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Interview with Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA); House Passes Infrastructure Bill; Pollster: Dems Misjudging which Issues Voters Care About; University of Florida Reverses Policy on Professor Testimony in Political Cases; Should COVID Vaccine Be Mandated For All School Children?; Biden Speaks After Infrastructure Bill Victory. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired November 06, 2021 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: The sausage got made. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.
A week that began with the Democratic election shellacking ended with a huge legislative victory. The President Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed the House last night and soon will be signed into law. The president will speak this hour and we'll carry it live.
In the end, the vote was 228 to 206. That composition is a story of our divided times. In the final count, six Democrats split from their party but that was far fewer than had looked likely earlier in the day when progressives said they would not vote for the infrastructure deal unless they had a commitment to the larger spending bill, Build Back Better.
That log jam was broken when five centrists released a statement saying that they would back the bigger bill in mid-November so long as there are no surprises when it is scored by the Congressional Budget Office.
Still, where six Democrats were splitting from the party, Speaker Nancy Pelosi could only afford to lose three. The six who split, Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, AOC of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
It's notable, but in the end, the House progressive caucus chair Pramila Jayapal of Washington state voted in favor of the infrastructure bill. The margin of victory, it was supplied by 13 Republicans who broke ranks with the GOP. And I want to name them.
Don Bacon of Nebraska, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Andrew Garbarino of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Nicole Malliotakis of New York, David McKinley of West Virginia, Tom Reed of New York, Chris Smith of New Jersey, Fred Upton of Michigan, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Don Young of Alaska. Without them, this wouldn't have passed. They voted just as 19 Republicans including Mitch McConnell had supported the bill in the Senate. The late-night wrangling gave a Hollywood ending to a tumultuous week for the president. An embarrassing loss in purple Virginia's gubernatorial election. But then, great economic news on Friday morning when unexpectedly 531,000 jobs were reportedly added last month and unemployment, it fell to 4.6 percent.
And finally, a deal on infrastructure. As a result, the nation will receive a significant investment in its infrastructure. Just take a look at some of these numbers. $110 billion for roads and bridges, $73 billion for electric grid upgrades, $66 billion for trains, $65 billion for broadband, $55 billion for water quality, $50 billion for climate change protection, $42 billion on airports and ports, $39 billion for public transport, $21 billion for environmental clean-up, $15 billion for electric vehicles, $11 billion for transportation safety, and $1 billion for reconnecting communities.
The House also passed the rule that will govern debate on the Build Back Better Act on a party line vote appeasing those who had been refusing to vote for infrastructure without also passing some form of social spending plan.
I want to know what you think this hour. Go my website at smerconish.com and answer this week's survey question.
"Having achieved the infrastructure deal, will President Biden get Build Back Better passed this year?"
Joining me now, Democratic Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb. He's a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus. He's running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Pat Toomey who is retiring.
Congressman, thank you so much for being here. I wanted to have here you because, correct me if I'm wrong, this all began in your congressional district, right? Didn't President Biden first make the announcement and pitch on your home turf?
REP. CONOR LAMB (D-PA): He did. Yeah. He came to the Carpenters' Hall in my congressional district back in the spring and he promised that he would fight for a huge investment in infrastructure, put Americans to work, crucially with American made materials. He has some of the strongest buy American steel and other provisions ever. And he actually followed through on it. And it is notable to us because President Trump did the exact same thing multiple times and never even really tried to follow through. And you know I think Pittsburghers know the difference between those two things.
SMERCONISH: What accounts for the difference on the other side of the aisle when compared to the Senate. In other words, Mitch McConnell and 18 of his Republican colleagues voted for this in the Senate and yet in the larger House of Representatives, only 13 Republicans -- by the way, I say thank God for the 13 because I'm thrilled this has passed. But why only 13?
[09:05:04] LAMB: Well, first I want to say, you know, saying thank God for the 13 is nice but it wasn't luck. I mean, we really did work with them all year. You mentioned the Problem Solvers Caucus. This whole thing began in the Problem Solvers Caucus with John Katko and Brian Fitzpatrick working with me and Josh Gottheimer and people like that to actually you know lift up this proposal and get it some traction.
So, they -- we gave them buy-in at the beginning, which was crucial. The reason we didn't get more, I believe, is that Trump really ramped up his attacks on this bill when he realized that it was going to pass the Senate. He didn't do it early enough to affect the outcome in the Senate, but he has been unceasing in his attacks on this bill. The exact same thing that he promised when he was president. He now attacks it because he doesn't want Biden to get it, and unfortunately in the House there's just a lot of people who do what Trump says. And you know that means they're a no. They're a no in everything that they're against.
SMERCONISH: In other words, you think that - you think that on Donald Trump's watch, this same legislation could have passed if he had pushed for it?
LAMB: Basically, yeah. I mean, there would be differences. He denies climate change, so some of the things involving, you know, climate and electric vehicles, and public transit probably wouldn't have been in there. But the core of it, which is really roads, bridges, pipes, Internet, that has massive support in both parties, both in the Congress, and most importantly in the American public at large.
And that was why Trump was always promising it. He wanted to be popular, right, so he talked about popular things, but he just never had the ability to deliver on things that he promised. And I think what this president showed, President Biden, is even if it's ugly to get to the finish line, he got there. And that's a really important thing for our country.
SMERCONISH: Despite the laundry list that I read a moment ago, we can put the slide back on the screen so that folks see the build down. You know part of the Republican narrative is that this has little to do with infrastructure. Your response to that is what?
LAMB: I would ask then why Mitch McConnell voted for it and so many of his other Republicans. I mean, they voted for it because they know that this is about roads and bridges, pipes, the Internet, most importantly it's about putting Americans to work. With American made steel, it's about a lot more than, you know, just sort of the public works side of it, the government.
The biggest beneficiary of this is the private sector. You know the Chamber of Commerce guys are probably toasting each other with champagne right now because this is going to be the biggest enabler of domestic manufacturing our country has seen in a really long time.
I mean, in my district, there are so many examples I can give you. One is a steel company in Western Pennsylvania that comes out here to Philly to ship their stuff out of the port. They have to take a 900- mile journey in their trucks to get here. Where it would be a 300-mile journey in your car. It's three times longer for this company because there are so few roads and bridges in Pennsylvania that can carry the weight of these big steel parts.
That's what we're talking about, business and transportation expenses that are three times worse than they should be. This bill fixes things like this, and it puts Americans to work doing the jobs. These jobs can never be outsourced. They're ones that are being done by our people with our resources, and President Biden is the one that got it done. It was the proudest vote I think I have cast in four years.
SMERCONISH: Finally, what's your answer to my survey question this week, what will now happen to Build Back Better? Can he, the president, get it done before the end of the year?
LAMB: I honestly think that's an impossible question to answer. I think where he is and the commitment that was made last night is, we're going to get it through the House before Thanksgiving. And I believe we will do that.
The Senate has been sort of a moving target, and no one is able to predict exactly what's going to go on over there. But the point is, that we're moving forward. I'm not a big believer in any of these deadlines. I think progress is the key. You know, in the Marines, they talk about the 70 percent solution. Keep moving forward so you never get bogged down, and you get closer and closer to your objective, and that's what you're seeing us do here. It's not pretty, I know that, but it's something. You said at the top of your broadcast, the sausage got made, and a lot of people went hungry prior to this administration.
SMERCONISH: It got made. It was ugly. Yeah. It was ugly, but it got made. Thank goodness.
Congressman Conor Lamb, thank you so much for being here.
LAMB: Thanks for having me back.
SMERCONISH: My next guest predicted this week's election setback for the Democrats. Neil Newhouse, a GOP pollster who worked for Mitt Romney, worked for John McCain, teamed up with Joel Benenson who was a poster for Barack Obama, together they did a research project that warned Democrats they are misjudging which issues voters care most about, especially independent voters.
Just before the election, they found the issues that independents care most about, the economy, inflation, jobs, immigration, and border security, and COVID-19, the pandemic recovery. And they warned that the number of independents who said the country was headed in the wrong direction was 70 percent.
So, what does this mean for Democrats in next year's midterms, Neil Newhouse joins me now. He's the cofounder of the Republican polling firm, Public Opinion Strategies. Neil, welcome back. James Carville said this week that certain among us, they need detox from wokeness, one narrative that's come out of Virginia is that this was all explained as a rejection of wokeness. Is it that simple?
NEIL NEWHOUSE, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: No, it's never that simple. This is -- it's a typical kind of midterm election where voters respond to the party in power. I think the message they sent. I think Joe Manchin was right when he talks about the message they sent. The message voters sent on Tuesday was to slow down, pump the brakes.
They're saying that the surge in government spending was costing me at the pump, costing me at the grocery store, contributing to labor shortages because there are disincentives to go back to work. I think the Democrats are in danger of repeating the same mistakes they made in 2009 and 2010. And I think they've got kind of a tone-deaf ear to what voters are saying right now.
SMERCONISH: Well, we're having this conversation the morning after a big legislative victory for the White House. If this $1.2 trillion infrastructure package had been passed before Virginians voted, might that have altered the outcome of the race?
NEWHOUSE: I don't think it would have made a damn bit of difference, I really don't.
SMERCONISH: Why not?
NEWHOUSE: I mean, it's not like Democrats took the legislation and sprinted through the finish line here. Whether they did it last week or this week, they barely crawled across the finish line, barely with enough votes to pass the thing. And Americans don't understand that you know, don't know the benefits they're going to accrue to this -- from this legislation. And it sure as heck is not going to happen before the 2022 elections. It wouldn't have made a darn bit of difference, and they did it on a Friday --
SMERCONISH: But isn't it one of the findings - but Neil, isn't it one of the findings of your data that competence matters and that there's a perception among a lot of voters out there that this White House has been lacking in competence. Now they get to say, we've gotten something done, something that Congressman Conor Lamb just said a moment ago, and I agree with him, probably Donald Trump could have gotten done if he'd only have pushed for it.
NEWHOUSE: Well, he probably could have gotten infrastructure, if he had pushed legislation on infrastructure that did not include climate change, for instance, and it was stripped, you know, some of that stuff was stripped away out of the package.
Now, yeah, he could have passed the thing. But that's -- the way the Biden administration went at this, if they had passed this in July or they passed this you know when it first came up, then that would be, you know, competence and leading the party. But the sausage making we went through over the last, you know, three or four months, it was ugly, and I think it diminished Americans belief that the Biden administration was a competent one.
SMERCONISH: I said earlier this week on CNN that Republicans have better issues than Democrats, better defined as not more meritorious but the type of issues that when you contact people and are doing a survey, really gets a visceral response. The whole school issue is one such issue, whereas Democrats have, you know, climate change, great solid issue but not a motivator. Can you speak to that issue?
NEWHOUSE: Yeah. Well, first of all, it's not just -- it's immigration, it's crime, it's education, it's cost of living inflation. These are issues that impact voters, you know, day-to-day to some extent. And when you turn and look at the issue of climate change, it is a concern among voters, but it's not one of the top five or six or seven issues that are out there right now. It is among Democrats but not among independents, and at least not the top four among independents and it's not a concern among Republicans. It is as if what the issues that are being focused on in D.C. are not the ones that Americans are talking about at the kitchen table every day.
SMERCONISH: OK. Sum up. As we look toward the midterms, what is the takeaway that you think the country needs to hear from Virginia, from New Jersey, and from the rest of the country last Tuesday.
NEWHOUSE: This reminds me of 2009, 2010. 2009 Obama pushed Obamacare. The result at that pre-midterm election was Republicans took over the governorship in Virginia and New Jersey. And then in January of 2010, Scott Brown took the Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts and yet Democrats pushed on and pushed through. They ended up losing 63 seats in the House, and six seats in the Senate.
I think we're looking at significant wins for Republicans, we're looking at Republican control of the House and the Senate after the 2022 election. And I don't think this infrastructure package that just passed is going to impact that one way or the other.
SMERCONISH: Well, I don't know what the political ramification of it might be, but as one who drives on roadways that are littered with potholes, I'm just thrilled they got something done.
Neil, nice to see you again. Thank you for coming back.
NEWHOUSE: Thanks Michael.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me at Smerconish, use my social media, go to the Facebook page or whatever. And I will read some throughout the course of the program.
This actually comes from YouTube, I think. "The Squad is the best thing to happen for the GOP in a long time!"
Paul, interesting that you say that. I have said previously that if Joe Biden didn't have Joe Manchin, he would need to invent him. Because, you know, Manchin keeps him from going too far in a progressive direction. I'll tell you something else you may or may not find of interest. It was important to me to take the time to identify by name and photograph on the screen. Hey, Katherine, could we do it one more time? Put up those 13 Republicans because in my view, they really deserve to be saluted today. Think about it proportionately.
19 Republicans in the Senate supported the bipartisan infrastructure deal, including Mitch McConnell. Right? And that's 19 out of 100. You've got 435, and I recognize the caucus is smaller, but you've got many more Republicans in the House of Representatives than you do in the Senate, and only 13, only 13 were willing to stand up, break from their party, Problem Solvers, and others to get this deal done.
So, it's a good day, I think, for the country. I want to remind you, go to my web site at smerconish.com. Having achieved the infrastructure deal, will the president now be able to get Build Back Better passed this year?
Up ahead, speaking of the president, he's expected to speak this morning following the late-night passage of the massive bipartisan public works bill and we intend to bring him to you live.
Plus, the University of Florida has reversed itself after drawing criticism for not allowing some faculty members to testify as paid experts in lawsuits that go against the policies of Governor Ron DeSantis. The university administrators have decided to back down. I'll talk to one of those professors who was affected.
And after testing positive for COVID, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers complaining about a media witch hunt regarding his vaccination status. Back in August, he said he'd been quote "immunized." I say incomplete pass.
Meanwhile, now that the CDC has OK'd a child size dose of the Pfizer vaccines for 5 to 11-year-olds, should it become one of the vaccines that schools require of all students, or is that just too much of a political quagmire.
SMERCONISH: A debate about speech is dividing the University of Florida campus. On one side are university professors who say historically they have been permitted to offer their paid expert opinion outside of the classroom. On the other side, university administrators who recently sought to prevent three political science professors from testifying in a voting rights lawsuit against the administration of Governor Ron DeSantis.
The university had said the professors couldn't testify because it might create a conflict of interest between the state-run university and the executive branch of the state of Florida. After much criticism on Friday, the university announced it would reverse its decision and will now allow those faculty members to testify. But despite the reversal, three faculty members are suing the president provost, and board of trustees over the underlying issue. Their case had followed others in which the university reportedly denied other professor requests to provide expert testimony.
Here's how the "Miami Herald" reported on this. Back in August, university officials told a professor of pediatrics he couldn't work on two cases challenging the state's ban on mask mandates because participating in lawsuits against Governor Ron DeSantis' administration would quote "create a conflict" for the university.
And last year for a lawsuit challenging a new law requiring felons to pay unpaid court debts before their voting rights are restored, the "Herald" said four university of law professors who wanted to sign a friend of the court brief were told they could not identify themselves as university faculty members because the filing involved quote "an action against the state."
A spokesperson told the "Herald" that the university does not comment on pending litigation but this week, the university did release this statement.
Here's what they said. "The University of Florida stands firmly behind its commitment to uphold our most sacred right as Americans, the right to free speech, and the faculty members' right to academic freedom. Nothing is more fundamental to our existence as an institution."
The governor's office said, it quote, "Has not been involved and will not be involved with UF's internal policies."
Joining me now is Kenneth Nunn, one of the professors who was barred from using his affiliation in the felon voting rights case. He has been a professor of law there for more than three decades.
Professor, thank you for being here. This might be a confusing issue to folks at home, let me try and I think illustrate what's going on. You're a criminal law professor. By this logic, could you represent a criminal defendant being prosecuted by the state of Florida?
KENNETH NUNN, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA LAW SCHOOL: Michael, by that logic, the answer is no. Apparently the position of the University of Florida is that whenever you're involved in some litigation or you're involved in some legal filing that the state is a party on the other side that that's a conflict of interest, and you're not allowed to participate. So, I think that's wrong.
SMERCONISH: Some might be watching this, and confused thinking wait a minute, isn't the traditional role of a professor limited to the courtroom, you would tell them what?
NUNN: Well, I would say that --
SMERCONISH: I meant classroom. NUNN: Yeah, to the classroom. What I would say is that that's not correct because our general understanding, what we are looked at in terms of the, you know, accuracy of our performance is we look at what happens in the classroom. We look at the research that we develop. And we look at the public service we provide.
And when you're not able to testify in a case, then what that is doing is keeping you from sharing your research with the public. So that impacts both the research that you're creating and your opportunity to create that research and of course your willingness to do that, and your ability to share that research and serve the public in that way.
But let me say this, I think that it was the right call for the university to allow these three professors to testify in the voting rights case. You know, it was belated, but it was absolutely a right call to do.
Unfortunately, the problem goes a lot farther than the interest of these three professors and that voting rights lawsuit because there are other professors who have not been able to testify in cases. You mentioned the case of, you know, the COVID-19 vaccine policies and things of that nature. There are -- there's already a rule in place that says that we cannot testify. We cannot be involved in cases unless the university gives us its prior approval to do so, and that has not changed.
Now, the university has brought forward a, you know, said that they're going to have a task force to examine this issue. And, you know, I think that that could be a good outcome, depends on what they decide. I'm not particularly optimistic at this point that the decisions that will be made will be ones that will protect the freedom of speech and academic freedom here at the University of Florida.
SMERCONISH: Professor Nunn, where is this coming from? Governor DeSantis' office says we've got nothing to do with this. This is a UF matter. They establish their own rules and regulations and protocols. Do you think that it came from UF or because perhaps they don't want to anger the governor of Florida or do you suspect it may be really did come from the governor's office?
NUNN: Well, we have to look at the broader context here. We already have a law in the state of Florida that requires faculty to identify what their political affiliations and viewpoints are, and there's an annual survey that we have to fill out. And that same law gives students the ability to video tape classes if they feel that they want to report a professor who's engaging in what they view to be some sort of content or political indoctrination.
So, the fact of the matter is that academic freedom is under threat in a real broad range of activities that are happening and many of those are fueled by policies that are coming out of the governor's office, and that, you know, cause concern.
Now, it's quite possible that what we saw here was a, you know, sort of proactive move by the administration to kind of cut off the possibility of the governor being interested or the legislature or, you know, other higher ups being concerned about what was going on at the university.
But the fact of the matter is the whole climate has created a chilling effect on academic freedom in the state. And I think that that's the broader question that we need to address.
SMERCONISH: Professor Nunn, thank you so much for that description. We appreciate it.
NUNN: You're welcome, mike. Thanks for having me on your show.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via social media, Smerconish, Twitter and Facebook and YouTube pages. This comes from, "Any colleague policy that prohibits free speech is the antithesis of higher learning."
It's an interesting case, Michael. I haven't heard of this in any other state except Florida. And we made very, very clear, the governor's office says this wasn't of our doing. But from my experience as a trial attorney, I certainly am aware of the role that academics play outside of the classroom. And I think it's important that they continue to be able to express themselves and offer expert opinion outside of the classroom, and not let politics get in the way.
I don't know what went on here. I don't know whether it was UF saying we best stay on the right side of DeSantis or maybe there was a wink and a nod that came from the governor's office. Who knows, but they ought to be able to express themselves for sure.
I hope you're going to smerconish.com and voting on this week's survey question. "Having achieved the infrastructure deal, will President Biden get Build Back Better passed this year?"
Go vote on that right now.
Up ahead, the president is scheduled to speak this morning about last night's historic passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and we will bring you that as soon as it happens.
Plus, the CDC has approved a kid-sized dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine for those aged 5 to 11. Polls show that many parents are on the fence about it. Should it become required for school children as is the case for other vaccines to be vaccinated for COVID-19? Meanwhile, it turns out that Packers' QB and substitute Jeopardy host Aaron Rodgers not among the 94 percent of the NFL who have gotten the vaccine. He tested positive for COVID and is missing this week's game.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you vaccinated and what's your stance on vaccinations?
AARON RODGERS, GREEN BAY PACKERS QUARTERBACK: Yes, I've been immunized.
Should be correct, but unfortunately for this game today that's incorrect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Vaccine avoidance keeps making headlines. This week in the NFL as Packers' star quarterback Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID, and eventually revealed that he had considered himself immunized via homeopathic means, to me the pressing issue in this realm involves not jocks but kids. Should COVID vaccine mandates be extended to include all school children just as with other vaccines? The question is unfortunately like everything else these days, very political.
This week Senator Ted Cruz introduced legislation that would prevent the federal government as well as public schools from imposing COVID- 19 vaccine mandates on children. In a statement, Cruz said this, "Parents should have the right to decide what is best for their children in consultation with their family doctor. My view on the COVID-19 vaccine has remained clear, no mandates of any kind."
This followed the CDC approving and recommending a child-sized dose of the Pfizer vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds clearing the way to begin vaccinating the 28 million children in the United States in this age group. The approval also happened the same week of the Virginia governor's race in which Glenn Youngkin capitalized on the issues of parental roles in their children's schools and COVID mandates. So far, only five school districts all in California have mandated the vaccine for students, and those are only for students 12 to 17.
Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the FDA's vaccine Advisory Committee. Dr. Offit, I pulled from our home state, Pennsylvania's Department of Health, the standard for vaccination that currently applies and the type is tiny, but let me just tell you and everybody else that for attendance in all grades, children need four doses of tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis. Four doses of polio, two of measles, mumps, rubella. Three of hepatitis B, two of chickenpox. Should COVID-19 be added to that list?
DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR OF THE VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Yes. I mean, do you think that COVID-19 is as serious if not more serious than those diseases? Of course, it is. We're in the midst of a pandemic, and the thing about vaccine mandates is they work.
We have had vaccine school mandates since the 1970s, primarily because of measles outbreaks at that time. And what we've found was that we were able to eliminate measles from this country by the year 2000. And measles is far more transmissible, far more contagious than COVID-19, so certainly vaccine mandates work, and children will benefit from those mandates.
SMERCONISH: So, where there is now final approval, why isn't there more of an effort underway? Because we did research this week and it just doesn't seem like across the country many school districts or states are headed in that direction. Is it all political?
OFFIT: I think that's exactly what it is, as you said in your opening statement. I think that unfortunately politics has trumped a good health requirement. I mean -- and children suffer that. I mean, this should really solely be a decision based on does this vaccine work. Is it safe? Is it likely to protect children from getting infection -- infected? Of course, it is.
I mean, since August, we have had 2000 school closures. We have a million children who have been affected by those closures as well as 68,000 teachers who have been affected by those closures. The decision is really a simple one. But you're right it has gotten embroiled in politics.
SMERCONISH: When I discussed this on radio yesterday, from some I heard, well, it's all so new, this vaccine. And hey, kids don't die. To those callers, you would say what?
OFFIT: Well, first of all, the mRNA technology, the messenger RNA technology isn't new. It's been around for about 20 years. Two, unlike any other pediatric vaccine in history, look at the enormous amount of data you have in older adolescents and young adults, hundreds of millions of people who've been immunized. So, we have a clear platform of safety and efficacy on which to stand. And the fact is that a choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice. It's a choice to take different -- arguable more serious risk.
Can children die from the virus? Of course, they can. Just in the 5 to 11-year-old age group alone, more than 100 children have died, and all in all close to 700 children have died. This virus can cause children to suffer and be hospitalized and die.
At our hospital, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, we see COVID all the time, including in young children, and this is a preventable illness. It was hard enough last year watching these children come into our hospital. This year in children over 12 it's even harder because it's a preventable illness.
SMERCONISH: Prediction from you, I know what you think should happen, and I agree with you.
Next school year, August, September, are a majority of American school kids required to get vaccinated before they go to school?
OFFIT: I doubt it. I think -- you said it, I think politics is going to trump public health here, and children will suffer that.
SMERCONISH: And what a shame, by the way, where I noted the American Academy of Pediatrics -- quickly, can we put that on the screen, just to make crystal clear what the thinking is? "The AAP recommends COVID- 19 vaccination for all children and adolescents 5 years of age and older who do not have contraindications using a COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use for their age."
So, the medical community is united and has said what you, Dr. Offit, have said here today. Thank you so much for being here.
OFFIT: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Checking in on your tweets and Facebook comments. From the world of Twitter, what do we have?
COVID vaccinations for children shouldn't be a political issue. It's a medical issue.
J Krepps, I agree with you, but I also agree with Dr. Offit and it's my own view that it has become very, very political as evidenced by Senator Cruz's statement this week, and that which he introduced.
Are you answering this week's survey question at Smerconish.com? I hope so. Here it is, having achieved the infrastructure deal, will President Biden get Build Back Better passed this year? Go vote.
Still to come, after seemingly intractable opposition from within his own party, President Biden did get that big victory last night on the big infrastructure bill. He is scheduled to speak live this morning, and we will bring it to you as soon as that happens.
Plus, Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who used an AR-15 type rifle to kill two and wound another during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is claiming self-defense. Does he have a case? I'll ask a former Wisconsin district attorney.
SMERCONISH: So, you're looking at a live shot of the White House right now. We are waiting President Biden to come out and discuss last night's passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. We will bring that to you live as soon as the president is ready.
Joining me now, by the way, is a person who's been a big part of these negotiations. Jason Grumet is the founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in the 116th Congress. The BPC played a significant role in the negotiation of the coronavirus relief package, early childhood programs and a whole host of other things.
Jason, how big of a victory for bipartisanship is this where I would say only 13 Republicans in the House joined the Democrats to pass it?
JASON GRUMET, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER: Well look, Michael. I think this is a -- it's a really significant outcome for the country, right? Before we talk politics, right, this legislation, which passed the Senate back in August is going to significantly increase jobs or economic vitality. And they're all focused on the supply chain challenges now, and a lot of that is due to old and inadequate infrastructure. We're going to bring clean water to millions of communities, and broadband. Significant investments in technology that's going to enable the climate solution, right? Windmills and solar panels are great, but they'd work a lot better if you actually have transmission lines, and we need big technology breakthroughs. This program is going to invest in batteries, and advanced nuclear, and machines that suck carbon out of the air.
And then finally, it's going to speed everything up. We're going to make significant improvements in the permitting process. It's going to bring more private investment forward. So, you know, it's easy to forget about the substantive significance of this, because it was so long ago.
But to your point about, you know, bipartisanship, you know, it's kind of like cold pizza, right? It's really good but it took so long for it to get to the Senate to the House that it lost a lot of the thrill. Had the bill moved forward on its own merits back in September I think you would have seen 30 or 40 Republican votes. But the fact that it got mashed up with the partisanship around reconciliation really deprived it of a lot of its legitimate support.
SMERCONISH: So earlier in the program I was chatting with Neil Newhouse, the noted Republican pollster. And he made a comment that, you know, probably there won't be tangible evidence of this in time for the midterms. You're the perfect person, Jason, for me to ask, how much of this is shovel ready and will voters see tangible results within the span of the next year?
GRUMET: So, you know, a little bit. But look, the reality is that the only thing that's shovel ready is the status quo. And we need to invest in the future, right? This is legislation about modernizing our economy, and that's not going to happen in the next 16 months.
What I think is shovel ready is the appreciation that Congress can occasionally govern a divided country. And so as much as I think we have strengthened the economy and our environment, I also think this is a signal that Congress actually does have the capacity, occasionally, to work together and get things done.
SMERCONISH: I like the fact that 19 Republicans in the Senate including Mitch McConnell and 13, albeit only 13 joined forces in the House, that stands in contrast to the much bigger Build Back Better which is going to go through reconciliation. Can you speak to the difference between lining up enough votes that include members of the other party versus taking something big to cross the finish line with only members of your own party?
GRUMET: So, look, you know, fundamentally public policy needs to be two things. It needs to be effective and it needs to be durable. The reconciliation process makes both of those things hard, right? There are limitations in the ability to move public policy.
Reconciliation is really just about spending money. So, a lot of the efforts that the progressives are pursuing, while they're well intended, they're not going to be nearly as effective as if they had gone through the actually regular deliberative process.
And then the real concern we have is durability, right? One of the things that has made this country work is we don't swing back and forth every two or three years, right? We put the country on a direction, and we stick with it. And when you have one party acting with actually no engagement from the other party, you lose that durability.
And, you know, what's most, I guess, discouraging is a lot of the pieces of the reconciliation and the Build Back Better process actually have bipartisan support. There is bipartisan support for investment in early child education. There is bipartisan support for investment in energy technology. There is bipartisan support for investment in paid family leave and that's all been lost because the process itself is inherently partisan. So --
SMERCONISH: It's a shame, I agree --
GRUMET: -- something is better than nothing but it's a diminished process.
SMERCONISH: Jason Grumet, thank you so much. I appreciate your commentary.
We'll be right back. We hope with President Biden just as soon as he spokes. We'll also give you -- as soon as he speaks, pardon me. We'll also give you the final result of the survey question. Go to Smerconish.com if you've not already been there. Having achieved the infrastructure deal, can the president next get Build Back Better passed this year?
SMERCONISH: Hey, I think I know why the president has been delayed this morning. He wants to see the result of the survey question at Smerconish.com so let us show it to him. Having achieved the infrastructure deal, will President Biden get Build Back Better passed this year?
Here are the results. What do we got? Oh, he'll be thrilled with that. Fifty-nine percent say yes of 13,199 votes having been cast.
Social media, quick reaction, what do we have, Catherine? What's come in during the course of this program?
This praise for Biden getting a bill to his desk which he could have signed months ago, @Smerconish, utterly baffles me. The Dems self- sabotaged, and they finally saw where it led with Youngkin's victory.
Hey, Debra, I wish they had gotten it done a long time ago. And I agree with you that it's been a circular firing squad among Democrats. But as I went to bed last night, I was thinking all the attention is on the Democratic side of the aisle. They don't need these progressives. Where the hell are the Republicans? Thank God in the end 13 of them stepped forward.
For the latest we go to CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. Hey, John, what do we know of the president yesterday working the phones and really putting skin in the game to get this across the finish line?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, he decided, and Speaker Pelosi decided that they needed to move right now. That, of course, was accentuated by the results in Virginia and New Jersey, but it was also the product of months of negotiation that had dragged on a long time. And the reality is that the president does need those progressives because he doesn't want this only to be what he achieved.
He's going to like that result, the survey, the 59 percent that you just mentioned because for Joe Biden it is critical from his perspective to get both parts of this agenda. And the people who are trying to help him get both parts of this agenda are in fact those House progressives. It's the moderate members, a handful of holdouts who have been the obstacles to getting this done.
And, finally yesterday, the progressives who had been holding up one piece of legislation with the ascent of the president and the speaker in order to get the other decided to make a pragmatic choice and say, "Let's go ahead. Let's let this pass. We'll trust our colleagues to come up and pass the Build Back Better agenda." We'll see if that trust is justified.
SMERCONISH: It does make me wonder, John, because I love the politics of all of this and analyzing them, but for the Tuesday Virginia result, would last night have occurred?
HARWOOD: I think so. Look, you always have to get a point -- after a long negotiation process you have to get to a decision point. This had gone on for quite a long time.
Before we knew the results of Virginia and New Jersey, Joe Biden was struggling. His numbers have gone down. He's well below 50 percent.
A piece of that, not the biggest piece, but a piece of that is the appearance of a Democratic-controlled government in Washington not being able to move forward. So they decided they need to take -- they need to take the one thing they could move forward on here now --
SMERCONISH: John, here he comes. I'm going to interrupt you because here's the president.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Infrastructure week. I'm so happy to say that infrastructure week. Folks, yesterday I don't think it's an exaggeration to suggest that we took a monumental step forward as a nation. We learned that our economy created 5.6 million jobs since we took office in January 20th. Recent unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, two full years earlier than the vast majority of economists projected that would happen. And we're just -- we're just getting started.
We did something that's long overdue, that long has been talked about in Washington, but never actually been done. A House of Representatives passed an Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
That's a fancy way of saying a bipartisan infrastructure bill. A once- in-a-generation investment that's going to create millions of jobs.