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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 7/19/21

Guests: Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Frum

Summary

A Capitol Building rioter is sentenced. President Biden kicks off infrastructure week. The fight over COVID misinformation spills into a rhetorical civil war on FOX News. Jeff Bezos responds to critics of his billionaire space race.

Transcript

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC HOST: One hundred million, he`s still on this grind. One hundred million, he`s still in his prime. Ari Melber with "THE BEAT" starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hey, Jason. You told me that. I`m making it -- it`s making me think, how do you spell dope?

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: D-O-P-E.

JOHNSON: D-O-P-E.

MELBER: Yes.

JOHNSON: Yes. That`s how it spells.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Good to see you, sir.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

And we begin with breaking news.

A judge just handed out the first felony sentencing today stemming from the January 6 insurrection. This is one of the first formal steps toward accountability and reckoning in a long process that the DOJ says is key to deterring ongoing terror threats.

Convicted MAGA rioter Paul Hodgkins will be behind bars for eight months, with many eying these first sentence as a potential precedent for the many cases to come.

Now, currently there are hundreds of people charged in connection with January 6. Here is what Hodgkins did in plain sight that day. Photos and evidence in the case says he illegally rushed the Senate chamber, trespassing among the senators` desks and sporting a Trump 2020 shirt while carrying a Trump 2020 flag, a look the prosecutors say he happily showed off while posing for selfies to his friends, making himself part of the action.

Now, that Trump fan, who was so proud and brazen on January 6, is now a convicted felon. He`s going to jail. And in court, he claimed a kind of naivete that`s familiar to so many enablers and defenders of a criminal insurrection, claiming, if he had any idea that the protests would escalate, he would never have ventured farther than the sidewalk.

Now, you can decide for yourself whether to take that at face value. It`s a simplistic version of this four-year debate over whether to take Trump and this ongoing Republican movement literally when it pushes hate or talks of violence or talks of overthrowing elections and denying people the right to vote.

Mr. Hodgkins broke the law by trespassing and joining a mob that overtook police, attacking officers and showing its disdain for the so-called blue lives that it also liked to talked about when convenient politically.

Escalation or not, this January 6 rioter, Paul Hodgkins, bragged about his actions until he got busted, going from a wannabe viral tough guy to an unapologetic convict.

As Vince Staples put it in a new song out just this month, really spilling blood, everybody tough, until they got to go and see the judge.

This MAGA rioter was never tough, certainly not on the day of his felony, and not today as a convict headed to jail.

Let`s get right into it.

I`m joined by NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray and staff writer at "The Atlantic" David Frum.

Professor, your thoughts on first just big picture the notion of accountability, this first felony sentencing.

MELISSA MURRAY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: So, this is one that will be watched very closely.

As you mentioned in the opening, there are a number of different individuals who were involved in the insurrection and who are awaiting trial. They will have lots of decisions to make based on the sentence about whether or not to plead guilty or to take their chances and face trial.

And it`s worth noting here that the prosecutors actually asked for a much longer sentence, 18 months. He ultimately got eight months, in part because he has no criminal history and he pleaded guilty and took responsibility for his actions almost immediately.

So there`s a lot going on here. But this is a really important case. And I think it`ll shape what we will see going forward as more and more of those involved in the insurrection are brought to justice.

MELBER: Yes, I think we have something on that.

So, David, before I bring you in, let`s just look at that other part of the debate, which I think a lot of people are discussing tonight, whether this jail term is enough. The Biden DOJ sought a year-and-a-half sentence, given how Hodgkins was part of what they called a collective threat to democracy.

His defense lawyer had this take:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK LEDUC, ATTORNEY FOR PAUL HODGKINS: I think Judge Moss is a brilliant judge.

Cancel Culture and everybody gets upset when they say it. But the fact the matter is, is, we`re so busy casting stones at one another. I think his decision was that of a brilliant jurist who had a very difficult job. There is no precedent. And for the record, you guys should give Paul Hodgkins a break.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Many rejecting that call to give him a break or any of the nation to take a break from accountability.

Now, I want to be clear before I bring the panel back, legally, nothing in the case ties the hands of judges in these other cases. And some of those have more serious or violent charges than this one, where the rules might double over -- double the jail term.

[18:05:10]

With that in mind, before I bring in David, Melissa, since you raise it, and we had -- we did want to have a look at that, walk us through in more detail the issue of the lenience or not.

MURRAY: Well, one, he was charged here with obstructing an official event at the Capitol. So this wasn`t about harming other people.

It wasn`t about the use of brute force against individuals. So, again, that plays into the nature of a sentence. The fact that he has no former criminal history also plays into a sentence.

Does that mean that Judge Moss is a brilliant jurist, as this defense attorney said? I think it was a brilliant outcome for this particular defendant. I don`t know that we`d necessarily call this brilliant.

I think federal judges (INAUDIBLE) difficult (INAUDIBLE) individuals. And this was a tough case. But we may see easier cases. We may see still harder cases going forward. But this will certainly be a benchmark against which other cases are going to be judged and other judges will take their cues.

MELBER: David, your thoughts on what today means?

Professor Murray, I don`t know if you could see the return, but David may have been so upset with today he froze out on us.

Can you still hear me, Professor?

MURRAY: I can hear you.

MELBER: Great. We`re dealing with it. We deal with tech sometimes.

The question I posed to David is what it means big picture. You and I have been discussing that.

The other thing I did want to get to is the political background of all of this. There were literally protesters against the notion of law and order here, to put it in those terms. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What you out here protesting today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The injustice of the political prisoners of Joe Biden. We`re here to help free to D.C. POB, prisoners of Biden.

QUESTION: Do you know some of the people that are in there from January 6?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not personally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From Idaho. There are poor people from Idaho.

QUESTION: You come all the way from Idaho for this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that`s correct.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Flew all the way here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The context -- and, David, if you can hear me, I will bring you back in is -- that it has become now so mainlined or normalized on part of the right to actually just be against law and order, to be against the notion that people who attack police should have their day in court and, if convicted, should deal with the consequences, David?

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR,"THE ATLANTIC": I think we`re going to hear dozens and dozens and dozens of iterations of the Jerry Seinfeld "Was that wrong?" sketch.

And that`s what the defense plea here was, that the defendant said that if he had had any idea with that assaulting police officers and interrupting elections was wrong, he would never have taken in part in it. It just was news to him.

MELBER: Yes. Yes.

Professor?

MURRAY: Well, again, this is, I think, a really interesting moment where we`re sort of going to reflect on the political prisoners of the past.

I mean, there are other groups in our history who have claimed to be dissidents against the prevailing social order. I`m thinking of the Black Panthers, for example, or Weather Underground. But we have been very clear that, when you take steps and go beyond the rubric of the rule of law, you are not a political prisoner. You are simply a prisoner, and a dissenter, certainly, but a prisoner nonetheless.

So, again, the idea of trying to wrap this event, the January 6 insurrection, in the mantle of political protest, and these are right- minded people who have somehow gotten ensnared in the government`s grass, I think, is a bit rich, given what happened on that day.

MELBER: And, David, your view as well of the wider discussion over whether this DOJ is being aggressive enough. Should it be looking beyond the so- called self-anointed foot soldiers to the people who may have helped organize or lead this?

FRUM: I`m sorry.

MELBER: We...

FRUM: There`s some background noise. I couldn`t hear.

MELBER: You can`t hear it.

FRUM: I beg your pardon.

MELBER: And I -- you`re fine, David.

I have been there. Professor, I`m going to go back to you. And David`s being a good sport trying to work with us.

I have been on the receiving end of this. It`s harder sometimes than it looks if he can`t hear me.

But, Professor, I will put the question to you and read from former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer for more detail on this, because he writes that Merrick Garland has to show he knows what January 6 was really about.

The attorney general, he writes,"should unequivocally reject any notion a congressman is doing his job when he foments a riot based on lies in order to sabotage a legitimate national electoral process."

And, Professor, we have spent quite a bit of time focusing on the fact that it is not proper for politicians or others to advocate, for example, a political indictment of this or that person. And so steering clear from that kind of talk, but looking at the legal side, the substantive side, which, is, is there a meritorious case, in your view, for the DOJ to investigate prosecuting people who may not have entered that building, but who may have crossed a criminal line in organizing it?

[18:10:11]

MURRAY: I mean, I think there`s certainly a broad range.

I mean, as the defense lawyer said earlier, this was unprecedented. We really haven`t seen an attempted coup of our government operations since the Revolutionary War. So, again, we really are in uncharted waters at this point.

But it`s really worth noting that the Ayer`s op-ed here was really directed to the question of whether sitting members of Congress will be insulated from liability for what happened on the January 6 insurrection by virtue of a federal law that allows federal officers to be exempt if their actions are within the scope of their duties as a federal officer.

And so I think the bigger question here is whether or not supporting or encouraging an insurrection, if that is, indeed what happened, is within the scope of a sitting member of Congress` duty. And I think the op-ed was pretty decisively in favor of saying that, no, that wasn`t the case, and, indeed, the Department of Justice should take strong steps here to send a message that this should not be tolerated, and it`s surely outside of the bounds of what we expect of our elected officials.

MELBER: Right.

As you`re quoting from, the article makes the fair point that it`s outside of any official duties. You have a kind of protection for official duties. If you`re out doing a political thing that may or may not relate to inciting violence, there`s a tough question there about whether you crossed the line. There`s an easy question that it was not in your official duties as a member of Congress.

Indeed, it`s an arguable betrayal of the oath of a member of Congress.

So, as always, Professor, your analysis was perfectly clear, and I will say so was your Zoom shot, which is more than we could say for any technical difficulties that are our fault, which we apologize for. Thank you, Professor.

MURRAY: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Coming up, Joe Biden is kicking off what they call a real infrastructure week. We will explain.

Also, the fight over COVID misinformation spilling out into kind of a rhetorical civil war on FOX News, some interesting back-and-forth.

And Jeff Bezos actually speaking out today, responding to those critics about his billionaire space race.

And we have Neil deGrasse Tyson live on THE BEAT on all of that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:15:58]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should be united in one thing, passage of the bipartisan infrastructure framework, which we shook hands on.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Lots of good work together, bipartisan work has happened. But we believe it`s time to move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Time to move forward, the White House says, the Biden agenda heading for a major test this week.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer eying a Wednesday vote on this infrastructure and jobs bill and lining up Republican support.

And Democrats emphasize, this time, there actually is a written budget and plan to do this, a contrast to four years of endless talk about infrastructure weeks, with no execution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We did what we came here to do.

SETH MEYERS, HOST,"LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": And yet, sadly, my presidency ends one week before infrastructure week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, while rallying the party for a final agreement on this multitrillion-dollar budget plan for health care, education, child care, and family leave is critical to Democrats, there are other views out there.

Trump loyalist Lindsey Graham threatening to walk out to stop any budget process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): You got to have a quorum to pass a bill in the Senate.

I would leave before I would let that happen. So, to my Republican colleagues, we may learn something from our Democratic friends in Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Graham invoking the state Democratic effort to try to stop voter suppression with his own effort to double down on what would be this kind of supersized McConnell obstruction of basic governance.

There`s a difference between new bills that limit voting rights and bills that deal with COVID or jobs.

Now, for their part, the Texas state Democratic lawmakers are still in Washington continuing that fight. Nationally, Senate Democrats say they`re getting their back, going to Georgia for a field hearing on voting rights. Note that not a single Republican attended that.

Well, we`re going to get into all of it.

Juanita Tolliver is here to break it down when we`re back after our shortest interruption, just 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: I`m joined now by Democratic strategist, MSNBC analyst and front of THE BEAT, Juanita Tolliver. Good to see you.

JUANITA TOLLIVER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, Ari. Good to see you.

MELBER: I want to return with you tonight to a theme that is important, even if it`s not exciting. And we live in a world where we have been told everything should be exciting and entertaining at all times.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: But, as we just showed, there`s just some real nuts and bolts on getting the jobs and spending bills done.

Schumer working with Biden on this. And the scale of this would be quite large, if they can get it done, even though it hasn`t come with a great deal of excitement or controversy yet.

TOLLIVER: That`s exactly right, Ari.

And let`s be real. This infrastructure bipartisan negotiated deal did have a little bit of drama, right? So, for everybody looking for some drama and theatrics, there were moments where Republicans are considering pulling out, but right now everything`s moving forward. And, honestly, everybody is looking for this legislative language so that they can get their teeth into fully understanding what it will cover, not only for the bipartisan deal, but for the budget reconciliation bill, which we know not every Democrat necessarily is on board with yet.

[18:20:00]

And so while we`re waiting for this to happen, I think Schumer is absolutely going to push everything forward as quickly as he can, because he got his marching orders from President Biden last week in their closed- door lunch with the Democratic Caucus.

And so, right now, Schumer`s watching that clock tick towards the August recess, and he`s doing everything in his power to get this done. So expect that Wednesday vote, that procedural vote on the bipartisan deal, and expect on Wednesday potentially an announcement that all Democrats are on board with the reconciliation package.

MELBER: Interesting. And that would be big, because that`s that party-line vote they need.

And, again, you`re talking about spending. We have covered it. We have heard from historians and other nonpartisan experts, whether they`re rooting for Biden or not, saying this really is one of the largest things to come out of any White House in more than a generation in either party.

So, again, big, whether or not it`s hitting the way we have gotten accustomed to big news hitting. And we went through pandemic. We went through a lot of things. And we`re kind of almost informationally fatigued.

On the voting rights that I mentioned in our introduction to you, I just want to show the voter suppression laws around the country. You have got Republican legislators now introducing hundreds of bills. It`s over 380 in 48 states as of mid-May. Georgia, where we mentioned the Democrats did go to that field hearing, added new restrictions on the mail ballot drop boxes, prohibiting food or water to people waiting in line.

I will remind viewers, some of this will be challenged in court. So the story may not be over. But some of it is under the line of what has been a Supreme Court that lately is kind of letting a lot of these kind of crackdowns fly.

And so what`s your view politically about -- OK, I think Democrats have shined a light on it. I think people who watch the news or keep track on social media have heard about this, I don`t think people don`t know. What do you think Democrats have to do next, if some of these things are going to stay on the books by the midterms?

TOLLIVER: Look, I think, politically, the importance of this field committee hearing is big, because not only does it shine a light, as you mentioned, Ari.

It also collects data that we hear a lot of times from senators on the Hill that, oh, we don`t know if this is actually going to have that negative impact. But this is the concrete data showing from witnesses who are experiencing it on the ground and recounting their experiences from 2020 and how that will be exacerbated going forward.

And so that data could be helpful in terms of making the case within the Democratic Caucus for that carve-out for a filibuster to get some voting rights legislation passed. I think, if nothing changes, Ari, I think we also have to accept that there`s no way to out-organize or out-mobilize voters in terms of beating voter suppression, right?

Like, they`re -- just systematically, it`s impossible to do that. And so Democrats are up for a massive fight here. And that`s why those losses in the Supreme Court, whether 2013 or just earlier this month, where you have them muddying the waters even on what can be challenged in court as racially discriminatory voting bills, is going to make it that much harder for Democrats, not only in an election cycle, but also out of the DOJ, when they try to challenge these cases in court and bring these legislations to court, calling out how it is targeted demographically.

MELBER: Yes.

Before I lose you, I want to put something on the radar of everyone about how bad the polling was in 2020. This is really interesting. It may seem like, OK, that was that was last year. But with rigorous data and with empirical science, they do full studies. So there`s actually groups that look at this, beyond just saying, oh, this or that single poll was bad.

There`s a rigorous new report out. And I want to read just two headlines from it. Presidential polling was off by over four points overall in 2020. That`s bad enough to mean a lot of the state polls just weren`t at all accurate for looking at what was happening. And polls understated Trump`s support by over three points, on average.

This is not about the American voters. This is about the polling complex and, to some extent, the media. And so I did want to make sure to flag this. I`m curious your view, as someone who is a political analyst and in Washington and all these polls get talked about.

TOLLIVER: Yes.

MELBER: I have shared with viewers before I think there`s too much reliance on polls in a way that can be distortive. We, for example, don`t air national polls on THE BEAT, because there`s no national election for president. So, airing polls that are unrelated to the outcome is actually just kind of confusing or misleading.

There are other examples. This was worse, these experts say, than in 20 years, what do we make of all this? And how should we be literate about, yes, there`s information out there, but not letting it basically distort elections?

TOLLIVER: Look, Ari, I think anybody working in politics has absolutely been burned by polls, whether that`s 2016, whether that`s 2020 and beyond.

I appreciate you emphasizing the need to focus on state and local polling and research, because that is the closest tangible impact that you`re getting from the ground and a mirror reflected from the ground.

I think, looking at this and that report that came out, I do think there`s something interesting about the fact that the undercounting of the margin and Trump`s margin coming potentially from the Fed Trump voters were less likely to engage with pollsters.

[18:25:03]

And so not having them participate, of course, is going to lead to a skew. I think the other thing here is the electorate is absolutely expanding. And with 22 million new voters in 2020, those folks likely weren`t on pollsters` radar.

So to your point about how polls are systematically conducted, they`re probably not even talking to the right folks to be able to get accurate counts. And that`s only going to be exacerbated again in 2024 and other presidential years.

MELBER: Yes.

TOLLIVER: Because we know, in midterms, polls tend to be a little bit tighter, but midterms are a very different electorate audience vs. a 2020 presidential situation.

MELBER: Yes, I appreciate all the points you raised. Some of those were touched on in this report.

And I think we all just need to be honest and hold ourselves accountable.

TOLLIVER: Yes.

MELBER: Because we`re talking about the power of democracy. We`re talking about the threats to democracy. This is a different avenue, but giving people information that sends the wrong way or makes them think, oh, I guess this race is already over when it`s not, I mean, that`s a major deal. And I think the polling has become a part of that problem.

So that`s why I want to make sure to put it on the radar, since that report was new.

Juanita, thanks for being here.

TOLLIVER: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Appreciate you.

Let me tell everyone about an MSNBC programming note, tonight, Lawrence O`Donnell and Jonathan Capehart speaking to those Texas Democratic state lawmakers we mentioned about their decision to go to Washington and their ongoing advocacy for voting rights. This is a special tonight 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC.

And we have a lot more on THE BEAT tonight.

There`s a new twist in the Matt Gaetz sex crimes probe. That`s later.

Also, outrage, as FOX News continues to push vaccine misinformation and hesitancy with COVID rising across the U.S.

But, first, boy is there a backlash to the billionaire space race, Amazon`s Jeff Bezos is speaking out.

And we have, we think, one of the ideal experts to get into all of it, Neil deGrasse Tyson here live on THE BEAT next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:32]

MELBER: Tomorrow, another billionaire is paying his way into space on his own rocket, Amazon`s Jeff Bezos continuing what has become a kind of a curious mix of science, business and self-aggrandizement for a very small billionaire class.

But what are we to make of it?

Well, we have astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson here to help us think it through.

First, I want to share some of the context.

There`s nothing new about corporations leading research or technology around the world. And that means, if you think about it, that rich people shape many of these key decisions.

But, right now, this current space race is within a raging pandemic, and a lot of inequality, and it`s drawing unusually intense backlash. There are memes joking about how out of touch it looks. There are lawmakers raising the inequality, arguing that these billionaires are holding wealth so they can launch -- hoarding wealth as they launch themselves into space.

Meanwhile, the congressperson for the tech-heavy Seattle says it looks like billionaires making fortunes off companies with massive climate footprints then use the money to escape the burning planet.

Amidst all of this, one satirical online petition is just saying, maybe Bezos shouldn`t be allowed to return to Earth. Over 160,000 people signed that.

So what`s going on here? Well, part of it is due to the sense that things are not good here on Earth, specifically right now. Europe`s underwater. Many parts of the world are on fire. The climate crisis rages, COVID surging. People are poor and without food.

Jeff Bezos amidst this has gotten richer than ever, his total wealth growing over $90 billion during the pandemic. And while these billionaires can live in their own bubble, they don`t have to respond to anyone in politics or in journalism, I can tell you, they don`t have to take interview requests, Bezos did see the need to speak out. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: There are critics who say, look, this is, again, Richard Branson and you, Jeff Bezos, rich guys on a joyride.

What will come out of this?

JEFF BEZOS, FOUNDER, AMAZON: Of course, people said, look, we have so many problems here on Earth, and they`re right. And we need to do both. And we have always done both.

We need to focus on the here and now and we need to look to the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s his answer of what he says he`s doing.

And there`s a larger history here. There was a lot of turmoil during the 1960s over many issues. And people did question whether the government should be spending so much on space, again, given all the problems on Earth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What are your thoughts?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as science goes, and everybody that`s involved with the moon landing and astronauts, it`s beautiful, you know?

Like, me, I couldn`t care less.

QUESTION: This means more to you than that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, much more. The cash they wasted, as far as I`m concerned, in getting to the moon could have been used to feed poor black people in Harlem and all over the place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it`s a waste of money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are going hungry all over the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Then, as now, these ethical issues echo.

I want to tell you that`s actually a clip from "Summer of Soul," a documentary by Questlove, who works on our sister channel NBC, and explores how people at a Harlem music festival dealt with many issues, including the debates over spending so much on Apollo 11.

In fact, poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron put the question in one of his famous spoken word pieces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIL SCOTT-HERON, POET: The rat done bit my sister Nell with whitey on the moon. And her face and arms began to swell. And whitey`s on the moon.

I can`t pay no doctor bill, but whitey`s on the moon. Ten years from now, I will be paying still, while whitey`s on the moon.

You know, the man just upped my rent last night, because whitey`s on the moon? No hot water, no toilets, no lights, but whitey`s on the moon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There is nothing new about debating and really scrutinizing where our money goes in a world of heartbreaking inequality and whether the money is going to the right places.

Now, we always want to give you all the facts here.

A lot of the defenders of this space race today point out that there is a different dynamic if these billionaires are going to space for themselves and using their own money, which is different than tax subsidies.

But that`s also tricky, because billionaires seem pleased to build and then hoard wealth at our own expense, as one article put it. "There`s no cause to expect them to democratize space, anymore than they have democratized prosperity." That`s from "New York" magazine.

And you always have to ask, what does it mean when businesspeople say they`re doing it by themselves?

[18:35:03]

There`s a question here about what the ultra-wealthy are really spending. Bezos, for example, many say, isn`t paying his fair share. He`s dodged income taxes over several years, despite becoming the richest person Earth. And many of these programs, while technically private, are still subsidized through our model of capitalism.

Take a look at this; $220 million of taxpayer money built Richard Branson`s spaceport in New Mexico.

So, yes, tomorrow, Bezos will blast into space. And there is the exploration here of the possibility of a private age of space travel, where really rich people could see this view that you`re looking at with their own eyes.

But it raises this larger question all the way back to Gil Scott-Heron, whether the view of there will also allegorically capture the way the super rich are already living, detached from the rest of us, seemingly untouchable, and, of course, gazing down.

These are big issues, big questions.

So we turn to a brain so much bigger than that of your humble host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, on the space and the ethics.

First of all, welcome.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: Yes, thank you. Thanks for having me back. It`s been just a few weeks, actually.

MELBER: We love it.

DEGRASSE TYSON: We chatted about UAPs a few weeks ago, yes.

MELBER: Yes, sir.

I put both questions to you. What is the potential public good of this kind of travel and exploration and research? I know you love research. And what about the larger issues of inequality and ethics?

DEGRASSE TYSON: So, we should make -- I should make a few obvious first points, that there has been inequality and hunger and poor and racism and all these problems. All that long predates anybody`s attempt to fly in space.

So to now look at success in space launches and say, because we`re doing that is why we have not solved the rest of these problems is kind of a false equivalence. That`s my first point.

Second, typically, what we are spending in space is much less than anyone thinks we`re spending in space. It`s just that space dollars are highly visible, compared with other budget items that show up in the annual portfolio.

And so, for example, when we landed on the moon, NASA was -- might have -- I forgot exactly -- 3 percent, 4 percent of the federal budget. People said, so, that concert, Summer of Soul, we were going to the moon while that concert was happening.

And so it`s a very visible use of that 4 percent of the tax dollar. But you didn`t hear anybody talking about the rest of the 96 percent that could be solving poverty or building schools or helping those who are disenfranchised.

And so I`m just trying to appeal to people to have a more balanced sense of what parts of the budget you`re going to critique. Otherwise, it becomes just fast headlines. We`re going to the moon, but I`m hungry. Well, OK, there`s a lot of things we`re doing while you`re hungry, OK, that don`t immediately put food on your plate.

In a democracy, an elected republic, we vote every year for representatives to then create a budget of things we value, OK? So there`s art. Is art putting food on someone`s plate? No, but it creates an environment where you want to live. We do things because that`s the identity of the country we want to create.

And we`re wealthy enough, we can do it all, all. So don`t just say, why are we spending there, when we should be spending there? Well, let`s spend it in both places, period.

Now, by the way, I did the math on this. Want to how rich Jeff Bezos is. The $200 million (sic) is -- at last I checked, that`s his wealth. If that were dollar bills, you could stack them, and they would reach twice the height of his -- you found it.

MELBER: We have your tweet. That`s wild.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGRASSE TYSON: It will reach twice the height of the elevation that his rocket will attain, just to put that in context.

No, you can say -- so, you can say he shouldn`t spend that. But he`s got plenty of money. He can do that and 20 other things.

So, if you want to complain about Jeff Bezos, complain that he`s not helping the poor or the hungry or his workers, but that specifically wouldn`t have to directly address the fact that he wants to go into space and create an entire new, along with Branson, an entire new economic branch of what people might do on their vacations, space tourism.

And it`s not just for -- well, now it`s just for rich people, but...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Well, let`s talk about that. Let`s talk about that part.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes.

MELBER: You`re getting us exactly to that next larger question, because new things are often attacked by virtue of being novel, and not for any substantive reason.

[18:40:03]

And so, to your point, things that were initially thought of as only for the 1 percent, whether that was at the initial air travel or other technology, then has democratized.

Walk us through, is there a value to a potential private space travel market?

DEGRASSE TYSON: Well, if it becomes a huge tourist industry, then there`s value. All right, it`s an economic -- a previously under-realized and underexploited way you might spend your vacation. OK?

Is anyone complaining that you might fork up a few thousand dollars to go to Disneyland? No. You`re enjoying yourself. You`re not saying, why are you doing that when you could be feeding the poor? No one is creating that equation.

So I can imagine a future -- it`s not hard -- where, no, it`s not a quarter million dollars to go into space. It`s -- watch the numbers drop. As the as the launches increase in rate -- and, notice, his boosters are getting returned back to the launchpad to be reused.

When you fly to Europe in a 747, they don`t throw it away and roll out another one. They reuse it. And when you reuse expensive technologies, you drop the average cost. And in so doing, you commoditize what previously was the purview of the rich.

We all saw the 1987 movie "Wall Street." And there`s Gekko on the beaches of the Hamptons with a shoulder-mounted cell phone. And I remember thinking, boy, I wish I was rich. I could have a phone.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGRASSE TYSON: And, yes, the rich people get it first.

MELBER: Yes.

DEGRASSE TYSON: But when everybody gets it, the product is actually better and much cheaper.

MELBER: They`re a lot smaller now.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGRASSE TYSON: So, if things go the way they intend, this becomes a choice that you will make going forward, as you might collect a few vacations worth of money to do that, of course. It will cost more than going to Orlando, for sure.

But I don`t see anything wrong with opening up an entire new business enterprise. This is America. And if you don`t think that it should happen that way, that`s a different country. We think what this country is or should be.

MELBER: Well, so then let`s talk public/private.

The original space travel was in the Cold War era. It was government-backed in the countries that could do it. This is obviously business.

Does anything come to your mind that has been publicly beneficial by having businesses do some of the research and thus pay for some of the investment?

DEGRASSE TYSON: Well, OK, so that happened with aviation, OK? Private enterprise led aviation.

And you know who the first people to fly on airplanes? Rich people, OK? And the competition to carry the biggest loads or go the farthest became so intense, all right, and there was prize money rewarding people who achieved these goals -- that you reach a point where, by the way, my plane is big enough, I can carry people, I can carry a boat -- a boatload -- a planeload of people to a destination.

And you birth an entire industry that is -- we can`t imagine a world without it. So, and a point about problems on Earth before we go into space, you know what I think of> I think of let`s go back 30,000 years, we`re all in the cave, and you want to go outside the cave door.

And so you go to the cave elders and say, I want to see what`s outside across the valley. No, we have cave problems. You have to solve those first before you exit the cave door.

Given the size of the universe and the resources that await us there in asteroids and comets and energy, I think we got to keep moving that frontier. Otherwise, we will be -- we will regress back into the cave from whence we can.

MELBER: Beautifully put, politically so.

And this is why we kind of wanted to look at the whole big issue, the criticism, and also hear from you.

I am out of time, but we do you have to disclose one potential conflict, Neil, which is, we have been talking about the value of space, but from what I can tell, you have done this entire interview yourself while being in outer space.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGRASSE TYSON: Actually, just for the record...

MELBER: Got you.

DEGRASSE TYSON: ... Earth is in space. And we`re all on Earth.

MELBER: Dude, wait a minute. Whoa.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGRASSE TYSON: Deal with it.

MELBER: We`re in space. Man.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes.

MELBER: All right, see, you always end with just one more explosion.

It`s good to...

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes, the night sky they see when they go up to the high altitude...

MELBER: Yes.

DEGRASSE TYSON: ... you can wait until sunset and see the same sky.

MELBER: Respect. Respect.

(CROSSTALK)

DEGRASSE TYSON: Just thought I would throw that in there.

MELBER: Dollar, dollar bills, you all.

I learned so much today. Good to have you here. I hope to have you back, sir.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Good to see you again, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely. Cheers.

We`re going to fit in a break.

There is some developing news, though. House Leader McCarthy has named these Republican lawmakers -- this was a big controversial issue -- to the January 6 committee. It includes Congressman Jim Banks as the ranking member, the very controversial Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, Congressman Rodney Davis of Illinois, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, and Congressman Troy Nehls, who`s a freshman from Texas and a former sheriff, bringing some law enforcement perspective there.

[18:45:07]

There`s been a lot of talk about who`d be on the committee, so we wanted to give you that update.

I mentioned a break. It`s going to be quick.

When we come back, what you need to know about the COVID surge and why FOX News hosts are contradicting each other on air.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We have got two epidemics going on right now.

One of them is biological, caused by a virus. The other is informational, where misinformation and intentional disinformation seems to be winning the war against truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: One of the United States` top doctors warning how misinformation is causing and contributing to preventable death.

COVID cases are now rising in every state, with the Delta variant wreaking havoc. And deaths are also up. Bottom line, you should know 99 percent of the deaths are among people who have not been vaccinated.

[18:50:00]

But we all are also seeing other important cases, including some, not most, by any means, but some people who have been vaccinated still getting COVID.

Now, five Texas Democrats who fled the state to stop those voting laws we have been covering, well, they have tested positive, but all five were also fully vaccinated. Now, they`re not showing any symptoms.

And a U.S. government gymnast testing positive at the Olympics, showing those symptoms.

And, today, Florida Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan testing positive. He`s been vaccinated, and the reports, very mild symptoms.

Now, health experts say vaccines lower the risk of infection. But that`s not the only thing. And, to be fair, they have said this before some of these cases came out. They point out that, in the cases where people have one or two doses, but still end up somehow getting COVID, the vaccine is still working. This is not a failure of vaccines, because it drastically reduces severe symptoms and the risk of death.

Now, I just tried to say that as clearly as possible. But it`s not easy to get some of this out when you have very influential people who work for organizations that define themselves as media saying other things, FOX News hosts increasingly battling over this issue and vaccines even just this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: Ninety-nine percent of the people who are dying from COVID are unvaccinated.

BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS: That`s their choice.

DOOCY: They don`t want to die.

So, they are -- the administration and the government is saying, we need the mask mandate to protect the unvaccinated.

KILMEADE: That is not -- that`s not their job. It`s not their job to protect anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Just to review there, you have one person saying something true, which is this is overwhelmingly a problem for the unvaccinated.

Then you have another person saying, it`s those people`s choice. But, yes, it is technically their choice whether to get vaccinated. Few would argue they would make the informed choice to end up dying.

As to whether the government`s job is to protect anyone, I can`t help you there if you don`t know that`s kind of the point of government.

I`m joined now by Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, director of Boston University`s Center for Emerging Infectious disease and an MSNBC contributor.

I won`t draw you into the politics, but we do want to get some facts from you. Thanks for being here.

DR. NAHID BHADELIA, NBC NEWS MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having me, Ari.

MELBER: Big picture, what is important to understand about what`s happening with COVID right now, starting in the U.S.?

BHADELIA: I`m so glad you tie those two stories together, because the emerging disinformation thread that I`m now seeing is, oh, vaccines don`t work, so you don`t need to get them.

And that`s because people are hearing these breakthrough infections, which, as you said, are expected, because no vaccine is 100 percent. Right? They are -- they`re not avoiding all infections. They`re protecting you from hospitalizations and deaths.

And so when you see these isolated numbers, what`s important to know is exactly what you said, which is that the majority of the burden is among the unvaccinated; 99 percent of the people who died last month of COVID were unvaccinated; 97 percent of the people who are hospitalized were unvaccinated.

And the majority of the increase in cases and deaths are happening in those communities where there`s undervaccination. And so when you hear an isolated number, I think what I`d want people is step back and say, OK, during that same period of time in that community, how many hospitalizations, infections and deaths did we see in the unvaccinated?

That would be the correct way to compare the two numbers. And I think that`s where some of the disinformation is coming, and what we need to work on.

MELBER: Yes, let`s get into that, because you`re the doctor.

I`m going to make a very simplistic analogy. I`m not saying it`s covering the entire complexity. But if you go bike riding, helmets are really a good way to protect your head. And so you wear them. And you can have studies that show that helmets, properly worn, will save people`s lives most of the time.

And yet you can still read about cases where someone`s in a helmet, and, unfortunately, it doesn`t save their lives, that something really bad happens. And it seems that people, some of whom are arguing obviously in bad faith, are trying to say, well, oh, my gosh, I found out about a case where someone was in a helmet and still got hurt, or worse. Thus, what`s the point of helmets?

BHADELIA: Yes, it is like that.

And I think another example I will give, I saw a skit of someone on FOX, a medical person that they had on, who said, well, what if the efficacy has gone down to 70 percent? Why do we even -- which it hasn`t, by the way. The data from Scotland and U.K. says that we still have very good efficacy. But that might evolve with new variants.

But let`s say it went down to 70 percent. I have never heard of anybody say, this parachute is going to have 70 percent chance of protecting me, so I would rather just fall out of the plane without a parachute on.

MELBER: Right.

BHADELIA: That`s the equivalent.

I think that this question of, are people making their own choice, if they are being led astray with misinformation, are they making the right choice for their health, right? And that`s why this conversation about disinformation and misinformation comes in, because it is -- that personal choice is guided on purveyors of disinformation and on amplification of misinformation.

And that`s why I think it`s just so heartbreaking for somebody who`s in public health and in medicine.

MELBER: Understood, all of it. And it`s something we want to continue to shine a light on to make sure people understand.

[18:55:03]

And, again, I always make a point of saying, people can make up their own mind about their health decisions, right? It`s not -- the government has an obligation to make some rules of the road. The press isn`t here to tell you exactly what to do, but we can report for you what`s working, what`s safe, and certainly try to crush bad faith misinformation, for political or other reasons, that might give people the wrong baseline facts to use when they make their own decisions.

So, obviously, the story, the issues are with us for a long time.

Dr. Bhadelia, thank you, as always.

BHADELIA: Thank you.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: A little programming note.

Tomorrow on THE BEAT, we`re going to show you something special we have been working on about the Supreme Court, its history, why it`s affecting our lives in all sorts of new and novel ways, and how MSNBC`s 25 years fit into it. That`s tomorrow.

If you want to see that or a piece that I have written about the Supreme Court as part of the 25th year anniversary, watch tomorrow.

And, also, you can always find me online @AriMelber or AriMelber.com on social media. Indeed, we will be sending out that piece on our socials tomorrow as well, in addition to our regular BEAT broadcast.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts now.