IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 3/15/21

Guests: Meridith McGraw, Sam Nunberg, Joan Walsh, Soledad O`Brien


Journalist Soledad O`Brien speaks out. Charges are filed in the death of Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick. Republican Senator Ron Johnson takes heat for his comments about the insurrection and Black Lives Matter. Why has former President Trump been so quiet post-inauguration? Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez touts the COVID relief bill on social media.



Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

We have a big show tonight.

President Biden touting his historic COVID bill. News on Republican confusion about how to deal with something. Are they for it or against it?

Also tonight, I`m thrilled to tell you award-winning journalist Soledad O`Brien joins us here live. That`s in this upcoming segment. So we will see her very soon.

Plus, there are charges now officially in the death of Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick. Neal Katyal joins us on that important story later.

We begin right now with President Biden heading out on this tour. He is going to go to multiple states, along with Vice President Harris and their partners, a landmark stimulus bill that has been stalked, as everybody knows now, with these progressive options, these answers, these ideas for what should be done to tackle the COVID crisis, such as it is now, and to try to rebound and get on the road forward.

Democrats are now eying this openly, as both a solution set of plans for the nation and a political weapon, possible keys to Democrats` chances of winning something that they see as fundamental for this Biden era, which would be more seats in Congress.

There are signs the message may be breaking through, 67 percent -- that is a supermajority in any time period, and especially in this polarized era -- 67 percent of Americans approving of Joe Biden`s handling of COVID, the main issue, of course, of the year, and his overall approval rating up to 62 percent. That itself is up six points from just last week.

If you have been watching THE BEAT, we have been charting some of these numbers because they are unusual. And they suggest a break with the politics and the polarization of the last four years, at least on some issues.

It speaks to a bet the President Biden and his team are making, that Americans obviously need help, that this doesn`t have to be about party, no matter what happens in Washington, and that the federal government providing that help will put Republican politicians in a bind, if they won`t get on board and work with Democrats.

And, as I mentioned, we have a big show. We have Soledad O`Brien coming up.

But we begin with a friend of ours who has walked through so many of these issues in the recent era, Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation."

Good to see you.

JOAN WALSH, "THE NATION": Good to see you too.

MELBER: I wanted to begin with you, because you have charted this for a long time. I think I missed NBC viewers and your readers know that, the debates over health care and the Obama era, everything in the last four years.

And what we see tonight, which is President Biden, Vice President Harris, and a lot of other Democrats saying, this is big, they`re proud of it -- parts of it are obviously big spending liberalism. They`re saying great. And not only that, they`re going to go out and tour on it.

What do you see as important here? Because it`s where the policy meets the politics, as I mentioned.

WALSH: Well, I think even small things, like the vice president going to a vaccination site, Ari, is a big thing.

I think that they cannot let the COVID pieces of this get lost in the bigger picture, even though I love the bigger picture. And they need to sell that. And I will say more about that. But I thought it was great that she got out there.

I think they really have to show that we are helping get the vaccine out there. We are helping open schools. I mean, this is so important. We -- there`s lots of money to do that. I don`t know that it`s sufficient. We don`t know what will be sufficient, but they really are addressing -- they`re not coming down on a side of parents, teachers unions, this whole awful thing we have been seeing.

They are really saying, there`s a way to do it safely. And we`re going to provide the funding and the infrastructure to do it safely.

So I think things like that are big. People want to feel like we`re getting back to some good kind of normal. And then the underlying things that are, I think, going to take months to surface, but they need to be talking about them, is that this bill is really going -- this act, this already past plan is going to deal with structural unemployment.

It`s going to put a lot of people back to work or back fully to work who had been left out even before COVID. And I think they know that. And I think that they are going to be about explaining that too.

But I think they have just got to get out there, show what`s happening, and just build up the hope. There`s like a pent-up demand for hope. And this bill is going to start to meet that demand, I think.

MELBER: I hear that.

Joan stays with us. I want to spotlight another piece of this, which is Republicans trying to take credit for a stimulus package that, as people following politics know, zero Republicans supported in Congress, some of them getting into suppose for this.

Now Republican Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar has been touting the inclusion of -- quote -- "bipartisan relief" -- that`s her term -- for small businesses. Of course, she was part of the partisan wall against it.

Similar hypocrisy on display with Republican Senator Roger Wicker. And he got some heat for that. It`s part of a wider issue for Republicans struggling to villainize what Biden is doing, which gets hard when you think about the way Biden empathizes and the general approach he`s taken and how out of step what you`re about to see is with most of the country and the polling I mentioned.

Some of it borders on the ridiculous.


MARK LEVIN, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: An egomaniac and a narcissist taking credit for the work of Donald Trump.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: This is a free country. How dare you tell us who we can spend the Fourth of July with?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn`t know he was a party planner.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: Threatens to take away the cookie if the little children don`t behave.

ALEX BERENSON, AUTHOR, "UNREPORTED TRUTHS": The word that came to my mind was bizarro. It was a bizarro speech.

INGRAHAM: It seemed to tag like a funeral for America.

LEVIN: Most disgusting, propagandistic speech that a demagogue, even a politician has ever given.


MELBER: Jones stays with us.

And we bring into the conversation Professor Jason Johnson.

Your thoughts, sir?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It`s like Joe Biden is Mike Jones. Like, nobody -- nobody wanted him back then. But now that he`s passed the stimulus bill, everybody wants their hands on the stimmy. Everybody wants to take credit for it. Everybody wants it in their community back.

It`s so bizarre.

MELBER: Back then, they didn`t want him. Now they all on him. Strong.

JOHNSON: Now they all on him. Now they all on him.

It`s amazing to me. And here`s the thing. We saw the same thing with Obama, right, with the stimulus package. You saw people like Paul Ryan, oh, the stimulus package is a terrible idea. And then he`s writing letters to get his hands on some of the cash. That is what we`re seeing right now with Joe Biden.

And here`s the problem, though. I don`t think this is going to hold up. I think as the stimulus money starts to really -- the COVID relief money starts to creep into neighborhoods, the biggest thing, if some of this money can be put -- and it can be -- towards school repair, ventilation, getting people back into buildings, it will be very hard for a local Republican member of Congress or the Senate to take credit for people getting back into school this fall or next summer, when they didn`t vote for it.

And that`s why I think this is really going to blow up in their faces.



And I think Democrats have to make sure that happens. I mean, I think they have to just consistently -- and I see it on Twitter. I see it with some of our hilarious congresspeople just calling them out. You will not get away with taking credit for this, because, OK, maybe you -- there was an amendment, there was an idea, you had a conversation.

You voted to kill this piece of legislation. If you had your way, none of this money would be going out for anything to anybody. You cannot pull this off, people. And I just see so much more sophistication. And we just have so many more -- I hope this doesn`t sound trivial, but we have so many more members of Congress, House and Senate, who are smart about social media, and use it really well.

They don`t stoop to sad level. They`re not mocking people. They`re not ginning up mobs against people, but they are funny, and they are just there for everything. And I think it matters. I think it`s going to be very hard for them to -- for these liars to pull this off.


MELBER: Yes, Joan, you`re talking about the way politics lives now. And while the newest -- whatever the newest platform may be, can feel, as you said, potentially trivial or somehow different -- FDR had radio fireside chats. Kennedy was a master of television.

WALSH: Right.

MELBER: Barack Obama used the Internet to great effect for fund-raising. It really helped him get around part of the establishment. But it was an earlier stage.

We now have, as you say, people like AOC and others in the Democratic Caucus who are using that to do truth-squadding and fact-checking, as well as what else it can be for, which is sharing pictures or recipes or any anything else, right? It`s part of it.

And I do think it`s interesting, both of you speaking to the point that there`s kind of a Republican problem here of a reverse John Kerry. And they`re basically saying ,when it comes to the stimulus, they were for it after they were against it.

And that never -- that never plays well in politics.


MELBER: I have one more item I want to hit.

But, Jason, go ahead.

JOHNSON: Well, yes, and that`s the problem.

It`s like people can see -- this is what I have always said about spending money. Tax cuts, you may or may not feel it. It depends on what you own. Joe Biden may not put his names on this stimulus checks, right, but people know where the money came from. They`re going to know where the new bridge came from.

They`re going to know that that school is open, because it came from the money. It`s something that people can touch and feel and has changed their lives. And it`s very hard to take credit for something that you didn`t lay your hands on to begin with.

MELBER: Both of our panelists stay.

The other piece we want to hit is, we`re tracking different parts of this that are so important, the vaccine rate, which we all track in the media, and now some partisan fissures. News today that a third of Republican voters are saying they just won`t get the vaccine. NBC News just caught up with some of them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the whole coronavirus was probably largely political, and I would think that the vaccine would probably go along with that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t think that it`s 100 percent safe and effective.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t trust the vaccine at all.


MELBER: Now, people are entitled to their feelings and their health freedom.

The news, though, comes at an interesting time, because there have been, of course, public health advocacy efforts. We have done fact-checks on this. The vaccine is safe. It is working. And there are shifts in attitudes among what are sometimes called vaccine hesitance cohorts.

For example, among black and Hispanic Americans, there was more initial hesitancy seen, but they now in polling are just as willing and sometimes more so to get the vaccine compared to white Americans. Last winter, people of color voiced more concerns. And, of course, there are many real disparities in terms of health care and vaccine access, but evidence here that the public health campaigns may be working.

Dr. Fauci meanwhile, saying this about his former boss, Donald Trump, and vaccines.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I think it would make all the difference in the world. He`s a very widely popular person among Republicans. If he came out and said, go and get vaccinated, it seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close followers would listen to him.


MELBER: That`s the doctor`s view. We have to be as precise as possible. It is true that former President Trump told his followers to get the vaccine in his one post-presidential speaking address at CPAC.

Meanwhile, President Biden`s actually downplaying the idea that Trump is much of a factor. He says it`s more important what people and conservatives hear from their own social groups and networks.

Jason and Joan are here.

Joan, your thoughts on this? Because one key part of public health messaging is to engage people, to be factual and to be as respectful inclusive as possible, whether someone is against it because of what they heard and read, or because they are a libertarian with skepticism of the government, or they have other skepticism of the government, but all this playing out now.

And we`re seeing the public health messaging chipping away at some, but not some of those younger Republicans, Joan.

WALSH: I think it`s really interesting, Ari, because we did have -- and it was a very real, I think, in the beginning, concern among African-Americans and other groups that they were not sure that this was OK.

And it was deeply rooted in historic racism, racist health practices. But what`s been really great to see is that there`s been effort at outreach, and it`s been very successful. People have been reached where they are. It`s not enough yet. The vaccine is not nearly available enough in a lot of communities.

But the skepticism is going down, and the rate of vaccination is going up. And I liked what President Biden said today. I do think that a lot of people who, God bless them, their allegiance is with Trump. They`re still reachable by their pastor, their doctor, public health people, their sister-in-law.

I think that it probably could be a similar kind of effort that reaches them where there they are. And I don`t think we need Donald Trump. I don`t think we`re going to get him. I just don`t -- I don`t think we should be looking at that kind of celebrity public health outreach.

I think it`s better to be close to the community.

MELBER: Right, and getting the right information out, and then people can steep themselves in it. The age gap also interesting, because elderly Republicans who have seen the damage are not as quick to be ideological about passing on this, which speaks to some of the obvious risk factor.


MELBER: Joan and Jason kicking us off tonight, my thanks to both of you.

We turn now, as promised, to my one-on-one interview with award-winning journalist Soledad O`Brien, CEO of Soledad O`Brien Productions, host of "Matter of Fact," and a veteran of many parts of media that our viewers recall.

Thanks for being here.

SOLEDAD O`BRIEN, HOST, "MATTER OF FACT": Hi, nice to see you. How are you?

MELBER: I`m good, thanks.

We have been having this discussion and charting where the COVID bill is going and where the views of the nation are. You have covered so many big, historic stories and crises. And I have a lot of things I want to get to you with.

But my first question tonight would be, how do you think this president is doing, big picture, 50-some in, with this nation looking to round a corner?

O`BRIEN: Yes, I think, if you look at the polls, the polls say people like what he`s selling at this moment.

I know we talk a lot about bipartisanshipness. That`s not quite a word, but this idea that, is it by partisan when no Republicans are voting for the American rescue bill?

And I would actually say, don`t worry so much about the people in Congress. What do Americans who sit on both sides the aisle or -- and others, what do they think? And you can see that it`s obviously very popular.

So, as much as today, as you well know, and over the last few days, there have been many conversations about President Biden, is he going to do a presser, when are we going to hear from him, I think that`s just a little bit of a lot of fluff, that, in actuality, what you can see is, in the poll numbers, that he`s doing pretty well with the American people, who have a lot on their plate, right?

You`re dealing with an economic crisis. You`re dealing with people who are literally hungry. You`re dealing with parents who can`t figure out when their kids are actually going to go back to school full-time. You`re dealing with a global pandemic. People would like to get their money from the government. They would also like to get a vaccine, a large number of people.

So, I think, with all those crises happening on many fronts, I think the polls would show you that he`s doing well.

MELBER: Yes. Yes.

And that`s the context, as you say, to what`s more bipartisan than tens of millions of Trump voters supporting Joe Biden`s first big act? It`s actually a striking thing happening here in broad daylight.

What we`re going to do here is, we get to keep Soledad.

So, thank you for staying.

We have our shortest break. In just 30 seconds, we`re going to get into this backlash to a top Republican saying he`s more afraid of BLM than the January 6 rioters.

We`re back with Soledad in 30 seconds.


MELBER: We`re back with Soledad O`Brien.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson taking heat today for his comments about the insurrection. This is the other big story we wanted to get to.

He is asserting that he did not personally feel threatened by those rioters who violently stormed the Capitol on January 6, were engaged in those attacks on officers and other violence. And then he went on to say, but if they were BLM protesters, it`d be different. Take a look.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): On January 6, I never felt threatened, because I didn`t. I knew those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break a law. And so I wasn`t concerned.

Now, had the tables been turned -- and, Joe, this could get me in trouble. Had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election, and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.



MELBER: Soledad?

O`BRIEN: Where do you begin, right, with something that`s overtly racist and bigoted?

And I have interviewed Senator Johnson many times. And I think, as he was saying, this is going to get me into trouble -- people, right before they say something that`s going to get them into trouble, often say, this is going to get me into trouble, and he`s right.

Listen, that was not a dog whistle. That was kind of a bullhorn. He said, these people, these are people who love their country. Well, let`s just remind everybody that they beat a police officer with a flagpole; 300 of the 800 have been charged with a serious crime. He said, these are people who respect the law, right?

So, either he has no idea what`s happening, or he is just lying to you, right? Those are kind of the two options we`re left with at this moment. And so I don`t know how you manage to think that Senator Johnson, who said he would feel much more comfortable than if it were the BLM, Black Lives Matter, protesters, who are black, overwhelmingly, right, obviously, a ridiculous comparison, ludicrous, because, of course, we`re talking about public protest, as opposed to a protest to literally specifically try to overturn democracy.

And also 92 percent of Black Lives Matter protests had no violence involved at all. So it`s just disgusting. I mean, I literally -- I read that and say, here`s a guy who has said the quiet part out loud. That is a racist thing. He felt like these people who were literally beating, pummeling police officers, that they somehow are better than Black Lives Matter protesters.

Well, gee, what`s the difference? Maybe it`s their skin color. It`s kind of disgusting, to be honest.

MELBER: Yes. I appreciate your candor.

There are times where politicians` ignorance or lack of information may be relevant. But we happen to be in the particular situation of knowing that he not only lived through the attack, but lived through a Senate impeachment trial, with voluminous evidence and hours of video that he sat through.

And whether he sometimes looked away or not or daydreamed, he saw and experience that. So it seems to be a feature of this deliberate governing white supremacy to almost sort of troll everyone by just denying those facts and then blatantly, as you put it, racializing it.

As for the overpolicing of Black Lives Matter...


MELBER: Go ahead.

O`BRIEN: We`re in a weird time, right, where there`s this sort of double down, right, where you can just literally gaslight people. You can just say the opposite of the thing, and not because you`re mistaken, not because you don`t understand the facts, not because, oops, you`re confused, you have misread into something, but you literally do understand.

As you point out, he does understand, obviously. And he`s just decided, for the audience that he`s talking to -- and often I believe this is because you can take a lot of these comments on social media and slice and dice them and chop them up and make sure you`re serving the public that wants to believe some of the things that he`s saying. So, it`s very intentional, which makes it all the more disturbing, right?

He`s really gaslighting the American public, and then trying to speak very specifically to a population that actually feels OK about what they saw happening at the Capitol. And, again, look at the reports -- you guys have covered this -- of the impact upon just the police officers who are serving.

It`s just so horrific to read. It`s so appalling that he would do this. But he`s a smart dude.

MELBER: Right.

O`BRIEN: I mean, I know Senator Johnson. He`s not a fool. But he`s decided to elevate kind of a racist conversation in order to reach out to some of his followers, which I`m not sure what his strategy is long term on that.

MELBER: Well, I appreciate that you mention that, because this is the important part of it being more than just a controversial statement by a public official.

We`re covering it tonight. We want people to understand. In a non-legal sense. I`m not talking about a prosecutorial standard, but in a non-legal sense, this type of leadership from a member of the Upper Chamber, the Senate, as a white governing member of a political branch of government, is providing aid and comfort to the illegal insurrectionists.

Again, I`m not saying he legally planned it, but I am saying that it`s after-the-fact defense and it`s trying to say, in support of them, he wants to label them as falsely peaceful. They were violent. Falsely patriotic, as he put it. No, they were attacking police officers, as you reminded everyone.


MELBER: And then flip it BLM. And I have one fact-check on that.

O`BRIEN: Yes, you`re right. He said that they had a respect for law enforcement. He did not.



One fact-check I want to put up with regard to overpolicing, so folks remember. In the immediate aftermath of these events, there were BLM protests in Washington. They were peaceful.

And even for nonviolent offenses related to not attacking officers, not violent, there were -- we will show you the arrests here for the audience in June -- 289 arrests around the Washington area for Floyd, George Floyd- related protests, peaceful.

That day at the Capitol, when they were so overwhelmed, and so many people were treated with great reticence by the overwhelmed police force, there were only 41 arrests. And we now know, because there have been more since then, that that initial disparate policing didn`t reflect anything other than a problem in policing, because it turns out, as you mentioned, Soledad, there were hundreds of actual offenses.

They have only been slowly coming in later, and some of them coming in after the DOJ changed hands, Soledad.

O`BRIEN: Yes, when he says they wouldn`t break the law, they were people who respect law enforcement, these are people who love their country, literally, these three things, those three comments are utterly false. They are untrue.

Clearly not people who love this country, clearly people who do not respect law enforcement, unless you consider beating somebody with a flagpole respecting law enforcement, and certainly not people who wouldn`t break the law. We now know that something like 300 of the 800 have been charged with crimes, serious crimes.

So it`s just untrue. And so I do -- I really, truly wonder about Senator Johnson a lot. Like, what brings someone to say those things who`s a -- I think a relatively well-respected elected official, to say those things that are just absolutely bold-faced lies? They`re just lies. They are just lies.

MELBER: I really appreciate getting your straight-up take on it.

There`s important aspects to this story beyond just the so-called controversy. And we have tried to tease some of those out tonight.

Soledad O`Brien, always good to see you. Thanks for sticking around for two blocks.

O`BRIEN: My pleasure.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We have a lot more in the program tonight, including why AOC and Biden are agreeing on something big today, what she`s doing helping the Biden administration.

But coming up: The Biden DOJ is now run by Merrick Garland, and they`re moving fast on the rioters. We have big news, and Neal Katyal, my special guest, live -- after this.


MELBER: Moments ago, the Senate just made history tonight, confirming Deb Haaland as the first Native American secretary of the interior.

Wanted to give you that news update.

We`re turning now to another new Cabinet member, Attorney General Merrick Garland`s first full week on the job, and the Justice Department he oversees barreling ahead on its wide-ranging case against the January 6 insurrectionists, which Garland said would be his top priority at his confirmation hearings.

Well, today, the feds making two more key arrests, indicting two men for attacking Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died the day after he sustained injuries at the insurrection and riot, the men indicted on nine counts, including assault for using highly dangerous bear spray against police. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Here are some of the photos the feds released. It shows the man from the view of a police body camera, while the wider investigation and related court filings are revealing new details on the intel, like how a Texas militia member`s own family told the FBI as far back as late December 2020 that he was going to do some serious damage related to federal legislators in D.C., and when he stormed the Capitol, he was armed, and he soon was threatening more violence to come, admitting that he and others had thousands of weapons and fired no rounds, writing that, the next time, they will not be so cordial.

We`re back with former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal, an MSNBC legal analyst.

The significance, in your view, of these indictments?

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So, first of all, Ari, I just want to say, it is just an outstanding thing that Secretary Haaland was just confirmed.

For the last decade, I have gotten to work with the Native American community a lot. And this is the first Native American -- Native American to serve in the United States Cabinet ever in over 225 years. This is a big, big deal. And I think the president and everyone should feel really proud about this.

And with respect to the developments today, I think that they paint a really serious and damaging picture, first about Officer Sicknick and the attack on three different police officers perpetrated by these two individuals. I guess these guys are evidently friends from New Jersey. Everything is legal in New Jersey, I guess, like that.

But they used bear spray or some sort of chemical to disable these three police officers and possibly led to or contributed to the death of Officers Sicknick. And they were I.D.ed by surveillance videos.

And I`m not sure what makes less sense for these two, the idea that they came in to the Capitol carrying bear spray, or the fact that one of them was wearing a sweatshirt from the restaurant he owns. But somehow they were I.D.ed.

And that, I think, Ari, picks up on what you were just having, the conversation was Soledad. It`s just astounding to me that, on January 6, so many people were let go, including these two individuals. In the Black Lives Matter protests, as you were saying, lots of people were arrested, here, 41 people arrested. Everyone else got to, like, go back to the Trump Hotel and whoop it up, like oper -- insurrection or something like that.

And I think we need a really serious investigation into that. How did all these people get let go after invading the Capitol?

MELBER: Yes. I mean, I appreciate you saying that. I remember sitting where I am right now that day, and we were tracking a lot of different stories and our reporters were out there and we were getting the videos in.

But you and I have been around law enforcement in various ways. I remember watching even after they had retaken the grounds, watching people filing out of there, still mischievous, still lollygagging, still making their own social media videos, evidence now, but some officers -- and, again, we try to be precise.

Officers were overwhelmed at times. But some officers were walking them out and not even attempting, even appearing to attempt any arrests. Everyone on the grounds at that point was trespassing. You have that arrest, at a minimum.

I want to ask you about some of the portrait we`re getting about these people. It does fit, as you mentioned, with what we discussed earlier on the show and the attempt to minimize or lie about who these people are.

I have seen online people say, some -- there are some hard calls out there. You don`t want to do guilt by association. But if you find you`re hanging out with a lot of Nazis, usually a bad sign for where you`re headed.

And we have Nazis and neo-Nazis here. And that`s what they are. And that`s what they believe. And it`s Aryan white supremacy. And they hate a lot of different groups. And this is real. So, let`s deal with it as a society and let`s not have people or some Republican senators minimize it.

To that end, here`s an alleged Capitol rioter that literally grew a -- quote -- "Hitler mustache." They`re also, we should note, still active in the Army, a Reservist arrest on suspicion for the January 6 riot known to most of his co-workers as a white supremacist and a Nazi sympathizer who grew a -- quote -- "Hitler mustache" while working as a Navy contractor with a security clearance.

Neal, I`m not going to come up with a question. Just take it away.

KATYAL: Well, Ari, you`re absolutely right.

There are different buckets of people. There are some of these people who are neo-Nazis or true insurrectionists who wanted to go in and have weapons and other things and attack people. Others are kind of giving aid and comfort. And there are distinctions. Everyone`s entitled to the presumption of innocence.

But I think what you`re pointing to is something, a lot going on in parts of our society, absolutely. And some of it involves military. Some of it involves police officers. Today, I think there was a filing in Fresno or some indication that there`s a police officer there that was involved in the January 6 attacks.

And so this all damages tremendously the notion of law enforcement, in which 99 percent of these people are good, and you have got these bad apples that do these horrendous, horrific things.

The doctrine of conspiracy does permit, I think, prosecutors to start going after these individuals, and in a very broad way. And Judge Garland knows these doctrines really well, both as a judge and as a prosecutor, and someone who led the Oklahoma City bombing.

So, I have every confidence that it`s going to be done right now. But it`s sad to me that it`s been more than two months since these attacks, and for at least the key first 14 days, I`m not sure what, if anything, happened.

MELBER: Yes, yes. All important points.

Neal Katyal, thank you, as always.

We remind everyone, you can go to to see this and other reports by Neal.

Up ahead, as promised, AOC and Biden linking up. We will explain, but, first, new reporting on Donald Trump`s political exile and why Republicans say he`s completely adrift and how it can help Biden -- when we come back.


MELBER: We`re roughly 50 days into this Biden presidency.

And there`s a lot of talk about a return to some kind of normalcy in Washington, from a president addressing the nation honestly about a national crisis -- that hadn`t happened in a while -- to just getting major legislation passed.

And while those things relate to the new president, turns out the ex- president is also acting traditional in one way. For all the hype and bluster and threats, so far, Donald Trump is actually turning out a lot like other ex-presidents in both parties, who largely avoided the political spotlight and the daily fray of political fighting.

Now, the reasons may be different. Trump was booted from Twitter over alleged incitement. And Trump is more nationally polarizing than most ex- presidents in either party. But 50-plus days in, we can see he`s largely avoided attacking Biden in public or going on TV, which he used to like doing, or really doing much of anything in public, save that one speech at CPAC.

He`s mostly stayed out of view at Mar-a-Lago. Republican politicians clearly want to stay popular with MAGA voters. He is the former nominee. But, as for their leader, Politico has a whole new article about how Trump is now adrift in political exile and far from the -- quote -- "political Godzilla" that some Republicans were bracing for, reporting that, while he does have this PAC and office, even Republicans don`t know what that PAC is actually doing.

And thus his recent actions are largely met with a shrug by the GOP. It is, to some, an unexpected event. And it has political implications.

So, we are joined by Meridith McGraw, Politico White House reporter who co- authored that particular article. Also with us is Sam Nunberg, former adviser to Donald Trump.

Meridith, what gives?

MERIDITH MCGRAW, POLITICO: Well, President Trump, his post-presidency was supposed to beat Trump continuing to be the major power player Godzilla over the party. He threatened to maybe form a third party. That never ended up happening.

There was talks about him joining another social media platform once he was booted from Twitter. There were talks about him even forming his own news empire. That didn`t happen either.

And the president, the former president, has also talked about trying to take revenge and support insurgent Republican candidates. But, so far, he`s really supported pretty traditional Republican candidates. When he has chosen to weigh in, it`s been a little bit all over the map.

And as you said in your intro, he`s largely avoided attacking Biden, when he does go out there on the public stage.


Sam, we lived through the Trump era together. You remember all that, right?


MELBER: And...

NUNBERG: I certainly do.

MELBER: This is your first time back on THE BEAT post-inauguration.

I`m curious your view of the reporting in Meridith`s piece, if you think that premise is shaping up correctly. And, if so, why is Donald Trump so quiet?

NUNBERG: Well, I respect Meridith. I respect her reporting.

I actually don`t agree, necessarily, with the premise, for the following reasons. As you just said, we`re only 50 days out. I have friends that work for him in that political apparatus that he does have, the Save America PAC. It`s run by Jason Miller, Bill Stepien, Justin Clark. Those are three people that were from the campaign.

As with everything with Donald Trump, we now see that there`s intrigue. There`s others that want to start a separate PAC, such as Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie. There are people competing to bring their own clients to get Trump`s endorsement.

And what Miller and that triumvirate have done is, they`re trying to create a straighter process. So -- but they`re not around him all day. He`s doing book interviews on Thursdays and Fridays. He`s going to be announcing that he`s coming out with a book.

The social media platform is also going to -- I`m told going to come out. But, yes, we are only 50 days out. Remember, this is a man who should have, but didn`t expect to be leaving the Oval Office on January 20, right?

So, he`s still in shock, I`m sure, from those couple weeks.


MELBER: Yes, I will jump in to say, I mean, the reporting is about these first 50-some days.

So, you may through your sources and your sense of it see where the -- where it may go in another 300 days, or how it may look going into midterms.

I will say that you -- we -- all three of us know that Donald Trump does care about his public image. Press and public adulation is probably one of the only constants in his entire chaotic life.

We checked on this methodically, because the numbers can tell the story. I`m going to show you this recent period going from about the fall campaign through the election, through January, which was, of course, what we lived through on the insurrection. This is from Google. So it`s a macro-data set. And you can see obviously where things spike, around the election, November, debates, right, then January 6.

What you see in the right-hand corner there is a complete crash, Sam.

I`m curious, not just from Twitter, but from staying off TV, and, as Meridith wrote, really not even hitting Biden on even stuff where he could.


MELBER: Trump is at now an all-time low since he entered politics.

Do you think he knows that? Do you think he cares? What about that?

NUNBERG: I think he does. Look, does he know it? Will he admit it is the answer.

I`m sure he knows. Meridith did talk about her piece -- and let`s remember he issues these press releases. Those are really just his string tweets. He cannot tweet anymore. He`s been deplatformed. So, there are times where he will want to do that. And it`s just basically going to be internecine fights within the Republican Party.

The larger picture, though, going into the midterms that you have to remember is, his endorsement is determinative of those primaries, at least 95 percent of them. Whether Mitch McConnell likes it, whether Cheney likes it, that is the reality.

And that`s why you have seen him already endorse through Lindsey Graham`s visit at Mar-a-Lago incumbents in certain states in those Senate races. We...

MELBER: Right.

NUNBERG: Republicans -- I say we. We have two senators that are retiring. I guarantee you that at least one of them will be a nominee who he endorses in Ohio and Missouri.

You`re looking at Arizona. He has a major role to play.


NUNBERG: And Mitch McConnell has played this so badly.

And that`s where -- I that`s where I think that you will see Trump will be back, regardless of whether he runs in 2022.


MELBER: Sam, you`re sounding Trumpier than we remember you.

NUNBERG: I`m not Trumpian, no.


MELBER: I want to get Meridith in briefly.

The other reason that...

NUNBERG: I`m just giving analysis. I`m just giving analysis.

MELBER: No, I know you`re not. That`s -- no, I know.

But you`re sounding more sympathetic to their view, is all I`m saying. I`m not criticizing one way or the other.


NUNBERG: I despise Donald Trump. Just so everybody knows, I despise Donald.


MELBER: Well, we -- I think our viewers remember some of that.

Real quick, I want to get Meridith in there.

Obviously, Godzillas also have trouble tweeting because they have no opposable thumbs.


MELBER: But, Meridith, your final word on this?

MCGRAW: The former president just came out with another statement tonight through his Save America PAC that was talking about a correction to "The Washington Post" story about the election in Georgia.

But I do find it notable that, right now, so much of the conversation is about how do we get so many members of the American public, especially Republicans who are skeptical of the vaccine, signed up and getting vaccinated?

And it was notable that the former president did not appear in that ad with other former presidents, including Carter and Bush and Obama and Clinton. And he has this incredible platform. He`s somebody that half of the country really wants to hear from, and he could be using that platform to encourage people to take this vaccine, and, hopefully, over to the end -- help us find a light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic.


Well, it was really interesting reporting. So, that`s what we wanted to get into it with you, Meridith.

Sam, good to see you again. Appreciate both of you.

NUNBERG: Thank you.

MELBER: Coming up: AOC -- thank you -- AOC getting Biden`s back, common ground, an interesting story -- when we return.


MELBER: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC, is connecting with her constituency.



Hello, everybody. I`m in trouble now.

Oh, yes, you guys like my haircut? You guys are talking about it? Let`s not started another national crisis over it, right?


OCASIO-CORTEZ: OK, can you guys see me? Thank goodness gracious.



MELBER: AOC has a huge following.

She`s become a progressive leader. And she`s very effective at using social media, something we touched on earlier tonight. She`s also using that power to advocate for the Biden COVID bill, and not just saying it`s a good thing. She`s actually been using that influential presence as a type of constituent services, including for people who may or may not be in her district, with information-rich posts like this to let people know what`s in the law.

The checks make headlines, but there are many other benefits. Consider that FEMA will now under this new law have a program that reimburses people for what can be costly COVID-related funeral expenses incurred last year.

Or take the $5 billion that will go explicitly to previously underrepresented farmers of color who have lost much land over the years, including from government discrimination and other debt policies.

Or take 20 percent of adult renters who report not being up on their rent. The new law adds $22 billion, billion, specifically in rental assistance, plus $5 billion for people who need aid for the homeless.

It`s one way that AOC is using her perch, her skills and her communications, which clearly are effective, and using them on behalf of Joe Biden on a place and an area where they agree.

And we wanted to update you on that.

Now, we have a lot more in the show, believe it or not. We`re near the end of the hour, but something very special about George Floyd and how politics hit the Grammys big just last night.


MELBER: Many have reflected on the adversity and pain of 2020 and the voices and the art that has emerged from such a tough year.

We recently heard from director Shaka King and singer H.E.R., who teamed up together for a movie probing civil rights in America. And while she made waves with her George Floyd anthem "I Can`t Breathe" all year -- it was an important song -- we talked about it in our extended digital interview.

And here`s part of that airing now for the first time.


H.E.R., MUSICIAN: There`s people who choose not to see the problem, and they choose to say, well, I`m not a racist, so I don`t -- I`m not contributing to the problem.

But the idea is that we all need to be actively trying to create change, because, if you try to stay neutral, then you are a part of the problem.


MELBER: That`s what she told us about her work.

The news tonight is, the Grammys just chose that very ballad as the song of the year at last night`s awards.

H.E.R. spoke about what it meant.


H.E.R.: I didn`t imagine that my fear and that my pain would turn into impact and it would possibly turn into change. And I think that`s what this is about. And that`s why I write music. That`s why I do this.

So, I`m so, so, so grateful.


MELBER: Meanwhile, today, there`s also Oscar news rolling in, where H.E.R.`s collaborator, Shaka King, who we just showed, got two nominations for the film "Judas and the Black Messiah," while another political movie about race and police brutality, "Two Distant Strangers," got an Oscar nomination for best live action short film.

The movie is directed by Travon Free and stars Zaria and Joey Bada$$, who recently joined us to discuss the project.

There may be a theme here that strong art confronting America`s problems and racism is getting noticed.

Now, on THE BEAT, we send our congrats and good luck to all the artists nominees. And we know most don`t do it for the awards. To quote another rapper/actor -- or is he an actor/rapper -- Drake, just trying to stay alive and take care of my people, and they don`t have no award for that. Trophies. Trophies. And this don`t come with trophies. Ain`t no envelopes to open.

Or, in this case, with all due respect to the actor and rapper, if taking care of people sometimes does come with an envelope, so be it.

We wanted to end on that hopeful note and say, good luck.

That`s our show tonight.