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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/23/21

Guests: Chai Komanduri, Tom Sullivan, Daniella Gibbs Leger

Summary

In Boulder, Colorado, a shooter guns down and kills 10 people at a grocery store. What could gun reform in America look like? President Biden bolsters the Affordable Care Act. President Biden finds his new administration facing a familiar dilemma, how to enforce immigration laws and uphold human rights.

Transcript

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.

Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Alex. Thank you for your reporting and for those stories.

I want to welcome everybody to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

We begin tonight with the investigation and the other mourning that is going on in America, the mourning in Boulder, Colorado, after that shooter massacred 10 people at a grocery store.

The suspect out of the hospital, in police custody, 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. Investigators still working on a motive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL DOUGHERTY, BOULDER COUNTY, COLORADO, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Why did this happen? We don`t have the answer to that yet. And the investigation is in the very early stages and the investigators are working hard to determine that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Authorities say all 10 victim victims had been identified, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends.

The ages, well, they range across basically all of adult America from 20 to 65. It includes a police officer, Eric Talley, the first responder to get inside the store. He was a father of seven. Colleagues say he loved his kids and family more than anything, that his entire life and career was about serving the community, which he so clearly did here.

We are also seeing more footage that does show some of the horror and the chaos which ensued during the shooting. This is journalism. This is what happened.

We also have to warn you, as we take stock tonight, that this video is disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN SCHILLER, EYEWITNESS: Oh, my God. Guys, we got people down inside King Soopers. Look. Look, there`s...

(GUNSHOT)

SCHILLER: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And there are the heart-wrenching stories from survivors and witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the gunshots. And we had to get out of there as quick as possible.

RYAN BOROWSKI, WITNESS: This feels like the safest spot in America. And I just nearly got killed for getting a soda.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just didn`t want him to be too tall and become like a moving target.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The shooter is inside. He just shot at us twice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were just doing the fastest fire drill you have ever seen, single file.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ran into my co-worker, put her into a corner, put some trash cans to cover her and protect her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn`t have believed that if I hadn`t seen it and heard it myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The defendant, Alissa, taken into custody by police after he was stripped of his clothes, basically down to his shorts. That`s that video we first reported on here on MSNBC last evening.

And he was shot through in his upper and right thigh. Law enforcement sources tell NBC that he has a history of mental illness. He was armed with an assault-style rifle. President Biden has ordered flags lowered to half- staff in honor the victims and is speaking directly, no pause, no wait, speaking immediately, arguing now is the time to act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take commonsense steps that will save the lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act.

This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We`re joined by Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, and Daniella Gibbs Leger with the Center for American Progress.

Frank, we are here doing this again. It is a grim task. And yet to not do it would be worse. So, whether it is as journalists, as analysts, as citizens around the country, do this thing again that we do day after day, when we go through mass shootings.

Walk us through first your view of the law enforcement situation, which I just mentioned some of the high points in what we know, as well as your view as a law enforcement expert on what the president said about the need to act.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, so the irony -- there`s a double irony here.

First, it was a Colorado mass shooting that pivoted law enforcement on strategy to respond to this. And by that, I mean it used to be contain the threat and then wait for SWAT. But because of the Columbine High School shooting, we see officers now going in first to neutralize and engage the threat and save lives.

And that is precisely what it appears Officer Eric Talley did. The massive response is well-rehearsed, sadly. They train for this, county, state, federal all coming in, all how to clear a building. We`re good at that. And it`s sad that we are.

With regard to actions that need to be taken, we do have this conversation repeatedly. If there`s any hope at all, Ari, there are two pending bills right now facing the Senate already passed by the House. I consider these to be a no-brainer first steps that no one should take a partisan issue with, but rest assured they will.

What are those two things? First, close the private sale loophole. You shouldn`t be able to escape a background investigation because you`re buying your gun at a gun show or from the guy down the block.

Secondly, let`s attack the Mother Emanuel Church AME Church Dylann Roof scenario, where the shooter in that scenario was allowed to purchase a gun. Why? Because it took too long to resolve a discrepancy in his background check. So, the law says you default giving that guy his gun. Let`s change that and default to resolving the discrepancy before we give the guy the gun.

There`s hope, if the Senate will simply take this seriously.

MELBER: And, Frank, just for the clarity of what we`re trying to understand here, when you say that and your view here, is that with your law enforcement cap on, that you think those kind of measures would be public safety-enhancing, would be good for the public and for law enforcement?

FIGLIUZZI: Oh, there`s no -- yes, I am saying that with 25 years of law enforcement experience. And my colleagues at state, federal levels believe the same with regard to closing that private sale loophole.

No responsible gun owner wants people who shouldn`t have a gun to get a gun. That background check helps weed out people with mental health problems, people with felony violence problems. That is what keeps people from getting guns who shouldn`t have gun -- have a gun.

That`s all we`re talking about these two pending bills. And, yes, most responsible law enforcement officers support those bills.

MELBER: Daniella, Senator Cruz was speaking out on this today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): The senator from Connecticut just said, it`s time for us to do something.

I agree. It is time for us to do something. And every time there`s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater, where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Daniella, it used to be that there was a kind of a waiting period after a shooting, partly because I think political groups and the NRA would say that it was wrong to discuss policy the day of, the day after, kind of a made-up thing.

That`s really gone by the wayside, because there may be shootings where, as Senator Cruz says, a change in the law would not prevent the shooting, for example, a shooting with a weapon that is not up for potential -- for potentially being taken out of the market.

This is one where this is exactly the kind of weapon that could be removed, which might have reduced the body count. That`s what experts say. Your view on where this is headed in Washington as a debate right now?

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes I think that (AUDIO GAP) just because law won`t prevent all crimes from happening doesn`t mean it (AUDIO GAP).

And universal background checks is one of those rare things in American politics where you have the majority of Americans, almost 90 percent, support universal background checks. So, this is a truly bipartisan bill and -- within the country.

Now, what happens in the Senate is different, because you have some senators who are still beholden to what I would call a very weakened gun lobby at the moment. So, the time is now have this conversation.

And, unfortunately (AUDIO GAP) in this country that we`re having this conversation constantly. But the time is now to have the conversation and to move these bills (AUDIO GAP) it will stop some. And that (AUDIO GAP)

MELBER: Frank, let me read a little bit from former President Obama`s statement. He pushed hard on this issue.

Biden was part of that administration, as we all know, saying: "It`s past time to fight this epidemic of gun violence. It takes time to root out the disaffection, the racism, misogyny that fuels so many of the senseless acts of violence. But we can make it harder for those with hate in their hearts to buy weapons of war. We can overcome opposition by cowardly politicians and the pressure of the gun lobby that opposes any limit on the ability of anyone to assemble an arsenal. We can and we must," as strong language as we have heard of him.

I mentioned that he spoke quite -- pushed quite hard on it as president, but this is particularly strong coming from him.

FIGLIUZZI: Well, look, I don`t even view what has been proposed by President Obama, President Biden and others as gun control.

I view the simplest of background checks as people control, controlling the people who should not have guns and keeping them from getting those guns. And there`s a -- let`s not forget there`s a mental health component to this as well. And it may well be that it`s developing in the Boulder shooting, which is a background check for most states also stops people from getting a gun because of certain adjudications of mental health issues that should preclude them from getting a gun.

This just makes good sense. And it`s why it should happen. Boulder tried to do this as a city, Ari. They passed the law, as you know, outlawing assault weapons and extended magazines. And just days ago, a state judge in Colorado said you can`t have a city law that interferes or conflicts with a state law that permits these guns.

The gun that police referred to in the arrest affidavit in Boulder is a Ruger that looks a lot like an assault weapon and looks like it would have violated the Boulder law, if it had allowed -- been allowed to remain in effect.

MELBER: Frank and Daniella, I want to thank both of you for kicking us off.

We have more in this segment of the broadcast.

Vice President Harris weighing in on the tragedy and remembering the fallen officer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just tragic. It`s absolutely tragic. It`s tragic, 10 people who were going about their day, living their lives, not bothering anybody, a police officer who was performing his duties, and with great courage and heroism, seven children, I understand.

It`s tragic. It`s tragic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: These are well-known to be longstanding issues. Indeed, the Democrats in the United States Senate had a previously scheduled hearing on gun violence today. This was going to be a topic anyway, some people getting emotional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): America woke today to another nightmare, stunning, shocking, savage, but unsurprising.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): We face a pandemic or coronavirus. We have another epidemic in America called guns.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This Senate will be different. The Senate is going to debate and address the epidemic of gun violence in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We turn to our next special guest, Colorado state Representative Tom Sullivan.

Now, we should note that Tom`s son Alex was tragically killed in the 2012 Aurora shooting in Colorado.

First of all, thank you for being here.

STATE REP. TOM SULLIVAN (D-CO): Thank you for having me.

MELBER: What fills your mind, your heart going through this, both as a parent, a fellow citizen, as well as now someone in policy who I know cares a lot about this?

T. SULLIVAN: Well, I just came out of a committee hearing that we`re having here in Colorado to enact reporting of lost and stolen firearms.

That bill has already passed on our Senate side. It is moving over to the House side. So, we`re doing the work and have been doing the work.

And that`s the important part about why I`m here. I had tried talking to legislators, tried talking to congressmen. We went to Washington, D.C. We tried to get our voices heard. Things weren`t happening. And then it was, OK, enough is enough. I need to get on the inside and help to make some of these laws.

And that`s what we`re doing.

MELBER: Yes, would you say this is one of your main missions in public office, is to try to get, at least at the local level, where you are, get some action to make America safer from the epidemic of gun violence?

T. SULLIVAN: Absolutely. Yes, I ran on that in a district, a red district. My wife and I have lived in Centennial, Colorado for 29 years. A Democrat had never won that seat before.

We knocked on over 60,000 doors. I personally knocked on 9,000 of those doors. And I told those people, should I -- I told them who I was, told them who my son was and said, should I get elected, I will run an extreme risk protection order on day one.

We got elected. We ran that bill. We passed that law. And, quite frankly, I mean, that law is working, OK? I mean, you want to talk about that things aren`t working. This past month, we had 12 extreme risk protection petitions were filed. That is taking guns away from those who are going to be a danger to themselves or others.

So, it is working. We saved the lives doing that. And we`re going to continue to do that kind of work to save more lives.

MELBER: And this came into your family. What do you say to your fellow community members who are dealing with this now? We just heard the vice president put it out in the personal terms, people who were just trying to go through their day, and now their families and their lives irrevocably changed, shattered.

What do you say to them as they go through a process that you and your family have gone through?

T. SULLIVAN: Yes, I know exactly what yesterday afternoon was like. I know what it was to -- they apparently took buses to the C.U. Event Center. And that`s where they were taking victims and dropping them off. And that`s where the parents and those went to.

I mean, that was our Gateway High School. That was Newtown`s fire station. That`s where you went. So, I know what they dealt with, continuing to move through that building because you couldn`t find your loved ones, and then waiting until you got that confirmation.

This is going to be a lifetime of pain that you`re going to be dealing with. And in these first couple of days, what you need to do is make sure that you get ahold of those that you trust and those that you love, because those are the people who are going to be here for you after the cameras leave, after the lights are out, when you`re just sitting in on your back porch with you and one of your friends.

That`s who`s going to be there. So, you need to be with those people now.

MELBER: Yes, understood.

State Representative Tom Sullivan, I appreciate you being able to speak out, share with us your experience, the work you`re doing.

Thank you, sir.

T. SULLIVAN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

MELBER: Absolutely.

We have our shortest break, but coming up in just 30 seconds: Joe Biden is making big news on Obamacare. We have that story and, tonight, a special report.

We`re back in just 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Welcome back.

We have been talking about a couple of different public health epidemics tonight.

Well, turning to COVID, many countries did handle it better than the United States. And that`s for reasons that we know go deeper than simply who was in charge of a given state or area or even the White House.

Indeed, many other nations have universal health care, which is a plus when you have a public health crisis. America does not yet fully have that, although about 20 million more Americans got health access recently, thanks to Obamacare over the past 11 years or so. Indeed, we are now at the 11th anniversary of the ACA,

President Biden was out in Ohio today. And he touted not only as COVID relief bill, but also was speaking about the way it builds on Obamacare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: God forbid you`re sitting on the edge of a hospital bed with someone you love, like I do have my son Beau as he was dying, and all you have to think about is, all they have to think about is getting better, not what happens if an insurance company could come in, like they did before Obamacare, and say, sorry, you have outrun your coverage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And the fact is, Obamacare has been working.

This year, over 200,000 Americans were able to enroll during this public health pandemic crisis. Biden has also lengthened to that enrollment period into mid-August, and President Obama adding this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our success in the past should not be a source of complacency, but rather an inspiration for us to keep on going until every single person in America has the kind of coverage that they need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It`s a story of policy, but also of politics and what it took to get here.

And we`re joined now by Eugene Daniels, Politico`s White House correspondent and an MSNBC political contributor.

Thanks for joining me on THE BEAT.

EUGENE DANIELS, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

MELBER: Absolutely.

I mentioned politics, because everyone lived through this. The thing was originally called Obamacare partly by critics who thought they might make it more divisive or saddle it. No matter what you call it, it`s working. And of the two million or so plus people who lost employer-based health care during the pandemic, for reasons we all know -- a lot of jobs were lost -- 85 percent were only eligible for health care because of Obamacare.

Otherwise, they would have been totally out of luck. Your view of where the politics go for this in Washington, as Biden tries to really supersize it?

DANIELS: Yes.

What`s interesting about the ACA is that it`s still around, right, like after all of the back-and-forth, and the attacks, and, honestly, the improbability of it actually ever happening to begin with. And you kind of talked about this a little bit, but it`s more popular now than when it was passed because people are calling it the ACA, and it`s not being called Obamacare, and President Obama isn`t in office.

And so it isn`t tied directly to politics, right? And something that also we have seen is that Republicans have been unable, completely unable to repeal and, most importantly, replace it.

We heard over and over during the Trump years that there was some kind of plan, some kind of health care plan. It was always coming soon. And the Trump presidency is over, and we never saw that.

And so what Biden has in his belt right now is that we are, unfortunately, in this pandemic where more than 500,000 people in this country have died, and, like you talked about, those people losing their health care. So it is a real life thing that they can point to, the Biden administration, to say we have to continue on this, right?

He`s talked about, even while he was running for president, building on the ACA. And that`s exactly what he has, because he`s -- how he`s handled the pandemic, the AP -- the AARP, and his popularity, all of that those numbers and his numbers are so high.

So, he has a lot of political capital that he can use to bolster the ACA right now.

MELBER: Yes, you make a great point that it wasn`t just whether Republicans had an alternative that was as popular. It was they never really had an actual alternative. It`s sort of -- it`s sort of like the next Kendrick Lamar album, that you wait for long enough. If it doesn`t hit, you start to wonder, is it really there?

(LAUGHTER)

DANIELS: Right.

MELBER: And they had that issue.

I want to play a little bit more of President Obama. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: That`s what the American Rescue Plan has now done, building on the success we had in 2009-2010, slowly consolidating, protecting, and now building and making even better the kind of health care that we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: At the end of the day, it`s a success story. But it`s one of gradualism.

Walk us through, as one of our Washington experts, what you see to Biden`s left, which is really a stampede towards Democrats wanting what we would call universal or call it Medicare for all or whatever the mechanism. It`s way more Western European-style coverage and not this gradualism.

DANIELS: Absolutely.

Like, the gradualism is not something that people on the left want to hear. When you ask them about it, they say, why wait? And what`s interesting, while Biden has more has the -- his argument to bolster the ACA, also, people on the left, but because of COVID, can bolster their argument that it`s more important, right?

And what we hear when I talk to them, it`s more important than ever before, they say, to get Medicare for all, to do universal health care in some way, and quickly, because we talked -- we`re talking -- we have been talking to health experts over the last year about this pandemic.

And what we keep hearing is that this is not the only one that we`re going to see in our lifetimes, right?

MELBER: Yes.

DANIELS: And so how Democrats especially, because Democrats are the party that believes that the government should have a hand in health care, so how do Democrats use that to their advantage politically?

And, most importantly, when you have someone like Joe Biden in office, who does -- who ran on simply bolstering the ACA, when many other people talked about Medicare for all -- and Bernie Sanders, who was the last person standing in that primary, is -- was the biggest champion of that.

Like, I don`t think they`re going to be able to push him on that issue. And you also have a presidency where there`s so many other things happening.

So, whether or not we get to a more universal health care system, it`s hard to see it happening within the first four years of the Biden presidency, honestly.

MELBER: All interesting, and thanks for keeping an eye on all of it for us.

Eugene, I`d love to have you back on THE BEAT, sir.

DANIELS: Oh, any time. Thanks so much for having me.

MELBER: Great. Well, we will see you again.

Thanks to Eugene Daniels.

Now, coming up, we have a lot more on tonight`s show.

Trump`s lawyer making a defense that really hurts her and Donald Trump. We have that for you with a legal fact-check later tonight.

But coming up right after this break, it`s one of our special reports. We`re going to get into what you need to know about assault rifles, about mass shootings, and about why there may be a path to something better than what we`re living through.

That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Welcome back to our special report.

The killings in Boulder, Colorado, were massive, 10 shot dead in minutes. It`s a tool that is unusual in most countries, but pretty common in the U.S.

That`s because this alleged killer used an AR-15-style rifle, a weapon that is explicitly for going on offense, not self-defense, and was the weapon of choice in a quarter of the last 80 mass shootings in America.

Authorities say this alleged shooter`s massacre followed the grim pattern of those who aim to kill a large number of people quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They tied for weapons to him, an AR-15 assault rifle, a sawed-off shotgun, and two Glock handguns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s carrying two handguns and a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The two guns used in the shooting, a handgun and an AR- 15-style rifle like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That sounds like an AR-15. And then, sure enough, I mean, it was an automatic rifle, without a doubt.

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: Killed victims as young as 18 months, babies, with a semiautomatic rifle, an AR-15.

MELBER: Police say he used an AR-15 assault rifle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle and three handguns like these.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We have all been living through this.

There are many different aspects to America`s gun problem. But our special report right now is on the AR-15, because the AR-15 is so deadly, and because it is so unusual that this kind of militarized weapon is so available on demand in America.

And we`re talking about this because, according to many experts, this aspect of the gun problem, the AR-15 in America, is very fixable, as a public health risk to you and your family.

Take Army veteran, policy-maker, and Congressman Anthony Brown. He told us what these weapons are for, the military context, in an interview just after two mass shootings in 2019.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ANTHONY BROWN (D-MD): These are the very types of weapons that were issued to me when I went to Iraq, when my colleagues went to Afghanistan. They were issued to us so that we could do a very important mission, if called to do, and that`s the kill people.

They are designed to inflict as much harm and casualty and death as is humanly possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s the military history. The facts and the history are instructive.

Please keep in mind, everything I`m about to tell you now in this special report is about the facts of this particularly dangerous weapon. It is not a critique of every possible tool that one might use for self-defense. It`s just the actual track record of this dangerous weapon that now was used to gun down 10 more people in America just yesterday.

The prototypes for AR-15s were first tested in Vietnam. The government viewed them as fast, deadly weapons of war. And that entire program was initially secret, some of the files classified until the 1980s.

It was run by a Pentagon agency that explores new technologies for war, as well as other types of developments. It also worked on the framework for the Internet.

Now, what did people with Vietnam combat experience think at the time of those experiments, trying out a new killing machine? Well, we now know. They had never before witnessed the kinds of devastating wounds inflicted by the AR-15, leaving quite an impression on hard-bitten veterans in Vietnam, as one history of guns recounts.

In one combat encounter, a Ranger fired, hitting a V.C. with three rounds. One round in the head took it completely off. Another in the right arm took it completely off too.

There are many strategies and also laws that apply to war. Commanders often prefer the option of precision when possible. But the history I`m telling you about, it notes that wasn`t going to be possible, even in a war footing, because the trials were showing it was -- quote -- "impossible to take prisoners" using the AR-15, because even seemingly minor wounds proved fatal from the AR-15."

Now, this was such a devastating prototype for war, why don`t we hear about AR-15s much in our military? Well, the answer is actually just a matter of arbitrary branding. This weapon is the military standard rifle in combat. But the Pentagon called the AR-15 by the name M-16, perhaps more familiar. It was produced by Colt.

And one of the people behind that original AR-15, Jim Sullivan, says flatly this version that civilians buy is just as lethal as the military model.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: The lethality of the AR-15...

JIM SULLIVAN, GUN DESIGNER: Right.

QUESTION: ... is that reduced in the civilian semiautomatic mode?

J. SULLIVAN: No.

QUESTION: It`s not?

J. SULLIVAN: It`s the same.

QUESTION: The same.

J. SULLIVAN: In fact, the gun is functioning exactly the way the military model is in semiautomatic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You want to believe someone, believe the person behind the weapon.

Now, while it was legal for civilians to buy the AR-15, at first, few did. A shift began in 1989, when the country was shocked by the first mass shooting involving an assault weapon that was an AK-47 at an elementary school playground in Stockton, California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lone gunman`s schoolyard shooting spree. Five young children were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The assault rifle used in the killing was purchased at this store in Sandy, Oregon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was like a semiautomatic weapon going off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are weapons of war. Why do we allow our citizens to have such easy access to weapons of war?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three days of prayers and funerals for five children killed Tuesday by a gunman who invaded their schoolyard. Three of the children were buried today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And President Clinton got an assault weapons ban through Congress with the support of people, including Ronald Reagan.

And gun groups and gun enthusiasts reacted with seemingly greater interest in these weapons. The NRA went after politicians who supported that ban. Congress did not end up having the votes to renew it in `04. And the NRA was boasting that hundreds of thousands of these guns had been sold, the total supply jumping from just 74,000 in 1990 to a whopping two million- plus back in 2016.

Now, while evidence shows great many of those weapons are not used in documented crimes -- instead, they`re held as a hobby by many thousands of Americans -- the cost in lives is still higher than other weapons, hundreds of innocent people killed or maimed by AR-15s in some of our nation`s worst shooting sprees, from Aurora, to Vegas, to now Boulder.

And these weapons can be legally limited or banned without a Second Amendment issue, just like grenades can. Now, in our political culture, we are seeing more people touting them as everything from props to toys, Santa Claus selling AR-15s and the Easter Bunny.

There`s one for a Hello Kitty. There`s one featuring My Little Pony. A lawmaker recently made sure to show off some assault weapons in her Zoom call, a kind of pandemic era nod to gun culture, while Republican Rand Paul has an ad where he blithely uses an AR-15 to shoot up the tax code. You see him there.

And never to be outdone, Ted Cruz jumping on the bandwagon with an ad literally cooking bacon on his gun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: Mmm. Machine gun bacon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Rick Perry got into the cosplay with his gun and acting tough and a little bit of fan fiction, which ran at the NRA Convention.

These are leaders and lawmakers with real power over public safety acting like kids who think it`s cool to play with guns.

It evokes Shawn Carter`s famous admonition to those fake tough guys out there. Shoot at you actors like movie directors. This ain`t a movie, dog.

And this is not a movie. This is real life with real guns and real shootings and real murders, with majorities of people supporting background checks and safety measures and limits on gun sales. That`s the response from people who aren`t playing around tough for the NRA Convention, but people living with their families in this dangerous reality, not playacting about weapons of war.

Indeed, this very kind of blithe gun promotion was actually on display by one American who had a question for presidential candidates. This was back in 2008. And one of those candidates with experience on this very issue of gun control was quite blunt about the proper limits for these dangerous weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Myself and other Americans really want to know if our babies are safe. This is my baby.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Senator Biden, are you going to be able to keep his babies safe?

BIDEN: I tell you what. If that`s his baby, he needs help.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: I think he just made an admission against self-interest. I don`t know that he`s mentally qualified to own that gun.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: No, I`m not being -- I`m being serious. I`m the guy that originally wrote the assault weapons ban. We should be working with law enforcement right now to make sure that we protect people against people who don`t -- are not capable of knowing what to do with a gun, because they`re either mentally unbalanced and/or because they have a criminal record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Facts. People who do crime or are mentally imbalanced obviously shouldn`t have access to weapons, especially not these dangerous ones.

That was over a decade ago.

The glorification and use of these weapons has obviously continued since then, while the public support for some gun control measures continues to outpace the minoritarian NRA stranglehold trying to stop Congress from doing what the majority wants, which is to keep people reasonably safe.

And that senator who spoke out so bluntly is now president, saying tonight, we need gun control now, don`t wait another minute.

So, as the facts and, yes, the bodies pile up, will Congress ever do something to stop weapons of war from being used against our own citizens?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to another big story in America this week, President Biden`s found his new administration facing a familiar dilemma, how to enforce immigration laws and uphold human rights, as pictures like this emerged showing overcrowded border facilities, lawmakers worried about what to do with these many children in humanitarian challenges.

Now, the number of unaccompanied children has surged to over 9,000 a month. It`s a big challenge, although you should know, as a factual matter, despite a recent peak, it was at times higher during the Trump era.

And so some Republicans have tried to sort of seize on this subset of the wider immigration issue. And some Democrats are worried that Biden will have to be on defense with headlines like this. There`s actually a lot of evidence that much of what Washington, D.C., says about immigration is wrong politically.

Consider that a big majority, not 55 percent or 60, but virtually 70 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship. An even higher number, 72 percent, supports it for undocumented immigrants who arrived as children, commonly known as dreamers.

And then there`s what might be the best news for Biden`s hope for wider reform. If you ask people point blank, big picture, are there so many immigrants that migration should be cut? That`s a measure that used to draw about half of the nation`s. You just want less immigration? Well, now it`s down to just about a quarter of people overall who say that kind of immigration should just be decreased big picture.

Now, if any of this sounds odd, that may be because of the volume and the anger of Trumpism, which did take up a lot of energy over the last four years. But that`s not all of America, as I just showed you, or even all of Republicans.

Now, as Obama campaign veteran and BEAT guest Chai Komanduri notes, lawmakers from both parties seem a little confused about what exactly is a third rail here, some overreacting to Trump`s volume.

Immigration is not the toxic issue everyone claims it is, and there`s rich evidence that providing this pathway to citizenship could be a vote-getter, he argues. In fact, remember, Republican presidential candidates used to tussle over this type of thing in the primary, over who was more humanitarian and pro-immigration.

Remember Reagan and Bush in 1980?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rather than making them or talking about putting up a fence, why don`t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they`re working and earning here, they pay taxes here?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re creating a whole society of really honorable, decent, family-loving people that are in violation of the law. And, secondly, we`re exacerbating relations with Mexico.

These are good people, strong people. Part of my family is Mexican.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You could say those are two Republicans who sound like today`s Democrats, or you could just say they`re Republicans because that`s how Republican sounded, apart from Trump.

It`s not just in the campaign debates. Reagan won and continued that kind of argument.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders.

And since this is the last speech that I will give as president, I think it`s fitting to leave one final thought. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Ronald Reagan, Republican hero, using his farewell address to say that.

Now, yes, Trump got everyone excited talking about a border wall and vilifying Mexican immigrants on the basis of race.

But remember this as well. Komanduri points out that Trump`s own 2020 campaign found itself bending to these facts and finding that simply attacking all immigration was a loser, even for a right-wing coalition.

On a long list of 10 major topics for Trump campaign TV ads, a count found that immigration came in dead last, the least mentioned issue in those important TV ads.

Well, this brings us now to our dive into political history, a special day here on THE BEAT.

We call it "Chai Day."

And it is with political strategist Chai Komanduri, who worked on three presidential campaigns, and who helped us think through some of these concepts as we get into this segment.

Thanks for coming back, sir.

CHAI KOMANDURI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thank you for having me.

MELBER: Let`s start with why so much of what we just walked through, indebted to you, may sound like a surprise. Why is it that this broad support feels surprising, after what we just lived through?

KOMANDURI: Yes, I think we need to dispense with what is become a Washington consensus that immigration is some kind of untouchable third rail of politics.

Immigration has never been more popular. As you pointed out, historically now, more Americans favor increased immigration, as opposed to decreased immigration. More Americans favor a pathway to citizenship by a huge amount, 69 percent, perhaps thanks to Trump, but also because the changing demographics is finally catching up to polling.

That`s just a fact. Immigration is not a toxic issue in America. However, it is a toxic issue on FOX. On FOX, it`s a nonstop, never-ending border crisis. It`s always the Democrats` fault. The immigrants are always bringing in drugs and crime, et cetera.

And FOX News hosts like Tucker Carlson and others know this simply is not true. They know that immigrants are not carrying in more crime and drugs. In fact, statistically, they are far less likely to commit crimes.

What he is going at is what I would think -- what I would like to call a new Southern Strategy. The old Southern Strategy was black vs. white binary. This new Southern Strategy is white vs. non-white. And he is specifically attacking the Latino nature, the brown-skinned nature, quite frankly, of these immigrants, and really tapping into anxiety about the nation`s changing demographics, really in a contemptible way to try to get more ratings.

MELBER: Yes.

As you say, they have gone from a race-baiting strategy about the American South to a race-baiting strategy about South America, but trafficking and what may get their people upset.

I want to take a look as well. We showed some of the Republicans. Here was then President Obama during his term. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: First thing we did was to streamline the legal immigration system to reduce the backlog, make it easier, simpler and cheaper for people who were waiting in line, obeying the law, to make sure that they can come here and contribute to our country. And that`s good for our economic growth.

They will start new businesses. They will make things happen to create jobs here in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: As we have seen here, mid-stage Obama sounds a lot like second term Reagan. There were differences.

But what you`re arguing is that, in the main, there`s a lot more mainstream support for welcoming a certain type of immigration. How do Democrats take that, if they want to, to passing something?

KOMANDURI: Yes, look, this is really a no-brainer politically.

Immigration -- embracing immigration works. It works in the short term. It worked for Obama in 2012. It worked for endless numbers of Republican presidents, Reagan, Bush Sr., George W. Bush, et cetera. And it also works in the long term.

I mean, if you look at like what happened in California, where there was a virulent anti-immigrant proposition, Prop 187, put forward by Governor Pete Wilson. Fifteen years later, there were no statewide Republican officeholders in California. They were simply wiped out because the changing demographics caught up with the politics.

And that`s something that we have to really keep in mind. And if you talk about how do we implement this today, I think the best thing we can do is really push back on this narrative that is pushed excessively by FOX News that immigration is in some way dangerous for America, that it is in some way an attack an American culture.

MELBER: Yes.

KOMANDURI: Immigration is not an attack on American culture. Immigration is American culture.

I mean, if you just look at what people...

MELBER: Is American culture, yes.

KOMANDURI: Yes.

If you just look at what people are streaming online on Spotify, Apple Music, in addition to Nevuary Radio by Ari Melber, they`re listening to a lot of Spanish-language music...

MELBER: Look at that.

KOMANDURI: ... a lot of Korean pop music.

How is that any different than Antonin Scalia singing Italian opera? It`s not. Nothing has really changed in America, except perhaps the melatonin of these new immigrants. That`s different.

MELBER: Right.

KOMANDURI: But their character and the American character remain the same.

MELBER: No, I think it`s such an important point you make. You back it up with the facts. I appreciate the shout-out.

And, more importantly, as you say, this is a long-running debate. You can go from "Hamilton." You can go Reagan. You can look at how popular global culture is today across generations.

But the real point is, doing something that`s humanitarian and open-minded can work.

Chai Komanduri, thank you.

We are back with one more thing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We have got a big, whopping admission from former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell. You may recall she worked with Giuliani and pushed many demonstrably false claims about so-called election fraud.

And she`s already starting to pay for it with a costly lawsuit from basically the voting machine company for defamation over what she said.

Now, here`s the defense -- quote -- "No reasonable person would conclude that her statements were truly statements of fact."

Amidst all the grifting and the lying, you have someone whose defense to being accused of lies is basically saying: If I lied, you should have never believed me in the first place.

A terrible defense, even for a lawyer.

We will be right back.