Transcript: Ron Klain on "Face the Nation," May 2, 2021

Klain: Reports of Iran hostage deal "not true"
Klain: Reports of Iran hostage deal "not true... 11:29

The following is a transcript of an interview with White House chief of staff Ron Klain that aired Sunday, May 2, 2021, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION, we begin this morning with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. Good morning, Ron.

WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF RON KLAIN: Good morning, JOHN. Thanks for having me.

JOHN DICKERSON: We are having- we have- as we come on the air this morning, there are reports that the Iranian government has agreed with the West to release some detainees. What can you tell us about that?

KLAIN: JOHN, I can tell you, unfortunately, that report is untrue. There is no agreement to release these four Americans. We're working very hard to get them released. We raised this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time. But so far, there's no agreement to bring these four Americans home.

JOHN DICKERSON: Sometimes in these kind of things, the other country will rush to the microphones to force your hand. Do you feel that?

KLAIN: No, again, we're working hard to bring these Americans home when we get that done we will obviously be delighted to announce that news.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let's talk to- let's talk about the president's number one priority, vaccinations. There is something called vaccine hesitancy. This week, vaccinations were down 10%. The director of the CDC says 'places the virus will strike next or where there have not been vaccinations.' Given the president's focus on this, what can he do to increase incentives for people to get vaccinated? Our Dr. Scott Gottlieb says it's people who -  there's a big portion of people who just aren't finding the time for it. It's not that they're against it. It's just not convenient.

KLAIN: Yeah, well, I agree with Dr. Gottlieb on that. We're doing a lot to make it more convenient. Starting just a week ago, 40,000 pharmacies now have the vaccine. Many of them have already walk-in hours. We're trying to expand that. We launched last week a way you can text you can text your zip code to four six eight eight six two and get text back to you locations near your home where you can go get vaccinated. So we definitely need to make it easier. Look, we've made so much progress, Scott more than- John, more than 50%, close to 55% of Americans have gotten one shot. This program is still moving with amazing pace. One in 10 Americans got a shot in the last ten days. One in ten Americans will get a shot in the next ten days. We're still vaccinating millions of people a day. We've got a lot of work left to do. We do want to make it easier and more convenient for the next group of people to get the shot.

JOHN DICKERSON: Yesterday in India, for a staggering 400,000 cases, the Indian prime minister called the president, asked him to join an effort to lift patents on the vaccination so they can be produced. Where- where is the president's head on that?

KLAIN: You know, we are rushing aid to India, we are sending five of those giant C5 planes, which include medicine supplies and the supplies for India to make its vaccines. India has its own vaccine, the Covishield vaccine, production slowed there because they don't have the scarce raw materials to make that we've sent enough raw materials to make 20 million doses immediately more of their vaccine. Intellectual property rights is part of the problem. But really, manufacturing is the biggest problem. We have a factory here in the US that has the full intellectual property rights to make the vaccine. They aren't making doses because the factory has problems.

JOHN DICKERSON: But quickly, the prime minister asked the president to lift it. Yes or no, will he? Or call for lifting.

KLAIN: The- our-our U.S. trade representative, Catherine Tai, is going to the WTO next week to start talks on how we can get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared. We're going to have more to say about that in the days to come.

JOHN DICKERSON: OK Ron, on the domestic front, the president's proposals, it seems like he's trying to do two things, sell a whole bunch of programs and a mindset. So there's family leave broadband. It's quite a list. But he's also arguing basically that- that- that- that government is good in American life. And what I wonder is at a time where we have low faith in government and institutions, can the American people handle that big of- that much change in their life that the president's offering them?

KLAIN: Well, John, I think what the president's offering them is what political figures, Democrat and Republican, have talked about for decades. Let's fix our bridges and roads. Let's give people a family leave when they have a new child or sick parent. Let's get kids, universal pre-K. These are pretty basic things. And I think that the- Washington has talked about them for decades. The bold thing that President Biden is doing is laying out a plan to actually deliver them. A way that these things, these long-promised things finally, actually happen. That's what we're trying to do. I think the American people are long overdue. They've been promised that their infrastructure will be fixed for 50 years. Where is the delivery on that? And I think that's really what this is all about.

JOHN DICKERSON: The president is going to finance a lot of this with increasing taxes. And the argument from Republicans is that that throws a blanket on economic activity. Is your view that that won't happen, that there will be no diminution in corporate activity, or is your view? There will be maybe some, but that's worth the risk to have this reorientation of American life.

KLAIN: Well, let's be clear, first of all, more Americans, many more Americans will see their taxes go down if the president's plan is passed than see them go up. Only those at the very--

JOHN DICKERSON:  I'm talking about corporate America.

KLAIN: OK, well so for corporations, obviously, they got that giant tax cut in 2017, what we're talking about is just rolling some of that tax cut back. So we're talking about putting the rate back up to 28%. It was 35 before that tax cut came. So corporates will- corporations would still have the lower- a lower tax rate than the rate they had prior to 2017. We think that 2017 tax cut didn't meet its promise. You didn't see massive investments in R&D, you didn't see wages go up. What you saw was CEO pay- CEO pay go up. You know, CEOs don't make 320 times what the average worker makes. So we think we can raise those taxes on corporations and fund the things that make the economy grow. Bridges, roads, airports, rail. That's what creates jobs. That's what gets this economy humming.

JOHN DICKERSON: Even believers in activist government think that the government can be very inefficient with a government plan that is this big. Is the president going to offer any spending cuts at all?

KLAIN: JOHN, first of all, I think people have watched their government deliver 220 million COVID shots in 100 days. They've watched us deliver a rescue plan that took this economy that was dead in the water 100 days ago and created more new jobs in the president's first 100 days than any president in history has created in his first 100 days. So I think what the public is saying is that America is on the move again and these common sense measures to give people some help with their child care, to give people some money, a tax cut to help raise their kids are the-  is the kind of common sense action they want to see this country take now.

JOHN DICKERSON: I didn't hear an answer on spending cuts, but we're going to move on. Here's the- my question about how the president's going to work this through Congress. 70% of Republicans, according to our poll and many others, think that the president was elected through fraud. What does that tell you about the environment for his proposals in Congress?

KLAIN: Well, what I know is those same polls show that large number of Americans, overwhelming number of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor more bridges, roads and infrastructure. They favor investing in child care, giving people help, taking care of their elderly relatives. They favor broadband. They favor these things. So the- the proposals the president's put forward have broad support. They have broad support in the country. They have support from Republican governors, Republican mayors. I think what we have to see is whether or not Republicans in Washington join the rest of America in broadly supporting these common sense ideas to grow our economy and to make our families better.

JOHN DICKERSON: That's why I'm focused on that 70% number, because people have talked about the president's plan being as big as what LBJ offered. Well, if you and I were talking in the mid 60s, I'd say, well, who is the president going to cajole and schmooze with and have bourbon and branch water and put together a coalition? There are a lot of Democrats, including former President Obama, who say that old idea of bipartisanship is basically a myth now, that Washington is too partisan and that to spend a lot of time making- trying to make deals is ultimately going to get you nowhere. It's going to waste time and you'll be punished at the ballot box. Do you believe that? Do you see that- that basically bipartisanship is nice when you can get it, but this is not really the way things work these days in Washington?

KLAIN: Well, I think, JOHN, the president had a great conversation with Senator Capito this week. We've invited her and a group of Republican senators to the White House in the next few days, hopefully. We're going to work with Republicans. We're going to find common ground. You know, the Senate last week passed by an overwhelming margin, a part of a water infrastructure bill that's part of- related to our jobs plan. So I think you're starting to see some progress here. Look, the president has said he's going to work hard with anyone, Democrat or Republican, who shares our goals of getting this economy moving, beating this virus and helping American families. And I think there are people in the Republican Party who share those goals. And we're going to try to work with them.

JOHN DICKERSON: But there are a lot of Democrats who say, sure, try to work with them, but then you've got to do what you can through the reconciliation process, which requires just 50 votes. And that that's really the way you're going to work this out. And the more time you spend following the fool's gold of bipartisanship, the less you're really going to get done. And so the route of reconciliation, it seems to me, it-  based on the conversations I have with Democrats, is really the way you're ultimately going to go for a lot of the president's agenda.

KLAIN: JOHN, we're going to take this one step at a time. This is an eight year plan to rebuild the country. We have time to talk to people in both parties, find where the common ground is, find what people agree is mutually shared interests. I'm optimistic that we can make progress on that in the weeks ahead. As the president said, there's only two red lines for him in this entire process. He's not going to raise taxes on people making more than- making less than $400,000 a year. The middle class are not going to see their taxes go up. And tw, that everything is on the table. And that the only- only other red line is that inaction is not an option. And so we're going to work hard to try to find a path forward on these widely popular economic matters.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about immigration as we go out here. The president- every president makes promises and then runs into reality. The Washington Post had a headline that you can't have liked, which was "At the border, a widely predicted crisis that caught Biden off guard." The question is whether the president's move to take away some of the Trump era restrictions on immigration ended up creating a draw for those migrants at the southern border?

KLAIN: No, I don't think so, JOHN. Look, I think people who are sending their children here unaccompanied, that's what we're talking about, children as young as six, seven years old, coming here with no adult who are sent on a dangerous journey. I don't think that's because of a speech Joe Biden gave. That's because of horrible conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. We're working hard to get those children reunited with family members here in the US. The number of children, a recent report came out this week that said the number of children we have stuck in our Border Patrol stations are down 84% in the past month. We're making progress on resolving this problem and getting these kids reunited with their family members.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Ron Klain, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for being with us.