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STATE OF THE UNION

Interview With National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci; Interview With Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX); Interview With Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR); Interview With Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 21, 2021 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:26]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): Supply and big demand. Cases fall, but variants threaten a new surge in the U.S., as states race to get shots in everyone's arms.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The demand outweighs the supply.

BASH: So, when will there be enough vaccines for everyone? I will speak to Dr. Anthony Fauci next.

And the mess in Texas, dozens dead, after major power outages left millions of Texans cold and in the dark, many still without water. Who's to blame for the emergency? Two Republicans, Texas Congressman Michael McCaul and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, join me to discuss in moments.

Plus: Left out? President Biden pushes back on some progressive priorities, like $50,000 of student debt forgiveness.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not make that happen.

BASH: As the left fights to keep their goals in the COVID relief bill.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I believe that we will succeed, including the minimum wage.

BASH: Will they succeed?

I'll speak exclusively to the chair of the Progressive Caucus, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is short on supply.

This morning, millions of Texans are still without safe water and struggling with the aftermath of a deep freeze that killed dozens and left the state crippled when its power grid failed.

To add insult to injury, some Texans are waking up to thousands of dollars in energy bills, after unprecedented price surges, which Texas authorities say they are investigating.

That winter storm that is sweeping across the country is also impacting the vaccine effort that was already playing a game of catchup. The White House says six million doses were delayed because of the weather, this as the U.S. approaches a somber new pandemic milestone, half-a-million COVID deaths, by the official numbers.

That is more than double the next country on that list. There is some good news, however, the map of new infections starting to turn green again. You see it there. And COVID cases are down by 70 percent.

But experts are warning, the country is in a race against time, as new variants of the virus threaten to supercharge the spread, causing some to question whether the U.S. should begin prioritizing first vaccine doses over second to get more shots in arms.

Well, joining me now is the nation's top infectious disease expert and President Biden's chief medical adviser on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Fauci, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

There is good news this week. As I just mentioned, new cases are significantly lower. But former Biden transition adviser Michael Osterholm said this week that the U.K. variant is very likely to cause a devastating spike in the next five to 14 weeks. He's also compared it to a Category 5 hurricane.

So should Americans be ready for a new surge in cases in the next couple of months, Dr. Fauci?

FAUCI: Well, I think you always want to be prepared for that type of thing. I don't think at all that it is inevitable that that will happen.

The way you mitigate against that, Dana, is you do two things. You continue to abide by the public health measures and recommendations of universal wearing of masks, keeping physical distance, avoiding congregate settings, particularly indoors, washing your hands, the things that we speak about all the time. That's a very good way to prevent any infection, be it a variant or not.

The other thing that's important that our viewers should appreciate is that the vaccines that we are currently distributing now, the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines, work very well against the U.K. variant, the 117.

So, the better we do at getting vaccine into people's arms as quickly and as expeditiously as possible, that will be another important tool against preventing this additional spike that we want to make sure does not happen with the U.K. variant.

BASH: Well, let's talk a little bit more about vaccines.

New research I know you have seen from Israel and Canada suggest that even one shot of the Pfizer vaccine can provide 85 to 90 percent protection. And the U.K. is delaying some of its second doses up to 12 weeks.

Can you explain to Americans why the U.S. isn't adjusting its strategy, when millions of them who want a vaccine, number one, can't get one?

[09:05:06]

FAUCI: Well, Dana, it's a good question.

But the answer is that we want to do things based on the science. First of all, there are two scenarios, the one you're talking about, about the Pfizer giving one dose and having a good degree of protection, vs. what they're doing in the U.K.

So, let me very briefly explain both.

The Pfizer situation, where they gave a vaccine and, after a period of time, at 15 to 28 days, they had good protection, what we don't know -- and this is the risky business about it -- we don't know how durable that effect is going to be.

We know for sure that, when you give a prime with the Pfizer, followed by a boost 21 days later, that you get a 94 to 95 percent efficacy. And the difference between the level of antibodies after one dose vs. two doses is about 10-fold higher.

And that is really important, because, when you have that high a degree, comparable to the single dose alone, that's the cushion that you would like to have when you get a variant that isn't as well- protected against by the antibodies induced by the vaccine, but you have enough level to be able to prevent at least severe disease.

So, the science points directly towards continuing with what we know about from the clinical trial. Now, we always keep an open mind to continue to look at data and make decisions based on the evidence and the data.

Very quickly, the situation with the U.K. a bit different, because they're talking about an entirely different vaccine platform. They're talking about a vaccine that was developed using a chimp adeno-vector, as opposed to the mRNA.

So, they really are not comparable, when you talk about the duration that you will wait before you get the second dose when you're talking about Pfizer or Moderna, which is what we're using here in the United States.

BASH: That's a really important explanation, because there are a lot of people confused about it.

Let's talk about schools. Dr. Fauci. The administration says that schools should open in person, as long as they are following the five steps from the CDC, like social distancing and wearing masks you talk so much about.

Given the science, are schools being too cautious, do you think? And are there schools closed right now that should be open in person?

FAUCI: You know, I mean, obviously, it's a very difficult situation to get an absolute definitive answer.

What the CDC has tried to do is look at the risks that you have and try, if you follow the CDC guidelines, to get the children back in school, at least with hybrid, and maybe, even when you actually have increased spacing with them, that you can get it in what's called a decreased capacity.

If you do the four or five things that the CDC recommends, the bottom- line goal that I think people need to remember is that -- and I have said this way before the CDC guidelines came out -- that the default position is to do whatever you can, as best as you can, to get the children back to school, with safety concerns for the children and for the teachers and the educational personnel.

And that's what we're trying to do. That's what the president is talking about, about getting those K-12 schools open within the first 100 days.

BASH: But the...

FAUCI: And that is what we want to do.

BASH: Yes.

And so, for administrators, superintendents, teachers listening to you right now, what is your advice to them? Should they push the boundaries more than they are? Because there's a lot of frustration out there that the CDC guidelines are -- as you explained, they're pretty clear. But the schools are dragging their feet.

FAUCI: Well, yes, I mean, obviously, the situation the ground, the teachers are going to make their decisions, and the schools are going to make their decisions. The CDC gives guidelines.

If you follow the guidelines, I think it will go a long way to be able to get the children back to school in the safest way as you possibly can.

One of the things that comes up is that we will be doing more and more of -- and I think these are things that are important to put into the mix of the consideration -- is that teachers clearly should be prioritized among those essential personnel to get vaccinated.

I don't believe that it should be a sine qua non that, if they're not vaccinated, they should not go back. I believe we should prioritize them and get as many vaccinated as we can.

BASH: So... FAUCI: The other thing that is going to relate very, very closely to what you have said just a moment ago is, if you look at the number of infections in the community, they're coming down at a very, very rapid, steep decline, which means, very quickly, as we get into the next week or so, Dana, you're going to see more areas getting into the yellow, and then the blue zone, as that continuation goes down, which I think will add to the solution to the problem, together with the CDC guidelines.

[09:10:24]

BASH: You mentioned the level at which the doses are getting out into the community.

The U.S. is administering about 1.5 million doses per day. Everybody agrees that the pace needs to be picked up. Is the federal government doing absolutely everything it can? And how many doses per day would you like to be administering by, say, the end of April?

FAUCI: You know, obviously, you want to do more and more. We're at 1.5. We were up to 1.8. a bit ago.

Of course, you would like to see it over two. You would like to see that happen.

So, what are we doing? We have been contracting with the companies to get commitments for more doses, number one. The important thing is, when you get the doses, getting them into people's arms. And, as the president has said multiple times, A, we're doing community vaccine centers, particularly in those areas where you have demographic groups that are generally underserved.

We're putting more vaccines into pharmacies. We're using mobile units to go out into underserved areas to do that.

BASH: Right.

FAUCI: And we're getting what's called vaccinators, people who can actually put the vaccine into people's arms.

All of those things are being pushed very, very, I would say aggressively, to make sure we get those vaccines into people's arms as quickly as we possibly can.

BASH: Real quick, would you like it to be over two million doses a day by the end of April? Is that what you meant?

FAUCI: Of course. I would like it to be that, and then some.

I mean, obviously, just because you set a goal of what it is, you always want to supersede that goal, and get as many as you possibly can.

BASH: So...

FAUCI: And I believe, Dana, what you're going to start to see, as we get more vaccines, you're going to see a lot more vaccines going into people's arms in a much broader way.

BASH: So, there is some confusion about what that actually means for a person's lifestyle after they are vaccinated.

I will give you an example. My parents have already gotten their second dose. They're fully vaccinated. Does that mean it's OK for them to spend time with their grandchildren, who obviously have not been vaccinated? What's your recommendation?

FAUCI: You know, I'm not going to make a recommendation now, except to say that these are things that we really do.

I mean, literally every day, Dana, we look at that. We look at the data. We look into what's evolving about how many people are getting vaccinated. And there will be recommendations coming out. I don't want to be making a recommendation now on public TV. I would want to sit down with the team, take a look at that.

And you will be seeing relaxation of some of the stringencies as more and more people get vaccinated, I promise you that.

BASH: Well -- well, let me just...

FAUCI: But I don't want to really do it right now.

BASH: Well, just to make it personal, I mean, you have been very open about the fact that you have been skipping holidays with your family. You're fully vaccinated.

FAUCI: Right.

BASH: Are you seeing your family?

FAUCI: Right now, not yet. Not yet.

I mean, I would look forward to it within a reasonable period of time, as the rest of my family gets vaccinated. I mean, obviously, I'm with my wife every day.

BASH: Right.

FAUCI: She has gotten her first dose, will soon get her second dose.

But my children, when they get vaccinated, obviously, I look forward to seeing them. And I'm sure that, by that time, recommendations will come out to guide us in a more precise way.

BASH: You and the president have suggested that we will approach normality toward the end of the year. What does normal mean? Do you think Americans will still be wearing masks, for example, in 2022?

FAUCI: You know, I think it is possible that that's the case.

And, again, it really depends on what you mean by normality.

BASH: Right. That's what -- I want you to define it. (LAUGHTER)

FAUCI: If normality is exactly the way it...

(LAUGHTER)

FAUCI: No, Dana, it's important, because, if normality means exactly the way things were before we had this happen to us, I mean, I can't predict that.

I mean, obviously, I think we're going to have a significant degree of normality beyond what the terrible burden that all of us have been through over the last year, that, as we get into the fall and the winter, by the end of the year, I agree with the president completely that we will be approaching a degree of normality.

It may or may not be precisely the way it was in November of 2019, but it'll be much, much better than what we're doing right now.

BASH: Why do you think Americans might have to wear masks into 2022?

FAUCI: You know, because it depends on the level of dynamics of virus that's in the community.

And that's really important, because that gets back to something, again, that you said. If you see the level coming down really, really very low, I want it to keep going down to a baseline that's so low, that there's virtually no threat -- or not no. It'll never be zero, but a minimal, minimal threat that you will be exposed to someone who is infected.

[09:15:15]

So, if you combine getting most of the people in the country vaccinated with getting the level of virus in the community very, very low, then I believe you're going to be able to say, for the most part, we don't necessarily have to wear masks.

But if we have a level of virus that is at that level that it was months and months ago -- like, 20,000 per day is a heck of a lot better than what it's been, but that's still very high level of virus in the community.

I want to see it go way down. When it goes way down, and the overwhelming majority of the people in the population are vaccinated, then I would feel comfortable in saying, we need to pull back on the masks, we don't need to have masks.

BASH: Wow.

So, your timeline is taking us out a year, maybe two years, maybe even longer.

FAUCI: No, I -- you know, I can't say that, Dana.

And I don't want to -- I don't want it to be said, that, because then it will be a sound bite that's not true.

BASH: OK. Good.

FAUCI: I'm saying we don't know. We don't know.

And the president said it very, very well. At the very end of this press conference when he was in Michigan at the Pfizer plant, he said, you ask me to make projections. These are just projections that are estimates.

And a lot of things can happen to modify that. And that's the reason why we have got to be careful, because you have variants that you need to deal with. There are so many other things that would make a projection that I give you today, on this Sunday, wind up not being the case six months from now.

BASH: Understood. Understood.

I have to, before I let you, go ask about the grim milestone that the U.S. looks like it's going to reach, 500,000 deaths from this virus.

You have been in the trenches on this since the beginning. What's your reaction to this milestone coming up?

FAUCI: It's terrible, Dana. It's really horrible. It's something that is historic. It's nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic.

People decades from now, Dana, are going to be talking about this as a terribly historic milestone in the history of this country, to have these many people to have died from a respiratory-borne infection. It really is a terrible situation that we have been through, and that we're still going through.

And that's the reason why we keep insisting to continue with the public health measures, because we don't want this to get much worse than it already is.

BASH: That is very true.

Thank you so much for your time this morning, Dr. Fauci, and thank you so much for everything you do.

FAUCI: Thank you, Dana. Thank you for having me.

BASH: And coming up: the dire emergency in Texas, where millions still don't have a reliable water supply and how the mess there is only adding to the problems inside the Republican Party.

GOP Texas Congressman Michael McCaul joins me next.

And President Biden is trying to keep his own party together, as he faces growing pressure from the left.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:22:50]

BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas after frigid temperatures for crippled the power grid. Millions of residents are still under a boil-water advisory, and some households are now facing staggering energy bills.

And the blame game over what went wrong and what hopelessly is happening to people down there, it started well before the thaw.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman of Texas Michael McCaul.

Thank you so much for joining me this morning.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Thanks, Dana.

BASH: You were one of the millions of Texans who went days without power or water this week. So, what's the situation on the ground right now?

MCCAUL: Well, the snow is gone now. It's up in the 50s.

Normally, in Texas, wintertimes are pretty nice. We haven't been hit by an arctic blast like this since the 1890s. To put it in perspective, it was down below five degrees, close to zero degrees for many days.

I had power -- was without power in my home for about five days, no water or electricity. And that was true across the state. It was really unprecedented, a lot of damage. Unfortunately, about 50 people have died now.

I'm glad the president -- we sent a letter asking for an emergency declaration. I want to thank him for granting that.

We estimate this may be as high as the emergency relief during Hurricane Harvey, to put it in perspective.

BASH: So, let's talk about how we got here.

Most of Texas has its own separate, heavily deregulated power grid, in part to avoid federal oversight.

I want to read something that the former governor of your state and former energy secretary under Donald Trump Rick Perry said about this.

He said -- quote -- "Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business."

Is that really an acceptable trade-off? Republicans have pushed deregulation for years, but isn't this crisis exhibit A of why some regulation is needed when it comes to protecting people's health and safety? MCCAUL: Well, I think power-sharing would have been helpful, if we

could have shared with other power grids.

[09:25:02]

Texas does have its own grid called ERCOT. It was set up that way to be independent of federal oversight and regulations. And, yes, that's very good with things like cybersecurity. Not so good when it comes to an arctic blast like this one.

In 2011, the state legislature, after we had a really bad freeze, came out with a bipartisan report with recommendations to the energy companies and ERCOT as to how to winterize our operations.

The difference between Texas and, say, the Northeast, is, we're not prepared for this. We're not used to this kind of weather. So, when it happened, our entire energy system was not winterized for subzero- degree temperature, as it is in the Northeast. That is what we're going to be taking a look at moving forward, are these recommendations were made in 2011.

And how can we move forward to winterize these operations, so this never happens again?

BASH: Well, as you know, I'm sure, some Texans are seeing outrageous energy bills, because their rates are tied to the energy market. People are having to empty their life savings in order to pay these bills in the thousands and even more.

Are you going to be able to fix that?

MCCAUL: Well, we're hopeful with this emergency disaster declaration.

That only not only provides FEMA. We got that earlier with an emergency declaration. But a disaster declaration breeze in the federal assistance from the federal government. And that's what Texans need right now so desperately.

A lot of people are hurting right now. People have died. And I had two nursing homes, assisted living, that were without power, a hospital without power that we were able, in an emergency basis, to get power to them.

Can you imagine? The death toll could have been much higher. But through talking to my constituents and my elected officials, we were able to stop things like that from happening.

And that's why it's so important for, I think, elected officials to be close to the ground...

BASH: Yes.

MCCAUL: ... when you have a time of crisis like this.

BASH: But I assume you're going to do something to help people pay those bills. Are you saying you will use the disaster relief funding from the federal government?

MCCAUL: Yes.

Yes, that's the current plan, is, with the federal assistance, be able to help the homeowners both repair, because we have a lot of water leaks, a lot of water damage, pipes bursting, but, also, their electricity bills as well.

BASH: Well, let's talk about the criticism.

And there's a lot of it, and some downright anger, at Republican leaders in your state, whether it's your governor, Abbott, for his handling of the storm, for Senator Ted Cruz for his decision to go on a family vacation to Cancun.

Meanwhile, you're seeing high-profile Democrats, Beto O'Rourke, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who lives in New York, organizing phone banks, distributing supplies, raising millions of dollars for Texans in need.

Just on the raw politics of this, does that split-screen worry you?

MCCAUL: Well, I think it's what America is all about.

I think it's great that AOC and Beto are crossing party lines. And this is not...

BASH: Yes, but what about the other side of the equation, the concern about Republicans?

MCCAUL: Well, I think the Republicans need to be -- I think we need to be helping as well. And we will with the federal emergency declaration that we got from the president.

But I think it's great that they're crossing party lines to help Americans first, and not just Republicans or Democrats. And I think that's the way it really should be.

And I know that some are taking heat. Look, when a crisis hits my state, I'm there. I'm not going to go on some vacation.

I know Mr. Cruz called it a mistake, and he's owned up to that. But I think that was a big mistake.

And, as for me, I was on the ground trying to help my people out and my constituents. And that's what we should be doing in a time of crisis, just like we did during the hurricane season as well.

BASH: I have to say, real quickly, hearing you say that the federal government is going to help to bail out and to pay bills on a state which is in part in this mess because it wants to be separate from the federal government is kind of rich, don't you think?

MCCAUL: Well, here's the deal, is that, because we were not winterized -- I mean, and it is a paradox, right?

Here, you have Texas, the -- probably the energy capital of the world, I would say.

BASH: Right.

MCCAUL: Houston, and Texas in general, we have more energy in this state than any other state in the United States, and arguably more than any in the world, and yet here we are without energy.

How does that make sense? And we can blame it on wind and solar, but that's about 25 percent of the grid; 75 percent is natural gas and coal. They were all frozen in their operations.

So, this winterization idea that I talked about that was set forth in the 2011 report is something that I believe we need to strongly move forward and make the investment that they failed to do in the past.

[09:30:10]

BASH: Yes, I mean...

MCCAUL: We're going to have to make that investment now.

BASH: All right, so, I mean, 2011 was 10 years ago.

On that...

MCCAUL: Yes.

BASH: ... experts are saying that what we're seeing in Texas, and the state infrastructure system that you were talking about, which is so overwhelmed, is just a preview of what to expect if the United States doesn't confront the climate crisis head on.

I know you're someone who acknowledges that climate is changing, that humans are playing a role. Does this experience show you that the climate crisis poses a real threat to Texas and the world?

MCCAUL: Well, I managed the Paris accord on the floor last year. I think I surprised some of my colleagues across the aisle when I said, I'm not saying it's not happening.

I think I think it's real. I think the question is how to deal with it. And I think innovation technology, a Manhattan-type project, to deal with clean energy is the way to go. I think these micro-nuclear devices, which I have had a lot of conversations with my state counterparts about -- we have one nuclear facility in Texas.

Why aren't we bringing in these micro-nuclear devices that can produce a ton of energy with zero carbon emissions, ideas like that, that...

BASH: Right.

MCCAUL: ... we can put forward?

Tying ourselves to an agreement with China that doesn't have to comply until 2030, that's a developing nation under the United Nations charter, doesn't seem to be a really good idea, unless we can change that paradigm with the Paris accords.

BASH: We're almost out of time.

I have to ask you one quick question. You are the top Republican on House Foreign Affairs. President Biden is facing a really tough decision in the coming weeks over whether to stick with the May 1 deadline put in place by President Trump to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

And you know the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Joseph Dunford, wants Joe Biden to delay the withdraw from Afghanistan.

Do you agree?

MCCAUL: I agree with General Dunford on this one.

I was in the White House with President Trump arguing to him, you don't want to repeat the same mistake of your predecessor in Iraq, where you pulled out 100 percent, and then ISIS reared its ugly head. I convinced him, I think, to have a residual force in Syria...

BASH: Right.

MCCAUL: ... to protect the homeland.

And I think Afghanistan, it's going to be very important. And I hope the Biden administration, I can work with them on this. I have talked to Secretary Blinken and the national security adviser about leaving a residual force there to protect the homeland...

BASH: Right.

MCCAUL: ... and not allow the Taliban to take over that country, is vitally important, not only to their national security interests, but to ours.

BASH: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Thank you for all of your time this morning, Congressman Michael McCaul.

And a Republican who is sick of the Trump worship says he's leaving the party. And he's the nephew of GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson, who is here to talk about that and much, much more next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:37:28]

BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

A bipartisan group of governors wrote President Biden this week to fix the confusion over the vaccine rollout to states.

Despite coronavirus cases actually declining nationwide and vaccine distribution improving, states are saying more communication with the federal government is -- which is a problem going back to the Trump White House, could get even more shots in arms faster.

Joining me now is one of the governors who signed that letter to Biden, Republican Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

Governor, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

I want to start with that letter to the president. Last month, you called the vaccine distribution process under Biden seamless. Has that changed?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): No, it's been a seamless handoff. They have taken the ball. They have been able, because of increased production, to increase the manufacturing and the allocation to the states on our doses.

What we meant by that letter is, the governors want to be held accountable and we want to be responsible for getting these vaccines out. But we're setting up multiple programs right now. We're setting up the state program. And then there's some federal programs that are going side by side with that.

And we're sending the signal that, as you have increased allocation, give it to the states, we will get it out, we will get in the arms of people, we have the same commitment. And it's easier to coordinate that way.

But we have a very good working relationship with the White House. I expect us to work through these issues. And we're going to continue to increase getting those doses out.

BASH: So, the House of Representatives is set to vote on President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package this week. Could you use the help? And do you think Arkansas representatives in Washington should vote yes?

HUTCHINSON: Well, first of all, I think the president has missed an opportunity to have bipartisan support for this bill.

I don't think it's the right strategy to ram that through on a party- line vote. I think that everybody recognizes the urgent need for a stimulus package, for relief to the states. That's what the governors support.

But it's a fair debate as to what's included in that bill and how much debt we're going to put on our children for the future. And it's a very expensive bill at $1.9 trillion. I read the bill last night, 590 pages, that covers everything from the arts to food for peace programs.

[09:40:01]

And it really looks like it just took all the federal programs, enhanced their budget. It needs to be more targeted. And so we need that relief. We need to enact. But our -- my message is that I would have preferred it to be done in a bipartisan way. And I think that it could be trimmed back. And I think that's important. And when Americans say they want that and they support it, absolutely,

because we do need that. Whether it's in Texas or in Arkansas, we need it. But it's fair to bring in broader support for that.

BASH: The debate over the direction of your party, Governor, took a personal angle for you this week.

Arkansas state Senator Jim Hendren, who is your nephew, announced that he's leaving because of the GOP's embrace of Donald Trump. And he pointed specifically to the insurrection on January 6.

I want to play for our viewers what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STATE SEN. JIM HENDREN (I-AR): That day was the final straw.

I asked myself, what in the world would I tell my grandchildren when they asked one day what happened and what did I do about it?

I'm still a conservative. But I'm one whose value is about decency, civility and compassion I just don't see in my party anymore. I haven't changed. My party has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: What's your reaction to that? Your own nephew doesn't see a place for himself in your party anymore.

HUTCHINSON: Well, it saddens me.

And it's certainly a warning sign to us that there's many out there that would like to see a more civil dialogue. And so I have tremendous respect for his -- what he announced or what he's thinking there.

But he's been a big part of lowering taxes in Arkansas. He's been a great partner with me. But he has said: I'm going to start as an independent.

And I tell him, and I believe it in my heart, I fought for 40 years for a conservative Republican Party. And, sure, we have personalities that come and go, but when we stick to our principles, that's a good future.

And that's where I am, right with the party, trying to build it for the future on a conservative basis. But, also, we're trying to accomplish the same thing in a more civil dialogue, being able to reach across the aisle to be able to work with each other. And that's what I really think the American public wants vs. driving that wedge.

So, it saddens me, but, at the same time, I respect his decision. We're going to work for a mutual goal, but in different ways. I will be working within the Republican Party.

BASH: Well, you told my colleague Erin Burnett that Trump can't define the party moving forward. But the fact is, he does define it right now, to the point that people

like your nephew feel they have no choice but to leave. The former president is speaking at CPAC. He's encouraging primary challenges against fellow Republicans who don't embrace him.

So, has Trump succeeded in taking down the Republican Party as you know it?

HUTCHINSON: Well, he will only define our party if we let him define our party.

And that's one of the reasons that my voice is important, others' voice is important in this debate. And I think it's fine for CPAC to invite former President Trump to speak, but how about the other voices, Senator Cassidy from Louisiana, those that have different points of view, still arch-conservatives, but a different voice for the future of our party?

And so that's what we have got to embrace. He has a loud megaphone, but we have to have many different voices. And, in my view, we can't let him define us for the future, because that would just further divide our country. And it would hurt our Republican Party.

BASH: The former president is teasing a run again in 2024.

Would you ever support him again?

HUTCHINSON: No, I wouldn't. It's time.

And he's got a good family. I have worked with Ivanka and others, and they love America. But I would not support him for reelection in 2024. He's going to have a voice, but -- as former presidents do. But there's many voices in the party.

And, again, he should not define our future. We have got to define it for ourself. And that has to be based upon the principles that really gave us the strength in America.

We have got to respond to the people that like Trump. We have got to respond and identify with the issues that gave him the first election and gave him support throughout his presidency.

There's one that we have to reach out to, but it's based upon conservative principles and reaching out to those blue-collar voters that are so important that identified with him because he was fighting for them. And we have got to take that message, but we just got to handle it in a different way with different personalities.

BASH: Governor, before I let you go, I want to ask about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is under fire amid revelations his administration underreported the extent of coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents in New York.

[09:45:03]

Legislators there from both parties are moving to strip him of emergency powers. He's the chair of the National Governors Association. You are the vice chair. Do you believe he should be held accountable for his actions?

HUTCHINSON: Well, every governor should be held accountable for their actions.

And so, as a fellow governor, I'm not going to start criticizing other governors for what's happened in their state. We are accountable.

I do think it's important, whenever you're looking at the nursing home deaths, that they're properly counted for, that we're transparent with the American people, even though it might make us look bad in terms of what's happening in our state.

Transparency from day one has been critically important, and giving people confidence as we go through this terrible pandemic.

BASH: Governor, thank you so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Good to be with you.

BASH: Thank you.

And the president's efforts to find common ground with lawmakers is a challenge. And I'm not even talking about Republicans.

Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

Forget about Republican resistance for a second. President Biden is facing some big-time pushback from his own party.

Joining me now is Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Democrat from Washington state, and chair of the nearly 100-member House Progressive Caucus.

Thank you so much for joining me.

I want to start with President Biden's coronavirus relief bill. It's going to go before the House coming -- this coming week.

[09:50:04]

The president made clear that a minimum wage increase to $15 might not happen in this bill.

Do you think he's fighting hard enough to get this done?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, the president came out very strong early on, saying he wanted a $15 minimum wage in this bill. He has been fairly consistent on that. I know there are questions about whether or not the Senate can get it through. But I can tell you, Dana, this $15 minimum wage increase would mean 30

million Americans would get a raise. A million Americans would come out of poverty, and 30 percent of those minimum wage workers are black; 25 percent are Latinx.

It is absolutely essential that we do it. And I believe the Senate will do it.

BASH: You said that he's -- was consistent. But he's also said he doesn't actually think it's going to end up in this bill.

JAYAPAL: Well, let's see.

I think he's speaking as he's thinking about whether or not it's going to make it through, according to the parliamentarian's rule. But I have been speaking with Senator Sanders pretty regularly, with Speaker Pelosi, with the White House.

And if Republicans could give a $2 trillion tax break to the wealthiest people and stop Arctic drilling, then -- or continue drilling in the Arctic, then I think that Democrats can make sure that 30 million Americans get a raise.

BASH: Well, even if the parliamentarian says, yes, it seems like it's possible you might not have the votes.

You have said that -- quote -- "We can't let one or two Democrats prevent the $15 minimum wage from being in the relief bill."

There are currently two Democratic senators who are not on board with it, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. What's your message to them?

JAYAPAL: My message is, 30 million Americans deserve a raise. We have not raised the minimum wage in 12 years.

And the place that people are in today, where they can't put food on their table -- essential workers, many black, brown and indigenous, are going to work every day. And trying to exist on $15,000 a year, you just can't feed a family, much less put anything away for any emergencies.

And so, if we're going to be real about tackling racial inequity, economic inequity, then we are going to have to raise the minimum wage. And let me just say this. It is good for communities. It's good for businesses.

I know because we were the first major city in Seattle to raise the minimum wage to $15 over a period of years. And, in 2018 and 2019, "Forbes" ranked us the best place in the country for businesses and for careers. We had one of the lowest unemployment numbers in the country.

BASH: So...

JAYAPAL: And so we know that this is good for everyone. BASH: So, yes or no, if minimum wage is not included in the final

COVID bill, will you still vote for it?

JAYAPAL: I think it's going to be included, so I don't think we're going to have to make that decision.

And I think we're going to have to fight hard for it, because 30 million people deserve us, as Democrats, fighting for their future.

BASH: I want to get to a different issue in the relief bill.

President Biden suggested that he's willing to negotiate on who receives a $1,400 direct payment that is in the legislation. Most Democrats are calling for a $75,000 income limit for individuals.

But the president has signaled he's willing to lower that. Does that income limit need to stay at $75,000, or would you be OK with it a bit lower?

JAYAPAL: It absolutely has to.

Dana, if you raise those income thresholds, you're going to cut out 40 million Americans who got a relief check under Donald Trump who won't get a relief check under Joe Biden. That doesn't make any political sense to me.

But from a policy standpoint, if you really wanted to target these checks, you would have recent income numbers. The fact is, most people are going to be going according to 2019 incomes. And we know tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs in 2020.

So, these income thresholds need to stay the same. Progressives fought for that in the House, and they are the same in the House. And so I'm really pleased with that. And I believe that's going to be -- that's going to be the case in the Senate as well, because we just have people who are suffering, food banks with lines going around the block across the country.

We need to get money in people's pockets. And this is the quickest way to do that.

BASH: Another issue, real quick, is on forgiving student loan debt.

President Biden said that -- flatly no that -- to the progressives saying it should be $50,000. He said it should be $10,000. Your reaction?

[09:55:03]

JAYAPAL: We want at least $50,000 canceled.

We believe -- again, this is $1.7 trillion of student debt. And if you cancel that debt, you give a lifeline to millions of people across this country.

So, let's work on it together. Obviously, if Congress could do it, that's great. But we believe that the president has the authority to do it. And we have been in conversation with the White House about it. And we urge President Biden to use every tool in his toolbox and get relief to people at this critical time.

BASH: We're almost out of time.

Real quick, are you comfortable that President Biden is living up to his promise to be the most progressive president?

JAYAPAL: Well, I think he has been doing a really great job coming out of the gates strong.

I think what we need to do is finish strong all the promises that have been made during the campaign to deliver relief to people, to make sure people understand what happens when Democrats control the House, the Senate and the White House, is, we deliver relief.

BASH: Yes.

JAYAPAL: Now we have got to make sure we deliver.

BASH: OK.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thank you so much for joining me this morning. Appreciate it.

And thank you...

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Thank you for spending your Sunday with us.

The news continues next.