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State of the Union

Interview With Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC); Interview With Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA); Interview With Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX); Interview With U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired January 16, 2022 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Make or break? Democrats' election reform appears dead, despite amped-up pressure from president bide opinion

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?

TAPPER: Do Democrats have a plan B to save the Biden agenda? I will speak to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Republican Senator Bill Cassidy next.

And negative testing. The Biden administration announces a new testing plan that may not get people tests until after Omicron peaks.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Clearly, there was more that was needed because of the extraordinary demands of Omicron.

TAPPER: Is this too little, too late? The U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, joins me ahead.

Plus: drumbeat of war? Diplomatic efforts falter, as Russia seems increasingly likely to invade Ukraine. Are the U.S. and Russia entering a new Cold War. I will speak to the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul, on that and the successful rescue of four hostages from a synagogue overnight in Texas.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is grateful.

Four hostages are free this morning after a nearly 11-hour standoff at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The lone suspect is now dead.

In a statement, President Biden thanked law enforcement and decried anti-Semitism and the rise of extremism in America.

And, as the nation marks the birth this weekend of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., someone who fought to end hate and expand civil rights, the president and Democrats are facing the difficult reality that their hopes to pass sweeping election reform bills are all but dead.

Tuesday, the Senate will take up their legislation, but it is expected to fail without the support of any Republicans and the refusal by two Democratic senators to change the rules of the Senate to pass the bill with just 51 votes, as opposed to 60.

It will be a devastating blow for President Biden's agenda and also his political capital, after President Biden put the weight of his office and his reputation as a unifier behind the rules change, delivering a withering speech in Atlanta aimed at opponents of election reform and the filibuster change and going to Capitol Hill Thursday to rally his party and still failing to convince Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, as well as perhaps other Democratic senators, to change the filibuster rules.

Joining me now, someone who has been fighting for election reform and voting rights his entire career, the House majority whip, Jim Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina.

Majority Whip Clyburn, thanks so much for joining us.

Before we dive into the issues, tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. What are you thinking about this weekend as one of the last prominent civil rights heroes from that era?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, thank you very much for having me, Jake.

I spent a lot of time on yesterday, the actual birthday, reflecting on King's letter from the Birmingham city jail. That letter, I reread the letter every year. And I always get something out of it that I didn't see there before.

And I focused yesterday on his whole question of why we can't wait silent, all these questions that King left with us. He said to us in that letter something that is very, very, I would call it consequential today.

And that is this. Silence is consent. We have too much silence in the face of what's going on around us today. I remember corporations stepping up when Georgia was passing those draconian voter laws down there. All of a sudden now, they have gone silent.

And King told us in that letter that we are going to be made to repent, not just for the vitriolic words and deeds of bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people.

That's what I was thinking about all yesterday.

TAPPER: That's interesting, because Hillary Clinton tweeted a famous quote from that letter from the Birmingham jail.

And it was about the white moderate. Hillary Clinton tweeted: "Martin Luther King Jr. said -- quote -- 'I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exists for the purposes of establishing justice, and that, when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that blow the flow of social progress'" -- unquote.


Then Hillary Clinton added -- quote -- "This is a subtweet."

A subtweet is when you're talking about without naming them. Presumably, Secretary Clinton was talking about Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

As you know, much of that letter is about how allies of the civil rights movement could be more problematic than enemies of the civil rights movement, the white moderate.

Do you agree with that comparison? And is that what's happening today in the U.S. Senate?

CLYBURN: I do believe -- agree with that. Today is Sunday.

And, remember, King was sitting in jail. He received a letter from eight white clergymen, who wrote him about their concern. They asked him to leave Birmingham. And they said that they thought his cause was right, but his timing was wrong.

And King said to them, time is neutral. Time can either be used destructively or constructively. And that's when he said that he was coming to the conclusion that the people of ill will in our society were making a much better use of time than the people of good will.

And so I would say that to my friends in the Senate now. People of ill will demonstrated on January 6 how effective they can use their time. Are we going to step up, the people of good will, and use our time more effectively?

That letter -- I always say, Jake, that, aside from the Bible, I do believe that that letter may be the most timeless document I have ever read.

TAPPER: So, President Biden went to Georgia this week to push for Sinema and Manchin and others to get rid of the filibuster in order to pass these two election reform bills.

And the president asked this question -- quote -- "Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?"

What do you say to Democrats who say that that went too far, to compare somebody who opposes changing the filibuster with a traitor who fought a war for slavery?

CLYBURN: I would ask those people, what do you think is going too far?

Is it going too far to criminalize giving somebody a bottle of water standing in line trying to vote, standing in line for four or five hours? Is that going too far? Is it going too far to put in place mechanisms to nullify a vote when people have cast their votes? If you don't like the outcome, then you have got the power to nullify that? Is that going too far?

Everything we have seen coming out of Georgia violates the Constitution of the United States of America. And Alexander Hamilton told us in Federalist Papers Number 59 that, that we cannot leave federal elections and their results up to states. You will have 50 applications of what the law is.

So that is what's going too far. And so if anybody's going to focus on the speech and pay no attention to the actions, that violates biblical principles. It's their deeds that really matter, not the words.

And for us to focus on the president's words and not pay any attention to the deeds of those legislators in Texas, in Georgia, and 17 other states that passed 35, 34 laws that are draconian when it comes to voting, that's where our attention ought to be.

TAPPER: Now, Democrats Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema both support the two election reform legislation bills. They just say they oppose sidestepping the filibuster.

I want you to take a listen to what Senator Sinema said during her floor speech this week.


SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): Eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come.


TAPPER: Her basic argument is that Republicans are going to take over the chamber at some point, and Democrats are going to need that filibuster.

Just last night, Donald Trump called for Republicans to pass stricter laws when it came to the election, voter I.D. restrictions, to ban drop boxes, stop no-excuse absentee voting.

Doesn't she have a point? The Democrats might need that filibuster as soon as 2025 to stop Republicans from imposing even harsher voting restrictions?

CLYBURN: Look, no, she is not right about than.

We just got around the filibuster to raise the debt limit. Why? Because we don't want to put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk.


No one has asked her to eliminate the filibuster. The filibuster is there for all of these issues that may be policy issues.

But when it comes to the Constitution of the United States of America, no one person sitting downtown in a spa ought to be able to pick up the telephone and say you are going to put a hold on my ability to vote. And that's what is going on here.

So, I would wish they would stop that foolishness, because, if we do not protect the vote with everything that we have got, we will not have a country to protect going forward.

I don't know where we got the notion from that this democracy is here to stay no matter how we conduct ourselves. Our job when we took the oath, when we took the oath of office to protect this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

There are some domestic enemies that showed up January 6. And they didn't stop there. They're still going on. And you hear it when the president tweets out or whatever he said about getting rid of people's convenient voting places, saying to paraplegics that you -- we can't make it convenient for to you vote, saying to a 90-year-old you got to stand in line four and five hours to vote, and if anybody gives you a glass of water, they will be put in jail.

That's Third World stuff. And we had better be careful.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona is not ruling out a primary challenge against Senator Sinema in 2024.

Do you think Senator Sinema should face a primary challenge?

CLYBURN: Well, I'm not -- I'm going to stay out of that.

I know Ruben. I like Ruben. We work together very closely on these kinds of issues in the House. And I have really been supporting his reelection. I -- he hasn't said to me that he is going to run for the United States Senate.

I have been supporting him for reelection to the House of Representatives, but we will see what happens. He's a good guy.

TAPPER: Quickly, before we go, sir, is -- are the election reform bills dead, do you think?

CLYBURN: No, I don't.

They may be on life support, but, you know, John Lewis and others did not give up after the '64 Civil Rights Act. That's why he got the '65 Voting Rights Act.

So, I want to tell everybody, we're not giving up. We're going to fight. And we plan to win, because the people of good will are going to break their silence and help us win this battle.

TAPPER: Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, I hope you have a peaceful and meaningful Martin Luther King Day tomorrow.

Thank you so much for joining us.

CLYBURN: Thank you very much for having me.

TAPPER: President Biden's words this week outraged a lot of Republicans.

One of them, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, joins me to respond next.

And staggering new COVID numbers this week, but is the Omicron wave starting to peak? The surgeon general joins me ahead.



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

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats plan to take up the election reform bills they say are needed to protect American democracy, but they will fail, those bills, because the legislation is opposed by every Republican senator.

And two Democrats joined them in not wanting to change the filibuster rules.

Joining us now to talk about why is Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

So, President Biden held a rally in Georgia this week urging senators to pass Democrats' election reform legislation and to change the filibuster rules to allow them to do so. Take a listen.


BIDEN: So, I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?

Do you want to be the -- on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?


TAPPER: You just heard Congressman Clyburn say that those remarks, in his view, do not go too far. He argued that the real focus should be on what he believes are the discriminatory election laws being passed in places like Georgia, not on Biden's words.

What do you think?

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): Most of what Representative -- in all due respect, most of what Representative Clyburn said was wrong or misleading. If these laws are constitutional, they will be struck down. He's

implying they won't be. They're not criminalizing giving people water. They're just saying you can't walk up to them just before they walk in, give them a piece of water and tell them who to vote for.

You can still give water to the people working at the poll. They can distribute it.

There are several other things he said that are misleading. And so did President Biden. Now, if you're trying to call the United States of America to unity, trying to get us to where we will come to common ground, you don't end up spreading things that are untrue or, frankly, lies.

And that's why people think we need the filibuster. Otherwise, you're just totally rolled by somebody who's willing to sacrifice truth to pursue their agenda.

TAPPER: The Senate is going to take up the Democrats' election reform bills this week.

A key part, one of them is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore provisions of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that protect against discriminatory state election laws.

When the Senate reauthorized that law just a decade ago, it passed 98- 0. Why don't Republicans, including yourself, support restoring those -- the Voting Rights Act now?


CASSIDY: So, the Supreme Court decided, the Supreme Court decided that the conditions in 1965 are different than they are now.

Imagine that. We have had an African-American elected president of the United States, an African-American elected to the vice presidency, an African-American elected to the Senate in South Carolina. Now, if anyone can't see that circumstances have changed, they're just not believing they're lying eyes.

The reality is, is that, in Louisiana, we have the highest percent of African-American officials in the nation. We have had a white mayor of a predominantly black city and a black mayor of a predominantly white city. There's been incredible progress in our country.

There's more to do, absolutely. We need safeguards. But to argue we are still the same as we were in 1965 is to deny facts that are clearly before us.

TAPPER: But isn't the argument not that it's the same as 1965, but that discrimination and prejudices continue to exist?

Voting rights activists will point to, for example, the state of Texas moved to ban drive-through and 24-hour early voting, which were heavily used by minority voters in '22 (sic), to limit the number of drop boxes to just one per county. In Georgia, where the Atlanta region went from having more than 100 drop boxes to just 23, and where there's strict new I.D. requirements for absentee ballots, that disproportionately impacts minority voters.

And, beyond that, there were some of the pieces of legislation that were parts of that -- those voting reform packages in Texas and Georgia, that did not ultimately pass, but seemed to really have ill intent at their root, for example, banning Sunday voting, which would have disproportionately affected Souls to the Polls movements by black churches to go from church to get people to vote.

It ultimately didn't become law, but that really alarmed a lot of people at what the intent might have been.

CASSIDY: I don't know what to say. This proves the system works.

My gosh, now Georgia has two days of Sunday voting that is optional, that you can do it. And, by the way, there were no drop boxes before the pandemic. There were none. And now we still have drop boxes. So, an accommodation made for a pandemic are going to continue in the future, when, theoretically, the pandemic is over.

And shall I point out that Georgia has more early voting days than does Delaware or New York by far. They have no-excuse absentee voting. So, when Representative Clyburn says a 90-year-old woman has to stand in line for four hours, in Georgia, she doesn't. I think, in Delaware, she might have to, or New York.

So maybe we need to start looking at the blue states, which have not been nearly so reactive and supportive of voting, as opposed to a state like Georgia, which clearly has, relative to them.

TAPPER: This push by Democrats in the Senate comes as legislatures in dozens of states are taking steps to restrict voting in many cases, and with Republicans invoking the big lie that the election was stolen as justification.

Just to be clear, so our viewers know, you have said that Joe Biden won the election fair and square, and that you have called the big lie the big lie.

But we did see Trump last night in Arizona trying to pressure legislators to decertify the 2020 election. On Friday, he called for an effort to get vote counters, more of them in office who are supporters of his. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have to be a lot sharper the next time when it comes to counting the vote.

There is a famous statement. Sometimes, the vote counter is more important than the candidate. And we can't let that ever, ever happen again. They have to get tougher and smarter.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: We know what he means by tougher and smarter, right?

So I get you don't support the Democrats' legislation. Let's talk about another path forward. What do you support in order to secure our elections to make sure that there isn't any fraud, but also they're free and safe and that the efforts to disenfranchise that we saw in 2020 are not successful?

CASSIDY: First, I think we are seeing the success of state and local government in protecting the election.

They have been doing it for over 200 years. We also have seen that the federal courts were incredibly active in making sure that suits were heard in a timely fashion and challenges were considered. And, by the way, they ruled in the right direction every time. And these were Trump-appointed judges in many cases.

The other thing to point out is that election supervisors, the folks that former President Trump are speaking about electing, they don't count the vote. It's not some back room where you can either toss it out or keep it.

It's a public process in which both sides are represented, and there's votes counted. So those that think there's a back room, and you vote for the counter, it's just not true.

Lastly, I can imagine a campaign slogan: Vote for me. I'm going to cheat in the election.

We should not underestimate the American people. The American people are not going to vote for a cheat. If someone says I'm voting because I want to flip an election, they're going to lose their election.


And so I think we have to kind of give credit to the American people in the elections, in the process that we have gone into. Those ill intents didn't pass. Indeed, as I pointed out in Georgia, they have more permissive laws than Delaware and New York.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, I do want to ask you about COVID, which is, half of the residents of your home state of Louisiana are still unvaccinated.

Now, I understand you don't support vaccine mandates. What do you propose instead? How can we ever get out of this pandemic if millions of people throughout the country, including Louisiana, continue to refuse to get the vaccine?

CASSIDY: A couple of things.

I do not support federal vaccine mandates. That's never been the case before. On a state and local level of business and a school, they have a right to do so. The federal government never has before. And I oppose that, number one. Number two, we should acknowledge -- the medical literature does -- previous infection grants immunity. So, when we speak of statistics, let's also include those who have been previously infected. Now, they may not get -- they may not -- they may still be infected with Omicron, but they're not going to go to the hospital.

And, by the way, we also have to acknowledge that someone who's elderly and vaccinated is at greater risk of death from Omicron than someone who is younger and not vaccinated. So, if we're honest with the American people, I think they will start responding a little bit better.

Lastly, this whole kind of testing short -- shortage of tests, the administration's lost focus. That's not something you deliver just in time. It is something you have a big warehouse. Whenever you need it, you shove it out, but you immediately refill it.

And the administration needs to get Warp Speed back going, warehouse fulls of labs, and just begin to have statistics that are meaningful to the American people, as opposed to those which they think are trying to -- trying to roll them.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Cassidy, thanks so much.

I do want to note that, while previous infection does provide some protection against another infection, vaccines, as I'm sure you will agree, provide more protection than having been infected.

CASSIDY: I don't know that. I don't know that.

TAPPER: Well, that's according to the...

CASSIDY: The medical literature suggests that...


CASSIDY: Yes, the medical literature suggests that previous infection is quite -- can be quite as effective as a vaccine.

TAPPER: All right, I have seen CDC studies that suggest otherwise.

But, Senator Cassidy, Dr. Cassidy, thanks so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

CASSIDY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Is the U.S. about to enter a new Cold War with Russia? And is there anything President Biden can do to stop it?

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul, is here next.



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

International tensions on high this weekend, after a report you heard first on CNN that Russia may be working to fabricate a reason to invade neighboring Ukraine, a false flag, that news after a series of high-level meetings with top U.S. officials did not appear to dissuade Russia from a potential invasion.

And now the big question for the U.S., how should President Biden respond if Russia actually acts and invades Ukraine again?

Joining us now, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


TAPPER: I do want to first get your reaction to the situation yesterday in your home state of Texas, where a gunman, an anti-Semite apparently, held four Jews hostage at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, outside Fort Worth.

The FBI has not released the name of the suspect. He demanded that the U.S. free Aafia Siddiqui. She's a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of attacking American troops. She's in jail not far from Fort Worth.

That's a frequent cause for Islamic terrorists worldwide, the freeing of this woman? Have you seen any evidence that what happened at the synagogue in Texas yesterday was part of any sort of larger international plot?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Well, the hostage-taker did -- first of all, this is a disturbing case that demonstrates that anti-Semitism is unfortunately alive and well.

I think they chose this synagogue because she, Siddiqui, the Lady al Qaeda, they call her, is being detained in a Fort Worth prison facility.

To answer your question, I know the FBI has now fanned their investigation out to London and Tel Aviv. So this has now turned into an international investigation. So there's something more here. And the fact he's calling for Lady al Qaeda's release from prison has been, as you said, in the jihadist world kind of a cause celebre.

And so I think we're going to find out a lot more in the next 24, 48 hours. He is British. I wouldn't be surprised if he's Pakistani, just like Siddiqui. And we need to get to the bottom of this.

We haven't seen one of these radicalized attacks in a few years now, and it is disturbing to see it raise its ugly head again.

TAPPER: Indeed.

Let's turn back to Russia and the United States. Talks between the two countries continued -- concluded this week without any resolution to the tension over what seems an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. A top U.S. official warned -- quote -- "The drumbeat of war is sounding loud."

What do you think, if anything, more that Joe Biden and American allies can do to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine, or do you think it's inevitable at this point?

MCCAUL: Well, I think the key here is deterrence. If Putin sees deterrence coming back from the United States and our NATO allies, he may second-guess his calculation to invade Ukraine.

Now, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Russia. Putin wants to restore the glory of the old Soviet empire. He's been wanting to do this for quite some time. He invaded Crimea right next to -- with a land bridge. He would like the Port of Odessa to control the Black Sea.


But I'm not seeing a lot of deterrence. I'm seeing some tough rhetoric, but not a lot of action. I would recommend -- I talked to Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman prior to her negotiations -- that you have to put things on the table like sanctions. You have to talk about more arms sales, weapon sales to Ukraine.

And this Nord Stream 2, the idea that the president waived congressionally mandatory sanctions on Putin's pipeline, I don't know how that's in the national interests of the United States. And it just emboldened and empowered Putin to start completing his pipeline.

And I think, most importantly, Jake, as you and I talked about Afghanistan over the summer, last summer, I think people, our foreign adversaries, like Putin, President Xi in China, the ayatollah, and Kim Jong-un, all view that as a moment of weakness.

So we are not projecting strength, as Reagan talked about, but, rather, projecting weakness, which, historically, going back to Hitler and Chamberlain, always invites aggression.


MCCAUL: And I think you're going to see a lot more of it.

TAPPER: Russian President Putin previously warned of a complete rupture of U.S.-Russia ties if the Biden administration were to retaliate against any military action they take against Ukraine.

Russia has also hinted they could take more direct action against the U.S., whether through cyberattacks on the U.S., by taking steps to move nuclear weapons closer to North America.

Is that just bluster? Or do you think that is a real threat from Putin?

MCCAUL: I think it's a real threat. They put this -- they have a cyberattack on the Ukrainian government Web page basically saying, be afraid and expect the worst. That's pretty straightforward. And the false flag operation that you talked about, I do credit the

administration for calling that to the international community's attention, false flag being known to have killers go in and have a hoax-like operation against their own troops, then justifying an invasion into Ukraine.

Jake, I have seen the plans in the classified space as well. They're very specific, the most specific I have ever seen with Ukraine, and they're very aggressive in the timetable.

I think you're going to see this play out very quickly. And rather than -- rather than threatening after an invasion takes place, we ought to be providing deterrence before an invasion takes place. That's my biggest criticism of the administration.

TAPPER: Do you think we are in a new Cold War with Russia?

MCCAUL: I do. I do, because I think Putin, again, smells weakness here. He knows, if he's ever going to invade Ukraine, now's the time. I hope he doesn't make that miscalculation.

But the fact is, if he does invade Ukraine, what is the United States, what is our commander in chief prepared to do to stop it? I'm not seeing a lot of details or action that could deter him from that critical step.

This would be the largest invasion in Europe since World War II. That's how big of a deal this is.

TAPPER: Before you go, sir, the Beijing Olympics begin in just a few weeks.

You have criticized the International Olympic Committee for letting China host, despite its horrific record on human rights abuses. You have called for the Games to be moved. You also support the Biden administration's diplomatic boycott. No government officials are going to go there, though American athletes are going to be allowed to participate and compete.

Do you think it's a mistake for NBC to even air these Olympics, given the human rights record of China? Does that still give China the propaganda win that it so desperately wants?

MCCAUL: Yes, I mean, it does give them the propaganda victory.

I would hope that a corporate responsibility would come into play here and point out the abuses, human rights violations taking place in the Xinjiang province, where the Chinese commit genocide.

My bill passed the House almost unanimously condemning the CCP for what is taking place, and that is genocide in China. And I would hope that the networks would actually have some responsibility and call attention to that. I think the athletes may actually start talking about this.

I did agree with the boycott diplomatically. I asked that IOC move the Olympics. That is not going to happen. I don't think we should punish the athletes. But I do think the athletes are going to stand up in solidarity, hopefully, against these human rights violations.

And I hope they take home the gold too and, just like Jesse Owens showed Hitler the Aryan nation was not superior, show the Chinese that we're going to take on the gold, and not them.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman McCaul, good to see you, sir. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.


Oh, and happy birthday and happy 60 there to you.

The Biden administration has a new plan for Americans to get rapid COVID tests, but will they come in enough time to combat the Omicron wave?

We will talk to the surgeon general next.

Stay with us.


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

Daily COVID cases in the United States are topping 800,000 for the first time, and the Biden administration is rolling out a new plan to try to help Americans track down rapid COVID tests.

But is that new push coming too late?

Joining me now, the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.


Dr. Murthy, thanks so much for joining us.

So, case numbers have soared past 800,000 cases per day for the first time today. Hospitalizations are the highest they have ever been. Are we at the peak of this surge right now, do you think? Or, if not, when do you think we should expect the peak to come?

MURTHY: Well, Jake, this is a very difficult time during this surge. We are seeing high case numbers and hospitalization rates, as you mentioned. And we're also seeing strain in many of our hospitals around the country.

But the good news is that there are parts of the country, New York, in particular, and other parts of the Northeast, where we are starting to see a plateau and, in some cases, an early decline in cases. The challenge is that nothing -- the entire country is not moving at the same pace.

The Omicron wave started later in other parts of the country. So we shouldn't expect a national peak in the next coming days. The next few weeks will be tough.

But, Jake, this is also why it's so important that we are surging resources to hospitals that are struggling. It's why it's so important that we all double down on precautions that we're taking, because one thing that we're learning during this surge is that our vaccines are still working very well to keep people out of the hospital and to save their lives.

It's why we want everyone to get vaccinated, to get boosted as soon as they can.

TAPPER: One of the big challenges about containing the pandemic is that there are not enough tests right now.

Take a listen to what then president-elect Joe Biden said about testing in December 2020.


BIDEN: We need to scale up testing, so anyone who needs one can get a test.

After 10 months of the pandemic, we still don't have enough testing. It's a travesty.


TAPPER: Now, testing has been scaled up, but it is not the case that everybody who wants a test can get a test. We're still not where we need to be.

If not having a test -- enough tests then was a travesty, is it a travesty now?

MURTHY: Well, Jake, testing certainly has been an area of focus.

And you heard the president just a few weeks ago say that we have made tremendous progress on testing over the last year, but that we had more work to do to make sure that the increased demand and the surge really in demand that we saw with Omicron can be met.

But it's important here, Jake, that we also step back and look at the broader picture. Earlier in 2021, the administration use the DPA and an investment of billions of dollars to expand the manufacturing capacity for tests. That, in combination with rigorous work around expanding testing production, led to a quadrupling of supply in testing in the fall.

But, when Omicron came, it created an extraordinary rise in demand that created shortages, not just in the U.S., but in other countries as well. And that's why we have had to take additional measures. We have a billion tests that will become available to people that they can order through the Web site starting January 19.

We have 50 million tests we have sent to community health centers around the country. And starting January 15, yesterday, people will be able to get coverage, private insurance coverage, for up to eight tests per person per month that they order.

So, all of these together will help us close the gap in testing and make sure that everyone does, in fact, have a test who needs it.

TAPPER: But it does seem like the state of testing is not yet acceptable.

A new study out from Kaiser this week showed that, out of almost 500 searches for at-home coronavirus tests at online retailers just last week, tests were only available 43 times. That's just 9 percent of the time.

We're nearly two years into this pandemic. President Biden has been in office for almost a full year. Would you agree it's not yet at an acceptable level?

MURTHY: Well, Jake, as the president said, we certainly have more we need to do on testing.

And that's a message that is very clear from him to the public, to his team, that we need to pull every lever possible. It's why you have seen so many additional spigots opened, if you will, when it comes to testing and why that supply will continue to increase in the months ahead.

But what we can't also allow, Jake, is for us to lose sight of the broader picture. In addition to testing, there are other tools that are so important that people are aware of. We have more therapeutics this month that are available than at any other month during the pandemic because of early investments in treatments that were made.

We have now oral and intravenous tests. We have more people vaccinated now than at any other point, more than 200 million fully vaccinated, and millions more who are boosted. So we -- these are the tools that are going to help keep people safe.

We have got to make sure people know about them and they double down on these tools during this Omicron wave.

TAPPER: So, you just talked about how many people are fully vaccinated.

George Washington University professor CNN analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner tweeted this over the weekend -- quote -- "The CDC refuses to redefine fully vaccinated as the primary series, plus boost, because, if they did that, they would have to acknowledge that only 24 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. But that's the truth. And that's why we're seeing packed hospitals and one million cases per day."

Why hasn't the Biden administration reclassified fully vaccinated to include the booster?


MURTHY: Well, Jake, what the CDC has said is that, to be up to date on your vaccinations, you need to have your primary series, plus the booster.

And that is the key message to the public, is that we need everyone to be up to date. It is absolutely right that we need to get more people boosted in this country. It's why I and many others, clinicians inside and outside of government, have been urging people across the country to get boosted as quickly as possible.

Here's what we see, though, in the data. We see that, if you have had your primary series -- that's your two shots and Moderna or your shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine -- that you still have decent protection against hospitalization and death.

But you increase that protection even more and increase your protection against all infection by getting that booster shot. So, to anyone out there who hasn't gotten boosted yet, if you're at your five-month mark after your primary series of Johnson -- of Moderna or Pfizer, get boosted. If you're two months post Johnson & Johnson, please get boosted as soon as you can.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Vivek Murthy, thank you so much for your time today.

MURTHY: Thanks so much, Jake. Good to be with you.

TAPPER: Did a man in a Viking helmet and a speedo almost overthrow our democracy?

We will take a look at that claim and the real threat next.



TAPPER: Over the weekend, while Martin Luther King III was in Arizona rallying to expand voting rights, Donald Trump was, the same day, in the same state, doing the exact opposite, continuing to push his big lie.


TRUMP: Last year, we had a rigged election, and the proof is all over the place.

They always talk about the big lie. They're the big lie.


TAPPER: There is a reason Trump was in Arizona, to push the legislature to disenfranchise the state's voters based on all of his deranged election lies.


TRUMP: Hopefully, the attorney general and your state legislatures will be smart and fair and decisive and let the world know what the hell happened in Arizona. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Steve Bannon says this is part of a nationwide effort to hurt Biden going into the midterms.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Decertify Biden electors in Arizona, in Wisconsin, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the great state of Georgia. Those four states, we are going to decertify all those electors.


TAPPER: Of course, there is no way in the Constitution to actually do that.

And, of course, this is not just about 2020 or 2022. Trump the day before delivered a message to a county Republican Party in Pennsylvania. Pay attention to this part.


TRUMP: You have to be a lot sharper the next time when it comes to counting the vote.

There is a famous statement. Sometimes, the vote counter is more important than the candidate. And we can't let that ever, ever happen again. They have to get tougher and smarter.


TAPPER: Democrats are very focused right now on Capitol Hill about beating back Republican efforts at the state level that make it tougher to vote.

And while it's true many of those efforts are predicated on Trump's big lie, the focus of the seditious conspiracy we all witnessed was more focused on the counting, not the casting of the votes, because, when Trump says -- quote -- "We have to be a lot sharper the next time when it comes to counting the vote" -- unquote -- it's pretty clear he means stop counting the votes when he's up, and, when Democrats are in the lead, vote counters need to find votes for him, as he instructed Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to do.


TRUMP: There's nothing wrong with saying that you've recalculated.

I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.


TAPPER: Now, this plan to put loyalists in key positions where they can do this for him is going on right now, with Trump-backed candidates for governor, secretary of state and more in key states. And there are also more organic lower-level efforts as well for adherents of the big lie to slip into key posts.

Edward McAlanis of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was running for local judge of elections until his campaign hit something of a snag. He was charged with four offenses related to his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. He entered into a plea deal.

In Pennsylvania, January 6 rally attendee Stephen Lindemuth, who has not been charged with a crime, won his race to be the Mount Joy Township judge of elections.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida a few days ago condemned the events of January 6 as a terrible thing that never should have happened, but he also suggested the anniversary was getting too much attention. And he seemed to downplay its seriousness.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): You're not going to convince at least more -- most normal and sane people that our government last year was almost overthrown by a guy wearing a Viking hat and speedos.


TAPPER: Senator Rubio was correct. Our government was not almost overthrown by a guy wearing a Viking hat and speedos.

It was almost overthrown by armed, violent extremists, 11 of whom have now been charged with seditious conspiracy, and by others in the Trump administration and in positions of power throughout the country seeking to invalidate election results, based on the wild lies of an unhinged team of conspiracy theories, and by MAGA media that spread those lies, and by more than 140 House and Senate Republicans who voted to disenfranchise all the voters of Arizona and Pennsylvania.

And make no mistake, the conspiracy could have worked, and it might work next time. Pay attention to who they're lining up to count the votes. And, on this Martin Luther King Day weekend, think about whose votes they don't want to count.

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts next.