Klain says reports of deal with Iran for release of American hostages "not true"

White House chief of staff Ron Klain says the U.S. has not reached an agreement to secure the release of four American hostages from Iran.

Video Transcript


JOHN DICKERSON: Good morning, and welcome to "Face the Nation." We begin this morning with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. Good morning, Ron.

RON KLAIN: Good morning, John. Thanks for having me.

JOHN DICKERSON: We are having-- we have-- as we come on the air this morning, there are reports that the Iranian government has agreed with the West to release some detainees. What can you tell us about that?

RON KLAIN: John, I can tell you, unfortunately, that report is untrue. There is no agreement to release these four Americans. We're working very hard to get them released. We raise this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time. But so far, there's no agreement to bring these four Americans home.

JOHN DICKERSON: Sometimes in these kind of things, the other country will rush to the microphones to force your hand. Do you feel that?

RON KLAIN: No. Again, we're working hard to bring these Americans home. When we get that done, we'll obviously be delighted to announce that news.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let's talk to-- let's talk about the president's number one priority-- vaccinations. There is something called vaccine hesitancy. This week, vaccinations were down 10%. The director of the CDC says places the virus will strike next are where there have not been vaccinations.

Given the president's focus on this, what can he do to increase incentives for people to get vaccinated? Our Dr. Scott Gottlieb says it's people who-- there's a big portion of people who just aren't finding the time for it. It's not that they're against it, it's just not convenient.

RON KLAIN: Yeah. Well, I agree with Dr. Gottlieb on that. We're doing a lot to make it more convenient. Starting just a week ago, 40,000 pharmacies now have the vaccine. Many of them have already walk-in ours.

We're trying to expand that. We launched last week a way you can text-- you can text your zip code to 468862 and get texted back to you locations near your home where you can go get vaccinated. So we definitely need to make it easier.

Look, we've made so much progress, Scott, more-- John, more than 50%, close to 55% of Americans have gotten one shot. This program is still moving with amazing pace. One in 10 Americans got a shot in the last 10 days.

One in 10 Americans will get a shot in the next 10 days. We're still vaccinating millions of people a day. We've got a lot of work left to do. We do want to make it easier and more convenient for the next group of people to get the shot.

JOHN DICKERSON: Yesterday in India, 400-- a staggering 400,000 cases. The Indian prime minister called the president and asked him to join an effort to lift patents on the vaccination so they can be produced. Where-- where is the president's head on that?

RON KLAIN: You know, we are rushing aid to India. We are sending five of those giant C5 planes, which include medicine, supplies, and the supplies for India to make its vaccines. India has its own vaccine, the Covishield vaccine. Production slowed there because they don't have the scarce raw materials to make that.

We've sent enough raw materials to make 20 million doses immediately more of their vaccine. Intellectual property rights is part of the problem. But really, manufacturing is the biggest problem. We have a factory here in the US that has the full intellectual property rights to make the vaccine. They aren't making doses, because the factory has problems.

JOHN DICKERSON: But quickly, the prime minister asked the president to lift it. Yes or no, will he, or call for lifting?

RON KLAIN: The-- our US Trade Representative Katherine Tai is going to the WHO next week to start talks on how we can get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared. We're going to have more to say about that in the days to come.

JOHN DICKERSON: OK, Ron, on the-- on the domestic front, the president's proposals, it seems like he's trying to do two things-- sell a whole bunch of programs and a mindset. So there's family leave, broadband, it's quite a list. But he's also arguing, basically, that-- that government is good in American life. And what I wonder is at a time where we have low faith in government and institutions, can the American people handle that big of a-- that much change in their life that the president's offering them?

RON KLAIN: Well, John, I think what the president's offering them is what political figures, Democrat and Republican, have talked about for decades. Let's fix our bridges and roads. Let's give people family leave when they have a new child or a sick parent. Let's get kids universal pre-K. These are pretty basic things.

And I think that the-- Washington has talked about them for decades. The bold thing that President Biden is doing is laying out a plan to actually deliver them, a way that these things, these long promised things, finally actually happen. That's what we're trying to do. I think the American people are long overdue. They've been promised that their infrastructure would be fixed for 50 years.


RON KLAIN: Where is the delivery on that? And I think that's really what this is all about.

JOHN DICKERSON: The president is going to finance a lot of this with increasing taxes. And the argument from Republicans is that that throws a blanket on economic activity. Is your view that that won't happen, that there will be no dimunition in corporate activity? Or is your view there will be maybe some, but that's worth the risk to have this reorientation of American life?

RON KLAIN: Well, let's be clear. First of all, more Americans, many more Americans will see their taxes go down if the president's plan is passed and [INAUDIBLE].

JOHN DICKERSON: I'm talking about corporate America.

RON KLAIN: Only those at the very-- OK, well, so for corporations, obviously they got that giant tax cut in 2017. And what we're talking about is just rolling some of that tax cut back, OK. So we're talking about putting the rate back up to 28%. It was 35% before that tax cut came. So corporates will-- corporations would still have the low-- a lower tax rate than the rate they had prior to 2017.

We think that 2017 tax cut didn't meet its promise. You didn't see massive investments in R&D. You didn't see wages go up. What you saw was CEA pay-- CEO pay go up. You know, CEOs now make 320 times what the average worker makes. So we think we can raise those taxes on corporations and fund the things that make the economy grow-- bridges, roads, airports, rail. That's what creates jobs. That's what gets this economy humming.

JOHN DICKERSON: Even believers in activist government think that the government can be very inefficient. With a government plan that is this big, is the president going to offer any spending cuts at all?

RON KLAIN: John, first of all, I think people have watched their government deliver 220 million COVID shots in 100 days. They've watched us deliver a Rescue Plan that took this economy that was dead in the water 100 days ago and created more new jobs in the president's first 100 days than any president in history has created in his first 100 days. So I think what the public is seeing is that America is on the move again. And these common sense measures to give people some help with their child care, to give people some money, a tax cut to help raise their kids is the kind of common sense action they want to see this country take now.

JOHN DICKERSON: I didn't hear an answer on spending cuts, but we're going to move on. Here's my question about how the president's going to work this through Congress. 70% of Republicans, according to our poll and many others, think that the president was elected through fraud. What does that tell you about the environment for his proposals in Congress?

RON KLAIN: Well, what I know is those same polls show that large number of Americans, overwhelming number of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor more bridges, roads, and infrastructure. They favor investing in child care, giving people help taking care of their elderly relatives. They favor broadband. They favor these things.

So the-- the proposals the president's put forward have broad support. They have broad support in the country. They have support from Republican governors, Republican mayors. I think what we have to see is whether or not Republicans in Washington join the rest of America in broadly supporting these common sense ideas to grow our economy and to make our families better.

JOHN DICKERSON: That's why I'm focused on that 70% number, because people have talked about the president's plan being as big as what LBJ offered. Well, if you and I were talking in the mid '60s, I'd say, well, who's the president going to cajole and schmooze with and have bourbon and branch water and put together a coalition?

There are a lot of Democrats, including former President Obama, who say that old idea of bipartisanship is basically a myth now, that Washington is too partisan, and that to spend a lot of time trying to make deals is ultimately going to get you nowhere, it's going to waste time, and you'll be punished at the ballot box. Do you believe that? Do you see that-- that basically bipartisanship is nice when you can get it, but this is not really the way things work these days in Washington?

RON KLAIN: Well, I think, John, the president had a great conversation with Senator Capito last week. We've invited her and a group of Republican senators to the White House in the next few days, hopefully. We're going to work with Republicans. We're going to find common ground. You know, the Senate last week passed, by an overwhelming margin, a part of a water infrastructure bill that's part of-- related to our Jobs Plan.

So I think you're starting to see some progress here. Look, the president has said he's going to work hard with anyone, Democrat or Republican, who shares our goals of getting this economy moving, beating this virus, and helping American families. And I think there are people in the Republican Party who share those goals, and we're going to try to work with them.

JOHN DICKERSON: But there are a lot of Democrats who say, sure, try to work with them. But then you've got to do what you can through the reconciliation process, which requires just 50 votes, and that that's really the way you're going to work this out. And the more time you spend following the fool's gold of bipartisanship, the less you're really going to get done. And so the route of reconciliation, it seems to me based on the conversations I have with Democrats, is really the way you're ultimately going to go for a lot of the president's agenda.

RON KLAIN: John, we're going to take this one step at a time. This is an eight-year plan to rebuild the country. We have time to talk to people in both parties, find where the common ground is, find what people agree is mutually shared interests. I'm optimistic that we can make progress on that in the weeks ahead.

As the president said, there's only two red lines for him in this entire process. He's not going to raise taxes on people making more than-- making less than $400,000 a year. The middle class are not going to see their taxes go up. And two, that everything is on the table and that the only-- only other red line is that inaction is not an option. And so we're going to work hard to try to find a path forward on these widely popular economic matters.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about immigration as we go out here. The president-- every president makes promises and then runs into reality. "The Washington Post" had a headline that you can't have liked, which was, "At the border, a widely predicted crisis that caught Biden off guard." The question is whether the president's move to take away some of the Trump-era restrictions on immigration ended up creating a draw for those migrants at the southern border?

RON KLAIN: No, I don't think so, John. Look, I think people who are sending their children here unaccompanied, that's what we're talking about, children as young as six, seven years old coming here with no adult who are sent on a dangerous journey, I don't think that's because of a speech Joe Biden gave. That's because of horrible conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

We're working hard to get those children reunited with family members here in the US. The number of children-- a recent report came out this week that said the number of children we have stuck in our border patrol stations are down 84% in the past month. We're making progress on resolving this problem and on getting these kids reunited with their family members.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Ron Klain, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for being with us.