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VP Harris Gives Wide-Ranging Interview To SF Chronicle; President Biden To Travel To Kentucky On Wednesday. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 13, 2021 - 12:30   ET



EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Yes, and this is a big problem that the caucus as a whole is going into the future thinking about and wondering how they're going to hold together on that front, across those divisions and across all the divisions that they've got here. They're doing it at a time when they are very worried about Republicans taking control, not just because they'll lose their committee chairmanships.

But because they are thinking what happens for the 2024 election, if Republicans control the House. What happens if there is a question of certification, the vote or voting rights laws that they are not able to pass, that the infighting that they are doing is distracting them, and many would say because race was like weakening them for the fights that they would rather be having with Republicans.



BASH: Just an important point that you make in your piece is that until I would say four years ago, the speaker had a very, very firm grip on the Congress. She has a tighter grip than probably anybody else could have right now. But it is weakening, and her job is much harder because of the nature of the infighting and the wide range of opinions, very strong opinions in the caucus.

DOVERE: Right. And it'll be harder for whoever the next person is just because they don't have the grip. And she's also been struck by how little loyalty there is to the president of their own party for House Democrats.

KING: It's fascinating, fascinating dynamic to watch as we go through the next election.

Up next, Kamala Harris sits down with their hometown newspaper for a wide =-ranging interview. She says some of her media coverage is ridiculous, but she has little to say about any lessons learned in her first year as Vice President.


[12:36:10] KING: We're going to hear from the President any minute. He's conducting an Oval Office meeting on the terrible tornadoes that hit eight states over the weekend. And we also learned from the White House that the President will travel to Kentucky on Wednesday. We'll bring you the words from the President as soon as they come in.

In the meantime, let's move on to another big story, Vice President Kamala Harris promising a more active travel schedule in the 2022 election year and says a combination of COVID and being needed in Washington to break votes in the Senate kept her here more than she would like this past year.

In a new interview with the "San Francisco Chronicle," the Vice President said she knew having voting rights and immigration in her portfolio would be challenging quote, there is nothing about this job that is supposed to be easy. She told the "Chronicle" quote, if it was easy, it would have been handled before it comes to me.

She had little to say though about recent staff turnover in her office and twice did not answer directly when asked about any lessons she might have learned this first year, the "Chronicles" Tal Kopan conducted this interview and joins our conversation. Let's start there. I want to go through a lot of this, but she refused to answer directly. You're just trying to say, hey, you've been vice president the first year what lessons have you learned any regrets, she wouldn't play?

TAL KOPAN, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: I thought it was sort of a almost like a trite job interview question. But it's one of those things. I mean, you know, when we get job interviews, it's sort of an opportunity where you say if you want to address any criticism head on or turn a weakness into a strength, all the things are sort of coached to do so I threw it up there to see, you know, is this something that she's going to say, yes, perhaps I wouldn't have done this differently.

Or this is something I've learned going into next year. But she didn't want to go there directly. She did say, you know, that she wants to get out on the road and travel more and go directly to the people. Perhaps there's a bit of an implicit acknowledgement in that. But, yes, no direct acknowledgement of any redos or lessons --

KING: Let's stay there for a second then, so you're sitting across the Vice President of the United States after this, we just show you some headlines from the past three weeks. Harris's Bluetooth-phobic, Harris reportedly spent over $500 on cookware in Paris. Exasperation and dysfunction, you see those headlines, she is well aware of those, her team is well aware of those. There's been talk of a reset or whatever you want to call it. Body language, interactions, where was she?

KOPAN: She was relaxed. I mean, she even wanted to keep talking beyond sort of the time we had allotted for the interview. I mean, she brought me in to her west wing office, which is not a place we've seen a lot of that we usually see her in a ceremonial office. She was comfortable. You know, when you mentioned she's aware of the headlines, I asked her sort of how do you respond to Chris (ph), she brought some of them up on her own. I did not have to prompt some of those.

So clearly, she's aware of them. She's thinking about them, not happy with them. And, you know, they have a point that some of these headlines have been frivolous. But that also gives them sort of an easy out on perhaps some of the headlines that haven't been as frivolous, that they also have.

KING: Right. That's a key point. But in the Vice President's defense, I've traveled a lot with the Vice President. I covered the White House for 10 years. Reporters are always asking for time to go shopping, I'm sorry. They just are, they just are. So for reporters then to criticize Kamala Harris, who went to see the French President, other French officials as they tried to mend relations, you know, this is, you know, this is what she said, oh, how about she's going to buy a pot on our way to the airport, after a very significant and highly successful bilateral meeting in France on issues that are about national security, about climate, on everything from cyber to space. Come on. She's right.

BASH: She's right. I mean, yes, I'm trying to think about my trips with Dick Cheney when he was vice president. I don't know that we went shopping with him. But there were certainly a lot of opportunities for the press to do it. And it is part of the culture, but much more importantly, she has a point on the substance of what she was doing in Europe.

I mean, she was sent to Europe to have some very important meetings with allies about a lot of the problems on the world stage and that was the thing that people talked about the most. Having said that, if you are somebody who is prone to clickbait which is what Kamala Harris is, you got to expect that that is going to happen and just kind of roll with it.


KING: Right. So you're at the White House every day. This is something she says about her boss, the President of the United States. She says she's grateful that he was Vice President because she says he gets the role he really appreciates and understands the role. And he's extremely supportive, that he's influenced a great deal of what this -- that has influenced a great deal of what this experience has been for me.

There have been some talk throughout the year of dissatisfaction among team Biden with team Harris. Again, they said that about Clinton-Gore, they said that about Bush and Cheney, they said that about Obama and Biden, but what's the most interesting piece of it?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the most interesting piece is the long-term question of whether Kamala Harris as a politician can translate into real world appeal. All of the strengths that appear on paper, she seems to be having ideal resume background set of skills. It did not take in the 2020 presidential campaign, and that's what she's got to do.

But she, you know, realizes that what part of the Joe Biden example was Joe Biden got lousy coverage as vice president, goofy uncle who trips over his tongue all the time. That's partly goes with the job.

KING: He's President right now. The question is do you grow which makes next year really fascinating in the midterm -- challenging midterm election year. We could talk about this for a while. I need to cut it short though, because any moment now we're going to hear from the President of the United States on the horrific, horrific tornadoes and severe storms over the weekend. We'll be right back.



KING: We're just seconds away now from hearing from the President of the United States. This will be tape of an Oval Office meeting with the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and the FEMA Director Deanne Criswell talking about the federal response to the horrific, horrific tornadoes and severe storms that hit eight states over the weekend, 64 people confirmed dead in Kentucky alone, the death toll expected to rise in the other states as well over 100 or more.

Again, we're told by the White House that the President will visit Kentucky on Wednesday. I will hear from him just seconds after this meeting in the White House to see other federal aid being redirected into these agencies. As we wait for the tape. John Harwood, the President going there right out of the box expected?

HARWOOD: Yes. And this is the kind of event where Joe Biden showcases his personal strengths, right? He is somebody who is --

KING: I'm sorry, we got to go straight. This is the President.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- and my FEMA Administrator, Criswell, they're on the ground in Kentucky yesterday. And I asked for a detailed briefing in which they were able to see what they've found. And they shared to me what they learned and we discussed how we can do more, especially so many of the people are facing immense, immense loss.

And we talked about how we can accelerate and expand federal assistance to those in desperate need. You saw, I mean, some of you've been there and you've seen, you've been reporting on television, you know, the devastation, you know, before and after, and this is Mayfield, Kentucky. I mean, it's just devastating.

We've already approved an emergency declaration and a major disaster declaration for Kentucky. I've spoke with the governor several times thus far. And this gives me the tools to provide everything that we can from the federal level, from experts, search and rescue teams to immediate and longer term help with housing and clean up, the whole range of things. And I stand ready to do the same for the governors of other states.

As matter of fact, I'm about to sign an emergency request from Illinois, the governor of Illinois went literally when I finished the trip and signed that. And, you know, we've also ask FEMA and the key departments, surge federal resources, the thing they most need are power, water, communication systems to get back to some sense of being able to communicate with one another as rapidly as they possibly can.

And as I said, I intend to travel to Kentucky on Wednesday. And with each passing day, the human impact of this devastation is just with depth of the losses are becoming more and more apparent. This is a town with a relatively low average income of under $20,000 a year. It's a town that has been wiped out, but it's not the only town. It's not the only town.

That path you see moves all the way up well over 100 miles. And there's more than one route that goes. And so, you know, we're also seeing destruction met with a lot of compassion I'm told. Everywhere they've, they have people volunteering, talking, asking for that they not only get help, but how they can give some help. And so we continue to pray for everyone in Kentucky and the other states that were affected. And particularly my heart goes out to the governor of Kentucky who've lost family himself. It's pretty rough stuff.

But we're going to get this done. We're going to be there as long as it takes to help. And the combination of state, federal, and volunteer organizations do everything from eventually not only clear the debris, but provide the necessary means to move, get schools reopened, making sure that homes are able to be rebuilt, et cetera. So there's a lot, a lot that needs to be done and mostly Kentucky here, but not only Kentucky.


And so that's, I just wanted to let you know that's what I was doing. I haven't decided where I'm going yet. We're working out what I indicated to the government when we talked about this two days ago was that I don't want to be in the way. There's a lot going on. And when a president shows up, there's a long tail of follow from awful lot of folks.

And I just don't want to do anything other than be value added. But I want you to know that this administration has made it clear to every governor, whatever they need, when they need it, when they need it, make it known to me, it will get it to them as rapidly as we can. And that's what we're doing here in Kentucky.

We're going to have to go beyond what is available to the federal government. For example, we're able to FEMA can come up with up to $35,000 in housing restoration. Well, not a lot of $35,000 homes. In the meantime, we can provide everything from hotel rooms and places where folks can live in the meantime, but there's a lot to be done and we're just getting it underway. But we're going to work with all the governors to make sure that we can. Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what do you believe your own visit there can do for the people who are affected by this? And what is your concern about the longest-term problems? Is it housing? What part of recovery do you worry about most?

BIDEN: Well, what I worry about most in a circumstance like this, because I've been involved in responding to a lot of disasters as a Senator, as Vice President, now as President just this year, is the peace of mind that people being able to actually put their head on a pillow, lie down on a bed, be able to know their kids are going to be OK. And so with -- this is a narrow path. The devastation is just stunning. I mean, there's nothing left standing basically along the path that goes all the way through.

You know, do you have that other, let me ask you, show that other in terms of housing, because I think this is the best way to illustrate just how precise it can be. Go to the one that goes all the way up. This is takes you. So if you take a look. Why don't you point out where we are here?

You take a look where Mayfield is and Bowling Green is, that's not -- we're not talking about Mayfield now, but all these yellow dots here along the way are residences, and they've been wiped out. They've been wiped out. Commercial and government historical sites and industrial sites, it's been wiped out.

Would you mind putting the one back up for Mayfield? If you take a look, Mayfield sits in that where that square is in the left. Well, look at all, this is just the city of Mayfield, residential, commercial, exempt, government, and historical, agriculture, et cetera, just, I mean, they're gone, some of you probably already down there. It's just devastating.

And so, and I worry quite frankly, about, how can I say it, the mental health of these people. You come home and you see that if you made it, and if you haven't, if you lost someone in the meantime, you know, thank God it doesn't seem like the numbers are quite as high as were anticipated, but they're high. You come home, you've lost your husband, wife, mother, father, children, somebody along the line. Now, what do you do? Where do you go? It's not like if you're making $16,000 a year, you know, get in a plane and head to your relative in Washington.

But I mean literally, that's what worries me most, the uncertainty. And it really is something that I've observed in every major disaster I've watched and been on the ground to see. It just is --it just you can see it in people's faces. And so we just want them to know that we're going to stay as long as it takes to help them.

And there's three ways to begin help. One is the federal agencies that are available and that's already underway. And for example, they're setting up in all these places. For example, there're going to be roughly how many disaster centers you think we'll have in the state?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll have disaster recovery centers in all the major impacted --

BIDEN: So there'll be one place a citizen can go. There will be essentially an ombudsman. What I said to the governors, and it surprised me that they, pleased me, but surprised me, that they repeated it, is that, for example, I told the governor of Kentucky, I'm not only -- I'm not expecting you to know all you need. Let us tell you what you can ask for, that you haven't asked for. Let us do our job.

I mean, these large government agencies, like the federal or state governments, it's hard for people to understand sometimes. Let me go in and tell you what you can ask for. And so, there is the federal government, the state government. There's also the nonprofits out there that have been in fact involved in all these disasters around the country, and they can provide help and assistance.

Right now, for example, I'm told, I hope I'm not misspeaking, that the school in Mayfield is being used for shelter now. It didn't get wiped out, but it is not going to be able to be functioned as a school soon. So, how do you get these kids back in school rooms? How do you get some semblance of normalcy again? And so, we're working like the devil.

I'm very, very pleased with the work that FEMA director, Criswell has done. And I know that Homeland Security's done reached out to these folks. They know we're there. And I just want to make sure there is no sense in the part of anyone in these affected areas that they are asking something that they shouldn't ask for. Ask for whatever you think you need and we'll find out.

And if we can't provide it through a government agency, we'll do our best to find out private agencies that can help, from churches to Red Cross, to a whole range of institutions.

But it's just -- it's like when I was walking through the neighborhoods in Louisiana. I mean see the looks on people's faces. You go to the corner where there were houses just gone. People standing in their yards, crying. And this was two days after the storm went through. So, it really is devastating. This is the United States of America, though.

The thing that pleased me, every one of my staff who were down there came back, at least today called me on the phone and said, you know, people already help each other. They're already asking, you know, how can I help, too? So, that's what I worry most about. It's just getting some peace of mind and say, look, there is a way to get from here to there. There's disaster now, but there's a way to get there. We're going to do everything we can. And I believe the Congress will respond for that extraordinary need we don't have. Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much of a factor do you think that climate change was in this? And do you think that will be part of the argument you make people, like Senator Manchin, about why to Build Back Better bill is needed for approval?

BIDEN: No. I'm not going to make that argument with him about this. Look, Joe understands. Joe has as much empathy and concern for these folks. I mean, he's been through some real of disasters in West Virginia. He understands.

And the honest to God truth is, we're discussing this. I've spent a lot of time on climate issues. And I said we have to be very careful. We can't say with absolute certainty that it was because of climate change. So, I'm going to be talking with the Environmental Protection Agency, and I'm going to talk with other agencies to determine. In fact, matter of fact, some of it has to do with El Nino.

There's a lot of things that we don't know for certain. And I don't want to say anything that is not precisely true. What is certain? It is one of the worst tornado disasters we've had in the country. And the second thing is certain is that it is unusual. It is unusual how it happened, how many places it touched down, and the length of the path. So, that's all I'm prepared to talk about right now. Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Mr. President, this is all happening in the middle of a pandemic. How are you thinking about will these places need more resources because they're also going to be dealing with, you know, possibly rising cases, possibly hospitals being overloaded, things of that nature?

BIDEN: Yes. We're going to, look, we have -- I have my the entire federal team, not just the folks going in and making sure that there's still people, we're not leaving anybody still breathing under debris. That's the immediate, immediate, urgent, urgent thing. And just to get the food, water to people who don't have it, and there's no place to get it. So, that's number one.


But number two, there's a whole range of things, including the virus.