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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Compares House Mask Rules To Holocaust; Violent Weekend In U.S.; Ryanair Flight Diverted In Belarus, Opposition Activist Arrested; California On Track For Full Reopening June 15; Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) Is Interviewed About New Partisan Bill Calling For Billions Of Aid To Black Colleges. Aired 2- 3p ET

Aired May 23, 2021 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:19]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Right now, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene doubling down on a controversial comment she made comparing masks to the Holocaust.

Plus, a house party gets out of control, a night of violence in cities across the country.

And a 62-mile trek ends in tragedy. Find out what led to the sudden deaths of 21 people.

Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right. We begin this hour with growing outrage over a lawmaker comparing mask mandates to the horrors of the Holocaust. Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene complaining on a conservative podcast about how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is keeping a mask mandate in place for the house floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): You know, we can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Greene's comments have been met with harsh criticism. Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney calling them "evil lunacy". And Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern says Greene should resign.

But last night when Greene was asked about the comments, she doubled down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREENE: So I stand by all of my statements. I said nothing wrong. And I think any rational Jewish person didn't like what happened in Nazi Germany and any rational Jewish person doesn't like what's happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you understand though, why some would be upset and offended by the comment?

GREENE: Well, do you understand how people feel about being forced to wear masks or being forced to have to take a vaccine, or even have to say that -- whether they've taken it or not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's bring in Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill. Suzanne, what kind of fallout and reaction are you hearing from these polarizing comments coming from Congresswoman Greene?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, there are a lot of people who are quite offended by what she said and they really see it as being ignorant, these comments.

But nevertheless there's very little appetite here on Capitol Hill to punish Greene for her statements. They potentially could censure her in some way but she's already been stripped of her committee assignments from previous comments.

And so what you are hearing, what you are seeing, are some members of congress, and her Republican colleagues as well, coming out saying that this is totally unacceptable, that it really is extremely offensive. It doesn't compare, in any way, in any rational way, to what she is saying what occurred in history.

We did hear from Congressman Peter Meijer. He is a freshman congressman. He is somebody who voted for impeaching Trump and also supporting an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks on January 6th at the U.S. Capitol.

Here's how he put it this morning on "STATE OF THE UNION".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): Any comparisons to the Holocaust, it's beyond reprehensible. This is -- I don't even have words to describe how disappointing it is to see this hyperbolic speech that frankly amps up and plays into a lot of the anti-Semitism that we've been seeing in our society today. Vicious attacks on the streets of New York, and in Los Angeles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Fred, we know Congresswoman Liz Cheney not shy from speaking out and speaking really truth and holding her party accountable, particularly those who have really kind of trafficked in some of these lies. She tweeted saying this is evil lunacy. She was the number three Republican on the House side that was voted out of her leadership position who has doubled down herself in really calling for her own party to embrace the truth and really questioning whether or not there's a wing of this party that can even do that, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then Suzanne, something different, today, you know, the National Guard is leaving the Capitol grounds after protecting the building there since the insurrection. And this comes as the Senate, Republicans in particular, appear poised to block any attempts at a capitol riot investigation. What more can you tell us about all these things?

[14:04:48]

MALVEAUX: Well Fred, it's going to feel really quite differently here on Capitol Hill after the National Guard. We're going to see them, they are starting to leave today. Their term has expired after 137 days.

They've been here since that January 6th attack. We heard from the retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore earlier today who said their mission is done. That the Capitol is secure.

But it's not going to be an open campus for tourists anytime soon because they do have their work cut out for them, the U.S. Capitol police. But that is something that, you know, some members quite frankly are feeling a little bit nervous about here. It is a new time, a new day. We're used to seeing them here and a very big presence. At the height of it, was about 5,000 who were actually here at the Capitol.

At the same time, Fred, you are looking at legislation that is going to come on the Senate side about that independent commission investigating the attack. Looks like it's dead on arrival. They need ten Republicans to side with the Democrats to make that happen to overcome a filibuster. And Fred, it looks like they don't have those numbers on their side.

WHITFIELD: All right. And then of course, there are some lawmakers who are promising even without their support there may be another avenue in which to do a very similar investigation.

All right. Suzanne Malveaux, thank you so much for that.

All right. Let's talk more about the comments from Greene.

Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO and national director of the Anti- Defamation League. Jonathan, so good to see you. so what is your reaction to the congresswoman's comments, making comparisons of mask mandates to the Holocaust?

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Well look, they've -- her comments fall somewhere between demented and deranged but they're not the first time we've seen congresswoman Greene trivialize the Holocaust or say perverse anti-Semitic things. I mean keep in mind, she's a QAnon enthusiast which believes there's cabal of Jews controlling the government. She's talked about Jewish space lasers starting forest fires on the West Coast. We don't take her very seriously in many ways.

On the other hand, when you have a member of Congress spouting conspiracy theories, spreading hate, it's been encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats stepping up immediately to swiftly and sharply condemn her comments. And just keep in mind that this week the Jewish community in America has been reeling after a series of anti- Semitic attacks.

WHITFIELD: In fact, I was going to ask you about that --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: -- I mean about this timing. This at a time when there are -- I mean there's an escalation of anti-Semitic attacks, particularly this week. And instead of pointing to the attention of that, talking about solutions, instead this seems further divisive.

GREENBLATT: Well look, I mean, I'm glad you're asking about that, Fredricka because I don't think the media has looked enough at the fact that week over week we've seen more than a 50 plus increase in some of the most brazen and brutal anti-Semitic attacks I've seen in recent memory.

Assaults in broad daylight on the streets of New York, Los Angeles and other major cities. We had an incident in Times Square where firecrackers were fired at a group of Jewish people. We've had cars driving through Jewish neighborhoods, reportedly hurling bottles at homes that could be identified as Jewish, right?

We've seen a series of acts of vandalism and harassment, and the taunt and abuse online, Fredricka, has been staggering. And so when you see wild conspiracy theories about the Jewish people or the Jewish state we shouldn't be surprised when there are real world consequences you know, where Jewish people get harmed and hurt.

So I think it's critical to focus on how do we stop that right now which starts with attention on the issue and lead us from both sides of the aisle, as well as business and civil society and houses of worship, standing up and speaking out against this anti-Jewish hate.

WHITFIELD: Do you worry that the words from the congresswoman may potentially fan flames?

GREENBLATT: Well look, I mean, we've been dealing with, over the last several years, a surge of hate from the extreme right where I think she really comes from, right. From people chanting Jews will not replace us in Charlottesville to men in Camp Auschwitz sweatshirts storming the Capitol.

At the same time now, we're seeing the kind of radicalism from the other far end of the spectrum with people saying the Jewish state is somehow committing, you know, genocide or slaughtering babies. This kind of hysteria, this kind of madness breeds madness in our streets, Fredricka. And so we need to turn down the heat and that starts with again, people speaking out and saying, you know, as we saw with the Asian-American community, there are wild conspiracies about China and then we saw Asian-Americans being attacked in the streets.

Wild conspiracies about the Jewish state are leading to attacks on Jews in our streets. So from the White House to Congress, we want to see officials stand up and say, enough, this is wrong, it's got to stop, it's got to stop now.

WHITFIELD: Yes, too much hate in too many forms. And it would be nice if there is, you know, a collective voice on getting to the bottom of that.

All right, Jonathan Greenblatt --

[14:09:58]

GREENBLATT: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: -- thank you so much. Always appreciate your time. Be well.

GREENBLATT: Thank you for covering the story. I appreciate that.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much.

All right. Coming up, a violent night in cities across the country, including in New Jersey, where a mass shooting broke out at a house party. We're live at the scene straight ahead.

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WHITFIELD: All right.

It's been another very deadly weekend across the U.S. as gun violence continues to plague the country. According to the Gun Violence Archive there were shootings in nearly 150 cities since Friday. Some of those cities had multiple incidents.

The group says at least 7,500 people have died as a result of gun violence in just the first five months of 2021.

Overnight in Bridgeton, New Jersey a shooting at a house party left two people dead and another 12 wounded.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is at the scene of that shooting. Also with us is CNN's Natasha Chen.

Polo, to you first, what are you learning about the shooting there?

[14:15:03]

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, I could tell you that state investigators here in southern New Jersey have been at the scene for well over 12 hours now, processing the scene of what Governor Phil Murphy has described as, quote, a horrific mass shooting.

There's a lot that we don't know yet though especially when it comes to motive, a possible arrest regarding this shooting. But I should also note that we have not seen or heard anything to suggest that there's any kind of imminent danger or at least imminent threat to the community.

Now that being said here's what we do know right now based on what state police have released. We do know that there were 14 people who were shot during this large house party.

We can't get you much closer than the roadblock here because again, this is still a very active crime scene. But we do know that two of those 14 people did die from their injuries, that being an adult man and a woman. Those are two people. We do understand that there's at least a third person that did sustain some life-threatening injuries.

So as we speak investigators are still processing this all, trying to establish a possible motive here. All we know is that investigators were called out here just before midnight to reports of shots fired at a large house party.

In fact, when you look at the scene from overhead you could see that it's a very large crime scene that's being processed at this hour here.

I had an opportunity to speak to the very few neighbors that actually live nearby, including one that happens to be a member of a church, actually the leader of a congregation, only a block away. Reverend Michael Keane (ph) telling me that he heard about nine shots just before midnight.

And then when it comes to the issue of gun violence, the reverend telling me that now that it's hit so close to home he says that it's about time that people stop talking about the issue of gun violence, and instead doing something.

And then I asked him if he's got any actual hope that that might actually happen and he says that sadly he does not see that. So all he can do at this point is try to speak to members of the congregation to try to come to terms with what actually took place.

But again, at this hour, at least two people shot and killed after on overnight large house party here in rural New Jersey as the community searches for answers to questions that many people are asking, including what's actually behind this, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And Natasha, this latest mass shooting, only accentuates the violence that we're seeing playing out across the country.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. There have been quite a number of shootings across the country just since Friday. If we can just show you a map of the ones that we have learned some information about that includes where -- the shooting where Polo is, it also includes a shooting in North Charleston, South Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. So there are a lot of different investigations, local police across the country are dealing with right now. One thing that's very striking is that at a number of these incidents, the victims are very young.

So for example, we're looking at the North Charleston, South Carolina shooting where a 14-year-old was killed. And then in Columbus, Ohio you have a 16-year-old who was killed. In Jersey City, there were two killed and four injured, all of them seeming to be in their 20s. One of them who's 35 years old. In Minneapolis two people who were killed, one of them a mechanical engineering student who was scheduled to graduate later that day. So a lot of young people involved in this violence.

And most notably in Orange, California on Friday, a 6-year-old boy was killed during what seems to be a road rage incident. His mom was driving on State Highway 55, someone fired a shot into the car that killed that boy. Really heartbreaking.

Here is an interview that his sister gave to one of our affiliates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXIS CLOONAN, VICTIM'S SISTER: Please help us find the people that did this to my little brother. He was only 6, and he was so sweet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: And police are looking for the people who might have done that, asking for witnesses. They believe it was a man and a woman in a white sedan that they're searching for. They're searching for any information. And now if we can take just a broader look here at the violence in statistics form. We are seeing from the gun violence archive that year-to-date, from January 1 to today, there have been more than 7,500 people killed because of gun violence.

This does include a small number of people, small as in 237 people who died as part of a murder-suicide. But other than that, the number that you just saw does not include stand alone suicides.

So still a very, very stark number and you see that as an increase since the previous year in the same time period. So we're outpacing already the gun deaths that we saw this time in 2020, Fred.

[14:19:56]

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh, it's extraordinary.

All right, Natasha Chen, Polo Sandoval -- thanks to both of you.

We're going to talk more about this right now.

With me, Tim Alexander, he is a former police detective, now a civil rights attorney who's running for Congress as a Democrat in New Jersey's second district.

So good to see you, Tim. So another deadly night across the country, but especially in the district in which you hope to represent as a member of Congress. I mean, two dead, another 12 injured in Cumberland County. Why do you think this is happening right now, like this?

TIM ALEXANDER, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Right now we have to do a study. To answer your question, I can't put my thumb on why we have so much gun violence in this nation. There's many theories on that.

What we don't have is anyone actually doing a deep dive into this to find out exactly what is the root cause behind all the gun violence.

New Jersey as I've often said has some of the most comprehensive gun safety laws on record. We can always do better and when we see a situation like this, we have to wait for the outcome but I believe there's room for improvement.

One of those things is dealing with gun safety, gun store safety and better ways of protecting the weapons that are in the legal (ph) stream of commerce (INAUDIBLE) attacking what is certainly illegal stream of commerce.

But we don't have anybody studying this. That's the issue. How can we address the problem, if we don't know what the problem is? And that's one of the things in Congress that we can do.

The federal government can say to -- whatever entity that the majority believes ought to be the one to do it, CDC or whomever, do a study, figure out what's going on, why do we have so much gun violence?

Right now we have so many members in Washington who won't even admit that January 6th occurred, or they're totally ignoring the fact that 90 percent of the country wants meaningful gun safety reform. They just won't get to it.

And so quite honestly, until we take a serious position on digging deep into the root cause of this issue, we'll never know why these things happen.

WHITFIELD: So you think there should be a greater examination. Do you think the examination right now needs to zero in on whether this pattern of violence is any different right now a year and a half into this pandemic? Because 2021 is starting off with a -- I mean, we're at the midpoint, almost, and it's been incredibly, exponentially, deadly, violent year. Do you think there's a correlation?

ALEXANDER: Absolutely. No -- so, to first answer your question. Absolutely, I think we need to do what happened in 2020 wasn't because we were in lockdown. There wasn't so many interaction. These are the things that can be addressed through a study.

So to answer your question until we start doing it, until we are serious about this, we being the federal government, local and state governments, until they get serious about addressing gun violence we won't know the answers to those questions. But absolutely we need to study the last year comparison and the years prior.

WHITFIELD: So I'm hearing you, that you do feel like, and as I mentioned you are running for Congress, you do believe that this is a matter of an act of congress that needs to be involved. Or do you see that there is some other manner in which all of this needs to be addressed, absent congress?

ALEXANDER: I think that Washington -- sure, I think Washington absolutely needs to take the lead on this. They need to listen to the voters, put together meaningful gun safety reform that what the people actually want, and get it out there to get it signed by the president, and start studying these issues.

Absolutely, Congress can do something about this. Yes, there's room for a state action as well but if we don't take the lead across the board, across the country, how do we expect the local and state entities to jump on and get involved in studying this issue?

WHITFIELD: All right. Tim Alexander, always appreciate your time. Thank you so much. Be well.

ALEXANDER: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, the U.S. ambassador to Belarus is condemning the arrest of an opposition journalist on board an international flight that a Belarusian fighter jet actually intercepted and then force to land.

We'll speak with the woman who ran against the Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko next.

[14:24:19]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Outrage today over an incident in the skies over eastern Europe. Belarus state media say that President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a fighter jet to force a Ryanair flight with an opposition activist on board to land in the capital of Minsk, Belarus today.

Raman Pratasevich (ph), a vocal critic of Lukashenko's regime was arrested at Minsk Airport after his flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land.

Pratasevich is the founder of two popular opposition social media channels that are critical of the Belarus government and are considered extremists there. He is also on a government wanted list for terrorism.

Lukashenko, the president who has been in power since 1994 has consistently cracked down on all forms of opposition, including media, which is why other countries from the U.S. to Germany to Lithuania are expressing concern that a country leader can divert an international flight to silence opposition voices.

WHITFIELD: Joining me now is the woman who ran against the Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Her name is Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

[14:30:09] She is a leader of the opposition movement in Belarus.

Sviatlana, so good to see you.

What are your fears for this journalist Protasevich?

SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA, BELARUS OPPOSITION LEADER: Good (INAUDIBLE), everybody.

I just dare to mention that Lukashenko is not the president of Belarus. He is ex-president because he lost the last election.

But as for Roman Protasevich, we're really aware of the situation because we really don't know what's happening to him right now, and we know how cruel KGB can be. And the situation is extremely difficult. We are in contact with the parents of Roman Protasevich, and, you know, they are really in an awful situation, you know, as the rest of the Belarusian people.

And, you know, I have to say that a week ago, I fly to Vilnius with the same flight above the territory of Belarus, and I also could be in the same situation a week ago.

WHITFIELD: So this happened to you as well? Something similar?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: No, I was traveling with the same flight a week ago. So it could happen with me as well, but I'm -- but I managed to get to Vilnius. But Roman couldn't.

We couldn't expect from illegitimate government of our country that they will act like this, that they will -- that they will endanger 171 people that were on board from 17 countries to capture one person. It's unprecedented, and unprecedented. And I'm sure it should be -- it should be on news all over the world, because it's unacceptable, such situation to happen.

WHITFIELD: In fact, there are other countries who are saying this is unacceptable for something like this to happen. Latvia says they want a strong and effective reaction. Do you feel like the international community can do anything against Lukashenka's actions?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Of course, they can. You know, Belarus is on international agenda for nine months already, because of unprecedented violence and tortures in our country. And now, this step that war (ph) is threatened, not only to Belarusian people, but also to other people of other countries, should raise much more attention to our question, and should lead to stronger actions from democratic countries.

And we have already talked to ministers of Greece and Ireland, and we are in contact with the governments of Lithuania and Poland, an the USA just for them to make additional measures about the situation.

So, first of all, it's about sanctions. Sanctions will for sure make Lukashenko to release political prisoners, including Roman, and politically and economically to make him more talkative, for him to understand that the escalation of violence is unacceptable. And I have to say that escalation of repressions in Belarus, and this situation that's happened with the flight is the result of impunity.

And democratic countries should put much more pressure on this regime, on Lukashenko personally to make him understand that people do not --

WHITFIELD: Tell me about your worries and your message you might have for Protasevich?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, people who are in prisons now, who suffered for -- they wish to tell the truth about the situation, they are all our heroes. And I want him to be brave and strong but we really don't understood just can't imagine what happens to him right now because, you know, it's difficult, and conditions of people, they are awful, and just -- I want him to stay strong.

[14:35:05]

And he is strong.

WHITFIELD: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, thank you for your time and your perspective, appreciate it.

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, life getting back to normal across the U.S. We'll show you how the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles is getting ready to reopen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: New Mexico just became the ninth state to cross a major benchmark in COVID vaccinations, 70 percent of the adults in that state have gotten at least one dose, New Mexico joins Hawaii and seven states in the Northeast.

Meanwhile, California set to fully reopen in just over three weeks, June 15th. All restrictions around crowd capacity, and social distancing will be lifted.

[14:40:00]

And that's going to be a big boost to the country's biggest economy.

Paul Vercammen joining us now from the Grammy museum in Los Angeles.

So, Paul, tell us how they are getting ready to open.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're ready right now. You alluded to the economy. This is a huge benchmark. The Grammy Museum is now reopened this weekend.

And help kicking things off, a Motown exhibit among other things, Fred, if you take a stroll through here you'll be shocked by the memorabilia, all of this is, again, a symbol of Los Angeles getting its entertainment industry back on its feet.

Here's Stevie Wonder's keyboard and, look at this, the Jackson Five's jump suit. This exhibit, again, is part of several things that are kicking off the Grammys.

We're going to bring in the president here.

You would have been moth balled, Michael Sticka, for 14 months.

MICHAEL STICKA, PRESIDENT, GRAMMY MUSEUM: That's right.

VERCAMMEN: How in the world did you survive?

STICKA: It was tough. We relied on government stimulus, like a lot of organizations and museums. We also totally pivoted to digital. We launched our streaming service, we had a lot of digital programs which brought in some additional funds but actually increased our engagement, a lot.

VERCAMMEN: And so when we go back to a full reopening of California, on the 15th of June, what's the strategy? Do people wear masks in here? Do they not? Just what?

STICKA: Well, we're going to follow L.A. Department of Health Guidance. So, we're going to do whatever they say but all I can say is that we're very excited to have as many people in the museum as soon as we can.

VERCAMMEN: Great. We thank you so much for taking time out.

STICKA: Of course.

VERCAMMEN: We should also note, there's a big Dave Matthews exhibit here. There's a Marco Antonio Solis exhibit.

And behind me now, I just have to show you this, Fred, we talk about bling in the modern era, but look at these Supreme's gowns, I mean, they are --

WHITFIELD: Let me guess. There's going to be some Diana Ross.

VERCAMMEN: -- spectacular.

WHITFIELD: That is, the Supremes.

VERCAMMEN: Oh, yeah, and more.

WHITFIELD: Oh my gosh. That is cool.

VERCAMMEN: All I can tell you is they will be dancing in the street to make a Motown allusion when this fully reopens.

But this is, again, welcome news here in Los Angeles as the Grammy Museum is now open again, and limited capacity.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's so nice.

VERCAMMEN: It is fun.

WHITFIELD: I love it. That was the Marvelettes that was singing "Mr. Postman", right, behind you when we heard the audio?

VERCAMMEN: That's correct.

WHITFIELD: Ding, ding, ding.

VERCAMMEN: I'm glad you could hear it in the background. They said, do we need to turn this down? I said no.

WHITFIELD: No, it's the Grammy Museum.

Very fun. All right. Paul Vercammen in Los Angeles --

VERCAMMEN: Why not?

WHITFIELD: -- we have a lot to do when I finally get out to Los Angeles to visit with you. Now we're putting that on the list too.

VERCAMMEN: We'll put that on your checklist.

Also, I want to note this -- Fred, you need to go visit the Coliseum where your father, an Olympian, has been memorialized. Look it up.

WHITFIELD: I've been there, I've seen him.

VERCAMMEN: Fredricka Whitfield comes from a rather athletic background.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, thank you, I've seen it and it's time for me to see it again, yes, and this time bring my kids along.

All right. Thank you so much, Paul Vercammen.

VERCAMMEN: Awesome.

WHITFIELD: That was fantastic.

All right. Well, let's talk about change ahead, aging, buildings, campus blackouts, broken pipes. Just some of the plights that students at historically black colleges and universities have had to deal with as schools get older. But my next guest has a plan to change that. We'll talk to her next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:48:11]

WHITFIELD: A bipartisan congressional group unveiled a bill last week that aims to fix the chronic underfunding of historically black colleges and universities across the U.S.

The Ignite HBCU excellence act would authorize billions of dollars for desperately needed repairs and construction of new facilities. Schools would also get new equipment and reliable high speed broadband access. And right now, HBCUs make up only about 3 percent of America's colleges and universities, but produce about 17 percent of America's graduates. Congresswoman Alma Adams is the Democrat from North Carolina. She's

also the co-founder of the bipartisan HBCU Caucus, which authored the bill, and she's a graduate of an HBCU herself, North Carolina A&T State University.

Welcome. Good to see you.

REP. ALMA ADAMS (D-NC): Thank you, Fredricka. Thank you for having me. Good to see you as well.

WHITFIELD: Well, this has been a passion project for you for a very long time. Why is funding HBCUs, why has it been so critical in your view?

ADAMS: Well, first of all, it's been my life's work, and you said I'm a graduate twice of North Carolina A&T. I've spent 40 years on campus at Bennett College.

And so, this represents a historic investment in both the physical and digital infrastructure.

Our schools are well over a century, many of them 150 years old, or 155 (ph), and so old. And despite the fact that we are educating a very large number of students that look like me, we still have not had the funding over the years, it's been inequitable.

And we think that this is the time for us now to make that right, to deal with these century old facilities, half of their buildings need repair or replacement.

[14:50:06]

So, we have a lot of deferred maintenance as well. But we're still expected to compete in an uneven playing field.

And so, it's time that we look at investing the dollars that we need to deal with the backlog, and then to go forward.

WHITFIELD: HBCUs, you know, are college campuses that have been around like, you know, before 1965. Many of them were built in the mid to late 1800s. So these are historic buildings.

And I'm a by-product of a historically black college university as well. I'm a Howard U grad. And I remember thinking to myself, you know, while on campus that -- I mean, these historic buildings, I mean, some of my, you know, dorm living and classroom activity, it was rough and tumble. But that was kind of part of the experience.

But now, we have a better understanding, a lot of these HBCUs lack the repair, the resources, you know, to take care of very basic things.

How do you believe that's going to enhance the experience for students on these HBCU campuses to try to infuse some of this money into the campuses to upgrade?

ADAMS: Well, certainly, it's going to help a lot. It's going to upgrade our buildings. It's going to give us the technology that we need, the infrastructure.

We have produced topnotch graduates in every field. We're going to continue to do that, but we'll be able to -- what's a better way than to Build Back Better as our president has said, than to invest in these colleges and universities that have done so much for not only the young people that we educate, but also for our communities in terms of the investments that our graduates have made and so forth.

So, it's an opportunity to upgrade, to get our campuses up to what they need to be. So, that these students will be able to do even greater things.

You know, it is a bipartisan bill and I do want to emphasize that. We have two Republicans who will be partnering with us. French Hill is my partner in the House, and we have in the Senate, Senator Coons, Democrat, and Senator Tim Scott, a Republican.

So, you know, education to me has never been a partisan issue, and we need to make (AUDIO GAP) for these schools and students. And Ignite is the way to do it.

WHITFIELD: Oh, Congresswoman Alma Adams, a pleasure talking to you, and I love your hat.

ADAMS: Thank you so very much. I tip my hat to all of my colleagues, thank you so much, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Wonderful, I tip my hat to you. All right, thank you so much.

Join us as we celebrate the class of 2021 with stars, musical performances and a special message from Vice President Kamala Harris, "Graduation 2021," a CNN special event tonight at 7:00.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:57:41]

WHITFIELD: All right. Six hundred homes and five schools destroyed by a volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Five people dying in a car accident as they tried to evacuate the area. Thousands of people are returning to their homes today, what's left of it, were remnants of ash and lava cover the whole area, after more people had to flee to Rwanda for refuge yesterday.

And then this other tragedy taking place in China yesterday, 21 people died while running in a treacherous ultra-marathon in extreme freezing weather conditions, including hail and rain.

CNN's Patrick Snell has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICK SNELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When runners lined up on Saturday morning to take part in a high altitude ultra marathon in northwest China, it was like any other, the sun was out and the temperature was seemingly mild.

Hours later, temperatures dropping freezing rain, hail, winds, lashing the runners on the 62-mile race. As some suffered from hypothermia, and others went missing.

This prompted organizers to call off the race, and launch a search party of 1,200 people to scour the complicated terrain. The rescue effort continued after it turned dark.

By Sunday morning 151 of the 172 race participants had been confirmed safe, with eight recovering in hospital.

But tragically the extremely cold weather took the lives of 21 ultra runners, Chinese state media reporting.

MAYOR ZHANG ZUCHEN, BAIYIN, CHINA (through translator): This incident is a public safety incident caused by sudden changes in weather in a local area. Here, as the organizer of the event, we feel deeply guilty and blame ourselves, and express our deep condolences to the victims and the families of the victims and the injured.

SNELL: Among those dead, Liang Jiang, one of China's well-known ultra-marathon runners. Liang is being remembered as one of the best ultra-marathon athletes in the world by the Hong Kong 100 ultra- marathon group who said he'd been a favorite member of the Hong Kong trail racing community.

Patrick Snell, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Wow, and then in contrast to this celebration for a group of American teenagers who have been through so much already.