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State Appeals Court Sides With Dallas Judge Over Texas Governor In Mask Fight; U.S. Troops Heading To Afghanistan To Evacuate Personnel; Police Officers Threaten To Quit Over Vaccine Mandates. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 13, 2021 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The news continues. And Michael Smerconish is in for Chris Cuomo, tonight.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you.

I am Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Cuomo, and welcome to the PRIME TIME COVID Command Center.

Not since the beginning of this pandemic have there been this many hospitalized with COVID, in America, not since February of 2020. About 80,000 are hospitalized. And we have vaccines now. That's what makes it especially tragic, to see our hospitals, on the brink, once again.

Five states have fewer than 10 percent of ICU beds available now, Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi.

Florida and Texas alone account for nearly 40 percent of new hospitalizations, more COVID cases than 30 other states combined. They also have defiant governors, who appear to be siding with some notion of freedom, rather than the combination of masks and vaccinations.

We're about to talk to a county judge in Dallas, challenging Texas Governor Abbott's order banning mask mandates.

And listen to this dire warning, he just gave to parents.


JUDGE CLAY JENKINS, DALLAS COUNTY, TX, CHIEF ELECTED OFFICIAL OF DALLAS COUNTY, TX: But in Dallas, we have zero ICU beds left for children. That means if your child's in a car wreck, if your child has a heart - a congenital heart defect, or something, needs an ICU bed, or more likely, if they have COVID, and need an ICU bed, we don't have one. Your child will wait for another child to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SMERCONISH: The Texas Department of Health pushing back, saying the shortage of pediatric ICU beds, in Dallas County, is related to a shortage in medical personnel, saying they can't use beds that aren't staffed.

But there's no question, hospitals are filling up with COVID patients, across the country again, and with children in greater numbers. Those under 12 aren't eligible yet for the vaccines, and this Delta variant is more contagious than chickenpox.

As for Florida, it just reported more COVID cases, over the past week, than any other seven-day period this pandemic, more than 151,000. And its governor Ron DeSantis is still defending his order to ban mask mandates in schools.

Two elementary teachers and a teaching assistant died from COVID complications, over a 24-hour period, this week, in Broward County, Florida, also, someone with job ties to the school district. At least three of them we're told were unvaccinated.

It's tragic, but also speaks to the importance of protecting unvaccinated children from exposure, and bolsters the argument for mask mandates. This comes just days before classes start in Broward County, and it's only heightening concerns.

On the whole, vaccinations are on the rise in America. Nearly a million doses were administered today, according to the White House. More than a half a million of them were first doses, our single best immunization day in over a month.

And there will be more shots in arms soon, for some of the fully vaccinated. CDC advisers voted unanimously today, to recommend a third dose for some of the 9 million immunocompromised Americans, after the FDA gave the green light yesterday.

Sooner than later, most Americans will need a third dose, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, but not at this time. The biggest battle right now is to find an antidote to all the division, over vaccinations, and mask mandates, playing out across America.

And that's where Judge Clay Jenkins comes in. He is the Dallas County official, you just heard, warning about zero pediatric ICU beds there.

Judge, welcome to PRIME TIME.

I understand you just had a legal victory today. What was it?

JENKINS: The Court of Appeals denied Governor Abbott's request to stay the order. So for now, we have mask on our children in schools, mask on people and employees in our businesses. And people are safer here because of that.

SMERCONISH: Is it a shortage of personnel, or is it a shortage of beds? I explained the controversy, to a limited extent, in introducing you. JENKINS: Yes, there's no controversy at all. When we talk about beds and medical parlance, we're talking about the human beings and the equipment it takes to staff an ICU bed.


So, the State Health Department is correct. It is a shortage of personnel, caused by the governor, stopping the contract for temporary personnel, that was greatly supplementing our hospitals.

Then, when they left, some of their friends went with headhunters, for those same firms, to go to other states, and still more people to go early retirement. So right now, we have, less personnel to patient ratio, than we've ever, had before.

Even though, there's less people in the hospital now, than at the height of COVID, there are less doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists, and every other type of help needed than we've ever had before, given that number, that ratio is off. So, a bed is a staffed unit.

SMERCONISH: You know that your governor, just like the Florida governor, portrays this as a matter of individual freedom. And to that, you say what?

JENKINS: Individual freedom does not extend to infecting other people, to endangering children, and to stopping our country from having its best chance to win the battle against COVID.

This is Team USA, and for that matter, human beings versus a virus. Shouldn't be Democrats, Republicans, vaccinated versus unvaccinated, mask, Karens versus people that are willing to put a mask on their face.

This is all of us human beings, against the virus, and that virus is relentless, and it doesn't care what your politics are.

SMERCONISH: I know that you've had to put up with some blowback because of your position. Tell the audience what I'm referring to.

JENKINS: Well, right now, and I don't know, they're being quiet right now. But I've got a couple of hundred people, and they're usual suspects, and they're standing out, and I'm - on the street, chanting and, holding up signs, and otherwise disturbing my neighbors.

SMERCONISH: I just saw a sign flash by that said, "Leave my 4-year-old alone," I think, held by a woman. What would you say to that mom?

JENKINS: The challenge is to protect the other 4-year-olds as well. I care about your family and your child's freedom.

But I also am listening to our generals in this war. And in a public health emergency, the generals are the doctors, who train their entire adult lives, to advise us in this moment. There is not a dispute between our generals. Whether at the local level, or the national level, no doctors are

saying masks are bad, and children and adults should not wear them. The doctors are all saying two things. And it's the same two things. "Get vaccinated. Wear a mask indoors, when outside your home."

SMERCONISH: I saw a release from the attorney general and the governor that portrays you as an activist and attention-seeker. Your response is what?

JENKINS: My goal, and my desire, is to protect the people that I took an oath and swore to protect and serve. That's what I'm doing now. And that's what we all should do.

This isn't about politics. And it's not about polls. And I would remind the governor and anyone else that is governing based on polls, that polls change, and they will change, as this virus gets worse and worse and worse, if we don't follow the advice of the doctors.

We've seen this seesaw throughout, because we've got leaders, who've lacked the grit, to stick with the process. And the process is if we will do the mitigation needed, until we can get the virus down low, and reach herd immunity, we can win.

If we continue to lack the courage to do it, then we're going to continue to see new variants come up, more problems like this happen, and it's going to affect our economy and our public health.

SMERCONISH: Quick final question. I know you just had an appellate court win.

From the perspective of the governor, he says "In the time of a pandemic, I have emergency powers," and they include the subject matter that you and I are discussing.

JENKINS: So, the law says the governor can suspend certain regulatory laws, such as he can suspend licensing for out-of-state nurses, to come work here. It doesn't say that he can use his power to stop other people from responding to the emergency.

The law gives the local authorities the response - the responsibility to handle that response, at the local level. And that's the way Texas is. Texas believes in local control and less government, but closest to the people. The governor wants to turn that on its head, and be in charge of that local response.


But the problem is the governor is just one person. He can't keep his finger on the pulse of 254 counties, their business community, their health community, and all the people that I talk to, every day, in trying to do my best, to keep these folks safe.

SMERCONISH: Judge, it's going to be interesting to watch this play out. Thank you so much for being here, Judge Clay Jenkins.

JENKINS: Thank you, Michael. SMERCONISH: When it comes to school mask mandates, for our kids, respected doctors disagree.

We've a parent here tonight, who's also a journalist, and she'll tell us the facts that led her to pull her kids from a classroom. And a member of that parent's school board here as well, to let us know what she's seeing. That's next.









SMERCONISH: Schools once again a battleground, over COVID safety, it's not just because the mask debate is steeped in politics. Some doctors are at odds, over the science, questioning the needs for masks on kids.

But others cite new research, like this, based on data, from 1 million students and staff, in North Carolina. It shows universal masking led to a less than 1 percent chance of transmission, from a child with COVID.

As this plays out, in the real world, too many students and teachers are facing setbacks. Take Cobb County schools, the second largest school district in Georgia, masks are encouraged there, but they're not mandated.

So far, more than 700 COVID cases have been reported, since schools reopened, on August 2nd. It's a small percentage of the total kids in the district, 0.69 percent of all students. But then again, it's only been a week and a half, and the numbers are climbing by the day.

The situation has forced some parents, like my next guest, to pull her kids from the classroom. Nicole Carr is also a reporter with ProPublica. She recently wrote about her family's experience.

Also with us, Charisse Davis, a Cobb County School Board member.

Welcome to both of you.

So Nicole, it seems that you showed up at school, for an open house. There stands the Principal without wearing a mask. And it's downhill from there. NICOLE CARR, REPORTER, PROPUBLICA, COBB COUNTY PARENT: It was downhill for us, from there. We passed the Principal. You read in the piece that most of the front office staff was unmasked. And it was a 50-50 toss up as to what you would see when you would walk in the classroom.

But the point that was really made in the classroom is that there will be no bullying, one way or the other, about someone's personal choice. I cannot ask your child about a mask. You cannot ask me about one.

We're going back full capacity, in places like the cafeteria, some of the measures, many of the social distancing measures that were in place, the year prior, would not be in place now.

And so, I've recognized that with change in behavior, we see different dynamics with this evolving pandemic, and a type of COVID that we were not dealing with, when we made our choices, to send the children back to school.

SMERCONISH: How did you read the room? And by that, I mean, did other parents seem OK with what they were seeing and feeling?

CARR: Some parents were OK with it. Others hesitated to ask the questions. And it became the center of our chats.

In mom groups, you text one another, you're talking to your neighbors. And you have a feeling in the school that this is something we won't talk about, we stick to what the district says, and this is non- negotiable.

But when you step back, it's like holding your breath, and waiting for the person to bring it up, or waiting to see if anybody else is bothered by it. And that was happening, and especially, as the doors of the school open, and we began to see the cases rise.

SMERCONISH: Charisse, is what Nicole is describing a one-off, or typical of what you're seeing elsewhere?

CHARISSE DAVIS, (D) SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER, COBB COUNTY, GA: Oh, very, very typical. We are getting so many emails and calls, messages on social media, just explaining just how terrified parents are.

And one thing that I've been struck by, in talking to families, is how many of our young students have some very serious health issues. And so, for them, this is truly a matter of life or death.

They want their kids to be well. They want their kids to learn. I think most people want their kids in-person, in the school building, and learning, but they want to know that we're doing so as safely as possible.

And so, we're hearing from a lot of people that are really, really terrified, and have - and they're having to make some very tough decisions, about how to educate their children, and where to do it.

But we're also starting to hear from a lot of parents, who they want their choice. They want their choice to be able to send their child in a mask or not. And we still - I get emails to this day that call this a "Plandemic." They just, they don't want to believe that it's as serious as it is.

SMERCONISH: Charisse, I know you're part of a Democratic minority on the school board. Does this issue break along party lines?

DAVIS: It does. We are a partisan board. We run by party. Typically, if we're making the best decision for kids, none of that should matter.

But as we know, in this country, if you're vaccinated, if you think masks should be mandated, we can make some assumptions about your political ideology. And, of course, we can't fight a pandemic, as a nation, with that kind of thought.

And so, the same kind of divisiveness, the same kind of conspiracies, and all of that that you may hear, at the national level, exists on our Board as well, unfortunately.

SMERCONISH: Nicole, did you think you'd end up with children at a virtual charter school?


CARR: No, no. Like Charisse said, I think the common denominator here is that most parents, we all want our kids back in school. We have to have a baseline though, in which we operate.

So, if the baseline isn't going to be the public health guidance that's coming from the state's top doctor, and if it's not going to be the guidance that is coming from your county health director, who continuously addresses places, or people, who allow her to come in, and address them, like the Board of Commissioners, YouTube, however she can get this message out, if public health is no longer the guidance, for the guidance you're formulating, then what is our baseline, in moving forward?

I think that's the question that hasn't been answered yet, and what you see reflected in the reporting.

SMERCONISH: Charisse, a quick observation. The CDC is located close to you folks, right? I mean, a bit ironic that this is playing itself out, in the shadow of where these guidance has come from.

DAVIS: Right. It's 20 miles away. The CDC is. But one thing that's also has occurred to me is that a lot of people just have these issues with the CDC. But the reality is that they are not the only ones that are saying that kids should wear masks in schools.

We have the Georgia Association of our American Academy of Pediatrics. We have also our local Cobb & Douglas County Public Health Department, which we followed those guidelines last year, we mandated masks, we actually were virtual, for some time.

And this year, in the height of a new variant, and when this is super- dangerous for our kids, we are not following those guidelines. We are doing the opposite. And we educate future scientists and doctors. And we're very, very proud of that. But we're not following our scientists and doctors today.

SMERCONISH: I worry that this is a microcosm of what is, or is about, to play itself out, all across the country.

Nicole Carr, thank you. Good luck.

Charisse Davis, appreciate you being here.

DAVIS: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: To the crisis overseas, Afghanistan is falling to the Taliban fast, as President Biden pulls our troops out, after nearly two decades. Did he make the right call? And will we be able to get all our diplomatic personnel out safely?

The Pentagon says troops are on the move "As we speak" for that mission. And that's next.









SMERCONISH: Around 3,000 U.S. troops are being sent to Afghanistan, to help get embassy staff out, as the Taliban continue to make rapid gains.

Four more cities fell into the Taliban's hands, including the country's second biggest, Kandahar. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul now telling its people to destroy sensitive materials, quote, which could be misused in propaganda efforts.

The Pentagon spokesman says he's certainly concerned. Watch.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly deep - deeply concerning, the speed with which the Taliban has been able to move.

What has been disconcerting to see is that there hasn't been that will, that political leadership, the military leadership, and the ability, to push back on the Taliban, as they've advanced.


SMERCONISH: Let's discuss with the experts, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, and Aaron David Miller.

Major General, I think you were West Point class of '75. So, educated in the shadow of Vietnam, are we witnessing Saigon falling in '75, redux?


One month before I was commissioned, we watched. And the faculty - all of our faculty members, at West Point, in 1975, during those early 70s, were all Vietnam vets. They had buried a good - a large number of their classmates.

This was an incredibly emotional, cathartic moment, when we saw the embassy collapse. And we had to get out of town, as quickly as possible, and we remember those images.

We want to try to prevent that this time, in the airport, in Kabul. We are doing it in a very, in a very measured way, I hope, with the delivery of some additional troops, to make sure we can keep the Taliban at bay.

Bear in mind, the Taliban have, they've taken over all the equipment that we left behind, that the Afghan forces were supposed to use, to resist the Taliban, and to provide levels of security. They walked away from all of that.

The Taliban now own that kit. And they can use that against our embassy personnel. They can use that, and they have used that, to take over these various provincial capitals, and to move on Kabul.

What I hope we see is a measured departure. And the sad part of all of this is it's probably going to be the 20th anniversary of 9/11. So, the images juxtaposed could be Saigon, '75, Kabul 2001. And here we are, 20 years later, after 9/11. That's an unfortunate image.

SMERCONISH: Aaron? Should the President reverse course?


And many hands contributed to this, Michael, many administrations in history. The Brits in the 19th Century, the Russians in the 20th Century, we're the - and the Americans in the 21st Century. All met the unhappy, extremely difficult challenge of Afghanistan.


No, Biden had the courage, I think, the political courage. The execution, in some respects, leaves a lot to be desired, particularly with respect to the scores of thousands of Afghan interpreters, and colleagues, who fought alongside, and aided American forces. Getting those out, those people out, 20,000-plus, I think, could have been done much earlier.

But no, on the issue of whether or not Biden should have continued to deploy thousands of American combat forces, in Afghanistan, I think the answer is absolutely not.

This was a trillion-dollar social science experiment. I don't mean to trivialize the sacrifices of the men and women, who died in the - at least 20,000, who received life-changing injuries. But the reality is our goals were inflated. There was no way we could have accomplished them.

And frankly, keeping our troops there, on the assumption we could somehow not lose the war, but never win it, I think, was a permanent Rx for bleeding American credibility even further.

SMERCONISH: General, was it inevitable? I talked about this on radio, today, heard from people who said, "Hey, if it were 10 years from now, 50 or 100 years from now, same outcome."

MARKS: I think it - yes, I think it absolutely is inevitable that, as Aaron described, so very well, we entered into Afghanistan with some very clear mission statements. That was to defeat the Taliban, to defeat al Qaeda.

We did that in very quick order. And then, we overreached. And we started to expand our requirements, because the real defeat of al Qaeda, remember, Taliban went away immediately, because we made them go away, without the mission against al Qaeda.

We continued to progress against that. And in order to do that, appropriately, we needed to begin a counterinsurgency operation. And that requires some incredible investments across the board. And we started to grow. We got caught. And, as a result, we got lost.

So, it was a strategic failure, on our part. But let's bear in mind, those service members that served on the ground, in Afghanistan, won every fight, they got into, deployed themselves, and honored this nation exceptionally well. It's just the senior leaders failed them.

SMERCONISH: Aaron, I know that you've negotiated in the Middle East, on behalf of Republican and Democratic administrations, Secretaries of State. What are our allies, in that part of the world, saying tonight?

MILLER: I think there is a - there is this notion out there that somehow American credibility has been fundamentally undermined, or permanently undermined, that our allies South Korea, Japan, Germany, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, France, will somehow look at this departure, this sort of chaotic departure, and think to themselves "Can America really ever be trusted?" I don't buy that, Michael. I really don't.

We invested 2,300 American lives, scores of thousands of Afghans, trillions of dollars. And we fought well, as General Marks simply stated. But it was time to depart. And I can't imagine anyone, perhaps with the exception of the Ghani government, is going to hold us responsible, over time, for this departure.

One more point, you know - have you ever heard the expression, "In the history of the world, nobody ever washed a rental car?" People don't wash rental cars, because they care, sadly, perhaps to a fault, only about what they own.

The real challenge we faced in Afghanistan was getting local ownership, and buy-in, training an Afghan Military that was prepared to fight, on behalf of a kleptocratic corrupt government, underpaid, sometimes not paid at all.

The Taliban, on the other hand, well-motivated, interested, in pushing the infidel out, finding a place in heaven, fighting for honor or whatever.

We lacked the kind of local leadership--

SMERCONISH: And patient. And patient.

MILLER: --that was critical. Critical.

SMERCONISH: Right, patient in a way that we've never had.

Final question, General, what happens if Afghanistan becomes a magnet for terrorists around the globe? Do we then go back?

MARKS: If we see what's happening in Afghanistan, going forward, that looks like, to your point, a redux of 9/11?

Remember, Taliban was in charge before 9/11. And they had uncontrolled space, ungoverned space, within Afghanistan, which allowed al Qaeda to grow, to train, to prepare, and to then launch and execute the attacks of 9/11.

We have to be able to have very good eyes, good intelligence, as best we can, now that the government in Kabul is about to go away. But we have to do our very best.

Because if it looks like that the various terrorist elements that are in Afghanistan, remember, there's an old unholy trinity of al Qaeda, ISIS, and Taliban, and they don't get along. We have to keep our eyes on that, because we cannot allow ourselves to have a repeat of 9/11.

So, the short answer is yes. We're going to have to do something in a very precise way, if we see the conditions repeat themselves.

SMERCONISH: General Marks, Aaron David Miller, nice to see you both. Thank you for being here.

MARKS: Thank you, Michael.

MILLER: Thank you, Michael.


SMERCONISH: Back to the word, home, on COVID, many of the vaccinated have had it with the unvaccinated, and there's new polling to back that up. It seems to be across party lines.

So, what could it mean, come election time, for politicians holding back on immunization efforts? Keen insight, from a very brilliant mind, next.








SMERCONISH: With surging cases, and hospitalizations, and a fair share of Americans still unvaccinated, many are wondering where the U.S. is headed. More mandates or more strides against them?

My next guest says it's not just vaccinated Democrats getting to the end of their rope, with unvaccinated folks, but vaccinated Republicans too. We bring in now, Ron Brownstein, to discuss.


Another great piece, Ron, in "The Atlantic." So, has the vaxx versus unvaxxed replaced Rs versus Ds, Ds versus Rs?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, first of all, thanks for that nice introduction, Michael. And good evening.

Look, not entirely, but substantially. Right now, over four-fifths of Democrats have been vaccinated, and about half of Republicans. Republicans are divided almost evenly between those, who have and have not been vaccinated.

And as you might expect, the vaccinated Democrats are supportive of just about every idea you can think of, to put more pressure, on the unvaccinated, whether its mandates, whether it's vaccine passports, whether it's mask requirements.

And, as you might suspect, the half of Republicans, who are unvaccinated, oppose just about any idea that you can think of, to put more pressure on the unvaccinated.

What's striking to me and I was able to kind of tease out, by working with a number of pollsters, is that if you look at the half of Republicans, who are vaccinated, a substantial component of them, are also in the same place, as the Democrats, and support tougher measures. Depending on the question, somewhere between, a third to a half of all vaccinated Republicans are supportive of mandates and passports and mask requirements.

And what's most striking to me, of all, is that two-thirds of the vaccinated Republicans, along with basically 90 percent of the vaccinated Democrats, point the finger at the unvaccinated, when asked why the cases are going up again.

SMERCONISH: OK. Does that mean then that governors Abbott and DeSantis are rolling the dice?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I do. I think it is.

And not only that, I mean, when you hear DeSantis or Abbott, or many Republican leaders, even at the national level, talk about where we are, on the vaccination push, their focus is on the rights, and the choice of the unvaccinated, I mean, interestingly, that they are kind of pro-choice in this consequence.

And even though they might say, "Yes, the vaccine is a good idea," in the next breath, they will say, "But we have to respect the choice and the rights of those, who don't want to get vaccinated."

I think that's somewhat out of sync with where the public is headed, because one of the promises of the vaccine was that you would get your normal life back, after you got a vaccine. And that promise is being pulled away.

And, as I said, when really asked why it's being pulled away, the vaccinated, in both parties, are looking at the unvaccinated.

I think some of these Republican leaders like DeSantis, and Abbott, not to mention the immediate risk they face, of further spread of this, among young people, in the schools.

North Texas, for example, reported yesterday, no pediatric ICU beds that are open.

So obviously, they are taking a big risk, by going to court, and trying to undo mask mandates, while that is happening. But I think, more broadly, by focusing solely on the unvaccinated, I think, they are missing the moment of where the country is heading.

SMERCONISH: You synthesized a lot of data, in this piece, in "The Atlantic," which is what made it so great. I should know the pronunciation, because he and I must be related. I think Nick Gourevitch--


SMERCONISH: --is one of the pollsters that you relied on.


SMERCONISH: And, as I interpreted his findings, they suggested there's not this consensus, against the unvaccinated. Explain.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, there's not a consensus for vaccine mandates, at this point. I mean, the public is pretty closely-divided.

When you ask about the various kinds of vaccine mandates that might be imposed, on federal workers, or healthcare workers, or educators, or requirements for a vaccine, to get on an airplane, the country is still evenly, pretty evenly, divided.

But, as I show in the piece, among the vaccinated, there is a much stronger consensus, for all of those measures, including, as I said, a substantial portion, somewhere between a third and a half of the vaccinated Republicans.

And I think that points the direction of where this will go, if in fact, caseloads remain high, and the promise of normal life recedes.

I think as the number of people, who have been vaccinated, increases, and potentially, as the caseload remains high, I do think there's going to be growing support for tougher measures.

There's also going to be growing need for it, because as I'm sure you've talked about, either here, or on the radio, because the Delta variant is so much more contagious, the experts say we probably need now to get to about 85 percent or even 90 percent of the country vaccinated, to reach herd immunity.

And I think the evidence is overwhelming that we're not going to get there without tougher measures.

One other key polling number here, among Republicans, who are not vaccinated, in one poll, by Kaiser, 60 percent, 60 percent, of unvaccinated Republicans said "Taking the vaccine is a bigger risk than getting the disease."

Hard to imagine you're going to get to where you need to be, in terms of overall vaccination numbers, given those attitudes, solely with carrots, you may need some sticks eventually.

SMERCONISH: Quick final question. I am a believer that more and more elections are being decided by motivation, not by persuasion. There aren't many people left in the country that are persuadable, sad as that sounds.



SMERCONISH: So, wherein lies the passion? Look forward to 2022, to the midterm, on this issue. Is there more passion among the unvaccinated, who say "Don't tread on me," or the vaccinated, like me, who are saying "Hey, go get your shot."

BROWNSTEIN: Well, obviously, the unvaccinated have kind of taken this - what Trump and others have done is kind of make this into a culture war fight. And we know that as a general proposition, President Biden is trying

to lower the temperature, on all culture war fights, and, as we talked about before, focus on kitchen table issues.

So, on the vaccine mandates, he is treading very carefully, beyond the federal government, in the same way that he's not really putting guns or immigration or LGBTQ rights front and center.

But I do think it's a moving target. The question is, what does life look like--


BROWNSTEIN: --for the vaccinated, heading forward? If they are - if their promise of a return to normal life is continually frustrated by the actions of the unvaccinated, I could see them getting pretty energized about this too.

SMERCONISH: "Rock Me on the Water."


SMERCONISH: A good song and a better - and a better book. Thank you, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Some Police officers around the country, ignoring mandates, and threatening to quit, if they're forced to get vaccinated.

My next guest says, "Good riddance!" And that's coming up.









SMERCONISH: Day after day, more private companies are requiring their employees to be vaccinated, or face consequences. Legal experts say those businesses are within their rights.

But what about public employees, namely Police officers? We're seeing some around the nation, threatening to quit, if they're ordered to get vaccinated. In an opinion piece, for "The Washington Post," CNN Political and

Economic Commentator, Catherine Rampell says "Good riddance to all the anti-vax Police officers," and she joins me now.

Catherine, to what other professions, if any, would you extend this same logic?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC COMMENTATOR, WASHINGTON POST OPINION COLUMNIST: Look, I think everyone should get vaccinated. But I think the people who most--


RAMPELL: --yes, who have the greatest obligation to get vaccinated, are people who are there to serve the public, who come into frequent contact with the public, and therefore put the people, who they're supposed to be protecting and serving, at risk.

So, I would put into that category, of course, Police officers, but certainly lots of other professions too, where there is great risk, if patients, or customers, or taxpayers, what have you, may come into contact with them, and therefore be at greater risk, of contracting COVID. So, people who work at nursing homes, for example.

SMERCONISH: Healthcare workers?

RAMPELL: Yes, I think they should absolute--

SMERCONISH: Healthcare workers, firefighters?

RAMPELL: Yes, they--


RAMPELL: Yes, they should absolutely be vaccinated. Everyone should be vaccinated, but especially those people, particularly when they're being paid by taxpayers.

SMERCONISH: Are you necessarily a bad cop, if you won't get vaccinated?

RAMPELL: I don't think you are.

But I do think that this is a very useful litmus test for sorting out which Police officers are most likely to be interested in public safety and in public service, and the ones who are more likely to think that they're above the law. They're not interested in evidence- based policy. They're there for the wrong reasons.

So, I think this is an excellent opportunity to clear law enforcement ranks of their worst officers. If these cops want to defund themselves, let them.

SMERCONISH: OK. But now listen, listen? I said a moment ago, are they necessarily bad cops? And you said, "No." Now, you're saying, "Clear the deck of their worst." In the column, quote, "Let the bad cops go, and replace them with officers actually committed to the noble mission to protect and serve."

By the way, I looked at the comments. There are like 2,000 comments appended to your piece, in "The Post," all cheering you on.

And seeing a lot of Trump-ism, insinuating that, "Well, if it's a cop, who won't get a vaccine, they must be a Trump person, and the hell with them."

RAMPELL: Look, again, I think this is a useful litmus test. It's not a perfect one.

But I think the people, who are most likely to reject a lawful order, to get vaccinated, to, again, protect themselves, protect their colleagues, protect the children of their colleagues, and to protect the public, at large, whom they are supposed to be protecting and serving, those are the ones, who are most likely to be the ones we don't want.

We have been trying for a very long time to sort out the good apples from the bad apples. There are all sorts of psychological screening exams that cops go through, before they join the force.

But it is very difficult to sort out ex ante, who the good ones are, who the bad ones are, who's there for the right reason. And I think most Police officers are there for the right reason. And even when you find out--


RAMPELL: --that a law enforcement officer shouldn't have been there, because they have a bad record of excessive use of force, or what have you, it's hard to get rid of them.

I'm saying if these people want to demonstrably show, that they are not interested in putting public safety, above their own whims, then let them go. I think it is a useful--

SMERCONISH: OK. And where I'm coming from is to say - where I'm coming from is to say, I think everyone in the public, I think everybody should be vaccinated. And I think that more employers, like CNN, like the law firm, where I'm associated, should have mandatory vaxx policies.

The only pushback that I'm offering you is that the piece clearly does say "You're a bad seed, if you're a cop, and you won't get vaccinated."

RAMPELL: It shows--

SMERCONISH: I'm giving more of them the benefit of the doubt.

RAMPELL: Well convince them, or say "Get a different job." Maybe they're not bad people, but they should not be in this line of work. That's basically what I'm saying.

Their job is to put the public's interests above their own. It's a hard job. I acknowledge that. And again, I think most people, in this line of work, are good people.

But maybe you're not cut out for this line of work. Maybe you're not a bad person. I mean, "Bad apple" can mean different things, of course. Maybe you're not a bad person, but you are not cut out for this line of work.


And I don't really believe that the number of cops, who are threatening to quit, will actually quit.

I think there's a little bit of bluffing going on here, particularly since if they do leave early, they're likely to give up all sorts of benefits, and seniority, and pensions, and things like that. But there will be some who may.

SMERCONISH: I hope you're - yes, I hope you're--

RAMPELL: There will be some who may. And look, if they--

SMERCONISH: I hope you're right about that.

RAMPELL: --if they want to self-select--

SMERCONISH: Thank - thank you. I--

RAMPELL: --let them.

SMERCONISH: Got it. Thank you, Catherine. Provocative piece, appreciate it very much.

And we'll be right back.








SMERCONISH: Thank you so much for watching. Please join me tomorrow, and every Saturday morning, at 9 A.M. Eastern, for "SMERCONISH," right here on CNN.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now. DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: I'm supposed to be getting some sleep, on a Saturday morning. But then, I have to tune in to "SMERCONISH." And so, you're cutting my sleep cycle, because your shows are so good.

SMERCONISH: You're nice to do that, to get up early for me. It comes quickly for me, tomorrow morning, I can tell you.

LEMON: Yes, the morning comes at you fast!

Thank you, Michael. Good to see you. I'll be watching.

SMERCONISH: You got it. Have a good show, Don.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.