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CNN TONIGHT

New Virus Variant Now In U.S. Soil; Operation Warp Speed Not In Full Speed; President Trump Relaxes While Americans Die Of COVID-19; Congressman-Elect Luke Letlow Succumb To COVID; Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) Is Interviewed About The Vaccine Distribution Status In Her State; Wealthy People Want To Bypass Rules? Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 29, 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)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

Our breaking news. The first known case of the highly infectious COVID-19 variant in the United States. A Colorado man in his 20s with no history of recent travel in isolation tonight with the variant that has locked down much of Southern England. The experts worry that the man's lack of known travel means this is not an isolated case.

That as this country hits another tragic milestone, a record number of COVID-19 deaths tonight. Much more to come on this breaking news, and we have got a cliffhanger to tell you about on Capitol Hill tonight.

Those $2,000 checks that were supposed to help desperate Americans now turning into another attempt to appease a president who is on his way out in 22 days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introducing a franken bill that grasps some of the president's pet peeves like his grudge match with Twitter and his false claims of voter fraud onto the stimulus check bill.

The whole thing all but certain to fail leaving millions of Americans who can't afford to put food on their table or to pay rent out in the cold. And the President of the United States couldn't care less. While the Senate plays games with COVID aid, he is golfing. Yes, golfing again, I've said it before, that this president isn't even doing the job that he's trying so hard to keep.

Compare that, though, to the President-elect, Joe Biden, telling Americans what we need to hear about the virus. That as of tonight has killed more than 338,000 Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But we need to be honest. The next few weeks and months are going to be very tough, very tough period for our nation, maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic. I know it's hard to hear, but it's the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON (on camera): So, the current president when he actually deigned

to talked about the virus that's killing us, something he has avoided for months, just throwing around empty promises and claiming that we're rounding the corner like his empty words would fool anybody.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It will go away without the vaccine, George, but it's going to go away a lot faster with it.

It will go away, and as I say, we're rounding the turn, we're rounding the corner.

This thing goes away, and it is going away. It's rounding the turn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): Rounding the turn, going away, right? Well, Biden pointing out the obvious fact that Operation Warp Speed is way behind schedule with about 2.1 million shots in arms, not even close to the 20 million promised by New Year's Day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind. Far behind. And the pace of vaccine -- the vaccination program is moving now as it -- if it continues to move as it is now, it's going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): Remember when the current president hinted there would be a vaccine before election day?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're going to have a vaccine very soon. Maybe even before a very special date. You know what date I'm talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): Well, he was all too happy to take credit then. Remember, before election day, that's because he wanted to get elected and he was giving people false hope, really. Well, now he's trying to blame the states like he has throughout this pandemic. That as Biden is calling for more testing and calling on Congress to act quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: We need to scale up testing so anyone who needs one can get a test. After 10 months of the pandemic, we still don't have enough testing. It's a travesty. All this, vaccinations, testing, protective gear, is going to require more funding from Congress, more than was just approved. That's why I'll propose a COVID action package early next year and challenge Congress to act on it quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): But who could forget this kidding/not kidding demand from the current president for less testing?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people. You're going to find more cases. So, I said to my people, slow testing down, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): He actually -- wow. Remember, he actually said that. So, all you have to do is just listen to the contrast between Biden calling on Trump to promote mask wearing and Trump, well, listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I hope the president will also clearly and unambiguously promote mask wearing. I give former Governor Chris Christie credit. He and I have disagreed on a number of things, but I'm thankful he's now encouraging people to do the right thing and wear masks for themselves, their loved ones and their country. I hope the President Trump will listen to him.

[22:05:02]

TRUMP: Somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute desk, the great Resolute desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don't know, somehow, I don't see it for myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): Well, one of these two is the adult in the room. Telling hard truths about what we all have to do to get through this pandemic. And the other is living in a fantasy land.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: We need to steel our spines for what's ahead. We need to follow more closely the recommendations to slow the spread of the virus. And each of us needs to do what we can to protect ourselves, our families, and our fellow Americans.

TRUMP: I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that, too. Sound interests interesting.

UNKNOWN: We'll get the right folks who could.

TRUMP: Right. And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can to something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): One day we're going to look back and say, wow, that actually happened? And you'll say, I lived through that. The fortunate ones who have not succumbed to COVID. Twenty-two days. Just about three weeks left in this president's disastrous term. He's not even trying to hide the fact that he's completely abdicated his responsibilities as president.

While Americans are dying, he's throwing temper tantrums playing golf. Wah, crying, wah, wah. They stole the election from me. Our leaders, not me, of course, are pathetic. OK.

A senior Republican telling CNN the president's tweets are, and I'm quoting here, "the ravings of a deposed king." The president lashing out at his own party in the Senate recklessly tweeting that they must have a death wish. Even throwing a tantrum over the renovations at his beloved Mar-a-Lago. It sounds like extreme makeover Trump home edition, that it's not going so well. Since the renovations were personally overseen by the first lady Melania Trump.

Here's what a source is telling CNN, that the president was so mad about the renovations he demanded the white marble and dark wood decor be scrapped right away. That source says the president has been moody and spending most of his time behind closed doors.

Well, not all his time. Right? Like I said, while Americans are dying, this president is golfing. He was on the links at his own Trump international golf club in West Palm Beach just this morning. You want to count -- look, there you go, look at your screen.

Food lines. Hospitals full. Record numbers of deaths from COVID. And this is the 425th day at one of his own properties and the 312th day at one of his golf clubs during his presidency. That's according to CNN's count. Not a good look for a president who complained over and over and over about his predecessor's golfing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Obama, it was reported today, played 250 rounds of golf.

Everything is executive order because he doesn't have enough time because he's playing so much golf.

Obama ought to get off the golf course and get down there.

I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf.

He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods. This guy plays more golf than people in the PGA Tour.

I love golf. I think it's one of the greats. But I don't have time. If I were in the White House, I don't think I'd ever see Turnberry again. I don't think I'd ever see Doral again. But I'm not going to be playing much golf, believe me. If I win this,

I'm going to be playing much golf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): God, I don't know what you call that. Well, lying. Hypocrisy. Hubris. Entitlement. Privilege. All of the above. Rantings. Ravings. Like I said, just 22 days left in this president's disastrous term. But the man who will take the oath of office come January 20th says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: We're in this together. And actions we take now are going to help us contain the pandemic and get us back to our lives and to our loved ones. So, the American people, to all of you, I know there's a lot that we have to do, but I want you to know there's also much we can do.

[22:10:05]

We're the United States of America. We've been through hard times before as a nation, and we'll come through this as well. I promise you we will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): The president-elect. The current president golfing, lashing out at his own party, doing pretty much anything other than dealing with the pandemic that's killed Americans. Killing Americans. That as President-elect Joe Biden sets a goal for -- of one million vaccinations a day and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris gets her shot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was easy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON (on camera): So, the breaking news is a record number of newly reported coronavirus deaths in this country tonight, 3,708 American lives lost. And the day isn't even over yet. So, we're experiencing mass deaths every single day, but President Trump seems to be ignoring this crisis and blaming others for his own administration's mistakes.

I want to bring in now CNN's White House Correspondent, John Harwood and former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent. Gentlemen, good to see you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

John, this pandemic is getting worse, more dire by the minute. Is the president doing anything to actually deal with this crisis or is he just blaming others?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The latter. Look, this is a president who has basically walked away from the job of containing the coronavirus pandemic over the last several months. He's down in Mar-a-Lago. He's playing golf. He's sending out tweets being angry at the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for having said that Joe Biden is the president-elect, making false claims about election fraud.

[22:15:07]

All sorts of things except for effectively running the vaccine rollout, which is behind schedule, and trying to do something to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the spread which is continuing virtually unabated.

Look, to be a good president you've got to care about the problems besetting the people that you represent and be able to lead and marshal the resources of the federal government to do something about them. Donald Trump doesn't have the empathy, the smarts, the leadership ability to do those things. And that's why he's not a good president and that's why he was defeated for re-election.

LEMON: Well, this is -- when you think about, Charlie, Representative Dent, when you think about exactly what is -- how many people have died, right, and what's at stake here, should not be partisan at all. More than 338,000 Americans have died from this virus. Millions are struggling to just make ends meet financially. And the president spending his 425th day at a Trump property, his 312th day golfing.

I mean, this is crazy. Why aren't Republicans just screaming and yelling? I mean, because he is the person who is representative of the party right now. Why aren't they screaming? This -- the optics are terrible.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, yes, the optics are terrible and the president doesn't seem to care. He's clearly checked out some time ago. He's really demonstrated very little interest into the mechanics of governing.

You know, you think a president, after they've done a pretty good job developing a vaccine with warp speed, that they would, you know, then give concern about the distribution, that they would want to make it work and the president would be putting his shoulder to the wheel to make sure things are moving smoothly. But he's not because we just don't think he cares.

I don't think he's interested. He doesn't like the job. He doesn't like getting into the weeds of the policy and, you know, actually making government work. This is never what he's been about. And so, I don't think (Inaudible). And I think Republicans, you know, are tired of him. They're exhausted by him. They can't wait until he's gone.

LEMON: Yes, look at that, just like -- just like magic, John Avlon appears because that's how he does. That's how he do, as they say. I know it's not correct grammar. But, John, I want to bring you in because the Wall Street Journal editorial board says that by pushing for these $2,000 checks, President Trump is giving Democrats an assist to become the Senate majority. Do you -- do they have a point?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST & ANCHOR: I don't -- I mean, he certainly put Republicans in a bind because you have this set of candidates, Perdue, basically try to flip-flop on 2,000 bucks to get on the president's good side, to try to rally his voters.

What I think is significant about the Journal making that attack is it comes the day after the New York Post, another Murdoch property, slammed the president and told him to stop acting crazy. And so, what I think you're seeing is folks trying to basically say, look, the president is actually hurting the Republican Party, his personality of trying to ruin if he cannot rule, is actually causing political problems.

But you -- but the idea that the Republican Party's fever is breaking isn't really borne out. I mean, you still got over 100 folks who signed on to that amicus brief, you got folks trying to undermine the processing of electoral votes.

And Mitch McConnell's response is, try to put a poison pill forward to destroy any hope of passing that $2,000 because he knows actually there's a split in his party. But as usual, the president is not leading. The president is more interested in destroying than building.

LEMON: John Harwood, the president is also calling Republican leadership weak and tired, right, for voting to override his defense veto. John Avlon was just making the point now what Mitch, the position that it's putting Mitch McConnell in and, listen, it's putting other Republicans I think in tough positions as well, but none as tough as Mitch McConnell. Is he just lashing out at anyone who, you know, stopped indulging his crazy attempts to overturn the election?

HARWOOD: These are impotent ramblings of somebody who has been defeated who is not putting his shoulder to the wheel. You know, he talks about the Republican leadership being weak in the context of not getting the $2,000 checks. He could care less about getting people $2,000 checks.

He was checked out, as John Avlon said a while ago, and he watched -- stood by as those negotiations went on, didn't play any part, could care less what was in the deal and then afterwards because he was angry that Mitch McConnell declared that Joe Biden was the president- elect, which is a no-brainer, everyone in the country who has any sense understands that Joe Biden is the president-elect and Mitch McConnell finally came out and said it.

[22:20:02]

So, he's attacking him as weak for not obtaining the $2,000 checks. Well, that's -- the negotiation didn't produce those, Mitch McConnell doesn't want to do $2,000 checks. Well, that's -- the negotiation didn't produce those. Mitch McConnell doesn't want to do the $2,000 checks. It's not that he was weak, he was opposed to them. He also said that Mitch McConnell and Republicans are weak for not

overturning the election. Well, that's idiotic. We have a democracy in the country. We vote state by state. Joe Biden won a majority of the votes in more than enough states to be elected president. It doesn't make somebody weak to count the votes and say, you lost. And that's simply, you know, somebody used the phrase, you know, the raging of the mad king or something. That's exactly what it is.

LEMON: Charlie, listen, I think -- maybe it's not just Republicans but all of us, but after January 20th will Republicans actually move on from Trump and do they expect him to -- them -- does he expect them to keep playing the game to -- and make his supporters happy and make him happy and are they going to keep doing it? Really, are we going to continue to pay as much attention to this man after the 20th? I hope the answer is no.

DENT: Look, Don, I agree, I do hope the answer is no as well. However, you know, we all know that Donald Trump is, you know, is setting himself up for some digital media platform. He's raised a few hundred million dollars so he can play in Republican primaries. So, he intends to stay engaged.

If I'm a Republican in Congress right now, I want Donald Trump to go away, you know, because 2022 by historical standards should be a good year for House Republicans. They should have a good shot of winning back the majority, but they're not going to be able to -- it's going to be harder to win back that majority for them if the issue is Donald Trump again.

They'd rather make the issue about the Biden administration and the Democrats that usually works in the midterm. But Trump is not going to go away quietly. He's going to complicate their lives. And so, the real issue for Republicans is, you know, will Trumpism survive Trump? And does the party really want to be wedded to isolationism, protectionism, nativism, unilateralism, populism, and see if that's going to be a winning strategy going forward?

I don't think it will. It's got to become more socially inclusive, constructively engaged on international stage, and much more thoughtful as it relates to free markets with reasonable regulation and come up with real policy solutions on issues like climate change and immigration, issues that are outside of their comfort zone. That's where they need to go.

LEMON: John is like -- John Avlon is like, that is not going to happen.

AVLON: I mean, look, you know, from his mouth to God's ears.

(CROSSTALK)

DENT: I'm talking about --

LEMON: John, that's what I was going to say because, Charlie, listen, he's looking forward to 2022 as any sensible person who is dealing -- you look to the future. Look, we're looking at 22 days and there's -- one senior Republican

told CNN the president's Twitter attacks are the ravings of a deposed king, they say. Are we witnessing Trump just coming, you know, that he has to come to term with these waning days and that his -- that his power's waning and -- is this just going to get crazier?

AVLON: Yes. Look, he's having a full meltdown because the malignant narcissist is facing the fact that he lost and he is willing to stretch our democracy to the breaking point to try to avoid that. The danger is, that there is still a lot of Republicans who are following him. Folks who want to run for president in 2024 are all going to do their best Trump will still go his routine to try to convince people that here, they are the logical inheritors.

The problem is that the Republican Party, because we have asymmetric polarization in this country, is been increasingly rewarding people who act irresponsibly, even and especially if they want to run for president. That's dangerous for democracy.

You need more Republicans like Adam Kinzinger to stand up like Mitt Romney, and we'll see what happens to the Senate, right, and what's left of it in the Senate, if they will work to solve problems with the Biden administration. That is going to be key to the success of the country, not just the Senate in the next couple of years.

LEMON: Yes.

AVLON: They are (Inaudible) the difference.

LEMON: So, listen, you know, John Harwood --

(CROSSTALK)

HARWOOD: We can use a couple of Charlie Dents, too.

LEMON: Yes.

AVLON: Yes. We could.

LEMON: Look at that.

AVLON: Come on, Charlie.

LEMON: Look at Charlie. Charlie is like, yes, yes, yes. So, listen, John Harwood, have you ever been to Palm Beach?

HARWOOD: I have.

LEMON: Gorgeous, right? And so, we say this time of year when it's freezing up here in the northeast, you say, what could be wrong in Palm Beach at Mar-a-Lago which is supposed to be beautiful? But even at Mar-a-Lago things aren't going so well.

HARWOOD: You know, our colleague, Kate Bennett, has got some fascinating reporting about Trump being down in the dumps because he doesn't like the redecorations and renovations that were done on the Trump's quarters, the residence, at Mar-a-Lago.

And he -- Kate reported that he's lashing out at Mar-a-Lago staff for decisions that Melania Trump made in redecoration and he tried to reverse some of those decisions or have some of the decorations that he didn't like removed.

[22:25:10]

If -- if in the waning days of your presidency with a month out from leaving office, with your constituents, your -- the people that you represent suffering this pandemic, the slowdown in the economic recovery, potential reversal in the economic recovery, deaths on a scale that exceed what any of us expected at the beginning of the year, if you're preoccupied with the renovations at your palatial estate in Palm Beach, that's another indication of why you're unfit to be president, why you don't -- you didn't belong in that job in the first place and why the country will benefit from your being gone in just a few weeks.

LEMON: Charlie, let's --

AVLON: To be --

LEMON: Yes. John, I mean, John, listen, John makes a very good point which is the reason I asked that question, Charlie Dent, because you have, you know, millions of people who are -- who can't make ends meet, right? Can't keep the heat on right now or are in food lines.

And then you have a president who is holding out on signing a bill. It's great that he wants to give people more money, but he could have asked for that a lot earlier. You have people who are basically starving in the United States. He's at his palatial estate. He's playing golf every day. People are waiting on him hand and foot.

People -- at a place where people have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in memberships, and according to the people I know who are down there, it's like COVID doesn't exist because people aren't wearing masks and they're all out doing whatever they want. Most people aren't doing it. And doing whatever they want.

I don't understand why he has these ride-or-die followers because if I was a supporter and I'm sitting there watching him, I would be pissed off, Charlie.

DENT: Yes, so would I. I mean, this is -- we're all beyond -- we're well beyond absurd anymore. This is obscene. You know, when you see people struggling and dying of COVID, and he is worried about, you know, the color of the walls down at Mar-a-Lago and he's also complaining -- you know, the way he handled this whole COVID omnibus spending bill, and I've seen this before.

I've watched him. I was involved with an omnibus bill in 2018, helped negotiate it, passed the bill out of the House and the Senate, sent it to the president who agreed to it, then he said he wasn't going to sign it. I mean, we've seen him do this before. He doesn't negotiate in good faith. He tried to do it again. Carried

on same kind of nonsense, causes undo stress and worry and concern for everybody involved. To what end? To seek attention, to try to be relevant, knowing that his days of relevancy are diminishing by the moment because he's going to be gone on January 20th. That's what he's doing.

I mean, I swear, you really need -- you really need a therapist. I said the other day, this is like the little kid who holds his breath then he waits for everybody else to turn blue. We're not turning blue anymore. And so, that's what he does.

LEMON: That's not true, Charlie. Georgia did. Ha, ha. And Pennsylvania.

AVLON: Try the veal.

LEMON: I still got it. All right. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it. Happy New Year. John, I'll see you soon, all right? Take it easy.

AVLON: Take care.

LEMON: All right.

The first known case of the highly infectious COVID-19 variant in the United States identified in a Colorado man in his 20s. No history of recent travel. That as United States broke a pair of horrible records just today as a record number of Americans in the hospital with COVID- 19, over 124,000 as a matter of fact. And more than 3,700 Americans reported to have lost their lives to the virus today, the highest ever one-day total. That's according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Joining me now, CNN's medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. Thank you, doctor. Good to see you.

Record number of confirmed deaths from this virus tonight. Meanwhile, health officials say that this new variant more transmittable than other strains of the virus. Does it worry you that we now have a confirmed case right here in the U.S.?

JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: No, I think just about everyone assumed that since this virus was identified months ago in the U.K. and we've had very little in the way of travel restrictions from Europe that this was almost certainly in the United States, but you only find what you look for, and our genomic surveillance of these viral variants has not been great. So, we really haven't been looking and now when we look, we'll find it.

So, it's been here. We know that everything that works to prevent acquiring the coronavirus works with this variant. So, we need to mask up, stay out of crowds, wash your hands, stay put and you won't get it. So, no, it doesn't -- it doesn't freak me out, but it just really solidifies and should solidify everyone's resolve to just do the prudent things. Wear a mask. You'll be OK.

[22:29:56] LEMON: So, let's get the number of all of them, it is Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax which just began phase three vaccine trials here in America are all looking into how effective their vaccines are against this new variant. Are you hopeful these existing -- hopeful that these existing vaccines and treatments, that they're still going to be effective?

REINER: Yes, and some of the early statements from Moderna and Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer suggests that at least their early analysis do suggest that the vaccines will produce neutralizing antibodies to the new variants.

The variants are probably at least 50 percent more transmissible. So easier to get. So, they will spread more widely. We don't think they're necessarily more lethal, but the more people who acquire the virus, the more people who get sick and the more people who get sick, the more people who die.

LEMON: Well --

REINER: So just because they're more transmissible will lead to more deaths.

LEMON: I want to talk to you about that because we are getting some breaking news in now, doctor, I want you to respond to. We're learning that Congressman-elect, his name is Luke Letlow from Louisiana, has passed away after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Letlow was only 41 years old.

REINER: Yes.

LEMON: It's a tragedy. And obviously, our hearts are with his family. He's very young. But it emphasizes how serious this virus can be for people of any age, doctor.

REINER: Yes. So, my heart does go out to Congressman-elect Letlow's family. Look, we tend to think about the folks who died from this illness as being old and frail and, indeed, the majority of people are older, but 20 percent of the fatalities in the United States have been in folks under the age of 65. And if you look at people under the age of 45, even though death is relatively rare, in this country, 10,000 people under the age of 45 have died, 10,000 people.

LEMON: Yes.

REINER: Three times as many deaths as on 9/11. So, my heart goes out to the congressman-elect's family. It's a terrible tragedy. But young people can die from this. So, young and feel they're invincible need to understand that this virus can devastate their lives as well. It's a horrible (Inaudible) cautionary tale.

LEMON: Well, people -- people see, well, you know, this person got it, they survived it, whatever, but there are people who get it and don't survive it and people who don't have pre-existing conditions.

People who are, you know, there's a photo of congressman-elect that we put up on the screen there for people to see. Just so you know, I'm going to reiterate this, CNN is confirming that incoming Congressman- elect Luke Letlow has passed away after being diagnosed with COVID. Forty-one years old.

Governor of Louisiana, John Bell Edwards releasing a statement saying it's with heavy hearts that the first lady of Louisiana and I offer our condolences to Congressman-elect Letlow's family on the passing after his battle with COVID-19. Forty-one years old. I mean, you just don't know. You just don't know.

And you know, not getting enough of the vaccine out to as many people as we should, we have these semantics, these word games, we're going to get out this many, this is going to be available, this is the projection and on and on. This is serious stuff still and you cannot let down your guard.

REINER: No, sir. We can't. Look, what the incoming president said today is true. We can get through this, but the next couple of months are going to be awful. We're going to lose 3,000, maybe more people, a day, probably until we're well into February. And then we should start to see some light. We're going to have some problems getting the vaccine out to the community. We'll learn from our mistakes.

Ultimately, we will ramp it up. We need to do even -- even a better than President-elect Biden suggests, we need to do more than a million inoculations a day. I think we need to do 10 million inoculations a week.

LEMON: Yes.

REINER: In order to inoculate everybody by January of next year. We can do that, but we need to really prepare ourselves for a tough, tough couple months.

LEMON: All right. Doctor, thank you. I appreciate it.

REINER: Sure.

LEMON: Thank you so much.

REINER: Good night.

LEMON: Good night.

And, again, our thoughts go out to Congressman-elect Letlow and his family. It's my home state of Louisiana. I just want to tell you guys down there, this is real. Follow the guidelines. Take precautions. Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Socially distance. OK? We'll be right back.

[22:35:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON (on camera): The coronavirus pandemic is ravaging in this country. More than 124,000 Americans are hospitalized with the virus tonight. That's unfortunately a new record. Vaccines are offering some hope but the President-elect Joe Biden is warning that the Trump administration's distribution falling far behind.

They promised 20 million people would be vaccinated this month but the CDC says just over two million Americans have had their shots. The president is pushing the blame to the states, tweeting in part, it is up to the states to distribute the vaccines once brought to the designated areas by the federal government. We have not only developed the vaccines including putting up money to move the process along quickly but gotten them to the states.

So, joining me now to discuss, let's talk about this with Democratic governor of Michigan and that is Gretchen Whitmer. Thank you so much, Governor. I really appreciate you being here. Hope you're having a great holiday.

So, let's get into it. President Trump is claiming that the states are to blame for the lagging vaccine distribution. Just, you know, talked about what he said. Give me your response.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): I mean, this is the modus operandi for Donald Trump, right, to foist blame where the failure truly is in the federal government. I raised this issue two weeks ago in my press conference. I said, where are our vaccines, when are they coming, why aren't they here? As we were expecting them to be.

And two days later, General Perna, to his credit, owned up to the problem and the logistics issue as theirs, as a Trump administration failure. What we need is consistent, accurate, information so that we, the state, can do planning.

[22:39:59]

We also need resources, which is why it's, you know, disturbing that with the recent relief package there's not aid for local governments and state governments. We're going to continue to muddle through but I am looking forward to an incoming administration that follows the science and works with states to make sure we're all successful.

LEMON: Let's talk about -- more about your state because initially, Governor, you were promised 500,000 vaccine doses. Do you have anywhere close to that amount now?

WHITMER: We've made -- we've made progress but it is unpredictable. I think that's the biggest problem. If we have to build up an apparatus to administer what we anticipate 300,000 or 500,000 vaccines and 80,000 show up, we just wasted a lot of time, energy, and resources.

Part of promulgating all the priorities is an incredible amount of time and, you know, resources and we haven't gotten any help from the federal government to make sure that we are able to live up to our promise. We're doing it. We're not going to let that stop us.

But at the end of the day, our ability to vaccinate the American public depends on a functioning, predictable, relationship with the federal government and this is not a Michigan issue. This is all 50 states are in this same boat and we need a federal government that can get the job done and that's not what we have right now. They're just looking to foist blame. We've got 23 days. We're going to do the best that we can. But I'm very much looking forward to a greater partnership in the next --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Well, that's a perfect segue. I want to play this for you and then you can respond. This is what President-elect Joe Biden said about his plan to distribute 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days. Here's it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I'm going to move heaven and earth to get us going in the right direction. I'm going to use my power under the Defense Production Act when I'm sworn in and order -- and order private industry to accelerate the making of the materials needed for the vaccines as well as protective gear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): So, governor, what do you need from the incoming Biden administration to make the vaccine process as efficient as possible in Michigan?

WHITMER: I think a couple things. First and foremost, resources. Second, we need a consistent cadence that is predictable so as we are doing our planning, we know that the vaccines are there and that we can get shots in arms.

We've been having a great dialogue with the president-elect's team. My team and I have talked with him a number of times at this juncture. I've been participating with the NGA as well. I'm on the executive board. So, we are working very closely with them.

They're doing what the current White House hasn't done which is say what do you need to be successful? How do we get to a place where we've gotten at least 70 percent of our population vaccinated? How quickly can we do this?

So, those are the types of questions that they're asking. This is the planning that they are putting into place and I think we're going to see a big difference in our ability to meet the needs of the people.

LEMON: Listen, I know that from speaking with you over the course of this pandemic and watching your interviews and just seeing what you're doing, you're keenly aware of the science when it comes in this virus. But you're also aware that, you know, businesses, people need to make money, right? They need to be able to take care of their families and themselves.

You're now allowing some indoor venues like casinos, bowling alleys to re-open, with fewer restrictions. The virus is spiking all over the country. Why loosen the restrictions in Michigan now, Governor? WHITMER: You know, I'm really proud of what's happening here in

Michigan. So, we were like every other state, about, you know, five, six weeks ago, our numbers were incredibly high. We've had a sustained 30-day trend of cases coming down, positivity rates coming down, hospitalizations coming down. We're doing it right because we're following the science.

Now, it's all tenuous. We know if we drop our guard, we think that we're out of the woods, that those numbers can spike fast again. But because of the tactic that we've taken, following the science and being really smart and targeted where we make policy changes, we've had a much greater level of success. We're now leading the Midwest and we are 46th in the nation when it comes to percentage of positivity.

So, there's some good stuff that's happening when you follow the science, but like I said, it's tenuous and that's why we got to keep following the numbers and do everything we can to build up our vaccine administration.

LEMON: Well, I think that's the calculus that people -- that most people believe that you should follow the science but also figure out a way to keep the economy going as well. So, you know, that is a good effort to do that, but, again, if things get worse, you're going to have to make adjustments as you just said. Understood.

[22:44:55]

I also want to get your take on the stimulus drama on Capitol Hill, if you will. Lawmakers still arguing over the size of the checks. People are in your state struggling as you know. Some without enough food. No jobs. And, listen, it's cold. They got to keep the heat on right now. What is your message to Congress tonight, Governor?

WHITMER: Well, it is cold. It's cold in every sense of the word. There are Americans everywhere who have been scraping to get by. It's not -- it's not their fault. It's not the fault of their employer. It's the fault of this virus and our federal government's lack of ability to get their arms around it.

We can't address the economic crisis we're confronting as a nation without addressing the health crisis, and the fact that the president went down to go golfing for a week and has taken a week's worth of benefits away from people. I'm glad he signed the bill. I'm glad he says he wants $2,000.

I would love to see Congress get that done because there are Americans everywhere who are just trying to get through these toughest months and they need a little bit of help. This isn't stimulus. This is relief for people who are struggling.

LEMON: Governor, be safe. Thank you so much. And happy New Year to you.

WHITMER: Thank you. You, too.

LEMON: Who's at the front of the line for a coronavirus vaccine? When it comes to Capitol Hill, the answer could surprise you. We'll look at that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: OK. Let's do it. All righty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): The Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris joining more than two million Americans vaccinated for the coronavirus. The incoming leader of the free world and the woman who will be a heartbeat away from the job should get COVID protection as quickly as possible, but with so few vaccinations given across America so far, there are questions about who else is getting the shot sooner.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): New information on who's moving to the front of the line for the coronavirus vaccine. A letter obtained by CNN from the attending physician of the U.S. Capitol to all the House and Senate offices this week says each of those offices can have at least two staffers receive the vaccine now.

[22:50:00]

The letter specifies that those staffers should be people whose jobs are necessary for continuity of operations of the government. Staffers who come into the office and interact with people face to face.

This comes as less than 10 percent of the frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care homes in America who have priority to get the vaccine have actually received it so but one prominent doctor says it's appropriate for congressional staffers to get it.

ROBERT KIM-FARLEY, PROFESSOR, UCLA FIELDING SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Certainly, keeping our government operating and serving us as the citizens is an important feature. So, I think it is important that government does have for essential workers to keep the government running vaccine supplied to them.

TODD: In the sports arena, according to ESPN, the NBA warned its teams last week that they should not try to get the vaccine for their players and staff ahead of everyone else, except people who have high risk for complications from the virus.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke that to ESPN.

ADAM SILVER, COMMISSIONER, NBA: There's no way we would ever jump the line in any form whatsoever. And for the most part, because our players are young and healthy without some sort of comorbidity, they will not be a high priority.

TODD: This comes as we hear stories of wealthy, well-connected people trying to pay top dollar to jump to the front of the vaccine line.

Dr. David Nazarian with the concierge medical practice in Beverly Hills has among his patients a-list celebrities and entertainment exes. He says he is getting a lot of calls from those clients pressuring him to give them the vaccine now.

DAVID NAZARIAN, MY CONCIERGE M.D., BEVERLY HILLS: I have patients who call who want to make donations to charities, to hospitals, to the practice to be able to pay $5,000, $10,000 to get their families vaccinated.

TODD: But Dr. Nazarian says he is determined to follow the government's vaccine guidelines, and has turned all those requests down.

NAZARIAN: People that are wealthy and usually have access to things, this is one of those things that difficult. It's difficult for them to understand that they have to wait.

TODD: There are also reports of hospitals taking unprecedented steps to boost security to protect their vaccines from being stolen and there are concerns that crime syndicates may target vaccine supply chains to steal doses or run vaccine scams.

KIM-FARLEY: You always have the concern about it being stolen or siphoned off to a black-market type of situation. This is something we need to be on the lookout for.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (on camera): As for doctors in private practices who were coming under enormous pressure to give the vaccines to their patients early, some states have already begun investigating doctors who are suspected of going against the government's guidelines on who should get it first. And those states could take away the licenses of doctors who break those rules.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

LEMON: All right. Brian Todd, thank you so much for that. We'll be right back.

[22:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON (on camera): Before we leave you tonight, a look at our new CNN film, Jimmy Carter, Rock and Roll president featuring interviews from Bob Dylan, Bono, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Gregg Allman, Garth Brooks, and others. It's a must watch. Make sure you tune in for the premier Sunday at 10 p.m. right here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Willie Nelson wrote about his autobiography. He confessed that he smoked pot in the White House one night when he was spending the night with me. And he says that his companion that shared the pot with him was one of the servants at the White House. That is not exactly true. It's actually was one of my sons, which he didn't want to, you know, categorizes as a pot smoker like him.

There were some people who didn't like my being deeply involved with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan and this reputable rock and rollers. But I didn't care about that because I was doing what I really believe. And the response, I think from the followers of those musicians was much more influential than a few people who thought that being associated with rock and roller and radical people was inappropriate for a president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[23:00:00]

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