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Don Lemon Tonight

Biden Pitching Slimmed-Down Economic Agenda; Senate Republicans Block Democrats' Voting Rights Bill; TX Lawmakers Approve New Map That Protects GOP Power; Culture Wars, Ugly Politics Take Over School Board Elections; FBI: Suspected Human Remains Found In Search For Brian Laundrie. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired October 20, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: President Biden hitting the road, pitching his economic agenda in Scranton, Pennsylvania. What's in it and what's out? And he can get his message across. Can he?

With voting rights under assault across America, Senate Republicans moving tonight to block the Freedom to Vote Act.

And a major development in the search for Brian Laundrie. Investigators discovering what appears to be human remains in a Florida nature reserve as well as a backpack and notebook belonging to him.

So, let's get straight to now the big news here. CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers and political commentator Charlie Dent both join me. Good evening to both you. Good to see you.

Kirsten, I have a -- I think I saw Charlie. You know, it's been -- Charlie and I see each other all the time. But Kirsten, listen, there is a whole lot of programs like -- you know, let's look at what they're making in this bill, okay, over the shorter frame. So supposed to be longer. Now, they are going to do it for shorter frame, like the child tax credit and paid family leave. Free community college tuition, that's out. What's your read on how this bill is shaping up, Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's about what I expected. I think that it was always going to get smaller. And they were going to lose some of the things that were in the bill and reshape some of the other things. And that's what's happening.

But, you know, I have been listening tonight to what you are saying, and we are going to have a rare disagreement.

LEMON: That's fine. I welcome it. You know that.

POWERS: I usually see things -- we usually see things very similarly and I don't -- I don't feel like this is something where I heard -- you know, you're running Tom Friedman earlier saying the party has moved too far to the left. But if you really look at what's going on here, the things that Kyrsten Sinema opposes, for example -- I mean, there are two senators who oppose a lot of what's in the bill and you have 48 senators who support it. So that's not really a divided Democratic Party. That's two senators.

And if you look at the things that Kyrsten Sinema opposes or the things that Joe Manchin opposes, they are very popular with most Americans. So, they are not too progressive. There is nothing too progressive about the government negotiating for lower drug prices. That's a very popular position, particularly in Arizona. It's not even -- it's not a progressive position. It's just a popular mainstream position.

And so, to sort of -- and then the other thing that she is opposing is raising taxes on the rich, which again is something that Americans support.

So, to cast it as this fight between progressives and centrists, there is nothing centrist about what she is doing and there is nothing centrist about what Joe Manchin is doing, frankly, around the coal industry and wanting to not have, you know, to change course in terms of the coal industry and have training for workers and so they can move into other industries.

So, I think the way it's being set up, I just -- I don't see it. Does that make sense?

LEMON: Yeah, it does. Listen, I think that, obviously, there is nuance to conversation mostly, I think, around too far to the left, is when he -- when Thomas Friedman was talking about defunding the police. If you listen to my conversation with Chris (ph), I said America needs those things that you mentioned. And they're not so --

POWERS: But, of course, that was never the position of the Democratic Party, though, defund the police, so that was --

LEMON: Again, that was about the narrative. So, listen, I don't disagree with you. Look, I disagree with the way that maybe you are understanding what I'm hearing. So that's -- look, that's fine.

POWERS: Okay. Maybe I misunderstood what you are saying.

LEMON: But I also expect -- I don't expect you to agree with me, so I respect that.

POWERS: I know.

LEMON: If you completely disagree --

POWERS: I know. It's just that -- I'm always curious when I hear you and I'm thinking, oh, that's interesting because I'm --

LEMON: My issue is mostly that Democrats haven't really figured out the messaging. They haven't really figured out the power of the bully pulpit. They haven't really figured out the power of being in a slight majority in the Senate, a slight majority in the House, and also having the White House in the bully pulpit. I don't think they figured out just how important that is.

And sadly, the former guy figured that out in short order and used it to his advantage, whether he was telling the truth most of the time when he was lying. He used it. Look at what he did with COVID. And, you know --


LEMON: Yeah.

POWERS: (INAUDIBLE) point. I'll let Charlie get in here.

LEMON: Yeah.

POWERS: But I just want -- but I think the thing that I'm trying to get at is it that it's not about selling it to the American people because the American people actually support this. The problem is Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema --

LEMON: Only 10% of the American people, I think, know what's in it. Look, they support those things, but they don't know exactly what's in the bill.

POWERS: Yeah. But the problem is two senators. It's not -- it's not Joe Biden's lack of trying to explain this to people or trying to get people onboard. There are to two people who are blocking this.


POWERS: And I actually think that that's what should be getting a lot of attention, is why are they blocking it and why are they casting this as moderate when it has nothing -- there is nothing moderate about it.

LEMON: Charlie is, like, why am I here, if you guys are going to talk? Charlie, go ahead and talk. Sorry.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA REPRESENTATIVE: I was going to say, look, I -- that's all right, Kirsten. Hey, look, I don't think this bill, frankly, is as popular as many people are saying. As you said, Don, most people don't know what's in it.

But they're hearing the price tag. They do have sticker shop. Of course, people like child care. They like pre-K. they like financial aid for college. They like a lot of things. But on the scale proposed, they're fearful. And we shouldn't be looking at this issue in a vacuum. We're looking at this on top of $6 trillion in COVID spending, inflationary pressures, shortages, mayhem at the border, capitulation in Afghanistan. All these running together.

And I think the problems on the democratic side are pretty serious. I think it is just more than two senators. I've heard some House Democrats say they're not going to vote for anything that doesn't restore the SALT deduction in part or in whole. I've heard two progressive Democrats yesterday on "New Day" saying that $3.5 trillion was the compromise. They are not going lower.

I think there are real problems here. The truth is Joe Biden is going to sign whatever is sent to him. If I were the Democrats, I would take the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Pass it now. They should have passed it in August.

LEMON: Right.

DENT: Pocket the win. That's a big deal.

LEMON: Yeah.

DENT: I think they're just way too big here and they're misreading their mandate.

LEMON: We went so long, Charlie. The next question, because I want to talk about the voting rights. The Republicans blocked the Freedom to Vote Act in the Senate today. The bill, here's what it would do. And we've talked about -- you even talked about it with Joe Manchin, right, his bill, some good things in there. I think I have discussed that with you.

But the bill would make it easier to register the vote, make Election Day a public holiday, ensure states have early voting for federal elections and allow all voters to request mail-in ballots. I mean, is that so wrong? Are Republicans trying to --

POWERS: Sounds pretty normal.

DENT: No, I think most of those provisions are reasonable. I mean, I support early voting, I support no excuse absentee voting, Election Day should it be a holiday? Okay. But I guess the real question, though, comes down to, should the federal government be mandating this? I serve in the state legislature for 14 years. I thought that was the purview of the states.

You know, I get it. We have a Voting Rights Act for a reason. Some states abused African Americans years ago and we had to correct that at a national level. But some of those provisions, I think, frankly, ought to be enacted at the state level and many states have already done so.

LEMON: Yeah. All right. Thank you both. I appreciate it. I got to move on. I'll see you soon.

POWERS: Thank you.

DENT: Thanks.

LEMON: Let's bring in now veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, the co-host of "Politics War Room with Al Hunt." James, I am so happy to have you on. Thank you for joining, sir.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Good to be on with another Louisiana guy.

LEMON: Yeah. If I say (INAUDIBLE), I will say both of them.

CARVILLE: That's it, man.

LEMON (on camera): Let's stick to the point here. The president was on the road today pitching his economic agenda. I want you to watch this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This has been declared dead on arrival from the moment I introduced it. But I think we are going to surprise them, because I think people are beginning to figure out what's at stake. Folks, look, these bills are not about left versus right or about moderate versus progressive or anything that pits one American against another. These bills are about competitiveness versus complacency.


LEMON (on camera): So, he has got to sell this. Is that messaging working when the spending package still unfinished? It is unclear what exactly is going to be in the final bill. Is it working?

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, the messaging is improving. Everything in -- everybody reports a number. Well, this person says 3.5, this person says 1.5. And I think what the president is giving the reasoning behind it. I am glad to see that the president is out there selling it. I hope a lot of other people do, too, because so many people don't know what's in this. You know, if you are not willing to sell, you are not going anywhere. And so, I'm glad to see he is out there making these sales calls. I really am.

LEMON (on camera): Yeah. Look, I don't know if you've got to watch Thomas Friedman on with Anderson earlier tonight. And he said some very, I thought, poignant things. He thinks that Democrats are screwing this up, that they are working on something so exciting, but the sales job is terrible. Watch this.


THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST: We have a launching pad here, not some giveaway that got whittled down from 3.5 to 3 to 2.7 to 2.5 to wherever the heck it is right now. This is so exciting, what they are trying to sell, and they have so poorly sold it. And that is what really Democrats should be asking themselves, how the hell could we be losing when we have a big plan and all they have is a big lie?



LEMON (on camera): What do you say to that?

CARVILLE: I agree completely. I mean -- you know what? The best time to play an oak tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time is right now. There got to be more people selling. You just take this one provision where you have daycare. That's the number one reason that we are having problem with the labor force. If women have to choose between their children and their job, they're going to pick their children.

Corporate America out to be enthusiastic about this. Mitt Romney said the number one reason we're having trouble finding (INAUDIBLE). You put people in the work force, they make money. Their children, people that have this daycare, have better outcomes. You are going to save money over 15-year period if you have daycare across this country.

So, you're right. And I think Tom makes a good point. I made that point previous to this. But now, they're selling. Sell, sell, sell. You know, CNN, everything on the air is great and that's wonderful, but if somebody's not selling those ads back there, you are not going anywhere.

LEMON: This is my question though to that, because what I have been saying is that Republicans have been able to sell a lie, motivate people on a lie, and to get people -- get buy-in from a whole lot of people. Democrats have, as Thomas Friedman said, as you have said, a winning message and the truth.

What gives here? Why can't they get people to understand and get buy- in and come to some sort of an agreement about what needs to be done in this this country?

CARVILLE: The reality is we have 50 senators. It's hard. And I think the president, his -- you know, this thing is a difficult -- it's a difficult birthing process and we got a three-vote majority in the House. But it looks like there is some chance that he could land this plane. When you look at all -- when they do that, they get to this infrastructure bill through, it's going to be quite torrential amount of accomplishment in the first year.

Doesn't seem that way now, but it looks like they are sitting down and banging heads, you know, and putting heads together. That's what they got to do.

LEMON: You have been very critical. You think right now they are moving in the right direction? You have been very critical of your own party?

CARVILLE: Yeah. Critical about some of it. I mean, I'm enthusiastic as anybody in the world about what's in this legislation. And I just want other people to know all of the things that we are doing. This is going to have an enormous impact across America. It's going to have a really good impact for working people. A really good impact for single moms. I mean, it's going to have a good impact everywhere.

And I'm glad to see that the president is out selling that. I think Tom made a good point on Anderson's show. But let's get this thing out to people. The Republicans said, I really don't want daycare, I really don't want to expand community colleges, I really don't want to do this. Okay, fine. You know, let's take it to them on those terms. If we do that, I think we can be successful.

LEMON: It's interesting to see people voting against their own interests because this is really good for rural America and, quite frankly, red America, and they seem to be voting against it. Go on.

CARVILLE: The problem is they don't know what's in it.

LEMON: Right.

CARVILLE: All right? CBS had a poll, 10% of the people know what's in it. Well, you know, if you're not preaching the gospel, you don't know. I mean, you know, you got -- you've got to get out there and they got to disperse people. And the fact that CNN is talking about this and Anderson is talking about, you're talking about this, that's going to help. They got to get people out selling.

LEMON: Yeah.

CARVILLE: You know, knock on the doors, rattle the pots and pans. Let's sell this thing. This is a good, solid, all-world programs. This will be the biggest aid to the middle class since World War II. That's just a fact. Let them deal with that.

LEMON: Old-school door-knock politics. James Carville, it is a pleasure having you on. Please come back. We need to continue to discuss this and inform people as to what is happening in the country.

CARVILLE: Anytime.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

CARVILLE: Thank you, man.

LEMON (on camera): Thank you. A CNN exclusive. President Joe Biden takes questions from the American people. Anderson Cooper is going to moderate the CNN presidential town hall with Joe Biden. It begins tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

Texas gained two new congressional seats in the last census. The boom in population driven by non-white Texans, but the Texas republican legislature drawing a congressional map that overwhelmingly favors white Republicans. A powerplay that will be in place for the next decade.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has the latest.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cruise down Jefferson Boulevard in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas next to the iconic Texas Theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and you'll see the color and flavor that makes it one the most prominent Latino neighborhoods in the city.

[23:15:04] LAVANDERA (voice-over): But civil rights activists in Texas say it's the kind of neighborhood severely impacted by the way Texas Republicans have redrawn the state's congressional maps. The activists say neighborhoods like Oak Cliff are crammed into fewer minority districts to dilute the vote of Latinos, Blacks and Asians.

LYDIA CAMARILLO, TEXAS REDITRICTING TASK FORCE: The growth in Texas is fueled by Latinos, two million of them, and Blacks, Asians and other communities of color. If we don't pay attention to this and we don't demand that Latinos are represented, we will find ourselves with no representation.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Texas is the only state in the country that is getting two new congressional seats because of the state's population growth. Non-white Texans account for 95% of that new growth. And according to the latest census data, white Texans make up just under 40% of the population, Latinos are now about the same percentage of the population, the Black population is almost 12%, and Asians are about 5%.

Civil rights groups say the two newly created congressional districts in Texas are drawn to give white and likely Republican candidates an advantage. The white voting age population tops over 50% in 23 of the 38 congressional districts in Texas. The Latino voting age population is the majority in seven districts. Black and Asian voters do not make up the majority of the population in any congressional district.

(On camera): The way some of these congressional lines are drawn does raise some eyebrows. Let us take a closer look at the map. Down here in this corner is the city of Denton. Lately, it's been trending bluer. But it's now drawn into a map that extends hundreds of miles out into the west Texas panhandle, heavy republican territory.

And if you take a closer look at the Fort Worth and Dallas area --look at that district in the way it's drawn -- it stretches from Fort Worth and kind of hooks its way around into Dallas County. And it surrounds another district that one person described to me that it looked like a dragon spitting fire, this district right here. And when you zoom out, you realize that that district is a rural district that makes its way all the way out into east Texas.

(Voice-over): Despite this, the Texas Republicans, who led the redistricting efforts, insist the new political boundaries for state and congressional districts are fairly created.

SEN. JOAN HUFFMAN (R-TX): The maps were drawn blind to race. Once they were drawn, they were checked for compliance. We were assured that all the existing minority opportunity districts, whether they be Black or Latino, were going to perform as such.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


LEMON (on camera): All right. And as the assault on the right to vote spreads all across the country, Republicans blocking another voting rights bill in the Senate. They wouldn't even let it come up for a debate. What are Democrats going to do to make it easier for Americans to exercise our most precious right?


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are not going to give up. We have never given up, those of us who have fought for the right of every American to be able to express their voice through their vote. We are going continue to do the work.





LEMON: Senate Republicans blocking the latest democratic effort to reform election laws in a 49-51 vote today. Republicans refusing to even open debate on the Freedom to Vote Act. President Biden calling the move unconscionable and it comes as Republicans in states across the country are limiting access to voting.

Joining me now is Jaime Harrison. He is the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Jaime, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Listen, before we get going and get into what happened in the Senate, Ed Lavandera just laid out how Texas' new map would give white Republicans disproportionate representation even as minorities are making up a greater share of the state population. And you can see it really clearly when you look at the numbers here. It's straight up voting restrictions for minorities and people of color. What is going on and why can't Democrats combat this?

JAIME HARRISON, DNC CHAIR: Well, we will push back against this in the courts. I mean, Don, as you know, after the census is done, you have reapportionment and you re-draw the congressional lines. And if you don't control the legislature, if you don't control the legislature, we --Democrats don't control the legislature, the Senate or the House in Texas. And so, the Republicans have the control in order to draw the line.

But this is the thing. They are being so ambitious because all of the growth in Texas happened because of minority communities. Black and brown folks going into Texas increasing the population of that state. We are going to take their asses to court. We are going to challenge these districts.

If this is the map they are going to bring up, there is no way that they can make the case that they are creating no new minority influence districts when all of the population growth is because of minority populations.

And then to be able to have a bold-face lie -- I heard the state rep say, we didn't think about race at all. Come on! That is B.S. We know what they are done in this situation. We are going to fight back against that. I have already set aside tens of millions of dollars for the lawsuit. I hope the folks in Texas have all of the money that they need because they are going to go to court over these lies.

LEMON: And you know -- listen. In Texas, I mean, look for it to happen in other places, if you look at the laws that are being created around the country to restrict voting.

I want to turn to the Senate now so we can get to this. I want to list some of what Republicans rejected today, okay? The Freedom to Vote Act made registering to vote easier, made Election Day a holiday, allowed everyone to request mail-in ballots, and overhauled how the congressional districts are drawn.


LEMON: So, the question is, again, why are Democrats not being able to combat this and what are Republicans so afraid of?

HARRISON: Well, Don, we had 50 votes in the United States Senate. This is the first time in the U.S. Senate that all of the Democrats voted for voting rights legislation to move forward and so that we can debate. We know the challenge in the Senate. You know, if this was the House, it would have passed because all of our voting bills have passed the House of Representatives. In the Senate, you need 60 votes.

I think what Chuck Schumer said today at the closing of this vote is very, very clear. You know, the Senate faces a choice. Either it can follow in the footsteps of those who did the right thing in the past or it can allow our democracy to burn down.

The Republicans channeled Strom Thurmond today. They didn't stand on the floor for hours upon hours, but effectively, they did the same thing, the hill (ph) voting rights legislation. We have to challenge it. So, the Senate is going to have to make a determination of whether they want to be Strom Thurmond or they want to be John Lewis.

LEMON (on camera): This summer, I had the opportunity to ask the president of the United States about the battle for voting rights and if it is time to get rid of the filibuster. Listen to this.


LEMON: If you -- you agree with the former president, he has called your -- as you call him, your old boss, that it's a relic of Jim Crow.

BIDEN: It is.

LEMON: If it's a relic of Jim Crow, it's been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically. Why protect it?

BIDEN: There is no reason to protect it other than you are going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.

LEMON: All right. BIDEN: Nothing at all will get done. And there is a lot at stake. The most important one is the right to vote.


LEMON (on camera): Isn't this a break glass in case of emergency kind of moment right now? I mean, do these other priorities matter if we lose our democracy here?

HARRISON: You know, one of the things, Don, I am putting on my old whip hat when I used to whip votes for Jim Clyburn in the House, one of the things you need to know is sometimes you put votes on the floor to test where your caucus is, to see where the other side is. But also, in order to prepare for the big battle and the big vote.

One of the things that will make it easier for us to tackle the issue of voting rights is to get a big win. It gives us as a party some momentum to really push on that in the United States Senate.

And so, I think Chuck Schumer understands where he is going. It is a methodical approach. Sometimes, things don't work as fast and as quickly as we need them to. However, the time is running out in the hourglass and we need to move forward because of the gerrymandering that's taking place across the country. And so, you know, I trust Schumer and the Senate Democrats to continue to be methodical, to get this done because we have to.

LEMON: Let me ask you something.

HARRISON: Democracy is on the line.

LEMON: Real quick, if you can. Do you think that one day the president will look back and say, after he has left office, and say, you know, I should have gotten rid of that filibuster and I should have preserved voting rights, because every president has that moment?

HARRISON: Well, he is just nine months in, Don, and not done yet. And so, I think we need to give the president the time to -- he is having a lot of conversations and discussions that aren't on Twitter, that aren't on televised on television, and we need to give him room in order to operate.

He understands how important this is for so many people and how personal the right to vote is. And I trust that he and the vice president along with the leadership, the democratic leadership in the Senate, understand what is at stake.

LEMON: Jaime Harrison, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

HARRISON: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Normally sleepy elections now becoming full-on culture war political fights. School board elections turning ugly and hurting the kids they are supposed to help.



LEMON: Tonight, the sheriff of Brevard County, Florida saying that his deputies are not the mask police and will not enforce any mask mandates by local school boards, which he says he are in violation of an order by Florida's governor.

The sheriff also wading into politics, advising residents to be aware of who they vote on to school boards. Around the country, the growing fights over masks, vaccines, and how to teach about the history of racism turning racist for local school boards into cultural battlefields.

More now from CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro.


NIKKI HUDSON, WORTHINGTON BOARD OF EDUCATION MEMBER: And then at the end, it says, you have become our enemies and you will be removed one way or other. Have a miserable, miserable day for the rest of your life, you filthy traitor.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikki Hudson is seeking re-election to the Worthington School Board in suburban Columbus, Ohio. Not long ago, she says she received a threatening letter over her support of masks and a diversity and inclusion program.

(On camera): What do you tell your kids when you get a letter like that?

HUDSON: You tell them we don't live in fear and we don't back down to bullies, and we also make safe choices. So, you don't go places alone. Make sure that someone's with you.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Normally, these off year non-partisan school board elections are sleepy. The turnout is very low. But that was before the pandemic when school boards were still boring.


UNKNOWN: You are stepping over your line.

UNKNOWN: You don't need to breathe for me.

UNKNOWN: Let's take a recess. The board will take a recess.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): After protests and fury over mask mandates, vaccines, and antiracism curriculum, school board races are the front lines of a natural culture war. Candidates are facing heat normally reserved for big-time politics.

RICK VILARDO, WESTERVILLE BOARDO OF EDUCATION MEMBER: I wanted to try and bring people together.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Rick Vilardo, a local pastor and Westerville school board member, ended his re-election bid just weeks before election day.

VILARDO: I feel like I have failed -- I feel like I have failed some people in this community that looked to me to try and be a person who will always listen and will always try to figure it out.

That's the conversation.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Where Vilardo sees no way forward, others see an opening. Many candidates running for school board across Ohio this year are first-timers and some candidates say the races are nasty.

BRIAN STEEL, CANDIDATE FOR WORTHINGTON BOARD OF EDUCATION: It's a bit insane, if I could say it. I did not know going into this how much partisan issues drive non-partisan elections.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Brian Steel is one of those first-time candidates. His campaign in Worthington is locked in on a rallying cry heard across the country in these elections.

STEEL: When they actually do a vote, it's supposed to be open forum, they're supposed to discuss it, there is supposed to have community input. We are finding a lot of these decisions made at the meeting are predetermined decisions.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The anger that could benefit candidates like Steel is based on the idea that school boards have a shadowy political agenda. Even though all meetings in Ohio are open to the public, protesters demand transparency.

KELLI DAVIS, CANDIATE FOR WORTHINGTON BOARD OF EDUCATION: We need to be a voice for all of our students. We need to be a voice for all of our families. We need to make sure that everyone is included.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Another first-time candidate is Kelli Davis. She says she got into the Worthington school board race to foster dialogue over issues like race. She would prefer to talk about that, but she has had to navigate a murky political fight instead.

DAVIS: You would think that it would be something more than a school board race where you're having negative ads that are being marketed out there, that people are trying to pull you into that negativity that I just have no desire to be a part of.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Newly formed political groups are spending money in places like Worthington. Negative billboards and mailers now par for the course in school board elections here, across suburban Columbus, and the country.

CHARLIE WILSON, WORTHINGTON SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: My fear is that this is going to discourage the right kind of people from being school board members. MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): After 14 years, Charlie Wilson isn't running for re-election after his term on the Worthington board ends next year. Wilson said he was followed after a particularly contentious board meeting.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): You felt you had been followed?

WILSON: I wasn't going to take somebody to my home with my wife there.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): This is a lot of emotion.

WILSON: It is.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): For a school board --

WILSON: A volunteer position.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Wilson is worried about the future of school boards. As an officer in the National School Board Association, he endorsed a recent letter to the Biden administration pleading for immediate assistance to help address increased threats of violence and acts of intimidation directed towards school board members. The Department of Justice launched an effort to help combat the trend.

WILSON: When there are threats and when there are disruptions, by virtue of violation of federal law, well, the Biden administration, it is time you guys step up to the job and do your job. Frankly, our democracy is at stake here.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): They feel like they are really being threatened.

RYAN GIRDUSKY, FOUNDER, 1776 PROJECT PAC: They should feel -- they are not physically threatened. Their incumbencies are threatened.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Ryan Girdusky leads one of those outside groups hoping to shake up school boards. He is a Republican consultant and conservative media commentator. From his home in New York City, he is running a PAC that has endorsed some 50 school board candidates in seven states, including several in Ohio. His PAC plans on spending $125,000 on those races.

GIRDUSKY: The money is going to primarily mailers, digital ads, text messaging, stuff like that. A little money can impact a lot of people.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): His main goal is fighting critical race theory.

GIRDUSKY: It's hidden in other terms like diversity and inclusion. However, it is still critical race theory.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): His plan to do it is simple. Drive some new voters into these incredibly low turnout elections, take over school boards, and empower the newly elected members to start changing policy. GIRDUSKY: They will check what textbooks are being used, look at what

the outside speakers are presented, what the superintendent is doing, what the inclusion diversity program is. I think those are the things that will probably be inspected and looked at first and foremost. I really hope that this changes the way school boards and curriculum is being handled.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): In suburban Columbus, early voting is already underway.

UNKNOWN: We will vote our Nikki Hudson.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The negativity stepped up as election day gets closure. And at least one board member says it's starting to take a toll. A few days after she put on a brave face in her backyard, Nikki Hudson gave us a call.

HUDSON: I have found myself in a space where -- this may sound weird, but I just -- I find myself repeating over and over and over again that I'm not okay, I'm not okay, and I'm not okay.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): What do you think a campaign like this is going to do for other people who might want to run for school board?

HUDSON: I am truly concerned about the void that is going to be there, because who would want to do this?


LEMON (on camera): Evan McMorris-Santoro joins me now. Wow, Evan, great reporting there. All this anger has got to be having a real effect on the education system and the kids. It's supposed to serve them. Evan is going to fill us in on just what's happening to them now right after this.




LEMON: Culture wars in America turning racists for local school boards into battlefield. CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro, he joins us now. We introduced him before the break. We saw his story. So, Evan, good evening to you. The anger has to be having some sort of effect on public education. What have you been seeing?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, Don, I'll tell you, the emotion out there is extraordinary among these incumbents on these school board races. It's not often I do interviews with multiple people where they burst into tears unless something very, very bad is happening. These incumbents feel that that is what is happening. They think this is an existential moment for public education.

Places like Texas and other states where these boards have been changed, they have been replaced by these members who really are openly suspicious of teachers and administrators and curriculums, and people get fired in situations like that. And they worry that some of these districts, these districts in these suburban areas, known as good schools, could really change if these boards change the way it looks like they might in the next coming couple of weeks.

LEMON: Evan, and these elections, you said it looks like they might. Do we know how they're going?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, I will tell you this. The incumbents that I have been speaking to all over the country say they have nothing like the organization that the challengers have.

I have been telling this story on your show. You and I have been doing this story weeks now on this show, starting back with those masks all the way through. There is outside money coming into these races from all over the country and it's not coming on the side of the incumbents. They are telling me everywhere that they are very, very concerned. They don't have the resources to fight this stuff.

These races usually cost maybe a few thousand dollars in places like Ohio where I was. Now, they are talking about 10, 15, $20,000. That's a lot more money than people are used to spending. That kind of stuff can really mean a change in these boards. I tell you that these incumbents feel under fire and they feel like they are not protected.

LEMON: Yeah. Evan, thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Human remains found. The FBI confirming that they have found someone, but not confirming who, in their search for Brian Laundrie. Stay with us.




LEMON: Okay. We have some new information. Big development, quite frankly, tonight in the search for Brian Laundrie. Investigators discovering what appears to be human remains in a Florida nature reserve as well as a backpack and notebook belonging to Brian Laundrie.

The FBI is saying that the remains were found in an area that had previously been covered by water. A special agent calling Laundrie -- quote -- "a person of interest" in the murder of Gabby Petito.

I want to bring in now criminologist Casey Jordan. Casey, good evening to you. It's just a bizarre case all around. The FBI announcing today that they found what appears to be -- what appear to be human remains along with the personal items, personal effects including a backpack, notebook belonging to Brian Laundrie. What do you make of this?

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST: Well, I was very surprised because I have been giving greater odds that he was on the lam, there being absolutely no evidence of him found in the preserve for the past month, covered by hundreds of searchers diligently looking and absolutely nothing found until today.

When the parents announced that they're going to go look for their son in the preserve and their attorney calls the police and let them know this, let the FBI know, law enforcement says, well, sure, we're going to accompany you. And voila, they suddenly find backpacks and a dry bag and lo and behold human remains, which let us presume that they are Brian Laundrie.

So, it's bizarre because of the parents. I don't think anybody wishes death on Brian Laundrie or anyone. We're not that schadenfreude. But we really do want to know how the parents knew to look exactly where he was found.

LEMON: The Laundrie family attorney was on with Chris earlier tonight, and he says the suggestion that the parents could have planted the evidence is hogwash. What's it says to you that they found all of this now that his parents were on the scene, Casey?

JORDAN: Of course, the attorney is going to say that's hogwash. The question I have is, have we been monitoring the parents all along? And to what extent was this a bit of a setup? I mean, they said from the outset they believed he was in the preserve.

We had that issue with the car, did he drive it there, did they drive it there, was it abandoned, was it planted. And then zero cooperation one day where the father went out with police and walked and talked but didn't find anything.

And you just have to wonder how much they knew. Did they know that he was in the preserve all along? Did they think he was alive when in fact he was deceased? Did they think he was camping or hiding? And why today? It's as if as they're winding down the search in the preserve. The parents all of a sudden are freaked out, oh, you have to go in there and find him.


JORDAN: And the fact that they found some of the evidence and were carrying it around is indeed, Don, completely bizarre. I think what's really frustrating for us is that unless the parents come clean and assuming this is their son, perhaps in their moment of regret and remorse and grief, perhaps they will tell us the truth of everything they know. But if they don't, we're never going to find the answers that we seek.

LEMON: Casey Jordan, you're always so knowledgeable with these things. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. We'll continue to have you on until this case is solved. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

JORDAN: Great to be here, Don.

LEMON: Thank you. And thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. We begin tonight with breaking news in a major discovery in the manhunt for Gabby Petito's fiancee, Brian Laundrie.