Meet the Press - April 04, 2021

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: A fourth Covid wave.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY:

So much reason for hope, but right now, I’m scared.

CHUCK TODD:

Cases are climbing.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

We need to hold out just a bit longer and give vaccines a chance to really get the upper hand.

CHUCK TODD:

Even as vaccinations hit 4 million a day.

PRES. JOE BIDEN:

Too many Americans are acting as if this fight is over. It is not.

CHUCK TODD:

States are dropping restrictions and domestic air travel is up, as the CDC relaxes guidance for vaccinated people. But is the US getting back to normal too soon? My guest this morning: epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm. Also, rebuilding America.

PRES. JOE BIDEN:

It’s a once in a generation investment in America.

CHUCK TODD:

President Biden is making his pitch for a $2 trillion infrastructure package. How will he pay for it?

REP. KEVIN McCARTHY:

It just raises taxes.

CHUCK TODD:

And how much will he spend?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ:

We need to go way higher.

CHUCK TODD:

My guests this morning: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. And, taking a stand. After President Biden weighed in.

PRES. JOE BIDEN:

I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly.

CHUCK TODD:

Major League Baseball pulls the All-Star game out of Atlanta. Just the latest of nearly 200 companies and organizations to condemn Georgia’s new voting restrictions.

ED BASTIAN:

This is something that’s, that’s more than money, this is about protecting the voices of our people.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP:

It means cancel culture and partisan activists are coming for your business.

CHUCK TODD:

What’s next for the fight over voting rights? Joining me for insight and analysis are Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour; Amy Walter, national editor at the Cook Political Report; Rich Lowry, editor of National Review and María Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino. Welcome to Sunday. It’s Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest running show in television history. This is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning and a Happy Easter and Happy Passover. You know, the backdrop of the current political fights on Covid, the economy, immigration and voting rights is a country that’s still on edge, despite rising optimism. Consider Friday alone: An attack on the U.S. Capitol left a police officer dead and another injured, shaking Washington’s slow return to normalcy. The CDC announced vaccinated Americans can travel without testing or self-quarantine. But cases are rising, up in 31 states over the past two weeks. America’s past-time, Major League Baseball, declared Georgia’s restrictive new voting law un-American, announcing it was moving the All-Star Game and the draft out of Atlanta. And all week in a courtroom in Minneapolis, the nation watched the personal trauma of eyewitnesses forced to relive the violence of the final minutes of George Floyd’s life. And it’s perhaps because of this uncertain backdrop that Joe Biden officially declared the era of small government over by deciding to go big on infrastructure. Biden is hoping to drive a wedge between Republican elected officials and their voters, putting his political capital behind legislation that, on paper, is widely popular. The Covid relief plan had 70% support, and America’s — Americans, in theory, also favor an infrastructure overhaul. 79 percent support a government overhaul of American roadways, railroads, bridges and ports. And while Biden is going big on infrastructure, it’s what he chose not to go big on, think guns and immigration, that does reinforce this idea he’s still a pragmatic politician at heart. But with Republican officials already seizing on the size of the plan and the tax increases that Democrats are proposing to pay for it, fighting for this popular infrastructure proposal may not be any easier than any other Washington fight he could choose to pick.

PRES. JOE BIDEN:

It’s big, yes. It’s bold, yes. And we can get it done.

CHUCK TODD:

President Biden, rolling out the next phase of his economic plan this week in Pittsburgh.

PRES. JOE BIDEN:

It’s a once in a generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve seen or done.

CHUCK TODD:

The president’s proposal includes: $620 billion for transportation infrastructure, at least $650 billion to expand broadband and invest in clean water and green energy, upgrading homes and schools; $400 billion for home and community-based care for the elderly and disabled, and $580 billion for research and workforce development. Former President Trump and Congressional Republicans left a bipartisan deal on the table, turning promises on infrastructure into a long-running joke.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The American people deserve the best infrastructure in the world. We will create the infrastructure of the future. We call it infrastructure week.

VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:

We’re actually at the end of what the President called Infrastructure Week.

SEC. ELAINE CHAO:

Last week was a great week. It was infrastructure week.

PRES. JOE BIDEN:

How many times have we heard “this is Infrastructure Week” over the last four years?

CHUCK TODD:

Now Biden is determined to push a bill through, over Republican opposition.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL:

I’m gonna fight them every step of the way because I think this is the wrong prescription for America.

CHUCK TODD:

Paying for his plan by primarily raising the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28%.

REP. KEVIN McCARTHY:

It seems less about infrastructure, more about tax increases.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL:

A big whopping tax increase.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Joe Biden wants to come along and jack up taxes.

CHUCK TODD:

Still, Biden is counting on the fact that public works projects are popular back home. Despite their objections to the plan, some Republicans already appear to be promoting them.

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO:

I was able to get some money in there specifically for the completion of Corridor H and the Appalachian highway system.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

I can’t imagine that somewhere in a multi-trillion dollar bill, there wouldn’t be money for the Brent Spence Bridge.

CHUCK TODD:

Like President Obama a decade ago.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA:

Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell: Help us rebuild this bridge.

CHUCK TODD:

This week, Biden’s cabinet members are heading out on a road show to make his case.

PRES. JOE BIDEN:

I think the Republican’s voters are gonna have a lot to say about whether we get a lot of this done.

CHUCK TODD:While most Democrats are praising the president, some have concerns.

REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER:

I’m going to be sensitive to any tax increases that hurt the families in my district.

CHUCK TODD:And it’s not clear whether the White House can unite progressives and moderates around a plan.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ:

We need to go way higher. We can do $10 trillion.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

To get onto reconciliation, you have to vote to proceed. I have told them I will not vote to proceed until we try.

MIKE ALLEN:

Do you believe that you can get ten Republicans on an infrastructure bill?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

I sure do.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg. Mr. secretary, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Thank you. Good to be back.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to start with, for you, for our purposes of this discussion with both yourself and Senator Wicker who I have later, define infrastructure as this administration sees it because we’re already having a debate of, “Hey, bridges, roads: that’s infrastructure. Elder care is not.” Define infrastructure in your view.

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

So, I’d say infrastructure is the foundation that makes it possible for Americans to thrive. And what we know is that that foundation has been crumbling, whether we talk about care infrastructure or whether we’re talking about roads and bridges and the other things that I work on as the secretary of transportation. We have fallen to 13th in the world, in terms of our transportation infrastructure, and continuing to head in the wrong direction because we’ve been failing to invest for a generation. The American Jobs Plan is our chance to fix that.

CHUCK TODD:

This is being broken up into two parts. This part is approximately $2 trillion. The next part being rolled out in three weeks is, I guess, another trillion or so, here. Is this being broken up because you think, well, alright, the bricks and mortar part of infrastructure, we can find Republican support. The social service infrastructure, we can’t?

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I think we can find a lot of support for all of the elements of the president’s agenda. Certainly, what we’re seeing with the American Jobs Plan is overwhelming support among the American people. And, you know, in many ways, it feels like we’ve already convinced America. Now, we just got to get Washington to follow suit. And I would note also that there’s a lot of support for how the president is proposing to pay for this. That’s part of why I think this is such a compelling package. We know that we as a country can afford to make big investments in infrastructure. We just need to make sure that corporations are paying their fair share. That’s what this plan is going to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start, first, with how long you’re going to look for bipartisan support. You know, it was about this time in 2009 that President Obama and a Vice President Biden rolled out a health care plan, and they spent six months convinced — because polling told them there was bipartisan support, and individual lawmakers thought — you thought there was bipartisan support. And you ran into, sort of, a party brick wall there. How much time do you give to bipartisanship?

SEC. PETE BUTTIGEIG:

Well, the president really believes in a bipartisan approach, and it’s one of the reasons that I’m constantly having conversations with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, gathering ideas. But the president also has a clear vision, and as he said, this has to get done. We — he’s asking for Congress to make major progress on this by Memorial Day. The bottom line is we’ve got to deliver for the American people. And we can’t let politics slow this down to where it doesn’t actually happen.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it looks as — from this observer’s standpoint, that the administration looks like it wants bipartisan support more than Congressional Democratic leadership. Is their patience less than the president’s?

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

You’d have to ask them. But I believe that they are just as interested in trying to get somewhere that’s a win-win. At the end of the day, yes, it’s the president’s belief, but it’s also the belief of the American people, that government works better when you’ve got both parties actually talking to each other, negotiating, working in good faith. And that’s what we’re working to do around infrastructure. I mean, if there’s any issue area where it could be done, surely, it’s this one. Now, at the end of the day, of course, it’ll be up to the other side of the aisle whether they’re prepared to vote for a package that maybe isn’t perfect for anybody, but it’s a great package. And again, now is the season for hearing any ideas they want to bring to the table. I think you’ll find the president’s very open to that. We’ve already had two Oval Office meetings with members of the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle. You can expect more of that.

CHUCK TODD:

Talking about paying for this plan. President Biden has one idea, right? Mostly corporate tax rates, and I know the idea is, “Hey, if you’ve got another idea, we’ll listen.” There’s three ways to fund projects, right? You — there’s user fees, you know, you can throw gas tax into kind of a user fee category, there’s straight up corporate taxes, income taxes here and then there’s debt, deficit spending. Does President Biden, does he guarantee that he will sign a bill that is totally paid for, or will there be some deficit spending in this bill?

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, I’m not going to get ahead of the process in Congress, but what I will say is that the vision the president has put forward is fully paid for. Across 15 years, it would raise all of the revenue needed for these once-in-a-lifetime investments. So by year 16, you’d actually see this package working to reduce the deficit. And again, it’s important to point out that the American people agree with this because we’ve seen corporations paying zero. We’re just asking corporations to pay their fair share at a rate, by the way, that would be lower than it’s been for most of my life. Now, again, if folks on the Hill have other ideas about how to pay for it, we’re going to be interested to hear those ideas, but there is a clear vision to pay for this bill in full.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say — it’s not lost on me, though, that you say, “There’s a vision to pay for this bill in full.” But if a bill that funds this infrastructure project comes to the president’s desk and it does not include enough to pay for this bill and its deficit spending, it doesn’t sound like he would somehow veto it. I mean, is that what you’re saying here? He’s going to be open —

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, that decision —

CHUCK TODD:

— If Congress decides to deficit spend, so be it?

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

That decision is very literally above my paygrade. And we’ll see how this thing looks by the time it actually reaches the president, which we hope is quite soon. But what I’ll say is we’ve got a great proposal for how we can do this that is responsible, that keeps the American economy competitive. But if there are other ideas, now’s a great time to hear them.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you worried that the sense of urgency for this bill — you call this a JOBS bill, right? The acronym JOBS. You guys want this to be seen as a “jobs” bill. We just had a tremendous jobs report on Friday. We’re probably going to have a couple more months just like it, if not better, as we reopen due to the pandemic restrictions. It’s natural. Do you worry that that will recede the sense of urgency for this plan, and perhaps, make even some Democrats hesitant to spend this much money?

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

No because those jobs numbers, which are good news, still reflect an economy that’s coming out of a deep hole created by the pandemic. But those are also numbers that are about this week, this month, this quarter. The American Jobs Plan is about a generational investment. It’s going to create 19 million jobs. And we’re talking about economic growth that’s going to go on for years and years. So yeah, the Rescue Plan was largely about just getting through this season, getting America back from the brink. But I want to be clear. The American Jobs Plan is not about short term stimulus. It’s about making sure that America is positioned to compete for the next decade and for the generation ahead. We know that China and our other strategic competitors are already making major investments. It’s time for America to lead the way again. And those 19 million jobs we’re about to create go way beyond some quarterly or monthly report.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you have a —

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

This is about our future as a country.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you have a vision of — what is America going to look like in 2035 if you implement this plan?

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Absolutely, yeah. By 2035, America will be much more economically competitive. We will be stronger in terms of leading the world because of the research and development investments that are here. And, we will be on track to avoid climate disaster because of the provisions for things like electric vehicles. And just as importantly, because we will have made these investments here starting in 2021, those electric vehicles, that more and more people around the world are driving, will have been increasingly made in America by union workers. This is what you get for planning for the long term. I mean, look, right now we’re still coasting off of infrastructure choices that were made in the 1950s. Now is our chance to make infrastructure choices for the future that are going to serve us well in the 2030s and on into the middle of the century, when we will be judged for whether we met this moment here in the 2020s.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, secretary of transportation. Appreciate you coming on and sharing your perspective with us. We’ll see how long this takes. Thank you.

SEC. PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. He is the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, one of the key committees that is focused almost solely on infrastructure in this country. Senator Wicker, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir, on this Easter Sunday.

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

Thank you, Chuck. Appreciate it.

CHUCK TODD:

And let me start with a study from the American Society of Civil Engineers. They gave an infrastructure report card to the country. Wasn’t very good, C-. For the state of Mississippi was slightly worse. Bridges, by the Civil Engineers, were given a D-, drinking water a D. We know about the Jackson, Mississippi issue. Roads, a D-, overall a D+. How badly does the country and Mississippi in particular need a massive infrastructure investment?

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

Chuck, thanks for having me on. Let me take a minute, though, first of all. And your panel will probably be talking about the attack on the Capitol.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

SEN. ROGER WICKER:I just want to say our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of our Capitol Policeman, Billy Evans. He gave his life for his country. And I think I’d be remiss —

CHUCK TODD:

I’m glad you did that, sir.

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

— in not mentioning him.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, we are definitely going to honor him later, but I’m glad you said that. Thank you.

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

Right. Listen, I’m all for working with the administration on an infrastructure bill. And yes, we need it in Mississippi. And I voted for it as a state legislator and as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. And let me tell you, I think I can work with Pete Buttigieg. I spoke to him the day he was nominated. We’ve been trading phone messages for the last three or four days in an effort to talk about this bill. I think Pete and I could come up with an infrastructure bill. What the president proposed this week is not an infrastructure bill. It’s a huge tax increase, for one thing. And it’s a tax increase on small businesses, on job creators in the United States of America. And, Chuck, you made a statement that I just have to wonder about. You said, “It seems the administration is more eager to have bipartisanship than members of Congress are.” How could the president expect to have bipartisanship when his proposal is a repeal of one of our signature issues in 2017, where we cut the tax rate and made the United States finally more competitive when it comes to the way we treat job creators? He reverses all that. And I’ll tell you what. He says no one will pay extra taxes if they make less than $400,000 a year. That may be true. We’ll have to see the details there. But under this tax increase bill, there are a lot of people making $100,000 and $50,000 that are going to lose their jobs because of the extra burden this plan would put on job creators.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, look, what they’re talking about, though, is lowering — is basically finding a middle ground between where the corporate tax rate was in 2017 and what the corporate tax rate is today. They would like to move it to 28 percent. I am curious, this tax cut that you guys put through in 2017, there were various promises that were made. That they would pay for themselves, hasn’t come close to that. That it was going to produce 4, 5 or 6 percent growth. We didn’t even get 3 percent growth. At one point, former President Trump said, “This thing’s going to pay off the debt like it’s water.” Well, as you know, the debt is way up. So I guess, right, you look at this tax cut proposal, when most of the benefits seem to go to stockholders. You know, corporations didn’t do what you thought they were going to do, which is take this savings and invest. They instead did stock buybacks. So, wasn’t this tax cut kind of an economic failure?

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

No, it wasn’t at all. And until the pandemic hit in March of 2020, the tax cuts were working just as we expected them to. Unemployment was down, job creation among African Americans was up. Job creation among veterans was up. Among women in the workforce, there was more participation. The fact that we had lowered the tax burden on job creators, particularly small business, which is the job — the great job engine in the United States of America, was working fine. Now, some of these predictions that you mentioned, I never participated in that.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand.

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

But what I said was you make us more competitive internationally, and we will create jobs. And we did just —

CHUCK TODD:

Well —

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

— that.

CHUCK TODD:

— let me ask you this. How would you pay for infrastructure? Where would you get the money?

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

Well, listen. I’m open to suggestion about that. But I have two bipartisan bills that I’ve introduced. Senator Stabenow is on an advanced refunding bill —

CHUCK TODD:

Right. I understand. Investing in municipal bonds, right? So basically debt financing?

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

— and Senator Bennet is on another bill of mine. But I’m absolutely up to looking at ways that, for example, Mayor Buttigieg’s home state of Indiana did. They use private-public partnerships and things of that nature. But the very worst way to finance this is to put a major tax burden on small businesses that create the jobs in the United States of America and on all job creators.

CHUCK TODD:

So should big businesses —

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

So —

CHUCK TODD:

— pay?

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

I’m open to paying —

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this.

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

— for this. We’ve got to pay for it.

CHUCK TODD:

How about big businesses?

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

The worst way to pay for it is to tax job creators.

CHUCK TODD:

Should there be — so I understand that. You want to carve out. But let’s, you know, let’s not conflate. Should the big businesses that benefit from smooth running roads and really good ports and airports that will improve delivery mechanisms, should they contribute something to our infrastructure? You’ve got a whole bunch of companies that pay zip into the federal government coffers.

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

I’m all for looking at ways to pay for it. And let me just again say that states like our neighboring state of Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, they’ve all found a way, a fair way, that the public will go for to pay for roads and bridges. But when you talk about big businesses and you’re saying we should raise their tax rate from 21 percent corporate rate to 28 percent, let me just tell you: that’s going to cut job creation in the United States of America. And it’s the very reason we lowered those tax rates in 2017. It’s a plan that works. And if the president wants a bipartisan plan, how could he possibly try to get something passed that every single — that repeals a bill that every single Republican in the Senate voted for in 2017? To me, I don’t see the bipartisan gesture there.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me — one last question here. Did you guys blow it? You had four years to do an infrastructure bill. You had the presidency, you had the Senate and the House for a bit. Did you blow it?

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

No. As a matter of fact, we passed infrastructure bills. The FAST Act, on two occasions. But yes, I would love to have passed a larger infrastructure bill. And I certainly hope we can do that. But I don’t want to do it by raising taxes and cutting jobs for Americans.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Roger Wicker, Republican from Mississippi, I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your perspective with us. Thank you, sir, and a Happy Easter.

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. When we come back, can the rising pace of vaccination stay ahead of the virus? I’ll talk to epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm next. But before we go to break, as Senator Wicker mentioned, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Kenny Shaver was released from the hospital yesterday. That’s a bit of good news here we want to share. After that attack on a barricade about 100 yards from the Senate entrance there, you could see Capitol Police Officers, friends and family cheering. Good to see cheers of “Shaver” were in the air as well. But we also want to take a moment to remember Capitol Police Officer Billy Evans. He died in that attack. An 18 year veteran of the force, Evans was a member of the Capitol Division’s First Responders Unit. He grew up in North Adams, Massachusetts, graduated from Western New England University. Evans is survived by two young children, folks, Logan and Abigail. He’s the third Capitol Police Officer to die since the January 6th insurrection.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. This week, the U.S. hit a milestone. More than 100 million Americans have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. At the same time, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky issued an emotional warning of impending doom as case counts continue to rise, personally reaching out to governors to plead with them to reinstate restrictions. Twelve states have seen their highest case counts in two months, and states are racing to get ahead of new variants, which are spreading rapidly, by speeding up their own vaccine rollouts. But is that enough? Joining me now is Dr. Michael Osterholm. He’s the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Osterholm, the last time you were on, the metaphor was, “We are in the eye of the hurricane.” That basically, things felt rosy and you said, “Hey, this is going to get worse.” Well, do you believe we’re in the midst of this fourth surge? And are we still sitting on a category five, or do you think this is a manageable fourth surge?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

Well, thank you, Chuck, for having me again. First of all, let me say that at this time, we really are in a category five hurricane status with regard to the rest of the world. At this point, we will see in the next two weeks the highest number of cases reported globally since the end of the pandemic. In terms of the United States, we’re just at the beginning of this surge. We haven’t even really begun to see it yet. We have had over the course of the past year surges of cases that occur in the Upper Midwest, the Northeast, then they subside, then we see big increases in cases through all the Southern Sunbelt states. Then it subsides and the Northeast and Midwest come back again. And we’re now I think in that cycle where the Upper Midwest is just now beginning to start this fourth surge. And I think it was a wake-up call to everyone yesterday when Michigan reported out 8,400 new cases and we’re now seeing increasing number of severe illnesses: ICU, hospitalization in individuals who are between 30 and 50 years of age who have not been vaccinated.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to actually put up some CDC headlines from the week because there was a little bit of confusion. And I want you to try to clear it up. And I get there is guidelines and then there is, there’s interpreting the guidelines. You know, we had CDC reiterating that Americans should limit their travel as the U.S. hits 30 million cases. And then, of course, they say, “Fully vaccinated people can travel in the U.S. without tests or quarantines.” Then we had the CDC data suggesting that vaccinated folks don’t carry or spread virus. Then some scientists said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. We don’t know if that’s the case, per se.” And then there’s this: the president of Argentina apparently has COVID after getting the Sputnik vaccine. So clear up this confusion for us. And is the CDC, should they be clearer on what our guidelines are?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

Well, we all want to be clear. And I do give the director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, great credit for I think being a truth teller right now. But let me just give an example on the airplane flight. When you get vaccinated, it’s like buying a fireproof suit that works 90 to 95 percent of the time. But it doesn’t work all the time. So why want to walk into a big fire if you don’t have to. So what they are basically saying is, “Yes, if you are vaccinated you can start opening up a lot of things in your life that you couldn’t do before. But now, if you know you’re going to be walking into a fire, why do it?” So I think their message was completely consistent, although it may have confused the public. So get vaccinated. That’s your fireproof suit. But don’t put yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily because it’s not going to be foolproof. I think in terms of all the other recommendations we’re looking at right now with the public, that’s the challenge we have. And please note, this B117 variant, the one that we’ve talked about, the one from the U.K., just as we’ve talked about how it’s now 50-100% more infectious, it causes more severe illness 50-60% of the time, this is almost like having a whole new pandemic descend upon us. The only good news is our vaccines do work against it.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you about a mutation within these mutations. It’s I guess nicknamed the Eek mutation. I guess it’s less like a variant and it’s a — it seems to be a calling card of these more virulent, I guess more intense variants here. How concerned are you that this will be — will get around our vaccines?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

Well, I’m concerned about all the variants. Before November, we really didn’t understand that this virus would mutate as it does and that in terms of its mutation, it can do one of three things. One, it can be much more infectious. Two, it can cause more severe illnesses. Or three, in some instances, it can actually evade the immune protection from the vaccine or from having previously been infected. The Eek that you’re talking about, that particular variant addition, is one that does evade the protection of the vaccine or natural infection. Not totally, but it surely compromises them. We’re very worried about this. But Chuck, I’m even more worried about what’s coming down the pike over the next several years. Right now, if you look at the vaccine distribution around the world, ten countries have received about 80% of the vaccine. Thirty countries have not even seen a drop of it. If we continue to see this virus spread throughout the low and middle income countries unfettered, they’re going to spit out variants over the course of the next years that, in each and every instance, could challenge our vaccines. This is why we need not only a U.S. response, but we need a global response to get as many people in low and middle income countries vaccinated so we don’t risk the actual capability of our own vaccines right here. Now, this is about vaccine security with these new variants.

CHUCK TODD:

How are we going to live our life the next year? Are we going to have — should we be wearing masks? Are we going to be getting a third vaccine shot in the next six months? Is whatever pre-pandemic normal was, never coming back?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

I don’t think so. I think we surely have that opportunity to come back. But in the meantime, please understand, this B117 variant is a brand new ballgame. In fact, right here in Minnesota, we’re now seeing the other aspect of this B117 variant that hasn’t been talked much about, and that is the fact that it infects kids very readily. Unlike the previous strains of the virus, we didn’t see children under eighth grade get infected often, or they were not frequently very ill. They didn’t transmit to the rest of the community. That’s why I was one of those people very strongly supporting reopening in-class learning. B117 turns that on its head. These kids now are really major challenges in terms of how they transmit. The fact that I can sit here and talk about 749 schools in Minnesota in the last two weeks now having B117 activity, so I the message is we have to–

CHUCK TODD:

So you would, right now–

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

–get through this surge–

CHUCK TODD:

–you would close schools?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

And this means we’re going to have to reconsider what we’re doing now and how we’re doing that. But that’s all to get us to the summer. I do believe, and I give the administration great credit, for how it’s bringing forward vaccine as quickly as possible. But at the same time, we’re not going to have nearly enough in the next six to eight weeks to get through this surge. And we’re going to have to look at other avenues to do that, just as every other country in the world who has had a B117 surge has had to do. And that’s what Dr. Walensky was talking about in all honesty.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and what you just said there about in-person school and what’s happening with this variant, I think a lot of scientists and the CDC will all be taking that into major consideration, what’s going on there. That is a very uncomfortable development. Dr. Michael Osterholm, as always, thank you for coming on and giving your straight talk to us.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, can President Biden muscle through another $2 trillion bill with Republicans vowing to fight him every step of the way? And Former Speaker of the House John Boehner is promoting his new memoir and he is unloading on his former colleagues. And Boehner’s language is quite colorful in doing it.

[BEGIN TAPE]

JOHN BOEHNER:

P.S.: Ted Cruz, go **** yourself.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is with us: Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent for PBS NewsHour; Amy Walter, the national editor of Cook Political Report; Rich Lowry, editor of National Review; and Maria Teresa Kumar, the president of Voto Latino. I want to start, Yamiche, where former Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, I think, does a pretty, did a pretty good job on NPR, of at least giving words to the size of this package. As she said, “You get a bridge! And you get a bridge! And you get a bridge! And you get a road! And you get a hospital! It’s the Oprah of infrastructure.” This is a very, very big bill. And I think at times, we’re all, you know — there hasn’t been anything like it in our lifetime.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

That’s right. And the Biden administration is really banking on the idea that this big, bold plan that is not just about roads and bridges, but also about the way that American society has functioned and the societal ills that have been allowed to happen — that this bill really focusing on that will somehow get the attention of the American people, will get the support of the American people, and will allow them to continue to use what they — what is really their redefined idea of bipartisanship, which is that, as Pete Buttigieg just told you, the American people support it, the Republicans in Washington may not. I also think that when we think about this bill, we should look at the money, right? There’s four — some $400 billion in here for in-home health care. That’s about women of color who are working in people’s homes. It’s about also helping societies and communities that were torn apart by highways, African American communities. So they’re really betting on the idea that this bill focusing on racial injustice as well as roads and bridges, that that will be enough to run on in 2022 and beyond.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Amy, this is going to be, one of the political fights is going to be over, over taxes. And Democrats are saying, “Hey, the public is in favor when you connect a tax increase to infrastructure.” And there’s no doubt. There’s plenty of polling. We all have the polls to prove that. But I want to single out another poll that was out this week. And it’s out of the state of California. This is mostly a poll about the recall. But, but our friends at PPIC asked Californians on their personal tax bills — federal, state and local — nearly 60 percent of Californians said that they think they’re paying more than they should. Thirty-six percent said they’re paying about right. This tax argument is always a lot trickier than what your polls tell you, is it not?

AMY WALTER:

Right. That’s right. I mean, and when you asked, Chuck, to have Senator Wicker define the debate about infrastructure, he said, “This isn’t an infrastructure bill. This is a tax bill.” And you’re right. If you look at asking folks the question, “Do you think people making over $400,000 a year should pay a little more in taxes?” “Sure, I support that.” “Do you think that corporations should pay a little more in taxes?” “Sure, I support that.” But at the end of the day, it’s how politics, politicians define it. Look, I think the biggest challenge right now for the Biden administration is what Secretary Buttigieg put forward, saying this is a generational issue. This isn’t just a short term political gain. And in politics, we live in the short term. We don’t live, and we’re not being defined by, generational, in large part because the voters don’t trust that politicians can deliver on this. The easy part, Chuck, has been thus far, people were getting tangible things. They got money in their bank account and they’re seeing vaccines going into people. This is going to take a long time to get through, which gives Republicans a long time to define it by taxes.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich Lowry, what is the risk here? Republicans are going to make the tax argument and there’s a, there’s sort of a comfortable place for the party. It’s a unifying, it can — mostly a unifying issue in many ways. What’s the risk in pursuing a tax strategy to defeat this bill?

RICH LOWRY:

I don’t think there’s a huge risk at all. I think the corporate taxes, they — they’re not really entirely paid by corporations. The research supports that. Consumers, shareholders, workers end up paying part of that burden. But just the number here, Chuck, is just astonishing. In 2019, the federal government, the entirety of the federal government spent $4.4 trillion. And Biden is talking about basically matching that in his first two bills out of the gate. So I think this one’s going to be harder than the first one because it’s harder to spend the second $2 trillion than the first $2 trillion. Taxes adds another complicating factor. And then finally, you gotta worry, he’s got to worry about sort of the Obama stimulus example. You spend the money, you litter the landscape with money, and then at the end of the day, does anyone really point to anything that’s big that’s changed because of it?

CHUCK TODD:

Right. It took four years for people to see Obamacare, tangible results from it. Maria Teresa Kumar, you know, we’re having this debate, is Biden an FDR? Is he a centrist? But there’s still some pragmatism that he chose to pick here. He’s going big on infrastructure, which in theory’s very popular with the country. He’s not going big on guns or immigration, because why? Those are a bit more divisive.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

Chuck, earmarks are back. And that says all we need to know right now about how Biden is channeling the FDR, but also channeling the LBJ. LBJ used earmarks as an opportunity to shore up the Republicans that were on the, that were oftentimes not aligned with him. But it is another arrow in his quiver to ensure that this bill will get passed. And it allows for him to put points on the board not just with Republicans. Earmarks often create an opportunity for bipartisanship. But it also helps to shore up a lot of those Democratic union workers that went Republican, because he’s going to be putting money back in. And who did he choose to be the head of his — head of transportation? Pete Buttigieg. Why? Because he’s already looking into the midterm elections, recognizing that the unions in the Midwest are in trouble if they want to come back to the Democratic Party. And that is one of the reasons why he’s using it. Now, is he going to be able to pass gun reform and immigration? This is another way of trying to figure out how do you actually make sure that there’s a political calculus to say, “You were able to be bipartisan here. Will you move on a step further?” And for those Republicans that say that they don’t want any of it, ask them, “What will they give back? What will they basically not give back to their states?” Because that, none of them can answer. Not even Mitch McConnell, and not McCarthy.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, Rich Lowry, I want to ask you about the impact of John Boehner. Boehner really torches the entire sort of right-wing media ecosystem, all things Freedom Caucus, all things Ted Cruz, as we noted in our tease here. I know what the criticism of Boehner’s going to be: “So now you tell us.” But is he onto something? And is this only going to split the party more?

RICH LOWRY:

Well, one, it wasn’t a secret, as you know, Chuck, that John Boehner couldn’t stand Sean Hannity, couldn’t stand Ted Cruz, couldn’t stand all these people that made him have such a miserable experience as Speaker of the House. But it’s really simplistic, the idea that what Boehner calls the “Chaos Caucus” took over the Republican Party, because if that’s true, the Republican Party would be overwhelmingly concerned with debt and government spending right now. And it’s not. I think you — to look to why Republican voters got so alienated from their own establishment, you’ve got to go to the issues of immigration and the Iraq War, where the Republican elite became out of touch with its own rank and file without even knowing it, and then Trump drove a truck through that gap.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. I think that is very well put there, Rich. Coming up, Covid changed the look of Easter services for a second year in a row. But there are some signs that some of these changes might be here to stay.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. Today marks the second Easter that’s being celebrated in the time of Covid. And vaccinations and optimism aside, things are not yet back to normal in most churches. In early March, our friends at Pew Research found that only 27% of U.S. adults were planning on going to church in person for Easter this year. In a non-pandemic year, in case you’re wondering, 44% of that group say they would be in pews today. Because of that, many have opted to attend church from home, doing it online. In fact, 33% of churchgoers have worshipped online in the last month, that’s down just a bit from July of last year. Seventeen percent, by the way, have visited their congregations for in-person worship in the last month, and that is up just a smidge from July. So what does this mean for the future of worship overall in this country? This week, Gallup released some data showing that the number of Americans who say that they are members of a church, mosque or synagogue has dropped to below 50% for the first time ever in this country. This is not to say that that’s the, technically, the percentage of, of adults who claim that they are religious. But this is significant that less than half of Americans are members of a specific house of worship. This is going to have long term political consequences for whatever that’s worth. Look, when virtual services end and worshippers decide whether or not they physically want to go back to church, what decision will they make? It’s all part of the difficult decisions we’re all gonna have to make when the “normal” life that we all want to live begins again. When we come back, is the Major League Baseball decision to take the All-Star Game out of Georgia the beginning of a business backlash to new voting restrictions across the entire country? Stay with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Major League Baseball became the highest profile entity, corporation, however you want to describe, to essentially make, not just a statement about Georgia, but make a statement with a decision pulling the All-Star Game out. Quite a few companies have come out publicly against the new laws that have been passed in Georgia. Some are going after Texas. But, you know, this boycott situation is complicated. And in fact, Stacey Abrams herself, in what she said before baseball’s decision and after, I think shows you this discomfort. “I have no doubt that voters of color, particularly Black voters, are willing to ensure the hardships of boycotts. But I don’t think that’s necessary yet.” Two days later, MLB leaves. Here’s what she says: “I am disappointed that the MLB is relocating the All-Star Game. However, I commend the players, owners and league commissioner for speaking out. I respect boycotts, although I don’t want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs.” Maria Teresa Kumar, the boycott issue is a complicated one, particularly if you’re a Georgia public servant or you aspire to be one.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

Well, it’s complicated. But basically, what we’re seeing that happened in Georgia with the Republican legislation is that they’re corking the path and putting resin on the ball. They are cheating. They were the ones that created the current, existing laws that were on the books.

The Secretary of State of Georgia certified that there was no cheating. That this was actually a certified election. And now, because they didn’t like the fact that young people, people of color, African Americans, Latinos, Asians came out, flexed their muscles, said that they were going to have a different direction for Georgia, they’re changing the rules. And that’s just not right. And the fact that Major League Baseball, and you see all these other corporations coming out talking about the importance of having access to voting booths, this is the fundamental issue that our country is facing right now. It’s democracy with a little D, not the big D. And unless we get this right with access to the voting booth, more Americans and more corporations have to come out because that’s what we saw as a result of the insurrection of January 6th, when individuals wanted to say that a certified, fair election was not correct.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Amy, it was interesting to watch Governor Brian Kemp yesterday. He almost seemed as if he was relieved not having to deal with Donald Trump anymore. And he was almost embracing this aspect that he can, he can court his base again. At the same time, you know, it does feel like Georgia’s in an awkward situation. The economic engine of that state politically is in one place. The Republican leadership’s in another. Do you think these boycotts will have an effect?

AMY WALTER:

I don’t know that they will because I think what they do is reinforce the sense, as you pointed out, Chuck, that there are two Georgias as there are in so many of these states, where you have the economic engines of those states, which are becoming bluer and bluer, including the suburbs around those major areas, and the more rural and small towns that are becoming more, that are becoming more Republican. And the other issue I think that is really important to appreciate is that voters also are seeing this really through the lens of politics. That they believe — and I’ve sat on a couple of these focus groups recently and what I heard from both more conservative leaning swing voters and more ,sort of, middle of the road to liberal swing voters is that they all think that this is being done by both parties in order to win. One voter said, “Everybody just wants to win”. They’re going to do what they do and change these laws for politics, not for the issue that Maria Teresa brought up, which is a threat to democracy.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, it becomes an end to justify the means mindset. You know, Yamiche, LZ Granderson in The L.A. Times actually, he connected what’s happening in Georgia to what we’ve been watching at the Chauvin trial, here’s what he wrote. He said, “The Chauvin case is less about the soul of America and more about the goal of America. Who and what are we trying to be and are we sincerely ready to do the work to get there? “Not just write a check or post a statement, but do the inner personal work required to say, ‘You know what? I like my tax cuts, but I can’t support politicians who would outlaw handing someone a bottle of water as they stand in line to vote here.'” I have to tell you, the impact of the Chauvin trial so far, I know just on myself and I think a lot of folks has just been seeing up close and personal the trauma that eye witnesses have in these events. And I say to myself, “Times that by 5,000 of events that we don’t watch as closely as we’re watching this one.”

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

Well, the Chauvin trial and that murder trial in the death of George Floyd is connected to voting rights because, at the end of the day, it’s about how African Americans and whether African Americans are allowed to survive and thrive in America and are able to have access to the principles that America holds up as near and dear. And that, of course, is democracy. But it’s also your ability to pursue happiness and to not have an officer kneel on your neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Watching this trial and watching what’s going on in Georgia, they absolutely connect.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Rich, Republicans, are they risking something here by going — by appearing to go too far?

RICH LOWRY:

I think the, the attack on this Georgia bill is an outrageous smear, Chuck. It actually increases early voting hours. It tries to deal with the problem of long lines. The key security measure is you’ve got to sign your driver’s license number on an absentee ballot envelope. No one is going to be disenfranchised because of this law.

CHUCK TODD:

I’m going to leave it there. Before we go, a programming note. This week we’re kicking off a new season of our streaming show Meet the Press Reports. Every Thursday, we take a deep dive into one issue. Our first episode focuses on the rise of domestic extremism in the United States. You can catch episodes from season one of Meet the Press Reports today beginning at 2:00 p.m. Watch the season two premiere, by the way, on Thursday, streaming on NBC News NOW and on demand at Peacock. That’s all we have for today. Thanks for watching. We’ll be back next week because if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press.

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