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Laura Coates Live

GOP Presidential Candidates Make Closing Arguments in Iowa; Trump Manipulates the Legal System; U.S. Airstrikes Again the Iranian- Backed Houthi targets in Yemen; Laura Coates Interviews Erika Alexander; St. Paul Makes History with All-Women City Council. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired January 12, 2024 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Well, it's time for closing arguments. There are only three days away to go in Iowa. Tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

All right, can you believe it? We are now three days away until when Iowa Republicans turn out to choose their candidates. And look, the forecast is for temperatures that are going to feel like 30 or 40 below zero could possibly go wrong.


UNKNOWN: Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night.


COATES: Oh, my God. A Bette Davis reference on a Friday night. No other show, people. No other show. Well, that's for sure. It might be a bumpy ride if you're a Republican presidential hopeful and there are a lot fewer of them these days. It's all eyes on Iowa as we speak. The candidates making their closing argument and taking some potshots at each other.


NIKKI HALEY, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: Ron doesn't beat Joe Biden. Trump is head to head. On a good day, he might be up by two points. I defeat Biden by 17 points.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is not willing to show up on the debate stage. Has he come to communities and answered questions? Has he gone to all 99 counties? Heck, has he even gone to nine counties?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is an unconstitutional witch hunt. It's election interference at the highest level. It's a disgrace. It's interference. It's political interference and it's something that shouldn't be allowed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COATES: Well, it should be noted, front-runner Donald Trump making himself pretty scarce on the campaign trail and said making his closer -- his closer actually during closing arguments in the courtroom for one of his several trials. So, whose argument was going to win out? Well, like Bette Davis said, fasten your seat belts. Gosh, I should have done my hair like that, too, if I was going to use that reference. Man.

Let's talk about it now with former congressman and host of the "White Flag" podcast, Joe Walsh, and CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. Well, there's a lot to go. Only three days left. I can't believe we're already here. What do you make of the Trump-Iowa strategy? Because it contrasts significantly to say DeSantis's.

JOE WALSH, PODCAST HOST: It's cold in Iowa. I don't --


COATES: Why, yes, there you go.

WALSH: News flash. It's cold.


Laura, I don't think there are any closing arguments. I campaigned in Iowa four years ago hopelessly against Trump. At this point, it's just getting your people out. Trump has a hell of an organization. DeSantis does, too.


But Donald Trump this time has a great organization. So, I expect his people to come out.

COATES: It's funny you say that because we often hear a lot about his absence in Iowa.


COATES: So, you would think that must mean he doesn't have the ground presence compared to say a Nikki Haley or DeSantis who talks about going to all 90. What is his ground game?

CARDONA: He has, like Joe said, a campaign team there that has been there for months. And you can really see the difference between how they are approaching Iowa this time than how they approached Iowa when he first ran. And you can also see it in, frankly, the polls. He's 30 points ahead even if -- I think even more than that --

WALSH: Yeah.

CARDONA: -- even if he hasn't been there as much as DeSantis has. And you can also see that they are paying attention because they are a bit worried that he's actually been visiting Iowa more than he said at the beginning that he would. He is also running a ton of ads against Haley, at the beginning against DeSantis.

And so, going into this weekend, I think that he's got the advantage because he also has the most dedicated voters, so the most dedicated supporters, and what you need when you have 30 degrees below weather.

WALSH: Eighty degrees below.

CARDONA: Yes, exactly.

COATES: Well, let me tell you, there's like -- I've done a little bit of comparison. Just look at this screen about how many times say Governor DeSantis has been to Iowa --

WALSH: Yeah.

COATES: -- versus say Trump. And then look, Vivek Ramaswamy. I mean, look at those numbers, 306 to 21 is the spread. You've got Nikki Haley third place there, really at -- second place there actually at 72 compared to 127 for Governor DeSantis. That means, in my mind, that governor from Florida is all in on Iowa. That means for every day he was there, he was not say in South Carolina, he was not say in New Hampshire.

WALSH: He's got an organization. DeSantis has. He's just a lousy candidate. And that's why I think Nikki Haley has probably surpassed him. Laura, this is a battle for second place. Trump is going to win Iowa. It's just a matter of how big and if Nikki Haley can get a bump heading into New Hampshire.


CARDONA: And the problem is, because DeSantis has gone all in in Iowa, this is it for him. This will be the hill that he dies on or not. If he doesn't, I think if he doesn't come in second --

WALSH: He's out.

CARDONA: He's done. Because he can't go to New Hampshire, and they've already said that he's going to South Carolina before he's going to New Hampshire. I think he's going to try to one-up Nikki Haley in South Carolina regardless of what happens in Iowa.

COATES: Let's hear from Governor DeSantis on this very point talking to a voter. Listen to this. A voter talking to DeSantis. Listen to this.


UNKNOWN: He tends to unite the Democratic Party like nobody else. You know, they -- you know, if he's not in the race, half the Democrats stay home.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COATES: He's, of course, talking about Trump, excuse me, on that. And, you know, the polls do say that Trump is ahead, but a poll is going to be only as good as the people who actually respond to that poll and show up in these frigid temperatures. And so, if you're Trump, you want people not to take for granted. I mean, if you're a candidate who's a runaway --

CARDONA: Uh-hmm.

COATES: -- people might say, well, no need to have me there. They're going to win anyway. That can work against him, right?

WALSH: And that's why the organization is so crucial. And it doesn't matter how many times Trump has been there. Everybody in the universe knows who he is.

COATES: But what does that mean, the organization?

WALSH: That means --

COATES: The ground? What does that mean for the average organization?

WALSH: -- that means precinct by precinct, the captains they have, the deputy captains they have, making calls, emails, knocking on doors, getting people out. Trump's team is doing this time, Laura, and they didn't do it the last time. And they -- look, he didn't win the Iowa caucuses in '16. It's not going to happen this time.

CARDONA: Yeah. And the reason why the organization piece is more important to go a little bit deeper on what you were saying is, especially with this weather, they can know who's going to be at these caucuses or not.

They have a list of their most avid supporters, caucus goers, would-be caucus goers. They can call them and say, hey, Laura, we talked to you last week. You said you were going to go. You haven't gone. Do you need a ride? You know, what do you need for us to get you there?

And I think that's going to be really critical as they make their list of calls to figure out who's there, who isn't, who do they need to make sure that we all go out.

WALSH: Trump got that. DeSantis has that. Nikki Haley doesn't have that organization. That's crucial. The thing Trump has is he's got the most dedicated supporters.

COATES: But who's going to win? I mean, if you think about that -- I mean, how about the second place? I think DeSantis's next stop, we heard report earlier, will be South Carolina, right? Not New Hampshire. Does that mean that Nikki Haley is the foregone, maybe closer second, in New Hampshire, at least, if not in Iowa?

WALSH: That's the expectation.

CARDONA: I think -- yeah. I think that's what that means. I think that DeSantis is going to -- let's say he gets a close second or second or even a close third, he's going to focus on South Carolina. He wants to embarrass Nikki Haley in her own home state because Donald Trump is so far ahead of both of them. If he can get second place in South Carolina, that's a huge embarrassment for Nikki Haley.

WALSH: And if DeSantis can get second in Iowa, that would be defying expectations.

CARDONA: Right. And I also think it means that he thinks that he doesn't really have that big of a chance in New Hampshire. He hasn't really made a big investment in New Hampshire the way that he has in Iowa.

WALSH: But Laura --


WALSH: -- it's really cold in Iowa.


So --

COATES: I was like, yeah.

WALSH: No, it's really -- so we don't know what's going to happen. It's cold.

COATES: No, you know what, though, because -- I'll tell you, I'm from Minnesota.

WALSH: It's cold.

COATES: We almost pride ourselves on being like, it was negative 10 and I went out. I wonder if it'll have the same effect here. I don't know what to see.


CARDONA: I talked to my friend who's the chair in Iowa, and he said, Maria, it has not been this cold.

WALSH: This is cold.

CARDONA: It has not been this cold during an Iowa caucus. And so, I think people like to say, oh, you know, Iowans, they're used to this, they have four-wheel drive, all of that. This cold, it's life- threatening weather. I think it could be different.

COATES: Joe, Maria, thank you so much.

CARDONA: Thanks.

COATES: So, the Iowa caucuses are essentially meetings that are run by political parties. They get underway Monday night at 7 p.m. local time with caucus goers gathering in high school gyms, community buildings, and churches all across the state. Voters will cast a ballot for their preferred candidate and those votes will be tallied.

But Iowans are now bracing for an Arctic blast, raising questions about turnout. Let's turn now to senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten, who's at the magic wall. He'll be with me. Oh, my. You have a coat on?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I absolutely do. I'm freezing.

COATES: Oh, my. Okay.

ENTEN: I'm just talking about the cold temperature --


-- freeze me -- freezes me, Laura. My goodness gracious.

COATES: Well, it's going to be bone chilling in Iowa. What's the impact going to be?

ENTEN: Yeah, I mean, look, I want to sort of just take a look here. I'm going to take my jacket off here.

COATES: Oh, I like the coat effect. It was good because, you know, Laura Coates loves a coat.

ENTEN: Ah, what a great turn of phrase that is. I want to just take a look at the windshields at 7 p.m. in Iowa caucuses. These are all the Republican non-incumbent caucuses since 1980. The warmest was 30 degrees. That was eight years ago. The coldest before this year was 14 degrees, was 14 degrees.


The forecast for Monday, the windshield, get this Laura, minus 28 degrees. It is on a completely different planet. That was why I was wearing the coat and Ian tossed me this hat. That is why I might even have to wear one of these as well.


So, it's freezing, it's freezing.


COATES: Well, that number tells you everything. But, you know, Republicans were expecting to be a flurry. So, they did their flurry of political activity in the closing days. So how has cold weather affected turnout in the past? I mean, it is Iowa. They do know what it feels like to be cold.

ENTEN: Yeah, you're exactly right. Look, the fact is, if you look at the highest turnout for Iowa GOP caucuses, look, the highest was actually the warmest, back in 2016, but the second highest was actually the coldest, back in 1988, in terms of turnout. Now, granted, we haven't had anything like what we're expecting on Monday, but generally speaking, in fact, Iowans have turned out even when it gets cold.

COATES: So, who might benefit the most right now from all this?

ENTEN: Yeah, who might benefit the most? So, let's take a look here. This might give you an idea. This is the choice for the GOP nominee in Iowa by likeliness to attend the caucus. Overall, Donald Trump was at 52 percent in a Fox Business poll last month. Among those who say they definitely will attend, 52 percent. So not much of a change in Trump's support.

DeSantis did see a rise up to 22 percent from 18 percent while Hailey saw a drop. So maybe DeSantis might benefit a little bit from the cold weather because these folks are more likely to turn out.

But I'll note, Laura, look, the fact is they're going to just drive to the caucus. And there are a lot of cars in Iowa and there are a lot of cars in New Hampshire. So, the fact is I'm not exactly concerned that this cold weather is really going to impact turnout all that much.

COATES: Well, wear the hat anyway.

ENTEN: Thank you.

COATES: Harry Enten, thank you so much. I can't wait to spend Iowa caucuses night with you. You're going to be at the magic wall Monday night with me, overnight as well. We're going to get a lot of information in. Thank you.

ENTEN: Thank you. See you then.

COATES: Up next, how Donald Trump has used the legal system to his benefit. We're talking for the last 50 years. But now, it seems to be a do or die. Will he get what he wants again?




COATES: You know, we've heard it time and time again. In fact, didn't we just hear this yesterday? The former president, Donald Trump, claiming in a New York courtroom that the civil fraud against him, that case, well, there was a witch hunt at stake and at play. He has repeatedly tried to tie his legal entanglements to what he says is a political persecution.

You know, my next guest argues that it's Trump himself who has used the legal system for his own benefit for more than five decades. I want to bring in Politico senior writer -- staff writer, Michael Kruse. Thank you so much for being here. His latest piece is called "'This to Him Is the Grand Finale': Donald Trump's 50-Year Mission to Discredit the Justice System.'"

Michael, this is a fascinating read. It really takes such a step back and dive in to the psychology at play, to the tactics and strategy. You go through a heap of cases involving Trump all the way back, I should add, to 1973 when the federal government sued him and his father for alleged racist rental practices. Now, most people won't necessarily think of Trump as a legal mastermind. So, big picture, what did Trump learn in those early days that really seems to have shaped how he has been attacking and grinding down the legal system?

MICHAEL KRUSE, SENIOR STAFF WRITER, POLITICO: Right. So, what we saw yesterday in the courtroom in New York, a brief version of certainly what we saw in the same courtroom in November in New York, is really an extension of something Donald Trump has been doing and quite effectively really in many ways since 1973.

In October of 1973, the federal government, the Department of Justice, sued Donald Trump and his father for racist rental practices. Donald Trump, not Fred Trump, but Donald Trump, specifically went out and hired Roy Cohn, the notorious attorney at the time, most notorious because of his status as the former aide and attorney to Senator Joe McCarthy in the 50s. But by that time, he was sort of known as this legal executioner in New York, and that's what a young 27-year-old Donald Trump wanted in that case.

And during that case is really when Roy Cohn became, with the possible exception of his father, Donald Trump's most indispensable mentor, his most lasting influence because of the lessons that Cohn was able to impart throughout the course of that case, which lasted for years, in the mid-70s, attack, deny, most importantly, perhaps, delay. But all of those things that are in the Roy Cohn playbook, Donald Trump learned greedily in the 70s and has, to some extent, been employing them ever since.

As I point out in the piece, first, he learned from Roy Cohn, then he searched for another Roy Cohn after Roy Cohn died in 1986 from complications of AIDS. And now, in many ways, he has become his own Roy Cohn.

COATES: I mean, just those words are sticking in my brain. You said attack, deny, delay. Those are three words that, frankly, are very characteristic and descriptive of the strategy that Trump has employed perhaps as a businessman, but certainly we've seen in recent days as a politician, as a candidate, as a defendant in all these matters.


That strikes me as so fascinating, the idea of replacing one's Roy Cohn. Remember that famous line, where's my Roy Cohn? You're saying he found one in himself when he couldn't find it externally?

KRUSE: It is him. I mean, it is not Michael Cohen, it is not Rudy Giuliani, it is not anybody, any of the many, many attorneys who have represented Donald Trump over the last 50 years. It is Donald Trump himself who is his own Roy Cohn. He was a -- perhaps Roy Cohn's best pupil, right, learned those lessons well starting in '73, certainly throughout the decade of the 70s and into the early 80s, and Roy Cohn is in his corner and at his side. COATES: That's really fascinating to think about. I mean, the student outdoing the teacher. Does it reveal a flaw, though, more broadly in our legal system that someone could, well, so easily master a way to muddy the waters, to gum up the works, as they say, by bringing not only at times frivolous litigation he has been accused of, but also spinning things?

You know, one of the biggest rules in politics certainly is to define them, your opponent, before they can define themselves. It seems like his opponent is the justice system itself, and he has been defining it time and time again as relates to him as political persecution, as a witch hunt. What do you make of that?

KRUSE: It's important, I think, for people to understand at this point as we watch what's happening now in various courtrooms, as we go into the coming months, that this is something Donald Trump has been preparing for 50 years. He is more prepared for this than anybody else involved on either side. It is true that he faces more legal jeopardy right now than he ever has without question for criminal cases. He's fighting for his freedom in some sense.

But he also is very, very savvy and effective in how he has used and abused the legal system for 50 years. He has used it on defense, he has used it on offense, he has identified in some ways accurately that the very integrity of the system is its vulnerability, the time it takes, the care it takes, the rules that the judges and the prosecutors and attorneys, frankly, have to follow. More than even just the rules, norms, shared good faith.

If that stuff doesn't mean as much to you or maybe doesn't mean anything to you, it does give you an advantage, time in particular. We are seeing a situation develop here where the calendar is of the essence.

COATES: What a fascinating article that you have written. What a deep dive. How very terrifying to think about -- what did you say? The integrity being its very vulnerability and certainly being exploited in some degree to this moment in time. Michael Kruse, thank you so much.

KRUSE: Thanks for having me.

COATES: Next, new U.S. strikes against Iran-backed militants in Yemen tonight. And now, there is anger and its building across the region, including in Iran.




COATES: Well, new tonight, a second set of airstrikes on Iranian- backed Houthi targets in Yemen. This coming a day after the U.S. and the U.K., with the support of at least four other countries, bombed more than 60 targets in about 30 Iranian-backed Houthi militant locations across Yemen.

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill applauding President Biden for the strikes, while some Democrats are upset the president didn't ask Congress for authorization for the use of that force.

Joining me now to discuss is retired colonel and CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton. We continue to lean on in your expertise in all of these matters. So, there's more strikes happening, we know, even today, hitting dozens of locations. Where are these locations?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: So, one of the key things, Laura, is that most of these locations are really going to be concentrated. We first started out in the north, and then they've also moved into the western part of the country. This is the same area that the Houthis actually control the territory.

So, they've got this area. It's mountainous in these parts right here on the coastal area, the coastal mountain ranges. They've got access to overlook the Red Sea. So, there are strategic and tactical reasons to attack these areas.

Plus, we've got a lot of air bases and installations for the launching of missiles, as well as drones from all of these areas. All of the ranges that they have here of those weapons can really cover areas like right in through here, and what that means is that affects all of the shipping for the Red Sea.

COATES: And, of course, this very strategic region you're talking about, the international commerce coming in and out of where we're talking about from the Indian Ocean all the way up in the Red Sea. What are the weapons being used?

LEIGHTON: So, there are a lot of different weapons that are being used. So, what's interesting about this is that all of these weapons that are listed right here in this part are basically ballistic missiles that were provided by Iran to the Houthis. Then you also have some weapons which are cruise missiles, and then you've got Loitering munitions as well as UAVs.

So, all of these different munitions are part of the Iranian arsenal, and all of these, this is just a small sample of the ones that have actually made it from Iran over the last few years or last few decades into the hands of the Houthis.

COATES: So, what could retaliation look like then?


LEIGHTON: So, when retaliation -- when you talk about retaliation, you need a lot of intelligence in order to actually do that. So, if the -- if the Houthis are going to go after us, we're going to have to look at them through various means that we have, and those means include things like the Global Hawk, satellite and, of course, the Predator drones. So, these two drones cover tactical and strategic targets, more strategic targets, through satellite imagery, signals intelligence. Those kinds of things are the -- basically the bread and butter of the intelligence picture that we'll need for this area. It's very hard for us to get human intelligence resources in there because it's frankly a denied area to us for the most part, but these technical means will allow us to intercept communications and they'll also allow us to take images of all the different things that we'll need to see before we actually go in there.

COATES: Wow, this sends a shiver down the spine, just thinking about what truly could be at stake and what the commander in chief has to do and work with next. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you so much for your time, as always.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

COATES: Ahead, she rose to fame in the 90s sitcom, "Living Single," and now she's starring in the new movie, "American Fiction." I'll go behind the scenes with actress Erika Alexander next.





UNKNOWN: Editors, they want a black book.

UNKNOWN: They have one. I'm black, and it's my book.

Look at what they expect us to write.

UNKNOWN: Would you read an excerpt?

UNKNOWN: Yo, Sharanda, where you be going, in a hurry like that? If in you gas to know, as going to the pharmacy (ph).




COATES: That was a clip from the new comedy drama, "American Fiction." It is the story of an African-American novelist who is tired of his books not selling while books with racial stereotypes are flying off the shelves, and what happens when he decides to do something about it. "American Fiction" is in theaters right now and it stars Jeffrey Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Issa Rae, and Erika Alexander, who was getting some serious Oscar buzz for her brilliant performance. And I do mean brilliant.

You may also, of course, know Erika as the iconic Maxine Shaw from the 90s sitcom "Living Single." We're talking about my generation, my time. I want to go behind the scenes right now with "American Fiction" actress and extraordinary one at that, Erika Alexander. I'm so excited that you are here. Let me show you all the love and give you all your flowers because there should be many.


ERIKA ALEXANDER, ACTRESS: Oh, my goodness. Thank you. I'm glad to be here, Laura. This is a great pleasure. I admire you and love you so much. Thanks for this invitation. I appreciate it.

COATES: Are you kidding me? I love you, too. And thank you so much for saying it. And thank you for coming because when I saw the preview for this movie, I cannot tell you, I was immediately like, where can I go, looking on Fandango, when is it coming out, I bought the ticket, I wanted the whole row, I wanted to laugh on my own --


COATES: -- I wanted everyone to go. I'm telling you, I was so excited. And then when you look at what the message is, I mean, this message, this movie --


COATES: -- it uses satire to challenge the way that Black people --


COATES: -- and their stories are portrayed in mainstream entertainment.


COATES: Why did it resonate so much with you?

ALEXANDER: Because it's true, Laura. I think Black people talking about narrative and talking about the identity crisis that we've been locked in for -- since -- since we got here. In 1619 and then after reconstruction, we've been fighting that narrative, and that's been keeping us in the cheap seats, spectators in our own life.

I think our reality is more complicated and complex than the shallow pond that we've been playing in. But we're also, I think, victims of our own success. We've had to be the certain things to be successful in a very market-driven or a market that's driven by narrative that is comfortable for other people but doesn't really say the true authenticity of who we are as full Black people and certainly human beings on this earth.

COATES: That's such an important point because we see the pigeon holes, we hear the stereotypes, we think the idea that somehow everyone else can have stories that are expansive, that are holistic.


COATES: That demonstrate all facets of the human experience. But our window, our little zone, is this little teeny tiny pigeon hole. And you play Coraline, who is a girlfriend to Jeffrey Wright's character, Monk. I want people to see part of it here.



UNKNOWN: Mother, you sit here. All right. And Coraline, why don't you sit across from mother?

UNKNOWN: I'm happy you're not white.

UNKNOWN: Me, too.



COATES: The way you all built up that scene, I'm sorry. That was -- that was a little bit brilliant. And that -- just walking around the table, your screen presence is so divine. I was leaning in to figure out what you would say next. You have said that this movie has been healing for you. It has been a -- what was the phrase you used? An act of resistance. What do you hope people take away from this film?

ALEXANDER: Well, I think that -- I'm hoping that it's compelling overall because it's not afraid to have this conversation. It lays at the feet of people who promote a community that's affected by it but don't really know much about it, don't see how we have to deal with it and what the -- I guess the results are.


So, I don't know why we want to see Black people in this stereotype. I think we need to talk about that. But it's also funny. I mean, that's the great Leslie Uggams. Let's give props to her. She has been in this business for 76 years. Last year, 2023, American Cinema celebrated its 100th anniversary. She has been in it for three-quarters of it. She's got a lot to tell. Can you imagine that anybody could tell it better than her?

So, I think we're looking for more durable, self-sustaining universe, definitely, and reject what has come heretofore, but also not so much that we don't recognize some of the -- you know, I think there's been some complicit. There are so many things, but overall, I want people to laugh. It's generational. It's not made for Black people. It's made for Americans. It's called "American Fiction," and people should enjoy it. And they have been.

COATES: Well, you know, they absolutely have been. When you hold a mirror up to society, you'll find that it can be very disarming for people to laugh at what is true, what they see. And some people just seeing it in that reflection through this safe space in many respects of cinema, it makes it more of an indelible mark for them to know, wait, is this -- I see the relatability shocks you.

I got to tell you, though, I mean, you talked about somebody else being in this game for decades. ALEXANDER: Yeah.

COATES: It was 30 years ago, 30 years ago that you stepped with the role of Maxine Shaw and the iconic 90s sitcom living single. You were one of the leading ladies of the 90s. I mean, you poured a lot of passion into the courtroom. You're talking to a lawyer here. On that show, you had a stockbroker, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a magazine head.

ALEXANDER: That's right.

COATES: You had comedy. You had everything. I mean, this character, let's watch a little bit and remember.

ALEXANDER: Oh, Lord. Okay.


UNKNOWN: That's it right there. That panther. It's sleek, it's black, it's poised, ready to attack.

UNKNOWN: Why don't you get a heart or a rose? You know, something a little more feminine?

UNKNOWN: You're right, Regine. How about a big old uterus right here on my shoulder?


Is that feminine enough for you?



COATES: You were strong, you were funny. There you go, Maxine. Well, let me tell you, that character, I've heard, has inspired the likes of Ayanna Pressley, Stacey Abrams --

ALEXANDER: That's right.

COATES: -- to pursue careers in law and politics and leadership. How does that feel, Erika?

ALEXANDER: It's extraordinary feeling. Obviously, I'm in a fictional world and they are all real, non-fiction. And I got to get props to Yvette Lee Bowser who created the way. She was the first African- American woman to get a chance to create a show on prime time. I thank Latifah, Kim Coles, Kim Fields, T.C. and John Henton for making it real.

But the truth is we stand on other people's shoulders from different world to -- I worked with Whoopi Goldberg, "The Cosby Show." Obviously, there were many people who came and created that way, especially in sitcom. So, I'm really proud and I'm very proud that these women grew up and they saw it, and they saw themselves in her, the braids. You know, those are called new locks or the in-raid locks from Deborah Harbaugh (ph) in Brooklyn. She's doing my hair right now in yarn. We have all these things that we bring over to create ourselves.

But I think really what happened is that they saw the strength and power within her. It was also unapologetic. A lot of people have been talking about that word since Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. But she embodies that because so many people paid that way.

So, in the same way, Cord Jefferson, who is the writer and director of our film now, is extraordinary for this debut. He also is getting his material from Percival Everett. He was able to make this extraordinary story and make it concentrated and really tell the story he wanted to tell. We are really happy that he has recruited such genius performers and other collaborators and things like that.

So, I'm glad to be there. I'm glad to be there with Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown and Issa Rae. Obviously, you know, there are people we don't talk about, Myra Lucretia Taylor, wonderful actors. And so, it takes a village and this definitely proves it.

COATES: Wow, you are so humble and so giving in your artistry and also in the accolades that you are spreading with great justification. I have to tell you, genius, irreverent, the idea of thinking about being intellectual, unapologetic, perfection, creative, and artist. Erica Alexander, everyone. Nice to see you again. Thank you.

STEWART: Thank you, my darling. Thank you. Appreciate you.

COATES: Thank you. Well, up next, girl power in St. Paul, Minnesota, swearing in an all-women city council for the very first time in the city's history. They're going join me next.




COATES: All right, it's time for our Friday night high-five. For the first time in history, all of the seats on the St. Paul, Minnesota, my hometown city council, are filled by women, and most of them are women of color. They were sworn in on Tuesday and this is their first official week at work, and they are facing issues like housing, homelessness, economic development, a wide wealth gap, climate change. Really, you name it. They are on the front lines of the local issues.


And joining me now, the seven council members, Anika Bowie, Rebecca Noeker, Saura Jost, Mitra Jalali, HwaJeong Kim, Nelsie Yang, and Chenique Johnson. Ladies, hello. Nice to see all of you. Congratulations.


COATES: You've all made history, and I have to say I'm very proud to see that it's in St. Paul, Minnesota in particular. I think you represent so beautifully and well and cannot wait for you to accomplish the work that is certainly ahead of all of you.

Councilmember Jalali, let me begin with you because you're the president of this new group, and for the next four years, the seven of you will make some of the most important decisions in Minnesota's capital city. So, what does it mean to be working together in this way as a group of diverse, phenomenal women?

MITRA JALALI, ST. PAUL CITY COUNCILMEMBER: So, what I really feel excited about is the chance to really meet our community's needs in this critical time. We have a more young community than ever, more diverse community than ever, and what I really hope is that this council that reflects our community more than ever keeps that relationship over the next four years together.

COATES: People have to see you and to have the idea that they're all having a seat at the table as well. Councilmember Bowie, let me go to you. The first woman was elected to the St. Paul council in the 1950s. And before that, it was entirely male. Now, it's entirely female. What has the reaction been from the locals in St. Paul?

ANIKA BOWIE, ST. PAUL CITY COUNCILMEMBER: Yeah, it's just been so energizing, this momentum that we're bringing forward, and this is not anything new for each and one of us. We've been on a coalition of building more representation when it comes to women. I actually get the chance to be the second African-American woman on this council and this seat representing Rondo. So, it has just been very energizing and a beautiful opportunity to show the world how women can work together.

COATES: I know Rondo so well, one of the communities that everyone highlights when they think about St. Paul and, of course, the historical significance as well.

You know, Councilmember Noeker, this is not just about being all women which, of course, you all are, but also in an age when we're talking about the age of politicians, you are all also under the age of 40 years old. I am no longer, but I feel a kinship nonetheless. Consider yourself, you say, the senior stateswoman. Since you are, I guess, the oldest, what kind of learning curve do you expect for the new members?

REBECCA NOEKER, ST. PAUL CITY COUNCILMEMBER: Well, my birthday is on February 1st, so I'm just sneaking in under 40.


I should acknowledge that openly on national TV. But I think there's a huge learning curve. I think they're coming into office. Campaigning is one thing. You talk about the things that you hope to do. You come into government and you realize the reality of getting things done and the challenges and the constraints, the tensions that we balance. But I'm looking forward to helping my new colleagues, all of whom are so competent, so talented and so connected to their communities, learn how to get things done quickly.

COATES: Council Member Jost, I mean, I have to ask you, what do you say to critics who say, really who have the audacity to say, that there are no men and also, it's all Democrats on your council?

SAURA JOST, ST. PAUL CITY COUNCILMEMBER: You know, I think that this past election cycle, there were so many folks running for these seats and there were people of all genders and races. But the people of St. Paul chose to elect us. They chose to elect us because of the expertise that we bring, the work that we've done in our community, and the work that we're going to continue to do.

COATES: Give the people what they want. Councilmember Johnson, what is your message to women across the country who are hoping to also break down their own barriers in their respective states and local communities?

CHENIQUA JOHNSON, ST. PAUL CITY COUNCILMEMBER: You know, I would just say never be satisfied with just one. As we're going to build this coalition and build this movement, it took quite a few of us to work together, not only just in this space, what you see here, but the movements that we carry outside when we go back home to our wards.

And so, you know, there's a lot of comfort sometimes and things as the status quo of what they used to be, what they will continue to be, or even predictions about what they could be in the future.

COATES: You know, Councilmember Kim, when people think about the importance of having a seat at the table, there is an important part, and that is feeling as though they can elect a candidate of their choosing, one who is qualified and one who represent what they see in themselves. How important is this diverse group of women in particular?

HWAJEONG KIM, ST. PAUL CITY COUNCILMEMBER: Yeah, I think it has been said already, but just really lifting up the fact that all of us have just a diverse set of experiences. We have organizers across the board, executives. We have a civil engineer on the city council. But what we bring to the table in terms of our representation really reflects the whole of the city and that allows us to push forward policy that's much more reflective of the constituents that live here in Saint Paul.


COATES: Every time we zoom in and speak to each of you, we see a different part of St. Paul, a different representation in terms of the different demographics represented, different areas as well, and the people who obviously have chosen each of you to really steer the ship.

Councilman Yang, let me just end with you here. What is your message to people who are feeling sometimes as though politics is something to opt out of, to throw up their hands and no longer want to engage, because they think maybe it's a fool's errand? What's your message to people to stay engaged in however the outcome in terms of who they vote for and who ends up in office? How do you keep them motivated to participate?

NELSIE YANG, ST. PAUL CITY COUNCILMEMBER: I think that's such a great question. And for me, as I reflect on my lived experiences as a daughter of refugees, that feeling of feeling like our voice is so small or not knowing how to stay engaged or how you even get started or not even being politically-involved, is a story that I know so well, and I feel like so many of us on the council right now know very well.

We know that that's something that has to stop because policies and politics is very personal. That is actually what has inspired so many of us to start taking an action and start getting involved. What we are committed to is making sure that we continue bringing people along in this work, doing the best that we can in fighting for justice and equity for all people.

COATES: I love the confidence. I love the fact that you represent so well. Each of you, councilmembers, congratulations. Thank you all so much. If all politics is local, I'm glad it's my hometown that shows us that. Thank you so much.


Thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.