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CNN TONIGHT

President Trump Wants To Veto Approved Relief Package; People Wait For Trump's Presidential Pardon; Jon Ossoff Agrees With A $2,000 Checks; Trump Allies Seeing His Tantrums; Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D- TX) Is Interviewed About Her Reaction To President Trump Hinting To Veto The Approved Relief Bill. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 22, 2020 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Thank you for watching. I'll be back with you again tomorrow night. I'll have a little something special for you right before Christmas. "CNN TONIGHT" with the upgrade, Laura Coates in for D. Lemon right now.

The pardon stuff, that's right on your wheelhouse about the interplay of politics and law. You know, the tough reckoning is, what is Trump's play on this relief? Of course, it looks good to ask for more money. But he didn't fight for it. But it will still sound good, but to who? And what is the delay mean and how does he risk not getting vetoed? Because he doesn't want that.

Can he pull it off, does he want to pull it off? It's hard. This is a hard one. I don't know why he did this. When -- if he wanted this, he would have done it a lot sooner.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: It's unbelievable. I mean, first of all, I've always hated a Monday morning quarterback, I hated it in sports, but I hated it even more when the American people and their livelihood and their lives are really on the line. I mean, if you have something to say you're the person in the Oval Office with the biggest pulpit, the biggest platform, everyone would have stopped to hear you speak.

If you wanted more money for people, you should have said something if you wanted to do more. But instead, you've kind of got a president Rip Van Winkle who all of a sudden seem to wake up and say, did you all want me to sign something today or tomorrow maybe? There's something mean something to?

It's really, it's infuriating. And if it weren't so tragic, you could just ponder it. But this is just something in real-time, people are affected. People are wondering why. And I cannot stand a Johnny come lately.

CUOMO: Extending any timeline of pain is unforgivable. But as most of what you put out on the show, it's too true, Laura Coates, too true, and I'll be watching.

COATES: Thank you. I can't wait for the surprise you just promised for tomorrow as well.

CUOMO: I just have to figure out what it is now.

COATES: Spoken like a true parent.

Well, this is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Laura Coates in for Don Lemon.

It was a few nights before Christmas, and all through the White House, breaking news. President Trump signaling that he might not sign the massive $900 billion COVID relief bill, demanding Congress amend it after sitting on the sidelines doing nothing for weeks, if not months, frankly.

Calling the planned $600 payment ridiculously low, demanding it be raised to $2,000 per person, or $4,000 per couple. Democrats say, we agree. Bring it on.

This happened moments after President Trump his term coming to an end in 29 days issuing now a series of pardons to corrupt congressmen, admitted liars, and convicted killers of innocent civilians during wartime.

With that business handled, Trump lashed out that the Republicans he believes are disloyal, including South Dakota's Senator John Thune, the Senate's number two GOP leader.

Thune's on record saying that the Senate needs to sign off on Joe Biden's election victory when it meets on January 6th. That's enough to draw a mean tweet calling Thune weak and a threat to support a primary challenger to Thune two years from now.

This all comes on the heels of the Axios reporting that Trump is increasingly distrustful of longtime allies such us, even president -- Vice President Pence, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. One senior Republican close to the president even telling CNN, quote, "we're watching a petulant child not getting his way, throw a tantrum."

Trump advisers growing increasingly alarmed in his behavior, and what he may do in his attempts to overturn the election results. Mind you, there are 29 more days in this presidency, and all of that happened in a few hours tonight.

Let's go right to CNN's White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond, Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain, and legal analyst Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor.

So much to talk about. I virtually have whiplash right now from all of the things that happened. I want to begin with you, Jeremy to ground us all here because we got a wave of controversial pardons. They're talking about he may not sign the COVID relief bill. He's lashing out at Republicans who aren't supporting him.

For somebody who is in their lame duck presidency, there's a lot happening all at once. So, what's going over -- going on over there at that building behind you? JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think there's a

few things going on. But at the core of all of these things that you just mentioned, Laura, is really an attempt by the president to try and exert what little power he still has left as a lame duck president.

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Whether it is the pardons that he is doing, which only the President of the United States can do, and he still is the President of the United States. Whether it this this attempt to say, I will not sign this piece of legislation unless you amend it.

All of these things are attempts by the president to exert the power that he has left. But ultimately, these are also showing the limits of his power at this very moment, because Congress isn't going to amend this legislation. It's just not going to happen.

The president, you know, is making this push and yet it's only going to hand him yet another loss in a string of losses that the president has been suffering since election day.

And the second thing that I think this represents is the president really seeking attention, seeking the limelight at a moment when it is fading away from him. The president has been watching as Joe Biden has been assembling his cabinet, assembling his administration, holding news conferences that get carried on live television in a way that his are not. And I think that the president is looking for a way to try and steal back some of that limelight in any way that he can. And he is doing it in the way that we have seen him do over the last four years which is setting things on fire and starting controversies.

COATES: I mean, imagine who really deserves the limelight though, or the attention right now. I want to go to you, Mark, because the people at home are really trying to get the attention. That's what the stimulus bill is about. We'll remind people why we didn't have a stimulus bill until last night. And by the way, what has the president been doing in the meantime? This is not somehow just starting yesterday. This has been going on for months. So, what gives?

MARK MCKINNON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I like your analogy of Rip Van Winkle, Laura. I mean, it's like he's been asleep for the last year. What he's talking about now are reflections of what the Democrats were proposing a year ago. And to step out now after the deal is done, done by his people, we would think with his imprimatur, imprimatur that -- I mean, it was the secretary of the treasury who cut the deal. It was Trump's treasury secretary.

So, to step in now and suggest that the deal can be redone, first of all, it can't be, it won't be. And this is clearly just an effort on Donald Trump's part to get some credit, I guess, for something greater that what's going to happen. I mean he should have just stepped in and said, you know, finally we came together, get some bipartisan credit for helping to bring people together and sign up on the deal. And that's just making git worse.

COATES: It is shocking that there are different -- there are multiple opportunities now where he could have had feathers in his cap.

MCKINNON: Yes.

COATES: Operation Warp Speed, you got two vaccines. Now, this idea of this relief funding no matter what it is for the American people right now. But instead, he's lashing out at Mitch McConnell, he's now worrying -- warning the number two GOP Senator, John Thune, that he'll be primaried over his lack of support. And he's wielding the last powers he's got while he still got them. So, is there an end in sight, at some point, does Rip Van Winkle realize it's time to go back down the hill?

MCKINNON: It's got the strategic coherence of a hamster. I don't get it. I mean, this would be exactly the time to step up at the end of the term, get some credit for the deals, it's been so hard to get through, and say, hey, thanks to me, you're getting this relief. Instead, he's saying it wasn't enough. I haven't been part of this deal. And see you later.

COATES: Well, (Inaudible) to hamsters out there who you know, we all want off this hamster. But Elie, let me bring you in here. I hate to go from hamster to you, Elie. We'll not do that.

But Elie, let me bring you in. Because we are in a bit of a hamster wheel, we expected a little bit of these pardons, the political pardons. Talk to me a little bit about them because two of them are for men who pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller's investigation. I mean, perhaps predictable, you've got George Papadopoulos, who I remember at some time in point in time he was known as, wait it an errand boy or a coffee boy at one point.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Coffee boy.

COATES: Alex Van Der Zwan. Coffee boy. Now are these an abuse of power here, Elie?

HONIG: Yes, Laura. We knew that this was going to be a pardon frenzy. I don't think we knew it was going to be this bad, this early. Is this an abuse of power? Absolutely. Look, is it constitutional? Yes, because the pardon power is so broad. There's nothing that can be done. But that doesn't mean we can't say here and point out how outrageous, what an injustice these pardons are.

These pardons then fall into three groups. The first one is what you just said. Some of these remaining defendants from the Mueller investigation, to me that's actually the least offensive. I think they're unjust. But the bigger problem is when you get into these members of Congress, outright crooks, thieves, whose only qualification for a pardon is the word Republican before their title.

Chris Collins, Duncan Hunter. That is it. And then finally, you get onto convicted war criminals, people who were convicted by a jury through our due process, or trial process of murdering civilians. I mean, if that's not an injustice, I don't know what is. And the thing is, the pardon power can be used to promote justice. Donald Trump is using it for the exact opposite purposes. COATES: And the idea here, you laid out so eloquently, the scope of

the people involved. I mean, you're on the screen right now, our viewers are looking at people who were involved in a massacre of civilians.

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I mean, there were children who were harmed as part of that. And you talked about the idea of convicted lawmakers. I mean, this idea of not only pardoning the four Blackwater guards convicted in connection to an Iraqi massacre. I mean, this is -- this is supposedly the law and order president here, Elie, right?

HONIG: Right.

COATES: Talking about the rule of law, this throws it out the window.

HONIG: Yes.

COATES: I mean, members of Congress who are committing some of these offenses, I believe at one point on White House grounds, I mean, forget the symbolism here, this is the executive branch doling out these things that make you literally say, I beg your pardon?

HONIG: Yes, forget about law and order president. I mean, that's just a joke at this point. These pardons speak for themselves. And here's the thing, Laura. I think he's just getting warmed up. I mean, it is December 22, he's got 20 some more days in office.

You know, if we think that this is it and he's done, think again. I mean, I think he's setting the stage for even more dramatic, more self-serving pardons. I'm looking potentially at Rudy Giuliani. I'm looking potentially Steve Bannon.

I'm certainly looking at his family members, his children, other members of the Trump org. And then maybe, I don't know if it crosses this line, but he's crossed the lines -- a lot of lines already. Will he attempt to pardon himself? Buckle up. There is more to come on this for sure.

COATES: It took all I had not to just try to quote Pacino and say, I'm just getting warmed up just now. But I'm going to refrain because I think you might be right about that.

Jeremy, you know, you recently reported about the volume of pardon requests the White House is even getting. I mean, all the people who have their hands out were no doubt going to see a lot more as Elie is talking about. And by the way, is this an indication that he understands that his time in the White House is nearly up? I mean, normally, all these pardons come at the 11th hour on the waning days of a presidency, right?

DIAMOND: That is the great irony here, right? You wouldn't be doing a slate of 15 pardons and a slew of controversial ones at that if you were planning to have another four years in office. It just doesn't happen. And yet the president in doing this is tacitly acknowledging that his time in office is coming to an end.

But at the same time, Laura, he is refusing and he is not just refusing publicly, he is refusing privately to acknowledge the results of this election. And so, I think what the pardons come down to is the notion I was talking about earlier, which is attempting to exert any power that he has left to make himself feel like the president of the United States.

And in fact, I've talked to sources who have told me that that is one of the things that some of the allies are using as they're trying to get these pardons, they're telling the president, you are the only person with the power to do this. Please grant this pardon.

COATES: Well, Mark, you know, there are a lot of reports, speaking about allies, that tonight there is a lot of consternation and even surprise from Republicans on his own party on Capitol Hill. I mean, when I hear the word surprise, I think about behavior that was unpredictable and you really are truly shocked. Is this a bit of pearl clutching and feigning surprise? Are they really surprised at this point?

MCKINNON: Well, how many days of the Trump presidency have we said that we wouldn't be more surprised than the next day something happens as this. And I think that these pardons, particularly, as Elie pointed out, the congressmen who are clearly corrupt, they're convicted criminals of high crimes, financial crimes, self-dealing. I mean, it doesn't get any swampier than this.

And pardons are supposed to be correct an injustice, to right a wrong. There's no correct an injustice here. This is just, this is cementing an injustice by giving these guys a pardon. They could have commuted their sentences, but he's pardoning them. He's saying it's OK. And what did they do to deserve this? They endorsed Donald Trump.

Chris Collins was the first congressman to endorse Donald Trump. So, this is clearly party over country, and loyalty over everything else.

COATES: This is one heck of a playbook to follow, right? And I guess what they say is true, it's good to be the king.

Gentlemen, thank you for your time, I appreciate it.

HONIG: Thank you, Laura.

DIAMOND: OK. Thanks, Laura.

COATES: You know, White House officials are telling CNN, quote, "it's scary," and no one is sure where this is heading in Trump's final days in office. I'll talk to John Kasich about that, next.

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COATES: Our breaking news, President Trump signaling that he might not sign the massive COVID relief bill, now demanding changes. Also, issuing a series of pardons with just 29 days left in his presidency and now lashing out at GOP allies.

Joining me now to discuss, senior commentator John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio. I think I certainly have the right person tonight to talk about this, Governor Kasich, because, I mean, you got pardons, he's talking about not signing the COVID relief bill. He's lashing out at Republican leadership --

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

COATES: -- all for not supporting him. I mean, what we're seeing right now --

KASICH: Yes.

COATES: -- some call it a tantrum. What do you see?

KASICH: Well, when it comes to the pardons, as a former governor, you know, I had the ability to do them. But I went through them very carefully, trying to create a sense of justice where I thought there wasn't any.

But what we have to remember is presidents have the power of pardons. And until Congress would mute it or take it away or whatever, they have the power to do it. And I think your guest earlier said, get ready. Because I think there's more coming.

In terms of his attacking members, you know, look, I think you said it, there are things that he can celebrate. He can celebrate the fact that they passed a bill now that's going to get some help to people. He could celebrate that. But he doesn't want -- it's just -- I don't understand it because politically it doesn't make a lot of sense.

On the hack, you know, where the cyberattack on the United States, he's downplayed it. Said it may not be Russia. Everybody else in the world is saying it's Russia. This is a chance for him to stand up and be strong in protecting the country. That is by the way, something that's going to fall into Joe Biden's lap. And you know, he hasn't done that. He -- I don't -- I can't do a calculation with the guy.

But remember, Laura, I didn't support him when he ran the first time. I was hoping he was going to do well. He didn't do well. I spoke at the Democratic convention, none of this surprises me. This is what I was worried about. Nothing to this extreme, but I was concerned about these things, and unfortunately, they've happened.

COATES: I mean, it's hard to be able to predict all that has happened. I mean, the notion here --

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: It's impossible.

COATES: -- what you're describing is the idea of a president actually running through the tape, even after they had lost, which we usually see with transitions. But I wonder what your opinion of this, because you talk about as a governor the ability to give clemency, the ability to give pardons, and the calculations involved about trying to correct wrongs.

I mean, you've got some political pardons that perhaps were predictable here, those involved in the Russia probe. That was predictable. But what about pardoning war criminals, at the time when the president-elect is trying to restore America's global standing. The idea of America being back we kept here.

[22:20:03]

What message does this send to the world, when the President of the United States says, war criminal? You're pardoned.

KASICH: Well, I think it's not only -- it's that issue, which is a serious issue. I don't know all the details in that case, but it's extremely serious and the fact that he isn't responding to the cyber- attack, which he should be bringing the world into that.

And when you see him denying the results of an election, Laura, what's really bothered me, is I think there are a lot of people around the world who look at America now, and look how long it took for many of the leaders in Congress to come along.

You know, people around the world are saying, you know, we used to admire what they do in America, and today I don't think we want any of what America is doing. And that's a problem. And Joe Biden is going to have to fix. He's going to have to reassure people that America is back.

And by the way, Laura, I think the way in which that happens, and listen to the people that are watching, forget the Washington stuff. Start thinking about what you can do in your community to bring justice. Think what you can do in your community to improve the lives of other people.

That is always what's made America strong, the public itself. So, stop fighting about whether Trump won or Trump lost. Let's dig in, let's try to get in there where he didn't, of course he lost the election. But can we put that aside? It's Christmas. People are hungry. Can we help to get them some food, can we stand up for a family that doesn't have enough money to buy presents for their kids?

Those are the things that bring us together, and can help raise us again in terms of letting people understand the heart of America. Right now, they're very confused, Laura. I'm sad this -- I'm sad to say that, but I think it's true.

COATES: Well, it's also difficult for the average American and electorate who were asked, I mean they are asked by people who run for office for the opportunity for them to lead. Can I please lead you? Can you please choose me? And you got congressmen who've now been pardoned. One who misused --

KASICH: Yes.

COATES: -- public funds, one who committed securities fraud, the President of the United States literally waking all of a sudden and demanding changes. I mean, you ask the American people to start from the ground and be heroes in their own communities, but the people they've chosen to lead have been derelict in their duties.

I mean, what do you tell the Americans now who say, well, I thought my civic duty was part of that heroism finding -- finding the problems and having solutions and having those who I've chosen to lead solve those problems.

KASICH: Yes.

COATES: What do they think now?

KASICH: Laura, we're always -- look, we're always disappointed, not always, but recently we've been very disappointed by what's happening in Congress. And you know, I made a lot of speeches last year. And I suggested to people, who would you miss more, the secretary of state or your trash man if they both went on vacation?

The fact of the matter is, when we study the history of our country, we study the civil rights movement, it them come from the top down. It came from the people in the streets to drove it up. Women's suffrage did not come from the top down. It came from the bottom up. Ending the Vietnam War, that came from the bottom up, not the top down.

And so, Laura, we can't get too depressed and worry about what the heck is going on in that place. I mean, it's important in some very important respects. But the strength of our country does not lie in that capital. The strength of our country lies in the homes and the communities across our great land.

So yes, there's frustration. We all get upset. And all I say is, OK, move beyond that now and think about what you can do to be a center of justice. That is what gives us purpose in life.

COATES: I appreciate the sentiment. I believe in the optimism. But as much as power is --

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: I know you believe in this.

COATES: But the power of the purse, frankly, to be quite frank, is in the capitol. And the idea that --

KASICH: Yes.

COATES: -- as much as the people would like to speak truth to power in the way you're talking about, there's a lot of power concentrated in Washington, D.C. And the stimulus relief package is just but one notion of how it can feel very futile to the average person who is trying to be that center of justice, when they're trying to --

KASICH: Yes.

COATES: -- make ends meet, and there's no rope. And you know, the president is lashing out. KASICH: Well --

COATES: I want to just make this point, because the president is lashing out at anyone he sees as being disloyal, including people like Mitch McConnell and the number two Republican. And that's important in what you're talking about. Because both of those individuals wield a great deal of power --

KASICH: Yes.

COATES: -- that can create hurdles for the average American. Democrats as well, of course, right?

KASICH: Well, Laura, you're right about that. But you know, I have a different theory about all of this. I think the Republicans should have been standing up to him from day one. You know, that's what they should have been doing. And telling him, we're not putting up with this.

But for some reason, they cowered him -- they -- them. He was able to push them aide and intimidate them. Had the Republicans in the Congress stood up to him from day one and say, we are not going to accept these tweets, we're not going to accept the kind of stuff you said after Charlottesville, we're not going to put up with this and if you're mad at us, tough.

[22:25:04]

But they didn't do it. They ran away. And I think it's, you know, they enabled him to do the things that he's been doing. And I frankly don't understand it. Because when I was in the Congress, and I was there for 18 years, we were a ragtag group of people that could stand up and fight our leaders and tell truth to power. It wasn't perfect, but we did it.

We changed the welfare system. We balanced the budget. We reform the Pentagon. There were so many things we did, and if the establishment didn't like it, and I was one of the troublemakers down there, we went ahead and did it.

And I've been very disappointed in the fact that politicians today are too worried about their own futures and not worried enough about the country. And then they gerrymander these districts so you can't beat them.

So, it's a -- we need significant change in the political institutions, and frankly, I believe that both parties have really let us down. And if they don't get their act together, there may be another party, Laura. And I may ask you, you and I to talk about what that might look like. How's that?

COATES: Well, can I be very -- you're my running mate or I'm the front runner? Which one?

KASICH: Well, are you kidding me? It's you. I'll just be there to hold your horse. COATES: It was rhetorical, Governor Kasich.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: But let's hope that the --

COATES: Rhetorical there.

KASICH: Let's hope the parties can be -- let's hope that the parties can be saved, and that they can get together. Look, this package they just passed, Laura, look, it does have significant aid to small business, it has significant aid for families. It helps people to keep in their houses without being thrown out on the streets because they're evicted.

There's many good things in there, and we should celebrate the fact that at the end, they got a lot together and people are going to have help. And Donald Trump is not going to veto this. He just won't do it.

COATES: I told you, you're the right person to speak to tonight. Thank you, Governor Kasich. I appreciate it.

KASICH: Merry Christmas and happy holiday. Thank you.

COATES: Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.

And you know, President-elect Joe Biden is warning Americans that the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic are still ahead of us.

And I want to bring in senior -- CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, who has been covering the Biden transition. Jeff, you're always available, always so helpful to break so much this down.

You know, President-elect Biden, he offered a very sober look at the tough days ahead, and he didn't mince words. I mean, you attended the news conference there. What did you hear?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, the contrast couldn't have been more stark between what we've seen all day at the White House and what we saw here in Wilmington today with President-elect Joe Biden. He said, look, I'm going to tell it to you straight, I'm going to give you the truth. And the reality is, the darker days are ahead in this wintertime of the pandemic, the rising hospitalizations, the rising deaths.

But he also said the promise of the vaccine will certainly bring good news. But it would say, you know, it was a leadership moment at one point, but it was also some very direct talk we've not heard from our leaders in a while. But we also pressed him on what Congress can do next year.

He said that this is just a down payment, this $900 million-dollar -- billion-dollar -- excuse me, COVID relief package. He said they're going to have to do so much more. So, we asked him, how?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY: Given the narrow majorities in the House and Senate, you've watched many administrations come and go. Do you believe that you will have a honeymoon to get things accomplished?

(CROSSTALK)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don't think it's a honeymoon at all. I think it's a nightmare that everybody is going through. And they say it's got to end. It's not a honeymoon. They're not doing me a favor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY (on camera): So, what he was saying was, look, they're not going to vote for a bill just because I'm Joe Biden and giving me a pass. He believes that Republicans and Democrats can come together because they need action that voters in November sent a divided government to Washington. So, he believes with leadership, they can work on some bills, and adding an infrastructure plan into that makes us well which would create some jobs. So that test will be discovered next year, Laura.

COATES: Well, the president-elect also slammed President Trump over his inaction on this cyberattack. Tell us more about that moment.

ZELENY: He absolutely did. I mean, this is the first time we're heard President-elect Biden talk out loud about this cyberattack. And he said, look, Donald Trump, President Trump has been negligent, he's been ignoring this, he's been downplaying it, and he said this happened on his watch.

So, he stopped short of outright blaming the Russian government and Vladimir Putin. He clearly did not want to get ahead of the one president at a time moment. But he said, look, all signs point to that. He raised the fact that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other Republican leaders have all but said this is Russia.

So, he did not give up what he intends to do, but he promised that they would discover how deep these intrusions were, and he promised they would act after he's president. But just by simply drawing attention to this was certainly extraordinary. And again, on a day of contrasts between the current president, the outgoing president and the incoming president, this was certainly one more of them, Laura.

[22:30:04]

COATES: The president-elect has his work cut out for him. Thank you, Jeff.

ZELENY: Indeed.

COATES: You know, days away from two runoff races that will determine which party controls the Senate. Just days away. So, can Democrats pull out wins? Well, one candidate, Jon Ossoff, joins me live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COATES (on camera): President Trump threatening to veto the massive $900 billion COVID relief bill. Trump wants to increase checks for needy Americans from $600 to $2,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she'd like that, too. But what about the rest of Congress? I mean, it took months just to reach this deal.

And what happens in Congress after the New Year depends entirely on what happens in the two Georgia runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate.

Joining me now, one of the Democratic Georgia Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff. Jon, welcome to the show. I'm glad you're here tonight. Thank you.

JON OSSOFF (D-GA), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, Laura. Thank you.

COATES: And you're running to be a senator, and I want to get your reaction to this breaking news. Because the president is upending the stimulus bill that was just reached, and he's saying now it's a disgrace. You're on record that you had voted for it. But you say that $600 is actually a joke. Are you in agreement with President Trump on this issue now?

OSSOFF: Well, $600 is a joke. Look, families have credit cards maxed out, unable to afford prescriptions, the rent, the car payment. The United States Senate has blocked direct stimulus payments for the American people for eight months.

[22:35:04]

And this is exactly why we have to win these two Senate races. Because just like David Perdue and Mitch McConnell blocked stimulus payments since mid-summer. Just like they cut down the $1,200 proposal to a missed (Ph) $600 when so many of their own constituents are hurt, they will block the COVID relief that we need in the New Year if they hold on to power.

They will block the investment in jobs and infrastructure and clean energy that we need. They will block the civil rights and voting rights legislation that we need. I urge the United States Congress to pass additional direct stimulus payments of $2,000 to every American right now. People are hurting. It's the holidays. There's been eight months of inaction. And they need to get real about the suffering of the people, and get direct relief to the people.

COATES: So, it sounds like President Trump and your mind is right, it's just that he came too late with his proposed amendments, is that what you're saying?

OSSOFF: Well, I don't know where President Trump has been for the last eight months while his allies in the U.S. Senate have been blocking this relief. President Trump is as ever erratic and all over the place. But on this point, tonight, he's right. Six hundred dollars is a joke. They should send $2,000 checks to the American people right now because people are hurting. And David Perdue, my opponent, who opposed even the first round of

$1,200 checks, imagine that. Imagine a sitting U.S. senator who was profiting from the pandemic buying medical and vaccine stocks, opposed even the first single round of $1,200 checks, has obstructed direct relief for the last eight months, and now decided he wanted to cut it to $600 when people can barely feed their families through no fault of their own. Congress should pass $2,000 checks, they should have done it two months ago.

COATES: Well, you know, you voted today in your own runoff election. And Governor Perdue, as you know, won by more than 88,000 votes last month. And so, the question, I see you right there on the screen, how do you intend to close that gap, to emerge as the victor here?

OSSOFF: Well, we are running the most aggressive and potent ground game in the history of Senate races. We are knocking on 10,000 doors per day -- tens of thousands of doors per day and doing it in a way but as safe for public health. We're making hundreds of thousands of phone calls per day. We have a huge get out to vote effort.

Look, we're getting outspent by $80 million in Georgia. We fully expect to be outspent on the airwaves, but I'm asking folks to go to election, electjon.com and power our ground game, our get out to vote effort. Help us protect voters in Georgia who face right now systematic efforts at disenfranchisement supported by my opponent David Perdue.

He wants to purge the rolls. He wants to throw out the votes cast by eligible Georgia voters. It's an attack on voting rights, and it's an attack on black voters in Georgia. And I'm asking for the support of people across the country to fight back and generate record turnout to win these races.

COATES: And on the issue of turnout, I mean, everyone is thinking to themselves, we know about the turnouts in November, we know how so many people turned out to vote, even in light of the coronavirus pandemic. And now we got a surge right now in cases. And so, what impact do you see that have coronavirus surge are going to have on the race now compared to say, back in November? How can people be assured that it's safe for them to still turnout the way they have before? Is it the early voting that you are encouraging? Is it another way that you are hoping for that turnout to still match?

OSSOFF: This is why I want to encourage people to vote early, and to take advantage of early voting opportunities in Georgia right now, which continue through New Year's Eve. I voted today. The lines were short. The staff was doing a great job of keeping people safe. Take advantage of the early voting opportunities so that we can keep our poll watchers, our poll workers, and each other safe on January 5th, the election day.

COATES: I'm so glad you mentioned the poll watchers and poll workers. Because as you know in Georgia they've been under attack by so many, talking about the alleged widespread fraud that we have seen zero evidence of. But one thing is very clear, and President-elect Joe Biden even

released a new ad saying that look, he understands that he needs you. He needs Raphael Warnock in the Senate, he says. And he is well aware that you and Reverend Warnock could very well mean that Mitch McConnell would be the minority leader, not the majority leader.

But don't you think that Republicans are also motivated by that as well. I mean, they have as much of an interest? What do you say to those voters who are wondering whether they should make a difference in the other direction?

OSSOFF: Well look what just happened with this battle over economic relief. It's Mitch McConnell and his allies like David Perdue who obstructed direct relief for eight months, and slashed it in half to a meager $600 when people are hurting. That is what they will do.

[22:40:00]

They will obstruct and block legislation that is urgently needed by the American people at a moment of crisis next year. Look, Donald Trump is leaving. We have the opportunity to define the next era in our history, and we should be ambitious.

We need to beat this virus, get every American free testing and vaccines. Get direct economic relief to the people. Invest in infrastructure and clean energy, and jobs to tackle this environmental crisis and rebuild our economy. Pass landmark civil rights and voting rights legislation.

There is so much good work to do. I want people out there to feel excited about what's possible when we reunite this country, and get things done for the people. But to get those things done, we have to win the Senate races. Or McConnell will try to do to Joe and Kamala just like he tried to do to President Obama, he'll try to block everything, no matter what because he's ruthless and cares only about power for its own sake.

COATES: Georgia remains in all of our minds. All eyes on Georgia right now. Thank you so much, Jon Ossoff. I thank you for being a part of the show today. Thank you.

OSSOFF: Thank you for having me.

COATES: You know, Trump is now saying that he wants to up the amount of money in stimulus checks as we just talked about to $2,000. And by the way, Nancy Pelosi agrees with that. But let's check the record on who threw a wrench in negotiations before the election. We've got the receipts, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COATES (on camera): The public's condemnation of members of Congress getting the vaccine before them has been swift. It's even more profound for those members who downplayed the various to the detriment of the public. I understand the resentment, and I understand that it's not just about a literal vaccine. It's about the frustration of always waiting for your shot. Your shot at the American dream, your chance to be inoculated against hardship, poverty, and injustice.

To be immunized against food and housing insecurity. The shot that protects your children, your chance to thrive.

[22:45:05]

It's not just the vaccine. It's about the feeling that everyone else seems to be deemed more worthy, their problems more urgent, their lives mattering more. Being told to wait your turn is belittling, infuriating.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from a Birmingham jail captured that sentiment. Wait is the word that rings in the ear with piercing familiarity. I understand the impatience when your dignity, when your life is on the line. And those that don't understand that by now, well, perhaps they never will.

I understand the need to shout. So, shout. But get the vaccine. Decry any caste system that places the haves above the have nots. But decry it while you're getting the vaccine. Write, call, or even vote your congressperson out for their action or their inaction. But write, call, and vote while you're getting the vaccine.

Protest, plead, petition the government for redress of your grievances. But protest, plead, petition, while you're getting the vaccine. Commend respect and demand equality, including the equitable distribution of healthcare or the vaccine itself. But do it while a vaccine distributes antibodies through your system. Democratically strong-arm those complicit in human suffering. But do it with the vaccine in your own arm.

There is hypocrisy. There is unfairness. And bureaucracies are not for the faint of heart. The American people were told time and again, this year alone, to vote like your life depends on it. And you listened because it did.

So, let's turn out like that for the vaccine. And the idea that your life depends on it is not a political talking point. Your life actually does depend on it. And my life depends on it. And when it's my turn, even after I have to impatiently wait for the vaccine, I am not throwing away my shot.

Up next, will Americans get the relief they need? Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee tells us what she thinks about Trump's last-minute demands.

[22:50:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COATES (on camera): Breaking tonight, President Trump signaling that he will not sign the coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress unless it amends the massive spending legislation. He calls the bill a disgrace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package, and maybe that administration will be me and we will get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COATES (on camera): Remember, the president was the one to call off relief negotiations just before the election. He tweeted, he would get back to it, you know, after he won. Well, the president lost, and ever since, he has been holed up in the White House MIA from relief negotiations.

What the president has been occupied with is overturning the will of the people, and now he is threatening to hold up pandemic relief for millions, millions of Americans.

Joining me now, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat. Congresswoman, I'm glad you're here. But on a night like this after all of the work, after all of the gridlock over months and months, the president now coming up and posturing in this way. It feels outrageous.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): You know, Laura, I flew in this morning after presiding over part of that debate and the moment I landed, I joined more than one food distribution sites where Houstonians, along with other Americans were lined up car after car after car getting groceries, getting food, getting necessity, getting toys because of the desperate conditions that they're in.

Over six months ago, Democrats placed on the table a $3 trillion package that would have saved lives, would have provided a stop gap to food insecurity, stop people from being evicted and the president was MIA. He was nowhere to be found. He was not interested. He didn't engage and his friends in the United States Senate have put a red light and a stop sign in front of the American people.

Now we've come together in unity when we opened the floor yesterday, leader -- Speaker Pelosi spoke eloquently at the very beginning of the day about coming together, about speaking for the American people and doing for the American people.

I am outraged and it's sad to be outraged in the midst of this blessed holiday season that the president would come to interject on something that we fought so hard to get a cash disbursement. He didn't help us. We managed to get $600 because Republicans blocked it and he was still fighting the fact that he is not going to be the president of the United States come January 20th. What I see this --

(CROSSTALK)

COATES: You know that phrase, Congresswoman, I just want to point out. That phrase that you said, that we managed to get $600 is an irony in this. Because now he is saying that he wants those payments from 600 -- which think I think every member of Congress seems to acknowledge that it's not going to be sufficient to actually stimulate the economy. It is, in many respects, a band-aid for so many families.

But he is saying he wants to up it to $2,000 per person, and Speaker Pelosi even tweeted support for that. Even though, we know that this is not possible, according to what we've heard on Capitol Hill. So where do we stand right now? I mean, even the prospect of that number increasing, even though it's what Democrats wanted to take place in the first instance.

LEE: We offered that way back five months ago, you're absolutely right. So many of us have documentation saying we want 2,000 or 2,500. But the numbers were high.

[22:54:59]

What we see now, Laura, is simply a banished man who has left the public scene. He has abdicated duties and now it's a moment for him to again take the stage in such an ill-fated manner. Because as our speaker said, say what it is and we'll do it by unanimous consent to put it on the floor.

Bring Senator McConnell to the table, let him agree with it and you can be sure that Democrats, who were the first to stand up for the American people, will be there and we will be prepared, and we will vote on Christmas Day if it's necessary.

This is about him. Remember the phrase he just said. And I'll be the president to make it happen. It is a weeks of seething and sulking and finding ways to break the rules of law to undermine the Constitution, and so now desperate people, desperately in need of food, and he is playing with families with children, and food.

I don't think we should have it. The American people shouldn't have it. We want more than $600 and we've heard President-elect Biden say when he is in office, we will go back to the table again. We didn't get to do local government who are on the brink of going to bankruptcy. Why? Because the president was absent. He talked about blue cities and red states and his Republican friends said the same.

In the midst of this beautiful holiday season, we came home to give to the American people, and now we have someone isolated in the White House who wants to interject what Americans cannot understand. It's the breach of the Constitution --

(CROSSTALK)

COATES: But at the same time, at the same time, Congresswoman, I want to get your thoughts on this very quickly. I'm sorry to interrupt you. It's the idea of he is preoccupied with something. He is doing something.

He is signing things. He is signing pardons. Signing pardons, not checks to Americans but pardons to people, including members of Congress who have been convicted of crimes or have been even accused of such atrocities, let alone war criminals.

I mean, what do you say about this wave of pardons. You've got Duncan Hunter, Chris Collins, Steve Stockman, not to mention those who were involved in a massacre in Iraq, and of course the predictable those who are in the orbit of the Russia probe. What is your reaction to this wave of pardons and the silence contrastingly on the stimulus bill?

LEE: Well, they run down the same track, absolutely. And the reason is because we understand that the pardon power is absolute by presidents. But all Americans understand it is an act of mercy for someone who is believing or knowing that they are repenting or they are seeking forgiveness or their acts was such that they have done things to warrant to be pardoned.

We see in blatant colors a breach of the rule of law, of the constitutional powers of the presidency and we see a sulking individual who comes now just to take center stage to do things that no other president has ever done in the history of the United States.

This litany of pardons and more to come is disastrous in terms of people understanding in America why their son or daughter whose language in prison is not just pardon because the pardon power is a high power. It is a sacred power. It is to be done out of sheer mercy and forgiveness for something where someone offers their own repentance.

None of that has happened. These acts are heinous in many instances. I cannot comment on all of them. But I will say that if you look at them in the whole, the president has just taken this to put himself on the national stage. And he doesn't care how it looks. Whether it is an ill-fated look or whether or not it's a look of dignity and opposed the Office of the Presidency of the United States.

But I think the worst thing he's done is to throw dirt in the faces of these families, give them a sense of hopelessness hope because he doesn't have a solution to get to $2,000, which we would have gladly done and stood with him months ago, and even during the election when he pulled his whole team --

COATES: Yes.

LEE: -- away from negotiating to help these families.

COATES: yes.

LEE: Let's help these families now.

COATES: Congresswoman Lee -- Sheila Jackson Lee, I appreciate your time and I applaud the vigor in which you represent the people. Thank you so much. We'll be right back.

LEE: Thank you, Laura, for having me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)