Chris Cuomo is the voice of reason on CNN? It’s true. Or at least it was true on Wednesday night as Cuomo called out colleague Don Lemon for being “petty and small.” This rather shocking exchange came after Lemon declared he wouldn’t shake Trump’s hand, were he in the same position as the Obamas during Wednesday’s funeral of George H.W. Bush.
During the switch over From Cuomo Prime Time to Don Lemon Tonight, Lemon blurted, “I’m just being honest.... I don't think I would shake hands with him.” Then, in a weird moment that must be seen, Lemon brought on a production assistant to visually demonstrate what one president snubbing another looks like. Cuomo responded by mocking, “You're petty and small.”
After insisting he’s just being “real,” Cuomo retorted, “Real petty and small.”
Generally these crossovers from one show to another are supposed to last a minute or two. This went on for almost seven. Cuomo kept trying to explain that the office of the presidency and a state funeral means something more than dislike, even extreme dislike between two powerful politicians:
CHRIS CUOMO: You keep saying, "Me, me, I, I." They are former presidents. They represent something.
DON LEMON: I'm talking about a lot of folks. I know a lot of people are going to agree with me. This is about humanity. It's not about an office. This is about human decency. Sometimes you have to teach people —
CUOMO: Just because they agree with you doesn't mean you're right.
Cuomo declared, “Somebody's got to be bigger, especially in the presidency.” Though the exchange stayed friendly, Lemon eventually declared, “Take him off the screen.”
Chris Cuomo: voice of reason on CNN? At least for one night.
A transcript of the entire exchange is below. Click “expand” to read more.
10:01:08 to 10:07:49
6 minutes and 41 seconds
DON LEMON: So can we talk about -- I don't know who's in your control room or my control room. But if we have—
CUOMO: Yours. It's your show, brother.
LEMON: We've got the picture — of. So, we got -- we got the picture of the presidents, and I got to tell you. I'm just being honest. The Obamas are really classy folks because I don't know if I could be so -- if we can put that up.
CUOMO: It's hard for them to not want to look at us the whole time.
LEMON: It's hard for them -- no, no, no.
CUOMO: So, the Obamas, what did you see that you want people to be reminded of?
LEMON: I'm going to say that I don't think I would shake hands with him. I don't know. I would just -- nope, couldn't do it. I'm not that big a person. I would hope that I would be, but I don't — I can't fake the funk as they say. I'm not saying the Obamas did that, but there they go, right there.
CUOMO: I don't think it's about faking the funk.
CUOMO: I think it's about showing respect for something bigger than them.
LEMON: Why would they do it when he doesn't? But I understand what you're saying.
CUOMO: Come on. That's not the measure.
LEMON: No, that's not. But they — they — they can show — what are you talking about, Chris? They showed respect for the office--
LEMON: -- the way they conducted themselves in office.
LEMON: No scandal.
LEMON: There was no trash. There was no affair.
LEMON: They showed the ultimate respect for the office. They do not have to show respect for someone who does not respect them, someone who tweets out pictures of them behind bars of the president. You don't have to show respect for that kind of person. Here — let me show you what I would have done.
CUOMO: You don't have to.
LEMON: Let me show you. I want to show something.
CUOMO: You don't have to.
LEMON: Okay. Come here. Come here, Don.
[CNN staffer comes on set and tries to shake Lemon’s hand. Lemon refuses.]
CUOMO: Poor Don. You're petty and small.
LEMON: I'm not petty and small. That's real, brother. That's real. And it shows you —
CUOMO: Real petty and small.
LEMON: — this is not - nope, it's not. This is not about ideology. This is about the way someone conducts themselves. If you constantly called me names and you were rude to me and you — why should I have to show you respect at all? You are not showing me —
CUOMO: I'm sending you a poem.
LEMON: You're not showing me a respect.
CUOMO: I'm going to recite a poem to you.
LEMON: I'm talking about reality.
CUOMO: Yes, I know. But you know what. Poetry is reality. You know, there's a beauty to life that sometimes transcends what's obvious and angry in the moment. And what you saw with the Obamas —
LEMON: The Obamas are beautiful people.
CUOMO: And they showed that today because Donald Trump —
LEMON: Yes, they did.
CUOMO: Donald Trump cast them out. He said they were last than.
CUOMO: He threw aspersions on Obama that were completely calculated to dehumanize him, to play to bigotries. And that's the truth. That's what the birther movement was about. That's all it was about. That's what it was always about.
LEMON: And you want me to shake your hand?
CUOMO: They showed that love and their decency and respect wins.
CUOMO: And they brought him in even though he tried to keep them out. And that is the greatness of a man —
LEMON: That's why he's president and I'm not. Just call me Petty McPetty because I would not have — and I wouldn't care what the world said if they asked me about it.
CUOMO: You are not taking the rose by the thorns.
LEMON: I'm not. Again, I do have to — they're a lot classier than I am. I'm just saying I wouldn't. I'm just real. I tell you how it is.
CUOMO: I think the instruction is that —
LEMON: I'll smile at you, but I don't have to.
CUOMO: yYs. But it doesn't mean you're always right, or neither am I.
LEMON: I'm not saying I'm right. I'm just telling you that —
CUOMO: That's why I'll tell you what the president did that he should have done. He shook Obama's hand. Look, President George w. Bush, again, we've lived these kinds of moments. He is in pain, man. The man who meant the most to him in his life is gone, and we heard from George H.W. Bush that he would have voted for Clinton, or he did vote for Clinton. And they were angry about what this president said about their family, and they are all about family, okay, in a way that I don't think this president could understand.
But what did George 43 do? Out of deference to his father, he went in there. It wasn't a long shake. It wasn't a bro hug.
CUOMO: There was no word exchange. Shook his hand, moved on, shook his wife's hand, and then brought the love for the Obamas and the Clintons even though they're not on the political same side. What is that? It was about humanity over party. The President should have done the same. He snubbed the Clintons. You could say, well, the Clintons were snubbing him. Somebody's got to be bigger, especially in the presidency.
LEMON: If I didn't like someone that much and I talked as much smack, I would not show up at their funeral, Okay? That's reality. Do people you hate — you don't like in real life, who are not in political office — do you show up at your enemy's funeral, Chris?
CUOMO: Key caveat. Probably I'm not invited. I don't get invited to a lot of things.
CUOMO: I'm not like you will hail fellow will met. But what I'm saying it's about respecting the presidency. George H.W. Bush was a president, and you can't be about your own petty grievances. You represent the American people.
LEMON: I think the point you were in office —
CUOMO: — and you should wear that on your sleeve every day.
LEMON: — is an office that you respect the person, living or dead. An office is not a human being. I don't think that's respect for the human being if you talk smack about them, if you say the nastiest things about them, if you treat them as subhuman, and then you want to show up at their funeral. Really? Hell to the no.
CUOMO: I'll tell you what I would give you. I'm not giving it to you with respect to the Bushes, I'm not going to give it to you. But I'll give you this. And maybe this is something again where I don't have the same depth of feel and insight that you do. The kind of ugly stuff that the current president perpetrated against Obama was more than ugly political invective. That was race baiting, what he was doing with the birtherism.
LEMON: Go on. Keep making my point.
CUOMO: And maybe I am. Well, I'm not like you. I'm not one-sided in conversation.
LEMON: All right.
CUOMO: Maybe on that level I would certainly not judge, but I would understand the Obamas saying, “Look, I respect the presidency and all that, but this was outright racism that they were perpetrating on us and that Trump was only too happy to do it.” He never owned it, he never dispelled it and I'm not giving in to that because it's so ugly, so pernicious. I would understand that. But I do believe as a general rule, we have to have expectations -- that's what the president's life was all about. That's the message of his virtue that we were trying to bring out, his family was trying to bring out, that you have to be bigger than what you receive in order to be the biggest person in the land as the highest elected official.
LEMON: Well, look, I got to go but let me just say this. I have respected the Bushes enough -- listen, they have a real relationship to the Obamas, the Clintons and the Bushes. That is a real--
CUOMO: Calls them brothers from another mother.
LEMON: Okay. I respect them enough that I have to sit next to you, all right? I don't have to shake your hand.
CUOMO: That's true. But again, you keep saying, me, me, I, I. They are former presidents. They represent something.
LEMON: I'm talking about a lot of folks. I know a lot of people are going to agree with me. This is about humanity. It's not about an office. This is about human decency. Sometimes you have to teach people —
CUOMO: Just because they agree with you doesn't mean you're right.
LEMON: Wait a minute. It's right. I'm right. I got to go.
CUOMO: I'm not going.
LEMON: I'm just saying.
CUOMO: You don't have to go home, but you've got to get out of here.
CUOMO: But I can't stay here.
LEMON: Take him off the screen. Thanks, Chris.
CUOMO: Have a good night.