CNN Boosts Liberal Actor's Fundraising Rebuke To Trump's 'Tyranny'

CNN's New Day on Monday trumpeted Kal Penn's online fundraiser for refugees, and gave him a platform to attack President Trump over his recent executive order on immigration. Penn underlined that "the Women's March was a great example of coming together and standing up against the, sort of, tyranny that we're experiencing right now." The former Obama administration official later cited how his fundraiser was inspired by "the lessons we learned from Barack and Michelle Obama: when they go low, we go high." [video below]

Anchor Alisyn Camerota led into the segment with the liberal actor by pointing out how Penn is "just one of many voices speaking out against the Trump travel ban." After disclosing that the guest "also worked in the Obama White House," Camerota continued by noting that Penn "received this message on Instagram telling him, basically, that he did not belong here in America...Penn responded by raising more than half a million dollars for Syrian refugees."

The actor wasted little time before dropping his hyperbolic "tyranny" label of the Trump administration. He added, "I'm a pretty privileged guy, right? But I was reading that comment thinking, what about the 14-year-old me, or the kids who look like me out there who don't have the luxury of this kind of platform? I'm like, maybe, we can raise $2,500 and show guys like that that we're better than this — because I know we're better than this."

Co-anchor Chris Cuomo chimed in with a follow-up question that carried his usual liberal slant:

CHRIS CUOMO: Let's take off your actor hat and put on your policy wonk hat for a second — because you worked in this area, and you did work in the Obama administration. The President of the United States just put out a Tweet that — one, calls this executive order a ban. We've been getting a lot of pushback this morning from Trump supporters — saying, don't call it a ban....But I'm saying, it's a ban. It's not a moratorium. It's not just a delay. It's a ban. That's what it is — call it what it is — that the bad would rush into the country if he had given any notice; that bad dudes, as he calls them, would have rushed in. That's not how our vetting works. How do you think the misinformation should be dealt with, in terms of helping people deal with the real fear about Muslim extremism?

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Penn continued his offensive against President Trump in his reply: "I think what the President is saying and doing is completely ridiculous....America has been a place that welcomes people from around the world. We do it safely. We do it well. None of the countries that he targets in this ban are countries that were involved in 9/11. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not included. It just so happens that the President has property investments in both of these countries."

Camerota then spotlighted how some of the liberal activist's fellow actors spoke out against Trump's policy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday. She wondered, "Does it help or hurt when privileged celebrities take a stand on these awards shows?" Penn retorted with snark: "I don't know. I mean, a reality TV celebrity just Tweeted about a Supreme Court pick; so I feel like that conversation has shifted significantly now that we have one as a president."

Cuomo also tossed another softball question to his guest: "What's your message out there to — as you said eloquently earlier, 'people who look like me' — who say, wow, they hate me in this country. They really do believe that I'm a terrorist, and that's it — just a function of my faith. That's it. I don't care how they word it — that's what's going on. What do you say to them?"

Penn emphasized that the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised is a contrast to the "negatives like bullying and things like that...you're turning on the TV and seeing millions of people rallying around and...knowing that we are not that negative country; that we're so much better and greater than that." He soon added that "he was "focusing on the 12,000 amazing people who have brought the pot up to a half million dollars....I think this is one of the lessons we learned from Barack and Michelle Obama: when they go low, we go high. And there's so much power and beauty in turning something hateful into love. And that's sort of what I feel we're surrounded by right now."

The full transcript of the six minute and 46-second segment from the end of the 8 am Eastern hour of CNN's New Day on January 30, 2017:

ALISYN CAMEROTA: So the actor and producer, Kal Penn, is just one of many voices speaking out against the Trump travel ban. Over the weekend, Penn — he also worked in the Obama White House, by the way — well, he received this message on Instagram telling him, basically, that he did not belong here in America, but I'm phrasing it in a much more delicate way—

CHRIS CUOMO: Yes—

[CNN Graphic: "Actor Turns Hateful Message Into $500K For Refugees"]

CAMEROTA: Than that person did. Penn responded by raising more than half a million dollars for Syrian refugees.

Kal Penn joins us now. Hi, Kal.

KAL PENN, FMR. OBAMA FOR AMERICA NATIONAL CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR: Hey, how are you? Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Doing well. So somebody Tweeted you a disgusting — or whatever, put on Instagram — a disgusting message. And then, how quickly did you decide, I can work with this?

PENN: Well, it took — I mean, people Tweet ridiculous things all the time, right? — or comment on Instagram posts. And I kind of saw this, and I thought — we're all feeling, really, I think, inspired to do the right thing. And the Women's March was a great example of coming together and standing up against the, sort of, tyranny that — that we're experiencing right now. And look, I'm a pretty privileged guy, right? But I was reading that comment thinking, what about the 14-year-old me, or the kids who look like me out there who don't have the luxury of this kind of platform? I'm like, maybe, we can raise $2,500 and show guys like that that we're better than this — because I know we're better than this.

And so, I just set up a Crowdrise page; and the next thing you know, it's over twenty-five-hundred bucks; and it goes to $5,000; and then, it goes to $25,000. And it's I — I mean, all I did was put up a page, right? It just speaks to the tens of thousands of people who felt the same way I did and said, let's help some refugees out.

CAMEROTA: At last count, as of this moment, $516,000—

PENN: Man! Oh, whoa—

CUOMO: And the money — look, and the money is necessary, so feel good about that. The need is still very great.

Let's take off your actor hat and put on your policy wonk hat for a second — because you worked in this area, and you did work in the Obama administration. The President of the United States just put out a Tweet that — one, calls this executive order a ban. We've been getting a lot of pushback this morning from Trump supporters — saying, don't call it a ban—

CAMEROTA: Well, he says a travel ban—

CUOMO: He just called it a ban. He said if the ban were announced—

CAMEROTA: Yes — a travel ban—

CUOMO: But I'm saying, it's a ban. It's not a moratorium. It's not just a delay. It's a ban. That's what it is — call it what it is — that the bad would rush into the country if he had given any notice; that bad dudes, as he calls them, would have rushed in. That's not how our vetting works. How do you think the misinformation should be dealt with, in terms of helping people deal with the real fear about Muslim extremism?

PENN: Well, you just had servicemembers on who, I think, articulated this really well. I think what the President is saying and doing is completely ridiculous. Who are these bad dudes who are miraculously coming in — you know, with ten hours' notice? Is it the Army interpreters who we detained yesterday — over the weekend? I mean, these are folks who saved American soldiers' lives. Are those the people who are the bad dudes? I mean, I find that insulting, frankly, just as an American citizen — that you would infer that anybody who helped our soldiers stay alive are somehow bad dudes.

We have a vetting process in place. America has been a place that welcomes people from around the world. We do it safely. We do it well. None of the countries that he targets in this ban are countries that were involved in 9/11. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not included. It just so happens that the President has property investments in both of these countries.

I mean, you don't even have to read between the lines on how ridiculous this is. It makes us less safe — which I know you guys have talked about earlier today. And thankfully, you have tens of thousands of people who are rallying around — saying, this is not who we are as Americans. We're not standing up for this. And I'm hoping what — you know, what the senators are doing today on the Hill will — will help get rid of this executive order.

CAMEROTA: So last night it was the SAG Awards, and this came up. And there were lots of various celebrities who used their platform to talk about this. Maybe, we have a clip that we can show you. I hope so. Watch this.

[CNN Graphic: "Actors Speak Out Against Trump's Travel Ban"]

ASHTON KUTCHER, ACTOR (from 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards): Good evening, fellow SAG-AFTRA members, and everyone at home, and everyone in airports that belong in my America.

JULIA LOUIS DREYFUS, ACTRESS: This immigrant ban is a blemish, and it is un-American.

TARAJI P. HENSON, ACTRESS: This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside, and we come together as a human race.

KERRY WASHINGTON, ACTRESS: A lot of people are saying right now that actors shouldn't express their opinions when it comes to politics. But the truth is, actors are activists no matter what, because we embody the work and humanity of all people.

CAMEROTA: Kal, what do you think about that? Does it help or hurt when privileged celebrities take a stand on these awards shows?

PENN: I don't know. I mean, a reality TV celebrity just Tweeted about a Supreme Court pick; so I feel like that conversation has shifted significantly now that we have one as — as a president. But I think everybody should speak out. I mean, look, I think if — if you just go back to just, as an actor, right? — setting up this Crowdrise page for Syrian refugees. We've had people from all 50 states who have donated; from 44 countries.

I think everybody has a voice right now. Everybody is speaking out. You've had — you know, people participating in the Women's March; people who congregated at airports to support the folks who were being detained over the weekend. It's kind of a beautiful thing, and it's an opportunity for everybody — whether you're a celebrity or not, frankly — to raise your voice and make sure that we don't stand for — for what's happening in our names right now.

CUOMO: Hey, Kal, what's your message out there to — as you said eloquently earlier, 'people who look like me' — who say, wow, they — they hate me in this country. They really do believe that I'm a terrorist, and that's it — just a function of my faith. That's it. I don't care how they word it — that's what's going on. What do you say to them?

PENN: Well, it's not true. I mean, that's not the America that — that I grew up in, and it's not the America that — that we have. And if you just look at — you know, mentioning, kind of, this donor page alone: most of the donations were small-dollar donations. They're from, like I said, all 50 states. I mean, these are Americans who are really coming out and saying, I want to show with ten bucks that this is not who we are. I want to show with a $25 donation this is not who we are. And if you're in one of those small towns, I think — you know, you're finding a lot of comfort online in a place where — you know, we're used to seeing negatives like — like bullying and things like that. Now, you're looking — you're turning on the TV and seeing millions of people rallying around and supporting — knowing that we are not that negative country; that we're — we're so much better and greater than that.

CAMEROTA: I don't suppose you've heard from that guy—

PENN: It's pretty inspiring for me. I don't know—

CAMEROTA: Yeah, it is inspiring. I don't suppose you've heard back from that guy who said you didn't belong in this country.

PENN: No, no. I think I'm, instead, focusing on the 12,000 amazing people who have brought the — the pot up to a half million dollars. I mean, that's the — you know, I like to focus on the positive. I like to — you know, look, I think this is one of the lessons we learned from — from Barack and Michelle Obama: when they go low, we go high. And there's so much power and beauty in turning something hateful into love—

CAMEROTA: Yeah—

PENN: And that's sort of what I feel we're surrounded by right now — which is an amazing thing.

CAMEROTA: Kal Penn, thanks so much for joining us.

PENN: Thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me—

CAMEROTA: Good to talk to you.

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