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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 8/31/21

Guests: David Rothkopf, Michael Moore, Barbara Boxer


President Biden delivers an address on the end of the war in Afghanistan. Senator Barbara Boxer speaks out. Michael Moore discusses the end of the war in Afghanistan. Relief efforts continue following Hurricane Ida. Florida Governor DeSantis defies the courts over COVID.



Hi, Ari.


I'm curious what you think. We have all been covering this. But on a day like today, the president does his somber duty. What do we, as Americans, what do we try to take from marking this today?

WALLACE: Oh, it's such a good question.

I think that the burden is on people like you and me to really hear what the American people are saying. And even in light of what has been so tragic, the terrorist attack last Thursday outside the airport in Kabul, 54 percent of Americans, right now, today, in the midst of that support ending this war in Afghanistan.


And I think that this president is in line with the views and the opinions of the majority of Americans on this question of, you have to leave some time. There is no good time. It'll be interesting to see how long this remains a front-burner issue for him and this White House.

MELBER: Yes, and you use that word time.

We have all talked in our coverage about how long it's been and whether, as you say, the public is actually using long-term thinking. A bad day, a bad week, however horrific, doesn't set the long-term policy, which I think is sort of heavy, heavy on our hearts today.

But was curious, as I sometimes get to do, where you were at. So thank you for your thoughts, and good to see you, Nicolle.

WALLACE: Thank you, Ari. Good to see you, my friend.

MELBER: Appreciate it.


We continue our coverage here on what is obviously and clearly and undeniably a both historic and sad day.

Here's how the president just put it.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over.

I'm the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war.

I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision, and the best decision for America.


MELBER: That is how President Biden marked the end today to America's longest war.

What began as Operation Enduring Freedom 20 years ago can be viewed and measured in so many different ways, from the many lives lost on both sides of a war's arbitrary lines between the United States and the old Afghanistan and the new Afghanistan.

You can also measure it by the tremendous financial costs. Indeed, we have a special look at that issue later on in tonight's special coverage, or you can measure it by how it is ending, these now instantly iconic photographs, because we have the images of what it was, of what it is, of how it ends.

On the left, you are looking at what is actually the very last American soldier to leave Afghanistan as part of this 20-year war. And on the right, you are looking at the last U.S. military aircraft departing in that solitary fashion there from Kabul's airport. That was taken just yesterday.

The end, as we were just discussing with our colleague Nicolle, was not easy nor smooth. Many experts and critics warned that would always be the likely scenario, the way it's been going last week.

Today, the president outlined a vow to also extract the remaining 100 or 200 individuals from the United States who are still in Afghanistan.


BIDEN: And for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.

The Taliban has made public commitments, broadcast on television and radio across Afghanistan, on safe passage for anyone wanting to leave, including those who worked alongside Americans. We don't take them by their word alone, but by their actions, and we have leverage to make sure those commitments are met.


MELBER: New reports also detailing the kind of secret deals it takes to get out.

They basically had an arrangement to get the last troops out that involve the United States longtime enemy the Taliban helping. It's the kind of necessity pact that you need sometimes in these situations. And, basically, American foes were -- our American foes, the Taliban, helped take people -- quote -- "to the airport in intervals, at times blocking off and securing the roads leading up to the gates."

I'm referring to what the Taliban did to help the U.S. there, a grim reminder of what necessity can indeed require in the field, while today President Biden also turned his focus in his speech on ending a war with one enemy to another local enemy.


BIDEN: To ISIS-K, we are not done with you yet. To those who wish America harm, to those engaged in terrorism against us or our allies, know this. The United States will never rest. We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down to the ends of the earth, and we will -- you will pay the ultimate price.


MELBER: Think about what we're hearing in that speech there.

This is not really a criticism, but it is an observation, and I want to be sort of straight up with you as we live through these times together.

If this were a film, perhaps dealing with the adventure of military power that is sometimes overused or overextended, I got to tell you, it would seem heavy-handed to show that superpower making these hawkish threats against yet another enemy on the one day devoted to withdrawal and ending a war.


But this is not a film and it's not a drill. And we all know what we just lived through. It's real life with real foreign policy trade-offs, and with pressure on the United States to understandably act and retaliate for that savage attack on U.S. troops, who, as many have mentioned, and I will mention again, U.S. troops who were in the middle of an exit, not at that moment trying to extend or attack, but trying to leave and also trying to save some other people's lives as they finally left last week.

It's a grim reminder of the perils in this region, or really any region where long-term occupation becomes a core feature of U.S. foreign policy.

Joining me now is former United States Senator and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when she served Barbara Boxer.

We should note -- and we will get into this -- that, as far back as 2011, she wrote a piece and advocated within her work for a withdrawal from Afghanistan at that time. That is, of course, a decade ago.

We're also joined by a former senior Clinton administration official, as well as the hope of -- actually, the host of "Deep State Radio," David Rothkopf.

Good evening to both of you.

I want to turn to the senator momentarily and the position you took, which the president actually also alluded to today, in terms of the timeline.

But, David, I will start with you on the biggest possible picture, the point I raised in the introduction, again, not so much a criticism as a sad observation, that we were hit on the way out as a country, the president is saying he will hit back, but doing it with less of a footprint, and the nature of what it is to get out of this entanglement today.

DAVID ROTHKOPF, CEO, THE ROTHKOPF GROUP: Well, I think the president's speech was extremely well-thought-out and well-balanced.

He addressed why he exited, how he exited, what we would be doing going forward, how we would maintain our commitment to our allies, how we would maintain our commitment to our citizens, where he wanted our foreign policy to go.

But as to the point that you mentioned, he has to walk a fine line. It could be mistaken, on the part of our enemies, that, by leaving Afghanistan, we are turning our back on terror, we are not going to take these threats as seriously.

But I think what the president is saying is, don't make that mistake. He demonstrated that, by the way, with strikes against the terrorists almost immediately.

But there's something else that is, I think, a little more resonant than all of this. Since the Afghan review in 2009, when he was vice president, Joe Biden has been arguing that our mission there should be a counterterrorism mission.

And, in this speech, he was very clear that he wanted to pursue terrorism as he has all along, with focused approach, using over-the-horizon technology where we can, using our intelligence capabilities, not losing our focus that we did for 20 years in Afghanistan.


And, again, the time weighs heavily over all of this. As for what the president said, I think it is fair -- you look at the long arc of Joe Biden's career, he may have been closely associated with some of the earlier foreign policy establishment, which has been criticized for some of this.

And yet here he is as the president to end it. You mentioned the timeline, and this is where we're going with the senator on the show with us, Senator Boxer.

I want to play a little bit of the president today talking about how, once bin Laden was eliminated, and that was the inception of all this, it was really time then to begin changing course. Take a look.


BIDEN: We were attacked by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda on September 11, 2001.

We delivered justice to bin Laden on May 2, 2011. We succeeded in what we set out to do in Afghanistan over a decade ago. Then we stayed for another decade. It was time to end this war.


MELBER: A decade ago.

And, Senator, we checked, as we often do around here, what you wrote then, May 2011, was that bin Laden is dead, and the president should then begin expediting the promised withdrawal of our combat forces. And you called for that end date for U.S. deployment around that.

I bring that up not just to say you were right on a tragic day, although I do think whether people were right about big topics does speak to whether the audience should continue listening to them. But that's the smaller point.

The larger point is, you were right about something fundamental that the president agrees with you today. What can we learn now about why it still took another decade, so that this type of thing, if avoidable, doesn't happen again?


FMR. SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): It was mission creep.

I mean, I voted to go after bin Laden. And if I had to do it again, I would do it again. I did not vote to stay in Afghanistan 20 years. Now, my feelings about the Taliban were raw. I was furious at them. I was glad they left. And I pray God, I pray God they have changed, because I visited with so many women, and I know what life was like.

But the bottom line is, you cannot have this mission creep. I just want to say one more point. I got into politics why? Believe me, in those years, women didn't run for office. I got -- I ran because of the Vietnam War, because I saw that we were in the middle of a civil war.

Here, you have the Taliban. They're of Afghanistan. Then, you had the Vietcong, and they were of Vietnam. And it was a tragedy. And every life lost, it just weighs on your heart.

And this president is showing, in my opinion, such great strength. He is not saying what a lot of people want to hear, including people from my own party. He is owning up. He is taking complete responsibility for this. And I think we're on the right track.

Last point, we don't know what's going to happen going forward. But we have a presence in the region. And the president has basically said today, we ain't going anywhere. We're over the horizon with drones and everything else and intel. And if there's going to be more terrorism, you will hear from us, we will hunt you down, and we will never let you rest until we have justice.

So he is strong. He just doesn't think we can nation-build. And I agree with him 100 percent.

MELBER: Yes, and really interesting getting your perspective on that.

I think we have some newspapers from around the country. We showed the photos here that kind of mark the end of this. But I think -- I'm talking to my control room -- do we have the newspapers? Yes, this is where you see, in Arizona, basically on the right side, but not the lead story there.

We will continue on. "Florida Times," in terms of what's big there, you can see the debate over COVID chores taking the day. Over in Louisville, no mention of Afghanistan on the front page at all.

And I go back to you, Senator, because you have walked this line between people living their lives .People are worried about COVID, the economy, their jobs, a lot of real life. We have talked a lot about the sacrifice of veterans, families and the rest.

We thought it was notable, though. What do you think, as someone who's been a policy-maker, dealt with people, that, in a sense, the country is both supportive of withdrawal and also kind of past this in a weird way, which, again, I don't mean -- they're not disrespecting what has been put in, but everyone's sort of moving forward.

Your thoughts.

BOXER: I think it's really interesting, because we have a president who is just a little younger than I am, who is really speaking about the future.

We have got to put this behind us, this whole notion of nation-building. Now we're going to help the people all over the world by our example and through diplomacy, and, when necessary, we will act militarily. But that doesn't mean getting bogged down for 20 years in a war.

And I think America has been there for a while. It was hard for me to say get out of Afghanistan in 2011, because my wonderful hero Barack Obama was president. I didn't agree with the surge then.


BOXER: This president finally has the courage.

Believe me, it doesn't seem like it's courageous, but it is courageous, because war is hell. And until the last person is out, it's hell.

MELBER: Yes. And you remind everyone there, again, certain things that may seem to be the consensus now, you were, as you mentioned, battling up against other leaders in the Democratic Party, and this thing was dragging and dragging.

So, again, we mark this. Maybe we learn from it. Maybe that's a little idealistic, but I'm OK with that.

I want to thank Senator Boxer and David Rothkopf for kicking us off tonight. Thanks to both of you.

BOXER: Thanks.

ROTHKOPF: Thank you.

MELBER: We have a lot more in the program.

Michael Moore is here live for an exclusive interview, his first since the exit. So, we have a lot on that.

And I want you to stay with us. You're watching THE BEAT.




GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must stop the terror. I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers.

Thank you.

Now watch this drive.


MELBER: That is real life. It is from the historical archive.

But it's also a moment that was contextualized to great effect by the iconoclastic filmmaker Michael Moore in his documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," which led the skepticism against a conservative administration and often bipartisan industrial war complex.

Many elites from D.C. to L.A. blasted more at the time as too liberal or too dovish or too critical or even conspiratorial in his view of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The public, it turned out, had a pretty different view than those power brokers or narrators. That movie remains the highest grossing documentary of all time. And one need not embrace its every claim to see the thrust was at least prescient, challenging how fear and narrow interests hijacked U.S. policy, tying it to a costly Mideast adventure that continued on 20 years through this week.

Moore is our exclusive guest tonight right now. This is his first interview since the end of this war. He's also streaming a free presentation of the original "Fahrenheit 9/11" through, where he just relaunched his newsletter on Substack. People can sign up there for free.

The screening, if you want to watch it, is September 10 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.


And, Michael, let's get right to it.

I want to begin with some of your warnings back then.


MICHAEL MOORE, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: They offer to give up their lives, so that we can be free.

And all they ask for in return is that we never send them into harm's way unless it's absolutely necessary. George Orwell once wrote, war is not meant to be one. It is meant to be continuous.


MELBER: Michael, thanks for being here.

You struck a chord, but it took until this week. Your thoughts here?

MOORE: Right.

So, no points for being right, really, because, if anything, I feel like what could I have done better 20 years ago or 18 years ago, when we invaded Iraq, to communicate to the American public that we were making a horrific mistake that would cost us thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghanistan -- Afghan lives?

It's -- so there's no celebration today.


MOORE: I -- Ari, thank you for having me on, on this day, because I think that we need to learn our lessons from the past.

We lose these wars because the wars are wrong. There are wars we have fought that were right, and we won them. My fifth great-grandfather, as I learned from Henry Louis Gates last year, was in the Revolutionary War. I never knew that.

But so many of us have so many people that have fought for this country for so many years for the right reasons. But for the last umpteen years, 20, 30, even 40 years, it's been for the wrong reasons.

And I don't want this to happen anymore. I don't want to lose any of our young men and women. I don't want to kill people in other countries who pose no threat to me or you or anybody else who've never attacked us.

I think that -- I'm so proud of President Biden, who I did not vote for in the Michigan primary. I voted for and I worked for Bernie Sanders. And I have been completely surprised and feeling we're all blessed to have Joe Biden in the White House in these last months, his first year in office, all the things that he's done, not just in standing bravely and never walking back like a politician, and especially a Democratic politician, would.

They would they would get afraid of the Republicans and the right wing telling them that they were -- he was a coward and they were withdrawing from Afghanistan. And Democrats have such a history of walking things back like this. He wouldn't walk it back. He just said, no, this is wrong. I promised you when I ran for office I'm pulling those troops out. This war has gone on way too long.

And it's exactly what he did. A politician kept his word. And, yes, you can have the discussion of how crazy it went at the end. But all evacuations from Dunkirk before and after caused -- I mean, Churchill's considered a hero. With Dunkirk, there were 15,000 Allied lives lost in trying to evacuate those soldiers off that beach in France at the beginning of World War II.

It never goes right. It never goes well. Loss of life is incredible.

MELBER: Right.

MOORE: We got out of this. God bless the 13 who lost their lives and the other 20 who are wounded.

Thank you. Our condolences to their families. But this has just been amazing. And, honest to God, didn't you, Ari -- I mean, I felt that ever since they were killed last week, we're not going to get out of this. We're not going to get out of Kabul without another attack before this is over.

And yet, and yet...

MELBER: Well, that's -- yes.

MOORE: ... that's exactly -- that's what happened.


MELBER: Yes. And I will just -- Michael, I mean, I will jump into that point.


MELBER: We watch this closely. When we watch this closely, and we confer with reporters, experts, people on the ground, and that was the other fear.

Terrible to see the loss of life trying to get out. Now they're out, which is why it's a very real ending. We showed the photos here. You say that no great victory intellectually in being right. But we have to learn about why this was hard at the time, because everyone can make up their own mind.

That's sort of been a theme of this COVID year. But, boy, we should be working with the right facts and history. And the thing is, the next time there is a fear or a threat -- and "Fahrenheit 9/11" was very effective. And I mentioned how many people watched it.


But that's because it was very effective at showing how fear is designed in a mob mentality, even in a democracy, to short-circuit the thinking, so people run onto the next war. How much so?

I have one other clip, and then we could keep going forward. But we are going to go back before we go forward.

MOORE: Yes. Yes.

MELBER: People talk about liberal Hollywood and this and that.

You were shunted off the stage and half-booed, mix of boos and applause, when you went into the heart of Hollywood to talk about this.


MELBER: That's how people have to remember what it was like in the time, post-9/11, attack any Middle Eastern country.

Let's look at your remarks briefly there.


MOORE: We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.

We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you. And any time you have got the pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up.

Thank you very much.


MOORE: Yes, I think the last line there...


MELBER: I'm going to say something. I'm going to say something. I'm going to say something and then I will let you.


MELBER: That's what it looks like. You were there to be honored because you did something that was supposedly award-worthy. And you spoke on the topic of which you were getting the award.

It's not like you went off-topic, Michael. And the people who run those things and Hollywood in the rest, right, it's all out in the open. You could see the room. I mean, from what I could tell -- you will tell us how it was on the stage.

But from what you could tell in the footage, the room wasn't exactly with you. And they played you off the stage, rather than let you speak against the war.

What do we learn from that for next time? Go ahead.

MOORE: There's your free country. Yes, the microphone was being lowered too.

What it was like is that I knew I had to say -- this was the fifth night of the Iraq War, the Oscars. That was -- how could I not say something, especially because this movie was about violence and guns and everything.

And so I said what I said. And it -- a few days later, the studio that was going to fund and distribute my next film ripped up the contract and said, we're not doing anything with you. And nobody would do anything.

And, yes, it's a lonely place to be. Look at Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress that voted against the Afghanistan war. So every Democrat in the Senate and every Democrat in the Congress voted for the Afghan war, except her.

And I have talked to her over the years. It's a lonely place to be, but that's OK, because I know people. Americans are good. And they will eventually come around.

So, yes, David Remnick, the editor of "The New Yorker," wrote an editorial in "The New Yorker," a liberal magazine, endorsing the invasion of Iraq, and not only him; 29 Democratic senators voted for giving Bush the power to invade Iraq.

I mean, go down all the various liberals, liberals, that supported these invasions. And I knew, sooner or later, they would come around, they would see how awful this was. And they did.

And now, by the time Biden was running, you have got a presidential candidate who always voted for war, usually, Biden, was a law and order guy in the Senate. And now here he was saying, I'm going to end this war, and we're not going to have these wars of aggression anymore. We will defend the American people. But that's it.

If it doesn't have anything to do with defending our lives, we're out. And it's dishonest to our young men and women to say, please volunteer to protect our lives, when they're then sent off to wars that have nothing to do with protecting our lives.

MELBER: Right. Right.

MOORE: Why would...


MELBER: Which is what you say in that film, as we look at, well, what is the limiting principle here? What do we owe the people who do this?

I want to continue with you.

Loyal BEAT viewers will know we actually have our shortest break. It's just 60 seconds. And I want to get into the domestic priorities that we can turn to when you free up this part of the budget.

Michael Moore's here when we're back in 60 seconds.




And we are back with our exclusive interview with filmmaker Michael Moore, this reckoning of 20 years of war, the president marking the end today. Over 2,000 U.S. troops died.

"Forbes" puts it in one context, noting the war cost $300 million per day for two decades. Many from progressives to other policy experts ask, well, what if that type of funding was just spent on U.S. interests, on Americans' needs, instead of a foreign attack?

We have heard about this term gun vs. butter. It's a debate that has been basically going around since Vietnam and before that was also something that was once explained by a president who also was a war general, Dwight Eisenhower.


DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.


MELBER: A theft, spoken by the general.

Michael, what could we spend here instead at home?

MOORE: Oh, my God, thank you for playing that quote. We often talk about Eisenhower's speech at the end of his presidency in 1960 about the industrial -- military industrial complex.

That was from a speech he made just one month after his inauguration in 1953. He knew then. He knew then. What if we were to -- what it Biden's to take us now into not the FDR era of the 21st century, but the Eisenhower era, just what he just said, that this -- every money go that goes into war is taken from the mouths of the hungry, of the homeless, of the people who deserve a good education?

If we took that -- Biden mentioned that $300 million a day. That's what we it cost us for 20 years, $300 million a day. What could $300 million a day get us in this country?

Moody's and this report out that said, for just $70 billion, which would be less than one year of the Afghanistan war, we could have universal child care. For just $26 billion, we'd have universal pre-K. For -- how about if we were to forgive all college loans, forgive all college loans? That would cost us about $1.5 trillion or about 13, 14 years of the Afghanistan war.

We'd have -- we'd have another $600 billion left over if we forgave all college debt. This is the ripoff.

MELBER: Let me put up one thing and then let you continue, because, to underscore what you're saying, even in a Biden Washington, where Democrats have more power, we're told you can't afford it. They can't afford it. They can't pay for it.

Well, you just gave the breakdown of that. Just big picture for folks, as we look ahead. Even with this exit, there's about, about 170,000 U.S. troops abroad in various parts of the world.

A conservative analyst would say some of that is necessary, but certainly not all of it, just as some of it is coming out of Afghanistan today. And so what do you think needs to be done on a further rethinking of the extent and the cost of the U.S. footprint?

MOORE: In Afghanistan or just in general, our military footprint around the world?

MELBER: Globally, because you're saying, if you even pared down some of that foreign policy, look at what you could pay for.


MELBER: You could pay for the things that Washington says -- quote -- "We can't afford."

I mean, a lot of people watching, either people watching with student debt or parents of people with student debt, go, well, wait, if you could afford that, and there was a pandemic, and there is funding, those are things that could change people's lives.

MOORE: Exactly, because, Ari, we have been lied to over and over again, oh, we can't afford this, we can't afford that. We can't afford this infrastructure. We can't afford this.

Stop it. We have the money. We are the richest country on Earth. And that's what -- we have the money without even properly taxing the rich. So imagine if the rich paid their fair share. Imagine if they paid -- do people watching this know that the rich, after making -- anything they make over $120,000 a year, they pay -- their Social Security tax that they pay on that, zero?


They pay no Social Security tax after $120,000. So, millionaires billionaires, they get -- they don't have to -- anybody watching this right now, if you're making $40,000 or $50,000 a year, how much of your -- on your paycheck is taken out for Social Security? Seven percent, approximately, and it's on everything you make; 100 percent of your pay, 7 percent of that taxed and goes to Social Security.

Not the rich. If they paid, Ari, what they should be paying, we could take care of so many things. Why are all these other Western democracies and industrialized countries, why do they have these things, free health care, free child care, free elder care, free college? Why do they have this, and we don't, when we're the richest country on the planet?

This is what really has to stop. And we can make this happen. That's why that $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill, that has to pass. All these things that we could be doing, all the things that Biden has done already, with the child tax credit, with increasing the food stamps for the first time since 1962, all this stuff that he's done to take millions out of hunger, to take half of our children out of child poverty, he's done this while he's been trying to end up this fiasco that he's had to clean up that he's inherited.

I just can't speak more highly of how his true mission, his -- in a sense, his spiritualist, is on the side of those who hurt, and who are hungry, and who can't afford things, and to get out of this pandemic, and to be able to afford to get out of it and come back.

We need him now more than ever. And we need the Republicans to stop it, to stop it.

MELBER: Well, yes.


MELBER: And, Michael, it is striking coming -- now I have to fit in another break, although we gave you two segments.

MOORE: Well, thank you.

MELBER: But it is striking coming from you, because people know -- in fact, some people maybe don't know -- they don't know enough of your work. They just know you as someone who seemed to be saying things about Biden early on, and you have had your policy disagreements.

But coming from you, that view and someone who's cared so much about these issues and worked on them, on the foreign policy change he's made, is striking.

And, as I say, we're out of time. Next...

MOORE: Thank you, Ari.

And I'm going to close us out with two Tupac. Tupac, he said, we got money for wars, but we can't feed the poor from "Keep Ya Head Up," Tupac Shakur.

I'm out.


MELBER: Tupac Shakur did say that. Mic drop.

And for those following the revolutionary tradition, why was Tupac named Tupac, Michael?

MOORE: Oh, wow.

I don't know. It wasn't...


MELBER: Because his mother, Afeni Shakur, who was a Black Panther in the revolutionary tradition in America, named him after Tupac Amaru, who led the Bolivian uprising against what was their occupation.

And so we think -- can we learn from people, can we learn from artists, can we learn from the people who've lived it why occupations are not a good way to run human societies? That's a big picture.

But I love you bringing "Keep Ya Head Up" into it.

Michael Moore, thank you, sir.

MOORE: God bless you, Ari. Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you.

And I will remind people that free screening online of "Fahrenheit 9/11" is September 10 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You can learn more at

We do have other topics in the program tonight. The search continues in Louisiana. We have a live report from New Orleans, an important story across America.

And another home front issue, Governor DeSantis defying the courts over this COVID battle. That's next.



MELBER: Florida's MAGA Governor Ron DeSantis defying a judge on these safety measure fights, COVID and Delta surging in Florida. The death toll during the past eight months has now surpassed the total for all of 2020. It's one more measure of how badly it's going there.

DeSantis, though, is fighting masks, he's fighting safety measures, and now he is trying to punish those who do follow CDC-advised measures, including in local school boards and areas where that's what families want.

The Florida Department of Education is now defying a judgment and will withhold payments from two school districts that did make masks a rule. Schools continuing to keep those mandates. Deputies have had to break up a fight between parents over the rule in one Florida county. DeSantis has doubled down on his claims, even as this death rate climbs.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): If you're trying to restrict people, impose mandates, if you are trying to lock people down, I am standing in your way and I'm standing for the people of Florida.


MELBER: When things go bad, you need a lawyer.

And that's why Florida's fights over COVID have increasingly turned to the courts, which is a kind of a statement of breakdown.

I'm joined by NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray.

Professor, no offense, no shade, we often go to doctors first in COVID segments. But this one has enough legal grist that we wanted your views, because the governor is winding up in court, sometimes losing, as he did over one of the mandate issues, and sometimes here on open questions about really, where does the pay power go?

What do you see, A, as a legal matter of where these things are headed? And, if you would, what lawyers call the prudential matter, what is your view of whether these things should really be -- have to be litigated during an emergency in the first place? Or is that a function of him being basically kind of a really strict hypocrite looking for fights?

MELISSA MURRAY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's really clear, both from the judge's ruling last Friday and constitutional law more generally, that while parents have the right to raise their children in the manner of their choosing, that right isn't absolute.

So we have in this country laws requiring compulsory schooling and compulsory vaccination. Those are compelling interests that override a parent's right to make decisions about the child, that require the child to go to school or to be vaccinated for certain things.

And as the judge noted on Friday, in certain circumstances, like perhaps a public health crisis of the kind we are facing, those parental rights may also be overridden by the demands for public health, including vaccinations or mask mandates in these cases.

MELBER: Yes, I mean, not to be too simplistic, but, when in doubt, clarify.


Schools also have the ability to make sure everyone is fully clothed. And if they're at swim practice, it might be slightly different. But if a parent says, well, I want my kid to be in the swimsuit all day because they grew up on the beach, and that's our personal style and values, like, you're free to do that out of school, but the school is still going to have some uniform codes.

And, right now -- I'm not making light of this -- there's a lot of doctors and CDC guidance that says, particularly in hard-hit areas, following COVID safety rules is more important then being fully clothed.

MURRAY: Well, surely the governor knows that.

Lots of schools have dress codes, I went to school in Florida. I had a dress code and it was pretty draconian, despite what my parents or I wanted.

The governor knows this. He knows that these rights are not absolute. So to say that he's banning mask mandates for the purpose of preserving parental authority to make decisions for their children, everyone knows, certainly his lawyers know that that's perhaps a bit broad.

Parental rights don't necessarily go so far as to require schools to make allowances for things that they think are due and are necessary for the educational mission, including demands for public health.

So what we see here now, and the governor's open defiance of that court order from Friday, I think we're gearing up for even more legal fights. There will surely be motion for -- to hold the governor and the secretary of education in contempt of court for failing to abide by that lower court ruling.

And there will obviously be appeals going forward.

MELBER: Yes, and I will put up on the screen really quick before we go, you did mention what the people want. That's also relevant to this.

Legally, of course, the rules won't be up for popular vote, but for all the talk about Florida failing under DeSantis, this is where Floridians are. It's not even close, 60 to 36 in favor of masks, particularly as it surges.

So, again, no shade to everyone living in Florida, but some shade, according to the courts and experts, for Florida's governor.

Our Floridian lawyer, Melissa Murray, thank you, as always.

MURRAY: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We turn now to an update on another big story that I mentioned earlier in the hour, this devastating aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Rescuers are desperately trying to reach survivors. There is the problem of people stranded by flooding.

You can see different spots around the state there. Over a million homes and businesses are going forward without power right now. That includes essentially the entire city of New Orleans.

MSNBC's Ellison Barber is live there.

Tell us the situation.


Yes, it's kind of hard to put into words if you're driving around this area at night, what it's like. You almost forget that you are in New Orleans, because it is just pitch black.

This is one of a few places that people can come to try to get some relief from not only the heat, but also a little bit of power. They have charging stations inside, so people can come here, get a little bit of juice battery for their cell phones and then go home.

One of the things we have heard from a lot of people is that it's difficult to figure out where they can get help, where they can find water, because their phones are working. This is a city that is, for all intents and purposes, completely dark right now.

And the governor has said that it could take weeks for the hardest-hit areas to see power. The energy company here, Entergy, they said that it would take up to three days to do a damage assessment to then be able to determine when exactly people could see their lights come back on.

But a little bit of maybe positive news, if -- in kind of a sea of not great news, is that they think they may have a couple options to get some lights back on in New Orleans in the next 48 hours or so. They're considering two options right now. One is using basically the power lines in the area that aren't severely damaged in New Orleans to sort of create their own grid within New Orleans, or connecting them to the main power grid, like kind of throughout the entire country.

And they say that that's sort of a way that they could potentially get some lights back on here. But there's such a big ripple effect by not having power that, while that wouldn't fix the problem entirely, Ari, any little bit would help at this point, because people are really just barely getting by -- Ari.

MELBER: Yes, a tough situation. And appreciate the coverage, so we know what's going on.

Ellison Barber, thank you, and stay safe.

We're going to fit it in a break.

Up ahead, though, a sitting member of Congress warning of bloodshed and discussing raising arms against other Americans.

Stay with us.



MELBER: Republican Congressman and MAGA favorite Madison Cawthorn has been fueling Donald Trump's election lies and going farther at a North Carolina Republican event.

Now, this video is newly surfaced. And you can see Cawthorn lying, claiming the 2020 election was -- quote -- "stolen" and then stating that, if elections continue to be rigged, there will be -- quote -- "bloodshed."

Quote: "There's nothing I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American," says the congressperson.

Picking up arms. This person is in Congress. To state the obvious, he has an obligation, a sworn oath he took to uphold the Constitution, which disclaims any such conduct. He also called the January 6 criminal insurrectionists -- quote -- "political hostages" and discussed the idea of illegally breaking them out of prison, very anti-law and order.

Also suggests that he might work on some kind of repeat of January 6, saying vaguely, but ominously -- quote -- "We have a few plans in motion" - - end quote.

This is serious stuff. We need to shine a light on it.


Now, the congressman's office is saying that, basically, he doesn't want violence to occur over election integrity.

Now, we don't like to air this kind of thing. You may know we do it for a reason when we choose to air it. If this were a random crank or person even just on the radio, I wouldn't be leaning into it.

But before we go tonight, I want you to know this is what at least one member of the Republican Party in the House is saying.

Where is the rest of his party? Where is the rebuke? And for all those people during the summer of protests who talked about being against looting, are you going to be on the record against advocating further violence after what we all lived through on January 6?

We will be right back.


MELBER: Thanks for spending time with us.

You can always find me online at or @AriMelber across social media, if you're looking for us.

If you're looking for Joy Reid, well, you're in luck. "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.