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CNN Tonight

End Of An Era With Pelosi Announcing She Will Not Seek Reelection For Dem Leadership; Obama: "The Threat To Democracy Doesn't Always Run Along A Conservative/Liberal, Left/Right Axis"; WaPo: Michelle Obama Says U.S. "Wasn't Ready" For Her Natural Black Hairstyles. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired November 17, 2022 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The news continues. Let's hand it over to Laura Coates and CNN TONIGHT.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Good evening, everyone. I'm Laura Coates. And this is CNN TONIGHT.

Look, a new warning, from former President Barack Obama, tonight. He says that what he calls "Anything goes politics" is not just toxic, but dangerous to democracy all around the world.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That one of the easiest ways to win votes is to tap into people's growing sense of anxiety, and fear, and vertigo, their sense of loss, their resentment of change, and to tell them that their tradition and their values, their very identities are under attack by outsiders.

And you add it all up, then you've got a recipe for backlash, and polarization, and the sort of toxic slash and burn, anything goes politics that we've seen a erupt just about everywhere.


COATES: He's also got a few things to--


OBAMA: And it is dangerous.


COATES: He's also got a few things to say about the new generation of leaders, all around the world as well. And that brings us to the big question, in American politics, tonight. Who are America's new leaders? Who will they be?

Nancy Pelosi announcing that she is stepping down from the House leadership, after 20 years. Some of the most familiar faces in our politics, everyone from Joe Biden, to Donald Trump, to Chuck Schumer, to Mitch McConnell, there's a theme. Are you seeing it? Well, they've been with us, for years, decades. And so, is it time for the passing of the torch?

And also, what sounds like a worker rebellion tonight at Twitter. Offices closed again, badge access suspended, again, all amid an apparent mass exodus of employees saying thanks, but no thanks, Elon Musk's ultimatum to work, quote, "Extremely hardcore," unquote, whatever that apparently means. More to come on that in a moment.

We have a lot to talk about, tonight. Here with me, CNN Anchor and Correspondent, Audie Cornish. Also, Liam Donovan, former National Republican Senatorial Committee aide. And CNN's Senior Political Analyst, Kirsten Powers.

I'm glad you're all here, today. Look, every name I just mentioned, you were going back, probably to your college and high school days, and going "Yes, I remember when they were in office, then."

Here we are, a different time. Speaker Pelosi's saying that she is going to pass the torch. But do we have a sense of this move to welcome a new generation of leaders? Is it reactive, do you think, Kirsten, to the loss of the House or just the season that she spoke of as time being here?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: Well, Nancy Pelosi had promised, four years ago, in order to secure votes, to be Speaker again that she would step down. So, this isn't something that she just decided to do, on a whim.

I would say that as a very embittered Gen Xer, the baby boomers really never go away. And there they all are, right? So it's like - so that's, on the one hand, how I feel.

On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi was incredible Speaker of the House. And I find her to be almost irreplaceable. I think Hakeem Jeffries is an incredibly impressive person. And we'll see how he does, if he ends up in the job.

But she really is a once-in-a-generation kind of politician, right? And she will go down in history as one of the greats and if not, the greatest Speaker of the House. So, when you look at it that way, you say, "Well, it's good that she stayed as long as she did."

And she did mentor these people that are coming up. So, it's not like they don't know anything, and they don't know what they're doing. I mean, these are people, who have studied under her. And I think she's - and she's also going to be around, for a little while, as in to help them.

COATES: Right. I mean, she's still going to be in Congress.


COATES: It's not because - she's just leaving leadership. But, on that point, I mean, Liam, you and I've talked about this, in the past, as well, the idea of the mentorship.

You hear a lot of people, in Congress, right now, talking about the invaluable mentorship, either watching her from afar, before they wanted to run, or really in Congress, probably on both sides of the aisle. She means she's a history-maker, in her own right.

But have they done enough to cultivate an obvious heir-apparent, down the line? I mean, the one two and three are stepping down. Had they done enough?

LIAM DONOVAN, FORMER NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE AIDE: Well, I think that's the issue. I mean, obviously, it's a big loss for the Democratic Party. It's a big loss for Republicans, who are losing their best villain.

But if there's a one critique that I think is valid, when it comes to the 20 years that she spent in this position, not cultivating that next generation, not having orderly transition. You've had a lot of future speakers leave the chamber. I mean, there's half a dozen I can rattle off, off the top of my head, who are no longer there.

And so, even the fact that we were up in the air, until noon today, as to what her plans were, I think that gives you a sense of how chaotic, this transition is, and how steep the learning curve is, if they try to step into her shoes.


COATES: Well, Audie, and first of all, I can't wait to hear your new podcast. Everyone, out there, it's phenomenal, because you always understand "The Assignment." And we'll get more clear in a second what that means.

But when you we think about that she understood the assignment and the idea of cultivating new leadership. At the same token, you remember quite well, when the likes of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would come in, and others, and many thought look, like I get that we need to have institutional knowledge in Congress. That's important to know the ropes.

But it also can be a hindrance and an anvil to have sort of a notion of "Look, we know we have to be here. We know how this works, as opposed to sort of blowing up the system, from within, and saying, here's how it should work."

What do you see as this new generation of leaders looking like?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT, HOST, "THE ASSIGNMENT": I want to come at it from a slightly different angle. First of all, I think President Obama was Gen X. So, he definitely had a shot. And the reason why I'm bringing that up is because you started with him, right?

And under his sort of terms, at office, there was not necessarily a new generation of politicians, who rose, in his style. And in fact, you saw, I think, upwards of a 1,000 seats being lost by Democrats in State Houses, across the country. That sounds minor, but this is about the pipeline.

And then when it comes to Pelosi, she herself says power has to be taken, and it's not given to you. People have talked about Steny Hoyer being next. Steny Hoyer didn't like step aside, because she's seen like a nice girl, from Baltimore. Like, she fought her way again, and she took it.

And the reason why no one has come up since is because no one else has accomplished, what she could do, with the same superpowers that she has, so to speak. And these are powers every lawmaker has, but they don't have them in equal measure. Can you fundraise? Are you a legislative wiz? Or are you a really good show-pony?

And I think that Pelosi is really good at like getting in front of the cameras, taking the fight to people. We know she's a super fundraiser, and she absolutely has proven 20 years of legislative wizardry.

COATES: I mean, speaking about the camera, I mean, just look at this screen, right? She's in front of how many different - or behind, how many different presidents? I mean, obviously, there's one there, for tearing up a speech, at one point, at the State of the Union, which is an iconic moment, for a variety of reasons.

But then there is, as you all pointed out, the idea of what President Obama had to say, and we're talking about the idea of a new generation. Here's what he had to say, just earlier today at the Obama Foundation Democracy Forum, about the idea of new leadership. Listen.


OBAMA: Renewing our democratic culture will take decades and not years. And that is why the ideas of a 61-year-old ex-president are less relevant than the ideas and insights of a new generation of leaders, who are better attuned to the changes that are taking place around the world, and by the way, will be the ones that carry democracy's torch into the future.


COATES: Now, Kirsten, if I was a cynic, I would say, isn't it a little bit - if he's saying 61-year-old former President is problematic, we've got an incumbent president, who's got a couple more years than that. Is he referencing that in a subtle way?


COATES: Or is this a matter of saying, look, more broadly, "I'm not the one to talk about the future"--


COATES: --"when I've got maybe excellent alternatives for the future in front of me."

POWERS: I think it's more likely the latter of what you said. And I just want to say that Gen X did try to claim Obama. But he's technically a baby boomer. Trust me. We tried!


POWERS: And so, I think that he is talking more. And I also want to say, even when people are saying "Some people need to step aside," doesn't mean everybody needs to step aside, right? So, that's the issue.

I don't like the kind of ageism of even around Joe Biden, which is, "Oh, he's too old. He should step aside." Look, if you have an issue with Joe Biden, make an issue with Joe Biden, like his issue's not the age.

So, you have to - and same thing with Pelosi. For 10 years, people have been saying she's too old. And then she was one of the only people, who could handle Donald Trump, right?

So, it's not that there can be no people that are older. It's just - I think what President Obama is saying is, we do need to cultivate younger people, who have fresher perspectives, and different perspectives, and start to bring up a new generation, rather than being like, "Oh remember Barack Obama? We love Barack Obama," every time he comes on. It's like he can't always be that person.

COATES: It doesn't just seem to me to be like an esoteric discussion, about why you need fresh blood, though, or why you need fresh faces. Young voters--


COATES: --carried the day in these elections. So, the idea of trying to have fresh leaders or newer younger voices isn't it a reflection of the fact that younger voters were the ones to say, "Ah, excuse me, we've got a lot of power, we're going to wield it."

DONOVAN: Well, I think, it's striking 10 days into what is now the 2024 election cycle, when we seem to be on a collision course between the same people that ran in 2020. Again, both the baby-boomer generation, and I think in light of the young voters that did turn out, I think that's particularly striking.


And so, having President Obama come in and remind us that it could be time to turn the page, I think that's particularly, on the Republican side, trying to figure out OK, how do we move beyond Donald Trump, or can we move beyond Donald Trump, and is that next generation of Gen X Republicans, who would be waiting in the wings, potentially?

COATES: This Gen X-baby boomer thing is a real big issue.

CORNISH: No. No. I know.

COATES: It's a really big deal.

CORNISH: I don't want to go there. No. It's set. POWERS: It's a thing.

CORNISH: It's, I think - I think you're making an assumption there about what that youth vote was about. We're going to know more soon.

It could have very easily been that in the areas where you saw that increased youth vote, it was about a right potentially being taken away, that conversation in abortion, also about the election denialism, the perception of that, that that was something being taken from them, rather than saying, "We have so much faith in the institution, yay, government!"

POWERS: Right.

CORNISH: We were also seeing the introduction of the first Gen Z candidates. But just one thing, I want to put out there, and this is my own weird theory, the last decade has seen a lot of leaderless movements, from this generation.

Starting with Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, these are movements that on purpose were diffuse, and were about sharing the spotlight and sharing the leadership, which is great. It doesn't mean though you necessarily produce a John Lewis or something like that, because that movement was hierarchical, right, and patriarchal, as we know.

And so, I think that we're expecting the old rules to apply, to a different generation. And what they like about an AOC, et cetera, is obviously like her affinity to, and ability to communicate with them on their level. But I think even she is not going to say, "I'm the leader of this. I'm the voice of this generation," because that's just not going to fly with them.

So, I'm not sure you're going to see people crop up the same way--

POWERS: Interesting.

CORNISH: --as a Pelosi-era politician would, where like you are so - your dad's a Democratic mayor, and you shake hands with JFK, like, in your cotillion dress or whatever. It's just like, to me, a very different moment, in terms of how they approach politics.

COATES: It's a very visual black-and-white photo that I'm seeing--

POWERS: Yes, it is.

CORNISH: It is. It is.

COATES: --with a Polaroid - I'm doing this in my mind. The Polaroid is shaking in my hand, and coming into frame, in that. But it's a point well-taken, the idea of whether that's even transferable, into politics, more broadly.

CORNISH: Yes. These days that same photo would have to be you protesting in Pelosi's office, to have the same impact.


CORNISH: Like, "Look at me, I was there," you know?

POWERS: Yes. Also, I think, do you remember that some of the biggest fans of Bernie Sanders were young people, right? So, they're not always necessarily going to go with the person, who's younger. They're going to go with the person, who's talking about the things that they care about.

And so, in fact, a lot of the people, who were more skeptical, of a Bernie Sanders, were older people. Older people tend to be more skeptical of older people because they're like, "Wait, I'm your age, and I can't even barely get to the living room."

CORNISH: "I can't remember where my keys are. So, it must be a problem."

POWERS: "So, how do you - how are you like flying around the country," right? So, it's - whereas the young people are really looking for people, who are speaking--


POWERS: --about the things that, they care about, which are a lot different than what you'll hear from a lot of mainstream Democrats.

COATES: Because of this radical thing about representative republics! What are we talking about?

We're coming right back in a moment, and wanted to hear more from former President Obama, tonight, saying, quote, "We're going to have to figure out how to live together, or we will destroy each other." Oh my god, I almost tried to imitate his cadence! I don't know why that happened!

We'll tell you what else he's saying, next.




OBAMA: Well, the interesting thing is, you notice, election deniers don't deny their own election!


OBAMA: Funny how that works!



OBAMA: How many of them actually believe that - some of the nonsense that circulates, versus those who think it's convenient or it's a way to own the Libs, or it's a way to send a message, or align themselves with Trump? That's hard to say.

But what is important is that because of some really concerted efforts, in a lot of important states, some of the most egregious, prominent and potentially dangerous election deniers?

NOAH: Right.

OBAMA: They got thumped. They got beaten.


COATES: Well, that was the former President Obama, on The Daily Show Tonight. And how much are we going to miss Trevor Noah in that spot? I mean, just - OK, I'll move on.

But President Biden made the fight for democracy, central to the midterm message. And tonight, the man he served with, former President Barack Obama, of course, is warning the fight for democracy is far from over, and making it very clear, it's not just a right versus left, or Republicans versus Democrats problem.

And we're going to talk all about it with Audie Cornish, she's back with me, Liam Donovan and Kirsten Powers as well.

And he made the comment, you guys, about there being a concerted effort, on the trail. He was a part of that concerted effort. I mean, just look at this scorecard. He had a lot of skin, in this game, frankly, in terms of when he was campaigning for people. And he had what, again, what 83 (ph) scorecard record there the people that he was campaigning for, and talking about? Those are really, really good numbers that he had, in terms of being there.

But one other thing, I think, is fascinating Liam is look, when President Biden went out, for his closing message, to talk about democracy in peril? People thought, "Do you want to talk about the economy, sir, because that seems to be what the polls are doing."

And then what happened in the elections? It seemed to be that democracy not only was on the ballot, but election denialism was on that ballot as well. And now, you have President Obama, saying it's still an issue.

Why do you think that is that he's making these cases, even a week after the elections?

DONOVAN: Well, I think, when you have an outcome, like they did, beating all expectations, doing better than historically they had any business doing, everything you did there is validated.


And so, at some level, I think, coming through and hitting on those themes that worked makes a lot of sense. Particularly, as I said, we're in this 2024 presidential cycle, as a practical matter, and the former President just announced two days ago.


DONOVAN: So, it's not a coincidence that even as prominent election deniers are conceding their elections, the biggest election denier of them all has entered into the ring. And so, I think that can't be a coincidence that Obama's hitting those themes, now.

COATES: I want to expand even beyond the here and now, in this particular country, because his statements today, even outside the Daily Show, former President spoke about this is not falling on this Conservative, or Liberal, or Democrat and Republican axis. And he talked about the broader themes of democracy, on the world stage.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: The threat to democracy doesn't always run along a conservative/liberal, left/right axis. This has nothing to do with traditional partisan lines or policy preferences.

What we are seeing, what's being challenged, are the foundational principles of democracy itself. The notion that all citizens have a right to freely participate in selecting who governs them; the notion that votes will be counted, and the party that gets more votes wins.


OBAMA: That, losers concede, that power is transferred peacefully, that the winners don't abuse the machinery of government to punish losers, and entrench themselves and make it impossible for other parties to compete in future elections.


COATES: I mean that axis he talks about, Audie, the idea of it? I mean, he's speaking more broadly, from a higher perspective, so to speak. What do you make of the argument?

CORNISH: I mean, to be honest, it feels a tiny bit late. It feels like he's maybe just woken up to coming out and talking about this.

When 2016 came in, when there was a discussion, globally, about the rise of populism and nativist movements, not just here in the U.S., but in other parts of the world. And over the last few years, people have talked about authoritarian rule, here, often in context of who Trump was, sort of pals with, so to speak.

And I get the sense that maybe Obama held back, after he left office, like he needed a little bit of a rest. And then, later on, with Biden, he wanted to stay out of the way a little bit. But, as a result, he kind of wasn't there at the forefront--


CORNISH: --to kind of land these punches. And maybe this was a wake-up call, maybe 20 - maybe this election was an opportunity for him to come back, so to speak. I mean, anyone else jump in, but it just feels like, you know?

COATES: I mean, he didn't pull punches--


COATES: --in one respect though. I mean, I want to play this, and I want you to respond to this, Kirsten.


COATES: Because I know we've talked about in the past as well.

He was on the campaign trail, which is a counter to what he's doing, right now, which is more measured and talking about this from a more esoteric professorial perspective.

He went at people, on the campaign trail. I mean, listen to this.


OBAMA: Let's say you're at the airport. And you see, Mr. Walker, and you say "Hey, there's Herschel Walker, Heisman winner. Let's have him fly the plane."

You probably wouldn't say that.

Listen, it's easy to joke about Dr. Oz, and all these quack remedies he's pushed on TV.

If somebody's willing to peddle snake oil, to make a buck, then he's probably willing to sell snake oil to get elected.

If you were trying to create, in a lab--


OBAMA: --a wacky Republican politician?


OBAMA: It'd look a lot like this guy.


OBAMA: Mr. Masters.

If Kari Lake is your governor, we know what she'll be focused on, because Donald Trump told us. He said, "If somebody asked Kari, 'How's your family?' she says the election was rigged and stolen."


COATES: So, Kirsten, do you see a tension between today's Obama, talking about having to figure out how to live together, or we'll destroy each other, and then him recognizing really the reality of what the candidates were like? POWERS: I think it's both and, I think you can do both things. I think that you can be very, very clear about people who are dangerous. And it's certainly reasonable, to say these people were dangerous, in terms of democracy, and to do your best to turn out voters, and you can pull the lens back, and you can talk about the broader issue.

Now he hasn't, you know - I don't know. I don't read and watch everything that Barack Obama does.


But I do know, in his book, "A Promised Land," he does talk - he did use a very similar line in the book, as to what he said about "We're going to either learn to live together, or we're going to perish," and making the point that the world watches that the world is looking at the United States, because we are the biggest democracy that has people, from every creed, from every race, from every ethnicity, living in this experiment. And is it going to work, right?

And so, it's not just a democracy, with a bunch of people, who've been there for a long time. It's a democracy that's brought together all these different people with all these different beliefs. And can we make it work? And it's now an open question.


POWERS: And I don't think it was an open question, for a lot of people, in the past. And he made it very clear it was a very open question to him.

COATES: Liam, I mean, the way you describe it, Kirsten is almost like, America has this, the perfect Instagram filter of democracy that they want the rest of the world to look at, and say, "Hey, this is aspirational." And he's pointing out that sort of the kinks in that particular chain.

I wonder if you look at this, as you're talking about the 2024 election, and we all are already, how is this going to translate, and does this actually get followed by Republicans as well?

DONOVAN: I think we're sorting that out, on the Republican side, right now, is what does that future look like? What do we want it to look like?

Are we just going to be along for the ride, with Donald Trump, and sort of sit in the back and keep our hands and feet inside the vehicle? And I think there are more and more people waking up to the fact that you actually have to stand up and do something, you can't just expect that he's going to fade away.

And so, I think that's what Republicans are grappling with internally, right now, and the battle lines are being drawn. And I think there are obviously people, who could stand to be the alternatives, and how they proceed, I think, will determine how Republicans head into 2024.

COATES: A lot at stake, and a lot to contemplate. The identity crisis is continuing to be here, everyone.

Also, there is a developing story, tonight. You heard of Twitter? Yes, well, the offices have closed, again, and the employee access has been suspended, I would add, again, and also employees now are staging a mass exodus. So, what in the world is going on at Twitter now? We'll try to explain, next.



COATES: Turmoil spreading tonight, at Twitter, where there appears to be some kind of a mass exodus, of workers, who are rejecting Elon Musk's ultimatum to work extremely hardcore, which he defines simply as long hours at high intensity.

But how many hours, and how highly intense, what does that mean? Well, no one knows. But a lot of employees apparently didn't care to wait to find out, and they just said goodbye.

CNN's Senior Media Reporter, Oliver Darcy, is here, with more.

Oliver, there's a lot happening, it seems, every other day at Twitter. A mass exodus now appears to be underway. And they're rejecting that 5 PM deadline of today that ultimatum. And now I hear they're closing their office buildings? Why? What are you hearing from people inside of Twitter?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yes. It really feels like Twitter is taking its last gasp here. I mean, if you look on Twitter, right now, the top trend worldwide is R-I-P-Twitter. And that's because scores of employees have seemingly resigned, from Twitter, rejecting Elon Musk's ultimatum.

Let's take viewers back. Musk earlier this week gave Twitter workers, the people, who are remaining, after those mass layoffs, earlier this month, he gave them a choice. Work, quote-unquote "Hardcore," or leave the company, with three months of severance.

It seems like a large amount of people have decided to leave the company. They don't want to work hardcore. And that's thrown the future of this platform into utter chaos.

I've been talking to people, all day. One former executive, who recently exited told me that with all these departures, it's going to be hard, just to keep the lights on, over there.

And so, now, with all these departures, the people who are remaining, the Management has suspended badge access, into Twitter's offices, presumably because they're afraid that employees, who are technically no longer employed, at Twitter, could potentially sabotage things.

I'll read you the statement, or the email, they sent to staffers. It says "Effective immediately, we are temporarily closing our office buildings and all badge access will be suspended. Offices will reopen on Monday, November 21st." And it goes on to say, "We look forward to working with you on Twitter's" future. But, as you can see, just mass disarray has crept this company here.

COATES: I mean, you say this, and talking about the lights coming on, and I think to myself, what about security? What about - who's guarding the henhouse? Who's ensuring that even operates and functions in any meaningful way?

But there's also this moment, because we're talking about this hardcore intensity, he seemed to soften his stance, Oliver, on getting rid of remote work. Just earlier today, it's just the latest, well backtrack, in his plans.

And so, I mean, I wonder how this whiplash is really landing and affecting people, who are still at Twitter, still employed, maybe waiting till Monday to figure out their badge will work again.

DARCY: Everyone is confused. That's the short answer.

And I was told earlier today that Management was really worried that they weren't going to be able to retain talent. They were really--


DARCY: --I think, it was becoming clear that a lot of employees were actually just going to leave Twitter altogether. And so, some sources told me that they were scrambling, trying to get people to stay, and Elon Musk seemed to recognize that.

I'll read you part of a note he sent to the entire company, when he softened his stance, on remote work. He said, earlier today - where - is that I had it here, "Regarding remote work, all that is required for approval is that your manager take responsibility for ensuring that you are making an excellent contribution." And he went on to explain that basically people could remote - work remotely, if management had OKed it.


And recently, I think you're even seeing Musk digest some of this news. He just tweeted moments ago about how you turn a large fortune into a small one? And yes, there it is, on screen. "How do you make a small fortune in social Media? Start out with a large one," really kind of putting into context what's happened to his $44 billion purchase of the company.

COATES: Wow! And you've got to add that - the end of that discussion about remote work, the idea of "Hey, by the way, if any of the employers, who are supposed to essentially cosign, that you are working, if they're not truthful, goodbye as well." I mean, you have this sort of coded language.


COATES: It's not even coded, in that instance. But the idea of that new tweet? Wow, a lot of chaos happening there. Oliver, nice to see you.

DARCY: We'll see how long Twitter stays up.

COATES: I won't (ph) hold my breath. That's all I'll say about that. Thank you.

DARCY: Thank you.

COATES: Nice seeing you.

Well look, as parents, we're passionate about what our kids are learning in school. But next, how culture wars, in the classroom, impacted the midterms?


COATES: There are schools, all over the country, echoing with the cries, for parents' rights, getting louder and louder, for the last few years, if you haven't noticed. And it's becoming a big focus, of the midterms. At least it was.


Whether it's fights over COVID protocols, or arguments over teaching, about race and LGBTQ+ issues, the chaos of schools become, well, it's become part of the national conversation, and it's continuing.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can leave freely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we can find you. And we know who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will never be allowed in public again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm going to come for everybody that comes at my kid with this stupid, ridiculous mandate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To hate others because of their skin color and you're forcing them to lie about other kids' gender, I am disgusted by your bigotry, and your depravity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, right - right here, look, right here. So, as you can see, fists are now flying, all of this on live television, fists are flying.


COATES: Wow! Every time I see that!

Well, Audie Cornish has been looking into all of this, on her brand- new podcast. It's called "The Assignment."


APRIL CARNEY, DUVAL COUNTY, FLORIDA SCHOOL BOARD: We can't just focus on the presidential election anymore. What happens on the local level is what's most important, and it affects the most important citizens of this country, and that's our children.

And so, are there a lot of informed voters out there? Yes. Are there a lot that are not? Absolutely. And so, to some extent, to make it a more partisan race, it helps those that are low information voters make a decision based upon what they believe.


COATES: Audie, this podcast is phenomenal, and it really taps into an issue, people have been talking a lot about. And the idea of parental rights, under this big umbrella term, it exploded. How consequential was this notion in the midterms?

CORNISH: I don't think we can know that for sure. Or yet. The reason why I wanted to focus on it was because of those videos that we saw. What happened to those people? How did they channel that energy afterwards?

And it turns out that a movement that started out, about COVID policies, ramped up, because of CRT, and kind of flipped over, because of LGBTQ rights, has now become an actual movement with PACs that actually pour money, into local races. There's a group called 1776. There's a group called Moms for Liberty, which has more than 200 chapters around the country.

And Ron DeSantis, has made education, a very specific part of his anti-woke agenda, which means that he is now actually backing candidates. You can sign a pledge, say "Ron DeSantis backs me," and you can draw on his political halo, so to speak, as you're reaching out to candidates.

So, I think, what we wanted to do is just kind of live with those people, for a minute, talk to them about how they got activated, and what they want to do, with the power that they have now, because school boards do have tremendous power, at the local level. COATES: I mean speaking of that issue, looking at places like Virginia, right, where you have Governor Glenn Youngkin, who really tapped into it, during COVID-19, and you're talking about the idea how it evolved from that.

I mean, there's actually a change in what's happening in their proposed new education standards. I want to show people, on the screen, Kirsten, what this looks like.

For example, the old version for, in terms of racism, this is one of the areas, you're talking about, the old version talked about racism, prejudice, discrimination, antagonism, and a variety of other issues. The new version would have no mention of these issues.

In terms of climate, for example, a different education standard, that would have using information resources and other visuals to identify and determine how location, climate, et cetera, were impacted. The new version talks something very different.

And so, you've got a bit of a, I don't know if it's a bleaching, or a, I hate to call it, sanitizing, because it suggests that these topics, Kirsten, somehow must be removed?

POWERS: Bleaching is a great word, actually.

COATES: What do you think about it?

POWERS: Yes, I mean, I think that - well, first of all, I have to just say, watching the video, of this White man, screaming and yelling, at the top of his lungs, like, and the Right thinks that this is totally normal behavior, just makes me think of like, there was a viral video, like three years or four years ago, about a Black college student, screaming at somebody, and the Right thought it was the most heinous thing, they've ever seen, in their lives, right?

And now, these adults, right, parents are screaming and yelling and threatening people. Something is very wrong with that. Now, if you're upset, you have a right - you have a right to be upset about things. You have a right to have a perspective about things. You don't have a right to do that. And you don't have a right to be intimidating and scaring the people, who are working on the school boards.

So, what it sounds like is there are people that are trying to have their political views, recognized, in what's being taught to children. And I think--

CORNISH: And what they argue is that already political views are being taught to their children. And that's why they think they're a counterbalance to that.


POWERS: Yes. Except I don't think it's--

COATES: Liam, you don't have like 12 (ph) kids, right?

POWERS: --it's not a political view.

DONOVAN: I have to disagree (ph).


POWERS: Yes. It's not a political view that there is climate change. This is not a political view. So, I don't - there are some things that I think, when I was reading about it, where I was like "You know what? This is on the line," like I can kind of see where they're coming from.

But there's some of the stuff where it's like, look, my parents were educators, they were professors, and they had a lot of issues, with the things that I was taught at school. They never behaved like this.

COATES: Liam, what's your thought?

DONOVAN: Well, I mean, I think what we just witnessed is that that's the fever pitch. And you mentioned, this midterm, I think it wasn't a key issue, but it was a year ago, in Virginia. I'm a Virginia voter. I'm a Virginia public school parent.

CORNISH: That was the cautionary tale, for a lot of parents.

DONOVAN: And that was - that was the fever pitch. And there was a moment, where Terry McAuliffe stepped in it, by saying that parents didn't have, touched this nerve.

And I think this is all downstream from the fact that during COVID, when people were at home, helping teach their kids, or at least alongside their kids, as they're Zooming, people got a peek into the education system, into the curriculum, in ways that were completely unfamiliar. And I think that led to concerns, and led to further scrutiny, and a level of paranoia--


DONOVAN: --that dovetails with the broader distrust of institutions that have - that have really--


DONOVAN: --characterized our politics in the last six years.

COATES: Sounds like a podcast we got to listen to! And of course, it's called "The Assignment," everyone. Cannot wait! We'll stick around for a second as well, and talk more about these.

But, also look, a different issue. She wanted to wear braids. Who am I talking about? The former first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. But she says America wasn't ready for her natural Black hair. Her explanation, after this.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COATES: Michelle Obama, opening up, this week, about a dilemma, many Black women face. Whether or not to wear natural hairstyles?

The former first lady revealing that she considered wearing braids, while living in the White House, but after some thought decided against it, saying that Americans weren't, quote, "Ready for her natural" hair. Instead, she kept her hair straight as the country "Adjusted," she said, to a Black first lady and family, in the White House.

Back with me, Audie Cornish. And also, Karen Finney is here. Joining us also is former Obama White House official, and Montgomery County Councilmember, Will Jawando.

Glad to see you all here. I mean, this idea, we've talked in the past, and we will continue to talk about this issue.


COATES: The idea of the pressures that are imposed to have conformity, the idea what we consider to be professional, what we consider to be beautiful, what is punishable, and how we take people, seriously, based on their appearance. We are aware of this.

But hearing it from a former first lady about that pressure, in the White House, I found particularly striking, given that we knew that there was a lot at stake, and a lot of eyes on them. What did you make of that?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, I thought, "Sister, America when ready for a Black woman, in the White House. Period!" Let's just start with that.

But also, as I read through what she said, understanding the first Black family, the first Black president, she also understood - you know, I worked for Hillary Clinton, in the White House. And the first lady takes on a lot of whatever our cultural baggage is about women. I remember the first time she wore pants. It was, freaked people out, and--

COATES: Or a sleeveless photo.


COATES: For her portrait. Remember that?

FINNEY: Yes, yes. And so, for Michelle, what rightfully understood, let's not - "I don't want to create a distraction." And it's as - we can all think it's ridiculous that it would have created a distraction.

CORNISH: No, no. It was imposed on her. "The Politics of Fear" New Yorker cover made that pretty clear, right?


CORNISH: Where it was like Obama as the quote-unquote, "Terrorist."


CORNISH: And her, just the mere styling of her hair, in that image, was supposed to signify militancy and violence. The character's wearing a gun.

FINNEY: Right.

CORNISH: And it comes from the mind of an artist who, at the time, I think, given his age, would have those associations of sort of the Black Panther activists--


CORNISH: --violence type thing.


CORNISH: So, it was out there, you know?

FINNEY: But she had the--

COATES: I want to bring in--


COATES: But I also want to bring in Will into this conversation, because I think we often talk about the CROWN Act, obviously, that passed in the House.


COATES: It's still waiting for its chance, in the Senate, whether it will get it or not, the idea and for many people, the idea that you could actually be punished in the workplace, not just not respected, but punished, for not looking appropriate, so to speak?

Well, men are part of this conversation as well, very much so. I mean, look, I mean, I can zoom in on your hair. Come on, with the line? You got to tighten up.


COATES: I saw it. I saw it.

JAWANDO: That is all matter of time.

COATES: But thinking about, I mean, you, in your perspective, this is not just a conversation about Black women and hair.

JAWANDO: No. No. It's about Black people. And it's about anti- Blackness. It's about the centuries of effort that's put in to say that everything about us, our lips, our hair, our backsides, our skin color, is negative, and that the epitome of perfect and the standard is White.

And that has, when - it was really sad. I have a Michelle at home, Karen knows, who when our daughter came home, and said, "Mommy, I want my hair to be straight and pretty like the girls on TV," we have all Black dolls, we have all Black books, I mean, we have, you know, that seeps through the culture.

And I think I'm glad Michelle Obama talked about, the first lady talked about it, because it was a real consideration. It's something every day, Black people, particularly Black women, are getting up making decisions, about how do, I present myself to the world?

And the CROWN Act, we passed it in Montgomery County. We were the first county, in the nation, to pass it, and then Maryland is one of the 19 states that's passed it. But it's such an important protection, because it not only gives you legal protection. I don't know if you saw that young man, who was on the mat - the wrestling mat--

COATES: Had to cut of his dreads.

JAWANDO: --while he was standing, while he cried, while his teammates watched him. Every couple of months, you hear the cycling of someone not being able to graduate, or go to school, because they have locks or braids or twists.


JAWANDO: So, it's still a big issue. But it's connected.

CORNISH: There is a social penalty. I mean, for sure, every time I ever came on television, prior to taking this job, I straightened my hair. And when I decided not to, every single day, it's been difficult. Every single day, I felt awkward. Every single day, I thought, is this the right thing to do?


CORNISH: Yes, of course.

JAWANDO: Well, you look great, ma'am.

CORNISH: I'm the only one doing it, right?

JAWANDO: You look great.

FINNEY: Of course, yes.

CORNISH: I go into the hair and makeup, and there's no one else wearing their hair, this way. So, the signals are very strong, culturally.


I just want to add one more thing, in the time we have left. Her being able to say this now, in some ways, is a signal about the end of respectability politics, which is this sort of generational criticism--

JAWANDO: Yes, absolutely.


CORNISH: --that says "There is nothing you can do to yourself that will make you equal, in the eyes of someone, who is racist, or harbors racist ideas. And therefore, you shouldn't be doing all of these things, because that's not going to get you there. The activism is going to get you three."

FINNEY: Well really, quickly--

COATES: Real quick, Karen.

FINNEY: Sure. Ketanji Brown Jackson, with her braids--

JAWANDO: Yes, I know.

FINNEY: --and little girls, getting their little wigs, with their braid, for Halloween. I mean, we have moved, from where things were, as the first lady as - and I hope that more little girls look at Ketanji Brown Jackson, and other women, with natural hair, and decide based on what makes them feel good.


FINNEY: Not based on--

COATES: Wait. I'm sorry. This just - this just came in, though. I want to make sure we get this on air. This came into my ear that "Audie Cornish's hair is beautiful." Did you all get that? That was breaking news. Let it stay. Let it perpetuate, everyone, there.

JAWANDO: Oh, yes.

COATES: Will, you too. Karen, you too. I mean, you know, I'm here, your girl's here.

And congratulations, again, on the new podcast, Audie.

CORNISH: Thank you.

COATES: Love to see it. Love to hear it. You can check it out wherever you get your podcast. It's called "The Assignment with Audie Cornish," everyone.

And for more Michelle Obama, make sure you tune in, this Sunday night, at 8 o'clock. Sara Sidner hosts "Michelle Obama's Mission," a conversation with Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney and Melinda Gates.

And next, everyone, two former presidents, a former Vice President, the Speaker of the House, all laying out their visions, for the future of this country. So, whose vision is going to win? We'll talk about it next.