'This Week' Transcript 10-3-21: Sen. Bernie Sanders & Dr. Anthony Fauci

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, October 3.

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, October 3, 2021 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.

ANNOUNCER: "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, ABC "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR (voice-over): No deal.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm telling you, we're going to get this done.

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: It doesn't matter when. It doesn't matter whether it's in six minutes, six days or six weeks.

KARL: Democrats deadlocked over President Biden's agenda.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): You have a good piece of legislation. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): You cannot tire. You cannot concede. This is the fun part.

BIDEN: Everybody's frustrated. It's part of being in government, being frustrated.

KARL: Can Democrats get on the same page? What happens next? Will there be a vote?

Senator Bernie Sanders is our guest.

COVID game-changer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a pill. You can take it home.

KARL: Merck announces a breakthrough drug that could cut the risk of hospitalization or death in half.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: The news of the efficacy is obviously very good news.

KARL: This as the United States crosses another grim milestone, 700,000 deaths.

Dr. Anthony Fauci joins us this morning.

And Supreme distrust. Public approval of the nation's highest court sinks to an all-time low, abortion, gun rights and the death penalty on the line, our inside look, as the High Court starts a new term.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."

Here now, co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

KARL: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."

For much of this week, President Biden stayed out of public sight, as Democrats fought bitterly among themselves. When he emerged Friday to meet with Democrats on Capitol Hill, there were two schools of thought about what he was up to. Either he had a plan to break the impasse and push for a vote, or he was making a desperate attempt to bring his fractured Democratic majority together.

It turned out it was neither. This morning, lawmakers are back home, the president is at his retreat in Delaware, and the fate of the Biden agenda is anything but certain.

In a way, the spectacle that unfolded this week was an unforced error created by an artificial deadline. Biden still has time. The real question is whether he has the votes. After all, he is attempting to pass a program as ambitious and expensive as FDR's New Deal or LBJ's Great Society.

But FDR and LBJ enjoyed huge Democratic majorities. Biden's majority is razor-thin, and time may not help. There is increasing tension among moderate and progressive Democrats and a sense that the White House is falling short.

As one Democratic lawmaker told ABC News -- quote -- "Most of us are at a loss for words. There was no plan, no strategy, no timing."

ABC's Rachel Scott has covered it all for us this week. And she joins us now from Capitol Hill.

So, Rachel, where are things this morning? What comes next?

RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jon, good morning.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already had to push this vote off twice. Now she has set a new deadline of October 31. That gives President Biden roughly four weeks to try and unite his party to pass his domestic agenda.

And this is proving not to be easy. Tensions between progressives and moderates are only worsening, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a key holdout there in the Senate, releasing a blistering statement, saying it's not only deeply disappointing, but inexcusable for the House not to pass and vote on that bipartisan infrastructure package immediately.

She also says that it erodes the trust needed for these good-faith negotiations. She went on to call the strategy by progressives ineffective.

But progressives this morning are flexing their muscles. They know that their strategy is working and they have the votes to block that bipartisan infrastructure package until their party reaches a deal on that much larger social spending bill that includes funding to combat climate change and for child care.

The cost of that is $3.5 trillion over 10 years. I'm told, when the president met with Democrats here on Friday, he told them that number is likely to come down to roughly $2 trillion. But even that is still too high for some moderates there in the Senate.

And, as you know, Jon, they cannot afford to lose a single vote.

KARL: So, Rachel, on that point, where are Republicans in all this?

Because, of course, that bipartisan deal passed in the Senate with 19 Republican senators voting yes. Is there still significant or any Republican support in the House for the -- for at least that first bipartisan -- or what has been a bipartisan infrastructure bill?

SCOTT: Well, Jon, I was talking to one Republican aide who told me that Democrats linking these two items together is -- quote -- "the poison pill."

House Republican leadership is now encouraging its members to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure package. Now only a handful of Republicans even seem open to the idea. But they were frustrated by Speaker Pelosi pushing this off yet again, and they may reconsider.

Now, of course, Democrats do not need any Republican support to get this passed. But they need to get their party united first, Jon.

KARL: Thank you, Rachel Scott. And joining me now, the senator in the middle of it all, budget chairman in the Senate, Bernie Sanders.

Senator Sanders, thank you for joining us. The bottom line, where do things stand now?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT AND BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIR: Well, I think we're going to make real progress, and I think, Jonathan, we're going to do what the American people want us to do.

And the American people are very clear, they want to substantially lower the cost of prescription drugs, they want to expand home health care so that people are not forced out of their homes into nursing homes, they want to expand Medicare so that elderly people can have dental care, can have hearing aids, can have eyeglasses, they want us to address the existential threat of climate change.

And I’ll tell you what else they want, they are sick and tired of the rich getting richer and not paying their fair share of taxes, and they want this reconciliation bill to be paid for by doing away with the loopholes that the wealthy and large corporations enjoy.

So we have the American people very, very strongly on our side. We've got the President of the United States on our side. Got 96 percent of the members of the Democratic caucus in the House on our side. We got all but two senators at this point in the Democratic caucus on our side. We're going to win this thing. We're going to pass a strong infrastructure bill to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and we're going to pass the reconciliation bill.

KARL: Well, and I want to get to one of those two senators that is not with you right now, Senator Sinema, as we heard Rachel Scott refer to, put out a lengthy statement overnight about the failure of the House to vote on that infrastructure bill. She said in part, “The failure of the U.S. House to hold a vote on infrastructure investment and Jobs Act is inexcusable and deeply disappointing for communities across our country. Denying Americans millions of good-paying jobs, safer roads, cleaner water, more reliable electricity and better broadband only hurts everyday families.”

She accuses you, Senator, and other progressives of pulling off what she calls an ineffective stunt, and holding that infrastructure bill hostage to the larger social infrastructure bill. Your response?

SANDERS: Well, I think Senator Sinema is wrong. I think from day one, Jonathan, it has been clear the President of the United States has said it. Speaker of the House Pelosi has made it clear. Majority Leader in the Senate Schumer has made it clear. Both of these bills are going forward in tandem, going forward in tandem. We've got to pass them both.

I voted for the infrastructure bill. It is an important bill. I'm a former mayor. I know how much we have got to address our crumbling infrastructure and create jobs there, but I also know that elderly people in this country cannot chew their food because they don't have teeth in their mouth. I know that the American people are sick and tired of paying 10 times more for prescription drugs than the people of Canada and other countries. I know there are young people out there who would love the opportunity to get a higher education, but can't afford community college. We're going to make two years of community college tuition free. And I also that the scientists are telling us that if we do not act boldly in terms of cutting carbon emissions, that the planet we're leaving our kids and grandchildren will be increasingly uninhabitable.

And let me also say this, Jonathan. We are not just taking on or dealing with Senators Manchin or Senator Sinema. We're taking on the entire ruling class of this country. Right now the drug companies, the health care -- the health insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry are spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent us from doing what the American people want. And this really is a test of whether or not American democracy can work.

The Republican Party is bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical industry. They're not going to do anything. But I hope very much and I expect that the Democratic caucus and the president, I know he will, stand firm and tell the drug companies, “Stop ripping us off (ph).” Tell the insurance companies that the American people need -- elderly people need dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses. People need home health care, our young people need --

KARL: So let me --

SANDERS: -- quality child care that they deserve.

KARL: So let me ask you about where the president is on this. As I understand it, he has now floated a $2 trillion top line number on this broader bill. You are at $3.5 trillion. I remember you initially wanted closer to $6 trillion. Are you comfortable with the idea of cutting this down to about $2 trillion?

SANDERS: No, I’m -- well, first of all, I’m not sure that that's accurate. As you know, there's a lot of gossip that goes on. What the president has said is that there's going to have to be some give and take, and I think that that's right. I think if anything, Jonathan, when we especially talk about the crisis of climate change, and the need to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, the $6 trillion that I had originally proposed was probably too little, $3.5 trillion should be a minimum. But I accept there's going to have to be give and take.

But at the end of the day, the real issue now --

KARL But, OK, OK. So, give and take, but not $2 trillion. That's not enough?

SANDERS: No. Not enough.

KARL: Because the president also said that a smaller investment could create historic achievements. But you -- $2 trillion is not enough?

SANDERS: What we are -- what the president is saying is that what we are trying to do is for the working families of this country for the children, for the elderly, we're trying to pass the most consequential piece of legislation since the Great Depression, and he’s right, you know?

KARL: Yeah.

SANDERS: So, the bottom line is we've got to pass it. We've got to pass the infrastructure bill. And the American people are going to have to stand up.

You know, what bothers me about this whole thing -- poll after poll shows what we are doing is exactly what the American people want. It's not what the big money interest wants, not what the lobbyists want. It's what the American people want, and we got to do it.

KARL: Now, Senator Manchin is the other senator in the middle of this. He's been consistent. We actually had him on this program back in July. And let me -- let me play you what he said about his top line number back then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: So, what's your bottom line? The question is, this is over a trillion dollars.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): The bottom line --

KARL: Bernie Sanders wants 6 more trillion.

MANCHIN: Yeah. Here’s --

KARL: What -- how far are you willing to go?

MANCHIN: I want to make sure we pay for it. I do not want to add more debt on. So, if that's $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion or $2 trillion, whatever that comes out to be over a ten-year period, that's what I would be voting for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: So, I mean, basic math tells me if you have Sinema and Manchin both willing -- unwilling to go --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: No, no, no. If you will just listen -- Jonathan, if you just listen to what Manchin said. He said he wants it to be paid for.

He's right. I want it to be paid for. And, in fact, that is exactly what we are going to do, and if it's $3.5 trillion, we can pay for it because as everybody knows, we got some of the wealthiest people in this country who in a given year don't pay a penny in federal income tax. Large corporations don't pay a nickel in federal income tax.

So if Manchin wants to pay for it, I’m there. Let's do it, and by the way, you could pay for it at $3.5 trillion, you can pay for it at $6 trillion. We have massive income and wealth inequality in this country.

KARL: But --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: We have a broken tax system. We can do that.

KARL: But as you know, I mean -- imagine what he’s saying is the only taxes (ph) he’s willing to go would give you at most $2 trillion. We also heard --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: That's in -- I’m sorry.

KARL: That's where he is. And Terry McAuliffe who, of course, is on the ballot running in Virginia is saying that $3.5 trillion is simply too big. It’s going to hurt Democrats, and he thinks it might hurt him in his own race in Virginia.

What do you say -- you’re --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I wish -- I wish Terry McAuliffe the best of luck. I hope he becomes the governor of Virginia again. But let -- let him focus on Virginia issues. Some of us have got to deal with the national issues.

And what I am telling you, ask the American people whether or not we shall have Medicare negotiating prescription drug prices. Ask them. Ask them whether or not we should expand home health care, whether we should make community colleges tuition-free, whether or not we should deal with climate. And when we do all of those things, by the way, we create millions of good-paying jobs.

What we are fighting for is precisely what the American people want, and that's when we've got to do.

KARL: OK. We're just about out of time. Bottom line, if Manchin and Sinema don't come up, don't do what you are suggesting and what most of the Democrats are -- almost all of the other Democrats want, does that mean we get nothing? No infrastructure bill? Nothing?

SANDERS: No. At the end of the day -- at the end of the day, I am absolutely convinced we're going to have a strong infrastructure bill, and we're going to have a great consequential reconciliation bill which addresses the needs of the American people.

KARL: All right. Senator Sanders, thank you for joining us.

SANDERS: Thank you.

KARL: Let's bring in the roundtable for a reaction. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former DNC Chair Donna Brazile, “Politico Playbook” co-author Rachael Bade who has had scoop after scoop at this drama is unfolding this week, and ABC News political director, Rick Klein.

So, Donna, it's looked like a circular firing squad of Democrats up there. What -- what is the strategy?

DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, it's not a circle. It's coming from one side, and that side is not even at the table because they're AWOL.

What's happening right now is the Democrats are trying to put together the best possible package for the American people.

What happened this week? We avoided a government shutdown which is important because federal workers didn't want the uncertainty. We made sure that the transportation bill was extended for 30 more days. That's 3,700 people that didn't get furloughed this week.

What we have to -- we have to face the consequences of putting forward two bills that have a -- a hefty price tag. But here's what Speaker Pelosi has said from day one, we're going to pay for it. We're going to pay for it.

Now, Republicans are still trying to hold on to the past and the Trump tax cuts. The Democrats are saying, you know what, we're going to invest in the American people. With those three buckets -- thank you, Rachael -- those three buckets, because they contain jobs, we're going to retool the American workforce, yes, Chris, we're going to give free college, and that's important, Chris.

CHRISTIE: Right.

BRAZILE: And here's -- here's what else.

CHRISTIE: That's right.

BRAZILE: We're going to tackle climate change so that we never have to suffer the consequences of a Sandy or an Ida.

KARL: But -- but -- but you don't think -- you don't think this week went well for Democrats, do you? I mean -- I mean that -- I mean --

BRAZILE: It -- it depends on which -- which side of the aisle you're looking. If you're a Republican, you're saying, oh my God, look at those folks. But if you're a Democrat, you're saying, you know what, we're having a robust conversation about the future of the American workforce and we're having a robust conversation about health care and our transportation needs.

Look, I'm a Democrat. We like to talk to each other.

KARL: All right, I --= Rachael, you -- you were up there in the middle covering all of this. And "Playbook" put it very, very provocatively that when Biden went up there on Friday, he was essentially whipping against his own bill.

BADE: Well, look, those aren't my words.

KARL: Yes.

BADE: I got a call on Friday night from a very senior, very upset Democrat who was like, I've never seen anything like this. I mean there are a lot of Democrats on The Hill that were looking to President Biden this week for some leadership. What do you want? Do you want an infrastructure bill passed this week? Do you want to take that win? But they couldn't get clarity. How did he want them to vote? You know, Pelosi kept delaying this vote because the progressives were saying they weren't going to -- they weren't going to support it and she didn't have the numbers and they were trying to get a separate reconciliation deal. And then the president came to The Hill on Friday and he said, we're going to wait. We're going to hold off on this until we get both of these packages negotiated. And I think, you know, that means that there are some promises that were made to moderate Democrats about having a vote on infrastructure this week. They want a campaign on that. They want that victory. And, you know, Speaker Pelosi said she was going to give them this vote, and then President Biden came in and totally trampled it.

And so there's a lot of people on The Dill, Democrats, who are very frustrated right now. They feel like, you know, their promises are not being kept. You know, progressives, there was a sort of secret agreement contract thing that was released this week. We reported on it at "Politico" between Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin.

KARL: Yes. It was signed and everything. It was a strange thing, yes.

BADE: It was signed. It was bizarre. And it said the top line number would be 1.5 when progressives were thinking it was 3.5 and it dated back to July. I mean there's just -- there's so much uncertainty and no clear strategy and people are privately very upset.

KARL: And there's no clear path, Rick, because -- I mean we -- we see where Sinema is. She didn't -- she's not getting any softer on this. That statement overnight was tough. We know where Manchin is. And you just heard Bernie Sanders say $2 trillion is nowhere near enough.

KLEIN: Right. President Biden has been shopping that number in the lows twos. I'm -- I'm told that the White House has been saying we need something that -- that -- the number has to start with a two. The rest of it is just hundreds of billions of dollars in -- in between.

But, you're right, look, you've got people that are taking different lessons out of this week and they see a president that is as engaged on one side or the other. He's kind of still sounding people out.

And I think where Democrats' problem here is, there's just so much mistrust. They really don't like each other. They don't believe in each other's same political motives. And the problem, though, I think isn't that they're lying to each other, it's actually that they've been honest with each other and they don't want to hear it because they have different visions. They have different numbers. They have different values.

And so much of this is a -- is a long-running feud inside the Democratic Party that is no closer to being -- to being sorted out. And I think there's maybe an inevitability to the clash of this week and I think that's the White House perspective. This was going to happen at some point or the other, so let's just delay this vote. But I don't see what changes in the dynamics in the next couple of weeks because you have the progressives just as dug in, and the moderates still willing to walk away.

KARL: And Kevin McCarthy gets to lean back on it.

CHRISTIE: Well, look, it -- it doesn't matter. When -- you know, I had a political science professor in college who told me, when your adversary's in the midst of committing suicide, there's no reason to commit murder. The result is the same. And that's what's happening with Democrats right now.

It's the death of 2020 Joe Biden. When he went to The Hill, 2020 Joe Biden is now officially dead and buried. The guy who ran against the progressives, ran against Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, ran to be a uniter in this country, ran saying he was going to force compromise. And he went up to Capitol Hill, and he capitulated to the progressives, the liberals in his party. And why should we be surprised? He couldn't stand up to the Taliban. How could we expect him to stand up to AOC?

BRAZILE: Oh.

KARL: OK. So -- so -- so, look, Donna, that's a partisan take to be sure, but -- but --

CHRISTIE: Well, no, no, wait, let me ask you a question.

KARL: But, I mean --

CHRISTIE: Hold on a second.

KARL: Yes.

CHRISTIE: Did he stand up to the Taliban? Why is that partisan?

BRAZILE: He wasn't (INAUDIBLE). Joe --

CHRISTIE: He hasn't stood up to anyone except for the people in his own party who nominated him.

KARL: Right.

BRAZILE: Donald Trump invited the Taliban --

CHRISTIE: Bernie Sanders didn't vote for him.

BRAZILE: Donald -- Donald Trump was inviting the Taliban to Camp David.

CHRISTIE: Oh, I know.

BRAZILE: And I would have (INAUDIBLE) --

CHRISTIE: Donald Trump -- by the way, Donald Trump --

BRAZILE: And I would have personally driven to that mountain to say, take your butt home.

CHRISTIE: Wait, wait, wait, by the way, Donald Trump -- in case you didn't know, Donald Trump's --

BRAZILE: All right, but that -- that -- that's -- but that's not fair.

CHRISTIE: By the way, Donald Trump's not in the White House anymore and Joe Biden is kind of in the White House.

BRAZILE: Joe Biden has created more jobs in the first couple months of his presidency than any other president.

CHRISTIE: And more inflation, thank you.

BRAZILE: He -- that inflation was already coming down the pipe.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, sure, it was.

KARL: But, Donna...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: And look, this notion -- and, look, I'm sorry that you have to cover this, Rachel, and Rick, okay?

CHRISTIE: They're OK. They -- we can pay for that.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: I -- I've been in a room with Democrats all my life, and I still look good, OK?

You sometimes bleed in the middle of a fight, but when you're fighting for principles -- these are principles, bedrock principles that Democrats believe, that we help people, that we take them out of harm's way, that we provide them with education and jobs. This is why we're Democrats.

CHRISTIE: These bedrock principles lost in the Democratic primary.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: What Bernie Sanders was just arguing, and Elizabeth Warren lost in the Democratic primary. Joe Biden said they were extreme.

KARL: Not -- not really.

CHRISTIE: They were extreme.

BRAZILE: No.

CHRISTIE: Did Joe Biden say Bernie Sanders was extreme? He did.

KARL: Well, Bernie Sanders was fighting on Medicare for all. That's not part of this...

BRAZILE: Yes.

KARL: There's a whole -- but let me ask you, to...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: ... lower the prescription drug prices, medicines, and that that's bad?

KARL: To the larger point, though, why wouldn't Biden want to take the victory...

BRAZILE: Of $1.5 trillion? Because they promised -- you're right. They promised the moderates that...

KARL: That's a lot of money, by the way, $1.5 trillion plus...

CHRISTIE: Plus $1.9 trillion in January.

KARL: Plus...

BRAZILE: And you want me to count up all of the $1.9 trillion tax cuts in the trickle-down? Look...

CHRISTIE: And guess what, those...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: By the way, it doesn't even count.

BRAZILE: I would need a...

CHRISTIE: I understand that you want the American people...

BRAZILE: ... to deal with that trickle-down...

CHRISTIE: ... the American people to give their money rather than keep it themselves. I get that, that's fine. You can spend it better.

BRAZILE: No, we -- you know how much money we spent every day in Afghanistan and got nothing to show for it?

So let's -- let's talk...

CHRISTIE: Until the next terrorist is back, we'll see what we have to show for it.

BRAZILE: Let's start talking about how much it costs, and how many lives we're going to save, how many people we're going to educate, an dhow -- how many seniors will have the comfort of knowing that they can take their medicine.

KARL: If -- if you get -- if you get it passed.

Now, let me -- let's play what -- what President Biden said yesterday, expressing some real frustration at two Democrats in particular.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.: We can bring the moderates and progressives together very easily if we had two more votes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

BIDEN: Two -- two people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: He leans in. Two more votes -- two more votes. It would be very easy. All we need is two more votes.

(LAUGHTER)

He's talking about Manchin and Sinema, but...

BADE: Oh, I thought -- OK, I was actually taking it as in two more votes, vote on infrastructure, vote on reconciliation, easy, peasy, one and done.

I mean, the problem that the president has right now is, because of this breakdown of trust, you could potentially see people walk away from the negotiating table. And with such very narrow margins in both chambers, they can't lose anybody. They can't lose a single senator in this -- or Democrat in the Senate right now.

And, you know, Kyrsten Sinema told President Biden at least twice that if this vote -- this infrastructure vote this week was delayed or went down, she was going to walk away. And so it will be interesting to see what happens this week. Is she going to keep talking to them? Is she going to push pause on this?

I mean, Nancy Pelosi has this new October 31st deadline, but she needs to strike a deal with these moderates.

And, you know, to go back to the point, you know, that Chris was just making, you know, if you look at the overall total, Democrats have been talking $6 trillion, then it was $3.5 trillion, but $2 trillion is quite significant when you add another $1 trillion with infrastructure and what they've already passed this year.

You know, they're going to have to, at some point, change the way they talk about this if they're going to sell this as not, you know, to their own party, their own base, as a victory. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week, you know, she got down to business and she put together a preliminary proposal to the moderates that was at $2 trillion. And so the longer they're, sort of, fighting about this $3.5 trillion...

KARL: And let me ask you just very quickly. You -- you count these votes as well as anybody. Are there the votes even in the House to pass $3.5 trillion?

BADE: Absolutely not. No, I mean, moderate Democrats in the House...

KARL: It's not just Manchin and Sinema. It's...

BADE: And they -- these moderate Democrats, they know that the House is very vulnerable in 2022, and they're probably going to lose their seats. And so they are trying really hard to force the leadership to do a negotiation with the Senate, bring the number down so they don't have to take such a politically risky vote.

KARL: All right, we've got to take a break. We we will be back with the roundtable with more.

Coming up next, Dr. Anthony Fauci -- Fauci joins us to weigh in on the new breakthrough treatment to treat COVID.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Once the FDA approves the vaccination in different cohorts starting with 12 and above, grades seven to 12, we will begin to apply that requirement in the next term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: California Governor Gavin Newsom, fresh off defeating a recall effort against him, announcing the nation's first COVID vaccine mandate for schoolchildren.

It comes as the nation passes the once unthinkable milestone of 700,000 lives lost due to the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci joins us now.

Dr. Fauci, thank you for being here.

I want to start with that number, that just almost incomprehensible number, 700,000 people who have died just in the United States from the pandemic. How did -- how did we get here? Did so many have to die?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, this is the most formidable virus, Jon.

It is really -- from the very beginning, it's evolved, to the point where we're now dealing with this Delta variant, which is an extraordinary virus, in the sense -- the same virus. It's still SARS-CoV-2, except that it has the capability of transmitting extraordinarily -- efficiency.

There are certain elements about this that were just unavoidable, in the sense that there were going to be deaths, there were going to be a lot of infections globally, no matter what anyone did. But there were situations where we could have done better and we can do better.

And I think we're living through that right now, Jon, because we now have within our capability highly effective and safe vaccines. And although we have done well, in the sense that we now have 55 percent of the population fully vaccinated, 64 percent having received at least one dose, but there are 70 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not gotten vaccinated.

So, when you say, are some of those deaths avoidable, they certainly are. In fact, looking forward now, most of the deaths could be avoidable if we get people vaccinated, because, if you look at the people who get hospitalized, at the people who die, it is overwhelmingly weighted towards the people who are unvaccinated.

So, where we are right now, many of these could be avoidable.

KARL: We also have this breakthrough, apparent breakthrough, that Merck announced, this new treatment that seems to be able to cut down hospitalizations and severe illness in half.

How big a deal is this -- is this new treatment?

FAUCI: It's a big deal, Jon.

I mean, you have now a small molecule, a drug that can be given orally. And the results of the trial that were just announced yesterday and the day before are really quite impressive. I mean, if you do a statistical significant analysis on it, it's very, very significant, cutting the deaths and hospitalization by 50 percent.

Importantly placebo versus the drug group, in the drug group, there were zero deaths. In the placebo group, there were eight deaths.

So, that is -- you know, no matter how you slice that, that's impressive. So, we're really looking forward to the implementation of this.

KARL: Is that potentially that would -- that would make the vaccine not necessary?

FAUCI: Oh, absolutely not. That's such a false narrative. That someone says, well, now you have a drug. Remember, the easiest way to stay out of the hospital and not die is don't get infected. This drug is very good but --

KARL: Don’t get sick in the first place. Yeah.

FAUCI: Exactly.

I mean, this idea about we have a drug, don't get vaccinated just doesn't make any sense.

KARL: And let me ask you about this new announcement from Governor Newsom in California. A mandate for students -- all eligible students to get the vaccine. And there's no out here. He's not allowing testing as an alternative.

Do you favor that or should testing be an alternative for those that don't want their kids to take this vaccine?

FAUCI: You know, Jon, I have been and I still am in favor of these kinds of mandates. You can make some exceptions to them. But in general, people look at this like this is something novel and new when, in fact, throughout, you know, years and years, decades, we have made it a requirement for children to get into schools to get different types of vaccines -- measles, mumps, rubella, and others.

So when people treat this as something novel and terrible, it isn't. A requirement for children to come to school to be vaccinated with certain vaccines is not something new. It's been around for a very long time.

KARL: What do you say to those that say, this is such a new vaccine that they're reluctant? They want to -- you know, for their young children, they just feel -- I mean, obviously, the other vaccines are required, but there have been decades of experience with those vaccines and they're hesitant.

What do you say to them? How do you reassure them?

FAUCI: Well, Jon, a couple of things. First of all, our Food and Drug Administration, before they allow something to be given to anyone, it has to be proved to be safe and effective. They are very meticulous in their examination of the data.

In addition, Jon, this vaccine has been given to hundreds of millions of people. So when you say it's a new vaccine -- well, you know, when you have a new vaccine that's been given to 10,000, 15,000, 20,000, 30,000, 100,000 people, you're talking about hundreds and hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. So, although it is, quote, new, there is a lot of experience with this vaccine.

KARL: All right. Last question, Dr. Fauci. There has been some good news. It looks like infections are down dramatically over the last couple of weeks. Deaths are still on the rise. That's obviously a lagging indicator.

Is it possible that we are finally beginning to turn the corner on this pandemic?

FAUCI: We certainly are turning the corner on this particular surge, Jon. But we have experienced over now close to 20 months of surges that go up and then come down, and then go back up again. The way to keep it down, to make that turnaround continue to go down is to do what we mentioned. Get people vaccinated.

When you have 70 million people in the country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not yet vaccinated, that's the danger zone right there. So it's within our capability to make sure that that turnaround that we're seeing, that very favorable and optimistic turnaround continues to go down, and doesn't do what we've seen multiple times before where it goes down, and then it comes back up. We can do that merely by getting vaccinated.

KARL: All right. Dr. Fauci, thank you for joining us.

When we come back, the roundtable takes on the fallout from the nation's top military leaders breaking with President Biden over Afghanistan.

Plus, a look at this year's most hotly contested and high stakes election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KARL: The roundtable's back, ready for more.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Milley, was this Afghanistan retrograde operation an extraordinary success?

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I think one of the other senators said it very well, it was a logistical success, but a strategic failure.

GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, CENTRAL COMMAND: My concern was that if we withdrew below 2,500 and went to zero, that the Afghan military and government would collapse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Blunt words from the nation's top military commanders who directly contradicted what President Biden told George Stephanopoulos about the decision to withdrawal all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Let's discuss it all with the roundtable.

Rick, I've got to say, I've covered the Pentagon; I've covered Congress, covered the White House. I have never seen the top military brass in the country so directly contradict the commander in chief.

KLEIN: It was an extraordinary moment. And I think it confirmed the perceptions that were coming out in real time, that there was different advice that was coming into the White House than that President Biden was willing to talk about. Because he was standing behind that decision even as the situation crumbled, even as those service members were killed, even as it became clear that there were serious intelligence failures along the way.

And I think this episode has had a more lasting impact than just foreign policy or just Afghanistan. You can look at President Biden's approval ratings on a range of issues, and they've flipped, almost mirror image, around that moment, around the Afghanistan, that botched withdrawal.

And now to have information come in from military commanders that there were other options on the table, it's devastating, potentially, to the White House, and it helps feed a narrative of a lack of credibility, at a moment where the White House needs it more than ever. These are critical weeks for the Biden presidency.

And -- take that as it may be, Donna, it is still somewhat jarring to hear four-star generals, the top four-star general in the military, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, talk so bluntly in contradiction to what the president was saying.

BRAZILE: Oh, no, I thought it was refreshing.

KARL: It was refreshing?

BRAZILE: You know why?

KARL: Why?

BRAZILE: Because they told the truth. Look, they come to the table and say, "Mr. President, we should keep 2,500; Mr. President, we should do this," and at the end of the day, the president decides.

And they said it's about civilian control. That was a very acrimonious -- not just on Tuesday, but also on Wednesday. I loved watching it because, again, it shows you our system of government worked. That was the job of the president to make the decision. He -- that's why President Biden said, "I will own it." He owned it.

KARL: Chris, what -- what do you make of General Milley?

Because now we've seen him, I mean, more starkly take on Donald Trump, but also, again, "strategic failure" -- strong words.

I mean, he's the president's top military adviser, two different presidents. And he's been at odds with both of them.

BRAZILE: Look, listen, I agree with Donna on this one.

I mean, I think, you know, their job is to go up there and tell the truth, and they did. And that should be without regard to politics.

Here's my problem. Why didn't the president?

I mean, why wouldn't the president have said to George, "You know what? I got a whole bunch of different opinions, but in the end, the people elected me to make these decisions. I'm the commander in chief, and I'm taking it."

Instead, he didn't do that. He said, "No, no, no, I didn't get any other contrary advice," wanting to make it seem like -- and this is Joe Biden's pattern, right?

Over the course of his entire career, he's a little bit loose with the facts. And he always wants to make himself look better. And -- and maybe when you're in the Senate, it matters less. But when you're the president, and you sit there and say there was no opposition and then these guys come out and say it, it does what Rick said. It erodes public trust in what he says.

The president should have just said, "There were different opinions. I disagreed with this general or that general. My choice, I'm the commander in chief, my call, and I own it."

He got close, but he had to just make himself seem a little bit better, and it's costing him.

KARL: Donna?

BRAZILE: Well, look, at the end of the day, did anyone foresee the collapse of the Afghan army or the Afghan government?

They also said that. I mean, I listened to the hearings because I want to -- I want to learn from our mistakes. We should all learn from our mistakes in Afghanistan, the trillions of dollars, the lives lost.

We couldn't build a lasting army or a government, and the women and people of Afghanistan, it's suffering, a humanitarian crisis. At the end of the day, President Biden took responsibility. He owns it. And whether his poll numbers bounce back, the American people should understand, that war, something went wrong.

KARL: Yeah, and it's -- it's 20 years of something going wrong.

OK, I want to get now to the -- to the big race of this year, of this calendar year, the governor's race in New Jersey. I want to get all you to weigh in.

CHRISTIE: New Jersey...

BRAZILE: Wait. Wait. Wait.

KARL: But first...

(LAUGHTER)

... we have Nate Silver, took a look at the race. Let's look at Nate's take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NATE SILVER, FOUNDER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT, AND ABC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: If you watch enough of these segments, you know that we really try to emphasize probability. And there certainly is the chance the GOP could win in Virginia next month.

According to the new FiveThirtyEight polling average in Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the former governor, leads businessman Glenn Youngkin by only about three percentage points.

Translated into a probability, a candidate who trails by that amount with about a month to go might expect to win the race around 30 percent of the time, which is a pretty decent chance.

At the same time, we've seen versions of this movie before, and it didn't end so well for Republicans. In the 2017 governor's race in Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam led Republican Ed Gillespie by three points in a final polling average. And the conventional wisdom was that the race was a tossup. But Northam ended up winning by around nine points, not really a close call at all.

More recently, polls of the California gubernatorial recall showed the race nearly tied with a month to go, but "No recall" bound up winning by a whopping 24 points.

Virginia isn't California, but it's more blue at this point than purple. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump there by 10 points last November, relevant in the state, where Youngkin's got Trump's endorsement. It has two Democratic senators, and it's had Democratic governors for 16 of the past 20 years.

So, do I buy the Democrats should be worried? Well, sure. Democrats tend to worry about everything, and a loss in Virginia would be a bad sign for the party come 2022. But, still, the odds on McAuliffe's side.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: OK, so thank you, Nate.

I said New Jersey. I meant Virginia. Chris Christie's getting into my head over here.

(LAUGHTER)

KARL: Rachael, to Nate's last point there, if Youngkin pulls off a win in the increasingly blue state of Virginia, how big a blow is that to Democrats going into the midterms?

BADE: I mean, it's certainly going to create a morale problem. And a lot of people are looking at this race to sort of figure out what they should be expecting in 2022.

I mean, the odds are that the House is going to flip in 2022, if you just look at the party in power typically loses two dozen seats. And, right now, Pelosi has like a three-seat margin. And so, obviously, people are looking at this governor's race to see if -- if Youngkin can pull this out.

At the same time, McAuliffe is sort of showing Democrats how to run. He's definitely been distancing himself from Biden. There was a debate earlier this week where Youngkin was going hard after Biden on effort, everything from Afghanistan to the border. And McAuliffe didn't defend him...

KARL: Yes.

BADE: ... and, in fact, said the $3.5 trillion reconciliation number is too big.

So we're seeing that distance start to happen as Biden's poll numbers go down.

KARL: Which is interesting to see McAuliffe not like -- well, to see Youngkin attacking McAuliffe over Biden in a state that Biden won handedly.

KLEIN: Yes, and McAuliffe is the incumbent in this race, for all intents and purposes. He even talks like he's still the governor sometimes.

KARL: He does, yes.

KLEIN: And what's interesting here -- and this gets back to the conversation around infrastructure -- both of those candidates are for the bipartisan infrastructure plan. They both want to see it pass.

And that, I think, is one of the reasons that this October 31 deadline matters, because if the Democrats can't show they're on the move, that they're getting things done, Terry McAuliffe is much more likely to take the blame for Democrats' inability to govern, inability to be competent in governance, if that's the narrative that comes out of this.

And he's been trying to make -- McAuliffe has been trying to make Glenn Youngkin into Donald Trump. His basic problem is, Donald Trump is not Glenn Youngkin, and Glenn Youngkin is not Donald Trump.

KARL: And you know Terry McAuliffe.

BRAZILE: Very well. I have known...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: For a long time.

BRAZILE: Outside of Chris Christie, he's my other favorite former governor, who I hope to see as a new governor.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: Look, Terry is a good closer. We all know that.

The problem that Democrats face right now -- and the early voting started on September 17 -- is enthusiasm. We have got to raise the level of activity and enthusiasm. Terry is going to win this. Glenn Youngkin is a Trump wannabe. He may not sound like Trump. Clearly, he doesn't have Trump's hair or flair.

But he's a Trump wannabe. And Terry's going to close.

KARL: Is that right?

CHRISTIE: No, it's not. He's not a Trump wannabe at all. He's a much more pragmatic Republican in both his manner and his policies.

But here's the problem. Look, this looks a lot to me like 2009. And 2009 was a race that I was familiar with and Bob McDonnell after Barack Obama won overwhelmingly. Barack Obama won New Jersey by 700,000 votes in 2008. And then I came back and won by 100,000 in 2009.

Obama won Virginia. Then Bob McDonnell came back. And it gave a preview. So, I think it is an indicator for what will happen in 2022 in some respects. And I think it's this -- the breadth of a Republican win in '22.

I think Rachael is right. Republicans are very likely to win the House back, just given historic norms. The question about what this will show is, do they have a chance to win the Senate back too? And if Virginia or New Jersey were to go, I think they have a very good chance.

KARL: All right, that is it. That is the time we have.

Up next: guns, God and abortion. A blockbuster Supreme Court term gets under way tomorrow. And, as the court's political independence is scrutinized, perhaps more than ever, you might be surprised to look at who is coming to the court's defense.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

“THIS WEEK” TRIVIA: Which House Speaker presided over two government shutdowns with President Bill Clinton?

Newt Gingrich.

NEWT GINGRICH, THEN-SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: For the purpose of getting the federal government up to full speed, we are prepared to focus on the central question. Will the president sign a balanced budget agreement of seven years scored by the Congressional Budget Office?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KARL: Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's long awaited investiture ceremony on Friday. She'll take a seat alongside most of her colleagues for the in-person oral arguments of the Supreme Court.

But with Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining remotely after testing positive for COVID-19, the term is already proving to be one of the most unpredictable and consequential in decades.

Our Devin Dwyer takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEVIN DWYER, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In rare rapid succession, the justices have been disavowing politics.

CLARENCE THOMAS, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, SUPREM COURT: I think the court was thought to be the least dangerous branch. And we may have become the most dangerous.

DWYER: The Supreme Court on a PR offensive.

STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: We don't trade votes, and members of the court have different judicial philosophies.

DWYER: Justice Amy Coney Barrett, in a speech along Mitch McConnell, insisting the court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks. The blitz a sign of growing concern about the court's credibility.

IRVING GORSTEIN, EXEC. DIR., GEORGETOWN LAW SUPREME COURT INSTITUTE: Not since Bush against Gore has the public perception of the court's legitimacy seemed so seriously threaten.

DWYER: Public approval of the Supreme Court has hit its lowest level in more than two decades, down 18 points from last year, sinking nine points just since July.

CROWD: (INAUDIBLE).

DWYER: The court's 5-4 midnight decision in September to allow that Texas ban on nearly all abortions only adding to public controversy.

MARY ZIEGLER, PROFESSOR, FLORIDA STATE UNIV. LAW: Roe v. Wade is on thin ice. At the moment, it really feels more as if it's a question of when, not if, and how, not whether.

DWYER: In a major case out of Mississippi this fall, the justices will decide whether to overturn nearly 50 years of abortion rights precedent. They'll hear cases on the death penalty, separation of church and state and a major Second Amendment case that could establish a right to carry a handgun outside the home.

ERIC RUBEN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, SMU LAW: It would mean that you could expect more people to be carrying handguns in places like New York City, Boston and Los Angeles.

DWYER: A blockbuster case is playing out before the most conservative court in a generation. A FiveThirtyEight analysis found Justice Sonya Sotomayor is now the most liberal justice. Clarence Thomas remains the most conservative. But no longer is there one justice in the middle, there are three, all conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

LAURA BRONNER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Barrett, for example, voted with Roberts and Kavanagh over 90 percent of the time. She seems like she's going to be a core component of the conservative triad at the center of the court.

DWYER: Democrats had sounded the alarm about Barrett.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND: A judicial torpedo they are firing at the ACA.

DWYER: That she has so far defied expectations of both sides.

JEFFREY ROSEN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL CONSTITUTION CENTER: The expectation that Justice Barrett would be a reliable vote for the most doctrine (ph) originalist position has not materialized.

DWYER: Brett Kavanaugh, the justice in the majority, more than any other last term, is also a critical vote to watch.

ZIEGLER: We don't know what a Brett Kavanaugh, who is no longer beholden to John Roberts to get the deciding vote, will say about abortion, and we don't know the same about -- about Justice Barrett.

DWYER: Barrett and Kavanaugh broke with the chief justice to allow that Texas abortion law to go ahead on technical grounds. A sign John Roberts' once dominant influence may be coming to an end.

ROSEN: Whenever it's possible to find a narrow, technical solution to a case, Chief Justice Roberts will encourage his colleagues to do it. And not all of them are on board with that.

DWYER: A court at a crossroads as Americans remain on edge over just how far and how fast the Supreme Court will go.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Our thanks to Devin Dwyer for that.

And thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us.

Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT," and have a good day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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