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At This Hour

Rise of the Anti-Woke Democrat, Why Many Liberals Fear Wokeness; Extreme Heat Grips West, 18 Million are Under Heat Alerts; New Book Explores How Presidential Friends Impact History. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired July 12, 2021 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: So, has woke become a problem for Democrats? It started as rallying call by black activists to be aware, alert and informed about social justice issues. But now, more and more Democrats are speaking up and saying that the left may be leaning into it too far.

Take Eric Adams, he's a former police captain who just won the New York City Democratic mayoral primary with a centralist and law and order message and now he has a message for his party.


ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK MAYORAL CANDIDATE: We can't be so idealistic that we're not realistic, and we have allowed to fall out of the Trump administration to have an overreach in philosophy and not on the ground real issues that are facing every day New Yorkers --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, is it fair to call you an anti-woke Democrat?

ADAMS: No, some of us never went to sleep. That is the problem.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now, Jackie Kucinich, CNN Political Analyst, Washington Bureau Chief at the Daily Beast, and Matt Bennett, a Democratic strategist, a former Clinton White House Staffer and co- Founder of Third Way, a public policy think tank.

Jackie, Eric Adams says like there is a message to be learned from his victory and he's laying it out there. Do you agree?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it depends on where you are in the country. And it really seems when you step back, calling them anti-woke Democrats right now, this is a problem or an issue that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party has struggled with every cycle, trying to deal with the activist part of the party and balance that with a more pragmatic part of the party and what usually makes up a majority. It is always those people in the center, the curse of the moderate Democrat, the moderate Republican, that always feel and always get the more of the activist left put upon in their race.

So right now, they're trying to navigate that on the Democratic side because they need these activists. They need their energy. They need them to -- in 2020, so they don't want to stifle them and they're not going to, because they're very loud, but they need them to show up. So that -- and we're going to continue to see that as we move through this cycle.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And Adams, Matt, his win is the latest example of this debate amongst the Democratic Party, as Jackie is kind of pointing out. I mean, you -- your group did an autopsy after 2020 election and one thing that sticks out very clearly to me today, as we have this discussion, is that you all said Republican attempts to brand Democrats as radicals worked.

So what does the emergence of these, quote/unquote, anti-woke Democrats mean?


MATT BENNETT, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND CO-FOUNDER, THIRD WAY: Well, I think they're learning lessons from 2020 just as we did when we did that deep dive. You know, what happened in 2020, of course, we won the White House and we got majorities in both Houses of Congress. So what we did wasn't really a post-mortem because nobody really died, but with the retrospective.

And we did lose 14 House seats. 12 of them were freshmen who did not have deep brand identities. And what Republicans have become unbelievably good at doing, ever since back in the '90s when I was working in the Clinton White House and on the Clinton campaigns, they have become extraordinarily good at weaponizing the brand of the far- left in the culture wars.

Now, the issues change over time. You know, at one point, it was marriage equality for gays and lesbians, that is no longer a thing for Republicans. But now, they've found -- they've attached themselves last cycle to defund the police and now they seem to be heading towards critical race theory and socialism. And much of it is just a complete lie about what they're saying to voters about these Democrats but they lie pretty effectively.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And, Jackie, I would like your perspective on that. Because I also hear from folks that this isn't really a real debate or divide within the Democratic Party so much, it is more a problem as Republicans are successfully -- I don't know -- Democrats would say co-opting a nuanced message.

Kirsten Power was on this morning and she was taking about really these labels, the woke and anti-woke labels that people are jumping on. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: It has now been really misappropriate mostly by the right and I think some Democrats are starting doing it as well to turn it into this kind of boogeyman word, right? And that is not really what it is.

I just don't think Democrats should get involved in this anti-woke thing because it is something that has really been driven by the right.


BOLDUAN: And so, Jackie, if that is the case, is it clear to you that Democrats, that they have a plan to, I don't know, get the message back? I mean, they should lean on Matt, first and foremost, but beyond that, how do you they get the message back?

KUCINICH: It seems like also one of the things that has been working in Democrats' favor in terms of some of this more -- trying to put the far-left or the more liberal side of the party's position on the party at large is Joe Biden. Joe Biden has not been someone that has been backing some of the more left-leaning or left word proposals. He's not putting political capital behind them, and so it is harder to make it stick.

That said, they like to elevate certain parts of the party to put it on other parts of the party. We saw this at the end of 2020. There was the call with Democrats where you had moderate Democrats speaking out, saying, defund the police is killing me in my district. So -- and it is how the message that is delivered rather than the nuance of the message. Nuance goes out of the window in campaigns. We all know this.

So I don't know that they have settled on a message quite yet but that is going to be something that they're going to be working on. You have to imagine every day and trying to get the advantage on that.

BOLDUAN: And even before that, Matt. It could be a big -- this could be a really big challenge for Biden's priorities when it comes to big debates on police reform, big debates on infrastructure that we are in the middle of it right now. I mean, this is a here and now, not just a 2022 conversation, obviously.

It is good to see you both, Matt and Jackie, thanks, guys.

Coming up for us, unrelenting heat grips the Western United States. It's fuelling a severe drought and dozens of wildfires. The latest in a live report, next.



BOLDUAN: 18 million Americans are under heat alerts this morning as a dangerous and record-breaking heat wave just won't quit in the western part of the country. There are parts of the southwest where it isn't even letting up in the middle of the night. Overnight, temperatures in some places not dipping below 90 degrees. The heat is also contributing to extreme drought, wildfires and new concerns about the strain all it is putting on the electrical grid.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is live in Los Angeles for us at the edge of the Angeles National Forest. Hi there, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. Everything you said is scary but it is so true. And this is exactly why we need people to understand just how deadly this can be. We've already seen it with the heat that we saw in the Pacific Northwest and this heat is going to persist for the better part of the week here.

And these temperatures setting records in all of the wrong way, even Utah tying an all-time state record in southwestern corner in St. George on Saturday of 117 degrees. So you're seeing these really high temperatures and, of course, that leads to the ripe conditions for wildfires. And right now, we are seeing that there are some 59 large fires that are burning and this is some 12,000-plus wild land firefighters that are battling them.

It is also worth noting too that fires have burned nearly 864,000 acres and that would actually encompass four times the amount of land that there is in New York City. And this burned area that we're talking about is throughout 12 states.

The issue that is really of concern here is that these super high temperatures, obviously, they lead us to think about drought.


Well, the high temperatures and then the drought leads to more high temperatures. And right now, just to give you an idea how bad it is, by our count, 12 states have either declared a full or partial state of emergency, as far as a drought concerned, a drought declaration, so that they can handle it. This is all a huge problem.

And when you look out right here right now, I just pulled this off of a tree behind me, it is brittle, it is dry. This is the ripe kindling for a wildfire. And that is why fire officials are so concerned about this fire season. They're saying fire season is getting longer every single year. By this point this year, we've already burned more acres than were burned last year, and last year was a record year in and of itself, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it is an unending fire season it feels like you're up against right now. Thank you, Stephanie. Thank you for that report.

Coming up for us, a look at some of the most powerful people to help shape American history, none of them elected. That is ahead.



BOLDUAN: There's a new book out that dives into some of the most influential people in American political history, not the presidents or their spouses, instead a fascinating group of people who were not elected and are largely unknown, but have had the president's ear and have helped shape history. First friends is what I'm talking about, the best friends of American presidents. The new book is called, First Friends, the Powerful Unsung and Unelected People Who Shaped Our Presidents.

Joining me right now is the author of the book, Gary Ginsberg. And Gary well knows, but for everyone out there, I had the very good fortune of getting an early read on the book and the manuscript that Gary allowed me to get a little insight on, so thanks for that, Gary.

The book focuses on nine different relationships between presidents and first friends. How did you choose these nine?

GARY GINSBERG, AUTHOR, FIRST FRIENDS: First of all, thank you for having me, Kate. Well, I knew when I conceived to the book three years ago that I wanted to write about President Clinton, first because I worked for him for a couple of years in his administration. But I saw how important his best friends, the famous fobs (ph), the friends of Bill were to him.

But I also had the added benefits (ph). It was the only time in my book of being able to actually ask the president himself who his first friend was. And he chose the civil rights icon Vernon Jordan, which is something to my last chapter.

In the case of John Kennedy, who also had a lot of friends, I asked his daughter, Caroline, and she told me, thankfully, she didn't give me the obvious choice of a Lem Billings or Ben Bradley, but she suggested David Ormsby Gore, the British ambassador of the United States, who might really have never heard of, but I discovered in my research was not only his closest friend but also his closest foreign policy adviser.

Some are really obvious to me, like Bebe Rebozo. I grew up with him. He was infamous, and so was an obvious choice. Some were total surprises, like the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne's sad friendship with Franklin Pierce, and some are just the total delight and joy to discover, like Thomas Jefferson's really remarkable friendship with James Madison.

BOLDUAN: Look, these are personal relationships I found in the book, but they impacted American policy too. And what were some of the moments that you uncovered that -- where the friends changed the arc of American history?

GINSBERG: Well, I think the most consequential example of that was Eddie Jacobson, who was a 45-year friend of Harry Truman. In 1948, he just walked into the Oval Office uninvited and speaking like only a friend could with that kind of history with Harry Truman, convinced him to do what he didn't want to do, which was recognize an independent state of Israel.

About two months after that harsh conversation, where they basically really had it out with each other, Truman listened to his friend. And the 11 minutes after the state of Israel was declared in May of 1948 was the first foreign leader to recognize the state. And I think that example is the most consequential, but there are so many others that I write about in my book that I didn't know about until I actually did the research.

BOLDUAN: I mean, you dive into the impact these friends have on the presidency, so what about presidents who don't have any close friends?

GINSBERG: Well, I think we saw the example of that with our last president, obviously Donald Trump. I asked somebody very close to him who his first friend was. We went around and around for about two months because I wanted to write about his first friend. And what this very close confidant of Trump's admitted to me ultimately was he didn't have a first friend. He wasn't constitutionally built for a first friend.

And I think we saw the implications of that in the last two months of his presidency when there was really nobody around him to speak the blunt truth and possibly prevent him from that second impeachment.

BOLDUAN: Look, there's only one woman featured in the book, and it's one of my favorite stories, FDR's friend, Daisy Suckley, a distant cousin. You describe it in the book as a friendship unlike any others in this book and perhaps even in the history of the American presidency. Why is that?

GINSBERG: Well, you know, just to step back, FDR loved to be around women. He had powerful women surrounding him his whole life. But Daisy Suckley earned her distinction as first friend not by advising FDR in a critical policy decision, like Eddie Jacobson did, or speaking hard truths to him, but by being his constant and loyal companion.

And what I found so surprising was how lonely FDR felt in the White House. It's hard to believe he's fighting a depression, he's fighting a war, but he had no real home life and emotional relationship with Eleanor.


He once said to Daisy, I'm either exhibit A or left entirely alone, and Daisy was the anecdote to that loneliness. She gave him comfort that he needed during his trying, lonely moments and she could read his emotions better than anyone else and was his favorite person to relax with after long days at work.

I wrote about how he had 22 separate meetings in one day. After that, I'd wanted to crawl into a hole. All he wanted to have dinner alone with Daisy. She was the respite for him and one historian said he would have been a less natural president had he not had Daisy in his life.

BOLDUAN: So many fascinating anecdotes. I really enjoyed the book and I hope you all do too. Thank you, Gary.

GINSBERG: Thank you very much, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And thank you all so much for joining me. Inside Politics with John King starts after this.