A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, March 7, 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.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Help is on the way.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS ANCHOR (voice-over): Nearly $2 trillion in COVID relief passes the Senate, after a marathon debate, millions awaiting a financial lifeline, as America marks one year battling COVID.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We are at a critical nexus.
RADDATZ: Vaccine production ramping up.
BIDEN: We're now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May.
RADDATZ: More than a dozen states relaxing restrictions.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): All businesses are allowed to open 100 percent.
RADDATZ: Is it too much too soon?
DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I wish Texas, Mississippi, other states would just hold off.
RADDATZ: Fears over what this rollback means for America's fight against the virus.
We cover it all this morning with Senator Joe Manchin, a crucial swing vote, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, and Dr. Ashish Jha.
LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We demand the right to protect our troops.
RADDATZ: President Biden reshaping foreign policy, facing mounting challenges in the Middle East.
(on camera): I want to talk about Saudi.
(voice-over): My wide-ranging conversation with America's new defense secretary, Lloyd Austin.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."
Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."
It's hard to believe, but it was one year ago that we were enjoying the last week of normal, people packed into sporting events and political rallies, eating in a restaurant less than six feet apart, in the days and weeks to come, major sports leagues and theaters going dark, the first stay-at-home orders going into effect, the pandemic paralyzing life as we knew it, the chilling death toll predictions beginning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. DEBORAH BIRX, FMR. WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: A hundred thousand to 200,000. And we think that that is the range.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Nearly 12 months later, the virus has taken more than half-a-million lives, and there are more than 28 million U.S. cases.
But with the country now averaging two million vaccine doses administered per day, there is also reason for hope. And Americans are itching to get back to normal, at least 14 states recently rolling back restrictions, Texas and Mississippi lifting their mask mandates.
Public health experts caution it's still too soon, and a wave of rollbacks could risk any ground we have gained.
At the center of this push and pull over public health, the economy, once booming, now battered by the pandemic. This morning, Americans are one step closer to more financial relief, after the Senate passed a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill yesterday.
The package includes another round of direct payments, although fewer Americans will qualify for the $1,400 payments. Unemployment benefits will be extended through September 6, but will be $100 less than what President Biden wanted, at $300 a week.
The bill also provides $130 billion for schools and $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments.
But it almost didn't happen. With no Republican support, marathon negotiations ensued, as Democrats worked to keep their party unified in an evenly divided Senate, moderate Senator Joe Manchin a critical swing vote at the center of it all.
And Senator Manchin joins me now.
Senator, you brought the Senate to a standstill for 10 hours on Friday, threatened to side with Republicans, and did not budge until a call from the president and significant concessions were made.
In the end, you got $300 a month, instead for $400, for benefits. So, in this pandemic economy, you don't think people need more money?
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Well, first of all, Martha, it's good to be with you, OK?
And next of all, I didn't do anything intentionally whatsoever. I did everything I could to bring us together, so we would have more support, and the public will get the needed help that's needed.
We have so many different ways that we're helping the public with this piece of legislation. It's not that I don't think -- I think that, basically, what would have happened, going from $300 to $400, there's going to be a glitch where people are going to go without an employment checks for a while; $300 kept us systematically and kept a smooth transition through there.
Also, we did things with child tax credits that we've never done before, which I'm so proud of, because we're going to help families with children, lift children out of poverty.
Also, Martha, this was a targeted piece of legislation. It was because people need the help. And we helped every scenario. Also, we targeted our cities, our counties, our municipalities to where they’re going to be, the first time, having money that they’re able to use and control their own destiny with infrastructure, they can fix water lines now, sewer lines, they can get internet.
We’ve done so much and we’ve extended this. This was all part of the big package and I always try to work with my Democrat colleagues, my caucus, and my Republican friends. And there was an awful lot of input for over the last month.
RADDATZ: Senator, we know you are all about bipartisanship, but President Biden did not get a single Republican vote for a relief package in the middle of a pandemic, so at this point doesn't bipartisanship seem like a false hope?
MANCHIN: Not at all, Martha. The first group of people that President Biden brought to the White House was 10 of my friends and colleagues, 10 Republicans, to see what their idea was. He -- they came out with a proposal, he thought we needed to do a lot more, which that is his prerogative and I support him with that, but with that, we had an awful lot of input from Republican friends all through this process.
A lot of the changes that we made that were basically brought into this process came by working with my Republican and Democrat colleagues together. There were about 20 of us that work continuously.
So they had a tremendous amount of input. They just couldn’t get there at the end. And the President Biden encouraged them to be involved all the way through. He spoke to them all the way up to the end. So I know that. I know in his heart and he will continue to reach out, that's just who he is.
RADDATZ: You know, political rope (ph) that your outsized (ph) influence has cast its shadow over the Senate since the day the Democrats captured their 50/50 majority. They're talking about this, they're talking about minimum wage, cabinet appointments, if they're not getting bipartisan support, which they aren’t no matter how many meetings they have, do the Democrats now have to cater to Joe Manchin’s agenda?
MANCHIN: No, not at all. No. I didn't lobby for this position. I’ve never changed, Martha. I'm the same person I have been all my life and since I’ve been in the public offices, I’m the same. I've been voting the same way for the last 10 years.
I look for that moderate middle. The commonsense that comes with the moderate middle is who I am. That's what people expect. My state of West Virginia they know me, they know how I’ve governed. I’ve tried to basically represent them in the best of my ability.
These are hardworking, good, commonsense people, that's what I want and that’s what I can try to -- I try to do.
You've got to work a little bit harder when we have this toxic atmosphere and the divisions that we have and the tribal mentality. Martha, that's not to be acceptable. You’ve got to work hard and fight that -- fight against those urges just to cloister in with your group and say, well, this is where I am. I always want that moderate middle to be able to work and that's where you govern from. That’s where you run your life from.
RADDATZ: Let's talk about the minimum wage. You and other seven other Democratic senators voted against Bernie Sanders' amendment that would have increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Here's what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said about that.
(Begin Video Clip)
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We agree with Senator Sanders and the president’s going to be standing right alongside him, fighting for an increase in the minimum wage to $15. And he will use his political capital to get that done.
(End Video Clip)
RADDATZ: You have your own proposal to increase the minimum wage to $11, so is Joe Biden wasting his political capital on you to get to $15?
MANCHIN: Martha, not at all. President Joe Biden knows how to get a deal done, and the bottom-line is there is not one senator out of 100 that doesn't want to raise the minimum wage. $7.25 is sinfully low. We must raise it.
I agree with President Biden when he says, if you go to work every day, you should be above the poverty guidelines. Well, the poverty guidelines, to be above that if you’re going to work and working full time, should be at $11 base. That should be your base and then we index it with inflation to make sure that it never gets back in this political conundrum we have right now.
It shouldn't be a political football. We do the same thing with Social Security. We index that to make sure that inflation and make sure that it moves forward with the CPI, we can do the same.
Now, we have a deal here to be made, if everyone agrees it should be raised. Bernie has chosen $15 and, you know what, an awful lot of areas and states have moved to $15. A lot of them moved a lot further than $7.25. There’s very few, I would think if any, are at $7.25. But we need to base -- the base of our minimum wage should be above the poverty guideline so you have the respect and dignity of work.
And that's what we're going to do. And I think you’ll find us come to an agreement. We'll work this out and move forward, the way it should be. And it should be together.
RADDATZ: Senator, we'll be watching that.
I want to turn finally to Governor Cuomo. You were a former governor. Overnight, more stories about Governor Cuomo with several staffers telling The Washington Post that it was a toxic, hostile work environment for decades. Also accusations of sexual harassment and you know about the debacle at the nursing homes.
Do you think it’s time for Governor Cuomo to resign, to step down?
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): These are serious allegations. I understand. I understand there’s an investigation. And we should wait until the investigation is finished.
I’ve seen a rush to judgment before and I think the investigation should proceed and make a decision later. And that’s what I would hope that everyone would do and allow this process to go through, allow the investigation to be completed, allow the person to be able to defend themselves and tell their story too.
That is the way our process -- that’s who we are as a country. The rule of law is our bedrock and everyone deserves that opportunity.
RADDATZ: Thanks so much for joining us this morning, Senator Manchin.
MANCHIN: Thank you, Martha. Thanks for having me.
RADDATZ: Now to the push by some governors to relax coronavirus restrictions. This morning, our new ABC News/Ipsos poll shows more than half of Americans think relaxing mask mandates is happening too quickly. But as the pace of vaccinations picks up and cases and hospitalizations keep falling, governors are speeding up reopenings,
Ohio's Governor Mike DeWine joins me now to discuss his approach.
I want to get what you're doing in Ohio in a moment, Governor, but I want to first talk about what is happening with your fellow governors in Texas, Mississippi, who are ending their mask mandates, opening up the states' businesses, restaurants to 100 percent despite advice from the CDC. Are they making a mistake?
GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Well, Martha, I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues in Texas and Mississippi. You know, we're trying to do it the Ohio way. And you know with the vaccine, we're now on the offense, that's the great thing.
But in Ohio, we can't give up the defense. We have found that these masks work exceedingly well. Schools are a prime example.
We've seen it in retail. Ninety-three percent of Ohioans when they go into a retail establishment are wearing masks, so they've done a phenomenal job.
Our teachers have done a phenomenal job in school. Kids wearing masks every single day, we know that this makes a huge, huge difference. So, as we push forward to vaccinate as people as we can, we -- as of close of business tomorrow, we'll probably be over 2 million Ohioans who gotten the first dose and, you know, about a million who got the second dose. So, we're moving very quickly in regard to that. And, you know, every day gets better and better and better.
But as we're doing that, we can't give up the defense and so we've got to, you know, continue to do that. We've set a metric, we put a goal out there, when we got to 50 cases per 100,000 for every two weeks, that's what the epidemiologists that we consulted said, when we get down to that figure, then we'll be able to take the health orders off.
But we’re a ways from that but we’re moving forward.
RADDATZ: Governor, I want to ask you whether you thought it was a political decision by Governor Abbott to do what he's done.
DEWINE: Martha, I can't -- you know, I don't know what's going on in Texas. I got one state to worry about. That's Ohio. And that’s -- that's a full-time job.
RADDATZ: Okay, well, let's talk about that. You have also faced pressure to end the mask mandate. You were a conservative. Your constituents know the risks now.
What’s wrong with the argument that people will make up their own minds?
DEWINE: Martha, throughout this, we’ve really learned a lot. You know, when this started a year ago, no one had a clue how effective these masks were. We have seen it, we actually tested it in schools. You know, we've seen it even when kids are closer than 6 feet apart in schools, when they’re all wearing a mask, virtually no spread in that school and that classroom, so we know it.
When we put the mask order on and actually started enforcing it, we started -- we saw a significant drop in cases, a slow down. So we've seen it throughout this last year, these masks really, really work and we're still at a, you know, fairly high level. We're at 179 cases per 100,000 for two weeks. That is over the high incidence level. High incidence level, according to CDC, is 100 cases.
Now, we've come down a lot. In December, we were over 700.
RADDATZ: Governor, I --
DEWINE: So, I’m optimistic about where we’re going. But, Martha, it’s not time to do it yet.
RADDATZ: I want to talk about schools.
In Ohio, all teachers and staff qualified to be vaccinated and 95 percent of students are back in the classroom now. But in Cleveland, where students have not been in the classroom in a year, the teachers unions just voted to continue remote learning, even though all teachers and personnel who wanted to be vaccinated have been. They were given priority over others because of their jobs and yet still do not want to go back to the classroom.
What are you doing to resolve that?
DEWINE: Well, Martha, I talked to the CEO two days ago. You know, he believes that this will get worked out. I think it's going to get worked out. I like to look at the glass as 95 percent full because, you know, if you go back at the beginning of this year, half of our kids in Ohio were totally remote. Today, 95 percent of them are in class. So we're excited about where we are.
We made a deal. Like, candidly, you said it absolutely correctly, we told the schools, if you will go back by March 1 -- and a lot of our schools, our rural schools, have been in -- all year long. But I'm talking about the ones, some of our urban kids, many of our urban kids have been out of school for one whole year. We had to get them back. Absolutely urgent that we did. So we -- frankly, we made a deal. We said, look, if you will -- if you will go back into school, and -- and we made them all sign a paper and we made the superintendents and the CEOs sign a paper, if you go back in school, promise by March 1, we will vaccinate everyone in your school that wants to. And it's worked exceedingly well and it's safe because we're vaccinating the teachers. They need to go back.
RADDATZ: OK, thanks so much for joining us again this morning, Governor. Always good to see you.
DEWINE: Thank you, Martha.
Let's analyze all this with Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health.
Good morning, Doctor.
I'm curious what you would say about teachers who have been fully vaccinated not wanting to go back to the classroom, even though they took vaccinations as a priority.
ASHISH JHA, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH DEAN: Yes. So, good morning, Martha. Thanks for having me on.
You know, we have figured out how to make schools safe. And I think we have lots of evidence that with mask wearing and -- and reasonable ventilations schools can be very safe places.
I've also advocated for teachers' vaccination as an added layer of protection. And I believe most teachers are going to be perfectly willing to go back. It's safe for them. It's safe for the kids.
There may always be some outliers. But we have to deal with that. I think there's no question of public health and safety when we think about vaccinated teachers in schools with good policies.
RADDATZ: And let's talk about lifting those restrictions, like in Texas. I have a lot of friends in Texas and they will tell you lifting the mask mandate, it's OK, we're not telling people they can't wear a mask. Everyone can make up their own minds. But I can't help thinking of those restaurant workers in a packed restaurant who have no choice if they want to keep their jobs or the healthcare workers. I imagine you have the same concerns and more.
JHA: Yes, you know, what's interesting about the mask mandate is, this is not just about personal choice, right? It's like, when I -- if I were to drink and get behind the wheel of a car, it's not just a personal choice that I'd be putting my life at risk, I'd be putting other people's lives at risk. That's why we have laws against that kind of behavior.
When you wear a mask, you're not just protecting yourself, you're protecting people around you. And while infection numbers are high, it is absolutely the responsible thing to do to keep those mask mandates in place. That's what public health is about. And I believe states should be very careful about them.
They can ease them, absolutely. But when numbers come down, when more people are vaccinated, that's the time to be easing them, not right now.
RADDATZ: And, Doctor, you and other public health experts have given these recommendations endlessly over the last year. And there are many who just ignore it. So how does what you have seen this week and these states that are now opening things up change your calculus on how soon the country gets back to normal, assuming the vaccines stay on track?
JHA: Well, first of all, I remain very optimistic about what the summer will bring. And I think we'll have plenty of vaccines for everybody and most Americans will have gotten vaccinated by the summer. Life will be meaningfully better.
The moves this week by governors of Texas and Mississippi really do two things. I think they can slow down our timeline of when things get back to normal and then also they obviously put a lot of people in those states at risk of getting infected and dying. And given how close we are to the finish line, anybody who gets infected today and dies in three or four weeks is somebody who would have gotten vaccinated a month from now. This is why it's urgent to just keep going for a little bit longer.
I think a lot of these restrictions can start coming down later April, certainly by May, but not right now.
RADDATZ: OK, thanks. Great advice, as always, Dr. Jha.
Up next, my wide-ranging interview with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on the U.S. response to those rocket attacks in Iraq and his plans to address extremism in the military.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN: I understand and respect the reservations that some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense.
The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil. I spent my entire life committed to that principle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Retired General Lloyd Austin at his confirmation hearing to become the nation's first black defense secretary. Now on the job just over six weeks, we sat down to discuss the obstacles facing the military across the Middle East, the COVID pandemic and extremism within the ranks.
But I began by asking him about his transition from Army four-star general to civilian chief of the armed forces.
RADDATZ (voice over): Lloyd Austin's years in uniform stretched from the halls of West Point to the battlefields of Iraq, where I shared a ride out of Baghdad with him back in 2011.
(on camera): How does your combat experience, your 41 years in uniform, guide you now as a civilian leader?
AUSTIN: You certainly come into the position with a -- a great appreciation for the complexities of combat, and you also have an appreciation for the impact that combat has not only the country that you're fighting in but also on the resources of the countries that are actually fighting.
You know, we want to lead with diplomacy in every case, but if deterrence falls and you must fight, you fight to win. And so you want to make sure that your -- your troops are properly resourced, properly trained and focused the right way so that they cannot only win but win decisively.
RADDATZ (voice over): During his 41 years in the Army, it was not just combat that tested Austin. He broke through many racial barriers along the way.
AUSTIN: I can remember going to a bus station with my mother and looking at the restrooms that were male, female, and colored. That's, kind of, how we started -- how I started as a child. And to rise to -- to be able to rise to a position of secretary of defense in my lifetime is quite incredible.
Well, you have to ask yourself, you know, why it took so long to have an African-American secretary of defense.
What we want to make sure happens going forward is that I am not the last African-American secretary of defense, that we create those opportunities in our ranks for African-Americans and Hispanics to rise to the very highest ranks in our military.
RADDATZ (voice-over): And, to that end, battling extremism is high on his agenda.
(on camera): I want to turn to January 6.
More than 40 veterans have been arrested from that day. You have asked for a one-day stand-down for everyone to talk about extremism. What are you hearing in terms of extremism in the ranks?
AUSTIN: I just got an initial brief back from -- from our service secretaries on how they're conducting the stand-down, and they're all going about it in a bit of a different way, as you would expect. Great initiative, and they're all doing great work.
They're having some really in-depth conversations with their troops on values, on the oath that we took, on the importance of unit cohesion. This is not about political parties or political beliefs. This is behavior that can really tear at the fabric of our institution.
And so we want to make sure that our troops are reminded of what our values are, reminded of the oath that we took coming in. And my belief, my strong belief, Martha, is that 99.9 percent of our troops embrace those values, and are focused on the right things, and are doing the right things each and every day.
RADDATZ: I want to move to Iraq.
This week, we saw a second significant attack with those 10 rockets. Do you know who did it? And what kind of responses might we expect?
AUSTIN: Well, we're still developing the intelligence. We're encouraging the Iraqis to move as fast as they can to investigate the incident. And they are doing that.
But you can expect that we will always hold people accountable for their acts. We want to make sure that, again, we understand who's responsible for this. The message to those that would carry out such an attack is that: Expect us to do what's necessary to defend ourselves.
We will strike, if that's what we think we need to do, at a time and place of our own choosing. We demand the right to protect our troops.
RADDATZ: Has Iran been given the message that this is not an escalation, when we retaliate?
AUSTIN: I think Iran is fully capable of assessing the strike and the -- our activities, and they will draw their own conclusions.
But what they should draw from this, again, is that we're going to defend our troops, and our response will be thoughtful, it will be appropriate. We would hope that they would choose to do the right things.
RADDATZ: And I want to talk about Saudi.
You said last week you had a good call with your counterpart, the defense minister, who happens to be Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, who the U.S. said had approved the kill or capture of Jamal Khashoggi.
How do you deal with a counterpart like that?
AUSTIN: Our president has been clear that we will have a different type of relationship with the Saudis going forward.
And it doesn't mean that it won't be a good relationship. I fully expect that it will be a good relationship, but it will be a bit different.
My focus is to defend this country and protect our interests. And Saudi is -- from my perspective, it is a -- it is a strategic partner in the region. And, certainly, we have security commitments in that area. And it's necessary that we're going to have to work together to make sure that we achieve our goals and objectives.
But I think, just because you have a good strategic relationship with an ally or partner, it doesn't mean that you can't hold them accountable for various things.
RADDATZ: He was not sanctioned. He was not punished.
AUSTIN: Everything that we're -- that we do, as -- in the U.S., we're going to lead with our values, but we're going to protect our interests.
RADDATZ: And, on China, you just published your priorities for the force, and you specifically call out China.
AUSTIN: China has been busy modernizing its military and developing capabilities and trying to close the competitive edge that we have always enjoyed.
They have also been very aggressive in the region. In some cases, they have been coercive. And some of that coercion has been directed against our allies. And our allies are very important to us.
RADDATZ: You also said in your priorities that the greatest domestic threat to our security is COVID.
I know that FEMA has asked for 100 teams to go out there. You're up at about 18. What can we expect in the coming weeks?
AUSTIN: The military has significant capability, capacity, and we can add speed and skill to anything that we endeavor to take part in. I’ve been out to visit our troops that are out there vaccinating, and it's really remarkable to see not only how our troops feel about what they're doing but also how the American public responds to the interaction with our troops, it's just amazing. Just fantastic.
RADDATZ: Thanks very much, Secretary.
AUSTIN: Thanks, Martha
RADDATZ: And our thanks to Secretary Austin.
The roundtable is next. We'll be right back.
RADDATZ: The roundtable is standing by ready to go. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Message to Texas and Mississippi? Texas and Mississippi.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope everybody's realized by now these masks make a difference. The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking at -- in the meantime, everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): We are still urging people to continue to wear the mask, to continue to use the safe practices that they have mastered over the past year. They don't need an order from Austin, Texas, telling them what to do. They know the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS CO-ANCHOR: The debate over relaxing COVID restrictions heating up across the country this week.
Let's talk about that and more with our roundtable. Chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl, correspondent Karen Travers, who covers the White House for us, "Nightline" co-anchor Byron Pitts, and Punchbowl News CEO and founder Anna Palmer.
It's great to see all of you.
And, Jon, I've got to start with you.
I talked to Senator Joe Manchin, as you saw earlier. As we said, he was at the center of it all on Friday, paralyzing the Senate for hours. We know the president personally lobbied him more than once this day. Joe Biden is the president. And whether Joe Manchin will admit it or not, is he the most powerful man in Washington right now?
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe Manchin looked a bit like the most powerful man in Washington. He was able to tie up the Senate, get the changes that he wanted.
Look, a 50/50 Senate, any member of the majority party who was willing to buck the minority and talk to the minority, as he is willing to talk to Republicans, even consider jumping ship, takes the majority with him if he does.
So -- but, no, Martha, the most powerful person in Washington is Joe Biden and he is that not just because he's president, but because of Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff. The victories for the Democrats in Georgia mean the Democrats control the Senate, it means that Joe Biden got a $1.9 trillion -- or is about to get a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. They don't win those seats. Mitch McConnell is the co-author of that bill. And it's not $1.9 trillion. It doesn't have the priorities that Biden dictated. It is a bill that is effectively co-written by Mitch McConnell.
SO, thanks to those Senate races, Joe Biden is very much the most powerful person in Washington, whatever Joe Manchin does.
RADDATZ: Joe Biden will be happy to hear that.
Anna, Senate Democrats have a majority technically, but it's as slim as it possibly could be. Passing this required complete unity among their caucus. Is that sustainable? Do you believe it's sustainable? How often will moderate Democrats, like Manchin, be a thorn in Biden's side, even if he's the not (ph) -- the most powerful man in Washington?
ANNA PALMER, CEO AND FOUNDER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: I think it's going to be very difficult. This is Joe Biden's top priority. Clearly the full weight of the White House was behind it, pushing Manchin at the end. But it is going to be really tough. When you look at any of the other priorities going forward, infrastructure, a jobs bill, potentially something on immigration or climate, it becomes very, very tricky when you look at this 50/50 Senate, particularly where some of the moderates are.
You know, Joe Biden has called for a lot of unity, a lot of bipartisanship and I just don't see that happening. I think you're going to have a lot of party-line issues and the real question's going to be, what can pass the Senate but then what can also pass the House, which is much more progressive and you're going to have progressives pushing Nancy Pelosi to keep things as liberal or as progressive as possible.
RADDATZ: And, Karen, Republicans said the price tag of this bill was too high, arguing that we haven't even seen the full impact of the last COVID stimulus package. Combine that with Friday's more positive than expected jobs report. Does the economy really need all that money?
KAREN TRAVERS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Martha, the White House says yes. And President Biden used that jobs report on Friday as part of his last-minute sales pitch to get members of Congress to vote for that COVID relief plan. The president and the White House will say that the U.S. economy is still 9.5 million jobs short of where we were at this time last year and that at the rate we're going it's going to take two years to get back to full strength. So they say this money is very necessary to get it to the pockets of people who need it the most right now and also to boost the economy.
And, Martha, the one thing we heard from White House officials and the president over the last couple of weeks is that the real risk here was not going too small, but -- you know, not going too big but going too small but -- you know, not going too big but going too small on this, that they've looked back at the lessons of years past and felt that they needed to go big and also use this bill to try and push forward on democratic priorities, to try and address child care subsidies, poverty, things like that.
TRAVERS: That's why Republicans, Martha, were calling it a "liberal wish list" and were saying it was just too expensive; it's not necessary. And the big thing they, of course, were talking about is how much it would add to the deficit. Economists were also saying there is a big risk of inflation by putting this much money back into the economy.
RADDATZ: And, Byron, despite Biden's bipartisanship pledge, Democrats passed this bill through the reconciliation process, meaning, of course, they'd only need 51 votes and could therefore get it done without GOP support.
How much of a risk was that for Biden as he now turns to other legislative priorities? Can he get Republican support for other policies like -- like infrastructure, or will Democrats have to use reconciliation again?
PITTS: Well, Martha, you would think they'll have to use reconciliation again. And at this point, I mean, this was the easiest thing one would argue for Joe Biden. He has issues like police reform, transgender rights, things on which moderate Democrats, conservative Democrats and certainly the Republican Party will oppose.
So, yeah, it's -- it's -- if he couldn't get this, bipartisanship support for this, I can't imagine a scenario by which he'll get Republicans to support things that are bigger issues for the liberal portion of the Democratic Party.
RADDATZ: And, Jon, Democrats didn't get the minimum wage into this package, either, not just a huge priority for progressives but obviously Joe Biden. Are -- are progressive demands doable at all?
KARL: I think there's more that can be done. But -- but first consider the $1.9 trillion bill. This is the most aggressive, most well-funded anti-poverty program that we have seen in more than a generation; did not get the $15 minimum wage.
But I don't think that that issue is dead, Martha. Joe Manchin, who is one reason they couldn't get it through, is saying that he's in favor of an $11 minimum wage.
I think you have a lot of Republicans who agree that it's just time to raise the minimum wage, weren't comfortable to go all the way to $15. So I see a potential compromise there.
And I don't think this will be the last reconciliation bill. I think that -- that Democrats may go back to the well on that once, maybe twice more, even potentially on a big infrastructure bill.
So, no, I -- think Biden has -- has more opportunities out there. But, look, this isn't just a 50-50 Senate. This is the closest divided House that we have seen in -- in many, many years, just five seats away from a Republican majority in the House. So it's going to be difficult, no doubt.
RADDATZ: And, Karen, we heard President Biden talk about those moves to roll back health restrictions in Texas, Mississippi. He called them "Neanderthal moves." He got some blow-back for that.
You talk to people across the country, out there in radio land. What are they seeing? What are they saying about these mask mandates and what's happening in places like Texas and Mississippi?
TRAVERS: You know, Martha, it was really telling to me that the president's comments, that "Neanderthal" comment there, did not really get a lot of attention this week on ABC radio stations. It did not blow up into a controversy like maybe it would have if former President Trump had said it.
The White House did not apologize for that statement. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president was expressing his frustration, that people had been sacrificing for a year and not getting good guidance on what they should be doing.
But the White House also acknowledges that the president can make a strong statement like that, but he has very limited authority to tell these governors what to do. He can't tell them to stay closed; he can't tell them to reopen.
The president has said he wants to see Americans stay masked up for his first 100 days in office. And this is a priority as vaccines are increasing.
There was a CDC study last week, Martha, that said that mask mandates did lead to a decrease in COVID cases and deaths, and reopening on-site dining led to an increase in cases and deaths. That's what the White House will point to, to say it is too soon to start doing this. Essentially, we're on the five-yard line, getting ready to go into the end zone here; don't let up right now while vaccines are increasing across the country.
RADDATZ: And, Byron, the president called, essentially, Governor Abbott a Neanderthal, but Abbott came right back and threw immigration in his face, and was saying that immigrants are crossing and bringing COVID into the country.
PITTS: Margaret (sic), that -- that is a battle that will only intensify. You know, at "Nightline," we've spent a lot of time reporting on immigration, what's going on now at the border in Mexico. People who support Joe Biden want him to remain strong, even stronger, when it comes to immigration.
I mean, it -- it is a battle that's brewing that will only intensify, I think, in the months -- in the months to come. I think most people who supported Joe Biden, or at least those who support greater immigration reform, were offended by that comment, this notion that, once again, immigrants are being blamed for the problems that exist in this country.
RADDATZ: But, Anna, border crossings are rising. This is going to be a big issue in the coming months, in the coming weeks. What does Joe Biden do about that? Is this going to be a big challenge for him?
PALMER: I think it's definitely going to be a big challenge for him, because, at the same time he's trying to get House Democrats to start taking up his big immigration reform plan, that seems to not be going anywhere.
They're going to try to take smaller pieces with the dreamers, pathway to citizenship for certain workers. But this is going to be an issue for him, particularly on these border states, as we try to reopen as a country, as we try to get the economy back going.
I think, for Biden, this is a thorny issue, immigration reform. Republicans and Democrats haven't been further apart, I know, I don't think in the last 10 years or so in terms of how to solve this problem. The question is going to be, can he try to get Republicans and Democrats at all on the same page?
Because while you could see an infrastructure bill on reconciliation, you're not going to be able to see that with immigration reform.
RADDATZ: And, Jon, I want to turn to the guy who used to cover in the White House.
Former President Trump gave his first major address a week ago now, speaking to CPAC in Orlando. He continues to talk about perhaps a 2024 run, but in a straw poll at the conference, only 68 percent said they wanted him to run again, a good indication of where his base is, I believe.
How do Republican officials really feel about this?
KARL: Yes, and only 55 percent said that they would choose him -- chose him in the straw poll as the candidate for 2024.
Look, Republicans are -- Republican leaders are worried about what he's going to do. Just look at the last day or so, Martha. First thing he did is, he sent a letter, a cease-and-desist letter, to the Republican National Committee and to the congressional campaign committees, telling them that they cannot use the name Donald Trump without his permission.
So, it's unusual to see the leader of the party send a cease-and-desist letter to the party leadership. But, also, he's telling people in Mar-a-Lago that he is going to support a challenger to Lisa Murkowski, among others. But Lisa Murkowski is who he is talking about over the weekend, a primary challenge to Lisa Murkowski.
Now, he may need to learn that there isn't actually a primary in Alaska. It's one of these where it's no party primary. It's all of the candidates -- the top four candidates go on to run. And Murkowski has already been through this. She won as a write-in candidate. I don't think she's particularly worried.
But that kind of talk of challenging incumbent senators certainly has Republicans like Mitch McConnell worried.
RADDATZ: And, Karen, I want to turn to Governor Cuomo.
You heard what we said earlier about Governor Cuomo, but, overnight, big breaking stories that many staffers said it was a hostile, toxic work environment. We have several women coming forward saying they were sexually harassed.
Can he survive this?
TRAVERS: You know, Martha, 2022 November, when he would be up for another reelection, is a very long time away in today's political climate.
And if you look at the controversies over the last couple of years, from the former president to other governors, there's almost a sense that, if you wait it out long enough, dig in, not apologize, another controversy will come up. And that seems to be what Governor Cuomo is hoping to do.
But you're right. There more stories coming out now. Every day, there's another headline. Even the governor's closest allies and advisers say best-case scenario right now is that he can survive this term and decides not to run again and just walks away.
Now, if he does decide to run, Martha, he is certainly going to get a primary challenge, one that is far more formidable than what he has had in the past. So, that could be somebody like the New York attorney general, who is leading this investigation right now. It is going to be a very different climate for him over the next year.
Martha, the White House does not want to touch this. They just say that there's an investigation and that all of these women should have their stories heard.
RADDATZ: And, Byron, I want to end -- end quickly, if we can, on the passing of Vernon Jordan this week, someone you knew well. He'd worked for Democratic presidents for many, many years.
Just some final thoughts.
PITTS: Martha, Vernon Jordan was the bespoke suit version of John Lewis.
John Lewis got in good trouble in the streets of America. Vernon Jordan got into good trouble in corporate boardrooms and also in courtrooms. He was part of the legal team that desegregated the University of Georgia.
There are so many black African-Americans who are on corporate boards now across this nation because of the work of VernonJordan.
RADDATZ: Thanks so much, all of you, this morning.
Coming up: the never-before-heard audio recordings from inside the Johnson White House, offering up stunning new revelations about one of the nation's most consequential chapters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUBTITLE: Who was the first African-American woman elected to Congress?
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me what your life has been like since your election?
REP. SHIRLEY CHISHOLM (D-NY): I think that after everyone gets over the fact that this historical event has occurred in this country, that life would simmer down a bit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC’S “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: Imagine being a witness to history every single day behind the walls of the West Wing, better yet, having more than a hundred hours of recordings to prove it.
In a new book and podcast out this month, we're learning fascinating new details of Lyndon Johnson's presidency from none other than Lady Bird Johnson, revealed to be one of the most influential members of her husband's administration. Her story full of surprises.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON, FORMER FIRST LADY: I come in here with some of my work that isn't so demanding and wait for Lyndon to come home from his work.
RADDATZ (voice over): History remembers her as a poised and proper first lady, who stood solemnly by her husband, Lyndon Johnson, as he was sworn in as president on one of the nation's darkest days.
LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss.
RADDATZ: But now the reality of who Lady Bird Johnson was and the vital role she played in her husband's administration revealed in a new podcast from ABC News. "In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson" draws from more than 123 hours of audio diaries, most of them never before heard by the public.
She began recordings the diaries just days after President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON: Mrs. Kennedy's dress was stained with blood. That immaculate woman. Exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood.
RADDATZ: And it was Jackie Kennedy who prepared Lady Bird to assume the role she held just days prior.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON: She went on to say a lot of things, like, don't be frightened of this house. Some of the happiest years of my marriage have been spent here.
RADDATZ: Lady Bird saying being first lady was like being on stage, playing a part she never rehearsed, but it was a role she carried out with tact. As the Johnson administration pushed for racial equality, it became Lady Bird's priority, too.
She traveled through eight southern states promoting the Civil Rights Act, the first solo whistle stop tour by a first lady.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON: So this Democratic challenge by a president and his wife, (INAUDIBLE) is a respected and valued and beloved part of this country.
RADDATZ: After her husband handily won the 1964 election, she became the first first lady to hold the Bible for the oath of office.
The Vietnam War weighed heavily on President Johnson's second term, and tanked his popularity. It was Lady Bird who played a key part in Johnson's decision not to run in 1968, helping draft his speech, even coaching him as he prepared to drop the bombshell announcement.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON: I went to him and said quietly, remember, pacing and drama.
LYNDON JOHNSON: I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.
RADDATZ: Lady Bird left Washington, leaving ripple effects still felt today, a legacy only now fully coming to light.
Lady Bird Johnson, in her own words, all these years later. "In Plain Sight" is available now wherever you get your podcasts with new episodes dropping Mondays.
That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT," and have a great day.