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Don Lemon Tonight

Internal CDC Document Urges New Messaging; Louisiana is Seeing Explosion of Cases and Hospitalizations; GOPs All on Defense About What They Knew, and When About January 6th; Schumer and Pelosi Plan to Meet with Biden on Voting Rights; Race a Core Issue in January 6th Attack, the Big Lie, and GOP Voter Restrictions; U.S. Gymnast Sunisa Lee Wins Gold in Gymnastics All-Around. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired July 29, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news, CNN confirming an internal CDC document that warns -- quote -- "the war has changed." The document saying the delta variant may cause more severe illness and spreads as easily as chickenpox. And it warns trust in a vaccine could be undermined by breakthrough cases.

It is coming out just hours after President Joe Biden announced all federal employees need to be vaccinated or submit to regular COVID testing.

Plus, Republicans on defense, trying to explain where they were, who they spoke to, and why they were wearing body armor on January 6th, as a select committee prepares to subpoena key witnesses.

I want to get right to our breaking news now. The chair of UC San Francisco's Department of Medicine, Dr. Bob Wachter, is here and he has seen the CDC document.

Doctor, I appreciate you joining us. You got a very early look at this internal CDC presentation warning these delta infections are likely more severe. You walked away from it significantly more concerned. Tell me why, please.

ROBERT WACHTER, CHAIRMAN, UCSF DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE: Yeah, Don. Everything is a little worse than I had understood before I read the document when The Washington Post shared it with me about six hours ago. Few things are things that we understood. Vaccine efficacy is down a little bit, more like 80 percent than the 90 or 95 percent. That we kind of knew.

But the data seems to show that the viruses, what they call more infectious than chickenpox, whether they're or not five to eight, that means the average person will infect five to eight people versus two to three, which we are used to from the original virus, there are evidence in the document the severity of delta is higher. That has been a debated point, but at least according to this, the CDC believes that is true. What we learned a couple of days ago was also in the document, that the viral load of people who have been vaccinated and have a breakthrough infection seems to be as high as in people who have non- vaccine-related infections, which probably means they are infectious. And, so, it is sort every part of it was a little bit worse than I thought when I came into reading it.

LEMON: Talk to me about this (INAUDIBLE) number in layman's terms. What does that mean? Can they affect -- can they infect? How many other people can they infect?

WACHTER: Yeah. The (INAUDIBLE) is an epidemiological term and says, on average, how many people will an infected person infect? Now, that number can be modified, of course, if everybody is wearing masks or keep distance, all the things we've learned to do in the past 18 months. But this is sort of in the natural state.

And the (INAUDIBLE) of the original virus, the one we dealt with in 2020, was somewhere in the two to three range. And it looks like from the CDC data, the (INAUDIBLE) of this virus is more in the five to eight range, five to nine, at least on one graph that they showed. And so we've been going around with the kind of supposition that it is twice as infectious as the original virus. I would even say it's a little more than that.

On the graph that they showed, they compared it to chickenpox. If you remember, you know, chickenpox was sort of the -- what we have in mind as this incredibly infectious virus. It is actually by some estimate more infectious than chickenpox.

So, it is more infectious than we thought. The average case of delta may infect more people. And then we now know that, at least according to this, that the severity of cases may be higher, which has been debated up until recently.



LEMON: I think we need to say people must realize that getting the vaccine is even more essential because it will keep you from dying. How do we get -- please, how do we get that through to people, doctor?

WACHTER: Well, the vaccine is essential, but I read the document and became even more convinced that we have to go back to universal masking because we have to get the vaccine rate up.

But this thing is so infectious that even in San Francisco where I live, where we have 70 to 75 percent of the population fully vaccinated, about 20, 25 percent higher than the national average, we are still seeing a surge here now, where the rate of vaccine that we would not have seen a surge with the old virus. But this virus is better at its job.

But, you know, we have to get people vaccinated. I think all of the things that we heard in the last couple of days, the incentives, mandates, disincentives for not getting it, needing to get swabs frequently if you don't get it -- I think that's very important.

We can't pussyfoot around with this thing. We have to get more people vaccinated because this virus is better at its job than the original. But it will take a while to do that, even if we are successful. So, until then, we have to go back to universal masking, what we have, or else this thing is going to spread like wildfire.

LEMON: If you can talk more about that because I think that people are sensing my frustration tonight that, you know, everyone says, well, you had your freedom and maybe you should do this or that. We can't do that anymore. We are no longer in that place, doctor.

WACHTER: Yes. I'm with you, Don. You know, people have the freedom to play around with their own health, I guess. It's not a good decision. But if it was just your health, it's one thing. But the decisions that the unvaccinated are making in the face of this virus, which we now know is much more infectious and more severe -- and the vaccines work incredibly well. But there is some evidence in the CDC documents that they work a little less well with older people and with immune- compromised people.

So, if you are vaccinated, you are not only putting yourself at risk, you are putting everybody around you, unvaccinated people, people who are immunosuppressed, older folks. There was some evidence in the document that the immunity that you get from a prior infection begins to wane after about six months.


WACHTER: So the folks who say, I'm not getting vaccinated because I had COVID last September, they are putting themselves at risk, they are putting other people at risk. So, I think it is time to get more serious and more prescriptive about this than we have been.

LEMON: Doctor, I would love for you to come back and continue to speak with us. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

WACHTER: My pleasure.

LEMON (on camera): Thank you. So, just about -- look, the people I love the longest and the most in this world besides my fiance, right, are in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That is my hometown. So, that is why I am so intense about this tonight because I have seen the CDC document that CNN has confirmed. I am speaking to my family there and I am seeing what is happening.

My hometown of Baton Rouge, where if you want to see what delta running rampant can do, one hospital has more patients right now than any other point in this pandemic.

Here is Miguel Marquez.



MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aimee Matzen (ph) struggles to breathe.

(On camera): What does it feel like to have COVID?

AIMEE MATZEN, LOUISIANA COVID PATIENT: Exhausting, erxtremely frustrating, tiring, and the fact that I am here now, I am furious with myself.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Why?

MATZEN: Because I was not vaccinated.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Not anti-vaccine, she says she just didn't get around to it. The 44-year-old is now one of the dozens of COVID-19 patients in Baton Rouge's Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Her oxygen is low. Her doctor she might need a ventilator.

MATZEN: I just don't want anyone else winding up like me, especially when the vaccine is so easy to get now.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The delta variant now prevalent in the Bayou State. Not only is it enormously infectious.

CATHERINE O'NEAL, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, OUR LADY OF THE LAKES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: The delta variant is far more contagious, right, but that viral load doesn't just mean that I'm going to spread it to more people. It also means that when I inhale somebody else's breath, I am getting a massive amount of virus.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): It is spreading everywhere, in cities and rural areas.

O'NEAL: There is nowhere safe. If you're interacting in this community, you should be vaccinated and you should have a mask on because we are inundated with COVID.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Ronnie Smith, 47, says he thinks he got it from a friend outdoors, outdoors, at a barbecue. He was planning to get the vaccine when COVID-19 got him.

RONNIE SMITH, LOUISIANA COVID-19 PATIENT: Two days after the event, it just like kind of I went down on the floor and I couldn't get up.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Nurses here say they watch the number of critically ill patients grow rapidly. Some anti-vaccination patients still in denial COVID-19 is real.

MORGAN BABIN, NURSE, OUR LADY OF THE LAKES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Some people insist that we are lying to them about their COVID positive diagnosis.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Even sick people?

BABIN: Even sick people.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Who need oxygen, who might be on their way to death --


MARQUEZ (voice-over): -- are still denying they have COVID?

BABIN: Yes, I have patients that deny that they have COVID all the way up until intubation.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): What do they think they have?

BABIN: They think that they have a cold.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Carsyn Baker, only 21, has a kidney condition. Her doctor has advised against getting vaccinated for now. She thinks she picked up the coronavirus while in a screened-in porch across the room from someone else who had it.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): What does that tell you about how easy it is to pick this variant?

CARSYN BAKER, LOUISIANA COVID-19 PATIENT: Yeah, it just kind of sucks. People like myself with an autoimmune disease, you can't really go anywhere now because just everybody is getting sick and it just doesn't matter what you do.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Laurie Douglas has been in nursing for 35 years. The last year, her hardest: frustration with sickness, death, and the unvaccinated at boiling point.

LAURIE DOUGLAS, NURSE, OUR LADY OF THE LAKES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Sometimes praying isn't enough and yell at Jesus if I need to. It is headshaking, teeth grinding, knees tight standing up, just wanting to scream from the hilltops, frustrating.

MARQUEZ (on camera): So, a couple of things to consider. Health officials say that while there are a lot of people who are just not going to go get the vaccine under any circumstances, there is a broad swath of them who are persuadable and that people who love them and know them should just keep working on them.

The other thing is where are they on this current surge? Where are they on this wave? How much far do they have to go? The hospitals that we have spoken to in Louisiana, they are not entirely sure. They are dealing with the everyday so much. But other hospitals in the region have crunched the numbers and are looking at that surge and looking at late September before they reach that crest, late September, just in time for the fall, then winter, and then a whole other surge. Don?


LEMON (on camera): Miguel Marquez, thank you, sir. Get vaccinated, people. Wear your mask, seriously.

Now, we turn to the select committee on the January 6th attack on the Capitol. It is meeting in just hours in Nancy Pelosi's office. They're getting ready to subpoena key witnesses as some Republicans are trying to rewrite history, the history of what they were doing that day.

Here is CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Six months after the insurrection, as the January 6th committee is readying subpoenas, many top Republicans on Capitol Hill are under pressure about what they knew that day and who they talk to at the White House.

UNKNOWN: Did you talk to the former president that day?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I've talked to the former president umpteenth times, thousands --

UNKNOWN: No. I mean, on January 6th, congressman.

JORDAN: Yes. I mean, I've talked to the president -- I've talked to the president so many -- I can't even remember all the days I've talked to him.

SERFATY (voice-over): Congressman Jim Jordan attempting some verbal gymnastics this week about his phone call with President Trump on January 6th.

UNKNOWN: On January 6th, did you speak with him before, during or after the Capitol was attacked?

JORDAN: I have to go -- I spoke with him that day -- after. I think after. I don't know if I spoke with him in the morning or not. I just don't know. I would have to go back and check. I mean, I don't know when those conversations happened.

SERFATY (voice-over): Raising eyebrows on the committee.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-C): It sounds like he has got something to hide and he is trying to threaten people so he won't be called.

SERFATY (voice-over): As many Republicans are continuing to defend their own narrative of what happened that day, Congressman Mo Brooks defending his decision to wear body armor to the rally near the White House before the riots.

Quote -- "The only threats I was aware of that day were BLM and Antifa. I had no information of any threats, by anybody, but from socialists, generally, Antifa and BLM in particular."

It is all part of an ongoing attempt to rewrite the history of what transpired that day. One top leader expressed shock and stated just where the responsibility lay.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters.

SERFATY (voice-over): In the immediate aftermath of the riots, many Republicans showed outrage.

JORDAN: What happened at the Capitol on January 6th was as wrong as wrong can be. It's not what America is about. And we condemn this violence.

SERFATY (voice-over): And some resolve for accountability and truth.

MCCARTHY: And the president's immediate action also deserves congressional action, which is why I think a fact-finding commission and a censure resolution would be prudent.

SERFATY (voice-over): But now, many of those same Republicans are trying to shift blame.

JORDAN: Why wasn't there a proper security presence that day?


JORDAN: And frankly, only the speaker can answer that question. So let's see if the Democrats pick it up (ph).

MCCARTHY: We think it is too important that those two questions, why were we ill-prepared?

SERFATY (voice-over): The January 6th committee is making it clear, subpoenas are coming and coming soon, likely to hit many Republicans on Capitol Hill.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Interviewing, subpoenaing, and doing whatever is required to get to the truth.

SERFATY (voice-over): As they piece together every minute of the timeline before --

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST (voice-over): All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.

SERFATY (voice-over): -- during and after the insurrection.

UNKNOWN: This has all the fingerprints of an Antifa operation.

SERFATY (voice-over): Every meeting and every phone call made in and out of the White House as the riots unfolded will be under scrutiny.

Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.


LEMON (on camera): Sunlen, thank you very much for that. Subpoenas for some of the GOP congressmen could be coming in a hurry. How are they going to react? I'm going to ask the former congressman, Charlie Dent, that next.



LEMON: Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, and Mo Brooks all on defense today, spinning their view of January 6th as the select committee in charge of investigating exactly what went down in the Capitol attack gets ready to subpoena key witnesses.

Let us discuss now. Former Republican Congressman and CNN political commentator Charlie Dent joins us. Charlie, thank you. Good to see you. I'm really worried. I'm really, really worried. There's a lot to be worried about. But, all right, let's track on here.

So when you hear Mo Brooks, Jim Jordan, Kevin McCarthy and you see their defensiveness now in the dodging and twisting over their actions on January 6th, you know these guys, what are they up to?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA REPRESENTATIVE: I think it's pretty clear they don't want to have to answer questions about what conversations they may have had with the president on January 6th, on or around January 6th.

The call that Kevin McCarthy had reportedly with the president, as mentioned by Jaime Herrera Beutler, was one that deteriorated at almost a shouting match where the president thought that the protestors were more concerned about his election than he was. I don't know if he wants to talk about that in a public setting.

I suspect that Jim Jordan might not want to talk about it either. I don't know what Mo Brooks was thinking that day, wearing body armour. He was firing things up.

But they have to talk. I think it's fair to find out what the president of the United States' state of mind was on that day and we can find that out through these conversations with members.

LEMON: The House Select Committee is holding the strategy session tomorrow morning. They're making it clear that they will move on subpoenas and they're going to do it quickly. How do you think your former colleagues will handle being called to testify, maybe even subpoenaed?

DENT: Well, I'm curious to see if they put up a fight. Ordinarily, what you do is you first invite them to testify voluntarily. If they choose not to testify voluntarily, that's when you issue the subpoenas. So usually you don't start with the subpoena, you start with a request. And then we'll see. If they're subpoenaed and they fight that subpoena, that could drag on for a very long time.

On the politics of this, if you're a Republican member, you don't want these hearings to extend, you know, well into 2022 during the midterms. So, it might be better to get this out of the way as quickly as possible. Fighting this thing, dragging it out just means more likely they're going to be testifying later in the election cycle.

LEMON: Yeah. Charlie, when it came to Tuesday's hearing, with the four officers on the frontlines fighting on January 6, too many Republicans say they didn't even watch. And you say maybe they didn't watch but they're paying attention. So what do you mean by that?

DENT: I mean they're paying attention. How couldn't they be paying attention? They're hearing from the men and women who defend them every day and who are trying to keep them safe. That was very powerful, riveting testimony we heard from those officers, who talked about what they experienced. They were using terms like terrorists to describe the people who attacked them.

So I think these members -- look, it's true. They're busy during the day. They're not always sitting there glued to the television. But I can assure you they're paying close attention to what's being said because they may be called in front of that same select committee to answer questions.

And I think they just want to get -- Don, at the end of the day, they have to be very nervous about this. That's why they fought it so hard. Everybody -- they all wanted an independent -- most of them wanted an independent commission to find facts. But that all changed, I think, when many of them realized that they could be called as witnesses and there is a real legal exposure for them personally.

LEMON: Yeah. Always a pleasure. Thank you, Charlie Dent. I'll see you soon. Be safe out there. Be safe out there. Thank you.

DENT: Thank you. You, too.

LEMON (on camera): So take this, a Republican senator is not going along with one of the most outrageous GOP attempts to spin what happened at the Capitol on January 6th.

For many on the right, there's been a huge push to out the U.S. Capitol police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt, one of the rioters on that day. Now, they want to make sure her a martyr or, you know -- I don't know, just for the big lie. But Senator Kevin Cramer wants nothing to do with that. Listen.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): I'm a citizen of the United States. That's why I have the right to know. Why don't I have the right to know? Why don't you tell me that?

SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND) (voice-over): Well, well, first of all, the person that shot her. I don't know who it is, by the way.

UNKNOWN: (voice-over): Why don't I have the right to know, Kevin?


CRAMER (voice-over): Because the person that shot her is a police officer shooting a criminal violating, not complying with officers telling her to stop, don't come through that window, we have guns drawn, you don't do it. They're protecting people. And the officer was found to be innocent of any wrongdoing. And so, then what would be the purpose of releasing that officer's name? I'll look into it and see what the law says about the release of the name. I personally am not curious. I'm just grateful for the person, quite honestly.


LEMON (on camera): According to the DOJ, Capitol police officers were evacuating lawmakers from the House chamber as Babbitt and others in the mob were attempting to break into the speaker's lobby which connects directly to the chamber. Several agencies investigated the shooting and the Justice Department cleared the officer in April. So, what the senator said is right. Facts first, people.

Up next, President Biden meeting with democratic leadership tomorrow, trying to see what they can actually get done on voting rights. My next guest has an idea for them.

And ahead, the Olympic moment that made this happen.







LEMON: So new tonight, CNN has learned Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are planning to go to the White House tomorrow to meet with President Biden to discuss a path forward on voting rights legislation. CNN also reporting that Senator Joe Manchin is involved with the talks to get a bill passed that will protect voting rights.

My next guest is the former senator from Alabama, Doug Jones, wants Washington to act now on the issue. He has a new op-ed in USA Today. Senator Jones says, pass 'Manchin Plus' voting and election protection with or without Republicans.

Okay. Good evening, sir. Thank you. Let me just read a little bit more. Good evening to you. Let me just read a little bit more of what you wrote yesterday.

You said the time for lengthy debate has passed. The clearest path for the Senate begins with the Manchin proposal. So I'm encouraged that some Senate Democrats are discussing an approach that builds on it and could release their ideas this week. Among Manchin's common sense measures are pro-voter policies such as no-excuse voting by mail, uniform voter ID standards, extended early voting, and redistricting reform that prohibits partisan gerrymandering.

It all sounds good, but what makes you think that Senator Manchin can get this done?

DOUG JONES, FORMER ALABAMA SENATOR: I think because he's working on this. He said it in the article. I heard that from other sources. I think the fact that he's working on this -- Joe Manchin wants to get something done. He sees what's going on in America. He wants to get something done.

And I think the point I was trying to say, Don, is not just about with or without Republicans, but it is about the fact that what's going on in this country doesn't have anything to do with protecting the integrity of elections.

I think Democrats have not really voiced that message, that they not really voiced their concern that limiting voting hours, limiting voting days, those kinds of things -- that is not going to protect them for voter fraud. But national standards, uniform standards where the same voters in Alabama or playing by the same rules as those in Wyoming, I think that helps build confidence in the elections, plus it gives access to people -- to the ballot box.

LEMON: All right. Go with me here, Senator Jones. Let's say no GOP senators end up supporting the bill, do you expect Senator Manchin to change his mind about the filibuster because he said just today that that's not gonna happen?

JONES: Yeah, I wish he had drawn a line in the dust that way. But the fact is I think we need to see with these proposals are going to do, because remember, H.R.1 is a great bill but it also doesn't do some things that it become law in the states. Since H.R.1 was passed, a lot of things on voter subversion.

So let's see what these proposals -- see if it can get any support at all from Republicans. I believe if he gets any support at all, you will see some effort to either modify the filibuster rule or do something.

You don't have to completely get rid of the filibuster to get this passed. I think some rules can be changed. Joe Manchin has already talked about talking filibusters. And the fact is I think if he can get some things that he's comfortable with and other Democrats are comfortable with to stop these wildfires that are going on right now, I think there's a good chance that we can get this done.

LEMON: We shall see and will have you back to discuss. Thank you very much, Doug Jones. Appreciate it.

JONES: My pleasure, Don.

LEMON: The GOP has got a new mantra and it's all about denying racism exists. That is next. Plus, she said she was aiming for silver, but Sunni Lee is getting gold and making history.




LEMON: January 6th and the big lie revealed just how much the Republican Party has become the party of racial resentment. So, what message is the GOP planning to fall back on to when Congress back in the midterms?

Let's discuss with CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers and Mark McKinnon, the former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain and the executive producer of "The Circus."

Gents, hello. Mark, Politico has this report talking about the new mantra popping up in GOP circles heading into 2024. I quote here -- "America is not racist." Is that message going to work?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF "THE CIRCUS": Well, Don, you know I hope not. I mean, I hate that that is the message that Republicans are focusing on, A, because I think it is wrong, but B, I think it is wrong politically and morally.


MCKINNON: And the fact is that the big reason that Joe Biden was elected was because he addressed racial issues and racial unrest in this country. By the way, it is real. I mean, it's not just some perception.

In fact, people in America think that Blacks are discriminated by almost twice as much today as they did in 2008. Back then, 26 percent of Americans saw that Blacks were discriminated against and other ethnic minorities. Today, that is 58, 59 percent. So it is more than double. So it is a reality.

But I tell my Democratic friends, be aware, be careful, and think about how you talk about these issues because I remember when we first heard defund the police and I called my Democratic friends and I said, get on top of this, get on it fast because you got to dig down beneath what the message they're really selling. The message that they're selling with part of that message is to say that Democrats hate America.

LEMON: Yeah.

MCKINNON: And Democrats think America is wrong. That's my signal.

LEMON: I feel you on that. I need to think about that more. It is fair to say that there are -- you know, can a place be racist or is it the people who make up the place who are -- can be racist?

So Bakari, look, when you look at the pro-Trump mob on January 6th, one of the hero officers called it a white nationalist insurrection. That was an attack on our democracy and there was a clear racial component to it. That happened at the U.S. Capitol, right?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. So, I mean, Don, there are a couple of things. One is that Republicans really do not have an agenda to run on. That's first. Second and probably even more importantly, this is something Democrats have to really worry about, is that Joe Biden and the democratic administration have not addressed, as Mark may have said, these racial issues. They've not tackled these issues.

Look, justice was on the ballot in 2020. But voting rights, the Justice and Policing Act? These things have still not been addressed in a way that is satisfactory. So until that happens, I think you will have a stagnant electorate. You add that to the fact that one thing that Republicans have are state legislative bodies and gubernatorial mansions all across the country. And so therefore, they can gerrymander to all hell, which they are doing.

I think Republicans have a huge advantage going into 2020 and 2024 when it comes to legislative seats, regardless of the fact that every single day, Matt Gaetz, Nancy Mace, Marjorie Taylor Greene, all of the spokespeople for the Republican Party, try to find new culture wars every day and they aren't being successful at it, but they do have the structures of a systemically racist system in place which are gerrymandering and other things that they can fall back on.

LEMON: Hmm. Bakari, how about these attacks from the right on Simone Biles? She is the most decorated American gymnast ever, or the fight over confederate monuments, the white power hours on Fox propaganda network, the stop the steal. But, the (INAUDIBLE) wasn't black cities. How much of this is about trafficking and racism and then denying it exist?

SELLERS: Republicans use racism as political currency. Let us never forget that. I think we can go back -- I remember being in studio with Jake Tapper right before we went on state of the union and Donald Trump was playing footsie with David Duke. He said that he did not know who he was. It was the Sunday before the Mississippi primary. And, you know, the irony of that, Republicans didn't put that fire out.

And racism is just so pervasive. It's weird, Don, because they are so afraid, particularly Black women, whether or not it's Kamala Harris or Simone Biles. You see people like Charlie Kirk. He can't do as many push-ups as Simone Biles or sit-ups. I mean, it's kind of silly, like, Simone Biles literally would beat him up. And the fact that you have

people like that, who just want to just -- I mean, it's not funny, it's true, she would literally beat him up.

LEMON: She isn't even thinking about him.

SELLERS: And the fact he can call her weak or anything else, I mean, it is just -- it plays into this politics.

LEMON: Yeah.

SELLERS: I think Mark will agree. We need to get to a politics of the day where all of this asinine, silly rhetoric is thrown out the window, and we actually talk about policies and the difference between being progressive and conservative, getting back to the root of what this country is.

LEMON: With that, we have to talk about the strategies, too, Bakari and Mark, to win elections. Mark, Republicans want to hit Democrats on things that critical race theory or defund the police. Do you think that is reaching beyond the base, possibly helping them with suburban women and independents?

MCKINNON: Well, such a short-term strategy, Don, and Republicans are looking in the rear view mirror, which is the worst way to look for a campaign. That is how you lose campaigns in the future, by trying to run the last one. Donald Trump just doubled down on a demographic called a sack (ph).


MCKINNON: He just decided we are not going to expand the tent as George W. Bush said he would do and try to do, as the Republican moratorium did of 2012 and talk about how we need to expand the tent. Trump just said screw them, we are not going to get more, we are not going to expand the tent, we are going to double down and just say that we will get more white voters, and he did. The problem with that is that Republicans now think that's the playbook to run in the future.

LEMON: This is interesting this because I always here Republicans talk about Democrats are all about identity politics. But Republicans are -- Mark, aren't they playing the biggest identity politics right now?


MCKINNON: As Bakari said, that's all they have left. They're not talking about policy. It's all become cultural and it's become about race. The whole critical race theory, I know we don't have time to talk about that, Don. That is part of the problem. It's so -- it's such a complex issue. But I guarantee you Republicans are throwing gasoline on that issue --

SELLERS: But Mark -- Can I chime in real quick because I know we are probably going to run to break.

LEMON: No, go on.

SELLERS: Remember when Ted Cruz was actually like a legitimate formidable voice on the right for conservative ideology? It didn't take that long -- I'm not a Ted Cruz fan. But I do think that Ted Cruz was actually a brilliant legal scholar at one point in his life and he shed that. He completely shed that to adorn himself and envelop himself in the ridiculousness that is Trump's party now.

I mean, there are so many people who have morphed into people who are not even imaginable anymore. And that's the problem with the Republican Party.

LEMON: What about where you are, Bakari? What about Nikki Haley?

SELLERS: I still like Nikki Haley. She's a friend of mine. But you're right. You know, I think that Nikki Haley is a perfect example of it. Ted Cruz is a perfect example of it. Lindsey Graham is a perfect example of it. All of these individuals who once you can find to have some independent streak who stood for something.

Listen, Nikki Haley went to nine funerals for the Charleston massacre. She helped take down the confederate flag. And now to see her cower to Donald Trump, to see her beg and plead for his support, that's not the person -- that's not --

MCKINNON: I'm mad at Trump, but I'm much madder at the people around him that enable him.

LEMON: Mark, let me ask you. We spoke about your brother-in-law, who was sick in the hospital with COVID. Can you give us an update? How is he doing?

MCKINNON: I'm happy to say that in the last 48 hours, things have turned for the -- are better. They're positive, headed in a better direction. And he's a very fit guy even though he's 70, and he's really fighting hard and doing everything that doctors are asking him to do. So I have great faith he's going to turn this around and make it.

It's a good lesson for all of us. People close to us, loved ones, the message is getting out, get the vaccine or you're going to find your loved one in the hospital, and then it effects not just the people who are in the hospital but circles and circles and ripples of loved ones around families.

LEMON: We're glad he's better. Has he spoken about getting vaccinated?

MCKINNON: Well, we're going to leave that for discussions later on. We just want to pray for him now to get better.

LEMON: All right. Bakari, there's -- I don't know if you've been -- had an opportunity to watch on CNN, we have been featuring people who are in the hospital and now are -- have been very sick and now are regretting not getting vaccinated and have had a change of heart. Let's hope more people do that.

SELLERS: My prayers go out to Mark and his family. My story is very well known of CNN audiences and you and Mark and everybody lifted us up in prayer. My daughter is immunosuppressed. So I remind for quality time (ph). She is a liver transplant baby. That you're not getting the vaccine for yourself, like I -- I watch -- I'm a huge NFL fan and watching the ignorance of some of my friends who play in the league and some of their teammates. This is not about you.

LEMON: Right.

SELLERS: Bill Gates ain't putting 5G into your arm. This is about making sure that other individuals who cannot go out there and do the things they need, that they can actually live a healthy life because you did what was necessary and you were selfless. So get the vaccine.

LEMON: Thank you very much. An Olympic update when we come back.




LEMON: Team USA Gymnastics scored a huge victory today despite the absence of Simone Biles. American gymnast Suni Lee turned in the performance of a lifetime to claim the gold in the women's all-around final.

CNN's Will Ripley has more on her remarkable story.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From a family of Southeast Asian refugees to Olympic gold for Team USA.

SUNI LEE, WINS GOLD IN TOKYO OLYMPICS: Like, it doesn't even feel like real life.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Eighteen-year-old Sunisa Lee, the first Hmong- American Olympic gymnast stepping up when Simone Biles stepped back, taking women's individual all-around gold, win number six in the event for Team USA, tying the former Soviet Union's record.

LEE: This medal would not be possible without my coaches, the medical team, my parents, and it's just so surreal and I haven't even let it sink in yet.



RIPLEY (voice-over): Nearly 6,000 miles away, in Oakdale, Minnesota, the small Hmong refugee community celebrating big time. Lee's parents fled Laos for the U.S. Her dad says winning gold is the greatest achievement of any Hmong-American.

JOHN LEE, FATHER OF SUNISA LEE: All the hard work, all the broken bones, all the time you missed, vacation with us, you paid off.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Lee's road to gold tougher than most. In 2019, her father fell from a ladder, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. In 2020, her aunt and uncle died of COVID-19.

S. LEE: There was a point in time where I wanted to quit and I just didn't think I would ever get here, including injuries and stuff. So, there were definitely a lot of emotions but I am super proud of myself for sticking with it and believing in myself.

RIPLEY (voice-over): And now, Suni Lee making Olympic history.

Will Ripley, CNN, Tokyo.


LEMON (on camera): Will, thank you. And congratulations, Suni. Well done. And thank you for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.