RACHEL SCOTT: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Rachel Scott.
And joining me tonight are three top reporters covering Washington: Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; Laura Barron-Lopez, White House correspondent for Politico; and Weijia Jiang, senior White House correspondent for CBS News. Thank you guys so much for being here.
We’re just halfway through his first 100 days in office. President Biden has already reached his goal of 100 million vaccine shots in the arms of Americans. This milestone comes after a delayed start in the vaccine rollout late last year. Now the pace has been steadily increasing, with up to 3 million Americans receiving vaccinations every day.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) Behind these 100 million shots are millions of lives changed when people receive that dose of hope. That’s just the floor. We will not stop until we beat this pandemic.
MS. SCOTT: The president and his team also hit the road this week for the Help is Here Tour promoting the COVID-19 relief package. So, Dan, I want you to take me into what is your biggest takeaway from this week.
DAN BALZ: Well, I think the biggest takeaway from the week is the progress that they have made on the vaccinations. I mean, there have been hiccups along the way, but the pace of vaccinations today is so much beyond what it was when he came into office that they rightly were able to offer some celebration that they’ve hit the 100 million mark way ahead of the 100-day mark, and by the hundredth day that number could be well over 200 million if we continue at this pace. And the second is that the American Rescue Plan that they have been promoting this week is broadly popular in the country, including a substantial number of Republicans who support it, and this is a – this is a – as we know, a massive bill that has all kinds of benefits that are going to people, not just the $1,400 checks but what it will do to child poverty, the money that’s going to states and cities – cities which are particularly strapped. So they have a lot to talk about right now, and they’re eager to convince people that what they have done is a start to ending the pandemic and bringing the economy back in a robust way.
MS. SCOTT: Yeah, people are itching to get back to normal, Weijia. The White House announced this week that they are sending $10 billion in relief to states that’s going to be used to expand screenings and testing in schools, but is it going to be enough to reopen schools, a question that’s on a lot of people’s minds?
WEIJIA JIANG: Well, and it’s a really tough question, right, because we also learned from the CDC today that, you know, the guidance has changed, and now instead of six feet apart they’re saying three feet apart is all right as long as the kids are following mitigation measures, so this is something that is constantly evolving. And we also are waiting to see about how many teachers are actually vaccinated. President Biden said it was his goal that by the end of this month every single teacher would have at least their first shot, but we haven’t gotten an update about how they’re tracking that and how many teachers have done that. And so you also have to think about parents, and of course, I know many parents. You have talked to them, sure – I’m sure, as well, who are eager to get their kids back in school, but you know, it depends on what that physically looks like and whether that’s actually possible. So I think there’s a lot of variables, and even though the White House has very clear goals we have to wait. And one big hurdle is seeing how the vaccination process continues, because even though as Dan mentioned there might be enough supply the next big hurdle for the administration is making sure people want to get the vaccine, because there’s still a lot of hesitancy out there and the White House has said many times that they are going to get to a point where there is enough supply but the demand is going to decrease. So I think that’s something we’ll have to continue watching.
MS. SCOTT: Yeah, and that is a good question, Laura, for you: What is the Biden administration doing to make sure that these vaccines get into the communities that need them the most? We know that minority communities are disproportionately affected by this virus.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, so what they’re trying to do is make sure that there are different places to get the vaccine, so whether that’s saturating hard-hit communities with mobile testing clinics, with mobile sites, making sure that it’s available in a wide range of pharmacies and grocery stores in all of these communities, and so that’s what they’ve been really ramping up. They also are trying to make sure with – you know, with different campaigns, communication campaigns that are reaching Black/brown communities to tell them that, look, we know that in the past that there are reasons for that distrust historically among Black people and among Latinos and Asians to have that distrust with the government and with vaccines, but that this is important that they get this vaccine. And that’s something that they’re also trying to communicate to Republicans because, as you mentioned, there are a lot of Republicans who are very hesitant to get this vaccine. And so Biden said this week that – please listen to your local preachers, priest, to local doctors and all local leaders, leaning really on people in those communities to communicate to the public that they need to get the vaccine.
MS. SCOTT: Dan, you mentioned that the COVID relief package was popular among Americans. Looking at this through a political lens, could this rollout help boost President Biden? Or will it be overshadowed by what Republicans are pushing in terms of criticism with immigration?
MR. BALZ: Well, I think that’s the tension right now within the administration. I think that they believe that, you know, for most of the first 60 days they’ve been in control the story. They’ve been in control of the agenda, and they’ve had success. And they want to get credit for that. And they think it’s important to try to continue to push people, encourage them in any way they can to get the vaccination. But the – but the border issue looms as a major problem. And I don’t want to call it a distraction, because it is a humanitarian crisis. For the Biden administration it’s a reminder that when you’re in the White House you can’t ignore things that come in unexpectedly, even if you’ve got a plan to talk about something else.
And I think the Republicans are pushing very hard to change the subject because they don’t particularly have a good message on the – on the American Rescue Plan. But they think they do. And Democrats, frankly, have high ground on many of the issues around immigration that are in some of the legislation, but on border issues they’re more vulnerable. And so the Biden administration is going to have to figure out how to balance all of this in a way that does not detract from the credit that they think they should get for the American Rescue Plan, while also dealing in a very upfront way with the immigration problem.
MS. SCOTT: Laura, we were talking about this on the show and we ran out of time. But I do want to ask you again, do you think that immigration becomes more of a center focus for the Biden administration now going forward?
MS. BARRON-LOPEZ: I think it certainly is going to be a big focus because, as Dan said, there is the humanitarian crisis at the border. And showing that they can get something done, that they can get a bill through Congress, is going to be important for them. And the bills right now that are headed to the Senate are – that the House just passed – are one that provides a pathway to DREAMers, those children that were – the people that were brought here as children to the United States. It would provide a pathway for them. And then the other bill provides protections for farmworkers.
And so there are senators, like Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois, who are very hopeful that they can get enough Republicans on board. But that’s the big question. So whether it’s immigration or an infrastructure bill that they focus on next, it’s unclear. But they’re certainly going to be pushing for something on immigration, given the situation at the border.
MS. SCOTT: Weijia, I’ll let you get the last word here. What is the one of the big stories that you’re going to be looking for next week?
MS. JIANG: Oh, I think all eyes are going to be on President Biden when he has his first formal press conference on Thursday. You know, it has been quite a while since he has been in office, compared to his predecessors, for him to wait this long to have one. And it is true that his press secretary briefs us every single day. But it is different when we hear directly from the president and we’re able to ask him questions about his agenda, about his solutions for immigration, about foreign policy – especially when you’re seeing so much tension between the U.S. and China and Russia.
So we have a very long list of questions ready for President Biden, and I think that it will be really telling to see whether he stays on message because, you know, what we’ve seen in the past is that when he’s able to answer questions he is very honest, and sometimes does not use the lens of, you know, what his communications team would like him to. But as an example he had to – you know, he contradicted the press secretary with regard to his goal for opening schools, and then she later had to clean that up. So I think it’s just going to be a very big event for the president, and certainly one that we’ll all be watching very carefully.
MS. SCOTT: All eyes on that next week, and we are going to leave it there for tonight. Many thanks to Dan, Laura, and Weijia for your time, and thank you for joining us. Make sure you sign up for our Washington Week newsletter on our website. It will give you a behind-the-scenes look into all things Washington. I’m Rachel Scott. Good night from Washington.