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CNN TONIGHT: Biden To The Unvaccinated: "Your Choice Can Be The Difference Between Life Or Death"; New York City Offers $100 To Get Boosters By New Year's; Manchin Joins Special Call With Fellow Senate Democrats After Fiery Blowback To His "No" On Build Back Better. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 21, 2021 - 21:00   ET




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


I am Michael Smerconish. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

We heard the President lay out his Omicron battle plans today. He's, once again, telling Americans, not to panic, while urging the unvaccinated, to stop putting all of our lives in danger, and just go get the shot.

But what makes him think he's going to reach them, this time, almost one year into his presidency?


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Almost everyone who has died from COVID-19, in the past many months, has been unvaccinated.

And I, honest to God, believe it's your patriotic duty.

Your choice can be the difference between life or death.

Please get vaccinated.


SMERCONISH: Here's the alarming truth for the President. The people, who should be the most concerned, about this new Omicron wave? They aren't.

The vaccinated, in America, are more scared of getting COVID, and falling seriously ill, than the unvaxxed, illustrated by this new survey, from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

52 percent of vaxxed adults say they fear getting very sick, from Coronavirus. That's 10 percent more than the non-immunized, who ought to be the most concerned.

And according to a Kaiser count, no speech from President Biden, or threat of death, is going to sway 48 percent of the unvaxxed. About half of adult holdouts in America say nothing will convince them to get immunized. Nothing! So now what? Pray it away?

You would hope Omicron would be a wake-up call for the unvaxxed. But there are too many voices, out there, peddling lies to them, about the safety of COVID shots.

Not me saying it this time, but the President himself.


BIDEN: The unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices. But those choices have been fueled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media.

It's wrong. It's immoral. And I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it. Stop it now.


SMERCONISH: President Biden did try to ease the fears of millions of other Americans, wondering how the Pandemic got so bad again.

Have we regressed back to March of 2020?


BIDEN: The answer is absolutely no. No.

More than 200 million Americans have been fully vaccinated. In March of 2020, no one was fully vaccinated.

We're prepared today for what's coming. In March of 2020, we were not ready.

And this is a critical moment. But we also have more tools than we've ever had before. We're ready. We'll get through this.


SMERCONISH: But are we prepared for what's coming? And what about what is already here?

Omicron has become the most dominant strain, in America, just three weeks, after its arrival, making up nearly three-quarters of all new cases, now. Even President Biden, admitted today, this variant spread faster than anyone could have anticipated.

We've all seen the long, long lines, for tests again. Many of you have waited in them, for hours, in the cold, sometimes. Some of you may have just given up and gone home.

Over-the-counter rapid tests are either sold out or flying off the shelves now. So, part of the President's new plan is to mail half a billion free ones, to Americans, next month.

But health experts say even that won't be enough for the long haul. And the timing is unfortunate, since tests are actually needed right now, as we're about to gather again, with our loved ones, for Christmas, and for New Year's.

The President also announced he's expanding testing sites, beyond the 20,000, the White House already points to, nationwide, and has added an additional 10,000 more vaccination sites. And he'll be deploying 1,000 more Military members, to help hospitals, if they become overburdened again.

More than 69,000 are currently hospitalized with COVID. That's about 35 percent more than a month ago. And while COVID patients are taking up about one in five ICU beds, in America, the fear is that number could grow again.

Hospitalizations are not increasing, at the same rate as cases. But the sheer number of infections, in a short time, could be enough, to overwhelm hospital systems, again. If everybody gets sick at the same time, we've got a huge problem.

Of course, the surge in case numbers are rattling. But Dr. Fauci thinks, the true measure, of how hard, this new variant is hitting us, and to be controlled, is actually this.



DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: If you really want to look at the true impact on society, it's much more important, to see, who gets sick and who doesn't, who requires hospitalization, or doesn't.

So, if we have a larger number of people, getting infected, but the degree of severity is very, very low, that would be very important. And if you just count the numbers of infections, you may get a misrepresentation, as to what is actually going on.


SMERCONISH: So, severity of cases, is what to keep our eyes on now. Does another top Pandemic Warrior agree? Joining me now is Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Welcome back to CNN TONIGHT, Doctor. With regard to that Kaiser data, what makes us think that people, who won't get vaxxed, are suddenly going to request a free test?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, first of all, thanks for having me back.

This is a real challenge. Because if people are not getting vaccinated, in many ways, they've sort of been poisoned, with misinformation. So, the question is what's going to motivate them, to get testing. Obviously, if places require a negative test, that's going to do it.

It's the same thing that's motivating those people, to get vaccinated, to the extent that they have, which is requirements from their work - from their workplaces, requirements from restaurants, and other places they want to go to. At this point, that's going to be the major driver, for both testing and vaccinations, for that population.

SMERCONISH: I'm not faulting the message of the President today. But that expression of "Preaching to the choir" just seems appropriate.

I feel that the sort of people tuned into a program, like this, right now, are nodding their heads in agreement. And probably, the sort of folks, who paid attention to the President, already got the message, already got vaxxed, and are probably already boosted.

So, it's that perennial issue of how do we reach the people, who just aren't on the same page?

JHA: Yes, so this is been the big challenge. The administration has tried a lot of things, a lot of us in public health have tried.

I think, first of all, we got to keep going. I mean, I don't think we should give up. But what we know, the one thing that we know, moves people to get vaccinated, is mandates, workplace-related mandates, mandates from other kinds of contexts.

I wish, one of the things, I wish the administration had done, and would do, is put in a mandate for a negative test, or a vaccine, for flying. That would make an enormous difference.

Because a lot of people want to be able to travel. And if you can't travel, without a vaccine, that would really move people. But I think that's going to be the major strategy right now, if we want to get more people vaccinated.

SMERCONISH: Do we yet know, does the data yet tell us, whether Omicron is less fatal than previous strains of the virus?

JHA: Yes, here's why that has been so hard, to sort out. So, I can point to South Africa data that looks pretty compelling that this may be a milder virus. I can point to the U.K. data that says "Yes, not so sure."

And the problem is that right now, both in South Africa, and the U.K., the people, who have gotten infected, are either people who've been previously infected and recently recovered, or vaccinated folks. And we expect them to have milder disease.

So, I think we're probably at least another week or 10 days away from really being able to nail down that question.

SMERCONISH: Because if it is less fatal, part of me says, "Well, maybe there's a silver lining, to all of this. It's spreading like wildfire. But maybe in the process, it's providing a level of immunity that heretofore we haven't had."

JHA: Yes, let's be very clear. If it turns out to be milder, it would be terrific. It would help a lot.

It would be less burden in the hospitals. It would be exactly what you said, Michael, which is it would give us a lot more population immunity, without getting people really, really sick. That's the goal.

We just don't know. I think the data leans towards it being a less severe disease. But I would not bet the farm on this yet.

SMERCONISH: So, Doctor, give us practical advice. People are watching tonight, and they're wondering, "Do I get on the plane? Do I drive to the relative's house? Should the kids go to school tomorrow?"

I mean, what should we be doing, as we anticipate a couple of days now, when naturally we're all going to be gathering, if we follow precedent?

JHA: Yes, so here's what I'm doing. Here's what I'm recommending to folks.

First of all, if you're vaccinated and boosted, you're in a very different situation. Omicron is so contagious, that there is still a small chance you're going to get infected. But if you're vaccinated and boosted, you're going to do well, from a clinical point of view. You're not going to get very sick.

I think kids - can kids go to school safely? Absolutely.

Can we gather in small groups, meaning, family and friends? They can, if everybody's vaccinated, everybody, who's eligible. If you can - if you can find those rapid tests, and get everybody a rapid test, that makes it much, much safer. I do think that those things are possible.

I wouldn't go to a large Christmas Party right now, with 300 people indoors, eating and drinking. I think that's unnecessary. That kind of stuff probably is harmful.

Your question about flying? Flying is reasonably safe. Got to wear a high-quality mask, when you travel.


If you're going to go see someone, who's potentially high-risk, like grandma, or grandpa, bring, you know, again, try to get those rapid tests, and make sure everybody's negative, when they show up.

SMERCONISH: Are we on the cusp of a pill, literally being a magic pill?

JHA: Yes, we are close. I mean, the problem is that we do have the Pfizer pill. There's also the Merck pill, but that's turning out to be less useful.

The Pfizer pill, the PAXLOVID, looks really, really good, really compelling. 90 percent reduction.

There are two problems. FDA has been sitting on the data, still hasn't authorized it. I think all of us feel like, "No time like the present! Let's go FDA!"

Second is, we don't have a ton of doses of these things. So, we have got to figure out how to ramp up production, and get it out. But these things, if once they become widespread, and widely available, it'll make a big difference.

SMERCONISH: And final question. We never seem to discuss herd immunity any longer. So, here's a hypothetical. If more had gotten on board, at the outset, when vaccines first became available, and all got vaxxed, or a much higher percentage got vaxxed, than actually did, would we be in a much different place today?

JHA: No doubt about it. No doubt about it. We would have prevented the almost 200,000 Americans, who died in the Delta wave.

And what we also would have done is gone into this Omicron wave, with much, much higher levels of population immunity, lower levels of infection, lower levels of hospitalizations, and deaths.

It's still the ticket out of this pandemic. It's just frustrating that a year after these vaccines, became authorized, there's still so many Americans, who are choosing not to take it.

SMERCONISH: Well, Dr. Jha, one of the reasons I ask you, final question, and this time, I mean it, is because Mayor de Blasio is in the on-deck circle, right? And he's about to impose an employer mandate, and has taken other measures, and is giving incentives, and so on and so forth. Very aggressive response.

But I keep thinking that his response is only as successful as what's going on in New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and Wyoming, and California, because the virus knows no boundary. We're like chasing our tails, right?

JHA: Yes, it's true that the virus knows no boundary. And what the Mayor does, can only and ultimately impact New York. And, of course, New York is going to be influenced by what is happening elsewhere.

That said, if we can get very, very high rates of vaccinations, in New York, in Massachusetts, in Rhode Island, individual places, it will make a big difference, for those communities.

So, I support what the Mayor has been doing. I know it's aggressive. We have a bad pandemic. We got to find ways out of it. And I think pushing people to get vaccinated is absolutely the right thing to do.

SMERCONISH: Right. I didn't mean it as a negative toward him. I just meant that unless there's a uniform approach here, we're delaying getting ahead of the curve.

Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you so much. I really appreciate your being here. JHA: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Some of the social media reaction that's already come into the program, let's see it.

"Mass testing a month from now, is a botched response. This should have already been available. Full stop."

Glitter in my veins, hindsight is 20/20. I can't argue with that. I wish that there were widespread testing already. There is a legitimate question, as to whether this is now too little too late, for all the reasons that you've identified.

One more quickly, if I have time for it.

"I disagree that a test should be sent out to every American. The only people who will gladly use it, and want more, are the vaccinated. The people who are not vaccinated," all right, I mean, Cissie, I get your point.

In my day-to-day, in my real life, just out and about, going to work, seeing people, at Starbucks, I'm seeing people who are masked, and my presumption is they're vaccinated, like they're the ones, who've been doing the right thing, all along.

And it's in another area, where it's a person who's A, unvaxxed, unboosted, and not even wearing the mask. Hence, my reference to "Chasing our tails."

New York City's in the crucible of this fight, once again. If any city can flatten COVID, you'd think it's the Big Apple. But there's a lot of work to be done, which is why the Mayor of New York City, is offering a big incentive, big new incentive, to join in, on the fight.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is back with us, to spread the word, and stop the spread. He's next.



SMERCONISH: In the face of surging cases, among the unvaccinated and vaccinated alike, New York City's Mayor is turning to a new tactic to get people, as protected as possible, offering $100, to anyone, who gets boosted, at a city-run site, before the New Year.

Here's where the numbers stand now. With just over 71 percent vaccinated, in New York State, of those, only 21 percent are boosted. Will the incentive work? And how likely is it to turn things around?

Let's bring in the mayor himself, Bill de Blasio.

Welcome back, Mr. Mayor. You've tried incentives in the past, right, with what result?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, (D) NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: Great result, Michael. I mean, it helped a lot. Look, the combination of incentives and mandates, that's what worked.

In the middle August, we were at 60 percent of adults, who had had at least one dose. Now, we're over 90 percent of adults, in the city, with at least one dose of the vaccine, because we put strong mandates in place, we did those $100 incentives.

Now, we're doing it again, and saying, "Get boosted right now, ahead of the holidays, right now, when Omicron's surging. Fight it back with that booster." And I find that people really do respond to it. But you got to do it with the mandates too.

We have a very tough private sector mandate, coming into place, this coming Monday. And I really want to tell you, Michael, if we want to - if we'd really want to fight Omicron, every mayor, every governor, every CEO, in America, should put these kinds of mandates in place.

SMERCONISH: You told me last week that you hear privately, from many employers, who say, "Please, impose a mandate. Do my dirty work for me."

I can't help but note the fact that yesterday Fox News said that they will be following your order, your edict, tried to lay it off on you, like they had no choice. Are they one of the employers that you were making reference to, who really want you to do it, but they want you to take the hit for it?

DE BLASIO: I can't speak to them, specifically. I can say, I find it very entertaining that they're joining the bandwagon, of pointing the finger at me. Look, whatever works, Michael!

I do think it's tough, for private sector employers, to explain to their employees, if it seems to be something just within their own company. I still urge CEOs, to just do it, because it's the right thing to do. It'll help protect everyone.


But when the government steps in, it becomes universal. And then, the Management of company, can say, "Hey, guys. Everyone has to do it. Not just this company. Every company. And if you want to continue to have your job, have your paycheck, this is something we have to do for each other."

And overwhelmingly, we found in New York City, people abide by the mandate. They're not going to risk a paycheck over it. And it helps move everyone forward.

SMERCONISH: We've been showing the footage of people, standing in line, sometimes for hours, in New York City, to get a test. Did you get today, from President Biden, what you need, to ease that burden?

DE BLASIO: It's a beginning, Michael. I want to see obviously, that supply expand quickly. And I urge the President, to use the Defense Production Act, to the absolute maximum, because we're going to need much, much more, in the way of testing, to get through Omicron, and really put the COVID era behind us. We're going to need billions and billions of test kits, for the whole country. So, I think we need to get some of those companies that could turn their production lines, to test kit production. And the federal government needs to make that very clear, as an order, for the good of the whole nation.

This - look, I'm adamantly opposed to shutdowns. I think we cannot afford any more shutdowns in our country. So, if we're not going to do shutdowns, it means vaccine mandates, and it means a whole lot of testing.

SMERCONISH: Mayor, quick final question. I know you've not yet made a decision, about New Year's Eve, Times Square, the ball dropping. But what will be the metric that you'll look at, to make that call?

DE BLASIO: My call? We're talking with our healthcare leadership. We're talking with the folks in Times Square, who run the event. What we want to make sure here is that we can do this event safely, and determine the measures that will make that possible.

But I want to tell you, again, I don't believe in shutdowns, whenever they are at all avoidable. I think if we can find the right way, to do it, it's important to keep moving forward, and send a message that this city is fighting back, against Omicron. And we're going to fight our way through.

We're all going to have to deal, with some big challenges, in these coming weeks. But the answer is not to turn away. The answer is to buckle down, get vaccinated, fight our way, through Omicron, and get back to recovery, on the other side.

SMERCONISH: Stick around, for a second, in case I need your assistance, responding to social media.

What do we have, Vaughn? Put it up on the screen, and I'll share it with the Mayor.

"Is this retroactive to those who have already," - I knew someone. I should have asked this question.

With regard to your incentive, "Is this retroactive to those who've already gotten the booster in New York City? I'm tired of the folks who have done their part right away being left out of these incentives, and the stubborn ones then get it."

What's the answer to that, Mayor?

DE BLASIO: I understand that. But I'm telling you, this is strategic. This is to move the people, who are not moving fast enough.

God bless the people, who went and got their booster fast. That was the right thing to do, for themselves, and their families. We gave it to them for free.

But we got to move some other people in incentive. Get them off the dime. Get them moving, for the good of all. That's a good investment. SMERCONISH: Mayor, thank you for coming back.

DE BLASIO: My pleasure, Michael. You take care.

SMERCONISH: The anniversary of the Insurrection, fast approaching, you might think that Donald Trump would choose to lie low, this January 6. But he's Donald Trump! After all, and of course, he won't be doing just that. He just announced his plans, for the day, and it's raising new concerns.

We'll take it on with the Co-author of "Peril." The perfect guest, Robert Costa, is next.



SMERCONISH: It was one year ago, this week, that Donald Trump tweeted, about a big protest, on January 6. Quote, "Be there, will be wild!"

Now, he's hyping another event, this coming January 6, even as he attempts to rewrite, what we all witnessed, nearly a year ago.

Here's what Trump is planning. The former president, inviting news cameras, to Mar-a-Lago, while claiming, quote, "The Insurrection took place on November 3rd. It was the completely unarmed protest of the rigged election that took place on January 6th."

Compare that, to plans, at the Capitol, for what's being called, a quote, "Solemn observance," Speaker Pelosi announced on Monday that Congress will mark the day, with a full program of events.

All this, as statements like what the former president just put out, were recently named, the "Lie of the Year," by PolitiFact.

And Trump's not the only one doubling down, with his own interpretation, of January 6. Steve Bannon, plotting at the grassroots level.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Guess what? We're going to take over the election apparatus.

American citizens that are volunteering, they are now going to volunteer, again, to go to become a precinct committeemen. They're going to volunteer to become an election official. They're going to come and run for county clerk, and overthrow these county clerks. They're going to take over the Secretaries of State.


SMERCONISH: My next guest knows the threat better than just about anyone. He's the Co-author of "Peril," and a National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post." Robert Costa joins me now.

You know, Bob, they say the best defense is a strong offense. That seems to be Trump's playbook, as we approach January 6.

ROBERT COSTA, CO-AUTHOR, "PERIL," NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: The really anniversary of the Insurrection, of course, is January 6.

But the anniversary, I'm paying attention to, is just in a few days, December 30, 2020. That's when Steve Bannon, based in our reporting, talks to Trump, and says, "You have to start to kill the Biden presidency, in the crib. Come back from Florida," he says, to Trump. And Trump does, on December 31st, skips the New Year's Eve party, at Mar-a-Lago.


And we're approaching the one year anniversary, of this coordinated pressure campaign, to overturn an election, and pressure American democracy, to the brink. And it wasn't just an isolated day. It was a week's long event.

SMERCONISH: Well, I've learned that from you, from "Peril," from what you wrote, with Bob Woodward.

One thought that I have is that, what would seemingly, be a strong year, as we look toward 2022, for Republicans, if, on January 6, he's owning his behavior, of a year ago, it puts every Republican, running for the Senate, every Republican, running for the Congress, to be asked the question of whether they agree with Donald Trump and his approach.

It's an albatross, of sorts, around the party's neck. No?

COSTA: It's an albatross of their own voters. And you have the Republican voters, around the country, many of them listening to Bannon's podcast, running for local election, trying to take the reins, of as Bannon said, on his podcast, the election apparatus, in this country.

So, whatever Republican leaders, in Washington, are saying, that can be one thing. But it's almost an island unto itself, because many Republican voters, who are still loyal to Trump, they're not listening to what Leader McCarthy, or Leader McConnell, are saying.

SMERCONISH: The January 6 investigative committee or commission, they now want to spend time with Scott Perry. What's his significance in the big picture here?

COSTA: Pay attention to these House Republicans like Congressman Perry of Pennsylvania.

These were the House lawmakers, close to Mark Meadows, the former Chief of Staff, who were texting, each other, trying to figure out a way, to come up with the lie, which was the idea that fraud happened, throughout the 2020 election.

And they were pressuring the Department of Justice. The text messages from Perry, and others show that they were pressuring DOJ, to come up with examples of fraud, so they could use that as a weapon, on January 6, in the certification process, and try to stop Biden, from taking office.

This is a long and winding road, to what happened, on January 6. But we all, as reporters, as citizens, need to fully understand that it took a long process, to get there.

SMERCONISH: Bob, finally, from reading "Peril," the book that you co- authored with Bob Woodward, I'm knowledgeable, to an extent, about the Willard Hotel War Room. What went down at the Willard Hotel, on January 5? What do we know about it? What don't we know about it?

COSTA: Here's what we know about the Willard. January 5, Pence is in the Oval Office, with Trump, one-on-one. But across the street, at the Willard, a fancy hotel, you have Bannon, you have Giuliani, other Trump allies. Outside the hotel, the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers.

I was outside the hotel that night, walking through the streets, taking notes, as a reporter. It was a chaotic scene. And they were trying to pressure Pence, to somehow succumb, to Trump's pressure campaign, push the election, to the House of Representatives, and pull all these levels of power, to try to get Trump, to stay in office.

This was very real. That's what our reporting shows. And it could happen again, in 2024.

SMERCONISH: Robert Costa, thanks so much for being here. Merry Christmas to you.

COSTA: Merry Christmas to you.

SMERCONISH: From social media, what do we have so far, having just come in?

"This may end up as another big mistake on Trump's part. He'll only be confirming what he incited, the attack on the Capitol. Without him urging his supporters, it would not have happened."

Concetta, the point that I was making to Robert Costa, is this. If on January 6, he's facing the media, and he's reiterating his version, of what transpired, which PolitiFact just said, is the "Lie of the Year," for 2021, and a candidate is now running for Congress, anywhere USA, as a Republican? The first question they're going to be asked is whether they buy into that interpretation of events.

I mean, I look at the United States' Senate race that's about to play out, already is playing out, right here in my home state of Pennsylvania. I mean, every one of those Republican, there are about a dozen of them, either running, or presumed to be running, they're all going to be asked, "Is this your version of what happened?"

And from the get-go, that will then be something that will follow them around. Will that be pleasing to 30 percent of the Republican base? I assume so. But is that the sort of viewpoint that's going to get you elected? I doubt it. We turn now to the internal chaos, within the Democratic Party. The President is vowing to get something done, with Senator Joe Manchin. But how does that happen, after Manchin's loud and clear "No," on Build Back Better?

Senate Democrats holding a special meeting tonight, and we've just learned that Joe Manchin is addressing, his colleagues, on that call.

Manu Raju will update us all next.



SMERCONISH: Senate Democrats tonight, on what may be the most important Zoom meeting, of the Biden administration. The Left, trying to figure out, where the President's agenda stands, on the spectrum, between Joe Manchin saying this.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): This is a no on this legislation.


SMERCONISH: And Joe Biden saying this.


BIDEN: Senator Manchin, and I, are going to get something done.


SMERCONISH: CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, confirms that Manchin joined the meeting that is still underway.

Manu, what have you learned so far?


He was arguing, Michael, I'm told that this is a position that he's been consistent with, for the past five months. He said that inflation is a real concern. He said that debt is a real concern.

He said he did support increasing taxes on the wealthy. That is some position that he's had for some time that he has concerns with the way that it's structured in the bill, however, because of the opposition from a different moderate senator, Kyrsten Sinema, about raising tax rates, on corporations and individuals. Manchin, on the other hand, supports going that route.


But nevertheless, Manchin made clear he is still opposed and concerned about the way this proposal is structured. He said, I'm told, from a source, he said - he talked about the debt. He said a - he didn't get pushback.

But he said this. He said, "Inflation is a serious issue. These programs will cost more than they are saying. I can't add to the debt." And so, he got some pushback. Some concerns were raised about his characterization of the plan.

Democrats say this bill will be completely paid for. Manchin, however, has raised concerns about the temporary nature, of some of these measures, saying that if you just extend things one year, or three years, or five years, they're just going to come in, and keep extending these things, year after year after year.

Instead, he wants these things expanded, to 10 years. But he also doesn't want it to go any higher than his $1.75 trillion topline number, which is why they'd have to significantly rewrite this bill, in order to get his support.

So, suffice to say, Michael, Democrats are coming out of this meeting that is ongoing, saying they want to move ahead, but having no consensus, about how to do just that.

SMERCONISH: Did anybody take him on? I saw Senator Sanders, by way of example, with Jake Tapper, on Sunday morning, after the news had broken that Manchin was not on board. He was pretty heated. I wonder, if in that Zoom call things got heated? Do you know?

RAJU: I have been told that it has not been heated, so far. I've been told that it's been relatively muted, in terms of the back-and-forth, and the contentious nature, and all the blowback we've been seeing, publicly coming from Democrats.

But I have heard that members made clear that they disagreed with what Manchin is saying. They disagreed with the idea that this bill would add to the debt.

They point out the CBO numbers, saying that, that's the Congressional Budget Office, saying that it would be fully paid for, under the way that the Democratic bill would - it was structured.

But they also argued that the estimation, from Manchin and others, that it would add to the debt over the long-term, does not take into account that in the long-term, they would also do things, such as raising taxes, to pay for programs, being extended out. And those are decisions that will be made, in future congresses, presumably with Senator Joe Manchin having the ability to upvote, yes or no.

But these are some of the issues that they discussed. There's been a lot of talk, I'm told, about the importance of the Democrats' view, about extending the expanded child tax credit.

And of course, that is a huge sticking point, too. Joe Manchin does not want to continue that in its current form, in its current - this current proposal, wants to do it separately. And that is set to expire, at year's end.

So, a lot is riding on the line policy-wise, politically. And how it ends up, from here, to Joe Biden's desk, if that's even possible, remains the big unanswered question, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Manu, Chuck Schumer has said, "Let's have a vote. Let's get everybody on record."

If I'm, I don't know, Mark Kelly, a Democrat, who's potentially on the bubble, close race, facing me in the future, I don't know that I'm eager to get out there, and expose my position, and cast a ballot, on something that we all know isn't going to pass, and for which I'll then be held accountable, nonetheless.

What do we know, as to whether there will nevertheless be a vote, in the Senate, on Build Back Better?

RAJU: It sounds like they will. Chuck Schumer reiterated, to his caucus tonight, I'm told that they do plan to have a vote, on this larger bill, sometime in the New Year.

Now, the challenge here, Michael, is that the bill has not even been finished being drafted yet. They are still finalizing the legislative language. They are still going through the Senate Parliamentarian's vetting process.

And all that could take up until sometime in the middle of January, maybe even longer. We'll see if it happens quicker than that. But it's not going to happen right away. So, they may take a lot of time, to set up a procedural vote that will go down.

And you're right, politically-speaking, there are Democrats, who are not totally thrilled, about having to vote, yes, and then ultimately having nothing to show for it.

And I've heard that in particular, from House Democrats, in vulnerable districts, those that Donald Trump carried, back in 2020, concerned that they went - they essentially walked the plank, to cast a very difficult vote.

And now, all the things they wanted to tout, whether it's universal pre-K, housing, childcare, expanded Affordable Care Act, dealing with an expansion of Medicare, things they believe were politically popular, they have nothing to show for it, because this bill is now stymied in the Senate.

And will it ultimately become law? And, instead, they're going to be hit by Republicans, for not delivering, and also voting to increase taxes, to pay for all this. So, it's a very complicated political situation.

But Schumer says he wants to put everybody on the record here. And that includes Joe Manchin. Michael?

SMERCONISH: Got it. Manu Raju, thanks for the report.

RAJU: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Yes. My point, maybe they don't have 49 votes. I mean, who knows? Maybe Manchin wouldn't be the only one, to vote against it, if Schumer gets the vote that he's looking for.

Breaking tonight, new reports that the NHL is pulling out of next year's Winter Olympics, in Beijing, over COVID concerns.


Bob Costas, joins me, to look at how the sports world is confronting the Omicron surge. And he's next.


SMERCONISH: The sports world, once again, serving as a microcosm, for this pandemic, with Omicron cases surging, the NFL and the NHL taking starkly different approaches.

Hockey players reportedly now pulling out of the Olympics, as their season gets paused. Those moves come, after 11 teams had to suspend operations, because more than 15 percent of the league went on the protocol list.

Meanwhile, on the Gridiron, the priority is keeping players on the field. With less than three weeks left, in the regular season, the league will no longer do regular testing, on vaccinated players, who don't show symptoms. This, after dozens of players, tested positive, last week, forcing three games to be rescheduled.

As for the NBA, seven games were postponed, over the past week. But, for now, there are no plans for a pause.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: Frankly, we're having trouble coming up, with what the logic would be, behind pausing, right now, as we look through these cases.


This virus will not be eradicated, and we're going to have to learn to live with it.


SMERCONISH: With sports, as one of the few things that usually cut across, politics, these days, we turn to Bob Costas, for what it all means.

Bob, what's the significance of the NHL development vis-a-vis, the Olympics?

BOB COSTAS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you have to take it not just from an American perspective, or even a Canadian perspective. Well over a dozen nations, are represented in the NHL, many from Europe, and Russia heavily represented. So, those nations will have to fill out their roster, without NHL players.

And one of the things you have to keep in mind is this. And this indicates no disrespect for what the Olympics represent. But if you're a swimmer, or a skier, or a sprinter, or a skater, the Olympics are the be-all and end-all.

If you're an NBA player, an NHL player, a tennis player, a golfer, it's nice. But it's not your be-all and end-all. The Stanley Cup is. The NBA championship is. The Masters is.

So, now you're an NHL player, and the players association that represents them, and you're saying, "Hey? This isn't the most important thing in the world, to us, with all due respect. It's in the middle of the Pandemic. It's in China, for crying out loud."

And on top of that, from what we can learn, and they're always a little bit difficult to pin down, when it comes to what the Chinese government might do, but what we've been led to believe is that if individuals test positive, they may be kept in China, for as many as two weeks, to quarantine, before they're allowed to go home.


COSTAS: You put all that together, and why in the world, would the NHL, want to send its players to the Olympics?

But I should note this. This has nothing to do with women's hockey. The American and Canadian women's hockey teams have been very successful, in recent Olympics, and they will go.

SMERCONISH: So, I referenced at the outset, different approaches, by different sport leagues. I didn't even mention MLB, which you're very familiar with. And they're in the midst of a collective bargaining negotiation, right now.

Give me the big picture view of all of these professional leagues, and how they're dealing with Omicron.

COSTAS: Well, I think the - what may be coming, down the line, baseball has a blank canvas now, when it comes to its collective bargaining agreement. So, I think what I'm about to say could be on the table, in these negotiations.

I spoke recently with Michele Roberts, who's the Head of the NBA Players Association, and DeMaurice Smith, who has the similar position, the same position with the NFL.

And both of them said that they would be willing at least to consider, across-the-board vaccine mandates, for their membership. They certainly have encouraged their membership to be vaccinated. And well over 90 percent are now vaccinated.

But if you had, and if Baseball was willing to consider this as well, if you had 100 percent vaccinations, and an understanding that as boosters become available, and as the consensus of medical opinion is that boosters are needed, it would be very easy, for teams and leagues, to administer that.

It would be much different than people lining up, for five hours, outside a drugstore. You'd come to the facility, it's your turn to get boosted.

So, then if you were able to say that everyone, all the players, and all the people, around them, staff, have been protected, to the fullest extent, that's humanly possible, I think you could then reasonably say, and even the most pro-vax people, would agree, I would hope, you could reasonably say that if a player, who's fully vaxxed, and boosted, a young, healthy fit player, tests positive, but is asymptomatic, or has mild symptoms, that guy will be allowed to continue to play.

I think ultimately, that's the way forward. Otherwise, you're going to have this hodgepodge situation, every season, with every league, until the virus is completely gone. And the virus may wind up to one extent or another becoming endemic.

SMERCONISH: I'm thinking of two things, as you say that. Bryce Harper, I wonder how that would go over, with certain of the high-profile players. You get the final word.

COSTAS: Well, I know that pops into your head, because he's a Philly, and that's your team.

Yes, there will be some, who will be resistant. You're a lawyer. I'm not. And sports law is a specific area. So, there might be some players already under contract, who would say, "I'm not going to do it," and then you might have some litigation.

But going forward, I would think that that would be a condition of employment. Once new contracts are signed, or rookies come into a league that would probably be a condition of employment.

One other quick thing. When you talk about the NHL, there were seven teams in Canada. And Canada, as a nation, and localities, in Canada, have different mandates and different regulations.

Remember, the Blue Jays couldn't play half their season in Toronto. They had to play in Buffalo. So, crossing borders is a particular problem, for the NHL, and one of the reasons, why, they halted their schedule, for a while.


SMERCONISH: It is complicated.

Bob Costas, great to see you. Thank you so much.

COSTAS: Before I say goodbye, you had Robert Costa. You had Bob Costas. If you had just booked Costas Mandylor, and the President of Costa Rica, you would have had a theme for your show!

SMERCONISH: Hey, as I tweeted, before the show began, I was convinced I would have a "Ron Burgundy" moment, and I would screw - like, you're my two favorite guys, great guests, good friends, and to have you - now I know you're really not the same person. Thank you for that.

We'll be right back, with reaction, to tonight's program. COSTAS: You got it.

SMERCONISH: All right.


SMERCONISH: Time for just one tweet. What do we have?

"You can lead a horse to water. If unvaccinated don't want it, not going to happen. I know several, in a Blue state."

Debi, I gave you the data, which says that, what was, it, like 44 or so of the unvaccinated, say, "Never! Never going to do it!" How distressing that is, right?

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

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" begins right now, with Laura Coates.