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Democratic Party Brand New Leadership; Tom Perez Named As New Democratic Party Chairman; Trump Won't Attend White House Correspondents' Dinner; America's Public High Schools Dragged Into Polarized National Politics; Racial Equality Should Not Be Left Or Right; Oscar Weekend; Oscars All Awards Season; Rush Limbaugh criticize CNN's Smerconish Statement. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 25, 2017 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN, the most trusted name in news.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN SMERCONISH HOST: I'm Michael's with the big program plan. But first, breaking news with Brianna Keilar.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR: Thanks Michael. Two big stories that we're following: The Democratic Party has brand-new leadership: A Chairman and Deputy Chairman, just named at the party's committee gathering in Atlanta. While details in just a moment. And also, right now, and this news is breaking here on CNN: The President of the United States breaking with tradition, saying he will not attend the White House correspondents' dinner which has been a tradition for Presidents, for nearly 100 years. But first, the Democratic Party with a new leader.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great American, Mr. Tom Perez.


KEILAR: Former Labor Secretary, Tom Perez, who got the most votes - somewhat narrowly, from delegates gathered this weekend in Atlanta. Perez, immediately named the man who trailed him, Congressman Keith Ellison as his Deputy Chairman - his number two. And the residence of the White House certainly, watching this leadership election closely. President Trump, tweeting just a few minutes after Perez was announced, he said: "Congratulations to Thomas Perez who was just been named, Chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him or for the Republican Party." And the Head of the White House Correspondents Association just releasing a statement after Donald Trump tweeted that he is breaking with tradition and not attending that dinner.

This is what it says: "The White House Correspondents Association looks forward to having its annual dinner, on April 29. The White House Correspondents Association, takes note of President Donald Trump's announcement on Twitter that he does not plan to attend the dinner which has been and will continue to be a celebration of the First Amendment, and the important role played by an independent news media and a healthy republic. We look forward to shining a spotlight at the dinner on some of the best political journalism of the past year, and recognizing the promising students who represent the next generation of our profession."

And the guy behind that statement, behind that organization, Jeff Mason, now joining us from the White House briefing room. I know that you've been busy, Jeff, once this tweet came out - figuring out how to respond, and it's noteworthy that you're talking about - even though this is the big guest, right? Who normally is not coming that you're saying, the role is going to be talking about and highlighting the independent news media in a healthy republic.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT: That's right. This dinner is about journalism. This dinner is about the First Amendment. We look forward to having the dinner to celebrate those two things. We give out scholarships every year, more than $100,000 worth to students who are promising upcoming journalists. We look forward to doing that again, and giving awards to members who have done terrific journalism over the last year.

We have - when trying to emphasize now for weeks that this dinner is about journalists. And obviously, there's always some attention given to the President of the United States, it's President Trump's decision not to come. We will continue to have this dinner and we will focus on what we want to focus on, which is the good work that is guaranteed and protected by the First Amendment.

KEILAR: When's the last time this happened, that the President decided not to come?

MASON: My understanding is that, the last time the President did not attend the correspondent's dinner was President Reagan in the early 1980's, after he was shot.

KEILAR: OK. That's obviously a very different situation. So, this is - you're highlighting that this is about scholarships, and it certainly is. But it has become a sort of huge spectacle, to the point where people look forward to watching C-SPAN for this. You know this. It's this Hollywood collides with Washington kind of circus, and then it also has this element of the President and members of the government come, members of the media who hold them accountable come. And for one night, they sort of in a - in a way that has decorum. They acknowledge the - what is essential about that relationship? So, since you don't have that. What is this signal that the White House - that the President doesn't want to have that acknowledgment?

MASON: Well, I - honestly, I have to have the White House and the President speak for themselves, on what signal they want to send with that. It's not a surprise to say that the President has said, many negative things about the media, and comparing the media, or suggesting that the media is the enemy of the American people. That of course is something that the Correspondents' Association and journalists reject. The media is an incredibly important part of a vibrant republic, and we celebrate that at that dinner. It's up to him to decide whether or not he wants to come. But the Correspondents' Association and the members who work in this room every day, will continue to do our jobs and write the news, and tell the truth about this administration as we have done about every administration before. [18:05:14] KEILAR: I was very lucky to sit next to you in the briefing as a White House Correspondent for CNN for a few years there.

MASON: I was lucky.

KEILAR: Thank you very much. And I was - and I should, you know, full disclosure - I'm a card-carrying member of the White House Correspondents' Association.

MASON: Yes, you are.

KEILAR: The Association is known for this dinner, but the Association does a lot of daily work. In that regard, for our viewers, describe that and also describe some of - I guess the challenges. This isn't the only administration you've had them with, but if you can just sort of talk about some of the things that the Association has gotten involved in, when it comes to press coverage of the White House.

MASON: Sure, I'm glad you asked that question. It's true that a lot of people in the American public, associate that dinner with the White House Correspondents' Association. And with good reason, it's a high- profile night. But our day-to-day work takes place right here, in this briefing room, where we advocate for the press, where we push with administrations; such as the Trump administration, the Obama administration and every other one before that.

For the ability and the right of journalists to ask questions, and to have access to watch the President and his staff govern. And those are daily fights, sometimes, whether it's Republican or Democratic President. We spent a lot of time negotiating and talking to the press staff, identifying what the needs of the press are, and making sure that they can do their jobs. And that is - that is right now, honestly, a full-time job. The dinner is an important part of our year, it's a fundraiser for organization, but it is only one very small piece of what we do.

KEILAR: I know you insist the dinner is not going to be canceled.

MASON: Nope.

KEILAR: They'll still going to have a large attendance. But do you see it as being a different event than it has been in in past years?

MASON: You know what, it was already going to be a different event. And we haven't had a whole lot of details about that yet. Obviously, the fact that the President has decided not to come, will impact the dinner - it'll impact who sits up on the dais with the rest of the board. But no, I will not be going to cancel the dinner. We are going to uphold our mission, and we do that and celebrate that at that dinner. But what exact changes we're going to make whether or not the President comes, we're still working on it.

KEILAR: All right. We will stay tuned for that. Jeff Mason, President of the White House Correspondents' Association, thank you Sir.

MASON: My pleasure.

KEILAR: I want to talk more about this with CNN Senior Media Correspondent, Brian Stelter. He's joining me now on the phone. Brian, I know that a lot of people are not surprised by this decision, and you know, the dinner is something that is even been criticized in the past as sort of, over-the-top. That it'd becomes sort of flamboyant and -


KEILAR: You forget that: A. This is actually about scholarship winners, and talking about journalism. But this is also a moment, as I talked with Jeff Mason, for government and media to acknowledge their important role in that sort of at times adversarial relationship that they have. Does this challenge the ability to do that, that President Trump isn't coming?

STELTER: It does. Richard Nixon skipped one year, Jimmy Carter skipped one ear, and as you guys have mentioned, Ronald Reagan, skipped the year after that assassination attempt. I believe Reagan actually still called in by phone, because President for many decades have sought to use this annual dinner. At the 10th or so, the grudging respect for the fourth estate. But this, this afternoon, it's another anti-establishment message from President Trump.

It's similar to - this isn't the skip another big date on DC's social calendar, the Alfalfa Club dinner back in January. But this is arguably the biggest one of them all, you know, this has been given the nickname of "Nerd prom" with A-list stars lined in, red carpet parties, and sponsorship. As he said, people have been critical of this. Observers say, this centers to cozy, it's too over-the-top. But this year was clearly going to be back to basic, because the President Trump's, because a lot of Hollywood celebrities we're not going to want to participate.

And Brianna, I think this is a missed opportunity by the President, that - I'm not here saying I'm surprised by his decision. But it's a missed opportunity to uphold First Amendment values, and try to lessen the tensions between his layout and the press corps, and to defend the kind of journalism that he actually said in the court. You know, lately, he's been claiming that he said nobody loves the First Amendment more than me, but to choose not to attend the annual celebration of the press. You know, it's a choice that inline within the media attached. It's a missed opportunity to say all the usual thing the President does about the press.

KEILAR: How could he - but he already doesn't say the usual things, right? So, how could he -

STELTER: And that's true.

[18:09:59] KEILAR: How could he - you know, yesterday, he appeared to mock the First Amendment. He accused reporters of making up sources which he had no evidence of, and, you know, I mean that's a fire-able offense. I don't - I don't know anyone who has done that.


KEILAR: And he called the press: the enemy of the people. How could he say those things, and then show up at the dinner? I mean, that would've been unfitting with his rhetoric in the past.

STELTER: I absolutely agree with you. And I wonder if Vice President Mike Pence will come in his place. Or, maybe, one of those stay-in the Trump impersonator like: Alec Baldwin. Will end up being the entertainer on - we don't know who the entertainer's going to be. Normally, you know, the comedian as you know, Brianna, last year it was Larry Wilmore getting on stage. And that's one of the aspects of this we should keep in mind, that President Trump probably did not want to be roasted by whatever comedian was invited, even Jet Lee. Back in 2011, Trump was in the room when President Obama made some very, very barb jokes about Trump. That was a memorable evening, and visits famous New York Times story fame.

Part of the reason why Trump was around with President was to win some of the respect that he felt he didn't have at that White House Correspondents dinner six years ago, so there's some history between Trump and this dinner. And it is in line with his anti-establishment, anti-media message that he's going to be skipping. But I even saw Jeffry Lord on Twitter - Trump supporter, Jeffry Lord, from CNN saying, Wow! Expressing some curiosity about this move. Especially, for Trump to say this, two months before the dinner actually happen.

KEILAR: All right. Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

KEILAR: Really appreciate you, joining us. And now, I want to talk more about this with A. Scott Bolden, he's the former Chairman of the Democratic Party in Washington D.C.; and CNN Political Commentator, Alice Stewart, she's a Republican Strategist. We also have CNN Political Commentator, Ryan Lizza, Washington Correspondent for the New Yorker. And I want you all to actually listen to that moment, that Brian Stelter was talking about: President Obama talking about Donald Trump.


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES FORMER PRESIDENT: Donald Trump is here tonight. No one is happier, no one is prouder, to put this birth certificate matter to rest, to damn the Donald. And that's because you can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What will then happen in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?


KEILAR: No love lost at that point in time for sure, because Donald Trump really one of the original birthers trying - really, you know, spearheading that effort to get President Obama to release his birth certificate. So, Ryan Lizza, I mean, what you do you make of this? Because it almost seemed as if there was no way that Donald Trump - if you really did want to put the press in this role, is being so in opposition to him. It didn't really seem that it would make sense for him to attend this dinner.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I was in the room that night that was one of the most vicious roastings I've ever seen. And it was one of the reasons I actually thought that Trump might want to go this year, is to sort of return to that dinner and, you know, sort of come full circle as the - as the conquering hero of the dinner. Look, after the last month of Trump's statements about the press, defining the media as the enemy of the American people, mocking the First Amendment this week at CPAC. As you pointed out, Brianna, accusing reporters of making up sources with no evidence.

I don't think that, that that dinner was the appropriate form for the press and the President in - there's a moment in that dinner where everyone stands up and toasts the President. And my own opinion is, you know, this is not a time to be toasting someone who calls you the enemy of the American people. The relationship with the press has obviously gotten very adversarial. Look, maybe we could've seen a detente between now and the dinner, and the dinner could have been a point where Trump stop those attacks, and it was reasonable for everyone to be in the same room.

But, you know, as I said to you before, I think he's done everyone a favor here by not going. He's made it less awkward for the journalists to cover the White House, to be able to just go to that dinner, celebrate the award winners that are honored at that dinner, celebrate the young's scholarship winners that are honored at that dinner. And, you know, I frankly - I don't - I was not planning on attending. If, you know, remember the White House Correspondents' Association since 2001 have been to most of the dinners, but I don't think it would be appropriate this year to go if Trump had been there. That's my own view.

[18:15:05] KEILAR: Alice, what do you - what do you think about that? That idea that journalists would not attend or think that it's inappropriate to go if you're to hold that up against just a respect for the institution even if Donald Trump doesn't appear to respect the institution of the press?

STEWART: Well, we've already heard many people cancelling their parties. A lot of, certainly, that celebrities aren't coming. I've heard of other journalists that feel the same way Ryan does in terms of toasting someone who has roasted you every opportunity. You have to remember though, this is not something new. We can go back to the to the campaign days. Donald Trump truly feels as though the media has been out to get him, they're not reporting on things accurately. That is why he goes to Twitter and gets his message out, bypassing the media, getting his message directly to the people. That's also why he is doing more campaign style events to get out there with the people and get his message out there directly to them and he doesn't miss the opportunity.

While he's there with his people to criticize and take down the media with the crowd, they enjoy that and it generates a space. That being said, as a former journalist, I think it's important what the role of the press is. I think it's critical for a free democracy to have that check and balance on the government and open in transparency with the government with -- and also, it's not, you know, forgotten here.

Democrats for the first time in quite some time have some wind in their cell today with Tom Perez being the new DNC Chair. And Republicans have been fighting this administration, been fighting a Russian news every turn and Donald Trump is not --

KEILAR: And this is not - and I'm sorry to jump in there Alice. I just want to get A. Scott Bolden in here because I only have about 30 seconds left. That's not what we're talking about, Scott.


KEILAR: We're not talking and then we're now talking about this. Is this just Donald Trump expertly changing the subject?

BOLDEN: Maybe, but he's also driving the world and the media. This is just another segment. Remember, he didn't go to a presidential debate during the primary. He seems to feel that if he doesn't show up, he is somehow hurting his adversary, but this is his war against the media. And I'll be honest with you, the best response for the White House Correspondents Association, would be to have the most successful dinner ever. Maybe Alec Baldwin to come in character, that celebrities can come and Ryan can come back to the dinner now because he's not there. He's not coming.

LIZZA: Just quickly - just quickly, I don't --

KEILAR: All right, OK. So, I don't know we'd -- I'm sorry right now. I would let you but we're really out of time. Ryan Lizza, Alice Stewart Scott, thank you so much for that.

LIZZA: Thank you.

KEILAR: Tomorrow, don't miss State of the Union, new DNC Chair Tom Perez joins Jake Tapper to talk about the future of the Democratic Party. We'll have a reaction exclusively as well from Bernie Sanders. That's all tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. Eastern.


[18:20:00] SMERCONISH: This week, one of America's most esteemed public high schools got dragged into the swamp of our polarized national politics. New Trier in suburban Chicago is holding a day- long seminar this coming Tuesday. They call it, "Understanding Today's Struggle for Civil Rights," which has ignited a battle among parents, activists, teachers and administrators.

The syllabus includes topics such as micro-aggressions, voices from literature, Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter, Take a Knee: Colin Kaepernick, Activism and Symbols of America and white privilege in the college admissions process.

Now, a Wall Street Journal opinion piece referred to this as Racial Indoctrination Day. The Winnetka School has too many famous graduates to list. Look at them all. What does this high school seminar and a reaction to it that which it

engendered? Tell us about the times in which we live. Well, joining me now, two parents of New Trier graduates. Susan Berger, who also went there supports the seminar day. Tony Duncan, he's got some concerns about the format of the seminar. Tony, let's start with you. What issues do you have with what's going to take place on Tuesday?

TONY DUNCAN, NEW TRIER SCHOOL PARENT: Well first, thank you so much for having me, Michael. It's a pleasure to talk to Susan about something that's extremely important. I want to make my position very clear. First off, you'll be hard-pressed to find anybody who actually is against seminar day. What it is that most are against, is the politicizing of a very non-partisan issue? Racial equality is something that should not be left or right. It should be something that we approach for one simple value and that is access to equal education and economic opportunities.

So, that is what I think is really missing from the seminar, is that we need to get away from the Band-Aid and start looking at an opportunity to make a real sure.

SMERCONISH: Is -- does that mean that conservative voices should have been given more of an airing?

DUNCAN: I think that conservative voices make up the fabric of America and why shouldn't they have a voice? I think that when we start to politicize things, we take away people that are very, very meaningful for this push for equal equality. I think that when we look at the issues right now, the issues are not racial stimulated, they're economically stimulated.

What it is, is that we need equal education in our communities and we need economic opportunities. These things are not racial, they are economic, and we need to focus on that. Yes, racism, major issue. My kids deal with racism right now in our community. But it's not what's holding us back. What's holding us back is the economics and the equal education.

SMERCONISH: Go ahead and respond to that. I know you're eager to do so.

SUSAN BERGER, NEW TRIER SCHOOL PARENT: Well I'm -- I really think, you know, what makes New Trier is the intellectual curiosity that they're really known for. When I was a junior back in 1968, I participated in a Summer Seminar Community Affairs. That was an entire seminar -- summer with 10 -- 20 kids from the city -- inner city and 20 kids from New Trier put together for the entire summer. And we learned about each other, we learned about each other's neighborhoods, we did projects in the city, we rebuilt a playground, we did role-playing and it was -- it was really -- it was life- changing for a lot of us who ended up with careers that had to do with either community service or in my case I'm a reporter but, for most of us who participated that summer, it was really something.

[18:25:13] SMERCONISH: And Susan, you know, my -- one of our children of -- the son of mine participated not for a full summer in exactly, they called it cross bridge in exactly the kind of interactive program that you were apparently so positively affected by. I guess my question Tony is this, can you address these subject without them getting politico?

Here from the syllabus, this is what it says for Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter, history, context and critique. This workshop is designed to provide the historical context for both the Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter movements and examine the implications of both these movement in our lives, schools and United States. Holy smokes, Tony. You put that on the syllabus and you know people are going to have a beef without even hearing more about the way in which the issue will be presented.

DUNCAN: And that I think, is the real issue. And to Susan's point, when she was in high school, it was an entirely different situation. Right now, the situation is that there are economic challenges. We have the wrong ideas when it comes to helping Blacks and other minorities achieve racial equality. We need to come together and we need to say that this is an issue that's not about racism. It's about old racist practices that need to be uplifted to the 2017th status, and that is economic opportunities and equal education.

Our kids are not failing because of racism, they're failing because of inadequate schools that are almost criminal. And the fact that we don't get economic opportunities -


DUNCAN: We get low-wage jobs in our community.

SMERCONISH: Susan, you get the final.

BERGER: You know, I would say -

SMERCONISH: Here's my solution. My solution is the Tony ought to be a speaker because I like the idea of what's about to unfold Tuesday. But I think viewpoints like his should be a part of it. You get the final word.

BERGER: I think all of it makes the kids think and question and debate. And I think that's all really good. I also think what's really good is that the whole community came out. I mean, every seat was taken at a board meeting when they voted on this. 5,000 people signed the petition for the seminar day. It got people thinking and it got people talking and I think that's always a good thing.

DUNCAN: I would definitely support the seminar.


BERGER: There was one speaker - yes, there was one speaker.

SMERCONISH: Go for it, Susan -

BERGER: Who said that she was embarrassingly uninformed as a New Trier graduate and she's now a teacher in Boston. And she said she wished she had, had this experience.

SMERCONISH: Susan, Tony, thank you so much.

DUNCAN: And again, this is because we put band aids on the cure.

SMERCONISH: Good luck on Tuesday.

DUNCAN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, it's Oscar weekend, the culmination of an Awards Season that has already been very political. One can only imagine what some of tomorrow's winners will say in acceptance speeches. Well, I'll talk to the actor who knows a thing or two about political speech, Brandon Victor Dixon, who famously confronted Vice President-elect Mike Pence after a performance of Hamilton this fall.


[18:30:00] SMERCONISH: The Oscars are tomorrow night. The only prediction that I'm going to make is that things will shortly get political. They have been all awards season, including appointed Golden Globes Speech by America's most decorated actress Meryl Streep, which drew the ire of the president. How political should an evening be that supposed to be about awarding artistic excellence. I have the perfect guess the actor from Hamilton who start a national debate this fall when he confronted Vice President-elect Mike Pence from the stage after performance of Hamilton.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.

SMERCONISH: Besides playing Ehrenberg in Hamilton on Broadway right now, Brandon Victor Dixon start in Shuffle Along, The Color Purple, Rent, and The Scottsboro Boys is currently appearing on the star series power and I spoke with him earlier. Hey, Brandon, congratulations on all of your success. I have to tell you that soundtrack is a constant in my house and in all of our family cars, so I appreciate your being here.


SMERCONISH: I'm well. Now, in full disclosure, I have to tell you something, and that is I did not support your commentary when you delivered it the night that then-Vice President-elect Pence came to see the show and I remember so well being on the air that day because it had happened the night before. I respect your right to say and believe the things that you offered it was the timing and the place as my parents would say, time in a place, time in a place, time in a place.

DIXON: May I Ask why?

SMERCONISH: Yes. I thought he came to see a show, folks who were there came to see a show, they didn't come to hear of a political speech and it reminded me of a night that I spent a lot of money to go hear Roger Waters at Madison Square Garden. I wanted to hear all the music from Pink Floyd and instead he delivered this speech about habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo prisoners. And I thought that's not why I'm here.

DIXON: I understand that. I think one thing to understand is that you know, we oftentimes use the opportunity at the end of the show to talk about causes or organizations that we support. It's the time we do step outside of the show and we speak about causes, particularly for the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, so us stake -- taking the stage and saying something in the audience is not out of the ordinary for us or for Broadway at all. And we felt it was important enough to make a statement, particularly nonpartisan really try not to make a politicized but just make a unifying statements to these individuals who have run two to really -- to hear from the constituency.

[18:35:10] I mean, the point of running for government is so that you can stand in front of the people that you -- that you are going to be meeting and to hear how they feel and hear their thoughts. And I think it's important to seize any opportunity to one has to speak with your electoral representatives. No matter -- no matter the situation. I think that the way we handled it actually was you went over very well and I think everybody was finally how it took place.

SMERCONISH: Look, he apparently was cool with it and I have to say that I think that you voiced your opinion with dignity as a matter fact I just, again watched that tape and you shut down any prospect of booing at the outset, it is just the issue of whether you know, whether it was expected that folks were coming to a show were going to hear that at the end. But now I have to draw a contrast because tomorrow night with the Academy Awards, we have come to expect that there will be political speeches by some of those who win.

DIXON: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: What do you anticipate tomorrow night?

DIXON: I mean anticipate we'll see more of the trend that has been building in Hollywood, an offer on am very happy about it. I mean I think it's more important, it's imperative that anybody who has a platform, anybody who has a voice right now that they stand up and they speak their mind, particularly about a lot of issues that are affecting people who do not have a voice, do not have a platform. I hope that they do take the opportunity and then I look forward to seeing it and hearing it.

The more that that are -- excuse me, are entertainment figures can participate in our discourse. I know a lot of people say, you know, you're an athlete or you're an actor or so-and-so and you shouldn't speak up. I think that makes no sense, no matter who you are, no matter what you do in this country you are part of our democracy. And if you have a voice you need to use it.

SMERCONISH: The night that Vice President Pence came to watch Hamilton, you said that you were alarmed and anxious and you were speaking on your own behalf and on behalf of the cast. So, I get -- I think politically where you're coming from. Are you concerned that you -- that Hollywood actors those who are not supportive of the president overplayed their hand and you create you know, a bogeyman for the president to beat up on, all the sudden you're now those Broadway actors, you're the Hollywood elite and in red state America, that actually helps them.

DIXON: Who's calling an actor and a theater actor the elite? Do you know what some of these people make? I think that -- I think as actors and performers again and you know, look, everybody is different you know, like everybody is different you know, everybody has their own views, they've done their own research. So who knows who has what ability to say the thing that they have to say but I think that it's important, I think it's important for entertainers, for athletes, for a political figures, I think it's important for everybody to set an example particularly for young people that you have to stand up and you have to express your opinions.

Now if you engage in positive discourse, maybe you will come across some information that helps you to change your point of view, so you learn something about the feeling of the thoughts you had about the issue we're talking about, but we need to encourage people to speak up, to speak out because the more people who participate in our democracy the more our democracy grows.

SMERCONISH: I hear you but let me talk to you, Aaron Burr for just a moment, OK? You're a smart -- you are a smart guy, politically speaking. Do you understand the point that I'm making that you may be playing into his hands. If it becomes a pylon?

DIXON: It's possible but I -- but I think the fact of the matter is this is -- this currently I think were in fairly uncharted territory and so, you know, you calibrate as you go along but I think you have to take the first step and the first step is standing up.

SMERCONISH: Advise someone who today is preparing two speeches, one if I win, this is what I said to thank folks and potentially here's what I will say about the president. You were very effective on that Hamilton stage. So what are the dos and the don'ts for an actor who does want to make a political statement?

DIXON: I think the do is to make sure that whatever you say that you lead with positivity, that you lead with love, so that you can continue to invite people into the conversation. You know, a lot of the times we want to particularly with President Trump and individual who voted for him or elected him, a lot of times we want to demonize the opposition, you know, in our country and we get into this process of winning and losing.

And I think if you --


DIXON: -- it's important to make criticisms of the government as a whole and criticisms of the policies. But to do so in a way that you can invite the individuals who maybe were on the opposition before who voted for somebody who now you are you are -- you are in disagreement with that you open the door for conversation with those people because we have to be able to come together. We have to be able to speak with one another and that is how you alter coalitions, it's how you grow coalitions, that's how you grow consensus.

SMERCONISH: Any predictions? Best picture, best actor, anything that you want to say? Here's where I think it's going?

DIXON: I -- you know, I really don't know. I think it's a -- it's a real toss up, there's a lot of great work out there this year, you know, I'll tell you though just seriously I'm pulling for Mahershala Ali. That's where I'm at.

[18:40:00] MERCONISH: I -- share your wishes. I saw Moonlight and it was fabulous. Thank you so much for being here. Matter fact I saw three of the 10 nominated this year which is a lot for me. What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish. Catherine hit me with another one. Most Americans watching the Oscars want to see the stars not here their political diatribes. We don't care what you think. Hey, JM, Wolverine. I think in a nice way I just sent him.

I guess I didn't agree or approve of him calling out Vice President Pence, although he did it in a respectful way because you go to a Broadway show, that's not what you expect to say but tomorrow night if you're not expecting to see political speeches, then, you know, you haven't watch the Oscars. That is what it has become for better or worse. Still to come, Rush Limbaugh criticize something I said this week on CNN but he's not getting the story right and I'm going to help him understand in just a moment.


[18:45:00] SMERCONISH: Despite complaints from the president, there is another conservative leader who watches CNN, Rush Limbaugh, who earlier this week, took umbrage at something that I said on the New Day. Here's the comment that God is go.

Donald Trump is the embodiment of a 30-year trend in the making. An embodiment of empowering Rush Limbaugh, the Drudge Report, Fox News, Breitbart, Newsmax, they exert control over primary voters in a way that the traditional conservative leadership used to do and that's why Milo Yiannopoulos would even be extended an invitation to come to a gathering like CPAC but the problem is that that comes at the expense of reaching a much more middle-of-the-road audience than you need in a general election.

On the radio later that day, Rush took particular offense at my use of the word empower. Watch.

RUSH LIMBAUGH , AMERICAN ENTERTAINER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, WRITER, AND CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who the hell empowered me? What does that mean and who empowered Fox News, and who empowered Matt Drudge, who are these mysterious forces that are empowering us? Who is it setting the table so that we can come in and dominate the way we have, who made that happen? Donald Trump is the embodiment of a 30-year trend in the making and embodiment of empowering, Rush Limbaugh the Drudge Report, Fox News. I don't even understand if I define these words as I know there meeting. This doesn't make any sense, who empowered me, Mr. Snerdley? What does this even mean? What is he trying to say?

SMERCONISH: Rush, let me try and help you here. I was explaining that Donald Trump would never have been elected president without a climate that you helped create, among other things, he fostered and seized upon a distrust of the mainstream media and a dislike of all things Clinton that been your mantra for years. He was the nation's first nominee to mirror the populist brand of talk radio which you Russia champion. One in which compromise is the new C word and civility is perceived as weakness.

When he hired Steve Bannon, the former executive chair of Breitbart, first as his campaign manager and then as a senior White House advisor. The process you began whereby provocateurs have supplanted traditional political leadership was now complete. And it continues what could be better fodder for a.m. talk radio audience than the blocking of media access for both CNN and the New York Times? Man, that will make the phones ring on Monday.

It's all high on entertainment value, but the societal question is at what cost. See, your job is to attract listeners and you do it well. Your talent on loan from God provided you with influence over primary voters who now wield disproportionate control over politicians. But those politicians are not supposed to be entertainers, media personalities have a different agenda than those who are actually tasked with governing.

Their job is not to attract ears or mouse clicks but to get things done and where the climate that you've built is based on confrontation not compromise, the American people get gridlock. That was my point and I'll underscore it with megadidos. Still to come, your best and worst tweets hit me with another one. Show me don't tell me, know when to hold them in fold them. Wow, Rush and Kenny Rogers Stick around, I'm back in a sec.


[18:50:00] SMERCONISH: Hey, if you missed anything, watch on demand or see clips on the show's website at All right. Here are some tweets that just came in. I don't see them until you see them. What do we got? "Smerconish maybe an ass but he knows it, talks about it and doesn't let it affect his balance take on issues." Really? I am? OK. Thanks, Eric. Next, "Smerconish, you act like Trump supporters were told to vote for, Limbaugh had nothing to do with my vote." No, Wendy, you might not even recognize what has taken place. My point is that the climate has been 30 years in the making. This climate of vitriol and stirring the pot and demeaning anybody who wants compromise and solutions, they're the weaklings, they're the ones we kick sand in their face and where did that all come from? It came from the provocateurs who have influenced primary voters or in Republican caucuses and primaries. That's what I'm saying and the table was set beautifully for a guy

from New York who comes along and fits that bill, he'd be a great talk show host if he weren't president. One more? Real quick, real quick.

[18:54:55] "Smerconish, the White House did shut out CNN, they shut out the millions of Americans that trust CNN for their news." You know what, that say that's a really good way to put it. I mean, because what are we except a mirror or reflection of the people that we seek to serve. So, I think going forward, I'm going to say it wasn't CNN and The Times who were shut out, the American people were shut out.

Follow me on Twitter and I'll see you next week.