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CNN Tonight

CNN Town Hall Invasion Of Ukraine One Year Later; Alex Murdaugh Takes The Stand, Denies Killing Wife And Son; Culture Wars Raging In Public Schools Around The Country; Defining Woke And Culture Wars In Schools; Aaron Rodgers Completes Darkness Retreat. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 23, 2023 - 22:00   ET



SAMANTHA POWER, USAID ADMINISTRATOR: The farmers are still out in the fields planting, sometimes using bomb detectors or metal detectors to make sure there's no unexploded ordnances. The teachers are teaching you, as you well know, in your classrooms. And then when they hear the air raid sirens, bringing you and your classmates into the bunkers in order to ensure that you have safety as you continue to try learn.

And so what I can promise you, and I know Jake would promise you and President Biden would promise you if he were here is that we have your backs, we stand with you, not just on the battlefront but in trying to help you feel as much safety as you can when one man and his wicked vision has tried to take that away. And we all long for the day where you can walk freely with your classmates, not worry about having to scamper to a bomb shelter, not have to worry about your loved ones or yourselves when your neighbors and your friends and your family members are not off in some distant country where they became refugees but they're back home reunited with you. And as the president said, we are with you to the end. We will stand with you.



ZAKARIA: We're going to bring somebody else in from Ukraine. CNN's Alex Marquardt is also in Ukraine. He joins us from Dnipro.

Alex, the Ukrainians are bracing for possible Russian attacks today. As the sun rises on the day of the one-year anniversary of the war, where do they think these attacks will come and what could they look like? What are they worried about?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Fareed. The sun is due to come up on this anniversary in just about 90 minutes' time, and you're absolutely right, that this country is bracing for what they are calling potential provocative actions by the Russians.

They could come from land, sea or air from the north, from the east or from the south. There is a high likelihood, Fareed, that we could see salvos of missiles fired all across this country, as we have seen many times before, fired at critical infrastructure, heating, electricity, water, crippling those facilities in the middle of the winter, which has had a devastating effect on the Ukrainian population.

We could see Russia step up their attacks where we are already seeing fierce fighting in the eastern city of Bakhmut, in the southeastern town of Vuhledar, where I was earlier today with a unit that fully expected the Russian to do something on this anniversary, around Kherson where the Ukrainians have pushed back the Russians several months ago.

There could be random attacks in cities like Dnipro, very far from the frontlines. We saw an attack in this city on an apartment building just last month, more than 40 people killed by a cruise missile, that kind of random attack just striking fear and terror in the hearts of Ukrainians. So, this country certainly girding itself for what could come on this anniversary. Farreed?

ZAKARIA: Thank you, Alex.

Jake Sullivan, most war -- almost all wars end in some kind of a negotiation. The sort of World War II war where one side completely annihilates the other is very, very rare in history. What will that -- what will those negotiations look like? The Chinese have put out this -- I don't know what they're calling it -- peace plan that's just out. It's a 12-point document detailing its position calling for the end of hostilities and the resumption of peace talks. Is there anything to this? What is your reaction?

JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, my first reaction to it is that it could stop at point one, which is respect the sovereignty of all nations. That's the first point in the 12-point plan. This war could end tomorrow if Russia stopped attacking Ukraine and withdrew its forces. Ukraine wasn't attacking Russia. NATO wasn't attacking Russia. The United States wasn't attacking Russia. This was a war of choice by Putin waged upon Ukraine and it could end if he simply left Ukraine. And that is the best way for this war to end

Now, I cannot predict the future. What I can tell you is that the United States is not going to dictate to Ukraine how this war ends. President Biden tells President Zelenskyy and our allies at every opportunity nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. It is the Ukrainians who will decide how they proceed towards the end to this war. Our job is to put them in the best possible position on the battlefield so they are in the best possible position to be able to do diplomacy whenever they choose to do diplomacy. And that is how we are going to proceed.

But I think there's one more important point as we approach this anniversary and as actually the anniversary has arrived in Ukraine, and that is Russia has already lost this war. Russia's aims in this war were to wipe Ukraine off the map, to take the capital and to eliminate Ukraine, to absorb it into Russia. They failed at doing that and they are in no position to be able to do that as we go forward.


And it is important for everyone to remember that the courage and bravery of the Ukrainian people has already accomplished that objective and the support of the United States and our allies and partners around the world has helped contribute to that. But where this goes from here is something that will play out over the coming months. What we know is, day-by-day, we simply have to keep doing our job, which is to give the Ukrainians the tools they need to defend themselves.

ZAKARIA: Sam, whatever happens at the end of this war, Ukraine is going to need a massive amount of reconstruction and assistance. Does the world have the capacity? Does the United States have the capacity for the kind of thing? You know, people talk about a marshal plan like there was after 1945 to help Europe rebuild. Is that the kind of scale we need to be thinking about?

POWER: Well, I think we associate the marshal plan with a moment, right, just as we associate the end of the war, World War II, with a moment, and it looks as though recovery and reconstruction in Ukraine, at least for the time being, is going to happen differently.

Just this month, earlier this month, the World Bank announced $50 million to invest in the repair and restoration of the transport networks, the transport infrastructure in Ukraine. And that's how USAID is proceeding as we try to catalyze the involvement of the European bank for reconstruction, development, the big international financial institutions and to get the private sector to be interested in coming back to those parts of Ukraine that are relatively peaceful, and even, you know, to continue to make investments elsewhere.

We just struck a public/private partnership with Bayer, which is building a new seed factory in Ukraine, which is going to employ thousands of Ukrainians. The more Ukrainians are employed, the more revenue there is, the less assistance will need to come from outside.

So, this is going to be from within and from without, but I think it's not necessarily going to be an on/off switch. It's something we want more Ukrainian refugees to be in a position to come home to have infrastructure that awaits them where they can live in buildings that have been repaired. But, of course, the damage that some estimates is that the damage so far has been $130 billion if you take arable land, homes, hospitals, schools. So, this is going to be a mammoth undertaking.

The other thing we want to do is with an eye to those big ticket items, which most of which will happen only when there is a negotiated peace, but we have to make sure that resources are going to be well spent when you have those huge investments which go well beyond what is being provided right now. That's when, of course, you want to make sure that you have the safeguards in place so that all outside investors and donors know that and can say to their citizens that this is money that is going to be well spent.

But I think President Biden has spoken really eloquently, powerfully to how much enthusiasm there will be when this war is officially over, you know, a number of actors are on the outside really wanting to be a part of the longer-term solution. But getting the institutional frameworks right is something we can be working on right now in addition to these stopgap recovery efforts. ZAKARIA: Jake, I'd ask you one final question. We've talked all about the world, Russia, Ukraine. We haven't talked about what's going on in the United States. Do you worry when you hear voices like Governor DeSantis, Senator Hawley, Senator Vance questioning why the United States is doing this, asking why we should be spending this money, wondering whether we should be taking a more neutral position?

SULLIVAN: What I find so interesting about that perspective, we can't operate in the world because we have to operate at home, is it presents a fundamentally false choice that is not at all who America is. We can both invest at home and provide for the safety and well- being of the American people and we can lead in the world. And that's what we have done at our best under Democratic and Republican presidents for decades.

The United States is capable as a powerful, self-assured nation, we have the resources, we have the talents, we have the energies of our people to solve our own problems here and President Biden has done more in two years to invest in this country to build jobs, to provide for the social safety net, to deal with the problems that people sit around their kitchen tables and think about while at the same time mobilizing a coalition of free nations to support the values that Americans hold so dear.

So, what I would say to those senators is, yes, let's do these things at home, but are you saying that America is incapable of also helping to serve a powerful force for good in the world? I don't think that the American people believe that. I think the American people think we are capable of doing both. And at our best, that is exactly what we have done.

And I believe that a lot of the moments I've seen in this last year in Ukraine, from those flags waving in small towns that Samantha was talking about, to the people in the U.S. government who are trying to support folks like Igor (ph) on the frontlines, that has been America at its best.


And so I think that there's a pessimism in this argument that these senators are making. President Biden has an optimistic view, which is we can do it and we should do it and we are doing it, and as a result, I believe that democracies in the world are getting stronger, not weaker, as the president said, and autocracies are getting weaker, not stronger. And that's better for every single person in this country.

ZAKARIA: Jake Sullivan, Samantha Power, a pleasure to have you on.

CNN has something special coming up on the war in Ukraine from Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. She returned to Ukraine recently to meet with the people of Ukraine and hear how they are faring one year into the war.

She focused on the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro. It was considered relatively safe until last month when it became the scene of one of the deadliest attacks since the war began. The Will to Win, Ukraine at War, airs Sunday at 8:00 P.M. Eastern.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On January 14th, the 325th day of Putin's war, Dnipro was hell on Earth. In all, 46 people were killed including 6 children after a 2,000-pound Russian missile as long as a city bus slammed into this apartment building.

So, the blue wall, that was your bathroom?


WARD: 24-year-old Nastya Shvets was at home in bed sleeping.

When you look at it now, what do you feel?


WARD: The missile sliced her one-bedroom apartment in half killing both of her parents in the kitchen while just inches away Nastya clung on to life.

I think for a lot of people, it's hard to understand why Russia would use this huge missile that's intended to take out an aircraft carrier in a residential area. How do you try to understand why Russia would do something like this?

SHVETS: I don't understand.

WARD: Can you tell me a little about your mom and dad, what they were like as people.


WARD: Do you ever wonder why you were saved? It's this extraordinary image that we see of you surviving the unsurvivable.


WARD: Take your time if you want to take a break.

This is not the first grief Nastya has experienced in this war. In September, her boyfriend, Vladislav, was killed while fighting on the frontlines in Kharkiv.

You have experienced so much sadness and so much loss. In some ways, your story is the story of Ukraine, of people who have given so much but who continue to survive.



WARD: That courage and grit have come to define Ukraine and the price has been painfully high. Tens of thousands of lives have been destroyed. Estimates suggest it will require close to a trillion dollars to rebuild the country when this is all over. But today, the end is still nowhere in sight.


ZAKARIA: Make sure to tune in Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for Clarissa Ward's special report, The Will to Win, Ukraine at War, only here on CNN.

If you feel compelled to help out with humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, we have a list of vetted organizations on our website. Go to

And that concludes this CNN town hall. I want to thank our audience and questioners here in D.C., questioners in Kyiv and the frontlines. I want to thank Jake Sullivan and Samantha Power and all of you out there for listening and watching this evening.

CNN Tonight with Alisyn Camerota starts now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN Tonight. And thanks to Fareed for that illuminating town hall and the look at where we are one year into Russia's invasion into Ukraine. So, we'll have more on that later on the show.

We have a lot of stories to catch you up on tonight, starting with the disgraced attorney, Alex Murdaugh, making the risky move to take the stand in his own defense. He denied that he killed his own wife and son but he admitted lying to investigators about where he was minutes before they were shot. So, did he help or hurt his own case? And how do defense attorneys decide when to put a suspect on the stand?

Plus, we have one of our signature voter panels for you tonight. I sit down with six parents from across the country to talk about the culture wars that are raging in our schools and why teaching black history has become so controversial.


ACQUANDIST UY, FLORIDA PARENT: The reason why they don't want to have this taught is because it makes people feel uncomfortable.

ROBIN SCOTT, VIRGINIA PARENT: The kids can handle it, I promise you. They're going to be all right. It's uncomfortable but we need to be having these hard conversations.

NARESH VISSA, FLORIDA PARENT: Look, you have one semester, you have one semester to learn about this huge history, one semester. So, you have to prioritize what's most important.


CAMEROTA: And then later in the program, what would you pay to be all alone in total darkness for several days and nights? We'll tell you about the darkness retreat that Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers just emerged from.

Okay. But, first, to that dramatic day in the Murdaugh trial, let's bring in our panel. We have Dan Harris, Host of the Ten Percent Happier podcast and author of Ten Percent Happier, great to have you, Dan, we have Joey Jackson, also Lauren Leader, co-Founder and CEO of All in Together, and Political Commentator Margaret Hoover. Also joining us remotely is Jury Consultant Richard Gabriel.

Okay. I was so surprised, Joey, that he took the stand today. If you were representing Alex Murdaugh, would you have put him on the stand?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's always a risky proposition to put a defendant on the stand. You talk about the analysis that goes into it. Let's talk about that for a moment. The first thing is, is that whenever you're doing a case, right, what you want to do is you want to make it about the reasonable doubt of the prosecution's case. You want to speak to every witness, you want to minimize their testimony through cross-examination, and then if it doesn't go well, you say, maybe I'll put my client on.

Now, here's the kicker. Whenever you put a defendant on the stand, it's not about the case that you did as a defense attorney where you raised reasonable doubt, it becomes about your client. Is your client credible? Are they believable? Are they relatable, are they human, right, and in essence do they carry the day? The problem here is that you have a person who has lied and lied and lied and lied.

However --

CAMEROTA: Yes, because he admitted to that on the stand.

JACKSON: Right? He admitted to that, right? So, the question then becomes he may be a liar, he may be a thief but is he a murderer? And that's what they're going at, right?

Last, last point and that's this. In some respects, you want him on the stand for the following reason. Number one, you have to attack motive. This is a loving husband and a father. How dare you suggest he would kill his family? And there is no good reason that the prosecution is proffering as to that second thing, timeline.


They have him dead to rights, the prosecution does, with the cell data, right, the car data --

CAMEROTA: And the audio of him --

JACKSON: -- the audio, correct.

CAMEROTA: -- which he admitted is him.

JACKSON: Exactly. So, he now has to backtrack and say, reverse, reverse, reverse, I lied about that last. And that is that it in terms of who else could have done this. He has this habit. Is he around unsavory characters who could have caused him or his family harm. And his son, Paul, was involved in this boating accident he was getting a lot of public flack. Could people who are upset with him on that have committed this? So, that was the calculus, I think, they made, the defense team, in putting him stand.

CAMEROTA: That's certainly what he tried to claim today that it was because the flack that his son was getting, maybe that was the motive.

Okay. So, did you guys all watch it today? How many thought that that was credible, that he did himself a favor? Any hands, anybody think he did himself a favor? No, nobody?


MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Admittedly outside of my area of expertise. But from what I have learned, it seems to me he didn't help himself necessarily. You know, there are so many lies, to Joey's point, that they have mounted upon the previous lies. He could only help himself because the case was pretty strong against him. Public opinion is against him. It didn't feel like the courtroom is against him.

Look, John Grisham apparently is in the courtroom watching this. There are videos at least on Twitter of John Grisham in the courtroom. I don't know if that's true or not. It must be true. So, clearly, this is a drama that is playing out. This is why people are watching this, why we are talking about it. But I'm going with didn't help himself.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Let's go to our expert. So, Richard, you're the expert in jury consultants. Would you have put him on? Do you think that he did himself any favors today?

RICHARD GABRIEL, JURY CONSULTANT: Well, as Joey said, it's always a risky calculus in terms of putting a defendant on, and for another important reason, which is kind of going to Joey's point, do you want the case to be about the prosecution's failure to really prove their case or do you want it to be about your client? The more time he is on the stand, the more the jury can scrutinize and really look at in a fine-tooth comb everything he said, whether it's consistent, whether there're inconsistencies. And so it's very difficult to kind of take a look.

Look, these trials are all about, especially in a circumstantial case, character is king. This jury is trying to create a portrait, who is this man? Is he a sociopath who would lie to do anything and is a murderer or is it just truly an aggrieved husband who has committed sins in his past but then also is -- couldn't possibly do it? He did definitely ticked the boxes in terms of showing grief. He definitely ticked the boxes in terms of admitting about the lies. So, he did all those things. The real issue is going to be, I think, come up tomorrow in terms of cross-examination. That's where the real analysis about how much he's going to hold up.

CAMEROTA: For sure, and how much whether he's hurt himself or helped himself.

Dan, I want to play for you the reason that he said he lied. So, he explained that he lied about the audio. He was actually there in the minutes before the murder. He lied -- he admitted that he lied to investigators repeatedly. And here's why he says he did.



My addiction evolved over time. I would get in these situations or circumstances where I would get paranoid thinking, and it could be anything that triggered it. It might be a look somebody gave me. It might be a reaction somebody had to something I did.


CAMEROTA: He says he had a long opioid addiction. What do you think about him saying that that was the excuse today?

HARRIS: Look, I don't want to say anything to defend this man unduly, set aside where you are on whether he committed the murders, he definitely admitted to ripping people off, innocent people off, his clients who he was sworn to protect.

Having said that, I do resonate with his story of leading a double life where he's a prominent lawyer with an addiction on the side. I, in my 30s, was a news anchor on ABC News and had a cocaine problem that led to me having a panic attack on the air. And I think millions of Americans can relate to substance abuse especially in the midst of an opioid epidemic. So, I think it's possible that that humanized him.

CAMEROTA: Agreed. In that way, I thought that it was smart what he did there.

LAUREN LEADER, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, ALL IN TOGETHER: I mean, it's so painful to watch for all the reasons that Dan just said, because this is clearly a guy who's had so much potential, was on this extraordinary career talking just completely destroyed every part of his life, destroyed everyone around him, destroyed the relationships with everyone who trusted him, and it's heartbreaking to watch, and it's on national television.

And I think that's the other piece of this, which is like how do you ever walk away from this, even whatever the jury decides the rest of his life, this is what he carries forever, because the entire country is watching live on national television.

And to Margaret's point about Twitter, millions of people on Twitter every second have their opinions about was he credible, was he not credible.


But it's just -- the whole thing is -- like the ultimate tragedy we took away today was just how devastating the opioid crisis is and what it does to people. I mean, if any of that is, true and that's another part of it, it's just heartbreaking to watch. CAMEROTA: All right, everyone, stick around, if you would. Because when we come back, we have one of our signature voter panels that's going to tackle the culture wars in our school and it's going to try to answer the question, what is woke?


CAMEROTA: The panel is standing by right now to share their thoughts on this topic, because, as you know, the culture wars are raging in public schools around the country. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is proudly leading the charge on the war on woke, as he calls it. This month, he rejected a proposed A.P. course on African-American studies leading to further debate about black history and cancel culture.

So, we wanted to know how parents feel. We brought back some of our favorite voters from across the political spectrum, including two parents in Florida to find out who should be making decisions about our kids' curriculum and why teaching black history is so fraught.

But we wanted to start with the definition. What does woke even mean? Here now, our pulse of the people.


UY: For me it just means being conscious of the racial prejudice and discrimination that's within our society and just being aware, you know, that there are a set of people who are oppressed and separate from injustices.

NARESH VISSA, FLORIDA PARENT: To me woke means that you were asleep and then all of a sudden you wake up to racial, gender, social or general life issues and essentially virtue signal publicly how much these issues mean to you.

VANESSA SPENCER, CALIFORNIA PARENT: I think it's the term that's been hijacked to be quite honest with you. It's a term that was and is meant to bring awareness to marginalized community and that was to really start conversations.

CRIS CANDICE TUCK, VIRGINIA PARENT: It has two meanings. To one side it means being aware of the issues of our injustices in the society, being aware of the struggles that other people have and then working to correct them. To the other side it's a pejorative. It means whatever it has to be. Last week apparently it meant M&Ms are woke.

VISSA: Here's where the wokeness goes too far. When we're talking about canceling math classes, canceling honors classes in the name of equality --

SPENCER: Nobody is canceling math.

VISSA: There's schools in Oregon and California that you can look it up yourself.

TUCK: The problem is we hear these phrases. We hear these terms about, oh, the SATS are canceled. They're cancelling math. Realize when you dig down to it, none of it is happening.


TUCK: But if you throw the word cancelling part of it, it sounds terrible. Nobody is canceling these things. These things are simply being re-evaluated as they should because our kids deserve the best.

CAMEROTA: So, this month Governor DeSantis canceled the proposed AP course on African American studies. As we understand it, there were specific topics that Governor DeSantis did not want covered, black queer studies, black lives matter, black feminism and reparations.

YU: What differences BLM from the, you know, 1 million march or from the march that led on Selma? It's all history. It's a part of our history, so it needs to be taught. And, you know, the reason why they don't want to have this taught is because it makes people feel uncomfortable.

ROBIN SCOTT, VIRGINIA PARENT: The kids can handle it. I promise you. They're going to be all right. It's uncomfortable but we need to be having these hard conversations.

VISSA: Look, you have one semester, you have one semester to learn about this huge history, one semester so you have to prioritize what's most important. BLM didn't make it because BLM is not history yet. Absolutely 50 years from now, 40 years from now, BLM is going to be in the AP textbook. It will be there.

YU: In the history books unless it's been 40 years?

CAMEROTA: No, but hold on (inaudible). I think that he's saying it's recent history and so, you know, you have to make choices.

VISSA: Exactly. It's recent.


VISSA: Talk about that in your -- talk about that in your current event class. When you get to college you can take an elective on a class that deals with that subject matter. But in a 10-week course, there's only so much you can pack in there so you have to prioritize.

SPENCER: Who is to say that black -- BLM, Black Lives Matter isn't history? It's current history. And in AP classes especially a class currently being written and constructed.

VISSA: What is current history?

TUCK: Here's the thing. I understand what Naresh is saying. You've got to pick only so much to go into these courses. But why are we not listening to the people whose history is because the black community has been very clear. These are the things that matter to them. Black Lives Matter is the most important foundational movement for black liberation in the last 50 years since the civil rights movement. And you're telling me it shouldn't be in history books. YU: I did not learn anything about my history, you know, American

history, black history and African American history until I went to college. Do you realize that only 40 percent of black youth actually make it to college so therefore? Do, therefore, all 50 percent of our youth are never going to learn about their history.

CAMEROTA: Who should be making these decisions? Is it teachers? Is it parents? Is it local school boards? Is it the governor? Is it the National Department of Education? Who should be the arbiter of all of this stuff? So, let me see, show of hands who thinks teachers are the ones who should be making decisions about curriculum? Okay. Only -- okay.

TUCK: I mean, I think that's a hard conversation or question do I ask. Do I think teachers should have a heavy hand in guiding the curriculum? Absolutely. Do I think teachers should be the sole arbiters of deciding what the curriculum is? Absolutely not.

CAMEROTA: Okay. So, teachers should play a role. Okay, everybody agrees with that. It's good. How about parents? Hold on. How about parents? What role should parents play?

TUCK: Advisers. Should be advising the curriculum. We should be providing our input to the proper student -- of the school body which in most cases is a county school board, allowing them to hear that and make those decision.


CAMEROTA: I've seen school board meetings devolve, as we all have, into screaming matches. So, Chris, how does a parent do that, you know, to their local school board and get any kind of real meaningful curriculum?

TUCK: It's actually really simple. You e-mail the folks in charge and you ask them, how do I help make meaningful change? Because in my county, going and yelling to the school board is a complete waste of time. But at the end of the day those committees need to be made up of a combination of teachers, parents, subject matter experts, community members. It is a different organism when you're dealing with a statewide Department of Education that is mandating down all of these different requirements.

SCOTT: I just think this is a huge attack on public education and we need to -- and it's detracting and deterring from real issues that literacy and equity gaps and real issues that we do need to focus on.

CAMEROTA: Vanessa, you were a schoolteacher, right?

SPENCER: Yeah. And I quite frankly, I think that there need to be national standards. I do. You go from one state to another and the standards of education are incredibly different and I really think that if there were national standards surrounding history, national standards surrounding English or national standards surrounding math, it's easier.

CAMEROTA: Show of hands, how many people want a national standard for curriculum? Okay. So, five of you, not -- Naresh and Roxanne.

ROXANNE BECKFORD HOGE, CALIFORNIA PARENT: Everyone should know who (inaudible) truth wants. Everyone should know what the Constitution, Declaration of Independence say, but here's the problem. A good percentage of people in California who go to public school can't read at grade level or do math well enough to make change if the computers go down at McDonald's. That is a travesty.

TUCK: I agree. I want to just say that that's the problem. This is the problem in a nutshell. We're fighting over how to teach things like queer history, black history, we're being told that math is racist and the reality is, kids can't read. They can't do math. Those issues are not being taken care of and a lot of that has to do with the defunding of public education.

YU: I grew up in this. Okay, I know what it feels like to not be heard or seen unless it's -- in bondage or in like -- it's such a muted history that I have learned through the years. We are already behind the bar of everyone else. So, we do struggle more and then so like we can address the reading issues, we can address the math issues but are we also going to address the racial issues with it, because you can still leave us behind if you're not talking about the disparities within the education. It's all intertwined.

CAMEROTA: Okay. So, our panel is here next to respond to everything that think just heard as well as what Senator Tim Scott had to say about some of these issues today. That's next.



CAMEROTA: All right, you just heard from our voter panel on why teaching black history is so controversial and if the war on woke is a winning strategy in 2024. Back with me now to discuss we have Dan Harris, Jessica Washington, Lauren Leader and Margaret Hoover. Dan, I was interested to see in the notes you say you pay a lot of attention to woke. Why?

DAN HARRIS, HOST, TEN PERCENT HAPPIER PODCAST: I pay attention to people fighting. It's interesting to me how the human animal interacts. I'm always interested in that. And what I took away from that panel was it's great to see Americans disagreeing agreeably. They were talking to each other without mincing words but without attacks, without ad hominem attacks. That I think is what we need more of in this country.

CAMEROTA: One of the things that I found fascinating about this panel is they all were quite clear on how parents should have a hand in curriculum and teachers should have a hand in curriculum and you'll see tomorrow when we have part two, I asked them to raise their hand for how many thought that the governor of the state should dictate curriculum. None of them did. Even the people who agree with Ron DeSantis' position doesn't think the governor should unilaterally be making decisions like that. MARGARET HOOCER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. I mean, these are

-- these are questions for, well, they all agree that there should be some national standards or some common standards that everybody agrees to but they also agree that these are -- need to be crowd sourced locally, right? That it has to be a combination between parents and teachers and administrators and school boards and this is how you -- this is the secret sauce and the messy formula for representative democracy.

And I totally agree with you. Civil discourse is a civic responsibility. And what they were doing right there, thanks to your sort of guidance, Alisyn, was the messy work of democracy.

LAUREN LEADER, CO-FOUNDER & CEO, ALL IN TOGETHER: Americans are closer together on a whole lot of issues that become politically polarized and this is a really good example of this. There's clearly a vocal minority of Americans who are fired up and angry that their kids are being pushed to study subjects that are uncomfortable to them. And there has been this undercurrent for the last few years of just rejection of anything that is about diversity and inclusion.

This -- and a lot of this has been pushed by Fox News over the last few years that anything that is affirmatively trying to right the wrongs of the past or create a more equitable level playing field is automatically racist against white people.

It is fundamentally wrong but the -- ultimately, most Americans and all the polls show this, most Americans embrace diversity. They understand it. It's part of what makes America great.

CAMEROTA: Its something that you'd think the woke has gone too far. I mean, you know, people (inaudible)

LEADER: That's a different question, though, than whether or not kids should be learning some core and fundamental facts about our country. And I'll just say personally, the most rewarding as a white woman, the most rewarding and meaningful educational experiences of my life were the most uncomfortable ones that I was forced to have about race in high school because I was lucky enough to go to a school that pushed us to really think about race and gender issues and it changed the course of my life.

I now have black children. I feel completely different than I think I would have in another time -- if I hadn't had those opportunities, I'll never understand it fully.

CAMEROTA: (Inaudible) conversation.

LEADER: I'll never understand it fully but they were the most formative and important conversations of my life to this day --

CAMEROTA: That's amazing.

LEADER: -- the ones I had at 16.


having those uncomfortable conversations, they have to happen because we can't dig our head in the sand. Unfortunately, racism is very real. Inequality is very real. Gender inequality, racial inequality, all these attacks against LGBTQ folks, these are all very real things. And if we're not willing to have those conversations we cannot -- and anti-Semitism as well -- we cannot move forward.

And so, you're right. We have to be able to have these conversation and people can't be scared that they're going to feel bad. I think that's what has to happen and I think that's part of why it can't just be completely left open to parents because I think parent are going to have this instinct, I have to protect my kid for ever feeling bad, ever feeling like they've done the wrong thing.

And sometimes you are going to do the wrong thing and it's just okay and we have to teach children that it is okay to do and say the wrong thing and engage in these conversations so that they can become good members of society.

LEADERS: What happens when we have parents or political leaders who are holocaust deniers?


What happens when they get on school boards? Does it become acceptable for those parents to say I don't believe in the holocaust, I don't want my kids to learn about it. That's actually a real issue in the country today at a time when we're seeing surging anti-Semitism all over the country.

So, you know, there's got to be a line which says, you know, the politicization of education is a no win. It's a no win for families, it's a no win for kids.

HOOVER: All of this is true and yet you can still say how do we teach an inclusive history of our past? All the things that the AP standards now still -- now includes, the revised standards in Florida include the history of Africa, the history of slavery, the history of redlining, the history of the civil rights movement.

And yet, at what age is it appropriate to teach black queer theory, right? Does that need to be in the AP standards or does that -- or should that --


HOOVER: That's what we should be able to talk about without casting a group of people who are maybe newer to these topics or genuinely think maybe that shouldn't be the priority in the thrust of these black studies. These can be real questions that can be debated without casting people as being uncomfortable with LGBTQ studies.

WASHINGTON: But I think it is if you are talking about people feeling uncomfortable with these things because the thing is queer history is a part of black history. You cannot separate it and say that the contributions of queer people to America to black history were inconsequential.

And also with this AP studies, what we're talking about is not just history. This is African American studies. The idea of what this is supposed to be is to connect what has happened in the past to modern current events. That is what it always was intended to be. That's what the deal is.

So, I think you can't just say, well, queer history is over here. Black history is over here. They're interconnected in the same way you couldn't say that black women's history should be its own separate subject.

CAMEROTA: I want to talk about what Tim Scott, Senator Tim Scott said. So, Tim Scott as you all know, is eyeing a political -- a presidential run and he was saying that all this woke stuff and progressive stuff, I mean I'm paraphrasing and trying to use shorthand. He says that it actually -- well I'll read what he said.

"These people who call themselves progressive are attacking every rung of the ladder that helped me climb. I was the teenager whose spirit would have been crushed by a culture obsessed with identity politics and racial strife." And he also wanted to say that, "Our founders were geniuses. We should celebrate, not cancel them. Indeed, we are a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression."

So, it's interesting to hear him -- I mean, obviously everybody has a different take on what -- but everybody has their own take on what motivated them. What was the engine of their driver and it sounds like, you know, he was able to navigate through clearly a challenging upbringing.

WASHINGTON: And I understand when you have come out of the other end of something like that and you can say, I did this on my own. That feels great. It feels great, but I cover inequality for a living and what I cans say is, this is not a problem of people who just didn't believe in the American dream enough.

This is not a problem of people who just didn't believe in themselves. These are factors like redlining, like all of these other, you know, systemic inequalities. This is not just, oh, I didn't believe in the American dream and so therefore I am living in poverty. That's just not how it happens.

HARRIS: Intergenerational trauma. There are a lot of factors that play into this. I think one of the things that's interesting to me is that we were talking about being comfortable with discomfort. It feels like there is an uncomfortable paradox that I think most Americans can live with but seems like people on the fringes can't, which is that this is a great country. Our founders did incredible things and they did unspeakably horrible things too and we have a painful history.

Both things can be true at the same time and it feels like most people can wrap their heads around this but people on the edges of the debate are weaponizing it.

CAMEROTA: But I also think that Jessica is right. When it comes to your children, you don't want them to feel guilty. So, if there's some uncomfortable conversation that's happening, that if they're being made to feel guilty or if they just accidentally feel guilty, I mean, by-product of having this uncomfortable debate (inaudible), then suddenly parents want to shield them from it.

HARRIS: Well, you're just delaying the inevitable because life is uncomfortable.


LEADER: I mean, and that is exactly right, their weaponization of these topics, right? And back to Tim Scott, I mean, look, this has become a very core part of the Republican talking points really since Trump, which is this over rotation on, you know, he really weaponized white grievance and it has become the core of so much of what, you know, a lot of the sort of core Republican philosophy is all these culture war issues as opposed to, you know, really looking it, you know, the economy which they constantly, you know, criticize the Biden administration for, but then the main talking point again and again and again becomes about this question, these culture war issues.

I think it's a mistake. Tim Scott is entitled for sure to have -- he's an extraordinary person that accomplished amazing things, but for this to be the central conversation in his campaign tells you something about where we're going to be for the rest of this presidential cycle when there's real other much more important issues.

HOOVER: I mean, I respectfully disagree. I think Tim Scott, of course, I mean, I think we agree he has this extraordinary personal story and this personal narrative, but he also wants to tell a fundamentally what he views as an American story.


Which is that while we have grave sins in the past of this country, it does not need to define us and we don't need to be confined by it and he is doing the sort of political judo move by saying, I haven't been. Look at my experience and I want be a beacon and, frankly, example for a new generation of Americans. And that's -- that is fundamentally optimistic and hopeful and not completely disconnected set of experiences.

CAMEROTA: But don't you think that he also is seizing on some of the culture wars because they're easy, they hit people viscerally, people respond. He's seeing how well they understand --

HOOVER: I don't see him going for the cheap shots. I don't see him doing the DeSantis thing. I mean, Tim Scott is an authentic guy. He's speaking from his own personal experience. This is completely consistent with everything he said since he's been in public life for the last decade, 13 years.

CAMEROTA: All right. Fellows, thank you for all of those perspectives and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CAMEROTA: Star NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers just emerged from a darkness retreat. The Green Bay Packers quarterback spent several days and nights in total darkness at a facility in Ashland, Oregon. Before going, Rodgers said that sitting in darkness for a few days would help him find inner peace of mind and figure out if he'd continue playing football or retire. We're back with the panel, Dan, I feel like a darkness retreat is something you've done.


HARRIS: I have not done it. Although I happen to have had a phone call the other day, a Zoom call, with a teacher who leads these darkness retreats and was trying to convince me to do it, seven days of complete darkness. This guy had done seven weeks, I believe.

And what happens on these retreats is that the brain starts to release DMT, which is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, which is quite an increasingly popular psychedelic. So, you have these florid hallucinations. --

CAMEROTA: So, you have natural DMT in your brain?

HARRIS: Yes. This is my understanding.


CAMEROTA: A friend told you. And so, you start hallucinating?

HARRIS: Yes. And the point of the practice is to see if you can maintain your equanimity in the midst of whatever the mind coughs up in these extreme circumstances, which when you then return to the world, would help you with whatever moments of -- where you're ambushed by anger or desire to eat a sleeve of Oreos or whatever it is. The point is, if you can deal with your mind in these extreme circumstances, you can be better in real life.

CAMEROTA: And is it tempting to you?

HARRIS: Very tempting. I'll probably do it.

CAMEROTA: Seven days of darkness?


CAMEROTA: Why not just take ayahuasca?

HARRIS: I'll probably do that too.

HOOVER: Didn't Aaron Rodgers also take --


LEADERS: I've had a meditation practice for almost 30 years. I'm a deep believer in people doing inner work. This one it makes me very nervous when high-profile public figures start like putting it out there when they're doing things that are potentially dangerous and unproven --

CAMEROTA: Is it dangerous?

LEADERS: -- and I don't know. I mean, I really don't like solitary confinement for that reason.

CAMEROTA: Let's find out.


HARRIS: This is an ancient practice.


HARRIS: I don't know anything about the people who've guided him, but if you've got proper supervision, actually, I think this can be a healthy practice. And you can leave at any time so you're not -- it's not like solitary confinement, which I've also done for a story. I was in solitary confinement.

CAMEROTA: For how long?

HARRIS: For 72 hours I believe, which is not fun.

CAMEROTA: Oh my god.

HARRIS: But I -- so, if you have the ability to leave, I think that is a (inaudible) differentiator.


HARRIS: This is just to say again, an ancient practice. It's not like these guys are making it up. The question -- it really just comes down to the quality of the guidance of teaching while you're doing it.

CAMEROTA: All right, I wish we could talk about this all night because I have more questions, but we can't. We have to move on.

UNKNOWN: We might have to try it.

CAMEROTA: Yes. He's a man with a strong conservative pedigree, former governor of Montana, former chair of the Republican National Committee. But the GOP in his state has booted him out of the party. We'll tell you why, next.