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Gov. Cox on Utah’s vaccination rates, bipartisanship and ‘fairly large divides’ in the GOP

President Joe Biden on Tuesday met with a bipartisan group of governors to discuss vaccination efforts as his administration aims to vaccinate a majority of American adults by July 4. Judy Woodruff talks with Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who was present at the meeting, about how states are navigating vaccine distribution programs.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, President Biden met with a bipartisan group of governors to discuss vaccination efforts, as the administration aims to vaccinate a majority of American adults by July the 4th.

    Governor Spencer Cox, Republican of Utah, attended today's meeting.

    Governor Cox, thank you very much for joining us.

    We do see that your state of Utah is near the bottom of the list when it comes to proportion of the population that has been vaccinated. We're interested to know why that is. And what are people telling you about why they don't have the vaccine?

  • Gov. Spencer Cox:

    Well, sure, Judy.

    Unfortunately, that is just not good reporting. It's — you know that all Utahans are not eligible for the vaccine, and all Americans aren't eligible for the vaccine. Utah is the youngest state in the nation. And so that's why, because people under the age of 16 can't get the vaccine yet. That's why we're at the lowest.

    But that's — you should be looking at the eligible population. And when it comes to eligible population, we're actually doing very well. We're close to 70 percent — or — excuse me — close to 60 percent of our adult population has — that is eligible has already received the first dose of the vaccine.

    And so Utah is doing very well. We have been top 10 almost the entire time through vaccinations of the number of vaccines assigned to the state that have actually been administered. That's the one that counts, because those vaccines are assigned proportionally to the state based on adults and those that are eligible to receive the vaccine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what are people saying in your state? You said you have had survey teams out talking to people to understand what their thinking is.

    What are people saying about why they're not getting it?

  • Spencer Cox:

    Just like every state, we're hearing lots of different things.

    I mean, we tend to lump everyone into the vaccine hesitancy. And that's not true. We have many different groups. We have the vaccine ecstatic, the vaccine excited, the people who couldn't wait to get their vaccine. And then, of course, we have those that won't get the vaccine, just don't believe in it.

    But there's a whole bunch of people who are just — who are vaccine curious or vaccine busy. They have got a lot going on in their lives. And it tends to be the younger population, and for good reason. What we do know about this virus is that it impacts people more the older they are.

    So, for example, our rates of those over the age of 65 who have received the first dose or fully vaccinated are above the national average. People who are elderly have really, really wanted this. For younger people who weren't as impacted, they're a little more hesitant, when it's convenient. Their work hours don't align within when vaccine clinics have been open.

    And so what we're focusing on now is getting those vaccines out to people where they live, taking away any excuses, making it abundantly available, so that people can just walk in at any time when they're off from work, and especially reaching out to younger people.

    The announcement today that Uber and Lyft will give free rides to anybody to a vaccine clinic, that's going to help with a younger generation who maybe has some transportation issues. And, again, we're just trying to make it more convenient to get those people in the middle who've just been busy and not gotten around to it, but have said they're willing to get it when it's their turn.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you know what percentage of the eligible population is saying, I just don't want the vaccine ever?

    We know that, a few weeks ago, you had a — what, a giant — an image of a giant syringe that was set on fire, some people who feel strongly about it.

  • Spencer Cox:

    Sure.

    And that's true across the nation. But it's not a huge amount, I mean 10 to 15 percent, somewhere in there of people who just refuse to get the vaccine. But what we know is — and, again, the president, his goal is to get to 70 percent by the Fourth of July. We think that's a very reasonable goal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, I want to ask you about a different subject. And that is your budget and a budget surplus, because we know that thanks to, I guess, the federal government's Rescue Plan last year, this year, Utah is one of the states that has received more money than you had planned to spend.

    Is that a good thing, or not?

  • Spencer Cox:

    Well, it's a good thing, in that we have managed our way through this pandemic in such a way that we do have these record surpluses.

    And so, again, Utah has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.9 percent. We're one of only two states that have seen positive job growth over the past year. So, our economy has done very well. So I think that's good news.

    It's bad news, in that I do think that there is — that we're — we are spending too much federal money. We have never seen this type of spending before. And we're definitely worried about the consequences, some of which we're starting to see already.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of federal money, we know the Congress is now debating infrastructure as part of one of President Biden's proposals.

    I'm sure you have talked to folks in Washington about it. At this point, are you somewhere in between? The administration is proposing $2.3 trillion for that package. Republicans are proposing a much pared — a more pared-down version of that at about $500 billion.

    Are you — where are you? Which one are you closer to?

  • Spencer Cox:

    Well, certainly closer to the $500 to $800 billion mark.

    Look, infrastructure is the one thing that isn't that controversial, that both Republicans and Democrats, by the way, for many, many years, and many, many administrations, have agreed on, going back to the Bush administration, the Obama administration, the Trump administration. We kept hearing about this bipartisan opportunity for infrastructure, roads and bridges.

    The report card that came out a couple weeks ago, the good news is, Utah was the best state in the nation under that report card for these types of infrastructure. The bad news is that our grade was a C-plus. That's how bad the infrastructure has gotten over time in our country.

    And so I do think that there is bipartisan agreement on water projects, bridges and roads. But when you start to expand beyond that, that's where we lose that bipartisanship.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you also finally, Governor, about your party, the Republican Party.

    As you know, there's a vote in Congress tomorrow among House Republicans over ousting the conference chair, Wyoming's Congresswoman Liz Cheney, and replacing her with a New York congresswoman, Elise Stefanik.

    It has to do with Congresswoman Cheney criticizing President Trump and disagreeing with him and saying — former President Trump — and saying the election was won by Joe Biden, there was not fraud in the election.

    Is it the right thing for the — your party to be punishing its leadership for a statement such as what Liz Cheney has made?

  • Spencer Cox:

    Well, there's no question that we have seen some fairly large divides in the Republican Party. And it's something that I'm very sad about, that I hate to see.

    We're trying to do things different in Utah. We're trying to show a better way. As I'm sure you saw, there was a — there was some people that were upset with the Senator Romney for similar reasons. There was a censure vote that was taken. That censure vote failed.

    And we like to say that there's room in the party in Utah for both Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Mike Lee. and I think that's important for the future of the party. If we divide ourselves, then the opportunities for future success — and, by the way, we lose future voters and future generations of voters.

    And so we're working hard in my administration — in my administration to show that there's a better way and trying to bring Republicans together and enlarge the tent, instead of making it smaller.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're right. The censure vote against Senator Romney failed. But there was significant booing of him. You even had some boos directed at you at that state Republican gathering.

    Is the message that Republicans either line up behind President Trump or not, though? Is that — I guess my question is, is that a good message for the party's future?

  • Spencer Cox:

    Well, I guess — I guess we will see.

    I have been wrong about the party's future in the past. I was wrong in 2016. And so I don't know. I don't think it's healthy for a party that divides itself that way. And so the future remains to be written, but we're certainly hoping we can grow the party, at least here in our state of Utah.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will leave it there.

    Governor Spencer Cox of Utah, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

  • Spencer Cox:

    It's great to be with you. Thank you.

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