(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in southern Africa.
SEN. TOM COTTON, (R-AR): The hypocrisy here is amazing, but it’s very typical of what you get from this incompetent administration.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has not been critical of travel restrictions. We have put those in place ourselves. We put them in place ourselves in the spring.
He believes we should follow the advice of health and medical experts. That’s exactly what he did in putting in place these restrictions over the weekend.
CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: There is no scientific justification whatsoever for keeping these restrictions in place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: President Biden talking about the travel restrictions, the Omicron variant and how we are dealing with that. Obviously, Republicans pointing back to several different statements or tweets. One of them, March 2020 from then candidate Biden, “A wall will not stop the coronavirus. Banning all travel from Europe or any other part of the world will not stop it. The disease could impact every nation and any person on the planet, and we need a plan to combat it.”
With that, let’s bring in our panel, senior political analyst Brit Hume, Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for “Axios,” and Ben Domenech, publisher of “The Federalist.”
Brit, what do you make of this, what the president said today and their plan of attack here with this new variant?
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it was relief to hear him say that we shouldn’t panic, although his immediate imposition of the travel restrictions last week was a little bit panicky, and the market certainly thought so. But he could have gone farther and he didn’t, and I’m glad he didn’t.
There has been a lot of sleight of hand in the coverage about the advice he got to take that action that he did take. Stories implying that Dr. Fauci advised him to do that, but Dr. Fauci never really said that. I guarantee you he will fall in line behind it now, but it’s not all clear that at this stage with the only — with the doctor in South Africa who reported this to the world having said that the cases they have seen there so far are mild, it’s not at all clear that the action was warranted. But we’ll see.
BAIER: Let me read the quote from that doctor you referenced there, Reuters quoting this doctor, “Most of them are seeing very, very mild symptoms. None of them so far have admitted patients to surgeries. We have been able to treat these patients conservatively at home.” This doctor, she said her experience so far has been that the variant is affecting people who are 40 or younger. Almost half of the patients with Omicron symptoms that she treated were not vaccinated.
Jonathan, there’s a lot we don’t know yet, as we from Admiral Giroir earlier, but there is a concern that there will be an overreaction, that we won’t have learned from the past and Delta and before that, the first iterations of coronavirus.
JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “AXIOS”: Well, it’s a very difficult moment right now because we really don’t — we are flying a little bit blind at the moment. You are talking about, you know, southern Africa, which has very young populations. Very limited data here. We just don’t have huge numbers to go by. We don’t really know if the vaccines, how effective they are against this new variant. We do know there are a huge number of mutations, which is obviously cause for concern.
But there is just so much we don’t know. The travel ban in and of itself is obviously not going to be some kind of solution because it’s already likely all around the world. Biden made clear that their strategy is, to the extent they have one, is going to be doubling down on vaccines and booster shots to try and boost immunity. But, again, we just don’t know yet how effective these vaccines are against this new variant. We’ll probably know a lot more in two weeks, according to administration officials.
BAIER: Yes, and the president pushing for the vaccination as well as the booster shots. The CDC doing the same.
The other thing mentioned today was the masks and wearing masks inside. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I encourage everyone to wear a mask when they’re indoors, in a crowded circumstance, like we are right now, unless you are eating or speaking in a microphone.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is somebody who follows the recommendations and the advice of the CDC.
PETER DOOCY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: He was shopping in a store, and on the glass outside it said “face covering required,” and we could see him inside, and his face was uncovered.
PSAKI: Our recommendation and advice continues to be for people to wear masks when they are required in establishments. I don’t know what this establishment was. The president obviously follows the advice of his health and medical team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Nitpicky? Legitimate? Ben, what do you think?
BEN DOMENECH, PUBLISHER, “THE FEDERALIST”: Well, first off, it’s not the advice of the CDC that you need to wear masks inside if you are vaccinated. That’s one point.
But additionally, if Joe Biden was standing up there today with Anthony Fauci, who went on television over the weekend to give an extremely partisan political interview in which he suggested that Ted Cruz ought to be prosecuted over January 6th, and said that he represents science when he speaks. Of course, we know that science is always right and never wrong.
One of the things that we can learn, I think, from this whole experience going back to the beginning of Joe Biden’s campaign is that the idea that he based his whole campaign on, that he would be able to shut down this virus, that the Trump administration was doing horrendous job handling it, and that he would make a remarkable difference if he was elected is just politically not justified and is not playing with the American people. They hear mixed messages. They hear uncertainty, as Jonathan was indicating, about the direction that we ought to go.
And so things like the step that they took regarding travel play off more as theatrics than as a clear and very well-based argument for what is going to shut down the virus as opposed to lead to additional lockdowns, shutdowns, and more administered by governments across the nation.
BAIER: Here is that soundbite, Brit, that Ben just referenced of Dr. Fauci over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, there are a lot of Republican senators taking aim at this.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: That’s OK. I’m just going to do my job. And I’m going to be saving lives, and they are going to be lying. Anybody who is looking at this carefully realizes that there’s a distinct anti-science flavor to this. So if they get up and criticize science, nobody is going to know what they are talking about. But if they get up and really aim their bullets at Tony Fauci, well, people could recognize, there is a person there, so it’s easy to criticize. But they are really criticizing science, because I represent science. That’s dangerous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Brit, what do you make of that?
HUME: It reminds me of the famous l’etat, the state, that’s me, statement which went down in history. That’s a very grandiose statement on his part and one he would have been well-advised I think not to make. If people want to consider him the voice of science, they are free do so. But when the guy starts claiming that mantle for himself and announcing it on television, I think people will be rightly skeptical.
And look, he has made a number of miscalculations along the way here. In the early going he said the risk was low. Then he said the masks were not need. Then he said the masks are needed, and the list goes on and on. So if he represents science, the science has been all over the place on this, and so has he. So I think he was ill-advised to make that comment, and I think people will recognize that.
BAIER: Jonathan, I want to call an audible here. You have had a string of great interviews lately, most recently Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. Where do you see where the Democrats are now on Capitol Hill? We have got a number of things, as we talked to Chad Pergram happening up there with the funding of the government, the debt ceiling, and most importantly, Chuck Schumer says he wants to get out Build Back Better out of the Senate by Christmas. Seems like a long shot. Where do you see it?
SWAN: Yes, there’s a lot of cars that are about to collide. And I don’t make prognostications about this stuff, but it’s very, very complicated. And you’ve still got problems over on the Senate side with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. So I don’t know. It’s a very difficult end to the year.
And of course, next year is an election year in which Democrats, many of them that I talked to, believe that they are staring down something close to electoral apocalypse, and that obviously complicates what they’re trying to do on the Hill, adds an extra layer of complication to it.
BAIER: Yes, and you have got Senator Joe Manchin, Ben, number one, he thinks that there should be 10 year policies, not three year. If you are going to put them, you have to fund them for the full 10 years and not hide the ball in, essentially, his words. And there’s a number of things he is kind of dictating that Democrats are not going to go along with.
SWAN: He has got the pen. He has got the pen. He can do whatever he wants, and so can Sinema. They have all the leverage because the progressives know that they Manchin and Sinema could take this bill or leave it. And the progressives want it more than they do. So they have got all the leverage.
BAIER: Ben, real quick?
DOMENECH: I just think that Jonathan’s analogy is correct. There are a lot of cars, a lot of moving parts here. I don’t see this coming together by Christmas.
BAIER: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
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