A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, May 16, 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.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR (voice-over): Turning point.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a great milestone.
RADDATZ: The CDC gives vaccinated Americans the green light to go maskless indoors.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.
RADDATZ: Now navigating the patchwork response from states, the new challenges facing schools and businesses.
Those questions with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): It's a duty for us to stand up and say, no, this was not stolen.
RADDATZ: Liz Cheney defiant, ousted for refusing to repeat Trump's election lies, replaced by the former president's pick.
CHENEY: I think it's dangerous. We have to recognize how quickly things can unravel.
RADDATZ: The interview this morning.
(on camera): And we traveled here to Liz Cheney's Wyoming to see what her ouster from leadership will mean for her future and the future of the GOP.
Wyoming loved Liz Cheney, but they really love Donald Trump. How does that resolve itself?
(voice-over): Our powerhouse roundtable analyzes this critical moment in American politics.
And escalating violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,buildings leveled in Gaza, rockets targeting Tel Aviv. Matt Gutman is there live with the latest.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."
Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."
An explosive conflict in the Middle East continues out of control this morning, while, here in America, two seismic shifts playing out this week, one of them in Washington, where Liz Cheney's ouster highlighted Trump's tightening grip on the Republican Party, posing new questions for its path forward.
Jon Karl's interview in a moment.
The other seismic shift in the fight against the pandemic, on Thursday, the CDC abruptly changing its mask guidance, after more than 400 days, saying fully vaccinated Americans can go maskless indoors, with a few exceptions, the surprise news an about-face from the CDC, shifting from a feeling of impending doom, to cautious optimism, to relaxing mask guidance in just about a month-and-a-half.
With only about one-third of the country fully vaccinated, some states, including California and New York, still weighing whether to adopt the change, businesses split on how to respond, the country grappling with concerns about how to enforce these new guidelines to keep all Americans safe.
We'll dig in to it all this morning, beginning with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who joins me now.
Good morning, Dr. Walensky.
It was just Tuesday when you sat before a Senate committee, and you were adamant then that masking and social distancing should remain in place.
But "The Washington Post" is reporting you had already approved the decision to change the guidance. When it was finally announced on Thursday, it came as a huge surprise, and left some administration officials, doctors, businesses off-guard.
So, why so suddenly, and why did you not tell the Senate panel what you had decided?
WALENSKY: Thank you. Good morning, Marcia. Thanks -- Martha. Thanks for having me.
I am -- you know, the guide -- first of all, let's celebrate this moment. We're at a place in this pandemic. Cases have been coming down more than a third just in the last two weeks. We have vaccine now across this country widely available for anyone who wants it.
And we now have science that has really just evolved even in the last two weeks that demonstrates that these vaccines are safe, they are effective, they are working in the population, just as they did in the clinical trials, that they are working against our variants that we have here circulating in the United States, and that, if you were to develop an infection, while -- even if you got vaccinated, that you can't transmit that infection to other people.
Some of that science was really evolving as late as last Thursday. And one of the published -- one of the papers, the largest paper, was published from the CDC just the day before yesterday.
So, we were actively reviewing that science during the past week. We were making decisions and moving -- moving, and our subject matter experts while working just as I was testifying in front of Congress. And those -- that what was happening.
I told the American people I would deliver the science as soon as we have.
RADDATZ: And you said on Friday that the CDC is empowering the American people to make their own decisions about their their own health. But this is all on the honor system and there are people who refuse to get vaccinated, about a quarter of the country, and who oppose mask wearing who could see this as a green light to go wherever they want, putting others at risk, especially in those indoor settings, including children and the immunocompromised.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC: So this is a really important point, and that is the guidance that we released on Thursday is about individuals and what individuals are at risk of doing if they are not vaccinated. If they're vaccinated, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated, they are not safe. They should still be wearing a mask, or better yet, get vaccinated.
We also need to say that this is not permission for widespread removal of masks. For those who are vaccinated, it may take some time for them to feel comfortable removing their masks, but also that these decisions have to be made at the jurisdictional level, at the community level. Some communities have been hit harder than others, have lower vaccination rates than others. We want to deliver the science at the individual level, but we also understand that these decisions have to be made at the community level.
RADDATZ: But let's talk about the unmasked and the unvaccinated. Lisa Maragakis, an infection disease specialist from Johns Hopkins told “The Washington Post” “There is no way to know who is vaccinated and who is not in most scenarios. The likely result is that almost no one will wear a mask.” She went on to say that the risk to the unvaccinated would dramatically increase as most stop masking. Do you dispute that?
WALENSKY: What I would say is those unvaccinated people need to work to protect themselves, need to continue to mask, and better yet, need to get vaccinated. What we're asking our businesses to do as they are starting to think about the guidance as to what this means for their workplaces is to make it easy for paid time off for their employees to get vaccinated.
RADDATZ: But COVID is undeniably still a threat, and the CDC has consistently shown us scientific evidence that says you are much safer if two people in a room have masks on. So if you are unvaccinated in that room and someone else comes in without a mask, you're not as safe.
WALENSKY: What we would say is if you are unvaccinated in that room, you should get vaccinated. Now the challenge here is that not everybody is eligible for vaccination. So we still have children under the age of 11, and, you know, they should obviously still be wearing masks. So if you are unvaccinated, we are saying, wear a mask. Continue to distance. If you are unvaccinated, and practice all of those mitigation strategies.
For the unvaccinated, I want to be very clear, (inaudible) --
RADDATZ: But who is supposed to -- who is supposed to be the vaccination police? You look at Costco and Walmart, these essential workers. What are they supposed to do? They're -- again, there's a quarter of the country that says they will not get vaccinated.
WALENSKY: We are asking people to take their health into their own hands, to get vaccinated, and if they don't, then they continue to be at risk. For the unvaccinated, our policy has not changed.
This -- we were going to get to a place in this pandemic where vaccinated people were going to be able to take off their masks. We're lucky to be there with the science that we have, and now we have to take this foundational step that is completely based in science, and understand what it means as we open the entire country.
RADDATZ: Can I ask you just very quickly about the Yankees? Eight tested positive. They were fully vaccinated. What does that tell you?
WALENSKY: We're still working to understand what has happened in that, and we're working with and we're engaging to try to understand the details of that investigation. I don't believe that is complete as of yet.
I would consider that, when you look at the details that I’m aware of, seven of those eight were completely asymptomatic. The eighth was a mild case. They were detected on routine testing that generally doesn't happen in many other populations. This is the vaccine working. This means that you didn't get infected -- or you didn't get a severe infection. You didn't require hospitalization. You didn't require death, and most likely those people were not transmitting to other people.
So that is what we were working on the vaccine doing. We were hoping it would do.
RADDATZ: OK. Thanks for joining us this morning, Dr. Walensky.
Despite that CDC guidance, businesses do face uncertainty with how to proceed.
To help make sense of some unanswered questions, let's bring in Chief Business and Economics Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis.
Rebecca, good morning to you. Businesses really were caught off guard by the new CDC guidelines, causing some real confusion. But ultimately are businesses happy about this overall?
REBECCA JARVIS, CHIEF BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Martha.
The reality here is if you are running a business or managing people, your job over this last year has been a hybrid of putting out fires and behaving as a therapist to your employees and for a lot of the businesses, they were caught off guard by this signal. The fact that it came out of the blue and wasn't telegraphed over time as an on and off switch became something to manage with their employees.
But overall, the businesses I’m talking to, the CEOs, the founders of companies are happy about this because it signals, Martha, a return to normal.
RADDATZ: And you mention the employees. We have also heard real concern from employees who know this is really essentially an honor system, and who didn't sign up to be vaccination police.
So they must be concerned.
JARVIS: Well, and yeah. That's what we've heard especially from some of the trade groups, retail, food service, that employees should not be placed in this position of having to ask customers as they walk through the door whether or not they have been vaccinated. We've already seen over the course of the pandemic, issues around mask wearing.
Now there's this potential for new issues around who's been vaccinated which is why we've heard so many companies speak out. And it's also why, Martha, you're seeing a number of companies like Walmart, like Costco, Publix among them saying, we're going to keep this on the honor system. So you're not going to see one of our employees walk up and ask someone to wear a mask.
They're just as company is saying, wear a mask if you haven't been vaccinated. If you have been vaccinated and you're within the time frame, then you can welcome -- you can be welcomed into our stores without one on.
RADDATZ: And, Rebecca, just a final question, in terms of vaccinated employees, we heard Delta Airlines this week say that any new employees would have to be vaccinated. What's the legal question here? Can employers say, if you work here, you have to be vaccinated?
JARVIS: On the surface, legally, yes. They should be able to do that, but a lot of companies I’ve talked to behind the scenes are still worried about what legal ramifications there could be if they enforce a vaccine mandate which is why so many are now nudging things along. Kroger, for example, giving out $100 to its employees who go out and get vaccinated. American Airlines giving $50 to their employees as a gift card.
So, you're going to see, I think, Martha, a lot more nudging than you will see mandating on this issue -- Martha.
RADDATZ: And we'll keep an eye on that. Thanks for joining us this morning, Rebecca.
Now to that shakeup within the House Republican caucus. Congresswoman Liz Cheney was removed from her leadership post for speaking out about former President Donald Trump's election lies, despite voting with Trump 92 percent of the time compared to just 77 percent for her replacement, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who has now become one of Trump's staunchest defenders.
The story is more than just a leadership contest. It's about the future of the Republican Party, the resistance to the truth, and the future of democracy.
As the drama consumed Washington, I headed to the open terrain of Wyoming to see what Cheney's constituents thought of her removal, and Trump's continued influence on the party.
RADDATZ (voice-over): Wyoming is both stunning and bleak. Vast stretches of rangeland nestled in the Rocky Mountains, the nation's tenth largest state, but the least populous. Fewer than 600,000 people live here. That's a smaller number than in Washington, D.C.
But with all eyes on its lone congresswoman this week, what happens here takes on an outsized role.
Wyoming is the reddest of red states. Liz Cheney had no trouble with re-election here in 2020. She won every single county in the entire state except one.
But these Wyoming voters, they love Donald Trump as well.
Trump beat Joe Biden overwhelmingly with 70 percent of the vote. The question now, what happens to Cheney?
Do you think it does come down to, who do you like better, Liz Cheney or Donald Trump?
MAX NICHOLSON, ROCK SPRINGS RESIDENT: Unfortunately, I do think there is a lot of that. There is a lot of anger and dissatisfaction and Trump has found a way to tap into that.
RADDATZ: Rock Springs resident and lifelong Republican, Max Nicholson (ph), says the GOP is putting loyally to Trump over legislative record.
NICHOLSON: I don't think there's anybody in the House who has a more conservative voting record than Liz Cheney.
RADDATZ: But cattle rancher Drew Hartley (ph) says Cheney’s record aside, she has gone too far.
DREW HARTLEY, CATTLE RANCHER: Hearing her rhetoric about her dislike for him really has, I would say put a bad taste in my mouth, but it's made me to where she's dividing the party.
RADDATZ: The Republican Party today is Donald Trump's party.
HARTLEY: I liked his principles, I liked his values in that respect and the things that he -- the results that he produced, but I didn't always like what he had to say. A little -- a little kindness goes a long way and he -- he could have displayed that a lot more often.
RADDATZ: So when you hear Donald Trump say the election was stolen, what do you think of that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he's entitled to his opinion. I mean, that's the best thing I can say to that.
RADDATZ (voice over): Dennis Loughlin (ph), the owner of a Harley Davidson dealership in Green River, who identifies as a libertarian, isn't bothered by Trump's questioning of the election either.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the media has twisted and turned things and made the narrative fit whatever they wanted to the point that we'll never know. I'd put it up there with, you know, who shot JFK.
RADDATZ (on camera): So Wyoming loved Liz Cheney before. We'll see what happens next. But they really love Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the fracturing of the Republican Party and the fracturing of what's happened here in the state of Wyoming.
RADDATZ (voice over): State Senator Wendy Schuler (ph) likes Trump but didn't like how Cheney was ousted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's been a pretty good warrior for the Republican Party and a pretty good leader. And she's done some great things for Wyoming. And I think she just wasn't Trumpy enough, if that's a good way to put it.
RADDATZ (on camera): It certainly bothers Liz Cheney that Donald Trump continues to say the election was stolen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm -- I'm not sure yet what I believe on that. I think she's kind of stayed in the past and I think he has. And I think it would be better for both of them if we just move on and let's see what we can do to -- to -- to make our country better and united.
RADDATZ: Liz Cheney sat for an interview Friday with our chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl, and he began by asking about the selection of Elise Stefanik as her replacement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: What does it say about the party choosing somebody to replace you who was effectively chosen by Donald Trump and is saying what he's been saying, that -- those very lies that you're talking about?
REP. LIZ CHENEY, (R) WYOMING: I think it's dangerous. I think that -- that we have to recognize how quickly things can unravel. We have to recognize what it means for the nation to have a former president who has not conceded and who continues to suggest that our electoral system cannot function, cannot do the will of the people. To -- to cause that kind of questioning about our process, frankly, it's the same kinds of things that the Chinese Communist Party says about democracy: that it's a failed system, that America is a failed nation. I won't be part of that. And I think it's very important for Republicans who won't be part of that to stand up and speak out.
KARL: When you say dangerous -- dangerous, how? Are you suggesting that January 6th could happen again, or maybe, maybe something worse?
CHENEY: I think there's no question. I mean, you know, we've now seen the consequences. We've -- we've seen how far the president, the -- President Trump was willing to go. We've seen not only his, his provocation of the attack, but his refusal to send help when it was needed, his refusal to immediately say, ‘stop.’ And that in and of itself, in my view, was a very clear violation of his oath and of his duty.
KARL: Now, the speaker, along with at least one Republican, key Republican, have announced an agreement on a commission to look into what happened on January 6th. Should Kevin McCarthy be willing to speak, testify before that commission? After all, he is one of the few people that we know of that was actually talking to Donald Trump while the attack was taking place.
CHENEY: He absolutely should, and I wouldn't be surprised if he were subpoenaed. I think that he very clearly and said publicly that he's got information about the president's state of mind that day.
KARL: So you would welcome a subpoena for Kevin McCarthy to testify to that commission?
CHENEY: I would anticipate that. I would hope he doesn't require a subpoena, but I wouldn't be surprised if he, if he were subpoenaed.
KARL: How many of your colleagues actually believe that stuff, actually believe the election was stolen?
CHENEY: I think it's a relatively small number.
KARL: Adam Kinzinger says it's a handful. Is that, do you think that’s right?
CHENEY: I think that's probably right.
KARL: So they're just saying it to placate Donald Trump?
CHENEY: You know, I think that we as a party are in a situation with respect to the former president that is really dangerous.
KARL: Did you vote for Donald Trump in 2020?
CHENEY: I did.
KARL: Do you regret that vote?
CHENEY: Look, I think that the --
KARL: I mean, how could you not regret that vote, given what's happened?
CHENEY: Yeah. I mean, look, I was never going to support Joe Biden, and I do regret the vote. I think that it was a vote based on policy, based on, sort of, substance and what I know in terms of the kinds of policies he put forward that were good for the country, but that I -- I think it is fair to say I regret the vote.
KARL: If the Republican Party nominates Donald Trump in 2024, could you stay in a Republican Party that decides that he should be the nominee again?
CHENEY: I will do everything that I can to make sure he's not the nominee and, you know, everything necessary to make sure that he never gets anywhere close to the Oval Office again.
KARL: But would you remain in the party if he were the nominee?
CHENEY: I will not support him and will do everything I can to make sure that doesn't happen.
KARL: How concerned should Republicans be about the fact that you've lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections?
CHENEY: Very concerned. I think that -- that as a party, we really do have to say, ‘What do we stand for? What do we believe in?’ And we also have to stop -- and look, I think the Democrats need to stop doing this, too -- we have to stop incentivizing unserious behavior among our elected officials. We have to stop incentivizing vitriol. We have to stop incentivizing people to, to show up here and think, you know, the goal is to be a social media star.
KARL: Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, talking about you, said, “‘She who thinks she leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.’ Liz, I am afraid you are only a woman taking a walk.” Does she have a point? I mean, there was really nobody that came to your defense. I mean, there were a couple of members, Adam Kinzinger, Ken Buck. You were -- you were pretty much alone on this.
CHENEY: Well, I think that it is very important to stand up for what's right. I know that there are many members who have expressed concern about their own security. And I think that's an important point to think about as well, that we now live in a country where members' votes are affected because they're worried about their security, they're worried about threats on their lives. So I think that's part of it. But but, look, you know, there's no question but that at this moment, the majority of the Republican Party is not where I am. But it's my responsibility as an elected official, it's my responsibility as a leader to lead and, and to tell the truth.
KARL: You know, I've seen other Republicans over the past four and a half years who stood up to Donald Trump. Jeff Flake comes to mind. Bob Corker comes to mind. There are others, and they're gone. I mean, he won, they came out, they made the statement, they stood up to him and they were effectively run out of Republican politics. How, or -- why will it be any different with you?
CHENEY: One thing that makes it different is January 6th. This isn't about policy. It's not about whether you like his tweets or you don't like his tweets. It's about the attack on the Capitol. And the fundamental attack and continued -- and that's important -- continued assault on the foundations of the republic. You know, once January 6th happened, that that's the end. And that has been, I think, the most disappointing thing to me, that that more of my colleagues have not been willing to stand up and say that can never happen again.
KARL: Well, in fact, what we heard this week is we saw members of the Republican Party in the House basically deny it happened. We saw one Republican congressman say that the -- that the protesters were orderly. Another one said they saw no evidence that Trump supporters were actually among the rioters. I mean, what does it say that some are able to erase the memory of what happened on January 6th?
CHENEY: It's indefensible. I will never forget seeing the law enforcement officers, the members of the SWAT team, the rapid response forces, seeing them and their exhaustion. And they had been through hand-to-hand combat and -- and, you know, people died. And the notion that this is just, you know -- the notion that this was somehow a tourist event is disgraceful and despicable. And, you know, I won't be part of whitewashing what happened on January 6. Nobody should be part of it. And people ought to be held accountable.
KARL: What was your experience on that day during the riot? Did you feel like you were in danger?
CHENEY: One thing I will never forget, I was on the aisle and I looked across the aisle. Jamie Raskin was sitting on the other side of the aisle, and you could hear the mob coming. And he looked at me and he showed me his phone, and he said, “Liz, there's a Confederate flag flying in the Rotunda.” And that moment of -- this cannot be happening in the United States of America.
KARL: Jim Jordan, talking about a possible Trump 2024 run, said there's no way he is losing. He's going to win the Republican primary and he's going to be president if he decides to run. Now, based on today's facts, he's right, isn't he, about the primary part, at least? I mean, there's nobody -- there's not even a close second out there, is there?
CHENEY: I think Jim's wrong. It's not the first time Jim has been wrong, and I'm sure it won’t be the last time. But, but he is wrong. And I think there are millions and millions of Republicans who won't let that happen again.
KARL: What will it take for you to run for president?
CHENEY: I am right now focused on my reelection in Wyoming --
KARL: I understand, of course you are and you very much need to be --
CHENEY: That’s right, thank you --
KARL: But what would it take for you to run for president?
CHENEY: Look, as I said --
KARL: I heard you on the radio in New Hampshire today, (CROSSTALK) so it's not too far out of your mind.
CHENEY: Look, I think it's really important that we as Republicans be in a position where we can present to our voters, to my voters in Wyoming and to our voters across the country, a set of issues and policies that -- that reflect conservative principles. But also hope and opportunity and inspiration.
KARL: Would your father like to see you run?
CHENEY: Well, yeah, but he's my dad, so. (LAUGHTER) He's not objective.
KARL: Good point.
RADDATZ: And Jon Karl joins us now.
Jon, is Liz Cheney really considering a run for president in 2024?
KARL: It sure sounds that way to me, Martha.
I mean, first of all, she was joking a bit about her father, but her father is her most important political adviser. And she told me that he does want her to run.
And, look, she believes that Donald Trump poses a threat,Well, not just to the Republican Party, but to the country. She needs a platform to be able to make that case. A run for president is such a platform.
But she has a much bigger and more immediate problem, and that is reelection in Wyoming, as you heard from those Wyoming voters. And I put some of what those voters told you directly to her and said, how would she respond? She said she will go across the state, she will talk directly to some of the very people you spoke to.
And she says: "I think the issue really is the ongoing and continued threat that the former president is posing."
That is a tough argument to make in Wyoming, which Donald Trump won by -- with 70 percent of the votes, and still, by all counts, remains very, very popular.
RADDATZ: Indeed, he is. I saw it myself.
RADDATZ: Thanks so much, Jon. A great interview.
Our roundtable joins me live on set next.
We will be right back.
RADDATZ: Our powerhouse team live, on set, in person.
The roundtable is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): I wanted to thank my colleagues for the opportunity to serve as the House Republican conference chair. I have prioritized listening to all members of our Republican conference, and my focus is on unity because that's what the American people, and that's what our voters deserve.
I also want to thank President Trump for his support. He is a critical part of our Republican team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: Elise Stefanik, the new number three in the House Republican conference.
Let's talk about that and more with our roundtable: chief justice correspondent Pierre Thomas, chief White House correspondent Cecilia Vega, chief congressional correspondent Rachel Scott, and senior White House correspondent Mary Bruce.
It's so great to see you all face to face, and on set this morning.
And, Rachel, I want to -- I want to start with you. We all listened to Jon's interview. We heard from those voters in Wyoming.
You're on Capitol Hill covering Liz Cheney every day. You heard her earlier. She's going to do everything possible to stop a political comeback by Donald Trump.
Is that really possible, or is she just doing herself in?
RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Martha, I think in a lot of ways this is a Republican Party that has actually moved closer to Donald Trump since January 6th. So, on Capitol Hill, I was asking Republican after Republican this week, including Senator Lindsey Graham, can the Republicans win back the House and the Senate without Trump? And I got one-word answers, no.
And so, if you look across the country, you see Trump’s influence. You see it in the type of laws that are being passed when it comes to voting rights from state to state. You see it in the type of candidates that are winning these special elections.
And I think you also see it in the backlash that the Republicans who were criticizing Trump are getting back home. Mitt Romney booed, Liz Cheney censured.
So, yes, she may be emboldened, but Trump still has the grip on this party.
RADDATZ: And, Cecilia, you obviously covered the Trump White House. You’re covering the Biden White House. What's happening with Cheney is really at its core about the truth.
CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It has been so fascinating to watch the Republicans this week kind of twist themselves into these creative knots and use this word salad to avoid saying that Biden fairly won this White House, and what they're doing and this is as you said, they now created this red line for anyone, any Republican in their party who dares to go out and say that Biden was duly elected. That's really dangerous for them going forward given the contradiction that it creates.
They’ve got to go out now and try to win votes, given this case that they’ve made, that the system fundamentally is flawed.
I think Lindsey Graham actually said it best this week when he said that -- he basically put it out there and is not hiding anything. He said, Republicans would be crazy to walk away from Donald Trump. If he left the party, he believes they would take half of the party with him.
So, now, they're in this kind of quagmire. Do they stick with this? And it seems like they're going to. This is very much the party of Donald Trump, and the big lie.
RADDATZ: And, Mary Bruce, so what does Joe Biden do about it?
MARY BRUCE, ABC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is a very good question. I mean, this is certainly a far, far cry from the Republican Party that Biden often brags about being able to work with when he was a senator. The White House when pressed on this will say, look. Biden has a record of working with people when disagree with him, but this is different from that.
I mean, I think the big question is, how do you work with an opposing party -- how does Biden work with them when they still continue to perpetuate this lie that he wasn’t legitimately elected?
I mean, it was political whiplash this week to see Kevin McCarthy lead the charge to kick out Liz Cheney for telling the truth about Trump. And then just hours later, he's sitting in the Oval Office trying to hammer out a bipartisan infrastructure deal. And then he comes out and tries to claim to all of us reporters there at the White House that no one is questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election. That's just blatantly not true.
I mean, I think time will tell whether this will make it less likely than it already is that the Republicans and Democrats in this White House can work together. But what we do know is that every single day, the Republicans are consumed by this kind of infighting is a day that they are not united fighting against Joe Biden, and that's a good thing for this president.
RADDATZ: Democrats and Republicans were united, finally worked out an agreement to investigate the January 6th attack. There are Republicans, however, who are still downplaying this. But will that commission -- will that -- will that investigation merit any changes within the Republican Party, do you think?
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Martha, it needs to because we found out that lies have consequences. And I had the difficult job of talking to some of those officers who were there that day, who fought the insurrectionists. One officer talked about being called the N-word times in the U.S. Capitol. Another officer talked about being in a medieval fight, literally, where some of the insurrectionists were yelling, kill him with his own gun.
So this commission needs to do the work, and they need to get answers because lies have real consequences.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR: But -- but, Pierre, I -- I will go back on that. They know that. There are a lot of Republicans who already know that. So do you think that commission will change any minds? Will -- will it change the tenor of what they're saying?
THOMAS: You know, transparency can be disinfectant. And to the degree they can get those images out there yet again, to the degree they can get those questions answered and talked (ph), it would be interesting to have some of those officers come and testify before the commission. I think that would make a world of a difference where they could look those officers in the eyes and let them tell them what happened.
RADDATZ: And -- and, Cecilia, there does seem to be some traction on infrastructure. The president does continue to talk to Republicans. But he has set that sort of unofficial date of Memorial Day for getting this done. Is that really a possibility?
CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Are you asking me if we're going to have another infrastructure week after Memorial Day?
RADDATZ: Or -- or maybe next -- maybe next Memorial Day, right?
VEGA: All of that infrastructuring (ph).
Well, at this point, they can't even agree on what infrastructure actually is. The Democrats clearly want this to be this big, broad brush strokes of infrastructure. Things like, you know, free pre-k, home health care. Democrat -- Republicans say infrastructure is basically bridges and roads.
Memorial Day is in just two weeks. Look, I think when you talk to people privately, both on The Hill and in the White House, there is a consensus that right now they feel like more progress has been made on this front than ever before. I think this week, this coming week, the next few days are going to be very telling. Essentially what happened after this meeting that Mary was talking about was the president said, OK, everybody go back to their respective sides. Republicans, come back, bring me your new proposal. And -- and sincerely folks feel like -- like perhaps they are inching towards something. I think Memorial Day is probably pretty optimistic, but there is a -- a consensus privately among some Democrats, at least in the White House, that they are going to have to start to peel off and -- and separate this -- this human infrastructure, the universal pre-k, things like that.
But, you know, there is an issue among Democrats on Capitol Hill. They're saying we cannot forsake these main issues and our -- these priorities in our party for the sake of bipartisanship. So even if the president agrees to -- to compromise on some of these things, he's still got to go back and deal with -- with these issues in the party as to whether they -- they want to fund these separately and go at it alone.
RADDATZ: And, Mary, are you seeing changes? Are you seeing bipartisanship?
MARY BRUCE, ABC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean there certainly is more of a willingness and more of an effort to try and get something done here than we saw, for instance, during the first COVID relief bill that they -- the last big negotiations. And the president has signaled a willingness at least to negotiate the scope and how to pay for all of this. And this week will be a huge test for this when -- when Republicans come back with that counterproposal.
But I think the question then becomes, how are you going to pay for all of this? You know, the president has made clear he's not going to budge on those human infrastructure aspects. Maybe you do see a skinny bill that's just focused on roads, rails and bridges, the traditional infrastructure that Republicans want. But Republicans are making it clear, they are not going to raise taxes on the most wealthy to pay. So the -- so the question then becomes to Joe Biden, are you willing to do a deal here even if the bill isn't fully paid for?
RADDATZ: And -- and, Rachel, you spoke with the very powerful Democratic Senator Joe -- Joe Manchin earlier this week. How much appetite is there among Democrats for a narrower package from your vantage point?
RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and Senator Joe Manchin said exactly what Cecilia just said, now is the time to start separating the traditional infrastructure out from this massive package and work on getting bipartisan support for that.
We heard President Biden keep saying doing nothing is not an option, that maybe Democrats could go at this alone if there is not bipartisan support. But the reality is, is that Senator Joe Manchin wants bipartisan support. So he's going to need to get his own party on the same page first.
RADDATZ: And -- and, Pierre, I -- I want to turn to another very important story this week, and that was the Colonial Pipeline, the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline. It caused fuel shortages. It caused lines in gas lines. Explain how something like this could happen.
THOMAS: Martha, I think this was the week where hacking went from an issue that was the stuff of science fiction and movies and people being a little bit annoyed, to a moment of awakening because people could not get gas, millions of them could not go to a gas station, and the reason was that a group of criminals used software developed by Russians that essentially hack into Colonial Pipeline's computers, allowing them to steal data and also, according to our sources, potentially allowing them to lock up those computers so that the company itself could not use them.
So that company was under enormous pressure to pay a ransom that we are told that was in the low millions.
Now, we don't know all the details of it, and there are various ways and cut-outs that this could have been done.
THOMAS: But I can tell you that my law enforcement sources are stunned at the level of the increase in ransomware attacks, a 300 percent increase in the last year...
THOMAS: ... worth $350 million to...
RADDATZ: Can more be done here? Can more be done? There has to be able to -- or do these companies weigh the risk versus the cost of doing more to stop these attacks?
THOMAS: I think the thing that struck me most in my conversations were law enforcement people telling me, "Pierre, at the end of the day, these companies control how they protect their computers. We can't make them do anything. And in some cases, we can't even make them tell us when they've been hit with a ransomware attack."
So they know that this is going to be a collective effort by the government and private companies to improve security, and they have been warning them for years to take care of this issue. It has not happened. The one thing that the government said that you can expect is that they are -- will go after some of these organizations in terms of their structure and also try to do away with the way that they can get their money.
THOMAS: And, Cecilia, the Biden administration really seemed caught off guard by this as well. So what do they do?
VEGA: Well, the Republicans were certainly quick to point out these mixed messages that came from the White House in the early days of this, where the White House was essentially saying there weren't even supply shortages, and there were.
Look, the White House was -- this was a full-fledged public relations campaign, all hands on deck. They brought in the big names, Cabinet officials, into the briefing room. The president was briefed every day. The last thing this administration wanted was to see long lines and images of folks lined up at gas pumps with gas shortages.
But I think Pierre -- what Pierre is saying is exactly right. What this really exposed this week for all of Washington, including this White House, was how limited government is in what they can do with these private companies when it comes to forcing them to beef up their cybersecurity efforts.
Because, reportedly, Colonial, it took four days for them to even have substantive conversations with authorities. And when you talk to folks in the White House and in the administration privately, they were very frustrated by that.
So you saw the reaction -- you asked what can the president can do. He's trying. They signed this -- he signed this very lengthy executive order. But, you know, the reality is the administration, the government, is limited in scope in how much they can force these companies to beef up these networks. So they're really, sort of, at the -- it's at the whim of these companies to do more.
RADDATZ: It -- it certainly is. OK. The round table is sticking around with us. But, first, further escalation overnight as the violence between Israelis and Palestinians enters a second week. We're live on the ground with the very latest.
RADDATZ: A live look at the destruction in Israel amid another day of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. We'll go straight to the scene in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Is Prime Minister Netanyahu doing enough to stop this violence there from escalating?
BIDEN: There has not been a significant overreaction.
The question is, how do they get to a point where there is a significant reduction in the attacks?
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): This is about an imbalance of power. The president and many other figures this week stated that Israel has a right to defense.
But do Palestinians have a right to survive?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: President Biden and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighing in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There were new attacks overnight after the president spoke to leaders of both sides about the recent violence, which has left nearly 200 dead, most of them Palestinian.
Our chief national correspondent, Matt Gutman, is on the scene in Israel with the latest.
Matt, it looks like you're right in the middle of it.
MATT GUTMAN, ABC NEWS CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A rocket exploded about 20 yards from where we're standing right now.
The majority of the population of Israel, Martha, has experienced the sirens and the explosions. The family here was having its Sabbath meal. They heard the sirens, managed to sprint to a bomb shelter. But a man across the street was killed.
Now, civilians on both sides have borne the brunt of this, overnight, the fiercest Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip that we have seen so far, Palestinian health officials reporting more than 33 dead, the majority of them women and children.
Parts of Gaza today, Martha, look like a moonscape, dozens of buildings flattened. But one of them, in particular, drew intense international condemnation against Israel. That tower block you are seeing housed Al-Jazeera, the Associated Press, and many other international media agencies. Israel says it was targeting Hamas installations, but it has provided no evidence of that.
And perhaps encapsulating the misery that we have seen in Gaza is the story of Muhammad Hadidi. You can see him right there atop that pile of debris screaming out, wailing. He was told that he lost his wife and five children in that building. But, an hour later, he was led into a Gaza hospital, and there was his sole surviving family member, 5-month-old Omar.
Now, Israel is telling us that the pace and intensity of rocket attacks is unprecedented, nearly 3,000 so far, five times what it was in the previous conflict.
But now we're starting to hear murmurs from the Israeli military that this campaign is not going to be indefinite, that it might only last a few more days -- Martha.
RADDATZ: We will keep our eye on that, Matt. Thanks so much for joining us there this morning.
More from the roundtable and the foreign policy crisis facing the new administration.
We will be right back.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: Cecilia, Pierre, Mary and Rachel, back with us in just 60 seconds.
RADDATZ: And we're back now with more from the roundtable.
Cecilia, let's pick up where Matt Gutman left off.
Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner were behind the so-called Abraham Accords between Israel and some Arab neighbors.
Donald Trump said that would mean the dawn of a new Middle East. But that certainly has not happened.
CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and this was something that was seen as a huge -- at least among Republicans, anyway -- a huge feather in the cap of Donald Trump when it came to international diplomacy and Middle East issues. The president said this was the foundation for comprehensive peace potentially in the entire region.
You know, it wasn't just the Republicans, though. The Biden administration supported this. Tony Blinken came out and said that this was something he would like to see expanded and have other Arab nations in the region join.
I think a lot of experts are seeing what's happening now given all the violence and think the likelihood of more countries joining on to these accords is slim to none.
What we're seeing from the bidden administration right now is they are walking this very fine line. They are very much pushing private diplomatic diplomacy. That is -- that is their goal right now. But a lot of folks are very critical of the administration, particularly in their own party. You're seeing folks like Bernie Sanders come out and not happy with the president. They would like to see them take a more forceful tone in support of Palestine and the issues that are happening in Gaza right now. But right now you're seeing a very traditional approach from -- from the Biden administration.
RADDATZ: And -- and, Mary, if this escalates and -- and Matt said he thought it might die down in the next few days, he's hearing rumblings of that. But if this escalates, do they have a plan?
MARY BRUCE, ABC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're going to need to come up with something more. I think, so far, when we've pressed them on this, as Cecilia notes, they've been really pointing to these behind the scenes conversations. I mean, look, it's no secret that this was not high on Joe Biden's priority list, right? He made very clear coming into office he was going to focus far more on his domestic agenda when it comes to foreign policy, far more focused on things like competing with China.
I mean the biggest change that we've seen in the early months of this administration has simply been deprioritizing in many ways the Middle East. While -- while he was critical, Biden was, of many of Donald Trump's policies, he hasn't taken big steps to reverse a lot of them. And they'd had this very muted response this week. It's getting them some pushback. The question now is, how long can this really last?
RADDATZ: And -- and, Rachel, Cecilia alluded to it, but there is this big divide on Capitol on hill on how to approach especially Israel.
RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and even Sen. Bob Menendez, who has big one of the strongest supporters of Israel, came out and said that the killing of Palestinians in the area is deeply troubling. And on the House floor this week we saw these fiery and really emotional speeches.
We played that soundbite from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pushing back against this idea of, Israel has the right to defend itself, instead saying that we should be asking ourselves whether Palestinians have the right to survive. And then Rashida Tlaib, this is very personal for her. She is Palestinian. She has family in the area. She says when you read those White House statements and the statements from President Biden and the secretary of state, it's almost as if the suffering of Palestinians doesn't even exist.
RADDATZ: This is something I have covered for 30 years, and it is just the ugliest cycle over and over again.
And -- and, Pierre, I -- I want to end with you here. Security officials are obviously watching this closely. There have been protests in support largely of -- of the Palestinians. Are -- are officials worried that this could spread?
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There's always the potential of spillover effect. And some officials are quietly very concerned that ISIS and/or al Qaeda might try to exploit the situation.
RADDATZ: And -- and -- and what do they see now? I -- I mean ISIS and al Qaeda, but throughout the region, more protests?
THOMAS: It's really the lone wolf effect that people who are identified with the Palestinians, for example will be frustrated, angry, and then they might try to do something here at home.
RADDATZ: OK. Thanks so much.
It is great to be back together again. But that's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Have a great day.