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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 12/1/21

Guests: Brian Niccol, Emily Bazelon


Congress considers criminal contempt for another Trump veteran. The Supreme Court hears an abortion case that could overthrow Roe vs. Wade. The COVID variant Omicron hits the United States. Stacey Abrams announces she`s running once again for Georgia governor.



Hi, Ari.

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

We are tracking breaking news, as Congress considers criminal contempt in a committee vote tonight to potentially put another Trump veteran in the eyes of the DOJ. Bannon already indicted. We have an update on that and a report on this historic clash of women`s rights at the Supreme Court today.

But our top story is breaking news in the pandemic.

The new COVID variant Omicron has hit the U.S., Dr. Fauci announcing the first detected case while speaking at the White House.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: This is the first confirmed case of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant detected in the United States.

We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of Omicron would be detected in the United States.


MELBER: This first case showing up in San Francisco.

According to the CDC, they got there through a person who traveled to America from South Africa on November 22. That person was fully vaccinated and now has mild symptoms. Officials have already tested their contacts found no spreading.

Meanwhile, a doctor explained how they nailed this down quickly.


DR. CHARLES CHIU, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO: So we were able to confirm the detection of Omicron within five hours, and we had most of the genome within eight hours. So, 4:00 a.m. last night, we actually had assembled most of the genome.

We were able to conclusively demonstrate that this was indeed an infection from the Omicron variant.


MELBER: As people brace for what will clearly be a third year of this COVID era, it is clear that personal fatigue and emotion are irrelevant to a mutating pandemic. It will spread and adjust by its own process.

And people and governments are more effective at mitigation than elimination. We don`t know how to make this thing go away. That`s not proven to be possible.

We do know in the U.S. the vaccine is working to slow down the spread and to cut the death rate. Current daily caseload of 80,000 is down to half of the fall`s high point, the Biden administration adding travel safety measures, given the new strain, like more testing right before people can enter.

Now, does a downward trend line mean we`re in the clear? Does anybody even know the answer? Yes, because there`s a lot of data now about what works and how this spreads, even when we have to adjust to new mutations that require more learning on the go.

But when it comes to the data, take Europe, which experienced the first wave of COVID before us in America and is in a later stage now with lessons for our possible future. Even apart from the new variant, which is in over 20 countries, Europe is right now experiencing huge spikes in COVID cases and transmission.

What you see on that map from "The New York Times" is those dark red areas are hit the hardest. And if you want it in one sentence, here you go. Right now, Europe has more COVID cases reported daily than at any previous point. Just take that in. It`s 2021. There are vaccines now, and there`s more COVID in Europe tonight than ever before.

That has some countries already going back to lockdowns, like Austria and Slovakia, other countries bracing for the possibility.


SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HEALTH MINISTER: We are concerned that this new variant may pose substantial risk to public health.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the past hour, Belgium has confirmed it`s identified one case of the new strain, which is feared could be more transmissible than the Delta variants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Austrians have been told to stay at home and to only go out for essential reasons.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s so sad, hard and angry, all things.


MELBER: That is what`s going on over there.

We know it`s a global pandemic, but it can be easy to focus just on our community or our neighborhood or our country. And yet the nature of this provides information and even guidance for us by looking at what`s abroad, particularly, because, as I have emphasized, some of what happens abroad is a first run for what is a possibility and sometimes a likelihood to happen here.

So, if you look at Europe literally breaking records, more COVID right now than ever before, you can ask, is that an argument then for cynicism or giving up?

Well, scientists say the data shows actually the opposite. If Europe had this COVID rate that they have tonight a year ago, before vaccines, there would be far more death by multiples, double or triple.


But thanks to the effect of vaccines, many countries are surviving the current COVID surge. It is only actually in the places that remain poorly vaccinated where deaths are reaching anything like those past levels.

So, you take it all in, as people worry and wonder about a new strain and as Europe shows what could be in our future soon. There`s been a lot of talk about returning to normal or a new normal. No one can predict how COVID will continue to mutate, but science and policy experts can show what does work.

We can begin to think of this pandemic era, which is clearly going into its third year, a bit like mitigating natural disasters like hurricanes. All the knowledge and technology in the world doesn`t usually prevent the existence of hurricanes, but we do know how to mitigate them when they make landfall, how to plan and spend to reduce the worst impact or death.

And in the evidence- and science-based world, the current COVID surge is already now, while concerning, it is already now far less deadly because of these vaccines. That`s a fact. It`s a fact worth knowing. And right now, the alternatives to facts remain dangerous.

With that in mind, let`s bring in our experts.

Dr. Kavita Patel worked with the Obama White House and is a Brookings fellow, and Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor and RNC chair.

Doctor, your thoughts on what we know about the new strain and this mitigation phase of what is an ongoing pandemic?

DR. KAVITA PATEL, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, are you captured it correctly then.

If we could compare, if we had Omicron now, and the transmissibility, which we`re still trying to get more details on just how kind of infectious this is compared to the Delta variant, if we had this a year ago, it would have been devastation. Even without knowing kind of severity, just that threat alone, that it`s so easy to spread would have been concerning.

So here`s what I think we should say and emphasize that we do know. It`s in the United States. It`s likely we will see other cases kind of emerging slowly over the next several days. Compare this to Delta, where it took months to kind of overtake all the other variants. We likely, based on South Africa and Southern African countries and other experiences, might see it overtaking the Delta variant.

That, in and of itself, should not concern people. I think we will have to see some of the state around current vaccines being effective. We don`t know anything yet.

But, Ari, I will kind of level-set. I don`t expect our current vaccines to work as well as they do against the Delta variant, because the virus mutates. And it`s very normal to expect the mutations evading part of the immunity.

So, not to scare people, but I think, when we see that data, don`t be shocked. We actually saw this with B1351, the variant that we thought also emerged from the South Africa area. So that`s level-setting things.

And I think what is consequential to answer, but it`s going to take weeks, does this lead to more hospitalizations and death? We don`t know anything about that right now. And then, number two, do we see reinfections in people who are pretty healthy, fully immunized, including boosters, as well as people who have been infected with the Delta strain of the virus?

Those questions being answered will tell us a lot more. But it will take time.

MELBER: Yes. You mentioned answering those questions, particularly on the vaccine.

We were just with the Moderna co-founder amidst the talk and the reports of the variant. Here`s what he said.


NOUBAR AFEYAN, CO-FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, MODERNA: There may be a diminution of maybe 40, 50 percent.

But given the amount of boosting we can get, that could well be handled by the current vaccines. And so we`re eager to find out, what is the actual data are going to be? We just don`t know yet what degree of protection we need. The thing we do know is that this could be threatening, and we need to be extremely vigilant.


MELBER: Doctor?

PATEL: Yes, I completely agree.

It`s hard to know where the reduction of 40 to 50 percent comes. Maybe he knows something that we don`t, . Having said that, a reduction, it seems very likely.

And before everyone -- the most common questions patients have asked me today in particular has been, hey, can I get a specific booster tailored for Omicron? When will that come out?

I want to caution people from thinking that that`s a panacea, Ari, because the broader our immunity is, the better we are to anticipate variants that our body hasn`t even seen yet. So if we do something that`s super tailored for one variant in particular, we might be setting ourselves up for something that doesn`t benefit us downstream, because, as you mentioned, this is here with us. It`s unlikely we eradicate it.

MELBER: Yes, all very interesting points.

Michael, we`re tracking all of this. We talk about what we don`t know yet and trying to give people the actual information we do have.

When you look at the history, COVID hit during the Trump era. And there are things we`re only learning now about what happened then, including some just shockingly irresponsible behavior by then-President Trump. So the fact that it`s in the past doesn`t mean it`s not news.


This courtesy of a book by his own Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who was in the news under pressure, like Bannon, for cooperating with the insurrection probe. He writes that, though he knew each candidate was required to test negative for the virus within 72 hours of the start time of the major Biden debate there, nothing was going to stop Trump from going out there, even though he tested positive.

That, among other things, led Jen Psaki to hold fort today at the White House. Take a look. Take a listen.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think the fundamental question here is, what are you doing to save lives and protect people? And the former president was suggesting people inject bleach.

He apparently, reportedly, didn`t even share with people he was going to interact with that he had tested positive for COVID himself. He continued to provide a forum for misinformation, which probably led to people not getting -- not taking steps for it to get -- to protect themselves, to wear a mask, to eventually get vaccinated.


MELBER: Michael?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I have been saying for over a year now and going on two years that leadership sets the behavior, good or bad, in the general population.

So no one should be surprised, A, in how Trump approached this, because we had that evidence very early on going back to February of 2020.

B, no one should be surprised by the fact that people have responded in some measures and quarters around the country the way they have to the advice, the warning, the information that individuals like the good doctor has shared with us over the past two years, and other physicians and health professionals, how that gets discounted and disrupted because of an arrogance of selfishness that these individuals have.

So, this Trump revelation doesn`t surprise me. I don`t know why we are acting as if we are surprised by it. We have seen the consistency and the pattern. And to what we were just talking about and what you have reported on before, the question in dealing with not just Delta, but every variant that comes in the future, because this thing has gone from pandemic to endemic, as the doctor has said. It is going to be among us.

So it still relies on us and our behavior now to deal with it. And so you`re absolutely right. If this had occurred a year ago, the death and hospitalizations would have been horrific levels. But we have seen the benefit of vaccinations. We have seen the benefits of wearing the mask and, in some cases, draconian efforts to enforce that, much to the chagrin of a lot of people.

But keep in mind, those measures were put in place because you wouldn`t do the right thing. So we have to understand our role or responsibility in how we get on the other side of this. The doctor can come on here and tell us day in and day out, folks, take an aspirin, folks, take -- check your temperature, folks, to deal with every kind of illness or symptom you may have.

But if you don`t pay attention to what the doctor is telling you to do, and how to help yourself, then you can`t -- you can`t be surprised when you get a revelation that, oh, yes, this guy had COVID and never told anybody...


STEELE: ... because that leadership has poisoned this well in such a manner that people follow. And here we are.


And, Michael, I mean, I`m thinking about this in terms of public persuasion and communication, which is something you know a lot about. There was a time when a lot of people in leadership shared the wrong premise, for whatever good reasons, which was -- I mentioned this in our setup tonight - - getting around a corner and getting back to -- quote -- "normal. "

New York City`s a blue town, for example. They had a big concert planned in the summer about reopening. People in both parties have talked that way. We know the COVID wars are also divisive in more specific ways, like the vaccine stuff.

But I`m talking about, even deeper than that, how do you summon, as a matter of governmental and public health leadership, the hard message, the hard news to people as we go to year three that it ain`t about getting around a corner, because, in the next month or three or five, it`s going to be Gucci? No, it`s about really delivering the more grit, tough, kind of war warlike mentality, if you want to use that frame, although there`s limits to that as well, to tell people we got to just get through this overtime, because we`re not getting back to any certain normal soon.

STEELE: I agree with that, Ari.

And I think that`s the challenge that the Biden administration is facing right now. And they -- coming in the door, there were a whole lot of obstacles put in front of it, but it managed to get a good liftoff on the vaccine program, et cetera, et cetera. But then Delta hits.

And so they have been pushed back on their heels, because once you think you`re going to turn the corner, to your point, boom. Now we have got Omicron. And guaranteed by next -- the end of winter, beginning of spring, there will be something else.


And that goes to the overall nature of why -- what Dr. Patel and others are telling us, to please get the vaccination, because, yes, this thing has -- it`s going to mutate, it`s going to change, but you want to be protected. That`s the key thing here.

That`s what the doctor has been trying to tell us. This is not a panacea. It`s not going to heal you. It may not even prevent you, but it will protect you if you do get ill. And that`s how you begin to turn the corner on this thing. The more we do -- I heard someone talking the other day, Ari, about this whole idea, herd immunity. Yes, we have reached herd immunity.

I`m like, dude, no, we haven`t. We`re only at 60 percent of the country`s got one shot. So you have got to understand where we are. And that`s the challenge for the political leadership, to narrate that challenge in a way that encourages people to understand what`s at stake.

There`s only so much Dr. Patel and others can do.


STEELE: There`s only so much they can say.


STEELE: At a certain point, that political leadership is going to have to make it real because of the impact it has on things like the economy and other factors that -- of daily living.

MELBER: Right, which goes to the premises people operate on and right- sizing this and risk management and all of that.

I want to thank Michael Steele, who comes back later, and Dr. Patel for kicking us off.

Thanks to both of you.

Coming up: There was an incredibly significant set of arguments at the Supreme Court today. We have a breakdown and a dire warning from Justice Sotomayor. If you didn`t hear the whole thing live, we`re going to play just some of the most important parts with my legal breakdown.

And then we`re moments away from what will be a historic second contempt vote against a Trump ally from the insurrection committee.

And there is a very big, newsy announcement here from Stacey Abrams. We will bring that to you tonight as well.



MELBER: Today, the Supreme Court heard its most consequential abortion case in decades, a challenge to a sweeping Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, ending Roe v. Wade as we know it.

Now, argument days are often austere, but not today, as thousands gathered outside the courthouse, a sign that many know this is the case that could change everything. There were protesters out there on both sides of this abortion debate.

And after two hours of arguments, many of the pro-life advocates felt they were the ones with something to cheer, early reports viewing today as a sign the court is open to upholding the ban and is ready to gut Roe, interpreting statements and questions like this from the justices today:


JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: Viability, it seems to me, doesn`t have anything to do with choice. But if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?


MELBER: The newest justice, Trump appointee Amy Coney Barrett, used a question to attack one of the premises of Roe v. Wade, that it is a burden on women for the government to legally require they have a child.

Now, she said today that it`s true that -- quote -- "forced parenting hinders women," but then ventured that they could avoid that burden by giving up a child for adoption. To make that point, she refers -- I`m about to play this for you -- she refers to safe haven laws, which provide a safe haven for a new mother to safely and anonymously offer a child for adoption.


AMY CONEY BARRETT, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: It`s also focused on the consequences of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy.

Why don`t the safe haven laws take care of that problem? It seems to me that it focuses the burden much more narrowly. It doesn`t seem to me to follow that pregnancy and then parenthood are all part of the same burden.


MELBER: Now, as a legal matter, that claim has an extreme premise that basically defies the court`s longstanding abortion precedent, her argument there being that maybe it`s not a burden for the government to require women to carry this to term, because they can later give something up, give the then-baby up for adoption.

Now, Republican justices claimed they recognize precedent under oath, a contradiction displayed most blatantly today by Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: I understand the importance of the precedent set forth in Roe v. Wade, settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court. It has been reaffirmed many times.

Planned Parenthood vs. Casey reaffirmed Roe. Casey now becomes a precedent on precedent.

You think about some of the most important cases, the most consequential cases in this court`s history. There`s a string of them where the cases overruled precedent. If the court in those cases had listened, adhered to Lochner, and if the court had done that in those cases, the country would be a much different place.


MELBER: Just a glaring contradiction there.

The first statements his confirmation hearing were under oath. Critics say Kavanaugh was misleading about several things at those hearings, while Obama appointed Justice Sotomayor asked about the politics hanging over all this, noting Republicans openly said they could reverse the Roe precedent now because they have new Trump justices on this court.


SONIA SOTOMAYOR, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: The sponsors of this bill, the House bill in Mississippi, said, we`re doing it because we have new justices.

Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don`t see how it is possible.


MELBER: That statement there going right at these issues of the contradictions about precedent by some of those Republican appointees.

Today, women`s rights lawyers also told the court a precedent cannot legally just be overruled because a new justice personally disagrees with it or considers it wrong.



JULIE RIKELMAN, CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: The view that a previous precedent is wrong, Your Honor, has never been enough for this court to overrule. And it certainly shouldn`t be enough here, when there`s 50 years of precedent.


MELBER: So that`s the state of these oral arguments.

Next, the justices privately discuss what they will do. Will they explicitly overturn Roe and abortion rights? Or will they uphold this early ban on abortion, while claiming some rights still exist under law?

Or will they do what appeared less likely from the vocal questioning today? Would they also potentially use their power to strike this ban down?

A ruling for Mississippi will green-light a national crackdown. We do know that, over 20 states already preparing to pass Mississippi-style laws if the court green-lights it.

We`re joined now for further analysis by Emily Bazelon, legal writer with "The New York Times Magazine."

Your thoughts on what today revealed?

EMILY BAZELON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I thought today revealed that there were five votes certainly to uphold Mississippi`s law, probably six votes with Chief Justice John Roberts, which is itself a major departure from Roe, because of the difference between a 15-week ban on abortion and bans after viability.

And I thought there might well be five votes for overturning Roe or coming very close to that by setting a standard that would allow states to create -- to pass laws that would be at 12 weeks or earlier. It just didn`t seem that the conservatives had a clear distinction that would allow for a kind of middle path.

MELBER: Yes, you talk about whether there are those votes. That`s certainly how Justice Alito sounded.

Basically -- again, we can always overinterpret questions, but some questions are barely questions. They`re more assertions about what they think the law should be. And after the question phase, they do stay what the law is. Here was Alito.


SAMUEL ALITO, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: The fetus has an interest in having a life. And that doesn`t change, does it, from the point before viability to the point after viability?


MELBER: Emily?

BAZELON: Well, I think it`s pretty clear that Alito and Justice Gorsuch and Justice Thomas are ready to overturn Roe. The votes that are in play are from Chief Justice Roberts and maybe Kavanaugh or Barrett.

I thought that Kavanaugh`s invoking a kind of great hit list of overruling of precedent and how important that`s been underscored his feeling that you could add Roe to that list, that it deserved to be overturned in the same way as Plessy vs. Ferguson, a terrible opinion from the late 19th century that upheld the principle of separate but equal.

So if you think of Roe in those terms, why would you keep it? And Justice Barrett`s questions about adoption suggested that she, as she said, was separating the burdens of parenthood on women from the burdens of being pregnant.

And that is not how our constitutional law and abortion has worked in the 50 years since Roe. But it was interesting that was how she seemed to see it.

MELBER: Does it matter that some of these justices are flatly contradicting all of their precedent claims under oath to the Senate?

BAZELON: I mean, it can matter to you. It can matter to the public. It doesn`t matter in terms of what they are allowed to do.They get to count to five.

I think one thing that really struck me listening to the argument was how the legal questions can seem relatively divorced from people`s lives. The notion that it`s the same to put a baby up for adoption as to not be able to -- not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term, I think a lot of women, a lot of people experience those as very different acts and very different parts of their lives.

And so it surprised me to hear them treated as kind of separate in this legal sense, without a recognition of what that really means for the people who will be affected by the court`s decision.

MELBER: Yes, I think that`s an important insight there about how it sounds, which reflects how they`re thinking about it, and then the great powers they wield over people, and, in this case, as we have factually emphasized in our coverage, about women, about women`s rights and bodies, and what`s going to happen.

So, as always, we appreciate your clear analysis and reporting, Emily Bazelon.

BAZELON: Thanks so much.

MELBER: Thank you.

We turn now immediately to another developing news story. This is in the insurrection probe, the Democrat-led committee there on a roll, first pressuring Trump`s top White House adviser, Mark Meadows, who folded into cooperation after seeing the fate of a controversial witness who tried to defy this committee, former Trump White House aide Steve Bannon, now under criminal indictment after Congress held him in criminal contempt, which brings us to breaking news right now.

Tonight, the committee will vote on whether to recommend criminal contempt charges for a different Trump administration veteran, a former DOJ official named Jeffrey Clark.


Now, this is -- what we`re looking at right here is just outside the closed doors where this is all going down. The vote is scheduled to take place within the next hour. And all indications are the committee is convening an order to hit him with contempt. The measure would then go to the full House chamber for a vote.

Investigators want Clark`s testimony on what he did to help Trump try to steal the election or stay in office or commit some sort of coup. Members of Congress now see him as a key actor within that government.


REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Jeffrey Clark was a key effort within the Department of Justice, using the brand of the Department of Justice to continue to stoke the fear and the misinformation campaign that the former president waged.


MELBER: So here`s what we know.

This is breaking tonight because it would be only the second official after Bannon. And you know what happened to Bannon. That vote led to his indictment.

Now, here`s exactly how the process works. First, as scheduled within the next hour, this committee would hold the vote. If they vote on contempt, then Congress could vote. And if it`s anything like the Bannon vote, we expect that the Democrats would be united there.

And then the big choice falls to DOJ to decide whether or not to indict what will be a second Trump official. In that case, this Trump veteran could find himself prosecuted by his own former colleagues at the Justice Department. Quite a quick turnaround.

I am wondering, among other things, what Michael Steele thinks about why some Trump aides are folding and others are taking literally criminal risks to run and hide.

I`m going to ask him when he`s back with us in just 60 seconds.


MELBER: Michael Steele is back with us.

And we`re tracking an imminent vote by the congressional committee on the insurrection to potentially hold a second official in criminal contempt.

Michael, what is your view of why some officials like Bannon continue to defy, and Clark now, and others like Meadows looking at even the risk of jail trial, et cetera, and saying, no, thank you?

STEELE: Well, I think it`s -- some of it has to do with how much they bought into Trump world and Trump lies for their own self-preservation, aggrandizement or just wanting to have Trump like them.

There was reporting or at the end of last week about Mark Meadows and how a lot of his own members of the Republican Caucus saw him, viewed him. One member referred to him as a liar. So he`s always kind of been this sort of outlier, if you will, this sort of outside of the pocket, sort of trying to take advantage of the moment, the political moment, such as it is.

But now, this is not that. He doesn`t have the protection of a White House. He doesn`t have the protection -- at least I don`t believe the courts will find he has protection for executive privilege, et cetera. So he`s got to figure out how to cut his deal. And I think, whether it`s what he said in his book about Trump and his -- and COVID, and now trying to figure out how to massage the January 6 Committee.

He`s going to find himself -- and I think we`re seeing that -- standing separate and apart from the Steve Bannons and others, who are all in on Trump, because, for them, this is not just about the politics of it. It`s about the grift, baby. It`s about the grift. I can go back on my podcast, and I can say all kinds of crazy bohemian nonsense, and have people just stroke that check and give me their credit card number.

And it`s the grift.


STEELE: So, Meadows isn`t in that lane.

And that`s one of the big differences here.

MELBER: Yes, grifters are going to grift.

STEELE: yes.

MELBER: And especially, if they already went in deep on that politically, then that`s both a political and a vocational concern.

In the seriousness...

STEELE: It`s a pool that keeps providing.



In the seriousness of having accountability to prevent what are measures by some to try to rig and steal future elections, it seems important to draw a line here with Clark. He may have some legitimate and valid arguments about what he knew at DOJ and what can and can`t be disclosed. And we will report on those or respect those to fill in the blanks.

But the notion that he can just defy any of this and get away with it is dangerous, because it would mean that there`s kind of no consequence or even rewards for being the inside guy, the inside person on the job for the coup.

What does it tell you about what decision will potentially be facing the DOJ? Bannon may have been in some ways easier, because he completely defied, so we had no such argument, and he didn`t work there. Here, they`d have to go after someone who was nominally one of them.

STEELE: Yes, but I don`t think the DOJ is going to look at it that way, because I think, when you stack it all up, the DOJ does not want to see itself, and certainly none of its members, in defiance of the rule of law.

What the -- you`re the Department of frigging Justice. I mean, come on. Seriously? Subpoenas don`t apply to you?

So I don`t think they -- you`re going to see this sort of falling over themselves to give deference to Clark`s position or to not prosecute him or push up against him, if that`s what the Congress wants.

I think the bigger and more important thing is the fact that the January 6 Committee is as serious as it is and is making it very clear what it`s intending -- what its intent is. But here`s the other part I think is very interesting, how they`re strategically creating a pincer move that is pushing these people in directions that you otherwise would not expect, that, based on what they know, the committee that these folks don`t know that they know, they have to give a little bit.

They can`t hold that firm ground. And that`s especially true with the Department of Justice, because they don`t know what`s out there that could come back to bite them down the road, and they don`t want to be on the wrong side of that.

MELBER: All fair points.

We have gotten your views on more than one issue, plenty of serious stuff.

You know I like to go out light when I can with big Mike.


MELBER: Now that you have really adjusted to the indoor wear for all your serious appearances, will we ever see you in a suit on TV again? Or are you staying fleece, fleece ride or die?


STEELE: Well, baby, look, I was out today. I was doing a little work, a little yin-yang here and there.

And so I come rushing in to be with you, bro.

MELBER: I like it. I like it.

STEELE: I couldn`t -- look, I thought about the tie. Figured I would do one of these things. But that`s a lot choked up for a brother, so...

MELBER: No. I don`t -- zip it too high, not -- don`t zip it on account of MSNBC.

We just know -- and people can Google this -- everything`s Googleable. You look at Michael Steele over least a 15-year span, it`s a suit and tie a day, every day. And now it`s fleeces all the way down. And we love it.

We love you, Michael.

STEELE: No, I appreciate that. But you know daggone well that, if you were sitting where I`m sitting, you would be in a fleece too.


STEELE: You are just in the studio, baby.

MELBER: Hey, you get the last word on that one, Michael Steele, on many topics.

Up ahead, we`re going to bring you some news, a big announcement late today from Stacey Abrams. We have that for you.

And Dr. Oz wants to be Senator Oz. But he`s already getting some blowback for his record. We have got that story too.




STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: If our Georgia is going to move to its next and greatest chapter, we`re going to need leadership. And now, it`s time to get the job done.


MELBER: It`s campaign season again, and we`re already getting big political announcements from some very big names.

I have got an update for you right now on both sides of the aisle.

First, the news we promised you, well, you may have inferred, but it is a big one. One of the most famous rising Democrats in the party, Stacey Abrams, is running for governor of Georgia. That`s a 2022 bid, building on the progress she made since a prior close race in what was once a very red state. She lost to current income and Governor Kemp in 2018.

It was a tight race. And the voting rights advocate said that some voters had been disenfranchised. She also proved to really make a difference in national politics. She was not only helping Biden out on the campaign trail, but mobilized Georgia voters to flip both of those Senate seats blue.

In fact, we discussed that on THE BEAT right before what proved to be those pivotal run-off elections.


ABRAMS: What we really should be focusing on are the two Senate races that will determine how effective we can be at actually solving the problems we have, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who are two terrific men who are standing together to fight against two of the most corrupt politicians in the U.S. Senate, two people who have consistently profited off of the pandemic, instead of serving the people.


MELBER: On the Republican side, well, it`s TV all over again, not a reality show star, but a TV doctor, Mehmet Oz announcing a bid to run as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.

The doctor-turned-talk-show-host has become a figure with some popularity on the far right. He talked to Donald Trump about the results of the then- president`s physicals.

Dr. Oz has also gotten plenty of criticism for blurring the lines between his authority as a doctor and all kinds of health tips and other shenanigans on his show. He was even grilled before Congress. Politico actually put together some of the highlights.


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO): I`m concerned that you are melding medical advice, news and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.

Why would you say that something is a miracle in a bottle?

DR. MEHMET OZ, "THE DR. OZ SHOW": My job I feel on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience.

I encourage a nation searching for answers to their health woes. We often address weight loss because, as you all mentioned, it affects about two- thirds of the population.


MELBER: If he wins, of course, he`d be on the other side of those kinds of hearings.

Now, Dr. Oz getting in the ring has already drawn some response on late night, including Colbert.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Apparently, Dr. Oz will be running for Senate in Pennsylvania.


COLBERT: Turns out -- turns out running for Senate is the one weird trick to reduce belly fat.


Now, before his run, Dr. Oz had a lucrative career as a liar peddling questionable health advice on TV. But Dr. Oz may not just have fake medical claims. He may have fake Pennsylvania claims, because he`s running there, despite living in New Jersey for years.


MELBER: Ultimately, the voters of Pennsylvania will decide if they care about that or the other issues.

It is a crowded primary field in the Republican Party that Dr. Oz enters, and this is the only Republican-held Senate seat that is open, which makes it easier to run in. And it`s in a state won by Joe Biden, which means it could be a big test of swing appeal.

We will keep an eye on that race.

And coming up: Joe Biden says he can beat inflation and save you money.

We have a very special guest to get into all of it next.


MELBER: One way to chart this pandemic that we`re not totally out of is by looking at restaurants.

You have the pain of the lockdowns, which forced about one out of 10 restaurants to close forever. Think about the impact on local communities, jobs and culture.


Then you had the return of some indoor dining, reaching pre-pandemic levels, the industry also navigating all of these leftover issues that everyone`s living through right now inflation, the supply chain, shifting demands in the work force, and some workers rethinking how they want to relate to big companies.

Well, we always like to go right to the source around here. Well, we have a special guest tonight.

Brian Niccol is the CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, which made the Fortune 500 list for the first time recently. They have, I bet you know if you have ever eaten a burrito, over 2, 700 locations in 49 states and five different countries.



MELBER: You and other companies here have recently raised some prices to deal with both inflation, labor. How do you navigate that?

And then, on the business side, do you think there`s anything more this administration can do about inflation?

NICCOL: Well, we have definitely seen inflation both in the cost to get great talent at our company, and then also to get all the necessary goods into our restaurants, as well as all the great food that we serve.

You did mention we did have to raise some prices to compensate for those increased costs. We have really stayed the course in operating our business. And where we can, we try to find ways to absorb the cost. And then in those places where we do have to raise prices, we have been raising prices.

MELBER: And, from your view, the government is doing enough or could do more about specifically inflation?

NICCOL: Look, I did hear the Fed chairman today talking about how they`re going to start considering moving the tapering program faster.

It`s definitely, I think, the scenario where interest rates are going to start needing to move up in order to probably control some of the inflation that we see out there.

MELBER: So, there shouldn`t be anything maybe political about a burrito, but it turns out some people in Washington think there is.

The Republicans trying to make hay out of some of these issues we`re talking about, including prices. This is a top Republican spokesperson saying, Democrats` stimulus bill has caused a labor shortage, and now burrito lovers everywhere are footing the bill.

And that`s not just a rando. That`s a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Is that fair? Is that overstated? Do you try to just stay out of that stuff in general?

NICCOL: Yes, what we focus on is figuring out how we get the right ingredients, all the food with integrity that we provide to our customers

We always are willing to invest in our employees. In some cases, that means higher wages. In other cases, its benefits, degrees. And then, obviously, we figure out, what is the right value proposition that we end up having to pass along to our customers?

MELBER: Your company went to $15 an hour. You have been above some of the other large companies that are similarly situated, particularly in fast food.

Is that just because of the markets and you think it`s valuable? Or is that an attempt to be a leader, to pay a little more than maybe you have to?

NICCOL: Yes, historically, we have always been one of the best wage opportunities in the restaurant industry.

We do believe it`s worth being a leader in that space. Obviously, we want to make sure that we attract the right people, we retain these folks, and we want them to grow with our company. Obviously, we got to get the right starting wage so we get the right person into our company.

We want those people that believe in our purpose, believe in the growth. And then it`s our job to give them a great culture and develop them accordingly.

MELBER: Barack Obama had a little bit of a controversy, or, what I call it, a nontroversy, over the sneeze guard at a Chipotle. Let`s take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the president overreach, not in politics, while - - but while he was out at a Chipotle restaurant?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reaching over that sneeze guard at Chipotle during lunch yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That`s a big no-no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do not cross that barrier, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, yes. He crossed that line.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one is that hungry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly, if you`re reaching over that, you have never been to a fast food restaurant before.



MELBER: Now, you`re not supposed to point over the guard. And this was pre-pandemic, obviously.


MELBER: Walk us through any tips on that.

And then I got to ask you, why is the side of avocado so expensive?

NICCOL: The good news is, I guess President Obama was pretty passionate about what he wanted.


NICCOL: So that tells me he loves Chipotle, which I`m delighted to hear.

And, look, everybody tells us they wish our guac wasn`t extra, but it`s pretty special. We make it every day. We`re cutting and coring avocados. And it`s one of those things that, sometimes, you got to step up and pay for the guacamole.

MELBER: Look, full disclosure, I`m in the Chipotle Rewards program. Just putting that out there for people.

Now, I just want to ask you directly about this, give you the benefit of answering it. You`re making, by estimates here, over $30 million. There`s an estimate you`re making more than 2,000 times the median Chipotle worker.


What is your response to people who say, even if some of the benefits are decent, that ratio feels off, that you`re making too much?

NICCOL: Look, what we try to do is, we make sure we provide everybody a great way to get started, and then give them rewards for the work that they provide.

And, obviously, as you get further into our company, you benefit from our stock appreciating. And, in my case, I have benefited from the stock appreciating. And everybody in our organization gets the same opportunity to benefit accordingly.

MELBER: And if your stock you mention is for your labor, do you think it should be taxed as labor, as income?

NICCOL: All of the income that I earn, I pay the ordinary income tax.

And I think everybody benefits from being one of the best countries in the world. And I think it`s important we pay the taxes accordingly.

MELBER: Brian Niccol, Chipotle CEO, really appreciate you spending time with us on THE BEAT.

NICCOL: Yes, thanks for having me.


MELBER: That does it for me.