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CNN TONIGHT: President Biden: Omicron Spread "Going To Increase"; President Joe Biden Shifts Focus To Voting Rights: "Single Biggest Issue"; Chris Stirewalt On Fox News Hosts. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 16, 2021 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: If you ever miss 360, you can always listen to our podcast. Go to, or any of the major platforms, and search for "Anderson Cooper 360."

The news continues. Let's hand it over to Michael Smerconish, and CNN TONIGHT. Michael?


I am Michael Smerconish. And welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

What just happened? This is my fourth straight night, in New York City. And I feel that we're in a very different place, than we were, even on Monday night, especially here, in The Big Apple, which is why I'm pleased that the City's mayor, Bill de Blasio, will join me, in just a moment.

COVID, it seems, has taken another turn, for the worse. And for me, it's starting to feel like the new normal, as in, it's here to stay, and will remain so, for our lifetimes.

And while we need to take every possible step, to protect ourselves, and contain the virus, we also need to prepare ourselves, psychologically, so that we can live, as normal an existence, as possible, amidst a pandemic that's becoming endemic.

Here's a situation. First, from 30,000 feet, cases and hospitalizations, in this country, both up 40 percent, in the last month or so. While scientists think that Omicron is more contagious, most cases, so far, appear to be mild.

But late today, President Biden warned that won't be the case, for the unvaccinated, in the path of Omicron, as it likely explodes, at the beginning of the New Year.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's here now, and it's spreading, and it's going to increase.

For unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death, if you're unvaccinated. For themselves, their families, and the hospitals, they'll soon overwhelm.

But there's good news. If you're vaccinated, and you had your booster shot, you're protected from severe illness and death.


SMERCONISH: Sometimes, the macro statistics are a blur, especially where we repeat them night after night. So, let's go to the more anecdotal, which brings home the reality, of what's going on.

Princeton and Cornell University, Middlebury College, all shifting to remote exams. Cornell closed its entire campus, this week.

Some of the hottest shows, on Broadway, again canceling, various performances, often because of breakthrough infections. And that comes, despite a vaccine mandate, for performers, crew, and staff, and audience mask and vaccine mandates.

Pro sports getting crushed, the star players of the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cleveland Browns, placed in COVID protocols. In hockey, the Calgary Flames season is on hold, until at least Tuesday, with 18 players, in protocol. Tonight's game, with Montreal, hosting the Philadelphia Flyers, being played, in front of zero fans.

In smaller settings, Apple Stores are closed in Miami, Annapolis, Maryland and Ottawa. If yours is open, you'll need a mask, to go in.

And now, booster mandates, are coming to Georgetown University, NYU, the Metropolitan Opera, here in New York, and for all NFL coaches and staff.

I don't know about you. But while I'm vaccinated, and I'm boosted, I'm increasingly resigned, to the fact that I'll probably get COVID. I'm also confident that my vaccination status, will enable me, to deal with it, much better, than if I were unvaccinated.

As for those who won't get vaccinated, I'm convinced that no amount of browbeating is going to cause them to change their ways. I don't wish them ill. But there's also a limit to my sympathy, and compassion, should they not take steps, to protect themselves, and society.

And finally, I'm resolved, not to let COVID stop me, from leading a productive, and as happy a life as possible, notwithstanding a headline like this. "COVID positivity rate doubles in three days on Omicron spread."

And before you think that's media hype, check out this tweet, today, from a senior health adviser, to the New York Mayor, quote, "Um, we've never seen this before." And you see the numbers below that, the rate dramatically spiking, in less than a week.

So, with all of that, we welcome, Mayor Bill de Blasio, to the program.

Mayor, what the heck just happened here? MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, (D) NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: Omicron happened. This is a whole new animal. And we got to be honest about the fact that it's moving very fast, and we have to move faster.

And honestly, Michael, I really appreciate the humanity, and the sort of openness, of what you said, about what you're thinking. But I'm only going to differ with you on one thing.


DE BLASIO: Which is we - the folks aren't getting vaccinated. If we apply mandates forcefully, it actually moves a lot of people.

The number of people who are just 100 percent ideologically, dyed in the wool, anti-vax is still very, very small. This city, right now, 90 percent of adults, 90 percent of adults, have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

And there are plenty of people with strong opinions here. There are plenty of people, like Donald Trump here. There's plenty of people who don't want the government to tell them what to do.

But the mandates made a difference because people are not going to lose a paycheck over it. They're not going to not be able to go to a restaurant. If you say, "Here are some clear rules. You want to fully participate in society? All you got to do is get vaccinated," the vast majority of people say, "OK, I'm in."

SMERCONISH: You're 11 days away, right, from the most stringent employer mandate, in the country.


SMERCONISH: Which is you've just made the case as to why you're advocating for that.


But, to play devil's advocate, I could say, city employees, teachers, restaurants, gyms, theaters, were already subject, to a mandate of yours. Were they unsuccessful?

DE BLASIO: No, they were. And now, we're taking it to the next level.

Because there are hundreds of thousands of businesses that were not part of those previous mandates. A lot of retail, for example, was not covered by that. Barbershops were not covered by that. So, we're going to now reach across the spectrum, in the business community, office workers.

And we found, with restaurants, in this city, theaters, it worked. It actually was good for business. The customers knew they were safe. The employees knew they were safe. Business has been booming.

We found with our public employees, we're now at 94 percent, with our public employees. A lot of drama. There were a lot of people, who said, "No way, I'll do it."

Except, when we said, "Hey, here's your choice. Get vaccinated, or you can go on leave, without pay," well, most people don't like to be on leave without pay, and they said, "OK, I'll do it." And their families wanted them to do it. And that has made all the difference.

SMERCONISH: You know that some business groups, I guess I'd cite the "Wall Street Journal," their editorial says, you're kicking small business, when they can least afford it.

DE BLASIO: COVID is bad for business. The mandates are good for business. COVID is bad for business. I've heard from so many businesspeople, first of all, bluntly, who've said, "Please do it for us. If the government does it, then we don't have to be"--

SMERCONISH: The bad guy.

DE BLASIO: Right. "We don't have to say to our employees, "Oh, let me explain this to you." We can just point at that sign, on the wall, and say, "Hey, guys, everyone has to do it."

A lot of businesspeople said, "Please make it as universal as possible, so folks won't go from one industry to another. They're trying to shop for a place with no mandate."

I actually think this is what's going to save business. And also, what's the worst thing in the world for business? What's going on now in England, Germany, Austria? Shutdowns, restrictions, that's what kills business. That's what kills jobs. Mandates are actually going to save us, from having a shutdown.

SMERCONISH: Tom Friedman says, "The world is flat." That applies to COVID, right?

We're like a chain that is as strong, only as our weakest link. No matter what Bill de Blasio does, in New York City, if Middle America isn't doing something different, then what does it matter? It comes here eventually.

DE BLASIO: It does. But what you said before was profoundly true. If someone's vaccinated, particularly they'd gotten that booster, they're a hell of a lot safer.

You're right. They still might get COVID. I might get COVID. You might get COVID. But we're going to live through it. We probably don't end up in a hospital, which is not only good for you and me. It's good for the whole society. It's good, so that our hospital system, can treat people, in greater need.

I believe the more mandates, the more impact, and we've got to be bold about this. Mayors, governors, CEOs, bite the bullet. Just do it. Yes, you're going to have protests. Guess what? It's a global pandemic. Suck it up. Go and do it. Get it done.

SMERCONISH: Should there be an exception, in your mandate, for people who've had it? I know that if they've had monoclonal treatment, or if they've had the plasma, they're given a 90-day exception.

But should you be more allowing, for somebody, who says, "Hey, I've got the antibodies, because I've already fought and won against COVID?"

DE BLASIO: Not if you listen to all our doctors. I mean, it's an honest question. I've had this dialog with a lot of people--


DE BLASIO: --from the heart. And I know they see some real safety, in having had it. There's some truth. But it's not the same, as being vaccinated.

Our doctors will tell you, clearly, "If you want the maximum protection, the maximum likelihood, you won't get it, and you won't transmit it? You got to be vaccinated."

And, by the way, COVID, for God's sakes, COVID has taught us a lesson. It changes all the time. So the reason, you want to be extra careful, is because you don't know what the next curveball is going to be.

We've got to be honest. Mandates work. We've proven it here. United Airlines proved it. A lot of people, public and private sector, have proven it. Let's just go do it. And I think it's going to take bluntly, political courage, amongst elected officials, and even among CEOs.

SMERCONISH: There's no testing exception, either. I mean, you're hardcore, right?


SMERCONISH: I mean, you don't recognize, if someone's had it, nor is there a testing exception, to your mandate. How come?

DE BLASIO: Because testing only allows you, to find out, if someone's got it. It doesn't help you stop it. We looked at the models in Europe. They were much looser. I said, "If there's only one thing that we know works, is vaccination. Let's go all the way."

Now, right now, 90 percent, as I said, 90 percent of New Yorkers have had at least one dose. And, even though we've seen a big increase, lately, our hospitals are doing very, very well. And that's not true, in the rest of a lot of this country, in the rest - even in the state, it's not true.

Our hospital system is strong, we thank God, had very few deaths, because the more people are vaccinated, the more people are going to make it through. It's as simple as that.

Now, I can tell you something. If we didn't put these mandates in place, I'll give you a sheer simple math. 60 percent of our adults, were vaccinated, in middle August, when we started the mandates. It's 90 percent now.

United States of America has about 60 percent fully vaccinated. New York City is over 70 percent fully vaccinated, all residents.

SMERCONISH: You're doing all of this on your way out the door. How many days left? 16?


SMERCONISH: Eric Adams, he can undo all of this, if he chooses to?

DE BLASIO: Well, Eric Adams has said something really clear. He's going to follow the leadership and the advice of the health care leaders. And they are clear as a bell. Every tool, distancing is good, masks are good. But there's something that rises above all the other tools, is vaccination.

SMERCONISH: And you're off to run for governor?


DE BLASIO: I am going to be continuing in public service, for sure. And I am going to be going around the State of New York, talking about the things, we need to change, in the state.

SMERCONISH: Should you be doing better in the first of the surveys, given that everybody knows who you are? You've got the name ID.

DE BLASIO: I do have a name ID! And I've governed through an incredibly tough period. And I hope, whatever the political future, I hope people ultimately say that a lot of these decisions, like the mandates, were the right thing to do.

But I understand we're all going through a lot right now. I'm not going to judge anything, about public opinion, or politics, in the middle of what is once again, a live pandemic. My job is keeping New Yorkers safe. The politics will take care of itself, later.

SMERCONISH: Mayor, I like to respond, to social media, in real-time.


SMERCONISH: All right. Will you join me?

DE BLASIO: Of course.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what's come in. I think this is to you.

"Smerconish, if what you were saying in the New York City Mayor, why is there going to be a New Year's celebration in as many days? Even as you have said that you are expecting to get COVID, even though you're fully vaccinated with."

Why is there going to be a big celebration, if this is the state of affairs?

DE BLASIO: Well, we made the decision, a few weeks back, when things were much better. But we said "Vaccinated people only."


DE BLASIO: "And outdoors."

SMERCONISH: How do you enforce that piece?

DE BLASIO: Literally, every ID is going to get checked.

SMERCONISH: For a million people?

DE BLASIO: Sure. We're working with our partners, at the Times Square Alliance. And everyone's been told, for weeks and weeks, "Don't even show up in Times Square, unless you're vaccinated."


DE BLASIO: Now, we're going to reassess, constantly, with the new information. We're going to follow the data and the science. Right now, it's on. We'll make a decision, as we go close - you get closer, as to what should finally happen.

SMERCONISH: One more, let's see what it is.

"The virus won. It's over. The virus won. No longer makes sense to think we'll beat the virus. With more transmissible but less lethal strains, it's endemic. We should start to treat it like the flu. Or we could continue to freak out with every news release."

Buy into any of that?

DE BLASIO: I agree. Don't freak out.


DE BLASIO: I agree, one day, it can, and should, be like the flu. And the flu takes some lives too. The flu is not nothing. But the flu can be controlled. We all get our flu shots. And life goes on. I do believe that's ultimately what's going to happen with COVID. That's what our doctors say our leadership here.

But I'll tell you something. I would disagree on one level. Focus on the way to get to that point. Endemic does not need to mean paralyzing. Endemic does not need to mean it dominates our lives.

Right now, COVID is dominating our lives. I want to put COVID in the background. The flu, you didn't - you didn't wake up, two years ago, and say, "Oh, my God! I'm so worried about the flu," right?


DE BLASIO: You went down to the pharmacy. You got a flu shot.

SMERCONISH: People want to lead their lives.

DE BLASIO: And they can again.

SMERCONISH: I feel it here, in New York City. DE BLASIO: Yes.

SMERCONISH: By the way, I'm from Philadelphia. So it's not like I live in a rural area. But I feel it in every block that I walk, in New York City.

But if I were, in the middle part of the country, with you, I don't think we'd see masks. I don't think we'd be showing our vax cards anywhere. So, I come back to that point where unless everybody's on the same page, in the country, we're kind of screwed.

DE BLASIO: And you know how you get on the same page? People have to lead.

So look, I believe with enough leadership, enough mandates, we're going to get a hell of a lot more people vaccinated. The more people vaccinated, the more we actually make the transition, to a time, when COVID is in the background, and not the foreground.

And we know these mandates work. And we know people respond. Look, human beings are pretty predictable. If you say, your paycheck depends on it, or your ability to enjoy life, and go do the things you want to do? People will make the practical decision overwhelmingly, and they'll go get vaccinated. But we aren't pushing hard enough. You got to go farther.

SMERCONISH: Mayor, thanks for being here. Really appreciate it.

DE BLASIO: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Thanks for responding to the social media as well.

DE BLASIO: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish, or go to my Facebook page. I'll continue to read the responses, throughout the course of the program. We've already dealt exactly with what we've got.

Be sure, you go to the website, as well, in tonight's survey question, quickly for you.

Should the definition of "Fully vaccinated" include a booster?

DE BLASIO: We are looking at that right now. And clearly--

SMERCONISH: Because yours doesn't, right?

DE BLASIO: Not yet.


DE BLASIO: But I think that will be the way of the future. We're discussing it right now with our health care team.

And I can tell you this much. We have 1.5 million people boosted already, in New York City. We need everyone to get there. And if this is part of how we get there, then that might be a good piece of strategy.

SMERCONISH: I'm taking that as a yes.

DE BLASIO: We're getting there.

SMERCONISH: Up next, one of President Biden's former COVID advisors, what will year three of COVID look like? And is it time to treat the unvaccinated and vaccinated differently?

Dr. Zeke Emanuel, in the on-deck circle.



SMERCONISH: Joe Biden faces a harder challenge, setting public policy, on COVID, this winter. Because much of the country already decided the pandemic is over.

Sure. I could show you all the COVID case count graphics, and maps of states, where Omicron is fueling a surge. But the reality is you either live somewhere, where masks and vaccine passports, are part of your life, or you don't.

A little over a quarter of Americans live in one of the eight states that require masks, indoors, for everyone. Many of the other 73 percent are baffled to see people wearing one, especially outdoors. That divide is only getting worse, during the pandemic.

A new Pew survey found Americans are less likely to want to live in cities, which tend to be where we see tougher COVID restrictions, and more likely now, to prefer the suburbs.

An illustration of the disconnect, comes from Matthew Walther, who lives in Southwest Michigan. Writing in "The Atlantic," he said, "Until I found myself in Washington, D.C., on a work trip in March, I had never seen anyone wearing a mask outside."

This time, last year Dr. Zeke Emanuel, served on President-elect Biden's COVID Advisory Board. And he joins me now.

Dr. Emanuel, welcome back.

I feel like it's March of 2020, just given the events that we've summarized, already here tonight. How should I be feeling?


Second of all, we have vaccines now. We have the ability to change those vaccines. We're getting oral therapeutics. We have much better tests and test availability. None of that's perfect. But it's much better than it was in March 2020.


We also have a much better understanding of how to handle really sick patients, in terms of medications, like Dexamethasone, and how to titrate their oxygen better. So, I think you're not correct, in saying that we're right back in March 2020.

SMERCONISH: Well, I'm happy to hear that.

I laid out some anecdotal information, at the outset of the program, in terms of what's going on, around the country. Schools closing, Apple Store closing, whatever the case may be.

Is any of that an overreaction? Do you see the signs of us being too visceral, in how we're responding, to the latest turn, with regard to Omicron?

EMANUEL: Well, my University is one of those universities that today sent everyone home. My final, which starts on Monday, is online. And we were expecting to do it in-person.

I think there is a sense that the positivity rates going way up, we had more than a doubling, last week, of positive students. And so, I think that's motivating people.

This is highly, highly transmissible. I mean, if you just look at the curves, the line goes straight up. It really is very transmissible. And people have to take that seriously. And I unfortunately think some people are.

We're seeing a big uptick, in people getting vaccinated, for example, an uptick in cancelations, of parties and things. And those are probably good reactions, to slow the spread, and to maybe stop the spread here.

SMERCONISH: Am I incorrect, in saying to Mayor de Blasio, a moment ago, obviously, as someone, who lacks any medical expertise, or degree, that, what he's doing in New York, is only as strong as what's going on, in the rest of the country? Because ultimately, this virus knows no boundaries.

EMANUEL: Yes, and no. The virus does move. People do travel.

But he is right, in that what he's - first of all, what he's doing is showing a model for the country.

Second, it will affect the community spread, and the prevalence in the community. And it is good to bring it down. And I do think it will, you know, visitors will, I think, slow down, because of Omicron. There's going to be less travel.

So, I think what he's doing is actually quite positive. Remember, he was one of the very best examples, of how mandates do work. And they'd work at the municipal level. They work at the business level.

And I would agree with him that when you talk to a lot of businessman, not on-camera, but behind-the-scenes, they say "Yes, please impose those mandates on us. We can't do it ourselves. But if you do it, we can get our workers to be vaccinated." It's a - people want cover. And he's the mayor, who's providing cover, in this case.

SMERCONISH: What other strategies, would you pursue, to reach the unvaccinated?

EMANUEL: Well, I actually do think it's mandates. I would like to, and I've called for months now, mandate for air travel, and train travel, and bus travel. I think that's absolutely critical to have happened.

I would like to see when we get more data, on the effect of the vaccine, in children, mandates for going to school. I think these are going to be very, very important, to get our arms around this.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Zeke Emanuel, thanks so much for being here.

EMANUEL: Thank you, Mike. Take care.

SMERCONISH: Make sure everybody is going to, and voting on tonight's survey question. I got into this with Mayor de Blasio.

"Should the definition of "Fully vaccinated" now include a booster?"

Go to my website, cast a ballot. At the end of the program, we'll give you the total. And keep the social media coming as well.

What else has come in so far, Vaughn?

"You stay home if you're scared! I'm out living my life, uninhibited, unafraid, and unvaccinated."

You're scaring the crap out of me right now, Perry.

"We ain't all sheep, who get hysterical, when the media tells us to."

I'm not hysterical. I'm not hysterical at all. I'm vaccinated. And I'm boosted. And I said, I'm out there leading my life. But I'm trying to do it in a way that's responsible, not only for my own health, but for yours as well. And I would suggest that you're out there leading your life, and not showing me, the same level of courtesy, and respect.

What else came in? How do you reach those people?

"I don't care about surges in COVID contagion. I only care about hospitalizations and deaths. And those are mostly unvaccinated. Not my fault. Not my problem."

Well, Sir Winston, I said earlier that I'm running out - I have empathy and compassion, only to a certain extent. You can lead a horse to water, as they say. I think that everyone now, is educated, as to the necessity, of being vaccinated. And the fact that if they're unvaccinated, and now get the virus, they're going to be in a hell of a lot worse position, than those who are vaccinated. So, I'm kind of at the end of my patience, and sympathy, for those, who are unvaccinated, and end up getting it.


A COVID surge is just the latest roadblock, for the Biden administration. The President now, admitting Democrats won't make that Christmas deadline, to pass Build Back Better.

So, with a faltering agenda, and faltering polls, just how much trouble are Democrats in, going into the midterm? Nobody knows this subject matter, better than James Carville. He's next.


SMERCONISH: President Biden shifting course, this week, on his legislative agenda, during a trip to Kentucky, to inspect damage, from the deadly tornadoes.


BIDEN: There's nothing domestically more important than voting rights. It's the single biggest issue.


SMERCONISH: Many Americans, also struggling, to pay for their home, medicine, and child care, all of which are addressed in the Build Back Better bill. So, the problem now? Biden's nowhere close to a deal, with Senator Joe Manchin, on that, or on voting rights.

Let's discuss the shift in strategy with James Carville.

James, so great to have you here.

Build Back Better seems like it's on life support. Is that good or bad political news, for Democrats?


If you talk about, 2021 is the greatest story never told. It's the greatest first year of job creation, any president has ever had. We started with an insurrection. Now, we're bringing them to justice. With the first time in, since I can remember, we've had an infrastructure plan. We're out of America's longest war.


And the Democrats have an outstanding record. And it's look, we did this, with 50 senators, and a full-vote majority in the House. Imagine we could do with 53 senators, and a 15-vote majority in the House?

But there's a heck of a story, to tell here, in 2021, thus far. And we still may get good portions of Build Back Better than after the first of the year. I mean, it's not a legislative deadline. There's nothing magical about doing it, prior to December 31. It's the same Congress in session.

So, I think this is a good news year, and we need to tell people about it. And we need to remind people, we don't want to go back to 2020 - go back.

SMERCONISH: So, why is he underwater? Are you going to tell me that it's, the President hasn't sold it, or the people around him, or a combination of both?

CARVILLE: Look, he's underwater, for any number of reasons. And the story here is not getting told. I blame myself, and commentators like me, for that. I blame the White House, some, for that. And I blame CNN, and the media outlets.

You would never know that we're creating these jobs, at almost a record pace, right now. I mean, you can't imagine how much power that employees have right now, compared to a year ago. I mean, if you're an hourly employee, you're doing, pretty good, out there. You have some say-so, over your life. And that's a pretty stunning achievement.

And we got to make a resolution here that we're going to do better. And also, we're going to put the Republicans on the spot. We don't want to go back to 2020.

If you remember, you looked at how this president conducted himself, in Kentucky, with the grace, and the compassion. And go back to Donald Trump, in Puerto Rico, throwing paper towels at people. I mean, we got to remind people, of what's been done.

Hopefully, we'll get the Voting Rights Act. Hopefully we'll get some part of Build Back Better. But, right now, I can take this record, and go to post with it, anytime you want to.

SMERCONISH: Joe Manchin.

CARVILLE: And this is--

SMERCONISH: Joe Manchin, a blessing, or a curse, for Joe Biden? I think there's an argument to be made that he'd have to create Joe Manchin, if he didn't exist, because he reins in those most progressive elements, of the party.

CARVILLE: Well, let's see, when it's all said and done. I mean, Senator Manchin, I think, he's a patriotic American. And just because we don't get it by the 31st, doesn't mean that we can't get something after that. I know, he's big on voting rights. He helped author a bill. So hopefully, we can figure something out there.

But the best way, if you don't like the power, Senator Manchin has, then let's elect three more Democratic senators. Let's pick up a seat in Florida. Let's pick up a seat, in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio. There's all kinds of opportunities. And you get 52, 53 Democrats, and you're ready to roll. SMERCONISH: I know you--

CARVILLE: But it's just a circumstance, of not doing very well, in the congressional elections, in 2020.

SMERCONISH: I know you read Bret Stephens piece, in "The New York Times," saying that Joe Biden needs to say, "I'm not running for reelection," and he needs to say it sooner than later.

Based on your first answer, I'm sure you're not buying it. But go ahead and react.

CARVILLE: Well, I don't think he needs to think about it. He's not even a year into his term.

And Bret Stephens is a nice guy. He's got to think of something, twice a week, to put in the newspaper. And this was just maybe the best he could do, this week. But there's a whole lot of - there's a whole lot of football, between now and the primaries, and year, 2022.

SMERCONISH: OK. But James, I have to say, because I had Begala here, last night. And he acknowledged--


SMERCONISH: He acknowledged, in the cloakrooms, of Washington, this is the sort of thing people are buzzing about, not just Bret Stephens.

CARVILLE: But Paul is - remember, Paul is in the cloakrooms, in Washington. I'm here in Mississippi. And I'm seeing "Help wanted" signs. I'm seeing people paying $800 bonuses to sign up.

But he's right. Everybody in Washington - we start talking about, in New Orleans, we talk about the next meal - dinner before we eat lunch. Well in Washington, in the cloakrooms, all they're talking about is the next election. And that's the way it is.

But I'm saying, the President doesn't need to concern himself, with that right now. He's got a long way to go. And he's got a lot left, to do in this term. And let's see where he is. And, based on what I've seen, the first year, it's pretty doggone good.

SMERCONISH: Hey, James, thank you, as always.

CARVILLE: OK, Michael, great to talk to you. You bet.

SMERCONISH: See you soon. A classic case--

CARVILLE: Yes, sir, thank you.

SMERCONISH: Classic case of doing one thing, and saying another. Fox News hosts outed, for sounding an alarm, on January 6, but thereafter, acting like it was no big deal. How come?

One former Fox News insider says it was all about absolving themselves, of blame, and keeping viewers, coming back, for the haterade.

Chris Stirewalt, is with me, next.



SMERCONISH: Fox News hosts, now playing defense, after being exposed, for their duplicitous texts, to Mark Meadows, on January 6, expressing their alarm to him, but spinning for Trump, on TV.

Their defense? They were taken out of context, of course.

While it's true, Fox hosts, including Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity, denounced the violence, they also were sure to throw in some red herrings, suggesting January 6 might be the work of Antifa, or that the 2020 election was a train-wreck.

It's that commitment, to the "Big lie," that may have cost my next guest, his job, at Fox News. He was fired from his role, as Political Editor, after the Network called Arizona, for Biden, on Election Night. He says, Fox hosts primed the pump for the assault on democracy.

Chris Stirewalt is now the Contributing Editor, for "The Dispatch," and joins me now.

I, of course, Chris, like many of us, will never forget those events, and when that call went down. And I wonder, if Arizona hadn't been called, when you folks called it, how might that have bolstered Trump, and led to something else taking place, on January 6?


Because they - and Mark Meadows admits, as much, in book excerpts that he's put out, that this was a real shot. He was flabbergasted that, my boss Bill Sammon, that we were not going to knuckle under, to the criticisms, about this, because they wanted that narrative intact, that night.


And it's amazing to hear people say it out loud, right? It is now amazing to me, to hear that this stuff is taken, as normal, by a pretty substantial wing of the Republican Party, that they were trying to steal an election, and they were frustrated, by the fact that we wouldn't let them. And that's just yes, I mean, it kind of gives you the chills a little bit.

SMERCONISH: How would Roger Ailes have reacted, to all this?

STIREWALT: He was a very changed man, by the end of the time that I knew him. But Roger Ailes, in his prime, I don't think would have been consumed by Donald Trump. I don't think that he would have been victimized, in this way. And he would have probably given himself more operational space.

The thing that Ailes was good at was being unpredictable. He would zig when they expected him to zag. He - and he - one other thing that Roger knew that was really important, was, Fox had to have enough journalistic credibility.

There had to be enough of a backbone, in there, of actual journalists, so that you could afford to have the exaggerations, or the partisanship, or the over-the-top performances, of the primetime hosts, so that you could point back and say, "Hey, look, we got it. That's the editorial page. That's the entertainment. This is the news division. And they do good work."

SMERCONISH: I said here, for the last couple of nights that the tweets - the texts, pardon me, the texts that were sent to Meadows, were appropriate, because I'd like to think that somebody wanted, the events, to get shut down, and the President, to hurry up and intercede.

Of course, the aftermath was horrible, because then they acted like there was nothing to see here, on the 6th.

But I read your piece, in "The Dispatch," and now I have a different take. Because you point out that in the Laura Ingraham text, "Mark, the President needs to tell the people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us." And you drew attention to the word, "Us."

What am I talking about?

STIREWALT: Well, so January 6 is bad for all Americans, right?


STIREWALT: This was a - this was a dark day. It wasn't the worst thing that this country has been through, in this century. But it's high on the list. This is a big moment that we'll remember, for all time, and it should touch all of us.

But it's an open question, what she meant there. Did she mean all of us, Americans? I kind of doubt it.

I think maybe "All of us" mean, the people who threw in with Trump, the people who were backing Trump, public figures, who had gone along with Trump, in fact, in his efforts, to prefigure a circumstance that would allow him, to try to steal the election, at the end.

And when sort of his supporters lived down, to the expectations, the worst expectations that people had, of them, as they assaulted the Capitol? That sort of ruined the game, right? It ruined the pitch, which was "Well, we're just asking serious questions about an election that may be rigged." Those people, who stormed the Capitol, took seriously, what hosts like Hannity, and Ingraham, and others, said, over the course of the election. "This is very suspicious. Mail ballots are very bad. This whole thing could be rigged." As they echoed Trump, they primed the pump. They created that space.

SMERCONISH: When I speak to private groups, or to public groups, I'm often asked, "Hey, these cable hosts, and the talk radio folks, do they mean what they say?"

Now, I'm looking at those texts, versus the way this has been handled, thereafter. What would your answer to that question be?

STIREWALT: So, here's the deal, what they were doing that night, and thereafter, was spinning for Republicans, right?

They were saying, "Oh, well, maybe it was Antifa. Actually, the election was a mess. What about this?" And then eventually, we would end up with the "Patriot Purge" stuff that Tucker Carlson did, and all of these things.

So, on the one hand, you could say that they were functioning, as an arm of the Republican Party. But what you could really say is that what they're advising, for the Republican Party, isn't even good for Republicans.

The right thing, for Republicans, to have done, on January 6, was to take a step back. "Uh-oh! What did we do? This got way out of hand!" But that's not good for TV. That's not good for revenue.

Because, if you say to people, "Things have gotten out of hand here. We need to reassess what we're doing. And we need to take some blame for ourselves. We need to look at our part of this," that doesn't keep people tuned in, because what you're telling them, is the last thing that these viewers want to hear--


STIREWALT: --which is, "You have a part in this too. And you need to think about that."

SMERCONISH: Hey, I'm limited on time. But you've just reminded me. I woke up this morning, watching a Fox segment, of chest-thumping, defending the rights of people, to be unvaccinated. And I was watching individuals that I know are vaccinated, which I think speaks to the point that you just made.

STIREWALT: Yes, look, one of the things that I've always respected, about your work, and admired you for, is that you paint things as complicated. You don't just cut right to the end and say, "Oh, it's all this or it's all that."

There is nuance. It is hard. And as journalists, when we talk about serious things, we need to take them seriously. Doesn't mean we have to take ourselves seriously. But we have to take these issues seriously, and bring our best, to them. SMERCONISH: Yes. A lot of this stuff transcends entertainment, is what we're both saying.

Chris Stirewalt, thank you so much for being here.


SMERCONISH: Slogans usually sell an idea. "Just do it," "Don't leave home without it," to name a few. But one slogan backfired so badly, it's got politicians, around the country, scrambling, to sound more, like their rivals.

That is tonight's Reality Check, with John Avlon, next.



SMERCONISH: "Defund the Police," the controversial slogan, has become even more politically problematic, for Dems, with violent crimes on the rise. And now, some Democrats, who once backed the idea, are embracing a new catchphrase, "Refund the Police."

John Avlon with tonight's Reality Check.


Look, San Francisco liberals basically have their own wing, in the Museum of Conservative Stereotypes.

But SF Mayor London Breed broke that mold, with a speech, this week, where she railed against rising crime, in terms that even a Republican could love.


MAYOR LONDON BREED, (D) SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA: It's time that the reign of criminals, who are destroying our city, it is time, for it to come to an end.

And it comes to an end, when we take the steps, to be more aggressive, with law enforcement, more aggressive, with the changes in our policies, and less tolerant, of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.



AVLON: And she's not alone. In the city across the bay, Oakland Mayor, Libby Schaaf, distanced herself from "Defund the Police" rhetoric, when faced with the reality, of a major spike in gun crime, saying "There's nothing progressive about unbridled gun violence."

You're damn right!

She also told CNN, this.


MAYOR LIBBY SCHAAF, (D) OAKLAND CITY, CALIFORNIA: Let me be clear. Oakland needs more police. We have been impacted by staffing reductions. COVID interrupted our recruitment and training processes. And the "Defund" rhetoric is challenging our ability, to attract and retain recruits.


AVLON: And this echoed a recent call for sanity, from former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who slammed, what he saw, as a laissez-faire attitude, towards rising crime and murders, from his city's liberal D.A., and blaming it on a form of white wokeness, in an interview, right here with Smerconish, on CNN.

Now, if your head is spinning, then you haven't really been paying attention. Because while big cities generally lean Left, and thrive on diversity, they're also deeply pragmatic.

And after decades of historic crime decline, violent crimes started to creep up in 2015. And murders really spiked in 2020, with a nearly 30 percent rise in homicides.

Now, to be sure, cities are still far safer, than they were, in the early 1990s. But the days of taking the low crime, and high quality of life, for granted, are over, which brings us to one of the worst political slogans, in recent memory, "Defund the Police."

Now, it came out of righteous protests, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, and an overdue reckoning, about police abuse, of power, and systemic racism.

But the slogan, which defenders argued really didn't mean what it said, nonetheless became shorthand, for a retreat, from policing. The policy might have been popular with activists, but not so much the vast majority the American people.

And so, the Trump campaign tried to tie it to Joe Biden, despite the fact that he opposed the policy, and actually called for more funding for the police.

But when the dust settled, on the 2020 election, with down-ballot Democrats underperforming, the top of the ticket, both Biden and Obama pointed to the slogan, as one of the reasons, why.

But since taking office, Biden's pushed for more funding, for cops, as well as police reform legislation, which stalled in the Senate, after initially-hopeful signs. The DOJ has unveiled several initiatives, to combat gun violence.

But these trends just don't turn on a dime. And this year, more than two-thirds of America's biggest cities saw increases in homicides. So, no wonder sentiment is snapping back. Get this. A Pew survey found that just 15 percent of Americans want funding decreased, for the police, while more than three times that number, 47 percent, want to see it increased, for the police. That's a shift that's particularly pronounced, in the African American community.

So it's really no surprise that mayors, across the country, are changing tactics. Minneapolis voters rejecting a proposal that would have overhauled their police department.

And a New York City electing a former police captain, named Eric Adams, to be its new mayor, after he promised to be tough on crime, and police abuse of power. What a concept!

Big cities are not the liberal stereotypes that are presented on right-wing talk TV. But they know that high crime and lawlessness can function as a political recruitment tool, for the GOP, used to distract, from other major issues, like, I don't know, defense of democracy.

The reality is that public safety is the foundation for strong livable cities. Once that starts to erode, everything else falls apart, from quality of life, to basic trust between fellow citizens.

No wonder more and more Democrats are rejecting those calls, to defund the police, and instead, declaring that it's time to reform, and refund, the police.

And that's your Reality Check.

SMERCONISH: I agree with you. That pendulum has swung. And this will be a big issue in the midterm elections, unless things change, in the way that you've just described.

AVLON: Big time! We'll see.

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



SMERCONISH: The results of tonight's survey question. Here's what we were asking.

Should the definition of "Fully vaccinated" include a booster?

Results? 85 percent say, yes. Interesting. 15 percent say, no. That word's got to come from the CDC. And I think Mayor de Blasio was pretty clear here, earlier tonight that he's looking to change it, in exactly that way.

Here's some of the social media that came in during the course of the program.

"I only think about the "surge" when I accidentally let the media remind me of it. "Get busy living or get busy dying."

I'm getting busy living, and I'm concerned about the surge, only insofar as, unless we get ahead of it, we're not going to be able to continue, to get on living. But it's not got me overwhelmed.

If I gave you that impression, at the outset of the program? That was the wrong impression. I just want everybody to get on board.

Here's more of what came in tonight.

"Smerconish, three people from Fox, Trump's son, and others had to beg Meadows to get the POTUS to do something about the mob. They warned him that someone might be killed and that there would be violence. What bothers me is that he didn't give a damn."

There are a lot of things about that, that I find intriguing, not the least of which is why did Don Jr. have to go through Mark Meadows, to reach the old man? I mean, I want to know. And I think this January 6 committee or commission is going to get to the bottom of it.

What exactly was the President doing at that time? Was he walled off? What did Meadows do?

Here's a question, if I were taking his deposition. "Mr. Meadows, you receive that communication from Sean Hannity, right?" "Yes." "Well, did you share it with President Trump? And if so, what exactly was his reaction?" And then, ask the same question about Laura Ingraham's text, and the same about Kilmeade's texts, and those from the members of Congress.

They were sending the right message. I have no beef with them, sending that message. They just should have followed up, in kind, when they addressed it, on their own television programs.

Thank you for watching. I'll be back tomorrow.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.