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The Electoral College Is Casting Its Votes for President; U.S. Deaths Surpass 300,000 as First COVID Vaccinations Begin. Aired 3:30- 4p ET

Aired December 14, 2020 - 15:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It leaves a lot of room for shenanigans. And we saw some shenanigans over the last several months -- now for several weeks, efforts by the President and his allies to try to use the system and game the system to change with the intention of the voters. And I want to come back to -- you know, earlier today we were talking to the Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and I asked her about this letter that the House Speaker wrote about why he wouldn't --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Michigan House.

PHILLIP: -- the Michigan House Speaker, who is a Republican, he wrote about why he wouldn't go and try to change their state's electors to Trump and he said something I think is pretty important.

He said, this truly would bring mutual assured destruction for every future election in regard to the electoral college.

There is a reason that it doesn't -- it is not in either of the party's best interests to go along with this farce that the president and his allies are trying to do, it's because what about four years from now? If Democrats lose an election and decide that, you know what, they're going to try to overturn the will of the voters and change electors retroactively from one party to another, it would I think lead to a real crisis in this country that we very narrowly missed this time around.

Some people, like this Republican House Speaker in Michigan, are saying so. I think we should give him some credit for that, for doing the right thing. But this is a message to, I think, the rest of his party that what might seem advantageous right in this moment right now, down the road could also lead to their destruction as well.

So there's a reason that we don't cross some of these lines in terms of norms and I think we're seeing it now.

TAPPER: It shouldn't have to be potentially self-destructive to stand up for a norm. Standing up for the norm should be enough of its own reward, a norm and a law. But you're right, and it's ultimately very dismaying that you have local representatives and commissioners and canvassing board members willing to say that and willing to risk their careers and who knows what else they might risk? While 126 House Republicans, threw their names behind that crazy Texas attorney general lawsuit, Wolf, that the Supreme Court kicked to the curb.

It would have disenfranchised all of the voters in four states, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. Thankfully, the Supreme Court stood up for what those 126 Republicans in the House would not stand up for.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And they should all do the right thing right now and formally declare, publicly declare that Joe Biden is the President-elect of the United States and Kamala Harris is the Vice President-elect of the United States. That would be their responsible action, and we should be bracing for that. Hopefully, that will happen.

Meanwhile, the electoral college in the state of Washington just allocated its 12 electoral votes for president of the United States. Let's listen to Washington state.

UNIDENTIFIED WASHINGTON ELECTOR: I'm pleased to announce that 12 votes have been cast for Joseph R. Biden for the office of President of the United States.

BLITZER: Biden is getting closer and closer to the 270 he needs. He has 215, Trump as 181. We're following the count to 270 on this truly historic day here in the United States.

Plus, it's a major day in the fight against coronavirus with vaccinations happening right now in major parts of the United States.



BLITZER: So we're counting down, we're watching all the electoral college roll calls. The voting is continued. New Jersey electors just allocated their 14 electoral votes. Let's listen in as the electors make the announcement in New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW JERSEY ELECTOR: For President of the United States, the New Jersey Electoral College proudly casts all 14 votes for Joseph Biden.

BLITZER: With those 14 votes, Biden now has 229 electoral votes, Trump has 181. You need 270 to be elected President of the United States -- Jake.

TAPPER: Wolf, today is also a momentous day because of the first coronavirus vaccinations going on in the U.S. right now. The first one's outside of clinical trials. This comes as the nation is sadly getting close to this horrific milestone of 300,000 American deaths from coronavirus.

Joining us now to discuss all of it, the Secretary of The Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar. Secretary Azar, thanks for joining us. Obviously. a historic day as the first vaccines are administered across the United States. Do you have any rough idea of how many Americans have been vaccinated so far?

ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Well, Jake, we've got over a million doses that have either been delivered or are in transit as we speak, and really, the 145 initial hospitals that are getting supply today will launch their vaccinations today or tomorrow based on their plans.

So we'll have a total of 2.9 million doses that are available this week, and I imagine they'll go pretty quickly. Here at George Washington Hospital, they said they would definitely be through their allotment by this Thursday. They're going to move very quickly through.

And I just want to say as the child of two health care providers, to be 11 months into this horrible pandemic and to be here at George Washington and to see the doctors, and nurses, the heroic frontline health care workers receive this protection, it's a momentous event.


For me personally having really been the architect of Operation Warp Speed, to see this come to fruition today is honestly just one of the most meaningful moments I ever could have imagined.

TAPPER: Well, as the child of a doctor and a nurse, I share your opinion about frontline health care workers and the important work they do. I'm assuming that's a no, though, you don't have an idea -- it's OK if you don't, but you don't have any idea how many have been vaccinated already?

AZAR: No idea.

TAPPER: OK, so the U.S. is --

AZAR: I don't know exactly how many at this point. I got to see five.

TAPPER: OK. The U.S. is on the cusp of this horrific milestone right now. We're about to hit 300,000 deaths, according to official numbers, and obviously, we don't know the truth of what the numbers that come out of Iran and China, but

according to official numbers, that's the highest number in the world.

We haven't seen President Trump talking about public health measures in weeks. He has the biggest megaphone in the world assuming he's watching cable news because sometimes he does that. What would you like to hear the president saying to the American people right now? What would be a helpful message from him?

AZAR: Hey, Jake, I'm going to do what I do, which is I'm going to talk about the fact that we have too many cases. We have too many hospitalizations. We have too many deaths here in the United States right now because we are bridging to these vaccines, we have vaccines, we brought new tools and therapeutics. We've got to get the therapeutics used.

We need patients who test positive who are at risk of hospitalization to get on these monoclonal antibodies. We actually have more right now than are getting used. We've got to get them earlier, we've got to get them earlier so we keep people out of places like GW.

We've got to get people to act responsibly, wash your hands, watch your distance, wear your face cover when you can't watch your distance, and please stay out of indoor crowded gatherings like overcrowded indoor restaurants or indoor bars or multi-household gatherings where you put yourself at risk and where you're going to let your guard down.

Because I want everybody who's here right now to be here next year for the holidays. I want them to get the benefit of these life-saving, miraculous, incredible vaccines, but it's only going to happen if we all act responsibly. And that's my message to everybody and that's what the president's whole team is telling everybody to please do. Get us through this bridge to it so you can get the benefit of the vaccines I got to see five people get today.

TAPPER: An important message. It would be great if President Trump repeated that as well. Let me ask you because there are some concerns about the vaccine skeptics out there. They really run the gamut politically. There are a lot of Americans, roughly a third, who are reluctant to take this vaccine. The good news is a majority say they're willing to, 60 percent or so, but the number, as you know, needs to be closer to 70 percent or 75 percent of the public getting vaccinated.

The president publicly tweeted, pressure to the FDA to authorize the vaccine a couple days ago. I've heard lots of health care officials talk about their fears. That that might suggest that this was a political process. I'm not saying it is, I don't think it was, but are you concerned about that? And most importantly, what's your message to the Americans out there who are skeptical?

AZAR: So, Jake, vaccine acceptance and vaccine confidence has been surging in the last month. And in fact, a recent poll came out that actually showed 80 percent intend to take the vaccine. So that's wonderful news.

But we want to keep working on this. And part of it is I'm assuring the American people I led this process, I am the secretary, I am the one who approved this vaccine and will approve others.

These are the product of an independent, safe system, some of the largest vaccine clinical trials in history, independent data safety monitoring boards, independent FDA, FDA advisory committees, FDA guidelines that are transparent and clear, decided ultimately by FDA career scientists to authorize this vaccine, and they will do the same with others.

The best thing that we can do is ensure the rigor and integrity of the process and then the transparency of the data. And then as we go, we want to make sure especially in those medically underserved communities, especially the racial, ethnic minorities that have suffered so much at the hand of this virus that we increase vaccine confidence by having trusted voices out there who will assure the community that these are vaccines that are safe and effective and that they're critical to protecting yourself, your family, and your community as well as your country.

And so we're just going to keep working day by day with a zeal to try to convince the American people of the importance of taking these vaccines.

TAPPER: Secretary Azar, let me bring in our chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, to the conversation -- Sanjay.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Secretary Azar, congratulations. A big day today. I know it's been a lot of hard work. I do want to ask about something other than vaccines for a second, though, because we've spent so much time recently, as you know, secretary, telling people not to have holiday gatherings.


Telling people don't have any holiday gatherings this year. Ambassador Birx said if you do have a holiday gathering with people outside your household, you have to assume you are infected.

You can't wear masks when you have these holiday gatherings if you're eating or drinking. And yet secretary, more than a dozen holiday parties going on at the White House. How are supposed to reconcile this? I know you attended one of these parties. How do you reconcile this, and what message do you think the American people should take away from that?

AZAR: Well, Sanjay, I'm not as prescriptive as the way you describe it. What I say is when you are at an indoor gathering, you are at greater risk. When you do not wear your face coverings when you can't practice social distance, you're at greater risk, and each of us have to decide our own risk tolerances and what our behaviors will be.

My message is the same regardless of setting whether it's a White House Christmas gathering or someone at their house. It's wash your hands, watch your distance and wear your face covering when you can't keep your distance. I mean, it's the same message. I've got my face covering on when I am at one of those gatherings. I keep my distance from others. If people come near me who don't have a mask on, I tell them to put a mask on or I'm not going to be able to engage with them. And that's the practice that I engage in.

We don't have to wall ourselves up completely. We can be engaged with each other in our community, but these very simple steps, very simple steps can be the pathway for us to keep safe and safer so that we can be around for the next holiday season.

GUPTA: Yes, but I just want to be clear, though, that the CDC, the Coronavirus Task Force, they've been pretty clear on this, that indoor gatherings with people outside your household, this is not the year to do it, Secretary Azar. Do you agree with that, at least? AZAR: So, Sanjay, what we say, it's greater risk. We actually have an

excellent slide available at, that walks you through how to make the decisions and consider the various factors.

As you know, if you're outside, you're at less risk. If you are going to be inside, then certainly try to have as much ventilation as possible, including opening windows as much as possible or if you have a ceiling fan, turn it so it pulls upward. Have good, safe food handling practices.

But each of those choices that you make, the more people, the more indoors, the less ventilation, every one of those steps increases risk, and of course distance and masks, they provide an important mitigation. You know, the data is clear, two people wearing masks at one meter apart, 72 percent reduction in viral transmission, the data is clear. These work, distance works.

TAPPER: Secretary Azar, I hate to interrupt but we just crossed a horrific milestone with more than 300,000 deaths. We've crossed that line. It's now 300,267. The U.S. with 4 percent or so of the world's population has roughly, at least according to official numbers, 20 percent of the world's coronavirus deaths. It is a horrific milestone, and I wonder if you have any comment on it and also why you think it's so bad here.

AZAR: Well, Jake, any death from COVID is a terrible tragedy. Any death in this context, OK. And not just directly from COVID. You know, I lost my father in April. I wasn't able to see him for the month and a half before. I've gotten to experience the pain that individuals who can't be with their relatives who are in a nursing home. Be with the relatives who are dying in intensive care units, what they experience.

The pain and the anguish in our health care system in our country is real, and that is why I wake up every day with a fervid commitment to deliver vaccines like we're doing today or the therapeutics that can keep people out of the hospital or can help them recover if they've gotten serious disease.

And that's where my commitment comes from every single day waking up working for the American people trying to bring these therapeutics and vaccines to them, because we want these deaths to stop. We want to turn around the hospitalizations. We want cased to go down.

GUPTA: Secretary Azar, I'm really sorry to hear about your father. I imagine it's really tough. You hear these stories and you can't be with people because of the pandemic. I'm very sorry.

My parents live in Florida, they're in their late 70s, they're living independently, they're not in a long-term care facility or anything. How will people know, Secretary Azar, when it is their turn to be able to get vaccinated, like where to go and all that sort of stuff? Where will they learn that information?

AZAR: Yes, so that's going to come from your governors and local public health authorities and health care providers. So, for instance, in Florida it will be when Governor DeSantis decides to prioritize that group of perhaps over 65, and then maybe if they have -- I don't know if they have health conditions that would make them more prioritized.


We're going to have enough for 20 million people to get vaccinated by the end of December, and then as I think I mentioned, enough for up to 50 million total by the end of January. As we as we move into February, we hope to have not only the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines but Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine, AstraZeneca potentially. That will increase supply even more.

So we could be seeing in the end of February into March more general vaccination programs. My personal hope is that the individuals that are elderly and particularly vulnerable will be in some of those next tranches in February and be able to get vaccinated.

But they're going to learn of that from their governor and local and health authorities saying now is the time. And what I want to do is make an experience almost like what happened here at GW, that's as close to the flu vaccine experience. You know, they use the same mechanisms at GW here that they use to inoculate their employees every year for the flu.

And that's why I work with CVS and Rite-Aid and Walgreens and Walmart. So that for your parents, it will be a similar experience we hope by the time that they're ready to get the vaccine. I'm hoping late February, into March, it's much more general availability.

TAPPER: Secretary Azar, are there plans to vaccinate President Trump or President-elect Biden any time in the next few weeks and to do so publicly for either man?

AZAR: So I was delighted last night the president tweeted that he expects that he plans to get vaccinated. This week, I really want to keep the focus on our heroic health care workers and our most vulnerable seniors who are in nursing homes.

But I think I've mentioned to you I want to get vaccinated as soon as possible. I want to do it on TV because I want the American people to see my complete confidence in the integrity in the system. I want them to see that I wouldn't ask them to do something I wouldn't want to see myself.

Of course, for any major public official I would be delighted for them to do so on TV but I don't want to prejudge any individual's personal health condition or their willingness to get a vaccine or to be judgmental about that. I can just say for me I'd like to do it on TV so people can see that.

TAPPER: President-elect Biden told me that he'd be willing to do it publicly the same way that former Presidents Obama, Clinton and Bush have said they'd be willing to. If President-elect Biden comes to you, would you inoculate him, would you vaccinate him or have somebody do so? AZAR: Oh, of course. Of course, we would. Of course, we would. We want

to -- any of those types of efforts that signal to the American people the importance of getting vaccinated and that we, as leaders, are willing to sort as you say put our money where our mouth is. No, of course, we'd be very supportive of that and make sure that that would happen.

TAPPER: All right, Secretary Azar, thank you so much, congratulations on the rapid work of Operation Warp Speed. I hope it does signify an end to this horrible pandemic as soon as possible.

AZAR: Great, thank you so much for having me on this historic day.

TAPPER: Sanjay, let's talk about this for a second. Just because one of the things I thought was interesting is Secretary Azar there did acknowledge the idea that there are skeptics. There are vaccine skeptics, and he wants to reach out to them using voices that are credible in those communities.

The groups that I know of according to polling that are skeptical and according to media reports are supporters of President Trump and also there are a lot of people in the African-American, in the black community because of historic inequities and really hideous experiments with black Americans like the Tuskegee Experiment. That would seem to suggest that leaders of those two communities, although, obviously, those are two diverse communities, should have leaders getting vaccinated to help.

GUPTA: Yes, no doubt. I mean, when I first heard that, President Trump may be getting vaccinated, I sort of thought to myself, I mean, there's obviously people who talk about, you know, the, you know, jumping line and things like that. ButI think it would be quite valuable because there are a lot of skeptics who do follow what the President does very closely. So I think that would be helpful.

In our reporting going back to 2009 even, Jake, with regard to skepticism within the African-American, within the black community, one thing you do find is that people, while they may not trust the overall system, they do tend to trust their own health care provider.

So to the extent that the messaging as we move through this, move through this vaccination program is coming from people's own doctors, those people, you know, the health care providers, themselves, are rolling up their sleeves and getting vaccinated and their potential patients see that I think will probably make a big difference.


And you do find historically as these campaigns continue the skepticism is usually highest at the beginning. You know? Barring any sort of unforeseen problem with the rollout. The skepticism is usually highest at the beginning. As more and more people get it, people see that happening , they see people that look like them getting it, that skepticism tends to wane a bit.

I will say this, this just a bit of a nuance point, you got 60 percent of the country says they will get it, you need to get to 70, the say 75 percent for that more herd immunity.

Well, Jake, you know, when you have 16 million people confirmed to have the infection, the numbers may be three times higher than that. There is an immunity that you get from getting infected as well. It's not the way you want to get to herd immunity but you have to factor that in as well. So when you add up these groups you might actually get to that 70 percent number.

TAPPER: All right, Sanjay, thanks so much. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Two major events under way right now. We are continuing, obviously, to follow coronavirus vaccinations here in the United States.

Also we're watching the electoral college count. It is heading toward 270. That's the number you need to be President of the United States. We'll be right back.