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State of the Union
Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan; Interview With Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA); Interview With Fmr. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH); Interview With National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci. Aired 9-10 ET
Aired April 18, 2021 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): The other pandemic.
As COVID cases rise, a race against time to vaccinate Americans and return to normal life, but, in America, that means more gun violence.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This has to end. It's a national embarrassment.
BASH: How will the U.S. manage these two health emergencies?
I will speak to Dr. Anthony Fauci and Congresswoman Karen Bass ahead.
And the Biden doctrine. As the president declares an end to America's longest war and pivots to other global hot spots, he faces mounting questions about keeping America safe. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will join me.
Plus: chaos caucus? The nation's former top Republican says, these days, he doesn't recognize his own party.
FMR. REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): I was the establishment, and I had to put up with some of these characters nonstop.
BASH: Where does the GOP go from here?
Former House Speaker John Boehner joins me to discuss.
BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is battling two epidemics, one the plague of gun violence.
There have been at least 47 mass shootings in the U.S. since the Atlanta spa shootings on March 16, including two more overnight in Ohio and Wisconsin and a massacre Thursday in Indiana, more families now forced to plan funerals for their loved ones in what is likely a preventable and at least, the very least, treatable epidemic, if Washington might ever move to act.
Much more on that and new bipartisan efforts to pass police reform coming up.
The other health crisis, of course, is the COVID pandemic and the race against time, with variants causing a surge in hot spots across the country, and the U.S. prepares to open vaccinations to all Americans over the age of 16 tomorrow.
Joining me now, President Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Dr. Fauci, thank you so much for joining me.
The United States is now reporting 70,000 coronavirus cases per day, a mark that you have called disturbingly high. As you well know, one of our three vaccines is not available. The CDC and FDA paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six reports of blood clots among women ages 18 to 45.
So, given that, what's the reason not to resume J&J, that vaccine, in men and in older women?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because you want to make sure, Dana, that you have all the information that you need to make that determination, because, although the cases, the six cases, as you mention correctly, were among women of a certain age group, if you look at the experience, for example, that A.Z. is had in Europe and the U.K., it went beyond just women.
There were some men involved. There was also a greater splay of the ages. So, we just wanted to take a look at our experience with another vaccine, i.e., the J&J vaccine, and not take too long in making that determination.
I think to just assume, on the basis of six, that you know everything that's going on with this, I think would not be prudent. And, for that reason, they put a pause, take a look, see what's going on, make sure you know the scope of what's going on, and then make a decision.
So, hopefully, by Friday, we will get back on track one way or the other.
BASH: By Friday. The CDC advisers are meeting on Friday, but you think that that is actually when J&J will be unpaused?
FAUCI: Well, I think, by that time, we're going to have a decision.
Now, I don't want to get ahead of the CDC and the and the FDA and the advisory committee. But I would imagine that what we will see is that it would come back, and it would come back in some sort of either warning or restriction.
Again, I don't know. I don't want to be ahead of them. But I keep getting asked that. I do think we will get it back in some manner or form.
But what I'm sure, I hope that we don't see anything extended beyond Friday. We need to get Friday some decision one way or the other. BASH: You said this week, in fact, that there is always somewhat of a
threat that new vaccine-resistant variants could emerge in unvaccinated parts of the world.
So, how concerned are you that new vaccine-resistant variants could pose a problem for the United States down the road?
FAUCI: Well, absolutely, that's something you have to take seriously.
And that's the reason why you want to get our population vaccinated as completely as possible, as quickly and as expeditiously as possible. We know that certain variants, although they are different and might elude the vaccines a bit, you -- they really have a wide spectrum.
For example, the 117, the one that is dominant now in the United States, Dana, is very well taken care of by our vaccines. Even some of the ones that are more problematic, the vaccine might not completely protect against it, but it almost certainly, at least in our current experience, protects against very severe disease, death particularly.
Now, having said that, when we have the rest of the world that might have a lot of virus dynamics going on, we always have to be on the alert that one of those variants might come here. And we have to be prepared to respond to it, either by boosting with the current vaccine or boosting with a variant-specific vaccine.
All of those things have to be looked at very seriously and carefully.
BASH: We are seeing more and more pushback to COVID restrictions from Republicans.
I want our viewers to listen to a heated exchange that you had with Congressman Jim Jordan this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): You don't think Americans' liberties have been threatened the last year, Dr. Fauci? They have been assaulted. Their liberties have.
FAUCI: I don't look at this as a liberty thing, Congressman Jordan.
JORDAN: Well, that's obvious.
FAUCI: I look at this as a public health thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So, hearing comments like these have real sway with some people out there. A new poll this week shows that 43 percent of Republicans still don't want to get the vaccine.
How frustrating is this for you, Dr. Fauci? FAUCI: You know, Dana, it is quite frustrating, because the fact that one may not want to get vaccinated, in this case, a disturbingly large proportion of Republicans, only actually works against where they want to be.
They want to be able to say these restrictions that are put on by public health recommendations are things that they're very concerned about. We're all concerned about that.
We share that concern, but the way you get rid of those restrictions is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible, because, when that happens, for absolutely certain, you're going to see the level of virus in the community go down and down and down, to the point where you would not have to have those public health restrictions.
So, it's almost paradoxical that, on the one hand, they want to be relieved of the restrictions, but, on the other hand, they don't want to get vaccinated. It just almost doesn't make any sense.
BASH: You were quite restrained when you were testifying under oath in Congress.
You're on cable TV now. You want to say anything more about what you really thought?
FAUCI: No. No.
I don't enjoy those kind of confrontations. But, I mean, the -- it was very, very clear that he was talking about liberties that were being restricted. This has nothing to do with liberties, Dana. We're talking about the fact that 560,000 people in our country have died. We're talking about 70,000, 60,000 to 70,000 new infections per day.
That's the issue. This is a public health issue. It's not a civil liberties issue.
BASH: Let's talk about the efforts to vaccinate children.
Pfizer has already asked the FDA to authorize its vaccine in children as young as 12 years old, after a trial found 100 percent efficacy. Right now, Stanford is launching a trial on children as young as 2 years old.
When do you now think elementary school students could start getting vaccinated? Could it be sooner than you thought?
I mean, we had said originally -- and I think it might still be that way -- by the time you get down to that level of elementary school. Certainly, we're going to have high school kids, the 12-to-15-year-old that was shown to literally have 100 percent efficacy in the vaccine. I would be surprised if we didn't have the high school kids being able to be vaccinated by the fall term.
As we get later into the year, towards the end of the year -- I think, by the time we get to the first quarter of 2022, we will be able to vaccinate children of virtually any age, hopefully before then. But I think that's going to be the latest we will see it.
BASH: OK, first quarter of 2022. That's coming before we know it, but certainly, for elementary school kids, maybe -- maybe not quick enough.
But I do want to ask about the coronavirus restrictions still in effect even for fully vaccinated Americans. Some vaccinated Americans may want to travel, eat indoors at restaurants, feel like they don't need to wear masks outdoors around others.
You have been touting how effective the vaccine is. So, what is the scientific reason that it isn't safe for vaccinated Americans to do those things?
FAUCI: Yes. The issue is, it depends on what you mean by safe and its relative risk. So, let me explain, Dana.
The first thing you got to realize, that, when you get vaccinated, your risk of getting infected dramatically diminishes and is very low.
So, then the obvious question is, why are there any restrictions? There all because, in a certain situation, one can get vaccinated, have no clinical disease at all, but get infected and not even know it, and have replication of virus in your nasopharynx, and inadvertently transmit it to somebody else, who might actually be unvaccinated and get ill. That's the reason why you want to wear a mask there.
The other reason for wearing a mask is that there are variants that are circulating. And although they're unusual, we are seeing breakthrough infections. But we're also seeing variants that are a bit disturbing.
Fortunately for us, the 117, which is the variant that was originating in the U.K., our vaccines are very effective against them. So, when people say, well, why can't I go -- you can travel. Your risk is really very low.
What the CDC is saying is that it depends on what your level of risk that you want to take. The one thing you want to do is be careful that you don't inadvertently infect someone else or that, given the fact that we have 70,000, 60,000 to 70,000 new infections in the community...
FAUCI: ... that is a precarious situation. That's the point.
So, we don't want people to think that you don't dramatically diminish your risk when you get vaccinated. You absolutely do. The risk is very low. And people will make decisions about what they want to do. And it will be a relative risk. What risk am I willing to take?
BASH: Before I let you go, I want to ask about another epidemic in the us, and that is gun violence.
Eight people were shot and killed in a mass shooting in Indianapolis on Thursday night. The U.S. has reported 47 mass shootings in just over a month. You have worked in public health broadly for a long time.
Is gun violence in the U.S. a public health emergency?
FAUCI: You know, myself, as a public health person, I think you can't run away from that.
I mean, when you see people getting killed -- I mean, in this last month, it's just been horrifying what's happened. How can you say that's not a public health issue?
BASH: Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you so much this morning. I appreciate it.
FAUCI: Right. Thanks.
BASH: Vladimir Putin's political opponent is said to be near death in a Russian jail. Is President Biden doing enough to stop it?
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is next.
And John Boehner's colorful new memoir tells tales of the so-called knuckleheads taking over his Republican Party. The former speaker will join me live.
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.
President Biden is following through on a promise made and broken by two of his predecessors, ending America's longest war.
But, as troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by this September 11, 20 years after the terror attacks that sparked the war, the White House is facing pressing questions about the risks of leaving.
Joining me now is President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Thank you so much for coming on with me this morning.
First, I'm going to ask about Afghanistan. The U.S. forces are coming out after 20 years and more than 2,400 American lives lost. But the Taliban is resurging and strengthening.
Can you say that the United States won this war?
JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I can say that the United States achieved the objective it set out when we went into Afghanistan in the first place, which was to get the people who attacked us on 9/11.
We have degraded al Qaeda. We have killed bin Laden. And, in fact, we killed bin Laden a decade ago, 10 years ago. And since then, the various missions in the war have moved and adjusted and changed.
But the fundamental, core reason for this conflict in the first place, we achieved that. And that is why President Biden has determined that it's time to finally bring this to a close and focus on the battles of the next 20 years, rather than the last 20 years.
BASH: Your own CIA director, William Burns, admitted that leaving Afghanistan creates a significant risk of terrorism resurgence in the region.
CNN has new reporting that CIA operators and Special Operations Forces are almost certain to leave Afghanistan as well. So, how can you protect America and prevent al Qaeda and even ISIS from resurging without an intelligence presence on the ground?
SULLIVAN: It is true, as the CIA director said, that we won't have the same level of presence on the ground that we did when we had 3,000 troops or 30,000 troops or 100,000 troops.
But the CIA director also said that we will retain sufficient capabilities, so that we will have months of warning before al Qaeda is able to gather again an external plotting capability to threaten the homeland.
And even more important, Dana, the terrorist threat has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. It's not just about Afghanistan anymore. Al Qaeda is in Yemen. ISIS is in Syria and Iraq. Al Qaeda is in Somalia and Syria and many other places.
And so, against that dispersed and distributed terrorist threat, we need to allocate our resources in a way that allows us to protect the homeland against a variety of threats from a variety of countries and continents, not just from Afghanistan.
BASH: So -- which is understandable.
But I want to go back to Afghanistan. Is it true or false, yes or no, will any U.S. Special Operations Forces remain in Afghanistan after September 11?
SULLIVAN: We will not have a military presence in Afghanistan, other than to protect the embassy. And we will, in fact, seek to keep a diplomatic presence that does have a security component to it to ensure that our diplomats, development experts and others can continue to do their work.
BASH: Millions of Afghan women and girls could lose access to education if the Taliban takes over again.
President Biden promised to continue to support them through aid programs and such. But even President Obama's former ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker called that cynical in the extreme and said those programs will not keep them safe when the U.S. withdraws.
So, isn't the Biden administration leaving the women of Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban here?
SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, President Biden in his speech didn't just talk about the civilian, economic and humanitarian assistance we will provide to protect women and girls, which we will.
He also talked about continued provision of assistance to the Afghan national defense and security forces. We have trained and equipped 300,000 of those forces to protect Kabul and protect other parts of the country.
And it was seven years ago that NATO agreed to transition responsibility for the defense of Afghanistan to those forces, seven years ago, President Biden determined that it is finally time to do so.
BASH: So, you are confident that the Taliban will not -- will not overtake those forces and retake complete control of Afghanistan?
SULLIVAN: I have learned long ago not to make predictions about what is going to happen in Afghanistan.
All we can control is the kinds of investments we make to give the Afghan security forces the best chance that they have to be able to defend their country and defend their people. We have done that. And that is what we will continue to do on a going-forward basis, because, as President Biden said, our support for those forces will endure even when our military presence draws down.
BASH: Let's turn to Russia.
A spokesperson for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny says he is near death. He's being blocked from seeing outside doctors. What are you doing to, A, free Navalny, or at least get him medical attention? And what price will Vladimir Putin pay if Navalny dies in prison?
SULLIVAN: Well, first, we joined with the European Union and many other like-minded democracies around the world to impose sanctions for what the Russian government has done to Navalny, for the use of a chemical weapon against him, which is in contravention of international laws.
Second, we have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to Mr. Navalny in their custody is their responsibility and they will be held accountable by the international community.
In terms of the specific measures that we would undertake...
SULLIVAN: ... we are looking at a variety of different costs that we would impose.
And I'm not going to telegraph that publicly at this point, but we have communicated that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies.
BASH: So, you have communicated that.
But at the top there, President Biden apparently didn't mention Navalny in his call with Putin this week. He certainly didn't say anything about it publicly in his remarks on Thursday. And Russian state media is touting this as proof that Biden has given up on the issue.
So, why isn't President Biden demanding Navalny's release or at least -- again, at least getting him a doctor at every single opportunity?
SULLIVAN: We actually have made the judgment that direct communication to the Russian government on this issue, including both how we see it, how our allies and partners see it, and what might unfold should something terrible happened to Mr. Navalny, should he -- well, terrible things, of course, have already happened to him, but should he pass away.
And we have judged that, rather than just make general statements publicly, the best way to deal with this issue is privately and through diplomatic channels direct to the uppermost levels of the Russian government.
BASH: Well, let me ask one specific question.
Is the potential summit with Vladimir Putin on the table if Alexei Navalny passes away in prison?
SULLIVAN: I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, in large part, Dana, because there isn't currently a summit on the books. It's something we're talking about. And that summit would have to take place, of course, in the right circumstances, in a way that could actually move the relationship forward.
But I'm not going to get into hypotheticals about when or whether the summit would likely occur.
I need to ask about refugees. After intense criticism Friday from your fellow Democrats, the administration abruptly backtracked on plans to keep in place a Trump era limit of only 15,000 refugees for this year. Now the White House is saying it will raise the limit, but it's unlikely to meet the previous pledge to allow up to 62,500 refugees before the end of September.
So, can you explain why the Biden administration is breaking that promise?
SULLIVAN: Well, first, we're not breaking that promise.
When we came into office, we faced two fundamental problems. The first was that the cap was too low, only 15,000 people. And President Biden has pledged to raise it. The second was the allocation under that cap meant that zero people from Africa could come as refugees.
SULLIVAN: Effectively, zero people from the Middle East could come as refugees.
So, this past week, he took the first step, which was to change those allocations, so that people could literally get on planes from Africa to come here.
Second, by May 15, he will fix the second piece. He will raise the cap, we haven't determined the number. And what will drive our determination are the practical questions of whether we can fix the absolutely shattered system that we were left with to process refugees...
SULLIVAN: ... and then, of course, how we ensure that the same office, the Office of Refugee Responsibility that takes care of those coming as refugees, also takes care of unaccompanied minors at the border, how we can do both.
And I would just ask you to wait and see. The president will lay out a new target. He is currently allowing refugees to get on planes today. And once we have laid out that new target, you will see that he is following through on his commitment with respect to refugees.
BASH: But, Jake, you said he's not breaking the promise or going back on the promise. And now you're saying that there will be a new commitment.
So, which one is it? Is he going to keep that promise to raise the cap to 62,500, or will he give a new number whenever he makes that announcement?
SULLIVAN: When I said new target, what I meant was a target above 15,000.
BASH: Right, but will it be 62,500?
SULLIVAN: And I'm not going to ahead of where the process will land.
Like I said, I'm not going to get ahead of where the process will land. But what I will tell you is that President Biden's ultimate target is going to reflect very much his commitment to bringing refugees to the United States, to the maximum extent possible, consistent with our ability to process them.
BASH: Jake Sullivan, the president's national security adviser, thank you so much for joining me this morning.
SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.
BASH: And can Afghan -- Afghanistan's president keep the country from collapse? Ashraf Ghani joins my colleague Fareed Zakaria exclusively next hour.
And it could be the most consequential verdict in a generation when it comes to race and policing, as the Derek Chauvin murder trial comes to a close this week.
Congresswoman Karen Bass, who's heading to Minneapolis, joins me next.
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
Closing arguments are set for tomorrow in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of killing George Floyd.
And police shootings haven't let up. In fact, as Derek Chauvin's defense was presenting its case, 20 minutes up the road, another officer was being charged in the shooting death of Daunte Wright.
Joining me now is Congresswoman Karen Bass, the lead author of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House last month.
Thank you so much for joining me this morning.
Congresswoman, you are traveling to Minneapolis tomorrow, where the situation is quite tense, as the Chauvin trial wraps up. You were on the corner of Florence and Normandie in Los Angeles 30 years ago when violence erupted after the Rodney King verdict.
How worried are you about what might happen in Minneapolis?
REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Well, I'm very worried, because I don't think that anyone in Minneapolis, frankly, anyone in the United States and over a good part of the world would understand any other verdict other than guilty.
BASH: And is it the verdict, or is it the sentencing as well?
BASS: It is absolutely both.
The verdict is step one. But what we have seen in too many of these cases, in the rare time there is a guilty verdict, we have seen people get off with minimal sentences. And so it is absolutely both.
Now, we don't know how long it will take after the verdict that the judge will impose sentencing. So, it could be a while. But I worry that both are flash points. And, as you mentioned, during the time of this trial, we have learned of other people who have experienced violence at the hands of the police.
BASH: Yes. And let's talk about that, two more high-profile fatal police shootings in the last week, 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago.
You have been working with Republican Senator Tim Scott in an unofficial capacity to try to find a bipartisan deal on police reform. Where do things stand right now?
BASS: Well, and actually, there are several of us, in addition to Senator Scott.
I am hopeful. I am hopeful, because the group of people where we have been having just informal discussions are very sincere, and it's a bipartisan group. And I believe that we want to make something happen.
Senator Scott is key. I think he has been a complete honest broker. It's been very helpful working with him. And so Senator Scott and Senator Booker are taking the lead in the Senate, because, as you mentioned, the bill has already passed the House.
But we're continuing to work together to find a solution that will garner the supermajority that is needed to pass legislation in the Senate.
BASH: I hear from a lot of your fellow Democrats in Congress that, generally speaking, they don't feel that they have legitimate partners across the aisle who really want to find compromise on big issues.
Are you saying that police reform really is different?
BASS: Well, I can tell...
BASH: Republicans are operating in good faith?
BASS: I believe that the Republicans that I am working with are operating in good faith. And I do think there's other examples. I'm fortunate to work on a couple of other issues that I work fine with my Republican colleagues.
Again, it's one thing to pass legislation in the House. It's a super hurdle to get it passed in the Senate. But we are working.
But, Dana, we have got to come up with the solution. We just can't see this happen, and to the extent that it is happening now. And so having legislation that will hold police officers accountable, so that they don't have immunity and feel that they can do what Derek Chauvin did and act with impunity, we need to be able to prosecute officers.
We need to ban the choke hold. We need to ban no-knock warrants. There needs to be a registry of problem officers.
[09:35:00] So, for example, we have seen officers fired recently. Well, there's nothing to stop them from going to another town or another state and being rehired. Some people just don't need to be in law enforcement.
And I think, if you are guilty of an egregious act, like I believe Derek Chauvin is, he doesn't ever need to be a police officer again. And we have to come up with a way of ending this type of violence.
You know, all communities deserve to be protected and served by law enforcement. And you shouldn't have law enforcement that protects and serves one community and acts as though they're in a war zone in another community, and treating everybody in that community as though they're criminals.
That's what we have in the district that I represent, one police department, two different types of policing, depending on where you are in the city.
BASH: I want to ask about gun violence broadly.
Eight people were killed by a gunman in Indiana on Thursday night. It is the 47th mass shooting in the United States in little over a month. As you well know, the House passed a sweeping bill mandating background checks on all gun purchases. But, as you also mentioned, a lot of things are stalled in the Senate. That is one of them.
Your Democratic colleague there, Chris Murphy, says he's willing to accept a narrower bill in order to get something into law. Would you support that?
BASS: I'm not sure what he means, narrower, but, yes, to get legislation passed, absolutely.
The bills that passed the House are bills that are supported by the majority of the country, including Republicans, including gun owners. So, there is no reason not to pass the legislation, especially now that the NRA is basically imploding. That had been the hammer that kept people from voting on gun legislation before.
But I agree with the president, who said that is -- what is happening in this country with gun violence is an embarrassment. You know, some countries -- the way we have warning that, if you go to this country, it might be dangerous, well, there are some countries that have warnings about coming to the United States.
BASH: Speaking about other countries, the White House quickly backtracked on a decision Friday to keep Trump era caps on refugees in place for the rest of the fiscal year.
I think you heard President Biden's national security adviser on with me just a short while ago. He said they will lift the cap next month, which currently is 15,000. But he would not commit to making it this 62,500 that the administration promised.
You chair the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Human Rights. Is this acceptable to you? BASS: Well, I certainly hope that we're able to go back up to the
60,000, especially because there's so many people who have been waiting for so long to come into the country.
But I also understand that the Biden/Harris administration inherited a mess in every agency, but especially in regard to immigration. There were a lot of systems in place that we know the Trump administration dismantled.
And so I imagine it is going to take the Biden administration a while. But I do hope that our numbers can go back up.
BASH: Congresswoman Karen Bass, thank you so much for joining me this morning.
BASS: Thank you.
BASH: And he was once the most powerful Republican in the country. Now he's calling his former colleagues pretty much every name in the book.
John Boehner is live on his colorful political memoir and where the GOP goes from here.
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.
He was second in line to the presidency, the most powerful Republican in the country, but, in his view, in his memoir, he says, he didn't always feel like that was the case.
Joining me now is the former Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, author of the new book "On the House: A Washington Memoir."
Speaker Boehner, I have to say I have covered -- I have read a lot of memoirs in my life. This one is definitely the funniest and probably the most candid. So, thank you for that. And we have a lot to talk about in the book.
But I first want to start with the moment that we're in, in this country, where we have had yet another mass shooting Thursday night, a couple overnight. Eight people in Indianapolis -- that's the one on Thursday -- were killed, 47 mass shootings in the United States in just over the last month.
And I know you this. Polls show the vast majorities of Americans support at least some new gun restrictions.
When you were speaker, there were 20 first-graders who were killed in Newtown, Connecticut. Looking back now, do you regret not passing new gun laws then? And do you want to see Republicans come to the table now at least to pass something?
BOEHNER: Well, back when Newtown happened, we couldn't find common ground with the other side. And I heard the earlier segment. And, hopefully, there's some common ground to be found.
I know that Senator Pat Toomey has been working on this across the aisle, trying to come to some agreement. And, hopefully, they will find some common ground, because this -- it's -- frankly, it's heartbreaking. I think it's embarrassing our country to the rest of the world. And we have got to find a way to deal with this problem.
BASH: So, this would be a top priority for you were you -- if you were still speaker of the House?
BOEHNER: Well, if. But I'm not.
So, those in power now are going to have to figure out what can be done. It's not about what everybody wants. It's a matter of, what can be accomplished in a bipartisan way?
BASH: You really don't hold back in this book about where you see your party, the Republican Party, today. You called some of your colleagues political terrorists, knuckleheads, the chaos caucus.
You were the top Republican in the country when this group, or at least parts of it, emerged. In your book, you say that you're not going to give a 15-point plan to save the world. And I understand that.
But, as I was reading it, I was thinking, he's like a doctor who is identifying a disease, but not giving a prescription on how to fix it.
So, as a lifelong Republican, don't you want to find a solution and be the person to try to do that?
BOEHNER: Well, no, listen, I'm retired. And those that serve in public office today have a tough job governing. I think governing in America today is far harder than it was when I was there.
But what I have suggested here over the last several months is, Republicans have to go back to being Republicans. Focus in on the principles of what it means to be a Republican, fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense. They can lay out a half-a-dozen principles that will, I think, help bring our party together, which is really what's going to be necessary if we're going to have a chance to take back the majority in 2022 or 2024.
BASH: Well, that makes perfect sense, but you also outline in this book problems that have exploded about misinformation and flat-out lies coming not just from right-wing media, but from some lawmakers who don't necessarily put those ideals that you just laid out at the top of the list in terms of what's important.
And they continue to perpetuate the big lie. You have been clear that there was nothing even close to enough fraud that would have changed the 2020 election result. So, are those people, your fellow Republicans pushing this lie, are they eroding democracy?
BOEHNER: Well, I don't -- you can describe it any way you want.
BASH: How would you describe it?
BOEHNER: I just think it's a little crazy.
Listen, I tried to deal with the facts as they were, the facts as they -- I knew them. And I try to move forward based on facts. And, yes, there's people in both parties who are on the fringe.
But, listen, on any given day, I had 210, 215 solid Republican votes, solid Republican members, good members. And, remember, there are good members on both sides of the aisle. You know, 90 percent of Congress are good, decent, honest people trying to do the right thing for their constituents and for the country.
But, in my case, on any given day, there were two or three dozen what I call knuckleheads who just wanted -- they wanted chaos. They wanted it all their way or no way.
BASH: But are the knuckleheads now...
BOEHNER: And American democracy just doesn't work that way.
BASH: Yes. And are the knuckleheads now much more dominant? I mean, it certainly seems that they are.
And, more importantly, let's focus on how this is affecting policy. You know that, because of this lie that they're dealing with, not dealing with the facts, as you described it, there are 361 bills across the country right now, according to the Brennan Center, that are trying to roll back Americans' right to vote.
What do you think about that?
BOEHNER: Well, listen, I have served in the Statehouse in Ohio before I went to Congress.
And when we dealt with election issues, it was typically done on a bipartisan basis. Why? Because people need to have confidence in the voting systems in each of the states.
And I think, after the challenges that the last election proved out, every state is looking at their election systems, trying to figure out a way to make it fair, to make it more secure. And I don't know what all those different bills are.
But, listen, the only thing different today than when I was there is that those who want chaos have a bigger platform. Back 30 years ago, there was no platform. We always had some people on the fringe, right and left, but the press never paid any attention to them.
These days, with talk radio, cable news, and all these social media platforms, the people on the fringes have a bigger platform to make their points and, frankly, create chaos. It brings more attention to them. They're able to raise more money.
And the idea of governing is something foreign to most of them.
BASH: You tell a story in your book about golfing with Donald Trump long before he was president. He was a private citizen.
And he ended up berating one of your own aides because he mixed up the names of the golf partners that you were with.
You wrote: I'd never seen anybody treat a staffer like that, not in politics, not ever.
You included that story for a reason, Mr. Speaker.
BOEHNER: I did, because it showed me something about Donald Trump. It was the first time we'd ever played golf together.
This young staffer made a mistake. But the way Donald Trump tore into this guy after the mistake became evident was -- that was just a bit shocking, and I was surprised.
BASH: So, what does it say about him?
BOEHNER: I don't know.
It just says that he would treat staffers differently than I would. I never thought I was more important than any staffer that worked for me. We worked together. We were all part one team. And, yes, I made mistakes. They made mistakes. Mistakes are going to happen.
But I would never treat somebody like that, not in a million years.
BASH: You also tell a story about you trying to gossip with the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, about the Senate, and he told you -- quote -- "You will never know as much about the Senate as I do," a jab that you described as a -- quote -- "kick in the balls."
What does that say about Mitch McConnell behind the scenes?
BOEHNER: Well, I will tell you what. It was a great lesson I learned from Mitch. And over the years, I got to know Mitch, obviously, a lot better than the day that episode happened.
But Mitch McConnell, well, he is clearly different than I am, operates differently than I do. But there's a -- there's a man who knows how to be a leader, holds his cards very close to his vest. And just because he's got a different personality than I do doesn't mean I think less of him.
Actually, I think quite a bit of Mitch McConnell, because he's been a great leader and a great Senate Republican majority leader.
BASH: Before I let you go, I have to ask.
You told my colleague Jake Tapper that, hopefully, you don't have that option to vote for President Trump again in 2024.
I just want to clarify. It sounds like you're saying you don't want Donald Trump to run. Correct?
BOEHNER: Listen, I don't know what's going to happen in the next three-and-a-half years.
BASH: Well, what would you want to happen?
BOEHNER: You know, it's America.
Oh, what I want to happen is somebody that stands up and represents all the principles of the Republican Party, somebody that can bring the Republican Party together and win elections.
BASH: Is that Donald Trump?
BOEHNER: Whoever it may be. We will see.
BASH: Former House Speaker John Boehner, thank you so much.
Again, funniest political memoir, most colorful I have ever read.
BOEHNER: Thank you.
BASH: And up next, very changing -- very big change in tone, I should say. A terrible loss and a call for change. Stay with us.
BASH: Before we go, some sad news in the CNN family. Our colleague CNN correspondent Rene Marsh and her husband, Kedric Payne, suffered an incomprehensible loss this week. Their two-year-old son, Blake, passed away after a long battle with brain cancer.
Blake was an adorable child. He loved to dance and tried to snap along to the music. In a tribute to her toddler, Rene wrote, I didn't just lose you, Blakey. I lost all the dreams and hopes that a mom has for a son.
In the midst of her suffering, Rene is also asking please, if you can, consider donating to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation in Blake's memory. And spare a thought for this beautiful child and his family.
May Blake's memory be a blessing.
The news continues next.