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UN: More Than 4.1 Million Refugees Have Fled Ukraine; Oscars Producer: Chris Rock Did Not Want Will Smith Removed After Slap; LGBTQ Advocates Sue Florida Over Controversial New Law. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: What options are being considered?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Kate, this is a serious problem that the U.S. and allies are trying to solve right now, which is the Ukrainians have said that they are willing perhaps to forego NATO membership in order to get Russia to back down essentially, giving them that concession, of course, Russia has been very adamant that they do not want Ukraine to join NATO and so that is one way.

The Ukrainians believe that they could potentially hasten the end of this war. But in exchange for that, they want security guarantees from the West. They want some kind of protection where if they're going to give up this NATO membership, then what could they get in return, given that they say, of course, Russia is always going to be on their border, always be a menacing figure, and therefore they will always be under threat, so what kinds of guarantees can the West give them in order to help them protect themselves?

The U.S. has been weighing a number of things. They're in direct contact with the Ukrainians discussing what potential Pact could be made, for example, in order to provide Ukraine with a sense of security, if it does, in fact, move forward with, you know, ending this NATO membership bid. But there are a couple of problems, of course. The Ukrainians want a legally binding commitment from the West that would allow them to -- that would force them essentially to defend Ukraine in the event of another invasion.

Of course, the U.S. and the West have been very reluctant to put their forces in direct confrontation with the Russians. And it remains unclear whether Russia, of course, would go for that kind of Pact. So a lot of questions are still to be worked out here, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Great reporting, Natasha, thank you so much. So with every passing day, the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine, of course, continues to grow as this war drags on. The UN now says more than 4.1 million Ukrainians have fled the country with Poland still receiving the majority of refugees. CNN Salma Abdelaziz is in a Polish border town that is welcoming thousands of people now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: We're at the Poland Ukraine border, just over there is the pedestrian crossing where people just walkthrough here, they've been dropped off by buses, they come with the bags they can carry and they enter essentially, what is a little tent community, full of volunteers that want to help them that have warm smiles and warm food, and want to give these families a sense of dignity, a sense of normalcy, give them the help and assistance they need.

We've been spending the day here and you can see charities from all over the world. There's German doctors, and Egyptian Red Crescent workers, and Indian food trucks, and everyone here really sincerely feels that this is a humanitarian crisis that they have to address that they must help out in some way. There are now 2.4 million refugees from Ukraine here in Poland.

And when they arrive here, oftentimes, they don't know what they're going to do next. So they come again, just with the bags that they can carry, they can get some warm food, some tea, some coffee. If you've run out of clothes, they can give you that. If you need baby food, that's available. If you need a friendly face to tell you where to go next, you can see that everywhere.

There's also soldiers, of course, in fatigues here as well, to give you a sense of security, a sense of safety. But really, ultimately, what people are offering here is a sense of dignity. I saw one charity worker just giving a little red balloon to a boy and it immediately made him smile. And that's what you're going to just see all these little moments here.

As people, you can see their signs for baby food -- little baby pacifiers and baby food. These men are rolling away some diapers here. And there's just this constant flow of help, information, and warmth. It's absolutely extraordinary to see this global effort for Ukraine. Salma Abdelaziz, CNN on the Poland-Ukraine border.


BOLDUAN: It is extraordinary to see, thank you so much for bringing that to us. We'll get back to Ukraine in a moment, but coming up for us. A new story and a new account of what happened behind the scenes after the show -- that shocking Oscars moment. The producer of the award shows now speaking out. How he explains why Will Smith wasn't removed, that's next.



BOLDUAN: AT THIS HOUR, some good news in the fight against COVID. The Department of Health and Human Services now reporting that fewer people are hospitalized with the virus in the United States right now than at any other point in the pandemic. Figures this morning show just over 16,000 COVID patients in hospitals across the country. Compare that to the COVID peak this past January during the Omicron surge. Back then, more than 160,000 people were hospitalized with the virus

at one point. Experts do caution, of course, that many hospitals are still strained despite these good numbers because of staffing shortages, along with patients who are coming in sicker after postponing care during the pandemic.

We do have new details and another side of the story this morning about the slap heard around the world at the Oscars. Why Will Smith was allowed to stay at the Oscars after hitting Chris Rock? The lead producer for the award show, Will Packer, he's now speaking for the first time to ABC News saying that he was following Rock's lead in letting Smith stay and eventually get his award. Listen to this.


WILL PACKER, OSCARS PRODUCER: The LAPD came and needed to talk to Chris.


And so they came into my office and they were laying out very clearly what Chris's rights were. And they were saying, this is a battery, we will go get him. We're prepared. We're prepared to get him right now. You can press charges, we can arrest him. As they were talking, Chris was --he was being very dismissive of those options.

He was like, no, I'm fine. He was like, no, no, no. They were about to physically remove Will Smith. And I had not been a part of those conversations. And so I immediately went to the academy leadership that was on-site and I said Chris Rock doesn't want that. I said Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now is Elizabeth Wagmeister. She's Chief Correspondent at Variety and co-host of Variety's The Take. Thank you so much for coming in. What do you think of how Will Packer kind of explains and describes what happened behind the scenes? It adds a whole new kind of side of this to the -- to the saga.

ELIZABETH WAGMEISTER, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, VARIETY: It really does. And I think the big takeaway from here is that everyone, including Chris Rock, was in a state of shock. There clearly is no precedent for Will Smith coming on stage slapping Chris Rock, and then the question is, what do we do?

Now, I think in hindsight, it is abundantly clear that Will Smith should have been removed. He should not have stayed in that room. He should not have gone on stage for over five minutes to say his piece. But in the moment, imagine you're Chris Rock and the LAPD is saying do you want us to arrest Will Smith in the middle of the Oscars? It makes a lot of sense that Chris Rock would say no, that doesn't seem necessary.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Chris Rock is really a real professional coming out of all of this. I will say. And I want to read for everybody how Packer also described the feeling in the room afterward because I thought it was really interesting how he put it. He says. It was like somebody poured concrete in that room. It sucked the life out of the room and it never came back. And then also, let me play what he said when asked if he now wishes that Will Smith would have been removed.


PACKER: I think what many of us were hoping was that he would go on that stage and make it better. It couldn't be made right in that moment because of what had happened. But I think we were hoping that he would make it better, that he would stand on that stage and say, what just happened minutes ago was absolutely and completely wrong. Chris Rock, I'm so sorry. Please forgive me. That's what -- that's what I was hoping for. I felt like he was going to win. And I was hoping that if he stayed he said that.


BOLDUAN: And, of course, we know that didn't happen. I mean, I don't think it's too soon to start asking, like the academy after this. And I guess the producers of the show, like what lessons are learned here? What changes are going to have -- are all they're going to make?

WAGMEISTER: Absolutely, it's not too soon. And I think that everybody can agree that Will Smith did not handle this correctly. And that is an understatement. When he went on stage and when he didn't think Chris Rock and it took 24 hours for him to make that apology, I think it's very clear that that was a specific effort. He did not want to apologize to Chris Rock. And it seems very reactive. You never want a reactive apology. That is never going to help you win in the court of public opinion.

And for it to take 24 hours after he was seen dancing at the Vanity Fair party, it doesn't seem like he felt bad at all in the moment. He didn't think this was serious. So, yes, now the question is, what does the academy do? There are some people calling for his Oscar to be taken away. I can tell you I think people should not hold their breath.

I don't think that's going to happen after all. Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein still have their Oscars. The Weinstein Company, 181 Oscars under Harvey Weinstein's guidance, so I don't think that Will Smith is going to get his Oscar taken away. But now the question is, what about his Academy membership? There are meetings that are ongoing. We do know that earlier this week, Will Smith met with the academy. They're taking a serious look at this. And suspension and expulsion are on the table and I think at the very least, we should see Will Smith suspended from the academy.

BOLDUAN: And an important point that Packer made that I just don't want to be lost in all this with all the history made is that the highest-rated moment of the entire award show actually didn't have anything to do with a slap. Packer says that it was Troy Kotsur, winning the Best Supporting Actor in his acceptance speech. Only the second deaf actor to do so, which is a really important piece of perspective. We should all try to keep in this. It's good to see you, thank you so much, Elizabeth.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a new lawsuit is seeking to overturn Florida's so-called Don't Say Gay bill. A preview of what could happen when this case gets to court.


BOLDUAN: Developing AT THIS HOUR, a group of parents, students, and at least one teacher, and also LGBTQ advocates are suing the State of Florida in federal court fighting against the State's new law banning certain instruction about sexual orientation gender identity in classrooms.


BOLDUAN: Opponents of the law have dubbed it, Don't Say Gay, the law. And now, these first legal challengers argue that the law violates their First and Fourth -- 14th Amendment Rights and also their protections under Title IX.

Joining me now is one of these plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Zander Moricz. He's a high school senior in Florida, the first openly gay class president of his school, and also Joshua Matz, an attorney representing Zander and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Thank you both for joining me today. Zander, you lead your school -- you lead a walkout at your school about all of this. You've spoken to the Florida Senate -- State Senate when this was being debated, and now you've joined this lawsuit. Explain to me why this fight is so important to you.

ZANDER MORICZ, STUDENT & PLAINTIFF IN "DON'T SAY GAY" LAWSUIT: So school was an essential place for me as a queer person to identify that I was queer, discover what that meant to me, and then feel comfortable and safe sharing that. And so the idea that this space and this is the only space that all children are guaranteed access to could become one that invalidates an entire community of children and tells them that in the legislation, they are wrong, that's horrifying.

And so, I know what school meant to me and I know what it means to so many of my peers who have already gone to reach out with concern. And that's why we have to fight for this because what you see from these walkouts and rallies and from students across the state is that this legislation is not for us. It does not represent us, it scares us.

BOLDUAN: And, Zander, I mean, you've said that the first person that you came out to was a -- was a teacher of yours, a teacher at your school. What has it meant to be able to have those conversations?

MORICZ: I'm going to shout out Ms. Ballard. I love you very much. She's actually a government teacher who would not be able to talk about these issues anymore. But having a person that I was able to reach out to speak to communicate with about the fact that I was gay is so important to me. And it was so important to me, but it's also so many -- so important for so many kids because coming out first at home can be absolutely horrifying.

And for so many people unsafe, because that's not a space you can talk to people or experiment with. These are people that have known you your whole life. And so school is a place for so many people to test the waters and decide with who and how they're comfortable sharing their identity and if I wasn't able to do that with the teacher first, I probably wouldn't have done it at all.

BOLDUAN: Wow. Joshua, the governor of Florida responded to the lawsuit yesterday. I want to play a part of what he said.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R-FL): Are you arguing that there's a constitutional right to have classroom instruction for first graders about things like transgender and gender ideology? I can't imagine that a court would accept that. Clearly, on appeal, a court wouldn't accept that. So these are policy decisions. I don't think it's anything that's invoking First Amendment because schools, states, and localities have the ability to set a curriculum in public schools. We do that all the time. This is not new.


BOLDUAN: Joshua, how do you respond to that?

JOSHUA MATZ, PLAINTIFFS ATTORNEY IN "DON'T SAY GAY" LAWSUIT: My response is that the governor is mistaken. There is a clear constitutional prohibition on discriminating against people on the basis of their LGBTQ identity and that constitutional rule applies everywhere, including in schools. So the state cannot enact a censorship regime that's designed to deny to an entire generation that LGBTQ people exist and are worthy of dignity.

And they most certainly cannot enact a law that is so unbelievably vague in what it covers. And that sends a message to every LGBTQ student and every same-sex married parent, that they get at most a skim milk education, a second rate education compared to everybody else.

BOLDUAN: Zander, before we go I just want to -- if you could or if you want to, what do you hope that people who have supported this bill, who support this effort, support this law that they eventually understand?

MORICZ: I hope that they understand two things. The first of which is, if you haven't read the bill, go read it right now because the language of the legislation makes it so obvious that despite the title, this has nothing to do with empowering parents. This is about de-empowering and harming queer children. For those who did not understand or do not care about that, they need to have a moral reckoning and decide why they're OK, letting an entire community of students, of children, be harmed and be put in harm's way.

And the second thing I want people to know is that you're going to have queer people, and the supporters of this queer people fight this legislation and other pieces of legislation like this at every angle all the time. We did the walkouts, we did the rally, and we tried to fight it and stop it from being passed. And now that it was passed, we're continuing to fight it here. The fight is not going to end and it's not going to slow down. So you better just back off from the queer community because we're here and we're here to say.

BOLDUAN: Zander, thank you so much for coming on. Just all this is you're also now preparing to go to college which is pretty amazing that all of this is happening and that you're speaking up in this way. And, Joshua, thank you so much for coming on. We really appreciate your time.


MATZ: Thank you.

MORICZ: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Before we go, everyone, you can also join me every morning on my new CNN Plus show, 5 Things, at 7 a.m. Eastern and always available on demand. You can sign up at Thank you so much for joining me today. CNN's coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine continues on INSIDE POLITICS after this.