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Cassidy on infrastructure talks, vaccinations

Posted at 1:44 PM, Jun 10, 2021

When talks about an infrastructure bill between a group of GOP lawmakers and President Joe Biden broke down this week, he reached out to a group of lawmakers - both Democrat and Republican - to try to salvage the effort.

One of those lawmakers was U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana. He spoke to ABC about that process, and also about the pandemic. The full transcript of his interview is below; you can read it by scrolling down.

Cassidy told ABC's Linsey Davis that the first talks were very cordial, and while he has no idea if the effort will work or how long it will take, it's worth trying.

"I don't think there is a definite timeline. But everybody understands there is a sense of urgency. We've met last night, we came to a general agreement. And now both, as you might imagine, doesn't, you know, easy to imagine that that both Democrats and Republicans are attempting to socialize, to check the appetite, if you will, among their colleagues. And so we're speaking to Republicans, they are speaking to Democrats and progressives, including, by the way, on our side, Mitch McConnell, so so things continue to go in that way," he said.

At issue are two things, and they're pretty big things: the scope of the plan and how to pay for it. Both of those issues, especially the funding issue, are entangled in politics which must be negotiated.

On the issue of COVID, Cassidy, a physician, was much clearer. When asked about low vaccination rates - Louisiana has the third-lowest rate in the nation - he said people who are concerned about getting the shot need to talk to their own doctor.

"Well, as a physician, because I'm a doctor, I truly think that you need to go back to the patient physician relationship, it's one thing to go through a car line and get a shot and wait over there for 15 minutes," he said. "But when you go to your trusted physician, and you ask your doctor, should I get this shot? I've had concerns about it. And she replies Yes, I think you should, because and then she goes through the the benefits of it versus the relative risks, risks are very small, the risk of getting infected is very high risk given vaccination very small. And that's how you persuade people, I would go back to we need to employ that physician patient relationship, building upon the trust that they've developed."

Cassidy said the data seems to indicate that people who have had the virus have immunity to it, and that should be included when you're discussing vaccination rates.

For several months, Louisiana had one of the highest rates of infection in the nation. As of today, the state health department reports more than 475,000 known cases of COVID-19. Many people who have been infected by the virus did not have symptoms, and might not have been tested.

"A couple things, we can see that the rate of infection, a positive test of hospitalization and a death continues to decline. And what is pretty clear now is that those who are previously infected, have a most likely almost always have long term immunity as if they've been vaccinated. So it isn't just those who received a dose of vaccine, but it is also those who have been previously vaccinated, and that in of itself will create immunity," Cassidy explained. "So the number of people who are immune is greater than the number of people who are vaccinated. So that's something that's not being taken into account. But the fact that still, infection rates, hospitalization rates and death rates continue to decline, tells me that something else is taking place."

Here's a transcription of the full interview:

Tonight, ABC News’ Linsey Davis spoke with Louisiana GOP Senator Bill Cassidy on infrastructure and vaccine hesitancy.

Linsey Davis: Now to the latest on infrastructure talks in Washington. Let's bring in Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana who President Biden spoke with just yesterday before heading to your senator Cassidy, thank you, as always, for your time, give us a sense after talks broke down between President Biden and GOP senator Shelley Moore Capitol, he turned to you and a group of bipartisan senators still working to negotiate a deal. First, just give us a sense of your conversation with the president and where your groups talk stand today.

Senator Cassidy: Yeah, so he spoke as to one, thank you for having me. But he spoke as to what his priorities were, both in terms of the amount of money and the things that would be covered, then we had a very pleasant conversation afterwards about some of his memories of the Senate, which is also good. Speaking of Russell long, for example, so senator from Louisiana, so it's very personable, but to the point, he emphasized he wanted to get something done. he appreciated. There's a bipartisan group of senators, and he laid out that what you wish to see included, and that was very productive.

Linsey Davis: And what's your timeline, and when your group would would need to have something concrete to try to actually move forward?

Senator Cassidy:I don't think there is a definite timeline. But everybody understands there is a sense of urgency. We've met last night, we came to a general agreement. And now both, as you might imagine, doesn't, you know, easy to imagine that that both Democrats and Republicans are attempting to socialize, to check the appetite, if you will, among their colleagues. And so we're speaking to Republicans, they are speaking to Democrats and progressives, including, by the way, on our side, Mitch McConnell, so so things continue to go in that way.

Linsey Davis: And it seems that the prior talks broke down over two core issues, right, the size and scope of the plan, and how to pay for it, why do you feel like your group might have better success at bridging those major divides?

Senator Cassidy: Well, there's a difference between a group of Republican senators negotiating with the White House and a group of Democratic and Republican senators negotiating with each other. If we can come to agreement on certain issues, and then hopefully socialized that, if you will, kind of kind of popularize it among our colleagues, then that signals to the White House and that's where the senate can, that's where the senate can be. Read, Democrats will buy into it, and Republicans will accept it sort of thing. You don't have that sense if the White House is all these baking two Republican senators. So I think it's been very productive having this base within the Senate.

Linsey Davis: Now, Democrats have made it clear that they want to pay for any spending by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Republicans have been adamant in opposing any tax increases and wanting to pay for this by reallocating unspent COVID relief funds and instituting new fees. So how optimistic are you about the potential success of these talks? If there are these fundamental differences on how to get any of this paid for?

Senator Cassidy: We just need to pay for it in a way which is acceptable to Republican and Democratic senators. Now, Republicans clearly don't want to go back to the tax cuts and jobs act bill, we look at the prosperity that resulted from the passage of that, and do not wish to endanger that prospective, once more after we're out of the pandemic prosperity. So if we begin with that, there's still things we can work together on. And I can say that so far in our working group, we've managed to do that.

Linsey Davis: Would you say that tax increases of any sort are a no go, including the President's idea of a minimum corporate tax at 15%, to help pay for this,

Senator Cassidy: there will not be a minimum corporate tax to pay for this in this bill. Now, that is not to say that Democrats won't attempt to do that in the future through reconciliation, believe me, you can look at the plans they have. And they're, whoa, they're going to spend a lot of money, they're going to raise a lot of taxes. All I can say is that on this bipartisan deal, that's not part of it. And we do have it paid for.

Linsey Davis: On the scope of the deal. Your group is working on a more focused plan on what's been called core infrastructure involving things like roads, bridges, ports, and broadband. But Democrats have pushed for much more, including spending on infrastructure to address climate change, for example. So can you get a deal through both the House and Senate that's just focused on core infrastructure? Isn't that really a non starter for the progressive Democrats?

Senator Cassidy: I can't speak for progressive Democrats. But what I can say is the President asked that there be an energy section. And so what I had done working, kind of independently of the group of senators, and I've since merged with them is to look at what the Republican Senate passed last year, republican democrat, bipartisan bill, to address energy issues with many things in that past with the majority Republican Congress and Senate, as you Senate, that that precisely addressed issues of carbon intensity. And we brought that bill in passed on a bipartisan basis into this bill. Last year, we only authorize which is we said you can spend money this year, we actually allocate the dollars to do it. Briefly, it would include the scale Act, which would help build carbon dioxide pipeline so that you can sequester carbon. It would include financing for next stage, next generation nuclear energy, direct air capture rare earth minerals, which are essential to making electric battery batteries. So we have a lot of stuff in it that was already passed that we funded. And I believe that meets the President's demand to have such issues addressed.

Linsey Davis: Excuse me, Senator John Thune said today, quote, it's hard for me to see a scenario where even 10 republicans vote for something that gets very far beyond where Shelley's discussions were, with the White House referring to Senator Capita and talks over new spending. But the White House rejected that plan. So again, how does this get the necessary votes that both sides can agree on?

Senator Cassidy: Well, I can't I can't tell you how many votes I'm going to get, or we're gonna get. We're right now in the in the process of speaking to colleagues, but actually, I think the energy section that that is added to this bill is attractive to republicans remember, this energy section passed by by a bipartisan majority, but but it was under a Republican Senate. And we're taking that and we're now funding those provisions. That's a Republican bill. That is also kind of where the President is. So there is common ground there. And so the senators who supported that bill, hopefully will support this bill. By the way, I'll also mention that the group of us who've been working on this met with Mitch McConnell, and the majority leader of Minority Leader McConnell said that he had an open mind. He wasn't shutting it down. He said he had an open mind. So we took that as encouragement.

Linsey Davis: Switching gears now moving on to the pandemic, we've seen declining rates of vaccinations across the country, and especially low rates in the south, your state of Louisiana has the third lowest vaccination rate in the country. And you're one of six states with less than half of adults with at least one dose, how do you turn that around and convince more Louisiana residents to get vaccinated?

Senator Cassidy: Well, as a physician, because I'm a doctor, I truly think that you need to go back to the patient physician relationship, it's one thing to go through a car line and get a shot and wait over there for 15 minutes. But when you go to your trusted physician, and you ask your doctor, should I get this shot? I've had concerns about it. And she replies Yes, I think you should, because and then she goes through the the benefits of it versus the relative risks, risks are very small, the risk of getting infected is very high risk given vaccination very small. And that's how you persuade people, I would go back to we need to employ that physician patient relationship, building upon the trust that they've developed.

Linsey Davis: And lastly, as you say, because you are a doctor, are you concerned that your state in the country can't turn the corner if we don't reach a higher threshold that'll help keep these dangerous new variants from spreading?

Senator Cassidy: A couple things, we can see that the rate of infection, a positive test of hospitalization and a death continues to decline. And what is pretty clear now is that those who are previously infected, have a most likely almost always have long term immunity as if they've been vaccinated. So it isn't just those who received a dose of vaccine, but it is also those who have been previously vaccinated, and that in of itself will create immunity. So the number of people who are immune is greater than the number of people who are vaccinated. So that's something that's not being taken into account. But the fact that still, infection rates, hospitalization rates and death rates continue to decline, tells me that something else is taking place.

Linsey Davis: Senator Bill Cassidy, always a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for your time.

Senator Cassidy: Thank you, Linsey.