On CNN’s “OutFront” on Tuesday, host Don Lemon moderated a debate between Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality and Nevada congressional candidate, and Rev. William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP, who had called Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a ventriloquist “dummy” for conservatives.
Partial transcript as follows:
LEMON: Reverend Barber, Senator Scott dismissed your comments saying, quote, “to reflect seriously on the comments, a person, a pastor that is filled with baseless and meaningless rhetoric would be to do a disservice to the very people who have sacrificed so much and paved a way. Reverend barber will remind me and others of what not to do.” What’s your response to that, Reverend?
BARBER: The fact of the matter is in South Carolina where 250,000 people r going to be denied Medicaid, where we have the corridor of shame in education, where we have attempts to oppress the vote we should not have elected leader who are articulating and echoing the positions of the far right and the extreme. The fact of the matter is that Senator Scott has applauded the decision of the Supreme Court to on — on unpack and undue Voting Rights Acts, Section 5 and 4 the formula. Has even proposed taking kids off of food stamps and other programs and has not spoken out clearly against the attempts that will undermine people’s right to health care.
LEMON: I want Mr. Innis to get in. What’s your reaction to this, Mr. Innis?
INNIS: I’m offended. I’m deeply offended. And I believe that the statements that were uttered by Reverend Barber were beneath him, beneath his ministry and beneath the fine tradition of the NAACP. Who the heck do you think you are, Reverend Barber, to say how someone should be thinking? Actually, it is the very racists that your organization and my organization fought that felt that they could take away the right of our brethren to vote, to exercise their freedom of thought. That’s the same type of freedom of thought that you would take away from Senator Scott because he disagrees with you. LEMON: What’s wrong with African-Americans being conservative? Why can’t he be conservative and not be called names?
BARBER: Right. Well, the issue is not so much being conservative. The issue is the character of the policies and how they impact people. The fact is, in our movement that we built, 16 percent of the people are Republican but they don’t agree with extremism. They don’t agree with policies that go after voting rights, the policies that undermine education, and policies that undermine health care for all people. That’s not about liberal. That’s not about conservative. It’s about what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s about what’s moral and immoral. It’s about what’s constitutional or unconstitutional. Sure, there is to be a broadness of thought. But our ultimate public policy’s focus should be how we treat the least of these
LEMON: I get your point about the policies.
BARBER: Yes, sir. Right.
LEMON: But that is not an excuse to call people names. Why would you call someone — if you — you’re essentially calling him a ventriloquist dummy, you’re calling him a dummy, and you’re basically saying that he can’t articulate for himself, that he can’t think for himself, someone — he is mouthing someone else’s words. He could say the same about you.
BARBER: Well, the question — the question you would — I think you’re legitimate when you raise it. Who are you speaking for when you seek to deny people —
INNIS: He’s speaking for the people of South Carolina.
BARBER: — when you applaud the voting rights —
INNIS: With whom he represents.
BARBER: … who are you speaking for when you do not stand up and deal with the issue of the poverty and education in your state? Who are you speaking for?
INNIS: Reverend Barber, have you critiqued this administration that has been in power for five years, while income inequality has increased, while our people and your church, people that you say that you are a leader of, have lost wealth? Have you critiqued this administration, or is your critique only reserved for conservative Republicans?
BARBER: You have asked me a question. That’s a good one. So, you are right. In a sense, we should all be critiquing the attention of violence. We should be standing up against anybody who tries to undermine voting rights.
INNIS: We have a point of an agreement.
BARBER: That is in fact something we should be doing.
LEMON: Reverend and Mr. Innis, thank you —
INNIS: Your critique should be bipartisan.
LEMON: That’s going to have to be it. I thank you both of you. I appreciate you joining us here on CNN. Thanks.
INNIS: Thank you.
BARBER: God bless you. Thank you so much. Thank you, Niger.