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Biden under pressure to support Palestinians in Mideast conflict

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Progressives in the Democratic Party are calling for President Biden to express stronger support for Palestinians in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The escalating crisis is Mr. Biden's first major test in the Middle East. CBS News senior White House correspondent Weijia Jiang joined CBSN to discuss.

Video Transcript

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: All right. This escalating crisis is the first major test for President Biden in the Middle East, with no sign of any escalation on the ground. Foreign leaders are pulling diplomatic levers. Washington has sent a senior diplomat to the region in an attempt to try and diffuse the situation. The president remarked on the ongoing conflict last night in a virtual speech to celebrate the end of fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It came after calls with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Both leaders are said to be in constant contact amid the raging conflict.

CBS News Sr. White House correspondent Weijia Jiang joins us now with more. Weijia, so we have seen a little bit of the president's remarks, but we haven't seen a lot of readouts from his conversations with Netanyahu. How are the president's remarks playing, specifically with Democrats in Congress, because there have been some who have been very vocal about what is happening there. What have you heard?

WEIJIA JANG: So President Biden continues to reiterate two main points, which is that Israel has the right to defend itself, and that also, the US is committed to helping to navigate a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, which is not new. His predecessors have all tried to do the same thing. The difference is, though, Vlad, that now there is an additional challenge. Because progressives in the Democratic party are calling for a stronger support for the Palestinian people, and they are criticizing the president because they want to hear more from him with regard to swift action.

So you see here just last night, Senator Jon Ossoff down in Georgia, in addition to 28 other Democratic senators, have called for an immediate cease fire. And it doesn't seem like the president is going to publicly do that just yet. But there is mounting pressure, especially because there are other high-profile members of his party that are speaking out.

For example, you have Senator Bernie Sanders saying in a New York Times op-ed that Israel has the absolute right to live in peace and security, but so do the Palestinians. And then you have Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez who is also questioning something broader. Something about the US's credibility with regard to standing up for human rights.

And so you have a lot of members of his own party sort of playing this out in public, which is contentious. Because, again, the calls for the president to do more are growing louder.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So we're going to switch gears a little bit for you. President Biden will approve an update this afternoon on COVID-19 and the nation's vaccination efforts. The CDC, meanwhile, is defending its kind of abrupt reversal on mask recommendations for vaccinated people. Still a lot of confusion because of that reversal. What are the White House advisors saying about the science behind these new guidelines?

WEIJIA JANG: Well, they are saying that in the past several weeks, there has been new research and new data that shows that the vaccine is strong enough to fully protect people. And so they no longer need to wear a mask. And even though they acknowledged there is a possibility that even if you are vaccinated you could still get the virus and maybe have asymptomatic case, the thing that they're trying to stress there is that there's such a small amount that it won't be transmittable. And that's why they're saying you don't have to wear a mask anymore if you have, indeed, been fully vaccinated.

But because of the timing of this, you're right. It has raised a lot of questions, especially from critics who say that the CDC should have done this a lot sooner, that the science is not actually that different, but they're now being accused of playing politics and wanting to encourage people to wear masks as a political statement even if it wasn't necessary. So they will continue to have to field those kinds of doubts. But the doctors, in addition to the White House advisors, are saying the bottom line is that if you have gotten your shots, or your one shot in the case of Johnson & Johnson, that you can continue to do some of the normal things that we've been waiting to do.

And this, we should point out, is also another way that they are trying to incentivize people, the holdouts who are refusing to get the vaccine, to get one. Because it's another example, again, of how we are getting closer to our pre-pandemic lives.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: So the other important information, I guess, Weijia, is that the administration announced 39 million American families will begin receiving monthly child tax credit payments starting this summer. Walk us through that again.

WEIJIA JANG: So this is money that was passed through the COVID Relief Package back in March. And it's an expanded child tax credit. And so because families are now getting more, they'll be getting monthly checks starting on July 15 that will help them sort of weather this financial storm that we are still in.

And so it depends on how much you make. You see there you get $3,600 per qualifying child under six years old, $3,000 per qualifying child between the ages of 6 and 17. But there are caps for this. And this is something that was really debated when you know lawmakers were trying to reach a compromise. So you see there when you sort of dip off and cannot access the benefits, rather.

But the president said in a statement that this is just another example that help is here. And he's using this as one way to say, look, even though that we have immediate direct relief, we need to focus now on the recovery. And mentioning the American Jobs Plan in another statement that we got. And so he will be out in the country promoting that jobs plan this week.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: The president, as you talk about the jobs plan, is actually heading to Michigan tomorrow to visit the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center. I suppose that the purpose of this visit is to do just what you were talking about.

WEIJIA JANG: Exactly, because the American Jobs Plan includes about $174 billion of an investment toward the electric vehicle industry. And so that is exactly why he's heading to Ford to try to tout this piece of his package that he's trying to get lawmakers on board with. Because the administration's making the case that this is not only necessary to reach the goals that they have set with regard to cutting back emissions, but also to create new jobs.

So as an example, this package would build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers scattered throughout the country by 2013, and replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles, and electrify at least 20% of all the yellow school buses that we see. And so in order to do all that, you need workers. And this is one way that the White House says you can get people back to work in addition to trying to save the planet.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: [LAUGHING] Weijia, thank you. I'm just giggling at myself, because it's a Ford Rogue and not a Rouge, though the words are written very similarly.

WEIJIA JANG: I like, you know, I think either one works for me. Your rouge looks beautiful today.


ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Oh yeah, thank you. That's what it was.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: --the Ford Rogue can be rouge, ladies. Rouge being red, obviously. So yeah, I'm down with it.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: God bless both of you for helping me try to cover up my error. I appreciate it.

WEIJIA JANG: And in case you guys missed it, Vlad is on a pun marathon right now. He was all over in New York City looking for treats, free treats if you get the vaccine, and the puns were just out of this world, Vlad.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: But you guys know me really well. You know that I am not that witty, that I am not that funny. I didn't write any of those. I have to give credit to Suzanne Kim, a CBS This Morning producer--

WEIJIA JANG: Suzanne Kim!

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: --who literally wrote all of those puns for me.

WEIJIA JANG: She is probably the punniest person I know.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: [LAUGHING] See, Weijia? I couldn't even come up with that.



ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Oh, one of the highest forms of humor. The pun. Weijia, thank you so much.

WEIJIA JANG: Thank you guys.