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TX Gov Criticized For Calling Shooting Victims "Illegal Immigrants"; Haley: Feinstein "Prime Example" For Mental Competency Tests; FL School District Bans Nora Roberts Books Over "Pornography". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 01, 2023 - 21:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: It also turned portions of the Interstate, into a hellscape, of wrecked cars and trucks.

Dozens of vehicles, according to officials, 40 to 60 passenger cars, another 30 commercial vehicles, two semis caught fire. In all, at least six people lost their lives, and more than 30 were hospitalized. The dust came from newly-plowed fields, in nearby farms.

That does it for us. The news continues, right here, on CNN.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST, CNN PRIMETIME: John, thank you so much.

And good evening, everyone.

Tonight, former Attorney General, Eric Holder, joins us live, in moments, on a number of pressing issues, including the looming crisis, at the border, the end of Title 42, which is expected to bring a major surge of migrants, to the U.S.

We'll also discuss the massive manhunt, for a fugitive, an undocumented immigrant, accused of murdering five of his neighbors, in Texas.

Tonight, the FBI releasing a new picture, of the suspect, who allegedly gunned down four adults, and a 9-year-old boy, after he was asked to stop shooting, in his yard. And also, a new "Wanted" poster. In the last 24 hours, the Feds say they have absolutely zero leads, after that rampage, 40 miles northeast of Houston.

The boy's grieving father, speaking out now, about the loss of his son, and also his wife.


WILSON GARCIA, WIFE & SON KILLED IN SHOOTING (through translator): That was my 9-year-old son and my wife too.

And two people who died, protecting my 2.5-year-old daughter.

My 1.5-month-old son was protected with a lot of clothes, so the killer wouldn't kill him too. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: And we are also learning, today, from an ICE source that this suspect, a Mexican national, had been deported, four times, from the United States. Four times. That's twice in 2009, again in 2012, and most recently in 2016.

So, how did he slip through the cracks, so many times? And how was he able to obtain an AR-15-style rifle that the authorities found at his home?

So, we turn now to former Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. He served in the Obama administration.

Former Attorney General Holder, thank you for joining us.

This really tragic case is not just about enforcement. He was deported four times, and still kept coming back, brought us to this point. So, why are there so many gaps, in our federal law enforcement system?

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, there's clearly the need for comprehensive immigration reform. And that means coming up with sufficient resources, law enforcement resources, along the border, but also having a system, by which we are able to process people, who have a right to asylum, in this country.

We've been talking about getting comprehensive immigration reform, done, for a number of years. And it simply -- simply hasn't happened. There are to -- there are at least -- there are a few components to it. And Congress needs to be about the business of finally, finally getting it done.

PHILLIP: And this issue is also happening in the context, of a bigger issue, in this country, with guns. This is someone, who was -- who had interacted with law enforcement, at least four times, and was still able to get a weapon, an AR-15-style weapon that he used in what authorities are calling an execution-style killing.

Why is that? How can someone who fit that profile get a weapon so easily?

HOLDER: Well, clearly, he should not have had access to that assault weapon. In fact, nobody should have access to assault weapons. I'm for a ban on the sale of those weapons. But given his history, given the fact that he was an illegal immigrant, here, in the country, he should not have had the ability to get that weapon.

And so, you can get them though, through private sales. There is still the gun show loophole, I don't know -- he could have gotten it there. There are gaps in our gun control safety statutes and regulations that have to be patched. And again, this is something that we've been talking about, for years that the American people, overwhelmingly, are in favor of.

It is time, for our Congress, to do the right thing, protect people, in this country, from the gun violence that has become almost a pandemic, in this nation. I mean, the biggest killer of young people, in this country, now, is gun violence. We can put a stop to this, if we will just put in place, sensible gun measures that, again, are supported by the vast majority of the people in the country.

PHILLIP: And I wonder what you make of this.

Earlier, in this case, Governor Abbott released a statement, identifying the victims, here, the victims, as illegal immigrants, which they have now -- his office has now admitted, that is probably not accurate.

What do you make of all of that?


HOLDER: Well, I thought that what the Governor said was abhorrent. I mean, the notion that he would elevate their immigration status, above their humanity, is an indication of who, he is, and the way he views certain human beings.

The focus should simply have been on the fact that these people were the victims of unnecessary illegal gun violence, lost their lives. And that should have been the focus.

The fact that they were here, perhaps, without authorization, and now we're finding out that in fact, at least some of them probably had the right to be in this country? That was essentially irrelevant.

But Greg Abbott, Greg Abbott, the Governor of Texas, decided that he wanted to make an issue of the fact that at least that he thought that these were illegal immigrants, as if somehow, someway, that made their deaths, less reprehensible, that made their lives, somehow less valuable. It was just an awful statement, something that he should be ashamed of.

PHILLIP: I do want to move on to another topic here, the office that you used to lead, the Department of Justice, they're dealing with a number of cases, involving the former President, Donald Trump. These are cases that range from the January 6 insurrection, to the documents case.

Just last week, the Trump lawyers released a letter, insisting that Congress ordered DOJ, to stop investigating the former President, over the documents case.

What's your response to that demand? Is there any basis for it?

HOLDER: No, there's no basis for that kind of -- that kind of letter. It violates separation of powers. It puts Congress on the other side of law enforcement. Would they have done the same thing, during the Trump administration? I'm sure that they would not have.

The Justice Department has got to act independently, follow the facts, follow the law, make determinations, on that basis, and not take into consideration, any kind of political games that people are trying to play. This is something that I hope, and I'm sure, the people at the Justice Department, will simply ignore.

PHILLIP: So, of these investigations that are swirling, around the former President, I mentioned two of them. One involving the documents, one involving January 6. There's also one in Georgia, as well, a case in New York, involving hush-money payments, to Stormy Daniels.

Which do you think, as someone, who's deeply knowledgeable, about the legal system, which do you think is the one that poses the biggest risk, to former President Trump?

HOLDER: Well, I actually think that all of them do. And I'm not sure that anybody should be in the business of trying to grade which one is the most important.

I mean, the retention of classified documents, and the use of them, in an inappropriate way, potentially threatens national security.

His involvement, in the January 6 obstruction, and insurrection, is obviously something of great concern. That was an insurrection designed to stop the transfer of power.

His attempt to influence the count, the vote, in Georgia, asking for 11,780 votes, was clearly something that was inappropriate.

All of these things, I think, are serious violations, and especially given the fact that the subject of these investigations, the potential target of these investigations, is a former President of the United States. I think all of these things are extremely serious.

I also think that the case, in New York that has already been indicted, is a lot more serious than people have come to understand. I mean, that was a close election that he won, against Hillary Clinton. Had this information come out that he had paid off, a former porn star, to hide the fact of an affair that he had with her might have influenced people, in the three or four or five states that were critical, to his election victory.

So, I think all of these cases are extremely serious.

PHILLIP: The other side of this is, of course, the case the DOJ is also dealing with, involving the current president's son, Hunter Biden. There is an IRS special agent, who is now seeking whistleblower protections, over allegations that that department mishandled that investigation.

Do you have any concerns about how that investigation is being handled? And it's been going on since 2019. What's taking so long, in your view?

HOLDER: Hard to know why it's taking so long. I mean, I don't know what's going on, in terms of the investigation. But I'm confident that it's being conducted, in an appropriate way. The person, who was handling the case, who is the Chief investigator, is a former -- is a U.S. attorney, who was appointed by the former President. He's a Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney.

In those kinds of cases, main justice, that is the people here, in Washington, D.C., tend to keep their hands off of those cases, and allow the people, in the field, politically-sensitive cases, in the field, to simply, run their course. And so, I'm pretty confident that the investigation is being done, in an appropriate way.


On the other hand, this whistleblower, who was claiming that things were done, improperly, obviously should be talked to, and to see if there's any validity, to the claims that he has made.

PHILLIP: So, on voting issues? This is something that you've been working on, the last several years. There was a case, in the State of North Carolina, where now the state Supreme Court, there, has effectively removed itself, as a check, on partisan gerrymandering, really opening the door, for the Republican legislature, to change the balance of power, in that State.

What is the consequence of that not, just for North Carolina, but for a pending Supreme Court case that's coming up?

HOLDER: Yes, the North Carolina Supreme Court's decision, to essentially reverse a prior North Carolina Supreme Court decision that was really about 4-months-old or 5-months-old, is really an abomination.

There -- that was a decision -- the new decision is not based on principle. It's not based on precedent. It is simply based on personnel, or change in the personnel, on the Supreme Court.

And the result of the new decision is to allow, essentially allow, partisan gerrymandering, to take effect, in North Carolina, a place that before a lawsuit that we brought at a -- it's a 50-50 State that had 10 Republican congressmen, four Democratic congressmen. After we won our lawsuit, it had fair districts redrawn. The Congressional balance went to seven to seven.

And this notion that somehow some way, the courts are a function of who serves on them, as opposed to the facts, and the law, that they are supposed to consider, is extremely dangerous. It's the same thing we see, in the United States Supreme Court, where a change in personnel was the thing that resulted in the overturning of Roe versus Wade.

Again, facts hadn't necessarily changed. Law had not necessarily changed. But people on the court had changed, and a 50-year precedent was overturned. So, what happened in the Federal Supreme Court was wrong. And what happened in the North Carolina Supreme Court, just last week, was also wrong.

PHILLIP: All right, Eric Holder, thank you very much, for joining us, on all of those wide-ranging issues.

HOLDER: All right, thank you.

PHILLIP: And a major warning, tonight, from the Treasury, on the U.S.'s track towards default, one month, from today. And we are learning this, after the second biggest banking collapse, in the United States' history. So, you'll hear what President Biden is doing ahead, as he and Republicans are now at a stalemate.



PHILLIP: One month, until the country runs out of cash.

And tonight, the Treasury Secretary is putting a hard date, on a potential economic debacle, writing, "Our best estimate is that we will be unable to continue to satisfy all of the government's obligations by early June, and potentially as early as June 1, if Congress does not raise or suspend the debt limit before that time."

The White House and congressional Republicans are nowhere close to a deal. But at least there is another date. May 9. That's when President Biden wants Congressional leadership, to come to the White House, and at least meet on this.

At the table, with me, now, are Phil Mattingly, Laura Coates, David Urban and Bakari Sellers.

Thank you all, for being here.

So, Phil?


PHILLIP: Since you know all things?

MATTINGLY: Everything is great!

PHILLIP: This date -- this date, this letter, from Yellen?


PHILLIP: In some ways, this is the normal tradecraft of this. She's got to let them know, when we're going to run out of money. But was this really about June 1? Or was it about setting the clock, starting, on when they need to start talking to each other?

MATTINGLY: Well, and I think what you have to recognize here is two things can be true. One, April tax receipts came in, which is why the date is earlier than was expected. That is accurate. The CBO confirmed that as well.

But it's also very true that this started a clock, where everybody recognized, "Oh, no, this is just as bad as we thought it was. And we have to figure this out a lot sooner than we thought we did." And I think what's important, right now, is there's a sequence, and a rhythm, to these kinds of things, unfortunately, because we've been through them so many times.

And the recognition, kind of across Washington, based on that letter, and I think driven by the President's decision, to call all four leaders, and invite them to the White House, is "Now's the time to kick this into gear. The stare-down has been wonderful, and glorious, and full of political hits, over the course of the last several months. But something needs to get into motion, now."

Because, to your point, there was no sign that there's any off-ramp, at this point in time. The two positions can't be reconciled. There's no pragmatic center there. They need to start talking, to be able to find some way out of this.

PHILLIP: Last I checked, "Now" meant now. Today is May 1. And May 9 is nine days from now. I just don't understand why wait? I mean, Bakari?


BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (D) FORMER SC STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Of course. So, when you are asking about Washington, D.C., I think--

PHILLIP: I'm going to force you to answer this one.

SELLERS: --I think that, first of all, I think the President is doing his best to let Congress be Congress. And he's done that with a very hands-off approach, for a long period of time. And I think what he wants to do is bring these leaders, to Washington, and hopefully allow them to figure this out themselves.

One of the things I saw Jon Tester say, just to show you, just how interesting this--

PHILLIP: Can I play that? What you're about to say?

SELLERS: Oh, this is a natural segue?

PHILLIP: Yes. Let's just play.

SELLERS: Yes. There we go.


SELLERS: Play the sound.


SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): So, what they're saying is, they're going to default on the debt.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, should you guys just find a middle ground between the two? TESTER: What is the middle ground?

RAJU: A deal with some spending cuts, tied to a debt ceiling increase?

TESTER: I think that's a -- I think it's a big mistake. I think it's a big mistake.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): We're here to talk, communicate, negotiate.

RAJU: Yes.

MANCHIN: So, at least do it.


PHILLIP: So, the reason we put those two together, is because these are two--


PHILLIP: --Red-State Democrats. But Tester is saying we need to just raise the debt ceiling.

SELLERS: No, I agree with Tester. And I think a lot of people agree with Tester. I think most Americans agree with Tester.

The simple fact is this negotiating, this playing, with our future, this playing, with our dollar? Most Americans understand that when you have a bill to pay, you pay it. That's--

URBAN: Unless it's a student loan debt.

SELLERS: Here you go! Anyway! I will address that later.

PHILLIP: That's a big question to talk.

SELLERS: Anyway. But I think what -- I think what Jon Tester is saying is put a clean debt ceiling raise, on the floor, of the United States Senate, and let's see what happens. And I think that's fair. I think that's what most Americans would vote for. I think that's the position most Americans are in. And I think Jon Tester is speaking for many millions of Americans, not Democrats or Republicans.


LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, HOST, THE LAURA COATES SHOW ON SIRIUSXM: I think Yellen does give some cover, as well, for those who might want to say, "Look, I want to have a negotiation. But how does it look politically? I've said I'm going to dig in my heels. I said I have this principle. I'm not going to be budged."

By her saying that essentially says "OK, thank you playground participants. Now, it's time for recess to be over and to have this happen." Whether that's actually going to be persuasive is the big issue. And look, I don't pretend to be the master of the economy. And you're an award-winning journalist. We remember from Saturday night, Phil. So, I'm not going to challenge you on that.

But I will say, as the average American, you're talking about Bakari? If I were to default, or even come close to defaulting, on any of my credit cards? I'm not going to tell you how many I have, Abby. But I would be required, to actually do something. I couldn't even get close that sort of limit. And then, we talk about what my credit standing would look like, how I would be able to get other things I would need, in the future.

And so, the credit rating, of the United States, long-term, in fact, that's not a consideration, for the average American, looks at this and says, "Look, the government gets away with a whole lot more than the electorate could ever."

URBAN: Right.

SELLERS: Unless you're Donald Trump!

URBAN: Oh, no, no, come on!

SELLERS: I'm sorry, David.

URBAN: So listen, I think we -- the participants, in the playground, I think we need to give a nod, to Kevin McCarthy, and the House Republicans, and actually accomplishing something that was -- that a lot of people thought was never going to happen, right?

They were able to get to an agreement, with some reasonable -- with a reasonable framework, which stands a chance of actually being a framework, for a long-term agreement, here. You saw Dick Durbin on, this morning, on this network, kind of acknowledging. He's watched it, kind of time for getting -- time to sit down and talk.

And I think that, to your point, I don't think most Americans do think that. I think most -- a lot of Americans, post-pandemic, there's been forgiveness in rent, forgiveness in student loan, forgiveness in cell phone bills, forgiveness on cable bills. I don't think a lot of Americans were paying their bills.

SELLERS: Why do you -- why do you forget--

COATES: It's a lie. It's a lie.

SELLERS: --why do you forget PPP loans?

URBAN: No, no, I'll say--


URBAN: --I'll say PPP loans. Listen, America -- America is--

SELLERS: Which -- which -- which hundreds of--

URBAN: --spending. Listen, I think--

SELLERS: --people in the United States Congress--

URBAN: Listen, I don't -- I don't--

SELLERS: --got forgiven.

URBAN: Bakari, I don't disagree. I think the spending has run amok, in our country. I do think we need to pay our bills, right? You can't go back and say we're going to renege on this. This is money that's already been spent, right?

SELLERS: So, we got to pay our bills.


URBAN: So that we got pay your bills. But that needs to be tied with some sort of spending cuts, in the future. And that's why, I think, Republicans--

PHILLIP: Well, I guess, the question is does it--

URBAN: --are in this talk.

PHILLIP: --I mean, the issue that is being raised is does it really need to be tied to the debt ceiling?

SELLERS: It should not be.

PHILLIP: Can't it just be dealt with, in a budget process, which is actually how Congress is supposed to operate?

URBAN: Right. It's supposed to operate that way. But Republicans, I think, feel as soon as they get raised the debt ceiling, it'll be forgotten.

MATTINGLY: It's leverage.

URBAN: It'll be forgotten.

MATTINGLY: It's leverage. And they understand that. I think the difficulty with this point of leverage? And leverage is critical to any negotiations. It's critical to how Congress works.

Leverage with the debt ceiling has been critical, over the course of the last 12 years. We saw this starting, in 2011, which is by far the worst. And it's repeated every time that there's been a Democrat, in office, and Republicans have held one chamber of the House.

I think the whole point here, and I think this is where it gets complicated is the Biden administration, many of whom were there, in 2011, as part of the Obama administration, said, "We cannot keep doing this. We can't play with this issue, in particular. If you want leverage on government shutdowns, or things of that nature, that's leverage we can play with. This is potentially catastrophic. We have to shift the way this is thought of." That's difficult, in a town, where everybody's gotten used to this just being the process.

SELLERS: Right, yes.


MATTINGLY: I think that's why it's been so hard to get people to take this seriously, and say, "Oh, no, this could be really bad. We can see that."

URBAN: "But this time, it could be bad."


PHILLIP: I think, on a good day, it would be bad. But, I think, in this economy, where we are potentially on a verge of an economic recession, it would be very, very, very different.

URBAN: We're on top of (ph) recession. Listen, the Chinese and the Russians, right, everyone keeps trying to devalue the dollar?


URBAN: Move away from the dollar, right? If our credit rating gets knocked again, it could be very bad, I think, also.

PHILLIP: And, as Larry Summers said, earlier today, the Chinese are paying their bills. So, if we don't? That's a different story.


PHILLIP: But standby everyone.

The GOP presidential candidate, Nikki Haley, names, names, when she's calling for older Americans, to take competency tests. She singled out one, in particular, today. And it wasn't President Biden. That controversy, coming up next.



PHILLIP: So, if there's one thing that Republican presidential candidate, Nikki Haley, and some Democrats have, in common, it is this, that they want Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, to resign. She has been absent, for months, recovering from shingles.

And in a new Op-Ed, on Fox, Haley writes, "Feinstein has missed months of votes and clearly can no longer do her job... At 89-years-old, she is a prime example of why we need mental competency tests for politicians."

Haley went on to make the case that every politician, over the age of 75, should take this test. But she kept the focus squarely, on President Biden. And it is just the latest attack, on his age, after Haley made this controversial remark, last week.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you vote for Joe Biden, you really are counting on a President Harris, because the idea that he would make it until 86-years-old is not -- is not something that I think is likely.


PHILLIP: Our panel is back with us.

Does anyone else read this as a kind of walk-back of the, in a couple years, Joe Biden's going to be gone, which seems honestly, in our politics, even to be kind of a bridge too far.

Haley is now trying to frame this actually around Kamala Harris, in some ways that if Joe Biden can't be in the presidency, until the end of his term, Kamala Harris is going to be there, and she's saying she needs a mental competency test.

COATES: Well, I feel like that is the tactic. When you're talking about the age of Biden, you're really talking about the actual characterization of the approval rating, or the popularity, or lack thereof, according to the strict numbers, of Vice President Kamala Harris. And they're trying to appeal to that notion of, "Hey, do you want?" It's not about Biden. It's really about his Vice President.

And remember, he often says, "Don't compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the Alternative." They're trying to flip that not to mean, the alternative, meaning the Republican candidate, but the alternative, meaning his successor, the Vice President.

I think it's a very crass way, to actually characterize the tenure of a president, let alone their second term that might happen. But the idea -- this is really trying to get people, to disparage the Vice President, Kamala Harris, less so about Biden.

PHILLIP: What about Mitch McConnell, who's 81?

URBAN: Listen, it's -- yes.

PHILLIP: And Chuck Grassley, who's 89?

URBAN: So, yes, I think there's--

PHILLIP: What about those guys?

URBAN: --I think there's no need for an age test. But I think there's a test for a mental acuity test. If you can go out and stand and take questions, from Phil, or from any pool, any reporter, stand on the Hill, and give and take, right? Mitch McConnell does it. A lot of old members of the House and Senate do it.

PHILLIP: I mean, let's be honest.

URBAN: I think that's -- I think that's the mental acuity test.

PHILLIP: Yes, let's be honest.

SELLERS: This is a -- this is a--

PHILLIP: I mean, isn't that just--

URBAN: No. No. And if you don't do that? Yes, if you can't do that?


URBAN: You're going to fail.

PHILLIP: Let's be honest. President Biden, you can say he doesn't sit down, for sit-down interviews, with media. That might be the case. He does take questions, from reporters, at the White House.


URBAN: Yes, but then he's got -- he's got the answers on the card. He's got the questions that you'd ask.

PHILLIP: But I'm saying -- I mean, Phil, you cover the White House.


PHILLIP: Does President Biden take questions from the media?

MATTINGLY: I mean I would prefer a more formal setting, where he doesn't get to decide, what he gets to answer, and when he gets to answer it. But yes, I mean, he takes questions, when he's leaving the White House, to board Marine One. He'll take questions, if we're loud (ph) at him.

Look, I've engaged with the President plenty, in impromptu settings, like that. He's fully capable of engaging. There's not any question in anybody's mind.

There's a difference between, "Do I wish he would do more press conferences? And do I think he's capable of answering questions?" To the latter, the answer is yes. And he's done it several times.

I think the bigger issue, right now, and this kind of gets to your point, if you want to know how people feel about this, on both parties? Look at how prominently the Vice President was featured, in President Biden's reelection announcement. They understand. It's not subtle. Age is an issue.

He's 80-years-old. He's the oldest president in history already. Every day he wakes up, he's the oldest president in the history of the United States. It's more a question of approach. I think the White House has recognized that the Vice President needs to be a net- positive, for them that her age--

PHILLIP: Yes. MATTINGLY: --particularly with an 80-year-old president can be a net positive for him. And they are trying to figure out how to ensure that that's the case, because age will be an issue, for voters, no matter what.

The flipside, Republicans are cognizant of the fact that age is an issue, and they don't want the Vice President, to be seen, as a viable alternative.

PHILLIP: Can I just -- before you jump in, Bakari, remind our viewers, about this moment, from 2020, with Donald Trump, talking about the mental competency tests that he did take.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Like a memory question, it's like you'll go, "Person, woman, man, camera, TV."

So, they say, "Could you repeat that?"

So, I said "Yes." So it's "Person, woman, man, camera, TV."

"OK. That's very good."

If you get it in order, you get extra points.


PHILLIP: I mean, I know that this is a real thing. But I don't know if that's really going to--


SELLERS: Can I just -- can I just interject into this discussion?


SELLERS: Because, I think it's patently absurd.


SELLERS: And I think that this is what we call the dumbing down of America. And I think Nikki Haley's interjecting this as anti- intellectual, for the simple fact of this. True, Phil, age is a serious issue.

But what Nikki Haley is doing is not running a campaign, on substantive issues. Nikki Haley's not running a campaign on ideas. Instead, Nikki Haley ask for us to care about her, ask for us to surround her, when people take shots at her, inappropriate or not.

But yet she comes out and makes those same crass remarks about someone else. She goes below the bar all the time, but yet wants us to champion her, when someone goes below the bar with her. And I think that what we're seeing with this is that Republicans, who are running for President of the United States, are absent, ideas. Bill Clinton once said, "Ideas win election."

Saying that Joe Biden is too old? Look, I agree. I wish we had some younger people running for office. I wish we had younger leadership, in office. But we don't have that. I'm the first one to say it. I'm rocking with Joe Biden, in this election, because he's not -- he may not be better than the Almighty, but he's better than the Alternative.

And I think that this this debate that we're having, because Nikki Haley has put us here, is a serious problem, with our debate that we're having, in the country.

For example, I'll ask Nikki Haley, "Do you think police officers need mental health exams or competency exams?" And the first thing she's going to say is "No." But you want Joe Biden? You want Chuck Grassley? You want Henry McMaster? You want all these other individuals? It doesn't, for me, I just think it drags the bar away from--

URBAN: Yes. Listen.

SELLERS: --what we need to be discussing.

URBAN: Listen, I think the idea of a mental competency test, I think when people stand for election, they stand for mental competency tests. You're out campaigning, you're doing town halls, people get a sense of who you are, one-on-one, and you either pass or fail on your own merits.

When you become a Dianne Feinstein, and you're there a little too long, maybe Strom Thurmond? I mean, it may be time for these people to step down. They haven't been present in their job, for a while. I think there is a criticism, to be levied there. But I don't think there should be a test. I think the test is standing for elections.

SELLERS: But you would agree--

COATES: But obviously--

SELLERS: But you would agree Nikki--

URBAN: Mental tests.

SELLERS: --this is not an idea, like Nikki's campaign--

URBAN: But listen--

SELLERS: --Nikki's campaign hasn't run on any ideas yet.

URBAN: Well no, well, I can't say that. But this idea, I don't think it's a great idea. I don't think mental competency tests, it's popular. People -- that is going to be an issue, because Joe Biden will be the oldest president. And listen, we have -- we all have parents. My mom's 82. She's great. I don't think she should be running our country, right? Just the fact of the matter.

PHILLIP: And-- COATES: I'm concerned about the conflation, though. I mean, this is really, as somebody who's really wanting to have the judiciary, and the judicial nominations, at least vetted, and voted upon, it is concerning to have someone absent.

But if the actual goal is to be able to get nominations confirmed, even in a bipartisan basis, especially on a bipartisan basis, and the conversation really has to be about, how to round out the Judiciary Committee, but that's not possible, according to McConnell.

PHILLIP: Yes. And she's not running for reelection.

COATES: Right.

PHILLIP: But she's also not resigning.

Everybody, standby for us.


PHILLIP: Florida is now at the center of a new book-banning controversy. And one of America's most popular authors is now the target of the growing effort.

Nora Roberts is here, and she's shocked, eight of her books, are being pulled, from library shelves, in a Florida School District. That's next.



PHILLIP: She is one of the most famous novelists, in America, having written dozens and dozens of romance novels. But eight of her books, by Nora Roberts, are now banned, in at least one Florida School District, apparently over sex.

One group, targeting books, Moms for Liberty, lays out what members want removed, from school libraries.


TIFFANY JUSTICE, CO-FOUNDER, MOMS FOR LIBERTY: Books that don't have pornography in them. Let's start there. Let's just put the bar really, really low. Books that don't have incest, pedophilia, rape.


PHILLIP: Chapters in Florida are taking advantage, of new laws, backed by Governor Ron DeSantis. A Moms for Liberty leader, in Martin County, is behind the removal, of dozens of books, from public school shelves.

And my next guest is New York Times' best-selling author, Nora Roberts. She recently found out that her books, from her popular Bride Quartet and Dream Trilogy romance series were deemed inappropriate for students. Nora, thank you for joining us.

Do you believe that your novels, they are romance novels, constitute perhaps pornography? Do you have any idea why they might have been banned?


NORA ROBERTS, AUTHOR, NOVELS BANNED IN MARTIN COUNTY, FL, BESTSELLING AUTHOR: Absolutely not. If those -- that's her bar? There is no rape, incest, or pedophilia, in any of those books. And there's certainly not pornography.

We do have sex between -- consensual, monogamous, healthy sex that ends with an emotional commitment, and a marriage proposal. I think that's pretty much the Dream. And in the Bride Quartet, for instance, the core of those books are the friendship, between four women, and the business that they -- wedding business that they run.

So, it's a little baffling to me. But it really shouldn't be, since these also target any books with LGBTQ content, or that talk about slavery. They have a very narrow view of what teenagers and younger children should read.

PHILLIP: So, the Conservatives, behind some of these moves, say that they want parents to be the ones to decide, what their kids are able to read, or what their kids are able to watch, in their schools.


PHILLIP: What do you say to that argument?

ROBERTS: I say, why does one parent have the right, to push their opinion, and their feelings, on all the parents, in the school district? Isn't that un-American? What's that about liberty?

One person said these books were inappropriate. And so, they're gone, from the shelves, in the school library. The librarian, who is trained, and educated, and curated the books, didn't say that. One person, and one person, then absorbs the rights of the rest of the parents, and takes that access away from the high-schoolers.

PHILLIP: Do you think that people around the country, I mean, where they're seeing these book bans happening, should they be concerned? Should they have broader concerns, about what signals is happening, in this country?

ROBERTS: Oh, I absolutely believe that 100 percent. This is the tyranny of the few, over the many. That's just not American.

And reading, and books, open windows, and doors, and -- to other worlds, other points of view, other experiences. Isn't that what we want, in our educational system? Isn't that what we want? Don't we want kids to read for fun, so that they become readers, and broaden their outlook?

PHILLIP: All right. Nora Roberts, thank you very much, for joining us, on that.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

PHILLIP: And he's been called the "Godfather of AI," a pioneer in the world of rapidly advancing technology. But now, he's quitting his big job, at Google, to warn about his own life's work. He's worried that it'll cause serious harm. And you'll hear why, next.



PHILLIP: Tonight, a new warning, on the perils of artificial intelligence. And it comes from the so-called Grandfather of AI himself.

Geoffrey Hinton says that he left his role at Google, last week, so that he can speak freely, about the dangers, of the technology that he helped develop. And that includes the tool's ability to spread misinformation, displace jobs, and even develop fully autonomous weapons, like "Killer robots" that he said could be created much sooner than we think.

Quote, "The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people -- a few people believed that-- But most people thought it was way off. And I thought it was way off. I thought it was 30 to 50 years or even longer away. Obviously, I no longer think that."

Back to the table on that very depressing note!


PHILLIP: But this is a real thing.


PHILLIP: I mean, there are concerns every--

URBAN: Don't worry about the debt ceiling.

PHILLIP: You interact a lot with Corporate America.


PHILLIP: I feel like every dinner table, in the largest cities, in the country, and perhaps even in the world, the topic is AI.

URBAN: Yes. So, everybody's got some AI play, right? Everything's AI, ChatGPT, everybody's pushing towards AI. And when you read this, and listen to Dr. Hinton, what he had to say, it is absolutely terrifying. I mean, absolutely terrifying.

And in the short-term, what he's talking about is deep fakes, misinformation spread on the internet, I mean, things that no one will be able to tell is not true, that even AI won't be able to tell it's not true, because it's generated by even smarter AI. And the future, the killer robot pieces?

SELLERS: Oh my God!

URBAN: It's not a stretch.


URBAN: It's autonomous combatants that are made by militaries, to just kind of take over.

SELLERS: And it reminds it's--

PHILLIP: It was so interesting to hear him talk about how--

URBAN: Like VESPA (ph).

PHILLIP: --when he first started?

SELLERS: No. It's like "I, Robot."


PHILLIP: When he first started, he didn't want to take a job that was funded by DOD.

URBAN: Yes, DARPA, yes.

PHILLIP: Because he didn't want to be a part of creating the killer robots, and--

SELLERS: But, I mean, there are a few things that I think about. One, it does remind me of "I, Robot," and that's terrifying. I just want to be Will Smith.

MATTINGLY: It's an underrated movie, though.

SELLERS: By the way, very underrated. I mean, anytime Will Smith by himself in the movie, and does well, it's -- anyway, we're digressing here.

But I would also tell you that there are a few things that this highlights for me. I mean, look, Fox News, they traffic and misinformation. Twitter traffics in misinformation, disinformation. We're not able to fully regulate that even on Twitter. So, why do we think we'll be able to fully regulate that in AI? That's first.

And second, something that's near and dear to my heart are the social inequities we have. I mean, you're talking about certain dinner tables that are having these discussions, about AI. I mean, they're not having them in Denmark, South Carolina, where I'm from, because we still have a socioeconomic divide.

I mean, you talk about communities? They're going to be left behind, when this comes? You talk about the jobs that are going to be replaced? They're going to be replaced in a lot of these working- class. And when I say working-class, I mean Black working-class and White working-class homes.

I'll give you the perfect example. When COVID hit, South Carolina literally had to send school buses, to communities that were -- that had WiFi, so that these communities could do virtual learning. And we're talking about AI?


SELLERS: I mean, we're leap years away from that!

PHILLIP: Well, AI, I mean, I think the challenge, especially for those communities that AI could decimate them, by taking away--


PHILLIP: --lower-level jobs. There are other risks too.



PHILLIP: They could -- it could exacerbate inequities, spread disinformation.

COATES: It could exploit people.

PHILLIP: Exactly.

COATES: I mean, you think about, sometimes, in the criminal justice system, already, where you've got bias built in, in some respects, in terms of the individual people, who make decisions, and have discretion. When you've got algorithms, perhaps, that are going to be structured, in a way that might feed into them, you have a different issue.

But you also have the notion here, what's so scary about it, particularly in a year before a presidential election, when there is an appetite, for misinformation, for people to exploit it, and capitalize on it, and then be able to use it to advantage, to have more power, and exploit even more. That's a very scary proposition, for so many people.

As much as AI might have some benefit, to might be able to look at, and think about it being the non-Frankenstein-esque, we're talking about, I think in a cost-benefit analysis, it's extremely scary.


MATTINGLY: Well, I think the -- I mean, two things. One, if you're working on a project, you're like, "Oh, the killer robots are only like three decades away." I'm still kind of pausing, and being like, "Do I need to be working on this project," just for the record.


SELLERS: I'm glad to know you had that conscience! MATTINGLY: That said, I think, and this goes to David's point, but also, Bakari's point, the speed with which one, the success of ChatGPT, and the take up of ChatGPT, has seen everyone else just flood this zone, on this technology? I'm all for technological breakthrough.

I think technology has driven, so many positive things, in the world. At the same time, you cannot ignore the very negative things that have been associated with it.

And the speed with which this is moving, and the willingness for everybody to jump in, on the corporate side, creates such velocity, that the idea of being able to control, to regulate, to figure out the ways, to manage this, so as to prevent what you're talking about--



MATTINGLY: --and what you're talking about, and what you're talking about? There is no opportunity to do it. And that's scary.


COATES: And can't say--

URBAN: Most, they don't know that work (ph) WiFi.

PHILLIP: And by contrast, Congress moves at a snail's pace.


SELLERS: Yes, exactly.

PHILLIP: I don't think there's a--

MATTINGLY: They don't understand.

PHILLIP: There may not even be a prayer that they could get to regulation on this before it really takes off.

COATES: Section 230 is still pending. I mean!

PHILLIP: We will see!

All right, Phil Mattingly, Laura Coates, David Urban, and Bakari Sellers, thank you all very much.

And coming up next, on "CNN TONIGHT," what happens when a rockstar shares unsolicited advice, on trans children? Kiss co-founder, Paul Stanley, is finding out what he said, and how people are reacting. Alisyn Camerota will take it up next.

And at this weekend's celebration of freedom of the press, the White House Correspondents' Dinner, tribute to American journalists, held overseas. And among them was Marine veteran, Austin Tice, missing for more than a decade. His mom's about to join us, and she'll tell us what, whether she has confidence, in the Administration's ability, to do what it can, to bring her son, home. That's next.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We also keep the faith for Austin -- Austin Tice.


BIDEN: His mom Debra is here tonight.


BIDEN: She knows from our several conversations -- the conversations with me and my senior staff -- we are not giving up.


PHILLIP: That was President Biden, Saturday, at that night's White House Correspondents' Dinner, talking to -- about my next guest.

During a night that is usually filled with laughter and jokes, the President opened his remarks, on a more serious and somber note, acknowledging American journalists, Evan Gershkovich, who was being detained in Russia, and Austin Tice, who was kidnapped, in Syria, in 2012. Austin was working as a freelance journalist, for "CBS," "The Washington Post," and "The McClatchy Company," at the time.

And joining me now is Austin's mom, Debra Tice.

Debra, thank you so much for joining us. And I'm so sorry that it's under these circumstances. I--


PHILLIP: I want you to listen to just a little bit more of what President Biden had to say about your son.


BIDEN: Tonight--


BIDEN: --our message is this: Journalism is not a crime. Evan and Austin should be released immediately, along with every other American held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.


PHILLIP: Now, Austin has been held, in Syria, for more than 10 years, now. Do you believe President Biden, when he says that he and his administration are committed to bringing him home?

TICE: I think they're committed to bringing him home. I think they stumble over what needs to be done.

PHILLIP: You've said, including this morning, that you felt like President Biden's commitment really needs to trickle down, to the rest of his administration. Do you have a sense of what the holdup is, what -- where the bottlenecks are, within that administration?

TICE: Yes. The problem is, and has been, since 2012, that the United States, is reluctant, to engage, with the Syrian government. And so, that is our largest obstacle that we've had to work through.

PHILLIP: Even though President Biden himself, last year, after you met with him, you said that he directed his staff, to engage with the Syrian government. And that's not happening?

TICE: He gave a really specific directive. And you saw him, last night, and he was so passionate. And he has that. I just wish he could pass that fire of passion down, through his staff, so that they would also be fully on fire, to get Austin, home.

PHILLIP: Do you think that there is politics involved?

TICE: Oh, undoubtedly.

PHILLIP: In what way?

TICE: Well, Syria, the whole situation with Syria is very complicated. And we shuttered our embassy, there. We closed their embassy, here. So, there isn't really an easy channel of dialog. And then, there's just a lot of uncertainty, about how we want to move forward, with Syria. And so, the idea of engaging directly is still challenging.

PHILLIP: Does it worry you that we're about to be in another presidential election? And is there any part of you in this moment now that is perhaps, are you losing hope in any way?

TICE: No, not at all. Austin is a very strong-willed man. And I know that he has a, you know, he has dreams that he still wants to pursue. And I've never had any doubt that he will walk free. It's just a matter of time.

PHILLIP: And in the last seconds that we have, what would you want the world to know, about your son, Austin?


TICE: Oh, I wish that everyone could know, at least as much as President Biden talked about, on Saturday night. I thought -- we met with him last year. And I thought the way he described Austin was truly beautiful. I would love everyone to know that.

PHILLIP: Debra Tice, thank you so much for joining us. And we're all hoping for Austin's safe return home, to you.

TICE: Thank you.


TICE: Thank you, Abby.

PHILLIP: And thank you for joining us.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Alisyn Camerota, is starting, right now.