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CNN TONIGHT: Rising Inflation & Revised CBO Score Pose New Problems For Biden's "Build Back Better" Agenda; SCOTUS Allows Texas Abortion Ban To Remain In Effect Despite Roe V. Wade; New York City Gives Noncitizens Right To Vote In Local Elections. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 10, 2021 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The news continues. Let's hand it over to Michael Smerconish and CNN TONIGHT.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you so much.

I am Michael Smerconish. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

I want to talk about the politics of inflation, but hopefully in a way that your eyes won't glaze over. Because this is important stuff.

A president, with sinking approval numbers, who desperately needs a win, instead just received a double whammy. And the result might cost him, a last chance, to pass his massive social spending bill, before the end of the year.

And if he doesn't get it done now, he'll have to fight this battle in 2022. Yes, the year of the midterm election.

So, what happened? Well, two things. First, new data came out, showing inflation, at its highest, in almost 40 years. And a revised CBO score of $3 trillion came out, on the Build Back Better bill, ordered up by Republicans that the White House is now saying, "Well, that's fake."

To sort it all out, we have former Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, here. He plays a big part in this debate. Because remember, he was prescient. He saw inflation coming.

And that's why Republicans like to cite him, in their arguments that more government spending will make matters worse. But is that really where he's coming from? I'm about to ask him.

The numbers aren't pretty. Consumer prices have increased by 6.8 percent, since November of last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's the highest annual inflation rate, since 1982. Think of it this way, "Rambo: First Blood" was then tops, at the box office.

But this really, shouldn't come as a surprise, to most Americans. The reality has been hitting families, across the country, hard, for a while now.

Food prices, up more than 6 percent overall, over the last year. A carton of eggs, 8 percent higher. A nice juicy steak, that'll cost 25 percent more now. Pork, 17 percent. Gas prices may be on their way down. But overall, they're up 58 percent, from last year. A new car, that'll cost you 11 percent more now.

Supply chain constraints have been a major factor. Prices go up, when things are harder to get access to. According to a Gallup poll, 45 percent of households say, steep costs are causing their family, some degree of financial hardship.

So, what does President Biden say?


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Every other aspect of the economy is racing ahead. It's doing incredibly well. We've never had this kind of growth, in 60 years. But inflation is affecting people's lives.

But if you take a look at it, if you - if we were - if and when, God willing, we get the Build Back Better proposal.

If they're paying considerably less for childcare, considerably less for health care, considerably less for insulin, considerably less, and go down the list, of being able to take care of their parents, all the things that are in the Build Back Better plan.

The reason why people think it's going to - economists think it's going to, in fact, diminish the impact on inflation is because it's reducing costs for ordinary people.


SMERCONISH: He added that he thinks the U.S. is at its inflation peak, and touted a drop in oil and gas prices.

So, he argues his Build Back Better bill will help ease the economic pain. But the problem is this bill has no Republican support.

And Republicans are arguing that spending more money, especially after all the pandemic stimulus payments, is only going to make inflation worse. And now, they have new CBO data, on which to rely.

They requested a new Congressional Budget Office estimate, of how much the Social Safety Net plan would cost, if a series of provisions, like the child tax credit expansion, were extended, for the full 10 years. And the CBO came back with a deficit increase of $3 trillion.

The White House is dismissing the score as fake.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is not a CBO score. This is a fake CBO score. It's not about the existing bill, anybody is debating or voting on.

This is about proposing the extension of programs that has not been agreed to, without the commitment of the President, which he's made repeatedly publicly, that he would never support, extending these programs, if they weren't paid for.


SMERCONISH: Zero Republicans, voted for this bill, in the House, in November. It was already facing major hurdles, in a 50-50 Senate, and likely even more now.

Moderate Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin aren't satisfied with it, as it is. Manchin has voiced a number of concerns, namely, that budget gimmicks hide the true cost, of $1.9 trillion, in that bill, and he wants it at no more than $1.75 trillion.

Biden was asked today, if he could get Manchin on board, with Build Back Better, with inflation numbers this high.



BIDEN: I don't know the answer to that. I'm going to be talking to him, at the beginning of the week.

And I think, if you look at what most people are saying, most of the economists are saying, this Build Back Better bill is not going to increase inflation. It'll diminish inflation.


SMERCONISH: So, here's the thing. Let's be clear about this. This bill isn't just the centerpiece of Joe Biden's agenda. It's arguably the most ambitious, and consequential Democratic legislation, since the era of Lyndon Johnson.

And if Joe Manchin isn't on board, then Build Back Better is dead, D- E-A-D dead, which will leave progressive Democrats, feeling like they were snookered, in passing the infrastructure bill, and Biden lacking the momentum that he desperately needs, to keep the House, from a Republican takeover, next year. That's how I see it.

I want to know what you think. Will inflation kill the Build Back Better plan? Reach out to me, via social media. I'll share some responses, during the course of the program.

As I told you, my first guest predicted, inflation is coming, last winter, because of what he said, were commitments the Feds made - the Fed made, and difficulties, in mobilizing congressional support, for tax increases or spending cuts.

So, Republicans are trying to call him, one of their own, in this regard. But is he really Team GOP? Larry Summers was former Treasury Secretary, under President Clinton, former Director of the National Economic Council, under President Obama, a former World Bank Chief Economist, and of course President of Harvard University.

Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being back. Were you prescient? Is this what you saw coming?


I thought the combination of the very large spending, halfway to World War II levels that we were doing in 2021, along with the Fed having its foot, completely on the accelerator, along with all the cash people had built up, because they couldn't spend, during the worst of COVID, I thought that was a perfect storm that was going to lead to very large demand that there was going to be some problems.

I didn't know what exactly, they'd be, on the supply side. And so, we were going to get a very inflationary situation. And that's what we've - that's what we now have. And it presents a variety of challenges, particularly for the Fed.

SMERCONISH: I know that when I've asked you previously, how you've advised the President, you refused that question, and you say, "I don't share the counsel that I offer the Commander-in-Chief." So, I have a different approach tonight.


SMERCONISH: What would you say to Joe Manchin? If Senator Manchin said to you, "Mr. Secretary, how in the world could I support Build Back Better, in the face of all this inflation?"

SUMMERS: Look, my view is that on balance, even if you had it, as it stands, Build Back Better is better legislation, for the United States. If I were in the Senate, I would vote for the Build Back Better legislation, because I think the investments it makes are fundamental, to the future of our country.

I think it could be substantially better legislation than it is in its current form. Now, in its current form, it's running incremental deficits, for the first few years. That's not the right thing to be doing. And we should scale that back.

The best way to scale it back is to get rid of the provisions, or partially repealing, or partially reinstating state and local tax deductibility, which are reducing taxes, for many of the richest people, in the country. If we got rid of that, we'd be very close to a balanced budget, for the next few years. That's the right thing to do.

SMERCONISH: You know that, to Republicans--

SUMMERS: As part-- SMERCONISH: --to Republicans, all this spending is the same. In other words, they don't differentiate, between the COVID monies that were spent, the hard infrastructure, the $1.9 trillion that was just allocated, with bipartisan support, or Build Back Better.

But what I'm hearing from you is that your view is much more nuanced. You don't see each of those expenditures, in the same way.

SUMMERS: No, look, I think that what's most important, is fundamental investments in the future of the country.

It takes me 20 minutes longer, to take a commercial flight, from Boston to Washington, than it did 30 years ago. That's only because the country's infrastructure is decaying. Same thing is observed on our highways. Same thing is observed when American kids are consuming lead in their water.

Same thing is observed, when American kids don't get nearly the same opportunities, for pre-K, before they go to kindergarten, as kids in other countries. Same thing is observed, when we lag. We used to always be the leaders in the fraction of our kids, who went to college. Not any - not anymore. These are fundamental investments.


Was it a good idea to make as large payments to everybody in sight as we did, in 2021? No. That was a mistake. But it would compound that mistake, if we were to scrimp, on vitally important investments. Should we do more, to pay for those vital investments in fairways?

It is a disgrace that carried interest is going unaddressed, a big loophole for hedge funds, and private equity firms, is going unaddressed. It is a disgrace that the estate tax has been largely eviscerated, with revenue down by a half. And in a Democrat-only bill, nothing is being done, to correct that.

It is shameful that the corporate tax, which was cut, by more than the Business Roundtable, wanted it to be cut, by President Trump. But that's not being fixed with higher corporate tax rates, in this bill.

So, yes, we do need to control inflation better, in this bill. But the right way to do it, is to focus the spending on investment, and to fully pay, in highly progressive ways, for the spending, we have.

SMERCONISH: Well perhaps?

SUMMERS: The right way to do it? And a lot of people - a lot of Democrats won't like this. And a lot of people in the administration won't like this. Our tariffs, are raising prices, for consumers, to no good end. They're screwing producers, who have much higher input costs, because of those tariffs.

We should be working to scale those tariffs back, much more aggressively than we are. We need to look at a lot of our regulations, to make sure that we're not regulating in ways that are raising fossil fuel-- SMERCONISH: I was - I was going to say--

SUMMERS: --price--

SMERCONISH: Mr. Secretary, I was going to say that your articulation of the physical and societal needs of the country, I don't think anyone could argue with. The question remains, can we afford to pay for it?

I have this important final question for you, if I may? The current inflation, how long will it last?

SUMMERS: That depends - that depends on the Fed.

I don't think we can afford not to pay, for these kinds of fundamental investments. But we do need a Federal Reserve that recognizes that overheating is now the central problem for the economy.

We need an administration that is committed, to making sure that it doesn't pump up demand, more than the economy can bear, as it makes these fundamental investments.

SMERCONISH: Really appreciate you coming back to the program. Thank you so much.

SUMMERS: Good to be with you.

SMERCONISH: Some of the social media that has come in already, during the course of the program, what do we have, from Twitter, I believe.

"If Joe Manchin is worried about inflation, why did he approve a gazillion spending on defense?"

Mark, I get the point. But Manchin was already wavering on Build Back Better, right? If he was looking for an argument, to say, "Mr. President, I just can't go along with it," then the CBO figures, fake or not, gave him what he was looking for.

They can't afford to lose a single vote. And here we are, mid-December already. Unless Build Back Better gets done now, it's now calendar year 2022. And if that rings a bell, it's because it's the midterms.

One more, if I've got time.

"Why does everyone miss the point on news? You included! Why is meat up 25 percent? Why eggs up 8 percent! Because fake price increases, driven by your rhetoric."

I think that's ridiculous. In other words, people talking about prices are driving prices up?

I think what's driving prices up is not only the supply chain, but an overheated demand, for so many of these consumer goods. I get that it's complex. I'm most interested in the politics of it. And that's what I'm trying to focus your attention, on here, tonight. This was a very, very big day, for the Biden White House, from a two- fold purpose, not only the data that I shared with you about the escalating inflation, but also those CBO figures, even though there'll be debated by the White House, as being fake.

Tonight, at, here's the survey question, on a different subject. "Should noncitizens have the right to vote in local elections?"

Yes or no? That matters, because we're about to see the idea, put to its greatest test, in this country. And tonight, you'll meet the man making that happen.

So make sure, you go to my website, right now, and vote on that question.

But up next, today's Supreme Court ruling, on the Texas abortion ban, is raising new questions, not only about that law, but the fate of Roe versus Wade.

And one of the nation's top constitutional scholars, is here, to unpack it. And that's next.



SMERCONISH: New developments, on the future of Roe versus Wade. Today's Supreme Court ruling may offer a hint.

The High Court decided that the nation's most restrictive abortion law, in Texas, which bans abortions, after six weeks, can remain in place, even as abortion providers continue to challenge the case, in federal court. Remember, some women don't even know that they're pregnant, at the six-week mark.

This comes as the justices are weighing a Mississippi law that bans most abortions, at 15 weeks, several of them already indicating, they're ready to overturn Roe.

I want to bring in Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar and the Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law.

Professor, nice to have you back, on the program.

You sort of heard all that you needed to hear, at the argument, to come to the conclusion that Roe versus Wade is on its way out. True?

ERWIN CHEMERINSKY, DEAN, UC BERKELEY SCHOOL OF LAW, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW SCHOLAR: Yes. It was clear at the oral argument, a week ago, Wednesday, in Dobbs versus Jacksons Health, that there are six justices, who want to overrule Roe versus Wade.


Perhaps they'll do so explicitly, in this case, or perhaps they'll just uphold the Mississippi law that prohibits abortions, after the 15th week of pregnancy, but then wait for a future case, to make clear that Roe versus Wade is no longer the law of the land.

SMERCONISH: But if we're talking six weeks, 15 weeks, what really the bottom line is, is that this will be the end of the age of, or era of, viability. I mean, viability will no longer matter. That will no longer be the predicate. True?

CHEMERINSKY: You're absolutely right. Roe versus Wade said states can't prohibit abortions before viability. In 1992, in Planned Parenthood versus Casey, the Supreme Court said, quote, the "Essential holding" of Roe, was that states can't prohibit abortions, before viability.

Viability now is about the 24th week of pregnancy. Mississippi prevents abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. Texas prevents abortions, after the sixth week of pregnancy. Once the Supreme Court upholds these laws, there's nothing left of Roe versus Wade.

SMERCONISH: And so, there are a number of states, 20-plus, I think we have a map of them, just ready to be triggered, because they've already - there it is. 26 states certain or likely to ban abortion, if Roe versus Wade, is overturned.

In many respects, it's almost like a CNN Election Night map, right? It's a very Red state, Blue state, kind of a thing. Look at that comparison. My God, it's hard to tell the difference, of an Election Night map, versus a post-Roe versus Wade map.

So, is that where we're headed, Professor?

CHEMERINSKY: Yes. The reality is that places like California, New York, the Blue states, will remain to have legal abortion.

But places like Texas, Mississippi, and so many of the Red states, will prohibit all abortions. What that's going to mean, in practical reality, is that women with resources, in those Red states, who wanted abortion, will travel to California, and New York.

Before New York became the first state, in this country, to legalize abortion, in the 1960s, 25 percent of all the abortions, in England, were performed on American women.


CHEMERINSKY: It wasn't poor women, going to England, for abortions.

SMERCONISH: A quarter of the abortions, performed in England, were performed on American women?

CHEMERINSKY: In the 1960s.


CHEMERINSKY: Before abortion was legal in this country. SMERCONISH: OK. So, let me - let me ask you this question. So now, it's, we're looking forward, looking into a crystal ball. It's post Roe versus Wade. There's a Red state, Blue state, divide, in terms of accessibility for abortion.

Does that end it? Or is there an opportunity for a Congress, controlled by one party or the other, to then try a nationalized abortion policy?

CHEMERINSKY: Just to finish what we were saying before, keep in mind that women in the poor states, in the Red states, who can afford abortion, will travel to states where they can get it.

But it's poor women, and teenagers, who will be faced again, with the cruel choice, between an unwanted child, and an unsafe back-alley abortion.

SMERCONISH: Right. They're not going to England. I get it.

CHEMERINSKY: Exactly. And to answer your specific question, I have no doubt that with a Democratic president, and a Democratic Congress, they'll try to pass a law, using Congress' power, to converse (ph) among the states, to create a right to abortion, everywhere in the country. But we know Senate Republicans would filibuster that. So, there's no way of getting through.

What I worry is the next time, there's a Republican president, and a Republican Congress, they'll try to pass a law, using that same congressional power, to ban all abortions, in the United States. And I think the Republicans would eliminate the filibuster, for doing that.

SMERCONISH: In other words, they would not pay deference. Winning the Roe versus Wade battle wouldn't be enough. They wouldn't pay deference to those Blue states, and let them go their own way, on this issue, as you see the future unfold.

By the way, conversely, Democrats could do the same thing, right? Democrats, in control of the White House, and the Congress, could seek to impose their abortion priorities, even on Red states. True?

CHEMERINSKY: Absolutely. Congress could pass a law, creating a national right to abortion, or Congress pass a law, outlawing abortion, all over the country. I think what it's going to come down to is, is either party willing to eliminate the filibuster, in the Senate, to get its way on this issue.

SMERCONISH: OK. What I'm learning for you - from you is that next June or July, when the Supreme Court decision comes out, is not going to end this battle.

Professor Chemerinsky, thank you so much. I really appreciate having you here.

CHEMERINSKY: Thank you for having me. Always a pleasure.

SMERCONISH: Keep your opinions coming, via social media. From the world of Twitter, what's rolling in tonight?

"If it was men who got pregnant, for whatever reason, and needed an abortion, it would never be a topic anyone would discuss. It would be, in their view, a non-issue and nobody's business."

Newer You Specialist, I love your handle, I think there's a valid point that you make that this largely is an argument, among women, when men certainly have a stake, in the outcome, as well. And more men need to speak up, on either side of the issue.

Also from Twitter tonight, what's come in?

"It gets overturned. Thanks to Dems not voting." "It gets overturned. Thanks to Dems not voting."


Well, I think, Chips Classic Cocktails, did I just give you a plug there? I think what you're saying is that elections have consequences.

And one consequence of the 2016 election is the fact that President Trump put three members, on the United States Supreme Court. And we wouldn't be having this conversation, but for that election outcome, in 2016.

Time for one more, Vaughn? Sure.

"Love it or hate it, this is what happens when you don't have term limits. You are stuck with people who have their mentality stuck in the 1960s."

I don't know Benjamin, if you mean term limits, for members of the Supreme Court, or term limits, for members of the House of Representatives, and the Senate. I'm all for the latter.

So, did you say one more, Vaughn? One more, OK, cool. Let's go.

"Rs are so quick to cherish life, until they're born, when they turn their back on them."

Yes, I've heard that argument many times over. Look, it's a very touchy debate. But it's going to go on, for a lot longer, than just the Supreme Court looking at the Mississippi case. That's what I learned, from Professor Chemerinsky.

Now, here's another hot question tonight. Should noncitizens have the right to vote, in local elections? They do, in some places, and now tack on America's largest city, New York.

My next guest is the primary sponsor of the new measure that passed. He achieved his own American Dream. But is this move something our forefathers would have wanted? We'll get into it.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: New York City, making history, this week, as the largest city, in the United States, to allow noncitizens to vote.

You might be thinking, "Is that legal?" Well, it is. While the Constitution bans noncitizens, from voting, in federal elections, it doesn't prevent state and local governments, from allowing the practice.

Until this week, only San Francisco, and a few towns in Vermont and Maryland, allowed noncitizens to vote. But Thursday, the New York City Council voted overwhelmingly, to extend rights, to nearly 800,000 legal permanent residents.

Those who can register, can now vote for Mayor, City council members, Comptroller, and other public offices. To be eligible, they must have lived in the city, for at least 30 days, and have a legal work permit.

Still, several local politicians are against the move. And the City's current and incoming mayors, both Democrats, are skeptical that this policy will even fly.

My next guest was the bill's primary sponsor. Welcome to Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.

Thank you so much for being here, Councilman.


SMERCONISH: So, I had a real privilege, a couple of years ago. I was invited to be the speaker, at a naturalization ceremony.

This was in the federal courthouse, in my hometown of Philadelphia. And I've been thinking about the people, in that room. So proud, in tears. They'd taken the quiz. They had labored long, to become citizens.

What does it say to them, if folks, who are not yet full citizens, are given the franchise of voting?

RODRIGUEZ: I'm pretty sure that the same group that have so much tear or happiness, they also have a little tear, for those year that they were working so hard, paying the taxes, living with Green Card, with working papers - permits, and not being allowed to vote, so.

SMERCONISH: But they haven't - but they haven't achieved full status of citizenship, right? And, my goodness, the requirement is only 30 days! Really? I can be in in New York City, for 30 days. And, all of a sudden, I get to now vote, on an election like yours?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, in the case - first of all, I have my Green Card, from 1983 to 2000.

And when I compare myself, before and after 2000, when I did my citizenship, to vote for Hillary Clinton, once she run for Senate, I washed dishes, I worked in a taxi. I went to City College. I was a student activist. I was a teacher, co-founder to school, everything with a Green Card.

As my stories is a story, are most New Yorkers, who live in this city, who will stay here. When a lot of people, fled to all the places, they were the one, working in the daily, working in the supermarket, working, driving the taxi.

So, I think that we have to revise who we are, right? We are a city that we only have - a stay in the city that we only have 249 with our Constitution. So, when we created the New York state constitution, in April 78 - 1777, everyone were allowed to vote, up to 1886.

So what happened? Why did we started changing this law? Why in the 1940, all, mostly staying, in this nation, say there's something wrong there, and then let's push on obstacle, for the new immigrants coming, who were Irish, who are Italians, who were Jewish, who were Latino, who were Black.

So, what we are saying right now, let's revise it. In the last couple of years, the most conservative group, in the whole - in the whole nation, in more than 48 states, they're moving some - brought in suppression law. They know that states have the right to do it. So, what they're doing now is voting to stop--

SMERCONISH: But doesn't it - doesn't it diminish the meaning, and what it requires, to become a full citizen?

RODRIGUEZ: I don't think it does. I think that what we're doing is expanding the voting rights. I think that we are doing, showing, not only in New York City, the state, and the nation, but in the whole word, like 100 year from now - I used to be a social study teacher, for 13 years - for 15 years.

I know the 100 year from now, the Jews, who were going to be in the classroom (ph), they will be saying to themselves, how did it happen? How did we have a society where people were equal? The only difference was, the sooner they has a citizenship, or they have Green Card, so.

SMERCONISH: Let me - let me ask you about a colleague of yours.

Laurie Cumbo makes this observation. We'll roll the tape and let's watch together.


LAURIE CUMBO, (D) NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL MAJORITY LEADER: Where do African American voters fit in?


Because we are all Black and brown, because we're all Black and brown, and other races, doesn't mean that we all share the same values, and principles, and that we're all going to vote, and do things, in the same way.

I've never heard in this, one discussion, about how the African American voter, is going to be impacted, by this bill. This is going to be a huge win, numerically, for the Dominican Republic community.


SMERCONISH: Right. She's saying you're diluting the Black vote, in the city. What's your response?

RODRIGUEZ: First of all, I lead the Latino campaign, for my brother, Eric Adams, to be a mayor. So, I went communities.

SMERCONISH: He's not necessarily down with this.

RODRIGUEZ: Well, back in February, there's an article in the Daily News, where both him and I (ph) stand together, supporting this bill. And what the only piece that he's - that we are talking about, is that 30 days.

But Mayor Adams in February, we're standing on, the steps of City Hall, and he was calling the other candidates, to stand up, supporting this bill. He support this bill. I had this conversation with him today.

SMERCONISH: You think he's going to support this?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, he does support the bill. He has some question about the 30 days.

And the reason why we have the 30 days, is because we're trying to follow Takoma Park, in Maryland. They've been doing since the 1990s. They have a 30-day requirement or residential. So, we believe that in the New York City election will also follow the state. And the 30 days is what they use.

So, I'm confident, first of all, Mayor de Blasio lays - laid the revision. They revised this bill.

SMERCONISH: Right. But he's not for this either.

RODRIGUEZ: Well, he still revised this bill. And they gave their OK. The New York City Law Department revised this bill, and they gave their OK.

So, I'm confident, again, like all the academic, from NYU, from CUNY, in California, they've been saying the federal law stay clear. You must be citizen, to vote, in federal election. But the federal law also say a state and the city--


RODRIGUEZ: And, by the way, without--

SMERCONISH: That you - but that you can do it legally doesn't necessarily make it right.

Let's respond to some social media together. OK, Councilman? RODRIGUEZ: Right.

SMERCONISH: What do we have for Councilman Rodriguez?

"No. And this is the exact "blank" Democrats do to get 80 percent of the country to hate them."

I get the point. The point is, do you realize - do you realize, just how much of a rallying cry, this will be, in certain parts of the country?

Even if what you're doing is popular, in New York City, you're going to fire up the Red states. This will be something, that will bring people, out to vote, in the midterm, or the next presidential.

RODRIGUEZ: Well, there's one problem that we, as the Democrats, we have. Sometime, we get into the power, and we don't use it.


RODRIGUEZ: The Republicans take the power, and they use it. In Texas, we are seeing some voting suppression effort. We are seeing the same thing in more than 48 states. We have to stand up. I mean, we have farmers working in California--

SMERCONISH: So, it's is, if you're saying to me, this is a response, to proceed voter suppression, "If they're going to limit the vote here, we're going to bring out even more vote, in New York."

RODRIGUEZ: New York City has the opportunity to be a role model, to tell the whole nation, "We are not going in the same direction that those people in Texas, who are the Trump supporters, who're trying to suppress voting rights, is trying - is trying to take the nation. We have a role model here, in New York City."

SMERCONISH: One more, quickly for the Councilman.

Come back. We'll do this for much more. Everybody loves to talk about this.

"I'm more concerned with uneducated U.S. citizens voting, but that's just me."

I heard this from people on the radio today. And they said to us, "You know, people who are American citizens, many of them don't even use the opportunity, the right that they have, to vote."

Maybe we should take a lesson from the people that you want to vote. I'll give you the final word.

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think that we have a big job to do. We have $3 million - 3 million Democrat, 400,000 (ph) Republicans that's in New York City. And the percentage of voting in the voting participation is so low. So, we definitely have that responsibility.

However, with this initiative, candidates, who are looking to be mayor, what they will have to do, is to go to those underserved community. They will have to spend the same amount of time, in those immigrant communities, as they do in the open-class (ph) community.

SMERCONISH: I get it. I get it.

RODRIGUEZ: And persuade the voters.

SMERCONISH: Campaigning with people, who are not citizens, though.


SMERCONISH: That's what that'd be doing.

RODRIGUEZ: Who pay taxes.

SMERCONISH: Who pay taxes, but are not citizens.

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, but they pay taxes.

SMERCONISH: OK. But they're not citizens. Thanks.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Appreciate it.


SMERCONISH: It's almost time for the big reveal. I'm talking about the annual cliffhanger of Time's Person of the Year, soon to be announced. Who do you think the magazine was select?

We're going to war-game it, in a fun way, next.



SMERCONISH: Monday marks a tradition that dates back almost 100 years, one that presents us, with a snapshot of the year that was. That's when Time magazine will unveil the 2021 Person of the Year or Persons of the Year.

Last year, they went with Biden and Harris. The year before that, it was teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. And, back in 2016, Donald Trump was on the cover.

This isn't about holding time up, as some arbiter, who stands in judgment. In our fractured digital landscape, perhaps no organization can speak definitively. But Times' value here is as a measuring stick, not of them, but of us.

As you flip back through the covers, you see our history laid out before us. Keep in mind, Time doesn't award anyone the title. It names the Person or Persons of the Year.

In the words, of its former Managing Editor, the job is to select "The person or persons, who most affected the news, and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or worse."

Good or ill, better or worse, you tell me which dominates the day? After all, Hitler was Person of the Year, in 1938. Stalin, twice. Even as it put Ayatollah Khomeini, on the cover, in 1979, the magazine called him "The Mystic Who Lit The Fires of Hatred."

Still, the editors have been known to take a dive. In 2006, they took heat, for when they picked, You.

The selection that stands out to me is of Rudy Giuliani in 2001. It's pretty clear, who the person that most affected the news, and our lives, the most that year, was Osama bin Laden.


And, by the way, I want to be clear. I think that Rudy did a hell of a job, post 9/11. Post 9/11. He just shouldn't have been the end of the year that year.

If you think back to the passions of the day, the idea of his face, alongside icons, I mean bin Laden's face, along the face and sideways of Gandhi, and Churchill, and Dr. King, well, that would have been hard to stomach. So, I kind of understand.

Yet, as I spoke with many of you today, on the radio, I was taken by how similar a choice, the editors of Time have, this year.

It's easy to make the case that health care workers, as a group, would be appropriate. After all, they've kept working, as we turned numb, to the almost 800,000 American deaths. And they're still there, as cases spike yet again.

But then again, that was all true last year, too, right? Then, there are researchers, like Drew Weissman and Kate Kariko, whose foundational research, led to the rapid development, of the two COVID vaccines.

Just like the selfless work being done, in the nation's COVID wards, their brilliance represents us at our best. But can you honestly say that our best has embodied what was important, about this year?

Instead, I offer you two other options, both suggested by radio listeners, of mine, people like you.

There was Darrin (ph) from Massachusetts. He suggested the "Unvaccinated," the less than 30 percent of us, who for whatever reason, refuse to do, what it would take, to end the pandemic. A year of stories about mask fights, airline freak-outs, and the source of so much misinformation online, certainly sounds like an accurate summary, of 2021 to me.

Then there was Jason (ph), from Philly, who offered another suggestion. He said the people, who attacked the Capitol, on January 6. The images will last long, after the ball drops again, in Times Square, as well, the hundreds of active criminal cases, and congressional investigations, the interviews of nearly 300 witnesses, already.

So, I'm asking you tonight. I'm very curious as to what you think. A case could be made for Dr. Fauci too. Rupert Murdoch, with his role, in his media empire, or those in whose support, of The Big Lie, has led to a rewriting of our voting laws, in 19 states.

Now, that actor - so, tell me who you think. What I most want to hear tonight is who should be Time's Person or Persons of the Year. Tweet me @smerconish, and I'll read some responses, throughout the course of the program.

What do we have so far? This has just come in, I think.

Out of time, and go to break!

OK, well, then I'll tell you what. I'm going to go with the pick of, the Unvaccinated. I don't think it will happen. But, on the merits, if they adhere, if they adhere to that definition, that's who it should be.

Now that actor Jussie Smollett is convicted, of orchestrating a phony hate crime, what kind of punishment will he face, and what parallels can be drawn, from that big lie, to another infamous one?

That means we've got a Reality Check, coming up, with John Avlon.



SMERCONISH: Jussie Smollett convicted for his big lie. Here's John Avlon, for a Reality Check.



A hate crime hoax is a loathsome thing. And that's what TV actor, Jussie Smollett, did. He lied about being beaten on the street, doused with bleach, having a noose put around his neck.

He said that masked attackers, who were, quote, "Assumed," were White, yelled racist and homophobic slurs, and, quote, "This is MAGA country!" It was all a lie. A jury convicted him of five or six charges.

Now, Smollett seemed to believe that being a victim would elevate his stature, which says a lot, about what we honor, in society today.

Almost as sick is that throughout his trial, Smollett continued to insist that he was telling the truth, as if repetition of the lie, would somehow erase, the overwhelming evidence, and even the confessions, of his accomplices. Of course, hate crime hoaxes do real harm. They are used to discredit actual incidents that often get less attention than this celebrity scam. After all, the FBI reports that hate crimes have been on the rise, hitting a 12-year high, in 2020.

So, it's no surprise that many initially took Smollett, at his word. Attempting a hate crime hoax, this brazen, seemed unthinkable. So, friends, and fellow celebrities, and many Democratic politicians, put out statements of support, including Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and AOC, who absent any evidence, seem to immediately assume Smollett was telling the truth.

A right-wing talk TV has made much of this, ignoring the fact that even then President Donald Trump offered sympathetic words, in the wake of the alleged attack.

But, as the days went by, there was increased skepticism as well. Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Mary Mitchell wrote, "The incident sounds so bizarre, it's easy to doubt that it happened."

When Cook County prosecutors tried to make it go away, Chicago's Democratic mayor, at the time, Rahm Emanuel, called it a whitewash of justice, while the Police Chief released more and more information. Ultimately, the trial went forward. The truth came out.

But as CNN's Oliver Darcy points out, right-wing talking heads are trying to use the verdict, put the media on trial, saying it was complicit, in amplifying the hoax. It's a self-serving charge.

Let's try to cut through the situational ethics, and apply the same standards, across the partisan divide.

Jussie Smollett's repetition of a lie did not make it true. He apparently thought that by playing the victim, regardless of evidence, he could benefit from the attention.

It's a strategy he might as well have learned from Donald Trump. When caught in a lie, double down, lie more, play the victim, ignore facts, make excuses, demonize the other side, and hope the confusion muddies the waters enough, to fool your supporters, and avoid accountability.

Didn't work in Jussie Smollett's case. The trial brought the truth to light. But he's an actor. Donald Trump was President of the United States. He should not be held to a lower standard.


And yet, so far, he has totally avoided legal accountability, for his hoax, defrauding the American people, by continuing to lie, about a free and fair election, he lost, trying to intimidate election officials, and interfere in election results, both crimes, by the way, inciting insurrection, sowing, distrust, in our democracy, in the process.

And, of course, despite all the evidence, Donald Trump's Big Lie continues to be amplified, by right-wing media. In that sense, Donald Trump is the Jussie Smollett of American politics.

We break this fever, when we follow the facts without fear or favor, remembering that all lies stop, where accountability starts. And that's your Reality Check.

Back to you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: My thanks to John Avlon.

We'll be right back, with your reaction to tonight's program.


SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded, to the survey question tonight, at

We were asking this. "Should noncitizens have the right to vote in local elections?"

Survey says 83 percent, no. 17 percent. Pretty decisive result.

Time for one quick tweet. What is it?

"I think the American public for surviving all of this."

Not a bad answer, Nancy. Thanks for tweeting at me.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" is in the on-deck circle. And here he is.