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A Game Of Chicken: U.S. On Verge Of Default As Both Sides Dig In; Smokey Robinson On Harry Belafonte's Death: It Was A Shock; New Report: U.S. Nowhere Near Ready For Next Pandemic. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 25, 2023 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: He was an outspoken opponent of apartheid in South Africa. Came up with an idea for this in 1985 hit song.


'We are the World' song plays.


COOPER: We are the world brought together many singers, raised more than $63 million for Famine Relief in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. Tonight, the Son of Harlem is being memorialized at the famous Apollo Theater. Harry Belafonte was 96 years old. The news continues. CNN PRIMETIME with Michael Smerconish starts now.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you. Matt Gaetz, he single-handedly held up Kevin McCarthy's election as Speaker, you'll recall. Well, tonight, he's threatening to do it again in a new battle on Capitol Hill and he's here.

I'm Michael Smerconish live from New York City on the day that President Joe Biden asks Americans for another four years. The nation is at risk of a potential economic disaster. Thanks to partisan and intra party politics in Washington, the U.S. is scheduled to default on its debt as early as June, something that's never happened before.

And if the nation defaults, that means massive job losses almost assures a recession. Federal benefits like Social Security are at risk. Interest rates, what you pay on your house, your car, your college loan, they all skyrocket. The stock market, it tumbles dragging with it your 401K's. I know what you're thinking.

You're saying, Michael, come on. We've seen the movie before and we know how it ends. They're going to figure it out just before the clock hits midnight. Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend or revise the definition of the debt limit. It's all seemed to work itself out but in life, there are no guarantees.

Republicans are demanding more than $4 trillion in spending cuts in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling. The President Biden insists that budget talks shouldn't be included in something this consequential even as some in his own party are pressing him to negotiate.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): It is his job. This is the responsibility of the leader of the free world and definitely the United States' president. He has to negotiate.


SMERCONISH: The debt ceiling now stands at $31.4 trillion. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy can only afford to lose four potential GOP votes to pass the bill so it leaves him trying to appeal to all of his party's factions in order to get the votes on his own plan. House GOP leaders were initially pushing for a floor vote tomorrow on their plan, which would raise the ceiling for a year in exchange for deep spending cuts.

But now McCarthy's opened the door to pushing back the timeline saying a vote will come this week.


MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you have to change the bill to get 218 votes?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I will let you know.

RAJU: Are you -- do you have 218 votes on this?

MCCARTHY: You're the first person I'm going to call.


SMERCONISH: A decade ago, a debt standoff did have catastrophic consequences as the Washington Post notes that fight in 2011, between ascendant conservative Tea Party Republicans and President Barack Obama rattled the stock market, precipitated a downgrade in U.S. credit and ultimately cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. You know, who led negotiations with Republicans back then? Joe Biden, when he was serving as Vice President.

He negotiated back then so why not now? How dire are things? Well, on the day that he's announcing his reelection bid, the President cited Donald Trump.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Never in life did I think I'd be quoting Donald Trump, but even Donald Trump said, I can't imagine anyone ever thinking of using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge. Folks, America is not a deadbeat nation. We pay our bills.


SMERCONISH: By the way under Trump, the U.S. debt increased by nearly $8 trillion and Congress voted to increase the debt ceiling three times without demands. But Republicans are now seizing on the issue as leverage. This brings me back to McCarthy and a massive leadership test. He has a caucus of 222. He needs to secure 218 votes to pass his plan and send it to a near certain defeat in the Senate.

If he loses five, he can't get it done unless he has Democrats on his side. So, the question is, can the speaker get this done with only Republicans? Did the deal that he cut to become speaker limit his options? One of the debt plan holdouts is Matt Gaetz. Yes, the same thorn in McCarthy side who delayed his election as speaker, the GOP congressman from Florida. He joins me now. Congressman, welcome back. So, when did Republicans find religion on spending?

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Well, I think you've seen a little more than a dozen of us never vote for an increase in the debt limit. And so, to do so there has to be substantial downward pressure on spending. We're deeply concerned about a $32 trillion debt, what that means in terms of the dollar's position as the global reserve currency and the extent to which government spending is driving the very inflation that we were elected to check. So, we think Joe Biden should negotiate.


That's what Democrat Joe Manchin said. That's what Democrat House member Jared Moskowitz said, and I think the American people understand that those negotiations are necessary in divided government.

SMERCONISH: My parents always said time and a place when they were raising my brother and me, is this the time? Is this the place? And what I mean by that is, we've already made these commitments, it would be like me with a spending problem instead of curbing my spending now, instead risking default and saying to creditors, no, I'm not going to honor the commitments that I've made.

GAETZ: No, I speak from personal experience when I say that, when you've maxed out your credit cards, it's a pretty good time to evaluate your spending habits. And in the seven years I've been in Congress, we haven't honored the true budget process even once. And so, the debt limit presents a unique opportunity to try to put downward pressure on spending.

Four times when Joe Biden as the United States senator voted to raise the debt limit, he demanded corresponding spending cuts when Joe Biden didn't vote to raise the debt limit. He said it was because there weren't spending cuts at time. So, if we had Joe Biden as president, with the same perspective, as Joe Biden, as Vice President, or as Senator, we'd probably have more negotiating going on now than we do.

SMERCONISH: Are the issues that you personally are raising? Are they worth delaying this whole process? My understanding is that you're fixated on work rules, and whether they begin in fiscal year 2024. I don't want to lose everybody in the weeds versus fiscal year 2025. It seems like you're tinkering at the margins.

GAETZ: Welfare to Work should be a cornerstone of these negotiations. If Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich could make Welfare to Work deals, then certainly we should be able to make those to Joe Biden. And if any feature of this deal is sincere, it will start immediately. The oldest trick in Washington is to delay things to three, five years down the road to tell the voters that you believe in them, but to get the spending now and the cuts delayed.

I'm not falling for that trick. My colleagues who put conditions on speaker McCarthy are not going to fall for that trick. And let me answer the question you asked in your monologue. Absolutely, features of the deal that allowed Kevin McCarthy to ascend to the speakership require him to fight on top line spending levels in this debt limit battle, and to not delay that for the appropriations process that usually gets rolled up in one big omnibus.

SMERCONISH: Could this lead to my recollection of the whole fight over him being elected speaker? Is that the resolution was that a single member could call for his ouster. You correct me if I'm wrong? Could this lead to that? Could you or one of your colleagues conceptually be calling for his ouster because of this impasse?

GAETZ: No one is looking to lower the sword of Damocles quite yet, Michael. Right now, we're working to get a responsible fiscal policy sent to the Senate. We believe that puts pressure on Schumer and Biden to work with us to try to avoid the catastrophic consequences you mentioned. But don't forget, there are also catastrophic consequences if we continue to drive these deficits up and this debt further and further into the future.

That risks every economic opportunity for every American. And if we lose this dollar, and if inflation continues the savagery to the American family and the American economy will be severe.

SMERCONISH: The caucus is 222. You know the math. He can lose, he speaker McCarthy can lose for right now. How many holdouts are there yourself included?

GAETZ: Twice that so I do not expect that there will be a vote as planned tomorrow on the McCarthy debt limit increase. I think there are still a few details, we have to work out on work requirements on some of the Green New Deal tax credits that we would like to see repealed. And there's some disagreement in our conference about that. And if we're able to get that done, I don't think it'll be tomorrow.

I think that there's still some time for the cement to dry. So, it may very well be that what we send out of the house with 218 votes is the only thing we can get 218 votes for. Mr. Schumer and President Biden should take note of that.

SMERCONISH: OK, so I'm hearing Matt Gaetz say that there are eight holdouts as of this moment in time there won't be a vote tomorrow. Do you speak? Have you personally spoken to Kevin McCarthy about this?

GAETZ: I wasn't able to speak to him this evening. But I spoke to members of his leadership team, I made very clear where I stood and several of my colleagues did the same. And they've been public about it. And so, I think that there's still a little work to do, but I don't despair that. I think that what the American people want to see is that people put putting aside partisan affiliation and working together to reduce spending and to not have the catastrophic impact of defaulting, which is not something anybody wants to see.

SMERCONISH: You heard me say at the outset. I addressed the subject with some level of trepidation because I feel like viewers across the country are saying we've heard it all before and they always seem to work this out. Is this going to get worked out?


GAETZ: I hope so. And there, there's a lot of momentum toward that but ultimately the Democrats get a vote as well. My Republican colleagues would like to see a plan that actually starts to bend that curve of exponentially increasing spending. We want to claw back some of the COVID funds that are unobligated. We want pro-growth policies like H.R.1 on energy, we want the REINS Act to curb the administrative state.

And if we do all that there could potentially be a deal on the table. But the Democrats have to understand, we control one-half of one-third of the government, and we are going to maximize that leverage to achieve our goal.

SMERCONISH: I get it. I would just say in closing, I've spoken to the folks at the Peterson foundation. I'm sure the audience knows the commercials to which I refer. Peter Peterson, I think his name left a billion dollars to focus the public's attention on this issue. And they make the point that we're in the fix we are, the 31 trillion because of Rs and Ds, both have spent too much. Final word.

GAETZ: I am eager to work with any Democrat who can see areas of our federal spending where we can curb and cut. Maybe we could agree to send spend some less money to Ukraine. I mean, if we're at the debt limit for our country, why are we funding the government of another country. Seems like a reasonable thing that Republicans or Democrats ought to be able to work on. But I agree, both parties have contributed to this mess, and it's probably going to take both parties negotiating to get out of it.

SMERCONISH: Right. We'll come back and discuss that later. Because the answer is because they're facing a savage invasion at the hands of Vladimir Putin, and we're defending democracy.

GAETZ: Well, at a very high cost to Americans. And I wonder whether or not we're extending the frequency of that savagery or not.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Gaetz, thank you for being here.

GAETZ: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: I want to hear your take on today's news. Make sure you're hitting me up on social media. I love the end of the program when I get to respond to some in real time.

Next, there's something interesting about President Biden's reelection video that we want to point out, we'll show it to all of you plus one of his campaign co-chair Senator Tammy Duckworth joins me on concerns here live about president's age.





BIDEN: The threat the MAGA Republicans pose can take us to a place we've never been. And where the last guy tried to take us and look how hard we had to fight to prevailing -- get prevailing wage. Oh my God, we had to fight like hell. And folks, we made a lot of progress, because of all of you. But there's more to do.

So, let's finish the job.


SMERCONISH: President Biden today speaking at a union members conference just hours after officially launching his reelection bid with a campaign video to take, his fourth presidential campaign message warns against MAGA extremists, he says are dictating what healthcare decisions women can make, banning books and telling people who they can love.

It's worth noting the vice president Kamala Harris plays a prominent role in the video. Joining me now his campaign co-chair and Democratic Senator from the great state of Illinois, Tammy Duckworth.

Senator, thank you for being here. Look, the President has a record that includes successes he can lay claim to. He can talk about aspects of the economy, COVID funding, the infrastructure bill, bolstering domestic chipmaking, et cetera, et cetera. And yet, despite this, the majority of Americans still say he shouldn't be running again. Why can't he close the deal?

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): Well, we still have 18 months to close the deal, and he will close the deal and he will win reelection. Bottom line, he has delivered for Americans, he's worked hard for us. And he'd like to continue that work. Because we have much more to do.

You know, we were able to cap the cost of insulin for senior citizens that $35 a month. But we need to do that for all Americans. We need to really help the middle class. And there's a lot more work to be done. We -- the President made great progress in his first term, and he's going to close the deal and win reelection and we're going to continue to make lives better for working families all across this country.

SMERCONISH: I know you've seen the numbers, I'll put some of them up on the screen. 70 percent who think that he shouldn't be running for reelection. Even within his own party, the numbers are pretty staggering. More than half the voters in his own party say that he shouldn't be pursuing the presidency. When you go into the internals, it's age largely, right? I mean, this is an issue that continues to dog him.

DUCKWORTH: Well, I mean, if you look at his polling numbers, you know, two years out from the previous run, you know, they -- they were not that great either. This is Joe Biden, he always closes. That's the thing, never count Joe Biden down, never bet against it, because he will finish this race in front and he's going to win reelection. And he's going to do it because he's shown that he's fit for the job.

He has more wisdom and experience of anyone to ever hold this office. Remember that we could not have passed a bipartisan infrastructure deal if he had not personally intervene for months negotiating to get that thing across the finish line. We lowered the deficit by $500 million with the Inflation Reduction Act because Joe Biden got engaged and worked the -- worked the phones and work the personal meetings and this is what comes with experience. He delivers--


DUCKWORTH: --for them. He delivered for veterans with a Pact Act. He's going to deliver for us.

SMERCONISH: Might it actually be to his advantage to face a strong primary challenger.

DUCKWORTH: You know, I -- look, I would like there not to be a primary. Just because it is important for us to take the fight to the Republicans and show a real difference between Democrats and Republicans that we are here for working families that we've delivered for the American people, as opposed to Republicans who continue to try to stop things, to take away rights. You know, this is the first time we've ever had my daughter's, you know, going to grow up with fewer rights now than what I had. And this is all because of Republicans.

So, I think that we're going to go through the primary and we're going to take the fight Republicans and we're going to be victorious in the end.

SMERCONISH: Senator Tammy Duckworth. Thank you for being here.

DUCKWORTH: It's my pleasure.

SMERCONISH: Let's talk more about the hurdles President Biden may face in his fourth and final run for the presidency. CNN's Senior Political Commentator, Former Senior Adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod joins me now.

David, I look at 2020 as having been a referendum on Trump more than a Biden victory. I don't know if you agree with that assessment. But if so will 2024 be the same if it's the same two guys?


DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I -- Trump was president in 2020. Obviously, it was more of a referendum on him but Biden also had qualities that were the counterpoint of Trump. He -- he had you know calm, civility, experience. He was a good counterpoint to Trump in 2020.

It's different when you're the incumbent. Obviously, Republicans will try and make his incumbency, an issue. But what was very clear from that video today, and even some of Senator Duckworth comments is, you know, the President is going to once again, turn this into a choice. What's his famous phrase, don't -- don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative. And I think they feel pretty good about what the alternatives are going to be.

SMERCONISH: Do you think that the fact that neither Trump nor Biden has been above water, so to speak in the polling is a reflection of them or the times in which we live?

AXELROD: Yes, you know, I think it's a really good question, Michael. There is a jaundice that you see, you know, you see the direction of the country, right track, wrong track. And by many other measures, people are down. And I think part of it is an aftermath, from the pandemic that we never have fully shaken. Some of it has to do with the economy and the course nature of our politics, which assaults us every day.

I think people are pretty jaundiced. But ultimately, this is going to be a choice between two candidates and people will have to, will have to work through those problems and decide which one most closely reflects their values and their hopes.

SMERCONISH: Humor me. If Gavin Newsom were to jump in tomorrow, what would happen?

AXELROD: I think -- I think Joe Biden would be the nominee of the Democratic Party. You know, one of the things that he did, very, I think, definitely in the first two years was he built bridges with the progressive community, which is where the most serious challenge or threat of a challenge would come from.

And I think you see a party that's, you know, there may be disgruntlement over age and some of the concerns that you spoke about earlier. But I think there's also a sense of unity around repelling what they -- what Democrat see as a threat. That's that thread is -- is really reflected by Donald Trump, but also some of the extreme positions that cost Republican so badly in the -- in the fall -- last fall?

SMERCONISH: Did you read anything into the prominence that I saw of the placement of Kamala Harris, the Vice President in that launch video, or is that just him giving her his due? I wondered if that was a response to some of the age considerations and concerns to say, well, you know, look with whom he's surrounded?

AXELROD: Well, I think that's part of it. I think part of it also is that, you know, Kamala Harris is going to have a prominent place in this campaign, because of his age, I think it's a natural question to ask about the Vice President, and there's there must be a recognition in his campaign and in the White House, that they need to strengthen her as a -- as a player in all of this. You know, frankly, she -- she wasn't a major player in the first two years of the administration. They didn't give her, you know, the best assignments. She didn't have the best days. But I think there's a real focus on trying to lift her up here, because people are going to ask, like, who's your backup, right? And so, it's going to be important for them.

SMERCONISH: I agree. If it ends up being the two that we had last cycle, I think vice presidential selections will matter more in this election than any in recent history. David, always a privilege to have you here. Thank you so much.

AXELROD: Thanks, Michael. Great to see you.

SMERCONISH: Staying with 2024 Donald Trump tonight threatening to skip the Republican primary debates. Chris Wallace, who moderated two Trump debates, joins me next.




SMERCONISH: Opening arguments began today as the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination stands trial. The civil battery and defamation case in New York stems from claims by former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll that Donald Trump raped her back in the 1990s. Trump skipped the first day.

And now he's threatening to skip the Republican primary debates. He pointed to what he calls his 'insurmountable lead in the polls,' and what he describes as hostile news networks. My next guest has moderated several debates involving Donald Trump from the primaries to the general elections, including this moment in 2020.


CHRIS WALLACE, MODERATOR IN DEBATES WITH DONALD TRUMP: Mr. President, I'm the moderator of this debate, and I would like you to let me ask my question, and then you can answer it.


WALLACE: You, in the course of these four years have never come up with a comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare. And just this last Thursday, you signed a largely symbolic executive order to protect people with pre-existing conditions, five days before this debate. So my question, sir, is what is the Trump health care plan?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, I guess I'm debating you, not him. But that's OK. I'm not surprised. Let me just tell you something that.


SMERCONISH: Chris Wallace joins me now. Does that bring back warm and fuzzy memories?

WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR, WHO'S TALKING TO CHRIS WALLACE: No, I'm, you know, just having some flashes of PTSD, Michael. Good evening.

SMERCONISH: You would think that a presidential candidate will of course, he or she would have to show up for a debate just in the same way you would think an outgoing president would have to show up for the inauguration of their successor, but in his case, there's precedent for him not participating.

WALLACE: No, that's absolutely right. In fact, when I was at Fox in 2016, he didn't show up for one of the Republican primary debates. And what was so interesting is that we kept preparing even though he had said he wasn't going to show up. This was a debate in Iowa just before the caucuses there. We kept preparing one, if he kept his word and didn't show up and two, if he suddenly showed up at the last minute. I mean, we really had two completely alternative plans for a Trump or a Trumpless debate in Iowa.

SMERCONISH: Any RNC leverage that you see that could be exerted with him to force him to debate?


WALLACE: No, not really. I mean, first of all, everything with Donald Trump is transactional Michael as you well know so you know he's saying right now I won't show up for the debates but maybe he tries to get something better, some advantage, something that negotiation throws the other people off.

The other thing is that everything with Donald Trump is situational. And that means that right now he's 15 to 20 points ahead of Ron DeSantis, who's the only person who is also in double digits. If that should change or let's say after Iowa, if he doesn't win there, then he'll just change his mind. And he'll start showing up for debate.

SMERCONISH: Do debates matter in 2023, 2024?

WALLACE: Oh, yes. I mean, look, there's a lot of skepticism, a lot of support for Trump, but also a lot of skepticism about whether he's too old as we're seeing with the Democrats with Joe Biden. You know, maybe we should on. If you were to get Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump on a debate stage together, I think a lot of people would do comparison shopping.

Now, look, Trump does very well in debates. I think he really won the 2016 Republican nomination by putting away those 16 and other can contenders in the debates, but you know, you put DeSantis, a new face with -- with Donald Trump, who's to say how that shows up and how people end up judging the two of them.

SMERCONISH: Chris, we lost Harry Belafonte. You had a conversation with Smokey Robinson. We're going to play a clip in a moment. Talk to me about this.

WALLACE: Well, we're -- for my show, 'Who's talking to Chris Wallace' we are -- did an interview with Smokey Robinson, one of the Greats of Motown, one of the greats of pop music. And he knew Harry Belafonte, met him as a young man. And as you'll see, in this clip, Belafonte really made a tremendous impression on him as a musician, as just a presence. And also obviously, as a big civil rights leader in the 50s and the 60s.

SMERCONISH: Let's watch.


WALLACE: So, Harry Belafonte passed today, what are your reflections about him and his legacy?

SMOKEY ROBINSON, SINGER, SONGWRITER: Well, Harry was a friend, he was a man who I met him in my, in my early 20s. And he treated me like I was a son, like he had known me forever and ever. And he was such a learned man. And he was one of the first black leaders that gave black children and black men a feeling of respect. He was such a dynamic personality. And even though I didn't realize that Harry was 96. But even though he was, it was a shock to me to find out that he had passed.

WALLACE: Couple of specific questions. Your reflections on him as a man and your reflections on him as a musical influence?

ROBINSON: Well, my reflections on him as a man, like I said, he was a leader. Harry was a leader. He was he was very knowledgeable about most things, and especially politics and that subject, you know. And as far as being an entertainer, he was one of the first entertainers that caught my real attention. He was -- when I was a kid growing up, I would see him on like on The Ed Sullivan Show and all that. And he was the Calypso guy. And he was the one that all the ladies love, because he was a great looking man. And he had his own Calypso style. And he was just dynamic. He was just a wonderful entertainer and a wonderful man.


SMERCONISH: Looks like a great conversation. I know Friday night, you've got Bernie Sanders and Carol Burnett, quite a carpool.

WALLACE: Yes, it's one of the great joys of this show. We're going to do newsmakers, like Bernie Sanders talked to him about Joe Biden, getting into the race, about the debt limit, all of that. But we're also you know, we get to talk to a legend, like Carol Burnett, who is turning tomorrow, is turning 90 years old. And I got to say, it is a beautiful conversation, and a sentimental journey through an extraordinary career.

SMERCONISH: Chris Wallace, thank you so much.

WALLACE: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: You can catch who's talking to Chris Wallace in a new time slot Fridays, 10pm. Eastern Time. Collective national incompetence. That's the way a brutal new report describes the federal government's response to the COVID Pandemic. But the real headline is, we're not ready for the next one. We'll talk accountability with one of the former Trump officials in charge of the Coronavirus response, Dr. Deborah Birx is here.




SMERCONISH: As America moves forward from the COVID Pandemic, the question remains. Are we prepared for the next one? The latest assessment from a leading panel of public health experts, physicians, federal advisors is a resounding no. The 34-member COVID Crisis Group just issued a sobering look at how the Pandemic exposed to "collective national incompetence in governance." The figures they speak for themselves.

The report found that about a half million Americans may have died unnecessarily of COVID-19. The U.S. government spent $5 trillion to deal with the Pandemic when better preparedness could have saved lives and money. And the failure to manage the nation's incohesive and underfunded health care system in part led to the highest recorded COVID death toll in the world.

Joining me now is former Trump White House COVID Response Coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx. Dr. Birx, thanks for being here. Is our bigger problem going forward? A lack of scientific preparedness or now a lack of public confidence in government?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, FORMER TRUMP WH COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: What a great question, Michael, I actually think it's both. We are not doing the things that we learned in the last three years at the federal level, at the state level at the local level, to really ensure we never get into this position again. Instead, we're unwinding a lot of the great data that we put together so Americans could actually see what was happening in their community. And I think, if anything, we have a clear roadmap about what is needed. I just hope we really focus on putting those solutions in place.


SMERCONISH: I just read today, a pretty deep dive interview. Dr Fauci in the New York Times I bet you've seen it but if not, I should tell you it was very introspective. I wonder what regrets personally you have during your tenure.

BIRX: Well, I think it lays it out in the report, if you're going to look at this, like a war, the way you win in a war is not a great plan that's on the shelf. But when you start to execute that plan, where you see those deficiencies, and I really wish I had gotten out into the States and communities earlier.

I should have gone out in April, because once we were opening up America and making it clear that we were collecting the data and the test, and we were building therapeutics and vaccines, it was the time to really understand what was happening community by community. I didn't go out till the end of June; I really should have been out in the field in April. That's how you win wars. It's on the ground and listening to the people on the ground.

SMERCONISH: Disabuse me of this idea that there was an alternative approach, which would have been to protect the most vulnerable among us, the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and allowed others to lead their lives.

BIRX: Well, here's the problem in that. In America, about 35 million Americans that are particularly vulnerable live in multigenerational households. Only about 1.5 million Americans are in nursing homes. And so yes, we could protect the nursing homes. But what was the key is how do you protect families. And I think that is going to be the key going forward. And I really, I'm hoping as a country, we really take the time to work with Congress and say CMS today, you should no longer accept infectious disease codes for flu or RSV, or COVID without a definitive laboratory diagnosis.

Let's move into the 21st century, as we've done with cancer and cardiovascular disease, we should be diagnosing RSV and flu and COVID with every urgent care visit, we shouldn't be guessing. And once you know what you have, then you can easily find new viral infections. And so, we need a better human surveillance system.

We spent a lot on zoonotic and animal surveillance systems. Now we need to take that into humans. Every U.S. Embassy and every consulate could be our early warning system. We know how to do this with wastewater. So, every embassy every consulate should be monitoring their wastewater, we should know what is circulating around the globe. And we should be telling Americans what's circulating in the United States, whether it's RSV, COVID, or the flu.

SMERCONISH: Was there adequate concern paid to the mental health consequences of the policies that we implemented; I get that there was concerned about physical health. In retrospect, I can't help but wonder if we underestimated the, the cause of all of this, the impact that this was going to have on mental health of Americans of all ages.

BIRX: I'm so glad you asked that, Michael, because what was frustrating to me, the NIH was SAMSA put together an excellent report in June and July of 2020. That talked about the mental health of our young people and how it was deteriorating and noted all of the increased ER visits, suicidal ideation. This was June of 2020.

I sent that report to the CDC because SAMSA said they weren't getting any traction, I knew the CDC was going to put out new school guidance, I asked the CDC to include in the opening, issues about the mental health of young people. So, school boards and parents could make decisions on the whole of their child to really ensure that they understood the risk of the children not being in school.

And CDC refused to include that in their guide. When you know, when you say you're following science and data, you need to follow the science and the data and what is getting us into trouble, even today is us making assumptions. We lost 270,000 Americans to COVID last year, we're going to easily lose well over 100,000 this year. This doesn't have to be our future.

We know how to stop this. We've done this with pandemics all over the globe. I've spent 25 years doing it everywhere around the -- around the globe. You can change this, but we need -- we need the general support of Congress and CMS and CDC to really come into the 21st century and work within our healthcare delivery system, utilize our electronic medical records, don't create parallel systems.

We know how to be more efficient, more effective. And most importantly, if we give communities the information and the data and they can see in real time what's happening in their communities, I know that they will do the right thing to protect their parents, to protect their children.

SMERCONISH: It's a complicated subject and I wish we had more time. Dr. Birx, thank you for that.

BIRX: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: What types of stories are off limits for authors if the story isn't theirs to tell? We'll talk to a white author, criticized by publishers for writing about a fictional black man's experience with law enforcement.



SMERCONISH: Every day, novelists, they spin stories about characters who could exist or might not exist in the real world. Some writers base them on an aspect of their own life. Others create characters that have nothing to do with their own experience. That hasn't always been a problem. But in today's world just as much attention is paid to who the author is as to the words they write, if not more. My next guest has written more than 20 novels. 16 are best sellers. He says he faced opposition when his agent began pitching his latest book to publishing houses.

It's a story set in a fictional Georgia County about a black voting rights activist's teen son who was arrested for killing a white sheriff's deputy during a traffic stop. The author is a white man who lives in San Francisco in Martha's Vineyard. He says for that reason, many publishers wouldn't touch the book, but Post Hill Press will release 'Trial,' that's the title in June.

In the meantime, you can find excerpts online at Best Selling Author Rick Patterson joins me now. Rick, the advice historically to authors has been right about that which you know. Is this sort of the modern interpretation of that? Are people saying well you don't know about this aspect of life?


RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON, AUTHOR, TRIAL: Well, if you're going to write a book like this, you have to do the work. So I went to Georgia, I talked to the head of the leading voting rights group there, The New Georgia Project, I talked to ministers, I talked to lawyers, I talked to law enforcement people, I talked to union leaders, I talked to black folks involved in the struggle for voting rights. I did everything I could to internalize their own experience so I could translate it into -- into a book.

And I think these things should concern us all, who shouldn't be no black literature, no white people literature, there should be literature about things we should care about.

SMERCONISH: Is it possible? Is it possible despite your track record, that the books just not that good?

PATTERSON: Well, you know, literary judgments vary. But when people tell you that you're going to be quote, rightly criticized for writing this book, I'm talking about publishers, or they only care to hear from, quote, marginalized voices, or that you're too white for black people, or this just isn't the kind of book for you to come back to fiction. Or, boy, I just love this book, I know just how to publish it, I just, I just need to talk to young people, then you know, you got a problem.

SMERCONISH: So, in other words, this -- this is -- this is what was told to you or to your agent, or to both flat out, you were told, hey, because of your skin pigmentation, we can't publish this book?

PATTERSON: You know, flat out my agents were told. I think the issue here, Michael is, can the bounds of literacy -- literature cross the bounds of identity, and reach our common humanity and empathy. And that's what literature has always done. That's what literature should do. And I think if we have this literary segregation, we're going to end up increasing the polarization and insensitivity, you already have too much out in the society.

SMERCONISH: OK, I'm playing devil's advocate with you. But is the argument here that you're taking a seat at the table that would otherwise go to a person of color?

PATTERSON: No, because every book is his own creation. It exists only because the author imagined it. No two books are alike. It's not like you're applying for the same job. Novice isn't like that, posing is not a zero-sum game. It doesn't mean that if a book by a white author, which is good enough, is published that some book by some other author won't be published by some other publisher. It just doesn't work like that.


PATTERSON: No good is accomplished.

SMERCONISH: We will -- we will watch the sales upon release of your book. Rick Patterson, thank you so much.

PATTERSON: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Up next on CNN tonight. New ethical questions after reports that Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch failed to disclose that he sold a vacation property to the head of a major law firm, raising the question, are supreme court justices living up to the standards of the highest court in the land? Alisyn Camerota and her panel will discuss but first your thoughts on tonight's program and my responses.




SMERCONISH: Time for some social media reaction to tonight's program. I had asked are we headed for a Biden versus Trump rematch? Nick J., we know Biden is running unopposed. Well RFK Jr. begs to differ with you. Will any Republican beat Trump? I would say that Donald Trump's opponent at this moment in time is not Ron DeSantis. And it's not Nikki Haley and it's not Tim Scott. It's Jack Smith.

It's the prosecutor appointed by Merrick Garland to look at the events of January 6, and the handling of documents at Mar-a-Lago. I think he poses a potential threat to Trump, unlike that posed by Alvin Bragg or even Fani Willis. So that's my answer. Both have opposition. Joe Biden's opposition is Father Time. Donald Trump's opposition is Jack Smith.

What does it say about both parties when these two men are the best they have to offer. Might actually be the perfect time for a well- funded moderate candidate to make a run as an independent. Is Joe Manchin watching tonight? I don't know. I have my eye on this effort by no labels. They're out there getting signatures and raising money to ensure ballot access. Should there be a third party candidate that materializes and polling that suggests that Americans don't want either of them.

I don't know how that's going to play out. But I'm intrigued by it. What else came in? Biden should retire. I love him. He served his country, he deserves retirement. Problem is I don't see anyone else willing to step up and take it over. At least not anyone I'd vote for nobody wants to deal with the stress and craziness, says Laura S. You did hear me ask tonight of David Axelrod, what would happen if Gavin Newsom, just as one example jumped in tomorrow? And David's thought was that Joe Biden would secure the nomination?

I -- I think that'd be a hell of a Donnybrook. I also asked, was firing Tucker Carlson in the best business interest of Fox New. Here's some of what came in on that subject. No, but it was certainly in the country's best interest. Well, Paul P., I agree with that. I want to see whether they're now going to tether toward being news focused and not entertainment focused, it remains to be seen.

The other thing is, you know, there been other high profile personalities who have been let go from Fox, ousted at Fox in the past and each time the conversation was, well, how are they going to fill the shoes of that individual? But each time they did, like they -- they build a machine over there where the pistons get replaced, and they don't seem to miss a beat, right? What else?

Yes, because the best ratings mean nothing if you don't get that advertising revenue since he wasn't getting advertised. I don't think their business model is predicated on advertising revenue. I learned that from Frank says no, last night it really seems like it's the licensing fees, whatever the conductivity way of, of collecting.