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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 11/17/21

Guests: Gary Shteyngart, Margaret Carlson, Vince Warren, Lisa Lerer


President Biden hits the road to tout his infrastructure bill. The House of Representatives censures Congressman Paul Gosar. Deliberations continue in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. Is there light at the end of the COVID tunnel? Death row inmate Julius Jones awaits execution tomorrow in Oklahoma.



Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

We have several stories tonight, including tracking developments in the murder trial Kyle Rittenhouse. We can tell you the verdict has not yet been reached. This jury met all day. Deliberations will continue tomorrow. I have a special guest on that coming up.

Our top story right now is about political violence and accountability. We have these mounting threats here at home. Consider just what we know right now, the FBI warning that domestic white supremacists are now the top threat to Americans.

We know about the violent insurrection that literally tried to overthrow the federal government. And we know many Republican leaders openly minimize or defend the violence of that infamous day, even as some of its most visible participants are convicted and go to jail for years, including the sentence of the so-called QAnon Shaman today.

We also know militias and right-wing activists are trying to act on many different types of calls for violence. There was a busted plot to bomb Democratic Party offices in California. There was another busted plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. All five people there indicted for that await trial for what prosecutors say is a serious crime.

Why am I mentioning this all to you right now? Because it`s serious when a sitting member of Congress releases a murder fantasy video. We`re not showing the video. But it came out, and these are stills from it that depict the killing of another fellow member of Congress. That matters.

It is exactly the kind of act which so many would-be criminals have been taking as inspiration for reality-based violence in politics recently. And it raises the question, what will be done to stop this before things get even worse?

Well, this is the news, and we actually have an answer for you on this one. Today, the House of Representatives answered that question. It took a formal step against one of its own, which is actually quite rare, the United States House censuring Republican Representative Paul Gosar for the violent video that I just mentioned.

The nonpartisan outlet that covers Congress, C-SPAN, reported the news in its characteristically dry fashion.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May be censured over posting an animated video of himself killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and attacking President Biden with swords in the video.


MELBER: Yes, attacking the president with weapons, killing another member of Congress. That`s not C-SPAN`s usual topic, but they gave it their usual dry distillation.

C-SPAN typically broadcasts the routine hearings of Congress, the seemingly endless floor speeches. It doesn`t have to usually broadcast what Congress does when one of its own lawmakers publicly imagines murdering a colleague.

Today`s debate and vote was not business as usual. And it can`t be lost on the members there that it occurred inside of a year from the illegal political violence which turned that very congressional floor into a crime scene, as violent right-wing self-anointed Trump fans, MAGA advocates in their red hats, bashed down doors and attacked police and advocated for the murder of, among others, the vice president.

They took the calls to fight and overthrow and kill officials quite literally. They did their best. They committed many crimes. That`s a legal fact.

So, all of that is the context for today`s action. The debate on the floor ranged from many Democrats looking quite genuinely outraged and concerned to quite a few Republicans minimizing that kill video as just some kind of fun gag or cartoon.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): These actions demand a response. We cannot have members joking about murdering each other or threatening the president of the United States.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): For Democrats, this vote isn`t about a video. It`s about control.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): We`re critiquing Paul Gosar`s anime. Next week, we might be indicting the Wile E. Coyote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every time we have seen a new low in conduct from our colleagues across the aisle, we get crickets or excuses.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Do you have no shame?

REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): If I must join Alexander Hamilton, the first person attempted to be censured by this House, so be it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, Mr. Gosar, you are no Alexander Hamilton. You must be held accountable.


MELBER: You heard it there, Congressman Gosar refusing to take responsibility or apology of any kind offered.

Instead, the congressman likens his censure to Hamilton, who the Congress did censure over allegations regarding how he handled funds at the Treasury Department. The comparison is especially odd because Hamilton engaged in a lawless duel that famously resulted in his own death. He was killed in that duel.


It`s one of the most prominent examples of political violence run amok in the founding era. Now, it`s not clear if Gosar realizes the irony or idiocy of the comparison. And it doesn`t matter much if he does. What matters is that the Congress and the public in our democracy realize all of this, what we`re facing.

The political violence is real. It has plagued America and many other countries. And it tends to spike in periods where there is intense or reckless polarization, and often in conjunction with clashes in America over racism and civil rights.

So where are we right now? We`re facing both of those kinds of challenges in our polity, in our body politic. And the polarization is not always two sided. Today, it was really on display among Republicans who stuck with Gosar are on the vote; 99 percent of House Republicans backed him and voted against censure. Only two voted to censure him.

But the Republicans backing Gosar, they lost today. Congress voted for its first censure of a sitting member in a decade, and took away his power in office, booting him off his two committees. And that`s some of the only ways members wield power and win individual things for their home district.

House members really have struggled to overcome losing that committee power. This is what happened to Steve King in 2019 as punishment after he voiced controversial public support for white supremacy. So he was booted off his committees. He lost his very next race. He lost a primary to a Republican, who argued, among other things, that the congressman, King, was now unable to deliver for his district, like any other congressperson, without committee power.

King now is an ex-House member. Gosar might learn something from that recent history, or, like Hamilton, let`s be clear, it`s not all that evident how good Congressman Gosar is at history. But today`s vote does show accountability to action. The Republican Caucus` support for Gosar may be telling, may be important, may be something for people to consider.

But when it comes to the news tonight, and what happened, it is literally governmentally irrelevant to the outcome. It was just the losing side of the power exercise today, power that those Republicans don`t wield.

The winning side, with the action taken by Congress, which, as I`m reminding you, is pretty rare, it draws a line to punish and deter further violent talk or content or fantasy or inspiration that people can clearly take literally.

One of the officials target in the video, AOC, came to the floor and asked a question that really wasn`t about left or right. Didn`t seem to be about scoring points. And I want you to hear it. It was about asking how modern American Republicans have reached a point, as demonstrated by their chosen leaders, where, even apart from the censure question, which you could argue is a kind of domestic intercongressional policy, before we get to censure, how did the Republicans get to the point where they won`t even say it`s wrong in public to traffic in depictions of political assassination?


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): It is a sad day in which a member who leads a political party in the United States of America cannot bring themselves to say that issuing a depiction of murdering a member of Congress is wrong.

What is so hard? What is so hard about saying that this is wrong?


MELBER: That`s the question.

Let`s bring in some experts who have been tracking this.

Lisa Lerer is national political correspondent with "The New York Times," has been covering these issues, including the article "Menace Enters the Republican Mainstream." We`re also joined by Democratic strategist and analyst Juanita Tolliver.

Welcome to you both.

Lisa, much of this is clear in what the congressman put out, the lack of contrition, and a rallying of Republicans around him, not splitting the difference and saying, well, maybe they condemn the video, but make a more narrow argument about censure, but really just backing him up 100 percent.

What do you see here?

LISA LERER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, look, I think we do see that this violent rhetoric is a partisan issue.

We have seen that Republicans increasingly have been trafficking in things like revolution and tyranny and talking about armed conflict. And while they often say, like Congressman Gosar are said about his video, that this is symbolic, we also know that there has been a rise in real-life threats, that threats to members of Congress are on track to double, that the FBI is worried about domestic extremists.

And when they talk about that, they know that it`s overwhelmingly right- wing extremists. So there is a line here. And I think what was remarkable about today is, normally, when these things happen, much of the party likes to pretend they`re sort of constrained to the fringe of the party, which is not quite right.


Like, in surveys, plus or minus a third of Republicans say that they see political violence as possibly justified. Here, Republicans were forced to go on the record. And so you saw where Republican leadership is on this issue, beyond their sort of silent acquiescence to letting this flourish within their party.

MELBER: Yes. I mean, you`re making sense in that analysis.

We have this headline here on domestic extremists, to the point you mentioned, pushing the violence against basically public officials who wield authority they disagree with, extremists calling for attacks on the electeds, on political representatives, government facilities, law enforcement.

And then, reading from your own "New York Times" coverage that we were looking at in this story, "Among the most fervent conservatives, the belief that the country is at a crossroads, could require armed confrontation is no longer limited to the fringe."

Given your reporting, Lisa, how does that square or contrast with one of the defenses heard on the House floor, which was to liken this to harmless children`s cartoons?

LERER: Well, I think there`s two things going on here with Republican members of Congress.

The first is that while there`s a fringe element in Congress, right, Congress still has this veneer of civility going on that you don`t necessarily see it conservative events where talk of revolution in tyranny is pretty prevalent.

But I think what you hear when you talk to a lot of lawmakers privately is some of them will say that they are concerned about this, but, frankly, they`re concerned about their base, that that one-third of the base that feels that they are in a place where political violence could be justified are some of the most active and engaged members of their party.

Those are people who are very involved with conservative causes. There`s real overlap there. So, for political reasons, they don`t want to get crosswise with them. And I think the other thing that`s going on is many Republicans feel, even if they do condemn political violence, that there is a double standard being applied here, that they are being held.

And we heard that a lot in the comments on the floor today, that they are being held accountable for things that Democrats are not being held accountable. And none of this is to say that there`s no left-wing extremists. Of course, there are. There can be extremists of all stripes.

And, sometimes, those people commit violent crimes or threaten violent crimes. But I think the difference is, when those things happen, we are more often likely to see condemnation from the leaders of the Democratic Party than we are from the Republican Party.

And that is a really crucial difference.


And I think you lay that out, and that`s what the facts bear out.

And, Juanita, it is not as if a criminology textbook doesn`t find that people of different political views can still commit crime. Of course, that is a general fact. But with regard to the political leaders, I mean, even in the summer protests around BLM and other issues, we weren`t talking about advocacy of murder and assassination.

We were talking about incidents of, for example, some looting or some other unrest. And we covered it. Democratic officials, civil rights leaders, Al Sharpton, who is a reverend and also works here, all said, don`t break the law, don`t do violence.

Here, you have January 6 looming over all of this, which is defended, and is now an indicted, convicted in many cases set of violent crimes, or you have a video imagining assassination, and no floor speeches hardly from any Republicans, certainly not from the leadership, McCarthy, et cetera, saying, well, by the way, don`t advocate, joke about or condone murder.

JUANITA TOLLIVER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s just like Representative Ocasio-Cortez said. Why is it so hard to say that this is wrong?

And I feel like you hit on it, Ari. I feel like Lisa hit on it a little bit. It`s the reality that they know to condemn even this moment is to condemn Trump and all of his extremist behavior that he peddled in the four years he was president and the years that he was a candidate for the presidency, and really living up to the mark that he made on the party, right?

Like, white supremacy isn`t new. Violence isn`t new. Extremism is not new. But what is new is this license to go ahead and act out however you feel. And as we are living in a post-January 6 reality, these threats are not fake. These threats are not a joke.

This is not a comical exercise. This is something that could be leveraged to incite violence against Representative Ocasio-Cortez, against the president. As Speaker Pelosi said, yes, this is something that law enforcement activity should get into, right?

Like, look into it and make sure it`s handled, because none of this can be taken lightly after thousands of people stormed the Capitol Building and did horrible things, threatening the lives of the vice president, threatening the lives of everyone in that building.


And so what`s frustrating is that to see the entire Republican Party back this up, again, it`s a disgusting display of their alignment with Trump, but, also, it`s unsurprising. Lisa said it best. They know that the primary voters, the most ardent right-wing supporters of the party see this and are going to be riled up by it, going to be excited by it.

And so they`re doing this as a political calculation, when, in reality, they`re condoning violence, not only against women, but against other members of Congress. And that`s where we see Democrats stepping up, because we know the GOP absolutely will not step up to anything, because stepping up to this moment means challenging Trump and the things that he laid out for the party.

MELBER: Yes, and there can be layers of basically what appear to be the motivating factor.

So, Joe Biden and Mike Pence are in different parties, and they both happen to be older white men. And there may be motivation here to talk about those kinds of attacks. That`s one layer of it. But the explicit and returning vitriol and violent rhetoric and violent content and talk of attacks on AOC, who`s a woman of color, also speaks to the underlying racial issues in a lot of the right-wing militias in these movements, which openly talk about white supremacy.

Gosar has his own history fraternizing with some of this, and it speaks to sort of the very ugly history of the United States of many black civil rights leaders assassinated, murdered in that same animating way.

Given AOC, I did want to play a little bit more of her remarks today. Let`s hear that.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: Our example matters. There is meaning in our service.

And as leaders in this country, when we incite violence with depictions against our colleagues, that trickles down into violence in this country.


MELBER: Juanita, I wanted to give you the final word on what she said and how she did it today, because, faced was all this opprobrium -- and many people, Americans may know of her for some of her political history and her ideology -- it was striking that much of her focus was, for lack of better words, because I don`t always have the right words, it was nonpartisan, it was aspirationally patriotic, it was about values.

It was not some sort of right- or left-wing thing. It was more calling out what is right-wing talk of violence, but it seemed like she was trying to take this to some higher level. I`m curious what you thought.

TOLLIVER: It was about basic humanity, right?

Like, one thing, she said, this gets to our core, and what we say about human decency, human values, human worth. And that`s what she -- where she put the nail -- hit the nail on the head, because that, again, flies above any type of partisanship into terms of basic right and wrong, basic issues of morality, basic issues of ethical behavior.

And when you hear her talk like that, we know that that is going to resonate with a lot of the people across this country, because that is what it comes down to.

I think the other thing is, that steers the conversation away from kind of the partisan behavior and the violence that we know comes -- that we have seen from right-wing members, especially when you have these town halls where people come up to the microphone and say, when can we start killing them? When can we start shooting people who voted against this, right?

Like, that is what she`s trying to rise above here.


TOLLIVER: And that`s why she`s trying to appeal to the conscience of the right.

But I, sadly, think it falls on deaf ears. And we see that, based on the vote from the Republican Party.

MELBER: Yes, important stuff.

Juanita and Lisa giving us perspective. Thanks to both of you.

We have a lot more coming up, including pivotal trial days here in a related issue, which is these attempts to have vigilante justice, white killers on trial, the Rittenhouse jury deliberating. I`m going to give you an update on all of that. We`re also going to look at one of the accused killers in the Ahmaud Arbery case taking the stand on. That`s legally rare.

And I have a special guest, as I mentioned.

Also tonight, the president getting a major boost on the economy.

And when we look at what has come out of this pandemic, tough times for all, light at the end of the tunnel, what have we really learned and who should we be listening to?

I have someone who I`m a huge fan of and a very special thinker that will be here by the end of the hour, so stay with us for that.



MELBER: Turning to a big trial, Kyle Rittenhouse is basically waiting on what the jury decides.

Today is the second day of deliberations in that murder trial for killing two BLM protesters. We have tracked about 16 hours of deliberation, Rittenhouse does face five counts, including homicide or a murder charge in the state.

Now, while the jury deliberated, there was a lawyer debate in the courtroom, the defense saying that they will pursue this mistrial. They are complaining about video evidence. This had been argued about earlier in the week, saying the prosecution didn`t give them a clear enough version of a drone video.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the same formula byte file that I had gotten previously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE) is compressing these files. That`s not our responsibility.

I didn`t write all the software. I for -- excuse me.


MELBER: That kind of parsing went on and on.

Meanwhile, as for what the jury is thinking, they asked about how or where they can view the videos. Take a look.


JUDGE BRUCE SCHROEDER, KENOSHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: I think it`s insulting to the jury to tell them that they have to have these restrictions on their viewing.

But we`re going to sit down with the books. We`re going to find out what the exact procedure is. And we will await what they want to do. But, for now, I will answer, do we view the videos in private or in the courtroom? And the answer will be in the courtroom.


MELBER: That goes to key videos from the actual night of the killings.

The judge also cleared the courtroom at one point after confusion about some of the process.


SCHROEDER: I don`t know exactly who is going -- who are going to be the kickees.

Certainly, all the media and the officers other than -- yes, media and the officers. And the question is whether the lawyers and the defendant -- I don`t know what the answer is. We will have to check that.


And I don`t know if I`m supposed to be in here.


MELBER: This stuff can be complicated. But that`s a judge who is repeatedly saying there`s a lot of stuff he doesn`t know. He`s also had some angry outbursts.

And when you take it together, we`re talking about a murder trial, two people dead, but a lot of reminders that we are a long way from the movies or "Law & Order."

There are some problems that have already been excavated. There`s a lot on the line, including the racial tensions. There`s this motion of mistrial. The judge also punched back at some of the public criticism over these issues, but in a way that`s led to even more criticism.

We have to take this in on the facts and with the knowledge of how court cases work and are supposed to work. And so we have a special guest today to do that at this pivotal point in the trial.

Vince Warren runs the Center For Constitutional Rights. He`s my special guest when we return in 60 seconds.


MELBER: I`m joined now by civil rights lawyer Vince Warren, the executive director of the Center For Constitutional Rights and, full disclosure, briefly for a time my former boss.

Thanks for being here.


MELBER: Vince, there a lot of different issues on the table. It`s now in the jury`s hands.

What do you see as key in this trial, where the defense has taken someone who obviously did many controversial things, including killing two unarmed people, but tried to argue that, essentially, he sees himself as a vigilante or a type of law enforcement supporter, and he did what he had to do?

WARREN: Well, Ari, there`s a lot that`s at stake in the case, and I think particularly the self-defense angle, which you`re driving at, which is the idea that Kyle Rittenhouse`s defense is that anything I did, any of the shooting that I did was because I was fearing for my life.

And there`s evidence that goes both ways on that. There`s evidence that shows that he shot someone who threw a paper bag at him. There`s evidence that showed he shot someone that had a gun in his hand. And so that`s a really key piece.

And his -- of course, taking the stand in his own defense was pretty riveting. And as you were pointing out earlier, it`s super, super rare. That doesn`t happen, although it kind of does have to happen in self- defense cases.

One of the things that I think it`s interesting, though, particularly in Kenosha, in Wisconsin, in an open carry state, is the idea that you can go to essentially a knife fight with a gun, and then your defense is that everybody that has a plastic bag or a knife or that might be taking my gun away, I get to shoot them.

Now, if you didn`t take the gun, you wouldn`t have to shoot them. But the idea that -- and there`s a "New York Times" editorial piece, great piece about this -- the idea that the gun is what you`re using to protect property, but the gun becomes essentially the antagonist in this entire situation.

People essentially wouldn`t have chased him if he hadn`t had the gun pointed at people, and people wouldn`t have chased him if he hadn`t shot somebody else. They wouldn`t have tried to grab the gun unless the gun was pointed at them. So, at some level, it`s an interesting, if not novel, self-defense case.

And then you have to factor in the fact that he was 17 at the time. It`s interesting, quite interesting questions.

MELBER: Yes, as you say, there`s layers to it.

The legal issue, which they call provocation, or the commonsense version of it, which is just, if this becomes case law in that state, and prosecutors go, well, we can`t win these kinds of cases anyway, and then more people show up to more places with guns in this violent time, the problems with that.

Obviously, the defendant is entitled not to a policy reading, but an individual finding of the facts.

The judge has also been controversial, as I mentioned. I want to play more of that here. Vince, you have been a big civil rights advocate for a long time. And one of the things you know about is, if people think things are really fair, they say, well, death penalty is important to be used as a deterrent, and, in a fair trial, if you get it, you get it.

That`s very different from learning that the death penalty operates in racist ways or is only used against poor people or, oh, the reality is different.


And so for people who may not have the ins and outs or have a law degree like yourself, seeing this judge on TV here, because this has been televised by multiple networks, reminds people how some of these trials work.

Take a look at him here, I would say fairly oddly or unusually, using time in the courtroom to vent about criticism of his conduct in a trial that`s still ongoing. Here we go.


SCHROEDER: The business about people not being identified as victims, how would you like to be put on trial for a crime, and the judge introduced the case to the jury by introducing you as the defendant, and the person who is accusing you as the victim?

I am now reading about how bizarre and unusual it was to have the defendant pick the numbers out of the tumbler yesterday. And I would admit that I don`t know that there`s a large number of courts to do that, maybe not any.


MELBER: What do you think?

WARREN: I mean, well, first of all, I think both -- well, the judge, the defense, and the prosecutor spend more time blaming Apple and Samsung for the tech problems around the pictures than anybody else.

My son actually sent me a video of the exchange around whether the judge thinking that Apple uses A.I. to take pictures that it wants. It was baffling. So, number one is that all these people should have their children and their grandchildren handling the tech, apparently be much better off.


WARREN: Number two, we just went through four years of someone in power sort of blowing off steam about how they`re portrayed in the media and sort of going off on random tangents.

It is -- it`s not unusual to see screaming judges. They have those. And it`s not unusual to see judges that go off on tangents. But in front of a national audience, when people`s lives are at stake, we really can`t be having the rambling man as the judge, that these decisions need to be crisp, they need to be clear.

It`s clear -- and he`s the longest serving junction in -- criminal judge in Wisconsin, apparently. And he does wacky things, like he was talking about letting the defendant sort of pick out of a tumbler the alternate jurors, which people just don`t do.

And the reason why they don`t do things like that is because they need to feel that the system is fair and that the defendants or the prosecutors or the judge`s thumb is not on the scale. He`s not doing a very good job of that at all, I think. It`s actually kind of a little strange and bizarre.

MELBER: Yes. And that goes to people`s understanding of how fair trials are, how this works, what is it the reality, which is different than "Law & Order," and someone who, in this case, isn`t grappling with the substantive criticism, which was the concern that maybe some of his bent or his rulings were overly pro-prosecution, but rather saying in open court he doesn`t like the criticism.

Get used to it.

Vince Warren, thank you, as always, for your expertise, sir.

WARREN: Thanks. It`s great to be with you, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely.

We wanted Vince`s views there breaking down that trial.

I also want to give you an update on another important case that we have been covering. This is the murder trial for those individuals who tracked down an unarmed jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, and killed him.

Now, one of the defendants there took the stand in his own defense. Vince and I were just discussing this is rare in murder cases. When you do see it, it`s often in the self-defense argument, because the jury wants to hear, well, if you admit to the killing, why did you do it? If you don`t take the stand for that, it`s highly disfavored, although everyone has the right to take or not take the stand.

Now, this individual, the defendant, Travis McMichael, testifying for nearly four hours, and arguing -- you will note the vigilante echoes here again -- arguing that somehow he saw himself as making a citizen`s arrest, but it went bad.


TRAVIS MCMICHAEL, DEFENDANT: He was all over me. He was still all over that shotgun. And he was not relenting. So I had -- I shot again to stop him.

That second -- that third shot, which I thought was second, that final shot, he disengaged.


MELBER: That is just one moment from what we saw there. It`s an important case that we`re also covering for you this week.

Coming up tonight: There is an execution that will take place in America. It is on track unless the governor intervenes. I`m going to get into why that`s so important.

And we have a big political update. There`s been so much news, we haven`t gotten to this yet, but, boy, has this been Biden`s week. Special coverage of why he`s back out on the road selling the jobs plan with, the White House says, policy wind at his back.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re about to turn that around in a big, big way. We`re going to be building again.


BIDEN: We`re going to be moving again.


MELBER: Moving again.

I`m joined by The Daily Beast`s Margaret Carlson.

What do you think of the president`s victory this week and the way that he is taking a victory lap?

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, he needs a lot of laps, and he needs Willy Loman`s shoeshine and a smile to counter what Republicans have done.

Ari, you might remember -- I`m writing about this, so I looked up past infrastructure bills. And I saw that your senator for three terms, a red senator in deep blue New York, who won three terms, happily called Senator Pothole. And that was Al D`Amato.


CARLSON: That`s back when sane people thought infrastructure was a bipartisan matter and a great thing to have, and bring the bacon home, and you were golden for the next election, a bridge, a road, anything.

And -- but not now, because the Republicans have made Biden into a socialist and inflation a problem. And so he really has to sell this really, really hard. Those Republicans who voted for it, they`re in a heap of trouble. All 13 Republicans are getting death threats and may be stripped of their committee assignments.

And Trump is calling Mitch McConnell an old crow for voting for it. It`s just not the way it used to be. So, Biden has his work cut out for him, despite the bill being a magnificent piece of legislation that no president has been able to get for decades.


MELBER: Right, and which is not necessarily a partisan view, when you look at just taking taxpayer dollars and funding American projects.

As for socialism vs. capitalism, I mean, the White House points to these numbers. They were just updated today. We can show they continue to spike the number of jobs, I guess I should say capitalist jobs. These are not jobs at the politburo, Margaret.


But these are six million-plus jobs in the capitalist private economy, which the White House points out, but the facts show, dwarf and triple what Trump was doing in his first year.

CARLSON: Well, he`s way ahead on unemployment. It`s at 4.3 percent, way ahead of what they projected and found 600,000 jobs that they hadn`t counted before in previous reports. So he`s doing well.

But Democrats just aren`t good at getting the message out. I mean, look at Obamacare. It wasn`t considered a good thing until years later. Could be the same thing with this. Maybe the shovel is going to have to be digging the dirt out of the ground before people appreciate what`s going to happen or appreciate Biden.

The idea that he`s so overstepped his mandate by trying to be FDR is something that`s even being repeated by Democrats now, which makes you think, well, maybe he needs to step back, because the worst thing that could happen is that Republicans win the messaging war and Democrats lose in 2022, and Republicans take over, and democracy is imperiled because elections don`t matter anymore.

They can be rethought and recounted to a fare-thee-well with Republicans in control.

MELBER: Yes, it`s a stark warning. And, as you say, there`s policy and then there`s the political branding. Both matter in our society.

Margaret Carlson, always good to see you.

CARLSON: Thanks, Ari. Bye.

MELBER: Thank you. Bye-bye, as they say. It`s like ending a Zoom call.

Coming up, we have something that involves great news about the light at the end of the tunnel out of this pandemic, and a very special guest I`m thrilled to have right here in person.

Stay with us.



MELBER: There is light at the end of the tunnel. That`s what health experts are saying tonight, Dr. Fauci noting, by next year, COVID may no longer be dominating, if vaccination continues.

The FDA also approving booster shots for all adults as soon as this week, Thanksgiving on track to be the busiest holiday travel weekend in two years, another sign of change, United saying December looks to be the busiest flying month in two years.

And what`s more iconic than New Year`s Eve in Times Square? Well, New York City reopening the famed venue for the vaccinated this New Year`s Eve.

All of this is happening while there still is COVID in America, still many problems with it, of course, and larger questions about how we come out of this pandemic, people like Jeff Bezos reaping huge profits, while workers continue to face many challenges.

And then there`s just what we come back to. Remote work is sparking new and fairly uncharted debates about what is fair for everyone.

Now, novelist Gary Shteyngart, who is a friend of THE BEAT, actually has a new novel where his character rides out the pandemic safely from a country home, but harbors guilt for fellow workers stuck at his own uncle`s restaurant. The novel asks: "Why was he here? Why were his co-workers there?"

He also writes of the way the pandemic taps into ongoing racism in America. One scene depicts basically discrimination against Asian Americans. And a woman concerned about that in the novel says she feels like some Americans view her as a -- quote -- "double threat" in the eyes of, in that scene, a homicidal motorist.

It is a reminder that the pandemic has uncorked many things, including new art.

And we`re now joined by Gary Shteyngart, with the bookshelf naturally behind him. He is the author of books you might know, like "Absurdistan" and "Super Sad True Love Story," a finalist for the National Book Critics Award in 2014.

And, as for the new one, Gary, well, "The New York Times" says your pandemic novel is "your finest yet" -- end quote.


MELBER: Fact-check, true?

SHTEYNGART: Let`s hope so.


SHTEYNGART: Yes, this was -- there you go. I got one too.

MELBER: Wait. Do you want to do it at the same time? Here.


SHTEYNGART: Let`s do it at the same time. Oh, my goodness. Look at this, in stereo sound.



Yes, I was up here in March. I live mostly up in the country now. And everyone around me was baking bread, but I don`t know how to bake bread. So I decided to write this book instead.


MELBER: You got to do something.

How do you feel about channeling an experience that`s clearly not over and then publishing this? Does that feel different to you than some of your books that you have written about your own childhood or much more distant events?


I mean, I wrote a novel called "Super Sad True Love Story," which was a dystopia set in the future. But, nowadays, the dystopia is in the president. So, as somebody who`s a satirist, I really don`t have to look very far.

As I started writing this book, the pandemic was just starting, but also the Trump administration was going full-tilt. And as someone who came from a failing superpower -- I was born in the Soviet Union -- this felt very familiar to me, this combination of incompetence and gross negligence.

So it was a kind of a Chernobyl moment for me.

MELBER: What`s the funniest thing about the pandemic?


SHTEYNGART: There was nothing funny about the pandemic, except for the fact that one restaurant near us was very known for its hand sanitizer.

They had such a beautiful hand sanitizer that people started flocking to it. And that made its way in the book.

There was nothing really funny about it, obviously, when you consider the toll it took on so much of the population. And the characters, as you mentioned, in the book, are constantly looking back 100 miles south down to New York, because many of them, the characters, are immigrants from Russia, like myself, Korea, India, and many of them have roots in places like Elmhurst and Jackson Heights that bore a lot of the brunt of the pandemic.


So many people, obviously, first responders lived in those neighborhoods, and many of them perished. So the book is not -- I mean, the book is still comedic. But comedy is just how I deliver the tragedy. It`s the ICBM missile, and the payload is the tragedy.

MELBER: Well, isn`t comedy just tragedy, plus time?

SHTEYNGART: Yes, but, here, the time is only three months, so I`m very sorry about that.


MELBER: Not a lot of time.

I`m also curious about the stress test. You mentioned and you have written about a quasi-failed state, or at least as far as democracy is concerned in Russia. And pandemic immediately made everyone say, oh, what are we going to change, or what are we going to do with this?

And it`s a complex story, to be sure, but a lot of what that stress test revealed was what you write about in the book, the underlying problems, inequity, racism, who bears the brunt of any crisis in American capitalism. It was almost like the bad things were just worse.

How does that square for you in telling a story that has to have some uplift or change or growth? Because people don`t just want to read cold winter Russian novels, man.


SHTEYNGART: Well, what I decided to do was, I decided to have all of those things be in the background of the book, for sure.

I mean, when the Floyd murder takes place, everyone in this little group of people were hunkering down upstate. Everyone notices this. And a lot of the immigrant characters feel like, well, we came to this country because our parents came from countries which -- with a lot of difficulties, China after during Mao`s revolution, Cultural Revolution, the Korean civil war, Russia after Hitler and Stalin.

They brought us here, but things are now as bad as in the countries that they left.


SHTEYNGART: So this was something that I considered quite a bit.


SHTEYNGART: And a lot of the books I have written, like "Absurdistan," I make fun of the countries I came from, the Soviet Union everything that happened afterward, Putin, all these Caspian oil-rich republics.

But this feels less funny to me because I`m here, and my little son is here.


SHTEYNGART: And this is my homeland. And I think all of these characters undergo that epiphany.

MELBER: Yes, that`s a deep point. A diaspora community can flee something, only to find it in the new frontier.

I got 45 seconds. I want to ask you, as an artist, how you feel about some of the attacks on free speech and the arts on the right. There`s a school district trying to strip Critical Race Theory and "The Handmaid`s Tale." Over at MIT, they disinvited a scientist who had criticized affirmative action, quite a stance for a free-thinking institution to take.

Do you worry about this in America now? Or do you think the concerns are overblown?

SHTEYNGART: Oh, of course, this is so worrisome. I mean, this is exactly what I grew up with in the Soviet Union.

If you can get rid of Toni Morrison`s "Beloved," then anything can happen, any work of art can go, because that is one of the most empathic books ever written. And any American who doesn`t read books like that is ignoring such a huge chunk of the American experience. To do that to kids is a crime. It`s child abuse.

MELBER: Strongly put.

Gary Shteyngart, I told viewers I was excited for you to be here, which I am. So thanks for coming by.

SHTEYNGART: Well, thanks so much. Bye, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely.

The book is "Our Country Friends." You can check it out.

Up ahead, we have another legal update, a story that we covered extensively here, with an execution looming.

Stay with us.



MELBER: Turning the imminent news on a story we have in reporting for you here on THE BEAT.

The case of a death row inmate, Julius Jones, has now reached what looks like a final chapter. He is awaiting execution tomorrow in Oklahoma. Now, the parole board did recommend clemency for Jones, meaning recommending he not be executed. He was originally convicted of murdering Paul Howell, a 45-year-old businessman, 20 years ago.

Jones has maintained his innocence since he`s been in prison.


JULIUS JONES, DEATH ROW INMATE: I`m here before you today to tell you what I never got to tell the jury at my trial.

Yes, I have made many mistakes in my youth, but I did not kill Mr. Paul Howell.


MELBER: There`s a lot of evidence for that claim.

Students in Oklahoma walked out in protest to the execution. Jones` lawyers say it was not a fair trial. A juror in the trial says that another juror used a racist slur to describe Jones, a claim that we reported on, on THE BEAT.


MELBER: Here is how a member of this majority white Oklahoma jury later, after the conviction, recounted what a juror said.


JUROR: One of the jurors said, well, they should just take this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out back, shoot him, and bury him under the jail.

It didn`t matter what happened. This was a black man that was on trial for murder.


MELBER: As for Oklahoma, well, they support their death penalty down there. But even they had to stop it for years. It`s only resuming now, as I mentioned, because it`s sort of notorious for these problems, notorious for botching executions.


MELBER: That is just part of our original report on this.

I show that to mention that this news outlet and many others and many local reporters have shined a light. This is not brand-new, although it`s imminent with the execution scheduled tomorrow. But the fact that the execution is based on a conviction that involved jurors using the N-word and saying the facts didn`t matter and advocating a lynching is suspect, to say the least.

Now, this trial and its problems have gotten a lot of attention. Take Kim Kardashian, who has 70 million followers. She`s pushed out today a critique of how it shows how the death penalty really works.

The family of Julius Jones has camped out steps away from the officer of the governor there asking for mercy. Now, the governor`s office has said he is considering what is a rare request for clemency by the parole board, but, as of this hour, no action has been taken.

We will continue to cover this story for you, which is a reminder of how the death penalty often does work in America.

Thank you for watching THE BEAT, as always.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts right now.