On this “Face the Nation” broadcast moderated by John Dickerson:
Senator Marco Rubio — Republican of Florida
Daniella Levine Cava — Mayor of Miami-Dade County
Cedric Richmond — Senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement
Senator Jon Tester — Democrat of Montana
Governor Asa Hutchinson — Republican of Arkansas
Dr. Scott Gottlieb — Former FDA commissioner
Click here to browse full transcripts of “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: I’m John Dickerson in Washington. And this week on FACE THE NATION, hopes for finding survivors in the collapsed Surfside, Florida, condo dim, and a picture of what caused the disaster starts to emerge. Search and rescue efforts are still under way this morning, but a hope for finding any of the more than one hundred and fifty people still unaccounted for alive is fading fast. More than three days after part of the twelve-story condo tower collapsed, officials have yet to make the switch to declaring it a recovery mission.
DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: Our top priority continues to be search and rescue.
JOHN DICKERSON: Amidst the anguish of families looking for loved ones, anger increases with evidence that condo officials knew there were flaws with the building’s construction.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: This is a highly complex disaster.
JOHN DICKERSON: We’ll have the latest from the scene, plus, we’ll talk with Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. Then, it doesn’t happen often in Washington these days, a group of Republicans and Democrats appearing together, announcing an agreement on a massive, trillion-dollar bill to help repair America’s crumbling roads and bridges.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We made serious compromises on both ends.
JOHN DICKERSON: But compromise turned quickly to confusion as President Biden said he won’t sign it unless there’s also a big spending bill focused on child care, education, and more.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem.
JOHN DICKERSON: We’ll straighten things out with White House senior advisor Cedric Richmond after the President was forced to retreat from that veto threat. Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester is one of the key negotiators, we’ll talk to him, too. Plus, as the new Delta variant threatens to undermine the COVID recovery, vaccine rates continue to fall. We’ll talk with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb.
It’s all just ahead on FACE THE NATION.
Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We’ve got a lot to get to today, but we begin with the staggering event we learned of when we woke up Thursday. That part of a twelve-story building had collapsed in the middle of the night without warning in Southern Florida. Our senior national correspondent Mark Strassmann is in Surfside. Mark.
MARK STRASSMANN (CBS News Senior National Correspondent): Good morning, John. In the search for survivors, hope is what keeps everyone going here, both the search teams and the relatives of all the missing. Somewhere in the rubble, one hundred fifty-six people remain unaccounted for.
MARK STRASSMANN: Under this mound of smoldering rubble, in the calamity of Champlain South, urban search and rescue teams look for miracles.
CHARLES BURKETT (Surfside, Florida Mayor): We don’t have a research problem here, we have a luck problem.
MARK STRASSMANN: It’s heavy lifting for searchers. They were fighting a deep fire and smoke and worsening air quality, issues now contained. But crews still battle the weight of the rubble and their emotions. No survivors have been found since Thursday.
GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS (R-Florida): You wake up in the morning hoping that that more and more people were– were pulled out, and, you know– you know, that just news hasn’t been what we had hoped.
MARK STRASSMANN: 1:30 AM Thursday morning, as residents slept, the twelve-story tower shuttered, then collapsed. Rodrigo Salem’s friends were in the building when it fell. They’ve told him its condition worried them.
RODRIGO SALEM: The building was unsafe. I know that the– that the garage was kind of flooded. I know that there were cracks on the walls.
MARK STRASSMANN: Confounding officials why the building suddenly fell. Learning the definitive cause could take months. But in 2018 a consultant’s engineering review of Champlain South found major structural damage. Inside the parking garage, pictures showed abundant cracking observed in the concrete columns, beams, and walls. Resident Janette Aguero noticed.
JANETTE AGUERO: It was always wet even when it was dry out. And you kind of wondered where did that water come from?
MARK STRASSMANN: That review also found a design flaw, a major error. And more structural damage below the pool deck and entrance drive. Water-proofing had failed. If not replaced, it would cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially. Nearly three years later, extensive repairs were set to begin when the building pancaked.
CHARLES BURKETT: After we address the support for the families is we are going to do a very deep dive into why this building fell down.
MARK STRASSMANN: Champlain South has a sister property: Champlain North, built at the same time by the same developer. For now, evacuations there are voluntary.
MARK STRASSMANN: Miami-Dade County’s mayor has ordered a safety audit of all buildings in the county that are at least forty years old or five stories tall, and anything else built by Champlain South’s developer. No one wants a repeat disaster here. John.
JOHN DICKERSON: Thank you, Mark.
We go now to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who visited the site of the disaster yesterday. Good morning, Senator.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R-Florida/@SenRubioPress): Morning.
JOHN DICKERSON: You toured the area. What did you learn yesterday? And have you learned anything new this morning?
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, I was there on Thursday night, and I can tell you from Thursday night, yesterday afternoon, the entire scene has changed. There’s a tremendous response. You know we’re here in Florida are very blessed to have some of the best search and rescue teams and task force in the country. So that’s changed, it’s just a huge– big set up, almost a tent city there. I think what we’ve learned is what’s been announced public. I think the officials have been very good in South Florida about sharing with people what they know. They, obviously, shared that they had found or identified now five people have perished. They didn’t announce the names at the time because some of these family members haven’t even fully been able to notify all of their family members. One of the unique things about this building is it had a substantial number of people that were foreign nationals who were owners or renters there and that were– and that were in the rubble. So, obviously, the– the searchers are– are desperately working on this very complex. It’s twelve stories. If you look at it from the north side of it you can see– we can literally see the layers. And then inside of there there’s everything from toxic chemicals, fire, smoke, all kinds of other hazards and they have to be very careful. If they move one piece of rebar here, the rest of the pile could collapse somewhere else and either hurt the responders or hurt any survivors that might still be down there.
JOHN DICKERSON: In your discussions and in your tours, what– what’s been for you the most important thing that you wanted to know that you can– you can help out with?
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, I wanted to make sure that they had all the resources they needed that are available to them across government, and, obviously, there are things the federal government has that it might be able to provide. I know the Army Corps of Engineer has already sent a couple of engineers just to do some preliminary assessment of the building that’s still standing and– and those immediately alongside that complex just to make sure that in the– in the search process, you’re not going to suffer some– some additional collapses or damage. And the other is that they’re still very much in rescue mode. They– some of these people working on this were in Haiti, for example, after that earthquake when they pulled people out of the rubble ten days after. So I remember the case of, I believe, a seventy-year-old woman that was pulled out of the rubble almost a week and a half after the earthquake. So they are very much intent on saving lives still. And– and they’re– they’re– obviously, understand every day gets more difficult. And that to me was very important and that came across clearly.
JOHN DICKERSON: You mentioned that there are a lot of– there were a lot of residents of the building who have relatives overseas. You’re on the Foreign Relations Committee. How– how does that process work with the federal government, the State Department, in terms of connecting with those families?
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, I think how it work– how it works– I know it works, is the first thing that happens is that they go to the– if they’re overseas they have to get an emergency visa. They don’t have one. Or they come from a country that requires a visa to enter into the U.S. And so we were– we were very– we were able to– we were able to get them those visas or process them through the State Department. The State Department was excellent in all of these different places. And on top of that what we were able to do now the State Department is on site. So the State Department is on site. It’s going to help expedite this visa process as some arrangements have to be made for relatives to come. But, sadly, we know that there may have to be arrangements made where, you know, the– the bodies, the remains of– of those to be sent overseas, if they’re going to be buried there or cremated there, their family’s going to do services there. So there’s a lot of work to do there. We’re grateful the State Department’s on site now to help with that.
JOHN DICKERSON: As you reach out to the community and talk to the community, people are searching for some explanation to this. It’s going to take a long time and nobody wants to jump to conclusions. But there’s also a question of whether any contributing factor might affect any other building in South Florida. How much is that a concern and have– has that been taken care of by officials there?
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I can’t say it’s been taken care of, because that’s a very– that’s a very complicated question. This is unusual, right? This has never happened before. We hope it never happens again. It shouldn’t happen again. It shouldn’t happen anywhere. So, obviously, something very unusual happened here. I do know and I understand why people living in the area, particularly a building just north of it, that’s basically a twin, I mean, it’s the same architectural design company that built it, would be concerned about it. And I know that they have now been made FEMA eligible, meaning that if they would like to relocate FEMA will help them with those arrangements. I know the county is taking this very seriously. I know that a team is now in from Washington, from an agency that most people have never heard of. It’s under the Department of Commerce that specializes in massive, catastrophic structural failures. And they’re going to come and help sort of local authorities identify what kinds of things need to be preserved for a full-scale investigation. I have little doubt that we will know why this happened and be able to make changes to building codes, if necessary, to prevent it from happening again. But right now, you know, ninety-nine percent of the focus is on trying to find any survivors and give these families closure on this– on this– on this terrible tragedy, even as already thoughts are coming into place as to, you know, what’s the– why this happened and so that it never happens again.
JOHN DICKERSON: You sponsored a very different piece of legislation called Built to Last, which is to have more climate resistant infrastructure. Again, that’s quite different than what happened here. But in South Florida, people do worry about the sea air, the salt, the rising sea levels, the fact that some of these buildings are shrinking. Do you have questions about the environmental impact that might have contributed in some way here and whether that’s a larger issue to look at?
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, obviously, look, I’m not a structural engineer, but I don’t think we should start-out an inquiry like this by ruling anything out. And I think, obviously, everything needs to be on the table. Whatever the cause was, whatever contributed to it, we need to know it. And I don’t think we should be in a position now ruling anything out because we just don’t know. And the– and it’s important not just to provide certainty about what happened here, but from that information, I would imagine you can deduce whether other places are similarly in danger and what we need to do moving forward to protect against it.
JOHN DICKERSON: With the minute we have left, Senator, I want to ask you about infrastructure in Washington. There’s a bipartisan deal. Is that something you might be able to sign onto?
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Yeah. I want to be for infrastructure. I think it’s important for us to build infrastructure in this country, including to mitigate against the rise of sea level, sea level– to mitigate against sea level rise, which we know is a major issue in, for example, southeast Florida. I think the problem here, as we’ve seen, is two things. And, obviously, because of this tragedy I haven’t had a chance to sit down and go line by line through this deal. The first, obviously, is these mixed messages from the White House about whether support for that bill is linked to support for something else.
JOHN DICKERSON: Right.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: And second is how is this being paid for? The details of these (INDISTINCT) deals is always important because there might be some important things in there that I can’t support. But, generally speaking, I want to be for something. I want us to do infrastructure.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Senator Rubio, we’ll leave those details to a future discussion where– we thank you for being with us and our hearts go out to you and– and your community. Thanks, again.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Thank you, John. Thank you.
JOHN DICKERSON: Joining us now is the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, who joins us from Surfside. Mayor Cava, thank you for being with us. Our hearts go out to you and your community. Can you give us an update on the latest?
DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (Mayor of Miami-Dade County/@MayorDaniella): The good news, we were able to control the fire and the smoke as of noon on Saturday. So Saturday afternoon and through the night on Sunday there was clear visibility. Search continued. They’re– they’re, of course, doing everything from above. They’re using the sonar, the cameras, the dogs. They– they have the– the tunneling below. And they created a trench to separate the smoky area from the not-smoky area to be able to proceed unabated.
JOHN DICKERSON: It’s been three and a half days is that– is that time nearing that it’ll switch from a rescue effort to a recovery?
DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: We are in search and rescue and we have just been joined by additional search and rescue team from Israel. We had already some– some Mexican experts on scene. Everybody that is needed is on the site and doing the work. And we’re continuing our efforts to find people alive.
JOHN DICKERSON: Normally, nobody wants to jump to any kinds of conclusions. In this case, there is some urgency because there is some worry that anything that might have contributed here might affect other buildings. Do you have a sense of the contributing factors and how is that affecting how you think about other buildings in the area?
DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: I’m definitely focused on the search and rescue operation. We are working with our regulatory staff at the county to review all buildings that are approaching or at their forty-year recertification and beyond to make sure that everything is in order with their recertification. So we’re doing a deep dive over the next thirty days to assess if anything further is needed with any of those buildings. And some of the cities are taking their own actions because I’m responsible for the county buildings outside of cities and the cities have their own process.
JOHN DICKERSON: We’ve all been struck by the grief and the staggering amount of– of sadness, what’s being done in the community to handle the emotional portion of this tragedy?
DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: The families are together in the family assistance center that’s been established and their numbers are swelling as people come from around the country and around the world to be here on site, a vigil until more news is known and we have every possible support for them. We have grief counselors. We have clergy of every sort, and we have the community. The community is really providing the support for each other and the inner circle of those who are directly affected and the whole community. Surfside is on standby for this important time and in solidarity and the whole world, we feel the support of the whole world for us right here in Surfside.
JOHN DICKERSON: And, Mayor, how about you? You haven’t been in the job long. Can you give us some insight into what it’s like to handle the emotional and logistical challenge of something no one could ever imagine having to be prepared for?
DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: I– I thank God that I’ve had sixty-five years of experience and wisdom to contribute to this situation. Clearly, nothing I ever anticipated and something that I am fully dedicated to addressing with all of my might.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Daniella Levine Cava. Mayor, we are very grateful for you being with us. And good luck.
DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: Thank you.
JOHN DICKERSON: Thank you.
FACE THE NATION will be back in one moment. Stay with us.
JOHN DICKERSON: We go now to the senior adviser to the President, Cedric Richmond. Good morning, Mister Richmond. I want to start with that awful condominium collapse. The FEMA director is going down to Miami. What more can the administration do? And is the President making preparations to pay a visit to the area?
CEDRIC RICHMOND (Senior Adviser to the President/@Richmond46): The short answer is it’s a tragedy. We’re monitoring it very, very closely and, also, we’re going to do anything and everything that we can to assist. And so, we signed the emergency declaration of the President, signed the emergency declaration as soon as he got it. The FEMA director is going down to make sure that our federal assets are helping and that we’re doing everything possible to help.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me move on to the President’s infrastructure plan, a part of his American jobs plan. He– he came out in support of a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Then he seemed to tie it– he didn’t seem to he tied it to a larger trillion-dollar spending package. That angered some of the Republicans he had been negotiating with. Yesterday, he put out a statement that seemed to walk that back. Where are we with this?
CEDRIC RICHMOND: The President expects to fulfill his promise to the American people, which started with the American Rescue Plan, which we passed. We’re winning on vaccinations. We’re bringing the economy back. Growth is up, unemployment is down. Then we wanted to pass a infrastructure bill and we did. We– we came to an agreement on a historic infrastructure deal and, then, we’re going to pass the Families Plan. And so the President yesterday was bringing the focus back to the fact that there are ten million homes in this country with lead pipes, four hundred thousand schools with lead pipes, bridges that are collapsing, and– and back to the historic nature of the deal–
JOHN DICKERSON: But–
CEDRIC RICHMOND: –that was struck with Republicans. And I think that a poignant part of this is to say where Democrats and Republicans can agree we should agree, move on, create progress for the American people. And where we don’t agree, we can fight and we can fight hard. And that’s what we expect to do on American Families Plan. But we also expect to win.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you this: As historic as it may be it won’t be historic if it doesn’t pass. So the politics here– here matter. Are the Republicans back on track and do you think you’ll get sixty Republican votes for this infrastructure package?
CEDRIC RICHMOND: We would hope to get more than sixty votes for this package because of all of the things that it does and the needs in the country. And so, what we’re hearing and even some of the interviews I’ve seen on TV Republicans are standing by the deal. The President’s going to honor his word and we’re going to hope that they’re going to honor their word. But we would hope that more come along, because this is historic. It is important. We have crumbling bridges and roads all around this country and we have to do something about it.
JOHN DICKERSON: And it seems like the President has a bump in the rug problem. You push the bump in the rug down in one place and it shows up somewhere else. He’s got the Republicans back on track that he worked with. But his problem now is liberals in his own party. They want a commitment from the President that the environmental protections, child care, all the things that were part of his original infrastructure package are going to get a fair hearing. And they’re worried that it won’t. So Democrats may not vote for this infrastructure bill or are they all set and ready to vote for it?
CEDRIC RICHMOND: I think that you’re going to see overwhelming Democratic support for a bill that removes lead pipes, that invest in electric buses, electric vehicle charging stations, a clean energy power grid. All of those things are historic in nature and widely supported by Democrats and supported by Republicans also. And we think that Democrats are going to vote for it. But the budget resolution will be crafted in the Senate and House of Representatives, and the process on it will be controlled by them.
JOHN DICKERSON: Here’s the problem, Mister Richmond, those– those liberal Democrats are saying if I don’t get a promise now what will happen is this negotiation will take place. And those environmental provisions that I care so much about will just get dealed away and they will have lost all of their leverage. And so–
CEDRIC RICHMOND: And I would–
JOHN DICKERSON: –that’s why the President was making the promise–to lock in his promise so that he would do what they want him to do, particularly, on the environment.
CEDRIC RICHMOND: Well, I would remind you and those Democrats that the President has met all the challenges that he’s faced and he’s kept his promises from the American Rescue Plan to the infrastructure plan. And, by the way, we put all of the green stuff in the legislation for the infrastructure bill. So whether it was the clean energy tax credit or some of the other things, we’re committed to it. It just now shifts over to the American Families Plan, along with the “care economy” and the education and all the other things we want to do. And we fully expect to get it passed. But what people should stop doing is–
JOHN DICKERSON: So you– you think you can get every senate Democrat to vote for the infrastructure bill?
CEDRIC RICHMOND: Everything that we’ve done so far has come out the way the President has planned it, and I think that it’s very– it’s not wise to underestimate this President, his ability to bring people together, unify his party and move this country forward. And so, he’s done that with everything he’s done so far. And we expect to do it with the American Families Plan also.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the announcement this– this week that the President made to take on rising gun crime. The President in his proposals this week said money that had been set aside for COVID relief could be used to hire more police. There’s been a big debate about defunding the police. It seems that the President’s decision rendered a verdict on that, that the solution is not getting rid of police officers, but hiring more of them.
CEDRIC RICHMOND: Well, the President said on the campaign trail that he wanted to give three hundred million more dollars towards policing in this country. To one, for body cameras and– and technology, but, two, he supports constitutional policing and better community policing so that the community and the police have a better relationship. But what we did here is make sure that cities understood that they could use the money that we sent them for state and local aid to replenish their police forces because a lot of them had to lay off, furlough police officers and other first responders because of the pandemic and the loss of revenue.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Mister Richmond, I’m afraid we’re out of time. Thank you so much for being with us this morning. We’ll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.
JOHN DICKERSON: If you’re not able to watch the full FACE THE NATION, you can set your DVR or we’re available on demand, plus, you can watch us through our CBS or Paramount+ app.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back with Montana Senator Jon Tester, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. We’ll also have an update on the Surfside disaster. Officials are preparing to brief reporters. So stay with us.
JOHN DICKERSON: And welcome back to FACE THE NATION. One of the lawmakers who worked on that bipartisan agreement aimed at boosting the nation’s infrastructure was Senator Jon Tester. He joins us from Big Sandy, Montana. Good morning, Senator.
SENATOR JON TESTER (D-Montana/@SenatorTester): Good to be with you, John.
JOHN DICKERSON: So before we get into the chopping up of the politics here, can we step back for a second? You were involved in a bipartisan agreement. What does bipartisanship look like in today’s politics?
SENATOR JON TESTER: Well, it was in this case five Democrats and five Republicans that sat down and then compromised and gave a little and I think ended up with a package that makes sense for the American public. And that it creates infrastructure, creates jobs, supports businesses, and is historic in nature. And we argued, we fought, we debated. And, in the end, we all agreed, all ten of us agreed on every provision in this bill. And I think the result of that is people setting their differences aside and working together and helping build this country. Just as my ancestors did, we did it in that room. And now we’ve got another tough job and that’s getting enough votes on both sides of the aisle to get this through the process and get it to the President’s desk.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me talk about that other tough job, because good ideas cannot get anywhere if they don’t get the votes. So let’s start with the Republican side. You had five Republicans. You’ll need five more, if you hold every Democrat to get it through the Senate. How possible do you think that is? There was some heartburn when the President connected the bills together. (A) Is that heartburn gone among the ones who were working with you? And (B) How– what do you think the chances are getting at least five more Republicans?
SENATOR JON TESTER: Look, John, I think that possibility is going to be great. I think we’re going to get a lot more than five more Republicans. And I think we’re also going to see bumps in the road as this goes forward through the process. You know every week there’s probably going to be another problem that arises. We’ll work through those problems just like we work through them in our gang of ten folks. And– and I think we’ll get good support from both sides of the aisle. And I think we’ll get far more than sixty votes, in the end, to get this through the Senate.
JOHN DICKERSON: And on the Democratic side, there are a number of Democratic senators who said if it doesn’t include the environmental provisions originally a part of the President’s package, they’re not going to vote for it. Do you think that is the kind of line in the sand people draw during these things and then in the end they vote with you? Or do you think that this could be something that loses some Democratic senators on the way to passage?
SENATOR JON TESTER: Time– time will tell on that. John, I think this package does have some environmental– environmental programs to it, environmental policies to it. Whether it’s enough to– to satisfy the folks who, you know, are advocating for more and more things to be done in the environment, which, by the way, I don’t think is something that is wrong either. This just– this is where we ended up at. And, you know, look, if we do– when we do a reconciliation package, depending on what that package looks like, you know, it certainly could have some environmental, additional environmental parts to it.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me talk to you about that reconciliation package. This would be a– a big spending bill that would go– that would pass with Democratic votes only, presumably. A portion of that bill would likely be the President’s clean electricity standard. As we talked about it, some of your colleagues, Senator Smith of Minnesota, has said she won’t vote for a reconciliation package unless it has that standard which seeks to decarbonize the electricity by 2030, electric grid. You come from a state with a lot of coal production. Would you support the President’s clean energy standard in a reconciliation bill that Senator Smith says is necessary to vote for it?
SENATOR JON TESTER: Well, look, I do come from a state that has a lot of coal, natural gas, a lot of oil, and I also come from a state right now that is under severe drought. And so I think we need to make common sense– common sense steps forward to deal with climate. And there has to be a transition. Anybody will tell you that. You just can’t shut off the spigot. You have to move forward in a commonsense way, so this economy continued to grow, but also deal with the climate issue. So, you know, that will be in the details, John. We will take a look at it when it comes up. And– and if it is something that I can’t live with, then we’ll try to massage it through the process that we go through in reconciliation to amend and– and make it so it’s something that the whole country can– can– can live with and– and actually expand our economy with it.
JOHN DICKERSON: I want to ask you as a farmer and– and you mentioned the heat. Montana has seen hundred-year records in the last month. Half the population is in drought areas. In California it’s just– it’s just crippling the farmers, the drought. Will– do you think that will lead to inflation on products that farmers produce in Montana? And then, secondly, can farmers adapt in– in a– in a climate that keeps getting hotter?
SENATOR JON TESTER: Well, we have been adapting in a climate that has been getting hotter. This has been going on for decades. I have been on this farm, which is the farm my– my grandparents’ homestead. This will be our forty-fourth harvest for Sharla and I. This will probably be the worst harvest we’ve ever cut because of the drought. But– but farmers continue to adapt. They continue to change. But one thing is for certain, the– the climate is very volatile now, more volatile than it’s ever been since I took over the farm. And we do have to do some things and encourage other countries to do things to move us in the right direction on climate. If we don’t, I think some of the things you’re talking about, about food prices going up and possibly even food not being– not having enough becomes real and not only for the United States, but the entire world. So we– we’ve got a lot of work to do here, John. We need to do it in a bipartisan way. We need to stop the fear mongering on our climate change and start doing things that work for this country.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Senator Tester, thank you so much for being with us this morning. We look forward to having you back again.
And we’ll be right back in a moment.
JOHN DICKERSON: One of the states with the lowest vaccination rates in the country is Arkansas. Hospital admissions in the state are up thirty percent in the last week. Joining us from Little Rock is Governor Asa Hutchinson. Good morning, Governor.
GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON (R-Arkansas/@AsaHutchinson): Good morning, John. Good to be with you.
JOHN DICKERSON: Thank you for being with us. The University of Arkansas Medical Sciences had to reopen its COVID wing. And the CEO there said we have seen a three hundred percent increase in the numbers of pats– patients hospitalized. What’s going on?
GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, those that are being hospitalized are those that have not been vaccinated and what you see in Arkansas and that probably replicates some of what you see across the country is that in March and April, whenever we were struggling with vaccine supplies, that we started getting our vaccines out there. You saw our cases go down dramatically. And when our cases went down, the demand for vaccines was reduced, as well. And so what you have is that people started feeling comfortable. People saw the cases of hospitalizations down. And so, the urgency of getting the vaccine slowed down. We’ve got to make sure that we do everything we can to get the word out, which we have. We’ve used incentives that have not been very successful. We’ve obviously done marketing for our vaccines. We are educating, doing everything that we can. And we’re up to, you know, fifty percent of adults already are vaccinated. But we’ve got to get that higher. We’re doing everything we can to encourage that. And I think as– if– if– if incentives don’t work, reality will. And as you see the hospitalizations go up, the cases go up, I think you’ll see the vaccination rate increase as well.
JOHN DICKERSON: Help us think through some of this, because is it– is it just the lack of urgency? Because reality has been pretty apparent for the last, you know, more than a year and a half. So is there some other portion of this hesitancy that is tougher to crack than just simply the fact that it’s not blaring from the headlines every day?
GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Absolutely. I mean there is vaccine hesitancy. Part of it is we’ll just delay it, but the part that you’re most concerned about are those that– that believe– don’t believe in the efficacy of it. They believe in the conspiracy theories. I had e-mails today from a business person who was discouraging vaccines. And– and– and, you know, part of it is just the nature of– of humans that unless they are absolutely convinced there is that vaccine hesitancy. One of the challenges was the fact that this is under FDA emergency use authorization. And so we need to get that research completed so it can be final approval. I think that will help. Secondly, you look back and I think the– the pause on the J&J vaccine increased the hesitancy. I think that was an error. I don’t think it was necessary. But those factors together, I think increased the hesitancy.
JOHN DICKERSON: Explain to me why the change in the FDA emergency use authorization would make it easier to get people vaccinated.
GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, whenever they see emergency use authorization, that– then they say, well, they haven’t made a final approval, they haven’t got all the research completed that is needed on there. They want to do more study. And so it was approved as emergency use. And so for that reason, you can’t mandate it. We don’t mandate it in Arkansas. We have to rely upon the education. And part of that is even though there is a minor level of risk with the vaccine, the risk is so much greater if you get COVID. And that’s what we’re seeing now. One person that I am familiar with in terms of his story, they mocked the vaccine. They ultimately got COVID. They’re on a respirator now and their life is in jeopardy. That’s what we’ve got to continue to educate and realize lives are at stake to encourage the vaccine taking.
JOHN DICKERSON: Do you have to make a policy choice? I know you’ve said you don’t want to shut things down, but if these numbers keep getting worse, do you have to think about anything? I don’t know, mask mandates, anything to protect people from this portion of the population that is so resistant?
GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, theoretically, that could be on the table, but in reality, we’re beyond that. We know what we need to do. And I don’t believe even with the increase that we’ve seen in hospitalizations, that we’re going to go back to the levels we were last winter. But it is a concern. But I don’t believe that we’re going to go back to the heavy government restrictions that we had at the outset of this pandemic. People know what to do. They’re instructed in it. And we’re having to count upon their individual responsibility to do the right thing. We’re hoping that we’ll get there.
JOHN DICKERSON: One more quick question on this. Trends experts say that this Delta variant plus the fall– fall and winter, things are going to get worse. Do you have to start making preparations now in case there continues to be hesitancy and those predictions turn out to be true?
GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, the Delta variant is a great concern to us. We see that impacting our increasing cases and hospitalizations. And so, yes, you have to take the counsel of a medical expert seriously whenever they look at this coming winter, although I don’t think we’re going to get there. We do have to have those contingency plans in place in the event we do see challenges coming this next winter.
JOHN DICKERSON: I’ve got a quick question on infrastructure. It can seem like an abstract idea to people, but the I-40 bridge that went from Tennessee to Arkansas had to be shut down. Tell us how bad it got and how that’s affected the economy in the area.
GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, it’s been a terrible loss to our economy in terms of the increased cost of transportation, logistics. The I-40 bridge is a major artery. It is still shut down and so that it helps us to get our goods across the Mississippi River to the East Coast. We have commuters going back and forth. I think the Trucking Association says it cost us 2.4 million dollars a day, just an extra logistics cost. And so we want to get that fixed. It illustrates the need for the current infrastructure plan. I applaud the senators that came together in a bipartisan way. From a governor’s standpoint that helps us get to these kind of bridge repairs. It helps us to improve our road and bridge infrastructure, but also our electric vehicle modernization and having those systems in place. The water systems are important, our Arkansas River Navigation. So I hope they get to the next step and get that passed.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Governor Hutchinson, thanks so much for being with us.
And we’ll be back in a moment.
JOHN DICKERSON: We go now to former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb, who is also on the board of Pfizer. Good morning, Doctor Gottlieb.
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D. (Former FDA Commissioner/@ScottGottliebMD): Good morning.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let’s start with this Delta variant. The– Great Britain has a better handle because they’ve had to face more of it. It kind of looks like what things might be like in the United States after a little while. What have we learned from the U.K. about the Delta variant and what might that tell us about its actions here?
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yeah, I think we’re probably about a month or two behind the U.K. in terms of their experience with the variant. They’re seeing cases grow. They’re certainly not taking off with the same velocity that we’ve seen in past epidemics. And the other thing that we’re observing about the U.K. experience right now is it’s not having the same impact. So they’ve had about ninety thousand cases, they’ve had about a thousand hospitalizations. The vast majority are in people who are unvaccinated. Only eight percent of people who have been fully vaccinated are among the hospitalized patients. And so you have a situation where you have a population that has more immunity, not just through vaccination, but also through prior infection. So it’s not having the same impact in terms of causing severe death and– and disease as it was during the last epidemic. So even the case fatality rate is down substantially. It’s about 0.1 to 0.3 percent, depending on how you measure it. The experience in the U.S. is likely to be similar. We have a population that also has a lot of immunity in it through both vaccination and prior infection. But there are social compartments in the U.S., both geographic and social compartments where you have under vaccination and you don’t have a lot of immunity in the populations, particularly rural parts in the South, particularly. You’re seeing what’s happening in Missouri right now where about sixty percent of the infections are the Delta variant. And so that’s a reflection of the fact that you have parts of the United States where we don’t have a lot of vaccination and we also don’t have a lot of prior infection and those are going to be the more vulnerable parts of this country.
JOHN DICKERSON: So we had over the course of the last year and a half become used to hearing about spikes. This then what you’re saying is not going to be a spike of the kind we’re used to. But in certain communities there are these upticks. What do they need to know in those communities?
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I think that’s right. It’s not going to be as pervasive. We’re going to see pockets of the country. It’s going to be hyper regionalized where there are certain pockets of the country, where we can have very dense outbreaks. And if you remember back in the fall when we had that– that epidemic in the Midwest that really started the national epidemic. It occurred in states like Wisconsin. Wisconsin lit up first. If you looked at what was happening there it was in rural communities where you saw the very dense outbreak and then it started to spread out from there. I think as you look across the United States, if you’re a community that has low vaccination rates and you also think that there was low prior– there’s low immunity from prior infection, so the virus really has in course through the local population, those communities are vulnerable. So I think governors need to be thinking about how they build out health care resources in areas of the country where you still have a lot of vulnerability.
JOHN DICKERSON: We talked to Governor Hutchinson of– of Arkansas and he was saying that people don’t feel a sense of urgency because of the success, oddly, of the vaccination and the fact that it’s not on the front page that keeps them from getting vaccinated because they don’t think it’s a big deal. Would you just kind of outline the benefits of vaccination and the dangers of not getting vaccinated that go beyond just the health of the individual who may make that personal choice for themselves?
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Right, well, there’s certainly the benefits of vaccination in terms of just avoiding disease, and we know that this can be a severe disease. We also know that there’s more long-term sequelae from having COVID. There’s more long-term consequences. There was a study out of Norway just recently that looked at people who recovered from COVID, and it found that at six months, about sixty percent of people reported persistent symptoms. Thirty-seven percent reported problems with fatigue, twenty-four percent reported problems with memory. And what was startling about this study is it also showed that in younger populations and people sixteen to thirty years old, about fifty percent also reported persistent symptoms. And, in fact, the loss of taste and smell was most persistent in the younger population. So COVID isn’t just an immediate illness it’s having sustained consequences. And then there’s also the benefit to the community. If you’re someone who’s younger and healthier and you’re not at risk from COVID or from a bad outcome from COVID, you feel like you’re more impervious to the disease, there’s, nonetheless, a lot of consequences to you being a chain and transmission, spreading the disease to others. If you get vaccinated, we know you’re substantially less likely to spread the disease to those around you. So if you have young children at home or you’re interacting with older individuals, who may not get all the benefits from vaccination or people who are immunocompromised. If you vaccinate yourself, you’re far less likely to become asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic from the infection and go on to infect others. So there is that community aspect to getting vaccinated and protecting those you care about who are around you.
JOHN DICKERSON: In our previous discussions, you’ve talked about having to change the way in which vaccines are delivered, that officials have to come up with more clever and interesting ways. I wonder in that context, what do you think of the– the New York effort that the mayor there has– is going to have at-home vaccinations? Do you think that’s– does that make some sense? And– and might that be a way to pierce some of this hesitancy?
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yeah, I think it’s exactly what we need to be doing. We need to be thinking about more bespoke ways to deliver the vaccine. We also need to move away from sort of a top-down national campaign to get people vaccinated and make more of a grassroots campaign, empower local leaders, local physicians to try to help reach out into the communities to get people vaccinated. People who are going to be convinced to get vaccinated by Tony Fauci or the surgeon general or me, for that matter, probably are already vaccinated. And so we need to get into– the vaccines into the hands of doctors, make it easier for doctors to supply vaccines in their offices. And both companies are trying to come up with formulations that will be easier to deliver in a doctor’s office, including Pfizer, the company I’m on the board of. We need to empower doctors to be vaccinating and supply the resources to do that. There was a study out from the Commonwealth Foundation this week that showed of the people who remain unvaccinated, about fifty percent said they would be most convinced to become vaccinated from their local physicians, from their doctors. And so that’s what we need to shift to. We need to shift to more of a grassroots, bottom-up campaign and move away from this top-down national campaign. As we enter into the fall, there will be people seeking out vaccination heading into the fall as people contemplate going back to work and back to school. So I’m still optimistic we’ll pick up more of the American population and get them vaccinated. But it’s going to slow down as we get into the summer and prevalence declines and people feel safer.
JOHN DICKERSON: We have– we are going to have to leave it there. Doctor Gottlieb, as always, we listen to every word you say, and so we’re grateful for you being here. Thanks so much, Doctor Gottlieb.
And we’ll be right back in a moment.
JOHN DICKERSON: Every Sunday, when I walk to this studio, I pass a firehouse. It is quiet that early in the morning. The firemen and women pass the time in easy conversation or preparing their equipment. It is nearly as peaceful as it was in the middle of the night Thursday at Champlain Towers South, just before the building collapsed. That nightmare, coming at the hour where we risk feeling safest, asleep in our beds, summoned police, emergency medical technicians, and firemen, like the ones I pass on the way to work each Sunday. In an instant that community of protection rushed to endanger their lives in the hope of saving the lives of others. Their heroism in falling rubble and live electrical wires gives hope in dark moments to the families, and to the rest of us, staggered by what we see. It is all too big, all the anguish and the loss, and the reminder, even after a year and a half of a pandemic of how thin the membrane is that separates any us from tragedy. It makes me think morning walks by the firehouse, not because those moments are peaceful, but because even when the sirens are not blaring, those men and women are still dedicated every day to life’s preciousness, to rescuing people they don’t know simply because they are human. The rest of us may never face an acute moment of danger where we can be a hero, but we are all surrounded by humans every day to whom we can be generous, compassionate, and true. In these tragic moments, we feel our common human connection. We can honor those feelings by being like the first responders who recognize that human connection even after the tragedy passes.
And officials in Surfside, Florida, have just announced that the death toll in that building collapse has risen. Nine have now been lost. Our prayers go out to those who’ve lost family or friends.
Until next, for FACE THE NATION, I’m John Dickerson.