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Don Lemon Tonight

President Biden Calling Out Republican Lies; Texas Democrats Flee To Washington To Block Republicans From Passing Voting Restriction Law; President Biden Is Saying Americans Should Be Alarmed At Attack On Voting Rights, Calling It The Greatest Threat To Democracy Since The Civil War; Critical Race Theory Creates More Division. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 22:00   ET




CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST (on camera): DON LEMON TONIGHT starts right now with D. Lemon.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: What you got for me?

CUOMO: I got you a different suit, a different tie. Help you out. Make you not look like you're selling something.

LEMON: What are you -- what are you talking about?

CUOMO: You look like an ice cream salesman.

LEMON: Really?


LEMON: I want the booth by the window, and not the back, mater D. What are you talking about?

CUOMO: First of all, I prefer chauffer.

LEMON: OK. I wish I had my keys I would throw them at you. Can you keep it park up front, please? Come on, sir. Are you actually lecturing me about fashion?

CUOMO: Yes, because my style is a (Inaudible) style. I don't make it an issue.

LEMON: Look at that. Look at that. The pockets were everything. It's all good.

CUOMO: You have.

LEMON: Hey, listen. The president gave a speech today about truth, about voting rights. You know, and on and on.

CUOMO: Did more than that. LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: He set a bar for himself --

LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: -- that is the highest since he took office. Look, he came in, had to show he could be confident about the pandemic and get out the vaccine.


CUOMO: I think he did that well.


CUOMO: I think he's going to have a problem with crime that he's going to have to figure out. I think that's a Democrat problem. But now he just said this is the test of our time. Can he get the Democrats in the Senate and the House to come together to stop the voting rights restrictions that are fanning out all over this country?

LEMON: Why is that do you think that's a Democrat -- or Democratic, as it should be said, problem?

CUOMO: I think crime is going to be made politically into a Democratic problem because of reforms that went too far, because of rhetoric that went too far, and because they are too slow to the punch. And the right will say it even if it's without basis because crime matters to people. And then they'll be late to the game once again.

LEMON: Right. Even though --


CUOMO: Even though they could say it was on Trump's watch --

LEMON: Right. I got it.

CUOMO: -- and that Democratic Presidents Obama and Clinton before had had good crime policies and the soft on crime thing has never been the right wrap -- now they have the right wrap. You have states including in New York, where my brother is the governor. Bail reform is important. People rot in jails wrongly.


CUOMO: But did the reforms go too far? Are judges' hands tied on discretion from gun crimes in a way and releasing people from prison in a way that are making things worse when it comes to shooting? They are going to have to defend the proposition.

LEMON: Well, that's a discussion, especially the thing about bail reform. Because I know that it has been said a lot. Listen, Bill Bratton, the police commissioner, I respect very highly, he's been on the show. And even during the pandemic, I don't know if you remember we had a town hall with police chiefs from major cities all across this country talking about those issues.

So far, though -- so far -- and they could be right. I haven't seen any empirical evidence that it is, bail reform. Of course, people who are violent criminals should not be let out, if someone commits a crime, they should not be let out. But much of it --


CUOMO: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are all test cases of reforms --

LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: -- that have created --


LEMON: Much of it though has been anecdotal. I want to see the research for the real results. I'm not saying that it's right or wrong.

CUOMO: I mean, look, COVID is part of it too. It's not going to be one thing.

LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: But you had a lot of people in prison in New York and in other big states, and you have a lot less now, and you have a lot of people who get arrested for crimes where they're using a loaded weapon and they wind out being back out on the street.

LEMON: That's not good.

CUOMO: No, it shouldn't.

LEMON: And that should not happen.

CUOMO: No, it shouldn't.

LEMON: As I have said and been saying all along especially when it comes -- listen, I had been on this for a long time talking about how silly I think the whole defund the police slogan was throughout and, you know, --


CUOMO: That's something different, but I agree.

LEMON: No, no, no. But I'm going to go on and tell you. So, you know, people get upset. Cancel Don. Just take his black card away or whatever. I think it was dumb. I don't think it was a smart idea to do that. I've also always been talking about how so good --


CUOMO: Wasn't even really a whole lot of black people saying that. LEMON: As goes New York.

CUOMO: It was a lot more left-wing Democrats and many of them white --

LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: -- who were saying defund the police.

LEMON: Well, I bet there are still people even -- there are white people who want to take away my black card. I mean, you know how that goes, but whatever.

CUOMO: No, I don't.

LEMON: But the whole thing about defunding the police and the whole crime issue happening across the country, I had been saying gosh now, for months, even before, you know, they had all the Democrats stacked up for mayor, as goes New York so goes the rest of the country. And so, that the New York mayoral race was going to be a litmus test for the rest of the country. And it certainly has turned out to be that way.

I've been trying to get the candidates on from the beginning. Some of it wasn't, it wasn't time forward because the rest of the country just was not interested in it.


It wasn't close enough, but I knew this would be, as I said, a litmus test for the rest of the country, and I think that this really exposed where Democrats -- you say this is a Democrat problem -- where Democrats are actually on crime, where they are actually as a party. I think it exposed so much about the left and the rhetoric on the right. This one race in New York City, I believe, did that.

CUOMO: Well, look, you wind up having Eric Adams who is a former cop, came up hard, a Brooklyn borough president. Had some controversies during the campaign, but he was fundamentally anti-Democrat platform when it came to a lot of the woke talk.

Look, I know there's going to be eye rolling and I know you guys are going to come after me. That's OK. That's why we have these conversations. Wokeness is a problem for you guys. And I'll tell you why. It plays into an attack narrative where they're going to use crime as the proof of what happens when you make everything okay in a society, and if anybody fights for the traditional values and what's supposed to happen in law and order and you say, no, no, no, you're not woke enough, this is what you get, these crime numbers.

I know that's not sophisticated. I know it's not a completely fair reckoning, but when was the last time in politics everything had to be right dot for dot, point for point for it to be influential?

LEMON: Well, I'm not exactly sure that I see the correlation between wokeness and crime.

CUOMO: The wokeness leads to bail reform and a sense of leniency and --


LEMON: That's not necessarily wokeness. That's a -- that is a policy issue. I mean, wokeness is about, you know, who's -- you know, where do you stand on what should be taught in school and --


CUOMO: That's an aspect of it.

LEMON: Yes. But that's a policy issue.

CUOMO: But if I were campaigning against it, I would say, no, it's all of it, Don.


CUOMO: It's a cultural continuum of permissiveness --


CUOMO: -- of no standards. Of anybody can do whatever they want. And everybody is --


LEMON: No, no, no, that's not -- I think you're completely wrong about that. That's not -- that's not what wokeness is. Now if you want to talk about people, you know, and crime, and whatever, I just don't think that the two -- there's a complete correlation. I think there's --


CUOMO: Every moment that you're arguing about what wokeness is and trying to tell me I'm wrong, I'm winning by the way.

LEMON: No, no, no.

CUOMO: With voters, I'm winning.

LEMON: I'm not trying to tell you what wokeness. You're trying to compare two things that are not necessarily comparable.

CUOMO: With voters, it will be one in the same for everybody except people on the left fringe.

LEMON: Yes. Well, I don't necessarily agree with that.

CUOMO: We'll see.

LEMON: And I don't think that -- and I don't think that crime is necessarily just a Democratic problem in this country. I think it's an American problem in this country. It happens in cities all over, and not just cities run by Democrats but it is a narrative that the right will try to spin and --


CUOMO: Biden's rating on crime --

LEMON: -- and most likely will work in their favor.

CUOMO: What's Biden's rating on crime? Thirty-eight percent.

LEMON: Well, yes.

CUOMO: It's a problem.

LEMON: But when did it happen? When did it happen?

CUOMO: Why is it 38 percent?

LEMON: I don't know. What was Trump's?

CUOMO: Why is it 38 percent?

LEMON: Yes, but is it real?

CUOMO: He's gone.

LEMON: Yes, but is it real?

CUOMO: We'll see.

LEMON: Is it real? Crime is at a historic low. It is creeping back up. let's remember that.

CUOMO: Not homicides and shootings in major cities.

LEMON: No, no, it is creeping back up, and that is not good. But it's still at an all-time low and it's not to the point where it was in the 80s and 90s.

CUOMO: It depends on the category. Shootings in New York state and in New York City specifically are --


LEMON: Are up from 2019 and 2020.

CUOMO: -- up huge.

LEMON: -- but not --

CUOMO: Huge.

LEMON: -- but not from historic highs of '80s and '90s.

CUOMO: It doesn't matter.

LEMON: Yes. CUOMO: How do people feel when you walk on the street? How do they feel when --


LEMON: That part is true, but that's how you feel.

CUOMO: That's politics.

LEMON: And I think that's --

CUOMO: Perception is reality, brother.

LEMON: I think that's right. Yes, I think you're right about that.

CUOMO: I killed you in this campaign.

LEMON: No, no, no, you're talking --

CUOMO: It's over. You and your ugly suit.

LEMON: You're talking about perception. I'm talking to you about actual numbers. Crime is historically --


CUOMO: Remind me what wins an election.

LEMON: Crime -- but will you listen to me? Crime is down historically. It is up from 2019 and 2020, and I do agree with you -- one is the actual fact and the other is that perception, yes, is reality, but it does not mean that crime is at an all-time high. That is certainly not true.

CUOMO: It doesn't have to be at an all-time high. It has to be surging and you have to be a problem for it. You're not fixing it.


LEMON: I understand. You're not listening to me.

CUOMO: I am listening.

LEMON: OK. Which one is true?

CUOMO: It's just not that great a point. You know it is.

LEMON: I'm trying to tell you what the facts are. What are the facts? Crime is down historically.

CUOMO: Crime is up.

LEMON: But it is up, but it is up from 2019 and 2020.

CUOMO: That's all that matters. It's up. We're running now.

LEMON: OK. From that, but it is still down historically. I get it.

CUOMO: It's not a history lesson.

LEMON: It is.

CUOMO: We're running right now. We're on your watch and it's up, you lose.

LEMON: You're not, you're not listening to me.

CUOMO: I am listening to exactly what you said.


LEMON: You're not making sense. You're telling me about perception and I'm telling you about reality.

CUOMO: You just said it's up in 2019 and in 2020.

LEMON: It's up 2019 --

CUOMO: You're in control at that time, I'm campaigning against you.

LEMON: -- and 2020. No, no, you were talking about two different things. I'm not saying that it's -- listen, crime is down historically, but from 2019 and 2020, --


LEMON: -- the numbers are up. That is not a historic high. Those aren't historic highs.


CUOMO: I never said it was a historic high.

LEMON: Yes, you did. But you're saying -- yes, you did.

CUOMO: No, I did not. I said they're up in homicides and shootings are up in major cities and it has people nervous.

LEMON: Not just in major cities. Not just in major cities. And other cities and other --


CUOMO: Good, it's another good fact for me and bad for you. What I'm saying is --


LEMON: No. I got to go. We're like 10 minutes over.

CUOMO: -- we're worried right now. You got a little something here from this one.


LEMON: No, you got messed up. Sorry. Facts. Facts. Facts matter.

CUOMO: D. Lemon, I'll tell you what matters, I love you.

LEMON: I know. Sometimes you're OK. I love you.

CUOMO: I'll take it.

LEMON: I'll see you later. This is Don Lemon Tonight.

So, the question is, the question is, what's the end game? What happens now? It's kind of what Chris and I were just talking about. What's reality and what's fact, right? Where do we go from here? You heard President Joe Biden today. It was a hell of a speech in Philadelphia, an angry passionate speech calling out the nationwide assault on the right to vote, calling out the big lie.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The big lie is just that -- a big lie.


BIDEN: Will you deny the will of the people? Will you ignore their voices? We have to ask, are you on the side of truth or lies, fact or fiction, justice or injustice? Democracy or autocracy? That's what it's coming down to.


LEMON (on camera): So, calling out all the lies spreading across this country, across our misinformation nation, lies on everything from COVID to race to the vote, right? The president demanding to know whether Republicans are on the side of truth or on the side of lies. Calling out merchants of fear and peddlers of lies.


BIDEN: Make no mistake, bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies are threatening the very foundation of our country. Gives me no pleasure to say this. I never thought in my entire career I'd ever have to say it. But I swore an oath to you, to God, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, and that's an oath that forms a sacred trust to defend Americans from all threats both foreign and domestic.



LEMON (on camera): Threats foreign and notice the emphasis on domestic. Like the threat from Trump supporting rioters, fueled by the big lie. Attacking the seat of our democracy, hunting lawmakers, beating police, parading around with a confederate battle flag, putting up a gallows outside.

And we've got new video tonight from that terrible day. The day that those peddlers of lies are still trying to cover up. Well, this is how it really happened. We're not bleeping anything for you. OK? We're showing you the truth. You're going to see the Trump flags, you'll see the MAGA hats. You'll hear from chanting -- hear them chanting treason. Some rioters carrying stolen police shields.




LEMON (on camera): So, the peddlers of lies President Biden talked about, they call those people tourists. They say that they were peaceful, and the peddlers of the big lie are still at it today, like the crack lawyers trying to throw out Michigan's electoral votes, like the 'fraudit' in Arizona and another threatened in Pennsylvania. So, the president calling on Republicans to stand up for democracy, demanding, have you no shame?


BIDEN: I'll be asking my Republican friends in Congress and states and cities and counties to stand up for God's sake and help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our election --


BIDEN: -- and the sacred right to vote. Have you no shame?


LEMON (on camera): Well, that's an easy answer. The thing is that they don't. They have no shame. You can't shame the shameless. You can't shame the peddlers of lies. Mitch McConnell, who buried the bipartisan January 6th commission that was supposed to get to the truth. Kevin McCarthy who said that then-president -- the then-president bore responsibility for the attack then turned around and scurried the Mar- a-Lago to kiss the ring.

All those Republican deniers who saw a riot and claimed that they were tourists and peaceful patriots. This country is drowning in misinformation. Perception is reality? Actually, reality is reality. Misinformation like the lies from the anti-vaxxers over at the Fox propaganda network.

You can't shame the shameless. They're not going to be moved by a strong speech from the president. So, where do we go from here? The president calling for Congress to pass For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as the assault on the vote spreads.

Texas legislators who fled to Washington to block Republicans from passing the latest restrictive law saying this.


CHRIS TURNER (D), MEMBER, TEXAS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We can't hold this tide back forever. We're buying some time. We need Congress and all of our federal leaders to use that time wisely.


LEMON (on camera): And then there's Joe Manchin, telling reporters tonight that he'll likely meet with those Texas legislators on Thursday. But he says he won't back off on his support for the filibuster. Asked what he would -- what would it get him to change his mind, the answer, one word -- nothing.

Where do we go from here? The president didn't mention the word filibuster in his speech, noting that the not For the People Act -- excuse me, For the People Act, not the John Lewis Act, nothing is going to pass in the Senate. That is essentially a bastion of minority rule, not if Republicans don't want to it to.

And Republican-led states all across the country will keep going full steam ahead with their assault on the vote. The filibuster is at the heart of all of this really. Just like it's always been. The truth about the filibuster is it has a long disgraceful history of being abused to block civil rights and voting rights bills.

Former President Barack Obama speaking at the funeral of John Lewis who risk his right for voting rights called the filibuster a Jim Crow relic and said it should be eliminated.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that's what we should do.


LEMON (on camera): So that was President Barack Obama. Listen to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the filibuster in 1963.


MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., AMERICAN MINISTER: I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting. They won't let the majority senators vote, and certainly they wouldn't want to majority of people to vote, because they know they do not represent the majority of the American people.


LEMON (on camera): The question is, what are Democrats willing to do about it now? What's the end game? Where do we go from here, and how do we protect our most sacred right, and that's the right to vote?



LEMON (on camera): So, President Biden saying Americans should be alarmed at the attack on voting rights in states all across the country, calling it the greatest threat to democracy since the Civil War, saying peddlers of lies are threatening the very foundation of the country and calling out bogus claims of election fraud, saying the big lie is just that, a big lie.

Let's discuss now, Matthew Dowd, former chief strategist for President George W. Bush joins us. Matthew, good evening to you. Thanks for joining.

So, let's talk about this speech that President Biden gave. It was impassioned. It was on protecting voting rights. He was clear. He says we're facing the most significant test for democracy since the Civil War. What we didn't hear is any mention of changing the filibuster. If democracy is on the line, how can the president avoid that?

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, Don, thanks for having me. As you know, you and I have had this conversation for well over a month where I've talked about it being a most perilous point since the Civil War and being autocracy versus democracy in this. And I'm glad to see the president has come to that position, of that real reality position of where we are.

This is the way I see the president right now, and I think much of the administration and probably most of the Senate Democrats is they have been going through the stages of grief of what the Republican Party fundamentally is. It took them a while. They were first in denial of what the Republican party was. They thought Donald Trump was the bad part, he'll be removed, they'll go back to normal. They didn't.

And then they went into this bargaining position as you go through the stages of that, well, OK, we can bargain. We can figure it out. We'll do that. And then I think they went into sadness. Like, my gosh, this is not the part we thought it was.

They've finally gotten to anger. The president is finally gotten to the point of anger, and I think the next thing, which is I believe if the president's words are authentic, which I believe they are, and his anger is authentic, then they'll get to acceptance. of this is who they're dealing with. This is the Republican Party. It's not what Joe Biden has worked with over the last 40 years and they will get to that point, I think.

Because in the end, you have to say -- and you know you went over the history of the filibuster in the brief before the show and before I came on, that it's always been used in a way to keep people from voting. It's always been used to keep people from civil rights and it's again being used to do that.

And so, I think would I have preferred this to have happened a month ago or six weeks ago? Don, yes, but I think the president is finally getting to the point of acceptance of who the Republicans fundamentally are.

LEMON: Do you think it's too late? I mean, just even for Democrats? Because, you know, you have been saying as well, we're not sure if Democrats understand what's on the line or maybe they do understand what's on the line, but just what they're up against. Because when you have a party that doesn't really care about reality as we see or the truth or anything but winning or minority rule, then, you know, what -- if you can't understand that, then what do you do? You know what I'm saying? If you don't know what you're up against.

DOWD: Well, yes. Well, I think that's what I think took a while for, I think, somebody like Joe Biden who's worked in the United States Senate, was vice president who's worked with Republicans. I think it took him a while to finally come to the place of who he's really fundamentally dealing with, and it's not the Republicans that he could cut deals with on things. It's not Republicans that he could trust and support the Constitution. It's not Republicans that he could trust that were really interested in keeping and preserving our democracy in this point.

I think he's getting there. As I said, I wish we would have been there six weeks ago or the president would have been there six weeks ago. I think he's getting there. I think all of us -- he, I think tonight or today's speech was a four-alarm fire speech by the way, he give it -- gave it and what he says. You've never heard a president talk about the situation the United States was in like that except in 1861.


Go back through all the president's speeches, all of the presidents, what they faced. The last time a president gave a speech like Joe Biden did today was Abraham Lincoln in 1861. It was the last time a president gave a speech like that.

So, my hope is we're now on the path to getting this resolved. I think the they should easily carve out an exception on voting rights for the filibuster, so then maybe not get rid of it totally but carve out an exception for the voting rights. I think that's where we'll end up. I hope it's in the next month or two.

We'll see. But I think all of us have to keep raising the idea that there is a four-alarm fire in our country and it's the most important issue every single person faces. Us here in Texas. You there. Everywhere we face this problem with an attack on our democracy.

LEMON: Do you think Republicans were actually -- do you think they heard or listened to the president's speech, and if they did, did they do it with open ears? Because he denounced Republican efforts to restrict voting rights, at one point he asked, have you no shame? Similar question to what I ask before, but I mean, we know what the answer to that is -- how do you shame the shameless?

DOWD: Well, you can't shame them. So, do I think their ears, that sound waves went into their ears? Yes. Do I think their brain picked it up as anything that they would respond to? No. I think they'll say, you know, they'll say Biden is being dramatic. Biden is overreacting. This is not the -- you know, they'll go into their whole spin cycle of all of this stuff that they say. So, their ears received it, their brains didn't. And that's the problem we're in today.

I was thinking as you were talking to Chris, who I think is great, and that whole issue of crime. That's another whole issue that's being spun in a way that's nonfactual, and I think Chris has a responsibility to say not what they're going to do politically but what's happening.

Let me give a fact on crime. Just goes to this how much spin goes on. Every major city in Ohio has a higher violent crime rate than New York City. Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas, two Republican bastions have a higher crime rate than Austin, which everybody attack because they were going to go and sort of defund the police.

LEMON: St. Louis.

DOWD: So, the facts in this case on crime, violent crime is not what the Republicans are presenting like everything else.


DOWD: They're not a fact-is based party anymore.

LEMON: Well, as I said, listen, Chris is not here to defend himself. I understand the point he was making when he said perception is reality, but actually reality is reality, and I think it's up for us to tell the truth about the number.

As I said, historically, crime is down. Are there surges? Yes. Should we be concerned about it? Absolutely. But it's not like, you know, look, you cannot -- the point I was trying to make about New York City is you don't bet against New York City. There are many cities in this country that you don't bet against. The real estate market will come back. The economy will come back. But you can't bring back a life.

So, the crime issue is really important. Is it the way that Republicans are framing it? No. Should we accept that framing? No. We should tell the truth about it, and it's just a Democratic problem, or as the right would say a Democrat problem, which is not correct grammar which is used in a pejorative way. So, I think that it's up to us folks in the media to tell the truth about what it is so that people can make up their own minds about it on factual information.

DOWD: Don, I couldn't agree with you more. I think part of the reason why the last five years we got into this problem is not enough people, many of us included, is clearly and fiercely sang out the truth, clearly and fiercely told the truth and not treated politics just like a game.


DOWD: Like, there's a and there's b. We have to clearly and fiercely say the truth and say one political party is an autocratic party, the Republicans and one political party is the last party we have to protect our republic. That's a fact, and I say that as somebody who is a former Republican.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, there's so much -- we criticize Democrats and Republicans in this. But there's also something that I think I want to talk about to you next because I don't have time, I want to get to this whole thing then I'm going to do on critical race theory. And that's that about, I think that we sort of missed the mark in the media about where the Democratic Party is.

Because during -- before Trump, you know, when he was running the first time, we need to understand where the Trump voter is. And we sent all these people out, and we do the Trump voter. During Trump, we need to understand the Trump voter. Now Biden is in the White House. We need to understand Republicans and the Trump voter.

Where is all that understanding the Democratic voter and where Democrats are now? And I think what exposed that was actually Eric Adams and other moderate Democrats across the country being elected and it exposed a weakness in the media that we weren't actually reporting on where Democrats actually were. So, yes.

DOWD: I would love -- I would love to have that conversation.


DOWD: One point on that is the center of the Democratic Party is closer to the center of the country than the Republican Party is.

LEMON: There you go.

DOWD: The center of the Democratic party.

LEMON: We'll save it for the next time. Thank you, Matthew. I appreciate it.

I'm sure you're hearing about it. We have been talking about it on this show. Critical race theory becoming a political rallying cry for the GOP with passions running so high. Shouting matches breaking out at school board meetings.


But what are the facts? What's the truth? The most in-depth look to date at what this battle is all about. You do not want to miss it. That's next.


LEMON (on camera): All right, so have a seat on the couch or grab your pillow. Get the remote, hit the record button or text a friend and tell them to tune in or if you're in the car tune up Sirius satellite radio.


Because this is something that you need to hear, watch, see, and keep for future reference, and share. I'm sure you're hearing things in our community about how we should teach race in schools and the phrase that's taking over the conversation is critical race theory.

Conservative politicians and right-wing, in the right-wing well they see it as an issue that riles up their base, and they're right. School board meetings turning into screaming matches. Parents raising concerns there. Still, most people don't necessarily know what it is and what it isn't.

So here it is, CNN's Sarah Sidner.


UNKNOWN: Just because I do not want critical race theory taught to my children in school does not mean that I'm a racist, damn it!

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: if you have seen and heard --

UNKNOWN: This is an unlawful arrest.

SIDNER: -- the impassioned arguments over critical race theory --

UNKNOWN: You cannot tell me what is or is not racist. Look at me.

SIDNER: -- but don't quite know what it is, you're not alone. What is critical race theory to you?

UNKNOWN: It's important to describe what it's not.

UNKNOWN: There are five tenets of it. I don't know all of them.

SIDNER: Do you think people understand what critical race theory actually is?

UNKNOWN: Yes, that's a good question.

SIDNER: It's become a political rallying cry.

CROWD: Shame on you! Shame on you!

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Critical race theory is bigoted, it is a lie, and every bit as racist as the Klansmen in white sheets.

SIDNER: But critical race theory or CRT is not a new idea. The theory's origins actually date back to the 1970s.

DERRICK BELL, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: The real evil was racism, the determination of white America to remain dominant over black America, and that could take all kinds of forms.

SIDNER: Harvard's first tenure black law professor, the late Derrick Bell is considered one of the originators of the academic study.

BELL: Both history in my experience, current events as we read them, all point to one conclusion about racism in this society, and that means that it is permanent, that it is an essential. It is not an aberration. SIDNER: At least the encyclopedia Britannica defines critical race

theory as race is a socially constructed category used to oppress people of color, and the law and legal institutions are inherently racist because they have functioned to create and then maintains social, economic and political inequalities between whites and non- whites. Now, the academic theory once predominantly taught in law schools has become a social and political lightning rod.

UNKNOWN: Excuse me!

SIDNER: So, how did we get here?

CHRISTOPHER RUFO, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, CITY JOURNAL: Conservatives need to wake up that this is an existential threat to the United States.

SIDNER: Christopher Rufo, a research fellow for a conservative think tank and filmmaker is credited with injecting critical race theory into the American consciousness in 2020 after researching some of the diversity trainings being held for federal government employees.

RUFO: I call on the president to immediately issue this executive order and stamp out this destructive, divisive, pseudo-scientific ideology at its root.

SIDNER: Just a few days later, then President Trump denounced critical race theory. Three weeks after Rufo's Fox segment, Trump signed an executive order banning critical race theory trainings in the federal government.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Critical race theory is being force into our children's schools, it's being imposed into the workplace trainings, and it's being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors, and families.

SIDNER: And thus, a political talking point was born. According to media matters, a liberal group which tracked its mentions, this year so far it was debated more than 1,980 times on Fox News, but Rufo's critics accuse him of purposely distorting the true nature of critical race theory.

You tweeted that it is, you are going to create something toxic when it comes to the way people think --



SIDNER: -- about critical race theory. That's what you yourself tweeted. Isn't that bad for America?

RUFO: No, that's wrong, that's inaccurate. yes. Critical race theory is intrinsically toxic. I'm merely revealing it, and I'm merely exposing it and I'm merely creating a framework for people to understand it. But it's not that I've turned critical race theory toxic. SIDNER: But that is not what he tweeted in March. His tweet, we have

successfully frozen their brand, critical race theory, into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic. As we put all the various cultural insanities under that brand category.

Judging from what is happening in some school districts across the country, the debate has turned toxic. But the school districts suddenly being targeted say they are not teaching critical race theory.

UNKNOWN: There's no evidence of critical race theory in this resource.


SIDNER: Is racism a problem in this country?

RUFO: Of course, it is. We should absolutely be talking about race. We should absolutely be --


RUFO: -- teaching about the history of racial injustice, but you can do all of that, surprise, surprise, without critical race theory.

SIDNER: Rufo and other parents insist CRT is being taught without calling it by name. The movement against it is in full swing.

UNKNOWN: We can try to ignore --

SIDNER: Conservative groups are putting out ominous videos, this one from the Heritage Foundation.

UNKNOWN: Like a cult, critical race theory revolution enslaves the minds of the people who adopt it. And the concept is blatantly and apologetically racist.

SIDNER: in this part, Black Lives Matter marchers are juxtaposed with what appear to be an authoritarian regime's army. More than a dozen state legislatures have proposed banning teaching critical race theory. A few state legislatures have already banned it.

This is all happening in the wake of huge protests demanding a racial reckoning in America.

CROWD: George Floyd!

SIDNER: After the police murder of George Floyd --

UNKNOWN: Black lives matter!

SIDNER: -- school districts nationwide began looking at ways to have deeper conversations with children about racism in America.

UNKNOWN: What could be the motivation for going against diversity and inclusion? SIDNER: That's where the controversy enters. In an elementary in

Cupertino a third-grade class was asked to determine their social identity, race, gender, age, and then determine which parts of their identity hold power and privilege that they benefit from. The class was stopped after parents complained.

In Pennsylvania's Lower Marion School District as the district came up with new curriculum for cultural proficiency lessons teachers could use this book to teach racism with fourth and fifth graders unless parents opted out. On page 58, it says, whiteness is a bad deal, it always was. The next page, a devil like figure appears holding a contract saying, contract binding to your whiteness. You get stolen land, stolen riches, special favors. The author says it was misunderstood and it's about justice and love, not hate and division.

Ultimately, the district says the book was not chosen for the school's curriculum. Critical race theorist professor Gary Peller sympathizes with parents who are worried their children are going to be demonized just for being born white.

GARY PELLER, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN LAW: Telling any individual that they are essentially part of the oppressive or victim class because of their skin color is not critical race theory.

SIDNER: The panic over these kinds of teachings have inspired conservative bad groups to do some teaching of their own.

CROWD: No justice, no peace.

SIDNER: Just a few miles away from where George Floyd protests erupted last year, we attended this seminar against critical race theory.

CATRIN WIGFALL, POLICY FELLOW, CENTER FOR THE AMERICAN EXPERIMENT: It is a revolution to change the society culturally and socially.

SIDNER: Catrin Wigfall is on a 17-stop anti-CRT training tour across Minnesota with the conservative Center for the American Experiment organization.

WIGFALL: We're not saying that slavery and racism and discrimination and all the evils of our past and the evils that do continue on in society today shouldn't be taught.

SIDNER: The audience took photographs of slides and diligent notes on her presentation.

UNKNOWN: I have a question.

SIDNER: When protesters shouted out during and after the event --

UNKNOWN: I have a dream!

SIDNER: -- they were confronted with chants.

CROWD: All lives matter! SIDNER: When you do read a cabal of progressives who wants to rewrite how students learn about their American heritage, that's pretty tough language, and you can see someone being really upset about that. What about the role of you all in this as well, making it more vitriolic?

WIGFALL: I would say, you know, how -- what would be a better way to frame that that gets the point across how serious all of this is?

SIDNER: Activist and educator Raj Sethuraju attended the meeting and thought the seminar itself was racist.

RAJ SETHURAJU, ACTIVIST, ATTENDED CRT EVENT: Critical race theory fundamentally ask the question where does laws come from? And how it is informed by our racialized practices. Racist practices, why are we not questioning that?

SIDNER: But most attendees thought it was spot on.

UNKNOWN: It really breeds hate more than unity, and at a time when our country needs to work on unity.

UNKNOWN: The racists in our country who do wrong things but our country is not racist. That's the difference.

UNKNOWN: This CRT stuff is going the wrong direction for our country.

SIDNER: The phrase critical race theory was coined in 1989 by Kimberle Crenshaw. The legal scholar says what you're seeing is not about critical race theory, it's about America's racial anxiety.

KIMBERLE CRENSHAW, CRITICAL RACE THEORY PROFESSOR, UCLA & COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: This is a classic situation where people have an itch to scratch. The itch is this concern about people of color demanding too much. The concern is about the consequences of the reckoning that happened last year after George Floyd. So, this is a reaction, a backlash to the growing conversation about racial inequality.

PELLER: This is a cynical, manipulative effort to take words that they've kind of pull tested as being scary, critical race theory, and to use it to exploit, to exploit the anxiety of many white -- of many white parents.


SIDNER: It's not just white conservatives, though, now raising red flags. Harry Jackson was so determined to keep critical race theory out of his children's Virginia school district he campaigned and then became the first Black president-elect of the parent-teachers association.

HARRY JACKSON, CONCERNED PARENT: Advocates for critical race theory are arguing that merit is even racist, they have argued that math is even racist.

SIDNER: What is it that you are worried about in this policy?

JACKSON: I am worried about the dumbing down of curriculum. I am worried about this, about forced equality.

SIDNER: When you talk about forced equality, I mean, some people say why should equality be forced in this country. Its whole tenant, right, is that we are equal, born equal.

JACKSON: Well, I believe in equality, equality of opportunity. Forced equality, I think we're going into Marxism.

SIDNER: The fight has become so vitriolic in the state of Virginia, one school board meeting turned violent.

JULIA HOLCOMB, PROFESSOR, NORTHERN VIRGINIA COMMUNITY COLLEGE: It wouldn't be an accurate to describe it as a riot.

SIDNER: College professor Julia Holcomb was there and disturbed by the anti-CRT crowd. She's convinced it's no mistake it got out of hand.

HOLCOMB: We're arguing about this because there are political forces that want us to be arguing about it.


LEMON: And Sara Sidner joins me now. Sara, just looking at the meetings in your report, we can see how parents all across this country are up in arms over critical race theory, even though they have been provided complete misinformation about it. This has really turned into a political weapon.

SIDNER: It has, in a word, it has. I want to give you an example, just to let you know kind of how this is playing out now. We talked about some of those groups that are going around and teaching people about CRT and telling them they need to be against it, and there's actually talking points. You know, this pamphlet right here, it has talking points, like, you know, they say this and is you respond this way, it tells you how to respond if somebody says that there's systemic racism in this country.

But I do think we need to recognize, and folks need to look at how parents are feeling. Because some of the language that has been used to try and teach children, some of the new things that are being tried, has really rattled people, not just white parents, not just conservative parents, but parents across the board.

And one of the things we talked about is that book, which is not critical race theory, but a book for fourth and fifth graders that said, whiteness is a bad deal. Imagine if that was flipped around and it said, blackness is a bad deal. So, you can see how parents would be very concerned. And the biggest concern, Don, it really is fear.

It's fear that their children, particularly white children, are going to be demonized just for being white, and most people we talked to said they don't want to see anything like that, but this reminds them of something.


SIDNER: It reminds them of the fight in the '60s and '70s over sex education.

LEMON: Interesting. Listen, I have to say calling anything remotely intertwined with the nation's racial issues, calling it critical race theory, it's just not helpful because that's not what it is. I mean, is my podcast about tough conversation over race, is that critical race theory? I mean, don't the people you spoke with realize how important it is to learn about racial divides in this country and the true history of the country?

SIDNER: Yes, and they do argue, many of them, that look, we do have to look at racism in this country, and that it still does exist. We heard that from Christopher Rufo himself, who brought this into the American consciousness and we heard that from one of the people who were training other parents and grandparents how to get rid of CRT from their schools.

But there is a conversation that is very difficult in this country -- how to teach children, and how to teach parents, how to talk about racism in our current history, in the now, and that's where a lot of this consternation is.

LEMON: Sara Sidner, great reporting. Thank you so much.


LEMON: And Republicans not letting up on their assault against critical race theory. Why is it resonating with so many people? We'll discuss next.



LEMON (on camera): The manufactured outrage over critical race theory has become real, a real concern among some parents. So, what do we do now?

Let's discuss with CNN political analyst, Kirsten Powers is here, as well as CNN political analyst Astead Herndon.

Good evening to both of you.

Kirsten, you just heard Sara's report. The GOP appears to be winning this messaging. They're twisting the facts, though. So why is this resonating so much?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's really important to be clear that it's a political strategy, first and foremost. The Republicans don't have anything to run on. What would they run on? They haven't done anything.

So, what they have to do is they have to gin up their base with some sort of manufactured controversy which is what they specialize in, and they've decided to do make it critical race theory and they have misrepresented what critical race theory is. Which is what they do in all of these manufactured controversies. They find something that maybe has a little grain of truth to it and

then they build a whole story around it. Whether it's the New Black Panthers are coming for or fast and furious or transgender bathrooms, or it was undocumented immigrants that have diseases and or gangs are coming for you. So this is what they do to get everybody all amped up and agitated and so you have something to vote for --


LEMON: You forgot acorn and antifa.

POWERS: -- and to vote, you know, vote about. What's that?

LEMON: You forgot acorn and antifa.

POWERS: Or antifa, exactly.



POWERS: So, you know, yes. And so, it's, you know, the Democrats are socialist and now they're Marxist and they take words that have meaning and they apply them in a way that has no connection to the actual meaning of that word.

LEMON: Yes. Astead, the former president's advisor and first campaign manager Steve Bannon told Politico that the fight over critical race theory is the tea party to the tenth power. Is he right? What do you know about the movement behind this fight?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think what Bannon is saying is what we all implicitly know, which is that the fight over critical race theory is the same fight that's been happening over and over again in modern politics. It's a fight over power. It's a power of over control, it's a fight over whose voices is the defining one in culture and politics.

And they are playing on Republicans with this controversy is the fear among a lot of their base that they are losing political and cultural power. It's the same thing that's happening in other segments of society also.

And so, I think what we're seeing is a political strategy that tries to play on the fears of the grassroots of the voters and whether it will be successful remains to be seen, but we have seen this work for Republicans specifically in the past.

LEMON: All right. Astead, Kirsten, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

President Biden making an impassioned plea in support of voting right saying we should all be alarmed by the GOP's attacks on one of our most sacred rights.