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Marc Caputo is Interviewed about DeSantis; Ashley Campbell is Interviewed about Emma Willis' Emotional Plea; Ken Burns is Interviewed about Florida's Education Bill. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired March 07, 2023 - 08:30   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Now from Miami is national political reporter Marc Caputo, who covers Florida politics incredibly closely.

Marc, you know, this is kind of this remarkable legislative session that they don't typically get this much national attention, this outsized attention. But, obviously, with Governor DeSantis being primed for a presidential run, you know, what are you expecting it to look like over the next 60 days?

MARC CAPUTO, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I'm expecting the Florida lawmaking session to look like one giant rubber stamp. And it normally isn't like this for governors. But Ron DeSantis is a governor like no other that we've seen in the state. He is incredibly popular with the Republican base. More so if you look at Republican polling than Donald Trump in Florida. And the Republican legislators, who control the legislature, know this. And in addition to that, they have more than a two-thirds majority. So, Democrats basically don't matter. And if you have more than a two-thirds majority in the legislative body, you can just steamroll the opposition.

And lawmakers explicitly and in some cases implicitly admit like, look, this is a session to further Ron DeSantis' ambitions and they're there to make it happen. So, anything he wants, he's probably going to get. And the real question is, what's he really going to want, what's he really going to get, and to what degree, if he runs for president, is it going to help him against Donald Trump again if he does. And then if somehow he wins, to what degree is he going to be overextended in running against Joe Biden, who still has not decided to announce his bid for presidency or re-election but probably will very soon.

COLLINS: Yes, you said it's normally not like this, this kind of rubber stamp style situation.


COLLINS: What do you hear privately from Republicans? Are they bothered by the way -- because part of this is, he's consolidated a lot of power just as governor.

CAPUTO: Right. No, I mean, some lawmakers like at the margins, your moderate Republicans, and they'll whisper this, they don't really like this. But a lot of them have basically been purged. If you're a Republican lawmaker, if you're a Republican official, say with a Democratic one, part of your job is to get re-elected. Opposing Ron DeSantis has made quite clear is a pathway to irrelevancy, at least in the Florida Republican Party. So, they're there to kind of boost him and to go along with him.

And also understand this, this used to be a swing state, Florida did. This is place where Ron DeSantis, when he first ran for governor, pardon me, I almost said president, in 2018 won by less than half a percentage point. In November, he won by nearly 20 percentage points. It is an out-sized margin that we haven't seen in this state. The biggest margin that we saw for re-election of a governor was Jeb Bush in 2002 when he was at the height of his power in the immediate afterglow of 9/11 when his brother, then the president, was riding a high. Ron DeSantis blew that out of the water.


CAPUTO: Now, one of the things I should mention, not only is DeSantis expecting the legislature to rubber-stamp his agenda, he's also not only running against Democrats and the woke left or however he wants to describe it, he's also running against the mainstream news media. So, as long as the mainstream news media kind of covers him in a sloppy way, gets its facts wrong, he's going to be all over that like white on rice, so to speak. And what you're going to see from DeSantis, as you've seen in his rise, is an ability to capitalize on that. We saw that with Covid in 2020 when a lot of media coverage of Florida was a little over the top, and a little hysterical, and he took advantage of that. And ever since then you've seen him time and time again go back to that well.

And if you just look back at the last legislative session with all of the controversy he was mired in, again, he wound up winning by nearly 20 percentage points. So, to a degree, voters at least in this state are either tuning out the news media, not believing it, and preferring to support Ron DeSantis, at least as a gubernatorial candidate. Not sure about president. We'll have to see.

COLLINS: Yes. Well, and it's easier to use the media as a foil than, you know, your actual potential opponent, someone like former President Trump, who is also there in Florida.

Marc Caputo, thank you.

CAPUTO: Thank you.

COLLINS: We're also going to take a deeper look into Florida's education bill, that's ahead, with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who is going to join us here on set.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead, an emotional plea from Bruce Willis' wife.


EMMA HEMING WILLIS, WIFE OF BRUCE WILLIS: Please don't be yelling at my husband, asking him how he's doing or whatever. The woo-hooing and the yippee-ki-yays -- just don't do it, OK?


HARLOW: Who she's now calling out in the wake of her husband's dementia diagnosis.




EMMA HEMING WILLIS, WIFE OF BRUCE WILLIS: For the video people, please don't be yelling at my husband, asking him how he's doing or whatever. The woo-hooing and the yippee-ki-yays -- just don't do it, OK? Give him his space. Allow for our family or whoever's with him that day to be able to get him from point A to point B safely.


HARLOW: That is Emma Willis, wife of movie superstar Bruce Willis, pleading with the paparazzi to stop yelling at him when they see him in public. The family recently announced that Willis has a speaking disorder called aphasia. And that has progressed into a form of dementia, known as FTD.

Joining us now is someone who is all too familiar with the struggles of helping a famous loved one with a debilitating neurological disorder move through the world, Ashley Campbell. She, of course, you know her for many reasons. She's a country singer. Also the daughter of the legendary Glen Campbell, who died from Alzheimer's disease in 2017.

Ashley, good morning, and thank you.


HARLOW: Tell me why you want to be here. Why is it important to speak out for - it's the Willis family today, it was your family before. It is so many American families.

CAMPBELL: I saw what Mrs. Willis posted, and I just really identified with her and empathized because it's so important for people with dementia to maintain a sense of normalcy and a social life as long as they can, and - and also to not be harassed because being confused is very, very upsetting.


I'm not sure where Mr. Willis is in his - in his progression, but I'm just - I'm glad he's still going out and that he has people that love him that much.

HARLOW: You know, I was just telling you in the break how moved I and so many of us were by the CNN film just a couple years ago about your dad and about his life and it tracks you and your family and your journey through this disease as it progresses with him.

I want to play a clip of that for people. This is a clip of your testimony before Congress. And it was featured in the 2015 CNN film "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me."

Here you were.


CAMPBELL: I think a person's life is comprised of memories, and that's exactly what this disease takes away from you. Like a memory of my dad taking me fishing in Flagstaff when I was a little girl, or playing banjo with my dad while he plays guitar. Now when I play banjo with my dad, it's getting harder for him to follow along. And it's getting harder for him to recall my name.


HARLOW: And that was him next to you, right?


HARLOW: What is your message to so many people who feel lost right now with this?

CAMPBELL: My message is, if you're going through this, if you have a family member who's going through this, community is so, so integral, being surrounded by love and support and staying as active and social as you can. You just -- stimulation and love because every moment is precious. The clock is ticking and every moment counts.

HARLOW: So you wrote this song. I want to end by playing a little clip of it, called "Remember" for him.

Here it is.


CAMPBELL (singing): We can talk until you can't even remember my name. Daddy, don't you worry, I'll do all the remembering.


HARLOW: That song is called "Remembering." Tell me about writing it.

CAMPBELL: I wrote it when I first moved to Nashville just after my dad's tour ended. And I wanted to talk about the fact that he took care of me my whole life and then now the roles were reversed and it was my job to take care of him and to give him reassurance.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, I'm sure it helps a lot of other families as they go through what yours did.

Ashley, thank you very much.

CAMPBELL: Thank you. HARLOW: Kaitlan.

COLLINS: It's so nice to hear from her on such an issue that so many people are thinking about.

Also this morning, we're tracking news out of Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis, he's promised major reforms for higher education. Now a bill is looking to turn those measures into law. We're going to talk to the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. Why he thinks that bill is deeply flawed and an assault on liberties. That's next.




GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): The state of Florida, we're proud to stand for education, not indoctrination in our schools.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: So, that was Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis underscoring his stance on education before a packed crowd at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library this weekend. Now, one of the marquee bills that could define his agenda could soon go before the Republican led legislature, Florida House Bill 999. If passed, it would limit what people are allowed to study at public universities and colleges. The bill reads in part, general education core courses may not suppress or distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics, such as critical race theory, or defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Now, the bill has drawn widespread criticism from educators and Florida Democrats. And it also caught the attention of our next guest, renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. He tweet in part, by trying to dictate what teachers can and cannot teach, Florida House Bill 999 is an assault on the very liberties articulated by the founders and something that all Americans should speak out against.

Ken Burns is here now.

Also he has a new book out, "Our America: A Photographic History." It is fantastic. We have been thumbing through it.

Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

You were moved enough to write about this bill and what's going on with the whole idea of critical race theory and not teaching the full history of this country. Why?

KEN BURNS, DIRECTOR, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: You know, what makes America great is not the suppression of ideas or the pursuit of every corner those ideas may lead us or the facts. It's about who we are and how we investigate who we are and celebrate the diversity of who we are. All of these bills that DeSantis and others are doing limit our ability to understand who we are and are not inclusive, they are exclusive. They are narrowing the focus of what is and isn't American history. It's terrifying. It feels like a Soviet system or, you know, the way the Nazis would build up a Potemkin village.

Tucker Carlson is doing the same thing with the footage from 1/6. It's just a kind of rewriting of history at the most dangerous level. It's a huge threat to our republic.

I am doing, Don, a film right now, working on a major series on the history of the American Revolution, and I can tell you that Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Payne and George Washington and John Adams and James Madison and Alexander Hamilton are rolling over if their graves if they think that this person is carrying the mantle of what it is to be American.


COLLINS: You're such a treasured chronicler of history and of our times. You know, I was reading something you said about race and how it's like touched almost every project you've done when you speak about that. How do you think that we'll look back and reflect on the period that we are living in now?

BURNS: Well, I think there's some really positive aspects. And I think part of what we're seeing in DeSantis and others is a kind of reaction to anything that makes it nothing but a kind of neat, tidy, white picket fence, morning in America kind of view of things. This is a complicated world and race is in everything we touch, not because it's -- I'm looking for it, but because we were founded on the idea that all men were created equal. The guy who wrote that owned hundreds of human beings and didn't see the contradiction or the hypocrisy.

And so our whole story is based in a discussion in race, along with the meaning of freedom. And that's complicated, too, because freedom, you know, what I want, personal freedom, comes into conflict with what we need, a kind of collective freedom. So, there is that great struggle. Why are you so frightened of telling your children about the struggles?

We go to gym class at six years old and have somebody yelling at us that we're not doing something right, but somehow you can't move over to history and find out that something in the past wasn't quite right. This doesn't make any sense. It's a disconnect. And what it's attempt is to narrow, as I'm saying, our view of ourselves into one narrow thing as our country becomes more diverse, which is wonderful, and more complicated and lots of manifestations. That's who we are. That's been our strength from the very beginning.

HARLOW: I want people to look at this photo you have of John Lewis, the late Congressman John Lewis, and he has his arms crossed there, near the end --

BURNS: It's the last photograph in the book.

HARLOW: It's the last photo, right? And it's near the end of his life. And it really speaks to this moment. This took you 15 years.


HARLOW: This was a passion project, nights and weekends. But there's a reason that it came out recently. It's not brand-new, right? "The New Republic" says, this book speaks to our moment precisely because it refuses to lie about the past.

BURNS: I just wanted to include everything. There's nothing wrong with that. You'll see kids playing guns in the middle of the dust bowl, you'll see girls dancing on the beach in Jamestown, Rhode Island, you'll see other playfulness. You'll see the beauty of this continent. But you'll see all of the things that we also are.

And, you know, what that "New Republic" thing is, I think it may be the best review I've ever got in my life. They said, this is an anti- fascist book, right? And so what we see is this narrowing and saying, only you can treat one -- it's right out of the authoritarian playbook. If a company, Disney, disagrees with me, I change their tax status. If somebody, you know, a state employee disagrees with me, I fire them. This is not a democracy. That's an authoritarian --

HARLOW: And there's -- there's a reason you put a child on the front, right? I mean this not only is a photo, 1949, right?


HARLOW: By you -- by your mentor, Jerome Liebling (ph), but it's also about what are we creating for our kids.

BURNS: That's right. I wanted to say, this is all of us. So, you'll see photographs in here from very famous people and from anonymous people and from sort of what we'd call snapshots. There's ordinary folks, or so-called ordinary folks, and there's great people. There's a picture of Abraham Lincoln in there. But he's not on the cover. This kid is as important as Abraham Lincoln. That's the heart of a democracy. It says that we value every individual life. And this kid with his improbable hockey shirt, with his coat, the rakish hat, his attitude, he's looking at my mentor, Jerome Liebling, and they're seeing each other as equals, and there's no communication in this world except among equals. And the kind of hierarchies that a Tucker Carlson and a Ron DeSantis are trying to superimpose over us are extraordinarily dangerous to this experiment.

LEMON: You call it a narrowing. We have to run, but is it - what is it -- racism, right, and maybe -

BURNS: Well, I think it's -- right now there's -- it's just white supremacy.

LEMON: And fear (ph).

BURNS: There's a kind of fear of the other. And so what you're seeing, we saw it in our film on the Holocaust, you know, it's easy to make the person other (ph). Let me just put it simply, Don, this way. I have been making films for

almost 50 years about the U.S., capital "u" capital "s." but I've also been making films about "us," the two-letter, lower case plural pronoun. And anytime anybody tells you that it's anything else other than us, there's only us. And when somebody tells you there's a them, move away. Move away. There's no them. There's only us.

LEMON: Ken Burns, always a pleasure. Thank you very much.

COLLINS: The book is amazing.

BURNS: Thank you.

LEMON: We will be right back.

COLLINS: But I love what you said when -

LEMON: So, so, so good.

COLLINS: In that interview where you talked about - we didn't get to this because we didn't have time, but --



COLLINS: It's time now for the "Morning Moment."

The actress, Halle Bailey, revealing that the newest Little Mermaid doll, a replica of herself. She revealed it in this emotional Instagram video.


HALLE BAILEY, ACTRESS, "THE LITTLE MERMAID": I am going to cry. This is the new Little Mermaid doll. I am literally choking up because this means so much to me. And to have one that looks like me, that's my favorite Disney character, is very surreal. And, look, she even has my mole. See?


COLLINS: Bailey growing emotional as her post was met with widespread celebration. Even the iconic Barbie brand commented, they believed it was well-deserved.

LEMON: Nice.

HARLOW: Look at that.

CNN "NEWSROOM" starts now.