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Laura Coates Live

Congress Faces Big To-Do List In New Year After Legislative Low; Fears Of Widening War After U.S. Troops Attacked In Iraq And U.S. Retaliation Against Iran-Backed Militants; Rapper Kanye West Apologizes To The Jewish Community After Repeated Anti-Semitic Attacks; Harvard President Claudine Gay Faces Growing Calls To Resign Over Her Congressional Testimony On Anti-Semitism; Laura Coates Sits Down With Tony Award Winner Myles Frost. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 26, 2023 - 22:00   ET




NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice over): Navalny has posed one of the most serious threats to Putin's legitimacy during his rule. His disappearance coming to light just days after Putin announced he would run for re-election in March 2024.

VLADIMIR MILOV, NAVALNY ADVISER: It is no coincidence that Navalny disappeared exactly at the moment when the so-called sham presidential elections were announced and Putin announced that he's going to be running again for, sorry, I lost count for which term already.

BASHIR: And while news of his whereabouts has brought some reassurance to supporters, there is deep-seated concern over the conditions the opposition figure now faces at Polar Wolf.

Nada Bashir, CNN, London.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And thank you so much for joining us tonight. Laura Coates Live starts now.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: So, did Congress not see the movie Groundhog Day because they're about to live it? That's tonight on a special two- hour edition of Lara Coates Live.

All right, Congress, pull the parkers (ph) out of the closet. Strap on the snowshoes. There's a legislative blizzard heading straight for Washington, D.C. If you're one of the 535 lawmakers who serve we the people, you're in store for a very long winter. Why? Well, Congress has a lot, and I do mean a lot to do. The headlines, they are unanimous. Lawmakers fear January mess, brutal January reality bites, urgent to do list.

Now, it would be one thing if Congress just had to say, get the groceries or put the Christmas tree out on the curb for trash pickup. But lawmakers are staring down some of the most politically polarizing issues confronting this entire nation, things like border security and aid for Ukraine, funding the government twice.

Now, the first shutdown deadline is when? It's January 19th. The second one is February 2nd. And, by the way, not for nothing, that's the actual Groundhog Day.

So, back to the movie for just a moment. It's a 1993 classic. You know, I love a good movie reference. And in it, Bill Murray's character goes from a jaded newsman who kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil to a doer of good deeds who wants to live in Punxsutawney.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say? What do you say? What do you say, you little brat? You have never thanked me. I'll see you tomorrow, maybe.


COATES: Well, Phil gets better. He learns how to ice sculpt. Remember, he learns French. He learns not to see the shadow of life.

Congress, well, I don't know that we have that much hope in that category for those same reasons, especially if you judge them on their recent work history. 2023 is going to go down, get this, as the least productive year for Congress on record, and not for lack of effort to have it in the news. I mean, there were speaker fights. There were more speaker fights. There were near misses on shutdowns and expulsions, censures.

You know what there wasn't much of, though? Actual legislating. And, of course, that's exactly what they have to do now, actually legislate. And they only have days to pull it all off. And how?

So, will Congress get stuck in a kind of a time loop and spend another year figuring out all the ways to look busy or will 2024 be the year it clicks? Maybe we won't have to relive 2023 all over again.

Now, I'm sure the idea of Congress having its least productive year might sound like hyperbole. Well, let's ask Harry Enten. Is it hyperbole, Harry?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: It is not hyperbole at all. I don't think they could pass a law that said dogs were awesome and cute. I'll tell you that much, Laura.

COATES: But they are awesome and cute. How dare they?

ENTEN: How dare they? How dare they? I love a good little Lahsa Apso or Shih Tzu.

Look here, bills and resolutions that became law through this point of Congress, only 31 in 2023. You go back to the prior low this century, it was 72, more than double what we saw in 2023. I was looking through the yearbooks. I was looking through everything. It's the lowest in at least 50 years. My goodness gracious, just 31 laws. They can't seem to pass anything. And it's not just that they can't pass anything. Remember those long speaker fights, Laura, days without a House speaker mid-session, there were 22, 22 a few months ago between Kevin McCarthy and Mike Johnson. The previous record was two days, two days, less than a tenth.


That was all the way back in 1820. So, the fact is, Congress couldn't pass laws. Heck, they couldn't even have a speaker. That's how bad it was, Laura. It was historically, frankly, if I were to use a scientific word, awful.

COATES: That's a heck of a Latin phrase you just used there, my friend. Well, what did Congress actually do this year? They did do something. I'm going to give them a bone here. They did do something. What did they do?

ENTEN: What did they do? They actually expelled a member of Congress, George Santos, of course, for fraud and misusing campaign funds. But that's how bad this Congress was. The last guy who was thrown out was Jim Traficant back in 2002, convicted of ten felonies. You had convicted of bribery Ozzie Myers back in 1980. Before that, you essentially had to go back to the 19th century where you had this trio of gentlemen who were thrown out for supporting the Confederacy.

But I think the fact that we had a member like George Santos just gets at the fact that how bad this Congress truly was, Laura. We couldn't pass laws, but somehow we managed to have an elected member, such as George Santos. Fortunately, Congress actually did something about it. They got rid of them.

COATES: Of course, Congress will tell you, look, it's not for lack of effort. They were trying to get things done. They were trying to do some things. It didn't work out. That's what they, of course, would say. But Americans might say, maybe it's a safe bet, that the approval rating or popularity of Congress is probably not that high right now. I'm just -- I'm asking for a friend.

ENTEN: Asking for a friend, Laura, if there is one thing that is high, though, it's the disapproval rating of Congress, and it's uniform across the spectrum. We're talking 80 percent of independents, 78 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Republicans.

Americans across the political spectrum, Laura, can't agree on very much. But one thing they can apparently agree upon, Laura, is the fact that they all dislike Congress. It's not getting any better. Congress' disapproval rating has been sky-high for years, and this year, of course, we're even reaching levels that, truthfully, I couldn't believe we'd ever reach, at least during the time that I could vote, but Congress, Laura, has managed to do the impossible.

COATES: Harry Enten, thank you so much. I'll see you at the next Westminster Dog Show at some point, I bet. You and me are going to sit there, do the whole best in show category. That will be fine together. Nice seeing you.

ENTEN: Bye, Laura.

COATES: I wonder if our next guest is either regretting his choice to come on site. I hope not, because maybe he might change your perception. Because joining me now is Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres, who I know has been hardworking. Congressman, welcome and good evening. How are you tonight?

REP. RITCHIE TORRES (D-NY): It's an honor to be here and defend the indefensible.

COATES: Good, I knew I liked you. Now, tell me, you've got a lot on your plate. I wonder though, are you glass half full or half empty about 2024, meaning, look, now is the time and you're actually going to get a lot more done?

TORRES: I am pessimistic because Congress is embarrassing, dysfunctional and incompetent. But the problem is not Congress per se. The problem is Republican control of Congress. Under Democratic control, Congress was actually historically productive. We passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill, a bipartisan gun safety bill, a bipartisan veteran healthcare bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. So, we went from the most productive Congress under Democratic control to the least productive Congress under Republican control.

House Republicans in 2023 only passed 22 bills compared to 284 bills that became law under House Democrats. House Democrats were 13 times more productive in 2022 than Republicans were in 2023. So, as long as Republicans are in charge, I'm pessimistic.

COATES: Well, I have to ask you, though, I mean obviously you're making the case in establishing the nuance here, but I have to wonder for the average American voter who's looking at it, they're putting Congress under a pretty wide umbrella. And I wonder to what extent people view it as Republicans and Democrats or just Congress being unable to do the give and take of compromise that means things will get done. How do you see it?

TORRES: Look, we as Democrats are willing to compromise, but it takes two to tango. And it matters who's in charge. And under Republican control, we've seen an endless stream of dysfunction and incompetence and extremism. You know, we have a dysfunctional House where the inmates are running the asylum.

You know, we went from the longest speaker vote in more than 150 years to a near default on the nation's debt, to a near shutdown of the federal government, to the first ever vacate of a speaker in the 234- year history of Congress. So, that's a level of dysfunction from Republicans that we've never seen in the history of House. And I'm confident that once Democrats are in charge, we're going to bring back a new stability to the House.


COATES: I mean, you're not out of the woods yet as a member of Congress because, obviously, there has not been that election. There has not been a change in leadership. Republicans are obviously in the majority, albeit a slim one.

When we talk about compromise, though, some would be really critical of Democrats in particular because they have exactly pursued compromise on things like border security. That's the main criticism.

And I wonder what you say to people about the pursuit of compromise on an issue that, frankly, has so many people concerned about what could be done to course-correct.

TORRES: I mean, I disagree with that assessment. I mean, the Senate was willing to stay during the holiday, and it was the Republicans who chose to go home. You know, Democrats are open to negotiating a compromise that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and border security.

But the devil is in the details. Obviously, those have to be negotiated. But there are negotiations underway in the Senate. And the Democrats have been amenable to those negotiations and were willing to stay for the holidays. It was the Republicans who chose to go home.

COATES: When you look at -- you mentioned aid for Ukraine and what's happening and the conditions that have been attached to border security provisions and legislation, really it's the talk of not just the town, it's the talk of the globe in terms of what role the United States would be able to play in offering support in a variety of areas.

You know, on Christmas Day people you call anti-Israel extremists vandalized your office. You actually posted that there was a doll they left behind and warned, quote, intimidation and incitement against members of Congress feels like it is heading in a dangerous direction, quoting you here.

Congressman, when you talk about this dangerous direction and obviously what we're seeing in your office and beyond, do you mean we could see political violence like what happened to Speaker Pelosi's husband or the Department of Homeland Security has spoken about in terms of political division being at such a pace and peak that it is fueling concern for real violence in this country?

TORRES: Look, I do worry that intimidation and incitement of hate could easily escalate into violence. And most members of Congress, like myself, have no security, we are soft targets. And I do worry that a violent assault or even an assassination of a member of Congress is not a question of if, it's a question of when.

And I want to be crystal clear. I mean, given the fact that most -- I mean, members of Congress members have no security. And we're living in a time, especially in the wake of January 6th, it feels like we're living in a climate of violent extremism in the United States. It was certainly much worse than the 1960s, but history has a way of repeating itself. And members of Congress cannot take their safety for granted.

COATES: Do you have concern over your own personal safety, Congressman? TORRES: You know, I tend to be unfazed. I'm reminded -- there's a quote from Godfather to Hyman Roth who said, this is the life we've chosen. So, you know, I accept the burdens that come with political and public life. So, I try not to stress over it.

COATES: Well, as they say, New York, New York, there's nothing like you, any New Yorkers as well. But I got to tell you, I mean, think about choosing a life of service and to be a member of Congress, the fact that that would come along in a company, the task at hand is really telling and terrifying for a lot of reasons.

Congressman Ritchie Torres, thank you so much for joining us. And I certainly hope that you and your colleagues will remain safe. Thank you.

TORRES: Take care.

COATES: Here to continue the conversation, Senior Reporter for The Root, Jessica Washington, plus, Political Communication Strategist Mark McKinnon.

I mean, Mark, Jessica, first of all, let me just stop for a second, because what we just heard from Congressman Torres, certainly, he said he's on phase, but I got to tell you, that is really startling to think that it's not a matter, he says, of if but when there could be political violence coming to the front door of a member of Congress because of the division we have in this country.

Jessica, what is your reaction to that, what seems to be in his mind a foregone conclusion?

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, THE ROOT: Yes, I mean, that's obviously a disturbing thing to hear and a disturbing thing to understand that he's feeling that it's a -- I think, to hear in this country that, you know, it's when a member of Congress is going to be assassinated or targeted violently is obviously scary.

I think, from my end, I often hear specifically about white supremacist violence and the kinds of violence that stoked January 6th. So, that's kind of more of what I've been focusing on kind of less of I think what he's talking about specifically but, of course, hearing anything like that is deeply concerning.

COATES: It is. I mean, Mark, when you hear it and you think about it, and, obviously, we're talking about the productivity of Congress. We know there's been so much in the news from the censures to the expulsion, to -- we remember the speaker fiasco and the appointment of a new person or election of a new one.


There's so much has been talked about when we talk about Congress, and here we are headed for a shutdown days after an all-time low light of a year from Congress.

When you look at the dissatisfaction, and I'm probably being generous here, Mark, with that term, dissatisfaction, how do you see Congress being able to not only get things done but have the buy-in from people that they want to get things done?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN: Well, that's the real problem, particularly with the Republican Congress, is that their constituencies don't want buy-in. I mean, America got a Republican Congress for Christmas last year. This year, they got a lump of coal. And your earlier segment talked about just how little had been done.

But a lot of those Republican members campaigned on not getting anything done. They campaigned on limited government and, in many cases, no government or shutting down government.

So, the problem that we have is that the parties, and Republicans particularly, are really appealing to the lowest common denominator. The extremists have taken over in the party. And there's no -- Exhibit A is Mike Johnson, the new speaker. And look at his background, where he comes from and who he appeals to. That's not a broad constituency of America. And the people that he talked to and the people that he campaigns with literally say, Mike, just shut it down, and without any real regard for the consequences.

So, the Republicans have caught the car here and it worries me because they no longer are trying to appeal to a majority of constituents, not even the majority of their own.

COATES: It's fascinating to think about that. And you know where my mind keeps going, as you were talking, Mark, Jessica, weigh in on this, is we talk about the party or the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, we often assume there is a unity, that there's not going to be fractures within it, that they are going to hold the party line. Republicans are often praised for being able to do so, even when know, consequences be damned. Democrats fear this idea of a circular firing squad if they give ammunition to Republicans in an election year to say, ha, ha, even they don't agree.

When you look at this, Jessica, knowing that people are hoping to envelop independent voters, when you see the absence or the absence of cohesion and one viewpoint, is that a good or a bad thing for the parties?

WASHINGTON: Yes. I think for the purposes of governing, we've seen it's a bad thing. I think the one thing that is almost universally united Republicans is Trump. And so without Trump in power, without Trump in office, there is very little motivation to coalesce with any policy.

And I think we're seeing that play out in this Congress where they're incredibly dysfunctional. They're unable to agree on a speaker or agree on passing pretty much any legislation. So, I think for the purposes of wanting to get legislation passed, it's incredibly dysfunctional.

But if you're just trying to get elected on a platform of we're not going to let government do anything and we're going to be obstructionists, then I think it's effective. So, it kind of depends on how you're looking at it.

COATES: Well, you know, Mark, Senator Patty Murray, a woman who has served in the Senate for two decades, put the problem this way. This is crazy what they're doing. If we set this precedent of every year that Congress has a negotiation, decides what the spending numbers are going to be, and then says six months later, oh, never mind, we're not living up to that, we are never going to be able to trust a deal again. Love and legislating cannot live where there is no trust, apparently. How do you fix that, Mark?

MCKINNON: Well, it's tough, and it's particularly exacerbated when you think about the fact that the Republican Party in 2020 at their convention literally had no platform. They did not have a platform. So, there's not even a model of what they're -- this just goes to the whole point of being obstructionist and doing things that really not just limited government but shutting government down. That's really what they campaigned on because there's no platform policies that they're promoting except to be obstructionist.

Chip Roy, who's a Congressman from Texas that I know from my old Texas days, conservative guy, very independent, very smart guy, well respected by kind of all sides of the aisle in the Republican Party, famously a couple of weeks ago, sort of appealed to his Republican colleagues in the Congress, just give me one thing that I can go home and say that we did, just one thing. And as yet, I don't think he's really gotten an answer.

COATES: Wow. Well, I'm going to pour myself some water because someone's got to be glass half full in this particular conversation.

Mark McKinnon, Jessica Washington, thank you for staying up with us.

All right, up next, the U.S. military striking several Iranian-backed militant targets in Iraq. Is there risk of the United States getting drawn into a wider regional conflict?



COATES: We're following new threats to American forces in the Middle East and the United States' military response. President Biden ordering airstrikes targeting Iran-backed militants in Iraq, this after an attack that injured three U.S. troops.

Now, all of this is raising questions and concerns about how deeply the U.S. is being drawn into the expanding conflict in the Middle East.

Let's bring in Joel Rubin. He is the former deputy assistant secretary of state for the Obama administration of legislative affairs. He's also running for Congress in Maryland. Joel, thank you so much for being here.

I mean, nobody could predict this year. This has been the most astonishing year in terms of foreign policy and what's been going on for so many reasons. And while everyone talks about the president, it's really about the commander-in-chief these days, is it not, and what he's prepared to do and what can happen next.

JOEL RUBIN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE UNDER OBAMA: That's right, Laura. Look, the commander-in-chief is a unique individual in our constitutional system. The president is the one who decides whether or not we go to war.


Of course, Congress can authorize it, but there're still many different windows available to the president. And we just saw him exercise one of those windows in response to Iranian proxy attacks against American forces in Iraq. And the president was obligated, quite frankly, to respond to protect our troops. So, there's a lot of pressure on Joe Biden right now.

COATES: Was the way he did it the right way, though?

RUBIN: It was, absolutely. You've got to target where the strikes are coming from and send the message. That is a no, no. And what he did in executing that strike was be pinpoint, but it does need to be complemented by a diplomatic message that's very stern and very clear to Iran that unleashing your proxies in the region is not going to get you what you are seeking.

There have been over 100 attacks since October 17th, I believe, against forces, against the U.S. in the region. That's unacceptable. And so these strikes, they punish, hopefully, they deter, and clearly the message needs to be gotten in Tehran that they are recklessly.

COATES: I do wonder, because you hear so much chatter obviously the diplomatic messaging, the involvement of U.S. forces. That latter part is really concerning to so many people. Are we being drawn in intentionally to a wider regional conflict? Are we finding ourselves by default? What do you think?

RUBIN: The number one objective for the White House is clearly to stay out of a regional conflict in light of this war between Israel and Hamas. This is not a war of our doing. This is a war that Hamas started. It's a war that Israel is responding to.

But we have allies in the region, across the Middle East. We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government. We are there fighting a counterterrorism mission. And so our position in the region across many countries is solid. And what Iran is doing right now is trying to see how far it can go in pushing and prodding.

I truly believe that Iran wants the United States out of the Middle East. I think that that serves their strategic interests, and that's not where the United States is, and that's not where our allies across the Arab world are. So, getting sucked into it is a sort of a parallel dynamic to the Israel-Hamas War. And Iran is trying to see how far they can go.

COATES: The United States is heck of a bear to try to poke. RUBIN: Oh, yes.

COATES: And you do wonder, though, is there a way to deter what's happening with Iran and not escalate the situation? That's a very fine line to walk.

RUBIN: Very fine line. And it means that all aspects of American power need to be accessed in order to prevent an escalation. So, there is this immediate military response that's targeted and focused, not going crazy like some loud voices want. They want, for some reason, the president to attack Tehran or start a war with a country that's three times the size of Iraq. That's incredibly unwise. But we also have other deterrence measures, aircraft carrier groups in the eastern Mediterranean.

And, again, these alliances, and this is where it's very crucial right now. And we see our diplomats engaged actively, but they need to continue to engage and lean in on our allies in the region to get the message across to Iran that it is playing with fire, it is undermining regional security, and it's not going to obtain objectives. So, all of these aspects, all of these tools have to come into play.

It's not in anyone's interest to see an American war with Iran. It will not achieve objectives that many voices in this city in particular, want to see, where they want to see Iran deterred somehow and start a war. That will backfire. But that doesn't mean that we walk away from the Middle East either. So, yes, it's a real tightrope.

COATES: It is. I mean, wow, what a needle to thread. Let's see what the commander-in-chief does about all of it.

Thank you so much, Joel Rubin.

Well, Kanye West is out with an apology to the Jewish community over his history of anti-Semitic remarks. But are people buying it? We'll talk about it, next.



COATES: Better late than never? Rapper Kanye West apologized to the Jewish community after repeated anti-Semitic attacks, including as recently as just a few weeks ago. Written in Hebrew, the message read in part, quote, "It was never my intention to hurt or disrespect, and I deeply regret any pain I may have caused", unquote.

West also says that he committed to learning and ensuring what he says is greater sensitivity and understanding in the future. So far, the post has gained more than a million likes.

Now, the Anti-Defamation League cautiously welcoming West's apology. A statement to CNN, the ADL, saying, quote, "After causing untold damage by using his vast influence and platform to poison countless minds with vicious anti-Semitism and hate, an apology in Hebrew may be the first step on a long journey towards making amends to the Jewish community and all those who he has hurt. Ultimately, actions will speak louder than words, but this initial act of contrition is welcome."

I want to bring in media personality and host of the "Higher Learning" podcast, Van Lathan, along with "The Daily Beast" Columnist, Jay Michaelson. So glad to have you both on today. Hello, hello, hello. Jay, let me begin with you here, because the ADL says the apology is what they call the first step on a long journey towards making amends to Jewish community. What is your reaction tonight to Kanye West's apology?

JAY MICHAELSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he had about as much to do with writing this apology as I had to do with writing my beautiful dark twisted fantasy. I mean, this is kind of a boilerplate ChatGPT ordered apology translated pretty awkwardly into Hebrew. You know, almost 20 -- only about 20 percent of American Jews even read Hebrew.


I'm in that 20 percent. It's like a bad sort of eighth grader's translation assignment.

But look, you know, I've never been a fan of the apology tour as a means of, you know, improving our relations between different groups, you know, certainly in finding anti-Semitism. Hopefully there's someone in Kanye's inner circle who he trusts who can have a real conversation with him. This feels like a weird publicity stunt.

COATES: Well, Van, what do you say about this? Because he has had a long history of anti-Semitic remarks, including, by the way, a few weeks ago during a listing party for his new album. Maybe it's about the timing of this. What do you think that he's -- why is he doing this now? Why the apology now?

VAN LATHAN, HOST, "HIGHER LEARNING PODCAST": I'm not sure. I'm not sure why the apology comes now. I know that he has an album coming out that's, you know, pretty highly anticipated. Maybe he doesn't want to get in the way of people consuming that.

I guess what I'm interested in knowing about the apology is like, what is there to learn? When he says he's looking forward to learning, what is there to learn? Hitler killed 12 million people and started World War II in which three percent of the world's population died.

I think the book has been written on Hitler and I think people are getting a little bit tired and exhausted about the Kanye West, wash, rinse, repeat, cycle of offense and disgustingness and whatever he's going to learn, I think it's high time that you start to learn it you know.

COATES: I mean Jay, Van makes a great point in the sense of when you hear about the apology and the substance of it when people talk about learning, you do have to wonder where is the epiphany going to be coming from? Is the epiphany coming from truth? Is it coming from, have you not been observant in some way or informed intentionally? When you see that -- MICHAELSON: I mean --

COATES: What's your thought?

MICHAELSON: Well, Sir, you know, I don't really take it at face value. But if I did, it's funny. I'm usually the more cynical when Van and I are on together. I'm usually the more cynical one. I think here I might be like slightly more optimistic.

You know, there's Sir Quentin Crisp, a great LGBTQ icon from last century, said that people get stupid wholesale and they get wise of retail, which means, you know, we absorb bad ideas from our culture. And that's true in all different forms of discrimination, certainly racism and anti-Semitic included.

And yet, you know, it takes a different kind of relationship to get a little more wise. And that's why, you know, I'm not really optimistic, but if I believe this statement had anything to do with anything Kanye ever said, you know, I just hope that there's folks, again, in his circle who can have the kind of long conversations, because he clearly has absorbed a number of anti-Semitic motifs that are just have been right?

And he's gotten this from someplace. And it takes a process to kind of deprogram that in a way. And I think there's not a sort of simple way to do it. And kowtowing and writing apology notes is not certainly not the way to do it.

You know, I think there has to be hopefully there's somebody in there who can have those long conversations and he can get to know some Jewish folks in reality as opposed to the dark, twisted fantasy.

COATES: I mean, Van, when you think about it, you mentioned retail just now, Jay, we think about things like so-called cancel culture, right? Or the impact of one's statements. And oftentimes what is the catalyst for the apology tour, as it's often referred to, is that you're losing a lot of income as a result of it. You've got to make a course correction. Otherwise, maybe bankruptcy culturally, actually, fiscally is in your future.

But even with that history of anti-Semitism that Kanye has been criticized widely for, he's not taking the hit, I think you would think, retail wise or in terms of what people expected. Why do you think that is?

LATHAN: I think Kanye West is the most powerful cultural figure in the world. And there's not -- there's not a real way, there's not a scientific way that you can put your finger on why that happened. He's well aware of how important he is, but he doesn't know how powerful he is. He doesn't know the power that he has to normalize certain attitudes or to re-contextualize long held truths and evils to a new group of people that could be damaging.

And you know, we have this conversation with him all the time, whether or not he's talking about Harriet Tubman or whether he's talking about slavery, whether he's talking about anti-Semitism, all of these tropes or Hitler. Kanye West is simply sometimes like a child playing with this big cultural toy and he grabs so hard that he always breaks it.

I'm disappointed, I'm tired, but more so I want him to do better. I want him to know how much at his core we love him and how much we expect from him and we expect better. And we're not going to stop demanding better no matter how dope the album is, no matter how dope the shoes is, no matter how dope any of that stuff is, Kanye West's got to be better than this.


COATES: Well, Van Latham, Jay Michelson, I wonder what will come next in 2024. Thank you both for your insight tonight. I really do appreciate it.

MICHAELSON: Thank you.

LATHAM: Thank you.

COATES: Well, Harvard President, Claudine Gay facing growing calls to resign over her congressional testimony on anti-Semitism and also for allegations of plagiarism. A former student body president at Harvard is my guest, next.


COATES: Very cordial and frank. That's how one academic is describing a recent meeting between faculty members and two members of Harvard's governing body. Called by the Harvard Corporation, faculty were asked to discuss their views of recent problems and what might be done to address them.


Now, one topic that was not discussed during the meeting? The removal of Harvard President Claudine Gay. Now, some may find that surprising, as calls for Gay to resign continue to grow as she faces scrutiny for her handling of anti-Semitism on campus, and now allegations of plagiarism.

For more, I want to bring in Noah Harris. Now, he was the first black male student body president of Harvard, and he joins us now. Noah, so good to see you, and I am welcoming all the things that are happening well for you. I'm not surprised, though. But Harvard has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, one might say. How do you feel about Harvard being under the spotlight right now for these reasons?

NOAH HARRIS, FORMER HARVARD STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT: Well, thank you so much for having me. Now, I'll start by saying that I love my experience at Harvard. I graduated last year, and I'll actually be going back to Harvard for law school. I want to start by also saying that President Gay is an exceptional scholar, a great leader, and a person of high character.

I know President Gay well. I've had the opportunity of working with her when she was the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and I was President of the student body. She's always done a great job. So, that's what I want to really talk about and kind of really support her and talk about her character. She was actually the person who was calling the shots and really leading Harvard through the pandemic. And so she was the one in the room making those decisions.

And so, I'm saddened to see, you know, my alma mater, you know, in the news for all these allegations as anyone would surely. But you know, I know ultimately that President Gay is a great leader. And I do stand behind the Harvard Corporation's decision to support President Gay because I know that from experience that Harvard University doesn't come to any decisions without a thorough complete process and that President Gay deserves their approval.

COATES: You know, I'm so glad that you have a personal rapport and know her well because we often hear about in the light of all these different discussions since of course that non-famous congressional hearing with her and other members of other universities, as well. But it hasn't stopped even though there has been support for her by members of the faculty and the student body, at least in terms of the Harvard Corporation.

Now, there's allegations of plagiarism. Frankly, it continues in terms of the calls to try to get her to be removed. In light of what she is facing, has that changed your opinion of her personally or what you're hearing from your fellow student body members? It hasn't changed my opinion of her personally because ultimately I know who she is. I haven't been able to speak with her recently before she's been busy.

But I really don't have any more information on the ongoing plagiarism investigation than anyone else would. But I do trust Harvard to conduct a fair and thorough investigation of President Gay, just as they would for any other member of the faculty, a former president, or a student, you know, in their midst. And so, actually, before every exam, you know, we would have to reaffirm our agreement to this Harvard College honor code.

COATES: Right.

HARRIS: And so, we have to commit ourselves to a certain level of integrity, and the faculty has to commit themselves to an even higher level still. And so, my support for President Gay has not changed. Of course, I have no idea what the investigation will uncover, but I know two things. I know that President Gay is an honest, trustworthy individual of high character, and I know that Harvard will conduct an investigation with high standards.

COATES: Well, we certainly hope that whatever investigation, you know, the lawyer and me and the lawyer that you will be will demand due process for all of those things. But I have to wonder, you're not that far removed from Harvard.

HARRIS: That's right.

COATES: Certainly, there are going to be a variety of opinions, perhaps many that are different from the one you currently hold. What has been the student body's reaction to all of this? What's the sentiment like? HARRIS: Well, I think with any difficult situation, the student body's

sentiment has been has been mixed. Harvard has a very diverse student body from all over the world. And you have people who are always going to see it different ways.

But people and students from all over the world come to Harvard to get a great education. And that's what the student body is still -- knowing is a great resource for them. There have been many students who have come out supporting President Gay.

I want to say, we do have to do a better job of uplifting, you know, women as they rise to these positions of leadership. We elevate women to the position of president. We've done so more in this moment than we have in our country's history.


There are more women presidents of colleges and universities than ever before. But what we have to do is we have to look at the full body of the person and the full record. And we have to know that ultimately, you know, everyone does make mistakes. But there has to be accountability, but we also have to know that, you know, one decision is not an entire person's record.

And so, we have to make sure there's due process, but we have to -- we have to trust that the leaders that we've elevated to these positions are -- are people of high character. And I know that President Gay is one.

COATES: You know, it's a shame, Noah, I really feel like you made a mistake by not going to Princeton, but that's okay. You can maybe correct that somehow in the future as you smile through that conversation, but let me ask you this, you know, you have been very, very determined in your own position to make sure that success is elevated and accessible for others. I know you and I first met when you were the author of a book and now you have a new program, a non- profit called "Successville". Tell me about it.

HARRIS: Well, yeah, so I wrote the children's book "Successville", but I also now have a non-profit called Successville University. It's an organization that works to empower young people to value their education as a catalyst for early career exploration through books, motivational activities, and a curriculum. The mission is really to show kids that they can do anything if they work hard, set goals, and develop talents.

Education is just so important, and so really just want to continue to support the young people, help them make their career dreams a reality. And if you are able, please donate at

COATES: Noah Harris, thank you so much for joining. We'll be watching very closely as, frankly, what's going on at Harvard and beyond. And we'll see what ultimately comes of that investigation. Thanks for joining me tonight.

HARRIS: Thank you so much. Have a Happy Holidays. COATES: You, too. Up next, he made history as the youngest person to

win a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a musical. Now, Myles Frost is starring in Ava DuVernay's new film, "Origin", playing Trayvon Martin. Our conversation is next.




UNKNOWN: You don't escape trauma by knowing it. You escape trauma by confronting it.

UNKNOWN: I don't write questions. I write answers.


COATES: That's the trailer for Ava DuVernay's film "Origin" which explores the unspoken systems of oppression that have shamed America and the world. It's an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson's bestselling book, "Cast".

Now, I brought you my conversation with Ava DuVernay earlier this month, and I also had a chance to sit down with Tony Award winner, Myles Frost, who plays Trayvon Martin in the film. Here's our conversation.


COATES: You are playing the role of somebody who is so well known in our hearts, in our minds, in our political conversations -- Trayvon Martin. I wonder what that experience was like for you.

MYLES FROST, ACTOR: It's almost indescribable. You know -- you know, the weight that a person like Trayvon Martin carries and how much of an effect it's had on us as black people, you know, as a society, and you know, the effect that it's had on the United States, and it's created, and it's been the catalyst for so many movements. It was an honor.

However, you know, I always found myself at this place of, am I doing this right? Then again, what does that look like?

COATES: It's a lot of pressure.

FROST: It's a lot of pressure but it's necessary pressure because we need to get this message out there.

COATES: It must be very startling in some moments to see yourself in him.

FROST: Yeah. I was tasked with coming up with the final thoughts and or feelings of a kid who realizes that he's not about to live any longer. And that was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life. And I've, you know, my very first role on film was very small, but I played a 15 year old kid with autism. I'm getting choked up thinking about it.

But coming up with those moments for him, for the world to experience what he experienced, there's really nothing like it. Looking at his picture of him deceased on the floor, you know, and having to absorb that and say, what am I supposed to do with it?

You know, what am I supposed to do with this information and how can I translate it so that people go? Okay, I received that. And I understand how this fits in this giant story that affects us all.

COATES: And this, by the way is but one of the things that you are manifesting. I understand that you're not staying in the United States much longer. You have somewhere to go overseas.

FROST: I do, I do.

COATES: What's happening?

FROST: I'm making that trip across the pond.

COATES: Where you going? Going to London?

FROST: I'm going to London to open MJ The Musical in London, which I'm so blessed -- so blessed to win the Tony for it. And actually, I'm the youngest Tony.

COATES: I'm sorry, you won the what for? I want to repeat that for everyone. The Tony Award. You won the Tony for that? Okay, you won the Tony for that. There you go.

FROST: I am the youngest Tony Award winner in history, actually. COATES: Wow.


COATES: And you're going to bring it across the pond.

FROST: I'm going to bring it across the pond.

COATES: They might try to keep you though.

FROST: You know what? You know, reason sees in lifetime. Michael's always, if nothing else, Michael. He was always unapologetically himself. And you know, I don't think he would expect me to do anything less.


COATES: Wow, what an incredible actor. And if you haven't had a chance to see it, I mean, just his portrayal and just thinking about what that is like to try to illustrate and become someone who has become the most unwilling icon, one that we never expected to know in the way that we have, the young Trayvon Martin.

[23:00:00] I'm so glad to have had a chance to speak with Myles Frost. And for those of you across the pond, you might get a real treat if you see him on the stage at any time.