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Don Lemon Tonight

Mark Meadows's Text Messages; DOJ Reviewing Meadows Criminal Referral After House Vote; How Worried Should We Be About A Winter Surge?; Manchin At Odds With Biden Over "Build Back Better"; Fight For Voting Rights; Major Tornado Threat Across Upper Midwest. Aired 11p- 12a ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Growing fears tonight of a surge from the Omicron variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci telling CNN it is almost inevitable due to its high rate of transmissibility.

And more than 80 million Americans from the Rockies to the Midwest and Great Lakes regions under high wind alerts tonight as powerful storms topple tractor trailers on the interstate highways and spawn tornadoes.

But I want to begin with the big lie, and my next guest knows the big liar well.

Joining me now, Mary Trump. She is Donald Trump's niece and the host of "The Mary Trump Show" podcast. Mary, good evening. It is good to see you. Let's get right to it, okay? So, we are learning --


LEMON: -- so many new details about what was happening inside the White House on January 6th known as insurrection day, right? One hundred and eight-seven minutes of your uncle reportedly reveling in the destruction of the day, ignoring all the cries for help. So many lies exposed. It has all been revealed as a fraud. But publicly, he is still pushing the big lie. Why do people fall for this? Why do they buy it?

TRUMP: Don, one of the biggest problems we have right now as a country is that news is so siloed. People who watch Fox probably didn't see one second of the hearing that the January 6th Committee put on where they were considering whether or not to hold Mark Meadows in contempt. So, they're only getting the spin and none of the facts.

And I think this has been a huge problem all throughout Donald starting with his candidacy. People get very selective information and so much of it is either skewed or entirely inaccurate and false.

LEMON: Listen, let's talk about these texts. I want to get your reaction. Texts from your cousin Don Jr. to Mark Meadows, "He has got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough." Are you surprised that he was going to the chief of staff to get a hold of his own father?

TRUMP: No, it does not surprise me at all. On the one hand, I kind of like to think that it's because he knew Donald wouldn't answer his phone calls. But I think the answer is even worse. It's that Donnie knew that things were going south and that they were all in the wrong side of this.

And yet, he also knew that the message he had to send to his father was a message his father did not want to hear. And Donnie is a coward. He did not want to face it himself. So, he basically outsourced it to Mark Meadows.

LEMON: This is what a source is telling CNN, that your uncle, the former president, is annoyed with Mark Meadows and feeling blindside about the material handed over. Meadows is trying to have it both ways, handing over documents while still trying to appease him by refusing to testify. You would think that Meadows will realize only -- only undying filthy (ph) is acceptable here. How is this going to end, do you think?

TRUMP: It is -- it is kind of odd, right? That is one of the few things that surprises me, that Meadows was so forthcoming with the committee before changing his mind about showing up in person. But yet, he had already handed over so much damning information.

I don't really know how he thinks he's going to get out of this unless, you know, he has been paying attention. And he has seen in the past how people always managed to get back into Donald's good graces if they know how to handle him.

But still, this is game changing, potentially, right? We were looking at a situation now where not only has Meadows apparently thrown himself under the bus, but he has allowed the committee to draw a straight line from Donald Trump to the insurrection.

LEMON: Well, I mean, yes, I understand that part of it, but doesn't he -- when will people at some level realize, you know that old saying, everything that Trump touches dies? Look at the people who have been involved with him, the people who have carried his water. Most of them have gotten into trouble. The people who did get out of trouble were only pardoned, and he doesn't have that power anymore.

Don't these people understand that they are in a world of trouble? That Donald Trump can't pardon them?

TRUMP: No, and I think it's because people around Donald think that there's something special about him. They kind of remind me of people who smoke and think that it's never going to catch up with them, you know.


They're going to be the one person who is always the favored one, who is always the one who gets away with it, because let's be honest, a lot of people have still gotten away with it. Bannon has gotten away with it and Donald's children and many, many other people actually in the executive branch continue to get away with it, let alone members of Congress.

So, I think they continue to bet on the side of doing what Donald has been doing his entire life, brazening through it and getting away with it in the end.

LEMON (on camera): Listen, Whitney Wild of CNN spoke with one of the organizers of the January 6th rally who met with the select committee. His name is Dustin Stockton. This is what he said about the rioters.


DUSTIN STOCKTON, JANUARY 6 RALLY ORGANIZER: They were absolutely looking for his Twitter account for guidance. I mean, they were looking to hear instructions from the president. And they weren't getting it, so they continue to do what they were doing, it seems like.

And man, that was the point for me. It feels like when you get conned, right? Like when you finally realized and the shades pulled from your eyes, you just look back at all the different warning signs you should have picked up on.


LEMON (on camera): Listen, he said what I was thinking, the curtain has been pulled back, right? He's telling us how your uncle has been conning his entire life. Do you think more people will see the light like Stockton? Do you think the fever has broken or no?

TRUMP: You know, I think the fact that the committee hearings were televised is a huge watershed moment and may indeed be history- altering. They need to continue doing that. Again, as I said earlier, there are some people who will never see it because they're only watching Fox News. Sorry, I shouldn't say Fox News. They're only watching Fox or OAN or Newsmax.

However, the more information comes out, the less is going to be possible for people to ignore because it's just going to cede into the mainstream consciousness, right?

So, I do hope that more people like that will come to their senses and realize not just that it feels like they were conned, that they actually were conned.

LEMON: Yeah. Mary Trump, always a pleasure. Thank you so much.

TRUMP: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: So, let's bring in now CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and senior legal analyst Laura Coates. She has a new book coming out in January titled "Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness." Good evening to both of you. Good to see you.

Jeffrey, I'm going to start with you. Before we get into the nitty- gritty of this, I mean, it seems very clear that we almost had a coup last time. As you look at what happened, you know, since January 6th, do you have any doubt that the same people will try again next time? And the question is, might they succeed?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the odds are better this time because they will have learned from the last -- from the last experience about what they can do. But let's just talk about, you know, what we are learning about what's going on at the White House, you know, between November and January. I mean, the degree to which the entire White House was fixated on trying to overturn this election.

And, you know, what I don't think enough people have focused on is that in the past week, the district court in Washington, two different judges have said, you know, when you go into the Congress and try with corrupt means to overturn an election corruptly, that is obstruction of justice, that is a crime.

And so, the number of people who are at risk of prosecution has really gone up in the past couple weeks because, you know, we have seen the degree to which not just, you know, the (INAUDIBLE) and the morons who were breaking down the doors at the Capitol, but the people who were directing them and using the political means and the people in the Willard Hotel and the people in the White House itself, those people are now at greater risk. And, you know, the Justice Department is not done with this investigation.

LEMON: Let's talk more about that, because this from "The New York Times", a report tonight, laying out how six members of the House Freedom Caucus worked with Trump White House to try to overturn the election. They were pressuring the DOJ to investigate fraud claims, pressuring state legislatures to conduct audits, and planning how to disrupt the certification process. And it started right after the election was called.

This was a deliberate campaign. But if the GOP takes the House next year, I mean, Jim Jordan, he's going to be leading the Judiciary Committee. What impact do you think that will have?


TOOBIN: I mean, it is just -- you know, just going back to the phrase that we used or at least I used over and over again during the Trump presidency, which is this is all shocking but it's not surprising.

These people have no respect for the democratic process. They have no acknowledgment to this day that Joe Biden won this election. And they were using corrupt means, lying to the public, lying to Congress, lying to the courts about what happened in this election. And we will see if they suffer any consequences for it.

LEMON: They told a lie so much that they believe it. You know --

TOOBIN: Well, that is a great question that I've always wondered, and I don't know the answer to that. Look at how often President Trump told, you know, falsehoods. How many of those he actually believed and how many of those he knew he was lying? I don't know the answer to that.

LEMON: Laura, what do you think?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think they believe none of what they are saying, but they hope to have political advantages because of it. They're hoping that they are the smartest people in the room and they're doing the electorate. And frankly, it insults (ph) the intelligence of the American people, including people that they hope will support them, that they continue to allow the big lie to metastasize.

And what you're seeing here really is further indication like we always said. What we saw on January 6th was no coincidence. It was really the middle of the story. There was so much work and coordination and strategy and that went into what we eventually saw.

And people were at risk. People were injured. At least one person was shot. You had officers who were fighting for their lives and on behalf of the lives of people who we are now learning were somehow involved or trying to perpetuate.

And the way that Congress, Liz Cheney and others have phrased it, remember, it is the idea of what they did do and what they failed to do, an inaction here.

And Jeffrey makes a great point about the idea of what the district court have said, about criminal behavior. The January Select Committee, their job is to legislate and oversight function. They've already referred people for criminal proceedings for issues of contempt.

Remember, during the investigation, it could ultimately transform into a criminal prosecution if DOJ sees fit, based on the very same things, except that you have people not coming from the outside to do harm but from within, an implosion of sorts of our democratic values.

And so, I think -- I just can't give the benefit of doubt that you would be an elected official, you would understand how you got elected into office, and then you would think somehow that the rules of electoral process do not apply to anyone that you didn't want to be in office.

I just can't extend that to somebody. They're not layman. They are legislative officials. And they know better. And the idea being the -- quote, unquote -- freedom is the word -- "the freedom caucus," really is rich at best at this point.

TOOBIN: And Laura talks about those texts that Liz Cheney read at the hearing the other day. And to me, you know, it is beyond simply the inaction, the failure to stop the riots. Think about, you know, the fact that Donald Trump, Jr., the fact that all those Fox hosts were saying, get the president to stop this, what does that mean? It means the president was the person who started it.

If he's the one who can stop it, he started it, and that is a criminal undertaking. You know, organizing the riot and supporting and sponsoring and encouraging that riot is a crime. And, you know, the Justice Department is getting closer to proving that people at very high levels authorized and supported this rally.

LEMON: That was probably the only time that the phrase -- remember when he said, I alone can fix this? That was probably the only time he alone could have fixed it and then he moved very slowly to do so.

Laura, let us put some names here because all this new information shows from election day through January 6th. You said, we pick this up in the middle. But Mark Meadows was personally involved in all kinds of ways, trying to overturn the will of the people. His fate is now in the hands of the attorney general. So, what do you think is going to happen now?

COATES: Well, I think the delays that you saw in contemplating what to do about the Steve Bannon case are not going to be there any longer because, remember, I think part of the reason they had a contemplative process regarding Steve Bannon was not because that was a difficult case for him but because they were able to expect and, I guess, anticipate what would come down the line, the copycat to Steve Bannon, the additional assertion of privilege.

But neither Bannon nor Mark Meadows has a valid claim of executive privilege here. Bannon clearly because he wasn't even a part of the administration at the time and he has already broadcast what he knows, even in his own podcast, among other reasons.

Mark Meadows, he would have a more favorable valid claim of privilege to the extent he actually had privileged communications. But he has already told the committee that what he has handed over, at the very least, he does not believe this privilege. They have nothing to do with direct communication with the president of the United States.


There is no conceivable claim that say a communication with Don Jr. or any of the Fox News hosts or members of Congress would somehow translate into executive privilege. So, he essentially cut off his nose and even trying to assert that privilege. I think the DOJ should move very quickly on this matter.

But there is still the looming Supreme Court offer in terms of the district court -- court said, listen, you got two weeks head start here, former President Trump, to ask the Supreme Court to look into the national archives. They surely are looking at what the courts might ultimately say about the assertion. But they got a pretty clearcut case of validly issued subpoena and one that was not complied with.

TOOBIN: And -- I'm sorry, Laura. But just one more weakness in Meadows's case, which is he wrote a book about all this stuff. He told the story.


TOOBIN: He told the world for profit about his communications with the president. You can't do that and then turn around and say, oh, I can't -- LEMON: Yes, you can. He is doing it.


TOOBIN: He can, but, you know, Laura knows --

LEMON: And still be able to get away with that.

TOOBIN: There is a legal concept called waiver. You know, you waive the right to claim secrecy when you write a book about something.

LEMON: Yeah. And it is also called, you know --

TOOBIN: Chutzpah (ph).

LEMON: Yeah.

TOOBIN: That's a legal term.


TOOBIN: You (INAUDIBLE). I know that.


LEMON (on camera): Thank you, Laura. Thanks, Jeffrey. I appreciate it.

So, COVID slamming pro-sports, postponing games and forcing key players to miss games. How worried should we be about a winter surge?


ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, there will be breakthrough infections. No doubt about that. I mean, we know that from the emerging experience we're getting from people in South Africa and particularly in the U.K. And we will be seeing that in this country.





LEMON: Very, very important that you pay attention to this next segment, okay? Because COVID is wreaking havoc in the NFL and other places. Let us talk about the NFL first. Cleveland Browns star quarterback Baker Mayfield joining several of his teammates added to the reserved COVID list today. It comes after the team's head coach, Kevin Stefanski, tested positive. This week alone, at least 65 NFL players testing positive. It is important to note, though, most of these are asymptomatic cases.

Here is the thing, here in New York City tonight, Hamilton is now the sixth Broadway show to cancel a performance due to COVID this week.

So, joining me now to discuss is Dr. William Schaffner. He is the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Good evening, doctor. This is, I think, getting bad here. I don't want to alarm people but we should definitely take some precautions. It's not just the NFL, as I said, going through this. The NBA postponing games due to COVID for the first time this season. Why are we seeing so many cases like this?

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, Don, COVID has done it again. It has thrown us a curve high and tight and it is called Omicron. And this is an extraordinarily infectious variant, even more infectious than Delta.

Although our vaccines look as though they can provide, if they're boosted, some protection against being admitted to the hospital, it looks as though this Omicron variant can even infect people who have been previously vaccinated. As you just said, it often doesn't make them sick at all or just gives them kind of a bad cold, but nonetheless, it can be transmitted and you can spread it to other people, some of whom are unvaccinated and are at greater risk.

So, it is now spreading very rapidly. And if you're in a circumstance such as Cornell University or the National Football League where they do regular testing, you're going to find these people who have infection but they feel otherwise fine. And that's bringing up the cases and demonstrating how widely and rapidly this Omicron variant is spreading in our country right now.

LEMON (on camera): Doctor, you know, as we face concerns about Omicron and winter surge, two airline CEOs are questioning whether we still need masks on planes. Listen to this.


UNKNOWN: I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much. If anything, in the air cabin environment, it's very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.

UNKNOWN: I concur the aircraft is a safe place you can be. (INAUDIBLE).


LEMON (on camera): So, here is the thing. Omicron is perhaps the most transmissible variant so far. This seems like the opposite of what we need, but I could be wrong. What do you think?

SCHAFFNER: Well, I don't concur with those folks, those CEOs, because yes, the air handling in aircraft is often excellent, however, even with that, in the past, we've had cases of tuberculosis, for example, transmitted on aircraft. The risk is in the row in which you're sitting and two rows before and two rows aft. And so, there have been many demonstrations that that probably could have been suppressed had the people been wearing masks. [23:24:53]

And the personal anecdotes, I've been on several flights where I know I picked up a cold or other respiratory virus because somebody in the same row several seats away or the row in front of me, I remember vividly, were coughing and sneezing. Sure enough, two days after I got home, I was coughing and sneezing. I picked it up on the plane. The air handling is not sufficient. We need to keep wearing masks in those circumstances.

LEMON: New modelling data suggests that Omicron variant could double cases every two days. Pair that with the Delta variant and just the normal flu. Are we on the brink of a terrible wave of illness and do we have the testing or the health care capacity for what could be coming, doctor?

SCHAFFNER: Well, certainly, we could use more testing. Testing strategies would help us as they have helped the Europeans deal with this. We could talk about that a little bit. But the other thing is, yes, we are going to see more cases with Omicron.

And once it gets out into that part of the population, for example, the rural counties in Tennessee that are really under-vaccinated, it's going to go through those counties infecting people and sending many of them, I'm afraid, to the hospital.

And then if you combine that with influenza, which is just waking up now around the country and starting to spread, we could have another winter that really strains our health care facilities for sure.

LEMON: Oh, boy. Thank you, doctor. I appreciate it.

President Biden's massive spending bill looking like it could be punted into next year (INAUDIBLE) members of his own party who are creating the standstill.




LEMON (on camera): So, it looks like Senator Manchin is forcing Democrats to punt a key part of the president's agenda until next year. He spoke to CNN's Manu Raju just tonight and explained why he's still at odds with Biden over the "build back better" plan.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I want to make sure we're upfont and transparent with the public.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But you don't believe that child tax credit could fit -- if it does -- if it's -- it could blow up the price tag of this bill? Because you want to go for the 1.7. MANCHIN: Well, that's a big one, that's a big one, it really is. But the president whenever he makes a decision, I'm going to try to work with him. I'm going to try to work with him. I really am.


LEMON (on camera): So, let's discuss now with CNN senior political analyst, Kirsten Powers is here, political commentator Charlie Dent as well. Good evening.

Charlie, you just heard Joe Manchin. The child tax credit is central to the "build back better" legislation. He is looking for big changes. How big of a blow is this to President Biden?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA REPRESENTATIVE: I think it's a bit of a blow, but I don't think anybody should be surprised by this. I've been saying for several weeks, actually months, that I would be shocked if this bill in any form passed before Christmas. I think it's in real trouble.

I think Senator Manchin, you know, wants this bill to be scored fairly and CBO just came out with a 10-year score -- the programs were all implemented for 10 years and the numbers weren't pretty. (INAUDIBLE) said the same thing. And I think he is concerned about the size and scope of this. He is not a progressive by any means. He's actually a fairly conservative guy.

And so, nobody should be shocked that Manchin is pumping the brakes. His people in West Virginia, I do not believe are supportive of this agenda, this "build back better," and that is why he is -- that is why he is so hesitant and resistant.

LEMON: Kirsten, sources are telling CNN that Democrats are preparing to push the bill to next year. How are progressives feeling tonight? I mean, it has been a month since Biden signed the infrastructure bill into law. They were sure they had an agreement on moving forward with this. Do you think this is going to push the factions and the party even further apart?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's extremely frustrating for progressives because of exactly what you just said, that there was a deal that was struck and there's an expectation this is going to get done, though, I think Charlie is right, people are realistic, realizing that it may not happen this year.

I don't think that means that it won't happen, but the problem continues really to be Joe Manchin primarily and it seems that he's not willing to give that much. And the progressives are very aligned with Joe Biden's agenda, so it's not that they're wildly out of step with, you know, moderate Democrats, certainly moderate Democrats in the House that supported this. So, I think it is frustrating that everything is being held up by one man.

LEMON: Charlie, there's also a new CNN poll out showing that 54 percent disapprove of the way Biden is handling the economy, up five points from late summer. People are angry about the rising cost of every day goods. The White House is aware that this is a problem. But the question is, are they in a position to fix it right now?

DENT: Actually, I don't think they're in much in a position to fix it because the big concern of many people is rising prices, inflation. And, you know, unlike unemployment, which really affects most directly those who are unemployed, inflation is seen and felt by most people because they have to pay more.

And so, this is -- I don't know that the president has the ability to control that. Hey, maybe the fed does by raising interest rates. But Biden has a problem here. And I think his sagging approval ratings are largely tied to the economy. I would also argue crime. We have a real crime problem in this country.


And I think we should listen to people like Abigail Spanberger when she said, you know, Biden was not elected to be FDR. He was, you know, trying to do -- he was elected to be normal and stop the chaos. Many people looked at Biden and thought he was a transitional figure, not a transformational one.

So, I really said for months that this has been a misreading of his mandate, and I think that is largely why he is in trouble, you know, because of the economy, and those numbers have only gotten worse for him. So, I don't see an easy path forward and Democrats are going to face really tough times as long as his approval ratings remain as low as they are.

LEMON: Kirsten, I want to continue on. Let's talk more about polling here and then you can weigh in. This poll also shows that 34 percent see Biden as a leader, 66 percent have some doubts. I mean, this is what the president ran on, leadership and bringing a grownup back to the White House, as Charlie was saying, right, as Spanberger said? Why aren't Americans feeling that?

POWERS: Well, first of all, his approval rating is 49 percent, which in this climate that we live in is not a bad approval rating. We live in a very, very polarized environment. So, this is not some, you know, really bottom of the barrel rating.

I think that when you see people saying that they are enthusiastic about his leadership, I think it is fair to say that. And I think that's because there's a lot of problems in this country and the president is held accountable for pretty much everything that goes wrong.

LEMON: Can I ask you something, Kirsten, on that note?


LEMON: Because Charlie just said -- he said, listen, I don't think -- Charlie, correct me if I'm wrong -- that the president and the administration can do much about inflation, can do much about the prices that people --


LEMON: So then, if you -- then, why tie in the agenda to "build back better" to try to move the country forward with something that you said is out of his purview? If he has no control over it, why tie the two together?

Should Joe Manchin be saying, look, we are in a time that it is unprecedented at this point, the president is trying to move the country forward, we're going to have inflation regardless of the "build back better" or not, so maybe I should get on board with this? Do you understand what I'm saying?

POWERS: Yeah, I do. I've been saying that. I don't -- if I understand what you're saying, that it is -- first of all, it's not -- and I know Charlie disagrees with me on this -- but this is not inflationary. "Build back better" is not inflationary.

So, for Manchin to hold it up over that, I think, is a real -- it is really misguided. I also think that it will lower costs for people, which is around some very central and important thins such as child care or prescription drug costs.

So, you actually are going to bring some relief to people where they're not getting any relief right now. And so, there is nothing magic for it for Biden in terms of inflation or in terms of supply chain issues, things that are largely out of his control, at least he could be providing some relief in terms of cost.

And so, for Manchin to be holding this up, insisting that it's inflationary when it would be largely paid for, I --

LEMON: But Charlie says he wants to -- he says Manchin wants to see a realistic score. So, we'll see what happens. We'll continue this conversation. I want to talk about voting rights as well. So, I need to move on. I got another guest to talk about that. Thank you both. I will see you soon.


LEMON: So, President Biden is saying the single biggest issue is voting rights, but do all Democrats see it that way, next.




LEMON: So, President Biden making a strong statement today about Congress taking up the issue of voting rights.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: There is nothing domestically more important than voting rights. It is the single biggest issue.


LEMON (on camera): Okay, but there is a big problem. Voting rights legislation is stalled in the Senate, blocked by Republicans. Two key Democrats, senators Manchin and Sinema, are refusing to gut the filibuster to pass legislation without GOP support.

So, there is a lot to discuss. Derrick Johnson is here, the president and CEO of NAACP. Good to see you, Mr. Johnson. Thank you very much.


LEMON: So, today, you met with several Democratic senators, including Kyrsten Sinema, regarding a renewed push for voting rights legislation. But tonight, she is saying that she still opposed to (INAUDIBLE) the filibuster for voting rights. Did you get any sense today that she realizes how big this threat is to our democracy?

JOHNSON: No, we didn't get any sense. She was on the call, she didn't speak, although several other senators on the call, who based on our scorecard, scored to I, they moved the position, they understand the importance. Senator Hickenlooper changed his position. Senator Peters organized the meeting, changed his position, Senator Bennet (ph).

This is of urgent importance. We are not in 2005 where old Senate rules would apply in this political environment. We must stand up for democracy. We stood up for the full faith and credit of our currency last week. We made exceptions. Our democracy also should enjoy that same priority. We must protect the rights of voters across the country.

LEMON: Well, I'll admit to that note, what you just said there because I'm wondering if you got any idea -- she didn't speak in the call but is she open to a carve out for voting rights like what happened for raising the debt ceiling which, by the way, she voted for?


JOHNSON: We have not gotten any indication that she's moving in that direction, but we continue to push. Again, the scorecards have 13 senators that fill into this category. Five senators changed their positions since the release of the scorecards. So, we are going to continue to push.

It is absolutely important that before the end of this year, we protect the rights of voters across the country. It is not a partisan issue. It is an issue of protecting the guaranteed rights on our Constitution.

LEMON: So, you mentioned five senators and you mentioned John Hickenlooper. Shortly after the meeting, Senator Hickenlooper called for Senate to limit the use of the filibuster in order to protect voting rights. So, do you think we're going to see more of this or something like this?

JOHNSON: Well, I hope so. I mean, you know, when you think about some of the senators, the outcome of their election is a direct result of commuters who will be negatively impacted if we don't provide voting right protections.

At the start of the year, several legislative bodies across the country will be convening, and they will be drawing district lines. It will be the first time since the 1960s that the redistricting process will be initiated without coverage of voting rights protection.

So, racial gerrymandering would drive the conversation, as opposed to drawing districts that are fair and that would ensure representative democracy.

LEMON (on camera): Derrick, Senator Raphael Warnock gave a passionate speech on the Senate. He talked about voting rights. Listen.


SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): Here is the thing we must remember. Slavery was bipartisan. Jim Crow segregation was bipartisan. When colleagues in this chamber talk to me about bipartisanship, which I believe in, I just have to ask, at whose expense?


LEMON (on camera): Is he right? Is this push for bipartisanship coming at the expense of people of color?

JOHNSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you look at the outcome, if we have voter right protection, we have more Americans who are legitimate voters able to participate in upcoming elections free of any voter suppression measures.

If we don't have voting right protections, we are limiting access to the ballot box, so the many Americans who use early voting, the many Americans who cast the ballot and those ballots were effective.

The will of voters can be overturned in several elections if the outcome is not to the liking of legislative bodies. That's not a democracy. Just two weeks ago, we are part of a global conversation to further democracy. Yet, we're not protecting democracy here domestically. This has to be a priority.

It doesn't matter whether this passed by 51 votes or 78 votes. At the end of the day, the outcome is what should drive the conversation. How senators get there is irrelevant to me. It's the outcome that we're measuring and it must happen before the end of this year.

LEMON: (INAUDIBLE) White House tomorrow, right? We want you to come back and report on that, tell us what happened. Thank you, sir.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

LEMON: I appreciate it.

Intense storms ripping through huge parts of the U.S. and leaving a wake of destruction. A live report from the weather center just ahead.




LEMON: So, here's the breaking news right now. Millions of Americans under high wind alerts tonight as a powerful storm system from the Rockies moves into parts of the Midwest and the Great Lakes.

I want to check back now with Pedram Javaheri in the weather center. Pedram, hello again to you. The Midwest is experiencing unprecedented weather right now. Give us the latest.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, Don. This is unbelievable. Just look into some of the data coming out of Chicago. Would you believe it's warmer right now in Chicago in advance of this front, in the middle 60s, around midnight eastern in December, than your hometown down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana?

It kind of speaks to the impressive nature of what's happening here. A storm system on approach that has already had a history of producing upwards of 350 severe wind reports. About 50 of these with wind gusts over 75 miles per hour, meaning 50 locations, towns, observation points had winds at hurricane force this afternoon as the system push through and is far from over.

You'll notice tornadoes, upwards of 19 reports of them. That's all you'd expect in the month of December happening in just a few hours. But, of course, we had 50 reports just five days ago.

Look at this. Here we go with the wind gusts, expansive area of the central plains, the upper Midwest, where we have the threat in place, and yes, the storms are still rotating. The potential is there for this to spun tornadoes. So, we have tornado watches kind of extending a little farther towards the east as we go into the overnight hours.

Always important to note, these nocturnal tornadoes, any time you get one this into the overnight hours, historically speaking, they're about two and a half times more deadly than ones during the daytime. That's why the situation becomes that much more serious. Ten percent chance within a 25- mile area. Within that area, indicted in orange, from Rochester to (INAUDIBLE), that is where the highest likelihood here is to see some tornadoes into the overnight hours.

And Don, look at this. The storm system has all the elements of a winter storm system, a summer event, and also a spring event in one. Wind gusts upwards of 100 miles per hour across portions of Kansas. Again, a land- based system, not a tropical system to produce such winds.


An incredible setup for what has played out here. And the latest numbers bring almost to half a million customers, not people, customers, with power across the western half of the U.S.

LEMON: Pedram, thank you very much. We will be watching this very closely. I appreciate it.

And a final note. I want to send love and condolences to our colleague here at CNN, Ana Navarro, on the passing of her mom, Violeta, who died last night in Nicaragua at the age of 81 following an illness.

Ana posting this beautiful photo of her mom on Instagram today. She says that she wanted to visit Violeta, but her parents asked her not to travel to Nicaragua as the government there is denying entry to members of the international press and jailing its critics. May she rest in peace. Our thoughts are with you, Ana. We love you.

Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.