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Obama Criticizes GOP Focus on Banning Critical Race Theory; Texas Bill to Ban Critical Race Theory Awaits Governor's Signature; Interview with State Rep. Steve Toth (R-TX), Author of Bill to Ban Critical Race Theory; U.S. Border Authorities in Cancun to Spot Migrants Posing as Tourists; Navy Won't Let Cameron Kinley Delay Commission to Play in NFL. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired June 8, 2021 - 15:30   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Former President Obama weighed in on the national debate over school curricula and efforts of some on the right to the ban what is often called "critical race theory." The concept recognizes that systemic racism is part of American society and challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish. At least four states have limited how teachers can address race in the classroom and about a dozen more could follow suit.

Now, in a rare sit-down interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, the former president criticized the GOP for putting these laws at the top of their priority list.



BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You would think with all the public policy debates that taking place right now that, you know, the Republican Party would be engaged in a significant debate about how are we going to deal with the economy? And what are we going to do about climate change? What are we going to do about -- lo and behold, the single most important issue to them apparently right now is critical race theory. Who knew that that was the threat to our republic?

But the fact is that it is a hard thing to hear. It's hard for the majority in this country, of white Americans, to recognize that, look, you can be proud of this country and its traditions and its history and our forefathers, and yet it is also true that this terrible stuff happened. And that, you know, the vestiges of that linger.


BLACKWELL: In Texas, a bill awaiting the governor's signature there would ban teaching, many tenets of critical race theory. So let's bring in now the author of Texas House Bill 3979, Representative Steve Toth.

Representative, thanks for being with me. Let me start here, why is this -- to go to the former president's point. Why is this a priority for you, considering all that Texas students have to face?

REP. STEVE TOTH (R-TX): Victor, it's good to be with you today. Because if critical race theory was what the president described it as, we wouldn't -- you and I would not be asking this discussion right now. But that's not what critical race theory is. Critical race theory is not about not teaching that the egregious things that have happened in the past. Critical race theory is about blaming children today in the classroom for things that happened in the class.

You know, years ago we said, stereotyping, racial profiling, we said that was a wrong thing. And yet today that's what's being taught in our classroom. This is a book that was found in one of the schools in Texas. It says, not my idea, a book about whiteness. Seriously? We want to start doing books about whiteness or books about blackness or books about brownness? How about if we start talking to kids about what brings us together instead of the things that make us different and separate us.

BLACKWELL: Mr. Representative --

TOTH: We need to teach the egregious things that have happened in the past --


TOTH: -- while we don't blame this generation for them.

BLACKWELL: I don't know that a discussion about slavery blames the children in the class. Let me go specifically --

TOTH: We're not --

BLACKWELL: Go ahead.

TOTH: You can talk about slavery, you can talk about all those things, can you talk about Jim Crow. My bill -- and you should read my bill. It does not talk about --

BLACKWELL: I have it. I've read it, the entire thing. So, let's go into your bill, Mr. Representative.

Let's start here. When you say that a teacher -- and if we have the full screen, let's put it up. A teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.

For that element alone, before we get to the elements of race, why should that be the law, that teachers are not compelled to teach what is relevant in the country today?

TOTH: A teacher that chooses to discuss those things shall do so to the best of the teacher's ability, shall strive -- BLACKWELL: But that's the second clause. That's the second clause.

Let's --

TOTH: All right you got to teach more -- you got to talk about the whole thing, brother.

BLACKWELL: I will get to that.

TOTH: You got to talk about --

BLACKWELL: Congressman --

TOTH: -- it said --

BLACKWELL: Congressman, I'm sorry, Representative, Representative, first, let's set some rules. I will ask questions. I will give you the opportunity to respond. My first question is, why --

TOTH: Contextualize the question.


TOTH: Contextualize what was said.

BLACKWELL: Again, we are going to through this one element at a time. The first element is, why should teachers not be compelled to talk about what is happening? How can teachers talk about the insurrection or ignore it? Don't teachers lose credibility if they see an insurrection but the teachers are not compelled to discuss what is happening at the Capitol or give context to what's happening in the country?

We'll get to the second element of how they do that, but shouldn't they be compelled to at least teach what is happening in the world or give some information about what's happening in the world around them?

TOTH: But that's the problem is you guys, the left, you are the left, CNN is the left, you guys have completely lost --

BLACKWELL: Sir, that is a lazy argument. Just answer the question.

TOTH: It is not a lazy argument. It's clear. It's clear. You --

BLACKWELL: Just answer the question.

TOTH: Whether it's --

BLACKWELL: Why shouldn't teachers be compelled to teach what is happening in the world at the time?

TOTH: Whether it's what happened January 6th or whether it's what happened in Portland, Oregon, CNN does so from a slanted, canted view towards Marxism and the left.

BLACKWELL: Sir, your bill --- your bill does not address CNN. There's not a student in Texas who's going to learn anything more about you slamming CNN. Answer the question. Why shouldn't teachers be compelled to teach about the widely debated issues of the day?


TOTH: They can't be compelled to teach it from a leftist point of view. If they would like to teach it, second paragraph, a teacher who chooses to discuss these topics must do so from a diverse and contending perspective without showing deference to any one perspective.

But that's not good enough for you. As you question right now, you're trying to make it sound like teachers have to do this from one perspective, and one perspective only.

BLACKWELL: No, sir, I'm not. Your bill says that they do not have to talk about it at all.

TOTH: There's no reason, Victor, that is just not --

BLACKWELL: And if they choose -- sir, again, you're attacking CNN does nothing for your cause. Doesn't make a student single in Texas any smarter.

TOTH: Look it, I'm not trying -- I'm not --

BLACKWELL: Does it help a teacher there?

TOTH: And I don't care what you --

BLACKWELL: But you brough up CNN.

TOTH: I don't care what you think about my bill.

BLACKWELL: My question, sir is --

TOTH: It doesn't matter to me. You're not going to do this from a nonbiased perspective. You have a bias you started this thing.

BLACKWELL: You came onto the show. We invited you, you decided to come on. So, let's go to the second clause here.

TOTH: Right.

BLACKWELL: Well, you say that a teacher will have to do so without giving deference to both sides. How do you both sides Charlottesville?

TOTH: It says -- it says, you must do so from a diverse and noncontending perspective without showing -- without showing deference. So, if you want to talk about Charlottesville, you should talk about people that were there peacefully and you should talk about people that were there hatefully.

There are people that were there that had lost their mind. Some guy drove his car into people. Is it appropriate to say that that's evil? Yes, it is. It absolutely is.

But there are also people at Charlottesville that sought to voice something peacefully.

BLACKWELL: Very fine people on both sides, what I'm hearing you say. Let's move on here to the other element --

TOTH: You know that's why -- the way you lied about what Trump said. That's also way you lied about what Trump said.

BLACKWELL: That's a direct quote.

TOTH: Yes, yes, that's because you're trying to make it into something it's not. There are people who were there peacefully and there were people who were there that were racist, bigoted, hateful people. That's the truth.

BLACKWELL: So you said Dr. Martin Luther King would approve of your bill. Why do you believe that?

TOTH: Because he said it -- at his "I have a dream speech," he said, I would that one day my daughters would grow up in a world where they're judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.

We have people in the world like Mayor Lightfoot that have said I'm not going to grant interviews to white reporters. You've got Kamala Harris yesterday that comes out and says, if you don't support HR 1, you're a white supremacist.


TOTH: That's why.

BLACKWELL: Representative, you talked about the late reverend talking about his daughters growing up. Well, they did grow up. And let's hear from one who grew up.

This is Reverend Bernice King. She tweeted on Friday, don't use my father to justify banning teaching about racism in U.S. schools. He said this, the roots of racism are very deep in America. Historically it was so acceptable in the national life that today it is still only lightly burdening the conscience. Your reaction, your response to what Reverend King there says?

TOTH: We're not asking people not to teach about racism. We're asking people to teach -- teachers to absolutely talk about the egregious things of the past. We want to make sure that that's covered in full, totally. To not teach about the egregious things of the past means that we as a nation could repeat them. That's the reality. That is -- that is the desperate, you know, part of man, that we need to teach the past. My bill does not encourage not teaching the past.

BLACKWELL: State Representative Steve Toth, thank you.

All right. Just into CNN, U.S. border authorities are in Cancun, Mexico, to help spot people who may be posing as tourists to try and sneak across the southern border. What we're learning about that operation next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLACKWELL: Well, Vice President Kamala Harris is in Mexico to address the surge in illegal border crossings. CNN has learned that the U.S. is deploying border authorities to Cancun to spot migrants who may be posing as tourists. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is working this story from Washington. Priscilla, what have you learned about this?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Victor, this really exemplifies the various methods that migrants come to the U.S.-Mexico border. In this case U.S. border authorities are helping Mexican immigration officials spot migrants coming into Cancun and posing as tourists to eventually make their way to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Now, this is part of an existing program that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers do around the world working with immigration officials. And now Cancun has been on the radar, according to a former official, and it has been identified as one of the places that migrants have come to, to eventually make their way to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Now, this is -- these are the type of issues that Vice President Kamala Harris is diving into. It's not only why migrants come to the U.S.-Mexico border but how? And this is one of the ways that the two countries, the U.S. and Mexico are working together, to stem the flow of migration -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Priscilla Alvarez for us, thank you.

Up next, the captain of a Naval Academy's football team has been denied a chance to delay his commission so he can play in the NFL. Hear what he told CNN just moments ago.


BLACKWELL: The U.S. Navy is denying the request from the captain of the Naval Academy's football team to delay his military commission so he can play in the NFL. CNN's Andy Scholes is here. So you just spoke with Cameron Kinley. Explain what's going on here.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS REPORTER: Well, Victor, you know, Cameron told me he's always trying to do things the right way, you know, he's the team captain, class president. He was the one who introduced Vice President Harris as graduation, and he told me he was given no explanation or reason why his request to delay his commission was denied.

And you know, a 2019 policy directive allows for military members to delay their service in order to pursue professional sports, but Cameron's request, it was denied by the Navy before it ever got to the Defense Secretary. And you know, he had just gone to rookie camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was hoping to make the team and he told me he was just crushed when he found out that his football dreams were being denied. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAMERON KINLEY, FORMER NAVY CORNERBACK: I was speechless, you know. I started thinking about all the hard work that I put in since I started playing the game of football and all the adversity that I had to overcome just to get to that point.

But to have that opportunity taken away from me, it hurt, you know, and I had a lot of emotions going through my head, a lot of thoughts just because I had the opportunity to fulfill two dreams of playing in the NFL and being an officer in the Navy and leading sailors. And to have that opportunity taken away from me, it hurt and I'm still processing the emotions today.

SCHOLES: And so last year Malcolm Perry went to Navy just like yourself, he was approved to play for the Miami Dolphins. What changed from his situation to your situation?

KINLEY: Right, so within the military, you know, positions are always changing in regard to who is in charge so there's currently a different Acting Secretary of the Navy and my package has to go through him before it gets to the Secretary of Defense. So it was declined at that level.

However, there are three players from the Air Force Academy and one player from West Point this year who also submitted a package, and they are still with their prospective teams, yet I was only one to get denied so that's been puzzling for me.


SCHOLES (on camera): Now in a statement to CNN the Navy said every midshipman attends on the same terms and each has the same responsibility to serve. Exceptions to that commitment to serve of have been rightly rare.


But you know, Victor, Cameron told me that, you know, he hopes things kind of change from this. Not going to help for him but he hopes there's, you know, a new policy maybe that's fair and clear for all military members because he doesn't want to have someone else go through what he's going through right now just having his dreams of playing in the NFL crushed.

BLACKWELL: Andy Scholes, thank you.

All right, just into CNN, progressive Democrats are warning that even if President Biden can negotiate a bipartisan infrastructure deal, they may not be ready to vote for it. We're live in Washington, just ahead.


BLACKWELL: French President Emmanuel Macron was slapped by a man in a crowd at an event today. You see here security quickly intervened. The man who yelled, down with Macron, and another person had been arrested.

Now Macron was in southeast France to meet with restaurant owners ahead of the country's easing of COVID restrictions tomorrow.

I'm Victor Blackwell. Thank you for being with me with afternoon. The Lead with Jake Tapper starts right now.