Return to Transcripts main page

State of the Union

Interview With National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins; Interview With Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR); Interview With Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired November 28, 2021 - 09:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): Variant of concern. A troubling new COVID variant could already be in the U.S.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Right now, you're talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue.

BASH: Just when we thought things were getting better, how dangerous is the Omicron variant? I will speak to NIH director Dr. Francis Collins next.

And two Americas? Consumer spending soars.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our economy has created a record 5.6 million jobs.

BASH: But Americans say they aren't feeling optimistic. Is the economy on track or in trouble? Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson will be here.

Plus: grim milestone. Coming up on a year since the January 6 riot, is the committee investigating the attacks making progress?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It's also important to our constituents that we defend democracy.

BASH: House intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff is ahead.


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

As we were giving thanks around the dinner table that the end of the pandemic could be in sight, a new variant was beginning to send shockwaves around the world, stock market tumbling. And, beginning tomorrow, the U.S. will restrict travel from eight African nations.

The CDC says no cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in the U.S. yet, but Dr. Anthony Fauci says he wouldn't be surprised if it's already here. Denmark just confirmed two Omicron cases from passengers arriving by plane from South Africa. And, right now, researchers are racing to find out more about how this variant behaves, how aggressively it could spread, whether it is like the Delta variant or something worse, and, maybe most importantly, whether the vaccines we all have now, or should have, will stand up to it.

I want to go straight to the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins.

Dr. Collins, thank you so much for joining me.

So what is it about this variant that has experts so worried?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I think the main thing that has focused on this and has caused a lot of us to be sort of 24/7 on Zoom calls for the last four days is that it has so many mutations.

Omicron has more than 50 variants that make it different than the original virus, including more than 30 that are in the spike protein. I brought my little model, along in case people have forgotten what this looks like.

So, these are those spike proteins that sit on the outside of the virus and enable it to get inside your cells. And the Omicron version of that, because of those changes, is going to have a different shape. And, of course, that's also what the antibodies are directed against.

So, the question is, will the antibodies generated by the vaccines that we have all had, or should have had, will that enable us to be protected against this virus?

BASH: Right.

COLLINS: I think there's good reasons to think it will probably be OK. But we need to know the real answers to that.

And that's going to take two or three weeks.

BASH: Well, that's good to know that you think we probably would be OK.

In a statement on Friday, Moderna said -- quote -- "The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity."

Can you explain what that means? And is it possible that the Omicron variant is what scientists like you call an escape variant?

COLLINS: It's possible.

But, again, based on what we have learned so far with Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta, the vaccines, which are generated against the original virus, still work. And the boosters work particularly well.

Dana, this is an important point. For people who are listening who haven't yet gotten boosted, but did get their original vaccine and who are eligible now, this is another reason to do that now, because the booster, it basically enlarges the capacity of your immune system to recognize all kinds of different spike proteins it's never seen.

This is a great day to go and get boosted or to find out how to do so at

But, yes, we worry that, in the worst case, you might have a virus that is so different, that the vaccines really don't enable you to have protection. That's the kind of thing we need to check out as quickly as possible.

We will get some sense of that already from the -- what's happening in South Africa, because about 37 percent of South Africans are vaccinated. We should be able to find out in the next two or three weeks, is the protection that they're having somewhat better than the unvaccinated people? That data is going to start to emerge.

And we will be able to work in the laboratory and ask, if you took serum from somebody who's been vaccinated, does it actually neutralize that virus in the lab? And that will take also another two or three weeks.

So, stay tuned. We're going to get better information about this. There's no reason to panic. But it is a great reason to go get boosted.


BASH: Have you seen anything to suggest that this new variant causes more serious illness than previous strains?

COLLINS: Well, that's another really important question. How severe would it be?

We have no data so far to suggest that it would be. There's even a bit of a report from South Africa that maybe people with this are milder than the usual case. But they're mostly young people, who have mild illness anyway. So, I would say we just don't know.

We do think it's more contagious, when you look at how rapidly it's spread through multiple districts in South Africa. It has the earmarks, therefore, of being particularly likely to spread from one person to another.

BASH: Well, that was one of the things that got everybody so concerned about Delta, was because it was more contagious than the original novel coronavirus.


BASH: Do you think that the new variant, Omicron, is even more contagious than Delta?

COLLINS: We don't know yet. It certainly shows the signs of being able to spread quickly. What we don't know is whether it can compete with Delta. We have had

occasions before where we thought a particular variant was going to take over in the United States. Remember Beta? That's B1351. It never really took off because Delta was so incredibly effective at spreading that it couldn't compete.

We don't know what Omicron will look like if it gets to our country. And I hope it doesn't, but it's fairly likely we will see cases.

BASH: Well, do you...

COLLINS: Will it be able to compete, or will it fizzle?

BASH: Do you think it's already here in the United States?

COLLINS: I -- we have no evidence that it is. So I'm on the fence about that. We will find out, because CDC is looking at tens of thousands of viral isolates every week. And so we're going to find out if it's here.

BASH: So, big picture, Dr. Collins, does this new variant set us back in our efforts to end this pandemic once and for all?

COLLINS: Well, it's certainly not good news.

We don't know yet how much of an impact this will have. It ought to redouble our efforts to use the tools that we have, which are vaccinations and boosters, and to be sure we're getting those to the rest of the world too, which the U.S. is doing more than any other country.

It also means we need to pay attention to those mitigation strategies that people are just really sick of, like wearing masks when you're indoors with other people who might not be vaccinated, and keeping that social distance issue.

I know, America, you're really tired about hearing those things, but the virus is not tired of us. And it shape-shifting itself. If you imagine we're on a race track here, the virus just sort of emerged in a new version, and it's trying to catch up with us. And we have to use every kind of tool in our toolbox to keep that from getting in a situation that makes this worse.

BASH: Doctor...

COLLINS: We can do this, but we have to do it all together.

BASH: Dr. Francis Collins, thank you so much.

I realize there are a lot of unanswered questions. We will have you back as we get more of the answers soon, hopefully.

Thank you so much.

COLLINS: Glad -- glad to be with you. BASH: And I want to turn now to the leader of a state that is still

struggling with major vaccine hesitancy, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

Governor, thank you for joining me.

I want to ask you about this new Omicron coronavirus variant. More than half of your residents in Arkansas remain unvaccinated. Is your state prepared to deal with this new variant?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Well, Delta has been tough on us. And so we don't welcome a new variant. And it is a great concern.

But I think the message, as a governor, is steady as you go. We obviously have to have more information. But let's take this window to get better prepared by increasing our vaccination rates. We're making great progress in Arkansas. We continue to go up in our vaccination rate.

We continue to encourage that. And we have got a window here to seal it off. And you compare where we are now to last year, when we were really spiking up, we're much less than that. Our vaccination rates are up. So I'm much more optimistic about getting through this winter.

But, obviously, a new variant is a concern. Let's get vaccinated. That's our best protection.

BASH: Well, as you just did, you have been consistently using your platform to beg people in your state to get vaccinated. But you will not impose a vaccine mandate. Arkansas might be doing better, but it still has the eighth lowest vaccination rate in the country.

So, is it time to acknowledge that your approach isn't working?

HUTCHINSON: Not at all.

In fact, what we have seen is that, through education, through information, vaccination rates go up. And that's more productive than a mandate that comes down that people instinctively resist. And so you have to know the culture. You have to know what -- how people respond to it.

And, in Arkansas, that information-based education is what is working and will be effective. The mandates are not something that the people of Arkansas are going to respond well to. So, that makes progress.


But one other point, and that is, you look at globally, remember, we have a high vaccination rate compared to South Africa, with about a 6 percent vaccination rate. We have to increase vaccination rates globally. Otherwise, it's going to be a groundswell of mutations that come along. And we continually fight that.

So I do hope, as the United States, we could do more to help globally in terms of increasing those vaccinations rates, as well as here. BASH: I want to ask you about the economy now.

Inflation is justifiably getting a lot of attention. People feel it every day in their lives. But if you look at the broader economic picture, there are some really positive indicators. New jobless claims are at their lowest level and 52 years. Wages, retail sales, overall GDP, that's all up.

Does President Biden deserve some credit for that?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I -- the inflationary pressures are at his feet. And that is the challenge.

Much of the supply challenges are at his feet, in terms of reducing production domestically and relying more upon international energy for the United States. We have to been energy-independent. And so, yes, I think that is a challenge.

But you look at the economy as a whole, here in Arkansas, we're at 4.3 percent -- excuse me -- a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, which is lower than what we were before the pandemic began. And so our economy is moving. But we do have to increase our supply chain. We have to increase our worker engagement. And those are critical needs that we have.

BASH: And as Joe Biden get some credit for the positive parts of the economy that even you say are happening in your state?

HUTCHINSON: Whenever you're at the top and you're in a leadership position, something good happens, you can try to take credit for it.


HUTCHINSON: So, I don't have any problem with that at all. Those are the facts on the ground.

But our pressures on inflation and on this supply chain, particularly energy, is something that he needs to correct. And so there's problems that he needs to address. And we all want to come out of this. He puts it all on COVID. And I don't believe that is the biggest -- well, it is a challenge, but there are other things you could address, such as the inflationary pressures, that he can control.

BASH: Let me ask you about the state of your party, the Republican Party.

I want you to listen, watch this video of Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert making a racist joke about Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): I look to my left. And there she is, Ilhan Omar.

I said, well, if she doesn't have a backpack, we should be fine. (LAUGHTER)


BOEBERT: I looked over. And I said: "Oh, look, the Jihad Squad decided to show up for work today."



BASH: House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy finally released a statement about this yesterday he said. He called Boebert, encouraged her to meet with Omar, but notably did not publicly condemn what she said.

And he's actually never publicly condemned Congressman Paul Gosar for tweeting an animated video of himself killing a Democratic congresswoman.

So do you think McCarthy should be publicly condemning this kind of behavior?


I think whenever, even in our own caucus, our own members, if they go the wrong direction, I mean, it has to be called out. It has to be dealt with, particularly whenever it is breaching the civility, whenever it is crossing the line in terms of violence or increasing the divide in our country.

So, one of the things that's really important to us in the future is increasing the civil debate and civil discourse. And we have got to look for ways that we can bring people together, and not divide, and certainly along racial lines.

I think this last week, our justice system gave two very good verdicts that indicated that we can hold people accountable whenever they go after somebody because of their race or whatever, they take the law into their own hands.

So, let's look for ways that we bring people together, and let's decrease that divide.

BASH: Thank you so much, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

Thanks for joining me on this holiday weekend. Appreciate it.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you.

BASH: And January 6, that committee is now nearly half-a-year into its investigation. What are they learning about the deep planning that went on? And how deep is their investigation able to go?

I will ask the committee member, a key one, Adam Schiff, next. And Democrats are coming back this week. And whether they're able to find agreement could have a huge impact on the economy and handful of their vulnerable House members.


I will talk to one coming up.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

The January 6 Committee is widening its probe, issuing subpoenas for Trump allies Roger Stone and Alex Jones and far right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

But, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Capitol attacks, it's still unclear who will talk, no matter how hard the committee tries to turn the legal screws.

Joining me now is House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, who sits on the select committee investigating the attacks on the Capitol.

Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for joining me.

I should also say you have a book out, "Midnight in Washington."


So, let's talk about the January 6 Committee. It is now roughly five months that you have been investigating. You have interviewed more than 200 witnesses, including former Trump administration officials.

So, have you found any evidence at all at this point that Donald Trump knew of plans for violence at the Capitol that day?

SCHIFF: Dana, I can't go into the evidence that we have gathered.

But I will say this. I think among the most important questions that we're investigating is the complete role of the former president. That is, what did he know in advance about the propensity for violence that day? Was this essentially the backup plan for the failed litigation around the country? Was this something that was anticipated?

How was it funded? What did the funders know about what was likely to happen that day? And what was the president's response as the attack was going on, as his own vice president was being threatened?

I think among the most -- the broadest category of unknowns are those surrounding the former president. And we are determined to get answers. But, at this point, I am not in a position to indicate what we know yet.

BASH: You don't want to indicate what you know, but can you tell us if you know things? (LAUGHTER)

BASH: Are there things to know?

SCHIFF: You know, I really let the committee -- I let the committee speak through our chairman and through our communications team. So I don't want to get ahead of the committee.


SCHIFF: But I can't tell you that, for everyone who is trying to obstruct, like the former president, like Mr. Bannon and others, there are dozens and dozens of people who are coming forward voluntarily or who are coming forward when the committee requests that they do so.

And so we are learning a great deal. But it is a broad investigation into the security lapses, into the intelligence problems, into the participation of these right-wing white nationalist groups, the former president's participation, those in his Cabinet.

We will follow the evidence if it leads back to members of Congress as well. So it's comprehensive.

BASH: So let's get specific.

Two weeks ago, you said that the January 6 Committee would move very quickly to refer former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for criminal contempt charges after he defied a subpoena. Is that still likely going to happen? And, if so, when?

SCHIFF: I think we will probably make a decision this week on our course of conduct with that particular witness and maybe others.

I can't go into what communications that we're having or haven't had with particular witnesses. But we are moving with alacrity with anyone who obstructs the committee, and that was certainly the case with Mr. Bannon. It will be the case with Mr. Meadows, Mr. Clark or any others.

BASH: You said there are communications. Does that mean that there's some cooperation? Or is it just communication? Can you just describe that?

Can you see getting to a point where you won't refer for criminal charges?

SCHIFF: I can't talk specifically about a particular witness.

But I can tell you, with a variety of witnesses, we have had engagement with them through their counsel, some who, like Bannon, flatly refused to cooperate, others, like Clark, who came in, but refused to answer questions, and still others that we have been in communication with.

So, it varies witness to witness, but we discuss as a committee and with our legal counsel, what's the appropriate step to make sure the American people get the information? We intend to hold public hearings again soon to bring the public along with us and show what we're learning in real time. But we're going to make these decisions very soon.

BASH: I want to ask you about something a federal judge said who is overseeing some of the January 6 cases.

He said in a court hearing this month that the rioters that day were -- quote -- "called to Washington, D.C., by an elected official, prompted to walk to the Capitol by an elected official. Those who created the conditions that led to their conduct have, in no meaningful measure, been held accountable."

He appears to be referring to former President Trump. Do you believe that Merrick Garland's Justice Department is letting Trump off the hook?

SCHIFF: Well, I am concerned about certain things, in particular, frankly -- and this is not January 6-related specifically, at least to the violence of that day.

But I am concerned that there does not appear to be an investigation, unless it's being done very quietly, by the Justice Department of, for example, the former president on the phone with the Georgia secretary of state, asking him to find and really demanding he find 11, 780 votes that don't exist, the precise number he would need to overturn Joe Biden's victory in that state.

I think, Dana, if you or I were on that call and recorded, we'd be under investigation, if not indictment, by now for a criminal effort to defraud the people of Georgia and the people the country.


So, that specifically, I'm concerned about. But I do share the judge's broad concern that those responsible for the violence that day, in terms of organizing it, have yet to be held to account.

BASH: It sounds like you're saying you want the Biden administration -- the Biden Justice Department, I should say, to be more aggressive.

SCHIFF: Well, look, we tried to hold the former president accountable through impeachment. That's the remedy that we have in Congress.

We are now trying to expose the full facts of the former president's misconduct, as well as those around him. It is certainly possible that what we reveal in our investigation will inform the Justice Department of other facts that they may not be aware of yet.

And so we will pursue our role in this, which is to expose the malefactors, to bring about legislation as a result of our investigation to protect the country. But we will count on the Justice Department to play its role.


Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, thank you so much for joining me this morning. I appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

And House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy called Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene this week, but was that call to reprimand her or to shore up her support?

Our panel is here next.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Moms and dads are worried, asking, will there be enough food we can afford to buy for the holidays? Will we be able to get Christmas presents to the kids on time, and if so, will they cost me an arm and a leg? Families can rest easy.


DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. So there are some critical deadlines coming up for President Biden and Democrats in Congress in the next few weeks. Five days to fully fund federal agencies, 17 days until the debt ceiling needs to be lifted, 32 days to pass President Biden's social safety net if the administration and Congress want to do it before the end of the year.

And our panel is back in person to discuss all this.

Xochitl, I'll start with you. What are the stakes for President Biden particularly as his -- politically speaking as his poll numbers are not so great?

XOCHITL HINOJOSA, FORMER DNC SENIOR ADVISER AND COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, stakes are high and I think that if Democrats try to do what they did before Thanksgiving, which was sign an infrastructure bill, pass Build Back Better in the House and continue to make progress, and I think you will see their numbers go up. Now I know that you heard President Biden talking a lot about how the cost of living is going up, inflation, the cost of gas, the cost of food, all of these things.

I think it was smart for him to go out and address this issue to the American people ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, he took action immediately and talked about how he was going to release barrels of gas so that -- of oil, therefore gas prices would go down. And, you know, there's a lot at stake and the president understands that in order to get our economy back on track, inflation down, lower costs of living, that we have to get this pandemic under control. BASH: So that's one thing. And then, Nina, I want to bring you in

because you worked very hard for Bernie Sanders in the primary. He is going to be the one putting together this Build Back Better bill in the Senate. And he's not thrilled with some of the things that passed in the House. He's not thrilled with the fact that he doesn't look like paid family leave is going to be in there.

In the next segment I'm going to talk to Congressman Josh Gottheimer, he's a moderate Democrat, who says needs the SALT tax deduction, state and local tax deduction in there. But Senator Sanders and I'm guessing you don't love that.

NINA TURNER, FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: I mean you can't -- I mean, one of the things that the senator talked about is let's really analyze this and look at if there are families, I think he puts at 400,000 and lower, let's do something about that but let's not give tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy in this country, the second highest expense in the B to the third power is the SALT.

And as far as paid family and medical leave, I mean, we are the United States of America. Other industrialized nations can do that, we should do it, too. You want to talk about inflation. Let's deal with the things that will help people get back into the workplace, that's universal -- you know, universal pre-K, child care, elder care, those kinds of things matter. And until Bit Momma is feeling like government is working, it's not working.

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT, PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, the whole policy debate going on inside the Democratic Party right now shows what a mess the whole thing is for Joe Biden. You know, you mentioned gas prices. On the one hand, he's shutting off pipelines and begging our friends in the Middle East to pump out more oil. On the other hand he's releasing the reserves and claiming it's going to lower prices. But we're not going to see that gas in the pipeline until, you know, December or January.

It's a complete and total mess. On the one hand, he says, well, rich people have to pay their fair share and then you've got Democrats celebrating, as the senator just said, passing a bill that gives massive tax breaks to some of the wealthiest people in the United States. The mess is in messaging and the mess is in normal life. Nothing is going to get better until people feel like life is back to normal.

Can I buy the stuff I want to buy? Is gas outrageous? You know, can I go sit at my favorite little local diner and the sitting area is actually open? And my kid's school still under threat of being closing from, you know, time to time? It's normal life. And it's a mess at messaging and they got no path out of it right now.

RAMESH PONNURU, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the Democrats are really overestimating the political gain that they can get from passing this bill. It's going to be much less important for their political fortunes than what happens to the price of gas.

[09:35:05] Now we've seen over the last month an adjustment in the Democratic message where they're talking about inflation and they're talking about this big spending bill as a way of addressing inflation, but it just doesn't smell right to most people. It's not a bill that anybody would have put together if your primary goal was addressing inflation. It's just -- it just doesn't sound right to say, well, the way we address the problem of the moment is by doing all the things we wanted to do before it was a big problem.

And I think presidents get into trouble when what they're most concerned about is not what the public is most concerned about.

TURNER: But people are concerned about those issues, though. All of those issues, whether it's, you know, two-year college, pre-K, universal health care, making sure that we expand Medicaid for our elders, people agree with those issues. I will say I didn't hear the complaints about inflation when within the CARE Act, the PPP, massive amount of money going to corporate America. But nobody was screaming about inflation.

We talk about inflation when these programs are designed to help the people who have the greatest needs. What I do agree is that we've got to give people something they can feel. And so the people inside the bubble can celebrate and slap happy and pat each other on the back and say we've done a good job. And again, until the people who need it the most start to feel it, it doesn't matter. But talk about messes, I mean, Republicans have no standing in talking about creating a mess.


BASH: We're going to talk about that in a second.

HINOJOSA: Well, just to add, just to add, Nina, I just want to point out the fact that Republicans are talking about inflation in terms of a gold mine. I think that, and you have Democrats trying to solve it. They're actually trying to give checks to people, put money in people's pockets, while Republicans are here trying to run on it as a campaign issue.

People are hurting. Biden was put in power to fix things. What is he doing? He's working on fixing them, getting us back from this pandemic. We had a jobs report that we are up 4.6 unemployment. Experts did not believe that that was going to happen for another two years. Our economy is coming back. Supply does not meet demand and Biden is fixing it, while you have Republicans complaining it and trying to benefit off of the American people.

And explain to me how Republicans will go to their constituents and say, I did not vote to put money in your pocket. I did not vote for Build Back Better.

BASH: So I want to talk about something you alluded to, which is the state of your party, the Republican Party. Republican Congresswoman Boebert, she sort of apologized. I'm not sure we would give her that but she pretended to, I think is probably a better way to say it. She made a racist and Islamophobic joke about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. The Democratic leadership put out a statement saying, "Leader McCarthy

and the entire House Republican leadership's repeated failure to condemn inflammatory and bigoted rhetoric from members of their conference is outrageous. We call on the Republican leadership to address this priority with the congresswoman and to finally take real action to confront racism."

Ramesh, this isn't the first time members of the Republican Party have said things that are frankly racist and what does it say about the leadership of the party in the House in particular that they're not condemning it?

PONNURU: Well, I think one of the things it says is that we've got a weak House leadership and I don't think that that's just a reflection on the personal qualities of the House Republican leaders. It's the way the House has now evolved where the leadership can't discipline its members in a strong way. You've seen that actually in both parties, ironically enough with Ilhan Omar herself vis-a-vis Nancy Pelosi. McCarthy knows that his standing in the House conference will not survive many defections from his followership and that puts a real bind on him.

BASH: Well, on that note look at what is going on with Marjorie Taylor Greene and Kevin McCarthy. He may be challenged by another Republican for leader or maybe speaker if that's the way the votes go in 2022. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, she has a history of making racist remarks. She has a lot of pull with the Republican base. Listen to what she said this past week.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): We know that Kevin McCarthy has a problem in our conference. He doesn't have the full support to be speaker. He doesn't have the votes that are there because there's many of us that are very unhappy about the failure to hold Republicans accountable while conservatives like me, Paul Gosar, and many other just constantly take the abuse by the Democrats.


BASH: Now after that, she tweeted out that she spoke on the phone with McCarthy and liked what he has planned ahead. But, Scott, what does this is a say about the leadership in the GOP that he didn't necessarily -- that he clearly needs her?

JENNINGS: Well, he needs her today. You know, we'll see how big the House Republican majority is come next November.


I think it's a mortise lock, frankly, that the Republicans are going to win. We'll what the size the majority is. He plays this game every week trying to keep, you know, these folks happy on the edges and this is the way, you know, they exist in politics by saying things that get them on the news and thrill their followers and collect their donations and the world keeps spinning for them. I ultimately don't think Marjorie Taylor Greene knows what the House

Republican count is on whether Kevin McCarthy has got the votes to be speaker and I wouldn't pay terribly close attention to her whip counting abilities. I think McCarthy will be the next speaker. But obviously there are people that he has to placate and it doesn't feel great when you've got Boebert and Greene and others going out there saying outrageous garbage commentary.

It doesn't speak for me as a Republican, I know it doesn't speak for Ramesh. We have real problems in the country. We were just discussing them. I think the Republicans have the path forward for the country that's going to get us out of them. But these people get in the way. They get in the way of having discussions about these policy issues when they say crazy things. And so I wish Kevin McCarthy would take a little stronger hand and with these folks and let them know that the Republican brand depends on us having messages against Joe Biden and the problems he's causing and not messages, you know, like what we're seeing out of Boebert and Greene and others.

BASH: I have to end it there. Thank you all for coming in. Again, it's nice to see you in person. Appreciate it. Happy Thanksgiving. You guys have a great one.

And coming up, he's a moderate Democrat when standing in the middle of the road means you're attacked from both sides. I went back home to New Jersey to spend time with the congressman there to see how the fight for the balance of power is really playing out.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

The most dangerous political ground these days could be common ground, as some moderate Democrats in key swing districts are finding out that it's really hard as they sell President Biden's social safety net plan. One of them is a congressman who represents my hometown in New Jersey, it's Josh Gottheimer. And he was recently dubbed the man in the middle by the "Bergen Record" and as the paper noted walking down the middle of any street can get you killed especially in today's political climate.


BASH (voice-over): At first glance, it's like a scene in a movie. A bunch of local leaders gathered under a bridge in Hackensack, New Jersey.

REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Thank you, guys, very much.

BASH: But it's a real political event, one Congressman Josh Gottheimer has been waiting months to hold.

GOTTHEIMER: The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a huge game changer.

BASH: The bill he pushed hard for is now law. His urgent political goal now touting its concrete results.

GOTTHEIMER: You all wanted more resources to fix them and when you get it you do that job.

BASH: Gottheimer is a moderate Democrat from a northern New Jersey district represented by Republicans for decades before he was elected in 2016. It's where this reporter grew up.

(On-camera): We were represented in Washington by a moderate Republican.


BASH: Now you are a moderate Democrat. Could easily switch back.

GOTTHEIMER: I hope not.

BASH: You hope not but --

GOTTHEIMER: But people want -- yes, what people want are --

BASH: The reality.

GOTTHEIMER: I think overall what they said is they want reasonableness. They want people who just bring common sense ideas. They don't want people who scream and yell. They want people like them who just figure out how to get stuff done.

BASH (voice-over): That's the feedback from the lunch time crowd at the Ridge Diner in nearby Park Ridge.

GOTTHEIMER: We both get together, just get along with each other, we'd be fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't that the whole thing? Exactly.

GOTTHEIMER: That's the whole thing, yes.

BASH: Gottheimer is one of the most vulnerable Democrats on the ballot in 2022. His district includes two counties that went heavily for Trump in 2016 and 2020. As we sat down to talk --

GOTTHEIMER: I'm getting attacks as well. They're attacking me.

BASH: Playing right there in the diner, an ad from the conservative American Action Network.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Josh Gottheimer sold out New Jersey.

BASH: He gets hit from the left in his own party, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop obstructing President Biden.

GOTTHEIMER: My job is not to work for the National Democratic Party. Right? I work for the Fifth District. If you do this job right, you're like a big mayor. You should be thinking about what your councils and your mayors are talking to you about and be responsive to them and to all the people you represent.

BASH: His political challenge next year hit home hard when local Democrats across New Jersey lost elections here this month, and the governor's margin of victory was closer than anticipated.

GOTTHEIMER: Just like they were frustrated in Virginia, people are really frustrated that we hadn't taken action.

BASH: Gottheimer was front and center in the Democrats' tug-of-war pushing his progressive colleagues to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill months ago and not wait for the larger social safety net package.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The bill is passed.


BASH: Now that the second bill passed the House, he says Democrats need to do better explaining what's in it. The $1.9 trillion price tag is a hard sell in parts of his district.

GOTTHEIMER: Whether you're talking about lower taxes or you're talking about pre-K or child care, those were all bipartisan things that Democrats and Republicans care about. You know, I think we've just gotten a little lost on how we talk about it.

BASH: What makes his sales job easier? This revives the state and local tax deduction known as SALT which would help address his constituents' top complaint, high taxes.

GOTTHEIMER: I can talk about hey, I got SALT back. Right? We're going to make life more affordable for you, and they go, I like that.

BASH (on-camera): Where do you think the Democratic Party is right now? Is it in the right place as far as you're concerned?

GOTTHEIMER: I think most people in the Democratic Party are somewhere in the middle, or a little to the left.


Listen, Bernie Sanders lost, right? And that's not where our party is.

BASH (voice-over): Bernie Sanders, a key player, as this bill heads to the Senate, doesn't like those tax deductions that are popular here.

Back in the car, Gottheimer mentioned Sanders again, while talking about the state of the Democratic Party.

GOTTHEIMER: We're not into socialism. Right? That's not the Democratic Party. Right? We are about pragmatic problem solving and people who can just get things done and work together.

BASH (on-camera): Do you feel like you have to say we're not about socialism because you're being painted that way or because you're being pulled that way? GOTTHEIMER: No, because that's a reminder that we're not the party of

Bernie Sanders, we're the party of Joe Biden.

BASH (voice-over): We visited a local healthy fast-food restaurant up Route 17, World Flats, another hard reality for incumbent Democrats like Gottheimer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Supply chain, supply chain, supply chain.

BASH: Supply chain issues and worker shortages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Usually high school and college kids are usually that run the workface 80 percent to 90 percent.

GOTTHEIMER: Right. Right.


BASH: The congressman had some fun behind the counter making his own delicious plant-based meal. The life of a vulnerable House Democrat, one bite, one vote at a time.

GOTTHEIMER: Just call me, I'll give you my card.


BASH: Gave that cell phone a lot. Thank you so much for inviting us back home, Congressman Gottheimer. And we will be right back.



BASH: Fareed Zakaria takes a look back at the roots of conspiracy theories that propelled the January 6th attack. "A RADICAL REBELLION: THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE GOP" is next.