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Debates Over COVID-19 School Safety Measures Heat Up Nationwide; Jan 6 Committee Considering Asking Pence To Appear Before Panel; Ahmaud Arbery's Three Killers Get Life In Prison Without Parole; Superintendent Fights To Keep Kids In The Classroom; Oscar- winning Actor And Activist Sidney Poitier Dies At 94; Cruz Blames Sloppy Wording For Calling Capitol Riot A Terrorist Attack. Aired 11a- 12p ET

Aired January 08, 2022 - 11:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right. We begin this hour with states scrambling to keep up with a surge in COVID hospitalizations. The number of patients across the country is nearing the record set almost a year ago of 142,000 hospitalizations.

And even more concerning, child hospitalizations are hitting new records as the omicron variant spreads. All of this fueling more debate on how school districts can best keep kids and teachers safe.

Meantime, hospital staffing shortages and dwindling testing supplies are becoming more common. In California, the National Guard is being activated to help assist hospitals where needed. In Colorado, the state activated its crisis standards of care to keep up with the rise in patients.

CNN's Nadia Romero and Polo Sandoval are both tracking all of these developments from coast to coast.

Nadia, a school district seemed to be coming up with their own solutions on whether to return to the classroom now the Chicago Teachers Union is now being sued. What are you hearing?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're hearing so much trouble really all across the country, Fredricka as all of these different school districts, teachers, parents try to figure out how to be in-person safely, right.

So here in Atlanta the governor is slashing those guidelines saying that even if you have COVID-19, you test positive, a teacher can still come in the classroom and teach as long as they are asymptomatic and wear a mask. But he's leaving those guidelines up to each school district to decide how they will move forward.

So outside of a midtown high school or Atlanta public school and the school district here is requiring mandatory testing, at least twice a week for its teachers and it's up to the students and their parents to decide if they will be tested.

But there are bigger issues in let's say the city of Chicago as we see yet another round, a contentious battle between the city of Chicago and the Chicago public school district. Now, the mayor has made it clear. She wants in-person learning. She says it's best for the kids safety. That's where many of the children get their meals and it allows for those parents to continue working.

But the school district teachers union says not so fast. We don't feel safe coming back to the classroom. Here is what they want to do instead.


TENNILLE EVANS, CHICAGO TEACHERS' UNION ORGANIZER: Our teachers are ready to work. They have been ready to work. They've been ready to work remotely under safe conditions.

Our officers are still at the bargaining table, bargaining for our student, bargaining for our teachers, bargaining for the community. That's what we're asking for. Testing, contact tracing, vaccination, some metrics, testing, testing, testing.


ROMERO: And that's still an issue we're seeing in San Francisco where just yesterday, Fredricka, teachers there scheduled a sit-out to protest against what they say is a lack of testing, a lack of masks and they want the district to do something about the critical staffing shortages they're facing there.

We're seeing other battles happening in New York City as well, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Very serious situations elevating even more so. Thank you so much, Nadia.

And Polo, to you, adding to all of this is the rising rate of child hospitalizations. What are you learning?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it all equals staffing shortages, Fred, that we have seen throughout the country. And we continue to see that we've talked about this already for weeks and yet health authorities continue to warn that as long as those numbers continue to rise in terms of hospitalizations, then that stress will continue on some of the nation's health care systems.

Not all, but just look at numbers again that you showed a little while ago in which you see that sharp spike in hospitalizations. Well over 130,000 -- almost 140,000 hospitalizations, right now -- COVID hospitalizations throughout the country and that is of course, what's prompting also some health care workers to become infected and have to quarantine.

Governor Gavin Newsom in California now becoming the latest state in the nation -- in California of course, to actually turn to the National Guard to try to supplement their personnel at health care facilities. And also at testing sites, talking about 200 National Guard members who would be distributed about 50 testing sites or so.

And also part o that will be the backfill of some of these healthcare workers that have called in sick here.

Now, in terms of what might potentially help, when you hear from one health expert who has more -- is a little more confident in mitigation efforts that we can possibly take right now versus ongoing vaccination efforts. Here is why.



DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FORMER BIDEN TRANSISTION COVID-19 ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER: Unfortunately, if you vaccinate today the people who are unvaccinated who account for about 75 percent of the hospitalizations, it's not really going to make a big difference over the next month because they need a second shot and then 14 days after the second shot.

Public health measures that we've mentioned. Better air quality, masking, not going into crowded -- those are really important measures in order to get past omicron. You need to plan today for three months from now so we're not caught in the same problem.


SANDOVAL: And in terms of planning ahead, we can bring (ph) these back here to New York where Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced, Fred, that they will be requiring now for health care workers to be boosted. That is, of course, those who have not yet received that third dose.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you so much, Polo Sandoval and Nadia Romero. Appreciate that.

So with so many schools determining what to do next, the White House is weighing in.

CNN's Jasmine Wright joins us now. Jasmine, the White House says it has reached out to Illinois Governor Jay Pritzker about the situation in Chicago schools. So what is being said?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, the White House is walking a fine line here, Fred, offering support to Illinois officials but showing a bit of deference to the Chicago Teachers' Union as this White House continues to say that they are the most pro-union administration in a long, long time.

So, on Friday, deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, she told reporters that yes the White House was in touch with Illinois Governor Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lightfoot to assess their needs in this ongoing clash. And that was after Pritzker had told the media -- in a media interview, he said that he come to the White House, talked to them and asked them for more testing capability.

Now, Karine Jean-Pierre, she told reporters that the White House had conveyed to Pritzker and Lightfoot privately what they have been saying publicly for a while which is that the president wants to see kids in school and they feel that the administration and the federal government has provided and actually has the tools to keep kids safe in their schools.

But the bottom line is that the president wants to see them in their seats and their schools. Now, it still remains to be seen, Fred, what this kind of intervention from the White House, whether or not that is going to kind of ease the lock jam between the two parties as hundreds of thousands of kids continue to stay out of school.

But for the president's part, of course, he wakes up this morning in Las Vegas, but yesterday when he was here in D.C., he tried to inject a bit of optimism to this administration's current fight battling the latest surge of the pandemic. When he was asked by reporters whether or not he feels that the COVID in this iteration is here to stay. Take a listen to his answer.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't think COVID is here to stay. Having COVID in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay but COVID as we're dealing with it now is not here to stay.

The new normal doesn't have to be. We have so many more tools we're developing.


WRIGHT: So there was some positivity from the president as this administration faces pressure from former health advisors to shift their strategy to acknowledge that COVID and living with COVID is the new normal, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jasmine Wright, something that we're all trying to grapple with. Appreciate that from the White House.

All right. Let's talk about this now with Dr. Taison Bell. He's an assistant professor of medicine of infectious diseases, international health, pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Virginia. Dr. Bell, good to see you again.


WHITFIELD: So what's your view? In what form do you think COVID is here to stay? You just heard what the president had to say.

DR. BELL: Well, we're certainly in a crushing spike right now. But the nature of the pandemic is a common wave. And so I do think at some point the omicron wave will pass. But we have to be worried that there can be further waves down the road. So no, yes -- I don't think the way it exists right now is where it's going to be but there's always going to be that next wave and that potential.

And that's why it's so important to try to get more people vaccinated and continue with our public health measures.

WHITFIELD: All right. The record number of hospitalizations that we're seeing particularly among the younger community. How is that affecting front line workers that you are working with?

DR. BELL: I mean, health care is decimated right now. There's really no better way to describe it. And I want to be clear about one thing. We are near our max patients of 132,000 from last year because of our staff leaving, exhausted. We cannot provide that same quality of care to 130,000 patients now that we did last year.

So it's absolutely devastating. And that's why it's again important to try to do whatever we can to try to mitigate this spike.

WHITFIELD: You said decimated. That's pretty powerful.

I mean health officials have been warning too that the next few weeks will get worse. Is the only way to get through this the issue of vaccination? People have to get vaccinated if they haven't been? Or is there another way through this?


DR. BELL: Well, it is true that it takes time for people to get vaccinated to build up immunity. It takes about at least two weeks and that's after the first vaccine. And of course, you get a second dose, right.

So in the meantime, the mitigation measures of wearing a mask, avoiding crowded indoor spaces -- those are going to be that much more important right now to try to stop the chain of transmission.

So the people of today are affecting the people of tomorrow. We got to stop that chain right now to try to bring these cases down.

WHITFIELD: Schools of course, are a big concern right now for parents, teachers, students, everybody. We're seeing lot of different answers to the same question about whether schools should reopen. What do you think is the solution, if there is one solution, universal solution for school districts across the board? What do you see?

DR. BELL: Well, I'm answering this as a father, a physician, public health professional. This is extremely hard.

And I think that blanket statements that children should be in school or children should be virtual are not very helpful. I think the real question is what do schools need in order to provide in person learning in a safe environment because I think we can all agree that most of us would want children in school. So what does the mean? That means increasing rates of vaccination among staff and students. We only have 16 percent of students 5 to 11 who are vaccinated. I proudly count my 8-year-old in that group but we need to get that up.

Schools need access to testing, improving their ventilation, and providing high quality masks to their students and to staff. And so we can get those conditions in place. The White House has indicated there's federal money available to help. We just have to get it on the front lines and get these to schools.

WHITFIELD: And now when you hear Georgia Governor Kemp saying, according to state order, teachers who test positive who are asymptomatic can be in school.

I mean you're already shaking your head. The message being sent there is that you don't transmit if you test positive and you're asymptomatic.

So set the record straight for us. I guess two responses there that the governor would have that order. And number 2 is the message that if you're asymptomatic and test positive that you cannot transmit?

DR. BELL: I think the real message they're sending is that they don't care about people. I mean, so I told myself that I would not be surprised by anything coming out of these states that are coming out with some of these crazy policies.

But I stand corrected. This one caught me off guard. And I know we're having an active school debate but can we all just agree that we don't want teachers who test positive in front of our students right away, like right when they're in the most infectious period?

I know it applies to asymptomatic people but this spreads when you don't have symptoms or before you have symptoms.

This is not a sound policy. It's utter madness. Now, luckily local school districts can make their own isolation and quarantine protocols. I just hope they take this guidance and throw it directly in the trash right where it belongs.

WHITFIELD: Because apparently school districts will be able to make their own decision. But of course, the follow up question to this -- is this a political, you know, answer or remedy. Or is this one that the governor really thinks is going to be and bring, promote -- bring some real good solutions for the community?

I mean those questions still up in the air. So I wonder too, you know, the CDC keeps trying to clarify, you know, its new isolation quarantine guidelines down from ten days to five days. But it doesn't recommend testing before leaving isolation. What do you think needs to happen next?

DR. BELL: Well, CDC is in a tough position. Let's just acknowledge that because I think any decision that's being made is going to be met with a lot of scrutiny. That said, I do think that ending isolation at five days without a test is not quite the right way to go because at that point about a third of people are still infectious.

And we know people are inconsistently using masks and those masks are different quality. So I think if you're going to do it at five days, that should be accompanied by a rapid test. And if not, extend that out to 7 days where only about 16 percent of people are infectious. I think it's reasonable when you are again adding with the masks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dr. Taison Bell, good to see you. Thank you so much. Be safe.

DR. BELL: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Straight ahead this hour, will former Vice President Pence appear? The January 6th Select Committee is considering asking the former vice president to voluntarily appear before the panel possibly in the next few weeks.

Plus, life in prison. Details on what the three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery now face.

And later, a look back at the life and legacy of Sidney Poitier.




WHITFIELD: The House Select Committee investigating the Capitol riot is now considering asking former Vice President Mike Pence to voluntarily appear before the panel.

Secret Service agents rushed Pence out of the Senate chambers on January 6th as the violent mob breached the Capitol. But he later returned and certified the 2020 presidential election despite an extensive pressure campaign led by then-President Trump and his allies to halt the process.

CNN's Annie Grayer joining us now. Annie, so good to see you. Tell us more about this potential next step by the committee.

ANNIE GRAYER, CNN REPORTER: The chairman tells us that the committee wants to hear directly from Mike Pence and here's why. Pence, as you said, certified the 2020 presidential election despite an intense pressure campaign from Trump and his allies. That pressure campaign, who was involved, how far it went is a key focus of the January 6th Committee.

In addition, Pence was at the Capitol on January 6th during the attack and he was in the White House privy to some very important conversations that can fill in a lot of investigative threads for the committee. So all of this makes him an important witness to the committee.

[11:19:57] GRAYER: Now Thompson tells us that the committee is going to be meeting this week to discuss next steps about when they want to make this voluntary reach out to Pence.

It's important to remember that this is a voluntary ask that the committee is going to make. This is not a legally binding subpoena like the committee has done with some of the other witnesses.

So the committee will be meeting to discuss those next steps. But in the meantime, sources tell us that multiple Pence aides close to the former vice president have been meeting with the committee and cooperating and filling in a lot of investigative holes for them.

WHITFIELD: So the committee you know, has said they are not ruling out the possibility that Trump's actions amount to a crime. Is that something that it can prosecute?

GRAYERS: Members on the committee have been emphasizing this for a while that they're focused on what Trump was doing on the days leading up to and specifically on the attack. They keep talking about these 187 minutes between when the violence at the Capitol started and when Trump released a message to his supporters to call off the violence.

They say they have first hand testimony and text messages and documents detailing what Trump was doing that day, but that's a long way away from being able to allege that there was a crime by Trump that was committed.

It's important to remember that the committee does not even have the power to prosecute a crime. If it comes across a crime in its investigation, it has to refer that over to the Department of Justice. And the Department of Justice then has to decide if they want to prosecute.

The committee's goal is to write a comprehensive report about what happened on January 6th which can include legislative recommendations to prevent that day from going -- to prevent that day from happening again. But no -- no ability to prosecute here.

So we're a long way away from talking about the connection between crimes potentially committed by Trump on January 6th and the committee. But it's important to note that the members of the committee are really focusing on this as an angle of their investigation.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still to be determined whether the Department of Justice would be engaged in this and take it to the next level potentially.

All right. Annie Grayer, thank you so much.

And this quick programming note. Join Fareed Zakaria as he investigates "THE FIGHT TO SAVE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY", this new special begins tomorrow at 9:00 p.m.

We'll be right back. [11:22:22]


WHITFIELD: On Friday, a judge sentenced three white men who chased and killed 25-year-old black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in south Georgia to life in prison, two of the three without parole.

CNN's Ryan Young breaks down the emotional day in court.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It was back in November when these three men were convicted. Everyone was waiting for sentencing and I can tell you the emotion in court was just as strong as it was a few months ago.

People wanted to know how this would end up. For one family though, they have been waiting for this moment of justice since the day the shooting happened.

JUDGE TIMOTHY WALMSLEY, SUPERIOR COURT, CHATHAM COUNTY, GEORGIA: Today the defendants are being held accountable for their actions.

YOUNG (voice over): Two of the three men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison, Travis and Gregory McMichael received life without the possibility of parole.

WALMSLEY: After Ahmaud Arbery fell, The McMichaels turned their backs to get a disturbing image and they walked away. This was a killing. It was callous.

YOUNG: William Bryan Jr. sentenced to serve life with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

WALMSLEY: He had grave concerns that what had occurred should not have occurred. And I think that does make Mr. Bryan's situation a little bit different. However Mr. Bryan has been convicted of felony murder.

YOUNG: Before reading sentences, Judge Walmsley paused for one minute.

WALMSLEY: I want us all to get a concept of time. And so what I'm going to do is I'm going to sit silently for one minute.

I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores.

YOUNG: And the court heard powerful statements from Ahmaud Arbery's family.

WANDA COOPER JONES, AHMAUD ARBERY'S MOTHER: I laid you to rest. I told you I love you. And some day, somehow, I would get you justice.

YOUNG: His mother spoke directly to her son and to the men responsibility for his death. JONES: These men have chose to lie and attack my son and his surviving

family. They each have no remorse and do not deserve any leniency. This wasn't a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact.

They chose to target my son when they couldn't sufficiently scare him or intimidate him. They killed him.

YOUNG: Taking aim at a defense attorney's comments during the trial --

JONES: His long, dirty toenails.

YOUNG: -- about her son's toenails.

JONES: I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day. I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered.

YOUNG: Arbery's family was clear they wanted the maximum sentence possible.


MARCUS ARBERY, AHMAUD ARBERY'S FATHER: Me and my family we've got to live with his death the rest of our life. We'll never see Ahmaud again. So I feel they should stay behind them bars the rest of their life because they didn't give him a chance.

JASMINE ARBERY, AHMAUD ARBERY'S SISTER: The loss of Ahmaud has devastated me and my family. So I'm asking that the men that killed him be given the maximum sentence available to the court.

YOUNG: Last November the McMichaels, and Bryan were convicted of murder after chasing 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in their vehicles, while he jogged in the Satilla Shores neighborhood killing him after they say they thought they saw Arbery inside an unfinished home on February 23rd, 2020.

It took two and a half months before arrests were made after video Bryan took of the murder was released and went viral.

(on camera): And these three men face additional federal charges. That case is scheduled to be heard in February. So it's not over for them just yet.

A lot of people are paying attention to this especially because the prosecutor who was originally involved in this faces her own set of charges that are connected to this case.

Ryan Young, Brunswick, Georgia


WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, the debate between online learning and returning to school is intensifying as COVID cases surge nationwide. Next, I'll talk with the superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools about her plans as she remains determined to get kids back in the classrooms.



WHITFIELD: A debate is raging in schools across the country over whether to keep kids in classroom or return to online learning as the omicron variant spreads. It comes as the rate of hospitalizations for children is now the highest it's ever been.

In Indianapolis the superintendent of public schools says she is determined to keep kids in the classroom. And just this week, dozens of kids signed up for shots at two vaccination clinics held by the school district.

Joining me right now is the superintendent of Indianapolis public schools, Aleesia Johnson. Miss Superintendent, good to see you.

So why is it so important in your view, you know, to keep kids in the classroom as COVID hospitalizations soar again.

ALEESIA JOHNSON, SUPERINTENDENT, INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Right, absolutely. And thanks so much for having me this afternoon.

I think what we know and what we've experienced over the last nearly two years now is that when we are able to have our students together with their peers and their teacher, in-person for learning, that's the best environment in which we can provide the instruction that they need.

And so from my point of view, our job and our North Star right now is to provide in-person learning to as many students as we can even as we're navigating really high community transmission here in Indianapolis.

WHITFIELD: Well, if there's high community transmission, then wouldn't that also lead to potentially high transmission within the school? The kids, the staff, the teachers are from the community?

JOHNSON: Excellent question. What we know from the mitigation strategies that we put in place, last year we actually had low in- school transmission with our students.

And so we are a district where masks have been required for the entire school year. We are promoting vaccinations with our students, with our staff. We have actually put in place and reinstituted some of the strategies that we used last year because we know that they helped to support eliminating that spread.

And so we've moved all of our staff meetings and any adult gatherings to being fully virtual during this time. We're pausing on field trip and extracurricular athletics activities for our elementary schools during this times and again encouraging distancing in our classrooms and schools.

We know testing right now can be hard to come by so we've ordered additional rapid tests that we can have those on hand for our staff and families as well. So those weren't things we're doing prior to hitting the surge but we put those things back in place because we know they actually made quite a difference in our schools last year. We believe they will do the same this year.

WHITFIELD: And other than testing, how are you gauging whether and how it's safest for kids, teachers and staff to be in school versus rather remote learning, not on the best days but on the worst days?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. So we have our contact tracing protocols that are still in place and happening across all of our school buildings. We have a tracker that is on our Website where families and students and staff can see the prevalence of cases, both positive cases as well as quarantine cases that are happening in our schools so that we can be clear about what's happening in term of transmission or just the number of cases.

Oftentimes we know that that's happening from gatherings outside of our schools but obviously our schools are not in bubbles. What's happening in our community affects what happens in our schools. We want to make sure that our families and our community can see by school where those incidents are occurring.

WHITFIELD: And so what are the options that you're considering for your school district as the numbers continue to vary?

JOHNSON: So you know, like I said, our north star is that we're able to, across our district, educate as many students in person as possible.


JOHNSON: What we also know is true is that we need to be ready to make pivots as necessary at the classroom level, perhaps at grade level or perhaps even a school if we run into situations where we cannot safely staff our building because of illness or if student absences are high. Then we are prepared to do that.

So we've had to do that already this week in a few classrooms. And so when you hear the debate of open or not, I feel like sometimes there's a little bit of nuance that's lost in that which is we can have this sort of North Star of keeping our school district open understanding that there will be individual cases that might require us to pivot to virtual learning again, to ensure our students and staff are safe.

WHITFIELD: Ok. And then, of course, just about every district wishes the vaccination rates were higher. Your district actually set up vaccine clinics this past week for students and families. And so how did that go? Did a lot of people turn out? What kind of reception did you get?

JOHNSON: Yes. It's going well. We know that we're going to have to continue to educate our young people and their families about the importance of being vaccinated and then make those opportunities available.

So we posted a number of clinics since the beginning of the school year. We will continue to partner with our local and state health Departments to offer those clinics, and most importantly to educate.

So to continue to talk about why it's important to be vaccinated and our district and the state if you're vaccinated and you're a close contact, you actually don't have to miss school.

And so there are real opportunities to continue learning when our students and staff are taking advantage of those vaccination opportunities. So it's really important that it's something we continue to talk about.

WHITFIELD: Have any of families relayed to you whether their reluctancy, you know, has changed at all? I mean what are some of the reasons why they are reluctant?

JOHNSON: Sure, absolutely. We certainly have heard from families again, given the higher rates of transmission in our community right now who are nervous about students coming back into the school building.

And then we have heard from families who, you know, are trusting in and supportive of those mitigation strategies we put in place. So we're happy that we've kept masks in place for this year because they understand how they are helping to protect our staff and students.

So it really depends on that family and sort of the experiences they've had thus far. And again, we're trying to communicate what we're doing, why we're doing it and then respond when those questions come up.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, all the best the you, Indianapolis school district superintendent, Aleesia Johnson and of course, all the best to your entire school district. Thank you so much for being with us.

JOHNSON: Thank you so much. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, legendary actor, director and long- time activist Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94. His extraordinary legacy straight ahead.



WHITFIELD: Iconic actor and activist Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94. He was the first black movie star in Hollywood and also the first black man to win an Academy Award when he won Best Actor for his performance in the film, "Lilies of the Field".

Many of his films dealt with issues of race and social justice including one of his most famous roles as a black man marrying a white woman in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?"


SIDNEY POITIER, ACTOR: I'm your son. I love you. I always have, and I always will. But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.


WHITFIELD: Lisa France is a CNN senior entertainment reporter and she's with us right now. So good to see you.

I mean wow, what a giant right but what an incredible life at 94 years. And it's so telling and clear how many lives he impacted whether you were someone in Hollywood or anyone else. You know, everybody's mother and father and, you know, cousin, et cetera has been touched by his performances.

So, you know, I guess what's remarkable too is he understood his place in Hollywood and he really understood his power. He said, you know, he had choices and he made those choices very specifically about what kinds of roles and how he wanted, how and who he wanted to portray.

LISA FRANCE, CNN SENIOR ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Absolutely. He wanted to be dignified as he was in life. He only wanted to take roles that, you know, showed the best of black people in reality.

And people have to keep in mind that this was a time when African- Americans and black actors and actresses were relegated to playing domestics or they had to do comedic roles.

And along came this man who's playing these elegant, you know, black characters who are doctors and police officers. And it wasn't that those people didn't actually exist in the real world. Of course there were black professionals then but it was that Hollywood did not choose to portray them on film.

So he understood that he had a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders playing these role and he was remarkable. He was brilliant in everything that he did.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And how do you suppose he was able to make that incredible transition to be powerful like that? To be able to, you know, institute choices on roles because he talked about his journey, you know, when he received, you know, his Award of Distinction back in 2002.


WHITFIELD: And he said he described it as a journey but it wasn't easy. He wasn't necessarily taken seriously as an actor. He was criticized by many about, you know, his acting and then he would be elevated to this incredible place. How did he do that in your view?

FRANCE: In my view it's because this man beat the odds from the beginning. He was born prematurely, two months prematurely at a time when we didn't have NICUs and things like that. He literally could fit in the palm of his father's hand, he said. So he was a survivor. And early on he decided even when it came down to, you know, before he was famous, he had an opportunity to play a Broadway role that he didn't agree with, that was going to be a black man that he didn't feel like was an excellent role model for black people. And so even though it offered a tremendous amount of money at the time, $750 a week, he said I'm not going to take that role.

So he made choices, he made decisions even before he was a powerhouse in Hollywood, which I think paved the way for the incredible and remarkable career that we saw him have.

WHITFIELD: It was important for him to be part of the civil rights movement, human rights movement. He was a social activist. I mean -- and here we're seeing, you know, in 2009 how President Obama helped underscore, I mean, really his legacy with that Medal of Freedom award.

FRANCE: Yes, Sidney Poitier was a good friend of Harry Belafonte. He actually had been an understudy of his in a play. And it was partly due to his influence that he came to get very actively involved during the 1960s in the civil rights movement.

And he understood that as a person who was famous, he had an incredible platform. So if you saw him at a civil rights march, it carried a lot of weight. And so he understood that he was someone that could make a difference just by virtue of the fact that he was famous.

And he did a lot behind the scenes. He gave money. He wasn't always the one that was there with the bull horn, but he was extremely supportive.

But at the end of the day one of the most important things that he did is he represented black people in such a way that you could not deny their humanity. And he did it with such elegance and grace and like I said before, dignity that you could not ignore him.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Absolutely true. I feel like if you didn't know him, he was in your household. I know he was in my household growing up, you know, since the 60s, you know, all the way until his passing.

I mean what a hero. What a giant for so many inside and outside of Hollywood and throughout our families.

Lisa France, thank you so much. Good to see you.

FRANCE: Thank you. Good to see you, too. Take care.



WHITFIELD: All right.

Senator Ted Cruz is apologizing for actually telling the truth. On Wednesday the Texas Republican called January 6th a violent terrorist attack, but his comments drew a lot of criticism from the far right so he went back on Tucker Carlson's show Thursday night and tried to walk back his comments, practically begging for forgiveness.


SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: I don't buy that. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. 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 have misunderstood in that comment.

CARLSON: Wait a second. 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.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's bring in CNN's Daniel Dale for a fact check on this. So this was a mess, just all over the place.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: It was. And it's rare for me here on CNN to say that Tucker Carlson was right about something, but Tucker Carlson was right in this case to disbelieve Senator Cruz.

As you said, Senator Cruz was trying to portray what happened here his use of the phrase terrorist attack to describe the Capitol assault as some sort of one-time error, a slip, an inadvertent mistake. It is not. In fact, that is the precise language he used over and over for months.

I did some research here. Before this Wednesday comment he is calling a sloppy error, I found 17 different occasions on which Senator Cruz used that very same language. Either broadly calling the Capitol assault a terrorist attack or broadly calling the rioters terrorists.

Now, he did this in official statements. There was an official statement the day after the riot where he used this kind of language. There was another official statement more than a month after the riot where he used this language. There was a third official statement more than four months after the riot where he used this language again. He did it in tweets and he did it in comments to media outlets.

Listen to two separate remarks he made the day after the Capitol assault to Texas television stations.


CRUZ: Well, what happened yesterday in Washington was horrific. It was a terrorist attack on the United States Capitol. It was despicable. It's a dark day in our nation's history when terrorists can assault the citadel of democracy.

I do think it's really cynical for them to be trying to take advantage of what was a tragic event that occurred yesterday in Washington. The terrorist attack on the Capitol, it was despicable.


CRUZ: In hindsight on January 6th what operational steps should the Capitol police and other law enforcement have taken to prevent the violent terrorist attack from successfully breaching the Capitol?