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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 8/17/21

Guests: Marc Ginsberg, David Plouffe, David Rothkopf

Summary

The U.S. military ramps up efforts to get Americans and some Afghan allies away from the new Taliban rule that has taken over Afghanistan. Progressives try to team up with Biden to spend his capital. New January 6 video is released from the Justice Department. Critics blast the latest COVID move from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Will most Americans soon be eligible for a COVID booster shot?

Transcript

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Good to see you. Thank you very much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And, tonight, the U.S. military ramping up these efforts to get Americans and some Afghan allies away from the new Taliban rule that has taken over Afghanistan. The Pentagon says Kabul Airport is under control after the initial chaos and evacuations now speeding up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. HANK TAYLOR, VICE DIRECTOR FOR LOGISTICS, THE JOINT STAFF: We have had no hostile interactions, no attack and no threat by the Taliban.

The speed of evacuation will pick up. We predict that our best effort could look like 5,000 to 9,000 passengers departing per day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s the Pentagon briefing.

About 800 people evacuated last night; 165 of them were Americans. The Pentagon says there are about 5,000 to 10,000 Americans still in or around Kabul. You can imagine what that means for them with the scenes that we have been witnessing.

An image broadcast around the world shows hundreds of Afghans crowded into a U.S. military cargo plane. You can see what that looks like for them, people trying to get anywhere other than Afghanistan, the Pentagon confirming a body found inside the wheel well have a plane discovered when it landed in Qatar.

Meanwhile, President Biden back at Camp David today. He`s returning to the White House tonight, according to aides. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan today explaining and defending the administration`s withdrawal decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The images from the past couple of days at the airport have been heartbreaking.

But President Biden had to think about the human costs of the alternative path as well, which was to stay in the middle of a civil conflict in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And the Taliban is basically in charge with the eyes of the world very much upon it.

And they`re doing something that, according to analysts, looks a bit like an international P.R. campaign. This is, of course, a group that has committed some of the worst documented atrocities against the people of Afghanistan and specifically women and girls over the years.

They are now saying -- and I emphasize saying -- that they are going to respect women`s rights when they`re in charge this time, a claim that`s been met with skepticism from people who know them well in Afghanistan, as well as international human rights groups around the world.

We begin with Katty Kay, wash the editor for Ozy Media, and David Rothkopf, chief executive officer of The Rothkopf group. His latest article in The Daily Beast says Biden`s right that it is time to leave Afghanistan.

Katty, we are now a few days into this. Everyone is starting to absorb and process what is both a difficult humanitarian situation and the ending or denouement of a multidecade expedition and mission in Afghanistan that multiple presidents, including Biden and Trump, who don`t agree on much else, have said it was past time to exit.

What are we learning as this continues?

KATTY KAY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: We`re starting to learn that the Taliban, at least at the moment, wants to project an image that it can run the country and not just be an insurgency, and with some nod to international perceptions about human rights issues, although, when you say -- when you quote the Taliban and saying that they`re going to respect the rights of women`s and girls, I think it`s worth giving the whole phrase there, which is they said that they would respect the rights of women`s and girls within their definition of Sharia Islamic law, which, by global standards, is a very, very harsh definition of Sharia law.

So let`s see what that actually means. There are very few women and girls on the streets in Kabul at the moment. Many are sheltering at home, and are scared to come out, which gives you some indication of how much they trust whatever the Taliban may be trying to project to other countries.

And I think that`s what we`re starting to learn about the situation in Afghanistan. The eyes of the world are still on the country. And so the Taliban has more of an incentive today than it might do in a week`s time, in a month`s time to protect those human rights.

Let`s see how this unfolds with Afghans in the weeks to come.

MELBER: David?

DAVID ROTHKOPF, CEO, THE ROTHKOPF GROUP: Well, I think that Katty is right. The eyes of the world are on them now. But the eyes of the world are going to remain on them.

President Biden has said that we are going to keep monitoring carefully human rights and the rights of women within Afghanistan. And, of course, we have a variety of means of putting pressure on them beyond leaving the military on the ground there. That includes multilateral organizations, aid flows, sanctions, and I think, and particularly -- in particular, working with the Chinese, the Russians, and the Pakistanis, who do have more leverage over the Taliban.

The Chinese have already been interacting with the Taliban. And I think we`re going to I have to find a way to work with them. And, after all, I do think it`s important to remember the Chinese are as uncomfortable with the spread of militant extremism, particularly Islamic extremism, as we are because they have, as you know, these challenges in the northwest that they have been meeting brutally themselves.

[18:05:23]

But, nonetheless, our interests are aligned there. And I think that gives us a chance to try to influence the Taliban going forward.

MELBER: Understood.

And our panel of independent analysts stays.

We want to bring a very special guest into the conversation who has extensive government experience in the region. That`s ambassador Marc Ginsberg. He was a former White House Mideast adviser. He was U.S. ambassador to Morocco. Many viewers will recognize him as a government veteran that we have relied on for what is a very difficult region.

And so, Ambassador, I want to start with you, building on what we were just hearing from our other experts. What do we take from the evolution of the so-called American foreign policy consensus here that went from a post-9/11 framework that seemed to be very interventionist, on a bipartisan basis, to a position now where, as mentioned, you just have really no appetite from anyone who gets into the White House, from MAGA to Biden, to stay out there?

MARC GINSBERG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO: Well, this has been a selective decision on the part of the President Biden`s team.

After all, we still are maintaining a residual force in Syria, as well as in Iraq, with respect to countering terrorism. And let me point out, if you read the agreement that Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo negotiated with the Taliban back in February, which was dumped as a rotten hot potato into the lap of the incoming Biden team, you have to ask yourself how much this disgraced art of a deal has left Afghanistan open to al Qaeda, and as well as operations of extremist groups?

And let me just quote a United Nations report to you, Ari. There are over - - in over 15 provinces in Afghanistan, particularly close to the Pakistani border, Al Qaeda continues to operate with the support of the Taliban, particularly through the Haqqani Network, whose number two is the son of the leader of Al Qaeda`s Haqqani support network inside Afghanistan.

So the president not only has to deal with the consequences of what is the toppling of this government, but, more importantly, the residual problem that we tried to avoid having to see happen in the agreement that Trump negotiated, which is the continuation of extremist groups operating inside Afghanistan, no matter what the Taliban say.

MELBER: Yes, I mean, that`s the most recent history before the Biden administration took over, including, as "The New York Times" is pointing out, I guess maybe the dumbest idea ever, although it`s always hard to pick, that Donald Trump was proposing of bringing the Taliban to Camp David around 9/11.

And that was actually scuttled by people around him. And you know how hard it is to pull him back from a bad idea. So there`s plenty of blame to go around in the recent history, as each of you is alluding to.

I did want to reflect on as well how much this has changed. We took a look at some of the local newspaper coverage around the country, because Nicolle Wallace and others have pointed out the way there`s kind of this gap here between, basically -- and I will say to my control room I think we have this -- but basically a gap between what D.C. thinks is a big story and how it`s playing around the country.

Let me see. Do we have the newspapers? A-3?

We`re going to pull this up, because it`s a little bit interesting to reflect upon the fact that this is a huge story in every way that we care about. And yet, if you look at what is happening on the ground, it really ranges.

So, in "The Des Moines Register" in Iowa, for example, Afghanistan makes the front page. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, it`s mask mandates on the front page, Afghanistan second, out to Ohio, which everyone thinks of as a bellwether. Afghanistan withdrawal, which is obviously important for the reasons we have been discussing, is not on the front page at all. People are talking about the vaccine, are you going to take it and what`s going on back to school.

Down in Montgomery, Alabama, the top stories, again, schools, as people live their real lives and a report on a new goat beer garden poised to relaunch.

I mention that.

I go to Katty first, who is one of our great sophisticated internationalists, who can speak to the fact that sometimes Americans don`t look abroad maybe even enough.

But, as an eye on Washington, what does it tell you that this story, from a combination of fatigue and evolution, is just not front page everywhere in America right now?

[18:10:00]

KAY: Yes, this is what the White House believes. And this is why President Biden and his national security team are sticking very firmly to their initial position that this was the right moment to get out because they have the backing of the country, and the newspaper headlines reflect that.

I mean, I think, just to get to what David was saying about the eyes of the world will still be on Afghanistan. I`m just not sure that`s the case, Ari. You and I know how news cycles work, right? There`s an awful lot of interest in Afghanistan this week. Whether there will still be a focus on Afghanistan next week or the week after that, I`m just not so convinced.

I mean, as foreign journalists, we will find it harder and harder to operate, particularly outside of Kabul. We won`t be getting those stories of any atrocities that the Taliban is committing. And this is a story that will receive even -- it`s not even on the front pages around the country at the moment. So it`s not going to get the kind of attention it`s getting right now, which will diminish our ability to operate, let alone the international community, the intelligence community`s ability to have eyes on the ground and find out.

That`s going to be diminished too. So our ability to know what is really happening in Afghanistan, and to the ambassador`s point, to know how much of a terrorist threat Afghanistan poses, is going to get harder, not easier, going forwards.

MELBER: Well, Katty Kay raises more than one important point, as is often the case.

Let me take the first the point to the ambassador and then, the second, we will queue up David for.

But, Ambassador, Katty says that the Biden White House, whether they like it or not, because there`s nothing to like about this terrible situation, but their belief in the civic and political space to do this in America is that the public broadly supports this, even if they`re getting hit left and right by members of Congress, et cetera, and that the newspapers, she points out, may bear that out.

I`m curious your response to that, because you have advised presidents, where everyone says, oh, of course, politics should play no role. And yet, from Vietnam to Iraq, politics, democracy does constrain what we do in foreign policy.

GINSBERG: Well, there`s no doubt that the picture -- the picture speaks 1,000 words about what happened yesterday.

But now that the administration has been able to bring in the 82nd Airborne Division and secure Kabul Airport, and hopefully the Taliban are smart enough to permit a corridor, to permit Americans and Afghani supporters of the United States to make it to the airport, and that we`re determined to keep that corridor open, and then maybe, hopefully, the Taliban will see the wisdom of permitting that, for their own interests, to see that continue, this story will fade.

We will get those people out, hopefully. We will not get everybody out. Obviously, there are Afghanis who want to leave who won`t be able to make it to Kabul. But the fact is, is that the American public, they are far more interested in the stories that are directly impacting them, mainly the children going back to schools and the extension of the variant, the Delta variant.

And Afghanistan is remote, except, of course, to those people who had -- veterans who have served in Afghanistan, and those members of Congress who deeply care about the consequences to our veterans and what their sacrifices have been.

And I think that appeals to the heartstrings of most Americans who have no veterans or ties to veterans who served in Afghanistan. They don`t want to believe that this fight was in vain with respect to basically doing what we needed to do after 9/11.

MELBER: David?

ROTHKOPF: Well, I think I would pick up on Katty`s point that it`ll be harder for us to keep our eyes on the ground there.

First of all, some of the countries -- Pakistan has a border. China has a border. They will remain engaged because they have got to be engaged. The president has said we are going to continue to monitor this. It is not going to be the priority it was when we had troops on the ground there.

And that`s the point. The point is that the United States has other priorities, be they in Asia or elsewhere in the world. And we have got to pursue those -- those priorities.

MELBER: Yes.

Ambassador, I mentioned some of the criticism or the nature of the reaction. And over at FOX News, they`re trying to deal with this. They have to sort of pick their targets, because they were quite loudly supporting some of that -- what you called the terrible hot potato from Donald Trump.

But, in its thrust, it was still basically trying to get out of Afghanistan. Here`s what they have landed on. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: Is it really our responsibility to welcome thousands of potentially unvetted refugees from Afghanistan? All day, we have heard phrases like, "We promised them."

Well, who did? Did -- did you?

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: And over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions. So, first we invade and then we`re invaded.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Ambassador?

GINSBERG: All the crocodile tears, all the crocodile tears that come out of FOX`s Republican supporters to try to whitewash what essentially was the Trump withdrawal deal and turn this into an immigration issue.

[18:15:11]

The fact of the matter is, they have nowhere to go. Whitewashing history is the number one job on FOX to protect their -- the Trumpanistas. And the fact is, is that, for those of us who watch this, and watch Pompeo, Mike Pompeo purposely declare that this is the worst day in the presidency of Joe Biden, and he was the one who rushed to Qatar to sign this deal and has his signature all over this deal, but they don`t want -- FOX never wants you to be reminded of that.

MELBER: Yes.

David, the ambassador has what`s known as receipts, because he actually tracks this issue in a way that not everyone maybe does.

And so I wonder what you think, David, about that, that final connective tissue, because so much of the Biden era is running from everything Trump did. And yet, because of the nature of this conflict, the nature of the agreements made, and a lot of other complex stuff that you guys have been excavating, there was a foundation of agreements from Trump and obviously prior administrations that they were working off of.

ROTHKOPF: Well, yes, I mean, Trump wanted to leave earlier. Trump in April was touting the fact that he would have left sooner and that Biden was dragging his feet on leaving. That was his point just weeks before all of this happened.

And, of course, Marc is right. Pompeo had these meetings with the Taliban. They wanted to invite them to Camp David. And before that terrible idea, they had the terrible idea of getting out in December of 2018, shutting down the embassy, or, before that, handing it all over to Blackwater.

So the Trump administration was all over the place with bad ideas.

But I do want to point out that it was in 2009, in the beginning of the Obama administration, when they did an Afghan review, that Vice President Joe Biden stood up and said, no, it`s time to go.

He has known for more than 12 years that we didn`t have a mission we could achieve, that we were putting too many lives at risk, that we were spending too much money, and that the resources would be better spent elsewhere. And he has been making this case long before Donald Trump arrived on the scene, long before his critics arrived on the scene with this, because he`s been following it.

After all, he was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when we went into Afghanistan.

MELBER: Yes.

Yes, look, some of it is tragic. We have been watching that around the world. Some of it is tough. A lot of it`s complex. And we just take it as we go here. So we`re indebted to David, Katty, and Ambassador Marc Ginsberg as we think it through together.

Thank you.

I want to tell everyone what`s coming up in the program.

While Joe Biden is of course, dealing with Afghanistan, any president has to do more than one thing at a time.

And we have two Obama veterans, high-ranking, about what not only the Afghanistan situation does to the presidency, but why progressives are trying to team up with Biden to spend his capital.

Also later tonight, I have told you about accountability. There`s new January 6 video coming out of the Justice Department. We will explain why that is new and out.

And critics blasting the latest move from MAGA governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:12]

MELBER: August is supposed to be the slowest month in Washington.

Congress heads off to recess. There`s a lull before Labor Day, but it has been packed lately on everything from our top story, the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan, leaving a resurgent Taliban and plenty to debate in D.C., which poses big challenges for the administration.

But it`s a Biden administration that also has found a way to make this August productive, two big wins in the Senate, like the infrastructure bill netting 19 Republican votes just last week. And that comes after some other popular actions in this early period of the administration, a COVID relief bill that got cash out to millions of families, the vaccination effort which, even as Delta surges, has put one shot in the arms of actually over 70 percent of adult Americans.

It`s pretty high, just not high enough. Meanwhile, the economy is adding jobs. The unemployment rate has finally fallen to pre-pandemic levels, all of which is part of probably why Joe Biden still has a far better approval rating than Donald Trump ever did. It`s above 50 percent.

Now, Biden may be in this tougher stretch, which is part of why we`re getting into this right now, COVID really resurgent in ways that are challenging what the government`s been able to do thus far. The next parts might be tougher. Biden`s spending plans also face pushback in the House, and they`re still hammering how this is all going to work.

While polling shows that Biden`s approval is above water, as mentioned, better than Trump, but that`s a low bar. It`s six points higher than his disapproval. It is kind of steady. So, Biden`s also demonstrated the openness to working with Republicans. And that was what the infrastructure breakthrough was all about.

But we`re actually hitting, according to a lot of experts, a crucial inflection point, at a time when government has been getting some things done, after four years of really federal atrophy under the prior administration. Does Joe Biden continue to work with Republicans, even if that means diluting all sorts of things, what liberals consider small ball, or is the time now for Joe Biden to spend the political capital that he has been building and which, like any good communicator or leader, he has actually been celebrating the accumulation of that capital in real time?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I signed in the law the American Rescue Plan, an historic piece of legislation.

We`re actually on track to reach this goal of 100 million shots in arms on my 60th day in office. No other country in the world has done this.

In the past 24 hours, we have seen the Senate advance two keep pieces of my economic agenda. The Biden economic plan is working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Here`s the question facing the Biden White House and thus really the Democratic coalition. And it wasn`t the obvious question even three months ago.

Given what`s been done, is this the time for President Biden to move from the bipartisan things and the things that, while big and important, maybe pretty doable, if you have a Democratic Congress, like handing out checks with a 50/50 vote, and turn to the bigger, tougher things, where the politics may be unclear for all kinds of reasons, where doing the thing may lower the popularity?

[18:25:17]

There are substantive issues where reporting indicates that this Democratic coalition wants action. These are the people who voted Biden in. Biden eying tougher vaccine rules for the general public, for example, there are a lot of folks and experts who think that is a good idea. But the politics are mixed at best.

There`s blowback here, and not just on the far right. Also, the debate over the filibuster to get voting rights done. We know the Biden White House said that`s an existential issue for democracy. So, is this the time to go for it, even if that means basically a full step away from the Republicans that he was courting last week in the Senate?

Liberals also want Biden to really take on student loan forgiveness at a time when corporations, Amazon, corporate profits are surging, and a lot of other people are living through a pandemic with crushing debt.

And then there`s an issue we have reported on a ton here, police reform in Congress. The House passed it. The Senate hasn`t acted. Should Joe Biden do more to get into progress or a win there, even if no Republicans come along? Because, boy, do we have evidence that would not be a bipartisan winner with this current party.

So, it`s big questions at a key time.

And we have, frankly, some big guests to get into it.

David Plouffe, everybody knows, successfully ran the Obama campaign at a time when people didn`t know whether Obama would be the nominee, let alone the future president, and Chai Komanduri, known for "Chai Day" here on THE BEAT, and also a veteran of that Obama and other Democratic campaigns.

We`re back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: As President Biden faces some big decisions, we`re back with David Plouffe, the former Obama 2008 campaign manager, part of that kitchen cabinet that put Biden on the ticket and went on to the Biden era we`re in, and strategist Chai Komanduri, a veteran of the Obama and other Democratic campaigns.

Thanks to both of you for being here.

DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Good to see you, Ari.

CHAI KOMANDURI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Good to see you, Ari.

MELBER: David -- absolutely.

David, I will start with you, because you have, I`m sure, been in rooms where a bunch of experienced, tough, smart people have generally the same strong belief system. And some things get prioritized, and some things don`t. And some things get done, and some things don`t.

And we were looking at this, as we just laid out here in the setup, that some of those big decisions would seem to at least risk, if not spend political capital.

Do you think, for starters, President Biden should turn and do any of those or all of them? Walk us through it?

PLOUFFE: Well, sure. I mean, if everything`s a priority, nothing`s a priority.

But the priority -- listen, we could sit here and name another 20 issues that are of critical importance to this country and the world, so let`s not minimize any of them. But the pandemic remains the number one thing, connected to the economy. So you have to continue to do everything you can to get vaccination rates up.

It`s why the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill are so important. I would say, Ari, doing it is important. The storytelling doesn`t happen on its own. The American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure plan, the reconciliation bill, Democrats should be doing storytelling off that for a decade. So you have to be diligent about that.

I think police reform is probably the last thing that may happen in Congress, potentially, with Republicans. Senator Scott and others are at least saying the right things about that. I think everything -- voting rights, you`re just going to have to do that, or you risk saying bye-bye to the democracy.

So this is existential. This isn`t about polls today or does it advantage one party in the next election? Like, you got to belly up to the bar here and do the big things to save our democracy. But

I think, at the end of the day, Joe Biden`s going to have an amazing story to tell about, where I could work with the Republicans, I give. I got criticized by my own party for bending over backwards to do that. Where they wouldn`t, whether it`s to protect our democracy or do more to help the middle class and those are trying to get into the middle class, I work with my party.

[18:30:02]

And I think then you have to not just say that. You have to go out to where the jobs are being created, where the businesses have been saved, where families have been helped, and do the storytelling. And that`s just not on the White House. Every Democratic member of Congress can do that. And any Democratic candidate running against Republican who opposed some of these things can do that storytelling.

MELBER: Yes.

So -- and, David, before I bring Chai in, then, when you look at, say, vaccines and just the entire COVID challenge being, as you put it, the first priority, obviously, you can say, well, any president has that obligation to keep America safe.

But the tougher calls come if the top CDC expert or Fauci comes in, and they say -- and you have been in meetings like this where they`re going to say, the thing we need now with what`s left, what we have been reporting on here on THE BEAT, the vaccine-hesitant, we need something big.

The best thing -- I`m just being hypothetical. They say, you got to tax people who don`t get vaccinated, and then they will really get vaccinated, and we think we will save lives.

And that`s all fine in theory, but you got a president looking at that going, everyone is saying, well, you`re going to drive to 40 percent approval if you do that.

How do you navigate that, David?

PLOUFFE: Well, unlike the Trump White House, the Biden White House, as was true in the Obama White House, and I -- this was true with Bush and Clinton and Reagan.

Whether it`s the Department of Justice on legal matters, here, they`re not going to interfere with what the health experts have to say. But, listen, there`s a whole bunch of things before you get to things like taxing. Once there`s full FDA approval, there`s going to be another tranche of people that come in.

I happen to think, just in the last week, there`s not an hour that goes by where there`s not another major school district somewhere shutting down and going virtual because you have such an outbreak.

You now see, I think, in Texas, the latest numbers are 70 percent of people in Texas actually support mandates for masks in schools. So this is a place where I wouldn`t worry too much about the politics. The sum is greater than the parts, which is, if you get the vaccine rate north of 80 percent, and get these slopes going down, that`s going to be good for the country, more important than the politics.

But the politics will follow that. So I think, at the end of the day, we`re all weary of where we are. But I do think you see vaccination rates up in a lot of places around the country. I do think the coverage in the last week -- I mean, heck, the governor of Texas just announced he`s got COVID in a breakthrough case.

So I think that I`m not sure -- I understand the desire to say the unvaccinated should be taxed, they should pay more for health care, the vaccine shouldn`t be free. Perhaps you`re going to look at all that down the road.

I think there`s a lot of things, some of them just the moment we`re in. But, for instance, when the FDA does come out with full approval, that`s going to move another group of people from hesitancy to vaccinated.

MELBER: Right.

PLOUFFE: So but this is the thing you have to tackle.

And let`s not forget, Joe Biden inherited the biggest challenges any incoming president inherited since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And I think, when you look at it in that way, and raise the stakes about what he`s dealt with here they have done a phenomenal job, particularly compared to the incompetence of the first four years.

MELBER: Chai, spending capital. Go ahead.

KOMANDURI: Yes, and I would echo those comments.

Joe Biden, after 200 days, has done a really great job. The problem now is that there`s two challenges ahead. One is, the legislation is going to get much harder. Simply put, infrastructure is not a culture war item. I mean, I don`t know how many minutes Tucker Carlson spends talking about infrastructure. It`s not many.

The things that remain, police reform, voting rights, those are culture war items. Those are highly controversial.

MELBER:

KOMANDURI: And those are -- that`s where there`s going to be a real fight.

And then the second thing is the pandemic. It`s the pandemic, stupid, as a way -- simply a way of putting it. As kids go back to school, and as this Delta variant rages on, and as people still remain unvaccinated, that will be the biggest determinant of Joe Biden`s popularity.

If we have school closures, if we have further lockdowns, it`s really not going to matter what legislation gets passed in D.C. The American people will simply blame Joe Biden. And I think he`s been very smart. I think he`s been really good on this issue.

But, boy, are there very big challenges ahead.

MELBER: I think you make a fair point.

James Carville did literally say it`s the pandemic, stupid, last time, and it will continue to be as long as this is a real part of American life.

There is a rule. And, Chai, you haven`t done quite as much television as David, so you may not know. But the rule -- and David knows this -- if you`re going to quote James Carville in a TV segment, you have to dress like him in the segment, where you dress like you`re doing yard work that day because you`re so important, you don`t dress up for meetings or television.

So that`s the rule, Chai.

KOMANDURI: Yes, I would never wear an LSU sweatshirt. I am quite sorry about that.

(LAUGHTER)

KOMANDURI: I know UCLA is going to play LSU this fall.

I`m looking forward to it. I will probably be at the game. But the LSU sweatshirt, the LSU outfit, absolutely no go for me.

[18:35:03]

MELBER: Yes.

David is a strategist. I don`t know if he will give us the real, honest answer. It`s some sort of political power move when you`re at a stage in your career where you underdress for everything, which we love James Carville. That`s what he does.

I want to keep you both here and turn to a related question, but on the local politics. We talked about what Biden`s got to do. Let`s be clear. Joe Biden has been getting good marks on handling COVID, according to the scientific experts.

By contrast, the Florida governor from basically the MAGA party, Ron DeSantis, showing little interest in trying to get vaccination rates up, and there`s surging infections there.

So, our panel stays, but we want to show you the latest. He`s opening the Citrus Bowl football stadium, but it`s not for vaccinations, which we have seen in other states. It`s actually now a place where people can go for treatment after getting COVID, kind of a reactive emphasis, officials offering treatments to hundreds of people daily who would be sick with COVID.

DeSantis doing this, while, again, let`s be clear, this might be an emergency measure, call it what you want, but the context is, this MAGA governor is doing this, instead of making a vaccine push or working with local schools on masks, like we were just discussing, and doing other things that the doctors say prevent people in Florida from getting sick in the first place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Early treatment with these monoclonal antibodies, Regeneron and others, have proven to radically reduce the chance that somebody ends up being hospitalized.

And at the end of the day, reducing hospital admissions has got to be a top priority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It may be a priority. We should note that the number of people rushing to the hospital in Florida is breaking records. It`s one of the highest in the whole country.

It`s triple the national average. It`s lower also than the average vaccination rate. Meanwhile, 5,000 plus students, hundreds of employees in a single Florida school district testing positive for COVID or exposed to the virus, and they are quarantining.

So that`s the facts and the context for people around the country who may not have their eye on Florida.

I go to you first, David. What do you think about that?

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, he`s a hero of the MAGA base today. If he runs for president, maybe he still will be in `23 and `24. And so maybe he`s able to be a front-runner for the nomination with that record.

I would love to run against this guy in a general election. You`re running to be president of United States. And you now have his resume as essentially how he handled the pandemic, which is a disaster. And it`s going to get worse every day.

What we knew is going to happen is unfolding in states like Florida and Texas and others, where you see, as schools reopen, they`re closing down right away. And a lot of people are getting sick. Their hospitals are overwhelmed.

By the way, they like to talk about how they`re now the party for working people, OK? Teachers, nurses, doctors, all anybody in the medical field has been put through hell because of the irresponsibility here.

I`d say another thing about the culture wars, which DeSantis claims to be a master of in general. Nobody thinks Republican -- nobody thinks Republicans are better messengers than a lot of Democratic activists.

But let`s just remember, 2020 was all about how there was going to be MS-13 in the suburbs, and the suburbs were going to go. Didn`t work for Trump; `18 was the caravans. Didn`t work.

I went through in 2012 Obama phones and food stamps. And a lot of this stuff that everybody thinks they`re being brilliant hasn`t worked. So, again, but you have to -- the gate to get through a Republican primary, Congress, Senate, president in `24, is completely disconnected from the center of the electorate.

And in all of these battleground states in 2024, it is going to be a searing memory what happened with the pandemic. And you have got 70 to 80 percent of the people vaccinated in those battleground states. You have got 70, 80 percent of the people being responsible things like wearing masks again.

So I think somebody like DeSantis may still have strong pedigree with that MAGA base. But, again, the gate to get through a general election victory, I think, in `24 is very different than getting through a Republican primary.

MELBER: Yes.

I`m running over on time, but, Chai, in 30 seconds, is DeSantis is cooking, or is he cooking his own goose?

KOMANDURI: I think Ron DeSantis has done the impossible. He makes Donald Trump look smart, competent and empathetic.

He`s been an absolute disaster, the MAGA governor, the successor Trump. If you`re Donald Trump sitting in Mar-a-Lago, you`re not really worried about a primary with this guy. He`s simply not up to it.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Very interesting way to put it. He is famously described as the Mini Me of Donald Trump, or, as Drake famously said to his imitators, the big you is like a Mini Me.

And this may be a Mini Me that, as both of you point out, has political problems. More importantly, as we have covered, we hope that they deal with the humanitarian problems. We don`t care whether Florida is red, blue, or what you color it. The people need help down there. But we have talked about many of the aspects of this today.

So, thanks to Chai and David.

[18:40:01]

Still ahead: one of the first civil cases against Capitol rioters. This is part of the accountability drive we`re covering. Professor Melissa Murray here.

And the COVID booster shots, we have news on that, as we cover the health progress. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Turning to another important story, the Justice Department tonight releasing new video evidence from the horrific Capitol attack.

And a warning: This contains strobe lights, which can affect certain people or be disorienting on your television. We want you to know that, as what you see here is a mob attempting to enter the Capitol spraying what is believed to be a dangerous chemical substance, the flashing strobe lights and using riot gear that they had illegally seized as sticks and weapons.

It is another accounting of what happened that day, as these trials continue and we learn about the range of violence used against these police officers. And it comes amidst another new lawsuit.

We have told you we`re going to keep you posted about all the efforts at accountability. Well, this is from the widow of a D.C. officer who died by suicide after the January 6 attacks.

The widow alleges now in federal court that two men assaulted her late husband during the January 6 riot, and thus should be partly legally responsible for the consequences of his now untimely death.

Now, this case, separate from the government`s ongoing criminal prosecutions, this is one of the first civil cases against some of those rioters. It comes as the feds continue to pursue those who may not have not been at the Capitol technically, but legally might also be responsible for some of what happened.

[18:45:07]

For example, a known Proud Boy supporter is pleading guilty now to threatening to kill the newly elected Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock. Authorities say he expressed an intent to go to Washington on January 6 with the purpose of inciting violence, posting menacing threats online about that senator-elect, including the quote "Dead men can`t pass blank laws."

Joining me now is NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray.

Thanks for being here.

MELISSA MURRAY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: There`s certainly a lot going on, everyone understands, this week. We have said we will continue to stay on the accountability for January 6, even in an environment where, as we have covered, top elected officials in the Republican Party lie or minimize about those events.

I`m just curious first your thoughts about where the accountability goes in some of these cases, including this relatively unusual civil case.

MURRAY: Well, again, this is a broad landscape that we`re playing on. So, accountability goes in a lot of different directions. There`s broadly the question of what Congress might do in terms of oversight.

And we have seen all of that sort of play out with the demise of the January 6 commission. We`re now beginning to see criminal liability being lodged against those who actively took part in the insurrection on January 6. And now we`re beginning to see these very targeted civil suits of individuals that will come in tandem with some of these criminal cases.

And this particular one from Erin Smith, the widow of one of the police officers who died by suicide in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, is particularly interesting, given her circumstances. As the widow of an officer who died by suicide, she is ineligible for any survivor benefits from the Metropolitan D.C. Police because her husband did not technically die in the line of duty.

MELBER: Yes.

And you just said something very precisely and in a measured manner as a law professor would that actually might strike a lot of people as messed up, by which I mean, if this person ultimately not only faced the horrific attacks that day by this mob whipped up clearly by Donald Trump, that he summoned them there on January 6, and then had what the family views -- and, again, I`m not here to issue a final judgment -- what the family views as a related suicide, that, as you say, that`s not counted in a way that provides for the on-duty support that a different individual would get.

I also want to read again, when we talk about what happened that day, which is not, not a part of that technical distinction, the lawsuit here I`m reading from "Washington Post" coverage includes a report from a doctor who independently evaluated this case, and says that there was a traumatic brain injury that actually led him to take his own life.

This is where, as you know, Professor, the law requires delving into some other tough areas, including matters of still medical prognostication, which is whether or not the courts view the suicide here as essentially linked to or the proximate caused by what actually happened that day.

Can you speak on that, which seems like a tough, but important question?

MURRAY: It`s an incredibly tough, but, again, an incredibly important issue.

And I think what Mrs. Smith is doing with this civil lawsuit is laying the foundation for exactly what you say, that the events of January 6, her husband didn`t die on that day, but the events of that day were directly linked to his depression, his post-concussion syndrome, which in turn led to his suicide.

So she`s seeking compensatory damages. She`s also filed an assault claim in this lawsuit against David Kaufman, who is one of the people who`s been charged with hitting her husband during that event. There`s also another person who is yet been identified, but it`s explained that they`re hoping that criminal investigations will yield that person`s identity.

But, again, this is all to lay out the case, one, that she could get compensatory and punitive damages because of wrongful death and because of the loss of her husband during this event, but it could also lay a foundation for the D.C. Metropolitan Police to reconsider the denial of her survivor benefits, if this is in fact found to be linked to her husband`s suicide.

MELBER: Yes.

And, as you say, that all goes down to what the justice can be. Justice after facts like this is always going to be imperfect. No one can bring the officers back, in the case of these people who`ve lost their lives. But what is justice?

And appreciate you walking us through it, Professor. It`s an important case. We`re going to stay on it.

Professor Melissa Murray, thank you.

MURRAY: Thank you.

MELBER: And when we come back, that news on COVID booster shots, what to expect.

Plus, Texas Governor Abbott just tested positive for COVID. We`re going to get into that when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:53:55]

MELBER: Breaking news that just hit our newsroom.

The Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, who is fully vaccinated, has now tested positive for COVID and is isolating in the governor`s mansion, according to protocol. He is receiving antibody treatment and is currently experiencing -- as is common with these so-called breakthrough cases, experiencing no symptoms.

The state Supreme Court recently upheld Governor Abbott`s mask mandate ban, though.

And on a different and grim headline, Texas is ordering mortuary trailers from the federal government to deal with what is on track to be a rise in deaths from COVID.

Nationally, COVID cases continue to surge -- we have been covering the Delta variant -- topping 900,000 a week for the first time since January. This is that return surge that we have been telling you about.

If vaccination doesn`t improve, we`re going to be right back where we were. The Biden administration is trying to urge everyone to get COVID booster shots as well. It would come about after eight months from your initial COVID shot.

This would start sometime in the fall. They project potentially mid- September.

Now, coming up: Democrats unveiling another voting rights bill.

[18:55:00]

And they went out of Washington for the announcement to make a very precise point.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Alabama Representative Terri Sewell is unveiling a new bill to restore the Voting Rights Act. It was initially gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court.

The bill is named after the late John Lewis, and the announcement being made on the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. That was the site of those horrific Bloody Sunday beatings of civil rights marchers, including Lewis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TERRI SEWELL (D-AL): Today, I`m at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to get into some good trouble, necessary trouble.

What we need is to restore federal oversight, enforceability into voting rights. We have to write and fight for the people. So, let`s get into some good trouble. Let`s pass H.R.4.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It`s one more important thing happening in a busy news week.

This bill would strengthen federal oversight over voting, where we have seen so many discriminatory attacks around the country. House leaders say there could be a vote as soon as next week. So, that`s really happening.

And that`s our final word there tonight on THE BEAT.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.