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Faster Moving Virus and Slow Rolling Vaccine Rollout; Interview with Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL); New COVID Strain Identified in Second State One Day after First Appearance in U.S. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 30, 2020 - 20:00   ET


BIANNA GOLODGRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Wells had roles on other shows and on stage as well, but none eclipse Mary Ann. Dawn Wells was 82 years old and survivors include a stepsister.

My kids watched their first episode three weeks ago and no surprise they love it as well. Rest in peace, Dawn.

And that's it for me tonight. AC 360 starts right now.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: A very good evening to you. Jim Sciutto here, in again tonight for Anderson.

And tonight, a faster moving COVID virus meets a slow moving vaccination effort. In other words, the race to immunize enough people to stop the virus, one we're already behind in could be getting a whole lot tougher.

Late today in a Facebook video chat with Dr. Anthony Fauci, California's Governor said the new more easily transmitted COVID strain has now been detected in his state.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Just an hour or so ago, we were informed that this new variant, this new strain that we've identified, obviously from the United Kingdom, and other some other parts of the globe identified in Colorado, yesterday has been identified here in the State of California, in Southern California.


SCIUTTO: Fauci's reaction, he's not surprised. All the same, it now raises the stakes and adds to what is already a grim and worsening picture. New forecasting tonight from the C.D.C. now projects up to 424,000 COVID deaths by the 23rd of next month.

That's as many as 83,000 more lives lost over just the next three weeks or so, and it comes after the worst single day on record for reported deaths in this country, 3,725 of our fellow Americans in 24 hours, including a 41-year-old incoming U.S. Congressman from the State of Louisiana, Luke Letlow, who died of complications from the virus. He leaves behind a wife and two young children. And as the numbers show, there are so many tragedies now like his; and

on the other side of this grim ledger, a vaccine rollout that even the people running the program say has room to improve.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Dr. Slaoui said that you need to be doing a better job. You would agree with that?

ADMIRAL BRETT GIROIR, H.H.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY: Oh, yes, of course, we need to be doing a better job. But all vaccine programs start somewhat slow. You heard General Perna, yes, we had two Holidays and three snowstorms. But I think it's more of just you starting a program and that starts relatively slowly and ramped up very quickly.


SCIUTTO: Keeping them honest, the administration is missing its own goals here and it's not like Holidays and snowstorms are surprising this time of year or unforeseeable when the rollout was being planned. The real problem, according to many experts and some former insiders in this administration, can be traced back to the very planning itself.


OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER COVID TASKFORCE ADVISER TO VP PENCE: It comes down to really just a lack of a national strategy on this vaccine distribution, and this has been the problem from day one on the pandemic response.


SCIUTTO: That's Olivia Troye, a former top COVID adviser to the Vice President, who will join us shortly and that lack of a national strategy, as we've been reporting for some time means that getting shots into the arms is now up to each state and relies on overburdened, often underfunded state and local agencies.

As CNN's Ryan Young discovered down in Florida today, all 67 counties there are handling the rollout differently and multiply that situation by 50, what you get is a country that has now vaccinated about 2.6 million people in the last two weeks, that works out to 49 per 100,000, a little better than Canada, worse than the U.K., 12 times worse than Israel, which has now vaccinated some 600 people per 100,000.

Israel's Prime Minister says the goal is to inoculate a quarter of that country's population by the end of next month and he appears to be delivering. By contrast, President Trump is not delivering after making these kinds of promises day to day on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're on track to deliver 100 million doses of a safe vaccine and a great vaccine and that's all set. We're all set logistically. Our military is going to deliver it. It'll be done very quickly.

We will get rid of this virus. It'll be very -- you watch. It's going to happen very quickly and we're going to have our country back on


SCIUTTO: Another promise unmet. That was late October. Today, as he did yesterday, he tweeted it's not up to him, it is up to the States. And today as he did yesterday, the day before yesterday, the day before that, 313 times now since taking office, the President was doing his golfing at one of his owns clubs, putting taxpayer dollars into his own businesses' coffers while thousands more Americans die and millions wait for economic help.

More now on all this from CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who has some late news right now about a change in the President's travel plans -- he is coming back to Washington.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is. And Jim, this is earlier than expected. The President was supposed to stay in Palm Beach through the New Year, but now, we are being told he is going to be leaving early and going back to Washington tomorrow morning.

And that's unusual because typically the President loves going to the New Year's Eve party that they have at Mar-a-Lago. He walks the red carpet, has all the press there, often speaks to reporters, but now he is not even going to attend that party, even though guests were told he was going to and we are now told by three sources that the President is going to be leaving Washington early tomorrow or leaving Palm Beach, I should say early tomorrow, to go back to Washington, though it's not clear why.

But of course, we know the President has basically been completely focused on what's going to be happening next week in D.C., and that's on Capitol Hill when they meet to do what is typically pretty mundane for Congress to certify the election.

And, of course, that would mean certifying Joe Biden's win, but the President and his Republican allies are now planning a disruption to that. And of course, all of these antics that we've been talking about are really going to only amount at theatrics.

They aren't actually going to change the outcome of the election. The Vice President does not have any kind of deciding role when it comes to that and what his role is going to be next week.

But Jim, it does come as we are seeing these concerns about the vaccine rollout and what's going on and why the numbers are nowhere near what administration officials said they were going to be and they've spent months planning this rollout. So that's why it's raising so many questions, because it wasn't like it was unexpected about when the vaccine was likely to come. And so that's the question here. We have heard from the President, of

course, he is deflecting. He is blaming states, as he often did with PPE and with testing earlier on in the pandemic. He is taking a similar route here.

You're not hearing that from his own officials who did hold a briefing today to talk to reporters about what's going on and why there have been such lags in this.

And instead, they just said they are going to work to address it. They said that they are not where they want to be right now and they are focused on changing that and hoping that this is not something that persists, like the problem with testing has throughout the pandemic.

But of course, that is not the tactic that we are seeing the President taking and instead, is putting all the blame back on the states.

SCIUTTO: Well, I mean, as I say, hope is not a plan. I mean, we would expect hope any President would be focused on this right now instead of disputing the election he lost.

Is there any sense of urgency among his inner circle, though about their legacy, if not the President's here with an immunization process that is not going well?

COLLINS: I think it depends on who you ask. If you ask more of the political staffers, they are often really defensive when it comes to things like this.

They were the same about testing though and about ventilators and PPE when we were discussing all of that, all these phases that we've gone through. They've often said the Federal government can't do everything.

But also neither can these Departments of Health that states that are not well funded. They never are, but they certainly aren't now and they're in charge of testing and contact tracing and now, vaccine distribution. That's a lot of pressure on them.

And so -- but if you speak to the officials who were involved with Operation Warp Speed, you know, they do want to be where they promised they would be. It wasn't just one official saying off handed that they would have X amount of vaccines by the end of December, it was a slew of officials saying we will have this, we feel confident about this and they know that this does undercut them and their credibility.

And so I do think they are working on it and they are hoping this is only going to be something in the beginning. That of course remains to be seen.

SCIUTTO: We'll see. Those promises have been whittled down repeatedly. Kaitlan Collins with the President, thanks very much.

Joining us now Florida Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala. She served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, also former COVID adviser to Vice President Pence, Olivia Troye, who you just heard from a moment ago.

Congresswoman Shalala, if I could be with you. You heard those C.D.C. numbers, 2.6 million Americans have been given the vaccine so far. Listen, the goal was 100 million by the end of this month, which is tomorrow, then it was 40 million, then it was 20. It's 2.6 million now. Is this in your view exposing deep problems in the rollout plan?

REP. DONNA SHALALA (D-FL): It is. There's no question about it. Thank you for having me on.

There's no plan here. There's no plan for the last mile. They planned for the distribution, getting the vaccines out to the states, but they did not plan for how they were going to get enough vaccines into the arms of people in this country.

And these numbers are much too small, even Joe Biden has said he's going to do 100 million in 100 days. He needs to do 200 million in 100 days if he just does 100 million in 100 days, it will take a year and a half to get the kind of herd immunity we need. We need to ramp up.


SHALALA: By the way, the rest of the world knows how to do this, particularly the developing world. I was once in India when then in a weekend, they got millions of people vaccinated because they coordinated every part of their healthcare system.

We can't do this just by sending vaccines to hospitals. Every part of our country has to be organized to get these vaccines into the arms of our citizens.

SCIUTTO: Yes, look at the U.K., and they just approved to the AstraZeneca vaccine today and their Health Secretary says they're going to have the country done or 40 million of their country done by the end of March.

Olivia, as we mentioned earlier, you were a COVID adviser to Vice President Pence. You wrote today on Twitter, in response to the President blaming states, we're quoting here, "Once again, let's shift the blame to the states on the COVID vaccine distribution just like you did with testing and PPE. Billions of money were spent on Operation Warp Speed. What is the point if Americans are still suffering? It's your incompetence and vindictiveness."

I wonder, during your time in the administration, did some folks see this coming? This idea of laying it all on the states simply not working?

TROYE: Absolutely. There's just no way that you would have worked in this environment, knowing all of the obstacles that were being overcome along the way. And like we saw this with testing, that was a disaster. We saw this with PPE, which was a disaster, especially at the beginning until F.E.M.A. steps in in an organized manner to bring like order to chaos. I mean, that's why F.E.M.A. exists.

They have a whole network. They know how to do disaster response, and we couldn't have done it without them. They have the networks in the states.

But we had these conversations in the taskforce about health departments and states. I remember specifically, like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx and even Dr. Hahn, who have worked in hospitals, who are experts in this, who understand the hospital system, who have raised concerns along the way about the need to help and partner with these states and to have their backs in it.

It's unfair to, you know, just drop off a load of vaccine and say, you know, over to you, and it's -- you know, we're going to wash our hands on it because that way we can blame the states and not take responsibility as a White House.

SCIUTTO: Congresswoman Shalala, this is supremely disappointing, right? There was so much hope. I was among the crew hoping that, you know that now, we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel here. I wonder there will be a new President in 21 days, he does take this seriously, President-elect Biden, but how quickly can he and his administration fill the holes here? Right?

I mean, we spoke on the air the other day, for instance, about all the weight being put, for instance, on private pharmacies like CVS chains in terms of giving this out here.

I mean, how quickly can the Biden administration stand up what is needed to get these vaccines into people's arms?

SHALALA: Pretty quickly. And by the way, anyone that thinks there's a light at the end of the tunnel on this COVID raging disease is going in the wrong direction because we're just at the beginning of this.

The Biden administration will bring a sense of urgency. They can organize the country with that sense of urgency, and we can't be dependent just on our existing healthcare infrastructure. We're going to need additional sites for the distribution of this vaccine and it's going to be more than just the pharmacies, it's going to be every clinic and probably independent sites set up so that we can get this vaccine into the arms of Americans as quickly as possible, but it will take major organization.

We have not been good at vaccine distribution in this country. Only 45 percent of our people get the flu vaccine now, so this is new for us. But other countries have done it.

Listen, I would call in UNICEF. They've done large scale vaccinations in countries much larger than we've ever done. I'd call the World Health Organization.

The developing world has a lot more experience than we do in the distribution of vaccines very quickly and very accurately. But the Biden administration will bring the sense of urgency and a lot of skilled public health people with international experience.

SCIUTTO: Olivia, is that where we are America in the year 2020? Going into 2021, one of the richest countries in the world. I mean, I've seen UNICEF at work in the poorest countries in the world delivering basic healthcare. Does the U.S. today need that kind of help to get millions of Americans vaccinated?


TROYE: Well, unfortunately, when you have had years of a leadership team in office that doesn't actually care about what's doing right for the American people, and in this previous year during a major pandemic, yes, we are in a terrible situation right now and it's going to take a long time for all of this to kind of pass and for us to get structures in place and bring order to this.

And you know, we're in a really divided situation right now as a country on this pandemic. You have people still not wearing masks -- people -- and you have leadership, you have Republican leadership, especially out there, not wearing masks and sending terrible examples on a daily basis.

And when you're countering messaging like that on top of a raging virus that's really just raging across our country, I think we're in a very bad situation right now.

SCIUTTO: Well, Lord, let's hope we could turn it around, finally. Congresswoman Shalala, Olivia Troye, thanks to both of you, and thanks for your service to this country.

SHALALA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, next, what two public health professionals have to say about not only this new COVID strain and what it means for all of us, but also the vaccine rollout.

Plus, Senator Tim Kaine on Kaitlan Collins new reporting and the President's surrender on higher COVID relief payments.


SCIUTTO: With news late today that a faster spreading COVID-19 variant has now been identified in a second state in this country, California, brought a familiar chill.

And earlier today, health officials in the first state to see this variant, Colorado, said they believe they've traced a second case of it to an assisted living facility northeast of Colorado Springs and as with the first, it is a National Guard member, part of a team deployed to ease a staffing shortage there.

Researchers in the U.K. where this variant was first discovered estimated it could be up to 70 percent more effective at spreading.

Plenty to talk about tonight with CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, also Emily Travanty, Scientific Director of Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment.


SCIUTTO: Dr. Travanty, if I could begin with you, since Colorado, of course, one of the first states to identify the presence of this variant, it is now in California. Dr. Fauci and others have said for days now, it's here in this country and clearly what we're seeing, are we not, that it's spreading within the community. These are not people who necessarily brought it themselves from outside the country.

DR. EMILY TRAVANTY, SCIENTIFIC DIRECTOR OF COLORADO'S DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT: Absolutely, that's correct. The cases that we have identified here in Colorado, one confirmed and one probable both have no history of travel in there during the incubation period, indicating that it is likely caused by community spread. There is likely more of it out there that we haven't found yet.

SCIUTTO: Okay. I mean, do you have a sense, based on how previous variants spread? If you see a couple of cases like this, do you have a sense of how far it's out there at this point?

TRAVANTY: It's likely circulating around inside of our communities right now given that we've seen it now show up in a second state, it's likely that we've seen travel associated spread as well as spread directly within the community.

SCIUTTO: Lord, okay, Dr. Wen, so let me ask you this, and I want to get this right, because I don't want to mislead people, you know, underestimate or overestimate the danger here. But if this variant is more transmissible, as the science seems to show, does that mean that steps we're taking to stop transition, mask wearing, social distancing to six feet are less effective?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So this is a very good point, Jim, and I'm glad you brought it up because we do know so far that this variant appears to be more transmissible, so it spreads more easily. But it still spreads through the same route. So it hasn't fundamentally changed.

It's still an airborne virus spread through the respiratory routes, through droplets also, and so those same mitigation measures that we've been talking about all along, the mask wearing, avoiding indoor gatherings, the keeping physical distancing, that will still help -- those are still the tools that we have to prevent the spread of this particular variant, too.

The issue though, is that we really have to get it under control faster, because if it spreads more easily, we are going to get more cases of it, which means that our hospitalizations will also increase. We'll also get more deaths.

SCIUTTO: Simple question just on mask wearing, I know that it's early Dr. Wen, but is it likely that for instance, N95 masks, which we should note are harder to get are safer than cloth masks? So I mean, in general, we already know that, but is that an early step that people should be thinking about? Or is it too early to say?

WEN: Well, again, nothing about this particular variant seems to be different from the other variants of coronavirus, and that it's still the same steps. And so the N95 mask is absolutely going to protect you more than the three-ply surgical mask. The three-ply surgical mask or protection more than the cloth mask, but you should still find the mask that you're able to wear consistently and well.

The N95 is not particularly comfortable as you know.

SCIUTTO: Understood. No, I -- but trust me, I've been through it as I'm sure many people watching tonight have been. Dr. Travanty, a number of health experts we've spoken to in recent days have said one problem has been that we, as a country have not been genetic sequencing as we've been testing, in other words, so you can spot variants early. I mean, we're kind of learning about this late, right? Because the U.K. found it. In Colorado, do you have the capability now to get a handle on this by doing that kind of thing when you test?

TRAVANTY: Right. So it is true that the U.K. is a bit ahead of the United States in terms of its more widespread approach to genome sequencing. But the C.D.C. and many states have worked really hard to ramp up their sequencing that they're doing and we have done that here in Colorado.

When we first heard about this mutation and this variant of concern out in the U.K., we got together as a staff and really looked at what is our protocols here? How are we doing things? And how can we be on the lookout for it?

And immediately the next day started surveilling the samples as they came in and looking at what they look like during the routine diagnostic PCR test for dropout of the S spike sequence to sort of have a way to characterize a fingerprint for what might be a sample that needed to be sequenced.

And we were, you know, that's how we were able to find ours. We started looking for it right away based on the communication we had heard from across the country. We are doing active surveillance sequencing already here in Colorado, so we have those pipelines and pathways set up already and we are working also with C.D.C. to contribute sequences to the national surveillance -- or excuse me, samples for sequencing to the national surveillance as well.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Well, that's good medical detective work. Dr. Wen, big picture for a moment now if I could get your view on the vaccine rollout and the slow start to this, right, and the slow, but gradual trimming down of this administration's promises from 100 million doses by tomorrow to 40 to 20. Now we're at 2.6.

How concerning is that to you? And how quickly can the incoming administration turn that around?


WEN: It's extremely concerning. I think it's a combination of several things. It's over promising in the first place. It's also not having a national strategy, but instead throwing up our hands and basically saying, it's now, the Federal government has done their job. It's just with the production and initially distribution to the States.

But after that, the administration, it's all up to the states. We're not going to give you guidance or support or funding, it is your problem. And so I think ramping it up from now is going to be very challenging because the infrastructure actually needed to be built months ago.

But that said, all is not lost. This needs to be an all of government response. We also need to enlist the private sector, we need to list community health clinics, churches, and really everyone that needs to be part of this vaccination drive, especially now that we know about these variant strains that are also in the U.S.

If this is more transmissible and is more widespread, also, it's going to take us even more people who are vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. And so we have to ramp up really rapidly and urgency needs to be our top priority here.

SCIUTTO: Well, Lord, folks need to do this. Right? People need this help. We've got to get this rate of infection down but also the death rate down. Let's hope the smarter folks prevail.

Dr. Wen, Emily Travanty, thanks so much for the work you're doing.

TRAVANTY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, we're going to ask Senator Tim Kaine about the President's early return to Washington and his attempt to get lawmakers to help him -- listen to this, it's still going -- overturn the election, so many of them actually won.



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: As Kaitlan Collins reported at the top of the hour, the President is heading back early from Mar-a-Lago to Washington spoiling for a fight in Congress over the election. He cannot just admit that he lost. His latest hope, some kind of insurrection in the House and the Senate when they meet next week for the ceremonial certification of Electoral College votes.

Joining us now one of the senators who will be present there, Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia. Senator, thanks so much for taking the time tonight.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Absolutely, Jim, good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: So, it's CNN is understanding that the Presidents returning with a focus on January 6 in this effort, and you now know that one of your Republican colleagues, Josh Hawley, will join Republican House members in seeking to challenge these results on January 6, what's your reaction?

KAINE: Well, Jim, I'm very, very sad that a president is trying to overthrow the popular vote. And yes, he's got some one of these and acolytes who will go along with them. But just like we're going to reject the President's veto of the defense bill, the only president to veto a defense bill in 60 years, we're going to reject his effort to overthrow the will of the American electorate. And I think it's going to be overwhelming with both Democratic and Republican votes, telling him to take a hike, your term is over and you can't undermine American democracy.

SCIUTTO: Senator McConnell explicitly did not want this to happen. He did not want a Republican senator, to take on this role, because he's concerned about Republicans having to vote to reject the President's claim here in the end. I wonder, you speak to your Republican colleagues upon up on the Hill, are you concerned that some of them will feel the pressure here and go along with Hawley instead and Trump?

KAINE: The President is pressuring them that's to be sure. But Jim, what you have to recognize is that this has been very, very carefully fought out. Every state had to not only hold an election, but then analyze the results canvass recount certify the results. There have been dozens of court cases where the President's team have tried to overturn the results. They've all come to not. Even the President's own folks, the Attorney General Barr, and his Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said this election was clean and it can't be overturned. They'll make an effort. They'll put the pressure on, but I have confidence that my colleagues will stand up against a president trying to overthrow the will of the American voter.

SCIUTTO: As many Trump appointed judges did GOP election officials in many states, we've seen that. I want to move on to the question of additional stimulus, this question of $2,000 payments. Leader McConnell said today the bill to increase stimulus checks to that target of $2,000 has, quote, no realistic pass path to quickly pass the Senate. I mean, this after he attached other issues, including a commission to look at voter fraud, which as you noted, has already been dismissed on a widespread scale. Is that effort now effectively dead?

KAINE: Jim, there is a realistic act that would get $2,000 in the hands of Americans who make less than $75,000 a year and their children. And that is if Senator McConnell would call up the House bill on the Senate floor, we have reason to believe that it would get enough Democratic and Republican votes to go right to the President's desk. When Senator McConnell says there's no realistic path, I'm going to translate for you, I will not put that bill up for a vote. He wants to, you know, layer it on with all kinds of other extraneous asks so that it will fall. But if he put up that bill that was passed in the House, with bipartisan support, a bill that President Trump supports, if he were to put it up for a vote in the Senate tomorrow and pass, he's going to do everything he can to keep from doing that. The $2,000 checks aren't going to the American public, because of the Senate Majority Leader not because of the desires of either the president or Congress.

SCIUTTO: And he's been public from the beginning opposing that additional stimulus. We at CNN have new reporting out just moments ago, myself, along with my colleagues, Ryan Brown, Barbara Starr, and that is that there is deep disagreement at senior levels of this administration, including in the Pentagon, over the potential of an imminent attack by Iran on U.S. forces in the Gulf specifically in Iraq. There have been efforts as you know, flying B52 bombers and a show of force and deterrence. However, I'm told by a senior defense official that there is no corroborating intelligence to indicate that an attack is actually imminent here.

I wonder what your level of concern is about escalation to some Sort of military confrontation with Iran in the waning days of the Trump administration.


KAINE: Jim, I'm very worried about it. President Trump has had us to the brink of war with Iran twice during his administration after he unilaterally canceled a diplomatic deal with Iran, that the U.S. and our allies worked hard to achieve. In 2015, when President Trump backed out of us, he put us on a dangerous path of escalation the U.S. against Iran and vice versa. He's had us to the brink of war twice. And I'm very worried that he'll do the same in his last few weeks in office. We shouldn't be going to a new war in the Middle East. And we especially shouldn't be doing it with a lame duck president who was rejected by the American public, we should never be in a war without a vote of Congress.

And I worried that this President may try to rush us into one on his way out the door. We'll do everything we can in Congress to insist on the constitutional framework that says America doesn't go to war unless Congress votes.

SCIUTTO: Into your credit, I should know the viewers aren't aware you've been consistent for years and your effort to get Congress to restate in effect Congress's right to declare war.

Senator Tim Kaine, we appreciate you coming on tonight. We wish you and your family the best for the holidays.

KAINE: Jim and that principle, I've held it under both Democratic and Republican Presidents --

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

KAINE: -- at war with that.

SCIUTTO: Folks should know that at home to your credit consistency rare these days in Washington. But thanks very much, and Happy New Year to you.

KAINE: Thanks, Jim. Take care.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): More next on what Senator Hawley and the President think they are up to. And what if anything other Republicans are likely to do.



SCIUTTO: We're speaking tonight about Republican lawmakers pledging to fight certification of Joe Biden's election victory next week that and the political Pandora's box it seems to have opened inside the GOP.

Perspective now from former CNN senior political commentator and former senator well -- current commentator, former senator Rick Santorum and CNN political commentator, Amanda Carpenter whose former communications director for Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Thanks so much for both you both for joining tonight.

Senator Santorum, I want to start with you because you have some personal experience with this 16 years ago, when a joint session of Congress was about to certify the re-election of George W. Bush over John Kerry. Democrats, including one Senator Barbara Boxer, made a challenge to the results in Ohio. Not to be clear, John Kerry had already conceded that race the day after there was -- there was no like, you know, there were dozens of court battles, et cetera going on. I just wonder when you look at it, by the way, you at the time scheduled a roll call vote to get people on the record on this. I just wonder, do you consider this challenge, as baseless, as that challenge in 2004?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If you listen, just listen to what Josh Hawley is saying. He basically is saying the same thing, in my opinion that Barbara Boxer said, which is I can't certify this election, knowing of the irregularities that I believe happened in Ohio, that's what she said, you know, 16 years ago. And Hawley saying the same thing, you know, that there are regularities in Pennsylvania, which there were and that there were like regularities and other states, and he's not going to stand by without bringing that up. And having that voice on the floor of the House and having voted on.

Barbara Boxer knew that she wasn't going to win that. I think Josh Hawley knows he's not going to win this with this objection. But I think he liked Boxer thought it was important to bring this up and to have this have this moment.

SCIUTTO: But I'm asking you --

SANTORUM: -- where it was brought into focus.

SCIUTTO: Senator -- and by the way, let me quote the Republican senator from the state of Pennsylvania, right where Hawley from another state is saying Pennsylvania didn't follow its own laws. He Senator Pat Toomey said the following, with today's decision, this is going back to a court decision a couple of weeks ago by Judge Matthew Brown, a longtime conservative Republican who I know to be a fair and unbiased jurist to dismiss the Trump campaigns lawsuit, President Trump has exhausted all pot plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania. That's the Republican senator from the great state of Pennsylvania. Right.

SANTORUM: I'm not arguing with you --

SCIUTTO: And yes, so I'm just I'm curious, if you call that a tragedy into travesty rather in 2004. Why does this one have legs to stand on?

SANTORUM: I don't think I don't think either of them do. I think that they're both trying to accomplish the same thing, which is simply draw attention to irregularities that Stephanie Thompson in Ohio and Barbara Boxer believed in Ohio back then, obviously, the Ohio delegation, including Mike DeWine, who's now governor, he strongly spoke out against that. And I think you're going to see similar comments on the floor of the Senate when this issue comes up. But I think they're designed to accomplish the same thing, which is to make a point but not to overturn anything ultimately.

SCIUTTO: Amanda, do you agree?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, here's the thing, or it's Josh Hawley really taking like political strategic advice from Barbara Boxer. I be surprised if conservatives was actually endorsed that. Because at the time when Barbara Boxer did that, all the Republicans painted her into a corner and depicted her as a conspiracist loon, pointing out she was the single vote in the Senate against certification. And that's what Republicans should be doing now. The thing that's different is that Josh Hawley is playing directly to the conspiracist loon crowd that is a done by the President. I don't buy for a second that this is some principled stance and he wants to investigate voter irregularities because the people egging him on, the people he's linking arms with are talking about canceling votes and sedition and get giving Donald Trump a second term. And I would expect that Josh Hawley with all his fancy school degrees, realizes that. He knows what he's doing and he's acting like this is his only chance to register his concerns about the election and Facebook. You know, he has no other choice, but to stand up and do this. That is a bunch of baloney because he knows exactly what he's doing.


This is a scam to play to the Trump crowd that thinks the election was rigged. It wasn't the Department of Justice hasn't found anything. The Supreme Court wouldn't hear the cases and Republican state certified these results. Josh Hawley doesn't have anything special in his back pocket or any secret knowledge that those three major entities do not.

SCIUTTO: Amanda, the -- we should note, Josh Hawley possibly has his own sights set on 2024 as a presidential candidate. Mitch McConnell did not want this to happen, because he did not want Republican senators to have to vote no against the President on this. Do you see Amanda how do Republican senators react on January 6? Do some of them feel the pressure from this president to do what Hawley's doing?

CARPENTER: Yes. And I think that the people that don't want to follow the cracking caucus completely down the rabbit hole will hide behind this voter irregularity stuff. We tried this right after Donald Trump was run. He had a whole voter commission to investigate the fraud. It was disbanded. They didn't find anything. Ben Dean Ginsburg, the famed Republican lawyer, he said, this is the Loch Ness monster that nobody can find. And there's like this idea that just goes unquestioned that somehow people didn't follow the laws on the books.

Listen, there were a bunch of states that expanded access to mail-in voting because of the pandemic. If people wanted to do something about that all those Republican state legislators should have changed the law before the election. They could have done that, they sat on their hands because they also wanted those mail-in votes. And so, to everybody to try to change the rules after the fact, it's a big giant Sham, and I can't describe it as anything else.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, we'll be watching next week. Amanda Carpenter, Senator Santorum, thanks so much for your time, and very happy New Year to you and your families.


SCIUTTO: Well, we're going to have a change of pace just ahead.

(voice-over): Music legend Willie Nelson talks with Anderson about his close relationship with President Jimmy Carter. This in advance of a new CNN documentary. It's a great one. "JIMMY CARTER ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT". That's next.



SCIUTTO: As this unsettling and anxiety filled year comes to an end, finally, a reminder now of how things used to be. Jimmy Carter was America's 39th president and used his passion for music to help him win the 1976 election. A new CNN film "JIMMY CARTER ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT" will chronicle that journey premieres Sunday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.

One of the key figures in it is legendary musician and songwriter Willie Nelson. He sat down with Andersen recently to talk about President Carter and their mutual love of music and about life during COVID.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (on-camera): Willie, thanks so much for joining us. It's such an honor to talk to you. It's a real pleasure. First of all, how's quarantine been for you?

WILLIE NELSON, MUSICIAN: Oh, well, it's boring. You know, I'd rather be out playing music.

COOPER (on-camera): I'm not sure a lot of people realize you actually have a long history and friendship with former President Carter. And I -- you played for him and Mrs. Carter at the White House. You play for them in Plains, Georgia, his hometown, even his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. How did you first come to know each other?

NELSON: Well, we ran into each other when he was running for president. And maybe before that, I don't know. Because he's been coming out on my shows for years, him and Rosalyn come out. And they always sing the gospel songs with me. So, I'm not sure how long it's been. But it's been quite a while.

COOPER (on-camera): There were a lot of musicians in and out of the Carter White House, yourself included also the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan. What was it like back when you would visit?

NELSON: Oh, it was great. You know, Jim, and I would jog together and hang out and his son and I hung out together and find out we had a lot of fun.

COOPER (on-camera): There's a kind of infamous story that you wrote about in your autobiography, President Carter later confirmed it, about you smoking pot on the roof of the White House. I know in your book, you said it was with the servant, because you didn't want to get his son in trouble, which I thought was really classy of you. The President later came out and said it was actually his son, Chip Carter. There's a ton of questions that popped into my head about this. But how did this end up happening?

NELSON: I don't know. You know, Chip and I are buddies too. And he was showing me around the White House. We went into the basement and they have a bowling alley down there. And we went into the Lincoln bedroom and all that good stuff. And then we went up on the roof and looked around. And that was pretty cool.

COOPER (voice-over): It is pretty cool indeed. I'm kind of curious. It was whether it was stuff that you brought or whether it was stuff that he brought, but I won't go, I won't. I won't pry for details.

NELSON: I don't remember.

COOPER (on-camera): Yes. It doesn't matter. In the end it doesn't matter. It's all about sharing.

NELSON: Yes, absolutely.

COOPER (on-camera): I think a lot of Americans have, you know, have an image of President Carter, maybe his kind of cardigan wearing, certainly devout Christian, which he was and obviously still is. Yet, I mean, it's fascinating how he was hanging out with so many music folks, how important it became to him in a way for his political life and opening him up to people maybe who, who didn't know about him before?

NELSON: Well, I think it just showed you how open minded he is. And how, you know, understanding he is. He knew me, you know, Chip, you know, he knew we're just kids running around having way too much fun.

COOPER (on-camera): Well, I heard -- I read a Rolling Stone piece he wants to Rolling Stone magazine. He said quote, all the good things I did as president all the mistakes I made. You can blame half of that on Willie.

NELSON: I'll accept.

COOPER (on-camera): You'll accept. I would. That's kind of a badge of honor. I would think.

NELSON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

COOPER (on-camera): What are you looking forward to most once everything kind of gets back to some semblance of normal?

NELSON: Well, I miss playing music, I missed the crowds. You know, a great energy exchange that happens when, you know, whether it's me or anybody on stage. People drive a long way, pay a lot of money to see somebody clap their hands. And that is healthy I think. They need music, and we need to play it.

COOPER (on-camera): Well, Willie, it's such an honor to talk to you and I really appreciate your time and I wish you the best. I hope you get back on the road quickly and soon. We need you out there.

NELSON: Thank you, Anderson. I enjoy your show very much.



SCIUTTO: That's an interview I wanted to do Anderson and Willie Nelson. Here's a reminder of that documentary again "JIMMY CARTER ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT" premiering here on CNN Sunday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.

(voice-over): Coming up next, a preview of the best way we can imagine a wringing out a year that leaves us all little wrung out.


SCIUTTO: Well, the coronavirus will not prevent the annual tradition of watching Anderson and his buddy Bravo's Andy Cohen, rigging in the New Year here on CNN and imbibing the joy, the atmosphere, the well there was a lot of imbibing that night. Let's just put it that way. In fact the best let Anderson and Andy describe exactly what's in store.


COOPER (on-camera): You've also introduced me to alcohol which is I'm not sure a good development. Let's take a look at that.


COOPER (on-camera): Very nicely --

COHEN: Gorgeous.

COOPER (on-camera): Gorgeous.

COHEN: Cheers.

COOPER (on-camera): Cheers.

COHEN: You know what that felt good. For real? Are you kidding? Cheers everybody.

COOPER: (on-camera) Cheers everybody at home.

50 CENT, MUSICIAN: Happy New Year, guys. COOPER (on-camera): Thank you 50. Thank you so much. Have a great new year.

COHEN: Thanks. 50. Come by the club out soon.

COOPER (on-camera): I didn't want to be exploded in front of 50 Cent. I was trying to seem cool in front of them. Yes.

COHEN: By the way, that is the tip of the iceberg of what happened last year because last year really was nice and bombed me out. I just want to say.

COOPER (on-camera): Lovely. Yes.

COHEN: And it's like the 50s or something. We were very happy.

COOPER (on-camera): You already had disgusting shots lined up for this year?

COHEN: For this year?

COOPER (on-camera): Yes.

COHEN: Yes. Tequila, a lot of tequila. And then last year we did I believe do a Jagermeister shot.


COOPER (on-camera): We did, yes. Yes, I had not had that before that. I don't want to do that again.

CNN's New Year's Eve live starts 8:00 p.m. Eastern and we're doing it from Time Square.

COHEN: We're going to see what Time Square is like and we are going to. We're going to turn this around.

COOPER (on-camera): Well, we're just saying goodbye to, you know, good riddance.

COHEN: Exactly.

COOPER: (on-camera): Yes.


SCIUTTO: A lot of folks are ready for that. Well, the news continues tonight. Let's hand it right over to "CNN TONIGHT".