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'This Week' Transcript 5-2-21: Jake Sullivan, Sen. John Barrasso, Adm. Mike Mullen & Dr. Ashish Jha

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC CO-ANCHOR: There’s so much to discuss this morning with our first guest, President Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan. Thanks for joining us this morning, Mr. Sullivan.

I know the U.S. is providing some aid, has barred travel, but there are a number of Republicans and Democrats who believe the administration is not doing enough to help India and want even more supplies sent. So what more can be done now and how concerned are you about these variants?


And first, in a crisis of this speed and ferocity we always wish we could move faster and do more. And we’re proud of what we’ve done so far, which has included multiple plane loads -- and we’re talking very large military plane loads of supplies, including oxygen -- including diverting raw materials for vaccines, including therapeutics that can help save lives. And we are continuing to work to source additional critical materials to move them as fast as we can, both directly from the United States and also Galvanizing partners around the world.

We are concerned about variants. We’re concerned about spread. We’re concerned about the loss of life and also all of the secondary effects that emerge as this pandemic rages out of control in India.

RADDATZ: The White House is also getting pressure to temporarily waive patent rules for vaccines from a group of 10 Democrats led by Bernie Sanders who argue that by relaxing those intellectual property rules these countries could produce their own generic vaccines much quicker. The Democrats sent a letter to the president saying he should prioritize people over pharmaceutical companies.

What’s your reaction to that?

SULLIVAN: Well, here’s the basic bottom-line, we believe that the pharmaceutical companies should be supplying at-scale and at-cost to the entire world so that there is no barrier to everyone getting vaccinated.

Our Ambassador, Katherine Tai, our U.S. Trade Representative, is engaged in intensive consultations at the WTO to work through this issue. And we should have a way forward in the coming days.

What does it mean for our competition against China if the president can’t get his infrastructure and jobs plans through Congress?

SULLIVAN: Well, as the president has said, we’re going to be engaged in a stiff competition with China in the years and decades ahead. And the United States needs to approach that competition from a position of strength. And the number one thing we can do to accomplish that is to invest in ourselves, in our infrastructure, in our innovation, in our manufacturing, in our people. And that means the bold far-reaching investments in everything from research and development to an updated electricity grid to all of the job-creating, middle-class growing investments Joe Biden has proposed.

That’s not just good for our economic security, it’s good for our national security. And it’s critical, from my perspective as National Security Adviser, to make the case to Republicans and Democrats alike that this is in the national security interest --

RADDATZ: And is Joe Biden willing to make concessions?

SULLIVAN: Joe Biden has said that he’s prepared to talk to anyone, Republican or Democrat, about putting a package together that can pass and that can get the job done. And the job, Martha, is to make the kinds of investments across the board in all the areas that I just talked about, so that the United States truly is able to do, as he said many times, build back better.

RADDATZ: I want to talk about climate change. While most Republicans agree that China is the top foreign policy challenge, some are critical of the White House’s efforts to work with them on climate change, worried that the president will have to make some trade-off on things like human rights.

Here’s what my next guest, Senator Barrasso says, he said we should not turn our energy dominance over to the whims of foreign powers like China that are actively seeking America’s decline. President Biden said he wants to make sure every nation plays by the same rules in the global economy, including China, yet his administration seems determined to fall for China’s grand deception. China is playing the United States for the fool.

Your reaction?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, President Biden gathered the world leaders, 40 of them, in summit hosted at the White House to deal with the existential challenge of climate change. And to drive home the argument that every country, including China, has to do its part.

The United States is prepared to own and win the clean energy race for the future, which itself is going to create millions of jobs and enhance our national security. But we are also going to hold other countries accountable, including, as President Biden has said many times, through making sure that there can’t be a race to the bottom. China will not be able to get away with polluting industries in their country and then exporting those goods to undercut American workers. We will not permit that to happen.

So we have clear eyes about the way ahead, but we fundamentally believe that it is in the best interest of the United States for us to be the clean energy superpower of the world, not China or anyone else.

RADDATZ: And I want to turn to Iran. Iran says it has reached agreement with the parties in the 2050 nuclear deal for your administration to lift a raft (ph) of economic sanctions to help get the agreement back on track. Is that accurate? And are you talking about a full rollback of sanctions?

SULLIVAN: We have not yet reached agreement in Vienna, which is where the talks between the world powers and Iran are taking place right now. There is still fair distance to travel to close the remaining gaps, and those gaps are over what sanctions the United States and other countries will roll back. They are over what nuclear restrictions Iran will accept on its program to ensure that they can never get a nuclear weapon. And our diplomats will keep working at that over the coming weeks to try to arrive at a mutual return to the JCPOA, which is the Iran nuclear deal, on a compliance-for-compliance basis. So the short answer, Martha, is there is no deal now. We’re hoping to continue to make progress and we’re hoping ultimately to achieve the objective that President Biden has laid out.

RADDATZ: And speaking of nuclear, North Korea this morning is warning the U.S. will face a grave situation because President Biden called the North a series security threat. You have talked about being somewhere in the middle between Trump and Obama, neither of those plans worked with North Korea. Why does a middle ground seem possible?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, Martha, our policy towards North Korea is not aimed at hostility, it’s aimed at solutions. It’s aimed at ultimately achieving the complete de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we’re prepared to engage in diplomacy towards that ultimate objective, but work on practical measures that can help us make progress along the way towards that goal. And we believe that rather than all-for-all or nothing-for-nothing a more calibrated, practical, measured approach stands the best chance of actually moving the ball down the field towards reducing the challenge posed by Iran -- North Korea’s nuclear program.

RADDATZ: OK. Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.

RADDATZ: Now let's bring in Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, chair of the Republican conference.

Good morning, sir.

Let's go back to President Biden's speech on Wednesday. You've hammered the president's $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, as did Senator Tim Scott during the GOP response on Wednesday.

What's the biggest sticking point for you?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): Well, it's the trillions and trillions of dollars of reckless spending. When I look at this, this is a staggering amount of spending, like someone with a new credit card. And these are for things that we don't necessarily need, we certainly can't afford, but they’re going to delight the liberal left of the party.

It seems to me that this is a cradle to grave role of government, whether it's paying for childcare for everyone, college -- free college for everyone, and ultimately, someone is going to have to pay for this. It's almost creating an addiction to spending.

So, it's either massive new debt to China, as well as massive taxing, probably the largest tax increase in 50 years. And anybody that says this is going to be just on the 1 percent or big corporations -- I mean, that's just phony math. Americans understand that with this kind of spending and this kind of borrowing and taxing, everyone is going to get hit in their wallet.

RADDATZ: Our new ABC/Ipsos poll shows more than half of those polled willing to raise their taxes if it will help the economy.

BARRASSO: Well, I think people take a look at this and say, what is the impact on me?

And when the Biden administration says it’s just going to be on the wealthiest, it’s just going to be on corporations, look, it's going to be seen -- anybody that earns a paycheck, small businesses, families. People are going to pay through expenses in their life with cost of living going up, and whether that's gasoline prices, grocery prices.

And I will tell you, Democrats are also getting concerned about the -- all of this spending and borrowing, realizing that they're going to be held accountable in the 2022 election. And some Democrats publicly, but most privately are saying, this isn't sustainable. We cannot continue with this reckless borrowing and spending, especially with the taxes coming out of a pandemic.

RADDATZ: And on your point about Democrats. Reportedly, Biden and top Democrats are willing to make concessions or break the plan into chunks, and are contemplating Senator Shelley Moore Capito’s counteroffer of $568 billion. Could you get behind that?

BARRASSO: Well, yes. We are working closely with the administration. We had four of us that represented this plan the other day. It is focused on core infrastructure -- roads, bridges, ports, airports, waterways -- things that people think of when they think of infrastructure, things that will get our economy firing on all cylinders.

The problem is, of course, that President Biden's proposal, only 6 percent of the money actually goes for roads and bridges. And they have more money for electric cars than they do for all of those other things --


RADDATZ: Senator -- Senator, I’ve got to stop you there.

The 6 percent for roads and bridges figures you and other GOP leaders have cited has been fact-checked multiple times. The total amount for what you have called traditional infrastructure -- roads, bridges, rails, airports, waterways, public transit -- is more than 25 percent of the Biden plan. So do you want more?

BARRASSO: Well, what we're working with, and as Shelley talked to President Biden Thursday, I’ve been working regularly with the -- with the other Joe, powerful Joe in Washington, Joe Manchin. And we're focusing on core infrastructure. President Biden calls it hard infrastructure as opposed to soft infrastructure.

So I actually believe there's a deal to be had if we leave things out like the Green New Deal, and recyclable cafeteria trays and climate justice, because $500 billion to $600 billion of infrastructure is a massive amount of infrastructure.

And we ought to start with the core that we passed when I chaired the Environment and Public Works Committee, which was a plan that passed 21-to-nothing. I voted for it, Bernie Sanders voted for it.

It focuses on building faster, better, cheaper, smarter. It focuses on the things that people think of as core infrastructure that the president talks about as hard infrastructure.

RADDATZ: So, on our ABC/Ipsos poll also. It says 67 percent of those polled said Republican leaders in Congress are doing too little to compromise with Joe Biden.

You are a Republican leader. So, are there places where you could compromise on the president's agenda? Where you see a good opportunity to meet him and Democrats in the middle even beyond this?

BARRASSO: Well, a couple of things. You know, with coronavirus relief, we did five bipartisan bills, each of which got over 90 votes and when President Biden came into office, gave the speech about unity on Inauguration Day. Ten Republicans went to the White House to meet with him on another coronavirus package, and we made really good faith efforts.

He ignored all of it. They did this with budget reconciliation by the slimmest margin of votes. Ignored Republicans.

We want to work together on this with true infrastructure, and I think there's a deal to be had.

RADDATZ: Well, we'll see if that happens.

Within your party, former President Trump continues his attacks on leaders you worked closely with, including Mitch McConnell, including Liz Cheney there in Wyoming.

How damning -- damaging is that, what the president is doing to your party?

BARRASSO: Well, President Trump has a remarkable record of accomplishments in his administration. Working together, President Trump along with leader McConnell in the Senate, we were able to confirm three justices to the Supreme Court, conservative justices. We were able to rebuild the economy, cut taxes, eliminate regulations, rebuild the military.

It was the strongest economy really in a generation.


RADDATZ: But let's go back to McConnell and Liz Cheney. Some people are trying to get Liz Cheney out.

BARRASSO: But we need to get beyond all of this and focus on the 2022 elections so that we can win back the House, win back the Senate, get united on the things on which we agree, and then successfully stop the far extreme efforts of this Biden administration, and those that are taking the country towards socialism.

RADDATZ: OK, that question not exactly answered. But we appreciate you coming on this morning, Senator.

BARRASSO: Thank you.

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