CNN Panel Frets All White Men in WH Meeting, 'Only Brown Thing Is the Table'

On Thursday's CNN Tonight, host Don Lemon picked up on Democrats hyping a photograph of President Donald Trump meeting with the House Freedom Caucus because all members of the conservative group are white men. Lemon recalled a friend of his who cracked that "the only thing brown in that picture is the table," while CNN analysts Nia-Malika Henderson and David Gergen also weighed in to fret over the lack of diversity.

Debating three panel members who were arguing from the left, conservative CNN political commentator Jack Kingston only got a modest amount of help from CNN political analyst Mark Preston in making the point that the White House had met with other groups other than just the Freedom Caucus.

After a commercial break at 10:52 p.m. ET, Lemon brought up the issue of the photograph:

I want to put this picture up -- this is -- and get the reaction from you guys, that Democrats are seizing on this. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted out a photo with the message: "Appreciated joining the POTUS for meeting with the Freedom Caucus again today. This is it. Pass the bill."

The CNN host then recalled mockery of the image via Twitter from Democrats as he added: "Democratic Senator Patty Murray retweeted it, adding the message: 'A rare look inside the GOP's Women's Caucus.'"

After Henderson laughed and remarked, "There are no women," Lemon added:

They're deciding on women for pediatrics, maternity care, and I also had a friend who said who texted me and said, "The only brown thing in that picture is the table."

As Kingston tried to argue that there have, in fact, been women involved in writing the Republican health care bill in spite of there not being any in that particular meeting, Henderson still found fault with the absence of women from the Freedom Caucus as she countered:

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But they're not in the House Freedom Caucus. Optically, it's terrible, right? I mean, for a party that struggled to get women and to bring in minorities, I mean, in this sort of, I think, it really is emblematic of the problem.

After Lemon cracked: "The table was brown," Henderson continued:

I mean, well, congratulations on the brown table. And, you know, people have sort of been, I think one of the problems with President Trump's administration generally is the lack of diversity. In cabinet picks, it's one of the least diverse cabinets that we've had.

Lemon then complained that minorities are used for "photo ops" by the White House:

But also, but, you see -- you see minorities who come to the White House for the most part. There are some minorities who work in the White House, but you see minorities who come to the White House, and it's often a photo op --

(Jack Kingston can be heard trying to jump in.)

Hold on one second. Hold on -- will you let me get my point in? And you see the photo ops of the people who are sitting around him many times, it's not diverse, but at times, it is diverse. It is a photo op. And there's nothing actually happening. There's no legislation that comes from it. It is the perception of something.

Then, Gergen -- who has a history of injecting analysis from the left into political discussions in spite of a distant history of working for Republican presidents -- jumped in to add:

You can't look at that picture and say -- and not agree we have a long way to go when you have is all white guys like us sitting around at a table, and that's the inner sanctum.

After Henderson added, "It is the House Freedom Caucus, and I don't think there are any women, and there are no black people or Latinos," Kingston tried to point out that the Freedom Caucus is just one group the President has met with as he responded: "It's the Freedom Caucus, but yesterday he had a --"

Not getting the point, Lemon jumped back in: "We don't believe in freedom?"

Kingston added: "He reached out to the Congressional Black Caucus -- who has not one single vote there, probably, won't be many votes --"

Then, as if the issue of race had not been brought up by the panel members even though it had, Gergen and Lemon tried to undermine Kingston's point about race by reframing the panel's discussion as just being about gender:

GERGEN: Question is, how many women are there in the picture?

LEMON: That's what we were talking about.

GERGEN: Zero. Twenty-five people.

HENDERSON: Because there are no women in the Freedom Caucus, are there? Are there any women?

KINGSTON: Actually, I don't know who's in the Freedom Caucus.

LEMON: They're discussing now to scrap essential health benefits including maternity care and pediatrics. And it's all men in that photo.

After Kingston recalled the role of North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx as a committee chair, Henderson continued complaining: "But this is a problem -- for a lot of things, it's like window dressing. They just rattle off a number of people."

As Preston was the last panel member to have a turn to speak on the subject, he acknowledged Kingston's point about the Freedom Caucus just being one group of many before also pointing out that both parties lack a substantial number of minorities on their staff.

Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Thursday, March 23, CNN Tonight:

10:52 p.m. ET
DON LEMON: All right, so I'm back now with my panel. And I want to put this picture up -- this is -- and get the reaction from you guys, that Democrats are seizing on this. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted out a photo with the message: "Appreciated joining the POTUS for meeting with the Freedom Caucus again today. This is it. Pass the bill."

Democratic Senator Patty Murray retweeted it, adding the message: "A rare look inside the GOP's Women's Caucus."

(Nia-Malika Henderson can be heard laughing.)

Yeah, Malika Henderson. But let's look at that picture again because there's not --

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: There are no women.

LEMON: They're deciding on women for pediatrics, maternity care, and I also had a friend who said who texted me and said, "The only brown thing in that picture is the table."

HENDERSON: Yeah, yeah, and, and, and that is -- that's the House Freedom Caucus, though.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Ileana Ros-Lehtenen, Virginia Foxx, Kathy McMorris Rodgers --

HENDERSON: But they're not in the House Freedom Caucus.

KINGSTON: They know how to vote. See, women are ahead of the folks who are in that picture.

HENDERSON: Optically, it's terrible, right? I mean, for a party that struggled to get women and to bring in minorities, I mean, in this sort of, I think, it really is emblematic of the problem.

LEMON: The table was brown.

HENDERSON: I mean, well, congratulations on the brown table. And, you know, people have sort of been, I think one of the problems with President Trump's administration generally is the lack of diversity. In cabinet picks, it's one of the least diverse cabinets that we've had.

LEMON: But also, but, you see -- you see minorities who come to the White House for the most part. There are some minorities who work in the White House, but you see minorities who come to the White House, and it's often a photo op --

(Jack Kingston can be heard trying to jump in.)

LEMON: Hold on one second. Hold on -- will you let me get my point in? And you see the photo ops of the people who are sitting around him many times, it's not diverse, but at times, it is diverse. It is a photo op. And there's nothing actually happening. There's no legislation that comes from it. It is the perception of something.

HENDERSON: Yeah, there is --

KINGSTON: Mary Elizabeth Taylor -- she's right behind --

HENDERSON: Which is a perception -- which is sort of, I mean, which is a strategic placement of one of the black staffers in the White House. I mean, that's what it really was.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You can't look at that picture and say -- and not agree we have a long way to go when you have is all white guys like us sitting around at a table, and that's the inner sanctum.

HENDERSON: It is the House Freedom Caucus, and I don't think there are any women, and there are no black people or Latinos.

KINGSTON: It's the Freedom Caucus, but yesterday he had a --

LEMON: We don't believe in freedom?

KINGSTON: He reached out to the Congressional Black Caucus -- who has not one single vote there, probably, won't be many votes --

GERGEN: Question is, how many women are there in the picture?

LEMON: That's what we were talking about.

GERGEN: Zero. Twenty-five people.

HENDERSON: Because there are no women in the Freedom Caucus, are there? Are there any women?

KINGSTON: Actually, I don't know who's in the Freedom Caucus.

LEMON: They're discussing now to scrap essential health benefits including maternity care and pediatrics. And it's all men in that photo.

KINGSTON: Virginia Foxx is chair of the Health and Education Committee and very -- actually the first woman of any party from North Carolina -- where you went to school -- to hold a gavel. Think about that. In the House of Representatives. The first woman from North Carolina to hold a gavel.

HENDERSON: But this is a problem -- for a lot of things, it's like window dressing. They just rattle off a number of people.

LEMON: I think the reason we're pointing this out is the Freedom Caucus -- that's the group that held this group up. They didn't want these essential services in the bill. And that's who's deciding it.

MARK PRESTON: And I am not defending this by any stretch of the imagination because clearly there is an issue here. But -- as Jack does say, right? -- as the former congressman does say, those are members who represent a certain constituency. Now, if you look at the Democratic party, they, you know, their base is made up of African-Americans and what have you.

But I will say this is a greater problem on Capitol Hill -- and perhaps you gentlemen can agree or disagree with me on this -- in both parties, quite frankly, where there is not enough diversity among staff members up on Capitol Hill in either party. Now, you can cherry pick and say, "Well, so and so here, and so and so there," but overall, across the board, that has always been.

LEMON: You know more about it than I do, and I think you're probably right. We can always do better. We'll be right back.

NB Daily Congress Health Care Medical Insurance Race Issues Video Don Lemon David Gergen Nia-Malika Henderson Jack Kingston


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