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Graham: "Trump Plus" Is The Way To Win Back Power In 2022; Plaskett: I See The Capitol Siege As A "Second Act" After The Civil War; Tom Friedman: Republican Party Will And Must Split. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 15, 2021 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: As I mentioned, President Biden makes his first official trip tomorrow, to Milwaukee, for CNN Town Hall. I'll be moderating. It is at 9 p.m., not at 8 p.m., when I'm usually on. Chris and I are flip-flopping tomorrow. He'll be on at 8 p.m.

Tonight, he starts at 9, which is now. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, thank you very much. Can't wait for tomorrow night, Anderson! Happy to switch it up! It'll be really an event to watch. See you then.

Right now, I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

We need to be real about where things stand. So let's get after it. And today is perfect timing, especially for Presidents' Day. As you know, this holiday started as a memorial of President Washington's Birthday. Let us remember his warning, right now, together, because it has clearly been forgotten in D.C.

Washington warned us about letting parties get too partisan, because cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men, will be enabled, to subvert the power of the people. Could he describe our current state of political rest any more directly?

He was talking about Senator Mitch McConnell, a guy who may resemble the bearing of the Washington era, but he is the poster boy for the partisan-poisoning our very first president warned about.

McConnell is everything when it comes to what ails us. He says, after January 6, as most of his Party is saying little or nothing, OK, remember, after a summer of raging about every act of political violence they could find, and some, they made up, but he steps up and says Trump fed people lies.

Yes. McConnell, suggesting Trump had a role in the Insurrection of January 6th, then he begs to move the trial, not to rethink it, not to question it, he never suggests that, but to move it, to give it the time it warranted. Then comes the bait-and-switch, the trial, he apparently, Mitch

McConnell, saw as legitimate, when he asked to move it, was now not constitutional. And there is then suddenly no need to hold Trump to account.

Then, McConnell says, this should be a vote of conscience, and is not sure which way he'll go. Then he acquits Trump, despite the obvious and obnoxious role in ceding, sensationalizing and springing the attack.

Conscience? More like conscious of some darker motivation.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. McConnell, not guilty.


CUOMO: Then, after that vote to acquit he has the unmitigated gall to pull this.


MCCONNELL: They did this because they had been fed wild falsehood, by the most powerful man on earth.

President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.

The Leader of the Free World cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe Him and do reckless things.

As an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations is run, he's still liable for everything he did while he's in office, didn't get away with anything yet.


CUOMO: Yes, he did. And he got away with it. Thanks to you. Everything you just said is exactly why the Founders put in this process for political, political correction, for politicians to police their own. They knew there was a separate criminal justice system.

What you just heard from McConnell is clear proof of doing the wrong thing repeatedly, when you know what the right thing to do is. That is a metaphor. It is a perfect description of what too much of the right side of the aisle is about.


That Party, I don't even know what to call them anymore, either you're all about what Trump wants, or you're an outcast, an outcast, like the 17 Representatives and Senators, who sided with the obvious right move here.

Look what they have now said was OK, look who they have celebrating now.


CUOMO: CNN obtained this newly-released video, showing coordination by groups of rioters, nine seen in matching tact gear, tactical gear, moving as a unit, others waving in reinforcements, to come around the corner, flanking, Police left to fight them without reinforcements of their own.

And the President, who mocked pleas for help from his ally, who thanked the rioters, thanked organized extremists, they are some of those flying that Trump flag.

Look, the Democrats, they did what they could, to keep these types from gaining momentum. But the GOP all but sold out the country for the sake of the worst among us, the extremists that are tracked as terror threats. How is it not too far? How is it not too far for them to go?

And before you say "No, you're going too far," I am? Then explain this.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): This didn't seem - isn't like an armed insurrection to me. I mean, armed. When you think or hear of armed, don't you think of firearms?


CUOMO: Did you ever hear that Senator, say that, last summer? Why? Why does he and these other whatever, on the Right, want to own these bad guys in groups? Because it can't be serious.

What do you consider someone walking towards you with a bat, or blinding sprays or a spear or an axe handle or a fire extinguisher?

You know, the law punishes each of those things as a deadly weapon because it's all how you're trying to use it. If you use it to try to hurt or kill someone, it's a deadly weapon. Anything can be, as we are learning in real-time, including politicians' mouths.

So, where are we? Do we have two parties or three emerging? Can the McConnell mixed message madness on one side and the supersize-it mentality of those like Senator Lindsey Graham, stay together?

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): And I'm going to go down to talk with him next week, play a little golf in Florida. And I said "Mr. President, this MAGA Movement needs to continue."

The most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump. We need Trump Plus.


CUOMO: Trump Plus? Why? So, we can have the capitols of every state attacked at once?

Let's get a read on what's going to happen over there because it means something to everybody, especially in a Pandemic. We have a former campaign adviser to Mitch McConnell tonight, Scott Jennings, along with Michael Smerconish.

Good to have you, Michael.

Scott, thanks for stepping up tonight. Appreciate it. How are we to understand how the Senator arrived at the ability to make that statement after voting to acquit?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he had made pretty clear, since his speech, after the Electoral College had met that he didn't approve of what Donald Trump was doing.

And I think the issue for him though, was is one more vote to acquit worth it when the real politics of the Republican Party are going to be sorted out in the 2022 and 2024 midterms.

As the Head of the Party, I think he may have been thinking about the future politics and not frankly, wanting to become Trump versus McConnell in these primaries, because he wants to win back the Senate Majority.

So, you heard his speech. You know how he feels about what Donald Trump did. He's got responsibilities to try to win back the Senate Majority. And I think that factored into his decision.

You may not like it, that politics factors into these decisions. But I think that's the - that's the truth.

CUOMO: Is that it? Is it just politics, Mike, or is it something more malignant?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, HOST, "MICHAEL SMERCONISH PROGRAM" ON SIRIUSXM: I think Mitch McConnell is for Mitch McConnell, and he wants to resume his leadership position. And it's all about self-preservation.

And the net effect of all of this is that if Donald Trump stays healthy, financially afloat, and unindicted, and those are three big ifs, he will continue to be the dominant force of this Republican Party, whether he's the candidate in 2024 or not.

CUOMO: So let's be clear, though, Scott. That was no vote of conscience. That was a vote of calculation. Period!

JENNINGS: Well, it was a vote that he had to cast, I think, he believes, because he thinks the future politics of the Party are going to be sorted out in these primaries. I think Mike's right that Donald Trump is the dominant figure in the Party. And obviously, this is going to spill over into these Senate primaries--

CUOMO: No, I hear you.

JENNINGS: --and into the presidential primary in 2024.

CUOMO: I hear you.


JENNINGS: And so, the question is, are we going to nominate candidates, who can't win, like Donald Trump didn't win this--

CUOMO: Right.

JENNINGS: --last presidential election, or are we going to nominate candidates--

CUOMO: I get it.

JENNINGS: --who can appeal to a broader base of voters.

CUOMO: I get it. It's just not the time for that. That's not what this duty is about. There's no language anywhere. There's nothing in any of the Articles of Confederation.

There's nothing anywhere about how - now look, well, now, when making this vote, let alone if you call it a vote of conscience, make sure you get all the calculations in there, about what happens in the next midterm? It's not what it was about.

It's a complete perversion of the duty, Michael. And now that it's all OK, because we can understand it, as what it ugly and obviously is, what does it say, about the state of play in that Party?

SMERCONISH: Well, I like the final line of that lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal today condemning Donald Trump for his behavior. And in the end, saying that unless the GOP puts some distance between the Party and the former president, they will remain in the wilderness.

The most stunning statistic of the last several weeks to me is the fact that only three House Republicans, just three, both voted to impeach Donald Trump and de-strip, Marjorie Taylor Greene, of her committee assignments. That really tells you that the arguments that you're making Chris, respectfully, fall on deaf ears with regard to the GOP.

CUOMO: Yes, well I'm not saying it for them.

But here's the issue. Did you see the letter that Adam Kinzinger, he talked about it here on the show, from his own family members, not like his brother and sister, but cousins wrote to him? And the kinds of things they said about their own blood, on the basis of Trump, what did you think about it, Mike?

SMERCONISH: So, I'm so glad you brought it up. I happen to have it right here.

CUOMO: I was supposed to have it tonight also.

SMERCONISH: And the most stunning--

CUOMO: I don't know if they have it to put up, but go ahead.

SMERCONISH: Here's what was most stunning to me, these family members, who are - who are disgusted, really, it's worded so strongly, with Kinzinger, you know, they are seeking and receiving direction from Donald Trump, from God.

And then the third leg of that stool, which I think is most telling is that they tell Kinzinger, he has now lost the respect of Lou Dobbs, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Greg Kelly, and most importantly, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh, the very people, who profit by perpetuating the polarization that exists in this country.

Honestly, this is like a lab experiment for what has gone wrong in this country.

CUOMO: I mean, it's just - and this is his family, you know? They should be so proud of him.


CUOMO: I guess, Scott, at the end of the day, it has to not be OK with people like you, and Party people, and people who will be part of the infrastructure and teams of candidates to come.

Isn't that what it - it can't just be about the voters, because you can sell them anything. And in the moment, you never know what's going to happen. As long as you tear me down enough, you always have a shot at winning.

But don't people who call themselves Republicans and/or conservatives have to demand better than what you're getting right now?

JENNINGS: Yes, we should demand better.

You bring up that letter, reminded me one of a letter I got. I do a fair amount of writing and, obviously, appear on here. And I get a lot of letters too. And a person was very upset with me for criticizing Trump, and said, "Why is it that Republicans always have to be the adults in the room?"

And I have had that letter sitting on my desk for the last month, because I'm like, "What - is your - is your alternative that we present ourselves to the American people as a gang of irresponsible children, who can't control their emotions or tell you the truth?" That's not - that's not a governing philosophy.

And so, I think we have to decide, if we're going to have a Party, that is built around one simple idea, we exist to win elections?

Or are we going to have a Party built around another idea, which is the self-aggrandizement of a person, in this case, Donald Trump, a club where we kick out people, we don't like, a club where we have cultural grievances instead of focusing on elections?

That is the competing vision for the future of this political party. And yes, we'll have to discuss policy. But at the end of the day, Trump has redefined the purpose of Party. The purpose is not to win elections. The purpose is to be in charge of a Party, so we can punish the people we don't like.

I come from the old school. I exist to win elections. And that's what I think Mitch McConnell and a lot of other folks want to do in the future.

CUOMO: Listen to this, Michael. I'll give you the last word on this.

Senator Burr, a legend, was just censured by the state party in North Carolina. We heard that Senator Cassidy had been censured already by his state party.

I want to read you a statement, if I can get it for you here. Nope, I don't have it. Where did you send it to me, Vaughn? Ah, production value. Text, here it is. No, I don't have it. OK.

But this is the thing. He got censured. The statement doesn't really matter. What does that tell you about a statement about where that Party is, and if it can stay together?

SMERCONISH: I think you can also add to your list--

CUOMO: There it is.

SMERCONISH: -- a number of GOP County Chairmen, here in Pennsylvania, who are doing likewise with Pat Toomey.


And the answer to your question is this. There's such a tendency to focus all of our energy and attention on Donald Trump. But the forces that gave rise to Donald Trump will still be with us, even if he's no longer a viable political figure.

So, don't think that the moment he's gone from the landscape that all is well with the country and everybody gets along.

CUOMO: Yes, fair point. Michael, thank you.

Scott, thank you. I know you think that I was just going to jump on you this entire time. That's not what it's about for me. I'm very much - I appreciate you coming on. And I'm in - I'm in love and light mode. I got to be honest. I don't see any other way right now. There's just too much fear in this country about what's going to come

next, especially when we have these organized savages from these extremist groups hunting us down now. So, let's find a better way, brother, and thanks to both of you for being part of that.

Now, here is the Senator Burr's statement.

JENNINGS: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: "It is truly a sad day for North Carolina Republicans. My party's leadership has chosen loyalty to one man over the core principles of the Republican Party, and the Founders of our great nation."

You may have heard - never heard of Stacey - anyway, look, that's Senator Burr. Senator Burr. B-U-R-R. And that takes us right back to Washington's warning, OK? That's what we're living through right now.

This is out of control, partisan poison, and no, not on both sides. Right now, the state of play is firmly on the Right. They have a bigger hand in dictating how things go forward than the Left, because they only have one choice right now, which is to just get things through.

Now let's talk about how we arrived here, and really, what was the best of this process?

Had you ever heard of Delegate or Representative Stacey Plaskett, until last week? Man, was she strong! She helped convince seven Republican senators to convict Trump with a stand-out presentation.

Look, she had a winning case that was destined to lose. She used to be a Republican. What did she think when she heard McConnell, and what does she fear January 6th was really about? Next.










STACEY PLASKETT (D), DELEGATE TO HOUSE OF REPRESENATIVES FROM U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS DELEGATE, FORMER HOUSE IMPEACHMENT MANAGER: This attack is not about one speech. Most of you men would not have your wives with one attempt to talking to her.


PLASKETT: It's numerous trials. You had to build it up.


PLASKETT: That's what the President did as well. He put together the group that would do what he wanted. And that was to stop the certification of the election, so that he could retain power to be President of the United States.


CUOMO: House Impeachment Managers made that argument numerous times, and in very different ways, all of them incredibly supported by fact and circumstance. But none did it arguably as well as Stacey Plaskett.

After her prosecution team ultimately failed to deliver a conviction, what does she make of GOP Leader Mitch McConnell's acquittal, but more, what he said after it?

The Delegate from the Virgin Islands joins us now.




CUOMO: Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us on PRIME TIME.

PLASKETT: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: So if you can, please take me to where your, head, and your heart were, as you heard Mitch McConnell's statement, after the acquittal of Donald Trump, about his full-throated condemnation of the man and his conduct and the betrayal of the office?


CUOMO: How did that hit you?

PLASKETT: It enraged me, and also, just made me think just so typical of what I'd seen over in that chamber on, on that side of the aisle, for the past, almost four years. So was not surprised, but enraged as well, that he could basically give our argument, and still acquit the former president.

CUOMO: What do you think it was about for him? Why do you think he said that?

PLASKETT: Hmm! You know? I've thought about that and what could go into his thinking to do to not convict.

And I wonder if at the end of the day, it was because he knew that a conviction, his voting for conviction, without the majority of his Caucus voting with him, could potentially mean that he would no longer be the Minority Leader.

And it appears to me, from his other actions, that being the Minority Leader is probably, and hopefully the Majority Leader, is what drives most of his decision-making.

CUOMO: Do you see McConnell as a metaphor for the state of that Party right now? The audience should know, you were a member of the GOP back in--

PLASKETT: Interesting! That's an--

CUOMO: --2008. But do you see him as a metaphor for where that Party is now?

PLASKETT: There are so many factions within that Party. And I think he's representative of one of them.

I do believe that there are full-throated Trumpers that are part of that Party now. I also believe that there are very, very strong, hard- right conservatives, who see Trump as a vehicle by which they can meet the means that they have always wanted.


I see individuals like Mitch McConnell, somewhere in between, just a little to the left of those far-righters, who see him - see a means to an end, to keep power within their, their Party.

And then there are those few, what I call, patriots, who believe in what the Party used to stand for. And their duty to their country is much stronger.

CUOMO: What do you think the chances that any of those factions will combine in a way that allows the Democrats to have a bipartisan deal on anything?

PLASKETT: We'll see. I try not to think too much about that.

I'm just trying to get past my own colleagues in the House, who continued to vote for to object to the Electoral College and the certification, even after the January 6th Insurrection, and trying to come to grips with "How can I work with people that I thought were reasonable in the past?"

So, to determine how the Republican Party is going to re-create itself is not something that I can think that far ahead for, at this time.

CUOMO: But what do you do now, when you're in that chamber, and you look to the Left and the Right, and you see that there are people there, who were fine, empowering a mob that came, hunting you guys?

PLASKETT: Right? It was, as it's been called "The Enemy Within." You knew as, as we say, in New York, you keep your head on a swivel, right? Wondering what's going to happen with those individuals, and praying and fighting for those Members of Congress, who are eventually, I believe, going to unseat them, because Chris, at the end of the day, I don't believe that what we saw among those people are what is the majority, of Americans.

And remember that we had 57 senators, who voted to convict the President. And those 57 senators represent even more than 57 percent of the population of this country, those states that they represent, are much broader than a 57 percent coalition.

Those 43 individuals who believe that their Party and the President was more important than their oath, who believed that a seat in the Senate was more important than their constitutional duty, I think there's a much - represent a much smaller number of Americans that are out there.

And so, I try to take comfort in individuals, like the 10 Republicans, on the House side, those seven Republicans on the Senate side, who voted with their conscience, and really believed in upholding their oath, and saw facts for truth, and believe that they needed to speak up for truth, as what we should be working with. And those are the individuals that I'll reach out to, and try and bring along.

CUOMO: It's a low bar, but I guess you need something to hope on, if you're going to do the job.



PLASKETT: Listen, I had senators, even after we presented, who stopped me in the hallway, Republicans, who said that we'd made the case, but yet they were going to vote to acquit the President.

And when I would even offer them, potentially get-out-of-jail-free card by saying, "Well, why don't you vote to convict in the first instance, and then vote, not vote to disqualify him, which only requires a majority?" you know, the response was, "Well, I don't think you'll get to 17, so I'll never get to that second disqualification vote, and I don't want to stand out on a limb by myself."

CUOMO: Yes. That sounds exactly what's echoed all through their ranks.

Lastly, and thank you for the time tonight, what was your experience and takeaway from January 6th, itself that made it so important for you to be one of those House Managers and bring the case against the President?

PLASKETT: Right. Well, as a history student, I really saw what happened in January 6th, and even the impeachment trial, as a second act after the Civil War, when we had individuals, who were seditionists, who were treasonous, against our Union.

And in the past, after the Civil War, during our Reconstruction, we just let them go back. We just let them go back to the South, and rebuild their lives, as if nothing happened, go back to their plantations, begin Jim Crow, begin the absolute terrorization of African-Americans in this country.

And I believe that January 6 was, in effect, a second kind of Civil War. And it was necessary for us to have a reckoning, and for those individuals, who made war against our democracy, would be brought to justice, and that they needed to be held accounted for.


And so, that's what I saw as my duty and my service to my country. I believe that we were on the front-lines to save our Union and our Republic.

But I do believe, even though we lost that case that we have shown who Donald Trump is. We've shown the enemy that was among us that was attempting to lead us that was using us for his own greed and power, and that he will not have the past same power that he had should he ever attempt to run again.

CUOMO: I think it is an interesting question about the difference between what has gone with Donald Trump and what still remains--


CUOMO: --that presents that danger. But, Representative, Congresswoman, thank you so much. Nobody can say you didn't make the case well.

PLASKETT: Thank you.

CUOMO: Because you did. And thank you for being with us on PRIME TIME.

PLASKETT: Thank you, Sir.

CUOMO: Plaskett made a strong case. And I'm sure it's not going to be the last that we hear about her in a position of leadership within that Party.

Now, it's interesting, one of the things to take away from Mitch McConnell, other than just kind of the shameless degree of doublespeak, is the possibility of accountability looming over the ex- president.

Now, McConnell has nothing to do with that. It's why it was easy for him to say.

But those who do have a say, are making noise. D.C.s Attorney General warned that Trump could face charges under district laws, while the top federal prosecutor made it a point not to rule out charging the then-president. Can you? We'll discuss.

In Georgia, you have the Republican Secretary of State looking into Trump's call to "Find" votes. Can they move on him criminally on the state level there? We'll discuss.

Meanwhile, the Fulton County D.A. did open a criminal investigation, specifically targeting Trump. Will it stand?

There is still the criminal investigation in New York into whether the Trump Organization committed insurance or tax fraud? Could Trump go the way of Michael Cohen?

The State A.G., the Attorney General's looking into whether Trump's businesses lied to get loans? How real is that? There's a pair of defamation suits that were held up because of the protections Trump got as President. Are they still going forward?

Trump's even facing a lawsuit now in Florida, where the Palm Beach Council has to decide if he's legally allowed to live at Mar-a-Lago. Do you care? Me either. But it is something that's going to be on his plate.

The volume of legal problems is nothing new to Trump. The guy got sued all the time. More importantly, he used it as a sword and a shield all the time. Rarely won, but often sued. What matters now, however, is the severity.

Let's bring in someone who knows about prosecuting big cases, from his team, as a federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara.

It's good to see you. Thank you for doing this.


CUOMO: What does it mean to you that it isn't just the DoJ looking at the President, what seems most menacing?

BHARARA: Well, I've said - I've said all along, that given how far along they are, and given the criminal nature of the investigation, and the fact that it's not really political, what the Manhattan D.A. is looking at, with respect to potential bank fraud or tax irregularities, a case that again, we don't know, but a case that could extensively be proven by documents that are hard to talk your way out of, I think that presents the most jeopardy, because it's furthest along.

And I think they're a serious group of folks, who are taking a very hard look at what Donald Trump's financial records show, and they're going to get them very soon.

CUOMO: Now that would be outside the presidency. How much of this goes away, because it happened during the presidency? How much protection does he get after the fact?

BHARARA: Well, he can make arguments, right?

If in connection with some investigation of the President, relating to conduct as the President, prosecutors want to get testimony from someone who was a close adviser to the President, as we know from congressional hearings, and from impeachment, and from other processes as well, they can assert the claim of executive privilege. Whether it stands up in particular circumstances, it's hard to know. This President, I think uniquely - he's not unique in that he asserted the privilege. He and his lawyers were unique in how broadly they asserted the privilege in every instance that I'm aware of, in federal court.

So, there are some obstacles to doing things that relate to Donald Trump's time in office. But people will try hard. I think the easier thing to do is to look at financial issues that he's had, outside of the presidency, where he can claim no special privilege of the President.

CUOMO: So, this is going to be ongoing, for sure. We'll track it. Preet Bharara, you're invaluable. Thank you.

Now, someone in this much potential trouble, shouldn't have Members of Congress clawing for their affection, right? But it's his GOPQ. The question is should the few Republicans, or what used to be Republicans, who've broken off, should they have their own parties? Is now the time?

Tom Friedman on the state of play, next.













CUOMO: This was Trump today, greeted by his supporters in Palm Beach, Florida, post Insurrection and impeachment trial, Confederate flags, Trump flags.

What we know is Trump's support remains strong. What we don't know is where the fractured GOP, or wherever they are, is headed. My next guest says "For America to live, this Party has to die."

Let's bring in "New York Times" Columnist Tom Friedman, Author of bestseller "From Beirut to Jerusalem."

Of course, just using the word "Die" will have the whole Righty-fringe throwing you under the bus, as the real person asking for violence.


Two have-you-evers, and what do they mean? The first have-you-ever, have you ever seen somebody make a political move the way McConnell did, in voting to acquit, and then following it up with the exact rationale as for why he should have convicted?

TOM FRIEDMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES, AUTHOR, "FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM": Well, Chris, I think everyone's pretty well covered the fact that the hypocrisy of Mitch McConnell was, you know, as big as all outdoors.

CUOMO: But with no shame, Tom, that's what I'm saying. No shame. No shame.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. I think that this, from the very beginning, we've had a President without shame, backed by a Party without spine, amplified by a Network without integrity. That's been the problem.

What I'm really focused on right now, what I think is the important question is will this Party split in a way that 10 percent to 15 percent are hived off, so the Trump-rump party is unable to win a national election to retake the House, to retake the Senate, let alone retake the presidency?

That's what I think is the most important question, before the country, because this Party has proven it is not a governing party. It's not a governing party in two ways.

One, it puts its leader, its cult leader ahead of the Constitution. And second, going back to the campaign, it had a convention in which it had no platform. It had no platform. You have to stop and think about that.

The - Trump, all he talked about was how much he wanted to get back into power. But he never really said why.

And you really have to ask, "Is this a Party of healthcare plans, or conspiracy theories of, of Jewish space lasers, or a space program of tearing down the Capitol, or building up infrastructure?"

And so, I think the most important thing for the country right now is that this version of the Republican Party, led by Donald Trump, not be able to get back in power again, until the Party transforms itself.

It's in that sense that I think this Party, as it's presently constituted, has to turn into something else. It cannot be allowed back in power again.

CUOMO: Well, by allowance though, that's about popularity and persuasion. And I have to tell you, I want you to look at this Kinzinger letter,

Adam Kinzinger, Republican, Representative from Illinois, this letter from his family, let me read you part of this. This came from his cousins, Tom, OK? And they made it public.

Put up the letter, please, or I'll just read it.


CUOMO: "President Trump is not perfect, but neither are you, or any of us, for that matter. It's not for us to judge, or be judged! But he is a Christian! It's more embarrassing to us that we are related to you."

And they go on to say "You have now will never have the respect of" and names like every fire-breathing dragon on the Right fringe.

Their own family doesn't matter as much as Trump does, how, in what universe? And he's a Christian?

FRIEDMAN: Well, yes, I - yes, I don't know his family, Chris. But what I would simply say is this.

Look, our country is going through one of its biggest transitions in its history. We're going from a White-majority country, a White- Christian majority country, to a Minority-Majority country.

And that transition has a certain part of the country frightened, unnerved and unmoored. And what you're seeing is that they have latched on to Donald Trump, to try to prevent that. And you're going to get these kinds of letters in that context.

I think the most important thing right now, given where they are, Chris is that Joe Biden succeed. He succeed in his stimulus program. He succeed in getting the vaccine out. He succeed in getting teachers vaccinated, one of your guests, earlier in the night, on CNN talked about that, and reviving the economy.

If Joe Biden can just keep doing what he's doing, wake up every day, go to the office, do his job, move this thing down the road, we're going to be OK, as a country.

This thing will eventually burn itself out. But the problem with the Party, right now, and you see it in that letter, you know, Princess Di famously said "There are three people in my marriage."

And in the case of the Republican Party, there are three people there. There's Trump, there's the base, and there's the information ecosystem led by Fox, and people are now trapped in that closed loop.

And in that closed loop, you're going to get those kinds of letters. The only way you break that is when the Party is out of power for a long time, and if Biden succeeds.

CUOMO: Tom Friedman, appreciate the intelligence, brother. Thank you.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. CUOMO: All right, so the trial is over, but only in that one context, right? The trial is still on for all of us as a society. And Washington has to be focused on the Pandemic, right?

There's new COVID guidance from the CDC on schools. It makes no sense. Let's bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and figure out where things really stand, next.









CUOMO: Now, good news. When it comes to Coronavirus, we've had the best week we've seen so far, in terms of getting people vaccinated. And every week, since New Year's, the rate has only improved.

We need to build on the good while continuing to try and address the bad, when it comes to the Pandemic.

Example, case counts way down in the last few weeks, not just a few places either. Rates are dropping all over the country. When you stop making a mask a political statement, more people start wearing them. And it helps. Good for us!

But the recent drop really illustrates how out of hand we let it get around the holidays. That's what it really was. There was a huge spike because we did the wrong thing. And now, it's starting to even out.

Even with cases way down though, we're still more than double, where we were, back at the start of the summer. Perspective is reality on this.


More than 90,000 Americans a day are still getting sick with this. We need to be at about half of that, for everything to be up, and normal, until you start building prophylaxis in through the vaccine. And that's what we have to figure out because the thing we've never gotten right, it's still getting worse, right?

We're testing less. We're still mainly testing people with symptoms. Why? Well, we're still really only trying to figure it out without really diving all in. And the resources are tough, and a lot of places don't want to test. So, a lot of the focus on the infrastructure is therefore going to the vaccine, which means now there's not even the same emphasis on testing.

The reality is we need to be looking harder than ever, OK? Antibody testing to see how much of this country has been exposed already, who's getting it, and where, we've got to operate off data.

They say the science. They really mean the facts, OK? Because we also now have to factor in which version of the disease do you have? Because when some of these new strains become dominant, then we're in a whole new ballgame.

We're starting to see that the vaccine may work against some, but we're not completely sure. It's especially worrisome, because we haven't figured out the key question.

This school thing is driving me and my family crazy. And I know it is with you also. Nothing about what we're told seems to be consistent and consistently making sense.

Let's bring in the Chief Doctor Sanjay Gupta.

Now, am I just not getting it with schools? Because it's like, everybody wants schools to open, right, everybody with kids? They have not made giving the vaccine to teachers a priority.

That's not, you know, Tom Friedman just said, "You know, Biden is getting teachers vaccinated." That's not the policy of the federal government that all teachers should get vaccinated. It should be.

And CDC says "Can open, yes, you can, but in 89 percent of the places, they're looking at, schools don't qualify, but maybe you can for certain groups."

But the schools haven't been given what they need to prepare in a way that they qualify for what the CDC wants them to meet. It just seems like it doesn't make any sense.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's super- confusing, Chris. And it's so personal. I mean, I've gone through the same thing. I know you have with your kids. And you have to become an amateur epidemiologist.

What the CDC laid out basically was a bunch of criteria by which they think schools can open. And I think it's worth stating that there's studies out there that show that schools could reopen safely, and in fact, have lower transmission than the surrounding community.

That's true. But not all schools have all those resources. We talk about the masks. Do you have the square footage to be able to physically distance? Do you have adequate ventilation, all the things that we've been talking about? So, therein lies the conundrum.

What the CDC added into it is just what you mentioned, Chris, in addition to "Do you have the things on the screen now, what is the status of your community?" That's the 89 percent number you're talking about.

And what they find is that if you're living in a community, where you have greater than 100 per 100,000 new cases, so one in a 1,000 people are being diagnosed, that's considered in the - in the red zone.

And the recommendation at that point is that either you don't open or you're in some sort of bifurcated hybrid schedule or, something like that, because I think it's too dangerous.

CUOMO: But that's like most schools.

GUPTA: That's where things sort of stand now.

CUOMO: But they--

GUPTA: 89 percent of cases live in a--

CUOMO: That's 89 percent.

GUPTA: --red zone right now so.

CUOMO: So, why are they saying that you could - why send any message about reopening when you don't know about the Variants, and 89 percent of the schools in question can't open, by your own standard, why suggest they can?

GUPTA: Yes, no, that's the confusing part. I mean, there's two things.

And I talked to a lot of people about this, over the weekend, including people who are coming up, with some of these recommendations, the numbers will come down, and that's good. They have been coming down. The Variants could potentially throw that off.

But the other thing, Chris, the Wisconsin study that everyone quotes, right, that you heard about that, 17 schools in Wisconsin rural, they had 37 percent lower transmission than the surrounding community. That was last fall.

We went back and looked at that data. And in fact, they would have qualified to having been in a red zone, the community at that point, and they were still able to open, and open safely. Out of 5,300 people, there are only seven documented cases of in-school transmission. So look, it can be done.

Chris, this is a subjective thing. I think with science people often expect absolute certainty. And what you're having here, I think is, what is your tolerance of risk? That's fundamentally what this is coming down to. And I think that that's where it gets a little squishy around the edges.

CUOMO: I also think that it's a metaphor for where we are in our collective mentality.

People have had it. They will embrace the risk. There are not enough stories about kids being sick or really messing up entire families. There are a few, but not enough anymore, to balance out the hardship. And I think people have had enough.


Dr. Gupta, I could never have enough of you. Thank you for helping us see it straight. Be well.

GUPTA: Any time. You got it.

CUOMO: We'll be right back.

GUPTA: See you, brother.








CUOMO: Got a special note for you for tomorrow night. You, my friends, are getting a huge come-up.

Instead of this show, you're going to have a Town Hall with President Biden, live from Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 9 P.M., Eastern, the President's first official trip, since being sworn-in. And the Man is the moderator, Anderson Cooper.

So just before that, I'll take Anderson's place. And we will have an early edition of PRIME TIME at 8 P.M. Eastern, because Anderson just can't do it all!

So, thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" the big show with the big star, D. Lemon, right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Wow! CNN shuffle tomorrow, you're going to be doing the shuffle.

CUOMO: They're getting a come-up, my audience.

LEMON: Ah, right, OK.

CUOMO: They're getting a come-up.

LEMON: OK, so I got to ask you, why don't you ever go ice-skating with me?

CUOMO: I'm not a big ice-skater. Neither are you, from what I've seen on Instagram. But I don't love the cold.