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Don Lemon Tonight
Biden Ready To Rumble With GOP; Sen. Ted Cruz Grovels To A Fox Propaganda Host; Ahmaud Arbery's Murderers Sentenced To Life In Prison; No School Again Today For Chicago Students; Skating Champions Sidelined Because Of COVID. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired January 07, 2022 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST (on camera): No more Mr. Nice Guy. President Biden's scathing attack on his predecessor may be a hint that he is ready to rumble with Republicans to get big ticket issues on his agenda passed, especially voting rights. And who is really wearing the pants in the GOP? That is the question after Senator Ted Cruz grovels to a host on the Fox propaganda network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb --
TUCKER CARLOS, FOX NEWS HOST: I don't buy that. Whoa, whoa, whoa, I don't buy that. I've known you a long time, since before you went to the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Oh, boy. So, what is really going on with Cruz? A former aide who spoke with him this afternoon joins me just ahead to talk about it.
Also coming up this hour, a measure of justice for Ahmaud Arbery. The three Georgia men convicted of his murder sentenced to life behind bars.
I want to get right now, though, to CNN White House correspondent John Harwood and Stuart Stevens, the former chief strategist for the Romney presidential campaign and senior advisor to the Lincoln Project. Gentlemen, good evening to both of you.
John Harwood, let's start with you. We thought we might get a ruling tonight but is expected to come very soon. The Supreme Court appears poised to block President Biden's vaccine and testing rules aimed at large businesses. How big of a blow would this be to the Biden administration in their attempt to stop the spread of COVID?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly would be a blow. I don't know how big of a blow. There are many difficulties that are in front of the Biden administration as they try to get the country vaccinated.
And the biggest one is hard vaccine resistance from a few tens of millions of Americans. You know, just about 30 percent of the country, of adults in the country, who are simply not willing to get vaccinated.
The mandate helps to force some of those people do it. But that's really not the core of the issue. The core of the issue is that there are a lot of people who don't want to get it. So, they are going to have to keep pushing.
It's unclear how much ultimate headway they are going to be able to get because even with a mandate, you're going to get some people resisting. So, it would take one tool out of their tool box, but they've got more than one.
LEMON: You know, Stuart, this is yet another example of how elections have consequences. And while the Congress and the country may be divided politically, the court is now firmly leaning to the right.
STUART STEVENS, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE LINCOLN PROJECT, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST OF ROMNEY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Yeah, elections do have consequences. You know, what I find just astounding about this, it all goes back to the politicization of a disease. How did we let this happen? It just shows this incredible lack of caring and putting the country first by the Trump administration.
That's where all this started. When it became like a Democrat and a Republican issue. When you look at the states where they have Republican governors and you have resistance to this.
More people are dying. I mean, how much does it take to be like against death and try to lead the country and your own party to be against death? It's just extraordinarily nihilistic.
LEMON: Well, just think of, Stuart, what is happening with January 6th. I mean, NPR is reporting the January 6 Committee is considering asking the former vice president, Mike Pence, to voluntarily appeal.
If Pence cooperates with this investigation even if it is just in some limited fashion, do you think the changes that -- that will change the game in any way? Would it give cover to other Republicans to finally step up for our democracy?
STEVENS: No, I don't. I mean, I think you saw it yesterday when there were two Republicans on the House side, the Cheneys. The party is lost. Those -- I have a lot of friends still who think that you can save this Republican Party. It doesn't want to be saved. It is like someone drowning. People who go out to swim, they are just going to try to attack you.
The Republican Party is what it wants to be. And we keep trying to think it's going to revert to something. No, it's not. This is what they want to be.
LEMON: Hey, Stuart -- STEVENS: There is no desire to change.
LEMON: You said something to me that I think was very important. You said this isn't about Donald Trump, what Donald Trump did. This is more about the Republican Party. Donald Trump gave them cover to be what they wanted to be, right? To make this pivot. They wanted this. It wasn't -- explain what you mean by that and how you said it.
STEVENS: I think the Republican Party was revealed by Donald Trump, not changed. Just as I think Fox didn't create the Republican Party. The Republican Party created Fox. If there wasn't a market for Fox with these Republicans out there, it wouldn't exist. It would be like a restaurant.
You know, you open an Italian restaurant, it doesn't make people like Italian food. They just come and eat it.
The Republican Party has had these two strands. You know, I go back and talk about it to Eisenhower's strand and the Joe McCarthy's strand. And I think it is pretty clear that the McCarthy's strand is the one that has emerged dominant. And we have a party that is an autocratic party in America. It is really an autocratic movement in America. And --
HARWOOD: Don, if I could just add to what Stuart is saying --
LEMON: Wait, just complete your last yell. I'll let you jump in, John. Complete your last few words. I couldn't hear what you said.
STEVENS: I was just saying we have to stop thinking that they're going to change on their own.
LEMON: Got it.
STEVENS: They're not.
LEMON: Go ahead, John.
HARWOOD: I would just say, the irony, Don, is that at a time when the Republican Party has suffered a moral and intellectual collapse, their political prospects are really good right now. They have a very strong chance of taking over the Congress this fall.
Joe Biden for all the forceful speech that he gave yesterday, he's going to continue to go after Donald Trump on issues of democracy. He went very hard at Republicans on economic issues today when he was talking about job numbers, talking about republican obstruction and how their solution to inflation is to make people poor rather than do things to reduce the cost of things that burden them like child care, for example, that he wants to deal with and Build Back Better.
But he is -- his rankings are low. He is in a fairly weak political position at the moment. So, as weak as Republicans are in terms of what they're saying, the honesty of what they're saying and their conduct, they've got a very good chance to win the election and that's what makes the stakes of 2022 and 2024 so high.
LEMON: Let's talk about his tone a little bit more, John, because he is set to deliver a speech on voting rights in Atlanta on Tuesday on the heels of his January 6th address. What kind of a speech are you expecting? Do you think that he is going to strike the stronger tone that we heard this week?
It seems to be what Democrats want. There is at least a little glimmer in Democrats' eyes saying, well, maybe Joe Biden finally gets it, that he has to be a fighter and, you know, this whole kumbaya bipartisan thing is not going to work as it didn't work with the former president, Barack Obama, when he was in a similar position.
HARWOOD: Well, I think, yes, I think you're going to see Biden be very forward leaning on pushing for voting rights. But remember what the key to action is here. He has to get two Democratic senators to move on issues related to the filibuster, either carveout or some sort of change in filibuster rules to let them get to a vote on voting rights. There is no persuading Republicans to go along with him.
He has got 98 percent of the party behind him on voting rights, but he has got a very specific problem with a couple of people. And so, what they've got to figure out is what are the things -- they are going to move those two people. If they can do that, they're going to be able to pass the bill. So, you know, there is an outside issue of rallying Democrats and getting them inspired by the fact that you're fighting for this.
The practical problem in trying to get results and establish a national floor of standards for voter registration and voting procedures and election administration in the bill that's before or that's potentially before the Senate, the issue is Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. What is going to get them? We don't know the answer to that. Nothing has yet.
But there is a very strong push being made within the party from outside the party. President Obama, Oprah Winfrey contacted Joe Manchin to try to make the case as well. So, a lot of people are putting pressure on it. The question is whether he's going to respond to it.
LEMON (on camera): Biden has long been under pressure over voting rights. I pressed him on it during our town hall. That was back in July. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: This is important for people who look like me. My grandmother would sit around when I was a kid, fifth grade, at a fifth-grade education. I learned that she couldn't read when I was doing my homework. She would tell me stories about people asking her to count the number of jelly beans in the jar or the soap -- and -- so why is protecting the filibuster -- is that more important than protecting voting rights, especially for people who fought and died for that?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: No.
Biden: It's not.
Biden: I want to see the United States Congress, the United States Senate, pass S1 and S4, the John Lewis Act, get it on my desk so I can sign it. But here is the deal, what I also want to do, I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who, I know, know better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Stuart, do you think that he's still going to try to work with Republicans on voting rights since his attempts to reach out have been reviewed?
STEVENS: Well, first, that was a hell of a question you asked. You ought to think about doing this for a living. That really summed it up.
STEVENS: Look, I hope they have given up on that. I mean, it's a fantasy. It's not going to happen. I mean, it just not.
STEVENS: So, history is going to hate this moment if we lose this democracy because we defended the filibuster rather than defending voting rights. That's going to be a dark moment and it could be a very decisive moment. And I believe that Biden -- President Biden and Biden administration ultimately realize that.
LEMON: Yeah. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.
HARWOOD: They do. And just remember, it is not Joe Biden who is defending the filibuster, it is Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema right now.
LEMON (on camera): Thank you both. I appreciate it.
Ted Cruz went on the Fox propaganda network to beg forgiveness after getting caught doing something that seems to be a cardinal sin in today's GOP, telling the truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARLSON: Wait, wait, wait, can I ask -- hold on. You work in the -- I just -- I guess I just don't believe you. And I mean that with respect because I have such respect for your acuity and your precision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Senator Ted Cruz told the truth about the January 6th Capitol insurrection. Seriously, he did. He called it a terrorist attack. That's the truth. But Fox propaganda host Tucker Carlson really didn't like that, so watch what happened when Senator Cruz went on Tucker's show to clear things up.
LEMON (on camera): It is a master class and flip-flopping and grumbling (ph).
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb --
CARLSON: I don't buy that. Whoa, whoa, who, I don't buy that. look, I've known you a long time, since before you went to the Senate.
CRUZ: I wasn't saying that the thousands of peaceful protesters supporting Donald Trump are somehow terrorists. I wasn't saying the millions of patriots across the country supporting President Trump are terrorists and that's what a lot of people misunderstood --
CARLSON: Wait a second. But even -- hold on. What you just said doesn't make sense.
CRUZ: I was talking about people who commit violence against cops, and you and I both agree, if you commit violence against cops, you should go to jail.
CARLSON: Yeah, but you're not a terrorist. You know? You're not. You're a guy who assaulted a cop. Okay, so there is a legal difference as you well know.
CRUZ: I've used that word for people that violently assault cops. I use that word all in 2020 for the Antifa and BLM terrorists that assaulted cops and fire-bombed police cars. But I agree, it was a mistake to use the word yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Joining me now, CNN political commentators Alice Stewart and Bakari Sellers. Bakari -- (LAUGHTER)
LEMON: Bakari, this is important. He is the author of a new children's book, "Who Are Your People?" I'm going to talk to you about that in a minute. That's what my dad did every time we brought someone over. He would say, who are your people? Chances are, he knew the people's people. Anyways, I digress. Hello to both of you.
Alice, let's talk about Ted Cruz. I understand that you have some news for us. You spoke to Senator Cruz about that disaster of an interview. What did you learn about this debacle?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SENATOR TED CRUZ: Well, first off, Don, I expressed to him that he should have just left well enough said. What he said initially in his comments before the hearing, thanking the Capitol police for their work, was the right thing to say. That attacking a police officer is wrong and it is an act of domestic terrorism. And violence is wrong, peaceful protest is right. That comment and those comments should have stayed.
And going on with Tucker Carlson, I think, took a lot of what he did say out of context. What he said and the way he explained to me was what he explained to Tucker Carlson was reiterating what he said is that violence against police officers is wrong.
And when he went on to say that he stumbled and didn't say things the right way and very un-Ted Cruz-like, he said it sloppy, was by not being able to exactly say that all of the people at the Capitol were not terrorists, just the people that were attacking police officers.
And his mistake and what he was trying to clarify on Tucker's show was he was not referring to everyone at the Capitol, just the people that were going after police officers, and that's a --
STEWART: -- big distinction and it was something that should have just been said and left said at the hearing, but going on to Tucker exacerbating a situation, I think, made some very correct and positive statements, I guess, you can say about January 6th --
LEMON: Okay. I got you. I feel you.
STEWART: -- and took it too far.
LEMON: Let me just say because I know you're dying to jump in here, Bakari. But Cruz actually asked Alice to go on Tucker's show to clear things up. Look at the words Tucker put up directly under the senator's face. Cruz'ing for a bruising. I mean -- you know, I mean, he had to have known that this was going to happen. I mean, you wouldn't advise him to go on, would you?
STEWART: I would not have. And he anticipated this kind of feedback from Tucker.
I reached out to Tucker today as well and see if he had any additional thoughts and he said that there is no additional context other than what we saw on the air.
STEWART: So, clearly, Tucker made his point to clarify his concern about what Ted Cruz said, and I think Ted certainly didn't make the situation any better for himself.
LEMON: Okay. Bakari, do you want to respond to any of this?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I mean, I reached out to both Tucker and Tec Cruz. I think I have the wrong number. It just kept ringing busy. So, I don't know. I got to check that out. I think they gave me the wrong number at the bar when I saw them.
Look, the fact is, you got to look at the full context of who Ted Cruz is now. The Ted Cruz who we see now is not the principal conservative Ted Cruz that we knew when he was solicitor general, knew when he was, you know, someone who was being considered for the Supreme Court, knew that although you may have disagreed with his conservative outlook, he at least was principled. That's a totally different person than it is today.
Ted Cruz got bullied on national TV, and I actually felt bad for him, because Tucker Carlson literally just bullied him. It was downright -- I mean, you know, it was like an anti-bullying campaign that could have been the commercial. But you have to actually look at the full context of who Ted Cruz has become. We remember -- we cannot forget, we have to remember how Donald Trump talked about this man's wife like a dog.
LEMON: And his dad.
SELLERS: And what did he do? Well, I mean, and his dad with these mythical fantasies. And what did he do? He ran back to Donald Trump. He said, please, please, take me in. Donald Trump laughed and took him in. We remember this whole escapade.
So, watching this now, watching him backtrack, the only thing that I think that is appropriate for us to say is that we see Ted Cruz, he does not necessarily have the testicular fortitude it takes to stand up for people who are bullying him, which is not going to put him in a good position going forward.
LEMON: This is always something about Ted Cruz. I remember, you know, Cancun and I remember him like Donald Trump --
SELLERS: But Ted Cruz --
LEMON: -- about his wife --
SELLERS: For those people watching who want to go into politics. I think me and Alice may disagree on where we land on Ted Cruz. But what we can agree on is the fact that you have to be principled in politics because if you don't have principles, then you can get beat and bullied into positions and look somewhat (INAUDIBLE) where you look like a fence sitter (ph) and you don't --
SELLERS: -- stand for anything. No one knows what Ted Cruz stands for when it comes to January 6th now because he is not consistently on message and goes where the wind goes.
LEMON: All right. Go ahead.
STEWART: Let me just say this. He has been consistent with regard to attacks on police officers being terrorists and certainly acts of domestic terrorism. Look, I think it is really important, while there has been a lot of headlines and conversation about this interview between Tucker and Ted last night, their feelings are not reflective of rational Republicans across the country.
Rational Republicans do look at what happened on January 6th as an insurrection at the Capitol. They oppose the challenging of the certification of the election. They do believe Joe Biden is the duly elected president. They supported a peaceful transfer of power.
LEMON: Okay. Alice, Alice, Alice --
STEWART: And they do want answers with regard to January 6th. That's what many are feeling.
LEMON: That may be -- I don't know if that is true. The reason I say that is because most Republicans who are in office and represent those people voted against the certification of the election, have not said what you are saying on television.
So, they must somehow believe that that's what their constituents wanted them to do and want them to say because they're not voting the people out who didn't vote to certify the election. They're not voting people out who don't speak up against what happened on January 6th.
So, look, I think rational Republicans would like to believe that, but I don't know if that's necessarily true, that most Republicans across the country feel that way. I would like to think that they do, but I don't. I don't.
I've got to go because I got to get to Bakari's book. Otherwise, we are going to run out of time. We will continue this conversation. Thank you, Alice. I appreciate that.
STEWART: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: So, Bakari, I want you to stick around because I want to take a moment to talk about this, right? "Who Are Your People?"
LEMON: "Who Are Your People?" It is beautifully illustrated. I had to say it looks like it was inspired a lot by you and your family. So, tell me about this book. By the way, I'm not kidding you, my entire family will tell me -- whenever we brought someone new over, my sisters brought over a guy they were dating or whatever, they'd be like, who -- my dad would be like, who are your people? They would say, well, you know, are you the Jones from (INAUDIBLE) or you're the Jones from (INAUDIBLE) or whatever? Oh, yeah, I know your dad. You know what I mean? Is that what this is inspired by?
SELLERS: That is what that is inspired by. Who are your people and where are you from? And, you know, growing up in the deep south, that's how you got to know people, that's how you got to know where people were from. Whether or not they were good. You know, for me, having these twins, Sadie and Stokely -- by the way, Don, today is their birthday.
LEMON: I know.
SELLERS: So, happy birthday to Sadie and Stokely.
LEMON: They're three, right?
SELLERS: Yeah, they're three. But, you know, it gives them images that they can see themselves in. And I hope that when young children of color read it, they're able to feels some sense of pride. When white children and other children read it, they're able to get some sense of empathy. It has some powerful imagery in it. Hopefully, it teaches us some lessons and brings us together. So, I'm excited to be in the children's book realm and be able to have positive discussions in imagery going forward.
LEMON: Well, the illustrations are beautiful. They are by Reggie Brown except that makes you look handsome. I don't know how that happened. But your kids, I mean, look gorgeous as they are. But I want to say happy birthday to your kids. Let us put them up on the screen. So --
SELLERS: Look at that.
LEMON: What do you tell them?
SELLERS: Well, I tell them --
LEMON: When you ask -- when they ask you, who are your people, what do you tell them?
SELLERS: I tell them your people were strong. I tell them your people are heroes. I tell them you stand on the shoulders of individuals who dreamed big dreams. And I tell Sadie she can be president. I tell Stokely he can be an astronaut. I tell them that we have to change the world. So, it is up to me and you, Don, to ensure that Sadie and Stokely and all the young people inherit a better country than the one that we have today.
LEMON: Yeah. Sadie and Stokely, daddy love you. Kai (ph), your bonus dad is so proud of you, Bakari Sellers. To Brittany (ph), she made this world a better place and will always be missed. R.B. (ph). That's who it's dedicated to. So beautiful. Congratulations.
SELLERS: Thank you, brother.
LEMON: The book again is, "Who Are Your People," and it is by Mr. Bakari Sellers looking like a teddy with that beard.
LEMON: Sexy teddy.
SELLERS: You got what I need.
LEMON: That's right. See you, Bakari. Thank you.
SELLERS: All right, brother, love you.
LEMON: Love you, as well.
Life in prison. Three men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery sentenced today. Plus, kids caught in the middle of Chicago schools still closed as adults fight over COVID protocols.
LEMON: Tonight, Ahmaud Arbery's mother saying her prayers were answered after the three men convicted of murdering her son were each sentenced to life in prison, two of them without the possibility of parole. Before the sentences were handed down, Wanda Cooper-Jones addressed the court, asking Judge Timothy Walmsley to impose the maximum.
Let's discuss now. Michael Moore is here. He is a former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Georgia. And CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates is here as well. She is a former federal prosecutor and she is the author of "Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness." Good evening to both of you.
Laura, I spoke earlier to Wanda Cooper-Jones. It was in the last hour that aired on this program. She said today was a huge win for the family. The judge really set the tone during the entire trial of these three men. Today was really no different. He was unsparing when he was talking about the McMichaels, don't you think?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And I want to point out, first of all, the interview with her was absolutely riveting as was, of course, and heartbreaking. Her victim impact statement earlier today where she pointed out even aspects of the trial, the idea of the horrible statements that were made by at least one defense counsel about the appearance, also the comment of, look, they were fully committed to their crimes, they should be fully committed to the consequence, as well.
The judge really put that out there automatically and talk about the lack of remorse, to talk about wishing or thinking the worst in your neighbors and the worst in yourself, and having really pauses throughout to really emphasize and underscore the point that the life sentence without parole for at least two was more than appropriate and with parole option as an option for the third based on cooperation.
But still, really having very poignant moments where the judge laid down the law and threw the book at them justifiably so.
LEMON: Yeah. Michael, the McMichaels both got life without parole. William Bryan, Jr. got life and won't be eligible for parole until he has served 30 years in prison.
The judge made the point of saying that the McMichaels showed no remorse. Why didn't any of them say that they made a terrible mistake or they apologize to the family for killing Ahmaud Arbery?
MICHAEL MOORE, PARTNER, MOORE HALL: You know, I'm glad to be with you both. I do think it was a day where justice was served. I think it was a mistake by the defense lawyers not to let them say something. They claim that they chose not to do that because they had the pending federal trial. They don't want to say anything.
But I really think there would have been a time when you could have said, look, I'm sorry, I never wanted somebody to die, something to make you look human. And they certainly weren't afraid to get on the stand and tell their story during the trial. And I think there was a way to do that and still protect what is upcoming in the federal trial.
So, I think it would have gone a long way. And I think, you know, whether the judge had his mind made up, we always wait and see after hearing if a judge will be moved one way or another. I really think when he came out and one of the first things he said was, you know, talking about remorse and had there been remorse.
I do think that would have gone a long way. It certainly would have been important, maybe important later when we start talking about parole and those kinds of things years and years down the road, decades down the road. But I really think it would have to their benefit to say something.
LEMON: Yeah. Did you want to say something, Laura?
COATES: On that point, yeah. I want to just drive that out a little more, the idea of remorse, because the judge made a really important statement about how remorse was more than just what you say. It had to be demonstrated.
And I think even if they had spoken at the sentencing regarding their remorse for what took place, which perhaps they could have done so, the judge really pointed to moments after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The use of an expletive by the father, the turning of the back, the thinking about oneself and his own son, for the younger of McMichaels.
And then, of course, remember, these men walked for free. Walked freely for weeks after this murder. And they were even told by the prosecutor at the time that they were protected by the citizen's arrest law and they did not demonstrate remorse over that period of time, in actually their own words expressed at the scene of the crime, what they thought.
So, I do think there is an important moment for remorse to be expressed at sentencing. But I think in this case, the judge, given the wholistic content, saw that as too little too late given what happened in the direct aftermath.
LEMON: You were surprised, Michael, that the family declined the plea deal with -- that would put them in federal prison for 30 additional years. Why?
MOORE: In federal prison, there is no parole. And so, essentially, you would have been talking about a life sentence for any one of these individuals. So, let's take the men that are in their 60s. At 90 years old, the chances they're alive at that time is slim to none in custody.
So, it really would have amounted to a life sentence and also would have removed the possibility of any appeal. And you would know that there was closure and that these men are going to spend the rest of their natural lives behind bars. And so, you wouldn't have the uncertainty of an appeal, you wouldn't have the uncertainty of a trial, you wouldn't have those things that you prove in a hate crime trial.
That can sometimes be difficult. But it would have given a chance to have a -- certainly a bird in the hand as opposed to going through a trial with a sentence (ph), which is significant. It's a huge deal when you really talk about putting somebody in jail for the rest of their natural lives.
LEMON: That's got to be the last word. Thank you both. I appreciate it.
MOORE: Glad to be with you.
LEMON: More than 340,000 kids out of the classroom as Chicago's public school system fights with the teachers' union. That is next. Plus, the figure skating champions now out of the competition after testing positive for COVID. They are going to join me from quarantine.
LEMON (on camera): Chicago officials and city teachers' union, well they say that they plan to negotiate throughout the weekend to finalize a plan to get public school children back into the classroom. They hope by Monday. The deadlock over COVID-19 protocols has kept more than 340,000 children out of school for the past three days.
More tonight from CNN's Omar Jimenez.
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Back to school hangs in the balance for the country's third largest school district as negotiations between Chicago public schools and the teachers' union remain deadlocked over returning to in-person learning.
MELANIE LOPEZ, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS TEACHER, FOREMAN COLLEGE AND CAREER ACADEMY: I'm not happy that we're not at work. We want to be at work. We want people to understand that this idea was to go remote, not to stop working.
JIMENEZ (voice-over): Melanie Lopez is a high school teacher in the school district and a union member of the teachers' union that has argued the city of Chicago hasn't provided adequate resources to be in person safely.
(On camera): Did you feel like you had what you needed in the classroom for it to run safely?
LOPEZ: I do because I bought it. I don't know --
JIMENEZ (on camera): With your own money?
LOPEZ: With my own money, right. What we were given were not great. So, a lot of us had to go buy better quality, you know, PPE equipment than what we were provided. We're running through masks, you know, pretty quickly. Things that like in theory sound great on paper until it's in practice, until you actually see it being implemented, and then you see where the holes in the situation are happening.
JIMENEZ (voice-over): The city, however, has argued through masking, vaccinations, testing, and more that school is still safer than being at home even with record numbers of cases among students, staff, and across Chicago in recent weeks.
MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: The difference between now and a year ago was, obviously, we have vaccines for huge swath of our school- based population. I think that the issues that are on the table as I understand them, we can narrow the divide and get a deal done. Schools are safe. There's been no question about that.
JIMINEZ (voice-over): The union disagrees. And one of the major sticking points in their ongoing negotiations with the city is testing. Governor JB Pritzker's office confirmed Friday it had been in touch with the White House in recent days asking for more tests. The White House confirmed those conversations with Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to assess their needs.
All the while, students have been out of close and parents have been frustrated. Lopez is also a parent to two 7-year-old twins and trying to find a balance, especially as she remembers what remote learning was like last year.
(On camera): You walked that line.
LOPEZ: Right. Trying to juggle watching them and making sure they're engaged in their activities and then trying to make sure I'm also teaching my classes is almost like playing a game of Russian roulette it feels like.
As a parent, I think what could be done better for next time is let's get those parents' voices in there. Let's get solutions provided that if this is something that may happen in the future, we already have some alternatives in place so that parents feel like they're supported.
JIMENEZ (on camera): Now, a spokesperson for Chicago public schools says they plan to continue negotiations through the weekend. And in a joint statement with the head of public schools, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said their bargaining negotiations went into the evening today, but that their so far productive sessions must conclude this weekend, while parents, teachers and more than 340,000 students will be waiting to see if that actually happens. Don?
LEMON (on camera): Omar, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
They should be in the middle of a national figure skating championship. But instead, they're joining me from quarantine. Skaters Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier are here after this.
LEMON: Listen, coronavirus causing shockwaves at the U.S. National Figure Skating championship in Nashville. On Wednesday, the reigning pairs champions, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, withdrawing from competition after Frazier began showing symptoms and tested positive for COVID.
And they are not alone. Tonight, U.S. silver medalist Amber Glenn and two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu had to withdraw after a positive test. And it comes just as the committee will meet to choose who gets spots on the U.S. Olympic skating team.
Alexa Knierim and also Brandon Frazier, they both join me now. Brandon joins us from the team hotel where he is in isolation still. Thank you both for joining. I'm so sorry that this happened to you. Brandon, we know that earlier this week, you were experiencing some pretty bad COVID symptoms. How are you feeling tonight?
BRANDON FRAZIER, PAIRS' NATIONAL CHAMPION: I'm definitely on the pathway to recovery. I -- my symptoms -- I also struggle with asthma so that was kicking in as well. So that was making it more challenging when I was battling the symptoms.
Now, I am starting to, with all the meds I've been taking and everything and rest, I can feel myself coming out of the worst of it, but still being isolated and taking every precaution to take the very best care of myself.
LEMON: And Alexa, have you had any symptoms? How are you doing?
ALEXA KNIERIM, PAIRS' NATIONAL CHAMPION: I'm doing fine. I'm just having a little bit of heartache for Brandon knowing that he's isolated and on his own. And health wise, I'm fine, luckily.
LEMON: Well, Alexa, you know, you both should be competing this week. And you've been training for years, even practicing this week before testing -- before he tested positive. It has to be devastating for you.
KNIERIM: Yeah, a lot of tears were shed behind the scenes. But, you know, these moments make you stronger. And it's never the end. When you don't throw in a towel, if you don't give up. So, I'm holding on to a lot of hope for the future and my focus is hoping that Brandon will become healthy and back on his feet really soon.
LEMON: Brandon, decisions about who will be on the U.S. skating team in the Olympics are being made this weekend. It's rare for skaters who don't compete in nationals to get a spot on the team. But you're petitioning the committee to take your whole body of work into account. Are you worried that this will cause you the chance -- you and your partner the chance to represent the U.S. in Beijing?
FRAZIER: I mean, nothing is guaranteed, of course. You know, it's just -- we're trying to make the best of this awful situation. But, you know, Alexa and I have done everything we possibly could to show up at every event and be as ready in training and as competitive on the international circuit for the U.S.
The committee will select who they believe is going to do the best for them at the Olympic games. At this point, my job is just to focus on getting healthy and get back to training as soon as possible. And whatever the committee decides, of course, Alexa and I will respect, but not having the ability to go out and defend our U.S. title and compete at one of the biggest competitions of the year is absolutely devastating. So, having to digest all that, it's definitely been an emotional week.
LEMON: Brandon, CNN's Christine Brennen, I should say, reported earlier this week that the hotel where skaters, including you, were staying was full of unmasked people, not taking the same precautions as athletes and press. Were you concerned that not enough steps were taken to protect athletes this week?
FRAZIER: Not at all. To be honest, U.S. Figure Skating has been holding for almost two years now safe events during COVID. I felt as safe as I have in the previous events, you know, especially last year back in October when the surges were at an all-time high at that time.
So, you know, I felt like everyone was doing exactly what they needed to do to be safe. It's just a spike right now, COVID times, and people are getting sick. And I just really wish everyone can do everything they can to help each other out.
LEMON: Alexa, you have a positive attitude. Do you that this strategy is going to work?
KNIERIM: Yes. I have always felt safe and protected by our federation. And coming to this event, I felt the same way. This demon of a virus is so contagious that -- I mean, it's nearly impossible to stay away from even if we were to be in a different type of condition as far as a bubble or something different. I still think --
LEMON: Yeah. I was referring to the body of taking your whole body of work. So, I hope that works for you as well. But you're definitely right about the virus. It's unrelenting.
Thank you both. Best of luck. Feel better and be safe. Thank you.
FRAZIER: Thank you.
KNIERIM: Thank you so much.
LEMON: Thank you. And thank you for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.