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Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on September 20, 2020

9/20: Face the Nation
9/20: Face the Nation 47:06

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

  • Former President Bill Clinton
  • Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri
  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey
  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Former FDA Commissioner
  • Jan Crawford, CBS News Chief Legal Correspondent
  • Nancy Cordes, CBS News Chief Congressional Correspondent

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, remembering Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the champion of women's rights, whose death has set off a political earthquake in the final stretch of campaign 2020. In a year filled with the unexpected, even an event long dreaded by Democrats came as a surprise: the death, late Friday of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, following a long battle with cancer. The eighty-seven-year-old liberal icon spent her life battling inequality. Even the President was caught off guard.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: She just died? Wow. I didn't know that. I just-- you're telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life.

MARGARET BRENNAN: For a moment, politics were put aside.

JOE BIDEN: She never failed. She was fierce and unflinching in her pursuit of the civil rights of everyone.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Less than two hours after Justice Ginsburg's dying wish was made public, that she not be replaced until a new President is installed. Political reality had set in. With the Supreme Court now leaning right, another conservative justice would further impact court decisions for years to come.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So we win an election, and those are the consequences. You know, it's called fill that seat, and that's what we're doing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: For Republicans, it's a new rallying cry.

CROWD (in unison): Fill that seat. Fill that seat.

MARGARET BRENNAN: For President Trump, an opportunity to score some political points.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Would you rather have a woman on the Supreme Court? Yes, woman? Yes?

(Crowd cheering)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Or would you rather have a man on the Supreme Court?

MARGARET BRENNAN: And for Democrats, it's an opportunity to mobilize the left to get out and vote.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN: What Mitch McConnell does not understand is this fight has just begun.

CROWD (in unison): I will fight.


CROWD (in unison): I will fight.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll hear from two key senators, Missouri Republican Roy Blunt and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker. Former President Bill Clinton, who appointed Justice Ginsburg to the court reflects on her life and her legacy. Then, as we approach new milestones in COVID-19 cases, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will give us a reality check on the race for a vaccine.

It's all just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning. And welcome to FACE THE NATION. There has been yet another seismic shift in the 2020 presidential campaign, and this one has ramifications that could last for generations. The vacancy left by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has already become a brutal political battle, as mourners came out in cities across the country to honor her despite the pandemic. The largest crowds included her home state of New York and at the Supreme Court here in Washington.

We begin our coverage this morning with CBS News chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford, who is in Morgan County, Alabama. Good morning to you, Jan. President said last night at his rally that he will appoint a woman this week to replace Ginsburg. What are you hearing about the timing of that announcement?

JAN CRAWFORD (CBS News Chief Legal Correspondent/@JanCBS): Well, the sources tell me it is going to happen with lightning speed at some point this week. There's already a very, very short, short list, with just a few top contenders. The President said it's likely as he said to be a woman. He mentioned two yesterday. Judge Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana, and Judge Barbara Lagoa of Florida. Now, Barrett is kind of a presumptive frontrunner. Trump interviewed her for the last vacancy. She's a strong, religious conservative, a favorite of religious conservative, strongly anti-abortion. And she had a tough appellate court hearing, but she stood strong, which conservatives like. But there is growing momentum for Barbara Lagoa. She's got an incredible compelling personal story, first-generation Cuban American. And she grew up in Miami. She went to Columbia Law School, like Justice Ginsburg. The question with her is timing. If the White House wants to move, as it said, this quickly, the train may have already left the station with Amy Coney Barrett on board.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We know that the court had already scheduled its new session and a key hearing November 10th for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in the short-term, what happens now that Ginsburg isn't on that court?

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, I mean in some ways it's just going to be business as usual. There were vacancies before, so the court has rules on-- on how it operates. They (INDISTINCT) your arguments now by telephone, of course, because of coronavirus. And they'll decide (INDISTINCT). But the question is, with eight justices now, these controversial cases that might have been five-four could be four to four. So, what does that mean if there's a four-four split? The lower court decision in those cases would simply be upheld. There would be no binding Supreme Court decision in those cases. It's just the lower court ruling stands. This also somewhat dilutes the power of Chief Justice John Roberts. Remember he's kind of switched over in some of those controversial cases and joined the liberal justices for a fifth vote. Now, he is not going to be able to reign in the conservatives as much as he's done in the past. There's another option, they also could hold the case over for re-argument when a new justice joins the court. They have done that many times in the past.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We know for many reasons, including the pandemic, this is going to be a really unusual election year. For the possibility that this could be contested and we could see what happened back with Bush v. Gore, and that an election ends up in front of the-- the Supreme Court, what would happen in the scenario you just talked about with this-- this split?

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, I think, it's 2020, right? So, of course, we got to think about that this could happen. And in that case, if there is a tie, the lower court decision would stand. I mean, that would be the final say. But I do not think, Margaret, that that will happen. I do not think that justices on the Supreme Court would let the lower court ruling say you've got the final word, we just can't come to a decision. I don't think they're going to do that, if it comes to that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, Jan, this is a firestorm, but there has also been a lot of praise for Justice Ginsburg from across the political spectrum. Given the moment we're in, you've covered the court-- court for so long, what stands out to you?

JAN CRAWFORD: I mean, Margaret, I-- I have to say, I mean, I've never seen anything like it. I mean, like, the outpouring of grief, the-- the-- the political battle over what's going to be her replacement. And, of course, her outsized impact on the law. I mean people identified with Ginsburg as a trailblazer, a pioneering figure. They-- they felt like they knew her. I mean, for them, this is personal. So with her (INDISTINCT) death, no matter who is in the White House, but now with the election a month and a half away, the President indicating he's going to move like I said at lightning speed. There's never been anything like it. There have been battles to replace pioneering justices in the past.


JAN CRAWFORD: Thurgood Marshall, of course, comes to mind with Justice Clarence Thomas, that was brutal. That was in 1991, Margaret. 2020 is completely different.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Indeed. Jan Crawford, thank you so much for your insight.

We want to go now to the political component here, and chief congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes. Nancy, when do we expect the Senate to begin holding hearings for a nominee, once we hear who that is, and when should we expect a vote?

NANCY CORDES (CBS News Chief Congressional Correspondent/@nancycordes): Well, Margaret, most of the senators and aides I've spoken to this weekend expect that Republicans will try to get the ball rolling right away, and perhaps hold confirmation hearings for the President's nominee before November 3rd, before the presidential election. The question is whether they'll try to hold a final vote on this nominee before the election, as well. The average length of time from nomination to confirmation for a Supreme Court justice is about seventy days, and there are only forty-three days between now and the election. So, it's a very tight squeeze. But there are one hundred five days-- one hundred four, rather, between now and the date that a new Congress is sworn in. That is really the cutoff date. So there is some wiggle room there. Republicans could push this through in a lame-duck session, although you can just imagine the uproar if the President loses the election and yet his nominee is seated on the Supreme Court. Or if mail-in ballots are still being counted for weeks after the election, and that's when all of this comes to a head.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Nancy, are-- is the bottom line that Senate Democrats are completely powerless to put the brakes on this?

NANCY CORDES: There is very little that they can do procedurally, Margaret, to slow this down or stop it. All they can do is try to put public pressure on Republicans (AUDIO CUT) protests. Already, two Senate Republicans have said that they want to slow things down, wait until after a new President is chosen, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, but it is very difficult to see right now who the two other Republicans are that would join them that would be enough to stop this vote. And so you heard Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, say to his colleagues yesterday that he may retaliate next year if Republicans go ahead with that but that only underscores how little he can do right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Nancy Cordes, get ready, you're going to be busy. Thank you very much for your insight.

Joining us now is the man who nominated Justice Ginsburg for the court, former President Bill Clinton. Good morning to you.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm told you spent time with Justice Ginsburg last September down in Little Rock when she was in poor health.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: She was just coming out of hospital, but she had promised to give this speech and she was determined to give it. And the people down there appreciated it. People were really pulling for her and they really gravitated to her because of her sense of equality and fairness, and they thought, unlike much in politics today, she was totally on the levels. She just never stopped going. She said keeping-- her work was keeping her alive and she just kept doing it and she had a good time doing it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why did you select her?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Because I found that she had the best combination of skills and instincts of any of the people I interviewed and, boy, I interviewed some great people. And I reviewed forty candidates, settled on five, then got down to three. But I just-- you know, Hillary mentioned it to me, she thought I ought to look at her more closely, so I read-- first of all, the account of the cases on gender equality she'd prevailed in in the Supreme Court as a lawyer. Before she ever even went on the Court of Appeals, she'd done enough to shape American law for a generation. Then I read her Court of Appeals decisions, and I really was intrigued. So I invited her to the White House to come talk to me. And she came on a Sunday night and we weren't interrupted. And after she'd been there about ten minutes I just knew that I wanted to appoint her because I wanted somebody who was open minded, passionately committed to equality and capable of working in the setting of the Supreme Court. I figured of all the people I've met she had the best judgment on when to work with others whenever she could and when to stand up when she couldn't stand it anymore. And she proved for twenty-seven years that I was right about that. She turned out to be even better than I thought.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The New Yorker reported that when her name was first floated to you by-- by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you had some misgivings. Why?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I don't remember that. I, first of all, there were-- everybody that I know is taking credit now for-- for twenty-seven years for nominating her, but I didn't have misgivings. I-- I know that I did what I always do. I said that I would look at it, and if I'd heard any questions, I would ask those questions. I-- for example, I was intrigued by her, a number of her opinions, and her ideas that she-- she thought-- she supported a woman's right to choose, but thought that the case should have been decided under the equal protection clause rather than the constitutional right to privacy. I wanted to know why. When we met, I did talk. But there were some people who thought she was (INDISTINCT), it seems funny now, thought she was too conservative. And that's because anything that's political tends to be two dimensional, almost cartoonish in its demand for labeling. And she was not a woman to be labeled with. She-- she was who she was, and I was immensely impressed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: If a Democrat were in the White House and the Democrats had control of the Senate, wouldn't they insist on a vote on a nomination while in control?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I don't know. There is a difference between what happened with Judge Garland. That is with Judge Garland, you're talking about missing probably one and a half full terms of court. It was almost a year, but there is a tradition of the President foregoing an appointment when you're closer to the election. Abraham Lincoln faced this very thing. In early October, Justice Roger Taney died. And he couldn't know for sure whether he was going to win re-election. So he knowingly waited until after the election. He thought the people deserve to have a say. Now, that's what Senator McConnell said they deserved back in ten months before the presidential election of 2016. So it didn't take that long to change their tune. But that is their tune.


PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: But you can't be possibly be surprised that Senator McConnell and President Trump are taking the position. They are-- they're for whatever maximizes their power. I don't know--


PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: --what the Democrats would do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think this galvanizes Democratic or Republican voters more? Are-- are Democrats missing an opportunity, not having talked about the potential vacancy earlier on in this race?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Probably. But, you know, we-- we all respected Justice Ginsburg a lot, and we thought we had no business talking about her as if she were already gone. And we were hoping she would live for lon-- longer. And so I don't think there's anything can be done about that.


PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: But I think that the voters at least have to know that if you put one more conservative, particularly an ideologically conservative Republican on the court, they're giving up the healthcare bill for, you know, twenty million people's health insurance, losing all the preexisting conditions for tens and tens of millions of people. No help on the other front. That's just one example.


PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: So there are consequences. But there are a lot of other things that could go either way. And so there's a lot at stake here. And since it's only forty days, I think that maybe the Democrats should leave. There are no rules on this. There's no law. So we'll just have to see what happens. But, if we're going to have a vote, then it's important that-- that the Democrats and the Republicans make absolutely clear that the voters understand what the consequences of it are.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mister President, thank you for your time and your reflections.

We'll be right back with more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with Missouri Senator Roy Blunt. He is part of the Republican leadership in the Senate and he joins us now from Capitol Hill. Good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT (R-Missouri/@RoyBlunt): Good morning, Margaret. How are you this morning?

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm doing very well. You know there was so much heartfelt outpouring in the wake of Justice Ginsburg's death, really from across the political spectrum. And then within hours, we heard her dying wish, as relayed to her granddaughter, was that it-- it be held up, her replacement, until there is a new President. Why is that being ignored?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, first of all, I wish we did have more time to celebrate Justice Gin-- Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was amazing. Had an amazing life. Very smart, very determined, very dedicated to the job. You know, in recent years, she's more often been in dissent rather than in the majority. But when she was in dissent, the majority had to be at their very best to explain why their opinion was what their opinion was. And so she served the country well. A brilliant mind made a difference in our country. You know, from the-- the point of view of that dying wish to her granddaughter; of course, that is totally reasonable to understand that she'd rather have-- be replaced by a President that might be of the same party that nominated her to start with. But the Constitution is the Constitution. And, you know, it takes two things to replace a Supreme Court judge: one is the President has to nominate and two is the Senate has to determine that they want to deal with that issue at that time.


SENATOR ROY BLUNT: And I don't know that-- even with President Obama I said not only will he nominate a replacement in this vacancy, but he probably has a constitutional obligation, just like President Trump does today, to make a nomination--


SEN. BLUNT: --and President Trump will.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, can and should are different. But back in 2016, you-- you refused to even meet with President Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland. And you said at the time, Americans will be voting in just a few months and that election should help determine the next member of the Supreme Court. Why has your position changed? Is it simply because Republicans are in power?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, I also said at the time, several times, exactly what I just said to you, which is two things have to happen for a person to go on the Supreme Court. And in the tradition of the country, when the Senate and the President were in political agreement, no matter what was the election situation, the judges went on the Court and other courts. When they weren't in agreement, they didn't, and we were in a situation in 2016 where the White House was controlled by one party, the Senate by another. And the referee in that case was going to be the American people. In this case, both the-- the White House and the Senate have some obligation to do what they think in the majority in the Senate is the right thing to do. And there is a Senate majority put there by voters--


SENATOR ROY BLUNT: --for reasons like this.


SENATOR ROY BLUNT: And I said that over and over again in 2016. I checked the record on this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I am sure you did, because, you know, and you're hearing all these cries of hypocrisy. But just assuming that we're charging ahead, as you just laid out, and-- voting is already away-- underway in a number of states in this country. When it comes to the hearings, should we expect this nominee who we-- whose name will get in the next few days, according to President Trump, should we expect the hearings to start before November 3rd?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: You know I don't know. That'll be up to when we-- when we get the nominee, what kind of vetting needs to be done--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it'll be this week.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well if we get it this week, what kind of vetting needs to be done and then what Chairman Graham decides he can do. This should take as long as it needs to take. It shouldn't--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So he has not agreed to do a hearing before Election Day is what I hear you saying?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: I haven't-- I haven't-- well, I haven't heard that. I haven't heard that if he has. This should take as long as it needs to take, but no longer. There is plenty of time to get this done. But to get it done before Election Day, everything has to work, I think, pretty precisely. There-- Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed, nominated and confirmed, in forty days. Other justices have taken longer than that. And I don't know how this process will move forward.


SENATOR ROY BLUNT: But I-- I do know that the Constitution pre-- prevails here in terms of how we do this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: On-- you said speed is a big factor here. Judge Barrett has been through a-- a process before the Senate-- Senate Judiciary before. She's met with the President before. She's got active paperwork. She was mentioned yesterday by the President. You voted for her in the past. Does she have a leg up in this process?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, I don't know if she does or not. I-- I voted for in the past. I'd be pleased to vote for her as a justice on the Supreme Court. I-- I have read a list of nominees, almost all justice-- judges, almost all recently confirmed that had an experience that led to confirmation, some of them different than others. But-- but, clearly, if the President nominates somebody who has already gone through this process once, that makes the process more speedy than it would be otherwise.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And is that a better argument than, say, selecting someone from a key state like Florida? As President Trump mentioned yesterday, Judge Lagoa. He pointed out she's a Florida Hispanic, praised her. Do you need that?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, the-- the President has to make that decision. I think she got eighty votes maybe when she was confirmed. She certainly got a substantial majority. And there are good choices out there. I'm sure the President is going to make one. I look forward to the name he sends up--


SENATOR ROY BLUNT: --and what they may add to the court.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator Blunt, thank you for your time.

We will be right back with more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: The headlines from our Battleground Tracker from Texas and Florida are coming up. You can read more at We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker. He sits on the Senate Judiciary committee where those confirmation hearings will take place.

Then, we'll speak to former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb, and take a look at the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: For the Democratic perspective on the court nomination process we want to go now to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker who joins us from his home in Newark. Good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER (D-New Jersey/@CoryBooker/Senate Judiciary Committee): Good morning. Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm hoping you can hear me okay. As we laid out earlier, Justice Ginsburg's dying wish was that it would be the next President who would nominate her successor. As you heard from your Republican colleague, they're charging ahead with this process despite that. Is there anything Democrats can do to stop the nomination?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Well, first of all, I-- I can only imagine that Justice Ginsburg-- Ginsburg understood that the legitimacy of the Supreme Court at a time that other institutions in our democracy have been losing legitimacy, have been under attack. I think she believed that the legitimacy of the court was so profoundly important. And this is one of those moments with so much at stake, from civil rights to voting rights to health care in and of itself, these decisions that the Supreme Court makes, it's important that they not only have the force of law, but the force of the legitimacy of everyone. So for Republicans to move forward like this, I think really undermines that. And, again, the Senate is controlled by Mitch McConnell. He'll have a tremendous amount of control now. And so I'm not sure exactly how this will play out. But, again, we've seen moments like this before where health care was on-- in the balance.


SENATOR CORY BOOKER: And the American public, speaking out, got people like John McCain and a couple of my other colleagues to change their vote and do the right thing. So we'll see how this plays out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're appealing to morality, but, tactically speaking, is there anything Democrats can do? I mean, you do have this government funding deadline coming up. Can you use that leverage?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Yeah, again, I think that there will be a lot that will play out over the coming days. But it is clearly two things are of great importance. One is to appeal-- a moral appeal to people who clearly stated what they would do under these circumstances. For them to go against their word is pretty significant in the public space in terms of their own honor and legitimacy. So we'll see how that plays out. And in addition to that, election has already begun. If there's any more convincing that the public needs about what's at stake, we see some of the most fundamental ideals of our nation that have been settled in many ways, the right for a woman to control her body, the basic understanding of civil rights law, all of that now is in the balance. And I think that this should motivate people significantly to speak up, let their voices be heard--


SENATOR CORY BOOKER: --and be involved in this process.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Back in 2016 when Merrick Garland was nominated by President Obama, a Democratic President when Democrats were in the minority, you said the Senate has no excuse to ignore blockade or stonewall consideration of this nominee. Why a different standard now?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Well, first of all, two hundred and sixty-nine days before an election, I felt very clearly that President Obama should have had been able to name a nominee, and we should have taken it up in the Senate, even had people meet with that nominee. And it is unfortunate that that did not happen. I think that that greatly undermined really a-- a sense of what was right. Now voting has already started. And we had literally my colleague speaking to what the rules should be, what the guiding principles they were operating on. And so for now for them to so severely violate their own words, I think does a tremendous amount of damage to the institution of the Senate as well as to the legitimacy of the court. And we've got to start stepping back and having our larger view of history.


SENATOR CORY BOOKER: It's not just the hotly contested issues of civil rights and women's rights and LGBTQ rights, all that's really in the balance here, but also the long-term strength of our democracy and the institutions that are so critical to our success as a nation.


SENATOR CORY BOOKER: This is one of those moments where I wish we would step back and take a beat and understand what we're doing and the consequences and how they could radiate throughout time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So-- so what I hear you saying is what's different is that voting is already underway. With that in mind, you are a Biden surrogate. Joe Biden has repeatedly said he intends to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court. If you're asking people to come out and vote on their considerations and concern about the Supreme Court, wouldn't it help if he released his nominees? Is that something you think he should do?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Again, I think that this-- what Donald Trump started as an appeal to a far right base, really a list from the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, that really broke with tradition. I think the President needs to evaluate it when he is the President and make his decision. And what Vice President Biden decides to do now to me is-- is secondary to the urgency of this election and all of those who value their health care and understand that these are issues that will be played out by the Supreme Court and the Senate who-- issues from climate change to voting rights, all of this is on the ballot. That should be the motivating factor, not necessarily what names that Vice President Biden may or may not decide to do. What's important right now--


SENATOR CORY BOOKER: --is the urgency of this election to a lot of the fundamental issues that affect our daily lives.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. I-- I admire your focus for keeping going despite that horn there in the background in Newark. Senator, the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, has said nothing's off the table if Republicans go through with this. He is talking about what happens next year. The progressives within your party, some of them are pushing to pack the court, to add more justices to the Supreme Court. Do you support expanding it?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Look, there's a double presumption in there that I-- I just do not want people to lose focus on. Number one, you can still appeal--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it is being openly called for--

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: --like we did in the health-- in the health care battle.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --by someone in your party.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: I-- I understand that, but let me tell you what this United States senator is openly calling for. Number one, letting your voices be heard now to appeal to the decency and honor of people who spoke what this process should be. And number two is this election. Unless we win the Senate back, unless we win the White House, all these questions are just hypothetical and moot-- moot. We need to focus on what is at hand. We are already begun voting in a number of United States. Early ballots are going out across this country. We need to win this election. Everything is on the line and that should be, in my opinion, the focus right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator Booker, thank you very much for your time and your reflections this morning. We will be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We're facing new, grim milestones in the COVID-19 pandemic. In the U.S., there have been 6.8 million cases. And we are about to reach two hundred thousand deaths. Worldwide, cases stand at just short of thirty-one million, and the number of deaths is approaching one million. CBS News national correspondent Mark Strassmann is in Atlanta.

(Begin VT)

MAN #1: Can you believe after six months, mother, that we are sitting here together?

MARK STRASSMANN (CBS News National Correspondent): Keep your distance, it's the new American way.

MAN #2: Howdy, folks. This is Big Tex.

MARK STRASSMANN: And the Texas State Fair. We're weary, despite months of rosy reassurances.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP (February 28): One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear.

(September 15): It is going to disappear.

MARK STRASSMANN: But in America's COVID chronicle, family's sorrows are not going away.

JOE BIDEN (September 16): Donald Trump insists that he wouldn't have done anything differently.

MARK STRASSMANN: You can track COVID's impact on the presidential race. Take Florida and Texas, big players on the electoral map that Mister Trump won in 2016, run by Republican governors and now former COVID hot spots, doing better with the virus. According to our Battleground Tracker, so is President Trump.

GREG ABBOTT: The number of active cases of COVID in the state of Texas has been cut more than half since July.

MARK STRASSMANN: Just like former Vice President Biden's lead in Florida--he's up two points today; in July, he was up six. During the same timeframe in Texas, President Trump's lead over Mister Biden grew from one point to two. As goes the virus, so it seems, goes the race. But the clock's running out on corona politics. Early voters have started heading to the polls or have already voted by mail. In all, seven states have begun accepting in-person voting. Two more will follow suit in the next week. And twenty-three states have started accepting mail-in ballots. Millions of polarized Americans agree, why wait?

MAN #3: Without the long lines, without the long wait, and, plus, you can already rest assured that your vote is already in.

(End VT)

MARK STRASSMANN: In many states, voters who want an early ballot have to give a good reason. In a handful of states listing the pandemic is not considered a valid reason. Big surprise: the issue is now in the courts. COVID America is a tough place to find consensus. Margaret.


For a look at the COVID-19 situation around the world, we want to go to CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer in London.

ELIZABETH PALMER (CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent/@CBSLizpalmer): Good morning. The U.S. has the largest number of coronavirus deaths worldwide, about twenty percent of the total. And then comes India, with another ten percent, or just under a hundred thousand.

(Begin VT)

ELIZABETH PALMER: And the bad news is the infection rate in India is skyrocketing, powered by a lethal combination of overcrowding and poverty. While India struggles with its first wave, Israel confronted its second with another national lockdown. Facing a serious surge, police set up roadblocks on the eve of the Jewish New Year to enforce travel restrictions, and normally crowded beaches are deserted. In Europe, relaxed COVID rules over the summer have sent infections rocketing up again. This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson set new limits on social gatherings in the U.K.

BORIS JOHNSON: Six indoors maximum, and six outdoors maximum.

ELIZABETH PALMER: In Spain, the situation is critical. From under three hundred new cases a day in June, the number had soared yesterday to more than ten thousand and counting. COVID is surging in France, too, but not in the Tour de France. Incredibly in three weeks of scenes like this, not a single rider has tested positive for COVID. And today, the youngest rider in more than a century, twenty-one-year-old Slovenian Tadej Pogačar is set to win the race. Finally, in Taiwan, a radical-- you might say, desperate solution to cabin fever.

WOMAN: Hi, class.

ELIZABETH PALMER: A group of young would-be tourists boarded a charter flight to a Korean resort area, admired it out the window, and then headed home.

(Crowd cheering)

(End VT)

ELIZABETH PALMER: Here in the U.K., though the infection rate is rising, the death rate so far has remained low. Although in an ominous sign, Margaret, one of those huge COVID emergency hospitals that had been mothballed this summer has just reopened.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Elizabeth Palmer, thank you.

We want to turn now for perspective to former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb. He joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning.

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

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump said at his rally last night that the country's rounding the turn on COVID-19 even without a vaccine. Is that true?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, I think we have at least one more cycle with this virus heading into the fall and winter. If you look what's happening around the country right now, there's an unmistakable spike in new infections. And you're also seeing declines in hospitalizations that we were achieving starting to level off. I would expect them to start going up again as well. There's about fifteen states where the positivity rate is ten percent or higher, which is deeply concerning. There's about thirty states where the RT, the rate of transfer, is above one, meaning they have an expanding epidemic. So right now we're seeing a resurgence of infection. Now, whether or not that's a post Labor Day bump and will start to level off or this is the beginning of a resurgence heading into the fall and the winter, it's unclear. But I am deeply concerned that as we head into the fall and the winter, this is the season when a respiratory pathogen like coronavirus wants to spread. And so there's a lot of risk heading into this season.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there any similarity in terms of the concentrations you're talking about? Is it still the Midwest that has you most concerned?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, right now, we're seeing infections go up around the country. The Northeast still is holding on to the gains that it-- it achieved in driving down infections. But we're seeing infections starting to rise in the South as well. And you're definitely seeing a concentration of new infections in the Midwest. So that's-- that's driving a lot of the growth and infections. But it's getting more distributed around the country. And the concern is that as we get a little bit more complacent because we are exhausted as a population from what we've been going through, we head back to school and college, people try to go back to work against the backdrop of the fall and the winter when people are heading indoors because the weather is cooling. That's a real setup for risk. And there-- there hasn't been enough people exposed to this virus at this point across the country that we have enough background immunity that that's going to really stop the rate of transfer. I mean, it may slow it in certain parts of the country where it's been epidemic like Miami or Houston or New York, but most parts of the country are still vulnerable. And, in fact, when you look at what's happening in Arizona right now, you're starting to see cases go back up, even there. And that place was very hard hit. And so it's an indication that there's a lot of virus left to go in this country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump said this week that you could have enough of a supply of a vaccine by April. He had tussled with the CDC director publicly when the CDC director said we would have to wait until perhaps the third quarter of 2021 before getting a vaccine available to the American public. Who is right?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, I'm on the board of Pfizer, which is one of the companies that has a vaccine in advanced development, so I have some insight into this from-- from that, although everything I know is in the public domain at this point. I think that is possible, that you'll have enough doses available by April, May. But I do not believe that a vi-- vaccine will be licensed for general use by the population until, in an optimistic scenario, really the-- the second quarter, probably the end of the second quarter in 2021 and perhaps a little later than that. I mean the reality is that as we come out of the winter and head into the spring, hopefully, this virus will start to dissipate in the summer. So what you really want is a vaccine available for mass inoculation before you head into the fall of 2021. So, hopefully, in a-- in a good scenario, whether you have the vaccine available in June or you have it available in August, isn't going to make that much of a difference because the virus won't be transferring as readily by then. But I do not believe that we'll have a vaccine available for general inoculation until probably the end of the second quarter of 2021 and maybe into the third quarter. Now, that said, I do think we can have a vaccine available sooner than that under an emergency use authorization for select groups who are at particularly high risk of bad outcomes from-- from the virus.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB: But that's going to be very select groups on a very limited basis.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've said time and again that at the FDA, the agency you used to run, you trust the scientists will put science first in their priority when it comes to okaying the safety of a vaccine. Is there any scenario where the President could override, legally override the FDA and greenlight a vaccine?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I don't see it. And I don't see a scenario where this can happen and people don't see it, where it's not readily apparent. This isn't like posting new guidelines on CDC's website in the middle of the night. In order to issue an authorization, an emergency use authorization or an approval, the only people capable of actually drafting that package are the people at FDA. And they're not going to be forced to do it unless they scientifically believe in it. I know the folks who are involved in this process, the career professionals who are engaged in this process, and they're not going to be easily cowed. And, remember, on the other side of this, you also need a manufacturer that's willing to commercialize a vaccine based on that authorization or approval. The vaccine doesn't just ship into the supply chain. And I do not believe any manufacturer is going to commercialize a vaccine based on an authorization or an approval that doesn't have the consent and the agreement and the involvement of the career professionals inside the FDA. I just don't see that happening. So this isn't something that I think is easily subject to outside influences. The process was designed that way. I mean, Congress--


SCOTT GOTTLIEB: --set the process up this way because they wanted an objective, impervious process.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I hear what you're saying, but I want to ask you about an article in the New York Times that again adds yet another question about the independence of our health agencies. The-- the Times is reporting that the Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, signed an order that bars other agencies, including the FDA, from signing new rules affecting products, including vaccines. The Times reports that when you were running the FDA, you actually tried to stop this kind of power grab. It happened. What's the political implication? What's the reality now?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, I don't think this-- this is unfortunate because I think it sends exactly the wrong message. At a time that we want to reaffirm the independence of these agencies, this does create an implication, or at least a-- a specter, that the independence of that agency is being eroded or influenced. That's not the practical effect right now in terms of what this is going to do to the COVID response. But at a time we should be focused on that COVID response, this is a major distraction. Now, what this move does is basically say that only the secretary can codify rules. And if he's asserting that right now, that could call into question all the rules that were implemented, where-- where lower level people were delegated the-- the authority to sign those rules. And, in fact, on my second to last day on the job, I recodified the tobacco deeming regulation because I was concerned that they could take this kind of a step and then use it as a basis to call into legitimacy the codification of that deeming rule. So I recodified it myself, even though it was put in place under the Obama administration. So I think that this is the wrong move at the wrong time, at a time that they should be reaffirming the independence and the integrity of these agencies. To do this now just makes no sense.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And does it just mean what, more potential lawsuits? What's the implication of it?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yeah, it could mean, I think what's going to happen now is conservative groups and there's actually litigation this week that's being heard around the tobacco deeming rule, where a group is alleging that that rule was inappropriately implemented because the authority to sign that rule was delegated to a lower level career official inside the agency. And so this has been something that conservative groups, frankly, have been after for a while. They-- they want to elevate the authority to implement regulations. And I think if the basis for why the secretary did this is because he thinks the past delegations were inappropriate, that potentially could create another avenue to have legal challenges. So it's a distraction to FDA at the time that they should be focused on the COVID response.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB: The timing of this makes no sense. I don't believe in the underlying basis of what they did. And I did-- I did oppose it when I was at the agency. But the timing of this is just really poor right now because it's going to distract the agency. And, frankly, it creates headlines that could-- could leave the perception that the agency is being bullied.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you very much for-- for putting that in perspective and for sharing your insight, Doctor Gottlieb. We're going to have to leave it there and we'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Finally, today, a look back at the life and the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

(Begin VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a civil rights icon, who devoted her career to fighting for gender equality.

WOMAN: It's heartbreaking and to lose such a strong female individual who really has fought for the rights of all people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: At nearly every stage, Ginsburg faced discrimination.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: Not a law firm in the entire city of New York bid for my employment as a lawyer when I earned my degree.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Despite graduating top of her Columbia law class, as Ginsburg later explained, the fact that she was a mother was seen as a grave impediment. She began studying discrimination, volunteered in the 1970s at the ACLU and began breaking legal barriers. As a litigator, she helped persuade the Supreme Court to rule for the first time that gender-based discrimination violates the Constitution, and she illustrated that it cuts both ways by selecting cases in which the laws disadvantaged men.


MARGARET BRENNAN: In 1993, she was confirmed to the court herself and became notorious for her stinging dissents, often in support of feminist causes, like this one in 2007 Lilly Ledbetter versus Goodyear case.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: The court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Her opinion led Congress to change the law, easing time restrictions on filing discrimination suits. During her twenty-seven years as a justice, she became a celebrity.

STEPHEN COLBERT (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert): They call her-- they call her the Notorious RBG.

I'm cramping working out with an eighty-five-year-old woman.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But it was her advocacy that cemented her iconic status.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: People asked me, when will you be satisfied with the number of women on the court? When there are nine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Her liberal beliefs made her friendship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia rare in a partisan Washington.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG (The National Press Club): And I was listening to him and disagreeing with a good part of what he said, but thought he said it in an absolutely captivating way.

MARVIN KALB (The National Press Club): I think we should leave it at that. Great point.

ANTONIN SCALIA (The National Press Club): We agree on a whole lot of stuff.

MARVIN KALB (The National Press Club): We do.

ANTONIN SCALIA (The National Press Club): Ruth is really bad only on the knee-jerk stuff. She is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Across the political spectrum, her legacy of striving for the ideal of equality is being celebrated.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG (60 MINUTES): I see the Constitution as striving for a more perfect union.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Casting a ballot this year could be very different than what we're used to. In order to find out how and where you can vote in your state, go to It's a digital guide, states and dates. You can also download the free CBS News app on your phone or connected TV for more election news and analysis.

That's it for us today. We will see you next week. I'm Margaret Brennan.

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