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CNN Tonight

Oath Keepers Members Found Guilty; South Carolina Supreme Court Want Mark Meadows To Testify; Stephen Miller Testified Before A Grand Jury; Bipartisan Bill Don't Respect Same-Sex Marriages; U.S. Team Won Against Iran; Christmas Is For Every Color And Race. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired November 29, 2022 - 22:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Well, good evening, everyone. I'm Laura Coates, and this is CNN TONIGHT.

And in just the last few hours we've had a lot of news on really major stories, so buckle up. We're going to go through all of it tonight. I want to take a minute right now to lay out the biggest developments we've had tonight. Because first on CNN, the former top Trump advisor, Stephen Miller, testifying for apparently several hours today to a federal grand jury in its criminal investigation of what took place on January 6th.

And then there's Mark Meadows, the then president's right-hand man who was literally in the room where it happened, hash tag Aaron Burr, for a whole lot of what transpired. Supreme Court of South Carolina ordering Meadows to now testify before a grand jury investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

So, two of the then president's top enablers and right, and maybe left-hand men, facing grand juries who get to ask them the questions and demand some answers. And the verdict is in with the most significant DOJ prosecutions related to January 6th, Oath Keepers leaders Stewart Rhodes and fellow group member Kelly Meggs found guilty of the very serious charge of seditious conspiracy.

Now each of the five Oath Keeper defense convicted of at least one charge, not one got off on everything that carries a maximum 20-year sentence.

So, I want to bring in with us now, CNN political commentator, David Urban, former federal prosecutor Shan Wu, and CNN senior National correspondent, Sara Sidner, who has been in this courtroom for, what, seven weeks now following this case, Sara.


COATES: I mean, it's been a lot and so thank God, we got you here tonight to talk about it. I'm thrilled to have you, you two gentlemen, but Sara, in particular on this issue. Because this was very significant. They had a lot riding. They, being DOJ.


COATES: A lot riding on what was thought to be a very political calculation. They were accused of a witch hunt continued. How dare you have these serious charges? What's this all about? What was it like for the prosecution in the room and the kind of general atmosphere of getting at least these convictions?

SIDNER: They congratulate with each other because they realized that this charge, it's a hard charge --


SIDNER: -- to put forward, and it's a rare charge. So, this isn't something that at -- I'm sitting at a table with a bunch of attorneys. I know this, but like, it's not a charge that you would see regularly. I think the last time this was -- this was charged in a trial was in Michigan 10 years ago.

So this is a really unusual thing to go for and it's a concept that the jury really has to understand, get behind, understand all of the facets, because there are several facets of it.

It's really about, you know, forcibly stopping the peaceful transfer of presidential power in this case. But there was, probably, I can't even, thousands of pieces of evidence brought by the prosecution that included, you know, the words of the defendants themselves. That was a huge part of this case.

And if they heard these words, which some people would say, OK, the defense is saying it's just bombastic, it's just talk. It's just them, you know, blowing off steam or trying to be grandiose. But the jury saw that in the case of Elmer Stewart Rhodes III and in the case of one of his top lieutenants, Kelly Meggs, that they were guilty of judicious conspiracy.

And so, watching all this unfold and seeing what the jury went through, just in the seven weeks of testimony, it was really heavy, to, for lack of a better way to describe it. It was a weight. They felt the weight of it. The whole courtroom felt the weight of it. And the judge in particular made it very clear how this was going to go as far as how he expected the decorum in his courtroom.

And he was praised by the -- by the defense attorneys, like praise in a way I haven't heard in a long time. Where they really appreciated that even though they had a spat, I mean there was a fight like screaming match at one point before the jury came into this trial, before they chose a jury.

And in the end, I think all of the people in that court agreed that if you wanted to look at the American justice system and the American way, this was an example that you could hold up.

COATES: That's an important point, especially given the fact that when you're talking about who would oversee these trials, given the atmosphere and the accusations of this being very political in nature, to have the defense team complimenting.


COATES: This Obama appointee, and I know many judges often cringe when we in the media will talk about who appointed who. Because they think themselves, well, you are buying into and leading people to believe that who appointed us is going to take precedence over how we rule.


I point that out only to suggest what, what Sara is talking about and the idea of you're -- this is the climate we're in and that there was the complement extended. It's important too, in terms of that gamble and calculus here.

I mean, Shan, you've been a federal prosecutor. The idea of a charge like this being brought, and we showed that not every charge stuck with every defendant.


COATES: Some would say that that gives greater credibility to the jury's deliberation, that it wasn't just, you know, hey, you get everything. The entire kitten caboodle. When you look at this, what does it say to you about the strength of the case as it related to all the defendants that only two had that high charge?

WU: Well, I think it says that the charging decisions were carefully made and that the jury looked at it very carefully. They parsed it out, which is exactly what you want them to do. I think the note that they'd sent out asking for clarification on the seditious conspiracy charge indicates that's a tougher charge for them to grasp. And I don't know that it's necessarily that hard of a charge to always prove in theory, but it's certainly very rare, thankfully.


COATES: Yes. We don't want common conspiracy cases like this.

WU: Right.

COATES: It's not -- it's not a good thing in our country.

WU: Exactly. And for that reason, I think DOJ isn't that used to bringing that kind of charge and they really had to put a lot of effort and to figure out how they would present it.

The fact that all of them got, I think all of them got convicted for the obstruction of the official proceeding.

COATES: Right.

SIDNER: That's right.

WU: I think indicates that is a little bit easier for the jury to get.

COATES: And you know, Dave, on that point, we're just thinking about in the grander scheme of things, even aside from this criminal prosecution you've got in different cases, the Georgia investigation, Mark Meadows being told no, you, you're going to have to answer questions. He's a South Carolina residence. Why the South Carolina Supreme Court was involved in this? You've got Stephen Miller testifying in a grand jury proceeding.

It's all around that same core nucleus effects. The idea of what led up to and what happened on January 6th. Politically, in your mind, what message does this send? Is there a ripple effect or is this really compartmentalized and says, OK, well, look, you got a grand, a good knighted committee coming up for January 6. So what? There was a conviction. Politically, they're untouchable. What do you say?

URBAN: Yes. Listen, I think that the judicial part of it and the politics need to be separated or should be separated, really. These gentlemen who broke the law, right, are going to be held accountable, just like the folks who actually violated, you know, the sanctuary of the Congress who are up there, you know, get charged with criminal trespass the other things.

The political part of it, just like, you know, in an impeachment, there's a political aspect to all of this, right? I don't think at the end of the day that the president, just in my own opinion, Shan, you know, the rest of the lawyers in the America will apply to this as well.

COATES: Shan and the lawyers of America, you're one.

URBAN: But you know --


COATES: Bravo to you. You're one.

URBAN: But my point is, you know, a conspiracy charge against a group of people like this, right? And a conspiracy is a -- you can bring a lot of stuff in and kind of look at, it's a charge that you can really throw the kitchen sink at is a little bit easier to prove, I dare say than, you know, trying to get the president on the hook for this, right?

Get the president that that's a much more tenuous charge and I think will be much, much more difficult to make. At the end of the day, you know, I personally don't see how, you know, Merrick Garland is going to end up bringing a charge that's going to stick against the President United States here. Maybe he does. I think there'll be, you know, the obstruction in Georgia case. The, you know, there's other cases I think that are probably more likely to result in an indictment --


URBAN: -- than this January 6th stuff, at least on the part of the president.

COATES: Well, there is the special counsel, right? So, Merrick Garland in a sense has sort of removed himself at least one degree of separation, maybe two, by having special counsel for this very purpose now that Trump has declared.

But I do wonder, I mean, you speak to the larger point, although of course you've been following this trial, Sara, of these particular defendants, you know full well that the immediate kneejerk reaction for everyone is, OK, what will this mean for Trump? OK, now what about Trump? What about Trump?

And although this conspiracy relates to these specific defendants, and the guilt assigned to them does not translate everywhere, that is on the tip of everyone's tongue. And the question being asked, did you get a sense through the trial that he was a main focus of the prosecution in a similar way as he is for the January 6th committee? Or was it really compartmentalized?

SIDNER: Donald Trump was not part of this trial in the sense that the prosecutors were very careful in being very direct as to who was on trial, what they were on trial for, why they were on trial. And there were so many pieces of evidence that, yes, of course, Donald Trump's name came up over and over again.

Because his name came out of the mouth of the defendants in text messages and Signal messages and secret recordings. Stewart Rhodes, in particular and I think one of the things that sets him apart is, first of all, he is the founder and creator of this militia group known as the Oath Keepers, which he, which he founded in 2009 not long after President Obama took office.


And so, he was a focus because he was the one that talked the most and that said the most violent and outrageous things. He was talking days after it was determined that Joe Biden had won this election against Donald Trump talking about civil war. You know, get your mind, body, and soul ready.

So, there were a lot of words that he used, a lot of text messages and Signal messages that he used that helped to convict him. They're using the defendant's own words against them. And then to a lot of people's surprise, three of these defendants took the stand in their own defense and he was the first one.

And so, he was emotional, which I think surprised a lot of people. He choked up several times. The jury didn't buy it. The jury didn't buy it. They heard what he said. They listened to him. They listened to his defense. He is a former lawyer. He was disbarred, but he is a Yale trained lawyer. And he got up there and said, I don't think this was constitutional. I don't think Biden or Trump won. They didn't buy it.

And I think that's important to say that the DOJ really went after each and every person with the -- with the evidence they had on each and every person. This was not actually about Donald Trump. URBAN: And Laura, I'm just going to say real quickly. And I think

that's a big distinction between this and the January 6th hearings, right? This you have discrete actions, criminal actions, which you could prove, right? And really make it stick and not bring up the specter of Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump did this, Trump did that. Really hanging on the people that did the crimes, right?

I think that's what you're going to find in these criminal trespass cases, these other people who are going to be tried for doing what they did on January 6th.

COATES: Well, look, we've got about what, 35 days left of this particular lame duck session before the new Congress is sworn in. Maybe it'll be a report that tells what we need to know from January 6th. Can I -- can there be a report? I'm just going to point that out very quick, a report we can actually read and thumb through, maybe bind like the Mueller report. I don't know. Just putting it out there, everyone.

Stick around. We have more about this and we have a lot of news to get to these days that frankly brings Americas together. We don't have a lot of that, but guess what? Today, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the victorious team USA. They are celebrating their victory over Iran today in the World Cup.



COATES: Well, the U.S. men's national team advancing to the World Cup knockout stage, the team coming out on top were the one to nothing win in a tough game against Iran today. Team USA's Christian Pulisic scoring the winning goal, but not without suffering an abdominal injury. We're learning later with some sort of a pelvic contusion.

We'll take a look now at their rowdy welcome home when they return to their hotel tonight. Now the U.S. will go on to face the Netherlands this Saturday at 10 a.m. Eastern, so be sure to tune in for that.

I want to bring in now CNN sports analyst, Christine Brennan, also CNN's, Tom Foreman, Don Riddell, CNN host of World Sport, and CNN contributor at Cari Champion.

Wow. What a lineup we have here to talk about this important moment. I'm sure you were all watching. I know what kind of snacks you had at the time, but we'll talk about that in a different segment.

I have to say though, when we've been watching all these things happening, I mean this was a win or go home game right now and it was an important moment that's been more than just about this match itself, Christine, and thinking about where things stand because people were tuning in. In large part because of what was happening back in the effective countries about the removal of that Islamic regime emblem in the flag. This was a very significant moment internationally, don't you think? CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Without a doubt. And keep in

mind, this team, the U.S. men's national soccer team, Laura, is the team that actually willingly gave up prize money so that the women, the U.S. women's national team, obviously incredibly successful team could actually have equal pay. That was a conversation --


COATES: Explain more about what that Title IX means then. What do you mean? They give up there, they're going to split it now.

BRENNA: Exactly. So, this, the 13 million that is now guaranteed to, because of the U.S. men moving into the round of 16. It is split 6.5 million for the men, 6.5 million for the women. That's extraordinary. No other nation is doing that. These are Title IX males who are not like, they weren't raised like their dads or their grandfathers, and they have a much different outlook, not only about women's equality in terms of pay, but these are the same men who've been talking about standing with the Iranian protestors.

Obviously, the emblem issue that with U.S. soccer, U.S. soccer and the U.S. men's national team are, have really, I think, distinguished themselves, obviously on the field of play as we saw today. But I think even more so in terms of our culture and the stands they have taken and will continue to take as the tournament goes on.

COATES: You know, Tom, on that very point about the idea of where things are and just that Title IX notion that Christine has raised, and that's just really significant to think about what that really means and what a moment that is for the world to see and be aware of given the domestic situation back in Iran, for example.


COATES: We have these ongoing protests.

FOREMAN: Absolutely. You know, these games are often a symbolic of a big geopolitical situation, in this case where one of the very fundamental questions in Iran is what rights will women have? What rights do they have in that regime to play against a team that, as Christine points out, was standing up for some of those very principles.

It's a very, a very, important moment. Now, what it means ultimately inside Iran, I don't really know. We'll find out what happened with that team when they had back there. Although I do want to point out when that winning goal was scored, I also suffered an abdominal injury, because it was -- it was a very, it was a very dramatic and thrilling moment here.


FOREMAN: Thrilling here. But also important in really big ways.

COATES: And by the way, I mean Cari, there were people in Iran who were celebrating the victory for the U.S. I mean, there was this very poignant moment. You can actually see this moment when they were celebrating and they in response to the United States being the victor in this particular match.

But there was also a moment, Cari, that really sticks out to me. And you have spoken about this so eloquently in the past and just, I wonder if it struck you as well, just how significant broadly speaking the national anthem or the decision not to say it, or the decision to kneel or the decision to be punished for your refusal to abide by it has played a role.


I mean, just look at this screen. We just, over the course of history from what happened in 1968 in Mexico City to what happened on the field with Colin Kaepernick, to what's happened in the NBA and the WMBA, I would mention, to even the Iranians choosing not to initially sing the national anthem as a nod to what we've been talking about today.

They were later obviously told that there might be some threats to their family and their safety and security, which is very telling. But when you think about the significance of that and this world stage, what goes through your mind?

CARI CHAMPION, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, first and foremost, athletes have always been at the front lines of these issues, especially when the implications are global. I -- what I find arguably the most heartwarming is that, what we have been asking, I think, not necessarily asking, but what we require of certain athletes is to make really tough decisions.

They were told before they went to the World Cup, don't do anything. No protest, pay attention. We don't want any problems. You'll get a -- you'll get a yellow card if you, if you decide to speak out or speak up against something.

And that really is an unfair position to put them in, in so many instances. So for that Iranian team to say, no, I am not going to seeing the national anthem, that was a very bold choice. I think arguably what we witnessed yesterday and today, and I'm going to refer to Captain Tyler Adams, his response towards the Iranian reporter, I don't know if you guys saw this, his response was so eloquent and so respectful and so, in terms of sobering and disarming, you had to want to root for the Americans.

He understood that those players on the other side in Iran were in a very tough position. He understood how there was this, this venomous attitudes towards Americans based on things that they, the players themselves, had nothing to do with. When you talk about that Islamic emblem being removed from the -- from their flag.

And he was able to endear everyone, including the people in Iran on his side. And so, when these -- when these athletes decide to take these stands, they really are risking a lot. Some people are risking, obviously in Iran, family and friends. Here at home, you're having people go against you perhaps not necessarily being praised as you want to.

And so, when they make these bold gestures, these gestures that say, I am with you, I see you and I understand it is not right, and I'll do whatever I can in whatever way I can, we have to honor that. There are a lot of problems that are happening in Qatar and this is one of these highlighted moments and I'm glad we were able to get a win.

COATES: I really am glad to see that and think about that. And Don, how can I not go to you about this very point as well? Because can you just speak to the significance for the -- for the diehard true football fans, we'll call them, to those who just love Ted Lasso.

I mean, the significance of what we're talking about here, the idea that the United States, I mean really the, not to be dismissive of their extraordinary talent, but in the grow overall landscape, we're known for our women to be the best in the world and thinking about it. And to have this significant moment, tell me about the significance and what this is like for the United States to be in this position now.

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Well, there's sort of wonderful position for this American team to be in, Laura. The excitement was that this young team, one of the youngest teams in the tournament would be ready to go for the next World Cup in four years' time, which the United States is co-hosting with Mexico and Canada.

But they already seemed to have exceeded expectations with their performances. They're now into the next round where they're going to play the Netherlands on Saturday. That is going to be a really, really tough game. But if they can get through that, this is the kind of tournament where anything could happen and these guys are just getting going.

But I do want to speak a little bit about covering this event here in Qatar. The buildup to it, it's unlike anything I've ever experienced before. The political kind of backdrop and sidebar stories we've discussed. To go to a game where you might expect both sides of supporters to have a sense of animosity between them.

There was nothing like that. But with the Iranian supporters, you had the fans here who wanted the Iranian team to win because they were pro regime. You had the Iranian supporters here who really didn't know what they wanted their team to accomplish. They really couldn't work out if it was better, if they won or if they lost.

I spoke to an Iranian fan before the game. He wouldn't give me his last name. He was brave enough to give me his first name, but he said, I've come here to this World Cup and I want to see them lose. I don't want to see them go any further. I know how the government exploits the team and uses them for political ends, and I don't want any more of this.


And the footage that we've seen coming out of Iran in the last few hours is absolutely extraordinary. And it really speaks to the sense of betrayal that these people have felt that they are now openly in the streets celebrating the demise of their team. I saw one clip where an American flag was even being waved out the car window.

These are people who are taught to chant death to America while they're in primary school. And now here they are celebrating the United States victory, celebrating the demise of their team and their players have been through such a rollercoaster. We saw the emotion of them at the end. I can't even imagine what's going through their mind.

They're disappointed as athletes to be out of the World Cup, but everything they've experienced over the last week and a half, I mean, it's just, it's just something that we can't imagine.

American athletes as you say, we would like them to take a stand. We would like them to speak out on human rights and civil rights, but what these guys in Iran are going through is just a whole other world, I think.

COATES: Don, I'm so glad that you brought that perspective. I mean, escapism that people seek out when it comes to sports is really a luxury and one that we can't necessarily always adhere to in times like this.

And that, you know, there's these great op-eds all out right now about whether it's better to have Iran still in because it promotes the conversation around what's happening in Iran and now that they're out, will that conversation end.

Well, this one has to end temporarily, but we'll be looking ahead to Saturday and watching this match from the U.S. men's team against Netherlands.

Thank you all. Hope you're getting some rest and some enjoyment out there. Don, and everyone else, thank you for being a part of its night. It was really exciting to see this happen.

FOREMAN: All right.

COATES: Thank. Well, from the politics of sports to what's actually happening here on Capitol Hill, a critical vote in the Senate passing a bill to protect same-sex marriage, and it is expected to pass in the House next week.

But what happens if the Supreme Court overturned that 2015 Obergefell decision? Well, Jim Obergefell himself says he's not celebrating today, and he'll explain why next.



COATES: Well, the Senate tonight passing the Respect for Marriage Act 61 to 36. Now the bill protects same sex and interracial marriage and all the members of Democratic Caucus voting yes, along with 12 Republicans. The House will take it up next week, and once it passes, which is expected to do, it goes to President Biden's desk for his signature.

Now people are celebrating the bipartisan nature of all of this. And yes, we should absolutely cheer that because bipartisan victories, well, they're pretty rare these days. But when you unpack the respect for marriage act, there's actually a lot more to it.

Let me explain. And you remember of course, back in June when Roe v. Wade was overturned by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, while many people wondered, including myself, if marriage rights would be next and immediately turned to Congress to try to do something about it. What was that? Well, to codify the protection so that such rights would not be at the mercy of a Supreme Court or any court for that reason, to ensure that those rights were legislatively guaranteed.

So, is what President Biden will sign in line with the Supreme Court's landmark 2015 Obergefell decision doesn't codify what was said there. Not exactly. So, the new law would assure full benefits for marriage regardless of the couple's sex or race or ethnicity or national origin. Federal government will be required to recognize marriages that were valid in a state when performed.

But notice the nuance of what I just said. It had to be valid in the state before the feds are required to recognize it. The state therefore still holds some pretty powerful cards. Its ability to find what exactly is a so-called valid marriage.

Now, this new law will not require states to issue a marriage license that's contrary to state law, and organizations that are religious won't be required to perform same-sex marriages.

So why do the states retain such power? Well, there's a word. It's called federalism, a concept that says when it comes to power, Congress has to stay in its lane and the rest of the road while it belongs to the states.

Now if the Supreme Court were to overturn Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage, a state could pass a law to ban same-sex marriage, but that state would be required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.

And there is a big exception in terms what the Feds would have to recognize, and that's poly polygamy. Uncle say, I won't be required to protect poly polygamous marriage. Because the federal government will defer to a state's definition of marriage. Well, the law won't offer all of the protection that the Obergefell decision offers as of right now.

Remember, there in Obergefell states must allow and recognize same sex marriages under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. Codifying something into federal law does not mean you codify it at the state level. That's what you call federalism by design.

Despite the fact that Congress does not hold all of the cards, though, they certainly did play their hand in this matter, a lot of political games had to have been played and successfully to get where we are today. The question is, given that hand, let's see if the voters at the state level, like the cards they have been dealt when it comes to codifying these rights.


I want to bring in Jim Obergefell, who was the plaintiff in the now infamous 2015 Obergefell versus Hodges decision.

Jim, I'm glad to see you. Welcome to the program. How are you?

JIM OBERGEFELL, PLAINTIFF, OBERGEFELL V. HODGES: Thanks Laura. I'm happy to be here. I wish it for better reasons, but thanks for having me on.

COATES: You know, it's interesting because some would look at this, Jim and think it's counterintuitive, shouldn't people be celebrating the codification of this decision? And at first glance, it sounds like when Congress says, we're going to codify and make sure we've got same-sex marriage on the books, that that's exactly what it's done. But you don't think that it does. And I've explained of course, the reasons why.

But do you think it should have gone further and are you celebrating this Senate victory for now?

OBERGEFELL: No, I am not celebrating, Laura. I will say I'm happy that at least something has been done, something that we will have to fall back on should the Supreme Court overturn Obergefell in the future. But this act, I find it curious that it's called the Respect for Marriage Act because this act does not respect the LGBTQ plus community, our marriages, our relationships, or our families.

And the fact that this act would allow states to once again, deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Where is the respect in that? And I really just continually come back to this, Laura, how on earth does my marriage to John, or does any same sex marriage, harm any other person or any other marriage in this country? It doesn't.

So, yes, I'm happy that there is at least something that will be codified should Obergefell be overturned. I'm happy to have this as opposed to having everything be taken away. But this is not respect for marriage. This is, this would take us back to a time where we are once again second-class citizens who are given something that isn't marriage, isn't respected and protected and offered equally to every person in this country. And that's my issue with the Respect for Marriage Act.

COATES: Now to clarify at one point that the law would ensure, and I don't want to take away from any of the points you've raised, but just to clarify for the audience, if a state were to ban same-sex marriage in their own respective state, the law would require them to respect a marriage that is same sex that is valid and in a d in a different state to honor that sort of notion.

But your point is well taken about the breadth of protection not being universal. And I understand there's also this moment from Senator Cynthia Lummis, who is out of Wyoming, a Republican, and listen to what she had to say today to explain her vote in favor.

Remember, it was unanimous for Democrats, the Senate, and 12 Republican senators. Here was her explanation as to why, Jim.


SEN. CYNTHIA LUMMIS (R-WY): For the sake of our nation today and its survival, we do well by taking this step, not embracing or validating each other's devoutly held views, but by the simple act of tolerating them. And that Madame President explains my vote.


COATES: You know, you have to cringe on the idea of the tolerance aspect. I suspect that is your view as well.

OBERGEFELL: Absolutely. And you know, to your point earlier, Laura, the fact that there could be people in 30 some states across the nation who are unable to get a marriage license and get married in the state they call home, that is not equal. That is not respect.

Now to this point about tolerance. You're right. I have to laugh at that because this bill, this act that had religious freedom, so-called religious freedom amendments attached to it. This is not about respecting or tolerating anyone else's religious beliefs. This is about one specific group of people who believe their interpretation of their religion is more important than any other and more important than human beings in the public sphere.

That is not tolerance. Religious freedom means that people have the ability, the right to practice their religion of choice, their faith in their home and in their house of worship. It does not mean using their religion to persecute others who do not share that same faith structure.

So, this is not about tolerance, this is about kowtowing to people who want preference for their religion, their interpretation of their particular religion in the public sphere, and that is not religious freedom.


COATES: Jim Obergefell, thank you so much for your insight tonight. I appreciate it.

OBERGEFELL: Thanks, Laura.

COATES: David Urban is back, and joining us CNN politic commentator Hilary Rosen, and CNN Supreme Court reporter, Ariane De Vogue. Ariane, let me pick up exactly where Jim left off on this notion of religious freedom.

This does not mirror the Obergefell decision. It's not precise by any imagination. But because of federalism, because of maybe the competition of the court, can you just explain a little bit about why you think the religious liberty aspect of it was top of mind.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN U.S. SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right. Well, you know, in 2015 when the court issued Obergefell, nobody would've thought that this bill was necessary, right? Justice Kennedy issued that sweeping decision, clearing the way for gay marriage nationwide. No one would've thought that this was necessary. And then, as you said, because of Roe v. Wade, you know, justice Alito in that opinion said, look, this is, this opinion on Dobbs is just about abortion. It's not about anything else.

But then Justice Clarence Thomas in that concurring opinion, he was not on that same page. Remember he said that in future cases, we should consider all of this courts substantive due process precedence, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell.

And you remember that the liberals, they picked up on that right away and they said, look, Clarence Thomas is not on the same page as Alito. They started raising these alarms and that's how we got to today. Right?

So, you talk a little bit about the religious liberty. We do see some exceptions here for religious liberty, and that's what's important at the Supreme Court right now because they care about that issue. They cared about it last term in two big cases, and we have another case that's going to be argued next week all about somebody who designs web sites to celebrate marriages, but does not want to design such a web site for same-sex couples, they think that they should be accepted, and that's before the Supreme Court, and this conservative court is probably going to rule in favor of that person.

I mean, it's the layering of all this, everything seems to lead to the next thing. Hilary, what's been your reaction? I mean, you were listening to the interview with Jim.


COATES: Did you have a sense of reaction to his dissatisfaction.

ROSEN: Yes. Jim is an old friend of mine and I respect what he says, but you know, the forum we're in now is a political forum, right? The legislative forum is a forum of compromise by its nature, and this bill was a compromise. We would not be here if it were not for this kind of radical rights Supreme Court that is, seems somewhat determined to unwind everything.

And we wouldn't be here actually if we didn't have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House like this would not happen next year. The House would not do this next year. And that's why I worry about more decisions coming out of the courts, unwinding civil rights that people have depended on, that they live on, and not having a Congress that can codify this stuff.

But look, it's not -- critical things have happened today. If you're already married, you don't have to worry about your marriage being unwound. That's a really important thing for families, right? And I'm gay. This, I'm not married. But you know, it matters. You don't want your marriage unwound.

The other thing is, yes, he's right. If you live in Wyoming, you're going to have to go to Nevada to get married if you're a same-sex couple. And that's a pain and it's not fair and it is discriminatory, but that's what you're -- but once you get back to your home in Wyoming, Wyoming is required to recognize your marriage under this new law.

So, it does make some practical things safe for same-sex couples. And I think, you know, that is something that we have to be happy about considering the alternative, which would be what happened in the Dobbs decision, the abortion decision, which has thrown everything into disarray in the reproductive health space in women's rights. Knocking us back 50 years.

COATES: Yes. I hear you. And the idea of, I mean, you describe a low bar probably universally in the social spectrum, but in politics, were these the compromises that were necessary for those 12 Republicans to sign on?

URBAN: Yes, so listen, I think there should be, you know, Hilary points out. This is Washington, D.C. Jim obviously doesn't work here, right. Nothing gets done in this town. Right. For just the pass is really amazing. It's taken a lot of effort on a lot of people's parts, to get to where we are today. Right.

I was one of the Republicans that, you know, signed onto a letter urging the Senate to pass this bill. It's important and, for a variety of reasons that Jim articulated and Hilary knows and articulated. And so, you know, it is. We had 47 Republicans in the House vote for this. We had 12 Republicans, a wide range of folks from really liberal folks to very conservative people.


Whether whatever Cynthia Lummis did or didn't do, she still voted yes for it. It's a big deal. You had Todd Young, you had really conservative people vote for this. And I think it's a big victory. You know, maybe not, though. It may not be the whole, you know, what everybody wanted and what Jim wanted and what others, but I think it's a very positive step forward and should be celebrated as what's the art of a possible in this town. If people want to get things done, it's what can happen when people join together and try to get things accomplished.

COATES: I mean, the fact that bipartisanship is the critical, is the pinnacle.

URBAN: Well, but I'm saying --


COATES: I hear -- I hear --

ROSEN: Every no vote was a Republican.

COATES: No. I hear you.

URBAN: But we still --

ROSEN: You know, when we face -- when we face this in the -- in the House --


ROSEN: -- in the Congress next year after the Supreme Court --


ROSEN: -- we're going to -- something else is going to get rolled back.

URBAN: It's going to pass the Senate. And it's going to pass the House. We're going to pick up some more folks and so, I think we should celebrate. I think it's something that bipartisanship when we -- when we do something good in Washington, people should celebrate.

COATES: Well, there you go. Well --

ROSEN: It's a sigh a relief, I think.

COATES: I'll bring out the balloon. Had I known you were coming, I would've baked a cake.

Up next, he got a racist letter after putting up an inflatable black Santa on his front lawn. So, what did Chris Kennedy do? What anyone would do. He went to Santa Camp and became a black Santa himself. I'll tell about the story, next.



COATES: Christmas is a special holiday for a lot of us, and especially for Chris Kennedy, a married father in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Now, two years ago, he put an inflatable Black Santa on his front lawn, said his little girl, his daughter could see that Santa looks just like her.

Unfortunately, someone sent him a racist letter demanding that Kennedy take that inflatable down, insisting that Santa Claus is white. Now, determined not to be intimidated, he put up a second black Santa and decided that he needed to do even more to make sure that children of color felt included.


CHRIS KENNEDY, ARKANSAS RESIDENT: This is the type of people that I live around. All of a sudden, we got a problem with Black Santa. Have you always seen Santas being white?

UNKNOWN: Yes. I wish there was like a variety of Santas that come in any different shape and form. No.


COATES: So, Chris Kennedy enrolled in Santa Camp to become a professionally trained Santa Claus, and now he's Black Santa for his entire community. His story is part of a documentary on Santa Camp that's streaming on HBO Max, CNN's sister network.

And Chris Kennedy joins me now live. Chris, it's so nice to see you. Look at the beard. It's already there. I'm already feeling jolly. I'm on hopefully the nice list. We'll see after this interview you'll keep me on that.

But I have to ask you, I mean you set out based on what happened in your community and this letter that you received, before we get into that, just tell me why it was important to you to even have this inflatable Santa and for your daughter to see a Black Santa Claus.

KENNEDY: Well, for me, it's one of those things if I didn't grow up seeing it, there wasn't very inclusive, Christmas decorations and things of that nature growing up. So, I wanted to make sure that she got to grow up and see it. So, my wife and I searched year-round to find all sorts of decorations that represent us as a family and, and, show her that she is a part of the world overall.

COATES: That's a beautiful sentiment and a lesson that all parents are hoping their children will feel. And I, you know, I might even get to dignify the letter. I really am so interested in what you did about it because I had never heard of a Santa camp and the fact that there is one, and you went there and you shared your experience as to why you were there. You're the only Black Santa at the Santa camp.

And I'm just wondering when you talked to the different people who are participants in it, and you talked about it, what was the reaction of the greater community of those who were equally invested in becoming the role model of Santa Claus in their communities?

KENNEDY: Well, the interesting thing is the Santa community is very welcoming and really does want diversity in Santas. They want all kids to be happy and be seen and be represented. People were upset. Not only that with the letter there came a picture. They were upset for that Santa whose picture was doctored to give me a thumbs down. But they're also upset that somebody would not truly know the full story of Christmas or, even St. Nicholas, who was Turkish and know that he had brown skin.

And if you follow the actual history of Santa he was originally brown and Coca-Cola in their ads just happened to use a white actor. And that's what we know today. But overall, the Santa community actually is very welcoming of all Santas.

COATES: Well, that's important to think about it. The idea of jolly St. Nick, as they say, and to see you in that particular role. You're going to be at a Christmas parade in Little Rock, in the city of Maumelle as well. A lot of people will see you and a lot of people I hope will catch more of this important story, Chris, by watching Santa Camp at streaming on our sister network HBO Max.

Thanks for being here and sharing that spirit with us today. We'll be right back.

KENNEDY: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.



COATES: In this season of giving, we want to show you how you can help our 2022 top 10 CNN heroes continue their important work and have your donations match dollar for dollar. Here's Anderson.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper. Each of this year's top 10 CNN Heroes proves that one person really can make a difference. And again, this year we're making it easy for you to support their great work. Just go to and click donate beneath any 2022 top 10 CNN hero to make a direct contribution to that hero's fundraiser. You'll receive an e-mail confirming your donation, which is tax deductible in the United States.

No matter the amount you can make a big difference in helping our heroes continue their life changing work. And right now, through January 3rd, your donations will be matched dollar for dollar up to a total of $50,000 for each of this year's honorees.

CNN is proud to offer you this simple way to support each cause and celebrate all of these everyday people who are changing the world. You can donate from your laptop, your tablet, or your phone. Just go to Your donation in any amount will help them help others. Thanks.


COATES: And all of our top 10 CNN heroes will be honored at CNN heroes and all-star tribute hosted by Anderson Cooper with special guest co-host Kelly Ripa live Sunday, December 11th.

We'll be right back.