Anita Dunn, senior adviser to President Joe Biden, told CNN during an interview on Sunday that Biden has not committed to reopening schools this fall because the pandemic is “unpredictable.”
“President Biden said in an interview that schools should probably all be open in the fall. Can you clarify?” CNN host Jake Tapper asked. “Is it the Biden administration’s position that all K-12 schools should be back full-time, in-person learning start of next school year? And is the Biden White House willing to push back on any teachers unions or others who stake out any position to the contrary not backed up by science?”
“Now, he said probably. He didn’t say absolutely,” Dunn responded. “But, given the science, if the vaccination program in this country proceeds, if people do go get their vaccines, there — he does believe that schools should be able to reopen in September, and reopen safely, following the CDC guidelines. But he said probably. He said — did not say absolutely, because we have all seen this since, unfortunately, January of 2020. It’s an unpredictable virus.”
Anita Dunn, an adviser to the President, says that schools should probably reopen in September if people continue to get vaccinated, adding that it is not absolute because "it's an unpredictable virus." #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/VzvykrW7sB
— CNN (@CNN) May 2, 2021
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Joining me now is senior adviser to President Biden, Anita Dunn. Anita, thanks for joining us today. So, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said on this show last week that he wants Biden’s infrastructure bill divided up, so that there will be included in it a separate package focused on traditional infrastructure. Are you looking into going that route, splitting up the packages, so you can at least get one bill, infrastructure, passed with bipartisan support in Congress?
ANITA DUNN, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Good morning, Jake, and thank you for having me on this very beautiful Sunday in Washington. President Biden has been clear that he knows this is a negotiation, that he knows that negotiation requires compromise at some point, and that he wants to move this package forward in a bipartisan way, if that’s possible. He had a very good conversation with West Virginia Senator Capito at the end of last week. She and some of her Republican colleagues had stepped forward with a counterproposal package that does focus around traditional infrastructure. And this is something we plan to have serious discussions with Senator Capito and her colleagues. The president has said his red line is inaction, that we cannot afford not to make these investments in America’s economy, in America’s workers, in good jobs for workers. No. We have talked about infrastructure for years. Democrats and Republicans both acknowledge we need to make these investments in making our economy competitive with the global economy. So, we’re looking forward to having discussions. We are open to people’s ideas. This is discussion time and idea time for the White House.
TAPPER: So, Biden invited Senate Republicans to meet with him again at the White House for infrastructure negotiations later this month. He has said it’s a no-go if they’re only willing to agree to one- fourth or one-fifth of what he’s proposed, which is $2.3 trillion. Now, as you note, Senator Capito has put together a proposal. It’s about $600 billion. Would the president be willing to go down from $2.3 trillion to, say, a trillion dollars, in order to reach compromise? I’m not asking you to negotiate with me, but are you saying that there is a possibility of meeting in the middle somewhere when it comes to how much money to be spent?
DUNN: The president has been clear that he is willing to negotiate, that he’s willing to compromise, and that he believes that Democrats and Republicans should be able to find common ground on these common goals for our country, goals that both parties agree on, that they believe we need to fix these roads and bridges. But we also need to build the infrastructure for the future. And that means rural areas need broadband as much as urban areas do for an affordable cost. It means that we need to get the lead out of drinking water. It is unconscionable that, in 2021, we still have so many children who are drinking out of fountains at their schools where you have water going through pipes that have lead in them still. So, there is a lot of agreement here, Jake. And I think that what we are going to do at the White House and what President Biden has clearly said he wants to do is to look for those areas of agreement and to build on those.
TAPPER: I want to turn to mask-wearing, because, despite new CDC guidelines saying that fully back vaccinated people like the president generally do not need to wear masks outdoors or even if they’re indoors with small groups of people who are also vaccinated, but President Biden doesn’t seem to be following that. He got his shot months ago. He still wears a mask walking outside in public appearances. He still wears a mask indoors with people who are also vaccinated. Former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen warns that that could actually discourage people from getting vaccinated — quote — “At best,” she says, “it makes public health measures seem performative, rather than science-based. At worst, it calls vaccine efficacy into question.” Should the president start following these guidelines and stop wearing a mask outdoors, stop wearing a mask indoors when with small groups of other vaccinated Americans, to show the American people there’s a benefit to getting the vaccine, you can take the mask off?
DUNN: Jake, it’s interesting that you raise this. I myself found that I was still wearing my mask outdoors this week, because it has become such a matter of habit. I think the president takes the CDC guidelines very seriously. And he’s always taken his role as sending a signal to follow the science very seriously as well. We do take some extra precautions for him because he is the president of the United States. But I would say that people should follow the CDC guidelines, and they should take advantage of getting the vaccine, getting fully vaccinated, and taking that mask off, particularly as the weather grows so beautiful and we all want to be outside. It’s a lot more fun to take that outside walk without a mask, that outside bike ride. And I think that, as people get vaccinated, they’re enjoying it and they’re enjoying that freedom. So, as we move forward, I think that you will see more and more people enjoying that freedom, getting the vaccine and realizing it’s one big step towards normalcy in this country.
TAPPER: Yes, more and more people, including the president, perhaps. Let me ask you, because we’re running out of time, India is experiencing one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the world right now. Hospitals there are overwhelmed. Crematoriums are burning throughout the night, as the dead bodies pile up. I understand that the U.S. has begun sending some supplies to India to help. But the U.S. is also sitting on millions of doses — doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been approved for use in the U.S. Why isn’t the Biden administration releasing the AstraZeneca stockpile right now to save lives in India, which is a close ally of the United States, in desperate, desperate need?
DUNN: So, to be clear, Jake, there isn’t some huge warehouse filled with AstraZeneca vaccines that we can just release at a moment’s notice. The president earlier this week did announce that he is going to use the AstraZeneca vaccines that this country has ordered that have not been cleared, as you pointed out, for use in the United States, but that he is going to share them with the world, so India and other countries as well, because this is — as he said in his speech, this virus isn’t going to be kept out by any wall. There’s no wall high enough to keep the virus out. It’s a global health emergency. And so the president has said we have enough vaccine in the United States without AstraZeneca to vaccinate everybody who’s eligible right now. Those are people who are 16 years and older. And if you haven’t gotten your vaccine, we would urge you to start doing it, because it is the single best way to get back to normal in this country. But in terms of the AstraZeneca, as soon as it is ready to be shared with the world, we plan to share it. The president has said that. We also had our first aid flights to India land there on Friday. They will continue. We are getting them essential products that they need urgently, oxygen, PPE. It’s a global health crisis.
DUNN: And, unfortunately, what is going on in India is something that we have to worry about for the rest of the world as well.
TAPPER: Right. Lastly — we’re running out of time, Anita. President Biden said in an interview that schools should probably all be open in the fall. Can you clarify? Is it the Biden administration’s position that all K-12 schools should be back full-time, in person learning start of next school year? And is the Biden White House willing to push back on any teachers unions or others who stake out any position to the contrary not backed up by science?
DUNN: So, Jake, one of the great accomplishments of this administration and one the president is very proud of is that 80 percent of the teachers and school personnel in this country have now been vaccinated. If you recall, a couple of months ago, we — the president made the announcement that we were going to have a special supply of vaccine dedicated precisely for this reason. Now, he said probably. He didn’t say absolutely. But, given the science, if the vaccination program in this country proceeds, if people do go get their vaccines, there — he does believe that schools should be able to reopen in September, and reopen safely, following the CDC guidelines. But he said probably. He said — did not say absolutely, because we have all seen this since, unfortunately, January of 2020. It’s an unpredictable virus.
TAPPER: Yes. Fair enough.
DUNN: It is a virus that has — it mutates. It’s — so, we can’t look in a crystal ball and say what September looks like. But we do believe that, if people go get their vaccine — they have doubts about it, they should ask their doctor. They should ask people who’ve already gotten it.
DUNN: They should certainly do their own research. But, if people get their vaccine, if schools follow the CDC guidelines, then, as he said, we probably should be able to have them open.
TAPPER: All right, Anita Dunn, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it. Go enjoy this beautiful weather.
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