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State of the Union

Interview With White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients; Interview With Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC); Interview With Gov. Spencer Cox (R-UT). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired May 09, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Sunny days ahead? COVID cases and deaths keep dropping in the U.S. And health experts raise expectations for a good summer. But with vaccinations on the decline...

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We know we have more work to do, and we know it will not be easy.

TAPPER: ... have we, in fact, turned the corner?

I will speak to the White House COVID response coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, next.

And party of one. House Republicans prepared to say "You're fired" to one of their own for telling the truth about the former president and the U.S. Capitol attacks. Liz Cheney is not the only top Republican who has faced heat. Are Republican voters interested in anything other than the politics of Trump?

Utah's Republican Governor Spencer Cox joins me to discuss ahead.

Plus: Full stop? President Biden set to meet with Senate Republicans, as their leader, Mitch McConnell, says he's not open to compromise.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration.

TAPPER: Where do things stand on Biden's agenda? I will speak to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn in moments.


TAPPER: Hello. And happy Mother's Day.

I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is grateful that that falling space junk decided to spare us. This week, President Biden is trying to turn bad news into momentum. The White House says a disappointing jobs report is a clear sign that Congress needs to move forward, and quickly, on Biden's $4 trillion infrastructure and families plans. This week, the president will host a group of Republican senators for negotiations, even as the jobs news has some Republican governors undoing a key part of Biden's COVID response package, those extra $300 federal unemployment benefits, which many Republicans view as a possible disincentive for folks to rejoin the workplace.

Meanwhile, House Republicans appear focused elsewhere. This week, they're set to purge Congresswoman Liz Cheney from her role in party leadership because Cheney has repeatedly objected to former President Trump's big lie, the lie that so many of her colleagues are embracing.

There is encouraging news on one front, the battle to contain coronavirus in the United States, the U.S. now reporting a number of record lows, the average number of new daily cases and hospitalizations and deaths, all of those numbers falling to levels we have not seen since last year, as health experts raise expectations for a more normal summer.

But one big caveat, the pace of COVID vaccinations is falling across the country too, as the White House tries to convince hesitant Americans to protect themselves.

Joining me now, the White House COVID response coordinator, Jeffrey Zients.

Jeffrey, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

ZIENTS: Well, thank you, Jake.

Can I start just by wishing all the moms out there happy Mother's Day?

TAPPER: Of course. Happy Mother's Day.

ZIENTS: Well, but I also want to plead with all moms to ask for one present from their loved ones, which is that they get vaccinated.

If a mom is not vaccinated, give yourself a present and get vaccinated. And happy Mom's Day to my mom and to my lovely wife.

TAPPER: Both of whom are vaccinated, I assume.

ZIENTS: A hundred percent.

TAPPER: So, six weeks ago, Dr. Fauci said that we were at the corner in the pandemic. Since then, the U.S. has vaccinated more than 60 million people. Daily cases fell almost 40 percent in the last month.

Has the United States turned the corner?

ZIENTS: I would say we are turning the corner.

We now have, as of this morning, 58 percent of adult Americans with at least one shot, over 110 million Americans fully vaccinated. The president has set a goal of 70 percent of Americans being vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4. We're at 58 percent today. So, we have got a path ahead of us, which will involve getting people

even easier access to the vaccine, people -- making sure that people build their confidence, those who have questions about the vaccine, that we answer their questions, and making sure that we do what we have done from the beginning, which is do this in a fair and equitable way.

TAPPER: So, let's talk about the fact that the pace of vaccinations is slowing down.

Some of that is because of access, as you note, but some of it is because of vaccine skepticism. It's now at 2.1 million doses a day, down almost 40 percent from its peak last month.

Who are the key groups of Americans you're focusing on targeting right now? Young Americans, Republicans, rural Americans? And how are you targeting them?

ZIENTS: Well, it's sort of all of the above, Jake.

I mean, what's happened is, we have gotten to 58 percent faster than we expected. So, we're entering a new phase, where access is really important and building confidence is really important. So, that's what we're focused on. And I'd say it's all of the above.


We want everyone to get vaccinated. We have enough supply for all adult Americans to get vaccinated. We just want to make it easier and easier for people to get vaccinated. And for those who do have questions about efficacy or about safety, the three vaccines, the three authorized vaccines, are all very safe and very effective.

So, we want people to be able to turn to their -- to their trusted leader in their neighborhood, their doctor, their faith leader, to get information about the vaccines to build vaccine confidence, so all Americans get vaccinated.

TAPPER: In retrospect, was it a mistake to put a hold on the J&J vaccine, in terms of confidence? Did that make your task harder?

ZIENTS: No, not at all.

I mean, the FDA is the gold standard in the world. And the FDA is constantly monitoring for safety. And doing the pause was the right thing. That builds confidence, that people know that the FDA and the CDC are monitoring.

TAPPER: Not necessarily. I mean, it should build confidence.

ZIENTS: It actually shows -- the research showed, after the pause, that confidence overall in the vaccines increased after the pause.

TAPPER: With the pace of vaccinations slowing, and so many Americans still hesitant, is it possible that the United States will never achieve herd immunity? ZIENTS: Look, we don't know exactly what herd immunity is. And that's

not an area that I know much about. I look to Dr. Fauci and the other medical experts.

What the experts do say is reaching 70 percent will continue to -- a pattern of decreasing cases, hospitalizations, and deaths and take us down to a sustainable low level. If we look to Israel, where they have achieved that level of vaccination, their deaths, hospitalizations are much, much lower than they were. And they're at a very low, sustainable level.

TAPPER: How concerned are you that the U.S. could face another surge of the virus in the fall because of unvaccinated Americans going back indoors or because of these variants?

ZIENTS: Look, what we're focused -- what we're focused on right now is getting people vaccinated, with the 70 percent goal the president has set for July 4.

We will continue to get people vaccinated after July 4. What all the doctors, all the experts say is, when people get vaccinated, we get safer and safer and closer and closer to a more normal lifestyle.

TAPPER: Take a listen to what President Biden had to say about wearing a mask indoors. This is just on Friday.


QUESTION: Why do you choose to wear a mask so often when you're vaccinated and you're around other people who are vaccinated?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because I'm worried about you. No, that's a joke. It's a joke.

Why am -- why am I wearing the mask? Because, when we're inside, it's still good policy to wear the mask.


TAPPER: Is it really necessary for a fully vaccinated person to wear a mask at a limited indoor gathering, if everyone there is vaccinated?

ZIENTS: Well, the CDC has given guidance that, when you're with family and friends that are vaccinated in small groups, you don't need a mask.

TAPPER: So, why does President Biden, in a room full of vaccinated journalists, with everybody in that room vaccinated, why does he need to wear a mask?

ZIENTS: The president is going to continue to follow the CDC guidance.

We -- it's just a matter of a few weeks ago when all states made vaccines eligible for all Americans. So, there still are Americans who want to get vaccinated who may just have their first shot and are waiting for the for their second shot, or who haven't had an opportunity yet to get their first shot.

And we want those folks to get vaccinated. And the July 4 deadline is a really good -- or goal -- is a really good goal that the president has set of 70 percent of all Americans with at least their first shot by July 4.

TAPPER: Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says that the CDC could consider lifting indoor mask mandates right now. And, in fact, he is suggesting that that will be a sign of confidence to show that everything is science-based and that there is an end of the tunnel. There's...

ZIENTS: We're going to look to the CDC.

The president from day one has said we're going to look for -- we're going to rely on science and facts. And that's what we will do. The CDC has, across the last several weeks, given guidance for vaccinated people to do indoor gatherings with other vaccinated people, as I talked about earlier, to not wear masks outside, except when you're in a very crowded place.

And we look forward to further guidance from the CDC about what the advantages are of being vaccinated.

What is clear is, anyone who's not vaccinated should get vaccinated.

TAPPER: No, I agree.

But I guess -- I think one of the reasons why journalists are annoyingly harping on this and some health experts are is because there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and President Biden being able to take off his mask in a room full of journalists and White House staffers, all of whom are fully vaccinated, is a demonstration that the vaccines work.

You and I are both vaccinated, and you and I are in a room together talking, and I have no fear that I'm going to get the virus from you, and I assume vice versa.

And I think the concern is that, by being overly cautious, the signal is going out to the public that there isn't necessarily a light at the end of the tunnel. Do you understand why people are...

ZIENTS: Well, I think everyone is tired, and wearing a mask is -- it can be a pain.


But we're getting there. And the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and brighter. Let's keep up our guard. Let's follow the CDC guidance.

And the CDC guidance across time will allow vaccinated people more and more privileges to take off that mask.

TAPPER: A new CNN poll shows that four in 10 vaccinated Americans -- OK, these are all vaccinated -- 40 percent still say they do not feel comfortable returning to their routines.

Would you like to see more vaccinated Americans embrace their immunity and resume their routines, if it's safe, if everybody in their...

ZIENTS: We all want to get back to a normal lifestyle.

TAPPER: Right.

ZIENTS: I think we're on the path to do that.

But stay disciplined. And let's take advantage of the new privileges of being vaccinated and not wearing mask outdoors, for example, unless you're in a crowded place. And as we all move toward that 70 percent goal, there will be more and more advantages to being vaccinated.

And if you're not vaccinated, you're not protected.


Both Pfizer and Moderna say that booster shots of their vaccines will likely be needed.

It's been six months since the first shots in the U.S. Could Americans be getting booster shots as soon as this fall?

ZIENTS: Look, we're going to look to Dr. Fauci, the FDA as to the timing and necessity of a booster shot.

If boosters are necessary, we will certainly be ready, as we have been for all contingencies, and we will have sufficient supply.

TAPPER: So, you're focused on the virus and the vaccine, not on the economy. I get that.

But I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge you were the former director of the National Economic Council under President Obama, and there's some developments in the economy. I'd love to get your thoughts. I realized that this is not -- I'm not going to go into detail.

But I do want to ask you. Friday's jobs report, only 266,000 jobs were created, instead of the one million expected. President Biden has repeatedly cited a study estimating the U.S. would create seven million jobs this year under the American Rescue Plan.

So far, it's fewer than two million. Do you still think that seven million is...


ZIENTS: So, look, Jake, my 24/7 focus is...


ZIENTS: ... fighting this pandemic. And that's key for the economy. It's not only key for us returning to

a more normal lifestyle, but it's also key for us building back better, for people to get vaccinated, and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

You know, the president across the first 100 days created more jobs than any president in history. One of the things I did learn as NEC director is not to pay too much attention to any one data point in any one month. If you look past across -- if you look back across the last three months, we have averaged 500,000 jobs. That compares to 60,000 jobs created per month in the prior administration during their last three months.

So, we're headed in the right direction. But it's a long path out of the -- out of the difficult period of time that we have had because of the pandemic.

TAPPER: I know that it's a complicated issue, but there are governors now who are going to go off the enhanced federal unemployment insurance because they think it's a disincentive for people to go out to work.

As somebody with opinions about disincentives and incentives, do you think that that's possible, that the enhanced unemployment insurance, while obviously well-intentioned, is creating a disincentive -- disincentive for some Americans?

ZIENTS: Look, people want to work. And, in fact, labor force participation, those people who are looking for jobs, went up last month.

There are still difficult hurdles for people working, including health concerns around the pandemic, childcare. So, the American Rescue Plan was a really important piece of legislation, a historic piece of legislation to help us recover and build back better.

TAPPER: Lastly, President Biden set this goal of 70 percent Americans vaccinated by July 4.

What about beyond July 4? Where do you hope to be by Labor Day, assuming you get to 70 percent by the 4th? By Labor Day, do you want to be at 80 percent, 90 percent?

ZIENTS: We just want more and more people to get vaccinated, so 70 percent first dose by July 4. Everyone should get their second dose, if it's a two-dose regimen, as soon as they're scheduled to do so, three weeks after their first dose of Pfizer, four after Moderna.

And after July 4, we will continue to vaccinate as many Americans as we can.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zients, thank you so much for being here.

ZIENTS: Thank you for the opportunity.

TAPPER: Happy Mother's Day to your wife and your mom. ZIENTS: And back to you.

TAPPER: Thanks.

ZIENTS: Thank you.

TAPPER: Mitch McConnell says his sole focus is standing up to President Biden. So, are Democrats' proposals all dead on arrival in the Senate?

Majority Whip Jim Clyburn will be here to respond.

Plus: the Republican Party poised to cancel a House leader for going against Trump's lies. I will talk to a Republican governor who has also felt the heat.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Biden is set for two major bipartisan meetings at the White House this week, as his $4 trillion proposals hit a roadblock in Congress.

The compromise is going to be much easier said than done, as Republican leaders signaled this week they have other priorities.

Joining me now, House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina.

Whip Clyburn, thanks for joining us.

The U.S. economy added only 266,000 new jobs in April, well below economists' predictions. Your state's Republican governor, Henry McMaster, says South Carolina will soon no longer participate in the expanded federal unemployment benefits program past June, he said, because -- quote -- "What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement, incentivizing and paying workers to stay at home, rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace" -- unquote.

Do you think that, for some people, those extra funds are possibly providing a disincentive to work?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): So, first of all, Jake, thank you very much for having me. And happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there, especially my two daughters Jennifer and Angela.

But listening to the governor's statement the other day, it bothered me a little bit. In South Carolina, where we have such a, let's just say, female-dominated work force, and if you look at that jobs report, yes, it was disappointing, but it was more disappointing among women, because they are basically the caregivers.


Unfortunately, they are populated in the world of work that is slow coming back. There are teachers and there are childcare workers and all of that.

We have to be very careful. I was disappointed to see the governor say that because I will tell you we may be talking about the big lie as it relates to the election, but very close to that is this notion that people don't want to work.

I have not met any of those people who don't want to work. I have met a lot of people who are staying off of work because they cannot find childcare for their children. And you have got the Republican Party not wanting to make that a part of infrastructure. That is a critical part of infrastructure.

So, I think that this notion that people are not going to work because they would rather stay at home, they will make more money if they are drawing unemployment, I have been hearing that all my life. It has never been true, it's not true now, and I don't think it ever will be true.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the big lie, which you just brought up, and what's happening across the aisle in the House.

Republicans are set to remove Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney from her leadership role because of her refusal to spread President Trump's big lie that the election was stolen. She's inarguably more conservative than Elise Stefanik, who is poised to replace her. She voted with Trump more reliably than did Stefanik.

It really all seems to be about whether or not she's willing to spread the lie about the election. What's your take on all this?

CLYBURN: That's exactly what this is about.

You know, I don't agree with Liz on much politically, but that's how we grow as a country. This whole thing that everybody ought to be marching in lockstep, that is what leads people to destruction. People ought to have a diversity of thought. Diversity is very, very important.

We want to limit it to gender and sometimes to race. It is also about thought. And I want to see a strong Republican Party. My parents were Republicans. And I would love to see this party honor them.

But this party, Republican Party, today is showing so much dishonor to the people who made it possible, the people who, down from Abraham Lincoln, kept this party alive on the basis of anti-slavery, which itself was a big lie, and now they're perpetuating it.

Now, they talk a lot about cancel culture. This is the classic cancel culture. They are perpetrating that which they argue that they are against. TAPPER: Let's talk about the prospects of Biden's legislative proposals.

Take a listen to something Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week.


MCCONNELL: One hundred percent of my focus is on standing up to this administration. What we have in the United States Senate is total unity from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country.


TAPPER: What's your take on that comment? Does that mean that there's no hope for bipartisanship in the Senate?

CLYBURN: No, I think the Republicans got to remember that it was Mitch McConnell who told them that his number one priority was to make sure that Barack Obama was a one-term president.

Last time I checked, he was a miserable failure in 2012, and Barack Obama was a two-term president, and a very successful one, at that.

I think that they are going to get the same thing here. Mitch McConnell has some personal animus toward Democrats that ought not be. We are one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Let's operate like that.

This Republican Party is losing its way on all fronts. And Mitch McConnell is contributing to that in a big way.

TAPPER: So, let's talk about efforts to work in a bipartisan way.

Republicans on state levels are trying to pass laws making it more difficult to vote in some aspects. Democrats have a sweeping federal election reform proposal right now, but there aren't 50 votes for it, let alone 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

Are Democrats considering shifting strategies and trying to pass perhaps a more narrowly focused bill instead, such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, in order to get something passed?

CLYBURN: Well, I'm a great believer in the Lyndon Johnson philosophy a half-loaf is better than no loaf at all.

However, I think we must maintain our dedication to making this country what it professes to be. And that is to have a free and unfettered vote.


We have already seen now 47 of the 50 states passing -- or not passing, but proposing various forms of suppression laws. Two of them have passed it. Texas, it seems to be on the verge of passing one. I think that the national government must play a role in making sure

that elections are unfettered. And so I know that it's going to be tough. I have been working very closely with Senator Merkley, who is the author -- or who is putting together S.1., that plays off of H.R.1, and Joe Manchin, who has some issues. We have met. And I understand we're meeting again this week.

I hold out hope that nobody is going to allow the filibuster to take away voting rights or any other constitutional right. The vote filibuster is all about extending debate. It is not about denying civil and basic constitutional rights.

And I don't think that that's going to come to pass. I think that we are going to have a good, solid bill, H.R.1, as well as H.R.4, which we now call the John R. Lewis Voting Rights and Advancement Act.

TAPPER: Right, but you are going to have to decide, ultimately, in all likelihood, whether you're going to take the half-a-loaf, as you put it, rather than -- rather than none, and the same thing with policing reform legislation.

There's a tentative agreement. The biggest sticking point right now remains whether or not police can keep qualified immunity for officers, which Republicans, led by Tim Scott of your home state, say they need to keep.

Again, is anything less -- do you need the whole loaf, or are you willing to pass the bill that has most of what you want, but just not the end of qualified immunity?

CLYBURN: Well, I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won't do that. I know what the perfect bill will be. We have proposed that. I want to see good legislation. And I know that, sometimes, you have to compromise.

But let me say this. I have been saying from the beginning we have well-trained police officers. We have got to do a better job of recruiting police officers. We have got to get good people. No matter how good the training, if you don't have good people, the training does no good.

Now, the problem we have got now is that there are some bad apples in policing. We have seen it in our living rooms. We know it's still there. We have got to root out the bad apples, and let's go forward with a good, solid program.

If we don't get qualified immunity now, then we will come back and try to get it later. But I don't want to see us throw out a good bill because we can't get a perfect bill.

TAPPER: All right, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, always a pleasure to see you.

Happy Mother's Day to your two daughters, sir. Thanks so much for being with us.

CLYBURN: Thank you very much for having me.

TAPPER: House Republicans make it clear their voters think it's Trump's way or the highway.

Is there room in the Republican Party for those who want to chart a different path? The Utah Republican governor will join me next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Last week, the Republican 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, was booed at his state's GOP convention.

And Utah's Republican governor faced some disapproval of his own from the raucous crowd. Now Governor Spencer Cox is defending his record as a conservative and telling Utahans -- quote -- "As leaders, we're charged with making hard choices. We must not only represent our constituencies, but do our homework and follow our consciences" -- unquote.

Do his fellow Republicans agree?

Joining us now to discuss, Utah Governor Spencer Cox.

And, Governor Cox, let me first of all say happy Mother's Day to your wife and your stepmom and your mom. I hope it's a joyous day for all of them.

GOV. SPENCER COX (R-UT): Thanks, Jake. It's a great day.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there, especially my wife, who gave birth to our four kids and actually was a gestational carrier for my sister. Pretty cool.


COX: Pretty cool story and a great, great woman.

TAPPER: What a cool -- what a cool story.

Anyway, let's go into the news here.

A new jobs report this weekend was disappointing, showing only 266,000 jobs added in the U.S. a quarter of the one million that had been projected. Unemployment ticked slightly up.

Now, your fellow Republican governors in South Carolina, Montana, Arkansas have decided to end the extra $300 in federal unemployment benefits in an effort to get Americans back to work. I know unemployment is very low in Utah. But what do you think of that idea? Is that a good idea? Do you see those extra funds as a disincentive to work?

COX: Yes, unfortunately, I think it is a good idea.

And, look, the purpose of those funds were absolutely critical during the pandemic, as we struggled. Now we're towards the end of the pandemic. And here in Utah, our unemployment is at 2.9 percent, the lowest in the nation. And the biggest problem we have right now in the state of Utah are finding workers for the jobs that are available.

And, as we talk to workers, we found that it actually is a disincentive. And so I -- it is a terrible jobs report, not what we were expecting at all. But that's what happens when we pay people not to work.


Now, again, there are families that are struggling. We want to help them out. But, at some point, we have to roll that back.

TAPPER: Let's talk about President Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal.

I know you don't support that plan, but, as you know, Utah has a C- plus infrastructure grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Biden has suggested that the Republican counteroffer of roughly $500 billion is not enough.

Do you want Republicans in the Senate to meet Biden in the middle, so they can pass some funding, and Utah commuters and residents will get the infrastructure they need?

COX: Well, I should also point out, Jake, that that C-plus is the highest in the nation.

So, we're -- we're...


TAPPER: Well, congratulations.

COX: It not a great score, but -- thank you. We're the best. We're the best in the nation when it comes to that.

And so I do think that that's important. Look, I have said all along that there is room for bipartisanship and common ground on infrastructure, especially traditional infrastructure, roads and bridges, water projects, those things that are -- that we know are necessary.

And we do have an aging infrastructure here in our country. This is the one area -- we heard it during the Biden administration, we heard it during the Trump administration, and we're hearing it now -- where everybody believes there actually is room to get something done. And I hope they will figure it out.

TAPPER: House Republicans meet on Wednesday. They're going to likely vote to oust Republican Conference Chair Congresswoman Liz Cheney for pushing against former President Trump's false claims about the election.

She is more conservative -- pardon me -- than the woman who will likely replace her, Elise Stefanik. She voted with Trump more reliably than Stefanik did.

What does it say about your party that House Republicans are planning to remove Liz Cheney because she won't tell the big election lie?

COX: Well, it shows that we're very divided as a party. And that's no secret. I'm not the first person to say that.

But, as we talk about broadening the tent and bringing in a new generation of Republicans, we really have to allow for those types of differences. We're -- again, we're seeing that here in Utah. This is playing out everywhere. You referenced the convention that took place last week.

I think what's remarkable -- and you did hear that -- that clip of the boos, and Senator Romney certainly got the brunt of that. But the resolution to censure him actually failed. And that was with, again, a small number of delegates, theoretically, the most passionate and maybe extreme number of delegates.

But the truth is that we believe here in Utah that there is room in the party for both Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Mike Lee. And they're working together on some really important legislation. And I hope there's room in the party for all of those voices.

TAPPER: It's interesting, though, because you're not talking about differences on, say, taxation or whether or not we should have troops in Afghanistan after September.

You're talking about differences about a fact that one group of people is refusing to accept and the other group of people is saying, like Mitt Romney and like you, Joe Biden won the election.

Now, Republicans at your convention erupted into these boos against Romney, who, as you know, has been a lifelong Republican.

And I'm just wondering -- well, let's take a listen. I want to play that clip.



SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Now, you know me as a person who says what he thinks. And I don't hide the fact that I wasn't a fan of our last president's character issues. And I'm also no fan...


ROMNEY: Aren't you embarrassed?


ROMNEY: Oh, yes, you can -- you can boo all you like.


TAPPER: You even got booed yourself.

And I guess, first of all, how did it feel? And why do you think they were booing you?


COX: Well, you didn't play the clip from my speech. It was -- there were just a few scattered kind of boos.

And that specifically was around that when I was talking about our pandemic response. And I think that this past year has been really tough on people -- there's -- there's no question about that -- and has certainly heightened those passions and that divisiveness.

But I have said for a long time that one of the problems in our country is that politics has become a religion. And when you -- when you talk about the previous piece of that, of course, what Senator Romney was going through and the conversations there, I'm more interested in figuring out kind of how we got here and how we move out of that.

How did President Trump get elected in the first place? Because I think that was a surprise to a lot of people. And I think we do ourselves a disservice as a party if we don't try -- and as a country -- if we don't try to get at the heart of, what is driving people to believe things that aren't true?

What is it that's happening out there that has led us to this point, and then how do we counter that? How do we change that? Why is it that people are latching on -- around the pandemic too -- latching on to conspiracies? And what is it that's driving us apart?


And that's what we're trying to do differently here in Utah.

TAPPER: So, I asked Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican from Illinois, again, a very conservative Republican, but one who acknowledges, as you do, as Cheney does, as Romney does, that Biden won the election, how many people in the House Republican Caucus he thinks actually believe this nonsense, you know, that the Chinese shipped in bamboo ballots to Arizona and all this craziness?

And he said he thinks it's only about five, which means that dozens and dozens of House Republicans, perhaps including Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, are saying things that they don't believe are true because of all the voters who believe the lies.

Does it -- so, I guess there are two things going on. And one is people pandering to people who believe the lies, and then the other is people who believe the lies.

Why do you think so many people believe the lies? You talked about trying to get to the bottom of it. Why do you think it is?

COX: Yes.

No, and this is something I don't know, but I wish I knew, Jake. I have spent a lot of time talking to different people. I live in a very rural part of the country. I live actually 100 miles south of Salt Lake City in a small town of 1,200 people where I grew up.

And it's this idea, this -- people feeling left behind, people feeling like the deck is stacked against them. And we -- this is very common in sports, right? It's the nobody believes in us. It's a real motivating factor for people. And, unfortunately, it can be taken advantage of, right?

So, when we need people to vote for us, when we need to rally people to a cause, it's a lot easier to tell them that everyone's against them and that I'm the only person that can help them out.

And, unfortunately, with politicians, we -- it's very easy to use that fear and divisiveness to bring people to our cause. It's unfortunate. And I ran on an entirely different platform. My wife and I sat down. We weren't sure we wanted to do it. But we ran as kind of an experiment.

We wanted to prove that you could win without doing that. So we did service projects. We ran a very positive campaign. We're trying to avoid the culture wars. We're trying to bring people together and focus on real policy. And we're hoping that that will change the narrative and inspire people.

But we need more people to step up and run campaigns that way.

TAPPER: Governor Cox, I appreciate your integrity. Thanks for being with us. Hope to have you on again soon.

And happy Mother's Day to mom, stepmom, and wife.

COX: Thanks, Jake. Same to you and all the mothers in your life.

TAPPER: I want to take a moment to wish a very special Mother's Day to my wife, Jennifer -- I love you baby -- to my mom, to my stepmom, to my mother-in-law. Four amazing women all very dear to me.

I also want to wish a happy Mother's Day to the two moms with four kids, including two infants, who run this program, Abigail Crutchfield and Rachel Streitfeld. And, of course, happy Mother's Day to the mom who is my co-anchor, Dana Bash. And to every mom out there, thank you. It's been an incredibly difficult year and so much of the burden has fallen on you. I want you to know that we see you, we appreciate you, we love you.

And to those of you who are missing your moms today, please know we're thinking of you too.

Shifting gears now, tonight a very special CNN event about a song that is just as relevant today as the day it was released. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARVIN GAYE, SINGER, SONGWRITER, AND RECORD PRODUCER: My mother, there's too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there's far too many of you dying.

UNKNOWN: Marvin Gaye's groundbreaking "What's Going On."

UNKNOWN: It was the first time that I understood poetry.

GAYE: -- and picket signs.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible).

GAYE: Don't punish me --

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible) --

GAYE: -- with --



STEVIE WONDER, SINGER, SONGWRITER: He created something that will last.

GAYE: What's going on?

UNKNOWN: What's going on?

UNKNOWN: Fifty years later --

GAYE: What's going on?

UNKNOWN: What's going on?

GAYE: Picket lines --

UNKNOWN: Going on (ph).

GAYE: -- and picket signs --

UNKNOWN: Going on (ph).

GAYE: Don't punish me --

UNKNOWN: Why is it an anthem for a new generation?


DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What do you think Marvin would think about what's going on?

UNKNOWN: CNN special report, "What's Going On, Marin Gaye's Anthem for the Ages" tonight at 8:00.

GAYE: Tell me what's going on.