Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on December 27, 2020

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

  • Mayor John Cooper, D-Nashville
  • Frank Figliuzzi, Former Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, FBI
  • Governor Mike DeWine, R-Ohio
  • Governor Gretchen Whitmer, D-Michigan
  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Former FDA Commissioner
  • Authors Panel: Susan Glasser, Peter Baker, Jon Meacham, Isabel Wilkerson

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


MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington. On this final weekend of the year on FACE THE NATION, it wouldn't be 2020 without last-minute breaking news. And there's a lot of it today. First, that early Christmas morning explosion that rocked the city of Nashville. We'll talk with the mayor of Nashville, John Cooper. Former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi will also be with us. Then, an update on the biggest story of the year: The COVID-19 pandemic. More than a million Americans have been vaccinated so far as coronavirus cases, deaths, and hospitalizations continue to climb dramatically. The governor of California says his state could see, quote, "a surge on top of surge on top of a surge" in the next two months, as millions of Americans ignore CDC recommendations to stay home this holiday season. We'll talk with former FDA commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb. That massive aid bill negotiated by Congress and the administration has been torpedoed by the President. His refusal to sign is putting a staggering amount of financial aid in jeopardy just as struggling Americans need it the most. In these final weeks of the Trump administration, ironically, it's Democrats who are in agreement with Mister Trump on his demand for additional payments, which has split the President from most Republicans. One thing Americans are not divided on? 2020 will go down in history as one of the worst years ever, at least in our lifetime. With political and racial divisions plaguing our society, what can be done to unite the country? We'll have a discussion on race, leadership, and moving forward with our holiday book panel. We'll talk with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Isabel Wilkerson. Her new book is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope is the latest from presidential historian Jon Meacham. Susan Glasser, writer for The New Yorker, and her husband, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times Peter Baker, wrote The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III. Plus, we'll talk with two Midwest governors, Michigan Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, and Ohio Republican Mike DeWine.

It's all just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. There are only four and a half days left in 2020, and the wicked blow this year has dealt is not letting up. There have been more than eighty million cases of COVID-19 worldwide. Here in the U.S., we've seen nearly nineteen million infections, and more than three hundred and thirty-one thousand deaths. Los Angeles County alone is seeing a coronavirus death every ten minutes. Washington is quiet, as the President vacations at his golf resort in Florida, but yesterday jobless benefits for more than fourteen million Americans ran out, and the government could shut down just after midnight tomorrow if Mister Trump does not sign the COVID relief bill. This comes on top of the Christmas morning bombing in Nashville, which left three people hospitalized and decimated part of the city. We begin there this morning with CBS News correspondent Mola Lenghi.

MOLA LENGHI (CBS News Correspondent/@MolaReports): Well, Margaret, there are more than two hundred fifty federal agents on the ground here in Nashville continuing to investigate. The FBI says they've received more than five hundred tips. And CBS News has learned they have zeroed in on a person of interest.

(Begin VT)

MOLA LENGHI: The day after an RV exploded in Nashville, leveling parts of downtown, federal agents raided a home tied to Anthony Quinn Warner, identified by the FBI as a person of interest in the blast. This Google Maps image is partly why the Feds ended up at the home just outside Nashville. Notice the RV parked behind the wood fence. Investigators believe it matches the description of the one used in the explosion. On Christmas morning, the RV was found blaring a recorded warning in ominous countdown.

WOMAN (automated voice): If you can hear this message, evacuate now.

MOLA LENGHI: In addition to three injuries, human remains were found around the scene. Now it's unclear to whom they belong, but authorities say possibly the suspect.

DOUGLAS KORNESKI: We're working under that assumption and processing as such.

MOLA LENGHI: At this point, the FBI says they do not believe there are any additional public threats. Parts of the downtown area remain a crime scene as investigators sweep through the streets for evidence, keeping an eye out for components of whatever caused this massive blast felt miles away.

DON COCHRAN (U.S. Attorney): It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle created by a bomb that throws pieces of evidence across multiple city blocks.

(End VT)

MOLA LENGHI: Well, the RV exploded while park next to an AT&T transmission building, knocking out cell and Wi-Fi service in the area. The Fire Department here says it could take a couple more days for that to be restored. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mola Lenghi, thank you.

We want to go now to the mayor of Nashville, John Cooper. Good morning to you, Mister Mayor.

MAYOR JOHN COOPER (D-Nashville/@JohnCooper4Nash): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: CBS is reporting that a person of interest in this explosion has been identified. Is there any update yet on the motive behind this bombing or who carried it out?

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: I think everybody feels like there is a lot of momentum behind the investigation, and I expect a lot of answers-- a lot of questions will be answered relatively soon. We've got hundreds of agents on the ground working very hard.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The person of interest, CBS is reporting, is a Nashville area resident named Anthony Quinn Warner. He's been described as a sixty-three-year-old white man who had an RV similar to the one in the explosion. Do you know if he is the suspect and-- and what his status is?

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: Well, I-- I know what you know, what the authorities are reporting to the public. Again, I just think there's a lot of momentum in the investigation and it's so-- I think there's a lot of public interest because it's so shocking that on Christmas morning, this time of greatest hope, you have a bombing, a deliberate bombing. How can this be? And the public I know is anxious to try to understand it better.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Oh, absolutely. You said that this was not typical of terrorism. You called it an infrastructure attack. What did you mean by that?

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: Well, those of us in Nashville realize that on Second Avenue there is a big AT&T facility and the truck was parked adjacent to this large, historic AT&T facility, which happens to be in downtown Nashville, somewhat surprisingly. And to all of us locally, it feels like there has to be some connection with the AT&T facility and the site of the bombing. You know, and that-- that's just-- that's a bit of just local insight in it's got to have something to do with the infrastructure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We know service was knocked out in parts of Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky.

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: Mm-Hm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was far reaching. When will service be restored? And-- and do you also need help from the President, as the governor has asked?

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. The governor and I have talked about this. The damage on Second Avenue is not dissimilar than what the tornado in-- inflicted on Nashville and bigger parts of Nashville rather than just on one street. And so we-- we're going to need to get this rebuilt. It's part of our historic identity of Nashville, this kind of late Victorian streetscape that ended up being bombed. And the businesses there, they've just-- going through COVID they've had the worst nine months that you could have as a business. And then now to be affected by a bombing. Of course, we're going to need help and we may need some help in re-hardening our infrastructure. Now, the AT&T building itself, I think a lot of it probably survived very well, but you have flooding after these events--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: --that gathers in basements. And so some of the problem may have been the result of the cure than from the bombing itself.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And how long before service is restored?

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: Well, I know AT&T is working very hard and sent a lot of trucks to Nashville to get this back online. They'll have to tell you when it will be, but every-- everybody's working hard to solve the problem.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you feel confident that there is no ongoing threat to your city?

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: I-- I feel confident in repeating what the authorities-- what the investigators said yesterday to Nashville, that they think that the threat is over, that-- that Nashville is safe, that there aren't any other bombs. I think they wouldn't have said that unless they were very confident that that is true.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You also have an ongoing COVID spike in the state of Tennessee--

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: Hmm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that you're dealing with--

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and you're rolling out the COVID vaccine in your city. How is all of this coming together? Is it complicating the response?

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: Well, this is our year of first responder. You know, we-- we've had a lot of brave nurses and doctors all year long. On Christmas Day, six incredibly heroic police officers get added to our roll of honor in Nashville for 2020. COVID, of course, makes everything harder. We are in the middle of a spike. It's hard to know post-Christmas where that-- those numbers are headed to. In Nashville, we've dealt with it reasonably well. We've had a mask mandate and we've had restrictions on gatherings and-- that have been going on for some time. It's part of how our businesses are suffering, our hospitality area, our-- the gatherings have been restricted and so the businesses that were bombed are still in the middle of having a COVID recovery. Again, it's part of needing response by the federal government, both from the bomb-- bombing and-- and for COVID also.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Mister Mayor, good luck and-- and good luck to everyone in your city.

MAYOR JOHN COOPER: Oh, thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to Frank Figliuzzi. He is the former assistant director for counterintelligence at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the author of the upcoming book, The FBI Way. He joins us from Houston. Good morning.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI (Former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence/@FrankFigliuzzi1): Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was a significant explosive device detonated in a major U.S. metropolitan area, and, yet, there was no threat detected beforehand. How confident are you that there is no broader threat in the country?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI: So my confidence comes out of the language that law enforcement has been using as recently as the press conference yesterday afternoon. When you hear law enforcement leaders say things like they're confident that the city is safe, that there is no additional threat, that there's no additional explosives attached to this incident, and that they're confident they will find out who did this, that's a code for we know who did it and we've got our man. And I say man because the statistics tell us that bombings are largely committed by men.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the person of interest that CBS News is reporting is Anthony Quinn Warner. Federal investigators are not calling him a suspect. Do you believe that he is? Do you know anything about him?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI: Margaret, I-- I do from observations, experience and from talking to sources-- I do believe that we'll fairly quickly see Warner turned from person of interest to the subject of the investigation. And I think right now we're all waiting for DNA results of that tissue that we all heard has been found in and around the scene.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you believe that may be him?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI: I think it's quite likely that this was a suicide mission for this individual. If there's any comfort to be taken here, it's that this may likely end up being not connected to a larger group or organization, international or domestic, but rather a personal, real or perceived, beef, acting out on something that may or may not relate to that AT&T building.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI: It's going to be personal to him. The choice of Christmas morning, deserted street was not about hurting people or sending a political or ideological message, but rather some personal connection to that building, to Christmas Day or some other thing that caused him to act out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know the governor of Tennessee described this as an attack and he said it was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. It blew up not just that RV, but it decimated at least forty-one buildings in the surrounding area. How easy is it to make a bomb of that scale and do it underneath the radar without law enforcement knowing this threat was there?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI: Yeah, I think this is a wake-up call and a warning for all of us about how vulnerable our infrastructure is, how relatively easy it is for a single individual to do this. Now, we've concentrated, post 9/11 on-- on getting our hands around all the chemical companies, mass orders of precursors for known explosives. And look what an individual can do on his or her own when they simply unmask quantities of things that are under the radar screen. So here's the takeaway with this. The public has to be extremely vigilant about those around them that are talking about acting out where that might be able to do this. Shop owners and companies who are seeing smaller orders of precursors, that's where our vulnerability-- our vulnerability is. And, Margaret, the-- the notion of a copycat seeing what's happened in Nashville and trying to do this themselves is very real. And we should be concerned about that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But in your professional opinion, operation of this size, could it have been completely undertaken by a single actor?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI: We saw this in the-- in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. You'll remember Timothy McVeigh largely, perhaps, with one or two cohorts, did this entirely by himself, getting huge amounts of fertilizer. So the short answer is, yes, it can be done. It's not the last time we'll see this, but we're-- we should be thankful that this happened with-- with very few casualties.

MARGARET BRENNAN: CBS is reporting this morning that witnesses told investigators, the individual here we're talking about, Mister Warner, may have had an issue with 5G technology and online conspiracy theories stemming from it. To you is that discernible intent here, and when you were talking about trying to figure out what motivates him and copycats, what are you most concerned about going forward? This is a pretty tense time in the country.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI: Yep. I don't have to tell you we're living in an incredibly politically charged environment. There's tremendous dangerous polarization and it's being fueled by social media, conspiracy theorists out there. And, yes, I'm aware that there are groups and individuals who seem to think that 5G technology might be the cause of COVID, that technology generally is targeting us. You'll find almost anything imaginable and unimaginable online, and it may be that this is how-- partially what drove this individual. And that's why we need to speak the truth about what 5G is, where COVID came from and all of this. But all of that increases the possibility of a copycat operator. And we've got to be extremely vigilant as we move into the next couple of weeks--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI: --where we're going to see the nation increasingly polarized about election results and upcoming inauguration.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Frank Figliuzzi, thank you for your analysis. We will be right back with former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb. Stay with us.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb. He's also on the board at Pfizer and joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning to you. You predicted--

SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D. (Former FDA Commissioner/@ScottGottliebMD): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You predicted last Sunday we'd have about three more weeks of increasing infections. We ask you every week, where are we at this point? What are you thinking now?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, there are signs that the number of new daily cases is starting to plateau. It might be an extended plateau, but we're seeing a leveling off in new cases right now. Some of that is the holiday effect. It's underreporting around the holidays. But there is a discernible trend that we were taking even into the holidays. But, once again, the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths is likely to lag by about two to three weeks. So even if we start to see a plateau in cases and a decline in the first week in January, it's really not going to be towards the end of January that we start to see the burden on hospitals begin to lessen and we start to see deaths plateau. So we have a grim month ahead of us. We have a very difficult month ahead of us. And right now the cases are being led by the coasts: it's California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey to some extent. When you look at the Midwest, when you look at the Great Lakes region, Illinois, Michigan, you're starting to see cases come down quite discernibly. So the places where the infection was first are now-- it's now slowing and it's the East Coast and the West Coast and Florida as well, where cases are still building.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was the deadliest week in the deadliest month for people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. We know vaccinations began there last Monday. How soon do you think it will be before we see that relief?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, vaccinations are going to take about three weeks to get through all the nursing homes. I mean, we will start to see some-- some indication that the vaccines are probably having an effect maybe as early as this week, because we know that immunity does start to kick in maybe a week after vaccination. They went into the skilled nursing facilities first and vaccinated there first so you have some of the highest risk people in those facilities. So that will start to have an impact on mortality trends with COVID. But, you know, it's coming late in the season and it's going to take a couple of weeks, maybe a week or ten days for partial immunity to kick in. And to get full immunity, especially in an older population, you really need the booster. We do see in a younger population more robust immunity after that first dose. But in the older populations, it really requires a second dose to get the full effects of the immunity from the vaccine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The President tweeted this morning, cases in California have risen despite the lockdown, yet, Florida and others are open and doing well. He seems to be encouraging the lifting of local restrictions. Is that medically advisable?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, Florida had seventeen thousand cases on the twenty-sixth. They have around twenty-one thousand deaths now. I think they're the fourth highest in the country in terms of the number of COVID deaths and the third highest in terms of the number of total cases. It is true that California is having a worse epidemic right now, although there's some signs that the epidemic may be plateauing in Northern California. I don't think any part of the country has really done especially well with COVID. Every state has grappled with this. And so, I wouldn't be trying to make, you know, comparisons between different states in terms of how they've approached this. Every state has had to approach it differently, because they've all had different challenges. Some states are far more dense, like California, than other states. Florida too is dense and I think that's why they're experiencing a very difficult epidemic right now. So, Florida is not out of the woods by a long shot.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. Canada is now saying that it has detected evidence of that new strain of coronavirus on its shores. That means it's here in North America. The U.S. is set to begin requiring those coming from the United Kingdom where this is thought to have originated, and people will have to be tested within seventy-two hours of arrival. Is that going to make any impact?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, I think it's probably here in the United States, and-- and it could be here in a reasonable number at this point. Where-- we don't sequence a lot of samples in this country. And a lot of that sequencing that does get done, gets done in private labs, and doesn't get aggregated into public database-- that needs-- databases. That needs to be fixed. In the U.K., they're sequencing about ten percent of all the samples. Here we're doing a fraction of one percent. I'm on the board of Illumina, one of the companies that's involved in sequencing. We probably need a better approach to more systematically sequenced strains in the United States to track changes and new variants in this virus. We're not doing that. And so we probably wouldn't be detecting it if it was here in sort of low numbers, which I suspect it is.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So it may be here, we just don't know it. On the vaccine, nine and a half million doses of the two approved vaccines have been distributed. As of the week past the CDC says a bit more than a million vaccinations have actually taken place. What do you think of this pace?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, the pace is slower than what was stated. I think it's probably realistic to think that the pace is going to be a little bit slower, especially as we try to move through hard to vaccinate populations next month. I suspect there's more than a million who have been vaccinated. There's a lag in reporting. But the idea that we're going to get to twenty million vaccines-- vaccinations by the end of the year, that's probably unrealistic at this point. And, remember, that's after they cut in half. They only shipped about forty-five percent of the vaccines to states. So the states weren't able to absorb this. Now, I think-- I think they'll get up and running and get better systems in place to distribute these vaccines more efficiently. I think they're going to turn to CVS and Walgreens to start distributing them in the community, and that's a pretty big footprint. But, again, as you get out into the community, try to vaccinate a harder to reach population, it's going to come-- become significantly more difficult to get those vaccines out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: And so the fact that we've struggled to vaccinate health care workers and nursing home patients, that shows we need to be investing more in these efforts.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good point. Doctor Gottlieb, thank you as always for your analysis. And before you go I do want to---

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Thanks a lot.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --thank you. The whole team wants to thank you for helping to guide our viewers and us through this crisis. And we want to thank your wife and your family for sacrificing your Sunday mornings so that you can join us here. We'll see you next year.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Thanks for the opportunity. Thank you.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congress will be back in session tomorrow to try to resolve its standoff with President Trump. As of this morning, he is refusing to sign the COVID relief bill, and if he doesn't sign it or if he vetoes it, the impact to tens of millions of Americans and the U.S. economy could be enormous. Jobless benefits for more than fourteen million people stopped yesterday. The three-hundred-dollar a week payment was supposed to be extended until mid-March. Without the bill's extension, the federal moratorium on housing evictions will end on Thursday, impacting as many as thirty million Americans. The President insists that he wants to boost individual payments from six hundred dollars to two thousand for Americans who make less than seventy-five thousand dollars a year. But that is a figure that most Republicans think is just too high. Most urgently, the bill funds the government, and without another temporary funding measure, it could shut down at midnight tomorrow. We'll be back in a moment.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: You can go to our website at facethenation.com for more of what didn't make it to air today. Our full book panel is available on our YouTube channel and a version of that (AUDIO CUT).

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Today, we wanted to bring together two governors from particularly hard hit states this year, Ohio Republican Mike DeWine and Michigan Democrat Gretchen Whitmer. Good morning to both of you, Governors.

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-Michigan/@GovWhitmer): Good morning.

GOVERNOR MIKE DEWINE (R-Ohio/@GovMikeDeWine): Good to be with you. Thank you very much, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, the responsibility of dealing with this pandemic, including the decisions on health restrictions, on testing, how you're going to get this vaccine to your constituents has really been placed on you as the executives in your state. Do you feel like the country learned this year the value of their local government, Governor Whitmer?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: Well, I hope so. I know that this is not a moment that any one of us governors would have chosen to be in, and yet it was incumbent on us to rise to this challenge and to do what we needed to do to protect the people that we serve. In lieu of a broader national strategy, it really was on us to navigate. And I think we've done-- done a lot of it together.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And Governor DeWine, do-- do you think there is a new appreciation for the local officials versus the focus on the national?

GOVERNOR MIKE DEWINE: No, I think people normally look to their governors in a-- in a crisis, a local crisis, you know, flooding along the Ohio River or tornadoes in western Ohio. That's normally what you think a governor will respond to. So I think in a sense, they're-- they're used to, you know, a crisis. But, of course, this is a once in a hundred years. We haven't seen anything like this at all. And I think one of the things that I have found good about it, frankly, is that I've gotten to know Gretchen, Governor Whitmer. I've gotten to know all our neighboring governors. And, you know, we talk-- we talk quite a bit. And, frankly, you know, we have a common enemy. The common enemy is this virus. And we're, you know, we're-- we're battling back against it. You know, there are certainly some people in my state who, you know, disagree with some of the things that-- that we have done.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor Whitmer, I mean, viruses don't know borders. Do you feel like as, you know, two Midwesterners here, that there is more of a call now to work together regionally to deal with crises like this pandemic? I mean are you looking at that when it comes, for instance, on how to vaccinate your populations?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: This virus does not stop at state line. It doesn't stop at party line. This is a common enemy. And that's always been how we've looked at it, trying to learn from the best science. This being a novel virus, we've learned an incredible amount. But when I share information with Governor DeWine and vice versa, I get the benefit of the Cleveland Clinic and all the experts he's talking to and he gets the benefit of the University of Michigan and all the experts we're talking to.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will you coordinate those strategies on who goes first and who goes last?

GOVERNOR MIKE DEWINE: Well, you know, we share a lot of information. And we were on the phone with all the Midwestern governors just a few days ago, and one of the issues, of course, is, you know, what's-- what's the priority? I think there's been a real consensus among what we call A1 group, which is the-- the first responders, our medical people, our EMS, people who are risking their lives every-- every single day, as well as where we've taken the most losses, and that is in our nursing homes. I think there's probably going to be more lack of consensus among people in general when you get beyond that first group.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor Whitmer, I wonder how you're thinking of it, because like we're talking about essential worker is, you know, kind of subjective here. In-- in the state of Colorado, I read they are going to begin prioritizing employees at ski resorts, for example, because it's so key to their economy. I mean how much is this going to vary state by state? Who's essential in Michigan?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: I've-- I think it could vary a great deal. And the thing is, vaccines are coming online and they're going to come at a faster pace. And so doing the hard work of acknowledging who is-- has the most exposure, who is out there in jobs that are, you know, come into contact with the public at greater numbers. These vaccines, what we have to do right now is really to ensure that the public understands these are safe, these are effective. As they become more available, we want people to make their plan to get vaccinated.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor Whitmer and Governor DeWine, both of you have been, you know, criticized for taking extraordinary measures to protect your constituents, but been accused of, you know, overstepping authority, for example. Governor Whitmer, I know you had that extraordinary kidnapping threat. There were threats against you, Governor DeWine, as well. I-- I wonder how the both of you make sense of that experience, Governor Whitmer?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: Well, Margaret, I would say this: Every governor in the country is getting some sort of, you know, backlash. The backlash that we're getting is because we've gone to take sure that every measure is about saving people's lives. And we have largely had a lot of success. Studies have shown we have saved thousands of lives, and, yet, we know COVID-19 is still a very real threat. We're posting the highest numbers that we have in ten months.

GOVERNOR MIKE DEWINE: Mm-Hm.

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: Other governors are getting a backlash because they haven't done enough and people have been dying on their watch. There are no easy solutions here, no clearly obvious solutions here. Yet, I believe that the right thing to do is to follow the science and to put people's lives first because we can and we will recover from the economic blowback, from COVID-19 that has run amuck in our country. What we can't do is, you know, bring someone back to life.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor DeWine?

GOVERNOR MIKE DEWINE: Well, I think it's understandable that people are upset. It's nine months into this. People are tired of it, so I-- I get it. And, you know, we've asked people to-- to make sacrifices. But my message to the people of Ohio continues to be, we should do everything we can to save lives and hope is there. The vaccine is here. Now it's going to take a few months, you know, for everybody to-- to-- to get it, but this is not the time to pull back. This is not the time to give up. We know bu-- business, particularly small business, continuing to go is very, very important. We know they've been hit very, very hard.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

GOVERNOR MIKE DEWINE: But you've got to balance that with-- with saving the lives.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Here's to a healthier and happier 2021. Thanks to you both, Governors.

We'll be right back.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We like to honor tradition on FACE THE NATION, and each year we talk to authors whose new books have all been named some of the year's best. Four of them join us now. Jon Meacham's new book is His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope. Peter Baker and Susan Glasser are the co-authors of The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III. And Isabel Wilkerson is with us to discuss her latest Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Good to see all of you. Isabel, I want to start with you. You tackle the very difficult subject of race in your book and which you describe a caste system in our country where you say skin color is really kind of the metric for where you fall in the hierarchy. Does the awakening within our country this year to the issue of systemic racism begin breaking that apart?

ISABEL WILKERSON (Caste/@Isabelwilkerson): Despite the record turnout for this election, we have seen the-- you know, the ruptures that are as deep as they've ever been. We still face, you know, disturbing levels of division in our country. This idea of racialized polarization still continues. But I do hope that some of the things that have happened over the last year, this past summer, particularly involving this sense of awakening and-- and outrage over what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and so, so many people who have become part of our conversation. I hope that this has been leading us to some type of awakening to get past these divisions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jon, you profiled one of the giants of our civil rights struggle in this country, John Lewis, who we lost this year. And you wrote about his famous march to Selma, where he was severely beaten by law enforcement, even though this started out as a peaceful protest. You said when that footage was shown to the country, there was revulsion all over America. "Revulsion, then redemption. Is there anything more American?" Right now in America, we have rev-- revulsion that Isabel just described again at what happened. Are we at the point of redemption yet?

JON MEACHAM (His Truth Is Marching On/@jmeacham): Well, redemption is a complicated thing, and that's something that we have to work on every day. John Lewis represents, I think, faith in two fundamental forces in life. He was on that bridge because of a faith in God, and he was on that bridge because ultimately of a faith in America. Frederick Douglass once said, "There is no soil so conducive to the growth of reform as American soil." And so there is-- pro-- progress is possible. And John used to say when people would say, well, nothing's ever changed. He would say, when he was a senior member of Congress, come walk in my shoes. Now, that's easy for me to say. I'm a white Southern male Episcopalian. Things tend to work out for me in this country. I wrote this book and I wanted to profile John Lewis because he represents the embodiment of the best that the religious impulse can play in our public life. And more than any other person I've ever known he closed the gap between a profession of allegiance to the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount with the practice of those virtues. And I think if we look at stories of people who walk among us and who just walked among us and we see what they did and they did something so remarkable that should give us some faith, some inspiration that we can do the same.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. And-- and part of that process, Peter and Susan, is figuring out how to turn what the country is experiencing into action that falls upon our political leaders. I mean, you-- you cover Washington, the both of you. We're seeing a lot of pressure on the President-elect to do something about race and division in this country. A lot of that early on is focused on representation. Does it end there? How does the President elect begin dealing with this problem, Peter?

PETER BAKER (The New York Times/The Man Who Ran Washington/@peterbakernyt): Well, look, you know, it's not just a question of who you put in your cabinet. That's only a start. There's, obviously, great wounds out there in this country to heal. And this is a President who has talked about doing that. He's talked about being a bridge builder and talked about being a healer and a person who wants to bring America together. You know, we talk about-- in our book, we talk about James Baker not so much as a race healer but as a bridge builder. We talk about how he tried to work with the other party to make things happen. He tried to work with people from other countries and across the Cold War divide with the Soviets to bring the world together. And I think that what Joe Biden is talking about doing is the same kind of thing where we can cross these-- these lines and cross these divides and begin to reimagine America in a better way.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Susan, it just feels so different. The divides feel more bitter and deep. How do you do that? And is there something unique to the challenge ahead?

SUSAN GLASSER (The New Yorker/The Man Who Ran Washington/@sbg1): You know, Margaret, I think the thing that was so striking is just how profoundly the political incentives in the country have changed. It's not just that we've had a uniquely divisive President. You know, we're often used to Presidents more like Joe Biden, who at least talk and pay lip service to wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. So we certainly had a divisive President, but it's also that we've had a country and a political system that-- that's just lost the ability, it seems, for politicians to work together across the aisle. You know, the question is, have that-- has that incentive structure changed so fundamentally that it's actually going to be impossible for even a Joe Biden to come in and sit down and work when the-- the incentives and the-- the reward system has gone in the other direction to be ever more extreme.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And-- and, Isabel, you in your book start off with a pretty stark image of choice and-- and the moment in time. You describe a photo from 1936 in Germany in which a lone man stands in a crowd full of other men. They're all giving Nazi salutes and his hands are-- are folded. It appears defiant almost. Why did you start on this? What does that signify to you?

ISABEL WILKERSON: Well, I started with that-- it's the photo of August Landmesser. He was surrounded by people who were caught under the spell of the Nazis. And, yet, he alone was the one who was on the right side of history. And we all would like to believe that we would be on the right side of history in a situation such as that that we'd somehow find a way to stand up in favor of justice in this-- in-- while we are surrounded by injustice and people who are falling under the spell of that. And so it calls upon all of us to recognize, you know, where we happen to be, what each of us can do, the responsibilities that each of us has. And the reason why I speak about hierarchy in Caste is because this is part of our inheritance, an inheritance of-- of this hierarchy that-- that dates back to the time of enslavement that has been-- that, essentially, was in place for far longer than it was not in place in our country from Jim Crow, which only ended in the 1960s, and how we live with the aftereffects of that. And it falls upon each of us to learn the history and to-- to be able to reckon with it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm interested in this idea, though, of what you are describing as a caste system, because in-- in at least political narrative, the past four years have been about disruption. They've been about breaking apart systems. They've been about, you know, trying to break apart the establishment in particular. But you have a very different view, right? You-- you think and have pointed to the 2016 election in particular as about reinforcing those caste systems.

ISABEL WILKERSON: Well, you know, a caste system, essentially, is an artificial, arbitrary, graded ranking of human value, and it dates back to the time of enslavement. And so we've inherited the assumptions, the stereotypes, the rankings that are-- have been-- have essentially been assigned to people based upon what they look like, which goes back to the time of enslavement. And I-- I want to take a moment to remind ourselves of how long this has been a part of our country, that it's the foundation of the power structure that we have inherited.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, Jon, you-- you have used the phrase "the soul of America," one we hear that-- that phrase from the President-elect quite often. We've had the election that was supposed to be the fight for the soul of America, where are we now? Where does that fight go? Are-- are we at absolution? Where-- where are we?

JON MEACHAM: No, we're-- we're a long way from absolution and-- and will be until what Faulkner called the last red and dying evening. My sense of the soul of the country is that the soul is not wholly good or wholly bad, but is an arena of contention in which our better angels, to use Lincoln's phrase, do battle against our worst instincts. Many of the worst instincts that Isabel's remarkable work has- has cast light on.  Many of the worst instincts that Isabel's remarkable work has-- has cast light on. And every day is part of that struggle. To go to what Peter and Susan were saying, division in American life is-- is not the exception, it's the rule. And disagreement and the impulses of appetite and ambition and the clash of interests, all of these things are perennial and universal human forces. What we have to do, what we're called to do by history and by reason and to some extent by faith, is to devote ourselves to the idea and the reality of making real for everybody the promise of the country--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

JON MEACHAM: --which is that we were all created equal and we're endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. And at every point, Isabel mentioned the right side of history, at every point from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, the right side of history has been those who stand on the side of individual rights, of the sanctity of the individual, of liberty under law and of openness, not of-- you know, we build bridges in this country when we're at our best, not walls. And that may sound like a homily, but it has the virtue of being rooted in history. Go around Washington. What are the monuments to? The monuments are to imperfect people and imperfect events, but they are ultimately about liberation and not captivity. And that's what our-- the work of politics should be.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, President Trump as we-- as I referenced, was elected on this agenda of disrupting the status quo. Kamala Harris is a symbol of change. Joe Biden, though, is seen as a return of the establishment. What is the choice we are making here as-- as a country? I mean in-- in some ways, the Biden platform was about restoring where-- where we were.

SUSAN GLASSER: Well, look, Margaret, it's very hard to imagine a world where we're just going to pretend that the last four years didn't happen, right? You know, I think there was a-- a palpable sense of returning to normalcy that-- that powered and animated Joe Biden's campaign. But I think, you know, the question is really whether identity politics is the choice that people on both sides of the aisle are making right now. Was it really about a policy platform for Biden or even for Donald Trump? You know, to me, the lesson of the last few years is that people are much more likely to embrace identities and tribalism that they find to be comfortable in our politics right now at the expense even of a program.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does the disruption become the new foundation here or is it about restoration?

SUSAN GLASSER: Margaret, that, to me, that's the thing that's so notable. You might want a more normal world, right? That word normalcy, you know, has never had such political resonance. But the truth is, is that, you know, the world has moved on. And there are a number of areas, the Middle East and the recognition of Israel sort of midwifed by the Trump administration, by several Arab countries, obviously is-- is a different faction and a different reality than the one that was there four years ago. Biden so far has assembled a government that suggests that-- that a sort of certainly a return to competence and expertise, bringing people who served already in senior positions in the Obama administration. So, there's a continuity. And then I think the-- the message to people is that Trump represents a discontinuity--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SUSAN GLASSER: --in American politics and policy. But I-- it's-- it's unclear that that's really the case. And I think, you know, to Jon's point, we're not just going to wash away the last few years. That's not how this is going to work. It's not over. It's not even the beginning of over. We're not just going to wake up one day and it's all going to be some--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SUSAN GLASSER: --crazy dream and, you know, tweet storms.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But, Peter, you know, as Americans, we always think it's about us and we're talking here about us as a country. But for the rest of the world, when-- when they hear the President-elect say America is back and we're ready to lead. Hasn't the world moved on? Hasn't the world changed? Does the world really want America to organize it?

PETER BAKER: Yeah, that's a great question, and I think President-elect Biden probably recognizes that it's not simply a matter of returning to where things were four years ago. And if he doesn't, that's going to be a challenge for him, because, in fact you're right, the world has moved on to some extent. They've seen in the last four years, what it's like when America goes in a different direction. I think there's a lot of burned feelings out there about international agreements. What-- you know, who's going to want to enter a new international agreement with the United States, if they feel like four years from now, it might just be reversed by the next administration? And that's why I think President-elect Biden does have a-- a challenge in terms of deciding what to keep and what not to keep of what his predecessor has done, partly because of this-- the idea of not seeming like we just swing back and forth radically every-- every term. He probably will adopt more of-- of Trump's positions on China, for instance, maybe not the specific tactics on tack-- on tariffs, but a stronger position against China than the Obama administration had. You can't just simply rerun the past. You're going to have to adapt to the future. And that will include at least some of what the last four years has-- has-- has brought to us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thanks to all of you for the conversation and for joining us today. And happy New Year. Stay healthy.

We'll be right back.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that's it for us for 2020. We hope you have a happy and healthy and safe New Year. We will see you next Sunday in 2021. For FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.