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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, August 19, 2020

Guests: Cecile Richards, John Legend, Peter Neronha, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Barbara Lee


John Legend discusses performing for the Democratic National Convention and the presidential race. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha discusses the Trump administration's efforts to impact the Postal Service. California Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks out. Senator Kamala Harris is set to formally accept the Democratic nomination for vice president. Where does the progressive movement stand in the Democratic Party?


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I'm Ari Melber.

It is a historic and groundbreaking night by any measure, because the first black woman on a major-party ticket, Senator Kamala Harris, will be formally accepting the nomination for vice president by the Democrats at their convention tonight.

Everyone knows Biden picked her, but this is the actual way that the first black president in history and the first vice presidential candidate in history will be presented to the nation tonight.

Obama will be closing the night. I'm sure you heard that by now, Democrats very excited about this. And it will be a live speech from Philadelphia making the case for Biden.

We are just in our newsroom -- you know how this works. Sometimes, they give us little clues. We're just getting new excerpts from Obama's speech. This is as prepared.

So let me tell you what we're learning, Barack Obama planning to unleash some withering attacks on Donald Trump, saying: "I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously," the former president intends to say tonight -- quote -- "But he never did. He's shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in treating the presidency has anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves," Obama says about his successor.

Going on to say tonight -- this is in the prepared remarks that we just got -- quote -- "Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job, because he can't. And the consequences of that failure are severe."

Those are just some of the excerpts, some of the clues, Democrats eager to hear the rest of the speech live.

The DNC plan is basically two big-name Democrats trying to mobilize and unify this party at this inflection point. It will be a contrast, of course, in style from how they began the first two days of the convention, which featured some progressives, like Sanders and AOC, as well as Republicans crossing party lines to say they like Joe Biden.

Now, this is what's on display as team Trump launches, meanwhile, a new action plan. These are actual things they're doing, not just Trump's tweets or whatnot, in the fight over your right to vote.

And I want you to know exactly what's going on tonight. The Trump campaign is filing suit against a second state. First, it was Nevada, now today New Jersey, a lawsuit that literally tries to stop that state from its current lawful plan of simply distributing ballots to registered voters, so they can exercise their right to vote.

This is a move by the state here that wants to make sure, given the pandemic, people know about their rights to mail in a ballot. In 2000, everyone remembers those legal battles. They were huge. They transfixed the nation. The hanging chads had everyone hanging in suspense over who would be president.

But think about this tonight, as we're in the middle of this convention season. All of that drama, all those legal clashes, those came in the days after Election Day.

Right now, as we're keeping an eye on both conventions, but long before the debates, the voting, the general election, we are into major legal clashes, some initiated by the Trump administration over your right to vote, and how the Postal Service will process the ballots that many people will use to exercise their right to vote.

This is not normal. This is not the normal timeline. And this is an important fight.

Here's Maryland's attorney general on Trump's postmaster general.


BRIAN FROSH (D), MARYLAND ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't trust him. And I think he's got to do more than write us a letter, a letter filled with all kinds of classifiers and weasel words.


MELBER: Now, let's be clear. There is nothing new about an uphill battle to exercise the right to vote in America.

Indeed, as we think about tonight's convention, Barack Obama and Kamala Harris have both spoken out publicly about how they themselves weren't even supposed to reach the heights they have in politics, based on the way voting works in America.

Well, tonight, they will speak as Donald Trump makes it clear with his words, but, more importantly, with his campaign's actions and these new lawsuits, that he plans to try to cling to power by restricting your right to vote.

I want to bring in our experts. Errin Haines is editor at large for The 19th, a newsroom the reports on gender and politics and policy in America, Cecile Richards, co-founder of the women's civic group Supermajority, former president of Planned Parenthood, and California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

She represented her state in that roll call -- right there, you see it -- to nominate Joe Biden last night in the tour across America. She was also a delegate for another groundbreaking candidate, Shirley Chisholm, at the 1972 DNC back in Miami.

Congresswoman, as they say, memories.

REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): Yes, in my very first convention, actually right when I registered to vote, when the former -- when Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who ran for president as the first African-American, first woman to run for president, I registered to vote, became a Shirley Chisholm delegate, went on to Miami.

And the rest is history. But I tell you one thing. She encouraged me. She told us why we needed, as women, as women of color, as African-American women, to get involved in the political process, and how we had to stand our ground, how we had to get on the inside and not to play by the rules, but to change the rules, and don't go along to get along, but to change not only the rules where we are in terms of breaking barriers, but do it for other women.

And so she has passed the baton to now our vice presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris. And I know Shirley Chisholm is shining and smiling -- excuse me -- and her face is bright and shining, as Kamala Harris accepts the nomination.

MELBER: So, as you think about that bridge, as you say, from her to Harris, against the backdrop of this crackdown on voting, coming, as I emphasized, so early, what do you think is important for people to understand?

Because there are those who are worried that Donald Trump has gotten away with so much. Would he get away with this?

LEE: Well, I tell you, we're prepared.

First of all, I think people understand now what we talk about when we mean -- what we mean when we talk about voter suppression. This is another effort to suppress the vote. He's -- again, he's not going to get away with it.

What he's trying to do is to use the Postal Service as his own vehicle to stop people from voting. But, also, the Postal Service not only ensures that we exercise our rights to vote and our constitutional rights to vote. They actually have been the agency that helps deliver medicines to our veterans, to sick people.

They -- some people still use the Postal Service for writing letters and cards. Our seniors love the Postal Service. So it doesn't make any sense what he's doing. I think people see it for what it is. This is a constitutional issue that he's trying to violate in terms of constitutional rights.

And so we're prepared. We're going back on Saturday. We're going to pass the Delivering for America Act. And we're going to put $25 billion -- at least the House is going to do this, which the Board of Governors -- the poster Board of Governors asked for, Trump appointees, $25 billion for the Postal Service.

MELBER: I think the congresswoman, who obviously has deep experience here, but, happily, on these big nights, we have big, big bookings. And she's not the only one with some history.

Cecile Richards, we would be remiss on a big convention night if we didn't reflect and honor a Democrat many, many people remember and the way your mother used the podium at the convention. Let's take a look.


FMR. GOV. ANN RICHARDS (D-TX): After listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.


A. RICHARDS: He's after a job that he can't appointed to. Poor George. He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.



MELBER: Cecile, your reflections on the personal and the political?

Because these conventions speeches, they play decades later because some of them really break through.


Well, I mean, it's incredible to think of it. I love hearing Congresswoman Lee's recounting of being a Shirley Chisholm delegate, because, when mom made that speech, that keynote, she was only the second woman in history to be the keynote for the Democratic National Convention.

Of course, the first was Barbara Jordan, another incredible Texan who broke so many barriers. And I guess I have been, of course, thinking about mom a lot, one, how completely thrilled she would be that Senator Harris is going -- this is Senator Harris' night tonight.

And I actually think -- I have been watching the convention all week. I think it has been dominated by women, obviously, Michelle Obama, an incredible speech the first night, last night, Jill Biden, Stacey Abrams, tonight, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker who has literally been the one person to stand in the breach here with Donald Trump and take him on, on every single issue.

And it's -- to me, it feels like our time has come. And the -- it's important that you tell people about everything that Donald Trump is doing to try to take away the ability of people to vote, I think it's important to remember, you don't do that when you're ahead.

This is a man who is losing. He's losing all across America. And he's largely losing because of women. And women are organizing. They have been organizing since he was elected. And they're going to make the difference in November, and nothing would make Ann Richards prouder.

MELBER: Really striking to hear both of your reflections.

Now, Haines, we keep it real here on THE BEAT, so real talk.

ERRIN HAINES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: We do. We do keep it real. So, let's keep it real.


MELBER: As reporters, Errin and I do not have the level of experience of these other two guests I mentioned. We just haven't been in the game that long.

But, Errin, you're out here as a new voice that we have had on our show this year. You have launched The 19th. And, interestingly, Kamala Harris came to you and -- speak to your publication and the work you guys are doing. So let's take a look at some of the new school. This was your recent interview with her.


HAINES: Did you feel that Joe Biden needed to choose a black woman or a woman of color as his running mate?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Joe Biden had the audacity to choose a black woman to be his running mate, breaking one of the most substantial barriers that has existed in our country, and that he made that decision with whatever risks that brings.


MELBER: What did you glean from her in that interview? And what do you think is important for her to say in what is obviously, I can't overstate, the biggest speech of Kamala Harris' life tonight?

HAINES: Absolutely, Ari.

And I will tell you, I mean, I am a student of history. And people like Congresswoman Lee and Cecile Richards certainly helped me to sound smarter in my reporting, and so hearing from them and their reflections has certainly been useful to me on the campaign trail in the primary and headed into November.

But listen, I mean, Senator Harris is also somebody who recognizes the historic moment that she is in, tying herself in the interview that I had with her on Friday to the centennial of women's suffrage, which we celebrated yesterday, but also noting, as we note at The 19th, that it was my mostly white women who gained access to the franchise, as black women were sacrificed and, frankly, had to work twice as hard for their access to the vote, which came with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and which black women have had to defend, frankly, in virtually every generation since, including headed into this November.

But, listen, I mean, I have covered Senator Harris for the better part of a year-and-a-half, including when she launched her candidacy for president last year, in the spirit of Shirley Chisholm. And so I think that what you're seeing tonight is a theme of firsts, obviously, Hillary Clinton first woman nominated for a major-party presidential nomination, Barack Obama, the first black president, and now Senator Kamala Harris, the first woman of color nominated on a major-party ticket for vice president.

And so a lot of the voters that I talked to this year told me they were making a head-vs.-heart decision over -- prioritizing defeating Donald Trump over potentially making history.

And this year, what Democrats are saying is that voters have an opportunity to do both.

MELBER: And, Congresswoman Lee, what do you think is important tonight in this convention? You're obviously a part of it. We just showed that.

But in both hitting Trump, which is what you have to do any time you run against an incumbent, putting outside a vision, and then dealing with these voter issues and voter suppression. Because, on the one hand, the pressure has worked. We have been documenting how Speaker Pelosi's pressure worked so far in getting concessions in the Postal Service under Trump.

And yet you don't typically -- or tell me if you disagree -- want to spend the whole convention night talking about just the downer of ballot access, when you want to outline a vision.

LEE: No, I think, tonight, we're going to hear Senator Harris really not only define herself to people, tell us who she is. A lot of people don't know her history, her background.

I have known her for many years, and she's got a wonderful, wonderful history. And how she has been working and been prepared for this moment. She is prepared to take on the challenges of the country. She's prepared to help retool this entire pandemic response and make sure that people have an equitable and just recovery from this terrible pandemic.

And so it's that balance, I think, that she's going to present. And, also, she is a person who people can relate to. And I think people will see tonight that not only is she brilliant in terms of policies, but she also tries to unify people.

And she is a person that -- and I just have to share this quick story. When she was running for the Senate, my mother had passed, and we were on the campaign trail. And she offered her condolences, and I broke out in tears.

And she went backstage with me. And she counseled me. And she told me what the grieving process was all about. And she told me -- and we compared notes about the hospitalization and the care, and just as women whose mothers had passed away and who we loved and cared for dearly.

And so she's a woman who can relate to the challenges and the aspirations of everyday people. And so she knows how to balance all of these issues. She's a woman. She's a woman of African descent. She's a woman of Indian descent, and she is an African-American, Indian-American woman. So she gets it.

And I think the country is going to be so proud of what she says tonight and how she moves forward to be our vice president.

MELBER: Well, it's certainly going to be a close-up. I appreciate the point you're raising that these are all people.

And it's such a personal decision who people vote for and how we understand who these people are. We're going to learn hopefully a little more about that tonight.

Congresswoman Lee, Cecile Richards, and Errin Haines, my thanks to each of you.

We are going to take our shortest break of the hour, just 30 seconds.

When we come back, new details on Obama's speech.

Also, the man who performed at the DNC last night, John Legend, live on THE BEAT tonight making his debut. We can't wait for that.

But, first, news from an attorney general taking legal action against these voter suppression plans.

I'm Ari Melber. You're watching a special edition of THE BEAT. We will be back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Trump is being sued over these voter suppression plans, 14 different states alleging that Donald Trump and the directions he's given to the Postal Service basically make changes that are illegal, both procedurally and substantively.

Postmaster General DeJoy accused of taking action after repeated statements from Trump that reveal an improper, illegal and -- quote -- "partisan political motive" to restrict the vote.

Now, these attorneys general are moving forward even after DeJoy did, as we have been reporting, back off, under pressure from the House, as well as street protests. They say they're going full steam ahead. They want to ask courts to force him to keep his word and also roll back these other limits.

So, let's get right into it with someone in the center of the action.

I'm joined by Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha, one of the attorneys general part of this lawsuit.

Let's begin with the biggest legal question, which may be dry, but, as you know, is super important. Do you still have a problem, a thing you're suing over, if this Trump official is telling the truth, and they have backed off?

PETER NERONHA, RHODE ISLAND ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, there are two things really, Ari.

One is to make sure that they follow through with these promises and go forward and make sure that there aren't changes we're concerned about. But we also want them, as we allege in the lawsuit, to reverse the changes they have already made.

They -- the administration, the postmaster general, has already taken action which will impact the reliability of our Postal Service, which we need to conduct a mail ballot election in this in this COVID pandemic we're in, not necessarily all mail ballots, but many more mail ballots than we have had in the past. We have got to have a great Postal Service.

We want them to reverse the changes that they have made that have negatively impacted that service.

MELBER: As an attorney, I'm sure you could agree with the evidentiary claim that Donald Trump admitting his guilty plans and saying stupid things helps your case, yes?

NERONHA: Well, look, there's the old adage circumstantial evidence is as good as direct evidence.

The president occasionally gives a little bit of both. And he's done that here.


MELBER: Yes, so let me press you on that.

This is where I'm going with that. I think viewers are well familiar with Donald Trump doing that. I mean, he talked his way into getting impeached, when many House Democrats, as everyone remembers initially, weren't jumping at that. And he certainly talked his way -- and we quoted your lawsuit accurately, noting that.

The question to you here is, above and beyond that, do you have and do you need any other direct evidence that this is political meddling at the post office, not just a wider cutback, for your case?

NERONHA: No, not necessarily.

Look, the bottom line is, is that when you inject change in the Postal Service that has negative repercussions, you have got to go before the Postal Regulatory Commission to announce what those changes are and get approval. The administration bypassed that completely.

And by doing that, they broke the law. There are constitutional claims that are asserted as well. But the law is really simple about that. You want to make a big change in the Postal Service that's going to impact reliability, you got to go get an opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission.

That's the law. They didn't do it.


MELBER: I'm only slowing you down because you're running through so much law so quickly. I'm just going to slow you down.

You're saying, even if you don't direct smoking gun evidence of them trying to stop Democratic votes, even though the president's talked about that, but you don't have them doing that, you're saying you don't need it, because they also violated the legal process requirements anyway.

NERONHA: Correct. Right.

If you're going to change the way the Postal Service does business in a negative way -- and the postmaster general has acknowledged that. He said, we have made transformative changes that are having unintended consequences.

Well, those unintended consequences are obviously negative. When you do that, you have got to go to the Postal Regulatory Commission to get approval for that change. They didn't do it. And so, as a result, they broke the law, and that's a big part of our lawsuit.

MELBER: And you know there's one more thing we got to get into and that's the calamari. You understand that, right?




MELBER: You know this wouldn't be a thorough cross-examination without that.

Let's take a look at this moment that's actually gone viral from the roll call.


STATE REP. JOSEPH MCNAMARA (D-RI): The calamari comeback state of Rhode Island cast one vote for Bernie Sanders and 34 votes for the next president, Joe Biden.


MELBER: What's the whole deal with the calamari?

NERONHA: Well, look, my former U.S. attorney colleagues from around the country were really pinging me with that one, including some of your friends, Joyce Vance, and others.


NERONHA: We have great seafood here in Rhode Island, and calamari is our state appetizer, and so I guess the party chairman thought that was a way to bring a little attention to our great state.

It is a great state. We love our seafood. And I'm proud of where I live.

MELBER: We're appropriately zoomed in on the calamari from that shot, because we take our -- all of our reporting evidence seriously.

Is there a link between calamari and comeback, or is it just an alliteration?

NERONHA: I suspect it's an alliteration.

I think the party chair, Party Chair McNamara, kept that pretty closely held. I don't think many people knew he was going to do that. So you may want to follow up with him.


MELBER: While, you're giving us -- as we say in the business, you're giving us leads for other angles and stories we can work on.

Peter Neronha, with a very clear explanation of why you think you're going to beat Trump on this case, including why you have more than one door to go through, so it's really interesting. I'm glad you gave us the background, sir.

NERONHA: Thanks, Ari. Thanks for having me on.

MELBER: Thank you. We'd love to have you back.

Up ahead, we have a special look at some of former President Obama's most devastating attacks on Donald Trump -- why people are expecting a big speech from him tonight at the DNC.

We are literally going to dig into our video crates.

And, later, I'm thrilled to tell you that the DNC performer and award-winning musician John Legend, also an outspoken activist, will be here live on THE BEAT tonight.


MELBER: Here's an inconvenient question, but we ask all kinds of questions.

Do political conventions really even matter that much? Some say, in modern days, they don't, even before you get to virtual. But just ask Barack Obama that question, because he famously catapulted to national fame by using a 2004 convention address.

And, tonight, he goes back on that stage, because these addresses matter. You're on every channel speaking to the whole nation. He's now the former president live from Philadelphia, a place that he picked because of its place in history, the birthplace of American democracy.

Now, we're learning right now, hours away, a little bit more about what Obama is going to do. Sources tell NBC that he will up the intensity and ferocity against Trump.

A preview of tonight's address, Obama also -- this is a preview we got -- will say Trump's "shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends."

Obama in these new prepared remarks that we have received an excerpt of will also say that the president currently has -- quote -- "no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show he can use to get the attention he craves."

As they say in politics, snap.

Now, when Obama did leave the White House, he did emphasize the special role he saw for a former president and said he generally was not going to speak out all the time against his replacement, Donald Trump, unless something called for it.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to be respectful of the office and give the president-elect an opportunity to put forward his platform without somebody popping off in every instance.


MELBER: Classic Obama, respectful, thoughtful, and plenty of little pauses in there.

So, he doesn't pop off all the time. But we're four years later. The country faces a huge choice between Donald Trump and Barack Obama's handpicked person to be president if he couldn't. That's a big thing, when you remember that's who Obama chose, Joe Biden.

And now we're hearing a lot more from Barack Obama. Indeed, he doesn't mention Trump by name, but he has ratcheted up criticism about what he thinks Donald Trump is doing to put everyone on notice.

And, sometimes, it's blistering.


OBAMA: We're supposed to stand up to bullies, not follow them.

It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.

This pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing. A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge.

There are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election.


MELBER: So, we know who Barack Obama is talking about, but, as a careful and thoughtful leader, he doesn't always go for political.

Indeed, one thing we still aren't likely to see tonight is the way then powerful President Obama treated then joke-inside-the-room civilian Donald Trump during a White House Correspondents Dinner.


OBAMA: No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald.


OBAMA: And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like, did we fake the moon landing?


OBAMA: And where are Biggie and Tupac?




MELBER: Funny. Devastating.

And here's the thing about politics. That night, Obama and the Democrats had a big laugh at Donald Trump's expense. But, later, it was Donald Trump and his allies that had the next laugh, because, underestimating him and joking about him didn't stop him from winning the Electoral College.

Tonight, it's Obama's turn again, telling everyone why he thought then Joe Biden would be a good replacement and why he still thinks that tonight.

All eyes on it.

Now, when we come back, there is new buzz around what Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did with her DNC speech and the future of the party.

But, first, John Legend, fresh from the DNC stage, joins us live.


MELBER: Tonight, the DNC kicks into high gear with these speeches by Kamala Harris and Barack Obama.

He is, as mentioned, a convention pro who burst on the national scene at that very first DNC appearance he ever made in 2004. He was little known then, but he returned to the DNC four years later to accept the nomination, then winning the election by uniting a diverse and broad-based coalition.

Rallying the winning coalition is what Democrats want to do right now. They want to reassemble it and unite the traditional voting blocs that have always stood with the Democrats in the modern era with diverse and youth turnout. That's what Obama managed to unlock in his election.

And it's one reason the first-term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has drawn so much buzz and why Democrats handed her the ceremonial role of seconding the Sanders nomination.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): A movement striving to recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny and homophobia, and to propose and build reimagined systems of immigration and foreign policy that turn away from the violence and xenophobia of our past.


MELBER: High visibility for a first-term member of Congress.

And in D.C., it's worth remembering many initially underestimated her appeal. In 2015, many D.C. insiders also didn't think Bernie Sanders would win more support than more well-known senators two presidential cycles in a row.

In fact, before Cortez won her midterm election to Congress, some progressive leaders were touting her potential. Cortez offers a -- quote -- "powerful evidence of the young progressive energy propelling the Democratic Party into the future."

That was "Nation" editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel writing in 2018, when she noted -- quote -- "Most insiders didn't view the 28-year-old Democratic socialist as a serious threat to Congressman Crowley, but her rise is a huge story the Trump-obsessed media establishment largely missed."

Much of that proved true.

And joining us now is Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of "The Nation" and my former boss. Her most recent piece in "The Washington Post" says, "Progressives, get ready to push Biden and Harris" and calls for an action plan.

Good to see you. Good evening to you.


I mean, I -- yes.


MELBER: No, go.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I was going to say, no, AOC is the face, in a sense, of this progressive insurgent movement.

This is a party in transition, Ari. I mean, we need to build -- we need to defeat Donald Trump. We need to build a coalition. I am not -- if you want to bring these Republicans to the Democratic Convention, OK, but what about the ascendant progressive wing of this party?

It deserves more time. I mean, AOC should have gotten more time, in my mind. And it seems to me that giving Republicans more time than Latinx members of this party is not a way to energize an ascendant base.

And I think it is ascendant. And it's not just because of AOC. You have an infrastructure being built right now, Ari. We have talked about it, an insurgent infrastructure that is funding these progressive Candidates, Justice Democrats, Working Families Party, People's Actions, Change of Color PAC.

These -- this is an alternative to the DNC. And I think it's going to be the energy of this future. Got to build a coalition right now. Got to defeat -- Biden -- as I write, defeat Trump. And then you need a bold agenda to move -- not only to move people, but to be in sync with the crises of this time.

So I would say one thing was that you had many delegates who had supported Bernie Sanders who really did wake up this country. I mean, people couldn't believe he did so well in the first round, but many delegates of Bernie Sanders voted against the platform, many of them because of -- it didn't include Medicare for all, which 88 percent of Democrats support.

And I think that is a no-brainer in these times.

MELBER: Yes, you mentioned the bridge. And we were hearing from Michael Moore about some of this.

And he had an interesting phrase about respect the future and agreed with you about a little too much-backward looking bipartisanship. Take a look.


MICHAEL MOORE, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: This is the future of the Democratic Party, and it's the future of this country. And it should be respected, because it is the way we're going.

The majority of this country, every poll you guys show, they want universal health care, they want $15-an-hour minimum wage, they want women to have control over their own bodies.

Go down the whole damn list. It's the liberal position that the majority of Americans want. And, as Trump said, one of his rare honest moments, when he said that, when more people vote, Republicans lose.


MELBER: Katrina.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, I agree with Michael Moore, except I would say, to paraphrase someone, the old order is disappearing, the new one is not yet fully born.

And I think we're in this transition moment. And I think we have to respect that. I do believe the progressive wing is ascendant. But I also live in New York City. And I'm aware there's a very -- there is a diverse, but also another country out there.

I believe the energy of the future is with progressives, because it's not -- it's a social democratic. It's not socialist. It's what Western industrialized countries have. It's a safety net that doesn't mean that parents can't work if schools are out, because schools have become child care, schools have become food security for millions of people.

It doesn't mean that, if you get sick, as we saw last night in the -- and I thought it was quite wonderful, by the way, the roll call. I mean, this virtual convention has some wonderful moments.

But there was a worker at a meatpacking plant in Nebraska who said: I don't have sick -- paid sick leave.

That's not the sign of a humane country. So, I just think that the next generation is more socially tolerant, but also there's a multiracial populism, not Trump populism, but a populism of economic justice that is in sync, if we're going to meet the economic crisis we confront at this time, Ari.

MELBER: Right.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I mean, think of the jobless numbers. It's like it is New Deal time. It is Great Depression time.

MELBER: Right.

Well, and, as you say, Katrina, it's coursing through with a figurehead of the party who himself admits that he is of an older and a different generation, but, as you say, on economy, race, student debt, climate, so many on these issues, it's looking for something else.

I have to fit in a break for John Legend, but we will be coming back to you throughout our coverage this campaign cycle.

My thanks to Katrina.

And when we come back, John Legend fresh from the DNC stage on THE BEAT tonight.


MELBER: Conventions are about much more than just politicians.

In fact, some of the most memorable moments can turn on real people, civilians who are not full-time pols or cultural leaders, which is why Democrats are going back to a popular convention performer.

John Legend is in the rare EGOT club, winner of an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, and then the many Grammys.

Meanwhile, on policy and civil rights, Legend has applied both his work and his public voice to justice reform. For many years, he was involved in this. That's before this summer's protests reminded some Americans of systemic issues in policing and criminal justice.

And then, politically, Democrats know both Legend and his wife, well-known personality Chrissy Teigen, as strong Obama allies. Back before, when the then senator was out on the campaign trail, it was Legend performing, remember this, "Yes, We Can," as the finale to that huge outdoor 2008 DNC.

And in the Trump era, the couple's advocacy has upset this president, earning Twitter tirades that I'm not going to repeat here. Many do say, though, that Teigen won the last round of trash talk on that medium.

Now, Legend is back on the big stage, as we have mentioned tonight, for Joe Biden. He just had the honor of closing out night two of the convention with a performance of his song "Never Break."

The award-winning musician and DNC performer John Legend joins us live now, making his debut on THE BEAT.

Thanks for being here.

JOHN LEGEND, MUSICIAN: Hey, Ari. How are you?

MELBER: I'm good.

How are you doing?

LEGEND: I'm doing great.

I'm so glad that we got to hear some more of my song on MSNBC, because I heard through the grapevine that I was cut off last night.


MELBER: Do you want to speak on that?


LEGEND: I don't know. I don't think it was your decision, Ari.

But it was a decision made by somebody at one of my favorite channels on the television.


LEGEND: I was so hurt.

MELBER: I hear you, and I feel you.

And your inference -- we don't discuss certain internal policies, but your inference about me, as a John Legend fan, is probably on the right track.

Let's get into it, because here you are on night three, and you are on MSNBC.

And I want to read a few of the lines just for you to walk us through why you picked this, what you're saying to us, because, in that same song that you chose, you say: "I'm not worried about us. And I have never been. No matter what may come our way, we will never break."


LEGEND: Well, it's a song about resilience.

It's a song about hope. And it's a song about the power of love to get us through tough times. And I'm an optimistic person by nature. And I know America is going through an extremely tough time right now.

But I really do believe that we have it within us to get through this together. We have to make the right choices. We have to do the right things, but I believe we can do it. And that's really what that song says.

MELBER: Yes. And we saw and felt the way you set it up and the socially distanced choir.

And some of your other work, like a lot of artists right now, is doing what artists do, which is being raw and real and helping us all feel our way through this, this tough time.

Let's play a little bit for folks who haven't seen your music video "Big Love."




MELBER: What are you sharing there? What do you want people to take from that?

LEGEND: Well, we shot that video right at the beginning of the time when everybody was quarantining.

I wrote these songs before we knew what 2020 had in store, but that song felt like it would be a good pick-me-up for people. And so we asked our fans all around the world, from six continents, all the ones where people can live, and we ask them to submit their videos.

And they sent them in. They were dancing. They were showing love to their neighbors and their community members. And we just thought it was a celebration of love that we could all use.

And it's one of my favorite videos I have made, because it really just shows so much love and community across the world.

MELBER: I'm curious.

As someone who is so involved in this political space, and who has fans and followers, I think people understand that you have people who look to you, and you have given a lot of thought to your voice.

What do you say to people who honestly, for whatever reason, say Joe Biden wasn't their first or second choice in this primary? Maybe they are disinclined to Donald Trump, but they're not yet enthused about him. What do you say?

LEGEND: Well, I supported Elizabeth Warren in the primary, and she didn't win. Joe Biden won. He was the choice of the Democratic Party.

And that doesn't mean he was the choice of a few elites in the Democratic Party. He was the choice of the people in the Democratic Party. He went to South Carolina and won by a lot. He went to a bunch of other states and won by a lot.

That means a bunch of people in this Democratic coalition decided that he was the best person to represent the party. He wasn't my first choice, but he's the representative for our party.

And what that means, when you elect someone to represent your party, we have got to all rally around that person and say, he's got an agenda that's going to move this country forward. He's got a progressive agenda. He's worked with Elizabeth Warren's campaign.

He's worked with Bernie Sanders' campaign. He's brought in some of their best ideas, and is incorporating them into his platform. And the alternative is to have four more years of Trump.

And the combination of him having a great platform that's incorporated a lot of these progressive ideas and the alternative, that Trump could wreak havoc on this nation with four more years of power and his perceived impunity after all the crimes and missteps he's committed, that would be just a terrible decision.

So, I think, between the pluses of picking Biden and the minuses of allowing four more years of Trump, I think it's a very clear, easy decision for anyone who's progressive to make.

MELBER: Well, now let's get into the other side.

I mentioned some of the public battles between Trump and you and, frankly, your family. And we know that's how he does.


MELBER: But, on the policy side, which I just happen to know and a lot of people know, you care a lot about this and justice reform.

Next week, Donald Trump is going to feature at his convention Alice Johnson. And for folks who don't remember, here's how they have been touting her. They bought a whole Super Bowl ad about this case. Take a look.


ALICE JOHNSON, RELEASED FROM PRISON: Start over. This is the greatest day of my life. My heart is just bursting with gratitude.

I want to thank President Donald John Trump.


MELBER: And she's speaking next week.

What do you say to the president and his allies who point to her as a case of someone that he helped and that she's going to be effectively making the case for his reelection next week?

LEGEND: Well, I have so much respect for Alice and all that she's been through in our criminal justice system.

There are so many people who've been locked up for far too long. And any time any one of those folks can become free and go back to their families, I think it's a cause for celebration.

But you have to weigh the entire record of a president when you're deciding to reelect them and give them another four years in control.

And part of Donald Trump's record is releasing a certain number of prisoners last year. However, another part of his record is that 170,000 people have died from COVID-19 under his watch. Another part of his record is that he said there were good people on both sides when Nazis and hate-mongers were marching through Charlottesville.

Another part of his record is, he's been a bigot his entire career, a misogynist his entire career.

And so, when you weigh the good and the bad of Donald Trump, the bad far outweighs the good.

MELBER: Yes, it's an interesting and very thoughtful response, given that we expect, the same way they did at the Super Bowl, that's going to be a whole thing when they feature that next week.

And, as you mentioned, there's individual cases, and then there's, writ large, most people have not gotten...

LEGEND: And...

MELBER: Go ahead. I was just going to say, have not gotten the leniency under this Barr Justice Department that she got.

Go ahead, sir.

LEGEND: Well, if they were going to testify against President Trump, they got leniency. So, he was very specific about the way he used leniency to buy off people's silence.

But, anyway, what I think most people should take from this whole experience with the FIRST STEP Act is that the federal government has very little control over how the criminal justice system is run. And so the key, when we want criminal justice reform, is to pay attention to state and local politics.

We have to elect progressive DAs in our communities. We have to make sure we have governors and state legislatures that are passing laws that will be reformed-minded, because most of the prisoners and people who are in jail right now are there because of state and county laws.

And so folks need to be paying attention to all of that. Federal stuff matters, but most of the action when it comes to criminal justice reform and most of the impact is on the local and state level.

MELBER: So important, what you say, big facts, because a lot of that is, you got to ask everyone running for governor and state legislature, if you care about these issues in your state, about those issues.

John Legend...

LEGEND: And your attorneys. District attorneys are huge. We have focused a lot on that.

MELBER: And, of course, your local DAs.

John Legend, let me put it down like this. As you referenced in the beginning of the interview, you are talking to a fan, as well as a journalist. So, I'm so glad you came on. I hope you will come back.

And let me tell everyone, the new album is "Bigger Love."

LEGEND: Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you, sir. Good luck.

That does it for us tonight.



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