Transcript for 'Joe Biden is very much the most powerful person in Washington': Jon Karl
Texas and Mississippi. I hope everybody's realized by now these masks make a difference. The last thing we need is a neanderthal thinking. In the meantime everything's fine. We're still urging people to continue to wear the mask, to continue to use the safe practices that have mastered over the past year, they don't need an order from Austin, Texas, telling them what to do. They know the right thing to do. The debate over relaxing covid restrictions heating up across the country this week, let's talk about that and more with our roundtable, chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl, correspondent Karen Travers, who covers the white house for us, "Nightline" co-anchor Byron Pitts. And Anna palmer. Jon, I got to start with you, I talked to senator Manchin as you saw earlier, as we said he was at the center of it all, paralyzing the senate for hours, we know the president personally lobbied him more than once that day, Joe Biden is the president, whether Joe Manchin will admit or not, is he the 340st powerful man in Washington? He looked like the most powerful man in Washington, he was able to tie up the senate, get the changes that he wanted. Look, a 50/50 senate, any member of the majority party willing to talk to the minority, he's willing to talk to Republicans, takes the majority with him if he does, so, but, no, Martha, the most powerful person in Washington is Joe Biden. He's not thatot only because he's the president because of Raphael Warnock and Jon ossoff. Joe Biden got a $1.9 trillion covid relief bill. They don't win those seats, Mitch Mcconnel is the co-author of the bill, it's not $1.9 trillion, it doesn't have the priorities that Biden dictated. It's co-written by Mitch Mcconnell. So, thanks to those senate races, Joe Biden is very much the most powerful person in Washington whatever Joe Manchin does. Joe Biden will be happy to hear that. Anna, senate Democrats have a majority technically, but it's as slim as it possibly could be. Is that sustainable, do you believe it's sustainable? How often will moderate Democrats like Manchin be a thorn in Biden's sietd even if he's the most powerful man in Washington. I think it's going to be very difficult, this is Joe Biden's top priority, clearly the full weight of the white house was behind it, pushing Manchin at the end, but it's going to be really tough, when you look at any of the other priorities going forward, infrastructure, a jobs bill, immigration or climate, it becomes very, very tricky when you look at this 50/50 senate, particularly where some of the moderates are, Joe Biden has called for a lot of unity, a lot of bipartisanship, I just don't see that happening. You'll have a lot of party-line issues and the real question is, what can pass the senate? What can pass the house? Which is much more Progressive and Progressives pushing Nancy Pelosi to keep things as liberal or as Progressive as possible. Karen, the price tag of this bill was too high arguing that we haven't even seen the full impact of the last covid stimulus package, combine that with Friday's more positive than expected jobs report, does the economy really need that money. The white house says yes. President Biden used that jobs report on Friday as part of his last-minute sales pitch to get members of congress to vote for that covid relief package. The president and the white house will say that the economy is still 9.5 million jobs short of where we were at this time last year. They say this money is very necessary to get it to the pockets to the people who need it the most right now and also to boost the economy and Martha, the one thing we heard from white house officials and the president is that, the real risk here was not going too small, not going too big but going too they looked back on the years past they needed to go big and use this bill to try to push forward on democratic priorities and to try to address child care subsidies, poverty, things like that, that's why Republicans were calling it a liberal wish list and were saying it was just too expensive, it's not necessary, and the big thing they were talking about is how much it would add to the deficit. The economists saying there's a big risk of inflation by putting this much money back into the economy. Byron, Democrats passed this bill through the reconciliation process, meaning they only need 51 votes, and therefore get it done without GOP support. How much of a risk was that for Biden as he now turns to other legislative priorities, can he get Republican support for other policies like infrastructure or will Democrats have to use reconciliation again? Martha, you'd think half of reconciliation, this was the easiest thing one could argue for Joe Biden. He has issues transgender rights, things that moderate Democrats, conservative Democrats and certainly the Republican party will oppose. So it's, if he couldn't get this bipartisanship support for this I can't imagine a scenario by which he'll get Republicans to support things that are bigger issues for the liberal portion of the democratic party. And Jon, Democrats didn't get the minimum wage into this package, either, not just a huge priority for Progressives but obviously Joe Biden, are Progressive demands doable at all? I think there's more that can be done. First, consider the $1.9 trillion bill, this is the most aggressive, most well-funded anti-poverty program that we've seen in more than a generation. Didn't get the $15 minimum wage. Joe Manchin was one reason they couldn't get it through is saying he's in favor a $11 minimum wage, I think you have a lot of Republicans agree it's time to raise the minimum wage weren't comfortable to go all the way to $15, I see a potential compromise here. I don't think this will be the last reconciliation bill. I think that Democrats may go back to the well on reconciliation once or twice more, so, no, I think Biden has more opportunities out there, but look, this isn't just 50/50 senate, this is the closest divided house that we have seen in many, many years, just five seats away from a Republican majority in the house, so it's going to be difficult no doubt. And Karen, we heard president Biden talk about those moves to roll back health restrictions in Texas, Mississippi, he called them neanderthal moves. He got some blowback for that. You talked to people out there in radio land, what are they saying about these mask mandates? And what's happening in places like Texas and Mississippi. You know, it was really telling to me that the president's comments, that comment here, didn't get a lot of attention this week on ABC radio stations, it didn't blow up into a controversy like if former president trump had said it, the white house didn't apologize for that statement. White house press secretary Jen psaki said the president was expressing his frustration. But the white house also acknowledges that the president can make a strong statement like that but he has very limited authority to tell these governors what to do, can't tell them to stay closed or reopen. The president has said he wants to see Americans stay masked up for his first 100 days in office. This is a priority as vaccines rin creasing. There was a CDC study last week that said mask mandates led to a decrease in covid cases and deaths and reopening of on-site dining led to an increase in cases and deaths. That's what the white house will point to say, too soon to start doing this. Essentially we're on the 5 yard line getting ready to go into the end zone here, don't let up right now while vaccines are increasing across the country. And Byron, the president called essentially governor Abbott a neanderthal but Abbott came right back and threw immigration in his face, saying immigrants are crossing and bringing covid into the country. Martha, that is a battle that will only intensify, "Nightline" has spent a lot of time reporting on immigration, what's going on now at the border with Mexico. People who support Joe Biden want him to remain strong, even stronger when it comes to immigration. It's a battle that's brewing that will only intensify in the months to come. I think most people who supported Joe Biden at least those who support greater immigration reform, were offended by that comment, this notion that once again, immigrants are being blamed for the problems that exist in the country. But Anna, border crossings are rising, this is going to be a big issue in the coming months, in the coming weeks, what does Joe Biden do about that? Is this going to be big challenge for him. I think it's definitely going to be a big challenge for him. Because at the same time he's trying to get house Democrats to start taking up his big immigration reform plan. They'll take smaller pieces with the dreamers, pathway to citizenship for certain workers, but this is going to be an issue for him, particularly on these border states as we try to reopen as a country and as we try to get the economy back going, I think for Biden this is a thorny issue, immigration reform, Republicans and Democrats haven't been further apart, I don't think, in the last ten years or so in terms of how to solve this problem. The question is going to be, can he try to get Republicans and Democrats at all on the same page? Because while you know you could see an infrastructure bill on reconciliation you won't be able to see that with immigration reform. Jon, I want to turn to the guy you used to cover in the white house, former president trump gave his first major address a week ago now, speaking to CPAC in Orlando. He continues to talk about a perhaps 2024 run, but in a straw poll at the conference, only 68% said they wanted him to run again, a good indication of where his base is, I believe, how do Republican officials really feel about this? Yes, and only 55% chose him in the straw poll as the candidate for 2024. Look, Republican leaders are worry about what he's going to do, just look at the last day or so, Martha, first thing he did, he sent a cease-and-desist tter to the RNC telling them that they can't use the name Donald Trump without his permission. You know it's unusual to see the leader of the party send a cease-and-desist letter to the party leadership, but also he's telling people in mar-a-lago that he's going to support a challenger to Lisa murkowski, among others, but that's what he's talking about over the weekend. A brie Mary challenge to Lisa murkowski. Now, he may need to learn that there's not a primary in Alaska, one of these it's no party primary, it's all -- the top four candidates go on to run, and murkowski has been through this. She won as a write-in candidate. I don't think she's particularly worried. That kind of talk of challenging incumbent senators has Republicans like Mitch Mcconnell worried. I want to turn to governor Cuomo, you heard what we said earlier about governor Cuomo. Overnight, big breaking stories, that many staffers say it was a hostile, toxic work environment. Several women coming forward saying he was sexual harassed. 2022, November, when he would up for another re-election is a very long time away, and if you look at controversies over the last couple of years, from the former president to other governors there's almost a sense if you wait it out long enough, dig in, not apologize, another controversy will come up and that seems to be what governor Cuomo is hoping to do, but you're right, there are more stories coming out now, every day there's another headline, even the governor's closest allies and advisers say best case scenario right now is he can survive this term and just walks away. If he decides to run again, he'll certainly get a primary challenger. So that could be somebody like the New York attorney general who's leading this investigation right now, it's going to be a very different climate for him over the next year. Martha, the white house doesn't want to touch this. They just say there's an investigation and that all of these women should have these stories heard. And Byron, I want to end on the passing of Vernon Jordan this week. Someone you knew well. He worked for democratic presidents for many, many years. Just some final thoughts. Martha, Vernon Jordan was the -- John Lewis got into good trouble in the streets of America. Vernon got into good trouble in corporate boardrooms and courtrooms. He was part of the legal team that desegregated the university of Georgia. There are so many black African-Americans on corporate boards now because of the work of Vernon Jordan. Thanks so much all of you this morning.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.