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Reince Priebus Resigns After Sean Spicer; President Trump Continues To Pledge To Let Obamacare Implode; Prospective Blue Collar Workers Are Blocked Due To The Drug Epidemic. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired July 29, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:00] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, SMERCONISH SHOW, HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. The president up early this morning, a barrage of tweets blaming Democrats for his problems and encouraging the GOP to challenge the filibuster rules. Meanwhile, the revolving doors in the White House keep turning just one week after Sean Spicer resigns, Reince Priebus is out as Chief of Staff
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF: I think he was right to hit the reset button. I think bringing in fresh face. I think bringing in fresh people is a good thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: He's gone after just 189 days. That's the shortest tenure for a Chief of Staff in modern history. His replacement, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, can the general impose discipline on the president? I'm going to talk to Pat Buchanan.
And to me, John McCain's most important act this week was not casting the deciding vote on repealing Obamacare. It was his plea for nonpartisan compromise. And I'll explain and turns out there are good-paying jobs for blue collar workers in the rust belt, but there's a problem. I'd talk to one employer who says four out of every 10 job applicants failed drug test.
President Trump continues to pledge to let Obamacare implode. How do you run a health insurance company in that climate? I'll ask a CEO. And just how hazardous is playing professional football in a new study, concerned the family members allowed the brains of 111 deceased NFL players to be analyzed. And 110 of them had brain damage.
But first, after a stormy six-month tenure, President Trump has pushed out his White House Chief of staff Reince Priebus, replacing him with Homeland Security Secretary General John Kelly. Priebus tried but failed to impose order on an often chaotic in-fighting west wing. His ouster coming a day after a feud erupted with the new Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci, who vowed publicly to oust Priebus.
General Kelly will take over the west wing on Monday. The president is said to who had felt the need to put a general in charge. And Kelly had become a favorite of president, the president calling him, quote, "one of our real stars. Truly, one of our stars."
Well, now to my real star of the week, John McCain, wouldn't it be nice if the main story that ultimately comes out of the Republicans' failure to repeal Obamacare, is that leaders took the advice of an American hero who reminded our politicians that they need to compromise, not polarize.
On Tuesday, McCain returned to Washington after having undergone surgery to combat brain cancer. After reflecting on his 30 years in the Senate, McCain saluted the statesmen with whom he has served. He noted that they have come from both parties and various backgrounds. And set aside disputes and ambition to work collectively to uphold their constitutional responsibilities. And then he lamented the partisan and tribal nature of today's senate and offered a prescription.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Stop listening to the bombastic loud mouths on the radio and television and the internet, to hell with them. They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: What a great line, our incapacity is their livelihood and of course, he's right. This week's dysfunction is directly tied to the outsides influence of men with microphones and keyboard commandos.
The following day, Wednesday, I gave a speech to social studies teachers from around the country at the National Constitution Center here in Philly, it was a conference sponsored by the Rendell Center and not for profit that promotes civic education and engagement founded by Former PA Governor Ed Rendell and Midge, a Federal Judge.
With McCain on my mind, it occurred to me that teachers have a tough job today. Imagine trying to educate about current events without antagonizing any of the polarized parents in the school community. Of course, the primary responsibility for raising good citizens is for parents. We were together two days after President Trump spoke at the national scout jamboree in West Virginia. That was the event where after promising not to talk politics, he did exactly that, trashing his predecessor, bragging about the 2016 election map and treating the 40,000 as if they were a rally in a Red State.
Some have defended the president by accurately noting that he was well-received. I don't doubt that he received thunderous applause but that's part of our problem. We need to stop rewarding forces of division.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP DONALD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we ought to change it from the word "swamp" to the word "cesspool" or to perhaps the word "sewer." But it's not good, not good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[09:05:00] SMERCONISH: I've got to tell you I find it hard to believe that 10-year-old boys were cheering at the mention of the electoral college or when told that Hillary didn't work hard enough in Michigan.
My hunch is that it was their parents, probably their fathers at this gathering, who led the cheers. Well, shame on them for encouraging the president in front of a nonpartisan, not for profit which that has an oath which commit its members to, quote, "do my duty for my country." The youngsters might not have known better. But surely, their parents did, shame on them. It's John McCain who set an example for all of us this week.
And good that the leader of the boy scouts apologized for that speech, albeit two days later, what a poor example we're setting for our kids. Let's have McCain's legacy being that he brought back compromise in service to make this country better not just to appeal to the loudest voices within our own echo chambers.
Joining me now, senior advisor to three American presidents, Pat Buchanan, his latest book, Nixon's White House Wars. Patrick, I made a list. Here's what the last week has looked like for the White House, Spicer, out, Attorney General, beleaguered. The transgender ban announced by tweet, Scaramucci goes good fellas, health care fails, Priebus is gone.
Here's a quote of mine that what it brings to mind. "You're doing a good job, heck of a job, brownie." Was getting rid of Priebus the right move in the face of all of that? I know that would get a laugh out of you, Pat. Thank you for that.
PATRICK BUCHANAN, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Priebus went out with class and I do think it was time to remove him. Let me disagree sharply with your dissertation there, Michael.
BUCHANAN: What John McCain did this week was deliver a historic and humiliating blow to the Republican Party, the Republican president and the conservative movement. He himself had committed himself to repeal of Obamacare. And he came up there and voted the other way. And now, he has left his party high and dry and inflicted and defeat upon it.
Now, he's getting applause from the Michael Smerconish's of the world and all of the folks in this city who agree that the Republican Party is wrong, the president is wrong on Obamacare and all the rest of it. But I don't think it was an act of statesmanship at all.
Let me tell you a story. You mentioned bipartisanship. Dwight Eisenhower told a friend of mine Bryce Harlow who worked in Nixon's White House, "You know, Bryce, sometimes, the truth out here, sometimes, it's out here. But all of these guys in this city all too often in the Congress, they come here and that's not where the truth lies". If look, either going into Iraq was the right move or the wrong move. Even if you're in the minority as I was, I think you stand up for what is right and you fight for it. And you don't say let's compromise on principle.
SMERCONISH: Look at what intransigents has gotten this president in the first six months. Patrick, I want to put up a tweet because he's been active this morning, that came from the president this morning where he says, "Republican in the Senate will never", all caps, "WIN, if they don't go into a 51 vote majority now, they look like fools and are just wasting times".
I'll put it in terms you can understand. Where is the personal responsibility? Democrats didn't defeat the repeal effort this week. He lost McCain, he lost Collins, he lost Murkowski. It's the Republicans who can't manage their own houses even though they control both of them.
BUCHANAN: Yes, that's right. John McCain defeated the Republican Party as I said. He voted and voted basically with all of the Democrats. He did it. I don't blame Mitch McConnell, he can't control John McCain. But, you know, all of this talk bipartisanship.
Look, the American people didn't vote in November of last year for bipartisanship. They said we don't like free trade and what it's done to manufacturing. We don't like all of the Middle East wars we've been gotten into by almost unanimous votes on Capitol Hill. We want our border control. We don't want open borders.
I think General Kelly, my one concern about General Kelly coming to the White House, is that he's done a magnificent job taking on that assignment over there. And I think, frankly, it's going to be quite a day at the White House when he arrives.
SMERCONISH: I respect John McCain for not going along with the others who said, "We're all voting for something that we know and in fact don't even want to become the law of the land of the so-called skinny repeal.
BUCHANAN: Cut it out, Michael. McCain knew very well it was going to go over to the House. And the House agreed they weren't just going to rubber stamp the skinny appeal. They we're going to keep the issue alive.
Look, the entire Republican Party running nationally said we're going to repeal and replace it. I agree, the Republican Party has failed. It didn't do what it promised to do and what it told to people it's going to do. But at least, I think Ron and at least Mitch McConnell I think they tried. And the reason they no longer have a chance now if they don't, is because John McCain is being applauded all over this city.
[09:10:04] SMERCONISH: I am applauding him on the merits for what he did but I'm going to add something else to the mix. Revenge is a dish best serve cold. We're talking about a guy who serve this country, was a prisoner of war, and this president said I respect those who didn't get captured. I got to believe that maybe factored in somewhere along the way. And who could blame him if he did. BUCHANAN: I hope that John McCain did not act out of revenge. And I don't believe he did. And that was the wrong thing to say. McCain served his country honorably and well as five years as a POW. But anybody who ran for a Barry Goldwater seat and won it. Do you think that Barry Goldwater would have broken with his party and voted with the party basically of the Chuck Schumer to defeat the Republican cause, the cause for which they have run, Michael? For heaven's sake, I don't deny John McCain's heroism.
And I pray to god that he survives this thing, he's fighting. And I congratulate him for the guts coming back. But he did something he knows and he stuck it basically to his party. And I don't know why he did it. Other than the fact that he revealed himself, I think he's liberated.
He's a free man, and he's going to tell us who he is, and I think we saw who he was on the floor of the house. That's his legacy, that's what he wants and that's what he will have.
SMERCONISH: Patrick, you worked in three White Houses, as I mentioned during the course of the introduction.
BUCHANAN: That's right.
SMERCONISH: Do you think that Steve Bannon is long for this political world in this White House? How in the face of what Scaramucci told Ryan Lizza could Steve Bannon maintain face and continue to serve this president?
BUCHANAN: My question more is, how the mooch going to survive in this presidency, when he says I have the power to kill everybody virtually in the west wing. When the general who has been raised on order, who's been raised on discipline and who has been raised on the chain of command comes in the White House, he's going to call Scaramucci in.
He is going to say, you don't fire anybody without my permission in this White House. You're going to get control or your communications shop. You are not going to be first surrogate. You are not going to have wide open access to the oval office without me knowing what is going on there.
I think he's the one that's going to get his wings clipped. But as for Bannon, everything that I've seen of Steve Bannon so far, he's kept his head down. Done his job, advised the president sometimes the way the president went, sometimes the way he didn't. So I would ....
SMERCONISH: Right but how --
BUCHANAN: ... if you're looking at casualties here. I would take a good look at the Mooch.
SMERCONISH: Well, but the mooch wasn't even - as far as we know, reprimanded for told a reporter that Bannon performs for (late show) on himself.
BUCHANAN: Well that's because the fellow on the oval office who is partly responsible for the chaos approves of it. Do you think General Kelly is going to approve of this and let this sort of thing go? I think we're going to have a touch of Paris Island in the west wing.
SMERCONISH: Aren't we overlooking and I'm limited on time, the biggest issue that's really out there which is the continuing Mueller investigation. Here is my final question for Patrick Buchanan, are we headed for a constitutional crisis?
BUCHANAN: I think we're headed for a crisis and the collision between Mr. Mueller who sees himself having a very broad franchise, who is moving beyond the Russian hacking into the finances of Donald Trump. And the president of the United States is going to have to ask himself whether we can survive a year-end long type of investigation.
Look, I've never known one of the special prosecutors offices which are like command chiefs. I've known a command chief raiding party, they went home without some scalps, Michael.
SMERCONISH: And therefore you think that Mueller is not going quietly into that night without something to show for it.
BUCHANAN: I think the Special Prosecutor's Office has got an investigation which is part counter espionage, counter intelligence, and another part which is the criminal investigation. Where they're going to try to capture people and making false statements. And not filling out the correct forms. And they're going after these folks. And my guess is that the president is not going to sit still for it. He's going to try to force events and I think Mueller's is going after one subpoena after another and another one.
I've been there, Michael, it's called the Saturday night massacre.
SMERCONISH: OK. Then now, I need to ask, do you think that he is emasculating Jeff Sessions because he wants him out and he's prepared if need be to fire him, make a recess appointment and get someone who therefore could rein in Mueller?
BUCHANAN: Or to try -- with the problem with that is, first, Sessions is a good man, Honorable man. And he's doing a great job and he shouldn't be removed. And if you do remove him and try a recess appointment, that would be blocked by Congress.
And then if you have a recess appointment and you fired Mueller. And the way we fired Archibald Cox, you find out there's an existing structure, small, lethal and growing inside the administration.
[09:15:06] And that's still going to be there. Is the president going to order the acting attorney general to smash the whole thing and bring it back into the justice department and have the FBI do it, I think then you're talking the same kinds of problems we faced in October of 1973.
SMERCONISH: You're doing a heck of a job, Buchanan. I stumbled on my line the first time around. I had just to come back to it.
BUCHANAN: And you did do a wonderful job. SMERCONISH: Thank you, Patrick.
BUCHANAN: Take it easy.
SMERCONISH: All right. What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish, or go to my Facebook page and I will read some responses throughout the course of the program.
What do you got, Kathryn? Do you think that Scaramucci is some kind of genius with a distraction strategy? Many of my radio listeners at SiriusXM's said exactly like that. But my god, it's distraction after distraction, after distraction. If that's the case I think that the president put as his communications director someone in his direct image. Spicer wasn't in his image. Priebus wasn't in his image.
I think it's a win for, how about this, the New York intelligenicia and not the establishment's types. One more if I can, sorry I got longwinded there.
Smerconish, Kelly won't be able to herd the cats because Trump is a lion who won't be tamed. Lizza Cornella, I think you make a good observation that the president is changing all of these parts that, frankly, aren't the core of the problem, right. Responsibility begins at home in his case.
Up ahead, there are good paying job with full benefits going unfilled in the (rust belt). Why, so many prospective blue collar workers are blocked due to the drug epidemic. I'm going to talk to one factory owner who says four in 10 of her applicants fail the drug test.
[09:21:42] SMERCONISH: What's the biggest hidden impediment to getting unemployed laborers back in the workforce? Could it be the drug epidemic?
The president addressed blue collar workers in Ohio this week, returning to his campaign theme of "Getting folks like them back to work". But it turns out even where the economy actually needs skilled workers, many good-paying job are going unfilled because applicants who are otherwise qualified can't pass a drug test, which is required by insurers for liability reasons.
Some people aren't even applying for fear of this issue coming up. In this piece, in the New York Times by Nelson Schwartz this week, one employer said 4 out of 10 applicants failed the test. She joins me now. Regina Mitchell co-owns Warren Fabricating and Machining in Hubbard, Ohio.
Regina Mitchell, I understand that for 48 of the 50 years that your company has been around, there was no issue. It's now on the last two that there is what changed?
REGINA MITCHELL, CO-OWNS WARREN FABRICATING AND MACHINING: Yes, that's correct. This is our 50th year in business and it hasn't been until over the last two years that we've needed to have a policy, a corporate policy in place, that protects us from employees coming into work impaired. And it's this opioid epidemic that we're experiencing both in Ohio. But in our Mahoning Valley it is -- it seems like it's worse than in other places all over the country.
So I have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for my employees. I have a responsibility to my customers to build quality product. So I need employees who are engaged in their work while they're here, a sound mind and, you know, doing the best possible job that they can and keeping their fellow co-workers safe at all times. So it's kind of really big challenge --
So what's the typical - give me the typical scenario of a job applicant who comes in, who is he, who is she and what's their station in life?
MITCHELL: Right. Well, we have a variety of different skilled labor that work for us. So, we have just general laborers. We have welders, machinists, assemblist, crane operators, and we build very heavy specialized steel-fabricated components. So we have a 150-ton crane in our machine shop and we're moving 300,000 pounds of steel around in that building on a regular basis.
So I cannot take the chance to have having anyone impaired running that crane or running 40-feet in the air. We do a lot of dangerous processes all day long. And it's my responsibility to make sure that my employees are protected.
SMERCONISH: I understand that you mentioned opioids, marijuana also is, I know, a problem that you're facing. And the testing can't determine within the last 30 days whether it was yesterday or whether it was three weeks ago. I have to believe that as the legalization trend continues across the country that will pose an even greater burden for employers like you.
MITCHELL: Right. the medical marijuana law just passed in the state of Ohio. So, as employers, we now have another hurdle to overcome. And we're working with legislators to make sure that there are some protections in place, some regulations in place that protect employers from irresponsible employees.
As an employer, we deal with thousands of regulations that protect employees from irresponsible employers. And I don't think it's unfair that people in our position have the same -- our businesses have the same protections from employees who show up impaired. The difficult part about with marijuana is, we don't have an affordable test that tells us if they smoked it over the weekend or smoked it in the morning before they came to work. And I just can't take the chance of having an impaired worker running a crane carrying a 300,000-pound steel encasement.
SMERCONISH: And as I mentioned in the setup, the ramifications of this are probably greater than the 4 in 10, meaning who knows how many are staying away from applying for your open jobs because they know they'd have an issue?
[09:25:11] MITCHELL: Well, the problems we're facing that the drug issues are just, you know, complicating even more, is we have less of a skilled workforce to begin with anyway. We dropped shop class out of, you know, high school classroom. So I'm having to spend extra time training people. The last thing I want to do is train somebody who isn't going to come to work or be late, has tardiness issues, called off sick all the time.
So I take -- I'm actually very happy to take people who want to be involved in the process, want to come to work every day, show up on time. And we're doing a lot of training in-house now because there almost 12,000 open skilled labor jobs in our Mahoning County. And having applicants come in, 40 percent are failing drug test for preemployment, our labor pool is just shrinking. And, you know, they're good paying job and the opportunity for people in our area. We just can't find people to show up who can pass the drug test.
SMERCONISH: And with full benefits. Regina, thank you for sharing that story. We appreciate it.
MITCHELL: Thank you, Michael. Thanks for having me.
SMERCONISH: May I mention that Regina Mitchell's company is in that part of Ohio where CNN recently spent several weeks reporting how Donald Trump won that area and many areas in the midwest. Come Monday, 10:00 P.M. Eastern, you can see the results in a CNN Special Report called "Why Trump Won" reported by CNN's Fareed Zakaria, 10:00 P.M. Monday night.
What you got, Kathryn? Two of them? Put them up. Let's see.
Drug testing for weed is absurd. You know, Brian, I'm sympathetic to what she just said, though. I mean, if someone, God forbid, were injured on the floor of her shop and the person responsible had been smoking marijuana. She's opening herself up to liabilities issues that she can't shoulder. I'd like to see improvement in testing so that you know did somebody smoke three weeks ago or this morning. One more, if we have time.
Employers have the right to a sober days work from their employees. I think they should also drug test for unemployment benefits. Edward, time does not permit me to get into that whole issue. The bottom line is 4 in 10 applying for a job can pass a test. We've got an opioid epidemic in this country that needs fixing.
Still to come, unable to repeal or replace Obamacare, President Trump is pledging to let it implode. Well, how our health insurance companies functioning in a climate of such uncertainty. I'm about to ask a CEO. Plus, a new study of decease NFL football players' brains submitted by concerned family members found just about all, suffered degenerative brain disease. Can anything be done to protect them?
[09:32:20] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: So, where are we in this health care mess? After the Senate failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the President tweeted and he said, "Three Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode then deal. Watch!
Well now, imagine that you run a large health insurance company in the midst of this chaotic climate. More than 105 million Americans carry a blue card. And my next guest runs one of the largest Blue Cross companies Independence Blue Cross which is based in my hometown of Philadelphia. Dan Hilferty is president and CEO of Independence Health Group, one of the nations leading health insurers providing insurance in 24 states in Washington, D.C. he was chosen by his Blue Cross CEO peers to lead the entire association at this critical juncture. And in that role has met in the White House with the President. He's also had conversations with Senate leaders including Mitch McConnell.
Dan, how difficult for you, in this context, given all the uncertainty, to run your business?
DANIEL HILFERTY, PRESIDENT, INDEPENDENCE BLUE CROSS: Well, Michael, let's take a step back.
SMERCONISH: Go ahead, Dan.
HILFERTY: I apologize. Let's take a step back and look at the system. When you think of our membership, we have approximately 85 percent of our members come through the traditional employer-based system, through Medicaid manage care and through Medicare. We're talking about six percent of the population comes through the state exchanges or federal exchange or comes through -- or still uninsured.
So let's talk about the first three, commercial market place, Medicaid and Medicare. They're functioning extremely well, 85 percent of our business, can they be improved? Absolutely. We can continue to drive down cost, we can continue to drive up quality. But they're working. The job now is to fix the six percent and hopefully growing of folks who've been able to access care over the past three years.
SMERCONISH: Can you stay in the exchanges? Can health insurers are broaden it beyond just Blue Cross stay in the exchanges if there's no individual mandate? I mean isn't the whole premise that if everybody gets in the pool then you can afford to take care of those with pre- existing conditions. But if everybody's not jumping in the pool, do you still have sustainability?
HILFERTY: Well -- I would say, Michael that the truth of the matter is that, we can stay in the exchanges, if in fact government is true to continuing to pay for what are called the CSRS, the subsidies, number one.
[09:35:08] And number two, if there some type of mandate. I have to tell you leader McConnell did an extremely effective job. I believe, as they looked towards the first bill that was in front of the Senate, making sure that the exchanges were stood up, as we moved towards a new environment, whether it be from some type of subsidies, to attacks in Senate programs.
So, we look at it and we say if these subsidies are continued to be paid, if the mandate is in place in some way, shape or form while we move towards a tax credit, we would like to stay in the exchanges. We cover $200,000 in the Philadelphia marketplace, five county Philadelphia, another 100,000 in New Jersey.
SMERCONISH: But, Dan if there is no individual mandate, will you stay in the exchanges?
HILFERTY: I think it's -- the key point there is that we probably will look seriously for the first time after touching (ph) not continuing our exchanges. This year, our average increase is about eight percent, 8.5 percent for all of the metallic products in the exchange, going into 2018. That's what we file. We have to think about if there's no mandate -- no mandate increases our rates by about 19 to 20 percent. That is a significant increase. And we have to ask ourselves, is that something that we would like to put in front of the individual market?
SMERCONISH: Right. And you will be then, further perceived, the insurance companies as the villains in all of this. What I hear you saying, you correct me if I'm wrong, if people aren't forced to have health insurance, you're going to be in the untenable position of having to provide coverage for folks with preexisting conditions, but you won't have the Young Invincibles to offset the costs. The rates goring toe go sky high and it will be because there is no individual mandate?
HILFERTY: That is correct. And we are -- what we're saying now is, look, we've got to come together now. It is time for a bipartisanship approach to this. And in the interim, let's fund the CSRS, these subsidies. Let's keep the mandate in place so the risk pool is a risk pool that is manageable. And that we can have the young healthy folks in the pool, as well as those who are sicker who have dual-disease states and need additional care.
So, we're just asking for a transitional period of time. Listen, I have to say, in Pennsylvania, Michael, we have two U.S. senators, one a Republican, one a Democrat, these are two fine public services. And Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, they both want the same thing. They want more people to be enrolled. I think from a Democratic respective, it's all about accessibility, getting more folks enrolled. From the Republican perspective, that's part of it as well, but also Pat Toomey wants it to be sustainable.
We have to get a meeting of the minds. And I believe the same thing for Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer. Get the right people in the room, the health committee under Senator Lamar Alexander begin to have concrete conversations about how this marketplace should go forward. How we can insure more people but make it sustainable for generations to come. And in the interim, to your point, let's make sure we fund the subsidies. Let's make sure we mandate that folks stay in the market place so the risk pool is a risk pool that's workable.
SMERCONISH: Dan Hilferty, thank you, I appreciate it.
HILFERTY: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: I know there's been a lot of feedback on Twitter and my Facebook page. Let's see some of what we've got. Smerconish, let's ask ourselves if a tax hike to pay for single payer health care would be more than our current insurance premiums. Hey, Brian (ph), I sure hope that people were paying close attention to what that health care CEO elected by his peers to handle this issue on behalf of Blue Cross with the White House and Congress just said. I mean, the individual mandate, the requirement that everybody has insurance which was derided as, you know, big brother telling us what we need to do.
If you don't have it and you're requiring insurance companies to pay for those with preexisting conditions, rates are going to go awfully high. They need for sustainability, everybody to jump into the pool, which makes sense.
[09:39:26] Up next, after examining brains of 202 deceased football players, a neuropathologist found so many had brain damage that she concluded, "It is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football. There is a problem. Is America's fall pastime now in jeopardy?
SMERCONISH: How dangerous is professional football to a player's brain? A new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association studied the brains of 202 deceased football players. These were brains donated to them by concerned family members. Of those, 111 had played for the NFL and of the 111, 110 were found to have signs of neurodegenerative disease, CTE short for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Symptoms can include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control and sometimes suicidal behavior. Findings like this jeopardize the future of the sport.
Joining me now is Dr. Chris Nowinski. He's a Harvard Football player turned professional wrestler, the founding CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. He has earned a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience.
Dr. Nowinski I should say this was not a random sample, there was some selection bias here, because these were donated by concerned family members, but still, a pretty stunning finding?
[09:45:06] CHRIS NOWINSKI, PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER, CONCUSSION LEGACY FOUNDATION CEO: There's no question about it. I mean, this is the largest case series ever of football players' brains. And even if it's biased, the idea that family members who might have thought their loved one had CTE, were accurate 99 percent of the time. It's striking to me as a former football player. And if you look at, not only the NFL brains but the ones who played in college and high school, what we've seen to be seeing is a dose response relationship not unlike smoking and lung cancer that each of those thousands of hits that players take might be acting like the cigarettes leading to lung cancer.
SMERCONISH: In other words, you suspect it's not the big hit, but it is the repetition over time?
NOWINSKI: That's one of the big messages that this work is showing. Is that it's probably not those handful of hits to the head that caused symptoms that's causing the brain to essentially begin to rot over the rest of your life, it's the combination of thousands and thousands of hits. And we're seeing in other studies very clear trend between the number of thousands of hits you take with the number of years you play and your risk of adopting CTE.
SMERCONISH: Is there any rule change that you could conceive of that would address this issue and put aside the concern that you have today?
NOWINSKI: So, the changes that we need to see in football in my belief are not the ones that we're talking about. We're not going to create a helmet that's going to solve this problem. The number one way that we can reduce CTE in both future NFL players and throughout all football players in the whole ecosystem would be to reduce the number of years that they play. And that means that we act -- I think we should getting rid of youth tackle football. I don't think athletes should not be playing tackle football. Children should not be exposed to 500 hits to the head every fall until they're at least in high school, until the brain has a chance to mature.
If we did that, just simply looking at the math on it, I think we would reduce most cases of CTE, not only in players who just play in high school but also the NFL players. But if we don't make that change, every other change that we're making isn't going to make nearly the same difference.
SMERCONISH: We had a graphic from "The New York Times" a moment ago that showed the proportion based on position. And linemen were the most well represented. There they are, 44 of those that were just studied. Although I guess I should say linemen represent about half of those who are on the field at any one time. Question for you -- is it just like that chart displays are linemen at greatest risk?
NOWINSKI: We aren't yet seeing that in the data. We aren't actually seeing any position having dramatically more risk than any other position. I think you've pointed out that with nine of the 22 people out on the field at the time being linemen, that's where we're see the most of it. People did think linemen were protected because they didn't take those big hits that you see in the middle of the field. But that's not -- that's partially why we don't think concussions have a strong relationship to CTE as repetitive hits to the head.
SMERCONISH: And finally, it's not just football. I know from our prior conversations and from reading your book, right, this transcends just the gridiron?
NOWINSKI: You're absolutely right. While football, there's such a concerns of that community, we have lots of hundreds of cases now, we've also identified CTE in people's primary exposure ISAC in soccer, rugby, we have a baseball player and then let's not forget our veterans, our the second biggest group in the Brain Bank at the V.A., in collaboration with Boston University in the Concussion Legacy Foundation. That second biggest group is military veterans.
SMERCONISH: Your book is called "Head Games." Dr. Nowinski, thank you so much for your work.
NOWINSKI: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and the Facebook posts what do we have? How about we just stop playing football? #CTE. I don't know if it will ever come to that, I do not believe, though, that there's some liberal cabal against the gridiron. I think there's data, there's science and it's tragic what this head injuries have done to so, so many as Dr. Nowinski points out in his work.
We'll back in a second.
[09:53:24] SMERCONISH: Hey if you ever miss any of the program, you can catch us any time on CNNgo, online and through your connected devices and apps, and remember to follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Here's some more of what has come in during the course of the hour on the program.
Smerconish, do you actually hear yourself when you're speaking? Your excuses for the GOP are absolutely maddening. Their behavior is not OK. Who is bop? I'm sure that means something, but I don't know what. Did you miss the opening commentary of the program? Where I saluted John McCain for showing independence and standing up in the face of polarization? I mean honestly, people pick and choose and hear what they want to hear. Listen to the totality of the program, and you'll find that I'm not here to carry anybody's water. Give me another one.
Pat Buchanan is wrong about McCain. He did it for country, not party. Well, Jadietour (ph) I think so. I mean, I wish there were more actions like that of McCain before it comes to a final vote on health care, but the showing of some independence? I think is a good thing. It's what more of them need to do. And that line, what did he say? Our incapacity, meaning the Senate, is their livelihood, meaning the loud mouths, truer words have never been spoken in the well of the U.S. Senate.
One more if we have time for it. Smerconish, what I want to know is how are we going to explain mooch to our kids? Monique (ph), let me ask you a question, in your workplace or any other that you could identify, where would someone not be fired? For saying to anybody else, in this case a reporter, the sort of things that he said? I mean it's really stunning, isn't it?
[09:55:11] If any of the rest of us in our corporate or small business environment had expressed sentiments about co-workers, the way in which he did, the boss, and you know who that is in this case, would have thrown ourselves out on our butts. It didn't happen here.
Thank you so much for watching. Stick around, there's another really good program, at the top of the hour.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.