Return to Transcripts main page
GOP On Its Way to Contested Convention; Tensions Rise Between Democrats Ahead of Next Week's Debate; Battle Over Religious Freedom Bills; . Aired 10-11p ET
Aired April 6, 2016 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: The GOP well on its way to a contested convention as tensions rise between the Democrats ahead of our debate next week. This is "CNN tonight." I'm Don Lemon. In a wake of a big victory for Ted Cruz in Wisconsin, Donald Trump is pinning his hopes on a win in New York. With a contested convention, all but assured could a stealth candidate rise up to save the day for the GOP.
Plus the battle over what some states call Religious Freedom Bills. Critics call them legalized discrimination, but will the state pay a price for it. We're going to begin now with the breaking news out of the Bernie Sanders rally in Philadelphia tonight. The Vermont senator blasting Hillary Clinton and telling a cheering crowd he doesn't believe she is qualified to be president. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNIE SANDERS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Secretary Clinton appears to be getting a little bit nervous. We have won - we have won seven out of eight of the recent primaries and caucuses.
And she has been saying lately that she thinks that I am, "not qualified to be president."
Well, let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton. I don't believe that she is qualified if she is -
-- if she is through her Super PAC taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds.
I don't think that you are qualified if your get $15 million from Wall Street through your Super PAC. (CHEERING)
I don't think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq!
I don't think you are qualified if you've supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement, which has cost us millions of decent paying jobs.
I don't think you are qualified if you supported the Panama Free Trade Agreement, something I very strongly opposed and which, as all of you know, has allowed corporations and wealthy people all over the world to avoid paying their taxes to their countries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: That's Bernie Sanders just a few moments ago in Philadelphia. Democratic candidates trading rock blows tonight. While on the other side, the Republicans battle between Donald Trump - the Republican battle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the wake of a big win for Cruz in Wisconsin.
So, joining me now, Ron Nehring, California chairman for Senator Cruz and Barry Bennett, adviser to the Trump campaign. Ron, first off, I want to congratulate you on the win, your big win last night. Your candidate is calling Wisconsin a turning point. But Cruz is going to need 88 percent of the vote if he's going to get to that magic number of 1,237. So how is he going to do that when his polling -- he is polling dead last in New York?
RON NEHRING, TED CRUZ NATIONAL SPOKESMAN: Well, a couple things. First we have it take a look at what the lessons are coming out Wisconsin, you know. Donald Trump three weeks ago had a very sizable lead in the state of Wisconsin until about two weeks ago. He was -- you know, we were tied up there and then we started moving into a leading position. And what we saw there is certainly a consolidation of the conservative Republican base behind Senator Cruz and nobody in the country was paying more attention to who the candidates are and what the candidates were saying than the people of Wisconsin and they embraced Senator Cruz and they rejected Donald Trump.
At the same time in the state of New York, that's his home state, you know, you don't have the type of cultural gap you do between a New York candidate and you know, a Midwestern electorate that you would did in Wisconsin. So, Donald Trump by all means should do very well in New York. We're going to compete there. We're going to look for every opportunity to win delegates and support there.
We have a sizable volunteer organization there but it's one state as we continue to move through the remaining 16 states and on to California, which votes at the end of the process where we've been organizing since the month of August. So, you know, this is a long ball game. We're at about the bottom of the fifth. We've got a couple more innings to go.
[22:05:00] LEMON: But Bob, excuse me, Barry, Trump would have to get nearly 60 percent -- 59 percent of the votes of the future races. The math looks good for Trump. New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, et cetera, but most people think that's not going to be enough. So --
BARRY BENNETT, TRUMP CAMPAIN ADVISER: Well, they're wrong.
LEMON: Is that how you see it? No?
BENNETT: No, they're wrong. I mean, you know, there are only three states left that are proportional. Everything else is winner take all or winner takes most. So you know, we got huge states coming up -- Pennsylvania, New York, California, Indiana -- big states and lots of delegates.
LEMON: You're going to get to 1,237 you believe on the first ballot?
BENNETT: We're going to get to over -- we're going to get to about 1,300 and something, maybe 1,400
LEMON: How do you plan to do that?
BENNETT: Well, one, we're going to take all of them in New York, all 95. We'll cross 50 percent. We're at 56 I think right now and we'll cross 50 percent to get on 95. You know, we're beating Senator Cruz in Pennsylvania by almost 20 points. And you look at all these other northeastern states where, you know, Cruz is barely registering. He flirting with a 20-point threshold to even qualify for any delegates. Today, he was in the Bronx and they had 12 voters show up, you know. We're coming home and it's a whole new world for Ted Cruz.
LEMON: So Ron, I want to talk about this, the Trump campaign responded to his Wisconsin loss accusing the Cruz campaign of illegally coordinating with the Super PACS that support him adding this, "Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet, he is a Trojan horse being used by the party bosses, attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump." how do you have respond to that, Ron?
NEHRING: Well, you know, whenever Donald Trump loses one of these elections, particularly when 24 hours beforehand he was predicting victory, he does increasingly erratic things in order to try to change the subject. So, he puts at, you know, some bizarre statement like this, you know, with this type of comments.
Everybody knows that Senator Cruz has been challenging the status quo in Washington, D.C. ever since he was elected to the U.S. Senate that's why the people of Texas re-elected -- he gave him a very healthy 17-point margin of victory in the state of Texas, even when Donald Trump was predicting he was going to win in the state of Texas. So look, it's very, very clear who has been challenging the status quo and who has been funding liberal democrat elected officials and that's been Donald Trump.
LEMON: You want to respond to that, Barry?
BENNETT: Oh, yeah. First of all, I congratulate Scott Walker, right? We won 60 percent of the counties in Wisconsin last night, but the suburban counties around Milwaukee where the Walker machine is turned out a massive number of voters. And I congratulate Scott Walker. But it was Scott Walker and Mitt Romney and you know Lindsay Graham, these are the people behind the Ted Cruz campaign right now.
Six years ago Ted Cruz wasn't a member of the establishment. Now he's decided to crawl in bed with these guys and they're using him to try to stop Donald Trump. Once they get to the elect -- once they get to the convention of course, they'll forget they ever met him. I mean, he's a Trojan horse for the establishment.
LEMON: Yeah, but that was a good strategy, but is that going to work in future states?
NEHRNG: You know Don, I ...
BENNETT: Well, I mean, there are no more Scott Walkers. He's the best in the country so he's not going to have that luxury anymore.
LEMON: Go ahead Ron.
NEHRING: You know, every time that, you know, Donald Trump loses one of these elections, it's always somebody else's fault. You know, it's the delegates or it's some other elected official or it's some this or some that. There's always someone else to blame and the reality is that Donald Trump did everything that he possibly could to win in the state of Wisconsin. He added the number of stops that he was there.
He dramatically increased his schedule in the state, he was openly predicting that he was going to win the state, and he failed because the people of Wisconsin were paying close attention to this, took a look at all the candidates, all three of the candidates tried to win, all three of the candidates were in the state, Scott Walker's name was not on the ballot, Donald Trump's name was on the ballot and Senator Cruz won not just by one or two points but by 13 points. That's called a shellacking.
LEMON: Barry, let me get in here. I won't ask you this. So, do you agree with the statement that was released by the campaign because many people see -- it kind of makes him look like a sore loser, right? Usually if you win or if you lose you say, you know, congratulations to my opponent. They fought a very good fight. It just seems like the adult things to do. With him saying a Trojan horse and what have you, he didn't even go out and do a concession speech or you know, any sort of speech talking about his strategy.
BENNETT: He congratulated Scott Walker. And that was the race, I mean that was the entire. We won 60 percent of the counties.
NEHRING: Give me a break.
BENNETT: Go look at the numbers. It's true.
[22:10:00] LEMON: Okay, but listen. All right, look, to the point then, we know that he met today with Paul Manafort, so is he's leading delegate operations, right. We're hearing reports of a campaign shake- up, I mean, do you see Trump moving forward as the same sort of counterpunching, speak off-the-cuff candidate or does that have to change?
BENNETT: Well, I mean I think as we get closer and closer to 1,237 that's going to change. We're almost there and we've got a couple more states to get through and then it will be coasting for us.
LEMON: Okay. You know your candidates pride themselves, both of them, on taking on the establishment. At what point will you need the party on your side, particularly, you know, as we likely head to a contested convention? I'll ask you first, Ron.
NEHRING: Well, Senator Cruz is the exact same candidate today as he was when he first entered this race with that very powerful speech that he gave at Liberty University. What's changed is that as we've gone through all these candidates and the primary process has done what it's supposed to do, is narrow the field. We have five former competitors who've come on board for Senator Cruz who represent a broad cross section of the Republican party, Carly Fiorina, Lindsay Graham, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, et cetera, have all come on board for Senator Cruz in addition to, you know, other noted conservative leaders like Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and the like.
That represents a pretty strong cross section of the Republican Party. And ultimately when we get to the convention, you know, the delegates who are gathered there who are democratically elected going to look for a candidate who they can support, who will ultimately put us in a position to win the general election, which Donald Trump absolutely cannot do. If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, it will produce a wipeout that no one in this generation has ever seen before. Hillary Clinton will be the president, we'll have a democratic congress and we'll lose control of the Supreme Court for the next generation. That's what Donald Trump is.
LEMON: The same question to you Barry. At what point do you need the party on your side?
BENNETT: Post convention for sure, but that's where we traditionally heal as a party, after the convention. That's why you see the bumps in the polls coming out of conventions. You know, the two sides get together and they say, well you know, we have to beat Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, whoever it is. I mean, I always thought it was going to be Hillary. But you know, this has gone on for a long, long time.
All the nerves are raw, but, I mean, you know, Ted Cruz doesn't even have a realistic shot of getting to 1,237 and he's being used by the establishment to try to stop it. But mark my words, on the second ballot, Ted Cruz gets fewer votes than he got on the first ballot because all the establishment guys are going to try to elect their guy.
LEMON: All right, that's going to be the last word. Thank you Barry. Thank you Ron. I appreciate it. And when we come back, is Donald Trump rethinking his whole campaign strategy? Is it too little too late?
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: A contested Republican convention, now a strong possibility following Ted Cruz's big victory in Wisconsin. I want to talk about the state of a GOP race with Andy Dean, the former president of Trump Productions and a Trump supporter of course, Senior political commentator Buck Sexton who is supporting Ted Cruz and Kristen Soltis Anderson, a columnist for the Washington Examiner, good evening to all. Kristen, I will start with you. After last night's big loss, should Trump be rethinking his strategy?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER CO
It's going to take a lot of man-on-man, one-on-one, punching down who these delegates are, persuading them to be Trump supporters, making sure that in states where individual delegates get voted on long after the state's primary, but Trump's got the slate's ready to roll, that's the strategy that he really needs to be putting in place now to get himself on a fastest...
LEMON: So he can't do this, Kristen the strategy moving forward should not be counterpunching and, you know, the way that it used to be?
ANDERSON: Well, I mean, I think that what you're seeing is in a lot of cases where Donald Trump won, maybe the vote into the primary, but the rules state that the delegates are awarded by electing a slate of activists within the slate. And that's where Donald Trump has really struggled in the last couple of weeks, whereas Ted Cruz for months has been planning on this kind of a strategy.
I suspect the Cruz campaign thought they'd have a floor fight with somebody like a Jeb Bush, probably did not play it out on being Donald Trump, but nonetheless has been built for speed and been built for exactly the kind of delegate fight that you're likely to seeing.
LEMON: So, I want to hear from the trump supporter now. So, she says that he's got to strategize more, have a better ground game. He can't be just the old counterpuncher. Andy, what do you think of that?
ANDY DEAN, TRUMP PRODUCTION FORMER PRESIDENT: I don't disagree. I think Trump is a smart businessman and you have to have both strategies, right. The first strategy is you try to win it on the first ballot, which our math shows he's going to get to about 1,250 to 1,275, maybe even more, maybe even 1,300. And then look, if he falls a little bit short, if he's at 1,220, then you can go the delegate route, right, because a contested convention means that you don't have a majority on the first ballot.
So that means you only have to find your six weeks to find 17 people, and that's not that difficult. I mean Pennsylvania has 54 unbound delegates just by themselves. So if we're at 1,220 or 1,210, we're going to find 17, we're going to find 27 people on the first ballot to get it there. I mean Gerald Ford did this in 1976. So, there is a shot. I mean, I think there's --
LEMON: But they won't be bound to him on the first ballot, right? Can't they switch, too?
DEAN: Right, so our math shows us that there's a 70 percent chance most likely that Trump will get to the 1,237 on the first ballot without any of these games, right. Like lying Ted Cruz is playing all these games because he has to, it's his only option, right. But with us, we can do it the honest way by winning these primaries. Now, if Donald does fall 10 delegates short, and remember first if he falls 10 delegates short, he'll have at that point and these are what the polls show, he'll have won 32 of the 50 states and he'll have about 3 million more votes than Lying Ted and so that means he just needs 17 delegates.
LEMON: I want to get Buck in here because I want to ask a similar question that was asked during the last election. I mean, he's saying he has the math but is this real math or is this math to make the Trump people feel better about where they stand.
BUCK SEXTON, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Andy's a good man. I haven't heard numbers anything even near that level.
LEMON: Because he's saying that he's going to be 59 percent of the pledge delegates. He's getting (ph) the remaining delegates needed to...
[22:20:00] SEXTON: Yeah and he's not doing -- the poll numbers would all have to be wrong in these states. He would have to have, essentially Ted Cruz decide maybe to drop out. I mean, for Donald Trump to have a 70 percent likelihood of winning on the first ballot that would require him to run the table across the board.
In some states where he has a pretty good shot of doing very well, to be honest New York is one of them and New Jersey and there are some others on the eastern seaboard, but once you go to places like Nebraska and you get out west into Washington State and Oregon, these are places where Ted Cruz is going to do very well and there's just no way that ...
DEAN: Buck, we don't disagree, look.
SEXTON: I know, I just did the ...
DEAN: One second, now look, just take a step back and look at the math, right. So, there have been about 1,500 delegates that have been given out so far. This is approximate stuff so I don't want to, you know, it's on blog tomorrow saying Andy's off by three delegates. I'd say about 1,500 delegates, right. Donald trump has won 50 percent or about half and he had a field of 17
people and then he had a field of 10 people, now it's a field of three people. So, if he can win 50 percent of the delegates that have been out there with so many people in the race, then him winning 59 percent, which is all he needs to win, 59 percent, and it's the way to go it's very easy to do.
LEMON: No, but the numbers have been, yeah, but he just lost Wisconsin and the numbers have actually been going against him in a lot of the states.
LEMON: He's been -- listen, Andy. Andy, listen to me. To that point, then, if you want to get to where you say you're going, then they're going to have to be some changes. If you look simply at the polling, right, and if you look at the math, the math that we're at, we have heard that there are some staff shake-ups in the Trump campaign. So what can you tell us about that? What is the strategy moving forward in order to get to where you're saving you're going to go?
DEAN: Right, look, any time you lose a primary, there's going to be talks of, oh, how is the campaign doing? Should there be a staff shake-up? There are highs and lows in every campaign just like there's highs and lows in life and in business and Donald Trump understands that. He's a loyal guy, he's been loyal to his staff. Now, is he potentially going to bring on other people? Of course.
Like, he's bringing on Paul Manifort for a delegate strategy because if we can't get to the 1,237, which once again we think we will. But if we're just shy, we're not going to let Lying Ted come in and steal this from us. We're going to use Paul Manifort and we're going to find those 17 people. Remember, we have six weeks --
SEXTON: He likes that lying Ted.
SEXTON: Andy, the ground game...
LEMON: Okay, I need to get Kristen in. I need to get Kristen -- can we talk about Kasich, John Kasich. Is his presence in the race complicating the Cruz strategy?
ANDERSON: At this point it seems very likely that if you're the sort of person that doesn't want Donald Trump to get the nomination, Ted Cruz is probably your guy. But we are headed into a batch the states up there in the northeast. You're going to have states like Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, states like Rhode Island, Connecticut, these are sorts of places that should be John Kasich territory.
Now, he had a really poor showing in Wisconsin. I think it really calls into question why he's staying in the race. But, what I suspect he's doing is he wants to hang on to those delegates. He knows that the convention is pretty likely to be contested or at least some kind of adventure, wants to have those delegates in his pocket but certainly in a place like, say, California where you got a 172 delegates that are going to go by congressional district.
There may be a lot of places where folks that don't like Donald Trump, if John Kasich just picks up 10 percent, that could enough to hand those delegates to Trump because Cruz won't be able to get enough.
LEMON: I'm going to start bringing -- I'm going to start bringing a calculator for these segments.
ANDERSON: Sorry , it's so many numbers.
LEMON: Yeah, I know. It's like this delegate, that delegate, pledge, and we need this percentage. Okay, stand by everyone. We're going to get to your conversation. What would happen at a contested GOP convention? What would happen? How would the voters react and would it damage the Republican Party? That's next.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: So, what would a contested convention look like and what would it do to the GOP? Back with me now Andy Dean, Buck Sexton and Kristen Soltis Anderson. So, we're talking about John Kasich staying in the race, and if he was staying in the race just as a spoiler in hopes of a contested convention, Buck, you take issue with that.
SEXTON: I take an issue with Kasich staying in because the only way that Kasich wins -- I know were disagreeing about some of the math before and we'll just have to agree to disagree on those numbers for a second. With Kasich -- even Kasich knows that it's mathematically not possible. He cannot win. The only way he wins is if he gets the --
LEMON: With a contested convention.
SEXTON: Well, if he goes into a contested convention and it goes into multiple rounds of balloting and there's all this backroom deals. Here's my big problem with that, is that the American, oh, I shouldn't say American people, the GOP so far, the voters have had this absolute hatred of all things establishment, right? That's been one of the main issues for all the rest of the candidates going along.
There's been purge after purge. If you were the establishment guy, you were not long for this campaign. It was one after another. The two you have left are, even though you got one who is a senator, considered to be sort of beltway outsiders in their own ways. And the notion...
LEMON: Who are you? Who is Donald Trump? Who is Ted Cruz to say, hey, you shouldn't be in the race, get out? He has every right to be in the race.
SEXTON: I am one of the American GOP voters that is furious about the establishment. But seriously, the problem is that if you had a situation where Kasich was handed this, you would have a complete revolt. All of that anger and frustration, all the...
LEMON: He is the only -- I think he's the only candidate that beats Hillary Clinton in the national polling. All that matters is who wins battle ground states.
SEXTON: All the worst fears of the establishment come true if Kasich is in fact handed this --
LEMON: There has not been a contested convention since 1948. Just about everything in politics in different now than it was then. Do you think voters will find this undemocratic as he is saying, Andy? As Buck is saying.
DEAN: Don, a couple of things and I hate to be rude but in 1976 there was a contested convention. So, Gerald Ford beat Ronald Reagan. So, just a quick --
LEMON: I stand corrected if I'm wrong. Sorry about that. Go ahead.
DEAN: No, no worries. Don, this is your show. I'm not here to be weird. So, after June 7th, so that's the last primary, right. June 7th is the last primary. If Donald Trump can't get to 1,237 after June 7th, that means that it's going to be a contested convention, but that doesn't mean he can't win on the first ballot. It's exactly what happened on 1976.
LEMON: But do you think, my question was, do you think -- I understand. Well, you've said that - you've said that, but do you think voters will find it undemocratic?
[22:30:00] DEAN: Well, of course, because the whole concept that our founding fathers understood is that there's something even more important than our leadership, and that's how a person becomes elected, the process in which they're elected.
And so, if Donald Trump is ahead of Ted Cruz -- right now he's ahead of Ted Cruz by 2 million votes and he's ahead of John Kasich by 5 million votes. By the time the convention comes around in July, he's going to be ahead of Ted Cruz by about 3 or 4 million votes and John Kasich 7 or 8 million votes. And the idea that Donald Trump who's won with the voters would be denied the nomination is not only bizarre, it dangerous for our country.
LEMON: Do you, Kristen, do you -- go ahead, Kristen.
ANDERSON: I take a little bit of an issue with that.
LEMON: Me too.
ANDERSON: I mean, first of all, when we're talking about the founding fathers, the constitution actually doesn't provide for the direct election of a lot of folks. We had a lot of amendments along the way that made more direct democracy. You now still have both party organizations that do not have a situation where there is direct election on the democratic side, you have super delegates and on the republican side you have this very complicated process that we're going through now.
I think if you pick somebody in the end who is not Ted Cruz and not Donald Trump, you have a big problem. I think that would be viewed as the establishment coming in and stealing it from somebody who rightfully took it.
LEMON: But so are the rules of the rules (ph) Kristen.
ANDERSON: ... but I do think that if Donald Trump doesn't have the majority walking into the convention and you have to go to multiple rounds of ballots, the rules account for that. The rules say that some delegates become unpledged but they get to move around. This isn't breaking the rules, this is the rules. And so I think the question is, does the Republican Party do things like get rid of stone (ph) as rule 40 where you have to have a certain threshold to even being entered into nomination?
I have assumed that both of the other gentlemen on the panel would say, yes, you should keep rule 40 in place, because at this point it benefits Trump and Cruz and keeps Kasich out of the conversation. But really, you know, I don't think Trump just gets it. Yes, so the rule means you have to have a majority of delegates coming out of eight different states. So, at this point John Kasich has Ohio, whereas you have both Trump and Cruz who are likely that's not going to be a problem.
DEAN: Right, with Kasich, they have to violate their own rules.
LEMON: So, it would be Trump or Cruz.
ANDERSON: Well, each convention does adopt its own rules. But I think it would get really big public opinion blowback if there was a perception that the rules would being changed mid stream even if it is generally legitimate to do that.
LEMON: There's also been this talk about not just Kasich, about Paul Ryan another possible candidate. Also the bringing back of Marco Rubio, who at this point has more delegates than John Kasich.
SEXTON: This is where the long game is so important and keeping the eye on the prize here, which for anybody who's going to vote for any GOP candidate, I would hope it's to defeat Hillary Clinton or perhaps Bernie Sanders, who by the way is making everybody feel the burn these days. He's doing better than everybody thought, but the long-term goal has to be that and that's going to require unification of the party.
The only prayer the GOP has of this not turning into a complete debacle and disaster is if either Cruz or Trump comes out of that convention with the nomination, because anybody else and what was the point of the whole process? Even if there are rules in place...
LEMON: Okay, I want to you listen to this and then I'll let you again. This is a conversation between Trump ally Roger Stone and right-wing host Alex Jones. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) ROGER STONE, TRUMP ALLY: We will have demonstrations at specific
hotels where there are delegates so we can let them visually see the will of the people. We will have a daily protest. We will man the ramparts every day --
ALEX JONES, RIGHT-WING HOST: Hey, it's a free country. We're staying in the hotel, we can go knock on the hotel room doors like you said, right?
STONE: Well, I have friends in every delegation. I will be able to tell you which state delegations are involved in the big steal, which party leaders are ring leaders in the big steal. We do not advocate violence. We're not talking about roughing anybody up.
JONES: We're talking to people.
STONE: What we are talking out is being a presence to let the people feel the pressure of the American people and those who have bothered to vote in these primaries and caucuses.
JONES: Yeah, we're the victims that they're openly robbing as we speak.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
LEMON: Is this what you want, Buck Sexton, and anybody else here?
SEXTON: No, absolutely not. The moment you're saying that we're not going to engage in violence, you clearly made some mistakes along the way. The only way the GOP has a prayer of winning the presidency is if Trump or Cruz is the nominee and the party coalesces around one of those two candidates. Everything else is an absolute disaster. And I really don't know a lot of people other than perhaps a few Kasich supporters here and there who disagree with that at this point.
LEMON: Okay, thank you, I appreciate it, all of you.
LEMON: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will go head to head in CNN's Democratic Presidential Debate in Brooklyn next Thursday night beginning at 9:00 eastern. And coming up, the battle over what some people are calling Religious Freedom Bills and others call them legalized discrimination.
[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a so-called religious freedom bill this week. He says it protects "sincerely held religious beliefs and more convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations. Critics are blasting the law as legalized discrimination. So, joining me now CNN's Polo Sandoval. Polo, good evening to you. Some say this is a victory for religious freedom, others call it discriminatory. What's the mood like there?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely. We have to remember that the ink is still drying on this. The governor still signed it (ph) yesterday so people are still reading it over. They're still trying to understand the legalities involved here. So, you'll find very different views, very opposing views here in Mississippi tonight. And also different takes on the law, different interpretations.
Even some of the legal experts that we've spoken to are still unsure whether or not this will only affect LGBT individuals or perhaps have wider effects. Perhaps the unmarried couples living together or single mothers as well. But what we do know, especially after reading this bill over and over again Don, is that there are obviously effects when it comes to people working in the wedding industry, deejays, florists, bakers, et cetera.
Now, people living in those industries now have the -- would now be able to refuse service for same-sex couples and not of course not face potential punishment by the state.
LEMON: Polo, you spoke to two business owners with different views on this bill. What did they tell you?
[22:40:00] SANDOVAL: Yeah, well one is them is the Kake King as he's known around here. Jeromie Jones, he's a baker, in fact he says that he is the only black baker in the state of Mississippi according to him. He sighted market research. He traveled around the state checking in on different bakeries.
And really his take is quite bit of a disappointing tone. He told us he's obviously quite upset with this law being passed. In fact, he's been the subject of discrimination before and now he fears that the passage of this law may now even lead him to move out of his native state. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEROMIE JONES, BAKERY OWNER: We have to pretty much pick up and move everything just because I don't feel like that we're ever going to be appreciated here for who we are. We're never going to be looked at as equal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDOVAL: Again, that's Jeromie saying that, again, he is the only gay black male baker in the state of Mississippi according to what he's learned so far. And then of course you have the other side of the coin here, too, Don. There's who are glad to see this now become a law, including a seamstress that we caught with who works with brides on a regular basis.
And she told us that she would never knowingly take part in preparing a wedding dress for a bride that would be taking part in a same-sex marriage. We asked her if she were to find out if one of her customers was in fact planning to take part in a same-sex marriage, this is what she told us. This is how she would handle it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JACKIE BUCHANAN, OWNER SEAMINGLY PERFECT: I haven't ran into a
situation where there were, you know, two brides or whatever the case may be. But f that should happen, I would take a stand. I think Christians should take a stand on their beliefs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDOVAL: So again, you just heard there from Ms. Jackie Buchanan. In her own words, she would respectfully decline and that's what she's asking fellow business owners to do in light of the passage of this law. But I can tell you, Don, before I let you go, is that the conversation, the debate is far from over here in Mississippi tonight.
LEMON: Before we let you go Polo, I mean this bill is the latest in a wave of religious discrimination laws against the south since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, but this one has specifically strong language. What exactly does it say? You mentioned bakers, and people in the wedding industry, but what exactly does it say?
SANDOVAL: We started speaking to legal experts immediately after the governor signed this and even before and what really set this apart is directly under section 2, which sets apart three specific items that would be protected here, different religious views. That is that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman, that sex is only for heterosexual married couples and that a person's sex is fully decided upon birth.
And that is why so many people are taking issue. Again, supporters of this, including the state's governor saying that this is simply protecting people's rights, but then you speak to people like the baker that we spoke to today and they will tell you this opens the door wide open and sets things up for discrimination.
LEMON: Polo Sandoval, thank you very much. Reporting from Jackson, Mississippi. Joining me now to discuss this, representative Steve Holland of the Mississippi House and Roger Severino, the director of the Heritage Foundation DeVos Center for Religious and Civil Society. Good to have both of you on this evening. Thanks for joining us. Roger?
STEVE HOLLAND, MISSISSIPPI HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE: Hello, Don.
LEMON: What do you say to those who say it's discriminatory?
ROGER SEVERINO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION DEVOS CENTER DIRECTOR: I think they're mistaken. The bill actually answers a fundamental question. Are we going to be a society that believes in live and let live where multiple views of marriage can actually co-exist or is it going to be winner take all where judges and government will take ne view of marriage then you view and coerce religious people and institutions to come along under penalties, under fines and revocation of tax exemption?
And Mississippi has said no, we're going to respect freedom, we're going to respect tolerance for dissent and protect people like Barronelle Stutzman, a 70-year-old grandmother florist from Washington who was fined not because she refused to serve people...
LEMON: With all due respect Roger, this goes...
SEVERINO: ... it was about marriage ceremonies.
LEMON: With all due respect, this goes beyond marriage. It talks about sexual relationship. It talks about, you know, gender and all that. It goes beyond marriage. Listen, I have to ask you with all due respect, it sounds likes the same argument for Loving versus Virginia, which was decided years ago between, you know, people of two different races. What's the difference here?
SEVERINO: Well, I disagree. I think race is entirely different. I was at the civil rights division for the Department of Justice for seven years . I enforced our anti-discrimination laws. This is a passion of mine and this is entirely different. This is entirely about religious freedom. It is tailored very specifically to the wedding context --
LEMON: For religious freedom was also used in Loving versus Virginia as well. They said that -- the bible says it was against two people of different races marrying.
[22:45:00] SEVERINO: Yes, and race is different. This has nothing to do with race. And in fact, the words sexual orientation appear nowhere in this bill. This is in response to an act of a Supreme Court decision that overturned the will of the people around the country and redefined marriage for everyone including Mississippi that had a constitutional amendment that said marriage is a union of one man and woman. It's the same belief that President Obama had as recently as 2012.
LEMON: Okay, I want to get Representative Holland in. You're a Democrat in a conservative state. Why did you come out against this bill? Could it cost you?
HOLLAND: Well, I guess it could cost me. I'm not worried about that cost because I believe strongly in what I believe in and I've been that way for the 33 years that I've served in the Mississippi House of Representatives. But I don't know why we need government sanctioned discrimination. That is just that simple to me.
Our state of all the states in the nation has a sordid history and we tried -- some of us have tried so hard to move ourselves toward progressive legislation, toward better school system, toward better health for our people and statistically we continue to lag at the bottom.
But this was a pretty big slap in the face. I don't see this religious freedom at all. I see it as the government saying that we can just discriminate against whole classes of people. And we went through that in the 60s and we're still suffering from that and it just hurts my heart as a Christian, number one, that we're not practicing love. And I think that's the basis of Christianity. The great commandments are love God and love your neighbor as yourself and I don't see much love in this bill. LEMON: So Roger, here is what the Mississippi ACLU tweeted. "Welcome
to Mississippi, the hospitality state that says you're okay only if you're straight and married, #shameonphil." A number of corporations have also denounced this bill, I mean don't you think this is going to hurt -- look at all these companies that provide services and businesses and jobs to the people of your state. Do you think this is going to hurt Mississippi economically?
SEVERINO: Well, first, everybody deserves to be treated with respect, absolutely. And that includes people who disagree on the position on marriage. This is ...
LEMON: But how is it respectful - let me ask you, how is it respectful if you go into a business expecting a service and someone says to you I'm not serving you because you're black or you're gay or because of some other thing that they just don't happen to like because they say it's part of their religion, that their religion doesn't allow that. How is that not discriminatory?
SEVERINO: Again, I sued bigots for the Department of Justice for seven years. I know what discrimination looks like. This is entirely different. This is a very tailored, specific, balanced law that addresses the issues related to marriage in a Supreme Court decision. It allows people to dissent in a very small context, small businesses, in the wedding service context, religious institution, religious educational facilities, adoption facilities, it's very focused, very tailored, very balanced. There should be room for people of faith to express their beliefs and not be punished by the government.
LEMON: But is this not what happens on Sunday? Isn't that what happens o Sunday? Isn't that happens inside of you as the bible says because this law is basically about conservative Christianity. It does not mention any other religion, it does not mention the text in any other type of religion.
It's about conservative Christianity so, it doesn't seem to respect the wishes of other people from other religions. It just seems to be focused on Christianity. Well, I need to get a break here but I'll let you respond so stay with me. When we come right back, are these religious freedom laws damaging the GOP and will the party pay a price in November? We'll be right back.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Could the religious freedom battle in Mississippi have an impact on the presidential election? Back with me now, Representative Steve Holland and Roger Severino. Okay, Roger, we were speaking before and you were saying, you know, how this is different, it's not discriminatory, you've worked for it.
Here's what this bill is (ph) and I want you to explain to me how this is not discrimination, "Under the law, religious organizations will be able to deny LGBT people marriage, adoption and foster care services, fire or refuse to employ them and decline to rent or sell them property." It sounds like the same thing they did with black folks. How is this not discrimination? SEVERINO: Well, first that's not what the bill says. The bill doesn't
LEMON: The bill (ph) will allow...
SEVERIN: ...sexual orientation.
LEMON: It doesn't mention that but that's what it ...
LEMON: It may not specifically say that but it would allow ...
SEVERION: But the words matter. Don, the words matter. That's what the law means. It's based on the words and the words say it's focused on the issue of marriage.
LEMON: Yeah, but I think you're being disingenuous here because the law under the...
SEVERINO: It's here. This is what it says.
LEMON: Will you listen to me? Under the law religious organizations will be able to deny LGBT people marriage. Is that wrong?
SEVERION: The clerks are actually required to provide marriage licenses -- if we're talking about marriage, that's already handled. Clerks are allowed to opt out under the law so long as somebody is there to provide that services.
LEMON: So what if no one is there?
SEVERINO: It avoids the Kim Davis. They have to take every necessary step to make sure license --
LEMON: So, what if no one is there -- what if no one is there?
SEVERINO: They have to take every necessary step to make sure licenses are issued. This is not a problem...
LEMON: Adoption, foster care services, fire or refuse to employ them and decline to rent or sell them property. Go ahead Representative Holland.
[22:55:00] HOLLAND: Well Don, you know, let's go back to the very beginning. This bill was so unnecessary to start with. I'm a businessman. I happen to be a southern undertaker. I own funeral homes. I could deny anybody I wanted to services. I own 100 percent of the stock in my funeral home. I would never do that as a "religious person" or certainly as a spiritual person. I've never done that in 42 years that I've practiced my trade. And so
this law was nothing more than the far right GOP majority, super majority in Mississippi bringing this issue up just because they could and because they had the votes. It was unnecessary. It's very discriminatory to groups of people and if I want to deny somebody in my business service, I think I could do that. I just don't want to do that. It was not a subject that we need to talk about.
We've got public schools that are crumbling in this state, we've got health issues, and we've got economic development issues. We can go on and on and the legislature should be spending its time dealing with those issues. This bill had zero hearing. It was sprung upon the legislature the first time with the previous question moved immediately and we had to vote. There was zero discussion.
LEMON What do you think it's going to do to your state economically?
HOLLAND: I hope it don't hurt it. We've struggled and we've come a long way and we've got a good state and we got good people, but now, you know. I have a daughter that works for Toyota. She's their public relations director and they issued a harsh statement against this. They don't like this at all. Nissan did the same thing. We just appropriated 300 million of taxpayer money to lure a continental tire plant in Mississippi.
LEMON: I'm out of time representative -- I'm out of time representative.
HOLLAND: They don't like it so, okay. Well, thank you Don, I really like you.
LEMON: Thank you, thank you and I appreciate you coming on, both Roger and Steve. And we'll have you back to continue to discuss this. Thank you gentlemen. Well be right back.
HOLLAND: Thank you so much. Good evening.
LEMON: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will go head to head in CNN's Democratic Presidential Debate in Brooklyn next Thursday night beginning at 9:00 eastern. It's going to be interesting so make sure you tune in. That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow night. "AC360" starts right now.