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Transcript: Governor Asa Hutchinson on "Face the Nation," August 8, 2021

Arkansas governor explains why he changed mind on mask law
Arkansas governor explains why he changed min... 08:34

The following is a transcript of an interview with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson that aired on Sunday, August 8, 2021, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: We go now to the Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, who joins us from Little Rock. Good morning, Governor.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON: Good morning, JOHN. Great to be with you this morning.

JOHN DICKERSON: It's good to have you. I want to start with schools and masks before we move on to the bigger issue of vaccinations. But they're related because in schools, those under 12 can't get vaccinated. You signed a bill that was against mask mandates. You changed your position. Why?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, facts change and leaders have to adjust to the new facts that you have and the reality of what you have to deal with. Whenever I signed that law cases were low. We were hoping that the whole thing was gone in terms of the virus, but it roared back with the Delta variant. And whenever, you know- we're pushing the vaccines out, but those under 12 cannot get vaccinated in the schools. And so I realized that we needed to have more options for our local school districts to protect those children. And so I asked the legislature to redo the law that prohibited those requirements or those options for the school districts to protect the children. And so it was an error to sign that law. I admit that. Thank goodness if the legislature did not act this week, which they didn't, the court stepped in and held that as unconstitutional. And now we have that local flexibility for schools to make their decision to protect the children based upon the unique circumstances of their district.

JOHN DICKERSON: When you say facts change, do you see something in the last few weeks, particularly with respect to those under 12 who are in hospitals who are getting COVID? Did you see and learn more about the way in which the Delta variant is affecting that specific part of your community?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: We have. And part of it is that the Delta variant is so transmissible that it affects every population. The higher age group populations have been vaccinated. So we're seeing 40 year olds in the hospital and on vents and- and then it goes down. And while the children are less susceptible to it and have less at risk, still a small number of children find themselves in the hospital. We've had over 24 in our children's hospital. We've had three adolescents die. They couldn't be vaccinated. And- and so I look at that and I say that we've got to do everything we can to protect those children. Everybody else can be vaccinated. And I'm pushing those vaccinations. We don't need other stringent measures there because vaccine is their solution. But for those under 12, we want them to go to school and we need to have that flexibility because they do have some risk.

JOHN DICKERSON: I want to get to the vaccine solution in a moment. But quickly, about the Marion School District. I think there are about 900 students and teachers in quarantine. Do you feel like that wouldn't have happened if the school district had had the freedom of local control and the ability to have a massive mandate in that school district?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, if we would have had more vaccines out, those numbers would have been less. But it illustrates the point that if we're going to have a successful school year, school districts like Marion need to have that option to require masks for those lower grades or make the decision that's suitable for their community. But let me emphasize a point here that ordinarily you have about 2.5 contacts from one exposure that has to be quarantined. But in the school environment, it was more like 18 to one. And so that's why we had so many that were quarantined. And you can't have a successful school year with that kind of exposure in the school. And so vaccines, as well as flexibility of the local school district would be the key, in my judgment.

JOHN DICKERSON: Last time you were on the program, Arkansas was 46th in the nation in terms of first vaccinations. It has now risen to 38th in the nation. So it has gotten better. Sixty percent of Arkansans are now- got at least one shot. What accounts for that improvement?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, two things: we did start our community conversations, which are town halls that- I've been to over 12 cities, and those honest conversations from skeptics to trusted advisers in the community has spurred action to increase vaccination rates. But even more significantly, the risk factor is at play. And people see the hospitalizations up. They see the cases. They see what happens to their neighbors. They're worried about it. They're going out and getting vaccinated. We want to continue to mount that campaign to engage our local communities. Hopefully we can be successful and continue that, increase our vaccination rate. That's the only way out of it.

JOHN DICKERSON: Last time you were on, you said if incentives don't work, reality will. And it seems to have kicked in. When you have these conversations in the community- a new Kaiser Foundation poll found that half of those who are unvaccinated say that they're more worried about the vaccine than getting sick. When that comes up in your conversations, what do you say to people?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, first of all, it's not what the government says, and I recognize that's not going to be the answer that is needed or is persuasive. But I will call on a local physician that they know that they trust in their community and ask, what do you say about that? And that trusted adviser is more persuasive and fact oriented and helps to dispel the myths. The second thing that's important is the FDA has to act. We've had over- well-over 100 million Americans that are vaccinated. They're not going to come in now and say, well, that shouldn't have been approved. You know, as Dr. Fauci says, they're dotting the I's and crossing the T's. We need that final FDA approval. They need to act.

JOHN DICKERSON: Do you think if the FDA approves, that there would be any vaccine mandates in school districts or that would kick in after that full approval happens?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Not in Arkansas. I don't support a vaccine mandate. We can do it through education, but I do expect that broader acceptance of the vaccine- I do expect that some employers in sensitive industries will require vaccines. But you have to have the FDA approval before that is more broadly accepted

JOHN DICKERSON: When you've been going around the state and- and encountering your constituents, a lot of times in this pandemic, people have said we're all in this together. But you made a statement this week where you said some politicians are, you know, playing to people's fears and not being compassionate. Are we all in this together based on your experience?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, we're all in it in terms of trying to get through the pandemic, but we have to have leaders that will step up and say that's a myth that's not supported, and you all need to listen rationally to people. We can't just give in to the loudest voice, which is 15% of people who's not going to take the vaccine regardless, that believes in the conspiracy theories that are totally irrational. And we have to have leaders that will be able to resist that loudest voice in the room and talk common sense, compassion and logic to them.

JOHN DICKERSON: Finally, Governor, as we go out the door here, you served as chairman of the National Governors Association. The Democratic co-chairman was Andrew Cuomo. When MARGARET was here and asked you about it, you said you're going to wait for that investigation to take place in New York. Investigation has taken place. A lot of people think he should step down. Do you have a view?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, the investigation was very thorough. The allegations could not be more serious. No woman should have to go to the workplace and have to choose between a paycheck and being assaulted, particularly when it's in a public environment. So he either needs to resign in the face of this. Certainly, if criminal charges are filed, he should resign. It's- it's a sad circumstance, but that was a very credible review. And the allegations are very serious. And that should not be tolerated in a public environment for sure, much less a private environment.

JOHN DICKERSON: Governor Hutchinson, thanks so much for being with us. Thank you.

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