Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on February 14, 2021

Face The Nation: Walesnky, Donigan, Gottlieb
Face The Nation: Walesnky, Donigan, Gottlieb 22:34

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

  • Boris Johnson, United Kingdom Prime Minister
  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control
  • Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colorado
  • Heyward Donigan, Rite Aid President & CEO
  • 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 second impeachment of former President Donald Trump is now headed for the history books. And President Biden steps up efforts on securing vaccines and getting America's schools reopened. Last week America relived and learned some terrifying new details about the January 6th attack on the Capitol. But in the end, the result of the attempt to convict former President Trump was predictable and political. There were some plot twists, like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's condemnation of Mister Trump immediately after he voted to acquit him.
 
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: …disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Leader McConnell's defense for his vote, the Senate was not the right court for conviction.
 
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former Presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Asked about censuring to punish the former President, instead Speaker Pelosi called it a cowardly way out for Republican senators.
 
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: We censure people for using stationery for the wrong purpose. We don't censure people for inciting insurrection that kills people in the Capitol.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Democrats warn that without accountability violence like that seen on January 6th could happen again.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: I fear, like many of you do, that the violence we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll talk with one of the prosecutors, Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse. Plus, an exclusive conversation with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He, too, weighed in on the Senate verdict.
 
BORIS JOHNSON: After all the toings and froings and all the kerfuffle, American democracy is strong.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll also talk to the head of the Centers for Disease Control, Doctor Rochelle Walensky, about President Biden's back to school plan, and those new virus variants. The CEO of Rite Aid drugstores Heyward Donigan will be with us to tell us how her company plans to help with getting Americans vaccinated. Plus, we'll check in with Doctor Scott Gottlieb.
 
It's all just ahead on FACE THE NATION.
 
Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. The headlines this morning are similar to what they were almost exactly a day, a week, and a year ago. After being acquitted in the foreign interference impeachment case now former President Donald Trump has been acquitted again, this time for incitement of insurrection following the events of January 6th. But this time, seven Republican senators broke with their party but was still ten votes short of conviction.
 
We want to begin this morning with one of the impeachment managers, Colorado Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse. He's in Washington. Good morning, Congressman.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE (D-Colorado/@RepJoeNeguse/House Impeachment Manager): Good morning, Margaret. Good to be with you.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: You closed your argument yesterday by saying extremist groups may be emboldened and the violence on the 6th may just be the beginning. Are you saying Republicans are complicit in that? And if so, how do you work across the aisle with them now?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: Well, look I-- what I was saying, Margaret, and it's very heartfelt on my behalf and on behalf of all the managers, is a real fear that I think many Americans have after witnessing the terrible violence that happened on January 6th and the insurrection that took place on our nation's account-- our nation's Capitol that without accountability, that many of these groups could very well become more emboldened and-- and perhaps engage in-- in more violence. I had hoped that more senators would ultimately honor their oath by convicting the President. But make no mistake, I mean the big difference between this year and the-- the-- the headline that you referenced last year is just how historic this vote was. It was the most bipartisan impeachment vote in the history of our republic. Fifty-seven senators, including seven Republicans that you mentioned, chose country over party, looked at our facts objectively that we presented to them, considered the evidence and reached the same conclusion we did, which was that the President incited insurrection and we shouldn't lose sight of that. I want to salute and commend those seven Republicans, people like Ben Sasse--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: --and Mitt Romney, really a profile in courage, in my view, in terms of the vote that they took.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why did you back off the request for witnesses?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: That's a fair question. I don't know that I would characterize it that way. Look, I know a lot of folks who are wondering--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you asked for them. Se-- the senators said yes, and then the House managers said they didn't require them. That's backing off.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: Sure. Well, no. So here's what I would say, and I'm happy to answer the question. So Lead Manager Raskin touched on this yesterday. He proceeded with a request for one witness, not multiple witnesses. The request was for that video testimony-- a deposition testimony, which is how that's been done in prior impeachments, for example, during the Clinton impeachment in 1999, of Congresswoman Herrera Beutler, given what we had learned about her statements just the night before and the full extent of her remarks, rather the conversation she had with Minority Leader McCarthy that he had with President Trump, and clearly that conversation went directly to the President's state of mind, in-- in our view and in the view of clearly fifty-seven senators supported our theory of the case. So we proceeded, and Lead Manager Raskin, rather, proceeded with that request. It became very clear to us the President's counsel was willing to stipulate to allow that statement to come into evidence and be considered by the Senate. And that was an important stipulation. Ultimately, Lead Manager Raskin read out that statement--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: --both to the United States Senate and to the broader American public. But I will just also say, Margaret, look, I think it's pretty clear and Lead Manager Raskin touched on this, whether it was five more witnesses or five thousand witnesses, it is very clear that the senators who voted to acquit on a technicality, which was the jurisdictional argument, that we had successfully defended early in the trial and actually had convinced a majority of the Senate, including Republicans--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: How--
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: --that the Senate did have presidential jurisdiction to move forward. It would not have made a difference to those senators. And you heard that from Mitch McConnell himself--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: --who conceded that the President was morally responsible for provoking the events of January 6th.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, there do seem to have been some key items that came up at the last minute or were, frankly, you know, overlooked until the last minute. You mentioned Congresswoman Herrera Beutler's comments, but she said she first made those public back in January. I also want to play for you these comments from Republican Leader McCarthy that were on CBS coverage during the siege.
 
(Begin VT)
 
NORAH O' DONNELL (January 6): I'm giving you the opportunity right now that your precious and beloved United States Capitol and our democracy is witnessing this. Call the spade a spade.
 
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-House Minority Leader/on phone/January 6): I was very clear with the President when I called him. This has to stop and he has to-- he's got to go to the American public and tell them to stop this. This is not who we are. This is not who his supporters are. This is more than politics. This is the foundation of this nation. This is the democracy that we are supposed to be the torch for the rest of the world. This is not the view we should see and nobody should encourage it and nobody should be a part of it.
 
(End VT)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's the Republican leader saying on live television he personally asked the President multiple times to call off his mob. Why leave key moments like that on the table?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: I-- I disagree with the premise of that-- that question, Margaret, that, yes, that statement that you just mentioned, certainly we're aware of. I think, and again, I defer to Lead Manager Raskin on this evidentiary point, but the full extent of the conversation that Leader McCarthy had with the President is what we and the country learned about just in the last forty-eight hours. The President's response to Leader McCarthy that those rioters, those insurrectionists cared more about the election results than he did, that was new information. And so it was important for the Senate to consider that. But, again, the leader of--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But wouldn't you wanted to have to ask McCarthy your-- yourself these questions, I mean, there are-- as I'm sure you've seen reports and comments from Democratic senators like Chris Coons that, you know, this-- this just would have taken too long. If the stakes were as high as you're saying, why not hear from these witnesses?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: I'd-- I'd say a couple of things. First, it was very clear, and again, I defer this to Lead Manager Raskin, but my understanding that witnesses that were not friendly to the prosecution were not going to comply voluntarily, which meant--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: --that we would be litigating subpoenas for months or potentially years. And I know you know this, Margaret. You covered this extensively during the first impeachment. We are still litigating the subpoena--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: --for Don McGahn that the Judiciary Committee issued two years ago. So look, at the end of the day, Leader McConnell himself--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: --yesterday acknowledged the President's disgraceful dereliction of duty. It is very--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you think that--
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: And then nonetheless--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: You looked-- you looked--
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: --and nonetheless voted to acquit.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Very quickly, though, you looked right at Leader McConnell in part of your remarks. Did you ever think you were going to persuade him to convict?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: I was hopeful. You know, I-- look, I care a great deal about this country. As the son of immigrants and someone who's, you know, been given so many freedoms and opportunities here in the United States, I was hopeful that every senator would ultimately vote to do the right thing. And I'm glad-- I'm grateful that seven--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: --of them on the Republican side did that.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: Obviously, history will be the judge of the rest.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman, thank you for your time this morning.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE: Thank you.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: This morning, a special interview with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He, like President Biden, is struggling with the pandemic. The U.K. death rate by percentage of population has now surpassed the U.S. rate and is one of the highest in the world. Good morning to you, Mister Prime Minister.
 
BORIS JOHNSON (United Kingdom Prime Minister/@BorisJohnson): Good morning.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you for joining us. I-- I wanted to ask you a little bit of your reflection on what just happened overnight. You strongly condemned the attack on the U.S. Capitol and said it was completely wrong for then President Trump to have consistently cast doubt on the outcome of a free election. In terms of America's global standing what signal did his acquittal make?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: I think the clear message that we get from the proceedings in America is that after all the toings and froings and all the kerfuffle, American democracy is strong and the American Constitution is strong and-- and robust. And we're delighted now, I'm very delighted, to have a good relationship with the-- the White House, which is an important part of any U.K. prime minister's mission. And I've had some good conversations already with-- with President Biden, fantastic conversations about the way he sees things. And, you know, Margaret, there's been some important developments in the way the U.K., U.S. thinking has been coming together in the last few weeks, and particularly on issues like climate change, on NATO, on Iran, but above all, on the ways that the U.S. and the U.K. are going to work together to deal with the environmental challenge that faces our-- our planet. And there, I think some of the stuff we're now hearing from the new American administration and from the new White House is incredibly encouraging. And we want to work with the-- with the President on that.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And I understand you will be hosting President Biden for his first foreign minister's-- foreign meeting on the 19th, although it'll be virtual because of COVID. The Trump administration has already pledged about four billion dollars in December to the Global Vaccine Alliance in this fight against COVID. And I understand that's the focus of your upcoming meeting with President Biden. What are you asking him to do?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: The United States and the U.K. both have an incredibly proud record of supporting the COVAX Global Vaccine Alliance. So together we contribute huge sums to ensuring that countries around the world that are less fortunate than ours have access to-- to vaccines. And we'll be working to-- to make sure that that happens. What I also want to see is the-- the U.S and the U.K. working together to learn the lessons from the-- the pandemic and to build back better together. I'm thrilled that President Biden has also got a slogan, Build Back Better. I think-- I think I claim that we used it first. And to be truthful, I think we-- we nicked it from someone else before I started using it. But it's the right slogan, Margaret. We've got to learn from this pandemic. We've got to learn about how to-- to share information, how to-- how to share drugs properly, how to make sure we don't hoard things like personal protective equipment, as you saw earlier on in the pandemic. We've got to make sure that we-- we are distributing vaccines. In the-- in the U.K, we now have one of the fastest vaccine rollouts anywhere in the world. As-- as your viewers may perhaps know that we've-- I think we've done almost fifteen million vaccinations in our country and was-- I think more than one in four adults has now had a vaccination. That's-- that's tremendously fast progress. But we want to make sure that we work with countries like-- like the United States so that everybody gets vaccination. There's no point in-- in great countries like the United States, the U.K., vaccinating our own populations if we don't ensure that everybody gets a vaccine. This is a pandemic.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're asking the U.S. for more money towards that?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: The U.S. has already been extremely generous, as you said yourself, and the U.K. is the second biggest contributor to-- to COVAX and to the global anti-virus--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
 
BORIS JOHNSON: --the-- the Vaccination Alliance that-- the Gavi organization. And we'll continue to do that.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about what the World Health Organization report actually constituted because the Biden administration was clear--
 
BORIS JOHNSON: Yes.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --they have deep concerns about the investigation, about Chinese interference, and they are demanding that China hand over data about the early outbreak. Are you joining them in that call? Is China obscuring what happened?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: One of the things we'll be calling for in the-- the G7, which President Biden is going to be joining, I'm glad to say, is the-- is global coordination in getting to the bottom of what happens with these diseases. So when you have a zoonotic plague like coronavirus, we need to know exactly how it happened. Indeed, if it's-- if it's zoonotic, if it really originated from human contact with the animal kingdom, that's what is asserted. But we need to know exactly what happened. Was it in a-- in a wet market? Did it come from the bats? Were the bats associated with the-- the pangolins? All these questions are now matters of speculation. We need to see the data. We need to see all the evidence. So I-- I thoroughly support what President Biden has said about that.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: British government scientists revealed on Friday that that particular strain, B.1.1.7, which was first detected in your country, is likely increased to a greater rate of hospitalization and death, perhaps as much as forty to sixty percent more. You're under a lot of political pressure to open your schools. Are you certain you can do that next month?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: We're proceeding in a cautious way, and what you've got at the moment in the U.K. is the virus coming down. You're perfectly correct in what you say about the-- the B.1.1.7 variant, though bear in mind that the reason we've been able to isolate this and other variants is that the U.K. conducts far more genomic analysis than any other country. Of all the genomic testing that's going on in the world, we do like forty-seven percent here in the U.K. So we're pretty good at spotting these mutations of these viruses and-- and tracking their movement through our populations. It's absolutely true that it-- that this one spreads faster. But what you're now seeing is, thanks to the efforts of the British people, the-- the lockdown, plus possibly the-- the effects of the vaccine, we're going to start seeing the-- the rates coming down more sharply. And they're--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But--
 
BORIS JOHNSON: --they're falling at the moment. We want to be in a position where-- where we can begin to open up. So what I've said, Margaret, is that on March the 8th, we want schools to go back if we possibly can. I'm not saying that we're announcing that today because we're going to be seeing a lot more on the 22nd of this month. We'll be making clear our roadmap. And I think what people want to see, and this may be the same in the U.S. as well, is clarity about the way forward and taking steps to unlock that you don't then have to reverse because that I think--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Exactly, and that's what I want to--
 
BORIS JOHNSON: --is what is so difficult for businesses and for people.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's what I want to press you on, though, Mister Prime Minister, because when you announced you were shutting schools in January and you would really prioritized for a long time keeping open schools, when you said they've got to shut down in January, you said they were because they might be vectors of transmission for the community. If you've got this strain circulating and you believe schools are vectors of transmission, how can you reopen them?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: The answer to-- to that is that you need to see what the effect of the vaccination program is in removing likely victims-- victims in the-- in the sense of people who suffer either death or serious disease, what the success of the vaccination program has in removing those people from the path of the-- of the disease and, also, what's happening with the-- the rate of infection. It's now coming down, Margaret, very considerably in our country. What we don't know is quite how fast it's going to be coming down in the next couple of weeks.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the vaccines that you are using is from U.K. pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. And there are questions now about how effective it can be against some of the mutant strains, particularly the one first detected in South Africa. Are you concerned you're putting a flawed vaccine into the arms of your constituents, and what's your backup plan?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: We have great confidence in all the vaccinations that we're using and we have no reason to think that they are ineffective against any variation of the-- any-- any variant, any new variant of the-- of the virus in protecting people, Margaret, against a serious illness and death. And that's-- that's a very important consideration for us. One of the features of Oxford AstraZeneca that has been recently confirmed by the scientists is that it-- it reduces transmission between people as well. There's a sixty-seven percent reduction in transmission as a result of the use of these vaccinations.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Mister Prime minister.
 
We're going to take a quick break. FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute. Stay with us.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
 
Back in April you were hospitalized with COVID. You were quite ill. You were in the ICU. Did you ever think you wouldn't make it?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: I think in common with many people in my country, I'm very grateful to the fantastic work of the-- of the NHS and they did an outstanding job and they continue to do an outstanding job. I think one of the-- one of the-- one of the features of this-- of this illness is that you don't as-- as you undergo it, it's possible you don't realize quite what-- what state you're in. I think that is one of the features of it, because your oxygen levels go down in a way that perhaps the patient doesn't necessarily detect themselves.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And that's why it's so serious. I want to ask you about U.S.-U.K. relations. You have not yet met President Biden, though you're about to have this virtual meeting. You did have a phone call. Back in 2019, he referred to you, as I'm sure you know, as "the physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump." Are you concerned you're going to start off on the wrong foot?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: I've had, I think, already two long and very good conversations with the President and we had a really good exchange, particularly about climate change and what he wants to do. We want to build back better together, particularly in the run up to the COP summit in November in Glasgow this year, which we hoped will be a-- a physical incarnation of the-- of the leaders of the world to agree with what we hope will be a fantastic thing, which is everybody to get to a net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but also making pledges on the way what they're going to do to get there by 2030.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: On the issue of Ireland, you may have some difference here. President Biden doesn't want you to put that peace agreement in Northern Ireland at risk at all, has made clear that border needs to stay open and you need to adhere to that E.U.-U.K. agreement from December. Can you commit and reassure the U.S. Congress and the U.S. President that you will do so in all circumstances, stick to that agreement?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: You bet. This is fundamental for us, the-- the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Peace Agreement, the Good Friday process, the Belfast Agreement, these-- these agreements are absolutely crucial--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And the Northern Ireland Protocol?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: --for our continued stability-- our continued stability and-- and-- and success as a-- as a U.K.-- and I have a great relationship with-- with-- with-- with Dublin, with Micheál Martin, the Irish Taoiseach. And we're going to work together to do some great things and-- and, Margaret, be in no doubt we don't want to do anything to jeopardize the achievements of the-- the Northern Irish peace process. That's absolutely vital.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And the Northern Ireland Protocol specifically? You will adhere to that open border?
 
BORIS JOHNSON: We want to make sure that there's free movement, north south, free movement east-- east west, and-- and that we guarantee the rights of the-- of the people of Northern Ireland, of course.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Mister Prime Minister, I'm told we are at time. Thank you very much for your time today.
 
BORIS JOHNSON: No. Margaret, thank you so much. Thank you.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you. FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute. Stay with us.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: FACE THE NATION has a podcast now. A new episode drops every Friday. On our latest edition, I spoke with the president of the American Federation of Teachers.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We turn now to the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Doctor Rochelle Walensky. She joins us from Boston this morning.
 
You heard the British Prime Minister give himself a little bit of wiggle room there on committing to reopening schools in his country next month, particularly given this new research on B.1.1.7, that highly contagious strain that now is found to have higher hospitalization and death risk associated with it. Should areas of this country where there is B.1.1.7 still have in-person classes?
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY, M.D., M.P.H. (CDC Director/@CDCDirector): There are over a thousand B.1.1.7 cases that we have documented in this country in over thirty-- in thirty-nine states. We know now that-- or we estimate now that about four percent of disease in this country is related to B.1.1.7. And we have projections that it may be the dominant strain by the end of March. That said, the amount of disease in school is very much related to the amount of disease that's in the community. So the work that we do to decrease the amount of disease in our community is-- is that much more benefit to getting our schools reopened.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you said on Friday at a press conference that ninety percent of the country's schools are in areas with high levels of transmission. Don't those schools risk becoming vectors of transmission?
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: So what we know from the-- from the literature-- from the scientific literature, is that most disease transmission does not happen in the walls of the school. It comes in from the community. There's very limited transmission between students, between students and staff, really, mostly between staff to staff when there are breaches in mask wearing. So what we're really advocating for now is working to get our-- in-- especially in the-- in the high areas of transmission, the red zones you just talked about, getting our K-5 kids back in a hybrid mode with universal mask wearing and six feet of distancing.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So those protocols still apply with these new variants in places like South Florida or California, where there is a high degree of these mutant strains?
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Indeed, you know, it is the same disease. We-- we prevent it in the same ways. Our mitigation strategies work, whether it's a B.1.1.7 variant versus a wild type variant. The B.1.1.7 variant may be less forgiving when we have breaches in these mitigation strategies, but the mitigation strategies are indeed the same.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: The CDC data that we looked at from last year shows that the proportion of mental health-related visits for children has increased nearly twenty-four percent over the year prior. But mental health isn't mentioned in those guidelines that you released this week.
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: We are absolutely worried about all of the collateral damage that we are going to see, not just mental health, of course, mental health, but not just mental health. Loss of educational milestones, food insecurity that has happened with our schools being closed, which is why we were really prescriptive with this guidance to-- to provide states and localities with the information that they need so that they can open safely.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But on the mental health portion of it, are you going to issue new guidelines on how to deal with that?
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Well, we will-- we will be certainly watching that space and-- and we'll be looking to our mental health colleagues and-- and looking to where and when guidelines are required-- necessary.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: When you were last with us, it was just right before the inauguration. And at that time, you predicted the country would be at close to half a million deaths by mid-February. That's almost exactly where we are right now. What do you think the trajectory is from this point?
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: You know, I think so much depends on how we as a country behave. We still have hundred thousand cases a day. We still have somewhere between fifteen hundred and thirty-five hundred deaths per day. And yet we see-- see some communities relaxing some of their mitigation strategies. We are nowhere out of the woods. And as you note, if-- if we relax these mitigation strategies with increasing transmissible variants out there, we could be in a much more difficult spot. So, what I would say is now is the time to not let up our guard. Now is the time to double down, still with a hundred thousand cases a day, still with over two and a half times the cases we had over the summer.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you were talking about places like Montana and Iowa where they have lifted masking requirements. You say that's a mistake?
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Indeed. Indeed, I-- I think we're not out of the woods yet. We need to get our kids back to school. We need to get our communities back to some normal functioning before we can start thinking about letting up our mitigation strategies.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask what you've changed since you've taken the job at the CDC because when you were with us last you talked about the need to scale up surveillance and sequencing to basically figure out where these new variants are and to do it quickly.
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: I-- I think that there's a lot of change that's happened at the CDC, I'd invite my colleagues there to-- to comment as well. What I will tell you is, first of all, we've released the school guidance, which has been long and coming. We've really wanted to get that out, and now we have done so. In terms of the variant, specifically, we have much more sequencing happening. We have collaborated with departments of public health. Each state is now giving us strains for-- for sequencing. We get over seven hundred-- seven hundred fifty of those per week. We have collaborated with-- with commercial labs with the intent of sequencing over six thousand vir-- viruses per week, as well as collaborations with universities, with the intent of really, really scaling up our sequencing so we can have a really good sense of how many variants are out there and where they're located.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But how much are we actually getting a glimpse of right now? Where are we? Five percent? Ten percent?
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: We are-- in the beginning of-- of January, early January, we were sequencing about two hundred fifty a week. We're now over four thousand a week with the intent-- and-- and we're doing more and more every week.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So it sounds like you think there's still work to do to figure out where virus is spreading in this country.
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Absolutely. We have the intent to do more and more sequences every week. We need resources in order to do so. But-- but the scale up has been over tenfold just in the three weeks we've been there.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: When do you think the pharmaceutical companies that have developed the vaccine we have now need to switch over production to deal with these new variants?
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: What we know now is the-- the major variant that's circulating here in the United States is B.1.1.7. That's the one that came from the U.K. We know in lab-- in the lab that the current vaccines actually work quite well against B.1.1.7. That's according to laboratory data. We don't have any data here yet to demonstrate otherwise, although we're watching it extraordinarily carefully. In the meantime, the pharmaceutical companies are adjusting their manufacturing, their-- their science to-- to directly neutralize the B.1.1.7. variant. And so we were both watching what's happening on the epidemiology with those who have been vaccinated. But we're not waiting for that. We're doing the science to scale up different vaccines in case we either need bivalent vaccines, that is a vaccine that has two different strains, or booster vaccines. Both are happening.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Both are happening. Doctor, thank you for your time.
 
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Thanks so much.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to the president and CEO of pharmacy chain Rite Aid, that's Hayward Donigan. She joins us from Tampa, Florida, this morning. Good morning to you.
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN (Rite Aid President and CEO): Good morning, how are you?
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm well. As of this week, your stores and other pharmacy chains are now receiving directly from the federal government doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to your press release, you'll get a hundred doses initially for stores in California, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Philly, and New York City. What difference does it make to get the vaccine directly?
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: Well, it's long awaited. We're super excited to be getting these doses directly so that we just have the ability to protect more people in a meaningful way. So, we have been doing over a hundred and forty thousand shots so far with state governments and local municipalities. So we were in the whole process much earlier than we ever expected, even with the states. But it's just exciting to be picked in these states as one of two pharmacies that will be distributing the federally allocated doses.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So with those newly allocated doses, I mean, how many vaccinations do you think you'll be able to conduct each week? And did-- how many did you do this week for example?
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: Yeah. So we're doing-- we-- we got a hundred and sixteen thousand doses last week. And so those are already in process. We are administering, as you said, a hundred doses per store per week. There's eleven hundred and sixty stores and we anticipate and are hopeful that that volume will go up. So we're doing, you know, essentially, twenty shots a day per store.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, can you explain what the registration system will look like? Because I'm sure you know, I know plenty of people, particularly older people, who really struggle trying to figure out which website to go to at the state, at the county level, which store to go to. How are you going to streamline that part of the process?
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: Well, at this point, it's all still being handled by the state and local jurisdictions, and if you go to riteaid.com/covid-19 and then you go into the vaccine eligibility section, we have a daily update by state-- by jurisdiction that shows you exactly which link to click on to register for a vaccine and-- and updates you on the status of Rite Aid's participation. We do not currently schedule in the store, so you have to go through the state or local jurisdictions, websites, and that's who will point you to. And then you can pick a Rite Aid or you can pick a Walmart or you can pick up Publix or whoever's been named and allocated doses to register with. And, of course, the supply continues to be not able to meet up the demand.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: So we still have very long waiting lists, but we're hoping that in the April, May timeframe, when you hear about all these new doses becoming available, at some point we're hoping that you can go directly to us and register on our scheduling system. But for now, you need to go through that link. And-- and we feel as if this is a great source of information for people who are very confused.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you said back in January-- you said it yourself at an investor conference, that all of this is pretty confusing because of how states are breaking this down. How would you advise the Biden administration to-- to change it? Should the private sector be taking more of a role in every part of this?
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: I think the private sector is more experienced with these scheduling tools and registration tools, which are very much stressed right now. And so, you know, I always think that the private sector who build these tools and-- and scale these tools in the Cloud from a technology perspective would be the best people to help--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: --in this regard, as well as with the call centers. And I know that the governors are doing a wonderful job as best they can. For example, the-- the governor of New Jersey putting their call-- own call centers together and trying to do as much of this as they can. But the demand is so high that I do think the private sector can play a role here.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: We ourselves have built our own scheduling tool.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor Marcella Nunez-Smith, who leads the Health Equity Task Force for the Biden White House, has talked about trying to get vaccines into socially vulnerable areas. On this program, back in November, CVS' CEO said they could put mobile trucks and vans into underserved communities. Do you have plans to do things like that?
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: We can really do anything, and we are prepared to do anything and everything. We are staffing clinics today. I think the federal government has done a really good job, in the prior administration and the current administration, with the testing sites really focusing on socially vulnerable areas and making sure that we provide as much coverage there as we can. They're doing the same thing right now in terms of making sure that where they pick our stores, for example, is-- is ensuring adequate coverage for both geography and socially vulnerable communities. So there's an ongoing dialogue on-- daily about this. And as we roll both testing and vaccines out there, very focused, as are we, on making sure that we cover those communities.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you seen a drop off in testing? Because the COVID Tracking Project says there's been a twenty-percent drop in testing since President Biden was inaugurated.
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: There has been. Our assumption is that it's because the holidays are over and we are assuming that there might be a pickup after the Super Bowl, but right now we think it's just a-- people are a bit weary. They're probably taking a little break after Christmas and Thanksgiving or the holidays. And so we also have seen those tests drop off, but we have just rolled out to twelve hundred stores free testing because we anticipate that--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: --testing will continue to be a very important tool in the arsenal of Americans.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Thank you very much for your time today.
 
HEYWARD DONIGAN: Thank you.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to former FDA commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb. He sits on the board of Pfizer as well as Illumina, and he joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning to you.
 
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, MD (Former FDA Commissioner/@ScottGottliebMD): Good morning.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you agree with the-- the CEO of Rite Aid there that the private sector should take a-- a more direct role in more of this process. Do you see the Biden administration eventually getting there?
 
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, I think they're doing it right now, the Biden administration. I think they're taking an all-of-the-above approach in terms of trying to push this out and create more access sites. You know, the one recommendation I would make is that I wouldn't-- I wouldn't devote as much federal resources to developing these mass vaccination sites. I think people who can go online, register, drive to Dodger Stadium, wait in line, take a half a day off from work to get vaccinated, those are people who could be serviced by Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid. I would be taking the federal resources and the state resources and creating more bespoke solutions that can be used in some of the hard-to-reach environments, some of the underserved communities where you can move mobile vans into those communities, try to work through community groups, local providers, church groups, community health centers to try to get harder-to-reach populations vaccinated. That's a very difficult effort. It's expensive. It's a bespoke effort. It's a hands-on effort. I'd be marshaling the federal resources towards that kind of a mission and letting Walmart work off the easy demand and Rite Aid.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Biden administration purchased two hundred million more doses. That gives them a stockpile of about six hundred eventually once it comes off the production line. You heard me talk with the-- the CDC director and I asked her when production should shift to those treatments of new variants. She said that is happening now. What can you tell us about where we stand in terms of being ready to protect against those new variants?
 
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think we have plenty of time to get this right for the fall and have vaccine boosters that could cover these new variants. The development work is going on right now. So all the companies are developing new variant vaccines, including Pfizer, the company I'm on the board of. The question is, when do you start shifting over your manufacturing? And I think you're going to need to probably make that decision at some point in July, August at the latest. And you might not shift over all your manufacturing. You might shift some of your-- your manufacturing towards those new variant vaccines, because remember, they won't be fully through clinical trials yet. So you don't want to throw all your eggs into that basket, but you do want to create some supply that you'll have it on-hand come the fall if you need those vaccines. So I think that's about the point where you're going to make that decision. The time to starting manu-- the manufacturing process and actually getting finished vaccine off the line is about two months. So if you start manufacturing in July, you'll start getting vaccine off the line in time for the fall.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard the British prime minister stand by his decision to continue vaccinating his populace with AstraZeneca's vaccine, even though it has shown itself to not be as effective in early trials against the South African variant. The WHO is sticking with it, too. Is that a mistake?
 
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, I think if we're going to do that, we need a plan B. I understand why they want to do this. They've manufactured a lot of this vaccine. It's cheap. It's accessible. It can be put into low- and middle-income countries because of the handling requirements. It doesn't require complicated cold chain storage. But if you're putting a vaccine into those markets that we know does not cover B.1.351, the South African variant, very well, if at all, you have the risk that you could select for that variant in those markets. And so you need a plan B on what vaccine you're going to deploy to those regions if in fact B-- B.1.351 becomes prevalent in those regions after you vaccinate with the AstraZeneca vaccine. And the problem is you may foreclose the one vaccine that's the most likely candidate in those markets, which is the J&J vaccine because it has very similar storage requirements. You would want to use that vaccine. But in fact, the AstraZeneca vaccine is very immunogenic against the vaccine vector. So what they're using to deliver the COVID gene sequence is a chimpanzee adenovirus. And it turns out that that adenovirus that they're using is very immunogenic. It creates antibodies that can attack other adenoviruses, including perhaps, and we don't know this for sure, but perhaps the J&J vaccine. So you might foreclose the opportunity to use that vaccine in these markets, which means you need another plan B, which might be the mRNA vaccines, like the vaccine that Pfizer produces, the company I'm on the board of. But those vaccines are harder to handle in those markets because they require more complicated cold chain storage. So we need to work this out right now.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's a pretty big warning that you're making right now. I-- I want--
 
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, I think they-- I think they need to have a plan for that, yeah.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: I-- I also want to ask you about these comments. They were pretty sharp, I thought, from the-- from the Biden administration's National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. He said yesterday that the Biden administration has deep concern about the World Health Organization's investigation, Chinese interference in it. He demanded handing over data. That's exactly what the Trump administration demanded as well. What is it that China still has here that we need to know?
 
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: A lot of data. Well, first of all, they have antibody testing on the people who worked in that Wuhan lab. They didn't make that available. So you'd want to know if they have antibodies to the coronavirus. That would be an indication that maybe they-- they got infected. Now, those antibodies will-- will wane over time. But you at least want to look at that data. We want to see sequencing data on retained samples from people who were admitted to the hospital in October and November with viral syndromes that looked like COVID to see if this infection was spreading earlier and try--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: --to get closer to the source of the initial outbreak. That data is certainly available, the Chinese have that.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
 
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: So there's a lot of data that was not made available.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor Gottlieb, thank you, as always, for your time.
 
We'll be back in a moment.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Senate impeachment trial put on display some harrowing new sights and sounds from January 6th, as protesters stormed the Capitol and made their way into the Senate chamber. We asked our senior national correspondent Mark Strassmann to take a look at those images.
 
(Begin VT)
 
(Crowd protesting)
 
MAN #1: We need units outside on the terrace ASAP. We need units. We're surrounded.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: January 6th, American democracy's day of infamy.
 
MAN #2: They are behind our lines.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: Watching this montage of mayhem--
 
CROWD (in unison): USA. USA. USA.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: --its spasms of menace and malice.
 
CROWD (in unison): Stop the steal. Stop the steal.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: This is America?
 
MAN #3: We were normal, good, law-abiding citizens, and you guys did this to us.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: We learned a lot this week about how appalling many moments were. Pro-Trump rioters bludgeoned police, dragged them down flights of stairs.
 
OFFICER MICHAEL FANONE (D.C. Metropolitan Police/January 6, 2021): It looked like a medieval battle scene. At one point I got tased. People were yelling out, you know, we got one. We got one.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: More clear than ever the mob of hunters almost got elected leaders.
 
MAN #4 (January 6, 2021): Nancy. Where are you, Nancy?
 
MARK STRASSMANN: Here you see Senator Mitt Romney abruptly reversing course away from rioters, now inside the Capitol.
 
CROWD (in unison/January 6, 2021): Hang Mike Pence. Hang Mike Pence.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: With gallows set up outside, the Secret Service whisked away Vice President Mike Pence and his family. An aide carried what appeared to be one of the three nuclear footballs. Rioters came within one hundred feet of them.
 
MAN #5 (January 6, 2021): Take your pins off.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: Representatives and staff cowered and cried. Video showed Chuck Schumer and other senators evacuate the Senate floor. The newly complete narrative laid out this week its ark of thuggish behavior, seditious acts, and close calls, was a gut punch to our sense of self. And to senators, watching the presentation.
 
SENATOR TINA SMITH (D-Minnesota): I mean, I had tears in my eyes. You heard every single breath, every single sigh.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: But after an acquittal on the impeachment charge, there's worry about a lingering threat. What this video says most of all: No one wants to see a sequel.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JOE NEGUSE (D-Colorado): If we pretend this didn't happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who's to say it won't happen again.
 
MARK STRASSMANN: For FACE THE NATION, I'm Mark Strassmann.
 
(End VT)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thank you for watching. We did offer invitations to over two dozen Senate Republicans to join us today. No one accepted.
 
Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.