The following is a transcript of an interview with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear that aired Sunday, February 28, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to take a closer look now at one state’s efforts to get teachers vaccinated and get children back to in-person learning. Kentucky Democratic Governor Andy Beshear joins us this morning from Frankfurt. Good morning to you.
GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you set March 1st as the recommended deadline for schools to reopen. And those teachers who haven’t gotten their second dose might be able to wait a little longer. But you have pushed them to the front of the line ahead of other essential workers so that they could get those shots. How politically difficult was it to do that?
GOV. BESHEAR: Well, in Kentucky, we determined that we needed to prioritize both our present- those that were suffering the most and most likely to die from COVID as well as our future, getting our children back in school. Now, I’m not just a governor. I’m also a dad of a middle schooler and an elementary school student. And so I’ve- I’ve seen the impact that this had. So we pushed our teachers to the front of the line, moving them up faster than the CDC or other states had. And we’re about to be the first state to fully vaccinate all of our educators. We have all but about seven school districts already back in some form of in-person. Those districts are going to expand. And now we have a commitment from all our remaining districts to get that done too. It’s important we do it in a safe way that also builds confidence within our educators themselves.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I ask you how politically difficult it was, because I often hear from governors that they can’t prioritize teachers over other essential workers. The allegation often is having to do with fear of unions. Did the fact that you are a right to work state, one where union membership is not compulsory- compulsory, did that make a difference?
GOV. BESHEAR: No, I don’t think so. We have strong associations for our teachers, but the way we look at this is everything’s difficult in COVID, even the concept of what’s an essential worker, is one person more essential than another. For us, this was a workforce issue. It was development for our children scholastically, emotionally and- and socially. And it was about getting back to some form of normal while we are still very careful. We made this call early on. We stuck to it. And no matter what you decide during COVID, some are- are going to oppose it. But it’s about trying to do the right thing, the best thing for your people, and then to let the consequences be what they’ll be.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Kentucky ranks 29th among states on vaccine rollout, according to the CDC. That’s for your general population. Why are you lagging? And will the Johnson & Johnson supply make a difference?
GOV. BESHEAR: Well, we don’t think that we’re lagging. There are different–
MARGARET BRENNAN: This is the CDC.
GOV. BESHEAR: –ways that people look- I understand. There are different ways that- that you judge the numbers. That’s first and second dose together. We believe that we have to be as fast as possible with the first dose to get people some level of immunity. And as of last week, we had to use 98.5% of all the first doses provided. But we think differently on the second dose. That is meant for a very specific person. And so we made the decision that if it takes a little longer to get it to them, then we were going to make sure it gets to them. But what I can say is that all around the country we see capacity and efficiency picking up every day. Johnson & Johnson is going to be a game changer. The fact that we can fully vaccinate everyone in just one shot, that it basically eliminates death and serious illness, and we’re going to get tens of thousands of additional vaccines per week per state, it’s just going to get us to the finish line that much faster. We’re really excited about it here in Kentucky. The more vaccine you can send us, the better.
MARAGRET BRENNAN: You are a Democrat. And since we’ve heard from a number of Republicans about the infighting within their party, I need to ask you about the infighting within yours. West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin, who is a Democrat, a- a Democrat in a red state, told us after the election that, quote, “The radical part of the Democratic Party scared the bejesus out of rural voters in 2020.” Do you believe that the progressive wing of your party is out of touch?
GOV. BESHEAR: Oh I believe our party, like- like others, have lots of different people with lots of different views, but- but the ability to discuss those in a way where we don’t make enemies out of one another is what’s so important inside our party or for our country at large. And people are passionate- are passionate about the views they have. But we also have to be respectful of one another to make sure that what brings us together isn’t who we dislike, but it’s what we stand for. And so when those debates are occurring, if they’re actually on issues, then we’re moving in the right direction even if there is disagreement on those issues. I’m highly concerned that what is bringing too many people together in our country is who they dislike and not what they actually stand for.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, from your state criticized this COVID relief bill that President Biden is putting together and which just passed the House. He’s called it deliberately partisan, actively harmful to America’s recovery. How much do you need this money, and is- is it a mistake for President Biden to muscle this through with only Democratic support?
GOV. BESHEAR: I can tell you that every county judge executive and every mayor across Kentucky, whether Democrat or Republican or Independent, they’ll tell you they desperately need this assistance, that COVID has hit especially our localities in- in deeply impactful ways, and that this gives us the ability to make up for some of that harm. On the state level, this gives us an opportunity to stimulate our economy while not having to borrow and go into debt. It’s what every economist, at least on the state level, would tell you is exactly where we should be. Let’s use the dollars to create jobs, to provide relief and to shorten this recession. And right now, we’ve got a decision to make. Are we going to be FDR or are we going to be Herbert Hoover? Do we want to make the decisions to get us out of this recession more quickly, which benefits every family, Democrat or Republican?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
GOV. BESHEAR: But you’ve got to be bold to do that. And you can’t worry about credit–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well–
GOV. BESHEAR: –whether it happens under a Democratic president or a Republican president
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right.
GOV. BESHEAR: In the midst of a pandemic, can’t we put that aside for just a little bit–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well–
GOV. BESHEAR: –and help all our families out there? I hope so.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, so, yeah, well– the last few were bipartisan. That’s kind of the argument this time around. But, Governor, we have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us. For more of the challenges teaching during this pandemic, listen to our latest edition of FACING FORWARD. I spoke with Khan Academy founder Sal- Sal Khan. You can listen and subscribe on Apple podcast or your favorite podcast platform. We’ll be right back.