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CNN Tonight

CNN Town Hall, The War Over Education With Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA); Cartel Believed Responsible For Kidnapping Four Americans Apologizes; New York Times Reports, Manhattan D.A. Signals Criminal Charges For Trump Are Likely; Divisive Topic Should Not Be Taught In Schools Says Governor Youngkin; Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Comments On A Gay Man's Suggestive Instagram Photos; Norfolk Southern Derails In Alabama. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 09, 2023 - 22:00   ET



GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R-VA): And that's why I'm so focused on the fact that our history standards need to tell all of our history, the good and the bad, but also need to tell the full story of America, from its founding all the way through from our founding documents, which are critical for us to understand. We were a nation that was founded by imperfect men, a nation that is in pursuit of a more perfect union. And it's getting better and better and better every year.

Now, this is -- this is about, I think, recognizing that America is exceptional. We've had some terribly dark moments, which is exceptional. You know, I have to say this moment of standing up for our Constitution and our declaration of independence is something that I don't think should be controversial.

Just recently, one of my appointments to the state school board stood up in a school board meeting and advocated that we should teach about our Constitution and we should teach about our declaration of independence. And all of a sudden, there was an effort made by left liberal Democrats to smear her and remove her, and they did just that, just recently. And that's Suparna Dutta who is here with us tonight. And, Suparna, I want to thank you for your service to Virginia.

This shouldn't be controversial. We should embrace our history, all of it, the good and the bad. We should understand where we've come from. We should understand our founding documents. And, yes, we should say the pledge of allegiance.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, your commonwealth is a little bit whacky in the sense you term limit your governors after one term. They are only allowed to serve for one term. Well, you can do it one consecutive term.

So, I do have to ask you, governor. You pulled off a surprise, come- from-behind upset victory in a state, a commonwealth that a lot of people thought was pretty solidly blue. Maybe it's purple now. You are term limited. Are you giving any thought to running for higher office such as president? YOUNGKIN: Well, first of all, thank you for that humbling question. You know, I just have to say that 40 years ago, I was in Virginia Beach, and I was washing dishes and taking out trash at Belvidere Coffee Shop. And I had an extraordinary with great education and people took interest in my professional career and I thought I was in my dream job when I had a chance to take over a firm that I worked at for 25 years.

And then I found myself with this real clear view that Virginia was heading in the wrong direction and maybe there was a different way to do this. Maybe there was a way to bring people together around common sense, bring people together around values that aren't that controversial. We just need to express them clearly to one another and get moving. And I have been so pleased by the fact that all the things we campaigned on, we accomplished.

I have a big job. I love my job. Thank you for hiring me. Thank you for letting me come to work every day and go to work for 8.7 million Virginians. That's where my focus is right now. And I believe there's an enormous amount of work yet to do in Virginia. We have got a budget to negotiate. We have a lot of work still to do in education. And every morning I wake up and I thank the Lord for putting me there. I ask him for help and then I go to work with a spring in my step. So, again, thank you for hiring me.

TAPPER: Until the end there, it sounded like a yes on the president thing. But you certainly haven't ruled it out is what I'm saying here. No?

YOUNGKIN: Well, I have to say, let's see, Jake. I'm not writing a book.

TAPPER: Okay. So, that's -- right.

YOUNGKIN: In fact, the book I'm hoping to write is the book we're talking about right now, the playbook for education. That's the playbook we should all write together that recognizes the most important thing that we are focused on, is the education of our children. You know, when our children gain the skills, gain the confidence, gain the capabilities to aspire set goals and dream and then go chase them, well, then we know we've been successful.

We have a long way to go, but I am so proud of what we have done in our first year. And all it does is raise the bar and want me to get more done faster in our second year, so we don't lose a generation of kids and that Virginia can return to what she once was, which was a place where people came from all over the world to come to Virginia for our schools, for our great K through 12, for our great universities. This is what we should collectively aspire for. And I can't wait to work with all of you to help bring it about.

TAPPER: I want to thank the parents. I want to thank the teachers and faculty.

[22:05:00] Mostly importantly, I want to thank the three brave students we have here, and I want to thank everybody here. I also want to thank Governor Glenn Youngkin for joining us tonight. Thank you so much.

CNN TONIGHT with Alisyn Camerota starts right now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

You just heard what CNN's town hall audience thinks about the education system. One word that comes up a lot lately is woke. We've got a new poll that found a majority of Americans think the term is a good thing. We'll tell you about that.

Also, prosecutors in New York signaling that Donald Trump could be facing criminal charges over the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. This is according to The New York Times. But this is no slam dunk. So, will we see a former president indicted for the first time in American history? And what would this mean for his presidential campaign?

Plus, new developments in the deadly kidnapping of four Americans, two of them killed, in Mexico. Why the cartel suspected of being behind this kidnapping, the so-called Gulf Cartel, has issued a handwritten apology letter. Also, what a woman who was traveling with those four Americans is saying tonight about what happened.

Plus, Tennessee's lieutenant governor is responding after posting some supportive comments and emojis on a young gay man's Instagram photos. We'll have to tell you about the posts and the emojis. This, remember, is in a state that's been passing laws to restrict LGBTQ rights. We have got a lot to talk about tonight.

So, let me bring in our panel. We have the always compelling L.Z. Granderson, also former National Security Council Director Hagar Chemali and Republican Strategist Joe Pinion. Guys, great to have you here.


CAMEROTA: Okay. Let's start with the news in Mexico and what has been happening. It was fascinating that this cartel, this drug cartel in Mexico, issued an apology via a handwritten letter. Let me read a portion of it. They said, here it is and here is a picture of it, the Gulf Cartel apologizes to the society of Matamoros, the relatives of Mizereli (ph), that was the Mexican citizen who was also shot and killed, and the affected American people and families. The Gulf Cartel, Scorpion Group, strongly condemns the events of last Friday. For this reason, we decided to hand over those directly involved and responsible for the act who, at all times, acted under their determination and indiscipline and against the rules in which the Gulf Cartel always operates.

Chemali, is this for real?

CHEMALI HAGAR, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL DIRECTOR: So, it reminds me a little bit of how it is at my son's school when he does something wrong and he is required to write an apology note. I look at this as just like any authoritarian leader that tries to throw their people under the bus, where they were trying to say that, you know what, these were rogue elements, they had nothing to do with how we normally pursue policies. In fact, I heard that the leader of this cartel said that they normally don't target innocent civilians, which I am certain to be untrue. And so I don't know what they think that their goal will be from this. It's probably they think that they will get some kind of lenient response from Mexican authorities in particular.

CAMEROTA: And will they? I mean, will they? Is this etiquette? Does it change something?

HAGAR: It won't change anything. I will say, however, that the president of Mexico, the current president of Mexico, President Obrador, he has been -- he has pursued policies against cartels in a softer way than the previous presidents. And it has directly resulted in an increase in drug cartel violence inside Mexico.

And that's why you've seen on the part of the United States and State Department these advisories, these trip advisories, travel advisories that have warned Americans against traveling to certain states in Mexico. That were the relationship between the United States and Mexico and particularly between authorities and the drug enforcement agency fell apart last year when the president disbanded decades of work between these two sides. And it is -- we're seeing the direct result of that.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Joe.

PINION: Look, I think, unfortunately, the reality is, whether we're talking about here at home or whether we're talking about abroad, people really pay attention to the drugs or the killing people, that are destroying lives, that are wreaking havoc in communities. Law enforcement shows up and policy gets changed when bodies start piling up.

And I think that there has been this unspoken rule that the cartels are permitted to go and get rich, to continue to work in their joint ventureship with the Chinese Community Party to flood America with enough fentanyl just as long as you don't kill any Americans in the process. Because then, that requires the American government to respond, it requires the Mexican government to act in a new manner.

So, yes, I'm sure they would have presented 20 people that they thought responsible for that tragedy that should have never happened if they thought for one second it could allow them for one more day to flood America with one more case load of the fentanyl that we know is destroying this nation that we love and sending parents to funerals for children that should still be here today.


CAMEROTA: This has really also shown a spotlight on how many people go missing in Mexico, how many Mexicans. I mean, I was reading CNN's reporting. There have been something like 100,000, in recent years, Mexicans disappeared without explanation or resolution. And we all remember in 2014 that awful story about the 43 college kids who disappeared and there was never a resolution to that. I mean, this is scary stuff.

L.V. GRANDERSON, OP-ED COLUMNIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, yes. I mean, in a word, yes, it is scary. And it's important that we remind Americans that this is scary, because we think Cancun, we think vacations, we think, well, we can be Americans everywhere. And it's like, no, you can be an American in America. And then you can be a responsible tourist or visitor everywhere else.

And I think, obviously, what happened in Russia with Brittney Griner is a reminder of that in a different sort of fashion, that you have to respect the laws of this country but you also have to expect the culture of that country and be cognizant of the fact that the way that the criminal justice system working in this country isn't universal around the world.

CAMEROTA: Here is how -- what the Mexican president, Obrador, has said about some of this today.


ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR, MEXICAN PRESIDENT: We are not going to allow any foreign government to intervene, much less the armed forces of a foreign government to intervene in our territory.


CAMEROTA: John Miller has just parachuted in, as he has wanting to do. As you know, we're talking about this. Do you want to share any new reporting you have on what's happening here in Mexico, what we've learned today?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, I think we're at a pivotal moment because what you saw was a very calculated move by the cartel, which is let's not go through a big investigation, here is five perpetrators we're turning over. Here's a letter explaining that with an apology. It was bizarre in the wording of the cartel's letter, because it almost sounded like a government document. They didn't follow procedures, they violated policies and we want to put an end to this so that we can go back to safely breaking the law, dealing drugs and killing the people we intend to.

What everybody is saying is the government is saying, we're the government, we have control, we have the people in custody, we're the cartel, we made a mistake, we want this to go away. Everybody knows it's bad for business. What the United States is probably saying is where do we get justice here, are these people going to be tried in Mexico, are they going to be tried here, and what about their bosses.

CAMEROTA: Hagar, where do Americans get justice?

HAGAR: This issue has highlighted three main problems. Some of them have been already mentioned, right? You have the risk of travel to Mexico or, and by the way, around the world, right? People need to pay attention to State Department advisories. You've got this spotlight shown on medical tourism and the risks related to that. And then you have, like I said, this breakdown in the U.S.-Mexico relationship and how we're seeing that danger play out, how we're seeing it with drugs going into the United States on an increased basis, the lack of security at the border.

In terms of the U.S. getting justice, to be honest with you, it has to stem from U.S. leadership, responding to those problems I just mentioned, reconnecting that relationship, making that happen again with the Mexicans, forcing them to see the light on the benefits of the relationship with the DEA, communication to the American public better the travel advisory that State Department puts out. I guarantee you people aren't looking that up on their website before they travel.

CAMEROTA: Because I think that we do -- I mean, so many Americans vacation in Mexico.


CAMEROTA: And so we tend to think of it as Cancun, as you said. And so you're saying that travel to Mexico is dangerous in some places, not blanket statement.

HAGAR: Right.

CAMEROTA: So, people need to be very specific. And same thing with medical tourism, in some places, it's safe, yes? Is that fair?

HAGAR: I would say that medical tourism -- I am not a doctor. I want to say that, to be clear.

GRANDERSON: You lied to me.

HAGAR: There are risks because it's unregulated, because rules are laxer abroad, and because if something goes wrong, you have little to no legal recourse. And so I would say it's dangerous and I will say, by the way, that I have friends and family that have sought medical, dental treatments abroad. But that is a problem because of the United States. That's because it's too expensive here for a lot of people, and that shouldn't be the case. And so the solutions have to be here, made here by our leaders.

MILLER: By the way, the Mexicans agree with that across the board, which is the solution for the drug problem is we need to stop buying them. The solution for the violence problem is you -- think about this Alisyn.


You, the United States, need to stop flooding our country with the guns that arm the cartels that drive the violence.

So, we look at it from a very American point of view, which is they're out control, they need to get their act together. Mexico looks across the border and say, you're providing us two of our worst problems, the market and the weapons.

GRANDERSON: Isn't it true that just only one area where Mexican citizens can actually acquire guns to begin with in terms like legally, and something like one spot in the country where they're even allowing to even purchase guns?

MILLER: Bu, I mean, as you know --

GRANDERSON: I mean, I'm just saying --

MILLER: -- that's not where the guns that are involved in this are coming from.

GRANDERSON: Exactly. I mean, so, there is a come to Jesus moment we should be taking as a nation because there is some responsibility with that. I mean, Mexico is not our little brother. They're supposed to be our partner in this side of the hemisphere.

MILLER: Well, that's right, and our next door neighbor. And they sued us for like $10 billion, suing the gun industry. The Mexican government suing the American gun industry, and a judge threw it out because the way the NRA and Congress has constructed the laws to allow being in passage is that a gun manufacturer is not responsible for the end use of the weapon.

PINION: Well, most people are not responsible for the end use of most products, particularly when they're being used in a manner that contravenes how they were intended, then maybe breaking of crimes and laws. So, yes, there has to be -- look, we have to --

GRANDERSON: They're guns, man. They're so supposed to kill. That's point of that.

PINION: Guns are supposed to be used for legal purposes. There's nothing legal about trafficking drugs and engaging in extra governmental practices that are resulting in crime and death and drugs.

GRANDERSON: Yes, but they're hurting people, right?

PINION: But I think, again, now we're having the straw man argument. I think the end of the day -- it is a straw man argument. At the end of the day, the hard truth is that we have a Mexican government that has been complicit with this drug trade that is happening. We know this. Everyone knows this. Department of Homeland Security knows this.

The American response to this completely has been to turn a blind eye, to allow the border to remain open, to engage in policies that people across the board who have worked in Republican and Democratic administrations have said will not (INAUDIBLE) to us, have any type of safety and security, this is promised on our found documents.

So, yes, we can have a conversation about the guns, we can talk about American responsibility and the need to make sure that we have better practices within our country so there's not a demand for the drugs. But we have done nothing to disrupt the flow of fentanyl coming from China. It's not made in Mexico. We've done nothing to make those cartels less comfortable. So, I think that should be the priority in the aftermath of this horrific event where people's lives were taken and all of a sudden they want to send us a get well card and a candygram and think everything is forgotten.

CAMEROTA: All right. Friends, thank you very much for all of those perspectives. Meanwhile, back here, prosecutors and the Manhattan D.A.'s office signaling that former President Donald Trump could face criminal charges over that hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. Do they have a case? We discuss next.



CAMEROTA: Okay. It's been more than six years since that $130,000 hush money payment to Porn Star Stormy Daniels was paid to keep her from going public about an alleged affair with Donald Trump. And today, the Manhattan D.A. is signaling that the former president could soon be indicted and face criminal charges.

We're back with L.Z. Granderson, John Miller, Joe Pinion and a former Watergate prosecutor, Nick Akerman, joins me. People sneak in and out of this panel so quickly that I don't actually know who is sitting next to me sometimes. This has now happened three times. We're like, oh, hi, Nick, nice to see you. No, it was -- John started this today.

Okay, Nick, great to have you here great to have you here. Before critics of Donald Trump get excited and say, finally, he's going to be held responsible for something, I have read that this particular case of the Stormy Daniels payment of hush money is particularly risky and sort of unprecedented and complex. Do you agree?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: No. I mean, it's pretty simple. I mean, he paid money to keep her quiet. They took the money. They laundered it and hid it in the papers of the Trump Organization. And, ultimately, it mean sent that the Trump Organization paid tax on something and filed an income tax return that was false.

CAMEROTA: Okay. But, I mean, it is a free country. If I want to pay money to a porn star that I had an affair with, stick with me here, guys --

AKERMAN: You can do it.

GRANDERSON: This is hypothetical, right?

CAMEROTA: Yes, this is hypothetical, that I had an affair with out of my own business money, it is a free country, can't I do that?

AKERMAN: You can do that, but you can't lie about it on your taxes. You can't take it as a deduction, as a business deduction when you make it look as though the money was paid for legal fees, which it was not. It was not paid for legal fees. It was paid to keep a person quiet before the 2016 election. That is not a reasonable business expense of the Trump Organization.

CAMEROTA: Okay, Mr. Legal Stiffler (ph). But furthermore, I'm joshing because that's a misdemeanor, right? That's a misdemeanor?

AKERMAN: No, no. False tax return in New York State law, no, that's a felony. That's a felony. Falsifying records is a misdemeanor. But it is not a misdemeanor if you are falsifying records to commit a crime like falsifying a tax return.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Go ahead, Joe.

PINION: I don't know where to start. Talking about a six-year-old Stormy Daniels mess that starts off with, you know, a porn star who then hired a man who is already behind bars, who should go nameless, who ran around the countryside basically saying that Donald Trump was Al Capone and that basically America had unwittingly had a criminal syndicate attached itself to the executive branch of our government. And now, we're talking about a matter of who checked the box and who decided the file the paperwork as it relates to the taxes that were filed.

So, I'm not here to make light of felony behavior, a felonious behavior, but I'm simply saying that if we're talking about gearing up for a 2024 election cycle, where the 45th president of the United States is about to run against the 46th president of the United States, the notion that we're going to now go all the way back down this Stormy Daniel, I think, political standpoint, which what I'll speak on, is not conducive to the American people getting to have a fair opportunity to discuss what are the issues pressing for this country.


And I think from a legal perspective and then, I guess, the pseudo political perspective, it is certainly, I think, a wrong approach for the people on the other side of Donald Trump. All it will do is, the minute that he is indicted, he will probably go up about 30 points in the polls in a Republican primary and most likely you will see some of those independents who are tired of this kind of bread crumb approach, the refusal to mess or get off pot, they are going to start saying, you know, maybe that Donald guy was right after all.

GRANDERSON: You know the irony of all of this in retrospect? It appears as if he wouldn't have needed to pay her off anyway, that she could have come out, that she could have said, we had an affair, and that his supporters would have said, eh. Why? I don't know. We have a whole list of things they could have said no to and they didn't. I mean, that to me is like the great irony.

AKERMAN: Well, that's always the irony of any kind of criminal case, the people could have done something different, that they didn't have to commit the crime. I mean, the fact of the matter is this is not a bread crumb. This is a matter of filing corporate tax returns that are false. He knew it. He concealed it. The fact --

GRANDERSON: Who falsified (ph)? AKERMAN: He did. He's the president of the company. He is the one that knew it was going to be filed. He directed Weisselberg, his accountant, to do this. The whole thing was a plot from the beginning and they also did it with this other woman, who was the former play mate, who he also paid on.

CAMEROTA: Okay. All right, hold on. John, your thoughts?

MILLER: So, I think to pick up where Joe left off, you wonder, okay, why this, why now? But if you look at this as a strategy through the Manhattan D.A.'s office, of course, they changed district attorneys after the elections, so there was a reassessment of this case. But when they circled back to it, they do the Trump corporate case. They indict the company. Weisselberg testifies. His lawyer testifies.

And what's revealed in that case is a pattern and practice of concealing what money was actually for, where money actually went, how people were paid and compensated, what the reasons for that was. So, they have set the table for now something where it is not the corporation being charged, it is an individual Donald Trump if a grand jury elects to indict him. And that is a case where you are going to have some of the same witnesses talking about some of the same practices.

And while there is an issue of the taxes here, there is also this argument that, A, they couldn't have done this a long time ago because the Office of the Legal Counsel says you can't indict a sitting president while in office, but, B, this money was paid to her to be quiet because he was running for president.

CAMEROTA: So, meaning it is a campaign contribution?

MILLER: That it is a campaign expense that is not being documented and, in fact, concealed.

CAMEROTA: And is that -- we only have one second left.

AKERMAN: That's a crime. That's certainly a crime.

CAMEROTA: But will they be able prove that?

AKERMAN: I think they can, because why else would you have pay the money to her? I mean, it wasn't a gift or a past payment for services rendered, right?

PINION: More brilliant legal minds have said, it is not what you know, it is what you can prove. This affair is toxic, it's trashy. But at the end of the day, is that the priority on the minds of the American people, trying to figure out --

GRANDERSON: Yes. I have the answer for you. Yes, because --

AKERMAN: The answer is, absolutely, yes.

MILLER: And then the grand jury on Fulton County that is thinking about something else and the cases are piling up and we'll see where they go.

PINION: I got some Hillary Clinton (INAUDIBLE), I bet you.

AKERMAN: But this is the first of a number of cases that are going to be filed. I mean, Georgia is next in line, if not before this particular case.

CAMEROTA: All right, gentlemen. You have completely disregarded my time here but I am allowing you because it was a fascinating conversation. Thank you all very much.

Okay. So, what does the term woke actually mean? New polling suggests that most Americans see it as a positive thing. We'll explain next.



CAMEROTA: The war over education and what should be taught in schools, that was the subject of CNN's town hall tonight. Virginia's Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin has his own strong opinions.


GLENN YOUNGKIN, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA: They're teaching children that they're inherently biased or racist because of their race or their sex or their religion. They teach that a child is guilty for sins of the past because of their race or their religion or their sex. They teach that a child is oppressed or a victim because of their race, their religion or their sex. This is why it was so important for us to clearly define what was not going to be taught in schools and what was because this is chance to make sure that we're not pitting our children against one another based on race or religion or their sex, but teaching all of history the good and the bad.


CAMEROTA: Okay. I'm back with my panel where we're welcoming Patrick Healy of "The New York Times," LZ Granderson is here, Hagar Chemali, Joe Pinion and CNN political commentator Scott Jennings joins us as well. So, LZ, are teachers teaching children to be guilty, to feel guilty and to feel like victims?

Now, I mean, obviously I'm saying that and asking that sort of facetiously, but that is a biproduct sometimes of some lessons. Sometimes some kids feel guilty and sometimes some kids feel victimized and sometimes some kids feel badly about the sins of their fathers. That does happen. That's real. But I have never seen a classroom nor have I even seen an example of a teacher teaching a child to feel guilty.

LZ GRANDERSON, OP-ED COLUMNIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: And I don't think an example has been shown, which is why this is so disappointing and what he said is so disingenuous. Because there is value in teaching the good and the bad. And it isn't to make people feel bad. It's so that we don't repeat mistakes so that we don't keep doing the same things over and over again.

This reminds me of what happened to Kolin Kaepernick and how they rebranded his protest to make it the protest of the National Anthem as opposed to a protest to draw attention to promote justice. This is nothing more than a shell game. It is frustrating for me as a journalist because I'm trying to use the language of the people, but the definition continues to be, you know, muddled by individuals like him.

CAMEROTA: Then what are we supposed to do, one more question to you, when kids feel guilty?

GRANDERSON: I mean, listen, there are kids who were spat on, who were killed, right?


There were kids who were bussed for hours just to go to school. There were kids who bussed for hours to go to school and then the governor was there in Alabama. So, you can hear about that. It's okay because there were kids that lived through that.

CAMEROTA: Scott? Let me quickly get Scott in. Scott, your thoughts on all this?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. I think a lot of parents are concerned about it. I think there have been materials discovered in Fairfax and Loudoun County in Virginia that were pushing -- pushed by consultants that were hired by the school districts to push critical race theory and, you know, the concepts of equity and all this and the education.

Most of the parents I know just want to know, can my kid read? Can they write? Can they do math? Do they understand the basic core curriculum stuff? And if you look at the test scores at any state or school district in the country, they suck. They're terrible. Kids have massive learning loss in all these areas. And it was worse for the poorest kids and the kids that have racially diverse backgrounds.

And, yet, we have a group of people out there who seem to be more interested in social engineering in schools than they do in core curriculum. I think that's what Youngkin and other Republicans are responding to and it obviously worked in his campaign and it's working in his gubernatorial term because of his approval ratings in Virginia. I think people like what he's doing.

CAMEROTA: I mean, I guess, Patrick, that defines -- it's how you define social engineering and everything that Scott is talking about because, again, I would like to see an example of kids actually being taught to feel guilty. But I don't doubt that some kids feel guilty. I mean, I think that that's just a different situation.

PATRICK HEALY, DEPUY OPINION EDITOR, NEW YORK TIMES: Right. And these kids are kids. They're learning about a lot of these concepts, a lot of this history for the first time. When I listen to Governor Youngkin, what I keep coming back to is where is the space for free speech and ideas and inquiry in the classroom?

If they're taught about history and what Governor Youngkin said tonight about slavery being the cause of the civil war and kids ask about their own families, the legacy of their state, what is the teacher allowed to say because there is a real history there that I think kids, teenagers need to understand that they are a part of as Virginians. They consider this (inaudible) citizens.

The governor has figured out to a way to really harness a lot of concerns that parents have and I'm not questioning those concerns. But can you imagine just being in a classroom where the teacher is sort of thinking, okay, the kid is asking me a question about his or her ancestors in the state and I'm not allowed to answer it because it might make the kid feel bad or it is somehow not allowed.

It just -- it creates, especially for a party that cares a lot about free speech and ideas and open dialogue, it sort of creates these limits and rules that get pretty complicated.


JOE PINION, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, I think we just have to go back to the main purpose of a school. The school is supposed to make sure your kids can read and they can add. If you go to Baltimore where a disproportioned amount of the students are black and brown, 78 percent of the high school students are reading at an elementary school level.

Right here in New York City, 75 to 70 percent of the black and brown students cannot do math at grade level. And so, it's a frustration for people that there is this increased desire to talk about all these other aspects of an education, which are important, but it's certainly not the priority. It's almost a distraction.

And yes, we should be able to tell the whole story of America, the complete story of America and the vilest, darkest stains on humanity that have existed at the beginning and the inception of this country. But that is very different from people on the left pretending that they are not trying to lecture to people.

That they are not pretending that somehow, they are individuals in school districts trying to say you don't have to tell a parent if the child wants to transition. That you don't have to tell the parent if their daughter has to make that horrible decision of choosing to have an abortion.

You don't have to tell the parent anything. That begins to feel like to a lot of parents like you are trying to co-parent with them, like they are just the night shift and you get the priority during the daytime. And I think instead of dismissing that out of hand, we should confront them head on because (inaudible) when we don't confront that head on, the pushback is always more extreme than the extreme positive that you push in the first place.

CAMEROTA: Hagar, your thoughts. HAGAR CHEMALI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL DIRECTOR: So, in addition to everything said, and I agree with most of it, the thing that frustrates me the most is the pollicization of our education system. And on one hand, you have political leaders and in particular the Republican Party that have used this to galvanize their base.

They bring it up at every issue at every town hall at every event and every rally because they know it's a hot button issue. You hear them using these words "woke," they don't know the definition of woke and they use it why? Because they've noticed that this solicits a reaction from parents.

And you have on one hand this way that they've used schools, these leaders, have used schools to further their political ambitions and it's gross.


But then on the other hand you do see the space has been created for parents to weigh in on issues sometimes that they don't know about. And by the way, I'm a parent of young children. I obviously care about their curriculum. I care about what they're learning. But I also believe that educators know best and that there have been systems in place and that they are continuing to evolve and learn. And like you said, that transparency and history and all this is so important. I just hate that there is even a space for this in a political debate.

CAMEROTA: I want to very quickly get to this poll about "woke" because we talk about it a lot and as you said people don't know what it means. Just out of curiosity, how would you define it?

CHEMALI: So, I should add, while I didn't note it earlier that I was not a doctor. I am a professor. I am an adjunct professor. I teach at Columbia. And it kills me because there is a very clear definition. It is to be alert to racial discrimination and prejudice and to be aware of issues related to race and social justice.

It's a very clear definition. And so, when you see Republican leaders go out there and say, oh, you know, we need to fight against this anti-woke ideology, blah, blah, blah. I sit there and I'm thinking, you know, you're advertising your ignorance. You don't know what this means. I never understood the term woke the word to be something so negative. Why are you making it something negative? The opposite would mean to bury your head in the sand, and that would be a negative.

CAMEROTA: Do you agree with that definition?

GRANDERSON: I do. And I think a lot what happens on the left and in the right is that they mix up woke with being (inaudible) and they're very, very different things.

CAMEROTA: Okay. So let me just read you this poll because we just found it interesting. This was March 3rd and 5th. It's a USA Today/IPSOS poll. And in terms of what it means to be woke, 56 percent of respondents say to be informed, to be educated on and aware of social injustices, 39 percent said to be overly politically correct and police other words. Scott, do you find that interesting that people in general see it in the way that it was just defined, in its real terms?

JENNINGS: I mean, I don't know. I hope every Democrat runs on this. I hope they read the poll and I hope they run as woke as they can get in the next election because I think it will (inaudible) to the benefit of Republicans and conservative candidates when you take, you know, your social, cultural viewpoints as extreme as they may be and use that to suppress basic common sense and basic American values. Yeah, you want to run on that? By all means. I wish you well. God bless. Godspeed.

CAMEROTA: On that -- on that generous note, Scott, we will take a break. Thank you very much for that opinion.

Meanwhile, you have to stick around for this story, everybody, because Tennessee's lieutenant governor is raising some eyebrows over some Instagram comments that he made on photos of a scantily clad young gay man. And this, of course, is happening against the backdrop of his state, Tennessee, pushing several bills targeting the LGBTQ community. So, we'll show you and discuss next.



CAMEROTA: Tennessee passing several bills restricting LGBTQ rights. And at the same time, the state's lieutenant governor, Randy McNally, has been posting supportive comments on the Instagram account of a scantily clad or barely dressed young gay man nicknamed Finn.

The lieutenant governor's verified account includes the clapping emoji on this one and the fire emoji on another. He added multiple flame emojis on this one. And in this post, the lieutenant governor wrote, quote, "Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine." The account is called Franklyn Superstar. And he responded to the lieutenant governor by saying, "You are literally always so nice, King."

We cropped that last photo, but the young man is clothed below that line and the panel is back with me. So, listen, Franklyn Superstar who is this kid, he says that the lieutenant governor has been nothing but kind and supportive of him. And here is what the lieutenant governor, when he was asked point blank about this, he did not say, oh, somebody on my staff did that or I was hacked. Here is what he said to reporters today about it.


RANDY MCNALLY, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF TENNESSEE: I try to encourage people on my posts and I try to support people that, you know, just because he's gay. I also have friends that are gay and I have friends and relatives that are gay. But I don't feel any animosity towards gay people. I think that's fairly clear.


GRANDERSON: It's fairly clear, all right. It's (inaudible) animosity. It's messy. It's messy regardless of what the actual reasons are because of who he is, who that young man is and how it looks, and he should know better. And that's just, and you know, and that's just the end of it, really. It's like, I'm not getting into what he may or may not be dealing with. I'm not getting into what their relationship is going to be. But in a pure optics perspective, he should know that does not look appropriate.

CAMEROTA: Well, yeah. And I'm not suggesting anything about this says anything about the lieutenant governor other than sometimes people in their personal relationships feel one way and it's interesting when they legislate in a different way or their state legislates in a different way.

Now, he, Patrick, the lieutenant governor has actually a mixed record in terms of the LGBTQ bills in his state. Some he has voted for, some he hasn't, some he's spoken out against like there was a bill to ban, I think, gay couples from adopting. He didn't like that. He spoke out against that. So, he has, I would say, a mixed record. But it's just interesting because Tennessee is leading the way on, you know, banning drag shows, et cetera, et cetera.

HEALY: Right. And he's the lieutenant governor. He knows the political atmosphere that created legislation that they have created. Look, we don't know what's in his heart. We don't know what's in his brain. There are Republicans who are supporters of LGBTQ rights.


There are voices, you know, on kind of the spectrum. But he knows that he is the leader of the party that has been leading the charge in Tennessee making it one of the most anti-LGBTQ states in terms of legislation that's been passed. And it just raises a lot of questions. I mean, you know, as a gay man, I can tell you that people aren't posting photos like that in order to get, you know, hearts from the lieutenant governor.

There is something kind of about that that raises questions about what he knows about what he's doing and sort of the signal that that sends (inaudible).

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, his office says that he is a prolific poster. He posts to his constituents. He supports his constituents. That's what he has said. But he doesn't draw -- he's not -- his office and he are not drawing any distinction by the fact that he is a gay man other than that, I mean, through his putting hearts on, other than his constituent.

GRANDERSON: You don't have to put fire emojis on his ass. He can do it on other photos, photos where he is like reading or like in school. That's other ways of being supportive than the sexually suggestive posts. HEALY: And something that acknowledges, also what these laws are

doing to people in Tennessee. And this is sort of none of that. It just -- it feels like it takes what is a very serious moment in the lives of a lot of gay people in Tennessee and takes it into something that like somehow, we can kind of laugh about, you know, from his point of view.

CAMEROTA: I'll tell you what Franklyn Superstar, who is the young man who's doing this says. "Yes, it was him. He's always been kind and uplifting and I appreciate the support so, I never read into it. I hope he realizes that taking away people's way of expressing themselves is really evil and will result in suicidal thoughts in many in the state of Tennessee. He can be kind to me and so he can be kind of many more people who are like me." What are your thoughts?

PINION: And that's the best summary of the issue. I think that, look, we talked about it in the previous segment, that extreme positions were not taken into account. The concerns of other people lead to a more extreme backlash. We have seen a rash of extreme policies towards the LGBTQ community. Some have been put forth by the Republican Party, but I would argue that it's a result of the fact that people are not taking some real things into consideration.

There are people who have love and admiration in their hearts for the entire community who are just not comfortable with drag shows for children. I don't think that's a hateful position and I think it's a nuanced conversation that we should have and let this been dismissed out of hand. There are people who simply think there are certain materials that should not be introduced to a classroom to children at a certain age.

I think the majority of people who hold that position do not come from a place of hate. And so, if we recognize that there will always be more attention paid to broken glass in Memphis than for the man walking around with placards saying I am a man, then we should also recognize that there are going to be some people always who are coming from a negative place.

But I think dismissing the vast majority of Americans who simply want to make sure that their thoughts and their considerations are being taken care of, having that conversation is healthy for America writ- large and is certainly helpful for the LGBTQ community and making sure that we don't have as many of these policies having a demonstrative, kind of negative impact on people.

GRANDERSON: I just want to say quickly, if I can.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, quickly please.

GRANDERSON: If this country had a problem with drag and children, what the hell is Bugs Bunny doing? Seriously. Seriously. What is Bugs Bunny doing?

PINION: I think -- I think -- respectfully, I think that there is -- that makes light of a broader issue. I think that what he's doing --

GRANDERSON: He's doing drag, man.

PINION: When you see -- when you see children with dollars putting them in G-strings, I think there are a lot of people clutching their pearls who are concerned about the fact that as we said before, I want to know what's going on with my child and I want to make sure that I have the autonomy to make a decision for --

CAMEROTA: And where did that happen?

CHEMALI: That's not a drag show, is it? I mean, I have to say, when I saw the post that the lieutenant governor was -- was commenting on, I would be more comfortable with my kids watching a drag show than seeing those posts. No offense to Finn. Your posts look lovely. You seem like a lovely man.

But my kids are young and I don't see why they need to see your naked derriere. And I have to say, as a former government official, we were trained over and over again on appropriate social media behavior and a lot of it is really, frankly, common sense, but it has to do with not doing anything that could be misconstrued as dramatic (ph) or inappropriate, certainly not doing something that could invite scrutiny. And that is what he is doing it and he is doing it unapologetically.

CAMEROTA: I'm not sure they have that training.


Thank you all very much for that conversation, and we will be right back.



CAMEROTA: We have to tell you about this incredible moment today. The CEO of Norfolk Southern, Alan Shaw, was on the hill being questioned by senators about that February 3rd derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. And during the hearing, another Norfolk Southern train derailed, this time, in Alabama. Multiple cars came off the tracks.

According to a Norfolk Southern spokesperson, the trains are mostly carrying mixed freight with no waste or lead from any of the cars. The NTSB is investigating this. And we'll be right back.