Transcript for Republicans will continue to fight vaccine mandates: Klein
- It's not within government's authority to tell people that they must be vaccinated. And if they don't get vaccinated, they'll get fired.
- No precedent exists in American history for punishing private employers who don't enforce government vaccination edicts.
- If you don't want to get a vaccine, get a test! If you're unwilling to protect your coworkers, don't demand a paycheck!
- Some heated debate on Capitol Hill this week over President Biden's vaccine mandates, just one of the many topics to get to on the roundtable this morning with ABC News political director Rick Klein, ABC congressional correspondent, Rachel Scott, Vivian Salama, national security reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
And we want to welcome back our senior White House correspondent, Mary Bruce, who just returned from maternity leave, five months for maternity leave, welcoming her second baby, little Evie.
MARY BRUCE: Oh!
- And there she is with Big Brother George, 3 and 1/2. I'm sure George is probably not too jealous yet?
- There's a bit of a skeptical look you may notice on his face. I think he's getting used to the fact that she's here to stay.
- Yeah. And probably not much has changed here in Washington since she came back.
- Same storylines, oddly enough.
- Same story line. We're going to talk all things White House in a minute, but I want to start with you, Rick Klein, today. It looked like we might have a government shutdown. We saw some scenes of that there, after those Senate Republicans tried to defund President Biden's vaccine mandate on the private sector. They backed down. But these fights over vaccine mandates are really just beginning.
- They're here to stay. And I think one takeaway out of this, even though the Democrats won this battle, and they were able to keep the government open, is that they know that Republicans are going to continue to fight those vaccine mandates. They are united on that topic. In fact, they're going to get another vote in the coming days.
That one is likely to pass, because Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is likely to say he doesn't want to see the mandates imposed on the private sector. And the way that the politics around vaccines and around mandates have calcified and really set in, that is setting the tone for everything that President Biden hopes to do around the vaccine, around government funding, around the Build Back Better initiative.
This is the background noise. This is a serious political division that the President, I think, is starting to adjust around. But he really can't overcome that degree of skepticism. And that fight that Republicans are going to put up, just on that basic question about whether there should be a mandate.
- And Rachel, was Manchin's move a surprise?
- Well, if you ask Senator Joe Manchin, he'll say no. He says that he has long been saying that he believes the administration should be incentivizing, not penalizing businesses, encouraging them to get their employees vaccinated. So, when this does come to the floor in the Senate, which is expected this week, he is going to vote to overturn the president's mandate on private businesses. This only requires a simple majority.
So this is going to give them enough votes to actually get this passed. And it could be telling for the rest of the Democratic Party, because every Democratic Senator is now going to have to go on the record. We could see more also vote in support of that.
- And Mary, I do want to go back to, a lot of these storylines have not changed in five months. But, but just assess for us your view of the White House right now, your view of Joe Biden. He's got the jobs report. He's got to-- maybe this has changed-- a 41% approval rating.
- Yeah, well, look. I think right now, especially, they are trying to achieve this tricky balance when it comes to the economy and the pandemic. You've heard the president trying to be optimistic and hopeful, even talking about the holiday, saying it may be OK to go back to some of those celebrations, Fauci saying go ahead and have some eggnog with some vaccinated friends.
But they know that they have to convey that optimism while also trying to, they hope, keep the economy on track. But also being realistic about this new variant and that is very hard. I do think it's really notable what the president is not doing in announcing his new COVID strategy for the winter this week. What he did not do was to say there's not going to be any lockdowns, there's not going to be any shutdowns. He is well aware that this variant could pose a real threat to any bounceback of the economy.
- And Vivian, even though Omicron is already here, and, and we're all keeping our eye on it, the Biden administration implemented travel bans on South Africa, several African nations. How's that going over?
- Well, uh, it's been a little bit controversial, on the one hand, because the source of the variant originally was suspected to be South Africa. That was, those leaders said that it was not South Africa, and so a lot of questions about why they chose the African countries for travel bans and not others. But also, just a--
- And a different response than Delta
- And different response and Delta, where he very quickly moved to ban travelers from those countries. He's also imposed strict COVID testing rules on travelers, both inbound and outbound from the United States. And so obviously, a lot of shifting here, where the administration is trying to contain this as much as possible and reacting in some ways very quickly, but not really knowing if their efforts are going to contain the spread.
Obviously, already we see a number of cases in the United States. And so, sort of, we're past that point of trying to prevent it. Now they're trying to contain it from spreading vastly around the United States. We also don't know a lot about the new variant, as far as how severe the symptoms are, what happens to people who are infected. And so, all of this is sort of, you know, they're trying to wait and see what happens.
But also a lot of fears that what Mary was talking about where it's like, it's just, it could get worse. And politically, as we go into a midterm election year, where you have issues with inflation rising, a very jittery stock market, massive delays in, in, uh, in the supply chains. All of these issues combined could really kind of backfire politically. And so the administration just trying to address the health concerns and then deal with the fallout in the economy as well.
- And, Rick, there is, there is fallout. I mean, we don't know a lot about this variant, but we know enough. I mean, you heard Dr. Hoge say, when he first looked at the mutations in this variant, he said, this is not going to be good. So the administration can say, don't panic, don't panic, don't panic, but they've got to be bracing themselves.
- Yeah, and they also know that there's limits to what the American people are willing to do, and I think Mary's point is, is spot on. The fact that the President goes into this and says, I'm taking these things off the table. Following the science is one thing, but to say, these are things that we're not going to do-- to me, that is a bow to the political realities.
He talked about it this week. He says it's a shame that it's become polarized, that it's become politicized. But he is doing things or not doing things, knowing that the American people will only go so far. There are limits here. And that's, I think, maybe the most problematic part of all of this, is that if the scientists are giving particular advice and saying, this is the way to do it, we just don't think that, that we're at a stage where the American people are going to comply. So what's the point of even having that mandate? These are academic discussions if people flat-out aren't going, going to listen anymore.
- And you can really see that when you travel around the country. Rachel, let's talk about the remainder of the President's agenda in Congress, Build Back Better. Drill down on that. What are the chances that gets passed before Christmas?
- Right, and that's what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants. He wants a vote on that before Christmas. Well, Senator Kyrsten Sinema is not committing to that, and she's not the only one. Neither is Senator Joe Manchin. He is essentially said, let's kind of hit pause on a little bit of this. He's concerned about inflation. He's concerned about debt.
We know that he doesn't want paid family leave, including in this measure, in particular, which is included in the House's version of this bill. And so I talked to one Democratic Senator who essentially just said, buckle up when it comes to the timeline over this. But I can see more pressure getting on Democrats in the coming days. On December 15, we know that Americans are expected to receive that last payment of the child tax credit. That's set to expire, and so we could see more pressure to try and get this done by the end of the year.
- And how about for President Biden? Is he going to put pressure on them to do that, because of what we talked about earlier? That, those poll numbers?
- He's going to try. I mean, certainly, you're seeing him getting out and about in the country. He's trying to sell not just the infrastructure bill, but also to push for Build Back Better, to, to spread the word about these social safety nets that they're trying to put in place. But you know, to your point about the approval rating, these are really popular policies. The problem is that it's not necessarily translating to Biden's popularity. And that's a challenge for this White House. They are optimistic. They think that as they can get--
- But it's also the length of time--
- --they've been doing this, right?
- Yes. It's a long time. And people, just, they're sick of the fight, I think, largely. And so it's hard for this White House. The challenge for them is to try to make sure that the President is getting some credit for some of this. But that's difficult when everyone just sees Washington dysfunction, and when you're still dealing, dealing with a lot of the uncertainty around this pandemic.
- And, and Vivian, there's more uncertainty. The deadline to raise the debt limit is also quickly approaching. Congressional leaders are, are trying to tie it to the annual defense spending bill?
- I mean, this is the pileup that we're now seeing toward the end of the year, where Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, thought that the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, was going to be the easy thing that was going to pass. And yet, Senator, Senator McConnell had very different views on that.
He wanted to debate certain issues. And so that got stalled. And then you have the debt ceiling issue, where Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen threatening that we could default on our debts by mid-December. And so a number of very pressing issues. But unfortunately, a lot of wrangling on the Hill as well.
And so a lot of these issues threatened to go past the holidays. And then, we're in a midterm election year. And once you're in a midterm election year, a lot of senators, a lot of lawmakers from swing states or swing districts, then very jittery about maybe wanting to make some controversial decisions. And so a lot of things get stalled. And so that's the big concern from the White House, certainly.
But also, on the Hill, that if these things get pushed over the holidays, we're going to be in real trouble. And when the debt ceiling, especially, is not raised, the threat of default can really impact a number of different programs that Americans really, that matter to a lot of Americans, and could really reflect when they go to vote in November.
- And, and Rick, what would a Sunday morning be without mentioning something that happened with Donald Trump? And this week, there was kind of this bombshell, really. The former Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, reportedly reveals in his book that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID three days before his first debate with Joe Biden. He also says he then tested negative. President Trump immediately denied that, but there's just so much we don't know.
- And you want a snapshot about where the Republican Party is, Mark Meadows, who writes the book, says that this happened. Donald Trump says it's fake news. Now, Mark Meadows says it's also fake news. And, and gets wiped into the way that Donald Trump is trying to cast this, which is specifically about whether he had COVID, which we don't know at this point. There's a lot we don't know about that period. And it was a wild--
- We know he had COVID--
- We knew he had--
- --for sure.
- --COVID, but whether he had it--
- But not then.
- --before the first debate, or before that second debate that got that got canceled. This was a wild period. And there's a possibility here that a lot of people were put in harm's way by the fact that the President knew that he had tested positive but didn't seem to have acted on it right away. And even, even President Biden himself may have been exposed at a critical time for the country.
- A lot of people exposed, including you, Mary Bruce, because you were there!
- Yeah, we were there. And you know, actually, I asked the President this week, you know, did he think knowing what Meadows reveals, that the former President may have put him at risk? And the President deflected, as Biden often does when it comes to Trump, and said, you know, I don't think about the former President.
But if Donald Trump was actually infectious, that could have been a very serious risk to the then 77-year-old candidate, Biden, and I mean, all the reporters who were there. We were put through very strict testing, safety protocols. And I remember looking down at that room, because it was a bizarre scene, and even seeing members of the Trump family then not masked. It was just, you know, clear that they thought the rules didn't apply to them in the same way that they did the rest of us.
- I remember seeing the same thing when I was looking at that. I want to turn to the Mexican border. The US-Mexican border. Biden also started-- restarted-- this week, the Remain in Mexico policy, which he criticized Donald Trump for, calling it inhumane. They've now restarted it. But he really didn't have much of a choice, right? And he says they've made changes.
- So, President Biden campaigned largely on reversing this Trump-era policy, called the Remain in Mexico policy, which essentially says, that you send asylum seekers to Mexico temporarily while they're processed through the system. And so originally, they had started to let people back into the country. And sort of following with usual protocol, the asylum protocol. And then they officially terminated it.
But what-- then Texas and a number of other states sued and said that it placed an undue burden on them by just immediately terminating this. And so, a Texas court has ruled in favor of that state, saying not that they can't overturn it, but that it was terminated inappropriately. And so now, the program is back in, in play as of Monday.
And the Biden administration, obviously, coming under a lot of pressure from A, folks who are very adamant about seeing this policy go away, but also B, the pressures that are going to come under these asylum seekers, because there's a number of dangers and humanitarian concerns with sending them back to Mexico.
And so again, this is a number of issues that are facing the Biden administration under the immigration policies that they wanted to really tout in their, during the campaign and when they came into office. And it's, it's a setback for them, but they say that they're ultimately going to get this overturned, and see that the Remain in Mexico policy goes away forever.
- And, and Rachel, I want, I want to get your take on the Supreme Court this week. If Roe is overturned, will Democrats urge President Biden to consider court reform, adding justices? Is there going to be more pressure on them?
- Well, we certainly heard from a number of Democrats, a growing number, this past week, listening to these arguments, who say, now it's time to look at the makeup of the Supreme Court, the way that it is shaped. Even those who are opposed to maybe adding Justices, like Senator Richard Blumenthal came out and said, well, maybe we need to apply term limits or mandatory retirements.
The reality is, is it would require 60 votes. And so you would need at least 10 Republicans to get on board, unless you abolish the filibuster. We know many moderates do not want to do that. But the reality is, and what many abortion rights advocates are saying, is that this does not change the reality for women in Texas and Mississippi. And we've talked to them. They are traveling hundreds of miles at this point in time to get an abortion, and that is certainly just the reality that they face right now.
- And Mary, just finally-- we have about 30 seconds here-- I want to talk about Ukraine. The White House is clearly very concerned, very concerned, that Russia will invade Ukraine. They've got troops all along the border. We know the President is talking to Putin this week.
- Yeah, and the question is, what is he going to do about this, right? They're going to have that call on Tuesday. We are told it's going to be a lengthy call. That's how the President has described it. He says he's going to make it very, very difficult for Putin to do anything to try and invade Ukraine.
But the question is, what tools does he have at his disposal? We know they're considering additional harsh economic sanctions. But clearly, what we've seen in the past is that often doesn't deter Vladimir Putin. And so, how is this time going to be different? What additional steps are they willing to take?
- So many questions about all of that. Thanks, all of you, for joining us this morning.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.