Clip: Vice President Harris catches COVID as Fauci clarifies comment on state of the pandemic

Apr. 29, 2022 AT 5:17 p.m. EDT

COVID-19 struck deep within the White House this week when Vice President Kamala Harris's office announced that she had tested positive for the virus. The revelation came as Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, raised eyebrows when he told the PBS NewsHour Tuesday that the U.S. is now "out of the pandemic phase," a comment he later walked back.

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Alcindor : The next thing I’m going to transition to which is something that is also sort of concerning is COVID. We are having this conversation about what is going on abroad, but here at home, COVID, especially in Washington, COVID is top of mind.

On Tuesday, the Office of Vice President Kamala Harris announced she had tested positive for COVID. Later that day, in an interview with "PBS NewsHour", Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president, raised eyebrows when he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President: We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Alcindor : But he still clarified his comment in an interview with NPR.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

Fauci : Is the pandemic still here? Absolutely. We are now transitioning -- not there yet, but transitioning more to an endemicity where the level of infection is low enough that people are starting to learn how to live with the virus.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

Alcindor : This comes as President Biden is facing pressure from Republicans and Democrats over his plan to lift a Trump-era immigration policy citing health concerns during the pandemic. Title 42 has forced migrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico, and now, the Department of Homeland Security is focusing on how to handle the influx of migrants that will come to the U.S. if the policy is lifted.

Of course, this is making its way through the courts, we should add. But I’ll go to you, Nikole, how concerned are Democrats about this COVID funding?

Killion : Well, I think the biggest concern among the administration right now, because they have been sending warning alarms over this for weeks now since this initial package was put forth with Congress, and I think it is important to remember that it was significantly bigger based on what was ultimately negotiated in the Senate. You know, the price tag has now come down to about $10 billion.

So again, this is kind of if the pandemic worsens again, to aid in future pandemics. And so, that’s why the White House says this funding is needed. But we saw a right before the recess, that this got bogged down over this disagreement over title 42, with some Republicans wanting to attach a provision to this COVID funding package basically preventing the administration from being able to lift it. And so, because of the disagreements there, they weren’t able to move that COVID funding forward.

So, now, once again, we see the administration trying to urge Congress to push this through. That’s why as we discussed earlier, you know, there’s this possibility of trying to move it forward with Ukraine funding because they know they will probably have more support for that, but again, you know, if there is not that support for the COVID funding or other things, immigration, Title 42, his is something that could be a long slog.

Alcindor : And, Michael, I want to discuss Title 42, but before I do that, I want to focus on COVID for another beat. Just explain how the White House is really explaining justifying asking Congress for all this funding while, of course, Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying the acute phase of the pandemic is possibly behind us.

Shear : Yeah. So, it’s definitely -- they are definitely trying to walk a careful line on the messaging front in terms of balancing things that do not necessarily go together. I think their main message and their fear on COVID is down the line several months. They don’t want to get to a place where there is another surge or there is a good development in a new vaccine that’s developed, lets say, this fall, but because there is not the money, the United States government goes to the company -- maybe Moderna, maybe Pfizer -- and says we would like to buy 500 million doses of this, and the company says, well, you know, that’s great, except we’re all sold out because other countries have already ordered their batches.

And so, you know, it is for a future -- they are trying to sell it as for a future development, but it is not a future like, you know, some years down the road something else may come about. They feel very strongly that there is a possibility -- a strong possibility -- that they are going to need that money in the next several months to continue to fight the virus, and I think they recognize will be blamed if they ultimately do not have the money and are sort of held back in their response to the virus.

Alcindor : And, Michael, I want to stick with you for a moment. The vice president, of course, was diagnosed with COVID we learned this week. And President Biden is making the decision to still go to the White House Correspondents Dinner. It’s going to be a dinner with at least 2,000 people there. The president and White House are saying the president is going to take a lot of cautions.

But what’s the thinking of sending him to that dinner, and is there any concern at all about the chain of command?

Shear : So, in terms of the chain of command, they have expressed lots of confidence that even if he were to get COVID, that it would be mild because he has been vaccinated and boosted and that he would continue to perform his duties or other people, of course, if he were sick enough, the vice president would step in. I think they are really struggling to find the right place to be where -- you know, to find that sort of compromise where they, you know, reflect the growing attitude of most Americans, which is that we are sick of this pandemic and ready to move on, while at the same time, you know, not throwing overboard completely all of the restrictions that they have been arguing for so many months are not only essential but, you know, recommended.

They are trying to find that sweet spot, and I think they are really struggling, as, a lot of us are who have taken off masks in certain environments but are putting on masks in other places. The White House said he would go to the dinner -- to the correspondents dinner and will be there for the entertainment and the speeches and the like, but then he is not going to actually eat dinner there. He is going to leave to try to minimize the amount of time he is there.

So, you know, it is a real tough balancing act, and I think they are struggling to find where that right place is.

Alcindor : It is a tough balancing act.

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