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Mexico Blames U.S. For Fentanyl Crisis; Report Shows Fulton County Investigators Have Another Recording Of Trump Pressuring A Georgia Official To Overturn Biden's 2020 Win; San Francisco Considering Reparations Plan, $5 Million Per Eligible Black Resident; San Francisco Board Propose Reparations For Black Residents; Dr. King, Jr.'s Impact On The Civil Rights Movement. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired March 15, 2023 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good evening, everyone. I'm Laura Coates and this is CNN TONIGHT.
Now, you just saw our CNN Primetime Special with Poppy Harlow in Banks Bust, What's Next for America's Money, and there are fears tonight about what could be happening overseas as we speak and how that could affect us all right here. We'll have more on that later in the show.
Plus, the president of Mexico blaming the United States for the fentanyl crisis, charging lawmakers haven't done a thing about it. But what is being done about the fentanyl that's killing thousands and thousands of Americans every single year?
And there is news out of the Fulton County grand jury investigation of former President Trump. You remember this phone call he made with the Georgia secretary of state trying to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So, look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Well, apparently, there is another call as well, and one only the grand jury has heard. Now, you're really interested. We'll tell you about it in a moment.
We got a lot to talk about tonight with my panel. And here with me now, Obama White House Senior Director Nayyera Haq, John Hart, who is communications director for Senator Tom Coburn, Political Commentator Karen Finney and former Federal Prosecutor Elliot Williams is here as well.
A lot to talk about, you guys, particularly on this issue of fentanyl. And as we know, the opioid crisis in this country and the fentanyl crisis in the country does not care about which party you are in or how you vote. It seems to be an equal opportunity assassin in so many ways, and yet it has been very political in terms of how it is dealt with. And recently, we just heard Mexico's president now blaming the United States for doing nothing to stop fentanyl in this country. Listen to what he says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR, MEXICAN PRESIDENT: We are doing a lot in Mexico. Republican politicians and also some Democrats in the United States haven't done anything against fentanyl because this drug is distributed there and there aren't known seizures or arrests of those who distribute it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: The idea here that he is talking about what we are not doing and what is being done, this is obviously a factor coming in. You can imagine the politician chomping (ph) at the bit to react. What do you have to say?
KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it turns out there's politics in Mexico, too, as the president of Mexico is blaming the United States. I believe in that same speech he said there is no fentanyl in Mexico, nothing to see here. I don't know what you're talking about. He may be able to do what Putin has basically done, which was to unify Democrats and Republicans that we know there is a fentanyl crisis, and we know that we need Mexico to be a better partner. And there is some criticism around some of the things that he has not done in the last year or so, a couple years.
Look, I think the other piece of this, though, we always go right to talking about the enforcement piece. Obviously, that's critical. But we've also got to talk about putting me resources into prevention and treatment. Because the truth is the fentanyl wouldn't be coming here if there was no market for it.
COATES: That's a very true statement. How do we curb that habit? How do we curb that need and desire? It's very profitable, unfortunately, Nayyera.
NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SENIOR DIRECTOR: Well, Karen is right about the supply side piece of the problem, and the demand side, great to focus on the demand side, but Mexico and the United States could politically find another ally that would also unite Democrats and Republicans, and that's blaming China. Because all of the precursors --
COATES: The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Got it, okay.
HAQ: And, listen, it is the weird thing, the anti-China sentiment that is uniting multiple different factions right now around the globe. 99 percent of the precursors were fentanyl are made in China. They get shipped to Mexico. So, technically, Obrador is not wrong, it is not made in Mexico. There, the cartels transit it through to the United States. But it is also a port security problem, not necessarily just the southern border, there is a lot more to it that, frankly, you can unite and clamp down on China for.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: But to that point, what the United States doesn't get from Mexico is data on seizures and data on precursors. They're not partners. Look, between my stints at the Justice Department, I was at ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And a lot of these interdiction issues of illicit substances that go back and forth all hinge on cooperation between countries.
You have to get the folks on the other side of the border to not wag their fingers at what's happening in the United States and actually just work together on the problem.
And I think regardless of the demand questions, and they're important to address here in the United States, but you also need a political partner across the border who is willing to actually give you the data on what's going on his own country, and it's just not happening.
COATES: Well, what is that -- I mean, you talk about the partnership, it is about the transparency aspect as well. It is one thing to have the data, right, and there's the other to actually be able to do with the data. What would a partnership look like to be effective with Mexico?
JOHN HART, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TOM COBURN: Look, I think we have to have stronger border security. The border is an open wound in American politics. We're all divided on the question of immigration. One of the reasons is we have never solved this issue of border security. So, the fentanyl crisis is in part a border issue. So, we've got to come together and solve that.
But there is a lot of rhetoric in this debate that's not terribly constructive, where there are Republicans talking about declaring war on the Mexican cartels. There needs to be greater law enforcement. There needs to be tougher measures, but it is schizophrenic for the GOP to have this conversation about let's not get involved in forever wars but let's go declare war in Mexico. I mean, it doesn't make any sense. It's a law enforcement problem, it's a rule of law problem and it's a foreign policy problem.
WILLIAMS: But we should get a sense of -- but when we think about border security, what we mean about border security, what are we talking about? Because I think it is a buzz word that gets in people's heads when you're talking about immigration and so on, for instance. 70 million cars illegally cross the border at ports of entry every year in the United States or might have been every -- needless to say, you have got tens of thousands of -- more than 70 million a year. Needless to say, legal crossing and that's how a lot of this is getting across, that's a function of border security too.
FINNEY: And Americans are bringing it in, by the way. It's not -- I mean, we can talk about needing to secure our borders and immigration, but, again, it is Americans who are also part of the smuggling problems and Americans that are the market for it. So, again, we need to solve the whole -- look at it more holistically. And I agree with you in terms of having more a partnership with Mexico. And just from what we heard, it doesn't sound like that's going to happen any time soon.
HAQ: Well, Obrador is also trying to solve, as you mentioned, his own domestic challenges, which is that he does not actually control. The federal government in Mexico doesn't control the majority of the territory, cartels do. This is why we've seen the minister of defense two years ago arrested for helping the cartels smuggle drugs and heroin into the United States. So, it is easier for him to point the finger to the United States similarly how the United States points to external problems that are ultimately domestic in origin.
COATES: Let's do a moment of self-reflection, okay? This is not going to be a yoga moment but do a moment of self-reflection, and just wonder, listen to what the Mexican president had to say about what he thinks Congress is not doing. Look at this, everyone. I want to pull out this particular statement that he made about it, because I think it's important to talk about how he feels that the legislature and the authorities here, talking about the U.S., are not doing their job because they're not addressing the causes. There are no care programs for young people in the United States. So, he's pointing out one aspect of the U.S. handling of it.
In that moment of self-reflection, is there fair criticism of Congress and what they are failing to do and how we address the cause of opoid addiction in this country?
HART: Well, I think so. But, look, this is not a top-down solution. Like we're not going to solve the opioid crisis by having a government program come into rescue everybody. It has to be bottom up. It has to be communities of people coming together working within the local context to do that. And so I think it's naive -- I mean, it is political opportunity. As Ms. Karen said, there are politics in Mexico, and what we're seeing is him criticize the United States to deflect blame.
HAQ: Well, here's the part of the bottom up solution, though, is funding from the federal government for community health centers for prevention methods, right, for any of the provision to emergency responders of the health care tools that they need. And so that's part of the equation, is making sure something like the president's budget, you know, it's prevention programs for fentanyl, if that's something Congress gets together and passes.
COATES: Or prosecution. Come over here. We have lawyers here who are prosecuting people. What do you think?
WILLIAMS: You know, I was getting drowned out by the demand side folks on the panel here. No, no, I'm teasing.
COATES: He's not teasing. He felt drowned out. It's all right. It's okay.
WILLIAMS: I didn't feel heard, Karen. But, no -- COATES: We see you.
WILLIAMS: I feel seen. I feel seen. No, but, absolutely, this -- you know, look, there is talk about designating cartels as terrorist organizations. That's nonsense and I don't want to get in all that. But, look, this is against -- there are any sorts of foreign policy matters but also criminal statutes that are violated when illicit substances are moved across the border. We ought to be serious about prosecuting gangs in the United States, cartels in Mexico and individuals that are moving it, absolutely. But, of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't address the demand question. I was teasing you both, yes.
FINNEY: Well, there may also be -- so when our vice president, Kamala Harris, was the attorney general of California, one of the things that she did was she led a coalition of states attorneys general to meet with a Mexican attorney general to talk about transnational crime, to talk about drugs, to talk about human trafficking.
So, there may be some other options as well, Mr. Prosecutor, I don't know, do some lawyerly thing, where you -- there may be some other options where the states can try to build bridges in other parts of the government.
COATES: Well, there's that phrase, the whole of government approach. See the self-reflection moment? There you go, Kumbaya. I should have worn my boots.
Everyone stick around. We've got new developments tonight in two Trump investigation, a newly revealed Trump phone call pressuring another Georgia official as part of an attempt to overturn Joe Biden's election. And we'll tell you who met with prosecutors in New York today.
COATES: Well, here we go. Fulton County investigators have now another recording of then-President Trump pressuring a Georgia official to overturn the 2020 election in the state. That's according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which says that Trump called Georgia House Speaker David Ralston to push for a special session that could undue Joe Biden's win there. Ralston died last year.
And the news comes as we're learning that adult film actress Stormy Daniels met with New York prosecutors today as part of their investigation into Donald Trump's alleged role in the hush money payments that she received in 2016.
Back with me now the panel. So, first for all, the fact that we are now learning about another audio recording, one, I have to say, the fact that we're just now learning about it, the secrecy of the grand jury is actually maybe intact, number one, a little bit being optimistic, number two, I wonder how important it is. What do you think?
WILLIAMS: Okay. One, this whole idea of the secrecy of the grand jury being attacked (ph), the fact that we're finding out about it at all is a problem and it's making prosecutors' heads explode, right? It is their right -- I want to be clear, it is their right to talk about it, they have every right as citizens, but it is only going to risk gumming up the prosecution down the road.
Now, in terms of its significance, it's important because you know as well as anybody else, Laura, that intent is everything in criminal cases. Not just did the thing happen, but did the defendant intend to commit the crime that he's charged with. And multiple pieces of evidence in these phone calls where the president seems to be trying to almost shake down everyone in the Georgia State chain of command is going to speak to his intent if the question is the possible violation of Georgia election law. So, it's helpful evidence, but, again, we should not be hearing about any of this.
COATES: And remember, and part of the craziness of the foreperson was that she was speaking out, that she played a little coy, maybe she even foreshadowed that there were other recordings. In fact, remember this moment that she was talking to our colleague, Kate Bolduan? Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: In terms of just calls and recordings of calls, are there others of those?
EMILY KOHRS, GRAND JURY FOREPERSON: I can tell you I heard other phone calls. I don't think I could name all of them right now if I wanted to. After 75 witnesses in eight months, it gets hard to keep all your bits straight.
BOLDUAN: Other calls that Donald Trump was on?
KOHRS: Yes, I'm positive I have heard the president on the phone more than once.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Yes, that did become an SNL skit, everyone, but it was no laughing matter in respect (ph) about the idea of knowing about it. It's okay that you laugh. It was an SNL bit. That's okay, Karen. It's all right. I'm not calling you out. But the idea that you're thinking about this grand jury, their role is not a traditional grand jury, where you're going to indict someone. It is a special grand jury to issue a report. But, eventually, if there is an indictment, it is going to go to a regular grand jury and you have got the court of public opinion and, of course, you've got his own counsel who is going to point out this and say, see, this is someone being coy and cutesy with the idea of, aha, we got him. What do you say?
FINNEY: The first time I heard the juror speaking, I thought, you know, if it turns out that there is something that she has said that leads to the former president getting off on these charges, I hope there are charges we can bring against her for actually speaking out. I'm sure there aren't. You're going to tell me there aren't. But I just want to affirm what you said before, Elliot, in that it's outrageous that we know anything at all and that she doesn't seem to take it seriously enough to understand the gravity. You could literally be contributing to someone who tried to subvert the illegal election because you wanted to talk to the press. And, obviously, talking to the press is important at times but this is not that time.
COATES: And you wonder, I guess, I'm in a reflective mood. Is the press to blame for seeking out the information at times as well for the idea of -- I mean, there is some room to think about if there is prudence around the area. I'm glad we have the story and we spoke to her, had some excellent interview, but there are concerns about that as well.
But there is also the idea -- this is the more recent one of January 6th looking past Stormy Daniels back in 2016. And there may be the court of law on this issue but the court of public opinion, how is this playing that this might be the sort of olive oil to Al Capone?
HART: Well, it could go a lot of different ways. And I think the court of public opinion and the political question, I think, is going to be a lot more significant than the legal one. Trump has said, even if he's indicted, he's still going to run. It's not necessarily going to affect his decision-making. And we saw it in the '90s when Republicans went after Clinton with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he became more popular as a result of that.
So, Stormy -- as a Republican conservative, I'm worried if there is an indictment around Stormy Daniels, that would help Trump much more than it would hurt him even if he committed wrongdoing.
And the question on the Georgia issue really gets to the heart of our political system. Because you have a politician, a former president, who campaigned as someone who is listening to the forgotten man, well, he forgot to respect their vote. He forgot to respect the Constitution of the United States. And if Republican voters put that together, and if that sinks in to the electorate and they realize the extent to which he betrayed their trust, he wasn't a we the people politician, he was a me the person politician. That could have a real political consequences.
COATES: It would be (INAUDIBLE) to have that epiphany, I will mention that, because it was very clear, I think, very early on that was his intention. But, Nayyera, I want you to respond to this, too. Here is Trump's attorney speaking to that point about how he thinks he will be perceived. Listen to Mr. Tacopina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE TACOPINA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Look, I think it will embolden his supporters, okay? I think it will enrage his supporters and make them feel stronger about the fact that they're politicizing the justice system. But I think a prosecutor would say, he's a very Democratic prosecutor. He's been supported by the far-left going after perhaps the most far-right guy you have out there. And I think he's thinking if I prosecute him, I take him out of candidacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: What do you say?
HAQ: Another one of why is he talking to the press. None of the lawyers associated with Trump can really seem to respect the integrity of the process as opposed to the 15 minutes of fame that they can get from talking about the process.
It is clear Trump has a loyal base that will continue to support him. The question is are the antics going to be too much for more mainstream GOP voters or even some who would like to see a more effective, a more strident administration coming out of the Republican Party, potentially from a Ron DeSantis. And, really, the Trump shenanigans, whether it is Stormy Daniels or about Fulton County, are really distracting from a broader project that the Republicans have been implementing in control of the system.
It is not an accident that these phone calls were happening in Georgia, in Fulton County, the largest Democratic black stronghold in the state of Georgia, right? It is where the county had already been under question for long lines, for voter disfranchisement that had the grand jury previously found voter fraud, well, then Fulton County would have been run by the state and not by local officials anymore. That would have been to the favor of the Republican Party in Georgia. So, so much of the Republican Party project right now is to implement and firm up minority control over a rising majority.
COATES: You almost suggest that there are strategists in Washington, D.C., and beyond who are planning some part of this aspect. But stick around, everyone. We'll talk about this and more issues, by the way.
Also, San Francisco taking a step forward in a plan to now pay $5 million in reparations to each eligible black resident. There is a lot of questions obviously, including where the money will come from. We have got people on both sides of the debate to join me to discuss this, next.
COATES: San Francisco's Board of Supervisors unanimously accepting a draft reparations plan that includes a one-time $5 million payment to each eligible black resident following a more than five-hour spirited hearing where supporters explained what the plan would mean to the community.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not a victim and I'm not looking for a handout but I have been harmed by the structural and institutional racism that happened here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you take care of black community, the black community will take care of all of us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My dad always taught me never to beg. And I'm not begging you today but I am telling you when my parents migrated here from Louisiana to San Francisco, it was for a hope and a dream that they would be treated fairly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: The reparations committee will submit its final proposal in June ahead of the board's next hearing in September.
Let's bring in Sheryl Davis, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, also San Francisco Republican Party Chairman John Dennis. Glad to have you both here.
You can imagine that people are really honing in, of course, on the figure, the $5 million figure and what this ultimately looks like. And I want to begin right there because the eligibility criteria has a lot of tongues wags as to how you would know who would be eligible, but let's first begin with that number. How would you be able to really finance it? That's the number one question people have in their brain. What's your response?
SHERYL DAVIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION: Well, I would say thank you, first and foremost, for having me on. But I would say that that is an ongoing question and process. When we look at Evanston, they started the process and they weren't able to fulfill the amount to all of the folks eligible, but they started the process. So, that's one piece of it. The second is we have been doing a lot to explore and consider public/private partnerships.
And so that's another piece, that it is not just about the burden being given to the city and county of San Francisco but what does it look like for us to explore what it looks like for folks who gained and made wealth, the banks, the insurance companies, on slavery. And so that's another piece that we have been looking at. So, it's not solely isolated to the city and county of San Francisco or saying everybody will be paid out at the same time.
COATES: That's an important consideration. And we have talked about this in the past when this was first brought up. Of course, again, this is not the final report. One is expected in June, as I understand. This is still a working document in many respects, but there was a hearing just yesterday. And, John, you were there at last night's hearing. And, in fact, you tweeted, quote, it was pure theater, a comedy tonight. Tell me what you mean and why.
JOHN DENNIS, CHAIRMAN, SAN FRANCISCO REPUBLICAN PARTY: It's just reminded me I did a play in high school called a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. That's what it was and it was really, frankly, shameful. I mean, every supervisor who sat in that chamber last night knows damn well that no one is going to get paid that money. Because, first of all, the ones that have political ambitions, career ambitions, their careers will end the second they vote yes for that. For the ones who don't care, who are so detached from reality that they couldn't have a political career, they could go ahead and vote for it, but the courts are going to strike it down. I know firsthand, I have been asked to participate in a lawsuit to challenge this, and it is just not going to pass.
So, to go through the exercise last night, to invite people for hours to request this money knowing damn well they are never going to see it, is just another -- another example of Democrats failing the black community in San Francisco.
We can make this point when the last Republican was elected to San Francisco City government in early -- in the early 1970s, the Democrats have had had hegemonic control over the city government.
And the black community has been driven out. There has been a war on black people by the Democrat Party, driving them out of San Francisco. They were 14 percent when the Democrats took over. Today they're at 5 percent. That is what this is all about. It's a massive distraction regarding the failures of the Democrat Party when it comes to the African American community.
COATES: Well, see, John, I think some of the data, though, here that many people thought the idea of the decline in black population in some place like San Francisco was directly related to the inability to afford any housing in the area given all the things that are going on there, not that every black person living in the city has economic constraints.
But how do you see it, Sheryl? I want to get Sheryl on this to respond. Do you see this as performative as he is alluding and that this is somehow an indication that this was theatrics just to demonstrate something about the Democratic Party?
SHERYL DAVIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTRS COMMISSION: Well, I would say on top it's offensive to imply that it was theatric and just for show especially for the people who stood in line for hours to speak. It's one thing to make that comment specifically about the board of supervisors, but it's another to put it out there just broadly.
Folks came there. They put their hearts, their souls and their history on the line. And for them, it was not performative. It was about the city being able to listen and hear why people think it's important. I think that that language is part of why not just the financial piece but why people are so upset.
Black people specifically, they feel invisible. They feel like they are labeled and that they are generalized and they are not welcome in San Francisco and that that continues to happen and it is perpetuated, that it has not happened just in language but in deed, that all throughout the ages we have seen the policies, we have seen the people in power, and we have seen the system set up to make sure that black people can't buy. And that when they do buy homes, they were taken from them for a percentage or sometimes not for anything that they were worth. So, I think the challenge here is how do we make sure that we own and acknowledge that wrong has been done and that when black people come out it is not minimalized and focused on the board of supervisors, but that we actually listen to what the folks said when they stepped up to the podium.
COATES: Yes. I (inaudible) respond to that. I mean, well, first of all, I sat in the audience and was touched and moved by many and much of the testimony. And in fact, I have been on other media for several months now talking about we need -- we should have this conversation. I am all for it. But my comments were not directed at the people who made -- who were making public comment last night. No, far from it.
The theater was directed by the Democrats who control the San Francisco board of supervisors. Again, they know well that having those folks stand in line and give their impassionate pleas to get these reparations will never materialize, and it's another failure, again, of the Democrats, you know, to drag the black community through this exercise.
Think about, by the way, there is not one -- which Republican in city hall are you going to blame this on when the folks who came and testified last night and gave their comment don't receive that money? There is no Republican involved in this.
COATES: But John, let me ask you, why do you feel, and this is probably the point that Cheryl has said, why do you feel that the opportunity for people to be heard in a democratic system where we have a government of and for and by the people, why is that notice an opportunity to be heard essentially, kind of in an actual due process happening? Why do you think that was somehow divisive and the ability to try to humiliate?
DENNIS: You know, there was a thing of beauty, but I loved listening to it. That wasn't the issue. I just think that the board of supervisors commissioned this report which was terribly unserious. I think I was the first person to say it was and then it was confirmed in a "Washington Post" article that many other people felt, that it was a very unserious attempt.
And then to actually have that exercise built upon the foundation of a grossly unserious commission report which just, again, it was just theater for the supervisors. But they are amused. But, you know, it was -- it's a terrible thing to put those folks who waited in line to make their comment. A terrible thing to put them through. And again, it's just another example of, you know, the Democrat Party's attack on the black community.
Keep in mind by the way, another failure of the Democrat Party, we have terrible homeless problem here in San Francisco. Just wildly disproportionately represented by the black community. Another failure of the Democrat Party. It really is time for the black community to challenge the Democrat Party and question whether or not they belong in that party. The black community is warmly welcome and we would be excited to have them in the Republican Party.
COATES: Well, in the attempt of getting a bigger tent for the Republicans, I see that he's doing. Cheryl, I want to give the last word on this notion because I have to compare and just think in my mind and the idea of what is more harmful? What is more humiliating? What is more painful? The idea of perhaps standing in line to be heard or centuries and generations of what you describe in the report? Tell me.
DAVIS: So, I will say it is -- it was a beautiful thing for black folks to stand in line and be together. I think that a lot of supervisors in city hall itself have not seen that many black people in one place in San Francisco in a very long time. The argument is that folks want to be heard. They don't want to just be heard, they want action and I think that the black people will come together, Republican, Democratic otherwise, to advance the work.
Some have argued that Ronald Reagan is why we have the homelessness and the mental health issues on the streets that we see today, so I think it's debatable about who is actually in support and working with black folks. But I will say what (inaudible) -- what happened and what has come out of this process is black folks coming together to advocate for themselves and they don't need anyone, Republican, Democrat or otherwise, to speak for them.
COATES: I'm glad that you were both here this evening -- excuse me. Glad you're both raised even. We're going to carry on. We're talking over here. I want to be heard. I guess --
DENNIS: I'm sorry.
COATES: I'm not in line, but I am sitting here. I will tell you, it's good to have this conversation for both of you tonight. It's not going to end here. And luckily, the report is still in working order, and we will continue to follow this story and bring the very latest. Thank you to you both.
Listen, everyone, as you can tell, reparations are an incredibly complicated topic. Can we come together as a country to any resolution? We'll talk about with our panel next. You don't want to miss this one.
COATES: All right. Everybody, we just heard about San Francisco's move now to consider reparations payments for eligible black residents. "Atlantic" senior editor Vann Newkirk is here to weigh in, along with John Hart, Karen Finney and Elliot Williams. Let me begin with you over here, Vann. Glad to have you on the show. What is your reaction to the viewpoint that one of the guests espoused, which is, look, this is the democrat -- he said, Democratic Party, that's attempting to essentially maybe humiliate black voters and black residents into believing the reparations is possible. I'm paraphrasing, naturally.
VANN NEWKIRK, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well, he was focusing on feasibility, right? And I think if you make any honest accounting of what's happened to black folks in this county and try to repair it, you're going to come up against the limits of feasibility, right? You're talking about in San Francisco alone, billions of dollars that we have to account for. You're talking about the country trillions.
And how do you put that all in one go and pay for it? So, I think he's right that there is going to be a conversation about how we actually pay for it. Is it actually realistic? But honestly, if you want to do it all at once right now, you're going to have to change what you believe is realistic or not. So, it's not, I think, an attempt to just curry favor. You got to do a thing that nobody has done before. And that's going to be hard. It might be unrealistic.
COATES: Well, thinking about the money and obviously focus, I mean, you say a $5 million headline. I mean, people lean in. They've got immediate opinions on the issue. But they're also kind of in the non- monetary things that can be done as well. And I will point out, if you read the full thing, they are pointing out other aspects in terms of housing and security, other things in terms of income disparities and the wealth gap.
But the idea that it's just focused on that $5 million, does it miss the mark to only focus there?
KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. I mean, the point is to acknowledge that there was a wrong done that was systemic, that is historic, that continues to this day. But when you hear the $5 million, I do agree that it just sounds so ridiculous. That does seem almost offensive to the idea that we need to have a serious conversation.
I think it was probably very important for people and cathartic, frankly, to be able to be heard in a venue like that because lots of us got a lot of feeling about how this has gone down. But that being said, from a political aspect, you know, you do -- I would think, you would want to, as elected officials, be able to come back to some of the other things that are part -- in part of this report and say what are the things that we can do, that we can realistically, feasibly do that could make a difference that will acknowledge the wrong.
COATES: And she did mention, and (inaudible) this commission is comprised of community stakeholders. They are not -- it's not binding obviously. There was the vote to actually move it right along in intermediary fashion. But she mentioned the idea maybe having it financed in a public and private partnerships.
The idea of -- and this is in a week we're talking about banks collapsing, and this is in the area as well. That's not lost on me. But the idea that there could be corporate contributions in some way. What do you say to that?
JOHN HART, FORMER COMMUNIATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SENATOR TOM COBURN: Yeah. I still think it's not an -- it's an unworkable concept. I think it's unwise, unadjusted and unworkable because you're really asking future generations to pay for mistakes that past generations made. And the conversation about race needs more light than heat. And I think that the -- what San Francisco is doing is bringing more heat than light.
And I think the light is going back to the American idea, that our rights don't come from the state. They don't come from our race or gender or geography. They come from natural law or nature's guide. And Frederick Douglas described the Constitution as a glorious liberty document. But if we could properly interpret that and properly bring it to being, that's the way to do it.
So, yeah, there needs to be not a government top-down reparations plan. There needs to be a national conversation about race where communities do come together and have this dialogue. Where people can be heard and expression their views. And that's the way to -- that's the way to do it.
COATES: Excuse me. I don't mean to cut you off. Conceptually, though, Elliott, we do ask future generations overtime to pay for what's going on in the past. I mean, climate change is but one example perhaps, or the ideas of how paying for, you know, different social safety net programs in a cent (ph).
We do as society agree that at times it's appropriate.
ELLIOTT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, not even that. It's how do you decide when the problem ended, right? So, certainly, you know, this whole idea of making people in the past pay for something that happened in the future. Okay, so was it the day after slavery? Once slavery ended, did all of the problems go? Okay, maybe ten years after slavery.
And so, I think we can all stipulate that there are racial imbalances and issues in this nation that had their roots back in the 1860s and even before. I don't think that's up for debate. Now, I think we're all in agreement is that the solution is not workable. And just even look at some of the (inaudible), a mixed-race person in San Francisco, someone who is one black and one white. Do they get $2.5 million?
Or someone like me who is black but whose parents are immigrants from another country, but still might fear when I'm stopped by a police officer. Do I get sort of a million bucks? I don't -- I mean, how's it so? It's just all of this is fraught with problems, but I think it's a little bit -- yeah, I just -- I think I'm just not persuaded by the idea that merely because we are 150 or 200 years or how many years, removed from the end of slavery that somehow everything is fine in the United States and I just don't believe that's (inaudible).
HART: But -- the conversation, we need to have a conversation about identity politics, okay? And it isn't just a left problem. So, the right always focuses on woke politics, race, gender, et cetera. But on the right, there is this idea that your rights come from your geography. And that's as equally anti-American because our -- if our rights come from our place or our gender, we've diminished the Constitution.
And the reality is there is no number of pronouns or symbols or letters that you could attach to a person to capture their dignity. And that's a beautiful idea that we have in America and that's what we need to grab hold off on the left and right.
COATES: Well, fortunately, in this country, gender is not indicative of any of the rights you may or may not ever have again. So, we're safe there, everyone. Listen, with Luther -- it's almost been 55 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We've quoted Frederick Douglas; we're alluding to Madison and the federalist papers and beyond.
Well, Vann Newkirk has a new podcast with "The Atlantic" that explores the impact of the killing on the civil rights movement. Emphasis on movement, meaning it is still ongoing, and of course, how it reverberates still to this very day. We're going to talk about it next.
COATES: As we prepare to mark the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4th, 1968, "The Atlantic" is out with an eight-part podcast called "Holy Week: The Story of a Revolution Undone." It is an expansive narrative reported and hosted by Vann Newkirk and explores the impact of Dr. King's murder, what happened before and also after his assassination, and how the civil rights movement resonates still in America today.
The podcast includes four hand witness accounts as well as archival material. Here's a clip from March 28th, 1968, a week before his murder. Dr. King joined the sanitation worker's march in Memphis and violence broke out.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOURNALIST: There go some windows, we don't know if you can hear the tackling of the glass or not, but the worst violence we have seen.
NARRATOR: The whole thing started to break down. And when police came out and met the marchers with force, King's triumph turned into a full-on riot.
JOURNALIST: They're trying to stop the automobile by God I don't know what's happening.
JOURNALIST: Police rushing to the scene -- almost struck a pedestrian. They're moving in with riot guns and (inaudible) smashing windows.
JOURNLAIST: Dr. Martin Luther King, who was supposed to lead the march, No one has any idea where he is.
(END AUDIO CLIP) COATES: Back now with me, Vann, John, Karen, and Elliott. Vann, what
an incredible podcast. Bravo. And it is so poignant and also so compelling that it still resonates today. We are just talking about reparations. It seemed like there is a moment in time where we can always point towards his legacy and his work because there's a direct connection. Tell me about it.
NEWKIRK: Yeah. So, Martin Luther King supported reparations. He talked about it a lot, late in his life, about this idea that we needed to seek meaningful redress, not just for slavery but for Jim Crow. And you look at King and where he was going in late life, he was really sort of on the, what we might call today critical race theory train. And so, we charted that path of his, philosophically and politically in the past few years of his life.
COATES: When you think about critical race theory and how that phrase, those three words, I doubt that the word critical or theory is the offensive part for many people. But the idea that it's altogether somehow shows a historical component or history, as it's known. Tell me about what his views would have been on the idea of educating the public on the reality, not just the whitewashing?
NEWKIRK: So, I think the biggest irony of King is he was a proponent of telling the entire history of making sure that, white people especially, understood what had been done in their name in this country. And you see King become a locus of mis and disinformation. His life is often told -- you don't hear much about the last year or two of his life. A lot of people don't really know much about his assassination and what happened after.
And he has become sort of an avatar or at least some version of him has become an avatar of a color-blind philosophy that actually seeks to look away from this.
And so, I think it's actually just fascinating that he himself, the man, he wanted us to look and be critical about race and to really take account of history in every single present decision.
COATES: Why it's important, I think, too, to hear some of the audio, to hear some of the new things, people maybe not -- have not been accustomed to hearing. You know, we have a tendency in this country when we identify a justifiable hero. We often are reductive in the way we think about them. When we listen to a speech, a tagline, they become avatars in the sense.
But this podcast really delves into moments that you think you knew but have no idea. And we are living in a time, Vann, when we can now remember and our children can as well, remember what protests feel and look like and sound like.
NEWKIRK: Yeah. We could -- if you listen to that clip, we were -- that was during the Memphis sanitation worker's strike. And a lot of people, if you know about King, you know that he died when he was in Memphis working with the sanitation workers. What you might not know is that the week before, he was in the middle
of one of the largest marches he'd ever been part of, mostly black folks, and it became violent. And police actually ran into a church where people who organizing, they launched tear gas into the church and beat strikers who were there. So, this history of sort of the push and pull of civil rights, it's one that wasn't always peaceful, it wasn't always the way the storybooks like to tell it. It was raw, it was real and it was often violent.
COATES: And we hear about it in this podcast. I mean, so, you've listened to it. It's incredible, right?
FINNEY: It is incredible. And also, just chronicling the pain and the -- what do we do now in the days after King. And I love how you take us through, literally, day by day what was happening. The thing that I thought as I listened to it, it's so beautifully done. There are students in the state of Florida who will never get to hear it because exactly what we're talking about.
Because there are some folks who don't want to have that critical conversation about race that we are just talking about. And so, I hope that they get to -- I hope their parents play it for them at home because we have to understand where we've been to understand why things are the way they are.
COATES: It's so impactful. Thank you for being here and documenting it the way you're talking about and helping us all better understand. Thanks, Vann.
NEWKIRK: Thank you.
COATES: Anxiety, everyone, about the health of the financial system is now going global with a big bank in Europe now in trouble. What's going to happen next? And is your money safe? We'll discuss it, next.