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White House Pushes Governors To Reopen; National Security Adviser Tests Positive For COVID; America Bids Goodbye To A Civil Rights Icon; Coronavirus Disrupts Sports Events; Sen. Tom Cotton Under Fire. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired July 27, 2020 - 22:00   ET




CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Thank you for watching. I introduce you now to a man who is all about making good troubles. "CNN Tonight's" anchor, D. Lemon.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: I love good trouble. Man, we're going to miss John Lewis, aren't we? Whatever.

CUOMO: We will. But the hope is always when a great man or woman goes, that the legacy lives on.

LEMON: Yes, of course.

CUOMO: And if people fight in that name, there's a big difference between good trouble and bad trouble. And people are doing just what they did back in John Lewis his earlier days. They are confusing the two.


CUOMO: And doing it for their own agenda and animus and it's dangerous.

LEMON: Can I ask you something?

CUOMO: Of course.

LEMON: I didn't hear the entire show. Did your dad know him?

CUOMO: My dad did know him.

LEMON: Yes. I don't know if you talk about in the show. Did you or no?

CUOMO: No. No.

LEMON: No? So.

CUOMO: I mean, his legacy is far bigger than any familiarity. But I will tell you, that my father was greatly inspired as an Italian- American by the black American experience. LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: I know people have stereotypes and stigmas about Italians and how they were and how they -- and that's true. There was a lot of bigotry and there was a lot of violence. My pop, though, came out of a slice of that immigrant reality that was poor.


CUOMO: He grew up around a lot of black Americans. He was in their weddings. They were his friends. They were ballplayers even at a time when it didn't happen. And he was inspired that you fight the good fight. You take on power and you lose a lot. But it doesn't feel the same because you know you're fighting for the right reason.

LEMON: Yes. It hurt my heart. To be honest with you and the viewer I couldn't watch a lot of it. I was talking to Brenda his person in D.C. over the weekend just texting. It just hurts, man.

I mean, we're losing -- we're losing a lot of -- I spoke with Andrew Young the night that it was announced that he died, and Ambassador Young. And it's just tough. We want him to live a much longer life. But we're losing a lot of our icons, a lot of people who fought the good fight for Americans including -- and you know, they say imitation is the best form of flattery.

A lot of people who have fought for their rights over the years including the women's movement, the LGBT, the gay rights movement have really mimicked the black movement, right, the movement for civil rights in this country.

CUOMO: Of course.

LEMON: And you know, it's a great thing. It's a great -- people like John Lewis taught us how to fight. And again, we're going to miss him.

CUOMO: Sacrifice is great.


CUOMO: And look, obviously it was significant on a lot of levels that a few people in the right confused pictures of John with Elijah Cummings. And yes, sure, I guess there are similarities there.

But I'll tell you why it was also interesting. Elijah was one of those guys who had picked up the mantle and ran.


CUOMO: And I knew Elijah Cummings well. I spent a lot of time.


LEMON: Elijah wouldn't take no gaff, man.

CUOMO: I walked the streets with him as you well remember when you were anchoring --


CUOMO: -- in Baltimore.


CUOMO: Elijah saved my ass more than once down there.


CUOMO: And to see how people came around him and respected him and responded to what he was saying about who the enemy was and who it wasn't. Now, who will pick up the mantle? Who will run?


CUOMO: And will it only be bike people. I hope not.

LEMON: Nope. I don't think so. I think the kids who are out there are going to pick up the mantle. And you know what, we have to in our very own way, not all of us can be --


CUOMO: Here's the baton, brother.

LEMON: We can do everything -- and thank you for passing the baton.

CUOMO: Run like you were headed to the buffet.

LEMON: I didn't get to see you all weekend. But I heard everywhere you went. Chris is here. Chris is here. And I was like, thank goodness. Are you gone?

CUOMO: You got your fancy friends now. You're a big deal. Everybody wants to hang out with you. You'll come back to me in the winter.

LEMON: I know.

CUOMO: When I don't have anything else to do.

CUOMO: I know. I'll be there.

LEMON: See you later.

CUOMO: I love you, Don.

LEMON: I love you too.

LEMON: Have a good night.

So, this is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

And just as they say sit right back and you'll hear a tale. But I'm going to tell you the truth. Or maybe a better way of putting it is, class, we're going to review something that we have studied before. We have discussed. So, take out your notebooks you may want to flip back because we're going to talk about alternative reality and alternative facts. OK?

Remember that chapter? President is living in one, an alternative reality tonight. Remember alternative facts those things that actually weren't facts at all.

Well tonight in the president's alternative reality, things are going just great. America is turning a corner. And things will be rosy in just a matter of months. It's like a new episode, a fresh new episode of "Leave it to Beaver," except there are 148,000 nearly Americans who have died from this virus.


Tell that alternative reality to the 4.3 million Americans who have been infected. They aren't part of the president's narrative. He didn't mention them at his coronavirus briefing today. Instead, he is pushing governors to reopen states even where the virus is raging.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If therapeutically we come up with some answers very quickly which I think we will. Then you're going to have a tremendous recovery, likewise with the vaccines. If you do that by the end of the year, that's ahead of schedule. Substantially ahead of schedule and it's ahead of anything that has taken place in terms of vaccines before.

So, I think if those things happen, if just one of those events happen, you'll go right back into that V. And I think you're probably in the V anyway. I really do believe a lot of the governors should be opening up states that they're not opening. And we'll see what happens with them.


LEMON: Not opening up quickly enough. It's like ward cleaver. It's all, it's telling this fancy story of just how great everything is. Opening too quickly is exactly how we ended up with surges in Texas and Arizona and in Florida.

Cases are up more than 1,500 percent. I said it right, 1,500 percent since Florida reopened in May, 1,500 percent. Even California where Governor Gavin Newsom seemed to be doing everything right, it is surging there. But the president can't stand the thought of states in lockdown. Not when it threatens him politically. That's why he is insisting governors should reopen. Compare that to this -- this is from the truth teller. Ok? This is from Dr. Anthony Fauci.


ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Unless we get our arms around this and get it suppress, we will going to have further suffering and further death. And that's the reason why as I often said many, many times there are

things that we can do right now in the absence of a vaccine that can turn us around, the fundamental things of avoiding crowds, physical separation, universal wearing of masks, closing the bars, hand hygiene. Those things matter and they can make a difference.


LEMON: He is right. And by the way, I misspoke. I meant Gavin Newsom.

But Dr. Fauci is right. Those things matter. And we can all do them. Remember when he threw out the first pitch at the season open between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals. He did that just last week. Remember, Chris and I we were just joking about it and he was kind of outside. The ball was socially distancing so to speak.

Well, remember when the president said that he had been invited to throw out a first pitch too, watch this.


TRUMP: Randy Levine is a great friend of mine from the Yankees, he asked me to throw out the first pitch and I think I'm doing that on August 15 at Yankee stadium.


LEMON: Well, as it turns out that maybe an alternative fact too. The New York Times is reporting the whole thing came as a surprise to the Yankees and the White House staff. A source saying the president was so annoyed by Dr. Fauci's first pitch he had aides call the Yankee -- the Yankees to take them up on a long-standing offer to throw out an opening pitch even though they had never set a date.

And then the president cancelled conveniently claiming he is too busy handling the coronavirus. Can't throw out the first pitch. But he only really seems to care about the virus when it threatens him politically. And that seems that's when he cares about it when it threatens him politically.

And that's exactly what we see in our new CNN polls. OK? Take a look at it. Joe Biden leading the president, leading in a critical battleground state in the states of Arizona, Florida, and Michigan. States that he carried by the way in 2016. But the president says he's got his own polls. Polls that apparently tell him exactly what he wants to hear.


TRUMP: We have polls that show me leading in almost every swing state. And substantially in other states by even more than I won in '16. When you look at Florida as an example you have thousands of vote out of -- votes out of the ocean out on the intercoastal. You look at states where likewise you have thousands of votes and they're all waving the Trump sign. Trump/Pence sign. And they are so proud. Thousands and thousands, you have seen it, where you have bikers for

Trump with lines at a mile long on highways going along on weekends. I think there's more spirit now than there's ever been for my campaign.


LEMON: We better start counting bikers and voters because that probably don't have to point out. That counting votes or bikers are not a really reliable polling method.


The fact is sources tell CNN that Trump's internal polling is bad. Revealing a growing majority of Americans disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus. That's how they convinced the president to resume those briefings like the one you saw today.

That's how they convinced him to pay lip service to masks and even occasionally deigned to be seen wearing one, like he did today. Look at that. My gosh. He's wearing a mask. All hell is going to break loose.

He said he wasn't going to do it. Can you see him sitting behind the desk with dictators? And a mask. OK, so, just imagine how different things might be in this country if the president had worn a mask from day one. Instead of saying this on the very day he announced the CDC's recommendation everyone wear a mask.


TRUMP: Somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind the beautiful Resolute desk. The great Resolute desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens. I don't know. Somehow, I don't see it for myself.


LEMON: Vanity in the middle of a pandemic. I just don't see it. One hundred forty some thousand people though, that as we're learning that the coronavirus struck again in the president's inner circle.

The National Security Adviser, Robert O'Brien, one of his top aides testing positive and reportedly experiencing mild symptoms, OK? Let's hope he is OK.

A source telling CNN that O'Brien was last in the office last Thursday when he abruptly left the White House. And two weeks ago, O'Brien traveled to Europe where he and his top deputy met with officials from the U.K. from France, from Germany, and Italy. No masks. No social distancing. Again, we hope that he's OK. But no masks, no social distancing.

The White House says there is no risk to the president. But you got to wonder whether he is rethinking his defense that he's tested all the time. So, he doesn't need to wear a mask in the White House. All of that as the nation mourns Congressman John Lewis. The civil

rights icon lying in state at the capitol today with socially distanced and masked lawmakers paying their respects in the Capitol Rotunda.

Also paying respects is the former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, members of the public, filing past the casket for hours, that viewing outside because of the virus. But the President of the United States won't be paying his respects.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you plan displaying your respects to Congressman Lewis either today or tomorrow on the capitol?

TRUMP: No, I won't be going, no.


LEMON: Yes. You know, it would be easy to say that the president should go pay tribute to the remarkable life of John Lewis, a legend. Except my sense is John Lewis didn't really care all that much what the president thought of him. John Lewis didn't believe in paying lip service to things you don't believe in. To people whose values you don't share or respect.

In fact, he refused to attend the president's inauguration. Agree or disagree with that, he took a stand. He did it on principle as he had done his entire life. Congressman John Lewis explained his actions in 2018 on ABC's The View.


FMR. REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): I felt strongly during the inauguration of the so-called inauguration.


LEWIS: That I couldn't be at home with myself if I had to participate or be part of it.


LEWIS: The movement taught us to withdraw from evil. And I never felt that his election was legitimate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm with you on this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. King's daughter, though, Bernice thinks her father would have met with Trump if he were alive. Do you agree with that?

LEWIS: Well, I knew -- I knew her father very, very well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. LEWIS: I met him when I was 18. I first heard of him when I was 15 and meeting him, working with him and getting to know him. I think he would have took the same position that I took.


LEMON: Who are you, America? Who are we? The difference here, indeed the difference between the two men is how have you spent your life? Have you stood for principle?


Put your life on the line for in-service of what is right, what is just like Dr. King and John Lewis. Have you spoken out in times when it was uncomfortable? Or have you acted in your own narrow self- interest fueled by grievance and hurt feelings? Are you a President Trump or are you a Congressman Lewis?


LEWIS: My philosophy is very simple. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something, to speak up, to speak up.



LEMON: The great John Lewis. We also have some breaking news on the coronavirus tonight. The NFL announcing preseason games are cancelled but apparently going ahead with the regular season. Will things be any safer then?



LEMON: Almost 148,000 Americans have now died of the coronavirus. And nearly 4.3 million have been infected. So why is the president suggesting governors should open up states when the scientists say that's the reason for the alarming numbers anyway?

Let's discuss now with CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins, and Dr. Jonathan Reiner. They are both here. Dr. Reiner is the director of the Cardiac Catherization Program at George Washington University Hospital.

Good evening to both of you.

Kaitlan, last week it seemed as if the president was actually going to be more realistic about this pandemic. So why is he pushing governors to open up because, I think like, Kellyanne Conway didn't she say like, some people the governors opened up too fast and against our rules and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All the numbers show that is how we got into this mess in the first place. What is going on? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're right.

Kellyanne Conway did say that the reason the president was starting these briefings back, the reason things have been changing was because they felt like some states had opened up too soon.

And then we saw the president today revert back to what he had been saying. Saying that he believed there were some governors who were not doing enough to open up, that they could be doing more and they weren't going far enough.

Even though that comes as Dr. Birx, the coordinator on the task force and the vice president's right-hand woman during all of this has been going around and saying that there are certain areas that need to scale back their openings. That they've gone too far and too quickly.

But I think, Don, what you saw today is the president saying what he really thinks. And what our sources have told us he really thinks on all of this. And he was making it clear, though, we've seen him go into these moments where he like he did today. He's urging people to wear a mask. He's wearing a mask himself. He's telling people to social distance.

He's taking a much different tone than what he had been. And he denied that it's about polls showing that people reject his response to coronavirus so far. But that is what multiple sources have told us is really, you know, the root that's driving this change in tone that the president clearly today veered off from.

LEMON: Yes. I mean, he was all for not wearing a mask and pumping people up to not wear them in public.

So, Dr. Reiner, listen, I have -- I want to ask you about this breaking news. The NFL announcing tonight that it's cancelling its preseason games. If it's not safe enough to have preseason games, why is it safe enough to have regular season games? Please explain this to us.

JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I can't explain that. I think what we're seeing from the story with the Miami Marlins is that it's tough to have professional sports during a pandemic. I mean, it's just a harsh reality. And you know, there is no sport where it's less possible to socially distance than professional football.

And I think we have to face some hard realities now. And the hard realities are there are lot of things that we enjoy and we love but we just can't have them now. And the quickest way to get them back is to do the hard things like wearing masks, socially distance, closing down states that are out of control in terms of new cases of the virus.

If we do that now, we can have all that back for next season. And that's what we should be doing now. We should be focusing our attentions on that. And I think it will be less of a disappointment to cancel the season now than to get a game into the season and have to just disassemble everything then.

LEMON: Yes. So, the same apply to college sports? College football? REINER: Yes. Look, there's a lot at stake. We can replace seasons. We

can do all kind of inventive things. We can have a spring season at some point for certain sports. But what we can't replace are human lives. So, let's just face that now.

We are going to put the pandemic down. We're smart people in this country. And we have the will to do it. We just need the leadership. But we'll get that eventually. And when we do that, we'll start to reassemble our lives. But we can't replace the people that we lose. We have to be smart now. So, let's cut our losses and look, I love baseball, I live for baseball. But we just may not be able to have it this year.

LEMON: Yes. Let's be -- let's be smart and let's be adults about it -- about this.

REINER: Right.

LEMON: Kaitlan, I want to talk to you about the national security adviser Robert O'Brien testing positive for coronavirus. Is the White House saying anything about his contact with the president?

COLLINS: They said that they don't believe the president or the vice president is at risk for exposure. But it's interesting because what they're not saying is the last time he actually met with the president. Because it wasn't that long ago that the press secretary said O'Brien meets the president twice a day. He's on half a dozen calls with him. He was talking about just how much they do interact.


And then today the president was asked about this diagnosis the only thing he said was I haven't seen him lately. Which raises questions why hasn't he seen him own national security adviser recently, but also whether or not when the last time they met actually was. And so far, no one has gotten back to us on that.

We do know he was here at the White House last Thursday. He got a call, we were told, and after he got that call, he abruptly left the White House campus and didn't come back. And now we know he's isolating off campus.

But, Don, one thing I do want to point out that as we were reporting out today, one thing we found out is he did not tell his staff ever formally that he had tested positive for coronavirus. Some of the senior staffers on the National Security Council found out from the press today that their boss had tested positive for COVID-19. Through that, they didn't find out through any other means.

And it was just notable, I mean, they sent an e-mail last week saying that a cafeteria staffer had tested positive and warning people, you know, that this is something that happened. We don't think you're at risk but we want to give you a heads up. They did not do similar for the national security adviser to the President of the United States testing positive for coronavirus.

LEMON: Boy, there's a story there. Thank you both. I appreciate it.

Labs say that they are struggling to keep up. Why months into the coronavirus pandemic there are still huge delays in testing and how that's impacting the spread of the disease. We're going to talk about that next.



LEMON: Dr. Anthony Fauci with a stark warning tonight that the U.S. could still see tens of thousand -- thousands more deaths from the coronavirus. Let's discuss now.

Let's discuss now. Dr. Mark McClellan is here. He is a former FDA commissioner and director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy. Doctor, how are you?


LEMON: Good to see you. So, let's talk about what Dr. Fauci did, making it clear that this isn't over yet, tens of thousands more deaths still possible. It is shocking and it just doesn't need to be this way. I never thought that I would be in the middle of a summer still discussing this, still telling people to wear masks. Still saying there's an outbreak here. There's a surge there.

I thought we'd say, hey, listen, we bent the curve. We flattened the curve. We're on our way to the fall. And let's see what happens with that second wave but we've got this under control. Yet here we are and it didn't have to be this way.

MCCLELLAN: Yes, we don't have it under control. The growth in cases in states like Texas and Arizona has slowed, in many parts of the state there are more people who are wearing masks, more people who are paying attention to that guidance you've been talking about, Don. But we're seeing more states now having their own outbreaks. So, we're definitely not there yet.

LEMON: Yes. Six months into this crisis, testing still a mess. Our capacity has increased dramatically. And Admiral Giroir told CNN that the U.S. is conducting 770,000 tests a day. The problem is we need to be testing millions per day. This was back and forth between him and Jake yesterday.


MCCLELLAN: I heard the back and forth. I'm sorry, Don. I thought you were going to a package.

LEMON: No, I was saying they were going back and forth about this.

MCCLELLAN: Yes, they were going back and forth. And Don, we are testing more than ever but we need more tests than ever. The virus is now in virtually all of our communities. And we're seeing not only more people with symptoms and contacts who need to be tested and need to be tested quickly to figure out if they need to isolate and help us contain still more outbreaks.

But also, we're trying to open back up. And so, for people who are getting procedures in hospitals, for the baseball players, for businesses that are trying to reopen, for nursing homes where we want to prevent outbreaks.

We're doing a lot more screening tests too. And the problem is we just don't have enough capacity for those lab tests.

Don, Scott Gottlieb and I wrote about this recently, actually today. And urged taking more steps to bring on more point of care testing for people who don't have symptoms but are trying to go back to work or working in high risk area where you need screening.

And the Rockefeller Foundation is also called for something like 30 million tests per week. This is a different kind of test. It can be done at point of care, it can be done using labs that we're not using for clinical diagnosis. It could really help augment our capacity. And we're falling behind without that additional capacity.

LEMON: let me jump in here, because we -- I was -- were having dinner with -- my partner and I are having dinner with a doctor who said not that he believes that we should be testing people. But he said we are just way so far behind in testing we have missed the ball -- we have dropped the ball on testing that it's almost too late at this point.

And what everyone should do is just pretend that they have it. And just treat themselves and other people as if they have it. Wear a mask. Stay socially distanced because it is obvious that the government is not going to get their acts together, their act together when it comes to testing.

So, at this point, I have no faith in the government and just pretend that everyone has it. And then we'll all be much better off. I think similarly Dr. Gupta says something similar we should all just pretend that we have it. Do you agree with that assessment?

MCCLELLAN: Well, that is the recommendation, right? Everybody should be wearing a mask. They should be keeping a distance and they should be acting as if they too have it --


LEMON: Do you think we're putting too much emphasis --

MCCLELLAN: -- (Inaudible) without symptoms.

LEMON: So, you think we're putting too much emphasis on testing because listen, we should be testing. But the government is just not going to do it. Because they just -- they just can't do it. They're not -- they've missed the boat. Do you agree with that?

MCCLELLAN: Don, I do think we can do better. First of all, we need to priority the lab test for people who have symptoms where there really are now, Don, things that we can do for people who have -- who have the coronavirus including especially if they get real severe cases.

LEMON: So, what do we need then? Because Quest Diagnostics said today that it is still struggling to handle the enormous demand. Can't the government compel testing companies to hire more people? Expand capacity? Again, what do we do then?


MCCLELLAN: I'd like to see Congress give and provide more resources to increase our testing capacity and not just the lab test. But Don, we use a lot of tests for other conditions like the flu or strep throat called antigen tests that you don't need to send off to a lab. That can be done right at the point of care right in the doctor's office or in a workplace that's at high risk like a nursing home.

And we started to provide those kinds of tests as well. But we really need to ramp them up. I agree with you that everyone should be acting as if COVID-19 is around them because it is. But we can still use testing to contain the outbreaks better and get out of the spot that we're in now.

LEMON: Doctor, I hope everyone is listening to you. I thank you for coming on. Have a good evening. Thanks so much.

MCCLELLAN: Good to be with you. Thanks.

LEMON: I want to make sure you know about my new podcast. It's called Silence is Not an Option. I taped part of it today. You -- you're going to want to listen to it. This one is going to be the best one yet.

I'm taking on tough questions about race in America, being black in America. You can find it on -- policing as well. I'll give you a little hint. We're going to talk about that on the one that's coming out on Thursday. Find it on Apple podcast or your favorite podcast app.

Up next, though, Republican Senator Tom Cotton commenting on slavery and how the founding fathers felt about it. And he is catching heat for his use of the term, quote, "necessary evil."



LEMON: Republican Senator Tom Cotton on the defensive tonight after remarks he made about the role of slavery in the founding of the United States. Some important context where Senator Cotton is pushing to block schools from teaching the 1619 Project, a New York Times initiative that reframes American history around the date of August 1619. That's when the first slaves ship arrived on America shores.

Here's what Senator Cotton told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. He said, we have to study the history of slavery and its role in impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can't understand our country as the founding fathers said it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built. But the union was built in a way as Lincoln said to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.

OK. So that's what he said. The necessary evil as I quote from him. That didn't go down well with many people including Democratic Congressman and Congressional Black Caucus member Hakeem Jeffries who said this on the House floor.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Slavery was not a necessary evil. It was a crime against humanity. Anchored and kidnap, rape, torture, lynching and the systemic oppression and enslavement of people of African- American descent century after century after century. We are still living with its legacy today.


LEMON: Senator Cotton is defending what he said. He's claiming that those weren't his views. But the views of the founding fathers.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): What I said is that many founders believed that only with the union and the Constitution could we put slavery on the path to its ultimate extinction. That's exactly what Lincoln said. Of course, slavery is a evil institution. And all its forms at all times in America's past or around the world today.

But the fundamental moral principle of America is right there in the declaration. All men are created equal. And the history of the America is the long and sometimes difficult struggle to live up to that principle.


LEMON: It should be an evil institution. But listen, facts first here. There doesn't appear to be any record of the founding fathers arguing that slavery was a necessary evil. We do know that many of them owned slaves. Others were against outright. There was certainly nothing the founding fathers wrote in the Constitution that puts slavery on the path to ultimate extinction.

But imagine just for a moment that Senator Cotton is right. And the founding fathers did believe slavery was a necessary evil. If the nation could only be formed with a compromise over slavery and could not have been formed without compromising on slavery, then logic tells us that slavery was a vital component to our nation's founding, a vital component and a deeply racist one.

And that gets to the heart of what the 1619 Project is asking us to consider. It is asking us to look at slavery and racism as part of our national narrative. It is asking to understand the consequences of the nation's original sin.

I would like to have this conversation with Senator Cotton but when we asked him to come on this program, his staff told us he was not available.

So, here to talk about it all for us the creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and presidential historian Timothy Naftali. They'll both be here right after the break.



LEMON: So, Senator Cotton is trying to defend his claim that the founding fathers saw slavery as a necessary evil as he tries to push legislation to stop schools from teaching the 1619 Project.

Let's discuss now. Nikole Hannah-Jones is here. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter at "The New York Times" and the creator of the 1619 Project, and CNN presidential historian Timothy Naftali.

Again, I want to say that we asked the senator to appear tonight but he declined. I really would want to talk to him about it.

So, good evening to both of you. Nikole, I'd like to start with you and just get your reaction first on what Senator Cotton is saying here about the role that slavery played for our founding fathers.

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: So, certainly I would disagree that slavery at our founding was a necessary evil. As Congressman Hakeem Jeffries said it was a crime against humanity. And our founders had choices and this was a choice that they made. But you can't say that the enslavement of our ancestors the forced labor of our ancestors through torture and violence was a necessary evil.

However, in saying that he also basically confirmed the thesis of the 1619 Project that --



LEMON: He proved, right? The big picture point that you were making in the 1619 Project.


LEMON: That America really needs to grapple with how foundational slavery was to our country. Go on, Nikole.

HANNAH-JONES: Yes, I mean, he said that our country, the union was built upon slavery. And that it was at our founding. And we were built upon this. And that's what the 1969 Project argues. Is that slavery is foundational to the United States, that it predates our country by 150 years, and at our founding we decided to continue this institution.

And so, yes, he basically confirmed the pieces of the project that he is saying should be prohibited from being taught in American schools. LEMON: Interesting. Let's -- let me talk to Timothy. As a historian,

give us a reality check on Senator Cotton's claims. What do we really know about what the founding fathers really thought about slavery?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, first of all, we can't talk about the founding fathers as having one opinion. The Constitution is a product of a compromise. So, the New England founding fathers and the southern founding fathers, the Virginians in particular, they didn't see eye to eye on everything.

That's the first point. So, to say they all agreed that this was a necessary evil is just on the fact of it wrong. The second thing is that the nature of how they viewed slavery. They did agree that within 20 years the country should re-examine the issue of the slave trade because there was a lot of opposition to the slave trade, even in 1787.

So, there was a good number of them who eventually wanted the United States to get out of the slave trade. Now saying that you wanted to end the slave trade is not the same thing as saying you want to end slavery.

There were, amongst them, people who want to be sure not to extend slavery. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson himself and the northwest ordinance would say that the newer states would not have -- would be free and not slave states. So, there was a disagreement amongst them.

But one of the things that's absolutely clear and Nikole has made that clear too, they were not talking about eventually ending slavery. Nor were they arguing that it was necessary to maintain it for a more perfect union.


NAFTALI: What's amazing about Cotton is that he should he knows better. If you look at this man's educational background, he understands the nature of the struggles that shape this country.

And he knows that those ideas that he always talks about, those enlightenment ideas, which I actually hold true to myself, those ideas undermine the institution of slavery, that there was an in -- there was interaction between the ideas that Thomas Jefferson spoke up but didn't live up to and the institutions of the time.

There was no necessary outcome, other than the fact that there was a deep inconsistency between the institutions that Nikole has described haven't started in 1619 and the reality of the enlightenment ideas of the 18th century. And that in working that made us -- made us the country that we are good or bad today. Cotton knows that. And he doesn't want to teach it.

LEMON: And you say that he is taking -- he is taking Lincoln out of context here when he's quoting Lincoln, right?

NAFTALI: Well, Lincoln --


LEMON: Who, by the way, is not a founding father.

NAFTALI: Well, anyway, first of all, he's not a founding father. But the thing about Lincoln, and the thing about all of our great presidents is that they evolved and they changed on the job.

The Lincoln of the 1850s is not the Lincoln of 1863 at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. His ideas on colonization for African- Americans have -- will have shifted by then. So, Lincoln always said that slavery was evil. The question is what to do about it.


NAFTALI: And during the Civil War he decided to make the big play. We wish that he would've made that decision before, he didn't. But in the context of the Civil War, he did. So, Lincoln would never have said that slavery was a necessary evil when he was president --


NAFTALI: -- and overseeing the fight for our union.

LEMON: Before we run out of time, I want to make sure I get this in because and you -- we talked about it just a little tiny bit.

Nikole, Senator Cotton wants to stop the 1619 Project from being taught at school as school curriculum, telling the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that the 1619 Project is left wing propaganda. It is revisionist history at its worse -- worst.

Some historians did take issues with aspects of the project particularly the idea that the preservation of slavery was the main reason why the columnist declared independence. Give me your response to that.


HANNAH-JONES: I think that we should be very, very concerned that a powerful senator wants to use the force of the government to stop a work of journalism from being taught in our public schools. That, to me, is in direct conflict with the first amendment and with our ideals of freedom of speech that we hold very dear in this country.

Now what's clear is that the 1619 Project was never intended to replace curriculum, it was intended to supplement curriculum.

LEMON: Right.

HANNAH-JONES: And it is intended to simply ask us to reconsider what we've been taught. And this is necessary because the Southern Poverty Law Center showed that only 8 percent of American high school students even know that slavery was a cause of the Civil War. And only 60 percent of American teachers know that slavery was a cause of the Civil War. So, if he was truly concerned about the accuracy of the history that

our students were learning, he wouldn't be going after the 1619 Project, he'd be going after the textbooks that are teaching a false narrative about what our country really is and how it came to be.

LEMON: And especially the false narrative that is taught in school and many of it -- much of it is a concerted effort that happened after the Civil War.

Listen, I wish we had more time to talk about this, but we don't. But I just want to tell everyone, listen, your founding fathers, the founding fathers are not under attack. What people are trying to do is to get you to learn more about them and the real history of this country.

Nikole, thank you very much. And thank you, Timothy. I appreciate it. We'll see you both soon. Be well.

HANNAH-JONES: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you.

NAFTALI: Thank you. Bye.

LEMON: We'll be right back.