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Any Moment, Plane Carrying John Lewis Arrives in D.C. Area; Lewis Motorcade to Pass Important Landmarks; Plane Carrying John Lewis Arrives at Joint Base Andrews; Sen. Cory Booker (D-NY) Discusses His Friend and Mentor, John Lewis. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired July 27, 2020 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm John, King in Washington. Thank you so much for sharing this special day with us.
Special because, today, the nation's capital honors and remembers the late Congressman John Lewis, the man who meant so much to so many, a civil rights icon, a hero, the conscience of the Congress for decades, an inspiration to millions.
The casket carrying the congressman will arrive at Joint Base Andrews moments from now. Lewis will begin his final journey to Capitol Hill.
For more on his arrival, Congressman Lewis was honored in his birth state of Alabama over the weekend. That included one last crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. You see it right there. Recruiting the route that Lewis and others took on Bloody Sunday back in 1965. And then again later, with Martin Luther King Jr on a march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery.
Lewis' body laid in state at the Alabama state capitol as people came by to pay their respects.
Today, there will be a ceremony in the U.S. capitol rotunda. Congressional leaders, members of the Congressional Black Caucus will take part.
The former vice president, Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill, say they will travel to Washington today to pay their respects.
The current vice president, Mike Pence, also plans to visit the capitol this evening.
There's no word yet on whether President Trump plans to visit.
On the way to the United States capitol today, the motorcade carrying Congressman Lewis will pass and pause at some of this city's iconic sites, sites that hold special meaning for Congressman Lewis: The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, where Lewis spoke at the march on Washington. He was the last living speaker from that seminal event.
The National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Lewis was the guiding force behind the creation and the completion of that remarkable museum.
The Department of Justice, the Supreme Court and the new Black Lives Matter mural on the street near Lafayette Park near the White House. That is where Lewis made his final public appearance.
It is a fitting final path here in Washington for Congressman Lewis who helped shape the landscape of this city and its history over more than 30 years.
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is on Capitol Hill to start us off on this somber but special day -- Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, it's a beautiful sunny day here in Washington, D.C. There's a great deal of anticipation on the arrival of John Lewis.
We expect there will be a lot of people on Capitol Hill as they say good-bye and they also celebrate his life as the conscience of the Congress, having evolved and served as an activist that have and really as a lawmaker here in Washington, D.C.
As you know, this event and these kinds of events laying in state are planned to the minute, down to the minute. And we saw just about 10:34 this morning, the first plane landing at Joint Base Andrews, that of former staffers and family members.
We do expect that the casket that the body of John Lewis will arrive with about 20 family members and current staffers, that from a C-32 that will be arriving shortly.
There will be a greeting, a very brief greeting by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, her daughter, as well as the head who is there at the base.
And then you -- as you mentioned, it will be the motorcade going through the city to very special, special occasions and events, sites that were very important to John Lewis.
One of those, you mentioned, Black Lives Matter Plaza. We have learned that that is where the former first lady of D.C., Cora Masters Berry, she is going to pay her respects there. That, John, is a nod to the relationship, the very close relationship that John Lewis had with the former, the late D.C. Mayor Berry, both of them active in the civil rights movement from the very beginning.
So you'll see those kinds of emotional connections play out throughout the city before the casket arrives here at 12:30, just before 1:00 where this will be a celebration, a private one for the leadership of Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus.
And then, it will later open up to the public. It will be social distanced and outside. It's really a departure from what we've seen in the past but, of course, they want everybody to be safe.
It is going to be a beautiful day of remembrances and of tributes and stories as the day unfolds -- John?
KING: Suzanne Malveaux, outside of the capital, thank you for setting the stage for us.
As Suzanne was speaking, you see the plane there, the Air Force jet arriving at Joint Base Andrews just outside of the nation's capital in Maryland. Congressman Lewis making his final journey here to Washington.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, a dear friend of the congressman. He was someone she relied on as a moral leader and spiritual leader, if you will, in the Congress. She is there as well to greet the processional that's coming to the capitol.
Congressman Lewis will lie in state there, as Suzanne just noted, as we watch this beginning of the ceremony at Joint Base Andrews.
Let's bring into our conversation, CNN's Dana Bash, Nia-Malika Henderson and Van Jones.
Van, I want to start with you.
It's a sad day because the congressman has left us. It is a celebration because we'll celebrate the key moments of John Lewis' life.
But Van Jones, first to you. He was an organize and activist. And in his final appearances and final words in recent weeks and months, he talked about his optimism. Sad at the death of George Floyd, sad at other tragic events in this country, but some optimism as he watched the younger generation get out in the streets to march, to demand change, to demand justice.
Help us understand the context of this moment.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "THE VAN JONES SHOW": Well, nobody could have had more joy and encouragement seeing young people protesting, young people speaking up, and young people getting involved than John Lewis.
Because you have to remember, he was one of those kids himself in 1960 when young people started sitting in at the lunch counters, the most effective youth movement -- I mean, young people all across the country doing everything that you've read about.
But it was in Nashville, Tennessee where he and Diane Nash -- let's not leave out the women -- led those people so beautifully that they got the mayor of the city to come out and embrace the cause of those young protesters, which turned the whole tide.
So from a very, very young age, he is a national figure. From a very young age, he's leading a movement that's making a tremendous difference. It's smart and disciplined. And he's a part of the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinated Committee, which brings the best of those students from across the country together into a single organization. And then he becomes not just the head of it, he becomes a spokesperson for it at the march on Washington, and one of the most courageous frontline people.
So everything you see these young people going through, coming into their voice for the first time, marching, sometimes being arrested, he did himself, sometimes before their parents were born.
And so you're in the situation where, at the end of his life, despite all the division in the country, he is a unifying figure. He's the conscience of a nation. And he's seeing the next generation take up his cause.
So, yes, there's a lot of reason to be sad this year. But the fact that somebody can go from being a youth leader and a student leader to being the conscience of the nation, with courage and consistency and with compassion and conviction in every decade of their lives, is a reason for us to be proud to be Americans and proud of John Lewis.
KING: Amen to that.
And, Nia-Malika Henderson, to Van's point about the generational shift here, it is sad to pass the torch at any moment. This is happening in the middle of this national reckoning on race and racial inequality, racial disparity, whether we're talking about policing or the health care disparities we see playing out in the COVID-19 crisis as well.
It's happening as we're now 99 days from a presidential election, in which, let's just put it right on the table, Congressman Lewis was often at odds with the current president of these United States.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: He was, indeed, at odds with the president of the United States. And he lamented the fact that, whereas in the 1960s, those protesters, at some point, could rely on the federal government to intervene in their cause.
He felt like, in more recent times, that that wasn't the case. And he, at some point, in one of his books -- I think this was his last book -- at times, he felt like conditions now were as bad as they were before.
And so there was some pessimism there at times for John Lewis who was incredibly optimistic overall, a true visionary, even when he was a young kid growing up in Troy, Alabama, imagining a new world, right, continuing the fight from the founders to really make good the words of the founding fathers. He saw himself in that light.
He also acknowledged that it wasn't just one movement that would lead to full equality. It had to be built on several movements, right? You -- you couldn't just hope in one leader. You had to continue that fight. Such a poignant moment for his last public appearance to be at that
Black Lives Matter Plaza because, if you remember, there are some folks in the civil rights movement, some older generations of civil right leaders, who had been critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, criticizing them for maybe not being as organized and having a more disparate leadership structure. But there he was, passing the baton.
And, as you said, continuing to criticize this administration, trying to push this administration, push Republicans, and push the public, and push all parties in a way that -- where people who grew up like him, black and poor in the south, and all over the country, could realize their full humanity, reach their full potential.
You see here these images, this poor kid who grew up, right? His great grandfather born into slavery, both of his parents sharecroppers. And here he is being remembered for the hero that he was to all of us.
We couldn't be here were it not for his tremendous courage. And you think of what he did, right? Putting his body on the line so that America could really move forward and realize the full potential of all of those founding words and the founding documents. And here he is now being celebrated as the legend that he was.
KING: And you're watching -- Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you for your thoughts.
You're watching there, this is Joint Base Andrews. The casket carrying the late Congressman John Lewis arriving there to be greeted by the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to begin this remarkable journey through the nation's capital that will end with Congressman Lewis lying in state at the United States capitol.
A very quick break. When we come back, we'll continue with this very special day here in Washington, remembering Congressman John Lewis.
KING: Live pictures here at Joint Base Andrews. This is an Air Force jet carrying the body of the former congressman, the late congressman, John Lewis, civil rights icon, American hero, member of the House of Representatives for more than 30 years. The conscience of the Congress is what his colleagues call him.
The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on hand to begin to greet her friend, and then to begin a procession through the streets of Washington, ultimately, ending at the United States Capitol where Congressman Lewis will lie in state.
Among those who knew him and considered him a mentor and a friend, Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat of New Jersey, who joins us live from Capitol Hill.
Senator, you're 51 years old. I want to talk about your experiences with Congressman Lewis in those halls.
But I want you to start, as a young black man growing up in Newark, what's your first memory of being told, this man is a hero, somebody you need to watch, somebody you should follow?
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): Well, I think that what makes heroes and saints great is their humanity. And my mom, from Fisk University, in her days, doing sit-ins and demonstrations, knew John Lewis personally. And it was his humanity that really spoke.
But I learned, coming to the Senate, that he shaped their lives more than he knew. My parents were denied housing in the suburbs of New Jersey time and time again, turned around because of the color of their skin.
One of the courageous lawyers who organized a sting operation where white couples posed as my parents to eventually buy the house that I grew up in.
When I went back to interview him for my book, I was just stunned, got chills when he told me he was sitting comfortably on his couch and saw the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and was so shaken by it and had to get up out of the comfort of his house and join the civil rights movement.
And what he did was offer pro bono work to that civil rights organization that got my family in.
John's courage shaped my life from its very inception. And then to get to know him personally when we were both on the shelf, defining if our roots with Henry Lewis Gates.
And I got to sit humbly and see what a son of a sharecropper, whose great grandfathers was registered to vote in the post-Reconstruction period, and have torn away from -- and have those rights torn away from them, and John actually fight and succeed in getting a chance to vote as well.
So these -- these powerful streams, where I am the son of that generation, of people who were peers of John Lewis'.
I learned -- until I got to the Senate and actually became his friend, the powerful influence that he had in shaping the course of my events. And on the day I got sworn in, days after my dad had died, my mom took me to see John Lewis. That's the last thing I did before I went to see Harry Reid and Joe Biden to be sworn in.
And to have John Lewis, with such humility, say to me how grateful he was because I was the fruition and, in many ways, a symbolic fruition of his efforts to see the fourth black person ever popularly elected to the United States Senate. It's just been an unbelievable experience.
And then as a Senator, he and I did things I never could have imagined, from a multiple-hour journey to go see Jimmy Carter for Bible study from Atlanta to Plains, Georgia, to doing -- sitting on the capitol steps during the health care debate and watching hundreds and hundreds of people to come out and sit at his feet, literally, and him talk about why this fight was just yet another stone in the long road that we had to place to justice and equality.
This is somebody whose humanity made him so much greater than me. He was not beyond your reach. He was not superhuman. He was frail and fragile in the way every human is.
But yet, despite that, he showed a level of courage and commitment over decades that just is -- that will forever be inspiring to me.
KING: And to that point, I want to play a moment. This is June 2017. The congressman joined you for a Facebook Live discussion of a Senate health care bill at the time. Let's listen a little bit, and I'll talk to you on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LEWIS, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: I say to people all the time, when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to stand up, to do something, to say something, and find a way to get in the way and make a little noise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It is remarkable. And you know it better than most so help us understand. A lot of egos where you work and a lot of egos in politics, and I say that with no disrespect.
He was somebody who was just so unique. He had the booming voice when he had wanted that. But then had that whisper right there that was essentially a kick in the "you know what" to get up off "your you know what" and do something.
BOOKER: Well, that was one of the more powerful moments of my life. We sat down on the steps, opened up a Facebook Live and began talking about health care. And his soft-spoken voice that commanded so much power and his speaking from a place of pure virtue, that as people watched that, they came out.
We didn't invite anybody. We opened up a Facebook Live and just started talking on the capitol steps and hundreds and hundreds of people by the end of the evening.
And somebody had a photo montage of the start with the two of us sitting there and, eventually, hundreds and hundreds of people sitting on the steps in front of John Lewis as he talked to us about the urgency of this moment in history and how it connected directly to when he was a young person fighting for civil rights and voting rights.
KING: Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, grateful for your time on this day. It's a mix of sadness and celebration as the capitol pays tribute to an American hero and certainly a good friend of yours and a mentor in the United States Congress.
Senator Booker, thank you so much.
You're watching -- this is Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. This Air Force jet carrying the body of John Lewis from his birth state of Alabama to here in Washington. Soon, you'll see the activities under way. Soon, the processions will begin through the streets of Washington.
We'll take a quick break. We'll continue to follow this.
Also, the breaking news at the White House this day. The highest- ranking coronavirus diagnosis yet, the president's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien.
KING: Live pictures there. This is Joint Base Andrews just outside of the nation's capital in Maryland. The body of Congressman John Lewis, the late John Lewis, civil rights icon, American hero, 30 years-plus representing the district of Atlanta and its suburbs. John Lewis here in Washington for his final journal. His casket will be taken through the streets of Washington passing many of the landmarks that were a part of his life and career. Then he will lie in state at the United States Capitol.
The House speaker is on hand at Joint Base Andrews, friends and family members, congressional staff members as well, as we begin this journey. We'll have our special coverage throughout the day to play it out.
Joining me to help us through it is CNN's Dana Bash, Nia-Malika Henderson and Van Jones.
Dana, I want to come to you.
You knew him very well from all the time you spent on Capitol Hill.
But I want to start the conversation by going back to the second Obama inaugural. This is after the re-election in 2013.
Listen to Congressman Lewis speak to you because it says so much about how he viewed life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEWIS: Well, I did everything possible today to keep from crying. When I saw him standing there, taking the oath, with the Bible of Martin Luther King Jr., knowing that just 50 short years ago that Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, "I have a dream." And there were so many people who voted for him last year, four years ago, and couldn't even register to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: I find that moment so fascinating that this was the second inaugural. America had already elected its first black president but Congressman Lewis knew the re-election of that black president was also a key step, if you will, another building block, if you will, in the march.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it.