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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 4/22/21

Guests: Dave Aronberg, Carmen Best, Pete Buttigieg


Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg discusses President Biden`s proposed infrastructure bill. Facing mounting scandal, Congressman Matt Gaetz hires consultants and pleads for donations. The recent history of the criminal justice system in America is examined. Senator Ted Cruz speaks out on the Republican Party`s influence over the Supreme Court.



Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

We have a lot in tonight`s program, including my interview tonight live with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, as Joe Biden goes big on these new spending plans.

Plus, all kinds of heat on Republican Matt Gaetz, hiring consultants and pleading for donations, because this scandal`s price tag is already mounting.

But we begin where the week has been, where everyone in America who pays attention, the news has been. We begin tonight with an ongoing reckoning on what more America may do as convicted murderer and now ex-Officer Derek Chauvin awaits his sentencing, with reports of potential -- and I say potential -- momentum for police reform in the Senate.

Meanwhile, as is so often the case when you live through these stories, or you cover them, or you keep an eye on them, there are so many devastating reminders of the stakes; 20-year-old Daunte Wright, fatally shot by a police officer, was laid to rest today.

Mourners gathering in Minneapolis, including, in a grim overlap, members of George Floyd`s family. Now, Wright was killed during a traffic stop just 10 days ago. I don`t know about you, but a lot has been happening. I can`t decide whether that feels like it was longer or shorter.

Now, the officer had said she thought her gun was a Taser. She, in an unusual development, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. What we want you to hear tonight, as we begin our broadcast, Reverend Al Sharpton, who is also, of course, our colleague, delivering this eulogy for Wright.


REV. AL SHARPTON, HOST, "POLITICS NATION": You thought he was just some kid with air freshener. He was a prince.

And all of Minneapolis has stopped today to honor the prince of Brooklyn Center.

One said, well, they said they saw some air fresheners in the back of his car.

Well, we come today as the air fresheners for Minnesota. We`re trying to get the stench of police brutality out of the atmosphere.


SHARPTON: We`re trying to get the stench of racism out of the atmosphere. We can`t breathe in your stinking air no more.


MELBER: Just a few of those moving moments.

This call for a wider change comes as now convicted murderer Derek Chauvin remains incarcerated. He`s being held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, according to prison officials, for his own safety.

And we`re getting our first real look inside the courtroom`s jury process. Now, this is America, so it was open court. We all heard the testimony and the evidence, if you wanted to, if you wanted to follow it.

What you don`t always know is what`s going on with the jurors. Now, they have a system where you have the jurors and you have an alternate. And we`re hearing for the first time today from an alternate juror speaking out, saying that, while she was not part of, ultimately, those deliberations, like the other jurors, she sat through everything, she had a duty to uphold, and she would have found Chauvin guilty as well.



I just felt like the prosecution made a really good, strong argument. Dr. Tobin was the one that really did it for me. He explained everything. I understood it, down to where he said, this is the moment that he lost his life. Really got to me.


MELBER: That really got to her.

And if this system ever works -- and we have discussed the many ways it doesn`t, but, if it ever works, it works by people taking these duties seriously. She says it got to her, because, apparently, she saw George Floyd as a human being. And thus there was humanity in thinking about the way he was killed. And she followed the facts and the evidence.

The alternate juror also talking about something that, again, we wouldn`t know about necessarily from watching on the outside, that experience in that jury box, being an alternate juror and she says, at times, locking eyes with Chauvin.


CHRISTENSEN: You`re writing notes, and you`re looking back and forth at the lawyers. And then you`re trying to look at the witnesses.

And then, once in a while, you just look straight ahead. And he was pretty much straight ahead of me. And we just kind of locked eyes at some point a couple of times throughout the trial. It was a little weird, a little strange. I mean, I looked away as soon as I could.


MELBER: She also relayed that she just simply could not understand how a call about the potential use of the $20 counterfeit bill ended in this killing, which the jury found a murder.

It`s the same question that so many protesters asked and so many people who watched the video asked as they rallied around what has become a movement catalyzed and escalated after George Floyd`s killing.

Meanwhile, there`s a political backlash brewing.

And I want to say something here before I get to this next part. You look at a jury in America, and they come in there in Minnesota, and 12 of them heard all the evidence and came to a resolution.

Keep in mind, although we haven`t interviewed all the jurors, that, statistically, 12 jurors in Minnesota would likely include some Trump voters and some Republicans.

But they did their duty and they followed the facts and the evidence, and they came to a unanimous verdict.

I say that to you tonight. It may sound obvious. OK, Ari, why are you telling me that? Well, compare that, what regular citizens were at least able to do in this process, to what their elected representatives are doing, because they`re not responding to the unanimous verdict here by saying, OK, let`s take stock or let`s calmly reason with it.

We are witnessing a mounting political backlash from many, not all, but many elected Republicans, at the state and federal level.

Now, "The New York Times" has a brand-new story on this. It`s a doozy today, reporting on how there is now a record-breaking number of Republican bills that try to target protests. That`s you. That`s your right to speak in protest. In fact, Republicans in 34 states have now introduced 81 bills that basically target protests.

They do a host of different things. It`s more than double such proposals in any other year ever.

And what is this in response to? Well, to what "The Washington Post" found were 96 percent peaceful-level protests over months and months during the difficult times of COVID and otherwise, of BLM protests. And what are those protesters asking for? Rules and enforcement to stop the murder of innocent people.

That`s our opening tonight.

And I want to bring in our guests, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Gene Robinson from "The Washington Post" and the former chief of the Seattle police department, Carmen Best.

Good evening to both of you.

Gene, your thoughts on the above?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well I wonder, first of all, about those bills that are being introduced against protests.

I wonder how they would stack up in terms of the Constitution, even with this Supreme Court. This court even recognizes the right to free speech and free assembly and the whole nine yards.

That said, it is shocking, yet we`re not shocked. It is shocking that this verdict could end up being such a partisan divide about this verdict. It is pure tribalism and it`s pure running to one`s corner, stoked by the likes of FOX News and the rest of the right-wing media ecosystem that is encouraging conservatives and Republicans to think that the jury didn`t do its job, to think that the jury was somehow influenced by protests.

And that`s just a terrible libel against the jury system as I, as a journalist, have watched it perform over the years. The one consistent thing has been that jurors actually do try to get it right. And they pay attention and they do their best.

And if you don`t believe that about our court system, then you really don`t believe in our court system.

MELBER: Carmen?


It`s kind of astounding, the number of legislation that is trying to silence the protesters and squelch the First Amendment right to free speech. On the other hand, there is a lot of legislation that is now before electeds to look at having consistent policies and practices and procedures for officers across the board.

So, these are two juxtaposed positions. But I absolutely believe that people are at a turning point, and that they are looking for reform and for consistent policy and practices, and that these attempts to squelch people who want to express their First Amendment free speech are not going to go very far.

And I will say that I was a law enforcement officer for almost three decades. And at no point did we want is to oppress people who wanted to peacefully express their First Amendment free speech.


BEST: And I think that that is one of the basis for the Constitution.

So, I think that it won`t go as far as these attempts will show.

MELBER: And I can hear you loud and clear, literally, so I think viewers can make sense of that. We were losing the video feed a little, but we could hear Carmen.

Gene, take a listen to this point that the alternate juror invoked, the power, however grim, the evidentiary power, of the pulmonologist in that testimony. Take a listen.


DR. MARTIN TOBIN, PULMONOLOGIST: The toe of his boot is no longer touching the ground. This means that all of his body weight is being directed down at Mr. Floyd`s neck.

You can see his eyes. He`s conscious. And then you see that he isn`t. That`s the moment the light goes out of his body.


ROBINSON: Well, Ari...

MELBER: I remember that day of testimony.

Gene, let me ask you -- well, I want to ask you something specifically, but go ahead, and then I will follow up.

ROBINSON: No, I was just going to say just about Dr. Tobin, I really think he was probably the most effective and impactful expert witness I have ever heard testify in any trial.

He was just astoundingly good at communicating what he was trying to get across, including having the jurors feel their own necks and their own -- features of their own anatomy, and involving them in that way.

It was -- it was really quite something to see and hear.

MELBER: Yes, that`s -- and that means something coming from you. That`s very interesting.

And it goes to the wider question I did want to ask you, Gene, which is, we live in a world with tons of information and misinformation, and all the video and digital and imagery and content, and we`re all adjusting to it. And it was a video that catalyzed this trial, so that you can`t go one way or the other on all good or bad.

Having said that, lord knows, on the Internet, you have a lot of talk. People say, well, because of their predispositions or the ideology, they have a different view about what the officer did, or they`re just talking. And everyone has the right to talk.

But I`m curious what you think of -- as we listen to this alternate juror, we don`t necessarily know her politics or what view she brought in the courtroom, and we don`t need to. What we know is that she seemed to really take the evidence seriously to find the facts. She seemed to have a recall of it, as a layperson, right? She`s not a trained journalist or lawyer or anything like that. She just did her job.

And she recalled that powerful moment, and she recalled the evidence.

I wonder what you think about that at a time when facts themselves are under so much strain.

ROBINSON: Well, I think it`s really encouraging.

And it says something. It says that fact and truth can cut through the noise, because, after all, the jury is the finder of fact in a trial, right? And so these are -- they found these to be the facts.

And it says that the jurors, they were instructed to pay attention, pay attention to the testimony, pay attention to the law. And, like most jurors I have ever watched in any trial, they tried their best to do what the judge instructed them to do.

And I think that`s just -- that`s encouraging, no matter -- it may be the Wild West on the Internet and on social media, but it was a search for justice inside that courtroom. And that is -- that`s just unambiguously a good thing.

MELBER: And that`s a fitting point here, as we kick off this hour of coverage.

Gene Robinson, always grateful to you for your insights. Thank you.

We`re coming up in just 30 seconds, Pete Buttigieg`s debut on THE BEAT. The transportation secretary is in the news on a very big battle -- when we`re back in 30 seconds.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States sets out on the road to cut greenhouse gases in half, in half, by the end of this decade. That`s where we`re headed as a nation.


MELBER: President Biden calling for action on climate, jobs, infrastructure.

And we have a guest now at the center of so much of this, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

And it`s your first time on THE BEAT during a very busy week. Thanks for making the time, sir.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Glad I could be with you. Thank you.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Let`s get into it, Mr. Secretary.

You were saying just today that transportation as a sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Walk us through what your boss, the president, is aiming to do, and how you fit into these plans.

BUTTIGIEG: So, the president is setting very ambitious targets for the United States to cut our emissions in half on the timeline he laid out.

But, before I even get into that, let`s just reflect for a moment on how great it is to see the U.S. leading once more, to see a convening of nations from around the world, led by the United States, back at the table that we walked away from under the last administration.

So, it`s in that context that the president is challenging all of us to make sure that we meet these goals. And, as he so often says, this is also the moment when we can put away the old false framework of climate vs. jobs, and demonstrate, especially in sectors like transportation, where I work, that job creation through climate action is the way forward.


And you mentioned where you work. You are right in the thick of this spending battle over infrastructure. And many viewers may remember you from both your time as a mayor, your time as a candidate. And I`m sure you remember that we heard from a lot of Republicans that claimed they were for infrastructure last time around.

Now, Senate Republicans have put out, as you know, this counterproposal, new today. They say it would be $568 billion. It`s a quarter of the Biden plan. It would double the amount spent on roads and bridges, a focus on that piece of it.

So, Mr. Secretary, when you see this from the Republicans, brand-new, what is your response?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, we welcome the fact that the Republicans are joining the conversation with specific proposals.

Of course, we`re still getting into the specifics, seeing if it`s apples to apples. There`s a lot of complexity in the math here. We believe this is the time to go big. And, obviously, we believe the president`s vision is the right way to do it. But this is a negotiation. This is a process.

And to the extent that there`s what looks like a good-faith conversation opening up about what the right answer is, let`s have that conversation. And I`m glad to be digging in with it in the days ahead.

MELBER: When they say, well, you guys have just expanded the term infrastructure to bring in other things that you like that aren`t infrastructure, what do you say to that?

BUTTIGIEG: I would actually -- this might sound funny, but I would say that challenging and expanding the tradition around infrastructure is actually one of the best parts of our tradition around infrastructure.

What I mean by that is, if you look back into our history, when we did things like the Transcontinental Railroad or the Interstate Highway System, those would not have been viewed as traditional by the standards of their day. Trains weren`t traditional until we built them.

And so, right now, yes, we`re doing things that are challenging the frontier of what we`re used to calling infrastructure. You look at broadband, Internet. Nobody was talking about that when Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System.

But, right now, you need an Internet connection and an interstate highway connection in order to thrive in the economy. So, we believe in and stand by our broad conception of infrastructure.

But let me also say this. If there folks on the other side of the aisle, and there`s a good policy, like making it possible for more people to get the health care they need, or to build broadband infrastructure, and we don`t agree on what to call it, if we agree to disagree on whether we say it`s infrastructure, please be for it anyway if we can agree that it`s good policy.

MELBER: Right.

BUTTIGIEG: And I want to make sure that the focus of the conversation is on the investments we need to make for Americans to thrive.

MELBER: Yes, I think that`s a fair point. And people know how much this field is evolving.

There`s something else that the Biden administration has been doing through some of these spending bills, which is start big picture -- everybody knew you needed some kind of a COVID package -- a lot of folks have said you need some kind infrastructure package -- and then bring in other important policies.

We reported on that and discussed that regarding the child poverty issues in the last spending bill. And now it`s really interesting to see the Biden administration say, this is also a chance to address historic, documented racial inequities from the past in our infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the concept has also gotten some backlash. So, I wanted to get you on this.

Here`s how some of the debate is playing out.


BIDEN: It includes everyone, regardless of your race or your zip code. Too often, investments have failed to meet the needs of marginalized communities left behind.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I guess now, according to Democrats, roads are now racist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And are we supposed to believe that, in America, in 2021, zoning laws are racist?

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: People who believe highways are racist are going to get tens of billions of dollars as part of this plan.


MELBER: You know, I will do the miniature fact-check, and then I will let you handle it.

I -- it wasn`t my understanding that the claim was that highways themselves are racist. But it seems that you have actually -- the administration here struck a nerve on something that has a lot of history behind it.

Walk us through which -- what you want to do here and your response, if any, to those kinds of critiques.

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, I`m a little bit surprised that they`re so surprised.

If a highway was built in a certain area, designed on that route for the purpose of reinforcing segregation -- and let`s be clear, that`s part of how some of those routes got chosen in a lot of cities -- or if a highway wound up dividing a neighborhood, or if a highway that was going to be set up to replace a certain neighborhood happened to always be black and brown neighborhoods, yes, there is racism physically built into that story.

And I don`t talk about that in the spirit of trying to make people feel guilty. I talk about it in the spirit of how we have got to fix that this time around. So, where federal policy divided communities or wrecked neighborhoods, let`s use federal policy this time to make it better.

Let`s connect where there was a division. Let`s invest where there was a disinvestment, because the truth is, that`s not only the right thing to do for those minoritized groups who have been overburdened and underserved. It also will make the entire country or the entire community we`re talking about better off.

This is what it means to have equity in our transportation policy. And I would think it should be something that everybody could get behind.

MELBER: And, also, we got to get this in.

The need for infrastructure has become something of a topic on late-night TV, which means some of the convo is breaking through. But take a look.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Today, President Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss his $2 trillion infrastructure plan. Unfortunately, the meeting started late because of road closures on I-90, 91, 92, 93, 94, and 95.




MELBER: That`s -- now, that`s our NBC colleague Jimmy Fallon.

But I give you the last word.

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, I mean, this is our time to make sure that infrastructure is not a punchline in America. That`s a consequence of the choices we`re about to make.

So, do we want to be embarrassed about it, do we want to be joking about it, or do we want to be proud of it?

You can tell the contagious pride that the president has in the United States of America. Now`s the chance to make good on that for a new generation.

MELBER: Mr. Secretary, as mentioned, very busy times for you. We`re keeping an eye on all the spending proposals.

Really appreciate you making your BEAT debut. I hope you will come back.

BUTTIGIEG: I look forward to it. Thanks for having me on.

MELBER: Thank you, Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Coming up, we have a special report on a new opening in the fight for real criminal justice reform. It`s my special comment later. I hope you will stay for it.

But, first, boy, is it a doozy, MAGA Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz trying to raise money amidst the widening sex crime probe.

That`s next.


MELBER: Trump ally Matt Gaetz in full crisis mode.

The Florida congressman has been embroiled in this sex crime probe by the DOJ. He`s also trying to drum up campaign donations with a TV ad blitz in his own home district.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Big government, big tech, big business, big media, they would all breathe a sigh of relief if I were no longer in the Congress fighting for you. They lie about me because I tell the truth about them.


MELBER: That`s a political ad a long ways away from the midterm elections. But the ad has a plea for money. That might make some sense.

New campaign filings show Gaetz spent over $100,000 on direct mail just a day after "The New York Times" first broke the news about this DOJ probe.

And then Gaetz did something that I guess you have to see to believe. Of all the people in the world, he chose to hire convicted Trump aide Roger Stone for consulting right now. Stone, of course, famously had his home raided, was arrested, indicted and convicted in the Mueller probe, later pardoned by Trump.

Now he`s found himself in the crosshairs of a new DOJ probe because they allege Stone is hiding income and has unpaid taxes. Now, Roger Stone is a convicted and then pardoned criminal. The feds got him recently, the FBI raiding his home, as mentioned. I mean, this is not someone who has been on the better end of federal investigations as of late.

This was the footage. He was even in his shirt "Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong" in that leaked video footage of the raid. Now Roger Stone is the one Gaetz turns to for advice about how to avoid getting busted by the DOJ.

Gaetz is under investigation for a range of potential allegations, including possible sex trafficking and sex with a minor. As we have reported, he denies all allegations and has not been charged.

We`re joined now by Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida.

Thanks for coming back. How are you doing?

DAVE ARONBERG, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA, STATE ATTORNEY: I`m doing well, Ari. Thanks for having me back.

MELBER: Absolutely.

You`re a lawyer. I`m a lawyer. Anyone can retain the counsel and advice they want and need, and everyone has a right to counsel. So, if Roger Stone`s going to be a strategic adviser to Matt Gaetz, I don`t deny his right to make that decision.

But I ask you, as a Florida expert, is that a great person to be counseling him right now? Is it a good idea?

ARONBERG: I don`t think so, Ari, but I`m not on his side of the aisle.

But when you`re Matt Gaetz, Florida man, who do you turn to? Another Florida man, Roger Stone, who lives in Broward County. And he is at the forefront of the Trump playbook of object, deflect and project, and raise money the entire time.

And Matt Gaetz is not going to be able to use all this stuff, fighting the corporate media and the swamp and all that stuff, in a courtroom, but he can use it in the court of public opinion. And his district is ruby-red. So, this is his way of filling his campaign coffers and ensuring his reelection in an overwhelmingly Republican district, where only another Republican can beat him.

MELBER: Yes, you make a fair point that, if he`s only worried about his right flank, the more that he can recast this politically as a Trumpian, Stone-like situation, where there are people whose perceptions are that that was all about your friendship with Trump, and not some other greater malfeasance, that maybe that plays politically.

To that end, again, because we`re just following where this goes, Roger Stone speaking out. I should mention I have interviewed him in the past. We have invited him on the program. We were in discussions with him. He was maybe going to come on the program in January. He is invited back if he wants. We haven`t spoken to him since all the Mueller probe.

But he has spoken out elsewhere. And here`s what he`s saying.


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: He needs to go on offense. This is right up front in Stone`s rules.

The left-wing, non-journalist, fake news media are the most vicious, malicious, dishonest people that I have ever come across.


MELBER: My question to you, as a Florida attorney, here is, what does it matter what the -- quote, unquote -- "media" is doing?

Whether Mr. Stone is exaggerating or correct or not, what does it matter if there`s a real federal legal problem here facing Greenberg and potentially Gaetz?

ARONBERG: It doesn`t matter in a court of law. And the federal prosecutors aren`t going to care what Roger Stone says.

But this is meant for the consumption of the people in his district and the MAGA universe around the world. Never mind the fact that it was an investigation opened under Bill Barr, not quite the deep state. And it`s interesting that, when Gaetz hired his lawyers to defend himself, he hired people with extensive background in the same deep state, the same Department of Justice that he is decrying.

So, his defense in the court of public opinion is going to be very different than in the actual criminal court. And the federal prosecutors aren`t going to care what he says. This is going to be about what Joel Greenberg can offer.

That`s why I think the May 15 deadline, Ari, is so crucial, because, if they end up with a cooperation agreement with Joel Greenberg, it makes it much more likely that they will charge Matt Gaetz. If they don`t agree with Greenberg that he will flip, then I think it`s less likely that he will be charged under child sex trafficking laws.

MELBER: So your view, legally, is that, in and around May 15, if there`s not an acceleration in the case, that may be ultimately good news for Gaetz?

ARONBERG: When it comes to the charge of child sex trafficking, I think Joel Greenberg is essential. He was described by Matt Gaetz as his wingman. He knows where all the bodies are buried.

But he has a credibility problem. The feds are not going to want to cut a deal with him unless he can come up with the goods, unless he has corroboration, e-mails, text messages, because he has no credibility.

I likened him, the last time I was on your show, Ari, to the Joker without the cool makeup. Since then, I`m pleased to say that I have researched more of the Joker. I watched Joaquin Phoenix. And I think that Greenberg is a less sympathetic version of the Joker, without the nifty dance moves.

MELBER: Now, Dave, when do you have time to watch all these movies while doing your full-time job and doing legal analysis on television?

ARONBERG: After THE BEAT, I do my other research, which is not legal. It`s just more about "Joker," "Dark Knight." because I want to be ready for your pop culture questions, Ari.

MELBER: Well, someday, we may get you on with our resident political and movie expert Chai Komanduri on "Chai Day," and you guys can talk all kinds of films, because he schools me on that.

I think we will briefly -- before I let you go, I`m going to put something you said, legally, the calendar, up back on the screen, because I want to say, it`s very interesting, based on your knowledge of the situation, the deadlines, Florida law.

I think we have this. Yes, May 15 is a date to watch legally. And we have been following the case. There`s been a lot of disturbing evidence, but, in all fairness to Mr. Gaetz, he has not been charged. And we will keep an eye and we will report if he`s never charged and if there`s the signs that the case may be going away. We will hit that as well.

So, Dave, given your local knowledge, we appreciate you flagging the timeline here.

Dave Aronberg, thank you, as always, sir.

ARONBERG: Thank you. Thank you. Ari. Great to be back on.

MELBER: Yes, sir.

Now, let me tell you what we`re doing next. This is an important time for criminal justice and police reform in the country. And that`s a true statement, whether you think there should be a lot of reform or a little. I think everyone sees we`re living through something.

Coming up, I want to walk through how we got here, because it matters so much for where we might be going.

My special report, that`s next.


MELBER: The new guilty verdict for the murder of George Floyd is renewing calls to pass a reform bill literally named after him.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF GEORGE FLOYD: As we stand together to make sure that President Biden knows we are all going to walk together to get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Accountability Act made into law!


MELBER: Today, there are signs of possible change, because more Americans do agree -- and this is documented -- that this system isn`t fair, that the drug war failed in many ways, and many Americans see how racism endures.

But the push to reform America`s justice system requires some understanding of how we got this system in the first place. Why is it broken?

If America is about to try to reform something as big and intractable as our criminal justice and prison system, then you should know where it came from. This modern prison system grew out of a racist Jim Crow framework. It grew out of American policing that used a punitive crackdown on inner cities, which is measurably harsher than almost all other countries like the United States, like other democracies.

Now, many of these more recent controversial and harsh approaches to crime, they were passed by both parties. In the 1990s, then candidate Bill Clinton cast himself as tough on crime and made a point of flying home to oversee an execution.



QUESTION: You going to Arkansas?

B. CLINTON: Yes, we have got an execution tomorrow. And I always spend all day on those days at the mansion.


MELBER: Then, as the United States president, Clinton led the push for a crime bill that was bipartisan. It was a Democratic president, with many top Democrats pushing. It passed the Senate 62 to 38.

Now, some liberal Democrats in the House and many CBC members did oppose that bill and that approach. But this isn`t some ancient history from long ago. Some of the most powerful Democrats in office today were there then. And they were for it. And they were touting how tough those policies would be.


B. CLINTON: The plan is not just tough. It is fair. It will put police on the street and criminals in jail.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): If you want to do what our constituents are pleading with us to do, which is make the streets safe, tough laws on punishment, smart laws on prevention, you will vote for this.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This bill would have put more police on the street, would have locked up violent offenders, would have given more prison construction money.

It`s a very well-thought-out crime bill.

BIDEN: More cops, more prisons, more physical protection for the people. You must take back the streets.


MELBER: Clinton, Schumer, Biden, they were all together on this planet.

And that `94 crime bill funded 100,000 new police officers. It plowed $12 billion into this prison industrial complex. It cracked down on even one- time lesser cases, like trying to charge children as young as 13 as adults. And it added new life sentences for people who were caught on a third crime.

Now, today, we hear a push away from overpolicing and for many of those kind of lengthy prison sentences. But that`s what the `94 bill was about. And everyone -- we need to learn from history -- everyone at the time saw it as and said out loud that it was a super police-friendly bill.

Then-Senator Biden spoke about that at the presidential signing ceremony.


BIDEN: I have had the total support of every one of the police organizations in this place since I have been a senator.

Bob Scully is the only guy that listened to me. This guy is the best friend the cops are ever going to have. Mr. President, you`re more conservative than I am on the enforcement side of this legislation.

They will or a portion of them will become the predators 15 years from now. And, Madam President, we have predators on our streets.

When there was talk among my group that we put less money in for prisons, I got a call, no bill unless there`s more money for prisons.


MELBER: More money for prisons. Biden was describing the call from then- President Clinton.

And they`d go on to tout that bill. Biden called it the Biden crime bill as recently as 2015.

Now, today, as President, Joe Biden is leading on a very different approach. And it can be a sign of strength to change your mind or change your plans when the results demand it.

The factual history remains relevant. And while parts of this crime bill have not aged well, other parts have actually proven vital.

Now, I`m not here tonight to oversimplify complex multidecade national policy or to try to pick sides. If you watch THE BEAT, you know we try to present evidence, give you the story. You will make up your own mind.

But in the interest of the full story in context, Joe Biden has also said something very specific over the years about that controversial bill, how the `94 bill also included the most progressive national legislation ever to specifically confront and combat violence against women.

That`s true. And at that same ceremony where we heard that talk of getting tough and more prison money, you can also hear then-Senator Biden`s passion on getting that progressive reform into law.


BIDEN: I have never been more emotionally committed, I have never been more desirous of an outcome than I have been on one aspect of this legislation. And that is the violence against women legislation.


MELBER: Now, it`s the other parts the `94 bill that made the justice system so harsh.

We have seen an explosion of new prisons at the state and federal level, every 15 days, on average, populations there increasing 40 percent, and state policies that show racism and the death penalty, those three strike rules, turns out, over time, they were overwhelmingly used against minorities.

And that talk of tough treatment for kids in general, well, it wasn`t for kids in general. It was used and mostly only applied to young black people in this country, black people under 18.

Now, it took time, but even those so-called life sentences weren`t always life sentences, because, under pressure and under the results and the evidence that I`m saying we need to know about as we go forward, some of them dissipated, because states or judges second-guessed why, in this rush to be so harsh and to fill the prisons and to fund the prisons, why should a drug offense land someone in prison longer than even a murder?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Edward Douglas, who was sentenced to life after three drug convictions and was just released.

EDWARD DOUGLAS, FORMER INMATE: The day that I found out, I just cried, just cried. I was just overwhelmed. Well, 16 years is a long time to spend in jail.


MELBER: That`s a long time no matter what, definitely a long time for nonviolent drug offenses.

And offenders weren`t just stuck in jails because of what they did. This is fundamental. It was because of also what politicians did. And some of those politicians are retired. Others are still in office.

Some have responded to the failures of this system by embracing reform, what I talked about, the strength of being able to change your mind. Others are still doubling down on mass incarceration today.

Many Republicans right now are trying to prevent even a debate and vote on this George Floyd bill in the Senate. It`s the Mitch McConnell strategy for most things that are pushed by the other party, just block it.

While also -- again, when I talk about complexity and evidence, also, it`s worth noting that there`s at least one Republican senator now stepping out saying it`s time to negotiate on some parts of the George Floyd Act with a veteran CBC leader.


REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): I am hopeful, because the group of people where we have been having just informal discussions are very sincere, and it`s a bipartisan group. And I believe that we want to make something happen.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): I think we are on the verge of wrapping this up in the next week or two, depending on how quickly they respond to our suggestions.


MELBER: That`s a Republican talking about his suggestions to what is this main Democratic Floyd bill, which has key reforms that include something police staunchly oppose right now. Among this list of reforms, it would also limit their automatic legal immunity.

Many leaders saying now is exactly the time to seize the momentum from the attention on that single case and do something with impact to prevent future tragedies.








REP. JOYCE BEATTY (D-OH): We are hopeful that today will be the catalyst to turn the pain, the agony, the justice delayed into action.

BASS: Today just marks the beginning of a new phase of a long struggle to bring justice in America.


MELBER: There`s no question that struggle is long.

Now, you can go all the way back to Shakespeare for the fundamental truth that what`s past is prologue. America`s past is the baseline for this system right now and the baseline for these problems.

That means slavery, the Civil War, the slave codes. It means Jim Crow. And, correctly, we hear a lot about that.

But, sometimes, it`s easier to reckon with the ancient past than the living recent past, because, when I say the past is prologue, it also means our recent living history, a crime bill that many current members of Congress backed, a push to jail even nonviolent offenders for life, a push to plow money into prisons, and then brag about who has the tightest bond with the police unions.

So, when you start hearing that politicians are now negotiating on this new bill in this rare window for maybe changing something, and they`re meeting about their suggestions to improve it, keep your eye on the exact facts. Be rightfully skeptical, given what we know about all of this.

And what do we know? Well, this is not a system that`s worked very well or very transparently. It is under serious pressure now. But its baseline, its resting place, its premise has been to back the police basically no matter what they do, and, when it`s exposed in public, to basically back state violence, to very literally put police and prisons above people.

Careful listeners may recall the freedom fighter who said, very simply, 400 years, and it`s the same philosophy.

That`s too true too often. And, as I mentioned, depending on how you think about it, some people try to take that and use the ancient history to give our recent American failures a pass.

That crime bill is just approaching about 30 years old. It`s still on the books today, 30 years, and it`s also that same philosophy, unless we change it.


MELBER: Senator Ted Cruz speaking out today on the Republican Party`s influence over the Supreme Court.

He was speaking in response to a plan proposed by some Democrats to expand the court. Whatever one thinks of that, there are lots of Democrats who are not down with the whole plan. But Cruz doesn`t have, well, any credibility to make a claim like this:


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): You didn`t see Republicans when we had control of the Senate try to rig the game. You didn`t see us try to pack the court.


MELBER: Well, as a factual matter, Republicans indeed did rig the game. They controlled the Senate. And they made history by refusing to even hold hearings, let alone a vote, for President Obama`s proposal that Merrick Garland join the court. He was the Obama nominee.

And the argument was that a Democrat was in the White House.


CRUZ: We`re advising that a lame-duck president in an election year is not going to be able to tip the balance of the Supreme Court.


MELBER: Heading into 2016, though, when it still looked like Donald Trump might lose -- that`s what a lot of Republicans were saying -- Cruz went further and proposed -- and this is on the record -- blocking all Democratic nominees indefinitely, which would be like starving the court, so he could one day pack it, and saying there`s a precedent for fewer justices.

Maybe there just wouldn`t be justices unless they were Republican.

Then, a Republican did win the White House, losing the popular vote, but Donald Trump became president. And Cruz and other Republicans, well, they went forward with their rigged game. Cruz supported Kavanaugh for the seat that might have been Garland`s, and Cruz rushed to back Amy Coney Barrett after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which was literally the opposite of his prior claims, which shows again how it was all completely partisan.

Ted Cruz is nothing, if not inconsistent.

We will be right back.


MELBER: Thanks for spending time with us on THE BEAT.


And you should keep it locked right here, because she has a one-on-one interview with voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

That`s next.