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Death Toll Rising in Massive Nepal Quake; Bruce Jenner's Transition; Foreign Donations Raise Questions for Clinton Campaign; Interview with U.S. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming; Interview with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Aired 9:00-10a ET

Aired April 25, 2015 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. Welcome to the program.

We begin with breaking news. The death toll is rising in Nepal after a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the region. Hundreds of people are dead and fear is growing that more powerful tremors could strike at any moment. Let's get the very latest from CNN's Ravi Agrawal on the phone from Calcutta, India. Ravi, where was the epicenter?

RAVI AGRAWAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the epicenter was about 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu which is the capital of Nepal. And you know, it was a 7.8 earthquake which I should tell you is the strongest earthquake that Nepal has felt since the 1930s. In that earthquake in 1934 it is said that some 10,000 people were killed. What we know right now is that in today's quake, which happened many hours ago now. We know at least 700 plus people have been killed. Many more are expected to have been killed. That death toll is likely going to rise, we've been told, by Nepal's foreign ministry.

SMERCONISH: I know you're in Calcultta, I know that you're not that great a distance away from the epicenter. Were you personally able to feel the tremors? If so, what did that feel like?

AGRAWAL: Yes, I was able to feel the tremors here in Calcutta. They were quite intense. Speaking to Calcuttans around me when it happened. Most of them have never felt tremors like that in their lives. This part of India, which is very close to Nepal doesn't often face earthquakes. So many people here, it's a new experience to them.

I was actually in a cafe on Calcutta's Park Street, sort of the Fifth Avenue of this city and people rushed out of the cafes and restaurants that were lining the streets worried that their buildings were shaking. Of course, what happened here in Calcutta nothing compared to the scenes that we're seeing out of Kathmandu and of course, closer to the epicentre when we know, even now many people are trapped in the rubble.

SMERCONISH: Ravi, give us the lay of the land. Kathmandu sits in a valley surrounded by the Himalayas, right?

AGRAWAL: That is correct. Kathmandu sits in a valley that is surrounded by the Himalayas and so the worry now is that on the one hand you have Kathmandu. The city center which is a fairly densely packed city with many buildings old and news that are built fairly closely together. On the one hand you'll have rescue operations focusing on trying to save people who may be trapped there, they're trying to extricate people and on the other hand, you know, you have people who may be impacted in other parts of Nepal that are hilly, mountainous parts of Nepal.

Sherpas have reported that major avalanches were triggered. So, we don't know yet, you know, who else or how many people may be trapped in debris or snow and really in the hours and days ahead this is going to be a monumental sort of rescue effort to try and find and save people.

SMERCONISH: Ravi, stick with me for just a moment. You referenced Mount Everest. I have a report from a man who was there at the time of the earthquake. Roll that tape.


Hello, guys. This is (INAUDIBLE), Advance space camp of (INAUDIBLE) and a lot of disturbance here due to the earthquake that was reported in Nepal. All along the base, (INAUDIBLE) we had quite a few big avalanches coming down in those bases and from here, we had quite a bit of rock fall. Most of us are OK. We're doing well. Some of our team members just moved up towards camp one and camp two. We do not have any reports from them. We're trying to get in touch with them. Some people have gone up towards camp one and we should hear from them soon. I hope all is well up there.


SMERCONISH: Ravi, the earthquake struck at about midday local time, not that there's ever a good time for an earthquake to strike. But what type of customs and what type of local activities were people engaged with mid-day on a Saturday?


AGRAWAL: Well, you know, as with any other city, the city of Kathmandu, first of all. You know, tourism is a major part of the industry in Nepal and of course, in Kathmandu. You know, on a typical Saturday you would imagine many tourists in town. You would imagine the schools may be closed. You would imagine that people maybe going about their Saturday and sitting at cafes, sitting at restaurants. Some of them may be working.

The earthquake struck around about 11:40 a.m.. So, obviously, good daylight at least. But, you know, many hours on, you know what they're going to face now and, you know, with rain and the struggle they're going to face is trying to rescue people who may be trapped. So, as you say, there is no good time. But, you know, the fact that it took place at midday means that we have video, we have images. We've heard from people there. You know, so, the people of Nepal right now need any advantage they can get, I guess.

SMERCONISH: The "New York Times" is reporting that the television station in Nepal was crushed and that they're now broadcasting from the street. Can you tell me anything about aftershocks?

AGRAWAL: Well, there have been at least 16 aftershocks that were rated on the Richter scale at 4.5 or greater. So, you know, this wasn't just one earthquake and it stopped at that. All of these aftershocks, not as intense or dangerous as the first primary quake. But, of course, with each aftershock, you know, obviously what you get is people worried. You know, buildings that are sort of crumbling or tenuous. You know, that could impact those, as well. The reports we've been hearing are at least from the streets of Kathmandu are hundreds and hundreds of people out on the streets. You know, scared to go back in.

So, you know, this is a very tense time for Nepal. And, you know, in the coming hours and days we'll learn more about other parts of Nepal that have been devastated by this very, very strong earthquake. The strongest to hit Nepal, we believe, since the 1930s.

SMERCONISH: Ravi Agrawal, thank you so much for your report. Stay safe. Thank you.

Coming up, Hillary Clinton has just announced her candidacy, but already is facing a barrage of criticism. In a moment, two United States senators offer their take on a controversy involving the Clintons, the Russians and uranium.

Plus, Bruce Jenner is speaking out about his new life, but not everyone is supportive of his decision. I'll speak to someone who thinks the former Olympian is anything but a hero.



SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

Bruce Jenner has finally broken his silence. In a much anticipated sit down interview with ABC News Diane Sawyer, the former Olympic hero confirmed what everyone has been talking about. He's transitioning to a woman.


BRUCE JENNER, FORMER OLYMPIAN: I'm me. I'm a person and this is who I am. I am not stuck in anybody's body. It is just who I am as a human being. My brain is much more female than it is male. It's hard for people to understand that. But that is what my soul is.

I look at it this way, Bruce always telling a lie. He has lived a lie his whole life about who he is. And I can't do that any longer. So, can I take my ponytail out? Why not? We're talking about all this stuff. Let's take the dam ponytail out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SMERCONISH: My next guest has something in common with Jenner. Zoey Tur is the first national transgender TV news reporter and you certainly have seen her work. The infamous O.J. Simpson white Ford bronco chase was caught on camera by a news chopper flown by Zoey and then locally known as chopper, Bob.

She's also just written a piece for the "Washington Post" which was titled "Trans people need an icon. But Bruce Jenner is the worst possible choice." Zoey Tur is here with me now.

Zoey, in "The Post" yesterday you worried that the positive trajectory of the transgender movement was going to be derailed by Bruce Jenner. Was it?

ZOEY TUR, TRANSGENDER TV NEWS REPORTER: No, not completely. I think Bruce Jenner did a very good job initially and was very sympathetic. In fact, I was moved to tears really with the opening response. Opening remarks between Jenner and Diane Sawyer.

However, clearly what I thought would happen wound up happening and that this turned out to be one long tease for the big reveal that will happen in a reality show, possibly "Keeping up with the Kardashians." So, you know, Jenner answered one question and then refused, was evading the rest of the question. So, it became just something to tease another show. We really didn't learn very much.

SMERCONISH: What surprised you from the two-hour interview last night?

TUR: Diane Sawyer throwing marshmallows for questions. She's a very tough reporter and I think that, you know, Jenner just wasn't very forthcoming. I thought this was going to be a come clean moment. I remember sitting in that seat and coming out to 28 million people in my interview. And my life changed radically and I totally, look, I surrendered.

I told the truth. And I answered every question. Jenner would not talk about sexuality. Also, sexual reassignment surgery. Or any other question. And, also, didn't want to be labeled as gay or lesbian. And said I'm straight. I'm straight. And didn't really --


SMERCONISH: I'm glad you're bringing that up. I want to run that clip.

TUR: Yes.

SMERCONISH: This, of course, is from the ABC News exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer. I want to roll that for Zoey Tur and talk about it.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: But you understand that people are baffled, confounded, I mean -- apart from the people who are just -- JENNER: Oh my god, is he gay? Yes.

SAWYER: Are you gay?

JENNER: No. I'm not gay. I'm not gay. I am as far as I know heterosexual.

SAWYER: You don't know. What do you mean as far as you know?

JENNER: As far as I know. I've never been with a guy. I've always been married, raising kids.

SAWYER: Right. And you can desire a woman every bit as much.

JENNER: Yes. Yes.


SMERCONISH: Help me understand that because I was as perplexed watching it as Diane Sawyer was in participating in the exchange.

TUR: Right. And, OK, so, you're straight, but you're attracted to women and you're a woman. According to my math, it makes you a lesbian, right? I mean this whole issue with gender identity and sexuality is very confusing. I've gone through it and my sexuality flipped. I'm a straight female now. So I'm attracted to guys. You can't be straight and be attracted to women, if you're female, I think.

SMERCONISH: You think that he was being evasive on that issue? Do you think that he was being dishonest on that issue? Maybe he thought it would be too much for America if he revealed what he revealed and also said, and now I'm attracted to guys.

TUR: No. This is somebody that's not surrendering to the process and is still trying to cling on to that maleness, that macho behavior. And, also, the past accomplishments. Somebody that is desperately trying to hang on to male privilege. But that's not what happens when you transition. You give up everything.

You start a new life. You know, you start on hormones. It's a spiritual awakening and then when you come out is your spiritual rebirth. And you're born into a new world and everything changes. But not for Jenner. Jenner wants to continue being this macho, ultramacho straight character. And it's inconsistent with hormone replacement therapy and it's inconsistent with sexual reassignment surgery, which she says she's going for.

I mean, she danced around it, but she said she had two letters and that means the two letters means that she's seeing psychiatrists and they've written the sexual reassignment surgery letters that are required to get the surgery. She has psychiatric clearance to transition to female. So, there you go. She's going all the way. She said it. I don't know how you can have sexual reassignment surgery and, you know, your sexuality flips a third of the time. SMERCONISH: So, you had that surgery. You and I have previously spoken about your sexual reassignment surgery. What advice would you give to Bruce Jenner about the surgery and that process?

TUR: Put the seat down in the middle of the night.

My advice, my advice is really simple. Everything changes. You start on hormones and things do change. But sexual reassignment surgery is like coming to the new world and like Cortez in 1519 from the shore line of this new world watching the ship burn down to the water line. You can't go back. This is your life. You're female. And with that, there comes major changes to the way you think, the way you behave.

The hormones take effect. Your body's not fighting -- estrogen is not fighting testosterone because now you have normal levels of testosterone for a female and you take hormone replacement therapy for the estrogen. You start feminizing more and more. So you got to give into the process. So, we're watching somebody that is very uncomfortable being transgender, being transsexual.

SMERCONISH: You know what's funny to me, Zoey? I have just a minute left with you. But what's funny to me is I'm sitting here as a heterosexual guy more sympathetic to what I watched last night in that ABC interview than Zoey Tur who you would think would be a kindred spirit with Jenner, having already gone through everything that Jenner is now going through. Wherein lies the disconnect between the two of us?

TUR: I am sympathetic. No, I am sympathetic. I just have gone through it and when I'm trying, if I were talking to Jenner right now, I'd say, surrender. Give in. Stop, stop doing this.


Because you'll be much happier. And she wants to be happy and she deserves a chance at happiness. You have to cut ties with the Kardashians and you got to be your own person and you got be comfortable in your own skin. And the other thing is, give up the hype. You know, stop hyping another show. Come clean. We need you.

SMERCONISH: Zoey, thank you so much.

Zoey Tur.

Coming up, it's only a week two of her presidential run, but Hillary Clinton is already beating back a media barrage. She's facing questions over foreign donations made to the Clinton Foundation. Could it hurt her presidential campaign? We'll talk about it.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back. There was a major development in the 2016 campaign this week. Hillary Clinton has just announced her candidacy, but already it's embroiled in controversy.

[09:25:00] This week, the "New York Times" reported Clinton State Department approved the sale of uranium mines in America to a Russian company whose principal donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation. That's a contribution which was not disclosed by the Clintons despite an agreement reached between Hillary Clinton and the Obama White House.

The transaction allowed Russia to control one-fifth of uranium production here in the U.S., which at the time raised alarm bells with one member of the United States Senate with whom I've just spoken. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.


SMERCONISH: Senator, I have your December 21, 2010 letter to the president where you're expressing concerns about the sale of American uranium reserves to the Russian government. Why were you so troubled by this transaction?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Well, I was concerned about America energy security and national security. We know that the Russians had been providing uranium to people across the world who are not necessarily our friends, including Iran and people in Wyoming, which is an area where significant amounts of this uranium were coming from. I was hearing from them that they wanted to make sure that this uranium did not go overseas. After all, we in continued to import a significant amount of the uranium we use for nuclear power in the United States.

SMERCONISH: Did you get a reply?

BARRASSO: Well, it took about three months and I heard from the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and he said, "oh, yes, we're all making sure we will make sure that no uranium leaves the country. No uranium, U.S. uranium goes overseas because we want to make sure we get reporting, if any of that, if any of that happens." Well, now we're finding out four and a half years later that that that uranium is now controlled by the Russians and is going overseas, leaving our country.

SMERCONISH: My understanding is that this transaction gave the Russians control of one-fifth of the uranium production in the United States. Are you surprised in retrospect that the administration was not more concerned about the deal that was taking place?

BARRASSO: Well, I would have expected more concern by the administration. We didn't get it. When you consider the fact that almost 80 percent of the uranium we use in the United States is imported and now we see that the Russians are controlling about 20 percent of our U.S. uranium supplies. I think it continues to be even more worrisome today than it was back in 2010 when I wrote the letter to President Obama.

SMERCONISH: When you wrote the letter, you were expressing concerns given the approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Were you aware of the fact that the State Department was also signing off on this deal?

BARRASSO: Well, I wasn't aware of any of that component of it. I wanted to go right to the president with my concerns and the response I got was from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission three months after I wrote to the president. Now we hear the other issues and what the State Department has done, what contributions may have been made to both former President Clinton, as well as to the Clinton Foundation, which is now raising so much additional interest and concern and on those issues we're still trying to connect the dots.

SMERCONISH: Given your knowledge of the way that government functions, do you believe that this sort of approval, if necessary from the State Department, is the kind of thing that would have gotten to the desk of Secretary Clinton?

BARRASSO: Well, I would have expected that the secretary of State would have approved such an arrangement where we could see that Russia would control 20 percent of the uranium in the United States. A product that we have to import significantly when 20 percent of all our electricity, our energy comes from nuclear power. So, yes, I would have thought that this would have raised to that level.

My concern primarily was for national security and energy security for our country, especially when we see the way Russia uses energy as an instrument, a weapon, a power in international activities. So, I was very concerned about Russia getting U.S. uranium, especially knowing that they do send that product to people who are not our friends and especially Iran.

SMERCONISH: What came to light this week by virtue of coverage in the "New York Times" is the fact that the uranium one chair made a $2.35 million contribution to the Clinton Foundation, which apparently was not publicly disclosed by the Clintons. Your reaction to that is what?

BARRASSO: Well, Secretary Clinton had promised the White House that she would disclose contributions that came into the foundation, like this one, and now we know that those were not disclosed. So, the secretary has not been forth right and forthcoming in things she promised the White House. I think we're still connecting the dots, but it's a great concern and specifically with Russia where Secretary Clinton early on in her term pressed the reset button with Russia to say we'd have a new arrangement, a new, a new day with Russia.

Well now we see what's happened with Russia and with Putin and taking over Crimea and incursions into Ukraine, selling weaponry recently to Iran and now we know that Vladimir Putin controls 20 percent of the uranium in the United States and has a relationship with Iran at a time that we're trying to do -- the president is trying to do an arrangement with Iran with regard to nuclear weapons.

[09:30:22] SMERCONISH: "The Times" coverage also put on the front page the fact that former President Bill Clinton close in time to the transaction that you were objecting to received a $500,000 speaking fee for going to Moscow and speaking at the behest of an investment bank that had ties to this deal. Your reaction to that is what? BARRASSO: Well, when you look at that, that's much higher than the

speaking fees that President Clinton was getting up until that point. So, it was a quantum leap in the amount of money that former President Clinton was receiving for giving his speech.

SMERCONISH: I know that you closely read that story that broke Thursday on "The New York Times" Web site. It was a lengthy piece based in part on some original reporting by a forthcoming book and then a lot of independent reporting by "The Times."

What was your big takeaway?

BARRASSO: Well, my concern of this whole thing was rules that apply for the rest of the country don't seem to apply to the Clintons. They don't play by the rules the rest of the country plays in and the Democrats have put all their eggs into the Clinton basket it seems with the upcoming coronation of Hillary Clinton. And from a Republican standpoint, a conservative standpoint, we have an incredible number of qualified candidates ready to lead this country, ready to be the top of the ticket for 2016, and it's time to change direction in this country from what we've had under Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and under Barack Obama as president.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Senator Barrasso. Appreciate your time.

BARRASSO: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Let's get another perspective on all of this. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is already positioning himself to be a progressive challenger in the 2016 presidential race and he joins me now.

Senator John Barrasso was just here and he said that with regard to 2016, he thinks the Democrats put all their eggs in one basket and by now, virtue of these reports about the Clintons, the Clinton Foundation, uranium, the Russians, that basket has a hole in it -- which seemingly would benefit you.

What's your reaction?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, my reaction is that the middle class of this country is disappearing and we have more wealth and income inequality than any time since the Great Depression. And my sense is that what we need is a strong, mass, grassroots movement in this country to stand up to the billionaire class to create the millions of jobs we need to demand the corporate America and the wealthy stop paying their fair share of taxes, that the Republicans finally recognize that climate change is real and that we have to address it, and that we create a government that works for all the people and not just a handful of billionaires.

SMERCONISH: OK. But respectfully the story of the week is "The New York Times" coverage about the Clinton Foundation, Secretary Clinton, uranium, the Russians and the fact that the Russian government now controls one-fifth of the American uranium supply. Surely, you have a reaction of that? SANDERS: Sure, it is of real concern. And I think the fact that --

you know, the Clintons have raised all kinds of money from people all over the world is something worth looking at.

But, you know, Michael, to me it is not the story of the week or what the story of next week will be. The story of the last 40 years is a transfer of trillions of dollars for the middle class to the top 1/10 of 1 percent and as a result of Citizens United, a political system now where billionaires are able to buy elections, and we're seeing the results of that as a result in terms of the Republican budget, which is a total disaster for working people.

SMERCONISH: I hear you. But I think it fits the Bernie Sanders playbook to talk about someone who was perhaps able to obtain influence by making a $2.35 million contribution to a private foundation at the same time the State Department was approving a transaction allowing him and his entity to control so much of the American uranium supply.

SANDERS: Well, if I decide to run for president, then I will make that decision shortly. That certainly will be one of the issues that I will be talking about.

SMERCONISH: All right, I promise you, I'll move on after this question. You are to help me understand Senator Bernie Sanders' mindset. I read all the clips where you hammered Senator Clinton, vis-a-vis her position on the trade deal.

You are obviously making a conscious decision right now --


SMERCONISH: -- that you don't want to address this. And I don't understand why. It seems to me like it's legitimate fodder.

SANDERS: I will address any and every issue, if I run for president.

SMERCONISH: Are you leaning toward getting in or staying out?

[09:35:00] SANDERS: We're going to make a decision shortly and the major impediment to me is trying to determine whether or not we can raise the kind of money that we need in this day in age, when billionaires are prepared to buy elections and it is likely that major candidates will be spending maybe as much as $2 billion. Can a candidate try and represent working families mount a serious and winning effort in that kind of climate where these candidates will have unlimited sums of money?

SMERCONISH: Does that include taking on the idea of a former president getting paid $500,000 by an investment bank to come to Moscow and give a speech while that investment bank is seeking to control the uranium supply in the United States?

SANDERS: It will cover all issues, trust me. It will.

SMERCONISH: David Letterman is seeking to boost the Bernie Sanders campaign. Let me show you, Senator Sanders, what he aired on his program.


DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST/COMEDIAN: Nobody knows anything about Bernie Sanders. So here is a new segment we like to call this "Meet Bernie Sanders".

NARRATOR: Bernie Sanders is a political independent serving his second term as the junior senator from Vermont.

SANDERS: It is called oligarchy and that is the system we are rapidly moving toward.

NARRATOR: He also stars on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as Larry David.

LARRY DAVID: I'm not going to say anything. I'm going to keep my mouth shut and let you die.

NARRATOR: Thanks for watching "Meet Bernie Sanders."


SMERCONISH: I know you're a serious guy, but did you like the Letterman piece?

SANDERS: I liked Larry David very much. He's a very funny guy.

SMERCONISH: Have you been told before -- have you been told before that your voices -- I want to see the two of you in the same room before you throw your hat into this ring.

SANDERS: Well, that would be fun. He is -- I am a great admirer of him. I'm not a great fun of television in general, but his stuff is hysterical. I really do like him.

SMERCONISH: Agree with you on that.

Senator Sanders, thank you so much.

SANDERS: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, 1.5 million African-American men are missing in America. Where they have gone and the implications will be explained by a noted American economist.


[09:40:51] SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

Baltimore, Maryland, Ferguson, Missouri, and North Charleston, South Carolina, they have more in common than just high-profile investigations following the deaths of African-American men at the hands of police. Each is missing a large portion of their black men.

Ferguson is at the top of the list. For every 100 women, as many as 40 black men are missing. These men are either in prison or have died at a young age.

An analysis of U.S. Census data by "The New York Times" shows that 1.5 million black men are missing from everyday life.

Joining me now is Justin Wolfers. He co-wrote "The Times" piece. He's also a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan. Professor, African-American males and females, they begin on a same level, a same playing surface and then they diverge when? When do these statistics start to take on meaning?

JUSTIN WOLFERS, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: Well, actually, slightly more African-American men, boys, baby boys born by time of the teens there are about as many African-American young men as there are young women, and then through the late teens and early 20s, a gap starts to emerge, and by the 30s, you see a large gap in many communities with African-American women substantially outnumbering African-American men. That sticks through the rest of the life cycle.

SMERCONISH: Homicide is the leading cause of death, but also heart disease, respiratory disease and accidents also play a role.

WOLFERS: Yes, in fact, for the group today who are, you know, aged 25 to 55 and another important issue is the AIDS crisis. HIV had a very large impact on the African-American community and decimated large communities, in fact -- had a concentrated impact particularly on African-Americans, and particularly on black men.

SMERCONISH: The data can be expressed in many different ways. But here's a way you expressed it that I found stunning. More than one of every six black men who today should be in the prime of their life, 25 to 55, have disappeared from daily life.

WOLFERS: Yes. It's a statistic that's both staggering and heart breaking. We found it, of course, first in a spread sheet cell, but there's so much more and so many more stories behind that. And --

SMERCONISH: OK. So that's what the data shows. Most importantly now, what are the implications?

WOLFERS: Well, think about what this does to families in many of these communities. The precise family of dads in jail or if dad died, obviously, dad is not around to be a part of things, but think about the people who are left behind. You've got communities where African- American women vastly outnumber African-American men.

So, the likelihood of finding a good partner and settling are enormously lower and I think this could be a major force behind the adaptation and the changes in the American family. So, we see a lot more single parenthood, we see women setting up households by themselves, supporting themselves. And then on the flip side you see, you know, for the men left behind if you're one of 60 men of every 100 women, the odds are pretty good. But that thing leads you to invest a little less in particular relationship. There's not so much scarcity there, so I think it changes the contours of everyday family life. SMERCONISH: In other words, the men don't have to work so hard to

compete for companionship because of this disproportionate number of females to males.

WOLFERS: Yes, as an economist we think about the market as a discipline, and in some sense, there's not so much market discipline in these communities for African-American men. There's no scarcity and, so, you know, the traditional markets of success that you are to achieve in order to be able to find yourself a spouse are no longer so important.

SMERCONISH: And with so many men then missing from these particular communities and Baltimore is on that list. I mean, today, a focus of protest in Baltimore, but it places additional burdens on the women who are left behind to pick up the slack.

WOLFERS: Absolutely. So, they're not just missing the men who are in jail. They're missing often involve fathers who are not in jail, as well. And, you know, a generation of kids also growing up without male role models in the household. So, you know -- and it's important to understand where a lot of this is coming from.

[09:45:01] This is coming from incarceration, it's coming from people who are dying early and, you know, fairly large-scale systematic problems.

SMERCONISH: Professor Justin Wolfers, thank you so much for being here.

WOLFERS: My pleasure to talk about this, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, Hillary has a solid lead but it appears Jeb's is slipping away. Is his campaign worried?

A close adviser to Jeb Bush joins me next, and I'll ask him whether the presidential debate stage should make room for a third candidate. In other words, do we need another Ross Perot?


SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

There's a new front-runner emerging on the pack of potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates. Marco Rubio gaining traction, he's currently leading Jeb Bush in the latest polls. And of course, Hillary is still the favorite among Democrats.

Whether it's Marco or Hillary to punch their party's ticket, the final two will have the inevitable face-off during the presidential debates.

[09:50:03] But what if there were one more voice added to that debate stage, someone other than Democrat or Republican? It could happen. There's a new push to reform the presidential debate system to include third-party candidates.

Let's bring in someone who's pushing for the change. Vin Weber is a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. He's also an adviser to Jeb Bush.

Help me understand this. In 12 years in the Congress, you established a relationship as a stalwart Republican. You're advising Jeb Bush. Why do you want a third person or a fourth person on that debate stage?

VIN WEBER, JEB BUSH ADVISER: It's a good question and it's an important question. I am a Republican, I do expect to support Governor Bush as our nominee and most likely anybody else who might defeat him as a nominee because I'm a Republican.

But what should matter to all of us is the health of our political system. It's not good right now. The Gallup Poll says the largest number of people, 43 percent in the history of Gallup identify as independents. And the different polling question puts from 60 to 80 percent, the numbers of people who think our political system is dysfunctional and broken. We're on the wrong track, according to about 60 percent of the American people.

There's no one answer to this, Michael. But all of us, whether Republicans or Democrats or independents, ought to think about what's wrong with our political system. And there's a whole list of things. But one is, the presidential campaign system seems to most people to be rigged in favor of the two parties in which they have diminishing confidence.

SMERCONISH: Well, I'm one of those 43 percent. So I'm all ears on this idea.

But why is the inclusion of a third person on that stage, necessarily a boost for the independent movement? What will it force the other two to do?

WEBER: It will force the other two to think about swing votes. Increasingly, the Democrats and the Republicans as they -- as the parties have become more polarized -- have aimed their appeals more at hard-core bases of both parties. And that's the strategy that both parties have been pursuing in the two elections.

It didn't used to be that way. When I was involved in politics, running for office, helping people like my friend Jack Kemp run for president in 1988, a big part of our strategy was how do you get to independent voters, swing voters in the middle. Now it's how do you turn out more and more of your base, which increasingly is further to the left for the Democratic Party, and further to the right for the Republican Party.

You need to make it clear that there's a big bloc of voters somewhere else, partially because they might succeed, but mainly, through my standpoint, so the Republicans and Democrats will have an interesting competing for them.

SMERCONISH: The last time this took place, 1992. There was a Bush on that stage. It was Poppa Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush. Ross Perot was the third-party candidate. Many in your party said Perot cost by his presence George Herbert Walker Bush the election. WEBER: I make a couple of points. Well, I know that a lot of people

in my party, and they have told me that in the course of this --

SMERCONISH: Is Jeb upset with you by pushing this?

WEBER: No, he's never said anything to me about it, I don't think that he would be upset.

A lot of points to raise there. First of all, we want to resolve this before we get so far into the process that the candidates do begin to weigh, is this good for me or bad for me? Right now, they're not thinking about that.

Second of all, social science done since 1992 kind of disputes the notion that Perot cost bush the election. So, I think you have to say that's not necessarily the case.

SMERCONISH: In the introduction, I mentioned that Marco Rubio now leading Jeb Bush in the polls. Does that mean that Jeb Bush better hurry and get into this thing or he'll be eclipsed?

WEBER: I'm not worried about that. Everybody who has announced, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and now Marco Rubio have gotten a boost when they first announce. And I think Marco Rubio is a serious, viable candidate. Good guy.

But I think the Governor Bush whenever he announces he'll get that boost, too. I think he has some strengths that are greater than the rest of the pack and I think he's going to win.

SMERCONISH: Governor Bush once said before getting into the race a couple of years ago, is that he thinks his father, he thinks that Ronald Reagan would have difficulties capturing the nomination process in the current configuration of the Republican Party. And, of course, the temptation for him is to tether too far to the right to curry favor with the base and then alienate voters he's going to need in the general election.

How does he dance that dance?

WEBER: Well, one of the reasons we're changing subjects or why am I for him as a Republican, because I think he is the best candidate to bridge that gap. He was a conservative governor of Florida. On issues like educational choice, and taxes and spending, he was a very conservative governor of the state of Florida.

He has not tacked far to the right on every issue to come down the pike, as unfortunately most of our candidates did the last time around. And I think that he's going to emerge as the most likely candidate to beat Hillary Clinton from the Republican side. I know most of my Democrat friends tell me that.

SMERCONISH: If Jeb Bush watches the interview and calls Vin Weber and says, Vin, you're killing me with this campaign to put somebody else on the debate stage. It could be someone who draws votes from me. You'll say to him what? [09:55:04] WEBER: I'm -- that's not really the way to think about

this issue. I think that the way to think about this issue is the health of the political system. You want to be president of a country that has a vibrant political system in which most people have confidence. I hope that's not what we find out down the road, but that's not the issue, the issue is restoring some vitality to the American political system, which is in a serious dangerous tipping point almost.

SMERCONISH: I would just point out that the debate that was held, that included Ross Perot far exceeded in ratings, that which took place in the 2012 cycle. I think there's a real audience for this. And I agree, think it would be healthy for the country.

WEBER: And we have a much larger population now. And still, smaller numbers of people are watching than watch the debate in 1992.

We need to get people back into the political process, believing in the American political process, which has been the most successful democracy in the world. This is not the only problem this is not the ultimate solution. But this is a piece of the solution and we ought to pursue it.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Vin Weber, thank you so much for being here.

WEBER: Thanks. Great to be with you.

SMERCONISH: I'll be right back.



SMERCONISH: Thank you so much for joining me.

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See you next week.