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Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on February 21, 2021

2/21: Face The Nation
2/21: Sullivan, Turner, Price, Pottinger, Gottlieb 46:05

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

  • Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser
  • Matt Pottinger, Former Deputy National Security Adviser, Fellow, Hoover Institution at Stanford University
  • Mayor Sylvester Turner, (D-Houston) 
  • Mayor Betsy Price, (R-Fort Worth)
  • 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, turmoil in Texas. And President Biden makes his international debut, digging in on the challenges affecting the U.S. around the world. Brutal winter weather sparks catastrophe in Texas. Millions were left in freezing cold without power, heat, or water. Dozens are dead, and there is devastation across the state. How could this happen? We'll get an update with mayors of two key cities; Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. Then, President Biden makes his first appearance at the world's most exclusive club, the Group of Seven world leaders.
BORIS JOHNSON: Please wave if you can hear me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Friday's G7 gathering was held COVID pandemic style.
BORIS JOHNSON: Can you hear us, Angela?
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden brought an American-style olive branch, a promise of four billion in aid for a global COVID vaccination plan. But his pledge may be worth more to world leaders looking for cooperation and stability from the U.S.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back. And we are not looking backward. We are looking forward together.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mister Biden's declaration came along with an offer made through the European Union to join talks with the Iranians about their nuclear program, reentry into the Paris climate agreement, and a more aggressive position on China and the WHO's handling of the coronavirus crisis. We'll talk with the White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Plus, a revealing interview with the COVID-19 point person on former President Trump's National Security Council, Matt Pottinger.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you knew enough to call foreign government to ask for masks, but the American public wasn't being told yet to wear them and the President wasn't wearing them.
MATT POTTINGER: Yeah, it-- it's frustrating. The-- the-- the mask misstep cost us dearly.
Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We've got a lot to get to today. And we begin with the dire situation in Texas. Here's Mark Strassmann.
(Begin VT)
MARK STRASSMANN (CBS News Senior National Correspondent): The heat's back, but Texas swagger has burst like these pipes in metro Dallas.
NOEL ZEPEDA: So that's what I've been dealing with all day long.
MARK STRASSMANN: In much of Austin, running water is a crisis. Houston has a boil water advisory through tomorrow. This past week's arctic storm was generational, Texas exceptionalism, the state's self-image froze with everything else. Nationally, last week's storms could total fifty billion dollars in damages. In Texas, it's predicted as the most costly disaster in state history.
GREG ABBOTT: This past week has been an enormous challenge.
MARK STRASSMANN: At its peak, four million people lost power.
JEFF RUDOLPH: In the morning when you wake up, it's-- it's high thirties, low forties, inside the house.
MARK STRASSMANN: Victims died of hypothermia in bedrooms and backyards. Texans shivered and boiled all at once.
CINDY DURHAM: I just got power on after thirty-six hours. I'm over it. We need some help.
MARK STRASSMANN: Blistered by critics, ERCOT, the state's main grid operator. Utilities also failed to winterize gas-fueled plants and pipes. Governor Greg Abbott, he blamed green energy in a state beholden to fossil fuels. And especially Senator Ted Cruz, he left with his family for tropical Mexico, and was whacked like a pinata. He raised home for redemption, handing out water to Texans who could only dream of Cancun. Last night, Senator Cruz's office told FACE THE NATION, "Before the storms hit, Senator Cruz spoke with a meteorologist about the seriousness of the projected storms. Senator Cruz connected the meteorologist to Governor Abbott, and warned Texans early on to take the storm seriously." Beyond Texas, last week's snow storms also threw a three-day delay into the COVID vaccine rollout from coast to coast. Wintery weather shut down the FedEx hub in Memphis and the UPS one in Louisville. FEMA reported more than two thousand vaccines sites lost power. Six million doses have been delayed.
(End VT)
MARK STRASSMANN: At vaccination centers like Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, ripples from those delays could continue into this week. It's another wrinkle to the rollout in a nationwide race against the clock. Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mark Strassmann in Atlanta. Thank you.
We'll have more on the situation in Texas in a moment. But we want to turn to White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. He joins us in Washington this morning. Good morning.
JAKE SULLIVAN (National Security Adviser/@jakesullivan): Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake, we're about to cross this milestone of half a million Americans dead due to COVID. Do you think there needs to be a 9/11-style commission to figure out what went wrong?
JAKE SULLIVAN: I believe that we need to take a variety of steps to look at this-- the previous administration's response to the pandemic and what lessons we need to learn to make sure that never happens again. I also believe that we need a credible, open, transparent international investigation led by the World Health Organization. And they're about to come out with a report about the origins of the pandemic in Wuhan, China, that we have questions about because we do not believe that China has made available sufficient original data into how this pandemic began to spread both in China and then eventually around the world. And we believe that both the WHO and China should step up on this matter.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden spoke to Xi Jinping, China's president, for what he said was two hours. Did he ask China specifically to make this data available? And-- and in what you just said, are you suggesting the WHO is being manipulated by China?
JAKE SULLIVAN: I'm not going to characterize it that way. What I am going to say is that the only way to have a scientifically based investigation is to have access to all of the data and not merely, Margaret, to know what happened in this pandemic, but to be able to prevent future pandemics, as well, because the lessons we learned this time around will apply in the future. President Biden did raise the issue of COVID-19 and the need for all countries to shoulder responsibility-- to take their own responsibility for helping protect the world, including China.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The State Department said back in January that the U.S. has evidence that a COVID-like virus was circulating in Wuhan, China, as far back as autumn of 2019. And the Chinese military was conducting secret experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Do you dispute any of that declassified material?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Look, this is why the WHO investigation has to be left to the scientists and the experts to lay out without any interference by any government because that's the only way we're going to know what the origins of this are. I'm not in a position to say how COVID-19 came into this world. All I'm in a position to do is to call upon the WHO to do its job to the fullest extent possible.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you-- so you are standing by that declassified report?
JAKE SULLIVAN: No. I'm saying that I am not in a position, nor is the Biden administration in a position to make a determination about precisely where COVID-19 originated. And that's in part because there has not been sufficient transparency coming from the government of China. And the WHO still has more work to do to get to the bottom of exactly where this virus emerged.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So later on in the program, we're going to hear from Matt Pottinger, who you know is the former deputy national security adviser to President Trump. And he says that when it comes to dictatorships like China, they're not going to be transparent, period, with health officials. And that is why the intelligence community, he says, needs to take more of a direct role in monitoring these biological threats. Do you agree with that assessment?
JAKE SULLIVAN: I think it is absolutely the case that-- and-- and we've seen this in COVID-19, that pandemics represent one of the most severe threats to American lives and livelihoods and therefore our intelligence community should, across the board, be elevating its tools, its resources, its practices to focus on detecting, preventing and responding to pandemics. And that is something the Biden administration will be pursuing as we go forward.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think that they failed to do so with COVID-19, that the intelligence community should have played more of a role?
JAKE SULLIVAN: What I believe is that the Trump administration did not take pandemic surveillance as seriously as they should have. There was an office, Margaret, at the National Security Council, which I now lead, that was stood up under the Obama administration to detect and prevent exactly the kind of pandemic we have now seen in COVID-19.
JAKE SULLIVAN: The Trump administration dismantled that office. That is the kind of thing, the kind of step that we cannot see going forward. So whether we're talking about the types of policy tools required, the types of intelligence tools required--
JAKE SULLIVAN: --or the type of engagement in international institutions required across the board, it is going to be important for every future administration to elevate global health, bio preparedness and pandemic--
JAKE SULLIVAN: --preparedness to the highest order of national security priority.
MARGARET BRENNAN: They would say they just rolled it up into a different directorate. But moving on to Iran, I want-- I want to make sure that I ask you, there are at least five Americans who are being held there as hostages. That's viewed as trying to build leverage over you-- over us in the United States. Do you need to begin hostage negotiations with Iran?
JAKE SULLIVAN: We intend to very directly communicate with the Iranians about the complete and utter outrage, the humanitarian catastrophe that is the unjust, unlawful detention of American citizens in Iran.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you done that yet?
JAKE SULLIVAN: We intend to demand-- it-- we are-- we have begun to communicate with the Iranians on this issue, yes. And we will continue to do so as we go forward. And our strong message to the Iranians will be that it-- we will not accept a long-term proposition where they continue to hold Americans in an unjust and unlawful manner. It will be a significant priority of this administration to get those Americans safely back home.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Has Tehran responded yet to the offer made this past week to begin nuclear talks? And-- and does the offer still stand, given what Iran said overnight about perhaps unplugging or, you know, dismantling some of the video surveillance of its nuclear facilities?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, in order to answer that question, let me offer just a couple of basic propositions. First, Joe Biden is intent, determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Second, he believes that hardheaded, clear-eyed diplomacy is the best way to do that. And so he's prepared to go to the table to talk to the Iranians about how we get strict constraints back on their nuclear program. That offer still stands because we believe diplomacy is the best way to do it. Iran has not yet responded. But what's happened as a result is that the script has been flipped. It is Iran that is isolated now diplomatically, not the United States. And the ball is in their court.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You recently said that action would be taken soon to respond to this massive hacking of the federal government known as SolarWinds. Sanctions have not deterred Vladimir Putin one bit over the past few years. How do you make Russia pay a price and not escalate tensions?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, we have asked the intelligence community to do further work to sharpen the attribution that the last administration made about precisely how this hack occurred, what the extent of the damage is, what the scope and scale of the intrusion is, and we are in the process of working through that now. And then what I have said is that it will be weeks, not months, before we have a response prepared. That response will include a mix of tools seen and unseen. And it will not simply be sanctions because, as you say, a response to a set of activities like this require a more comprehensive set of tools, and that is what the administration intends to do. We're in the process of working through that, and we will ensure that Russia understands where the United States draws the line on this kind of activity.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake Sullivan, thanks for your time this morning. We hope you'll come back.
JAKE SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner. Good morning to you, Mister Mayor.
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D-Houston/@SylvesterTurner): Good morning. Thanks for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm glad your power is on. President Biden says he wants to visit Texas when it's not a burden. Is that time now? And what federal resources does your city need?
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Well, he certainly can come now. We certainly would welcome him and he would not be a distraction, not-- neither a burden. Let me just say right now with so many homes across the city having pipes that burst because of the frigid weather and major leaks, major water damage, we need a lot of plumbing materials and supplies, like right now. We have a number of licensed plumbers but could use even more. But the main thing is that even when plumbers are going out, it's very difficult to find the necessary materials and supplies. And we are needing water as well for people across the board.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to talk about the-- the core issue of electricity. But on the water front, the head of the water utility reports to you. Why wasn't that system better prepared for the cold? And what are you doing to fix it?
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: You have to bear in mind that the power outages and the water system are all interconnected, so it's not one versus the other. In addition, mostly when the power went out, we had to bring on even more generators in order to power our system. We have a very large system. I am pleased to say at one point in time, the-- the water pressure was below what we call 20 PSI. But as of now, the system has been normalized. The water pressure is above 50 PSI and we have already taken samples, forwarded them to the state. And hopefully we can get a positive response that our system is fine and ready to go. And that could come-- it could come later on today. It could come tomorrow. It could come on Tuesday. But we are hoping for the best.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When it comes to the matter of electricity. The state did not push utilities to winterize the grid, the power lines and the power plants. That costs money. And the power system, as you know, is-- is powered by a mix of energy resources, fossil fuels and green energy. All this has gotten really politicized in the past week, which is why I'm laying it out.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But for your constituents, they're going to have to pay to fix all this. Is that fair to stick them with the bill? Who pays for this?
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Well, the answer is no. Let me just say this, all of what happened this past week was foreseeable and preventable. Back in 2011, when I was in the legislature, I filed a bill that would have required the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, which manages our Texas grid, to ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts. That is specifically what the bill said. I filed it. The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing. At the same time, our system in Texas is designed primarily for the summer heat--
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: --and not necessarily for a winter event. The reality is climate change is real. It is real, and these major storms can happen at any time. The system needs to be weatherized. You need to maintain adequate reserve. And we need to open up our Texas grid because right now we-- we have a closed grid. We can't get generation from outside of the state because of our system. And then it's a market driven system. When the demand exceeds the supply, the cost that the generation-- the generators can charge can go from a few thousand to nine thousand megawatts.
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: All of this was foreseeable. I wrote about it in 2011. And so for these exorbitant costs, it's not the consumers who should assume that costs. They-- they are not at fault for what happened this week.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well then who should then?
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: The bill should go to the state of Texas. The state of Texas--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that still goes back to taxpayers, no?
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Well, there-- there-- there's a huge rainy-day fund in the city of Houston. Ultimately, all of the-- the dollars, the revenues that come in, whether it's the city, the state or the federal government, comes from the taxpayers.
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: But what I am saying for people in, for example, in this city or in other cities, when they're getting these exorbitant electricity bills and they're having to pay for their homes, repair their homes, they should not have to bear the responsibility of paying a thousand dollars a day, or two thousand dollars a day.
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Those bills, those exorbitant costs should be borne by the state of Texas and not the individual consumers--
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: --who did not cause this catastrophe this week.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Very-- very quickly, can you get vaccines back on track?
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Vaccines started in the city of Houston yesterday. As of-- on Monday, February the second, the major distribution, the FEMA site, will open. That would be six thousand vaccines per day for the next six to eight weeks. In addition to our normal supply, I suspect that this coming week we'll probably vaccine more than a hundred thousand people in the city of Houston. The people are resilient. I'm very proud of the people in the city of Houston, how they've come together. And then we are putting together, let me just add--
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: --a special fund--
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: --relief fund to assist people who don't have insurance, people who don't have the financial means to assist them--
MAYOR TURNER: --in repairing their homes while we wait on the federal monies to come forward. And I want to thank the President--
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: --for signing the disaster declaration. That will help out quite a bit.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mister Mayor, thank you.
We'll be right back with another Texas mayor, Betsy Price.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to the mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, in just a moment. We're having some communication issues there. As you know, there are some power issues in Texas. So when we get that right back up, we will take you to the mayor of Fort Worth. But standing by, we do have former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb, who's joining us from Westport, Connecticut. He sits on the board of Illumina and Pfizer. Doctor Gottlieb jumping into the fire again. I want to ask you, the numbers frankly look good in terms of the infection rate going down, but we are about to cross this morbid milestone of half a million Americans dead. Where are we in this? And should we be optimistic, given the infection decline?
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D. (Former FDA Commissioner/@ScottGottliebMD): Look, this has taken a tragic toll on the United States, but we should be optimistic in my view. I think we're going to continue to see infection rates decline into the spring and the summer. Right now they're falling quite dramatically. I think these trends are likely to continue. The new variants do create new risks. I think B.1.1.7 creates some risk that we could see a resurgence of infection in certain parts of the country and higher prevalence overall in the spring and summer than we might have seen without this strain. But it's not going to be enough to reverse these trends at this point. I think it's too little, too late in most parts of the country. With rising vaccination rates and also the fact that we've infected about a third of the public, that's enough protective immunity that we're likely to see these trends continue. The risk is really to the fall. And one last point, if you look at the counties in New York and New Jersey that had greater than forty-five percent seroprevalence, meaning that forty-- more than forty-five percent of the population was infected going into the winter, they really didn't have much of a winter surge. So once you get to about forty percent of the population with some form of protective immunity, you don't have herd immunity, meaning that--
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D.: --this won't transfer at all. It will continue to transfer, but it will transfer at a much slower rate. And that's what we have right now around the country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you reach herd immunity without vaccinating children since they make up a quarter of the population?
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D.: No, you can't. But I don't really think we're ever going to reach true herd immunity. This isn't going to be like measles or smallpox where it just sort of goes away. COVID is going to continue to circulate at a low level. Hopefully we'll continue to vaccinate the vulnerable population, so we'll protect them from hospitalizations or severe illness and dying from this. But this is going to continue to spread. And I think as we get into the fall, we need to be prepared of those new variants. The P.1 and the B.1.351, the South African and the Brazilian variant could become more prevalent here in the United States. And that's why you see the manufacturers-- the vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer, the company I'm on the board of, trying to reengineer those vaccines and develop boosters that cover those new variants. We have time to work this out. You see the CDC investing a lot of resources in sequencing to try to uncover these new variants. So we do have time. I think we're going to have this spring and the summer to work this out and prepare much better for the fall.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm--Hm. Will high schoolers be vaccinated by the fall? Will elementary school children-- I mean, when do they get the shot?
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D.: Yeah, I think it's possible that this vaccine gets moved into the high school-age population in the fall. And that really should be the goal because we've seen the spread happen more in the high schools than the elementary schools. And we know that high schools-- high school students are probably at equivalent risk in terms of contracting this and spreading the infection. There's less risk in the grade school-age children. I don't believe that this vaccine is going to get moved to twelve and under heading into the fall. The studies are underway right now looking at that. It may be a question of trying to reformulate the vaccines at a lower dose for younger kids because they develop a more robust immune response from the vaccine. What's likely to happen is maybe it's not licensed for twelve and under, but we have it available if we have to put it in that age population, if in fact we run into trouble.
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D.: But I think students are likely to start school without being vaccinated for twelve and under and maybe in the high school as we introduce the vaccine.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And so bottom line, when will we know if the vaccine prevents you from transmitting the virus?
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D.: Well, there's accruing evidence right now that it does. There's evidence out today, another study out of Israel, and I think the data out of Israel is going to be the most definitive answer to this question in the near term. I think conventional wisdom right now is that--
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D.: --the vaccine does prevent infection and does prevent transmission. The question is the magnitude. We don't know the full magnitude of that effect yet.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Doctor Gottlieb, thank you very much for your time. We will be right back.
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D.: Thanks a lot.
MARGARET BRENNAN: FACE THE NATION has a podcast now. A new episode drops every Friday. And on our latest edition of Facing Forward, I spoke with Lexi Reese, chief operating officer of Gusto. You can listen and subscribe on Apple podcast or your favorite podcast platform.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with former Trump deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, and hopefully the mayor of Fort Worth.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. Matthew Pottinger was the deputy national security adviser during the Trump administration and one of the first people inside the White House to sound the alarm about the coronavirus as it emerged last year. He had previously worked as a journalist in China, and later a Marine Corps intelligence officer. Yesterday, he spoke with us in what he said was the spirit of sharing information about what he thinks still needs to be fixed within the government to deal with future pandemics.
(Begin VT)
MATTHEW POTTINGER (Former Deputy National Security Adviser): The-- the Chinese government was not sharing useful data with anyone in the world. The World Health Organization was parroting misinformation about this virus. They were-- they were claiming that it is not featuring significant human-to-human spread. They continued for weeks, even months, to claim that there was not a significant amount of asymptomatic spread. So that misled our public health experts. I-- I was able to call doctors on the ground in China in late January. And they were already telling me, look, this thing spreads asymptomatically. Half of the cases or more are asymptomatic. That was a different story from what the Chinese government was telling.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why is it that you were seeing and hearing things from doctors that the official health organizations were not getting?
MATTHEW POTTINGER: We had about a dozen CDC officers in China. We have lots of CDC officers in the United States who deal with Chinese doctors. I had covered the SARS epidemic back in 2003 when I was living in China, writing for The Wall Street Journal. So I dusted off some of my old contacts and talked to Chinese doctors who had firsthand information about this pandemic. And they were very open. They said, yeah, this thing is not going to be like SARS 2003. It's going to be like the 1918 flu pandemic because it's spreading silently.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Was the administration being intentionally misled here or was it a problem in terms of how our own public health officials consumed information?
MATTHEW POTTINGER: We were a little bit too credulous. We were-- we were waiting to be fed information. When the nature of that regime meant that we were not going to get that information, they-- they had a strong incentive to mislead their own public and the rest of the world about the nature of this virus.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the World Health Organization has said that COVID-19 was circulating in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Why didn't U.S. health officials or U.S. intelligence know earlier about this threat?
MATT POTTINGER: Well, U.S. intelligence wasn't focused on these kinds of questions. They-- they were relying on the CDC. The problem was the Chinese Communist Party did not turn to their CDC to deal with this crisis. They turned to their military. And our CDC did not have relations established with the Chinese military. So the director of the Chinese CDC, based on public reporting, didn't know either. I mean, the Chinese CDC director did not know that this thing was circulating until the last day of December, which is incredible when you think about that. So it looks like the Chinese CDC to some extent was cut out because the Chinese Communist Party turned to its military to try to cover this thing up, to try to contain it until it was too late.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the-- the Biden administration and their national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said he has deep concerns about the World Health Organization's recent report and Chinese interference in it.
MATT POTTINGER: Look, the World Health Organization made all sorts of-- of un-- untruthful or-- or misinformed claims about this virus. So, the WHO has a lot to answer for. When it comes to the-- this investigation into the origins, unfortunately, we're seeing a panel that's been sent to China that is deeply conflicted. You have people who were hand-selected by the Chinese government. They had a veto over who could come in.
MARGARET BRENNAN: U.S. intelligence has said COVID, according to wide scientific consensus, was not man-made or genetically modified. You are not in any way alleging that it was, are you?
MATT POTTINGER: No. If you weigh the circumstantial evidence, the ledger on the side of an explanation that says that this resulted from some kind of human error, it far outweighs the-- the side of the scale that says this was some natural outbreak. We have very strong reason to believe that the Chinese military was doing secret classified animal experiments in that same laboratory, going all the way back to at least 2017. We have good reason to believe that there was an outbreak of flu-like illness among researchers working in the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the fall of 2019, but right-- immediately before the first documented cases came to light.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what you're referring to is some information that the State Department declassified right before the end of the Trump administration.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And it said that you have reason to believe a COVID-like disease was circulating in autumn of 2019 in China. Is there evidence to back up that assessment?
MATT POTTINGER: There is. And that was a very carefully crafted statement, carefully crafted so as not to overstate the case that-- that it was making. The case it was making was for following up on these important leads.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Let's unpack some of what you were saying about the response here at home. It's-- it's been widely reported that you went into the Oval Office alongside National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien and told President Trump at the end of January that this would be the greatest national security threat that he ever faced. Did he understand the gravity of what you were saying at that time?
MATT POTTINGER: I think he did. That was something that Robert O'Brien told the President. To the President's credit, he decided to shut down travel from China.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Around that same time, though, the American public is being told that this is not a direct threat to them. Robert O'Brien was on FACE THE NATION saying exactly that.
ROBERT O'BRIEN (February 2, 2020): Right now, there's-- there's no reason for Americans to panic. This is something that is low risk, we think, in the U.S.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that what you thought at the time?
MATT POTTINGER: I-- I thought that it was going to be potentially quite-- quite devastating. You could match that against quotes from-- from a great number of public health experts in this country and abroad who were saying similar things because we did not have hard evidence from the Chinese government that this thing was-- was as dangerous as it was. So my view was, let-- let's prepare for the worst.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So in preparing for the worst inside the National Security Council, you started telling your staffers to wear masks. Yet the American public wasn't told definitively by the CDC to wear masks until April, why?
MATT POTTINGER: Yeah. Remember, we-- we misjudged the nature of this thing to think that it was like flu, one of the mistakes that followed on from that was the misjudgment by public health officials in this country to-- to not advocate for the widespread generalized use of face coverings, cloth masks, surgical masks and what have you. That was, they feared shortages, rightly. We'd put all of our mask making supply chains into, guess where, China. And China was not making it easy for us to get access to-- to additional supplies. So the CDC, that was an understandable thing to do. But it then made the mistake of conflating that with a-- a set of advice that masks don't work effectively for the general public. That was a big mistake. Robert O'Brien and I weren't really willing to wait. And so we thought that the risk of an outbreak in the White House could be potentially devastating for the United States. It would-- it would-- that would create a national security risk. And so in early April, we started looking for supplies of masks. I ended up calling a foreign government. I called some senior officials in Taiwan just to-- just to ask for lessons learned. Taiwan had done better than probably any other country in the world at-- at containing this-- this virus. And so in the course of my conversation, I asked whether they had masks available. They agreed to send a shipment of half a million masks just a couple of days later. We put those masks into the national stockpile so they'd be available to front-line medical workers. I made sure that one box got delivered to the White House and was disseminated through the NSC and the White House Medical Unit.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you knew enough to call a foreign government to ask for masks, but the American public wasn't being told yet to wear them and the President wasn't wearing them. How do you make sense of that?
MATT POTTINGER: Yeah, it's frustrating. The-- the-- the mask misstep cost us dearly. It was the one tool that was widely available, at least homemade, you know, cotton masks were widely available. It was the one effective, widely available tool that we had in the arsenal to-- to deal with this. You know, public health officials were stuck in this sort of flu mentality. It was-- it was a-- it was a grave misstep. The other really grave misstep, and this is the one that I-- I think we haven't rectified yet, and we've got to rectify it. It has to do with the collection and analysis of critical data about how this virus is spreading in real time, so that we can stay ahead of it, ensure that-- that we-- we don't get sucker punched by a new variant that could compromise the effectiveness of our-- of our vaccine. And this is an area where the Centers for Disease Control has stumbled very, very badly. I-- I know that the new director, Doctor Walensky, is-- is working hard on trying to get the-- get a far greater number of samples of this virus genetically sequenced, which is critical. We-- everyone should give as much support to her in that endeavor as possible. But there are cultural and organ-- organizational problems that still need to be rectified at the CDC. If we're-- if we're going to have a chance at success, both in-- in bottling up this pandemic and also preventing the next one.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Inside the White House, the Commander-in-Chief himself got COVID. Matt, I mean, as a national security risk, did you ever look and say who exposed him and figure out how that happened?
MATT POTTINGER: I mean, it was a terrible day. I was-- I was overseas when we got the news that the President had been infected. It was scary.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But was it-- should there have been a real contact tracing effort within the White House to pin down the source of the outbreak? I mean, wasn't that a national security lapse?
MATT POTTINGER: You've got to remember at that moment you-- we had-- we had multiple cases. It may have had to do in part with the-- the-- the quality of the tests that we were using. There was a range of different tests that the White House was using to screen staff. Some were more effective than others. But I-- I'm not certain that there-- there was a failure to do that kind of contact tracing.
(End VT)
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in a moment with more of our interview. Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go back to our conversation with former Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger.
(Begin VT)
MARGARET BRENNAN: I've heard you on all the criticisms of the CDC and you've highlighted some really specific areas for them to improve.
MATT POTTINGER: My view is that they should establish a new super body for pandemic preparedness and response within the CDC, probably move it from Atlanta into Washington, DC, so that-- that-- that person who's in charge of that can also be attached to the White House.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So this is your prime reform to the CDC to prevent us from being sucker-punched the next time?
MATT POTTINGER: That's-- that's one of them. The other one would be to create a centers for lessons learned like-- like I-- like the military has for each of its service branches. You have a quasi-independent body of investigators who can go in and talk to anybody and everybody, collect lessons learned in real time and then report. It's important that the director of the CDC and the other senior leadership actually listen to those reports and implement the-- the lessons learned so that you've got a living organization that's learning. That is not, unfortunately, what the CDC is today. There's-- so the-- the final thing really about the CDC is cultural. The-- the CDC has developed over the years, even though it's got great talent in there and-- and-- and well-meaning people and a lot of expertise, it's developed an academic kind of mindset.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say the CDC, are you talking about Director Redfield?
MATT POTTINGER: Bob Redfield did the very best that he could with what he had. I'm talking about institutionally in the-- in the belly of this institution. CDC was unwilling to-- to partner with industrial labs to do tens of thousands of-- of sequences so that-- so that you could actually see where this thing was going. They wanted to do it internally. And-- and I think the reason for that is they want the data themselves so that they can publish. There's a very powerful incentive within CDC culture to partner with academic institutions rather than private institutions and-- and to collect data, submit for peer review articles that burnish your credentials. That's a very slow process. That's not the-- the kind of incentive you want for dealing with a fast moving pandemic.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How much of this is a question of if this should be handled by public health officials at all, or whether a pandemic should be handed over to intelligence officials and handled like a national security threat?
MATT POTTINGER: The intelligence community does need to prioritize the collection of intelligence on these kinds of bio threats rather than relying strictly on-- on sister-to-sister relationships between our CDC and-- and public health officials in other countries. But I don't think that the intelligence community is going to be able to-- to do more than that critical role of-- of collecting and analyzing the information.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're clearly thinking a lot of what could have been done differently. Do you think that the Trump administration did the best it could?
MATT POTTINGER: We had an impeachment, the first impeachment trial taking place as the coronavirus task force was meeting at a time when the country wasn't focused on-- on this pandemic. People in the White House were. People at Health and Human Services and at the CDC were. I-- I never encountered anyone at a senior level who was not deeply seized by the major weight of what we were facing. I do think that people did their best. I'm-- I'm doing this Hot Wash, as I call it, in the-- in the spirit of trying to help understand that the narrative that it was all political failures at the top is not true. And so what I'm trying to-- to bring to light here is that we have a deeper problem with the permanent government in how we are organized culturally and-- and organizationally to deal with this pandemic and with future ones. I want us to succeed at getting better.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Matt Pottinger, thank you very much for your time.
MATT POTTINGER: Thank you. Thanks a lot, Margaret.
(End VT)
MARGARET BRENNAN: Our full interview is available on our website as well as on our FACE THE NATION podcast platform.
We'll be back in a moment with former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We think we've worked out that technical issue in Texas and can go now to Betsy Price, who's the mayor of Fort Worth. Good morning to you, Madam Mayor.
MAYOR BETSY PRICE (R-Fort Worth/@MayorBetsyPrice): Good morning, Margaret. Let's hope we got this worked out. It's a perfect storm, no pun intended.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm-- I'm glad we're talking now. Republicans have been in charge of Texas and the energy system by default for years now. After this week's blackouts, what do you think needs to change? Do you trust the state to manage the grid?
BETSY PRICE: Well, I think the citizens are depending on their local leaders to insist that we get answers and we're going to demand those answers of the state because the state runs the power grid and we're the ones who dealt with the issues on the ground. So, yeah, they're going to have to come up with solid answers and solutions.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you believe the state needs to maintain control. I mean, I-- I was looking into this and-- and the majority of the ERCOT board, the energy grid operator, the people on the board don't even live in the state of Texas. Are they in touch at all with what's going on? I mean, what's the problem here?
BETSY PRICE: I certainly hope they're in touch, but it doesn't appear that way. And I think that's what surprised more people than anything is that they are not Texans who have not been living here. Most people didn't realize that, including myself. I didn't realize that. And, of course, now you've had the perfect storm, a state-wide storm that's tested our system. And we just have to-- we went through this ten years ago. I know Mayor Turner said that and the solutions were put on the table. But at the time, when Texas was coming out of an economic downturn and they just didn't want to spend the money to do it. Now, our economy is strong even with COVID and we're going to have to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The governor has said lawmakers should make sure that Texans themselves don't have to pay for this. But, I mean, let's be honest, the bills got to go somewhere. Who do you expect to pay for it?
BETSY PRICE: Well, we expect the state to step up and pay it, but of course, the state is taxpayers.
BETSY PRICE: You and I fund government and that's where it comes from. But the state does have a big rainy-day fund and they do have access to other sales tax and things that everybody shares a piece of. They're just going to have to take a real hard look at this and see what piece gets passed back directly to consumers and what piece they pick up on it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you would not support any kind of request to the federal government for increased aid to pick up the bill for this?
BETSY PRICE: I think that we will go to the feds. It will probably be a partner on this. We'll just have to work through it and see. Right now, for me at the local level, we're focused on getting water and power back to our citizens first and foremost. We're not playing politics here. We're in public service. And we got to get power, water and food delivered to our citizens. But we're going to demand answers as we go along with this process.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you need more federal resources right now? I know President Biden has had this major disaster declaration. What do you need?
BETSY PRICE: Well, FEMA has been very good about stepping up, providing water and some of the services. The state's provided some of the State Guard to help us for our services. What we're going to need most, it will appear, is probably grants to help people who have broken pipes, whose homes are flooded. My own home is flooded, and I'll have insurance to help with that, but many people don't. And so at some point, we're going to have to have additional plumbers and resources, but there's going to have to be dollars follow that to help these folks who don't have the ability to pay this themselves.
BETSY PRICE: And that's going to have to come through the federal government.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you can restart vaccinations when?
BETSY PRICE: We believe we'll restart vaccinations probably tomorrow. At the very latest Tuesday morning early.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Mayor Price, thank you for your time and good luck to you.
We'll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to bring back former FDA commissioner and Pfizer board member Doctor Scott Gottlieb for a quick final word. Doctor Gottlieb, we've asked you in the past about what you think happened with the origins of this virus. I wonder what you took away from Matt Pottinger's insights there. He made some news.
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, MD: Yeah, look, the most likely scenario here is that this came from nature, that this was bouncing back and forth between people and animals for a period of time and finally broke out. I think the lab leak theory, the fact that this could have been an-- an accident out of that lab is never going to be fully dispelled. And the WHO shouldn't walk away from that so easily. I think the one thing that Matt said in that interview, which is interesting and I think is new, is that the Chinese military was in that institute doing experiments and doing experiments with animals. That does create increased risk that this could have jumped from animals to people inside that laboratory.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. And he detailed some of that. We're going to have our full interview online. I-- I was pressing the current national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on some of this. He didn't dispute the report. He also didn't address it. But the bottom line is that both administrations agree there needs to be more data shared by China. Specifically what answers are needed?
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, they-- one thing that you'd want to look at is antibody tests in people who worked in that lab to see if they have prior exposure to COVID. Now, those tests may not show antibodies at this point because it's been some period of time, but that data is available and it wasn't shared with the WHO team. And so you'd want to see that data for sure.
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: You'd want to see some of the source strain, some of the original strains, to see how this has evolved over time and try to get closer to the source of the initial outbreak.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Important to protect us against the next time. Doctor Gottlieb, thank you for your insights.
And that is it for us today. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.  

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