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Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) Was Interviewed About The Racism Issue That He Had With A Fellow Democratic Contender; Joe Biden Is Criticized Over His Comments On Segregation; Joe Biden Fighting Off Critics; Recent Hearing For Possible Reparations For Black Slavery. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 22:00   ET


[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: And he was right. And even if it didn't butterfly effect into the body politic, can any of us say our lives would not be a little better if we were a little more conscientious about practicing kindness.

That's our argument for tonight. Thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with D. Lemon starts now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: You said it, brother. And even the conversations that we have here. People take it them out of context. And often I think sometimes it's too short. Some of the guys in the studio were saying you know last time you didn't get a chance to really say everything you wanted to say because you're trying to rush.

But I think we need to give people a little bit more leeway in conversations. Because that's the way you discuss things and you and I know that. Actually, when we go and talk to people even in person. We say, this is the difficult conversations that you have. Not everything is perfect. We're not perfect. But don't castigate people for saying the wrong word or because you want to maybe take something out of context.

I don't know. That's just how I feel. And lately it's just, you know, I mean, people are way too out there and crazy and divided.

CUOMO: But they need to look at themselves. They need to, you know, the expression be the change that they want to see. We're mean, man. People are mean.

One of the things I love most about what people take from our friendship. I mean, we're friends anyway. If it didn't work on TV, we'd still be friends off. But, yes, sure, we don't agree about a lot of things and people like, yes, but you don't get angry like they expect.

How are you disagreeing if you're not angry at him? I said because I love him, he's my friend. If we don't agree, we don't agree. We talk it out with the off cam.


CUOMO: A different language sometimes but the same. People abandoned that. They think if they're angry and hostile they're right, they're strong. And they're wrong.

LEMON: Yes. Speaking of hostile. You were really mad when you figured out my fiancee is like an inch taller than you this weekend.

CUOMO: You know what bothered me is that he is shorter than I say I used to be. So, I think the next thing is really --


LEMON: He's shrinking.

CUOMO: -- done me dirty.

LEMON: Yes. I got an important --


CUOMO: Thanks for bringing that up.

LEMON: I'm going to post it. Hey, listen, I've got an important guest sitting here.

CUOMO: Yes, you do.

LEMON: Cory Booker is sitting here and I got to get to him. I'll see you soon. Thank you.

CUOMO: Great guest. I'll be watching.

LEMON: Thank you.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you, everyone for joining us.

Joe Biden just came out with a really strong defense to the controversy over comments that he made at a fundraiser. While touting his campaign theme about his long record of bringing opposites sides together to get things done. Biden talked about working in the Senate in the 1970s with Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland and Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge.

Both avid segregationists and opponents of Civil Rights. Biden at one point saying this. "I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me boy. He always called me son. Well, guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today you look at the other side and you're the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don't talk to each other anymore."

Well, Biden's rivals for the nomination for president pouncing on his remarks and saying that he should apologize. Senator Cory Booker he's here now. But here's what he said. He said, quote, "You don't joke about calling black men boys. Men like James O. Eastland use words like that. And the racist policies that accompany them to perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our human very humanity." Well, tonight, Joe Biden is saying it's Senator Booker who owes him an

apology. Senator Booker joins me now here in studio. Thank you so much.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's really good to be back with you.

LEMON: Yes. So, listen, you know, I said, I mean, he came back strong. I don't know if you think his defense was strong. But what do you think specifically?

BOOKER: Well, I was surprised that he didn't apologize for ways. I was surprised that today he said I -- Cory Booker should have known better and he should -- he should apologize.

LEMON: Let's actually listen to him saying that.

BOOKER: yes.


BIDEN: I could not have disagreed with Jim Eastland more. And said he was a segregationist. I ran for the United States Senate because I disagreed with the views of the segregationists. There many of them in the Senate at that time.

And as I led the judiciary committee, I was able to pass what I was talking about was the Voting Rights Act. I was able to pass the Voting Rights Act while when I was a young senator. When he was still the chairman, he voted against it and beat him in the Voting Rights Act.

The point I'm making is you don't have to agree. You don't have to like the people in terms of their views. But you just simply make the case and you beat them. You beat them without changing the system.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to apologize like --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thanks, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- Cory Booker has called for?


BIDEN: Apologize for what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cory Booker has called for it.

BIDEN: Cory should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in the Civil Rights my whole career. Period. Period, period.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Are you going to apologize?

BOOKER: You know, the vice president said I should know better and this is what I know.

[22:04:56] As black man in America I know the deeply harmful and hurtful use of the word boy and how it was used to dehumanize and degrade. I know that segregation is like a two people you were talking about through their laws and their language deeply wounded this nation and the present-day manifestations of their work can still be seen in black and brown communities like the one I go home to.

I know that somebody running for president of the United States, somebody running to be the leader of our party, should know that using the word boy in the way he did can cause hurt and pain. And we need a presidential nominee and leader of our party to be sensitive to that.

And the last thing I know is, I know that I was raised to speak truth to power. And that I will never apologize for doing that. And Vice President Biden shouldn't need this lesson. And at a time, when we have from the highest office in the land, a divisiveness, racial hatred and bigotry being spewed.

He should have the sensitivity to know that this is a time I need to be an ally, I need to be a healer, I need to not engage and use such words that will harm folks.

And so, this is deeply disappointing. We waited for him to apologize. He didn't until the next day. And whether I'm running for president or not, as many people today have been on Juneteenth no less calling out for the vice president to acknowledge that his words were harmful and hurtful.

LEMON: So that means no apology from you.


LEMON: As he said you should apologize.


LEMON: What do you make of his defense about the original Voting Rights Act and all of his work that he's done with Civil Rights he said?

BOOKER: Well, again, I don't understand why he needs this lesson. I know you know this. The word -- when he says almost jokingly remember he was mocking a southern accent when he said that. They didn't call me boy. They called me son.

Well, the reason why they call young white man son is because these segregationists these racists could see in him themselves. The reason why they would call black men boys, was an attempt to establish the other to dehumanize to degrade them.

And for him not to understand this and why people would take a deep offense to the way he used and dredged up this awful language, and this is the thing that we need leaders that can bring us to more healing and more understanding. We all say in politics things that we regret or things that didn't come out right as we intended it. The fact that he's not apologizing, instead falls back into this thing --


LEMON: And you correct him as quickly as possible.

BOOKER: Correct him.

LEMON: Can I just ask you about this because in his remarks last night the part where he says that he didn't call him boy? A senior adviser says that he has told the story countless times and usually phrases it he never called me senator. He called me son. Would it matter to you if he told that story differently?

BOOKER: Now what matters to me is that a guy running to be the head of our party which is a significantly diverse and wonderous party, doesn't understand or can't even acknowledge that he made a mistake, whether the intention was there or not. That's what was stunning to me.

And instead, he's falling back into the defensive crowds that often people say which is Cory called me a racist, or I'm not racist, which is not what I said and not what I'm calling him.

And this is the problem. He knows better. And at a time of the Donald Trump never apologizes for anything and starts to create that kind of I think toxic sentiment that you never apologize, never apologize, never apologize.

I know Joe Biden. He's better than this. And this is a moment where he should have spoken to the issue, allowed everybody to learn from it and move on. Those are the kinds of things that uniting leaders, someone who heals and helps would do. And this is a disappointment.

LEMON: You're not comparing what Biden said to the comments of --


BOOKER: Again, and absolutely not.

LEMON: -- this president.

BOOKER: I have a lot -- I know Joe Biden. I know our vice president. I'm simply saying that for him not to acknowledge how many people are taking this as hurtful. To dredge up that word to use it in the way he did. Intended or not --


LEMON: A simple thing, I should not have said that would have been fine for you.

BOOKER: I should not have said that. Even if he could have helped acknowledge what it brings up, acknowledge the issue.

LEMON: You know Symone Sanders. Symone Sanders is a senior adviser saying something very similar on Twitter tonight. This is what she said. She said, "Joe Biden -- does Joe Biden make a point that you need to sometimes work with people who staunchly disagree with or figure out how to work around them?" So that's basically what she said.

BOOKER: Well, again --

LEMON: Are you buying it?

BOOKER: -- anybody knows my campaign knows the way I work. I work across the aisle all the time where people like write dissertations on my disagreements with. This is not what we're talking about. We're talking about racial issues in America and how that there are still hurt and harm, there are still issues to be dealt with.

And for someone to show the lack of understanding or sensitivity to even know when they've made a mistake. And to fall into that kind of defense with pollster and say I'm not apologizing that I should apologize to him is really a problem.

[22:10:02] LEMON: So, listen, this is I think that you guys find yourselves in a very unusual position, meaning the Democratic Party, especially the candidates. When you have someone like Donald Trump in the White House who never apologizes who says basically whatever he wants to say no matter what.

And then, you know, I don't know what the former president thinks about this. But he says what he's concerned about is Democrats in the firing squad. The circular firing squad that you guys are basically going to beat each other up more than the person you're running against to, meaning Donald Trump. Is there some truth in it for this particular issue?

BOOKER: No, this is beyond politics. Again, if I was not a presidential candidate, I would call something like this out. Look, I've had the reality of having a father -- the indignity to watch another man call my father boy. To have myself have older men when I was a man to use those kinds of terms.

These are the kinds of things that do cause hurt and harm. And these are the kind of things we should have an expectation of someone who is going to be the president of the United States or running for the president of the United States seeking to be the leader of our party can speak to.

So, this is not about our politics or our presidential campaign or a circular firing squad. This is a sensitivity. This is an issue that we need to speak to in this country not sweep it under the rug. And if you want to put it in political context, you know, there are communities like the one I live in that want to believe that we're going to have someone that's going to fight for them.

He talks -- even the way he talks about his sterling Civil Rights record. You know, he should speak to his record. But as someone who has seen what the 1994 crime bill did, in communities like mine. This is a time not to try to fall back into sweeping statements, to try to talk to the issues that are still causing harm and still causing hurt, the language and the legislation, and for Joe Biden not to understand that he should be talking to this issue -- these issues as someone who he aspires to be that can heal this nation, bring it together not to do the kind of insulting rhetoric that he used the other night.

LEMON: Can I get you to clarify something. You said that it's problematic that he asked you -- he asked you to apologize. What do you mean by that specifically?

BOOKER: You know, the fact that he has said something that an African-American man can find very offensive and then to turn around and say, you know, I'm not a racist. You should apologize to me. As opposed to as Angela Davis used to say, that it is not in a time of racism it is not enough to say that I am not racist. You need to be anti-racist.

What we need from a former vice president from a presidential candidate, what we need from each other, is to be allies. To be seeking understanding. To be seeking empathy. Well, none of us are perfect. We all are going to say things that are wrong.

But to recognize that and to take the step that you need for healing and reconciliation to admit to that. So, for his posture to be to me I've done nothing wrong, you should apologize, I'm not a racist is so insulting and so missing the larger point that he should not have to have explained to him. This should not be a lesson that someone who is running for the president of the United States should have to be, to be given.

LEMON: Thank you for addressing that. We'll also talk about something that you addressed today. You testified today along with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Danny Glover before a House panel on reparations for slavery. Let's take a look at.


BOOKER: The stain of slavery was not just inked in bloodshed but in the overt state sponsored policies that fueled white supremacy and racism and have disadvantaged African-Americans economically for generations.


LEMON: So, what do you think, I mean, this hearing fell on Juneteenth Emancipation Day which we talked about a little bit earlier. Celebrates end of slavery. You also introduced a reparations bill on the Senate side. So, to do what?

BOOKER: Well, the reparations bill, it's calling for a larger commission, bringing the best minds to America together to study the legacy of slavery, the legacy of many of the overtly racist policies that stemmed from it. White supremacy, Jim Crow, the terrorism that reign to the south that where thousands and thousands of African- Americans were lynched up to 1950.

The many laws that were put in place design to exclude African- Americans or disadvantage African-Americans the G.I. bill, social security, that redlining of communities and so many other things that led to the savage inequalities that we have today, the disparities in wealth, the disparities in healthcare, the disparities in educational opportunities. And this is something that we're simply saying is bring folk together to study it, to try to come up with proposals with which to address it.

[22:15:02] But people who are trying to undermine this were saying this is all about one person taking money away from one and giving it to the other, making people write checks when that is not what this is about.

This is about understanding that when you have savage inequalities along racial lines in this country, it actually hurts everyone. It undermines the well-being of the country, the wealth of this country, the success of this country. And that we all have a moral obligation given the ugly past to try to figure out a way to balance the playing fields so that we all prosper better, so that we address injustice and have a nation that really as we say we are.

LEMON: So, what's interesting, I find that people are saying well, it's not going to work. With before even studying the problem like they want the solution before the bill is even put, you know, into -- before even put on the floor to try to figure out how to do it. You have to figure out how to do it, right? To figure out what the exact solution will be. Am I wrong?

BOOKER: You're absolutely right. The brilliant folks who are coming together. Why are we prejudging this and saying we're afraid of folks just sitting down and having conversations? Frankly, as we saw with this hearing and people said that we should have had a long time ago.


BOOKER: Having open discussions.

LEMON: Well, speaking of that, this is Senator Mitch McConnell dismissing the idea of reparations and I just want you to take a listen to what he had to say. Here it is.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNEL (R-KY): Yes. I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea. We've, you know, tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing a landmark Civil Rights legislation. We elected an African-American president.

I think we're always a work in progress in this country. But no one currently alive was responsible for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: So, after him saying that, you know, the only African-American Republican Senator Tim Scott backed him up saying that he doesn't think that reparations are plausible. What do you say to that?

BOOKER: Well, I'm not even sure what people -- first of all, what Mitch McConnell said I don't think it needs to be addressing to somehow equate Democratically electing African- American president. That he said he is going to do everything possible to not make him successful. I mean, that's just ludicrous. You know, the outrage of that statement doesn't need to be -- doesn't need to be highlighted.

But look, to say that reparations are not plausible assumes that we have a common definition of even what that word means. And the way I look at it is, we are dealing with historic systemic patterns of racism that manifest today in measurable inequalities.

That we as a country should not believe that health outcomes, that the criminal justice system, that financial wellbeing should in any way be stratified based upon race unless you believe somehow that different racial groups are innately inferior.

The fact that we have cities like Boston where the average white family has about $240,000 of wealth. And the average black family has $8 speaks to some larger tectonic causes that we have to address if we are going to be successful as a whole.

LEMON: The wealth gap in America. The study shows that the median white household is 10 times wealthier than the median black one.

I've got to ask you before we ran out of time. You're proposing baby bonds to help with the racial wealth gap. Is that -- do you see that in reparations? Is that part of the same conversation?

BOOKER: I'm one of those folks who keep saying to folks, let's bring together a study for people it's in the best mind of our country to make proposals. But again, I'm not going to wait. I'm trying to do things right now to deal with overall income gaps. We have a nation where, you know, 40 percent of our country has very little wealth to zero to negative wealth to pass one to their families.

Paychecks help you get by. Wealth helps you get ahead. And in this society as we use our tax code to move billions of dollars, hundreds of billions of wealth to help people with wealth get more wealth. That's what our tax code does.

Let's have something that says if every child born in America gets a child savings account where an interest parent account where depending on your family's income, every year you get $2,000 placement.

The lowest income families, regardless of race, by the time they're 18 the lowest income Americans will have about 40, $50,000 to invest in things that create generational wealth. And that's everything from going to college, starting a business, buying a home.

And what that ends up doing because you have disproportionate incomes for families often seen in race is that as Columbia University look at that and say hey, this is actually going to virtually eliminate the racial wealth gap.

And so, ideas like this are policy ideas I've been putting forward. I fought to end the crack cocaine, powder cocaine disparity. I got the bipartisan bill passed. I led it with Dick Durbin from the Democratic Senate side.

And when we got that crack cocaine powder cocaine disparity retroactive it released thousands of people from jail. Ninety-six percent of them were black and brown people.

And so, I was very conscious that that was going to have a racial impact because those laws in a criminal justice system that's filled with implicit racial bias. Those laws were having that negative racial outcome.

[22:20:06] So solving these things, putting forward common-sense solutions whether it's baby bonds or reform to the criminal justice system could help balance the playing field.

But I'm open as we all should be to the best ideas with which to get our country to the point where we truly are a nation of liberty and justice for all and equality. Because that doesn't just help black folks, it makes us all wealthier as a nation. It makes us all more empowered.

Because again, I started my testimony by talking about the seven people that were shot about a few hundred yards from where I live last night. I imagine that other senators don't have this in their community. But I live in a black and brown community below the poverty line.

And I point that out because there were no headlines about seven people being shot. We have communities right now that literally were walled off by red lining and racist mortgage policies, where we're still seeing these problems today.

The person that was killed in that community, we are bereaved of the genius and the possibility the potential of that child. When we address inequalities, when we address the underlining of things that have held back or undermine the success of folks, when we address those things, we all will benefit from the genius of our children, from the possible -- the endless, infinite possibilities of that human beings in this country have shown when they have a fair shot.

LEMON: And all of that that you talk that needs to be studied when studying reparations and what to do about --


LEMON: -- all of it in this country. Thank you.

BOOKER: Thank you.

LEMON: Come back for a longer time. I enjoy having this extended conversation.

BOOKER: I'm grateful that you give me this opportunity tonight.

LEMON: Thank you, Senator. Good luck out there.

Joe Biden is a frontrunner among Democrats in the polls right now. But do his remarks about working with segregationists that senator put him at odds with the Democratic Party of 2019? A lot to talk about. That straight ahead.


LEMON: Joe Biden is fighting back tonight over his comments about working decades ago with two senators who are avowed segregationists, James Eastland and Herman Talmadge.

This is a quote again, OK? He says, "I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me boy. He always called me son. Well, guess what, at least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today you look at the other side and you're the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don't talk to each other anymore."

And let's hear Biden again tonight claiming reaction to his remarks is much to do about nothing.


BIDEN: I could not have disagreed with Jim Eastland more. And said he was a segregationist. I ran for the United States Senate because I disagreed with the views of the segregationists. There many of them in the Senate at that time.

And as I led the judiciary committee, I was able to pass what I was talking about was the Voting Rights Act. I was able to pass the Voting Rights Act while when I was a young senator. When he was still the chairman, he voted against it and beat him in the Voting Rights Act.

The point I'm making is you don't have to agree. You don't have to like the people in terms of their views. But you just simply make the case and you beat them. You beat them without changing the system.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to apologize like --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thanks, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- Cory Booker has called for?


BIDEN: Apologize for what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cory Booker has called for it.

BIDEN: Cory should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in the Civil Rights my whole career. Period. Period, period.


LEMON: A senior adviser says Biden has told the story of being called son by Senator Eastland many times but usually says that he's been called him son and not senator because he still didn't respect how young Biden was when he first became a senator.

But Biden retelling the story and substituting the racially charged term boy for senator changes the way it lands because of the way that white people would demean black men, grown men by calling them boy, which didn't end with segregation, by the way. It still happens today.

An aide said that he has been warned to drop the story because he could get into trouble. They seem to have sensed it wouldn't be popular with Democratic primary voters to talk about being civil with segregationist.

Well, pressed though, it's now an issue for him. It raises the question is Biden tone deaf. Is he out of step with the Democratic Party of 2019? He's using his status as frontrunner in the polls to go directly after President Trump, labeling Trump the divider in chief.

But he is being called out by Democrats not Trump who did an interview by the way with Fox News tonight and seemed to allude to the controversy but didn't go onto attack, go into a full attack mode over it.

But, as we just saw with Senator Booker, Biden's rivals wasted no time criticizing him today. And they're entitled to do so.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To cattle (Ph) the reputations of segregationists, of people who, if they had their way I would literally not be standing here as a member of the United States Senate, is I think, it's just, it's misinformed and it's wrong.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not here to criticize other Democrats. But it's never OK to celebrate segregationist, never.


LEMON: Well, Democrats want more than anything to beat Donald Trump who said far, far worse things, outright racist things and they call those things out. But Trump never apologizes.

Democrats are showing the elector that they are going to be playing by much different rules, much different rules. Rules President Trump certainly doesn't play by. Does Joe Biden really need to apologize? Karen Finney, Doug Heye are going to dig into that next.


LEMON: Tonight, Joe Biden fighting off critics and defending his comments about working with segregationist senators in years past, saying there's not a racist bone in my body. I want to bring in now Karen Finney and Doug Heye, good to have both of you on.

Good evening. We have a lot of ground to cover in a short time. Karen, Biden is firing back at Booker. And I just want to play this again. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to apologize?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For Booker's call for it --


BIDEN: He should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I have been involved in civil rights my whole career, period, period, period.


LEMON: Karen, it's not just he's doubling down here. It's not just Booker, you know? It's Warren, Harris, Sanders, and so on. Why do you think he doesn't see an issue with these remarks?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, he's trying to -- clearly, his staff has tried to say to him hey this isn't a good example. If you're going to try to use an example of working with people across the aisle, I mean I was thinking about this today. Surely, there are better more modern examples, perhaps one from this time as vice president to Barack Obama, right?

How about his relationship with John McCain? But the other piece of this, you know, Don, I'll be very brief. Having been a young child pulled over on a dark road in Virginia with my father, and the police officer called him boy, was the most terrifying moment of my whole life. So to not understand that it is the terrorism that that word embodies, that is what is so out of step, particularly a time when, you know, Donald Trump is someone who we believe is inflaming.

And we talk about it all the time, inflaming so much of this sort of -- like we saw on Charlottesville, this kind of (Inaudible) against each other.

LEMON: Doug, a little bit more of what Biden had to say. Watch this.


BIDEN: I could not have disagreed with (Inaudible) more. He was a segregationist. I ran for the United States Senate because I disagreed with the views of the segregationists and many, many senators at the time. As I led the Judiciary Committee, I was able to (Inaudible) talking about was the Voting Rights Act. I was able to pass the Voting Rights Act while I was a young senator,

when he was still the chairman. They voted against him and I beat him on the Voting Rights Act. The point I'm making is you don't have to agree. You don't have to like the people in terms of their views. But you just simply make the case and you beat them. You beat them without changing the system.


LEMON: Doug, does he make a point there to you?

[22:35:02] DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, to some extent, yes. It reminds me of a conversation I had with him in 2016, when I told him that my first job was for Jessie Helms who he worked with a great deal at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And he emphasized that he disagreed a lot. We worked together on a lot.

And I can tell you, agreeing with Karen, having worked for Eric Cantor I know how closely Joe Biden and Eric Cantor worked on, say, the Violence Against Women Act, for one example. That's something he could talk about. They can talk about John McCain, which not only emphasizes bipartisanship but gets under Donald Trump's skin, which is something that Joe Biden has been trying to do pretty successfully. It would be a good way for him to try and get out of this current morass that he's in.

LEMON: Karen, before Joe Biden spoke to reporters tonight, he spoke at a fundraiser. And, you know, he -- I want to reach this exchange that he had. Read this exchange, I should, that he had with the audience. And here's what it says. It says, Biden -- he says thanks for letting me play in this contest. It's going to be pretty ugly. The audience member says take them on.

Then Biden says but here's the deal. I am not going to participate. How long do you think Biden can try to stay above the fray and not participate?

FINNEY: You can't -- it's not about staying "above the fray and not participating." When you actually make an error either in judgment or in your comment like when he talk about the Hyde Amendment, for example. He realized whether that was a political mistake or a change of heart, however they want to talk about it. He recognized it and they made the course correction.

That is not the same thing as being pulled down into the mud with Donald Trump and his barrage of lies. It is about acknowledging who we are in 2019. And the fact that we have to be a party that stands in opposition to the kind of hate mongering that we see from this president.

LEMON: Karen, Doug, thank you for your time. I'll see you soon. We'll have more to discuss as 2020 rolls closer. Thank you so much. Should descendants of slaves get paid reparations? The thing is, well, it's coming to a conclusion on that question. That's not so easy. We're going to look at two sides to the argument. That's next.


LEMON: Joe Biden's comments about working civilly with segregationist senators rubbing a lot of Democrats really the wrong way. And it comes as Congress holds a hearing to consider legislation on making reparations for slavery. So I want to play some of today's testimony. It is very powerful. Here it is.


TA-NEHISI COATES, THE CASE FOR REPARATIONS WRITER: Yesterday, when I asked about reparations, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, offered a familiar reply. America should not be held liable for something that happened 150 years ago. Since none of us currently alive are responsible. This rebuttal proffers a strange theory of governance, that American accounts are somehow bound by the lifetime of its generations.

Well, well into the century, the United States was still paying our pensions to the heirs of Civil War soldiers. We honor treaties that date back some 200 years, despite no one being alive who signed those treaties. Many of us would love to be taxed for the things we are solely and individually responsible for. But we are American citizens, and thus, bound to a collective enterprise that extends beyond our individual and personal reach.

It would seem ridiculous to dispute invocations of the founders for the greatest generation on the basis of a lack of membership in either group.


LEMON: Well, the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, is not alone in opposing legislation on reparations.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), JUDICIARY SUBCOMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: There are serious questioning about this from all sides of the political spectrum, and they're honest and sincere questions that we want to address. But putting aside the injustice of monetary reparations from current taxpayers for the sins of a small subset of Americans from many generations ago -- let me finish.

The fair distribution of reparations would be nearly impossible once one considers the complexity of the American struggle to abolish slavery. Just consider this, OK. There are tens of millions of today's non-African Americans who are descended from people who arrived in the country, of course, after slavery ended. And therefore, they can't be held responsible for its legacy.


LEMON: The conversation continues right after this break with Dr. Cornel West. We'll be right back.

[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: The House holding a hearing on possible reparations for slavery, emotions strong on both sides of the issue. So let's discuss now. Cornel West is here, also John McWhorter, good evening to both of you. We would've said the conversation John McWhorter and Cornel West, except John just showed up. John was just in the building.

So thank you, gentlemen, let's have this conversation, because it's a serious and important one. Dr. West, you heard the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's arguments. And many people, you know, make that same argument that slavery was 150 years ago. No one today is responsible. Is that what reparations is about?

CORNEL WEST, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC PHILOSOPHY AND AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES: No, no, no. Reparation is about truth and it's about justice. Condition of truth allows suffering to speak. And justice is what does fairness looks like in America. And I think that's precisely what we heard this morning. I thought Brother Coates was wonderful. I thought the sister (Inaudible) was magnificent.

Danny Glover was strong. And Cory Booker was wonderful. And I must say that Brother Biden ought to be ashamed of what he said about Brother Cory. Let me just put that out right now. In it's the spirit of this -- talk about reparations. Brother John and I, for example, we might disagree. But we recognize we could be wrong. We are open to counter arguments.

And we learn and listen. And look like Brother Biden didn't want to learn or listen. He tightened up, became so dogmatic. And you say oh my, God. And let's look at (Inaudible) let's look at the crime bill, not of 94 but of 84. Let's look at ways in which you could have been wrong and we're given you a chance to say you could be wrong, and you're sorry about that.

But no, he backs up. And without this Socratic spirit, we're not going to get too far about reparations or any other issue, my brother.

LEMON: OK. So John, listen. Dr. West says that, you know that you guys may disagree on this issue. And I think that you do. You say that the great society was reparation enough here, and that, you know, that how programs from the 1960s make reparations for slavery and all other injustices since. That it makes up for that. Explain that? Do you disagree with him?

[22:50:04] JOHN MCWHORTER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF LINGUISTICS: No. I don't disagree with the idea that there should be reparations. If somebody said should there be reparations for what was done to black people in terms of slavery, sin terms of Jim Crow, even in terms of red lining. I would say yeah. And I honestly believe. And this is not just some debate team think.

It happened. And if anybody wants to say that I am just a linguist and I don't know my history, well, frankly, I do know my history. And if anybody wants to look at -- just for example, one example, what happened in Bedford (Inaudible) during the great society and you look at all the programs and how much money was put in. Those were reparations. They didn't happen to use the word. But that was already tried. And

the fact is social history is complicated. And I think that what we need to do now is do all sorts of things that can help poor black people be less poor. It's not that we don't have work to do. But the idea that we need to get, frankly, a bunch of mostly white people in business clothes to say I am sorry and to cut some checks.

I don't think it would be very effective. And the main thing, briefly, is that I am afraid, based on how people felt after the great society, and also the fact that I think that we as a people have a battered psychology because of all the terrible things that happened to us, and it can be hard to have a self-directed sense of identity.

I think that after reparations happened, if it happened, then immediately, practically before the ink was dry on the legislation. The smart thing would be to say reparations was just the beginning. That they better not think that they can treat us like animals for 400 years and then pay us off. The idea would be for smart black people and fellow travelers to say that reparations weren't really that important.

And Don, this is the problem. If that's what it would be like, and frankly, I really do imagine that that's what it would be like. Nobody would want to say America has turned a corner. That the shoe has dropped. That America has come to terms. The idea would be, be wary. It's not over, and that didn't matter. If that's what people are going to say, why do it?

Why not just fight black poverty and then have a little thank you session afterwards, where people say they're sorry and cut some checks?

LEMON: Go ahead, Dr. West.

WEST: No. I think that part of it is just having the courage to acknowledge that we happen to have a fragile experiment in democracy that's founded on two monstrous crimes against humanity, dispossession of land, and the near annihilation of indigenous peoples, and enslavement of precious African peoples. Now, that doesn't exhaust all of America. That's the worst of America.

There is the best of America, but first it's that acknowledgement. And as long as you live in denial, you're not going to get there. So that's the issue of truth. Let's be truthful about who America has been and who it is. And the fact that Jim Crow, as the great Orlando Patterson says, was neo-slavery pure and simple that inspired Naziism. It inspired Hitler. It inspired German fascism.

So you had another 90 years of neo-slavery, and that constituted an integral part of the possibilities of our precious white brothers and sisters from Europe to come in and move to the front of the Jim Crow bus while we're pushed to the back after having built the country with our free labor enslaved under these vicious circumstances. Let's just come to terms with that truth.

But let me just say this quickly, though, because there is a lot of talk about slavery as the original sin. We got to get off that. That is not true. We cannot talk about black suffering in such a way that it downplays the treatment of indigenous people. It was the treatment of indigenous people that was the original of white supremacy and then the slavery.

But the slavery became center, of course, because it was our labor that would build the country and would generate all of these possibilities in terms of sustaining what we understand American democracy in its truncated form is all about.

MCWHORTER: Don, all I think is that, yes. All of what Brother West said is true. But I think that this reparations issue is a really interesting turning point. You know, I have been saying for 20 years now that I think reparations already happened, you know? I could get behind this idea that we would have to have what I would internally call new reparations.

And I would apply my pen and my voice to it. I might surprise a lot of people. I could try to get behind this. One must change. One must be open to things. But I really do think that the people who are arguing for this need to consider what it would feel like to admit, not that things are perfect, but that America had turned a corner, and as Brother West says, that we have come to terms.

When are we ever going to come to terms? As a black person, I would like to feel whole. If this isn't going to be constructive, we shouldn't do it. But I am afraid that a lot of black people in the United States would be uncomfortable with the idea that something really significant had been done. Because I think a lot of us feel that being victims is the only way that we are legitimate.

[22:54:59] And that's because of what happened for 400 years. I understand. But it worries me. Let's do reparations and allow that it mattered and be whole, or let's just not do it.

LEMON: I have got to go.


WEST: This is fascinating, Brother Don.

LEMON: If you can answer that, if you can respond in 10 seconds.

WEST: But I do want to say this. I do want to say this, William Dougherty. Yvette Cornell, and Tony Amore, the legacy of Queen Mother Moore, it's something that we must come to terms with so that the voices are able to come together, accenting the specificity of the black condition, but also as citizens. This is why Brother Bernie's so important.

We need redistribution of wealth based on citizenship. But we also got to come to terms with these monstrous crimes that (Inaudible) -- I know you don't have enough time.


WEST: (Inaudible) it's a beautiful thing on your TV show.

LEMON: Well, listen, I got to say, and John you said -- listen, Dr. West, you always say profound things. But you talked about the black psychology and about how we were beat up -- you said as a black person I would like to feel whole. I think you make some really great points with that, because when you talk about having this sort of psychology that you say that would move us forward, a lot of people resist that. And I have gotten beaten up for that.


LEMON: And so has Dr. West. A lot of us do when we talk about those things. Listen, this conversation is to be continued. It was fascinating.

WEST: I hope so.

LEMON: And I think both of you are coming on. We'll be right back.