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

Face The Nation: Marcella Nunez-Smith, Scott Gottlieb, Micheál Martin
Face The Nation: Marcella Nunez-Smith, Scott ... 22:33

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

  • Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Chair
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio, (D-New York City)
  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson, (R-Arkansas)
  • Micheál Martin, Irish Prime Minister
  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Former FDA Commissioner
  • Anthony Salvanto, CBS News Elections & Surveys Director  

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, along with more access to vaccines and more money headed to people who need it most, comes more concern about Americans moving too quickly to get back to normal. With sunny states easing or in some cases dropping health restrictions completely, spring break 2021 is off to a busy start, that is for a country that's far from finished with COVID-19. According to the TSA, 1.3 million people flew on Friday, the highest day of travel since the pandemic began. President Biden's one hundred million shots administered in a hundred days challenge has been met in only fifty. Eleven percent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated, but with images like these, there's cause for concern.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This is not over. Conditions can change. We're not finished yet.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because images like these are still coming in. The U.S. death toll is at over five hundred and thirty-four thousand and still rising. The Biden administration had another first fifty-day accomplishment last week--passage of the American Rescue Plan. This week the challenge of implementing it begins.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have to get this right. We have to continue to build confidence in the American people that their government can function for them and deliver.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll check in with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson. Plus, there is good news about vaccine hesitancy among minorities. We'll talk with the chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, Doctor Marcella Nunez-Smith. Former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb will join us, and we'll talk with Ireland's Prime Minister Micheal Martin.

It's all just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. President Biden's American Rescue Plan has been signed into law, and it is one of the largest stimulus bills in American history. Its impact particularly on low-income Americans could be significant. Traditional political party lines could also be altered. Make no mistake: Democrats support and Republicans oppose the overall package. But some provisions in the new law are long-time priorities of conservatives. We begin this morning with senior national correspondent Mark Strassmann.

(Begin VT)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: For the first time in a long time, this bill puts working people in this nation first.

MARK STRASSMANN (CBS News Senior National Correspondent): President Biden will spend this week selling his new deal for COVID America. After a year defined by loss the American Rescue Plan becomes Washington's nearly two-trillion-dollar lifeline, potentially transformative, how it expands the social safety net. Two pandemic unemployment programs will extend into September and add up to an extra three hundred dollars a week in benefits. Multi-billion-dollar hikes in housing aid, food stamps, and Obamacare subsidies. Fifty billion dollars for small business relief, and three hundred fifty billion dollars in aid to state and local governments, radioactive to many conservatives as a bailout for blue America. Despite broad public support, not one Republican in Congress voted for the package.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: It was a multi-trillion-dollar Trojan horse full of bad, old liberal ideas.

MARK STRASSMANN: Financially, the stimulus bill will also be a booster shot to the middle class and the poor. A much more generous child tax credit, and for millions of people, fourteen hundred dollars in direct payments that start going out this weekend.

Under the new temporary child tax credit, income-eligible families will get up to thirty-six hundred dollars for each child under six. And up to three thousand dollars for older children under eighteen. Partial benefits could roll out as soon as this July. Roughly two hundred eighty million Americans will qualify for Washington's third round of stimulus checks, including Lyft driver Marquis Rhodes (ph) in Atlanta. Business is better, but last year his family barely dodged eviction. His family qualifies for forty-two hundred dollars in aid. That will buy peace of mind.

MARQUIS RHODES: I'm not out of the woods, but it gives me a small cushion to say, okay, if something does happen, I at least have this to kind of fall back on.

MARK STRASSMANN: For millions of Americans, it's also help finding hope, another casualty of this pandemic.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mark Strassmann reporting from Atlanta.

Our new CBS News poll out this morning shows that Americans do have hope and optimism about the coming months. A record high sixty-four percent of those surveyed think efforts to contain the coronavirus are going well. The majority gives President Biden credit for how things are going, with over two-thirds saying he is doing a good job of handling both the outbreak and vaccine distribution. We go now to elections and surveys director Anthony Salvanto for insight. Good morning to you, Anthony. What is driving these numbers?

ANTHONY SALVANTO (CBS News Elections and Surveys Director/@SalvantoCBS): Good morning, Margaret. There's two key drivers behind this optimism: economic outlook and vaccine outlook. And they're linked. Let me start by talking about the economy. First, be-- because people think that the outbreak is going to get better over the coming months, that sixty-three percent who think so, that means for them they can go out and start doing more of the things that they want to do, gathering with family and friends, traveling, going to restaurants and bars more, even shopping. So that's pent-up demand. That's spending. That could fuel the economy. And so that, in turn, boosts optimism about businesses reopening safely, about the job market in their area, the stock market, they tell us, as well as overall optimism about the national economy. So it's as people are looking forward to doing more of those things, maybe spending more money, that could fuel that economic optimism. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Anthony, President Biden will be out on the trail talking up this two-trillion-dollar relief package he just signed. This was really passed just on a party-line vote. I'm wondering what you're seeing in terms of public perception of it?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: Right. That bill is extremely popular. It has been all throughout, seventy-four percent approval. Now one interesting thing, Margaret, is you don't get those big approval numbers without across the board, at least some, support from all partisan corners. So, Democrats overwhelming in-- overwhelmingly in favor. Republicans, even half of them, even though as you mentioned, it did pass on that party-line vote in Congress and independence in favor, as well. Now, why is that? First of all, it hits their pocketbook. People tell us that they think this bill is going to help them personally. That's always important, as well as, of course, the national economy. There's another component to this, too. In that they think it is going to help working class and lower-income people who, of course, tell us they've been so hard hit by the pandemic, even more so than the wealthy, always associated with high approval numbers for something like that coming out of Washington. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Popularity explains why the President's going to be on the trail taking credit for it, of course, Anthony. But I wonder how persuasive is he in convincing people to actually be willing to take the vaccine?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: Well, this is that second key component, Margaret. We are seeing the trend line in willingness to get the vaccine going up. It's been going up over recent months and weeks. So, you've got a majority now saying if they haven't gotten it already that, yes, they will get it. But there are still some who are hesitant. Some on the fence with maybe, and some outright no. And one of the key things we're seeing here, Margaret, is that that is related to partisanship. You've got Democrats saying that they'll get it, you've got most independents, but there is that more reluctant-- reluctance relatively among Republicans, and in particular younger Republicans under sixty-five. So as they become eligible for-- to get the vaccine, we're really going to have to watch whether they change their minds on it. We asked them why they're still hesitant. They say, well, it's still untested while they're worried about the side effects. Some don't trust the government or don't trust the science on it. So, that's something we really want to watch. Even though I should add, we also asked and a majority of Americans give the Trump administration at least some credit for spurring that vaccine development. And here is where it all ties back to the economy, too. When people say, when are they going to feel comfortable venturing out, going out, spending more? It's when most in their community are vaccinated and when cases get even more rare. So, it's that hesitancy we're going to have to watch to see if then that economic outlook comes together, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So goes the virus, so goes the economy. Thank you very much, Anthony Salvanto.

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City has the highest per capita death rate in the country, higher than any state in the U.S. Joining us now is Mayor Bill de Blasio. Good morning to you, Mister Mayor.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-New York City/@NYCMayor): Good morning, Margaret. How are you doing?

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm-- I'm doing well, and I want to ask you about what's happening in your city right now, because we had Doctor Fauci on this program last Sunday. And he said he's very concerned about this new variant that's circulating in New York because it has shown some resistance to antibody treatments and to the vaccine. What is your health department telling you about who's getting sick and where are they?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Margaret, our health team is really hopeful at this point. We're-- we're vigilant about the variants. We don't take them lightly. But I got to tell you, we've now had 2.8 million vaccinations in New York City to date. That's more than the entire population of Chicago. The vaccination effort is moving very rapidly. We need a hell of a lot more supply, but it's moving. Hesitancy level is going down. So I'm really hopeful that we are going to stay one step ahead of the variant. So far our health team says, in fact, the vaccine is effective against the variants we've seen. But I'll tell you, people should not let their guard down. Until this battle is over, keep wearing the mask, keep practicing the social distancing, and let's not get ahead of ourselves. We've got a pandemic to overcome here. We all have to do it together.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are people who were infected last spring getting reinfected?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: We've not seen a lot of reinfection, Margaret. It's something our health team has studied carefully. We know that the science regarding COVID is still imperfect. But I'll tell you the answer is just to maximize the pace of vaccination. In New York City today, we could be doing over half a million vaccinations a week if we had more supply. I think the key thing is to get us that supply--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The federal government directly provides you supplies. Is the Biden administration not giving you enough?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: I think the Biden administration is doing an amazing job. I think it has been one of the greatest weeks in presidential history, honestly, what Joe Biden has pulled off. No, part of our problem is the state of New York. We don't get our fair share of vaccine for this city. We're vaccinating people not just from the city, but also from the suburbs, surrounding states. We need our fair share, but we don't have enough control of our own destiny. In this city and in cities around the country this is something that has to be better going forward if we're really going to reach everyone who needs the vaccine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you what you do have control of within your city. You detected the first COVID-19 case March 1st of last year. You waited until the 15th to shut down bars and restaurants, gyms and schools. And, in fact, you tweeted yourself on March 15th telling people to go out and get that one last drink at the bar. Why do you think you were so late in understanding the threat?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Margaret, I'll tell you something. This is the anniversary of our first death, March 14th. We're doing a memorial tonight to remember everyone we lost and to keep their memories close in this city. But I'll tell you something, I was one of the first in America to shut schools, and one of the first in America to shut bars and restaurants. And I called for shelter-in-place, one of the first, and unfortunately, my state government wouldn't agree to it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: In fact, Governor Cuomo said shelter-in-place--

MARGARET BRENNAN: That is-- that is true.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: --would be imprisoning New Yorkers. And that's a lost opportunity.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That is true. You had that dispute very publicly with the governor. But, on the other coast, San Francisco's mayor back on February the 25th declared an emergency in her city before there was a single infection. We were looking at Italy, plenty of people sick there. The writing was on the wall, at least for her. Why didn't you see it?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Margaret, as I said, we closed schools on the 15th. We closed bars and restaurants, tried to move shelter-in-place. But I'll tell you something, we were trying to make sure that we were working on the best health evidence while also protecting our children who needed to be in school. And this is something I've really focused on as things have gotten better--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: --keeping our schools open and bringing our schools back strong in September. This is the kind of thing we can now do with the stimulus money, thank God--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you feel responsible for that?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: --and actually take care of our kids and families.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because the former CDC director, Tom Frieden, has said that if you had acted a week earlier, you could have saved fifty to eighty percent people.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: That's just not accurate. The fact is, the thing that would have been great, the thing that would have been powerful is shelter-in-place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: When I called for it, Governor Cuomo wouldn't do it. Again, he said it would be, quote, unquote, "imprisoning New Yorkers." I mean that's just outrageous. We had an opportunity. That was the missed opportunity. If I had had local control, we would have done shelter-in-place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I know you want more of that local control as the governor is politically embattled right now. You were one of the first Democrats in New York to call for Andrew Cuomo to resign. Do you actually think he will do that?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: I think he'll try to hold out, Margaret. I think he is used to getting things his way, and-- and it's been almost an imperial governorship. But I got to tell you, the folks in this state and the political leadership don't believe him anymore. He doesn't have any credibility. So I think an impeachment proceeding will begin, and I think he will be impeached and perhaps right before that he'll decide to resign. That's probably the most likely outcome right now. But I've got to tell you something. He should resign right now because he's holding up our effort to fight COVID. He's literally in the way of us saving lives right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe that he and his administration deliberately tried to cover up the scale of nursing home deaths?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: I don't have a doubt in my mind. Everything was about his public image. Everything was about his political future. It was not about what people needed. And by the way, it was about campaign contributions. The nursing home industry, the-- the big hospital systems, they gave him millions and millions of dollars and he went easy on them. And he tried to cover up for everyone. Not just him, but his donors. And I think the investigations are going to prove this, Margaret. This was a thoroughly corrupt situation and he just needs to resign so we can actually turn the page.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: And-- and look, it's an optimistic time as you started out this morning. It's an optimistic time. We got to put the past behind us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: And Andrew Cuomo can't lead us into the future.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: We've-- we've got the people of the state ready to reopen, but we need to get him out of the way to do it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to know about your future. Are you going to run for governor in 2022?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: I'm-- I'm focused right now on fighting COVID and reopening our schools and bringing this city back. That's my focus.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's not a no, Sir.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Look, I'm-- I'm not worried about the future right now. We're in the middle of a war right here and we're winning that war. Let me tell you, New York City is going to come back. It's going to be a recovery for all of us, a recovery that really includes every neighborhood, people everywhere. We had the most folks ride our subway last Thursday--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: --than we had since the pandemic began. The city is coming back strong, but I'm going to make sure that everyone is brought along in this recovery.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Before I let you go I have to ask you about this really troubling spike in hate crimes in New York City. It's the city with the most significant spike in crimes against Asian Americans. You have a hate crimes unit. How is this happening? Why weren't you better prepared for this?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Well, we created a hate crimes unit that is very strong in the NYPD and we've been doing education outreach and actually in most areas thank God, Margaret--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you need to do more?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: --hate crimes did go down, except with Asian-Americans, it's been horrendous and disgusting. So what we're doing, we have a-- a task force made up of Asian-American police officers out in communities, finding the people who did it, making sure there's consequences--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: --and holding the community close. I'd say this to all--

MARGARET BRENNNAN: Yeah.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: --Americans. Stand up for Asian-Americans.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Stop Asian hate. We've got to do this together.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mayor, thank you for your time.

And FACE THE NATION will be back in a minute with Arkansas's Governor Asa Hutchinson. Stay with us.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Despite demand for the vaccine outstripping supply nationally, Arkansas is one state that's expanding eligibility in order to use their supply. Governor Asa Hutchinson joins us from Little Rock this morning. Good morning to you, Governor. Before I get to COVID, I want to quickly ask you about politics. Your partner, Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, co-head of the National Governors Association, should he resign from his position?

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON (R-Arkansas/@AsaHutchinson): I'm going to-- first of all, it's very important to take any allegations by the women who've come forward seriously. They have credibility. They need to be heard. I understand there's an investigation by the attorney general that should proceed. Beyond that, you know, he's a-- the chairman of the NGA right now, selected by the Democrats. And so that's within their bailiwick to deal with that issue and the people of New York.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Governor, let me ask you what's happening in your state. Our CBS polling, as you heard at the top of the show, is-- is reflecting a real partisan divide in terms of willingness to get the vaccine. Young Republicans, in particular, are resistant to it. Are you seeing that problem and how are you combating it?

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: We are seeing that problem and the poll numbers are troubling because in Arkansas, it's a very pro-Trump state in terms of the last election. And-- and so we see that resistance. Whenever we are opening up eligibility for the vaccine, we're moving through it very quickly because we're not having everybody sign up to take it. What we're doing to address it is having influencers who would need to broaden that to help shape the thinking. But as more and more people get the vaccine, they see it's a way to get back to more normal life. They're excited about it. They're optimistic. So, I see those numbers changing. Sometimes someone will not take the vaccine saying, I just want to wait a little bit longer to make sure everything's okay. We're encouraging them not to do that. When it's your turn, take the vaccine. But at the same time, we're going to move through the eligibility and then we're going to have to come back and catch up because we'll probably be at a fifty percent rate. We need to get up to seventy to eighty percent acceptance rate to increase the immuni-- immunization of the vaccine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Given that problem, why would you consider lifting the mask mandate at the end of the month?

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, because we need to continue to wear a mask, socially distance until we get the vaccine widely accepted, but you can do that two ways. One is by a mandate or you can do it by public common sense. And so I didn't want to have a jump off the bridge in one moment, so we have a ramp in which we want to see what our testing, our-- our cases look like, our hospitalizations, positivity rate look like toward the end of the month. And we'll make a decision whether we can lift the mask mandate and turn it into guidance and common sense as we said. I think the time in this pandemic for heavy-handed restrictions and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: --and mandates are going by the wayside so people can make good judgments. And we expect that to happen even after March 31st if the mask mandate is lifted.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your state's going to get four billion dollars from this American Rescue Plan. Many of your constituents are going to take home these fourteen-hundred-dollar checks and thousands of dollars in tax credit. Isn't this good for your state?

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, there's many good parts of the bill, and that's important to remember. There's rental assistance there for people who need it. There's food assistance in there. There's also money in there for arts, humanities. Really across the board there's increase in spending. Some of the most important elements of it would be trying to recover the lost learning in our schools over this last pandemic year. I think we've done better because we didn't close our schools, but there's still lost learning we got to make up for. So there's great investments in there. I know your previous guests, you talked about why there's Republican opposition. Well, it's just simply too large. And for a state like Arkansas, we're going to be getting more money than we had in the last CARES Act funding. We have a balanced budget. We have a surplus. And the challenging thing is that while there's so many good things in this bill, they've given us a double whammy by saying, first of all, we're going to distribute the money to the states not based upon population, but based upon your unemployment rates. That cost us three hundred and ninety million dollars.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: And then another one is that they've said that you cannot have tax cuts and take this money. Well, we were planning on giving-- reducing the sales tax on used cars, that is low income and middle income. And now we're worried about whether that's going to be prohibited under this bill. The language seems to indicate it is. So, while there's many good things about it, it is too large--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: --and we got to make sure the states have flexibility.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You were a former Homeland Security official in the Bush administration. At the U.S. border, right now, there are thousands of unaccompanied children in U.S. custody. Does the U.S. need to send them back or keep them here as the Biden administration's doing?

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, you've got to have a stricter border policy, or those-- it's going to be a humanitarian crisis that will continue--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: --throughout this year. Unaccompanied minors is a risk to themselves, their families. So you've got to--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: --have a tougher policy so we can repatriate them, but care--

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right.

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: --for them as they seek asylum or-- or the help that they need.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. We-- we've got to leave it there, Sir, because I have to get to this break. Thank you very much, Governor.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Coming up next, our conversation with COVID-19 Health Equity chair Doctor Marcellas Nun-- Marcella Nunez-Smith. Don't go away.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We learned early on in his pandemic that the coronavirus disproportionately affects communities of color. Saturday, we spoke with Doctor Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, about how the Biden administration plans to tackle the problem of racial health disparity.

Doctor, our new CBS News poll shows that vaccine hesitancy has actually ebbed among racial minorities and that started about mid-January. We are now seeing that Black Americans are as likely as White Americans to say that they're willing to get vaccinated. Are you also seeing that shift?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH, M.D. (COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Chair/@DrNunezSmith/Associate Dean, Yale University): Yes, this is great news. We see vaccine confidence growing in all groups across the country. And so now the work is to make sure that people can connect with-- with vaccine when they're eligible. But it is very promising. I'm-- I'm hearing the same thing, that confidence is high. We are at a great moment. We have three vaccines authorized in the United States for emergency use and people are getting more eager to get connected with those.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So is vaccine hesitancy no longer an issue?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: You know, we absolutely have to meet people where they are, whether we are talking about vaccine confidence or really engagement with health care more broadly. You know, there are institutions, unfortunately, when we think of our history, both in terms of health care, even at times the federal government that have actively earned distrust in many communities, including communities of color. The reality is that the process has been data-driven, grounded in science, thoroughly and rigorously reviewed by independent scientists. We've had diverse scientists at every step of the way and also who was involved in the clinical trials. I'm so grateful to the scientists and the clinical trial participants. You know, over thirty percent of them identify as diverse. So these are some of the key bits of information that trusted messengers across the country are getting out. I think it's making a huge difference. We're starting to see those shifts, as you mentioned, in vaccine confidence.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So one of the areas where we are still seeing hesitation is, according to our CBS News poll, it is among partisan lines. In fact, unwillingness to get the vaccine is higher among Republicans, specifically younger Republicans. I'm wondering what your plan is to reach them.

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: I think one of the-- the other tragedies of the pandemic has been how it has been so politicized where we see kind of the politicization of just basic public health practice, wearing masks, which we know works and we're asking Americans to do for a bit longer. But we are hopeful and we know that the vaccine is just a clear path to getting to the other side of this pandemic. So we recognize that we have kind of unique messages for different groups. That's so important.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But how do you persuade people who aren't supporters of the President? Are you going to launch public service ads here, reaching out to celebrities who may appeal to these constituents? I mean, what is the way in?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: We are absolutely aware of the need to reach out and reach across. That is a core principle of this administration. We want to make sure we are meeting everybody where-- where they are. And to your point, we're getting ready to launch that national public education campaign and we'll work closely with trusted messengers, influencers and others to get to everyone, whether the hesitancy is-- is based in political view--

MARGARET BRENNAN: When will that be?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: --or anything else. So we are on the cusp of launching that national public education campaign, timed really appropriately with that increased supply and vaccine that we see coming right down the pike.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The administration is now going to be directly supplying vaccine doses into community health centers. What is bypassing the governors and going direct to these centers accomplish?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: So, you know, I always say equity is a team sport. We're going to continue to work so closely and collaboratively with state and local leaders, as we have been this entire time. And there are several federal programs that directly supply vaccine and-- and all of those have been designed with-- with equity in mind from the beginning. That includes the community vaccination centers, those mass vaccination sites. And we have located those in those areas that are hardest hit using best practice to make sure people can actually overcome many of those structural barriers to get registered and get vaccinated, as well as the Retail Pharmacy Program.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So what is the thought behind making doses available to dentists and podiatrists and veterinarians, new providers, here? Is the idea that you-- you know, go in for your teeth to be cleaned and you get a shot in the arm with the COVID vaccine?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: So we're very excited to have also announced this week expanding who can vaccinate. You know, it's so important. The-- the core of this work is making sure there's more vaccine. And we have pushed on that, you know, making sure that there are more vaccination sites and venues. All the people you mentioned will be able to vaccinate and we encourage them all to go to phe.gov and sign up, see what your state needs and where your state needs you. And so the idea is that these vaccinators will be able to plug into a lot of these existing vaccination venues and give vaccination there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you've talked a lot about this and you've said a person's zip code is a stronger driver of health than their genetic code. Tell me what you're doing to actually get better data, because we know the CDC has reported that race and ethnicity is only available to them for about fifty-three percent of all the people who've been vaccinated. So they've only got a partial snapshot of what this country is actually doing. So, why can't the federal government get a handle on it?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: Yeah, this is a key priority. We need better data to know where to target resources. We are working very closely, again with both providers as well as state and local health officials. We've already seen great partnerships in that space and we're seeing the-- the completeness of our data increase. The equity metric toolkit is growing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So how do you actually measure whether what you're doing is successful or not?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: So we, again, will keep pushing to get better, more complete data around variables that are important and relevant, like race and ethnicity, and alongside that, we have been using other equity metrics. And so things like social vulnerability and zip code. And we can do those analyses now to keep track.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But can't the President mandate that?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: And we have already communicated-- I-- I think our first step in this process has been to work very collaboratively with-- with states and locals. We're working to overcome any challenges that might exist in terms of just data systems and infrastructure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: If you look at the U.S. border right now, there are about eight thousand unaccompanied migrant children in the custody of Health and Human Services. And COVID distancing policies have been lifted inside of those federal facilities just because there are so many kids there. Are you concerned that this is a real health risk?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: I-- I-- we definitely are concerned so much for the children who are there at the border for so many reasons, including health. And so this is absolutely something that as a response team we're focused on and thinking about.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the governor of Texas has said that some of these undocumented migrants who are crossing into his state are spreading the virus. Have you seen any evidence to support that?

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: You know, I have not seen any evidence to-- to support-- to support that at all. I mean, I-- I think that it's very important for us, you know, again, as we talk about our goal to vaccinate an entire nation, that we not divide ourselves in this process. You know, it's key. Vaccinations are free. We need to make them easy and convenient. And we need to make sure everyone knows that regardless of documentation, status or anything else, quite frankly, that you are eligible for a vaccination here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Doctor Nunez-Smith, thank you very much for your time today.

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH: Oh, thank you so much.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You can see more of our interview on facethenation.com.

We'll be right back.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go 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, M.D. (Former FDA Commissioner/@ScottGottliebMD): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, Doctor Gottlieb, I want to ask you about the mayor of New York who appeared to be disagreeing with Doctor Fauci because Doctor Fauci said these new variants that they're tracking in New York City are showing resistance to therapies and to the vaccines. The mayor of New York said his health department said that's-- that the vaccine works. And, in fact, he said we're not seeing reinfection of people who've had it previously. What's going on in New York?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yeah. The trends in New York look concerning right now. If you look at other parts of the country where B.1.1.7, that variant from the United Kingdom that we've been watching, is becoming very prevalent. So Florida, where it's about fifty percent of infections, Texas, it's about forty percent of infections. You're not really seeing an upsurge in infections. You're seeing perhaps a plateauing, but you're not seeing this sort of fourth wave that we feared even as B.1.1.7 starts to take over. In New York City as 15.26, that new New York variant, and B.1.1.7 start to become more prevalent, you are seeing a backup in cases; you're seeing a plateauing. Hospitalizations are still declining slowly, but it's kind of plateaued. New cases are about three thousand a day. The positivity rate's about six percent. It's been that way for a couple of weeks now. And so you're seeing sort of a backup in New York that you're not seeing in other parts of the country. So there are some concerning trends. Now with respect to that new variant, that New York variant, 15.26, we are concerned about that. Right now, of the samples being sequenced that have what we call this S gene dropout, so there are samples that we're sequencing because we know they're variants. About forty percent of them are this 15.26. And New York is really the only place in the country right now that we know of where it's 15.26 is that much of the infection and about half of those cases. So half of the cases of 15.26 have the same mutation that's in the South African variant, this 484K mutation that could make the virus more impervious to our vaccines. So it is a concern. We also are seeing with the 1.351, the South African variant, with this same 484K mutation. We're seeing people get re-infected. And so whether or not that's starting to happen in New York and that explains these trends, we don't know yet.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: It's still early, but there's a lot of reasons to be concerned about the trends in New York City.

MARGARET BRENNAN: From your perspective, is it too soon then for the mayor to be telling people to go back to the office in May, to be telling high schoolers to go back to school in person as soon as next week, to be going back to higher-capacity seating in restaurants?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Look, I think we're going to know in the next two weeks where the trends are heading in New York City. It's hard to know for sure which way we're going to head. But right now, the data in New York looks more concerning than other parts of the country. There's other parts of the country that have opened up liberally, have a lot of B.1.1.7 and aren't seeing the same trajectory that New York is. Now, it may just be a-- a backup, and we continue with the declines in New York like we're seeing in other parts of the country in the next two weeks, or it may be the start of an upswing. We don't know. I think the next two weeks are really going to be a critical period. I would be cautious in New York because if 15.26 is partially explaining what's going on in New York City, that could be really concerning. There's-- there's ways to explain what's happening in New York that aren't as concerning. That mean, you know, this is just sort of a temporary blip and will continue--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: --on with declines and then there's ways to explain it that would cause a lot of concerns, including that 15.21-- 26 mutation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So one of the hedges at the end of President Biden's very hopeful speech about COVID was these new variants. He said, we're watching them. But he did put that July Fourth date on the calendar for gathering. Is that a realistic timeline?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I think it is. I think most of the country is going to look much better well before that. I think you're seeing cases decline all around the nation, even in parts of the country where 1.1.7, that U.K. variant, is becoming very prevalent. You're still seeing continued declines, albeit more slowly. I think the combination of a lot of prior infection and the fact that we're vaccinating aggressively now is enough to keep up with that and hopefully get ahead of it. So I think as we get into April, the situation around the country is going to look markedly better. But there will be pockets of outbreaks and there will be pockets where some of these variants become more prevalent that could look bad even though the rest of the nation is going to look very good. And-- and New York is one of those parts of the country right now that if you look at New York, you have some concerning trends there. Even while the other parts of the country are improving, New York does seem to be plateauing. So I think overall, the trajectory for the nation continues to look good.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've been saying watch Europe as an indicator of what may be happening here. Europe's moving pretty slow on their vaccinations. Italy is looking at a lockdown over-- over Easter because of what they're seeing. Should we anticipate that's what's going to happen here?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yeah, through this whole pandemic, we've been about maybe three or four weeks behind Europe, so we've used Europe as a barometer of what's going to happen in the United States. I think the tables have turned and I think we're ahead of Europe because we're vaccinating so much more aggressively. Eastern Europe looks very bad right now. Italy looks bad, but I think the U.K. is-- the U.S. is in a much different situation through a combination of the fact that we have a lot of prior infection, so there's immunity in the population from prior infection, and we've now vaccinated twenty-five percent of adults. We're vaccinating probably out-- about 1.5 to two million new people a day. We've vaccinated about sixty-five percent of those above the age of sixty-five, about seventy-five percent-- almost seventy-five percent this week, above those-- of those-- above the age of seventy-five. And we're seeing the-- the-- the benefits of that. And ninety-six percent reduction in nursing homes, we've had very good penetration with the vaccine. So I think we're in a different situation than Europe because of the vaccine-induced immunity that we're getting into the population.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Pfizer, where you serve on the board, their CEO said this week that he's seen the vaccine blocks ninety-four percent of asymptomatic infections. Is that the final word showing that if you're vaccinated, you cannot spread the virus?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: It's an important data point; and this comes out of real-world evidence from Israel and all of the evidence across all the vaccines now is pointing in the direction that these vaccines reduce asymptomatic infection and reduce transmission. We've always believed that they're having that effect. We didn't know the full magnitude of that benefit. But all of the incremental evidence coming out suggests that the impact on a reduction in transmission could be quite strong. And, if that's the case, the vaccine creates what we call dead-end hosts, a lot of dead-end hosts, meaning people will no longer be able to transmit the infection. And just like you get exponential spread on the way up in an epidemic, if you can get a whole bunch of immunity in people where they can no longer spread the infection, that has a compounding effect on reducing the scope of the epidemic. So if, in fact, this vaccine has a substantial impact on reducing transmission, it's going to become a very important public health tool in controlling the epidemic.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Doctor Gottlieb, thank you for your analysis.

We'll be back in a moment.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Last year Ireland's prime minister did travel to Washington just before St. Patrick's Day, but the formal celebration was canceled due to the pandemic. This year, that meeting with President Biden will be virtual. Taoiseach Micheal Martin joins us now from Dublin. Good morning to you.

MICHEAL MARTIN (Irish Prime Minister/@MichealMartinTD): Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Biden--

MICHEAL MARTIN: Good to talk to you.

MARGARET BRENNNAN: Great to have you here. The Biden administration has renewed that ban on travel from Europe, including Ireland. And I wonder, given progress with the pandemic, do you expect it to be lifted perhaps this summer?

MICHEAL MARTIN: Well, that depends on, you know, we're-- we're-- we-- we're similarly have significant restrictions on travel into Ireland and, indeed, across Europe. As the vaccination program rolls out, I believe opportunities will arise, but it's just far too early to say yet. And particularly in the context of the summer, we have a significant journey still to go in terms of vaccinations and in terms of keeping the virus down, because, as you know, in some member states of the European Union now the numbers are going back up because of the prevalence of the B.1.1.7 U.K. variant, which is much more transmissible.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You just gestured to the fact that the EU is-- is significantly behind in vaccinating its own citizens, and that includes your constituents. When you meet with President Biden this week, will you ask him for vaccine supply from the U.S. stockpile, since that's a big issue?

MICHEAL MARTIN: Well, I think I'm not aware of too many countries that are giving their vaccines away. I think more critically, we will obviously discuss COVID and we'll discuss vaccination. The critical point, I think, for all of us to-- to bear in mind is the fact that this is a joint enterprise in terms of vaccine development and vaccine production. These companies, J&J, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, they're all partnerships between U.S. and European companies and-- and involved companies that have global-- integrated global supply chains. So different component parts of vaccines are-- are developed in different parts of the world.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the New York Times reported that the Biden administration had denied a request from the European Union to loan out AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses to the EU. Will you ask President Biden to reconsider that?

MICHEAL MARTIN: Well, I think the-- the whole-- that whole issue around AstraZeneca, there's been significant difficulties between AstraZeneca and Europe in terms of AstraZeneca fulfilling its con-- contractual commitments to Europe, and they haven't been in a position to do that and have fallen very far short of what they committed to Europe. But as I say, you know, I'm not preempting any discussions I will have in detail with the President, but obviously the broader COVID vaccination issue will, of course, be discussed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Tensions have been spiking in Northern Ireland, as you know. The British government has not been honoring all the terms of its divorce from the European Union. Now, you also have Northern Irish paramilitary groups saying they're temporarily withdrawing support for the Good Friday peace agreement due to other complications. Are you going to ask President Biden to intervene or appoint an envoy?

MICHEAL MARTIN: Well, first of all, we-- I would be thanking President Biden for his steadfast support of the Good Friday Agreement and of peace in-- in Ireland. And-- and I'd also be thanking the friends of Ireland and the vice president and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the consistency of their support for peace in Ireland. And that has been positive in terms of influencing, you know, the-- the journey of Brexit itself. And we do, you know, we knew Brexit would create challenges, would-- and it-- and it has. It-- it hasn't been easy. And Brexit is only two and a half months old since Britain has formally now exited the European Union.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you need U.S. help with that?

MICHEAL MARTIN: Yes, we-- we want to see a continuation of the-- the President's interest in Ireland in support of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement and also of upholding the-- the Brexit agreement itself. And I have no doubt that the President will continue that interest and will use his good offices and the administration's good offices to bring the right outcomes here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that a nice way of saying you need him to lean on Boris Johnson to stick by his commitments? Because as a candidate, Joe Biden said the U.K. wouldn't get a trade deal unless they honored the peace deal.

MICHEAL MARTIN: Yeah, and-- and in-- in fairness, as I said, the support of-- of President Biden in recent times and throughout the years has been influential and it's been effective. You know, we also in Ireland here have to work on a post-Brexit relationship with the United Kingdom and we're doing that. And I get on well with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and we will be working out issues post-Brexit. We have to develop a stronger structure now for British-Irish relationships in the aftermath of Britain leaving the European Union. But part of that whole relationship is the U.S. engagement and connection, because I'm-- having been involved at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, I'm under no illusions about the significance of the American involvement and engagement with all sides and-- and all traditions and all perspectives on the island of Ireland and with the United Kingdom.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Any indication if President Biden will visit Ireland in June?

MICHEAL MARTIN: Not yet, but when I spoke to him in November, I invited him to-- to Ireland and he just said to me, try and keep me out. So that-- that means it's a live possibility. At any stage, it's a live possibility that President Biden could arrive on our shores. And I can tell you he will be most welcome because we really appreciate the warmth that he has for Ireland.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Taoiseach, thank you very much for your time. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

MICHEAL MARTIN: Happy St. Patrick's Day, Margaret. Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: On our latest Facing Forward podcast, I spoke with Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevest, who says the pandemic has wiped out decades of economic progress for women, and old gender roles are coming back. You can subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.