This Week' Transcript 12-5-21: Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Gov. Jared Polis

This Week' Transcript 12-5-21: Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Gov. Jared Polis

ByABC News
December 05, 2021, 9:59 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, December 5, 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)

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR (voice-over): Omicron in America.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: We knew that it was just a matter of time.

RADDATZ: The new variant now confirmed in at least 16 states, with concerns about transmissibility, severity, and vaccine efficacy.

(on camera): Here at the Moderna labs in Norwood, Massachusetts, they say production could begin on a new vaccine within a month.

What did you think when you first saw this -- this variant?

DR. STEPHEN HOGE, PRESIDENT, MODERNA: The instant feeling was, oh, this isn't going to be good.

RADDATZ (voice-over): This morning, rare access inside Moderna, as scientists respond to this new variant, plus the very latest from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and Governor Jared Polis of Colorado, one of the first states with a confirmed case.

Supreme consequences, the historic case that could restrict abortion rights around the country. Will the court uphold Mississippi's 15-week ban and overturn Roe v. Wade?

Shutdown averted.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I'm glad that, in the end, cooler heads prevailed.

RADDATZ: Congress narrowly avoids a government shutdown over vaccine mandates, but a default deadline looms, as Biden's Build Back Better plan awaits a vote. Our powerhouse roundtable covers all of the week's politics.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

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

Just 11 days have passed since South Africa first reported the Omicron variant to the World Health Organization, raising global concerns and renewed uncertainty about the future of the pandemic.

Since then, just look at this map. Omicron has reached at least 40 countries around the world in every major continent. Here in the U.S., after the first case was discovered Wednesday in California, at least 15 other states from New York to Hawaii have now detected the new variant.

President Biden laid out his initial plan to combat Omicron on Thursday, increasing access to boosters, making available free at-home COVID tests, and strengthening testing requirements for international travelers.

We will discuss the strategy with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in just a moment, but, first, our exclusive look inside Moderna headquarters, where they are already working on a new vaccine to fight Omicron as the threat from the variant grows.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RADDATZ (voice-over): Two years into a global pandemic, when things were starting to look up, a new worrisome variant, Omicron.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you are worried about Omicron variant, the best thing to do is get fully vaccinated and then get your booster shot.

RADDATZ: The reaction was swift, in just one day this week, more than 2.2 million vaccine doses administered, the highest single-day number in more than seven months.

The president of pharmaceutical giant Moderna, who spoke to us at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, headquarters, says the makeup of the Omicron variant has the potential for a worst-case scenario.

(on camera): What did you think when you saw this variant? Did you just think, oh, no, here we go again?

HOGE: There was literally a list of eight or 10 mutations that we never wanted to see show up in one variant of concern. And we opened this one up, and all but one of them was there. And the instant feeling was, oh, this isn't going to be good.

RADDATZ (voice-over): But the big question, just how much protection will the existing vaccines and boosters have against the new variant? The CEO of Moderna, Stephane Bancel, roiled markets this week by predicting a significant drop in vaccine efficacy, saying there was -- quote -- "no world" in which vaccine effectiveness doesn't drop against the new variant.

(on camera): Do you agree?

HOGE: Well, I probably would have used different words. But I think the short answer is, we don't have data yet to know for sure.

RADDATZ: You said you would use different words then your CEO used. What words would you use?

HOGE: Well, I think that there's a real risk that we're going to see a decrease in effectiveness of the vaccines. What I don't know is how substantial that is. Is it going to be the kind of thing that we saw with the Delta variant, which is, ultimately, the vaccines were still effective, or are we going to see something more like a 50 percent decrease in efficacy, which would really mean we would probably need to reboot the vaccines and update them?

RADDATZ (voice-over): Moderna scientists are not waiting the expected two to three weeks to find out.

We traveled to the research lab and got a rare look inside, where Moderna says it could quickly create another shot, specifically tailored to protect against Omicron.

MATT BARROWS, MODERNA SENIOR DIRECTOR OF MANUFACTURING: Approximately 70 percent of the U.S. supply comes out of this facility.

RADDATZ (VOICEOVER): Matt Barrows is Moderna’s senior director of manufacturing. He says if necessary, their facilities are ready to mass produce the current vaccines and a new one simultaneously.

RADDATZ (ON CAMERA): Do you have the facilities to do both and do them rapidly?

BARROWS: We do have the capacity to do both and do them fast.

RADDATZ (VOICEOVER): But Dr. Hoge warns it would still be a waiting game.

DR. STEPHEN HOGE, MODERNA PRESIDENT: We could probably produce tens of millions of doses in the first quarter, but not hundreds. And it really wouldn't be until the second quarter of next year that you’d be seeing those big step changes in terms of the number of doses made.

RADDATZ (VOICEOVER): Just miles away from Moderna headquarters in Everett, Massachusetts, emergency room physician Erin Beaumont is already seeing a winter surge and is bracing for Omicron.

DR. ERIN BEAUMONT, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: I think we just don't have enough data yet but I am a little bit worried.

RADDATZ (ON CAMERA): You don't want to go through this again.

BEAUMONT: No. I don't want to go through that again. I was just reflecting back to what it was like in March and April of 2020, and that was a dark time.

RADDATZ (VOICEOVER): A time when Dr. Beaumont was giving this regular, disturbing update.

BEAUMONT: Once we do get our surge, I don't know where we're going to put these people.

I think we've come a long way in terms of having vaccines, and knowing how to treat this disease, but yeah. I just -- I really -- I don't think any of us want to go back there.

RADDATZ (VOICEOVER): Dr. Hoge says despite the uncertainty about Omicron, he is still hopeful that the finish line is in sight.

HOGE: We really do expect this will end, and I’m still quite hopeful that 2022 will be the year where that happens. And so we can't rule out that there will be another surprise. But as we build higher and higher levels of immunity, we think the virus will run out of room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ (ON CAMERA): And we all hope for that.

Joining me now is the Director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Thanks so much for coming in this morning, Dr. Walensky.

We know this could take weeks before you have all the data, as he said, but right now at this moment, what do you know about the variant, and what are your concerns?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE CDC: Good morning. Glad to be here with you.

You know, the first thing I think we should say is that we have about 90,000 to 100,000 cases a day right now in the United States, and 99.9 percent of them are the Delta variant. So we have, you know, an issue right now in the United States with Delta, and we have so many things that we can do about Delta, including getting vaccinated, including getting boosted.

RADDATZ: But on top of that, we have Omicron.

WALENSKY: Indeed.

RADDATZ: Clearly spreading quickly. So what do you know about that variant at this point?

WALENSKY: Right. So we know it's in, as of last night, about 15 states. We know we have, you know, several dozen cases, and we're following them closely, and we are every day hearing about more and more probable cases. So that number is likely to rise.

We know it has many mutations, more mutations than prior variants, and many of those mutations have been associated with more transmissible variants with evasion of some of our therapeutics and potentially invasion -- evasion of some of our immunity, and that's what we're watching really carefully. What we don't yet know is how transmissible it will be, how well our vaccines will work, whether it will lead to more severe disease.

RADDATZ: South Africa studies say about two times more transmissible. If it is as bad as it may be, even if it's not severe disease, what do the next six months look like?

WALENSKY: You know, I think the next six months really depend on how we mobilize together to do the things that we know work. We know from a vaccine standpoint that the more mutations a single variant has, the more immunity you really need to have in order to combat that variant, which is why right now we're really pushing to get more people vaccinated and more people boosted to really boost that immunity in every single individual.

We're really hopeful that our vaccines will work in a way that even if they don't prevent disease entirely, prevent infection entirely, that they can work to protect severe disease and keep people out of the hospital.

RADDATZ: Do you have a line? I know Dr. Hoge told me that they probably need a new vaccine, a variant-specific vaccine if the level of efficacy got below 50 percent. Do you have a notion, a line, that -- at what point we would need this variant-specific booster?

WALENSKY: I think efficacy -- it’s a really interesting, important question, but efficacy is in itself on a spectrum. So is it efficacy at preventing disease entirely, preventing infection entirely, even if it just leads to a runny nose? Or is it efficacy at making sure people stay out of the hospital and prevent death? Certainly we want to do the latter absolutely first, and we’d really like to do the former as well, and those are the studies that are ongoing right now.

RADDATZ: And one more thing Dr. Hoge told me of those mutations which you’ve talked about, he said it had the potential for a worst case scenario, which we heard President Biden lay out the plans to combat this.

But if it is the worst case scenario, do you fear that?

WALENSKY: You know, I think we have so many more tools now than we did a year ago. We have so many things that work against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, regardless of the variant that we’ve seen before.

I do think that we are going too -- that getting in a lot of immunity right now will be critically important. Masking up right now, we have 80 percent of our cases -- of our counties that are still in higher substantial risk of disease with Delta. Doing all of those things will help prevent a more aggressive Omicron surge.

RADDATZ: And the masking. But President Biden made clear, even before we know anything about it, that a mask mandate is not going to come back?

WALENSKY: The CDC recommendations have been clear. We recommend masking in public indoor setting, in areas that have high or substantial transmission, and that's over 80 percent of our counties right now. So, of course, those mandates and requirements are going to happen at the county level, at the policymaker level. But our recommendations have been crystal clear.

RADDATZ: Would you rather see a nationwide mandate?

WALENSKY: I would rather see people get vaccinated, boosted, and follow our recommendations, and rather not have requirements in order so. People should do this for themselves.

RADDATZ: You know, one of the things about a booster, about a variant-specific booster, I know Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson say they can all do this fairly quickly, within three months. But then you have FDA approval.

Is there any world where you can see that moving much faster, given we've already been through this?

WALENSKY: Yeah, you know, much of that I would have to defer to the FDA, but they're already in conversations about streamlining the authorization of this, of an Omicron-specific vaccine, partially because much of the vaccine is actually exactly the same, and really it would just be that mRNA code that would have to change. So those conversations are ongoing, and certainly, FDA will move swiftly and CDC will move swiftly right thereafter.

RADDATZ: President Biden also is going to restrict flights from South Africa and other countries in Africa, and require testing. I was on a flight this week. Why not domestic flights?

WALENSKY: You know, I think the rationale -- we have to understand the rationale for why the international restrictions immediately. When those were put in, the only cases we knew about were in Southern Africa, and really those restrictions were put in to prevent new variants from coming to the United States and to protect the American people from new variants.

The restrictions are what we do domestically. It's not about whether you have transmission on an airplane. We know we can prevent that transmission on an airplane through masking. So, the really the rationale for the restrictions would be different.

RADDATZ: And isn't the key here getting vaccines into the arms of people who don't have them globally? How can we make that happen faster? Would this have happened if they were vaccinated in South Africa?

WALENSKY: You know, we're working really hard to do so. We’re working -- we're not only donating the vaccines for free, and providing more vaccines to the globe than any -- than every other country combined, but we at CDC work in 60 other countries providing on-the-ground assistance in vaccine safety, in vaccine delivery, in vaccine confidence, in vaccine effectiveness studies, all the things.

And we’ve been working in those countries for years, sometimes decades. So, we have the buy-in of the local -- the trust that you need to do those things globally.

RADDATZ: OK, thanks for joining us this morning.

WALENSKY: Thanks for having me.

RADDATZ: As Omicron is detected in more places here in the U.S., governors are once again being faced with the challenge of defending their states from the spread.

Colorado is just emerging from a surge from Delta, but identified two cases of Omicron this week, both connected to recent travel in Southern Africa.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis joins us now.

Good morning, Governor.

First I want to ask you, how your infected Coloradans are doing this morning?

GOV. JARED POLIS (D), COLORADO: Good -- good morning, Martha.

So far, everybody's fine. We only have two or three cases here, and no different than the other cases. They are immunized. They have been immunized and they're doing fine from the health perspective so far. Thank you for checking.

RADDATZ: And I know you've said you're not terribly alarmed about Omicron yet. On what do you base that?

POLIS: So, you know, one thing about this virus from the very standard, Martha, we always wished we had next week's information this week, next month's information this month, but we don't.

I think what we're all looking for at this point is what characteristics the Omicron variant has that are different. We know it’s a different mutation of the virus. But how does it spread? Does it spread more? Does it spread the same? How do our immunization hold up? How does natural immune immunization from prior infection hold up? How do the vaccinations hold up? And then finally, how virulent is it? Is it just as virulent? Is it less virulent? Is it more virulent? We simply don't have answers on these questions today, but I expect that we will in the next few weeks.

RADDATZ: And I know, Governor, no one wants to panic, but there are experts, including those from Moderna, who look at the variant and say, this is not going to be good. And early research shows it's more transmissible.

POLIS: It's clearly a very different variant. It's different than the whole branch of the viral family that led to the Delta variant. And as you indicated in your introduction, we're just recovering from a wave of that. There are some states that are going up. Ours is going down, has been for a week or two. But we're just recovering from the Delta variant. So, again, we want to see how well the vaccinations hold up.

As far as the data that we have to date shows, the most effective way to prevent Omicron or any variant is simply to get vaccinated and then to get boosted six months later. And we're encouraging all Coloradans to do that. And because of our higher than average vaccination rate here in Colorado, our Delta wave didn't peak at the same level of hospitalizations that it did in some of the states that had lower vaccination rates.

RADDATZ: Your vaccination rate in Colorado is about 72 percent for just the first shot, yet hospitalization rates there remain very high, 95 percent of ICU beds are occupied and about half of the facilities are anticipating staff shortages within the next week according to your own department of public health. Are you confident hospitals can handle that, even with a slight uptick? And I think your total vaccination rate is only about 64 percent?

POLIS: So, yes, we're grateful that 5- to 11-year-olds can now be vaccinated. We're eighth in the nation. So far about 22 percent of our 5- to 11-year-olds have been vaccinated. Just to put some real significance behind that statistic you just cited about hospitalizations, we have people 1,368 people hospitalized with COVID in Colorado. Over 1,130 are unvaccinated. So we just have slightly over 200 vaccinated Coloradans hospitalized, that's from that 20 to 30 percent of people. And then we have the 1,100 people that are unvaccinated -- I'm sorry, that's from the 20 to 30 percent of people that are unvaccinated, just to show the tremendous efficacy of the vaccine in keeping people out of the hospital.

One more point on that, while we're at about 93, 94 percent of our hospital capacity, only about 15 to 20 percent of that is COVID. The rest is everything else under the sun, heart attack, cancer, other routine issues, some of which have been postponed during the pandemic to the detriment of people's health.

RADDATZ: But with the Omicron coming, that could get worse and you would have to put off some of those surgeries.

POLIS: Yes. There's no question that people across the country who have what you might call elective surgeries, that are still important for people's health, back surgeries, knee surgeries, oftentimes when there's a peak, have had to delay those surgeries a period of weeks or a period of months. They've certainly continued at a -- at a slower than normal pace here in Colorado, even during the height of the peak, but certainly when our hospitals are full with not just COVID, but other -- other conditions from people that had been putting off treatment during the pandemic, there's a bit of a catch-up period. And I think that's part of what we're experiencing here in Colorado, and nationally right now.

The last thing that we want is another wave. Now, again, I think what we're all waiting to see is how virulent the Omicron variant is, how effectively it can break through prior immunization, and how contagious it is. And those three factors will really determine the spread of the virus. It is not yet at a level of community transmission in Colorado that we're picking it up. We have a few isolated cases, but we do regular wastewater screening. It has not come up in that. And we also screen about 15 to 20 percent of our tests, and we do tens of thousands tests per day, for the indicators of the Omicron variant. And none of those have come back with Omicron variant yet. So...

RADDATZ: Governor -- Governor...

POLIS: ... if we get a high level of community transmission, we would know it. And it hasn't occurred yet.

RADDATZ: Thanks very much, Governor.

The "Roundtable" is coming up. Plus, it's one of the biggest legal challenges in decades, our experts are here with the odds of a fundamental change for women's rights.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you guys come out today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To support life. To tell the Supreme Court that life is important. So I just wanted to let the justices know that we are hoping and praying that they will choose life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our rights as people with uteruses are being chipped away on a daily basis. Every single time we come here, we are fighting harder and harder to protect the rights of women, and trans women and people in the United States to have access to have body autonomy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC CO-ANCHOR: The Supreme Court could be on the verge of rolling back Roe v. Wade after arguments this week in a blockbuster case over a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

A lot at stake, so we brought in our experts, senior national correspondent, Terry Moran, and constitutional law professor, Kate Shaw. Good morning to you both.

And Terry, I want to start with you because you’ve been covering this all week. It became very clear very quickly that the conservative justices are poised to uphold the Mississippi law.

TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Uphold the Mississippi law, and what was so striking about the arguments, Martha, was that you could hear in real-time the strong conservative majority on the Supreme Court, six justices, discussing not so much whether they should overturn or really gut -- excuse me -- Roe v. Wade, but how they should do it. It was really a discussion of how far they will go, and it seemed to me that the weight of the momentum on the conservative side is to go whole-hog. It feels to me like in June America’s going to be a very different place for women and reproductive rights.

RADDATZ: The weight of the conservative justices, let's talk about that, Kate. They may want to uphold the Mississippi law, but do you think all of them want to overturn Roe? Do they want to go that far?

KATE SHAW, CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Martha, I think there's no question they want to uphold the Mississippi law, and I think that five of them do seem to want to go further and to overturn Roe rather than to limit the right to abortion that it announced.

I don't know that John Roberts, the chief justice, is ready to overturn Roe or to cast a vote to do that. But there are five more conservative justices than him on the court at this point. So it actually doesn't matter.

So I did hear from the oral argument pretty strong signs that five of them are ready to go that far and to overturn Roe outright by the end of June.

RADDATZ: Kate, were you surprised at how quickly they moved on this?

SHAW: I was, right? So chief -- so Amy Coney Barrett has been on the court just over a year, having replaced, of course, Ruth Ginsburg, and I guess I thought the court would move more incrementally to limit rather than to overturn Roe with this newly constituted conservative super majority. But I didn’t see any signs of that kind of caution or incrementalism.

It sounds as though they know they have the votes to do it and they are likely to do so. And we should say, Martha, that's a seismic change in American law for over 50 years. This has been a right the Constitution has protected. And it's never really been the case before that the Supreme Court has moved to overturn a case where that prior case announced a right, so, essentially, to take a right back.

The court overturns its precedents relatively routinely, but never really in a case like this.

RADDATZ: So, Terry, if it is overturned, what happens in the states?

MORAN: Well, there are a dozen states and more with laws already on the books and ready to go, trigger laws, that, if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, they will ban abortion, and there will be more following, no question about it.

They will test the limits if they try to -- if they don't outright overturn Roe. They are lined up to do this. And I think what you will see is that abortion will be criminalized not just in many states, but in entire regions of the country.

Women will be hundreds of miles, more than hundreds of miles, thousands of miles maybe in some instances, very, very long distance, to get access to abortion. And we will have a patchwork of abortion rights.

But it'll be more than that. In the South, from South Carolina, all the way to Texas and Oklahoma, and north up to Wisconsin, which has a trigger law, in the Midwest, abortion will be criminalized.

RADDATZ: And, Terry, it's surprising because Supreme Court justices are supposedly chosen by presidents because they reflect the values of their constituents.

A recent ABC News/"Washington Post" poll says 60 percent of Americans say the court should uphold Roe v. Wade and 75 percent say the decision to have an abortion should be left to the woman and her doctor, not regulated by law.

MORAN: But this has been the Republican mission since Roe to appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe vs. Wade. They have tried and tried and tried for decades.

The last time there was a majority of justices on the Supreme Court of the United States who had been appointed by Democratic presidents was May 14, 1969. Republicans have nominated 16 of the 20 justices since then. And some of those Republicans were presidents who did not win majority votes, George Bush in his first term, of course, and Donald Trump.

And so this has been a goal of the Republican Party, organized to do it, and they are on the brink of success.

RADDATZ: And, Kate, I want to turn to that school shooting in Michigan, the accused shooter, Ethan Crumbley, not only charged, but his parents with involuntary manslaughter.

That is a very, very rare charge.

SHAW: Yes, we have really haven't seen a charges like this in a case involving a school shooter or a mass shooter.

But, honestly, from the facts that we know, Martha, we really haven't seen facts like these before. So, an involuntary manslaughter charge typically involves some step that that -- in which there is a death, and in which the individual who took that step or those steps should have known that there was a serious risk of danger that has been created.

And, based on the facts that we know, there is significant evidence to support such a charge. But, again, I think that it's not likely that we would see parents charged in many cases like these. But, again, these facts, from what we know at this point, do seem to support that kind of charge.

RADDATZ: Terry?

MORAN: Well, we don't charge parents on all the school shootings we have had for the conduct of their children, in part because it does run counter to our legal tradition.

We generally don't hold people criminally responsible for the actions of others. And this prosecutor has charged them with responsibility for the killings that their son did, on the theory of gross negligence, that they knew or had reason to know that, because they purchased him a gun, didn't secure it in the home, which are lawful things under Michigan law...

RADDATZ: And the texts between the mother and son.

MORAN: And the texts between the mother and son.

But, remember, they had it already -- that's a -- is that beyond a reasonable doubt, what she was saying, that they knew or had reason to know? The school officials let him go back to class. They should have had reason to know. And they didn't.

So it does...

(CROSSTALK)

RADDATZ: Although the school -- the school officials are now saying they were saying those drawings were about video games.

MORAN: Yes, they said go get counseling in a couple of days.

And so it is difficult. This is a new prosecutor who's frustrated that firearms laws in Michigan's -- in Michigan cannot hold them accountable. And she may have overreached here. We will see the facts come out. They may be very damning.

But this is a very unusual charge, because it does run counter to the way we generally think of criminal responsibility.

RADDATZ: It certainly does.

Thanks to Terry. Thanks to Kate.

The roundtable is next. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: It's not within government's authority to tell people that they must be vaccinated and if they don't get vaccinated, they'll get fired.

SEN. ROGER MARSHALL (R), KANSAS: No precedent exists in American history for punishing private employers who don't enforce government vaccination edicts.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: If you don't want to get a vaccine, get a test. If you're unwilling to protect your co-workers, don't demand a paycheck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: Some heated debate on Capitol Hill this week over President Biden's vaccine mandates. Just one of the many topics to get to on the "Roundtable" this morning with ABC News political director Rick Klein, ABC congressional correspondent Rachel Scott, Vivian Salama, national security reporter for The Wall Street Journal. And we want to welcome back our senior White House correspondent Mary Bruce, who just returned from maternity leave, five months' maternity leave, welcoming her second baby, little Eve (ph).

MARY BRUCE, ABC SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Aww.

RADDATZ: And there she is with big brother George (ph), 3 1/2. I'm sure George is probably not -- is he jealous yet?

BRUCE: There's a skeptical look, you may notice, on his face. I think he's getting used to the fact that she's here to stay.

(LAUGHTER)

RADDATZ: Yes. And probably not much has changed here in Washington since you came back.

(CROSSTALK)

RADDATZ: Same storyline. We're going to talk all things White House in a minute.

But I want to start with you, Rick Klein, today. It looked like we might have a government shutdown. We saw some scenes of that there after those Senate Republicans tried to defund President Biden's vaccine mandate on the private sector. They backed down, but these fights over vaccine mandates are really just beginning.

RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: They're here to stay, and I think one takeaway out of this, even though the Democrats won this battle and they were able to keep the government open, is that they know that Republicans are going to continue to fight those vaccine mandates. They are united on that topic. In fact, they're going to get another vote in the coming days. That one is likely to pass because Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is likely to say he doesn't want to see the mandates imposed on the private sector. And the way that the politics around vaccines and around mandates have calcified and really set in, that is setting the tone for everything that President Biden hopes to do around the vaccine, around government funding, around the Build Back Better initiative, this is the background noise.

This is a serious political division that the president, I think, is starting to adjust around, but he really can't overcome that degree of skepticism and that fight that Republicans are going to put up just on that basic question about whether there should be a mandate.

RADDATZ: And, Rachel, was Manchin's move a surprise?

RACHEL SCOTT, ABC CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you ask Senator Joe Manchin, he'll say no. He'll says that he has long been saying that he believes the administration should be incentivizing, not penalizing businesses, encouraging them to get their employees vaccinated. So when this does come to the floor in the Senate, which is expected this week, he is going to vote to overturn the president's mandate on private businesses. This only requires a simple majority. So this is going to give them enough votes to actually get this passed. And it could be telling for the rest of the Democratic Party because every Democratic senator is now going to have to go on the record. We could see more also vote in support of that.

RADDATZ: And, Mary, I do want to go back to this, a lot of these storylines have not changed in five months, but -- but just assess for us your view of the White House right now, your view of Joe Biden. He has got the jobs report. He has got -- maybe this has changed, a 41 percent approval rating.

BRUCE: Yes, well, look, I think right now especially they are trying to achieve this tricky balance when it comes to the economy and the pandemic. You've heard the president trying to be optimistic and hopeful, even talking about the holidays, saying, it may be OK to go back to some of those celebrations. Fauci saying go ahead and have some eggnog with some vaccinated friends. But they know that they have to convey that optimism while also trying to, they hope, you know, keep the economy on track, but also being realistic about this new variant.

KLEIN: That's a tricky balance.

BRUCE: And that is very hard. I do think it's really notable what the president is not doing in announcing his new COVID strategy for the winter this week. What he did not do was to say there's not going to be any lockdowns. There's not going to be any shutdowns. He's well aware that this variant could pose a real threat to any bounceback of the economy.

RADDATZ: And, Vivian, even though Omicron is already here, and we're all keeping our eye on it, the Biden administration implemented travel bans on South Africa, several African nations. How's that going over?

VIVIAN SALAMA, WALL STREET JOURNAL NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, it has been a little bit controversial on the one hand because the source of the variant originally was suspected to be South Africa. That was later said that it was not South Africa. And so a lot of questions about why they chose the African countries for travel bans and not others.

But also just this...

RADDATZ: And different response than Delta.

SALAMA: And different response than Delta, where he very quickly moved to ban travelers from those countries. He has also imposed strict COVID testing rules on travelers both inbound and outbound from the United States. And so obviously a lot of shifting here where the administration is trying to contain this as much as possible, and reacting in some ways very quickly, but not really knowing if their efforts are going to contain the spread.

Obviously already we see a number of cases in the United States, and so sort of we're past that point of trying to prevent it, and now they're trying to contain it from spreading vastly around the United States. We also don't know a lot about the new variant, as far as how severe the symptoms are and what happens to people who are infected.

And so all of this is sort of they're trying to wait and see what happens, but also a lot of fears that -- what Mary was talking about, where it's, like, it’s just -- it could get worse. And politically, as we go into a midterm election year where you have issues with inflation rising, a very jittery stock market, massive delays in the supply chains, all these issues combined could really kind of backfire politically, and so the administration is just trying to address the health concerns and then deal with the fallout in the economy as well.

RADDATZ: And, Rick, there is -- there is fallout. I mean, we don't know a lot about this variant, but we know enough. I mean, you heard Dr. Hoge say when he first looked at the mutations in this variant he said, this is not going to be good. So the administration can say, don't panic, don't panic, don’t panic but they've got to be bracing themselves.

RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. And they also know that there’s limits to what the American people are willing to do. And I think Mary's point is spot on. The fact that the president goes into this and says I’m taking these things off the table, following the science is one thing, but to say, these are things that we're not going to do, to me that is a bow to the political realities.

He talked about it this week. He says it's a shame that it’s become polarized, that it’s become politicized, but he is doing things or not doing things knowing that the American people will only go so far. There are limits here.

And that's, I think, maybe the most problematic part of all of this. Is that if the scientists are giving particular advice, and saying this is the way to do it, we just don't think that we’re at a stage where the American people are going to comply. So what's the point of even having that mandate? These are academic discussions that people flat-out aren’t going to going to listen anymore.

RADDATZ: And you can really see that when you travel around the country.

KLEIN: Yes.

RADDATZ: Rachel, let's talk about the remainder of the president's agenda in Congress, Build Back Better. Drill down on that. What are the chances that gets passed before Christmas?

RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, and that's what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants. He wants a vote on that before Christmas. Well, Senator Kyrsten Sinema is not committing to that, and she’s note the only one, neither is Senator Joe Manchin.

He has essentially said, let's kind of hit pause on a little bit of this. He's concerned about inflation. He's concerned about debt. We know that he doesn't want paid family leave including in this measure, in particular, which is included in the House's version of this bill. And so I talked to one Democratic senator who essentially just said, buckle up, when it comes to the timeline over this.

But I can -- I can -- I can see more pressure getting on Democrats in the coming days. On December 15th, we know that Americans are expected to receive that last payment of the Child Tax Credit. That's set to expire, and so we could see more pressure to try to get this done by the end of the year.

RADDATZ: And how about for President Biden? Is he going to put pressure on them to do that because of what we talked about earlier, that -- those poll numbers?

SCOTT: He's going to try. I mean, certainly you're seeing him getting out and about in the country. He's trying to sell not just the infrastructure bill, but also to push for Build Back Better, to spread the word about these social safety nets that they're trying to put in place, but to your point about the approval rating, these are really popular policies. The problem is that it's not necessarily translating to Biden’s popularity, and that's a challenge for this White House. They are optimistic. They think that as they can --

RADDATZ: But it's also the length of time --

SCOTT: Exactly --

RADDATZ: -- right?

SCOTT: It's a long time, and people just -- they're sick of the fight, I think, largely. And so it's hard for this White House, the challenge for them is to make sure that the president is getting some credit for some of this, but that's difficult when everyone just sees Washington dysfunction and when you're still dealing with a lot of the uncertainty around this pandemic.

RADDATZ: And, Vivian, there’s more uncertainly. The deadline to raise the debt limit is also quickly approaching. Congressional leaders are trying to tie it to the annual defense spending bill?

SALAMA: I mean, this is the pileup that we're now seeing toward the end of the year where Chuck Schumer, senator -- Majority Leader Chuck Schumer thought that the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, was going to be the easy thing that was going to pass, and, yet, Senator McConnell had very different views on that. He wanted to debate certain issues, and so that got stalled.

And then you have the debt ceiling issue where Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen threatening that we could default on our debts by mid-December, and so a number of very pressing issues. But, unfortunately, a lot of wrangling on the Hill as well, and so a lot of these issues threatening to go past the holidays and then we're in a midterm election year. And once you're in a midterm election year, a lot of senators, a lot of lawmakers from swing states or swing districts then very jittery about maybe wanting to make some controversial decisions. And so a lot of things get stalled.

And so that's the big concern from the White House certainly, but also on the Hill, that if these things get pushed over the holidays, we're going to be in real trouble, and when the debt ceiling especially is not raised, the threat of default can really impact a number of different programs that Americans really -- that matter to a lot of Americans and could really reflect when they go to vote in November.

RADDATZ: And, Rick, what would a Sunday morning be without mentioning something that happened with Donald Trump?

(LAUGHTER)

RADDATZ: And this week, there was -- there was kind of this bombshell, really.

The former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reportedly reveals in his book that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID three days before his first debate with Joe Biden. He also says he then tested negative. President Trump immediately denied that.

But there's just so much we don't know.

KLEIN: And you want a snapshot about where the Republican Party is, Mark Meadows, who writes the book, says that this happened. Donald Trump says it's fake news. Now Mark Meadows says it's also fake news, and gets wiped into the way that Donald Trump is trying to cast this, which is specifically about whether he had COVID, which we don't know at this point.

There's a lot we don't know about that period. And it was a wild period.

RADDATZ: We know he had COVID, for sure.

KLEIN: We know he had COVID...

RADDATZ: But not then, yes.

KLEIN: ... but whether he had it before the first debate or before that second debate that got canceled.

This was a wild period. And there's a possibility here that a lot of people were put in harm's way by the fact that the president knew that he had tested positive, but didn't seem to have acted on it right away. And even President Biden himself may have been exposed at a critical time for the country.

RADDATZ: A lot of people exposed, including you, Mary Bruce...

BRUCE: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

RADDATZ: ... because you were there.

BRUCE: Yes, we were there.

And, actually, I asked the president this week, did he think, knowing what Meadows reveals, that the former president may have put him at risk?

And the president deflected, as Biden often does when it comes to Trump, and said, "I don't think about the former president."

But if Donald Trump was actually infectious, that could have been a very serious risk to then-77-year-old candidate, Biden. And, I mean, all the reporters who were there, we were put through very strict testing, safety protocol.

And I remember looking down at that room, because it was a bizarre scene, and even seeing members of the Trump family then not masked. It was just clear that they thought the rules didn't apply to them in the same way that they did the rest of us.

RADDATZ: I remember seeing the same thing when I was looking at that.

Vivian, I want to turn to the Mexican border, the U.S.-Mexican border. Biden also started -- restarted this week the remain-in-Mexico policy, which he criticized Donald Trump for, calling it inhumane. They have now restarted it, but he really didn't have much of a choice, right? And he says they have made changes.

SALAMA: So, President Biden campaigned largely on reversing this Trump era policy called the remain-in-Mexico policies, which essentially says that you send asylum seekers to Mexico temporarily while they're processed through the system.

And so, originally, they had started to let people back into the country, and sort of following with usual protocol, the asylum protocol, and then they officially terminated it. But what -- and then Texas and a number of other states sued and said that it placed an undue burden on them by just immediately terminating this.

And so a Texas court has ruled in favor of that state, saying not that they can't overturn it, but that it was terminated inappropriately. And so now the program is back in play as of Monday, and the Biden administration obviously coming under a lot of pressure, A, from folks who are very adamant about seeing this policy go away, but also, B, the pressures that are going to come under these asylum seekers, because there's a number of dangers and humanitarian concerns with sending them back to Mexico.

And so, again, this is a number of issues that are facing the Biden administration under the immigration policies that they wanted to really tout in their -- during the campaign, and then when they came into office. And they're just -- it's a setback for them.

But they say that they're ultimately going to get this overturned and see that the remain-in-Mexico policy goes away forever.

RADDATZ: And, then, Rachel, I want to get your take on the Supreme Court this week.

If Roe is overturned, will Democrats urge President Biden to consider court reform, adding justices? Is there going to be more pressure on them?

SCOTT: Well, we certainly heard from a number of Democrats, a growing number, this past week, listening to these arguments, who say now it's time to look at the makeup of the Supreme Court, the way that it is shaped.

Even those who are opposed maybe adding justices, like Senator Richard Blumenthal, came out and said, well, maybe we need to imply term limits or mandatory retirements.

The reality is, it would require 60 votes. And so you would need at least 10 Republicans to get on board, unless you abolish the filibuster. We know many moderates do not want to do that.

But the reality is, and what many abortion rights advocates are saying is that this does not change the reality for women in Texas and Mississippi. And we have talked to them. They are traveling hundreds of miles at this point in time to get an abortion. And that is certainly just the reality that they face right now.

RADDATZ: And, Mary, just finally -- we have about 30 seconds here -- I want to talk about Ukraine.

The White House is clearly very concerned, very concerned that Russia will invade Ukraine. They have got troops all along the border. We know the president's talking to Putin this week.

BRUCE: Yes.

And the question is, what is he going to do about this, right? They're going to have that call on Tuesday. We are told it's going to be a lengthy call. That's how the president has described it.

He says he's going to make it very, very difficult for Putin to do anything to try and invade Ukraine.

But the question is what tools does he have at his disposal? We know they’re considering additional harsh economic sanctions. But, clearly, what we’ve seen in the past is that often doesn’t deter Vladimir Putin. So, how is this time going to be different? What additional steps are they willing to take?

RADDATZ: So many questions about all of that.

Thanks all of you for joining us this morning.

Coming up, two high profile gubernatorial races are shaking up for next year's big election. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver has his take on them, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE (D), CANDIDATE FOR TEXAS GOVERNOR: The people of Texas know that we need change. They understand the cost and consequence of keeping Greg Abbott in office. I think that gives us an extraordinary opportunity to make the case and to win this election.

STACEY ABRAMS (D), CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA GOVERNOR: I've tried to, in every way possible, serve the people of Georgia, but the best way to serve Georgia, in my estimation, is to run for governor and to take that job and do with it what we can, and that is serve every Georgian and create one Georgia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: Democrats Stacey Abrams and Beto O'Rourke after launching their gubernatorial campaigns. It's a redemption chance for both candidates after recently losing statewide bids in surprisingly competitive races. But with Democrats facing a challenging political environment heading into 2022, can either prevail this time? Fivethirtyeight's Nate Silver analyzes.

BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM: I think we're talking about two somewhat different situations here. Although obscured by his failed presidential run, what Beto O'Rourke accomplished in 2018 was impressive. He lost to Ted Cruz but by less than 3 percentage points.

No Democrat had even come within single digits in a Texas Senate race since Senator Lloyd Bentsen was re-elected in 1988. 2018, though, was a banner year for Democrats, who gained 41 House seats amid backlash to President Trump. This time, the tables are turned, and it's President Joe Biden who's unpopular as Democrats face the usual midterm headwinds. And while Texas has become more purple in recent years, it hasn't been a totally linear trend. Trump actually gained ground among Hispanic voters in South Texas in 2020, for example.

In Georgia, on the other hand, Democrats have actually been winning. It wasn't just that Biden carried the state in the presidential race, but Democrats also won the U.S. Senate runoffs in January, which had turned out more in line with what you might expect in a midterm. There is also the matter of Governor Brian Kemp, and neither Kemp nor Texas Governor Greg Abbott are especially popular, but Kemp faces a more vigorous primary challenge and might get pushed to his right or lose to a right-wing alternative. A few extra votes in Atlanta's moderate suburbs might be enough to swing the race to Abrams, who lost to Kemp by only 55,000 votes in 2018.

So fundamentally I buy this more for Abrams than for Beto. In what's likely to be a bad national environment for Democrats, Texas is probably too far of a stretch whereas Georgia is a bit more plausible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RADDATZ: And our thanks to Nate.

That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News Tonight." And have a good day.

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