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

Guest: Felicia Schwartz, Chai Komanduri, Libby Casey�


Are right-wing extremists planning another attack on the Capitol? President Biden blasts governors around the country who are eliminating COVID-19 restrictions. Is Joe Biden`s COVID relief plan actually uniting the country? When might America get back to normal?



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you, as always.

And we begin breaking news.

The House of Representatives announcing it is changing the timing on a big vote for a policing bill, moving it to tonight, instead of tomorrow, and the reason why this is breaking news. They are doing so in direct response to threats from domestic extremists.

This comes amidst a warning of a potential MAGA-style attack that could or would come potentially on the Capitol with reports, that it would target Democratic lawmakers.

We have several pieces of news tonight, but I want to bring in our experts right now, Michael Steele, former RNC chair, Libby Casey, political reporter with "The Washington Post."

Libby, your thoughts and what you and your colleagues` reporting about something that, without being alarmist, is serious enough that the government is literally changing its business and voting in response as a precaution?

LIBBY CASEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, the House will try to conclude its work late tonight on this policing bill.

The Senate is still scheduled to be in session, Ari, tomorrow. So we will see how their schedule adjusts, if it does. But everyone is on high alert on Capitol Hill. And we had a hearing today on the hill looking at the January 6 attack. And what we heard about was a failure of communication, a failure to be prepared, but also really like a failure in imagination of what insurrectionists were capable of.

And we heard officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security talk about people who might be aspirational in their desire to attack the Capitol or attack members of Congress, or just express their anger vs. those who could be operational.

And, clearly, they did not understand that the people who went to the Capitol on January 6 and were inspired by Donald Trump were not only aspirational; they were also operational. And so the goal right now is to not take that chance again, right, to leave no risk and make sure that there is both, according to security officials, sort of a manpower footprint around the Capitol, as well as a physical infrastructure in place, so that -- barricades and such -- so that people could not come and hurt lawmakers and all the staff.

MELBER: Yes, Michael, Libby quotes the word imagination, which did come up in some of these oversight and accountability hearings.

And there is an aspect of this that is intelligence, where they know things we in the public or the press may not know. As a lieutenant governor, I`m sure you reviewed your share of situations and warnings. And some, you followed the expertise to dismiss, and, others, you made government changes for.

This is a process that usually happens out of public view. And yet something that I think any viewer, any American can relate to, to Libby`s point, is that the analysis of when to take these things literally has certainly grown and hopefully slightly improved with what we have all just lived through, Michael.


And I think Libby put her finger on a number of very, very important points that the Congress and the country need to consider now. And that is, we`re looking at the adversary within. And so our calculations no, our old calculations are thrown out the window, because, as Libby pointed out, this difference between aspirational vs. operational is one thing.

But when aspirations are operations, that becomes something very, very different. And I think that`s the reality check that the Congress now has to contend with. So, they`re going to take a step back, take a beat, not risk anything, while the appropriate assessments are made both internally and externally, meaning inside the Capitol and outside the Capitol through other agencies, so that they can figure out how to handle this going forward.

We have never had to worry about our own citizens this way. Even at the height of the great protests throughout our history, whether it was over labor or civil rights, we never had to worry about citizens actually arming themselves to kill elected officials and to destroy government property.

So it`s a very new, sorry to say, strange, crazy world, but it`s a dangerous one that we have to confront.


This news, as I mentioned to viewers, is breaking. We wanted to give everyone the latest on it. It`s clearly a representation where the House of Representatives is on these threats.

Our panel stays.

The other big story that we`re tracking that would have been our top story otherwise is, President Biden, after making this big announcement that the COVID vaccine will be available he says to all adult Americans by the end of May, is now taking on some of these Republican governors who he says are just blowing through and lifting these COVID guidelines before it`s safe.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I hope everybody has realized by now these masks make a difference. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease.

And the last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything`s fine, take off your mask, forget it.


MELBER: The president shading what he calls that Neanderthal thinking.

The stats here are, 78 million Americans have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. There is a long way to go, though. We have more on the future of a reopened America tonight.

But, right now, I want to bring into our expert panel MSNBC host Joshua Johnson. Michael and Libby also still with us.

Joshua, I want to begin with the language. Words matter. The president is known for all of his outreach and his inclusion, but at least when it comes to saving lives and what he sees as a really mistaken mentality, he`s shading them as Neanderthals, Joshua.

JOSHUA JOHNSON, HOST, "THE WEEK": Yes. It`s kind of strong language for the president to use. I understand what he is getting at in terms of the kind of, well, I don`t need any more help, kind of go-it-alone attitude.

Texas` Governor Greg Abbott, in announcing the openings, used as part of the justification that is vaccination is proceeding. So, presumably, his decision to reopen Texas businesses or allow businesses to fully reopen is dependent on this federal support continuing, basically support for vaccines.

Whether or not there are hiccups in that and that could change what Texas is doing, who knows, but he seems to be kind of counting on the federal government to finish that up in its entirety to allow Texas to reopen.

Also, COVID relief is a little bit of a delay right now. We`re just reporting that the Senate will not be holding its first procedural vote on the COVID bill today because they`re still waiting on some analysis. That vote is expected tomorrow.

And then Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, is expected to call for them to read the bill in its entirety, which will take a few hours.

So, this idea that the nation is ready to just kind of go it alone, do their thing, because, oh, things are going well, they are, but there are still other pieces that are yet to fully materialize, including getting all the vaccines out to people, improving the online systems where people sign up for vaccines.

And no one should count this as a done deal that the rate of progress we`re making now won`t have other hiccups or other impediments along the way.

MELBER: Michael?

STEELE: Yes, I agree with that.

But people do need to have a reality check. At the end of the day, you`re talking about an administration that has had to go from zero to 100 in less than a week to get this thing uploaded and going. We`re now 30 days into that.


STEELE: We`re now 30 days into that. It didn`t have the proper transition that any other administration has had in the past, particularly in a moment of crisis, like George Bush and Barack Obama in that transition dealing with the economy.

Barack Obama came in with a running start. This is not the situation here, and the reality of it is, what the administration has done is yeoman`s work to be at this point. To have 78 million Americans vaccinated between the end of December and now is a remarkable feat.

So, I appreciate a lot of the concern and the caution, and Jason is absolutely -- Joshua, rather, is absolutely right -- sorry about that, Joshua -- is absolutely right about the pace of things and the hiccups that could come.

But we have come a long way. And I`m hoping my fellow Americans appreciate that, number one, and are prepared to do what the president has asked to do. He is delivering on what he said he wanted to do. Now, can we deliver on what he`s asked us to do and to continue with patience and continue to move forward, and get the shot, wear the mask?

Texas, I know you want to go it alone, but, baby, when your people start getting sick, what are you going to do, right? You`re going to shut everything down and you`re going to be scrambling to find vaccines, and you`re going to be scrambling to tell people, OK, we got a quarantine again.

So, just play ball with the rest of the country and help us all get this right, so we don`t have to do this again in the fall.

MELBER: Well, and Libby, this is really federalism out being tested.

We have a system of government, whether people like it or not, that does give tremendous power to the state level. There are countries that do it different. And that`s why you don`t have this ongoing debate.

And I think what you saw -- we had a COVID adviser to the president, Andy Slavitt, last night. We were struck by how he said, this was a mistake. He really didn`t mince any words, and we thought that was pretty strong, because we all know how public officials sometimes try to leave diplomatic room.

Well, when, today, you go full Neanderthal, it`s even stronger. And it just shows the frustration, which I think ties together Joshua and Michael`s points, that, on the one hand, there`s so much more to do, which is why this administration really doesn`t want short-term progress to become an excuse for what they fear and they say the trend lines show will be long- term setbacks, Libby.

CASEY: Yes, Governor Abbott already learned this lesson once in trying to open up too aggressively before.

And we heard from President Biden today talk that number of Americans who have been affected by COVID, killed by COVID, sickened by COVID. Remember, he carries that number around with him. He said, I have it in the other room, but he quoted the number. And it`s on the mind of federal officials how many Americans die.

When you look at place like Texas, they`re not just talking about rolling back restrictions and opening businesses fully. They are also talking about -- they are getting rid of the mask mandate, and Texas isn`t the only state talking about this.

The mask mandate, there is no reason, no scientific evidence, no data that shows that that is -- no one is calling for that in the scientific or medical community. And, in fact, we`re seeing the leaders of hospitals, we`re seeing mayors really upset by this, because they know that this may indeed increase the load on what hospitals to have bear.


CASEY: And it`s women, it`s people of color, it`s front-line workers, it`s the working poor who have to be out working in those places where people will now have a lot more agency to go in and say, I don`t have to wear a mask anymore. The governor says I don`t have to do it.

Now, some businesses, we are seeing, push back and say, we`re going have a mask mandate in our business. But it`s a lot harder to enforce if the governor is not on board.

And, Ari, I just can`t help but think, what if we saw, like Dolly Parton did, Republican officials show that virtue signaling of wearing a mask, of, back to the first topic today, talking about how March 4 is not a day that you should go and storm the Capitol?

There are some basic, fundamental things that people like the governors of these Republican states could be doing, talking to their constituents to show them that wearing a mask doesn`t infringe on anyone else`s privacy or freedom, but you could potentially save the life of someone who is immunocompromised and otherwise may be -- could be in jeopardy at this point.

MELBER: Yes. And we have got -- great points all around.

We have got a fact-check up on the screen for people thinking about the different states, Joshua, which reminds everyone that Texas is far behind. They have struggled with this, which is offered as a public health warning. It`s not to drag any particular state. Somebody is going to come in the last. The United States is last globally.

But if you are watching this in Texas tonight, these rates and these threat matrixes mean it`s a good idea to continue to be cautious. That`s separate from policy, Joshua, where it seems that Texas has a bit of Trumpian backwash, where the things that were debated six months ago that have really fallen out of favor, as we have see more Republicans appear in a mask -- I mean, Ted Cruz`s walk of shame was in a Texas mask, which only drew attention that he wasn`t in Texas at the time.

But he was masked. And we`re talking about Texas. So, I`m curious what you think about that, because it almost seems like there would be a middle ground here, but that`s not what Governor Abbott is taking.

JOHNSON: There is a middle ground.

And I think that, for people who are watching in Texas, with regard to what Libby just said, we should be clear that Governor Abbott`s executive order does -- and I was just -- forgive me for looking down. I was just looking at the executive order to make sure I have this correct.

It does allow businesses and other establishments to still require employees and customers to take safety measures, including wearing masks. Kroger, Costco, Target, Starbucks, a few businesses have said that they are still going to require them. So ,if you`re a Texan and you`re watching this, and a business tells you to put a mask on, the governor`s executive order allows them to tell you to do that.

But you`re right. There is this kind of mixed messaging. Some of the kind of the -- the word you used is Trumpian, of course, some of the culture war issues from last year, even things like pushing back against "The New York Times"` 1619 Project.

There is a Texas lawmaker today who proposed an 1836 project that would teach history from a Texan point of view; 1836 is the year that Texas pulled away from Mexico and declared its independence before the Mexican- American War began.

So, yes, some of these cultural elements are still there, and that may well be effective in making things even harder to enforce.


Well, and it`s insightful. You mention the culture war. We`re actually going loop back to that with some special reporting later tonight with Michael Steele.

So, my thanks to him.

Joshua Johnson and Libby Casey, I want to thank both of you for kicking us off.

And I want to tell viewers the Peacock edition of Joshua`s show debuts this Friday. You can also catch him weekends on MSNBC.

We have our shortest break, just 30 seconds.

But there`s new testimony on the Capitol riots.

And after Biden`s vaccine announcement, new excitement about reopening. We`re going to show you exactly how it can be done.

But, this culture segment I mentioned, as Republicans are actually surrendering in a key way. I have that report -- when we`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: The Senate is taking its first key action soon on this COVID stimulus.

And there are the makings actually of a political breakthrough hiding kind of in plain sight. We have reported on how D.C. pundits fixate on polarization, partisanship obstruction, which are real parts of Washington, but don`t always tell the whole story, because, on Biden`s big relief bill, while most elected Republican senators are against it -- all Republican senators voted against the early procedural measure for the bill -- it`s becoming clear they`re not taking many big, bold steps to try to stop what is President Biden`s top agenda item.

They`re not rallying their troops to halt this. And that`s partly because some of those troops in the Republican grassroots are actually for the Biden plan.

So, after this divisive era, and this divisive election, and then this divisive post-election period, I want you to stop and consider something that`s important in our politics that also could be important to your public health and your COVID relief check.

Elected Republicans seem content to just let this thing pass without a major rebuttal or a counterplan or a rallying cry to demonize this as another big-liberal spending giveaway.

But we know what it looks like when the right does do that. In fact, when Joe Biden first entered the White House as vice president, that administration passed an $800 billion stimulus to confront the crippling recession. Then they proposed another spending push for homeowners.

The first package was way less than today`s nearly $2 trillion Biden plan. The market problems were worse. But the right was staging a huge backlash, from elected Republicans, to Tea Party activists, to a viral market rant by Rick Santelli crystallizing the argument that, even if emergency spending sounds urgent, it would amount to a transfer of wealth from responsible consumers to some vilified group of takers.

And that freak-out mixed economic talk with a tribal cultural backlash that animated activists and eventually had Michele Bachmann giving a Tea Party State of the Union.

At the time, only a minority of Republican voters ever backed Obama`s stimulus, even as experts said it would help many of those Republicans by lifting the economy. But much of that help, as a matter of policy, it was indirect, or it was hard to see.

The cultural attacks, they worked on the right. There weren`t checks in the mail to debunk the attacks. And even as actual economists did say the Obama/Biden administration was doing a lot for the economy and thus for American capitalism, the right-wing culture war spun a tale where grievances against Obama morphed into a false claim that he was actually trying to cancel capitalism.

In fact, that was a core claim by a recently deceased Rush Limbaugh at the most crucial conservative gathering at the time, CPAC.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What is so strange about being honest and saying I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country, so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation? Why would I want that to succeed?



MELBER: Why would you want that?

That`s what it looked like and sounded like in that first year of the Obama/Biden era.

Now, in this first year of the Biden/Harris era, CPAC is as important to the right as ever, conservative firepower gathered around their current stars and their defeated president when they just gathered.

But when it comes to Biden`s top priority, CPAC didn`t even put up a fight. They hardly even referenced the giant COVID spending plan at the gathering this year, let alone a wider cultural argument against capitalism.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): You know, on January the 6t, I objected during the Electoral College certification. Maybe you heard about it.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I got to say, Orlando is awesome. It`s not as nice as Cancun.


CRUZ: But it`s nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, everyone, when you`re in the ballroom, when you`re seated, you should still be wearing a mask.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How the hell is it possible that we lost? It`s not possible. I got more votes.

CRUZ: In the immortal words of William Wallace, freedom!




And in the immortal words of Janis Joplin, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, and Ted Cruz doesn`t have much left to lose after ditching his own state`s deadly storm.

So, he can throw out these slogans without really engaging with the work and policy that this COVID package proposes, from funding local governments hurt by the COVID recession, which includes Texas, Ohio, other big states, to going beyond the 2009 stimulus with checks that go directly to Americans in crisis, building on the kind of relief pushed by not only Joe Biden, but some of his earlier Democratic rivals.


BIDEN: We have no time to waste. We can finally get our economy moving again. And the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long.

ANDREW YANG (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My campaign will now give a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families. This is how we will get our country working for us again, the American people.


MELBER: Now, here is the deal.

When government relief means checks in your mailbox, dated right-wing attacks on makers and takers don`t work the same way, unless Republicans want to attack their own constituents as takers.

So, while a minority of Republican voters backed the Obama/Biden stimulus in 2009, as mentioned, today`s latest numbers show a majority back this one. Look at this. This is a big deal; 59 percent of Republicans back this Joe Biden 2021 stimulus.

Now, as a matter of political math, that is more than just a little bipartisan. It means, on this issue, Joe Biden`s won over more Republicans than Cruz or McConnell or the ex-president he vanquished, because, even if freedom can mean nothing left to lose, Joe Biden`s betting most people would like freedom and a government that has their back during the worst health crisis recession in a very long time.

Now, this walk through political history is partly indebted to our next guest, Obama and Clinton campaign veteran Chai Komanduri, who joins us for this political series tonight, "Chai Time!" where we dive deeper into the forces and politics shaping our lives.

And there he is, Chai Komanduri.


MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT. How you doing?

CHAI KOMANDURI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I love the illustration, by the way. That was really -- it was very -- that was fascinating. I looked like van Gogh.

MELBER: You like it?



MELBER: Well, we based this on some of your ideas. But I don`t think you have -- this is the first time you`re seeing it. Right? We see a likeness here, Chai.

KOMANDURI: Right. Yes, it is. It has a little avant-garde, a little shout- out to the universities I both worked at and attended. Very cool.

MELBER: Yes. Well, very cool. We`re glad to have you.

And, as I`m telling viewer, some of that cultural history is indebted to some of your ideas here. So, walk us through what you spotted, which is there really is not a cohesive or loud counterargument to a spending plan that is bigger, as mentioned, than the `09 one.

KOMANDURI: Yes, that`s absolutely correct.

If you think about it, the GOP basically does one trick over and over again. They take any issue, whether it`s national security, the economy, and they turn into it a culture war.

Let`s look at the COVID issue, which is a medical issue. It`s a scientific issue. They have turned it into an expression of toxic masculinity, where Republicans refuse to wear masks. They refuse to socially distance. And they do all this at rallies while they watch Trump dance to "Macho Man."

The same thing occurred really with the Tea Party, where they turned it into a makers-vs.-takers dynamic. Of course, you had the first African- American president, with the implication that he was performing a wealth transfer to nonwhite minorities.

But it did not happen with this stimulus bill. And I think it`s really important to think about why it did not occur. And I think, quite frankly, direct checks are basically culture war Kryptonite.


It`s fascinating when you put it that way.

Chai stays, obviously. This is "Chai Time!"

But, for this conversation, which is the roots of these conservative arguments, we want to welcome back in Michael Steele, former RNC chair, who backed Joe Biden.

I`m curious what you think about all of this, including two memorable phrases from Chai here, that they turned something that could have been a health and science issue into projected toxic masculinity, and the Kryptonite here?

STEELE: No, I think both of those are spot on in terms of the impact of what we see happening among Republicans right now, because, when you don`t have a policy prescription to offer as a counterdiscussion point, or a policy position, yes, you personalize it, you demonize it, and you rail against it, as the clips that you showed earlier displayed.

The answer to Rush Limbaugh`s charge about what this stimulus from Obama, which, by the way, was put together with the Bush administration, before -- that was part of a continuing storyline -- was, did any of that ever happen over those succeeding eight years? Did you become -- did this country become less capitalist under Barack Obama?

I know some of my friends on the far left would say that was a bad thing that it didn`t, all right? But that makes the point, was that, at the end of the day, Democrats and Republican have the same goals in mind when it comes to working-class Americans.

And so whether it is to try to figure out how to keep -- to get homeownership back in the hands of the American people who were losing their homes at the time, all right -- so, yes, you didn`t get a stimulus check, but the process of not losing your home was made easier and the pressures were over time alleviated, vs. this crisis, where a check is the thing that`s required because people have lost jobs.

They have lost livelihoods, they have lost businesses.


STEELE: It`s a very different economic dynamic.


MELBER: Yes. And some of this is complicated.

I mean -- well, Chai, let me put it like this. They used -- the Republicans on climate change used to say, well, I`m not a scientist, right?


MELBER: A lot of us would say, yes, we`re not economists, but we all know the economy was shut down for a long period of time and people were asked to stay home for safety, no fault of their own.

So giving them some checks here that are overdue is key. And I want, for your analysis, as well as whatever you were going to tell us, to put up something else you flagged with Romney. He infamously got caught blasting the so-called takers with his 47 percent. Hurt his image. It was unpopular even then in 2012.

Chai, Mitt Romney is out here proposing direct checks now.

KOMANDURI: Yes. And it tells how much direct checks have really changed the political conversation.

The reality is, is that spending programs are fairly easy to demonize. Somebody in Florida might not care that somebody in Texas is getting a bridge. But they also take a long time, quite frankly, to get the money out the door.

The same thing is true with tax cuts and tax credits. It takes probably a full year before that`s in the tax code. And then, at that point, you probably need an army of accountants to figure out how to get that tax credit or to take advantage of that tax cut.

A lot of working class people quite simply cannot do that. They don`t have the time. So, the direct checks really have changed the entire cultural conversation and have really defanged the Republicans` most potent point of attack, the idea that Democrats favor one group of people over another group of people, and that other group of people includes you.

MELBER: Hmm. It`s really well put.

And it`s coursing through all of this, which matters for policy. It matters for what`s going to happen not only with the COVID bill, but if Joe Biden can keep getting half or more of the Republican voters on these kind of issues, he is going to be cornering a lot of their elected leadership, which is not what the D.C. pundit class was talking about even two months ago.

So, that`s why we like "Chai Time!" sometimes, just as we like Michael Steele, late-night, early in the day, whenever we can get the insights.

STEELE: There you go.

MELBER: Thanks to both of you.


KOMANDURI: Thank you.

STEELE: All right, guys, take care.

MELBER: Thank you both. Great. See you again soon.

Coming up, when might we get back into being in big crowds safely? We have a special report on lessons that could control our future.

But, first, more from the hearing today in the House moving that session over a threat of extremist violence.


MELBER: We`re following breaking news, as House lawmakers announce they`re changing their schedule over these security concerns.

They canceled planned votes on Thursday, amidst the warning of a potential MAGA-style attack, violence on the Capitol. Again, this is a response to deal with that, but it`s not every day that we have the government just changing its plans or its votes because of the prospect of another armed attack on the Capitol, January 6 looming large here.

Also, new testimony on that same set of riots and why it took so long for the National Guard to show up. The head of the D.C. National Guard testifying today he was pleading with the Army for more help and says military leaders were actually worried more about what it might look like if they got involved, the so-called optics.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM WALKER, COMMANDING GENERAL, NATIONAL GUARD: The Army senior leaders did not think that it would look good, it would be a good optic. They further stated that it could incite the crowd.

SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Was the issue of optics ever brought up by Army leadership when the U.S. D.C. National Guard was deployed during the summer of 2020? Was that discussed?

WALKER: It was never discussed.

PETERS: Did you think that was unusual?

WALKER: I did.


MELBER: This is a problem, and it`s pretty distinct. We want you to understand exactly what`s being referenced, the different response on display here, the absence of National Guardsmen initially on January 6, these references to optics.

But they were not worried about that. Indeed, they were out in force, whatever they thought it might or might not look like at Black Lives Matter protests, with the Trump administration in charge, over the summer.

There is also the data. We have reported on this before, but we want you to see it tonight amidst these accountability hearings, 289 people arrested at the BLM protest in Washington in one day, 41 arrests initially on that Capitol riot day. The number has grown later.

But the stark difference and the evidence of racial discrimination is important as part of this accountability. This is the information we`re getting on the threat, as well as the revelations that are important to keep in mind, because there is more than one thing to do here. There is safety and national security. There is also equity and injustice.

Now, as the Biden administration does say everyone can get vaccinated within three months, there is excitement about that. I think we all get it. When will we get back to normal?

It turns out there is basically a time machine with some answers. Our special report on that is next.


MELBER: Welcome back.

The president says everybody can get a vaccine by late May, announcing there will be enough vaccine to cover all U.S. adults. That`s exciting.

So, when will we return to some kind of normal? When will people leave the house without worrying about getting COVID or infecting others? When can you go safely to a ball game or a concert, as Nicolle Wallace and I were just discussing?

Well, there are actually clues from around the world. We often compare death rates, where the U.S. does the worst. You can see the difference between the U.S. and China, with our high death rate.

But there are other positive metrics that can also show some of the way out of this, countries that are beating COVID with safety measures, vaccine rollouts, and comprehensive ways to manage what happens after the public is vaccinated.

Indeed, Dr. Fauci singled out one country as a leader.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Israel is rolling out the COVID vaccine far more quickly and efficiently than any other nation by far.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: No country is vaccinating its people faster than Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Israel, they are months ahead of us; 50 percent of everyone over age 16 has had a shot.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: When you look at the amount of vaccinations per 100 people, namely, how many vaccinations were given per 100 people, Israeli -- Israel is way up there.


MELBER: Way up there.

Israel now has the record for fastest vaccination campaign across the world, nine out of 10 seniors vaccinated. Over half the population has at least a dose.

And some of the reasons may not be replicable. A small country of under nine million people is a bit more like managing a state. Indeed, it`s about the size and population of New Jersey, as opposed to a giant, sprawling nation like U.S. or China.

But in other ways, looking at a leading country like Israel can be like having a bit of a policy time machine to see into our own future, what happens when vaccine rates improve and the decisions that may be coming our way.

We know Israel started around the same time as the U.S. First shots came about five days after America`s, seen on camera right here with their Prime Minister Netanyahu, and here in the U.S. a nurse in New York.

Soon, Israel leapt ahead, though, of most countries, including the U.S.; 90 percent of Israelis over 50 have received both needed shots for vaccinations. Over half of the country has at least one dose. Compare that to about 15 percent in the U.S.

Israel is a country with universal health care and near universal military conscription. It is safety-oriented. It has pushed hard for people to get their shots. There are examples. They turned an Ikea showroom into a vaccination site. Some local governments tried to make the process more social, which is an interesting appeal in a time of so much social distancing, encouraging people there to go shot for shot.


YAARA MAIMON, RESIDENT OF TEL AVIV: Tel Aviv municipality did a cool idea where they call youngsters to do a vaccine in a bar, and, thanks to that, they give free beer.


MELBER: Hey, whatever works.

Also, it`s happy hour somewhere, or whatever people say.

Now, for where the virus is in America, we have seen these images of crowded markets or beaches that bring up concern about super-spreaders. But Israel right now has crowds that do not, according to experts, bring the same risks, people walking into theaters and other indoor spots that the CDC warns would usually take more time than this.

So, think about it. How can they be doing this? Even with the high vaccination rate that I just reported, we still know that any other person could go into those places, could still spread COVID indoors. So, what gives?

Well, again, this is where we get a little bit of a trip into our possible future. The answer is vaccine passports. Safety experts say these are a critical tool, while others see it as a controversial form of government tracking.

But this debate may be coming here. Let me explain, Israel using a green pass, which is kind of like an I.D., to verify who has been fully vaccinated. So, then you can have those scenes I just showed you of groups safely entering places like hotel, gyms, theater, even concerts.

It`s basically a passport that Israel tells to the vaccinated, don`t leave home without it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So this is basically the green badge. I downloaded it from this app. I`m so happy. I can go back to the gym right now.


MELBER: The pass comes a week after you get your second shot, or it comes if you have recovered from COVID-19, providing the natural short-term immunity.

Now, there are already trade-offs. Thousands apparently are trying to get forged green passes there, which raises major health concerns about the whole system, as well as the amount of risk any society would want to take on this kind of certification.

Many Americans, as we have reported, have been protesting masks as an encroachment on liberty. Well, this fully digitized tracking certainly demands more of you than choosing when to voluntarily put on mask. European human rights experts already raising alarm about the passes that could provide a lane for unlawful discrimination. Ethicists in Germany worry that creating this type of system encourages a new class of basically special people vaccinated with special privileges.

Now there are probably no completely easy answers here, but this is a country that`s leaned into a robust government role, a national health care system, some robust and new regulation experimentation, plus these voluntary sacrifices to personal privacy to get towards a goal that, let`s remember, a goal that brings us together in our so-called divided times, because so many people around the world, from the United States to China to Europe to Israel, want to reopen society so we can all return to many of the things make most lives worth living.

And as America follows this road under President Biden to wider vaccination, well, these are probably some of the examples, models and debates in store for us ahead.

In that spirit, as we do some solutions journalism, I`m thrilled to tell you we have a special guest live from Tel Aviv, Israel, Felicia Schwartz, "The Wall Street Journal"`s Israel/Palestinian territories correspondent.

Thanks for joining us.

You have reported on this. What are the key lessons that you think could apply in the United States?

FELICIA SCHWARTZ, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Thanks so much for having me. It`s great to be here.

What we`re seeing in Israel is a return to a type of new normal. All kinds of activities, gyms, hotels, concerts that have been out of reach for a year are coming back. And it`s been really, really fascinating to report on all of this.

In terms of lessons, one of the things that worked really well here to speed this effort was, before they opened the vaccine drive up to everyone, they gave out extra shots at the end of the day to anyone who showed up for them.

This fostered a bit of a spirit of competition. People really wanted to come get the shots, and it really sped things along at first. I think another thing is the universal health care system here. It`s really strong. Under Israeli law, everyone gets coverage, and the system is fully digitized. So, Israel has tons of information about all the patients here, who they are, where they live, what their risk factors are, and they flooded them with text messages, e-mails, phone calls telling them exactly when and where to come get a shot.

And I think this has made the campaign very, very efficient.

MELBER: Yes. Yes.

SCHWARTZ: Another thing is...

MELBER: Well, let me turn you to the green pass, because that footage is appealing to a lot of people who want to return to life. Experts say it allows you to go faster than you would without it.

Do you think it`s working in a way that could apply in the U.S.? Or, based on your knowledge as a reporter in both countries, you think not?

SCHWARTZ: Yes, I think there is a very healthy debate here about this system and what rights people should have in society.

But health officials I have interviewed said this is really key to getting back to normal. Israel is -- in the future, as you said, and officials are telling us that it`s quite close to the point where all the people who say they want a shot have gotten a shot.

So, now we`re closing in on the time when Israel has to convince the fence- sitters. And these green passports, being able to go back to the gym, to a hotel, starting Sunday, a bar or a restaurant, officials think that these privileges will be really key to getting the parts of the population -- one survey I saw said up to a quarter people don`t want to get the shot.

They`re really hoping this will convince them to come and take one.

MELBER: That`s a really interesting point, again, from your reporting. And we talk so much about rules and mandates. You`re describing a bit of a softer push, because, again you don`t have to participate, but you`re talking about incenting people to do so.

Also something that`s gotten some notice, as we look at this country and this example, Israel will begin, they say, vaccinating Palestinians with Israeli work permits this weekend. And they provided the Palestinian Authority with, they say, 2,000 vaccine doses, another 3,000 coming, but there are other four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

This has been widely debated as a piece of the wider conflict that everyone I think is familiar with in the region. What is your reporting and what is your view on the equities and human rights considerations there?

SCHWARTZ: So it`s been a huge debate here.

Beginning this Sunday, Israel will vaccinate -- it`s about 128,000 Palestinians who have Israeli work papers. They either work inside of Israel or in Israeli settlements. And it`s been the recommendation of Health Ministry officials, as well as Israeli companies who employee Palestinian workers, one, to vaccinate these workers, but also to vaccinate the West Bank and also Gaza more broadly, for both humanitarian reasons, but also because these societies are very commingled.

And I think, as the WHO and others like to say, no one is safe until everyone is safe. So, I`m not sure where this debate will come down, but there is obviously a long history of conflict here. And there are sensitivities involved, but there is a lot, I think, under way.

MELBER: Understood. So many interesting aspects of this. You have been a leader in the reporting on it, which is why we wanted to get some insights from you, Felicia Schwartz, all the way from Tel Aviv, Israel.

Thanks for staying up with us.

And we will be right back.


MELBER: We close tonight with something referenced by our own guest Libby Casey earlier, Dolly Parton getting her own COVID vaccine and singing some new words to her iconic song "Jolene."


DOLLY PARTON, MUSICIAN: (singing): Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I`m begging of you, please, don`t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you`re dead, then that`s a bit too late.



MELBER: She`s still got it. And we couldn`t be happier.

And, on this one, Dolly Parton gets the last word on THE BEAT tonight.