Don Lemon just can’t help himself, it seems.
The veteran CNN anchor caused noticeable tension on the CNN This Morning set Thursday when he oddly suggested GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley wasn’t in her “prime” and, therefore, should be careful when using that word to judge other politicians.
The exchange harkened back to other awkward moments Lemon has had with his female colleagues since moving to CNN’s new morning lineup, which has prompted concerns about the team’s chemistry amid continued low ratings.
Discussing the 51-year-old Haley’s recent announcement that she’s throwing her hat in the 2024 White House race, the hosts focused on the former South Carolina governor taking pointed shots at older candidates.
Noting that Haley is calling for “mandatory mental competency tests” for politicians older than 75, co-host Kaitlan Collins observed that this was a not-so-subtle shot at former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden. Haley has also declared that “America is not past our prime—it’s just that our politicians are past theirs.”
But the conversation quickly veered off-course when Lemon decided to bring women’s fertility and sexual peak into the mix.
“This whole talk about age makes me uncomfortable,” he declared. “I think it’s the wrong road to go down. She says people, you know, politicians are suddenly not in their prime. Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime. Sorry, when a woman is in their prime in 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.”
Co-host Poppy Harlow quickly interjected, wondering what her colleague was talking about. Undeterred, Lemon said he was merely relaying the facts, which you could find “if you google when is a woman in her prime.”
Harlow, who turned 40 last year, snarked that she has “another decade” left, only for Lemon to double down on his argument.
“I’m not saying I agree with that. So I think she has to be careful about saying that, you know, politicians are in their prime,” he stated.
“Are you talking about prime for, like, childbearing? Or are you talking about prime for being president?” Harlow retorted.
“Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just saying what the facts are,” Lemon insisted. “Google it. Everybody at home, when is a woman in her prime? It says 20s, 30s and 40s. I’m just saying Nikki Haley should careful about saying that politicians are not in their prime, and they need to be in their prime when they serve. She would not be in her prime according to Google, or whatever it is.”
After decrying that age has become a “wedge issue” in politics, Lemon went on to defend his comments by using his own mother as an example.
“My mom is 80 years old. I just gave her a surprise birthday party,” he said. “Is she as physically strong as she once was? No. But mentally, she is sharp. Could she run the country? If she wanted to, I guess she could. But I guess it depends on the individual.”
According to one female CNN staffer who spoke with The Daily Beast, Lemon’s comments did not go over well with other employees at the network on Thursday morning.
“There were grumbles of mansplaining,” the source added. “And how much longer the women should have to be talked down to before there’s a change.”
Former CNN correspondent Kate Bennett, meanwhile, called Lemon’s comments “completely offensive” and an example of “sexism,” adding that the anchor’s demand to “Google it” was akin to a 14-year-old’s defense.
The following hour, CNN podcast host Audie Cornish joined the set and challenged Lemon on his remarks about Haley, pointing out to her male colleague that “the idea of prime that you Google on the internet” relates to “sexual and reproductive prime.”
Though Lemon attempted to defend his observation by claiming he was just using “Nikki Haley’s words,” Cornish replied that “no one is going look at Nikki Haley and say, ‘is she in her prime or not,’” only for Lemon to claim that “people are saying that” because the ex-governor brought it up.
“She’s in her prime for running for office,” Cornish shot back. “I think that is the thing. Political prime is what we’re talking about.”
Earlier this month, the New York Post reported that Lemon had “screamed” at Collins off-camera in December, accusing her of “interrupting” him on air. According to the Post’s sources, Collins was “visibly upset” and quickly left the studio.
That incident occurred a week after Lemon drew the ire of his co-hosts by saying male soccer players should be paid more than their female counterparts because the men are “more interesting to watch.” (He later claimed he was just joking.) There have also been other awkward moments on air involving Lemon and his morning show colleagues.
CNN has pushed back on the Post’s story, telling Mediaite that it’s “wildly overblown and two months old” while asserting that the hosts “were friends before they were co-anchors and they remain friends today.”
The network did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast to a request for comment.