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CNN TONIGHT: Biden Warns Putin Not To Invade Ukraine In Video Call, As Russia Amasses Large Military Presence At Border; China Threatens U.S. With Retaliation Over Diplomatic Boycott Of Winter Olympics; Restaurant Faces Online Backlash After Refusing To Serve On- Duty Armed Police Officers. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 07, 2021 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: In a proclamation, marking National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the President encourages, quote, "All Americans to reflect on the courage shown by our brave warriors that day and remember their sacrifices."

The news continues. Let's hand it over to Michael Smerconish and CNN TONIGHT. Michael?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you.

I am Michael Smerconish. This is CNN TONIGHT.

And President Biden's put Vladimir Putin on notice. There will be consequences, if Russia decides to invade Ukraine. But was he able to dial Putin back today, from the brink of war, in their two-hour video summit? That's the looming question tonight.

It certainly looks like the brink of war. Russia has been amassing tens of thousands of troops, on its border, with Ukraine potentially, as many as 175,000, along with weapons, and tanks, and other military equipment, all caught on satellite cam. Could it all be just a bluff, just a show of force? Perhaps, but not likely.

Putin wasn't bluffing, when his country invaded Crimea, in 2014, in violation of international law. And remember, Russia annexed Crimea, from Ukraine, after a military intervention. The international community still considers Crimea, as Ukrainian territory.

So, this was likely the most important foreign policy conversation of the Biden presidency, thus far.

The secure call, via video link, it began with pleasantries.



VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA: Greetings, Mr. President (ph).

BIDEN: Good to see you again. Unfortunately, last time, we didn't get to see one another, at the G20. I hope next time we meet, we do it in person.


SMERCONISH: But the White House says that Biden was then crystal clear about where the U.S. stands on this aggression.

If Russia further invades Ukraine, America, and our European allies, would respond, with strong economic measures that could devastate the Russian economy, and will be much tougher, this time around.

Here's National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: President Biden, looked President Putin, in the eye, and told him today that "Things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now."


SMERCONISH: A package of sanctions didn't prevent Russia, from annexing Crimea, back when Biden was serving as Vice President.

Here's the read, from the White House, on Putin's intentions, this time.


SULLIVAN: We still do not believe that President Putin has made a decision.

What President Biden did today was lay out very clearly, the consequences, if he chooses to move. He also laid out an alternative path.

Ultimately, we will see, in the days ahead, through actions, not through words, what course of action Russia chooses to take.


SMERCONISH: So, why are Russian and Ukrainian tensions reaching such a boiling point again?

We know Putin is adamantly against Ukraine's desires to join NATO. He said last week that he would call for specific agreements that would rule out any further NATO expansion eastward. We don't know if he addressed that with President Biden today. But the White House says Biden made no commitments, no concessions, on the call.

So, where did they leave things? The two Presidents asked both of their teams, to follow up. And the U.S. says, it will do so, in close coordination with allies and partners. President Biden will be speaking with Ukraine President Zelensky, on Thursday. And that's the state of play. I want to know what you think, Putin is up to, and what should the U.S., and its allies, do, if Russia invades Ukraine again. Reach out to me, via social media, during the course of the hour. I will share some of your thoughts, during the course of this program.

We have two perfect guests tonight, with their takes. A former Supreme Allied Commander for NATO joins us in a moment.

But first up is retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, former Director for European Affairs for the National Security Council.

He was a key witness to that infamous Trump call with the President of Ukraine that ultimately got Trump impeached, the first time. He's also the Author of "Here, Right Matters: An American Story."

Why is, Ukraine so - why is Ukraine so important to Putin? That's my question, Colonel Vindman. I want to know why is there such a fascination, on the part of Vladimir Putin, with Ukraine.


The first one is that Ukraine is central to Russia's conception of itself as a great power. It believes Ukraine is its right, by history, by - and only as a freak of history, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, did the worst case unfold, Russia losing Ukraine, the heart of the Empire. So, that's part of the story.

But there's something more fundamental. Ukraine, as a successful experiment, invalidates Putin's view of managed democracy, basically, this idea that he could - that everything is under centralized control, and with limited curtailed freedoms, for the population.


If Ukraine is able to be successful? If Ukraine is prosperous? And it's made some headway. It's made significant headway, since 2014, which is why we see ourselves, in this situation right now, with a major escalation, looming, in the next couple of weeks, months.

If Ukraine is successful, it basically proves his alternative view of managed democracy to be false.

And, on those - those two reasons are the driving force. That's why some of the conversation going on, around security assurances that NATO could offer, I see those as red herrings. I see those as negotiating tactics, trying to draw compromises, trying to test the resolve of the U.S. and NATO.

But really, it's a question of whether he could keep Ukraine, in Russia's orbit. He lost it in 2014. He lost it, as a result of the Revolution of Dignity. And then, the assault on Ukraine, it's consolidated the Ukrainian national identity. And he thought he had done enough, by taking bites out of Ukraine, the large, large chunks. That was wrong. Ukraine has continued to make progress. And now, he's trying to see, if he could keep it, slipping through his fingers.

SMERCONISH: Colonel Vindman? You are the perfect--

VINDMAN: And he's seeing if he could get away with it.

SMERCONISH: You're the perfect person. I have something on my mind. And it occurs to me, you're the perfect person to ask, because no one knows the dynamics, as between the American government, Ukraine, and Russia, like you do, for the reasons that I mentioned in your introduction.

So, here's the question. If Putin really wants to invade Ukraine, why wouldn't he have done it, on Donald Trump's watch?

VINDMAN: Well, I think he - that's a very, very good question. I think part of it is that he saw a opportunity to get what he wanted, through Trump. Whether it was the first administration, or the second administration, he saw some continuing opportunities.

Now, he thinks that the relationship between Russia and Ukraine will continue to grow. It's kind of been rebranded, rebaselined.

Now, in some small, incremental ways, but he could see - foresee progress, continuing on, through this administration, through the next three-plus years. And that just makes it that much harder for him, to keep Ukraine, in the orbit.

Time is not on his side. He thought that Ukraine was going to be a failed state. Ukraine is not a failed state. Ukraine is going to continue to become a more difficult problem for him. This is the time to act.

He also perceives a lot of opportunities, with regards to the hyperpolarization, in the U.S., the rhetoric from the right-wing media about "Why should we care? We should just give Ukraine to Russia," the way he - Putin's asking for it.

He sees opportunity to leverage pressure, energy - this energy crisis, in Europe - against Europe. He sees divisions between Europe and the U.S. This is the time to act.

SMERCONISH: Quick final question. Guys, like Putin, they seem either to be in office, in jail, or dead. Is it all about him asserting his strength and therefore trying to hold on to the office?

VINDMAN: I think this is part of his legacy. I think he's definitely firmed up his control. There are no real contestants for power there, in the short-term. He does eventually have to identify a successor.

Right now, the question is, what is his legacy? Is he the gatherer of lands? Is he the one that's rebuilding Russian Empire? Is he the one that's retaining Ukraine in Russia's orbit? He wants to do this. I think it's a coin flip of whether this becomes the largest war, in Europe, since World War II.

SMERCONISH: Well that's a scary thought.

VINDMAN: And the U.S. cannot be on the sidelines.

SMERCONISH: That is a scary thought.

VINDMAN: You saw what happened, the last time, the U.S. sat on the sidelines.

SMERCONISH: Colonel Vindman, thank you. We appreciate your contribution.

VINDMAN: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: A central question isn't just what the White House would do, but the entire NATO Alliance.

Ukraine's interests in formally joining NATO has been growing, over the past three decades. In fact, when my next guest was the Supreme Allied Commander, for NATO, Ukrainian forces deployed, under his command.

Retired Admiral James Stavridis is also the Author of "The Sailor's Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea."

Admiral, welcome. Here's my first question. Does Ukraine stand a chance, against Russia, in armed conflict?


I think Ukraine could make it very painful for Russia. The vast majority of Ukrainians will fight. They will fight to defend their land. They have improved greatly, in war-fighting capability, over the last four years or five years, with U.S. and NATO assistance. It will be a painful struggle for Vladimir Putin, if he decides to invade.

SMERCONISH: In other words, what I hear you say, Admiral, is this could be a repeat, for Putin, of Afghanistan, in '79.

STAVRIDIS: Or Chechnya. Let's face it. The Russians have experienced their own forever wars, Michael. And those ghosts rattle around Moscow.


Putin is trying to weigh that precise calculus. If he does go, across that border, he'll do it swiftly. He'll try and carve out a chunk that creates a land bridge, from Mother Russia, the Rodina, to Crimea. He's not hanging around for a long fight in Ukraine.

SMERCONISH: OK, Admiral, here's another thought that's on my mind. Is it in the United States' best interest, to have Ukraine, in NATO? And I ask that question, because I'm sure, many people are watching this discussion tonight, alarmed at the thought that the United States could get dragged into this, is if Ukraine is in NATO, then that prospect of U.S. troops being deployed, American men and women, becomes much more likely.

STAVRIDIS: It does, indeed. And, in my view, we ought to be very measured, in actually bringing Ukraine, or any other new nation, into NATO, Michael.

We have 30 countries, in NATO, today. We've added several, in the last few years, in the Balkans. 30 is a pretty good number. But that does not mean we cannot have close partners.

As was mentioned in your introduction, Ukrainian troops deployed, under my command, as part of the NATO mission, to Afghanistan, they were part of our efforts, globally, with NATO. We can have partners, who are not full members. I think that's a sensible construct.

SMERCONISH: I have to believe that, over the course of your career, you've been dialed in, on Putin, and his personality. Do you think he knows, tonight, what he's going to do?

STAVRIDIS: I think he does not. He is weighing everything. He will have listened carefully to President Biden. He's a former KGB intelligence officer. He's trained to weigh all the factors.

But we ought to remember, he can be reckless. And it's not just 2014, when he invaded Ukraine, Michael. In 2008, he invaded Georgia. He's rolled those cosmic dice twice, already. And if we let him get away with it, again, crossing a sovereign border, in anger, shame on us.

SMERCONISH: I just have to repeat, what I put to Colonel Vindman. If he really wanted to invade, you would think, when he was on friendly terms, with the prior American president, that would have been his moment.

If you have a thought in 10 seconds, express it.

STAVRIDIS: He above all seeks to divide American public opinion. He seeks to divide the NATO Alliance. He sees advantage, in moving, at this moment, in both of those regards.

SMERCONISH: Admiral Stavridis, that was great. Thank you so much.

STAVRIDIS: My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish, or go to my Facebook page. You know I enjoy doing this, which is to read some of the responses, live and unscripted.

So, what do you got, from the world of Twitter?

Here it is. "Always learn once a liar always a liar, Putin. I know Biden is trying hard to walk to the fence to keep peace. Some days, you just wish that he would," I think that's bitch "slap Putin and the rest of the Trump idiots."

Kenny, it's an interesting dynamic, as to what brought this about, right? Because, on one hand, I was thinking maybe the cozy relationship, between Trump and Putin, allowed for the build-up of the circumstances that we face today.

But as I expressed to my guests, in the opening portion, of the program, if Putin really wanted to go in, you think he would have done it, on Trump's watch. I'm not an expert. I'm just on the sidelines.

One more from Twitter, if we have the opportunity.

"Ukraine should not be prohibited from joining NATO, if they meet the requirements, in an effort to appease Putin. It would be a military win for him without even firing a shot."

Just factor in though, if all of a sudden, you've got Ukraine in NATO, what does it say to the dynamics here, in the United States, right? Because now, we're committing our men and women, to respond in kind, if a NATO ally is attacked. Think about that.

President Biden faces another big foreign policy problem. He ticked off China, in the last 24 hours, with his diplomatic boycott, of Beijing's Olympics. China's threatening, the U.S. will pay the price.

And my question is, did the President go far enough? Should there be a full boycott, pulling all our athletes as well? That's a survey question, tonight, on my website, at I hope you'll go vote. We'll give you the results, at the end of this hour.

But first, insight, from Olympic broadcasting veteran, and legend, Bob Costas. H's next.



SMERCONISH: The Winter Olympics are less than two months away. An event meant to bring people together, but tonight, is pushing the U.S. and China further apart. And China now says the U.S. will, quote, "Pay the price," for its wrongdoings, after the Biden administration imposed its diplomatic boycott, of the Beijing Games.

U.S. athletes still allowed to compete, leaving some wondering, if there should be a full boycott.

Let's discuss with Bob Costas.

This is toothless, right? I mean, who cares if Tony Blinken shows up at the Olympics?

BOB COSTAS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, HALL OF FAME BROADCASTER: Well, maybe my view is a bit too parochial, as someone who's spent his life in sports.

But recall what happened, when Jimmy Carter, put into effect, a full boycott, of the 1980 Moscow games, after the Afghanistan invasion of a year before. It had little to no effect on Soviet policy. The effect it had was that it deprived all those athletes, of their opportunity, to compete, which is difficult for any athlete.

But Olympians spend four years, in preparation, essentially in the shadows, then step on to the world's biggest sporting stage. This is a moment that you don't want to take away from them. It's not the only consideration. But I think it's an important consideration.

And this will matter symbolically. The Chinese say we'll pay the price, for our wrongdoings. But they never want to pay the price or even acknowledge their monstrous wrongdoings.

SMERCONISH: I don't know. To me, it feels like double-secret probation. I hear your point about punishing the athletes. I don't know why, it's always these--

COSTAS: Take it up with Dean Wormer.

SMERCONISH: Good for you!

I don't know why these international conflicts are always heaped on the Olympics, like why are the Olympics such a convenient target for this?


COSTAS: Well, it brings virtually the entire globe together. And it raises the question about the IOC, a question I raised, going back--


COSTAS: --one way or another, beginning in 1996, when I ran afoul of the Chinese.

Because, I said, as they came in, during the opening ceremony, Atlanta, "You're looking at the one nation that has the means and the motivation, to replicate what the old Soviet Bloc and the Eastern Bloc did, with their sports machine," with all that that implies, and a few other things.

And, orchestrated from Beijing, there was an effort to have me fired. NBC would have none of it. Then they said, "OK, we'll accept a full public apology in primetime." And I wouldn't do that. And eventually, it went away.

SMERCONISH: But didn't they apologize? Didn't NBC try and walk that back?

COSTAS: Oh, there was some sort of boilerplate thing.


COSTAS: It was in August. Everybody had gone on vacation. And a PR man put out one of those "Sorry, if anybody was offended," statements.


COSTAS: But not with my - not with my approval.

Then, in 2008, President Bush was there. In fact, he was seated next to Vladimir Putin, when it became clear that Russia had invaded Georgia.

And I mentioned the human rights record, not as often as I would have liked. Networks tend to be a little timid about some of these things. But I mentioned it. And I put the question directly to President Bush, when I was able to interview him. Did the same thing, about Putin and Russia, when Sochi hosted the Olympics.

And now, here is China, hosting an Olympics, again, what, a decade and a half after--

SMERCONISH: You were prescient. Nothing's changed.

COSTAS: --after the last one.

And one of the big questions now that you can't evade is what is it with the IOC, and their affinity, for authoritarian nations?

There will be an Olympics or Summer Olympics, in 2028, in Los Angeles. It will have been, since 2002, when the Winter Games were in Salt Lake, since there has been an Olympics, on American soil. And yet, American television is the single greatest source of revenue, for the IOC.

Many IOC delegates remain ticked off, at the U.S., because a free press blew the cover of the Salt Lake bidding scandal. Mitt Romney had to come in and set the thing straight. The whole thing was up in the air. Might not have - the whole thing might have fallen apart. They have long memories about this stuff.

And the IOC and many of those delegates act in a high-handed way. And, in that sense, you can see where the affinity for authoritarian nations comes in.

SMERCONISH: I have another acronym for you. It's not the IOC.




SMERCONISH: I have to believe, there are some guys, holding their breath, watching this. Because, if this is sufficient grounds, for there to be a diplomatic boycott, then what does it say about the NBA doing business, in China?

COSTAS: The NBA is up to its neck in China. China is a huge sports market. Basketball is especially popular there.

But they will put up with not even the slightest criticism. They reject it out of hand. And when they can, some of it maybe just saber rattling, like saying today that the U.S. will pay the price for their wrongdoings. But, to the extent that they can, they exact a price.

I'm repeating myself here, because I've said it before to you, and others, on CNN. But back a couple of years ago, when Daryl Morey, then the G.M. of the Houston Rockets, tweeted--

SMERCONISH: Sure, yes.

COSTAS: --"Stand with Hong Kong," Rockets' games were suddenly off the air, for an extended period, in China. And the Rockets are one of the most popular teams there, because Yao Ming, was the first big Chinese star, in the NBA.

More recently, Enes Kanter, who grew up in Turkey, so he knows what--


COSTAS: Yes, Celtics. He's a Turk. He spoke out against China. Same thing. Celtic games, like that, gone! I guarantee you that the feed of this conversation is gone.


COSTAS: In China, right now.

SMERCONISH: I think that most Americans are not dialed in, on the issue, and just want to make sure there's going to be an iPhone, under the tree, in three weeks.

Hey, you want to do quick social media with me?


SMERCONISH: OK. What has come in, Vaughn (ph)--

COSTAS: All right, where is it?

SMERCONISH: --from the world of Twitter, I think. They'll put it up on the screen.


SMERCONISH: Here we go. "Maybe the U.S. should stop having 80 percent of the goods we use come from China." Well, that's my iPhone point.

Your thought?

COSTAS: Well, that's a very large - how do you unravel that? How do you?

SMERCONISH: In 60 seconds or less. Well, the point is, we talk a good game.

COSTAS: I don't mean unravel the issue.


COSTAS: Let's assume you wanted to do that. How do you unravel that?

SMERCONISH: There are going to be a lot of goods that we're reliant upon that suddenly aren't going to be available to us.

COSTAS: By the way, a lot of Nike's goods?


COSTAS: That benefit the likes of Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James?


COSTAS: Made in China.


COSTAS: And those outspoken individuals and, in many cases, I think millions of Americans, would agree, with their positions, on domestic issues, but they are conspicuously mum, when it comes to China. And no matter what the issues are here, and they are serious issues, in terms of dimension, they pale, alongside what's going on, in China.

SMERCONISH: I think we talk a good game. But we don't want to give - we're Louis C.K. in first class.

How's my wireless? One more, if we have time for it.

COSTAS: Nice reference.

SMERCONISH: "No. Follow the ancient tradition and set politics aside during the Games. Cities at war would declare a truce so that their athletes could compete. By the way, how about if we drop some of"--


COSTAS: Leni - Leni Riefenstahl.

SMERCONISH: Yes, thanks for the pronunciation.

COSTAS: "Triumph of the Will."

SMERCONISH: Yes, of course.

COSTAS: Hitler's documentarian.

SMERCONISH: Yes, yes. Your reaction to this comment? This is pretty deep-thinking.

COSTAS: "Olympia" was the other movie, the Aryan - the Aryan glory, on the--


SMERCONISH: So, wrap it up. What's the takeaway? The takeaway from Bob Costas?

COSTAS: I tend to agree with this person on Twitter, which is yes, in effect, call an Olympic Truce. We know what--

SMERCONISH: I'm for that.

COSTAS: We know what the subplots are.


COSTAS: I'll also say this very quickly. This is very treacherous terrain, or at least tricky terrain, for NBC. They have a small army of people there, or will. And those who run the network, have to be concerned, with their safety, and wellbeing.

We have no idea what the Chinese might do. It might begin with cutting the feed, if they're displeased. It also could begin with making life difficult, for anyone, up and down the ladder, of the NBC hierarchy.

SMERCONISH: It just feels half-assed to me. Either, they're deserving of the boycott, and the athletes don't go. Or don't even play this card.

Anyway. You know, I love having you here.

COSTAS: I love being here.

SMERCONISH: Make sure you go vote at, on this survey question, OK?

COSTAS: You know, I live on the internet, Michael!

SMERCONISH: Reach out, continue to reach out, via social media. And I'll report back as to what you're saying, as the program progresses.

Ahead, controversy over, listen to this Bob, over a--


SMERCONISH: --restaurant denying service, to three people, who sat down with weapons. That sounds reasonable.

COSTAS: But they were - but they were cops.



SMERCONISH: But they were cops.

COSTAS: Yes. On-duty.

SMERCONISH: So, they were cops. On-duty!

COSTAS: In uniform.

SMERCONISH: And they say, "Hey, you know, you're not welcome here."

So, I'm about to get into that now, with the Chief of Police, from San Francisco.

COSTAS: And I'll leave you with this.


COSTAS: I'm going to quote Bill Maher.


COSTAS: "When your position sounds like it could be an "Onion" headline, you've gone too far to Woke-Ville."

SMERCONISH: We'll be back in a moment.



SMERCONISH: So, a trendy San Francisco restaurant, closed tonight, after backlash, for refusing service, to three on-duty police officers. It wasn't the badges that bothered the staff, but the guns.

This happened at a brunch spot. It's called Hilda and Jesse. The officers sat down, but were asked to leave, when the owners say, their crew got uncomfortable, seeing the service weapons.


RACHEL SILLCOCKS, RESTAURANT CO-OWNER: It's not about the fact that we are anti-police. It is about the fact that we do not allow weapons in our restaurant. We were uncomfortable. And so, we politely asked them to leave.


SMERCONISH: The outrage led to a wave of negative reviews on Yelp. The owners are now apologizing. They're calling it "A teachable moment, for us, as we repair and continue to build bridges with the SFPD."

The City's Police Chief is here tonight, William Scott, Spoke with the owners, by phone, today.

Chief, welcome. What did they say?

CHIEF WILLIAM SCOTT, SAN FRANCISCO POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, thank you, Michael, for having me on.

Well, first and foremost, they apologized, for what happened, and said that it was a mistake.

SMERCONISH: How did your officers handle this?

SCOTT: Well, our officers are professional. And look, this is upsetting. This is definitely - was a disappointment, when this happened.

It was a disappointment to all of us, who wear uniform, I believe. And - but they were professional. And that's the type of department that we are and that we want to be. We understand that not everybody agrees with us, sometimes, and not everybody likes us. But we maintain our professionalism.

And we've been working very hard, to protect and serve our city. And we've been working very hard, on improving our department. And I think our officers, who have put in, all of that work, they need support.

SMERCONISH: Yes. Tough--

SCOTT: And what was disappointing about this is--

SMERCONISH: It's a tough--

SCOTT: Go ahead.

SMERCONISH: Tough time to be in law enforcement. And may I say, in your particular city, based on what I read, in the newspaper, based on what I see, in terms of the apparent attitude, of the district attorney, in your parts, I mean, I'd hate to be a person in uniform right now.

SCOTT: Well, we have to stay focused on our jobs, what we can control, treating people, with receipts - with respect, being professional.

And look, not to say, you know, we're all humans. We wear uniforms, and we're all humans. And we get things done to us, and said to us that are hurtful. But we have to rise above, and be professional. And that's what these officers did.

I'm so proud of the work that we have done. A lot of what's been portrayed in our city is a narrative that really is not our city.

SMERCONISH: So, you said--

SCOTT: This department works hard. We--

SMERCONISH: Chief, you said that the owners apologized today. Are you accepting of the apology?

And what do you want for that business? Because, as reprehensible, as I think, it was, for them, to have asked, your officers, to leave, I don't want them wiped out, as a result. Lesson learned, right?

SCOTT: Correct. And, on behalf of the department, yes, I accepted their apology. Look, I mean, one of the things that we have to do, and this was said by the owners of the restaurant, is we have to sit down and have conversations. That's what we do in this city.

We know that there are sometimes opposite sides of conversations, about police officers and policing. But we sit down. We have conversations. And we can agree to disagree. But there has to be some civility in this process. And time is a healer. And people were upset about this, and rightfully so.


SCOTT: But time is a healer. And we're willing to have, as a department, sit down and talk to anybody, who's willing to sit down and talk to us.

SMERCONISH: Well, I applaud your attitude. Chief, thank you so much for being here.

SCOTT: Thank you. Thanks for having me.


SCOTT: Next, we'll turn to a triumph, in college sports, overshadowed by backlash. A champion swimmer, set to make history, but because she's transgender, she faces the same criticism, others, like her, now have dealt with, for years.


A transgender sports pioneer, is here, to walk us through what critics might be missing, and the questions that remain, even in 2021. That's next.


SMERCONISH: A remarkable college swimmer, named Lia Thomas, making national headlines. And it's not just because she won three events, smashed three school records, and two Ivy League records, in one weekend, one race, notably, by a 38-second margin.

But anger stems from the fact that she's a transgender athlete. These headlines speak for themselves. The Editorial Board of the "New York Post" claims, quote, "Dominating in women's sports as a trans athlete is fundamentally selfish."

The same sentiment is echoed in numerous bills and legislative efforts, across 31 different states, attempting to restrict Trans youth, from participating in sports.

I want to bring in Veronica Ivy, a Trans woman athlete, and two-times Masters Track-Cycling World Champion.


Veronica, thank you so much, for being here. You are both an athlete, and you teach sports and Trans ethics. Can we be fair and inclusionary, at the same time?

VERONICA IVY, FIRST OPENLY TRANSGENDER WORLD TRACK-CYCLING CHAMPION, ATHLETE RIGHTS EXPERT: Oh, yes. I think that the idea that fairness and inclusion, are somehow in tension with each other, is a fundamental misunderstanding. Fairness demands inclusion. So, we have to start from a place of inclusion.

And when I think about these sorts of headlines about, like, "Dominating," those sorts of headlines have been used against me, for example, even though I lose most of my races. And the fact is that we don't use those headlines for male athletes.

So, if we want to talk about swimming, for example, I'll talk about a swimmer, who has 28 Olympic gold medals, or sorry, 23 Olympic gold medals, eight gold medals in a single Games, 39 World Records, 20 Guinness World Records. And for four Olympics in a row, he was the most decorated athlete, in the Games. Period.

And of course, that's Michael Phelps. So, Phelps truly actually dominated, at the highest level, and we celebrate people like Phelps. But we--

SMERCONISH: But do you not concede any advantage held by Lia Thomas? I mean, the margin of those victories are pretty astounding, right?

IVY: No, they were very long races, where those sorts of margins happen. And let's remember, she broke her own school's record.

She didn't set records for the NCAA. She set an Ivy League record, which is itself a subset of U.S. colleges. So, she didn't set an NCAA record. So, why are we so afraid of a Trans athlete doing well?

SMERCONISH: Why do these controversies seem to stem from competition, involving transgender women, but not transgender men? Is there anything to be read into that?

IVY: Yes, it's real simple sexism. So, it is basically that. People do not view--

SMERCONISH: Well no, but I'm asking the question of where - where in reverse, are the transgender athletes, who are breaking records, and winning races?

IVY: Oh, you mean, where are the Trans men?


IVY: So, the most commercially-successful Trans athlete, in the world, is a man. It's Chris Mosier. He had a - he's a Nike-sponsored athlete. He had, during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, a prime time ad by Nike.

There was of course the wrestler Mack Beggs, in Texas that he was forced to compete, in the girls' competition, as a Trans boy, and won, against everyone's wishes, because states like Texas do not let Trans athletes compete in the gender that they really are.

So, Trans male athletes are absolutely out there. So, why is the focus only on Trans women? Well, it's misogyny. It's sexism.

SMERCONISH: Veronica, I wish we had more time. It's nice to see you again. To be continued, as they say.

IVY: Yes, you too.

SMERCONISH: We'll be right back.



SMERCONISH: Today marks 80 years, since the infamous surprise attack, on Pearl Harbor, a day that would change the course of our nation's history. Just as the strength of our democracy was tested then, we find ourselves, yet again, in a different but just as dangerous war, on truth, and democracy, and science.

CNN's John Avlon is here with a Reality Check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: 80 years ago, today, Pearl Harbor was attacked, dragging America into the Second World War.

It remains a date, which lives in infamy, as FDR said, but it followed more than a decade of Depression, in which democracy seemed to be in retreat, against authoritarian regimes. By comparison, we have it easy.

But democracies are, again, suffering from self-doubt, as authoritarians seem on the march.

Over the past six years, America has endured sustained assaults, on truth, democracy, and science, leading to reduce trust, in our institutions, and each other. And those breaches don't heal overnight, has a downstream effect, tainting the rising generation, with a sense of pessimism.

And perhaps the most, stark snapshot of that came from a new poll of young people, aged 18 to 29, conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics. It shows that a majority believe that our democracy is at risk.

And who could blame them, after seeing a president lie, about election results, incite an insurrection, and then see one party, follow him, into La La Land?

But the very nature of the "Big lie" means there's a partisan divide. Get this. While 44 percent of Democrats say our democracy is healthy, or at least somewhat functioning, only 23 percent of Republicans feel that way.

But there are other partisan divides that speak to the trust deficits, facing both parties. For example, Democrats have a problem, when it comes to patriotism, or at least perceptions of American exceptionalism.

Just 21 percent of Democrats surveyed agreed with the statement that America is the greatest country in the world, while 64 percent believe that there are other nations, as great, or greater, than America. And among Republicans, those ratios were nearly reversed, with 62 percent saying that America is the greatest. But when it comes to the science of confronting climate crisis, Republicans are clearly on the back-foot, when it comes to young Americans.

A solid 55 percent say that the federal government is not doing enough, to combat climate change, which include 68 percent of folks, with a college degree, and 50 percent without.

A small slice just 14 percent think the Feds are doing too much, which lines up with the do-nothing climate change denial of Donald Trump.

While President Joe Biden's popularity has dipped, from 59 percent overall, in 2020, to 46 percent, today, he is still far more popular, among young people, than Trump ever was.

And the ex-president's approval is double underwater, with 63 percent unfavorable, and just 30 percent favorable ratings.


Interestingly, for all our dysfunctional partisan divides, there's a glimmer of hope here, or at least a demand for something different.

Get this. By a two to one margin, 43 percent to 21 percent young Americans say they'd rather have elected officials compromise, and meet in the middle, even at the expense of their own preferred policy positions. They sound more mature than most folks in Congress.

But their idealism is tempered by a deep pessimism, as they look at all our societal divides. The poll asked young Americans to put a percentage on the chance that the United States would see a second Civil War in their lifetimes.

And while these sorts of dramatic "What if" questions should be taken with a pound assault, it's still not reassuring, to see 35 percent, of all respondents, place the likelihood of a second Civil War at 50 percent, or higher, in their lifetime.

And behind all these hard numbers, there's an even harder psychological impact. The survey found that 51 percent folks say they felt down, hopeless or depressed, over the past two weeks, while 25 percent said they had thoughts they might be better off dead, or hurting themselves, in some way, with young women, particularly feeling that way.

If you're feeling depressed, don't be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone.

But also remember that we are made from sturdy stuff. The so-called Greatest Generation suffered through the Great Depression and World War. They were great because they overcame great obstacles, and found that they didn't have to be perfect, to be heroes.

For all our very real challenges, the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor is a reminder that we have been through far worse. That attack caught America by surprise. But within a few years, the world found out that a diverse democracy has strengths that authoritarian regimes just can't match, when we work together, with a sense of urgency, toward a common goal.

And that's your Reality Check.

SMERCONISH: John, I'm so glad that you referenced Pearl Harbor, in the way that you did, on the 80th anniversary. Because, it makes me nervous. Too few talked about it today. Luckily, you did. Anderson did, just before my program began tonight.

We just marked the 20th anniversary of September 11. And I get nervous that 60 years from now, not enough people will be talking about that important milestone.

So, that was really good stuff, on a variety of levels.

AVLON: Well, thank you. That historical amnesia is dangerous. We learn from history to be a guide, and to give us perspective, on our own problems, and to give us some courage. That's what we need right now.

SMERCONISH: John Avlon, thank you.


SMERCONISH: We'll be right back, with your reactions, to tonight's program.



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to tonight's survey question at

It was an affirmative statement. And I wanted to know, did you agree or disagree with this? "The U.S. should implement a full boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Agree or disagree?"

Here's the result. We had more than 8,000 votes tabulated. Ooh, interesting! Nearly, let's call it two-thirds disagree. Disagree with the proposition that we should have a full-on boycott.

I talked with Bob Costas, about this, earlier tonight. He thinks that the athletes would be punished, if it were a full-on boycott. I agree with that.

But I don't like the half measure of diplomatic protest. As I said, I mean, Tony Blinken doesn't go. Does that really take notice? We're either all-in, or we're all-out, is what I'm trying to say, on that issue. And I don't like the half measure that was adopted by the Biden administration.

Here's some other reaction that came in during the course of the program. I love that you tweet at me, while I'm speaking.

"Happy that we have a president who is not afraid to take action against Russia. I say hit them where it hurts, right in the wallet. Stop the pipeline, seize their foreign assets, whatever it takes. Ukraine has a right to its sovereignty."

Does that - "2020 was decided by women!??" OK, I like your handle. Does that include the commitment of American troops, if it comes to that?

I appreciated having Admiral Stavridis, formerly, the Supreme Allied Commander for NATO. And I said to him, "What are the dynamics for the United States, of Ukraine joining NATO?"

Because think about that. Now, all of a sudden, it's a domino process. Ukraine desperately wants to be in NATO, at least under President Zelensky. But once they're in, we're on the hook, for whatever military obligation, may come their way. Think about that.

What would be the sentiment of Americans, if all of a sudden, our men and women had to go over, and fight for Ukraine? I'm raising the question, and that's part of my ancestry.

Here's another one that came in from social media. What do we have?

"Smerconish. Many people wonder if Russia would call the U.S. if we started massing troops on the border with Mexico?"

Good news is we are not going to do that, at any time soon. Nor are we going to do it on our Northern Tier.

One more, if we've got time for it. And I think that we do.

"Screw the Olympics. The IOC is about as trustworthy and has as much (zero) integrity as FIFA. But let's allow its existence to inflame tensions. Just don't watch that crap."

Well, the IOC - how about the NBA? I mean, that's the acronym, I think - probably NBA players, think LeBron and others, I'm sure, are holding their breath, just watching how this all plays out.

Because, if in fact, we're going to have some type of a diplomatic protest, against the Olympics, what does that say to the NBA, as they're trying to expand their market share in China?

One more, because I think I do have time. I love this part of it. You know, I don't see these in advance. And you're saying to yourself, "Yes, we know, because your responses are so weak."

"I'm a solid No, on boycott. Even putting aside the athletes, the Olympics are an avenue for better relations, as is the U.N. I'm reminded of Samantha Smith, and that even small openings might be leveraged to better relations."

That's my approach as well, either all-in or all-out, but probably all-out.

And why the Olympics? Every couple of years, all of the attention, of whatever international strife might exist, gets heaped on the Olympics. That doesn't seem fair to the athletes. Figure out another avenue, to get that done.

Thank you so much for watching. I'll be back here, tomorrow night. "DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.

Hey Don?