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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/11/21

Guest: Walter Isaacson, Jen Psaki, Emily Bazelon, Eleanor Clift, Juanita Tolliver


President Biden prepares to address the nation in prime time after signing the COVID relief package. Walter Isaacson discusses his new book, "The Code Breaker." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki discusses the Biden agenda.



Hi, Ari.


I`m wondering what you think is the challenge for the president tonight. You have been covering this a lot, obviously. But there is progress, and then there is so much everyone has been living through.

WALLACE: You know what? It`s so interesting how they have chosen to use his voice.

And, so far, it`s really been around two things, ICU. You know, he has had two memorial services now for those who have lost loved ones to COVID. And I think now they`re going to start to use it in this other way of, here`s how I`m trying to help you.

So, today, he signed the COVID relief bill into law. But I think they have one other administration, and that is they have redefined partnership in some ways, in that they garnered 76 percent support for this package this the country, but zero, zilch support in Washington.

So, I think his focus is going to be outside of Washington to the country, where he is more popular than among Republicans in D.C.

MELBER: All such important points.

You know, I`m thinking about that, and, particularly, because if he keeps it real with everyone, he doesn`t have to focus on recent history in the Congress, which not everyone is worried about day to day, but connecting, as you say, with the support that`s out there.


And it gets -- it will force us out of this box too of measuring whether he is successful in getting bipartisan policies through by looking to where the support is coming from. And if you have support from Republican governors and you have support from Republican mayors and you have support -- I think more than 50 percent of Republicans in the country support this package, then it`s impossible to deny him the accomplishment of governing in a bipartisan way.

MELBER: Yes, all great points. I was curious what was on your mind going into this.


WALLACE: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: And nice to see you, as always, Nicolle.

WALLACE: Nice to see you, my friend.

MELBER: Thank you. Thank you.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

We have a special show planned for you tonight, a live interview right here on THE BEAT with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. That`s coming up tonight.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden preparing to give his first prime-time address from the White House. Biden signing the COVID relief bill this afternoon, landmark legislation. As we were just discussing, it funds COVID testing, vaccines, health care, juices the economy.

Biden is going to preview what`s ahead with a lot more and, as mentioned, the numbers Nicolle and I were referring to. A Majority of Americans, 65 percent, say they support his handling of the pandemic and similar majorities support the bill.

Biden`s address comes one year to the day that the WHO declared this a pandemic.

Meanwhile, top infectious disease expert Dr. Fauci said this to Congress:


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: We will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now. Bottom line, it`s going get worse.


MELBER: It did get worse.

In the next 12 months, one in five Americans would lose someone close to them to COVID. The entire death toll in this nation stands at 530,000. Tonight, Biden addressing a weary nation that is also so hopeful right now, with vaccines now getting out to market, getting out to people.

The major COVID bill here will give concrete relief to millions, and that`s where we begin tonight.

I`m joined by my colleague Alicia Menendez, host of MSNBC`s "AMERICAN VOICES," Democratic strategist Juanita Tolliver, and Eleanor Clift, Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast.

Welcome, all.

Eleanor, I begin with you.

You have covered many presidents who have tried to come out in their first 100 days and do something. That is standard. But this is a really big something against a big challenge. I`m curious what you think and what the president has to do tonight.


To borrow Biden`s memorable phrase, it`s a big F`ing deal. And you see the networks giving him time. There is no quibble about, is this really a serious enough issue to break into our regular programing? Yes, it`s a serious issue.

And that he`s doing it before he`s going to Congress to make the first State of the Union address, which is basically signaling his attention is really on the country. And I take every point that Nicolle Wallace just made about redefining bipartisanship.

Let the Republicans nurse their grudges on Capitol Hill. He has shown that he can put together a coalition of pressure from outside Washington that enabled this to get through. And we should also mention that to keep all 50 Democrats together is an accomplishment, in and of itself.

So, I think this is a good moment for this president. And he will use it, though, gracefully, because the main point is to acknowledge the loss that we have suffered. One in three or one in five Americans have lost a family member or a friend, and to acknowledge that and then to also encourage hope and optimism, but not so over the top that everybody`s going to say, OK, it`s over.

So, I think it`s a balancing act, and he has shown a sensitivity to the tones that he needs to strike that I don`t think everybody would have imagined he would be capable of. I think it`s his strongest suit is reading the tone that he needs to set and making it easy for people who didn`t vote for him to respect him and to support what he`s trying to do. And in these divided times, that`s quite an accomplishment.

MELBER: Yes. You mentioned the people who didn`t vote for him.

We will put this up, Juanita. We have a chart where, as mentioned, a really big supermajority of American support this new bill now passing, the $1.9 trillion for Biden, but, specifically, Republicans and Trump voters. I think we have this, 55 percent, a majority of 2020 Trump voters.

Juanita, they`re coming out of not only that divisive election, but everything we know happened afterward in January. That`s a pretty striking endorsement of what Biden wants to deliver.

JUANITA TOLLIVER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: What he wants to deliver and how he wants to respond to every voters` needs.

I think Biden was explicitly clear on the campaign trail: I lead for all of you. I will represent all of you, and I will respond to all of your needs, no matter who you support in this election, and he`s followed through on that.

I think, to Eleanor`s point, this is something that GOP voters and Trump supporters can accept, because those direct deposits are going to change their lives. Those -- ability to reopen schools safely will influence their children. The fact that there will be more vaccines distributed more efficiently and at faster pace is going to change their reality.

And so that`s something that they can`t deny. And so I think the other thing we`re going the hear from Biden tonight, of course, on emphasizing with the nation as we continue to grieve this pandemic, but really emphasizing and touting the impact that he is having immediately, whether it`s those direct deposits that Jen Psaki mentioned would hit bank accounts potentially this weekend, whether it`s jobs that are no longer furloughed, like the White House released the statements from American Airlines and Amtrak that shows how employees and individuals are being helped right now.

MELBER: Alicia, we in this business and so many people who fixate on the news, we keep an eye on all of it. But there are plenty of things that escape daily notice because people are busy living their lives.

You talk about filibuster reform. That doesn`t always break through, even though we could explain why it`s important. This one is already breaking through in all sorts of ways, because people know the checks are coming. People talk about that. It`s breaking through in the culture.

Take a look at some of the ways that we were tracking this just in some of the coverage over the last night.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Something historic happened on Capitol Hill, and it wasn`t punching a cop.

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Republicans are calling it not what Dr. Seuss would have wanted.

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": One-point-nine trillion dollars, that`s like a dollar for every e-mail you got this year that started with, "In these challenging times."

JAMES CORDEN, HOST, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN": The money will be going out soon. And, really, what`s more reassuring than the phrase, don`t worry, the check`s in the mail?


COLBERT: There you go, baby. You`re rich. Buy yourself something nice, like rent or medicine.



MELBER: Jokes or not, Alicia, the jokes don`t work unless people know the punchline, which is that this is happening.

ALICIA MENENDEZ, HOST, "AMERICAN VOICES": Yes, it`s been a long time since they had good news to play with.

Listen, I think President Biden understands that this legislation isn`t going to sell itself. That`s a lesson that they learned the hard way from 2009, when a lot of Democrats felt that then President Obama didn`t really take the victory lap he deserved to take over his own recovery program.

And so, tonight, I think, yes, you`re going to hear him connecting with Americans over the shared grief and loss that we have all experienced over the past year, but then he is going to make a hard pivot to a message of hope. And I think what makes tonight different, Ari, is that that hope isn`t just rhetorical.

That hope is actually tied to policy. So, he is going to be talking about those direct payments. He is going to be talking about rental assistance. He is going to be talking about buoyed unemployment.

And I want to underscore part of what Juanita said there, which is that there is nothing Joe Biden can say that`s going hit quite as hard as someone getting their first direct payment, maybe as soon as this weekend. There is nothing Joe Biden can say that is going to provide the same type of relief that a school reopening and a parent perhaps being able to go back to work, because they`re no longer having to supervisor their child`s education.

Those things are going to be very real. So, I think part of the challenge that has already been underscored that I think is right is the fact that they cannot oversell this, because Americans are going to experience this relief at different times on a different timeline.

There is also the fact that, while much of this is happening rhetorically, connecting the dots for voters between the relief they`re feeling and the policies that Democrats pushed through, there is also the piece, Ari, they actually have to execute on all of this. Right?

They have to execute on getting those checks out. They have to execute school reopenings. They have to execute making sure that vaccine distribution continues at this pace. So, they have a lot to do that is both happening rhetorically in terms of the tour he is about to go on to really sell this plan, but then actually all of the mechanics of government continuing to work.

MELBER: Yes, and there is a lot of signs that the Republicans know this is working, including that -- no one can predict the future, but there is a great deal of experts who see the economy rebounding if this all stays on track.

Juanita, McConnell seems to acknowledge that, but then complaining about credit is the best he could come up with. Take a look.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): President Biden and his Democratic government inherited a tide that had already begun to turn toward decisive victory. Democrats just want to sprint in front of the parade and claim credit.


MELBER: Juanita?

TOLLIVER: After the GOP obstructed aid and did, let`s be real, the absolute very least for the general public, while they prioritized corporations and big businesses in 2020, it`s absolutely ridiculous to hear McConnell and others say these things.

You actively created barriers to getting this aid to the general public. And let`s be real. The only tide that Biden rode in on was the fact that people were in need, and that included Republican voters, and that`s why you see a majority of Trump supporters and GOP supporters supporting the COVID law.

It`s because they need that relief. So, McConnell can keep the salt for himself. We don`t need it. The American public is not going to respond to it. It`s wasted energy at this point, because their distraction tactics, their efforts to obstruct this legislation all failed, and, ultimately, Democrats and Biden delivered here.

MELBER: Eleanor, I`m curious of the tactics leadership style Biden used, because as our guests and Nicolle Wallace were just mentioning, the Republicans in Congress didn`t go along, despite him cornering them by winning over literally a majority of Trump voters.

I don`t know that anyone could have called that in October. And yet here we are. At the same time, Biden has done it in his style, which, if you want to borrow from Marshall McLuhan or any other scholars of communication and media, it`s not a super hot style.

He is mellow. He`s almost like the first low-key president we have had in a while. I`m curious how you that all fits in, Eleanor.

CLIFT: Well, he is not name-calling. And any support he gets from Republicans, he cheers.

Roger Wicker, the senator from Mississippi, was trying to take credit for funds going to help restaurants. You don`t hear anything from the White House calling him out for being hypocritical. They say, great, we need his support. And I think keeping that...

MELBER: Right.

CLIFT: ... veneer going is important. And you`re going hear a lot from Republicans about, who`s going pay for this?

Well, did that ask that when President Trump had his tax cuts, which was just about the same amount of money? And that went to -- $1.9 trillion, and that went to a certain portion of the American public. He boasted how rich he made his friends at Mar-a-Lago.

And so, this is going to be paid by the incredible recovery that`s going to on the way. Paul Krugman, the economist, is predicting 8 percent growth. Now, that`s not starting from zero. That`s starting from negative growth. But that`s a lot.

And so, this is going to pay for itself, just the way the deficit spending during World War II paid for itself with two generations of prosperity. This is such a significant piece of legislation. You can`t underestimate it.

But that`s not the greatest selling point to get Republicans votes, that we`re going to have this transfer of wealth and we`re going correct some of the inequality in the economy. You`re not going to get Republican votes for that.

But they`re out there with Dr. Seuss. I mean, I think they`re really cornered on this one.

MELBER: Well, and to that point, Juanita, Eleanor mentions that deficit attacks aren`t really working. There is the short-term hypocrisy of it, because the Trump administration inherited a better situation from Obama having paid down eight years and then they ballooned the deficit. So, there is no credibility.

Beyond that, even if you want to be as charitable as possible and say, OK, they`re not credible, but there are times when you worry about long-term deficits, you don`t worry about it in the middle of a pandemic that is a once-in-a-century problem, right?

Americans rightfully are not asking. How will we pay for this on a 30-year interest timeline? They`re asking, how do we pay for rent this month, how do you pay for food? Depending on where you live in the country, how do you pay for what you need to do to get through partial lockdowns, because not everywhere is back to normal.

That`s what people are worried about paying for, Juanita.

TOLLIVER: And how do we ensure that I can get vaccinated, so I don`t become part of that 530,000 people who have lost their lives in this pandemic?

The immediate need here, the fact that these wounds are going to linger, not only economically, but, Ari, think about the mental and emotional wounds that people have suffered living in isolation, or living under the stress of not knowing how you`re going to put food on the table or pay your bills, pay your mortgage, pay your rent.

These immediate needs take priority. And it was only the responsible action we have heard from economists for months and months to give a big response like this COVID bill that Biden signed into law today.


Well, look, it`s a big night for the country, big night at the White House. I`m thrilled to kick it up with Eleanor, Juanita and Alicia.

Eleanor and Juanita can always be found here on THE BEAT. Eleanor can also be found, our personal favorite, in "SNL" reruns, if you keep an eye on that kind of thing, with a fantastic impression.

And I mention this because, Alicia, on the other hand, can be found this weekend on MSNBC Saturdays and Sundays 6:00 p.m. Eastern, "AMERICAN VOICES." We recommend it.

Now, coming up in just 30 seconds, a top Trump official making a stunning admission about Trump`s responsibility for the riot. Emily Bazelon is here.

We`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: We have been covering these so-called accountability hearings dealing with January 6, because you can`t just sweep something like that under the rug.

Well, now Donald Trump`s former acting defense secretary making explosive comments today on the Capitol riot, part of the wider factual record that we need to keep an eye on. He says bluntly Trump is to blame for the insurrection.


QUESTION: Do you think the president was responsible for what happened on the 6th?

CHRISTOPHER MILLER, FORMER ACTING U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don`t know, but it seems cause and effect, yes.

The question is, would anybody has marched on the Capitol and overrun the Capitol without the president`s speech? I think it`s pretty much definitive that wouldn`t have happened. So, yes. The question is did he know that he was enraging the crowd to do that? I don`t know.


MELBER: It would not have happened without Donald Trump. That`s the view from an experienced military leader with inside access to information and a lot of experience about exactly those kinds of dangerous situations.

This comes amidst new evidence in the criminal probe we have been covering in Georgia. Here was Donald Trump on the call with a Georgia investigator. And listen for the day he mentions.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you think they will be working after Christmas to keep it going fast?

Because, you know, we have that date of the 6th, which is a very important date.


MELBER: A very important date.

This goes to the evidence about what was the conscious and intentional plot. Trump would continue with the pressure campaign.


TRUMP: Something happened. I mean, something bad happened. The people of Georgia are so angry at what happened to me. When the right answer comes out, you will be praised. They will be praised. The people will say, great.

Whatever you can do, Frances, it will be -- it`s a great thing. It`s an important thing.


MELBER: We`re joined now by Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for "The New York Times Magazine" on legal issues.

Thanks for being here.

It will take a long time and historians years more to pick through just everything that led up to January 6, let alone the rest of the era we`re living through.

But some of this evidence that comes out seems to add to the weight put together by the impeachment managers against Donald Trump. Your view?

EMILY BAZELON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": Well, I think learning of this second call that Trump made and getting the audio for it, this is not the call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that people may be familiar with.

It`s someone else in Raffensperger`s office, a lower official who is in charge of investigations. And former President Trump is clearly pressuring her to find evidence that signatures don`t match among voters in Georgia in a way that he thinks will provide what he calls the -- quote -- "right answer" and get him the precise number of votes he would need to overturn the Georgia election result in favor of President Biden.

It`s very clear that what he is asking for. She tries to kind of push him away from this subject. I think she realizes that he is on shaky legal ground here, and that is exactly what we`re hearing.


And she was at times seemingly shocked. Let`s take a listen to a bit more.


FRANCES WATSON, CHIEF INVESTIGATOR, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE`S OFFICE: I do appreciate you calling. I know that you`re a very busy, very important man, and I`m very honored that you called, and, quite frankly, I`m shocked that you would take time to do that.


MELBER: Just as a reporter and a lawyer, this is juicy stuff to be able to hear how all this was going down.

And it`s serious, but it`s also wild, because it reminds you that this is so unusual, such an obvious shakedown, reaching down to the bowels of state government, which he did in more than one place, sometimes in secretive ways, other times blatantly, that she doesn`t even pretend, although she may be a little off-balance, she doesn`t even pretend to act like this is normal.

She more tells the president I`m shocked you`re even trying this.

BAZELON: Well, imagine. You`re not even person in charge of your office. You`re a state official, and the president of the United States is taking the time to personally call you and then basically make a really big request, that you go out and help him overturn the legal results of the state election, and also saying, people will praise you, they will say it`s great, because he is seeing this through a partisan lens, not in terms of what your duties are as a public official.

MELBER: Do you think she understood it to be a request to engage in criminal acts?

BAZELON: I think that she will have to talk about her own mind-set. The fact that she was trying to steer him away from this suggests that there was something that was making her uncomfortable.

There is a statute in Georgia that the district attorney in Fulton County is now considering whether to press charges against President Trump. She is investigating. This is all public.


BAZELON: And it`s about criminal solicitation to commit election fraud. So, the question is whether someone is trying to push a public official into committing election fraud.

And I think the mind-set -- what this particular public official felt when she was listening to this does seem relevant to that investigation.

MELBER: It`s relevant. And, as you reminded us, although only she can speak to her own interpretation, this goes beyond performance, tweets, drama.

This is not a performance. This was private lobbying, shakedown efforts that he was later busted for, later recorded. We don`t know how many other efforts might not have been contemporaneously recorded. And that speaks to whether this was -- and, as you say, they`re investigating whether it was an actual criminal plot.

The president, like everyone else, has any right to air grievances about losing. Trying to cheat to win afterward is something -- would be something else.

Emily Bazelon, thank you.

BAZELON: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Always great to have you. `

As I have mentioned and as you probably know, this is a big night at the White House, the president addressing the nation a year after this pandemic began.

We have a special interview with a best-selling author and expert, Walter Isaacson -- you have probably heard about him -- about what he sees as the good news to come based on years of his scholarship.

And, tonight, our special big interview, White House Secretary Jen Psaki on THE BEAT live.


MELBER: All eyes on the White House, where President Biden will give his first prime-time address as the nation`s president. That`s 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, touting progress after a challenging year, which sometimes felt all of the sudden we were living in a dystopian tragedy, transforming daily life in ways that some pioneering thinkers have actually warned about.


BILL GATES, CO-CHAIR, BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION: In this video, you`re going to see the future. Windows.

STEVE JOBS, CO-FOUNDER, APPLE: I`d like to show you Macintosh in person.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone. And we are calling it iPhone.

GATES: If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it`s most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war.

The magic of software, the Internet, the ability to look at data, let scientists collaborate, technology has done some phenomenal things.


MELBER: Some of the people who have shaped our future, also seem to see it coming.

And that`s the theme we want to get into with acclaimed journalist, a bestselling author, what we call a famous person in the news, Walter Isaacson. He has written about these leading thinkers across centuries, Albert Einstein, da Vinci, his famous book on Steve Jobs.

And he has a new one, "The Code Breaker," about the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Jennifer Doudna, whose groundbreaking research may help move from vaccines to cures to combat future viruses.

Thanks for being here on a big night.

WALTER ISAACSON, AUTHOR, "THE CODE BREAKER": Hey, thank you, Ari. It`s really nice of you to have me.

MELBER: How do some of these thinkers see around the corner in ways that, as you write, may help us actually deal with what`s around the corner?

ISAACSON: Well, I think the first quality is basic curiosity.

From Leonardo da Vinci to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and then Jennifer Doudna, they`re just curious about things we were curious about when we were in our wonder years, we were 10 or 11. Then some grownup told us to quit asking so many dumb questions.


ISAACSON: And we lose that ability to say, why is the sky blue, or why are there these sequences and bacteria and those type of things, and basic curiosity leads to sort of the research that becomes discoveries and becomes an invention, like the vaccine we have for COVID now.

MELBER: What is key in getting to cures from your research and writing about this?

ISAACSON: You know, we`re using these vaccines to stimulate our immune system, which works fine.

In fact, we have this coating of RNA that says, all right, build that spike protein in your cell and then it`ll stimulate your immune system, so we won`t get coronavirus as easily.

But with wave after wave of virus, we`re going to have to have a couple of other things that will help us fight it off. One is, we have to just be able to attack the virus directly. That`s what CRISPR does. It`s a technique bacteria have used for more than a billion years. And it`s what Jennifer Doudna helped to reengineer, so that we humans could use it to edit our genes.

But it can also be used with sort of enzyme scissors to kill viruses directly, which is a little bit safer than stimulating our immune system. Also, CRISPR can be used to detect the viruses, which is very important, because we`re not very good at detection. We need home detection kits at every morning, like taking your temperature, you can sort of say, what viruses, what bacteria, by the way, what cancer cells might be in my body?

Those are the things that are going to be the great waves of the future.

MELBER: Walter, stay with me.

I`m actually -- we`re getting a little bit of breaking news on tonight speech related to the same topic we`re discussing, the virus.

This is coming into MSNBC right now. A senior administration official tells U.S. President Biden will announce tonight all adult Americans will now be eligible for the vaccine no later than May 1. That`s a new date that will come in tonight`s presidential address.

President Biden says he will direct all states and territories to make all adults able, eligible to sign up by May 1. We have heard about the other timeline, that, by the end of may, there will be enough supply for all adults.

This is some of the types of material information we`re getting about the big speech tonight. We`re also told from government sources that the president will say that, if everyone does their part, the government could see a return to a type of normalcy by July 4, specifically welcoming a good chance that family and friends would be under federal guidelines allowed to gather in small groups for the July 4 holiday.

Again, big news that we`re going to hear more about in tonight`s address from President Biden. May 1 is federal eligibility for the vaccine, official, formal, and a goal of small gatherings sanctioned, supported by federal policy if people do their part.

Walter Isaacson has been here discussing the future.

This is the immediate and near future, Walter. But you have covered so many stories like this. Sometimes, the government ends up moving things back. Clearly, President Biden is using tonight`s speech not only to do an anniversary, which was expected, but they say, based on the scientific progress, the medical progress, to move some things up.

ISAACSON: This is great.

Over and over again in the past couple of months, we keep getting good news. The vaccines work better than we thought. We`re going to have more vaccines faster than we thought. We`re having a rollout.

These vaccines are a miracle. They`re just easy to reprogram if ever we get a variant. And it was so fast over the past nine months that they were able to develop it.


ISAACSON: So, the scientists in Operation Warp Speed, everybody involved in this deserves credit.

But I love the way Biden is putting his foot on the accelerator. Jeff Zients, who you know well, is the person coordinating this, making sure even that companies like Merck work with Johnson & Johnson so we can get more vaccines out. So, you have an incredibly competent team there led by the president and people like Jeff Zients.

MELBER: Walter Isaacson, who has profiled and documented so many of these related issues, giving us a peek into your new work, as well as hanging with us in the breaking news, thank you for both, sir.

ISAACSON: Hey, great. Well, it`s good to have breaking news that`s good for change.

MELBER: I know. I like good breaking news, personally. I have that same opinion.

Thank you, Walter.

Up next: With the president getting ready for this prime-time address, we have, as promised, our live interview with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki next.


MELBER: We`re back covering breaking news in on President Biden`s forthcoming speech.

We`re two hours out from what will be his first prime-time address to the nation as president. And the news we got moments ago into the newsroom, the president is directing all states to make all adult Americans eligible for the vaccine by May 1.

The president also expected to explain that, if everyone does their part, we could see a type of normal by July 4, with small group gatherings sanctioned by federal guidance for that holiday.

All of this comes after the president has signed the landmark $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill into law today.

In these first 50 days in office, President Biden has been leading, and he has been supported by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, one of the most visible faces of this new administration. We have seen her at the White House Briefing Rooms.

And now she makes her debut on THE BEAT on this big night at the White House.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, thanks for making time.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Great to be here. It`s my first time on THE BEAT. I`m so excited. Thanks for having me.

MELBER: It`s true. We`re thrilled to have you.

This news has just come out in this hour. And, of course, we will hear more from the president tonight.

What can you tell us, though, about these announcements?

PSAKI: Well, the president is going to speak, as you noted, Ari, in about an hour-and-a-half to the American people.

He will certainly talk about the last year that we have all been through as a country, which has been a sacrifice for millions of Americans. We have, of course, lost more than 500,000 lives; 10 million people have lost their jobs.

But he will also provide an update on all of the work his administration has been doing, his team, to operationalize and ensure that there are more vaccines out there, more vaccinators, more vaccine sites.

And, as you just noted, he will also make a pretty significant announcement, which is that he is directing states to ensure that all adult Americans are eligible to receive the vaccine by May 1.

And we are certainly hopeful that people will hear that, they will be hopeful, and they will look forward to getting the vaccine and hopefully returning to normal soon.

MELBER: Yes, May 1 is pretty soon.

Can you tell us what accounts for moving up this timeline?

PSAKI: Well, he`s been focused, as his team has, as his COVID coordinator has, been on getting more supply. It`s been a supply issue in a lot of states.

And I know you have talked about this, Ari, governors wanting more supply, pharmacies wanting more supply. And we have now -- he has now ordered enough supply for -- to have enough supply for the -- all of the American adults, American people, by the end of May.

But we know and we believe that we will be able to expedite this, states will be able to expedite it to ensure that we can move it up even further, that Americans can get access to the vaccine, get vaccinated, get their first dose, and hopefully their second dose soon after, to, again, live lives like we did about a year-and-a-half ago.

MELBER: We`re also seeing, as you know better than anyone, because you`re in charge of a lot of what comes out of the White House, Jen, these other related announcements, pursuant to the May 1 announcement, which I think is big for everyone, doubling the number of mass vaccination centers to try to try to deal with some of this inequality issue, and pushing vaccinations for educators.

Those both sound new. What can you tell us about that?

PSAKI: Well, that`s exactly right, Ari.

And last week, the president, we made an announcement that teachers would be prioritized. He certainly feels that teachers, educators are providing an essential service to our nation`s children. And, as a mom myself, I couldn`t agree with that more.

Vaccination sites and doubling them, as you noted, he knows that we need to meet people in their communities, meet people where they are, make it as easy as humanely possible to get this vaccine.

So, part of his effort has been getting more vaccines -- and, again, we`re going to have enough supply to vaccinate all adult Americans very soon -- to get more vaccinators, more people who can actually do the injection, who can vaccinate people around the country, but also sites, because he knows everybody doesn`t have a car.

Everybody -- some people are looking for ways to get to a vaccination site. So, he is going to open more vaccination centers, increase mobile clinics. And these are all steps we`re working to implement as quickly as possible.

MELBER: And on the public health messaging, Jen, is the July 4 announcement important because it gives somebody -- gives everybody something to look forward to?

It doesn`t seem as central as these other things. But you`re sort of telling people, hang on and, by that classic American holiday, maybe we can have gatherings again.

PSAKI: Yes, Ari, I think the president feels that we all need a little hope and something to look forward to and something to incentivize continued sacrifice.

He will make very clear in his speech that that is going to require -- to get to the point where you can have a barbecue in your backyard and I can have a barbecue in my backyard, we`re going to have to keep our masks on, socially distance, encourage our friends, neighbors, cousins, anyone who is hesitant about getting the vaccine that it`s safe, that it`s effective.

There`s a lot of steps we need to take. But that sure does give us a good vision of what`s possible if we take all those steps. And it was important to him to lay out a possibility of what the light at the end of the tunnel looks like.


I`m curious, given that this is such a big victory and a big bill -- and we have been covering that -- and I think our viewers have heard that it`s got broad support. It`s got overwhelming Republican voter support. It`s got, in a new poll, 55 percent of Trump voters` support.

Do you view this, ultimately, as a bipartisan triumph because so many Republicans around the country support it, separate from what happened in Congress?

PSAKI: Well, we don`t think bipartisanship, as you alluded to, is defined by one zip code.

And I don`t think most of the American people do either. And the vast majority of the American public supported this. The majority of Republicans supported this package. And it`s not really a surprise. I mean, it gives, provides direct checks, $1,400 direct checks, to almost 160 million Americans.

It ensures that more schools can reopen, because there will be the funding to do that. It`s more funding to do exactly what the president will outline in his speech tonight, to expedite vaccines, to get more vaccinators. These are things that are impacting people across the country, blue states, red states, Republicans, independents, people who don`t even vote.

And we know that, and we feel like the president is delivering on some of his first promises to the American people with the signing of this bill today.


We wanted to also ask you about the process, because this has been such a big bill. And you`re central. You`re on the inside. So, I know, in government, people like to say, well, it all worked out, credit President Biden, end of story.

But there`s been some interesting reports, including some confirmed by your colleague White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and others, about the collaborative process.

For example, in "The New York Times," they talked about how some of the early poverty programs and some of the child tax programs might not have been in the first draft, but they welcomed those ideas from members of Congress.

We just spoke to Congresswoman DeLauro, who talked about saying that it wasn`t -- the child program wasn`t in there first. Now it`s in there.


MELBER: Take a listen what she told us.


REP. ROSA DELAURO (D-CT): And the child tax credit was not in it.

So I picked up the phone. I talked to Ron Klain. Within about 24 hours, they came back and said, it`s in. We are going to put the child tax credit in.

We are going to lift millions of children and their families out of poverty with the stroke of the pen.

We`re going to make this permanent. The president said it. So...


MELBER: Jen, number one, what can you tell us about President Biden`s policy process here, if he is bringing these new ideas.

And, two, can you confirm what the congresswoman said on the child care program? Is that going to be permanent?

PSAKI: Well, the president wants it to be permanent. He talked about that on the campaign.

And what a great idea by the congresswoman to propose that it`s in the package. And, certainly, benefiting from the child tax credit, up to $3,600, that is huge for so many parents and families across the country. And they`re going start to see those benefits soon.

So, we will have to look for what the vehicle is to make it permanent. The president believes it should be part of a permanent package. And it`s one of those also proposals where we have talked a lot about from here the impact of this pandemic on women, and women dropping out of the work force. And a big impact there is child care, and the lack of child care, ability to cover the cost of child care.

And, certainly, the child tax credit is an effort to try to address that. So we will keep fighting for it, absolutely.

MELBER: Yes. I want to turn to something broader.

Jen, you, like myself, like a lot of our viewers, can nerd out on policy, how it works, and how it hopefully addresses...

PSAKI: Totally. I am ready to nerd out at any time, Ari, with you.

MELBER: I don`t doubt it.


MELBER: But I also wanted to take a moment, as we in the news are gearing up for this big speech, to think about something that`s bigger than policy, that`s nonpartisan.

Joe Biden, we all know, as Americans, what he`s lived through. And it`s so noticeable, the way he addresses the country and a time, as we reported tonight, one out of five Americans know someone close who has died, "The New York Times" reporting deadliest year in American history.

When you just hear those words, it`s hard to sink in.

So, I want to play a little bit of the way Joe Biden has shared empathy in the past and ask you about that part of tonight`s speech for Americans who may not be following every little piece of policy.

Let`s take a look.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I see enormous pain in this country.

I think empathy is a critically important thing.

I know the pain that so many of you experience, experiencing right now, starting by sitting down for breakfast this morning and staring at an empty chair around the kitchen table where a loved one used to sit, laugh, talk about how you loved one another.


MELBER: Final question before we lose you.

What have you learned about Joe Biden as a person working for him? And what part of that might we see in this address tonight?

PSAKI: Well, I can tell you from -- I get to work here every day, and I`m so lucky and fortunate that I have that opportunity to do that.

And I get to work for a president who feels that empathy in his bones. You know, that is who he is in public, but it`s also who he is in private. And I saw him going through a number of drafts of this speech over the last week.

And he`s really focused on making sure he is capturing what the country went through, you know, the lives lost, the cousins lost, the friends lost, the job loss. And it`s just been an enormous period of sacrifice for the public.

And, tonight, I think people will see that injection of empathy, really understanding what people have been through or trying to understand what people have been through and trying to give them hope about what`s possible in the future.

And that`s absolutely who he is behind closed doors too. So, I can certainly assure your viewers of that.

MELBER: All very striking in a tough time, but a time where, with the announcements you just shared with us and some of what we have been hearing, looking around the corner.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, thanks for being here. I hope you will come back.

PSAKI: Thanks for having me, absolutely.

MELBER: Thank you, Jen.

Coming up, as mentioned, not a single Republican in Congress voted for this relief bill, so why are some trying to take credit for it?

And we are continuing our special coverage and any other late-breaking news we get, as the nation prepares for this president`s first national address.

You`re watching MSNBC.


MELBER: We have covered the policy, the numbers, the new announcements. We heard right from the White House.

But to the politics, Democrats are predicting one thing about the Biden stimulus, that even Republicans who voted to stop it will then try to take credit for it.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Unfortunately, Republicans, as I say, vote no and take the dough.

REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D-KY): They`re going to show up at every ribbon-cutting, every project that`s funded out of this bill, and they`re going to pump up their chest and take credit.


MELBER: One Republican senator -- this was mentioned earlier in our hour -- is tweeting about his approval for what the bill will do for his state ,without mentioning, inconveniently, he tried to stop that.

Nothing new here. President Obama talked about Republicans doing the same trick over his stimulus in `09.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of the very same folks in Congress who opposed the Recovery Act and claim that it hasn`t worked, have been all too happy to claim credit for Recovery Act projects and the jobs those projects have produced.


OBAMA: They come to the ribbon-cuttings. And...


OBAMA: They found a way to have their cake and vote against it too.



MELBER: Come to the ribbon-cuttings?

He`s talking about people like then Congressman Gingrey, who voted no on the bill, who tried to stop that Obama money, but then posed with a stimulus check at a local project.

Mike Castle similarly posed with a stimulus check in his home state. And a member of Republican leadership, Eric Cantor, shaking hands at a job fair that he organized where half of the jobs on offer were funded by the same Obama/Biden stimulus.

Sometimes, history does echo. But the hypocrisy, well, it may get caught more this time, with Democrats warning that everybody knows these are Biden checks. Republicans better check themselves if they`re trying to take credit.

We have more on Biden`s speech coming up after the break.


MELBER: We are now one hour out from President Biden`s first address to the nation since becoming president. He will mark this one-year anniversary of COVID becoming a pandemic.

And as we were just discussing with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, he has news to make. We are getting previews that he will announce May 1 as an eligibility date for all adults to get the vaccine in America, as well as new efforts to deal with inequality in the vaccine, to allow for gatherings on July 4, and to prioritize educators for vaccines.

One more note. Tonight, after that address, Chris Hayes hosts a special live edition from the Lincoln Memorial. He will be covering the president`s speech with reaction. So, you want to tune in to "The Year We Meet Again" 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

And don`t go anywhere right now, because our special coverage continues with "THE REID REPORT" -- excuse me -- "THE REIDOUT" with my colleague Joy Reid.