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Boycotting Trump's Inauguration; Rep. John Lewis Versus President-Elect Tweets; Obsolete Alliance; Feud with a Civil Rights Icon. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired January 16, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That does it for us. Thanks for watching. CNN TONIGHT with Don Lemon starts now.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: In just four days, Donald Trump stands right behind me at the U.S. Capitol. He raises his right hand and becomes the 45th President of the United States.
But in the show of protest, more than two dozen House democrats skipping his inauguration.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon in Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.
The boycott, partly in response to Trump's harsh words against Congressman John Lewis, the Civil Rights icon, who says Trump is not a legitimate president.
And on this day, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Trump meets with Dr. King's son who is calling for unity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN LUTHER KING, MARTIN LUTHER JR.'S SON: I am as John Lewis and many others are a bridge builder. The goal is to bring America together and America, we are a great nation, but we must become a greater nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: There's a lot to get to tonight from here Washington. I want to bring in now CNN political director David Chalian, political analyst Abby Philip, political commentator David Swerdlick, CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston, political analyst, Kirsten Powers, and senior political analyst David Gergen.
It is definitely a big panel and a lot to get to. And I'm going to refer to my notes. Because this is quite a sort of a complicated story, David. It involves Tom Price, he's a Congressman. He's Trump's pick for Health and Human Services. We are learning that last year he purchased as much as $15,000 in stock of a medical device, just days before introducing legislation that would help that company.
Also, that company which is Zimmer Biomet and repeatedly donated to Price's re-election, his spokesman says, and this is a quote, "It's demonstrably false to connect this builder campaign contribution in aides as Price did not know about the stock purchase before it was done through a broker." How big of a problem is this for Trump's transition.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's a problem, and it's something he's going to have to answer for at the hearings. Remember, Tom Price is one of the people, one of the nominees from Trump, from President-elect Trump, that the democrats had already sort of circled as a potential target.
Largely to do with his record as it relates to Obamacare and health care, an issue that obviously democrats want to fight really hard on as Donald Trump takes office and he's promising to repeal it. So, he was already a target where they were going to really put full force to try to make it a very contentious hearing and see if they can rustle enough votes to derail. That's very hard to do.
Remember, the republicans have the votes in the Senate to get these nominees through. This story now will give democrats a little bit more of a boost, because it's like blood in the water. And they're going to be able to circle around it and try to make hey of it.
I don't think right now on today's fact that that is going to be something that's going to derail the nomination entirely. But it means that Tom Price is going to have to come very prepared to his confirmation hearing, with very clear answers as to that his relationship to that company. Because as you said, he bought stock.
CHALIAN: He introduced the bill, and then his PAC got a donation. That is a very bad PAC pattern.
LEMON: And more than one donation, right? They did more than one donation. Right.
CHALIAN: More than one donation.
LEMON: And so, we don't know enough about it, and didn't we contact them all day, and finally they responded saying that it was a brokered account before there was no response to it?
ABBY PHILIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think -- yes. Tom Price has an opportunity to explain himself, I think democrats are going to be raising these questions all week, but I think this is also a test of democrats ability to execute a case against Donald -- a case against Donald Trump's nominees on his own terms.
If they can connect this to the drain the swamp message, showing that there's a pattern of using your influence in Congress to either gain personal wealth or campaign contributions, this could be an open door, an opportunity for them to execute that kind of game plan, even if it doesn't result in Tom Price not being confirmed to that position.
LEMON: That's my question to Kirsten. Kirsten, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for the office -- for the Congressional Office of Ethics to investigate. Where does this put on the whole drain the swamp then?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's pretty swampy behavior if it happened, right? And I think this is probably what most Americans think of when they think of the swamp in Washington. Now the defense has been that this was, you know, something that is brokered did.
But then you have to sort of ask the question, well, do you not communicate with your broker. I mean, clearly he knows you are a member of Congress that you will be some bills you will have some influence. There seems like there would be a little more communication about steering clear perhaps of areas that he has responsibility over.
LEMON: Go ahead, David.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This takes place within a broader context. That is the Wall Street Journal reported last week, that the same congressman had $300,000 in trades over time. And various stocks, in which he was also pushing legislation, that might affect it.
So, I do think that the White House really ought to be a general quarters to save this nomination, by getting in to trying to figure out what the facts are, before Tom Price gets there, they better to get their defense out there very quickly. Otherwise, this could sink it.
[22:05:08] LEMON: And this is, especially the person who would be in charge of, or at least one of the leading figures on Obamacare.
LEMON: Repealing and replacing, this does not bode well for them?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: No, certainly not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead.
PRESTON: I mean, just for the mere fact that you're talking about Tom Price having to go up to Congress on Wednesday.
PRESTON: And have to start answering these questions at a time when Paul Ryan says that he is going to repeal and replace Obamacare within the first 100 days.
LEMON: Yes. I want to move on now, because I want to talk about this is about Donald Trump and Congressman John Lewis. And this is one of the biggest weeks of his -- Donald Trump's, probably his life. He's about to become the 45th president of the United States.
POWERS: Not a big deal.
LEMON: It is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and day.
LEMON: And now he's fighting with him over, you know, not wanting to go to the inauguration. What is this, what's happening, what do you think is happening behind the scenes now at Trump Tower. Are they trying to fix this, do you think? Or it just gives them space between now and inauguration day?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the way they handled MLK III's appearance today at Trump Tower is a way of trying to fix it, Don, right. They met with MLK III, President-elect Trump met with MLK III, didn't come down with him and answered questions.
Hopefully giving a symbol, that look, this is something we're doing to recognize King Day. We want to show that we're reaching out to an African-American leader and kind of put a button on this story and move on after he got so much push back from those tweets. I don't - I think it solves the problem for today but not going forward.
LEMON: Do you think it's strategic that he didn't come down afterwards with him. Because usually everyone who's a name who goes from Steve Harvey to Kanye West who is never...
LEMON: ... Donald Trump will come down and do the photo op with them.
SWERDLICK: I think if he had come down to get for photo op he would have had to answer questions not about the meeting with MLK III but about the tweet battle with Congressman Lewis.
LEMON: Let's listen to Martin III then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you offended by the president-elect's tweet that Representative Lewis is all talk and no action?
KING III: Well, first of all, I think that in the heat of the motion, a lot of things get said on both sides. I think that at some point -- you know, I am as John Lewis and many others, a bridge built. The goal is to bring America together. And America as we are a great nation, we must become a greater nation.
And what my father represented, my mother represented through her life. What I hope that I'm trying to do is always bring people together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: I'm sure and to explain, I'm sure everyone knows. But Congressman Lewis in an interview called Donald Trump's election illegitimate. He said he's an illegitimate president. Clearly, they're trying to bring the temperature down with that statement, but it wasn't. He didn't go out of his way to say anything negative about either man?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I thought that was smart damage control today by the Trump forces, they did what they could. But it came awfully late with an awful lot of damage being done.
You know, we discussed this before, when David Axelrod and I agreed, I think Mark agrees. That as much as we regard John Lewis as one of our only heroes in this country today, and we look up to him enormously, I think he made a mistake in calling it -- calling Donald Trump illegitimate just on the eve of the inauguration.
Having said that, it's just inexplicable why Trump then -- because he just can't help himself. And you have to ask yourself, does he not understand how much damage this does? And how insulting it is to the African-American community to say, to basically attack John Lewis' life is being all talk and no action?
LEMON: Yes, I ran into John King on my way in, and we both had the exact same thought about the way he could have responded. He could have said you know, I'm disappointed that you feel that way, I wish we could get together and talk, but you are one of my heroes, and that's why I'm doubly disappointed. And everything -- kind of, you know, it would have help with his supporters and with people who are criticizing.
PHILIP: Yes. His response almost made you wonder if he was even aware of the history with John Lewis. He didn't -- I mean, and maybe he was, because I think that in some ways, there's a pattern with Trump of taking the most controversial way into an engagement, and taking that path, and I think that he did in fact do that, by saying all talk, no action.
That was probably the most controversial way to get into it with John Lewis. But you know, he also has proven this weekend and in the days since that tweet that he's not going to change in his inclination to always engage with his adversaries.
PHILIP: You know, there were two different ways of approaching his inauguration. One Sean Spicer says he's going to try to unite the country. Mike Pence says he is going to be the Donald Trump that you saw on the campaign. I think we're going to see the Donald Trump that we saw on the campaign on that podium on Friday and in the Oval Office.
[22:10:07] LEMON: Yes, well, he is 70 years old with 70-year-old. I want to play John Lewis, and then I'll let you discuss. Let's play John Lewis who is Florida today speaking. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN LEWIS, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: And I say to you as
young men, the future leaders of this state, the future leaders of this nation. The future leaders of the world, you must never ever hate, the way of love is the better way. The way of peace is a better way.
So, I said to you as role models, never give up. Never give in. Stand up, speak up. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something. And not be quiet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, I didn't speak to the Congressman today, but I spoke to someone who's close to him. The reason he did not mention Donald Trump specifically or he didn't do interviews about it, because he didn't want to overshadow Dr. King's Day. And he didn't want to politicize this any further.
PRESTON: In the speech that he gave right there is exactly the speech that you would expect to hear from John Lewis, as David said really is one of the true heroes here in the U.S. Unfortunate use of words, saying that Donald Trump is not a legitimate president.
You wouldn't expect to hear that from John Lewis. However, you wouldn't expect to hear the future leader of the free world, the person who was promoting democracy, the person who is in charge of our country to go out and show that he is absolutely thin-skinned and that he is going to take on anybody that he feels is impugning his personal character. That's troubling. Impulse control is troubling.
LEMON: Yes. Do you think -- do you think -- do you think the Congressman laid a trap for him?
SWERDLICK: He may have. I just wanted to say one thing to Mark's point. I think with Congressman Lewis, you know, my own view is that President-elect Trump is a legitimate president. Whether or not anyone agrees or disagrees with him.
Now you're talking about someone, this is to your point about the history. The last living speaker of the march on Washington, the hero of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he is only standing to say it, even if probably was politically maybe not helpful...
LEMON: If anyone could say it.
POWERS: And also even if what Trump's said was true, which is not, that he's never done anything since then, so what? You know, I mean, what more do you need to do? So, I don't -- it's just so -- it's insulting.
LEMON: Besides almost losing.
PRESTON: As Senator Ben Sasses said. POWERS: Yes.
LEMON: That is a very good -- who was it?
PRESTON: Who says is John Lewis in his talk have changed the world, a republican senator came out and the republican Congressman just said, dude, just stop.
LEMON: Just stop. Yes. All right, stay with me, everyone. When we come right back, Donald Trump's rattling America's partners in Europe calling the NATO alliance obsolete. We'll be right back.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Beautiful shot of the capitol here in Washington, D.C. I'm Don Lemon live in Washington tonight. It will be here through inauguration day.
In less than four days, by the way, Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States.
Back with me now, David Chalian, Abby Philip, David Swerdlick, Mark Preston, Kirsten Powers, and also David Gergen.
We'll continue to talk about this John Lewis controversy, and I will wrap it up and then we'll move on and talk about NATO. But you were bringing up a very -- it's the interesting part of this is that Donald Trump is upset. And now they're upset because they think it's sort of -- does -- he says he's an illegitimate president.
But don't some democrats and African-Americans feel that that's what Donald Trump did for four years, is try to delegitimize Barack Obama?
CHALIAN: There's no doubt about that that's the feeling among many democrats and many African-Americans, there's no doubt about that. It's also as we talk about John Lewis was he out of bounds or not. The boundaries of what's in bounds and out of bounds has been changing very quickly in, you know, in the Trump era as well.
So, it's hard I think to sort of live by those rules any more, but I think that when you are the president-elect as this is to Mark's point. The burden is on you to let some pitches go by. And not swing at everything.
I think that is where things got a little off kilter in a big way. Even if John Lewis said something that there's no evidence that he's illegitimately elected. Donald Trump taking a swing at that. I mean, that is -- that is...
CHALIAN: ... what causes a distraction for his own inaugural week to smoothly start his tenure.
LEMON: Yes. POWERS: Especially when you think of how President Obama has treated him since he is coming to office after what he did to President Obama. You know, raising all these legitimacy questions about him. And after all that when he won the president welcomed him in, and has offered to give him advice, he's taking phone calls with him, I mean, he can maybe take a page out of out of the president's book on how to react on things.
PRESTON: can we just say, can we put this into perspective, he's also criticized Saturday Night Live because he didn't like their characterization of him, at the same he's attacking a civil rights icon, at the same time he is giving interviews to a foreign press attacking leaders of Germany.
PRESTON: Well, it's just -- it's just...
LEMON: Well, thank you for the transition because I want to get your reaction. This is far as on bringing that Donald says NATO is obsolete. What do you make of that?
PRESTON: Well, he said it was obsolete during the campaign and then he dialed it back a little bit. He said in fact that they were focusing on cyber security. When in fact, they were focusing on cyber security. It just goes to more of the confusion, I think to what is his role or what is his fascination or what is his connection to Russia because Russia clearly doesn't like NATO...
LEMON: Does he understand the important of that alliance, the NATO alliance?
GERGEN: No. He is clearly ignorant of it and his own secretary of defense General Mattis is his selection has defended NATO is one of the most important alliances in history. He's really playing that on a big field with really important things.
He's been clear that this country is going to break with its tradition of supporting NATO being the leader of NATO. It's breaking with its tradition of supporting the European Union. He doesn't give a damn if it goes away.
He's actually meeting with and banning this meeting these various populous movements that are seeking to undermine Merkel in Germany. She's our closest friend in Europe, the most important player in Europe.
[22:20:00] And they're actively out there, you know, courting and playing with people who are upset and destabilize Europe. So, it's not surprising that Europe is roiling him with this, and the people are very, very upset. They're astonished.
GERGEN: They understood it was campaign rhetoric at one point. But they thought it was just campaign rhetoric. And now it's really becoming possible reality. And for the Trans-Atlantic relationship, which is our single biggest relationship. I just can't tell you how upsetting this is to so many people in the foreign policy.
LEMON: Well, it is interesting, because when he makes these comments and people feel that he's cozying up too much Putin, or playing footsy with Putin, an then he sort of puts Putin and Angela Merkel at the same -- and you wonder like, that's how is even possible in anyone's mind?
SWERDLICK: Yes. And I don't think it's practical. And again, I don't think it will help him once he actually takes the oath of office and becomes president. NATO is an easy target; the E.U. is an easy target. The U.N. is an easy target.
Once you become president and you might need Angela Merkel, Germany, the wealthiest country in Europe to bail out a Greece or Portugal, or to help you with you know, an issue in the U.N. or to, you know, or to deal with sanctions against Russia, you've already, you know, pre, sort of infuriated someone potentially with a fellow world leader.
LEMON: Yes. I want to turn now to his cabinet nominees. Because you know, that has been going on and the inauguration going on as well.
Over half of his nominees haven't submitted their ethics agreements or financial disclosures to the Office of Government Ethics, explain what's going on here. Can you explain this?
I'm sorry, I was talking to David Chalian. Go ahead, Abby.
PHILIP: Well, this office will have to fill out paperwork explaining their potential conflicts they have to have to go to a process with the ethics office to resolve those conflicts. And then they have to agree to it, sign it, deliver it to the Senate, so that the senators can evaluate what has been done and where these nominees stand with regard to conflicts that relates to the jobs that they are about to take on.
Half of his nominees haven't done that, haven't completed that process yet, and that's something that initially republicans on the Hill were sort of saying, well, it doesn't really matter all that much. But we saw several of these nominations their hearings getting pushed back a couple days.
I think republicans are wary of going into some of these Senate hearings, dealing with the unknown, they want to know what's out there, they want some of these conflicts resolved. Because those things can end up becoming roadblocks to having a speedy confirmation, once Donald Trump is sworn in.
LEMON: Are they ready in four days, David?
CHALIAN: I'm sorry?
LEMON: Are they ready in four days?
CHALIAN: They're certainly ready in four days for the inauguration. LEMON: They are going to have to be.
CHALIAN: But just on this point. Also Donald Trump has more than his average share of multimillionaires in the cabinet. And so the ethics piece of this is even more complex for some of his nominees than we've seen in previous nomination.
PHILIP: That they have to divest, they have to do a number of other things. It's a very complicated process.
LEMON: last word because I got to run.
GERGEN: Yes. I want to bring up something that is not often discussed. And that is the substructure of government. There are 690 positions to be filled, key positions to be filled. So far, he's only named people to 27 of them.
And the Defense Department, the State Department, the Justice Department, and treasury, the big four, one person per department has been named so far. A total of 370 positions in those 4 departments, only four have been named.
LEMON: Where is he in comparison to other administrations?
GERGEN: He's behind.
LEMON: He's behind.
GERGEN: He's played behind.
LEMON: Yes. Thank you.
GERGEN: Thank you.
LEMON: I appreciate it, all of you. I hope all of you got to speak because such a big panel tonight.
Up next, two House democrats telling us why they're skipping Donald Trump's inauguration on Friday?
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Welcome back to CNN TONIGHT. Tonight from -- live from the nation's capital, we'll be here through inauguration day actually longer, a couple days after inauguration day. We'll be broadcasting from here as well.
So, welcome back to the program, everyone. Lot is going on in Washington, obviously with just days left until Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States.
And by CNN's latest count, at least 31 House democrats skipping Donald Trump's inauguration on Friday. Two of them joining me now, Congress -- California Congresswoman Barbara Lee -- Congresswomen, I should say, Barbara Lee, and Judy Chu. Thank you so much for joining us, Congressmen. I appreciate it. How are you doing? REP. JUDY CHU (D), CALIFORNIA: Good, I'm glad to be with you.
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you.
LEMON: Great. Congressman Lee, you first, you're on a growing list of democratic lawmakers, not attending this inauguration, you say you'll be quote, "preparing for resistance." What does that mean?
LEE: Well, let me say I did not make this decision lightly. Actually, I decided last week that I was not going to participate in this celebration, and that's exactly what it is. And the reasons that I'm not going to celebrate, I think I laid out.
But one is, I don't want to celebrate, you know, a president-elect coming in the campaign on a campaign of bigotry and decisiveness and who has continued to campaign even after he won the campaign on this platform.
As I decided that I'm going to work on a variety of issues with many people, in terms of planning details of how we're going to resist many of the policies that he has proposed, such as to in the Affordable Care Act and take away health care for millions of people, and other issues.
LEMON: So, Congresswomen, can you do that though, and still go to the inauguration do you think it may backfire on you? Because you're going to have to govern with this man and with the republicans in Congress.
LEE: No, I intend to govern, that is my job as a member of Congress. However, there are some of us who have to make sure that the gains that we've made on behalf of the poor, on behalf of people of color, on behalf of the LGBT community. On behalf of the most marginalized and more vulnerable in the our country.
There are some of those who are going to have to resist his agenda that he campaigned on, which is one of really not unity, but divisiveness and bigotry.
[22:30:03] And so, I intend to do my job. But I also intend to fight to protect the gains that have made and to represent the most vulnerable in our country.
LEMON: And people should know that you decided not to attend the inauguration before the incident with Congressman Lewis.
You put this out last week. But Congresswoman Chu, it was the incident with Congressman Lewis that was the decider for you? Helped you make your decision, why is that?
LEE: Oh, yes. It wasn't until Saturday that I made up my mind. I was trying to decide and going back and forth. But when I heard that Trump denigrated and disrespected the greatest icon and civil rights leader of our time, John Lewis, I could not believe it.
I could not believe that he would do that on Martin Luther King weekend. That added insult to injury. So, I immediately said that I wasn't going to go. It was this on top of his insults to the disabled, to women, to gold star parents. To me, this was just the last straw.
LEMON: And so I have to ask you, the day after Hillary Clinton lost. She said Americans owe Trump an open mind and a chance to lead. And respectfully, if she can attend the inauguration should you and your other colleagues reconsider, Congresswoman Chu?
CHU: I am open minded to actually making some progress, I actually issued a letter as chair of the Congressional Asian pacific caucus and on behalf of our 50 members to have a meeting with Trump. We sent this letter in December. But we have even yet to hear an acknowledgement of that letter.
I do want to see if he can make some progress, but I think if we make progress, that actually has to start from him. I think he has to stop denigrating people gratuitously with his tweets on a continuous basis.
If I were him being only a few days before his inauguration, I would attempt to unify the people who are coming from all kinds of different places, this very diverse country of ours, instead, he deliberately picked on the leading civil rights icon of this nation on Martin Luther King weekend and chose to pick a fight with him.
LEMON: Congresswoman Lee, I have to ask you about this, because you know, some people are -- many people see an irony in this, they say Donald Trump tried to delegitimize the current president. Not only as the president, but as a person for years.
You have criticized him for fuelling birtherism amidst to question Barack Obama's legitimacy. Is that a factor in why you think -- so many democrats are now questioning his legitimacy and are now not going to attend this inauguration.
LEE: There are many factors that I'm not going to attend the inauguration. We know there was foreign influence, Russian influence in the election, that's a factor, but we also know and have witnessed the decisiveness that is continuing.
I had hoped really that this would not continue into his presidency. But this appears that he's going to govern in this way. And I'll give you two examples. One is the nominee for the attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions.
When you look at Senator Sessions history of being on the wrong side of equal justice under the law for everyone in our country, that's an example of going back, and putting people in a cabinet that wants to turn back the clock and not be a representative of everyone in our country.
When you look at Steve Bannon, an adviser in the White House, who's a known and avowed white nationalist. How can I celebrate these types of cabinet nominees in what values...
LEMON: Well, Congresswoman, I have to tell you, he says he is not a white nationalist, he just says that his platform... LEE: I understand.
LEMON: ... which was Breitbart, was a platform for -- his web site was a platform for white nationalists. He denies being a white nationalist.
LEE: I understand that, but when you look at the platform, and when you look at -- he was one of the founders, you have to make that connection and be -- unless you just totally are hypocritical and don't support your platform.
LEMON: What I think is interesting, is that people at home may thinking that this is a coordinated effort on behalf of democratic congress people. And you guys have told me this is not. This is organic. You guys are not calling each other, or it's not organized at all, Congressman Chu -- Congresswoman Chu.
CHU: Yes, this is not organized at all. We did not text each other or e-mail each other. We each actually made our own personal decisions about what we were going to do.
[22:35:08] And in fact, there are people attending the inauguration for their own reasons or their own roles. For instance, our leaders of the democratic caucus are attending, such as our leader Pelosi, and our majority - our minority rep swath Steny Hoyer.
And there are others that want to be there with their constituents. But I think that each of us are left to our own conscience in terms of what we feel about what is going on in this country with Donald Trump, and especially his actions of the past few days.
LEMON: Well, I appreciate you taking the time to come on, Congresswoman Lee, Congresswoman Chu. Thank you so much. Have a good evening. I appreciate it.
LEE: Thank you.
CHU: Thank you.
LEMON: Then coming up, it's Donald Trump's feud with Congresswoman John Lewis going to hurt him with the black community before his presidency even starts? We're going to talk about that next.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Back to Washington, everyone, Donald Trump becomes president in just four days amidst his public feud with Congressman John Lewis.
Let's discuss now with CNN political commentator, Paris Dennard is here, he was the director of Black Outreach for President George W. Bush, Joshua DuBois, former religious affairs director in the Obama White House, Michael Higginbotham, professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, and the author of "Ghosts of Jim Crowe: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America," and Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African-American studies in English at Duke University.
Good evening to all of you.
JOSHUA DUBOIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE RELIGIOUS DIRECTOR: Good evening.
LEMON: Josh, I have to start with you.
LEMON: What do you think of what the congressman said?
DUBOIS: I think it's just -- well, one, I think that he has some serious issues that he's raising in terms of the president-elect's legitimacy. We have some further investigation that's needed.
But more broadly, I mean, there are three fundamental rules in politics. You don't wear funny hats, you don't mess with the interns and you don't attack John Lewis especially on before the inauguration. What is he doing? This is just not what you're supposed to do, and people take it personally, Don. It's not just attacking a politician, it's attacking someone who feels like a grandfather that many of...
LEMON: Yes. One of the panelists earlier described John Lewis as a national treasure.
LEMON: So, Mark, what do you did -- what's your take on this? Michael. Sorry.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL, DUKE UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: John Lewis is...
MICHAEL HIGGINBOTHAM, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE PROFESSOR: Well, you know, I...
LEMON: Go ahead. I got Mark and Michael, but go ahead.
HIGGINBOTHAM: I agree 100 percent, that you don't attack John Lewis, especially on Dr. Martin King, Jr. day.
HIGGINBOTHAM: I mean, he is an icon. He is like Dr. King. Dr. King was the conscience of the American people; John Lewis is that conscience today.
LEMON: Yes. And Mark, what do you think?
NEAL: John Lewis has earned the right to say whatever he wants to say, right? He has earned the right, you know, to be the crazy grandfather, to be the grandfather who provides some sort of knowledge, and teaching for, you know, younger folks.
He has his right to say his opinion. And I think it's insensitive really of Mr. Trump not to be cognizant of everything that was going on at this kind moment. As one of your earlier panel said, you know, this was a great opportunity to build a bridge with Mr. Lewis and the civil rights generation, to have better conversations about race in America, and Mr. Trump failed the opportunity to take advantage of that.
LEMON: All right. And now there's Paris, Paris, what's your take?
PARIS DENNARD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE BLACK OUTREACH DIRECTOR: Why you set me up like that? You know what, Don, this is my take.
LEMON: Because I know you that you have a different take.
DENNARD: No, I do. But I will first say I have worked with Congressman Lewis. Actually when I was at the White House we honored him publicly. President Bush did that. And I think that he is a national treasure, and he is someone who should be respected. But I believe that Senator Mansion, a democrat, was correct when he said his statements were uncalled nor.
Because there is no doubt in my mind and the minds of the American people that Donald Trump is the legitimate president of the United States based upon the way we do our elections systems here in this country.
But I will say this. What makes me most disappointed in the whole controversy that's going on is the fact that both sides are not understanding the moment that we're in, we should follow the steps of Martin Luther King III who came to the table and said, I want to be a bridge builder.
Steve Harvey said I'm going to come to the table took a lot of backlash but he came to the table...
LEMON: Still taking a lot of backlash.
DENNARD: And still taking a lot of backlash. And I hope that when Congressman Lewis says things like, he wouldn't invite President Trump to Selma, that he would rethink that. Because President-elect should be in Selma. And I think they can have opportunities to work together to help our community.
LEMON: So, I'm glad you mentioned those points. I'm going to play what Donald Trump -- I'm going to talk about what he said. But there are many people who believe that Martin, and listen, I have great respect for Martin III and also for Steve Harvey. That they were used...
LEMON: ... as photo ops. Or used as a way for Donald Trump to get away. You invite someone into your home and you don't really mean it, and then you go out and say, see, I tried. What do you make of that? DENNARD: I don't buy it. And I think -- I think for those who think
that, you have a right to feel that way. Let his actions speak louder than the photo op.
LEMON: That's why they're saying that.
DENNARD: But we have to give him a chance. Let him -- let him -- let him fail or let him prove himself to be worthy of the respect from our community. And I think we owe it to him just like we owed it to President Obama to show himself to be a friend to the community. That is the same for President-elect Trump.
LEMON: When you're 70 years old, don't you have more days behind you where you could look for evidence of that then you have ahead of you?
DENNARD: When you're becoming the president of the United States, you have four years ahead of you, and that's what we should look forward to. Four years of what he wants to do for this country, specifically, the black community.
LEMON: Go ahead, Josh.
DUBOIS: But the question for these gentlemen that are meeting with the president-elect is, what are they seeking to achieve for communities in those meetings. I went back and looked at the transcripts of when Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. both met with and then called LBJ after one of their initial meetings.
[22:44:59] And he had some specific tangible objectives for those conversations. He was trying to pass the Voting Rights Act. He was trying to get an African-American cabinet secretary appointed.
To me, and I love Martin III. But this meeting sort of feels a little bit more like cover for Donald Trump than trying to actually achieve a specific objective. Like getting a better Affordable Care Act or working on sessions as problematic positions. I mean, that's the type of thing that we need our civil rights leader to be fighting for not just a photo op with Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think...
LEMON: "Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district" - hold on -- "which is in horrible shape and falling apart, not to mention crime infested, rather than falsely complaining about the election results, all talk, talk, talk, no action or results. Sad." Go ahead, Mark.
NEAL: You know, if Donald Trump is concerned about those kinds of things, he should have called a meeting with Representative Lewis. What does Steve Harvey represent in terms of delivering goods and services and quality of life which is to black communities? He's a comedian. I find him funny. He is not a power blocker for the black community. Kanye West is not a power broker for the black community. As Joshua mentioned a second ago, you know, when Martin Luther King sits down with Lyndon Baines Johnson, he's doing so as a power broker for the black community. Someone who's trying to deliver important aspects, you know, to black civil life in the context of talking with the president of the United States.
What we've seen is a man in terms of Mr. Trump who seems to be more concerned with finding black people who like him to counter the critique that he's getting from other black folks.
LEMON: All right. Stand by, everyone. Michael, you'll get on the other side. When we come right back, Donald Trump led the birther movement which question the legitimacy of President Barack Obama. We'll talk about that next.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Back with Paris Dennard, Joshua Dubois, Michael Higginbotham, and Mark Anthony Neal. Michael, Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of President Barack Obama for years with this birther movement, is he being hypocritical? Some people are saying, you know, it's a -- we should be saying --we should be saying it's poetic justice and not irony that John Lewis is doing what he's doing.
HIGGINBOTHAM: Yes. Certainly he's being hypocritical. I think if anybody in the country should not be surprised is Donald Trump. Because as you've mentioned, he was the leader of the birther movement. He wouldn't -- he wouldn't put it down, even after the birth certificate was published. He wouldn't put it down, and so, sure, it's justice.
LEMON: Do you believe in karma?
DUBOIS: I do believe in karma. And most importantly, I believe in the original CNN reporting on this some of this underlying rest of the story. I think Trump jump all over BuzzFeed so that he can sort of shut the whole thing down, but there's possibly some there-there.
So, even before we get to comparing, you know, President Obama to President-elect Trump in terms of legitimacy. I still want to know what's happening with Russia.
DUBOIS: I mean, there is still some unanswered question.
LEMON: Well, that was -- that is actually what Congressman John Lewis said, he said it was Russia. And the people are sort of conflating it with race...
LEMON: ... and the president and the you know, and the whole birtherism thing, but he's saying specifically that it was Russia that leads him to -- that gives him some question about whether... (CROSSTALK)
DUBOIS: Absolutely. I mean, we have a growing body of evidence saying that a foreign government that somewhat an adversary of government interfered in our election. And some significant reporting separate from the whole BuzzFeed mess that raises some questions that we still need answers to. And Donald Trump is not providing those answers.
LEMON: This is what, you know, I've been hearing a lot of people on television, including the vice president and others who are saying that, you know, should -- everyone should get on board, they should accept and they should not be protesting.
This is in 2012, the president-elect tweeted this, he wasn't the president-elect then. In response to President Obama's re-election, "We can't let this happen, we should march on Washington and stop this travesty, our nation is totally divided."
DUBOIS: Well, I...
LEMON: I think Paris.
DENNARD: Listen, I think we're going to see multiple examples of candidate Trump coming into the reality of President Trump, and there might be contradictions, and there might be things that he has to re- evaluate. Because this is a person who wasn't running for office in his entire life.
LEMON: Who's calling for a revolution then? He's calling for -- it's kind of -- similar to what's happening with the democrats now that everyone is criticizing, but he was on board with it in 2012.
DENNARD: And in 2016, going into 2017, there's a new revolution, it's this wave of republicanism that took over the House, the Senate and the presidency, and then he asked to deal with that mantle that he's been given, it's going to be difficult for him. But I think that he's going to find more and more opportunities to bring people together and this is a prime example. This is a test of leadership, how will he govern and how will he lead?
LEMON: Yes. Mark, I thought you brought up a great point. You probably want to respond to this. But I thought your point was right on and I should have told in the moment, but I had to get to the break.
You don't always meet, especially as a leader or the president of the United States, you don't always meet with people you like or agree with. You're going to have to do a lot of that as president. Meeting with people, bringing them together. Even when they don't agree with you, even if you don't like them?
NEAL: Absolutely. Let's say this about Mr. Trump. No matter how ill- informed he might be about black lives and black politics, he's incredibly shrewd. And you know, when he's been able to do with the debate back and forth with Congressman Lewis, is to divert attention from these other pressing issues.
Issues about, you know, like the issues around Russia, like the fact that there are so many appointments in his cabinet that haven't -- in his government that hasn't been made yet. These are all fundamental things that he should be tweet -- paying attention to, instead of tweeting at 2 o'clock in the morning, you know, as a way to divert attention away from more pressing issues.
So, he is very shrewd in that regard. And I think if he was really serious about building these bridges, he would sit down and have these conversations with some of the opposition, if you will.
[22:55:03] You know, there are debates about how effective President Obama was in terms of reaching across the aisle in that regard. But at least he knew how to perform the gesture of reaching across the aisle. We haven't seen that gesture yet in terms of Mr. Trump including that scene, that gesture he yet taking real seriously in terms of a connection to the black community.
LEMON: In terms of meeting with African-Americans who like him or who he likes, Michael. You have to -- Steve Harvey, Jennifer Holiday getting a lot of backlash for going to Trump Tower, meeting with the president or considering to perform at the inauguration. What do you say to African-Americans who are concerned about that or the people there who may be giving the backlash?
HIGGINBOTHAM: Well, I think that everyone has to make those decisions for themselves. But I distinguish between the president-elect meeting with policymakers to discuss how to make things better for the black community. And those who are simply attending the inaugural celebration. That's what it is, it's a celebration.
So, people can pick and choose whether they wish to celebrate this election or not. I think it's part of a great history of American protest whether you go back to John Carlos and Tommy Smith in the 1968 Olympics. Muhammad Ali, you can protest.
And one of the ways to protest is to stay away from the inauguration. So, I think it's fine for people to stay away to do so. I think that's sending a message, an appropriate message. And I would encourage all of those individuals who are concerned about President-elect Trump to do that.
DENNARD: Don, real quick, I would just say I'm proud that Talladega is coming, that marching band is coming representing all HBCU's -- they raise over $500,000 to get their students here. That's a positive thing, that's a good thing for them to be here.
LEMON: We have the president of their college, Josh. I know we're short on time. But I think have to. Do you think -- do you think Steve Harvey should have met with the president?
HIGGINBOTHAM: I mean, there's nothing wrong with him meeting, in terms of the president reaching out to people, he needs to reach out to John Lewis. I mean, if he's serious about helping urban America, if he's serious about making some differences in this country. We got real issues. This is not the Martin Luther King Jr. day. We've got serious issues.
HIGGINBOTHAM: We needs to reach out -- he needs to reach out...
DENNARD: He reached out to Ambassador Andy Young today, too.
DUBOIS: He better reach out to John Lewis. Fifty seven years ago, almost to the day John Lewis started a sit-in movement in national Tennessee. And if Donald Trump knows what's good for him he better reach out to chocolate plant.
LEMON: All right. That's the last word. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)