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Sen. John Barrasso on the border crisis, COVID aid and vaccinations

Economic aid from the new COVID relief law is already flowing to Americans, but the political debate continues. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a doctor and the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss COVID aid, Medicaid expansion, President Biden's approach to immigration, and some Republican voters' unwillingness to receive a COVID vaccine.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Economic aid from the new COVID relief law is already flowing to Americans, but, as the Biden administration hits the road promoting its benefits, the political debate continues.

    We get the Republican perspective now from Wyoming Senator John Barrasso. He is the third-ranking Republican in the Senate.

    Senator Barrasso, thank you very much for joining us.

    Let me ask you first about the COVID economic relief package. Your state of Wyoming is due to receive at least a billion dollars, another $170 million for municipalities and counties.

    You and other Republicans are saying this is too much money for the federal government to be spending. How much of it is unnecessary for Wyoming?

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, the proposal that Republicans in the Senate have had is to do something that is appropriate and targeted to help get people back to work and kids back to school and the disease behind us.

    So, this big $1.9 trillion bill, and only 9 percent of it went actually to defeat the virus. Only 1 percent of it went to go for vaccines. We wanted to target it. We have done bipartisan bills successfully in the past five times. This bill was not supposed to be about $1,400 checks to illegal immigrants or $1,400 checks to felons who are currently in prison or block grants to sanctuary cities.

    I talked with our governor again on Sunday. Wyoming's getting $1 billion out of the $350 billion. There are — that are going to states. You know, there are 22 governors, Republican and Democrat alike, who sent a letter to say, look, this is a biased approach to giving out the money.

    It is unfair, because so much of this is top-heavy, going to the states that shut down the earliest and stayed shut down the longest. And states that acted responsibly and in a responsible way, opened up for businesses in a number of ways, are being punished in terms of the way that the money is being distributed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, how much shouldn't Wyoming get?

    And let me ask it this way, because your fellow Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida said that governors of Republican states should give the money back. Now, his own governor, Ron DeSantis, said, no, that's wrong, that that doesn't make sense.

    Who is right in that disagreement?

  • John Barrasso:

    Well, we brought a bill to the floor of the Senate during the final passage of the coronavirus bill, and said, if you're going to distribute this kind of money to the states, let's use the same formula that was used with the CARES Act, because that seemed to more fairly distribute the money to the states, because all the states have needs as a result of this.

    I thought a much smaller, targeted bill overall would be better, and 10 Republicans did to the White House to meet with President Biden, because he talked in his presidential address about unity and bipartisanship, and said, let's do things that focus on getting the country open, getting kids back to school, getting shots in the arm, which was a — under a trillion dollars, not this $1.9 trillion bill that included so many things.

    And the things I mentioned are just a tip of the iceberg. And now the president is talking….

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If I could interrupt, how much less, then, should Wyoming get than it's getting?

  • John Barrasso:

    I'm going to tell you that we should do — the proportionality of the money ought to be used by the CARES Act, which was, if you're going to — those $350 billion, New York would get a lot less, California would get a lot less, Illinois would get a lot less, and other states around the country would be getting more.

    But I'm saying that we shouldn't have done all — any of this major spending that's unrelated to getting people back to work and kids back to school and the disease behind us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Immigration, as you know, it is an issue ongoing for the last president, for this president. Republicans are criticizing President Biden now for not being tough enough on border issues.

    He is saying, and he said again in an interview last night, that he's being very clear. He's telling people who are not documented not to come in.

    Here's part of what he said:

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    I can say quite clearly, don't come. And while we're in the process of getting set up — and it's not going to take a whole long time — is to be able to apply for asylum in place. So, don't leave your town or city or community.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Senator, he is saying, don't come.

    Why, then, are Republicans blaming him for what's going on at the border?

  • John Barrasso:

    Well, Joe Biden, on Inauguration Day, signed executive orders his first day in office which basically turned on the switch that said open borders.

    He is fully responsible for what's happening at our border right now, whether you want to call it a crisis or a condition. The fact is that the number of unaccompanied minors, an all-time record high. People are coming into the country, adults, positive for coronavirus who are getting on buses and going through the country carrying the disease.

    And they're told, once you get to your final destination, then be careful and isolate yourself after the fact. Look, this is going to get worse. President Biden has eliminated the stay-in-Mexico order. He's eliminated the deportations or at least delayed those.

    He owns this, and he has to take responsibility for it. Now, the president may not like it, but President Trump actually was successful in disincentivizing people from trying to come to the United States who would be here illegally.

    And, in my opinion, as a result of that, that did help secure the border, and it helped save lives of people who would have otherwise made this very dangerous trek to the United States and subjecting themselves to what happens with the human traffickers, the people that are paid to move them from one place to another on a dangerous journey.

    But mark my words, Judy, the caravans are coming, and it is time for President Biden to change his policies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I'm sure you know they are turning away all single adults at the border. They are turning away many families at the border. It's only children we know they are allowing in and trying to take care of.

    And we also know that the increase in immigration began under President Trump.

    But I finally want to ask you, Senator, a question about the vaccine. All the polls are showing that a large proportion of self-identified Republicans and half of Republican men are saying they do not want the COVID vaccine.

    Are you trying to get the message out that this is a good and important thing to do? How are you dealing with this?

  • John Barrasso:

    Well, as a doctor, as soon as I was able to get the vaccine, I have. I have had two shots. I am recommending it for everyone.

    The vaccine saves lives. Operation Warp Speed has brought to our country three effective vaccines. It is a big part of our economic recovery, our health care recovery, getting the country back on a normal track. It is the answer to the prayers of the American people who are saying, what are we going to do about this coronavirus crisis?

    We're now over a year into it, Judy. I would say everyone should get vaccinated. And it looks like we have enough vaccines, because of Operation Warp Speed, that everyone can be vaccinated by May. I would recommend it for everyone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

  • John Barrasso:

    Thanks, Judy.

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