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Dozens Of Tornadoes Leave Path Of Destruction Across Six States; Pennsylvania Senate Candidate Oz Fights To Be Called "Doctor"; New NYC Law Allows Non-Citizens To Vote In Local Elections; Third Flight For Bezos' Blue Origin. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired December 11, 2021 - 09:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. I'm Michael Smerconish in New York.

Active tornado watches in several states as powerful storms cause a dangerous and deadly night in the central U.S. At least 30 tornadoes barreled across six states. Dozens are feared dead and more than 250,000 customers are without power in Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Arkansas.

In Kentucky, early reports indicate one tornado may have stayed on the ground for more than 200 miles causing widespread destruction. This is all that is left of a candle factory in the town of Mayfield. More than 100 people were working inside when the tornado hit. While an official death toll has not been determined, Governor Andy Beshear said at least 50 people are likely dead in his state of Kentucky. With the state of emergency declared, the National Guard is deploying to hard hit areas.

In Arkansas, at least one person was killed, dozens injured after a tornado ripped through a nursing home. Residents and staff were trapped in the rubble until help arrived.

In Illinois, a possible tornado cut through an Amazon warehouse. Trapping workers inside. Police have described it as a quote-unquote "utter disaster." Two people are confirmed dead. Tornado watches have been issued this morning for portions of North Eastern Mississippi, Northern Alabama and Eastern Tennessee.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar joins us now.


ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, that's right. It's been a very destructive past 24 hours. Over 30 total tornado reports, over 150 severe wind reports and 20 large hail reports. And those numbers are likely still going to go up because the threat is still ongoing.

Now, the biggest concern from overnight was the potential for one tornado perhaps lasting on the ground for over 200 miles. Now, we won't be able to confirm that until the National Weather Service is able to go out during the day and survey a lot of the damage. But what you're seeing here, this white line, all this the pink and purple boxes you see kind of sliding along, those were the tornadoes warnings. These dots, these red and white dots indicate the tornado reports.

So, we know there's likely damage from the tornado all along this line. What we don't know is, was it all part of the same tornado, or was these multiple tornadoes that likely stretched as long as that did.

The interesting thing there is that the vast majority of tornadoes are on the ground for less than 10 minutes and go less than 10 miles. This one going over 200 is extremely rare. In fact, the record, the all- time record for the longest tornado was back in 1925. It's called the Tri-state tornado. It was on the ground for 219 miles.

Some of the damage, this is the courthouse. So, what the courthouse used to look like in Mayfield, Kentucky. You can see the tower there, the steeple tower that is now gone. There are also several trees, large trees that were uprooted, not only in front of this building, but some of the surrounding buildings as well. And again, that's just a small-scale scope of what some of the damage is like from some of these storms.

We do still have tornado watches in effect right now for areas of Tennessee, as well as portions of northern Alabama. Because that's where some of the strongest storms are clustered as we speak.

But the storm system as a whole is very large. It stretches from Maine, all the way back to Texas. But again, the main area of concern going forward for where the strongest thunderstorms will be is going to be, is going to be in the central portion here, Kentucky, Tennessee, stretching down into Alabama.

Eventually, this line will move into the Carolinas, as well as portions of Georgia. We have active severe thunderstorm warnings right now, no active tornado warnings at the moment but we have one as short as five minutes ago.

So, again, these warnings are going to pop up off and on throughout the day. This is the area of greatest concern going forward. Isolated tornados, damaging winds and hail are still going to be a factor although the hail is really going to be limited to the extreme southern portion of this map. But cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery, Charlotte, all of these cities have the potential for strong to severe thunderstorms as we go through the rest of the day today.

The one bit of good news, I will point out, though, is that by the time we get to overnight tonight, the system has finally exited the area. And in its wake, albeit slightly cooler temperatures we have dry conditions. And that's really going to be very key for a lot of these areas that are doing rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts. That they're going to have some better weather to contend with. And

likely giving the power crews some pretty good weather to really build back those power systems because it's likely going to be hours, if not days before many of these people get their power back.

SMERCONISH: Allison that was an excellent report, thank you so much.



SMERCONISH: And now, for some troubling news that has nothing to do with the weather. The last time inflation was this high, I was in a fraternity. We're all feeling its effects, but I want to talk about the political fallout. A president with sinking approval numbers who desperately needs a win.

Instead, just received a double whammy. And the result might cost him a last chance to pass his massive social spending bill before the end of the year. And if he doesn't get it done now, he'll have to fight this battle in 2022.

Yes, the year of the midterm election.

So, what just happened?

Well, two things actually. New data came out showing inflation at its highest in almost 40 years. And a revised CBO score of $3 trillion came out on the Build Back Better bill. That was ordered up by Republicans and the White House is now labelling it fake.

The numbers aren't pretty though. Consumer prices have increased by 6.8 percent since November of last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's the highest annual inflation rate since 1982. "Let's Get Physical" and "Eye of the Tiger" were atop of the charts back then. That's how much time has transpired.

But this really shouldn't come as a surprise to most Americans. The reality has been hitting families hard across the country for a while now. Food prices are up more than 6 percent overall for the last year. A carton of eggs, 8 percent higher. A nice juicy steak, that costs 25 percent more. Pork, 17 percent. Gas prices may be on their way down now, but overall, they're up 58 percent from last year. A new car that will cost you 11 percent more now.

Supply chain constraints have been a major contributing factor. Prices go up when things are harder to get access to. According to a Gallup poll, 45 percent of American households say steep costs are causing their family some degree of financial hardship. So, what does President Biden say?


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every other aspect of the economy is racing ahead. It's doing incredibly well. We've never had this kind of growth in 60 years. But inflation is affecting people's lives.

But if you take a look at it, if you -- if we were -- if and when, God willing, we get the Build Back Better proposal -

If they're paying considerably less for childcare, considerably less for healthcare, considerably less for insulin, considerably less -- and go down the list -- of being able to take care of their parents -- all of the things that are in the Build Back Better plan -- the reason why people think it's going to -- economists think it's going to, in fact, diminish the impact on inflation is because it's reducing costs for ordinary people. Reducing costs for ordinary people.


SMERCONISH: He added that he thinks the U.S. is at its inflation peak and touted drop in oil and gas prices. So, he argues his Build Back Better bill will help ease the economic pain. But the problem is this bill has no Republican support. And Republicans are arguing that spending more money especially after all the pandemic stimulus payments is only going to make inflation worse.

And now, they have a new CBO revised score on which to rely. They requested a new congressional budget office estimate of how much the social safety net plan would cost if a series of provisions like the child tax credit expansion were extended for the full 10 years. And the CBO came back with a deficit increase of $3 trillion. The White House is dismissing this score as fake.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is not a CBO score. This is a fake CBO score. It's not about the existing bill anybody is debating or voting on. This is about proposing the extension of programs that has not been agreed to. Without the commitment of the president, which he's made repeatedly publicly, that he would never support extending these programs if they weren't paid for.


SMERCONISH: Zero Republicans voted for this bill in the House in November. It was already facing major hurdles in a 50/50 Senate. And likely even more now. Moderate Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin aren't satisfied with it as it is. Manchin has voiced a number of concerns namely that budget gimmicks hide the true cost of the $1.9 trillion bill. He wants it at no more than $1.75 trillion.

This morning's "Wall Street Journal" did the math with the new numbers and the result was this headline. "Joe Manchin's Inflation Vindication" saying that the numbers, quote, "should be all the warning Democratic doubters need to shelve President Biden's Build Back Better Act that could fuel more inflation."

The president was asked, Friday, if he could get Manchin on board with Build Back Better with inflation numbers this high.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: I don't know the answer to that. I'm going to be talking to him at the beginning of the week. And I think if you look at what most people are saying, most economists are saying, this Build Back Better is not going to increase inflation, it will diminish inflation.


SMERCONISH: If Joe Manchin isn't on board, then Build Back Better is dead, as in D-E-A-D, dead, which will leave progressive Democrats feeling like they were snookered in passing the infrastructure bill and the president lacking the momentum he desperately needs to keep the House from Republican takeover next year.

Here on CNN last night, I spoke with Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary under President Clinton, former director of economic council under President Obama. Here's what he said.



LARRY SUMMERS, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: If I were in the Senate, I would vote for the Build Back Better legislation, because I think the investments it makes are fundamental to the future of our country.

Was it as good idea to make as large payments to everybody in sight as we did in 2021?

No, that was a mistake. But it would compound that mistake if we were to scrimp on vitally important investments.


SMERCONISH: I want to know what you think. Go to my website at this hour and vote on this week's survey question. Will inflation doom the passage of the Build Back Better?

Joining me now, a member of the Progressive Democratic Caucus, Congresswoman from New Mexico. Joining me is Teresa Leger Fernandez.

Representative, thank you so much for being here.

Is Build Back Better on the ropes because of inflation?

REP. TERESA LEGER FERNANDEZ (D-NM): I think that Build Back Better is the solution to inflation. So, whenever we talk about it being on the books, but we need to talk about how it's going to come back and beat inflation. That needs to be the approach we take. Because everyone looking at it is saying why are we having inflation? It's because of the pandemic caused supply chain.

What does Build Back Better do? It invests in solving those supply chain issues. And just as the president mentioned, Build Back Better actually helps families meet any cost of increases. And it brings down the cost of the working family in the United States. Being a working family in New Mexico.

And, you know, you mentioned -- so, that's where I stand. I think I'm going to stay optimistic about it, because I want us to come up with a solution and not just wring our hands and Build Back Better is that solution.

SMERCONISH: You know that the Republican response to that is along the lines of all of this spending fuels inflation, now there is a CBO number that suggests $3 million more will be added to the deficit. And therefore, we can't afford it?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: So, look at what other countries are doing. They did not spend the money that we have, and they are also facing inflation. So, inflation is something that's happening worldwide. And what we need to do in America is look and see what is future. What investments do we make today?

So that we have the kind of future where you know somebody asked me, a young kid asked me, I'm out of my large rural district, what does this have for me? And I described. Well, you want to get married? Yeah. So, get married. But what are you going to do with that kid?

You're going to have childcare available for him so that you can go and get the better paying job that you want. He's working in a restaurant. He doesn't like really, so what he's doing. And he wants to do better. He knows he can do it. Do you want to be a bio chemist? Do you want to be a welder?

Build Back Better will help you do that. It will help build the housing so that the housing prices go down. We need to increase that cost. It will invest in rural America in a way that then will also bring down the cost of food. We need to address the supply chain issues, not run away from them.

SMERCONISH: Congresswoman, what if you're wrong? I get your optimism. But what if you're wrong? I know that as a progressive, you nonetheless supported the $1.9 trillion infrastructure bill and probably on the premise, that this too would get its airing and get passed, but what if it doesn't?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: We are going to fight to get it passed. We're going to talk about the benefits that it brings. We're going to talk about those children. The child tax credit will expire. The clock will strike 12:00, and like Cinderella, they'll go back to not having enough food in those families. We're going to talk about that.

Because I'll tell you what, Manchin's - Senator Manchin's state is like my state. It's a poor state. He has hundreds of thousands of children that are relying on that child tax credit. We don't want it to expire on December 31st. So, we hope they're going to voice their concerns of saying we need this.

And so, that's what we're focusing on. What is in this bill. Not on the doomsday. But how does this fix things. And what is important to our families? Build Back Better is incredibly supported across the country when you explain what's in it. And that's what we need to focus on, what's in this bill, and how will it help working families that's what I'm focused on talking about.

SMERCONISH: Quick final question, if I may. Is it frustrating for you and other House progressives to see so much power being wielded by one individual, Senator Manchin in the Senate?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: In the House, we would love to see the Senate have something that allows them to vote on a majority basis, right? The filibuster over there is preventing important legislation, like the Voting Rights Act. Like things to protect women's health.


So, we would love to see a Senate that is able to work in some kind of filibuster restriction, so that it serves a purpose, but does not allow important legislation to be stalled.

SMERCONISH: I'm going to take that as a yes. And thank you for being here.

LEGER FERNANDEZ: Thank you so much, Michael.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. What's come in, Catherine?

"Pumping huge amounts of public money into the economy will contribute to inflation."

Well, Rotten Ralph has the Republican talking point which may be right by the way. Interestingly when I chatted with Secretary Summers last night, he makes the argument that not all of these spending programs are the same. And yes, he thought inflation was coming because of what it had been spent on COVID relief. But used differently the infrastructure bill and now the so-called Build Back Better.

But you have to say that Republicans in the Senate now are now emboldened by the fact that they can point to the CBO, even though Jen Psaki said it's a fake number, but they can now point to it and say if we pass this, $3 trillion is going to be added to the deficit.

And the big question is that none of us seem to know, how does that sit with Joe Manchin? Because unless he's on board this goes nowhere. And now the president goes into a midterm election year without a win that he desperately needs.

In any event, I want to know what you think. Go to my website this hour at And tell me, "Will inflation doom the passage of Build Back Better?"

Up ahead, the latest on the deadly storms that spawned dozens of tornadoes overnight across six states causing death and destruction with more to come.

And a new law here in New York City will allow noncitizens to vote. Should they be awarded that privilege? Plus, you're looking at a live shot of Launch Site One Texas where the astronauts were the latest Blue Origin flight are about ascend the tower to the capsule. The crew includes the daughter of America's first astronaut and "Good Morning America" host Michael Strahan. We'll take you there live.

Plus, Dr. Mehmet Oz running for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. Although he's a medical doctor, "The Philadelphia Inquirer" has decided not to call him doctor. He's claiming that he's being cancelled. Is he right to be mad?


DR. MEHMET OZ (R), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I've done thousands of heart surgeries. They don't want to call me doctor anymore. I won't be cancelled.




SMERCONISH: We're following breaking news this morning of a deadly tornado outbreak across the Central U.S. More than 30 tornadoes have been reported so far in six states. Leaving destruction, death and power outages in their wake.

In Kentucky, the governor says at least 50 people are feared dead and he expects that number to rise. He tweeted this morning, quote, "This has been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky's history, with multiple counties impacted and a significant loss of life. I have declared a state of emergency and submitted a request to @POTUS for an immediate federal emergency declaration."

We'll bring you the very latest as it happens.

Now, is there a doctor in the House? Or more precisely, will there be another one in the Senate?

A year ago, today, "The Wall Street Journal" published an op-ed suggesting that then incoming first lady Jill Biden stop calling herself doctor because she's a PhD and not a medical doctor. And now, a similar conversation has surfaced across the aisle. This time about an actual medical doctor.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is vying for the GOP nomination for the seat currently held by retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey, and he finds himself going into battle over his title. The day after he announced his candidacy, the "Philadelphia Inquirer's" front page headline, photo caption and first sentence, all refer to him as Dr. Oz, no big deal, right? So, did just about every other publication you can think of.

Here at CNN, the style book dictates that the term doctor is used, quote, "only for medical doctors, osteopaths, dentists, ophthalmologists, psychiatrists and veterinarians." "Doctor is not used for PhDs or similar degrees, or honorary titles."

It turns out that's not the case at the "Inquirer" as its resident grammarian Jeffrey Barg wrote this week, using Dr. Oz quote, "goes against the paper's style guide, which reads: "Do not use Dr. on first reference for anyone with the title, whether they are a medical doctor or have a doctorate in a nonmedical field, to avoid complaints of unequal treatment from individuals who worked hard to achieve doctorates in nonmedical fields." It specifies just two exceptions: obituaries, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Barg pointed out, even though a Democratic candidate for the same seat, Val Arkoosh is also a medical doctor, the paper had not been referring to her as a doctor in the headlines. The paper decided that it had miss stepped and, quote, "Going forward, The Inquirer determined that it will refer to all candidates in the same way, which means that while Oz may be referenced as a celebrity doctor, Dr. Oz will be limited to mentions of his TV show... which is now off the air in Philly."

Of course, this is just the sort of red meat that certain candidates love these days. No messy policy issue just to tack the media. Dr. Oz released a rebuttal video on social media platforms.


OZ: Last week "The Philadelphia Inquirer" had me on their front page as Dr. Oz. This morning, they just announced no more doctor. Even though I'm a practicing physician. I'm taking care of patients. I've done thousands of heart surgeries. They don't want to call me doctor anymore. I won't be cancelled.


SMERCONISH: Joining me now, is "The Inquirer's" aforementioned grammarian, Jeffrey Barg, who wrote the piece "Two Little Letters that could Skew the PA Senate Race."

So, I have never interviewed a grammarian before. What is it that you do?

JEFFREY BARG, GRAMMARIAN COLUMNIST, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": You're missing out. You know what I do is I look at the ways that grammar and language and punctuation affect the world around us because what we read and how it's written has a really big impact on what it is that we think and how we perceive the world around us.


And so, I try and lift the head up help folks see that.

SMERCONISH: So, you're the guy on my shoulder who is whispering in my ear as to whether it should be "my brother and me" or "my brother and I."

By the way, I always screw those things up.

BARG: Yeah.

SMERCONISH: So, Dr. Oz says -- I'm calling him Dr. Oz -- Dr. Oz, says you're cancelling him, what's the deal?

BARG: You know, the idea that this is cancel culture, it's frankly kind of absurd. It is all about sort of following what any publication's style guide dictates. You know as it says, style guides are used by every publication, used by CNN, to say how we're going to write what we're going to write and how are we going to say what we we're going to say. It's everything from use certain words get capitalized. Do we use an Oxford comma or not? And in this case, it's about consistency in every case and making sure that everybody, all candidates in particular in a really crowded Pennsylvania Senate electoral field are treated in the same way.

SMERCONISH: You have made me realize that for years, I've been violating the CNN style book.

BARG: Yeah.

SMERCONISH: Because I always err on the side of referring to someone as a doctor, PhDs, academics are constantly guests on my program. And I always feel like I owe it to them. They earned the PhD. Here's a question, how does the "Inquirer" treat Dr. Jill Biden?

BARG: So, Dr. Jill Biden is in the "Inquirer" was (INAUDIBLE) say -- I'm not actually a part of the style committee at the "Inquirer."

SMERCONISH: But you're the grammarian.

BARG: I am a grammarian, yes. Jill Biden is referred to currently as First Lady Jill Biden, and you know if it's relevant to a story, the "Inquirer" might mention that Jill Biden who has a doctor - I think her doctor it's in education. But they wouldn't in the headlines say Dr. Jill Biden said so-and-so today.

Just as they wouldn't say it about anybody. And as they won't say it about Dr. Oz. Dr. Oz entered the Senate race this week. It's instead Mehmet Oz, comma, celebrity doctor or whatever other qualification you want to put in there, descriptor that you want to put in there to make clear that you know you're not misleading anybody but also not giving anybody ahead -


SMERCONISH: But - but it is - but Jeffrey, it is really - it really is the way he's known. It is his - I mean it's like Madonna, Dr. Oz, you know what I mean? Like LeBron? Some people, that's just the way that they're - that they're recognized. I want to ask you this as well, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now, why does he get doctor as part of his title?

BARG: So, you know, he is somebody who is a historical figure and that is how he is known. I have -- this rule about how -- whether you use an honorary for somebody far predates me. This rule goes back decades. You know some folks are complaining that, oh, the "Inquirer" is changing what it's doing just because it's biased against Dr. Oz. That's not the case. This rule has been in place for a long, long time. And you know also we're in Philadelphia and so we make exceptions for Dr. J. as well.

SMERCONISH: Hey, I - I have delivered three commencement addresses and been provided honorary doctorates.

BARG: Congratulations.

SMERCONISH: I'm dying to be called -- thank you.

I'm dying to be called doctor. Nobody calls me doctor, should I be called doctor?

BARG: You know what, if you talk to your friends and family, I bet that they'll be more than happy to refer to you as Dr. Smerconish. And we're friends now, so sure, I'll call you Dr. Smerconish.

SMERCONISH: Yeah. But they always have their tongue firmly planted in their cheek when they -- let me just say that you're a great guest, and that's Y-O-U apostrophe R-E. OK?

BARG: Don't screw it up. Don't screw it up. Because that's the worst.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Jeffrey.

Let us see what you're all saying in my @smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages.

This comes from the world of --

"@Dr.Oz any male will be cancelled for not calling Jill Biden 'doctor' but a male heart surgeon? not so much..."

Like if I - I'm going to talk extensively about this race. We have the hottest Senate race in the country. And I've said it before, Mehmet Oz got into the race. See? And now you're saying, who is Mehmet Oz? Before Dr. Oz got in the race.

It just comes naturally. I'm going to call him Dr. Oz because I think I'd be - I don't know dismissive if I didn't call him Dr. Oz. But I get the "Inquirer." By the way, he also -- Jeffrey lays out what's most important, consistency. You got to be consistent. But in the case of Oz, he's Dr. Oz.

I want to remind you make sure you're going to Make sure you're going to Dr. -- no, I'm kidding I don't own the rights to do that.

"Will inflation doom the passage of Build Back Better?"

That's the survey question of the day.

Up ahead, New York City passing a law to allow 800,000 noncitizens to vote. So, what's the thinking there? And the sun is rising on what Kentucky's director of Emergency Management told CNN was one of the darkest days in the state's history.


We'll bring to you the very latest on the death and destruction across the Central U.S. caused by at least 30 tornadoes.


SMERCONISH: We're covering breaking news this morning. Tornadoes hit six states across the south and midwest overnight and still remain a threat. Reports indicate Kentucky has borne the brunt of the storm's devastation. The state's governor says at least 50 people could be dead with that number expected to rise.

Now, a new wrinkle in the issue of voting rights. Should non-citizens get the right to vote in local elections? This week, New York City became the largest city in the country to allow non-citizens that right. The city council overwhelmingly approved the legislation which affects more than 800,000 legal residents.


It pertains to non-citizens who have lived in the city for at least 30 days and are legal permanent residents in the U.S. including those with green cards, work permits and DACA status. They'll be able to vote for citywide offices like mayor, public advocate, borough president and city council.

Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, despite being a critic of the bill, has said that he would not veto it. The legislation does not entitle non- citizens to vote in state or federal elections. Still, this goes against the grain of several states that have increased voter restrictions.

Last year, Colorado, Florida, Alabama voters approved ballot measures stipulating that only U.S. citizens can vote. Such laws are already in place in North Dakota and Arizona.

Non-citizen here in New York City would be able to begin to register to vote a year from now and could begin voting in January 2023. Last night on CNN, I spoke to the city councilman who proposed the legislation, Ydanis Rodriguez, and he told me this.


COUNCILMAN YDANIS RODRIGUEZ (D), NEW YORK CITY/PRIMARY SPONSOR OF NONCITIZENS VOTING RIGHTS BILL: Everyone were allowed to vote up to 1886. So what happened? Why did we start changing this law? Why in the 1940 -- most staying in this nation say, there's something wrong there. And then let's put on some obstacle for the new immigrants coming who were Irish, who were Italians, who were Jewish, who were Latino, who were Black. So what we are saying right now, "Let's revise it." (END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Joining me now is Christopher Arps. He's the president of Americans for Citizen Voting. Thanks so much for being here.

You heard the councilman and additionally he said this is the way historically it was in this country. So essentially he argues, we're going back to our roots. What do you say to that?

CHRISTOPHER ARPS, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR CITIZEN VOTING: You know, Michael, this is a growing movement that's going all across this country for the last few years to allow non-citizens to vote in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, Vermont, Maryland to Maine allowing citizens to vote -- non-citizens to vote.

Look, we applaud people that come to this country the legal way or doing it correctly. We are just asking that if you want to vote in this country, complete the process and become a citizen. We are not anti-immigrant. We are more for voter integrity.

SMERCONISH: Look, a couple of years ago I delivered a speech at a naturalization ceremony, a federal courthouse in Philadelphia. And I remember it well because the hundred or so people who are becoming -- completing the naturalization process becoming citizens, they were overwhelmed emotionally. You know, crying loved ones, family.

They played by all the rules. They had taken the test. A test, by the way, civics test that I question whether many Americans could get a sufficient grade.

And I guess like you, I worry that we are watering down that experience if in fact we go this route. That's a large part of your concern, right?

ARPS: It is. And, you know, this past 2020 election had a lot of contention in it. People were worried about voter integrity and cheating and all of that. And I think the wrong message that we want to send is to allow non-citizens to vote in our election and create more distrust in the electoral process.

SMERCONISH: OK. So let me, though, at least play devil's advocate with you because the councilman last night said to me these folks are legal. They're not undocumented.

I guess, that's the proper word to use but I'll say it this way. They're not illegal. They're somehow in the system. They have green cards in some instances. But most importantly he said they're paying taxes. So if they're paying taxes isn't this a taxation without representation kind of thing?

ARPS: You know, first of all, Michael, you and I can't go to Mexico, we can't go to Canada or any other country and establish permanent residency and vote in their elections. Look, if you want to become a citizen and you want to vote, become a citizen first.

Look, I can go to New York City and because I pay taxes or pay taxes in any other jurisdiction, should that give me the right to vote? I don't think so.

SMERCONISH: So, do you fear -- because we all now know where you stand, do you fear that this is a national trend? And although it begins in a very bluish area, like New York City, that this is going to take hold across the country?

ARPS: It is, Michael. In Georgia there is a town in Georgia, I can't remember the name right now, they are wanting to institute non-citizen voting for municipal election. This is just a bad idea.

SMERCONISH: And a final argument, there was a fellow council person from New York, a woman of color, who said this is going to actually dilute the Black vote. I guess, that's another consideration when you look at the different dynamics among different racial or ethnic groups?

ARPS: Michael, it also dilutes the vote but it's also fundamentally unfair. You remember African Americans for years were disenfranchised. We had tests that we had to take in order to register and be able to vote, '64 and '65 Voting Rights Act gave us that right. And I think it's just fundamentally unfair that we had to struggle for years to get the right to vote.


But New York City and other jurisdictions want to give people who are not even citizens the right to vote. And we all know that, right now, they want to give non-citizens the vote in municipal elections but it's not going to stop there, Michael. It's going to -- they're going to advocate this for state and federal elections as well.

SMERCONISH: Well, Christopher, though, you and I both know the constitution is pretty clear you got to be a citizen. The constitution is clear.

ARPS: Michael, a lot of state constitutions say that as well but the proponents of this -- because the state constitution say all citizens should be able to vote, that's the loophole that they are using.

In my group, Americans for Citizen Voting, we would like to help amend state constitution to say only United States citizens can vote instead of all. That's the loophole that proponents of this are using.

SMERCONISH: Christopher Arps, thank you so much for being here.

ARPS: Michael, thank you very much.

SMERCONISH: A lot of social media reaction to this, I know, from Facebook and Twitter.

Why not? They pay for local roads, schools, police, et cetera. Taxation without representation is the alternative.

Fighting Idiocracy sends that miss of it. Well, I just raised that question with my guest and that was indeed what the councilman said last night. He wanted to make clear that we're talking about people who are in the system. They're documented as opposed to undocumented. They're working. They're paying taxes.

But still for me, I go back to the room in the federal courthouse where I'm speaking to naturalized citizens who have gone through the full process. And in my opinion, we're now diluting that approach. That's my beef with it.

I don't think that it's fair to the people who have gone through the whole process and now are given the franchise to vote. I think it waters it down.

Still to come, six states across the central U.S. are just beginning to assess the extent of the damage from last night's deadly tornadoes. We'll have the latest.

And we'll go live to Launch Site One Texas where the third manned flight from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is scheduled to launch in the next few minutes. Among the crew, football and TV star Michael Strahan, and the daughter of America' first astronaut Alan Shepard.

I want to remind you to answer the survey question of the week this week at my Web site Will inflation doom the passage of Build Back Better?



SMERCONISH: Happening in moments, the live launch of the third space tourism mission of Blue Origin, the rocket and space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos. The crew of six includes ABC News anchor, former football star Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard, daughter of first American astronaut Alan Shepard, and four paying customers.

Joining me now, CNN innovation and space correspondent Rachel Crane. Rachel, what's the latest?

RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, we just cleared a hold right now. These holds are pretty typical for these New Shepard flights. There has been about three of them so far this morning.

So, we're only about 13 minutes away from their schedule liftoff. And right now, those six passengers are strapped into that capsule into their seats, and the hatch is closed. I mean, we're really ticking down to the last few moments before this liftoff.

Now, Michael, two minutes before that liftoff, that's when the vehicle will go into autonomous mode. That's because this rocket, this capsule, flies itself. There are, of course, are no professional astronauts on board. So, the whole thing is autonomous. And a few minutes before liftoff we'll see some gimbal checks and the engine move a little bit just to make sure that everything is ready for liftoff. And at about 250,000 feet, that's when the booster and the space capsule will separate.

Now, both will go past that Karman line, you know, the international boundary of space. So the booster actually will get -- you know, gets its astronaut wings and the booster will land. Make that pinpoint landing, that eight minutes after liftoff. And the capsule landing just about 10 minutes after liftoff.

So this whole mission is only 10 minutes and the astronauts will get about three minutes of weightlessness. But that booster landing, Michael, I want to return to that because that's, you know, this critical thing that the space industry has cracked and SpaceX really led the way, the reusability of rockets and boosters specifically.

You know, it used to be you use them once and they get thrown out. So that was -- that really cracking the nut of reusability is one of the critical steps in order to, you know, potentially colonize the moon and make deep space exploration and colonization perhaps feasible.

But everything, as we pointed out, is -- we're waiting for now just 12 minutes away for this liftoff. As you said this is the third crewed- flight for New Shepard. And it's named New Shepard, of course, after Alan Shepard. His daughter Laura Shepard Churchley is on the flight today which is, you know, incredibly poetic to have the daughter of Alan Shepard, the first American to ever go into space, on this flight today. She making a suborbital journey much like her father did back in the 60s. He, of course, went on to land on the moon as well.

But I had the opportunity to speak with her and the other astronauts last night. They all say they're not nervous for today's journey. That they are all just incredibly, incredibly excited like the rest of us, Michael.


SMERCONISH: Very cool, Rachel. I'm glad that your weather is the way that it looks at least on my monitor because with what's going on in the midwest and the south I was worried that this might not happen today. So fingers crossed it all goes according to plan and thanks for your report.

Now, I want to bring in someone who was once scheduled to be what Michael Strahan is about to become, the first American journalist in space. CNN aerospace analyst Miles O'Brien was working towards flying on the space shuttle. And then in February 2003 the shuttle "Columbia" was torn apart during reentry killing seven astronauts. Miles, how does it feel as you watch what's about to unfold?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST/MEMBER, NASA ADVISORY COUNCIL: More power to them, Michael. I'd love to be strapping in. I look forward to that opportunity someday. But, you know, he's in the right place at the right moment and anchor at the right show. And that puts him onboard the Blue Origin flight today.

I suppose we could have definitional discussion about whether he is truly a journalist. As far as his background goes, he is the GMA host, for sure, and quite a celebrated football player. You know, there are a lot of people who spent a lot of time learning the space program in great intimate detail who would love to go today as well. SMERCONISH: Miles, can you distinguish for me SpaceX versus Blue Origin versus Virgin Galactic? Of course, I know which billionaire, you know, controls which but is their approach different? Are they -- are they, you know, involved in different types of projects?

O'BRIEN: Yes, three different approaches. Looking at Blue Origin, as you see there right now, it is a reusable rocket that only goes about 60 some odd miles up, which is the imaginary dividing line between Earth and space, and then comes back down suborbital. Its designed is such that it can be scaled up to make an orbital vehicle.

Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's vehicle, is carried to its high altitude on a mother ship. It releases and then goes to space on its own, and then glides back for a runway landing. Not the kind of design that could ever be scaled up into some kind of orbital vehicle.

Then, of course, SpaceX, Elon Musk has been flying orbital vehicles for many years. I think they just launched their 28th mission just this year, not all with people onboard. But the SpaceX Falcon 9 has become an orbital workhorse. And it's about 15 or 16 times more energy to go from suborbital into orbital. So the orbital accomplishment is nothing to overlook, Michael.

SMERCONISH: And, of course, we pay a lot of attention in the United States to the three aforementioned businesses. But, as I pointed out in the intro, it's not as if China and Russia are doing nothing. They're in the game as well. Can you speak to that?

O'BRIEN: Yes. We kind of got a newer -- a space age for the 21st century or space race for the 21st century underway. The Russians, who ironically pioneered the idea of commercializing originally the space station Mir, are back in the business of flying tourists to the international space station. Excuse me. There's a -- excuse me -- there's a Japanese tourist on board right now the international space station, a billionaire clothing magnate who is up there trying to share his experience with mostly with people in Japan.

And the Chinese now have their own orbital space station. No word on commercialization on that front. The Chinese program is run by the military and is rather secretive, to say the least. So I haven't seen any word that they are going to be selling seats anytime soon, but it seems to be the trend, Michael. So if you are interested you got options.

SMERCONISH: Yes, I don't think I can afford it but thank you for telling me that. Miles, nice to see you. Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: You're welcome, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Hey, we're going to carry the launch live momentarily and give you the final results of the survey question, maybe even some social media as well. Go to quickly. Will inflation doom passage of Build Back Better?



SMERCONISH: The launch of Blue Origin in just a moment. Very quickly, time to see how you responded to the survey question at

Will inflation doom the passage of Build Back Better? Survey says -- interesting, 55 percent say, no, they'll still be on tack. More than 12,000 people voted. I appreciate you doing that. We'll leave the survey question up for the rest of the day.

Stay tuned for more live coverage of the launch of Blue Origin and thanks for watching.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. And we begin this morning awaiting the latest space tourism mission for rocket company Blue Origin to take off. This marks the third of what founder Jeff Bezos hopes will be many trips to the edge of space.

It is a full flight on board this morning, on board the New Shepard spacecraft, including ABC News anchor Michael Strahan, and Laura Shepard, the daughter of the first American astronaut in space Alan Shepard.