Former Bush, Obama aides argue over meaning of NFL anthem protests

Former George H.W. Bush chief of staff James Baker in a new interview argued with former President Obama's Chief Strategist David Axelrol about national anthem protests.

The controversy has embroiled the NFL as well as cable news.

“I just think it’s outrageous. There are plenty of ways that you can call into question some of the racism that may still exist in this country, but that’s the wrong way to do it," Baker told Axelrod.

Baker and Axelrod got in a heated debate over the meaning of the gesture.


"You don’t denigrate the one thing that used to, and I hope it still will, unify us is that we’re Americans," Baker said.

“Colin Kaepernick was expressing a sentiment that many in the community feel about injustice about the problems within our criminal justice system, that are deeply felt," Axelrod argued. "And he drew attention to them. He made clear that he wasn’t protesting the military, the flag. He was exercising the rights that the flag offered—"

“You can’t tell me that not standing up for the national anthem with your hand over your heart is not denigrating the national anthem or the flag," Baker injected. "It is.”

Baker, 87, also served as secretary of State under Bush and Treasury secretary under President Reagan.

His comments come after a week when NFL player protests during the national anthem have dominated a considerable amount of coverage on cable news this week.

Axelrod, who was both chief strategist for Obama's presidential campaigns and a senior adviser to the former president, is host of the CNN series, "The Axe Files," a TV extension of his popular podcast.

Axelrod guests in the upcoming weeks include House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Baker episode premieres Saturday at 7 p.m. 

-Updated at 5:17 pm.