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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, December 15, 2020

Guests: John Flannery, Salman Rushdie, Sally Kohn


Senator Mitch McConnell finally acknowledges that Joe Biden is the president-elect. Joe Biden campaigns in Georgia for the Senate run-off election candidates. Attorney General Bill Barr gets set to leave the Justice Department following his rocky tenure. Author Salman Rushdie discusses autocracy and truth and lies with Trumpism.



Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we begin with this fact. Some Republicans are finally publicly breaking with Donald Trump's denial and 2020 plotting to overturn the election, which, of course, has hit a brick wall. We're seeing more and more of the supporters that the president has had the Republican Party start to come to grips, at least slowly, with reality.

Take Mitch McConnell, who you know hasn't broken with Donald Trump on basically most anything throughout these four years. Well, this is news. He's gone down to the Senate floor to reference the truth.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The Electoral College has spoken.

So, today, I want to congratulate president-elect Joe Biden. The president-elect is no stranger to the Senate. He's devoted himself to public service for many years.

I also want to congratulate the vice president-elect, our colleague from California Senator Harris.


MELBER: That's pretty standard Senate floor stuff. The issue, of course, is not what he said, but when he said it, a month out from this election, and now Mitch McConnell stepping up and acting like today was the first day he could give that kind of ceremonial nod.

Now, it's striking. We don't pick the timing around here. We just report on it. But right before McConnell's admission came on from Vladimir Putin, one of the few major heads of state to withhold a statement about what has been resolved, that president-elect Biden will become the president in January.

The Kremlin had withheld the message because of, yes, Donald Trump's ongoing legal fight, however farfetched they were. When even Vladimir Putin is saying Trump has lost, well, you know he's lost.

That doesn't mean that Donald Trump will concede. He has not formally done that, although he's made more and more references to the inevitable, including this week's reference to the -- quote, unquote -- "Biden administration."

But Trump wants some sort of last stand in Congress. We have more on that later tonight.

Meanwhile, top aides and even right-wing media allies still pretending there's some way this isn't over.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The only date in the Constitution is January 20. So we have more than enough time to right the wrong of this fraudulent election result and certify Donald Trump as the winner of the election.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is still involved in ongoing litigation related to the election. Yesterday's vote was one step in the constitutional process.

MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS: Challenging election results, as we await today's Electoral College decision, an intel source telling me that President Trump did, in fact, win the election.


MELBER: That's a very loose use of the term "in fact," because that's false. It's not a fact.

And you have Donald Trump, of course, worried about the framing, the presentation of something that he can't control, because he will no longer be president. Axios now reporting Trump tells aides: "If we don't win, I don't say lose. I say I don't win."

Take that word strategy for what it's worth.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has had enough.

We have reported here, and some have even said he's been too diplomatic, too nice about this. Well, here's Joe Biden really hitting a no we haven't seen before during the transition.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: The Trump campaign brought dozens and dozens and dozens of legal challenges to test the result. They were heard again and again. And each of the time they were heard, they were found to be without merit.

The court sent a clear signal to President Trump that they would be no part of an unprecedented assault on our democracy.

And now it is time to turn the page, as we've done throughout our history, to unite, to heal.


MELBER: Our coverage begins tonight with presidential historian Jon Meacham. He does unofficially advise Joe Biden from time to time, so we note that for context. Michelle Goldberg from "The New York Times," and Sally Kohn, a writer and Democratic strategist, depending on the year.

Good to see all of you.

Sally, I think of you for your political insights. And I wonder what you see in this moment, where so much that should be normal ceremony, the electors yesterday, these things that happen on the Senate floor, has become itself imbued with something more because of all the denial.

SALLY KOHN, WRITER/ACTIVIST: There's one way of looking at it, which is that, right? We sort of had this sense of normalcy, and now that's torn asunder.

And another way of looking at this is that this has actually been the normal operating procedure for Republicans for decades. And they are showing yet again they don't care about the rule of law, they don't care about the rule of the voters. In fact, the only rule they care about is minority rule, preserving what is, in fact, a small number of economic elites and a small number of social reactionaries' stranglehold on the politics of this country.

And if they -- Mitch McConnell's making a very clear calculus. He couldn't overturn the results of the election. So, now he's going to do what he can to hold a stranglehold over the Georgia outcome and continue to hold the country hostage, I mean, literally holding poor people hostage right before the holidays, not giving any kind of additional extension of benefits and relief to the people in this country who are struggling, because he wants to help big corporations and the super rich.

That has been their rule all along, and they're sticking to it.

MELBER: Well, Sally, I don't say this every time we talk, but, right now, you're channeling a little Mitt Romney, whether you realize it or not.


MELBER: He was a Republican nominee. I mean, he knows the party.

KOHN: Oh, come on.

MELBER: He knows how to win a nomination.

And he spoke about what exactly what you're saying, that Trumpism is not going away. He has in his own way objected to aspects of it at times, and also talking about the prospect of working with Biden.

Given Sally's points, Michelle, take a listen to Romney.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): We need to come together and work together and work with a new president, work with Republicans and Democrats. If you look at the people who are rumored to be thinking of running in 2024, besides the president, those are people who are trying to appeal to kind of a populist approach.

So, I don't think Trumpism is going away.


MELBER: And, Michelle, if Trumpism is not going away, that means that the hate, the demagoguery, and specifically the idea that elections don't have to matter, would presumably, according to Romney, not be going away either in that party.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I also don't think Trumpism is going away.

Obviously, Trumpism was an evolution from a lot of trends that we have seen in the Republican Party since 1964, if not before then, right? He was, in some ways, a departure from the modern right, in that he was more extreme, more blatant, sort of more of an ultranationalist, in the European sense, than what we're used to seeing from the Republican Party.

But his denial of reality, his appeals, like Sally said, to minority rule was just kind of building on a reactionary foundation that was already there.

The question I think that will be interesting going forward is not whether Trumpism goes away, but when Trump himself becomes less useful to the Republican Party. And we're already seeing some of that.

There was a story today in Politico. The Republicans are angry that Trump is sending out fund-raising e-mails for the Georgia Senate run-offs, but I think 75 percent of the money is just going to him, right? He's retweeting people who are saying don't vote in those run-offs and also that the Georgia governor, the Republican governor, should be imprisoned.

He's -- by kind of keeping slander on the Republican governors of Georgia and Arizona, he's hurting two significant figures in the Republican Party. And so, when he's no longer president, there very possibly comes a point at which, for a whole bunch of people in the Republican Party, including those who are hoping to run in 2024, their kind of slavish fealty to Donald Trump isn't going to be a useful strategy anymore, and we might see them change their attitude pretty quickly.


JON MEACHAM, NBC NEWS HISTORIAN: Well, perhaps. It's sort of hard at the moment to extricate Trump from the Republican Party. It's one of the fullest, most complete takeovers one could imagine.

And I think that Trump made his fortune, both literal and figurative, by being a franchiser. And I think it's very striking that you had 60 percent of the House Republican Caucus signing that amicus brief to overturn the election.

Why weren't their senators there? Well, because the House members are worried about primaries that would be unfolding as quickly as 12 to 18 months from now. And so there's a very -- in politics, it's great to think about the principle and try to figure out why we're going where we're going, but it's a safer bet -- and the framers understood this -- to try to figure out, what's the incentive?

And, at this point, the Republican leadership does not yet have an incentive to cooperate with the president-elect or even to acknowledge the president-elect. And so, until enough of the people who voted for President Trump incentivize compromise and governance, we're going to be locked in this cycle.


I mean, Sally, to all these points, there's also just the sheer lack of strategy in Donald Trump's dead end. I mean, saying, well, we won't say I lost, we will say I didn't win, is a pretty meager branding exercise.

And yet the pushback on what was a strategy-less ending, because they didn't have anything other than, OK, keep filing to the Supreme Court. OK, you lose. OK, they won't hear it. Then what?

But Mitch McConnell's getting hit from the right just for saying the obvious. I'm reading here for Mark Levin, who claims, well, "Trump helped you secure your seat," addressing McConnell. "You couldn't even wait until January 6."

I guess that's the new magic respectful snowflake day.

"It's time for fresh thinking and new blood."

The so-called QAnon on candidate, Representative Greene: "The 2020 landslide victory by Trump supporting the Chinese Communist Party takeover of America."

It goes on. We put three together, but I got to tell you, I'm not supposed to talk like this, but, Sally, I'm exhausted after just reading two of them, to be honest.

KOHN: I mean, first of all, I'm not terribly -- I don't share your surprise that we have a sort of rhetoric -- Orwellian-rhetoric-heavy end to the Trump presidency, and not strategy, because it was a rhetoric-heavy presidency without a strategy.

To go back to what Jon just said, I really think the question here -- yes, there's this huge question for Republicans. Honestly, they're going to tie themselves into knots upon knots trying to figure out how or frankly whether they want to pull themselves away from Trump, given that he (AUDIO GAP) deliver on so much of what they wanted substantively.

For Democrats, I just want to push back on one thing here. The people who turned out and who won this election want change, they want action, they want leadership. And one of the problems the Democrats have always had -- speaking of lack of strategy -- is this sense -- and you still hear it.

And I understand it, I kind of want it too, this return to comity and some sense that that includes compromise and a willingness to work together. We have to accept what has always been true. And I hope we realize now what we should have been well clued into during the Obama administration, when they tried to stonewall him from day one.

And they're certainly (AUDIO GAP) which is, they don't want to compromise. And you can't compromise with a side that doesn't want to compromise. Now, I'm not saying that means you resign yourself to gridlock. But you certainly don't start from a position of placating and pandering, figuring out, how can we sell out and undermine what we believe in what, we know the country needs in this moment, and what the people voted for, out of some sense that, ooh, if we just hope for a Christmas miracle, the Republicans will come to their senses.

I just -- it's that Charlie Brown and the football thing over and over and over again. When are we going to realize that they don't want to play that game?

MELBER: And it counts extra when you say that from...


MELBER: Well, just to say, she was making that point in front of a Christmas tree. And I just wanted to note that, notwithstanding your skepticism for Christmas luck.

KOHN: Thank you.


MELBER: But, Jon Meacham, I will let you respond. You clearly want to.


MELBER: And, also, I think that Sally is putting her finger on the frustration out there, which is, yes, a compromising diplomatic approach to negotiation can be good, but how do you even pretend to engage that when the other side is acting like you're not even president?


But compromise is not a dirty word. In so I'm not saying give in to an implacable opposition. But one of the questions we have to decide is, do you meet Shermanesque tactics with a Shermanesque strategy? Maybe you do. Maybe we're now locked in this Hobbesian universe of, it's always going to be the war of all against all.

But I would suggest that history tells us that there's always opposition, that great progressive leaps come when Democrats do find a way of at least acknowledging the concerns of the other side.

This starts with 1935 and the Social Security Act. Franklin Roosevelt was very careful about how he structured pushing unemployment and old age insurance and one of the most successful programs in the history of the world. Same with Medicare and some of the most important parts of the Great Society.

So, when I say compromise, I don't mean this idea that there's going to be a Valhalla, and Mitch McConnell is suddenly going to be putting up a PowerPoint Deck, saying this is where he's going to give in and this is where Democrats should give in.

But there does need to be a governing conversation, or we're going to be locked in this Shermanesque -- and maybe that's it. But, if so, then it's just going to be this seesaw, and I don't see quite how significant stuff gets passed.

GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, I think that Jon is right. I also don't see how significant stuff gets passed, but I also don't see how you acknowledge the concerns of the other side, when the concerns of the other side are your failure and their ability to maintain power at all costs, when the other side doesn't have a governing agenda, doesn't really care about accomplishing anything substantive, except holding onto power, right?

I mean, that's what we saw with Republicans during Barack Obama. You saw Barack Obama extend a hand again and again and again. And Republicans simply say no. And when you make sort of unity your governing principle or compromise your governing principle, you're giving your power away to nihilists, who can always defeat you simply by saying over and over again no.

And I think that one of the lessons that we have learned from the Donald Trump administration or the Donald Trump experience is that voters care less about these procedural issues and governing norms and kind of separation of powers than they do about results.

And so, if Joe Biden doesn't want to have a failed presidency, it is going to be incumbent on him to use every lever at his disposal to deliver some relief to a country that isn't -- where many people are experiencing such extreme suffering and anxiety right now, and sort of not let an obsession with bipartisanship or an obsession with compromise get in the way of trying to deliver for the American people.

MELBER: All great points.

We're probably not going to resolve the full standoff tonight. But there's definitely something here, with the Democrats having won the White House and held onto the House, so they have those two points of representative government. It may not be on Joe Biden to prove his worthiness to Mitch McConnell. It may be the other way around, if the Senate wants to be relevant, although that depends on the posture that all these parties take.

Michelle, Jon and Sally, thanks for kicking us off tonight.

GOLDBERG: Thank you so much.

KOHN: Nice to see you all.

MELBER: Appreciate each of you.

Coming up after our shortest break, just 30 seconds, we're looking at how Bill Barr is leaving the Justice Department after his rocky tenure.

We also have a legal fact-check later tonight on Donald Trump talking about how he might do something on the election in that congressional vote.

Also tonight, James Carville on the Biden campaign hitting Georgia and a whole lot more.

Plus, later tonight, we end the hour in a big way with Salman Rushdie, the acclaimed author.

A lot more BEAT in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Attorney General Bill Barr has formally resigned. He leaves office next week, a move that shows how Barr differed from so many Republican veterans in Washington, who did find themselves ultimately fired by tweet in this Trump era.

Sources around Barr have been leaking his departure plans for weeks. They're now trying to cast Barr as some kind of independent figure who left clashing with Trump over issues like voter fraud and keeping that newly revealed Hunter Biden probe secret before the election.

Now, let me tell you, having covered this throughout the whole period of the Trump DOJ, this is classic Barr. It's not unlike the gap between Barr's letter that offered a Mueller book report and the actual Mueller report, which is one of the many misleading and political acts that led so many DOJ veterans across both parties demand Barr resign, long before he did this week.

And in addition to that meddling in the Mueller probe, you had meddling in cases regarding Trump allies, while Barr's own resignation letter doubles down on this problem. He falsely describes the Trump DOJ's own Russia probe as an effort "to cripple or oust the Trump administration with frenzied and baseless accusations of collusion."

He adds his salute to Trump's -- quote -- "unprecedented achievements for the American people."

I'm joined now by a former federal prosecutor who has been a keen observer of the Barr Justice Department, John Flannery.

Counselor, good to see you.


MELBER: Well, we have the recency effect. Every lawyer knows that, in trial, you want to leave the jury with that last thought in their mind, and it's probably going to be more effective than what you talked about on the first day, right?

Barr is nothing if not an effective and at times canny lawyer. He leaves pointing and sources pointing to his clashes with Donald Trump. Do you think that's the way to remember him? Or was it a lot more of that earlier loyalty?

FLANNERY: Loyalty, I don't think is the key word for him.

I think the word for him is that he's always believed, as a federalist and somewhat of a Christian cultist, that the people really don't know what's best for them. And so he really does believe in a monarchical kind of government, although it's striking to read his December 14 letter of resignation, which reads a little bit like a hostage letter.

I mean, he's talking about how great this guy was who has abused him in the end because perhaps he couldn't go as far in their bromance and crime as Trump was prepared to go.

And, like you said, there's a whole series of things this man has done right after he assured America he was going to be a great attorney general. Well, he's probably exceeded the most corrupt act of former attorney generals throughout the history of the United States. That's his mark. That is his legacy.

And he did it because he was not the law enforcement officer. He was a mouthpiece for Trump. He did what Trump needed to do for that policy, which I suggest, which I think he embraced, which is a government by fiat. I don't have to listen to you, even Congress. He supported Trump usurping Congress, usurping the courts, analyzing and investigating the investigations that he then misrepresented, as you first said, in the Mueller investigation.

He has been at every place. And I'm among those thousands of prosecutors who said he should resign. Well, he has belatedly, but not for the reasons we said. He's obviously said something else. But, as he's going out the door, he was compromising those convictions, he was compromising our free and fair elections by these bogus statements he made about, we found this fraud.

And somewhere along the line, it seems like there must have been an intervention. Somebody, maybe a good criminal defense lawyer or someone who's concerned about the ethics by which he could retain his bar license said, do you have any idea what you're doing? Do you want to be standing next to this guy when he's flying to Florida on the day of the inauguration or whatever crazy thing he does between now and January 5 or January 6 or January 20?

And Trump, he -- Trump inhales the souls of people and gets them to do things that are their worst possible performances? And he's done that with Barr. I don't know where Barr goes. Would you like to have his resume? He came to this job because he was going to burnish his reputation in his -- what could be his retirement years.

Well, now he's retired, and maybe he's going to spend a lot of time in court and hearings and judicial proceedings that had nothing to do with him running the show.

MELBER: Yes, it's a whole lot of problems in terms of the way he ran DOJ, which is evidenced in just how many objections that were from veterans, as you mentioned, including yourself.

We have a little bit of a comparison here, as we reflect on his legacy. This is Barr and Trump. Take a look.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a complete and total exoneration.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump.

TRUMP: There was no obstruction, and none whatsoever.

BARR: The evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.

TRUMP: This mail-in voting, where they mail indiscriminately millions and millions of ballots to people, you're never going to know who won the election.

BARR: Elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.


MELBER: The last statement being flatly false. The earlier ones are matters of some -- if you want to be as fair as possible, some legal debate about what was found in the Mueller report.


MELBER: But you take it all together, and then the letter that you cite, it struck me as highly unusual and a poor judgment, at the minimum, for a departing attorney general to bring back up the Mueller probe...


MELBER: ... to attack his own DOJ line prosecutors as -- quote, unquote -- "frenzied," when there's still an open review of the Mueller probe, precisely because Mr. Barr leaves with that protected under a special counsel set of rules, as one more sort of -- what appears to be one more sort of legal trap for the next administration.

FLANNERY: Well, the madness of Trump is, on the one hand, he does these things in the open, so we can see it, and it's all out there.

And then he wants everybody to believe it's not what you saw. It really didn't happen. Those 10 charges of obstruction, which are the strongest part of the Mueller report, and which -- and five of which you can take today, put in an indictment, and put against Trump and probably others who are involved in those acts.

But they deny all of that. And it's very interesting. We have a president who interfered in two elections, one to get elected and the second balloons, because America woke up and realized that this man does not care for what's happening to America. He wants to dominate it and run it. He wants to run the party, the courts and everything. And that's not the American soul.

And that's the good news.

MELBER: You know, this won't be the very last time we talk about Bill Barr, but it may be one of the last times we talk about him while he is attorney general, with a few days left.

And, John Flannery, you have given us a lot of insights. And some lawyers, they walk around with the wiggle words. You're pretty clear. I think people know where you stand, sir. We appreciate it.


FLANNERY: Oh, you're not impossible to understand yourself.


FLANNERY: And I want to thank you for what you have done.

The -- no, the information you have given the public has been a critical part of why we had a full and fair election, because it's very hard, in a democracy, when there's an estate that's telling the people what the news is and what's true, to get around that and create a dictatorship.

And that was the strength of America. And that's what Biden said last night. He said that we did it for two reasons. We got past the abuses of power because the people voted and believed in America.

MELBER: All good points. And, yes, if it's three cheers for an independent press and everyone who participates, I join you in that.

John Flannery, I want to thank you.

FLANNERY: Thank you.

MELBER: I have got a lot in the program.

Donald Trump and many enablers going beyond the denial with a new scheme that's going nowhere. We have the legal facts for you, as we try to always do for you. It's an important breakdown later tonight.

Also, Biden in Georgia, the Senate run-offs key to his agenda. And guess who's back? James Carville.

You don't want to miss this right after the break.



BIDEN: Putting food on the table has become a Herculean task for so many.

And what is the United States Senate doing? Nothing. We can get so much done, so much that can make the lives of people of Georgia and the whole country so much better. And we need senators who are willing to do it, for God's sakes.


MELBER: President-elect Biden at a campaign rally for those Democrats who are trying to wrest control of the United States Senate from Mitch McConnell. It all goes down in Georgia.

We are joined now by the campaign legend longtime Democratic strategist James Carville.

Good to see you again, sir.


It's very good to see the president-elect down in Georgia. I think it gave a good support to those Democrats down there. I think it will be helpful. I really do.

MELBER: He hit kitchen table, do-nothing Senate, familiar, but important themes. Your thoughts on what Biden -- say and what Democrats need to do in a state that, while it's changed and it's trending, as we all know, it hasn't put a blue notch in a Senate race in some decades?

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, I was very pleased.

I watched the whole thing today. And what they talked about is things that matter to people. People, if they want to raise the minimum wage, you want to expand health care, you got to get immediate COVID really. Families are suffering out there.

And I thought that the president-elect did a good job. I thought Reverend Warnock did a good job. I thought Jon Ossoff did a good job. And from now on, they have to -- in Washington, they're very concerned about who's at the table. And the rest of the country, they're more concerned about what's on the table.


CARVILLE: And these people are really hurting.

And these Georgia Democrats, under adverse conditions, they have -- the first day of early voting in October, it was 128,000. Yesterday, it was 166,000, of which 33.7 percent were black.

That tells me that they're hitting that targets down there, that people are coming in. There are stories about people being in line two hours before the polls open. And they are really -- they're getting after it, I promise you. And they got a good organization.

I was talking to people today. They are contacting voters who voted in one out of the last three elections. They are going to -- they're not just going with habitual voters. They're trying to expand it. And I think they're doing pretty good so far.

I mean, it's a long way to go, Ari, but I can honestly tell you and our viewers that these people in Georgia, these candidates and these campaigns are doing really well so far.

MELBER: Interesting to hear you ballpark it that way.

Donald Trump has all kinds of reasons why it would probably be better for him if Republicans held the Senate. I don't think I need to enumerate all of them. And yet he's been messing around with this, lying to his own supporters, not prioritizing the actual resources in the Georgia races.

As a Dem, that may be music to your ears. But here's Politico reporting, the reality is, Trump doesn't care about the future of the Republican Party, so if he can raise money off the Georgia run-offs, which he's been doing, misleading his own supporters to enrich his own political plans and keep the money for his own purposes -- quote -- "he will do so."

What do you see there in that story, if anything?

CARVILLE: I see a 100 percent accurate story, based on nothing but 75 years of history of Donald Trump. He's never cared about anything but himself.

The idea that he cares about the Republican Party or he cares if the Republicans control the Senate is ludicrous. Running a fund-raising scam. It's a grift. They keep 75 percent of the money. He can't stop this.

And in his mind, he really doesn't care, because he's not on the ballot.

MELBER: Right.

CARVILLE: And anybody that ever thought he did is just throwing away the entire history of his life.

MELBER: So, that brings us to something else we wanted to ask you about tonight, which is, there's a lot of talk about litmus tests in politics.

You engineered, for example, a Bill Clinton campaign that went up against some of the traditional Democratic litmus tests to get him into office at that time.

But they're usually about policy or some sort of position, something that affects other people. There's a new litmus test in the Republican Party where people have to pretend Trump didn't lose the election, and they keep delaying the dates. And even by the recent era, it's bizarre.

I want to play a little bit of something we did last night.

And you know me, James. I have you on. I also have Trump folks on. Some people don't like it.

CARVILLE: Of course.


MELBER: Some people, they only want to hear from Carville or they only want to hear from the other -- we have them all in.


MELBER: And I try to do that journalistically, you know?

But I -- we had an elector last night who, after a dodging a couple questions, just admits he's still afraid to admit Biden even won. Take a look on the Trump side.


MELBER: Are you of the view that Joe Biden is not the president-elect and didn't win the election?

BILL FEEHAN, REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN, WISCONSIN 3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: I'm of the view that there's still legal cases that are moving forward.

MELBER: Are you of the view that Joe Biden is the president-elect or not? That's a yes-or-no question.



MELBER: A Republican official who would have been an elector had his state gone to Trump.

Is this a bad litmus test for a party?

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, I saw it last night. I love that guy Kenyatta. He's really good. I get a kick out him every time I see him.

Look, they -- 55 percent of the Republican Party think that the Earth is 5,000 years old. But who cares? Betfair, they have already paid the bets off for Biden. And so what? They're not going to change the -- they don't think that, but they just have to say that.

We just got to move on, man. It's just all kinds of people believe all kinds of crazy things. And -- but, right now, they're turning around, and these people are voting in Georgia. This is the most important thing.

The litmus test -- if you don't have power, you got nothing, right? If you don't get these two Senate seats, your world is so fundamentally different. What you can accomplish, what you can bring to the table, who can be at the table so depends on what happens in these two Senate races.

And the Democrats in the rest of the country understand that, understand that. Without power, you have nothing. Everybody's got a talking point. Everybody's got a demand. Everybody wants this.

Well, if you got to deal with Mitch McConnell, you're not going to get any of that. And people understand that.

MELBER: Yes, which ties -- yes, I will tell you, that ties together some of what we were discussing with earlier panel this evening.

Before I lose you tonight, we have something that's a little more fun.

CARVILLE: All right.

MELBER: It involves alligators and yogurt.

You have any idea what I'm talking about?


CARVILLE: I think I got a pretty good idea.

MELBER: You have some idea? All right.

James Carville, let's roll the tape.


SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Here to comment is political strategist extraordinaire James Carville.

BILL HADER, ACTOR: Well, hello there!

MEYERS: What do you think of the Republican candidates?

HADER: Oh, I think plenty about them.


HADER: And I laugh. I laugh.


HADER: Now, it doesn't matter why, but I'm friends with some alligators.


MEYERS: Why do you get so angry about yogurt?

HADER: Because I'm crazy.



MELBER: Are you really friends with any alligators? And is it an accurate "SNL" impression?

CARVILLE: Well, I think that I'm crazy is true. The fact that I'm friendly with alligators is not true. I keep as much distance as...



CARVILLE: ... alligators as I can.

But, look, if it helps my friends down in Georgia get a good laugh and stay at the headquarters a little bit longer, or make your contact lists, let's go them, man. Let's go get them. Let's have some fun and let's win it. Let's bring this little puppy home and win it.

MELBER: I hear you there. And the way he does -- look, they depict you as like you're a character. But this is what you are really like. I mean, you're not dialing it up one way or the other.

CARVILLE: Yes, you know, Ari, you have known me for a long time.

I'm just me. And I try to take what I do seriously. I try to take people's problems seriously. And to the extent that it's humanly possible, I have tried not to take myself seriously. But you always got to remind yourself. You always got to remind yourself of that. It can get away from you.

MELBER: That's fair. That's fair for all of us.

CARVILLE: But you take me seriously. And that's important to me. And thank you.

MELBER: And I'm glad we fact-checked the alligator bit. I mean, we got to stay true to the facts.


MELBER: James Carville, an American original, good to see you, as always.

I will tell you, up ahead tonight, we have the legal fact-check I mentioned on why Donald Trump can't overturn the election at the congressional floor vote.

Later, a special guest who's been quite outspoken through this era, someone we really want to hear from, acclaimed novelist Salman Rushdie live on THE BEAT tonight.


MELBER: You may recall -- you may recall we have heard a lot about waiting for these legal cases or waiting for the Electoral College vote.

Now we have a fact-check on the next latest date, because we're hearing some of Trump's allies say there might be one more chance to somehow overturn the election. Trump loyalists in Congress want a longshot bid to try to somehow change the results of what America voted for when they have the ceremonial vote on January 6 and lawmakers tally what the Electoral College has done.

Now the effort is being led by Republican Congressman Mo Brooks from Alabama. He says he wants to just -- get this -- change the results, overturn the voters' will in certain battleground states won by Biden.

Now, there is a constitutional mechanism whereby people can lodge challenges. So, it is technically legal to try to do something like this on the House floor.

Now, typically, it has been symbolic. The Democrats did do something similar in 2017 around protesting Russian interference. The sitting vice president, though, oversees this process, which means Joe Biden was the one handling it four years ago.


REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Mr. President, I object to the 15 votes from the state of North Carolina because of the massive voter suppression and the closing of voting polling booths in the early voting of 16-1.


BIDEN: There is no debate. There is no debate. There is no debate.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): Is there one United States senator who will join me in this letter of objection?

BIDEN: There is no debate. There is no debate.

It is over.




MELBER: "It is over."

The point there was the vice president at the time was overseeing the Senate. Whether you agree or disagree with the outcome, he was following the rule of law and the fact that those objections were dismissed because it was over.

Now, we don't know what will happen when Mike Pence does the honors this cycle.

But I can tell you something that is clear. It's the following: This last-ditch effort is not going anywhere. Each representative would need a senator to co-sponsor the first step, which is just the objection to the results.

But, even if that were to happen, to get anywhere, you would have to have majorities, bipartisan majorities, agree in both houses of Congress.

Now, that's just not going to happen, which means everything you see leading up to this is a prelude to drama, not changing the results.

Now, 150 years ago, we can note, during Reconstruction, was the last time any bid like this came close. But the two leaders controlling Congress today, Pelosi and McConnell, have publicly acknowledged Trump lost, and there's no signs they're going to create common cause to turn over the will of the voters.

So, if you find yourself discussing this over the holidays with anyone, you can be confident that, just as we told you about the Supreme Court ending those other challenges, this particular dramatic challenge also has a very clear precedent for going nowhere.

Now, coming up, Donald Trump's attacks on democracy have brought to mind, to some, problems in other countries.

Our special guests on autocracy and truth and lies with Trumpism next.


MELBER: Donald Trump has been dubbed a liar, a would-be autocrat and an ineffective president.

He's also highly unoriginal, from plagiarizing Reagan make for America great, to ripping his post election-playbook from many disgraced autocrats around the world, which is something our next guest knows all about, acclaimed novelist Salman Rushdie, who was famously targeted by dictators who opposed dissent in elections.

He sees some parallels here, Rushdie arguing: "Trump is temperamentally a tin-pot despot of that type."

His recent novel also features a Trumpian leader who mixes white supremacist followers with a TV news obsession.

So, we turn to Salman Rushdie. He's the author of 14 novels, the winner of the Booker Prize, who is now teaching storytelling and writing. Indeed, he has a new online lesson the MasterClass series. You can find it on and learn from, yes, a master.

Salman Rushdie, thanks for coming back on THE BEAT.

SALMAN RUSHDIE, AUTHOR: Oh, so good to be back with you.

MELBER: We see parallels drawn of many kinds.

You have spoken about this before Donald Trump was as blatantly demanding that people join him in overturning what the voters decided. Your thoughts tonight?

RUSHDIE: Well, I'm going to be optimistic right now.

It seems to me we have had four years of something which became more and more and more like an authoritarian regime as time passed. Trump, with his enablers in Congress, together are responsible for that.

But we have a moment now where even Mitch McConnell has accepted the results of the election, even Moscow Mitch.

And so maybe we can now look forward to a year after this horrible year with this dreadful pandemic in which we have a sane government that will behave like a sane government, and when we can begin to defeat this pandemic.

So, oddly, I think literature has a role to play here, because we're living in a moment of an incredibly fractured belief in the truth. One man's reality is another man's fake news. And literature has always been a way in which people have been able to rediscover truth, because literature is about truth. It's about the truth of human nature, the truth of how we are with each other, what we do to each other.

And it may be that, through literature, we can recapture beauty, joy, reality, and turn away from lies. And that's actually one of the reasons why I wanted to do this MasterClass, just to -- I have been -- terrifyingly, I realized today that my first novel was published 45 years ago.

That's scary.


RUSHDIE: And I thought maybe it's time to share some of the tricks of the trade, but, beyond sharing the tricks of the trade, to actually talk about the joy and beauty of art and what it can do, especially in deeply troubled times.

MELBER: What makes for a good story?

RUSHDIE: You have to want to turn the page.

I -- as a reader, I have a very low boredom threshold. I get bored very easily by a book. And so, when I write a book, I really don't want anybody who reads it to have that feeling, enough already, let's do something else.

I want them to be hanging on what happens over the next page. And so the question is, how do you create those moments which make everybody want to know what happens next? And that's the name of the game.

MELBER: Does it concern you that people who associate with the left or liberal arts are sometimes now the ones calling for the kind of controls that, while, in some cases, may be justified, in other cases look like limiting speech, rather than engaging with it?

RUSHDIE: Yes, I mean, I have spent so much of my life fighting censorship that I'm not going to change my tune now.

I do think, you see -- I wrote the story which came out in "The New Yorker" recently in which I used the metaphor of a town square in which people are arguing all the time. And it seems to me that is what democracy is. Democracy is a place where people argue all the time.

And the ability to have the argument is something which I would call freedom, that anybody, any authoritarian regime tries to shut down the argument and to say, we will tell you how to think.

And that ability to argue, to disagree passionately, that's liberty. And I worry about whether the -- attacks on that, whether they come from the left or the right, I worry about that.

But, fortunately, there are still enough people who believe in books and who believe in literature and who believe in the ability of art to tell us truth that maybe we don't hear somewhere else, because fiction, oddly, fiction and lies are opposites in a way, you know?

Lies are a way of obscuring the truth. Fiction is a way of revealing the truth. It's a way of revealing the truth about who we are.

And so it's not surprising...

MELBER: And -- yes, and the writer of fiction is honest about what they're telling you.

RUSHDIE: Yes. Yes.

MELBER: The liar is trying to tell you that their fiction is truth.

So, it's all in the framework of transparency.


MELBER: I'm out of time on THE BEAT tonight, but I will tell you, I love ending an hour with you, because I feel slightly calmer and more uplifted just listening to you.

So, I hope will you come back on THE BEAT.

RUSHDIE: Thank you.

MELBER: Salman Rushdie, acclaimed author.

And, as mentioned, people can find out more about that new MasterClass series, if you're into storytelling, at

We will be back on THE BEAT with one more thing.


MELBER: That does it for us here at THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER. We will see you tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.



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