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Trumps Says Families Could be Torn Apart Again; Children Suffering the Brunt of Immigration Problem; Fashion Gets Mean; Melania Trump's Jacket Says: I Really Don't Care, Do You?; President Trump, Divider-In-Chief; White Supremacist Group Plans Rally Near White House. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired June 21, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] (JOINED IN PROGRESS)
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: That's the closing argument. Thank you for joining me tonight. "CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts now. Good to see you, my friend.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Good to see you. That's what we are going to be discussing on this program as well. Who are we? What have we become? Are we a country that separates parents from their children at the border? This is the time for us to figure that out. I think this is a very pivotal moment. We'll discuss that.
And by the way, that jacket -- I was torn about that, whether I should cover it or not. But because it's a couple minutes off of the topic which is children in cages and the horrible situation happening at the border, but still, how can you -- tone deaf is the least of the phrases.
CUOMO: And then what the president said.
CUOMO: He came out there, used it as an opportunity to lie and to twist and once again make this about him and an agenda when it was supposed to be about the kids. You can't leave it alone. You just have to do it in context. And I'm sure you'll do a perfect job.
LEMON: Yes. We will. And here's the thing though. She asked the question, do you? So the question deserves an answer.
2LEMON: Don't be surprised when people are talking about it.
CUOMO: It's nice when questions get answers. A refreshing change.
LEMON: Thank you, sir. See you soon. Nice job.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
Breaking news. Even more chaos tonight on the border, e-mail obtained by CNN suggest that President Trump's zero-tolerance policy may be effectively on hold despite what the administration says publicly. That as the president himself admitted today that families could still be separated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I signed a very good executive order yesterday, but that's only limited, no matter how you cut it. It leads to separation ultimately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And with no clear plan to reunite families that have already been split up, this is a crisis entirely of the president's own making. Thousands of children still paying the price for his policy. A policy that is simply heartless.
More than 2,300 migrant kids forcibly removed from their parents. Many sent thousands of miles away with no way to contact their parents. The Department of Health and Human Services waiting for guidance on how to return these children to their parents and what to do next.
And in the midst of all this chaos, Melania Trump -- we just talked about that -- made a surprise trip to the border today visiting migrant children in a shelter which frankly is more than the president has done. But the trip overshadowed by her $39 Zara jacket with the phrase "I really don't care. Do you?" There it is printed right on the back. Which was some sort of message to someone. But really a dig at the news media as the president claims?
A Republican close to the White House tells CNN that nothing -- that's nothing but revisionist history. We're going to have more on that coming up. But make no mistake. It's no accident this president is taking a hard line on immigration. Branding immigrants as criminals, using incendiary language like his claim that the country is being infested.
After all, this is a president who on day one launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and who less than a year ago said there were, quote, "very fine people on both sides of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville."
Well, now those same white supremacists are planning a rally across the street from the White House. Will it be Charlottesville 2.0? We'll get to all of that in just a moment.
But I want to begin right now with our CNN Senior Political Commentator, that's David Axelrod, and "New York Times" Columnist, Nicholas Kristof. So, I read the -- good evening to both of you, David. I read the stats there of the number of kids were in the -- thousands of kids in detention.
The president is adding to this confusion by saying the executive orders are limited and separations may continue. But for what we have heard, is that they are effectively not imposing their policy. Is this president -- do you think he's taking the issue of reuniting the kids seriously, with their parents? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what's
happened is he acted out of a political impulse and instinct. He saw political gain and as Corey Lewandowski said hey, you can't rally people around saying thank you. Immigration is what fires people up. They saw this as an issue, they used it as an issue, and they created a human rights crisis on the border.
And now what we see is just massive monumental incompetence. And when you have a president who is improvisational, and impulsive and doesn't care about process, or planning or principle then you get what we see today.
I think they don't know what to do. I think they are scrambling. And I think they are telling us the program is continuing in part because he insists on saying that. But I honestly I've never seen such rank incompetence. And this is what happens when you have a president who just doesn't give a damn.
LEMON: Do you care? Yes. We care. Right? Especially about those kids. Can you imagine this, Nick? We are being told -- one lawmaker told us that these kids may never be put back together, reunited with their families. Can you imagine that?
[22:05:05] NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, I must say that my sense is that most will be reunited at some point. But it is unconscionable they have been taken away for as long as they have and indeed, there are some cases where putting them back together is going to be difficult and perhaps impossible.
In some cases the parents have already been deported and the child is in a different bureaucracy and a different state in the U.S. in the case of an infant it's going to be difficult to match them up. You know, if somebody goes in a jail with some coins in their pocket then they get a receipt for their coins. Their child was taken away and there doesn't seem to have been any receipt any process to get that child back.
LEMON: I'm going to play this. This is the Attorney General Jeff Sessions he was on the Christian Broadcasting -- Christian Broadcasting Network today. And he's now saying that he never intended to separate families. But that's not what he said last month. Here he is now and then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: It hasn't been good. The American people don't like the idea that we are separating families. We never really intended to do that.
If you're smuggling a child then we are going to prosecute you. And that child will be separated from you probably as required by law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So he said that they were going to use it as a deterrent. Now he's saying no. What is he-- AXELROD: Well, right back from the beginning of the administration
John Kelly when he was at the homeland security director said this was going to be a deterrent. That's completely what they have said.
And again, you know, there is this complete scrambling now. And you know, one thing is it's easy -- what we have seen is shocking. And we are asking ourselves who we are as a country. But let me just say a word for our country.
The one thing that made Donald Trump back down was a fundamental sense of decency in this country. A fundamental rejection of this horrific, horrific policy and, you know, that actually makes me proud to be an American. Now we've got to find these kids, we have to hold the government accountable for reuniting these families.
LEMON: But in an age where we thought, you know, people have said nothing seems to matter, right. Nothing seems to penetrate. They did have -- this did have to go a long way in order to get there. The outrage. Children. Listening to their voices, hearing all the stories. And it took a long time to get to this moment where he had to, you know, retract.
KRISTOF: I mean, they've been separating kids from parents since fall. And then it became routine and 100 percent policy in April. Their cover-up, not giving access to these places, for example. I mean, I think that really helped.
I must say that what has struck me is not only the brutality of this policy of separating even infants, but the mendacity with which it was rolled out and the apologists for this. You know, the whole notion that the womp, womp.
LEMON: We are going to talk about that in a moment.
KRISTOF: You know, the apologetics for policy like this I think should leave people ashamed.
LEMON: Well, you know, I have had some folks on defending it in the beginning. And I didn't listen. I wasn't trying to a, you know, I got you. I'm just wondering what it's like to constantly be undermined by the person you are defending. And it makes it seemed like you're doing it reflexively because you feel that you have to. Do you understand what I'm saying? Because he's basically contradicted or made into a lie what everyone has said who has defended this policy.
AXELROD: Yes. But isn't that sort of the politics of Donald Trump?
AXELROD: I mean, he demands that. He demands that fidelity. You know, look at the whole Mark Sanford incident. If you have the temerity to speak out and you are in the Republican Party he's going to crush you. So what you have seen is a great deal of cowardice until cowardice just couldn't - couldn't hold.
LEMON: You mentioned the womp, womp moment by Corey Lewandowski. He was dropped by speaker's bureau for that disgraceful comment after this. Watch this. This is Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAC PETKANAS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage. I read about a--
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Womp, womp.
PETKANAS: Did you just say 'womp womp' to a 10-year-old with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother? How dare you?
LEWANDOWSKI: What I said is you can think anything you want, but the bottom is very clear.
PETKANAS: How dare you? How absolutely dare you, sir?
LEWANDOWSKI: When you cross the border illegally--
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, he was on now with my colleague Chris Cuomo just a little while ago to explain himself. Here it is.
LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, of course I never meant to insult anybody with Down syndrome and who I was talking to was Zac. And I understand what the perception is here and what the media wants to talk about. But what Zac was attempting to do was to use a child with Down syndrome to politicize an issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What do you think, Nick?
KRISTOF: You know, it's -- I mean, this is just absurd. And the dismissiveness about the problem it just underscores, it seems to me, kind of a lack of empathy with which this program was introduced all along. It is not just Corey Lewandowski.
[22:00:57] I mean, John Kelly what he's saying, the children be well look after. They'll be in foster care or whatever. I mean, there is a lack of empathy for these children that reflects, a, the demonization that has been directed toward migrants and has underpinned this entire policy toward immigration.
AXELROD: Everything flows from the guy at the top, OK. Every president sets the tone for the people who work and speak for him. You have a president who publicly mocked people with disabilities.
LEMON: Let me put this up. Well, it's interesting because this goes to what you were saying. These are tweets the president sent out today, many of them in the last few hours grapping about Democrats and immigration on Melania's jacket and so on. And he's venting. But not leading. And then this is the explanation. They pushed the immigration vote to next week. But go on. You were making the point.
AXELROD: No. My -- you know, I think that empathy is not a valued quality in the Trump operation. This president doesn't show empathy. He manufactures empathy for the alleged -- not the alleged because there are some victims of crimes by immigrants, but he's created this mythology and he's demonized immigrants, many of whom come here to flee gangs and to flee crime and risk their own lives because of the conditions that they have to put up with. Where's the empathy for them?
LEMON: Yes. You sat down with Senator Marco Rubio.
LEMON: Here is what he said about people crossing the border. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Yes, there are people who cross the border that are dangerous and criminals and the like. I would say through my experience the vast majority of people are coming over because they just want a better life.
And my sense of it is if you're a father, for example, my situation, my family is desperate, they're living in a dangerous situation, I would do almost anything to protect my children and find a better life for them. So we have to understand that element of it. That doesn't mean we don't have to have laws on our end.
Mexico has immigration laws and Canada has immigration laws. I don't think we should generalize that. I think the vast majority of people crossing the border are just coming because they want something better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: He's describing people crossing the border very differently than the president is.
AXELROD: Yes. And you know, it's interesting Marco Rubio was very, very careful in that interview. He was trying to navigate this. But he is a son of immigrants. He understands the story. He understands that yearning for something better for your children. And so that's where he got off the train.
KRISTOF: I mean, I think he's also just wrong on the facts. Most of these people coming are from Central America. They're fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and they're fleeing brutal gang violence there. One of the people I spoke to was a girl called Elena who had been made to be the girlfriend of a gang leader at age 11. Another girl who had been asked to be the gang leader was gang raped and shot in the stomach and died. And so, Elena's mother was trying to rescue her and the family by
taking her north. It wasn't just an issue of a better life. Any parent would want to do that to help their child, you know. And then for us to respond in this way with this demonization, the dehumanization, and to tear these people apart and to blame the parents and to say, you know, what are you doing coming here.
And then for the U.S. to be paying $775 a night per child to house them when we don't have resources for other things but we are willing to rip up these families and pay that much money. This lack of humanity at every step of the way.
LEMON: Is this -- you know, we always say is this hurricane Katrina. Is this whoever's Katrina moment, whoever president whoever figure it is. But how does this stack up? Is it becoming that? Because I mean, the images are awful. And remember, it was the images--
AXELROD: You know, but in fairness to President Bush they mishandled Katrina and there may have been reasons for the overlooking of people there that, you know, that had darker impulses or just people being neglected. But he didn't create the crisis. He didn't create the crisis. This has been manufactured by this administration. I think that is what makes it even more heinous.
LEMON: So it's a manufactured -- he -- crisis of his own creation.
KRISTOF: I mean, Katrina exemplified in incompetence. This exemplifies inhumanity.
LEMON: Let put this cover up. This is a striking Time magazine cover. And it's already -- it's a photo of a sobbing toddler Photoshopped in with the president staring down. What do you guys think of that?
AXELROD: Well, I think the story -- one of the things that's happened here and one of the things that galvanized us are images, not words, but images. That child was taken from that unbelievably moving photo from the border. I think she was a Honduran child.
[22:15:04] But that says everything right there. And I think people we all 2identify with children. We all care about children. We have children. We see our own children in that child's face. Try to imagine what it would be like. And I think these photos have been absolutely devastating.
KRISTOF: Yes. I mean, when we put a human face like that on the problem, that's when we can begin to have empathy. It's harder to dehumanize and I mean, at some level it seems to me this is about a certain amount of bigotry or racism. I mean, if this was Canadians crossing the border does anybody think we would ever be tearing apart families like that?
LEMON: We do have people coming across on the border.
KRISTOF: Of course. And we don't, you know, we don't-- (CROSSTALK)
AXELROD: But that narrative didn't serve the president. Remember this is a guy who came down the escalator and launched his campaign with these slanders.
KRISTOF: That's right.
LEMON: And David, before we wrap up let me ask you this. Do you think most Americans are knowledgeable of the situation on the border? Because I would hate to characterize it as a crisis. I would hate to in any other way I'm not characterizing it at all. But do you think they are knowledgeable about what it is? Is it fair to call it a crisis or to name it?
AXELROD: I think there would be great polarity if you polled on it as to how people accounted for what's going on. The fact is it's not -- there is not a crisis on the border right now. There are people coming over illegally. It has to be -- it has to be dealt with. It has to be dealt with appropriately.
There are people seeking asylum and they should be -- and they should be dealt with appropriately. But there is -- this is an issue that has been used to divide and polarize this country. I suspect even as we sit here today if you polled on it that you would find supporters of the president have one view and other people would have another view.
LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.
KRISTOF: Thank you.
LEMON: Don't miss "The Axe Files" with David Axelrod, special guest Senator Marco Rubio Saturday night at 7 Eastern.
And when we come back, the medical toll and the emotional toll of family separation. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to talk about the lifelong effects on children taken from their parents. Plus, you heard the pleas of those children like the 6-year-old separated from her mother at the border and begging for authorities to call her aunt. Now CNN has spoken to that girl's mother.
[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The president's executive order on family separation has so far done nothing to fix the mess he made at the border and the results are spreading thousands of miles away.
Two thousand three hundred children have already been taken away from their parents and are being held across the country. And doctors are speaking out. The American Academy of Pediatrics saying, quote, "Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians." And going on to say it causes irreparable harm to children.
Let's bring in now our very own Dr. Sanjay Gupta to explain what the impact can be here. So, long-term effects? Welcome, by the way. Long term effects. This is awful.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's just awful. I mean, you can't help to think about your own kids a little bit when you're hearing these stories and what it must be like for the kids and the parents as well. Short-term and long-term effects. Worse for the younger kids.
GUPTA: You know, this is a toxic sort of stress. I know you've talked about this before. What that means here in this context is that they have had a lot of stress already simply getting to the border. They had a lot of stress at the border.
You take away the one thing that can buffer that stress, right, the guardian, the parent. That's the thing that can buffer stress. Buffering stress so important for children. They don't have it.
So this turns into a toxic stress which within a few days can lead to some significant effects. Long-term if you look at mental illness in adults, 30, 40 percent of mental illness in adults is directly related to some of these toxic childhood events.
So, absolutely. We know what some of the impacts are long-term.
LEMON: I want to play something for you. Because we all heard the pleas of the 6-year-old girl who was separated from her mother after they crossed over the border. I want you to listen to this. This is a heartbreaking audio one more time.
LEMON: It gets you every single time. This may have been the catalyst for the president changing -- you know, or signing the executive order. But my gosh. You feel it, don't you?
GUPTA: You can't help but feel that. And you know, there's all this toxic stress that I'm talking about, that's the manifestation of it. But yes. That makes your chest just tighten up. I want to know what happened to this little girl now.
LEMON: Yes. Well, Rosa Flores actually spoke to her mother today. And here's what she said about trying to get in touch with her daughter.
(FOREIGN LANGUAGE) 2 LEMON: Can you imagine the trauma as a parent?
GUPTA: Total loss of control. Total uncertainty when it comes to someone that you value more than any other in your life. It's a huge emotional trauma. We talk about the kids. Kids are more vulnerable. Their brains are still developing. It's going to have a long-term effects.
GUPTA: Psychological for the parents as well. These are loss of control and uncertainty when it comes to someone that is your dependent, are some of the biggest stressors we can possibly go through. Other that actually losing someone.
LEMON: I've heard that some people call it child abuse. Is it?
GUPTA: It is child abuse. And I saw that as well. I looked it up, Don, to see what the HHS definition of child abuse is. It's not going to surprise anybody but you can take a look at the definition there. But it's that emotional trauma that's there in the third line. Without a doubt. That is happening here. Emotional trauma. Someone who is either acted to cause it or didn't act to prevent it. That's child abuse. By their own definition, Don.
LEMON: It's awful. And it's unbelievable. And I'm so glad you are here to walk us through it. Thank you, doctor.
[22:25:01] LEMON: I wish I could see you under better circumstances.
GUPTA: Yes, me, too.
LEMON: When we come back, I really don't care. Do you? Well, that's the message the first lady sent on her way to visit a children's shelter at the border. There is a jacket right there but who is she exactly directing that message to?
LEMON: The first lady's surprise visit today with immigrant children at a shelter in Texas eclipsed by her fashion choice. Before and after her trip the first lady wore an olive green jacket with the phrase "I really don't care. Do you?" printed on the back.
[22:29:59] So let's talk about this now with Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, and Kate Bennett, CNN White House reporter. Good evening.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Hi, Don.
KATE BENNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don.
LEMON: I'm perplexed by this, and torn. I'll explain later. You travel, Kate, with the first lady today, and she was trying to highlight the good work the shelter is doing for immigrant children, but her choice of jacket really, that's what got the attention. And we showed the pictures -- let's bring it up again, as she boarded the plane. Plainly visible on the back was, I really don't care. Do you? I mean, of all the jackets she no doubt owns, why this one?
BENNETT: It's perplexing, Don. I'm going to agree with you there. I'm really quite honestly not sure. And I follow the First Lady very closely. I cover her. I have for, you know, over a year. And I often talk about her fashion choices which many pay homage to the countries she's visiting, or are very well thought out in terms of, you know, what she's wearing.
She's a former fashion model. She understands fashion. I don't get it. The work we saw today, the shelter, the kids she interacted with, her determination behind the scenes to make this trip happen in less than 48 hours, all of those things to me are paramount to what she wore.
However, you know, I can't really explain this. I do think it was very much like her -- like this independent First Lady that we have seen before to get off the plane wearing it again knowing full of the controversy. She's sort of like the President that way. If you punch her, she punches back twice as hard kind of thing. But certainly the messaging, you know, I'm perplexed.
LEMON: Yes. So here's the thing. We are not actually talking about children in cages now. We are talking about the jacket.
LEMON: But she is the First Lady of the United States. People are going to look to her. Remember when the former First Lady wore sleeveless, and everyone, freaked out. And you know, there were no words there. Everybody ended up wearing sleeveless dresses after that. Maybe people will wear jackets that say, I don't care, I don't know. But when you are going to a shelter, and you want people to care about it -- I don't know.
CILLIZZA: OK. Point one. We can walk and chew gum. I think Kate is exactly right. What is -- the key here is what is the policy that this executive order Donald Trump signed, what is the impact that is going to have on the family separation crisis? That's a self-created crisis based on the zero tolerance policy. That's the most important thing, OK? There is no question about that.
That said, it is not unimportant when the First Lady of the United States does something like this. It seems to me unlikely -- very unlikely -- that this was purely accidental. Kate makes a good point. This is someone who throughout her life, and certainly while in politics, albeit not all that willingly in politics, but in the political sphere, someone who understands image.
Understands the signals you send when you are in public by what you say, by don't say, by what you wear. It just seems odd to me that she would just kind of grab that at the last minute while walking out and/or that no one on her staff would say, Madam First Lady, you know, that may not be like the greatest choice ever for a jacket. So we can do both.
CILLIZZA: One is more important. But that doesn't mean we need to ignore the other. LEMON: By the way, remember, you guys may have disagreed. I'm not
sure if remember this issue. I defended the white hat. I was like, listen, she's the First Lady. I thought the hat was great. This was -- I really don't get it. Was it cold in D.C. today?
BENNETT: It was not cold in D.C. when we got on the plane. We were prepared on the trip to expect thunderstorms, and there was flash flooding when we got to Texas actually. You know, again, I think, this is just a puzzling moment. And I think Chris is right with the messaging.
LEMON: Who is she sending a message to by the way, who do you think?
BENNETT: It's very unclear. I don't -- I don't think she -- I don't necessarily know or think that she might be sending a purposeful message, but the message we as the public see our First Lady delivering whether intended or not is certainly crippling to this important day.
And quite frankly, this is yet -- it was another huge surprise much like her medical procedure that her office pulled off without anyone finding out, this trip was planned in less than 48 hours, to make it happen is a feat in and of itself. Certainly, you know, we didn't see the jacket when we got on -- when she got on the plane because we were under the wing. We didn't have the visual of it. I saw some writing, but in no way ever thought it said what it said.
LEMON: By the way, the First Lady's spokesperson said -- Stephanie Grisham said there is nothing to read into the choice of jacket.
CILLIZZA: So -- OK. So, that's a statement, right?
[22:35:00] It's a jacket, no hidden message. And there was a tweet as well that basically said basically the same thing. And I would say for people who say why are you talking about it, the President of the United States is talking about it.
Look at that timing. That's called great producing on your part, Don. I really don't care that you written at a back of (Inaudible), he's directly contradicting Stephanie Grisham. Stephanie Grisham said there is no message. It was totally unintentional. Donald Trump said, of course there was a message. She's on to you fake news media. I mean it's like...
LEMON: You're welcome for that moment. It was actually directing and producing.
CILLIZZA: I mean...
LEMON: But listen, I just -- again, I didn't want to beat up on the First Lady. I'm not doing that. But it is -- it is really perplexing when you consider the kind of story that she was going down there for, and to wear that jacket.
LEMON: The very least it's tone deaf. My thing is, why are you criticizing the media when you asked the question? There is a big question mark on the back of your jacket that says, do you? So when the American people answer, the question saying I do, and why are you -- why are you wearing that jacket, you should not be outraged by it.
BENNETT: And also, quite frankly, Don, we would ask the question if Michelle Obama had worn the jacket.
BENNETT: And if Laura Bush had worn the jacket.
CILLIZZA: A hundred percent.
BENNETT: This is not necessarily something that we would let slide certainly because there is an animosity between the media, and this administration. It is our job to ask these questions. This is the First Lady. She is going to meet these children. Again, she didn't wear it in Texas. However, it's our job.
LEMON: That could be a simple -- I don't know.
CILLIZZA: That's important. There is no way...
LEMON: I've got to run.
CILLIZZA: If Michelle Obama wore a jacket that said, I don't really care. Do you? We would be talking about it at 10:01. I mean, it would be a big story either way. This is not a partisan thing.
LEMON: Could be a simple explanation for it, trolling at its very best. It happens a lot lately. Thank you both. When we come back in a climate where the President has stoked racial tensions, white supremacists are planning a rally across the street from the White House. The very same white supremacists who held the rally in Charlottesville that turned deadly last year.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: So the whole country has been focused on the border, and the racial implications of the President's zero tolerance immigration policy, white nationalists have gotten initial approval for a white civil rights rally in Lafayette Park right across the street from the White House in August.
The rally could mark the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville violence, one year since the President claimed there were very fine people on both sides. And many Americans believe white nationalists are inspired by the President's divisive language. CNN's Sara Sidner has more on that. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time for us to come together as one united people.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Words to unite the day Donald Trump became the president-elect. But long before his campaign days, and now well into his second year in office, the words and actions of the President have been divisive.
To many, his words are beyond about their downright racist and xenophobic, his latest in this tweet using language that conjures up images of immigrants as vermin. Democrats are the problem, he tweets, they don't care about crime, and want illegal immigrants no matter how bad they maybe to pour into, and infest our country, like MS-13. Few can forget his description of Mexicans.
TRUMP: They are bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
SIDNER: On immigrants as a whole...
TRUMP: When countries abuse us by sending their people up -- not their best -- we are not going to give any more aid to those countries.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: This is part and parcel of Trumpism, this idea that they are these bad savage people outside of this country.
SIDNER: To kick off 2018, the President asked a group of lawmakers in January, why do we want all these people from shit-hole countries coming here, referring to Haitians and immigrant from African countries. There was his rally cry to keep out members of the world's second largest religion.
TRUMP: They Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
SIDNER: His campaign pitch to black Americans painted a distinctly negative picture.
TRUMP: You're living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?
SIDNER: His insistence that five black men who were dubbed the Central Park Five are guilty of a 1989 rape even after the men were exonerated with DNA evidence. In a 2016 statement to CNN, Trump said, the fact that the case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. One of the men exonerated spoke out at a Hillary Clinton rally reminding the crowd of the full page ad Donald Trump took out in 1989 saying the men should be executed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Donald had his way, I would be dead. SIDNER: Trump has had plenty to say about the protests by mostly
black NFL players who followed then NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick's lead taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.
TRUMP: 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.
SIDNER: In the first few months of his presidency, Donald Trump managed to do something else that delighted white supremacists. It was his reaction to the white supremacists' Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left 32-year-old anti-factious protester heather Heyer dead. After police say a self-described Nazi plows its car into her, and several others.
[22:45:04] TRUMP: I think there is blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don't have doubt about it either.
SIDNER: After backlash, Trump wavered on his statement, but then doubled down. And that group is back in the headlines again, now one of the organizers for the Unite the Right rally wants to have a rally in Washington, D.C., and has applied for a permit. Don.
LEMON: Sara, thank you. When we come back, as Sara just mentioned, a white supremacist group is planning a rally not just in D.C., but right across the street from the White House. What leads these people feel that -- to be so emboldened? We're going to discuss that.
LEMON: As a nation is appalled at the images of immigrant, brown, children in cages at the border, white nationalists are planning a rally one year after the deadly violence in Charlottesville. But this time, they will be right across the street from -- there it is, the White House. How will the president respond?
Let's discuss now with CNN Political Commentators, Charles Blow, and Scott Jennings. They are both here, also Adam Serwer. He is the senior editor at "The Atlantic," and Peter Wehner is a former adviser to President George W. Bush. I'm so glad to have all of you on to discuss this.
[22:50:00] It is a very important topic. So here we go. Another white supremacist rally, Charles, one year in the making right across the White House, what's your reaction?
CHARLES BLOW, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It sounds like the chickens have come home to roost. He didn't -- he didn't condemn them there. It was very slow, too. And then when he did, he kind of mixed them up with the people who were protesting against them, and that has repercussions.
People take that cue, and they explicitly say that they're going there to deliver a message to the President, and to the members of Congress that they were the ones who were discriminated against in Charlottesville, that their rights were infringed upon.
And that those list of white rights that -- that list of white rights, they're going there to petition the government and Trump to listen to their pleas. What would be different now? What would he say different now than he said then?
LEMON: I just want to play it for you, this is the hatred we saw last year in Charlottesville.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And here was the president then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides. You look at -- you look at both sides, I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville -- they showed up in Charlottesville to protest the removal of that statue.
TRUMP: And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So painful. Very fine people on both sides, Adam. If the President had not used those words, and immediately condemned the hatred, and the violence that we saw that day, do you think that white supremacists would still be planning a rally just a stones throw from the White House?
ADAM SERWER, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes, I think they would. I mean, the idea from this rally is to provoke a kind of reaction that will make them look like victims. You know, that's what they were planning in Charlottesville. They wanted -- they wanted people to show up and try to fight them, or try to get into an altercation with them to say, see, we're the ones who are being attacked. Instead, one of the people that showed up for their rally, murdered someone.
And that didn't them look very good. So they're going to try again in Washington, D.C., they're deliberately trying to be provocative, and they're deliberately trying to create a situation where something bad will happen, and you know, they can paint themselves as the victims.
But they're not the victims. They are promoting a hateful ideology, and I think that, you know, it doesn't matter -- you know, it wouldn't have mattered what the President said. The people who showed up in Charlottesville were already wearing make America great again hats. They already got the message.
LEMON: Peter, you worked for the George W. Bush administration. Would this have happened in any other Republican administration?
PETER WEHNER, FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH: No, it wouldn't have happened in any other administration, Republican, Democratic, or anything else. This is unique. Look, there are elements of hatred in American society, but they've always been on the fringes, at least, in recent modern American history, and presidents have always tried to keep them there.
What different about this president, is that he's involving these people. There's reason that people like David Duke, and Richard Spencer, are enthusiastic about Donald Trump. And the other thing I would say is you have to take a step back here.
And this is (Inaudible) generous what happened in Charlottesville. That is the thread, and not just at the Trump's presidency, but Trump's really entire political life. Remember, the thing that brought him to national prominence, and the political stage was the racist appeal on the birtherism issue. That was in 2011. And then...
LEMON: Saying the former President was not born in this country. Yes.
WEHNER: That's right. And it's the thread that goes through. It's Mexicans, it's Muslims, it's African-American athletes. It's saying that there are good people on all sides. It happens over, and over, and over again, and there are dog whistles, and there are things that are a little louder than dog whistles, and Trump is both.
LEMON: So we want to -- the question is who are we, right? And, Scott, this is for you, (Inaudible). I taped the late show with Stephen Colbert earlier today, and it's going to air a little bit later on tonight. And we talked about the president and race. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL: One of the things that's a recurring sort of distressing, data point, and theme of administration is using race as a tool to divide people. It started off with, you now, they're sending their rapists, the murders, they are not sending us their best.
Both side -- there are fine people on both sides in Charlottesville. What's happening on the southern border has certainly a racial component to it. What do you think the state of race relations are in the United States, and how as you as an African-American reporter, how does it reflect on your reporting of that?
LEMON: You've hit on probably the most important story of our time especially when it comes to our administration.
COLBERT: That's what I do, Don. That's what I do.
LEMON: It has everything to do with race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:55:00] LEMON: And reason I said, it has everything to do with race, is because every single study shows that it wasn't economic anxiety, it was race that was a deciding factor in this election. I know you think the President has a powerful opportunity to correct last summer's mistake. But do you even understand -- do you think he understands the enormity of this, the gravity of this, and is he a big enough person to even try to do that?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he is, and I hope he does. As you know, Don, I was pretty upset with the president last summer. I think it's frankly the low point of the presidency, the Charlottesville moment so far, and these people are coming -- and look, people protest in front of the White House and, around the White House almost every day in Washington trying to get attention.
I'm actually torn. You know, earlier today, I was thinking I would love the President to come out, and make a powerful statement, on the other hand that's exactly what these people want. They want attention. They are trying to get more attention outside they are outside the bounds of American decency, and they are way outside the fringes of American politics.
They are looking for, you know, that kind of validation that would come with a presidential statement, a condemnation, or whatever he does. And so, I'm a little torn, but I really do think if the President wanted to, he could come forward, and say, I don't agree with these people, I think these people are awful, I think they are hateful, and they don't represent me.
If there's anything we've learned during this presidency is there's a huge number of Republicans and Americans that are not Republicans who listen today this President, and fall in line with his views, they take his cues. They look for his lead.
And he could make a powerful statement, and put this Charlottesville thing where it belongs in the past, and correct it. So I think these folks are atrocious people, I think they are terrible. They have First Amendment rights. But they don't have a right for us to have to agree with them, or validate them at all.
LEMON: But the question is, is he the one giving these white supremacists legitimacy by saying -- by claiming them fine people on both sides. We're going to be -- don't go any where. We will talk about that afterwards. We're going to continue this conversation at the top of the hour. We will be right back.