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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 7/15/21

Guests: Senfronia Thompson, Michael Bender, David Sedaris


Groups protests for voting rights at the Capitol. Child tax credit checks passed in the American Rescue Plan begin going out to families. New reports emerge that the Pentagon was bracing for a possible coup during Trump`s final days. "New Yorker" humorist David Sedaris speaks out. Texas Democrats meets with Senator Joe Manchin on voting rights.



Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we begin with President Biden`s historic move to reduce child poverty across America, as we have Republican leaders literally building on what Nicolle was just reporting on, the idea that Donald Trump, busted for all this illegality, for all these attacks on democracies, is still in charge of the party.

All of this happening as the fight over voting rights erupted today in this protest on Capitol Hill. This is important stuff. We want to show you here, where you can see how it began and what it looked like inside the Hart Senate Office Building. You can see what feels like a very peaceful protest a group of protesters walking, arms linked, singing protest songs.

Much of that, of course, would look like democracy in action. But we can also report for you nine people arrested. They were demonstrating an area that is prohibited, according to authorities, on Capitol grounds. That`s how that is supposed to work.

But it also included, interestingly, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Joyce Beatty.

The larger context here has been clear to anyone paying attention to the voting crackdowns around the nation and the White House`s attempt to say they care about it without getting deep into changing the filibuster yet.

Everything`s on the table here when it comes to democracy. And the push to act has been ratcheted up by some of the efforts by local officials like those Texas Democrats to stop some of these things before they start. So they have fled to Washington as a way to deny Republicans a quorum to pass what Democrats say is a vicious voter suppression bill in that state.

So you have the state and the national stories here obviously intertwining.

A group of those Democrats met today with Senator Joe Manchin. He is this key swing vote on so many issues. Now, tonight later, we have a lawmaker who was in that important meeting.

Now, as all this is going on, on the Hill, President Biden also touting what he says is a monumental move as part of his New Deal or Great Society or all the things here that stack up to one of the biggest spending processes we have ever seen this early in the administration.

Today, part of the subject, the victory in Congress to help combat child poverty across America. Now, these first payments in the newly created child tax credit go out today.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s historic. And it`s our effort to make another giant step toward ending child poverty in America.

To give you a sense of how transformative this is, this would be the largest ever one-year decrease in child poverty in the history of the United States of America.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, America, yes, it is a big deal.


MELBER: Fact-check, true.

The vice president there giving a little bit of a salute to the way Biden sometimes speaks.

The policy here is so important. In fact, it`s far more important than it may seem interesting, because you can see the -- kind of the trappings of Washington. They got the writing behind him. They got the policy references. They got the tax credit language, but this is about people. This is about a rich country with a lot of very poor people and a Congress finally under Biden stepping up to do something about it.

We reported on this originally with Congresswoman DeLauro, who`s been pushing this type of program for years. Many said it was too liberal to ever pass, Biden saying they have already done it.

Now, if it works, as mentioned, it`s true, it could cut child poverty by 45 percent, by almost half in America. And the scale, well, that would mean over 55 million children are receiving this benefit. It`s the largest expansion of the social safety net since LBJ`s Great Society.


LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This administration today here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America.



MELBER: That was LBJ, whose legacy is mixed in many ways, especially for foreign policy.

And yet, on domestic policy, with the benefit of hindsight with a larger view of history, we remember LBJ, like FDR, as presidents who, whatever their faults, really used that office and their power to try to help Americans get out of poverty, get out of that cycle of poverty, get out of these poverty traps that are a really distinct part of American capitalism.


There are many other European countries that are democracies that don`t have the level of vicious poverty that we do, that have much stronger social safety nets.

And so there`s a lot going on. And we have a lot in the show tonight, including those Trump coup reports that Nicolle and others have been discussing in our coverage today on MSNBC, because there`s a lot going on.

But we lead with this tonight because I want you to know, this is very important. This is something that, if it works, could change what it means for many children to grow up in America today.

With that in mind, I want to bring in our experts to kick off the broadcast, Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post," and Juanita Tolliver, a Democratic strategist and MSNBC analyst.

Thanks to both of you for kicking us off tonight.


MELBER: Good to have you.

Eugene, let me begin with you.

We wanted to put this in the context of that history. The current president obviously has said so. But it`s also true. And it`s sometimes hard, as we live through these events, even though it`s sort of supposed to be our jobs, those of us in the media and journalists, it`s hard to get our arms around some of these big things that are happening in real time.

What do you think of the import of this and what the president is trying to do to make sure that Americans understand what he`s doing for poverty across the board?

ROBINSON: Well, I`m really glad you`re leading with the story today, because I think it`s an enormous deal. I think it`s a huge deal.

I am old enough to remember the war on poverty, to remember a time when one central focus of federal government policy and discussion and argument was how to reduce poverty in this country.

And since the Ronald Reagan years, we have essentially pretended that poverty didn`t exist, that there was no poverty in the United States. And, of course, there was.

And keep in mind that this money is going to the families, if it`s an individual, an adult individual earning less than $75,000, or a couple earning less than $150, they`re -- $150,000 -- they`re eligible for the credit.

And in many cases, we`re talking about hardworking families. In almost all these cases, these are hardworking families who are working full time, sometimes two and three jobs, but who cannot make ends meet, who cannot afford decent housing, who cannot afford school, who cannot afford for the enrichment activities and other things that they really want and need for their children.

And so this is a major step. A family like that has, say, three young children, if they`re all under the age of 6, would be receiving $300 a month for each of those children. That can make an enormous, an enormous amount of difference in that family`s ability to take care of those children, to take care of themselves, and a huge difference for the next generation as it grows up.

So this is a major deal. This is a sea change in the way Washington looks at poverty and the way Washington operates.

MELBER: Yes, I appreciate all of that.

Juanita, same question to you. And I mentioned Congresswoman DeLauro because people said, wrongly, it was too liberal. It was too progressive. It could never happen. It was one of these things, they would literally -- in Washington circles, they would sort of mock her for even introducing it. Oh, why do another one of these vision things, vision bills? It`s not going to happen.

And here it`s happening. To give people a little more context, I want to put up the tax credit details here. For 5 and under, it`s $300 a month, so it comes out to $3, 600 a year; 6 to 17, it`s $250 a month. That`s $3,000 a year. And the full credit for individuals goes up to about $112, 150.

Same big picture question to you, Juanita.

JUANITA TOLLIVER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Ari, this is right. It is absolutely a big deal.

And I have been talking to parents in my circle who are receiving this child tax credit, and they absolutely recognize the direct, helpful impact this is going to have on them in terms of monthly expenses, in terms of back-to-school supplies, in terms of just putting food on the table and catching up on those bills, because, as Eugene mentioned, poverty has long existed in this capitalist country.

I think the issue is that now attention and investments are being made that are going to have massive positive externalities. I think, on top of that, what Democrats need to do remind people that they exclusively delivered this to the American public too.


Because you know I`m thinking politically here, Ari, too, because on top of that direct benefit of these unrestricted funds that families and people with kids can use however they need to, they should know that every Republican in Congress voted against the American Rescue Plan, which this child tax credit was included in.

And so I appreciate when I see Democratic apparatus like the DCCC calling out Republican incumbents who voted against this, even though there are vulnerable families in their districts. I appreciate the fact that Biden and Harris are out celebrating this.

And I hope the White House continues a full drumbeat, because this is essential aid, because it`s going to people who were likely struggling well before the pandemic to make ends meet. But that struggle has been exacerbated by this pandemic and the economic conditions that it has created.

On top of that, in this outreach, I want to make sure the families who need it most who are experiencing housing insecurity also have access to this and the families that might not have access to stable Internet service or families where parents might be incarcerated have access to these funds, because children need this, not only for their day to day, but their long - term well-being, their health and development as well, Ari.

MELBER: Yes, all great points.

I want to dip in briefly to the Angela Merkel side of this with the president with both of you. Basically, this is the other big thing that`s going on. Again, normalcy is back in some ways.

President Biden was hosting Merkel at the White House. He drew basically on his long experience in foreign relations. Let`s look.


BIDEN: Well, it`s a great pleasure to welcome Chancellor Merkel back into the White House.

She`s been into the Oval Office many times. She`s been a great friend. I consider her a personal friend, as well as a great friend to the United States.


MELBER: The contrast to his predecessor, of course, palpable, from policy on NATO to the multilateral cooperation.

I will get our guests in on that. Let me give one quick example. The summit`s never really escape a look at body language. This was memory lane.


TOLLIVER: All right, coming from someone as petulant and toxic and harmful as a person like the previous occupant of the White House, I won`t even say his name, to the comfort and familiarity and friendliness of the Biden/Harris administration is a stark transition for the chancellor.

As you showed the picture of her standing over the table reading him for filth, and to now she`s smiling, actually embracing, rushing off to dinner with the current president, excited to be here on this farewell tour of sorts, it`s remarkable, because it`s not only just this personal relationship. It`s our national relationship with her, the country that she leads, and how that is influenced.

And so while, of course, I`m sure there are things that are substantively that President Biden and Chancellor Merkel had to work out behind the scenes, everything publicly was wonderful.

I also want to emphasize her visit to the Vice President Harris` residence this morning as well, and just the historic nature of the images that are coming out of that of two women, two global leaders. That is absolutely going to just be affirming to her legacy as a leader, but also impactful for young girls across the world to see.

MELBER: Appreciate your last point a lot, and we have seen that because Harris is playing a big role. She`s a Cheney-esque vice president so far, not in ideology, but in really doing real things.

She was down in Latin America. Whether people agreed with what she said or not, she was out doing real policy. And, as you remind viewers, that`s the case again this week, which is something for everyone to take in.


MELBER: I got a lot coming, so I got to fit in a break.

I want to thank Eugene and Juanita both for kicking us off.

Coming up, also, we have a report on those revelations about Trump`s final days, part of our accountability watch, and how the Pentagon was bracing for a possible coup. That`s according to military leaders.

Also, as mentioned, we have a Texas Democrat who was with Joe Manchin today.

And there are new warnings about the vaccine lies from right-wing media.

All that, and, by the end of the hour, we`re also going to hear from the one and only "New Yorker" humorist David Sedaris.

It`s a special episode of THE BEAT. Stay with us.



MELBER: Who actually runs the Republican Party? I`m not asking rhetorically.

The GOP is out of power in Congress, but the former majority leader, McConnell, is the person who is said to lead the party in the Senate. He was chosen by his colleagues, as does Kevin McCarthy in the House.

McCarthy preparing to staff this January 6 commission for investigation, and he`s now taking a trip that suggests who really runs the party right now. McCarthy headed to Trump`s private New Jersey golf club today, basically doubling down on his own reversal.

After the insurrection, he said Trump bore responsibility for the riot. Now he`s been working feverishly to give Trump cover.

And a new book that is making waves,"I Alone Can Fix It" by "Washington Post" reporters, states that, as the rioters were targeting Pence, Trump did not express any hope that Pence was OK, didn`t try to call him. He just stayed in the dining room watching TV.

We should note NBC News has not separately confirmed the book`s reporting. There`s also reports of how seriously military officials were bracing for Donald Trump to stage a coup. I repeat, the military, not outside critics or observers, concerned about whether Trump would actually lead a coup.

He was taking certain steps, like installing loyalists in Pentagon positions, which was an odd thing to do when you only have a few days left on the clock.

Now, some of this sounds familiar. I told you it`s brand-new reporting in this big book. But it may sound familiar because there were people who reported on those suspicious moves at the time and raised some of these concerning questions, the kind of questions most people never want to raise about their own country.

What`s new here is the high-level military sourcing. But as far back as December, MSNBC`s Rachel Maddow was all over the shakeup.


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST,"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": It was only a week after Trump lost reelection that he fired the defense secretary, Mark Esper.


It wasn`t just the defense secretary. It was a whole bunch of the top positions at the Defense Department. We lost in very quick succession the Pentagon intelligence chief, the Pentagon policy chief, the Pentagon chief of staff.

We have been wondering what Trump has been up to with what he`s been doing at the Defense Department. It has been unsettling what we have been able to see them doing there. But the point of it really hasn`t been clear.


MELBER: The point of it hadn`t been clear, or at least not clear in the journalistic sense that you carefully report what`s happening before you add on why it`s happening.

And why was it happening? Well, officials inside the Pentagon were concerned that it was happening because of an illicit plot that might materialize if Trump could get away with it, if he could pull it off.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley looked at the scenarios where Trump might try to gain sway over the alphabet soup of the national security apparatus, the FBI, the CIA, the DOD. And he warned his own team Trump was stoking unrest, possibly in the hopes of an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act, Milley telling aides he feared it could be the modern equivalent of brownshirts in the streets.

That`s a U.S. general referencing the paramilitary forces that protected Nazi rallies and enabled Hitler`s rise to power. Chilling.

Now, days before January 6, Milley also told aides this is a Reichstag moment, the gospel of the fuhrer.

This theme also figures into a new book for "The Wall Street Journal"`s Michael Bender,"Frankly, We Did Win This Election." It quotes Trump privately claiming -- quote -- "Well, Hitler did a lot of good things," with his astounded chief of staff reportedly replying: "You cannot say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler. You just can`t."

I mean, what do you even say to that one?

Now, Trump denies all these reports. It`s my job as a journalist to tell you that side of it. Those former generals, meanwhile, declined the opportunity to comment to NBC News on what they`re alleged to have said and observed and done.

Now, in the end, there are also no public reports that Donald Trump actually tried to order the military to stage a coup, which is to say that a lot of people inside were worried he would, that he was taking steps to do so, but that, for whatever reason, self-interested or otherwise, he didn`t get up to the point to pull that off.

His resistance, though, is well-documented. People will go to jail for it. That`s a fact. And it boiled down to summoning his supporters to Washington, D.C., where they led a criminal insurrection plot, a plot that they would bear the brunt of responsibility for, not him, never him.

Now, the author I just quoted, Michael Bender, as well as presidential historian Jon Meacham, will guide us through many of these bombshells when we`re back after our shortest break in just 60 seconds.


MELBER: I`m now joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham, and Michael Bender, White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" and the author of the book I just quoted from,"Frankly, We Did Win: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost."

That`s one of those where you have to read not only the title, but the subtitle, right, Michael?


And let me bring in Jon Meacham to start and make sure -- I just want to make sure Michael`s audio is pretty good. I think we got most of that.

But, John, what`s the takeaway from a lot of the type of bombshell reports we`re getting now?

JON MEACHAM, NBC NEWS HISTORIAN: Well, I think Putin may be interfering with Michael`s signal there.


MEACHAM: I think the central takeaway is that we were in incredible danger, and we still are as a republic. This is not a partisan point.

These are important revelations that are filling out a picture of a moment in which autocracy, dictatorship, an end to the rule of law, the things you care about enormously, were in fact -- that attack on those things was sustained.


And we managed to pull this out at the very last minute. But everybody`s luck runs out. And I think we all have to redouble our vigilance if we believe in the constitutional experiment in democracy.

MELBER: Michael, what does your reporting show?

BENDER: Well, I think the through line in this book is that, when it comes to the people who were closest around Trump, the Mark Milleys of the world, Mike Pompeos, Ronna McDaniels at the Republican Party, the Mike Pences, these types of folks were not concerned about the sort of chaos story that we have been talking about for years of the Trump administration.

Like Jon -- what came out my reporting for the book was that what they thought Trump was -- some of them thought Trump was a danger to the country, that he`d become reckless and violent in his desperation to hold onto power.

And we see this time and time again. I mean, Ari, he said in a room full of people in the Oval Office that he wanted to shoot Americans who were protesting civil rights injustices. Mike Pompeo left others with the impression that he thought Trump wanted to lean into a war or might lean into a war in order to strengthen his argument to not leave office.

I mean, these are the kinds of details that just throughout the book kind of illustrate that point.

MELBER: Yes, Michael, and something I have wondered, covering it along with you and many others at different angles, is why he was so late to stealing the election.

He evinced a lot of desire to steal the election, which itself is unconstitutional, obviously. Whether he`s criminally charged for that or not -- there`s an open probe in Georgia -- that`s a more legalistic question.

But he was late to that. Do you know, from your reporting, why it was such a sloppy effort, and whether he literally just didn`t know that he would be short the votes or why it didn`t start earlier and why -- the big question both these books and others raise, why, if he was willing to go that far, that he never actually, according to public accounts, tried to carry out the violent coup, outside of a citizen insurrection?

BENDER: Well, I think that this president we saw for three years, and into the last year, lives moment to moment, headline to headline.

I know that in -- there was no -- literally no long-term communications plan in the White House after the first few months of the White House. And there was a sense in my reporting in writing the book here that those first couple weeks after the election, Trump wasn`t foaming at the mouth, as Mark Meadows would later describe him to Mark Esper and Mark Milley.

He wasn`t -- he wasn`t shouting. He wasn`t screaming. And that left these other folks, the other senior advisers with the impression that he just needed his own way -- he needed to blow off steam his own way, he would eventually find his own path to acknowledge Biden as the president and he just needed some space.

But by giving him space, what that did was create an opening for people like Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and some of those folks to come in and tell Trump what he wanted to hear.

MELBER: Yes, he blew off steam and he summoned his supporters to January 6, and people died and people were beat up and people got badly hurt. And it could have been worse.

And we know from the footage now how close elected officials were to what could have been a much, much worse scene.

Jon Meacham, I want to ask you again about that same issue of the -- sort of the -- what Michael calls that moment-to-moment sloppiness, because the First Amendment grants really broad speech freedoms. But it has a line at which you can`t just give out instructions to make homemade illegal bombs, and then call that speech.

And, likewise, if I had to, in theory, I could write a long-term playbook, given the constitutional and legal rules of federalism, for how you would better press to overthrow an election. I`m not going to do that. I`m not going to write it. I`m not going to do it on air. You could do it too, because I know you`re a historian and a legal scholar.

But what about that? I mean, how lucky -- I guess my question to you, are we lucky that Donald Trump himself didn`t have that ability and apparently didn`t have people around him to do that? Because if he started earlier, in some ways that I`m not going to get into, it could have been worse.

MEACHAM: Oh, it absolutely could have been worse.

And what Michael`s book and other reporting is showing is just how much worse it could have been. And it`s not an excuse, just parenthetically, to those who within the administration to childproof the Oval Office for his emotional outbursts.


At a certain point, you have an obligation to the Constitution and to the country itself. I`m not being clinically distant in pretending that I don`t know what it`s like to be -- I understand that, when you`re an institution, and you have this powerful force at the center of it, of course, you trim here and there.

But we`re way beyond that. And what we`re seeing, again, because of Michael`s reporting and others, is just how close we came to, I believe, an end or a fundamental end to the constitutional republic.

And I`m not being hyperbolic. The Confederate States of America, their forces only got as far as Fort Stevens during the Civil War. They got inside the Capitol this time, six months ago.

And so I think that -- you ask, are we lucky? Absolutely. Bismarck is alleged to have said, for some reason, God loves drunks, little children and the United States of America.

I just don`t want to test that affection again and again.

MELBER: All very important points. And while we often lean on Jay-Z or Drake, I think a Bismarck quote fit in perfectly, Jon.


MEACHAM: Thank you. I do what I can for you.

MELBER: You both do what you can. And you both have given a lot of thought to these issues.

So, my thanks to Jon.

And we want to give another shout-out to Michael`s book for those who are interested. We do rely on this reporting,"The Post"`s and the books. It`s "Frankly, We Did Win." Check it out.

Now, coming up: the Texas Democrats pushing Senator Manchin on voting rights. They had that meeting today.

Well, we have this Representative Thompson. She was in the room. We`re going to welcome her to THE BEAT and learn more next.



MELBER: Texas Democrats tonight taking the fight to a key senator who many say is standing in the way of comprehensive voting rights protections.

Protests have erupted in the Senate office building today. We were reporting earlier on nine arrested, including the CBC chair. Now, this has unfolded while the Texas House members took this meeting with the senator who controls so much the Democratic agenda these days, Joe Manchin.

Now, he has been a staunch opponent of any reform of the filibuster, even only on the narrow grounds of just ending obstruction to allow floor votes to protect voting rights.

Now, here`s what we`re learning about what happened at the meeting.


GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Did you press him on the idea that you all were floating the other day about trying to make a carve- out in the filibuster to pass something like this with just Democratic votes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn`t discuss the filibuster.


HAAKE: Not at all?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, I think enough people have discussed the filibuster with Senator Manchin. Look, it`s an elephant sitting in the room. Everybody knows what the deal is.

He knows Senate maneuvers and mechanics better than we will, any of us will know. So we will leave that we will leave the tactics up to him.


MELBER: Over in Texas, the Republican state House speaker is stripping one of the Democrats of a leadership role. That`s the first legislative punishment or retaliation that we have seen.

New details also emerging about the personal cost to Democrats who stood in solidarity and left the state. A lawmaker skipped her own wedding on the state House floor to stay unified in the fight. Others brought their children along, as the group stands firm on potentially staying in Washington for weeks to prevent the gutting, they say, of voting rights in their state.

As promised, joining us live from Washington is one of the Texas Democrats who met with Senator Manchin -- you may have seen her in that video clip we just showed -- state Representative Senfronia Thompson.

Thanks for being here.

STATE REP. SENFRONIA THOMPSON (D-TX): Thank you for inviting me.

MELBER: We are talking tonight under somewhat unusual circumstances.

You represent Texas citizens there. You say you care a lot about that. But you`re avoiding Texas. You`re avoiding where you work and represent them. And you say you`re going to continue this fight for some time.

So walk us through why it`s this important to you, what you`re standing for.

THOMPSON: Mr. Melber, thank you for letting me be on your show.

I am a state representative from Texas. I`m 82 years old, and I`m in my 25th term. As a child coming up in Texas, my grandparents used to have to save pennies and nickels -- they couldn`t afford to save quarters, because they were only making $2 -- a week to buy a poll tax.

And they were only allowed to vote in national elections because they were black. And they could not vote in the primaries. I have seen a lot in my lifetime. And during that lifetime, I have had an opportunity to see people denied a right to vote, the struggles they had in trying to get to the polls.

And even though my grandmother had a poll tax, she had to go (AUDIO GAP) to be able to cast her vote. In that process, we didn`t have transportation like we had today. They had to catch a bus and go many miles and stand in line and be allowed to vote.

It was difficult. I have seen people who were black killed, bombed, murdered, dogs unleashed on them. And I have lived with signs that says "No Dogs, No Negroes, No Mexicans."

And after having experienced all those things in my life, it was incumbent upon me to take a stand and to be able to continue to fight for the rights of black people to be able to vote, and my constituents to have that privilege not ripped from them.

It was not difficult for me to leave the body that I serve in on my 25th term on office, because I feel like I have something to preserve. This is not a privilege. It`s a right that I have under the Constitution.

And that was a Texan who served this nation as president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, August the 6th, 1965, who signed the voters rights law into effect.

I want to pass something on to my constituents and to the next generation. And if it takes me to stay out and continue my fight, I`m willing to do it. I make $13 a day as a state representative in Texas. And I have a business to supplement my income.

But that means nothing if my rights of my constituents are ripped away from them. And what the Republicans want to do, they want to manipulate the laws, where they can continue to support their form of government.


Texas is 84 percent people of color. And the Republican represents that 16 percent. And they want to control the power of 84 percent of the people. We all want a form of government where we can have a voice in our democracy. We can have that.

I want fair elections. We want safe elections. And what they want to do is, they want to allow poll watchers to come in. And in my neighborhood, they are very intimidating, because they look like they`re somebody from the Proud Boys coming to my neighborhood.

They are going to allow those people to have full range of walking around in polling places in my precincts. And they can get so close as to see how you vote or listen to your conversation if you`re talking to yourself, trying to determine which candidate you may want to choose to vote for.

They can even report the poll election judge. And they can cause that person to probably get arrested and get as much as 10 -- two to 10 years in prison. That things that they want to do even to people with disabilities, if they vote by mail, they have to sign their signature across an envelope.

And if they got a voter`s identification or maybe a driver`s license that they have had for five or 10 years, maybe during the course of that time that they`re voting early, they had a stroke and their signature changes.

They are going to have a group of partisan persons to look at those signatures and say, oh, this is not Melber -- Ari Melber`s signature. (AUDIO GAP) Well, you know your signature. You never your signature your the same way twice if you have signed it a million times.


THOMPSON: And those are the kinds of things that we left the state of Texas for.

If it was a bill that says we`re going to have fair elections, fine, no problem. We have persons who work two jobs in order to make ends meet. And you know how difficult it`s been. Even you have heard so many stories about head of households, particularly women.

So, in Harris County, where I`m from, in Houston, we have drive-through voting, 24-hour voting. If you get off of one shift and you`re on your way to your next one, you can drive through, cast your vote, and keep driving.

MELBER: Right. Right.

THOMPSON: Or if you happen to be a parent with your children in a car, you don`t have to get your kids out of the car. You just them in and drive through.

They don`t want to allow us to have any latitude in being able to offer those kinds of services to people.

MELBER: Right. Yes.

THOMPSON: But listen to this.

MELBER: Well, I`ll tell you this. I`m...

THOMPSON: If the election administrator sends you an application, and you didn`t request it...

MELBER: Well, Representative I`m only -- I was always educated not to interrupt my elders, but I`m supposed to get in a break.




MELBER: But I will give you the final sentence or two, the final sentence in summation, and then I`m going to go to a break.

THOMPSON: Well, if my administrator would send a mail application without a request, that person can get two to 10 years in prison.

But if they did it by accident, they can get a Class A misdemeanor, which is up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

That`s the bill...


MELBER: Understood. I think you have just -- yes, I think you have given a lot of us an education here walking us through exactly why this is so vital to you and as well what`s in this bill that could pass, which is why this is a big, live issue.

State Representative Thompson, thank you for coming on THE BEAT.

THOMPSON: Thank you for inviting me, and please invite me again.

MELBER: I will. I will. You have my word. I appreciate it.

Coming up, we have David Sedaris on the undecided myth and a lot more.

Stay with us.



MELBER: News you need to know, COVID rising around the nation, the U.S. averaging 23,000 new daily cases. That`s double the figure from just weeks ago.

The Biden administration urges people, get their shots. More than half of Americans do remain unvaccinated. The surgeon general calls the misinformation a big part of the urgent threat, vaccine lies running rampant on right-wing media.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: If the vaccine is so great, wouldn`t it sell itself? There`d be no reason to force people to take it. But people are being forced to take it.

RAYMOND ARROYO, FOX NEWS: With the stories of the young men`s hearts in flaming and the low hospitalizations, the low deaths among young people, of course they aren`t getting vaccinated.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I would say the Cleveland Clinic is pretty well respected. And the Cleveland Clinic said that if you had COVID-19, you don`t need any vaccine.


MELBER: Experts advise you to get the vaccine. And the facts show virtually all COVID deaths now occur among the unvaccinated population.

We have a very special guest coming up,"The New Yorker" humorist David Sedaris.

Stay with us.




MELBER: We love getting into culture here on THE BEAT.

And we turn now to a literary and cultural icon, a chronicler and observer of America, our lives, and someone who also happens to be pretty funny.

He is a well-known humorist and author, David Sedaris, 11 books to his name, several bestsellers, Grammy-nominated for the audio book "Dress Your Family." He contributes to that august institution "The New Yorker."

And his latest book,"A Carnival of Snackery," is coming out this fall, and he`s going on tour later this year. So there`s many ways to have the David Sedaris experience.

Thanks for being here.

DAVID SEDARIS,"THE NEW YORKER": Well, thanks so much for having me.

MELBER: I have read you for a long time, as so many "New Yorker" readers and fans of your books have.

I want to start with politics and then we will get to the culture. You were writing about undecided voters. And in our business at tables like this, we often talk a lot about what they`re going to do and how they make up their minds.

You had a little bit different take. You said: "The flight attendant comes down the aisle with a food cart, and eventually parks it beside my seat. `Can I interest you in the chicken, ` she asks, `or would you prefer the platter of `bleep` with bits of broken glass in it?` To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked."

What do you mean, and does that still apply as we go to these next midterms with a MAGAfied Republican Party?

SEDARIS: I mean, I think so.

I never -- I just never understood. The undecided voters get so much attention during every election. And I would watch them on television or hear them on the radio, and I would think you just want attention. How can you not are chosen between these two candidates?

I just don`t -- and everything is -- everyone caters to them. Right? Well, what would you need to see? What do you need to say in order to get your vote?



SEDARIS: Who are these people? I just don`t really believe them.

MELBER: You keep it real. That`s, I think, part of what people like about the wit that you have.

And we have just lived through really a big something here with this with this pandemic. You eschew not only social media, but even Zoom. Why?

SEDARIS: Well, something told me that, if I got Zoom -- if I didn`t get Zoom, which I didn`t get, it would get me out of a lot of fund-raisers. And it did. It really did.


SEDARIS: But then there were a lot of things, like, oh, can you put together a little video and send out a message of hope to people?

And I thought, there`s still TV. There`s still Netflix, there`s still HBO. There`s actual stuff to watch. I don`t know that anybody needs a chin-up message from me shot in my bedroom.

MELBER: You also do late night. And we have a little bit of you reading some of your humor.

This is -- you`re explaining Easter in a French class doing one of your readings on "Letterman." Let`s take a look.


SEDARIS: "It is," said one,"a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus."

And she faltered, and her fellow countrymen came to her aid. `He call his self Jesus. And then he died one day on two morsels of lumber."


SEDARIS: The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.



SEDARIS: I never have -- I have this little thing in my ear. I never listen to myself.


SEDARIS: I met a teacher a while ago. And he had his students listen to some my essays on audiobook.

And one kid said: "It`s the old lady I feel sorry for."

And the teacher said: "What old lady?"

And said: "The one they forced to read that thing out loud."


SEDARIS: Because when I -- when you started playing it, I thought, who is she?


SEDARIS: And then I realized it was me.

MELBER: How important is it for you to have that audience reaction, to see whether it plays or whether it`s funny? Because you`re not a stand-up comic, but you`re doing these tours. We saw you there.

Do you need to know whether people think it`s funny? Or can you publish a humorous piece and just see whether people agree that it`s funny?

SEDARIS: No, I desperately need that.


SEDARIS: And I didn`t feel comfortable.

I mean, the past year-and-a-half, there were a number of things that I had published, but I never had a chance to read them out loud to see for myself if they work or not. So when I do get back on stage, my fear is that I`m going to read those things out loud, and I will realize, oh, I was completely wrong about this and this and this.

So, no, I don`t feel comfortable putting things out there when I haven`t had a chance to run them by an audience first, because the audience will tell you everything.

MELBER: We sometimes do a lightning round. Would you be game?


MELBER: All right, in a word or a sentence, so it`s as fast as possible, reading or writing?

SEDARIS: Writing.

MELBER: Writer`s block is?

SEDARIS: Something that journalists ask about, but something that writers never discuss amongst one another, because it`s really not an issue for them.

MELBER: The best compliment of your work that you have received?

SEDARIS: We read it to my mother when she was dying, and she laughed.

MELBER: Your best advice for a young write who might hope to be like you someday?

SEDARIS: To write, and then stack up the pages and learn from your mistakes, and just keep at it, and don`t expect anything until -- for a good long time.

I mean, I think I have been writing like, I don`t know, every day for like 18 years before my first book came out. It seemed normal to me.

MELBER: Eighteen years before a book was published?

SEDARIS: Mm-hmm.

MELBER: And, finally, the best thing about COVID is?

SEDARIS: There were no tourists in New York.


SEDARIS: It`s just something I just noticed today walking here.

It was like, why? That`s why I have been so happy for the past year-and-a- half.

MELBER: I didn`t know what you would come up with, but you came up with something.

It`s so great to have you on THE BEAT. I hope you will come back.

SEDARIS: Oh, thanks so much for having me.

MELBER: David Sedaris.

The book "Carnival of Snackery" will be out this fall. And the lecture tour kicks off in September, back in person.


MELBER: No tourists in New York. You heard it here first.

And I want to tell you that`s part of the conversation when I sat down with David. But if you go to the Twitter page for our show right now, @THEBEATWITHARI, the full interview is online. It`s the top link.

Or, on YouTube, because some people like to just go right there, you search Sedaris and Melber, and you can see that and the longer interview, because, when we do some of these special cultural sit-downs, we have even more than we have time to air on the program.

Again, our thanks to David.

That does it for me.

"THE REIDOUT" is next, with Jason Johnson in for Joy.