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

Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/25/21

Guests: Reginald Jackson

Summary

President Biden holds his first solo presidential press conference. Georgia passes what critics call voter suppression legislation.

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 very much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

President Biden giving that first presidential press conference today, questions he took for over an hour.

And, right now, we have the great James Carville and our friend Michael Steele here to break it all down. Good to see both of you.

Let me tell the viewers tonight, Biden`s strongest comments that are getting a lot of attention picks up on what MSNBC was just covering within the last hour, the big issue of voting rights, Republicans actively trying to suppress votes, the president not holding back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I`m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It`s sick. It`s sick.

Deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line, waiting to vote?

The Republican voters I know find this despicable. Republican voters.

It is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And we begin with two titans from two modern political parties, Democratic strategist and White House adviser to Bill Clinton James Carville, and Michael Steele, who ran the RNC and is an analyst for us here.

Good evening to both of you. No surprise to viewers. We`re going to get to the politics. There`s plenty of it.

But, Michael, I begin with something that I know you care about. And that`s the morality. What did you think of this president using this first presidential press conference to speak, as he did there, about what he calls Jim Crow racist voter discrimination?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he brought a different tone to this conversation than we have had over the last four or five years.

I mean, he showed his interest in, his compassion for these things that are impacting voters, not just citizens, not just in terms of health and COVID and the economy, but also in the very fundamental thing that we appreciate constitutionally, and that is the right to vote.

And to stand behind that particular pulpit and call it out, if you will, is important. It is an important message that sends a signal around the country that we need to raise our awareness. But we also are going to be called to action this.

And it will be interesting to see how the courts respond in places like Georgia and Arizona, how citizens respond, because, unlike in the past, where these things have been said and kind of been pushed off to the side, to have the president engage affirmatively, as opposed to what we have seen over the past four years, destructively, is a different call.

And now the test is going to be on us as citizens to meet the challenge of the president to stick our moral courage to that sticking point, if you will, to make sure that these types of offenses to our democracy are rebuffed.

MELBER: I hear you on that.

And, James Carville, these conversations can get weedsy. Sometimes, it`s the people making the voting restrictions that want it that way, because they say, well, it`s not the same if it`s just about which day or mail authentication or voter I.D.

And you start getting into the thicket. And, again, it`s not my job here on the news to tell people how to vote or how to think.

JAMES CARVILLE, MSNBC ELECTION ANALYST: Right.

MELBER: But I can tell people, you have a right to vote. And if people in power are trying to take away and limit your right, you need to pay attention, and we need to stop them.

And I thought it was so striking to hear the president not get into that thicket of, oh, which this or that rule, and just say, they`re trying to prevent you from being able to drink water in line to exercise your right. Like, he took it beyond the law to the real foundation.

I wonder what you thought of that, James.

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, Chairman Steele and I have argued over the years about who to vote for. We have never argued that people should have the right to vote.

I mean, this is a kind of -- it`s kind of a ridiculous argument. But we have moved the ball from, well, I like -- my person is better than your person. But I think, over the years, we just had a unspoken agreement that you ought to let people vote and hoped -- his position was, he hoped they voted for Republican and I hoped they voted for Democrats.

Look, 64 percent of the people in Florida voted to give convicted felons the right to vote. Are we really going to argue in Georgia, as I like to say, whether the waitress at the Waffle House gets the right to vote, whether the Delta baggage handler can vote, whether the greeter at Home Depot can vote?

I think, that`s the level of what the conversation is now. The Republicans no longer run on an agenda. They are trying to distill and narrow the voting bloc to where only their people can vote.

I mean, I have never -- people say, well, you fought and bled for this country and for your right to vote. That`s no longer a talking point in the Republican Party.

It`s such a ridiculous escalation of something that has gone on, that I don`t think that the chairman and I would have ever thought we`d be having this discussion back in 2012 or 2008 or `4 or whatever the heck it was. I mean, it`s pretty ridiculous.

But we`re having it.

MELBER: Yes. Yes, I appreciate the bluntness on that.

James -- James was speaking so forcefully, Michael, that we lost his camera for a second. But that`s what hot rhetoric will do, James. We got -- I think we got you back.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... not working.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Well, and I`m sure you get all kinds of Zoom calls. You`re a busy guy down there.

But, look, the politics I want to get into is interesting, because President Biden has the power now. He has a lot of wind at his back. But we always want to give people the facts and the full context.

As recently as December, there was the signaling going on -- here`s a Politico headline -- "Biden signals to aides that he would serve only a single term."

Back in August, Biden talked about, if he beats Trump, maybe he`d run again, maybe he wouldn`t. That`s the context for what it sounded like. Anyone can change their mind. Anyone can update. He`s the most powerful person in the country. He struck a slightly different note. I don`t know if everyone heard it. Take a listen today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Have you decided whether you are going to run for reelection in 2024? You haven`t set up a reelection campaign yet, as your predecessor had by this time.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: My predecessor needed to.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: My predecessor. Oh God, I miss him.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: No, the answer is yes. My plan is to run for reelection. That`s my expectation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: James, what does that mean? What`s he doing politically there?

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, of course he`s going to say he`s running for reelection. He is not going to be two months into a four-year term and says, I`m not going to run.

And then some fool asked him if Harris is going to be his running mate. I mean, please. We just -- we can -- the White House press corps, I`d give him a D-plus today, and that`s only because I`m a notoriously easy grader.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: I mean, some of this stuff was utterly ridiculous. I mean, it really was, Ari. I`m serious.

Of course the guy -- no one is going to say, well, I`m not going to run for reelection. And so you`re a lame duck two years into your term? It`s absurd, as if he`s thinking about his vice presidential nominee in 2024 if he runs.

I think the country`s -- we got our lives. We say in the pool halls of Louisiana there`s a lot of green between here and there. There`s a lot -- there`s a lot of politics left.

STEELE: Yes. Yes.

MELBER: Michael, go ahead.

STEELE: No, I agree. No, I agree.

That question to me was just -- in the context of everything else that`s on our plate as a nation, it just was like, really, that`s what you`re going to use your time with that question? Because the answer is obvious.

And I don`t know what the intent was to maybe get the president to say something that would make news. But the fact of the matter is, it just -- I get the question. The timing, the place of it was just ridiculous. Save it two years from now. Then ask it.

CARVILLE: Right.

STEELE: But, right now, in the midst of everything else, it just seemed a little bit, kind of dumb to me.

MELBER: Yes.

CARVILLE: Extremely.

MELBER: Well, hey, I feel that. I mean, the press talks about every -- the press talks about everyone else, and we got some political experts who are talking about the press.

And I don`t think most people who are out there thinking about the recession and reopening are thinking about four-year politics. It`s interesting that both of you interpreted as just the main strategy, you keep your options open, and later he will deal with what he really wants to decide.

STEELE: Yes.

CARVILLE: Of course.

MELBER: But moving to policy, which matters to everyone, there were a lot of immigration questions. We have been watching the border.

The president strongly defending what he`s done up to now. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The truth of the matter is, nothing has changed. As many people came -- 28 percent increase in children to the border in my administration, 31 percent in the last year of -- in 2019, before the pandemic, in the Trump administration.

It happens every single, solitary year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Fact-check, true. There are these surges of unaccompanied minors at the border.

It was at times higher in the Trump era, 2019, for example. And Biden bluntly, again, went after his predecessor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: By the way, does anybody suggest that there was a 31 percent increase under Trump because he was a nice guy?

What did Trump do? He eliminated that funding. He, in fact, shut down the number of beds available. He did not fund HHS. He dismantled all of that.

And so what we`re doing now is attempting to rebuild

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This matters, because what we`re seeing here is this new president with a mastery of the immigration details, really going out one of the cartoonish complaints that`s been out there, that somehow, if a president is warmer or more lenient or more humanitarian, that somehow that automatically boosts the immigration.

Now, before I bring our two experts back, we do want to show you another important part of the presser, the president asked about whether any of this is acceptable. And here`s how he responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: That`s a serious question, right?

Is it acceptable to me? Come on.

That`s why we`re going to be moving a thousand of those kids out quickly. That`s why I got Fort Bliss opened up. That`s why I`ve been working from the moment this started to happen to try to find additional access for children to be able to safely -- not just children, but particularly children -- to be able to safely be housed while we follow through on the rest of what`s happening.

That is totally unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: James, what did you think of the president there?

CARVILLE: I thought he was great.

There is no border crisis. Every March -- it was a sterling piece of academic research that this happens in March.

I have been in this country for over three-quarters-of-a-century. And I`m very glad to live in a country that people want to come to. And Joe Biden was very clear during the campaign, he was not for open borders. would put a humane policy. They would try and enforce the law.

And the press asked all the questions being driven by FOX News and Newsmax on the so-called border crisis, which is a border problem, not a crisis, and not one question about COVID.

Again, I`m changing my D-plus to a D.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: The more that I think about it, the worse that it is.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: Everybody...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: It`s live-action grading.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Well, it`s an interesting point, because -- and I don`t want to get -- Michael, I don`t want to get too fancy on this.

But what James is discussing, and what you associated yourself with earlier is, the fact that one of the great powers of the press, when they ask questions, is the agenda-setting function. And there`s a lot of data on this, that when the -- if the press keeps asking about the deficit, suddenly, it seems like the deficits more important.

And, as James just said, there were more questions on some other offbeat topics than, say, COVID and the recession, which are people going through, but go ahead, Michael.

STEELE: Yes.

No, while James and I are dancing right now, I`m going to I`m going to step on his toes a little bit on this one, because...

CARVILLE: OK.

MELBER: OK.

STEELE: I think, admittedly, the president came into this with a very, very short runway. He didn`t have the kind of transition that would allow him to sort of get in front of some of these issues that were already beginning to brew at the borders, as we saw at the end of the year.

But the fact still remains that they -- the press did ask legitimate questions around, what is not just the strategy here, but what are you communicating to the country on this? And they are playing a little bit of catchup in this space right now, as our friend and colleague Jacob Soboroff has accounted through his reporting what`s going on there at the locations at the border that he`s covered.

There are legitimate questions and concerns about how quickly the turnover and the turnaround is going to take place. So, what is the timeline? What the president has done -- and I think he`s done it pretty effectively -- is tried to get back, claw back in front of the narrative on this. That is not an easy thing to do. He started out this conversation behind.

And this speaks to the fact that you`re holding this press -- your first major press conference 65 days into your term. These are types -- these types of things are going to accumulate.

Now, if this -- if you`re out in front on this narrative four weeks ago, you`re in a very different conversation point than you are four weeks later. That`s -- and I think that`s what we`re seeing some of what is playing out right now, particularly in this press conference on this issue of immigration.

MELBER: Well, let me show one more moment.

CARVILLE: All right, I`m back to a D-plus. You got a point.

MELBER: All right, now, well, I was going to ask you, James, if you had a grade for Michael`s response disagreeing with your grade.

CARVILLE: He moved me from D to a D-plus. I think he made a good point.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: Again, I acknowledge that it`s a problem. I don`t think it`s a crisis. So, I defer to the great chairman, former chairman of the Republican Party and the former lieutenant governor of the great state of Maryland.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Look at this. Look -- it`s almost -- it`s kumbaya vibes.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: And you got to be -- you have a mind. You got to be able to change it.

Michael, stay with me, as they say in the biz.

STEELE: OK.

MELBER: I did want to play one other moment for folks who didn`t get a chance to see the whole presser.

And that is some of this empathy we have seen from this new president, obviously a contrast to the past, which he was asked about. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I make no apologies for ending programs that did not exist before Trump became president that have an incredibly negative impact on the law, international law, as well as on human dignity. And so I make no apologies for that.

The idea that I`m going to say -- which I would never do -- if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border, we`re just going to let him starve to death and stay on the other side -- no previous administration did that either, except Trump. I`m not going to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Michael, this goes broader than that policy at hand and goes to this president speaking to that assembled press corps and the nation -- these press conferences get covered -- they`re taken live -- by saying, hey, if we treat anything of the last four years like he has to respond to it or adjust for it, that normalizes what he views was an aberrant problem in the American presidency, Michael.

STEELE: Yes.

And that`s what turns this narrative upside-down a bit more than we have seen in the past. And I think, again, it plays to the president`s advantage. He comes into this with his compassion on his sleeve. He comes into this, into this presidency and into an issue like this as uncle Joe.

So, when he stands there in a moment like that, and he says, I`m not going to let that happen, you can say whatever you want about me and my administration and what I have done or failed to do, but I`m not going to let a child starve at our border`s edge, that, I think, also resonates with a lot of folks out there.

And it draws us to look at this through a different lens than Donald Trump drew was to look at it through, which was they`re coming across the border. It was other. We should be afraid of them. We`re going to build a wall. We`re going to stop it.

He`s saying, we`re going to stop it. And, in fact, the border is closed. The president has made it clear the border is closed. But we`re also going to be compassionate.

MELBER: Yes.

STEELE: And I think that`s going to play well for the president long term.

MELBER: Here`s what we`re going to do. Michael comes back later in the hour for something special debuting on THE BEAT. James stays with me.

We have our shortest break, 30 seconds.

When we come back, how Biden decided today was the day to do something he rarely does, roast Donald Trump -- when we`re back in 30.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We`re back covering Joe Biden`s first ever press conference as president.

James Carville is here.

And I want to show you where the president slammed and even mocked Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: What did Trump do? He eliminated that funding. He didn`t use it. He didn`t do it.

We`re building back up the capacity that should have been maintained and built upon that Trump dismantled.

No previous administration did that either, except Trump.

BIDEN: My predecessor needed to.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: My predecessor. Oh, God, I miss him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Joe Biden laying it out there.

And it`s a reminder of what a contrast this was to what press conferences had become over the last four years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You said it on Sean Hannity`s FOX News. You said that you might...

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why don`t you people act -- let me ask you, why don`t you act -- why don`t you act in a little more positive?

It`s always trying to get you, to get you, to get you.

QUESTION: My question to you is...

TRUMP: And you know what? That`s why nobody trusts the media anymore.

I say that you`re a terrible reporter. That`s what I say.

Go ahead.

I think it`s a very nasty question.

That`s CNN. Fake news. Go ahead.

Thank you very much, everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We`re joined now by MSNBC`s Alicia Menendez. James Carville back here, as promised.

Alicia, your thoughts on the contrast?

ALICIA MENENDEZ, HOST, "AMERICAN VOICES": Right.

I mean, it was nice to see some sparring back and forth, some good-spirited sparring. It strikes me, though, Ari, that even as we`re talking about a return to supposedly normal, you looked at that press room, and we`re reminded that we are not in normal times.

You had a limited number of press in there. They were still socially distanced from one another. They were still wearing masks. I think it was telling that the president came in and started talking about coronavirus response, almost anticipating that it was possible that the press would not ask him about it, wouldn`t end up asking him a question about the economy.

And then I also thought it was interesting, Ari, that for all of the talk, for all of the questions about immigration and what is currently happening at the Southern border, there were still a lot of questions that remain unanswered, for example, Title 42, which is something that immigration advocates are very focused on, this Trump era policy that the Biden administration has continued to use in order to expel migrants at the border, whether or not the Biden administration plans to continue to use that policy.

What do they see as their relationship with Mexico when it comes to managing the migrants at their border? And all of these questions perhaps obscuring the biggest question, which, again, to this point about a return to normal, I`m not sure that it would be normal to ask a question of this magnitude in one of these briefings.

But what does President Biden imagine as a fair and humane immigration system, right? Like, if you were in talking just about what is happening in this moment, and you step back, and you accept it, as you said, this happened in 2014. This happened in 2019. How do you reimagine America`s immigration system?

Beyond the investment in Central America, beyond what they are already doing at the border, how do you fundamentally reconceptualize it, so you`re not having the same conversation in two years in four years?

MELBER: Yes.

The other thing that broke through -- and we haven`t had a chance to discuss it yet -- was, we have been reporting here on THE BEAT about what bipartisanship actually means these days, if you have tens of millions of Republican voters backing something that Biden does. We mentioned this last night even.

Today, it was interesting to see President Biden, James, also getting in on that point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I`m not talking about the elected officials. I`m talking about voters. Voters.

But what I know I have now is that I have electoral support from Republican voters, Republican voters.

Unless Mitch says the last thing I did is -- the last piece of legislation is so far left, well, then he ought to a look at his party. Over 50 percent of them must be over that edge as well, because they support what I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: "They support what I did."

You could hear the president there. That was something he clearly had planned to say. He had the data with him. He has half the Republican Party with him on some issues. And that goes to the other big question, because most of the fights ahead will depend on how the Senate runs, on whether Mitch McConnell can do the same type of obstruction he`s been doing.

The president calling it a Jim Crow relic and seemed open to ending it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: And if we have to -- if there`s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we`ll have to go beyond what I`m talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: James, you have been in and out of these issues for so long.

The abuse of that obstruction tactic, the filibuster, has never been worse. I`m curious your view politically of what Biden is doing there, using this big pulpit, this big day to tell folks who may not follow it closely every day, if they didn`t hear, actually, half of the Republican Party is with him, and that gives him a kind of a strength, A muscle if they need to change the Senate.

CARVILLE: Right.

I mean, they`re going to do that. I mean, in some instance -- some may not know if they`re going to get rid of it, but, clearly, for Senate Bill 1 and other things, I think that they`re going to do that.

I want to make a larger point. I actually think the president was having fun today. I think when he kind of took that jab at the former president, and he then talked about he had been in the Senate for 120 years, I said to myself, it was 115, as I remember it.

But I think he was actually having a good time. And that`s this idiot sighted Daily Caller that criticized him because he was referring to notes. I mean, what are you doing, taking the bar exam?

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: I mean, you can refer to notes if you`re giving a press -- that was about the best that they could come up with, is, he was using notes.

But I actually think that President Biden was, like, enjoying himself today. And I thought he did -- I thought he did fine. I really don`t -- I think better than fine.

And they knew they were getting this question. That answer was very well- rehearsed, very well-thought-out. It was fine.

MELBER: I got to tell you, I might be biased, but, Alicia, I use notes at work every day.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: And when I used to practice law, I used a lot of notes.

If that`s considered a dis in Trump`s -- there`s James` notes. James says his notes.

CARVILLE: Yes.

MELBER: I mean, if it`s a dis that the -- if the Trump -- if the Trump smoke is still brewing around part of Washington that writing down what you plan to say because you care about details, facts and preparation, so be it.

I think that`s a funny, but fair point.

Alicia, we have one more contrast here of new president, old president. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You`re going to have to take that off, please. Just you can take it off. Your -- how many feet are you away?

QUESTION: I will speak a lot louder.

TRUMP: Well, if you don`t take it off, you`re very muffled. So, if you would take it off, it would be a lot easier.

QUESTION: I will just speak a lot louder. Is that better?

TRUMP: It`s better, yes. It`s better.

QUESTION: Can you commit to the American people that, by May 2, the U.S. will no longer have forces in Afghanistan?

BIDEN: The answer is that it`s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Alicia, I don`t want to go full "Sesame Street," but one of these things is not like the other.

MENENDEZ: No, I mean, it`s a pretty sick burn to say that someone uses notes when you just don`t care about facts, I guess, right? Like, I`m not even sure what the insult is supposed to be.

But there were so many substantive differences, Ari.

I mean, when you listen to him talk about China and talk about the value of democracy vs. autocracy, the fact that this is a person who believes that we`re in a moment where democracy needs a champion, that we have to prove to the rest of the world that democracy can work, I think part of the reason that he sort of explicitly was invoking Trump through the course of this presser is because, otherwise, he was the elephant in the room, not just stylistically, not just tonally, but, because when it comes to domestic policy issues, when it comes to foreign policy issues, this administration is still very much unwinding a lot of what they did.

And I do, Ari, want to just loop back really quickly to what you were talking about with the filibuster, because I think this was some of the biggest news that was made today, because, while he`s talked before about potentially supporting a talking filibuster, I don`t think he`s come out quite this far, and talked about doing even more.

And that is significant to the moderate members of his own party who still not made their own decision where they are on the filibuster. You have then the potential of that unifying his caucus, V.P. Harris coming in, being that final vote.

So, I think when you talk about the fact that he keeps coming back to, I was elected to get things done, I was elected to solve problems, and we`re going to keep running up against this truth that most of the things that he`s talking about, immigration reform, voting rights, very likely, they`re going to have to contend with the filibuster in order to get any of those things done.

MELBER: Exactly. Exactly.

And we`re actually turning some breaking news on voting rights.

I want to thank James and Alicia for their coverage and their expertise tonight.

You can always catch Alicia 6:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC weekends.

Coming up: McConnell has a new complaint about Biden that may be blowing up in his face. We have a special new thing we`re debuting with Michael Steele, as promised. That`s later in the hour.

But, right now, we`re tracking what I`m hearing is some breaking news on voting with a special guest -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We are reporting breaking news right now.

Georgia`s Republican governor is about to sign what the legislature passed, and it will be one of the nation`s most restrictive voting laws in the whole country.

What you`re looking at here is Governor Brian Kemp here. He`s speaking we`re not actually going to take his remarks, although we have the information. But he is explaining why he is about at the precipice of signing this controversial legislation.

And let me give you some context. This comes as a new crop of activists are pushing to try to stop exactly this type of problem or create economic consequences. Activists like Bishop Reginald Jackson and voting rights groups like Black Voters Matters we have had on the program say that it`s time for corporate America to stand up and break with Trumpism over all of this, that the same groups and organizations and corporations that said they weren`t for the insurrection can`t sit by silently when all of this turns into trying to steal potentially the next election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BISHOP REGINALD JACKSON, AME CHURCHES: The CEO and chairman of Coca-Cola said organizations like ours must stand up and support Black Lives Matter and social justice.

Now, when they try to pass this racist legislation, we can`t get him to say anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This new Georgia bill that the governor is signing now has these I.D. requirements. It has limits on where you can drop ballot boxes. It makes it -- quote -- a "crime" to provide even water to voters waiting in lines.

That`s the very thing the president rebuked today that we showed earlier in our program.

On this breaking news, I want to bring in the bishop who we just saw on our screen there. He`s leading the charge in Georgia, Bishop Reginald Jackson. He oversees the state`s AME churches.

Thanks for being with us.

JACKSON: It`s good to be with you, Ari.

MELBER: We just showed Governor Kemp there speaking. And my producers tell me I can now confirm and report he has signed this controversial bill. You see him here speaking on it. He signed it. It is law in the state of Georgia.

Whether or not there are legal challenges or other ways to stop it before implementation will be seen, as it`s brand-new. Your response to this breaking news tonight?

JACKSON: Well, it`s interesting.

We were at the statehouse today protesting against this legislation. A group of faith leaders met with the lieutenant governor to discuss this matter. Then we tried to have a meeting with the governor, whose office said he was busy and couldn`t meet.

Now I understand it was not that he was busy and couldn`t meet. It is it that he had already decided he was going to sign this bill and wouldn`t meet.

MELBER: And what do you say to people who are hearing about this tonight? It sounds like a state issue.

Of course, Georgia was what turned the whole Senate. And we have seen, as we have reported, this type of measure moving through the process in several states.

What do you say to people about what`s in this bill or why it matters?

JACKSON: Well, this is not only a Georgia problem. It is a national problem, following the election last November here in Georgia, when Georgia went blue for the first time since 1992.

None of these bills would have been submitted if Republicans had won. These bills are submitted because Republicans lost. And they claim that they submit these bills because there is a lack of integrity and confidence in Georgia`s elections.

But that is sheer hypocrisy. In 2018, the then secretary of state, who was also the Republican candidate for governor, dropped 500,000 names off the rolls in Georgia, many of them people of color. There was no outcry. There was no investigation. There was no legislation. There was no saying that we didn`t have confidence in the election.

When black folk complained about what happened in 2018, there was a deafening silence. When the former liar in chief said the election was stolen from him, all of a sudden, Georgia had no confidence in this election. There were three recounts, one audit, court case after court case. Nothing.

And they still claim they passed this law today because the lack of confidence. That is a lie, it`s voter suppression, and it`s racism.

MELBER: I appreciate your candor. I know how much you have been working on this.

For voters -- excuse me -- I should say, for viewers joining us, voters as well, what you see on your screen is Governor Kemp and Georgia signing this voting crackdown.

I want to give some context, because it`s a breaking story, bring back in one of our experts, Michael Steele.

Context from "The New York Times" here, which we can put up on the screen is, what`s happening around the country, Republicans -- quote -- "seizing more power over how elections are run."

JACKSON: Yes.

MELBER: State legislators, for example, also in Georgia, looking to strip the state elections official of their role on the election board, so he would lose power.

Michael, as the bishop was just saying, those multiple attacks in Georgia, as well as what other legislators are doing, paint a picture of something that`s not about, say, voter integrity, if you want to call it that, but, as the bishop said, a more organized response to losing an election. And rather than trying to win more votes, it`s just trying to suppress votes from the other side, Michael.

STEELE: Yes, I think you`re exactly right about that, Ari.

So, the question to Republicans in Georgia and Arizona and elsewhere that are taking rights, voting rights away from black people across this country in places like Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, how do you think this ends? How do you think this ends for you?

Do you think black folks are just going to sit by and just let you get away with this? Do you think the bishop and others are just going to say, oh, well, I guess there`s nothing we can do; the Georgia legislature just passed this and the governor signed it?

Every last one of your names go on a ballot. Enjoy your time in office, because you`re going to see the power of the vote come back on you like a hammer, like a hammer, for the action you have taken and the bill that was signed into law today.

It is antithetical to everything our party has stood for in its history. And it`s antithetical to everything this country has stood for. This is suppression. Bold-face it. And it`s just like, what are you going to do about it?

Well, watch and see. There are consequences here. Don`t just think people are going to roll over. You can`t have a drink of water brought to you while you`re standing in a line to vote, by the way, a line created by policies like this, when you move good-working machines out of black neighborhoods, and put in bad machines, or you don`t fix the machines that are there, or you move polling places?

So now, instead of maybe 1,000 people during the course of the day going to that poll, 3,000 people show up at that poll to accommodate -- that`s built to accommodate 1,000? You don`t think that`s going to have a consequence?

It`s just amazing to me that you are so afraid, so afraid to put good candidates and good policy in front of the people of Georgia or the people of this country that you have to resort to this kind of crap.

Bishop, whatever help you need on the ground, count a lot of us in to help, because this is not what this country should be about.

JACKSON: Thank you so much. Thank you.

MELBER: Michael Steele reacting to this.

We were just showing -- we had the video feed there. You saw Governor Kemp signing the bill and ultimately walking off.

Before I lose you, Bishop, I want to show some of that backlash effort. Coca-Cola, one of the companies that`s responded to your and other activist`s push here, Coca-Cola says it supports a -- quote -- "balanced approach. The ultimate goal should be fair, secure elections where access to voting is broad-based and inclusive."

What is next steps for you on those companies and potential legal challenges to what is now formerly tonight, as of 40 minutes past the hour, law in Georgia?

JACKSON: Well, that`s a very nebulous statement by Coca-Cola.

Either voter suppression is wrong or it`s right. That`s for Coca-Cola. That`s for Delta. That`s for Home Depot. All of these major corporations, they get black dollars. And so, therefore, if you cannot stand up and support black and brown people when it comes to issues of voting and justice, then it does not make sense for us to put our dollars into your hands.

MELBER: OK, this is a story that, in a sense, begins tonight, now that it`s state law.

Bishop Reginald Jackson, thank you very much.

Michael Steele comes back again for something special.

We have a lot more in the program, why Mitch McConnell has a new problem.

We will be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Welcome back.

We are tracking several stories, but, as promised, we turn to something we`re excited about right now.

Our friend Michael Steele is known for everything, from running the entire Republican Party, the RNC, to inspiring his own comic Muppet back in the day on Jon Stewart`s "Daily Show."

Steele knows politics, but he also brings a lot of late-night energy. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: Welcome to late-night, baby.

So, here`s my boy.

MELBER: I love it.

STEELE: He keeps me going. Say hello.

Hi, Ari.

Yes, there you go.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m feeling the thrill of the grill, because you know I likes to chill.

STEELE: That`s what I`m talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This has been going on for some time, with all credit to "The Daily Show."

And when we have done some of our late-night stuff on MSNBC, we get that looser late-night Steele. Now, it`s only dinnertime, but we are going to start doing something here that we call "Early Late Night With Michael Steele," make it a little early with the late-night vibes.

And Michael Steele has obliged our Michael Steele Muppet obsession. Thanks for doing this.

STEELE: Hey, bring it, baby. Let`s go. Let`s go.

Like I said, I`m feeling the thrill, because you know I likes to chill. Here we go. Bring it.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Good.

So, you don`t have to -- you don`t need any explanation of the concept, because it`s just the late night. Just bringing it early. You got the mug. We don`t know what`s in it.

STEELE: Look...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: And with those vibes, we`re just going to talk.

STEELE: It is late somewhere.

MELBER: Go ahead.

STEELE: OK? So, we`re good.

MELBER: Yes, exactly. It`s late night somewhere.

So, with that loose vibe in mind, I want your straight, straight talk on the McConnell of it all. Take a look here at Mitch McConnell complaining they`re not being nice and bipartisan to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I haven`t been invited to the White House, so far, this administration not doing anything, not interested in doing anything on a bipartisan basis in the political center. I don`t believe I have spoken with him since he was sworn in.

We had a couple of conversations before then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Michael, straight talk.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Go ahead.

STEELE: That`s funny Mitch. That`s funny Mitch. That`s Mitch bringing his humor. That`s his A-game -- his A humor game, because we know what the Biden folks have been doing.

They are knocking on the door. Hello? Anybody in there want to talk to us? And you just hear this muffled sound in the back? No, nobody here.

So, the reality of it is, yes, you have actually been approached by administration. But that`s what Mitch does. And he does it very effectively. He will stand there looking at the eye and go, your fly`s open, and you will go, no, it isn`t. And he goes, no, no, it really is.

And it`s all to get you to blink. It`s all to get you to look in a direction you don`t need to look.

MELBER: Right.

STEELE: The reality of it is -- the reality of it, it`s just a play off of the narrative.

And it`s just that one thing...

MELBER: As you point out, Mitch -- that`s a thing that Mitch actually -- he likes that it feels illogical. He likes that it sounds crazy, because it`s just programming for him.

I want to get you on another big story, because it`s kind of a potpourri here, "Early Late Night." Headlines hitting Governor Cuomo left and right, specifically on COVID.

STEELE: Oh, lord.

MELBER: Everything from insider access for special people early on, to those allegations, to the call about resigning.

Some of this involved even potentially helping his own family with testing. Everyone remembers when he was flying high. Take a look at him with his family, with his brother on CNN. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Some say that going on shows like "Ellen," where she`s pumping your head up with helium about how great you are, and cover of "Rolling Stone," that you now, as we used to say in the neighborhood, think who you are.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): To do Ellen`s show was a pleasure for me. I`m a big fan of Ellen. Yes, she said nice things about me.

C. CUOMO: Yes, she did.

A. CUOMO: Which she didn`t say about you.

But she was just telling the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Does Governor Cuomo have a substantive problem here?

STEELE: He does.

I mean, this -- it`s just -- I look at his narrative and I go, damn. This is how you slam into a big political wall. I mean, you think about where we were this time a year ago with the governor, with the press conference and the country riveted by his steadiness and his smarts and the preparation.

And then now to have that curtain peeled back, and to see that you`re trying to get up tight with your staff, and you got all these ladies in the background saying, what about us? And then you have got now narratives coming about how you handled not just senior citizens` facilities, but members of your own family.

So, it`s -- for this governor right now, look, at some point, you got to take a step back in politics and go, OK, am I doing more damage than good? Is this really in the best interests, not for me, because that`s shot to hell at this point, right, but how is this helping the people I serve, when every day, every conversation, every narrative, every report is about my personal behavior or personal decisions that I have made that have nothing to do with governing?

And to the extent that they do impact on governing, again, it`s self- dealing. It`s self-interest.

MELBER: Yes.

STEELE: And it`s out of the main of what I should be doing or what the people of the state should be concerned about.

MELBER: Yes.

Michael, I appreciate you giving us your views on more than one thing tonight. And when the country fully reopens, will "Early Late Night" go on the road? Only you and the viewers will decide.

Thank you for being here, sir.

STEELE: Have drink and Muppet, will travel. Here we go, right here.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Have Muppet, will travel. You heard it here first.

We fit in a break.

Up ahead, we have developing news. We showed you Governor Kemp. We showed you him signing the bill. Well, now we have a new statement from him talking about -- quote -- "Jim Crow."

We will show you that after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: More on the breaking news this hour, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signing what is now one of the country`s most restrictive new voting bills into law since the 2020 election.

Kemp is denying that the law is in any way racially motivated. He was called out by the president himself today in a press conference. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): According to them, if you support voter I.D. for absentee ballots, you`re a racist. According to them, if you believe in protecting the security and sanctity of the ballot box, you`re a -- quote - - "Jim Crow in a suit and tie."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That was his rebuttal to what he says are unfair criticisms.

This is, as we have been reporting, the beginning of a major fight sure to also have legal clashes in Georgia.

Thank you, as always, for watching THE BEAT.

Joy Reid is up next.