Meet the Press - February 21, 2021
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Meet the Press - February 21, 2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Randi Weingarten, Morgan Chesky, Frm. Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), Cornell Belcher, Pat McCrory, Susan Page and Kristen Welker

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: Covid fallout. Vaccination frustration.

NEW YORK RESIDENT:

Refresh, refresh, refresh, and then you have to go back to through the form again and again.

CHUCK TODD:

Those new variants.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY:

The continued spread of variants that are more transmissible could jeopardize the progress we have made.

CHUCK TODD:

And getting kids back to school.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

I think to say that you're not going to open up schools until every single one of the teachers get vaccinated -- I don't think that we can go there.

CHUCK TODD:

My guests this morning: Dr. Anthony Fauci and teachers union president Randi Weingarten. Also, the trouble in Texas.

TEXAS RESIDENT:

We need our power out here.

TEXAS RESIDENT:

Our heat went out. We also have pipes that busted.

TEXAS RESIDENT:

It's freezing. It’s a blackout. No electricity.

CHUCK TODD:

Blackouts, water shortages, freezing temperature and the hot debate over how everything went so wrong.

ART ACEVEDO:

The state didn't didn't prepare for the worst-case scenario and now we're paying the price.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus: the Republican civil war. Days after Mitch McConnell's broadside against Donald Trump --

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of the day.

CHUCK TODD:

-- the former president strikes back, with a little help from his friends.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

President Trump is the most consequential Republican in the party. If Mitch McConnell doesn't understand that, he's missing a lot.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll talk to former Texas Congressman Will Hurd about the rift in his party and on the catastrophe in Texas. Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News chief White House correspondent Kristen Welker; Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher; Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today; and former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history. This is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, a good Sunday morning. We are covering three big stories today. The deep freeze and power failure in Texas, where millions are still in a boil water situation and the fallout over how the state's hands-off governance failed to prevent what appears to have been a preventable catastrophe. Then there’s the civil war inside the GOP between the Trump and establishment wings, the most prominent example: the growing feud between former President Trump and the Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. But we're going to begin with the Covid-19 pandemic. Sometime, likely today, the U.S. death toll will hit 500,000. It’s a number that far exceeds many early estimates and reminds us of just how heavy a toll this virus has taken on this nation. The brutal winter weather across the country this week has delayed the delivery of some six million vaccine doses, but the good news is this: confirmed cases are continuing to fall. And it is that which is increasing pressure, actually, on governments to now reopen schools and get kids back into the classroom. So all those issues on the table, joining me now is Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is, of course, the Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci, welcome back to Meet the Press. Before I get into some of the --

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

-- specifics, I just want to give you a chance to take a step back. Half -- a death toll of half a million. We're basically at the one-year mark of this pandemic. And you think about it and compare it to what this nation faced in 1918, and we have modern medicine today, just how deadly in the big picture has this pandemic been in this country?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

It's stunning, Chuck. Horrible. I mean, if you look at what -- what has gone on now and we're still not out of it, a half a million deaths, it's just, it’s terrible. It is historic. We haven't seen anything even close to this for well over 100 years since the 1918 pandemic of influenza. It's something that -- it's stunning when you look at the numbers. Almost unbelievable but it's true. This is a devastating pandemic. And it's historic. People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now.

CHUCK TODD:

I think there's no doubt about that. All right, let me get into some nitty-gritties. How much of a setback did we take this week with the winter weather and vaccine distribution? And how long will it take for us to catch up?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Well, first of all, obviously, it is a setback. Because you'd like to see the steady flow of vaccine getting out there to get into people's arms. But we can play pretty good catch-up. We're already down now. We've gotten two million out. So it's now four. You know that the number was six million doses got delayed. We've gotten two million out. And we project that by the middle of the week, will -- we will have caught up. So it's unfortunate that it was a setback. But Chuck, it's a temporary setback. And when you just, you know, put your to the foot to the accelerator and really push, we'll get it up to where we need to be by the middle of the week.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. There’s -- you and I have had conversations about the first dose versus the second dose a couple of times now. We've gotten another study out of Pfizer having to do, hearing more about the first dose, particularly for folks that have had Covid. Any of these new studies giving you any sense of -- of where we would change our vaccine distribution schedule? Make it where we're 12 weeks for everybody or six weeks for everybody? What of these studies is giving you any sense of whether we should change these protocols?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Well, Chuck, I think the people need to appreciate the view is -- they're really two very different scenario that you just painted. One is if you've been infected and you get vaccinated after that, what about one dose? The other is if you've not been infected and you get one dose of Pfizer, can you get away with one dose or prolong the second dose? And I would still maintain that there are enough unknowns in that, particularly the durability of the protection. We know from studies that we did that anti-dated and led up to the very, very impressive results with the 94% to 95% efficacy with both Moderna and Pfizer that when you give a boost, you increase the power or the level of the antibodies by at least ten-fold. So you're talking about a very, very big increase. We don't know what the durability of a single dose is. And it really is risky. Risky for lack of protection, and risky to engender, perhaps, some variants. With regards to following infection, that's a different story because the data look really quite impressive that if you've been infected and then you get a single dose, the boost that you get with that single dose is really enormous. So we're looking very carefully about that. And that is one thing that you might want to consider. But we want to really carefully look at the data first. But those are two different scenarios. You don't want to confuse them.

CHUCK TODD:

And I just was going to say, so let's say you see the science and you feel good about this, about if you've had Covid, one dose may be enough. I'm just curious, logistically, what would that mean? Would you have -- somebody would have to come in and show proof they've had Covid? Is that something -- or they would be tested there for antibodies? Like, I feel like that's the one gap here that would complicate it just logistically.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Right. Well, that's the reason why I held back, Chuck, in saying, “yes, let's recommend that.” You've really got to look at the science, look at the data and figure out what's the best way. The obvious one that you think of is the documentation that if you do an antibody test, and it's very clear that this person has been infected, that then you could be reasonably comfortable that you're dealing with someone who is post-infection. But I would reserve any kind of decisions about that until we very carefully looked at the data. But it is really quite suggestive. The data are really impressive.

CHUCK TODD:

So this is something you think could be something that in four, six, eight weeks, something like that, we could change protocol?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Well, you know, again, I don't want to get ahead of the decision-making process on TV. But I think it's quite reasonable from the data that we've seen, that you want to take a good look at it because the data are impressive.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you about pregnant women because I've had a lot of viewers ask me to ask you about this because there's some confusion. We know Pfizer's studying it. I've talked to other experts who said, "Hey, you know, pregnant women should get vaccinated. They shouldn't fear this vaccine." What say you?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

You know, the issue is that pregnant women, we have not been formerly tested in a trial for safety and efficacy. That is being done now. We will get an answer for it. However, following the EUA from both Moderna and Pfizer, thousands of women have elected to get vaccinated, despite the fact that they're pregnant. Many of them were actually health care providers who felt that the risk of Covid on their pregnancy was far greater than the risk of the vaccine giving a deleterious effect. And as a matter of fact, right now we don't see any red flag signals among those thousands of people who have gotten vaccinated while pregnant.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move to schools. Based on the CDC guidelines, what level of risk is an unvaccinated teacher taking right now by going into a reopened school?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

You know, Chuck, you cannot give a numerical figure to that. You can't say, "What is the --what is the risk? Give me a number." I mean, obviously, being in school is very similar to being in the community. So the risk of a teacher getting infected in the school is very likely very much similar to what you would see in the community. But we don't know that yet. You see? We haven't done those kind of prospective studies where you can quantitate and make a decision based on this number is here and that number is there because the data get fuzzy when you try to compare what happens when you're not in the school versus when you are in the school.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you understand why there’s just this -- it has caused this consternation, right? The scientists say, "Hey, look, it is relatively safe." Obviously, a teacher sits there and says, "Yeah, but I'm still taking a risk." And I know you don't want to wade into the politics of this. But this is where -- would you feel comfortable going into a classroom and teaching?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Would I feel comfortable? You know, it's tough because I've not been in that situation. I could tell you I have a daughter who I adore who is actually doing just that right now as we speak in a city far from Washington D.C. So, I mean, I understand the concern that people have. And that's the reason why we say, Chuck, you know, when you ask a question, a specific question, it's appropriate and it's understandable. But there are so many complicated issues. How the teachers feel, how the parents feel about the possibility of bringing infection back home. There are so many things there that you need to consider. The thing that we say, and Chuck, I've been saying this for months and months, even anti-dating the CDC guidelines, is that the default position is that we should try to do everything we can to get the children back to school safely for the children, and safely for the teachers and other educational personnel. And the CDC guidelines try to delineate the steps where you can do just that. How do we get them back to school in a safe way and giving a couple of the guidelines, more than a couple, several of the guidelines of how you can do that. And it's not an easy, it’s not an easy issue, Chuck. Anybody, that says it's easy decision to make, they're not looking at the complexity of it.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, human beings are involved at the end of the day. I want to leave on an upbeat note here. We've had cases come down dramatically. And this is after what some people feared might be a holiday spike or a Super Bowl spike. We're not getting that. One John Hopkins scientist argued in the Wall Street Journal, "This means herd immunity is coming even faster than perhaps folks thought." What say you to that?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Yeah, I'm not so sure that this is herd immunity that we're talking about. We had a big peak and we're starting to come down. Certainly, the number of people that have been infected are contributing to that. Also, some contribution with vaccines. Not a lot. I don't think we've vaccinated enough people yet to get the herd immunity. I think you're seeing the natural peaking and coming down. The one comment I want to make about that, Chuck, for the viewers and the listeners is that the slope that's coming down is really terrific. It's very steep and it's coming down very, very quickly. But we are still at a level that's very high. What I don't, and none of my colleagues want to see, is when you look at that slope to come down, to say, "Wow, we're out of the woods now. We're in good shape." We're not because the baseline of daily infections is still very, very high. It's not the 300,000 to 400,000 that we had some time ago. But we want to get that baseline really, really, really low before we start thinking that we're out of the woods.

CHUCK TODD:

So keep wearing your masks, everybody, at a minimum. Anyway, Dr. Fauci --

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Yeah I --

CHUCK TODD:

Anyway, I will --

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

I'm glad you said it, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

We will scream it as much as we can. Anyway, as always, sir, thank you for coming on and sharing your expertise.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Thank you for having me, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the president of the American Federation of Teachers. It's one of the nation's largest teacher unions, it's Randi Weingarten. Miss Weingarten, welcome back to Meet the Press.

RANDI WEINGARTEN:

Randi, Chuck. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, you got it, Randi. I want to start with where I think many, many folks are framing this argument and you may think it's unfair, but I want to put this up. This is from The Nation. "The coronavirus will be with us in one form or another, forever. Zero tolerance made sense in the first year of the pandemic, just as it made some sense in the early '90s to fight crime. But zero tolerance cannot be a viable, long-term strategy when it comes to reopening schools and other vital public institutions." And then also let me have, let me let you listen to Governor Gavin Newsom because he kind of is making the same point. And then I want to get you to respond. Here's what he said.

[TAPE BEGINS]

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM:

You find whatever you look for. So, if we want to find reasons not to open, we'll find plenty of reasons. If we want to start building our ways to strategize, to find ways of getting to where we all want to go, we'll figure that out as well.

[TAPE ENDS]

CHUCK TODD:

I think in both instances, the question is this, Randi, what is reasonable risk? How do you define it?

RANDI WEINGARTEN:

Right, and so, look -- so, I -- thank you for letting me be on today, Chuck, because I do actually want to debunk this myth that teacher unions -- at least our union -- doesn’t want to reopen schools. We -- teachers know that in-person education is really important. And it's -- you know, we would have said that pre-pandemic. We knew that remote education, you know, is not a good substitute. There's a roadmap now, and so you actually can follow that roadmap, in terms of defining those risks. And I think between the CDC guidance, as well as the resources that President Biden is trying to get in the $1.9 trillion package, we have the highway or the roadmap that allows us to, to do this. And it comes down to three things: the mitigation, the layered mitigation strategies; the testing, so that you can actually see asymptomatic spread; and vaccine prioritization -- not that every single teacher has to be vaccinated before you open any schools, but you should align the vaccine prioritization with the reopening of schools.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a model school district right now that you feel as if you could say, “Hey, see this, this is the way that this can be done,” and it will keep everybody -- and everybody will be reasonably happy?

RANDI WEINGARTEN:

Yes, there's a -- I mean, there's no perfect solution but, frankly, I think that New York City has done a pretty good job in terms of showing the way. Big school district, lots of issues in terms of, of old buildings, and we learned a lot from what New York City did in September and October. And in fact, my members, I just did a survey of my membership and 85% have said that they would be comfortable being in school, if they had the kind of testing, layered mitigation like, you know, and vaccine prioritization, and that's what New York City is doing. So, I want to actually lift up people like Washington DC. The mayor actually made sure that every teacher and school employee that wanted the vaccine got vaccinated in the last few weeks. Same in terms of the Oregon governor, same in terms of the West Virginia governor, same in terms of the Ohio governor. And so, the -- when I hear politicians, when I hear Governor Newsom saying, “You're always going to find a way out.” Well, why is he not actually prioritizing the teachers in LA? Where, where they’ve been in purple, purple zone, not in red zone. So where -- I think the issue is, if the NFL could figure out how to do this, in terms of testing and the protocols, if schools are that important, let's do it. And my members want it, they just want to be safe.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, you have outlined, you’ve said you're not saying everybody has to be vaccinated before you go back, that there are mitigation strategies. But many of the local unions have made demands even more stringent than that. Do you still support those local unions to do that? You've had, you know, Fairfax County is saying they wouldn't recommend teachers going back to school until all kids are vaccinated. Is that -- and some people look at that and say, "Hey, they're moving the goalposts."

RANDI WEINGARTEN:

Look, you know, what you're seeing -- first off, let me just also say again, you know, teacher unions are not monolithic. And, you know, we have two great unions and the NEA is a fabulous union, and Becky Pringle is a fabulous new president. But what you're hearing when you hear that is that people are scared. And I think that what we need to do is we have to meet fear with facts, which is what we're trying to do. So, we've had Dr. Fauci, for example, on two town halls. We've had a vaccine town hall with experts about that. And so, just like we are meeting vaccine hesitancy with facts and the evidence and the data, we need to do the same in terms of educators. What we've learned in our polling and also in our experience is that when people are actually in school with the protocols in place, they trust it more, and then you just have to educate people in terms of this way. 71 percent of our members are fearful that they'll bring Covid home. Look, we've had 500,000 deaths, and we've had such grim realities here. But the teachers of this country understand that in-person education is really important. And so, ultimately, let's do the kind of strategies we need. And the CDC, you know, I watched the CDC director on your show last week. They're obvious what they are now, we have to just get them implemented.

CHUCK TODD:

Bottom line though, without full vaccinations, is this semester, is this school year probably not going to have full school openings?

RANDI WEINGARTEN:

Well, so let me -- I'm glad you asked that question, Chuck, because what is full school opening mean? If you have, if you do six feet of physical distancing, you're essentially saying in a school, you're going to have, you’re going to have about 50% or 60% of people in there at any one time, not 100%. So, the issue really becomes do we have 30% more space? Do we have 30% more teachers? What I think we need to do is we need to actually try to get as much in-person as possible right now. Have the mitigation strategies. Have summer, have a real great summer semester to get kids' mojo back in a voluntary way, and then really be planning for next year.

CHUCK TODD:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, really appreciate you coming on and sharing your perspective. Thank you.

RANDI WEINGARTEN:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. And be sure to check out our interactive state by state guide to figure out when and where to receive your Covid vaccine. Visit PlanYourVaccine.com to learn more. When we come back, the troubles in Texas and in the Republican Party, they’re connected.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. President Biden has approved a disaster declaration for Texas where the power crisis has now turned into largely a water crisis that's impacting millions. Many are without water while others are being told to boil it before drinking. Morgan Chesky joins us now from Dallas. And Morgan, I guess the good news is the power's on. But there's two bad things: water and high power bills.

MORGAN CHESKY:

Yeah, Chuck, you're absolutely right. And hard to believe it was around this time one week ago that this weather system moved into Texas, plunging the state into a deep freeze that has crippled it on multiple fronts. At last check, 14 million Texans, about half the population of the entire state, cannot trust their water supply because of water lines and pipes that froze then burst during these record lows. Just a few days ago, it hit -2° here in Dallas. And that's what's led to heartbreaking scenes like this all across the state. People lining up for hours trying to get a little water, a little food to make it over the next few days. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has called for an investigation into ERCOT, that's the agency that governs the state's power grid. He's described them over this ordeal as, "anything but reliable." And that group, also, now facing a lawsuit from the family of a ten-year-old boy who died from suspected hypothermia, one of nearly a dozen fatal cases near Houston. And another crisis playing out that you mentioned, Chuck, and that is those sky-high energy bills that customers are reporting who are signed for variable rate energy plans, having bills that were less than $100 that are now hitting nearly $10,000. Governor Greg Abbott calling for an emergency meeting yesterday, assuring everyone that he and his team should hopefully find a solution to that issue sooner than later, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, Morgan, I have a feeling that is going to be something that people are going to be chirping about even more as these bills roll in. Morgan Chesky, on the ground for us in Texas. Morgan, thanks. Well, the mess in Texas caused by lax government oversight, just the latest chapter in what's been a brutal time for the GOP. Consider over the past four years, the party has lost the House, the Senate, and the White House. The split between, its Trump and establishment wings is growing. It's highlighted by former President Trump calling Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell a, "Dower, sullen, and unsmiling political hack." State and local Republican Parties have censured ten Senate and House members -- Republicans who voted against Mr. Trump over the impeachment issue. All that said, it is worth remembering that the Republican Party has survived to read many of its obituaries in the past. So joining me now from San Antonio is the former Republican congressman from that area, Will Hurd. Will, it's good to see you. Thanks for coming on. First, let me just ask you about how you and your loved ones are doing. Do you have running water? And do you have power?

WILL HURD:

I do. I've been fortunate. I'm one of those millions of folks that are having to -- to boil my water. You know, Chuck, it's wild, you know, today, coming to the show, I didn't have to wear a jacket. But even though the temperatures are getting warmer, a lot of Texans are still going to be impacted over the next weeks and months. The broken power -- the broken waterline is really significant. That's causing low water pressure. This may not get resolved for a month. So if there's anybody watching that you're a plumber and you have some extra crews, please send them towards Texas. I'm being serious because this is going to be a -- a large impact over the next couple weeks. And, you know, I know people that have been without water for now four or five days. This is not something that's sustainable. And then you have cities and counties that are already dealing with trying to do Covid. And now they have to deal with this. So this is a pretty significant problem. And even though it's getting warmer, these problems are not going away.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair to say that this was a preventable catastrophe? That this is on the Texas government?

WILL HURD:

100% this was, this was preventable. This wasn't a problem with any individual fuel source. This was a problem of lack of leadership and lack of long-term planning. You know, in 2011, there were hearings in the Statehouse talking about ensuring that there was reliability. ERCOT and state leaders at the time said that the -- these energy companies could self-regulate and make sure that happens. We can have cheap prices and reliable energy at the same time. And, you know, we always talk about; this was a black swan event. This was an event that doesn't happen, you know, often. The only thing I've learned in my time in government and the CIA is that the only thing about black swan is black swans actually happen. And we need to be prepared. And one of the things about the ninth-largest economy being brought to its knees, you know, because of this, our enemies are looking at this. And they're looking at how -- that the grid was able to fail and they could potentially use this and have a cyber-attack to do this kind of thing. So that's a conversation we should be happening -- should be happening once we get out of this to make sure our power is reliable and that, you know, every American has access to reliable and cheap energy.

CHUCK TODD:

Is this a black eye on the Republican Party philosophy of low-regulation and small government?

WILL HURD:

This was, this was a black eye for not planning for this eventuality. And this, this has been going on for years. The deregulation in Texas happened almost 20 years ago. And so people have talked about this particular situation and that we should have been prepared for it. So, again, this is not about, you know, do we need to go the exact opposite way? I think the conversations, instead of using this as a political bludgeon against one another, we should be talking about the serious issues about reliability, about how the Texas grid increases its connections with the other grids around us, how do you make sure that ERCOT has the tools and the power? And another conversation, you alluded to it in your previous chat with the reporter: these high energy bills. You don't take, you don’t take the steps to provide reliable power and then you're going to give somebody a bill in the tens of thousands of dollars? That's absolutely outrageous. And I know that the Statehouse will be looking into this when they come into session. I don't think that’s -- I don’t think anybody's going to allow something that crazy and outrageous to stand.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, when you think about this issue and you think about the place you want to have in the future of the Republican Party, I mean, it does seem as if -- do you think that the messaging of constantly berating government, constantly saying, "Government is the problem, government doesn't work," does it become self-fulfilling in a place like Texas? And is that a part of the bigger messaging problem?

WILL HURD:

Well, look, I don't disagree with your premise. The reality is the Republican Party should be based on our core values. Right? If we're going to be a party that's viewed as, you know, representing nuts and conspiracy theories -- conspiracy theorists, we're going to ultimately have a problem. And so it's not about no government. It's about reasonable and sensible government. If we can reduce the size of the scope in federal government -- of the government, and still provide great digital, you know, services, right, we should be able to do that. And so, yes, there is a role for government to play in all of these issues. But let's figure out -- and the conversation should be what is that role? And it could be based on allowing most Americans to have as much freedom as they possibly can. Because when you have freedom, that allows opportunity. When you have opportunity, that leads to growth. And growth leads to progress.

CHUCK TODD:

What role should former President Trump have in the future of the Republican Party? Or should he not have a role?

WILL HURD:

I think very little, if none at all. You know, this is a president that lost the House, the Senate, the White House in four years. I think the last person to do that was Herbert Hoover and that was in the Great Depression. And, you know, when you look at, in the 2020 election, the number of Republicans that were successful significantly outperformed President Trump. And so the opportunity that we have is that we should be talking to disaffected Democrats. The fact that Speaker Pelosi didn't pick up any seats, you know, is an indication that the Democratic Party has some real problems. And Chuck, you've been following politics longer than I have. You know history tells us that we're going to take back the House. And so, you know, how we do that -- and we should do it based on our principles. We should do that by talking to those folks that don't believe in defunding the police, that don't believe in open borders. We have an opportunity. But we can't do that if we're talking about, you know, lies of an election that went wrong, or, you know, succumbing to conspiracy theories.

CHUCK TODD:

Former Congressman Will Hurd, Republican who, by the way, you left Congress on your own volition. Anyway, thank you for coming on and sharing your perspective with us this morning. Thank you, sir. And if you want to help the folks in Texas, here are just some of the organizations doing good work for people there. Obviously, you heard Will Hurd's ask for plumbers as well, for what it's worth. But you can find this list on the Meet the Press Twitter account and on our Facebook page. When we come back, can the Republican Party survive as the party of Trump? Is that what it wants to be? You heard one point of view just now. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is with us. NBC News chief White House Correspondent Kristen Welker; Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher; Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief of USA Today; and former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory. Susan, you came, you came with materials. You came with some show and tell. USA Today with some brand new polling numbers. Among Trump supporters, and I want to throw up a couple of in there; first of all, what happened on January 6, among Trump supporters a large majority believed it was an antifa-inspired attack, not Trump supporters who were the attack. And then you ask about a third party. If Donald Trump formed a third party, among Trump voters, basically just about half, 46%, would support that Trump party. About a quarter would still support the GOP and a quarter, a little more than a quarter, would be undecided. Susan, that poll says Donald Trump has a pretty iron grip, at least, on that party right now. And Will Hurd, of course, that's to probably -- to the chagrin of Mr. Hurd.

SUSAN PAGE:

Yes. Yes, and, and to be clear, antifa, there’s no evidence that antifa was behind the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Not even President Trump is arguing that. We found in this poll, that by two, by almost two to one, Republicans who would leave for a third party would go with the Trump party over the Republican party, but there is no need for Donald Trump to do that because he already owns this party. We've seen that even though it was Donald Trump who, as Will Hurd said, presided over the loss of control of the White House, the House, and the Senate, it is Republicans who have won their elections who are in the greater peril. Just, just one more number, we found very little patience for Republicans officials who want to challenge Trump in any way.

CHUCK TODD: Yeah.

SUSAN PAGE: Eight of ten Republicans said they are less likely to vote for a Republican candidate if he or she voted for impeachment. Eight of ten said they doubted that Republican senators were voting their conscience when they voted to convict him for impeachment. They said they were dealing with their political calculations instead.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's funny you bring up vote of conscience. I want play for you what the Republican chair of Washington County, Pennsylvania, said about Pat Toomey's vote, in particular, to convict President Trump. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

DAVE BALL:

We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Pat McCrory, you've been an elected official. Did you feel as if voters sent you to only represent what they think? Or did you think you were being sent to do your best judgment?

PAT McCRORY:

I believe we're a republic form of government, but you've got to understand that we're going through a grieving process right now, just like the Democrats had to go through over four years ago. We're going through some anger. We're going through some denial. And we're right now in the blame game, which is not unusual. Remember, Hillary Clinton and Sanders and others going through the blame game. And we're in that blame game right now, but we're going to heal, I guarantee it, because we're going to heal around issues that Biden and Harris and Pelosi and Schumer are implementing right now. On immigration, we're putting teachers ahead of our children and ahead of science right now. We're putting -- we’re getting rid of natural gas in the future. There are issues that are going to unite us two years from now and four years from now. History tells us that. And the fact of the matter is issues trump everything.

CHUCK TODD:

Cornell, is that a fair assessment? That's an interesting take there by Pat. Do you -- do you accept that? That, hey, this is part of the process the GOP is going through and don't assume that, come six more months, they won't be united again?

CORNELL BELCHER:

I -- I wish the governor was right. I wish that issues did determine everything, but there's an awful lot of evidence and data that issues don't, in fact, indeed, determine, determine everything. And I would push back on the idea that this is very much like what Republicans -- like Democrats have gone through. Like I tell you, I, I like Bill Clinton very much. I was absolutely in love with Barack Obama, a man who I worked for, but, but none of us would go off and start a third party. What you're seeing around, around Trump is, is dramatically different than what you're seeing. And I've got to tell you, those, those numbers in the USA Today poll are, are, are startling because, to me, when you have that many Americans not wanting to accept the truth, and look, the first casualty of war is the truth. And I think, I think our democracy is, is in great peril when you have that many Americans just won't accept the truth. So, what you're seeing around Donald Trump is very different. A civil war within the Republican party? The civil war is over. I mean, Donald Trump has won it. Mainstream conservatism is on its deathbed. I mean, and it's not being killed by liberal Democrats; it's being killed by Donald Trump and his tribalism.

CHUCK TODD:

Kristen Welker, what do you expect from former President Trump next week when he does his first speech? Is he going to be trying to project himself as not just the leader of the Republican Party, but to actually say why Republicans should be in charge? Or is he going to be settling scores inside the GOP?

KRISTEN WELKER:

I think it's going to be a little bit of both, Chuck, based on my conversations. We are expecting the former president to address the impeachment and so that might be the settling scores piece of the speech, but he's also, I am told, going to talk about the future of the Republican Party, how he sees it, how he sees the future of the conservative movement. And just going back to what Pat said, I am told that he's going to try to make the case that now is the time to start laying out the divides with President Biden. He's going to focus on immigration. Of course, President Biden is moving to reverse all of the Trump immigration policies, and so he's going to really try to focus it around those issues. But does it get mired in score settling? That's, I think, the big question moving forward, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And we know that former President Trump is eyeing what he is going to be doing in 2022, the candidates he plans to back. And I'm also told he's eyeing a return to social media. What will that look like? He's been banned from a number of platforms, but he's clearly looking to get engaged again, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Pat, I'm just curious, you heard Will Hurd there, who's thinking, "You know what, Trump shouldn't be a part of the future conversation." Can you, can you, can you build a party without him these days?

PAT MCCRORY:

Well, I'm not a big fan of incumbents who happen to not win re-election and have to go walk off into the sunset. I've been there. I think they can stay relevant and I think President Trump should stay relevant, but I also think other leaders will emerge. And we'll go through this process of debating issues, debating leadership styles, but the fact of the matter is the issues will win out because the Democrats will overplay their hand. You know, for example, we're, we’re opening borders and closing schools. It makes no sense. And I think we'll win that argument and I think that President Trump should be allowed to participate in that argument, and will participate in those arguments.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright. I'm going to pause the conversation there. When we come back, trading places, how Democratic blue-collar workers are now flocking to the Republican Party. That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time and another look at the political realignment underway in this country. Both parties are undergoing massive changes in who their voters are. And we see this in the kinds of jobs held by self-described Democrats and Republicans. In fact, here's what we found in the NBC News poll. In the last decade, the percentage of blue-collar voters who call themselves Republicans has grown by 12 points. The number in the group identifying as Democrats -- that has declined eight points. Not a surprise. We've been telling you this.

Among white-collar voters, the numbers have actually remained mostly stable -- this will surprise some folks -- with Republicans seeing a tiny drop and Democrats seeing a tiny increase. Some proof that maybe they are renting the suburbs for now. In that way, the blue-collar shift for the GOP has the potential to reshape the party. In fact, take a look at the percentage of white blue-collar voters who identified as Republicans a decade ago. It has jumped a bit by 2016, but in the last four years, in the Trump era, it jumped ten more points. Now, we know whites represent the largest share of the Republican party voters, but we're seeing the party make gain among blue-collar workers of other racial and ethnic groups too. Hispanic blue-collar voters have peeled off from the Democratic Party in the last ten years. GOP is up 13 points among that group. And something similar is happening among Black blue-collar voters. They've moved Republican by seven points in the last decade. The numbers are still small overall, of course, but considering the struggles Republicans have had wooing Black voters, even a little positive movement among blue-collar voters is welcome news for them. So, what we're seeing is this. The two parties are trading places, to a certain extent. As Democrats make gains in traditionally Republican suburbs, Republicans are picking off blue-collar voters who used to call themselves Democrats. Increasingly, the current Republican Party is looking more and more like the Democratic Party of the mid-20th century -- think '50s and '60s. When we come back, the GOP is not the only party that's divided between factions, as President Biden is finding out. Stay with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. In what some might say was a revival of some normalcy, Joe Biden went and visited with Bob Dole yesterday. We learned earlier this week that Bob Dole had stage 4 lung cancer. And in -- and in some ways, just the fact of Mr. Republican being visited now by Mr. Democrat felt very normal in a pre-2016 environment. But Kristen Welker, I think the big news from the week on the Biden administration side was a reminder of how important Joe Manchin is to the success or failure of the Biden agenda. He announces that he can't support the confirmation of Neera Tanden as the Budget Director. Her tweets had been something that had been an issue to a lot of people, and he writes, "I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget. For this reason, I cannot support her nomination." How upset is the White House here? And did they not see this coming?

KRISTEN WELKER:

I think they thought it was a real possibility. They are trying to express confidence, Chuck. I spoke to a number of administration officials who say, "Look, we feel as though there is still a chance to peel off one or two moderate Republicans." But who are those Republicans? That remains unknown. So, they're not giving up on this nomination just yet, but I think you do speak to the broader point, Chuck, which is that the Biden agenda is dependent upon being able to bring along people like Senator Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema. What happens with the $15 minimum wage, for example? We know that progressives are pushing hard for that. Senator Bernie Sanders wants that to be in the Covid relief package, but Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema saying they're not going to support it. So, it's not just with these nominees; it's with the broader Biden agenda. And this is going to be the real push and pull moving forward, not just with Covid relief, but on immigration, on climate. All of these packages that President Biden wants to move forward on are going to be challenged by this push and pull.

CHUCK TODD:

And I'm going to bring up another issue, Cornell, and that was the cancellation of student debt. We heard President Biden asked at the town hall about a cancel -- canceling at a level of $50,000. The Biden plan is $10,000. He was asked if he was going to revise that and he's like, "No." And that got some pushback from Elizabeth Warren. Chuck Schumer signed on with it. At the end of the day, you know, this is Joe Biden being squeezed on one hand by Joe Manchin in some things, and on the other hand, by Elizabeth Warren.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Well, but, but this is politics, and quite frankly -- and as someone who works and lives in Washington, it's not a bad thing. This is how politics is supposed to happen. You’re supposed to be -- it's supposed to be competing, competing interests here. But the -- but the difference is, you know, look, Democrats, they may have different ways of getting to those goals, but -- and that's where the fighting is -- but there's no disagreement on the overall goals. When you look at where Democrats are divided, if they're divided, on student loans -- you know, we all want to get to a better place on student loans, so the overall goal is there. Even on health care, which we -- which we have a lot of fighting between the progressive wings and the more moderate wings, there is no fighting about the overall goal of Democrats are, in fact, to get to more universal coverage. The fighting on Democrats' side comes about sort of how you get there. And here's the dramatic difference. And I've got to say this, Chuck, there's a dramatic difference between Democrats and Republicans. No one is organizing an effort to block Joe Manchin from, from being a part of leadership because he voted against this. Joe Manchin won't be censured because -- because of this. It is a, it is a big party and I think that -- and I think that’s a good thing politically.

CHUCK TODD:

Susan, is it a healthier divide among the Democrats than what we're seeing on the right?

SUSAN PAGE:

Yes, I think so. I think, actually, I think what's been remarkable about Democrats so far is the way they've hung together. You know, the House is poised to pass, with just Democratic votes if necessary, that first big piece of legislation, the Covid relief bill. The Senate's expected to do the same. And they'll need to hold not only Joe Manchin, but also Bernie Sanders. They need to hold every Democrat they've got. The big test, I think, will come later in this year with the second big legislative vehicle, the recovery act, because that will be a battle over what to do about climate change and immigration and taxes. And that will be maybe the last big train out of town for the first phase of the Biden presidency. I think that's where we'll see real pushes and pulls among Democrats.

CHUCK TODD:

Hey, Pat McCrory, is there a penalty for a Republican who wants to vote for this Covid relief? You know, maybe they're in a moderate district and they're like, "You know what? I like 70% of it. I'm voting for it." You think there's a penalty for that inside the party?

PAT McCRORY:

Well, I think the penalty for -- whether it be Republican or Democrats -- are from the blue-collar worker that you referred to in the past. The Democratic Party has been influenced heavily now by the university elite and somewhat by the corporate elite. And for example, the $1.9 trillion bill, even $10,000 to pay off student loans, well, the blue-collar worker is saying, "Why should I pay taxes for a kid to get bailed out of college?" That's a direct insult to a lot of blue-collar workers. And immigration policy, of opening up the borders, it's the blue-collar worker who's saying, "Wait a minute. They're going to take our jobs."

CHUCK TODD:

I do actually think Joe Biden is sensitive to that idea that not everybody feels like they should pay for everybody's private school tuition on that front. Anyway, what a terrific panel. Thanks a lot, everybody. And that's all we have, though, for today. Thank you for watching. We appreciate that. We'll be back next week, because if it's Sunday, it's Meet The Press.