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Combating Discrimination in the Workplace; Mark Esper is Interviewed about Trump's Town Hall; New House Oversight Revelations on Biden Family. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 11, 2023 - 08:30   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: There are laws in place to ensure that Americans are not discriminated against based on things like their gender or race when it comes to applying for jobs or finding housing, but what about your height or your weight? One major city is looking to change that with a key piece of legislation being voted on today.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich has the story.


JENNIFER PORTNICK, FITNESS INSTRUCTOR: I teach around 17 classes in a typical week. And it's what I love doing.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Jennifer Portnick is a veteran fitness instructor, but she still remembers the time she applied for her first job at jazzercize in San Francisco.

PORTNICK: I was invited to go to tryouts where the regional manager is kind of behind you, watching you dance. And after class she told me, you're going to be fantastic. There's just one thing. I want to get a picture of you with your arms out. And she sent that picture to the corporate offices.

YURKEVICH: She did not get the job. Instead, she got this letter. She had, quote, all the qualifications for a potential trainee except for the fitness level required.

PORTNICK: This doesn't make any sense, number one. And it's wrong.

YURKEVICH: Portnick wanted to take action and a San Francisco law, one that bans height and weight discrimination, allowed her to do just that.

PORTNICK: They were going to change the rule that said you have to look leaner than the public in order to be a jazzercize instructor. If it hadn't been for the law, I'm sure that I wouldn't have had the outcome that I did.

YURKEVICH: That was 22 years ago. Since then, just five cities and one state have similar laws.

SHAUN ABREU (D), NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: There is no legal path if you are being discriminated based off your weight or your height.

YURKEVICH: And that's why Councilman Shaun Abreu introduced a bill making it illegal to discriminate against height and weight in housing, employment and public accommodations in New York City. He says people treated him differently after he gained 40 pounds during the pandemic.

ABREU: Because it's not only protecting people in the workplace from this or - or in getting apartments, but it's also about changing the culture and how we think about weight.

YURKEVICH: Studies have found that weight discrimination is widespread and is comparable to the levels of racial discrimination in the U.S.


VICTORIA ABRAHAM, FAT ACTIVIST: This city that I love so dearly is built without my body in mind.

YURKEVICH: Victoria Abraham testified in support of the New York City bill last month. She is a self-proclaimed fat activist and content creator.

ABRAHAM: I know I'm fat. That's not a bad thing though. And I think the more that we use it as a neutral, as a descriptor, the less power it has.

YURKEVICH: Do you think that some of the discrimination for fat people happens through unconscious bias?

ABRAHAM: I think a lot of the biases against fat people are unconscious because they're never called out because our society functions with fat phobia imbued in it.

YURKEVICH: Weight discrimination has real financial impacts. The average American woman is reportedly a size 16. But one study showed that women considered obese earned $5.25 less per hour than women considered normal weight.

ABRAHAM: Walking into a job interview as a fat person, I'm already as a disadvantage. My weight is a con, right? And regardless of it's intentional or not.

YURKEVICH (on camera): But there is one thing that will be different, if you do decide to pursue the job market, this new law.

ABRAHAM: Yes. Exactly.

YURKEVICH: Does that make you feel a little bit better?

ABRAHAM: For sure. For sure. This bill is so important because we're having this conversation. Because we're talking about what it means to be a fat person existing in the world. That we are being reminded that our bodies should never be a barrier to anything.


YURKEVICH: Now, later today, when the city council votes on this new bill, it is expected to pass. There has been some resistance to it from the partnership in New York City. This is a group that represents small businesses. They say that this new bill is a little bit broad and could open up various businesses to a lot of litigation, and that would be costly for those small businesses. That's the opposition voice.

But a lot of the fat activists, and that's what they call themselves, have said that New York City, if they pass this bill, that's going to be huge for the rest of the country. It's going to protect millions of people here in New York City and could get other cities and states onboard. That is what they're looking for here.

MATTINGLY: Opens the door. That was fascinating, Vanessa. Great reporting, as always. Vanessa Yurkevich.

YURKEVICH: Thank you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, really interesting.

YURKEVICH: Thank you.

HARLOW: President Trump refusing to say whether he wants Ukraine or Russia to win the war. Coming up, we'll be joined by former defense chief during the Trump administration, Mark Esper, to respond to that and Trump's other foreign policy comments.

MATTINGLY: And, as we go to break, Beyonce kicking off her Renaissance world tour in Sweden last night. It's her first solo tour in seven years. She posted this video to her Instagram with a look at some of the outfits, pyrotechnics, disco balls and given the - even the giant metallic horse -- what on earth?

HARLOW: You're going to see it soon.

MATTINGLY: That video she posted was silent, but, of course, we had to turn up the music on our own.




DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: If I'm president, I will have that war settled in one day, 24 hours.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Can you say if you want Ukraine or Russia to win this war?

TRUMP: I want everybody to stop dying. They're dying. Russians and Ukrainians, I want them to stop dying. And I'll have that done - I'll have that done. In 24 hours I'll have it done.


HARLOW: That is former President Donald Trump in a CNN town hall last night refusing to say whether he wants Ukraine to prevail against Russia. He also refused to call Vladimir Putin a war criminal. We should note, the ICC, the International Criminal Court, has an arrest warrant out for Putin for war crimes, including against children, by the way.

Joining us now with his reaction, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He was fired by then President Trump just days after the 2020 election.

Secretary, thank you very much.


HARLOW: I just wonder what it must have been like to be you watching that -- those exchanges over Ukraine and Russia last night.

ESPER: Well, for the entire evening in some ways it's - you know, it's always shocking but not surprising. And on the specific issue though of Ukraine, I was, obviously, disappointed. I think, you know, a majority -- clear majority of the American people support the Ukrainians. I think in the Republican Party, a clear majority also support the Ukrainians. At least congressional leadership do. And it's the wrong message to send. It sends a - it doesn't help the Ukrainian cause. It - it emboldens Putin in many ways and it will affect disunity within the alliance.

I'm sure many of our NATO partners right now are asking the question about Trump's comments and what does it mean for the future and what's the possibility that he could become president again.

MATTINGLY: Well, Secretary, that's actually what I want to get into a little bit, if we could dig in a little bit more on the actual tangible effect, right. People think these are just words or of course this is where he's going to land on this type of -- what in foreign capitals, in European capitals inside NATO over in Brussels and the EU, what are they saying right now as they watch that? Does it change how they're operating or how they're positioning themselves as it relates to the western alliance and Ukraine?

ESPER: I fully expect that this is the chatter throughout the European capitals and other capitals around the word, quite frankly, because it's not just about Russia invading Ukraine, it's about the possibility that China could invade Taiwan at some point in the future as well. And the question is, will America stand up? Will America support democracies, like Ukraine and Taiwan, and defend them like we've done in the past for decades. And so that's the question.

I was in Lithuania a couple weeks ago -- a few weeks ago. This was the talk at the time when Governor DeSantis came out and made his comments about Ukraine. So, I'm sure this is the chatter in capitals around the world.

HARLOW: I was -- so much of the exchange about Ukraine and Russia was notable, but - but also the fact that the former president claimed that if he were -- if it happened on his watch, or if he's president again and the war is still going on, he will end it in 24 hours. What does that mean?

ESPER: I have no idea. Look, it's an assertion he makes on this and other topics. It's ridiculous.


It's -- you just can't solve a conflict like this. This conflict has a lot of historical ties and it has a lot of strategic issues that exist today. Obviously, Putin has committed a lot of resources, young men to the conflict. There's no way that this is going to end in a day. This is going to take years to end. And that's why I think we need to fully support the Ukrainian people in their cause. And President Zelenskyy and his government will decide what winning looks like and how to conclude the conflict.

MATTINGLY: You know, I'm interested, when you watch something last night, you know, you wrote in the book that you were concerned that Trump would attempt a coup to stay in power. It felt like a little bit like that at the time as well. I think you probably get asked this a lot. But as you watch this moment with the former president up 25, 35 points in a Republican primary, seems to be headed in that direction towards a general election, what goes through your mind? What are you thinking about, recognizing that this is about to happen or may happen?

ESPER: Well, of course, I'm very concerned for our country. I don't believe he's fit to be president. And I see the poll numbers today and it concerns me. But I also know that we have well over a year until, you know, the nomination process really kicks in and votes are conducted. So, I'm hopeful that a Republican candidate, another candidate, will rise up. Somebody who will - will do the things that President Trump can't do, like unify the country, like inspire people to be - to do positive things, like broaden the base, and like win elections. That's what I'm hopeful for.

MATTINGLY: Yes, you make a good point. There's a lot of time left. We should always be cognizant of that.

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, thanks so much, sir.

ESPER: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, House Republicans are ramping up their Hunter Biden investigation. Why they say newly released records prove members of President Biden's family made millions off the family name, coming up next.


MATTINGLY: Well, Republicans are attempting to ramp up the scrutiny of President Biden and his family. House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer just released new records that he says prove President Biden's family, including his son Hunter, made millions off the Biden name including when Joe Biden was vice president.

Sara Murray explains more.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): House Oversight Chair James Comer offering new details to bolster his claims that members of Joe Biden's family, including his son Hunter, received millions of dollars in payments from foreign entities in China and Romania.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): I want to be clear, this committee is investigating President Biden and his family's shady business deals that capitalized on Joe Biden's public office and risked our country's national security.

MURRAY: Committee Republicans cited new bank records it obtained via subpoena that include payments made to companies tied to Hunter Biden.

COMER: Many of the wire payments occurred while Joe Biden was vice president and leading the United States efforts in these countries.

MURRAY: Republicans also allege Hunter Biden and his associate used family ties to facilitate a 2016 meeting between a top Biden adviser and a Serbian national running for a United Nation's role.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): These people didn't come to Hunter Biden because he understood world politics or that was experienced in it or that he understood Chinese businesses, they wanted him for the access his last name gave them.

MURRAY: But so far Republicans have failed to unearth any payments to Joe Biden while he was vice president or after leaving office. And their report today does not suggest illegality in the payments from foreign sources.

The president has repeatedly denied any involvement in his son's overseas deals.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've never once discussed this issue with Hunter while I was vice president. And the reason is to keep this wall between me and anyone involved with me at all, whether it's family or otherwise.

MURRAY: But that hasn't stopped the GOP's investigations.

COMER: We're pretty confident that the president was very knowledgeable of what his family was doing.

MURRAY: Republicans took aim at Joe Biden for railing against corruption as vice president.

BIDEN: Corruption saps the collective strength and resolve of a nation.

MURRAY: In the same nations where members of his family were allegedly profiting.

COMER: While Vice President Biden was lecturing Romania on anti- corruption policies, in reality he was a walking billboard for his son and family.

MURRAY: Hunter Biden's attorney, Abbe Lowell, says there's no evidence of wrongdoing by his client. Today's so-called revelations are retreat, repackaged misstatements of perfectly proper meetings and business by private citizens.


MURRAY: Now, Poppy and Phil, we should note that the White House slammed these allegations by James Comer even before they came out of his mouth yesterday. White House spokesperson Ian Sams accused Comer of playing it fast and loose with the facts and spreading baseless inuendo.

Back to you.

HARLOW: Sara Murray, thank you very much for that reporting.

Also this morning, a U.S. Army sergeant convicted of murdering a Black Lives Matter protester in 2020 has been sentenced to 25 years in prison. Daniel Perry killed 28-year-old Air Force veteran Garrett Foster at a racial justice protest in Texas two months after the murder of George Floyd. Perry's attorney says he plans to appeal the verdict. The length of the sentence may ultimately be moot. Shortly after his conviction last month, Governor Greg Abbott said he wanted to pardon Perry, but that can only happen if the board of pardons and paroles recommends it. And that board says it is investigating. And that investigation is ongoing.

MATTINGLY: And when Title 42 expires at midnight tonight, as thousands of migrants gather at the border, CNN is live on the ground. We'll take you there.



HARLOW: Is that Missy - who is that?

MATTINGLY: This is -- this is good. This is --

HARLOW: Who is that, Snoop?

MATTINGLY: That's Snoop Dogg and Pharrell. And I know exactly where this is going.

HARLOW: My colleague Phil Mattingly goes by many names, chief White House correspondent, best husband who takes his wife to Beyonce, dad.


HARLOW: But today he earned himself a new title, spill Mattingly. Normally coffee is supposed to wake us up during our early mornings. This time, in our 6:00 a.m. hour, coffee was the enemy.


HARLOW: That's our Kaitlan Collins fact checking the former president's false claims about the 2020 election last night in real time. As we mentioned earlier -- did you just spill your coffee?

MATTINGLY: I just spilled my coffee.

HARLOW: That's OK. You know, I always thinking that that's going to happen to me.

MATTINGLY: I am so upset right now. And as somebody who's not usually at a desk, I was like, how do I play this? And I decided to ignore it, and then you called me out on it. And so I'm just going to kind of sit here and wear it for a minute.


HARLOW: Same pose. Same pose.

MATTINGLY: That's good.

HARLOW: Same pose.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's even worse than I thought it was when I --

HARLOW: I didn't get a -- can we just - can we do it again?


HARLOW: Instant replay. Let's go.


HARLOW: Claims about the 2020 election last night in real time. As we mentioned earlier -- did you just spill your coffee?

MATTINGLY: I just spilled my coffee.

HARLOW: That's OK. You know, I always thinking that that's going to happen to me.

MATTINGLY: I am so upset right now. And as somebody who's not usually at a desk, I was like, how do I play this?


MATTINGLY: Oh, come on. This like NFL level instant replay.

That, I mean - I mean, impressive work, you know, I'll give you that.

HARLOW: That is all the control room. It is all their fault.

MATTINGLY: But shout out to this and it says don't spill me.


I don't know if you can see it, my replacement coffee I was given. I also have towels here as well. I'm --

HARLOW: Peed your pants. Like, are they OK?

MATTINGLY: Sufficiently they dried to a level. We didn't have any standing segments, so we're doing great. Thriving on a Thursday.

HARLOW: Phil - thriving on a Thursday. It has been a great week, seriously. It's been a great week with you. We have one show left. But before we go, just take one more look at our "Morning Moment."


HARLOW: As we mentioned earlier -- did you just spill your coffee?

MATTINGLY: I just spilled my coffee.


HARLOW: What are you going to do tomorrow?

MATTINGLY: Can't top that.

HARLOW: You can. Bring it.

MATTINGLY: See you tomorrow.


That music.