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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, January 5, 2021

Guests: LaTosha Brown, Cecile Richards

Summary

Georgia voters head to the polls to determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Transcript

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

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Enjoy your brief break.

We will see you shortly.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I'm Ari Melber.

WALLACE: I know. What am I going to do in 30 minutes?

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: I don't know. Step out and back. A little coffee, maybe.

I will see you soon.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT on this big night of special coverage.

We are, of course, now one hour from polls closing in this pivotal Georgia Senate run-offs, two of them, as two Democrats, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, are looking to beat Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and hand Democrats potentially control of the Senate.

And the implications for president-elect Biden's administration are momentous. This could control the entire agenda, or at least the first two years. In the short term, it could impact Biden's Cabinet picks, future rounds of COVID stimulus payments, things that affect our everyday lives in the United States.

Now, the last time a Democrat won a Georgia Senate race was all the way back in 2000. Ossoff and Warnock talking to voters directly today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D), GEORGIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The people of Georgia deserve relief. And that's what I intend to fight.

JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We need to pass $2,000 stimulus checks for the people. We need to surge vaccine distribution and make testing and vaccines free for every American to beat this virus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: On the Republican side, Loeffler aligning herself very closely with Trump, in fact, appearing at a rally with him just last night.

David Perdue off the campaign trail, actually in quarantine after a close contact has tested positive for COVID. Tonight is also, of course, a test for Trumpism and whether the president's unusual and ongoing attacks on our democracy itself will continue to be a political boon, potentially energizing his base, or also, on the other hand, discouraging people from even voting in the first place.

Let's get right to it on this big night.

I'm joined by Jason Johnson, a politics and journalism professor at Morgan State University, on the ground in Georgia. So is LaTosha Brown there. She is co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, an organization dedicated to expanding black voter engagement and related issues. Also with us, a campaign legend for the Democrats, James Carville.

Great to have each of you here.

James, we begin with you on seniority, if nothing else, sir.

What are you watching for now that we have...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Experience. You're as seasoned as Cajun food, sir.

Walk us through what you're keeping an eye on now that we have had those big early vote numbers and what we have tracked today across our coverage, high turnout.

JAMES CARVILLE, MSNBC ELECTION ANALYST: I'm going to do something that you should never do, is I'm going to rely on Election Day gossip.

And I have to tell you, it's all good. And there's one significant thing, and my co-guests can address this. They have already exceeded the vote in DeKalb County, all right? DeKalb County is the most Democratic county in Georgia. It is a majority African-American county with a gazillion people with post-bachelor degree.

Think the CDC. Think Emory University. I know that Election Day information is notoriously inaccurate, but some of it I got is pretty good. And I have to tell you, I have got to be back on this network at 10:30 at night. I might be making the biggest fool of myself ever.

But I am pretty jacked up at this minute.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: I will be totally honest with you.

And the DeKalb news -- and that came from Nate Cohn. He's not a -- he's serious guy. This is not my aunt saw somebody who said...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Well, let me follow up with you. Yes, let me follow up with you, James, because MSNBC viewers know you to be bullish on blue.

CARVILLE: Right. Right.

MELBER: Are you saying specifically that what you call the political gossip or what other people would call sources and intelligence, what you're hearing, though, through your networks is making you more positive about Democrats taking one or both of these seats than, say, how you felt yesterday, just as a general blue Democrat?

CARVILLE: Well, first off, I'm a white Southern Democrat. And a lot of my friends are the same. We're not used to good news, OK? We're just not bullish people by nature.

And, I mean, I got to tell, look, Brian Williams will say, James, election night, you thought we would know by 10:30. We didn't. OK. I will buy that. James, you thought you were going to win. You lost. I'm 76. I will take the heat.

I genuinely -- I looked at my cell today. I made 41 phone calls of varying quality. I feel good. I will just be -- it's a stupid thing for an old man to say, but what are you going to do to me if I'm wrong?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: What are we going to do? Nothing.

CARVILLE: I don't expect to be...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Well, we always like to kick off our big election coverage on MSNBC with James Carville. And I think that's very interesting to hear how bullish you are.

I want to get more into the politics with Jason as well, who, as I mentioned, has been tracking this closely.

But we are tracking more than one story. And the other one is quite serious.

And, LaTosha, I wanted to give you a chance to weigh in on this, a development late in the day today in that now infamous police shooting of Jacob Blake, the DA today announcing no charges in this case. Viewers may recall an officer shot Blake in the back seven times while he was unarmed, paralyzing him, the shooting caught on tape.

It sparked those protests this summer. Now, this prosecutor saying late today that, in his view, this officer making this shooting you see here had a reasonable belief as he advanced on Blake that his own life was in danger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL GRAVELEY, KENOSHA, WISCONSIN, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I have never had a moment in my whole life where I had to fear for my safety with either police officers or individuals in authority.

It is my decision now that I announced today before you that no Kenosha law enforcement officer in this case will be charged with any criminal offense, based on the facts and the laws.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: LaTosha, I wanted to get your views on this as a policy and civil rights matter, many of these issues also relevant in Georgia and relevant to many voters there. Your thoughts tonight?

LATOSHA BROWN, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK VOTERS MATTER FUND: First of all, he actually said it in his statement.

The statement said he never feared. As a white men of America, he had no fear of police because he has not had to experience anything bad. And so to look at that tape with our own eyes, to see this man, he's -- certainly, the officer, in no way, if you're pulling someone's shirt from behind seems like you're in any way in a defensive posture.

And, matter of fact, he act as if the aggressor. So we know -- all of us saw what we saw. And I think that we're going to -- we recognize that just because people are not in the street, it does not mean right now that work is not happening.

And what we're seeing is, we're seeing people rise up all over this country, because we're tired of this. We're tired of the police brutality. Something has got to change. We're not going to continue to literally look at a tape where this man, a father who literally was shot in the back like he was a dog, where someone was pulling his T-shirt, right?

And so they are going to be held accountable. And so it's not over, right? While the DA at this moment has not filed charges, just like we saw in Breonna Taylor, we will continue to put the pressure until we have justice. There shall be no peace if there's no justice.

So, I think that indicative -- I think that that's all indicative of how we coddle white power in this country, how we allow those to kill the lives. That is why the Black Lives Matter movement exists, right, because black lives are constantly under attack.

And even when we're seeing a video where this man is going -- walking calmly to his car and is shot and paralyzed, paralyzed for someone -- an officer shooting him in his back, there's still no justice.

But we who believe in freedom shall not rest until it comes.

MELBER: Yes, appreciate your points there.

And you think about that in Wisconsin, in Minnesota, as I mentioned, these issues hanging over Georgia, and facing, again -- bringing Jason and James back into it, facing what the Senate wants to do. These are open conversations. You have a new president coming in later this month. What will the Senate look like to take up some of these reforms?

Jason, the -- president-elect Biden will be replacing President Trump, who has loomed large over this Georgia race tonight. Take a listen to President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I hope that our great vice president, our great vice president comes through for us. He's a great guy. Of course, if he doesn't come through, I won't like him quite as much.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: These Senate seats are truly the last line of defense.

Now, I must preface that by saying because they will say, he just conceded. No. No. I don't concede.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Jason, we have lived through four years of references to things being unprecedented.

I see James Carville hanging -- hanging his hat in a little bit of sadness and shame for our nation. Your view of this unprecedented closing argument from the outgoing president and how that affects these two races tonight?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Ari, all of these things are connected, what James said, what LaTosha said, the refusal to prosecute officers who shot James Blake, and ending with a white nationalist president, whose entire campaign and entire administration has been about punishing, abusing and ultimately killing either directly or tacitly accepting the murdering of black people in this country.

It's not subtle. It's not hidden. That's always been his argument. He can dress it up by talking about how much he doesn't like Mike Pence, how much he doesn't like elections. But Donald Trump's entire administration has always been about white grievance and hatred towards black and brown people.

Now, when we get to what's happening on the ground here, and the irony is, I literally just came to where I am now. I'm filming at a tea shop from Black Lives Matter Plaza here in Atlanta, where you have hundreds of names listed.

But right next to those names, you see the signs for Warnock. You see the signs for Ossoff. That is what's at stake for a lot of people who I have talked to down here in Georgia. They look at the possibility of Loeffler and Perdue going back into the Senate as the end of any possible attempts at having federal legislation that deals with police brutality, at having federal legislation that might do something about health care, at having federal legislation that might put $2,000 at least once into everybody's pocket, so that they can survive COVID.

So, I got to tell you, Ari, from the ground here, the level of interest in this campaign, in this Senate race is higher than anything I have seen in a long, long time, in Atlanta in particular. It is the talk.

And Donald Trump's tape where he's threatening the secretary of state has also been of interest. But what I find to be the contrast is this. Whereas Republicans who I have spoken to are frustrated about the whole process and say it's rigged and are angry, it's the Democrats and the independence and the young infrequent voters who are saying, this is our chance to finally repudiate all of this stuff we're seeing from the Trump administration.

I'm not -- I may not be as bullish. I may not be as bullish as James Carville, but I certainly have seen a lot more enthusiasm on the part of Democrats than I have seen on Republicans down here.

MELBER: You know, if I had more time, I could make a list of all the things that you're not as much as James Carville.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: But that's why we hope to stay healthy and have long lives.

Let me go to LaTosha and then James.

CARVILLE: We have got the same hairline.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Well, that's true. You know what? There is something in common, but you don't -- don't have the style. Jason doesn't have the fashion sense.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: In New Orleans...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Go ahead, James.

CARVILLE: It's a vanilla lightning and chocolate thunder. We're two bald-headed wonders.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Well, there you go. There you go.

And the polls...

JOHNSON: You know what?

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: And the polls have not even closed yet.

Go ahead, Jason.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: To address what our guest said, I do know that these issues will be infinitely better with Reverend Warnock in the Senate, as opposed to Kelly Loeffler.

And I think a big step in the right direction is going to transpire tonight in Georgia. I'm very -- I'm bullish. I will be honest with you.

MELBER: Mm-hmm.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Well, let me take that then to LaTosha for -- LaTosha, just for the final thought.

We were looking at some of these live pictures. And I will tell viewers, we might put them back up. It's -- darkness has fallen there. It's the end of the day, obviously. First polls close within the hour.

But we're looking at some of these lines. We're looking at -- again, we have stories, we have anecdotes. And, eventually, we will have the numbers and the data, LaTosha, if you could just talk us through the interest on the ground right now.

BROWN: So, I have been doing this work for 27 years.

This is the first election that I have worked in that every single person that I have talked to knew there was an election happening. That never happens. Every single person that I have met in the street, it doesn't matter if I'm in the grocery store. It doesn't matter if I'm on the corner, that every single person that I have talked to in the last nine weeks are aware that there's an election happening.

That in itself is actually significant.

The second thing is, we have been getting phone calls. We're working in 50 (AUDIO GAP) all around the state. And I have been getting phone calls where people are standing in line, and not standing in line like they're impatient. They are determined that they're going to cast their vote.

So, people were very determined today that they're going to cast their vote. And then the third thing, there's a certain kind of energy. There's a certain kind of energy. I know, unlike my friend James Carville, I am quick to say, I don't know, do I feel a win in the air?

Of course, I want to see those votes come -- those votes count and those -- but there's something about when you can see this charged energy that something different is happening. And so, at the very least, I think there is an element that this is a race, and at one point wasn't even supposed to be close.

This is a race. Two Senate seats?

JOHNSON: Right.

BROWN: Most folks in America don't know who their U.S. senator is.

And so I think what is really significant, the fact that there have been more black voters to vote in the run-off than in the general election, in a particular process that was created to literally disrupt the Negro voting bloc.

So, let's think about how extraordinary that has been in itself.

MELBER: Yes.

BROWN: And so I think history has already been made in many ways.

MELBER: We have talked about so many these issues.

And, LaTosha, I appreciate you reminding viewers the history of this. The way these run-offs were actually created in Georgia was a product of a racist system to try to -- quote, unquote -- limit or cage, what they would call caging African-American voters in America, an important point of living history here.

I have to fit in a break on this busy night. I want to thank Jason and LaTosha. James Carville comes back.

Everyone, though, stay with us here on MSNBC.

Coming up: the Trump effect on Georgia, whether it's backfiring, as we preview this race.

And Nicolle, Rachel and the whole team coming up shortly after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We're tracking the voting in Georgia continuing right now. Polls close in just about 40 minutes.

Now, this critical vote comes against the backdrop of Donald Trump's closing argument, which has involved in increasing bout of conspiracy theories and authoritarian theater discussing a rigged election.

Now, both these Republican candidates have overboard trying to back Donald Trump on all of this, including the objections that are doomed to fail to tomorrow's certification of Biden's victory.

Many Republicans are now worried, and saying so, that Trump's antics and his visit may even depress some turnout or backfire on one or both of these races.

As promised, legendary Democratic strategist James Carville returns, joined by Cecile Richards. She's the founder of Supermajority and the former president of Planned Parenthood.

Thanks to both of you for being here as part of our special coverage.

Cecile, your thoughts on this big night?

CECILE RICHARDS, CO-FOUNDER, SUPERMAJORITY: Well, it's exciting.

And it's great to see that a lot of folks who didn't even vote in the general election are turning out, particularly young people, black voters. I think the real story, though, here is sort of what you alluded to, though. This is so clearly now the party of Donald Trump.

And so, regardless of what happens, when you look at Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, these are folks who have -- they are demonstrating that this party has been bought and sold by Donald Trump. And it is a party that -- whose base is going to shrink. It is not appealing to women, not appealing to young people, not appealing to people of color.

And so I think, regardless of what happens tonight, although I'm very optimistic, I think the Republicans have a long-term problem on their hands, and it is because Donald Trump is in control.

MELBER: Yes, you say that.

And, James, there was a lot of forecasting about what would happen if or after Trump loss. But the grip on at least the bulk of the party is there. We have seen, interestingly, some local officials push back more starkly than senators, who, of course, have all the political ammunition to do so, even by self-interest, have six-year terms, if they're current senators.

Listen to some of the pushback Trump has gotten about his blatant lies, James.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GABRIEL STERLING, GEORGIA VOTING SYSTEM IMPLEMENTATION MANAGER: Then there is the claim that 66,248 people below the age of 18 voted. The actual number is zero.

They say that there's 2,423 people who voted without being registered. Let's just be clear about this. You can't do it.

There is no shredding of ballots going on. That's not real.

No one is changing parts or pieces out of Dominion voting machines.

Again, this is all easily, provably false, yet the president persists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: James, we know that this matters, and it will hang over the United States Senate tomorrow.

As a political matter, which is more narrow, do you think any of this does hurt these Republicans running in Georgia tonight? Or is this apart from something you reminded us before the November election, which is, it's the pandemic, stupid, it's the recession, stupid, it's all these kitchen table issues?

CARVILLE: Well, Mike Tyson, a pundit once said, he hits you so hard, he changes the way you taste.

If we win these two seats, they're going to taste different tomorrow. It's going to affect everything. Do I think we're going to win? Yes. Will I be profoundly disappointed if we lose? Of course I will.

If we win, everything is going to be different. It's going to change -- it's kind of like COVID. It's going to change the way people taste. The entire political world, if it wakes up what I think it's going to wake up to tomorrow morning, is going to be profoundly different than the one that exists that 18:30 Eastern time, or whatever we are.

That, I'm certain of. I'm pretty sure we're going to -- I feel good about where we are. And if we win this, we're just living in a new universe. We really -- in ways that you and I and Cecile, as long have we been around, we can't imagine what this -- the effect of this is going to be.

MELBER: Cecile?

RICHARDS: Well, I think it's also been really wonderful to see that, of course, a lot of folks thought, once Donald Trump wasn't on the ballot, that that had been the motivating factor for a lot of Democrats.

But the unity we have seen in this run-off election, obviously, at the top of the ticket, with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris repeatedly showing up in Georgia with a very clear message, the grassroots mobilization of both low donors, of people across the country -- I have been phoning women voters in Georgia, and everyone I know is doing that.

And that to me shows the staying power of what started this November, that it wasn't just a one-shot thing. And, again, I think it shows what I'm really excited about in Georgia is the power of what Stacey Abrams has built, not just as a leader herself, but investing in grassroots organizing, the power of Black Voters Matter and LaTosha Brown, what she has built, this is -- this is long-term infrastructure.

And I agree with what James says. Boy, we win these two seats, everything's different tomorrow. But, regardless, Georgia is now a battleground state. And that is something that you just can't deny, and is -- I think everyone should be incredibly proud of the work they have done in the state to make that happen.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Yes, you remind everyone that -- we have 30 seconds, James.

Go.

CARVILLE: I want to single out a group of people.

And that is Democratic donors, small donors, big donors, every kind of vote they have. What -- they have just fired away. We had in many ways a disappointing night on November 3, and they just kept writing checks.

And my hat is off, tip of the hat to Democratic donors all around this country. You have really shown how much you love the United States. And that's -- generally, people...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Well, interesting point, James.

As you remind everyone, so much riding on this, hundreds and millions of dollars just in one state race, and Cecile reminding us that Georgia wasn't a state that Donald Trump was supposed to lose, even if he lost the rest of the map.

My special thanks here to Cecile Richards and James Carville, kicking us off.

I am signing off with a quick break.

I want you to know, don't go anywhere.

MSNBC's special election coverage continues with Brian, Rachel, Nicolle, Joy, and a whole lot more special guests and experts. That's right after this quick break right here on MSNBC.

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

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