Full transcript: Vice President Kamala Harris on "Face the Nation," December 26, 2021
The following is the full transcript of an interview with Vice President Kamala Harris that aired Sunday, December 26, 2021, on "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: Medical experts are projecting that we could see as many as a million infections per day because of this new Omicron variant. Is our healthcare system prepared for what's coming?
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We are prepared for it, and there's no question. I mean, if you think of where we are today as compared to even a year ago, we have vaccines. We are clear that wearing masks, especially in public spaces, makes a difference. We have the tools now to really keep ourselves safe. And I think part of the issue that is confronting us as a country and as a society is ensuring that everyone is doing everything they individually have the power to do to slow this thing down. And I can't stress enough, one, I understand why people are concerned about this. Parents with young children. There is a lot about this moment that is frustrating. But let's not forget our individual power to actually do something about it. Everyone has to get vaccinated. The vaccines are free. They are safe and they'll save your life. Get the booster shot. Against Omicron it almost guarantees that you are unlikely to have to go to the hospital much less God forbid that- that you die because of this virus. There are things that people can do, and I can't stress enough that right now everyone has the ability to make these choices that will have a result and an impact on themselves and their community,
MARGARET BRENNAN: But particularly in the Northeast, we're already seeing hospitals overwhelmed with Delta. Inflation is real. It's going to be with us as long as the pandemic dominates. As you know, the exhaustion is just with us all the time. When can you tell the American people this will end?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: What I can say is that we have the power today to have an impact on tomorrow, and we can't shortchange the significance of that. We have the power today to go out and if you've not been boosted, go get boosted. The power today to go and get vaccinated.
And that will have an impact on where we end up tomorrow. And that is again, where every individual has it within their ability and- and many may argue within their responsibility to actually take on these- these- accept the tools that are available to do something about this issue.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it the fault of the unvaccinated?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I don't think this is a moment to talk about fault. It- it is no one's fault that this virus hit our shores or hit the world. I would not blame it on anyone in that way. But it is more about individual power and responsibility, and it's about the decisions that everyone has the choice to make, no doubt. But it is clear that everyone has the ability to make a choice to save their lives and- and to prevent hospitalization if they get vaccinated and if they get the booster. And so I urge people to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This is going to be hard for the economy. Are you going to need to ask Congress for another relief package?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Well, I'm glad you talked about the economy. Let's talk about the economy. First of all, as an administration, as we look at the end of the year, there are specific facts that we are proud of on the issue of the economy. We have reduced unemployment down to 4.2%. The economists predicted that we wouldn't get there for another couple of years, but here we are. We have reduced the deficit by over $300 billion. We have created over 6 million jobs, so there are good things that happened- have happened as it relates to the strength of the economy. Let's also talk about the most recent facts. Excuse me, not Moody's, but Goldman Sachs indicated that the failure to pass BBB, the Build Back Better Act is going to have a negative impact on our fiscal health.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mmhm.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: But the converse is also true. And again, what is within our grasp to pass Build Back Better? Where we bring down the cost of living. When we talk about the economy, the average person in America is going to measure the economy based on can they actually just afford to get through the day and through the month. The cost of living, can they keep up with the cost of living, child care, elder care, prescription drugs? And that's one of the reasons our priority. To your point about the economy that has been the fuel behind our insistence that we find common ground in Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act so we can bring down the cost of living for- for real Americans working people.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're talking about the Build Back Better act like it still has some life to it. As you know, Sen. Joe Manchin said, he's a no. You don't have the votes.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: You know, I was in the Senate for four years before I came here, and I have seen the ups and downs in terms of legislation. I mean, those of us who study history, recent or- or ancient know that there are many times over the course of history where legislation was doomed to be dead and it still kept going. The Affordable Care Act being one of the most recent examples of that, or even the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act now not deal, where lots of folks said it was dead on arrival, but we got it done. So, I'm not giving up the president's not giving up, and frankly, the stakes are too high. I mean, we're literally talking about saying that no family should pay more than 7% of their income in child care. We're saying that people who have diabetes, I have family members. Many people know or have diabetes. The only thing that will keep them alive is insulin, and it is so expensive.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But it is the cost of the bill that has led Sen. Joe Manchin at least publicly to say it's actually going to hurt the economy. His argument is that it'll add to inflation, among many other things.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: And- and Goldman Sachs just today said that actually, we know that Build Back Better will strengthen the economy. And so, I think there is without any question, room for discussion about what actually will be the impact to the economy. And objective, leading and highly respected economists are weighing in on this discussion to say, in fact, no. And you can look at the impact on- on- on the economy and see that not only is it morally right to say parents shouldn't have to struggle to take care of their basic needs like caring for their children and their parents- and their parents and their elder relatives. But it actually makes economic sense to do that and it brings down the cost of living.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But when you look at what's actually possible right now,--
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Yeah.
MARGARET BRENNAN: —do you feel that Senator Manchin is playing fair with you? I mean, he went on television and said no, pretty definitively.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I think the stakes are too high for this to be in any way about any specific individual. We have to- you know, one of the things—
MARGARET BRENNAN: It's a 50-50 Senate, though, so you need him.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: It is. I'm the tiebreaker. I'm the tie vote.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's- exactly.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: In fact, the president and I joke and when I leave one of our meetings to go break a tie, he says, Well, that's going to be a winning vote. Whenever I vote, we win. It's a- it's a joke we have, but- the stakes are so high. And we can't afford in this moment of time where we have an opportunity to do something so substantial in terms of public policy in America, to literally help families. To- we can't- I- I refuse to get caught up in the what might be personal politics when the people who are waking up at three o'clock in the morning worried about how they're going to get by could care less about the politics of D.C. They just want us to fix things.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't feel betrayed?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: No, I don't feel- I don't have any personal feelings about this. This is about let's get the job done. Let's get it done. Let's see it through. Let's listen to objective sources of information on the economic impact. Let's travel the country if we haven't already. I have. And talk with families who say I can't afford to do the basic things that I need to do as a responsible adult, like care for my children, care for my older parents or afford to get lifesaving medication like insulin. These are the things that are at stake.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the child care tax credit has already expired. How do you—
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: We have to extend it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: —come up with—
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: We have to extend it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you do that without Sen. Manchin?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: You don't give up. That's how we do it. We don't give up. That's how.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, the president has also put you in charge of voting rights.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Yeah I- and I asked. Yeah.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You asked it? You wanted this?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I- you may know I am a child of parents who met when they were active in the Civil Rights movement.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I- there is so much about this fight for - justice and the ideals of our democracy that are part of my DNA and on the issue of voting, we have seen 18 at least states, over a dozen states that have passed, I'm told 33 laws that are making it difficult for the American people to vote. You know, I've been meeting with prime ministers and presidents from around the world. One of my favorite interactions was with the now past Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. She came over for breakfast and we talked about everything that has to do with our relative security as nations and our priorities. And then she asked me about voting. She asked me about voting, and she knew what was going on here, and this is not a subject that was unique to my conversation with her, by the way, in terms of world leaders, because people around the world watch what we do as America, because we have held ourselves out to be a model of the efficacy of the- the ability of a democracy to coexist with an economic strength and power. We have been a role model saying, you can see this and aspire to this and reject autocracies and autocratic leadership. And right now, we're about to take ourselves off the map as a role model, if we let- if we let people destroy one of the most important pillars of a democracy which is free and fair elections.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're talking about what's happening in state capitals around the country.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I am and- and but I'm talking about that, and I'm talking about what's not happening in this Capitol in Washington, D.C., which is the passing of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. We have to- we have to agree- and this is not about saying you should vote for me or you should vote for Democrats. This is about everyone having unfettered access to their right to vote and- and agreeing that this is bigger than one election cycle. This is literally about our standing in the world, it's about the integrity of our democracy. And I do believe of all the things that are on the headline news tonight, tomorrow, for the next week or months, when our kids look back five- ten years from now, at this moment it will be on our watch that we either stood for and fought for our democracy or not. And that I think that is all at stake right now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you still have the reality of a 50-50 Senate–
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Correct.
MARGARET BRENNAN: –and you have two senators who say they're not on board for changing the filibuster in order to try to push this through. So how do you overcome that democratic reality of not having the votes and not having a clear path forward?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: And you're right to talk about the- the structure and the rules of the Senate, and that is real. And we will do, and look at whatever is necessary to push for Congress to take this issue on. And we have to, we have to.
MARGARET BRENNAN: A carve out to the filibuster?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that we are going to urge the United States Congress, and we have been, to examine the tools they have available to do what is necessary to fight for and retain the integrity of our voting system in America.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It sounds like you're open, though, to a carve out to the filibuster to get there.--
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I –
MARGARET BRENNAN: –You were when you ran for president on the issue of climate. Are voting rights as important to you?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I believe that voting rights is one of the most significant issues that is facing us as individuals and as leaders today, there's no question, no question. Voting rights lead to every other right, every other right. And so we need to prioritize it as a nation, all of us and understand why voting rights are important and- and- and insist that our elected leaders preserve these rights. But, MARGARET, realize that what's happening right now includes that the entire Republican caucus of the Senate have voted against even debating this subject,--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but so–
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: –even debating, and I- I just- I think it's really important that in this conversation about what's happening in Washington, D.C. on the issue of voting, that we not lose sight of the fact that there is one whole group of people, half of the United States Senate, who are refusing to even debate this issue. Like you can then end up where you are, but stand up before the American people, state your position, defend your position. See if it stands up to logic and reason or your stated, or supposed ideals and values as an- as an American.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But to that point, you were just in the Senate–
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: –and the president spent decades there. How come you can't pull someone across the aisle on this?--
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: We are trying.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Or even Joe Manchin within your own party?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: We are not going to give up on these issues, but you're right. It's a 50-50 Senate. It's a 50-50 Senate and so- but it has to be a combination of us as an administration, but also everyone weighing in. And I'm glad we're having this conversation. I think we have to continue to elevate the conversation about voting rights. Given the daily grind that people are facing, this may not feel like an immediate or urgent matter when in fact it is. And the more we have the opportunity to talk about it, the more I think people will see, yeah, I don't want an America of the future for my kids to be in an America where we are- are- are suppressing the right of the American people to vote.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to move on to foreign policy but just to button that up though, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says it's delusional for Democrats to think they're going to win control in 2022 if they don't do something about the filibuster and student debt. Will we see any movement on student debt in the new year?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: So, I know that Sec. Cardona, the Secretary of Education, is working on what we can do and must do frankly to relieve the- the pressures of student loan debt, and it's a real issue. Students across- well graduates and former students across our country are literally making decisions about whether they can have a family, whether they can buy a home. You know, I'll date myself, but you know, I had student loan debt. I remember that coupon book, and I had to fill out the coupon and write the check every month. And it's no small matter, and we need to figure out a way to relieve debt. So it's a fair issue in terms of the seriousness of the issue. Voting we've discussed, it is a very big issue, and what I believe we must do is continue to be vigilant and fighting for folks who have a right to be seen and their circumstances to be heard and understood because we have the ability to actually alleviate the burdens that people are carrying that make it difficult for them to get through the day or in the month.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you think you need to deliver on that promise before 2022?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Which promise?
MARGARET BRENNAN: On debt forgiveness for student loans?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Well, I think that we have to continue to do what we're doing and figure out how we can creatively relieve the pressure that students are feeling because of their student loan debt. Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: On foreign policy, I know you take the presidential daily brief most days you said–
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Every- I read it every day. I read it every day, and then most days the president and I actually do it together with our IC- with the intelligence community.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you see is the biggest national security challenge confronting the U.S.? What is the thing that worries you and keeps you up at night?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Frankly, one of them is our democracy. And that I can talk about because that's not classified. It really does. I-I- there is I think no question in the minds of people who are foreign policy experts that the year 2021 is not the year 2000. You know, I think there's so much about foreign and domestic policy that, for example, was guided and prioritized based on Sept 11, 2001. And we are embarking on a- a new era where the threats to our nation take many forms, including the threat of autocracies taking over and having outsized influence around the world. And so I go back to our- our point about the need to fight for the integrity of our democracy. In addition, it is obviously about what we need to do in the climate crisis. We just did the meetings around COP and recognizing- you know, some used to laugh and say how can you say that the climate crisis is about national security? Well, of course it is. And I can go through the details of why. But what we must do then in- in the face of any and all threats is recognize that one of our greatest strengths is to strengthen our relationship with our allies and partners around the world. And that has been one of the highest priorities of our administration. It has been to re-enter, for example, the Paris Agreement. It has been to-to do the work of working with our European allies. It is the work of building back the trust that is necessary for us to be a member of- of- of a community of nations that share values and priorities. And I think one of the greatest threats that we saw recently is that when we pull out of the- those relationships, we weaken our standing as a nation and therefore weaken, I believe, our security.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mhmm. There are 100,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Yep.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are we going to see a hot war in Europe in the next few weeks?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Well, we are having direct conversations with Russia. The president, as you know, met recently virtually with Putin, and we are very clear that- that Russia should not invade the sovereignty of Ukraine, that we must stand up and we are standing up for its territorial integrity. We are working with our allies in that regard, and we've been very clear that we are prepared to issue sanctions like you've not seen before.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Does that mean sanctioning Vladimir Putin directly?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I'm not going to talk about specific sanctions, but we are making that clear to him, and we are in direct conversations. And we are also working very closely with our allies. And again, let's use this issue as an example of the importance of the strength of those relationships.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But in the past alongside allies we've sanctioned, it's been punitive. It hasn't prevented anything. It hasn't stopped Vladimir Putin to date.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: And I'll repeat that the type of sanctions that we're talking about are sanctions that we've not done before.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Should cyberattacks be considered like terror attacks?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I think that, you know, I actually wrote a book many years ago, and I do believe that it is important for us to have a cyber doctrine. One of the- the areas of focus for me is what I'm doing to lead the space council and three priorities there- essentially, it's a- it's in the context of national security, but one of them is the role and the responsibility that we have to work with our partners and allies around international norms and rules. And that relates to what we are doing in space, be it commercial or- or activity in civil space, or national security. Similarly, on the issue of cyber, it is important that we work with our allies on these issues. When I was in France meeting with Macron, this is one of the issues that we discussed, which is the importance of all of us as allies and partners and even those who are adversaries, making sure that we are all on the same page about what will be interpreted as a threat or not, and with some level of consensus about what the norms and the rules are and what they should be. I think that's critically important as we look at emerging threats, there's no question. Everyone- I think you don't have to read a PDB to know that cyber is one of those issues.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You said you were last in the room on the decision in Afghanistan to pull out. You've talked about not abandoning allies.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Mhmm.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you feel personal responsibility for the chaos of that withdrawal?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I fully supported the president's decision to after what was taking on the fact of being an endless war, of pulling American troops out, and I think it's really important to remember that the previous administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban, did not invite the Afghan government to be at the table, and negotiated a deal that- that required and promised as part of an agreement that we would pull out by the end of May.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mhmm.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: So, we were saddled with that responsibility based on an agreement between the United States and the Taliban and so–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You agreed to extend it and not to break the agreement with the Taliban.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: –We made the decision that if we were to break the agreement, it would have been a whole other situation, and right now I strongly believe that had we broken that agreement, we would be talking about the war in Afghanistan. And American troops in Afghanistan, and we're not talking about that. I don't regret that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But I know as a candidate, you pledged to protect the gains that were made for Afghan women.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Yes. Yeah. And I feel very strongly about that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Many of those Afghan women are not in school today because the Taliban is in control.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Which is why we are working through the U.N. And doing what we need to do through our friends to provide humanitarian assistance, bypassing the Taliban to make sure that we are supporting women and girls there. One of our big issues in terms of any conversations with the Taliban is exactly this point, which is the condition, the status and the treatment of women and girls, including for girls, access to education, not to mention our concern about counterterrorism and what we need to do in terms of that threat. So, these are real issues there's no question. The United States has been and continues to be, since the end of August, the biggest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you know, a lot of that aid isn't able to make it into the people who need it because of the sanctions on the Taliban being in control. So it's just- Afghan women, do you worry that they were abandoned by the United States essentially?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I worry that the Taliban has not complied with what we know to be the appropriate treatment and the right treatment of girls and women, and that's why we are taking the posture that we are with the Taliban right now, because that is one of our greatest considerations and concerns.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You went to Guatemala in June, and you clearly delivered the message, "do not come." You took a lot of grief from progressives in your party for saying that. Do you regret having to say that?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I was in Guatemala because we have to address, in a comprehensive way, the root causes of migration. When I was in Guatemala, I talked with the Guatemalan people about what I've talked to folks in this very room who have convened about this issue, which is the vast majority of people, wherever they are from, don't want to leave home. They don't want to leave the language they speak. The place where they- they pray, their grandmother. Most people don't want to leave home. And when they do, it's for one or two reasons. Either they can't take care of the basic needs of themselves in their family or they're fleeing harm. And so my approach to the issue in Guatemala and its neighboring countries, which has been formerly called the Northern Triangle, is to do what we have, I think, a responsibility to do, as a member of the Western Hemisphere. To assist in dealing with the root causes of migration out of those countries. And that is my primary focus. In fact, just the week before last I convened after many meetings, American CEOs. We started out with 12, now we got 77, partnering with us around investment in Guatemala to deal with a variety of issues that are about their economy and their workers, including women as farmers and workers there.
I have been working with our Department of Justice to do what we need to do to enhance prosecutions, investigations and prosecutions around human trafficking and smuggling. That was an area of focus for me when I was attorney general of California was taking on the issue of transnational criminal organizations and human trafficking. It's a big issue that we need to address. So that is the work we're doing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I think the critics don't understand that though, the progressives within your own party who are critical of you for that message.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I think it's important to focus on the details of what we collectively want, and I think everyone, regardless of their- where they are on the political spectrum, appreciates the point that people don't want to leave home. And- and what can we do as a neighbor to help them stay at home when that's in fact what they want to do? And I'll tell you, when I was in Guatemala and spoke with the people there, that was emphasized in a way that I knew before I got there, but was really emphasized when I got there. People don't want to leave. They don't want their family members to leave. Their family members didn't want to leave.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you think, as you come to the end of this first year, what do you think your biggest failure has been at this point?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: To not get out of D.C. more. (Laughs) I mean, and I actually mean that sincerely for a number of reasons. You know, I- we, the president and I came in, you know, COVID had already started. It was- the pandemic had started. And when we came in, we really couldn't travel. You know, a large part of the relationship that he and I have built has been being in this, you know, together in the same office for hours on end, doing Zooms or whatever because we couldn't get out of D.C. and on issues that are about fighting for anything from voting rights to child care to one of the issues that I care deeply about maternal health. Being with the people who are directly impacted by this work, listening to them so that they, not some pundit, tells us what their priorities are, I think is critically important. People are- people have a right to know and believe that their government actually sees and hears them. And my biggest concern is I don't ever want to be in a bubble when it comes to being aware of and in touch with what people need at any given moment in time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And I know we're- we're running out of time here, but I want to ask you, you know, I've talked to some of your former Senate colleagues and they say you have been given an impossible portfolio. And a lot of people have been harshly critical of that. And I want to ask you if you think some of these things are fair or unfair. Donna Brazile, the former Democratic strategist said, "all the focus on turnover in your office is overblown, but you do need to renew and repurpose." Bakari Sellers said, "her portfolio is trash. You give someone a portfolio that is not meant for them to succeed." Do you think any of this is fair? Do you think you're being set up to fail?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: No, I don't believe I'm being set up to fail. But- but--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Because these are Democrats saying this.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: --But more important I'm the Vice President of the United States, anything that I handle is because it's a tough issue. And it couldn't be handled at some other level. And there are a lot of big, tough issues that need to be addressed. And it has actually been part of my lifelong career to deal with tough issues and this is no different.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you think there is such scrutiny? I mean, women are always held to a different standard, that's just a fact. Is the fact that you're a woman and the fact that you are a minority in this office part of why there is such scrutiny?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I'll leave that for others to deal with. I, you know, I- I have a job to do. And I'm going to get that job done. Let me just tell you, if you talk about being the first or being- maybe it's because I am that, for the first time maternal health is on the stage at the White House, where we're bringing people in from around the country to talk about maternal mortality, to talk about issues like postpartum care and why we should expand Medicaid coverage so it's not just 60 days, but it's for a year because that's how long she needs that assistance. And to do it because it's the right thing to do regardless of your gender, regardless of your race. And it affects so many women around our country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's all in Build Back Better.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Well, I've been working on it before we offered Build Back Better. I will work on it my entire career and elevate it to the extent that I have a microphone in front of me.
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