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State of the Union

Interview With Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR); Interview With Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA); Interview With Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL); Interview With U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; Interview With Rep. Young Kim (R-CA). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired March 21, 2021 - 09:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): Don't come. Thousands of unaccompanied migrant children arrive at the border, as agents struggle to provide adequate care and urge them to wait.


BASH: How will the Biden administration handle what they refuse to call a crisis? I will speak to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin next.

And rising hate. Asian Americans increasingly targets of attack, and tensions spike after deadly shootings in Atlanta.

REP. MICHELLE STEEL (R-CA): It has been heartbreaking.

REP. YOUNG KIM (R-CA): Asian Americans are Americans.

BASH: What can be done to stop the violence? The first two GOP Korean American women in Congress, Young Kim and Michelle Steel, join me to discuss.

Plus: holding out. Nearly half of Trump supporters say they won't get the vaccine, as deadly variants spread and states roll back restrictions. Can they be convinced to get their shots? I will speak to the Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, ahead.


BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is at a tipping point.

The Biden administration is now more than two months into office and this week achieved their goal of putting 100 million vaccines in arms far ahead of schedule in just 58 days.

But as there are cautious signs that the COVID-19 pandemic is improving, the new administration is now facing two other challenges, rising domestic extremism on display this week after the shootings in Atlanta and a surge of migrants at the border.

There are now more than 5,000 unaccompanied children in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody, and that's nearly twice the number of children in Border Patrol custody at the peak of the 2019 border crisis during the Trump administration. That's according to a former Border Patrol official.

Now, more than 600 children have been in custody for more than 10 days. That's far longer than the 72 hours, or three days, allowed by law.

While the administration is not calling the situation of crisis, a former senior government official who worked for Republican and Democratic administrations on border issues tells me that this is a -- quote -- "five-alarm emergency."

The influx of young migrants is due in part to worsening conditions in Central America and a change in policy by the Biden administration to accept children who had previously been turned away.

On Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas led a bipartisan Senate delegation to El Paso, Texas. And one Democratic senator said he fought back tears during the visit.

And now, just back from that trip to the border, joining me now is Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Thank you so much for joining me this morning, sir.

So, we have heard reports of children in these border control facilities taking turns sleeping on mats on the floor. Some haven't showered or seen the sun in days. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said that he fought back tears as a 13-year-old sobbed uncontrollably.

So, are these conditions at border facilities acceptable to you?

MAYORKAS: Dana, good morning. And thank you very much for having me.

I have said repeatedly, from the very outset, that a Border Patrol station is no place for a child. And that is why we are working around the clock to move those children out of the Border Patrol facilities into the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services that shelters them.

Let me say also one thing about what Senator Murphy experienced on our trip on Friday to El Paso. That 13-year-old girl who was in tears was a young girl who would have been expelled back into Mexico during the Trump administration. And what we are doing is addressing the humanitarian needs of those children in a way that reflects our values and our principles as a country.

BASH: The Biden administration, though, is, as you mentioned, now allowing unaccompanied children into the U.S., different from the Trump administration.

But, clearly, you don't have the infrastructure to handle this many children right now. As I mentioned, more than 600 children have been in border protection custody for more than 10 days, far longer than is acceptable and allowed by law. That's three days.

So, did you change the policy too quickly without having the infrastructure in place to take care of these children?


MAYORKAS: Dana, we will not abandon our values and our principles. We will not abandon the needs of vulnerable children. That is what this is all about. We are executing on our plan.

It does take time. It is difficult. Our plan includes the deployment of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, FEMA, to assist HHS in building its capacity more rapidly to shelter the children. But it is taking time and it is difficult, because the entire system was dismantled by the prior administration.

There was a system in place in both Republican and Democratic administrations that was torn down during the Trump administration. And that is why the challenge is more acute than it ever has been before.

BASH: So, I hear what you're saying about the Trump administration. But, given that, and given what you're seeing and what you saw on the border and the conditions under U.S. custody that these children are in, would it have not -- it wouldn't have made more sense to wait until you are up and running with FEMA and HHS?

My understanding is that was a recommendation from career officials before you came into office.

MAYORKAS: Dana, we are working in parallel streams. We are executing on our immediate plans to care for these vulnerable children and moving them to the shelter of HHS as fast as possible.

We are rebuilding the orderly systems that the Trump administration tore down to avoid the need for these children to actually take the perilous journey. And we are investing -- we are investing in those countries. We are working in partnership with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to build processing centers in country to avoid the need for these children to take the perilous journey.

BASH: So, what's your timeline?

MAYORKAS: I will tell you...

BASH: What's your timeline? When are you going to get this...

MAYORKAS: We're moving as fast as possible.

BASH: OK. Can you be more specific than that? I mean, when are you going to be able to have facilities up and running, so that no child is in these jail-like border protection facilities for more than 72 hours?

MAYORKAS: Dana, we established three new facilities just last week. We are also implementing new efficiencies in the HHS process, so that we can unite these children with their relatives here in the United States.

We are working on the system from beginning to end. We are working around the clock 24/7.

Let me share with you that this is what we do. We know how to do it. We have dealt with surges in the past. And the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security will succeed.

BASH: But even you have admitted this is the biggest surgeon in two decades. Can you be more specific? I know -- I mean, I mentioned the vaccine timeline. This is an administration not shy about putting dates on things.

So, can you give me a date that you hope to be up and running, so that these children have better facilities?

MAYORKAS: Dana, as soon as possible.

And let me add one reason why it is as difficult and challenging as it is, not just because the Trump administration tore down our systems, and we have to rebuild them from scratch, but also because of the fact that we're in the midst of a pandemic. And that makes the operations that much more difficult.

BASH: Are you going to...

MAYORKAS: We are focused on this.

BASH: Just quickly, are you going to fly any of migrants to northern -- the northern border in order to help process them?

MAYORKAS: I read that report. We don't have those plans in place now.

But what we are doing is, we are putting all options on the table, as it is our responsibility to do. And we are implementing those options that both service our legal obligations and our humanitarian values and principles.

BASH: I want to get to the cause of this surge at the border.

And by doing that, I want to talk about what Congressmen Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, who are both fellow Democrats and represent areas near the Southern border in Texas, have said. They have been pretty critical about the policy that the Biden administration changed. And they have also been critical about your recent comments telling migrants not to come now, but to come later.

Listen to what they have said.


REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): The precedent or the administration's message is not getting through. This message about don't come now, come later, with all due respect, is not being heard down there.

REP. VICENTE GONZALEZ (D-TX): The message can't be that, if you get to our Southern border and get across, we're going to process you and release you into our communities.


BASH: Again, these are Democrats saying that the change in Biden administration policy is fueling the crisis. How do you respond?

MAYORKAS: I respectfully disagree with them. Let me just say that we have a number of work streams in place.


As I mentioned, we are dealing with the needs of the children now. We are rebuilding orderly ways in which the children can make their claims without having to take the perilous journey to the border.

BASH: Right.

MAYORKAS: And we are elevating our messaging, so that the individuals do know that they cannot come to the border. The border is closed.

BASH: Because what they argue is that the messaging isn't working, and that, despite that, that children and maybe even families are coming because they think that, if they get here, the border will be open for them. That's causing the surge.

MAYORKAS: Dana, we -- Dana, we are expelling families. We are expelling single adults. We have communicated and we will continue to communicate to the children, do not come.

I was going to mention but a minute -- a minute ago that we encountered three children under the ages of 10, three siblings whose mother was murdered -- murdered during the journey.

Do not come. Give us the time to build an orderly system that will enable you to make your claim under United States law without taking the journey and imperiling your lives.


And you said that families aren't coming. There are families with children 7 and under coming. But we don't have time to talk about that, unfortunately. We're running out of time.

And I want to ask you a really important question, because we have to take your word for it in everything you're saying and the word of lawyers advocating for these children, because your department is not allowing the press inside.

During the Trump administration, journalists were allowed inside border facilities. The Biden administration, the president himself, promised to be incredibly transparent. So, when can journalists enter these facilities? Why not tomorrow?

MAYORKAS: Let me just make sure I correct something, if it was misunderstood. We are expelling families. We are seeing families at the border. They are being expelled. Those that Mexico cannot take, we are placing an image in immigration proceedings and removing under the law.

Dana -- Dana, we are in the midst of a pandemic. We are dealing with crowded Border Patrol facilities. We are focused on our operations and the needs of the children. And, at the same time, we are working to provide access to those Border Patrol facilities when we can do so in a safe manner.

BASH: Good, because...

MAYORKAS: We are working on that. Thank you.

BASH: Because we cover the White House under a pandemic, and we have figured out how to do it largely safely.

Before I let you go, just real quick, what happened in Atlanta, the killings, the murder of eight people, including six women of Asian descent, do you think that that is a hate crime?

MAYORKAS: Dana, the matter is under investigation.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of that tragic shooting. We are seeing a tremendous spike in hate crimes against the Asian American, Pacific Islander community, as well as other communities.

Domestic violent extremism is the most acute threat, terrorism-related threat that we are seeing to our homeland. And, as President Biden so powerfully put it, words do matter. Leadership matters.

BASH: It does.

Thank you so much for joining me this morning, Secretary Mayorkas.

MAYORKAS: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Thank you.

And President Biden says he supports a so-called talking filibuster, but would that actually help him pass any of his agenda? And the number two Democrat is joining me to discuss that next.

Also, why are so many Republican lawmakers silent about violence against Asian Americans? I will speak with the first two Republican Korean American congresswomen coming up.




SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Today's filibuster has turned the world's most deliberative body into one of the world's most ineffectual bodies. It's not the guarantor of democracy. It has become the death grip of democracy. It's time to change the Senate rules. Stop holding this Senate hostage.


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

You just heard Illinois Senator Dick Durbin calling for his fellow Democrats to change the filibuster, the Senate rule that essentially requires 60 votes to pass legislation.

Democrats, of course, only have 50 seats in the U.S. Senate, which could prevent them from making progress on President Biden's priorities, from voting rights, to climate change, to immigration reform.

Well, joining me now to discuss that and more is the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Thank you so much for joining me this morning.

We just played a portion of your Senate floor speech this week criticizing the filibuster. At one point, you called it a weapon of mass destruction.

But just a few years ago, I want you to and our interviewers to listen to what you said about threats to eliminate the filibuster.


DURBIN: I can tell you that would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our founding fathers. We have to acknowledge a respect for the minority. And that is what the Senate tries to do in its composition and its procedure.


BASH: So, you were arguing for it.

So, the obvious question is whether the shoe is on the other foot now and that's -- you're in the majority. That's why you want to get your agenda passed. And that's why you have a change of heart.

DURBIN: Dana, what I said on the Senate floor is not a threat. It's a challenge to the senators in both political parties.

Prove to me that, under the current rules, with a filibuster requiring 60 votes, that we can actually produce something.

You just did a segment on immigration. I want to tell you something, as chair of the Judiciary Committee. We are desperately in need to rewrite our immigration laws to stop this mess at the border and to stop the problems that we face.


To do it, we need a bipartisan majority, 60 senators under the current rules. Can we do it? Well, if 10 come forward and join all the Democrats, yes. So, it's a challenge to my colleagues. Make it work.

Right now, we know that the 60-vote requirement has stopped the Senate from meaningful activity.

BASH: And I'm going to ask you about immigration in a minute.

But you heard President Biden this week endorse bringing back the so- called talking filibuster. And just to be clear to our viewers, that would change the process, but it wouldn't change the outcome, right, because you're still going to need 60 votes.

So, will that need to happen? Will you need to change the 60-vote threshold? And will you have the votes to do that?

DURBIN: Well, I certainly support the talking filibuster as proof- positive that, if someone cares enough to stop the Senate in its tracks, to say to the Senate, you cannot even consider the measure that is before you, is it too much to ask them to stand at their desk to show that personal commitment?

Right now they phone it in. They call the Cloakroom, the room right off the floor of the Senate chamber, and say, yes, I think I'm going to do a filibuster, stop that bill on the floor. That's all it takes now.

And some senators start a filibuster on Friday, go home for the weekend, and come back on Monday to see how they're doing. That's unacceptable.

BASH: So, when are you going to do that?

DURBIN: Well, I'd like to see both sides come together and say this is reasonable, a talking filibuster, a personal commitment is reasonable.

Right now, there are two or three senators on the Republican side who have to check the box to go forward with the bill. They control the floor of the Senate. If they want to control the floor of the Senate, let them stand at their desks and make a speech to show that commitment.

BASH: But -- and just to be clear, you don't have to vote to start implementing the so-called talking filibuster, right? You just have to act as the leadership to force them to talk. There's no process that you have to vote on to make that happen.

DURBIN: It's good question, Dana, as to whether or not there has to be a ruling of the chair or a change in the rules.

This has evolved. I don't believe there has been any specific rule change in recent modern memory that took away the requirement to stand at your desk like Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

BASH: Right.

DURBIN: So, I don't want to go out on a limb and say you don't have to change the rules or get a ruling from the chair. But I think we ought to come together on a bipartisan basis and say, let's get serious.

If we're going to require 60 votes and a filibuster, you better show a commitment, a personal commitment to that.


And, obviously, we're talking a lot of process here, which I could talk to you about all day. But for people out there listening, we want to explain why we're talking about this. And it is because of the agenda that President Biden has.

I want to give a real-world example of what we're talking about. The House passed a sweeping election reform bill that put federal voting protections in place. It seems unlikely that 10 Senate Republicans are willing to vote for it.

So, if you can't get agreement, is that bill dead on arrival?

DURBIN: Well, that bill is a perfect illustration, because, if you trace the history -- Adam Jentleson, I believe, was on one of your shows earlier this morning, has written that story "Kill Switch," which traces the history.

The filibuster really came about after the Civil War because of those white people living in the South and those representing them in the Senate who did not want to give the African-Americans the power to vote.

So, they were restricting their right to vote just as we see happening across the United States today. And they protected their right to do it, if there is such a thing, with the filibuster. We're back in history to 150, 160 years ago.

BASH: So, given what you just said, how are you going to pass the bill?

DURBIN: It's a good question.

I hope that we have some Republicans who will break from others and join us in this effort. But without that, the 60-vote margin would stop us.

BASH: Let's turn to what you heard from our interview with Secretary Mayorkas.

You said this week that the votes aren't there in the Senate for a comprehensive immigration bill, which your colleague Senator Bob Menendez suggested was prematurely waving the white flag. You're going to meet with Congressional Hispanic Caucus members on Tuesday. What are you going to tell them about the prospects for immigration reform in the Senate?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you, Bob and I have had conversations about that. I support his comprehensive bill, the Biden bill, that I think is long overdue.

But the question is, in a 50/50 Senate, can we pass it? And the obvious answer is, if you have 10 more votes, you can. And I'm going to try to find those with Bob. We're going to be working together to find that.

In the meantime, Nancy Pelosi's House has passed the DREAM Act and the farm labor bill. Those are both good bills. I'd like to see more, dramatically more, people who are going to be brought into this conversation.

So, yes, it's our challenge. And we go into this debate, whether it's a crisis or a challenge at the border. Let me tell you the crisis. We need to address our immigration laws in this country that are broken.


What we see at the border is one exhibit of it, one exhibit of evidence in that. But there's more across the board.

BASH: But you -- I know you have been working on these issues for decades, just even the DREAM Act, which has pretty bipartisan support.

Could you even get that done right now, given the fact that Republicans are saying, I'm not doing anything until what's going on at the border is fixed right now?

DURBIN: Listen, I introduced the DREAM Act 20 years ago. Most people know what it's about. And a vast majority of Americans of all political faiths support it.

And yet I brought it to the floor five times, and I have been stopped by the filibuster five times from passing it. I had a majority. I didn't have 60 votes.

Do I have 60 now? I think I'm close. And I'm going to sit down with members of the Republican side and ask them if they would consider supporting it. I think I will have some support. Whether it's enough remains to be seen.

BASH: We just got word that the defense secretary is coming back from an unannounced trip to Afghanistan. We know that there's a May 1 deadline to bring back U.S. troops.

Is that something that you support? Or should it be extended?

DURBIN: Twenty years ago or so, I voted against the invasion of Iraq, but voted for the action that we took against Afghanistan. They said, that's where the people are, that's where the folks who are responsible for 9/11 are hanging out.

And I said, let's get them. Nobody should be allowed to kill 3,000 Americans, innocent Americans, and get away with it. I had no idea at that time that I was voting for the longest war in the history of the United States. It is time for it to come to an end. We ought to consider it -- consider a debate under the Constitution for an authorization of the use of military force as it relates to Afghanistan.

At this point, I see no end in sight for our presence there. I want to make sure there is a safe exit of our troops, we try to keep the environment as stable as possible, but, as far as engaging in an Afghanistan war for another decade, I'm opposed.


The number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, thank you so much for joining me this morning, sir.

DURBIN: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: And with violence against Asian Americans on the rise, I will talk to two history-making Korean American GOP congresswomen about how to stop it next.

And you might be surprised how much politics is influencing who wants a vaccine. The Republican governor of Arkansas is joining me ahead.



BASH: Welcome back.

There's a nationwide discussion about the spike in discrimination and crime against Asian Americans, especially after the murders of six Asian women in Atlanta.

This week, Asian American members of Congress spoke out in powerful testimony on behalf of their community. In the new freshman class alone, the first three Korean American women in Congress ever are now serving, one Democrat, Representative Marilyn Strickland of Washington, and two Republicans, California Congresswomen Young Kim and Michelle Steel, who became friends decades ago as wives and mothers pre-politics.

To mark Women's History Month, we are bringing back our series "Badass Women of Washington."

And I sat down with Congresswomen Kim and Steel to talk about the role that they're playing representing not just their districts in Congress, but the Asian American community.


BASH (voice-over): Congresswoman Michelle Steel and Young Kim never imagined the first time they would testify as new members of Congress, it would be to call out hate against their community.

STEEL: It has been heartbreaking to see the rise in anti-Asian American hate and harassment over the last year. KIM: Asian Americans are Americans. As an Asian American and a member of Congress, I feel a duty to speak out.

BASH: Kim and Steel are the first Republican Korean American women ever in Congress.

KIM: We are tough cookies. We're tiger moms. Don't mess with us.


BASH (voice-over): Their history-making election comes as crimes against Asian Americans are spiking. Steel says she's been on the receiving end of ugly racism since she won a seat on the California state Board of Equalization, which oversees several state taxes.

STEEL: The worst one was: "We don't eat dogs like you do."

And I don't know I can say it on TV, but, you know, racist, and my favorite: "Chairman Mao."

BASH (on camera): What did you do?

STEEL: You just ignore it? You do the better job, you will have more enemies out there, especially -- these people are not really enemies, but they try to find somebody that they can blame on.

BASH (voice-over): The group Stop AAPI Hate, formed to track violence against Asians at the start of the pandemic, says it received at least 3,795 firsthand reports of anti-Asian hate nationwide, what they call an alarming rise.


BASH: Kim has been outspoken about language like that from the former president and fellow Republicans.

KIM: That was a very insensitive remark to bring all these hateful comments and attack and call out the Asian American community as the community that is responsible for what we're facing right now, especially through the pandemic. This is completely wrong, insensitive.

BASH (on camera): But did that contribute to the hate crimes?

KIM: The words of the leaders have consequences. They need to be careful about what they say, because people really take that to heart.

BASH (voice-over): Steel co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution condemning hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islanders.


STEEL: People cannot work, and they cannot put food on the table for their families.

They have to do something about it. And then we are the victim. We just -- Asian Americans just became the victim. So we really have to change that.

BASH: Not only are they both freshmen representing Southern California districts; they have been close friends for over 30 years, introduced by their husbands in the mid-1980s.

STEEL: We just became really close friends because we had the babies at the same time, so, first one, second one, and then Young had two others after that.


KIM: I'm looking at this over the last several, I mean, decades, how we have come very far from being housewives to serving together.


BASH: Kim, born in South Korea, grew up in Guam and settled in Los Angeles after getting an MBA. In 1990, she got a job with then California state Senator Ed Royce and stayed with him when he was elected to Congress.

(on camera): He hired you for a lot of reasons, but primarily to help connect him to the Asian American community.

KIM: Exactly. Exactly.

I never knew that this would be a training ground for him to prepare me for what I'm about to do.

BASH (voice-over): When Royce retired in 2018, she ran for his seat and lost. In 2020, she narrowly won a rematch.

Steel, who at 19 immigrated to America, says she was inspired to get politically active after her single mother, who owned a sandwich shop and didn't speak much English, got hit with what she says was an unfair tax bill.

STEEL: I was making calls, stuffing envelopes, while you are raising your kids. That's the way it was.

And then one day, I heard that seat opened. So, I told my husband I'm running. His jaw dropped, because he was in politics such a long time: "With your accent, you sure you want to do it, because..."

BASH (on camera): He said that?

STEEL: Yes, first-generation accent, it's going to be very tough, because everybody tried to pull you down.

BASH (voice-over): Kim and Steel both beat one-term Democrats who won their districts in the 2018 blue wave. They helped usher in the largest group of House GOP women ever, though still far less than Democrats.

KIM: By having Michelle and I seats at the table, we will be able to allow the changing dynamics of our Republican Party, how diverse we are, how embracive we are.

BASH: But the Republican Party is changing in a lot of ways. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spread conspiracy theories, is also in their freshman class. Steel condemned QAnon and called Green's comments dangerous, but stopped short of stripping her of committee assignments.

But Kim voted yes on that.

KIM: It was for me a vote of conscience and check on my own moral compass. And I wanted to make sure that we send a message that no such comments belong in our Republican Party.

BASH: Young Kim and Michelle Steel, two immigrants candid about the weight of the history they made the minute they were sworn in.

STEEL: I had the teary eyes. It was just amazing.

KIM: I am not only representing the constituents of the 39th District, but we also feel like we have a second district always. That's going to be the Asian American communities, specifically the Korean American community.

And I'm thinking, I have to do this right.


BASH: And next week, in our "Badass Women of Washington" series, we're going to talk to a freshman from the other side of the aisle, Democratic Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who is fighting for voting rights representing the late Congressman John Lewis' district.

And up next: The U.S. is in a crucial window in terms of getting the coronavirus under control. But are states reopening a few weeks too soon? I will ask Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

Stay with us.



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

More and more Americans are getting their COVID vaccines, but health officials aren't relaxing yet.

Instead, they're warning about a deadlier COVID variant spreading rapidly across the U.S. and making the rush to vaccinate all Americans, that is now much more important.

So, joining me now, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

Thanks for joining me this morning, Governor.

So, the mask mandate in your state is set to expire at the end of the month. Right now, cases are down in Arkansas. But we are seeing troubling spikes, as I mentioned, across the country,. Dr. Fauci is warning about a possible fourth surge, as COVID variants continue to spread.

So, will you lift your mask mandate still at the end of the month?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): I anticipate that we will lift the mask mandate.

I set a goal that, if we have low hospitalizations, if we continue to reduce our cases, positivity rate is low, then we can lift the mask mandate. And so I set some goals. And we're making those goals. So, I expect that to be lifted.

It's not going to take away from the seriousness of the virus and that we have got to continue to pay attention. If you just look at the NCAA basketball tournament and the fact that we had one team that was not able to complete the tournament, which is such a sad occasion, but it reminds us that the virus is still there.

So, even though we take away the mask mandate, we're still going to make sure that we do everything that we can to protect ourselves and others and recognize the virus is still there.


BASH: But isn't the...

HUTCHINSON: There's just a limit as to how much -- go ahead.

BASH: Isn't the mask at this point -- now that we're a year in and know so much more about the science of this -- of this virus, isn't the mask kind of number one when it comes to mitigation? Why would you take that away?

HUTCHINSON: Well, you made the point just perfectly. We're a year into this. And we know so much more today than we did a year ago.

And so we had to educate. People understand the importance of the mask. And I expect, even though we take the mask mandate away, that people will continue to use the mask when you cannot socially distance and whenever there's the risk of the virus.

So, common sense is going to replace mandates. And I think that's where we are right now. You cannot go beyond the toleration of the American public. And it's not just the mask mandate. It is business restrictions. We have lifted the business restrictions in Arkansas. We are going to school, as we have all year long, with in-classroom instruction.

And people need this. President Biden has recognized that. You can do all of that, at the same time take the virus seriously.

BASH: Nearly half of Trump supporters say they won't get the vaccine.

You're the governor of a very pro-Trump state. Why do you think there's so much hesitancy among so many of your fellow Republicans?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I have thought a lot about that. And I think it's a natural resistance to government and skepticism of it.

But you look at the breadth of support here in Arkansas for President Trump, and you have rural voters, you have minority voters. And the hesitancy is worrisome, not just here, but all across the country.

And I expect, as a country, we will get to 50 percent vaccination rate of the population, but we're going to have a harder time getting from 50 percent to 70 percent. And it's about overcoming the skepticism. It is about education. We're going through that effort here.

But it's also confidence. And as people see others getting the vaccination, the importance of it, I expect that acceptance rate to continue and to go up. I'm optimistic we will get to that 70 percent rate, but we have got to first get to 50 percent. That's sort of the easier lift.

BASH: Yes.

HUTCHINSON: And then we're going to have to really work hard to get the rest of the way.

BASH: Could former President Trump help?

I mean, he got the vaccine in secret. He didn't participate in the PSA with former presidents promoting it. He did praise the vaccine in an interview this week, but should he be more aggressive?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I'm delighted that he did indicate, get the vaccine. He promoted that. I don't know the story behind as to why he wasn't in the PSA with the other presidents.

Any message is helpful. And I think we have to have our leaders, we have to have sports figures, we have to have different representatives of our community, including our political leaders, say, vaccine is important.

We're going to get there. But, obviously, we have some resistance to overcome.

BASH: I want to ask about the deadly shootings in Atlanta.

You spoke out against hate-fueled targeting of Asian Americans. But, by contrast, Texas GOP Congressman Chip Roy used a hearing about anti- Asian discrimination to make offensive comments and criticize China.

Does that kind of rhetoric from people in your party, like the former president's term kung-flu, fuel hate against Asian Americans?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it doesn't help.

It doesn't give us a sense of understanding of people and a toleration of people any time you lump them together and paint them as somebody that's an enemy of our country. It does spill over. As the former congresswoman said, words do matter.

And we have a large number of Asian Americans here in Arkansas. They contribute mightily to our economy and to our diversity and to our well-being. We really need to have across this country, including Arkansas, effective hate crimes laws that will express simply that, if you're going to target someone because of their race or their characteristics, then you ought to have additional penalties that go with that.

We have to discourage it in every way. I'm very proud of Americans with their rallying around Asian Americans this last weekend.

BASH: Earlier this month, you signed a near total abortion ban into law in your state. Under the law, abortions are only permitted when necessary to save the life of a mother. There are no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

And even when you signed it, you said you had reservations about the law, saying that it violates Supreme Court precedent.

So, to be clear, did you sign this bill because you hope that it'll be a vehicle for the Supreme Court to look at overturning Roe v. Wade?


HUTCHINSON: Yes, that was the whole design of the law.

It is not constitutional under Supreme Court cases right now. And I did prefer a rape and incest exception. I didn't get a vote on that. And so I signed it because it is a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade. That was the intent of it.

I think there's a very narrow chance that the Supreme Court will accept that case, but we will see. And, again, I would prefer -- it's been my historic position that the three exceptions would be rape, incest and the life of the mother.

But this is a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade. And that's the intent of the legislation.

BASH: Governor Asa Hutchinson, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Good to be with you today.