CNN host Chris Cuomo seemed desperate for headlines while trying to bait Republican U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida into a verbal fight Monday — but the freshman congressman's calm, cool demeanor proved a stark contrast to Cuomo's combative tone.
What are the details?
The topic was COVID-19 vaccines — and specifically why Donalds has opted to not get one. Cuomo was particularly animated in the beginning of the clip, bobbing his head back and forth and speaking like a seventh grader trying to show up a rival.
"Do you feel responsible for spreading a message where, 'I'm not gonna take it because I don't care what [President Joe] Biden wants! Byron Donalds' not gonna take it because he doesn't care what Biden wants!' You think that is a good message for people to hear," Cuomo asked.
But Donalds was ready for Cuomo's gotcha question, calmly explaining that "the first thing is my message was never about Joe Biden. The message is about me and my own personal health. I'm 42 years old. I've had COVID already—"
Perhaps realizing his head-bobbing routine wasn't getting it done, Cuomo quickly interrupted the congressman and talked over him — after which Donalds said, "Hold on. I didn't cut you off. Don't cut me off."
Incredibly, Cuomo pulled rank: "Byron, you don't get to cut me off; it's my show!"
Donalds, of course, was too smart to throw gasoline on the flame — and let Cuomo continue his combative demeanor.
"'It has nothing to do with what Joe Biden wants,'" the host said mockingly before adding, "Funny, I never brought him up when I was deciding whether or not to get vaccinated. Why did you?"
Well, Cuomo's "Gotcha Question, the Sequel" didn't knock 'em out at the box office, either.
"A reporter asked me on a news show, and I said it has nothing to do with what [Biden] wants," Donalds repeated. "I chose not to get vaccinated because I chose not to vaccinated. I already had COVID-19 once. I'm 42 years old, I'm in very good health, I actually get checkups regularly and do all those things. That's a personal decision for myself. Members of my family — my wife, my three kids — they've all had COVID. They're not getting vaccinated. They're all healthy. That is a decision they've chosen to make."
After Cuomo pried further, asking if the congressman consulted his doctor, but Donalds just kept making sense: "Hold on, here's the key thing you need to understand: if people in the United States are concerned about contracting and being hospitalized and dying ... from COVID-19, please go get vaccinated. I will never tell you not to get vaccinated. What I'm saying is I made a decision not to get vaccinated. And it doesn't matter if it's you or Joe Biden or anybody else that's going to stress or want me to get it. I'm not doing it because I made that decision as a free person."
'You make the wrong point'
Cuomo offered more animated oration, clenching his fists and deepening his voice and telling the congressman, "Freedom isn't just defined as the bold and ability to be strong and wrong. It's about doing the right thing, the best thing. You say if people are worried about getting sick or dying then they should get vaccinated. What about if people are worried about giving COVID-19 or a variant to others which you very well could do. You could be doing it right now and not know. Doesn't that matter?"
Donalds tried to point out that a congressional colleague "tested positive, and he actually had been vaccinated earlier this year. He's back, and he's fine. Talked to him earlier today."
Cuomo raised his voice: "Because he was vaccinated, Byron! You just made my point! That is the point."
But Donalds wasn't having it: "You make the wrong point. You are making the point that everybody has to get vaccinated in order to protect everybody. What I am saying is that if Americans want to get vaccinated, if they want to be protected from COVID-19 — whether it's the Delta variant or the new Lambda variant that's coming through our southern border as we speak — if you want to get protected from that, go get the vaccine. I fully promote you doing that. But at the same time if there are Americans who don't want to get it, they shouldn't be forced to do so."
After trying to corner Donalds a few more times, Cuomo offered him a back-handed concession: "Well, there's no question that you're not pushing a vaccine. Everybody should know that about you, Byron Donalds. You are not telling people to get vaccinated. You are not pushing it. You are not saying it's the right choice. You're saying you're not doing it, and your family's not doing it, and leaving out of the equation that you can make other people sick as if that doesn't matter. OK?"
But Donalds, again, was on to him: "Chris, did you not just hear my answer 30 seconds ago? Where I said if you want to be protected from these variants and the original strain go get vaccinated? I promote you to do that." He added that folks like Cuomo shouldn't "berate" him for making a personal choice.
What the below video doesn't show is that Cuomo appears to have a relationship with Donalds, and NewsBusters noted that by the end of their interview the host told the congressman, "Listen, brother. I tell you the same thing every time I talk to you. I wish you well, and I respect you as a leader. I hope you don't get sick again, and I hope your family does not as well. I would never want anything else for you. God bless you, your wife, and your kids. ... You're always welcome here. I know I interrupt a little bit. I'm passionate and I'm scared. I'm worried about this. But congressman, I respect you coming on the show."