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Biden to address vaccine hesitancy as U.S. struggles to achieve herd immunity

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President Biden is set to deliver remarks addressing the administration's pandemic response and vaccine rollout, including efforts to counter vaccine hesitancy. CBS News chief White House correspondent Nancy Cordes joins CBSN to discuss the latest on that and other developments in Washington.

Video Transcript

VLAD DUTHIERS: President Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks this afternoon focusing on the administration's pandemic response and vaccine rollout. That is a mouthful, Anne-Marie. So for more on this, let us bring in--

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: It certainly is.

VLAD DUTHIERS: --CBS News Chief White House Correspondent, Nancy Cordes. All right, Nancy. So the president's delivering this speech this afternoon. What do we expect the focus to be?

NANCY CORDES: We expect the focus to be vaccine hesitancy, Vlad. And the president, we're told, is going to lay out some of the administration's plans to deal with the fact that there is still a chunk of the American public that is reluctant to get this vaccine. So he is going to talk about the administration's plans to get those holdouts on board.

We don't know much more about it than that. We are expecting to get some background about the speech in a couple of hours. But this is really the ball game at this point, is finding ways to incentivize individuals who, you know, maybe aren't necessarily sure whether they want to get the shot or not. Maybe have some questions. Maybe just need an incentive.

And we started to see some states do that. For example, the governor of Maryland announced that state employees who get the shot will get $100. Or in Michigan, where the governor came up with a tiered system so that as the state reaches 50% vaccination rate-- 55%, 60%, 70%-- that more parts of the economy start to reopen in the state as a way to encourage people to get vaccinated so that life can get back to normal. So these are the types of things that the president is likely to talk about, because we know that it is so important for herd immunity that as many adults and pretty soon kids get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So Nancy, President Biden also announced that he's raising the refugee cap to more than 62,000 for this fiscal year. This is a reversal from the initial 15,000 cap that was put in place by the Trump administration. And he was going to maintain that. But then there was backlash and criticism from members of his own party.


ANNE-MARIE GREEN: What can you tell us about, you know, this decision?

NANCY CORDES: So this is an end of a somewhat confusing chapter here at the White House when it comes to refugee levels. As you mentioned, Anne-Marie, the White House announced a few weeks ago that they actually weren't going to reach this 62,000 cap this year. They said that they had looked at their resources, especially given the challenges that they're facing at the border, and they determined that although the president had promised to raise the refugee cap well beyond where it was during the Trump years, that they just didn't have the resources right now. That they were going to have to do it more slowly.

Well, that engendered immediate backlash from progressives and some Republicans who were very disappointed. Who said it sent the wrong message around the world. And so we saw a very quick backtrack from the Biden administration. They insisted it wasn't a backtrack, that they meant to raise the cap all along by May 15. That that was just an intermediate step.

And at the same time that they did that, they kind of recalibrated the caps for different parts of the world. Because they said that in particular, the caps that the Trump administration had set for Africa, for Central America, were especially low and had to be reversed first before the Biden administration could raise the ultimate cap. And so now, here we are in the beginning of May and they're actually beating the deadline that they set for themselves to go ahead and raise it to 62,000 per year, with the goal of actually doubling that next year.

But one note of hesitation, one note of caution for you is that there's an acknowledgment here at the White House that they're probably not going to meet that cap this year. And that while that is a goal, they just-- the process is still too laborious while we're in a pandemic. They probably aren't going to get to that 62,000 figure this year, but they wanted to go ahead and send this message to other parts of the world that we are welcoming refugees once again. And that they're hoping that they can bring even more into this country next year.

VLAD DUTHIERS: So let's go to Capitol Hill now, Nancy, where we're following, of course, the latest on President Biden's infrastructure proposal. We know he and the first lady visited schools in Virginia yesterday to promote the educational aspects of-- or the education aspects rather of the plan. But what about Congress? Where do things stand there? Are Democrats any closer to finalizing a bill?

NANCY CORDES: So they're working on the pieces of the bill, but they can't put the full bill together because bipartisan talks are really only just beginning. And this White House has signaled that it really does want to try to find some common ground with Republicans. That's a change from the COVID Rescue Plan.

This time around, when it comes to infrastructure, there are some pretty serious bipartisan talks just beginning, both among members of Congress and between this White House and some key Republicans. And we'll likely see a meeting between the president and some of those Republicans later this week. And so as you can imagine, very difficult to craft a bill when you don't know what the agreement is going to look like at the end of the day.

There are some Democrats proposing that maybe you break this up into pieces. Because there are some pieces that Republicans support and obviously, big pieces that they don't. There are a lot of progressives who say, hey, we might have the numbers to go this alone. Why do we even need to have these talks, especially if we don't think we're going to be able to come to terms on a big package at the end of the day?

But at the same time, you have moderates like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and others who say, we want to see a good faith effort to talk with Republicans first. That gives them political coverage. At the end of the day, if they say well, we tried at least working with Republicans.

And so I anticipate that this is going to be a phase that lasts, most likely, several weeks. There's no major urgency here. They don't have to pass this bill by the end of the month, or even by mid-summer.

So I think that these talks are going to go on for quite a while, as the White House, Democrats on Capitol Hill, try to figure out just how strong the appetite is among Republicans for an infrastructure bill. And if there is a way to achieve it on a bipartisan basis.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: In the meantime, Nancy, the feud between Congresswoman Liz Cheney and former President Trump continues. He released a statement basically, once again, reiterating his assertion that, you know, there was widespread fraud in the election, calling it "The Big Lie." And so he couldn't tweet so he had to issue a statement.

She tweeted a response. "The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading The Big Lie, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our Democratic system."

Here's the thing. She is under pressure. There is a threat that she could actually lose her leadership role in the GOP. And though she is the one that is in office and President Trump-- former President Trump is not, he clearly still holds sway over the Republican Party. What's going on with that?

NANCY CORDES: Well, if you look at the statements coming from her fellow Republican leaders, you can see that there has been something of a shift over the past month or so. Whereas early on, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, was expressing his support for Cheney. Saying she's a very valued member of leadership. She should stay where she is. She has his backing.

Now, he's saying something different. He is saying that her future as a leader in the Republican conference is up to the Republican conference, up to all of the members. That is a much more qualified statement. And it sort of indicates that there has been something of a shift in support for her over time.

What we saw initially when she voted to impeach President Trump-- and when she spoke out publicly about the fact that he wasn't telling the truth about the last election-- was that there were a lot of Republicans who, while they weren't willing to say the same thing themselves, they liked that someone was out there saying it. They didn't want to experience the blowback, but they still thought it was something that needed to be said.

And so when some of her Republican opponents held a vote a couple of months ago, secret ballot, about whether she should remain in leadership or not, she won pretty handily. There were a lot of Republicans who said yes, she should remain in leadership. But now, it looks like there's going to be a vote again. Probably next week because the House is out this week.

And the big question is how those Republicans who voted for her the first time, have their feelings changed? Do they now feel that actually, her coming out so frequently and telling the truth and creating this division between herself and the president, does that put more pressure on them? Does that put them on the spot? Because they're clearly not willing to say what she's saying.

Does that make their political life more difficult? And so we'll get the answer to that next week if Republicans do in fact, hold yet another vote about her position in Republican leadership.

VLAD DUTHIERS: But it's so fascinating, Nancy, because you've got former President George W. Bush in interviews that he did with Norah O'Donnell and others, you know, talking about the Republican Party is a big tent party where, you know, multiple ideas are welcome. And that is how you win back the House, that is how you win back the Senate and ultimately, the White House. And then you've got folks like Kevin McCarthy and others who are saying no, no, no. We've all got to throw our chips in with former President Trump because he remains so viable, I guess, within the party.

I wonder, though, if Liz Cheney survives this next upcoming vote, what does that mean for Kevin McCarthy? I know that he wants to be Speaker of the House if the Republicans win back the House during the midterms, but remind our viewers how it went the last time he tried to get that job.

NANCY CORDES: Right. You know, the last time he tried to be Speaker, you know, there were a number of Republicans who kind of looked at some of his past statements and decided that he was not necessarily the strongest messenger for their party. And he sort of ended up withdrawing himself from the running. But that was years ago, and he has been leading this Republican Party now for several years.

And he's also shown a willingness to kind of move in the direction of the Trump wing of the party pretty decidedly. And he was a very stalwart defender of President Trump during his entire time in office. He has been down to Mar-a-Lago since then to kind of kiss the ring and take pictures with President Trump.

He is showing that he is going to remain firmly in the Trump camp going forward. And that is something that many Republicans in his conference seem to be completely happy with. Because as you noted, Vlad, whether or not they think that President Trump is the right messenger for their party, whether or not they think that he always tells the truth, they do recognize that it is very difficult to win-- particularly in red states, but really in swing states as well-- if they don't have the energy that he brings to their right flank.

And they worry that if he isn't-- if they aren't right with Trump, that they are going to have a difficult time energizing his voters in the next election. And so that is clearly the calculation that Kevin McCarthy has made. And at this point, the Republicans in Congress that I've spoken to seem to be very, very comfortable with his leadership.

VLAD DUTHIERS: All right, we'll see how it plays out. Nancy Cordes for us. Thank you, Nancy.

NANCY CORDES: May the fourth be with you, Vlad.

VLAD DUTHIERS: I love it. Thank you so much, Nancy. May the fourth be with you as well, always.