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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Republican Senator to Challenge Electoral College Results; Interview With U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Admiral Brett Giroir; Vaccinations Falling Short of Trump Administration Promises. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 30, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Ryan Nobles, thank you. Good to see you there again with the update in Atlanta.

That is it for me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Tune in tomorrow night in, New Year's Eve. I will be on ringing in the new year with some fun people.

Meantime, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin this hour with our health lead. The chief adviser for Operation Warp Speed, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, predicting a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19, Slaoui saying that the FDA could authorize a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson in February, and another one from Oxford/AstraZeneca in April.

This comes as the U.K. this morning off already authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the general public in that country.

Vaccine rollout in the U.S. is continuing to underperform predictions and promises previously made by the Trump administration. The CDC reports nearly 2.6 million vaccine doses have been administered. Doctors tell CNN, if shots keep going into arms at this current pace, it will take years before the U.S. population achieves herd immunity.

All of this comes as one epidemiologist is warning that things are so bad, it's time to stop talking about surges and waves because we are inside a -- quote -- "viral tsunami."

Yesterday alone, the U.S. set two more devastating records, more than 3,700 deaths and nearly 125,000 people hospitalized from this virus. President Trump, per usual, has had nothing to say about these horrible new statistics about people he once swore an oath to protect, mainly focused today on golf and tweeting nonsense about the election.

The president did offer one tweet about the virus, a pass-the-buck tweet in which he blamed states for vaccine distribution failing to meet the promises he and his administration made.

You may recall the president promised the vaccine would be ready by Election Day, which did not happen.

As CNN's Nick Watt reports for us now, health officials in Colorado have now identified a mutant, more transmissible strain of COVID-19 here in the U.S. for the first time.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's officially here, a new variant of the already rampant virus, one confirmed case, one more suspected in rural Colorado, workers at a care facility.

GOV. JARED POLIS (D-CO): We don't yet have a good idea of how prevalent it is either nationally or within our state.

WATT: There is no evidence this variant first detected in England is more deadly, but studies suggest it is more transmissible.

DR. RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: That means it's easier to spread. It's easier for people to get infected by this virus.

WATT: Potentially piling more pressure on already crowded hospitals, nearly 125,000 COVID patients currently hospitalized in the U.S., a record.

Here in Los Angeles County, that number is up nearly 1000 percent since late October. Some patients have been turned away due to oxygen supply issues.

TONI KATANO, E.R. NURSE: L.A., we officially have no more beds, zero beds, and our morgue is full.

WATT: Nationwide, 3,725 lives reported lost to COVID Tuesday. That's also a record.

Meanwhile, the Brits just authorized another vaccine, Oxford/AstraZeneca's. U.S. trials continue, authorization maybe in April. It's cheaper and easier to ship than those already green-lit here.

GEN. GUSTAVE PERNA, U.S. ARMY MATERIEL COMMAND: Fourteen million doses have been distributed.

WATT: But the U.S. is lagging well behind its own projections.

PERNA: There's two holidays. There's been three major snowstorms. There's numerous factors. And here's what I have confidence in. Every day, everybody gets better.

WATT: And we're lagging behind some other countries in shots per day per capita, better than Canada, worse than the U.K. and a lot worse than Israel. OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: I think it

comes down to really just a lack of a national strategy on this vaccine distribution. And this has been the problem from day one on the pandemic response.

The federal government ships the doses. From there, it's down to the states.

DR. PAUL OFFIT, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I don't understand that the government's reluctance to give us the money we need to do this, because the way out of this pandemic is with a vaccine.


WATT: And back to those two suspected -- well, one confirmed, one suspected cases of the variant in Colorado, both of those people are National Guard members deployed to that care facility after a recent outbreak.

And the fact that neither of them have any significant recent travel history, the CDC says that suggests this new variant has been spreading undetected in this country -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick, thanks. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Joining us now to discuss all of this, Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services.


Thank you so much.

Let's talk about the vaccine rollout. In October, your boss, HHS Secretary Azar, said -- quote -- "We may have up to 100 million doses by the end of the year, enough to cover especially vulnerable populations."

Since then, the Trump administration's lowered that number, that goal to 40 million. Now it's 20 million. The end of the year is tomorrow; 2.6 million people have been vaccinated. So it does appear that the administration is behind schedule.

I know this is a very monumental task. I'm not making light of that or downplaying that at all. But why is the administration behind schedule?

ADM. BRETT GIROIR, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: So, thanks for having me on. Always great to be on with you.

There were lots of projections and predictions even before the first vaccine was authorized. We have been pretty clear for about three weeks that this is the schedule that we're on, that we will have 20 million doses distributed by the first week in January, about 15.6 million as of this week. The rest will go into January. So, that's 20 million, with another 20 million in reserve. That is the schedule we're on. We're firm on that.

In terms of actual doses and arms, we -- clearly, there's a little bit of a lag between the report. But there clearly are vaccines out there that have not been given. We're only 16 days into this campaign. The first dose was given only 16 days ago.

And we do expect a very rapid ramp-up in vaccines in arms, looking even in nursing homes; 800 nursing homes was -- covered last week. We will have another 4,000 this week. And that's going to continue to ramp. So we absolutely want to get more in arms. And we will do that.

TAPPER: But Dr. Slaoui said that you need to be doing a better job. You would agree with that?

GIROIR: Oh, yes, of course. We need to be doing a better job.

But all vaccine programs start somewhat slow. You heard General Perna. Yes, we had two holidays and three snowstorms. But I think it's more of just you starting a program, and that starts relatively slowly and ramps up very quickly.

And, again, I gave you the nursing home example, just as an example of we will be doing five times as much this week as we did last week. And that will continue to ramp up. So, absolutely, vaccines on the shelf are no good. They need to get in people's arms.

And if -- we are leaving no stone unturned to do that.

TAPPER: So it sounds like you're saying it's just a process of this -- of the program getting started, that it's just people getting familiar with what needs to happen when, and then once that all starts working, it can start working more efficiently. Am I hearing you correctly?

GIROIR: That's basically correct.

I mean, the playbook was put out by the CDC in September, and they have been working literally every day with our partners in the states in order to make sure that playbook works.

Nursing homes, as you know, 99 percent of them -- and this is not just nursing homes, long-term care -- are contracted through CVS and Walgreens. We have to get enough vaccines there for them to start implementing it. That will go up fivefold.

When we get to the next phase, when we start more generally immunizing, remember, we have a federal contract with 40,000 pharmacies -- that's 60 percent of all pharmacies in the U.S. -- to provide vaccines. So the scale will go up very rapidly as things progress and evolve.

TAPPER: OK, yes, because it doesn't -- just mathematically, 2.6 million over 16 days, it's going to take years to get to herd immunity. GIROIR: Yes, that is--


TAPPER: So, when are you going to be at like 10 million a week, 15 million a week? When do you think that might happen?

GIROIR: I actually don't know the numbers on that.

I know we will be distributing about 30 million more in January, and potentially up to 50 million more in February. I don't have the exact projection about how many we're going to be doing a week.

But if you sort of do the math, again, if we have 40,000 pharmacies involved, that sort of gives you an idea of the massive scale-up. And it's going to depend a little bit by states. Remember, some states are just immunizing over 75 in the next wave, not this wave, over 75, and some of the front-line workers, whereas other states, like Texas, are doing it more expansively, like anyone over 65 or people with conditions that make them more susceptible, like sickle cell disease or cancer.

TAPPER: So, I told a bunch of governors, Democrats and Republicans, that I was going to be asking questions of you. And I said, give me your questions, if you have any.

One of them was, why didn't the Trump administration push to get money to states for vaccine distribution earlier? There's funding in this latest COVID bill that just passed. But this governor said, this money should have gotten to states months ago to ramp things up.

That might not be your area, but were people pushing inside the administration, we need this money to go to states, so we can prepare for this?

GIROIR: So, we follow closely the money that was already distributed to states. That is somewhat -- about 300 or so million dollars. Only about 10 percent of that has been drawn down. Now, we know the states want to spend that.


But we didn't see an absolutely urgent crisis because of the spending. But of course we wanted more money to get to states. And we're pleased that Congress passed the bill. States do need support. This is going to be an aggressive campaign. Congress passed the bill. The president signed it.

And I think we're all very pleased about that, because the states are going to need more funding. And this will help them. So, we're all on board with that.

TAPPER: Let me just get some clarity on what you just said.

You didn't see an absolutely urgent crisis? What exactly do you mean, just in terms of-- GIROIR: No, what I'm saying is, of the money that was already allocated to the states, the 300 or so million dollars, only 10 percent of that had been drawn down.


GIROIR: So, the states still had an account to work with.

So, look, this is a crisis and a pandemic. I just meant, in terms of cash flow, that they still had money to work with. But, clearly, we support them having more money. Don't interpret it any other way. We want them to have all the resources they need to put more people on the ground to vaccinate.

We know the National Guard is going to help. My service, the Public Health Service, will be deploying with some of the state Guards actually giving vaccine. So, we are all in this together.

TAPPER: That's why I wanted to get clarity as to what you said, so that that comment wouldn't be misunderstood.

GIROIR: Yes, thank you.

TAPPER: President Trump, he has made no secret of the fact that he's not happy with the states that didn't vote for him, governors who didn't support him.

I want to play a sound bite from a few days ago before the election, when the president was campaigning in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your governor made it almost impossible for us to find any site.

I'm going to remember it, Tom.


TRUMP: Hello, Mr. President, this is Governor Wolf. I need help. I need help.

You know what? These people are bad.


TAPPER: I just want to make sure here. You can guarantee politics is not playing any sort of role when it comes to vaccine distribution or allocation at all, right?

I mean, Pennsylvania or other states that didn't go for President Trump, they're not going to be penalized at all, right? And I wouldn't normally even raise the question, except President Trump said things like that. GIROIR: The vaccine distribution is on a per capita basis on a

population that's over 18 years old. So, there's absolutely no influence, aside from just a fair and equitable distribution.

And with Pennsylvania testing, we're doing a massive pilot testing project with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, CHOP, right now. So we work together. All these governors have my number. They call me all the time. We work well together.

It's -- this is about public health, lives lost, suffering. I am never going to let politics enter into that.

TAPPER: OK, that's good to know.

These two cases in Colorado of this mutant virus strain that has previously appeared in the U.K. that seems to be more transmissible, more contagious, do you think this indicates the variant has already been in the U.S. for a while? Is it possible that that's the main reason behind the latest surge?

GIROIR: So, I do think it's possible and probably likely that it's been in the United States for a while now.

These two cases have no foreign contacts, so it's not like a direct spread from the U.K. If you just do the numbers, you would expect it that -- to be the case.

Now, as your warm-up before me demonstrated, and you are right on target, this does seem to be more transmissible. It may be related to the amount of virus people carry in their nose and mouth, and, thus, it's easier to transmit it. It'll still be prevented by a mask and distancing.

But, as you stated in the warm-up, it is not more serious. In other words, you're no more likely to die or be hospitalized with this. And we do expect -- we haven't proven it 100 percent, but we will soon -- we do expect that the vaccines now being administered or under development will cover this strain very well.

It is very unlikely that this is rampant in the United States, because, even though we don't sequence large numbers of cases, one of our sort of basic tests that we do does give a signal if this variant is here, and we just don't see that signal very often.

So, it's very unlikely that it's rampant, but I think it's certainly been here.

TAPPER: All right, Admiral Brett Giroir, thank you so much for your time.

As always, if there's anything we can do to help with the process of the vaccine, please let us know. We're always here.

GIROIR: Thank you so much, Jake.

TAPPER: Breaking news on Capitol Hill, where one Republican senator says he will ignore the will of the majority of American voters. He will refuse to certify the results of the Electoral College.

And then: The United Kingdom will -- has approved another coronavirus vaccine, one that seems to be cheaper and easier to distribute. The question is, when will it be approved in the U.S., how quickly?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead in a potentially nightmare scenario unfolding for Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri is now the first Senate Republican to say that he will challenge the Electoral College results next week, despite president-elect Biden's decisive win. This will force every one of his Senate Republican colleagues to go on the record and say whether they agree with President Trump's baseless, frankly, embarrassing claims of voter fraud, claims that had been rejected by court after court, election board after election board, found insufficient by even his own departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

The president even falsely accused the Georgia secretary of state of having a brother who works for China.


This isn't true. It's a lie. And yet this lie sits there rotting on his Twitter feed.

None of this means anything in terms of president-elect Biden becoming President Biden.

But CNN's Boris Sanchez joins me now live from West Palm Beach, near where the president is staying, to discuss.

Boris, top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they have been working behind the scenes very clearly trying to avoid this exact scenario that Josh Hawley is now going to set into motion.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for weeks has been privately pressing Senate Republicans to avoid objecting to the election results on January 6. And he's pointed out to them that this is fruitless. It will only delay the inevitable, it will not overturn the results of the election, and, ultimately, it could wind up costing Republicans long-term.

As you noted, this would force Republicans to go on the record to say whether they believe the president's false claims of election fraud to undermine democracy or to side with reality and the fact that there is no evidence of widespread election fraud. Ultimately, the president does not appear he cares about the future of

the Republican Party. He sees this as a loyalty test. And that's why he's been so aggressive on Twitter, going after the Republican leadership, calling them pathetic and weak, and essentially saying that they need to be voted out -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Boris Sanchez traveling with the president in Florida, thanks so much.

Let's discuss.

Nia, let me bring you in first.

So, McConnell has been working behind the scenes to avoid this exact scenario. But now, if Hawley goes through with this announcement, it appears every Republican senator will have no choice but to publicly take a side, with President Trump, lying and making crazy allegations, or siding with reality, which could cost them with Republican voters in a potential primary.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: In a potential primary, and a lot of these folks, of course, not only looking at maybe their Senate races coming up, but 2024 as well.

There is kind of a primary for who can be the biggest Trump fanboy. And I think if you are Josh Hawley, that is what you're trying to do for 2024, sort of set yourself up as someone who is really loyal to Trump in a very public way, in a very meaningful way.

So that is what he is doing. Who else will join him? Other folks like Marco Rubio. He's got obviously a Senate race coming up, might think he wants to run for president in 2024, as well people like Lindsey Graham, even, Tom Cotton, folks like that.

It's likely that, if you're Josh Hawley, you might not be the only one. Incoming Senator from Alabama, for instance, Tommy Tuberville, he has said that he would also object.

And, listen, this isn't the first time this has happened. You have had in the House, for instance, Democrats object. And I think it was in 2004 Feinstein joined with Democrats as well to object to what was going on or what they thought was going on in Ohio with the 2004 election.

But, Listen, I mean, this -- in some ways, it was inevitable, given Donald Trump's grip on the party and given his grip on this base. The idea, though, that these folks aren't going to inherit Trump's base in 2024 or whenever, that is yet to be seen. But that's certainly what they're trying to do.

TAPPER: So, Ron, what is the difference here, given the fact that there have been a very small number of Democrats in the last 20 years that have done the same thing?

Why is Hawley doing it a bigger deal than that, if you think it is?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is, because it's in the broader continuum of what's happening.

First of all, when the Democrats did it in 2004, as I recall and understand it, they explicitly said they were not seeking to overturn the results in Ohio, which was the state that they were objecting to, but only to kind of shine a spotlight on their questions about what happened there.

And very significantly, John Kerry disavowed the effort. And he was the Democratic nominee and made clear that he did not think that anything had occurred that would overturn the results of the election.

The real significance of this, I think, is just as another landmark or way station on a larger road the Republican Party has been traveling in retreating from the traditional ideas of Western democracy.

I mean, you have seen -- you have to see this in the continuum of two- thirds of House Republicans supporting this legislation -- this litigation to disenfranchise 20 million voters and overturn the results in four states, two-thirds of Republican attorneys general, all the things the president has done to call into question of the results of the election, today, him calling on the governor of Georgia to resign because he has not done enough to subvert the election.

For a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Dan Pfeiffer, who was the communications director in the White House for Barack Obama, said to me that, in the future, not trying to subvert an election will be seen as disloyal behavior, RINO behavior among Republicans.


And the fact that Hawley, I think, is coming forward in this way is another indication that that may be right, that this may be just a step in a process that will move in an even more ominous way in the years ahead.

TAPPER: And don't forget Senator Ted Cruz offered to argue that deranged Texas attorney general lawsuit that the Supreme Court threw out the window.

Ted Cruz had offered to argue it in the Supreme Court. Of course, they didn't take the case.

But this gets to a bigger question, Nia-Malika, about the rot in the Republican Party right now. And I don't know how widespread it is. Certainly, there are a number of local and state Republican officials in Georgia and Arizona and Michigan and Pennsylvania who are standing up for reality.

You have others, such as Senator Pat Toomey and Mitt Romney and Adam Kinzinger, who are standing up for reality. But you have two-thirds of the House Republicans siding with that deranged Texas lawsuit. Now you have that Kraken caucus job opening up in the Senate with Hawley.

If Republicans held the House of Representatives right now, right, if Kevin McCarthy was the incoming speaker, how sanguine would any of us be about whether or not this democracy was going to be overturned? HENDERSON: Not at all, because you are right. They have sided with

this idea that it is OK to throw out the votes of millions and millions and millions of people.

And let's be real here. The folks that they are looking at are in big cities, places like Philadelphia, places like Detroit, Atlanta. Those are the voters and the votes they have been calling into question.

And this has been a Republican Party project for decades, making it harder to vote, questioning the votes of other people, suggesting there is widespread voter fraud, and then putting in laws to make it harder for certain people to vote.

So, in that way, it is, I think, an extension of what we have being seeing from the Republican Party for decades. But, my goodness, the idea that they are now siding with the idea of overturning an election and tossing out millions and millions of voters, it is a surprise, I think.

Even given all that we have seen from this party and this president, it is a surprise that this is where many of them have landed, not only in the House, but now we see that happening in the Senate as well.

And they think this is the ticket to fame and fortune in the Republican Party and to electoral success.

TAPPER: Fighting facts, fighting truth, fighting standards, fighting democracy.

Nia-Malika, Ron, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Why the new coronavirus vaccine just approved by the U.K. could make it easier to vaccinate more people.

Stick around.