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CBS News "Face The Nation" - Transcript

Interview

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Location: Unknown

Host: Bob Schieffer

Guests: Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa); Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary Of Health And Human Services; Janet Napolitano, Secretary Of Homeland Security; Dr. Richard Besser, Acting Director Of The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention

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MR. SCHIEFFER: Today on "Face the Nation," swine flu, is it under control? Plus, Senator Arlen Specter and the Republican Party. How fast is it spreading? Why are so many in Mexico dying, and is it a world wide epidemic imminent? All questions for the Obama administration team dealing with the disease. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, head of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Dr. Richard Besser, head of the Centers for Disease Control.

Then we'll turn to Senator Arlen Specter who switched parties and became a Democrat this week. What does his move mean for his party and for the Democrats?

I'll have a final word on why graduation is good for what ails you. But first, swine flu on "Face the Nation."

(Announcements.)

MR. SCHIEFFER: And all of our guests are in the studio with us this morning. Let me start with you, Dr. Besser. The latest figures, we have now, I think, 800 cases worldwide, 473 in Mexico, 19 countries now, 20 deaths but 19 of those in Mexico. Where do we stand in all of this?

DR. BESSER: Well, what we're reporting in the United States, 160 cases, 21 states. It's a rapidly evolving situation, and it's still one that is cloaked in uncertainty. But each day we're getting more information. We're getting more information about what's going on in Mexico, and we're getting more information around what's going on in this country. And we're starting to see encouraging signs.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Do you expect more deaths in this country?

DR. BESSER: You know, it's important to put in perspective influenza. Each year during seasonal flu, we see 36,000 deaths in this country, 200,000 hospitalizations. With a new strain of flu, a strain of flu that people don't have immunity to, you would expect that there are going to be hospitalizations and unfortunately there will be more deaths.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Secretary Sebelius, will we be ready when flu season comes because, what, we're five or six months away from that now? Will this be under control, as it were, by then?

SEC. SEBELIUS: Well, we don't know exactly what this virus is going to do. And as Dr. Besser just said, the early news seems to be cautiously optimistic about where we are right now. We certainly can't get complacent. We need to get prepared. So we are aggressively focused on not only trying to make sure that the spread of this is as contained as possible and limiting the contact of sick people with one another but also to ramp-up vaccine productions. We are under way, producing seasonal flu vaccine. We know we're going to need it. We're accelerating that production, and the manufacturers have been great partners in doing just that. We are testing the virus strain for H1N1 virus so that we're ready to go into production later in a month or two when we make sure that we have the right dosage and the right tests. So we'll be ready for both.

MR. SCHIEFFER: So you obviously can't have a vaccine yet because we didn't know about this.

SEC. SEBELIUS: That's right.

MR. SCHIEFFER: But will we have it, say, at the time flu season hits?

SEC. SEBELIUS: The goal is fall target. And you're absolutely right, you can't develop a vaccine for a viral strain you've never seen before. So they've identified a virus strain. They're testing it and growing it right now. They'll test it and make sure we have the right dosage. The FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health are working as collaborative partners. That was one of the first things the president did is bring together the key health agencies to say we need to out ahead of this, and that's going very well. And we're working with the laboratory partners, the manufacturers, to make sure that the production line is cleared and ready.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Basic question so many people have asked, why didn't you close the borders, Secretary Napolitano?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, because we've relied on science and epidemiology, and the epidemiologists say, the scientists say it would have done no good at all and come at enormous costs. And so we've focused our efforts on things that would do some good, educating Americans about what they can do, you know, covering your mouth when you cough, not going to school or sending a child to school if they're sick, those sorts of things. And then working with our private sector, other government agencies (saying ?), look at your own planning, look what you need to be prepared for in case this really does cause widespread absenteeism.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Has there been overreaction? A lot of schools have closed, a lot of kids are being kept at home.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: No, I don't think you could say there's been overreaction. You have to get ahead of flu. And I think local decision-makers were having to make hard choices based on an evolving scientific profile. I think Dr. Besser can address this.

DR. BESSER: I think, Secretary, you're right.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: This flu gets transmitted very, very quickly, particularly among school-age children. So they had to make, you know, their best estimates about what to do, given the situation they had. And then we rely on the science to help clarify the situation as we work through the cycle.

DR. BESSER: Yeah, you know, with a new infectious agent, a new, emerging infection, you may only get one shot at trying to limit the impact on health, and so you come at this very aggressively. And then as you learn more, you're able to tailor your response, back off on those things that are no longer needed. And as we gain more information, I fully expect we're going to be able to tailor that further.

MR. SCHIEFFER: I keep hearing that there's some guidance being prepared by the federal government on what people in offices should do, but the guidance is not ready yet.

DR. BESSER: Yeah, we've put out more than two dozen guidances on various aspects of managing patients who have flu, protection for health workers, protection for individuals who are involved in Customs and Border issues, lots of different guidances. The main guidance for people who are in offices is if you're sick do not go to work where you're going to share that infection with other people. Stay home until you're better. Same thing that you would do with your children you need to do for yourself.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Secretary Sebelius -- I keep wanting to call you Governor Sebelius because I've done that for so long -- (laughs) -- were we ready for this? You've been on the job now three days, you just got confirmed. Was the government ready for this?

SEC. SEBELIUS: You know, I think what's impressive is that certainly planning for a pandemic incident started a number of years ago, and that has been very, very helpful. States have plans, businesses were asked to develop plans. In fact, the first time I met Dr. Besser, I was co-hosting with our border state of Missouri a pandemic exercise, a meta-leadership exercise. And Dr. Besser came to lead it two years ago. We had 1,000 people from the public and private sector together. So resources have been drilled down to states. All of that from the prior administration, I think, is helpful.

President Obama was determined to take aggressive action and let the science be the guide.

So he has assembled a inner-governmental team working across agencies of government and working very closely with the international community to make sure that the World Health Organization is well- coordinated with our efforts. So I think this has been a very aggressive and very appropriate approach to a brand-new viral strain that no one had seen before. I mean, what we want to do is make sure we're taking prudent steps to keep America safe.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you, and maybe the others can join in, but is there a danger that this may mutate into something more serious than what we're seeing now?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, again, Dr. Besser will add to this. But yes, the danger is that it could come back in the fall. It could come back in a more virulent form. And so all of the work we're doing now not only was designed to get ahead of this outbreak of the flu, but there's a lot of planning that individuals and families and businesses and government is going to have to do over the course of the summer as we prepare for the next flu season.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Is this going to be a worldwide pandemic?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Oh, I think already it is. And I think it's important to be clear about what pandemic means. When the World Health Organization goes from 3 to 4 or 4 to 5 and so forth, that doesn't associate with the severity of the disease. What it means is how widespread it is. So when you talk about level 6 which they very well could go to this week, all that means is it's widespread throughout the world.

MR. SCHIEFFER: It would be widespread. And I wasn't quite sure I understood your first answer, Doctor. Should we expect more deaths? Will that be inevitable in this country as we find out more about this?

DR. BESSER: I think that we will, given that there are people who have underlying medical conditions, who are frail to begin with. Influenza is a serious virus. But the good news is when we look at this virus right now we're not seeing some of the things in the virus that have been associated in the past with more severe flu. That's encouraging, but it doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Any final message for the American people?

SEC. SEBELIUS: Well, I think, as the secretary and doctor have already said, I mean, what we want people to do is take some steps. Wash your hands frequently. Cough into your sleeve, not into your hands. And certainly if you're sick, stay home. If your children are sick, keep them home. That's a step we can take to contain the spread of this. We know it spreads from person to person pretty rapidly. And go to the CDC website. Every day at 11 it's updated with cases and information and guidance. We're trying to drive people to the science. And as Dr. Besser said, it's changing every day, and we're trying to stay ahead of this.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, thank you, all, so much for coming by. We appreciate it.

We'll be back to talk to Arlen Specter in just one minute.

(Announcements.)

MR. SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with Senator Arlen Specter, the newest member of the Democratic Party. He did the old switcharoo this week, left his party, the Republican Party, and became a Democrat.

Senator, thank you for joining us. I was just talking to these health officials about this flu and was there a danger it might mutate into something more dangerous. I want to ask you, do you feel that your switch to the Democratic Party, could that mutate into something even more dangerous for Republicans? Have you talked to anybody who said to you, you know, I'm going to follow your example? Or is this just a one-time deal that pertains only to you?

SEN. SPECTER: Bob, it would be my hope that, as was reported in The New York Times last week, that this would be a wake-up call and the party would move for a broader big tent like we had under Reagan. The party has changed so much since I was elected in 1980. And now when I cast the vote with the Democrats on the stimulus package, that one vote create a precipitous drop so that I was looking at a situation where the prospects were very bleak to win a Republican primary. And I simply was not going to put my 29-year record before the Republican primary electorate. But it would be my hope that we can maintain a strong two-party system, and we'll stop the business of what the Club for Growth has been doing to defeating moderates in primary and then losing the general elections.

MR. SCHIEFFER: You said that you will not be, although you've become a Democrat now, that you would not be an automatic vote for Barack Obama. Tell me some of the things where you differ with this president and with Democrats?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, Bob, I have said that, and my record of independence is prescient as a Republican, and I still intend to represent the people of Pennsylvania and what is good for my state and for the country. One illustration is the legislation on employee's choice which is also known as card check which would eliminate the secret ballot and also provide for mandatory arbitration. Now, while I feel there's a need for labor law reform, I'm not for that legislation. That's a primary item on the president's agenda. The president knows that. When the president invited me to the White House with Vice President Biden to endorse my candidacy, he said that he knew I would -- he said he'd be looking for my advice especially when I disagreed with him. So it's not a secret.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, that, of course, is legislation that is very dear to organized labor right now. And the people who are critical of that say that it really eliminates the secret vote on people when they want to decide whether to become a member of a union and organize a union within their company.

But let me move on to something else. Your colleague Orrin Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, as are you, said this morning on "Meet the Press" that when President Obama said last week that he would look for somebody, an empathetic person, a person who is empathetic to replace David Souter who is resigning from the Supreme Court, that that was just a code word, a code word for saying he wanted somebody who would be an activist, somebody who would basically legislate from the bench. How do you come down on that? What kind of person do you think President Obama ought to nominate to the court?

SEN. SPECTER: Bob, I don't think that President Obama is using code words. I think that the Constitution has evolved on our values. When the 14th Amendment, equal protection clause, was enacted, the galleries in the Senate were segregated, now we have integration. I'd be looking for someone with strong educational and professional background. I'd like to see more diversity. I think another woman would be good. I think that ultimately maybe now we need an Hispanic. African Americans are underrepresented. And we can expect under our constitutional process to have very probing questions for the president's nominee to make sure that there will be respect for the Constitution and public policy in the Congress and not to make law but to interpret the law.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me just cut to the chase here. Would you favor anyone on the court who was not pro-choice on the question of abortion?

SEN. SPECTER: I would not use a litmus test, Bob. I supported Scalia and Rehnquist, and I supported Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breyer who are pro-choice. I would draw that line, as I did with Judge Bork, and I opposed Judge Bork years ago, if they're out of the mainstream on the totality of circumstances but not on a single issue.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Now, you have said that you would not support someone, you just said, who was out of the mainstream. But I have also heard you say that you thought it might be time to have, I believe the word you used was, a statesman, not necessarily somebody who had been on an appeals court or who had been a judge before.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I was asked if I'd like to see a politician on the court, and I modified that in line with Adlai Stevenson's statement that a statesman is a dead politician. (Laughs.) I would like to see somebody with broader experience. You've got everybody on the Supreme Court has been on the Court of Appeals, and that means their experiences were limited. We have a very diverse country. We need more people to express a woman's point of view or a minority point of view, Hispanic or African American, so that somebody who's done something more than wear a black robe for most of their lives.

MR. SCHIEFFER: I didn't know this until some time ago, and I think a lot of people in this country are not aware that the Constitution does not say that a member of the Supreme Court has to be an attorney. Could you envision being for someone on the court who was not a lawyer?

SEN. SPECTER: I could. Mark Hatfield, the senator, was a person whom I talked to Mark years ago and said somebody like that. Mark Hatfield was a college professor. Mark Hatfield was a governor, he was a senator for many years. He had a deep understanding of the Constitution and many other disciplines. And when you come right down to it, that kind of diversity with the right person, it would have to be the right person, but I think it's a possibility. Listen, the Framers didn't require a lawyer. They had that understanding.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me talk to you about a little politics here while we're at it. I want to ask you about the Republican Party.

But let me also ask you this. A lot of people, I would assume, voted for you in your last Senate race because you were a Republican. Do you feel in any way that you let them down or that you had some obligation to them to switch now? It's one thing to say, you know, you've come up to the election and say, I want to announce I'm going to run as a Democrat the next time out, but to just switch parties in midstream, does that bother you, Senator?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I was sorry to disappoint many people. Frankly, I was disappointed that the Republican Party didn't want me as their candidate. But as a matter of principle, I've become much more comfortable with the Democrat's approach. And one of the items that I'm working on, Bob, is funding for medical research. I've been the spear carrier to increase medical research, and I've even established a website specterforthecure.com to try to get people to put more pressure on Congress to join me in getting more funding. This medical research has been a reawakening to $10 billion. We were about to lose a whole generation of scientists, and now they're enthused. There are 15,000 applications to be granted. If we had pursued what President Nixon declared in 1970 as the war on cancer, we would have cured many strains. I think Jack Kemp would be alive today. And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine.

Now, as The New York Times pointed out in a column today, when you talk about life and death and medical research, that's a much more major consideration on what I can do continuing in the Senate contrasted with which party I belong to.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let's talk about the Republican Party. What is it that's wrong with the Republican Party now? Obviously, they're going through kind a phase here where some people say it ought to be more purified, others are saying it ought to be broadened. You have a lot of the people on talk radio who seem to be driving a lot of this. If you were advising the Republicans, what would you say to them to say, you know, I wouldn't have left the party if you had done x or y or z?

SEN. SPECTER: I would tell the party to take the advice of Senator Olympia Snowe who wrote an op-ed column earlier this week. I would say to the Republican Party, don't listen to the Club for Growth. That is a group which has, in a knowing way, defeated moderate Republicans in the primary, knowing that they would lose in the general election because purity is more important than Republicans in office. If you take Linc Chafee's case, Bob, Linc Chafee was defeated by the Club for Growth. Had Linc been elected to the Senate in 2006, there would have been Republican control in 2007 and 2008. Instead, there were 34 vacancies left open that President Bush could not confirm. So I would say, try to bring back the party of the Reagan big tent that I joined back in 1980 when you had Heinz and (Weichert ?) and Mathias and John Chaffee and Mark Hatfield and Jack Danforth, and the room was full of moderate Republicans. If you have the big tent, if you say -- listen, I voted 10,000 times. One vote, the stimulus package vote, I was ostracized, created a schism. I don't expect people to agree with all my votes. I don't agree with them all at this point. But you've got to have some latitude.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Did you just say you don't agree with all your votes?

SEN. SPECTER: No. I've voted 10,000 times, Bob. I don't agree with all of them at this point as I have re-thunk many issues.

MR. SCHIEFFER: That does beg the question, which ones are you sorry you cast?

SEN. SPECTER: (Laughs.) Well, I don't really want to start to pick them out. I don't regret any of the major votes. I'm pleased with where I stand. But why pick out one vote and say the guy is no longer fit to be the candidate for the party?

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, Senator, we have to stop right there. We hope to have you back soon. I'm sure there will be a lot of issues you're going to be involved in that we want to talk to you about.

SEN. SPECTER: Always good to talk to you, Bob Schieffer.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Thank you, sir.

(Announcements.)

END.


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