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Cuomo Bans Indoor Dining In NYC Starting Monday; CNN: Biden Does Not Feel Defensive About Cabinet Picks; New Tool Helps Organizations Shape Their COVID-19 Testing Strategy. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 11, 2020 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: So just moments ago, I want you to listen here, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, he's looking at the numbers in New York City. And he said, I'm sorry, but I have to do this.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The hospitalizations have continued to increase in New York City. We said that we would watch it if the stabilization, if the hospital rate didn't stabilize, we would close indoor dining. It is not we're going to close indoor dining in New York City on Monday.


KING: What about you? Whether it's dining, whether it's other restrictions, you're at this odd moment where people are saying, hey, Mr. Mayor, the vaccines coming, everybody should calm down. And you're saying, no, my hospitals are filling up, I've got a problem on my hand, what's on the table for you on the menu for you if those numbers don't get better?

MAYOR MARTY WALSH (D-MA), BOSTON: Yes, the Governor of New York actually made the right call there. And I'm monitoring those numbers as well here in Boston. I actually had a call on Monday with the hospital presidents here in Boston. Right now, we're not at a place where it's an emergency -- serious situation, emergency situation. But we will -- I will take any precautions, any decisions that need to be made, such as shutting down, indoor dining, shutting down everything that we have to shut down when the time is needed and beforehand.

And I think that that's what the Governor of New York is doing. And that's certainly what we will do here in the city of Boston as well. The Governor of Massachusetts did roll back some reopening, back to a different phase. Boston, we didn't -- it didn't impact Boston, but we didn't open up our businesses to the next phase. So we were watching in the city right now, what I'm watching is, I'm looking at numbers of daily cases, weekly averages, and hospitalizations. And we're seeing our daily cases and our weekly averages go up.

Our hospitalization has not gone up yet. And we're watching that very closely on a daily basis. And we will make -- I will make the decision based on public health, not on political pressure.

KING: But are you comfortable with the vaccine distribution plan? And as you answer, tell me about what happens when the phone rings. So when you bump into somebody who says, you know, hey, wait a minute, wait a minute, you know, we've got a surge, you know, two-one, two- two, you'll get the vaccines to those people. What about public school teachers? I get nursing homes first and police and firefighters and healthcare workers, but what about me? What pressures are you under, as you try -- as you're going to have a limited amount of doses and a lot of people who need help?

WALSH: That's the problem, we're going to have a limited amount of doses, 300,000 doses in Massachusetts, which is about almost 7 million people. In the city of Boston alone, we have 700,000 people who live in the city that doesn't include college students. So certainly what I'm hopeful is that as we see the first doses come to us, come to the state, we get the second and third doses right behind it. We have an infrastructure that we're working with right now. Our public health department is working with the hospitals, with our health centers are working with the different long term care facilities, and we're working on a plan to get these those as soon as we get them out.

Again, I mean, the fact that it's record speed, that the virus -- that this has been created, this vaccine has been created. And it's important for people understand that as soon as we get it, we will get it out to people. But we do have to start with the most vulnerable in our hospitals and workers and our long term care facility, folks are the most vulnerable right now. And then from there, we go to other people.

KING: How much leeway do you get as Mayor? The state has a plan, the Governor gives the city some doses. Can you as Mayor say, I'm going to set a certain percentage aside as a surge for an emergency for something I see that deserves special attention or is this all laid out on paper, you just follow it from beginning to end?

WALSH: I think in the first round of doses, we're going to work with the state very closely as we get more doses here. We can talk about who should get it, what neighborhoods should get it. You're absolutely right, Georgia says 12 percent. We have three or four neighborhoods in the city of Boston that are in double digits as far as virus increases in our neighborhoods.

We also can get our schools open and get people into our kids into our schools. So we should -- we have to be prioritizing at some point our teachers and in some cases, potentially our students, particularly the highest needs students.

KING: Mr. Mayor, we wish you the best of luck in the days ahead as you and your colleagues across the country go through this. We hope the numbers go down and we hope the vaccines come even a little quicker than they think.

WALSH: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you, sir. Take care. [12:34:05]

Up next for us, members of Congress need to keep the government running and many of them say they want to help you with your economic troubles. But it's Congress and there's a lot of dysfunction.


KING: It turns out old normal can be just as bad as new normal, United States government runs out of money at midnight. The best help is passing a one week band aid to kick the can down the road while Congress debates and efforts to agree on a bigger coronavirus release package. Well, they are a mess. Old School partisan dysfunction in Congress making it so far impossible for lawmakers to help those whose pandemic new normal might soon include losing unemployment benefits or protections against being evicted.

Let's go straight up to Capitol Hill our CNN's Manu Raju, tracking all of this. I say old normal. We've been down this polarized partisan roads so many times, Manu, a lot of people out there want help, will they get i?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's still really uncertain. Both sides are at odds over some key issues and negotiators on both sides of the aisle are trying to cut a deal on a major package with $908 billion or frankly struggling. And it's unclear if they'll actually be able to get there. One big sticking point on the COVID relief package is how to deal with businesses and others that opened up in the pandemic that could get hit with lawsuits.

Republicans have been pushing for liability protections for those entities. Democrats have been resisting that but they have been engaged in negotiations with Republicans on that very topic. I just spoke to Senator Chris Coons as a key negotiator in the room. And he told me that they're finding it, quote, extremely difficult to close the distance on the issue of liability protections. If they don't get that deal on that provision, it's possible to hold fragile compromise collapses.


And John, not just that, but even if this group were to get a deal, it's uncertain what the Republican and Democratic leadership ultimately agreed to, can they get it done by the end of next week? And can they even keep the government open passed tonight? Those are all still questions that have to be resolved as this messy Congress comes to a messy conclusion here, John.

KING: I get their complicated issues, Manu, but people out there who are about to lose their job or who have lost their job or about to lose their benefits or might get evicted when they hear the words extremely difficult coming from members of Congress they have little context or context issues, you might say, appreciate their great reporting. We'll continue to stay on top of that one.

And up next for us, yes, Joe Biden's new team is diverse. But some Democrats are grumbling. It is too much Obama flashback and too little next generation. And speaking of flashbacks, Republicans in those two Georgia Senate runoffs get an assist today from a former governor who once shared the V.P. stage with Joe Biden back in 2008.


SARAH PALIN (R), 2008 VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I want to speak on behalf of the rest of America. Georgia, we need you to not just show up January 5th, not just win, but to crush it. We need you to crush it.




KING: A growing debate in the Democratic Party about the incoming Biden team, well it plays out in public today. Among the new hires being introduced later today by the President-elect are Tom Vilsack to serve again as Secretary of Agriculture, former Obama White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough for Secretary of Veteran Affairs, and the former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council. There is grumbling among some Democrats that next generation voices are being passed over. And that the President-elect is putting his comfort zone ahead of new ideas and new energy.

But at least so far, the President-elect not overly concerned about this pushback. One top Biden ally telling CNN, the country quote, needs an urgent course correction with competent leaders, are familiar faces so bad after the last four years? Joining us now to discuss our CNN senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, and national political reporter for POLITICO, Laura Barron-Lopez.

And Jeff, that reporting is yours. So let's start right there. Team Biden obviously understands the incoming, some -- it's -- let's not call it fighting but grumbling. We like these people. They're competent people. But we want some of our people. We want some new people, not all Obama people. You say so far, not a bother?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That -- it does not seem to be a bother. I mean, one thing that Joe Biden knows from being in this Democratic Party for so long, one thing Democrats do for short is grumble. They bed wet. They raise concerns about all of these things, so that is what they believe is going on here.

But look, I am told by talking to a variety of people around the Biden transition that he is not feeling defensive about this. He simply does want to put competent people in charge of the government. They do believe that government is broken, it needs to be repaired. And just because they're bringing back old people, does not mean they can't have new ideas, because the circumstances are different.

I mean, one thing we should point out, most of these cabinet officials and senior advisors are going to new positions with the exception, of course of Tom Vilsack, who came into the Obama administration aged 58, now he's aged 70. But look, the priority here of the Biden team is competent. We will see if they have new ideas, the vision, and the burden is on them to show that of course.

And one thing some Democrats are doing from the outside is also try and game the reps here, John. Half the cabinet is still yet to be filled. So they are trying to influence those remaining positions as well.

KING: Game the reps. I can't believe you would say that, Jeff Zeleny, unbelievable. To that point, to that point, Laura, you've done a lot of reporting on this as well. And look, every group in the Democratic Party rightly so says what about us. We want our team members. Here, we recommend this person, we recommend that person. That's the way it works. It's the way it should work. The President-elect has to make the decision. You note about some of the Latinos in the Democratic Party, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is lobbying President-elect Joe Biden to nominate Lily Eskelsen Garcia for Education secretary, substantially boosting the pack of supporters who are stumping for the former president of the country's biggest teacher's union. So that's for education secretary.

So put that into context. And that one post but then the larger fight of each constituency group who are watching so, you know, African American for secretary of defense, well, we want a Latino for education secretary.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: That's right. Biden has been pushed on all sides, John, whether it's from the Congressional Black Caucus to make sure that there's an African American in the top four, and they did get that with the appointment of Lloyd Austin to the Defense Department. And the Hispanic Caucus is saying, look, we're happy that Biden appointed two Latinos, that Xavier Becerra to HHS and Alejandro Mayorkas to Homeland Security.

But they're saying where are the Latinas, so where are the women Hispanic members? They want to see Lily Eskelsen Garcia at Education. But they also want to see another Latina. They put forward other names to other positions. They'd like to see equity, so two Latinas, two Latinos in the Cabinet. Biden is also today being pushed by Asian American lawmakers in Congress. They're saying he needs to appoint an Asian American Pacific Islander to one of those secretary Cabinet posts.


David Kim is potentially being considered at Transportation, but they're worried that there may be no Asian American in a secretary post. Of course, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is South Asian as well as Black. And they're happy about that. But they really want to be sure that they have someone as a secretary of an agency.

KING: So there's the constituency groups, number one. Then there's a question Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Congresswoman from New York has raised this, what is this about? Is there an ideological arc to all of this? Are you just putting individual pieces together? And then, Jeff, to you first, and hopefully I get you both in quickly on this one. This is POLITICO reporting today, saying several people around Biden and Harris were reluctant to speak publicly about a topic they view is taboo. They acknowledged Biden's choices for top positions reinforce Harris's status as a President in waiting. Biden has built an administration free of political threats to Harris. Is that by design, Jeff Zeleny, or is it just the results so far?

ZELENY: It's the results. And the reality is, it's the Senate. You cannot pluck any of those senators, those Democratic senators from the Senate, because the majority is just very fragile. So that is what that is about. I promise you, John, if Kamala Harris is the running contender in 2024, regardless what happens, people are going to feel free to jump into that race just, if they were in the cabinet or not. I don't put much stock into that.

KING: So we know that Harris is the last person in the room often, Laura, but do we get the sense that she is personally thinking about no, no.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, it hard to say if she's trying to clear the decks for herself. But like Jeff said, I agree, that if she is the one that is running in 2024, there are going to be other Democrats jumping into that race. I again, I've heard some rumblings about the fact that they're saying where is the next generation? Where's this bridge that Biden talked about? But no, out there insanely angry about these decisions.

KING: Laura Barron-Lopez, Jeff Zeleny, appreciate the reporting and insights. This was used on a different issue a long time ago. But who guess who knew, it's complicated.

Up next for us, how does the school system, our employer determine how much testing it needs to minimize its COVID risk? Well, thanks to a government research program, there's an app for that.



KING: We do not cannot say thank you enough to government scientists and other researchers whose work helps keep us safe. The speed in developing new coronavirus vaccines, for example, can be traced back to earlier work on the previous versions of coronaviruses. And now we are seeing fruit from an initiative called RADx that was launched back in April. Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics is what the RAD stands for. A government program to speed up development of COVID-19 testing technology.

So let's discuss it now with Bruce Tromberg, he's Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at NIH, and a leader of the RADx program. Bruce, thank you for your time today. And so the app you have or the calculator that has been developed, it helps. So I'm a meatpacking plant in South Dakota or I'm a school district in Boston, I'm trying to figure out how much testing do I really need? And how much will it cost? Walk us through how this works. BRUCE TROMBERG, DIR., NATL INSTITUTE OF BIOMEDICAL IMAGING AND BIOENGINEERING AT NIH: Sure. Thanks, John, great to be on the show and talk about this. It's actually a program. It's not quite an app yet. But it uses a mathematical model to help you determine what type of testing you need for your organization. You can put in the size of the people in your organization. And it's designed to give you the tools and the insight to keep the virus from spreading, to reduce the chain of transmission.

So the variety of elements that you can manipulate, whether you're wearing masks, if you're doing contact tracing, and you can see the cost of testing per week and the number of tests you need to do per day. And you can specify it by whether it's a laboratory test, a point of care test, a low sensitivity antigen test, or a high sensitivity PCR test. So there's a lot of information, a lot of complexity to it. But it's also very simple in the sense that gives you an answer very fast.

KING: And so this is an example of government working, government responding to a crisis, experts sitting down and saying what is needed out there and how quickly can we develop it? In the context of where we are now, what do you see as the most important application of this particular, the calculator, I shorthand it is an app. I get it. It's a program right now. But what do you see as the most urgent, most useful application right now?

TROMBERG: Well, because we've been able to scale up testing, and create many different options that are available for people, this is a great thing. But it's also kind of confusing. And not everybody knows exactly how to deploy testing effectively and safely in their schools, in their businesses, and in different communities. So the app immediately can give people answers on what to do, how to stand up testing programs. And it also can connect you with the experts in our RADx program who've developed the app at Mass General Hospital, in MIT, and other universities in our system. So they can help advise you on what the best options and how to actually create a testing program.

KING: Is it free?

TROMBERG: Absolutely, yes, it's a -- So it's available and it went online, live on Monday, there's press release on the NIBIB website. And we encourage everyone to take a look at it and try it out.

KING: It's remarkable. And as I started the script, I want to do it again. Thank you. Thank you to you and all your colleagues, whether it's in the testing sphere, whether it's in the vaccine sphere, there are people behind the scenes in the government who get beat up on a lot. We don't say thanks, we simply don't say thank you enough. So thank you and all your colleagues for this very helpful development. Bruce, we'll see you again as we walk through all this.


And thank you for spending some time with us today. Don't go anywhere very busy Newsday, Brooke Baldwin picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day.