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

Guests: Tommy Vietor, Sally Kohn, Tony Schwartz


President Obama steps up his campaigning for Joe Biden. Donald Trump continues to lose ground in key states. How long should Americans reasonably expect for it to take results from the presidential election to be finalized? Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska slams President Trump.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT with my friend Ari Melber starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

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

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we are just 19 days out from the election, with Donald Trump losing ground in key swing states. There are growing Republican concerns. The electoral evidence shows that Donald Trump is literally playing defense again today, going to states that he won in 2016, trying to shore up past support there that he appears to have lost, rather than doing what candidates prefer to do, particularly incumbent presidents, which is challenge the challenger on other turf.

Republicans also concerned right now that tonight Donald Trump is going forward and missing the chance to reach many millions on a debate stage, having ditched the shot at that second chance after bombing in the first debate. That's according to voters, not my view, just what many voters said having watched it.

Now both candidates are doing separate town halls tonight. Democrats argue that Donald Trump basically choked when faced with a virtual Zoom debate. That's what he could have gotten tonight, where maybe his opponent would be better heard.

Donald Trump doing events, though, and other rallies in Florida, where he's tied with Biden. Also, Trump was on the ground in North Carolina, we're early in-person voting began today. Now, that's another state again on defense where he won in 2016.

Trump's also struggling with another piece of enthusiasm that we can measure, new numbers on the money, money from supporters, as Democrats are raising $1.5 billion in the most recent quarter. Wow. Biden drawing $380 million in one month alone.

So, in the metrics that matter, which is what we follow here, what I try to present to you, Joe Biden doing well, in the state polling, in the early turnout, and in the funding that you saw just there. Now, Trump is not going out there and saying that none of that is true. He's not even denying the tough terrain.

Instead, he actually cited it as true today in front of his own supporters at a rally, while arguing that, yes, things do look tough for him in October, but, when that happens, he argues that, if you look at the past, that's a situation where he can still go on to win.

And he recounted the run-up to the last election.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Remember, you had nine states, I was going to lose all of them the day before. And they were just wrong a little bit. I won all of them.

They said, this will be a horrible evening for Donald Trump. This evening will be over very shortly. Then we win Florida. We win North Carolina, by the way.


TRUMP: We win South Carolina. We win Georgia. We ran the coast. We just ran in one after another.


MELBER: Trump may be living in the past, because it's warmer than his political present.

But I want to give it to you straight. It's also true that many pundits treated what was fundamentally a narrow race in 2016 as if it were going to be a growing landslide.

And as we have reported right here on THE BEAT, 2020 is not 2016. Biden is up in measurable ways. But 2020 is also not 1984. Biden is not pulling ahead in ways that are yet insurmountable. He is deadlocked still in big states, like Ohio and Florida, where Republicans are beating Biden in new registrations right now. That's something we can count.

Now, as a newscaster, I can tell you, when I report these facts, sometimes, I hear from people about who those facts hurt or help. I have heard from some of you even when we have done these recent breakdowns.

Now, these are just facts. And, interestingly, Joe Biden's own campaign manager is out today referencing some of these facts with this message, telling everyone this race is far closer than people realize, noting that some of the political and online chatter is actually exaggerating the real lead that Joe Biden has.

Now, Biden's camp is still happy to continue to bank votes right now, when they have what appears to be a lead in many key places. His average lead in key states, like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Florida, is however, narrowly ahead of Trump's, not a runaway, and very similar to Clinton's lead over Trump at that same time in 2016, Florida being, of course, a place that many are watching.

Now, Biden could hold those narrow leads and win each of those states, to be sure. But these same measurable leads in 2016, well, they didn't hold for Clinton. Each of those states I just mentioned, she lost all of them to Donald Trump.

Let's get right to it right now on a big night.

I have Pulitzer Prize-winning "Post" columnist Gene Robinson, the former Trump co-author of "The Art of the Deal" Tony Schwartz, and -- I should mention the new audiobook "Dealing With the Devil: My Mother, Trump and Me" -- and political commentator and elections expert Sally Kohn.

Good to see all of you.

Gene, I start with you, because I will repeat it. At the risk of being a newscaster, I will repeat it. The point is not the 2020 is 2016, but that we are not yet seeing the kind of have leads that break away. And it is interesting, for whatever reasons, to see the head of the Biden campaign actually come out and make sure their own people know that tonight.


EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, I think the huge -- the biggest mistake the Biden campaign could make and Biden supporters could make at this point is any sort of overconfidence, any sort of feeling that this is in the bag, given all these good numbers.

Now, we should be realistic. I mean, four years ago at this point, we had just had the "Access Hollywood" tape and what had been a closer race seemed all of a sudden like the bottom had dropped out of Donald Trump's support, and then it came back up, right?

So this was kind of an odd moment in that campaign and in that campaign's polling. But the point is well-taken that the whole Trump strategy, the way he wins this, is he brings out more Trump base voters who did not form part of his base last time, who didn't vote last time, those white working-class voters who've been registering in large numbers in Pennsylvania and in other states.

And so while the Biden campaign can't deny that it seems to be doing very well at this point, it's got this huge money advantage, they have to wake up every morning saying, OK, what can go wrong? What are we missing? What have we not thought of? Where are we not on the ground that we need to be on the ground?


MELBER: And, Gene, to your point, and why -- I mean, what and why?

They also need to look at, why is it so close in Florida, despite an elderly population? Why is the Republican Party currently registering -- and I'm just counting it -- why is the Republican Party registering more new voters in Florida than Biden, Gene?

ROBINSON: Right. Well, that's a good question. And that's the question that the Biden campaign has been asking itself, has to be working to correct.

And while they do all of this, remember, Election Day has started. So we're in the middle of the election, right?


ROBINSON: This is the longest Election Day we're ever going to have. So they have to worry about getting their voters out to the polls, and they have to worry about voter suppression.



ROBINSON: They have to worry in all these states efforts by often Republican officials to, frankly, keep Democratic voters away from the polls.


ROBINSON: So they have to work on all these fronts, and they have to work on all of them as if they're behind.

MELBER: Well, my ears picked up when you said a long Election Day, because we have something very special later in tonight's program about that and how that's crucial and how some of that may scare Trump.

Tony, I went through some of the caution for the Biden side. Let me show some of the caution for the Trump side on the ground, not just the national news or FiveThirtyEight, and where all the junkies are, but people who are living their normal lives in an abnormal time worried about COVID, worried about the recession.

When Donald Trump comes to town, sometimes, he gets decent coverage. But we are finding -- we tracked this -- and I'm going to play this for the first time tonight -- a lot of the local coverage treats the arrival Trump as a reminder of the walking COVID problem in the United States, which is not great for him.

Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is preparing to come to Des Moines today. The president is hoping to shore up some support here as well.

The rally, though, comes as Iowa deals with one of the nation's worst COVID-19 outbreaks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lights are out and the stands are up at the Pitt-Greenville Airport, as staff Wednesday prepares for the president to come to Greenville.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump making another stop in Central Florida tomorrow as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And supporters are already lining up for this one.


MELBER: There are lines, which is a type of enthusiasm, Tony, but there's also just reference, even in relatively conservative areas on just the news, local news.

They're not trying to make a point. They're just observing there's a huge COVID problem in Iowa as he campaigns with events that violate COVID rules.

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP: THE ART OF THE DEAL": Well, I mean, has there ever been a presidential candidate running for reelection with less of a record to run on?

I mean, why would people in the last few weeks, based on everything that's going on, choose to move from undecided to Trump or from not having voted to Trump?

It's inconceivable to me. And yet I recognize that we -- there are so many variables that are at play here...


SCHWARTZ: ... that every day is a new day. That's for sure.

By the way, I have to say this. This is "Michigan Daily" night on THE BEAT.


SCHWARTZ: I met Gene Robinson -- Gene, you didn't think of this -- I met you almost 50 years ago today in the newsroom of "The Michigan Daily."

ROBINSON: Actually, Tony, that is absolutely -- fact-check, true. It's absolutely true.


ROBINSON: So, Tony and I go way, way, way back.


MELBER: Tony, as Mr. T. would say, you brought this on yourself.

Now I got to ask Gene, was Tony very into psychology and spirituality then?

ROBINSON: Into psychology? Kind of, I would say. Tony was a -- Tony was great, actually.

Tony was intimidatingly smart and opinionated. And I was from -- this hick from South Carolina. And he was this big city kid. So I was a little intimidated.


SCHWARTZ: He was the editor in chief, so let's just leave it at that.

ROBINSON: Well, there was that.


MELBER: You said hick from South Carolina?


ROBINSON: Well, I was South Carolina. I did end up being editor in chief.



MELBER: I was going to say, editor in chief, Pulitzer Prize winner.

But you self-identify -- everyone can self-identify however they choose, Sally. I love that. Shout-out to "The Michigan Daily." Go, blue. I'm a grad myself, as are my folks.

But enough about that.

There's 19 days out, Sally. You have heard everything from our illustrious fellow panelists.

I want to play something else that we haven't played yet that was a revealing moment when you look at the generational divide within the Democratic Party, because if you haven't seen this yet, everyone watching it have, you got to see this.

This is the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where every Democrat, I would say, below a certain age has lived through the hostage-taking, the disrespect, the complete decorum-busting stealing of the lawful Obama Supreme Court pick, all the way going into now Donald Trump on the precipice of putting three people on the court.

And while I'm all for, Sally, people, having robust exchanges of ideas, what the top Democrat did in praising Lindsey Graham today was just wild. Take a look.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Mr. Chairman, I just want to thank you.

This has been one of the best set of hearings that I have participated in. And I want to thank you for your fairness and the opportunity of going back and forth. It leaves one with a lot of hopes.

Thank you so much for your leadership.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): To Senator Feinstein, you're a joy to work with.


MELBER: Sally?

SALLY KOHN, WRITER/ACTIVIST: I mean, I think the COVID hug was my favorite part there.


KOHN: Look, I have a lot of reactions, but some of them, I can't say on television.

Here's what I will say. What is clear about this election -- we have talked about this before -- is that this is a base motivation election. And what is also very clear, it's -- look, it's true. This is a close election.

It would be close in any environment, and especially when you have a president who has made clear that he may not accept the outcome, you need the election to be -- if Biden wins, he needs to win overwhelmingly to both deal with the voter suppression, as well as all of the fighting over the election results that have come after the fact, as votes are counted after November 3.

Now, that being said, it's a turnout energy election. And there is no question, for a host of reasons that I find hard to understand, Trump's base continues to be incredibly loyal and incredibly motivated.

And things like what Dianne Feinstein just did there are part of the reason Democrats are not motivated. I mean, look, I'm not saying she has to become Bernie Sanders, but, for crying out loud, she just heaped praise on someone who was complicit in stealing and cramming down a Supreme Court nomination while an election is in progress in which millions of Americans have already cast their votes.

For her to do that is sad and sickening.

MELBER: I mean, Tony, it was bizarre, because there's a difference between respecting the process afforded to any individual judge, which is distinct from the politicians.

Judge Barrett is well-qualified, according to the ABA. She has a sterling legal record. I can say that, separate from what I said earlier about Lindsey Graham and others taking hostages.

Senator Feinstein says, Tony -- quote -- "one of the best sets of hearings I have participated in" -- end quote.

SCHWARTZ: This is an 87-year-old woman with -- I will say for you, Sally -- severely diminished mental capacity. Throw it out. Let's not talk about it. She didn't do that as consciousness.


MELBER: Well, you don't know -- you're here looking at the politics of it. You don't know her capacity one way or the other.


SCHWARTZ: Well, fine.

KOHN: I'm not going to say that.


MELBER: Sorry. Now we got -- everyone is excited.

I'm going to go to Tony and then Sally.


No, I'm not trying to speak for you, Sally. I do believe and I think there's plenty of evidence that she is diminished mentally, and that we don't need to parse this too deeply, because she wouldn't have said it if she were thinking more clearly, period.

MELBER: I understand the point you're trying to make.


KOHN: Look, I -- I think she could -- first of all, I very, very am horrified that that's going to probably be a line in a Lindsey Graham.

And I think everyone who's horrified should go donate to Jaime Harrison and then, by the way, donate to whomever is going to primary Dianne Feinstein.

It's clear that she is part and parcel of a Democratic Party that really wishes that Republicans could act with one iota of the famed even civility that they once did at some imagined point in the past. And that past has eclipsed her.

I don't -- that's not a comment on her age. That's just a comment on who she is and a comment on who a number of Democrats of all ages are. They don't realize that the game has changed and, hope as they might, the Republicans aren't going to play fair anymore.

So, when they see some modicum of something that glimmers to a hope of fairness, they just can't -- that's not the game anymore. It's over. That time is over. And we need to be a party that actually fights.


MELBER: Yes. And that's why...

KOHN: We still play (AUDIO GAP) higher moral standards. But you fight.

MELBER: Yes. And that's why it was a significant moment. I just take her at her word. I'm just interpreting what she said on the record for what it was.

But it was a claim about the hearings that, of course, many people disagree with, given that Senator Klobuchar and others on the committee went to great lengths to emphasize why these were not only not the -- quote -- "best hearings ever," but why they had a lot of problems, again, problems related to the policy process that the politicians chose, namely, the senators on that committee, nothing about Judge Barrett.

I have to fit in a break. So, this has been lively, as always.

Gene Robinson, Tony Schwartz, and Sally Kohn, I want to thank each of you.

We have our 30-second break, the shortest in the broadcast.

When we come back, something we have been working very hard on here for several days, one of our special reports. This is on why there's no such thing as election night, why Donald Trump might want to trick people into worrying about delays that are actually part of the process.

I'm going to explain it all with some very special extra pieces of sound and history when we're back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: In every democracy, election night is treated as a big deal. The campaign is over. Voting is done. The polls are closed. And everyone waits for that moment when we all learn what the future holds.

Do you remember where you were around, say, 11:00 p.m. Eastern on election night in 2008?


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Eleven p.m. on the East Coast. We're back on the air, and we have news.

An African-American has broken the barrier as old as the republic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama is projected to be the next president of the United States.



OBAMA: Change has come to America.



MELBER: That was a big night. That was the moment of a historic election call.

And it came pretty early, just moments after the last polls closed out West, partly because Obama had such a clear margin of seven points.

But there's nothing automatic or legally necessary about declaring a winner that fast, which brings us to tonight's special report, what you need to know about this year's election, and why no politician, not even a president, can override the vote counting.

Now, modern technology makes many things faster. We know that. We're accustomed to learning who won on election night. But speed has no actual purpose here.

As a matter of governing, the winners of federal elections have months before they take office. And this is more crucial this year, because, one, a pandemic election is different; two, President Trump may try to exploit delays, as he's already talked about; and, three, totally apart from Trump, it's perfectly fine when there's time between when people vote, be it three weeks out or on November 3, and when we get the result.

That was true during the recount in 2000. Then President Clinton put it simply:


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people have now spoken, but it's going to take a little while to determine exactly what they said.


MELBER: If this year's race is close, it's plausible that we will not know who the new president will be on the night of or the next day or even longer. And that's OK.

So let's dig into why. Well, the first reason is the most obvious this year, the coronavirus. Even as we see long lives at the early voting locations, even this week, many states are expanding how people can vote safely from home.

And that's sparking a dramatic rise in people voting by mail. So, a close race could require counting ballots for weeks and weeks. Now, why is that? I mean, just as a basic matter of logic, you might think getting balance in early is like getting a head-start on your homework. Maybe the states could count it up early and be even more ready.

Well, like every other legal issue in our federalist Constitution, it depends on the state. Most states allow early ballot processing for that head-start. So, you have even battleground states, like Nevada, Georgia and Minnesota, which allow mail-in ballots to be processed as soon as they're received.

In some states, that means today. But others have laws that ban that kind of early counting. And there are reasons for that. It can combat potential leaks. So, officials can only start counting on the formal Election Day, when we watch all those calls come in.

Now, if you plan to watch as these returns come in this year, this is relevant to your night, to your November political health. The states with those laws will take longer to count, and they include key states that mattered in '16 to Trump, like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan, where officials are already preparing voters for the wait.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We should be prepared for this to be closer to an election week, as opposed to on Election Day.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): We are not going to have artificial deadlines set by people with political agendas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are not going to have the full results and accounting of all of our ballots on election night.



So you heard it right there. Michigan's top vote-counter is already saying they will not have results on election night and to think of this as election week or more, the governor flat-out calling Election Day an artificial deadline.

And separate from no matter who wins, that's right. Election Day is not necessarily a time to demand results. It's just the time to start tallying them. If the election does hinge on a few swing states, which we know may not have the results on election night, then you would have a longer race.

Now, there are ways election night could wrap up, just like I showed you with Obama, relatively quickly. If Biden, for example, one Minnesota, New Hampshire and won Florida on election night, then there's a chance he could actually have the required electoral votes to be declared the winner constitutionally, and it wouldn't matter if there were delays in some of those states I just showed you, like Michigan or Wisconsin.

Now, totally apart from this pandemic and this president, there's another way that things can take time. And that's when a winner emerges, but it's not final.

So, you have the apparent winner, but the race is close enough to support legitimate legal appeals. Now, this is important.

I say legitimate, because if someone just loses badly and files appeals, judges, they tend to toss those cases real quick. But if it's actually close, and there are valid recounts, well, court battles take time, like in 2000.


PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS: This being billed as the polls closed before the election as the closest election in a generation.

WILLIAMS: Somewhat unbelievably, here we are now, three nights after election night, and there still is no president-elect, not even close.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Florida Supreme Court is still deliberating tonight's long after its normal 5:00 p.m. deadline.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Both sides are studying what happens if this race isn't settled by January 5.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: The justices working for a second night on their historic decision, while the candidates, their lawyers and everyone else wonders the same thing: What's taking so long?


MELBER: Well, the battle was taking so long because the legal system allows it. Each side could have different political motivations. Remember, neither party has a position timing or recounts.

In these races, both parties will push for what helps them win. In 2000, Republicans were arguing, well, Bush had already won before he legally had. Democrats were arguing, look, nothing's final until there's a full and fair count and it's complete.


BEN GINSBERG, ATTORNEY: Governor Bush one each and every time. Apparently, the Gore camp is not satisfied with that, and they're going to keep on trying to go as long as they can until they get a result they like.

DAVID BOIES, ATTORNEY: The legitimacy of any president that's elected is going to be impaired unless the American people understand that there has been a full and fair count of all the votes.

BOB DOLE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: George Bush is president-elect. Now, if we continue just to count until Gore wins, that will take weeks and weeks, and there will be endless litigation.

CLINTON: The American people have not spoken, but it's going to take a little while to determine exactly what they said.


MELBER: That was right. It took a while.

The election was not resolved until over a month after Election Day, when the Supreme Court ruled to end certain counting in Florida. Other races, though, they have taken even longer than that.

Take 1876, Hayes vs. Tilden. It wasn't decided until the following year. And nonpartisan experts note that, when it takes extra time, that's an indicator election officials are working through safeguards that prevent frauds or errors.

So, if you find someone rushing the process, say, potentially Donald Trump, they're not combating fraud, according to the experts.

Now, some are worried about the president's rhetoric. This process and this timing is not his call. And he's not the first candidate to try to muddy these waters. Even in the most recent elections in 2018, Florida was, again, so close that a recount was automatically triggered under law.

Republican Rick Scott falsely argued that a careful recount was some kind of Democratic plot.


SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida.


MELBER: So, Scott made noise. But, again, just like Trump, wasn't his call, the counting continued. And guess what? He won.

The point here is not what's good for one party or the other, but the law governs. The law provides time to count, more time to count if there is a recount under state law.

And, in some places, it is true that, as things come in, a later count can tilt a certain way for demographic reasons, slower counting in dense cities, for example, were more Democratic voters tend to be, or it can go the other way if mail votes are counted first in the state, and then in-person votes then lean more Republican, which is entirely possible, with Trump saying people should only vote in-person.

Now, we just showed you Florida last cycle. The Republican had the lead before and after the recount. That's typical. When a race is super-duper close, and there are errors, a recount, though, can still shift who leads.

That's exactly what happened in Al Franken's 2008 race. He was barely behind in those initial results. He took the lead only later, when all votes were carefully tabulated in that recount, which is for accuracy.

Now, the Republican appealed, which is his legal right, all the way to the Supreme Court of that state. Now, that added time. The whole thing ended up taking eight months, but the court backed Al Franken in the final tally. And that Republican conceded.


FMR. SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R-MN): I conducted the legal challenge I wanted. I have always believed you do the best you can, and you leave the results up to a higher authority. I'm at peace with that.


MELBER: That is what the rule of law sounds like. Fight hard, sure, to the end, but respect the higher authority of law over one's personal politics.

That applies to candidates and citizens, by the way.

Now, how do all these facts and historical lessons apply in these 19 days ahead of us? Well, this is important. Let me try to walk us through it.

First, this is up to the referees, not the players. So we should all look to the state officials and the courts to make tough calls, not the candidates on the field.

Second, we have to get it through our heads, there is no such thing as election night anymore. This could take time. And we all need to be ready, from voters and the political class to, yes, the media, which has made mistakes by trying to get ahead of the ballots, not only in the past, not only infamously in 2016, but again just in these last midterms, where people on TV got things wrong by trying to make predictions too early, when the ballots weren't all in, about an election too soon.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: It is entirely possible that the Democrats will regain control of the House today, but I have to say, when you look at what's going on here tonight, this is not a blue wave.

JAMES CARVILLE, MSNBC ELECTION ANALYST: I see the chances of a wave kind of dissipating every time I see something on the board.

MANU RAJU, CNN: Pick up to 40 and beyond would amount to a much more significant size majority. At the moment, Democrats do not believe that it'll be that big a majority.


MELBER: Wrong. Each of those claims were wrong, some on our air, some on other air. All wrong.

Democrats did go on to gain 40 seats in a historic blue wave. Some called it a tsunami.

Now, the point here is not that those pundits were too overconfident. They were just too early, trying to analyze and report on races as if they were finished, when the counting was still going, not just that night or that week, but -- we looked this up -- all the way until December 6. That's when the last outstanding House race in California was called.

And you can't measure the wave or how many seats were won in the House until all the seats have been resolved.

Now, this year, the media and political class, we all have to work on this. We have to have avoid chasing results too early. To paraphrase A$AP Ferg, chasing, chasing, chasing, all this ballot chasing, I'm like a bad doctor. I ain't got no patience.

This year, we all have to have a little more patience than a bad doctor. And shout-out to Ferg for the dad joke raps.

Now, if you take it all together, this could be one of the more important things in this year's election. You know, at this week's Supreme Court nomination hearings, there was much talk about tradition and originalism.

But America's original tradition does not provide for one Election Day. For many decades, states held different Election Days over a longer period. And the Constitution, as we just walked through, provides weeks to tally and certify votes.

Now, many things are different in 2020, but not this. And while people like fast results, we like instant information, there's actually a deeper point here. A healthy democracy honors fair rules for all consistently, even as the world evolves around us. The ground rules are the same, even as society shifts.

I could quote a founding father for that idea, but let's reach for a more contemporary elder, the great Morgan Freeman, who just dropped some of this very wisdom on the new project "Savage Mode 2."


MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: Are things better or worse the second time around? Can we really do anything more than once, more than once, more than once?


MELBER: We can't literally do anything more than once, because we are not the same when we do it that second time. Deep.

So, America is about to do this same thing again, another election, even as we are different. We're changed by the pandemic. We're changed by four years of Trump.

Will things be better or worse this time? We don't know yet. The answer is up to the voters. And we will be listening for as long as it takes to hear all of them.


MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT.

I'm joined by "The New Yorker"'s Jelani Cobb. We have been reporting and reflecting on why there is no single Election Day this year and why people need patience.

Your thoughts?

JELANI COBB, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You touched some historical notes there that I think are really important. I'm glad you brought them up, which is that, early in the republic's history, that's exactly the case, that one of the reasons why we had the kind of staggered system we have is that it took time for votes to be collected and tallied, and for them to have electors assemble and so on.

And to add a point, we didn't even have voting in the same way back then, as many states did not actually allow direct voting for the president. I think we don't know that, but the state legislatures actually made that decision. And it was only over time that the individual citizens got to vote to determine who would be the president.

And so that's one part of it.

The other thing is, 1876, and I would hazard to throw an 1824 too, when these elections have been thrown into the House of Representatives, and they took time to work out, and the kind of weird asterisk about 1876 that connects to what we're talking about now was that in 18 -- in 2000, for that matter -- is that what was a dispute in 1876 was who won Florida.

In that case, it was also South Carolina and Louisiana. But there was a huge fight over whether Hayes or Tilden -- excuse me -- Rutherford B. Hayes or Tilden had won the state of Florida.

And so -- and in part because they had been attempts to suppress the votes of African-Americans. And so it's a kind of a historical redundancy that we're having that conversation now.

MELBER: Yes, and it's why history is so alive, even as we evolve, which is why I thought Morgan Freeman's point on the new 21 Savage album resonates.

And the people crying foul aren't necessarily the people being fouled, because there's been a lot of advance groundwork by Donald Trump to try to create an environment wherein he says, oh, well, anything that has been behind is stealing.

But, as you mentioned, voter suppression and the games we have seen in Texas and other places are what's actually going on, and they tend to be -- not exclusively, but they tend to be targeting people who demographically have voted and polling-wise have voted against Trump.

This came up last night at the Billboard Music Awards, again, another sign of how big this election is. People are really paying attention well beyond the usual news folks or "The New Yorker."

Take a look at Lizzo last night.


LIZZO, MUSICIAN: I have been thinking a lot about suppression in the voices that refused to be suppressed.

When people try to suppress something, it's normally because that thing holds power. They're afraid of your power. Whether it's through music, protest, or your right to vote, use your power, use your voice, and refuse to be suppressed.


MELBER: Jelani?

COBB: Listen, Lizzo should just preach. I like the subtle branding of the outfit that she has on too, the message, you can barely pick up. It's a kind of very subtle thing she did there.


COBB: But the fact of it is, is this.

And I can add a historical note to what she's saying. When we talk about voter suppression, first off, there's like a long history of voter suppression in the United States, if we just say that, like non-racial, across various boundaries, at the beginning of the republic, and so on, the various mechanisms.

One of the first laws that we have is the Alien Act in 1798, which was a voter suppression attempt. And so it's a long-established tactic.

But the reason why voter suppression came to be so closely associated with the American South racially was that the South had the largest population of black people, and so they were a powerful voting bloc.

At that point, only black men had the franchise, but they still represented enough of a political body to be an offset to the Democratic Party, which was overwhelmingly white at that point and overwhelming sympathetic with the cause of the former Confederates.

So, that is exactly what that is about, going into the 20th century. Look, Mississippi, largest black population in the country statistically, proportion-wise, Louisiana, South Carolina, all these places will be associated with really diligent efforts to make sure that black people did not have access to the ballot, each one of them with a very significant black population.

MELBER: Yes, it's a really important context, as the rules of this combined with the expectations. And there's a lot of work to be done, including, as I mentioned, the press as well, so people understand what their rights are.

Jelani Cobb, always good to see you, sir.

COBB: You too.

MELBER: We fit in a break.

When we come back: Barack Obama coming out swinging against Donald Trump, helping his former running mate, Joe Biden.

Also, we just got this in. Chris Christie has a new statement about his COVID treatment and what he thinks the White House is responsible for. I will bring that to you this hour.


MELBER: Barack Obama is hitting the campaign trail for Joe Biden.

He will hit battleground states, possibly Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida. Obama, of course, is famous for his many stinging attacks on Donald Trump, including in the last election cycle.


OBAMA: Donald Trump's closing argument is, what do you have to lose? The answer is everything.

He's woefully unprepared to do this job.

President is a serious job. It's not hosting a talk show or a reality show.

If your closest advisers don't trust you to tweet, then how can we trust him with the nuclear codes?


MELBER: And this is a problem for Trump, because the numbers don't lie, Obama much more popular right now, you see, at 58 percent and Donald Trump.

When it comes to online reach, Trump loves Twitter, where he has a whopping 87 million followers, but he can't touch Obama at 123 million.

And, of course, Obama doesn't really take Donald Trump seriously, not before the presidency, not during it there in their one famous meeting in the transition, and not in the old days, as everyone remembers, including you bet Donald Trump, at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.


OBAMA: You, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so, ultimately, you didn't blame Lil Jon or Meat Loaf.


OBAMA: You fired Gary Busey.


OBAMA: And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.


MELBER: Joining us now is Tommy Vietor, co-host of "Pod Save America." They just interviewed the president in a brand-new interview.

You also served, of course, in the White House for Barack Obama as NSC spokesman. How you doing?


Thank you. Great to see you.

MELBER: Great to have you. And I know you're busy. I know you just talked to the president, former president.

There is a way that Barack Obama deals with Trump that seems to be better than other modern contemporary Democrats. And I would observe that regardless of the fact that ,obviously, they're both presidents.

What do you see there, including that roasting we just saw?

VIETOR: I mean, I think President Obama has always been good at delivering a criticism of an opponent with a sense of humor. It makes it feel a little lighter. It doesn't sound harsh. It doesn't have that negative overtone that people hate about politics.

And so I think he's someone who's seen through Trump since the very beginning. Unfortunately, Trump won in 2016. But, yes, I think Obama is going to be a potent force out there on the campaign trail.

MELBER: Based on your time around him, how does Barack Obama view what he's got to do in these next few weeks, a time when, as we have covered tonight and throughout, there is evidence that Democrats are in the lead. There is not enough evidence to say that, by any means, oh, it doesn't matter where Obama goes or what he does, that a point here or two could make a big difference?

VIETOR: Yes, the first question we asked him was, what is your message to folks who aren't sure if they're going to vote this year, who feel like their vote doesn't matter, maybe all politicians are the same?

You're starting to see this turn out some of the data. And so he just made that pitch about why this election is so important, why Barack Obama will -- or -- I'm sorry -- why Joe Biden will help protect people, protect the Affordable Care Act, make sure that we actually do something about climate change, right?

He can make the case to people, especially sporadic voters, in ways that I think are more impactful than your average surrogate. That's for sure.

MELBER: You're a clear communicator. I'm curious what you think of Donald Trump's struggle to hit a closing argument.

And whether you agree with him or not, in '16, there was very, very clear emphasis, the wall, the swamp, crooked Hillary, the wall, the swamp, crooked Hillary.


MELBER: You went off and started a company, Crooked Media, which is a bit of a way to reverse it, but also speaks to the way that Donald Trump gets words in our minds.


MELBER: "The Washington Post" here reporting Trump struggling to mount any clear closing argument, careening toward Election Day with a disjointed message -- quote -- "Actions and rhetoric in recent days has stumped even some of his allies, who can't even decipher the broader strategy. They question whether there is one."

Tommy, do you notice Trump in a slump this time?

VIETOR: In 2016, he closed by talking about the swamp. He talked about Hillary Clinton's e-mails. He also talked about trade. He talked about not going into dumb wars overseas.

His closing argument this time is just a list of grievances. It's an attempt to prop up a "New York Post" story that is attacking his opponent's son. They're just flailing at the close.

None of that is to say he can't win. But, yes, there's no discernible message. He has been unable to make this election about Joe Biden. Every day remains about Donald Trump. And, like, the more people see of him, the less they like him. And that's always been his problem, I think.


Because you're close to it, do you think Barack Obama or Michelle Obama would play any formal role in a potential Biden administration?

VIETOR: I don't think that they would want that.


VIETOR: But I don't know. I can't rule it out for them.

MELBER: Just curious.

Tommy, thanks for coming on THE BEAT. Hope you will come back.

We're fitting in a break.

When we come back news from a Republican senator hitting Donald Trump, and for his directly flirting with white supremacists, on tape -- when we come back.


MELBER: Turning to a new critique of Trump tonight that sounds like a closing argument from an opponent, but it's actually from a top Republican senator.

Ben Sasse of Nebraska saying this about Trump on a conference call with voters:


SEN. BEN SASSE (R-NE): The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women and spends like a drunken sailor.

He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors, as his family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He flirted with white supremacists.

I don't think the way he has led through COVID has been reasonable or responsible or right.


MELBER: It's just not right -- that's the argument from a sitting Republican senator.

And it is doubled down from none other than Chris Christie himself, a Trump adviser who got out with this statement. We just got it in the newsroom. He was in the hospital seven days for COVID.

And he says -- quote -- "I believe when I entered the White House grounds, I'd entered a safe zone. I was wrong."

He goes on: "I was wrong to not wear a mask. And every public official should advocate for every American to wear a mask in public."

We wish Chris Christie well with his recovery.

And it's interesting to see him saying all this now, before the election.

We will be right back.





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