Return to Transcripts main page
Don Lemon Tonight
President Biden Says He Has Great Confidence In General Milley; President Biden Meets With Senators Manchin And Sinema On $3.5 Spending Plan; FDA To Meet On Boosters, Decision Won't Be A Slam Dunk; Anti-Vax Conservative Radio Hosts And Their Battles With COVID; Battle In York, PA Over School District's Ban On Books And Resources That Deal With Race, Racism And History. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired September 15, 2021 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: A presidential show of support. President Biden saying that he has great confidence in General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is facing calls to resign after a new book claims that Milley took steps to limit the former president from taking possible dangerous military actions after he lost the November election and after the January 6 riot.
I'm going to discuss with the former Defense Secretary William Cohen in just a moment.
We are also going to take a look at a new CNN poll showing a majority of Americans believe that our democracy is under attack. And a temporary fence is going up all around the Capitol ahead of Saturday's right-wing rally in support of the January 6 rioters.
But first, the president's big show of support for General Milley. Let us discuss now with William Cohen, the former Defense secretary. Secretary Cohen, thank you for joining us. Good evening to you.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good evening.
LEMON: President Biden has great confidence in General Milley in the face of calls for his resignation, even court martial. But some Republicans, because Milley called together top military leaders to go over the process for launching nuclear weapons, telling them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved. Did Milley overstep his authority in that moment?
COHEN: Don, first, we have to wait for the book to be published so that everyone can read it, including myself. I've known Bob Woodward for a very long time, since Watergate days. I know he's very factual in his approach to getting information in a fashion that most journalists can't comprehend. He's very, very thorough.
I still want to wait to see exactly what happened. I think it's really important that everyone, the American people and the world, understand that we live under civilian control, that the military is under civilian control.
So it's important that the American people be satisfied that General Milley acted appropriately and we never want to send a signal to our allies abroad (INAUDIBLE) democracy to make sure we send them signal that the military operates under the aegis of authority of the president of the United States and civilian control.
Having said that, I have looked at what has been reported about what General Milley said, and I think he was right to be concerned. You know, when I was at the pentagon, reporters used to ask me, what is it that keeps you awake at night? I would say it is the threat of a nuclear exchange between Russia and China that takes place by either intent or miscalculation.
So it's right for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to be concerned about the state of mind of the president of the United States.
You and I have discussed this on multiple occasions. I have felt from the very beginning that Donald Trump was unfit mentally and by way of competence to be serving as commander-in-chief. Everything that he did while in office only confirmed that for me. And what he still continues to do to this day undermine, divide, and cause disruption in the normal political process.
So I think that Chairman Milley was right to be concerned. He was right to say we got to stay in touch with our counterparts.
When I first went to the Pentagon in 1997, the first thing I recommended with respect to China is we set up a hotline. We did not have a hotline with the Pentagon and our counterparts in China. It took 10 years. It wasn't until the Chinese agreed to have a hotline. And that was put in in order to make sure that they not miscalculate or we miscalculate about what our intentions are, we certainly know what our capabilities are.
So I think it was important to be in touch with allies and potential adversaries around the world. So I don't rule that to be in any way a criticism of General Milley. So, did he overstep his bounds by suggesting that he was in any way curving the authority of the president of the United States? I haven't seen evidence of that.
I'll wait to hear what he testifies to on Capitol Hill. So far, the president seems very confident. He did exactly what was necessary under an extraordinary situation.
LEMON: Okay. I want to get to something else before we run out of time here. I want to talk about the new revelation about Vice President Pence, looking for ways to help Trump right up until the end, even calling the former vice president, Dan Quayle, the only living Republican vice president now, to find a way -- to do it, right?
Here is what the authors write. They said, over and over, Pence asked if there was anything that he could do.
[23:05:00] LEMON: Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away, Quayle told him. Pence pressed again. You don't know the position I'm in, he said, according to the authors. I do know the position you're in, Quayle responded. I also know what the law is. You listen to the parliamentarian. That's all you do. You have no power.
Now, had there even a hedge by the VP, Quayle? It could have been catastrophic for this country. But you have Dan Quayle saying, no, you have to do what is right, you got to do what the parliamentarian tells you.
COHEN: You know, that's what Republican conservatives used to look like: Dan Quayle, Dan Coats also from Indiana, Dick Lugar, another Republican from Indiana. That's what the Senate used to look like. Today, it doesn't bear any resemblance to those three members.
Today, you have simply sycophants for the most part, reinforcing the kind of mentality that Donald Trump has represented to the world, one of division on racial lines, on ethnic lines, on cultural lines. He has divided our country and that is the reason why so many people feel our democracy is hanging by a thread because we have people in public office today who are fearful of Donald Trump.
Bob Woodward's book summed it up in three words. One is fear. They fear him. Number two, they tapped into the rage that is stimulating (ph). And number three, we're all in peril as a result of what he has done.
So the American people are right to be concerned about it. We better wake up now because it can happen here. We came very close to having it happen here when there was an overturning of the electoral process and that would have undermined our democracy for years to come if we ever could recover it.
LEMON: Secretary Cohen, thank you so much.
COHEN: A pleasure.
LEMON: President Biden meeting at the White House today with senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, two Democrats standing in the way of a $3.5 trillion spending plan.
A lot to discuss with Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, a Democrat. Representative, thank you. Good evening to you.
REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): Good evening.
LEMON: President Biden taking a direct role, trying to get senators Manchin and Sinema on board for the $3.5 trillion bill. But they both have said that the top line number is just way too high. Will progressives bend on the price tag or have progressives bent too much already in your view?
PRESSLEY: That was already a compromise. For every compromise we consider, we are doing a disservice to the people who have delivered a majority to us and a mandate for us to act with urgency and with boldness.
Myself and other progressives have been calling on President Biden to use the full weight of his presidency to lean on these members. So I'm glad that he's doing that. We should be doing that both to advance a bold reconciliation bill, to invest in care, to invest in housing, to invest in climate, to invest in home and community based services for the elderly and the disabled. But I would argue we should also be doing that to abolish the filibuster.
LEMON: You said you have been asking him to use the full weight of the presidency to influence -- to have more influence on these issues. But do you think having him getting directly involved helps or do you worry that his first instinct is to compromise on things you see as essential?
PRESSLEY: No, I think he's doing the right thing, to use the full weight of his presidency, and the people expect no less and deserve no less. Again, they have given us -- they have delivered a house, a Senate, and a White House with the decisive majority and a mandate.
I know that there are some who fear that if we are too bold, we risk the majority. I would argue that by playing small, that that is what will risk the majority. The ultimate persuasion tool is impact. That is the best case that we can make to the people. And they don't care about antiquated Washington procedures or process. They care about impact.
And might I also add, when it comes to Manchin and Sinema, let the record reflects who the real obstructionists are. I think progressives are often maligned and vilified for our advancing -- seeking to advance bold, progressive policies, which are the people's policies, which are in fact the president's agenda.
And so please do pay attention to the facts and who the real obstructionists are because progressives are at the table and we are doing the work of making these investments to meet the moment and to make those critical investments in human infrastructure like climate, like housing, and like the care economy.
LEMON: I want to ask you about -- I want to put up some polling that CNN has. It is a new poll. Fifty-six percent of Americans feel democracy is under attack. Seventy-six percent of Republicans think that Biden didn't win enough votes to be president. Fifty-one percent say it is likely elected officials will successfully overturn the results of future elections because their party didn't win.
LEMON: What does that say about where we are as a country right now?
PRESSLEY: Well, you know, what it says to me is that, you know, it's just my experience that the eroded trust and the deficit of hope that people are living with and the ways in which government has contributed to that is exactly why we have to be bold in this moment.
The way that we restore people's faith in government is to address their hardships, to alleviate their suffering, to make these investments, to ensure that we have a just, equitable and robust recovery, but also that we're charting a more robust and equitable path forward and that we are delivering on the mandate that was given to us.
Don, being in the majority, having the House, the Senate, and the White House, must be more than a talking point. We see what the extremism of the Supreme Court, whether you're talking about housing rights, voting rights, or reproductive freedom, they are not on the side of the people, and that is exactly why it's imperative that Congress act.
LEMON: Yeah. Speaking of extremism, we have this pro-insurrectionist rally coming on September 18, congresswoman. Fencing is going up as we speak to protect Capitol lawmakers. You were there on January 6 when mobs attacked. Do you feel secure now? Are you nervous about potential domestic terrorists attacking there or elsewhere in this country, as a matter of fact?
PRESSLEY: Well, I'm not nervous because we have been living with the threat of white supremacy for a long time. Unfortunately, it took loss of life and trauma and injury and quite literally a mob coming to the steps of the Capitol, insurrection speaking to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power, for many to understand the threat of white supremacy is to every American life and to our democracy, as well as the cousin of white supremacy, which is systemic and structural racism, which we need to be actively working to dismantle.
That's what I'm focused on. Whether you're talking about cancelling student debt or repealing Hyde or codifying Roe v. Wade or growing Black home ownership or addressing police brutality, ultimately, this is the moment for us to legislate equity, healing, and justice in the same way that we have legislated hurt and harm, and that's disproportionately been a burden by low income and communities of color.
LEMON: We have new information about the white supremacist arrested Monday near the DNC with a 21-inch machete and a large hunting knife with a 7.5-inch blade. Court documents reveal that Craighead told police -- his name is Craighead -- told police, why are you all pulling me over when there are brown people hurting white people? Investigators say that he may be delusional but it tells you exactly where the immediate threat is coming from, especially when it comes to terrorism in this country.
PRESSLEY: Well, and I would just say that, you know, one of the greatest deterrents will be consequences for those who were perpetuators of this big lie, who were co-conspirators, and who aided and abetted in this insurrection, and all must be held accountable, including those who are still serving in the corridors of Congress.
LEMON: Representative Pressley, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Be safe.
PRESSLEY: Thank you. LEMON: The FDA meeting Friday to consider COVID boosters but it won't be a slam dunk. So, will you get a booster shot, and if so, when? Plus, who really makes up the unvaccinated in this country and what does it have to do with religion?
LEMON: Ahead of the FDA vaccine advisers' meeting on Friday, a briefing document from the agency highlights a limited benefit of booster shots if the first and second doses of the vaccine are still effective. This as a new pew poll shines light on who is and who isn't vaccinated in this country.
Let's break this all down with CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner and CNN political commentator Ana Navarro. Good evening to both of you. Doctor, let's start with you. This finding from the FDA that boosters have a limited benefit comes at the same time that a small study shows that the booster doses of Moderna's vaccine increase immunity safely. So, do you think booster shots are in our future or not? Are they good or not? What is going on here?
JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST, DIRECTOR OF CARDIAC CATHETERIZATION PROGRAM AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Well, Don, we're seeing a bit of a food fight playing out publicly within the FDA right now. So today, two departing leaders of the office that will be reviewing the administration's plan to administer boosters to the public, doctors Marion Gruber and Philip Krause co- authored a paper in the British journal "Lancet" in which they argued -- are showing their disagreement with the administration's plan.
This is what we know. We know that if you are immunocompromised, you are much less likely to have a durable benefit from just two shots and you should get a booster, you are approved to get a booster right now. Then there is the issue of what to do with the rest of the population who may have been vaccinated several months ago, let's say more than six months ago. Who should be getting a booster now?
Israeli data suggests that if you're over the age of about 60, you're at high risk of -- higher risk of having a serious complication from a breakthrough infection and you should be getting a booster.
REINER: The Israelis have data to show that boosting that population significantly reduces the risk of serious illness. The final question is, how about everyone else? If you're younger, healthy, and you've been vaccinated several months ago, do you need a booster? That's yet to be determined. This is what the FDA committee will talk about.
My guess is that they're going to authorize boosters for people over the age, let's say of 60 years old, who have been vaccinated more than six months ago, and also probably authorize booster shots for frontline health care workers who in many parts of the United States are very actively engaged in the care of people with COVID-19 now and health care workers, mind you, have been vaccinated about, some of them, seven to eight months ago and they may have significantly waning immunity.
LEMON (on camera): Ana, let's turn to the poll now. Take a listen to this first and then we'll talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: When the president of the United States is losing patience, he's losing patience with PHDs. They are one of the largest sections of people who aren't getting the shot, medical workers as well as African-Americans, because only four of 10 have gotten the shot. Why doesn't the president call out African-Americans who put him in office and yell at them to get the shot?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Okay. So, we like to do facts first here, okay? He claims that only four in 10 African-Americans got the shot. This is according to a Pew Research Center. There is also an NBC poll that has similar findings here. So the Pew poll finds that seven in 10 African- Americans got the shot, almost exactly the same as white Americans where 72 percent have gotten the shot. The NBC poll (INAUDIBLE) but it is like 70 percent of African-Americans as opposed to 60-some percent of white Americans. So, what are these baseless claims about, Ana?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the truth is that African-Americans and Hispanics got a slow start. Look, you can't blame our communities for getting a slow start, okay? There are a lot of experiments. There is a lot of historical baggage that we are carrying. So I think that for a large portion of Hispanics and African-Americans, they said, okay, let's see what happens with the white people, let's see what happens with the rich white people. If they don't grow horns and they don't grow tails, we're going to get them.
And we're seeing that that is happening. The amount of Hispanics that are getting it has increased by double digits.
NAVARRO: In African-Americans, there has been a dramatic increase as well in the last several months. And credit is due to churches, to community centers, to community leaders, to all sorts of people, spokespeople, doctors in those communities who have reached out and gone into the community and tried to convince people to do this.
And also, Don, let's remember, there was no access for poor Black and brown people in January and February when the donors of political leaders were getting the vaccines. They were rich donors to hospitals and philanthropies who were getting the vaccine. Poor Black and brown people, poor people in America did not have access to the vaccine. So that also is part of why we got a slow start.
LEMON: And then as we continue -- also limited access, more limited than other populations. So listen, Dr. Reiner, I want to dig into these polling numbers more and look at the breakdown by religion.
The least vaccinated group in America are white evangelicals with only 57 percent saying that they received at least one shot, equal only to the uninsured. At this point, are mandates a way forward to get people vaccinated? It is because clearly, there are plenty of groups who aren't doing it on their own.
REINER: Yes. In fact, we've seen in recent months, if you look at the military, for instance, since the military instituted mandates about three weeks ago, the percent of U.S. service people who have become vaccinated has risen from about 71 percent to over 80 percent. So, mandates do work. They'll work in the private sector. They'll work all around the country.
Look, there is a hardcore group of people who just won't get vaccinated. Most recent polling suggests that number actually has decreased to maybe 15 percent. But for everyone else, all kinds of initiatives will help. Mandates will force some people to get vaccinated. Patient education continues to move people towards vaccination.
REINER: And then sadly, seeing people in your community, seeing your relatives and friends die or be hospitalized with very serious long- term consequences, convinces people to get vaccinated. I think that's why we're seeing increased rates of vaccination in some parts of the south because some parts of the south have really been just crushed by this fourth wave of this virus. But I do think mandates will help and I think we will see that as the next several weeks go by.
LEMON: You're right. We are seeing increased vaccination in the south among all populations, but especially among Black and brown people in the south, which is where it is most important right now.
Thank you both. I appreciate it.
Conservative pundits and radio hosts who have railed against vaccines are often facing their own battle with COVID. Now, we're learning of another who has died from the virus.
LEMON: We are learning that conservative radio host Bob Enyart, who was outspoken against the COVID vaccines, died last week from the virus. He is one of several anti-vaccination conservative hosts to succumb to COVID.
More tonight from CNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
BOB ENYART, DENVER PASTOR AND RADIO HOST: We will worship together, we will have congregational singing, and we can do that without the government interfering.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was Denver pastor and radio host Bob Enyart last October after suing Colorado over mask mandates and capacity limits in state churches.
ENYART: We were so thankful that a federal court would recognize our God-given right to worship.
STELTER (voice-over): Now, his fans are praying for his family. Enyart died last week after contracting COVID-19. His show is on hiatus. And this kind of thing keeps happening. "The Washington Post" counted four conservative talk show hosts who died after battles with COVID over the summer. Enyart would count as the fifth.
MARC BERNIER, RADIO HOST (voice-over): I'm not taking it.
JUSTIN GATES, RADIO CO-HOST (voice-over): Come on!
BERNIER: Are you kidding me, Mr. Anti-vax? Jeepers.
STELTER (voice-over): That was longtime Florida radio host Marc Bernier on his show last December, after his co-host asked him if he would get the Pfizer vaccine. Bernier refereed to himself as Mr. Anti- Vax, and he died from COVID last month.
JIMMY DEYOUNG, CHRISTIAN RADIO BROADCASTER: Hi, everybody. I'm Jimmy DeYoung.
STELTER (voice-over): Back in February, Christian radio broadcaster Jimmy DeYoung espoused anti-vax ideas.
DEYOUNG (voice-over): Could this be another form of government control of the people?
SAM ROHRER, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN PASTORS NETWORK (voice-over): Yes, it will be a measure of control.
STELTER (voice-over): According to (INAUDIBLE), DeYoung contracted COVID last month and died from it after eight days in the hospital.
The most prominent example was Phil Valentine, a popular Tennessee host who dismissed the need to get vaccines. But when he wound up in the hospital, he had regrets, saying he wanted to be pro-vaccine when he was back at work. Valentine died last month.
DICK FARREL, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: And good afternoon, ladies, gentlemen.
STELTER (voice-over): In Florida, radio host Dick Farrel mocked the vaccinated, asking on Facebook, why take a vax promoted by people who lied to you all along about masks, where the virus came from, and the death toll? But when Farrel got sick, he had a change of heart as well, encouraging a friend to get the shot, according to the "Post." He also died last month.
Trusted right wing media figures succumbing to the virus and leaving a sad digital trail.
VERONICA WOLSKI, QANON SUPPORTER: So I have a message. Never comply, pause. Never comply, COVID.
STELTER (voice-over): Veronica Wolski, an outspoken QAnon supporter, often posted online, denouncing COVID restrictions.
WOLSKI: I have never once worn a mask.
STELTER (voice-over): Once hospitalized with COVID, she complained that the hospital wouldn't treat her with ivermectin. Her fans started to call the hospital. And that is when prominent QAnon influencer, Attorney Lin Wood, also got involved.
LIN WOOD, LAWYER: If you do not release her, you're going to be guilty of murder.
STELTER (voice-over): But the FDA and CDC strongly recommend against that drug for preventing or treating the virus. While staunch anti- vaxxers like Dick Farrel eventually realized their mistake, it was a realization that came too late.
UNKNOWN: He said, you need to get the shot, and he told me he wished he had.
STELTER (on camera): And now, the Facebook and Instagram pages for these deceased men and women are full of debate and controversy, mirroring America's divide. You see some people saying rest in peace, I'm so sorry, while others ridicule these individuals for denying the dangers of COVID.
What is impossible to know is whether the listeners of these radio shows are actually changing their minds now, now that the hosts are no longer with us, Don.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LEMON (on camera): Thank you, Brian. I appreciate that. One Pennsylvania school district now in the spotlight for banning books that deal with race and our country's history. And students aren't happy about it.
LEMON: Tonight, a battle is underway in York, Pennsylvania over the school district's banning of certain books and other resources that deal with race, racism and American history. The ban was put in place nearly a year ago but it is students who are now returning to the classroom who are demanding answers.
Here is CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Do you think the adults who banned these books have read these books?
UNKNOWN: Absolutely not.
UNKNOWN: Oh, definitely not.
UNKNOWN: Absolutely not.
UNKNOWN: I don't think a moral compass could let you ban books that say equality and loving each other.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): These teenagers in York, Pennsylvania are standing up to the latest example of controversy surrounding history and race that is affecting a growing number of America's public schools.
UNKNOWN: The school board cannot just silence our voices.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Last fall, the all-white school board of the Central York School District unanimously banned a list of educational resources.
VICKIE GUTH, TREASURER, CENTRAL YORK SCHOOL BOARD OF DIRECTORS (voice- over): That resource list, which has a lot of bad ideas and some books that I would definitely not want in our district. And I do not feel it's (INAUDIBLE). I think it's divisive.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): That list includes a children's book about Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai's autobiography, CNN's Sesame Street Town hall on racism.
UNKNOWN (voice-over): Racism? What is that?
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): And much, much more.
UNKNOWN: This is "Hidden Figures." The movie was --
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Like from the movie?
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): It's kids' version of from the movie (ph)?
UNKNOWN: Yes. MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): It's frustrating for the students.
EDHA GUPTA, LEADS PROTESTS OVER BOOK BAN: This is a board that after hearing their students' concerns about diversity in the district, hearing my struggles with race being an Indian-American and consistently feeling like I didn't belong, after all those conversations for weeks on end, they still pursued this book ban.
OLIVIA PITUCH, LEADS PROTESTS OVER BOOK BAN: Once you learn genuine history, I don't want to learn a whitewashed version. I want to hear all of it. I don't want to -- I don't want everyone to be worried about how we feel because no one was worried about how bipoc (ph) members of the community felt.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The ban caused school librarians to pull books from shelves and is creating real fear among educators.
BEN HODGE, THEATER TEACHER, CENTRAL YORK HIGH SCHOOL: I have to now, with this resource ban, think twice about whether or not I should or could use a James Baldwin quote as an opening for my class.
PATRICIA JACKSON, ENGLISH TEACHER, CENTRAL YORK HIGH SCHOOL: There are teachers looking over their shoulders, wondering if someone is going to be at their door, darkening their door, that you said something or you mentioned something or you used something you were not supposed to.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The fact that all of the banned materials are by or about people of color is just a coincidence, according to the school board president. Concerns were based on the content of the resources, not the author or topic, she said in a statement. She and the rest of the school board refused to speak on camera. She says it's not a ban. The materials are frozen while the board vets them. But the process is still ongoing after nearly a year. That suits some parents in this 82 percent white district just fine.
MATT WEYANT (ph), PARENT IN CENTRAL YORK SCHOOL DISTRICT (voice-over): I don't want my daughter growing up feeling guilty because she's white.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): That sentiment is spreading. At least 27 states have passed or are considering policies strictly defining what students are allowed to learn about race. One expert says the York ban is something new.
NATALIA MEHLMAN PETRZELA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, THE NEW SCHOOL: This seems pretty egregious. I mean, I can see how certain trainings or workshops that some parents take exception to seem really outside of what a history class can be expected to do. But the kinds of texts that are being banned here make me feel that there is now just sort of an allergy to anything that mentions race or racism.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): This is about more than a book or a movie or even a curriculum, some veteran teachers say. In York, they worry it's a war on their profession.
JACKSON: I am not an enemy of the state.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): That's right.
JACKSON: I am here to take care of your babies when they walk into my classroom. There are some I'm looking up at but they're still babies.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LEMON (on camera): Boy, oh, boy. Evan McMorris-Santoro joins me now. I mean, this is ridiculous. It's outrageous. Thank you for that piece. It's really great reporting. This seems really broad. What was the issue with CNN's Sesame Street town hall on race?
MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, Don, that's the question those students in the piece were asking, parents are asking, teachers are asking, and I asked several times while I was in York. But the board refuses to talk about the specific things that they don't like with things like Elmo asking about race or a Rosa Parks biography or the 2017 academy award- winning best documentary feature.
People who are watching this, watch this issue nationally say this York situation could present a new front in this battle in which anything that centers non-white people, their experiences, their lives, their history, could be suspect. They say that's a very, very scary thing to think about. Don?
LEMON: Yeah. Let's remember, as they say, there's no systemic racism. That was sarcasm, by the way.
Thank you, sir. I appreciate the reporting.
LEMON: So this battle over books in Pennsylvania is the latest flashpoint in schools, right? But are all these fights more about the adults than the kids?
LEMON: So we've been talking about the hysteria over what students might be learning about race in school having real consequences. A school board in Pennsylvania banning dozens of books and media that talks about race in America.
Joining me now to discuss are CNN political commentators Ashley Allison and Scott Jennings. Good evening to you. Scott, we love having you. I want to talk about these issues involving race. Maybe just for your facial expressions, I don't know. Anyway --
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDNET TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: These are valuable conversations. I'm glad you have these panels. I mean, you're brave to have them and I think we ought to have them.
LEMON: Thank you very. I agree with you. Ashley, I want to ask you about schools again becoming the ideological battlegrounds, whether it's over masks or bogeyman of critical race theory. How much of this is really about the parents instead of the kids caught in the middle right here?
ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I was reflecting on the segment and one of the people said they are teaching really bad things like slavery and discrimination.
ALLISON: Yes, there are terrible things that we should not have done and yet we need to teach our kids about the history because if you do not know your history, you are destined to repeat it. But unfortunately, we now see parents or adults who are preventing having the full truth being taught.
I used to be a school teacher. And I don't actually think that teachers who don't want to be taught -- teach the full truth. It is the administrators that are putting some constraints on them. As a teacher, you have an obligation and a responsibility to teach verbs, nouns, the revolutionary war, and the Civil War. You cannot pick and choose the facts that you want to teach.
You also have an obligation to teach students critical thinking skills and it is very clear that the students in York and all around the country are saying, I smell BS and I'm not buying it and I want a full, complete story of this country and I will use my critical thinking skills to discern what is good policy and bad policy.
And it's the adults that are not leading and we are relying on young people yet again to save us from poor leadership of adults that should not be in the positions that they are in.
LEMON: So, Scott, listen, we are talking about Sesame Street, Rosa Parks book. This isn't controversial stuff. It's enlightening. The right and the Fox propaganda network love to attack safe spaces and cancel culture. They are all about pushing back against censorship. Isn't this -- you know, this school board being hypocritical here? Isn't this about censoring and cancelling books?
JENNINGS: Well, I read the list of materials that was on the banned list and I found a lot of, you know, variance there. I mean the Sesame Street episode, biography about Rosa Parks seems to be far different kind of material than the book "White Fragility," which I can't begin to imagine why that is in a public school.
So there is some stuff on there that seems perfectly reasonable to have in a school and some stuff that, you know, I am not necessarily a fan of being part of a school curriculum nor would I think most parents would be. If they are concerned about their kids being sent into a school and being told because you were born white in America, you are inherently rotten and racist, we are going to fix it.
So, it strikes me that there is a middle ground here and the middle ground is number one, banning materials is not a good idea. I read in the CNN story that we just posted a couple hours ago that not only were they taken out of the curriculum, but they were pulled off the library shelves.
It strikes me that all materials could live in a library and if students wanted to access materials and use them for book reports and things, that should be perfectly fine. It also strikes me that there is a huge difference between some of the things that were banned and others that were banned that maybe ought to be re-reviewed.
So I am sympathetic to parents who are worried about what their kids are learning. I am also sympathetic to the students who rightly have their radar, their antenna up when they are hearing things are being taken out of libraries. Having something available in a library doesn't mean it has to be in the curriculum but it also means that students can get access to it if they want it. Perhaps, there is a way forward here that satisfies most people's concerns.
LEMON: Look, Ashley, -- go on. Go on.
ALLISON: This -- no teacher is teaching someone just because they are white, that they are bad. They are teaching history and we cannot omit who were perpetrators and abled slavery and some of the oppressive policies that we have. It is history. I never said one person was better than another person but we have -- we cannot run away from the facts.
And so, it is a weak argument to just say, like, because I read something that makes me feel uncomfortable, I'm going to assume that the teacher is saying that my student is bad or that I am bad. No, it's the facts and if you don't like the facts, then let's not ever repeat an oppressive policy like slavery or discrimination or voter suppression or not giving a woman a right to choose.
But that's not what -- you know, that's not the argument. They just want to ban all of history because they are afraid of having tough conversations.
LEMON (on camera): Look, I have to say I am a big fan of James Baldwin. And "The Fire Next Time" was controversial when it was written and now it is part of curriculums all across the country and people laud the work. Listen, we will continue this conversation. Thank you. I got to go.
Thanks for watching, everyone. Before we go, I want to tell you about our special "Champions for Change" series happening all next week on CNN, stories that spotlight everyday people who may not always make headlines but still inspire others. You have to see mine. Get in that water and swim. Here is a quick preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
UNKNOWN (voice-over): Join your favorite CNN anchors for a special week.
UNKNOWN: Immigrants enrich our country and they are proving it.
UNKNOWN (voice-over): Sharing stories of changemakers.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the most devastating and yet preventable issues of our day.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: He helps the defenseless learn to defend themselves.
UNKNOWN: Peter teaches courage, confidence, trust.
UNKNOWN: She saw a need, and every day, she sets out to fulfill that need.
UNKNOWN: He is using scuba diving for a better environment.
UNKNOWN: She is a trailblazing Black woman.
UNKNOWN: Preserving the ocean for our children.
UNKNOWN: Empowering women for financial independence.
LEMON: No one should drown because they don't know how to swim. Very good, very good, very good.
UNKNOWN: Small steps can lead to a big impact.
UNKNOWN: "We Are Hope" (ph) can help kids in school and beyond.
UNKNOWN: He is a champion.
UNKNOWN: She is a champion.
UNKNOWN: For change.
UNKNOWN (voice-over): "Champions for Change," all next week on CNN.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
COOPER: Good evening. Today, the Pentagon said Capitol police have requested assistance from the D.C. National Guard as fencing is expected to go up around the U.S. Capitol this week.