Full transcript of “Face the Nation” on September 26, 2021

On this “Face the Nation” broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director 
  • Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina
  • Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington
  • Scott Morrison, prime minister of Australia
  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Turkey

Click here to browse full transcripts of “Face the Nation.”

MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST: I’m Margaret Brennan in Washington.

And this week on FACE THE NATION: Confusion claims the COVID booster rollout, and challenges continue to hobble the Biden presidency.

Poorly orchestrated handling of problems like the Afghanistan pullout, border and immigration problems and unease about his handling of the economy are now taking their toll on America’s views of President Biden’s effectiveness and competence.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Part of it is dealing with the panoply of things were landed on my plate. I’m not complaining. It’s just a reality.


BRENNAN: Now at stake, the centerpiece of the Biden presidency, an economic plan, including the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, plus his domestic extravaganza, $3.5 trillion in new spending to boost the economy, paid for by tax increases for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

Key votes are expected this week in Congress. Will the politics within the Democratic Party threaten the entire Biden agenda?

On top of that, inflation, millions of Americans still out of work and supply chain delays due to COVID are all slowing the economic recovery.


BIDEN: I think it’s understandable, people being frustrated, frustrated by: I thought this was going to be better. I thought everything was working out.


BRENNAN: And there is more muddled messaging to clear up when it comes to COVID guidance.

Just hours after the CDC authorized Pfizer boosters for a limited number of Americans, the president seemed to get ahead of the science.


BIDEN: I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to see that, in the near term, we’re probably going to open this up anyway.


BRENNAN: We will talk with the head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Then: Bipartisan negotiations on a police reform bill in Congress collapse. What went wrong? Will ask lead Republican Negotiator Senator Tim Scott.

A leading House progressive, Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal, will also be here.

Can the president do a better job of handling crises that are avoidable? We will get some analysis from John Dickerson.

Finally, the international agenda. As the president promises a new era of relentless diplomacy, we will talk with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It’s all just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION.

Messy and confusing is how “The Wall Street Journal”‘s editorial board characterized the Biden administration’s booster vaccine plan late last week. But they praised CDC Director Rochelle Walensky for the right outcome.

This is a reference to her decision to include front-line workers with a high risk of exposure among those who are now eligible to receive Pfizer booster shots, along with adults with underlying conditions and those who are 65 and over.

We go now to the CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. She’s in Newton, Massachusetts.

Good morning to you.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Good morning, Margaret, thanks for having me.

BRENNAN: So, can you explain what made you side with the FDA in saying people at high risk of exposure should be eligible to get this third dose, when your own advisory committee did not come to the consensus? And exactly who is high-risk?


So, first, let me start by saying that we still have 70 million Americans who are unvaccinated in this country, and these are people who are 10 times the risk of being hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die. So, we have hard work in making sure we get those people vaccinated.

But, as I’m here to talk about boosters, let’s — let’s get to protecting the people to optimize

people who have already been vaccinated.

So, there is a scientific process. We have an FDA advisory board meeting. They then provide the regulatory authorization. And then it comes to a CDC advisory meeting. And then I provide those recommendations.


WALENSKY: And there has been remarkable consensus in a lot of those discussions, people over the age of 65, people at high-risk conditions.

And where there was some real scientific discussion and a scientific close call was for those people who are at high risk of living — by virtue of where they live or where they work. And because of that close call and because of all the evidence we reviewed both of the FDA and at the CDC, I felt it was appropriate for those people to also be eligible for boosters.

So, who are those people? Those are people who live and work in high-risk settings. That includes people in homeless shelters, people in group homes, people in prisons. But also, importantly, are people who work for — work with vulnerable communities, so our health care workers, our teachers are grocery workers, our public transportation employees.

BRENNAN: So, teachers.

Does that mean other people living with unvaccinated children should also be considered high-risk? Does that make parents living with unvaccinated kids’ high-risk?

WALENSKY: The recommendations were not intended for that population.


WALENSKY: It’s really for people who are working all the time with many different people who might be unvaccinated, might be at — and high-risk, and really the vulnerable community — the vulnerable occupations, like our health care workers, our teachers, our public transportation.

BRENNAN: So, the category just seems very broad.

So that’s why I want to give some real-world examples here. Should a healthy 21-year-old male who waits tables at a restaurant, for example, go out and get a vaccine, a third dose?

WALENSKY: You know, this is really where we made — we made it possible for people to be eligible, but they really have to identify their own individual risk and their own individual benefit.

And I recognize that this is confusing, and we have a lot of resources available with your pharmacist, with your physicians, with your public health departments and with the CDC.

So, really, I would try and get a sense from that individual, what kind of community, how much are people wearing masks, Are there masks in the restaurant, is — are people generally vaccinated in that community to make a personal decision about whether that person wants to be vaccinated – – or boosted.

BRENNAN: So, a 40 — a 40-year-old parent living with unvaccinated kids, though, you said not necessarily necessary for them to get a booster?

WALENSKY: No, not yet.

And we will have more data forthcoming. And, of course, we will be looking at those data on an ongoing basis in real time and updating those guidances. But if that 40-year-old parent does not meet eligibility for some other reason, then I would say it’s not time for that person to get vaccinated.

BRENNAN: But — so you can understand that…

WALENSKY: Boosted. I’m sorry. Boosted.

BRENNAN: Boosted. Boosted. Yes, I understood what you meant there.

But you can understand when the president stands up there and says, “We’re probably going to open this up anyway,” and you’re saying, wait and see, there’s some confusion.

Are you going to recommend boosters for the general population?

WALENSKY: You know, I recognize that confusion.

Right now, our recommendation is for these limited people in the population, over 65, high-risk workers, high-risk community occupations, as well as high-risk by comorbidities.

We are evaluating this science in real time. We are meeting every several weeks now to evaluate the science. The science may very well show that the rest of the population needs to be boosted. And we will provide those guidances as soon as we have the science to inform them.

BRENNAN: So, for those who didn’t come to the consensus at the CDC, the view that you did, what are the risks that they’re looking at? What is the risk for that 20-year-old going out and getting a third booster, a third dose?

WALENSKY: Yes. So that’s a great question.

So, as we’ve looked at the risk/benefit and safety profiles of people who have gotten third doses, we have a lot of experience from other countries. Israel has vaccinated millions of people now with third doses, and we’ve actually vaccinated here up to 2.5 million people now with third doses.

So, we just don’t have as long of a duration of safety for those third doses. But what I can tell you is, so far, in the 20,000 people we’ve looked at, the safety signals are exactly the same as what we’ve seen for the second dose.

So — and we’ve vaccinated over 160 million people with mRNA vaccines in this country. We have an extraordinary amount of safety data. So some in — some scientists may say, wait, we want to wait and see what more safety data come in, what — whether there is a true benefit to be seen in trials and effectiveness.

But there’s extraordinary data to demonstrate the safety of these vaccines and, in fact, that they work. So, if you’re in a high-risk position, I would absolutely recommend you get the boost.


So, when you are talking about the formulation of the vaccine, you’re saying the second and the third dose are the same thing. Does that change as the virus continues to mutate? Should we all be prepared that we all will need to go get boosters every single year?

WALENSKY: I want to emphasize that our goal right now is to stay ahead of the virus. We want to boost now, so we don’t end up in a vulnerable place.

But your question is an important one, and it’s one we don’t necessarily have the answer for yet. We are working to stay ahead of the virus. We will see — if we can get the amount of transmission down in this country and truly around the world, which we are also working to do, then we are anticipating and hoping that we will not have more mutations that will require more boosting in the future.

BRENNAN: I appreciate at the outset you laid out the bureaucratic process that happens within the government to say yes or no on these vaccines.

But we’re in the middle of a national health crisis where trust has been diminished, where clarity in communication is so important.

Was this the right way to actually get this done? I mean, almost every day, we had a different message on whether to take the booster or not.

WALENSKY: Yes, I want to actually articulate that this is not the bureaucratic process. This is the scientific process.

You have scientific experts, academicians who are talking about the FDA advisory committee. The FDA puts its authorization. You have academicians, people working their entire career in immunology and vaccinology informing the CDC.

I think that this is an important scientific process and an important scientific dialogue. It has been scrutinized. It’s been watched in ways that it has never been before. But this has been the process that has held us in good stead, and that I think is important for people who might – – and — and it’s very transparent.

And I think it’s important for people to understand and be able to watch the science, so they have confidence in the process.

BRENNAN: You said back in March you had a feeling of impending doom.

You got — took a lot of flak for saying that in those terms, but…


BRENNAN: But we were on the cusp of the Delta surge. We are now back at 2,000 deaths a day.

How do you feel now?

WALENSKY: Look, you look at states around this country, and you see places that are using crisis standards of care.

That is not — and that means that we are talking about, who is going to get a ventilator? Who is going to get an ICU bed? Those are not easy discussions to have, and that is not a place we want our health care system to ever be. And we are working…

BRENNAN: Is that — and is that what you meant when you said impending doom, what you’re seeing now, crisis levels of care?

WALENSKY: In some states, yes, they are running out of beds.

And when you see that, you worry that people may not be able to come in and get the proper care if they have a motor vehicle accident or if they’re having a heart attack. And that is why we are working so hard in areas that have high levels of disease, where they can’t — their health care systems are in dire straits, that working to get — get assistance to them, working to get those communities vaccinated.

Because, as I noted, people who are not vaccinated are 10 times more likely to be in the hospital. Our hospitals are filled with unvaccinated people.

BRENNAN: Infections among children 5 to 11 are at the highest they have ever seen on a weekly basis, according to your agency’s data.

Are schools vectors of transmission? Is this where kids are getting sick?

WALENSKY: Our science has actually demonstrated that the disease generally comes in from the community, and that, when schools are practicing the proper mitigation and prevention strategies, it’s not where the transmission is actually happening.

So, just this week, we had two studies published. Over 96 percent of schools just in this school

year have been able to remain open. And yet we also published a study out of Arizona that demonstrated that places that had no masks in place were 3.5 times more likely to have outbreaks than places that did have masks in place.

So we know how to keep them safe. And when we don’t use the proper mitigation strategies, they’re more likely to have outbreaks and have to close.

BRENNAN: Just very quickly, before I let you go, should kids go trick or treating on Halloween? Is it safe?

WALENSKY: Oh, gosh, I certainly hope so. If you’re able to be outdoors, absolutely. Limit crowds.

I wouldn’t necessarily go to a crowded — a crowded Halloween party.


WALENSKY: But I think that we should be able to let our kids go trick or treating in small groups. And I hope that we can do that this year.

Before I go, if you’re not vaccinated, please get vaccinated. If you’re eligible for a boost, go get your boost.

BRENNAN: Dr. Walensky, thank you for your time this morning.

WALENSKY: Thank you so much.

BRENNAN: We’ll be back in a minute. Stay with us.


BRENNAN: A top agenda item for President Biden, the bipartisan push for police reform following the killing of George Floyd, collapsed last week when Democrats, led in the Senate by New Jersey’s Cory Booker, ended talks with Republicans.

President Biden laid the blame on Republicans, saying they: “rejected enacting modest reforms which even the previous president had supported.”

We spoke earlier with the top Republican negotiator, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.


BRENNAN: What happened?

This country was supposed to be at a moment of reckoning at the relationship between police and the black community. Why did you miss the moment?

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): I’m not sure why they missed the moment. I have been at this table twice already. They’ve walked away twice. They did this a year ago, and they’re doing it again now.

BRENNAN: You’re blaming Democrats…

SCOTT: I can’t…

BRENNAN: … for the failure of police reform?

SCOTT: I can’t — well, we should ask ourselves, how did we get there at all?

It’s the big blue cities where they have failed to pass policies that protect their most vulnerable communities. Think about Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Portland, Seattle. This problem came to the federal government because of the failure of blue mayors and liberal city council members for us to get here.

So, what we’ve decided to do was to stay at the table and look for common ground. We found common ground. We found common ground on military equipment. We found common ground on choke holds. We found common ground on providing PTSD assistance and mental health and co- responders.

We found common ground on a number of areas. Instead of moving forward on the areas where we were in agreement, they just simply walked away.

BRENNAN: But you just detailed all of those points of agreement.


BRENNAN: Senator Cory Booker, who was your partner in this…


BRENNAN: I mean, this started under the Trump administration. It continued under the Biden administration.

SCOTT: Exactly.

BRENNAN: When Republicans in control, it went nowhere. Democrats in control, it’s going nowhere.

SCOTT: But, both times, the person — the folks that left the table were the Democrats.

Let’s just be clear that we have stayed at the table. We have said simply this: I’m not going to participate in reducing funding for the police after we saw major city after major city defund the police.

Many provisions in this bill that he wanted me to agree to limited or reduced funding for the police. That’s a lose-lose proposition. When you reduce funding for police, you actually lose lives in the communities.

Our approach was a win-win approach. We want the best wearing the badge and we want the vulnerable protected. So when you tie funding losses in this legislation, you should expect an allergic reaction from me.

BRENNAN: But they would say that there wasn’t a net loss of funding. In fact, there was funding being, increased in terms of increased mental health funding specifically, that there were specific programs for recruitment and training funding increases, body-worn camera funding increases, data collection

SCOTT: Yes. But all..

BRENNAN: So that’s not cutting funding. It might be allocating it in different ways.

SCOTT: Actually, here’s what we know.

We have about a billion dollars in grant money that goes to police. When you start saying, in order to receive those dollars, you must do A, B and C, and if you don’t do A, B, and C, you literally lose eligibility for the two major pots of money, the Byrne grants and the COP grants, when you tell local law enforcement agencies that you are ineligible for money, that’s defunding the police.

There’s no way to spin that. You can spin it by saying…

BRENNAN: But this would codify the Trump executive orders.

SCOTT: Let me finish, though. Let me finish.

The Trump executive order, I actually agreed to. What I did not agree to was the cuts that come from noncompliance. When you say, once again, that in order for you to receive the money for the Byrne grants or the COP grants, you must do the following, and if you don’t do the following you lose money, that’s more defunding the police.

We saw that tried throughout the country.

BRENNAN: You didn’t want to cut funding for underperformance, is what you’re saying?

SCOTT: Not at all. I would say, this…

BRENNAN: You would want an increase to police departments that aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing?

SCOTT: Let’s look at — let’s look at what we’re asking for.

What the Democrats asked for was a simple thing. They asked for more reporting on serious bodily injury to death. I said, that’s a great idea. When they wanted to nationalize local policing, I said, that’s a bad idea. When they say that every single traffic stop in this country must be reported to the federal government, whether it’s a traffic ticket or stopping someone on the — on the streets of New York or Charleston, every single time that you have any interaction, for the federal government to be in charge of all that information, I say, let’s do it.

But let’s do it voluntarily.

BRENNAN: People at home watching this say, this was a moment that was missed.

This just looks like it’s playing politics again. I mea, …

SCOTT: I do think they’re playing politics. You’re right.

BRENNAN: But what about Republicans here? Because I know you’re saying you’re at the table.

SCOTT: We’re at the table.


BRENNAN: You are at the table, but when you’re coming back to defunding the police…

SCOTT: Here’s — here’s a fact.

BRENNAN: … which is a very effective political line, isn’t this…

SCOTT: No, it’s actually part of their legislation.

Now, Margaret, if we’re going to be fair to the American people to get the whole story…

BRENNAN: But to — but let me just finish my question.

SCOTT: … you have to allow me to have a conversation about the issue that I have been working on for the last two years.

BRENNAN: Well, let me ask you the question…

SCOTT: I’m going to give you the answer to defunding the police. The defunding the police is a very — the defunding the police — the…

BRENNAN: … which is, but isn’t this just Republican not wanting to look like they are being soft on crime ahead of the 2020 races?

SCOTT: Of course not. That’s the answer to the question. No.

BRENNAN: Was that part of your calculation at all?

SCOTT: Not at all.

Why would you — why would I be at a table? I’m the person who has lived in the communities that we’re talking about. I’m the person who has experienced the challenges that we are trying to solve. I’m the person who understands and appreciates this issue intimately.

If you want to keep our communities safe, you have to properly fund the police.

BRENNAN: The issue that, for you, sunk all of this had to do with funding related to data collection about traffic stops at the national level?

SCOTT: No, absolutely not. I gave you — you asked me for specificity. I gave you an example.

BRENNAN: There were other things?

SCOTT: There are eight or nine issues, eight or nine parts of the bill were the answer the Democrats put on the table was reducing the funding to the police.

When you have one issue, we can work that out. When you have eight different areas of the legislation that reduces funding, that’s a different conversation. Now you’re talking about defunding the police. You may not like that as a statement, but it’s actually what you can read in the language of the bill.

BRENNAN: But Senator Booker has said on MSNBC…

SCOTT: And great.


BRENNAN: … funding increases.

SCOTT: Well, all you have to do is actually read the areas of the bill that actually reduce the funding.


SCOTT: That’s available.

BRENNAN: So, obviously, that’s a big point of disagreement between the two of you and the interpretation.

SCOTT: Only if you can’t read.


BRENNAN: You’re saying Senator Booker can’t read?

SCOTT: I’m only saying that, if you read the legislation, it’s pretty simple. This is not something that I’m making up and we can debate our facts.

We can actually say, in several different areas of the bill, it reduces funding.

BRENNAN: I want to also ask you about immigration.

You didn’t seem to have a problem when President Trump adopted Title 42, which allows for those migrants crossing the border to be expelled without first being guaranteed asylum hearings. This was all justified under the pandemic. The Biden administration kept those things in place.

Do you have a problem with what the Biden administration is doing with the expulsion of migrants now?

SCOTT: I was for a strong border under President Trump. I’m for a strong border right now under President Biden.

BRENNAN: So, you — when it comes to this question of the Haitian migrants that the White House has basically said it’s embarrassed about what has happened in the past week- and-a-half, do you think that it’s justified?

And what you have seen on camera with some of these thousands of Haitian migrants being forcibly expelled, some of them rounded up by men on horseback, is what you’re seeing humane?

SCOTT: I think President Biden and his administration owns a crisis that they’ve created at the border. The humanitarian crisis that’s unfolding before every eye in the American public is embarrassing.

BRENNAN: But it’s the same policies under the Trump administration.

SCOTT: The treatment obviously is different.

That’s why his people have resigned from their post. It’s the responsibility of the president…

BRENNAN: The envoy for Haiti, you’re talking about there.

SCOTT: Thank you.

It is the responsibility of the president to secure our borders. President Biden has not done so. The crisis of his own making looks very similar to the one that he made in Afghanistan, the one we’re experiencing right now with taxing, the one we’re experiencing with spending.

So, yes, this president should do a much better job of avoiding crises that are avoidable.

BRENNAN: Just to button that up, though, the president has said those people — he’s talking about the men on horseback who, at times, it looked like they were whipping some of these Haitian migrants who were running.

He said: “I promise you those people will pay,” those agents.

Should those agents pay? Did what those agents do look wrong to you?

SCOTT: I certainly think he should hold accountable his agency, absolutely.


BRENNAN: We have invited Senator Booker to appear next week to respond to Senator Scott.

We’ll be right back.


BRENNAN: Late yesterday afternoon, an Amtrak train carrying 157 people derailed near Joplin, Montana, killing three people and injuring at least 30.

The train was traveling from Seattle to Chicago when it went off the tracks. Now the NTSB is preparing to send a team to Montana to investigate.

We will be right back.


BRENNAN: We will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION.

So, stay with us.



Congressional Democrats are in a stalemate over spending priorities. Progressives say 3.5 trillion worth of social environmental spending is the top priority. Moderates want to finish up that $1 trillion infrastructure package that has passed the Senate and could get a vote in the House this week. Moderates also say the 3.5 trillion price tag is too steep for the other package and needs to be paid for.

We’re also headed for a government shutdown later this week unless Congress can agree on an extension of funding when the fiscal year ends.

So a very busy week ahead of her. And now Pramila Jayapal of Washington is leading the progressives in the House and joins us on set.

Good morning to you.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Good morning, Margaret.

BRENNAN: Congresswoman, I want to get to this very busy agenda, but, first, have your reaction to the conversation we just had on police reform.

Senator Scott specifically referred to the city of Seattle, right, in your district —


BRENNAN: As an example of what goes wrong when you cut funding. The city did cut the police budget 18 percent. Crime did go up. The mayor has asked for money.

But does the senator have a point when he says, this just shows it is not time to reduce funding for police?

JAYAPAL: Margaret, I just have to take everyone back to eight minutes and 46 seconds. That’s what we’re talking about. The eight minutes and 46 seconds that led to George Floyd’s murder. The chokeholds and everything that had been happening across the country with Breonna Taylor. And the reality is, we need real accountability.

And I think that Senator Scott was just not willing to admit that he doesn’t want real accountability for our law enforcement to treat people humanely, with dignity, and we’ve got to transform public safety in this country or we are not going to give black and brown people a fair shot.

BRENNAN: And he argued Democrats were the ones to walk away. We’re going to check in on that conversation next week.

Again, I want to get on the business right ahead of you.

Democrats control the White House, the Senate, the House, slim majority, as you know. President Biden said to reporters on Friday that he told progressives and moderates who met with him this week that they need to focus less on the number and more on their priorities.

Speaker Pelosi said today that it is self-evident this bill will not be $3.5 trillion. Have you agreed to compromise and give up some of your requests?

JAYAPAL: Yes, you know, what we’ve said is we are happy to hear what it is that somebody wants to cut. They — so far we have not seen any negotiation back from the Senate. And we understand, Margaret, that we’ve got to get every Democrat on board in the House and the Senate. We don’t have the margins to do anything except that.

So we’ve put out our vision and I think the key thing is not the top-line number, it’s, what is it that you actually want to fund? Because if you want child care, if you want paid leave, if you want to take on climate change, if you want to repair housing in this country, if you want to make sure people have health care, there’s going to be a price tag that goes with it. So —

BRENNAN: So it will be less than $3.5 trillion, as the speaker suggested?

JAYAPAL: Well, let’s talk about what people want and then let’s come to the number from that. It’s not just a random number. So if somebody wants less than $3.5 trillion, tell us what you want to cut? Do you want to cut the child care? Do you want to cut paid leave? What is it you want to cut and then let’s figure it out from there.

But President Biden also said something very important the other day, which is, this is a zero-dollar bill because it’s going to be completely paid for with taxes on the wealthiest and the — the largest corporations.

BRENNAN: The joint committee on taxation says actually that, in raising this revenue, taxes could go up at least 2 percent on those making between $200,000 and $500,000 a year. It also will raise taxes for corporations and those who are wealthier. So it’s not no cost.

JAYAPAL: Well, what the president has said is, people making under 400,000 will not pay more. We will make sure of that in the package that we put together.

But we do want people who are making billions through the profits, not reporting their taxes, not being held accountable by the IRS to pay their fair share. That’s really all it is.

BRENNAN: When it comes to the things that you have to prioritize, what about free community college? The president threw that out as an example and mentioned means testing.


BRENNAN: Adjusting for cost of living and things like that. Are you open to that?

JAYAPAL: We’re open to whatever negotiation that is out there. But on means testing, we saw what happened when we put in tons of barriers in the rental assistant program. People didn’t get it. If you have a 25 page document that somebody has to go through to figure out whether or not they qualify, the most venerable are not going to get the assistance they need.

So I think we should be universal in our programs, make sure people get the benefits immediately and make it as easy as possible to get this assistance out to the people who need it the most.

BRENNAN: I do want to ask you about immigration.

Homeland Security said 4,000 Haitians have been forcibly expelled back to their home country. Others, some of them, will be appearing before a judge.

Are you satisfied, though, with how the administration is handling this crisis and the fact that they are keeping the same pandemic era regulations as the Trump administration?

JAYAPAL: I am not. I think we have a responsibility to be humane and compassionate and create alternatives, pathways for people to be able to get here who are struggling, sending people back to a country that has been torn apart, where there is no food, no water, no opportunity is not the way to handle this. So I’m looking for the administration to come out with humane pathways and alternatives in those countries to be able to get people here quickly and to be able to make sure that we are upholding our values as a country.

BRENNAN: Congresswoman, good luck in the week ahead. We’ll be watching the negotiations. Thank you for your time today.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Margaret.

BRENNAN: And we want to dig deeper into the president’s challenges. A Gallup poll out this week has his approval at 43 percent, which is the lowest in his presidency.

Who other would we turn to than chief political analyst John Dickerson, who joins us this morning from New York.

John, how are you?


BRENNAN: So, Democrats have control here. We knew, as we were just speaking about with the congresswoman, that there are some disagreements within the party itself. How does the

president solve this?

BRENNAN: Well, he solves it by convincing the party to do as much as it can given the tight political realities. The congresswoman mentioned them. They are those narrow margins in Congress. And they need to do this because failure would be worse.

Congresswoman Jayapal gave the progressive view. She represents the progressives. The other side is represented by Terry McAuliffe. He’d like to be governor again in Virginia. He was also chairman of the party. And he told Jonathan Martin of “The New York Times,” he said, voters didn’t send Democrats to Washington to sit around and chitty-chat all day. They need to get this done. He was talking about infrastructure, a host of policies he thinks are important.

But he’s also making a political case. His argument is the districts that are battlegrounds in the next election, and the states that are, have a more diverse electorate. It’s not packed full of progressives. And the Democrats need to appeal to that more diverse electorate.

Joe Biden has a lot of challenges, including Republicans that don’t want to work with him. But these challenges are all within his own party. He’s the leader of that party and these are challenges he has to solve.

BRENNAN: Well, you put your finger on why there is this rush to get things done between — before 2022. But this new poll out from Pew shows that the president’s approval rating is down with young voters, some 14 percentage points since July, down 16 points among Latinos, 18 points among African-Americans. These groups really helped deliver the White House to President Biden. So how can he deal with anger among these particular parts of the electorate?

DICKERSON: You know, when you go to a political rally and somebody shouts into a bull horn, what do we want? Nobody shouts back “incremental progress.”

The people who turn out — the people who turn out in mid-term elections, Terry McAuliffe has his view. He says it’s a more diverse electorate. What progressives will say is, in mid- term electorates, the people who turn out are your most ardent supporters. And those are the people who really care at a human level about these programs. The congresswoman was just talking about them. They see the human cost of not having child care paid for or not having a good start in pre-kindergarten. They also wonder what power is worth. If they did all this work to put Joe Biden and the Democrats in power, and these programs are broadly popular, as polling shows, why they do all this work if they’re getting such weak tea from Washington?

And so this is also a challenge for the president. Even if he can get some things passed, he has worry about those progressives. He needs to be out there working hard. And so one of the challenges will be, even if something gets passed, how the president and the party sort of bind up their own bruises and convince progressives that they got as much as they could and that they should keep fighting.

BRENNAN: But, you know, it’s not just about the aspirations of what needs to change. It’s the lived experience, what people are going through now. And their kitchen tables are seeing the cost of food has gone up. You know, they are experiencing some of the economic slowdown.

So, is it too soon to say that the president is underdelivering, you know, eight months in? How do we judge where we are now?

DICKERSON: Well, it — there’s a — there’s a paradox in the presidency, which is, the president should be judged very heavily because he’s the only place everybody can take their complaints. He represents the whole country. And so he should get the pressure of this because it has a political benefit. It motivates his team. It focuses the mind.

On the other hand, this president, like all presidents, inherited a whole host of challenges, and so we need to be smart about how we see where those challenges are coming from. Not all of them are coming from the presidency.

BRENNAN: John Dickerson, always great to chat with you. Thank you.

We’ll be right back.


BRENNAN: The U.S. and China appear headed towards confrontation. To push back against China’s military buildup in the Pacific, President Biden brokered a new defense partnership with Australia, and will sell it stealth nuclear powered submarines. That decision came at the expense of U.S. ally France.

We spoke with Australia’s prime minister on Thursday.


BRENNAN: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for joining us.

SCOTT MORRISON, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

BRENNAN: What is the biggest threat you see from China?

MORRISON: Well, we’re resilient to foreign affairs. We’re resilient to whether there are — there are attacks that come from cyber or other forms of foreign interference. Any sovereign country would be.

BRENNAN: So, why do you need U.S.-made nuclear submarines?

MORRISON: Because Australia’s defenses depend on having a long reach. I mean Australia is a long way from everywhere. And in order to ensure that our security interests are best protected, we need to have a long reach and a long range.

BRENNAN: But you needed them faster than what the French were delivering you. That’s what led to this big diplomatic blowup with the French. You switched to nuclear powered submarines

that can police longer distances.

MORRISON: That’s right.

BRENNAN: We’re talking about in China’s backyard. You need some military support here, no?

MORRISON: Conventional submarines can no longer meet that need in the changed strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific.

BRENNAN: You’re buying these nuclear submarines. Are you looking at an arm’s race with China, because that is what the Chinese have warned, that that is what this is a signal of?

MORRISON: No. What we’re doing is we’ll be moving from our existing conventional fleet of submarines, our Collins (ph) class submarines, and over time to be able to replace that with a fleet of nuclear submarines with — with — with — with higher capability.

BRENNAN: Because China has built up its military.

MORRISON: There’s been an increased militarization of the Indo-Pacific for many, many years. And — and we’ve seen that escalating for some time. And so the escalation pre-dates our decision.

BRENNAN: But are you concerned that this could be read by China as a reason to feel more threatened. Do you think this puts a target on your back?

MORRISON: Well, and I believe it should be. And that’s really our point. Australia has every right to take decisions in our sovereign interest to provide for our defenses, to work with our partners, to create a more stable region.

BRENNAN: Do you expect retaliation for this?

MORRISON: I see no reason why there should be.

BRENNAN: You haven’t spoken to the Chinese president in well over a year. Things are not very friendly at the moment.

MORRISON: No, well, the phone’s always open at our end. The door’s already open — always open at our end. There is no Australian obstacle to direct dialogue at a political level between Australia and China. But that opportunity — the China side have not shown an interest in but they’re always welcome when they wish to.

BRENNAN: Would he take your call?


BRENNAN: Have you tried to call the Chinese president?

MORRISON: Those — those opportunities have been available for — for years. But they’re — that’s not something they’re interested in at the moment. That’s their choice.

BRENNAN: He doesn’t want to take a call right now?


BRENNAN: How real is the threat of a hot (ph) war, of military conflict in your region of the world?

MORRISON: I certainly don’t see it as inevitable. And I think it’s all completely avoidable. And those issues, though, are going to be resolved principally between the United States and China. 

BRENNAN: So the French government made clear they were not happy they lost this contract for submarines.


BRENNAN: And the U.S. and Australia, the U.K. as well, have — have inked one.

A defense contractor in France says it’s sending you a bill for $66 billion.

MORRISON: Yes, well —

BRENNAN: Do you intend to pay that?

MORRISON: I think that’s a rather extraordinary claim. It’s simple, we —

BRENNAN: Do you think there’s any wrong-doing?

MORRISON: No. We — we had a contract for procuring submarines that had gates in the contract which gave us the option. Had we proceeded, then as prime minister I would have been negligent because I would have been going forward with a massive and very costly contract that would not have done the job that Australia needed to be done.

BRENNAN: Do you regret not being more transparent or direct when — Australians are known for being direct.


BRENNAN: Why weren’t you direct with the French president?

MORRISON: Well, you should be assuming I was.

BRENNAN: Saying you’re going to — you’re going to lose us.

MORRISON: And — and I have been. We were very clear that we had deep concerns that conventional submarines would no longer do the job. We had discussions about that. And at the end of the day, we didn’t see the situation the same. The French, obviously, thought their submarine could still do the job. We didn’t believe that was the case. And as a result, we decided not to pursue.

BRENNAN: Australia is one of the few western democracies that has really put in place some very, very strict COVID protocols. You shut down your borders 18 months ago. When —


BRENNAN: When will they reopen? Are you going to have vaccine passports? When will Australians be able to leave?

MORRISON: We will see our international borders, particularly for Australians to leave and return and Australians who are overseas who have been vaccinated to return. And that will occur before the end of the year. It could happen well before that.

With the vaccines, that is improving our resilience and — and we’ll be able to open up those borders.

But I’ll tell you what shutting those borders did. It saved over 30,000 lives in Australia. Almost — it’s around about 1,200 Australians have lost their lives to COVID. That is what is lost in a day here in the United States.

BRENNAN: Culturally, there’s this huge difference. You talk about shutting your borders. You will go into quarantine when you return home to Australia.

MORRISON: Correct.

BRENNAN: Do you think less liberty is medically necessary? We have a huge argument over that in this country. Why did you think it was worth it in Australia?

MORRISON: Thirty thousand lives is the simple answer.

BRENNAN: People in this country won’t wear masks.

MORRISON: That’s a matter for the United States.

BRENNAN: But what do you attribute that difference, culturally, to?

MORRISON: Well, I think we’re different societies. I think we are different societies. I mean we’re — we’re great friends and — and we share beliefs and values that we hold dear. We’re a very pragmatic nation. And I can tell you, the virus doesn’t care what you believe. The virus cases about how it can come and take your life. And, in Australia, we’ve introduced what we believe are practical controls that have saved tens of thousands of lives. And I think the proof of those decisions is in the results.

BRENNAN: The delta variant is really challenging —

MORRISON: Yes, it is.

BRENNAN: Some of the record, though. I mean, Sydney, again, in lockdown.

MORRISON: Yes. True.

BRENNAN: In Melbourne this week you did have some protests against mandates.


BRENNAN: So, is there just sort of an exhaustion level here politically that makes it difficult for you to try to control the virus?

MORRISON: The delta variant is the game-changer. And we have had a lot of success with COVID in managing the virus pre-delta, that when delta hit it was — it changed everything. And so, regrettably, we’ve had lockdowns in our two biggest cities, in Sidney and Melbourne now for many months and we’re looking forward to the end of that, and those restrictions are already starting to ease and the vaccination program, which has been running successfully, our rates of vaccination on a daily basis per capita have even exceeded those that were achieved in the United States and the United Kingdom at their peak. And so that is getting us to a place where we’ll be able to open again.


BRENNAN: We’ll be back in a moment.


BRENNAN: We also spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his trip to the U.S. last week. Turkey was a U.S. ally in Afghanistan, where Turkish forces had protected the Kabul Airport before the U.S. withdrew.

We asked Erdogan about working with the new Taliban government.


BRENNAN: You said back in August, for sure, the Taliban’s views won’t be the same as they were 20 years ago. But the Taliban is only letting boys go back to school, not girls. They’ve told women not to show up for work in government positions. It doesn’t look like the Taliban has evolved.

Can you do business with a government like this?

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY (through translator): Madam, Turkey’s approach to women’s issues is quite well-known. Women are present in every aspect of life. Our views would apply to Afghanistan as well. Whenever women become more involved, more active in every aspect of life, we can support them. If they would need us in health care and security and in other walks of life, and if they need, we could support them in terms of education in our country.

BRENNAN: So it sounds like you don’t want to do business with the Taliban at this point?

ERDOGAN: About the issues that I’ve just listed, if they shall be agreed on, if they will be accepted and recognized, we can do business. But, if not, we won’t do business with them.

BRENNAN: President Biden is a constant critic of human rights abuses. Has he ever asked you to improve your treatment of journalists or anything specific?

ERDOGAN: No, he didn’t. And because we don’t have any problems of that nature, in terms of freedoms, Turkey is incomparably free.

BRENNAN: Well, the Committee to Protect Journalists says that you rank second only to China when it comes to jailing journalists. Worse than Iran. Worse than Saudi Arabia.

ERDOGAN: Well, sorry, then, I won’t accept this. And these associations, these unions’ statements and disclosures are not shared by me because Turkey doesn’t have such a situation.

BRENNAN: Well, human rights lawyers say you have 100,000 Turkish citizens who have been investigating (ph) just for insulting you.

ERDOGAN: Do you believe these?

BRENNAN: International organizations, credible ones, are coming out with these statements.

ERDOGAN: Well, I know those credible international organizations that — that have no credit for me.

BRENNAN: The United States government has said these things.

ERDOGAN: Well, you are being deceived, actually, and you’re led to believe — are you looking at the source of these allegations? Are you researching these claims? Please do, if you’re not.

Ask these questions.

BRENNAN: You think that the U.S. State Department is not credible when it criticizes human rights abuses in Turkey?

ERDOGAN: No, I don’t because in order for me to believe that it’s a credible claim or statement, my country’s organizations actual findings are important.

BRENNAN: When you came to Washington in 2017, you were on camera when you were watching those protestors get beaten, those American protestors. There were Secret Service officers who were injured as a result. Do you understand that in the eyes of the American public, that is completely unacceptable.

ERDOGAN: Well, sorry, but they are not the Secret Service. And as press members, please consider the attacks against the Turkish citizens.

BRENNAN: But I’m talking about the video that was shown in households around this country. When they turned on the evening news, they saw you stand there while those protestors were being beaten. Do you understand why that hurt turkey?

ERDOGAN: I wasn’t standing there. I wasn’t standing there. I was following the incidents, but I wasn’t standing there. We need to be honest. We need to speak the truth.

BRENNAN: Did you approve of it?

ERDOGAN: And I was not inside that crowd.

BRENNAN: Was that appropriate?

ERDOGAN: On the contrary, our citizens were attacked. And the American security forces aggressively attacked the Turkish citizens. And I told this to the American authorities.


BRENNAN: We’ll be right back.


BRENNAN: Thank you for watching. We’ll see you next week.