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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on vaccines, infrastructure, Jan. 6 committee

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join John Yang to discuss the latest political news, including COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, congressional debate on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection investigation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This could be another make-or-break week in Washington, from infrastructure negotiations to the first hearing of the January 6 committee and the effort to convince Americans to get the COVID vaccine.

    John Yang is here to help make sense of it all with our Politics Monday team.

  • John Yang:

    And, Judy, for that, as always, the Politics Monday team, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Welcome to you both.

    The lead segment on the show tonight, COVID, even though, July 4, President Biden said we would be celebrating our independence from COVID, we would have 70 percent of Americans vaccinated.

    Tam, is there a danger that the president's agenda, what he wants to talk about is going to get or has been overtaken by something that is largely out of his control?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and everyone was celebrating on July 4. And it felt great, didn't it?

    And then reality has been setting in, and the Delta variant has another agenda. And the fact is that we are now three weeks out from that July 4 goal of 70 percent of adults vaccinated, and it's still not quite there. It's at 69 percent, according to the latest numbers.

    Vaccinations have once again started picking up just a little bit, but there is only so much that President Biden can do. And he has — he and the administration are sort of stuck in between people who say, don't you dare tell me what to do, don't mandate, and, on the other side, people in public saying and a huge number of medical associations saying, no, you really should talk about mandates, we need to break through.

    And the Biden administration has continued to err on the side of caution, of not wanting to make it seem like the stamp of big government is trying to make people do something. And the result is that it is slow going. It is these individual conversations, individual persuasion, and, of course, that fight about a week ago with the social media companies trying to tamp down on misinformation.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    I mean, we know that all of this is true. We also know that, for Democrats — politically, that Democrats would love to see going into the 2022 midterms an economy on the rebound, a public health crisis in the rearview mirror. I think we all were kind of at that place, right?

    We have been talking nonstop about the infrastructure bill, about the human infrastructure bill known as the American Families Plan. And yet we keep — we got pulled back into the reality that a public health crisis isn't over until it's actually over.

    And I think the hard part about the convincing piece is that — this was from June, but the Kaiser Foundation polling found that there is a difference in unvaccinated adults, between people who said, I'm nervous, I'm going to wait, I want to wait it out, I don't really know if I'm going to get it, vs. the, oh, I'm never getting this.

    And not surprisingly, or maybe — well, not surprisingly, the folks who say I'm never going to get it, overwhelmingly, those are Republican. About 67 percent identified as Republicans, 70 percent as white. The folks who said, I don't know, I'm waiting, I'm waiting it out, I'm going to wait and see, that is a more diverse group of people, both in terms of political ideology, and in terms of race.

  • John Yang:

    And yet, Amy, Republicans seem to be changing their tune a little bit.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. Yes.

  • John Yang:

    We had a very interesting op-ed over the weekend from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of the great defenders of President Trump. She's running for governor.

    She talked about this. She was taking advantage of President Trump's Operation Warp Speed, which is true. I mean, the president, President Trump, did develop the — the vaccine was developed under his administration. But then she also said — blamed President Biden and Vice President Harris for undercutting confidence in the vaccine.

    So, she's walking and other Republicans walking this very fine line.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    And we saw the Republican governor of Alabama also come out and say, this is unvaccinated people who are doing this to us.

    So, we have seen multiple higher-level Republicans. Steve Scalise, who's the number two on the Republican side in the House, got his first vaccination shot. Was that last week or week before that?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    So, there's certainly the push on.

    But if — reality is, if these numbers do continue to bear out once we get into July that the Kaiser Foundation showed us, that there still might be that solidly committed group of people who they aren't going to budge, no matter who tells them.

    The real question is whether there are mandates in place. And, as we saw today, the Veterans Administration saying, well, if you are a health care worker, you have to get vaccinated. In California and New York, again, health care workers have to get vaccinated. That may be the only way you're going to really see movement with that group.

  • John Yang:

    Another — at top of the show, we also heard the infrastructure deal.

    It was about a month ago that Vice President — not Vice President — that President Biden walked out of the White House with a bipartisan group of senators, said they had agreed on this framework.

    Well, they're having a little trouble filling in the framework. Tam, what's the — what are the potential rewards and risks of continuing to try to negotiate a bipartisan agreement, even as the August recess is rushing toward us, or the Democrats going on their own, and it's just passing with Democratic votes?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, I'm going to roll out an old cliche about political negotiations, where nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. And that is the stage that these negotiations are currently in.

    In terms of risks and rewards, certainly, there is a backup plan. Democrats could just roll the parts of the bipartisan infrastructure — infrastructure deal that they like into the American Families Plan that Amy was talking about earlier. They could just roll that in, do it with Democratic votes alone.

    The only challenge with that is that Democrat votes — Democratic votes alone are not a guarantee. And there are some Democrats who are really set on the idea of a bipartisan portion of this, of being able to say this does contain really important bipartisan elements.

    And so part of this may be whether the Biden White House and other Democrats, if these bipartisan negotiations fail, if they can convince their fellow Democrats that they tried.

  • John Yang:

    And, Amy, we're in an environment where compromise and bipartisanship is not necessarily the ideal that it once was.

  • Amy Walter:

    Indeed.

    And it's getting harder and harder, especially when we see the kinds of people now who seem to be attracted to office are those, many of them who like the fight more than the fixing.

    But the other reality and I think the challenge for the Biden administration right now is, we have spent all this time talking about process, not a whole lot of time talking about what's actually in the package, and it's not getting delivered, especially when you're talking about infrastructure.

    That's great to get a deal done, even to get legislation passed, but it takes a long time to fix roads and to put in new pipes.

  • John Yang:

    Tam, tomorrow, the first meeting of the House committee investigating January 6, seven Democrats.

    Two Republicans, the two Republicans, both — Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, both voted to impeach President Trump. Neither of them are the — were the choices of Kevin McCarthy.

    Is this starting off as something that's going to produce results that are going to be widely accepted, do you think?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It is hard to see a scenario where this produces results that are widely accepted.

    Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, today described those two Republicans as Pelosi Republicans. I don't even know what that is. They are definitely real Republicans. But the thing is, they are not Trump Republicans.

    And at this point, it isn't about partisanship anymore. It's about whether you're a Trump person or you're not a Trump person. When it comes to this investigation, everyone on that committee is not a Trump person. So how they convince Trump people that this is a legitimate fact-finding mission is not clear.

  • John Yang:

    Amy?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    And let's be clear. That not-Trump foot faction is really small, right? There's some part of you that, if you looked at this, you would say, oh, well, is Speaker Pelosi driving a wedge into the Republican Party by putting two members of the opposition party on this?

    It would be at an effective wedge if there were a wedge that would actually work, right? When it comes to Trump, there are really a handful who are on the side of, we need to investigate more.

  • John Yang:

    If there were really a wedge to drive off, it would work.

  • Amy Walter:

    Exactly. It work work.

  • John Yang:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you very much.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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