The following is a transcript of an interview with Biden senior adviser that aired Sunday, January 31, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to New Orleans and former Congressman Cedric Richmond, who is now senior adviser to the president. Good morning to you.
WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR CEDRIC RICHMOND: Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to start on COVID. This new strain that was first detected in the U.K., B117, led that country to shut down its schools. This week Dr. Fauci said opening US schools may not happen due to mitigating circumstances. Is President Biden still vowing to open American schools by April?
RICHMOND: Well, yes. And the key to it is making sure that we pass the American rescue plan so that we provide the school systems and local municipalities the ability to open schools safely. And we think that if we invest in the resources to make it safe, schools should reopen.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But that likely wouldn’t even happen until March at the earliest. Tell me about the plans right now, what you can do now. Should the federal government make it a priority to vaccinate teachers or instruct governors to push them towards the head of the line as essential workers?
RICHMOND: Look, I think you see us doing everything humanly possible to make sure we ramp up vaccinations. We’re delivering another 1.6 million to the states every week. So we bumped up to order. We just purchased another 200 million vaccinations so that we can vaccinate the whole 300 million adults that we need to do. And so we’re going to keep pushing. We’re going to keep sending vaccines to the states and asking the states to hurry up and make sure that they get them all out. But our plan and why we need to pass the American Rescue Plan is to make sure that we give the school systems the ability to buy the masks, the ventilation systems, all of those things that’s needed to open up.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But as you know, I mean, that fight is happening right now in cities like Chicago. We’ll be talking to their superintendent later on in the program. And Michael Bloomberg, former presidential rival to- to President Biden, argued in an op-ed this week that the president could be doing more. He could use his bully pul- pulpit, excuse me, to give political cover to fellow Democrats. He could tell the unions, yes, I understand how we need to prioritize teachers here and actually take measures to do it. Why isn’t the president doing more to help out some of these fellow Democrats?
RICHMOND: I think the president is doing a lot. He just introduced a $1.9 trillion plan to make sure that it is a whole community approach to fighting,–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But they need help right now. They’re opening schools Monday.
RICHMOND: –of vaccinations. Well, that’s an issue in Chicago that both sides are dealing with. I know they’re both at the table. Teachers are concerned about their health and making sure that they could teach in a safe environment. And if you look at the CDC study, the CDC study that just came out said with the proper investments, with the proper spacing and class sizes, schools could reopen safely. But another key aspect of that CDC study is that they didn’t test all the students and teachers. They just tested people who were symptomatic. And the class sizes in that population was in between 10 and 20 students in a class. So, look, we are very serious about making sure that we pass a plan that gives us a comprehensive approach to COVID, which means small business with help, help to our citizens. And so, look, we want kids back in school. No doubt about it. But we want it to be safe for the students, the teachers and the families of both students and teachers.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I think everyone wants that safety. I want to ask you about the aid package you’re referencing there. This morning, as you know, a group of about 10 Republican senators sent a letter to the president and they say they just want a meeting. They have a proposal that they say mirrors many of the same things the president wants, including money for vaccine and health supplies, targeted stimulus checks, slightly different from what the president’s proposing, enhanced unemployment. Is the president open to these ideas? And will he meet with them?
RICHMOND: Look the bi- the president said in his inauguration speech that he wanted to work with both sides in order to help the American people. And what we know about President Biden is it’s never about him. It’s always about the people. So, yes, he is very willing to meet with anyone to advance the agenda. But look, this is about seriousness of purpose. This is about meeting the moment. And this crisis is enormous, and our response to it meets that challenge. And so when you start talking about $1,400 to individuals, another $160 million so we can safely open schools, a couple of hundred million dollars to make sure that we help small businesses that are struggling, that’s what the American people want to see. Seventy percent of the American people support President Biden’s plan and another 71% of the American people want to see Republicans work with the president to meet the enormous challenges that we have.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is the president willing to compromise then and perhaps strip out something like this $15 minimum wage demand that many Republicans object to? Could he make that a separate vote?
RICHMOND: Look, we’re not going to negotiate on TV, but what I will say about the minimum wage is the minimum wage has been expanded or increased during times of crisis before. It’s been increased under Republican presidents and Democratic presidents. And it’s a great way to lift people out of poverty. And if you think of all the front line workers that are out there risking their lives every day, who probably have not been vaccinated yet. So, you’re talking about grocery store clerks and everyone else. They shouldn’t have to work two jobs just to make a living wage and live above the poverty line.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you could make that a separate vote.
RICHMOND: Look, the- other people want to argue process. We want to argue purpose in moving this country forward. And President Biden is very clear and he said it in his inaugural, we face deep challenges and we’re going to meet the moment and we’re not going to leave anybody behind. That’s the whole purpose of building back better. We’re not going–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
RICHMOND: –to leave people behind. And especially the people who are on the front lines risking their lives to keep this economy afloat and make sure people have the goods and services that they need.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about your time in Congress. You yourself were hunkered down on January 6th inside the Capitol when you were a sitting congressman during that siege. Speaker Pelosi said this week that the enemy is within the House of Representatives. Do you believe that some of your former colleagues, sitting lawmakers, pose a security risk?
RICHMOND: Look, I- I can tell you one thing, and this is my time as a congressperson, I believe that we’re in a different state than we’ve ever been before, members who do not want to face reality, members that are encouraging conspiracy theories and things like that. But the real- the enemy that’s within is the dysfunction of the Republican Party, unwilling to face facts, unwilling to put the people of America first. And look, I have all the faith in the leadership ability of Nancy Pelosi. She’s a great Speaker. But the challenge is bringing people together right now. And that means Republicans ditching the division that has defined them for the last couple of years under the former president and coming to the table. All we’re asking is those people that are out there busting their backs to keep food on their table and a roof over their head and clothes on their kid’s back, come join us in helping them. And let’s leave the conspiracy theories. Let’s stop arguing about election fraud that we know never existed. And so that’s the enemy within is the inability of people to acknowledge facts and come together to help the American people.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Thank you very much, Congressman Richmond, for your time.
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