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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 7/14/21

Guests: Nancy Erika Smith, Nick Akerman, Cory Booker


Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg`s role continues to be diminished in the company. President Biden meets with Democrats on Capitol Hill to discuss infrastructure. Senator Cory Booker speaks out. Texas Democrats remain in Washington to block a Republican voting restrictions bill. Britney Spears fights for her financial legal freedom in court. COVID begins surging again.



"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER," with Ari Melber back in the chair, starts right now.

Hi, Ari, welcome back.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thank you. It`s good to be back, Nicolle. I will see you soon.

WALLACE: Have a good show.

MELBER: I want to thank -- absolutely.

I want to thank everyone for joining me on THE BEAT tonight. I am energized to be back at work. I also want to thank Jason Johnson for filling in during my vacation.A great job all around.

Now, I want to tell you, this turns out to be an interesting day to come back and be working here in the newsroom, doing the reporting, checking the big stories, because just before we began this show tonight, this news broke that Allen Weisselberg is effectively out at a key part of Trump Org.

For the first time, he`s exiting his influential position that runs the trust which controls the company, which controls the money, which gave him that outsized power that we have reported on. It`s a spot he held with just one other person, Donald Trump. That may offer clues to what`s next for the indicted CFO.

So we have a legal breakdown on that shortly tonight.

Our top story right now, though, is about the president who replaced Donald Trump and his very different approach to the economy and trying to build a safety net during this recovery period.

President Biden huddling today, for his first time since taking office, with his old Senate colleagues attending a private Democratic strategy meeting.



QUESTION: What`s your message, Mr. President?

BIDEN: We`re going to get this done.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We are getting this done.


MELBER: That`s what it looked like.

Top Democrats say this will be a $3.5 trillion -- I repeat -- trillion- dollar plan. If you`re keeping track -- and plenty of historians do -- it would be, if passed, the largest since FDR`s New Deal.

And it shows something that can get lost these days. And there`s plenty going on and also plenty of days that people pay less attention to Biden`s Washington because it`s so different than the predecessor. But this new president has a Rushmorean ambition when it comes to the domestic agenda.

Biden says you have to spend this much to meet the scale of America`s post- pandemic challenges, which are big, and he says beatable. Republicans, for their part, say the infrastructure that they see here is basically building a bridge or a train, or use your transportation analogy as you see fit, but building one to big government socialism.


SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): The Democrats` radical train, their freight train to socialism.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): That`s kind of a big gulp.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): We`re playing with fire here.


MELBER: That`s the pushback.

As for how this is going to work, well, the math is still an echo of the first Biden COVID bill. Every Democratic senator must be on board for this to go anywhere. And in another echo, swing vote red state Senator Joe Manchin says he is still waiting on the details.

Now, in a moment, we will be joined by someone who is key in all of this and was inside the room where it happened, Senator Cory Booker. He`s also got some big plans we`re going to get into. So we will hear from him soon.

But we begin right now with Michael Steele, the former RNC chair and, if I may, the kind of friend of THE BEAT that sometimes we kick off the show with.

Good to see you, sir.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, good to see you, bro. Welcome back to the neighborhood. Good to see you.


MELBER: I happened to be in the neighborhood.

STEELE: I`m sporting my...


STEELE: ... look tonight, so I`m ready.

MELBER: The -- yes, what`s it called? A pate (ph), I believe.

STEELE: The pate, yes.

MELBER: Yes, sir.

Well, let me ask you this. I said Rushmorean, a Mount Rushmore level, because it is a big deal objectively, factually, to run up this kind of spending bill. It does put this very experienced, but new president in that pantheon of vision.

And so while the Republicans may be objectively overstepping with the word socialism, it wouldn`t be wrong to call this big government or an unusually large package. What do you see as the substantive clash here?

STEELE: No, first off, it`s huge government. I mean, this is a $3.5 trillion domestic spend. And so it`s -- it even goes in one sense beyond what we saw with the $1.9 trillion that was spent for the tax cuts under Trump.

So, you have this competing narrative now that the Biden team is establishing that affirms, across the country, that they`re going to be about Middle America, they`re going to be about the men and women who are raising families, putting kids through schools, that are going to provide the roads to get those kids to those classrooms, and provide the other kinds of social infrastructure, day care, child care, et cetera, that those families need.

So it`s setting up a very interesting dynamic. I do not think it will be -- as much as I`m concerned about the level of spending -- and I am -- I do not think that is going to be enough, Ari, to say, well, this is socialism.


Because, when you go back into these red districts, and ask those red senators and red members of Congress, their community leaders and the citizens that live in those communities, all right, do you want assistance with your child care, do you want these roads to be prepared, do you want the types of social safety network kind of spending that this administration is talking about for you and your family, I think you`re going to find them to be hard-pressed to say no.

In fact, the proof is in the McConnell pudding, when he acknowledged, oh, yes, there`s a whole hell of a lot of money that came through Kentucky from the COVID. And there`s a whole hell of a lot of money that could come to Kentucky from the from the infrastructure bill.

So just calling this socialism, I think, is going to be -- it`ll have some initial legs, but, in the long term, I think they`re going to have to come up with something other than that to say exactly what they would carve out of this that`s worthy of their dollars.

MELBER: Now, I want to ask you about Manchin, but I got to do a little housekeeping first, Michael.

I have heard a turtle soup. I have never heard of McConnell pudding.


STEELE: Yes, it`s there, trust me. It`s not as delicate as some of the pudding that we`re used to.

MELBER: It`s there.

STEELE: It`s got an edge to it. It`s got a little bite.

MELBER: Yes. Yes.

And you could extend it. You could extend the analogy. You don`t need all of the people at the restaurant to order it. Doesn`t need a majority. About 40 percent will do.

STEELE: That`s it.

MELBER: That was a hardcore cloture vote joke. Obviously, I have been on vacation, so could be worse than usual. What can I say?



MELBER: Getting back to the actual news, we do have Joe Manchin here. It is a key part of the math. This is what he`s saying. Take a listen.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I have been very clear that I want to see the pay-fors to make sure that whatever we do is going to be globally competitive.


QUESTION: Is $3.5 trillion too high? Is $3.5 trillion too high?

MANCHIN: Depends if we can pay for it and still be globally competitive.


MELBER: Michael, before we turn to Senator Booker, I will ask you about his Senate colleague there.

Is this a real process? Or does the Biden White House probably have this figured out and they have to let Manchin do another round of this public mulling?

STEELE: You`re going to have the rounds on this, for sure, between Manchin and the administration and others.

I don`t know what global competitiveness has to do with our domestic spend in terms of the pay-fors, unless he means that somehow it puts us at a global disadvantage to have this level of debt without pay-fors.

But, hell, we just spent $7 trillion, $8 trillion. No one seemed to talk about global competitiveness there. So I don`t know what that means. The senator will have to explain that.

Maybe Cory, Senator Cory Booker, knows. But everybody`s going to start to stake their ground on this issue. Biden, the president, has been actually, actively, interestingly strategic in how he`s moved the needle on this conversation, where Republicans, while they may be screaming socialism, they ain`t screaming that loudly.

And you have just heard from Senator Manchin global competitiveness. I don`t know what that means. Is $3.5 trillion too much? Well, it depends on how you pay for it. So everyone`s beginning to realize that the president has created a conversation that they may actually be able to have.

Now the question is, what do they say when they get in that room to carve out what this ultimately will look like? I think something will come from it, Ari. It may not be 3.5. But my suspicion is the president actually lands on this one. And it`ll be a win to take into 2022.

MELBER: All very interesting, which is why I wanted you as our leadoff hitter, so to speak.

Michael, thank you very much.

As we prepare to bring in Senator Booker, I want to give a little context to this other big story, because it`s the third straight night with more than 50 Texas Democrats in Washington, literally fleeing their home state to deprive Republicans of that needed quorum and block what they call a draconian voter suppression bill.

Also, there are more people urging Congress to make a change in the Senate, to end that McConnell obstruction filibuster that we were touching on a little bit earlier, and to get these voting rights laws ordained federally, the number three House Democrat joining in.


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): We all know that the filibuster is not in the Constitution. It`s not a law. It`s a tradition.

And traditions means the past. The filibuster, I think, has its place, but not when it comes to voting and other constitutional issues.



MELBER: Joining us now, as promised, is the senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker.

Thanks for being here.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): Ari, first of all, welcome back from vacation. You look healthy, so tan that, if you shaved your head, man, you could be my stunt double around here.


MELBER: Well, if there`s a good enough cause, maybe we will shave our heads together someday. As you say it would take slightly more work for me.

Good to see you, Senator.

Let`s begin with these two stories. Your views on the voting rights battle, as well as anything you could tell us from that big meeting today with President Biden?

BOOKER: Yes, well, we know the voting rights battle is based on a lie, that somehow Republicans feel an urgency to pass these sweeping voter suppression laws because of some threat.

Well, the threat is that Donald Trump lost an election. And it seems to me that at a time that we are a hope for the planet as a thriving democracy, at a time that authoritarian governments from Turkey, to Hungary are making gains, now our leaders around the country want to say, hey, wait a minute, we`re in power, we`re going to change the rules, like authoritarian leaders, to make it harder for us to lose power.

So this is a crisis in our country. It`s a call to the conscience of our country. Who are we going to be, a nation that invites more voting, more participation, or a nation that makes up a lie? It`s more likely to be struck by lightning to find them to find in-person voter fraud.

And so this is a time that we need to protect our democracy. Now, the filibuster was spoken against, this idea that when the founders were actually debating our Constitution, they said to make the threshold 60 votes to pass something would enable a tyranny of the minority.

And so here we have a filibuster rule that isn`t in the Constitution, isn`t in the original ideals of the founders preventing us from protecting our very democracy at a time that, all across the planet, democracies are on their heels and authoritarian leaders, again, from China, to now we`re seeing in Latin America, are really making a rise.

MELBER: Did any of that come up in that Biden meeting, pressuring him on supporting Senate reform? Is that really -- you see the president`s role there? And what else can you tell us about the meeting?

BOOKER: Well, President Biden mentioned it because he knows, he even said, if he had one thing to talk about, was only limited to one thing, he would talk about this, because everything that we`re doing, and for generations to come, are going to really be determined by the depth of our fealty to democracy.

And so President Biden understands the grave threat that hangs over the country right now as people seek to restrict access to the polls. But the most conversation was about his infrastructure plan and how popular it was, how the Republicans, when they gave trillions of dollars of tax breaks to the wealthiest of Americans, the overwhelming majority went to the top 1 percent.

They didn`t find a pay-for, but we are we are doing this in a way that is wildly popular for child care, for prescription, dental and vision to be covered by Medicare. A lot of these things are wildly popular on both sides of the aisle. And he has a pay-for to raise taxes on people making millions and millions of dollars a year who got that Trump tax cut.

This whole package is popular, if you do not say it`s a Republican or Democratic package, wildly popular amongst Americans of all backgrounds. We can get this done, we need to stick together as a caucus. And that was a clarion call from the from the president of the United States.

MELBER: And those are all big issues that affect Americans` lives.

We did want to go deep here, because I know you`re also working on a proposal, potential legislation actually really change the federal approach to marijuana and the war on drugs.

What would you do?

BOOKER: Well, we have a lot of people rushing now to legalize marijuana, but they don`t understand that we need to make sure that this is restorative justice.

So don`t talk to me about expunging marijuana unless you`re also talking to me about -- excuse me -- legalizing marijuana without expunging people`s records, without doing things to take all those tax dollars, billions of dollars worth of tax dollars, and invest in the communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana enforcement.

And talk to me about equal access to business opportunities, not just to large corporations, large Wall Street investors. There`s a lot in our bill really about doing this the right way. And here`s the rub for me, is, I am now a member of a body where people running for the House, for the Senate, and even the presidency readily admit using marijuana.

But we have a nation where there were more marijuana arrests in 2019 than all violent crime arrests combined. People`s lives are being destroyed over this, low-income people, disproportionately black and brown people, and folks want to race to legalize without addressing what has been really the dangers and the harms of prohibition.

We have got to do this right way. I have been leading on this bill for five, six, seven years. But now guess what? We have the first time in American history the majority leader of the United States Senate is leading in Chuck Schumer. And the head of one of the most powerful committees, the Finance Committee, Ron Wyden, is leading as well.


This is a historic day of us introducing this, and we have a lot more momentum to get it done.

MELBER: Well, I`m glad that, on this day, you can make time for us.

And, senator, I have interviewed you before. The thing that we started talking about the first time I met you, the thing that I know was a key in your campaigns, including a presidential campaign, and here you are on it tonight, it`s clear you care a lot about this. And we have a drug war that`s racist in its impact. That`s just an objective fact.

And so trying to deal with this holistically is something that clearly merits a lot of attention. So I`m glad you could bring it to us on THE BEAT as well.

Senator, thanks for your time tonight.

BOOKER: No, Ari, you are committed to this issue. You are committed to criminal justice reform.

And I know, when we pass the first ever marijuana decriminalization bill, you will celebrate by shaving your head. So I appreciate that commitment to me.


MELBER: I was like, where`s he going with it? OK, it`s all tied together.

Let the record reflect I did not affirm or deny.


MELBER: Senator, thank you very much.

BOOKER: Who is a politician here? You sound like a politician, man. OK.

You`re equivocating.

MELBER: Uh-oh. Uh-oh.


MELBER: Thank you, Senator.

Let me tell everyone of THE BEAT why we think it`s a special show, everybody watching. We have later tonight James Carville joining us. We`re going to get into the Republican obstruction. That`s on tonight`s program.

And there`s breaking news from a legal proceeding that could actually change not only what`s happening to Britney Spears, but what a lot of people say puts a spotlight on sexism in U.S. courts. We have that story and a special guest tonight.

But, first, the indicted Trump Org executive now out at the very top of the company. Our legal experts on that breaking development next.



MELBER: Breaking news.

Amid an intensifying criminal probe, we have a development tonight. The Trump Organization`s indicted CFO, Allen Weisselberg, now out from a major financial role. He`s been effectively demoted through a resignation, while Donald Trump scrambles with this ongoing and open criminal probe.

"The Washington Post" first to break the big story. This was late today, reporting that Weisselberg resigned from this key pivotal trust, which controls all the company`s assets. You can think of it as the org in Trump Org. And it means that he gives up his place at the top of the company`s formal hierarchy.

That is how "The Post" described it, and their sources are clear. These are public government filings. Now, the trust has basically control of all the known Trump company investments. So it`s the Trump Org. It`s the subsidiaries. It`s everything that owns the Trump Organization.

And this new departure from the trust is, experts say, clearly the most significant sign yet that he`s giving up formal power at the company. He`s worked there since the `70s, "The Post" reminds everyone. And Weisselberg is already out of leadership roles in the 54 different subsidiaries that he was a part of.

So we knew about that. What`s different today is losing the money, the money role. Now, the documents show Weisselberg began this resignation flurry days before, before the public indictment. He was indicted for that alleged 15-year off-the-books tax scheme.

He technically remains CFO of the company. These developments, though, suggest that he is not any more longer in charge of the company`s money. That means that the CFO title either may go to match or may stay to be somewhat of a symbolic way to save face, but he`s not on the trust where the big money decisions are made.

Now, Weisselberg has also tapped defense lawyers who have no known ties to Donald Trump or the organization. He`s funding these people himself and reportedly paying for it himself. Former prosecutors speaking to NBC News say that could be significant, because it could suggest that he holds the option, even if he hasn`t done it yet, the option to split away from Trump and have his own privately funded lawyers ready to make that call.

We want to get into what this all means, because it`s certainly very interesting in terms of legal intrigue.

And we`re joined by former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade, and Nick Akerman, former Watergate prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District.

Barbara, what is the significance of this kind of development?

BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the resignations are not unusual in a situation like this.

There are regulators and licensors and insurers that are likely to have lost confidence in not only Allen Weisselberg, but the Trump Organization. And so, although, in a court of law, someone is entitled to a presumption of innocence, the same really isn`t true when you have got private decision-makers in the business world.

To the extent he has a fiduciary duty, there`s concern that a grand jury has found probable cause to believe that he committed grand larceny and tax violations. There is also the concern that at the very least he will be distracted from his duties by having to put together a legal defense.

And then I suppose, from a purely personal perspective, Donald Trump and others in his inner circle don`t want to have to be looking over their shoulder every day to wonder whether Allen Weisselberg is wearing a wire when they participate in small meetings.

And so I think this move is not a surprise, in light of the circumstances.

MELBER: Yes, I mean, Barbara, just to push on that a little, everything you said is how it should normally be done.

But Donald Trump, in his legal skirmishes, however they have worked out, doesn`t usually do it the normal way. I mean, I don`t think anyone would take the bet that, if Donald Trump were hypothetically indicted, that he would be walking away from any of these roles, right, because he`s known to be a fighter.

So does it show that perhaps the normal way the lawyers or the Weisselberg side are winning out more than, say, the Trump fight-to-the-end side?

MCQUADE: No, I don`t think so. I mean, I think he`s all too willing to cut ties with Allen Weisselberg, despite his many years of loyalty to the Trump Organization, if it could any way diminish his ability to make money in the business world.

And so I think concerns that they could lose liquor licenses or concerns that they could lose loans or lose insurance coverage, I think they`re very quick to remove Allen Weisselberg from those roles, to the extent that his participation or continued involvement could cause problems to the bottom line for the Trump Organization.


NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Yes, look, I think what you said before, these are formal resignations.

I don`t believe for a minute that he`s still not running the show, that he`s still not in charge. They put Don Jr. in charge and he`s placed in a number of these companies. Don Jr. doesn`t know the first thing about adding up books, accounting, knowing where all the money is.


I mean, I think what they really got themselves in here is pretty much a situation that I had when I was a prosecutor in the Southern District, where I prosecuted this guy Matty Ianniello, who was a capo in the Genovese family, who owned lots of restaurants and bars in New York, and he didn`t disclose to the state liquor authority that he was the actual owners of these bars and restaurants.

And, as a result, I put together a case where he was convicted for mail fraud for lying to the state liquor authority. Here, I think you have got the reverse. I think it`s very likely that what`s going on is that they basically have lied to all of these authorities and regulators by withdrawing his position in these companies.

But I will bet you dollars to donuts, if he`s not going to the office every day, he`s basically consulting with people every day in the Trump Organization. And if the government, the federal government could prove that, Mr. Weisselberg would be guilty of mail and wire fraud, just like Matty Ianniello.

MELBER: That`s interesting, because, again, this is why we like drawing on our experts and keeping an open mind.

I mean, you`re going a different direction than the way "The Washington Post" first looked at the story. I mean, everyone agrees on what the story is, because it`s not contested. They literally wrote down that he`s out for those roles.

AKERMAN: Right. Right.

MELBER: But, Nick, you`re saying that while, that could be read as a demotion, it certainly reads as a problem for the company, because it`s not great when you`re top person has to go out because they`re under this cloud.

You`re raising the prospect that they might be playing fast and loose with what -- let me say like this -- fast and loose with the government mandates that require truth, which is, by the way, the very thing they`re currently accused of as a company and him, that they played fast and loose with government mandates about the truths of compensation, Nick.

AKERMAN: Absolutely.

And if I were a prosecutor, that`s exactly what I`d be looking at. I`d want to know if Weisselberg is still go into the office every day. I`d be looking at his phone records to see who he`s talking to every day. I don`t believe for a minute that they have got anybody who can take the place of this individual who has done this job since 1973.

And to say that Don Jr., who is in a house down in Jupiter, Florida, suddenly is become a whiz accountant and a whizbang at going through the books and records of the Trump Organization has got to be a fairy tale. I don`t believe it for a second.

MELBER: All right.

Well, Nick Akerman and Barbara McQuade, I want to thank you both for breaking down this story with us.

I`m going to fit in a break, but coming up, we have other big legal news today, Britney Spears fighting for her financial legal freedom in court. That`s coming up.

But, first, in just 60 seconds, our shortest break, James Carville is here on the Trump cult and the Biden breakthrough.

We will be back in 60 seconds.


MELBER: We have been reporting on the big picture, including President Biden going down to meet with his Senate colleagues for the first time today, huddling on this FDR-level spending plan.

This was after the big speech on voting. So, we`re seeing a very muscular, assertive president saying he wants to do big things, with some liberal saying he`s to go even farther.

I want to get into this with a special discussion with one of our friends, the legendary Democratic strategist James Carville.

Thanks for being here, sir.


I was awaiting Britney Spears. She grew up about 60 miles north of where I am. She`s a Louisiana gal, and I`m kind of pulling for her. She`s very talented.

MELBER: You`re pulling for her. Well, that`s -- it`s a big -- it`s such a big development. We got that coming up, as you know. And it`ll be interesting to see.

On Biden, everybody knows the saying go big or go home.


MELBER: You and I have talked about why politics is not static.



MELBER: So, the Democratic moderation in the `90s, in that moment for that time for that economy may be different than what`s needed now.

What do you see for Democrats in some places, maybe not many, but in some districts, who are worried that this socialism tag sticks? How do you do it politically?

CARVILLE: Well, you keep doing things, I think, like President Biden is doing.

He keeps talking about economic things, child tax care credits, how to make people`s lives better, infrastructure, things like that. He doesn`t get into what I would call ancillary debates. So that`s number one. I think Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer are the same way.

Now, the progressives complain there is not enough. We need to get a second grade math teacher to go to the caucus and explain the concept of 50 plus one, because we don`t have the votes to do anything bigger than that.

And until you understand that, you`re going to be perpetually frustrated. And what I would like my progression friends and I to do is win as many seats as we can in 2022. And then you can expand the playing field. But, right now, we have no majority -- the vice president in the Senate now and like a four- or five-seat majority in the House.

We don`t have a lot of room here. And I think the president, as opposed to people complaining about him, ought to support the very noble objectives that he`s advancing when he goes up there to the Hill. I really mean that.

MELBER: Interesting.

On the voting rights front, it`s this mix where -- and this may be, again, not the substantive issue, but the kind of the politics or the optics, or whatever word you want to use in Washington, but Biden saying, hey, we care a lot about voting rights, we`re doing this big push, so he says, and the people who are interested in the math, the point you just raised, say, yes, but you`re not going to get anywhere near a federal bill unless you blow up the whole filibuster for obstruction, or do what I think is a kind of a neat mental trick that some Democrats talk about, which is saying, OK, to protect the rights of all to vote, that`s going to be an exception and not make it the whole nuclear option.

I want to play something from Charlamagne tha God, who is not necessarily the White House veteran that you are, but he has huge influence, because he has millions of -- he has millions of audience.


MELBER: And that`s why Joe Biden chose to give him a one-on-one during the campaign, which I can tell you, those are hard interviews to get.

And he has been really supportive of a lot of what Biden`s trying to do. But he hit his limit over the voting rights strategy, not substance, strategy. Take a listen.


CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If we keep hearing things like democracy is at stake, then, damn it, Democrats need to act like it.

And I still don`t think they`re acting like it. I`m glad President Biden said something, but he`s still not going hard enough. And he`s still being delusional about how to stop this problem. Why does he think that the same people who are clearly for voter suppression would ever vote for the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act?


MELBER: James?

CARVILLE: Yes, so that -- he`s very talented.

I remember, when Biden went on that, and he said, if you vote for -- I didn`t think it was a particularly controversial quote, but other people did. But the guy is very talented.

We don`t have the votes. And there`s not going to -- we`re not going to get rid of the filibuster. The best you can possibly hope for between now and when the Congress takes office in January of 2023 is that we get a carve- out. We got us -- the main thing we have to do is to tell people the truth.

MELBER: Can I press you on that?

CARVILLE: Yes, sure, go ahead.

MELBER: James, but let me press to make sure we`re advancing.


MELBER: So Charlamagne and a lot of liberals and AOC are saying, edit just the filibuster for voting rights. When you say they don`t have the votes, are you saying you don`t think Schumer can get those 50 votes from the holdout moderates to even do that?

CARVILLE: He will be lucky and fortunate. We should all pray he gets a filibuster carve-out for the voting rights.

The Constitution gives Congress very specific powers over voting rights in federal elections. We`re doing -- we`re on very constitutional firm ground here. But we`re not going to get rid of the filibuster between now and the next Congress.

What the best we can hope for, to be honest with you, if we get a carve-out on voting rights, maybe another carve-out. I don`t know that we can. But I don`t think there`s any chance you`re going to get 50 votes plus the president to eradicate the filibuster during this Congress. I really don`t.

And I don`t think anybody that I know or that I hear on television thinks that there`s really a chance. You can put the pressure on and you can talk about it, but it`s not a realistic endgame under the present vice president is the majority and you got to four -- I think it`s a four-, maybe five- seat majority in the House.

It`s just not going to happen. And I hate to be the guy in the bucket brigade that throws the water on the fire, but it`s just true. I can`t help it. I`d love to see this. I`d love to see expanded voting rights. I`m all for it.

MELBER: It`s who you are.

CARVILLE: Yes, great.


MELBER: It`s just -- it`s who you are, James.

CARVILLE: Yes. But you got to...


MELBER: Let me play you a little...


MELBER: So we went -- that`s what some progressives are saying.

Now here`s McConnell. Take a look.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): A speech that was set in an alternate universe. The most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War?

Really? What utter nonsense. It would be laugh-out-loud funny, if it wasn`t so completely and totally irresponsible.


MELBER: James, rebuttal and final thought?

CARVILLE: Well, I don`t know what he`s talking about.

When you`re talking about curbing people`s right to vote, and you`re talking about this on a massive scale, and you`re talking about people losing faith in democracy, this is a huge crisis, I mean, a huge crisis.

And I will give Charlamagne and a lot of progressives -- they are good- hearted people. They really want the best for America. McConnell, that`s not where he`s coming from. He wants to best for Republican donors. They`re not morally on the same universe.

One is mildly naive. The other is, in my opinion, an impediment to the growth and the future of the United States. So I don`t know what he`s talking about. There`s a crisis in democracy here.

And when people don`t have a sense that they can voice their opinions at the polls, then they might end up voicing it in other ways that some of us might not find very pleasant.

So, we ought to let people vote. The American people are for that. We ought to pass these acts that are there. And I hope Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema can see the wisdom in taking a one-time carve-out and get this done, so we can have an election in 2022 that we can have faith that the people have a chance to speak.

So I don`t know what Senator McConnell is talking about. He is just talking to his campaign donors. That`s it.

MELBER: All great points. I appreciate, what do they call it, a colloquy in the Senate.

I appreciate having you back on, James. I hope you will do it again.

CARVILLE: Colloquy.

I always love being on, Ari. It`s great. And thank you. And they call the colloquy go on, whatever it is.


CARVILLE: But just remember, 50. It`s just math, baby. It`s math. That`s all it is.

MELBER: Fifty. Yes, math; 50 is a -- 50 was a theme that came through.

Good to have you, James.


CARVILLE: Thank you. Thank so much.

MELBER: Let me tell everyone what`s coming up.

Absolutely, sir.

There are, on the other hand, a lot of progress we have talked about, but there`s rising COVID cases and misinformation that can affect that. We`re going to get into that later.

And Britney Spears not legally free. A key hearing, we have got it covered.

Stay with us.




PROTESTERS: Free Britney now! Free Britney now!


MELBER: Free Britney. And that`s not just some kind of rhetoric,

Britney Spears is not legally free. And her court battle actually continues with this hearing today over the fate of her controversial legal predicament.

Maybe you have heard a little bit about it. The government put her dad in firm control of her personal life and money, plus the very rules of how she can appeal this.

Now, today, a judge is ruling that Britney can pick and hire her own attorney. That`s new and gives you an idea of how constricting the legal arrangement that she`s operated in is. That itself is a legal win for Spears, because, until today -- this is part of the news we`re getting -- she had to use a court-appointed lawyer.

Spears sobbing in court again today. Now, the issues are dramatized here because this does involve a famous person, but it also puts a spotlight on important questions about how, in the United States today, the government can mandate such control of an adult person`s life.

Now, Spears` so-called conservatorship has been running for 13 years. She has not yet officially filed the petition to end it. A recent "New York Times" documentary, though, revealing Spears` concerns with the arrangement and her apparent ongoing duress.


BRITNEY SPEARS, MUSICIAN: If I wasn`t under the restraints that I`m under right now, with all the lawyers and doctors and people analyzing me every day and all that kind of stuff, like, if that wasn`t there, I`d feel so liberated.

They hear me, but they are really not listening. They`re hearing what they want to hear. They`re not really listening to what I`m telling them. It`s like, it`s bad. But I`m sad.


MELBER: Why did courts put her in this legal position?

In 2008, she was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold over erratic behavior. And like many extremely famous people, Spears has faced scrutiny, criticism and outright hostility from the media and the public as her fame and career evolved, from years of the paparazzi hounding her relentlessly, to gleeful public bullying, when the media deemed the star a fallen star.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She literally grabbed her -- the hair clipper and started doing it herself.

And she said: "I don`t want anyone touching me. I`m tired of everybody touching me."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s so easy, it`s so much fun to take a celebrity who`s a young, beautiful, talented girl and rip her to shreds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody was talking about mental health when Britney Spears was going through all of that stuff in public. The conversation was about what was wrong with her. There was too much money to be made off her suffering.


MELBER: This is a story that raises a lot of issues about America, about us, about our systems and how we live.

Capitalism can treat people as commodities, whether that`s poor laborers or even also rich celebrities. Now, this case is more extreme, because the very riches at issue are controlled and siphoned by Spears` legal guardian, her father, who made $2.4 million off of her over those years, according to "Forbes."

She recently told the judge that she had lied and told the whole world -- quote -- "I`m OK and I`m happy. It`s a lie. I`m traumatized. I`m so angry, it`s insane."

Now, the legal issues are tricky, especially with claims of duress and retaliation accounting for different statements. There are also allegations of sexism here, because many male musicians and celebrities have had their share of erratic behavior without being forced against their will into this kind of court-ordered position.


Now, Spears` own work and music has expressed her feelings many times. Even pop anthems which topped the charts contains some insights for those listening. Take her 2000 song "Lucky, " which told the parable of a star who seemed happy on the outside, but was crushed within -- quote -- "She`s so lucky. She`s a star, But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking, if there`s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night?"

I`m joined now by civil rights attorney Nancy Erika Smith, who has specialized in many issues and cases regarding gender equity and harassment.

Thanks for being here.


MELBER: This is a case that has garnered more and more outrage, some related to people interested in Ms. Spears, others just gobsmacked that this is a system that functions in America for adults. What`s your view of the case and today`s hearing?

SMITH: This is shocking.

I mean, the idea that it`s news that a grown 39-year-old woman is allowed to choose her own lawyer is absolutely shocking. The idea that a woman who released three albums, spent four years in Vegas, was a judge on a TV show, numerous TV appearances, incredibly stressful work -- I mean, she`s not just going to a job every day. She`s doing incredibly stressful work.

She earned $60 million. And she`s under a ruling that under California law says she basically shouldn`t be able to dress, bathe or feed herself, in order to have the personal aspect of the conservatorship. There are two parts, the personal and the financial.

Also, you make $60 million, and you`re not capable of substantially managing your own money, which is also the law? It can`t be based on isolated incidents. It`s shocking. But, on the other hand, I totally agree with you. It certainly wouldn`t happen if she was a man.

MELBER: Let`s -- so let`s look at that part of this, because, again, the cases that get big enough, put a window on it, but then the system is the system.

She says -- I`m quoting from her side of this case -- in the court hearing -- quote -- "I`m not able to get married or have a baby. I wanted to take an IUD out, " she tells the court, "but this team won`t let me go to the doctor to take it out."


SMITH: That is one of the most shocking, because she has a constitutional right to make her own decisions about procreation.

That is one of the most shocking aspects of this. Women who are committed to institutions are allowed to make their own decisions about procreation, if -- unless they`re completely incapable of discerning what it means to be pregnant and what it means to give birth.

Also, they -- she has been forced to take medication. Since the 1980s, it`s constitutionally illegal to force people, even people who are committed to psychiatric institutions, to take medication. It`s like this woman lives in a law-free existence, where no constitutional rights have been given to her.


And that`s the law. I also want to remind everyone what some of the culture has been like, because there`s the media. We`re a part of that. Then there`s just the entire society, the way it reacts to things, the way it treats celebrities, women and other things.

Also from the documentary, this gives us a little reminder. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shaved her head, attacked the paparazzi, more custody drama.

Thank you, Britney Spears. Being bad is good for my business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Name something Britney Spears has lost in the past year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her husband. Let`s see how that stacks up.

Her husband!

It`s not number one.

Lindsey (ph)?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hair. Lost a lot of hair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What has she lost?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She`s lost her sanity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has she lost her mind?



SMITH: Cruel, sexist.

MELBER: Hah-hah-hah.

Do we also have to look in the mirror? Yes, go ahead.

SMITH: It`s cruel. It`s sexist. Men are not treated in this way.

We have seen famous men -- Charlie Sheen calls it a meltdown. And we have seen male celebrities attempt suicide or have serious addiction problems, alcohol problems, which lead to domestic violence problems, allegations of child abuse, and they are not treated like this.

They`re not treated like this in the media, and they`re certainly not treated like this in the courts. It`s shocking. It`s sad. It`s scary. And we should all be concerned.

MELBER: I think that`s so important, what you said.

And the fact that we should all care about it and figure some of this stuff out, the -- what`s in the courtroom and what`s in our society, is important. You have been an advocate on these issues, not exclusively for women, but for so many women.


And so that`s an important point on this. We`re going to stay on this story as we get some of these other developments. As we said, the breakthrough today is now she gets to actually use her own money for a lawyer. Before, she had a court-appointed one.

Nancy Erika Smith, thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.

MELBER: I want to tell you, when we come back, we have got an update on something you need to know about, COVID surging around the nation and the misinformation.

Stay with us.


MELBER: There`s been a lot of progress on vaccines and COVID. But the pandemic is here, and it`s getting worse in parts of the world, as well as parts of the U.S.

You have to keep in mind global infections continue to rise. This is over the course of just the last month. You can see the problem internationally. The Delta variant is a big part of this, as well as poorer areas that aren`t getting the vaccines they need.


When you check, you see only about 12.5 percent of the world is vaccinated. Here in the U.S., infections are up in 46 states.

In much of the world, the problem is, people want the vaccine, but can`t get it. Here in the U.S., it`s the opposite. Just about anyone can get vaccinated these days. Some choose not to.

And while you have every right to exercise that choice, one would hope you do it based on the factual information and your own family decisions, not by misinformation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, I feel like a vaccination, in a weird way, is just generally kind of going against nature. Maybe there`s just an ebb and flow to life where something is supposed to wipe out a certain amount of people.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: The experts still think that parents should trust them and inject their kids with an experimental drug.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: They shouldn`t get the shot. It`s not good for them. There`s a risk involved, much higher than of COVID.


MELBER: Everyone is entitled to their own views and decisions, but not to their own facts, a little lesson from Daniel Patrick Moynihan that remains true today.

We will be right back.




"THE REIDOUT" starts right now with Joy Reid.