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NBA Coach Calls Out Lawmakers Over Lack Of Gun Control Measures; Whitmer: Judge's Ruling To Halt Abortion Pill Is "Appalling"; TN Democrat Reinstated After GOP's Expulsion Over Gun Protest. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired April 10, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: I'm John Berman. You can see me, tomorrow morning, on "CNN NEWS CENTRAL."
The news continues now. CNN PRIMETIME with Kaitlan Collins.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, Representative reinstated. Protests engulfed the Tennessee Capitol, in support of expelled lawmakers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justin Jones has been elected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the Nashville City Council votes to return one of the legislators to his seat?
JUSTIN JONES, (D) TENNESSEE STATE HOUSE, (D) REINSTATED TO TENNESSEE STATE HOUSE AFTER EXPULSION: The people have spoken.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How will Republicans react?
Plus, sad reality.
JACQUELYN GWINN-VILLAROEL, INTERIM CHIEF OF THE LOUISVILLE METRO POLICE DEPARTMENT: This should not continue to happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just two weeks after the school massacre in Nashville, another mass shooting, this time, in Louisville.
GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): I have a very close friend that didn't make it today. So, when we talk about praying, I hope people will.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will anything change?
And abortion fight. The Justice Department looks to halt a Texas judge's ruling, banning an FDA-approved abortion medication.
XAVIER BECERRA, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We have to go to court. And we have to prevail in this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As both parties double down.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I believe that the Biden administration should ignore this ruling.
REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): That may be a come a point, where House Republicans have to defund FDA program.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN PRIMETIME starts now.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST, CNN PRIMETIME: Good evening. I'm Kaitlan Collins, on another day of mass bloodshed, here in America. This time, a gunman, opening fire, inside a Louisville bank, killing four people, and injuring nine others. We have much more on that in a moment.
But there are also major breaking headlines, coming out, in the uproar, over the highly political expulsions, of two state lawmakers, who are fighting to stop gun violence, in this country, and in their home state. New mass protests, breaking out, today.
And tonight, one of those Democrats has his seat again. Justin Jones has been sworn in, once again, returning his nameplate, to his desk, in the State House, just a few moments ago. But the big question, tonight, is for how long?
This political drama all started, on Thursday, when Jones and Justin Pearson, both of whom are Black, were ousted, from their seats, by Republicans.
A third lawmaker, who is a White woman, narrowly survived her expulsion vote.
GOP lawmakers alleged that they broke decorum rules, by leading a gun control protest, on the House floor, following last month's school massacre, in Nashville. But the City's Metropolitan Council had a special meeting, earlier, and voted unanimously, to send Jones, back to his seat.
This was his reaction after that vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J. JONES: Today, we send a clear message, to Speaker, Cameron Sexton that the people will not allow his crimes against democracy, to happen, without challenge.
People have spoken.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yay!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Now, the reason we asked for how long is because Jones is only reinstated, on an interim basis, to fill his own vacant seat, until a special election is held, later this year. Throngs of protesters demonstrated, outside the Capitol building, in Nashville, tonight, in support of him.
As for his colleague, Justin Pearson, there will be a vote, on Wednesday, by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, in Memphis, to consider reappointing him.
He stood at his colleague's side, in solidarity, earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTIN PEARSON, (D) EXPELLED TENNESSEE STATE REP: To anyone, who has doubted the South, anyone who's doubted the power of Tennesseans, to advocate for an end to gun violence, anybody who's doubted the movement, to end assault weapons ban, anybody who's doubted the movement?
PEARSON: Here's your answer. The Movement still lives!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Now, we should note, we have asked Justin Jones, to join us. He will be joining us, later tonight.
But now, I want to go to CNN's Ryan Young, who is live, in Nashville
And Ryan, you were there, today. You were outside, as all these protesters were there, outside the Capitol building. Tell us what you heard from them, and what you heard, from this lawmaker, as he was coming out, now that he has been reinstated.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well think about this. Both of these men understood the gravity of the moment, today, especially after what happened, in Louisville. They were hit by that very strongly.
I got to talk to both men, who kept saying, over and over, "This should be about gun control." Yes, they're glad the focus is on what's going on, in this State. But they really wanted to focus, on how the steps, in all these states, could move this conversation forward.
So, outside the Capitol, we got a chance to talk to them.
But it was the tense moments, beforehand, before that vote happened, where you can feel the energy, in the room. Thousands of people did show up, not only to march with them, from the City Hall, to the State Capitol. But in that moment, where that vote happened, inside City Council, you could feel a lot of relief.
And in fact, take a watch at what happened, and look at Justin Jones' reaction, to finding out that he'd be going back, to the State House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(AUDIENCE CHEERS & APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congrats, baby (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YOUNG: So, you can see there's that pure joy. And there was a lot of hugs, and there was a lot of prayers. And then, we marched to the Capitol. And they wanted to go by John Lewis Street and Dr. King Street.
And on the steps, don't think I've ever seen anything like this, on the steps, you had someone basically get sworn back in, to get his seat back. And you can feel the joy, from the people, who were in that crowd, who wanted to make sure their voices were heard.
And Justin Pearson, joined Justin Jones. And they were holding hands together. And they kept saying, "Let's keep this March going."
They needed to finally walk back, into the State Capitol. We followed along with that as well.
Look at this picture, from the gallery, of Justin Pearson, who hasn't been put back into his seat just yet, raising his fist, in solidarity, with the young brother, who was back in his seat, down on the floor. It was an amazing sight to see. You don't see this play out in American politics, quite the way we've seen it in the last week and a half.
COLLINS: Yes. It was remarkable, to see that.
And the moment, where you saw him going, putting his nameplate, back, at his desk. He was taking selfies, in the same place where he was just expelled, last week.
Ryan Young, thank you, for being there, on the ground, in Nashville.
COLLINS: Also, here at the desk, with me, I want to bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz; Audie Cornish, who is CNN's host of "The Assignment" podcast; Margaret Hoover, our CNN Political Commentator, and host of PBS' "Firing Line." And of course, Bomani Jones, host of "Game Theory with Bomani Jones" on HBO.
Thank you all, for being here tonight.
Audie, you spent a lot of time, in Nashville. You used to be the Bureau Chief there, for NPR.
What do you make of watching how we saw this progress, from last Thursday, in that dramatic fashion, of these expulsions, to tonight, him being reinstated, even temporarily, to his seat?
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN HOST, THE ASSIGNMENT WITH AUDIE CORNISH PODCAST: I mean, it's a flashpoint, for a national audience. But if you're in the South, you've seen this building, for a long time, even for just kind of the Nashville, Memphis, Tennessee politics.
And just for context, obviously Tennessee was the home of Al Gore and Bill Frist.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, HOST, "PBS FIRING LINE": Yes.
CORNISH: And people who were considered kind of a moderating voices, in the party.
And now, it's the party of Marsha Blackburn.
So, the politics have changed, radically, since the Barack Obama administration.
And, over the last couple of months, with the Republican supermajority, they have systematically taken some shots, at the capital city.
And by that I mean, they've split up the congressional district, and spread it out, over more Republican-leaning districts. They've also taken one of its legislative bodies, for the city, and created a state law that only applies to Nashville, cutting in half that body from 40 to 20 people.
These sound like minor things. But, over time, it has built, what we're seeing now, a kind of progressive awakening, or backlash, to what many may be perceiving as an overreach, by this Republican-led State House.
COLLINS: And Margaret, what do you think? I mean, now that he's back there, he's going to be interacting with - these are his Republican colleagues. They're working, alongside him, the very members, who just voted to expel him, last Thursday.
HOOVER: No, it can't be comfortable for anyone.
But I think you bring up a really strong point, about what's happened to the Republican Party, in some of these states that are Red states, in the last decade and a half, where supermajorities have been forged. The overwhelming majority of those Republicans, in that State House, don't even have an opponent, let alone a primary. I mean, they just run unopposed, every two years.
You have a party that has gotten increasingly extreme. And that party doesn't respect the basic bargaining and accommodation that is endeavoring - that is absolutely required, of a legislative body. Instead, it has decided to cancel the views of those it disagrees with.
Who's for cancel culture now! It's the Republicans, in the supermajority, of the Tennessee State House.
HOOVER: All right? So, this is, I mean, it you have an increasing extremism, in the right, that all flows, from the Trump years.
COLLINS: Right. And you just see how powerful this supermajority really is.
But, I think, Shimon, what's important to remember is what's at the heart of all of this, is that it was that shooting, at the Covenant school. That is why they led this protest, on the House floor. They talked about the importance of that.
And now, today, we've seen another shooting, another mass shooting, happening, in Louisville, this bank, that has killed several people, including you saw how emotional the Governor was, talking about how he knew them that this is the bank he used, when he was running for office.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And the person that was killed helped him with his law practice.
So, there was a lot of emotion there, today. Certainly, what we saw in Louisville, something we don't normally see, from our politicians, in such a emotional way. Also, the Mayor, talking, about his relationship, to some of the people there.
Look, the more this is happening, the more this is going to directly affect politicians, who are going to come before microphones, and say, "Prayers and" - but the bottom line is something needs to happen.
Even Tennessee, you look at Memphis, the gun violence there, it's just horrific. And so, some of these folks, in Tennessee, who are coming forward, and asking for change, they are lines (ph) of this violence.
And today, we saw it in Louisville. And it's a major problem, where someone was able to get their hands on this assault rifle, walk into a conference room, with his co-workers, and just kill people.
And of course, there are a lot of questions, we don't know yet, in terms of exactly what happened, what led up to this. But clearly, there was something going on, in this individual's life. And we need to figure out how it is that this person was just able to get their hands on this gun.
COLLINS: And that's such an important point you make about Memphis, is it's not just what's happening in school shootings, or mass shooting, at a bank. It's also everyday violence.
PROKUPECZ: I was in Memphis, right?
PROKUPECZ: And the gun violence there is horrific, right? It's there are shootings, several shootings, a day.
And so, these families that are coming forward, and are taking to the State Capitol, they know, it's not just these mass shootings. Yes, of course, they're horrific, and they're happening more and more every day. But it's just the everyday gun violence, also, that's going on, all across this country.
CORNISH: But that also reflects a shift in politics, especially with Gen Z.
After Parkland, those kids, really stepped up, in terms of making a bigger tent, around the, conversation, of gun violence. What might have felt politically as a conversation, about mass shootings, "This is singular, it's somehow rare," they started to fold all the victims of gun violence, into that conversation.
And Justin Jones is a great example, of the kind of politician that has come out of that era, and out of what is becoming a new tradition.
And to be clear, Justin Jones also was mimicking one of his heroes, John Lewis, who people are forgetting, after the Pulse shooting, Pulse nightclub shooting, he sat down, on the floor, of the House of Representatives, and staged a protest, with a lot of other lawmakers. He wasn't expelled, right? Like the action that was taken, in Tennessee kind of was rightly exposed as an overstep.
But I just want to put him in context with the people that he looked up to, including John Lewis, including Diane Nash. She was a famous civil rights leader, from Nashville, and went to Fisk University, where he went to as well.
CORNISH: So, I don't want to make it look like these guys just kind of sprung from nowhere, and now care about this issue.
COLLINS: It's just not--
PROKUPECZ: Right, I agree with, yes.
CORNISH: They're actually part of a little bit of a legacy here.
COLLINS: That's important to note, I think, of the broader context, of what this looks like, what, where it could go potentially.
And, you noted, lawmakers, in Washington, how they're dealing with this.
It's not just lawmakers, I mean, what - the Coach Popovich, was, at a press conference, talking about the game, he got to the end of it, and unprompted, made these remarks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREGG POPOVICH, HEAD COACH, SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Senator Marsha Blackburn, her comment after it was - after the massacre: "My office is in contact with federal, state, and local officials, and we stand ready to assist."
In what? They're dead!
Is it freedom for kids to go to school and try to socialize, and try to learn, and be scared to death that they might die that day? But Ted Cruz will fix it because he's going to double the number of cops in the schools.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOMANI JONES, HOST, "GAME THEORY WITH BOMANI JONES" ON HBO: What's interesting about Popovich is he's been doing this for years. I do find though, that when his teams were better, his words landed, with a lot more impact, right?
B. JONES: It's kind of a cold statement, about American life.
B. JONES: And how this goes.
I think there's an irony in all of this, though, that's lost, which is the idea that somebody could have a seat, in a legislative body, and would have to go outside the Capitol, in order to make enough noise, because of what's happening with the State Houses. Like, I know, John Oliver did something, many years, ago about this.
But nationwide, what State Houses have been able to do, in terms of changing their composition, and making it borderline impossible, for any minority group to have any role whatsoever, in what goes on, particularly in these Southern states, is how you get to a point, where you are kicked out of the State House, because you protested outside.
And I saw somebody, on Twitter, make the point, "Will you and government do something?" But it can't, right?
B. JONES: And I think that's something that cannot be lost. And this is the overall structural issues that lead to this place.
There's also a racialized irony that gun control pops up in this country, largely because people wanted to make sure that Black people didn't get guns. Except, in the South, it's so many Black people that White people want to have guns, just in case the Black people wind up getting them, right?
B. JONES: Like, we just wind up in this whole swirl of everything that doesn't make sense. But in the end, we have decided that the gun is such an important symbolic piece, in our society, that making a legitimate change, to do something about it, is probably not going to happen.
And I don't know. Like, I think, we're probably having these conversations, on television, in fervency, for, like 15 years now.
B. JONES: And it's the same conversation every single time.
HOOVER: Yes. I totally agree with your point about irony, and all the stuff.
I do think the gears of democracy also grind slowly. And we have seen, in some ways, the same NRA talking points, for 30 years.
But one thing that's changed, in the last 15 years, is that the families, and the children, and the high school kids, from Parkland to Newtown? They have started mobilizing. They have real money behind them.
There is a legitimate grassroots, widespread national gun reform movement that is smart, political, organized, doing polling, well- funded. And it takes time. It's been 15 years.
But they have more and more power, and federal legislation, sponsored by none other than John Cornyn and Chris Murphy, which nobody said was enough, and nobody believes is good enough, to stop the next one, as we've seen. But it was a start. And that was unthinkable 15 years ago. So--
COLLINS: But now the point is--
HOOVER: --it's not enough to save any lives.
CORNISH: Yes. But Cornyn is saying--
HOOVER: In the moment. But if it's step--
COLLINS: Cornyn is saying that they've basically run out of a runway, in Congress, of where to go next, after what happened, in Nashville.
COLLINS: And I think the other thing, Popovich said today, which he raised this controversial idea of showing photos of classrooms, after a school shooting, is so--
COLLINS: --likening it basically to the Napalm photo, in Vietnam--
COLLINS: --asking if that would change. PROKUPECZ: I mean, to talk about, I've seen a lot of - I spent the year, covering Uvalde, now. And the video I have seen, photos I have seen, the injuries that I have seen, are horrific, right? I mean bullets that riddle children's bodies, and what it does to just any human being, but especially a child? I don't know. You think maybe that will make a difference. But I don't know, you know?
And you talk about law enforcement. Today's actions, by law enforcement, there, in Louisville, are remarkable. You have an officer, who's just on the street, for 10 days, 26-years-old, walks into this bank, and saves lives, but almost lost his own life. He gets shot, in the head. And these are the officers that are on the frontlines, all across this country, now, trying to stop this gun violence.
COLLINS: And you have news that we've just learned about--
PROKUPECZ: Yes. Sadly, we are--
COLLINS: --we were told.
PROKUPECZ: Yes. So Kaitlan, we're now getting word that a fifth person, sadly, has died, in the Louisville shooting. It's a 57-year- old woman. Her name is Deanna Eckert. So, another person. We know that there were several, who were in critical condition. And it looks like, sadly tonight, another person has died.
COLLINS: Yes. And we're thinking of her - her family and everyone there.
COLLINS: I mean, obviously, this is just so horrific.
Shimon, thank you for that update though.
Standby everyone. We do have more big news that we are following tonight, especially when it comes to another big story, today, which comes. The Justice Department is now taking action, to unblock access, to a key abortion pill, after a Texas judge's controversial ruling. It's the most dramatic legal battle, over abortion, since Roe versus Wade was overturned, last summer.
The big question tonight is, is this case going to the Supreme Court? We asked Governor Gretchen Whitmer about this. We'll tell you what she said, when we return.
COLLINS: Tonight, all eyes are on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, because the Justice Department has asked them, to freeze a Texas judge's ruling that would halt access, to a popular abortion pill.
That ruling, from U.S. District Judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, came down, on Friday night. It suspended the FDA's 23-year-old approval, of the abortion drug Mifepristone. Without a freeze, that ruling would go into effect, Friday, this Friday, at midnight.
The ruling, of course, has drawn outrage, from abortion rights advocates, including our next guest, Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer. She is one of the most outspoken Democratic leaders, on this issue.
I was there, on day one, of her second term, in East Lansing, Michigan, speaking to her, and the women, in her family, as you can see here, her sister, and her daughters, and about protecting abortion access, and what it has meant, to them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: I wonder if you think that your race is a blueprint, for Democrats, in 2024, and just going forward, generally.
GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): I do think that what happened in Michigan, there is - there are a lot of takeaways.
First, we had fairly-drawn districts, for the first time, in decades.
Second, we had reproductive rights, on the ballot. And that really animated a lot of voters.
We also spoke truth then, and lived our values. We're unapologetic about it. We talked about abortion, in the most personal terms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: And Governor Gretchen Whitmer joins us now.
Governor, thank you so much, for being here, tonight.
What's your response to what you're seeing play out, with this abortion fight, nationwide? And do you think a judge, in Texas, should be able to say that a drug, from the FDA, has been determined invalid?
WHITMER: I think it's appalling. It's just another example, of why we have to continue to fight, for rights that we thought were settled 50 years ago.
We have a right-wing extremist group that cherry-picked a judge, who was extreme, on their views, who has just upended decades, decades of medical efficacy, and safety, women's health. I mean, it's really stunning.
And yet, it's a sober reminder, of how important it is, to stay engaged here. And when people are willing to subvert the will of the people, this kind of - these kind of federal - fundamental rights can be ripped away, at a heartbeat.
COLLINS: Yes. And, of course, you're referencing how they had a 100 percent chance, of getting this judge, to be overseeing this case.
When it comes to the FDA, though, does a decision, like this, undermine the authority that the FDA has, in your view?
WHITMER: I think so. This is the same kind of protocol that tells us all Tylenol is safe, right? I mean, so this really could upend, I think, a lot of settled law, settled policy, access to drugs that people use over-the-counter, every single day, just to deal with arthritis pain. I mean, there's huge potential repercussions, from this.
COLLINS: And given those repercussions, we've heard from some lawmakers, not just Democrats, also Republicans, that they believe that the Biden administration, and the FDA, should ignore this ruling. Do you think that they should ignore this ruling?
WHITMER: Well, we've got two courts that have very different rulings. And so, I do think that there is a lot of confusion, a lot of anxiety.
I also think that you cannot ignore the will of the people. We saw what happened here in Michigan, last fall. We saw what happened in Wisconsin, last week. We saw what happened, in Kansas, last summer. The people of this country expect these fundamental rights, to be sacrosanct, to be available, to future generations of Americans.
And so, I do think that this is a dangerous moment. I've got confidence that we will get through it. But we cannot, for one second, make any assumptions. We've got to continue to roll up our sleeves, and be activated, and use every tool, at our disposal, to protect these fundamental rights.
COLLINS: Does that mean you think the FDA should ignore it? Or do you think that they should follow it, given it's a judicial decision?
WHITMER: Well, there's two judicial decisions, and they're opposites. So, right now, there's a - it's very murky.
I think that Mifepristone should still be available. In fact, we, in Michigan, work with our insurers, to make sure that that is the case. Women in Michigan still have access to Mifepristone. But, I think, in this moment, there's just cause, for a lot of people, to be very nervous, about whether or not that will continue to be the case.
COLLINS: The Justice Department has filed a motion, asking the Court of Appeals, to basically stay this, to have this time, to fight this, and let it play out in the courts.
What are your concerns, if they don't grant that stay, if this ruling does stand?
WHITMER: Well, I think that there are still other avenues, for us, to make sure that medical abortion is still available through, you know - I think there are other - there are other drugs that women currently have access to, in other parts of the world that women here, in the United States, have access to.
It was a two-part medical abortion that was available. And, I think, now, that will still - there will still be options. But this is safe. This is effective. This has been widely used, and relied on. And I think that that's why this is so, I think, anxiety-provoking for us.
COLLINS: Can I also ask you about what we're seeing play out, in, Nashville tonight? Because local officials, there, have unanimously voted to appoint one of those two expelled Democratic lawmakers, from last week, back to his seat. Justin Jones. Do you believe what Republicans did, in that State, last week, was undemocratic, in your view?
WHITMER: I do. And I was very pleased to see that he's been reinstated. And it sounds as though his colleague will be as well. And I think that that makes sense.
You violate the House rules? Well maybe you get - you lose a committee, for a little while.
The fact of the matter is they just deprived all the constituents, in both of those districts, of a voice. People, who were just simply trying to fight for some commonsense gun safety measures.
We saw another mass shooting, today, in Kentucky.
This is a uniquely American problem. And you cannot be tough on crime, if you're not willing to talk about guns. And I am grateful that there are so many people that are willing, to use their voice, and their platform, to speak for people, who are not being listened to, when they're asking for some commonsense gun safety measures.
COLLINS: Yes, the President is calling on Republicans, in Congress, to act, in the wake of what happened, in Kentucky, in a very strongly- worded statement that we saw, at the White House.
But obviously, it seems unlikely that they are going to do anything.
What do you expect? Do you expect anything, any action, to come from Capitol Hill?
WHITMER: I'm not counting on it.
But I can tell you this. They're foolish, if they don't think that the American people are activated, whether it is around abortion rights, or it is about making sure that we've got some commonsense gun safety reforms.
I'm going to be signing background checks, soon. I'm going to be signing a bill to ensure that there's safe storage laws, here in Michigan.
The people are asking for this. And anyone who ignores them, or misrepresents, who they are, and doesn't actually do, what the people are asking for, I think, is foolish, and will ultimately not be successful.
COLLINS: Governor Gretchen Whitmer, thank you so much, for joining us, tonight, and for your time. We were with you, on day one, of your second term. Now, it is day 100. So, we really appreciate your time, tonight.
WHITMER: Thank you, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Up next, a Black Lives Matter protester murdered. Why is the Governor of Texas now seeking to pardon the man convicted before he has even been sentenced?
You'll hear from the District Attorney, in this case, who calls it quote, "Deeply troubling," next.
COLLINS: Tonight, the Texas governor is vowing, to pardon a convicted murderer, before he's even been sentenced.
This case is exposing the conflict, between two bedrock principles, of the modern Republican Party, namely this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): We support the right of every law-abiding American to be able to have a weapon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: And also this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABBOTT: We have God-given rights. And included in those God-given rights is the right to self-defense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: To bring you up to speed, Garrett Foster was killed, as he was legally protesting the death of George Floyd, in 2020. At the time, Foster was legally carrying, an AK-47.
Daniel Perry's attorneys presented a case for self-defense at the trial. Last Friday, a jury found him guilty of murder. The sentencing date for him has not even been set yet.
But already, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott has tweeted his intention to pardoned Perry. In Texas, the Governor can only grant a pardon, after the Board of Pardons and Paroles makes a recommendation. Abbott has requested an expedited review of this case.
I want to note that we invited the Governor, on this show, tonight, or this week, to join us.
Now, we are speaking to the District Attorney, in this case, Jose Garza, who joins us.
And thank you so much for being here. The idea, that, this sentencing date has not even been set yet, and already, the, Governor is moving ahead with this? What's your reaction to that?
JOSE GARZA, TRAVIS COUNTY, TEXAS DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, Kaitlan, my first thought is about the Foster family, about Garrett's parents, and his fiancee. They waited so long, to have their moment, in court. They waited so long, for justice, for their son. And justice, I think, feels so elusive, to them, right now.
But I want them to know that the Travis County District Attorney's office is going to continue to fight for a criminal justice system, where everyone is treated equally, including Garrett Foster.
COLLINS: Have you spoken to the family yet?
GARZA: I have had the opportunity, to visit, with the family, on multiple occasions. I had the opportunity to visit with them, today. I won't speak for them. I think they will have their opportunity, to speak, very soon. But I can only tell you that they're heartbroken, right now.
COLLINS: OK. Good to know that you've spoken to them.
If this pardon goes through, I think, an important part to note is that the Board's members here are appointed by the Governor. He's saying he'll bring it - if it comes to his desk, he'll sign it.
If this pardon does happen, do you think it undermines your office?
GARZA: Well, simply by making this announcement, the Governor has undermined the rule of law, in the State of Texas, and he has made our community less safe.
Every single day, here, in Travis County, we hold people accountable, who commit acts of gun violence. We're going to continue to hold people accountable, who commit acts of gun violence.
And obviously, if the Governor wants to continue to pardon people, who commit acts of gun violence, that's up to him. But there is no doubt, in my mind that it makes our community less safe.
COLLINS: I want to show a moment of something that was said, on Fox News, in the hours before, we heard, from the Governor's office, about what he intended to do.
This is what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a legal atrocity. It's so obviously unjust that tonight we extended an invitation to the sitting Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, to come on this show, on Monday. And we wanted to ask if he was considering a pardon, for Daniel Perry. But for some reason, Governor Greg Abbott's office told us he just can't make it, and that we should talk to the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, instead.
So that is Greg Abbott's position: There is no right of self-defense in Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Do you think criticism like that played a role, in the decision that Governor Abbott has made here?
GARZA: Well, Kaitlan, what makes our criminal justice system just is people. It is the fact that in our democracy, it is the people who have the final word, through their service, on grand juries, through their service on juries.
And what the governor has said today, what he said over the weekend, is that those people don't matter. And it is deeply troubling, that someone like Tucker Carlson may have more power, in the State of Texas, than the people who live here and serve in our community.
COLLINS: District Attorney, Jose Garza, we'll wait for that sentencing date to be set, see what happens there.
Thank you for your time, tonight.
GARZA: Thank you.
COLLINS: Audie, you know the District Attorney. You've spoken with him before.
I wonder what you make of the position that they're in. And the idea that, legal experts are saying, if this pardon goes forward, it does erode the justice system, in Texas?
CORNISH: It's not just that. Garza is one of a handful of so-called progressive prosecutors, who had the support of protesters, in the Black Lives Matter movement. And so, he is very much kind of a part of having a more kind of progressive approach, to public safety.
And what's happening with Abbott is a clash of the politics here, right? The backlash to the BLM Movement is coming in the form of Abbott, and others.
There was a wave of anti-protest legislation that came out of 2020 and 2021, including in the State of Iowa, where they actually created a civil shield law, for people, who harmed a protester, in a protest.
So, there is kind of a movement of people who say, "Get these guys out the streets, get these bums out the streets, we don't want to see this protest." And Abbott is kind of playing to that crowd, with the potential, for this pardon.
And that means people like Jose Garza, who I've talked to, about this, are facing serious political headwinds, for the sort of progressive movement, they believe themselves, to be a part of.
COLLINS: Bill, what do you make of it? I mean, given what Abbott is saying is his defense, about the Stand Your Ground laws, in Texas, and that side of this?
BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Why not let the sentencing play out? It just seems to undermine the deliberations, of 12 jurors, who've spent a long time. They spent several hours, deliberating for, on a unanimous verdict, there.
But it really, at the heart of this, for context, you go back to - there was a guy, named Harlon Carter, who was living, on the border, in Texas, back in the 50s. There was some racial tension, with Mexicans, nearby. He ended up murdering a 15-year-old boy, with a shotgun. Was convicted of murder, but then, released from jail, two years early, because the judge didn't explain to the juror, the proper definition of self-defense, at that time.
Harlon Carter went on to be the head of the NRA, at the time they pivoted, from a club that was for marksmanship, into a political wing that gave their first endorsement, after 100 years, to Ronald Reagan, in 1980.
And now, that's 180 million guns ago, in this country. The political force of that decision, who took the NRA, in a place, to fortify, for a race war, instead of a civic gun safety organization, was a key moment in history. And, I think, you're seeing that play out now.
This is like canonizing, the Kyle Rittenhouses of the world, however you feel about what went down. To undermine just the basic sense of a jury trial, at this moment, and to choose sides, in a gunfight, based on who is protesting what? Boy that's dangerous ground, it feels like!
COLLINS: And it's important to remember what was introduced, at the trial, were his messages that were - that Perry posted that day. One saying, "You know, I might have to kill a few people on my way to work. They're riding outside my apartment complex. I might go to Dallas to shoot looters." These are the words that prosecutors used against him, in this trial.
B. JONES: Yes, but, I mean, there's so many absurd things about this. One of them, to me, that really jumps out is that Abbott's point is that the Stand Your Ground laws, in Texas, are so strong, which I feel like undercuts his logic. Yes, they're so strong. And the dude still got convicted!
And I am a Texan. And I'm here to tell you, we're really understanding, when you shoot somebody, we will give you every benefit of the doubt--
B. JONES: --that maybe you had a reason to do this. And 12 people still unanimously said, "No, this isn't enough." So, with the strength of those laws, the person still got convicted. That's a huge part that really throws me, when we see how this all went down.
But I think what Audie's saying is very important. The idea that you can shoot somebody, just because they're protesting, seems to be something that they want to go with.
There's also, again, to get into the irony of this, the man, who got shot, was carrying an AK-47, and the idea was that the shooter was scared of him, thereby he shot him. First of all, the idea that "I'm scared, therefore I can shoot" itself illegally (ph), we really got to find a way to get to the bottom of because being scared isn't a good enough reason, to shoot somebody.
But if the AK-47 means, by definition, it is scary to somebody, and then they can shoot you? It would then raise the question about whether you should be able to have the AK-47. But we're not going to do that either. Because, again, Texas!
B. JONES: So, it all comes again, in this jumble that doesn't make any sense. It feels very much like Abbott watched Tucker Carlson, or somebody watched and gave him a call--
B. JONES: --and said, "Hey, Tucker, talking about you!"
"Oh, well, I guess we need to at least act like we're going to do something about this."
So, all of this is done and, I guess, for larger like national-type stuff, because in Texas, the right of Texans, to shoot people, will never, ever be infringed upon. Period.
COLLINS: Well, and we've seen how even Governor Abbott has changed the gun laws, since all of this happened. We'll see what happens when that sentencing date does come down.
Ahead, former President Trump has some advice, maybe not well- intentioned, for his biggest potential primary threat, Florida governor, Ron DeSantis.
And a potential Democratic contender, in 2024, is also weighing in.
Plus, we're going to try to figure out President Biden's messaging, on 2024, after he said this earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well I plan on running, Al, but we're not prepared to announce it yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: All right, in tonight's trend, it is clear we have entered the advice stage, of the 2024 race. Some advice, well-meaning. Other advice, cynical.
Take for instance, Florida governor, Ron DeSantis. He is clearly a potential contender, for the Republican nomination.
But here's what California Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, obviously, who has a motive, and does not have the same views, as DeSantis, on whether or not he believes his fellow governor should throw his hat in the ring.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): He's going to get rolled by Trump. Trump's just going to roll him. Thumped.
I honestly - if I were offering him political advice, I'd tell him to pack up and wait a few years, and actually do some of the hard work, which actually includes governing, not just identity and cultural work.
Come back as a more seasoned and capable leader, with a little humility, which by the way, he can use.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: In a strange and rare moment, Gavin Newsom is agreeing, with former President Trump, or former President Trump is agreeing with Gavin Newsom.
Today, on Truth Social, Trump used some of those adjectives, to tell DeSantis that he believes essentially he should wait, calling him a young man, and suggesting that if he runs in 2024, he is going to wreck his chances, for maybe being president, in the future, saying good things come to those who wait.
That's the advice from Chris Christie, however, that it should be any Republican, but Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I think Donald Trump is the only Republican he can beat. I don't think he could beat any other Republican, who could get nominated. And - but the economy will still be the thing that will determine this. And I think we have more bumps coming to us ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Our panel is back with me, now.
Margaret, what do you make of what Chris Christie had to say, his advice?
HOOVER: I am not sure I even followed it. I mean, Chris Christie, I think, is trying to get into the race himself.
COLLINS: He's still considering, I think.
HOOVER: So - yes, so.
COLLINS: Noticing his travels that he's been making.
HOOVER: But look, I rarely agree with Gavin Newsom. I do think he's right.
Look, if you even look at the last week, what's happened in the polling, with DeSantis, who was eight points below Trump, and is now 26 points below Trump, in the latest Yahoo News poll? I mean, Trump has this ability, to solidify the base, of the Republican Party, and no one competes with him.
Ron DeSantis has plenty of time. He's not even 45. Why would you do that to yourself, put yourself through that meat grinder, if you want to have a future for the Republican Party? It's just sheer political sort of survival skills that he is lacking.
I think - I think Newsom is right.
COLLINS: But Audie, if you're looking at this, from a cynical perspective? I mean, we were just talking, in the last week, about Trump's legal troubles, not just the ones here in New York, but the ones that other experts agree may be more serious to him.
Is that something that someone like a Governor DeSantis, or maybe a Chris Christie, is considering, waiting to see if that is something that could hurt Trump, potentially?
CORNISH: The thing that was most striking to me, watching all this back-and-forth, was Trump throwing more things at the wall, right? First, it was DeSanctimonious. Then, it was he's a problem, this way. And now, it's like, "He's a young man, who maybe has more time." That does signal a little bit of fear, on his part, because he's just trying a bunch of insults, hoping something sticks.
And, yes, Trump has an ability to have people coalesce around him. And maybe yes, that will happen every time, he has a court date. Lucky for him, he may have several, over the next couple of months.
But the DeSantis play has always been, "You will get tired of this." And there are lots of people, who have been talking, especially Nikki Haley, who outright goes out and says, "We're tired of losing, as a party."
There is still a lane, for someone, who can say, "If you like all this, but don't want to spend all your time, sending someone money, for their lawyers, I'm the candidate for you." I think that's still an option for someone there. Whether it's DeSantis or not? I don't know.
COLLINS: Can we talk about something Nikki Haley said, just a few moments ago? She was at a Town Hall. And she was talking about government workers, and how long she thinks they should be able to be in those positions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, you heard me say, term limits.
The second thing I'll tell you is in agencies, a lot of the power comes from people, who've been there too long. So, the goal is you make sure no one holds the job longer than five years. They have to be rotated out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Bill, this comes as, we've heard this other idea, about the Schedule F employees, as they're known, in the federal government, and Republicans saying that they'd fire all of them, some of them, this idea that we've seen floated around.
But a lot of those people are career employees for a reason.
COLLINS: I mean they know how the Pentagon works, certain levers that a political appointee is not there for very long.
COLLINS: Just doesn't.
WEIR: Right. Do you want to flip your head chemist every five years of a big, maybe a drug agency, or science advisers, at NASA or NOAA? I mean, maybe it's part of a war against Expertise and the Elites. That's an interesting one.
There was a great Michael Lewis book that he wrote, during some of the shutdowns, and when - or the early days of the Trump administration, on how certain agencies were deliberately gutted. And the brain drain that that leaves? That's just not a one-term decision. That plays on for years afterwards.
It used to be I'm young - old enough to remember when public service was an honorable path, and foregoing a corporate job, in order to serve, was a good thing. I don't know if we'll ever get back there!
COLLINS: When you talk about brain drain? That is actually something, when I was covering the Biden White, House that they argued about, the beginning, they felt that they were hobbled, because certain agencies, like Homeland Security, and others, had been decimated, they argued.
Biden today was asked about his own ambitions. It was the Easter Egg Roll. He was asked, if he was going to have many more of those, in his future. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: Well I plan on running, Al, but we're not prepared to announce it yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: What do you make of why he hasn't announced yet? Biden's 2024 run, what that could look like?
B. JONES: I mean, sometimes, you don't have to tell us what we already know what's going to happen. A whole lot of people, when they voted for him, were like, "We're really going to do this for one term?" But he's like, "Oh, no baby, I'm sticking around. Where else I'm going to go?"
What is going to look like, I think, really just depends very much so on who the person is, on the other side.
B. JONES: The tricky thing with DeSantis is what's there to like?
Now, you can say what you want about Trump. If you were to ask me what there is to like, I could list the things, or I could say--
B. JONES: --what it is that other people might like about him.
DeSantis doesn't really have that advantage.
So, if you're running against DeSantis, I will be curious because I think that's when you get the best of the middle-class Joe thing, right? Like, "Hey, man, I'm your guy." That's the superpower that he has, at dinner (ph) with people.
B. JONES: If he's running with Trump again, you just kind of hope he flames out, right? Like you hope he messes himself up. And people do just get tired of it. Because I do think there's a level of exhaustion.
I'm not sure if Barack Obama would have tried to run for a third term, if it was possible, if he couldn't - one big win, because people just get tired of you.
B. JONES: By eight years of Trump, I think, people are ultimately going to be tired. That will be the easiest race, for him, to win.
With DeSantis, you just kind of, "Look, man, do you really like this guy?" Because nobody's won an election for being qualified.
HOOVER: Right. B. JONES: People typically win elections, because somebody likes you more than they like the other person. You look at the Republicans that have lost, in my lifetime? None of them were meaningful (ph).
WEIR: I'll tell you something, though. Just as purely anecdotal. You remember when DeSantis, in Hurricane Ian, was wearing the white boots, and got a lot of flak? Those are Pine Island Reebok's. Those are what fishermen wear. Those are - that's - those - a pair of those boots, in every pickup truck. And those guys love DeSantis, when I was down there with him. I mean, there's something, about his swagger, taking on Disney, all that stuff that--
B. JONES: Yes. But I think he's kind of--
WEIR: --that clicks with people.
B. JONES: But, I think, he's kind of stuck in between on something, like I think there was a time, where his greatest advantage, over Trump, would be that he had the Ivy League bona fides, to make him a more qualified person, that seemed to be more decent, and that would push them over the top.
Trump eliminated the idea of decency, and qualification, and aptitude, and all of those things should be in efface. So, you come back, you've Ron DeSantis, you're like, "I'm kind of like Trump, except I'm better- behaved and I have better degrees." The degrees don't matter anymore.
COLLINS: Well he has argued--
B. JONES: So, when I listen to him, I don't see what there is to hold on to.
COLLINS: Yes. He has argued there would be less chaos, and he'd be better at executing. We'll see, once he actually gets in the race.
For now, though, I do want to go back to what the - was we started this hour with, the dramatic scene, that happened in Nashville, because State Representative, Justin Jones, returned to the Tennessee General Assembly, surrounded by his supporters, today.
He was sworn in, on the Capitol steps, where just days ago, he and another fellow Democrat, were expelled, by the Republican-dominated house.
That other lawmaker, Justin Pearson, watched, from the gallery, today, as Jones addressed the chamber. And Justin Jones is with us now.
And good evening, and thank you for being here. I know that you have had quite a day, and we were watching it all play out.
Tell me what it was like to be back in that same room, where you were expelled, just a few days ago.
J. JONES: Well, good evening, and thank you for having me.
[21:55:00] Today was a powerful day, and a testament to people power. We went from the Council meeting, with thousands of people, marching down the street, right in front of me, to the People's House.
I got sworn in, immediately outside, by one of our judges here, in Nashville, and walked into the People's House. And it was a very emotional day, and an exhausting day, but also a hopeful day.
What we saw today was the people saying that "We're not going to allow the attacks on democracy, led in this building, by Speaker Cameron Sexton, and his leadership group, to happen in the comfort of silence, but that, we will respond, with a mass movement."
And so, I got my Easter suit on, because their attempt, to crucify democracy, has really resurrected a movement here, in Tennessee, a movement that is multi-racial, and inter-generational, and that's really going to transform Tennessee, and the South.
COLLINS: How has all of this experience changed your mindset, of viewing your role, even just a few weeks ago, before the Covenant school shooting, to now, given everything?
J. JONES: I think it's just it shows that we need more representatives, who will stand with the people, who are willing to risk a title, to be with the people, to stand with the people. And so, we need bold leadership. We need to fight for our communities.
These young people are demanding that we take action for commonsense gun laws? We need to respond to them. And we need to respond to these assaults on democracy, with progressive bold voices.
And so, I'm honored to stand here, as a Representative of the District 52, once again, a few days later, because what - that's what it's about, is that the people in my district, 78,000 (ph) people, in our community, one of the most diverse district, in Tennessee, we must represent them.
We must speak for them, in these halls of power, and not allow these attacks, on their rights, and on our communities, this proliferation of weapons of war, on our streets, to happen, without voices dissenting, saying that "No, this is not good for our people," and that we cannot consent, or agree to any of this, that we must challenge it. And we must be bold in doing so.
COLLINS: I wonder have you spoken to any of the Republicans, who voted to expel you, on Thursday night?
J. JONES: I actually happen to be on the elevator with the Representative, Bud Hulsey, who filed the resolution, to expel me. I greeted him. And I also asked him did he learn anything, from this experience? He said that, it's part of leadership's decision, to kind of ask him to file this. And besides that, was very quiet.
But I think, the Republicans are in a point of reflection here, in Tennessee, that what they did, they thought would happen, without any resistance, but it has the world watching, what's happening here. The Speaker of the House is trying to backtrack now. But, like I did - I said, today, we are calling for his resignation. He is an enemy of democracy. And he doesn't deserve to be in that office, of a Speaker of the House, any longer.
COLLINS: So, just to be clear, this Republican that you were in the elevator with, essentially tried to say that it wasn't his idea, to introduce that, or tried to, like, shirk responsibility for it? What was his--
J. JONES: Correct. He said that they asked him, because he's Chairman--
COLLINS: How did you respond to that?
J. JONES: He said that they asked him because he's the Chairman of Criminal Justice committee. But when I asked him did he learn anything, from this experience, he was silent. He's Representative Bud Hulsey, from East Tennessee, Kingsport. And there was, really, I don't know if there was anything more said, besides that.
But you could see that there is a point of reflection happening here that they thought their attacks on democracy, would just happen, without any type of resistance, without any type of accountability.
But the opposite is happening. And it's put a spotlight, on what's happening, in this building. And so, the Republicans, who are in our leadership group, again, we must continue to push, so that the voices of all people, in Tennessee, are heard.
That's all we were asking for, is that let us speak for our district, these young people, who are saying we want to live. These mass shootings keep happening. We had another one here today, in Louisville. I mean, we must act on this issue, this proliferation of guns, in our community. That's what we're going to do.
And so, they told me today I can file 15 bills, because I'm now technically a new member. Every one of those bills is going to have to do with commonsense gun laws. Every single one of those bill is going to have to do with that, because that's what these young people are begging us to do.
And so, when I come, tomorrow, I'm going to work on that legislation, get it to the Speaker's office, and let's take action before we go adjourn from session.
COLLINS: How soon do you plan to file those bills?
J. JONES: As soon as the end of the week, whenever legal returns those - that legislation, to me, I'll go over to the clerk's office and have it filed.
Because, this is an urgent issue. We are in a crisis here. Our young people are begging us to act. They asked us to ban assault weapons.
And, on Thursday, my colleagues, here, responded, by assaulting democracy. I mean, it is immoral, it's morally insane. It's constitutionally inconsistent, and it's indefensible.
And we must act. And we must continue to empower these young people. I'm 27-years-old. I think it's time for a new generation of voices, to step into their power, here.
And my message to the young people, here in America, is that if your voice did not matter, they will not be trying so hard to silence us. They will not be trying to suppress our votes, and stop us, from having a voice in our democracy.
And so, young people are really going to - I believe, you're going to transform this nation, and transform this community, here, and bring us toward a new vision of a multiracial democracy.
COLLINS: Yes. Safe to say, your voice is definitely being heard now.
Justin Jones, thank you. I know it's been quite a day. Thank you for joining us, tonight.
J. JONES: Thank you. Thank you.
COLLINS: Margaret what do you make of - he's calling on the House Speaker, Cameron Sexton, to resign. But what do you make of him saying he'd got in the elevator, with a Republican, today, who kind of tried to say, it wasn't my--
HOOVER: And he took no responsibility for it. Does that - I mean can you just see that scene? I can. Where are the Republicans with any moral courage? Where are the Republicans, who are willing to take responsibility, for their bad actions, or for the things that backfire?
I mean, you can absolutely see a circumstance, where the Speaker of the House, said to the Lieutenant, "Hey, you take this bill up. It's your job. You do this, if you want to sort of stay in line, and keep your committee assignments, to do the things."
And you know what? When you look somebody, in the eye, and they can't respond back? They know they didn't - they didn't - they didn't do the right thing. They know they were wrong.
And that young man is so remarkable, and is absolutely channeling energy, and an outpouring that is the essence of democracy, and is the essence of what makes this country great. And my hat is off to him.
And, I think, you're going to see - you're going to - you're starting to see some seismic shifts. And I hope they reverberate.
COLLINS: We'll see.
Just a remarkable day, for him - remarkable few days, for him, as well.
We'll see what happens with Justin Pearson's vote, on Wednesday. Thank you, for joining us, tonight.
"CNN TONIGHT" with Alisyn Camerota, starts right now.