed to not have any consequences and -- quote -- "Truth is no different than lies."

You take this all together -- "The Big Lebowski" did it in a funny way -- there are plenty of other touchstones in our culture or films that do it in a more serious way because they relate to the fact that nihilism, that wanting things to burn, that not caring about the effect of your actions or your power on other people is a big problem.

And not only that. I say this part seriously after the "Lebowski" fun. Understanding who the nihilists are is critical to dealing with them. There was a really evocative scene in "The Dark Knight" on this very point, where, basically, Batman is struggling to understand that, while he had dealt with many evil people, villains and killers, the Joker was different because of his nihilism, something Alfred tried to explain.


MICHAEL CAINE, ACTOR: Some men aren`t looking for anything logical, like money. They can`t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.


MELBER: We`re joined by Stuart Stevens. I mentioned these concerns come from people with pedigrees in the Republican Party. He has worked for five different Republican presidential campaigns. He knows of what he speaks. He cares about conservative principles as traditionally understood, and he`s a guest tonight for a special conversation.

Thanks for being here.


MELBER: Do some of these elected Republicans have a nihilism problem?

STEVENS: Yes, that might even be too complimentary.

It`s power for power`s sake. I mean, you have to look at it. When I started getting involved with the Republican Party, we actually said we were the party of ideas. And that may or may not have been true, but it was something that we could at least argue about. I mean, there was a series of principles you could say the party stood for.

Character counts, personal responsibility, strong on Russia, the deficit matters. None of those things -- it`s not that the party has sort of drifted away from those, the way that parties do sometimes, where like the party now is actively against these things.

It`s the character doesn`t count party, the pro-Putin party, the deficit doesn`t mean anything party. It really -- I can`t tell you what it believes. It`s like a complete collapse. The only thing I can really compare to is sort of the collapse of the Communist Party, which what it said it believed and what it actually did.


I mean, if you look at something like Chernobyl, the disparate cognitive dissonance was so great that the whole thing just collapsed. And that`s what`s happening to the Republican Party. It`s really just collapsed as any sort of governing party.


And part of what you`re talking about is kind of a intellectual and civic decay. There`s a robust tradition of government skepticism in this country for many good reasons. And there`s a strain of that in conservatism and libertarianism that I think is a part of a healthy debate.

Cynically giving up on the government entirely, and saying the government can never be a part of a solution, or the military could never be part of doing anything good, or teachers could never go to public school and do anything good for our next generation, I mean, that gets quite extreme, which is why we`re talking about extremism.

And with that, I wanted -- you have crunched many numbers in many polls, because you`re a strategist, among other things. Take a look at a really dramatic crashing among Republicans of any trust in government whatsoever.

In the Reagan `80s, a majority of Republicans said they broadly trust the government. And you see a crashing all the way down to being a really minority, vanishing view today that any Republicans trust the government to do much of anything. How do you address that?

STEVENS: Yes, well, I mean, I think that`s the perfect collapse of any idea of a party of ideas, because if you are a member of a party, and your party is in power, as Republicans just were, and you don`t trust government, what you`re really saying is, I don`t trust my own party to govern, because there are no ideas there.


STEVENS: There`s nothing you can say you can believe in.

I mean, at the root of this was always this contradiction back in the Reagan era, when Reagan used to say, sort of as a joke, and we would laugh, but it had meaning, that the most dangerous words are: "I`m here from the federal government to help."

We thought it was funny, but it also reflected this idea of the government can`t really help. Now, that is sort of a contradictory principle by which to want to govern the country, if the government can`t help. And we sort of, as a party, never came to grips with that contradiction, and particularly for those for whom, mostly at the lower economics scale, government is proactively one of the most positive forces in our lives and a way to rise economically, to rise in life.

And it`s really a failure of ideas. I mean, Trumpism is nothing but a failure of ideas. And the party, I think, has a long way to go until it can kind of become any sort of sane, morally centered, center-right party.


STEVENS: I think it`s probably a generation.


And I have one minute left. What portion of this do you see as media- related, in terms of what the rank-and-file is hearing and believing?

STEVENS: Well, look, I mean, I think that there is an institutional propaganda network on the right.

It started with the death of the fairness doctrine that allows people to live in an alternative universe. If there`s a weather station that tells you that the sky is green, as FOX News does, then you can sort of live in that world in which everybody agrees, OK, the sky is green.

Well, the sky is not, but it`s just reinforced in that alternative facts. Kellyanne Conway said it, I mean, except there are no alternative facts. There are only facts. And I think that`s why the Republican Party is increasingly shrinking, why it`s become a party of -- really, it`s an anti- democratic party.


STEVENS: It`s an autocratic party now, because they don`t believe in democracy.

MELBER: You put it very starkly, Stuart. And if somebody came into the middle of this conversation and heard the green part, they might say, well, that sounds fanciful. The Weather Channel says the sky is green.

In fact, that would be less dangerous than a channel that says climate change doesn`t exist, which is what FOX and some -- and Newsmax says. And that`s literally what we`re living through.

So, you make it clear. I appreciate you coming on. I hope you will come back, sir.

STEVENS: Thank you, buddy.

MELBER: Thank you.

Up ahead, developments in the sex crimes probe facing Republican Matt Gaetz and his cooperating ally. New comments. That`s next, right after this.



MELBER: Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz remains on defense in this open federal sex crimes probe. And he`s getting grilled with direct questions.

This is from a local news station in his home district, where all of his voters are, in Florida. Now, Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing, but he was pressed for more specific answers about the open probe and something that would haunt any politician, regardless of any other alleged wrongdoing, his relationship with Joel Greenberg, a convicted sex offender, now cooperating with prosecutors.


QUESTION: Are you worried that you`re going to be charged based on Joel Greenberg`s actions and your associations with him and your actions with him?

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I`m not. I`m way more concerned about the socialism engulfing our nation.

QUESTION: Have you heard anything from the Justice Department as far as an investigation or an update from the FBI on where you stand in their eyes?

GAETZ: Only that I`m not a target.

QUESTION: In the office after hours in the Seminole County tax collector`s office with Joel Greenberg a few years back, and a trip to the islands with a medical marijuana lobbyist, not optics that the public is going to just accept and move on.

I mean...

GAETZ: Well, I have never been to the Bahamas with a lobbyist. That`s not accurate. I was on a trip, as many Floridians do, to go to the Bahamas. Nothing about that`s criminal. And I didn`t do anything criminal while I was there.

As for the optics of going to a tax collector`s office, I have never used the tax collector`s office in Seminole County or anywhere else for anything improper.



MELBER: What you see there is something somewhat unusual, which is Gaetz outside of right-wing media actually getting questioned about this.

He talks about the tax collector`s office. That is the very office that his ally Greenberg used to run, run into the ground and into improprieties. Now, the news this week was Greenberg requesting a delay in his own sentencing, citing his cooperation with prosecutors, that he needs more time to share what he knows.

Now, how does that affect Gaetz? Well, he was questioned about this. And here`s what he said.


GAETZ: I believe there may have been a time where Greenberg swung by the office, but it certainly didn`t have anything to do with any bad acts on my part.

QUESTION: You guys still friends or -- I`m assuming the answer`s no.


When I became aware of some of Greenberg`s misdeeds, I deeply regretted my friendship with him. And on that note, I want to speak to my constituents.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

GAETZ: Because I do believe that it`s fair for the people of Northwest Florida to judge me based on the associations that I have had.

And I deeply regret my association with Joel Greenberg, politically, socially, and otherwise.


MELBER: That is new. We have not seen Gaetz be that contrite.

Whether the voters believe him or not or you believe them or not is up to you, but we haven`t even seen him hit that tone. Why is he acting that way right now? We don`t know.

He also did say in this local interview that it`s fair to judge him on his associations, while also trying to distance himself from the association that all this is about with Greenberg.

We will keep tracking this story and any legal developments for you.

Now turning to the pandemic, I will tell you this. We always like times when there is good news on the pandemic, or at least good vibes on a story like this.

And that brings us to one of Barack Obama`s favorite comedians, Dave Chappelle, and Chappelle`s writing partner, comedian Neal Brennan, who once recounted talking to the Obamas about their appreciation for Chappelle.


NEAL BRENNAN, COMEDIAN: Dave calls me and goes: "Hey, if Universal reaches out to you, tell them we`re writing a weed movie together."


BRENNAN: He goes: "Michelle, this guy created `Chappelle`s Show` with Dave Chappelle."

So, Michelle comes over and goes: "We were so upset when it went off the air."

And I go: "How do you think I felt?"



MELBER: All right, that`s Neal Brennan for you.

And beyond being Chappelle`s head writer, he does stand-up. He has a new Broadway show the tackles everything from mental health to COVID, which is actually why his work is on the news right now.

Brennan sounding off on our partisan COVID wars. And comments can be blunt and direct in ways that can prove somewhat useful. So we want to at least take in some of his points. You can hear them and think about how we all think about COVID, for example, Brennan roasting the ways that people put misinformation or their own scientific wannabe guesswork above real science from real researchers and to actual doctors.


BRENNAN: I got a buddy who -- just one of my friends, like, I just think they rushed the vaccine.

I`m like, I didn`t know you`re an epidemiologist.


BRENNAN: I thought he worked in telemarketing.

Another friend is like, yes, I`m not taking it. I go, why not? He goes, I just don`t want to mess up my DNA like that. I was like, Greg, I have met your family. I think you can go ahead and risk your DNA.


BRENNAN: It`s not that -- not -- the DNA, to be honest, is not that valuable.


MELBER: Brennan roasting his supposed friend there to make a point.

About 70 million Americans say they`re still holding out on getting the vaccine. And many cite their concerns about speed as a reason. Now, he does the comedy. We will do the news and a fact-check here.

This vaccine progress worked with full testing in a normal way for safety. It now has the complete standard FDA approval. And the evidence shows it`s safe after two billion people have taken it via over six billion shots.


BRENNAN: The vaccines are safe. They have given out five billion of them now, five billion.

QUESTION: Throughout the world?



BRENNAN: That`s a lot.


BRENNAN: Like, we would have heard some bad stuff. And if you think it`s a conspiracy, fine, but the -- a year ago, everybody thought it was a conspiracy that China had invented this virus.

So it`s like, which conspiracy -- basically, people were going, like, no, I`m going to ride with China. I`m going to ride with China. I`m going to ride with their virus. I have always -- they have always been good to me, the Chinese.


BRENNAN: It`s killed five million people.

And the vaccine has killed not -- from what I can tell, none.


MELBER: The interview there is with "The Breakfast Club," a radio show that proudly touts a large black audience.


And COVID has become, of course, a flash point for many other issues in our society. Some of the highest rates of vaccine hesitance are found among young Republican men and among black Americans; 16 percent say they definitely don`t want this shot; 11 percent say they are still taking that wait-and-see approach.

The U.S. government has a long history of racism in medical policy, including horrific experiments that involved an earlier version of the CDC.

Brennan telling "The Breakfast Club" he actually gets it when there is hesitance higher among certain groups.


BRENNAN: Yes, absolutely.

It`s not -- as a white person, it`s not that controversial.

QUESTION: Explain.

BRENNAN: You saw the stat. In New York City, the black vaccination rate is 23 percent?


BRENNAN: So, like -- so it became a thing. And I think black people`s approach is -- if a white person`s an anti-vaxxer, I`m like, you`re a moron. And if a black person anti-vaccine, I`m like, brother did his research.

QUESTION: That`s right.

BRENNAN: He really -- he figured it out.


MELBER: Now Brennan has jokes about how people are dealing with this pandemic.

But pretty good comedians tend to be equal opportunity offenders. And I want to show you him also needling some of the medical experts that he does say people should rely on in real life, citing their track record as information and science evolved about the new pandemic.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Right now in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks.

QUESTION: You`re sure of it? Because people are listening really closely to this.

FAUCI: No, right now, people should not be -- there`s no reason to be walking around with a mask.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: You may be protecting others, but don`t get a false sense of security.

DR. JEROME ADAMS, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends and the task force recommends wearing cloth face coverings.

FAUCI: There should be universal wearing of masks.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m going to ask for a masking plan, everyone for the first 100 days of my administration to wear a mask.

FAUCI: What has changed is the virus. The CDC hasn`t changed and the CDC hasn`t really flipped-flopped at all.


MELBER: I`m sure you have heard about this. It`s part of the debate.

Brennan satirizing some of those shifts, which did adjust often with new information.


BRENNAN: Well, COVID has been like it`s a new thing. So they`re trying to catch up to it. But it sounds like somebody trying to get their story worked out.


BRENNAN: We`re like, all right, what I said about masks, that was true when I said it, like a dude who got caught cheating.

QUESTION: Absolutely. Yes. Yes.

BRENNAN: Like, no. Now, look, no, I did not say that. I -- no, I did not say that you needed to wear two masks. I needed -- I said you need to wear an N95.

QUESTION: That`s right.

BRENNAN: So -- but it does make people who don`t want to do stuff, it gives them ammunition.


MELBER: Well, Brennan may sound like another science-driven American who is angry with fellow citizens that are anti-science.

And he sums it all up by saying that some people haven`t really advanced much in how we think about things since the 1600s, when the Catholic Church was banning Copernicus` heliocentric theory about the Earth revolving around the sun.


BRENNAN: Sciences -- people scoff at science. All these people would have been, like, burning people with torches in the Middle Ages.

Like, it`s the same idea. Like, Copernicus, get him!

People have opinions about facts. Like, how the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) did that happen, where it used to be there were opinions and facts, and then they became around the same amount of value.


MELBER: Yes, how did that happen, indeed?

We`re going to fit in a break.

When we come back, one more thing you need to know from Capitol Hill today.



MELBER: If you get your sense of what`s happening in Washington and Congress from the news, which is reasonable, some things are emphasized more than others.

We have been talking about the Biden spending clash, the talk of filibuster reform, the debt ceiling standoff, and those are big, big deals.

But Congress has proven able to do more than one thing at a time. They hold hearings on other issues. And before we go tonight, I want to show you exactly one of those hearings you might have missed.

Senator Durbin, and this is him talking, the whip of the Democrats -- so he`s Schumer`s deputy, basically -- about Republican voter suppression. And then out of the blue, thinking about the fraudits all the other drama, you get this Durbin reference to the Ninja Turtles.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): You remember what happened in Arizona, $5.7 million spent on the Ninja Turtles who were going through all these ballots. And the net result was, more votes for Biden, fewer votes for Trump.

So, this notion of voter fraud is a ruse, as far as I`m concerned. In this case, there is no basis for it.


MELBER: As the founding fathers say, cowabunga, dude.

Those Ninja Turtles he`s referring to are actually the Cyber Ninjas, which is the real name of a real group that backed Trump`s fake audit in Arizona, which did not do what Republicans wanted. Indeed, its count, which is irrelevant and has no legal significance, but its count found Biden had a larger margin of victory than originally thought.

Now, before we end everything tonight, I want to tell you, if you happen to be in New York, something that we are excited about for New York BEAT fans. If you`re out there, we`re moderating an event with the Nobel Prize-winning economist and "New York Times" writer and author Paul Krugman.

It`s this Sunday, this Sunday evening, October 17, getting going around 7:30 p.m. And you can see the link on your screen, if you want to join us in New York, to learn more. Go to that link in New York, and you could meet me and Paul as we talk about the future of the U.S. economy.

I will tell you, Rachel Maddow is back on MSNBC tonight with Bernie Sanders. So, keep it locked for that tonight.

And keep it locked right now, because "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts now.