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Don Lemon Tonight

U.S. Military Conducts Airstrike Against ISIS-K Planner; U.S. Officials Warn of Possible Threats to the U.S; The 'Pineapple Express': Vets' Daring Mission to Save Afghan Allies; Judge Rules Against Florida Governor's Ban on Mask Mandates in Schools; Nationwide Marches for Voting Rights on Anniversary of March on Washington. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 27, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: And we begin this hour on CNN with breaking news tonight. The U.S. has conducted an airstrike against an ISIS-K planner. The spokesman for U.S. Central Command saying initial indications are the target was killed. This is coming just moments after the U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned U.S. citizens at a number of gates at the Kabul airport to leave immediately.

And earlier today, President Biden's national security team is alerting the president of a specific, credible, and imminent threat in Kabul just a day after the attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans.

I want to bring in now CNN's senior national security correspondent Alexander Marquardt and White House correspondent John Harwood, also senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. Gentlemen, thank you all for joining us on this Friday evening with the breaking news.

Alex, I'm going to start with you. What are you learning about the strike?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, we heard these vows of revenge for yesterday's attack by ISIS-K from President Joe Biden. And now, we appear to have seen some of it, though we should be clear that we don't know whether there is a connection between yesterday's attack, which killed scores, and the targeting of this ISIS-K planner.

So, we are hearing from CENTCOM, which is the part of the Pentagon that is in charge of Afghanistan. A spokesman from CENTCOM is saying that. And over the horizon counterterrorism operation was carried out. That means it came from abroad and that it was an unmanned airstrike. That means it came from a drone.

And a target at this ISIS-K planner in Nangarhar province, which is just to the southeast of Kabul, it says that the strike was successful in taking out this planner and that it appears that no one else was wounded, that there was no civilian casualties. This is a major test, a moment for the Biden administration to prove that once all of these troops are pulled out of Afghanistan, it can still carry out operations against terrorist groups, particularly a group that just yesterday killed 13 American service members: Navy, army, and marines.

Now, Don, as you mentioned, this comes at the very same time that we are getting another worrying alert from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul about another possible imminent attack. This is the same kind of alert that we got from the U.S. Embassy, from other embassies in Kabul, right before yesterday's attack. It is telling U.S. citizens and people at the gates around the Hamid Karzai International Airport to leave immediately.

We have heard for days of the likelihood, the strong likelihood the Biden administration believes of yet another attack by ISIS-K. So, again, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is telling Americans who are trying to get out to leave the area immediately because they believe in the potential for another attack.

Of course, these U.S. troops are due to leave the country by next Tuesday, and with tonight's airstrike, again, carried out by a drone against this ISIS-K planner, this is going to be held up, I believe, as a model by the Biden administration, as proof that they can continue to carry out strikes against terrorist groups even after they've left the country, Don.

LEMON: John, what is the White House saying about the president's decision to go after this ISIS-K planner just a day after the airport bombing? Should we expect more?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think we should, Don. Think about the qualities that the White House has been trying to project over the last two weeks and particularly over the last 36 hours.

One of them is resolve. That President Biden is determined to carry out this mission on his timetable because he clearly believes in it. The other is strength as commander-in-chief. Remember the ferocious criticism that he has received from Republicans and from Democrats centers around the idea of weakness in leadership, American retreat, abandoning our allies.


HARWOOD: So, the fact that the administration so quickly is able to step forward and hit a target with the president having used his muscular rhetoric yesterday, saying, we are going to hunt you down and make you pay, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, today is saying that President Biden doesn't think these people should live on this earth anymore.

So, they were able to hit this target and you can bet that they will hit other targets as soon as they can identify them while they try to carry out this mission. They've been warning all day, as Alex said, another attack is likely to happen and this attack lets them show that they are not just sitting on their back foot waiting for it to happen. They're reaching out, taking action, trying to disrupt the operations of ISIS-K.

LEMON: Ivan, this isn't the first airstrike that you and I have covered. We've been here for more than a decade, during the Bush administration covering this. You have been on the ground covering Afghanistan for decades and spent a lot of time there. What kind of response do you expect from these terrorists?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's good you point that out. I mean, I was covering massive U.S. bombing campaigns of parts of this very province, Nangarhar, 20 years ago, when the U.S. Military was pursuing al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who are believed to be in the mountains of Tora Bora and are largely believed to have escaped massive bombing campaigns carried out by B52s that were using a "daisy cutter" bomb.

And a lot of those people made it across the border to Pakistan. And over the 20 decade -- 20 years after that, there have been many more airstrikes with American troops on the ground targeting those airstrikes.

And with an allied Afghan government that could help gather intelligence, here you have a demonstration that the Biden administration is willing to use force. Whether or not they actually killed their target remains to be seen. It depends on the quality of the intelligence. But this is just one -- compared to the last 20 years of war, this is just kind of one pinprick, potentially.

What could the ISIS branch in Afghanistan do? Well, American targets have shrunk dramatically in just the last couple of weeks and are believed to disappear in the coming days.

They have also demonstrated that they are willing to murder large numbers of Afghan civilians, more than 100 in a single go. They will still exist on the ground and pose a threat to the ordinary Afghan civilians who are going to be trapped in uncertainty going forward now that the Taliban has presumably taken over.

LEMON: So, I was speaking to General Hertling earlier, Ivan, and he said this will potentially put the Taliban -- at least certify their leadership role because they certainly don't like ISIS-K and they will -- the Taliban will be happy about this airstrike against ISIS-K. What is next for Afghanistan? How can the Taliban and ISIS-K coexist there? Can they?

WATSON: Well, they have a history of conflict between them. The Taliban doesn't seem to like ISIS-K. It has to establish that it has some kind of command and control over Afghanistan. I think one of the big questions going forward, 20 years ago when the Taliban was last in power, Afghanistan was almost a medieval state.

There were no paved roads outside of the center of Kabul and Mazar-i- Sharif and Herat, the main cities, Jalalabad or Nangarhar provinces. You had to go across the border to Pakistan to make a phone call because there was no telephone infrastructure. Now, you have paved roads, you have these functioning airports, you have cellphone networks that ironically the Taliban used to fight against the U.S. during the 20 years of the U.S. presence there.

A big question will be will the Taliban maintain open trade and relations with its neighbors and allow investment to continue to come in so that there can be kind of ordinary commerce or will it go back again to medieval times and look like it did the last time the Taliban was in power?

There are also still pockets of opposition. This is incredible, the cycle of history. Twenty years ago, the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul was the fortress of anti-Taliban resistance led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaeda days before the September 11th attack. And now this son is ostensibly leading an anti-Taliban movement in that kind of same geographic fortress to the north of Kabul.

We don't know if that can hold out or if there will be a negotiated solution. But it's just kind of stunning how we see history repeating itself in this country that has, you know, the cliche, the graveyard of empires.

LEMON: Yeah. Gentlemen, thank you so much for your reporting. I appreciate all of your perspectives. Thank you so much. I want to turn now to CNN military analyst General Wesley Clark.


LEMON: He is a former NATO supreme allied commander. He joins us this evening. First of all, thank you for your service, especially considering that we've just gotten some of the names of our service members who sadly perished in that bombing yesterday and that explosion yesterday.

General Clark, the president vowed to make these terrorists pay just yesterday, and then today, he has approved the strike. Lightning fast or what you expect it?

WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Of course, we are going to strike. Wherever we can find them, wherever we can hit them, we are going to strike and strike and strike and strike again. This is ISIS. It is ISIS-K. They are an enemy to humanity. So, yes, we are going to continue to strike.

But this strike is apparently by an unmanned aerial vehicle, probably (INAUDIBLE) missile, maybe hit an SUV, may have hit a house or something. It is not a killing blow against ISIS. These are necessary strikes. How many of them are sufficient? Unknown. These terrorist groups have proved over two decades to be very, very resilient. Even when you take out of the top leadership, someone else comes in.

You got to get in on the ground. You got to disrupt the networks. You got to rip up the papers, destroy the communications, and disperse the groups and finish them. We haven't been able to do that. In fact, all these terrorists groups have metastasized here in North Africa, Libya. They are threatening Nigeria. They are going down east coast of Africa. There are elements in South America.

So, we know we've got a significant problem. We will do the best we can with these kinds of strikes, but we are still searching for the real solution here.

LEMON: So, general, is it more dangerous for our troops, for the U.S. to conduct this attack while all our forces are defending the airport and trying to evacuate in just a few days? That deadline is Tuesday. It's Friday. It's coming quickly.

CLARK: Absolutely now more dangerous. The more you can do right now to disrupt these groups, the better. They are not deterred by the thought that some of them may die. They are not deterred by the fact that the United States may retaliate. They are not going to wait for the fact. They are not going to be softer because the United States doesn't take military action.

This is a brutal, head-to-head, hand-to-hand struggle and you got to do as much as you can to destroy their network so you can keep them off balance. It is the key to helping secure Americans.

LEMON: General, just before the strike, we learned that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul put out this warning to U.S. citizens, to leave the airport gates immediately. There was a similar warning, right, the other day, and then you had that explosion, that suicide bomber. Are you concerned that this will make ISIS-K more likely to attack again or -- what do you think?

CLARK: I think we've got credible intelligence. Obviously, the last set of warnings was accurate. This one has the same characteristics. So, we probably heard something very, very specific that is coming. What would it be? Would it be another suicide bomber with a vest? Would it be a truck loaded with explosives? We don't know what it would be. We don't know. We may know on the inside where it would be. But we got to take these warnings very seriously.

And at the same time, we are still doing the best we can do to continue with the mission of evacuation. The hard part is there are so many thousands trying to get into the airport who are in fear of their lives if they stay. And they're trying to calculate how to get in and what the risks are for getting out to that area, being checked by the Taliban. What if they are stopped, what if they're on the wanted list that the Taliban is after, what is their best chance, their best hope for survival?

It is a really tough thing. It's not only tough on us, but it's tough on our NATO allies, the French, the Germans, and the Brits. All have people on the ground who work for them, who they promise safe keeping, safe passage out, and it is not going to happen, at least not with this mission.

LEMON: You know, when I introduced you, I mentioned the service members. I said I thank you for your service, especially we are finding out some of the names. Two marines have been identified so far, 20-year-old Rylee McCollum and 23-year-old Daegan Page. Also identified is Navy corpsman Maxton Soviak. You led men like this. True heroes.


CLARK: It's such a tragedy. It is a tragedy obviously for the families. And Don, I just want to say, you know, these are people, these service members, they are people who give back to this country and so are their families. There are so many Americans who won't let their children serve, who talk them out of it.

I've been to some of the most prestigious colleges in this country. I've given speeches to young people. They say, GM, I'm so worried about the armed forces because people like me going to serve. And I say, go ask your parents. I'll get the recruiter here for you. You can sign up. I promise you will have a great experience in your life. It will change your life. They come back and they say, well, my parents said, you know, I'm not well-suited to be in the military. I would be better as a diplomat, etc., etc., etc.

You've got to believe in these families. They have let their children give their all for this country. We should all be grateful.

LEMON: Yes, sir. You are right on. Thank you very much, general. Thank you so much. We will be right back with more on our breaking news.




LEMON: If you are tuned in, you know this. If you're just tuning in, we are following breaking news. The U.S. Military conducting an airstrike against ISIS-K. That as the U.S. Embassy warning moments ago that American citizens should leave the Kabul airport gates immediately.

Joining me now is CNN national security analyst and the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Director Clapper, I appreciate you joining us this evening with this breaking news. Where do we start? Let's start with the airstrikes on ISIS-K. It came very quickly after yesterday's attack. So walk us through this. Did this attack come from intelligence that the government already had considering how fast this was?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think certainly a built on that, but in order to have a tactical accuracy, if you will, in order to conduct a pinpoint strike, apparently they did took out an ISIS-K planner without any collateral casualties, that's a very good sign.

I think it points out or emphasizes the fact that we are not starting from scratch here like we were 20 years ago in Afghanistan. I was in the Intelligence Community then as director of what is now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. We were kind of nowhere, almost starting with a blank piece of paper when it came to Afghanistan. Well, 20 years of built-in corporate memory and data that we built up, we still have a lot of residual capability despite the fact that we're leaving or have left. Just for an example, the telecommunications system in Afghanistan is largely dependent on wireless communications which are susceptible to intercept.

As we've seen, we still have and ISR, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capability, using remotely piloted vehicles. Human intelligence, acquisition of information from other human beings is certainly problematic, but we've built up -- the CIA built up a lot of contacts and assets in Afghanistan, many of which will still be available to us. Admittedly, it will degrade overtime.

And the Taliban, for its part, it's kind of like the dog that caught the car because they've got their own problems. So if they are infighting factions within the Taliban and the Taliban in turn as fighting with the likes of ISIS-K, then that will generate intelligence.

So, the situation is not entirely hopeless. I think the strike is proof of that. I think, personal opinion, we should not be too picky about whether or not we can clearly identify those who are involved in the attack adjacent to the airport.

The wild card here obviously is the neighboring nations, most importantly Pakistan, and what they do, whether or not Pakistan will help us even if we do not operate from Pakistan but help with sharing intelligence.

LEMON: Director, another terror attack in Kabul is likely. The threat is immediate. What are our national security officials looking for right now? What is happening right now on the ground and with our officials trying to figure out what's happening on the ground?

CLAPPER: I would surmise that the warning -- the most recent warning that was issued was more based on a general assessment of the situation. I mean, it's bad there outside the immediate periphery of the airport. That's the Wild West. Clearly, you want people out of that area.

So what they are looking for is they've got all the centers going and any personal contacts they still have to try to pin down the tactical data that is so critically important to blunting or reverting attack.

LEMON: We are learning that federal officials are on high alert for threats to the homeland following that mass evacuations from Afghanistan. We know that there is thorough vetting. There is a thorough vetting process. But what else are authorities looking out to stop this kind of a threat in the future?

CLAPPER: Are you speaking in the homeland?


CLAPPER: Well, obviously, the continuation of the stringent vetting process is that we've built up over the years to include those that we've evacuated. So we want to be sure we are not bringing in inadvertently more terrorists disguised as innocent refugees.


CLAPPER: So we have actually been pretty successful at avoiding an attack on the homeland, certainly 9/11. So, all the apparatus that we've built up -- I flew today. We still have TSA protecting our air travel, for example. We have to sustain that. I think General Clark made a good point. This is not going to be -- this is something we will be doing in perpetuity, regrettably.

LEMON: Director, thank you very much.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Breaking news tonight. The U.S. has conducted an airstrike against an ISIS-K planner. That is as the U.S. Embassy in Kabul just now again warning U.S. citizens at a number of gates at the airport to leave immediately.

We've got an incredible story coming up for you. The daring mission to rescue hundreds of Afghans. That is next.




LEMON: Here is our breaking news tonight. The U.S. has conducted an airstrike against an ISIS-K planner. That as there is a new threat in Afghanistan tonight. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul just now warning U.S. citizens at a number of gates at the airport to leave immediately, citing security concerns, which gives us new story, this next story, a new urgency, the daring mission by a group of American veterans of war in Afghanistan to rescue Afghan elite forces and their families travelling under cover of darkness.

They called their mission the "pineapple express," named for the graphic of yellow pineapples on a pink field that the Afghans flashed on their phones to identify themselves. They have helped bring over 600 people into the airport. The mission was underway yesterday when the attack happened.

Joining me now is Army Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret commander who led the rescue effort, and Jason Redman as well. He is a combat wounded former Navy SEAL who helped the Afghans evacuate.

Gentlemen, I am honored to have you both here. Thank you for your service and thank you for doing what you're doing now. Let's talk. Scott, tell us about this mission. How did you get involved? Tell me how it all went down.

SCOTT MANN, RETIRED GREEN BERET COMMANDER: It really all started, Don -- first of all, I got to say there are right now thousands of special operator veterans who are doing the same kind of work and really, really working hard to do it. And these are retired folks with jobs and who owned businesses and they're just doing this to fill a gap that needs filling.

The way it started with us, it was getting an Afghan commando and his family out early on when Kabul fell. We got a couple of Green Berets together. We collaborated. We painted a picture using our phone apps that were encrypted. And we realized that getting through that wire, the perimeter, was the key. Communicated with people on the inside and just helping move them and shepherd them.

So we started to become shepherds using this right here and leveraging the relationships, Don, that we have with these Afghan commandos, special forces and interpreters that we've had for years. But it was really guys like Jason, who were talking to their counterparts, their interpreters throughout the night and moving them through sewage canals and everything else to get them there. I didn't lead anything. I was just simply there to help.

LEMON: Okay. So, well, Jason, let me bring you in here. So, what was involved in this? We were just talking about phones and we are talking about these pineapples. So, what happens? How does this work?

JASON REDMAN, RETIRED NAVY SEAL: Don, I think, you know, it is just a testament to the candor spirit of America. I think right now, one of the biggest things, I mean, unfortunately, for whatever reason, the American government decided, you know, they told a lot of people, a lot of Afghans who helped us to be safe and helped us to accomplish our mission on the battlefield in Afghanistan for over 20 years, and this government said, hey, we are going to support you and we are going to get you out, and that didn't happen.

And I know that didn't sit well with me and it did not sit well with a lot of our military partners who are out there, a lot of retired guys and gals who worked on that battlefield hand-in-hand with some of these individuals.

So, I know, for me, all of us coming together, I mean, it is just a testament. This is what America is about. The government was unwilling to do it. We were all willing to come together and do it.

Like Scott said, it was a network of amazing individuals. It was all of us coming together to build our network and it all came down to the fine, actual action of the movements that night, several nights over the last several days, of different individuals working with different people on the ground to shepherd these individuals to different locations, different places so that we could get them into the airport and on to safety.

LEMON: So, Jason, you provided these photos from former Special Forces. This is Captain Zach Louis (ph) who is helping lead these Afghans to safety. You call them "passengers." They've travelled just a few people at a time on this clandestine run to the airport under the cover of darkness.

So, listen, they face a very serious threats there. They repeatedly encountered Taliban foot soldiers. So, I'm sure people at home are wondering, how does this work? How did you get through these Taliban checkpoints? How did you know who and when and how?

MANN: One of the things I will say, Don, if I could -- I'm sorry, Jason. I don't mean to step on you but these folks that went through these checkpoints, Don, with guys like Jason and me and others on the phone talking to them, they would go through a checkpoint and be beaten. Their wife would be beaten. Their children would be beaten.


MANN: They're talking to our shepherds while they are moving, you know, that they are beating me, and you could hear it. And, you know, we would just encourage them, you have to press, you have to get through, this is freedom for you, you just got to go.

You know, the courage belongs to the Afghan people who endured that and made that journey and got -- and the ones that did get to the other side and those that didn't make it. There were quite a few that didn't make it.

LEMON: Scott, before I bring Jason back in, as I understand, that it was -- you said that the underground railroad -- Harriet Tubman, that was your inspiration for this?

MANN: Well, I have to say, the gentleman's act that really designed this plan in very, very austere circumstances, you know, he cited that right up front, he said this is going to be an underground railroad, and that is how we are going to do it. We had hundreds that had to move.

LEMON: Yeah.

MANN: And what got it through was the trust between the shepherd that had known them for years, thousands of miles away, and those Afghan families who relied on that trust, and the conductors on the other side who pulled them across. I can't say enough about them, either.

LEMON: Jason, this whole operation to get these Afghans to the airport was underway when the suicide attack happened. When you heard about this attack, what went through your mind?

REDMAN: I mean, we were -- you know, up to that point, we had heard that there were threats. I mean, we were just hearing, hey, you know, you got to watch out for specific locations, you got to wash out, and you got to watch for the threats. We talked about obviously the Taliban checkpoints. I won't get into the details on how we managed to move people because obviously we are still trying to do that.

But the bottom line, it was just -- it was -- I think there is a lot of people in America who when they think about Afghanistan, it's just a place, and they think that it is just filled with terrorists. That is not the case. There are a lot of terrorists in Afghanistan. There is no doubt about that. But the reality is there is equally as many human beings and amazing people who are moms and dads and brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and they are no different from you and I.

All they are hungering for is freedom. And we gave them a taste of that freedom for a while. Then that freedom was suddenly ripped away again. And that is why I think it is so critical for all of us, like Scott and I, that is something we fought for decades of our lives, to help protect the freedom of our own country here in America, and now to help protect and prolong the freedom of these individuals who gave so much to us.

So I hope that anybody out there will think about, what does it truly mean to be an American? It is because what happened in Afghanistan right now, to me, that is un-American. But, what is totally American, what is amazing about it, we can bring this country together.

What can unite anyone from the right or the left is the fact that we take care of those who took care of us, and that is exactly what Task Force Pineapple is about and that is what I know we are continuing to do. We are going to drive forward on that. We are going to continue this mission.

LEMON: I am so grateful to have you guys on, and I am so proud of what you are doing in America and the Afghan people as well. I can't thank you enough. Best of luck to you, guys. Keep doing what you are doing. Thank you, guys.

MANN: Thank you. Be looking forward when they come home here.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, guys. Be in touch and be safe. Thanks. We'll be right back.




LEMON: Florida's governor smacked down in court today when a judge ruled against his ban on mask mandates in schools.

Let's discuss now with CNN medical analyst, Dr. Larry Brilliant is here, and political commentator Amanda Carpenter. Good evening to both of you. Thanks so much. Amanda, I'm going to start with you. We are talking about Ron DeSantis. He threatened schools, funding -- school funding, saying that there -- you know, we are breaking state law by requiring masks. This judge, clearly, disagrees with that. That is a big loss to this governor.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, it is a big loss in the courtroom, but I think politically speaking, it is more important to look at the fact that the majority of school districts in large populated areas rebelled against him first. I mean, Ron DeSantis has not only lost on the masks, he has lost on the mandate also in court, and he also had terrible social media ban that he tried to do.

So, there's a chance he is just not good at this kind of stuff, but he is sort of an avatar for a lot of Republicans right now who have taken this position, no masks, no mandates. That sounds like a good slogan but it's a pretty bad medical doctrine. The numbers in Florida are terrible right now, but he wasn't betting on this. He took his victory lap last February when he was rising in the polls. People were looking at him as the next potential 2024 nomination, Donald Trump not take the field. And now, that has caught up to him. He's trying to blame Joe Biden by saying that this is Biden's fault because Biden didn't stop the virus. But, when you have a position against simple medical advice, it's pretty hard to not have it reflect back on you.

LEMON: Dr. Brilliant, Amanda is right. The numbers in Florida are horrible. I mean, Florida reported more COVID cases in the past week than any other week since this pandemic began. There have been more than 17,000 COVID cases reported in schools. Nearly 30,000 students have been quarantined. I can't even believe I'm reading that, 30,000.

Is this all because of attitudes like the governor? I mean, he is saying, oh, you know, Joe Biden didn't stop the pandemic, but he is doing it. He is putting so-called freedom over not only keeping yourself healthy but your community, too.

LARRY BRILLIANT, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Don, thank you for having me back. Amanda is right. The pediatric ICUs all throughout the south are filled with children. Last week, 190,000 children got COVID. More than 2,000 of them were hospitalized. This delta is a different disease. We want to open up the schools. We've got exactly three tools as epidemiologists: Masks, vaccines, and testing.


BRILLIANT: The kindergarten kids, they can't get vaccinated. Testing is too expensive. We really got one effective tool and that is masking. The governor has said himself not against political enemies, not against Biden. He has said himself against the children. We have an obligation for these elementary school kids who can't get vaccinated. We have to protect them. The only weapon, the only tool that we have right now is to mask them.

LEMON: Would you feel comfortable sending a child back to school in Florida if they did not have a mask mandate in place?

BRILLIANT: No. No, I wouldn't. I would insist that all the adults get vaccinated as well before I would send my child there. I've lived in Florida for a while so I understand it a little bit. My mom lived there. So, it is a complicated place. But the schools are schools and the parents are wonderful. They really want to keep their kids safe and they want them to go to school.

LEMON: Yeah. Amanda, I'll give you the last word on this. The last time we talked about this, you talked about, you know, so personally about your kids and sending them back to school. They can't be vaccinated. They're young children. I'll give you the last word on what is happening in Florida.

CARPENTER: I think it's sad, it's a larger political story, and that people are catering to the rights of the unvaccinated, trying to (INAUDIBLE) out some kind of medical, political philosophy out of this. I'm not sure it works. But the language of people like Ron DeSantis use, accusing Joe Biden of medical authoritarianism and you have people in the streets protesting for their, quote, "medical freedom," that is a larger issue that is not confined to Florida unfortunately, and it is something that plagues our politics.

LEMON: Yeah. Amanda, Dr. Brilliant, thank you both. I appreciate it.

Fifty-eight years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, marchers are taking place all across the country to fight for voting rights.




LEMON (on camera): The assault on voting rights is spreading across the country. Eighteen states have enacted 30 new laws just this year, as Democrats try to pass federal legislation to protect the vote.

House Democrats passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act this week. But the bill faces an uphill climb in the Senate. It has all prompted nationwide marches for voting rights on the anniversary of the march on Washington. Here is CNN's Suzanne Malveaux with more.


UNKNOWN: Protect the vote!

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The fight for voting rights taking on a sense of urgency across the country, this weekend culminating in marches and dozens of cities, and Washington D.C.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Fifty-eight years later, King's son is mobilizing Americans to follow in his father's footsteps, to fight to make voting accessible and equitable.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, SON OF MARTIN LUTHER KING: My father would probably be greatly disappointed in where we are on this particular issue. Some gave their lives, I should say.


CROWD: I am.

JACKSON: Somebody.

CROWD: Somebody.


CROWD: I am.

JACKSON: Somebody.

CROWD: Somebody.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Civil rights leaders are continuing the work to push for voting rights, an old fight with a renewed focus.

JACKSON: When we vote, things happen.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Reverend Jesse Jackson, currently battling COVID, but just a few weeks ago, front and center in the fight in Washington.

JACKSON: We must fight, in fact, for democracy, even if it means going to jail.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Just the day before, Jackson was arrested outside the U.S. Capitol with faith leaders and activists. He has been crisscrossing the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, using a familiar, peaceful protesting tactic from the civil rights era, of putting his body on the line.

JACKSON: Your right to vote means everything. And everything is about your right to vote.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Another outspoken critic, Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of the former president, Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the 1965 voting rights act into law.

LUCI BAINES JOHNSON, DAUGHTER OF LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Limiting access to that vote will strangle liberty and justice for all.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was quietly brokered between President Johnson, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders. One of those leaders and one of King's closest advisers, former U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young, recalls the critical turning point, a secret White House meeting between President Johnson and King.

ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We went to see him and we were talking about voting rights. And he was tied up with the war in Vietnam.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Young says he and King urged Johnson to put forward a strong voting rights bill before Congress. But the president was reticent about the potential political pushback having just signed the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964.

YOUNG: He agreed with us and said, but I just don't have the power, period. And when we left, the White House, walking out, I said, look, the president is right, he can go back to Congress, he really doesn't have the power.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): King's response stunned him.

YOUNG: He said we are going to get the president some power. That is the most arrogant thing I've ever heard you say, that you will get the president some power. And then I realized he was serious.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): The power, King surmised, would come from some irrefutable evidence that Black people were, indeed, being denied their constitutional right to vote. King targeted Selma, Alabama where less than two percent of Black residents were registered to vote.

The first attempted march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery drew several hundred to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

YOUNG: No money, no real plan, but I was thinking politically and practically, he was thinking spiritually.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): As the marchers crossed the bridge, they were brutally beaten and tear-gassed by Alabama state troopers and local police. Bloody Sunday is broadcast around the world, providing Johnson the political momentum he needed to urgently get the voting rights legislation back in play.



JOHNSON: There is no southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): The Voting Rights Act passed about five months later and was signed into law on August 6, 1965, forbidding racial discrimination in voting.

KING: We have to stay engaged, have to stay on the battlefield, because things don't permanently change unless you are there in the fight. (INAUDIBLE) sleeping through revolution, and we have to make sure that we do not sleep through the revolution.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Washington.


LEMON (on camera): Suzanne, thank you very much fore that. And thank you, everyone, for watching. Our coverage continues.