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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden's Goals for First 100 Days Are 100 Million Vaccine Doses, Universal Mask Wearing and Reopen Schools; Interview with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Stimulus Package Progress in the U.S. Senate; Sources Say Biden Picks Retired Lt. General Lloyd Austin for Defense Secretary; McConnell Says Stimulus Talks Down to The Wire; Trump Says Will Veto Bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act; 33 Million in California Under New Stay at Home Orders. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 08, 2020 - 15:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President-elect Biden is trying to get a handle on the pandemic as he prepares to take office. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT: My first hundred days won't end the COVID- 19 virus, I can't promise that. But -- but we did not get into this mess quickly. We're not going to get out of it quickly. It's going to take some time. But I'm absolutely convinced that in 100 days we can change the course of the disease and change life in America for the better.


TAPPER: So, Jackie, the president-elect is asking for mask wearing -- asking, it's not a mandate -- asking for 100 days of mask wearing, 100 million vaccine doses, and trying to get most kids back to school in his first 100 days. What did you make of that?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: You know the other thing, yes, he's setting these very clear benchmarks. So while he's saying it's going to be hard, he is putting an end, a 100 days. You know, if you can do this for 100 days, we'll see where we are.

So there's that. The other thing that struck me about this rollout of his health team is the stress about restoring trust and restoring faith in these institutions that have been hit with such chaos during the pandemic during the Trump administration, everything from the CDC to HHS. And that's something that you heard one person after the other say during that press conference.

TAPPER: And Laura, two sources tell CNN that president-elect Biden has selected retired Army General Lloyd Austin, the former commander of CENTCOM to be his Secretary of Defense. He would be the first black American in the role. He would also need a special Congressional waiver because he has been an officer in the military within the last seven years. That might be a problem.

LAURA BARRON LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: That could be a problem. The Democrats I spoke to today, Senator Schatz of Hawaii, said that he expects that the number of Democrats that supported General Mattis at the beginning of Trump's administration, supported doing away with that waiver because he also needed one in order to serve at DOD. That he thinks that all those Democrats would ultimately support Austin. But again there's a number of others in the House who didn't vote for that waiver for Mattis who might be inclined to not vote for it again for General Austin.

They feel as thought they don't like this idea of having to pass these waivers multiple times in the span of four years for generals who haven't retired -- who have retired within that window of seven years. And so a lot of Democrats are kind of holding their fire right now. They aren't saying whether or not they're going to vote for that waiver.

Elissa Slotkin who used to be in intel, a Congresswoman in the House, is also saying that she also doesn't like the idea of voting for a waiver for Austin.

TAPPER: All right, Laura Oberon Lopez, Jackie Kucinich, thanks to both of you, appreciate it.

Millions of Americans out of work, staying home, going hungry, still waiting for Congress to step up. What is holding up the stimulus now? One of the Senate negotiators will join me next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our MONEY LEAD today, we know the sticking points getting in the way of a final agreement on a stimulus package in the U.S. Senate. Republicans say they want liability shields that would protect companies from getting sued by workers over any COVID-related issues. Democrats say they want more funding for state and local governments as well as checks for individual Americans.

But now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says it might be time to set those issues aside to get something passed. Joining me now is someone who has been at the negotiating table, Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin, who is the Senate Minority Whip.

Senator Durbin, good to see you as always. We've been hearing for days from lawmakers that an agreement is around the corner. Nothing yet. When do you think you're going to have a stimulus package?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Well, Jake, it really depends on an agreement on the issue of liability. Senator McConnell made it clear months ago, six months ago that he had a red line here. He wouldn't consider any bill that didn't include immunity from liability for major corporations and businesses. So we've been watching carefully to see the frequency of lawsuits that have been filed using COVID-19 as a basis. Personal injury lawsuits, medical malpractice suits.

And during the course of the year 2020, with 16 million people, at least 16 million infected by COVID-19, on average we've seen three lawsuits per state. It really isn't a tsunami of lawsuits.

It's a hard case to prove. When were you exposed to the virus? Who was responsible for it? So we're trying to do something that is reasonable that protects the public and gives incentives to conscientious businesses to do the right thing, but we don't want to go as far as Mitch McConnell suggested.

TAPPER: But Majority Leader McConnell as I understand it -- correct me if I'm wrong -- has said that the sticking points are money to states and localities -- the way Democrats want -- and these liability shields the way Republicans want, why not just put these two aside and pass everything else? Is that acceptable?

DURBIN: Because of state and local assistance is absolutely essential. If we don't give states, counties and cities some relief for their loss of revenue and the actual expenses of COVID-19, they are faced with some grim choices. Saying offer health care workers, law enforcement officials, people in the educational field. All of these things would be terrible to the economy in general, and basically unfair to these people who are struggling to get by.


TAPPER: So when the Democratic leader Chuck Schumer says that McConnell is trying to sabotage the deal by making this proposal to remove these two points of contention, you agree with him?

DURBIN: Yes, I do. I can tell you we've been at the table for weeks hour after hour after hour negotiating this. And the Democrats are at the table all committed to state and local government assistance. We have agreed to a dramatic cutback in the amount of money that is necessary just so the emergency relief for these units of government will be there. So it isn't just a casual item on the agenda, it's been a very important item.

TAPPER: Senator Bernie Sanders said that Democrats turned down a deal from the White House for $1.8 trillion because Schumer and Pelosi wanted $2.2 trillion. Now you're looking at a compromise deal of about half of the White House offered, $908 billion. We don't even know if we're going to be able to see that passed. Looking back, was it a mistake for Pelosi and Schumer to turn down 1.8 trillion?

DURBIN: There was some exuberance involved because an election was coming, and they were both bidding one another and trying to find common ground. They didn't reach that point.

But to return to those pre-election days and sentiments -- political sentiments is very difficult. We are looking at the reality now of a new president coming on board in just a few weeks. With President Trump leaving, we are trying to find something that we can agree to on a bipartisan basis, on an emergency basis through the first quarter of the year, coming up before us. TAPPER: Bernie Sanders -- Senator Bernie Sanders told me yesterday

that he's talked to conservative Republican Josh Hawley about adding back the provision -- or adding the provision of individual checks for Americans who are struggling. Is there any sign that that could be something that a bipartisan majority of the Senate could get behind if you have -- I mean that's really the gamut politically from Bernie Sanders to Josh Hawley?

DURBIN: But keep in mind that the cost of that $1,200 or $500 is, generally speaking $300 billion. The total cost that the Republicans have limited us to

is $900 billion for everything else. So if there is an effort to raise the total amount of the money and not take money away from something as basic as unemployment, PPP loans for businesses, or state and local assistance, I'd be open to it. But the Republicans really have to get off the notion that its $900 and nothing else.

TAPPER: The President has you know has been really focused not on the coronavirus pandemic, not on this relief package, but on trying to overturn the results of the democratic election. How concerned are you that even if you do achieve some sort of compromise that could pass the Senate -- that's a big if -- and that Senate Majority Leader McConnell will allow a vote on it -- another big if -- that Donald Trump will then walk into it and just blow it all up.

DURBIN: He could, and he's unpredictable. Who knows what the tweet of the day will be and whether it will be the same in the morning as it was in the evening, and vice versa, I just don't know. But we've received some signals from the White House that President particularly would like to send out those $1,200 checks. If he can talk Mitch McConnell into increasing the $900 billion, he may find takers both among Democrats and Republicans.

TAPPER: The President today promised to veto the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act if Congress does not overturn Section 239, the Communications Act which has to do with social media companies, preventing them being sued over the content that users post. It's not clear if Congress has the votes to override a veto. How worries are you about this?

DURBIN: I'm concerned. This is the funding for the military of the United States, the men and women in uniform, as well as the resources they need to keep American safe. Section 230 on the content in digital media is a relevant issue, an important issue, and one I feel strongly about. But I would not stop funding the U.S. military over that issue.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, thank you. Good luck with this compromise. I don't need to tell you that Americans out there are getting very desperate and face, you know, hunger and face evictions. So everybody's counting on legislators to come together.

DURBIN: Thanks. Jake.

TAPPER: Our next guest says that the AIDS epidemic may show why so called COVID abstinence or strict stay at home orders may not work. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: In our HEALTH LEAD today, COVID fatigue is real. And a growing number of experts think there may be a better way to fight the spread of the virus without going back to strict stay-at-home orders such as the one that California just put back in place. This is rooted in what worked to fight the AIDS epidemic. Dr. Monica Ghandi, Director of The University of California, San Francisco Center for AIDS Research, joins me now.

So Dr. Ghandi, explain this to me, as I see it from what you're saying during the AIDS epidemic the idea of arguing, just say, no, abstain, didn't work. But there were ways to mitigate the spread -- needle exchange programs, sex education, that did work. So how do you translate that way of looking at that virus to this?

DR. MONICA GHANDI, ASSOCIATE CHIEF, UCSF'S DIVISION OF HIV, INFECTIOUS DISEASES AND GLOBAL MEDICINE: Yes, I mean it's a great question. The idea was that this is the other great viral pandemic of our day is HIV. And telling people to completely abstain from interaction or from sexual relations didn't work, abstinence never worked, and the idea is harm reduction.

Which is that that principle when applied to disease prevention for infectious disease, means advise individuals how to mitigate risk with still acknowledging that their circumstances may mean that they have to take some risks.


Circumstances in the COVID-19 pandemic include working, just going out and working. And so how do you mitigate risk as opposed to kind of ultimate blunt instruments of lockdown, abstain, never see anyone. It may not be working in our pandemic fatigue.

TAPPER: And you also argue that part of the problem is messaging. Explain what you mean by that.

I don't know. I lost volume. Dr. Ghandi, do you hear me?

GHANDI: Yes, I can hear you.

TAPPER: OK, you said that part of the problem --

GHANDI: Yes, I can hear you.

TAPPER: OK. Sorry about that. Part of the problem you say is messaging. Explain what you mean by that.

GHANDI: Yes, so what I mean by messaging is that -- and many harm reduction experts are talking about this and HIV doctors are talking about this. Is instead of saying wear like a mask, stupid! Or you're selfish to not wear a mask. Or you're a Co-vid-iot. These are kind of these messaging that are coming out even of public

health professionals. That is not the way to message. The message is to acknowledge that people are lonely, they're depressed, they want to see each other, it's Christmas.

And to message instead, how do we keep safe? How do we use masks, distancing, ventilation, hand washing to mitigate our risk? Treating people like adults but acknowledging that they may be gathering or taking some risks.

TAPPER: Tell us about this new stay-at-home order in California. Is it too strict? Is it doomed to fail?

GHANDI: It is very, very strict. And I think the three things that concern me about it are outside playgrounds have been closed. The problem with that is we have better weather in California. There isn't surface transmission and it's an equity issue. There are a lot of people who don't have big backyards and swings in their backyard and this kind of importance of children being out and exercising, I think that should not have happened.

The second was don't mix with anyone outside of your household even if you're outside mask, distancing and taking a walk. Again the public knows a lot more about this pandemic and the virus, you and others have been educating people about it. We know outdoors is safe and masks and distancing are safe so allow a little bit of household mixture.

And then the third is outdoor dining. If we are going to close outdoor dining without data even the safe outdoor dining, we have to support our businesses for this month. Otherwise they are going to backlash.

TAPPER: It's interesting that you bring that up. Because I wanted to ask you about the viral video making the rounds. It's a Los Angeles county restaurant owner named Angela Marsden extremely frustrated about the inconsistencies. There are all these severe restrictions on her restaurant and yet a television crew was able to set up tents, tables and chairs literally next door. Take a look.


ANGELA MARSDEN, LA COUNTY RESTAURANT OWNER: They have not given us money and they have shut us down. We cannot survive. My staff cannot survive. Look at this. Tell me that this is dangerous but right next to me is a slap in my face.

That's safe. This is safe? 50 feet away?


TAPPER: I have to be honest, I mean, that's a compelling argument.

GHANDI: It's a very compelling argument and we know what four non- pharmaceutical interventions work -- ventilation, masks, distancing, and hand hygiene, period. If you have those conditions at play in your restaurant or your

business, then we have not seen risks in those four conditions being applied. So it is fair for her to say if we know so much more about the virus, then being nuanced and chiseled in your recommendations as opposed to blunt and you will get more public buy-in.

TAPPER: Dr. Monica Gandhi, thank you so much. Really appreciate the conversation. Coming up the first people in the world now getting a fully authorized COVID vaccine, more on the major milestone and when it could be available to you and your family.

Plus, he's conservative and one of the toughest critics of President Trump. George Conway will join me to discuss what's going on with all of these lawsuits.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin this hour with breaking news. President Trump this afternoon asked about working with the next administration to get vaccines into Americans' arms to save lives, falsely, he said that he may be leading the next administration. President Trump still refusing to accept the will of the American people, not to mention preparing the nation for this huge undertaking.

Though this could soon be happening in the U.S. these are some of the very first vaccinations taking place in the United Kingdom. Approval of the Pfizer vaccine in the U.S. is expected in two days.

Also this afternoon, president-elect Biden introduced members of his health team who will be tasked with getting these vaccines into the arms of the American people the incoming president is promising 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days.

So let's start at the White House where Kaitlan Collins reports that the Trump administration's vaccine summit quickly went off the rails into crazy town when the President pivoted the topic to his many election conspiracy theory grievances.