'This Week' Transcript 2-7-21: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Roger Wicker
This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, Feb. 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.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR (voice-over): Biden's beginning.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to act. I'm going to act fast.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Prioritizing COVID relief.
BIDEN: We can't do too much here. We can do too little.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Executive action on climate change, health care and immigration.
BIDEN: I'm not making new law. I'm eliminating bad policy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: New direction on foreign policy.
BIDEN: America is back. Diplomacy is back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Trump on trial.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We're here to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Impeaching a president who lives in Florida who's out of office is unconstitutional.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Senate set to try a former president for the first time.
We cover it all with Secretary Pete Buttigieg from the Biden administration, Republican Senator Roger Wicker, our legal experts, plus insight and analysis from our powerhouse roundtable.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."
Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."
On this Super Bowl Sunday, in his third week in office, President Biden is matching a mild tone with a bold agenda, moving to undo President Trump's legacy with executive orders, address the pandemic with legislative action.
What he's unlikely to get, at least not at first, Republican support, the promise of bipartisanship more aspiration than reality right now.
And for now, our new poll with Ipsos shows Americans narrowly favor that approach; 49 percent think President Biden should work to pass his nearly $2 trillion aid package with just Democratic votes. Forty percent favor a smaller relief bill with bipartisan support. A solid two-thirds endorse the president's overall response to the COVID crisis.
Chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl starts us off.
And, Jon, the emphasis in these first weeks of the Biden presidency, speed.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, George.No doubt. Joe Biden has worked with remarkable speed to take down some of the central pillars of the Trump presidency in just two weeks. Consider just a few of the issues. Immigration. He has lifted the cap on refugees, moved to reunite some of those families separated at the border, stopped construction of the border wall, dropped the travel ban on majority-Muslim countries, and reinstated DACA.
Then, on climate, he's rejoined the Paris climate accords, paused new oil and gas leases, halted construction of the Keystone pipeline, and he's reestablished climate change -- combating climate change as a central national security priority.
Then, look at COVID relief, this perhaps the most significant area. He has gone with his mask mandates, and he has rejoined the World Health Organization.
And, George, he has done all of this through executive action, a more aggressive use of executive action than even what we saw with Donald Trump or Barack Obama. He has not had to wait for Congress.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Jon, he has had meetings with Republican senators, but it's pretty clear that there is not going to be Republican support for this COVID relief package.
And this shows, George -- when you saw Kamala Harris cast that tiebreaking vote for the budget resolution, you saw just how those two run-off elections in the Senate races in Georgia have really changed the course of the Biden presidency. He does not need Republican support. He can go ahead with this $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, the biggest legislative priority he has, without a single Republican vote.
His biggest challenge is going to be keeping all the Democrats on line. But the bottom line is, he doesn't actually need Republicans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the president did promise during his campaign that he would help unify the country, that he would try for bipartisan approaches.
He also said the Republicans would have an epiphany once he's elected and come around.
KARL: Not exactly an epiphany, but it is remarkable, George, that, even through all of this, Biden has managed to have so far a pretty good relationship with Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate.
The two, I am told, speak regularly. And if you look at the Biden Cabinet, we have only had six of his nominees confirmed so far, but all six of them have had Republican support, at least some Republican support. And Mitch McConnell has voted for all of them, except for Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas.
And I also think it was significant, at least symbolically, George, that the very first meeting that Joe Biden had with members of Congress in the Oval Office was with a group of Senate Republicans.
STEPHANOPOULOS : Jon Karl, thanks very, very much.
Let's bring in one of those new Cabinet secretaries. Pete Buttigieg joins us now, the new transportation secretary.
Secretary Buttigieg, thanks for joining us this morning.
We just heard Jon Karl say there that there's no margin for error on the Democratic side on this COVID relief bill. Any single senator can derail it.
Are you confident Democrats can hang together to get this done?
BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Yes, because it’s so important and because the American people want this to happen.
Look, each passing day the need for relief becomes more urgent, ensuring that we have the resources to defeat this virus, but also to support American working families. And by the way, that's not just a unifying priority for the Democratic coalition. That's something that has a remarkably large degree of support among Republicans, at least among Republican voters, Republican mayors. We're hoping that will also show up among Republican legislators here in Washington, but of course, that's what the next few days will show.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What you’re hearing from Republicans is the size of the package is just too big, and it's not just Republicans saying that. Larry Summers, NEC Director for President Obama, Treasury Secretary for President Clinton argued this week that it's too big, the economy doesn't need it.
And then he added this. He said, “If the stimulus proposal is enacted, Congress will have committed 15 percent of GDP with essentially no increase in public investment to address these challenges. After resolving the coronavirus crisis, how will political and economic space be found for the public investments that should be the nation's highest priority?”
What he's arguing is that he’s going -- what we're going to put at risk is the ambitious infrastructure investment you’re pushing as transportation secretary.
BUTTIGIEG: There's no question that we have to do many things at once. And if you look at the way the economists have responded to this proposal, you know, you've seen economic advisers from the last four administrations -- think about what that means. That's Clinton, Bush, Obama and even Trump, saying that we need to do this.
You've got Moody’s saying that we could have 4 million fewer jobs if we don’t act now. And we're operating in a time of historically low interest rates. This is a moment where the greatest risk we could take, as the president has said, is not the risk of doing too much, it's the risk of doing too little.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You also, again -- and that's what you’re hearing from a lot of progressive Democrats as well. One of your fellow candidates last year, Bernie Sanders, Senator Bernie Sanders is addressing the $1,400 stimulus payments to each family. President Biden said he's firm on the $1,400, but might be lowering the income threshold.
Here's what the senator had to say about that, “I strongly oppose lowering income eligibility for direct payments from $75,000 to $50,000 for individuals and $150,000 to $100,000 for couples. In these difficult times, all working class people deserve the full $1,400. Last I heard, someone making $55,000 a year is not rich.”
BUTTIGIEG: It's a really good point from the senator. Look, you've got hardworking families out there, you got an ER nurse or a firefighter in that 60 (ph) range. I think it's really important that we are taking care of working families. That's obviously something that is being discussed in this process going back-and-forth with Congress, and there needs to be robust support.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if that's what it takes to pass the bill, lowering the threshold, it's worth it?
BUTTIGIEG: Look, there's active conversation going on right now obviously, but the bottom line is we’ve got to support as many Americans as we can as robustly as we can, and as quickly as we can. Time is of the essence.
And part of what was a real struggle the last time we faced a major economic challenge in 2009, was a sense that there needed to -- if there had been more political will in Washington to do more, the economy might have recovered more quickly.
If you look at the jobs numbers, about half of those 20-some million jobs that we lost haven't come back. We are in much more precarious situation than we were a decade ago. We’ve got to act.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re transportation secretary. The airlines are warning that we're going to see massive furloughs next month if the Payroll Protection Program is allowed to expire. Is it a mistake not to include that extension in President Biden’s COVID relief package?
BUTTIGIEG: So we’ve been speaking with airline workers and carriers across the country. There is a lot of concern. So many Americans depend on the aviation industry for their livelihood, and we welcome the conversation that’s going on right now.
Again, speaking with Congress too. Remember there was decisive action earlier in order to make sure that airlines are supported now in this package. That's something that we need to do and get right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're going to do it right away even if it's not included in this package? Wouldn't it be more efficient to include it in this package now?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, look, that's part of the conversation going on in the administration and with Congress over a package that has many different elements, but I can tell you this ask from the aviation sector is being taken very seriously.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about your broader agenda in transportation. You want to have an ambitious infrastructure program. Everyone always says they're for investing in infrastructure, Republicans and Democrats alike, but talks usually break down over how to pay for it.
How do you avoid that trap this time around?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think the thing we've got to remember is that this is a classic example of the kind of investment that can pay for itself. The kinds of resources that we put into our roads, our bridges, now into things like digital infrastructure too, into rails, ports, and aviation. Those pay back enormously for the American people.
Now, over really more than just the last administration, but the last couple, there's been gathering and growing momentum. I certainly heard it in the confirmation process where Republicans and Democrats were talking about infrastructure investment priorities. But now, we also have a historic moment on our hands where we’ve realized just how critical these needs are. We can't keep kicking the can down the road and while it's not going to be easy to come to terms on exactly how to sustainably fund it, we know once again, with the economic urgency, the interest rate environment and the gathering political will that we can actually make this happen.
And I think it's a great example of bipartisan priority. And if we get it right, it might pull other things along too.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What have you heard from Republicans that this gives you hope? And are you concerned that this impeachment trial coming up this week is going to complicate the progress on President Biden's agenda?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, I was really struck going into the confirmation process, just how many Republicans wanted to talk about the things we should be investing in, the things we should be improving, and had a lot of different ideas about how to make sure we pay for it. I’m not saying it'll be easy, but there’s a reason that we haven't been able to do it yet.
But you can feel the energy, the -- frankly impatience after the idea of infrastructure week turning into a punch line again and again in Washington, about making sure that this is an infrastructure year that sets us up for a successful decade.
And look, the Congress has many constitutional duties. Those duties all run at the same time as each other, but delivering on infrastructure for the American people is certainly part of that responsibility.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A year ago, you were riding pretty high in New Hampshire during the presidential campaign. Did you imagine a year later, you’d be transportation secretary?
BUTTIGIEG: It's amazing how much can change in a year, but I’m absolutely delighted to be actually involved in governing. You know, we spent so much time, that whole political cycle talking about what we might do, what we could do, what we should do, what we would like to do, and now we're actually doing it.
Again, it's not going to be easy. We know what we're up against as a country, but I’m absolutely thrilled to be in the seat doing the work and with the Biden/Harris administration that is serious about making infrastructure happen.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Buttigieg, thanks for your time this morning.
BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in Republican Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi now.
Senator Wicker, thanks for joining us.
You just heard Secretary Buttigieg right there. What do you see the aspects of bipartisan cooperation this year? It looks like it's pretty much off the table for this COVID relief package.
SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): Well, I look forward to working with Secretary Buttigieg on a transportation infrastructure bill, and I would a whole lot rather be working with him this week on that sort of thing, maybe on a plan like his Republican governor in Indiana was able to get done on a bipartisan basis to pay for major infrastructure piece of legislation rather than going into really a meaningless messaging partisan exercise like impeachment.
But look, I’m ready to work with Secretary Buttigieg. He called me the day he was nominated, and I think -- I think we both want to work on roads and bridges and the passenger rail and Amtrak, and getting that done and paid for in a way that -- that we've done in a bipartisan manner in states like Indiana and Tennessee and Alabama.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned impeachment. I want to get to that, but on the COVID relief bill. You said back in December, more stimulus would be needed if the job situation doesn't improve.
It hasn't improved at all. More than 200,000 jobs lost in December. Only 49,000 jobs gained in February.
Isn't action still necessary?
WICKER: Well, I think Republicans are -- are willing to spend between $600 billion and $700 billion more.
You know, on five occasions in 2020, Republicans in the Senate, Democrats in the House came together with the administration and passed five COVID relief packages. They were all done not only on a bipartisan basis, but with near unanimous support with the House and Senate.
Only this year after the president began his administration with a very hopeful speech about bipartisanship and unity, only this year have we somehow gotten to a point where this new president is saying, $1.9 billion, no ifs, ands, or buts, and a group of ten Republicans come to talk to him the first chance he’s had to meet with congressional leaders in his administration, and really more of the White House staff than the president absolutely rejected any of their proposals --
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator, doesn't that work --
WICKER: -- the relief.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Doesn't that work -- doesn't -- doesn't that work both ways? Under -- under President Trump Democrats supported these big proposals. Why won't Republicans support them for President Biden?
WICKER: Well, I think you -- you have to look at what the situation is. And I'm glad you mentioned Larry Summers. He was Treasury secretary under Clinton. He was Council of the Economic Advisers under -- under Obama. And -- and he cautions this week and -- and -- and -- and speaks, I think, for a lot of Democrats.
This package is way too big based on the fact that we don't even know how much of the $900 billion from December has already even been obligated, much less spent. And he says this is going to be inflationary, so we need to be careful.
Also, you've got the Congressional Budget Office, which came out a week ago, and this is a bipartisan, non-partisan group. Not -- not the -- the organ of the Republican Party. And basically CBO says that by the end of the year, the unemployment rate's going to be below 5 percent. Purchasing power of American families is going to be way up. And so the economic projections from this bipartisan group argue against something the size of a $1.9 trillion package that also anticipates a big tax hike.
STEPHANOPOULOS: On impeachment -- on impeachment, you just called it meaningless, and I know you believe it's wrong to try a former president, but President Trump was in office when he advanced these false claims, trying to overturn the election. He was in office on January 6th when, as the House managers' brief argues, he, quote, summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Should the president be held accountable for those actions?
WICKER: Well, the -- the -- the question is -- is twofold. Number one, it -- is -- it it constitutional -- does the Constitution anticipate a Senate trial of a president who has left office? And -- and I think the -- the overwhelming weight of -- of history and also precedent indicates that it -- this is not proper.
Richard Nixon was about to be impeached by the House of Representatives during his second term. He resigned from office and impeachment evaporated. I think that's what most people have viewed about impeachment over the course of -- of the decades and the centuries.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, there has been impeachment for --
WICKER: But, also, I would just argue this, George, that --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Go ahead.
WICKER: Their -- the -- there -- there are -- you -- constitutional lawyers can make an argument on either side. I -- I went to law school and I practiced for a while. That's what lawyers do.
But let me also make this other point. And -- and I called on the president-elect, Joe Biden, not -- that -- I -- I called on him to ask that impeachment not occur. And I'll tell you, if President-elect Joe Biden had asked Democrats in the House to forego this route, they would have done so. And I can't think of a more unifying act that he could have done.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But -- but I was asking you, sir --
WICKER: And I think history would have -- would have rewarded him and -- and folks like you would have -- would have said it was a -- it was a wonderfully, unifying gesture.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I was asking you about the president's actions, President Trump's actions. Do you think he should be held accountable for his actions on January 6th and his false claims leading up to January 6th?
WICKER: Well, the question is, should he be convicted in an impeachment trial. And -- and the answer is, no, based on the fact that the Constitution does not anticipate the impeachment trial of a former president.
You know, the Constitution says the chief justice presides over the Senate trial of a president. The -- the fact that the chief justice will not preside next week over this Senate trial speaks volumes about where history (INAUDIBLE).
STEPHANOPOULOS: I -- I understand that argument, sir. We've -- I understand that argument, but I'm asking you about the president's actions, what you think about the president's actions. Do you condone the president's actions? His legal brief says that at all times Donald J. Trump fully and faithfully executed his duties as president of the United States.
Do you agree with that?
WICKER: The -- the -- the charge, George, in the impeachment, in the one article of impeachment, is that -- that he singularly incited a riot to -- to invade the Capitol. And -- and I do not think that will be proved in the trial, no.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think the president should be held accountable for his actions on January 6th?
WICKER: If -- if being held accountable means being impeached by the House and being convicted by the Senate, the answer to that is no. Now, if there are -- if there are other ways, in the court of public opinion, or if some -- if some criminal charge is -- dawns on some prosecutor, perhaps that's -- there's another avenue there. But my role...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you open to censure?
WICKER: ... is to see if the -- if the Constitution provides for the impeachment and trial of a former president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Should he be...
WICKER: And my answer to that is no. And, frankly...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Should he be censured?
WICKER: Forty-five of us voted to -- voted to dismiss the charge. Censure was offered by the minority leader in the House of Representatives. He offered that. It was rejected. And in my view, that -- that ship has sailed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, you -- you voted to impeach President Clinton when you were a House member. And when you did so, you cited John Adams and his -- his hope that "none but honest and wise men inhabit the White House," and then you went on to say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WICKER: Mr. Speaker, it is with great regret that I conclude the current occupant of the White House has utterly failed to live up to this standard. I cast my vote for impeachment to protect the long-term national interests of the United States, to affirm the importance of truth and honesty, and to uphold the rule of law in our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, the president was impeached for lying about on affair. Why is lying about an affair more impeachable than inciting an insurrection?
WICKER: Well, I -- I -- I am not conceding that President Trump incited insurrection. Let me say this. Republicans learned a lot from the impeachment of President Clinton.
President Clinton had been judged to have committed perjury by a judge in the State of Arkansas. Perjury is a felony under the law of every state. And that was the controlling principle that brought me to a yes vote on -- on voting to impeach President Clinton, the fact that a member of the judiciary had determined that he lied under oath, thus committing perjury.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He wasn't convicted of any crime. But, Senator, thanks very much for your time this morning.
Round table's coming up. And up next, a closer look at next week's impeachment trial with our legal team.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: The Senate, having tried Donald John Trump, the president of the United States, upon two articles of impeachment exhibited against him by the House of Representatives, and two-thirds of the senators present not having found him guilty of the charges contained therein, it is therefore ordered and adjudged that the said Donald John Trump be and he is hereby acquitted of the charges in said articles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: First impeachment acquittal one year ago for President Donald Trump. The second trial starts this week.
Let's bring our legal team, chief analyst Dan Abrams and Kate Shaw, professor of constitutional law at Cardozo Law School.
And, Dan, let me begin with you.
You just heard Senator Wicker right there. The Republicans seem like they're going to hold firm on not convicting President Trump. If he's not convicted, you know that President Trump is going to claim vindication. So, a lot of people asking, what's the point?
DAN ABRAMS, ABC NEWS CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think there are a number of reasons to do this.
First of all, the Democrats would say, we don't know the outcome for certain. Number two, they would say that there's a level of accountability that comes from just making the presentation public.
But number three is that the House actually impeached. And you can make a very solid argument that it is now the Senate's duty to move forward with a trial, sort of whether they like it or not, to some degree.
So, I think that those three things taken together -- but remember that it is true that, in the end, I think this is going to be as much for the court of public opinion as it is going to be for those senators, who are both serving as judge and jury.
STEPHANOPOULOS: These arguments -- thank you, Dan -- Kate Shaw, on trying a former president seem to be safe harbors for the Republican senators.
Chief Justice Roberts isn't presiding. That's one reason they say it's unconstitutional. The other, of course, is that President Trump is no longer in office.
KATE SHAW, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: That's right.
So, this timing argument has been made from the beginning of this particular impeachment of President Trump. Remember, actually, George, a year ago when President Trump faced his first impeachment trial, the timing argument was offered in his defense then too, right, that the election was only nine months away, and that the voters should be able to decide, rather than the Senate convicting.
So, it does feel like the argument that it is never the right time to actually potentially hold accountable President Trump has been made time and time again.
But with respect to the Constitution, I think it's pretty clear that the weight of evidence does permit impeachment and trial of a former official. Impeachment is the most serious constitutional remedy for grave presidential misconduct. And it just can't be that presidential misconduct that happens at the end of a term is not subject to that constitutional sanction.
It's also the case that we have impeached former officials previously, although not former presidents. And if you look at constitutional history, the drafters were aware of impeachment of former officials. There was one ongoing in England at the time the Constitution was drafted. And they talked about it at the Constitutional Convention.
So, I think the evidence is actually quite clear that it is permissible under the Constitution to hold a trial like the one we're going to see this week.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Dan, the president's legal brief goes farther than that.
It says that the president had a first -- has a First Amendment right to say what he said on January 6.
ABRAMS: Yes, the First Amendment argument here is pretty frivolous, meaning you can make a serious constitutional argument that the president shouldn't be tried after he leaves office. It's not one that's accepted by most, but it's not a frivolous argument.
The notion that somehow he has a First Amendment right to say whatever he wants whenever he wants isn't serious, meaning that would suggest that we shouldn't have libel laws, we shouldn't have incitement laws.
And putting aside the actual statutes for a moment, in the context of impeachment, of course you can hold against the president what he has said and even what he didn't say and what he didn't do.
So, there are a lot of arguments to be made here. But the First Amendment one, to me, is one of the weakest coming from the Trump team.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Kate Shaw, what the president team is also going to say -- and you heard Senator Wicker echo that -- is that it wasn't necessarily incitement.
Is there a trap for the president's team in denying too many of the claims, given what everybody saw?
SHAW: You know, potentially. I think that insofar, that this an argument that his team is making about what actually transpired on January 6th, maybe that opens the opportunity for a genuine public reckoning with what happened.
You know, a month ago, there was a deadly violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, and in many ways, I think it's striking how little the public actually knows about exactly what happened, you know, both in the days leading up to January 6th but on January 6th itself.
And I think, in particular, the impeachment manager’s brief focuses on the president's action and inaction during the hours of the siege itself, the potential withholding of assistance, the continued efforts to delay final counting of the votes.
So, in some ways, I think his team could make that the focus of the trial and there could be an opportunity for public reckoning, you know, whatever the ultimate vote count turns out to be.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Kate Shaw, Dan Abrams, thanks very much.
I know you’re going to be joining us for our impeachment coverage begins at midday on Tuesday.
And the roundtable is up next.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable is up next. Plus, Nate Silver. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARJORY TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I'm fine with being kicked off of my committees because it would be a waste of my time. You know who I am? I'm a very hard worker. And I'm proud of it.
So now I have a lot of free time on my hands, which means I can talk to a whole lot more people all over this country.
I'm going to be holding the Republican Party accountable in pushing them to the right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Marjorie Taylor Greene there, the Republican member of Congress who was kicked off her committees by a majority in the Congress this week. All the Democrats plus 11 Republicans after a series of statements supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory, even suggesting the assassination of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
One of the things we're going to talk about on our roundtable with Sarah Isgur, a veteran of the Trump administration, now a political analyst for CNN and "The Dispatch," Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University, and our team, Rahm Emanuel and Chris Christie.
And, Sarah, let me begin with you.
You just saw Marjorie Taylor Greene there basically claim this vote as a badge of honor.
SARAH ISGUR, DISPATCH STAFF WRITER: So what's so interesting is that Democrats traditionally would lose seats in 2022 because their party controls the White House. But somehow Republicans have managed not to deal with this in their own caucus, allow Nancy Pelosi to get every Republican on record as either supporting or not supporting Marjorie Taylor Greene. The ads write themselves in the next couple years.
Now, what's so frustrating though is that this incentivizes this exact sort of extremism behavior. Republicans tried to do it with Ilhan Omar and now Democrats are trying to do it with Marjorie Taylor Greene. And we have seen these freshmen congressmen come in, not hire legislative staff, they are just hiring communications staff so that they can continue to get attention and move further and further to the extreme. It's terrible for our country. It's terrible for our politics. And yet, once again, we see it working really well individually for the parties.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Rahm, you served in the House. Was it -- is this precedent something Democrats should have been worried about?
RAHM EMANUEL, (D) FORMER CHICAGO MAYOR: What, the precedent of -- I'm sorry, George, say that again?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Taking -- taking action to kick her off the committees because the Republicans wouldn't do it themselves.
EMANUEL: No. Well, first of all, they should have done it themselves, like they've done with Steven King. They took have taken actions before. And the fact of the matter is, I think they should go father. I mean like the Senate with Joe McCarthy in the '50s, censure him.
I think there is no place, no space for anti-Semitism, and for it to be espoused and -- and accepted. I mean the fact of the matter is, it's not just the face of the Republican Party. That's a perception. That is a cancer in our society represented. And you have 200 plus members of the House Republican caucus supporting that and defending it.
Look, two things that I think are really, really important. In our party, we had the debate in the primary between the revolutionary wings that wanted to do big, bold things, versus reformers. Reformers won and the party's behind them.
You have, in the Republican Party, a battle between conservatives and people that believe in conspiratorial theories. And the conspiratorial theory, which is why Sarah's upset, is winning.
Back in the '60s, Bull Connor (ph) set the dogs on civil rights demonstrators. A year later, Lyndon Johnson passed major civil rights legislation and a day -- and a generation later that same party nominated Barack Obama.
The Republican Party took a step back this week. Rather than deal with anti-Semitism in their midst, a person who espoused racism openly, they actually embraced that person as part of the big tent. They are taking a step back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But House Republicans --
EMANUEL: Yes, the House Republican caucus.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, did House Republicans mishandle it?
EMANUEL: Yes, a hundred percent.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I was asking Chris.
EMANUEL: Because you can't have -- you can't have morals -- a call for moral certainty and moral judgement when you accommodate people who take views that are totally repugnant to the moral space.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, did House Republicans mishandle it?
CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER NJ GOVERNOR: Listen, George, I just don't think as someone who had a wife who was two blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11, who -- both of us who lost friends that day, personal friends, I can't countenance the support of someone who's a 9/11 denier and all of the other things that have been mentioned here this morning that this woman has said and supported and now somehow tries to -- to rationalize.
CHRISTIE: And as far as the future of the party, listen. I welcome a conversation like the conversation that was had back in the '60s and led by people like Ronald Reagan and William Buckley against folks at that time and the John Birch Society, who were trying to do things and move our party in a certain direction.
I think that's a debate that we need to have inside our party, and I feel confident that the result will be the same as it was back then with folks like Reagan and Buckley, real conservatives winning that argument. But it's an argument that obviously we're going to have to have, given some of the things that have happened over the last couple of weeks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Christina, one of the things you heard -- Christina Greer, one of the things you heard on the House floor were Republicans bringing up statements from Ilhan Omar, made anti-Semitic statements in the past. But Maxine Waters -- you're going to hear that name come up in impeachment -- where she was telling crowds to get in the face of Republicans.
CHRISTINA GREER, PROF OF POLI SCI AT FORDHAM UNI: Right. Well, I just think these false equivalencies are a way for the Republican Party to distract from the fact that they are harboring and feeding and promoting conspiracy theorists and real (inaudible).
You know, when we think about someone like Representative Greene, she's come into Congress; the Democrats have Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as their leaders. Who do the Republicans have right now? They've got Representative Greene and they've got Donald Trump, who can no longer tweet.
I mean, is this the future of the party?
And as, I think, the more dangerous pieces, as we look to the strategy of Republicans going to states and seeing how many Republicans on the state level support Representative Greene, how many Republicans on the state level are now censuring quasi-moderate Republicans who are trying to work with Democrats, I think that's a larger, more dangerous question.
This cancer has been in the party for quite some time. Republicans have ignored it. In many ways, they've aided and abetted it. And now they've bred this dragon that they don't know what to do with. And they're trying to still, sort of, sidestep this. The fact that only 11 Republicans voted with the Democrats is shameful, and that's something that they need to reckon with as we continue to reckon with January 6th as well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, you're seeing this sidestepping, and we saw it with Senator Wicker as well, on the question of impeachment. The argument is simply, for most Senate Republicans, is going to be simply this is just not constitutional to try a former president. Is that enough?
CHRISTIE: Well, listen, George. I've said before, you know, my position on this in terms of the conduct, which is what I think needs to be focused on, which was the conduct of the president, not only on January 6th, but in the weeks afterward, I am too troubled by the constitutional question of whether or not removal can really occur after removal has already occurred.
And I think there are lots of other remedies that are available to folks to deal with this. So I think there has to be accountability. I don't know that this is the best way to do it. And I have real questions about it.
So I share those concerns, but it can't be in substitute for also saying that the conduct that went on here is unacceptable for any president of the United States to have engaged in.
And what I mean specifically is, in the 10 weeks after the election, the continued allegation and in fact statement of fact by the president that the election was stolen, when, in fact, there has not been any credible evidence that's been brought forward to show that the election was stolen or that the result was illegitimate.
And continuing to do that from the White House, from behind the seal of the president of the United States, all the way through to the end, we deserve better as a democracy than for that to have been done. And as you know, I have been saying that since election night. And so my view on that hasn't changed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Rahm, as this was happening on January 6th, you raised the prospect of censure. Democrats went down the road of impeachment. Now is the trial. Is it still possible to have some kind of a censure towards the end of the trial, before the conviction vote?
You heard Senator Wicker say that train has already left the station.
EMANUEL: Well, I think it's both constitutionally, and you could obviously have an impeachment trial, send it to committee and then have -- bring up the 14th amendment, third section, which would ban President Trump from running and combine it with a censure.
I think the political system -- the Republican Party doesn't take advice from me; they need it as well, but the entire country needs to put this chapter and be clear, with unambiguous terms, what happened here and what -- the role the president played in inciting a riot and then an insurrection on an equal branch of government is totally unacceptable.
The Republican Party, when Joe McCarthy was a cancer, had a censure in the Senate. Two years later, he was done. They need to -- we need to do this as a country, not Democrats, not just Republicans, us together, that a president of the United States on the closing days cannot endanger the democratic system.
And if an impeachment doesn't work, then do it with both the 14th amendment and a censure that also brings a moral clarity that what he did is wrong.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you see that, Sarah Isgur, getting Republican votes on the floor?
ISGUR: Such a fascinating vote this week, when 145 members voted to retain Liz Cheney and her position. And the difference? It was a secret ballot.
So, obviously, there are not the votes in the Republican Senate Caucus to convict President Trump for his role in what happened on January 6. I think it's a mistake for Republicans, because I think, actually, I agree with Rahm in the limited sense that it would actually be an opportunity for Republicans to distance themselves and move forward.
But there aren't the votes. If it were a secret ballot, I'd be fascinated to see what it would be. But, also, the House managers for the Democrats who are bringing this, the very liberal House managers, made a fascinating argument in 80 pages, all about why you could impeach a former officeholder.
And it's not the arguments they were making, George. It's how they made the arguments. They relied on conservative methods, textualism, originalism, what the words in the Constitution said and how those words would have been interpreted by the founders.
So, I think they have, in fact, made Republicans take a very difficult vote on this impeachment. But there's no world in which they're going to have the votes. There's not going to be a censure either.
And, at some point, the Biden administration will start losing out, because this is taking up legislative time. This is taking up confirmation time for his secretaries. I think that, at some point, unfortunately, the country is just going to have to move on and hope that Congress actually is willing to do their job.
STEPHANOPOULOS: First, what you're going to see, Christina Greer, is, on the floor of the Senate, you're going to see video of January 6 coming back. You're going to see not just an intellectual argument, an emotional argument, from the House managers.
GREER: Right, but we have seen time and time again, George, sadly, that the Republicans are unmoved.
They're unmoved by the Confederate Flag in the -- flying in the halls of the Capitol. They're unmoved by swastikas in the Capitol. They're unmoved by feces and the chants of the insurrectionists, rioters, treasonous anti-patriots, whatever you want to call these individuals. Domestic terrorists is one name as well.
And so, sadly, this -- this desire for Republicans to move on, because we have legislation to do, is not possible, George. We cannot have a democratic republic where this can ever happen again.
This peaceful transition of power that we keep talking about, we had a president that didn't even attend the inauguration and has consistently said that the election was stolen from him, with absolutely no basis, with 60 court cases that have said the opposite, with judges that he put in that office explicitly for that moment, and they would not abandon their ideals, as justices that uphold the Constitution.
So, we are in a crisis. And the faster we want to just move past it, this is what we have always done as a nation. We did it with the genocide of Native Americans. We have done it with the hundreds of years of U.S. chattel slavery. We have done it with how we have treated the Chinese and the Japanese and various immigrants over time.
This is part of our philosophy. And it's also part of our greatest weakness as a nation, as we try and heal and build and move forward in this democratic republic. It's not possible just to try and say, OK, well, that's one thing, and Donald Trump's already out of office, let's just move forward.
We have to walk and chew gum at the same time. Joe Biden has a lot on his plate, with the economy, with the coronavirus, with the vaccine distribution. But we cannot have insurrections. We can't have anti-Semitic folks and white supremacists, domestic terrorists just roaming the halls of the Capitol, where we actually create legislation and create the 21st century ideals of what the democratic republic should look like.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Chris -- so, Chris Christie, how does Joe Biden handle it? How does President Biden handle it?
We see him answering the questions, saying he's not a senator. He's already said that President Trump is unfit for office. How should he proceed during the trial and immediately after?
CHRISTIE: He should let this be handled by the people up on Capitol Hill. I think his answer saying he's not a senator is the right answer.
But let me go back to one other thing, George. The Democrats, I think, made a tactical mistake here for the country by not closing this door on the constitutional argument and going the route of censure and other -- as I said in my earlier answer, other sanctions that could have been placed on this.
And I also want to say, this idea that we didn't have a peaceful transfer of power, we did. And, in fact, everything that Christina just brought up, I think, is proof of how durable and how strong our democracy is.
Judges appointed by both parties rejected these arguments by the president. People went back on the floor of the Congress the night of the attack to validate Joe Biden's election. I have more confidence in America today than I had before January 6, because of the durability and the strength of our institutions.
And I will say this, George. The people who didn't stand up I think will ultimately be held to account by the American people. And that also shows the strength and durability of our democracy.
Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office today. He's signing executive orders. He’s making decisions. He’s giving speeches. He's the president of the United States.
And so, the peaceful transfer of power happened, and I quite frankly don't think Joe Biden cared a lick whether Donald Trump showed up in his inauguration or he didn't in terms of the legitimacy of his presidency, and the peaceful transfer of power happened, and America’s democracy is strong.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is going to be the last word for today. Thank you all very much.
FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver is up next. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If we can get past vaccine hesitancy and we efficiently and effectively get people vaccinated to the tune of maybe 70 percent to 85 percent of the population by the end of the summer, the beginning of the fall, then we will have gotten herd immunity, I believe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: The COVID vaccine effort is ramping up fast, approaching 1.5 million a week, and almost 10 percent of the U.S. population has now received at least one dose. But how much is the vaccine hesitancy Dr. Fauci mentioned holding us back from herd immunity?
Nate Silver analyzes.
NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: So the good news is that some polls show vaccine hesitancy is declining. A Keiser health tracking poll released late last month showed that 47 percent of Americans have either already gotten the vaccine or will get it as soon as they can. It's up quite a bit from 34 percent in December.
Still, 13 percent said they definitely won't get the vaccine and 7 percent said they'll get it only if required to for work, school or other activities. And thirty-one percent want to wait and see how it's working.
It's also a highly partisan issue. While enthusiasm has increased among Democrats and independents, Republicans remain resistant. Thirty-three percent of GOP voters say they won't get the vaccine and will only get it if it's required.
And there are many complications here. Most importantly, that nobody is quite sure where the herd immunity threshold is. It was once commonly estimated that 60 percent of 70 percent of Americans would have to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. But Dr. Fauci has recently said that the number could be 80 percent or higher.
Why? There are new, more contagious variants of the disease that raise the threshold. And while vaccines are extremely effective at preventing death and severe disease, they may still allow for some mild or asymptomatic infections that can be passed along to others.
On the other hand, it's estimated that almost 30 percent of Americans have already had COVID and they likely have some degree of immunity for now, even if they haven't been vaccinated.
The herd immunity threshold may also be seasonal, higher in winter than in the summer.
So I buy that vaccine hesitancy is a problem. Our goal should be to get 100 percent of the population vaccinated so that we're all protected against death and severe disease and not have to gamble on herd immunity, especially black and Hispanic Americans who polls show are more vaccine hesitant, even as this pandemic has hit their communities very hard.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks to Nate for that.
That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us.
Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT," and I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."
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