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Interview With Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD); Attorney General Bill Barr Resigns; Electoral College Casts Votes For President; COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin In United States; U.S. Deaths Surpass 300,000 As First COVID Vaccinations Begin. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 14, 2020 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump tweeted out Barr's resignation letter, which notes the two discussed allegations of voter fraud today over at the White House.

Barr, who has been a Trump loyalist, notably disputed Trump's claims of widespread election fraud earlier this month. President Trump's tweet announcing the news came just minutes after president-elect Biden's win was officially formally confirmed by the U.S. Electoral College, another step in confirming president-elect Biden will soon become President Joe Biden, and Donald Trump will become former President Donald Trump.

Also today, a major step in the fight against the coronavirus. Vaccinations are happening now in the United States. We're following all of these developments right now.

Let's go to Jake for more -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks, Wolf.

Let's go right to CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, President Trump was probably trying to change the subject from Joe Biden's Electoral College win.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

TAPPER: So, let us humor him for a couple of minutes, because he did actually make some news. What do you got?

ACOSTA: Yes, he is still the president, Jake. And you're right. This announcement came minutes after California put Joe Biden over the top.

But, yes, we're hearing in just the last several minutes from a White House official, Jake, that Attorney General William Barr was not fired by this president, he was not pushed out by this president, according to the official. I talked to an official just about this a few minutes ago.

This official said it was an amicable meeting that Attorney General William Barr had with President Trump in the Oval Office earlier this afternoon. The other thing we should point out is -- and we just spotted this video from our fence cam, as you know the term shall, Jake, a short while ago -- at 3:55 p.m., we could see Attorney General William Barr leaving the West Wing, getting into a car on West Executive Drive just outside the West Wing.

And he gave the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, a fist bump as he was departing the West Wing. And so the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is also here this afternoon. So, the president is having meetings. He is still, as we have been talking about throughout the day, trying to figure out a way to overturn the results of this election, but no question about it, this president trying to seize the limelight from Joe Biden, I think, to some extent, in announcing this departure of William Barr.

Now, when I talked to this White House official about all of this a short time ago, this official noted, yes, President Trump has been frustrated with the attorney general in recent weeks. We know that Bill Barr has openly contradicted the president when it comes to these claims that Mr. Trump has made about widespread voter fraud resulting in him being cheated out of a second term.

We know that that frustration has been building and then that there may have been conversations about Bill Barr being fired by this president. We understand talking from multiple sources that those conversations have been going on, that the president has talked about this, sounded this idea out with advisers in recent weeks.

But this official I spoke with just a short time ago said, no, this was not a firing of Bill Barr. They're trying to draw a line of delineation between the departure of this Cabinet secretary and other Cabinet secretaries we have seen in recent weeks like Mark Esper, the defense secretary, who was, essentially, forced out when the president lost this election.

And so, yes, no question about it, Jake, this is a big move the president is seeing take place while he's spending these last few weeks in office, but they're trying to make the case over here, Jake, because we have seen this so many times before, that, in this instance, Bill Barr was not fired by the president, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks so much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's not forget one thing. The attorney general of the United States not only said that the Justice Department investigated these allegations of widespread fraud and found no evidence of widespread fraud, but the Department of Homeland Security, he said, investigated, the FBI investigated. They, too, found no evidence of widespread fraud.

Anderson, this is a major moment that we're watching all of this breaking news unfolding within minutes.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yes, it's certainly a lot.

And, clearly, the president is trying to change the subject. So, let's actually not. (LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Let's go back to the other big story, which is the new president, president-elect Biden, getting now enough electoral votes. The electors have voted.

David Axelrod, we expect to hear from president-elect Biden tonight, talking about turning a page, saying that essentially this was a test of democracy, and democracy prevailed. How important do you think it is for him to increasingly try to take the attention sort of away from the current president and transition to him being the president?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, yes.

No, look, I think part of his mission is to try and normalize things again, and get back to regular order, as they say in Washington, to stand up for these institutions.

[18:05:04]

I think he will probably and should celebrate the fact that, against maximum pressure, the institutions held in this case. And that is a tribute to hundreds of years of history and faithful to hundreds of years of history.

I will say this. He owes one debt of gratitude to Donald Trump, because no one has ever given as many victory speeches as Joe Biden.

(LAUGHTER)

AXELROD: He just keeps getting another opportunity. And this is one. But it's an important one.

I mean, it is remarkable that we are -- that the Electoral College became an event, when it was pro forma until this moment. But because of the -- for the reasons that it became an event, it's important that he stand up and mark this occasion and tell us we shouldn't take this for granted and then talk about the future.

COOPER: And, Gloria -- and you had pointed this out before, Gloria, the fact that, yes, the electors became an event.

On the flip side of that is, they actually became targets and security concerns and police escorts to and from vehicles. It's kind of stunning that this is now the situation we are living in. And it's not as if this is threats coming from some terrorist group overseas. This is stuff generated in the United States and, frankly, encouraged by and allowed by the president, and certainly not condemned wholeheartedly by the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And yet, under threat, they performed. They did their jobs. They became, in a way, the first responders of the election. They did what they were supposed to do.

And they did it well. And some of them had to meet secretly, as we know, because their lives were threatened. And so we have to applaud these people. And what the president is trying to do now -- we have the Barr resignation -- but it's a sideshow. Donald Trump is the sideshow now.

The main stage is the president-elect. The main stage is the future. Yes, Donald Trump has 40-odd days left, or maybe less than that, but the president is on center stage and -- president-elect is on center stage, and that's what the country needs to start paying attention to, because, if Donald Trump doesn't know how to leave the stage, that's fine. We all get that. He's not going to concede. Whatever.

He may not know how to leave the stage, but he has to, and the country is moving on without him. And try as he might to get back in the center, he's not going to be there. And he has got to kind of recognize it. So, he tried today. It's not going to work.

COOPER: Van, what do you expect from Vice President Biden tonight, president-elect Biden tonight?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I expect a boring speech.

And I'm so happy. Boring is the new thrilling. Boring is great.

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: I think he's just going to talk about America and how much he loves America and how much he wants everybody to get along. He's going to sound like a kindergarten teacher. And that's what we need. And I can't wait.

I think it's just going to be classic Joe Biden stuff. And I think Axelrod is exactly right. He just keeps getting opportunities to do more and more victory laps, and they're victory laps for democracy, which I love.

And the other thing is, Joe Biden's big and famous. Trump's big and famous. What was so cool all day long was all these just regular folks who looked like folks from the PTA up there doing the work of democracy and having all the power put in their hands to then raise their hand and push the process forward.

And I just thought that was great. And then to end the day with somebody like a Joe Biden, who loves this process, talking, I think it's going to be great, and it's going to be just boring. It's just going to be normal. It's just going to be awesome.

COOPER: Rick Santorum, what happens on Capitol Hill now moving forward? Obviously, there's still a fight over aid to people and businesses, stimulus response, and, obviously, the ongoing issues over president and whether or not -- what other shoe there is to fall on that.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I think there certainly still seems to be a great push to try to get some sort of COVID relief passage -- passed.

That that's something that they're -- everybody's focused on between now and Christmas. I think there's actually a sense of -- a lot of sense of relief on Capitol Hill because of the vaccine.

I think -- if I were the president, this actually -- as odd as it's been, it's been a great couple of weeks for this president and what he did with Operation Warp Speed and the team he put together and what they were able to accomplish. It's quite remarkable.

[18:10:02]

And it's in contrary to what -- quote -- "the fact-checkers said" prior to the election, that there's no way this vaccine would be delivered before the end of the year. The president was able to deliver that.

He could -- the odd thing is, he could be going out on a high note right now, because he actually delivered things that he said he was going to do and did it in a way that maybe other presidents couldn't have done.

So, I think Republicans are saying let's get this fixed. We have some good news that's on the horizon, that maybe this pandemic is going to start to get curbed as a result of this vaccine, and we can get back to normal and being a party that stands for the principles that we care about.

COOPER: David Axelrod, I know you weren't there at the end, but how long does it take to get movers to the White House?

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Is that -- like, when do you actually have to book the movers? Does that need a lot of run-up time? Because, at some point, doesn't that have to kind of get under way?

AXELROD: Maybe they're delivering vaccine, and I don't know.

But, no, I -- look, I think that these arrangements, I'm sure, are being made. There was some suggestion that the president wouldn't come back after the holiday. So, I -- no one knows quite what his plans are. Part of his plan may be a bunch of pardons, which could be one of the reasons why Barr decided this was a good time to get off the train.

But I just want to say one thing. We should talk about people like the speaker of the House in Michigan, who said today that he could not take the steps that the president wanted him to take relative to the legislature, because he said: "I fear we would lose our country forever. I fought hard for President Trump.

Nobody wanted him to win more than me. I think he has done an incredible job, but I love our republic, too. I can't fathom risking our norms, traditions and institutions to pass a resolution retroactively changing electors for Trump, simply because some think there may have been some widespread fraud, to give him the win."

We should note that there are people like this. You know, when the president attacks the governor of Georgia, when he attacks the governor of Arizona, these are people who campaigned vigorously for him. They would have liked nothing better than to deliver a win for Trump.

But they also had a responsibility, and they saw their responsibility through. And now they are in hot water. And he is threatening, hinting menacing primary challenges.

So, I think those people who did stand up deserve to be held up to that. I know people say, well, they were just doing their jobs, but they were doing their jobs under tremendous pressure.

COOPER: Yes.

Let's go back to Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

I want to go back to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

I understand you're speaking to sources.

ACOSTA: Yes.

BLITZER: You're getting some new sense at how the president is reacting to this historic moment, the U.S. Electoral College, the all- important Electoral College voting decisively that Biden will become the president of the United States on January 20.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.

Not a huge shocker, but I did talk to a source close to the White House, somebody who speaks regularly with the president, who said, no, the president is not moving in the direction of accepting that Joe Biden will be the next president, despite the Electoral College putting Biden over the top today.

I did talk to a separate White House adviser, who said, listen, the president privately acknowledges that he is not going to have a second consecutive term as president, that he lost this election to Joe Biden, even though he's out there publicly claiming that he was cheated out of a second term and he's fund-raising and siphoning money off of his supporters. That duality is going to continue to exist.

In addition to that, Wolf, I should note this adviser also scoffed at the notion -- and we heard this echoed earlier today by the domestic policy adviser to the president, Stephen Miller -- that the president and his team would somehow -- the Republicans would somehow send a -- quote -- "alternate slate of electors" to the House of Representatives to be counted on January 6.

This adviser said -- quote, unquote -- "whatever" to that idea. And so there are people inside the president's team of allies and advisers who are really scoffing at these ideas that are still floating around in Trump world that somehow the president has a way of overturning these election results after they go to the House of Representatives on January 6 to be tallied up. The other thing I should note is, this adviser went on to say -- and

this gets to the notion of the president just not accepting the reality of the situation. This adviser said, no, Donald Trump is not expected to be at Joe Biden's inauguration. You should not bet on President Trump, outgoing President Trump, attending the inauguration of incoming President Joe Biden, Wolf.

And so this is not really hugely surprising here. We have known this for some time. The president is acting like a sore loser. He can't accept that he lost this election to Joe Biden, and he's still behaving that way both publicly and privately -- Wolf.

[18:15:03]

BLITZER: Yes, the worst thing -- he has always been told his whole life, going back to his dad, always told him the worst thing you can be is a loser.

Clearly, right now, he's a loser. He lost this election. Biden won the election; 37 days from now, Biden becomes president. Trump, as I said, will become former president of the United States.

And Trump right now can't acknowledge, can't admit that he lost this election.

ACOSTA: Can't do it.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, I know you're working your sources. We will get back to you for more.

We're also getting more reaction now from Republicans, as the Electoral College confirms president-elect Biden's victory.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:18]

TAPPER: Welcome back to our special live coverage.

A short time ago, the Electoral College confirmed Joe Biden's win, as President Trump refuses to accept the democratic process and reality, frankly.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, has the Electoral College vote moved any more Republicans to acknowledge reality and recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some are. And they're moving quite slowly, but they're at least acknowledging reality here.

Just -- I just spoke with Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the president's closest allies, and who has fought alongside the president since Election Day, even as the results were clear that Biden has won.

And he just said to me, he said there's a quote -- "very, very narrow path for the president. I don't see how he gets it from here."

He also revealed to me for the first time that he, in fact, has already spoken with Joe Biden. He said it happened a little while ago, after the election. He said they had a very pleasant conversation. He had already started talking about some of Joe Biden's nominees that they would consider in the new Congress.

He has refused to do that so far, as he has battled with the president alongside him to fight these election results. He spoke positively about President Trump's nominee for the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin. He also talked positively about Tony Blinken, the president- elect's nominee for secretary of state.

Other top Republicans are also sounding open, acknowledging reality as well, like John Thune of South Dakota, the number two Republican. Another Republican in leadership, Roy Blunt, also told me that, yes, Joe Biden is the president-elect.

But, by and large, Jake, a lot of Republican senators are still refusing to acknowledge the reality of the situation here, and will not comment one way or the other. Steve Daines of Montana, who just won a tough reelection race, told me moments ago that he wouldn't go there. He said, "I'm not going to talk about that until January," when the House and Senate meet in a joint session of Congress to consider the electoral results.

Other Republican senators like John Kennedy of Louisiana said, "I don't have a comment for you," when we asked him if the Joe Biden is president-elect. And Marsha Blackburn, Josh Hawley, two other Republicans who are close allies of the president, also would not say if Joe Biden is president-elect.

It all speaks to how this party still is aligning themselves by and large with President Trump, even though they have see the reality here. And most Republican senators are not speaking out yet, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who was asked today as he was entering the Senate whether or not he would acknowledge that Joe Biden, in fact, won this election.

And he didn't say anything. And for weeks, he has not said anything, simply saying this process will play out, so slow to acknowledge reality. Jake, some are beginning to do that. But, at the moment, Republicans are saying that this race may be over, but some at least are not -- they're not calling on the president to concede, and some are not even going as far as saying that Joe Biden did win, Jake.

TAPPER: It's just a continued affront to the more than 80 million Americans who voted for the president-elect. It's just, frankly, embarrassing.

Manu Raju, thanks so much.

We're joined now by Maryland's Republican Governor Larry Hogan.

Governor Hogan, you have long acknowledged the reality of what happened on Election Day. We just heard that several of your fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to deny this reality. Is anything going to change after the Electoral College?

I mean, will we see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at least acknowledge that this is over, according to the Electoral College?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): Well, I would sure hope so, Jake. I mean, it's just getting ridiculous at this point. And I would agree with you that it's somewhat of an embarrassment for the party.

Look, this election is over. And I know that the president had every opportunity to provide some kind of evidence of widespread voter fraud. We haven't seen any. All the court cases are done. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case because there wasn't any factual evidence.

And now the states all across America, the Electoral College has voted. I signed the ascertainments of the vote here in our state. And we're forwarding them to the president of the Senate, the vice president, who will have to read these across -- before a joint session of Congress on January 6. There is no there there.

And we have to start moving forward and recognize the fact, whether you like it or not, no man is above the law, not even the president of the United States. And we count the votes. The election is over.

TAPPER: And is that your message to your fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill who continue to deny this reality?

HOGAN: Well, I have been saying this since right after the election. I think I was the first Republican in America, first elected Republican, to come out and recognize the fact that Joe Biden was the president- elect.

[18:25:05]

And you would think at this point -- I understand, at the beginning, maybe some people had some concerns about some of the allegations. But now we're several steps down the road, and there's -- they're out of runway.

This is -- we just have to acknowledge, this is embarrassment, embarrassing us. It's an affront to our democratic process and it's diminishing the presidency. I think it's bad for our party, bad for the country, and it weakens our position in the world.

TAPPER: Yes.

And you heard Congressman Paul Mitchell, former Republican of Michigan, ask the clerk of the House to change his registration today to independent, he's so disgusted with how the Republican Party in Washington is treating president-elect Biden and the election results.

Biden is going to be speaking from Delaware soon. What do you think he needs to say to the country? What do you think he needs to say to your fellow Republicans?

HOGAN: Well, I think, so far, his message has been one of reaching out and saying he wants to work in a bipartisan way, regardless of whether you voted for him or not.

He has reached out to us in the leadership in the Governors Association, Republicans and Democrats. And I think he has got to continue to move forward and take the high ground. And I think we have got to somehow convince Republican leaders in Congress to recognize reality. And we have got to get more profiles in courage, with people willing to at least tell the president the truth, and not continue to try to cover for him.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Governor, this is Dana Bash.

You said that -- you spoke today when Maryland was part of the Electoral College process and you ascertained the votes there. And, specifically, you spoke about the importance of the peaceful transition of power in this country.

And you said that today is a reminder that, despite our differences, we are united as Americans who will honor the will of the people through the greatest and most enduring democratic process that the world has ever known.

What went into crafting that message that you clearly wanted to send?

HOGAN: Well, our Statehouse, where we ascertain the votes and where the Electoral College voted, we were the first peacetime capital of the United States after the Revolutionary War. It's where George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief, and our very first president.

This is -- we actually have done this. We're one of six states in the country who have done this 59 times. And never have we had a situation like this, where we were not respecting the will of the people. And I just thought that the historical perspective was important.

This is a cornerstone of our democratic process. And it's critically important that, regardless of whether you're happy with the results or not, at this point, it's not about personal affections or party loyalty. You have to put the country above your personal feelings or above party loyalty.

BASH: And I want to get your reaction to what we learned tonight, which is that President Trump's attorney general, William Barr, has resigned.

HOGAN: Well, it wasn't a huge surprise.

We were actually on a call with Vice President Pence and all the governors, the Coronavirus Task Force, for about an hour-and-a-half. So, I missed a lot of the reporting on this, until I just heard about it right before going on the air with you.

But I think it's just one more step in a long process of people being fired or resigning because maybe they wouldn't do what the president wanted them to do. I don't have any inside information. I wasn't there. I don't know what exactly transpired, but it's just another indication of the president purging people who won't do what he wants.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Governor Hogan, it's Abby Phillip.

You know, we're talking about the electors today, but today is also a really big day for vaccinations in this country. And, you know, your state famously, my state also, famously had some issues with the logistics around PPE early on in this pandemic.

I'm wondering, as you see these vaccinations going out, are you confident that your state will have what it needs to carry out the vaccinations and for the next step of this process, getting more doses of this vaccine and getting them out to the populations you need to vaccinate?

HOGAN: Well, this is a really exciting day from that standpoint.

While all this kind of politics is going on, the realities on the ground are really encouraging. And I thanked the vice president today on the call and the team that was working on Operation Warp Speed. We got our first deliveries of vaccines here in my state of Maryland today.

We vaccinated our first candidates, which were front-line health care workers at the University of Maryland Medical Center. And, look, we have had a lot of negative news and a lot of -- we have been through a lot throughout all of 2020, just about.

This is not going to instantly get better, but this really is a very positive step.

[18:30:02]

There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I'll take my -- you know, I was first to criticized the administration when I didn't think they were doing a good job early on. This is one success story, and I think it's a great way for them to try to get this done and move forward and I'm hopeful that we will able to continue to have success. I think it's -- so far, it's been very well organized, ahead of schedule, and the logistics seemed to be going very well.

PHILLIP: There's the getting of the vaccines, and there's the taking of the vaccine. And we know that there are many populations who are hesitant to take any kind of vaccine. What are you planning to do with your state in terms of outreach to populations, black and Hispanic and other groups that have vaccine hesitancy and may not want to get vaccinated?

HOGAN: Well, we started with our first step on that today, and that the very first people that were vaccinated at the University of Maryland were frontline health care workers of color. So we had both black and Latino hospital workers who got the first vaccinations and that we worked really hard to get that out to the media to show and have them talk about the importance and safety of the vaccine.

We're going to continue to do that. We're going to do kind of some lots of community outreach and have people in those communities. I'm going to work together with black caucus and our legislature, who has expressed an interest in working with us on the messaging. We're going to go into all of those communities to try to get role models to take the vaccine and to show people and talk about.

We understand the concerns in certain segments of the population, but it's critically important that we convince people that we need to get vaccinated to stop this virus.

TAPPER: All right. Governor Larry Hogan, Republican of Maryland, thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it.

HOGAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you. There's also some other major developments unfolding in the battle against the coronavirus with vaccinations beginning to happen here in the United States today.

Up next, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, there you see him. He's waving to us. We have questions. He has answers. We'll discuss when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: This afternoon, the death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 300,000 people here in the United States. It's a grim, grim milestone as the very first coronavirus vaccines are also happening in the United States right now. All 50 states have now received doses of the new coronavirus vaccine.

CNN's Alexandra Field is joining us from New York right now. Alexandra, you spoke -- you had a chance to speak to one of the first health care workers to be vaccinated in New York City. What did you hear?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is having just a handful of hospitals and a number of health care workers are lining up here right now, Wolf. These are the people who have been working the most closely with the men and women who have become the most severely ill as a result of COVID overall of these many months. So they've lined up today, they're coming in to sit for these appointments.

Mayor Bill De Blasio was here at NYU Langone and helped to mark the occasion calling it a beautiful moment, an historic day, a shot of hope.

Tara Easter, a nurse in the ICU, was, in fact, the first woman to roll up her sleeve. For her, it brings some relief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TARA EASTER, NURSE MANAGER, MEDICAL ICU, NYU LANGONE HEALTH: Well, a lot of mixed feelings. I think staff, there's many staff like me that are excited for the opportunity, happy to be able to get it, to protect themselves, protect their families, protect patients that they're taking care of that may not have COVID.

There is some reluctance, of course, because this is very new. But we have so much information here and so many resources for people to be informed. And I think those people that are reluctant will definitely eventually take the opportunity to have the vaccine. And they'll feel more secure and comfortable moving forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FIELD: To put the scale of this massive operation really into perspective, we are hearing from the city of New York that essentially just a handful of these hospital frontline workers will have been vaccinated by morning. But by the end of next week, they're expecting that number to jump to the tens of thousands. Dozens of hospitals in New York City will be receiving their first doses of the vaccine as soon as tomorrow.

And what I'm being told from the city's health commissioner is that the hospitals are starting slowly maybe with just a few dozen people because they want to make sure that the procedures and the protocols are perfect, then they'll ramp up quickly. And, Wolf, we can already look ahead, because we're learning that as soon as next week, you could see some doses of the vaccine arriving at nursing homes. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very important, indeed a historic moment on this front. Alexandra, thank you very much.

Joining us now, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams. Dr. Adams, thank you so much for joining us.

Less than a year after this deadly virus emerged, the first Americans have now been vaccinated today. You were on hand, I understand, for some of those vaccinations over at the George Washington University Hospital here in D.C. How historic is this accomplishment?

JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, this is just tremendous. And I'm smiling bigger than I smiled in a long time because it has been a hard year for so many people out there, including me personally, my family, the people who I love. And today, we really did get a shot of hope.

[18:40:02]

I got to be at George Washington Medical Center and see frontline health care workers get vaccinated. We're not talking about development. We're not talking about, again, the approval process, actually vaccines going into arms.

We've got a long way to go, make no mistake about it. And we still need to be appropriately cautious. We still need to be -- still need to understand how severe this virus is and the surge that is still going in the wrong direction. But we've got some hope finally, Wolf. And I'm excited. I really am. And I hope America is too. I hope they'll embrace this. I hope they'll go out and get vaccinated when it's available to them.

BLITZER: I hope so as well because it will save lives.

The incredible milestone, unfortunately, though, Dr. Adams, comes as the death toll in the United States surpassed 300,000. 300,000 Americans have died from COVID since January. The CDC director says that for the next few months, and this is awful, we're going to see more deaths every day than we saw on 9/11. Until the vaccines become widely available, what's your message to Americans, Dr. Adams, right now?

ADAMS: Well, I was in Montana over the last several days, and I talked to hospitals around the state. They're overcapacity in those hospitals. You've got hundreds of health care workers who were either on isolation or quarantine.

So my message to America is that the finish line is in sight. The last couple of miles are the hardest but we've got to keep running. Because even if you aren't worried about COVID, your loved one who is in labor may not have a hospital bed. Your loved one, who is having a heart attack or who gets in a car accident may not have a bed.

And that's why we need to continue to follow the three W's. Wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance. That's why it's incredibly important that you get your flu shot. And that's why if you have the ability to give convalescent plasma because you're one of the 10 million people who have recovered from COVID-19 that we encourage you to give convalescent plasma. These are the things we can do right now.

And ask your health provider now if you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, because it's okay, it's okay to have those questions. It's not okay to let misinformation cost you to make decisions that are going to hurt you or hurt your community.

BLITZER: Sadly, though, Dr. Adams, a lot of things could potentially go wrong in this complicated vaccine rollout. The head of Operation Warp Speed, for example, says his biggest concern right now is the accidental loss of temperature control. This vaccine requires people to return also for a second dose. So what do you see as the biggest potential roadblocks ahead?

ADAMS: I do think that temperature control is going to be a concern. I think sheer numbers are going to be a concern. Again, when I was in Montana, they're trying to get smaller numbers of doses out to remote areas, for instance, on Indian Health Service facilities. And that's a challenge when you have coolers that send out 900 doses at a time.

But General Perna, he's one of the best people in the world of logistics. I want people to understand, you have career people who have been doing this their entire lives working to make this a success. There will be bumps in the road, so be patient with us. This is going to be the hardest vaccine distribution in history, but you've got top-notch people working 24/7 to make it successful.

TAPPER: Surgeon General Adams, this is Jake Tapper here. Earlier --

ADAMS: Hi, Jake.

TAPPER: Hi, how are you doing, Dr. Adams? Earlier, the Health and Human Services Secretary, your colleague, Alex Azar, told me that the plan is to use trusted voices to reach out to any American who is skeptical of the vaccine. I know that's something you've been focused quite a bit, especially perhaps in the African-American community.

Now, we know that because of the history of racism in medicine, especially the Tuskegee experiment, there's a lot of skepticism among black Americans about such things as vaccines. How concerned are you about anybody in this country refusing to get vaccinated? And what are some of the trusted voices that you might be turning to to help convince people in the black community to trust the vaccine?

ADAMS: Jake, thank you so much for that incredibly important question. Nothing has been on my heart more than this issue over the past several weeks to months. And I've been working with Pfizer, with Moderna, with AstraZeneca, with Johnson & Johnson, to make sure we have appropriate numbers of minorities enrolled in these vaccine trials so that people can understand that they are safe.

But I just want to highlight something. We talk a lot about skepticism. The number of people polled who say they will get this vaccine went from 30 percent about three, four weeks ago to 60 percent last week. And an ABC poll came out today that said it's up to 80 percent.

So I think the message is getting out there that there were no safety corners cut, that this vaccine actually using a platform that's been around for over a decade and that it's going to be the way we end this pandemic.

[18:45:02]

But we do need to work with trusted resources. I'm working with the faith community. After I get off this interview, I'm actually going to be talking to African-American fraternities and sororities, the Divine Nine presidents.

We're also working with celebrity influencers. We'll work with anybody who wants to learn more about the vaccine and then use their megaphone to share the appropriate information with people, because vaccine hesitancy is one of the greatest social injustices out there. There are tens of thousands of black and brown people dying every year because they are distrustful of the system -- in many cases, rightly so, but also because they're not getting the facts to help restore their trust in the system.

We've got so many protections in place now, the Office of Human Resource Protections, independent review boards to make sure something like Tuskegee never happens again. I want people to know I'm going to get the vaccine as soon as I am able to and told I can get it. TAPPER: And, obviously, Surgeon General Adams, let us know how we can

help get that message out as members of the news media.

Dr. Fauci says discussions are under way on when President-elect Biden can get vaccinated. I assume you think that it's in the national security interest to vaccinate both him and President Trump as soon as possible.

ADAMS: Well, I'll let the White House talk about what they're going to do in terms of vaccinations. We want to immunize for impact.

I certainly will say broadly, I think it's appropriate for the leaders of the world to be vaccinated from a continuity of operations perspective, but we're focused on getting older people, people in long-term care facilities, who are 0.4 percent of the population but 40 percent of the deaths. We're focused on health care workers like Dr. Flo (ph), an African-American anesthesiologist who I saw today and met today at GW get vaccinated.

If we can do that, then we can help protect everyone as we wait for more and more of these doses to come out. Twenty million of people vaccinated in December. We'll be up to 50 million by January and 100 million by February.

TAPPER: Before a doctor or a nurse or a nurse practitioner, whomever, gives a patient this vaccine, what questions should they ask? What -- what risks are there that you want to guard against?

ADAMS: Well, one of the big things that you heard about in the England distribution was two people who had an anaphylactic reaction. And I want people to know that that's not normal with the vaccine.

And so, now, there are recommendations that if you have an anaphylactic reaction previously to a vaccine, that you should have a very intense conversation with your health provider about whether or not you should get it.

But people should also know that's why we administer vaccines in medical environments where you can respond. So, this is perfectly normal. I want the people to know you're going to have, potentially, a sore arm. You might even have a mild fever for a little bit or a little bit of a headache.

That means the vaccine is working. That means that your body is building antibodies to the virus. So, that is normal.

But ask those questions. Ask about how we have been working on the platform for this vaccine for over ten years. I just really quickly want people to know this is platform technology.

So, it's Christmas season. If you get an Xbox, you want to change games, you don't throw out the entire game. You change the game that you're playing and keep the console.

We kept the console and we changed out the piece that made it recognize COVID-19. That's how we were able to develop this vaccine so quickly. Not by cutting any safety or scientific corners whatsoever.

BLITZER: Surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for everything you are doing. We are appreciative, very much so.

ADAMS: Thank you.

BLITZER: And we're going to have more of this major, major development. All 50 states now have doses of the new coronavirus vaccine. We're going to assess what's going on with Dr. Sanjay Gupta when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:53:16]

BLITZER: We're back with our special live coverage. We're following multiple historic stories this evening. President-elect Joe Biden's win was affirmed by the U.S. Electoral College, another major step in the democratic process. But President Trump so far unfortunately has refused to accept.

Minutes after Joe Biden's win was affirmed by the Electoral College, President Trump announced his attorney general, Bill Barr, is leaving the administration. Earlier this month, Barr publicly disputed President Trump's false claims that there was widespread voter fraud.

And history in the fight against the coronavirus right now. It's a day we've all been waiting for with the first coronavirus vaccines being administered in the United States. Doses have now been delivered to all 50 states. It's certainly a much-needed sign of hope. The pandemic has never been worse here in the United States than it is right now.

Just this afternoon, the U.S. surpassed 300,000, 300,000 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus since January.

Let's bring our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

So, 300,000 deaths. But now there is this vaccine, and there might be a second vaccine approved later this week. The Pfizer vaccine approved.

But Moderna's vaccine could be approved later this week as well, right, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. That's right, Wolf. I mean, the same process that we sort of went through this past week. An advisory committee met this past Thursday, you'll remember, Wolf, and then they recommended to the FDA that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine be authorized.

We're going to see that same sort of cycle this week. So, on Thursday, the FDA advisory committee's going to meet. They're going to review the data.

It's been looked at for some time now by these FDA data scientists. [18:55:00]

Then we'll probably hear just as we did Friday likely, maybe even Thursday night, that whether or not the vaccine's been authorized, hear from the CDC. And possibly if it gets authorized see doses of that vaccine go out as well.

Incidentally, Wolf, I spoke to the CEO of Pfizer this morning. He said that by the end of the year, he anticipates 25 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine being available here in the United States.

You've often heard the number 40 million doses in total. That's sort of counting on Moderna getting authorized and having -- making up that shortfall, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know, Sanjay, I keep getting this question asked, if this is a vaccine like the polio vaccine, you just need it once or is it like the flu vaccine, you need it let's say every year?

GUPTA: No, Wolf, we really don't know. I mean, this gets at the question of the durability of the antibodies and stuff. You know, we've had evidence now that people who have been naturally infected, they may have sort of a tapering off of their antibodies over time. Is that going to happen with the vaccine as well?

We just don't know. I think you have to really learn these things in part with the passage of time. They're going to be doing these studies that are ongoing on these trial participants, studying their antibody levels and seeing if they still have protection.

But we don't know. It could be something that is yearly or every couple of years or you need a booster shot from time to time. We will see, Wolf.

BLITZER: The other thing that a lot of people ask me, this first tier, the highest priority of those who will be getting this vaccine, health care workers and folks living in retirement homes, nursing homes, but who comes second after that?

GUPTA: Yeah, that is a -- that is a great question. So, you know, it's probably going to differ a little bit state to state. But within that second tier is going to be probably essential workers, people who are at high risk of contracting COVID because of their jobs, and also people over the age of 65, and with some sort of pre-existing conditions, people who are at higher risk.

It may vary state to state, Wolf, and I think this is in part some of the confusion. You could be in one state and fall within a certain, you know, number in terms of your number in line cross the border into another state and if may be different there. Partially that's based on how the states are triaging the vaccines in each state based on their needs.

BLITZER: You heard Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general of the United States, say that he believes for continuity of government both the current president, President Trump, and the President-elect Joe Biden should both get the shot, both get vaccinated right now. Do you agree with that?

GUPTA: Yeah. I do, Wolf. I've been thinking about this a lot, and I've talked to some ethicists about this.

First of all, they're both over the age of 70. So they would qualify based on their age, at least probably in that second group or one of the higher groups.

The other thing is that it's in part a national security issue to some extent, just like you wanted to try and protect the president as much as you can from COVID. Unfortunately, he did get COVID still.

But in order to protect the president and maybe some of the people who are the highest levels of government, getting vaccinated might be a good option.

BLITZER: What about pregnant women? Should they get the shot?

GUPTA: This is interesting, Wolf. Here's the bottom line, is that you really -- pregnant women were not really part of the trial. So, there was 23 women who became pregnant during the trial. So there's a little bit of data there. But they weren't part of the trial.

Where this seems to have landed is they're not saying pregnant women shouldn't get vaccinated. They're saying they should be educated that they weren't part of the trial but there's no reason to believe that it would be unsafe for them to get vaccinated and it's going to be really a decision between a pregnant woman and their doctor or their health care provider and the real question is what's your risk?

If you're a pregnant woman who's at high risk, let's say you're working as a respiratory therapist and you're exposed to COVID quite a bit, then you may lean on the side of going ahead and getting the vaccine.

Other people who are very low risk may not just until there's more data available. But it's not contra-indicated, meaning they're not going to say you can't have it.

BLITZER: Despite the fact that these vaccines are now being made available Dr. Fauci suggests you know, what we're going to be wearing masks for quite a while, even if you get the vaccine. What's your assessment?

GUPTA: Yeah, so you know, the way to think about this is I think what does the vaccine really do? What do we know that this vaccine really does? And what we can say is the thing we were studying is it does prevent people from developing symptoms of COVID-19, prevents people from getting sick essentially, which is really important obviously. But if the second question is does it also prevent them from becoming infected, carrying the virus and possibly transmitting the virus, we can't say that for sure.

So could you be in a position where you're vaccinated, far less likely to get sick now as a result of getting vaccinated, but still potentially someone who could transmit the virus to somebody else? And the answer is possibly. We don't know. We'll get more data. I'll tell you, I think that it's quite likely that the vaccine does lower your virus counts a lot but we're just not sure about that yet.

BLITZER: Lots we don't know. Lots we do know. But get the vaccine if you can. It's really important.

Sanjay, thank you so much. Lots of breaking news today. A historic day here in the United States.

And our breaking news coverage continues with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".