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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 2/17/21

Guest: Vanessa Fuentes, Ben Cardin, Cedric Richmond�


President Biden and Vice President Harris push their COVID relief plan. Senior White House adviser Cedric Richmond discusses the Biden agenda. The Texas power grid faces collapse during a winter storm. When might enough vaccines be available for most of the United States? Senator Ben Cardin discusses the investigation into the Capitol riot.



Hi, Ari.

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

And welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we begin tonight with President Biden and Vice President Harris making a push for their first big coordinated public effort to rally Americans around what they say is the first piece of business of their new administration, getting behind the $2 trillion COVID relief plan.

Biden and Harris were out at it today, Biden fresh off that big town hall in Wisconsin last night, Harris on "The Today Show" this morning and late today meeting with union leaders at the White House.


QUESTION: What did you learn from Americans last night about what they want in this plan?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I learned, based on the polling data, they want everything that is in the plan. Not a joke. Everything that`s in the plan. I asked a rhetorical question. Those who opposed the plan, what don`t they like?

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A national emergency, a big problem, requires a big solution. You can talk about the dollar amount, but let`s talk about the harm that that is designed to address.


MELBER: This is what governing looks like. This is what a public messaging campaign looks like.

Biden and Harris want to go big, and they are betting on the proposition that addressing an exhausted nation like adults, explaining that help is on the way, and not getting caught up in D.C. partisan squabbling, is how you deliver the ultimate victory.

Now, if you happened to catch THE BEAT, say, last night, we were actually reporting on another piece of news, that after the very divisive election that we all lived through and a very rough January, it was news that Joe Biden was surging to the highest presidential approval rating in four years.

It`s not only news. It also cuts against some of the talk that the country is hopelessly and inevitably divided on everything. Now, when we reported that to you, we did it like we do a lot of things, as a piece of information, perhaps something we thought was interesting, but as facts.

We didn`t know that, actually, to some degree, Joe Biden was going to make it a centerpiece point in his advocacy at that big town hall, and pushing back on the Washington, D.C., claims that everything must always be politically divided.


BIDEN: I take issue with what everybody says about the division.

For example, my -- my plan on COVID, 69 percent of the American people support it, 69 percent, in this state, recent poll, 60 percent, 60 percent, 45 percent of Trump voters and 55 percent of Republican voters.

The nation is not divided. You go out there and take a look and talk to people, you have fringes on both ends, but it`s not nearly as divided as we make it out to be.

And we have to bring it together.


MELBER: How about that? When someone says it`s not as divided as they make it out to be, it could be just the political claim that they want to make for their side.

But, in this case, as we were reporting before Joe Biden started leaning into this, it`s also a true development. And what he is talking about there, this is important. The they could include angry losers of the election, who actually need division or its perception in order to have effective obstruction to try to stop Joe Biden in governing, where those right-wing fringe groups couldn`t stop him at the ballot box.

They could also include some of the D.C. purveyors of this conventional wisdom, something we try to warn about here, even as we cover and interact with plenty of people in Washington.

This news is about rising support for Biden, and that news itself is not partisan. It`s just a fact about where Americans are headed right now. And the fact that there is this bipartisan support out there, out of Washington, is far from automatic.

After another recent bruising election, the new President Donald Trump had an approval rating at this similar point in his presidency, February 27, at a measly, and, yes, polarized 41 percent, far less than half the country, even less than the people who voted for him at that point, roughly.

Tonight, Biden surging here to the 62 percent. That`s over 20 percentage points better. That`s tens of millions of more people, and, of course, it`s higher than anything Trump ever achieved in all four years. That`s where the nation is.

Those are a type of collective facts, even if it`s not always the most exciting thing to note that people are somehow agreeing a little more than they used to, or at least agreeing on the way Joe Biden is doing in one month with a focus on COVID. No one is saying these numbers are permanent or there won`t be criticism, perhaps justified, of other things he does in the future.

But the point here is, there is a fight playing out within the Republican Party alongside this bad news for the Republican Party. There`s those who want to break the Trump. There are those saying Trump should go to prison, and then there`s the others rallying around him.

The Biden team here is calculating that obsessing over any of that is actually a old framework, and that it might be bad politics and that, if Republicans want obstruction, well, they can get it, but they won`t just be trying to go in the face of Joe Biden.

They will be going in the face of a rising number of independents, conservatives, and yes, registered Republicans who, as he said and the polling shows, actually want the federal government to do something about COVID and the attendant recession.

Imagine that.

We`re going get into this now with people who know the issues well.

We are joined by James Carville, a veteran of presidential campaigns, Bill Clinton`s lead campaign strategist, and a man who does believe, politically and otherwise, the government ought to do things, as well as Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Gene Robinson.

These are important times. We set up it pretty big picture.

And, James, take it away.

JAMES CARVILLE, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, you set it up big picture.

The one thing is, I don`t know how divided we are, but we sure don`t want the president to tell us that we`re hopelessly divided. I completely agree that he should talk about unifying the country and that his program to deal with COVID relief is going to go across a broad spectrum of America.

And he`s right. He should be a little bit of a cheerleader. We`re probably a little more divided than he would like. But the only way we`re going to be more united, if we have a president that tells us we`re more united.

So, I agree with the messaging here. I hope it`s correct. I pray it`s correct. But I don`t think a good leader can stand up there and say, well, you know what? We`re hopelessly divided. We`re just going to ram this thing with 50 votes, plus the vice president, and to heck with it.

I don`t think that`s what the people are looking for right now. And I think he has correctly surmised the situation.

MELBER: I have another political question for you, James, but it`s sort of a layup, but it`s fair.


MELBER: What do you think accounts for the fact, James, that, in one month, Joe Biden has produced much higher approval ratings than Donald Trump ever managed in four years as president, even during crises that sometimes used to have a rally-around-the-flag phenomenon?

CARVILLE: Because he is a really good leader. He is a humane, decent man. He is not a jerk.

And that`s good for 20 points in American politics. You have a jerk against a humane, decent person, it`s worth 20 points. And he is clocking in right where he should be.


CARVILLE: I`d like to see him a little bit higher.

But that performance he had last night was -- he is doing well. And he is appealing to our better instincts. And that`s, I think, what a lot of the American people want to be, appealed to their better instincts. How long it lasts, I have no idea, but we will take it while we get it, and I think it`s well-deserved on his part.

And he is contrasting well with the previous occupant.

MELBER: Well, Gene, in `92, Carville told us, it`s the economy, stupid. In 2020, he reminded me on this very program, it`s the pandemic, stupid.

And here in `21, he gives us a different memorable thought. Not being a jerk is worth 20 point, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I guess that`s the Carville jerk equation.


ROBINSON: I think it`s absolutely right. I think -- I have done the math, and I think it checks out.

You know, Joe Biden is being exactly who he said he would be. He told the American people this is what you were going get. And that`s what you`re getting. You`re getting a Democrat who wants to try to reach across the aisle to Republicans and bring people together and believes in an older style of politics and wants to bring it back.

Now, whether he can or not, again, and as James said, I don`t know if he can. He understates, I think, deliberately the extent to which there is division in the country.

But what else should he possibly do? He has to he has to cheerlead for unity. And he`s good at that. And that essential sort of goodness in him comes through to people who even -- who might not even like his policies or like his party. And I think that`s going to help.


Well, Gene, there is a distinction as well of, we all know how divided we are about so many things. And I think if you have a snap poll about race or certain other issues, you`re going see that polarization. No one here, and not with the reporting we do, claiming otherwise.

But when that becomes -- when most of the time becomes all the time, even people who write and talk about this for a living are making a mental error. It`s a cognitive error, because when you ask people, wait a minute, though, what about money to make up for all the lost business, or what about a robust federal COVID plan, suddenly it does shoot up.

In that vein, Gene, take a listen to Vice President Harris, as I mentioned, in her tour today.


HARRIS: Well, sometimes, we talk about hurricanes and then what we need to do relief afterward.

This hurricane is still raging. We still have people dying on a daily basis, and we have got to address this. We have got to help our country heal and survive through this crisis, so we can get back on our feet. We need to act, and we need the act now.



ROBINSON: Well Ari, it was always the case, even during the darkest days of the Trump years, that when you asked people about actual issues, actual issues that affected them, kitchen table issue, asked them about health care, ask them about minimum wage, ask them about things that Joe Biden is talking about, there was a lot more agreement than you would have thought, given the anger and the conflict in our politics.

We just had a president who was good at one thing. Donald Trump was good at one thing in politics, and that was driving wedges. And you`re either with me or you`re against me. And he put a lot of people on his side of that chasm, even if their views on what we should be doing were closer to the other side.

And it`s a big deal when the president of the United States isn`t deliberately trying to divide people. I mean, that alone, I think, makes a big difference.

MELBER: Yes, exactly.

And now, of course, you have more of the divisions. The great divider, the way you are both putting it, no surprises, sowing divisions, even though he is not saying all that much.

You have Senator Lindsey Graham warning that, if Republicans don`t just follow Trump on everything in the future, they`re going to lose. Of course, keep in mind they did try following him and lost.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I know Trump can be a handful, but he is the most dominant figure in the Republican Party. We don`t have a snowball`s chance in hell of taking back the majority without Donald Trump.


MELBER: That is a backward-looking approach to the future.

Our panel stays, but I want to show the other thing that we`re seeing pick up steam. We want to put a light on it and expose it, is just trying to change who gets to vote.

Tonight, we can report since the election Republicans at the state level have proposed over 100 bills that would restrict simple foundational rights to vote. Party leaders in Arizona and Pennsylvania have been leading that effort. Also new tonight, the RNC announcing a committee on election integrity.

James Carville, you have been around plenty of bare-knuckled politics. Nothing new and nothing Trump-specific about some of these efforts. How much should everyone keep an eye on this or push back, while also doing all the other priorities?

CARVILLE: As close an eye as you can keep on anything.

And when it comes to people having a franchise, a right to vote, it`s just not enough for the Democrats need to be involved. Corporate America needs to be involved. People have to know that, when you`re taking away somebody`s vote, you`re taking away what -- you`re fooling with one of their customers, you`re fooling with one of their shareholders, you`re fooling with one of their employees.

So, it`s not just enough for people like Gene and I to come out of the woodwork and say, hey, you can`t do this, this is not right. It has to be people that really have a stake in the future of America.

And I see a lot of these companies and a lot of these groups, they want to be associated with good things. Well, my idea is get associated with the right to vote. And that way, you`re going to be on God`s side of everything.

Just let my people vote. It`s just that simple. All people, just let them vote. And when these bills come up, it`s just not going to be enough to have the usual suspects come up. They`re going to have bring people from all over the community and all the stakeholders in here saying, let people vote.

We had an election. By every account, it was a very honest election. Of course, they tried to suppress the vote in certain places. Just let people vote, and count them, and let`s go from there. And that`s what we got to do. And you can`t do that without letting people vote. So, you have to be very vigilant, very vigilant.


ROBINSON: No, I think that`s absolutely right.

And I think this is kind of going to be trench warfare in the states over these encroachments on the franchise, which in some places look like they`re going to be serious attempts.

But it will help the forces of democracy if, as James says, corporate America, which seems to be getting the message, speaks out on this. And so we need to hear CEOs coming out and saying, we`re going put our money where our mouth is on this, and we`re going to not put our money into -- behind politicians that are trying to deny people the right to vote.

And, as corporations have said, they`re going to stop giving to politicians who still parrot the big lie about the election having been stolen by voter fraud and this and that. That`s got to not just continue, I think it`s got to grow. But if it does, I think this can be beaten back.

MELBER: Yes, I think you both lay it out. And it`s the clarity, from the Jim Crow roots, to January 6, which was a very literal attack on democracy, to what some of the energy is out there, which is why we`re putting it up on TV, so everyone can see.

I want to thank James Carville and Gene Robinson for kicking us off on more than one topic tonight. Thank you both.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

MELBER: When we come back in just 30 seconds, we get into the Biden agenda with Cedric Richmond, senior White House adviser to President Biden -- in 30.


MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

We are juggling a couple of different stories tonight, and we still will hear from presidential adviser Cedric Richmond. We`re going to be talking COVID, racial justice and a lot more.

You may have seen him just moments ago at the White House. We`re just figuring out that interview. But I guarantee it will be within this hour of THE BEAT.

First, though, we`re going turn to another story we had planned for you. And it`s one I bet you`re familiar with, this disaster in Texas, millions still without power, after a deadly storms, snow, ice, freezing temperatures that have been pounding the electrical grid in the state, and 16 lives already lost, residents scrambling.

A local furniture store in Houston has turned into an impromptu warming station to try to help people during this humanitarian crisis. Others have been huddling in their cars for basic warmth or to charge phones, to keep in touch with family or emergency services.

There are long lines, understandably, at gas stations. Some people have been melting snow in order to obtain clean water in their homes. You can see homemade footage of that, also, people storing snow in their bathtubs as a backup to have water, given the ongoing problems and uncertainty in many communities about what comes next. others starting fire in their yards in order to cook meals, stranded without power.

Then there are questions about why Texas, which, of course, is also a major energy producer, is so unable to withstand this particular storm, plus plenty of political recriminations.

Some Texas conservatives have been pushing conspiracy theories and false claims, trying to blame renewable energy for these problems.

The big story tonight, though, and where we are focused is on the real people trying to get through this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forty percent of Austin Energy customers are still without power and facing another night of single-digit temperatures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only way to stay warm is inside a church van parked in their driveway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inside of the house, it`s almost minus-two, minus-two. It`s really cold inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For some, candles replace stove tops.

The Adela (ph) family is making dinner.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have been essentially grabbing snow and boiling it, so we can flush our toilet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything in my refrigerator has thawed, the milk, everything. You need to send us some help, Mayor, because we need some help out here.


MELBER: People need help.

A former representative there, Texas Congressman Beto O`Rourke, was just telling Nicolle Wallace that Texans are suffering without power because those in power have failed.


FMR. REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D-TX): If there`s no accountability, if there`s no justice for the lies that are being trafficked by those who are in positions of public trust, then you can bet that this will continue.

We will lose lives, we will lose our way of life, and we will lose our very democracy. That`s all on the line right now.


MELBER: Let`s get into it with a view from the ground.

I`m joined by Austin City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes.

Thanks for being here.


MELBER: Many people around the country, of course, have seen some of these image, heard about it, know people going through it. We showed some of it.

But, first, tell us what you seeing? What do you know about what`s going on there?

FUENTES: Yes, quite frankly, Texans and Austinites are not prepared for this level of pandemic and winter storm that we`re having.

We -- I traveled to one of our shelters earlier today, and the roads are in hazardous conditions. Many are not able to get food from grocery stores, because our hours have been shortened, and hundreds and thousands of Austinites are without power and have been without power for days.

MELBER: When you see the larger debate roiling here, there, and around the country, what`s your view? How much of that is important to have right now, too early to have?

Obviously, when this many people are suffering, people will hold leaders accountable. So, we have seen quite a rush to blame various forces, as I mentioned.

FUENTES: Absolutely.

We need to hold our leaders accountable. The fact of the matter is, so we knew this was coming. We knew that this winter storm was coming, and we were unprepared. We did not communicate to our community what to expect and how to prepare. And, quite frankly, our residents, our neighbors are wanting to know, when will our power get restored?

At this moment we don`t have answers for them. I know that Austin Energy is doing all that they can. But ERCOT, which is our state operator, has not made it clear when Texans can expect to have their power restored.

And, as I mentioned earlier, we have many families that have been without power for days.


Let me read a little bit on the regulation side of this, because you mentioned whether people are prepared and what are the incentives for that. "Washington Post" reporting the Texas grid got crushed because its operators didn`t see the need to prepare for cold weather, citing: "a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentive to power plant operators to prepare for winter. In the name of deregulation and free markets, the state puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service."

Your response?

FUENTES: That`s true.

The state of Texas has failed to invest in education. The state of Texas has failed to invest in health care. And when it comes to our energy infrastructure, it is the same. The state of Texas continues to fail Texans.

And because of that, we are unprepared to handle this magnitude of a winter storm, and now Texans are suffering. And we need to make sure that our leadership is doing all that they can to respond and to demand accountability and transparency for Texans.

MELBER: Vanessa Fuentes with an informed view from local government, I want to thank you for joining us.

We now turn to NBC News` Gabe Gutierrez, who has been reporting this tough story live from Houston, Texas -- Gabe.


So, yes, we`re on the north side of Houston right now, I-45. And behind me, there was a line a few minutes ago of people lining up for propane. They have actually, because of the chilly temperatures, have actually had gotten inside their cars.

But, Ari, this is something we have seen throughout the day. People here are so frustrated that they have not -- they don`t have a timetable for when this power will be restored. Now they`re being asked to boil their water. Many are asking, how do you do that if you don`t have power?

And it`s something you have heard over and over again today. Now, Ari, within the past few minutes, I actually spoke with ERCOT`s CEO. That`s a nonprofit that operates the power grid here in Texas.

And he -- I asked him point blank, how could they not see this coming? Now, the ERCOT CEO argues that they did see this coming, that there were warnings over the past week or so that temperatures would dip, but then, on Sunday, they just got hit across the state with these subfreezing temperatures, and they just could not meet the demand.

They had some generators knocked offline. And they then made the decision Sunday into Monday to have these rolling outages to prevent a future catastrophe where that the grid could be offline potentially for months.

So, still, though, a lot of people here in Houston, they really don`t understand what is taking so long or why they didn`t see this coming, of course, as you have been reporting, Texas the only state that has its own power grid.

Now, right now, officials here in Houston say more than a million people just in this region are without power. Of course, this is just the Houston area. The Dallas area, they have more snow on the ground. Here in Houston, we have seen some freezing rain here throughout the day, but, thankfully, Ari, the temperature has risen just a little bit.

It`s now in the mid to upper 30s, and that is very good news for this area, because the concern from the officials here is that, once it drops below freezing, the ice could come back out on the roads, and there are a bunch of other problems that come with that.

But, again, right now, many people here without power. People are gathering in parking lots and taking shelter in a furniture store not from here on the north side of Houston, and they`re trying to figure out exactly how they`re going to deal with these outages potentially for the next several days -- Ari.

MELBER: Gabe Gutierrez, thank you very much for the reporting, and stay safe out there.

We have a lot more in the program.

Up ahead, an interesting story on a Trump casino literally imploding. There are metaphors.

Some new indictments dealing with the January 6 riot, Trump reemerging today amidst calls from even Republicans to jail him.

But, first, as promised, senior adviser to the president Cedric Richmond on THE BEAT -- next.


MELBER: Welcome back.

And joining me now from the White House lawn is Cedric Richmond, senior adviser to President Biden, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. And many viewers may recognize him, of course, as also the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, a lot of expertise in both branches of government.

I understand you were meeting late in the day with President Biden.

Thank you for making time for us, sir.


MELBER: Let`s start with the COVID relief that is on everyone`s mind.

In your new role, you have your eye on some of your old colleagues. Does this plan get passed the way the president wants it? What is -- what`s on your mind this week?

RICHMOND: Yes, we think this plan is going to get passed.

A lot of it is going to be because of the hard work that the president and vice president are putting in articulating the need for this plan to members of Congress, but also because the public is so vocal about the need for it, and the fact that we need it right now, and we shouldn`t wait, we shouldn`t delay.

And I think that that is having a big effect. The public support for it will help us get it through.

MELBER: On the issues of police reform and criminal justice reform, which you have worked on, again, as I mentioned, throughout your career, the president spoke about this at his town hall.

He did earlier executive orders than some other recent presidents. But you and others have acknowledged nothing easy about getting this all done.

To refresh everyone`s minds, I did want to play a little bit of your heartfelt advocacy, and exchange with one of your former colleagues. Some people may even remember this, Congressman Gaetz. This was in last summer`s controversial police reform discussions.

Take a look.


RICHMOND: I`m absolutely sitting here offended and angry as hell.

You do not know what it`s like to be an African-American male. Do not come in this committee room and make a mockery of the pain that exists in my community. We`re not interested in watered-down version of this bill. This is a crisis. People are losing their lives.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Are you suggesting that you`re certain that none of us have nonwhite children?

RICHMOND: Matt, stop. I`m not about to get sidetracked about the color of our children.

Black people in the streets that are getting killed. And if one of them happens or the your kid, I`m concerned about him too. And, clearly, I`m more concerned about him than you are.

GAETZ: You`re claiming you have more concern for my family than I do? Who in the hell do you think you are?

RICHMOND: If the shoe fits. Was that a nerve?


MELBER: We all lived through it in different ways. It`s near and dear to you.

What is going to get done, in your view, this year from President Biden`s White House with or without some of those Republicans we just showed on the issue of police reform?

RICHMOND: Look, we`re going tackle that issue head on in the serious manner that it deserves.

There are too many people losing their lives at the hands of police officers. And what makes that special and different than anything else is that those are the people who took an oath to protect and serve the community. And there needs to be real action.

This president is committed to starting that and seeing it through. Look, nobody thinks it`s going to be easy, but we support what they`re going to do in Congress, and we`re going weigh in, because we know that it`s needed.

And President Biden, like he said on the campaign trail, understands the harm and the hurt and the pain that is there, and we`re going deal with it.


I mentioned your history on the issue, because it`s something that so many people care about, including yourself.

I have to warn everyone, this is difficult video, but we put a spotlight on it because it`s important, a case that now is proceeding in Colorado regarding the detention, later ruled to be wrongly done, by Colorado police of a family, including some young children.

I`m going play this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s kids. There`s kids. They had guns drawn on kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want my mother.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I have my sister next to me? Can I have my sister?


MELBER: Now, Mr. Richmond, in any other year, a case like that is still hard to bring against the officers.

What`s different now is, they reformed one of the shields for police qualified immunity in that state. So, there actually is a case moving forward that otherwise would not be.

That hasn`t happened yet, that change in Congress.

Will President Biden endorse, support, advocate for an end to federal qualified immunity for police?

RICHMOND: The president has said on the campaign trail -- and I think he reiterated lately -- that he does think there needs to be changes to qualified immunity.

And I think that the bill that Congress will push forward does change qualified immunity, and we will see how it comes out when it gets to the Senate or leaves the Senate. But we recognize that it has to change.

And that video is disturbing. I think it`s disturbing to anybody who watches it, anyone who hears the cries of those kids. There are much better ways to police communities in this country than we`re doing right now. And President Biden is committed to addressing that, and we`re going to do it in the right way.

We`re going to bring everybody to the table. We`re going to make sure that we reimagine how we have interactions between police and the communities that they police, because it has to change. This is absolutely unacceptable.

MELBER: And one more follow-up on that, which, again, I think we benefit from your level of experience, because you were in the Congress. You co- sponsored one of the House versions of that bill, along with Congressman Amash and others.

So, what would this look like, in your view? Is it President Biden going down there and lobbying these members, giving speeches about it? Because we just showed something that a lot of people wouldn`t stand by.

On the other hand, as you know, when you start talking about changing these police protections, you do run into a lot of pushback on that.

RICHMOND: Look, it`s -- like I started, it is not going to be easy. This is going to be difficult to change things that have been in existence for a long time.

But I think the will of the country is there. I think that the George Floyd, eight minutes and 46 seconds on his neck was a changing moment in this country. I think it was the Bloody Sunday, the Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, Philadelphia, Mississippi, of our lifetime.

And I think that it`s making people come together to look at real reform. And the president is going to put his weight behind real reform, so that these things don`t happen and that, when they do happen, families are able to get justice and get their day in court.

MELBER: On a busy, busy time for the White House, presidential adviser Cedric Richmond, your first time on THE BEAT in this role.

I hope you will come back. I appreciate you making some time for us.

RICHMOND: Absolutely. I will be back.

MELBER: And in other White House news, we`re going get into Kamala Harris` big NBC interview.

And, tonight, a special guest on new pressure to hold Donald Trump accountable for the riots, regardless of what happened in the Senate trial.

That`s all coming up.


MELBER: When will it end? When will it all be over? We all want to know. We`re all wondering.

Government tries to project. President Biden, thinking about COVID timelines, is moving back the projection for when the country might get back to normal in this COVID battle.


BIDEN: By next Christmas, I think we will be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today.


MELBER: Next Christmas, well, that`s -- that`s a long time. That would make 2021 similar to 2020.

We all lived through the times when people used to think this year would be different, by virtue of being a different calendar date.

But this is hard stuff. No one is saying that anyone in government or in science can tell you exactly when it`s going to be. Indeed, Dr. Fauci, widely respected, who held the line now in two different organizations, was predicting herd immunity by springtime once upon a time.

We also want to show you news in the vaccine distribution. President Biden says, by the end of July, the United States will have 600 million doses, which means anyone in the United States who wants a vaccine can get one, no more shortages, no more projected delays, which, of course, are what everyone was warned would happen, that seniors, essential workers, medical professionals would get it first because there aren`t enough to go around.

Also, in your COVID update, Vice President Harris echoing this same issue in her new interview.


HARRIS: We have a vaccine now, and that is great, but we need to get it in the arms of all Americans.

And as the president said last night, we expect that that will be done, in terms of having the available supply, by the end of July.


MELBER: That`s the timeline. What about how it`s going?

And an issue we have covered, along with a lot of other dog and journalists and other public interest organizations, is it equal? Is it fair? This goes to the issue of what some call immunity inequality. We`re seeing these disparities.

And, again, it`s not about politics. We`re seeing them in states that have been blue and run by Democrats for quite some time, like New York, where new data shows that the city of New York is in a situation where the wealthier and majority white neighborhoods, up to 70 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated, in contrast to both lower-income and more minority- oriented communities, where as little as 2 percent of people in those, as you see, low-income neighborhoods of color have reached full vaccination.

This, in fact, is something that we raised with Dr. Fauci back in December, when he joined us.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It needs to be equitably distributed and shared. And equitably means you do it on the basis of priority based on a real good reason. And that`s the reason why you have the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

And the CDC almost invariably gives the recommendation according to what they hear from that committee.


MELBER: This is not just about blame or headlines. It`s about, of course, lives, safety, fairness, and getting the facts, so that you can have solutions if things aren`t being done as well as possible.

Now, Vice President Harris is acknowledging there is a lot more work to be done.


HARRIS: We have a whole program that now is -- that we have rolled out, getting one million vaccines to pharmacies. We are getting vaccines to community health centers, very important, to supplement what the states are doing.

We still have people dying on a daily basis, and we have got to address this. We have got to help our country heal and survive through this crisis, so we can get back on our feet.


MELBER: That`s a COVID update that we wanted to share.

Now, is the Trump brand imploding? Well, the answer is on your screen. It`s a metaphor in video, with the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City going down. We will show you more of the tape and the context before THE BEAT is over.

But, first, there are new indictments for rioters at that MAGA insurrection. We have a very special guest when we return.


MELBER: We have been covering what sometimes feels like the first big week of the President Biden era.

And we`re joined now by Senator Ben Cardin, chair of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

I say that, Senator, because you and your colleagues were understandably quite busy with the unusual, but important process of a Senate trial. That`s now behind us.

But accountability goes forward, particularly for the folks who did storm the Capitol, who, as we saw in that dramatic testimony, tried to potentially harm you and your colleagues, new indictments here that I`m going to read about, Jeffrey Sabol, Peter Stager, Michael Lopatic, willfully and knowingly engaged in acts of physical violence, assaulting police officers, according to newly unsealed charges.

Your views of this process in the courts and any takeaways from that trial where you were a Senate juror?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Ari, it`s good to be with you.

Every person that is responsible for the insurrection that occurred on January 6 should be held accountable, those that entered the building and caused physical harm, death, stole property, damaged property, and those who incited the insurrection.

So, I was very disappointed by the outcome of the impeachment trial, because it was clear that President Trump incited the insurrection. You don`t have to take my word for it. Look at what Senator McConnell said. And I, quite frankly, don`t understand why he didn`t vote for conviction.

So, everyone who was part of this insurrection needs to be held accountable.

So, these criminal indictments, I`m glad to see that we are proceeding with those people that we have good evidence were involved in this. We need to make sure that we continue this investigation, and everyone`s held accountable.

MELBER: Was McConnell suggesting that Trump should go to prison?

CARDIN: Well, it might well be. He clearly said that President Trump is now -- could be held to a criminal standard or civil action, now that he`s left the presidency.

So, yes, I think he was suggesting that there`s a way of holding him accountable, because Senator McConnell clearly said, as I think we all understand, the president was the person who caused that insurrection. He was the one incited it.

MELBER: Yes, it was really striking.

As promised, we want to get you on more than one topic, a lot of different issues here affecting Americans these days.

Student debt is one, especially during a pandemic recession. Take a listen to President Biden last night.


BIDEN: I do think that, in this moment of economic pain and strain, that we should be eliminating interest on the debts that are accumulated, number one. And, number two, I`m prepared to write off the $10,000 debt, but not $50,000.


MELBER: Then thousand dollars isn`t going to cut it for a lot of people`s outstanding debt, if the idea is to give them any fresh start.

Indeed, interestingly, Chuck Schumer, who has historically been a little bit more of a moderate Democrat, also represents Wall Street, and Elizabeth Warren linking arms today, saying, no, it`s time to act. They want a lot more than the number Biden`s putting out.

So, with you here with us, Senator, who`s right, President Biden or the Schumer-Warren plan?

CARDIN: Well, I think we have got to be bold.

There`s no question the amount of student debt that`s out there, it`s the second largest amount of debt held by Americans today. We need to provide significant relief.

But, at the same time, I want to go further. I want to help the current cost of higher education. You should not have to borrow money to go to a four-year college education in America. And we have introduced legislation, some of my colleagues have, dealing with national service and ways in which a person can go to college and not have to borrow money in order to be able to go to that college.

And I think we need to do that. At the same time, we look at how we can forgive the burdens that are already out there.

MELBER: How do you think President Biden`s doing so far? And do you have a sense with your colleagues that anything is turning a corner?

Because one of the things I have been discussing with our experts and our guests here, at least in the last two nights, is, it`s pretty striking. I don`t know anyone would have predicted such a surge for him in approval, which is a contrast to some of what your Republican colleagues have been acting like.

CARDIN: Well, Ari, the way President Biden is listening to us is so refreshing.

That`s true for Democrats and Republican members of the United States Senate. I have been to the White House to talk about the infrastructure package. He`s reached out to both Democrats and Republicans.

I think the way that he is conducting business is not only getting him a lot of just positive comments from the members of Congress, but also from the American people. We were thirsty for this type of a president, one which has the right demeanor, who levels with us, listens to us, and wants to develop policy for the whole country.

MELBER: Yes, really interesting.

Senator Ben Cardin, thanks for spending some time with us tonight, sir.

CARDIN: Ari, it`s good to be with you. Stay well.

MELBER: You too, sir.

And now we turn, as promised, to one more thing we like to sometimes get you there by the end of the night. The Trump implosion, it may have been figurative, but now it`s literal. This may be the ultimate metaphor for the Trump era.

You are looking at his very first Atlantic City hotel and casino brought down by 3,000 sticks of dynamite today. This was a scheduled demolition. You can see it crashing down with the plumes of smoke.

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small recounting that he got -- quote -- "chills" watching this icon of Trumpism crumble. In fact, last year, if you run the tape, he was telling us why he wanted it demolished.


MARTY SMALL (D), MAYOR OF ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY: It became an eyesore and, more important -- more important, an imminent safety hazard.

Any time we got a northwest wind, debris flew off the building, sheet metal, large chunks of concrete. And the last thing that we needed was someone to be severely injured or a fatality.


MELBER: And you heard it there, an eyesore and a safety hazard.

He`s talking about the building, you guys.

We`re going to fit in a break, and one more thing when we come back.


MELBER: We have been keeping an eye on all those problems out of Texas.

And before we go, we did want to share one more point that Beto O`Rourke made right here on MSNBC about the emergency.


O`ROURKE: The real problem was with coal, gas, and, to some degree, nuclear, frozen instruments and frozen supply lines.

Obviously, we need to look at some of those long-term solutions that I mentioned earlier, weatherizing, having additional capacity, joining the national grid, and then taking climate change seriously, and making policy that addresses it, and especially those communities who are on the front line of its impacts.


MELBER: In the short term, everyone looking at the emergency response, in the long term, those discussions of policy also important.

I will see you tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. You can always find me online @AriMelber on social media.