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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 9/7/21

Guests: Elie Mystal, Kurt Bardella, Kelley Carter, Jill Cowan, Gwen Moore, Wendy Davis


Texas Governor Greg Abbott signs into law one of the biggest voter suppression measures in the country. A prosecutor ramps up her probe into a potential criminal attempt by former President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election. Kevin McCarthy`s promise of a GOP probe into the January 6 terrorist attack is examined. As California gears up for a recall election, the top GOP candidate`s controversial comments shock voters.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: "THE BEAT" with our friend Jason Johnson, in for Ari Melber, starts right now.

Hi, Jason.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you so very much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Jason Johnson, in for Ari Melber.

And we start tonight with a dramatic new escalation, the fight over voter rights.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signing into law one of the worst voter suppression measures in the country. And trust me, that takes work right now. Civil rights groups immediately challenging the law with three separate lawsuits filed in both state and federal court, dismissing Abbott`s claims that this is about voter integrity.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): I`d be astonished if a law like this was not challenged in court. We have seen it happen whenever laws like this are passed.

No one who is eligible to vote will be denied the opportunity to vote.


JOHNSON: The law disproportionately affects people of color, but the governor signed the law mostly surrounded by white men. Surprise, surprise.

This is the same law Texas Democrats fled the state to try to block. It targets ballot access measures like drive-through and 24-hour voting, methods often used by people of color and in large Democratic strongholds like Harris County in Houston. The law also limits local control over elections and limits voting assistance, such as helping disabled people vote or those not proficient in English.

Critics say these are solutions in search of a problem, because widespread voter fraud doesn`t exist. Even Trump`s own administration found no evidence of fraud in the 2020 election.

But this zombie claim shambles on, part of Donald Trump`s big lie used to justify voter suppression. All of this now creating two separate and increasingly unequal Americas when it comes to voting rights.

So far this year, at least 18 states have enacted 30 different laws restricting access to the ballot box. Tonight, there`s growing pressure on Democrats to act on the federal level.

Joining me now is Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Democrat from Wisconsin, Wendy Davis, the former Texas state senator and founder of Deeds Not Words, a women`s rights organization, and Professor Melissa Murray, NYU law professor.

Congresswoman Moore, I will start with you.

Just right off the bat, I mean, you were -- you saw the Democrats. They flee Texas. They fled the state of Texas. They were trying to get assistance on this. What can be done? What is being talked about right now in Washington, D.C., with the Biden inspiration about how we can basically save Texas?

REP. GWEN MOORE (D-WI): Well, just let me say, there is a bill, main sponsor in the Senate, to codify Roe v. Wade.

And in terms of voting rights, we are continuing to try to get the two Democrats, two-plus Democrats, to agree to suspend the filibuster. I think that the Texas case is yet another reason to suspend the filibuster.

The argument that once Republicans get in charge that they will use the filibuster against us, they have been ruling in the minority already for too long. So, that argument doesn`t really hold weight. We have to use the power while we have it.

And I`m very hopeful. I remember John McCain doing the thumbs down. And I remember that public pressure, not an assault on the Capitol, not a January 6, but a sustained effort from people will ultimately get us across that threshold.

JOHNSON: Well, we have seen Senator Sinema do a thumbs down and a curtsy, but it hasn`t necessarily been for the right votes yet.

Wendy Davis, I have got to ask you, what is this like on the ground? I mean, like, there were so many fights. There were so many -- the whole country saw the ridiculous lines to vote in Texas. How are your average citizens in Austin and Houston and Dallas, how are regular people in Texas responding to this ridiculous new voter suppression law by the governor?

FMR. STATE SEN. WENDY DAVIS (D-TX): Well, with tremendous upset, as you can imagine, because we recognize exactly what`s happening here.

These laws are a way to try to maneuver around the changing electorate, rather than trying to solve any problem of fraud. And, in fact, our own secretary of state came forward after this election, which, by the way, Donald Trump won by nine points in our state, to say that we had had a safe and secure election.

And, as you can imagine, she was pretty quickly removed from her position. She`s a gubernatorial appointee.

But people are ready to fight. And we know that, because we have lost protection of the Voting Rights Act preclearance provisions, we aren`t going to have the same protections that we would have had absent the loss of those protections.


And we are going to do everything we can to support the efforts of this wonderful congresswoman and others in Congress who are fighting to make sure that voting rights protections are put in place.

JOHNSON: I want to follow this up, because I think this is -- this is a conversation. It`s a very D.C. conversation. It`s a political science nerd conversation, but I think you`re in the best position to sort of answer this for us tonight.

I believe that Texas is probably, probably a purple state, if people were actually allowed to vote. But you`re there on the ground. Is this being done, is Abbott able to pass these kinds of laws because, at its core, the majority of Texans are comfortable with this kind of voter suppression? Or do you really think it`s to counteract actual trends in the state which may put someone like him or even a Ted Cruz one day at risk at the ballot box?

DAVIS: This measure is deeply unpopular in Texas.

In a recent poll, as many of 80 percent of Texans said they believe that the election here was safe and secure, and that they do not want to see voter suppression efforts put in place. So this is not a situation where a governor is reacting to what the majority in our state wants.

Instead, he`s reacting in a way to protect and support his own political ambitions and to maintain the stronghold that Republicans have had in this state over redistricting and their ability to pass the kinds of laws, like the Senate Bill 8 anti-abortion law that they just passed, again, a deeply unpopular law with most of the people who live in our state.

JOHNSON: So, Professor Murray, a lot of people watching now, they -- look, there`s some hyperbolic references to what`s happening in Texas.

People are comparing it to a "Handmaid`s Tale." People are -- I think it`s somewhat Islamophobic to compare it to the Taliban. It`s not that. But there are people who see nothing but gloom and doom.

I am not a lawyer. I`m not even going to play one on TV, but you`re our lawyer here. So, legally, what are the chances of the federal government or any of these local lawsuits being able to not just overturn or diminish this law that Abbott has just signed, but set the stage for this to not just happen again some time right before next fall`s elections?

MELISSA MURRAY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: So, Jason, it`s important to understand the limits of law. Will law play a role here? Surely, it will.

It`s very clear that this law, Texas SB-8, violates the Constitution. But it was also drafted for the purpose of evading federal court review and having it being adjudicated, any challenges to its constitutionality in the state courts, where many of its state court judges in Texas are elected and, therefore, somewhat susceptible to political pressures, or at least mindful of those pressures.

The law takes a long time. It`s going to be a while before a challenge makes its way through the state court system, and eventually to the Supreme Court, if it even gets to the Supreme Court.

The problem is that it doesn`t matter, because this law was drafted purposely to ensure that it would go into effect and that, when it went into effect, it would hobble abortion access in Texas. And that`s exactly what`s going to happen.

And even if this law is later declared unconstitutional, you can`t unring this bell. We saw this in HB-2, which was the law that Senator Davis valiantly stood on the floor of the Texas House to combat when it was being passed back in 2013.

But when that law went into effect, just one of its provisions, it shuttered abortion clinics in Texas. It went from having 42 clinics to having just 18. And when it was later declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, those clinics did not necessarily reopen.

If something gets shuttered, it`s likely to stay shuttered. And that`s the point.

JOHNSON: So, I want to talk about this idea of influence before we go sort of directly into the ridiculous nature of some of these abortion laws.

So, there -- we have a list here of corporate contributions to the sponsors of Texas` abortion law. And we have Charter Communications, and AT&T, and "USA Today," and Farmers Insurance, even Comcast, GM, CVS.

Congresswoman Moore, if there was a boycott, if there was social media attention, if there was a national campaign to call these kinds of sponsors and say, hey, you shouldn`t be giving money to politicians who support this kind of law, does that really have much of an impact on sitting politicians anymore?

Are some of these people so in the tank on this sort of MAGA belief and repressing women that, even if they lost money, it wouldn`t matter?


MOORE: Well, thanks for asking that question, Jason.

But I do think money has too much influence in politics. But, that being said, I do think that many of these political action committees really reflect the perspective and the views of the workers in those companies.

And as has been indicated, 80 percent of Americans don`t believe in taking a woman`s right to choose away. And they certainly don`t believe in taking us back to a time when women are going for unsafe procedures, coat hangers, and they certainly -- and I don`t know, Jason, why you`re so reluctant to compare it maybe to the Taliban or something else.

I mean, I think it`s so hypocritical to talk about how much you love children, and you support women and women`s rights, to really arm these vigilantes in the street and offer them $10,000 to hobble a woman`s ability to seek medical care, and just willy-nilly anybody on the street.

I mean, this is barbaric in many ways. It`s reminiscent of what we were taught happened during so-called caveman days.


MOORE: And so I don`t know why you`re so reluctant to call the thing a thing.


MOORE: And -- go on.

JOHNSON: Well, trust me, trust me, oh, no, this is a thing. I want to be clear.

I think I think it`s important. One, for lack of a better word, the Taliban is actually a bit more efficient in all of their terribleness.

But, also, I think it`s important that we center the people who are actually causing damage to women. And I think, sometimes, the tendency to automatically throw that onto sort of Islamic communities leads to a kind of racism and bigotry we don`t want. This is right here in the heart of Texas where we have people doing this.

It doesn`t require sort of going across the world.

But with that in mind, I want to play some sound real quick from Governor Abbott today talking about how he feels or how he feels about his abortion law.

And, Wendy Davis, I want your thoughts on the other side.


QUESTION: Why force a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to term?

ABBOTT: It doesn`t require that at all, because, obviously, it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.

Goal number one in the state of Texas is to eliminate rape, so that no woman, no person will be a victim of rape.

But in, in addition to that, we do want to make sure that we provide support for those who are victims of rape.


JOHNSON: Wendy Davis, is that just absolute gobbledygook? Or is it garbage? Or is it trash? Which one is it?

DAVIS: It`s offensive, it`s absurd.

And it`s so incredibly offensive, Jason, because most people do not realize that they are pregnant until later in pregnancies beyond six weeks. And let`s face it. So many people who are victimized by rape and incest are very young, afraid to come forward.

And now we have created a situation where they are going to be tasked with carrying to term the result of a violent assault on their bodies, while at the same time proclaiming to be the party of individual liberties and freedoms.

And I hope we can do everything possible to make Republicans pay for this extreme overreach at the ballot box in the midterm election cycle.

JOHNSON: I think that`s a very, very key point. It`s very clear that Republicans went after voting rights, then went after a woman`s right to choose, because they wanted to make sure that they wouldn`t face consequences at the ballot box.

Professor Murray, one of the things that`s been brought up about this new abortion law, besides how restrictive it is, besides how ignorant it is, is this idea of bounties and civil suits, and the idea that, if you drive someone to get an abortion, that you could be sued.

How might something like this actually be enforced? And if I were to drive a friend to get an abortion, and someone sued me, would I then get a public defender? Like, how does this bounty system even work in Texas?

MURRAY: Well, to be clear, the whole point of this private enforcement mechanism, Jason, was to avoid federal court review.

Typically, when abortion laws are passed -- and lots of states have tried to pass these heartbeat bills -- they are generally lawsuits filed against the state actor who`s charged with enforcing the law, usually the attorney general or a department of health.

And when that happens, you can sue that state official. And, typically, a federal court will enjoin it, prevent it from going into effect. But, as I said before, the name of the game here is to actually allow the law to go into effect, so you can hobble abortion access, and it will never come back, even if it is later invalidated, this law.

What they have done here is, they have actually prohibited the state from enforcing this law entirely, and instead have deputized individual Texans to bring private causes of actions, civil suits against their neighbors who provide abortions or who -- quote, unquote -- "aid or abet" someone in seeking and obtaining an abortion.


So, that could be the Lyft driver. It could be the person who waits for you to drive you home after the clinic. It could be someone in California who donates to The Lilith Fund, an abortion fund.


MURRAY: So, we actually don`t know. There are lots of constitutional issues embedded in this.

But that wasn`t the point. The point was to get this law on the ground and in effect in Texas, and they succeeded. And they brought abortion access to its knees in Texas.

JOHNSON: Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Wendy Davis and Professor Melissa Murray, thank you so much. I cannot think of a better panel to start us off today. Thank you.

Coming up: a Georgia prosecutor ramping up her probe into a potential criminal attempt by former impeached President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election.

Plus, we will fact-check Kevin McCarthy`s promise of a GOP probe into the January 6 terrorist attack.

And California gearing up for that recall election, and the top GOP candidate`s controversial comments shocking voters today.

Be right back.


JOHNSON: Tonight, there`s news that a local prosecutor is ramping up probe into what could be a criminal attempt by former impeached President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election.


Reports say the DA of Georgia`s Fulton County is charging ahead with her investigation into whether Trump broke any state laws in Georgia, the case stemming from what Trump said and that infamous phone call to Georgia`s Republican secretary of state.



I just want to find 11, 780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state, and flipping the state is a great testament to our country.


JOHNSON: I just need you to find 11,000 votes. Like, this is -- it`s insanity.

Georgia`s secretary of state now confirming investigators have interviewed state elections officials, and his office is -- quote -- "fully cooperating" with requests for documents.

Also, "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" reporting today that investigators in the Georgia case are coordinating with federal lawmakers probing the January 6 insurrection, sharing any relevant documents and information.

So those two probes are moving forward in sync, the Fulton County case and the January 6 committee.

But I want to remind you what GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said as he tried to stop that congressional probe.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We will run our own investigation. Two main questions. Why was the Capitol so ill-prepared for that day when they knew on December 14 they had a problem? And what have we done to make sure that never happens again?


JOHNSON: That was back in July.

You might have noticed there is still no GOP investigation. I guess it`s hidden somewhere around their health care plan, because, really, they don`t want it.

The Daily Beast putting it this way: "Most Republicans would be happy to never talk about January 6 again."

I will talk about all of this and more with Elie Mystal and Kurt Bardella when we`re back in just 60 seconds.


JOHNSON: We`re back to talk about the probes into Donald Trump`s big lie with Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for "The Nation" and certified lawyer boy for the show, and Kurt Bardella, former spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee and contributor for "USA Today," the Neal McCoy to my Darius Rucker.

Kurt, we will start with you.

The idea that Kevin McCarthy has had all this time to put together this committee to investigate what happened on January 7 and hasn`t done it, look, you used to be on Oversight Committee. Is this just because he hasn`t been able to find the proper paperwork?

Like, why have the Republicans magically not put together this parallel committee, if this was so important to them back in July?

KURT BARDELLA, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE ADVISER: Well, this might be a shocker to you, Jason, but Kevin McCarthy was lying when he said that.

JOHNSON: My goodness.

BARDELLA: There`s not going to be a legitimate investigation from Republicans. There`s not going to be an actual effort to conduct legitimate oversight investigating what happened January 6.

Listen, if Republicans wanted to be a part of, they could. They had every opportunity to. There was a bipartisan 9/11-type commission that was going to be put in place to examine January 6. Republicans tanked it. They`re the reason why that didn`t happen.

Then, when the Democrats in Congress moved forward with the bipartisan select committee, Republicans chose not to appoint any members to it. And so Nancy Pelosi was left with no recourse but to appoint Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

It is bipartisan. It may not be the type of investigation that Kevin McCarthy and his accomplices to Democratic arsonists want, but it`s one that we`re going to get, because we need to know who was a part of what happened, who helped plan it, who helped orchestrate from it, who helped profit from it, so that we can make sure that this never happens again.

JOHNSON: So, Elie, this is one thing that I thought was kind of interesting about the committee that was put together, as Kurt was talking about.

Even putting on Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger -- and I`m happy that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it together -- look, these people also didn`t vote for voting rights.


I mean, I -- quite frankly, quite frankly, I don`t know why Democrats didn`t just put together an all-Democratic committee, because to put Republicans on the committee that are willing to investigate January 6, but are also willing to vote for laws -- or vote against laws to free up Americans to actually vote, it kind of seems counterproductive.

To me, that seems like the kind of bipartisanship that`s getting them in trouble. Your thoughts?

ELIE MYSTAL, "THE NATION": Look, Republicans don`t want to investigate.

This is like saying -- having Goldilocks investigate who ate my dang grits, right?


MYSTAL: Like, they don`t want to know what happened, because they were doing the thing. They didn`t see nothing because they were doing something.

And, obviously, Republicans know that, if this goes forward, it will just continue to look bad for them, because they were involved and complicit in the attack on our country.

We have talked a little bit about the phone records, right, and why they`re trying so hard to keep their phone records hidden. And one of the reasons that I think that is true is because look at how these people debase themselves for Donald Trump in public.


MYSTAL: When they know they`re being recorded, they debase themselves for him.

So what kind of Billy Bush level of just sycophancy is hiding in those phone tapes? That`s why they don`t want anybody to know. They don`t want people to know what they already did.


I mean, it`s interesting. You have a lot of Republicans who -- we had Jim Jordan a couple weeks ago, I don`t remember talking to the president. It like, you used to call him on your cell phone. They used to brag all the time about how much they talked to Donald Trump during the administration.

But, suddenly, after a terrorist attack, they can`t remember it.

Kurt, as a former staffer in Congress, the idea of calling for phone records, is that common? I would think that, when investigations occur, certainly an investigation into ethics or something else like that, that getting phone records isn`t that difficult.

Are the Republicans revealing something obvious about themselves by not wanting to give up this information? Or do they have any justification for saying, hey, look, maybe some of these phone calls are constituent service, and you shouldn`t be able to ask for them?

BARDELLA: Yes, as usual, Republicans are just using the hysterical scare rhetoric to try to justify their obstruction of an ongoing and legitimate investigation.

I mean, it`s kind of par for the course. You`re conducting an investigation, you`re going to have a watch for a document request. You`re going to ask for things like phone records, meeting notes, e-mails, et cetera.

I don`t remember Republicans being particularly squeamish about these types of things when they were subpoenaing Barack Obama`s administration constantly, when they were launching investigation after investigation into the Obama administration, when they held the Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, when they started the congressional investigation targeting Hillary Clinton that lasted for like four or five years while she was the Democratic nominee for president, when they hauled her asked before the committee and grilled her for more than 11 hours.

I don`t remember Kevin McCarthy or any of these Republicans having any concern, having any worry about politics, having any worry about multiple overlapping investigations. They were all for it. They led the charge.

So they can`t be upset right now if Democrats are stealing a page from their playbook and holding their feet to the fire.

JOHNSON: You would think. You would think.

I want to play this sound right now from Kevin McCarthy.

And, Elie, I want to get your thoughts and then Kurt`s on how he was feeling about this kind of investigation just a couple months ago.


MCCARTHY: The president bears responsibility for Wednesday`s attack on Congress by mob rioters.

QUESTION: Another question that the Democrats want to know is, how deeply was the president involved with what happened that day?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know what is interesting about that? That`s where law enforcement goes. The FBI has investigated this.

The Senate had bipartisan committees and come back. And you know what they have found? That there was no involvement.



MYSTAL: Well, now here`s the thing, right? The FBI hasn`t investigated this, have they?

FBI Director Chris Wray, Brett Kavanaugh`s buddy, hasn`t really delved into this, have they? And, like, this is one of the overall problems. I am happy with the select committee. I`m happy with what the Democrats seem to be trying to do in Congress.

But this needs to be investigated by the DOJ. And it is problematic to me that the people who are subpoenaing the phone records, for instance, are the select committee, as opposed to the FBI, because when the FBI subpoenas for phone records, you don`t ask nicely. They show up with two guys with a crowbar looking for the files, right?

Like, that`s how the FBI rolls when their backs are into it. And Merrick Garland refuses to put his back into investigating the people with power. He is happy to go after QAnon Shaman horn man, right? That`s an easy target for him.

But the people who inspired Shaman dude, right, the Mo Brooks, the Don Trump Jr.`s, the people who inspired this attack, Merrick Garland ain`t got no time for them. And that`s a problem, because the Department of Justice has more power and more pressure they can put on this investigation, if Merrick Garland was willing to put his back into it.


JOHNSON: And I have said this. You`re exactly right, Elie, because I have said all along, look, people ignore subpoenas from Congress all the time, right?

You don`t ignore the FBI. OK, you can ignore a bill collector. You can`t ignore the person who shows up at your door.

Kurt, this is something else also that I think is really key about this investigation. We had members of Congress, Democratic members of Congress, earlier this year saying, look, I saw fellow members of Congress, staffers giving tours to large suspicious groups of people just a couple of days beforehand. It looks like they were casing the joint.

It would seem to me, Kurt, that going hard after the lower-level folks is usually how an investigation goes. You should be going after the staffers. You should be going after the sort of underlings who were making these phone calls, because they wouldn`t be sooner to flip on a member of Congress than a member of Congress would be to flip on Trump, right?

BARDELLA: You would think so.

I mean, here`s the thing that concerns me more broadly. If the highest levels of our justice system doesn`t actively and aggressively investigate a domestic terrorist attack and our Capitol designed to undermine and throw out our democracy, well, then what`s the threshold to do that going forward?

Because by not doing that, but not using the full weight and full force of the law enforcement apparatus that we have at our disposal, by not doing that, you`re basically saying, well, if you want to go do this again, we`re going to keep our hands away from this and let other forces dictate how we move forward.

If defending democracy isn`t enough to get our entire justice system involved, then I don`t know what the hell we`re really doing here or what`s the point. I mean, what is it going to take? Is it really going to take a repeat of January 6, but this time they succeed in actually murdering and executing members of Congress? Is that what we`re going to have to see before everybody wakes up and sees the ongoing and dangerous -- we got members of Congress right now in the Republican Conference, in Kevin McCarthy`s conference, who are actively calling for another insurrection.


BARDELLA: And no one`s doing a damn thing about it. It`s only going to get worse unless we step up and start doing something.

JOHNSON: Elie, you have been great on Twitter in sort of rage tweeting. I have always said you`re the Lewis Black of politics, rage tweeting what a lot of us are feeling right now.

What does it take for Biden and Merrick Garland to do something? You have voting rights being snatched in 15 different states. You have women losing their right to choose, and you have an ongoing slow-moving coup, where people are still bragging about what they`re going to do next.

What is it going to take? And what would that plan look like? If you were suddenly -- if you could "Inception" yourself into Merrick Garland and President Biden`s brains, what would you be telling them to do right now?

MYSTAL: Well, I mean, if I had that power, I would be using all federal options available.

I would be using federal force. The FBI is a large, scary organization. And I would shove it right where the sun don`t shine, up the Republican Conference, right? Like, that is what we can do. The argument that there`s nothing Democrats can do is just wrong.

There`s nothing Democrats are willing to do. What`s it going to take for Biden and Garland? Like, they are so locked into their institutionalism, right? They`re more concerned about protecting their institutions and their appearance of impartiality than they are about seeking justice.

And I don`t know what it takes to break them out of that mold. But it`s probably a lot more people than me being angry about it, right? It`s probably -- it probably looks more like a massive uprising. It probably looks more like people refusing to take the dollops of respectability thrown out by this DOJ and demand better.

People were willing to go protest Barr. When are people going to be willing to go protest Garland? Because, right now, it is Merrick Garland more than anybody who is, again, protecting his own part of the store, instead of going out and seeking justice.

JOHNSON: Elie Mystal, Kurt Bardella, both of you guys, thank you so much.

Coming up: The California governor recall election is just one week away, and the leading GOP candidate under fire for his latest controversial comments.

Also, after 130 years, a symbol of racial injustice is coming down in Virginia, my home state. We will explain.

And emotional reaction to the death of actor Michael K. Williams from one of his "Wire" co-stars, and a special guest on that ahead.



JOHNSON: We`re exactly one week away from the recall election in the California governors`s race, a battle that could reshape the nation`s largest state and jolt the political landscape nationwide.

Gavin Newsom trying to avoid becoming the second California governor and the third governor and U.S. history to be recalled.

Elizabeth Warren came out this weekend to show her support, appearing with Newsom in Los Angeles. Vice President Kamala Harris is set to join his campaign tomorrow. And President Biden is set to campaign for Newsom early next week.

The top GOP candidate to replace Newsom is a right-wing radio host named Larry Elder. He made headlines this summer for saying that slave owners were owed reparations.


LARRY ELDER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: When people talk about operations, do they really want to have that conversation?

Because, like it or not, slavery was legal. And so their property, their legal property, was taken away from them after the Civil War. So you can make an argument that the people that are owed reparations are not only just black people, but also the people whose -- quote -- "property" -- close quote -- was taken away the end of the Civil War.


JOHNSON: Larry Elder, speaking of conversations you don`t want to have, your ex-fiancee saying that she broke off the engagement after you waved a gun at her.

Larry Elder also raised eyebrows for his attacks on COVID safety guidelines in a state that is still struggling to contain it.


ELDER: When I get elected, assuming -- assuming that there still are face mask mandates and vaccine mandates, they will be repealed right away.



JOHNSON: Joining me now is Jill Cowan, California reporter for "The New York Times."

Jill, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

I`m going to start with this.

There was a lot of fear just maybe a month ago that, oh, my gosh, Gavin Newsom is going to be recalled. It looks now like the polling is better for him. But you also see Kamala Harris and Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren coming here.

What is the real state of the race right now? Where are Gavin Newsom`s chances of being recalled vs. keeping his position?


JILL COWAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, I certainly wouldn`t want to be on the record predicting any outcome.

But the polling does look better for Governor Newsom than it has sort of a month or two ago. And, of course, Democrats have a huge advantage just in terms of raw numbers for -- here in California.

What is perhaps a little bit worrisome for the governor is perhaps why there are so many sort of Democratic heavyweights coming to the state in this last week, is that there have been a lot of ambivalence among voters. A lot of voters don`t know that this is happening. And many young voters haven`t returned their ballots.

And so that`s something that he`s going to be paying attention to, political analysts are going to be paying attention to. So even if he does make it out of the recall with his job, those are things that he`s going to be -- he`s going to be looking at for next year especially.

JOHNSON: So I`m thinking about this also.

The idea that this has now happened a second time to a Democratic governor of California, is there any thought on the part of Democrats in the state that, you know what, if we get through this a second time, maybe we should close that door, maybe we should push for a state constitutional amendment that says that it takes more to try to recall a governor than a bunch of rich right-wingers putting together a million names on a list?

Is there any discussion within Democrats in the state to try to reform recall processes?

COWAN: I think that is certainly a discussion.

I mean, and we have paid a lot of attention to this. This is something you see and hear come up pretty frequently in California elections and in California electoral politics. We have our ballot initiative system, where you can get a certain number of signatures and put anything to -- essentially, anything to all the state voters. And that has then the power of law.

And so that system is actually very popular among California voters. So I think that there is going to be some discussion about perhaps a disconnect between what California voters see as sort of direct democracy and the way that that actually works, which is the people with the most money can tap into the most motivated voter bases.

And I think that is certainly something that you have seen here. Republicans in this race, conservatives, people who are really frustrated with mask mandates, restrictions, vaccine mandates, who are frustrated with Governor Newsom for a variety of reasons are very motivated to vote.

And the rest -- the rest of Californians may not know that this is happening, even if they support Governor Newsom or think that he`s done a good job.

JOHNSON: Now, compared to 10, 12 years ago, when it was another governor being recalled in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Larry Elder is no Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Larry Elder has said racist things. He has said sexist things. He has shown himself to be grotesquely incompetent. At least Schwarzenegger could make the argument, hey, I`m a Hollywood celebrity. I know something about business. Larry Elder knows nothing about anything.

Do you think that Newsom is benefiting from the fact that, as Elder`s profile has increased, people are less looking at the question of whether they want to recall and realizing we can`t have this crazy person running one of the largest economies in America?

COWAN: Well, I`m not sure I can comment on what Larry Elder knows about what.

But he`s certainly said some things that are pretty easily disprovable. He`s said different things and expressed different views to different audiences. I think that, depending on who -- certainly, Governor Newsom has been trying to make the possibility of someone like Larry Elder, and specifically in this case Larry Elder taking over the state, his kind of primary message. That`s how he`s trying to motivate his base to come out and actually cast those ballots.

So, whether or not that message is resonating, I think certainly just really remains to be seen. We are dealing with -- or we`re seeing an election where every voter, every active registered voter was mailed their ballot. So that`s a huge shift.

And it`s just very hard to predict turnout, because people have been sending their ballots back for I think more than a week now, a couple of weeks. And so we`re in the final stretch. Many voters might be waiting until -- to cast their ballots in person. So there`s a lot that`s kind of in flux.

So whether that message, that fear that somebody like Larry Elder could take over is really resonating does remain to be seen.

JOHNSON: California residents, please make sure you turn in your ballots. We already know what it`s like to have a large political area controlled by someone who has been multiple times accused of sexual harassment and doesn`t believe in COVID.

Jill Cowan, thank you so very much for your time this evening.

COWAN: Thank you.

JOHNSON: After the break, Michael K. Williams in his own words, and a special guest on his legacy.

Stay with us on THE BEAT.



JOHNSON: Today, we remember the life and career of an acting legend gone too soon. Actor Michael K. Williams was found dead yesterday in his Brooklyn apartment at the age of 54.

Williams is best known for his portrayal of Omar Little on HBO`s "The Wire."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You`re feeding off the violence and the despair of the drug trade. You`re stealing from those who themselves are stealing the lifeblood from our city.

You are a parasite who leeches off the culture of drugs.

MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS, ACTOR: Just like you, man.


WILLIAMS: I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It`s all in the game, though, right?


JOHNSON: Williams also played memorable roles and "Boardwalk Empire," Chalky White, "When They See Us," and Montrose Freeman in "Lovecraft Country," for which he was just nominated for an Emmy.

Williams appeared to be -- Williams appeared on THE BEAT a few years ago, where he talked about his troubled past and his work, sharing the stories of youth growing up under similar circumstances.


WILLIAMS: I considered myself an at-risk youth. The arts saved my life.


So, when I look at a young man, a dark-skinned little boy, who happens to have a scar on his face, who happens to be named Michael, who was telling me that he`s going through that amount of pain at that age, I can`t tell you the effect that had on me.

It was -- it was internal. It was -- I can`t -- it was on a very cellular level that those stories affected me.


JOHNSON: Joining me now is Kelley Carter, Emmy award-winning journalist for "The Undefeated."

I can think of hardly anybody better to talk to you about this.

Kelley, yesterday, my time was just -- my timeline, my phone was just filled with people who were just sad and in shock. I saw somebody tweet yesterday: "Tell God Omar`s coming."

And I literally teared up.


JOHNSON: Just talk about -- did you ever get a chance to work with or interview Michael? And just talk about how he was viewed within Hollywood, within the theater and acting community as a whole.

CARTER: Yes, I was able to interview him several times over the course of his career.

And, honestly, very much beloved. I think the reason why you are seeing such an onslaught of tributes and kind words from his colleagues and contemporaries in the business is because he resonated across the board. Like, they`re all very genuine.

This isn`t someone passing away and people feeling obligated to say niceties. This is all very authentic, because he was an authentic human being, but also a very authentic performer.

This is someone who will be regarded as one of the best character actors of all time. I mean, his characters that he brought to life were very intentional that he selected in the first place, but, also, they stuck with you. They stayed with you.

And there`s a reason why he`s being honored the way he`s being honored today. And I would venture to guess, up through the next week-and-a-half, by the time we get to the Emmys, he was already a front-runner to win his first Emmy Award for "Lovecraft Country."

Obviously, there are those of us who believe he should have won for "The Wire." But I expect that he will be honored up and through that moment, as he rightly should be.

JOHNSON: I want to play a clip from one of his performances this summer and get your thoughts on the other side.


WILLIAMS: I said I`m slipping, I`m falling. I can`t get up. Let my soul rest and take my breath.

I have been through mad different phases like Masons to find my way. But now I know that happy days are not far away. If I`m strong enough, I live long enough to see my kids doing something more constructive with they time, other than bids, because they was forcing me to be man without a helping hand to understand. Damn!


CARTER: Passionate.

JOHNSON: I think -- I think, Kelley, what that what that clip showed -- and that was at a memorial for DMX, who passed the summer -- is, a lot of people don`t even recognize that Michael K. Williams, I mean, he was a singer, he was a dancer, he was a choreographer.

This guy had had a vast array of artistic talent, above and beyond just what we saw on the screen in acting, right?

CARTER: Yes, I mean, he was an all-around performer.

And I think such a big part of who he is known for as an actor is really crafting these dramatic, deeply intense roles. But he also was a very funny guy. He was a backup dancer. He did things that you wouldn`t necessarily associate with someone who expertly brought someone like Omar Little to life, someone like Chalky White to life.

And a lot of the roles that he picked were resident of the community that he grew up in. And he said that to me in our last interview, which was earlier this year, that he selected roles that felt like very real people that he knew. Either they were rooted in realness or they felt real.

And that was all very intentional.

JOHNSON: I want to bring this up very quickly.

Twenty-five years ago today, Tupac was killed. And Pac was actually the first person to give Michael K. Williams his first break. He picked his photo out and said, I want this man to play my younger brother in "Bullet."

Very quickly, Kelley, what does it mean culturally, in particular to the black community, Paul Mooney, DMX, Michael K., what`s it mean when we lose this kind of talent so early? I just want to see some of these guys grow old.


JOHNSON: What kind of impact does it have on us to lose some of these people so soon.

CARTER: It`s significant.

I think people are spending a lot of time talking about how short life is right now and the realization of people that felt very familiar to us, because, quite frankly, Michael K. Williams looks like he could be an uncle, a cousin, a friend, a brother...



CARTER: ... of many of our families.

And so it makes you really realize the value of life and of living. And it makes you reexamine your own lives, I think, too, to make sure that you`re maximizing them the way that some of these guys who have been so integral to the culture maximized their lives as well.

JOHNSON: Kelley Carter, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

We will be right back.


JOHNSON: Finally tonight, a symbol of racial injustice set to come down tomorrow.

The monument of Confederate General Robert E. Lee will be moved after 130 years in Richmond, Virginia. It`s part of the national reckoning with America`s past.

And a quick programming note. Tomorrow night, check out a new special, "Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11," focused on the stories of survivors and heroes who were in New York during the terror attacks. It airs tomorrow at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC and Peacock.

That does it for me tonight. Ari is back tomorrow.