The following is a transcript of an interview with Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, that aired on Sunday, August 15, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
NANCY CORDES: We want to go now to Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who is the House Republican Whip. He joins us this morning from Kenner, Louisiana. Congressman. Welcome. Thanks for being here.
REP. STEVE SCALISE: Good to be with you, NANCY, thanks.
NANCY CORDES: You and your House colleagues just received a briefing from the secretaries of state and defense. What did they tell you? And are you confident that all U.S. diplomats are going to be able to get out of Afghanistan safely?
REP. SCALISE: Well, during the call, you actually had events still continuing to unfold, and so in real time, we were seeing things on social media that they weren’t really talking about on the call. But it’s a very dire situation when you see the United States embassy being evacuated. In fact, you just had President Biden a few days ago saying you wouldn’t see helicopters evacuating the embassy like Saigon. And yet here we are. This is- this is President Biden’s Saigon moment. And unfortunately, it was very predictable. It seems like many in President Biden’s intelligence community got this devastatingly wrong. And I think a lot of questions will be asked later about why. Just weeks ago, they were saying something completely different than what we’re seeing on the ground today and in- in Afghanistan.
NANCY CORDES: Right. Last week, the president said he did not expect that the Taliban would be able to retake all of the country. But here’s what he’s saying now. He said this weekend, one more year or five more years of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. White House officials are essentially arguing it was President Trump who set this in motion when he agreed to withdraw U.S. troops completely by May 1st. So was all of this inevitable?
REP. SCALISE: No, and in fact, we’ve seen a lot of finger pointing and blaming, you know, there- there used to be a saying that the buck stops here on the president’s desk, and he wants to blame everybody else. But look, President Trump had an agreement in place that was conditions based and those conditions were not met. In fact, many of the conditions included that the Taliban wouldn’t overtake the cities that they have now overtaken under President Biden’s leadership. So, President Biden didn’t follow through on the conditions that were in place. He just let them come and run roughshod in there, destroying documents, burning documents at the embassy and trying to get everybody out. They can, instead of following through on the commitments that were made. And this sends in a more concerning message to our allies around the world, really sends a concerning message to our enemies around the world who are watching this. China is very involved in what’s happening right now in Afghanistan as our other adversaries. And so they’re seeing just how easy it was to overtake these areas where the president really said it wouldn’t happen and it did happen. So it’s an epic failure on President Biden’s foreign policy. He needs to take ownership of it and take other steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again. If he’s not going to clean house, he was- was either widely misled by his own intelligence or he was misleading the American people deliberately. But he said very different things just days ago than what we’re seeing happen on the ground. He’s got to take ownership of that.
NANCY CORDES: Congressman, I want to switch gears and turn to the very serious covid situation in your state, more cases this week than at any other point during the pandemic. Your chief health officer in Louisiana said, quote, If we don’t peak within a week or two, it is going to be a catastrophic situation for hospitals. What’s your biggest concern right now, Congressman?
REP. SCALISE: Clearly, the hospital’s having overloaded capacity are the biggest concern, just like a year ago, New Orleans seemed to be the epicenter when- when things got really bad in the very beginning of the pandemic last year, we’re seeing that break- break out again with the Delta variant. It’s very- it’s a very widespread disease. We’re seeing it in Louisiana and steps are being taken and hopefully we get to a peak and start seeing it subside. But it is a concern. And I know the governor is taking action at the state level and we’re giving them all the help that they need.
NANCY CORDES: You got vaccinated last month. You are now urging Louisiana residents to do the same. And you’re so well known in Louisiana. Do you wish now that you would have gone ahead and gotten vaccinated sooner just to send that message and set that example?
REP. SCALISE: Well, first of all, when you look, I mean, you’ve still got two thirds of our state unvaccinated. What we need to do is be encouraging people to get vaccinated, not trying to shame people that are unvaccinated or people that got vaccinated. Look, I had antibodies and so I ultimately made a decision once I saw the Delta variant picking up that I thought it was important to get vaccinated. And I have high confidence in this vaccination. It’s safe and effective, and I think we ought to be encouraging more people to do it. But again, not shaming people who haven’t. We ought to be giving them information, encouraging people to go talk to their doctors because there’s real hesitancy out there. And we ought to be confronting that, not trying to divide people based on who’s vaccinated and who’s unvaccinated.
NANCY CORDES: And finally, we’ve got about a minute left. Your governor, John Bel Edwards, has now reinstated an indoor mask mandate. I know that in the past you’ve been very skeptical of these mandates. But what’s your view now that Louisiana is at its peak? Is it safe and prudent to go ahead and impose this mandate?
REP. SCALISE: Well, again, I don’t want mandates at the federal level. I’ve been very vocal about that. I said those conversations need to be had at the state and local level. You can look at places like Los Angeles, California, one of the worst outbreaks in the country. They’ve had a mask mandate for a long time. But in the end, I think what we really need to be focused on is encouraging more people to get vaccinated. And I’ll tell you this, NANCY, one of the real areas of hesitancy that we’re seeing that is a real problem is that people are saying that it’s not FDA approved yet in final approval. And yet we’re 200 days into President Biden’s administration. He still hasn’t appointed the head of the FDA, and that’s definitely a failure on President Biden’s part.
NANCY CORDES: I hear you, Congressman. Thank you so much. We’re going to have to leave it there. But I really appreciate you joining us this morning.
REP. SCALISE: Great being with you, NANCY. Thanks.
NANCY CORDES: And we’ll be right back.