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Cuomo Prime Time

Biden Signs Bill To Make Juneteenth A Federal Holiday; Putin Praises Biden After Summit: "He Doesn't Miss A Thing"; Supreme Court Keeps Affordable Care Act In Place. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired June 17, 2021 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[21:00:00]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Be sure to watch, "CNN SPECIAL REPORT: ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY. THE ROOTS OF TRUMP'S INSURRECTION." That's Sunday, 9 P.M. Eastern, right here on CNN.

The news continues. Want to hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, thank you very much, Coop.

I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

Surprise! We have a new national holiday, starting now. Happy Juneteenth! Merry Juneteenth! A blessed Juneteenth!

All positive qualifiers should apply, because today will go down in history as the birth of the first federal holiday, created since MLK Day in 1983. It is to commemorate the end of slavery, post-Civil War, in 1865.

President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, earlier at the White House. He calls it one of the greatest honors he will have, as President, surrounded by the first Black Vice President of America, lawmakers and guests, including our special guest tonight, 94-year-old Opal Lee.

You're going to meet her in a little while tonight, the "Grandmother of Juneteenth." She'll be first to tell you "It was a lot of people, not just me." But boy oh boy, what a jury of pain - a journey of pain and purpose, she has had, to very much help this country get to today.

So today, when it was signed, standing ovations, hugs from the President, all kinds of shout-outs at the White House.

Prepare yourself to be inspired, a rare opportunity, to be with a civil rights icon, in the midst of their work.

People are now getting their arms around what Juneteenth means, what it will mean for them, when it comes, on the 19th. And to be honest, we're not all on the same page about tomorrow, or where we need to be, as a country.

Now, a little bit FAQs, Juneteenth, short for June 19th, 1865. Why then? "Well, that's when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation." No, that was in 1863.

It was more than two years later, why? Slaves were kept in servitude. That's what the Civil War was about. They rejected it, even after the Proclamation was signed.

It was the day, slaves in Galveston, Texas - Galveston, Texas learned they were free. That was the official occasion. Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army read an Executive Order, a Proclamation, to them.

Juneteenth will be observed nationally tomorrow, why? June 19th falls on a Saturday this year, so national holiday, weekday.

This should not be controversial. Think about it. None should be resistant to the idea of being happy and commemorating the end of slavery here, right? We can't be the "Land of the Free" until everybody was and is free.

And yet, there is tension about Juneteenth, why? A big part of it is where the latest surge of momentum for Juneteenth, as a national holiday, came from. It was in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. It was in the wake of the BLM protests.

Now, to the Right fringe, OK that is coopted the former GOP, they've opposed those efforts, right? They don't believe that you need to change policing. They don't believe or even want to address or even recognize the reality of systemic racism.

And so, now they will add a new shame to the list of disgraces, owned by the angry few, controlling the Right-flank. 14 House Republi-CAN'Ts voted against it. Some like Paul Gosar called the day to recognize the end of slavery, "Divisive."

Congressman Massie gave this excuse.

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REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): Naming this day "National Independence Day" will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day, based on their racial identity.

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CUOMO: Were slaves free on July 4th, 1776? Hint, key word, "Slaves," OK? Nobody's going to have to choose between celebrating the day our country was freed from the U.K., and the day that slaves were freed.

Why wouldn't you want to celebrate them both? Why would you believe that this is divisive? Who is pro not recognizing the end of slavery? Who doesn't want to do that? What is the good reason?

But look, for all that stupidity, there was also proof that all is not lost to toxic politics. The Senate regained composure long enough to unanimously recognize Juneteenth.

[21:05:00] Even Senator Ron "January 6th was no big deal" Johnson caved. Took him a year, but he caved. Maybe his resistance should not come as a surprise, after he told us he would have been concerned if it were "Black Lives Matter" protesters, who attacked the Capitol on January 6th, but he wasn't worried about peaceful White tourists.

Really, it would be odd if you think about it, if no Trumpers had resisted. After all, can you really want to celebrate removing the chains of slavery, if you favor passing election laws that shackle the same population's right to vote?

Biden gets it. And he sees today as proof, yes, of how far we've come, but also how far we need to go, to truly be who we can be.

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JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's not - simply not enough just to commemorate Juneteenth.

The promise of equality is not going to be fulfilled until we become real, becomes real in our schools and on our Main Streets and in our neighborhoods.

In our justice system, so that we can fulfill the promise of America for all people, all of our people.

And it's not going to be fulfilled so long as the sacred right to vote remains under attack.

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CUOMO: So, what does today mean for our future? Insight from a better mind, Ibram Kendi, Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, Co-Editor of a very interesting book, "Four Hundred Souls," we're going to talk about that tonight.

Welcome back to PRIME TIME, Professor.

IBRAM X. KENDI, DIRECTOR, BOSTON UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR ANTIRACIST RESEARCH, AUTHOR, "HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST," CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Thank you for having me.

CUOMO: You must be sticking on some level, because over in the House of Hate, they're crushing you tonight. They're coming after you. "You can't be trusted. You're too angry. You want to foment division. You want some kind of vengeance."

What do you make of resistance to the idea of owning our past, commemorating the end of slavery, in Juneteenth, teaching our kids more about slavery, not just what it meant, back in the day, but what it has continued to mean, or what's now being called "Critical race theory." I just call it "History."

What do you make of the resistance, and what do you make of the significance of Juneteenth being a national holiday?

KENDI: Well, first, I do think it's an historic day.

African Americans have been celebrating and their allies have been celebrating Juneteenth, for generations. Many people have been pushing and activated to try to make it a national holiday. And so, I know many of those people are cheering and excited, tonight.

This bill wasn't necessarily at the top of my list that of bills that the Senate in particular, should sort of support. But it's certainly a bill that was on my list.

And unfortunately, people were enslaved, my ancestors were enslaved, for roughly 250 years, in this country. And just like some people want to move on, from what happened on January 6th, and act like it didn't happen, so too are those same people who want to just move on, as if slavery didn't happen, as if its legacy is still not with us.

CUOMO: In terms of what it means about where we are, and what needs to happen, how much of this suggestion is in about people saying, "Well, you can't call it Independence Day. It'll confuse people. The idea of Juneteenth is divisive." Where is that coming from? And what do we do with it?

KENDI: I'm shocked that some folks, some Republicans in particular, don't know that my ancestors, as you said, at the top of the show, did not declare independence on July 4th, 1776, that my ancestors, if anything, declared independence on June 19th, 1865. And that's not a divisive idea. That's an historical fact.

And we just have to teach history. We have to understand that different groups of people can have different histories, and simultaneously a single American history. It doesn't have to be either/or. It can be both.

CUOMO: I'm worried Professor about the abuse of the phrase "Critical race theory." I think it's been weaponized as a buzzword that means something about beating White people over the head with shame about how bad they are. That's the way it's being used on the Right.

And the reason I feel this way is Delaware tonight, the Governor just passed a bill saying, "Hey, in our schools, part of core curriculum is going to be the history of slavery, what happened, how it manifested itself, in really the dissolution of African American culture, and what that meant through the years."

[21:10:00]

And I just call that "History." And it's a little scary that it hasn't been taught in depth in our schools. How do we communicate this that this is not about making people feel bad? This is about just telling the true story of how we got to where we are today.

KENDI: And if we tell that true story, if we tell that true story, in its all of its complexity, we're not only going to tell the story of White people, who were enslaving people, we're going to tell the story of people like where I'm in now, in Boston, of William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips and Charles Sumner.

We're going to tell the story of White Americans, who fought against slavery, who were abolitionists. We'll tell the story of John Brown.

And so, the idea that the teaching of slavery and abolition will somehow make a White child feel that they're personally being attacked, no, they'll be told two ways. They'll be told to paths. And I'm sure many children will look at the path of those White abolitionists and say, "That's the path that I want to live in my life."

CUOMO: How does the book "Four Hundred Souls" details the history of African Americans, 1619 to 2019, and part of an effort of yours, to recruit writers to tell stories, get the stories written, get the history written, so then it can be published, and disseminated, what is your hope for the book?

KENDI: Well, yes, so "Four Hundred Souls," I edited with, of course, Keisha Blain. And we, as 2019 approached, this symbolic 400th birthday, of African Americans, we wanted to bring together a community, to write a history of a community.

So, just like the United States is an extremely diverse community, even Black America is extremely diverse. And we wanted to - we brought together 90 writers, to write that 400-year story. And it was an incredible sort of project, to really work with so many incredible writers.

CUOMO: It's going to be a summer parent-kid project, for me and my son. So, I thank you for giving us something to work on together, to help understand what we want to be about, and what we don't want to be about.

Professor Ibram Kendi, always a pleasure.

KENDI: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, be well.

Vladimir Putin, it's the opposite, right? We're trying to come together to understand our history. And then you got a guy, who's trying to destroy us, every way he can. And it's going to be interesting to see what happens now post-summit, because there's no Trump to kind of play to his advantage anymore.

The Russian meddler is propping up President Biden though, post- summit, and it's a clever play. Have you heard what he said, and what's really behind it? I'm going to talk to you about it.

And we're going to bring in a key player, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for a look at inside, what needs to happen next, and then we're going to check some boxes about problems that he's trying to deal with, next.

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CUOMO: I have a little pro tip for you. One of the easy metrics to measure big summits, big political events, is what the immediate spin is, and how it's repeated, in the immediate aftermath, by the different sides.

And if you look at that lens, about Geneva, take a look at how Putin came out of the box afterwards, where he's very clever, this guy. He is shooting down right-wing talking points. Or is he? Listen.

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VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): This image of President Biden, which is pictured by Russian and U.S. media, does not correspond to reality.

This image of him can feel discouraging. But there is no need to be discouraged, because President Biden is a professional. And you should be very precise, while working with him, to not miss anything. He doesn't miss a thing.

I repeat, once again, he is focused. He understands what he wants to achieve, and reaches it very skillfully. You can easily feel it.

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CUOMO: Sound familiar? "You know, some people say that the guy's out of it. I mean I guess you could say he's out of it. I mean, look, he's out of it." That's called the Trump three-step. And now you're hearing the same thing from Putin. "You know, you're not as ugly as they say you are."

It's very clever, very clever. He takes a shot at the media. "I don't believe what the media is saying in the U.S. about the President." And it's creating a false narrative about America's President, that he is widely held to be someone who is in mental disrepair. That's what we're dealing with here.

And now, you have to think about what does it mean going forward? And we see a great opportunity to deal with a big problem we have, in our own system of government - governance, because now that you want to figure out how to deal with the Russia, it's a great time to deal with what the President is able to do on his own.

So, we have a big voice, from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with us tonight, Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut.

Good to have you. Clever play by Putin there, huh?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Yes.

CUOMO: "Hey, Murphy? You're not as dumb as they say you are. I think you're pretty cogent," you know? A nice little backhanded compliment. What's his point?

MURPHY: Well, I think you have to understand the full story here, which is that in the Russian state-backed media, for the weeks, leading up to this meeting, Putin and his allies were just mauling Joe Biden, in part because they're nervous about a skilled diplomat, who is capable of outmaneuvering Vladimir Putin.

[21:20:00]

And so, they have been beating him up, domestically. So, he was maybe speaking to an international audience but also a domestic audience.

The fact of the matter is, I mean, Joe Biden got everything he wanted, out of this trip to Europe. He planned this very carefully, right? Did the meetings with the Europeans first, got them all to come back to the table, on China, talked to them about a common strategy towards Russia. And then, he sat down with Putin.

Didn't build up expectations, right, didn't make anybody to believe there was going to be some big diplomatic agreement, because what he wanted to do is just look Putin in the eye, and tell him sort of what the deal was, with the United States, in a post-Trump environment, tell him the red lines that he couldn't cross.

That makes it a lot easier for Putin to go back to the Europeans, who are now more willing to engage with the Americans, and set a common policy, on Ukraine, on cyber warfare, on election interference.

I think Joe Biden got everything he wanted out of this. And I think the attention that Putin is spending and his state-backed media are spending on Joe Biden is probably telling the story about how serious the Kremlin takes the White House now.

CUOMO: Now look, on one level, this has to be man-to-man, right, Putin and Biden, and I get covering it that way. But this is, at least on the American side, also about what our president is able to do on their own.

And it was very interesting to me, that we finally saw the 2002 AUMF, which was only about Iraq, the 2001 AUMF, which was "Go get terrorists", is still in effect. I have problems with both of them. And now, we saw that the 2002 is being voted down, and we need a new one.

Is it time for you guys in Congress, House and Senate, to finally take back your power, that for generations now, you have given to a President, when no law or Constitution rewards them with it? MURPHY: Well, this is what happens when you have a senator become president. Joe Biden believes in Executive power, but he also understands the responsibilities of the Legislative branch. And we have the responsibility to declare war.

Right now, we have left on the books, all of these old, essentially, effectively expired war authorizations. And occasionally, they're perverted by the Executive branch, to get the United States, into new wars overseas that actually sort of weren't debated by Congress, weren't authorized by the American people.

So yes, we need to take the Iraq War authorization off the books. We need to go back and rewrite the al Qaeda Authorization, which has been used to start wars, with all sorts of disparate non-state actors, around the world, and get Congress back in the business of actually sort of setting foreign policy.

I'm really glad that Joe Biden is willing to be at the table, because if the American people are actually, through their congressional representatives, debating war and peace, they're going to be much more willing to follow a Commander-in-Chief into a conflict that we really need, in order to protect our national security.

CUOMO: Yes, look, I just think it's fundamental, because I'm surprised to see the White House come forward actively on this. If I were in their position, I'd take any power you were willing to give them.

The power - the problem for me has been the people put you guys in office, to own this. And I believe it's been an article of convenience for Congress after Congress to let the President do it. "No, he'll come talk to us about it later," I think, is a shirking of duty. So, this will be interesting.

Now, Juneteenth, big deal, that Biden signed this. He said it may be the biggest part of his presidency. At the same time that we passed Juneteenth, there is the most pernicious effort, you and I have seen in our lifetime, to go after voting rights of the same population.

What do you think of the buy - the Manchin compromise? Does it have a shot?

MURPHY: Well, I think what's instructive here is how eager Republicans were to shoot down Joe Manchin's proposal.

I haven't looked at it in detail yet. But I support the "For the People Act." And if Joe is proposing a subset of those proposals, to come before the Senate, I assume that I'll be supportive of those.

But what you're seeing is that Republicans are just not going to come to the table, on any voting reforms. They are not going to work with us on anything that makes it easier for people to vote.

Why? Because they have decided that they can't win elections, if everybody has the right to vote. Republicans have decided the only way that they can stay in power is if they make it harder for people, in particular, poor people and people of color, to vote. So, I think we're coming to the conclusion, I hope, as a body, that

there is no path to 60 votes, on any reforms to our very broken democratic system. And that's a conversation we have to have internally in the Senate.

But man, these Republicans, they didn't even read the proposal Joe Manchin put out there. They didn't even give it three hours to consider, because they're going to be against anything, it seems, that makes it easier for people to go out and exercise their right to vote.

CUOMO: Senator Chris Murphy, appreciate you, especially tonight. Thank you.

MURPHY: Thanks a lot.

[21:25:00]

CUOMO: All right, another big headline, Obamacare saved again by the Supreme Court, 7-2, means all those Democrats who were thinking that "Oh my god, 6-3, oh well, what's it going to mean?" Well, not everything is as dire as you think. The law is not always as cheap as politics.

But is it really safe? What should millions of Americans, 30 plus million Americans, who rely on the Affordable Care Act, know, in light of this ruling?

We have an Obamacare architect. What this means? And what has to happen next? Next.

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CUOMO: Is the Affordable Care Act, the ACA, Obamacare, however you want to refer to it, is it now safe?

The Supreme Court today, 7-2, turned away the latest legal challenge. But it did so, even with a procedural vote, in a way that may change the calculus going forward. It wasn't on the merits. It was that the people complaining didn't have a right to complain. That's what the Justices said.

Now, the Republican-led states, and Trump, hadn't been hurt by what they were complaining about. That's technical. But it's the third case to reach the High Court, challenging Obama's signature legislative achievement.

Now, here's what I don't get. Legally, OK, that's not what's going to determine the outcome of this law. But that doesn't mean it's safe, legislatively.

[21:30:00]

What am I missing? Let's ask an architect of the ACA, Dr. Zeke Emanuel. His book is called "Which Country Has the World's Best Health Care?"

Doctor, good to see you.

DR. ZEKE EMANUEL, OBAMACARE ARCHITECT, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE HEALTH POLICY ADVISER, FORMER MEMBER OF BIDEN TRANSITION'S COVID-19 ADVISORY BOARD, VICE PROVOST OF GLOBAL INITIATIVES, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, AUTHOR, "WHICH COUNTRY HAS THE WORLD'S BEST HEALTH CARE?": Nice to be with you, Chris.

CUOMO: So, OK, I'll even give you that in reading the decision of the majority, it seemed to be like, "OK, enough with this. These challenges are not compelling." Now two justices, conservatives, disagreed with that notion. But 7-2 is a heavy decision.

But all they have to do is get in power and get the right numbers. And they can still hack this thing up, and maybe even repeal and replace. So, why so confident that it's safe?

EMANUEL: Because I don't think they're going to get enough. And I don't think they're going to get into power. That's the first thing.

The second thing is that in every state, where expansion of Medicaid, a core part of the Affordable Care Act has been on the ballot, we're talking about Red States, States like Nebraska, Idaho, Utah, Missouri, the public has voted to expand Medicaid. Even hardcore Republican States, they want Medicaid expansion.

People, we've transformed. We believe that health care is a right, that it's no longer an entitlement, and that the government should do what it can, for people who can't afford it, to help them get coverage.

CUOMO: Now, you and I have discussed many times that the ACA was not perfect when it came out. It was always done in anticipation of needing to be worked on, as it got instituted, and the Republicans never gave you a chance to do it, and still won't.

So, what do you think the chance is that you get this law to work the way it needs to, to serve the most constituents across this country?

EMANUEL: Well, there are two or three things that really need to be done.

The first is there are millions, about 17 million people, who are today eligible for coverage, whether Medicaid or subsidies in the exchanges that aren't getting coverage. They need to get coverage. We need to make it easier for them to get coverage. And that'll bring

the total number of people helped by the Affordable Care Act up from roughly 21 million today, to 38 million. And that would get us very close to universal coverage, in this country.

The second thing is we have to build on the Affordable Care Act to make health care more affordable. One of the things that's obvious is that even for people with insurance, the high deductibles, high copays, high drug costs, the hospital costs which have gone up, the surprise medical billing, health care is becoming unaffordable, even for people with insurance.

That has to change. And we need to put in some more comprehensive reforms to incentivize hospitals and doctors, to keep health care costs down, not just to keep ratcheting them up. I think that's going to be the next big battlefield.

And the third area is the area of equity that's been made so clear by the COVID pandemic. We still have this disparate care for people who are minorities, people who are in rural areas, people who are poor, compared to well-off Whites. That has to end.

Now, providing health insurance is one mechanism to get it to work. But more needs to be done, to hold people accountable, for making sure that they're delivering the same high-quality care to people, regardless of their income, regardless of their race, and regardless of whether they live in rural areas, inner cities, or rich suburbs.

CUOMO: You got to find a way to knit the practical to the political.

Because you're right, in Red States, red and blue gives way to green. But when you pull this as a political issue, you still got three out of four Republicans that want it destroyed, even though it may benefit them. So, you got to get through that obstacle as well. That's for bigger minds, than even yours, and certainly mine.

But Dr. Zeke Emanuel, I appreciate you laying it plain for people, what needs to happen here, and why. Be well.

EMANUEL: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right.

EMANUEL: Take care.

CUOMO: January 6 was no big deal, right, because everybody wasn't carrying a machine gun?

I want you to watch video from the terror attack that's new, all right? I want you to show - I want to show you what they were trying to do to cops in a way that you have never seen before. And then, I want you to think about what these Trumpers are telling you about how nonchalant you should be about January 6th.

Watch this yourself. And then make your own determination.

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CUOMO: CNN obtained new police bodycam video from the January 6th domestic terror attack. And you need to see it. Yes, it's going to be disturbing. But remember, the Right is trying to rewrite that day.

"Not a big day! They were patriots! If it had been those Black Lives Matters guy, oh, it could have been horrible. But they weren't even armed. It's not a coup. It's just a protest. It's not as bad as everything that happened last summer. Not a big deal, certainly not an insurrection. The FBI got it wrong, really shouldn't be an act of terror."

Take a look for yourself. I want you to look at Thomas Webster, former Marine, retired NYPD officer, now in a red coat, among a sea of pro- Trump rioters, yelling profanities, and coming at police.

Watch.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're looking what the (BLEEP) (inaudible).

THOMAS WEBSTER, FORMER MARINE, RETIRED NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT OFFICER: You're going to attack America? No. (BLEEP) (inaudible) Come on! Take your (BLEEP) off. Take your (BLEEP) off. You Communist (BLEEP). Take off your (BLEEP) (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible).

(MOB BEATING, TRAMPLING CAPITOL POLICE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, stop!

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CUOMO: Just a protest? Just tourists? Not a big deal? Pete Webster Brown (ph) what happens? What are they saying then?

[21:40:00]

Webster's charged with federal crimes, including assaulting police, unlawfully entering Capitol grounds, with a dangerous weapon, and civil disorder. "It was only a flagpole." Let me beat you in the head with it, see how you feel about it then.

Here is what Republican lawmakers keep spinning to you. Listen to what they say.

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REP. ANDREW CLYDE (R-GA): And to call it an "Insurrection," in my opinion, is a bold-faced lie.

You know, if you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.

REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding U.S. citizens, especially Trump voters.

As a result, the DOJ is harassing - harassing peaceful patriots, across the country.

REP. JODY HICE (R-GA): It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others.

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CUOMO: Those people were running and hiding.

The ones who are now mitigating the significance of the day, they were running and hiding, and clinging to the same U.S. Capitol Police officers, who now they don't want to decorate with awards, for how they saved their asses that day, and they don't want to investigate the true depth of the situation.

140 officers, "Support the Blue! Blue Lives Matter!" a 140 of them were injured, including this man, crushed in a doorway, screaming in agony. "No! No medal for you! No medal for you! You may be the bad guy."

This isn't over. More videos are going to come, more ugliness, more violence, more rage. And they will continue to lie, on Hate TV, with the three-named fop, they'll just keep doing it. "The FBI did it. The Capitol attack was really about the Left, it was really Antifa." They're all lies, and you know it.

Now, let's go from the ugly to the beautiful. What a treat for you tonight! I want to introduce you to somebody who is literally living history. She is triumphant. She is a major reason why Juneteenth is now a national holiday.

Opal Lee is truly a gem. She was there today at the signing. She was celebrated. And she has some story to tell, next.

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BIDEN: We're blessed to mark the day in the presence of Ms. Opal Lee.

Ms. Opal, you're incredible. A daughter of Texas. Grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

I ask, once again, we all stand and give her a warm welcome to the White House.

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CUOMO: This was the work of many. But Juneteenth as a national holiday may never have happened without Ms. Opal Lee. President Biden knows it. That's why he so warmly received the 94-year-old activist today, the "Grandmother" of this movement.

For years, Opal Lee crusaded to make Juneteenth, a federal holiday. She went all over the country at the various celebrations.

Then, in 2016, at the age of 89, she began a 1,400-mile trek, from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to D.C., to bring attention to the cause, stopping at all the different places that celebrate Juneteenth, on a state-by-state basis, along the way.

Since she walked a symbolic 2.5 miles, every year, on Juneteenth, to commemorate the 2.5 years it took, for enslaved African Americans, in Galveston, Texas, to learn of their freedom, it started to spread.

Lee is a descendant of American slaves, a victim of a hate crime, when she was just 12. A mob of 500 white supremacists set fire to her home. Her mission finally realized, all these years later.

I want you to watch her reaction when she first learned Congress passed the bill.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bill is passed! (JUNETEENTH ACTIVIST, OPAL LEE, CHEERS UP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Opal Lee, thank you so much for being with us on PRIME TIME, especially today. Was this day, and Juneteenth becoming a reality, as a national holiday, is it how you imagined?

OPAL LEE, "GRANDMOTHER OF JUNETEENTH," JUNETEENTH ACTIVIST, MET WITH BIDEN & HARRIS AT JUNETEENTH BILL SIGNING TODAY: I guess I thought it would be like this. But to have it actually happen was - can I use the phrase the children use? It was off the chain!

CUOMO: Off the chain!

LEE: Oh!

CUOMO: How so?

LEE: Oh, to find out, you know, I knew that the Senate had passed the bill. But I thought the House was going to take a lot longer.

And to find out that both of them had, and I'm on my way to Washington D.C., and going to be in the White House, I don't know how to describe it. I'm humbled by it. I truly am. But you just have to take my word for it. I'm so grateful.

CUOMO: Well and--

LEE: So, very, very grateful.

CUOMO: The country should be grateful for your efforts, because you're helping us come together, around what we have to remember, what we have to celebrate ourselves, and what we have to promise to do better.

What do you want people to know about the struggles you've had, over the years, in dealing with Juneteenth, and wanting it to be recognized? What do you want them to know?

LEE: Well, I want them to know that it's not just one little lady in tennis shoes that wanted Juneteenth to be a national holiday. There's a group called the "National Juneteenth Observance Foundation." It was started by Dr. Ronald Myers.

[21:50:00]

Now, Dr. Myers was a medical doctor, a Baptist minister, and a jazz musician, all rolled into one. And he is responsible for more than 45 of the celebrations in the United States being held. God rest his soul, but he worked untiringly to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

And so, I'm going to - I have followed in his footsteps. I'm so glad we've got it. And so many people have worked at it, not just me. People all over, have done their part, to make Juneteenth a national holiday. CUOMO: What did it mean to you, Ms. Lee, when you heard that there was opposition in the House, and why there was opposition, and what they were pushing back on? What do you say to that?

LEE: Well, to begin with, the Senate had tried unanimously to have that vote in the fall, and that one lone Senator named Ron Johnson had dissented. Now, he had wanted to make Juneteenth a national holiday, instead of Columbus Day. When it was time for him to vote for the vote - bill we had, he didn't do it. My heart sink.

But I was at the Press Club in the spring. And Senator Markey and Senator John Cornyn authored bills, because that one had died that we were working with before. And Sheila Jackson Lee, House of Representatives, offered a bill in the House, the same day.

And oh that, that gave me so much hope to know that we still had things going. And to find out that it's a national holiday, I just want everybody to know that this is God's aim.

CUOMO: What should it mean to people, Juneteenth? What do you want them to do on that day? And what do you want it to be a catalyst for?

LEE: I want them to know that Juneteenth is a bridge to freedom. We have, Juneteenth, I think we should celebrate from the 19th of June to the 4th of July. We won our freedom with 4th of July, 1776.

And I want them to know it's not a Black thing. It's not a Texas thing. None of us are free until we're all free. And we're not free yet. There are too many disparities.

I'm talking about health care. I can give - waited on for something, and you can't, because you don't have insurance. The schools need to have the truth, and let young people know what actually happened. And let's begin the healing.

CUOMO: So, you're going to--

LEE: Joblessness. Joblessness.

CUOMO: Yes, ma'am?

LEE: And homelessness, joblessness, health care, all these things need to be addressed. And they don't just affect Black people. They affect all people. And if we work together, to dispel them, what a great country this would be.

CUOMO: You mentioned yourself earlier, as an old lady with tennis shoes. Now, the tennis shoes was a reference to the annual walk you do. You started doing it in 2016, 2.5 miles. What inspired the first walk?

LEE: Oh, I just got to thinking, when I was about 89, that there must be something I could do to make people aware of Juneteenth, and its significance.

And so, I gathered some people, at my church. My pastor was there, the church musician, our county commissioner, a school board member, and other people, and they gave me a send-off.

I walked 2.5 miles from that church. The next morning, I started where I left off. I walked through Arlington, Grand Prairie, Dallas, Balch Springs, Joppa, before my team says "Not going to be like that." Someone had promised us an RV, so I'd be able to rest, but they decided what I was doing was too political. Can you believe that?

CUOMO: Jeez!

LEE: And so, my team said I will only go where they had Juneteenths, and where I was invited. I was invited all over these United States. I mean, Shreveport, Texarkana, Little Rock, Fort Smith - oh?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Atlanta.

[21:55:00]

LEE: Atlanta, St. Louis, Denver, Colorado, Colorado Springs, I mean, all over. So, if I left September 2016, I actually got to Washington, on January 2017.

Now, we had asked President Obama to walk with us from the Frederick Douglass House to the Capitol. He was in Chicago. I didn't get what I wanted. But I've kept on walking. I've kept on talking. And now Juneteenth is a national holiday.

CUOMO: Well, congratulations to all of us. And as you said, it's a beautiful reminder of how far we've come, and an important symbol for how far we still have to go.

I wish you well on your walk, Opal Lee. And it is a true pleasure to meet you, especially on this day, ma'am.

LEE: Thank you, sir.

CUOMO: Off the chain, we're not just the hate, we are Opal Lee too.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: It is a good day. We made progress today. Embrace that. Thank you for watching. It's good to share it with you. The big show, "DON LEMON TONIGHT," big star, D. Lemon right now.