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Controversial Reps Gaetz & Greene Rally Trump Base In Florida As Trump Tightens Grip On Party; Chamber Of Commerce Wants End To $300/WK Extra Unemployment Benefit After Weak Jobs Report; Chinese Rocket Debris Set To Hit Earth This Weekend. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 07, 2021 - 21:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: What do you think Marvin would think about "WHAT'S GOING ON?"




JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Cannot wait to see that!

So, the news continues. Want to hand it over to Michael Smerconish, who's in the Anchor chair tonight, for "CUOMO PRIME TIME."

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: John Berman, thank you.

I am Michael Smerconish in for Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME. Chris will be back on Monday.

Tonight, two of the most controversial figures, in the GOP, kicked off their joint tour in Florida, pledging allegiance, again, to the most controversial president in modern-day history.

One of the lawmakers is under criminal investigation for sex trafficking, prostitution crimes, and possible sex with a minor. The other lost her committee assignments over violent statements and wild conspiracy theories.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): This is our first stop, but there will be many more. And America's greatest president, and the undisputed leader of the Republican Party, Donald J. Trump might join us on a few!


GAETZ: Or we might join him! REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): The Democrats impeached President Trump, over a perfect phone call, by the way, the Democrats that say they won the presidential race.

You are not going to put us down for loving President Trump, and what he did for the past four years.

They thought that you people were done. We're not done!


SMERCONISH: Representatives Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene chose to launch their "America First" tour in a conservative stronghold called The Villages, a MAGA-friendly retirement community.

Now, you might think this joint appearance of two lightning rods, at one of the most Republican bastions, in an important swing state, is a troublesome sign for the Republican Party.

"Gaetz & Greene in The Villages," it sounds like a comedy act, right, one that may cause some to laugh at, not laugh along with.

You may ask yourselves. How can this possibly end well for a party that desperately wants to retake the House and Senate, in 2022, and the White House in 2024?


GAETZ: I'm a march - marked man in Congress.


GAETZ: I'm a canceled man in some corners of the internet. I might be a wanted man by the Deep State. But I am a Florida man. And it is good to be home.


GREENE: And so that's why I'm a Member of Congress. And they don't like me very much.

The Democrats in charge were so sweet to me, and then there were - there were I think, what 11 Republicans, something like that, 10 or 11, I have that list, I'm hanging on to it that were so nice to give me some free time. And they decided to kick me off committees, over a few things that they didn't like on Facebook, some years back.


SMERCONISH: Why instead, wouldn't the GOP want to showcase their 2012 standard-bearer Mitt Romney, or maybe fellow measured conservative Adam Kinzinger, or rock-hard conservative Liz Cheney?

If that's your question, I suggest you are not the intended audience. The base is. The Trump base is their key to winning. And that's all it's about. Just ask Lindsey Graham!


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Can we move forward without President Trump? The answer is no. I've always liked Liz Cheney. But she's made a determination that the Republican Party can't - can't grow with President Trump. I've determined we can't grow without him.


SMERCONISH: This is likely Liz Cheney's last Friday as Chair of the House Republican Conference, because she dared to argue that Donald Trump is stunting the party's growth and destroying democracy.

There's now wide expectation that the Wyoming Congresswoman will be booted from a leadership position, in a Wednesday secret vote, and replaced by Representative Elise Stefanik, who happily peddled the big lie for Trump.

Another sign of how this coming vote is going to go. An ally of Cheney's, who voted along with her, to impeach, moderate Republican Representative John Katko, just told a local newspaper in his state that he will back Stefanik.

Again, this is a secret ballot vote. So, why would Katko do that? Why take a position, in a controversial matter, where nobody is going to be looking over your shoulder when you vote? The answer is self- preservation.

Donald Trump is good for business, if the business is the Republican Party. I know some might argue the opposite, because the GOP lost the House, the Senate and the White House, under his watch.

But it's easy to forget that the party did do well in 2020 that they gained seats in the House, held the Senate to a draw, won more state legislatures, and picked up another gubernatorial mansion.

I don't think it's a priority for these Republicans to send Trump back to the White House. They just don't want him to send them packing.

Let's go to the front lines now of this Gaetz-Greene sideshow. CNN Correspondent Donie O'Sullivan joins us live from The Villages.

Donie? Neither represents this particular area. They seem to have been received well.


DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael. As you said, it's good for business.

These are two controversial Members of Congress who otherwise might, in a different time, could be considered as fringe, what they are preaching could be fringe. But they're anything but. Take a look at this CNN poll from last week. 70 percent, 70 percent of Republicans don't believe that Biden actually won the election. And both Gaetz and Greene know that they can cash in on this.

We've seen how successful Greene has been fundraising, over the past few months, on this message. And where better to start this than this affluent retirement community that is very, very politically active?

SMERCONISH: Donie, how did the residents of The Villages reconcile the hot water that each of these two has been in, and continue to be in, in the case of Gaetz?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, from the folks we speak to, they don't reconcile this at all. Frankly, I asked folks, were they concerned that Greene had pushed things like QAnon, were they concerned about the allegations and investigation into Matt Gaetz. And they weren't.

They - all folks here really, who attended this event tonight, and there were hundreds, wanted to hear was somebody continuing to perpetuate the big lie.

And I spoke to a couple, on their way into the event. Have a listen to what they had to say.


O'SULLIVAN: You guys both genuinely believe the election was stolen?



O'SULLIVAN: I mean, that's, you know, if you believe that that's true that is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that horrible?


WARD: Yes. That is horrible.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it horrible that we would even be in the situation to even think that?

O'SULLIVAN: But it's false.

WARD: No, it is not.

Why would they have all those ballots hidden under tables? Why did that man drive that truck all the way across state lines --

O'SULLIVAN: But it wasn't like the -- WARD: --with ballots?

O'SULLIVAN: The ballots under table thing with Giuliani in Georgia, that's all been proven to be false, no?


WARD: It has not.


WARD: I watched it on TV.


O'SULLIVAN: So Michael, what you're hearing there are conspiracy theories that have been debunked for many, many, many months. Inside the event tonight, Greene asked the audience, "Did Biden win the election?" And the response in unison was "No."

So, this is a community, The Villages, in Florida that is very, very receptive to the BS that both of these Members of Congress are spreading.

SMERCONISH: Look, it's like opening up a play in Cleveland, except Cleveland is a very friendly audience. In this case, if it didn't go over well, I can't imagine where they would go.

Donie, thank you so much for the report.

Let me bring in now Senior CNN Political Correspondent and Host of "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY," Abby Phillip, and CNN Political Commentator and former Republican congressman, Charlie Dent.

Abby, let me begin with you. Big picture this for me.

Four months ago, Kevin McCarthy said that Donald Trump was responsible for the events of January 6. In the interim, somehow, the former president seems to have totally cemented his position as the Head of the GOP.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this has been a major shift, I would say, in where the center of gravity of the Republican Party is.

As you just pointed out, Congressman Katko, who is an ally of Liz Cheney's, went out of his way to say he would be totally fine with her being replaced with Elise Stefanik. That is a sign that what we thought was the middle of the Republican Party has now shifted even further to the right, even further to the Trump column.

And it's because of what Donie was just showing you in his reporting, which is that Republican voters believe the lie. They are motivated by the lie. And Republican rank-and-file members need that energy and that motivation, in order to hold on to their seats, to potentially pick up new seats, and to get their voters out to the polls in 2022. This is all about self-preservation. And that's why you're seeing

folks not even batting an eye about what is about to happen, next week, a major leadership shift, because they know that this is the only way to keep those people in the - our camp.

SMERCONISH: Abby, I'm curious to know whether former President Trump has embraced Matt Gaetz, since Gaetz landed in hot water. What can you tell us?

PHILLIP: Well, he really hasn't. He's weighed in, really, only to say that he didn't consider giving Matt Gaetz a pardon, while he was in office.


But notably, Matt Gaetz has been going out of his way to bear-hug Donald Trump. I think, for a lot of Republicans, in Gaetz's position, the belief is the closer you tie yourself to Trump, the less likely he is to lash out at you.

So, Trump hasn't embraced Gaetz, but he also hasn't pushed him away either. And that's why you're seeing Gaetz, really trying to be as Trumpy as possible, in these days, when he is the most under fire.

SMERCONISH: Charlie, there was another Charlie. His name was Charlie Rich. And he used to sing a song called "Behind Closed Doors."

Is there any possibility that behind closed doors, in the anonymous vote, right, that's not a roll call, there's no light of day, that these Republicans actually will be more supportive of Liz Cheney than they are telegraphing now?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Michael, I hope you're right about that, that behind closed doors, they would be more likely to support Liz Cheney.

But I fear that the die is cast. And it looks like she's just hanging on by a thread. I don't see how she gets out from under it, right now. And it's really unfortunate.

As they're all talking about unification, what they're really talking about is cancelation of Liz Cheney, and capitulation to Donald Trump, who has really brought to feet to the Republican Party since he was elected in 2016, other than last year, where actually Republicans, as you pointed out, did quite well down-ballot. But Trump himself lost.

But I don't see a path forward for Liz right now. I support her. It's sad that they're - that good, thoughtful leaders, like Liz Cheney, are being marginalized, while these extreme elements are being - are being embraced, and being put on the stage.

I mean, there was a time, I witnessed speakers Pelosi, Boehner, and Ryan, how they would force-out members who brought this credit upon the House. They would have ways to marginalize them. And now, that just doesn't seem to happen because of Donald Trump. The standards of conduct have been so lowered that that's why we get

what we're getting in Florida right now, with that the - with that - well, I don't want to say what that show is. But it's a horrible show of two really disgraced members.

SMERCONISH: So tonight, at The Villages, Matt Gaetz had the following to say about Liz Cheney. Let's watch.


GAETZ: Part of being populist is showing that you are popular. Maybe our leadership should give that a try. If Liz Cheney could even find Wyoming on a map, and went there, she would find a lot of very angry cowboys.

And it appears that Liz Cheney may no longer be the Chair of the Republican Conference.


GAETZ: This might be the first war she's ever sought to end.


SMERCONISH: Abby, such a disconnect in the country. I know that a large portion of the CNN audience is watching this, with their hair on fire, thinking how could that be Representative of any significant swath of the country?

And yet, you hear how it's playing in that room. Quite well!

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, look, this is Trump's party. And Trump's been at war with Liz Cheney for years, at this point. That's what Matt Gaetz is playing to.

Look, Republican voters, at those - at this very moment, are not particularly interested in things that are relatively boring.

They don't necessarily want to talk about taxes. They don't necessarily want to talk about the role and sides of government, about infrastructure, about all of that other stuff. They want the stuff that's exciting.

They want people who, as Elise Stefanik put it, this week, who are fighters. And they don't think that Liz Cheney is doing enough to fight for Trump, and that's why she's been thrown under the bus.

It plays well in that room. I think it would play well in a lot of Republican rooms, even in places that are purple now, like Virginia. That is the reality of today's Republican Party.

SMERCONISH: Charlie, Elise Stefanik says she wants to be a unifier, as she's shoving Liz Cheney off the stage. You served with her briefly. Tell me about her. Can she be a unifier?

DENT: Well, I know Elise quite well. She was my Co-Chair of the "Tuesday Group," a center-right group.

She came in as a more moderate pragmatic, young millennial woman, who spoke to constituencies Republicans had trouble with, younger women and millennials. I mean, that was her thing. But since that impeach - the first impeachment hearing, and trial, she kind of went full-Trump.

I don't think she's going to be able to unify. I mean, like I said earlier, look, unification, through cancellation of Liz Cheney, and through capitulation to Donald Trump, this is a really a false sense of reality.

Michael, you and I both come from a part of the world, you from the collar counties of Philadelphia, me from the Lehigh Valley. In order to win elections there, we just simply can't expect our bases to carry us to victory in the fall.

And when you hear people like Gaetz and Taylor Greene, and even Elise Stefanik, up in her district, very Republican, Lindsey Graham, they all represent very Republican districts. All they have to do is keep their base together.


And so, Donald Trump can win nationally 47 percent of the vote, and has 70 percent of the base, totally loyal to him. But for guys like us, in the Lehigh Valley, and in the collar counties of Philadelphia, who are Republican, you've got to get crossover votes.

And they have - many of these members have no clue how to do that. They don't understand the math. I mean, the suburbs have been a killing zone for Republicans. I don't see how this demonstration, down at The Villages, in any way, is helping Republicans.

And I think Elise Stefanik - Elise Stefanik is very smart. And she understands that. Or she should.

SMERCONISH: Well, that's why I said it's a - it's a good strategy for self-preservation, but not for retaking control of the White House.

Abby, have a good show on Sunday. Thank you for being here.

Charlie, nice to see you again.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Michael.

DENT: Good to see you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Now to our other top story ahead, the surprisingly disappointing economic news, the President responding to the low job numbers that were added in April, drastically lower than economists had expected.

If millions are unemployed, why can't companies find workers? The Wizard of Odds, Harry Enten, has answers for us, next.








SMERCONISH: If you need proof that we live in strange times, today's job report just smacked us all over the head with reality.

Remember, the Vaccine and States reopening were supposed to be jet fuel. Instead, a year after the Pandemic rocked the workforce, and after three stimulus bills, the big headline is people aren't going back to work anywhere near as fast as we thought. In fact, the unemployment rate just ticked in the wrong direction.

But if you want to make sense of it all, you've got to dig deeper than the topline numbers. And for that, we turn to the Wizard of Odds, Harry Enten.

Harry, nice to see you. How much of an impact is workplace safety having on people, looking for work?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: It's having, in my opinion, a huge impact because we know where the jobs have not necessarily come back are in the lower-wage positions, right?

And what we know from the polling is that the people who make less than $75,000 a year, their annual family household income, those - that is the place, in fact, where we see the highest uptick, in terms of workers not believing that there is safety.

Just 55 percent are satisfied with the conditions at work, if they make less than $75,000 versus those $75,000, where, look at that, 73 percent, a huge drop off what we saw in 2020, from 2019, in terms of worker satisfaction of safety, in that less than $75,000 group.

So, there's no doubt in my mind that there are a lot of workers out there, who perhaps are saying "You know what? Those workplace conditions aren't necessarily where I want them to be. So, why don't I stay home instead?"

SMERCONISH: In other words, the less money that you're earning, the more likely that you have an increased level of concern about getting COVID, if you go back to the job.

ENTEN: That's right, in those blue-collar jobs. That's exactly right. You're on the factory. You're dealing with a lot of people, right? People who are in those higher-wage positions, perhaps are on

computers, they don't necessarily have to interact with people, they're the people who feel safest.

But in those lower-income jobs, what we're finding is that a lot of people aren't necessarily secure with the workplace safety. And that's a big problem.

SMERCONISH: How about the general intangible of what I'll describe as "Uncertainty?"

ENTEN: Look, there's a lot of uncertainty going on. But it's not just about uncertainty, right? I think there's a lot going on, in terms of workers, who are disconnected from their social networks.

So what might happen, take a look at this number, right? This is back from January, and this was among unemployed Americans. And they said, "Are you optimistic or pessimistic about getting a job in the near future?" 49 percent, basically, right down in the middle said that they were pessimistic.

And I think what happened was a lot of these folks, who perhaps, when the job market wasn't nearly as good, they got disconnected from the people that they were talking to. And they said, "You know, what? I'm pessimistic. I'm not going to even try right now."

And if we were normal times, right, where they were part of their normal social networks, I think they might have found out, earlier on, that, in fact, there were jobs for them.

But, at this particular point, I think everything is just sort of so messed up, people don't necessarily know where to look, because the normal places that they would look, they can't look right now, because they're so socially disconnected.

SMERCONISH: I know that the big conversation is whether we've made it too easy for people not to go back to the workforce. I've discussed this extensively on radio.

And what I hear from some folks, who've chosen not to go back to work is, "Hey, my kids are here at home with me. If they were in school, I'd be able to go back to work, but they're not."

ENTEN: Big problem, in my opinion, right, especially in those lower income sectors, you can't pay for a babysitter. You can't pay for a nanny.

And what we know right now is that only about 54 percent of K through 8 schools, at this, particular point, have the option to go back full- time. So, these folks are, having, to have these kids stay at home with them, and they're having, to stay home with them, because they can't afford not to.

So, in my opinion, if we're going to really try and get employment going, what we're really going to need is make sure that all parents have an option to send their kids back to school full-time. SMERCONISH: OK, I'm going to get into this next subject with Secretary Reich in just a moment. But I want you to take a shot at it.

What of this issue that because of the enhanced unemployment benefits, because of those stimulus checks that have come out, you've got people who are doing better financially, staying at home, than they are returning to the job, and that's the big issue?

ENTEN: So, I would say, if you want to agree with that position, there is some proof of it in the numbers, right?

What we do see is in that - those lower wage sectors, right, especially in leisure, and hospitality, we saw that raises, the incomes really rose this past month, April over March, 2.7 percent, versus all non-farm jobs, you just saw a rise of 0.7 percent.

So, that would in fact indicate that there are people in order to lure them back in the workplace, you need to pay them more.

That being said that there are a lot of studies out there, which indicate that in fact, when you raise the unemployment benefits, in fact, that makes people look for work even harder. So, I'm not necessarily sure I agree with the premise that you just made.


SMERCONISH: OK. Give me, finally, give me the takeaway. The beer conversation, I want to act smart, I want to act like I'm you, what is it that I say in conversation about the new data that came out today?

ENTEN: Look, this is an economy that's still recovering, right? It's an economy that went all the way in the gutter. We're working our way back there, going to be some problems along the way.

But the good news is that we did in fact gain plenty of jobs. We gained nearly 300,000. But we're still - we're still in a recovery right now. So, look, folks, things are going to take time, things are very, very bad. But with all the vaccines, hopefully, we'll be able to climb out of it sooner rather than later.

SMERCONISH: Harry, I appreciate the deep dive into the numbers. Thanks for that.

ENTEN: Thank you, sir.

SMERCONISH: President Biden reminded Americans today economic recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Is his Rescue plan, putting the country on the right path to recovery?

We'll ask former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, next.



(END VIDEO CLIP) [21:30:00]





SMERCONISH: The jobs numbers pose a bit of a Rorschach test, depending on your politics.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says this shows it's time to scale back on the additional unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, Biden's Treasury Secretary says that's not what is slowing things down.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: If it were really the extra benefits, that were holding back hiring, you'd expect to see that in either in States or for workers, or in sectors where the replacement rate to the UI is very high, you'd expect to see lower job-finding rates. And in fact, what you see is the exact opposite.


SMERCONISH: Let's bring in the former Labor Secretary during the Clinton administration, Secretary Robert Reich, also the Author of "The System: Who Rigged It and How We Fix It."

Mr. Secretary, I want to talk about soft-shell crabs. Apparently the season has just begun. I know this because I had a radio caller today, in a segment, on exactly this subject. Here's what he told me.

Last night, his restaurant was sold out. They can't be at full capacity. But to the extent he could be full, he was full. And he said to me, "I could have sold a lot more soft-shell crabs on a takeout basis. But I just can't find the staff to be able to put out that kind of product."

And if I've heard it from him, I've heard it from 100 other callers. What do you say to those folks?


And I think the answer is that you have number one, a lot of workers, particularly female workers, who can't get the childcare, and still can't get the childcare they need. Kids are still out of work - still out of school. And the only way that women get into the workforce - where 2 million women out of the workforce now, because of childcare needs.

A second problem is that at least in April, we have data suggesting that there were a lot of workers still anxious about the COVID epidemic, about Pandemic, about possibly being infected, by going back to work.

And then the third, I would say to those employers, who say "I can't find the workers," maybe you want to consider raising your wages.

SMERCONISH: So, if those businesses don't hold on, here's another consideration that occurs to me, if they don't hold on, and then, I guess it's Labor Day, when the benefit vanishes, now, you've got folks who re-enter the workforce, they could be chasing fewer and fewer jobs because of businesses that couldn't sustain themselves.

REICH: I don't think that's likely. What we're seeing right now, is the process by which the labor market begins to adjust itself.

Remember, we are down at least 8 million jobs from what we were in February of 2020. And that means that there is a big hole there that needs to be filled. A lot of workers want to return to work. I know that. I hear from them every day. You just had - go around the country.

People want to return to work. It's not unemployment insurance that's keeping them out. I mean, the extra unemployment insurance is what $300 a week. I mean, try to live on $300 a week. No, people want to return to work. They just simply can't right now, because of some of the factors I said before.

And also one of the goals here, obviously, over the long-term, is to start lifting wages. And so, you want a very hot labor market, in terms of that goal.

SMERCONISH: I couldn't live on the $300 that you're making reference to on top of an unemployment benefit. And I recognize it had been $600-plus, there's been stimulus money.

But the Chamber of Commerce release, which I'll bet you saw today, said that one out of four folks are doing better financially, in what they're receiving from income, than if they were in the job that they once held.

REICH: Well, I - look at - I can dispute Chamber of Commerce data. I've been doing it for the last 40 years.

But I think the really important issue - I think the really important issue here is that you look at the labor participation rate. You look at the labor participation rate among women. You look at how many people actually get regular unemployment insurance.

Only about 32 percent of workers who have lost their jobs are eligible for state unemployment benefits. So that $300 extra is not on top of state benefits. That really is for most workers who are unemployed that is it.

It has very important implications. It has helped people avoid hunger. But it is not really enough to keep them from going into the job market. They will come into the job market. I have absolutely every belief that they will.


But what employers can do, and should do, to speed that process, is to offer a little bit more money. That would be very helpful. The problem is not lack of willing workers. The problem is lack of willing employers, in terms of paying a living wage.

SMERCONISH: When the dust settles, and when individuals, with your expertise, and experience, take a look at the government response, to this Pandemic, I take it, in your view, the conclusion will not be that the stimulus money, and the supplemental insurance benefits, the unemployment benefits, I should say, were - they were not excessive.

You think that they were where they should have been?

REICH: Well, they are, if anything they're - they're not yet where they need to be. I mean, look at this unemployment number. And it is disappointing, Michael, absolutely.

But what I say to myself, and what other people tell me, who are watching labor markets is that we've got to do a better job, stimulating the economy, that President Biden's Jobs plan is more important than ever, his Family plan is more important than ever.

We've got to stimulate the economy further. We've got to provide childcare to a lot of workers, who desperately need it. We've got to make sure that there are enough jobs out there, and that the economy as a whole is still moving forward.

I mean, remember, again, I want to emphasize we are 8 million jobs short of where we were, last February. I mean, if we had had a consistent trend, from where we were last January, we would be more than 10 million jobs short of that trend line.

I mean, this is - there is still a major jobs problem. And it's ridiculous to say it's because $300 - there's $300 extra that people have. They desperately need that.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here.

REICH: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, we'll turn to those who do have a job but aren't yet back in the office. Should businesses require them to be vaccinated before returning? And could that have unintended consequences, for your privacy?

We'll look at the debate with a former Health Commissioner next.









SMERCONISH: Should employers mandate that their workers be vaccinated? More companies are grappling with this question as they prepare to bring their workers back to offices.

"The New York Times," they framed the debate as this, "Health Advocate or Big Brother?"

Because, on one hand, while requiring vaccinations would ensure a safer work environment, and be a public service, others argue that mandating it would be an invasion of privacy, a "Big Brother" like move to control the lives of employees.

So, let's put it into perspective with Dr. Leana Wen.

Dr. Wen, I'm affiliated with a law firm, here in Philadelphia. I'll give them a plug. It's called Kline & Specter.

Vaccination is mandatory. There are 150 employees. You'll be interested to know that 141 are vaccinated. There's a health and a religious exception in keeping with the law. But if you come back to work, unvaccinated, you will work on a floor with others who are unvaccinated.

What do you think?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think a lot of employees would feel much safer, coming back to work, in that environment, especially if they're going to be coming into the same environment of crowded conference rooms that are not particularly well-ventilated.

I would certainly feel comfortable if everybody around me is fully vaccinated.

I think there's the other benefit too, and that if you have a lot of fully vaccinated people, they may not need to wear masks or do distancing. And I think a lot of people would trade-off getting vaccinated so that they can take off their mask all day at work.

SMERCONISH: I know you read that "New York Times" story, which had a nice lay of the land as to how the corporate world is taking a look at these issues. To me, it seemed like a lot of talk and very little action.

WEN: Yes, I mean, I do think that more and more businesses are thinking about this. But I would certainly imagine that healthcare institutions would be first, because it's something that we already do.

Hospitals and nursing homes already require that employees get the flu vaccine every year and a whole host of other vaccines. And so, perhaps the COVID vaccine is one more that's added to what they already require, to protect the people that were serving the patients that we're serving.

I think also you've got colleges and universities, we should follow suit, because more than 100 of them have already announced that they're going to be requiring vaccinations.

And there are lots of very happy students because for them, this is the promise to return to pre-Pandemic normal. They can come back and have their college experience that they've been missing all this time.

And so, I would actually imagine that a lot more employers are going to follow suit as well, especially once the vaccine has full FDA approval. I think that legal question still hangs in the balance, so perhaps some employers are not willing to go all the way yet.

SMERCONISH: So, one of our sons, it's interesting that you mentioned that, will return to college to a campus in the fall, and has been told he must be vaccinated.

What about K through 12? I mean, historically, we've embraced the notion of vaccination for public school kids. Is that going to happen when we move beyond an Emergency Use Authorization to something more permanent, like Pfizer is now seeking?

WEN: I would be surprised if we don't go in that direction. Because, as you said, we already require for children to have a whole host of immunizations to go to school.

I just got the forms to enroll my toddler into preschool. And we have to fill out all these forms that document his vaccination status. And so, I do imagine that this is something that's going to come our way.

I think, in the meantime, even before we get that full FDA approval, I do think that outlining what the opt-out is going to look like is important because we don't want to prevent kids from going to school, or people from going to work.

And that opt-out could look something like every day, if you're not vaccinated, you have to fill out a daily symptom questionnaire and then maybe twice or three times a week, you have to get a negative test.

That way, you don't have to be vaccinated for, if for whatever reason you can't be, or don't want to be, you can still go and do all these things that everybody else would do, except that it's a bit more onerous.


It would still though help to keep everybody around you safe. So, it's an opt-out, and you can opt out of that process if you're vaccinated.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Leana Wen, thanks so much for being here. I appreciate your expertise. WEN: Of course, thank you.

SMERCONISH: What goes up must come down, so they say, just hopefully not on any of us. Is rocket rain, in the forecast this weekend?

An uncontrolled Chinese rocket tumbling back to Earth, the question is, where will the debris land, and when? We've gotten some new Intel on this. And retired astronaut, Scott Kelly, is here to help us weigh the risk. That's next.








SMERCONISH: Tonight, a new U.S. Military projection on where that out- of-control Chinese rocket could crash into Earth.

According to Space Command's latest projections, it's likely to strike land, raining down on Turkmenistan, in Central Asia. The timing could be tomorrow, around 7 P.M. to 9 P.M. Eastern Time. That would be early Sunday morning in Central Asia.

The Pentagon has been tracking the rocket, ever since China launched it, last week, to ferry a key part of its new Space Station.


Usually space junk burns in the atmosphere before it can reach Earth's surface. But at almost 100 feet long, and 22 metric tons, the weight of two school buses, there are fears that fragments could hit populated areas.

How worried should we be? We've got the right person to ask. Scott Kelly, retired NASA astronaut, is here to walk us through what we need to know.

What changed, Mr. Kelly? Why do we now know that it could be Turkmenistan?

SCOTT KELLY, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT: Well, I think as it gets closer to re-entering the atmosphere, the tracking on it gets better. And they can more accurately predict where it's going to hit.

But it is a tumbling spacecraft, so the drag on it is always changing. So, it makes those predictions pretty challenging. I'm kind of surprised they were able to predict it this far out. SMERCONISH: At the risk of asking a foolish question, here I go. Could it be shot out of the sky?

KELLY: Well, probably. I mean, I'm not that familiar with our anti- satellite capabilities. The concern I would have though, is you might take a problem where you get one piece hitting in the Pacific Ocean, and you now you've made a couple of bigger pieces, and made the problem worse, perhaps.

SMERCONISH: I know, when I was a kid, we would shoot off bottle rockets, having no idea where they were coming down?

Did the Chinese always know where this was going to come down? Or did they just shoot it up without any consideration as to where it might land?

KELLY: For me, that's the bigger issue. It's not the, you know, where it's going to hit Earth. I think that's somewhat random. But it's why did we get here in the first place, you know?

Normally, when you launch a rocket, you prepare for the stage, whatever this is the second stage, to reenter safely. You don't just throw it up there, and allow it to circle the Earth, uncontrolled, for days on end, and hit the ground or the water wherever.

So, I don't know if it's a malfunction they had, or this is just kind of their generic game plan to just hope for the best. But that's, I think, the bigger issue for me.

SMERCONISH: Foolish question number three. Is space a junkyard? What's floating around up there?

KELLY: There is a lot of stuff up there, you know?

This - on spacewalks, you go outside the Space Station. I did three of them. There are all kinds of debris damage holes in the - in the Space Station. I mean, there's a bullet hole on one of the handrails, it looks like, right outside the airlock. I had to put something over it to protect astronauts' gloves.

Now, fortunately, none of these - none of this debris has ever penetrated the Space Station. But satellites get hit, satellites have been destroyed.

There's a ton of space junk. It's a big issue. We need to be concerned with this. We need to have international agreements, because you could potentially make that area that we all rely on now, with satellite communications, and other things, uninhabitable.

SMERCONISH: Is there any precedent that comes to mind for this situation that we're now facing?

KELLY: Well, I think Skylab, right, was, in the 1970s, late 70s, it landed in, in Australia, didn't hurt anyone, as far as I know.

So, there have been big pieces that have come down before. But in this case, I think it's more, you know, hopefully, it's not like just negligence, and it's, it was a failure that occurred. I guess, we don't really know.

But yes, I think there is some precedent for it. We've had large objects re-enter the atmosphere and hit the Earth in random places before.

SMERCONISH: Final question. Where are you? And what is around you? That looks like the coolest space I've ever seen for doing a live interview.

KELLY: I live outside at Denver. And when I first moved here, I got a zero on Room Rater. So, I had to put up a space suit. You know I always get a 10 (ph).

SMERCONISH: Look, they gave me a six, if it makes you feel bad. But then again, I'm not a former astronaut, so. So I have - I have no excuse.

Well, we'll find out tomorrow. Thank you so much. That was so informative. I really appreciate it.

KELLY: Thanks for having me, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Thank you. Appreciate it.

I'll be right back.









SMERCONISH: Thank you so much for watching. And please, join me here tomorrow, and every Saturday morning, 9 Eastern, for "SMERCONISH."

"CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON" starts right now.

Don, good show, and I'm looking forward to this Special. I've seen it promoted. I'm totally into it.

LEMON: Saturday morning is not Saturday morning unless you're Michael Smerconish, unless you're watching Michael Smerconish. And Sunday night won't be a great Sunday night unless you tune in to that documentary that you just talked about. You got - you have a Marvin Gaye story for me, Michael?

SMERCONISH: Only in so far as that for a while, on my radio show, I was using protest songs and political lyrics as bumpers.

And I remember sampling the audience, and saying "OK, what are we going to do here? You know what? "Four Dead in Ohio" was going to certainly make the list, what else?"

And everybody said "You've got to go with Marvin Gaye, "What's going on?"

And said as, I guess, a White guy from suburbia, I had never studied the lyrics, and really come to grips with the song --


SMERCONISH: --until this. And then I thought "Oh, man, this is a no- brainer."

LEMON: Yes. Some of the folks that I speak to say it's prophecy, including Stevie Wonder. We interview a lot of folks. And you learn a lot about that album. 50 years later, number one album, by Rolling Stone, and it is still relevant.

Thank you, Michael. I watched the entire show. You did a great job. Have a great weekend and a great show tomorrow.

SMERCONISH: Nice to say that.



LEMON: All right, I'll see you soon.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

LEMON: This is CNN TONIGHT. I am Don Lemon.