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New Day Saturday
COVID-19 Variant First Seen In U.K. Detected In CO, CA, And FL; Trump Attacks No. 2 GOP Senator Thune, Turns On Allies In His Final Days In Office; All Eyes On Georgia After Strong Dem Turnout In Early Voting; Senate Votes To Override Trump's Vote On Defense Bill; States Face Challenges And Delays In Vaccine Rollout; U.S. Iran Ratchet Up Military Activity As Concerns Increase Ahead Of Soleimani Killing Anniversary. Aired 7-8a ET
Aired January 02, 2021 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Who needs a selfie stick when you're getting a needle stick with a lifesaving vaccine? Jeanne Moos, CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you not throwing away my shot?
MOOS: New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bill on reconsideration has passed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bipartisan majority surpassing the two-thirds threshold needed in the Senate to override Trump's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had 81 votes. That means, the House and the Senate by wide bipartisan margins have told the president no dice on this one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. has started 2021 with some disturbing pandemic figures now. The country has surpassed the 20 million mark for coronavirus cases.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That new faster-spreading coronavirus variants now detected in Colorado, California, and maybe Florida. L.A. County official says hospitals are "on the brink of catastrophe."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like treading water from 100 feet below the surface. You're already drowning, but you just have to keep trying because that's what you can do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Wow! Look who's up and with us this morning. Good morning to you this Saturday, January 2nd, 2021. It just feels good to say 2021, doesn't it, Mr. John Avlon?
JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Good. Hey there! I'm filling in for Victor who's enjoying a very well-deserved day off at the beginning in the new year. It's great to see you. Let's do this.
PAUL: You too. All righty. Yes, let's start here because -- start a new year together, and it brings a lot of new challenges this morning when we're talking about overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, because the U.S. is nearing with some of this number 348,000 people who have died because of COVID.
And we've now topped 20 million cases as of yesterday. There are more than 125,000 people starting 2021 in the hospital and the new concern this morning is this more easily transmitted variant of COVID-19 foreseen in the U.K. It's a strain that's been detected now in California, Colorado, and Florida.
AVLON: Meanwhile, President Trump is focused on lashing out as he sees his power slipping away. A federal judge yesterday threw out a doomed effort by one of his allies to interfere in the electoral college count. And the Senate came together in a big bipartisan way to smack him down with the first veto override of his presidency.
CNN's Sarah Westwood has the latest from the White House. Sarah, GOP Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Sarah, several Arizona Republicans were trying to force Vice President Pence to choose Donald Trump as the next president. That's not exactly constitutional. But what did the judge say, and was there any word from Pence on this so far?
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this judge in the Eastern District of Texas throughout the case, saying that Gohmert and the other Arizona Republicans who joined it did not have standing to bring this lawsuit that the remedy, they were asking for had no relation to the injury that they were claiming. It's the same argument that the Trump campaign and allies of the President have used now, dozens of times in courts at all levels, and it's not been successful anywhere.
The Vice President Mike Pence was silent for days after this lawsuit was filed. But he did respond in a filing asking the court to reject the case saying he did not have the authority to decide which electoral college votes to count in which to discard the judge who by the way, was a Trump appointee, agreed with Pence. Now, the Department of Justice had given the White House a heads up that they were going to weigh in and recommend that the case be thrown out here.
We know that President Trump has been furious with the Justice Department over what he perceives as its inaction, on voter fraud. And this was not the only blow that was dealt to the president this week. It included the fact that Congress issued its first veto override of the presidency here in rejecting Trump's attempt to veto the defense spending bill.
Trump did so because Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly agreed that they shouldn't include what was essentially an unrelated provision about social media companies in the defense spending bill. But I want to read you what Trump said after that vote came through.
He said, "Republican Senate just missed the opportunity to get rid of Section 230, which gives unlimited power to big tech companies, pathetic! Now, they want to give people ravaged by the China virus $600 rather than $2,000, which they so desperately need. Not fair or smart."
And again, the President has been putting pressure on lawmakers to vote for higher checks, something that some Republicans and most Democrats also want. But he's been unsuccessful in getting that over the finish line as well and the time here on his presidency rapidly coming to an end, John and Christi.
PAUL: That was a pretty generalized tweet there that you just mentioned, but the president is being pretty specific, specific against several GOP senators on Twitter. What do you know?
WESTWOOD: Yes, Christi, he's even going after one of the highest- ranking Republicans in the Senate. That's Senator John Thune, the Majority Whip there. He called on the pro-Trump Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem to primary Thune in South Dakota. So, basically, he's trying to unseat the Republicans who are sticking up for democracy here and arguing that their colleagues should not be objecting to the election results when they are certified in Congress on January 6th.
Senator Josh Hawley, who is a Trump allies receiving praise from Trump, because he is leading the charge in the Senate to object to the certification of the electoral college results on Wednesday. There are also dozens of House Republicans, Louie Gohmert included and several others, who are planning to object to the vote as well. Pence has told Trump and others that he does not have the power to object to the results and doesn't plan to, Christi and John.
AVLON: Sarah Westwood at the White House. Thank you very much. So, as you heard on Wednesday, Congress is expected to vote to certify Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election. Now, this is a formality, it happens every election cycle, but this time might look a little bit different. Because CNN has learned at least 140 House Republicans are backing President Trump in trying to turn, overturn the results of this election. So, while on the floor Wednesday, Senator could pair with a member of the House on an objection to the results that would then require both chambers to debate for up to two hours, just two hours, and then hold a vote on the objections.
But here's the thing, that vote would fail. That's because Democrats have the majority in the House of Representatives. And a good number of GOP senators have said that they acknowledge Joe Biden is going to be the next president. And as for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he said this is not what he wants his party to do.
But the bottom line is this, Joe Biden will be inaugurated the next president of the United States on January 20th. One day before Congress counts the electoral votes next week, the state of Georgia will decide control of the Senate and the balance of power in Washington.
PAUL: Yes, these are races that are neck and neck. Early voting and absentee mail-in ballots numbers, they're already totaling three million that is record breaking in the state of Georgia. And remember, none of those votes will be counted until polls close at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday. CNN's Ryan Nobles is with us from Atlanta.
So, talk to us, Ryan about, you know, Democrats saying these early voting numbers, obviously, they're a good sign for them, but this has been such a strange year, just because you are a registered Republican or registered Democrat. That doesn't mean that we know exactly how you're going to vote, especially when checks and balances could be at stake here at the federal level. So, what do you know about the votes that have already been cast and where we go from here?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's such a great point, Christi, we do know that at least by their registrations, more Democrats have voted in the early voting stage of the Georgia runoff than Republicans have. But we also know that Democrats are more inclined to vote in less traditional ways by mailing in their ballot or by doing it ahead of time, while Republicans tend to stick to doing it the old-fashioned way, by voting in person, on election day.
So, Republicans are really focused on kind of closing that gap of Democratic voters, between Republican voters on election day and that's what they're going to spend the next several days doing leading up to Tuesday. Candidates are going to be out about throughout the state of Georgia over the next couple of days, crisscrossing this state. And then of course, we have big, big star surrogates coming to town as well, both the vice president-elect and the president-elect, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden will be here on Sunday and Monday.
And also, Vice President Pence and President Trump will be here on Monday as well, the night before all these votes start to be cast. Now, as for the candidates themselves, we see Democrats being forced to push off some of these negative attacks by the Republicans particularly aimed at Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate, and David Perdue, one of the Republican candidates has been forced to the sideline because of an exposure to the coronavirus. Listen to how both these candidates are responding to everything going on here in the closing days of this campaign.
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SEN. DAVID PERDUE (R-GA): My wife and I are doing just fine. We tested negative but we've been testing our team regularly here, according to CDC guidelines and our doctor's recommendations. We with an abundance of caution, we've decided to go into quarantine these last few days. It's terrible timing, but we are not going to miss a step deal. We're going to participate in all these advances if I were there.
RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D), GEORGIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, there's no question that Senator Kelly Loeffler is running the most negative campaign in Georgia history. She was appointed the people of Georgia a disappointed. She clearly has no case to make for why she should be elected, which is why she's busy attacking me. (END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: Now, the Republican candidates find themselves in a bit of a difficult position here because they do want to run very close to President Trump. But the President's been attacking the electoral system, and he's also put them in a tough position, on two particular pieces of legislation. The National Defense Authorization Act, which the President vetoed, both Loeffler and Perdue supported that.
And then of course, these $2,000 checks, they originally supported the legislation that only had $600 checks. Now, both have come around and say they support the $2,000 checks. But interesting John and Christi, neither Perdue or Loeffler even participated in the vote to override the NDAA veto, and neither have said how they would have voted if they'd actually been in Washington.
AVLON: Ron Nobles, everybody's got Georgia on the mind. Thank you very much.
PAUL: So, let's talk about this upcoming Senate runoff election in Georgia Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, she's also the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia. Congresswoman-elect, good morning to you I look forward to talking to you when I can just say Congresswoman-elect. So, before our Congresswoman --
NIKEMA WILLIAMS (D), GEORGIA CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT AND CHAIRMAN OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Good morning.
PAUL: Hi, Nikema, it's good to see you. Thank you for being here. Listen, we're going to get to Georgia in a minute. But I do want to ask you about something that's happening tomorrow, you're going to be sworn into Congress in time to vote for speakership of the house. Speaker Pelosi's aides are estimating she has just a 10-vote margin at this point. She's been the Democratic leader for 17 years. She's running unopposed. Will you vote for Speaker Pelosi?
WILLIAMS: Absolutely, I'll be voting for Speaker Pelosi. I actually was one of the people who seconded her nomination during our caucus meeting to determine who would represent our caucus and the full vote for leadership. Speaker Pelosi has shown us that she's strategic and she's willing to stand on, on the side of the American people.
Every day, she wakes up just like I do, trying to figure out how the, how we can end childhood poverty, how we make sure that every day Americans can put food on their tables. And I'll be voting for her. And I don't understand all of this around people not voting for her when there is no one else running against her. So, I am a Democrat through and through. And I know that my party stands up for American values and for everyday people in this country.
AVLON: Well, the Speaker's office breathing little easily hearing you give that full-throated endorsement. But if I look in your home state, more than three million votes have already been cast in early voting for Georgia runoff races. What do you make of this unbelievable enthusiasm, unlike anything we've seen before?
WILLIAMS: I mean, in the beginning of this runoff, people told us that Democrats weren't going to turn back out to vote. And I told them to watch us work, we're going to continue organizing, and we reminded people that this was never about just Donald Trump being on the ballot, not about one election cycle. And we've seen that with the voter enthusiasm on the ground. And so, I'm encouraged by the what we've seen so far, we know that every vote count, and we cannot let up until 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, when the last vote is counted.
PAUL: I want to ask you a question about something that was written in the Washington Post the last 24 hours. It was written that we're probably witnessing a political realignment in which Democrats are losing support from Hispanic voters and possibly Black men, while gaining support among white voters with college degrees, and they were talking about Georgia. Address that for us. Is there any indication that in your state, the Democratic Party is losing votes of Black men? And if so, why would that be?
WILLIAMS: I reject that notion. I watch organizations, I have a friend who founded an organization, Mundo Robinson, who started the Black male voter project, and I watched him talk to literally every Black man that was in our voter file, this past election cycle, encouraging them to turn out and I've seen the barber shop events, I've seen the shop talk, talk events.
And I've seen Black men turning out to vote at very high numbers in the state. So, just because the numbers are not exactly the same as the rate of Black women turning out, there's this notion out there that black men are turning out to vote for Democrats. And that's just false. I watch these numbers every day. I'm married to a Black man who is a political scientist himself and we study these numbers daily. And so, I reject that notion that black men are turning away from the Democratic Party.
AVLON: Interesting. Now, I want to turn next to Kelly Loeffler. Because when she was asked whether she'd support senator Josh Hawley's effort to object to the electoral college results, essentially challenged, tried to overturn the election, which will not succeed, she said this, "everything's on the table." Is there any concern that Loeffler potentially aligning herself with Hawley will energize the state's Republican base or will the kind of chaos from Donald Trump calling the election itself a legitimate hurt them?
WILLIAMS: I mean, I think they're confused themselves on their side. They've been living in this alternate reality where they haven't accepted the election results. And we've had recount after recount and, and Joe Biden has won not once, not twice but three times in the state of Georgia, after every recount.
And so, they are continuing to just make a mockery of the foundation of our country, our democracy. And it's, it's appalling. And so, while they are looking for political gain in the system, we are looking to continue to talk to voters.
And I understand that on January 6th, that this task is going to come before us in the House of Representatives or in the United States Congress. And I'll be ready to make sure that I stand up as a voice for Georgia people and make sure that their votes are heard, the people on the ground have spoken, they cast their ballots, they were counted, they were counted.
Again, they were counted for a third time. And everything still remains the same. Joe Biden won Georgia 16 electoral college votes, and I am honored to be there in the House of Representatives when we officially accept the ascertainment from the state of Georgia.
PAUL: So, let me ask you, the executive office, the house both controlled, obviously, by the Democrats, if the Senate turns blue here, how do you assure voters that checks and balances will be prioritized?
WILLIAMS: I mean, what we need is a government that is looking out for the American people. When I decided that I was going to run for Congress, it was because I understand that government has a role to play in making sure that everybody in this country can fulfill the full promise of America regardless of where they live, regardless of their zip code, regardless of their bank account.
And so that's why I'm going to Congress. And so, I'm looking for people on whatever side of the aisle may fall that are looking out for everyday people in this country. People are hurting right now. We're in the midst of a global pandemic. My 5-year-old son started kindergarten in front of a computer screen. And it didn't have to be this way.
So, I think when people go to the polls, they're not looking for some textbook, answer around checks and balances they're looking for who is actually going to go to Washington to represent them and make sure that the economy is back on track. Make sure that we get this pandemic under control.
We have the highest toll for people dying in the state of Georgia on yesterday. And our ICU beds are full. But we see that we still have leaders in this state. And Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are not willing to stand up for everyday Georgians. So, I think that's what most Americans are focused on.
PAUL: Congresswoman-elect, quickly, we have to go but I have to ask you this question the senate overriding the veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. Maybe some people interpret that is cracks being formed in President Trump's influence over Republicans, does that give you some sort of a hope that there may be more bipartisanship than we've seen thus far?
WILLIAMS: So, I think this just shows us that their party is really confused, and they've been following for far too long. One person who did not have the best interest of the entire country at heart, and instead of working on behalf of the American people. So, I hope that to see more people on the other side of the aisle willing to step up and do us write on behalf of the American people. AVLON: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, happy new year, and thank you for joining us on CNN.
PAUL: Thank you, Ma'am.
AVLON: And don't forget "ELECTION NIGHT IN AMERICA" continues this Tuesday with special coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. right here on CNN. Still ahead, a lot of coronavirus uncertainty as we start the new year, vaccine rollout struggles new strains of COVID-19 and hospitalizations stuck at an incredibly high level. We're bringing you up to speed on all of it with the help of an E.R. physician, Dr. Megan Ranney, next.
PAUL: Also, it's been almost a year since the U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian General, now Tehran is ramping up from threats against American targets abroad. We have the latest for you just ahead.
PAUL: We're in a new year and we have new reminders that the coronavirus pandemic is very much with us still more than 125,000 people are starting the new year in the hospital.
AVLON: And that means that for 31 days now, hospitals in this country have collectively been caring for more than 100,000 people sick with COVID-19. CNNs Polo Sandoval joins us now. Polo, the U.S. is also inching closer towards 350,000 lives lost to COVID-19, and there is a lot of uncertainty as we start the new year.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And John, that is going to be obviously yet another grim milestone that we expect, that we could hit any time now. In terms of vaccination efforts, it is pretty clear that the United States is certainly not where it wants it to be at the start of the new year. When you look at the CDC numbers there appear to be more COVID-19 vaccination doses been sorted medical freezers that are going into actual arms.
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SANDOVAL (voice over): Friday brought a new year, and with it, another tragic milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic with the U.S. surpassing 20 million total confirmed infections. It's a reminder that the virus will keep ravaging parts of the country until ongoing vaccine efforts help to slow or stop the spread. And there lies the challenge, health officials in several states report difficulties in planning vaccine rollout with no federal mandate in place dictating how to administer the vaccine.
The result has been a flawed distribution leaving vaccination figures far below the Trump administration's goal. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican critic of the president called that inexcusable. Texas report, the state has only distributed a third of the vaccine it's received as a Friday and some hospitals are trying to overcome the logistical challenges of administering the shots as Michigan E.R. Dr. Rob Davidson.
DR. ROB DAVIDSON, E.R. DOCTOR: Well, there have been a few hiccups, you know, they're trying to get as many frontline workers frontline health care workers vaccinated as possible. We're doing a little bit of a change up in how they're doing the scheduling so we can get more people and now reaching out to clinics outside the hospital to get those folks vaccinated and then working with local health departments on, you know, the next level the, the people over 75.
SANDOVAL: Data from the CDC shows New York is over performing on the vaccination front. Friday figures showed 32 percent of New York's allotted vaccine doses have already been given. That is well above the national average of 23 percent shots administered. But the real crisis point remains out west in California, which set a new daily record for COVID-19 deaths on Friday, as one state official warned that California is on the brink of catastrophe, this New Year's Eve crowd gathered in L.A. County protesting masks and limits on religious gatherings.
DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, INTERNAL MEDICINE AND VIRAL SPECIALIST: It's so disheartening to see to do some of these people that feel over privilege having parties when so many people are struggling. I just want to take a moment though to thank who I consider the unsung heroes of this pandemic. And these are the average Americans who have sacrificed their family time and their jobs by doing the right thing day in and day out, by wearing masks and distancing.
SANDOVAL: Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, tells CNN some medical facilities in his region are using hospital gift shops and their chapels to care for their patients. This weekend, health officials will be watching for more reported cases of a fast moving COVID-19 variant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's still the same virus It's not different in that it's just that there's new lineage here, maybe transmitting a little better.
SANDOVAL: Early research suggests, the new variant spreads the same way, meaning social distancing and masks offer the best protection.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDOVAL: That poor dimension that New York is not alone on the list of states that seem to be outperforming others in terms of vaccine, its residents. In fact, Florida also there at the front of the top of the list in terms of the percentage of vaccines that have already been administered, but it becomes clear here, Christi, that the country certainly not where it should be, in terms of building up that vaccination defense against this pandemic. Here in New York, though, the Mayor saying that he does have high hopes that there will be at least a million people vaccinated by the end of this month.
PAUL: All right, Pablo Sandoval, good to see you. Thank you so much for the update. CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Megan Ranney is with us now. She's an Emergency Room Physician at Brown University. Doctor, thank you so much for everything that you do, for being with us now.
I understand that we cannot overlook what's happening in hospitals right now, how overwhelmed they are with the numbers that we're seeing over the last week or two. I understand that you had a moment, watching the ball drop on New Year's Eve, help us understand the emotion that you were feeling and why?
DR. MEGAN RANNEY, E.R. PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: Yes, so I was actually watching CNN, I was watching Anderson Cooper and, Andy Cohen. And I just started bawling. I haven't really cried the whole pandemic, because I'm an E.R. doc, right? This is what we trained to do. And I think watching the year change, hit home to me how horrific 2020 had been.
I've lost a bunch of colleagues. I have a bunch more who've been really sick and hospitalized. I have many friends across the country who've been ill, and our country has suffered. And I know that I'm heading back into the E.R. in a couple days and it's going to be the same thing. Again, we're looking forward to a couple of really tough months ahead of us. But the fact that we finally have a light at the end of the tunnel, it just gave me a space to feel all the sadness for everything we lost in 2020.
PAUL: We appreciate everything you do. I hope you know that that is not lost on any of us, and we are always thinking of you and praying for, for you and your teams everywhere. Because you are the ones that are helping keep people alive. And I and we cannot imagine what it's like to be in your shoes.
So, I just want to make sure that you understand that from our point of view here. I do want to ask you about the, this new variant, because it's shown up. It's showed up in the U.K., it's now showing up in three states, California, Colorado, and Florida. Is there any gauge as to how long it's been in the U.S. and, and what it means for the fight against COVID now?
RANNEY: I wish that I could say that we knew how long it had been here in the United States. But we do a really bad job of sequencing the genome of COVID-19 in this country. Britain sequences, a high percentage of its tests, we sequence a tremendously low percentage. We know that it first appeared in the U.K. in late September, I have trouble believing that it didn't get here soon after.
We've had transatlantic flights going back and forth the entire time. And of course, we now know that it's been found in multiple people in the San Diego area. We think it's multiple people in Colorado. Again, I have trouble believing that it hasn't been here for months.
PAUL: So, Dr. Fauci says that the, the vaccine that is now available will tackle this new variant, are you a certain of that as well? Look, I mean, have there been any trials for that?
RANNEY: So, there -- yes, there have not been trials, but the mutations on the spike protein are of a type that should not make the vaccine ineffective. And I will say that is one small piece of good news in this disaster of a transition, right? We have more cases, we have more hospitalizations, we have travel, that's going to lead to further surges in January. Now, we have this new version of the virus that's going to spread more easily and make our hospital still more full.
The one piece of good news is that so far, the data suggests that the current version of the vaccines will work against this virus. It does, of course, make us concerned that in future months, there will be versions of the virus that the vaccine doesn't protect against. But it's why it's so important for us to get vaccinated quickly so that those future versions of the virus don't have a chance to mutate and appear and become dominant among our population.
PAUL: And there have been a lot of questions about why more doses of the virus or the vaccine rather have not been made available to states. Do you chalk that up to the distribution process itself is there is part of it? Possibly the lower numbers, we're seeing people who say they don't want to get the vaccine and then what is your assessment there.
RANNEY: So, we have a little over 12-1/2 million doses that have been distributed to states. Only about 2-1/2 million doses have gotten into arms. That is a logistics failure. It is similar to the failures that we've had around testing and around PPE it is because we did not invest federal money or effort into creating distribution plans.
You know, we funded Warp Speed for billions of dollars very appropriately in order to develop vaccines. We should have started to invest into logistics and last mile programs at the same time.
Instead we're asking already overworked and overwhelmed hospitals and public health departments to fill the gap. We just don't have the staff, we don't have the funding to develop the plans. This is not surprising that we're failing in the logistics but it's disappointing. And it just as with many things in this pandemic, it could have been prevented with a little bit of foresight.
PAUL (on camera): Dr. Megan Ranney, thank you again to you and your teams for everything that you're doing. We appreciate you very much.
RANNEY: Thank you.
AVLON (on camera): Absolutely. And the U.S. and Iran are ratcheting up military activity in the Persian Gulf ahead of the anniversary of a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander.
CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton is going to join us next to talk about it.
AVLON: Right now, the U.S. and Iran are ratcheting up tensions in the Persian Gulf. Because tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani. PAUL: A U.S. official say the potential of an attack from Iran is the highest it's been since his death. The U.S. flew nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the Middle East as a show of force, and a U.S. official now tells CNN, some Iranian maritime forces in the gulf have ramped up their readiness levels. They're not certain though as they watch whether this is for offensive reasoning or defensive reasons.
AVLON: Joining us now to talk about it all is CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton. Good morning, Colonel. Happy New Year.
Let's start with the Iran though, because both the U. S. and Iran seemed to be ramping up tensions in the Persian Gulf. And it comes, as Christi mentioned, in the one-year anniversary approaches of the U.S. striking Iran's most powerful military figure, General Soleimani.
So, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force just suggested Friday that retaliation may come from "people in your own house". Do you believe there are any credible or imminent threats?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST (on camera): Well, I do, John. Good morning and Happy New Year to you as well.
This is -- this is one of those times when there are a lot of different actions that the Iranians could take. The threats are very credible, we've watched the U.S. intelligence efforts have been very focused actually on the transfer of weapons, especially, rockets related weapons of -- from Iran into Iraq.
So, several of the threats paths that we couldn't see include possible attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, possible attacks in other parts of the Middle East, certainly, there's a possibility of Houthi rebels using their weaponry against U.S. forces in the Arabian Peninsula. So, there are lot of different possibilities.
On the maritime side, we could definitely see a lot of actions from the Iranians in regard to U.S. military efforts in the Persian Gulf, especially our naval forces, which are quite vulnerable actually to small boat attacks by the Iranians.
AVLON: That's right, we've seen that before. An escalation could be difficult to contain.
President Trump reportedly asked for military options to deal with Iran back in November. Now, Trump's last day in office is just a little more than two weeks away, but if the president were to make any moves, would it be standard for Biden to be briefed or consulted before it happens?
LEIGHTON: Yes, it absolutely would be. I worked on the presidential transition from President Clinton to President Bush, and they -- we were very careful in the Pentagon to make sure that any types of operations were briefed to the incoming team.
If there were a lot of things that involved budgetary issues, which are kind of standards processes when it comes to the transition. But actual military operations that are either in the planning stages or about to begin, they are always supposed to be briefed to the incoming administration and there has -- that has to be the case. Otherwise the transition is not a transition at all.
AVLON: So, you would -- you would presume that, that would transcend any bureaucratic infighting a resistance we've seen between the DOD and the Biden administration?
LEIGHTON: Well, certainly in the past, it has transcended any type of bureaucratic infighting of that type. But of course, we are, I think, living in different times and it's -- my biggest fear in this regard is that something like this won't be briefed to the incoming Biden administration, and that would be a huge mistake.
AVLON: It sure would. And now, the Senate just voted to override the president's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, it's a bipartisan rebuke to the president. Now, you're a retired Air Force colonel, why is it so important? Just let folks understand, why this is at a 60-year tradition of a bit being a bipartisan bill that gets passed.
LEIGHTON: Yes, John. This bill, the Defense Authorization Act is really critically important for every single department of defense program. So, everything from standard war fighting capabilities such as weapon systems, all the way to services or dependents such us breast cancer screening, promotion system reform, all of those kinds of things are in the National Defense Authorization Act.
If the act didn't get pass, if it hadn't been overridden, the DOD would basically come to a standstill. Yes, essential operations would continue. But all of the things that you need in order to make those operations work, they would come to various degrees of standstill, and that is a very, very big problem, or would have been a very big problem had the Senate not acted the way it did yesterday.
AVLON: And there's certainly there are considerable cyber legislation in there, which is more urgent than ever before from a military perspective and from a national defense perspective.
Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you very much for joining us. Happy New Year.
LEIGHTON: Happy New Year, John. Thanks so much.
AVLON: All right.
PAUL: Next, there's a breakthrough for hundreds of vulnerable young people, children, and teenagers who have disabilities are getting the vaccine in New York State. You're going to hear why this is so life- changing for them. Their stories, next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PAUL: So, we know that people who are elderly that frontline healthcare workers around the world are receiving the coronavirus vaccine, but there's another vulnerable group. We're talking about children and teenagers who have disabilities.
AVLON: And CNN was there when hundreds of young people got their first dose of the vaccine. Here's Gary Tuchman with their story.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In New York State's Catskill Mountains, it's a landmark day for these young people. All of them who have severe medical issues and comorbidities. Today is the day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ready, one, two, three. Awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, good job.
TUCHMAN: They get the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Awesome, buddy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job.
TUCHMAN: This is the 1,500-acre Center for Discovery, where hundreds of vulnerable children and adults with complex medical conditions live and visit for clinical treatments and educational, social, nutritional, and recreational experiences. 24-year-old Khadidra Diese (PH) has cerebral palsy.
TUCHMAN (on camera): That's a beautiful hat. How do you know how to make a hat? I have no idea how to make a hat?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do.
TUCHMAN: I do? I couldn't do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are done. Good job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): For months, the residents here were not able to see their parents and families in person because of COVID. Now, with proper precautions they can, and parents are with their children as they get their vaccines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my goodness, that was -- (CROSSTALK)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Done. Though it's good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're doing great.
TUCHMAN: R.J. has severe autism. His mother says his grandfather died from COVID in April.
DENISE LOMBARDI, MOTHER OF R.J.: And I know that my dad would be so proud. And how well R.J., you know, has done through this entire ordeal. And particularly, today, you saw how much of a trooper he was getting his shot.
TUCHMAN: Jodie (PH) also has profound autism and seizure disorders.
JODIE SINGER, PATIENT: Looks like a boo-boo.
ALISON SINGER, MOTHER OF JODIE: Yes. OK, I need this for a boo-boo.
TUCHMAN: Her mother says not being able to see Jodie in person for months was excruciating.
A. SINGER: Just the thought of that, for me has been the worst part of the pandemic. So, getting the vaccine today --
J. SINGER: Clock.
A. SINGER: -- it's the beginning of the end of that nightmare.
TUCHMAN: Although residents and employees here have tested positive for COVID over these months, there have been no deaths. Credit is given to the diligence of the employees here, about 1,700 of them, and they too are getting the vaccine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, here we go. Call me you're ready.
TUCHMAN: After all, it's the employees who can bring the virus in.
PATRICK DOLLARD, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, CENTER FOR DISCOVERY: Their courage and their efforts just keep us moving forward. But we have to stay with it. You know, it's not a -- it's not a mic drop yet. You know, we still have to get through this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, two, three.
TUCHMAN: The parents visiting realize this frightening time is not over. But the relief on this day is palpable.
MICHAEL ROSEN, FATHER OF NICKY: It is so emotional. And he knew in his gut that this is something he wanted to do. I can't tell you how emotional it is to watch. So, many who -- were so worried about for so many months. Now, automatically we see hope on the horizon.
TUCHMAN: And remember the hat maker we met earlier?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, a little pinch. Ready? Can you feel it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Good job.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Well, Khadidra says she is most grateful that she too, has now been vaccinated.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Monticello, New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AVLON: What a powerful story.
PAUL: Yes, definitely.
AVLON: And seeing those kids and their families, and we wish them all the best and all the love in the New Year.
PAUL: Absolutely. You know what else we wish? Go Bucks!
Alabama and Ohio State, blowing out the competition. We're going to talk about that next. Stay close.
PAUL: So, Alabama and Ohio State are playing for the national championship. Alabama, I wish you the best.
AVLON: No, you don't.
PAUL: So, all I got to say -- yes, you know, he's only been here for two hours and he already knows me so well.
AVLON: I'm on to you.
PAUL: You are.
AVLON: All right, both teams rolled in the semi-finals and Andy Scholes is here. It's a bit of payback on a couple levels for those Buckeyes, Andy.
ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, and Christi's smile so much bigger this morning with that big Ohio State win. And you know, they had revenge on their minds coming to this game against Clemson after losing that thriller in the playoffs last year.
You know, adding fuel to that fire was Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney ranking the Buckeyes 11th in his final Coaches' Poll. And despite last night's result, Dabo said he didn't regret doing that because polls don't motivate you to play.
SCHOLES (voice over): I don't know about that because the Buckeyes certainly looked like a team on a mission last night.
Second quarter scary moment though for their quarterback Justin Fields scrambling, takes a massive hit right to the ribs from James Skalski. Skalski has been ejected for that hit. Fields came out for one play, return and he was rolling.
That touchdown there, you still don't see he's in a lot of pain, but he was able to fight through a six touchdown passes for Fields in this one. Buckeyes, they scored 21 unanswered in the second quarter to really blow this one open as Ohio State rolls beating Clemson, 49-28.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTIN FIELDS, QUARTERBACK, OHIO STATE: I know my body's going to be hurt tomorrow morning, but you know, it's worth it for this win and for my teammates. So, I think, you know, that's really what pushed me.
I was just thinking, you know, all the things that we've sacrificed as a team and that's really what got me through the whole game.
RYAN DAY, HEAD COACH, OHIO STATE: To come back and win after last year with all the trials and tribulations we've been through in the last, you know, 12 months, just couldn't be happier for this team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHOLES: All right, in the other matchup, we had Alabama, Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl. But the game has be played in Arlington, Texas because of COVID restrictions in California. And Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris, the play of the game right there.
The 6'2", 230-pounder leaping over the defender, and then going 53 yards. Harris running for 125 yards in the game. And Heisman favorite, DeVonta Smith just continuing his dominant season. He had three touchdown catches including this one. He took in from 34 yards out.
This one all Alabama, they beat Notre Dame 31-14.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICK SABAN, HEAD COACH, ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE: I kind of told the players in the beginning of the season that this was going to be a different kind of season that there'd be a lot of disruptions and a lot of things that we would have to adapt to, and the team that handled it the best would be the team that had the best chance to have success in the end. And these guys have done a fantastic job of doing that all year and that's why they are where they are right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHOLES: All right. So, they have the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide playing for it all Monday, January 11th, 8:00 Eastern. That's going be at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Alabama. It's their fifth trip to the title game in six years. It's Ohio State's first trip back to the big game since they won that inaugural playoff back in 2015.
SCHOLES (on camera): And you know guys, it's a great game on paper. Both teams undefeated, Ohio State 7-0, Alabama 12-0. The Crimson Tide more than a touchdown favorite right now, Christi. So, your Buckeyes going to have to pull off a little bit of an upset if they want to be national champs this summer around.
PAUL: I like underdogs. It's OK.
SCHOLES: More motivation, right?
SCHOLES: They do well with it.
PAUL: Andy, thank you so much.
AVLON: I tell you.
SCHOLES: All right.
AVLON: All right. Now, a tornado watch will remain in effect for east central Georgia until 8:00 p.m. tonight. This as a new storm system closes in on the East Coast.
PAUL: Tyler Mauldin is watching everything that's happening on. A Happy New Year to you, Tyler. Can you give us something to say Happy New Year to everybody else with the weather in the weather department?
TYLER MAULDIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST (on camera): Yes. Happy New Year, everyone. Unfortunately, we are going to see some dicey weather for our first weekend of 2021. The system that produced severe weather yesterday across the southeast is now up here across the northeast. And as it pushes out, another one is developing down across the Gulf of Mexico, and that will be rolling again later on today, and will affect the rest of our Saturday and our Sunday.
You can see the one weather maker producing snowfall, rainfall, and a little bit of ice up here across the northeast too. That's why we have the winter weather alerts in effect right now across New England where we could see an additional up to a foot in some parts of Maine, especially across extreme eastern Maine.
Here is the other weather maker that we're watching. It's developing very quickly. And once we get to this evening, we're really going to feel it up the mid-Atlantic, and then, come this time tomorrow guys, we will be dealing with snowfall across the Ohio River Valley, and rainfall and snow, across portions of the northeast.
AVLON: All right, Tyler Mauldin, thank you very much.
PAUL: So, the new CNN film, "JIMMY CARTER, ROCK AND ROLL PRESIDENT", shows how America's 39th president used his passion for music to win the 1976 election. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BONO, IRISH SINGER-SONGWRITER: Itinerant songsters visit our village. When some poets came to plains one night, two with guitars, their poems taught us how to look and maybe laugh at what we were and felt and thought. After that, I rushed to write in fumbling lines, why we should care about a distant starving child.
I found my words with seldom flow, and then I turned to closer, simpler themes. A pony, mama as a nurse, the sight of geese, the song of wales, a pasture gate, a racist curse, a possum hunt, a battle prayer.
I learned from poetry that art is best derived from artless things, that mysteries might be explored and understood from that which springs most freely from mind and heart.
As a teenager I began to hear a lot about this poetic figure who was running for president in the United States. He quoted Bob Dylan, who was at that time my actual president of the United States, my United States.
He campaigned with the Allman Brothers. You got the feeling if his hair was just a little longer, he'd be in the Allman Brothers. But this was the first world leader I ever heard who knew the words to all the songs that were my generation's telegraph;
One man comes in the name of love, one man come and go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL (voice over): "JIMMY CARTER, ROCK AND ROLL PRESIDENT" premieres tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. right here on CNN.