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Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on January 23, 2022

1/23: Face The Nation
1/23: Blinken, Thompson, McCaul 45:50

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken
  • Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi
  • Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas
  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."  

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington. 

And this week on Face the Nation: The standoff between Russia and the U.S. over Ukraine escalates. President Biden vows swift and severe consequences should Vladimir Putin defy him; plus, dramatic new developments in the January 6 investigation. 

Tensions in Eastern Europe are at their highest point in years, with Russia's military buildup along Ukraine's borders proceeding, despite U.S.- led diplomatic negotiations. 

We will get the latest from Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Texas Congressman Michael McCaul will be with us too. He's leading the House Republicans' push for new sanctions to try and halt Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression. 

We will talk with the chairman of the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack, Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson. Late last week, the Supreme Court ordered the release of 700 pages of White House documents detailing President Trump and his allies'; communications leading up to and including the day of the attack. 

The Omicron wave in the East is subsiding, but the daily death toll from COVID reaches a new high. We will hear from former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. Plus, Americans weigh in on the pandemic and the economy, as President Biden kicks off his second year in office. 

It's all just ahead on Face the Nation.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We begin with the tense standoff along the Ukraine border. More than one hundred thousand Russian troops are now poised to potentially invade from the north, east and south of Ukraine. Russian fighter jets and missiles arrived in neighboring Belarus, where war games are set to begin. Meanwhile, NATO naval exercises are taking place south of Crimea in the Mediterranean, and 90 tons of military aid just arrived in Kiev from the United States. President Biden is monitoring the situation from Camp David, and he met with his national security team yesterday. Late Saturday, Britain accused Russia of a plot to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine as it considers some form of attack. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is just back from consultations with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and he joins us this morning from the State Department. Good morning. Mr. Secretary, these all look like signs of escalation.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: Well, we've been seeing this throughout Russia's been engaged in an ongoing escalation, and it has to pass before it, that we put before it. There is a path of diplomacy and dialogue, which is clearly the preferable one, the most responsible thing to do. There's also the path of Russian aggression and massive consequences for Russia if it engages in that aggression. And so I tried to make clear both paths in my meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva this week, and we'll see if we can advance the diplomacy. But even as we're doing that, we're preparing, building up defenses, building up deterrence if Russia chooses the other path.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But if Russia's demands are non-starters, what exactly are you negotiating? Because Russia is creating these facts on the ground, they are setting the terms here, it seems. Are they just using you to buy time or to build a predicate for invasion?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, that's exactly why, even as we engage in the diplomacy, to explore whether there are ways on a reciprocal basis of building up collective security, answering some of the concerns that Russia may have, Russia answering the many concerns that we have. Even as we're doing that, we are building up defense and deterrence. We have rallied allies and partners across Europe in a very intense way over the last weeks to make very clear that there would be massive consequences for renewed Russian aggression. We provided more military assistance to Ukraine last year than in any previous year. We've been going after agents of Russia in- in Ukraine seeking to destabilize the government. I just approved the- the transfer of U.S. origin military technology in other countries to Ukraine. So we are proceeding on both paths at the same time, we'll be ready either way. The choice is Vladimir Putin's.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but what are you negotiating if Russia's demands are non-starters? I mean, President Biden has already said Ukraine is not going to join NATO any time soon. You've made this offer of reciprocal military exercises. What's left to talk about?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: MARGARET, we started this- this effort of diplomacy and dialogue about 10 days ago, we had meetings between the United States and Russia through the so-called Strategic Stability Dialogue. We had a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. We had a meeting at the OSCE. And in the course of that, Russia has put some ideas on the table in writing to both the United States and NATO. We've been in very close consultation with allies and partners on what they put forward. We are now sharing our own ideas as well as our own deep concerns. And we'll see if in the mix there, there are things that we can do again on a reciprocal basis that would actually advance collective security in a way that answers some of what we're hearing and Russia answering a lot of what they're hearing from us. And as Russia looks at that and as it considers the massive consequences that would befall it if it pursues aggression, it will have to make a decision. It will have to put those things in the balance and decide what the best path forward is. I know what the most responsible path forward is. Whether President Putin agrees remains to be seen.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, he hasn't de-escalated it appears to date, despite all of what you just laid out. If you are focused on deterrence, why not do what Ukraine is asking you to do and sanction now, take action now? Why keep it as a punitive matter after the fact?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, we are, as I said, taking action now we built up across these many weeks a very strong coalition of countries that has made it very clear it will take very significant action if Russia commits renewed acts of aggression. You've heard that not just from us, you've heard it from the G7, the leading democratic economies in the world, from the European Union and from NATO–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right and Ukraine is saying you could go harder, you could be stronger.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We provided- we've provided very significant military assistance to Ukraine. We've been taking action against Russian agents in Ukraine. But as to the sanctions, the most important thing we can do is to use them as a deterrent, as a means of dissuading Russia from engaging in further aggression. Once sanctions are triggered, you lose the deterrent effect. So what we're doing is putting together a whole series of actions that would figure into President Putin's calculus.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. But I mean, even President Biden said at his press conference this week, he's spent a lot of time trying to get NATO's allies to actually be on the same page when it comes to anything short of invasion. I mean, it seems like Putin's easiest strategy would be to hit on that weakness, that's how you divide NATO's allies. I mean, just yesterday, the head of the German Navy had to resign because of pro-Putin statements. This doesn't look like the alliance is completely together here.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, we've been very clear that if there is any further Russian aggression in terms of sending Russian forces into Ukraine, there will be a swift, there will be a severe and there will be a united response from the United States and Europe. Second, we've been equally clear that Russia engages in other tactics short of sending forces into- into Ukraine or other countries: hybrid actions, cyberattacks, efforts to bring a government down. And there are too. I'm very confident based on the many consultations I've had with European allies and partners that there will be a swift calibrated and also united response. Look, I sat with Chancellor Schulz in Germany last week, as well as with my German counterpart, my French counterpart, my British counterpart and I am very convinced there will be a united response to whatever Russia does.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is the fact that you need Iran- need Russia to help you with the Iran negotiations tying your hands?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Not in the least. And again, it's important to put this in perspective, too, Margaret. This is about more even than Ukraine and Russia, more even than Europe, Russia, the United States, Russia. It really is and should be a global concern because there are some basic principles of international relations at stake that have helped keep the peace and security–


SECRETARY BLINKEN: in Europe for- for the last of the last decades. And the- and it goes to very basic principles one nation can't change the–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Exactly but Vladimir Putin– Vladimir Putin obviously has no regard for those principles and hasn't, I mean, in the past eight years that he's been invading and taking parts of Ukraine. When you get to that bigger, "What is this all about?" question, the State Department said this week they were concerned about the possibility of Russia moving nuclear weapons back into Belarus. I mean, you have high precision equipment being moved towards Ukraine. Is this about something more than just that country?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, this is exactly why, even as we're engaged in diplomacy, we are very much focused on building up defense. Building up deterrence, both for Ukraine, NATO itself, NATO itself will continue to be reinforced in a significant way if Russia commits renewed acts of aggression. All of that is- is on the table. But again, when it comes to these principles, MARGARET, the principle that one nation can't simply change the borders of another by force, that it can't decide for another country its choices, its decisions–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Russia already has.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, that's what we're- that's what we're standing resolutely against. And it hasn't. It's tried to say that NATO's door should be shut on Ukraine. It's not. It remains open. We stand by that principle.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How significant is the insider threat to President Zelensky and his government?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: This is again, part of the Russian playbook. It's something we are very focused on, and that's why we've been speaking about it. We've raised this publicly in recent weeks. We want to put people on notice and on guard that this is something Russia could do. Just as we talked about the possibility of a so-called false flag operation where Russia creates a provocation inside of Ukraine, use that as justification to take aggressive action. All of those things are part of the playbook. All of those things we're on guard against. All of those things we're talking to allies and partners about to make sure that against any of these scenarios, we are fully prepared.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Before I let you go, does the timing of the Olympics have any effect on Putin's calculus? Russia invaded Georgia during the Olympics back in 2008. Any impact here?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: You'd have to ask him. I don't think so. I think that Russia will make its decisions based on President Putin's calculus of what's what's in their interest. We are working very hard to affect that calculus, both in terms of offering a diplomatic path forward that could enhance collective security for all of us and equally a path of defense and deterrence. That makes very clear that if there's aggression, there'll be massive consequences. So the choice is his.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. Secretary, we'll be watching. Thank you for your time today. And in one minute, we'll take a look at the new developments in the January 6th attack investigation with Congressman Bennie Thompson. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We are back now with the Chairman of the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi. Good morning to you, chairman.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Good morning, how are you?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good. This was a very big week, as we said, 700 pages of Trump administration documents were handed over to your committee at the order of the Supreme Court. What changes now that you have these in your possession?

REP. THOMPSON: Well, we are in the process of reviewing the documents. As you know, this was one of the first requests that we made as a committee to the National Archives. We think it's important to our investigation to have this information and we are glad that the Supreme Court agreed with us today.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is this the last piece of the puzzle here? I mean, how does this affect your timeline for holding public hearings? As you said, you want to begin those in the spring.

REP. THOMPSON: Well, to be honest, where he will review the documents, we'll see what those documents present to us in terms of direction. We'll see if that information leads us to additional individuals to make requests. But it's so significant to our investigation to have the documents and executive privilege and other things obviously had no bearing, and we're just happy for the Supreme Court decision. We'll look forward to reviewing it and based on the review, we'll take next steps. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the spring is still the plan for public hearings?

REP. THOMPSON: Absolutely. To be honest with you, as you know, we are reviewing thousands of pages of documents, hundreds of witnesses. It's taken a good bit of time for the committee to put together. And hearings at this point, we expect to be sometime in the spring.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In recent days, your committee also took aim at Rudy Giuliani, the former president's attorney. You subpoenaed him. You asked the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, to appear by Feb 3. You also subpoenaed two white nationalists. This seems like a pretty wide net. What is your strategy?

REP. THOMPSON: Well, our strategy is to get to all the facts and circumstances that brought about Jan 6. We identified the players, Rudy Giuliani is clearly one of those individuals, the right-wing individual organizations that participated, providing security and other things very important. And obviously, Ivanka Trump was a major adviser to the president all along, a number of items attributed to what she's been saying and so we asked her to come in voluntarily and give us the benefit of what she knows. 


REP. THOMPSON: Well, we'll wait and see February 3rd, and we'll go after that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of Rudy Giuliani, who we just mentioned, you subpoenaed. There was another news development in terms of public reporting. Republican electors in at least five states put together essentially fake slates of the electors. In states that Joe Biden won, they handed over these slates, saying instead that Donald Trump won them. And according to Marc Short, the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, he was presented with letters by Rudy Giuliani on behalf of state legislators to this- to this end, trying to persuade the former vice president not to certify the election. Do you know who was orchestrating this effort? I mean, this is a pretty significant claim.

REP. THOMPSON: Well, we do know that some of the information we've received from National Archives include proposed plans for doing certain things if we are after review of those plans determined specifically individuals who did this. We will make the referral to the Justice Department. We're not a criminal entity, that's the Department of Justice, but we are concerned that documents have been filed saying they were individuals responsible for conducting and certifying elections, and they are not. And when you falsify documents, in most instances, that's a criminal act. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: There was also another story, significant. POLITICO published the text of a draft executive order that had been presented to President Trump in Dec of 2020 to have the defense secretary seize voting machines in battleground states. And multiple news organizations have now reported this. Do you intend to go to the Attorney General, Bill Barr, to ask him about this? I mean, how do you follow up on- on this kind of allegation and the paperwork to back it up?

REP. THOMPSON: Well, yes, we do. To be honest with you, we've had conversations with the former attorney general already. We have talked to Department of Defense individuals. We are concerned that our military was part of this big lie on promoting that the election was false. So, if you are using the military to potentially seize voting machines, even though it's a discussion, the public needs to know, we've never had that before. And so any of these individuals who are participating and trying to stop the election, the duly election of a president, and if we can document it, we will share it with the public.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I just want to follow up on something you said. Do you have proof that there was someone inside the United States military working on this premise? Of actually seizing voting machines.

REP. THOMPSON: Well, we have information that between the Department of Justice, a plan was put forward to potentially seize voting machines in the country and utilize Department of Defense assets to make that happen.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Something beyond this draft executive order, there was actually an operational plan?

REP. THOMPSON: Well, no, not an operational plan, but just the draft itself is-


REP. THOMPSON: –Is reason enough to believe that it was being proposed. Our job is to get to the facts and circumstances of how far did they go? We do know that a potential person was identified to become the attorney general of the United States, who would communicate with certain states that election on their situation had been fraudulent and not to produce certified documents. Well, we understand that. So, we will move forward on that investigation, and we will look and see specifically how far that plan went.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's incredible. Will the former attorney general, Bill Barr, testify to you? Will you seek out other members of the military to clarify some of what you just laid out here?

REP. THOMPSON: Well, part of our plan is to continue to engage all those individuals that we deem necessary and important to our investigation. Some will talk to some we will do in deposition under oath. Others we will offer hearing opportunities. But I can assure you, as we develop this information, we will clearly present it to the public. We plan at this point to have a series of public hearings showing the use of federal assets, Department of Justice, Department of Defense and other agencies to actually stop the duly election of a president. So, we'll do it in-in due time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Quickly, Stewart Rhodes, the head of the far-right group the Oath Keepers, was charged with seditious conspiracy by the Department of Justice this week. As part of that, it became public that he was apparently stashing weapons waiting for the White House to invoke the Insurrection Act. Is any part of that connected to what you just laid out?

REP. THOMPSON: Well, Stewart Rhodes is one of the persons that we identify as a committee we wanted to talk to. We'll see what happens. We're not part of the criminal indictment. That's a separate investigation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand. Chairman, thank you for your time this morning. And next up, we'll have more on the situation in Ukraine and what can be done to stop Russia.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And we're back with the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas. Good morning to you.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Lots to decipher with you. But first, I want to start on what we just heard from the chairman. Has that seemed fairly extraordinary what he just laid out? He says that there is reason to believe, and the committee has possession of documents about this plot, essentially to seize voting machines that involve members of the military that they have already been in touch with the former attorney general. What is your reaction to this?

REP. MCCAUL: Well, you know my reaction, it was a dark day, Jan.6, I want the truth to come out. I think this committee has been somewhat politicized. But the truth should come out, and I think the Department of Justice has been conducting an investigation. I worked at the DOJ for almost 15 years, and I trust their trust investigation- I in fact called upon them to investigate this, so I'm hopeful that the truth will come out on this. The allegations are very serious.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I do know that you are endorsed by the former President Trump. So, this has to be a little uncomfortable to hear these kinds of allegations.

REP. MCCAUL: I've- of course, I mean, when the executive- commander in chief and these are allegations, I don't think the executive order was ever followed through with–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –Right, It was a draft, but it was discussed in the Oval Office.

REP. MCCAUL: – Right. I think it should come out the truth, obviously. I always say it. The truth should come out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we will continue to watch the committee on that point on Russia. You heard the secretary say that if he uses the leverage of sanctions now, he gives up an important bit of deterrence. Do you disagree?

REP. MCCAUL: I completely disagree. I think this has been a passive deterrence, right? I don't. I don't see Putin changing his course of action. It's getting very aggressive. The noose is tightening around Ukraine. President Zelensky, as you mentioned, said he wants the sanctions now. We can always remove the sanctions if it deters Putin's bad behavior, but if you reward that and there are no consequences, it's going to continue. And I think all along, there are so many things we can be doing to provide deterrence if we don't do this, MARGARET. The plan of action that I've seen in the classified space, as well as very specific, very aggressive, is timetable. If we don't do something strong right now, I'm afraid that he's going to invade Ukraine, which will have, as- as the secretary talked about, he's right and I think you and I did. It will have global ramifications here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When I pressed the secretary on that, he twice said that the US is going after Russian agents in Ukraine. Is the US doing something now that the rest of us just don't know about? Or is he just talking about sanctions?

REP. MCCAUL: Well, we know that the Brits released this intelligence report that the Russians are trying to depose Zelensky and put their own leader. We know that they're right on the border with Belarus, they're going to do joint exercises with precision weapons and aircraft. We know that Kiev is right- Kiev is right there. I think there are three forces one Kiev, one on the Donbass and the other one Black Sea Crimea. This is a buildup we've never seen before. And if with no deterrence, it's going to happen.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Let's take a break and continue to talk about this on the other side of it. So, congressman, please stay here. We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION, we continue our conversation now with Congressman Michael McCaul, the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Let's pick back up on the issue of Russia. We're talking about immediate action, potentially. Congress is going away for a week. There are bills before the Senate. I know you're working on one in the House. I mean, do you have that kind of time to play with legislation or do you need something in terms of a tool set to hand the president more quickly?

REP. MCCAUL: Well, time is of the essence. I'm working on a bill I've introduced to get- we're getting key Democrats on board. It would be a-a-a assistance package of lethal aid to Ukraine. That's important. But what's also important is the message of deterrence. We need joint exercises in Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria to show Putin that we're serious. Right now. He doesn't see we're serious and that's why the buildup is taking place. I think this all started, MARGARET, with Afghanistan and the unconditional surrender to the Taliban when he saw weakness, weakness invites aggression. We saw that with Chamberlain and Hitler. You know, Reagan talked about peace through strength. And right now, whether- and-and the thing is, this is not just about Ukraine. It's about China. It's about President Xi and Taiwan. It's about the Ayatollah and the bomb. It's about North Korea that just fired off two missiles, they said, were, you know, these, you know, these hypersonic weapons. I think this has broader global ramifications. We're seen as weak right now be-because of President Biden, his-his comments about a limited- a limited invasion was somehow acceptable, and that NATO was divided. I think one thing he said was true is that NATO is divided, and that's- Putin's goal is to divide and weaken NATO. He's accomplished some of that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, as you know, I mean, this has been going on since 2014 and during the Trump administration, there was some accommodation, at least in language from the former president on- on whether or not there were hard lines. So, Vladimir Putin has been getting kind of a mixed message for some time here. How do you change that when President Biden and you just heard Sec. Blinken send that message that they're willing to have reciprocal restrictions on military exercises or on placement of missiles? Is that kind of accommodation weakness to you?

REP. MCCAUL: Well, you know, like let's talk about Nord Stream 2, biggest concession ever. You know– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is the potential gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

REP. MCCAUL: It's, you know, Putin's pipeline into Europe. Congress passed bipartisan mandatory sanctions to stop that from happening. We have a presidential waiver, that's very normal. We never dreamed that the President of the United States would waive that in the national interest of the United States. How is that in the interest of the United States to allow Putin to dominate Europe's energy supply? and then at the same time, shutting down Keystone and not allowing the United States to be the leader in energy. LNG, which is cleaner than Putin's dirty energy from getting into the region. I think this president has made so many concessions with nothing in return. That's why Putin smells weakness. He's wanted this, as you and I talked about for a long time. It's his legacy issue. And if we don't provide that deterrence, he will go in.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, the Germans have sort of been uncomfortable with the idea of moving on Nord Stream and the administration is saying they're just- they are waiting on that. On the other risk here, we have midterm races coming up. In 2018, the United States took offensive action against Russia to stop them from meddling in those races. Do we need to see something like that in 2022?

REP. MCCAUL: You know, I don't want to see Russia overturning Ukraine's government. You know, I don't want to see any foreign nation adversary getting involved in our elections. But again, pointing from Afghanistan forward, we have sent a message to our adversaries that we are projecting weakness, not strength. One thing Reagan talked to us- peace through strength, going back to Chamberlain and Hitler. If we're projecting weakness, it only invites aggression. Historically, you know that. And this is exactly- I mean, I talked to the administration. I want to stop this from happening, but I'm very concerned about the aggression I'm seeing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman, thank you very much for your perspective. You're right back with Dr. Scott Gottlieb.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the COVID pandemic, now entering its third year. Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a former FDA commissioner and sits on the board of Pfizer. Good morning to you doctor. The CDC says case numbers are coming down. You said we'd be back in person in the office in February. Do you stick by that timeline?

DOCTOR SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yeah, I think that's timeline still intact, you're seeing a lot of businesses make decisions to do, return to work March 1st because I think they want to give themselves a cushion, especially having been surprised before. You're seeing cases come down very rapidly in the East Coast, the states that were the early outbreak states Florida, the mid-Atlantic, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles. This virus is spreading to the Midwest. You're seeing cases pick up in states like Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming, Idaho, so it's not done yet. Across the United States, there's still states that are probably in the thick of this. They have another week, maybe two weeks to go until they peak and start to come down. But in places like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., you're seeing cases decline very rapidly. And I think that thesis around a February return is intact.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Nearly a million children were infected with COVID in the last week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A million. Is it too soon for mask mandates to be lifted in schools, as the governor of Virginia just ordered?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Look, I think it is too soon to do that because a lot of schools have built their preparations around the use of masks and whatever we want to say about the benefit that masks are providing, it's providing some benefit. And a lot of schools that couldn't implement social distancing couldn't implement testing of relying on masks as their only tool. So, to withdraw it right at the peak of the epidemic. I think it's imprudent we should wait. I think within two weeks we'll be able make that decision. But this whole COVID epidemic, I think, has been colored by the fact that policymakers have not prescribed clear endpoints to when they are going to withdraw these measures. I think parents are willing to tolerate masks in schools, recognizing it's very disruptive to children if there is an end date to it, if it's clearly prescribed, when we're going to use these masks and when we're going to withdraw them, so they don't disrupt two years of a child's socialization and school activities. So, I think policymakers stepping in and saying, look, we're going to put an end point on this when prevalence declines to a certain level and in sticking to it is very prudent. But to do it in a setting of the peak of this epidemic, I think puts a difficulty on schools that have based their mitigation around the use of masks.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What's that benchmark in your mind?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, the benchmark we prescribed last summer was around 10 cases per 100,000 people per day when we withdraw all mitigation. I think you can lean in and prescribe a higher benchmark when it comes to children in schools because the first thing that we should do is try to withdraw these measures in the school setting. If you're going to implement masks among adults in congregate settings in a township, you want to lean in and try to withdraw it in the schools first and try to preserve as much of that environment for learning as you can.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Dr. Fauci raised a lot of hopes this week for parents of young children like me, whose kids aren't yet eligible for vaccines. He said for children under five, you may see a vaccine available in the next month or so you've been saying sometime between April and June. Which is it?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, I think a month is probably premature to remember the reason why this was extended was because the vaccines in the clinical trial that Pfizer did – I'm on the board of Pfizer as you know. Pfizer tested a low dose in the children. They tested a number of different doses and chose the lowest possible dose because at a lower dose, you're going to have less reactogenicity, less vaccine related side effects like fevers at injection site reaction. You want to make sure the vaccine is very tolerable in young kids, but probably because of that low dose, we saw less vaccine effectiveness. There were more infections in the children who were vaccinated than what we saw in a comparable group of 16 to 25 year olds. So, the decision was made by regulators working with Pfizer to extend that trial to look at a third dose to see if that third dose restored the efficacy in the setting of Omicron, where the vaccines are providing some protection against infection about 50 percent a year. You're 50 percent less likely to get infected with Omicron if you're fully vaccinated with a booster. The primary utility of the vaccines, nonetheless, is the protection against severe disease hospitalization. And in that regard, getting any vaccine into young kids probably is going to afford them a measure of protection by getting baseline immunity to them. So, any reconsideration of the vaccine timeline right now by regulators is probably based on that. But I think even if the FDA were to reconsider the approval of the vaccine, you're looking at a timeline when this would get pushed at best, perhaps to into late March, because you'd have to re-adjudicate the data having to add comp to get the vaccine out into the supply chain. By the time that happens, I think you're looking at a March date, maybe late March. So I don't think this is something that's going to happen in the next month. Right now, Pfizer and the FDA looking very closely at the data that's accrued to see if they can make a decision around this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll still have to wait know doctor, because this is so highly transmissible. This Omicron variant, there are a lot of people who are coming back from infection. How vulnerable or protected are they? Because I'm getting the sense that people think they're bulletproof.

DR. GOTTLIEB: Yeah, look, what we've seen from the data is that if you get infected with any one of these variants, you probably have a period of immunity that's quite robust. We don't know how long it is, but you have a period of immunity that's quite robust and you probably have as good, if not better immunity against that subsequent variant as if you were just vaccinated and never infected. So, people who are infected with Delta probably have a pretty robust immunity against Delta, and perhaps it's as good, if not better than if they were just vaccinated, never infected with Delta. But what we notice is the vaccines provide the broadest possible immunity, so people with Omicron might have good protection against Omicron. They probably don't have as good protection against Delta. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, which is why these mutations in these new variants are something to watch. Thank you very much, doctor. Coming up next, a closer look at what some Americans are thinking about COVID and the economy.


MARGARET BRENNAN: During the course of the pandemic, we've been listening to Americans through Zoom to get their thoughts on COVID, the economy, and how the government is handling it all. On Friday, we checked back in with six of them.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Who feels like we are in a better place now than we were a year ago? Show of hands. No one believes we're in a better spot now?

BETH, 202 TRUMP VOTER (INDEPENDENT): Unfortunately, I don't think that our public servants are actually -- they're kind of on a lag with the science. I was not vaxxed. Had COVID. I didn't even know I had it. I had the sniffles for two days and body aches. And if I hadn't lost my sense of smell, I wouldn't have known the difference. It's clearly not as horrible as perhaps it was described. For some it has been, and I'm very sorry for that. But for a lot of us who do take care of ourselves and everything and are younger, we need to go on and live our lives. And public science has not caught up with that yet.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How many people know someone who has died from COVID or been hospitalized with COVID? So, Mildred, you raised your hand there. Do you have a different perspective when you hear the descriptions of saying it -- it's not that bad? 

MILDRED, 2020 BIDEN VOTER: I can't really say that it's not that bad. I think it is bad. I think this whole country is suffering from COVID fatigue at this point. 


MILDRED: It has become confusing and depressing. I'm an elderly person myself, and, um, a cancer survivor, and that's one of the reasons why I went ahead and took the vaccine and the booster.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You originally told us, a year or so ago, that you -- you didn't want to be a guinea pig. You had concern about taking the vaccine. What changed your mind?

MILDRED: Um, a lot of my friends who had gone ahead and taken the vaccine, and I saw where they had done well. And I want to be around. You know, there's never any guarantee, but I want to be around to see my grandkids.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So why don't you think, now that you have that tool in your disposal, why don't you think we're in a better place?

MILDRED: Well, I don't know if we are in a better place as a country. We're still very divided on this whole COVID thing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Go ahead, Jill. 

JILL, 2020 BIDEN VOTER: I was of the opinion that when people got vaccinated, they would let their guard down. They would go out and congregate. And I'm a football fan. And it makes me skin crawl when I watch the games and I see so many people together, because that's exactly what it did. They got vaccinated, they thought, we're fine, we can go out and do all the things we'd normally do. And that's the dangerous part.

Now, I am vaccinated, but I wouldn't dream of not wearing a mask. The things that I see going on in America, it makes my skin crawl because people think we're out of the woods, and we're not. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when you hear President Biden say this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, Jill, do you feel like he's talking about you?

JILL: Not at all. Not at all. Because I work with someone who's vaccinated and has had the booster, and they've had COVID three times. So, I'm not buying that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jorge, you -- you are nodding your head in full agreement with Jill? 

JORGE, 2020 TRUMP VOTER: Oh, a hundred percent. And I think that's part of the problem that we've had is the misinformation. Actually, studies have already shown that cloth masks are not effective at all. (INAUDIBLE) not -- not at all 

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's right, the quality of your mask -- the quality of your mask matters a lot.

JORGE: The quality of the mask. And they didn't say that at first. They said, oh, just wear a mask and you'll be fine. So I think when -- when you're leader is saying one thing and -- and -- and then it's not true, that begins -- you begin to question that.

People that don't want to get vaccinated have their own reasons, and I don't think it has anything to do with President Trump.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, to your point, former President Trump has gotten vaccinated and boosted, he says. So, he has now endorsed it. But, Chelsea, jump in here. How are you feeling? Are you feeling more confident these days? 

CHELSEA, 2020 BIDEN VOTER: No, not really. I'm still worried about getting sick. You know, I'm fully vaxxed. I got my booster. I wear my mask. But I agree, like, the messaging has been really confusing. And I don't blame people at all who haven't gotten vaccinated because the story was the pandemic will be over. But the truth of the matter is, people do still get sick even though they're vaccinated. So, I think that things are just as bad as they were when the pandemic started.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, Jorge, walking into the classroom you were concerned as a teacher about getting exposed. I mean, do you feel like the safety guidelines for classrooms are clearly communicated

JORGE: In Texas we are. We don't wear masks. We don't -- you don't have to get a vaccine. You can get a vaccine if you want. It's -- you take care of yourself. And that's how it should be. You have got to have your own personal convictions, and you follow them. If you choose not to get vaccinated, then you're choosing to live with those consequences. 

JILL: The things that I've done thus far, it's protected me, and I've not gotten sick. And if I do, that's something I have to live with. But just, right now, I just feel like I have a choice, and my choice is just to not do it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We are a year into unified Democratic control of the House, of the Senate, of the executive branch. Do you feel any differently? Do you feel that Washington understands what all of you are experiencing out there? Beth is shaking her head no. I mean so many of you are. But have you always felt that way, or is there a new level of sort of skepticism about Washington? 

BETH: Yes, I think so. I -- I really had such high hopes for this administration when they came in. And it's just been one disaster after another. Afghanistan, inflation, take your pick, I just don't understand. I thought this was going to be a president for the people, of the people, and I just feel like it's one, you know, hurtle after another that we all have to climb.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Chelsea, I saw you raise your hand.

CHELSEA: I do agree that fundamentally for me nothing has changed. I think that I am more skeptical now. My life has not improved. COVID has not improved. Biden has not, you know, stuck to any of his promises. I don't think anyone in Washington is really for working people. And that has been so clear this year. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: That point on working people, there has been at least $2 trillion pumped into the economy. There have been childcare tax credits. When President Biden took office, he sent out those $1,400 checks. There's been all this money pumped in with the intention of helping working people. Are you saying it just hasn't made a difference in your life?

CHELSEA: Certainly not in my life, personally.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sandy, do you feel that way? I mean I'm looking at a $300 tax credit per month for each child. The $1,400 checks that President Biden handed out. I'm looking at all these lists of things that were pumped out there with the intention of helping everyday people. Do you agree with Chelsea that it just hasn't made a difference in your life?

SANDY, 2020 TRUMP VOTER: It really hasn't made a difference at all, at least in my life. Sure, it may have helped some people temporarily, but ultimately what everything costs, with all this money pumped into the economy, it caused inflation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, economists would tell you a lot of that has to do with just the shocks from the pandemic. If you got a shot, if you went out and got the vaccine because it would help the economy, you know, is that an effective selling point for you, versus telling you you're going to get sick or not?

SANDY: It doesn't help the price of bacon right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can I see a show of hands, do any of you feel like the economy has gotten better in the past year? All of you are saying no. Even though the job picture is brighter? Even though the direction of the economy and recovering is happening? Are you all concerned about rising prices and inflation

MILDRED: I go to the grocery store now and I'm paying double the amount that I was paying, you know, even a few months ago. Everything's gone up. My granddaughter loves bacon, by the way, and I can barely afford bacon. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And whose fault do you think that is? I mean it's the Federal Reserve that controls interest rates. It's their job to control inflation. Do you blame the president? Do you blame the central bankers? Or do you blame, what, just Congress?

MILDRED: I know the Federal Reserve is talking about -- they're talking about increasing the interest rate, but I think it's a combination. Congress is worthless. I don't -- you don't even want me to start on Congress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I actually do because this is one of the things. In President Biden's first year, one of the things they say they are most proud of is this historic investment in infrastructure, and the fact they got Republicans and Democrats to sign on to it. Even with that, you still say they're worthless?

MILDRED: I do, because there's so much more that needs to be done.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Like what? What do you need?

MILDRED: I need for the price of bacon to go down. How about that? I need for the government to stop spending so much money on things that are worthless, that are not going to -- 


MILDRED: That are not going to benefit the people. I mean they're sending out N-95 masks, you know, to cover people's faces. Somebody is making them, and somebody's making money off of that. You know, I -- you know, that -- to me that's crazy. They're also sending out COVID tests.


MILDRED: For people to do COVID testing at home. Waste of money.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The administration would say these are the things that will help keep the economy going because then you won't have to stay home if you don't catch COVID.

BETH: It takes 12 days to get the test in the mail, another 12 days to get your results. That's 24 days. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, these at-home tests are supposed to be quick, just a few minutes.

JORGE: Here's what's wrong with our administration. They -- like she was saying, here you are sending all of these tests, sending the masks. So, I'm going to pump more money into this economy. I'm going to keep spending more money. And it's going to fix everything. No, inflation is going to hit 8 percent, 9 percent. We're going to be back to Jimmy Carter. And we know what happened to Jimmy Carter. You can't keep doing that. I almost feel like the administration came in and said, you know what, we're going to do everything opposite of what Trump did.


MARGARET BRENNAN: There will be more of our "Listening to America" segment Monday on our CBS News streaming network during "Red and Blue," and the full conversation will be on our website at 


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thank you all for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan. 


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