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State of the Union

Interview With U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams; Interview With Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH); Interview With Georgia Senatorial Candidate Jon Ossoff; Interview With Stacey Abrams. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired January 03, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Falling short. America's vaccine rollout falls far behind schedule, despite promises to vaccinate tens of millions by the end of last year.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Of course, we need to be doing a better job. We are leaving no stone unturned.

TAPPER: Surgeon General Jerome Adams is here to explain what went wrong.

And denying reality. More and more Republicans in Congress say they will vote to block Joe Biden's electoral victory.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): There is no impetus to overthrow an election. It is a scam.

TAPPER: It's an effort doomed to fail, but at what cost to American democracy? I will ask the Republican governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine.

Plus: Georgia on our minds. Two days to go until George's critical run-off elections, with control of the United States Senate hanging in the balance.

JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The whole country is watching us. Georgia voters have so much power right now.

TAPPER: Can Democrats pull off another upset in the Peach State? Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams join me to discuss.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is facing a perilous start to 2021.

We are beginning the year with the pandemic at its most alarming level yet. December was the deadliest month of the pandemic so far in U.S. And the race to vaccinate Americans is stumbling out of the gate. Just more than four million vaccinations have actually been administered, not even close to the goal of 20 million shots in arms by the beginning of the new year.

And with around 3,000 Americans dying every day, what are the president and a big chunk of congressional Republicans focused on? Undermining the results of the election, essentially a bloodless coup, leading the Republican Party to a state of turmoil.

Saturday, 11 Republican senators said they would vote against counting electoral votes in Congress next week, calling for a -- quote -- "emergency 10-day audit of election returns," despite there being...


TAPPER: Pardon me -- despite there being no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

The group is following the lead of Senator Josh Hawley, who says he will formally object to Biden's decisive win, despite zero credible evidence that would justify such a move, zero.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska slammed Hawley and other members of the sedition caucus, saying -- quote -- "Adults don't point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government."

Late Saturday, Senator Mitt Romney said in a blistering statement -- quote -- "I could never have imagined seeing these things in the greatest democracy in the world. Has ambition so eclipsed principle?"

I want to note that we invited each of the 12 senators involved in plotting this disgraceful effort to come on the show this morning to try to defend and explain their position. Each of them declined or failed to respond.

It all recalls what Ulysses S. Grant once wrote in 1861 -- quote -- "There are about two parties now, traitors and patriots."

How would you describe the parties today?

But let's begin this morning on the pandemic and the vaccine.

Joining me now, the surgeon general of the United States, Dr. Jerome Adams.

Dr. Adams, Surgeon General Adams, we have a lot to get to, but, first, foremost on our minds right now, we're all thinking of your wife. She was hospitalized this week. She has complications from her cancer treatment.

I know you have not been able to visit her because of coronavirus restrictions. How is she? And tell us what it's been like for your family to go through this during the pandemic.

DR. JEROME ADAMS, SURGEON GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you so much for having me on, Jake.

And my wife, Lacey, is watching.

Hi, hon.

I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers that people have sent to us, because it really does matter. As a matter of fact, and I don't want to name-drop, but Oprah Winfrey called yesterday and wished her well. And that just lifted her up. You can't even believe how much that filled her heart with joy to know that someone like that was out there thinking about her and wishing her well.

But, as you mentioned, I want people to understand that, if you don't take precautions against COVID because you don't feel at risk, it can impact you, your family, your community in so many other ways.

I, as the surgeon general of the United States, had to drop my wife off at the front door and couldn't see her go into the hospital, hadn't been able to visit her, didn't know if she was going to have a hospital bed, because of all of the COVID precautions and because of the capacity issues that are present because of the virus.

If you have someone going into labor, or having a heart attack, or who gets into a car accident on an icy road, they may not have a bed because the ICUs are full.

So, I want your viewers to know that we need everyone to pull together, take these precautions, even if you don't feel at risk from COVID, because it has implications in so many other ways.

TAPPER: Well, our thoughts and prayers are going out to Lacey today.


Let's turn to the larger issue in the United States right now. You have said you're very concerned about this new surge of coronavirus cases. You have said you're concerned about what's going to happen after the holidays.

We have seen more than a million airline passengers a day for the last week. Based on what happened already, if we are right now experiencing 3,000 deaths a day in the United States, what should we expect two to three weeks from now, two to three weeks after Christmas?

ADAMS: Well, what I want people to know is, the projections are pretty -- pretty scary, but they're projections.

And what we do now matters. If you gathered over the holidays outside of your household without a mask, there are still measures you can take right now. You still can self-quarantine. You still can get tested, knowing that greater than 50 percent of the spread now is among people who are asymptomatic.

You still can wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance. And if we do that, we will be able to temper this surge. I want people to understand that, in the midst of tragedy, I'm still optimistic.

Less than a year after getting this virus sequenced, we have -- we're going to have 20 million doses delivered within a month after -- after actually getting the EUA. I want people to understand that, if we get over this current surge, then things will start to get better.

But it depends on the actions that we all take right now.

TAPPER: The EUA, of course, is the emergency use authorization that was given by the FDA.

But let's talk about this, because, on December 14, you told me that those 20 millions -- you said there would be 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of the year. Take a listen.


ADAMS: If we can do that, then we can help protect everyone as we wait for more and more these doses to come out, 20 million people vaccinated in December. It will be up to 50 million by January and 100 million by February.


TAPPER: OK, that obviously did not happen. We're only at four million right now, and we're into January.

What went wrong?

ADAMS: Well, I want people to understand that the projections we were putting out were based on what we could control at the federal level.

And we did deliver on 20 million doses delivered, but you're always going to have more doses allocated vs. delivered, delivered vs. shots in arms.

And I just want to be frank. When you ask what went wrong, we have to understand that this virus also occurred in the midst of a surge. And a lot of the local capacity to be able to vaccinate was being used for testing and responding to surges.

We have to understand that it occurred over the holidays. And people in health departments and in hospitals take holiday breaks too. But the good news is that we're seeing it quickly ramp up, thanks to our state partners. In the last 72 hours, we saw 1.5 million first shots reported.

If you extrapolate that out -- and many people are extrapolating numbers -- that's 500,000 a day.

But I want everyone to know that over the next week or two is when we really should be paying attention closely and making sure we continue to see this ramp up. And I expect that it will.

Dr. Messonnier from the CDC has said that we are seeing this ramp up, and we expect to see it rapidly ramp up into the new year. And I want people to have hope. I want them to have hope that the vaccines delivered are being translated more and more into shots.

What I'm most concerned about, and you and I talked about Jake, the last time, is actually uptake. And you have got Governor DeWine coming on. I saw an article last week that 60 percent of his nursing home workers refused the vaccine.

That's something that I'm terribly concerned about.


ADAMS: We have to make sure not just we get vaccines there, but that people accept them.

TAPPER: And we will ask about that.

But, just to be clear, you did say 20 million Americans vaccinated in December. That did not happen. And there are a lot of people who are...

ADAMS: That was my hope.

TAPPER: Well, we have hope, and everybody wants to feel optimistic, but, also, the Trump administration has shown itself sometimes to have the policy position of just letting the states, putting every -- passing all the buck to the states.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, he called the lack of vaccine progress inexcusable, woefully behind. He proposed several ideas, such as mobilizing all medical workers, creating a schedule for vaccination, saying -- quote -- "I know that, when something isn't working, you need to acknowledge reality and develop a plan, particularly when hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake."

Do you acknowledge what Romney's saying here, that this isn't working, and something needs to change?

ADAMS: Well, again, I'm telling you that things are changing, with 1.5 million doses in the last 72 hours. That's meaningful change.

And I -- we're working with the governors. We're working with everyone to make sure we improve upon this process. I don't want anyone to think I'm being Pollyannish here. There's what we delivered, and we hope that those will be translated into vaccinations. That has not occurred to the way that we would like.

But, as Tony Fauci has said, this was always going to be the most difficult vaccine rollout in history, even if it wasn't superimposed on a surge and a holiday season.


And so I want people to understand that four million vaccinations reported being delivered by the end of the year, when many of the people who were saying it was a failure were saying we wouldn't have any vaccinations by the end of this year, is something that we can build upon.

And we commit to continuing to build upon that. I have been traveling and working with the states and the governors. And if anyone has suggestions, we're listening. The task force, we're working every single day trying to figure out how we can help the states, $300 million delivered to the states so far, plus billions more in the new bill.

Thank you, Congress, for delivering on that. We want to make sure they have the resources. The Commissioned Corps, which I help lead with Admiral Giroir...


ADAMS: ... is being deployed, National Guard. We're using everything to get these vaccines into arms.

So, not Pollyannish. There's projections, there's reality, and then there's what we're doing to improve. We're going to work to improve with the states. And I commit to the American people that you have got 100 percent of my focus, my attention, and the Commissioned Corps' focus and attention to make this happen.

TAPPER: Unfortunately, we don't have 100 percent of the president's focus. He's focused on trying to undo the results of the election.

And when he mentions COVID, he says things like what he just tweeted, another lie about coronavirus this morning.

He tweeted: "The number of cases and deaths of the China virus is far exaggerated in the United States because of the CDC's ridiculous method of determination compared to other countries, many of whom report purposely very inaccurately and low. When in doubt, call it COVID. Fake news."

That is not true. The CDC does not have a guideline of, when in doubt, call it COVID. That is not the case. And 350,000 Americans have died from coronavirus.

Can you tell the American people, including the families and friends of those who have died from coronavirus, that that is the real death toll?

And what is it like, as the surgeon general, when the president of the United States spreads these lies about the pandemic?

ADAMS: Well, Jake, you and I have talked about this.

And one of the most challenging things about this entire pandemic from all sides has been trying to get health information to the American people in the midst of the politics.

And I don't speak for the president. I speak for the Office of the Surgeon General and the Public Health Service. And I'm focused on making sure people can get the information they need. Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance.

TAPPER: Is the death toll real?

ADAMS: Get your vaccine when it becomes available.

TAPPER: Is the death toll real? Three hundred and fifty thousand dead Americans, is that real? Is that an actual number? Or does the CDC have a bogus way of, when in doubt, call it COVID, as the president falsely claims?

ADAMS: From the public -- from a public health perspective, I have no reason to doubt those numbers.

And I think people need to be very aware that it's not just about the deaths, as we talked about earlier. It's about the hospitalizations, the capacity. These cases are having an impact in an array of ways. And people need to understand that there's a finish line in sight, but we have got to keep running towards it.

TAPPER: A new strain of coronavirus that's likely more contagious was first reported this week in Colorado. Now cases have been found in California, Florida.

Is it safe to assume, do you assume that this new strain is already widespread across the U.S.?

ADAMS: Well, it's hard to say if it's widespread or not, but it is here. It's in many other countries.

And the most important thing for people to know is that, talking with our colleagues in the U.K., talking with Tony Fauci, who I had a conversation with for a long time yesterday, we do not so far feel that this new strain or these new strains will be resistant to the vaccines or to the therapeutics that we have available.

So, that's good news.

But, if you feel that there's a strain out there that is more contagious -- and it looks like these new strains may be more contagious, even if they're not more deadly -- it means that it's even more important that we follow these basic public health measures and that we get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

So, the bottom line is, we have the tools, regardless of the strain, to be able to defeat this virus. We just need the will to actually follow through and do the things that we know will help us.

TAPPER: Surgeon General Adams, last question for you.

Have you spoken to the man who, if confirmed, will be your replacement, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who has actually served as surgeon general before? And what's next for you?

ADAMS: Well, we all -- we all talk all the time, the former surgeons general. And Vivek is a friend.

But, for me, I'm in this strange limbo, because I actually have a Senate-confirmed position that goes through September. So, I'm just going to keep working to serve the American people.

Again, I am not Trump's surgeon general. He's not Biden's -- or he's not Obama's surgeon general and won't be Biden's surgeon general. We're the United States' surgeons general. And I'm going to keep working to try to make the U.S. the healthiest place it can be, give people the facts that they need, regardless of the politics. And I just always appreciate the opportunity to have that conversation

with you.

Have hope. Have hope. Vaccines are coming. We need to get shots in arms. And we're going to keep working with local partners to make that happen. And we need to keep following the W's, wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance, and have the will to actually do the things that we know work.

TAPPER: All right, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, please give Lacey our best wishes. We're all thinking about her and praying for her today.


ADAMS: Thank you.

TAPPER: As COVID-19 hits unimaginable levels, 12 Senate Republicans are now planning to support President Trump's attempt at a bloodless coup in Congress this week.

We're going to get reaction from Republican Governor Mike DeWine next.

And Georgia voters to decide the Senate balance of power in two days. Millions have already weighed in. We're going to talk to the Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff and Stacey Abrams.

Stay with us.



SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): The consequences to the republic of overturning a democratic election because you don't like the result, because you believe that that election was somehow corrupted, when, in fact, the evidence shows that it was not, talking about how elections can't be trusted, that's an interesting approach.

I think it's crazy, frankly.


TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

What a difference a year makes. That was Republican Senator Josh Hawley last January criticizing the Democrats' arguments during President Trump's impeachment trial.

I'd like to introduce Senator Josh Hawley to Josh Hawley, who is now leading the charge, with no factual basis, that has garnered 11 Republican supporters in the Senate to vote against the legitimate election of Joe Biden.

Joining me now to discuss this and many other issues, Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio. Governor, first, congrats to -- on the Buckeyes.

We have a lot of coronavirus and vaccine news to get to.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): I'm very happy about that.

TAPPER: Well, some...

DEWINE: That's great news.

TAPPER: One small light for you there.


TAPPER: I have to begin by asking about what's going on in your party right now and the Electoral College vote count on Wednesday, including a number of House Republicans from Ohio. And I'm not sure what Senator Portman is going to do.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska says the president and his allies, by fomenting this effort to vote against Joe Biden's legitimate win, he says they're -- quote -- "pointing a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government."

Do you agree?


DEWINE: Jake, I think we need to put this in kind of historical perspective.

First of all, the framers of our Constitution set up a system that has worked, and it's worked exceedingly well. We do this -- we do this well.

Second, if you go back -- I was in Congress in 2005, when we had some Democrats who wanted to challenge and did challenge Ohio's election. And there was no basis for that. That did not work. So, this is not the first time that this has happened.

We're only, what, 17 days away from Inauguration Day. Are there some problems in the system as far as potential fraud or fraud that occurred? Yes, but there's not -- we have not seen anything that rises to the level that would have changed the outcome of the election.

I think Senator Portman -- you mentioned Senator Portman. I think Senator Portman has a good proposal. And that proposal is to get two very distinguished people in this country, Democrat and Republican, have a commission, and to take a hard look at voter security.


DEWINE: We have a lot of people in this country who -- who are very concerned about it.

TAPPER: Because they have been lied to, Governor. DEWINE: And with the change in...

TAPPER: Governor, because they have been lied to by President Trump for -- for weeks.

DEWINE: No, no, no. Jake, Jake, hold on. Jake, time-out a minute.

Let's stay at the big picture. The big picture, with changes in technology, potential hacking, all of these things, we need to have a commission, as Senator Portman says, that takes a long look at this, not something you can do in 10 days, but to take a look at this.

Why is this important? If for no other reason than to -- there's a lot of people out there who are questioning this election. People need to have confidence in the system.


DEWINE: And if you put together a bipartisan commission, that, I think, for the long run is something that really, really should take place.

TAPPER: So -- but, Governor, here's the thing.

First of all, in 2004-2005, that was a handful of Democrats. It was an effort that was completely disavowed by Senator John Kerry, who had just lost the election. There was no -- it was -- there were not big numbers about this.

The president -- or the Democrat in that case were -- was not calling for an overturning of the election. I'm not excusing those votes, but you cannot even remotely compare it.

Look, you were one of the first Republican officeholders to acknowledge the reality of Joe Biden's win. There are Republican senators -- this is -- don't forget me. Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, others, there are Republican senators who say that people in your party are doing real, lasting damage to American democracy by fully embracing these dangerous conspiracy theories.

Whatever blue-ribbon commission you and Portman want to set up, that's fine. I don't care.

But this isn't about actual allegations of legitimate fraud. This is about fomenting lies in order to undermine the democracy. It's very different.

DEWINE: Jake, you -- you can make that point, but I will go back to my point. I think it's valid as well.

And what's valid about it is that we have a lot of people in this country who are questioning this election. That's a problem for us.

TAPPER: But why? Why? Why do you think they are?

DEWINE: Why? Look, you can go through why. The question for us is, what do we do

about it? And what we need to do about it is to, again, get some very well-respected people from both parties. Take a look at this. Now, I'm not saying they take a year to do it. But take a look at this and see, how are elections being run?

Look, I'm biased, but I think Frank LaRose, who's our secretary of state, and Ohio's system and former secretary of states in Ohio, Democrat and Republican, have done a phenomenal job. I think Ohio does it very well.

For example, when we -- when we do mail ballots -- we have done this for a number of years -- we have verification, based on these mail ballots.


DEWINE: I think Ohio sets a very high bar. And that's what we're used to dealing with in the state of Ohio.

And I think, frankly, that should be the bar across the country.

TAPPER: So, we...

DEWINE: I'm not saying other states don't do it well.

But I'm saying we have to restore confidence in the people in this -- in this process. You can go through and talk about why we have this. The reality is, it's not healthy...


DEWINE: ... in our system for that many people to think the system's not working.

TAPPER: Well, the why...

DEWINE: It's not.

TAPPER: I want to turn to COVID, but let me just make two points.

One is...


DEWINE: Yes, I would like to, because that's what I work on every day.

TAPPER: I know.

The one -- the why is important, because the why is that President Trump and his minions -- I'm not including you, and I'm not including Portman -- but President Trump and his minions have been lying to people for weeks now about this election.

And, because of that -- these people have been lied to -- they now have concerns. So, that's the reason.


And the solution is, they should stop lying.

The second point is, whatever blue-ribbon...

DEWINE: Well, it's not that simple.

TAPPER: It is that simple.

DEWINE: There are some interesting -- there are some -- no, no.

TAPPER: Let me just finish my second point.

DEWINE: Because there are some concerns that people can have.


TAPPER: The second point is, whatever blue-ribbon commission comes -- is formed, and whatever they conclude, President Trump will attack them, the same way that he has attacked every single Republican who has stood up for election integrity, whether it is the governor of Arizona, or the governor of Georgia, or the commissioner of Philadelphia, who's a Republican, or -- I could -- the Maricopa County Board of Canvassers.

I could go on and on.

But let's turn to COVID, because I know that's what you're focused on.

DEWINE: Well, let me -- let me say one more thing, then.

The system works.

TAPPER: Right.

DEWINE: The judicial system -- you and I have talked -- had this talk before -- it has worked.

You have had -- you have had Republican-appointed judges all the way to the United States Supreme Court who have made decisions. And I remember we had Democrats who said, oh, they won't be able to make good decisions. They have made decisions.

TAPPER: Right.

DEWINE: And it should restore some trust that people -- and the system does, in fact, work.

The judicial system works, and our mechanism for electing a president of the United States works. It works.

TAPPER: Well, tell your colleagues, because they're the ones who aren't -- who are not agreeing with it.

But let me just at least ask you, in the...

DEWINE: Let's talk about COVID.


Ohio's administered about 150,000 vaccine doses so far. You said you're not satisfied with the rate of vaccinations. President Trump is blaming governors such as yourself for the vaccination shortfalls.

He tweeted -- quote -- "Some states are very slow to inoculate recipients, despite successful and very large-scale distribution of vaccines by the federal government."

Is President Trump right that this is a failure of state leadership?

DEWINE: Jake, first of all, we have to have -- and I said this last week in a press conference -- every one of us, from the governor all the way through, everybody has to have a sense of urgency of getting these shots out, because they are lifesavers.

And any time you have the vaccines sitting on a shelf and not out, we have a problem. And I made that point to everyone in the state of Ohio last week.

Look, we're doing pretty well in Ohio. We have got today -- I just looked at the numbers -- I think it's 160,000, it's 161,000, we're going to report today, shots that have been done.

We made a decision to go after the places and the people who are the most vulnerable. Over half the people who've died in Ohio have died in nursing homes. As of today, as of close of business last night, 61 percent of our nursing homes had had the first shot.

And so we're very happy about that. In another week, we will be at 80. Another week after that, we should be basically done with the first round of our shots in nursing homes.

We're also going to move within the next few weeks starting probably at the age of 80, and then working down very quickly through that, because, if you take people 65 and over, it is the vast majority of deaths that we have seen. And so we have a moral imperative to move just as quickly as we can.

And what I have told the people behind and I have told our team is, look, we cannot control how much vaccine is coming to Ohio every week, but we have an obligation to get that vaccine out. And we have...


TAPPER: Right, get it into arms.

DEWINE: To get it in arms just as quick as we can.

And things are picking up in Ohio, and we're moving.

TAPPER: What do you need from the federal government that it's -- that they're not doing right now?

DEWINE: Look, I'm very happy with the bill.

Look, could we use more money? Sure, we can always use more money. But the bill is very, very helpful.

We, in Ohio, I have told everybody, look, let's don't worry about what we can't control. Let's worry about what we can control. And what we can control is what we do with this vaccine when it comes in, how we prioritize it, how we get it in people's arms.

And we have got health care workers out there who are working every day to get this done. We have got the pharmacy -- pharmaceutical -- excuse me -- the pharmacy companies, Walgreens, for example, CVS, doing a phenomenal job in our nursing homes.

So, we just got to -- we got to stay at it. We want to get our kids back in school.


DEWINE: We have also prioritized our kids.

And we hope, by March 1, to have every kid back in school in the state of Ohio.

TAPPER: You just heard the surgeon general say he's concerned that 60 percent of Ohio nursing home workers have elected to not get vaccinated.

That's, frankly, a terrifying statistic, given the loss of life we have seen in nursing homes, which you just noted.

DEWINE: Yes. Yes. And, of course, I...

TAPPER: You said you're not -- you said you're not going to mandate vaccinations, but do you think nursing homes and other health institutions should require their employees?


DEWINE: Look -- look, that's up to them,

But I think, Jake, this is an education. What we have seen is -- and I'm the one who came up with the number, and I said, look, this is what we're seeing. And my guess is, frankly, Ohio isn't much different than any other state, that, the first round, we're seeing only about 40 percent of the employees at nursing homes are taking the shots.

Now, they're going to get another chance. We're going to come back again. As we come back to give the second shot to the people who got it the first time, they're going to get a chance again. And I urge them -- and I will make this plea right now to anybody who works in a nursing home.

[09:30:00] You are there working very hard. You have great -- you have a risk. But, also, the people in that nursing home have a risk. And this shot does work and is, in fact, very, very safe.

And we -- what we have seen, Jake, is that the nursing homes that have come up with a good education plan before the person had to make the decision do they get a shot or not, they're seeing their compliance rate go up significantly from that 40 percent.

So, this is a work in progress. I just wanted to put that 40 percent number out there, because it's what we're seeing. And it is, as you say, alarming, as the surgeon general said, and we have got to improve it.

TAPPER: Yes, absolutely.

Governor DeWine, we will have you back to talk more about the progress you're making with the fight against COVID.

Thanks for your time today. Appreciate it.

DEWINE: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Look no further than the fight over $2,000 checks to see how crucial the battle for the Senate is, with two days until Georgia decides the balance of power in the Senate.

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff joins me next.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

These are contests that could define Joe Biden's presidency and your future.

In two days, George's two run-off Senate races will decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and how much the next president will be able to accomplish when it comes to health care, or COVID, climate change, so many other huge issues.

Joining me now is Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Georgia Jon Ossoff.

We should note, we have repeatedly invited both Republicans, Senator Perdue, whom Ossoff is running against, and Senator Loeffler, to join us. Repeatedly, they have declined every time, including this Sunday.

Mr. Ossoff, thanks so much for joining us.

President Trump is coming to Georgia to hold a rally tomorrow night. We know that, historically, he's been pretty good at driving up Republican turnout. Are you concerned that his visit will motivate his base to show up on Election Day? [09:35:10]

OSSOFF: No, I'm not.

And thank you for having me, Jake.

I'm not concerned about that. What I can't figure out is, given that Mitch McConnell is currently snubbing and disrespecting President Trump, overriding his veto of the NDAA and refusing to move the $2,000 stimulus checks that President Trump and president-elect Biden and the American people support, why President Trump wants to work so hard to try to save Mitch McConnell's majority, when McConnell is treating Trump as an irrelevant lame-duck president.

TAPPER: Interesting psychological warfare there by you.

Your opponent, Senator Perdue, says he's quarantining after he was in close contact with somebody who tested positive for coronavirus. He's campaigning remotely now. What's your reaction? Do you think this might affect the race?

OSSOFF: Well, I hope that David and his wife, Bonnie, remain healthy and free of COVID. And I wish the best for their staff and supporters.

And this just speaks to the need to take this virus very seriously, to fully resource the public health response, to get economic relief to people who are hurting, because this disease continues to ravage Georgia. It continues to ravage the country.

I'm glad they're taking those precautions. And I urge everybody who's tuned in right now into this new year to take precautions, maintain social distancing, follow CDC guidelines to stay healthy.

TAPPER: You attacked Senator Loeffler this week, Loeffler, who is running against Democrat Raphael Warnock.

You said that -- quote -- "Kelly Loeffler been campaigning with a Klansman" -- unquote.

That's not true. I mean, there -- it is true that a former member of the Klan took a photo with Senator Loeffler at a campaign event. Her campaign says she didn't know who he was at the time, and she has condemned him.

I'm sure you have taken photos with thousands of strangers. Isn't it important for candidates to tell the truth?

OSSOFF: It is.

And it's even more distressing that this isn't an isolated incident. Kelly Loeffler has repeatedly posed for photographs and been seen campaigning alongside radical white supremacists.

And I believe they're drawn to her campaign, because her campaign has consisted almost entirely of racist attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and on the black church. And so the fact that these elements continue to be drawn to her, to

support her, to campaign alongside her, to appear in photos next to her is deeply distressing. And it's happening at the same time that Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and Georgia Republicans are mounting a vicious assault on voting rights in Georgia, lawsuit after lawsuit to disenfranchise black voters, purge the rolls, remove ballot drop boxes.

And I believe that one of the reasons we're seeing such record- shattering turnout in Georgia right now is that Georgians are defying those efforts to rip away their voting rights and standing up and saying, we're going to make our voices heard.

TAPPER: All right. But, just to be clear, she was not campaigning with a Klansman. That wasn't true, what you said.

Stacey Abrams, who I'm talking with shortly, refused to concede the gubernatorial election in Georgia in 2018. She didn't challenge it, but she didn't say that Kemp was elected legitimately.

President Trump has not conceded Georgia in 2020. You have been attacking Republicans constantly for voter suppression in Georgia. Win or lose, are you going to accept the results of the election on January 5?

OSSOFF: I will. And I believe that we will win on Tuesday because of the grassroots momentum, the unprecedented movement energy in Georgia right now.

Look, this is the state of Georgia. Think about how far we have come, Jake. We're the most competitive battleground state in the country. We're hosting two United States Senate run-offs for control of the United States Senate. The Democratic standard-bearers are the young Jewish son of a journalist -- excuse me -- the young Jewish son of an immigrant mentored by John Lewis and a black pastor who holds Dr. King's pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

We are bringing so many young people into the electorate. We are empowering people to make their voices heard. My campaign made a million phone calls to voters yesterday alone, knocking on tens of thousands of doors.

We have hired thousands of young people, predominantly people of color, to organize their own communities and their own peer groups. And it feels in Georgia like we are on the cusp of a historic victory that will usher in a new era in American history, after four years of gross incompetence and racism and hatred and bigotry.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, you would be the youngest U.S. senator elected since 1981 if you win. You have never held elected office before. You had worked as one of thousands of Capitol Hill staffers. And then you ran a documentary film company.

During the 2020 primary, Pete Buttigieg suggested that his privilege as a white man may have played a role in his success. And I wonder, do you feel the same way about yourself? OSSOFF: The opportunities that I have had in my life have put me in

the position to pursue this service that I seek to render to the state of Georgia.


Both of my parents were the first in their families to graduate college. My mother immigrated to this country alone as a young woman when she was 23 years old. And I'm grateful that their success allowed me, for example, to graduate college without debt, a privilege that so many Americans don't have, to pursue service in public service and as a journalist.

I lead a business that's exposed war crimes, political corruption, judicial corruption, human trafficking.

And now I want to serve the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate so that others can have the opportunities to pursue their dreams, so that we can expand the Pell Grant program, so that young people don't have to take on debt to get a four-year degree from a public college or an HBCU, to raise the minimum wage, so that people working an honest week's work don't just barely survive, but thrive.

I have a heart for the people of Georgia and a heart for justice. And I look forward to serving them in the U.S. Senate.

And I thank you for having me on the show, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jon Ossoff, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

Could the Georgia races become another multinight affair?

Stacey Abrams, with her ear to the ground in Georgia politics, weighs in next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

She helped Joe Biden pull off the improbable in Georgia in the 2020 election. Now she's fighting to keep the blue streak alive in Georgia.

And joining me now, former gubernatorial candidate, the founder of voting rights organization Fair Fight, Stacey Abrams, also the author of "Our Time Is Now."

Leader Abrams, let me start by asking you your reaction to the news that at least a dozen Republican senators plan to object on Wednesday to the Electoral College results. Senators Loeffler and Perdue have not yet set -- said where they stand on this, but they have otherwise sided with President Trump's false conspiracy theories about the election, going so far as to attack Georgia Republican election officials.

[09:45:16] What's your response to this moment in American democracy?

STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT: I think it's important for all of us to recognize that no one is entitled to victory.

The only obligation we have is to ensure that every voter has the right to have their voice heard. That's what I fought for after my election. I never challenged the outcome of the election. I challenged the system that denied access to the right to vote.

And I find it very troubling that, instead of fighting to make certain that every voter can have their vote counted, that, instead, they're challenging on -- in an attempt to declare victory for someone who clearly lost the election.

TAPPER: So, as of right now, three million Georgians have already voted ahead of the Tuesday run-off elections.

That's below the number that had voted at this point ahead of the November election, when neither Ossoff nor Warnock was able to get 50 percent of the vote.

Now, experts with whom I have spoken say that, unless there is some miraculous outpouring of Democratic voters on Election Day, they think it's going to be really tough to defeat Loeffler and Perdue.

What do you say to that?

ABRAMS: I think that we had an incredibly strong showing both in vote-by-mail and in early voting.

I think it's important to recognize that, in 2008, only 2.1 million Georgians participated in the run-off election. And so crossing the three million mark already before Election Day is, I think, a very strong signal.

I think it's also important to look below those numbers, to the 100,000 voters who did not participate in November's election who turned out. And those 100,000 are disproportionately comprised of people of color and young voters, who are both more likely to vote for Democrats.

This is going to be a very tough battle, but it is absolutely within the realm of possibility, in fact, the realm of likelihood, that Democrats can win.

TAPPER: CNN wasn't able to call Georgia for Joe Biden until 10 days after the November election. And that, of course, was followed by multiple recounts, audits, court challenges.

When do you expect we will know definitively who won Tuesday run-off elections?

ABRAMS: That's going to depend on Election Day turnout.

But I do think it will take at least a couple of days, because we had once again a very strong usage of vote-by-mail. And that means that, especially in the midst of COVID, voters still take their responsibility seriously, but want to remain safe.

And so one of the reasons I'm so deeply disturbed that Republicans, instead of using this signature match audit that they conducted that prove that it was 99.99 percent accurate, they're instead arguing that it needs -- that now's the time to rescind access to vote by mail because too many voters used the process.

TAPPER: In the 2018 gubernatorial race, you cited allegations of voter suppression as your reason for refusing to call Brian Kemp's win legitimate. Now, you didn't challenge it in courts, but you obviously said that you had serious issues with it.

Right now, Jon Ossoff is accusing Republicans of trying to suppress and disenfranchise black Georgian voters. How do you explain to a swing voter, say, in suburban Atlanta who looks at all this and says, hey, how come when Joe Biden wins, Democrats say everything went swimmingly, but, when Democrats lose or are setting the stage to potentially lose, then, all of a sudden, the fix is in?

ABRAMS: We have been very consistent about the description of and the discussion of voter suppression.

Any attempt to prevent or discourage a voter from casting their ballot is voter suppression. And between 2018 and 2020, we had successful lawsuits, as well as successful legislation, that actually expanded access to the right to vote, including eviscerating the exact match program, expanding access to vote-by-mail by making certain that signature match protocols were used uniformly across the state.

But we also did the work of ensuring that elections workers had the resources they needed to support the vote.

What Jon is referring to is the True the Vote challenge to 364,000 Georgia voters based on the pretext that, because they may have forwarded their mail to another location because of military deployment, because of being students, or because of temporary work assignments, that they're suddenly invalid voters.

That is absolutely untrue. It is an unfounded idea. And we know that a court has actually said they're deeply disturbed by what they're seeing. So Jon is simply responding to True the Vote, which is an organization out of Texas that has a long history of voter intimidation and voter suppression, and they have decided to bring their wares to Georgia.

TAPPER: But you think that, no matter what happens on Tuesday in the run-off elections, whether it's Ossoff or Warnock or Perdue or Loeffler, whoever wins, whoever loses should accept the results of the election?

ABRAMS: I have never fought to overturn the outcome of the election. I have only ever fought to ensure that voters have the right to be heard.


And as long as the system permits voters to cast their ballots and have those votes counted, as opposed to being unlawfully challenged based on spurious information, which is what True the Vote and certain Republicans are attempting to do, that's the difference.

And we need to make certain that our democracy works for everyone. That should be the highest and most paramount goal of every single elector, every single person in our democracy.

And to the extent anyone says that it is OK to disavow and push someone out of the democracy because you don't like the choices they make, that's not right.

TAPPER: I do want to ask.

You were direct about your desire to be Joe Biden's running mate during the campaign. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms says she was offered a role in the Biden administration, but she turned it down.

Did the president-elect or his team ever approach you with a similar offer?

ABRAMS: I'm focused on making certain that, in 2021, we elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the U.S. Senate.

That's the only D.C. conversation I'm having right now. And it's the one I'm focused on and the one I hope everyone will pay attention to. I hope they will go to to find out more about where their polling place is on Tuesday, January 5, so we can go ahead and win this race.

TAPPER: All right, Leader Stacey Abrams, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Happy new year to you.

ABRAMS: You as well. Thank you.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Why some of the world's worst people might be smiling at what they're seeing on Capitol Hill right now. That's next.


TAPPER: Court after court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, official after official, including the former attorney general William Barr, governor after governor, including conservative Trump supporters Doug Ducey from Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia, all have found no credible evidence to justify any conclusion other than this one. President-elect Joe Biden won the presidential election. Decisively, clearly, cleanly, period. That is the world of fact.

So why is it that 12 Republican senators, and I am told perhaps as many as 140 House Republicans, will on Wednesday vote to reject president-elect Joe Biden's win in yet another doomed attempt to stage a bloodless coup and undermine the results of a Democratic election?

Do they really agree with the unhinged conspiracy theorists such as pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood who this weekend was insanely calling for the arrest of Chief Justice John Roberts and Senator Leader Mitch McConnell for treason and even predicting Vice President Pence will face execution by firing squad?

It's difficult, as we have noted before on this show, to distinguish in this era among those who lie for grave (ph) and opportunistic reasons, those who are terrified of facing the wrath of outgoing President Trump so they put their career survival ahead of their constitutional obligations, those who are not quite smart enough to understand just what they are doing, and those who have psychological needs that I am not qualified to diagnose.

What is clear is that while Joe Biden will be sworn in on January 20th, the United States is in a dangerous place. With too many members of the current ruling party, the Republicans, throwing in with the Lin Woods, citing with insanity over objective fact and the momentum seems to be with them, not with the McConnells or Cheneys, Stones (ph), Romneys, Sasses, Kinzingers.

What do you think would be going on right now if Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, were speaker of the House? You think the House of Representatives would serve the Constitution and the American people this week on these election results? Or would the balance tip in a different direction?

Keep in mind, McCarthy already signed his name onto that mendacious lawsuit from the Texas attorney general that the U.S. Supreme Court kicked to the curb. That these dozen Senate Republicans are currently raising their hands to attack your votes, your election, under the guise of standing up for Americans who have concerns about the election, concerns created after months of lies about the election by the president, or they're doing so under this pretense of asking for an audit for an election that's already gone through the gamete of audits and challenges.

But none of this makes what they're doing any better. The fact that they referred to allegations and not evidence. It makes it worse.

Donald Trump once claimed he was just asking questions about whether Ted Cruz's dad played a role in the Kennedy assassination or some smears about Ted Cruz's wife. Ted Cruz is now just asking question about whether Democrats stole the election. It's all garbage.

Please note how many of the Republicans objecting to Joe Biden's win are also willing to raise questions about their own victories at the ballot box on the same day on the same ballot using the same voting systems. Many in Arizona and Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin. How many of them? Zero.

The United States of America has in recent decades been a beacon onto the world when it comes to free and fair elections. In recent years, in July 2018, the Trump State Department expressed concerns about Pakistan's elections. For years the U.S. has expressed concerns about Russia's elections and Russia's corruption of elections in other companies. Same with China and its interference in Taiwan.

Republicans lawmakers preparing to formally vote against the will of the American people. Do you really not see what a mockery you're about to make of all that? You are undermining our claim to be that shining city on a hill that President Reagan once spoke of.

You really don't think you're contesting the election of Joe Biden based on deranged conspiracy theories and the whims of a losing president's brittle spirit? You really think that isn't going to be used against not just the U.S. but the very principle of enfranchisement and democracy? You really don't think despots and authoritarians aren't licking their chops at this? How interesting that you claimed, Senator Hawley, that we undid a free and fair election because you also have been accused of trying to do the very same thing.

Asked about American exceptionalism, Donald Trump once said he thought it was a dangerous term because, among other reasons, it offended Vladimir Putin. Trump opposed the idea that America is exceptional. And now by undermining how advanced democracies behave in elections, he's making that true, with the help of many, many Republican officeholders. If it's not technically sedition, it is the work of enemies of American democracy.

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning us with. The news continues next.