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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, December 3, 2020

Guests: Emily Bazelon, Fatima Goss Graves, Melissa Murray, Thomas Friedman, David Frum

Summary

Comedian Billy Eichner speaks out. "New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman discusses his interview with Joe Biden. Republican officials continue their infighting over the Georgia election. Ivanka Trump faces a deposition over the Trump Hotel and the inauguration. Three former presidents unify over a COVID-19 vaccine.

Transcript

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle.

I have a governing question that I have been dying to ask you.

WALLACE: Governing question, OK.

MELBER: Yes, with all the time in the White House.

I was noticing you have this news with the FBI where they're signaling, they're going to hold over the FBI director, which is normal. But you also have so many people who are concerned that many of the picks Trump made are abnormal, and there has to be this rebalancing to some degree, according to Biden's folks.

WALLACE: Yes.

MELBER: So, I'm just curious what you think about that, given the transitions and what you know about that from the White House? Because you could see it both ways, that tradition is holding the FBI director, a term that is nonpartisan.

But there will be other times where replacing a Trump person might be the nonpartisan thing. And how do White Houses think that through?

WALLACE: You know, it's so interesting, and, of course, you're the one that has touched on this really specific issue that I think is a tug of war at the highest levels of the Biden transition team, the wider circle of folks that they turn to for advice, especially around these law enforcement, DOJ and FBI picks.

And there's a real -- divide is too strong, but there's a real tension between what you just described, keeping someone like an FBI director, because that is what you do. It's a 10-year term, so that it's not politicized. But, because Trump has obliterated so many norms, do you undo Trumpism by obliterating them right back, because everything is tainted, or do you hew to the norm out of the gate?

And I think that the decision to keep Chris Wray is a sign of a couple of things, one, that they viewed the tension between Chris Wray and Donald Trump as a sign he's probably running the building with integrity, and, two, that Joe Biden is going to lean and his impulse will be toward restoring those norms over anything else.

MELBER: Yes, and I think you put your finger on it, because it is -- you say this 10-year term matters.

And yet we could come up with hypothetical names, I'm sure viewers could brainstorm some, that have worked in the Trump administration, where, if they were the holdover, you would go, wait a minute.

WALLACE: Right.

MELBER: Keeping them for the next four years or more is actually a bigger problem.

And it's -- I think we're going to see a lot of areas. I think DOJ and FBI is probably the first, the first touchstone.

But, yes, I was curious what you thought of that. And I always appreciate you spending some time past your hour into ours.

WALLACE: It's always fun, and it's always fun to race out and catch your show. It's been great. Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Thank you, Nicolle. Appreciate you.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

Control of the U.S. Senate turns, as everybody knows, on these pivotal Senate races in Georgia. And now we're seeing something absolutely unheard of in political campaigning. Trump allies are now literally telling their own supporters not to vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNEY POWELL, ATTORNEY: I would encourage all Georgians to make it known that you will not vote at all until your vote is secure.

LIN WOOD, ATTORNEY: They have not earned your vote.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WOOD: Don't you give it to them! Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election? For God's sakes, fix it. You got to fix it before we will do it again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Fix it before you do it again, before you vote.

This is actually pretty unusual and wild. And it could go any number of ways in Georgia, which, as you know, matters. And I want to be as fair as possible. Of course, everyone's entitled to their views about politics or voting.

If a certain government process is truly compromised, if there's evidence of that, then, yes, there are times where a boycott might be legitimate, where you don't vote or participate in something because it's so flawed or ruined or tainted.

But, honestly, that wasn't the case in Georgia, and this is getting absurd. Georgia held a free and fair election. And the dwindling Trump legal effort is not really about Georgia, or certainly serving the residents of Georgia. It's more about providing content, video images and other political propaganda for Donald Trump's post -White House plans, as he pushed more of it today.

That's the context for Rudy Giuliani's traveling road show. I can't really call it a legal process entirely at this point, because it's so much more.

He arrived in Georgia today. And note that Giuliani's efforts focused far more on rallies now and press interviews than actual court hearings that could lead to changes in the outcome of the election.

This is a slide that we know will continue, because there are things we can show you in the legal process, states locking in the results, states doing certifications, which are not reversible, plus judges tossing out Giuliani's cases from court, sometimes by, as in Pennsylvania, denying his team standing, which matters legally, because, if you don't have standing, that means you can't even file a new motion or a different type of case.

It is a worse loss than just losing an individual claim. And that may be part of why Republicans are increasingly openly concerned that Donald Trump's focus on himself in this period could backfire on them for years to come, literally.

Now, in Georgia, we should note, politically, it's largely been a red state when it comes to picking senators. But there's concerns that this could cost Republicans potentially two seats and control of the Senate, depending on what comes next. If that happens, it costs Mitch McConnell his job.

As for the few legal avenues left, consider the import of evidence and credible witnesses. Here's what went down on Giuliani's tour stop in Michigan. This is, behold, team Trump's supposed star witness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say that poll book is off by over 100,000.

That poll book, why don't you look at the registered voters on there? How many registered voters are on there? Did you -- do you even know the answer to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I guess -- I'm trying to get to the bottom of this here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Zero. Zero. There's zero.

That's how many...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait. What about -- what about how -- what about the turnout rate? A hundred and twenty percent?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What about it?

This is the last late-stage baroque period of this legal effort. How do you know that a witness is bad? And my point is not to criticize any individual witness. It's not that important or relevant. It's just the way this whole process is ending, backed by the departing president.

Well, even Rudy Giuliani himself tries to calm the witness down. You will see him in the video it was -- it was too much for him. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not seeing the poll book off by 30,000 votes. That's not the case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you guys do? Take and do something crazy to it?

It's wildly off, and dead people voted, and illegals voted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, my answer. I know what I saw. I know what I saw. And I signed something saying that, if I'm wrong, I can go to prison.

Did you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: As for the legal part of this, a judge found this testimony from this witness to be un-credible.

Giuliani's traveling road show, though, continues. And you have to understand we are in the theatrical stage. It still matters, particularly for the reasons I have shown you night after night here. We are talking about people with the power of the presidency, at least until January 20 behind them.

We're talking about efforts that have involved autocratic attempts to overturn the election. We're talking about efforts in Michigan that targeted people by their views and their race, which is unconstitutional and illegal and wrong.

So much of these matters and will be held to account even as, yes, it gets more and more absurd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Those are the ballots that were stuck in the machine eight times, nine times, 10 times.

All the -- oh, my goodness, all the networks. Wow. All the networks.

I don't know what the vote in Michigan is.

Our vote is owned by two Venezuelans who were allies of Chavez.

And I know it's surprising. I have been before state legislators who didn't realize it.

Did you all watch "My Cousin Vinny"? You know the movie?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And did you all watch this?

I'm joined by Emily Bazelon, a legal writer with "The New York Times Magazine," David Frum from "The Atlantic" and the Bush White House, and Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of The National Women's Law Center.

Good evening, all.

Emily, I make the point about both things, because some of this is absurd, it's laughable, it is ineffable, beneath words. And yet other parts of it are deadly serious, particularly if it were closer in these states and they were able to get away with more of this.

Your views about what we're seeing, what I call this baroque failed stage of the Trump 2020 effort?

EMILY BAZELON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": Well, I think you're right, that it's the later stages. It's going on for an incredibly long time. I can't believe how long it's persisting.

And the Trump campaign has raised $200 million since the election for whatever comes next, a political action committee, clearly, and whatever political activities Trump plans for when he leaves office.

So, I think a lot of what we're looking at here is that fund-raising machine, rather than a kind of serious legal effort.

MELBER: David?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, there's a lot of talk about how much impact this show will have on the vote in Georgia.

And I think we may be about to discover that the impact is much exaggerated. I mean, we all have experienced this. If you go to a vampire movie, you will feel the thrill of horror during the movie, and then you step out of the movie and you don't believe in vampires. You know there's no such thing.

And I think that a lot of Republicans are -- in Georgia are enjoying the denunciations of the process, but they don't really believe that vampires are real. They're not going to act on the basis of the stuff that Giuliani and the others are saying, but they enjoy the show. They enjoy getting upset. They watch FOX News. And they have the thrill.

But will it affect their behavior? I think that the vote in Georgia, the real-world vote in Georgia remains very, very tight.

MELBER: Fatima?

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL WOMEN'S LAW CENTER: I think the thing is, they're not going to be able to control this show.

In the same way Giuliani was unable to control the witness that he was trying to tap at to tell her to come down, they're not going to actually be able to control what happens after.

And the thing is, our institutions have been working as they should, right? You have had court after court say, we aren't considering this evidence. You haven't provided anything. We have had even the attorney general say there is no evidence, and we have had elected officials do exactly what they're supposed to do.

And so, the theater of it all is what people are going to have to figure out what to do with on the other side, and I don't think they will continue to be able to control it.

MELBER: Yes.

And, Emily, that goes to something that happened at the White House. We have documented how there wasn't widespread voter fraud, and that has been admitted in court by Trump lawyers by DOJ, et cetera.

Here was a moment even with a political ally of the president's, Republican Senator Graham. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The level of loyalty, I have never seen anything like it. All over the country, they know it was a fixed election. It was a rigged election. They know it. And I appreciate their support.

QUESTION: Mr. President, just a...

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Mr. President, Lindsey Graham has said you need to provide evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Emily?

BAZELON: I think Lindsey Graham and a few other Republican senators are starting to speak out a little bit.

But what they have not done is made a really strong collective statement, this was a fair election, that president-elect Biden will take office in January, and that it's time to end this legal charade.

And until they stand together, it's really easy for President Trump and the people who support him to kind of discount them one by one. It's really going to take more than that. And I think we just still haven't seen that from national Republicans, even though state and local Republicans in Georgia are starting to speak out, because they see that this is dangerous for poll workers.

You see threats, you see intimidation. And so, there is a need for action also from national Republicans.

MELBER: Right.

And, Fatima, that really goes to this contrast we have been talking about the whole time, because I think David certainly has a very fair point about how to adjudicate or assess the overall impact. And that means sometimes just hitting it and moving on.

And yet the Georgia official -- we showed that this week -- I think it went viral -- and the other concerns and the context of, as I mentioned, racial discrimination, the other ways a vote has been abused historically in America, and what Trump is tapping into is very real.

GOSS GRAVES: Yes, the safety concerns of the election officials are actually real. They're getting threats.

If you tell people there is a rigged election, and that we need to do something about it, people might start trying to do things about it. And I think it was a huge mistake over the last years, when people didn't show up against that sort of rhetoric.

And now it is all coming to the fore. And I agree with Emily that what it will take is people joining together in solidarity, condemning it, and in support of our democracy, saying that our democracy works, and that's what supporting.

MELBER: And, David, inside the transition in the coming Biden administration, I want to show some reporting from Politico here.

Nicolle Wallace was just discussing the challenges ahead, which are very real. And you have written a lot about what's happened to government under Trump.

FRUM: Yes.

MELBER: Politico reporting that this political aide of the president was accused of approaching Justice Department staffers in the department demanding they give information about investigations, including the so-called election fraud probes.

And the DOJ took the unusual step of banning them from the building. That's how seriously they viewed this attempted alleged misconduct.

FRUM: But there are also a lot of opportunities for the Biden administration. And that's something that people maybe need to focus on right now, because they're -- I know people are frustrated and angry.

I tweeted something just a few moments ago. Since the year 2000, in the 21st century, there have been 12 nominations for president. Donald Trump's share of the vote ranked 10th and 11 out of 12. He is an historically unpopular president.

Joe Biden is coming in with the second highest share of the vote of any candidate in the 21st century, except for Barack Obama in 2008. And he's heading into a landscape where there probably will be a vaccine soon and there probably will be an economic recovery soon.

And he has an opportunity to be quite a popular president. And although Democrats did badly down the ballot, and many Democrats are frustrated by that, it means there are going to be quite a number of Republican members of the House in who -- won their seats, but in whose district Biden, not Trump, was the ticket -- was the dominant vote-getter.

And there going to be some opportunities here to put the country on a healthier and more productive track than it's been on for the past four years.

MELBER: Well, after 14 or 15 minutes of Giuliani mania, I appreciate David Frum coming through with the New Year's optimism. We can always take a bit of both.

I want to thank you, David.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Yes, sir.

I want to thank you, David, Fatima and Emily, for kicking us off.

We have a 30-second break, our shortest of hour, and a lot more tonight.

Ivanka Trump's deposition, news on that.

Three former presidents unifying over this vaccine. That's a sight you don't see every day.

We will also speak with Billy Eichner tonight about comedy, Trump and what he's doing in Georgia, the big story.

Also, tonight, my interview with Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman.

All that and more when we're back in just 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: As President Trump mulls pardons for his family, including his daughter Ivanka, the interesting news timing, she's also deposed in a new case here.

This is her first deposition in a case about the alleged misuse of inaugural money. Now, we know Ivanka sat for five hours. This suit alleges that over a million dollars was spent on a ballroom in a Donald Trump Washington hotel, that the activity involved Trump family members, but, allegedly, the scheme was really to grossly overpay for the space to personally enrich those involved family members with an apparent conflict of interest.

Now, there's an attorney general for the District of Columbia that's doing all this. And they're stating that the inaugural committee knowingly entered into a grossly overpriced contract with the Trump Hotel.

This is in response to Ivanka Trump, who has continued to insist, as is her right, that she's done nothing wrong. She says she merely instructed a hotel to charge a -- quote -- "fair market rate."

As the investigation has proceeded, they say that it revealed the committee willfully used nonprofit funds to enrich Trump's family and broke the law, explaining that's why they sued.

And let's be clear. This is a case with multiple points of view. That's why Ivanka was deposed. And she says that, basically, even if something was overpaid or wrong, she wasn't directly ordering it.

Now, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is another figure here. This was a friend of the Trumps and Melania who helped run events for the inaugural. She faces deposition next week. So, this is all very much alive.

And the complaint alleges that she net with Donald and Ivanka Trump, sharing her own concerns about cost, and that Trump directed Ivanka to just -- quote -- "handle this issue."

Now, Wolkoff famously had this public falling out with the Trumps. She also has talked about taping conversations. She discussed some of those very concerns with Rachel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF, AUTHOR, "MELANIA AND ME": I do know that, at the time that I questioned where the money was going or how much everything cost, I was asked to not attend any more budget meetings.

People need to just follow the money. The last thing that any of these people want is for the truth to be told. I'm part of three different investigations, yet I'm a witness to all of them. And it really is a charade of shenanigans.

And I feel that the Trump presidency is just fleecing our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Some of the issues here can be complicated, so we're going to go to class.

Professor Melissa Murray from NYU is here.

Nice to see you.

MELISSA MURRAY, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: Nice to see you too.

MELBER: One of the core principles of the law that I think people understand as just fairness is, if you think someone did one thing bad, you can't just go after them about something else.

That may happen in life, but that's not fair in law. And so whatever people's feelings about the Trump administration or Ivanka Trump's policies or support hook, line and sinker for everything her father's basically done, where do you come down on what is known about the alleged improprieties here?

MURRAY: Well, as you say, this is a deposition. So, it's really early days in the civil case, where they're gathering information.

And so, what a deposition is basically a series of questions between the subject of the deposition and the lawyers on the other side to try and elicit information about the allegations.

And so you can imagine that the D.C. attorney general is asking Ms. Trump about the whole question about her involvement in setting prices from the Trump side, in having the presidential inaugural committee either accept those or to negotiate them, and basically what happened.

And the real issue here is whether the presidential inauguration committee overpaid for the use of those Trump properties. So that's the big question here. And it's a violation of D.C.'s nonprofit laws if you were to use the funds for a nonprofit to benefit private persons or parties, like a hotel or the Trump Organization, for example.

MELBER: Right, which sounds bad and speaks to the thicket of conflicts of interest that were that were driven by all of the insistence on continuing to seek profits while president.

And then there's the evidence that we have. As you emphasize, fairly, we don't have everything.

I'm curious how you would in a case or for your law students distinguish between a denial, right, which someone just does to cover themselves, and evidence that actually makes it look like maybe they didn't do the bad thing.

For that, I go to a very simple e-mail here. This is dated December 2016. Ivanka Trump. It's always interesting when we get to read some of these e-mails. Subject, "Buyout minimum."

Ivanka Trump says: "Just seeing this. Why don't you call and negotiate? It should be a fair market rate."

How do you decide whether that's genuinely her saying the right thing, and that's putting her in the clear, or someone saying one thing in writing and then maybe doing another?

MURRAY: Well, I think a lot of it will depend on what happened after that e-mail was sent. She's directed them to negotiate and get to a fair market rate. What is the fair market rate?

One of the allegations in this complaint is that another nonprofit, the Prayer Breakfast, rented the very same ballroom space for $5,000 earlier in the day, but when the presidential inaugural committee came to it, they actually were charged $175,000 for that space. That's a big spread between $5,000 and $175,000 and, arguably, far in excess of what might be a fair market rate.

So the question is, you have that disparity.

MELBER: Well, Professor...

MURRAY: How do you link it?

MELBER: Yes, I mean, you're putting your finger on exactly the kind of details that make it look really bad.

Could really good catering account for the price difference?

MURRAY: Catering could account for it. But, I mean, this is why you're having the deposition. You're eliciting all of this information. What sorts of things go into that rate? If you negotiate a rate, do you have a rack rate just for the facility? Are you also including the cost of food service and whatnot?

MELBER: Right.

MURRAY: What goes into that? Are there different times of day where different rates are priced?

And all of those things would be relevant. But to be really clear here, the way that other presidential inaugural committees have avoided the appearance of impropriety and avoided having a lawsuit over these things is not to own hotels in which inaugural activities are held.

And that was exactly the advice that the Trump inaugural committee received when it was planning all of this.

MELBER: Yes. Exactly.

I think you walked us through it so well. It's very helpful. And, in all fairness to Ivanka Trump, there is some decent written evidence on her side about what she did.

The larger swampy corruption, as you just reminded us, is out in the hope. It's pretty blatant.

Professor Murray, thanks for joining us.

MURRAY: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Coming up tonight, we have a lot of other stuff I'm excited about, the return of comedian Billy Eichner and what he's doing, he says, to help demote Mitch McConnell.

Also, President Trump's historic loss to Biden has gotten worse -- new numbers.

But, first, I want to go inside Donald Trump's priorities with you. He has been declared the loser. What is he doing about that and what's happening in the context of the COVID surge we face?

My special comment after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Since losing the election, Donald Trump has largely stopped doing the work of the presidency.

Historians say there are just very few precedents for a president dropping job duties, other than situations of, say, incapacitation.

But the evidence is actually clear. On many days, it is publicly known that President Trump has virtually abandoned the schedule, refuses to do the work of negotiating COVID relief. And the few times that Trump has spoken since his loss, it's not even been about governing, but, rather, bemoaning the results, or pushing misleading information, or, as we have been covering, discussing his failed legal effort, which has consumed Trump.

As "The Washington Post" put it in an exhaustive account, Trump is fixated on overturning the results in 20 days of fantasy and failure, which states the ironic hypocrisy of an approach where "Trump largely abdicated the responsibilities of the job he was fighting so hard to keep," chief among them, managing the coronavirus pandemic, as the numbers of infections and deaths soared.

Now, abdicating this big a job is never a responsible choice, but it's definitely more dangerous when facing a once-in-a-century pandemic as it peaks, literally.

Consider just briefly these four separate records set over this 24-hour period, the U.S. hitting 14 million total cases, juiced by 200,000 new cases, with over 2,000 deaths and 100,000 Americans now in the hospital.

Numbers are factual, but, of course, they don't even begin to capture the scale and the humanity of these experiences, the many tragedies, some of them perhaps avoidable.

And while Trump's refusal to work is largely unprecedented, there are some examples of leaders who infamously turned their backs on pressing problems. History has judged them harshly.

Take President Hoover missing the mark during the Great Depression. He blithely refused to do much amidst the mounting poverty, the unemployment, and distressed poor areas that literally became known as Hoovervilles.

Or take the more classic examples, like the Roman Emperor Nero, who was known for his selfish, lavish parties. And he failed to lead when Rome caught fire and burn reportedly for six days straight. An ancient biographer wrote that Nero was so out of touch with the human suffering, so bubbled by his own wealth and position that he watched the scene as he -- quote -- "exalted in the beauty of the flames."

To him, the human toll was literally scenery, imagery. It was not real to him if it did not affect him, which history has long recorded as the ultimate classic example of the failure of a leader.

So, it's understandable that many have linked Trump's bubbled failures on COVID to Nero, like this rather stunning float which made its way through a German parade earlier this year. You can see right there the Trump/Nero statue literally fiddling and tweeting.

You can see the bluebird tweets coming out of the fiddle there emanating from the instrument as the building burns behind him.

Here we are. Trump continues to tweet amidst these record-breaking COVID surges. The fire is around the nation and the world. The majority of Trump's post-election tweets are, of course, about topics other than governing, let alone COVID.

There are signs though, that others will not just watch this virus ravage and burn our nation. President-elect Biden has been stressing there's no time to waste to fortify the COVID response. And now the Trump administration is facilitating a transition. That enables Biden to meet with current government officials, which he actually did today with Dr. Fauci.

And that's a start and a contrast. The current president has not bothered to meet with Fauci in months. That includes during what I mentioned, this post-election time off.

Now, Biden and his team have experience, of course, from the Obama/Biden administration's prep during the H1N1 scare. They worked with some of the same experts, including Dr. Fauci, and led on the public safety imperative of solid science, which, by the way, does mean rebutting misinformation no matter where it comes from.

It could be right-wing misinformation about, say, masks. Could be left-wing propaganda against vaccinations. Could be lies that have no place in the political spectrum.

And that brings us to what I want to show you tonight, this unusual and potentially hopeful scene, a bipartisan cadre of former U.S. presidents, Obama, Bush, Clinton, leading by example, volunteering to take new vaccines on camera, which is one more way for everyone to see the science, because we have got a challenge ahead of us, to see it, to know that FDA-approved vaccinations are scientifically overwhelmingly safe.

Former President Obama even name-checking his old colleague Dr. Fauci.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe, absolutely, I'm going to take it.

I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know I trust this science.

QUESTION: OK.

OBAMA: What I don't trust is getting COVID.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: You can't really unsee the contrast here across presidents, across the historical imperative.

And, to be clear, it's not really about party or ideology. It's really just about leadership and getting to work, with these retired former presidents arguably doing more work today on this COVID vaccine than the one who's technically still on the job.

We wanted to share that with you.

We're going to fit in a break but coming up: Senator Warren targeting Mitch McConnell and Georgia Republicans, and teaming up with, guess who, the famed comedian and friend of THE BEAT Billy Eichner, who is here tonight.

But, first, we're joined by another man on the street, Tom Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winner. He just spent time with Joe Biden. I'm going to him about that after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We have been reporting on Donald Trump's approach to the COVID crisis, the contrast with Joe Biden.

We're joined now by Thomas Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs columnist for "The New York Times," among many other activities and accolades. We should note he just got one of these coveted interviews with president-elect Biden, writing about it for "The New York Times."

Congrats on the get, journalist to journalist. And thanks for coming back.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thanks, Ari. Always great to be with you.

MELBER: Let's start with something notable that president-elect Biden said to you -- quote -- "Maybe, when Trump is gone from the immediate scene, I'm not sure the ugliness stays. There may be 20 percent of it, 25 percent of it. I don't know."

Walk us through that part of your conversation and what you gleaned from it.

FRIEDMAN: You know, Ari, one of the things that really struck me in the comments on the column -- let me start there -- in TheNewYorkTimes.com, is how many people wrote in and simply said, wow, I forgot what it was like to hear a president speak seriously, soberly, non-personal referentially about serious problems.

And the whole tone just really reminded us what a warped period we have been through. It just -- it really struck me and it struck so many of the readers of the column.

He is full of concern about the division in the country. And, again, listening to him, Ari, you sort of come away thinking, maybe we just got really lucky here that, after four years of just such a hate-filled politics, we have a president who's really hard to hate. He's just really hard to hate, I think even for Republicans, his worst Republican enemies.

And the real question is, going forward -- and this is a dynamic we don't know yet -- a lot will depend on where the Senate ends up after Georgia -- is, what happens to that party?

Jim Baker, when he was secretary of state, used to joke -- I covered Baker, and he used to joke that, how do you know you're out of power in Washington? It's when your limousine is yellow and your driver speaks Farsi, OK?

So, like, what -- who is Donald Trump?

MELBER: Your limousine is a taxi.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, exactly.

So, who is Donald Trump, and what is the Republican Party when he's no longer in the White House?

And if you just look at the breakdown right now, Ari, between those who say the election is over, these allegations of fraud are crazy, and those that seem to be really kind of disconnected from reality, and doubling down on that disconnection, there's going to be a fracture there.

And I think we will only know how deep and broad it is after Trump is out of power. And Biden's (AUDIO GAP) is that you will have 20, 25 percent who are going to say, we just can't go on like this, where I stick a spoke in your wheel, and then you stick a spoke in my wheel. We just have too many big, hard things we need to do, and they need to be done together.

And, as he said at the end, if we can't do that, we really are in trouble.

MELBER: And you mentioned the Senate. You definitely caught some people's ears around the election when you said maybe the best outcome would be still a Republican Senate with a president-elect Biden.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRIEDMAN: Possibly the best outcome for the country would be that Biden win the presidency and maybe the Republicans hold the Senate by one seat, so close that they would have to be much more willing to cooperate and collaborate with Biden, also chastened by the fact that they lost the presidency.

Maybe the best thing for the country would be some kind of balanced outcome like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRIEDMAN: You know what is really...

MELBER: Tom, I feel...

FRIEDMAN: Yes. Yes. You know what is really funny, though? I...

MELBER: I feel like we hardly knew you. We hardly knew you.

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

MELBER: But you went up and you started saying you were against Trump, which was your call, but interesting.

Now I feel like we're going back to the centrism thing. And it's your call, but, reporter to reporter, I want to press you on Friedman on Friedman, and then let you respond. You know how it is?

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: How do these issues we will put up on the screen -- go ahead.

Well, take a look. Look at these issues from Friedman's columns, Friedman's advocacy.

How do these get improved by a Republican Senate, a platform for single-payer health care, backing the environment, which you have written many times eloquently about? And, ultimately -- quote -- "Nothing will change unless young and old who oppose the NRA vote, help someone vote, register."

Are any of those improves with Mitch McConnell stays in charge?

FRIEDMAN: So, certainly not.

And here's what's really funny about this whole thing. I was on "Cuomo" a week later, because I actually prefaced all that or post scripted it by saying, it all depends on which Mitch McConnell you have, OK? If you have the Mitch McConnell who wanted to destroy Obama's agenda, then of course not. Then you don't want a Republican majority.

So, a week later, I was on "Cuomo," by the way, same show, and which I said, because this -- at this point, it was clear McConnell wasn't even recognizing it victory. And I said, if that's the McConnell we have, then I hope people go down to Georgia and register to vote and vote for the Democratic candidates.

And I got in huge trouble from the other side for that, OK?

So...

MELBER: But were you wavering -- because this is what I want to press you on. And you are a leader.

I mean, there's a -- I'm not here to overcompliment you, but there's a reason why the president-elect of the United States is calling you.

And there is this concern I think you're aware of, even after Trumpism, that Washington defaults to a kind of a mushy middle. But the middle between McConnell and Biden, right, in his obstructionist record -- I'm not saying this as an ideological criticism, but what McConnell's done brings you back to nothing coming out of the Senate that Biden wants to sign.

Or is that unfair?

FRIEDMAN: Right.

Well, my whole point, Ari, in the first "Cuomo" interview and in the second "Cuomo" interview -- and I'm actually not for people violating the laws of Georgia or whatever it is and going there and registering to vote if they're not from Georgia.

MELBER: Sure.

FRIEDMAN: Let's make this all legal as we possibly can.

If we don't have some kind of bipartisan coalition in the center, you can't get anything big done. That's fact number one.

Fact number two is, if you have the Mitch McConnell of old, OK, then we're not going to have any possibility of getting anything done in the center, OK?

So, all I was doing was expressing the view that I do believe, that, without some kind of compromise -- and this is what Biden said in the interview -- we're not going to get anything done.

Now -- so, it all depends, to me -- and what I was saying on "Cuomo" both times -- it depends what Mitch McConnell you have, all right?

If you have a Republican Party that's ready to compromise at the center -- I think that's most unlikely now, and it's even more unlikely since we have seen their behavior in the election.

But, Ari, you're not going to get anything big done without some kind of problem-solving caucus in the middle, OK? That's all I'm saying.

MELBER: Right.

And I hear you on that.

FRIEDMAN: And I hope that -- I mean, so...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: I only have to fit in a break because I have Billy Eichner coming up. And that's what we do here.

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

MELBER: We go from Friedman, who wrote eloquently about the -- quote, unquote -- "Arab street," to "Billy on the Street."

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

MELBER: We try to get it all in.

I appreciate you taking the questions. I hope you will come back, Tom.

FRIEDMAN: Any time. I love it, OK?

MELBER: Yes, sir.

All right, up ahead, we go inside this progressive push to do what we were just talking about, demote Mitch McConnell, top Democrats teaming up with Billy Eichner, who's here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: As all the votes are counted, we now know something that we didn't on election night. Voter turnout broke a 100-year record.

And there are many reasons, from the Trump resistance to huge ongoing interest in this election online and in our culture. That includes groups like Swing Left, which has been pushing registration and says there's more work to be done mobilizing in the Georgia Senate run-offs.

And one of their most recognizable leaders for youth turnout is our friend comedian Billy Eichner, the Emmy-nominated star, executive producer and creator of "Billy on the Street." Plus, you may know him from shows like "Parks and Rec" on NBC, or the acclaimed 2019 "Lion King." His comedy ranges from the awkward and ridiculously absurd to the political.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILLY EICHNER, COMEDIAN: Chris Tucker's back.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

EICHNER: So, ever since Trump replaced the Department of Health with Jenny McCarthy's blog, nothing makes sense.

Oh, I have a medical condition, all right? It's called caring too much. And it's in incurable!

Really, how was Detroit? Are the midterms all glammed up? Everyone needs to vote -- for Democrats.

Voting is like a Childish Gambino video, Don. It's very important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: And we will mention he's moderating a virtual grassroots fund-raiser on December 8 with Jon Ossoff, Elizabeth Warren, and Raphael Warnock.

And we will get into that.

Billy Eichner, from "The Street" to THE BEAT, thanks for coming back.

EICHNER: Hey, how are you?

MELBER: I'm just curious what you think. You are in the culture. You're very involved. You're very funny, as I have said before on this program.

But what do you think happened? Why do you think turnout was just so high?

EICHNER: Well, the truth is, it was -- the turnout was very high on both sides, right, because Biden got the most votes that any presidential candidate ever got, but I believe Trump got the second most votes that any presidential candidate ever got...

MELBER: Right.

EICHNER: ... if I'm not mistaken about that, last time I checked.

The numbers were very high for Trump as well. Look, I don't think there's an election that was ever as heated as the one that we just had. Thankfully, my team won, my side won, and won it rather decisively in the end, and that's what's important.

MELBER: Yes, well put. And I appreciate your analytical rigor, because a lot of people who associate with your values and felt it was so important to get out turned out. But a lot of other people, exactly as you say, opposed did as well.

And yet we're not done. If it were one of these movies that you're in, if it were the plot at the end of the movie of, wait, after all this, the Senate is still not under -- under an answer, a control, that would seem like a stretch.

Yet here we are. And some people tapped out. Some people were tired. You're pressing forward in Georgia. Just tell us about that.

EICHNER: We need to win both of the Senate seats in Georgia, as I'm sure your viewers know.

The election is on January 5, but this is our one and only chance to cut Mitch McConnell off at the knees. We need to win both of these seats on January 5. The main event I'm doing is on Tuesday. It's a pay-whatever-you-can grassroots virtual fund-raiser that I will be hosting, along with Elizabeth Warren.

Again, it's pay whatever you can. You can RSVP. The Web site is electJon.com/Georgia1, the number one. That's the main thing I'm doing to raise money and raise awareness about these elections.

MELBER: As for Joe Biden and McConnell, you said that relationship doesn't have to matter if your team wins.

Joe Biden, though, also talked about his relationship with your hair. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EICHNER: Good to see you.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I had Billy's hair, I could have been something.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: I mean it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Your thoughts?

EICHNER: Yes.

It was such a compliment. I thought it was so funny. And then I found out that that is a line that Biden often uses when he meets people who he feels as good hair. So, I still -- I still was moved by it. But I feel a little less special knowing it's a line he's used before.

But, hey, he's still a politician, even though I like the guy.

MELBER: Well, it's good to know, because, yes, does it undermine some of the warmth if you find out it's a -- quote -- "line."

And yet fact-check -- we deal in facts, Billy -- you do have a nice head of hair.

EICHNER: Well, that's true. You can't deny it. It's one of the only things Democrats and Republicans can agree on in this country.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: On the politics, when Biden was announcing earlier Janet Yellen for Treasury secretary, the first ever woman, he went out of his way to reference "Hamilton," because it's funny how the culture has elevated that very Cabinet position.

You had some fun with the idea of a Jimmy Carter meets Hamilton type of thing. Hard to explain. So let's just look.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EICHNER (singing): I was a peanut farmer. I was a Southern charmer, making Palestine my Valentine, like Greg meeting Dharma.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Ignoring Carter's legacy is totally nuts.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS (singing): Carter, you were a martyr. Carter, now we know about you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Does this joke politically require that people kind of think that that was a subpar single-term stagflation presidency?

EICHNER: Yes, that was part of a great series I was on Hulu written by my friend Julie Klausner called "Difficult People."

And we were playing two very stupid characters who are these actors desperate to become famous, but they lack self-awareness. So they do their very bad version of "Hamilton" about Jimmy Carter.

MELBER: I got two other things before I lose you.

One is your negative comedic style, which, of course, is a joke. It's not like you're always actually that person. But let's take a look.

EICHNER: Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EICHNER: Oh, no, that is insane. I will burn this place to the ground if you pick that one!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw the story of Marie, a blind, deaf girl.

EICHNER: Oh, God no. Disgusting.

Meg Ryan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What?

EICHNER: Oh, forget it.

Excuse me. Goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't like your attitude.

EICHNER: OK, I don't like yours. I'm on TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So much of your show is with real people on the street we saw who don't know you.

Does this working equally regardless of whether someone's in on it?

EICHNER: On "Billy on the Street," obviously, for me, the best clips happen when it's someone who clearly is not in on the joke.

Once in a while, I can tell someone recognizes me. And I'm still able to turn it into something, because, even if they recognize me, they don't know that I'm coming. None of it is scripted. None of it is cast in advance.

So, even if someone knows me, I'm interrupting them or something like that. So, you still get a spontaneous reaction.

But, most of the time, I like the interactions best when the people don't know me.

MELBER: Yes. Well, that's interesting. That's exactly what I was curious about.

Billy Eichner, thanks for coming on THE BEAT.

EICHNER: Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Building a story we were reporting, how all the votes take time to count, and that tells us exactly what you, the American, did this cycle.

Well, Joe Biden's record total vote has been growing with the count. He's up by seven million votes. That nears 81 million. And this builds on something that was mentioned by one of our guests, although that we didn't know that was going to happen tonight.

Biden is second in victory margins, only behind Obama's 2008 margin, a point David Frum mentioned tonight. Now you have the exact numbers.

I want to tell you before we go, if you're new to THE BEAT from the election or you just want to keep up with us, we encourage you to go ahead and DVR the show right now on your remote. You can press your cable home page. Search for Melber -- that's M-E-L-B-E-R -- press DVR.

And then, if you are ever away or busy, you can always catch up on episodes of THE BEAT. We'd love for you to do that.

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

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END

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