'This Week' Transcript 3-28-21: White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield, Sen. Dan Sullivan

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, March 28.

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, March 28, 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.


JONATHAN KARL, "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR (voice-over): President Biden's first press conference.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please, please sit down. Thank you.

KARL: Facing a crisis at the border.

QUESTION: Is what's happening inside acceptable to you?

BIDEN: That's a serious question, right? Is it acceptable to me? Come on. That is totally unacceptable.

KARL: And under pressure to act on gun violence.

BIDEN: It's a matter of timing.

KARL: Plus: the battle over voting rights.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): Georgia will take another step to ensuring our elections are secure, accessible and fair.

KARL: Georgia's governor saying the new law will make elections more secure. But with no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud, critics are calling it a way to suppress the vote.

BIDEN: It's an atrocity. This is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting.

KARL: With his agenda on the line, does Biden want to change the way the Senate does business?

BIDEN: We're going to get a lot done. And if we have to, if there's complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we will have to go beyond what I'm talking about.

KARL: We cover it all this morning with White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield and Republican Senator Dan Sullivan, plus our powerhouse roundtable.

And Biden sets a new vaccine goal.

BIDEN: Two hundred million shots in 100 days.

KARL: But the pandemic is far from over.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I'm quite concerned about the rise, because we have seen this pattern before.

KARL: The latest with Dr. Ashish Jha.


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

Here now, chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl.

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

President Biden's first press conference was a reminder of just how much has changed since his predecessor left the White House. Biden, who waited more than two months to have his first press conference, seems to want his policies to take center stage, not himself.

And that may be the most profound difference between the 45th and 46th presidents.

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that public opinion on Biden's work so far varies dramatically depending on the issue.

In a ABC News/Ipsos poll out this morning, Biden has a sky-high approval rating when it comes to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine distribution, and economic recovery. But when it comes to his handling of gun violence and the situation at the border with Mexico, most Americans don't approve.

In other words, President Biden is off to a good start on issues where he has been able to set the agenda, but not so much on issues where the real world has interfered.


BIDEN: Successful electoral politics is the art of possible.

KARL (voice-over): The art of the possible, but the Biden agenda is ambitious, aiming at as big an expansion of government as anything since LBJ's Great Society, although, in his first presidential press conference, President Biden's sought to downplay expectations.

BIDEN: Successful presidents better than me have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they're doing, order it, decide priorities.

KARL: His first priority was COVID relief, next up, something bigger.

BIDEN: Rebuild the infrastructure, both physical and technological infrastructure in this country.

KARL: But, as just about every president learns...

DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: Tonight, breaking news as we come on the air, a gunman opening fire at a grocery store.

KARL: ... the real world imposes its own priorities, with mass shootings in Atlanta and Colorado, pressure yet again to act on gun safety and mental health, missile launches and more threats from North Korea, and, at the border, a massive influx of children and families and a system simply unable to deal with it.

On Mexico's border with California, some migrants have worn T-shirts saying, "Biden, please let us in." Others have said they are coming because that is exactly what they expect the new president to do.

BIDEN: That's the reason why it's happening, that I'm a decent man or however it's phrased, that that's why they're coming, because they know Biden's a good guy.

The truth of the matter is, nothing has changed.

KARL: While surges this time of year are common, and the president has said migrants should not make the dangerous journey, much has changed.

We are now seeing record numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the border. There are now more than 18,000 unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody.

ABC's Cecilia Vega met 9-year-old Yossell after he took the treacherous journey from Honduras without his parents.

QUESTION: So, sir, you blamed the last administration, but is your messaging, in saying that these children are and will be allowed to stay in this country and work their way through this process, encouraging families like Yossell's to come?

BIDEN: The idea that I'm going to say, which I would never do, that unaccompanied child ends up at the border we’re just going to let them starve to death and stay on the other side.

No previous administration did that either, except Trump. I'm not going to do it.


JON KARL, ABC HOST, (OFF-CAMERA): Visiting the border this week, a group of republican senators told our Rachel Scott that children should be sent back home.




SCOTT: -- with her 5-year-old.


SCOTT: She was in tears --


SCOTT: -- crossing the border.


SCOTT: What do you do? Do you send that mother and her 5-year-old child --

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

SCOTT: -- back across the border?

GRAHAM: Absolutely. Yes, you do.

SCOTT: They should go back across the border --

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

SCOTT: -- after making this trek here --

GRAHAM: You do not --

SCOTT: -- looking for a better life

GRAHAM: Absolutely --

SCOTT: -- looking for asylum.

GRAHAM: There's the legal way to get here and there's the illegal way to get here. I don't blame them. I blame us.


KARL, (OFF-CAMERA): The Biden administration has refused to allow journalists to see the inside the most crowded facilities housing migrants at the border.


UNKNOWN: Will you commit to transparency on this issue?

BIDEN: I will commit to transparency, and as soon as I am in a position to be able to implement what we're doing right now.


KARL, (OFF-CAMERA): But the Republican senators did get a look inside and they released their own images. Overcrowded under any circumstances, especially during a pandemic.


SCOTT: Can you describe for us what you saw?

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX): I think the most striking was the Donna facility. Literally side by side children who are lying down -- lying down on the floor. They don't have beds. They're lying down on the floor. They're right next to each other. They're touching each other.


KARL (ON-CAMERA): A lot to cover this morning with our first guest, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield.

Kate, we thank you very much for joining us on this Sunday.

I want to start with those images from the Donna detention center. I mean, obviously not acceptable, horrific. Not acceptable by the definition put forward by the president himself. What is the immediate problem to address this and when will it be fixed?KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, the president is working as quickly as possible to address the situation. He's using every possible avenue to ensure that we're getting these kids out of Border Patrol custody and into HHS facilities as quickly as possible.

You've seen him just this week announce that Fort Bliss, for example, and Lackland Air Force base are going to open up beds to bring these kids out of the Border Patrol facilities and into facilities that are better for temporary housing for them, but that's a temporary solution. It's a temporary solution.

Ultimately what we need to do is address the root causes of migration. It's something that President Biden did when he was vice president. He spent time in the Northern Triangle countries that people are migrating from, working to try to address the lack of infrastructure, the lack of programs, like for example, girls and boys clubs that allow these kids to be somewhere safe in their home country.

So you saw last week, he asked Vice President Harris to take on dealing with the work and the diplomacy that's necessary in the Northern Triangle to prevent people from making this journey in the first place. That's the most important thing we can do to try to stem the tide.

And the other thing I would say, Jon, is what we see from the data is that these surges are cyclical. They’re cyclical. They're not the result of one administration's policies or another administration's policies. They’re the result of, for example, weather disasters in the region. They're the result of people fleeing poverty and violence.

So we saw spikes in 2014. We saw them in 2019 when the Trump administration had perhaps the cruelest imaginable policies in place, family separation to try to deter people from coming, and they still came.

So this is a cyclical issue. It’s one that President Biden has said is unacceptable to him and he's working very quickly to address it.

KARL: But, Kate, there is something different here, and that is the unaccompanied minors, and we already have a record number of unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody. And in just a single day last week, there were 1,000 additional minors who were caught capturing -- who were brought into U.S. custody coming across the border.

These are record numbers already, and the seasonal surge that you’re talking about is only just beginning. This is not -- I mean, in terms of unaccompanied numbers, this is not the same as it's been. This is worse. Is it not?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, no. And if you look at the numbers, it's not --

KARL: But the numbers --

BEDINGFIELD: -- but that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious -- but that doesn't mean -- but, Jon -- I’m sorry. Go ahead.

KARL: No, but I'm saying these are already record numbers of unaccompanied minors, a thousand in a single day.

BEDINGFIELD: And it’s --

KARL: Already record numbers. It’s not the same --

BEDINGFIELD: And the president -- and the president -- and the -- it is the -- it is the same. These are the same kinds of surges that we've seen.

But look, the important thing here, it's not a question of whether it's the same or not, the important thing here is the president has said this is unacceptable to him and he's working to address it. And the way we do that is by finding temporary shelter for these kids who are coming without an adult and also by speeding up the process, by ensuring that the process is more efficient so that kids are able to move out of these Border Patrol facilities into temporary housing and then be put into the -- into immigration processes. That's what we're working to try to do as quickly as possible.

But I think it's also important to be clear that our policy hasn't changed. The vast majority of people who arrive at our border we're turning away under Title 42, under a health code that requires us to or allows us to turn people away in this period of COVID.

So people should understand that the vast majority of people who show up at our border we're turning away. For these unaccompanied children who arrive, the president is working as quickly as possible to move them into facilities that are acceptable, that are in and of themselves, short-term -- short-term solutions, and he's working to rebuild our system of diplomacy in the Northern Triangle so that people are not fleeing these countries coming to the United States. That's how we ultimately solve the problem.

KARL: Congressman Henry Cuellar, who is a Democrat and also somebody very familiar with that border region, has said that the administration should show images, should show video of people being turned away at the border, to send that message of visual representation of that message that most people are being turned away.

Is that something that the administration is considering doing?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think the president has been very clear the border is closed. He has said so unequivocally many, many times.

And we’re working -- our State Department is working to show media in country -- in the countries in the Northern Triangle that make very clear, that the border is not open, and that coming to make this incredibly dangerous journey now is coming to our border is not -- this is not the moment to do it. This is not the time to do it. The border is closed.

But, you know, what I would say more prod broadly is, you know, this is also an issue that Democrats and Republicans have historically shared a desire to work on. And so this is a moment where, you know, you talked about Republicans going to visit these facilities. You know, this is a moment for Republicans to come to the table, to work with us on comprehensive immigration reform.

President Biden sent a bill to Congress on his first day in office, addressing some of the broken pieces of our administration system and working to, for example --


BEDINGFIELD: -- create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people in this country.

So, there are opportunities to work together and constructively. That's what the American people want us to do. That's what President Biden wants to do.

KARL: So, Kate, I want to turn to Georgia's new restrictions -- the new restrictive voting law down there. The president, obviously, harshly critical, many others as well.

We see talk from Major League Baseball potentially moving the all-star game which is scheduled for this summer in Atlanta as a form of protest. Also, there's even been calls for the Masters to be removed -- to be moved out of Augusta.

Does the administration support these kind of moves by the sports and entertainment industry to effectively boycott Georgia because of this?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think President Biden has been pretty clear how he feels about the legislation. He called it sick. He called it un-American. He said that it runs counter to everything that we stand for as Americans.

He believes that we need to pass the For the People Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. This is something that he’s going to push to ensure that we're signing into law. So, I think he's been very clear.

He believes this is un-American. It's unacceptable, and he's also said, you know, if you have the best ideas, put them on the table, and let people vote. There's -- the idea that you need to suppress the vote or prevent people in this country from voting in order to win, I mean, it truly runs counter to everything that we believe as Americans.

So, he's been very clear about how he feels about this. Obviously, the private sector and private companies will make decisions on their own, but he's been clear this is entirely unacceptable to him, and he’s going to work to ensure that Congress is passing laws that protect people’s right to vote.

KARL: I mean, one thing that is truly concerning about this, these efforts are entirely party line. These are Republicans, these are partisan efforts. But even the effort in Congress to try to combat this is entirely without Republican support.

I want to show you something that Joe Manchin said about the effort in Congress to ensure voting rights. He said: Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits, but it will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the U.S. government.

So, does -- I mean, obviously, Joe Biden ran for president talking about bringing the country together. This seems to be a really tough one. Does he find -- is he going to be able to find a way to get Republicans -- Republicans in Congress on board in a bipartisan effort to deal with how we conduct our elections?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, this is a question for the Republicans, isn't it, Jon?

KARL: Well, it’s a question --


BEDINGFIELD: I mean, they're the ones who are saying that they can't support --

KARL: It's a question for President Biden on, you know, what is his plan to try to, you know, bring Republicans on board to this, or are they a lost cause? I mean, how does the White House view this?

BEDINGFIELD: That's -- I would say that's a question for them, that President Biden has been very clear that this is something he believes needs to happen. You know, we -- there's a lot of conversation about how this legislation could move forward in the Senate and discussion of what we need to do to the filibuster. But, you know, I thought Senator Warnock was right on about this yesterday or a couple of days ago when he said, you know, we wouldn't have to be talking about the filibuster if Republicans were talking about supporting voting rights.

So this is a question for Republicans. Are they going to look their constituents in the eye and say, I spent my time in Washington trying to make it harder for you to cast your vote? Is that really the argument that they want to take back to their constituents? That's a question for them. President Biden has been very, very clear. He believes that we need to move forward with this legislation, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act. We need to protect people's right to vote. It is a sacred right in this country. It's something that he intends to fight for. And if Republicans are going to choose not to come along, then that's something they're going to have to answer to their voters for. And I think that they're not going to like the answer that they get back.

KARL: All right, Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, thank you for joining us this morning.

BEDINGFIELD: Thank you for having me, Jon. Appreciate it.

KARL: All right, so let's take some of those questions right now to Republican senator from Alaska, Dan Sullivan.

Senator Sullivan, thank you very much for joining us.

I want to -- I know you just got back from the border. I want to ask you about that. But, first, let's pick it up with this question of voting rights.

This new law in Georgia, and I know you're not from Georgia, but this is the -- this is a Republican law, you know, pushed through only by Republicans -- actually makes it a crime to give people food and water while they are waiting in line to vote.

How -- how is something like that justifiable or -- or do you have problems with that?

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN, (R) ALASKA: Well, look, Jon, good morning first and good to be on the show.

And, you know, I don't know the details of the law in Georgia. There's been different interpretations by different groups. You know, I do know the details of the laws in Alaska. And when I was attorney general, as a U.S. senator, I've actually been a strong supporter, I've fought for expansive voting opportunities and rights, particularly for indigenous Alaskans, which is a huge minority group in my state.

But I will tell you this, I think it's really important to have this discussion on voting rights, on voting integrity, on access to the ballot. But I think it's also really important if we're going to be bipartisan in this, is to be able to have this conversation without -- when anyone in the Congress -- that's us -- if we oppose what Speaker Pelosi is putting forward, that it immediately kind of devolves into an accusation that somehow we're supporting Jim Crow-like policies. That is an argument that is frequently coming from our Democratic colleagues, Speaker Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, even the president, and it doesn't help advance the issue. It doesn't help bring unity. It doesn't help bring a bipartisan nature to this.

I'll just tell you, in my state --

KARL: But -- but --

SULLIVAN: Go -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

KARL: But -- but -- but -- but -- but -- but to be clear, I mean, the law in Georgia, I mean this is -- there's not -- no question for interpretation. It makes it a misdemeanor offense to bring -- if you are not a poll worker, to bring people food and water while they are waiting in line. And, of course, we've seen very long lines in Georgia.

And it's not just Georgia. There are efforts -- Republican-led efforts in 43 states to restrict voting in one way or another. Things like restricting the number of drop boxes, making it harder to vote absentee, restricting early voting.

Why is it that Republicans seem to believe at this moment in time that -- that -- that they want fewer people to vote? That they -- that -- that their -- that the right thing to do is to have fewer people voting in our elections?

SULLIVAN: Well, let me just make a point on -- on my state. In Alaska, a Republican state, we have policies like no excuse absentee ballots. In essence, automatic voter registration that is much more open to voters in Alaska.

KARL: But it -- it --

SULLIVAN: Just, real quick.

KARL: Yes.

SULLIVAN: Than many blue states like New York, Delaware, Connecticut. So, again, we're not arguing that somehow relative to Alaska those are -- those states are pushing Jim Crow policies.

But to your point, normally, in -- in -- you were talking about this with Kate, normally in our -- when you look at the history in our country, individual voting issues in states is not normally the reason that the impetus to bring major bipartisan, national federal legislation unless there is strong bipartisan support for this. And so I think that's the key issue. And, right now, H.R. 1, the Pelosi bill from the House, is -- not only doesn't have support from Republicans, it doesn't have support from many Democrats. So, again, the key issue here is to work on this issue in a bipartisan nature. You know, the last major voting reform bill...

KARL: Yes, I mean, no question, no question and -- I mean, this effort should be bipartisan, but the efforts we're seeing in the states are entirely partisan. These are coming from Republicans. Before we leave this topic, I just want to play something that Ben Ginsburg, who may be the leading Republican expert on voting laws, lawyer Ben Ginsburg had to say about these efforts.


BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN VOTING LAWS EXPERT: I think they are making a mistake any time you put up barriers to people voting in a democracy. Both on the policy grounds, because it's anti- the way the country should work, but also politically because it paints Republicans as truly not wanting people to vote.


KARL: So I hear from what you're saying that you're not generally supportive of this idea of restricting. So we can -- we can move on to your trip to the border. You just came back from the border with Mexico. Give me a sense of what you saw. How are you seeing the problem down there?

SULLIVAN: Look, Jon, first, it's heartbreaking, what you see. And it's shocking. And what I've been calling for, in a respectful way, I try to work in a bipartisan way, is for the president, for the vice president to come down and to see what we saw, to hear what we heard from officials who are on the front lines. But I would disagree with Kate on a number of things. There is an open border policy. There is a catch and release policy. And these were changes that the Biden administration instituted.

And here's the thing, they were warned. We talked to the officials who briefed the Biden team during the transition. They were warned that if they undertook these major policy changes, getting rid of, for example, the remain in Mexico policy, and making sure that exceptions to Title 42 for families bringing 6-year-olds or under, and for unaccompanied minors, if they made those changes, which they did, that they would see this surge.

So to me it was shocking. I think the president and the vice president need to go down there, see what I saw, see what the other Republicans and Democrat congressmen are coming down there. There are things that we can do immediately to address the challenges there. But right now it is open borders. It's a humanitarian and also health crisis that we need to address.

KARL: Well, I mean, the numbers from CBP showed that actually the majority of adults crossing the border are being sent back.

But before you go, I want to ask you about something we heard from former President Trump talking about January 6th, and about the efforts from the Justice Department to -- to hold those accountable that invaded the Capitol. He said that the members of that -- of those rioters are, quote, "being persecuted."

Is that -- is that how you see it, this DoJ effort to -- you know, to charge the people that went into the Capitol? Is that persecution or is that rightful prosecution?

SULLIVAN: No. Look, Jon, I don't agree with that. Here's the key issue, and it's a really important distinction. The people who committed violence, and I condemn that violence from the minute it started happening, should be fully prosecuted. I think the vast majority of Americans, Democrats and Republicans fully agree with that. No doubt about it. I've condemned it.

The broader issue though is if you -- if you were at the broader rally, the vast majority of the people at the rally on January 6th did not commit violence, did not storm the Capitol, and I think it's really important. By the way, I had a lot of Alaskans who were there acting peacefully.

KARL: Sure.

SULLIVAN: I think it's really important for people who came to support that rally that they are not tarnished, canceled, their voices shouldn't be silenced. So I think it's two very different issues here.

KARL: We're talking about the people that went into the Capitol.

Now before you go, the president has also said that he is going to work hard to defeat your colleague, your Republican colleague from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski. In fact, the Alaska Republican Party has actually not only censured her, but called for her to be defeated. What -- I know you have a -- I've always thought, it seems, you have a good relationship with Senator Murkowski. What do you make of those efforts by President Trump and your own party leadership in Alaska to see her defeated?

SULLIVAN: Well, look, when I ran in 2014 and beat a Democrat incumbent and we got the Senate majority back, Senator Murkowski was a strong supporter of mine. And in 2016 I supported her. And just in my re-election in 2020, where, you know, the national Democratic Party came in big in Alaska, massive amount of money, Senator Murkowski was a strong supporter of mine and we won that re-election very strongly. Look, we don't agree on everything, but we make a good team for Alaska and...

KARL: So you support her? You support her.

SULLIVAN: Yes. If Senator Murkowski runs again, I'm going to support her.

KARL: OK. Thank you very much, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, appreciate you joining us.

SULLIVAN: Thanks, Jon. Thank you.

KARL: Up next, more fallout over that controversial new election law in Georgia. Nate Silver has a fresh take for us. And the Powerhouse Roundtable is here with us to weigh in. We'll be right back.



GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): With Senate Bill 202, Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible and fair. Ensuring the integrity of the ballot box isn't partisan. It's about protecting the very foundation of who we are as Georgians and Americans.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): Either we're a democracy or we're not. Either we believe in the idea of one person, one vote, or we don't. Either I'm a citizen or I'm not.


KARL: Dueling reactions to Georgia's new voting law.

It comes in the wake of a presidential election that saw the largest turnout in more than a century. But after then President Trump spent months making false claims of election fraud, Republican lawmakers across the country are now rushing to enact new restrictions on voting.

FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver analyzes the potential impact.


NATE SILVER, ABC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a reason why, historically, Republicans have tried to make it harder for people to vote.

Looking at changes in state voting laws since the 1990s, our research at FiveThirtyEight found that, in general, when voting laws are eased, it tends to help Democrats, and when they are restricted, it tends to help Republicans.

Based on the historical data, imposing a sweeping set of new restrictions might help a Republican candidate by as much as 2 to 3 percentage points in forthcoming elections. That's significant, given how close many elections are these days.

But, as they warn you when you're buying stocks, past performance is no guarantee of future results. That might also be the case when it comes to voting laws. Here's why.

Before Trump, the GOP tended to win the votes of so-called high-propensity voters, meaning people who voted in nearly every election. These voters tended to be suburban and college-educated.

But, lately, those voters have been leaning more Democratic, especially in states like Georgia, where Joe Biden deep front by 15 points among college grads. So, we can no longer assume lower turnout always helps the GOP.

In the Georgia Senate run-off, where turnout was 10 percent lower than in November, Democratic performance actually improved.

Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to reduce mail-in voting in several states, but in 2020, it was a new maybe COVID-related phenomenon. In Florida, for example, mail voting had historically been a program that Republican voters took more advantage of.

With that said, I don't want to take this too far. A lot of GOP changes are aimed at hampering turnout among black voters by limiting programs like Souls to the Polls. So, my advice, it will probably make life harder for Democrats, but there's a chance it could backfire.


KARL: Thanks, Nate.

Now let's get to our roundtable. Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Margaret Hoover, the host of “The Firing Line” on PBS, also a CNN contributor; Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg Opinion columnist, and senior editor at “The National Review”; and Leah Wright-Rigueur, professor of history at Brandeis University.

So, let me -- let me start with you, Ramesh. What -- help me understand why these in Georgia -- why make it a crime. The question I asked to Senator Sullivan, why make it a crime to give people water while they're waiting in line to vote? I mean, what's the political strategy here?

RAMESH PONNURU, BLOOMBERG OPINION COLUMNIST: So that's clearly the provision of the law that has aroused the most outrage, and it seems to be designed to mimic parts of other states' codes where they're trying to prevent electioneering going in the voting booth or near the voting booth. It was not a particularly well-drafted section of this law, but the fundamental issue here I think is -- it's not whether we're bringing food and water to people in these long lines. It's why are we having these long lines in the first place?

And the Georgia law does take some steps to shorten those lines. It increases the amount of absentee voting, the number of hours, the number of days that you can do absentee voting, for example, and that is where I think our focus ought to be.

KARL: So, Leah, I mean, you heard the terms Senator Warnock is talking about this. He basically makes it sound like it's, you know, a challenge to our democracy. How -- what makes this Georgia law so bad aside from the water?

LEAH WRIGHT-RIGUEUR, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, aside from the water?

KARL: Yeah, that's bad. OK, I’m going to buy that. But what is most objectionable here?

WRIGHT-RIGUEUR: The biggest part that we have to be thinking about is in a moment where we should be expanding democracy, a moment where we should be including more people in the democratic process, where we've seen what is possible, what is potential when we actually expand democracy for everyone, right? This constitutionally guaranteed right of voting, the most sacred of rights, of voting, we have this draconian law that's coming down and essentially saying, none for you, none for you, none for you.

And I think it comes at the heels of an election that was transformative when we think about what happened in Georgia, turning Georgia blue, flipping Georgia blue, and then also when we see the two senators coming out of Georgia are now Democratic senators. The first time this has happened in over 30 years.

So I think when we think about what is at stake here, we're thinking about democracy. We're thinking about the fundamental principles of democracy, and all of that is up for grabs right now, and I think it also sends a message I think to other states across the country about what could happen in terms of limiting democracy for all.

KARL: Rahm, but what is it that is the most objectionable here?

RAHM EMANUEL, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: What is the most objectionable?

KARL: Specifically.

EMANUEL: But it’s both political and policy. Look, I don't think America really became a fully democratic country until the Voting Rights Act, when everybody could participate. If you buy that principle, everything since Bush versus Gore, redistricting, dark money, restricting access to voting, I think all of that is about contracting and walking away.

I think when you go back to Justice Roberts' decision that we -- striking Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Those words are going to haunt, and that's exactly what happened, it opened up the floodgates where everybody basically walked away from the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This is about power.

And I think when you go back to this access, which is both about access to the ballot, about making sure -- redistricting which is also part of HR-1, which is about making sure that the legislators do not actually design the districts. You put it in commission, and a lot of different Democratic and Republican states have done it, and then dark money.

What you're doing is bringing integrity to the entire electoral process. Not just -- voting is important. The lines are important, and then money is important. And that is why HR-1 is right.

MARGARET HOOVER, HOST, PBS “FIRING LINE: Can I just say? Neither of our guests, respectfully, have been able to say specifically what's wrong with the Georgia law except for the 150-foot law and the water, which everybody admits is terrible optics.

It gets rid of signature match. It expands early voting, it didn't think, God, get rid of the Souls to the Polls, the Sunday voting. It expanded Saturday and Sunday voting.

This bill -- the Republicans who stood up to Donald Trump and argued against the big lie and said, nope, I’m not going to find 11,800 votes for you because that would be lying, and the undermining of the Constitution, those same people say, you know what? I might have written a better bill, but this is administrative changes codifying the things that expanded the franchise in this last election and putting them into law.

EMANUEL: Both of us were done respectfully as guests here.

KARL: Yes.

EMANUEL: They're all for guests.

KARL: Yes.

EMANUEL: But here's the thing, if Trump had won Georgia, you think they'd be doing this? It's a simple task (ph). Do you think if -- here's -- if Georgia was a --

HOOVER: That's fair, but what is so wrong with this particular law?

EMANUEL: wait a second, wait a second, Georgia was the best, respectfully -- respectfully, do you think Georgia was the best performing Democratic state from -- it flipped from red to blue from 2016 to 2020, two Democratic senators and a pickup of a congressional seat.

KARL: Well -- well, and --

EMANUEL: And the reason Georgia's the first out of the shoot and doing this is because it acted --

HOOVER: Because it's a big lie. Fair.

EMANUEL: No -- right -- right. But if Trump had won, none of this would be going on. And so when you say, oh, there's nothing wrong with the -- the Georgia law is about restricting Democratic process, and that is what's -- every time America has achieved closer to its ideals, although never perfect, was about actually, from women voting, to people of color voting, to -- and making sure that people without --

KARL: It -- it --

WRIGHT-RIGUEUR: But we've been hearing --

EMANUEL: Without land could vote. It actually expanded the democratic process. This is restricting it. We've constantly --

KARL: Ramesh, go ahead.

PONNURU: We've been hearing for years that Republicans are restricting voter access. There's a vote to (INAUDIBLE). And turnout just keeps getting higher. I think that one thing --

KARL: Well, we had record turnout now.


KARL: And now you have all these efforts, which are more than what we've seen in the past.

EMANUEL: Restrictive.

KARL: And it -- and we are seeing -- and let me throw a couple things out there. It's, like, limiting the number of drop boxes and, you know, and these -- these are efforts we're seeing in several states.

PONNURU: Georgia's going to have more drop box access than it had in 2019, right? I mean there is a -- a scale back from the pandemic circumstances, but this is not this draconian, restrictive law.

HOOVER: And they wrote it into the statute for the first time. Like it had never even been legal in the statute to have these voting drop boxes. Now they've codified it. So while it is --

KARL: But -- but the whole effort -- and it's not just Georgia. We're -- we're seeing -- we're seeing several other states.

HOOVER: Well, that's different. So -- so talking about Georgia, right --

KARL: But why -- why -- I mean what's the problem with drop boxes? The problem is that President Trump frankly said -- told lies about drop boxes.

HOOVER: And -- and -- and you're right.


HOOVER: Jonathan, you're right, there -- there absolutely is, on behalf -- and I'm never going to defend Republicans who want to restrict voting access. I believe more and more people should vote, and that is expanding franchise is, look, a successful party would just appeal to more voters, OK? That's what I want the Republican Party to do.

KARL: Which is -- which is not what we're hearing across the country.

HOOVER: Which is not what you're hearing universally. But the problem is, this issue is also so vitriolic, so hyperbolic that you can't actually have a conversation about the planks in the Georgia law without just going immediately to, they want all people to stop voting.

EMANUEL: Yes, but you do have this -- you know, I think -- I -- the lawyer for the Republican National Committee said it in the Arizona case, politics is a zero sum game. And the motivation for having an opinion, and issuing an opinion on what's going on in Arizona was because if you had more people vote, they would lose. And so that's why I think when it also comes up to try to pass this in the Senate, you have three different sections. And the real question is, there's going to be a Republican that becomes the Senator Everett Dirksen of 1964 here that says, you know what, this is about America and about the Democratic process.

Now, I think Republicans have a point on the integrity of the ballot, Democrats have a view about the voter access. That should be where the bond is built. And also getting to --

KARL: Is that -- is it possible to get to a bipartisan agreement on this? The question I was getting to Kate. And she says, well, ask the Republicans. But this is -- I mean you have these entirely partisan efforts in the states by Republicans, and then in Congress by the Democrats. I'm not equating the two efforts, but, I mean, if anything has to be bipartisan, it's -- it's how we conduct our elections.

WRIGHT-RIGUEUR: (INAUDIBLE). It should absolutely be how we conduct our elections. And I think there is an opportunity right here that's in Congress right now, in front of people, to talk about this kind of bipartisan effort to expand the franchise, to make the franchise equitable and fair for everyone, to make it more exclusive, to make this about big party, big tent politics as opposed to restrictive.

So we do see that. And I do -- you know, one of the things that I'm -- that I'm heartened by is that even as we argue over the semantics of what's going on in Georgia, there is an increasing recognition that the end of the Voting Rights Act, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act was a terrible decision, right? And that, in fact, there has to be some way to rectify this and it has to be something that has to be bipartisan, and it has to be something that comes at a federal level. Like, it can't be state and local.

KARL: Same question to you, Ramesh.

PONNURU: Well, one bipartisan initiative is voter ID requirements. Pew found that 76 percent of Americans, including a majority of Democrats, supports voter ID requirements.

Now, I think that should be coupled with efforts to make it possible for anybody whose having trouble getting voter ID to get it. And Georgia does offers voter ID for free for people. But that is something that Democrats have gotten dead set against. There's not much evidence --

KARL: You're not helping me try to figure out where we're going to get to a bipartisan agreement in Congress.

HOOVER: H.R. 4. Here's where you're going to get to H.R. 4. First of all, like, H.R. 4, which is -- which is the legislative answer. It's a restoration of the voting rights and it's the answer to Shelby v. Holder, right? That is a more narrow restoration of the Voting Right Act, as Rahm said, that isn't this sort of gargantuan, you know, we're also going to fix dark money and politics and we're also going to do all these other things. If you -- and, also, are -- are -- do we need 50 votes or do we need 60 votes? I mean all of this is shaded by the debate about the filibuster.

KARL: All right, well that's a whole nother question.

HOOVER: And what the rules are going to be.

KARL: We have to take a quick break. We have to take a quick break. Maybe we can get to that on the other side.

More roundtable ahead.

But up next, Dr. Ashish Jha joins us to talk about getting back to normal as COVID vaccines pick up.


KARL: Dr. Ashish Jha is standing by, ready to go. We'll be right back.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On December 8th, I indicated that I hoped to get 100 million shots in people's arms in my first 100 days. Now today I'm setting a second goal, and that is we will by my 100th day in office have administered 200 million shots in people's arms. That's right, 200 million shots in 100 days.


KARL: President Biden's latest vaccine pledge.

Let's talk about the rollout now with Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health.

Dr. Jha, I just want to ask you some practical questions, now that so many of us are getting the vaccines. One that I'm hearing a lot is: Once I am fully vaccinated, if I'm exposed to COVID-19, I am protected from getting sick myself, but can I infect somebody else?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, good morning, Jon. Thanks so much for having me on.

You know, what we know right now is, if you are exposed after full vaccination, you're very, very, very unlikely to get sick, and you're pretty unlikely to transmit it to others.

I mean, that transmission data isn't foolproof yet, but all the evidence so far suggests that your likelihood of passing it on to somebody else is -- you know, it's probably down 80, 90 percent, compared if you weren't vaccinated.

KARL: OK, so let me ask you one really close to home, OK?

If my in-laws, just hypothetically, were fully vaccinated, been through full dose, both doses, can -- and, you know, the rest of the family is, say, on the first dose, but not fully through, can we go and safely visit them? And are there any special precautions we need to take, or are we pretty safe in doing that?

JHA: Yes, I think you're pretty safe.

As long as there's no one in your family, Jonathan, who is particularly high-risk, no one with a severe health problem, I think it is safe. And the CDC has come out and said as much.

I think the bottom line that people have to know is that we're not going to get to zero risk. But, at that point, when people are fully vaccinated, mingling with a family that's not, there's really a very, very low risk that anything bad is going to happen.

KARL: So, let me ask you, then, about something that President Biden said a while back. He was talking about July 4, and, you know, obviously the goal of having much of the country vaccinated by then.

And he invoked the idea that we'll be able to have small family gatherings, barbecues in the backyard, small gatherings, family. I mean, at that point, if we're really fully vaccinated, I mean, can't we be doing more than just having family over in the backyard? Aren't we looking at a wider opening?

JHA: So, I do think we're looking at a wider opening.

I think the question is, will everything be safe? Will everything that we used to do in 2019 be safe? And my take is, even by July 4, my expectation is that some proportion of Americans will have chosen not to get vaccinated, so they're still going to be at risk. And we probably should avoid those sort of large indoor gatherings, where we know the virus tends to spread more efficiently.

But, short of that, yes, I do think we can do a lot more. It's not just small family gatherings. We can friends over. We can have probably larger gatherings indoors, especially if everybody is vaccinated.

KARL: All right. Dr. Jha, thank you very much for joining us.

Coming up: Calls for gun control are back front and center following the back-to-back shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. But will anything get done this time?

The roundtable returns.

Stay with us.



JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What this isn't about is policy. It's about stopping sensible gun legislation which a vast majority of Americans support.

And I have no illusions about what we’re up against, what we’re up against or how hard the task is in front of us, but I also have never seen a nation's conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook.

I don't to need to wait another minute, let alone an hour to take common sense steps that will save the lives in the future.


KARL: There you have it. President Biden at the center of the gun debate for decades.

Let's pick it up here with the roundtable.

Rahm, what is your sense this time? I mean, is it -- where does this stand in the president's priority list?

EMANUEL: Oh, it's high. That's how I got to know Joe Biden when we passed the assault weapon ban. I was responsible for President Clinton and doing that, and the Brady Bill. Both of those.

And I would say one thing that I think would slightly twist -- and that's for all of us discussing -- back then when we passed the two-crime pieces, Brady Bill, the assault weapon ban, we focused on the gun -- on the criminal, not the gun. Now we're focusing on the gun.

I would go back to terrorists, no fly, no buy. Cannot happen.

Two, you have a domestic violence record, which is 10 percent of all homicides in America, you're banned from buying a gun. You have a violent criminal record as a juvenile, you can’t buy a gun. You have a mental health issue, and the relationship and anything on violence, on mental health, you can't buy a gun.

If you focus on the criminal piece, not access to the gun, Republicans then realize it's not about gun access which would have obviously Second Amendment issue, but the criminal element which is how Clinton focused on both Brady with the five-day waiting period for a criminal could -- background check, and the assault weapon which was also a gun of choice by gangs.

KARL: But that was about the gun. It was about the assault weapon.

EMANUEL: No. If you actually go back to the debate -- sorry, let --

KARL: But the effect was to ban assault-style weapons. It was for everybody.

EMANUEL: But it was -- it was -- it was basically to make sure that gang members did not -- that was the problem then. And it was focused on the criminal element. If you want to pass it, and you've got to deal -- get Republican votes, no fly, no buy.

KARL: OK. So --

EMANUEL: You prove an old mental --

HOOVER: It sounds like you're saying -- it sounds like you're saying guns don't kill people, people kill people.

EMANUEL: No, but I'm saying that if you go back to the debate --

HOOVER: No, no, no. I understand what you're saying, it's just that was the NRA tag line for so long.

EMANUEL: Yes, no, I'll tell you -- and I -- I -- no, it's not. I mean, trust me, no friend there. It's very specifically --

HOOVER: And they're essentially gone now. (INAUDIBLE) different now.

EMANUEL: But given -- given that you're never -- your -- Republicans are not going to vote for this. You have to get the access. The debate back in the '90s, the last time we passed it, was on the criminal element. That's where the debate should be. (INAUDIBLE).

KARL: OK, so -- so -- obviously what's -- what's --

EMANUEL: And I want to be clear, Proud Boys are on a domestic terrorist list.

KARL: What -- what's driving it here, though, is -- are -- are the mass shootings. And -- and, Ramesh, I want to put up this -- this list of some of the -- the most high profile mass shootings we have seen over the last several years. You know, Boulder, Midland-Odessa, Dayton, on through Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, Aurora, Sandy Hook. Each one of those, the gun used by the mass murderer was an AR-15.

Why -- why shouldn't banning that weapon be on -- on the table?

PONNURU: Well, I think that it is going to be very hard to get any kind of bipartisan consensus on that. I think some of the ideas that Rahm Emanuel was talking about might have some legs. But this is an idea, banning assault weapons, that got 39 votes in the Senate the last time it was voted on. A Democratic Senate in 2013, a Senate with more Democrats than the current Senate has.

I think most people don't believe that a ban on assault weapons is going to do a lot to change the homicide rates in our country. We've got something like 15 million of them already in circulation. So I think there's a practical question as to whether this is going to actually achieve anything. And I think that other things, like, for example, as -- as Rahm was saying, talking about people with mental illness, particularly severe mental illness, people who have histories of abuse, that kind of more granular approach, I think, makes more sense.


WRIGHT-RIGUEUR: Yes. So I was also going to say that I think there are two other issues that we have to address, which is that in addition to these mass shootings, which generate the most attention, we also know that we have a crisis of individual or micro-level homicides, shootings, suicides that are prevalent throughout the country and so there has to be --

KARL: And actually kill many more people.

WRIGHT-RIGUEUR: And kill many more people. And so not only do we have to have -- draw attention to that, we also have to have the science that backs this up.

The other thing right now is that right now states -- the majority of states can't even control, I think, on a local level how they want to do their own laws and legislations, in part because of obstructionism by various lobbying groups and organizations and things of that nature. So we have to figure out ways to give states power -- give -- and I can't believe I'm making what -- what sounds like a local control argument.

KARL: States' rights.

WRIGHT-RIGUEUR: Why? Republican -- yes, right, Republicans are really happy about that.

EMANUEL: It's liberating.

WRIGHT-RIGUEUR: But -- but we have to give states' power back to make local control laws and regulations so that if they want to, like in the case of Colorado, in the case of Boulder, for example, if they want to pass legislation, they can do that and have the freedom to do that.

KARL: All right.

Unfortunately, Rahm, I see your shaking your head, but we are out of time.

EMANUEL: That is true (ph).

KARL: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us.

Check out WORLD NEWS TONIGHT and have a great day.