Can President Biden cancel student loan debt by executive action?

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This is a rush transcript from “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” February 4, 2021. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): We are here today to introduce our proposal to cancel $50,000 in student debt.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): Nearly 45 million Americans are shackled with student loan debt.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Canceling student loan debt is good for you, whether you have student loan debt or not, because it is good for our economy.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): The momentum is building. The coalition is growing. This is the moment of reckoning.

SCHUMER: The easiest way to deal it for President Biden, with the flick of a pen, as has been said by each of us, to get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: All right, paying off student loan debt to the amount $50,000 a person, how bad could this go?

Welcome, everybody. I’m Neil Cavuto, and this is “Your World.”

And even among big-spending Democrats, the president makes a dramatic departure to say, I don’t know about $50,000, $10,000 possibly. Where this money will come from and ultimately how much money we’re talking about and who will be eligible, anyone’s guess. But it’s going to be pricey.

And then there is the separate issue we will be exploring with those who have already paid their student debt or are in the process of doing it or their parents are. What do they do, besides, well, get angry?

Let’s get Chad Pergram with the very latest right now on this student debt payoff now in overdrive — Chad.

CHAD PERGRAM, FOX NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Neil.

Well, Democrats argue that eliminating some student debt could bolster the economy waylaid by the pandemic. The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, believes reducing student loans could happen by the end of the month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: President Biden has taken some good steps in the direction of student debt. But we think he has to go much further.

We believe, number one, that the American people are strongly behind us on this issue overwhelmingly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PERGRAM: Legislators like Schumer prefer to legislate, rather than relying on the executive branch to do something. The White House agrees in principle with congressional Democrats on student loans, but not on how to go about it.

The administration says it’s not up to them. Mr. Biden told The Washington Post in December it was questionable he had the authority to reduce student loans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has and continues to support canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person as a response to the COVID crisis. He’s calling on Congress to draft the proposal. And if it is passed and sent to his desk, he will look forward to signing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PERGRAM: Now, on January 22, President Biden reauthorized the suspension of student loan payments and interest through the early fall.

When introducing Education Secretary Nominee Miguel Cardona, President Biden pushed to cut student loan payments — Neil.

CAVUTO: All right, thank you, Chad, very, very much for that.

I want to go to David Burstein on this, Democratic strategist, what he makes of this latest push, Kat Timpf also joining us, FOX News contributor, FOX Nation’s “Sincerely Kat,” and Gianno Caldwell, FOX News political analyst. I think he has like 78 podcasts or something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: So, welcome — welcome to all of you.

GIANNO CALDWELL, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.

CAVUTO: David, I have to begin with you, because this money has to come from somewhere.

And even when Joe Biden had said, all right, I could kick around a $10,000 student debt forgiveness plan, but he hasn’t gone as far as $50,000. This is getting a little extreme. Who pays for it? And who gets it?

DAVID BURSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think we have to look at, Neil, how impactful this is on the economy. You heard the point there from Senator Warren in the intro.

We have paid for many, many things, both Republicans and Democrats, without getting a good answer to that question. So, I do think Congress has to find an answer to that question and find some offsets. I think there’s plenty of places to potentially do those offsets.

But the outsized impact on the economy, particularly in a pandemic, amidst this pandemic, where you’re talking about a generation of people who had to go through the Great Recession who are, in some cases, still paying off their student loan debt, and now this.

And so it’s really, ultimately, about what’s going to help the overall economy. And the benefit of that, I think, is much larger than the amount that we’re talking about here in the near term.

CAVUTO: Well, I’m still looking at the amount and who qualifies for this debt forgiveness.

And then let’s say, Kat, you have someone or his or her parents who have helped pay off or are helping to pay off a lot of that debt, to find out, wait a minute, I should have just held tight and not paid anything.

KATHERINE TIMPF, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, absolutely.

I really resent the fact that we call it cancellation in the first place, because it’s not cancellation. It’s just passing the buck to somebody else. I also wanted to say that, sure, it would add to the economy, but not more than it would take away.

At least, there was a recent report for the Committee for Responsible Budget said that, yes, it would add $90 billion, but it would cost nearly $1.7 trillion. So, no, it would not.

And I completely agree. I’m someone who decided where to go to college based on the amount of scholarships that I got, rather than going to get my graduate degree. I got into Columbia, so excited to go, and then I said, I could never afford to pay this back. So I didn’t go, did unpaid internships, and then also worked jobs waiting tables, sometimes 20-hour work days, OK, to be able to do this without having to take on that loan.

And I’m not the only one who’s gone through something like that or made those sort of decisions. And to just now have to pay for other people who didn’t, I don’t see why that’s other people’s responsibility. It just isn’t.

CAVUTO: You know, and David does raise a very good point, Gianno. I have no doubt that a lot of these kids are strapped, in percentage terms, much more than the college debt I was looking at when I got out shortly before the Civil War.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: So, I understand things have changed.

But, Gianno, the thing that I worry about — see, you thought I was kidding there, didn’t you?

The thing I worry about, Gianno, is the precedent that this sets. And if you’re at college, and you’re used to finding ways to keep gouging students and their parents, this is going to be another provocation to do just that, right?

CALDWELL: Well, let me be honest, I didn’t grow up as rich as Kat did.

(LAUGHTER)

TIMPF: Super wealthy.

CALDWELL: I recognize the fact that there’s 1.7 — super wealthy.

Listen, I’m not confused, Kat. I know. We have talked about it on my podcast, “Outloud with Gianno Caldwell.”

Anyway, there’s $1.7 trillion in student loan debt currently, $27 trillion in debt to the United States is in. And the average student loan is between $20,000 and $25,000 in the year 2019. So I recognize that the debt is a real issue, but we got millions of people out of work.

We got COVID that has hit the country in a way that we never expected. I do think that there’s something that should be done when it comes to student loans. Perhaps you suspend the interest rate during the period of COVID and beyond, and perhaps you enhance the forgiveness programs beyond teachers and federal employees.

Something needs to be done, because there’s going to be a load that comes on to people that they can’t necessarily afford. No one expected COVID. We don’t understand how it got here, but something has to be done. And the federal government needs to act.

Forgiving in totality isn’t something that I necessarily support, because we did sign up for that. Everyone on the screen went to college in some form. So we’re responsible for the loan in which we incurred. Therefore, we have to pay something.

But the federal government can step in at this particular time. And I’m a conservative saying this. So, that’s a question for Congress, which is Democratically-controlled, and a lot of people voted for Biden thinking that their loans would be completely forgiven, which clearly isn’t going to happen.

CAVUTO: Well, it does set up some expectations, right, David?

And I bear out at the point that you mentioned at the outset that we do have a record of forgiving debt and bailing out large institutions. We did that right after the financial meltdown. Solid point.

What I’m worried about here is that student debt loads are significantly greater in many cases than $50,000. What’s to say and who’s to say a kid or his parents come forward and say, I need more, I’m swimming in $250,000 in debt, you have got to pick up the tab for the rest?

Then what?

BURSTEIN: Right.

No, I think it’s a fair point, Neil. And I think, as the conversation here just today illustrates, there should be and I hope there will be some room for bipartisan compromise here, because I think there are some conservatives who see some common sense in this idea.

And who knows if it’ll actually end up at $50,000. That’s obviously where it’s starting. But I think, to Gianno’s point, there is something that has to be done here. And I do think it needs to be paired with some thinking about the long-term implications, right, these questions about, oh, are colleges now just going to go and raise their prices?

Are — there should be something done about that issue as well. This — in an ideal world, this would not just be a one-off, saying everyone who’s got loans right now, we will give you up to $50,000, and you all go home and get to — get to do whatever you want.

It should be an opportunity for us to look at the broader issue, which we all know is hugely impactful to our economy overall, which is the rising cost of college and how critical a college degree is to be able to succeed in today’s economy.

So, I hope that that will be looked at as part of it, along with the kind of the question you’re raising. There should be some kind of limits on it for people. Maybe — just to throw something out here, maybe people only have a certain amount left, a very small amount are less eligible. Maybe it’s on a percentage basis.

CAVUTO: Got it.

BURSTEIN: I hope those are the kind of details that Congress will work as they try to move this forward and get bipartisan support on it.

CAVUTO: All right.

And if you have a podcast or several podcasts, you shouldn’t get a dime.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: So, we will watch that very, very closely.

Guys, thank you very, very much.

CALDWELL: “Outloud with Gianno Caldwell.”

CAVUTO: A couple of things — here we go.

A couple of things we’re waiting on here, this vote in the House on the fate of Marjorie Taylor Greene and whether she should continue on some key committees.

Senator John Thune, the second highest Republican in the Senate, is very concerned about the message Republicans might be sending on this, conflicting signals, he says, about the treatment of Liz Cheney, vs. Congresswoman Greene.

We will be talking to him a little bit later.

Also, Senators Bill Cassidy are here, Senator Mark Warner here on this back-and-forth on COVID-19 relief, and how much is too much? And who gets some of the dough and who doesn’t? Why a number of airlines are worried.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAVUTO: All right, we are hearing right now that, though Democrats want former President Donald Trump to testify at his impeachment trial next week, his legal representatives have let them know he has no intention of doing that. He has declined their what an offer/demand to testify. He won’t be doing that.

We will explore that in a little bit more detail.

In the meantime, speaking of Washington, we’re following a number of other developments, including what happens to this $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that apparently has airlines worried that it won’t include relief for them.

And that has already got the likes of American Airlines warning thousands of its employees, we don’t get that, a lot of you are gone.

Garrett Tenney with more from Chicago.

Hey, Garrett.

GARRETT TENNEY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Neil.

Air travel simply isn’t rebounding the way airlines thought it would. And, as a result, American Airlines is warning as many as 13,000 of its employees they could be laid off, many of them for the second time in six months.

In a letter to the company, American’s president and CEO explained: “We’re nearly five weeks into 2021, and, unfortunately, we find ourselves in a situation similar to much of 2020.”

They note that, with the extension of federal aid in December, “We fully believed that we would be looking at a summer schedule where we’d fly all of our planes and need the full strength of our team. Regrettably, that is no longer the case.”

They point to the slower-than-expected distribution of the vaccine and new restrictions on international travel as the major factors in folks not flying to the extent they normally would. American estimates it will fly 45 percent less in the first quarter compared to the same time period in 2019.

This comes a week after American posted its biggest ever annual loss at $8.9 billion and a week after United Airlines issued furlough warnings to 14,000 of its employees.

The industry is pushing for another $15 billion in aid from Washington to help prevent these layoffs. But, today, the White House cast doubt on that being included in the next package.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PSAKI: As you know, there’s a process that will be ongoing on Capitol Hill over the course of the next days and through the course of next week, where there will be amendments put forward to work on committees. But I think the priorities of the president are already in the bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TENNEY: Those priorities include vaccinations, which would ultimately indirectly benefit the airlines.

But the industry says, without direct aid, it could be forced to make additional cuts before things start to turn around — Neil.

CAVUTO: All right, thank you very much for that update.

In the meantime, I want to go to Senator Bill Cassidy. He is going to be a very important player in all of this. He sits on the Senate Finance Committee, of course, Republican, beautiful state of Louisiana.

Senator, do you think airlines should be included in this stimulus plan, some relief, something to protect those jobs?

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): I wish my thoughts mattered.

We have obviously made an overture to the White House to negotiate with them. They have not been interested, lip service, but not interested.

Of course, you want to look at what the — what the outlook is for the airline industry. Is business travel going to rebound? Are businesses making a decision that they can Zoom just as easily as they can travel to their different locations?

You need kind of a sophisticated analysis. I’m open to doing whatever I can to keep people employed in our country. And jobs are a good thing. But you would want to know the facts before making a decision like that.

CAVUTO: In the meantime, Democrats are separately pushing to include this student loan forgiveness in the stimulus plan, barring that, to argue it later on. Some want as much as $50,000 of student loan debt forgiven. The president seems to be open to the possibility of $10,000.

Again, Senator, whether it’s part of this package or another one down the road, where are you on helping students with their debt?

CASSIDY: Tell me to whom it applies.

The neurosurgeon that borrowed $200,000 to go to medical school, but is now making $500,000 a year, and can easily pay it back, the neurosurgeon probably doesn’t need that and should not receive it.

On the other hand, the person who took a job which was never going to have that kind of compensation may have made a poor decision about the university they attended, but nonetheless is saddled with debt. They may need a little bit of help. That is a discussion to have.

Again, you want to have facts. Unfortunately, in this kind of, yes, we want to have bipartisanship, but not really talk about it, not really engage in it, and not really do it, it’s hard to make an intelligent decision to know what they’re basing that recommendation upon.

CAVUTO: You know, Senator, even though it’s in the House, you have spoken out about the Marjorie Taylor Greene situation. As you know, the House is going to vote on whether to remove her from some key committees on which she sits.

And you had noted the fact that she has discredited the conservative movement. You went on to say: “As far as I’m concerned, she’s not in my tent.”

Should she be in the U.S. Congress?

CASSIDY: I will leave that up to the voters and to the House. I’m a senator.

But I will point out, any time somebody says with a straight face that a Jewish family set off laser beams to start fires in California and those spread, you have got to first say, wait, is this, like, a satire?

And then when you realize it was said seriously, that person should not be taken seriously.

So, the conservative movement is needed now more than ever, as we see what’s coming out of the White House. And I think it’s time for us to be very serious, not to listen to that which is unserious.

CAVUTO: Now, she spoke up and said that she regrets some of the remarks she has made, that, since she’s gotten to Congress, she hasn’t said any of this kind of stuff.

Do you believe her?

CASSIDY: Well, what I have been told is that she will not publicly disavow them. Regret is different than disavowing.

You must disavow. You must condemn. You must say that is not a part of me and is not a part of our movement. And there can be no ifs, ands or buts about it.

That smacked of anti-Semitism. That should not be a part of either party. It smacks about — of lunatics. A laser beam from outer space is starting a wildfire? That is not something which is going to address the nation’s problems. That’s something which, at worst, makes conspiracy theories.

I mean, who could believe that? But, nonetheless, the fact that somebody would support it — we have got some big problems in our country, big problems. And we have got to work together to get them. And we need a conservative voice which is going to make serious arguments about how to go forward, preserving that which is good about our country.

To be distracted with that sort of thing, deleterious to our conservative movement, harmful to our country.

CAVUTO: All right, Senator, thank you very much.

Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

Fair and balanced now, I want to go to Senator Mark Warner, get his take on these fast-moving developments.

First off again, Senator, I will ask you what I asked Senator Cassidy, whether this move in the House to strip Marjorie Taylor Greene of her House committee seats is wise.

What do you think?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): Listen, I agree with my friend Bill Cassidy.

Her comments are just plain wacky. They demean the whole Congress, regardless of which party. I honestly wish that Leader McCarthy had dealt with this within the Republican Conference.

But when he didn’t take actions, I understand why the majority is going ahead taking the action, because, again, this is not about partisanship. This is about just plain wacky theories, not only what Bill mentioned in terms of laser beams by Jewish families, but denying the Parkland massacres, outrageous, being a firm adherent of this QAnon theory, which, increasingly, law enforcement and intelligence community believes is a threat to our country.

You know, if you’re a member of Congress, you take an oath to stand up for the rules and laws of our Constitution. This individual seems to be rebuking that oath on a fairly regular basis.

CAVUTO: But are you worried, Senator, that Democrats send mixed messages on this?

For example, Eric Swalwell, who has been accused of having relations with a Chinese spy, still sits on a key Intelligence Committee, where a lot of those secrets are heard. So, the Democrats are very good to heap criticism on Republicans for how they handle one of their own, but not Democrats.

WARNER: Neil, if — I have seen — I have not seen the stories perhaps as much as you have, but I have seen this reportage.

If there was any evidence that that congressman was somehow involved with some Chinese spy ring, that would merit serious investigation. I do not believe that has been the case.

And I think, frankly, unless you–

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But there was no — there was no investigation, right, Senator? There wasn’t, right? We don’t know.

(CROSSTALK)

WARNER: Neil, if you have got evidence about that — if you have got evidence about that, bring it forward.

CAVUTO: Right.

WARNER: And their Intelligence Committee, our Intelligence Committee ought to — ought to look at it.

But just making outrageous — just making outrageous claims without facts–

CAVUTO: But, in the meantime, it wouldn’t have wise, just why don’t we take you off this committee — but why don’t we take you off this committee while we’re debating this, the same thing you’re advocating for the congresswoman?

WARNER: Neil, what I’m advocating is, you have an individual that, again, even the Republican leadership said her comments were outrageous, until, again, the Republican leader flipped his position again.

But if you feel that these kind of statements are legitimately made by a member of Congress and there should be no sanction, that is a position. It’s not a position I agree with.

CAVUTO: All right. Understood.

I did want to get into that for the breaking news. So, I thank for indulging me that.

WARNER: What about, though, on some of the stuff on — right.

What about the actions on the economy and the kind of things that Bill Cassidy talked about?

CAVUTO: I know. I do want to look at the relief. I want to get the relief measure. I want to get to the relief measure.

And Democrats are saying it should be the full $1.9 trillion. Republicans are leery of that. Where are you on this?

WARNER: Well, and, listen, my friend Bill Cassidy was on earlier.

He and I are great friends. I was very proud of the fact that he was part of the bipartisan group where we came together in the $900 billion package that President Trump signed in December. That took a lot of give-and-take. We started with a high number. They started with a low number. We ended up at 900. It wasn’t perfect, but we got there.

I think — I still would love to see a bipartisan package on this next relief effort. I think there was agreement on the COVID component. There is less agreement on the need for a large stimulus.

I think the administration could do a better job showing the macro needs, not just in the first quarter, but, frankly, this next bill will be all we will spend in the second and third quarter. And I think the economists I have heard have said we need that kind of additional stimulus.

And, candidly, again, Neil, you pointed out the airline industry coming back and saying, hey, we thought things were going to get better by now. They have not gotten better. We need additional help.

And I think this economy is still on a precipice. It has not fallen off as badly as we’d anticipated, I think oftentimes due to the bipartisan prior relief packages. I do think there needs to be another relief package.

The exact component parts, I have got — I have got some issues with some of the things the president’s talked about. I think it can be improved. I think there ought to be potentially some additional small business support. I think there ought to be broadband in a major way in this package. Broadband is both an economic stimulus and related to COVID.

And my hope is, we’re going through a little bit of the silly business today with what’s called vote-a-rama, which is an exercise in futility, where we will vote on potentially 600 amendments. Not all of those get voted on. They don’t mean a single thing.

CAVUTO: Right.

WARNER: It’s the kind of thing that frustrates people.

But I think we will get back to the kind of serious discussion that Bill was talking about–

CAVUTO: Got it.

WARNER: — later tonight and tomorrow.

CAVUTO: All right, Senator Warner, I appreciate your taking the time and to deal with all these breaking news developments.

We will see how the stimulus measure goes and what each party gets.

In the meantime here, that vote is under way in the House right now, as we were touching on, with Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, where Democrats and a good many Republicans seem to agree that she should not have a role on those committees.

What that will mean for her future — she’s still very popular in her district — is anyone’s guess.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAVUTO: All right, manic, but is it a mania? GameStop and a host of those other issues that have been chased all over the place subsiding today.

Janet Yellen, the new Treasury secretary, meeting with counterparts from the financial world to discuss what happens next to deal with this — after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAVUTO: All right, it was a meeting, sort of a teleconference, if you will, of the most powerful financial players in the world.

Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, speaking with the heads of the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, among a lot of other key players, in what to make of this mania, some would just say a lot worse than that, in some of these stocks that has launched a war between those betting stocks will die, then those countering that by buying the stocks they thought would die.

It is a mess. But now is the federal government hinting at a role here, and is Treasury Secretary Yellen crafting that role?

Charlie Gasparino on all of that.

Charlie, what’s going on?

CHARLIE GASPARINO, FOX NEWS SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I think we don’t know exactly what was said in this meeting. We will find out probably in the next hour or so.

But the bottom line is this. The federal government is more than hinting at a role in what happened with the GameStop and those other stocks, the frenzy surrounding it. I mean, let’s be real clear. GameStop, amid this wild trading frenzy, traded — was a penny stock, meaning traded a couple months ago, several months ago, below $5 a share, is then traded as high as $500 a share.

And if you look at a chart today, it was getting crushed today. I think it’s about $50 a share right now or below $50 and heading lower. So, in order to make sense of that, regulators hate that type of volatility. It scares the average long-term investor out of the market.

They’re going to have to — they would like to get their hands around it, and they will probably try to pass some legislation. But it won’t be easy. This is a — you know, this is a complicated story. I mean, it takes probably more time to fully unpack what happened here, a short squeeze, small investors being involved in the market like never before, bidding up this stock, squeezing the shorts that were betting that it would fall, a hedge fund that almost goes under being bailed out by major players.

The Robinhood app, which we have been worrying about for years — for most of the year — I mean, I did a column in The New York Post about this in the summer about how that was adding fuel to a speculative fire, because you could trade at no cost. And now everybody pointed fingers at everybody about how there’s a lot of evil here, including short selling, which, again, bets that prices will go down.

The short sellers lost a lot of money, but, somehow, they’re getting the short end of the stick here, so to speak, because there’s legislation that say, we may not need this speculative behavior in the market.

So, I think we’re going to know more in the next hour, Neil. It’s a complicated situation.

It’s so besides the point, too, because if you just put your money in an index fund, you will probably do OK, if you know what I mean. This speculation never, never ends well for the average investor, never. It’s just — listen, I’m all for everybody buying stocks. That’s a good thing.

You want to go out there, do it long-term, if you can do it cheaply. If you want to trade, there’s always a — there is always a time and place for Vegas, not every day, but maybe once a year on vacation.

But you see what I’m saying.

CAVUTO: Yes, absolutely.

The buffet stuff, absolutely.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: All right, Charlie Gasparino, thank you very, very much.

All right, things are getting a little bit tense between ourselves and China right now. Remember, they were increasing the number of ships around the Taiwan Strait. Now we have a couple of ships in that neck of the woods. Where are we going here?

After this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAVUTO: All right, things are getting a little tense in the Taiwan Strait right now, the very latest from Jennifer Griffin with a read from the Pentagon.

Hey, Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Neil.

Well, President Biden just spoke at the State Department about how he views the way ahead with China.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive course of action to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance.

But we’re ready to work with Beijing, when it’s in America’s interest to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Earlier today, the Navy’s Seventh Fleet sent a guided missile destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, through the Taiwan Strait.

It’s the first transit this year and the first since President Biden took office. It’s bound to get Beijing’s attention. Shortly after the inauguration, China dispatched two large formations of warplanes, including bombers close to Taiwan. In response, Taipei scrambled fighter jets.

The last time U.S. warships transited the Taiwan Strait was New Year’s Eve. The USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed through the South China Sea, launching jets in another not-so-subtle message to China. U.S. warships transited the waterway 13 times last year, the most since 2016, during the Obama administration, when U.S. warships conducted 12 freedom-of-navigation operations — Neil.

CAVUTO: Jennifer Griffin, thank you very much, my friend.

To Commander Kirk Lippold with us right now, the former USS Cole commander, who knows a thing or two about provocative behavior.

But, Commander, this situation in the Taiwan Strait, I mean, there are a lot of ships congregating there and anything can happen. What do you think will?

KIRK LIPPOLD, FORMER COMMANDER, USS COLE: Well, right now, Neil, what you’re seeing is, the United States is exercising freedom-of-navigation operations.

It’s continuity between the Trump administration and the Biden administration, that the U.S. is going to sail wherever we want, whenever we want in recognized international waters, and that we are going to do the operations necessary to maintain readiness, but also at the same time send a signal to China that we do not recognize some of their illegal international claims to the South China Sea.

CAVUTO: Do you think, Commander, that China is going to act on its bellicose talk?

I mean, it’s made a big deal of interfering in Taiwan in some of the news items coming out of there, including Taiwan’s push for total independence and being recognized as a legitimate country, in and of itself. And that was a step too far for the Chinese.

I’m wondering, what if they test that with us?

LIPPOLD: I actually don’t think they will, Neil.

When you look at it, China’s going to act rather bellicose. They’re feeling rather rambunctious right now. They have built a Navy that is larger than the U.S. Navy. They’re exercising that capability throughout the region, trying to intimidate our allies over there, from Australia, to Japan, to South Korea, and others, as they exercise their claims.

And when you look at Taiwan, they have always viewed it as a renegade province.

CAVUTO: Right.

LIPPOLD: They’re going to continue to push it.

It is concerning, though, that, when we sail our aircraft carrier and ships, that they’re conducting mock bomb raids against them, just like the Soviet Union used to do back in the 1980s when I was in the Navy on other ships.

So, giving that — given that signal from China, we have no choice but to say, look, let’s not get into this, let’s not try and create the circumstances for a mistake to occur. But we are ready, willing and able if necessary. If something were to happen, we will respond to will respond quickly and forcefully to defend ourselves.

CAVUTO: Real quickly, Commander, I notice nothing has stopped the Chinese from continuing to militarize islands that aren’t theirs in waters that aren’t theirs, doing actions that are not allowed.

And they still do it.

LIPPOLD: It’s an unfortunate thing, Neil, that, internationally, that has been recognized as illegal activities, but there’s absolutely no teeth behind it.

If anyone’s going to enforce taking out those islands, should something happen, it would be the United States. And the first thing you have to look at is that those islands, which are commonly referred to as the dash-nine line, were — if a conflict were to start, the first thing that would happen is, we would find a way to take those islands out, which would literally collapse China all the way back to Taiwan in being able to respond to it.

And that is a very dangerous proposition for both sides to get into.

CAVUTO: Commander, thank you very much.

Commander Kirk Lippold on all of that.

In the meantime, keeping you abreast of these latest developments on teachers that defy mayors in one city after another, even with the CDC now saying, despite what’s going on right now, that they don’t need to be vaccinated to get back to class — after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAVUTO: All right, Chicago’s mayor has all but demanded teachers return to the classroom. Here’s the thing, though, they’re not doing it, even though the CDC director is saying teacher vaccinations are not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools.

Let’s go to an expert on this issue. Of course, I’m talking about the former acting CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser with us now.

Doctor, good to have you back.

So, the mayor in this case, like others in other cities, saying, teachers, go back, it’s fine, go back. They’re saying no. CDC comes along to say vaccinations might be a good idea, but they’re not the be-all and end-all and wouldn’t make a difference going back one way or the other.

Where are you on this? Who’s right?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Yes, I mean, Neil, this is a — it’s a really challenging issue.

You want everyone to be as safe as possible. And early on in this pandemic, the move was to get schools closed. And that was based on what we knew about flu and how readily flu spread through classrooms.

What we’re learning, both from studies in the United States and studies from around the globe, is that you can get children back to school safely, safely for the children, safely for the staff and safely for the teachers, if you’re able to do those things, distance between children, so decompress some of the classrooms, improve ventilation, make sure you have staff available to do screening.

These things work. And what the studies have shown — there was a great paper that came out just this past week — is that — this was in Wisconsin, it was in Mississippi, it was in North Carolina — that they were not seeing schools as a risk for transmission in communities.

They were not seeing — in these settings, in other settings, they have seen less transmission in schools than they’re seeing in the ongoing community.

So, I think teachers should be in the group of front-line workers who are given vaccines early. But you don’t need to have that to be able to open schools very safely.

CAVUTO: All right, obviously, teachers are concerned otherwise, Director, with the fact that they think they might catch it from the kids. How — how likely is that? What are the odds that an adult, a vulnerable adult, could contract the virus from a child?

BESSER: I mean, it’s possible.

It’s much lower than what we see with flu, if you ensure that staff and teachers and children are wearing masks, that you’re able to identify quickly anyone who has symptoms and is sick. Those things work. They really do work.

And it’s one of the things that I see as, in a sense, a silver lining in this pandemic. As a pediatrician, I know how important it is for children to be in school, in person, learning. And I was very worried, and I was — early on in this pandemic, I was calling for schools to go to remote because of what we knew from flu, what we knew from the 1918 pandemic.

School districts that closed early, they saw a decrease in spread within the community.

But what we’re seeing here — and New York showed this very clearly — is that the rate of positive tests in kids in school was much lower than what they were seeing in the surrounding community.

So, you need to make sure that teachers, especially teachers who are at high risk of having severe disease, that they’re able to do their teaching remotely. But for the majority of teachers and staff and students, in person learning, you can do it safely.

CAVUTO: All right, got it.

All right, Dr. Richard Besser, always good. I always learn something.

Dr. Richard Besser, the former CDC acting director.

We have a lot more we’re following on Capitol Hill right now. We will take you live to the House, where they’re going through the motions and setting up for a vote on whether — down the road, whether Marjorie Taylor Greene should be sitting on key committees.

Kevin McCarthy, Republican leader, is arguing that point back and forth and a vote that’s going to be coming up in the next hour.

We’re on it with Senator John Thune and the impact this is having on Republicans — after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAVUTO: All right, you are looking live at the House floor right now, where Congress is debating the fate of Marjorie Taylor Greene, whether she should serve on some key committees here.

We have with us right now Senator John Thune. He’s the second-ranking Republican in the United States Senate. And he has weighed in on this and criticized the House Republican Conference for failing by choosing the QAnon conspiracy theory over traditional conservative values.

He joins us right now.

Senator, thank you very much.

You were very passionate about this. You warned the House and said that they decide who they want to be, and in their decision Greene, in other words, not to punish her, that the party of limited government, fiscal responsibility and other traditional values falls to the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon.

You still feel that way?

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): I — what I fundamentally believe, Neil, is that we have to be a party of ideas and principles and policies.

I think that’s why people across this country vote for us. They vote for us because we believe in economic freedom, because we believe in fiscal responsibility, because we’re the party of limited government. We believe that, to maintain strength as a nation, you have got to maintain a strong defense. Those are fundamental core Republican policies and principles and ideas.

And I think, too often here lately, we have gotten caught up in personalities. We have gotten caught up in conspiracy theories. And I want to see a Republican Party that articulates a vision for the future that attracts people and is politics of addition, rather than politics of subtraction.

And I think the way to do that is to get out and talk about those ideas, about those policies that can make a difference in everybody’s — in ordinary people’s lives on a daily basis.

And so that was what I was trying to get across. Obviously, the House Republicans have to take care of their own business.

I do think it’s a bad precedent to have the majority party–

CAVUTO: Well, they get a little upset.

As you know, you have run into some heat back home — I’m sorry, Senator — into some heat back home in South Dakota because you simply refused to challenge the electoral vote when that came up in Congress.

And, for that, you have suffered the wrath of a lot of Trump loyalists, including the former president itself, who thought it would be a good idea to primary you.

Where are you now?

(LAUGHTER)

THUNE: Well, that’s fine.

I mean, people in my state, I think, know me well. And what I did, Neil, is, I told the truth. And that’s what I’m always going to do. I’m going to speak the truth. And, sometimes, that’s uncomfortable for people to hear.

There were a lot of people who bought into the notion that the election was rigged, the election was stolen. And I have said all along, look, I know there are irregularities. There are irregularities in every election, and they need to be investigated to the fullest. And there are certainly things that we can do and make changes in at the state level that will ensure that there’s more confidence and trust in future elections.

But we had to move on as a country. We had an election, and it was investigated, and there were audits and recounts, and there were court cases, and the state certified, the Electoral College voted. It’s time to move on. And that’s all I was simply saying.

And I think, at some point, even though it’s uncomfortable for people to hear, you have got to give them the hard truth. And that’s all I was doing. If that gets me crosswise with people, so be it. But I’d obviously love the opportunity to convince them and persuade them about the reasons for the conclusions that I came to.

And I believe they’re the correct ones.

CAVUTO: All right, the president, as you know, the former president, is not going to take up testifying at his own trial next week.

Do you agree with that decision? Very quickly. I’m sorry, Senator.

THUNE: Well, Neil, I think that — I think it’s probably — I think it’s in his best interests not to testify.

And I think most senators on both sides would like to expedite this. And I — my own view is that the president and his legal defense team are going to have to decide that. I’m an impartial juror. I will listen to the arguments and look at the evidence.

But I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t do that if I were him.

CAVUTO: All right, Senator, thank you very much.

We are going to get you back to talk about the budget and these other issues. These other news items suddenly are dominating events here.

We will be following what progress they’re making on the budget and the future of that congresswoman.

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