President Biden now says a coronavirus vaccine could be available to any American who wants it by the end of July. CBSN political contributor and Washington Post White House reporter Sean Sullivan joined CBSN with the latest on the administration's plan.
- I want to bring in Sean Sullivan. He's a CBSN political contributor and White House reporter for the Washington Post. Hi, Sean. Great to see you. So the president is now saying a vaccine should be available for any American who wants one by the end of July. Here's an American who wants one. How did the White House come to this timeline?
SEAN SULLIVAN: Well, here's what we know. There's growing pressure right now on the White House, on the president, on government writ large to speed up the process of distributing vaccines and getting shots into arms. We're seeing all across the country right now that demand for these vaccines, in many cases, is outpacing supply. You're seeing states and local governments open up appointments to people online, only to see those appointments completely filled up in a matter of minutes.
You're seeing growing frustration, I think, from a lot of Americans who are trying to sign up for these vaccines, and they're not able to do that. And so what you're seeing now is growing political pressure on the White House, on President Biden to deliver on his promise to make sure that the vaccine process is effective, that it gets to the people that it needs to get to. And I think a lot of people right now across the country feel that we're not there yet.
Here's what we know. The Washington Post tracks vaccination distribution across the country. And what we've seen so far is about 72 million doses of vaccine have been distributed. Of course, the two vaccines that have been approved by the government right now, you need two doses. So in a country of 332 million people, we've still got a ways to go to get to that mark that Biden is talking about getting to in July.
One thing he does have working in his favor, I think one thing the White House is watching as they sort of calibrate these timelines is that there does appear to be a strong likelihood that we're going to have another vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, perhaps soon. This means that there will be more vaccines to ship across the country if that happens. And as, you know, these states and local governments sort of figure out how to do this more efficiently, I think there's a hope also that that will speed up the timeline, as well. But it's clear now, I think, that the White House is feeling the pressure to say, hey, here's when we're going to see Americans be able to get this vaccine.
Now, one thing to point out about the president's comments last night is he was careful to clarify himself and make sure that he was communicating to people that July, the end of July would be the point at which the vaccine would be available to most Americans. So what is the timeline for Americans actually getting the shots in their arms? That question still unanswered by the president himself, and really unanswered by government writ large.
So there's still some uncertainty-- a lot of uncertainty, really-- about this process, but I think we're trying-- I think what we're seeing is the president now trying to reassure the American people that, look, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Here is a timeline, here is some sort of concrete window over the next few months that you all can look at as you wonder, hey, when am I going to be able to get my vaccine.
- Right. And of course, an issue very closely related to this is schools reopening. And President Biden also said last night that teachers should move up in priority for getting vaccines. This was also reiterated this morning by Vice President Harris in an interview. Let's listen to what she said.
KAMALA HARRIS: First of all, let me just say this, and the president has said it, and we're all really clear, teachers should be a priority. Teachers should be a priority. Look, let me just tell you something. I love teachers. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Frances Wilson, attended my law school graduation. Teachers are critical to our children's development. They should be able to teach in a safe place and expand the minds and the opportunities of our children. So teachers should be a priority, along with other frontline workers. And we're going to make them a priority.
- So how does this stack up against the CDC that is saying that teacher vaccinations are not a prerequisite for opening schools safely? You know, is this an inherent contradiction?
SEAN SULLIVAN: Yeah, Tanya, this is a really interesting thing to watch, and an interesting dynamic when you look at how the president and vice president, how administration officials talk about this. It appears that they are trying to be very, very careful here, that they're trying to walk a fine line. On the one side, they're trying to show support for teachers. Teachers and teachers unions are a cornerstone of the Democratic coalition. But on the other side, as you point out, the CDC has come out with specific guidance that says, look, these schools can reopen safely even if not all teachers are vaccinated. They're saying teachers should be a priority, that they should be part of the process of reopening schools, but they're not saying it is a must do.
So on the one side, you're seeing the White House sort of stress its support for teachers, stress its support for teachers getting vaccinated, and indeed we heard the president last night in the town hall say, look, teachers need to move up on the hierarchy. Of course, there is no one national uniform hierarchy, right? You have different states handling things in different ways across the country. But I think he was trying to send a message that, you know hey, we're supporting teachers.
But on the other hand, you have the CDC coming out with this guidance. Now, what we heard in that briefing from Jen Psaki just a little while ago was a little bit more concrete support for that CDC position than we've heard before from this administration that teachers don't necessarily have to get vaccinated. But it's a fine line that this White House is clearly trying to walk. We see that in the president's comments. We see that in Vice President Harris's comments. And we see that in Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary's, comments. So it'll be interesting to see how the White House navigates this issue moving forward because it's a little bit of a difficult one for them.
- Absolutely. It has shown-- it has proven to be thorny for sure. Now, the White House could pass legislation for COVID relief as soon as next week. What is the latest on that and the Biden administration's plan for it?
SEAN SULLIVAN: Well, one notable thing from today's briefing I think we heard from White House press secretary Jen Psaki is this idea of $15 federal minimum wage. This is a provision that the president put his weight behind, that he has put into his proposal as part of this broader COVID relief package. And this is something that Democrats, particularly liberal Democrats, have pushed for for a long time. They want to see the federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. And we heard the president last night talk about his support for that. But it's been unclear whether this is actually going to be in the final package. Jen Psaki was asked about that today. She said, quote, we'll see, which does not sound like a very, very optimistic appraisal of that.
As for the larger package, what the White House has put its weight behind is this $1.9 trillion package. This includes $1,400 checks for many Americans. This includes support for state and local officials and a whole range of other initiatives right now. And so what we're looking at moving forward now is that the House of Representatives could pass this bill as soon as next week, and then it goes to the Senate. That's where a big question politically stands for President Biden in the White House, which is how much, if any, support are they going to get from Republicans, and how much are they willing to budge to get that support, because right now, we're not seeing that support.
But of course, the president, when he campaigned as a candidate, talked over and over again about the importance of bipartisanship, about his ability to work with Republicans. So if this passes the House and gets into the Senate, we're going to see some really, really interesting negotiations happening. But right now, the White House is saying, look, you know, our core package is our core package. They seem to be suggesting that they're willing to go it alone if they have to, that they'll pass it with just Democratic support, but they're saying that they still want some Republicans on board. Question is whether they're actually going to get that, and get that anytime soon.
- Right. All right, well Sean Sullivan, thank you so much. Great to see you.
SEAN SULLIVAN: Thanks, Tanya.