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Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries Discusses Vice Presidential Debate

NOEL KING, HOST:

Let's hear now from a representative for the Biden-Harris campaign. We'll be hearing from the Trump-Pence campaign later in the show. Representative Hakeem Jeffries chairs the House Democratic Caucus. Good morning, sir.

HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Good morning.

KING: Last night was a more issues-oriented debate than the first presidential debate, so we'll talk about the issues, specific policy issues in just a sec. Let me start by asking you whether you think Senator Harris made an airtight case that the death toll from coronavirus and the economic catastrophe this pandemic has caused are the fault of the Trump administration?

JEFFRIES: Without question, Senator Harris made clear that the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been an unmitigated disaster. As she laid out the statistics which illustrate the pain, suffering and death that the American people have experienced, which is extraordinary - more than 210,000 Americans dead, over 100,000 small businesses permanently closed. And the Trump administration, at the moment, has walked away from negotiations and early on failed to reveal to the American people the severity of the illness, even though they knew it in late January.

KING: When asked what a Biden-Harris administration would do to combat COVID, should they win, Senator Harris said contact tracing, testing, administering a vaccine. Vice President Pence points out that's pretty much the Trump administration's strategy. Does he have a point there? There wasn't much new in that answer.

JEFFRIES: No. The Trump administration and Donald Trump have failed to be able to even contain the virus at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Their testing isn't even reliable, including what is being administered to high-level officials of the government. And so Senator Harris is exactly correct. When she talks about testing, tracing treatment, social distancing protocols, as well as the administration, that is - of the vaccine in a safe and effective fashion, those are things that may sound basic.

But Donald Trump and his administration have failed to execute upon what the public health professionals have indicated would be necessary in order to permanently flatten the curve. That is why - I think what she's basically saying is that the Biden administration, led by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, are going to proceed in a competent and comprehensive fashion. We haven't gotten that from Donald Trump and his administration.

KING: At one point in the debate, moderator Susan Page asked Senator Harris if she would take a vaccine. Let's listen to her response.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMALA HARRIS: If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely. But if Donald Trump tells us I should - that we should take it, I'm not taking it.

KING: We know that many Americans are suspicious of a vaccine. And that may be a problem in the future. Was this statement a problem - if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I'm not taking it?

JEFFRIES: It was not a problem because Donald Trump has told more than 20,000 lies during the course of his presidency. And he cannot be trusted at this particular point in time. Donald Trump said there were 15 cases. It would go down to zero. Donald Trump said at - one day, it would all disappear.

Donald Trump also suggested to the American people that perhaps they consider injecting themselves with Lysol. And so there's no reason to trust Donald Trump at this particular point in time. But Senator Harris was correct. If the public health professionals have made clear to the American people that the vaccine is safe and effective, we all should be taking it as part of the effort to crush the virus.

KING: Let's move on to some issues that were not about the pandemic. Vice President Pence accused Joe Biden and Kamala Harris of supporting the Green New Deal. Now, Senator Harris denied this, as Joe Biden has denied this. But there's actually a Biden webpage with this sentence - Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face. What is the truth here? Isn't it correct that Biden wants to make a lot of the - a lot of changes to how we generate energy and that a lot of his plans do resemble the Green New Deal?

JEFFRIES: Well, Joe Biden has put forth a comprehensive plan of his own to tackle the climate change crisis which existentially threatens our planet and our existence as we know it. We are seeing that as a result of the extreme weather events, whether that is the hurricanes that have repeatedly battered the southern part of the United States and/or the Gulf Coast, or the wildfires that are ravaging through the West Coast of the United States of America.

That said, what Joe Biden has indicated through his website is that some of the ideas within the Green New Deal provide a framework for tackling the climate crisis with the fierce urgency of now to meet the moment. And so I don't think that either Joe Biden's answer or Kamala Harris' answer in any way misrepresents the facts. They have their own plan. But any smart public policymaker is going to draw ideas from a variety of things that have been put into the public domain. And as he has indicated through his website, parts of the Green New Deal do provide a framework for tackling the issues that we confront with respect to the environment.

KING: Hakeem Jeffries is a congressman from New York, and he joined us as a surrogate for the Biden campaign. Congressman Jeffries, thanks so much.

JEFFRIES: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "TO THE NTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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