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CNN TONIGHT: Omicron Now Dominant COVID Variant In U.S. By Wide Margin; Manchin Blames White House Staff For Not Backing Biden's Bill; Harvard Suspends SAT & ACT Requirement For Next Four Years. Aired 9- 10p ET

Aired December 20, 2021 - 21:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Michael Smerconish, and CNN TONIGHT.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: John, thank you for that.

I am Michael Smerconish. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

It's winter's eve, a new season, literally setting in, along with his virus. We're all done with COVID. But COVID isn't done with us. And that's why President Biden is about to address our pandemic-weary nation, tomorrow, to try and jolt us, into action, for this new front in the war, with Omicron on the march.

Omicron, has just become the most dominant variant, in the U.S. The CDC is reporting, it accounts now, for almost three quarters, of new cases. A month ago, I'd never heard of Omicron!

The first detection here was December 1. And now, here we are, 19 days later, it accounts for three out of four new cases.

So, with this new variant, quickly taking hold, the White House says this Biden speech, is not going to be about locking the country down, but rather about, what to expect, in these winter months, what steps we can all be taking now, and some dire warnings, for the unvaxxed, in particular.

Will Biden's new warnings resonate? Remember, he campaigned on ending this pandemic. But nearly a year, into his presidency, even with the miraculous vaccines, COVID is still raging with a vengeance.

We're hearing now that some of his advisers, are encouraging him, to alter the messaging, about ending the Pandemic, with no signs of COVID, ever disappearing. Instead, to steer public attention, away from the total number of cases, and focus on severity. How much more dangerous, this virus is, for the non-immunized?

Only 61 percent of the country is fully-vaccinated, at this moment. That's low, in comparison, to a lot of countries in Europe, like Spain, with 80 percent fully-vaxxed, or Denmark, or Ireland, also with more than three quarters of their populations fully immunized.

And only 18 percent, in total, have been boosted here, so far. A number that sounds especially concerning, with so many gathering, for Christmas, as we speak. So, could this potentially help President Biden boost the booster effort?


BILL O'REILLY, FORMER FOX NEWS HOST: Both the President and I are vaxxed.

And did you get the booster?


O'REILLY: I got it too.



TRUMP: Don't! Don't! Don't! Don't! Don't! Don't! Don't! No! No! That's all right. This is a very tiny group over there.


SMERCONISH: Not only did Donald Trump reveal to his base yesterday that he's boosted, he quieted down those in the crowd, who pounced on him for it, and tried to reverse their psychology, on vaccines.


TRUMP: Take credit for it. Take credit for it. It's a great - what we've done is historic. Don't let them take it away. Don't take it away from ourselves. You're playing that - you're playing right into their hands, when you sort of like, "Oh, the vaccine!"


SMERCONISH: Interestingly, the Fox Corporation just tightened its vaccine rules. And that includes Fox News employees.

As of next Monday, all working at Fox, in New York City, will have to show proof, of at least one dose of the COVID shot, removing the option, to get tested, weekly, instead, due to a new strict city-wide mandate.

New York City now asking for federal help, to beat back Omicron.

Dr. Ashish Jha, a great medical mind, from Brown University's School of Public Health, just wrote a column, with some keen perspective, on what he thinks our way forward should be.

He writes, in "The Atlantic," "Don't panic about Omicron. But don't be indifferent, either. Navigating the next wave will require charting a middle course between dismay and dismissal. And our clear goals must be preventing deaths, protecting our hospitals, from crushing case loads, and keeping schools and businesses open."

So, how do we do that? We need more vaccinations, he says. A massive increase in the availability and use of rapid tests, a clear strategy for schools. And we can all make modest sacrifices, in the coming weeks, like avoiding large holiday parties, and other unmasked indoor gatherings.

What say another Pandemic Preparedness M.D.? Joining me now is Dr. Zeke Emanuel, former member of President-elect Biden's COVID Advisory Board, during the transition, and former Obama White House Health Policy Adviser.

Dr. Emanuel, thanks for coming back. Omicron clearly spreading rapidly. The question is, do we yet know of its severity of disease, in comparison to prior strains?



But even if it's less severe, if it's more infectious, you're going to have more people, come down with serious illness, and again, having an increase in hospitalizations, an increase in ICU use, and an increase in deaths. And that's, I think, the big problem that we're facing.

SMERCONISH: Can we at least say that it's having disparate impact, on the vaccinated, versus the unvaccinated?

EMANUEL: Oh, yes, it definitely is worse for the unvaccinated, many times more likely to die from it.

And it appears that the people, who are vaccinated, who get a breakthrough infection, have mild symptoms. And that's good. But it's still worrisome.

And it's spreading so rapidly, with incubation times of two to four days that you can see, as you pointed out, in two weeks - three weeks, it's really exploded, and come to dominate the country.

SMERCONISH: So, if President Biden, were to call you, and for all I know, he has, and say, "Zeke, I need your advice, again, as you provided during the transition. What do I tell the nation tomorrow?" You'd say what?

EMANUEL: Well, there are four things that we can do, to really fight this vaccine - number one is - to fight this virus.

Number one are vaccinations. We have to get more of them. I do think we're going to need more mandates. We've tried everything else. We've tried educating people. We've reduced the price to zero. We've tried incentives. We've made it readily available. We're going to need mandates. And that's just, you know, we're not going to get past the 61 percent, 62 percent, just by asking people. We've been stuck at that level, for several months now. So, we are definitely going to need to have more mandates.

Then, we have testing. We have to flood the zone with tests. They are, you know, that needs to be done. We need probably 2 billion to 3 billion tests a month. Not hundreds of millions. Billions of tests a month, if we want people, in America, to take say, two tests a week, before gatherings and other things.

And then, you have masking. We have to upgrade from sort of flimsy cotton masks, to really serious N95, KN95 masks. Wear them indoors. Wear them outdoors, if you're going to a crowded situation.

And then we have ventilation, which has not been well-publicized here, getting HEPA filters, and making sure that the air is better, and filtering out, the virus particles.

So, those are the four things. And the fifth thing we're waiting on is for the Merck and Pfizer drugs that really shorten the impact, of getting an infection, to be authorized by the FDA. That should happen pretty soon. And then, getting them out to people, who are infected, is going to be a very big and important task.

SMERCONISH: Should every American be provided with a rapid test? To be fair, what I'm about to show you is two weeks old. And this is moving at a fast clip.

But this is White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, two weeks ago, on that issue. Roll it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not just make them free, and give them out to - and have them available, everywhere?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Should we just send one to every American?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe. I'm just asking you - there are other countries--

PSAKI: Then what - then what happens if you - if every American has one test? How much does that cost? And then, what happens after that?


SMERCONISH: What's the answer to her question? Should we just send one to every American? Is that even practical?

EMANUEL: Well, sending one is probably not adequate, for Omicron. You're going to have to send more.

And the answer is yes, it's practical. Not only has Britain showed that, you can do it. You call up the National Health Service, and they will mail out to you, tests. But Colorado, New Hampshire have done similar things.

I think the other alternative is just the federal government should buy them, drive the price as low as possible, get more tests authorized, and distribute them to pharmacies, and grocery stores, and doctor's offices, where for either a nothing or a nominal amount, people can pick up tests.

The situation now, where you have to pay $25, for two tests, and you can't find any, because there aren't - they're not available, is unacceptable. I mean, we're asking people, to test before holiday gatherings, with their family. But if they can't get a test, what good is that advice?

SMERCONISH: Do you think that President Biden has received that message?

EMANUEL: Oh, yes. I'm sure they've received that message. I think that episode with--

SMERCONISH: Did you give them that message?

EMANUEL: --that episode with Jen Psaki made it clear that her answer was not an acceptable answer, for most Americans.

SMERCONISH: Yes, Dr. Emanuel, your prescription, your four steps, or your five steps, if we talk about the pill, sounds reasonable to me, in Philadelphia. Sounded reasonable to me, when I was in New York, last week. I'm sure, sounds reasonable in Chicago.


It's a big country, where I hear, from radio listeners, everyday, who don't see people in masks. How do we reach the rest of the country?

EMANUEL: Well, again, I think that one thing the government could do, and we recommended this, a year ago, that we mail out good masks to people, free of charge, that to every household, we send five masks, for example, N95 masks. That would be very, very useful.

First of all, it would say, this is normalized. This is what people do. And the second, it would make it available, so that there's no barrier again, to them, to get those kinds of masks.

SMERCONISH: Stick with me, for just a moment. I want to respond to some social media.


SMERCONISH: And my hunch is that it'll be more, in your expertise, than my own.

What do we have, Vaughn? Put it up on the screen, and let me just take a look.

"We have to learn to live with this virus and move on with life. We have vaccines and medications but we cannot shut down or lock down over this anymore," says EMR.

You would say what?

EMANUEL: I totally agree. We can't lock down, shut down. We're going to have to learn how to live with Coronavirus.

And part of living with it, is taking precautions, to reduce risk, like wearing a mask, going indoors, like improving the ventilation, indoors, and like getting a vaccine. That's living with it. Ignoring it is not living with it. That's just asking for trouble.

SMERCONISH: Right. You sound to me like this is a good thing, like Dr. Ashish Jha, from Brown, in that there's a middle road, somewhere in here that we should be traveling on.

One more, if I've got time, for Dr. Emanuel. What do we have?

"Yes. Families need at-home free or inexpensive rapid tests that are bulk packs! No lines at clinics!"

I mean, that's one of the frustrating things, in New York City, to see people, who are standing in line, wrapped around a block, waiting for a test.

You've made this very clear. You think Americans need to get masks, need to get rapid tests, and that the government needs to be providing both. You can have the final word.

EMANUEL: I totally agree with you that, I think that - and I don't think it's an unreasonable request, by people, you know? Tens and hundreds of billions of dollars have been allocated, to things like testing, and getting the schools ready. And people should get it. That's the fact.

We've got to remove all the barriers, and put the effort, the tools, to actually fight this pandemic, in people's hands. We've done that miraculously, with the vaccines. We have to do it, with testing and masks.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Emanuel, thank you, as always.

EMANUEL: You're great, Mike. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: We turn next, to the "No" that has turned Washington, upside-down. Is Joe Manchin, really a hard pass now, on Build Back Better? Did the key Democrat go back on his word, to President Biden? Or did the White House push him, as he said to, quote unquote, "Wit's end?"

All kinds of accusations are flying around, and there's a lot more high drama tonight. There's also a theory that the Senator is actually doing Biden a favor, by torpedoing his agenda.

We'll take that up next, with former Republican congressman, Charlie Dent.



SMERCONISH: Joe Manchin, on radio, back home, in West Virginia, today, defending his move, to sink Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I'm not blaming anybody. I knew where they were, and I knew what they could and could not do.

They just never realized it because they figure, surely to God, we can move one person. Surely we can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough. They'll just say, "OK, I'll vote for anything. Just quit."

Well, guess what? I'm from West Virginia. I'm not from where they're from. And they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they'll be submissive. Period.


SMERCONISH: While the media is still chasing the back-and-forth, to figure out why this happened, for Democrats, the operative question seems to be how this impacts key House Democrats, in swing districts, who now have to go home, and explain their vote, for a $5 trillion bill, in spending, over 10 years, without anything to show for it.

And what this means for Democrats, in the midterms, given that the latest CNN poll shows COVID, and the economy, far and away, the top issues. Did Joe Manchin just give them all a chance, to shift their focus, to what voters really want?

My next guest knows what it's like to be a centrist, out of step, with his party, these days. Former congressman, Charlie Dent, joins me now.

Hey, Charlie, Congressman, nice to see you again. You compared Joe Manchin, to John McCain, in an essay that you just published, at And you said we ought to be pinning a "Medal," on Manchin's chest. How come?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I think Joe Manchin has been very forthright, and honest, and open, about where he stands. He's told everybody what his concerns and objections were. Unfortunately, many, on the Left, chose not to hear them. They won't take "No" for an answer.

He's been quite clear. And just like John McCain, he voted against the health care reform bill, in 2017. He put his thumb down and, and that ended up killing it. But that bill was problematic. And John McCain, I think, it was a big moment for him. He showed some real guts and courage.

I think that Joe Manchin is doing the same thing. He could not be bullied. This is a man, who knows what state he represents. And he's listening to his constituents. And he finds that the size and scope of this bill is too much. And I think he's correct.

And I think he's correct that there are other issues, like the ones, you identified, Michael, like inflation, the economy, COVID. These are the issues that are front and center, on the minds, of many Americans, particularly after $6 trillion has been spent, on COVID. And now, we're talking about even more spending.

SMERCONISH: You know that President Biden said that he had a commitment, with Senator Manchin, a couple of weeks ago.

Last week, here with me, Representative Jayapal, was my guest. We discussed that. Here's what she said.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Most of Build Back Better, was pre- negotiated, pre-conferenced, with Senator Manchin, and with the President.

And I believe the President, when he said that he had a commitment, and that he had confidence that he would get, the 50 votes needed, in the Senate. And I've spoken to the White House again, recently. I believe that's still to be true.


SMERCONISH: Charlie, so you've got the progressives, who feel like they got snookered, right? But you've also got, among the Democrats, moderates.


I'm thinking of Josh Gottheimer, who voted for the House version of this bill, and now is sort of exposed, because, in the end, they couldn't get it through the Senate. So, I'm sure he has to worry about drawing a Republican opponent who said, "Hey, not even Joe Manchin would go along with what he was willing to support."

Talk to me about the dynamics of progressives, and moderates, within the Democratic Party.

DENT: Well, the moderates knew, I think, they knew, when they voted for the Build Back Better version, in the House, that it had almost no chance of passing the Senate.

With the SALT provisions, with the immigration provisions, we knew - they knew that this bill was going to change substantially. I would argue that many House Democrats were BTUed. That is, they were forced to walk the plank, for a bill that was not going to become law. That's what happened. That's a bad place to be.

Same thing happened, to House Republicans, in 2017, on the ObamaCare Repeal/Replace legislation. I voted against it in part, because it was bad policy. But also, I said that Bill had no chance, of becoming law, ever, through the Senate. So, why vote for it? Same thing happened on the BTU tax, with Bill Clinton, many, many years ago, in the 90s, when many Democrats, again, walked the plank. So, I think, if I'm a moderate, I'm upset. In fact, I hear a lot of talk about people acting in good faith.

Well, the moderates in the House, Gottheimer, was they negotiated with the progressives, on a budget resolution in August, in exchange for a vote on the infrastructure bill, September 27.

Well, the progressives and Speaker Pelosi reneged on that agreement. And they pushed it out until November. And then, he got the moderates, to vote for the Build Back Better, that wasn't going to become law, in order to vote on the infrastructure bill.

I saw how they behaved. And they, I think, they did not operate in good faith, toward the moderates. And I'd be very upset right now.


DENT: And I just saw that--


DENT: And I just saw that Stephanie Murphy is--

SMERCONISH: Quick final question, if I may?

DENT: And - yes, sure.

SMERCONISH: Charlie, is this all just a negotiation? Is this all just shtick? And, in the end, they get together, and they pass something that's got a lot less of a price tag? Quick answer from you.

DENT: Yes, if - they have to scale this thing down dramatically, one - maybe one of the major provisions. That would be it, as far as I'm concerned. They might be able to get away with that.

But hey, they all but called Joe Manchin, a liar, yesterday, from the White House. That's really not helping things. So, we'll see where this goes. But I think this is on life support, right now.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Charlie, as always.

DENT: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Build Back Better, the subject of tonight's survey question, at

Do you agree with Senator Manchin that Democrats, here's the quote, "continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill?"

Go to my website, vote yes or no. I'll give you the results, at the end of this hour.

Here's some more social media reaction that has come in, thus far, during the course of the program. "They need to drop Manchin from the Democratic caucus. He is hurting Biden, and the Democrats more than he is helping!"

Michael Wenning, you just heard Charlie Dent say, make the case that Manchin is actually helping the Democrats that he didn't go this far, but that if Joe Manchin didn't have Manchin - that if Joe Biden didn't have Manchin, as a buffer, he'd have to create him.

Because it's actually Manchin, by this argument, who reins Biden in, from controlled by the most progressive elements of his party, which is not the way, in which he got elected president.

One more, if we have time for it. And we do.

"Hurts. It's just another case of the Democrats eating each other alive while the Republicans sit by holding hands."

SDM, yes, it is like herding cats. I mean, I think that's really always been the case, relative to the Democratic caucus, in whether it's the Senate, or the House, Republicans much more monolithic, in their approach that kind of goes with the territory.

When three retired U.S. generals say they are chilled to the bones about something, it gets your attention, right? It definitely got mine. These are three warriors, who are very concerned, about a repeat of January 6, and the possibility of a coup, succeeding next time.

They're warning our Military must prepare now. And one of those generals, Paul Eaton, is here, next.



SMERCONISH: The Pentagon today, trying to define a line that we have failed to mark, as a society. Where is the line between political passion and extremism?

The top brass, in the Military, issuing new rules, which, for the first time, regulate troops' behavior, on social media, down to the level of clicking like, or using certain emojis.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The physical act of liking is, of course, advocating, right? And advocating for extremist groups that certainly, you know, groups that advocate, violating their oath to the Constitution, overthrow of the government, terrorist activities. Liking is an advocation. And that's laid out clear in the instruction.


SMERCONISH: The change comes, as more than 70 current or former members, of the U.S. Military, face charges, for storming the Capitol, on January, the 6th. But even as the Pentagon updates its rules, a group of former generals say steps need to be taken, to protect the chain of command, in the case - in case, another coup attempt takes place.

Now, that includes my next guest, retired Major General Paul Eaton, the former Commanding General of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, in Iraq.

General, thank you for being here. First of all, what did you make of what Admiral Kirby said that now they're going to be taking a look at, who likes what, in social media, among Military personnel?

MAJ. GEN. PAUL D. EATON, U.S. ARMY (RET), SENIOR ADVISER, VOTEVETS: Michael, first, thank you very much, for having me on board.

Admiral Kirby is a good man. And we have a lot of really good, competent men and women, in the Pentagon, trying to figure this out.


Regulations and law basically lag behind technology. So, we now, in the face of the abundant indicators, and warning that we have a problem, we are going after the idea that social media can be a disruptive influence, in the chain of command, in units. And we're beginning to get after it.

There's plenty of work to be done. And it's - there's this whole idea of, "Is it freedom of speech? Is it freedom of association?" And, to your point, earlier, where do you draw that line? And we'll figure it out. We've got the best and brightest, in the Pentagon, to do that, of course.

SMERCONISH: Your concern is a scenario, where whether one follows the chain of command, is dependent upon party affiliation. Explain. And is that fantastical, or is that a real issue?

D. EATON: Well, it's not fantastical. We've got a failure, to imagine outcomes, and failure, to imagine, what might precipitate outcomes.

So, what we have to do is acknowledge that 39 percent of the Republican Party, do not believe that President Biden is the duly- elected President of the United States. 17 percent, in the same polling indicate that the use of violence, to correct that outcome, of the presidential election, is OK.

And you cannot have that level of negativity, of bad acting, in a major political party, without infecting the rest of the United States. And sooner or later, we draw our men and women, in the armed forces, from society at large. You cannot avoid infecting some of our more impressionable young men and young women. And that's ongoing. So, the Pentagon sees it. They're working it.

SMERCONISH: 1 percent of us, bear the burden of service, Military service. I shouldn't say "Us," because I've never worn the uniform, of my country. But it's 1 percent, in round numbers. And yet, among those charged, for the events, storming the Capitol, on January 6, we're looking at 10 percent, who were either active-duty or veterans. What accounts for that?

D. EATON: Well, again, I go back to the fact that a lot of Americans, a lot of good Americans, you and I know them, we've got friends, we may have family members, who believe in this whole "Stolen election."

So, we've got people, who actually fervently believe that there was enough shenanigans, in our electoral system, based on the constant drumbeat that you get out of Republican leadership, that we had a flawed election.

No. The 2020 election was one of the best, one of the safest, one of the most, well-monitored elections that we've ever had. But we still have some young men and women, who have bought that "Stop the Steal" mantra that we get.

So, we've just got to - we've just got to message better. We've got to fight the "Stop that Steal" messaging that is ongoing. And we could stop - we could start it, by stopping Fox News, on any Military installation. That is anathema.

What - the messaging tool that these guys are using, to get into the Armed Forces of the United States, are guys like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity. These guys - these guys would be - got to be cut out, of the information stream, going into the men and women, to the Armed Forces of the United States.

SMERCONISH: Well, my pitch is people need to change the channel. Whatever channel they're watching, you got to mix it up, and get out of your bubble. Get out of your silo.

General, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate your insight.

D. EATON: My pleasure, Michael, thank you very much.

SMERCONISH: From social media, what do we have?

"The guardrails held in 2020. But GOP-controlled legislatures are tearing them down and setting the stage for a successful coup next time. The Republic was great, while it lasted."

DeepStateGrad, I'm not ready to bury the idea of the Republic. But I think you're correct, in pointing out, how close we came, in 2020, and those guardrails needing to be reinforced.

I've said here, in the last couple of nights, initially watching the events unfold, I thought it was much more organic, and less planned, than it really turned out to be. We'll talk more about that, in the days ahead, as well.

This will sound strange. I'm going to lighten things up, in our next segment, by sharing an obituary. I promise it's not going to bum you out. [21:35:00]

You're going to meet the author of the hilarious, and snarky, and even star-studded send-off, for a woman, you've probably never heard of, but you won't forget. And that's his mom.

Andy Corren is here, to tell us why, he wrote the loving tribute that is viral, and reads a lot more like a celebrity roast, next.


SMERCONISH: A stunning headline, in the "New York Post," caught my eye, over the weekend. Quote, "Son's brutal obit of his "plus-sized redneck" mother goes viral." The idea that a son would trash his dead mom and go viral for it? You can imagine why I found that distressing.

And then I took the time to read the actual obituary, in "The Fayetteville Observer." It was nothing, like what the "Post" suggested. Here was an obituary that truly paid homage, to a larger- than-life woman, a force, who was unapologetically herself, flaws and all.

Here's a piece of what her son Andy wrote.


Quote, "Because she was my mother, the death of zaftig good-time gal Renay Corren at the impossible old age of 84 is newsworthy to me, and I treat it with the same respect and reverence she had for, well, nothing. A more disrespectful, trash-reading, talking and watching woman in North Carolina, Florida or Texas was not to be found.

She played cards like a shark, bowled and played cribbage like a pro, and laughed with the boys until the wee hours, long after the last pin dropped. At one point in the 1980's, Renay was the 11th or 12th-ranked woman in cribbage in America, and while that could be a lie, it sounds great in print. She also told me that she came up with the name for Sunoco, and I choose to believe this, too. Yes, Renay lied a lot.

She left me nothing but these lousy memories. Which I, and my family of five brothers and my sister-in-laws, nephews, friends, nieces, neighbors, ex-boyfriends, Larry King's children, who I guess I might be one of, the total strangers who all, to a person, loved and will cherish her. Forever."

Andy Corren joins me now.

Andy, I love it. And my hunch is she'd have loved it. Am I right?

ANDY CORREN, WROTE VIRAL OBITUARY FOR HIS MOTHER: Well, first of all, it's such an honor to be here, Mr. King. And we've been waiting, practically my whole life, to meet my true father, here in his time slot.


CORREN: So, I hope you don't mind, we brought a portable DNA kit, to make things official.

SMERCONISH: Yes, I don't even have the suspenders!

Hey, I may as well go there, first.

Vaughn, put up the second of the passages that I want to read aloud.

So, you said this. "COVID couldn't kill Renay. Neither could pneumonia twice, infections, blood clots, bad feet, breast cancer twice, two mastectomies, two recessions, multiple bankruptcies, marriage to a philandering Sergeant Major."


SMERCONISH: "A divorce in the 70's."


SMERCONISH: "Six kids, one cesarean, a few abortions from the Quietly Famous Abortionist of Spring Lake, North Carolina, or an affair with Larry King in the 60's."


SMERCONISH: "Renay was preceded in death by her ex-boyfriend, Larry."

What is the deal on Larry King?

CORREN: Listen, I'm here to find out. We have - we've got time. This is your hour. Let's make - let's get to the bottom of this.

There are actually receipts, in my family, which is a sprawling family, five boys and a girl. And my mom ran around a lot, in Miami, in the early 60s, late 50s and early 60s. And she ran around with the bad boys.

And guess what Larry King was? He was kind of a dirtbag. I think everybody knows his early days were not golden years.

SMERCONISH: OK. In a good way!

CORREN: Yes, I mean - well?

SMERCONISH: In a good way, if there is such a thing!

CORREN: Well maybe - I mean, the story is, is that he stole some money from my mom's parents, and that - and that's finally--

SMERCONISH: Oh, Jesus! All right, hang on a second. Let's get back to what she was - he's not here, to defend himself.

CORREN: I know. Not still - maybe he owes it to them.

SMERCONISH: Let's get back to what she was great at.

CORREN: Right. She-- SMERCONISH: Here's what - here's what your mom was great at.

"Dyeing her red roots, weekly manicures, dirty jokes, pier fishing, rolling joints and buying dirty magazines."


SMERCONISH: "She said she read them for the articles, but filthy free speech was really Renay's thing. Hers was a bawdy, rowdy life lived large, broke and loud."

I should tell people that on the - on her 85th birthday, next spring, you're having a non-denominational memorial service? What the hell is that going to look like?

CORREN: I hope it's gonzo, and weird, and loud, and colorful, and filled with Pepsi and carbs and Krispy Kremes, and we have a real celebration of what I've been calling the "Queen of the Dirtbags," because that's what my brothers and I kind of jokingly refer to each other as.

But we have a lively memorial for a lively woman. It's the least we can do. And in the place that she truly loved, which was the Bowling at B&B Lanes, in Fayetteville.

SMERCONISH: And to go back where I started, mom would have loved the way that you've memorialized her, right?

CORREN: Oh, my gosh! I mean, look, she was an atheist. So, she doesn't believe in an afterlife. So I can't comfort myself, thinking of my mommy, in some magical place, thinking about, and laughing about, what's happening.

But I can tell you that over the years, of writing about her, in various places, storytelling, plays, et cetera, she always took tremendous pride, in being a source of inspiration, for me, as any Jewish mother really would be.

SMERCONISH: Andy, we're going to send a - we're going to send a film - we're going to send a film crew, May 10 of 2022--

CORREN: Well I think it's going to be--

SMERCONISH: --just to watch all this happen, OK?

CORREN: Oh, I think it's going to be really good material. I think it's going to be plenty gonzo. I mean, North Carolina is rowdy, and Fayetteville is dirty. So, it's a great combo.


SMERCONISH: OK. Sorry - I'm laughing, as I say, "Sorry about your loss." Thank you, Andy.

CORREN: You know what? Hey, Smerconish? People needed a laugh. And I'm really, truly, I mean this. I'm so honored that my Mommy could really give people a moment, to laugh, in the face of death, because she did, for 84 years.

SMERCONISH: That's a life well-lived! Thank you, Andy.

CORREN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: I don't know what to say. Are we doing social media? Is there social media after that? Or am I just? No. OK, good!

The SAT and ACT exams are facing their own test, when it comes to their future. One of the nation's top university says it won't require high school students, to submit those test scores, for the next few years.

Bob Schaeffer is an expert in the so-called testing-optional movement. And we'll look at what this means, this movement, for the battle, to end the standardized testing requirements, with him, next.


SMERCONISH: Welcome news, for some students, aiming for an Ivy League education. Harvard University won't require SAT or ACT scores, for admission, for the next four years, through 2026.


School officials first implemented the policy, after the Pandemic began, because students were having a hard time, accessing testing sites. And they still are. And that's why other Ivy Leaguers, like Columbia and Cornell, are doing the same, through 2024.

It's unclear if the testing requirement will return. But what's notable is the sea change in recent years.

The University of Chicago was the first top 10 school to go, test- optional, in 2018, pre-Pandemic. Several well-known schools like the University of Washington, Oregon State, Indiana University, then followed. Pre-Pandemic, 1,070 schools went test-optional. That number has now jumped to over 1,800 schools.

The Pandemic has only expanded the movement. More than 90 percent of schools, on the U.S. News & World Report list, of top 100 colleges and universities nationwide are no longer requiring the scores.

So, should this be the new norm? And should we do away with the tests completely?

Bob Schaeffer is the Executive Director of FairTest. That's a testing reform organization.

Bob, welcome back. Nice to see you. What would be the common denominator? How, if I'm a university, am I supposed to compare disparate school districts?


The schools that have been test-optional for years, and Bowden was the first to go test-optional, 51 years ago, know that--


SCHAEFFER: --high school record, grades are a better predictor, of undergraduate success, than any test ever will be.

So, you don't need test scores, to make fair and accurate decisions. And that's why there are over 1,800 schools, listed as test-optional, or test-free, on our website, at

SMERCONISH: When you say optional, what does that really mean? Is that a wink and a nod kind of thing, like "Hey, you don't have to do it. But of course, the high achievers are still out there, going to prep courses, and taking it, to give them an edge."

SCHAEFFER: Quite the contrary. Last year, nearly 600 college and university leaders signed a statement, saying optional means optional. You will neither be advantaged, nor disadvantaged, in the admissions process, by submitting test scores.

And I've been on a number of panels with admissions directors, who talk about their numbers. And that's what the data shows. You are not at an advantage, when you submit test scores.

What matters most is your high school record, your grades, the rigor of your curriculum, your leadership abilities, your community service, extracurricular activities, a much richer set of evidence, about what a young person is, and can do, than filling in bubbles--


SCHAEFFER: --on a Saturday morning.

SMERCONISH: It was already headed in this direction, as, I think, I explained in the intro. But it now appears that the Pandemic will be the death knell of the standardized tests, as we know it.

SCHAEFFER: It's certainly true that test-optional admissions is the new normal, for the foreseeable future.

A few schools will continue requiring the tests. The U.S. Service Academies, whose policies are made by Congress, a couple conservative States, where admissions policies are determined, by political appointees, like Georgia and Florida are requiring, the test. And a number of small very conservative, often religious colleges, still have a testing requirement.

But, for the vast majority of students, now in high school, there will be no requirement, to take the ACT or SAT. We're up well over 75 percent, of all colleges and universities, in the country, do not require test scores, for the next couple of years.

SMERCONISH: I am, as a parent, four time veteran of the process. Now, I think, thankfully finished, I've lots of thoughts on this.

Next, the Common App needs to go. Makes it too easy to apply to too many schools. And if you're going to require recommendations, and I think they're a good thing, there ought to at least be one that comes from a classmate. Just my two cents!

Bob Schaeffer, thank you.

SCHAEFFER: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: We'll be right back, with more reaction, to tonight's program, and survey results.



SMERCONISH: Results of tonight's survey, from my website, at

Do you agree with Senator Manchin that Democrats, quote, "continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill?" Obviously, with regard to Build Back Better.

9,000 voted. 59 percent, interestingly say, no, they do not agree with Senator Manchin. Let's call it 60-40, 59 to 41, in disagreement with the Senator.

More social media reaction that came in, during the course of the program. Here's what we have.

"No one individual should have the power that Manchin has right now. Our two party system doesn't work anymore."

Michael, I guess I could respond, and say, well, Joe Manchin doesn't have the power. 51 senators do. I mean, I get your point, obviously, that that one individual is holding it up.

But it kind of overlooks that we've got a body of 100. And 51 of them are saying "No, we don't want the largest expansion of the societal safety net, since LBJ." I mean, glass half-empty, glass half-full. Think, about it, that way.

One more, I think, I've got time for.

"People who aren't wearing masks isn't because they don't have masks. It's because they are being told not to wear them by Republicans and Fox News!"

Yes, I get your point, Iowa2colorado. Dr. Zeke Emanuel was here, earlier in the hour. And frankly, I like what he said.

I think he made some news, when he, as a former adviser, to the President-elect, said the government ought to be providing rapid testing kits, to everybody, and masks, an upgrade in the masks.

Whether people would use those kits, and whether they'll wear those masks? I get it. That's still an issue to be determined.

Thank you for watching. I'll be back here, tomorrow night.