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Don Lemon Tonight

President Joe Biden's Agenda Is At Make Or Break Point With Anxiety Growing Among Democrats; Generals Appear To Contradict Biden On Troop Withdrawal; Pfizer Submits Data On Vaccine For Kids Ages 5 To 11 To FDA; Laundrie Went Camping With Family After Returning To Florida; Seventy Million Americans Are Still Not Vaccinated; School District Clashes Over How Race Is Taught in Classrooms. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired September 28, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: President Biden cancelling a trip to Chicago tomorrow in order to spearhead negotiations to save his multi-trillion dollar domestic agenda, which is at a make or break point right now, with anxiety growing among Democrats. Biden is holding crucial meetings with holdouts Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, trying to work out a deal with them.

Also today, the top general is testifying that they recommended maintaining 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan rather than a complete withdrawal, apparently contradicting statements made by President Biden about the advice he received from Pentagon leaders.

And a new development tonight in the search for Brian Laundrie: An attorney confirming to CNN Laundrie and his family went camping a week after he returned to Florida without his fiancee, Gabby Petito.

Let's bring in now CNN's senior political analyst John Avlon and White House correspondent John Harwood. I have to be careful here because they are both named John, so I have to say last names. Good evening, gentlemen. Good to see you.

So, Mr. Harwood, this is all about making a deal. So, who does President Biden have more leverage to pressure here, the progressives or the moderates, to get in line to pass the bill -- these bills?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the reality of the situation, Don, is that every member of the democratic Senate has a veto and any group of at least four House members in the House, Democrats in the House, have a veto as well. So with majorities this bare, everybody has got leverage and President Biden has to bring all of them along.

Now, one of the challenges here is you can't negotiate with somebody who doesn't tell you what they want. And so far, the progressives in the House have outlined what they want. Even to some degree, the moderates in the House have outlined what they want.

But senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have not. So the efforts right now are push by the House or to try to get some definition from Sinema and Manchin as to what they want so they could see if they can make a deal. So that's what's behind the meetings at the White House today between Sinema, Manchin, and President Biden and staff.

And what we don't have visibility into is what they talked about, what they agreed to because they haven't articulated publicly any top line number or particular policy demands. We know some things in general. So presumably the president wouldn't have cancelled his trip if he didn't think he had some prospects for moving this ball down the field. But we are going to have to wait and see what that result is.

LEMON: So John Avlon, all right, so if we don't know what they want, if they are not saying what they want, meaning the Sinemas and Manchins of the world --


LEMON: -- then are they just obstructionists? Are they holding up the bill? Because as has been pointed out by many people, including John Harwood and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party on this very show this week, they have said what they want. It's the Manchins and the Sinemas who aren't. Are they just obstructionists?

AVLON: They come very close to playing that role. I think Manchin wants to be someone who is constructive. He thinks -- he sees himself as someone who can bring the Democratic Party back to the center. But, you know, leaving the White House and saying he has made no commitments, without any clear sense of what their bottom line is, leaves everything in limbo, which is why Nancy Pelosi had to delink these two bills, which creates a crisis in the progressive caucus.

It's -- you know, this is crunch time. We are just over 48 hours away from a government shutdown. That's (INAUDIBLE) for business. We've got a debt ceiling default looming in the distance. And then we've got the Biden agenda, really the Democrats' agenda on the line.

It is time for senators Sinema and Manchin to put a number forward that can be the basis for negotiation. There is no more time to play footsie or be cute about this. You want to lower that 3.5? Say what the number is and then you can begin to reason from there.

LEMON: John Harwood, speaking of the debt ceiling, Republicans refusing to lift it, as we know. So, they are going to let the country default on its bills? They're going to risk economic disaster to prove a political point? Is that what's happening? John Harwood.

HARWOOD: As you know, what the Republicans are -- yes, what the Republicans are saying is that Democrats have a path to raise the debt ceiling.


HARWOOD: They can do it on their own with no threat of a filibuster through the budget reconciliation process. The problem is that complicates this very negotiation that President Biden is undertaking. It's an attempt by saying that that's how Democrats have to do it. Mitch McConnell is trying to exact a political pound of flesh.

Now, it was interesting today that after the Republicans have blocked a debt limit increase, Mitch McConnell made a small offer to Democrats today saying he would expedite the reconciliation process by which they could raise the debt ceiling because Democrats had been complaining it would take too long. That's an indication he wasn't entirely comfortable with, I got nothing to say to you, do it on your own stance.

The question is whether he would give any further and whether it's useful or fruitful for Democrats to keep pressing him or just fall back and do it through budget reconciliation. They don't want to establish the principle that this hostage can keep getting taken over and over again. Not clear whether they are going to have much choice in the matter, though.

LEMON (on camera): So John Avlon, I want to talk about this joint chief chairman, what happened today, Mark Milley addressing the revelations about the final days of the Trump administration in the book "Peril" where it was reported that Milley agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Trump was crazy. This is what Milley said today.


MARK MILLEY, UNITED STATES ARMY GENERAL, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I explained to her that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority and he doesn't launch them alone, and that I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States.


LEMON (on camera): I want to know what you think, John Avlon, because he isn't exactly saying that he is -- he is not contradicting what is reported in the book and, you know, Milley also confirmed that he talked to the authors of three different books.

AVLON: That's right. He did not deny what's been in the press reports. He did say he hadn't read the books, which is a notably different thing --

LEMON: But John, he did say, I saw the news reports and I saw the quotes. So he knows what the quotes are and he knows the context of the news reports. So he is saying, I haven't read the books, which is smart.

AVLON: That's exactly the point. He did not deny what has been in the press reports, basically affirming it.

LEMON (on camera): Oh, boy. Here we are. It never ends. It is never ending. Thank you, gents. I'll see you soon. Now, I want to bring in the former defense secretary, William Cohen. Secretary Cohen, thank you for joining us. Good evening to you. So there is blunt sobering testimony today from our top military leaders that appears to conflict with President Biden's assertion to ABC last month, where he disputed military advisors told him that he should keep troops in Afghanistan. Let's listen to part of it.


FRANK MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I won't share my personal recommendation to the president, but I will give you my honest opinion, and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation. I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.

SEN. JIM INHOFE (R-OK): General Milley, I assume you agree with that in terms of the recommendation of 2,500?

MILLEY: I do agree with that.


LEMON (on camera): And this is what President Biden said last month.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Your top military advisors warned against withdrawing in this timeline. They want you to keep about 2,500 troops.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: No, they didn't. It was split. That wasn't true. That wasn't true.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They didn't tell you that they wanted troops to stay?

BIDEN: No, not at -- not in terms of whether we were going to get out in a timeframe all troops. They didn't argue against that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no one -- no one told you. Your military advisors didn't tell you, no, we should just keep 2,500 troops, it has been a stable situation for the last several years, we can do that, we can continue to do that?

BIDEN: No, no one said that to me that I can recall.


LEMON (on camera): All right. So did the generals contradict the president?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, there is a contradiction. I think it's coming from the president to say that he was either misunderstood or misunderstood the question and that he needs to correct the record as far as he is concerned.

The issue, however, is that Joe Biden understood that keeping 2,500 would mean they were breaking the deal essentially. In order to break the deal, here I think the chiefs were -- chief of staff of various military services, especially the chairman, would say you can't do it with 2,500 forever. How would we manage this in terms of having to fight the Taliban and potentially the other elements that are now funneling into Afghanistan?

So saying one thing about we need to keep 2,500, that sounds right if you have a stable country, if you have the Taliban working with you. If you don't have the Taliban with you, then 2,500 is not going to be able to save Afghanistan. So I think there is a contradiction there.

I commend those who testified today: Chairman Milley, Secretary Austin, and General McKenzie.


COHEN: I thought they were pretty straightforward, candid, very confident, and they were under oath. They had no reason to fudge and, frankly, I thought they made a great presentation.

LEMON: Yeah. And look, they take an oath to the Constitution and to the country. They don't -- party doesn't matter to those guys. It shouldn't matter to them it appears to be the case when you listen to their testimony.

Secretary Cohen, General Milley also defended his call with counterpart in China at the end of Trump's term, saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were aware of the call. Should Milley get an apology from Trump and his allies for saying that he, you know, should be tried for treason because of his actions?

COHEN: You know, it's really pretty rich that Republican members who were calling for him to be tried for treason or certainly to force him to resign, where were they for the past year?

Donald Trump made a deal that the military said was a bad deal because they wouldn't be able to sustain the Afghan military. The Afghan military lost morale when they saw that the United States was committed to leaving. Where were the Republicans then? I didn't hear any of them call for the change in the policy.

In fact, I don't think any of them have any standing to call for the chairman's resignation. Those individuals who failed to stop, to step up and criticize the president for leading an insurrection against the country, that's what their obligation was. Where was their loyalty at that point to get to the truth?

And so I think it's a situation where I think that the chairman said exactly what needed to be said. As far as making a call, I think it was important that he made a call. Some of the lessons learned here is that every report isn't -- first report is usually wrong. And we had wrong information that came out, partial information as your colleague Chris Cuomo pointed out.

LEMON: Yeah. COHEN: That was partial information and it was misleading and they all rushed to judgment.

LEMON (on camera): I hate to rush you. I want to get this before we run out much time because I think it is important. I understand where you are going with that. But I want to get this in. I think this sound bite is very important. I want you to respond to it. Trump and his allies are still pushing conspiracy theories and election lies. I want you to look at this. This is Congressman Paul Gosar, what he said about Arizona earlier this month. Watch this.


REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): We can do that. Follow through on this audit folks if it's what I've been told and I had people come to me early hours of the day after from the security exchange fraud department to the CIA fraud department that between 450 and 700,000 ballots were altered in the state of Arizona.


LEMON (on camera): And he made similar claims in that talk there, whatever he is doing, about Georgia. First, there is no CIA fraud department, secretary. This is -- I mean, it's nutty. And let's be very clear. The Arizona audit has since come out with more votes for Biden and fewer for Trump. What are these lies doing to our democracy, especially since Republicans aren't shutting them down?

COHEN: What they are doing is they are adding to the sledgehammers or taking the sledgehammers to our constitutional system. They have an obligation to speak out, say stop it, that Joe Biden won this fair and square and you are undermining the confidence in our election system, you doing Putin's bidding. If you think we have enemy we have to contend with, the enemy is right here.

And so we have to take care of people like that who are spreading lies and have the other members of Congress, other Republican members speak out and say that is a lie and we can't sustain that and have any credibility as a party. We descend into being a cult and accept that cultism for our philosophy.

LEMON (on camera): I hate to rush you along there but I've been wanting you to respond to that question all night. I couldn't wait to get to that. I found it shocking that he would -- that people like him are out there spreading that misinformation. Thank you very much, sir. I'll see you next time. Appreciate it.

Pfizer submitting vaccine data on kids 5 to 11 to the FDA today. But is there a potential holdup in getting children vaccinated by Halloween?


UNKNOWN: The FDA's top priority is getting COVID vaccines for the population, particularly for our children. They are standing by ready to analyze that data. (END VIDEO CLIP)




LEMON: Pfizer executives say that they have sent initial data to the FDA on their COVID vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 for review, but they are not seeking emergency use authorization yet. It comes as the American Academy of Pediatrics says children now make up 27 percent of COVID cases in the U.S.

Joining me now to discuss is CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He is the director of the Cardiac Catheterization Program at George Washington University Hospital. Doctor, good to see you.

So this is the fifth week in a row that the American Academy of Pediatrics is reporting more than 200,000 new cases in children. So why is Pfizer waiting a few weeks to seek an emergency use authorization for their vaccine?

JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST, DIRECTOR OF CARDIAC CATHETERIZATION PROGRAM AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Good evening, Don. I think the most likely answer is that they want to get a little bit of feedback from the FDA. So, they have submitted data to the FDA, and the data set is quite large.

This is a new vaccine for children and it's a vaccine at a different dose than used for adolescents and adults. So there is a lot of safety and efficacy data has to be processed. My guess is they want to make sure they get this right.


REINER: What we know is that prior application for the EUA for adolescents was processed after about a month by the FDA. So, it's going to be a few weeks after the company submits the EUA before the shots are available for kids. So my guess is that we are going to be into November before we see this for children.

LEMON: When this vaccine is authorized, it would make 28 million children eligible. But there is a new Axios-Ipsos poll. It shows only 44 percent of parents of five to 11-year-olds say that they are likely to vaccinate their children. Forty-two percent say that they won't, they probably won't. Again, 28 million children. How critical is it to get their parents onboard?

REINER: Well, there is no other way for the kids to get vaccinated. Presumably, some school boards will start to mandate vaccines for kids and that might help. But mind you, if you look at the experience for what's happened when the vaccine was approved for adolescents, barely half of the kids eligible in the 12 to 15 year age group have been vaccinated. So we have a long way to go to educate parents about why this vaccine is important for their children. And it's going to be split again among party lines, split among parents who have been vaccinated and unvaccinated, with the unvaccinated parents less likely to vaccinate their children, much less likely.

So we really have to dig deep and try and get people to start vaccinating their kids.

LEMON: The Biden administration says more than 400,000 people got a booster shot over the weekend. They say that people aren't experiencing major side effects from the shot. Can you tell us what you know so far about what people should expect?

REINER: People should expect to have, you know, a moderate reaction to these shots. I have had a booster. I had a sore arm for about a day. I know other people that have had sort of a modified version of whatever they had to the first two shots.

So most people will have some very, very manageable reaction, you know, ranging from, again, a sore arm to maybe a low-grade fever, low- grade flu-like symptoms, but again, very, very manageable. This vaccine overall is super well tolerated and it appears that the booster is also very, very well tolerated.

LEMON: Thank you, doctor. I appreciate it.

REINER: My pleasure.

LEMON (on camera): Gabby Petito's family is speaking out today, saying her fiancee should turn himself in. When it comes to his family, well, listen to this.


UNKNOWN: The Laundries did not help us find Gabby. They sure are not going to help us find Brian.





LEMON: So there is a development tonight in the search for Brian Laundrie. An attorney confirming to CNN that Laundrie and his family went camping for a few days a week after he returned to Florida without his fiancee Gabby Petito. And now her family is pleading with Laundrie to turn himself in. He vanished just before Petito's body was discovered in Wyoming.

Let us discuss now with Chris Swecker, former FBI assistant director for the Criminal Investigative Division. Chris, good so see you. Thank you for coming on. CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION: Hi, Don.

LEMON: So, you know, taking the family on a camping trip, you know, taking a family camping trip with your son who had just returned home without his live-in fiancee, I mean, what kind of behavior is this and what questions do you have about this?

SWECKER: Yeah, it's all pretty suspicious. I mean, it may be that they knew at some point this would blow up and they wanted to get out of the glare of the lights, neighbors watching what they were doing, possibly staging him so that he can go on the run. I mean, that's a theory. This seems like an odd time to go camping. He is back. Gabby is missing. They know -- well, something happened to her. So it's very suspicious.

I think there are three investigations going on right now, Don. There is a tradition fugitive hunt to look for him. There is an investigation -- a homicide investigation. And I think there is a third investigation on who may be aiding and abetting him because it seems to me at this point that he has got to have some help and he may have had some help from his parents, but there may be others.

LEMON: Yeah. Look, again, this is still in the investigative stages. But I have very similar questions two weeks ago about the family and aiding and abetting with the attorney general, what's his name, from Palm Beach County, we discussed that. Aron -- yeah, Dave Aronberg.

So, listen, there has been a lot of speculation about the role Brian's parents may or may not have played in helping Brian evade police. But his parents maintained that they don't know where he is and they said they didn't help Brian leave their home or they didn't help him avoid arrest. But is their refusal to fully cooperate with police say anything to you?

SWECKER: Well, yes, it does. I mean, the whole thing from lawyering up right away, right the minute law enforcement got in contact with them, their -- you know, having the van there for 10 days.


SWECKER: They know about this couple. They know their history. They know more about them than any of us. And something happened. They know it. He disappears and it's four days before they report it to the police. They are coming and going during that 10-day time period. There are just too much there, Don. I think it is almost overwhelming at this point that they provided some type of assist or head start for him.

LEMON: I know that, Chris, that you have doubts about Brian Laundrie, that he has the survival skills to stay in the wilderness, you know, on his own. But given this new information, have you changed your mind at all about that? Do you think that this is just a head start and he is in another place somewhere, not in that wilderness?

SWECKER: He has got a couple options here. He can go it alone and because this picture is out there, he can't stay in hotels, he can't stay in public places, he can't be seen in public. So he has to go somewhere, an Appalachian trail, you name it, somewhere out in the wilderness, somewhere away from civilization for fear of being spotted.

Option two, he gets help from somebody. He has a friend who has an apartment or he has a place to hold up. And he can get off the grid for a while and just hide and hope that things blow over and find his way to Mexico or out of the country.

I think his options become more and more limited as law enforcement closes in. Law enforcement is looking at his social network. They're trying to figure out who he may or may not be in contact with and then they camp out on them. They look at their phone traffic. They look at their comings and goings. They look to see if anyone is in contact with him. That comes from coming and going to school on him and knowing his habits and his social network.

LEMON: Thank you, Chris. I appreciate it.

SWECKER: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: So the vaccines have been available since January. So, why are tens of millions of Americans are still not vaccinated? Joe Biden won the election, period. So, why do so many millions of Americans still not believe it? Maybe it's for the same reason. That's next.




LEMON: Positive data coming out that shows many people are following vaccine mandates. New York's governor saying 92 percent of hospital staff are complying with her state's mandate. She says vaccination rates have increased considerably over the last four weeks as New York crept closer to Monday's deadline.

And United Airlines saying 96 percent of its workforce has met its vaccine mandate deadline. Yet a local minority distorting science and facts, still pushing against any form of mandate.

Let's break that down with our national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. Hi, Juliette. Good to see you.


LEMON: You know, we are seeing some positive results from vaccine mandates --


LEMON (on camera): -- but there is an incredibly vocal minority challenging them. Listen to this.


UNKNOWN: Your children and your children's children will be suffocated! They will be asked how many vaccines have you had? Have you been a good little Nazi?

UNKNOWN: COVID is not about health because more than 99 percent of us have actually failed to die from this thing. It's being used by global elites and our own government to destroy the United States of America.

UNKNOWN: You treat the parents of these children as domestic terrorists, using our men in blue against us. Your power-hungry dictatorship has gotten out of control. This is no longer about our safety. It is about control.



LEMON (on camera): Yeah. Well, listen, you have been talking about how voices like this are able to win out against facts --


LEMON: -- and you see parallels to what we see with election denialism and the big lie.

KAYYEM: Right.

LEMON: Explain that to us, Juliette.

KAYYEM: So I think that these two stories that we are following this week are actually more related than at first blush. They are essentially about a vocal minority using violence or the threat of violence.

Listen to the language of the people who are talking about anti- vaccination. They are that close to violence, as well as members or supporters of Trump and members of the GOP who also use violence and the threat of violence to give the perception that they are the majority or at the very least that this country is divided.

So let me put some good news about what's going on. Over 75 percent of eligible Americans are now vaccinated. The mandates are working. You are seeing compliance in the 90, 95, and 99 percent for companies and public sector that are using mandates.

The unvaccinated tended to be fickle, that they just needed sort of a deadline or something that was going to be deprived of them, an NFL game or something, and you can move them without being angry.

I think for those who support both vaccination as well as a country ruled by laws and voting, I think one of the things that we need to do is both -- don't blink. I mean, in other words, don't be afraid of this kind of behavior, thinking that the country is divided. But also move forward.


KAYYEM: I mean, this is -- this -- this will begin to get drowned out as more people are vaccinated, as the violence is called out. That's why I have always -- you know, I have always been comfortable calling Trump the leader of a terrorist organization. I think if we don't use that language, we are kind of being too nice to him and too nice to the movement.

LEMON (on camera): Yeah. I want you to take a listen to this clip. It is from 1984 where drivers talked about seatbelt mandates.



UNKNOWN: I'll have to detour the town to get to Kalamazoo. They pass the seatbelt -- I don't use a seatbelt.

UNKNOWN: I wouldn't wear my seatbelt. If I get caught, I get caught.

UNKNOWN: Florida Highway Patrol Lieutenant Chris Miller hears it all when it comes to seatbelts.

CHRIS MILLER, LIEUTENANT, FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL: I hear it's uncomfortable. It wrinkles my clothes. It's not cool.

TIMOTHY DOUGEL, DRIVER (ph): There's no freedom no more. If you don't want to wear it, that's your choice.


LEMON (on camera): So, you know, the government instituted a measure -- I mean, if I had told you they were talking about masks, right, right then you would not know the difference. So, it's a measure to protect the public. It was backed by science. Some people say that freedoms were taken away. Do you see the similarities here?

KAYYEM: Yes. Every time that the government sort of raises the floor, this is so ridiculous when it comes to vaccines because we are in the middle of a pandemic, but raises the safety floor, whether it is putting on seatbelts or also when they were banning smoking on airplanes, there were smokers and the tobacco industry suggested that the airline industry would falter and people wouldn't fly anymore.

So, people are always putting these sort of fake science, fake news because they simply either don't like the policy or they personally don't want to be moved. So a couple months ago -- and I have gotten much more forceful about mandates once we hit a wall, once the administration hit a wall in terms of the vaccination.

I am done with feelings. You get the vaccine and get to do all the things the vaccinated get to do, or you don't and you don't get to do all the things the vaccinated do. And that's essentially how our society is being structured. I can feel bad for people who are dying or people who are manipulated by faulty news or the Republican Party. But I'm -- but the majority now is the vaccinated. And we begin with that. And they are the righteous, right? They are right in this regard. So we begin with those facts and then move from there, try to get more people -- we welcome everyone into our camp.

LEMON: Yeah. I don't disagree with you. So much of this battle is against misinformation, Juliette.


LEMON: We are seeing it on everything from mandates to 2020 election. We are at a point where many people just don't believe the facts in front of them. Is there any way to fight that? How do you fight that?

KAYYEM: Yeah. So it's a little bit different. So the reason why mandates have become sort of more -- people become more comfortable with mandates is because the unvaccinated listening to this false news basically just needed a push, a nudge, something to be taken away from them and then they sort of weighed that faulty information against the desire to keep their job, or in the case of state police, their desire to keep their pension.

When it comes to the elections, I mean there are a couple of solutions. You know, the prosecutions against the January 6th insurrectionists are really a key in this narrative because they are disrupting the white supremacy group.

Of course, elections mattered, but also, you know, this is where, you know, the Democratic Party as well as the media cannot be shy about calling this what it is, which is a form of terrorism.

This is -- violence is seeping through our political discourse in a way that is somewhat unprecedented in -- certainly in this century. And we -- and there is sort of this cautiousness about calling it that. I just think we just have to call it out. No more emotions. No more feelings. Just call a spade a spade. People are threatening violence, arrest them, prosecute them, and get them vaccinated. So all --

LEMON: Is it irreparable?

KAYYEM: It is. I think it is long term. It is -- part of it is going to be the social media platforms and whether we can solve them. One of the things that people should remember is despite all the false news, right, the polling is still consistently that the Republican Party is losing support, the Democrats are actually, you know, being able to vote -- not being able to vote but are registering in numbers like never before. Put the fear of god into Democrats.

And then once again, just remember this number. Over 75 percent of eligible Americans are vaccinated. So whatever crap and whatever stuff is out there that's leading them to -- that we hear in terms of all of the false news, majority of Americans are not buying it. So, keep leading with facts and call a spade a spade. That's what we can do and then all the other stuff that is going on.


KAYYEM: I wake up every morning saying I am not ready to make nice. I think, you know, you just sort of call their bluff every time that you can.

LEMON: That's why I love you. Thank you, Juliette Kayyem. I appreciate it.

KAYYEM: I need a life. I know that, too. Good night, Don.

LEMON: Good night. Thank you.

KAYYEM: Thanks.

LEMON: They are complaining students are being taught anti-white lessons and state law might be on their side. Inside the fight over what kids are being taught about race. That is next.



LEMON (on camera): The battle over how America's history with race and racism is taught in schools is heating up across the country. In one Tennessee town, one group wants books about segregation and the march on Washington out of classrooms. And get this. A new state law may be on their side.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro has the story.


EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just outside of Nashville, basic American history is up for debate.

ROBIN STEENMAN, CHAIR, MOMS FOR LIBERTY-WILLIAMSON COUNTY CHAPTER: His parents taught him about George Washington and he identifies George Washington as a white man. And then he asked if he would be killed back then because he has brown skin. I mean, he's judging George Washington not by any of what he -- about being the father of our country.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): So when do we tell the kid that in fact he may have been killed back then because of the color of his skin?

STEENMAN: I'm not sure that's what you teach, that you would have been killed for the color of your skin. That's -- that's -- that's a narrative, really.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Robin Steenman is trying to change the narrative on race in the Williamson County, Tennessee Public School District. She pulled her child out of public school and now she leads a chapter of "Moms for Liberty" in this wealthy, republican-leaning suburb. Nationally, the group is known for loudly protesting school masking.

STEENMAN: And it has traumatized Williamson County kids.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): But Steenman's chapter filed a different kind of complaint with the Tennessee Department of Education this summer.

STEENMAN: Because it's historically (INAUDIBLE), it's appropriate for 6, 7, 8-year-olds?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): "Moms for Liberty" is angry about an inclusion curriculum being taught in the county public schools. They're mostly concerned about four books being taught in second grade. One tells the story of school segregation through the eyes of Mexican-American students. One is about the march on Washington. And two are about civil rights icon Ruby Bridges.

STEENMAN: I'll show you, in the teacher's manual, it instructs the teacher to point this word out and teach about racial slurs.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Steenman says it is okay for kids to read the book. Bridges wrote about her experiences as a six-year-old. But it is not okay for kids to talk about some of the pictures in the book, like Norman Rockwell's famous painting.

STEENMAN: All this curriculum highlights is the mean, white people and how she is victimized. It speaks to nothing of the good.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Educators across the country are alarmed by talk like this.

KIM ANDERSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: We see some sort of almost manufactured crisis here. There isn't a crisis in how we teach history in this country. You would never go into a school in Germany and say, oh, why do you teach about Nazism? You would never ask that question because they do teach about it because teachers want kids in Germany to understand what that history was.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The "Moms for Liberty" complaint says students are being taught lessons that have anti-American, anti-white, and anti-Mexican teaching. And state law may be on their side.

GOV. BILL LEE (R-TN) (ph): We will not be teaching critical race theory in Tennessee.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): In May, the governor signed HB580 into law. It bans lesson plans that make students -- quote -- "feel discomfort, guilt or anguish because of their race." "Moms for Liberty" says the new rules mean separate is never equal. A picture book about the California schools in the 1940s should be banned because it makes both white and Hispanic kids feel bad.

STEENMAN: The ones where it looks like the Mexican children are behind bars and --

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): That surprises the book's author.

DUNCAN TONATIUH, AUTHOR, "SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL": The villain here is racism and segregation. At the end of the book, what I wanted to show is the Mexican-American children and the white children being in school together and playing together and interacting with each other.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): These conversations about the past are very relevant. Other moms in the community say.

REVIDA RAHMAN, CO-FOUNDER, ONE WILLCO: My son had an incident at his middle school that was -- where students locked arms and if you were white, they would break the arms to let kids go through. If you were Black, they kept their hands together and told you that you needed to go back to Mexico.

JENNIFER CORTEZ, CO-FOUNDER, ONE WILLCO: They said they were building a wall.

RAHMAN: They were building a wall.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Public school moms Revida Rahman and Jennifer Cortez founded the group "One Willco" after a series of racial incidents rocked the district.

RAHMAN: What is concerning about the law, it is not inclusive of everybody. I don't think it is divisive talking about these uncomfortable topics.

CORTEZ: They're bullying our school board. They're bullying our elected officials.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The school board told CNN it's reviewing the books cited in the complaint.

(On camera): What would it mean for education if books like "Separate Is Never Equal" were pulled off the shelves by these laws that we're seeing spread up across the country?

ANDERSON: I think we're entering toward a pretty scary time if we're talking about politicians banning books.


ANDERSON: I thought we were long cast those days. Educators know how to talk about race with kids, in an age-appropriate way. These conversations can be had, and in a way that is in keeping with our core values as Americans.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Evan McMorris-Santoro, CNN, Williamson County, Tennessee.


LEMON (on camera): So we don't teach students or kids about things that make them uncomfortable. Should you not teach about Christopher Columbus discovering America because it makes Native American kids or black kids feel bad? Should you not teach about 9/11 because it makes Americans feel bad? What are we doing?

Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.