CNBC Covid-19 Jobs Update Devolves Into Pointed Exchange Over Masks And Shutdowns

A conversation on CNBC’s Squawk Box about the economic strain of Covid-19 devolved into a pointed exchange between Rick Santelli and Andrew Ross Sorkin about masks and restrictions on businesses.

Santelli, a Chicago-based correspondent known for delivering on-air rants like his 2009 diatribe against President Barack Obama, said too many businesses were being harmed by state and local restrictions. The main topic was the release of monthly labor statistics showing that only 245,000 jobs were added by U.S. employers in November, the lowest tally since the spring. The weak employment numbers come as the U.S. experiences the worst stretch of the pandemic thus far, with more than 100,000 people hospitalized and a record-setting single-day fatality rate.

“There is actually, and should be, an ongoing debate as to why a parking lot for a big box store, like by my house, is jam-packed. Not one parking spot open,” Santelli said. “Why are those people any safer than a restaurant with Plexiglas? I just don’t get it. And I think there’s a million of these questions that could be asked.” His face reddening, the former bond trader added, “You can’t tell me that shutting down, which is the easiest answer, is necessarily the only answer!” (Watch the clip above.)

The show’s co-host, Andrew Ross Sorkin, interjected with an effort to provide what he called a “public health and public service announcement” regarding the importance of mask wearing.

Santelli, evidently unable to see the New York studio via a monitor, responded, “Who is this?!” Sorkin did not reply, but Joe Kernen, the longtime co-host of Squawk Box, who has sparred with Sorkin on the air over Kernen’s support for President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, answered tartly, “Who else?!”

Sorkin and Santelli then had a charged back-and-forth. Santelli said different safety rules and protocols were being applied to different businesses, with “really sad” consequences. “A big-box retailer and a restaurant or, frankly, even a church, are so different it’s unbelievable,” Sorkin pushed back. “I disagree!” Santelli shouted. Sorkin hit back, “It’s science. I’m sorry. It’s science. If you’re wearing a mask, it’s a different story.”

It is not the first time Santelli has gone out on a limb regarding Covid-19 and the economy. When the pandemic’s impact was first being felt in the West in early March, he issued an on-air apology after recommending a “herd immunity” response to the virus.

The discussion came after numerous political figures were found to have been engaging in pandemic behavior privately that they were banning or discouraging in their public actions and comments. California Gov. Gavin Newsom conceded he had been to a restaurant in Napa last month, dining with 10 others without wearing a mask. The mayor of Austin, TX, had to apologize this week for issuing a directive for residents to stay at home while on vacation in Mexico.

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