IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 12/7/21

Guests: Michael Hirschorn, Kal Penn, Jill Wine-Banks


The trial date is set for Steve Bannon, as Mark Meadows defies the January committee. Actor Kal Penn speaks out. The cult of celebrity in the GOP is examined. MAGA lawmaker Devin Nunes is leaving Congress to go work for Trump directly.



Hi, Ari.


I got to ask you. I love what you just ran. And also a shout-out to Yamiche, who we have worked with before and get to welcome back, which is great. But I love what you just played.

How do you look at that when you say -- you have worked in a White House. There`s healthy tension with the press. There`s other times where you look at a reporter. And I bet, even if it runs against some of what your political goal for the week was, you say, hey, they`re doing their job, or there`s they`re good at this.

Do you ever look at it that way? Because she is so clear and objective and strong in what she does.

WALLACE: I mean, look, even the president I worked for I would say that people have a hard time confronting a president. I mean, even staff walks in, and they think, I`m going to give them a piece of my mind, and they walk in and it`s humina, humina.

Even more so for a reporter covering the president of any party. It is structurally difficult, right? He is at a podium with a microphone. She`s standing in the lawn, social distanced, being sneered at and attacked. And lots of people do it. You and I both get to showcase the very best journalists covering our politics at the most extraordinary moment.

And we get to lift up all that incredible journalism. And she`s one of that class that really emerged as fearless. It`s really -- it`s really -- it`s even harder than it looks. And I know, from being on the other side, and even, as you said, when they challenged the politicians I worked for, you`re still sort of in awe of their ability to do it.

MELBER: Yes, it is difficult. I guess that`s the old saying. Some people do make it look easier.

I think it`s difficult in interviewing, especially as you say, when you`re out in that format. So it`s great. I love that you ran that.

And good to see you, as always.

WALLACE: Thank you, my friend. Have a good show.

MELBER: Thank you, Nicolle. Appreciate it.

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

And we actually begin here with breaking news out of the insurrection probe.

Tonight, the criminal trial set for Steve Bannon, and a new warning to Trump aide Mark Meadows on what he may face next. So, there`s multiple pieces to this. We will walk you right through it.

First, a federal judge denies see bands request to delay his trial until October. It is now set for July. That may sound like a ways from now, but this is a judge telling Mr. Bannon, legally, you`re not going to just run out the clock. Also, Bannon charged with two counts of criminal contempt. That`s for defying openly the congressional investigation.

Now, you have heard us report on this if you have watched THE BEAT. There are ways that people can lawfully and, frankly, reasonably debate and negotiate around these subpoenas. What Bannon did, though, was say, I`m not even trying to do that, I`m going to openly defy, almost courting the battle.

And that`s the context for what he continues to do out in the public realm, which is use this to try to hype his own big lie, while plotting governmental revenge.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: To make sure you can`t steal another one. And you did steal it. I don`t care if you can`t handle that. You stole it. This is illegitimate.

And the American people seeing that. When they get wiped out, we`re going to start cleaning out the rat`s nest that the city has been.


MELBER: There it is, a big weave from someone tied to Donald Trump, who could always run again. Bannon says that he will also try to blame his legal team for anything that goes wrong.

Politico reports his lawyers argue he`s immune from criminal liability because he relied on the advice of his lawyer when defying the panel. Fact- check: weak.

Believe me, if it worked to just blame a lawyer for anything you did that got you indicted, more people would try that. The legal issues here are not complex. And this is not legal advice here, but if you ever do get a subpoena from a lawful entity, you got to respond. And even your lawyer would tell you that.

We`re also learning how Bannon is trying to continue to use the trial to go in other avenues, a veritable fishing expedition into his concerns about the Biden administration, Bannon`s lawyers asking the White House and DOJ for documents on the initial decision here to charge Bannon.

So that`s part of what`s going on in a very real process. And if you think Steve Bannon sounds tough, in his words, when he does all his interviews, remember, he`s not welcoming this thing. He`s not running to court to prove his innocence. He`s seeking delays and losing those requests. So that`s one thing.

Then we have news involving Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. There was talk that he was buckling. Indeed, his own side indicated that he was going to cooperate. And it seemed like what was happening to Bannon, the threat of jail time, et cetera, had had some impact. He`s also got this book out, and he`s also trying to maintain his relationship with Donald Trump.

Now we are hearing a contradiction coming out of Meadows` camp itself, and that he won`t cooperate anymore with the committee.


MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: In addition, we found that, in spite of our cooperation and sharing documents with them, they had issued, unbeknownst to us and not without even a courtesy call, issued a subpoena to a third-party carrier trying to get information.


And so, at this point, we feel like it`s best that we just continue to honor the executive privilege. And it looks like the courts are going to have to weigh in on this.


MELBER: Let me translate that in plain English.

What Mr. Meadows is saying is that, while he started to cooperate and provide some material, he then found out that the committee was also gathering information from other sources, and he didn`t like that.

Now, that is standard investigation practice. It`s what police departments do, the FBI and any competent investigation. So, if Meadows says, hey, here`s all my phone records, they also check with what he called it there, the carrier, the phone company, and they see. If he`s telling the truth, no problem. Then they have duplicate copies.

But if the phone company turns over more than the witness, well, maybe the witness is withholding things. The fact that a standard investigative practice -- and Mr. Meadows is not green and not dumb -- the fact that standard practice upsets him is a kind of a tell.

As for the committee, they`re not playing. Today, their response is a warning. If he doesn`t show up for what was the scheduled deposition tomorrow, they will be left no choice to advance the contempt proceedings and recommend that Mr. Meadows -- refer him for criminal prosecution, basically asking the executive branch to turn on another one of their veterans.

I`m joined now by Jill Wine-Banks, former Watergate prosecutor, and Michelle Goldberg from "The New York Times."

Jill, I never like to start in the weeds. We try to keep it clear. But I thought that Mr. Meadows appears to be somewhat candid in a way that`s revealing. So I want to walk through it.

What does it say to you, what is the significance of him saying that he didn`t like that, after turning over some stuff, the investigation also was getting stuff from other sources?

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I liked how you laid it out, Ari.

It is absolutely, totally not credible that he would have thought that he would have been the only word accepted on his own role in this. It is, as you said, totally standard practice to triangulate. You get one witness to say one thing. You don`t take their opinion. You check everybody else who might have been part of the same meeting, or you check anybody else who might have a copy of the same record.

We certainly did it during Watergate. I have done it in every single trial I have ever been part of, because that`s the only way you can get to the truth. And it`s like Richard Nixon saying, just take my word for what the tapes say, I`m going to give you a transcript.

Well, no, that`s not evidence. And you don`t take Stennis` word for what this tapes say. You listen to the tapes themselves. And that`s the same thing here. Getting phone records is completely ordinary, routine investigative practice.

And this is just what I predicted in the beginning, was, when Meadows said he was going to cooperate, I said, I`m a little skeptical. I don`t believe it. And my skepticism proved to be true.

MELBER: Right. And the grounds he gives for ceasing the cooperation make it all look like more of an elaborate head-fake or delay.

And, Michelle, I want to be very clear. As a journalist, we`re very interested in what happened leading up to the insurrection. If Mr. Meadows was not involved or was trying to in some way help the authorities prevent something terrible, that`s information we would report. That`s a big story.

If he was just MIA, then, legally, he`s pretty much in the clear, although people can debate that. And if, however, he did something wrong or bad, that`s also newsworthy and maybe relevant to the government.

And I say all that because this goes to the process right now, which is whether they`re going to get his cooperation or the facts from him some other way.

I`d like your views on all of that with the context of one of the other Trump figures, Mr. Eastman, talking about the pressure of criminal contempt. This was on FOX. Take a listen.


JOHN EASTMAN, ATTORNEY: Congress has the power to issue criminal contempt. Normally, those don`t go anywhere and such charades as this, but the Department of Justice is fully in line.

And they have already brought one criminal charge -- indictment against one of the people that refused to comply.


MELBER: Michelle?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I actually don`t think the question is whether Mark Meadows did anything bad, as much as what he was a witness to on January 6, right?

He was a witness to Donald Trump`s behavior, how much he encouraged the insurrection, how much he was counting on the insurrection, to put into place the plan that John Eastman had laid out about how they could have effectuated some sort of coup.

I would also say his -- Mark Meadows` sort of more in sorrow than in anger than an anger approach to this seems to be a political move to make it a little bit harder to prosecute him, right?

Merrick Garland has been somewhat restrained in going after the many crimes and misdeeds of the Trump administration. I think Steve Bannon gave him no choice because he was so defiant, so contemptuous.


Mark Meadows, by at least sort of playacting like he was going to cooperate, might make it slightly difficult, slightly more difficult to prosecute him, even though prosecution here, I think, is very clearly warranted.

The other piece of this I think we have to keep in mind, in terms of Mark Meadows backing out, is that Donald Trump is reportedly mad at him right now, right? Like, unlike Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows is not going to go on to some sort of post-Trump, like, Oliver North-like career as a cult hero of the far right.

He`s sort of tied to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump is really mad at him over this book that he wrote that revealed, shockingly -- and it shows how numb we are to the behavior of the Trump administration -- that Trump probably had COVID when he debated Joe Biden. And, also, it did kind of reveal how sick he was, made Trump feel like he looked weak.

And so there`s reasons now for Meadows to sort of reverse himself and try to get back in Trump`s good graces.

MELBER: All excellent points. And you remind everyone that Meadows -- as far as the public narrative is concerned, Meadows dropped a dime on Trump in the book, and is trying to kind of have it both ways and maintain the relationship.

Jill, I`m what you think of all of the above there, as well as the Merrick Garland question, because, on paper, DOJ and prosecutors will always say, well, they just look at the case and make a decision. But Michelle raises an incisive counterpoint to that, as she often does, which is, yes, but if they`re both defying, but Meadows has found this way to position himself differently, and he was chief of staff, the most powerful appointed job in the White House, the type of person Merrick Garland has been professionally would suggest that he would have more pause about that than indicting Bannon.

WINE-BANKS: I think, ultimately, both are equally culpable.

I think that Meadows has a better claim for executive privilege because he actually worked in the White House. But the privilege falls when it`s not related to the job of the president. And I don`t think there`s anyone who will argue with a straight face that planning a coup, planning to undermine Congress from doing its duty, as required by law, is part of this president`s job.

So, if the conversations that we would be asking about -- of Meadows pertain to that, then executive privilege doesn`t apply. So, if there`s no executive privilege, he has no grounds for not showing up. He has no grounds for not testifying. He has no grounds for not showing up even if executive privilege were a legitimate claim. You have to come in and claim it in response to a specific question.

The same thing is true for those, like Clark, who might claim the Fifth Amendment. So I don`t think, ultimately, it`s going to make any difference. Also, ultimately, none of this will get them to testify. Criminal contempt is a crime. Once you commit it, it`s committed. You can`t undo it by then saying, OK, I will testify.

But that`s a different issue.

MELBER: And, Jill, I`m almost out of time in this segment.

But we do you want to know, if you will tell us, what is the pin today?

WINE-BANKS: Today`s pin is actually because it`s the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. And so, in honor of all those who fought to save our democracy back then, I`m wearing this because I think our democracy is right now in a greater existential threat than it has ever been.

And what the January 6 Committee is doing that we`re talking about right now is critical to preventing it from ever happening again, that kind of a thing, or from all of our rights being taken away by an authoritarian figure.

So that`s why I`m wearing a pin of honor of December 7, 1941.

MELBER: A tribute to history and a thought about living history and the history we may make.

Appreciate it.

I didn`t know what the answer would be, but I figured it would be good.

Jill Wine-Banks, Michelle Goldberg, my thanks to both of you.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

WINE-BANKS: Thank you.

MELBER: Absolutely.

We have got a lot coming up. Chai Komanduri back on THE BEAT talking about what he calls a cult of celebrity in the GOP, why it`s about more than hypocrisy and affects the demise of policy as we know it.

Another big story, a MAGA lawmaker leaving Congress to go work for Trump directly in a company that`s now under investigation.

And before the hour is out, the one and only Kal Penn is here. We`re talking politics, his relationship with Obama and Biden, and a whole lot more.


Stay with us.


MELBER: One of Trump`s top allies in Congress is resigning.

This is the controversial former leader of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes not running for reelection .Now, people come and go in Congress pretty much all the time. But tonight`s story is not just about him. It`s also about what his new gig reveals about the Republican Party and its future.

Nunes leaving Congress to become the CEO of a new Trump company, a media and tech firm that`s supposed to draw on Trump`s online support and make him relevant, despite his many bans from social media. Nunes was going to take up one of the most powerful posts if Republicans were to win back Congress. He would be in charge of all the spending on the Ways and Means Committee.

So why leave now? A couple reasons. One, a new congressional map meant that he was likely to lose his seat, according to his own hometown paper, unless he moved. Now, that paper has been critical, calling Nunes a spineless Trump lackey and a disgrace.

The Trump relationship, though, is now his entire job. And it`s a big deal here that Nunes didn`t try to just run in a different Republican district or go to the typical post-Congress lobbying job. Instead, he`s going deeper into the employment and control the man who wasn`t even in Republican politics until 2015.


And it shows the grip, the power Trump still has over this Republican Party.

Now, as Nunes, what is his legacy? What did we learn today that might not have been as provably true when we lived through all this over the past few years.

Well, one thing is, he took a long-running nonpartisan intelligence post. And I want to be clear about that. Many other people in both parties, Democrat and Republican, chaired that Intelligence Committee in a more fair and nonpartisan way. But he took that sensitive part of our national security oversight, and he turned it into a partisan joke and an effort to help Trump no matter what.

Many people have reported on this, "The Times" documenting how he effectively ran interference for Trump from that post during the Mueller probe, a mode that both undercut the independent power of the actual committee he ran, when you think about it, and also vaunted him into all the public controversies, some of which I admit are forgettable, but we will remind you quickly of them, where he would take these sides and even open issues under investigation, like the Russia probe.


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": The Republican argument, bottom line, is that the whole Russia investigation is bogus; there never should have been FBI counterintelligence interest, let alone investigation, let alone court-ordered surveillance of a Trump adviser like Carter Page.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): The director of the FBI is well aware of my concerns about Mr. Page. And I don`t believe that somebody like Mr. Page should be a target of the FBI.

MADDOW: Congressman Devin Nunes been leading the charge on this in the House for the Republicans.


MELBER: He kept leading that charge. Some of his payback came in real time.

Trump gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which historically put him in the company of Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou, to give you an idea of where that medal usually goes.

Nunes was so political about it that, even for D.C., he drew criticism of taking things to the level of bizarre charades and contradictory battles and hypocritical stances and his much maligned and, ultimately, misleading memo, the Nunes memo.

Then there was the odd time he jumped out of an Uber reportedly to try to get to the White House to give them a tip without his own staff knowing. The concern -- and, ultimately, he did recuse himself partially from that job was -- that he might be misusing intelligence information, which, again, only few members of Congress are even clear to get in that Intelligence Committee, and use it to help the president politically.

Ultimately, he became something of a national punchline.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": It now appears Devin Nunes, who`s the ranking Republican in the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating whether Trump tried to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine, may have flown on the taxpayers` dime last year to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine.

I don`t even think the word hypocrisy covers it anymore. This is the hypocralypse.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": The top Republican investigating whether Trump tried to get dirt on Biden tried to get dirt on Biden.


COLBERT: It reminds me of the children`s classic "Nancy Drew and the Case of the Man Murdered by Nancy Drew."



MELBER: The top Republican who was helping Trump when he was on a committee that was supposed to at least be nonpartisan and independent, but ultimately also investigate if there wasn`t any intelligence abuse, they do oversight, now fast forward and it`s all, all out in the open. He`s working for Trump.

So that`s one piece of this story. The guy who we know worked in Congress for Trump now literally works for Trump. As for the business that they`re going into, well, you know that it`s risky. This startup is already under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for a financing deal after announcing that anonymous investors or donors put up a billion into the company.

Bloomberg reports that those kind of hefty donations to someone who might again be in power or in the White House is a major question that we`re all still sorting through. The identities, they write, of the people who gave or funded this are of interest, because anyone able to buy their way into Trump`s good graces by plopping a bag of money on his desk could later sway public policy.

So we have something from Nunes here that`s telling, and it exposes the wider problem in the Republican Party. Remember, I don`t mean to sound quaint, but it is true -- and many conservatives say they are originalists -- but the original idea here in the Constitution is to have Congress as a co-equal branch of government, not a subservient one to a cult of personality.

But Nunes acted that way then and now literally is an employee of Trump.

We`re also seeing how Trump holds this power over not just someone like Nunes, which is a person -- it`s bigger than him -- over so much of the party. There are very real Republican leaders who are posing as if they work for their constituents, which is what they`re paid to do and what they take an oath to do, but they`re not just loyal to a party`s leader, which politically may be fine.


They sometimes, as in the case of Nunes and Intelligence, are putting that Trumpism, in or out of power, above the job they`re supposed to do.

Now Nunes is an employee in the Trump Organization, which is under investigation. And that -- then you have the legislative and political power issues here. What were they doing over these last few years? And what are the stakes here?

What does it mean to have a revolving door not from just government to industry, which, frankly, has been a bipartisan problem, but from government to just working for Donald Trump and whoever those anonymous investors are? Is there a larger grift to come, and could it affect you?

Well, we have an expert on this. Michael Hirschorn is a political and cultural analyst, a writer for "The Atlantic," among other things.

He`s back with me live in just 60 seconds.


MELBER: I`m back with Michael Hirschorn, a political and cultural analysts, Emmy-nominated producer of the HBO documentary "Kill Chain," and someone who has analyzed the intersection of reality TV, the grift and our national politics and our future.

Welcome back, sir.


MELBER: What do you think is important, beyond some of the sort of controversy history, in this development of someone as powerful as Devin Nunes, who would have been controlling potentially federal spending, if he stayed on that committee and they win power back, to becoming a Trump employee literally?

HIRSCHORN: Well, I think I think some of the recent reporting has really shown the degree to which January 6 is a prelude to a kind of broader coup that is going on in this country that`s taking place over the next few years and that I think probably will culminate in 2024.

I have been trying to wrap my head around what Nunes was up to here. But I think the Bloomberg reporting here about what essentially could be a billion-dollar grift with this new social media company that seems to have no social media technology whatsoever, and seems to just be a vehicle to bring in undisclosed money, and is really prepping for what I think he sees as a bigger win, which is setting up Trump as a Middle Eastern or Eastern European-style strongman.

MELBER: It`s tough talk the way you put it. And if you set it in 2015, people would call you a reactionary liberal, Michael. I don`t know how you feel about that.

HIRSCHORN: Put it on me.

MELBER: But when you say today -- when you say it today, after the -- our viewers, I think, follow the news. They understand what happened with the lead-up to the insurrection, the violence on part of the American right, and the fusion of these grifting business corruption tactics, which are a feature of authoritarian countries in the modern era.

Because, if you are -- if you are on the right side of a Putin or one of these strong men or women, if you want, on dictators, then you`re placed in all these other positions. And so it becomes a sort of non-civic way and even non-capitalist way to ensure that, as long as you`re with the strongperson, then you`re good.

HIRSCHORN: That`s right.

And I think that it seems -- and we will see how this plays out. It`s -- I was glad to that the SEC went after this new -- quote, unquote -- "social media startup." If it gets off the ground, it`s a brilliant, insidious way to raise a lot of money very quickly.

And if Trump has been good at anything, it`s at kind of big -- big number, big dollar value grifting. And I think some of the mockery of Nunes, I think, maybe misses kind of the bigger game that`s happening here.


MELBER: What does it mean that they, even while the New York wing of Trump Org is under investigation, have all this secret money to play with?

HIRSCHORN: Well, it means that you can operate really outside the law. You can operate outside normal election limits and oversight that normal politicians operate under.

So, really, what they`re setting up is a giant operation either to put Trump in the White House through appropriate electoral means, or, if he happens to lose, through inappropriate electoral means.

MELBER: Yes, I think -- I hope people are hearing what you`re saying, because you`re putting it very clearly.

And there`s a whole business discussion about whether special purpose acquisition companies and vehicles are a way to route around the sunlight and other transparency laws that exist in what are still not super regulated markets. Whether that`s good for business or not is one conversation. The fact that, so quickly, it`s now a place for possible dark or foreign money, we don`t know.

Whether it`s good or even safe for democracy, I think, is an area that`s going to require a lot more scrutiny. We will begin doing that.

And, Michael, as always, thanks for being here.

HIRSCHORN: Thank you so much.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Meanwhile, there is a cult of celebrity in some of these midterm campaigns. Our friend Chai Komanduri is back tonight next on that.

Meanwhile, a Republican congressman calling out a fellow Republican, Matt Gaetz, and other extremists. We will get into that later.

And by the end of the hour, Obama and Biden friend Kal Penn.

We`re going to get into all of it. Stay with us.



MELBER: Republican leaders have spent really decades picking fights with Hollywood.

But every time a new celebrity knocks on the party`s door, it seems like they`re embraced, Republicans now touting NFL veteran Herschel Walker as a star for the U.S. Senate. He just got an endorsement from another celebrity-turned-politician, the former president.

Or take Dr. Oz, a new Republican celebrity with no political experience, drawing high-level GOP support after jumping into a Senate race as a Republican.

And after all the brawls with Dr. Fauci, it looks like Republicans seem to really love the TV part of TV doctor more than the doctor part. And the doctor part has come under strain from everywhere from fact-checkers to the late-night comics.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe there`s a magic weight loss cure out there?

DR. MEHMET OZ, "THE DR. OZ SHOW": The word -- if you`re selling something because it`s magical, no.

JOHN OLIVER, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER": That would be ridiculous. No one is claiming there`s a magic pill out there. That would be stupid.

OZ: This little bean has scientists saying they have found a magic weight loss cure for every body type.

OLIVER: See, he never said there was a magic pill. He said there was a magic bean.



MELBER: So, real magic may be the fame, though, that comes with the celebrity.

Now, both parties have elevated some celebrities this way. Democrats took Al Franken basically from the NSL circuit to the -- "SNL" circuit, I should say, to the Senate, before pushing him to resign over harassment allegations.

Republicans have done this most, though, and most in Hollywood`s home, drafting celebrities into California`s highest offices. Way back in the day, they promoted actor George Murphy from tap-dancing with Fred Astaire to dancing in the U.S. Senate. And later, Republicans tapped Sonny Bono of Sonny & Cher right into Congress.

Then there were, of course, the most famous recent California governors in the modern era, Reagan and Schwarzenegger. Both argued their lack of experience was an asset.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t believe that just holding public office is the only way by which you can get experience for public office.

FMR. GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): If you`re happy with the way things are, then keep your current leaders. If you want to change this state, then join me.


MELBER: Now, Reagan was compelled to do some governing before running for president.

By the time the Trump era hit, Republicans, well, they made Trump their nominee and made him their president without checking whether the celebrity experience would translate. Indeed, the past 40 years of Republican presidents boiled down to two Bushes and two celebrities who spent the bulk of their lives and gained all their fame and much of their political standing from being celebrities.

Republicans now turn to another celebrity famous for pretending to be something on TV, while saying that they win with patriotism and they don`t need celebrity status. Actions speak louder, though, and some introspection may be needed.

J. Cole once explained the problem with relying on fame overvalues. Got defensive and said I was the same without it. But then I thought back to a better me, before I was a B list celebrity. J. Cole called himself B list.

Well, reality shows our are C list. And there was a GOP before this kind of celebrity. The party has to decide if that was a better me.

Now we turn to a deep-dive political conversation here on THE BEAT.

And if you watch our program, you may know this is a special day and time here. It is "Chai Day" on THE BEAT, with political strategist Chai Komanduri, who worked on three presidential campaigns, including the Obama campaign, and to whom we are indebted for some of the points we just ran through.

Welcome back, sir.


MELBER: The only thing worse than B list might be C list. I guess there`s also D list.

But what do you see as important here and important for leadership and civics in what appears to be a mounting celebrity need among Republican -- Republicans for these candidates?

KOMANDURI: Yes, this might be something that is unfortunate to acknowledge, but celebrities have enormous advantages in our politics.

They have incredible name I.D. They can fund-raise much more easily. In fact, in some cases, they don`t even need to fund-raise very much because they are so well-known.


Oftentimes, they come into politics with brands that are viewed positively by many voters. There`s been studies that have shown that "The Apprentice" during its height had three times the audience of "NBC Nightly News," all of it sort of geared towards showing Donald Trump as some sort of business genius, a management guru of a sort, who could right a failing corporation or a failing business enterprise.

So celebrities have real advantages in our politics. So the question we really probably should ask is not why Republicans embrace celebrities. It`s kind of obvious. But why don`t Democrats embrace this type of candidate more?

I mean, we do have a couple of celebrities like Al Franken, the late John Glenn, the great astronaut, et cetera. But Democrats do not embrace celebrities anywhere near as much as Republicans do. And I think the answer is really twofold.

The first is, Democrats are really uncomfortable with the idea of being the party of Hollywood. It`s something that Democrats really don`t admit. I mean, we do use celebrities to fund-raise. We use them to give ourselves more attention, to crowd-build for rallies, et cetera.

But there is a lot of grumbling, often on background to "The Washington Post," about how the Democratic Party is too associated with celebrities, that we should be the party of labor unions, not of Hollywood celebrities.

The best recent example of this was AOC attendance at the Met Gala, and how much criticism she received, not just from conservatives, but also from Democrats and from liberals.

And the second is that celebrities have a lower barrier of entry into the GOP because, quite frankly, they don`t need to know anything. We have talked before about how the GOP is a post-policy party. That`s very much true. I mean, there`s only really four core things in the GOP that you have to believe, tax cuts for the rich, conservative pro-life judges, anti- immigration, anti-gun control.

That`s it. Maybe now there`s a fifth thing, which is anti-vaccine, which is also helpful to know-nothing celebrities, because you don`t need to know anything about basic science.

And I think the media kind of goes along with a lot of this. I mean, GOP candidates -- I mean, I saw recently Representative Dan Crenshaw did a national book tour, going to many liberal outlets, saying unvaccinated people really don`t hurt anybody but themselves. This isn`t true.

But journalists do not want to look like partisan hacks and attack him over it. And this is a luxury they will not to give to, say, Elizabeth Warren, who decides to say something that is very much against the precepts of basic science.

MELBER: Right.

Well, and I think you make several important and interrelated points. And you talk also about how the media reflects that. And then that, of course, affects what the Democrats may perceive as their weaknesses.

I have some Dylan for you.


MELBER: The media, they all went along for the ride, "Hurricane."

And they may go along for the ride in a way here that makes Democrats all the more worrisome. But you also seem to be pointing to something also known as a prerequisite. Doctors have prerequisites. Police and military have prerequisites. There is an idea that, especially for presidency, but even for higher office like the Senate, there should be prerequisites.

Your point here is that the modern Republican Party doesn`t, what, care enough about the difficulty of governing to apply prerequisites to candidates?

KOMANDURI: That`s exactly true.

I mean, they don`t want policy wonks. I mean, when`s the last time you can name a Republican policy wonk? It`s been quite a while since we have had any kind of policy wonk-type of candidate run for president or gain national office on the Republican side.

Mitch McConnell doesn`t want policy wonks or people who are super knowledgeable about policy. Those sorts of people are much harder to wrangle and lead and cast the kinds of votes that Mitch McConnell would like.

The reality is, the Republican base does not much care or need very much in the way of policy. They just need to be entertained, and to have their white grievance sort of spoken to, which is exactly what Donald Trump did. He did those rallies. He sort of spoke to that grievance, talking about immigration in particular, also about gun rights.

Those were kind of core issues for the GOP base. And he did so in an entertaining way, which is something that he learned from being a Hollywood celebrity all those years. He learned how to entertain. And I think that is a key asset that really goes to why Republicans embrace celebrity.

There`s also maybe a message point that you can bring into this, that celebrities kind of reinforce the GOP message that you too can be a capitalist success story, like Donald Trump, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, like Ronald Reagan.

That is, I think, another aspect of this. And this is also why Democrats stay away from celebrities, because there is a sense that celebrities undercut our message of being for working people.

MELBER: Yes or no, does -- would Kim Kardashian have a good shot at the nomination in either party?


KOMANDURI: Oh, she would have an excellent shot at the nomination actually on the GOP side.

She would have a much harder time on the Democratic side, because she would actually have to answer questions about health care finance. That`s not something that she probably knows a lot about. It`s something that takes a lot of time in government to learn about. And it`s not something that the media would let her get away with if she was a Democrat.

If she`s a Republican, she would get a free ride on that. She could convert on immigration, convert perhaps on the choice issue, et cetera. And the GOP would very much embrace her, absolutely.

MELBER: You say it straight up, with criticism for the press, which we`re open-minded to here, because we are open to constructive criticism.

And we would just have to change it from "But her e-mails" to "But her Instagram." But that`s probably something people could figure out how to harp on, if, as you say, she was a Democrat.

Also, for the people watching, I`m half-joking, just to be clear.


MELBER: Chai, always appreciate your insights.

KOMANDURI: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Coming up, a Republican going after Congressman Gaetz. We will explain.

But, first, someone who worked directly in the Obama/Biden administration, first time on THE BEAT. Can`t wait to talk to Kal Penn next.



MELBER: Promised, we`re now joined by Kal Penn.

Where do you know him from? Well, it could be the Obama/Biden administration. It could be movies like "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle." He did wind up, though -- and that`s why he`s here -- in the White House.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to visit India twice.

KAL PENN, ACTOR: I have worked on a lot of fun movies, but my favorite job was having a boss who gave the order to take out bin Laden and who`s cool with all of us getting gay-married.

So, for our friends on the Internet...


PENN: Thank you very much.

BIDEN: Thank you, man.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just remember that I`m trusting you on this. And I will see you there.

JOHN CHO, ACTOR: Who was that? It sounded intense.

PENN: The president.



MELBER: You got to laugh at yourself.

We`re joined by Kal Penn. He`s the star of movies like "The Namesake," TV shows like "House" and "How I Met Your Mother."

And, right now, he`s got a new memoir out called "You Can`t Be Serious."

Welcome to THE BEAT, sir.

PENN: Thank you. How are you? It`s nice to talk to you.

MELBER: I`m good. I`m good, man.

We didn`t plan it this way, but we went from discussing how Republicans hire celebrities as president now to a president...

PENN: Yes.

MELBER: ... who hired a celebrity to do what you did, which you`re going to tell us about, so a bit of a mirror image.

But let`s just start, before we get to the book, with the Biden presidency ending the year. People know that you may agree with him on a lot of things clearly. But you also worked there. You know him better than most.

How do you think President Biden is doing?

PENN: Well, look, I`m the first person to say I`m so glad that there was a focus on COVID and the economy right out of the gate, right? There was a lot that needed to happen in terms of vaccine distribution and equity.

And I`m glad that that`s been the focus for so long. It`s a tough job. I`m glad that my White House colleagues, many of them had been working remotely until very recently. So there a lot of challenges there that I really admire the way that they`re handling.

MELBER: Anything that you gleaned or learned about being around Joe Biden in that time? We showed some of the fun stuff. But, I mean, do you find that he is studious, that he is serious?

Because the rep, sometimes critical or not, is sometimes that he`s portrayed as if he`s kind of just fun-loving and even -- quote, unquote -- "bumbling."

PENN: You mean portrayed in like photos like the ones you`re showing?


PENN: Which are fine. I mean, look...

MELBER: I mean, we didn`t take these.


PENN: No, I know, but we took them.

And so what I`m saying is that I don`t think there`s anything wrong with having a full breadth of who you are and being empathetic, and obviously reading all your policy briefings and being as smart as you can be, but also letting your guard down and actually talking to humans.

I mean, I was a mid-level staffer. So it`s not like we spent every day with the president or the vice president.

But the times when we would brief them both, or we would be in the room with them, I was always struck by Vice President, now President Biden`s willingness to just sort of spend -- he would spend a half-hour -- he would go half-hour overtime in a meeting just so that he could talk to everybody in the room and really get a sense of what their life story was, whether policy was making its way to their dinner table conversations or their real lives.

And you don`t, I think, really get that with a lot of political folks. Sometimes, it`s a schedule. Sometimes, it`s a personality. But it`s one of the things that I have admired about him.

MELBER: All right, let`s talk about your book.

There`s a lot of young people who would look at part one of your career and say, what a dream. And then they`d look at part two we just showed at the White House and say, what a dream. What can you tell people and maybe young people about how you got to do what you did? And what are the lessons in the book?

PENN: Yes, thanks for asking.

So, that`s really the reason that I wrote the book, right? I have had this incredible privilege of working in Hollywood on ridiculous stoner movies and love making people laugh. It`s one of the things I still love today. It`s one of the few things we have that can still bring people together.

I love getting D.M.s right around this time of the year, saying, hey, I watched your movie with my crazy uncle after Thanksgiving. And it kind of brought us together a little bit.

But going from that to having a chance to work in the Obama White House, I mean, I, like a lot of people, I volunteered for a little more than a year. And it, to me, is kind of the epitome of the American dream.

I`m the son of immigrants, the grandson of Gandhi and freedom fighters. And cut to the last three years, and I was sort of thinking, is there a story that I can share with kind of the 25-year-old version of me, the kid who was figuring out how to navigate an industry in the arts or career in the arts, but also always had an interest in public service and wasn`t really sure what that meant or how to make an impact?


And one of the things I`m really proud of having the chance to talk about in the book is looking at those lessons, especially for people who are interested in public service and politics. What was it like working on the Affordable Care Act as President Obama`s liaison to young Americans?

So, really, the only piece of that that I did outreach on was the under-26 provision. Or the repeal of Don`t Ask, Don`t Tell, which, again, I worked on just a small piece of it, but it impacted so many people across so many different communities.

And to have the chance to really write now about those experiences at a time when I think, understandably, our politics are so polarizing, and we`re all kind of looking for the, like, well, what`s the good that we can do, and how has it been accomplished in the past, was a really great opportunity.

I`m so glad to share that book with everybody now.

MELBER: Amazing.

I love the way you talk. We haven`t met before, but hearing you lay it all out there, and especially for the next generation, which has got to do hopefully better than this one, it`s great stuff.

I`m going to remind everyone, the book is "You Can`t Be Serious." My thanks to Kal Penn.

We will be right back.