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V.A. Nominee Facing Controversy; Trump White House Hosts First State Dinner Honoring French President Macron and His Wife. Aired 10- 11p ET

Aired April 24, 2018 - 22:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hope you join us with that. Thanks for watching 360. Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. "CNN TONIGHT" starts right now.


Here's our breaking news. Well, the controversy over the president's doctor deepens into a possible scandal, the first state dinner of the Trump administration is happening now at the White House honoring French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte.

The event a high profile demonstration of what looks like a pretty close relationship between the two presidents. You can call it if you want, a bromance. But the star of the evening is definitely the first lady.

Melania Trump in national gown finally getting her moment to shine after reportedly taking the lead on all the details of this evening. From the guest list, including Rupert Murdoch and his wife, Jerry Hall, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and his wife Louis Linton. And of course, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. After three course dinner featuring a rack of lamb and jambalaya, the guest star heading into the east room for entertainment from the Washington national opera.

Much more on all of this all the pomp and circumstance in just a moment. But while tonight's state dinner seems to be going off without a hitch, well you definitely can't say the same thing for the president's latest cabinet nominee.

What we are learning tonight about the accusations against President Trump's pick to head the Veterans Affairs agency, Dr. Ronny Jackson, well, it is shocking. Senator Jon Tester telling Anderson Cooper tonight about allegations of drinking on duty and proper prescription drug use.


SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: The word is that on overseas trips in particular that admiral would go down away of the airplane and say, all right, who wants to go to sleep and hand out the prescription drugs.


LEMON: And there's more. Sources telling CNN that Dr. Jackson drunkenly banged on the female employee's door during an overseas trip in 2015, becoming so disruptive the Secret Service stopped him out of concern he would wake then-President Barack Obama. All of this is exactly the kind of thing you'd expect would come up in a vetting process if the White House had done in the vetting in the first place.

Whatever happens to President Trump's bout to bring on all the best people. The president today not exactly giving Dr. Jackson a big public vote of confidence.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact is I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. What is he needed for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren't thinking nicely about our country? I really don't think personally he should do it. But it's totally his, I would stand behind him, totally his decision.


LEMON: The White House releasing letters in defense of Dr. Jackson tonight as one senior officials calls his record impeccable. So in the midst of mixed signals from the White House this president support his nominee or not? All of this coming on a day full of what you could call head scratching moments.

The first lady's headline grabbing hat, I mean, it look beautiful, the couple's really awkward White House photo and this.


TRUMP: We do have a very special relationship. In fact I'll get that little piece of dandruff off. We have to make him perfect. He is perfect.


LEMON: We're following multiple breaking news stories tonight. I want to bring in CNN Contributor, Frank Bruni, a columnist for "The New York Times," and Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama. Your mouth kind of dropped there when you saw that didn't it?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's the first time I saw--


LEMON: That's not our lead story but we will talk about that. Yes, we want to discuss that and much, much more. But I want to start with the doctor and this new reporting that we have, David, for you. CNN is reporting that Dr. Jackson drunkenly banged on a female employee's door during an overseas trip back in 2015. Secret service had to get involved. You were no longer at the White House at that point. But are you familiar with any of this behavior that's being described? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm really not. You

know, I was in the White House in 2009 and 2010. I knew Dr. Jackson. In my experience he was very professional, very courteous, very much under control. I never saw any of the behavior that's being reported here. That's not to say it didn't happen. But it certainly didn't happen in my presence.

You know, what I've said about this was, you know, I found him to be perfectly professional as a doctor. I saw nothing by the same token that would qualify him to run one of the largest and most complex federal agencies. And that alone should have given people a plus.

I think the headline out of today is that Melania Trump spent a lot more time on preparation than the president did on his job and in naming not just this cabinet appointee but Scott Pruitt and others who a good vet maybe have excluded from the beginning.

LEMON: Frank, this is for you. I want to play what we heard about Dr. Ronny Jackson from the president earlier. Watch this.


[22:04:58] TRUMP: I said to Dr. Jackson, what do you need it for? So we'll see what happens. I don't want to put a man through who's not a political person. I don't want to put a man through a process like this. It's too ugly and too disgusting. But the fact is I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. What does he need it for?


LEMON: Frank, according to "Washington Post" Dr. Ronny Jackson offer to drop out. The president said no. He said he should fight on. But this is the latest example. This is a Trump made mess because he didn't have to nominate the man.

BRUNI: Yes. No, it's a total Trump made mess because he didn't need to nominate him. He's not -- he doesn't have the appropriate experience for the job. And if the White House had done any minimal level of vetting before they put him out there they probably would have learned what the Senate committee is learning now.

That Trump statement is so odd. Because well, it's not an exhortation to get out, it really does seem to be a signal or an invitation to Ronny Jackson. You know, I'd be fine, I'd be even be happier if he got out of this.

What bothers me about the way the president talks about it though, Don, is where he made it all about an ugly process. It's the fault of these not nice people in the Senate. It has nothing do with any flaw in the White House. It has nothing do, you know, with a lack of proper vetting in the Trump -- by the Trump a administration. And even when he said, you know, these not nice people are doing, he has this habit of questioning the patriotism of his critics.


BRUNI: You know, in a way that I think is not constructive.

LEMON: And blaming the process and not necessarily himself, or the doctor if the doctor has done anything wrong.

BRUNI: Right.

LEMON: Yes. David, I want to play something that we heard. This is from Senator Jon Tester. It's what he told Anderson about over prescribing drugs short while ago. Watch this.


TESTER: On overseas trips in particular that admiral would go down the way of the airplane and say who wants to go to sleep and hand out the prescription.

COOPER: So you're talking about like an Ambien.

TESTER: Yes, that's exactly right. And put them to sleep and then give him the drugs to wake him back up again.

COOPER: The wake up drug you're talking about, I assume is something like Provigil.

TESTER: That's correct.

COOPER: Officially for narcolepsy it works on dopamine.

TESTER: Yes. I mean, these are called controlled substances for a reason. We have--


COOPER: So he would actually just go down the aisle--

TESTER: Yes, that's correct.

COOPER: -- and sort of say who wants to sleep who wants to wake up?

TESTER: That's the report we got from the people that 20 some people who got a hold of us and said we got a problem with this doctor, he has a problem because he hands out prescriptions like candy. In fact, in the White House they call him the candy man.


LEMON: David, his nickname is the candy man? Tester says 20 or so people came forward with allegations. There was a 2012 navy medical inspector general report out landing other misconduct allegations. Why hadn't we heard about any of this until now?

AXELROD: Well, I mean, I don't know the question. I don't know the answer to that question, Don. Again, I mean, the fundamental question is why was he appointed in the first place. And it seems like from the reporting that this was just, you know, an impulse of the presidents to name this guy before he was vetted, before his staff had a chance to look into it. And so we have the mess we have.

I quite agree with Frank. I mean, one of the most unattractive qualities of the president is his absolute unwillingness to accept responsibility for anything. Nothing is his fault when things go wrong it's other people's fault.

We should point out that the question that are being raised in Congress right now are being raised by both Republicans and Democrats. And far from engaging in an ugly process it seems to me that they are discharging their responsibilities as members of Congress having taken an oath to do so. They should do nothing less.

So, the real responsibility rests with the president for making a decision getting out in front of his staff, getting out in front of the Congress. And an appointment we should point out for one of the most challenged institutions in government that deals with, you know, some of our most cherished citizens, our veterans.

LEMON: Right.

AXELROD: And so all of it is disturbing.

LEMON: Yes. And gentlemen and also folks, I want to play this. Because Dr. Jackson talked about giving people Ambien during an overseas travel back in January when he announced from the White House podium the result of the president's physical. Take a look at this.


RONNY JACKSON, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PHYSICIAN: The president does take some Ambien occasional like we all do on overseas travel. So when we travel from one, you know, time zone to another time zone on the other side of the planet, you know, I recommend that everyone on the plane take a sleep aid at a certain time so that we can try our best to get on the schedule of our destinations.


LEMON: This seems -- it appears a little more serious than he made it out to be at the time, David.

AXELROD: No. Listen. Let me just defend him on this. Anyone who has been on a presidential mission and what he said is absolutely right. You know, you start in one time zone. You're going into a completely different time zone. You have to, when you arrive you're expected to be alert and you're immediately dealing with significant issues.

[22:10:05] So it's important that people are able to sleep. I don't take Ambien. So, you know, I didn't do that. But others, you know, use it, need it in order to sleep on a flight and get on the right schedule. And so I don't really fault him for this. I think this element of it could be overblown.

Some of the other charges that have been made are really very disturbing. You know, I never saw him drunk, for example, on duty or even off duty. So, I don't know anything about that. But on this one I think that it can be made to sound much more sinister than it does. And I suspect doc, White House doctors for time a memorial on these global trips have been -- you know, have made sleep aids available to presidential aides.

LEMON: David, listen, I have to say, maybe it's not senator -- sinister but having had experience with people who do things in their sleep when they take Ambien like walk around or go for drives or what have you, you have to see your doctor and you have to -- the doctor has to monitor you on those drugs, especially Ambien because Ambien can have really adverse side effects.

AXELROD: Yes. Don, that's why I don't take it.


AXELROD: I mean, I had an adverse reaction to it long before I got to the White House and so I don't take Ambien. So, I hear what you're saying but again, you know, he was there to monitor people. It wasn't like he was absent. He was there on the scene.

So, I mean, there are a lot of reasons I think for his nomination to be rejected and probably withdrawn. And on the list of them I don't know where this one would fit. I think being unqualified for the job would probably be right at the top.

LEMON: They also talked about allegations, Frank, of him, Dr. Jackson being drunk. That's what Senator Tester talked about.


LEMON: Not being able to respond because he had too much to drink. When you hear allegations like this there's an extra layer of consideration the president's own views about alcohol relating to his brother and so on that should have been considered.

BRUNI: Yes. Well, that's a very disturbing allegation. But I don't think we need yet to know the full truth of these allegations to be disturbed by the way this decision was made, you know. So, I think we should stay focused on the fact this was an impulse decision, as David said.

This was one of those things the president did because it made him feel, I mean, appointing Ronny Jackson because it made him feel good at a moment in time. And you to ask why did he want Ronny Jackson in the job? I think he wanted Ronny Jackson the job because Ronny Jackson had flattered him so lavishly when he gave the reports on that physical. 3 LEMON: Yes.

BRUNI: Donald Trump likes people who like him and he seems to think that that it's his own character recommendation.

LEMON: Yes. After that we thought he was superman.

(CROSSTALK) AXELROD: And Don, can I just add, can I--

LEMON: I was going to go out and buy some big Macs and eat them and some diet Coke. Go on.

BRUNI: Right.

AXELROD: Can thing that happened today is that the president praised Kim Jong-un as behaving, you know, in an I just add something that may seem l3ike a non sequitur but it's not. Another honorable way. You know, he lavish praise on Kim Jong-un. This is just months after he had Otto Warmbier's parents in the gallery at the state of the union and denounced Kim Jong-un as a savage beast. You know, and with some justification.

And you know, so you have this whiplash. And this is, there are all of these disturbing anecdotes that make you concerned about how he is handling this job. Whether it's impulsively appointing someone who is unqualified for this very important post or whether he is whip sawing back and forth between little rocket man and, you know, my honorable negotiating partner. You know, it's just not the way the president should run.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it. When we come back, in the midst of the latest controversy for the Trump administration, the president hosts his first state dinner tonight. We're going to take you inside the White House for all of the highlights from the toast to the dinner to the French fashion on display.


LEMON: Here's our breaking news. President Trump honoring French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, with his first state dinner tonight.

CNN's Boris Sanchez has all the latest for us at the White House, and also, CNN Political Analyst, April Ryan, CNN Senior Political Analyst, David Gergen. The gang is all here. Is it raining in D.C., Boris?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is raining behind me, Don, yes. I'm trying to do my best to not get sick.

LEMON: It was a big day for the president and the first lady their first state dinner. What can you tell us about the evening?

SANCHEZ: It was a very elegant affair. Both presidents is giving toasts and sending overtures to each other. French President Emmanuel Macron, at one point making some light hearted jokes about the French influence on the some of the furniture in the White House. It wasn't exactly well -received.

President Trump did draw some applause thanking First Lady Melania Trump for arranging the evening, picking out everything from the cushions that people were sitting on to the meal that were served. Only the most fascinating thing about this evening was the interaction between these two men.

Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump all day we've been watching their interactions. It is a study in power dynamics and body language. What we saw in France on Bastille Day a sort of awkward handshake playing out over and over again, the two men, forgive the phrase, trying to sort of out brow each other with these lengthy deliberate handshakes, pats on the hands, pats on the shoulders.

At one point, President Trump grooming French President Emmanuel Macron, wiping what he called dandruff off of him. Nothing like that at the dinner. With all day it's really been fascinating to watch, Don

LEMON: It was fascinating, especially the dandruff part. David, only one 3Democrat was invited tonight, the governor of Louisiana because of France's history in his state but no congressional Democrats. That's a departure. How significant is that?


LEMON: Yes, David.

GERGEN: I'm sorry. I thought it was a snub and unnecessary. It seemed to me that especially on the first night and big first state dinner you always invite some others from the other side. It's a way to reach out friendship.

And so, I thought it was a little reminder about people that should have known better. But I think the really interesting question is, Don, tonight is through of all of this bromance and the elegance which is always accompanied state dinners with France in the White House, is Macron playing a very subtle game?

[22:20:06] Is he working through Trump's ego and by flattering him luring him away from cancellations of the deal with Iran which would cause a crisis in Europe and cause a crisis throughout the Middle East. He's luring him through a shiny new object maybe a new negotiation, Mr. President, you are going to negotiate a new deal. I don't think it's very realistic to think he can do it but it's a way to buy more time and see if we can figure out some answers. And Macron maybe playing extremely subtle game.

LEMON: Yes. April, tonight it was a glittering affair but it was a -- it's what the president had to say about state dinners on the campaign trail that's interesting. Watch this.


TRUMP: We give them state dinners like you've never seen. We shouldn't have dinners at all. We should be eating a hamburger on a conference table. Forget the state dinners that cost by the way a fortune.


LEMON: So what changed? APRIL RYAN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: His standing in the world

is what changed. This dinner was needed for this president. He showed a winning picture at least with one European leader. You know, Don, European leaders and I talked to someone from the E.U. recently, one of the major figures in the E.U., and they said, you know, I ask, you know, what is the president, how is the president viewed overseas in Europe or how is the president viewed by world leaders. And he said, which one, all but Russia and Israel.

He said they look at him as a disruptor and they just don't know where he is coming from.

So this was a needed step for the president to show that he can play with world leaders or at least try to play well. And you know, the end of the week we're going to Angela -- Angela Merkel and there is a very strained relationship there. This president needed this state dinner. He stumbled a bit early on but he needed the state dinner to show a winning picture.

LEMON: Yes. So Boris, while in the Oval Office with Macron the president was asked whether he would pardon his personal attorney Michael Cohen. Here it is.


TRUMP: All right. Thank you very much.


TRUMP: A stupid question.


LEMON: Stupid question. I don't know. It's been reported that he is furious over the Cohen raid. And he certainly tweeted a lot about it this weekend. Maybe if he didn't want the question ask he shouldn't be talking about so much or tweeting about it.

SANCHEZ: Right. And it's important that you give that context there. The president trying to dismiss this as a stupid question. But he spent part of his weekend tweeting about Michael Cohen's legal troubles and then shortly after he tweeted about a potential pardon for former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson after a phone call with Sylvester Stallone a month ago.

So, there's questions about the context of that tweet, a about a pardon. Listen, the president has even openly speculated about pardoning his former national security advisor Michael Flynn. So this is a timely question, it's a valid question and it's one that the White House is going to be continue to be pressed on even if the president thinks it's stupid.

LEMON: Yes. David, I wonder what you make of macron's face, because if you put it back if you can see him when he says, you know, stupid question he sort of winces. What must be going through his mind that visiting, you know, the U.S. these multiple scandals and investigations plagued this White House.

GERGEN: Well, I'm sure there's a part of him as being used, part of him is amazed. But you know, the French going all the way back to De Gaulle have had much more formal relationship with the press. You know, De Gaulle held only one press conference a year and when he held it yet all of the reporters had to send in questions in advance, you know, so that he could really completely control the press.

So, I'm sure from Macron coming from the tradition like that looks at all of this as sort of the bedlam in the White House as well. I think it's part of an American democracy frankly, to have things that are a little bit noisy and, you know, and contentious. And I think this healthy at some of this jockeying. And I thought the president was like, you know, to say stupid question was ridiculous. Of course it's a serious question. Of course, the press are going to be asking it. But Macron must look upon this as like, you know, they are just being Americans again, aren't they?

LEMON: Yes. I think people at home were embarrassed. Boris, Apple CEO -- I'm sorry. April, let me ask you about this. April, CEO, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple attended the dinner. He brought Lisa Jackson. You know, Lisa Jackson is the head of the EPA during the Obama administration. That was his plus one. The current EPA chief Scott Pruitt was not in attendance. Shall we read anything into that?

RYAN: You can read a lot into that. Lisa Jackson, great, good for her. She was a Democrat that was there then. But for the president not to bring his own person that's saying that he wants to keep him, he wants the winning picture going back to that winning picture. He doesn't want controversy at this dinner, this first state dinner that he needs to go well. His first state visit of his presidency that he needs to go well.

[22:25:07] He wants the winning picture. You know, for Lisa to be there, that's great. I mean, she happened to be a plus one. You know, state dinners are great things to be in. I mean, she really had a -- that's really good for her. Particularly being a Democrat not many there. But for Pruitt, just, he just missed out. 2

LEMON: Yes. Keeping an arm's length. Thank you, Boris. Thank you, April. Thank you, David. I Appreciate it.

RYAN: Yes.

LEMON: When we come back the White House seems to be constantly cleaning up. The latest open comment or tweet from the president. But as President Trump gone too far? And is the White House running out of explanations?

Plus, we are awaiting results in Arizona special election, Democrat hoping to grab momentum in a state that it went for President Trump by 21 points.


LEMON: Well, even after the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insist that the president's use of the phrase breeding concept in a tweet about sanctuary cities was not, quote, "original language." Well, it remains unconvinced.


RYAN: Which is breeding means because when you think of breeding you think of animals breeding--


[22:30:03] SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to begin to think what you think. Certainly I think that it means a lot of things to a lot of people, but the president is talking about a growing problem.


LEMON: One reason people may have a hard time buying it is because it's just the latest in a number of comments which seemed to set a pattern here. Before this latest excuse goes down the memory hole as they so often do, let's put in context and talk about it, and why it's so unprecedented and damaging.

Long before throwing his hat into the ring for president, Trump spent years suggesting that the nation's first black president was born in Kenya and not an American citizen, denigrating the first African- American president. If you are waiting for an apology, I hope you haven't been holding your breath.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does that mean that he's willing to apologize for birtherism claims that he called on for years?

SANDERS: I think the president has made plenty of comments on that front.


LEMON: In fact, even after the president to forced to recant his birther theory, which he did very begrudgingly, there have been reports he still believes it. After NFL players began following the example of Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem to protest a number of unarmed black Americans being killed by police, the president said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired. He's fired!


LEMON: Again, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tried to clarify. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: You're missing the entire purpose of the message. He is emphasizing something that should be unifying. Celebrating and promoting patriotism in our country is something that should bring everybody together.


LEMON: So he wasn't thrashing the players for using their free speech rights, he was trying to unite. Then there's the president's leaked comments expressing frustration about why the U.S. keeps admitting people from S-hole countries. Listing (ph) a continent and countries with major black and brown people and not more people from places like Norway. Clarifying, if you can call it that. Again, Sarah Sanders.


SANDERS: No one here is going to pretend like the president is always politically correct. He isn't. I think that's one of the reasons the American people love him.


LEMON: Not all of the American people love this. The president's approval rating around the time of those comments, 38 percent.

I want to bring in now CNN Political Commentators, Angela Rye, Amanda Carpenter, and Scott Jennings. It just keeps happening. He keeps saying things that are just blatantly racist. People keep explaining in a way to get the Trump tweet whispers or whatever the whispers that come on and they are like, oh, he didn't mean that. People love it. This whole -- it's ridiculous. And then we forget about it and move on.

Angela, him tweeting about breeding is the most recent example of this pattern. He says or tweets something that's racist and then Sanders stands at the podium as she tries to spin it. Is this normalizing racism?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLICITAL COMMENTATOR: I think the moment Donald Trump became the Republican nominee, they agreed to normalize racism. They are beyond where they were in 2012 when they decided to issue a GOP autopsy report studying how they can engage with communities of color and women and millennials better.

And instead of really leaning in to what those findings might have been although let me be honest they weren't that great, they really could have made some marked progress, right? And at this point, they haven't been able to do that because you cannot change and adjust a message for policies that are willfully horrible.

Whether we are talking about the war on drugs which right now where war on drugs number 2.0 under Donald Trump, but there was a war on drugs before Donald Trump that existed with Ronald Reagan. And so you have to at some point say, just as Harry Reid said, Donald Trump is the Republican Party's Frankenstein. They have to own this. This is their problem that they help to create and the very fact -- Amanda, you can roll your eyes but the reality --


LEMON: OK, one at a time. One at a time.

RYE: But I am. But I am. And I'm not done. This is the time and I just -- I will and I don't need your permission to do that, OK? So, here is the bottom line. Speaker Ryan -- yes, we are just getting started, honey.

Speaker Ryan is someone who now is leaving because he would rather run away from a problem that he helped to create with his silence and his cowardice instead of standing up for what is right to do not only in this country, for people of color, for women, for young people, for disabled people.

[22:35:05] It's been time for them to understand that.

LEMON: OK, go ahead, Amanda.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here is what is so frustrating. There are very political types on the left who will do anything they can to lump (ph) any Republican, marry them to Trump. People like me who had every opportunity have tried to speak out against his bigotry, against his terrible comments, who supported people like Ted Cruz at the convection who tried to stop him or at least get a role call vote at that nomination.

And so what has happened is that good people are just leaving. You want them to stay and fight, you will berate people like Paul Ryan because they didn't fight hard enough when all that does is make it so that only the Trumpiest Trump people are controlling the White House.

You say every Republican is a racist because the war on the drugs or insert whatever policy there is. That's what it always gets back to. And so yes, I take responsibility for what my party did to create Trump but when are the liberals going to do that?

RYE: With the question, liberals going to do what?

CARPENTER: What Republican is acceptable to you? Paul Ryan is not good enough.

RYE: Oh, but Amanda --

CARPENTER: Mitt Romney is probably not good enough. Bob Corker is probably not good enough.

RYE: No. You're right. Here is the thing --

CARPENTER: Who would be a worthy Republican opposition partner for you today? Name a name. RYE: Amanda, you know what's so interesting is there's a very country saying in the south, they say a hit dog will holler. What's so interesting is you're somebody who I would have never lumped in with these folks. I am talking about Republican leadership --

CARPENTER: When you say they, who is they?

RYE: You're not going to let me finish. They is, I was talking about elected Republican candidates -- candidates in the Republican Party. I'm talking about the way that your party treated Michael Steele. Someone who --

LEMON: Angela. Hold on. We are talking about now -- listen, that's fine, but no one is to the degree that Donald Trump has said things and put things out there in terms of race. Any other Republican --

RYE: I'm not talking -- that's what I'm saying. I'm talking about people who allowed it to happen, right? She just brought up Ted Cruz. Amanda has a great point. You are being more courageous than Ted Cruz. I never came after you.


RYE: -- had been very consistent. You know Ted Cruz hasn't. let's just be honest. I have former bosses who I'm ride or die for.

LEMON: Let her respond.

RYE: -- been any courageous example of how to stand up to Donald Trump. Let's be honest.

LEMON: Go ahead, Amanda.

CARPENTER: I would say a part of that problem -- listen, I don't like the piece that Ted Cruz wrote for Donald Trump in Time magazine. You had people who are willing to take it to the convention. When people are doing things like that, he said, not you. A lot of people. What a jerk.

He went to the party, drank the wine and peed on the carpet. Were saying things like that. And so when you have Republicans who are trying to stand up and hold the line, and all they get told is that you're not acting the right way, eventually people throw up their hands and leave.

LEMON: OK, Scott, we'll get you on the other side of the break. We'll be right back.


LEMON: We are back tonight with Angela Rye, Amanda Carpenter, and Scott Jennings. Scott, they were talking about the people who are standing up in the Republican Party. It appears, I'm not sure, just from my estimation, the people who -- only the people who are leaving are standing up against, you know, the Trump regime or Trump's racist statements. Are they just so frustrated that they have to go? I mean, do you see it that way?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here is what I think. I listened to debate. It is a good conversation for us to have. Number one, I think racism has been an issue in this country since we founded it. We are better now than we were. But it is still an issue. There is no debating that.

Most Republicans I know whether they are Trump supporters or never Trump people, they do not tolerate racism. So I reject the premise that because a Republican supports Donald Trump or a republican is a Republican that they must be a racist or that they are supporting racist policies.

I don't personally believe Donald Trump is a racist. Now, I also think he has made mistakes in this area and I don't think he has done as good of a job as he can do or as we should expect the president to do at times to set the standard for not tolerating this kind of language in this country. I don't -- you know, I spoke out against what he did on Charlottesville, for instance. He could have done better. We could always do better.

LEMON: Scott, don't you feel like the bar is so low?

JENNINGS: I want to see improvement out of everybody including the president.

LEMON: OK, Scott, let's talk here. You think the bar is so low? How can you say you don't think is president is racist given all the evidence? I don't comment that lightly. Every single bit of evidence is that he is. So then if he is not, then what kind of person says the stuff that he says? I would hate to see like someone who is -- what does a real racist do then if he is not one?

JENNINGS: Calling someone a racist -- look, I respect your opinion to come to that judgment. I am not going sit here and say you're right or you're wrong. I am going to tell you what my opinion is and the judgment that I've come to. I don't believe the man is a racist.

I believe the man has said insensitive things about race. I think to label someone a racist in this country is one of the harshest things you can say. I do not personally want to label Donald Trump a racist because I don't believe it. But again, I think he could improve in his language in this area. I do agree with you on that.

LEMON: Go ahead, Amanda. What do you think of that?

CARPENTER: I agree with Scott. I think it's really hard to call anyone a racist. I do think it's one of three possibilities. I think he is. He wants people to think he is or he doesn't care. I think he dances with the racist strings of the alt-right to this day has altered the election and all three of those possibilities they laid out are equally bad.

I just think it's very hard without knowing exactly what is in someone's heart to say, yes, you are racist. But, yes, I will judge you by your words. And the fact that he has not done better, you know, tells me a lot. And it's a terrible thing.

[22:45:02] LEMON: Angela, I mean, do we ever know what's really in someone's heart? Don't you only judge people through their actions, through their words, through what they do? And you don't know. I can't read someone's heart. I can't read someone's mind.

RYE: We can read Donald Trump's actions long before he was in the White house. You already played a clip about him having to at least reverse course on birtherism. But long before that, there was this Central Park five and three full-page ads he took out in New York papers accusing five young boys of rape that they didn't commit and then calling for the death penalty.

We have the Department of Justice housing discrimination. Here we are 50 years after the fair housing act. I will just question if you don't judge a tree by the fruit it bears then what do you judge a tree by? If it's a lemon tree and it's producing lemon, I promise you, it's a lemon tree. I don't understand -- I understand that in a day and age where it is so funny because folks on the right want to say, oh, you know, this political correctness thing.

But the only time you hear folks on the right get politically correct is when it comes to calling someone for what they are and for what they have done. If Donald Trump is not a racist, he is certainly pushing forth racist language, and racially adverse policies. And at some point, we have to call it for what it is.

CARPENTER: I think there is agreement that he does seem to inflame racial tension for political benefit. I think that is without a doubt to place out again and again. Angela, as you pointed out, he is doing it in the papers, when he was a businessman to build up his name in New York City.

He continues to do it to this day. We can debate about whether he is a racist or we as a people can just reject the effects of what he is doing outright and I think that will get us a lot farther.

RYE: I think that is a position. A privilege, Amanda. And I really appreciate you saying that.

CARPENTER: Angela, you're telling me I come from a place of privilege on that statement?

RYE: No, that statement is absolutely privileged. And what I was getting ready to say is that we -- at some point, we have to understand, right, that this country was built upon systemic oppressions. Scott just raised the same point. So we can say all of that. But we also have to understand the consequences of being in a position of power and also being a bigot and a racist.

CARPENTER: I am trying my best to find agreement and I am getting privilege thrown in my face. That's really --

RYE: I'm sorry --

(CROSSTALK) CARPENTER: You don't know anything about where I'm from, by the way.

JENNINGS: Amanda has a great point.

RYE: I'm not talking about where you're from. I was talking about statements, Amanda.

LEMON: Go ahead, Scott. Go ahead, Scott.

JENNINGS: One of the things that is absolutely true, Donald Trump inherited a country that was more divided than it was when Barack Obama took office. It was failure of everyone in the political system. For us to not do better on race relations while Barack Obama was the president. It doesn't excuse anything he is doing now.

We have to understand the American left cannot always label every conservative, every Republican, every Trump support a racist when we have these debates and conversations or we'll lead an even more divided country when he is out in four or eight years. We cannot afford to continue to divide ourselves by labeling each other within two minutes.

LEMON: I have to go. Listen, I agree with you on certain part of that. But the whole thing about the president, it is what the evidence shows. He is what he does, what he says, and the policies he puts forward. OK, fascinating conversation. I wish we could go longer but we can't. Sorry. Thank you, guys. We'll be right back.


LEMON: President Trump hosting his first state dinner tonight for French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife. But it's first lady Melania Trump who has really mastered the moment here. I want to bring in our CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett and CNN style host Derek Blasberg.

Let's talk fancy stuff here and fashion. Kate, until recently Melania seemed to stay out of the spotlight. Do you think this was her opportunity to show the world who she is amidst all the turmoil in the White House?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Sure. This was a great global stage for her to step out on, and this happened to play into her wheel house. This is a first lady who doesn't have background that most first ladies have had in modern history. This is more a woman who is just entertaining. She has multiple homes. She has a background in design. She certainly knows how to -- she's tasteful. She knows how to dress.

So I think planning the state dinner, which she did for several months leading up to it right down to the seat cushions clearly was something she felt comfortable doing and that's not necessarily something we've seen her be, comfortable in her role. So certainly it helped that a lot, I think.

LEMON: Derek, what do you think of the silver Chanel dress she wore tonight? What do you think of that dress?

DEREK BLASBERG, CNN STYLE HOST: I think Chanel wasn't unexpected. We spoke to someone from Chanel today who remarked that this was not a custom design for her, that she is a client, a longstanding client of the French House. It was a French dinner.

A lot of people are interested in why Melania doesn't wear only American. An interesting historical fact is that Jackie Kennedy wore Dior when she entertained the French president at the White House.. So there is a precedent of wearing a French designer to sort of French event. The fashion industry has such a complex relationship with Melania Trump.

That is because most of the fashion and art community doesn't agree with a lot of the Trump politics, but it's undeniable that she has a fashion designer's dream physique. She has broad shoulders, long hair. She is extremely glamorous.

LEMON: She's thin and tall. What about the pink ruffle gown? Is it Rodarte? How do say it?

BLASBERG: Rodarte.

LEMON: Rodarte. Was that a surprising choice? That's Ivanka.

BLASBERG: That's Ivanka Trump. She wore Rodarte. That's a dress that apparently she must have paid for because we reached out to the designers tonight and they were as surprised as the rest of us were to see her in a Rodarte dress. Rodarte is not a typical well-known fashion designer, sort of an edgier, younger, newer L.A.-based fashion brand.


BLASBERG: So I don't think a lot of people expected that.

LEMON: Before we run out of time, Kate and Derek, this is the one that captured everyone's attention, the white suit yesterday. I think it was Michael Kors and the hat was what, Herve Pierre, right?

[22:55:00] BENNETT: Yes.

BLASBERG: That was a custom hat. Go ahead, Kate.

LEMON: Kate first and then Derek.

BENNETT: I was just going to say I think this custom hat was obviously clearly something thought about in advance, and I think it's not necessarily the hat itself, which was pretty fabulous, I thought. But the fact she wore it knowing it would grab attention. I can't recall what President Trump said in the opening remarks but I can tell a lot about that hat. My phone sort of blue up right away. And Melania Trump, that's a calculated move, I think.

LEMON: I just kept wondering how they could walk on the lawn in, you know, six-inch heels or whatever they were wearing. What did you think of the hat and the suit?

BLASBERG: The hat is such a bold statement. No one accidentally puts on a hat. At the end of the day, this isn't the Kentucky Derby. We are not in London. You don't need to wear hat. It is not a protocol.

LEMON: But it was pretty, right?

BLASBERG: It was pretty and maybe it was really bright. We were all joking today it was really shady to wear such a wide-brimmed hat to meet a foreign dignitary.


BENNETT: She kept it on indoors, too, all day at the museum and then later at the press conference so she certainly enjoyed wearing it.

BLASBERG: She loved that hat.

LEMON: Someone said it wasn't quite a compliment that people were comparing her to Beyonce and Celine Dion with the white hat or with the hat.

BLASBERG: Yes, Lady Gaga has had a lot of hats. There is --

BENNETT: I got Olivia Pope a lot where people are saying it is handled (ph), Melania has handled --

LEMON: Listen, I'm not a fashion authority but I thought she looked lovely. Thank you. I appreciate it. When we come back, President Trump shocking a lot of people calling one particular world leader honorable, none other than Kim Jong-un.

Plus, we're awaiting results in Arizona's special election. Democrats have high hopes for momentum in the state that went for President Trump by 21 points.