Host: Chris Wallace
Guests: Janet Napolitano, Secretary Of Homeland Security; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary Of Health And Human Services; Dr. Richard Besser, Acting Director, Centers For Disease Control And Prevention; Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL); Senator John Ensign (NV)
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MR. WALLACE: I'm Chris Wallace, and this is "FOX News Sunday."
(Intro music begins.)
Swine flu: how serious is the outbreak, and what's being done to contain it? We'll get the latest from the nation's top heath officials -- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Richard Besser.
Then, Senator Specter switches parties. What does it mean for the president's agenda and the GOP? We'll get answers from two Senate leaders: Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican John Ensign.
Plus, Supreme Court Justice David Souter plans to retire. We'll ask our Sunday Group what happens to the balance of power on the Court.
And our Power Player of the Week: a son remembers his iconic father and mother.
All right now "FOX News Sunday."
(Intro music ends.)
And hello again from FOX News in Washington.
First, some sad news from overnight. Jack Kemp, the former football star who later became a key figure in the Reagan revolution, leading the charge for sweeping tax cuts, has died at the age of 73, after a tough battle with cancer.
He was a member of Congress, served in the Bush 41 Cabinet, and was Bob Dole's running mate in 1996. We'll have much more on his life later in the program.
But first, where do we stand with swine flu? Joining us now, the top three officials charged with protecting our country: Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control.
And welcome to all of you.
GUESTS: Thank you.
MR. WALLACE: Dr. Besser, give us an update. What's the latest on the swine flu, on the spread and the severity of the disease?
DR. BESSER: Thanks, Chris. As we've been saying for days, this is a rapidly evolving situation. There's a lot of uncertainty. Each day we're learning tremendous amounts of information.
What we're seeing here in the United States, we have 160 confirmed cases in 21 states. And as we say those numbers, they're immediately wrong because there's work going on in every state to look for more cases. We're hearing from unaffected states, or previously undiagnosed states, that they're seeing cases.
The World Health Organization has reported this morning 15 countries with confirmed cases.
MR. WALLACE: We have learned in the last couple of days more about the virus, and we are learning that it lacks some of the properties that made earlier flus so lethal.
We also are learning that perhaps the lethality of the Mexican strain may have been overstated. Does that mean we're out of the woods?
DR. BESSER: It does not. It's encouraging information. When we get a new strain of flu, we'll look for what are called known virulence factors. These are things that in the past have been associated with severe disease.
And as we look for those, we haven't seen the known ones associated with H1N1, and we don't see the one that was associated with 1918.
But every strain in new, and so there could be factors that we're unaware of that we would need to look for in this strain.
MR. WALLACE: So we're not out of the woods?
DR. BESSER: We're not out of the woods. The information that we've been getting over the past couple days is encouraging.
MR. WALLACE: Secretary Sebelius, Vice President Biden stirred up quite a storm this week when he told the advice that he said that he had given to his family. Let's watch.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: (From videotape.) I would tell members of my family -- and I have -- I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. It's not that it's going to Mexico; it's you're in a confined aircraft. When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me.
I would not be, at this point, if I -- if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway.
MR. WALLACE: Secretary Sebelius, is any of that true?
SEC. SEBELIUS: Well, I think, Chris, what's important is that a travel advisory has been issued for American travelers who are voluntarily going to Mexico -- not mandatory trips, but pleasure trips.
And we've asked people to discourage travelers from taking those trips right now until we know more, as Dr. Besser said.
I think that other kinds of travel, if you're sick, it's a good idea not to expose others to that sickness. But certainly, airplane travel, train travel --
My whole family's been here this weekend. My elderly father and aunt will be on a plane this morning; my son and his fiancée will be on a train back to Boston. I'm flying to Atlanta on Monday.
So traveling and being in closed places is certainly something we encourage people to continue to do.
MR. WALLACE: I have to tell you, some people have said to me since Vice President Biden talked, maybe you guys are telling the public one thing, but at the highest levels of government you've heard something else.
You're saying to me that everything that Vice President Biden said about -- I'm not talking about the travel to Mexico -- being in a confined space, being in a classroom, being in a school, being in a subway -- no health danger to any of that?
SEC. SEBELIUS: Well, again, with -- we're letting the science lead this investigation, and trying to be prudent about situations.
We've asked schools to close if there is a confirmed case, because what we've seen in New York and other areas is this is transmitted very easily -- children are great carriers of viruses -- and to separate those children until we know more about this situation.
So there is some specific advisory, but it certainly is not don't get on a plane, don't get on a train, don't get on a subway. And as I say, in my own family we've got lots of travelers today and we're continuing to do that.
MR. WALLACE: So why would the vice president tell his family that? Are we to believe that the vice president of the United States is a crackpot?
SEC. SEBELIUS: I think that each member of our country makes decisions about themselves and their family and about safety and security.
What we're telling you is what the science says.
MR. WALLACE: Secretary Napolitano, you testified before Congress this week, and I want to explore the difference between what you're telling the public and what some very smart people, like Senators McCain and Lieberman, asked you.
First question: why not close the border with Mexico?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, again, we take our lead from science, from the epidemiologists. Because we want to lean into this, we want to do the right thing, but we don't want to react in a way that's not going to actually help contain the spread of the flu.
And what the scientists tell us unanimously is that closing the border in this circumstance doesn't make any sense, because this flu already has spread. It's in a number of countries now.
And I think you also have to understand the inordinate costs associated with closing a border -- the number of jobs associated with that, the trade that goes back and forth.
If it had a benefit to it, you would make that calculation, perhaps, a little differently. But when the scientists are uniform and say that's not going to help you contain the flu, we're going to focus our efforts on what we can do to contain the flu, and that's on mitigation here.
MR. WALLACE: But Secretary -- and again, this is a question a lot of people have been asking me -- isn't that like saying if you have one mosquito in your house that's carrying a disease, you shouldn't close the door because there's one mosquito there, and why close the door and keep any other mosquitoes out?
Aren't you better off with fewer mosquitoes carrying disease?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: (Chuckles.) This isn't about mosquitoes; this is about the flu and the way --
MR. WALLACE: Well, I understand, but we're talking about people who are carrying the flu.
SEC. SEBELIUS: Exactly. But the way the flu is transmitted -- and I'll let Dr. Besser take this on as well, because we've answered this question a lot this week, and we've thought about it a lot.
But again, the flu is here. It's a virus. The way it is transmitted, closing the border in and of itself is not going to help or slow how it's going to spread around our country.
What will help is -- are the containment strategies. So if you're sick, don't go into a contained place.
By the way, the vice president did take the train home from work yesterday. So I think that he himself would say if you're sick, don't get into a contained place. If you have a child who's sick, don't send the child to school.
Those are the strategies that will ultimately help us contain the virus.
MR. WALLACE: Why isn't -- Secretary Napolitano -- why isn't the U.S. taking some of the same precautions that other countries are, like setting up thermal cameras at checkpoints to check for travelers who may have fevers?
Other countries are canceling all flights between them and Mexico and back.
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, again, because we think we're making the right judgments for safety of the American people. If we thought that would actually help, we would do it.
But the advice is not only will it not help, but again, it will divert efforts and costs and everything else away from things that will help, and that's what we're focused on.
MR. WALLACE: Dr. Besser -- because we're getting kind of a mixed message here. Are we overreacting to this outbreak? Are the government and the media guilty of hyping this?
DR. BESSER: We are not overreacting to this outbreak.
With a new infectious disease, there's a lot of unknown, a lot of uncertainty. And you basically get one shot. You get one chance to try and reduce the impact on people's health.
And so what you do is you take a very aggressive approach, and as you learn more information you can tailor your response.
I would like to address the border issue, because I think that there's a lot of misunderstanding about that.
As we planned for an outbreak or a pandemic of flu, around bird flu, the idea that if this started on distant shores, increasing screening at the border might give us, at best, a couple weeks to do some of the things that you need to do to prepare.
Once it's entered your borders, flu is a very easily transmittable virus. And, in fact, some people have no symptoms at the time that they're able to transmit.
And so the efforts at a border, at that point, are really not going to help you in your outbreak and can be directed much better in ways that will improve the health of your communities.
MR. WALLACE: I want to talk about the question of overreaction, though, Doctor.
The city of Fort Worth shut down its entire school system -- 147 schools, 80,000 students -- because one kid had a confirmed case of swine flu. Is that an overreaction?
DR. BESSER: No, what you'll see with any outbreak, and in a setting of uncertainty, is guidance that comes down. But you're going to see application of that in different ways in different places.
And what we'll learn from that, moving forward, is what were the most effective measures in this -- for this particular virus, in this country? And as we go forward, that will help guide what things we recommend people do in the future.
MR. WALLACE: Well, that's a bureaucratic answer. It doesn't answer my question.
Is it an over- -- is there any sensible public health reason to shut down 147 schools when one kid in one school has the swine flu?
DR. BESSER: If it turned out -- and thankfully, that's not the case -- if it turned out that this virus had some of those factors we were talking about, I think we would be looking at that school district and saying, wow, weren't they proactive? They were forward- thinking. That was a great thing to do.
As we learn these things about the virus, transmission in communities, and severity, we'll be able to say whether that was necessary or whether that was more than would be required to control it in their community.
MR. WALLACE: But I think, Secretary Sebelius, one of the things that confuses people is that there seems to be an apparent disconnect here.
For example, while all of you talk about the possible, the potential danger here, as I understand it the government has no plans to develop a swine flu vaccine until -- until you finish the completion of the vaccine for next fall's regular -- seasonal outbreak.
Why -- which is more of a threat, the swine flu now, or next season's regular seasonal outbreak?
SEC. SEBELIUS: Well, first of all, Chris, I think both are going on simultaneously. The scientists have identified a strain, a virus strain, that's being tested and grown as we speak.
What hasn't been determined yet, and it will be determined by the scientists, is whether or not vaccine production for H1N1 makes sense, whether we really do want to do full-scale production.
What we know is seasonal flu, year in and year out, affects millions of Americans. About 200,000 people end up in the hospital, and 36,000 people die. That's what happens every year with seasonal flu.
So production of that vaccine is critical to making sure that we don't have increased deaths associated with seasonal flu.
And one of the things that we know is that even if this current situation seems to be lessening, if we are cautiously optimistic, we really don't know what's going to happen when real flu season hits, with H1N1 virus.
So aggressive activity is going to continue -- the testing and production, oversight of the FDA. And we are going to be ready to go with a vaccine --
It makes it even more important, with a new flu strain, that we do both simultaneously.
MR. WALLACE: But you aren't doing both -- you're manufacturing the regular flu; you're not manufacturing the swine flu.
SEC. SEBELIUS: Well, Chris, it's too early to manufacture anything. What they need to do right now with this H1N1 virus is to test it, is to make sure they've got the right antidote to this particular viral strain, to make sure we have the right dosage. And then make a decision, based on the science, of what we know, whether or not full-scale vaccine production.
You can't make a vaccine unless you know what's in the virus and what's going --
MR. WALLACE: Did you say -- I don't want to misquote you -- did you say you're cautiously optimistic on the swine flu?
SEC. SEBELIUS: Well, what Dr. Besser and I -- again, I'd like to pivot back to the scientist -- what I think is being determined is that the lethality which initially presented itself as part of the Mexican situation, the deaths of a real -- an age group that you don't typically see in flu season is not seeming to present itself.
But, Dr. Besser, maybe you can clarify where --
DR. BESSER: We're seeing encouraging signs, and -- I want to put that in perspective, though.
As the secretary was saying, with seasonal flu, something that hits us every year, we see 36,000 deaths. Here, we're seeing encouraging signs that this virus so far is not looking more severe than a strain that we would see during seasonal flu.
And so I still expect that this will have significant impact on people's health. But so far, the signs are that it is not more severe than what we've seen in a season --
MR. WALLACE: Secretary Napolitano, a lightning round -- quick questions, quick answers on practical questions.
A Harvard School of Public Health study found that 25 percent of people said they're staying out of malls. Sensible or not necessary?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, if you're sick or you feel sick, stay out of the mall.
MR. WALLACE: No, no. I'm talking about healthy people.
SEC. NAPOLITANO: No. You should consider your normal daily activities, unless you're sick or have someone in your household who is sick. Then you should contain yourself.
MR. WALLACE: Eight percent of people say they're wearing masks.
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Again -- again, it depends on the individual circumstance, if you have a particular illness underlying that. But again, common sense. You don't need to wear a mask.
MR. WALLACE: And is -- if you're healthy, is there anything in terms of your normal daily living that you shouldn't be doing?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, what you should be doing is covering your mouth when you cough. What you should be doing is washing your hands regularly and thoroughly.
What you should be doing is being very situationally aware, meaning if you or anybody in your household appears to be coming down with the flu, stay home. Don't go to the mall, don't go to other places where you could infect somebody else.
MR. WALLACE: And finally, Secretary Napolitano, as the former -- and we have to pivot here -- as the former attorney general of Arizona, your name has been put on the, quote, "list" as a possible replacement for David Souter on the Supreme Court.
Any interest in that job, if offered?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: You know, Chris, I've got to tell you. I've got my hands full with the flu right now -- (laughter) -- and I'm just going to stick with that.
MR. WALLACE: Well, that's a -- (chuckles) -- that's a non- answer.
SEC. NAPOLITANO: (Laughs.) And that's all you're going to get.
MR. WALLACE: You wouldn't accept the job of Supreme Court justice?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Listen, I think the president has many, many excellent choices before him, and that's his choice to make.
MR. WALLACE: Secretary Napolitano, Secretary Sebelius, Dr. Besser, we want to thank you all for coming in and answering a lot of questions that I know are on people's minds. Thank you.
SEC. SEBELIUS: Thank you, Chris.
DR. BESSER: Thank you.
SEC. NAPOLITANO: (Inaudible.)
MR. WALLACE: Up next, two Senate leaders about an opening on the Supreme Court, and that big defection from Senate Republicans.
Stay with us.
MR. WALLACE: Even before it was officially announced, the political sparring began over who President Obama will name to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
For insights, we bring in two Senate leaders: Democrat Dick Durbin, who joins us from his home state of Illinois, and Republican John Ensign, who's in his home state of Nevada.
Senator Ensign, given the fact that Justice Souter was a reliably liberal vote on the Court and that replacing him isn't going to shift the balance of power, is this a free choice for President Obama -- no Republican filibuster?
SEN. ENSIGN: Well, what I would like to see the president do as far as the choice is concerned is -- first of all, you have to have somebody who is honest, somebody who is qualified, and there are plenty of people out there who fit that bill.
But also, I would like to make sure that there are no litmus tests as far as this particular issue, abortion, whatever those kinds of issues that are out there. If people have actually taken positions, I think that that, in and of itself, prejudices them in the future.
And so what I want to see is the bench get back to not legislating. They're not part of the legislative branch. They need to get back to just interpreting the law, interpreting what our Founders meant in the Constitution.
And ultimately, too many times lately they point to international law instead of the U.S. Constitution as far as what the basis for their decisions are.
And we need to get back to what the Supreme Court is supposed to be about, and that is interpreting our Constitution according to how our Founders meant it and according to judicial precedent.
MR. WALLACE: Senator Durbin, with so much on his plate, should President Obama shy away from a fight on a Supreme Court nominee and pick someone who appeals across party lines?
SEN. DURBIN: Well, there doesn't have to be a fight. And I think what the president said when he spoke to Justice Souter is an indication of what he's looking for.
He's looking for someone who has the right legal credentials, someone who is honest and forthright and understands their responsibility on the Supreme Court.
I might disagree a little bit with my colleague, Senator Ensign. Hard to imagine someone after 30 or 40 years of experience in the law who hasn't taken a position on some issue. That's going to happen.
We just need to make certain that person is using sound reasoning to reach that position, and that they're fair in the way they approach it.
And when I take a look at the names, even those from Illinois, they are extraordinary, that may be considered for this. But I don't have any inside information in terms of who it might be.
MR. WALLACE: Let me ask you -- and let's follow up on that, Senator Durbin. The president talks about wanting somebody with empathy and understanding, his words.
Whatever happened to just applying the law?
SEN. DURBIN: Well, look what happened with Lily Ledbetter. This led to a change in law because the Supreme Court, under its new leadership, decided to interpret the law in a way it had never been interpreted.
And as a result, a woman who had been discriminated against in the workplace for more than 10 years was denied any recourse in court. That was a reversal of previous analysis of the law.
I think what I hear in President Obama's statement is that he wants the justices of the Court to try to understand the real world we live in and the impact of some of these decisions. Apply the law, but do it in a sensible fashion.
MR. WALLACE: Senator Ensign?
SEN. ENSIGN: Well, as I mentioned before, interpreting the law versus making new law is what I think, ultimately, we should be looking for in somebody who's going to sit at the highest level of our justice system.
Too many times, people on the Supreme Court and even in the Court of Appeals, they have been making laws based on what they want to see in the Constitution, not on what the Constitution says.
And that's what we have to get back to, is actually having people who look at the law and they read it for its plain reading, they read it -- what the Founders intended. They read it for what judicial precedent has been, instead of just what they want to see in the law.
Our courts have been turned into the legislative branch at the state level as well as at the federal level, upside-down, because too many of them actually want to become legislators instead of just justices.
MR. WALLACE: Gentlemen, let's turn to Arlen Specter, who, as you all too well know, switched parties this week.
Senator Ensign, with a Democratic president, with control of the House and -- it looks like pretty soon -- a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, fair to say the Democrats have no excuses, that they now own whatever goes right and whatever goes wrong?
SEN. ENSIGN: Well, certainly, with the ability to override the minority in both the House and the Senate, and when you have a president who can sign the bills, they're going to have a lot of responsibility on their plate.
I hope that they don't try to reach too far. I hope that this attitude that President Obama has talked about, this bipartisanship, of sitting down at the table, for instance, on health care --
We have a very important piece of legislation. We've never considered something this big in the United States that affects one- sixth of the economy, that affects every American. This needs to be done in a bipartisan fashion.
If the Democrats want to, they can certainly ramrod through bills now. But I hope that they don't do that. I hope, actually, what President Obama talked about, this bipartisanship, that it actually will come to reality.
We haven't seen a lot of it this year, but I hope that we could start seeing some of that.
MR. WALLACE: Senator Durbin, if you end up with 60 votes, how much of the Obama agenda do you think you will get through this year? And please be specific.
SEN. DURBIN: Well, first, let me tell you, to reach 60 votes, keep in mind that Senator John Cornyn, the head of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, said if it takes years, they're going to try to stop another senator from being seated in Minnesota, regardless of what the Minnesota courts say. So assuming 60 votes may not be the proper premise.
But let me also tell you this, as a person who counts votes. We have a very diverse caucus on the Democrat side -- some conservatives, some moderates, some liberals -- and each of them sees things a little differently.
To think that they're going to march in lock step may be Harry Reid and my dream, but not likely to occur.
What can we do this year? I want to see a bipartisan bill on health care. I want to see us attack this issue of global warming and climate change, and to make sure that America is moving towards energy independence -- green jobs in this new economy.
Those are things we can accomplish.
MR. WALLACE: Senator Durbin, just to quickly follow up before I move on to another subject, are you suggesting that the Republican Party is going to block the decision in the Minnesota Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken to keep you from getting a 60-vote majority?
SEN. DURBIN: Senator John Cornyn has already announced that, that he wants to see this appealed to the federal courts and beyond, if necessary. And, I think, in his own words said even if it takes years.
To think that the people of Minnesota would be denied a senate seat, even after they've had two official recounts and it's gone through the courts would really be unfortunate.
MR. WALLACE: Senator Ensign, I want to put up some numbers about the state of the GOP.
In 2004 you had 55 Republican senators; now you have 40. In the nine northeastern states, including Pennsylvania, there are now just three Republicans out of 18 senators, and 15 House members out of 83 seats.
Senator Ensign, it sounds like a Disney movie, Honey, I shrunk the party.
SEN. ENSIGN: Well, certainly, the parties go through ups and downs, and especially in the Northeast we have not done well in the last several years. And we have to address that as a party.
Both parties have diversity. What we have not done a good job in, and especially, I believe, in the Northeast, is recruiting the kind of candidates who can win. And that's what we have to do.
The Democrats have done a much better job of identifying people who they think can win in particular states, and I don't think that we've done a really good job of that, and we need to get back to that.
Ronald Reagan had a great saying. If somebody who agrees with you 80 percent of the time, that's your friend, not your enemy. And unfortunately, in the Republican Party, some people have wanted to get almost -- to have too pure of a party with --
Obviously, I'm a conservative. But some people have wanted to have just all conservatives in the Party. But if you're going to be a national party and you're going to be in the majority in Washington, D.C., or in most states, you're going to have to welcome people who maybe vote differently, who look at issues differently.
Certainly people in the Northeast have environmental issues that are completely different than those of us in the intermountain West. And you have to respect each other's differences and each other's -- not only regional differences, but sometimes philosophical differences.
Get back to the core issues, though, of personal responsibility, of limited government, of actually thinking about our children and our grandchildren with this huge debt that is ballooning in the United States.
And I think this has really been a good wake-up call for the Republican Party.
MR. WALLACE: Senator Ensign, briefly, from long and perhaps bitter experience, any advice for Senator Durbin about dealing with Arlen Specter?
SEN. ENSIGN: (Chuckles.) You know, good luck, because that's all I can say. And I know as Republicans that we have some great candidates who we're recruiting out there, and we want to make sure that Arlen Specter is no longer in the United States Senate after the next election. We're going to work very hard to make sure that happens.
MR. WALLACE: Gentlemen, I want to turn to something serious and ask you both about the passing of Jack Kemp last night.
Senator Durbin, you served with Kemp for six years in the House. Your thoughts?
SEN. DURBIN: Jack Kemp was a friend of mine, and although we disagreed on politics, I have to tell you he was a person who brought the same enthusiasm and energy to politics that he brought to football.
And you could tell, whether it was a battle of ideas or a battle on the gridiron, Jack Kemp threw himself into it completely.
The fact that when he was the head of Housing and Urban Development he became a person who reached across to try to help many people in constituencies that Republicans usually don't work with was an indication of how he thought his Republican Party should be much more inclusive.
I hope that Jack's passing will be a lesson will be a lesson to the Republicans of today that their future should be more embracing and more inclusive.
MR. WALLACE: Senator Ensign, we have less than a minute left. How important a figure was Jack Kemp in the Republican Party?
SEN. ENSIGN: Well, he was a great idea man and certainly was one of those Republicans who helped shape my thinking. He was one of the first people that I met with as far as political leaders when I first ran for Congress back in 1994. And a lot of his ideas shaped a lot of our party, with the Republican revolution and the whole contract with America.
He was a very important figure, and really a great man and a great family man.
MR. WALLACE: Gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there.
Senator Ensign, Senator Durbin, we want to thank you both. Thanks for joining us today.
SEN. DURBIN: Thank you.
SEN. ENSIGN: Thank you.