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Are We Turning A Corner When It Comes To Coronavirus Or Miles From Nowhere?; When Can Lockdowns End?; Purdue University's Response To COVID-19; Interview With Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired December 19, 2020 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Turning a corner or as the song says, "Miles from nowhere." I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency-use authorization for Moderna's vaccine last night, the second vaccine to receive an EUA in the United States after Pfizer.

The majority of Americans won't be able to get vaccinated until at least halfway through 2021, but the timing of this second vaccine is welcome as the country is feeling COVID-19's impact like never before.

In just the past week, more than 1.51 million new coronavirus cases were reported. That's according to Johns Hopkins University. That means new infections were reported in 1 in 216 Americans. It's the most cases added in a single week since the pandemic began. In just the first 18 days of the month, December already the second highest month of new cases since the pandemic emerged.

Yesterday saw yet another record high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations. for 17 days in a row now, more than 100,000 people have been hospitalized due to the virus. The virus continues to kill thousands of Americans each day. Some of those victims include eight nuns who died within a week at a facility in Milwaukee.

A new "Lancet" study shows that the death rate for hospitalized COVID- 19 patients three times that of the death rate for hospitalized flu patients and a new IHME model projects 562,000 COVID-19 deaths by April, up significantly since their last update.

The situation in California particularly urgent. The state has reported more than 300 deaths for the second straight day. In recent weeks, southern California has seen an unprecedented surge of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations with hospital intensive care bed capacity plunging to 0 percent and health officials issuing dire warnings if the virus continues to spread out of control.

All that and yet my next guest says we should resume life as normal by the end of next month, at which time the lockdowns and COVID restrictions should immediately end forever. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya joins me now.

He's a professor of medicine at Stanford University, an early opponent of lockdowns. He co-authored an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" this week titled "How to End Lockdowns Next Month, target vaccines to the most vulnerable and don't give them to people who've already been infected."

Dr. Bhattacharya, welcome back. Let me review for viewers. In October, you co-authored "The Great Barrington Declaration." It called for what you described as focused protection on those at the highest risk while those at lower risk live their lives normally and some of your peers objected.

They wrote a response. They called it "The John Snow Memorandum." Among other things, they argued that protecting the vulnerable is impossible when others are living their lives normally and that many people would needlessly die.

Now you're back with "The Wall Street Journal" op-ed where you say the vaccine ends that criticism. How come?

JAY BHATTACHARYA, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Well, the vaccine is very, very effective. We've seen from the trials 90, 95 percent efficacy of the -- of the vaccine and the vaccine represents an opportunity for perfect focused protection.

If we use it to protect the people we know to be at highest risk from the disease, the elderly, people with severe chronic conditions that are -- that are -- that are not quite -- not quite elderly, but older, those folks, they face a very high mortality risk from COVID, maybe 5 percent mortality, 95 percent survival.

For people who are under 70, the survival rate from COVID IS 99.95 percent according to a study in the World Health Organization. So for the rest of the population, we have to think about the lockdown harms. The harms of the lockdown are devastating, especially for the young.

One in four seriously considered suicide this past June. We've seen people skip, you know, cancer screening. We're going to -- we're seeing a sharp rise in the -- in the excess mortality in the younger population and everyone who's listening has felt the harms of the lockdown. On net for the young, the lockdowns are much worse than COVID.

[09:05:00] For the old, that's not true, but now we have, with the vaccine, an opportunity to protect them and we have about 50 million older adult, people over 65 in the United states and about 50 million doses will be available -- will be available -- 50 million people could be inoculated by the end of January if we -- if we do it right. You ...

SMERCONISH: Well, the question -- the question is -- the question is is that enough? Here's what you wrote in "The Journal."

"Some 50 million people in the U.S. are over 65. The number of vaccine doses expected to be available over the next two months will be enough to vaccinate every elderly person who wants to be inoculated as well as healthcare workers and other vulnerable people. With a 90 percent plus efficacy rate in protecting against COVID-19 symptoms, we will achieve near perfect focused protection. At that point, the lockdown should end immediately and forever."

Is 50 million really enough doses to cover all healthcare workers and the elderly that you describe?

BHATTACHARYA: It is if we use -- if we understand the biology of it. so for instance, someone who has had COVID previously is actually no longer going to benefit from the vaccine because they are already immune.

In fact, in the trials, the Pfizer trial itself, they considered, they included people who had had COVID before, but when they did the analysis, they excluded the 7,000 some people who actually had had -- previously had COVID because they knew that there wasn't going to be any benefit to vaccinate somebody who's already had COVID. They're already immune. So we can check ...

SMERCONISH: But that -- but that requires ...

BHATTACHARYA: If you've already had COVID, it's not like you won't get ...

SMERCONISH: But that requires -- I'm thinking of President Trump, arguably, you know, the highest profile individual to have contracted COVID-19. What I hear you say is -- and interesting because there have been some who wonder when he's going to get vaccinated. You wouldn't give President Trump a vaccination. True?

BHATTACHARYA: I wouldn't give him priority for a vaccination. Maybe give it to him later when his immunity starts to decline. You know, maybe in a year or two. I think the ...

SMERCONISH: OK, but here's my real question. In order to follow this plan, you'd have to be giving antibody tests which, correct me if I'm wrong, we're not doing because what I hear you say is that right now with the precious few doses that we have, about to be expanded by Moderna, I think I hear you say give everybody an antibody test so that we don't -- I'll use the word "waste one" on someone who's already had it.

BHATTACHARYA: Yes. I think that's a really smart idea or if you've had a previous diagnosis -- a confirmed diagnosis of COVID, you know, you don't need an antibody test because you know you'd had it previously, but yes, absolutely. We should not be prioritizing people who previously had COVID.

Basically, that will end up with more lives lost as a result. We should be preserving them for the vulnerable, that is people who have not had COVID and are older than 70 and face a very high mortality risk should they get COVID ...

SMERCONISH: OK. Another question. Do we really know how long your immunity lasts if you've had it? And secondly, what about the long- term health implications of someone who's had it who survives, you know, according to that data that you rely on, but they survive with a lifelong problem? BHATTACHARYA: Yes. I mean, I think that those are really important questions. So I think for people who get COVID, it seems like the evidence suggests at least a year of immunity. There's been, you know, I think hundreds of millions of people that have been infected worldwide and only a relatively small handful of documented reinfections.

I mean, what that means is that the immunity lasts at least a year and if it's like other coronaviruses, it'll last longer than that. You know, other coronaviruses also -- like these common coronaviruses actually do induce immunity for a very long time. We'll see more as we go along, but the immunity is pretty complete and long-lasting.

As far as like the long-lasting effects of COVID, I mean, that's a real thing absolutely and we're learning more about it as we -- as we go along. It's relatively uncommon. The literature on this, if you look at the CDC site, tells you about the uncertainty around that. Against that, you have to consider the long-term damage from the lockdowns, the physical and psychological damage from the lockdowns ...

SMERCONISH: Understood. And you quote ...

BHATTACHARYA: There's much less uncertainty about that. That's widespread.

SMERCONISH: You quote in "The Journal" -- I'll put them on the screen -- these survival rates. You say that 99.95 percent of those under 70 will survive, 95 percent of 70 and older will survive. Are you arguing that for the non-elderly and those without comorbidities, the lockdown is actually worse than getting the virus?

BHATTACHARYA: It's exactly what I'm saying, Michael. The lockdown is devastating for the under 70. If you -- if you think about the lockdown harms, they're not just economic. They're medical, they're psychological. As I said earlier, one in four young adults, the CDC says, seriously considered suicide this past June.


Just imagine the psychological distress that people have to face where one in four young adults feel that and the medical harms are real and will continue for a long time. Just consider our children. There was a study published in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" estimating that because of the -- you know, when you -- when you miss school, it has a lock-on consequences for the rest of your life, including shorter lifespans, less healthy lifespans.

They estimated that 5.5 million life years was going to -- are cut from our children just from the loss schooling this past spring. The lockdowns are devastating for our young people and devastating for the health and psychological health of basically the entire population ...

SMERCONISH: I am -- I am framing -- I am framing a survey question. Catherine, are we able to put it on the screen while Dr. Bhattacharya's still my guest? I want to show you what I'm asking the CNN audience -- there it is. Should we wait for near universal vaccination before a resumption of normal life? You get to be the first to respond to it. Go ahead.

BHATTACHARYA: We should not wait. We should -- we should wait until the vulnerable are protected, which we can do, if we're smart, by the end of January.

SMERCONISH: You know that some are going to think this is reckless. People are going to say, wait a minute, you're advocating, you know, opening up all the restaurants and all the bars and all the stores and everything before we've got an adequate level of protection. You'd say what, briefly, to them?

BHATTACHARYA: I think it's reckless to delay opening up when we know the lockdown harms are so devastating, again, to the physical and psychological health of the young. I mean, I can understand an argument that we're exposing older people to a risk, but with the vaccine, we don't have to. We can use the vaccine to protect older people who really would have been at risk absent the vaccine or other measures of focused protection.

But with the vaccine, there won't be and then after that, the lockdown harms are way worse than COVID. I mean, we're in a bad situation, Michael. We either have to face one bad -- one bad thing or another, either COVID or the lockdown harms. We shouldn't pretend like there are no harms from the lockdown ...

SMERCONISH: But I mean, you heard -- I have a time constraint. I'll simply say this. You heard all that data that I laid out at the outset of the program. I mean, there are terrible things happening across the country right now in terms of death, hospitalization, people contracting it.

We're at the worst point that we've been. It's just going to sound antithetical to many when they hear you say, yes, in a month from now, we ought to open up. Anyway, thank you Dr. Bhattacharya. It's provocative and I want people to read -- I'll put in my Twitter feed right now again -- your op-ed from "The Wall Street Journal" and thank you for explaining it.


SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish, go to Facebook page. I'll read some during the course of the program. What do we have from the world of Twitter? "I've seen too many critically ill COVID patients to ever think that lockdown is worse than disease." And he's making that argument and, Erins, you just heard him, as I heard him, say he's making that argument for those who are not elderly and for don't have -- and those who don't have comorbidities.

With regard to those who are older, he absolutely says vaccinate them first and healthcare workers as well, but the survival rates of 99.95 percent of those who are under 70, that's a different situation. Make sure you're going to the website today. Yes, it's a provocative question at Should we wait for near universal vaccination before a resumption of normal life? Up ahead, after weighing the arguments on remote versus in-person learning, Purdue University had everybody back on campus. So how'd it go? I'll talk to Purdue President Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor, about this semester's coronavirus report card.

And the Governator is here, putting his money where his democracy is after helping pay to open polling places. Republican and patriotic immigrant Arnold Schwarzenegger wants incoming president Joe Biden to sign a new voting rights act. We'll find out why.




SMERCONISH: Many sectors of society are making tough decisions about how to best protect people from COVID-19, education being one of them. On the issue of remote versus in-person learning, Purdue University chose to reopen the campus in August, determining that the coronavirus poses much less of a threat to its population of young students than the others more vulnerable.

The decision was met with its fair share of criticism, mostly around the infection risk posed to professors, faculty and the population of West Lafayette, Indiana where Purdue is located. The university ended its fall semester last week. President Mitch Daniels shared some surprising stats in an op-ed in "The Washington Post" that was titled "Even amid a pandemic, the kids are 'alright'."

So can we learn something from Purdue's coronavirus response? Mitch Daniels, the former governor, joins me now to discuss.

Governor, I know you're a data guy. I'm going to put some data up on the screen for the CNN audience and I'd love you to tell us what you glean from it. Forty-thousand students, your dorms were about 86 percent full, more than two-thirds of classes were at least partially in person, you had 2,770 positive cases. What lessons did you learn?

MITCH DANIELS, PURDUE UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: We learned that especially with an overwhelmingly young population, Michael, if you really throw the sink at this problem, do everything you can, watch the data on a daily basis, that you can manage your way through this and you can protect the vulnerable, which was apparent to us even back in April or May as the wisest strategy.

[09:20:00] We moved two thirds of our staff and faculty off campus all together. They worked mostly or entirely remotely and then we simply secured the campus, tested, traced. As soon as we caught a case, we removed that person temporarily till they recovered, which in the case of our students, they invariably did and it wasn't perfect, we made mistakes.

But we made it and we do believe this was far and away the right trade-off for the interest of certainly our students who needed real education of the kind we provide, for our faculty and staff who did not lose their jobs as 14 percent of higher ed employees did this year and for our community for which we were a major economic support.

SMERCONISH: I know that it was costly. You wrote the following in that op-ed that I referenced, "Purdue was able to do this by spending $50 million on testing, as well as the improvements to the physical and technological infrastructure to minimize the possibility of viral spread on campus, such as reconfiguring classrooms for more than -- for more social distancing and adding plexiglass barriers for students. the dining halls became carry-out only and the university set up tents around campus to provide outdoor space for eating and studying."

Do you think that your approach can be -- by the way, that was from the chronicle of higher education. I misspoke when I said it was your op-ed. Do you think that your approach can be emulated by other universities?

DANIELS: Well, we certainly emulated others. We stayed in regular touch with other schools who had opened or tried to and tried to learn from their successes as well as their mistakes and shared our own. Every school is different. We never passed any judgment on the decisions of other schools either not to open or to close having done so. This was a tough problem and probably different and just as public officials in different states correctly, I think, addressed it in localized specific ways.

But no, I mean, certainly some of the things we did are of broader application and folks are more than welcome to study what went well and what didn't.

SMERCONISH: Governor, tell me about the 2,770 who contracted coronavirus.

DANIELS: What I can tell you that's most important is that this was -- they were very -- these were very, very mild. More than 80 percent were either asymptomatic or had one single symptom, usually headache, maybe loss of taste or smell. I asked our folks at the beginning, our medical team, to construct a severity index that had six levels, no symptoms at all being level one, eligible to consider hospitalization at the top.

Less than 1 percent of our students ever got past the fourth level out of six. So we did everything we could to identify cases, again, remove them temporarily from the population. We switched them. Massive effort involved to enable them to switch seamlessly from in-person or partially in-person classes to online while they quarantined, but ...

SMERCONISH: Do you ...

DANIELS: ... having done all those things, you know, thank goodness and we worried about it every single day. We did not see any student's health seriously jeopardized or any staff member for that matter.

SMERCONISH: Do you know how that infection rate compares to Indiana at large?

DANIELS: It was consistently lower. Right when the surge came to our whole state and to the whole Midwest, over the last few weeks, those numbers converged somewhat, but it was, I think understandably, a concern to people that college campuses might prove a menace to their surrounding communities, that there'd be transmission of the virus from the campus to the neighborhoods around it.

In our case, it worked absolutely the -- actually the other way around and we had -- in the last two or three weeks of school actually, the infections we were experiencing in the student population almost always came from those who were living off campus or had activities away from Purdue proper.

SMERCONISH: Finally, Governor, I'm concerned about the mental health aspects of our students, both being on campus and being off campus. I know that some students protested recently over academic stress and mental health concerns at Purdue related to COVID-19. Address that issue briefly from your perspective.

DANIELS: It's an issue -- it was an issue on college campuses, a growing one, way before the virus showed up. It can't have made things better, although we have evidence and I think your last guest talked about it. The people you might want to worry about at least as much are those who have been stuck elsewhere off campus.


Twenty-two percent, by one estimation, of young people say they considered suicide. So there was no stress-free place to be this fall, but we would like to believe and I think evidence supports that certainly our students would tell you, 90 plus percent of them wanted to be on campus. That was a big factor in our original decision and looking back, I do believe this was the best among, you know, tough choices.

SMERCONISH: The kids are all right. I never took you for a Who fan, but thank you.

DANIELS: I do think people should know this. Over and over we've been asked how did we manage to navigate the fall in reasonable shape and I always give the same three answers. One, we started early. An early decision was really important here, Michael, because I could see it was going to be a huge implementation challenge and we needed every day.

The second thing was we made a decision to do everything possible, much of what we did was probably superfluous, but we left nothing to chance, no investment, no effort, but the critical, maybe decisive factor was the leadership really of our -- of our young people. I got lots of letters, we all read stories about, you know, forget about it, the kids will never comply, they will party, they'll ...

SMERCONISH: I remember. Yes.

DANIELS: Yes. And, you know, kids are kids, but I just have to tell you, at least in our case, we had spectacular compliance. It was, again, the most critical factor. We couldn't have made it without it. Our students not only abided by the impositions and inconveniences we asked them to, but in many cases went beyond it.

I mentioned in that article one young man, just out of curiosity, parked himself in one of our busiest corridors one sunny, breezy day and found 94 percent of his fellow students wearing a mask outside ...

SMERCONISH: Wearing a mask.

DANIELS: Outside ...

SMERCONISH: Understood. Hey, Governor, I got to run -- I got to run ...

DANIELS: ... which was not even part of the plan (ph).

SMERCONISH: I got to run. Merry Christmas and congrats. Thank you.

DANIELS: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: I want to remind you, go to my website this hour, answer this week's survey question. Should we wait for near universal vaccination before a resumption of normal life?

Up next, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a rarity among Republicans, willing to both talk about voter suppression, climate change, equal rights and actually do something about them. He's here with some thoughts about what other Republicans must do post-Trump.



SMERCONISH: They say it takes one to know one. A Hollywood action hero praising people he deems Democracy Action Heroes. The terminator star and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been fighting to make voting more accessible for all. The USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy say their goal is to promote post-partisanship and urges leaders to put policy over politics. They've been providing grants and opening new polling places and increasing voter turnout.

On Tuesday, the institute is streaming an awards ceremony for Democracy Action Heroes, people who fought to expand voting access or protected the will of voters under tremendous pressure. Two of the recipients Chris Krebs, former director of the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency, who said the election was the most secure in American history and was subsequently fired by President Trump.

And Georgia's secretary of state Brad Raffensperger who has been the frequent target of attacks from President Trump and his supporters for his handling of the election in Georgia all while the state gears up for two major Senate run off races in January.

Last week, Schwarzenegger made a call to Raffensperger letting him know that the institute plans to bestow upon him Democracy Action Hero award status. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), FORMER CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: You will go down in history of being a good guy, a good public servant.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Governor, honestly, we're just trying to run an election, just follow the process, follow the law. We didn't set out to earn any awards. We don't want to be -- we really -- we'd love to make elections boring again.


SMERCONISH: I just spoke with Governor Schwarzenegger.


SMERCONISH: Hey, Governor, welcome back. It's so good to see you.

SCHWARZENEGGER: It's great to see you. Thank you for having me.

SMERCONISH: Let's talk about Democracy Action Heroes. There's a letter that you sent out to election officials. I want to quote from it in September. And you said this, "The United States gave me everything I have, and I believe it is my duty to repay the kindness of this country every day of my life. Everything I achieved -- my bodybuilding success, my movie roles, my investments, my governorship, my family -- would have been impossible anywhere but America."

So, what did you decide to do?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, just like you said, I felt very strongly that I should invest in our democracy. And that means that I was -- I recognize the fact that we had to close so many polling stations since 2013, since the Supreme Court made the decision that we don't really need the Voting Rights Act anymore. And since then, they closed 1,600 polling stations. And that really had an effect that I felt was, you know, kind of unjustifiable.


That minorities in the south weren't able to vote exactly the same way as we were voting everywhere else. And so this is why I decided that I'm going to open up polling places and that I'm going to go and invest and put my own money in, and put millions of dollars in to open up more polling stations. And we were able to open up over 50 polling stations.

People that were, you know, requesting them. We were working together very closely with them. And it gave them, you know, just alone in Georgia but think about 144,000 more voters were able to go and vote because of our polling stations that we opened up.

So I think that we made a real impact there. And as I said, every dollar that is spent on this was worth it. It was one of the greatest investments that I've ever made. SMERCONISH: It's wonderful that you did what you did. But it's also kind of sad that it took a private citizen to be writing checks. Shouldn't the federal government have a response?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, you're absolutely right. Because, look, my friends in Europe, they were laughing about the fact that I had to put in my own money in order to fight for democracy. They said you have the oldest democracy there is in the history.

So, I mean, how can you brag about that when you don't have really the financial means to open up polling places and you don't have the laws in place so there is voter suppression going on -- and especially in the south. And they laughed about. They said because their government provides them with the financial means to have the elections and to have all the polling places open.

So it is kind of ludicrous when you look at it that way. But you know something? I don't care. What I care about is one only thing and that is, can I contribute and can I make things better? Because for years, since 2013, people have been complaining about this problem. And people have lost because of the problem, the elections.

And I said to myself, I'm going to do something about it because I'm not a complainer. I'm a doer. That's exactly what I did.

And I just recommend very strongly that now when Biden is in office that they go and work on a new Voting Rights Act. Because I think it is irresponsible to not have a Voting Rights Act and to have those polling places closed under the auspices of budgets, under the auspices of coronavirus and all of that stuff.

I mean, I think that a lot of times there's excuses because the fact of the matter is it is voter suppression. It's basically saying, the Republican Party is saying, we don't people -- we don't want people to vote because maybe we didn't perform as well as we promised. And because otherwise it doesn't make any sense if you don't want people to vote, if you can show up.

That you really like -- I was always happy to go in front of judges when I was competing in the Mr. Universe contest (INAUDIBLE) I'm the greatest and therefore I'm going to show it to the judges. Every judge can come in and they can vote in order to -- that's the way it went forward.

If you start hiding and you try to suppress votes and you try to cheat on the election, and you try to have people kind of throw out hundreds of thousands of Democratic votes (INAUDIBLE). That's not what the party should stand for. The party should not stand for, you know, gerrymandering or cheating on elections or, you know, having voter suppression. This is not what the Republican Party should be standing for right now.

SMERCONISH: We're not accustomed to hearing a Republican make a call for a new Voting Rights Act. How practical is it that something could get done? SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think that if there's a will, there's a way. I believe very strongly that the Democrats and the Republicans have to work together in this new administration and also at the same time create a new breed of Republicans. Because I think the old card has failed terribly this year especially in this election process. And I think we have to work together because we have several things that have to be accomplished.

One of them is equal rights. We have to create equality in America. That maybe it's also something that you hear so many times Republicans talking about, but the fact of the matter is that's what we need to do because we are a country of equality. And we should always strive for better -- to have a better system.

SMERCONISH: What's the real state of the Republican Party? Donald Trump lost in his bid for re-election. But Republicans gained in the House, seemingly, they held on the control of the U.S. Senate. We'll find out soon. In state legislative races in the Montana, gubernatorial race, the GOP did well. So, there's this disconnect. How do you see it?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think there was a disconnect. I think with Trump it was very simply that, you know, four years ago, they voted for Trump because he promised them a certain amount of things. I think the second time, when you get re-elected or want to get re-elected it's more about what promises did you keep and how did you perform as the leader.


And I think that's where, obviously, people felt that he fell short. And so, this is why he was voted out. And I think that the Republicans as a whole they still voted because people like to see a balance in Washington between the Democrats and the Republicans. Because you don't want to have a situation like you have in California, the Democrats have total control and then they're not really performing at their best. Because you only perform at your best when there's competition.

And you know -- so I think that also with the president, I think that Biden was successful because he appeared to be in the center. And I think that's where the action is. And this goes back -- way back to Roosevelt. Remember the Republicans have lost their way before. In 1932, if I remember it correctly, when, Hoover lost, President Hoover. And then Roosevelt was voted in, Franklin Roosevelt.

And so they then held on to the Democratic Party. And the leadership for a long time during the whole Second World War. And they did a great job, may I remind you. And then finally someone came along from the Republicans that was in the center, Eisenhower. And then he finally won for the Republicans in 1952. So it's always people in the center.

Remember when Nixon won in 1968 he was in the center. He was a president that was -- that created the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency. And also was fighting for universal health care. So, those were then, you know, kind of the center handle for leaders. Ronald Reagan was that way. George Bush was that way. They all -- and, of course, another one who took that title away, presidency from the Republicans was Clinton. And why? Because Clinton was in the center.

So, I mean, as you can see, you know, the people in the center, I believe with what Eisenhower said, politics is like a road. You know, the center is drivable. And the left and the right is the gutter. That's exactly what it is.

SMERCONISH: I only wish that all centrists had the passion of Governor Schwarzenegger.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Look, I'm very passionate you know. I love this country, Mike. We talked about it many times. I love this country. And I want to make everything -- I want to make sure that we stay the number one country in the world. And that we, you know, really improve in our system.

There's always room for improvement. And I think the only way that we get things done in a very effective way is if both parties vote for something. We have seen, you know, that Republicans vote for something. That didn't work. We have seen, you know, with the health care, with the Affordable Care Act, that only Democrats vote, that didn't go anywhere.

So, I mean, I think we have to make an effort to bring people together. And I think Biden has a good shot to do that because so far he hasn't offended anyone on the Republican side. And I've watched it very carefully. I think that he really is always in his speeches kind of reaching out across the aisle and saying come on in, we want to work with you. So I think that's the right way to move forward.

SMERCONISH: Governor, merry Christmas. When this pandemic is behind us, I'm looking forward to having another cigar with you.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I cannot wait. Remember, we have many events coming up at our Schwarzenegger Institute at USC. And, by the way, you know, that you will see those, you know, award shows, if anyone is interested in it it will be, you know, it will be shown this Tuesday, this coming Tuesday on December 22nd on my Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. And it's the Democracy Action Hero awards.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, governor.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you very much.


SMERCONISH: Still to come, what do these have in common, Princess Diana's secretary, Representative Ilhan Omar, Dr. Scott Atlas and Meek Mill song?

Plus, remember to answer this week's survey question at, "Should we wait for near universal vaccination before a resumption of normal life?"



SMERCONISH: 2020, been a hell of a year, right? And we've had the good fortune of being able to cover it from the widest range of perspectives. So I want to thank all of you for being there with us with a quick look back at some of our guests from Anthony Fauci on the pandemic back in February, to Sir Charles Barkley, talking about George Floyd to controversial COVID adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, notorious Squad member Ilhan Omar, senators, groundbreaking social scientists, Emmy winning sportscasters, advisers to the president, Pulitzer Prize winners, prosecutors, even the private secretary of Lady Diana, talking about the Harry and Meghan mess. And that's just a random sample.

Plus, of course, there was my surprise appearance, and I mean a surprise to me, in a Meeks Mill's song that he made from our conversation last year.


MEEK MILL, HIP HOP ARTIST: We grew up in ruthless environments. We grew up around murder. You see murder, you see seven people die a week. I think you would probably carry a guy yourself. Would you?


SMERCONISH: Yes, I probably would. There's a great team here at CNN who make this show happen, Catherine and Corinna (ph), Lauren, David, Chloe, Krista (ph), Director David, and everybody in Atlanta including Maria who runs the teleprompter, very important, my radio producer T.C., we all thank you for watching.

Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments and we'll give you the final results of this week's survey question at, "Should we wait for near universal vaccination before a resumption of normal life?"



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question this week at Here it is. "Should we wait for near universal vaccination before a resumption of normal life?"

Survey says -- what do we have? I'm always interested in how many. Yes -- you know what? I just during the commercial break said to my producer, I'm not going to make a prediction but if I were to make a prediction it would be 65-35. I should have made the prediction.

What came in on social media? We only got time for one, I think.

I think we could have handled this all so much better. Everyone I know or talk to online is either depressed or broke or both. The mental health problems because of the lockdowns will probably live much longer than the virus. I think that's the point that Dr. Bhattacharya was making.


No one is underestimating the suffering that flows from the hospitalizations and the death count but there are many other aspects of this that are incalculable. I think that's the message that I would offer from it. And the point is we need to work not only hard but work smart as well.

It was a great conversation. I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Happy New Year. Stay safe. Wear your mask. I'll see you back here in 2021.

Good news, the "Sesame Street" crew is back on CNN for a new family town hall about COVID-19 and staying safe this holiday season. It's called "The ABCs of COVID-19" and it's next.