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New Day Sunday
U.S. Tops 350K Deaths, 32 Days Of 100,000-Plus In Hospitals Due To COVID-19; Twelve Republicans In Senate To Oppose Certification Of Biden's Win; Biden Campaign Invests At Least $18 Million In Georgia Runoffs; All Eyes On Georgia Ahead Of Crucial Senate Runoffs; Protests Mark One Year Since Soleimani Killing. Aired 7-8a ET
Aired January 03, 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)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. crossed another morbid pandemic threshold. More than 350,000 COVID-19 deaths reported since the crisis began.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to get this vaccine distributed, and get it out there faster and faster.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have seen elderly people literally camping out overnight trying to get that vaccine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least a dozen sitting and incoming senators say they'll object to the certification of the Electoral College votes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should point out many of these lawmakers that are going to object to the Electoral College results, they were on the same ballots.
SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER (R-GA): Like a great Georgia football game. We're in overtime, we got to win, we got to make sure we get the job done.
JON OSSOFF (D-GA), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Tuesday is it, the whole country is watching us. The whole country is watching you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: I want to wish you a very good morning on this Sunday, January 3rd. It is 2021. I'm Christi Paul.
JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Avlon, in today for Victor Blackwell.
Good to see you.
PAUL: Good to have you back with us, John.
So, as we're talking today, the U.S. is under an awful lot of pressure both from partisan politics and the pandemic. We have more than 350,000 people that have died as of today in this country because of the coronavirus. For the 32nd day in a row, more than 100,000 people are battling COVID-19 in a hospital.
Now vaccines are on the way. But getting people vaccinated, it's taking much longer than had been anticipated. There are 13 million doses that have been distributed thus far, but only 4.2 million people have received their first shot.
AVLON: And president-elect Joe Biden will inherit this crisis in just 17 days.
But before the inauguration on January 20th, a series of consequential steps begins today. So, in just hours, Nancy Pelosi faces re-election as speaker of the House, with 117th U.S. Congress set to be sworn in. On Tuesday, control for the Senate is up for grabs with the high- stakes runoff in Georgia. And then there's Wednesday, January 6th, and the final certification of Biden's win in Congress.
Normally this is pro forma, but a dozen Republican senators and senators-elect say they will back a futile attempt to undo the will of the voters by baselessly contesting the results of the election held exactly two months ago today.
PAUL: We're covering the story from all angles here. CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill. Sarah Westwood is at the White House. Jasmine Wright is with President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware.
Lauren, I want to start with you there on Capitol Hill.
Congress is convening today at noon. First of all, these 11 Republicans who announced their plan to object to the Electoral College vote yesterday, they say that they're trying to address allegations of voter fraud. They haven't presented any evidence of it thus far. Talk to us about who they are and why they're so willing to do this.
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, obviously, this is a significant step. It's a futile one, but it's essentially, these lawmakers are saying that they have doubts about the outcome of the election. And, of course, they are arguing that their constituents have doubts about the outcome of the election.
We should note there are -- there is no proof that there is anything wrong with the election results. And this is not going to change the fact that Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the United States. But it's going to be a circus on Capitol Hill. What we expect on Wednesday is that Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, will object to at least one state certification of their electors.
What that does essentially is in a joint session of Congress, they'll go state by state, walking through whether or not lawmakers want to certify the electors from each individual state. When Hawley objects, then the joint session will break up, members will be divided between the House and Senate. There will be a two-hour debate. Then they will vote on each of the objections.
Now if there's only one objection, it will be two hours of debate. But these senators being led by Senator Ted Cruz are essentially saying they don't believe in the election and they are going to vote for Hawley's objection.
Now, I am told there are still discussions about whether any of these senators being led by Senator Cruz will object on their own to other states. That could drag the process out even further and make this a very long day on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Again, this does not change the outcome of the election. This does not change the fact Joe Biden is going to be the next president. We have to underscore that and repeat it multiple times because it is so important.
AVLON: That is basic, but you know, Lauren, you describe this as a circus. This is a circus where it's the clowns versus the elephants. We're already seeing some Senate Republicans standing up to their colleagues. Tell us more about that.
FOX: Well, I think we should start out by saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he did not want Josh Hawley to go down this road.
He made it clear in a conference call on Friday essentially asking repeatedly for Hawley to explain his rationale. Hawley wasn't on the call, but you've heard many Republican senators saying that this is something they cannot believe their colleagues are going to do.
This is what Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from the state of Utah, said. He said, quote, the egregious play to reject electors may enhance the political ambition of some, but dangerously threatens our Democratic republic. The congressional power to reject electors is reserved for the most extreme and unusual circumstances.
These are far from it.
You have also heard from Senator Pat Toomey. A conservative member from the state of Pennsylvania. One of those states that Senator Josh Hawley has signaled he may object to. He has said this effort is futile. There's nothing wrong with what happened in Pennsylvania. We should note, of course, that Senator Pat Toomey is a retiring member.
PAUL: So let me ask you about Nancy Pelosi because that's something that's happening today. She's up for re-election as House speaker. Vote on that speakership is going to be happening.
Is there any doubt that she's going to hold on to power?
FOX: Well, look, this is always going to be a close vote. They have about a ten-seat majority at this point. That's the most narrow majority that any party has had in decades on Capitol Hill.
So just by virtue of the fact that she has a slim majority, this is going to be a tight race. She also has moderate members who have not said how they plan to vote. She has some liberal members who have not said publicly how they plan to vote.
We should note, of course, that the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has every tool at her disposal to win the votes. And I talked one of her colleagues, Democrat Gerry Connolly, who said, look, if there's thing the speaker knows how to do, it's how to count votes. But it is always about turning out the vote, and that is true today on Capitol Hill.
You have to have your members fly across the country from every corner of the country, amid a pandemic, get them in their seats to actually vote. You cannot vote by proxy, as many Democrats have been doing over the last several months during this pandemic for the speaker vote. That means that Jim Clyburn, the House whip as well as the House speaker have been making sure members get to Washington, D.C., on time.
Of course they had a few members who announced that they were positive for COVID, that includes Representative Gwen Moore. I'm told she's expected to be here today. So, that's where things stand.
Of course, you have other members dealing with health issues they're concerned about. So, it is all about turnout today in this election. I am told by the speaker's allies they are confident she's going to have the votes.
PAUL: All righty. Lauren Fox, good to see you this morning. Thank you.
AVLON: Thank you.
All right. Now, let's get reaction from the White House. CNN's Sarah Westwood is there.
Sarah, no surprise that President Trump is cheering on those 11 Republicans who came forward in his defense yesterday.
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, John, not a shock there, that the president was happy to see the senators join Senator Hawley in their pledge to object to the certification of the election results. And Trump suggested that perhaps he would like to see even more lawmakers come forward and pledge to do that.
He wrote, after they see the facts, plenty more to come, our country will love them for it. Of course, this move from the GOP at the moment is based on no facts, as Lauren mentioned, we should street. There's been no evidence on which to base this.
And dozens of courts have thrown out arguments that are similar to the ones that Republicans are making now. But nonetheless, the White House has been celebrating what they perceive to be a victory with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows praising the lawmakers who he said: We're ready to stand up for election integrity and object to certification. It's time to fight back. Fighting is how the White House has been framing this move. I've asked
the White House whether the president or any members of the administration had a heads-up that the Republican senators were discussed this. The White House at the moment won't say whether there was any kind of communication or coordination there.
But perhaps the most interesting statement to come out of this White House on this latest move was from the vice president's office and from specifically his chief of staff, Marc Short, because Pence has been relatively silent so far about the big role that he has to play on Wednesday. He's going to preside over the joint session of Congress where the Electoral College votes will be certified and where all of this drama is going to play out on Wednesday.
President Trump has been advocating and questioning why Pence isn't readying himself to do more to object, and privately CNN has reported that Pence and others have tried to explain that the role is more ceremonial than anything else.
I want to read you the statement from Marc Short: The vice president welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence. And again, this has been scrutinized intensely, and no evidence yet has come to light, Christi and John.
PAUL: Yeah. And with that said -- and the president continuing to lie about election integrity, he's scheduled to be in Georgia on the campaign trail for the Senate runoffs tomorrow.
But I think there's a lot of people wondering how is that going to work.
WESTWOOD: There's a huge question, Christi, because the president's message so far about election fraud has been really at odds with what Republicans are trying to do in Georgia which is to inspire confidence among GOP voters that the election was handled securely in November, and will be handled securely once again in January. So, they should trust the state to be able to count their votes and they should show up at the polls on Tuesday.
Trump has really been hammering the exact opposite message. And he's been specifically focusing on Georgia and attacking the Republican governor, attacking the Republican secretary of state. So that message has not been helpful necessarily, and there is a lot of concern that if Democrats win in Georgia, the president's baseless election fraud rhetoric could be to blame -- John and Christi.
AVLON: Sarah Westwood at the White House, thank you very much.
PAUL: Let's go to CNN's Jasmine Wright now in Delaware. She's following the Biden transition.
Jasmine, good to see you this morning. Talk to us about how the Biden team's reacting to all of this. JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN VIDEO PRODUCER: Hi, Christi. So the Biden team is
largely dismissing the latest plan by Republicans, and it fits into their larger posture that they are not really engaging with these attempts to overturn the election.
Mike Gwin, Biden's spokesperson, said yesterday in a statement that it was a stunt that won't change the fact that Biden will be sworn in on January 20th. He added that these claims were baseless and that they had been examined and dismissed by people within Trump's own administration.
And Biden took the same posture last month in December when he really praised the judges that upheld the election challenges. Take a listen to him here --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: They knew this election was overseen, was overseen by them, it was honest, it was free, and it was fair. They saw it with their own eyes, and they wouldn't be bullied into saying anything different.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: So in light of these attempts by some Republicans to overturn the election, the Biden team is really just moving along with their transition. They are filling out those cabinet positions with five still outstanding, including that of attorney general. They are previewing what they will do with -- in those first 100 days of office that are going to be focused on taking control of the coronavirus pandemic. They're really doing things that a typical incoming administration would do if a not-so-typical transition -- Christi.
AVLON: Well, Jasmine, this is no normal time, though. So we've got Joe Biden and Kamala Harris heading to Georgia for this runoff. What are they expected to say in their closing argument to voters of that state?
WRIGHT: Their closing arguments is telling Democrats and voters at large in Georgia to come out, to send these two men, Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock, to D.C. to help Biden gain control of the Senate for his incoming administration. And that's going to be the difference in -- in Biden attempting to pass some of these large-scale reforms that he promised during the general election, even the difference in possibly some of his own cabinet members becoming confirmed.
And so, aides tell us that Biden has invested a lot in the state and the Senate runoffs. They tell us that he has invested $18 million so far, $6 million going to staff and voter support, 12 of that million in fundraising. They've also recorded drive-time radio interviews during Election Day. And Harris, excuse me, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be in savannah later today.
Joe Biden himself will be there tomorrow, election night eve, to try to replicate that turnout that he got in November, really tapping into those communities of color, tapping into black voters, Asian American voters, those coalitions that brought him that win in November, flipping the state from red to blue for the first time since 1992.
So Biden's message is largely bring me a united Congress so I can -- I can produce results for you.
PAUL: All righty. Jasmine Wright, thank you so much.
AVLON: Thank you.
All right. Joining me now to discuss this is CNN political analyst Margaret Talev. She's the politics and White House editor for "Axios".
Good morning, good to see you, and happy New Year.
Margaret, I want to begin with statements from Senator Pat Toomey and Mitt Romney because I think they really frame the debate inside the GOP right now.
Here's Pat Toomey.
Quote, the senators justify their intent by observing there have been many allegations of fraud. But allegation of fraud by a losing campaign cannot justify overturning an election. They failed to acknowledge these allegations have been adjudicated in courtrooms across America and were found to be unsupported by evidence. Pretty rough stuff.
Now, here's Mitt Romney -- quote, I could never have imagined seeing these things in the greatest democracy in the world. Has ambition so eclipsed principle?
This is very tough principled talk from a senator from Pennsylvania, one of the states that's expected to be contested, according to Josh Hawley's initial statement, and Mitt Romney. Does that kind of principled argument carry sway among the Trump wing of the Republican Party at all?
MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, John, if you look at these dividing lines, you see this rift between what you would think of as more traditional Republicans and many of the Republicans who have either been elected because of Trump or on Trump's watch or who rose from the house to the Senate through their alliance with Trump, or, you know, some variables like this. So, you do see this rift in the Republican Party.
I want to take you back to almost five years ago, February, 2016, when Ted Cruz, now one of the dozen senators who's part of this effort, Ted Cruz accused by Donald Trump of fraud, of cheating in winning the Iowa caucuses and wanted -- Trump wanted a do-over in the vote to nullify Cruz's victory. So, Ted Cruz's takeaway from that experience five years ago was, don't get on the wrong side of Trump. Not to fight illegitimate claims of fraud or cheating in voting. But look, the group of senators who are behind this effort are
overwhelmingly from red states that voted strongly for Trump with an exception from Ron Johnson Wisconsin. You're thinking about primary challenges, they're thinking about how to survive as the bulb party finds its way -- Republican Party finds its way in the post-Trump era. And this debate next week is going to be cloaked around the principle of verifying results, what's the harm in making sure that there's no fraud. But that's not really what this is about.
AVLON: That's not at all what it's about. Let's be very clear. Their concern about confusion and questions and allegations of voter fraud is entirely due to the president's rhetoric and now their own actions. So this is circular logic at best. It's an insult to democracy at worst.
But here's my other question -- you mentioned 2016. As recently as 2015, Republicans had, what, I think 54 seats in the Senate, 247 in the House. I mention that because what if this were to happen again with similar margins? What would happen if both parties controlled the House and the Senate and chose to contest an election?
This sets a very dangerous precedent it seems to me that goes far beyond sort of talk about a kabuki coup.
TALEV: Right, it would put Congress in charge of deciding presidential elections. And I think, you know, when you look at the populist movement in both parties, a lot of that is about the people wanting their voices to be heard. Already you have the Electoral College which sort of dilutes or affects, you know, how the popular vote is expressed.
If you actually had Congress which has one of the lowest approval ratings of any group in the world other than journalists, if you had Congress deciding presidential elections, I think a lot of Americans would push back on that notion.
But it is all about how this debate is cast. And for the people with whom this challenge is resonating, they don't -- the argument is not being framed that way. That's really what is at stake here.
This is not just a concern about delegitimizing Joe Biden's legitimate win. It is about precedent that it sets in election cycles going forward. And, look, I think you may hear some talk about 1876 and how there have been challenges in past elections. That was just a completely different circumstance.
I mean, the race came down to one vote and there were allegations of credible fraud. There are not here. And courts in state after state have rejected these efforts to overturn the election results. And I think among the list of Republicans who you don't see in favor right now, including Lindsey Graham are real staunch defenders of the president politically who have said, okay, but it's a different thing to overturn a state's legitimate election results. And that's what could play out next week.
AVLON: Big time. Up you know, is 1876 is different and ended reconstruction with a corrupt bargain. But we don't need to go there right now.
Here's my question, you got four of these senators who join this group were elected in November, the senators-elect, and several of the House members signing on to contest the result are from Pennsylvania which has been basically singled out for fraud.
So, they're basically saying the election they were elected in is illegitimate.
I know logic isn't what we're dealing with, but this is so absurd on its face it needs to be called out.
TALEV: This has been one of the kind of enduring contributions of this line of argument, which is that nobody is questioning the legitimacy of their own election, they're questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. But none of that matters.
But here's -- there is a large degree of cynicism at work here. And a big part of the reason that some of the lawmakers feel comfortable moving ahead with these objections is because they know that it won't work. So, it leaves it to Mitch McConnell and some of the stalwarts of the old Republican Party to uphold the system of democracy that we have and give these other lawmakers the space to make these objections.
The objections not made on the basis of facts. There are no -- there are no legitimate concerns about the validity of the election results.
AVLON: I mean, Margaret Talev, thank you for framing that so well because the reality is those stalwarts of the Republican Party -- yes, they're standing up for the rule of law and democracy. It should not be a courageous stand, it should be basic.
All right. Margaret, thank you very much for joining us and making us all smarter. Have a good day.
PAUL: Still to come, the U.S. -- this is a tough one -- can now say more than 35,000 people have died from COVID, and hospitalizations above 100,000 for the 32nd consecutive day. We have more information on it in a moment.
AVLON: Plus, former CNN host and talk show legend Larry King is in a Los Angeles hospital with coronavirus. Details on his battle ahead.
PAUL: And 48 hours to the Georgia runoff. And the fight is ramping up. President Trump's going to be there on Monday, along with a man who is replacing eliminate 17 days, president-elect Joe Biden. What effect could their visits have in the final days of this campaign?
[07:20:10] PAUL: Well, the coronavirus has now killed more lives than the populations of Orlando or Cincinnati. Just to try put those numbers into perspective that we talk about. The vaccines are being distributed at much slower paces than what was promised. People are having to wait in really long lines just to get that first dose.
AVLON: We've also learned that CNN broadcasting legend Larry King is one of those hospitalized battling COVID-19.
And CNN's Polo Sandoval has more.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A staggering loss of life, more than 350,000 Americans now dead from the coronavirus. The context that's more than the populations of cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Lexington, Kentucky. Hospitalizations also showing no signs of slowing, staying above the 100,000-mark for the 32nd straight day. In hard-hit Los Angeles, doctors now warning that this is a big problem for anyone with any medical issue.
DR. BRAD SPELLBERG, CMC, L.A. COUNTY-UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MEDICAL CENTER: If you are in a car accident, you're going to want us to save rush hour rush hour life. If you have a heart attack or stroke, you're going to want an ICU bed with trained ICU nurses and physicians who are not caring for 20 other at the same time.
SANDOVAL: Former CNN host and talk show legend Larry King now among many hospitalized with the virus. A source close to the family telling CNN that the 87-year-old has been at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for over a week.
Meanwhile, frustrations growing over a slower than expected vaccine rollout.
JESSICA MALATY RIVERA, SCIENCE COMMUNICATION LEAD, COVID TRACKING PROJECT: It is a setback, and it is disappointing. I really think that, you know, states were kind of left to fend for themselves.
SANDOVAL: The CDC reports just four million vaccine doses have been administered in the United States. That's falling very short of the government's goal to reach 20 million people before the New Year. Just take a look at the scene in St. John's County, Florida. A line of cars stretching for more than three miles, some waiting for more than 13 hours to be one of just 600 people to get the vaccine. Everyone else was turned away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were lucky. We were able to get here. But many won't, and that's a concern I think for the public in general.
SANDOVAL: A similar scene unfolding in Houston. Mayor Sylvester Turner saying the volume of calls for appointments crashed the system.
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON: The call-in centers across the board received about 250,000 calls to date. And so the system literally was overwhelmed. SANDOVAL: And for those lucky enough to get the vaccine, remember, you
will have to come back in a few weeks for a second dose.
Polo Sandoval, CNN.
PAUL: And listen to this -- in just two weeks, Israel administered the coronavirus vaccine to more than a million people out of a population total of nine million.
CNN correspondent Elliott Gotkine is in Jerusalem.
How were they able to get it done?
ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are a number of reasons, and I mean, this popup vaccination center is kind of part of that reason in the way that they are setting up the centers to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. But I was speaking with the health minister, he said one of the main reasons is that Israel acted early to reach out to pharmaceutical companies, to ensure that they would have access to the vaccine. Another reason he said was that the HMOs here, which run the health service, they have computerized records of everybody and are able to reach out to all of the people that are in the at-risk groups, 60s, to tell them to come in.
I think this is probably the biggest lesson he said that other countries could learn from Israel is being proactive. Not just setting up a center and expecting people to come, but to actively reach out to people to tell them that they can come, that they're eligible, and to set an appointment.
Another reason that's specific to Israel is that the health system here is drilled in providing a mass vaccination, for example. They've been practicing it in the event, for example, of a biological attack. They're well set up for managing a mass vaccination campaign like this.
At the same time, although progress is going very well, indeed on a per capita basis, they've vaccinated here ten times as many people as the United States. We do understand that now the country because cases are rising so fast, they are still planning to tighten the lockdown that we are under right now. But on the plus side, the health minister tells us by March or April, they expect between 60 percent and 70 percent of all of those people eligible to receive the vaccine to be vaccinated. So that is the target.
PAUL: Elliott Gotkine, appreciate it so much. Thank you.
AVLON: All right. Back here at home, President Trump heads to Georgia tomorrow to stump for Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in those crucial Senate runoffs. But will his message be well-received by the voters? Well, we got a live report, next.
PAUL: Final push in Georgia right now. Tuesday's Senate runoff could determine the fate of the Biden administration's agenda.
AVLON: No question about it.
CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us now live from Atlanta.
Ryan, what are you seeing on the ground as we head down the final stretch?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there's so much at stake here in Georgia as both of you know. Control of the United States Senate is in the balance. So there's a ton of emphasis by both Republicans and Democrats to get their voters to the poll on the final day of voting on Tuesday.
And, of course, President Trump not making it easy for these Republican candidates with his continued attacks on the electoral system here in Georgia, sowing doubt that perhaps it will not be reliable for the runoff because he believes that he won the election in November, which he didn't. That forced the Republican secretary of state to go on television yesterday and make it clear that the system was safe and that the results in November were accurate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R), GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: We just have to accept the facts of what happened in the November election. Not happy with it, and many conservatives aren't either. But at the end of the day, we want to make sure that we have a fair, honest election coming up Tuesday. And that's what we'll fight for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: So, already more than three million votes have been cast during the early voting phase of the election. Now that wrapped up a couple of days ago. So the last leg of voting will be on Tuesday. So that meant the candidates were all across the state of Georgia yesterday, making their final pitch to voters.
Here's a sample of what they had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: We've had four years of bigotry and hatred and scandal and racism and gross incompetence that has killed countless Americans and left millions in financial distress.
Now it's on us to repair that damage.
SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER (R-GA): We went to Washington to work for you. We don't owe the swamp anything.
LOEFFLER: That's right. And we're going to keep doing that every day. We will never bring Washington to Georgia. We're going to take Georgia to Washington.
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I am feeling very encouraged by what's happening here on the ground in Georgia. We've had over three million people to vote already during the early period, and it is because they understand how much is at stake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: And there are going to be some heavy hitters in the state of Georgia here over the next 24 hours. The Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be in Savannah this afternoon. On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence will travel to a mega church about an hour outside of Atlanta. And then, of course, the president-elect, Joe Biden, will be here in Atlanta. And President Trump with what is perhaps the final rally of his presidency on Monday night, a lot of concern about what president Trump may say at that rally on Monday night.
Republicans hoping he focuses all of his efforts on getting his supporters out to support David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, but there's a very good chance he's going to spend just as much if not more time talking about his baseless claims about the November election. So much at stake here over the next couple of days, and all of the eyes of the political world here on Georgia -- John and Christi.
PAUL: Such a very good point. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much. Good to see you here.
Let's talk to political reporter for "The Atlanta Journal- Constitution" now, Greg Bluestein.
Greg, good to see you.
I'm wondering as we've seen all of these candidates -- and it has been relentless, I have heard some people say they feel like they're being stalked by -- by these candidates. The attacks, people coming to the door. So, they've got their ground games on.
But who do you think among these four candidates has the best advantage going into Tuesday? Who has done the best job thus far?
GREG BLUESTEIN, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: You're right. We Georgians are besieged. And what it is, it's a relentless effort to get turnout the base. So if you have a Democratic voting record in primaries, you're getting leaflets and mailers and calls and texts and digital ads targeted at you and vice-versa if you're a Republican primary voter.
And that's why it's hard to gauge to gauge Florida question, because these candidates, they're not going after the on the fencers, the middle of the roaders, they're going after the core constituents who they know will support your platform or your ideas. And so it's so -- my next-door neighbor could be getting a completely different message than my wife gets. And that just shows you how targeted these campaigns are right now, trying to go after that base.
AVLON: And, Greg, given that targeting, I mean, what really made the difference in the general election was a lot of suburban voters who usually vote Republican going for the Democrats. And so, that's one of the reasons the Trump factor is so fascinating, especially the effort by Ted Cruz and others to lead the coalition of senators to reject the electoral count.
You know, they're campaigning with Kelly Loeffler. She's walking a fine line on this issue.
How do you see that effort to contest the election playing out in advance of the runoff?
BLUESTEIN: Yeah, I talked to Senator Loeffler about that yesterday shortly after she campaigned with Senator Cruz in the suburbs of Atlanta. She said she's not made up her mind about that. She's focused on Tuesday.
But, of course, that's a day after the runoff so she'll have to make up her mind pretty shortly. Look, with President Trump hosting a rally for her on Monday, if he puts her to the test on that, it will be really interesting to see what she says. It's hard to see her saying no directly to his face.
No, that continues to be an issue that shadows the campaign, just how supportive will they be of President Trump. They've tried to put no distance between themselves and the president because they can't afford to lose his loyal base of supporters.
AVLON: Go ahead, Christi.
PAUL: I was going to say Biden only won by 12,000 votes in Georgia. So -- and John rightly pointed out a lot of people in suburba -- suburban Atlanta, Republicans voted Democrat, but knowing that there is perhaps a checks and balance system on the line here, if you've got the Democrats controlling both the House and the executive office, do you think that some of those Republicans may revert back to a Republican vote?
BLUESTEIN: Yeah, that's a great question. That's one of the questions of this campaign is that we've seen steadily the suburbs of Atlanta go blue. It's not a new thing. It started in 2016, and now, in 2020, it's full force. How many voters are voting Democrat as a rejection of President Trump rather than embrace the Democratic candidates and their ideals?
[07:40:07] And with the 12,000 margin of victory for Joe Biden here, that's why these Democrats have no room for error. And it's really hard to re- create the same coalition that Joe Biden created to win Georgia.
AVLON: But I think it does raise that question. Typically folks would say dividing government is a check and balance. But this effort to contest the election shows how much divided government in recent years has become dysfunctional government, unable to get big things done. Is that a disincentive for those swing voters, those remaining centrist Republicans who maybe don't like Donald Trump and didn't vote for him last time?
BLUESTEIN: Yeah, it definitely could be, you're right. In interviews with voters on the ground here, that comes up. At the same time, you know, it's -- as much as sometimes the Democrats could be accused of bringing up President Trump at every turn to try to re-create that groundswell here in Georgia that helped Joe Biden win, President Trump is not letting them forget about him, because he's tweeting baseless accusation accusations, unfounded grievances.
Just the other night, he tweeted that the Tuesday runoff is illegal and invalid, undermining his region for coming here Monday. It's conflicting messages that gives Democrats an opening.
PAUL: Greg Bluestein, we appreciate you so much. Thanks for getting up early for us.
BLUESTEIN: Thank you.
PAUL: And just keeping our fingers crossed that we have results on Tuesday night. That they actually come in Tuesday night.
AVLON: That would be the triumph of hope over experience there.
PAUL: Yeah, yeah.
AVLON: Ahead, a death could still have consequences for the United States a year later. Why the killing of an Iranian general by U.S. drone strike is still so significant for many in the region.
AVLON: Now to Iraq where crowds gathered at a memorial in Baghdad for General Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general associated with many deaths in the region who was killed 12 months ago in a U.S. drone strike.
Arwa Damon is in Istanbul with more on why his death remains significant -- Arwa.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are so many reasons for that. First and foremost because of the sheer shock and ripple effect that it created for Iraq, for Iran, and across the entire region, that the U.S. would carry out this kind of a killing on Iraqi soil.
What we have been seeing overnight and all day today is protests. Not just commemorating his death but also protests demanding that the Iraqi government actually carry out what parliament voted on last year after the U.S. killed Qassem Soleimani which was to remove U.S. troops from Iraqi soil.
Now, what's been interesting is that we heard from the leader of this paramilitary group that's known as Kataib Hezbollah. This is the same group that a few days before the killing of Qassem Soleimani last year tried to storm the U.S. embassy, angered over the killings of a number of its own members. They are saying that right now, they are not going to be attempting to storm or overtake the U.S. embassy, nor are they going to be attempting to overthrow the Iraqi government.
This is significant especially amid the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran with America speculating as to whether or not Iran actually poses a bigger threat now than it did a year ago, and, of course, as we unfortunately know only too well, the proxy battlefield between these two nations does end up being Iraq.
It is worth saying, though, that the vast majority of the Iraqi government wants nothing to do with the United States or Iran. They simply want to be left alone.
PAUL: Arwa Damon, appreciate the update. Thank you.
AVLON: Thank you.
PAUL: So I know that these times have felt really challenging and negative. So with that, we don't want you to miss this next story because it's proof that love can conquer even the toughest and one of the most unlikely circumstances.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, it's been kind of a crazy year and it's been really a fun ride to have you in my life. So, I want to know --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Holy crap!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. Is this happening?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you guys know this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yay. (CHEERING)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: All right. As if getting vaccinated isn't probably a feeling of life changing enough, this couple, nurse Eric Vanderlee, knew it would feel special giving his boyfriend Robby, who's an EMS supervisor, the COVID-19 vaccine. So, imagine how it felt seeing an engagement ring strapped to his arm when he got ready for the vaccination?
AVLON: Just wild.
Eric Vanderlee and Robby Vargas-Cortes join us now from Canton in South Dakota.
Congratulations to you both.
Eric, did you have any idea that Robbie would plan this?
ERIC VANDERLEE, REGISTERED NURSE: No. I absolutely had no idea. I didn't think I would ever be surprised. I thought I would know (AUDIO GAP), but it was crazy about this, he caught me off guard.
AVLON: That's great.
PAUL: Now, I understand, Robbie, that did you have this ring for three years? Is that right?
ROBBY VARGAS-CORTES, EMS SUPERVISOR: Yeah. It -- I bought it, and I just wanted to make sure that it was perfect. I needed the right time, the moment to ask him. And so, yeah. I've had it for a little bit. Yeah.
PAUL: So this definitely has been a year of such challenge, and I think a lot of introspection. What was it that happened in year specifically that made you decide this is it?
VARGAS-CORTES: It was just a tough year all around for everybody, and with getting the -- being able to get the vaccine, it was kind of like you know, opening a new chapter in our lives, just with that alone, and so I thought well, what better time, you know, what more memorable time to do it than to do it right when I was getting the vaccine?
AVLON: Kind of brings it altogether.
So, to both of you, what's your current experience like dealing with the current climate in the U.S., specifically in South Dakota where you're both on the front lines?
VANDERLEE: Well, I guess I can start. I start as an ICU nurse in this pandemic, so I did see a lot of very sick patients. And I am currently actually in school. So just kind of navigating our current climate has been challenging, and I actually lost my grandfather last month, so as much as I had seen in the hospital, the terrible patient conditions that I had seen, when it took my grandfather, it was -- it really brought everything closer to home, I guess. AVLON: For sure.
PAUL: I'm so sorry. Go ahead, Robby.
VARGAS-CORTES: For me has a paramedic, it's been hard to keep on top of all the PPE guidelines. You know, with being a supervisor, my first duty is keeping my staff safe. And so just staying on top of all that, and then with the change changing and how COVID effects everybody differently, it's hard to identify COVID patients. So it was just we would see people who weren't as sick all the way through to those who were having the super-difficulties with the disease itself.
AVLON: Yeah. Is there a message you want to get out to political leaders as two health care workers on the frontline in South Dakota?
VANDERLEE: I guess I just -- I don't know if I have a political message. More so just I think we just are feeling to grateful right now that we can have received well as a couple in South Dakota, a state that's very conservative, but we've been treated very well, and we're very thankful for that, I guess.
PAUL: Well, we congratulate the two of you. We wish you the very, very best, and we also want to thank you for what you're doing. You're doing some of the hardest work right now that anybody is doing in this country. And we recognize that, and we appreciate you, and just abundant blessings to both of you.
AVLON: Absolutely. We could all use the example that love wins.
VANDERLEE: Thank you.
PAUL: Thank you, gentlemen.
And thank you all so much for spending time with us this weekend.
John, thank you for the early morning hours. You are such a trooper.
AVLON: My pleasure. All right. My great pleasure.
"INSIDE POLITICS" is up next. But, first, here's a look at a CNN film you don't want to miss. It's great and premiers tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: One of the things that have held America together has been the music that we share.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jimmy Carter used music in politics.. It had never been done quite that way.
CARTER: I want to introduce to you, the Allman Brothers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He enjoyed our music and he became a friend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a kindred spirit of a very kind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A man you don't meet every day and you're lucky to meet if you ever do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jimmy and I basically come from the spot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We went to the White House, we will come in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His love for music makes sense to me because music is the voice of the heart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the music of shame and dissidence. There was a risk politically for that, and it didn't matter to him.
CARTER: I think music is the best proof that people have one thing in common no matter where they live, no matter what language they speak.
ANNOUNCER: "Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President", Sunday at 9:00 on CNN.
(END VIDEO CLIP)