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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, August 11, 2020

Guests: Juanita Tolliver, Danielle Belton, Barbara Boxer, London Breed, Errin Haines, Zerlina Maxwell, Cory Booker


Presidential candidate Joe Biden selects Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate. Senator Cory Booker discusses Joe Biden's decision to choose Kamala Harris as his V.P. pick. San Francisco, California, Mayor London Breed speaks out.



And, Ari, we didn't get a chance to gulp some air. So, I think, take the baton, and I hope you have your water already with you, because I don't think you're going to get...



ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We have the water and a big story.

Thank you, Chuck. Been watching your coverage.

Welcome to THE BEAT, where we begin with breaking news echoing across America right now, Joe Biden just selecting Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. The move recruits his one-time primary rival into a teammate against President Trump and marks a historic decision, because, tonight, Kamala Harris is now the first black woman on a major-party presidential ticket.

And as this barrier falls, the Biden/Harris ticket offers Americans, they say, a chance to make history. A victory would put a woman in the highest position ever in the United States executive branch, a heartbeat, of course, from the presidency.

The gloves already off right now, the Trump campaign quoting Harris' past criticism of Joe Biden himself, and arguing that this pick somehow suggests that Joe Biden is a radical liberal.

Now, this choice, I can tell you -- and you have probably been following the coverage, as we just spoke with Chuck Todd -- this choice was closely guarded. It did not leak in advance. Biden made the call on his terms, on his timing, announcing it just hours ago here tonight by telling Americans these are not -- quote -- "normal times" and he sees Harris as a smart, tough person who is -- quote -- "ready to lead."

Now, 2020 has shredded many expectations in all of our regular lives, as well as in our politics. So, unlike past V.P. debuts, Harris won't face an in-person convention crowd, where we would see her typically welcomed by the party faithful, but she is joining Biden in his home state of Delaware tomorrow.

Picking a running mate is always the first binding decision any potential president makes, the winning candidate legally bound to that decision.

And, tonight, the Biden campaign is arguing this decision Joe Biden just made, which recasts this race, they're arguing it reinforces the reason America should want a -- quote -- "President Biden."

They say he kept his public pledge to name a woman, to consider diversity, to pick a qualified person for governing, and to use his campaign as a bridge to a new generation of leaders.

Harris weighing in just moments ago, posting that she is honored to join Joe Biden on the ticket.

We have special coverage tonight.

I want to welcome our kickoff panel here.

Errin Haines is editor at large for The 19th, a newsroom dedicated to reporting on the intersection of gender, politics and policy. Our friend Juanita Tolliver, national political director for Supermajority, which focuses on growing political opportunities for women, and The Root's Danielle Belton.

Good evening to each of you.


ERRIN HAINES, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE 19TH: Good evening, Ari. Big night.

MELBER: Well, let's get into it.

I'm joined momentarily by reporting from the field by Kristen Welker.

I wanted to get, though, a first reaction, kind of a lightning round here, in a word or sentence, your reaction to Joe Biden picking Kamala Harris.


HAINES: You said it in your intro, Ari, historic.

MELBER: Danielle?


Black women are the Democrats' most loyal base, full stop. So thank you for seeing me.

MELBER: Juanita?

JUANITA TOLLIVER, SUPERMAJORITY: She has arrived, finally.

MELBER: There you go.

Each of those points, I'm going to ask you to build on, because this is our big political panel to kick off the show.

But hang with me, while we bring in NBC's Kristen Welker, who has been busily reporting on this story, breaking news on this story, being the intrepid journalist that she is on literally more than one beat, because we can see you at the White House.

Kristen, walk us through how this came about today and your thoughts tonight.

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ari, this cannot be overstated. This is an historic moment, Senator Kamala Harris becoming the first African-American woman to be on a presidential ticket, only the third woman ever to be chosen for a running mate.

And so this carries huge significance from an historical perspective. How did we get here?

Well, there was always a sense inside Biden world that Senator Kamala Harris was someone who checked all of the boxes, that she's someone who served as a former prosecutor, attorney general of California, then went on to become a senator, someone who became a presidential candidate herself during the primary.

She, of course, dropped out, and then went on to almost immediately throw her support behind Biden. Now, in terms of the deliberations, there was some concern about that first debate. We all remember when she forcefully attacked Joe Biden. Some of Biden's closest allies raised the question, would she be someone who could be trusted not only on the campaign trail, but if in fact they do win the White House?

And I am told, in talking to them close to this process, that Harris made it very clear, once she dropped out, that she was supporting Biden and that he could trust her. And she knew how important it was to convey that message moving forward.

Now, we know that Biden really underwent a very deliberative process. He considered a range of different options, which also included former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice, someone with whom, I am told, Ari, he has a very close relationship, as well as Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, someone with whom he has a good relationship, I am told, and who clearly would help him carry a critical battleground state.

But, ultimately, he went with Senator Harris because he feels as though she will be strong, not only on the campaign trail, but also on the debate stage facing off against Vice President Mike Pence, and, again, if the two are, in fact, to win the White House.

Now, there was huge momentum and pressure on Biden to pick someone who is African-America, not only because of the protests nationwide that have been calling for racial change, but also because so many in this country see this moment as an inflection point, and they see Senator Kamala Harris as someone who is representative of that.

Former President Obama already weighing in, saying that Biden nailed this decision, casting this as really the first important decision that a president makes.

For his part, President Trump is speaking right now, Ari, and I can tell you he's taken aim at this decision to pick Harris, essentially trying to cast her as a phony, but also someone who's a part of the radical left agenda.

So, a little bit of a preview of what you can anticipate we will see heading into the fall, but it is worth noting that President Trump has really struggled to put Kamala Harris in a box, to define her. The question becomes, will we have any more success now that she is officially in this race, Ari?

MELBER: Kristen Welker at the White House, thank you, as always.

Bringing back in our panel here amidst that reporting.

Juanita, your thoughts on what this means for the ticket?

TOLLIVER: I think this means a lot of energy and excitement for the ticket.

In fact, Supermajority recently conducted focus groups and call boards with young women of color voters in key states. And a lot of them were hindering their decision of whether to not to vote in this election cycle on Biden's V.P. selection. They wanted a V.P. who was a woman of color. They wanted someone who would hold Biden accountable, call out his blind spots and push him.

And that's exactly what Kamala Harris has done on the campaign trail. That's what she's done as a senator, and that's what she will continue to do behind closed doors as Biden's teammate. So this is going to bring a lot of voter enthusiasm.

As a black woman, I'm hyped. As a political operative, I'm hyped. And I think this is going to yield some strong results for the Democrats.

MELBER: Hyped.


BELTON: I got to say, 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, like 94 percent. Black women are what put Joe Biden over the top in his race to get the nomination to in the first place.

So the fact that he picked Kamala Harris, to me, is the smartest decision he could possibly make if he wanted to continue to have the support of that base.

I like Harris as a V.P. pick overall. And she's a senator with a sharp legal mind, a sharper tongue. She's going to destroy Pence in the debates, if he can get permission from his wife to participate.


BELTON: So, I'm super excited about all of this.

MELBER: Your reference depends being that he has certain rules about who he appears with?

BELTON: Just a little bit, from what I have been told.

MELBER: Errin?

HAINES: Yes, I mean, I think that this is -- again, the historic nature of this cannot be understated. There's never been a woman president, sure, but there's never been a woman vice president, and there's never been a black woman nominated for vice president.

And so I think that the black woman that I have been talking to over the past year-and-a-half have been excited about -- they were excited about the prospect of Senator Harris when she entered the race last year. A lot of them were making kind of a head or heart decision last year when they were considering her, which, ultimately, I think, forced her out of the race.

I mean, issues of race and gender kind of dogged her campaign throughout. But, in the end, race and gender really did prove to be among her greatest assets. And we know that the role of the vice president has taken on an outsized significance in this election cycle in what many of us see as the most consequential election that we will ever cover of our time.

And, with that said, this was more than just symbolic for black women. In particular, they saw this as a signal that Joe Biden values them, not just for their output, but for their input. And it's the kind of thing that's not just going to get them out to the polls, but that is going to get them to take their sorority, their church, their family and friends in November.

MELBER: Well, you -- Errin, you just hit on something so important and something I think our other experts here on the panel have spoken about both tonight and before.

You talked about output and input. And politics, long-term politics tends to need both. Otherwise, people say, well, they don't feel like they're part of the coalition. They feel like they're being used or misled only around election time.

And so I'm curious what you think about the process that got Kamala Harris this far, because there was a public and private pressure in a way that we haven't always seen occur in the Democratic Party, even before the civil rights protests took fire this summer.

HAINES: Absolutely.

And I think that from the moment that Joe Biden declared this spring that he was going to select a woman, as it became clear that those women were not going to be in the conversation, Joe Biden...

MELBER: We can hear you. You're good.

HAINES: I can't hear, like, anything.

MELBER: Oh, we may have some tech.

Well, I'll tell you what. We will let Errin rest, because I have -- the panel stays.

But I want to bring in someone who was also in this presidential primary with Harris and Biden, knows these issues well, U.S. Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker. Good evening to you, sir.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): Not a good evening, a great, great, great evening for me and for America.

MELBER: Well, there we go.

So, Senator, I'm going to -- I'm going to start with the small stuff, which is, the Biden campaign...

BOOKER: Why would you start small? Why would you start small, man? This is a big...

MELBER: Because I'm just going to get it get it out of the way.

BOOKER: Come on.

MELBER: The Biden camp -- the Biden campaign and your office let us know that you would be available before this news broke, maybe a little birdie clue that you knew earlier.

When did you learn about this? What did Joe Biden say to you that you're willing to share? And what did it make you think about your other colleague Senator Kamala Harris?

BOOKER: Well, first of all, I know Kamala. She and I have been in the trenches together.

She and I -- look, she's a more than a friend. She's my sister. And even when we were running against each other, I'd always joke with the press that there could be sibling rivalry, but don't get it wrong, we're family.

And so I'm just -- I'm of two minds of this. On a very deep personal level, I know her, and I know there's a lot of conversations about the historic nature. And I'm excited about that.

But I just want you to know that she is a monumentally qualified human beings to this job. And from a personal level, I will affirm that.

The other mind is the historic mind. I mean, this is a woman that, every step of her career -- I mean, how many Howard graduates do you know that this country ever saw their value, and saw their greatness in the way that this moment is a real breakthrough?

Because those of us who know Howard and a lot of other HBCUs, they're just as impressive as Stanford, Oxford, Yale, Harvards, et cetera. And so she had to forge a path where folk like her were never led to the table. She had to fight her way. Every step of her career, she her made way.

And I'm just so proud. My ancestors are rejoicing tonight upon -- in heaven. And there is a huge sigh of relief. I wish I could just read you the text messages that I have got from folk from all different backgrounds. I live up here in Newark, and it was like people ready to party...

MELBER: Read it. Read one of them.


BOOKER: ... city.

So, this is a great...



MELBER: Cory -- Senator Booker, this is THE BEAT.


MELBER: We do it different.

I will give you a chance. Open the phone. Give us one of them.

I'd love to hear your reporting. What are you hearing?


MELBER: And let me ask you this, Senator.

BOOKER: I have got literally -- first of all, the amount of emojis I have, some of them, I can't quite read.

HAINES: I was going to say, you can't read emojis.


So, I'm just going to tell you right now, people are hyped.


MELBER: Are you hearing, Senator -- are you hearing from people who aren't traditionally involved in the day-to-day political news, the way some of us might be?

BOOKER: Yes, that's what's gotten me most like sitting up and noticing, is folks I haven't gotten texts from in a long time.

I have had a couple people FaceTime me in tears, being so happy about this, folks who never thought they would see on a ticket someone who looked like them, that they feel seen. They feel valued. They feel like finally someone is recognizing the truth that we know in this country.

I live in a neighborhood where black women have been carrying this neighborhood on their shoulders and so much of our country. So, I'm going to get a little emotional probably later tonight at the end before I go to bed when I'm saying my prayers. I might have to cry some happy tears or do a happy dance.

But I don't think -- I want to try to fully communicate to your audience how powerful this is for so many Americans, how penetratingly powerful. It's like this great movie "Waiting to Exhale." There's a whole bunch of people saying, whew, finally, finally. It's about time.

And so -- and then that's coupled for me, as a guy that just has worked with her, not just on -- she and I were partners in the George Floyd Policing Act. She and I were partners on the anti-lynching legislation, partners on criminal justice.

But I know the nerdiness of Kamala Harris. You're talking about mass transit bills, infrastructure bills. She has this gift in politics that is such a -- valuable from A-list people. And I have seen it at all levels of politics, that you could stand up and get a crowd on their feet, tens of thousands of people, you have the poetry and the poise and the charisma, but then she also has the ability to get into the room when no cameras are there, where the sausage-making is getting it done, to dot the I's, cross the T's, and get something across the finish line that actually makes a difference for folk in our communities.

That is a powerful balance. And for Joe Biden to have that as his wingwoman. I mean, I'm telling you right now, this duo in the White House is not just -- forget beating Donald Trump. That's critical. It's essential.

But, for me, it's necessary but not sufficient, because I want us to go -- beating Donald Trump gets us out of a valley. It does not get us to the mountaintop.

MELBER: Right.

BOOKER: But Biden/Harris, they can help us get to the mountaintop.

MELBER: Juanita, you were snapping during the senator's remarks.


TOLLIVER: I mean, he said "Waiting to Exhale." It hits home for me, right? This is a massive opportunity, considering that we're nearing the centennial of the suffrage movement and the fact that black women were omitted from that entire movement.

To have this crowning moment, I said at the beginning, she has arrived, finally, because we have been waiting for this. I think my other panelist colleagues have already said, black women have been the crux and the delivering base of the Democratic Party since earning the right to vote.

And so I really just appreciate Senator Booker for raising that. But I also appreciate Senator Booker for being a man singing the praises of a woman in a high-powered leadership position, because while we know women voters will decide this election and have an outsized voice here, it is rare that we have men singing women's praises so publicly.

So, thank you, Senator Booker for that.

And call your friends, man. Get them out there too.


TOLLIVER: We need more men to be out front for women and women of color.


MELBER: Well, let me take that to Danielle and then back to the senator, because, Danielle, the senator was quoting some of the texts he's getting, he says, from people who might not be in this day in and day out.

We're just getting this news. It's just spreading across the country. It means something to people. And it sounded to me like the senator quoted something similar to what you said at the top of the show, feeling seen.

BELTON: Well, exactly.

Like, when I was a little girl growing up in Saint Louis, Missouri, I used to color all the people in my coloring books white, because I thought that's what I was supposed to do. The person on the cover was white, so, therefore, everyone else was supposed to be white as well.

This goes beyond just representation. This is where you feel validated. This is where you feel like your views are being honored. It's where you feel like you're being finally respected in the case of this pick, because it's historic on so many different levels.

She's the first black woman, the first South Asian woman. She's the first AKA, from that sorority.


BELTON: She's the first grad from Howard University, from an HBCU.

This is -- it's something for Jamaicans to be proud, Indian Americans, California. It's like she covers all the bases. So many people are being seen as this valuable pick.

And I would hope that, because of this, you won't have another little girl who would grow up like me thinking that white is the default, that that's the standard, that that's what you're supposed to aspire to be. Now you can look and see her, and she can be, Harris can be who we can aspire to be.

MELBER: Senator?

BOOKER: Well, two things.

One is, that's the power of Kamala Harris, is, whatever your path is, she is approachable by people from all backgrounds, all experiences. The array of things she just said that speak to so many different American experiences.

And she has this power and gravity to her that make even this son of a Delta -- I'm sorry to say that to you -- get all excited. This is not an AKA son.


BELTON: Well, don't feel bad. I was Beta, so...



BOOKER: But I'm telling you right now, that's a great thing.

And this is the thing I keep wanting to drive home with folk. I think it was a great poem called "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes, which the refrain is, life ain't been no crystal stair.

This woman has ascended now to the highest political ticket possible. And she did not come here on an easy pathway.

MELBER: No. Right.

BOOKER: She has had to get up the rough side of the mountain in ways that no one has ever been able to climb.

And so you want to talk about tough, you want to talk about somebody that knows how to get it done? Nobody laid down any pavement for her. She had to cross some tough terrain to even get to the United States Senate. So, again, you -- people are going to underestimate her grit and her toughness, but I know what Biden's got in an ally and a wingwoman, and I'm very excited.

MELBER: Senator, I see you out here with these Langston Hughes bars.


BOOKER: You know the greatest rappers were far, far before "Rapper's Delight," my brother, far before "Rapper's Delight." We had the great lyricists.


MELBER: The poetry runs in and out of history.

Well, as we think about this, because the senator has brought -- you have brought Public Enemy, you have brought other things to this forum before.

As you think about the road ahead, and the point you made about the grit it takes and what this election is going to look like -- and I don't think anyone's naive about that -- I'm more reminded of Rihanna, ain't none of this promised.

BOOKER: Well, I'm going to give you my final -- my final -- I'm going to drop my final -- I'm going to do what I have done before on you, is just really a rap on you.

And this is a -- by one of the greatest lyricist of all time, another great black woman. Her name was Maya Angelou. And I'm going to say this is an honor of Kamala, who is already being attacked by Donald Trump.

You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies. Donald Trump, you may try to trot her down in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I rise.

And she will rise, and she will lift us up. We will rise together, taking back to the White House, and then the real work starts of getting this country to the mountaintop and eventually, God willing, to the promised land.

MELBER: A fitting point.

And I know you have to go. And I appreciate you making the time, Senator Cory Booker.

I also want to thank Juanita Tolliver and Danielle Belton for kicking off our special coverage.

Errin, stay with me. We have a lot to get to on the aspects of this. Thanks to each of you.

This is a history-making night, Americans are about to learn a ton more about this first-term senator that a 77-year-old, Joe Biden, says is ready to be president if or when that should come about, if he's elected, and the vice president has that special role.

Now, Harris distinguished herself largely before joining the Senate. She won a tough race against an incumbent to be the San Francisco DA. She was the first black woman in that post in the entire state.

But she built a record that was tough on crime, which drew criticism, while her allies also say that, in that role, she combined prosecutorial tactics with a reform agenda.

Harris then broke another barrier, as the top lawyer in the whole state, winning the race to be California attorney general.

So, as our first guests were discussing the history in this new ticket, we are joined now by the former U.S. Senator from California Barbara Boxer, who preceded Harris in that seat, and the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, the first black woman to be a mayor of that city, who has described Harris as a mentor.

Two very fitting guests.

First of all, thanks to both of you for making time on short notice tonight.

Senator Boxer, what does this mean to you?

FMR. SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): This is a historic pick. We have all heard that. We know that.

But, to me, it's a healing, unifying pick, because we have seen the streets filled with our black brothers and sisters, our white brothers and sisters, everybody in the streets after George Floyd. We came together. And this brings us together, just the feel of it, the look of it, the sound of it, that we see a man and a woman of different backgrounds, a diverse ticket, unifying the country, as opposed to what Donald Trump and Pence try to do, which is to do -- which is divide us.

So I'm touched by that. And I thank Joe Biden for picking a woman of color. I think it was so important. And he did it. And, of course, I'm excited. It's someone who took my seat in the Senate. If I hadn't retired, who knows?

So, there you go.


MELBER: Is that it? Does it go -- were you just -- did you leave at the wrong time? It just goes to whoever is in that seat?


BOXER: Oh, sure. I'm sure he would have picked a 78-year-old -- wait a minute -- 79-year-old. I don't think so.


BOXER: I was delighted, really, but to leave when I did, because guess who came into the White House?

I think I would have been in crazed mode every day if I was there.

MELBER: Well, we rely on you for many things, Senator, including your -- obviously, the policy expertise.

But that's part of what we're interested in tonight, why we wanted both of you in this conversation, because you are in those rooms, you are in these seats.


MELBER: And so, Mayor Breed, you have spoken publicly, Mayor, about Kamala's being a mentor to you.

What did that mean? What did you learn from her?


I actually worked with her before she was an elected official. And so just her compassion and how much she cared about bringing forth justice to people who have been harmed by the criminal justice system is something that I really appreciated, as someone who grew up in public housing, who grew up in poverty, and who saw firsthand a lot of those injustices.

Having a district attorney who actually wanted to make real changes, and not just focus on locking people up and throwing away the key, and so the programs and how innovative she was incredible and really a breath of fresh air for me.

So, I am really -- and our relationship developed over the years. We work together. I supported her in our campaigns. And we worked as partners on community-related stuff. And so it just -- I am so excited about this.

Just like the senator here, Senator Boxer, I am -- I can't even believe that this moment is happening. It is absolutely incredible. And I think Vice President Biden couldn't have made a better choice.

MELBER: And to both of you, again, speaking directly and respectfully, but as women in politics, which has been, historically, obviously, an uneven playing field, whether you talk about the way government works, the way campaigns work, where the money tends to go from the donors, to the way the press, those of us in the press, sometimes cover it.

I'm curious what both of you think. She won't be the first, of course, woman to ever run for vice president. We have seen that twice now in each party, but she will be the first, as noted, black woman. And if they go all the way, she would be the first in the executive branch.

What is she up against? And has anything improved?

Starting with Senator Boxer.

BOXER: Well, everything is going to be thrown at her, including the kitchen sink. But they do that -- Trump does that everybody. He's going to do it to Joe. He is going to do it to her.

And one advantage that Kamala had over some of the other contenders -- and they had a fabulous embarrassment of riches to choose from -- she has been around the block, as they say, because, as the mayor will tell you, she went through everything you can imagine when she went she ran, because women of color who's a prosecutor, that's a tough road to go.

I want to speak as someone who made history with Dianne Feinstein. We became the first two senators, women senators, to represent any state in the union in 1992.

It was ugly out there. It was pretty ugly out there. And I think the way we got through it, which is the way Kamala will get through it, is, you keep your sense of humor. You throw it back.

She is an excellent debater and an excellent communicator. Joe is very comfortable with her. And the last point I would make about Kamala is, she has been an executive and a legislator. That's unusual.

Usually, people go one direction or the other. And that is going to be very helpful, I think, to Joe, because whatever he needs her to do, I think she will fit into it. If she's got to go to the Senate to get votes or the House, she knows how to do it. She's been there.

If he needs her to go be a special envoy to some country, she can do that, because she knows what it is to be an executive. So I think he did -- he made a choice. And most important is, he feels comfortable with her.

And that's the key.


BREED: Oh, go ahead.

MELBER: Go ahead, Mayor Breed, please.

BREED: One of the things I learned from Senator Harris over the years is, when you step out in this world of politics, you have to be prepared for the criticism, especially as a woman.

It's what happens in this world. But you can't let that detract from what it is that you're here to do. People are counting on us to put forth good policies, make good decisions, so that our country isn't in what you see right now, this upheaval with what's happening with the coronavirus.

People are counting on us. And, at the end of the day, we have to focus on the work. And we can't get consumed by the name-calling or the disrespect or the lies.

MELBER: Right.

BREED: We have to focus on the work.

And that's one of the things that I learned from her, which is why I know she's equipped to handle it.

MELBER: Let me ask you to build on the issue Senator Boxer raised -- and you're an executive yourself in San Francisco -- where it's not only everything we just discussed, but also being a DA or a prosecutor.

And we have seen a sea change, certainly within the Democratic Party, but also more broadly, on those issues. And one of the things we reported on here on THE BEAT, in looking at her record, as well as Congresswoman Demings and others, is, on the one hand, there's a rethinking of these policies. And any good politician or leader will listen and look at what's been learned and where people are going.

On the other hand, it shouldn't be the case that Kamala Harris be the first or only Democratic prosecutor to get hit over these issues, when, let's be clear -- and I have said this on air before -- I'm not just saying it because of the news tonight -- male prosecutors for decades rode that wave as a positive, with no kind of double reassessment.

And now there's suddenly this moment of it having, I think, according to some activists and civil rights leaders we have had on our show, it having as well a negative connotation. You can bet critics and Trump folks are going to bring that up, even in -- perhaps in bad faith.

So, to all of that nuance that the senator raised, Mayor, what do you think?

BREED: And here's the thing.

When they were talking about this process and selecting someone, the criticism about Kamala Harris was that she was too ambitious. Do we talk about other men who are running for public office as being too ambitious?

The fact is, sadly, this is the double standard in how women in politics get treated in comparison to men. And I got to focus on the fact that we can't allow that to distract us from the issues.

This is going to be a big part of what's going to be happening throughout this campaign. People are going to attack Kamala in ways that they have never had attacked another vice presidential nominee in the past.

And the good news is, she has the record, she has the skill, she has the understanding, the intelligence, that and then some, to combat all of that. And she is a fierce campaigner and advocate for the Democratic Party.

And we, as Democrats, we need to put the criticisms aside and put the crap aside, so that we can focus on winning back the White House.

MELBER: There you have it.

BREED: We cannot deal with another four years of Donald Trump.

Look, a global pandemic, the stuff that's happening around this uprising around racial injustice that we have never witnessed in the history of this country before, we have a moment in time where we can turn the tide. And so that's what we need to be focused on.

MELBER: Well, and I hear your energy. What do I know? I'm just a reporter listening and reading.

But I am starting to pick up, even in these first few hours, quite a bit of energy from the Democratic side of excitement, mobilization.


MELBER: We have a lot more, including -- I haven't even gotten to the Obama factor yet.

So, I want to thank Mayor Breed and Senator Boxer, and hope you will both join us again during this campaign to discuss more of this.

Thank you both.

BREED: Thank you.

BOXER: Thanks.

MELBER: Thank you.

As our special coverage continues, we turn to the Obama factor and what Joe Biden is trying to do.

As mentioned, Biden and Harris are making history here with the first Democratic ticket that features a black woman for vice president.

Now, for all the understandable focus on that distinction, which we have just heard from many experts about, as well as Harris' record, which I just discussed with the mayor, we want to turn to something we haven't gotten to yet in our special coverage.

Tonight, top Democrats are also stressing that this big plus for diversity is also a big plus on the politics, eying Harris as a key to politically renewing the Obama coalition in order to beat Trump.

Now, if you're watching the news, you follow politics, you probably know some running mates are tapped in the hopes of helping just nail down one key state or boost a campaign in a certain region.

Now, Joe Biden doesn't need help in California tonight. The strategy here is more national. It is clearly targeting Democratic base voters, younger voters and minorities, because just as Trump surprised some people in 2016 by turning out his side, not necessarily converting that many swing voters, but mobilizing his folks. Obama's first election mobilized the most diverse electorate ever.

And while black voters have long been key to the Democratic Party, that Obama-Biden ticket increased black voter turnout, remember, by 5 percent, juicing it to 65 percent overall, the nonpartisan Pew Center noting that -- quote -- "nearly matched the voter turnout rate of white eligible voters" -- end quote.

Now, that was the last time Democrats won the Electoral College, under Obama in those two races.

And it brings us to Obama's view on tonight's big news. He's out here tonight with a new statement praising Biden's choice, saying -- quote -- "Joe Biden nailed this decision."

President Obama also saying, new tonight, Kamala Harris is -- quote -- "more than prepared for the job."

Let's bring in our special guests, Barack Obama's former polling guru Cornell Belcher, and Zerlina Maxwell, MSNBC analyst and a former aide to Hillary Clinton.

Good to see you both.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, SIRIUSXM RADIO: It's good to see you too, Ari.

MELBER: I want to get into all the Obama with you, Cornell.

But, Zerlina, on a night this historic, I ask you what I have asked other guests. What does this mean to you?

MAXWELL: This means a whole lot, Ari.

I think seeing somebody be selected to be a vice president that looks like me, and for it to be the first time this has ever happened, representation is incredibly important. It's not everything. Certainly, she is going to be scrutinized and vetted through this process, just as any other choice.

But it is incredibly important to mark this as a movement of progress, because Kamala Harris represents the future in so many ways, not just because she's a black woman and the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant, but also because she is South Asian as well.

And so I think it's incredibly important that we put a marker down and say, this is a good day for progress.

MELBER: There you

Cornell Belcher, I turned to you on the Obamaness, not only the role he plays, and any president who was the most recent in their party to hold the office is big. You could argue he's supersized., given where we are in the country right now and his incredible popularity in the party.

We see that in there being basically two Obama -- the other big news we didn't get to, there's four convention nights for the Democrats. They have made two out of the four be Obama nights, one for Michelle, one for Barack Obama.


MELBER: That's not always the case either. I'm not just saying that to get you in a good mood to talk about your old boss.


MELBER: But let me read to you a little more from this statement, because we just got it.

Obama saying: "By choosing Senator Harris as America's next vice president, Biden has underscored his own judgment and character. Reality shows these attributes are not optional as president. They're requirements. Joe has an ideal partner to help him tackle the very real challenges America faces."


CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: To your point, rebuilding the Obama coalition is essential for Democrats.

And I'm glad that Biden's campaign has gone this direction, because they're saying -- signaling to the party that we're not going to run the campaigns of the 1990s and 1980s again. We're actually going to try to do what we did successfully in 2008.

But Barack Obama garnered for 43 percent of the white vote in 2008, John Kerry garnered 43 percent of the white vote in the previous election, and he lost by three million votes, while Barack Obama won a majority.

The difference was, in fact, energizing bringing in those newer, younger voters, that more diverse -- that more diverse electorate that you talked about. I mean, they are key.

When you look at 2016 and you look at, where was Hillary off of Obama's margin among young black people, she was off of Obama's margin by eight points among African-Americans under 30.

In many states, that's the election itself. And it wasn't that those voters broke for Donald Trump, because he was right in Mitt Romney's margin. They broke third party. They were protesting their vote. They were rejecting the same-old, same-old establishment candidacy.

I think, with this, they really do energize and have a shot at rebuilding that Obama coalition, which -- again, I will remind folks, the last time we had a diverse ticket, we won back-to-back majorities. You got to go back several decades to find a Democratic ticket to win back-to-back majorities.

And that happens when it's more reflective of American and where we are today.

MELBER: I know you won't admit it, but it sounds like you're low-key shading the Tim Kaine pick.


BELCHER: Oh, my God. No, I'm not.

Actually, I'm a Virginian, Ari. So, be careful. That's my guy.

MELBER: You be careful.

BELCHER: But, look, I think Senator Harris reflects...


MELBER: I mean, you're making a point. I know you're a loyal Democrat. So, I know you're not going to really say that.

But you were speaking to something that echoes what several experts told us higher in the show, which is, the Democratic Party at times has been about -- again, I'm quoting -- but they told us -- the output of African-American voters, but not always the input.

BELCHER: Now you're poking me with a stick, because they're right.

I mean, the truth of the matter is, too often, African-Americans think they're being taken for granted by the Democratic Party, because they, in fact, are. And this is -- and this was a show of respect to, quite frankly, the people who have saved first Barack Obama.

When African-American women rallied around Barack Obama, he was going to be the nominee. When African-Americans rallied around Hillary Clinton, Sanders wasn't going to catch them. When African-Americans rallied around Joe Biden, they delivered the domination to him.

This is politics 101. You should take care of the people who take care of you.

MELBER: Zerlina?

MAXWELL: Well, I just wrote a whole book, in fact, "The End of White Politics," talking about this point that Cornell is making about the fact that the Obama coalition was made up of those voters of color.

And we have two generations, gigantic generations, millennials and Gen Z. Both are able to vote. Both are very engaged as a result of COVID and the racial uprisings we have seen across the country.

So I do think this choice is smart, because she represents the future in so many ways, and can speak to, most importantly, those issues that people have brought to the fore.

MELBER: Zerlina, I also want to get your reaction to -- again, we have been tracking so much breaking news here this hour.

And eagle-eyed viewers may notice that this news channel, along with others, is not doing what sometimes happens around this dinner hour on the East Coast for some, which is keep an eye on the president's briefing and see whether news or COVID news comes out of it.

We haven't taken any debriefing live.

Cornell, why are you smiling so big?


MELBER: I feel like you're just in a good mood today.


MELBER: If I mention anything, you would just smile. Go ahead, sir.


BELCHER: I'm smiling, because you shouldn't be covering that foolishness. But that's another topic altogether. Sorry.

MELBER: And you have the right to share your view, even on the news channel that sometimes does cover it. So you get that right.

And you just -- I see the pearly whites there. You're just -- really a -- it's a happy day for you.


BELCHER: It is a historic day. That's right.

MELBER: It is a historic day, for sure.

BELCHER: It is a historic day.

I have got...


BELCHER: I have Queen Latifah playing in the background right now.



MELBER: Wait. Which one? Which one?

BELCHER: Queen Latifah, "Ladies First." And, by the way, Monie Love really, really made that song, Ari.


MELBER: Now, "Ladies First" is good. I didn't know you were going to bring up Queen Latifah, but you could also go with "U.N.I.T.Y."

MAXWELL: I was going to say that. That was my choice.


BELCHER: I like "Ladies First" a little bit better here. I think, thematically, it works better.

MELBER: Well, maybe you need Zerlina to come in and do the deejaying in the Belcher household. I don't know.


MELBER: I will leave that to you guys.

But while we have admittedly taken a little bit of an extra bit of context, we are on the road to the point I was referencing, which is, there is breaking news out of the White House. So, we had our folks, as we do monitor that.

And it is always interesting to see how the president will respond to this new pick. Some of our experts mentioned, and I will mention for journalistic context, in the past, Donald Trump has not always gone hard at Kamala Harris, for whatever reason, as compared to what some saw as a withering fixation, for example, with Elizabeth Warren.

We have news now. I'm going to briefly play it for our guests' response, the president, just new, asked about Biden picking Harris. Here's what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She was my number one pick. I mean, she was -- as they would say, because hopefully you'll start college football -- she was my number one draft pick. And we'll see how she works out.

She did very, very poorly in the primaries, as you know. She was expected to do well, and she was -- she ended up at right around 2 percent, and spent a lot of money. She had a lot of things happening. And so I was a little surprised that he picked her.


MELBER: Cornell?

BELCHER: I think it's sort of the quiet before the storm, because, Ari, I assure you, they're about to launch a sustained attack on Senator Harris, as -- look, I think a lot of the attacks that they have been trying to lay at Joe Biden have not been sticking and working and moving.

I think this is another -- this is another opportunity to take a hit at the ticket and not make this a complete referendum about Donald Trump.

Right now, it is almost a complete referendum about Donald Trump, and they have no chance of winning that. So they have to try to change the dynamic.

MELBER: All very interesting points. We wanted to get that news in.

We got a lot of context and personal reaction as well from Zerlina Maxwell, Cornell Belcher, as well as the playlist, Cornell.

BELCHER: "Ladies First."

MELBER: If ever there were a night.

My thanks to both of you.

We are going to fit in our very first break of the hour in this special coverage.

You are watching THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER.

And we have a lot more ahead, including digging into what we know about Kamala Harris' record, things that Joe Biden viewed positively, as well as the way that she grilled the Trump administration officials, including controversial Attorney General Bill Barr, and what this all means for the election.

Stay with us.


MELBER: Joe Biden was recently asked before this big news announcing his V.P. pick what he thought about Kamala Harris, of course, famously tangling with him at a big Democratic debate.


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, I don't hold grudges. And I made it really clear that I don't hold grudges. I think it was a debate. It's as simple as that.

And she's very much in contention.


MELBER: That was Biden's view, and he clearly meant it.

Harris, of course, entered federal office the same time as Donald Trump, after the 2016 election. And just as she did on the debate stage, able to mix it up with Democrats, she has also been quite prosecutorial when she wants to turn the heat up on Trump appointees in her role as a United States senator. Take a look.



SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): Has the president or anyone at the White House that ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone, yes or no, please, sir?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president or anybody else.

HARRIS: Seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us.

BARR: Yes, but I'm trying to grapple with the word suggest.

I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that -- they have not asked me to open an investigation, but...

HARRIS: Perhaps they have suggested?

BARR: I don't know. I wouldn't say suggest.

HARRIS: Hinted?

BARR: I don't know.

HARRIS: Inferred?

You don't know?




MELBER: You don't know. That's a prosecutor who has a witness exactly where she wants him.

But that doesn't mean, of course, when you are running for president or vice president, that you're only going to be in a serious mode. More so than other types of campaigns, you have got to be out pounding the pavement, having all kinds of conversations.

Even in a COVID virtual campaign, you have to show other sides. And we dug this up tonight, given the news, part of the fun part of a longer policy discussion we had with Kamala Harris. This was in an interview after she was first elected to the Senate in 2017.


HARRIS: My great regret is on my Spotify list is I failed to put on one of my most favorite performers ever, Bootsy.

MELBER: Bootsy Collins.

HARRIS: Of course.

MELBER: From P-Funk?


MELBER: OK. Because?

HARRIS: Because I love Bootsy, Funkadelic. Are you kidding me?

MELBER: Kamala Harris is?

HARRIS: Almost done with this interview.



MELBER: As the saying goes, we have fun.

We also got into her record. You're looking at footage, in fact, of a formerly incarcerated individual and myself walking with Kamala Harris into what you see now, which was a discussion on prison reform and how to change the way prosecutors operate, including confronting criticisms of how Kamala Harris operated as a prosecutor at a justice forum we did this campaign cycle.

So, Kamala Harris has many sides. America is about to learn about all of them in this bruising campaign.

And for a special discussion here as part of our coverage, I want to bring in Jason Johnson, professor at Morgan State University and MSNBC analyst, and a contributor to TheGrio.

Good to see you, sir.


MELBER: Let's start with what you know from covering politics and what earlier guests have discussed, which is, this is all of the analogies you want to use, the MRI for the soul, the 24/7 campaign, every part of Kamala Harris.

And those of us who've been around or uncovered or have seen, part of what clearly endeared her to Joe Biden, regardless of their clash, was that she has more than one move. She can, to use a cliche -- I'm not above cliches -- she can go left and right, she can pass and shoot.

What do you see in the many -- in the many things she brings to the table, which is different from some of the candidates who, fairly or not, some of the contenders on this list who had been seen as potentially more limited?

JOHNSON: Well I will start off with my own lyric, Nicki Minaj. She's not difficult. She's about her business.


JOHNSON: There are a lot of different things that some people may struggle with when it comes to Senator Harris, but she has always been about her business.

And that is an important thing. And that's an effective thing. And it's necessary when you have a top of the ticket like Joe Biden, who can sometimes wander off into the wilderness.

And here's the thing. I am occasionally called a contrarian. I have always been dedicated to the idea, I always thought Senator Harris was going to end up being the nominee, once Joe Biden sort of talked himself into a corner last year and said, it's going to be a black woman, and narrowed down the list of three or four different people.

There are lots of people who be enthuse -- excuse me -- enthusiastic. She can raise money. She's very intelligent. We know she's going to wipe the floor with Mike Pence. That's not going to be that difficult.

Her challenge going forward and what the Democratic Party needs is, they need somebody who's going to make young people enthusiastic. That is not necessarily an area of strength for Senator Harris, but it is something she can dedicate her time to doing.

And the fact that she is capable of actually cracking a smile and making a joke and going on different kinds of radio shows, that's going to be really necessary, because young people who may be concerned about her criminal justice record, young people who may -- look, I'm not going to read you the texts that I have gotten -- young people who may have issues about her authenticity, they're going to get a chance to know her.

MELBER: Why not?


MELBER: Jason, why won't anyone read me a text?


JOHNSON: You really -- you want to know?

MELBER: Yes, I do. It's reporting.


MELBER: If you have reporting -- I will let you tee it up. Take a second and pull it up -- from people around the country, particularly...


MELBER: I'm most interested not in insiders, but in people who say, wait, this pick got my attention.

If you're willing to share -- you don't have to share their name, obviously. Use your reporting judgment. What do you got?


I have got one of my students right here at Morgan State University" "Indifference. And she's a cop. Not sure if it's going to flip -- if she's going to flip on us when she gets into office."

One of my other students right here: "I was more Yang Gang all along. Wasn't really that impressed with her, but we need somebody black on the ticket."

Another one of my students here, right here: "Always liked Harris. Really excited. But, you know, Professor Johnson, I'm AKA."

These are all people who are under 25. And that is going to be the difference in this campaign. Joe Biden isn't galvanizing Gen Z. Elizabeth Warren may have been able to. Stacey Abrams may have been to -- that wasn't necessarily Senator Harris' strength.

So that's what she's going to head out to do. That will be her number one responsibility in this campaign. Taking down the Republicans isn't going to be a problem because they have already screwed things up. They have killed 160 -- oh, sorry -- they have failed to manage a pandemic that has killed 160,000 people.

But Senator Harris' job is going to be go out there into those nooks and crannies, into those places where young people don't have their jobs at Verizon, don't have their jobs at Chipotle, didn't get to graduate this spring are still at home.

And she's got to convince those people that she's going to end up making a difference. I think she can. But I think when Senator Harris sits down with protesters that we have in Minneapolis, with protesters that we have in Oregon, she's going to have to look young people in the eye and say, look, my record in California was one of a progressive senator, not just somebody who wants this particular position.

She has that ability, but that's her number one job.

MELBER: It's really interesting. I'm glad you did crack the texts. It may have been different than what some people expected. It's a reminder that there's no monoliths, be it young people or any other category.

And Joe Biden has criticism for his crime policies in '94. She has criticism for even more recent ones.

But, as we pointed out a little bit in our reporting, and we have time to continue this reporting, she also has a big argument about why people who've been in those tough jobs are the reformers.

So, a lot to get to, Jason. We will be coming back to you. Thank you for being part of the coverage tonight.

JOHNSON: Thank you so much.

MELBER: Yes, sir.

And Joy Reid is coming up. And THE BEAT we will be back with one more thing.


MELBER: Thanks for watching THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER here on a big night for politics and a historic night for America.

Don't go anywhere, because "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts now.


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