'This Week' Transcript 12-6-20: HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Mike Braun, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger
This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, December 6.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, December 6, 2020 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" starts right now.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR (voice-over): Dark winter.
DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: They're going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: America hits new COVID highs.
ERIC GARCETTI (D), MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: It's time to hunker down. It's time to cancel everything.
GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): We have got to work together. We have got to keep our numbers down by masking up.
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): If we don't act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Vaccine hopes rising.
ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We are on track to be able to ship enough vaccine for 20 million Americans before the end of the year.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): This is the weapon that is going to win the war.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the road to relief still long.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: We have not yet seen the post-Thanksgiving peak.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As president-elect Joe Biden confronts the crisis...
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I'm going to ask the public for 100 days to mask, not forever, 100 days.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... President Trump focused on overturning the election he lost.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to wait until 2024. I want to go back three weeks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We cover it all this morning with Health Secretary Alex Azar, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, senators from both sides of the aisle, Mike Braun and Dick Durbin, plus insight and analysis from our powerhouse roundtable.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."
Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."
We saw it coming. We were told it would get worse. Too many ignored the warnings, and now the surge upon a surge is here. COVID-19 is the single biggest killer in the United States this week, surpassing heart disease for the first time.
Cases are rising across the country, hospitals under stress. More than 280,000 American lives have been lost to the pandemic. That toll could double before a vaccine is widely valuable.
All eyes on the FDA now, expected to approve the first vaccine for emergency use later this week.
White House correspondent Rachel Scott starts us off from the FDA headquarters in Washington.
Good morning, Rachel.
RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: George, good morning.
And it is the news Americans are waiting for. And while it will mark a significant turning point, the fight against COVID-19 is far from over.
SCOTT (voice-over): Nine months into this deadly pandemic, we are now headed into what could be the most dangerous period yet.
REDFIELD: December and January and February are going to be rough times.
SCOTT: Each week, another grim milestone, another record high, over 100,000 Americans now hospitalized, roughly 2,000 lost each day.
EMILY EGAN, RESIDENT NURSE: I'm have put an ungodly amount of people in body bags that -- that I wasn't prepared to do.
SCOTT: Our greatest hope, in these small vials, the U.K. becoming the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine.
Here at home, an estimated 40 million vaccine doses, enough for 20 million Americans, could be distributed by the end of the year. But, first, it will need to be approved by the FDA, the agency meeting Thursday on the Pfizer vaccine and again a week later on a candidate made by Moderna.
GOV. GUSTAVE PERNA, U.S. ARMY MATERIEL COMMAND: So, when EUA decision comes, distribution to the American people becomes immediate within 24 hours. That's our goal.
SCOTT: States already preparing their distribution plans, at the top of the list, health care workers and the elderly.
CUOMO: And that is the light at the end of the tunnel.
SCOTT: That is still a very long, dark tunnel. The CDC is projecting up to 329,000 deaths by the day after Christmas, distribution a high-stakes operation, and among the biggest challenges, building trust in the vaccine and the process itself in a politicized and polarized time.
Just this week, the head of the FDA was summoned to the White House amid Trump's frustration the agency hasn't moved faster.
DR. ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: This is not the Republican vaccine. This is not the Democratic vaccine. This is the vaccine for the world. This is the science vaccine.
FAUCI: I definitely will get vaccinated, and I would recommend that my family gets vaccinated.
SCOTT: Now a campaign emerging from past presidents and the president-elect.
BIDEN: I wouldn't demand it be mandatory. I will do everything in my power, as president of the United States, to encourage people to do the right thing.
SCOTT: Saying there is so much more to be done.
BIDEN: There is no detailed plan, that we have seen anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container into an injection syringe into somebody's arm.
SCOTT: Joe Biden says he will be urging Americans to wear a face mask for 100 days after he takes office. The president-elect is now preparing to roll out members of his health team, that announcement expected this week -- George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Rachel Scott, thanks very much.
Let’s bring in Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar right now. Secretary Azar, thank you for joining us this morning. I see that sign behind you. It says wear a mask. Should President Trump be saying what Joe Biden was saying this week, every American should wear a mask right now?
ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: George, we’ve been saying since the middle of April when we did the reopening the American economy. Wear your face coverings, wash your hands, watch your distance, wear your face cover when you can’t wear a mask.
I’ve got behind me the message to wear a mask. President’s called it patriotic to wear a mask. I think we’re -- everyone's together on this. The data supports this.
If you’re a meter apart and both of you are wearing a mask, you can reduce viral transmission by over 70 percent, protecting you and the other person.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We heard Dr. Redfield say this week we're heading for what could be the worst public health crisis in American history. Some forecasts show more than 500,000 deaths by late spring. What should Americans be braced for?
AZAR: George, we're quite concerned about where the disease is spreading as well as the Thanksgiving spread of disease, and we're worried about people and the behaviors coming up with Christmas.
We want to make sure everyone's loved ones are there next Christmas, especially when we have so much hope of vaccines. So we're on a forward footing, George.
We have complete visibility into our hospital capacity. We're making sure they've got supplies and staffing, regulatory flexibility to keep the highest equity (ph) patients in the hospitals, let others be serviced at home. And we want to make sure the therapeutics we've got are being used by doctors most effectively to keep people out of the hospital so we increase our capacity.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You're seeing some new stay-at-home orders taking hold in the state of California right now. Should other states and localities be following that lead?
AZAR: So George, what we say is that all of our interventions need to be science- and evidence-based and what do we know? We know that flying on an airplane, we know going to work, we know universities, K through 12 schools, these aren't majorer vectors of disease transmission. We're seeing it spread from multi-household gatherings, overcrowded indoor restaurants and bars. These are the settings where interventions need to take place because we’ve got to build public support.
People are tired here and in Europe. They're walking away from these interventions because they're fatigued by it, and that's why the core message is wear that face covering and keep social distance. That's what's going to get us most through this, and the reason is we have these vaccines coming, and so there's so much hope ahead, and we just want to make sure everyone gets the benefit of it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You talked about overcrowded restaurants and bars. There are reports now that the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, the White House, President Trump all having these huge holiday parties, up to 900 people.
AZAR: Well, George, our advice remains the same in any context, which is wash your hands, watch your distance, wear face coverings when you can’t watch your distance, and be careful of those indoor settings.
So my advice to anyone in any setting that's indoors is keep your guard up. Don't let your guard down. Just because you know people is not a reason to take that mask down. Be careful.
The best thing is distance, and so certainly limiting the number of people at gatherings also can be important.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you advised the White House of that and the secretary of state?
AZAR: George, our advice is the same for every setting, which is maintain social distance and when you can’t wear face coverings. The data’s clear.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We know the FDA is meeting -- the advisory committee is meeting on the FDA to talk about the vaccine. Any reason to believe that the vaccine will not receive emergency use approval?
AZAR: Well, George, I'm very clear. I'm going to defer to the FDA career scientists on this, I’m going to protect the independence and integrity of that decision making.
I don’t know of any reason why the system is in anyway off track. If things are on track, the advisory committee goes well, I believe we could see FDA authorization within days, but it's going to go according to FDA’s gold standard processes, George. And I’m going to make sure it does.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I appreciate why you would stay out of that. How about going forward, if the approval does come? When should most Americans expect they're going to be able to get this vaccine?
AZAR: You know, George, it's going to be progressive. And so we’re going to focus on those most vulnerable and those most on the front lines of treating people with COVID with the initial 40 million doses in the next month, and then we're just going to progressively keep adding more and more people.
So be thinking in the February, March time frame that you are going to see more general vaccination and by the second quarter of next year, we'll have enough vaccine for every American that wants it. But more and more people are just going to keep progressively getting vaccinated week by week as the product rolls off the line, and as we hope to add, maybe AstraZeneca, maybe Janssen, J&J, additional vaccines in the January, February time frame, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about this next phase? Where do you come down on this? There seems to be some tension between having essential workers get the next traunch of the vaccine versus having the elderly who are most vulnerable to get it. Where do you come down on that?
AZAR: Well, you know, we haven’t had the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices give us their recommendations on that next traunch of people.
I'm very concerned about the vulnerable personally. I'm very concerned about the elderly. I'm very concerned about ethnic and racial minority groups that have suffered such a disproportionate impact in terms of the burden of this disease. But I want to get the best advice in here as possible before we make recommendations to our governors. And you know our governors make the call at the end of the day on whom they will prioritize.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Dr. Redfield also said this week that as a nation we were severely underprepared for the pandemic. As you approach the end of the Trump administration, any thoughts on what more could have been done, any regrets?
AZAR: So, George, this was a really unprecedented pandemic. We had done a lot to prepare for pandemic. Influenza -- I led those efforts in the Bush administration.
But this coronavirus brought many new dimensions. So, we've learned a lot about how to improve our testing system. We’ve created a next generation strategic stockpile.
We’ve created better data system, the one I mentioned earlier, to keep us complete visibility into our hospital systems for the first time ever, and we have Operation Warp Speed that's allowed us to bring therapeutics by the fall, vaccines within ten months of this pandemic hitting our shores.
So, we’ve been learning through this unprecedented -- unprecedented pandemic and just try to improve every step of the way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Azar, thanks very much for your time this morning.
AZAR: Thank you, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump has been mostly silent on the pandemic this week. And in his post-election rally last night in Georgia, he continued his effort to overturn Joe Biden's victory with a blizzard of false claims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, we won Georgia, just so you understand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are joined now by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Secretary Raffensperger, thank you for joining us this morning.
In addition to claiming victory, the president is pressuring the governor of your state to call a special session to the state legislature to try to overturn the results.
You're a conservative Republican. You wanted President Trump to win.
Can you explain why what he's saying and doing now is, in your view, wrong?
BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R), GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, good morning, George.
The people of Georgia spoke in this election, and obviously, I’m a conservative Republican, disappointed in the results. But I said we'll count every legal vote and work hard to make sure that no illegal votes were counted and that's what we’ve been doing.
I don't believe that there's the will in the general assembly for a special session.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you don't expect a special session to take place on Tuesday. I know there's a petition out there to try to call for it. I know the governor’s refused.
RAFFENSPERGER: Well, that's something that's not my -- that’s beyond my office's calling. That's with the governor and the general assembly, and I’m sure they'll have conversations.
But at the end of the day, what they're really trying to say is if they did, if they would be then nullifying the will of the people. If you look at how the election turned out here in Georgia, President Trump got 10 percent less votes in Cherokee County which is a rich red county in this election cycle. Whitfield County in northwest Georgia, less than 4.5 percent.
And so, really, at the end of the day, the voice of the people were spoken. I’m disappointed as a conservative Republican also.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your office has investigated claims of fraud. What have they found?
RAFFENSPERGER: Well, we've never found systemic fraud, not enough to overturn the election. We have over 250 cases right now. We reached out to the governor and asked for additional manpower resources with GBI. It gives us additional reach so we can finish up these investigations quickly.
But right now, we don't see anything that would overturn the will of the people here in Georgia.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You had the hand audit. You had the machine recounts. The president is trying to make an issue now of what he calls signature verification. What's at play there?
RAFFENSPERGER: Well, I just read Governor Scott Walker said on Facebook that this upcoming election, we need to do signature match. Well, we always have been doing signature match. In fact, I strengthened signature match.
If you filled out a paper application and that came back with a signature, we matched it then, and then we went ahead when you send in your ballot, we matched again. I’m the first secretary of state to ever stand up an online portal for absentee ballot applications which connects us with photo ID.
And so, we’ve strengthened that. We’ve also done training with our election officials through the GBI signature match learning the techniques that they use to verify signatures. So, we've strengthened signature match in Georgia, and we'll continue to do that and follow the law.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve got two runoff elections coming up in early January for Senate in Georgia. Both those incumbent -- both those Republican candidates have called for you to be removed from office.
Do you still support their candidacy?
RAFFENSPERGER: Absolutely. I’m a Republican. I vote for Republicans. So I wish them well.
The job of the Republican Party is to raise money and turn out the vote. My job as secretary of state is make sure we have honest and fair elections. It's as simple as that, and I think in my office, integrity matters.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think there's any -- because of all these questions in the election, do you think it might make it more difficult for Republican candidates to prevail in January?
RAFFENSPERGER: Well, it makes it -- these distractions, this disunity, it does make it more difficult, and so the candidates out there are running hard. And I understand there will be debates today, and I wish them well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: On Thanksgiving, President Trump called you an enemy of the people. What kind of threats have you and your family received since then?
RAFFENSPERGER: We’ve had death threats. My wife has had sexualized texts and things like that, and now they've actually gone after people, been following, you know, some of -- you know, young poll workers and election workers in Gwinnett County and also our folks at one of our offices.
And so, you're seeing just irrational, angry behavior. It's unpatriotic. People shouldn't be doing that.
You know, we had an election. Like I said, I wish my guy would have won. And it looks like he's not. And it looks like he doesn't have enough votes to prevail.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's your message to Republicans who refuse to accept the election results?
RAFFENSPERGER: It's one of those situations when you're in an 80 percent Trump county, you just don't understand. But there are other counties that feel exactly the opposite. And at the end of the day we, as Republicans, didn't turn out enough voters. Our office, as secretary of state, is really just to look at what those vote totals were, and we report the results. And that's why it gets back to the state party didn't do their job, didn't raise enough money and didn't turn out enough people.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But there's no doubt in your mind President Trump lost the state of Georgia, lost the election?
RAFFENSPERGER: Yes. Sad, but -- sad, but true. I wish he would have won. I'm a conservative Republican and I'm disappointed but those are the results.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Raffensperger, thanks for your time this morning.
RAFFENSPERGER: Thank you, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, the latest on COVID relief negotiations in Congress. Plus, our powerhouse roundtable.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GABRIEL STERLING, (R) GEORGIA VOTING SYSTEM IMPLEMENTATION MANAGER: Condemn this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up, and if you're going to take a position of leadership, show some.
This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy, and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Gabe Sterling from the secretary of state's office in Georgia. And we are joined now by Senator Mike Braun, Republican from Indiana.
Senator Braun, thank you for joining us this morning. Joe Biden's victory has now been certified.
BRAUN: Thanks for having me on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm glad to have you. As I said, Joe Biden's victory has now been certified in states totaling 279 electoral votes. So do you now accept that he's president-elect?
SEN. MIKE BRAUN, (R-IN): Well, we've got a process that I think we've been going through since the election, and it's going to play itself out. I think that we've got a threshold coming on December 14th that -- when the electoral college meets.
I think, George, what is at play is, when you look at what was talked about earlier with the secretary of state in Georgia, I think when you talk -- reflexively dismiss that maybe nothing has happened at all, versus the other side of the spectrum, systemic fraud, widespread, it's a wide gulf.
And I think that, for places like Indiana, where I built my business, here in my hometown here today, when I was trying to help weigh in on these Georgia races from right after the election, nobody wanted to talk about even the Georgia races that are still pivotal. They wanted to come back, were uncertain about what happened in the election.
So whether we dismiss it reflexively, whether we would find widespread fraud, there's a wide gulf in between. And I think that, when you just say that there's nothing there, you're going to have half of the country uncertain about what just happened and disgruntled going into the future.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, sir, I think it's pretty hard to argue that it's been reflexively dismissed. What you've had since the election is certification processes in every states. Those include audits and in many cases recounts. Those certifications have been done in many states led by Republican governors, like Arizona and Georgia.
There have been more than 55 lawsuits brought forward by the president and his allies. Thirty-eight have been dismissed by judges. There have been investigations directed by the Justice Department, by the attorney general. And the attorney general came back and said there's no evidence of widespread fraud.
So the process has played out, hasn't it? And there's no evidence of widespread fraud. Why can't you accept the results?
BRAUN: I think it's easy to say it's played out because that might be the most convenient thing to say, but let's look at what the secretary of state did not mention in Georgia, you know, the video where, after a counting place closed, you see boxes of ballots coming out from underneath the table.
I know that's, kind of, a graphic example, but...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I have to stop you right there. No, that -- it wasn't mentioned because it didn't show anything improper. He's spoken to that this week. They -- that was exactly the proper process for counting the ballots. There wasn't anything wrong shown in that video at all. So you're just throwing out a claim out there that...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... that doesn't prove what you're saying.
BRAUN: I think, unless you scrutinize something like that further -- or what about, like, say, Wisconsin, where...
STEPHANOPOULOS: It was scrutinized.
BRAUN: ... where there were a couple hundred thousand absentee ballots that got cast without a request for it.
All I can tell you is, if you don't at least give a perfunctory kind of investigation into it, whether it's December 14th and what happens beyond, you're going to have a good part of the country -- it's over 50 percent -- that view that something is amiss. And that's going to carry forward in terms of undermining a democracy.
I just don't think that if you say -- if you don't pursue it, overturn every stone, this is going to linger into the future. And it's going to be to the disadvantage of whoever is there trying to run the country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I guess the question is, is it -- is the harm to democracy being done by those who propagate false claims?
In Wisconsin, judges have dismissed those claims as well after investigating it.
Here's what your colleague, Senator Mitt Romney had to say about this, this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): For the president or anyone else to go out and allege widespread fraud and say the election is rigged and the election was stolen, that obviously strikes at the very foundation of democracy here, and around the world, for that matter.
People watch America. If we can't have a free and fair election, how can they have it in other nations of the world?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Isn't the damage being done by those who continue to foster the doubts?
BRAUN: So, when you hear a statement like that, I think that that makes sense. That's the one extreme.
But, on the other hand, if you do not take -- and it's been surfacing more and more each day. If you do not take it seriously, the legislatures that are involved -- look at Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia. When you take the number of electoral votes associated with that roughly 40,000-vote popular margin, that's under half of what it was back in 2016.
So, all I'm telling you is, when you put two and two together, if we don't let the process play itself out, regardless of what you're talking about in terms of unifying the country, there are going to be many people that are unsettled with the fact that we don't take it to its full...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, you just mentioned three states, Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin. There were audits in those three states. There were recounts in those three states.
Two of those states are led by Republican governors, who certified the election results, saying there's no reason to doubt them.
BRAUN: George, recounts are one thing, and we all know that they hardly ever change result of an election -- ballot integrity, a whole other issue.
And from the get-go, there was a dialogue on recounts, and people have certified all this stuff. That, to me, is dismissing some of the evidence, sworn testimony that's out there. And if you don't carry it to its conclusion, you're going to have uneasiness going into the future.
BRAUN: ... point.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... it has been carried to its conclusion.
That is all we have time for this morning. Thanks very much.
Let's bring in now the number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin.
Senator Durbin, thank you for joining us this morning.
First, your reaction that, you know, this is -- Senator Braun is not alone among your colleagues, the Republican colleagues in the Senate and the House. They just refuse to accept the results of this election.
What do you make of it?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): George, I have very strong feelings about that.
I'm just going to say the following. Joe Biden is going to be sworn in as the next president of the United States on January 20. In the remaining days we're going to be in session in Washington, I hope we don't get embroiled in that debate further.
I want us to focus on what we're trying to achieve with this COVID relief package. This is our last chance before Christmas and the end of the year to bring relief to families across America in the midst of a public health crisis. It's time to put the partisan labels aside.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, look, I appreciate that. I want to ask you about that.
But if your colleagues simply can't even accept the results of the election, how can you expect good-faith efforts in other areas?
DURBIN: I will tell you why I expect it, because there are 10 United States senators -- and I am honored to be one of them -- who have been meeting hour after hour after hour, day after day, conference calls and the like, putting together a package, with a like number of members of the House, that really is a positive step forward.
It really is the best of the United States Congress, in a moment when we ought to be showing the best, to respond to this crisis that we face. I want to focus on that, on a bipartisan effort. I know there are plenty of things that divide us.
Let's bring us together as a nation and as a Congress to get this job done.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The package that's being worked on is about $900 billion right now. Do you expect it to get passed this week?
DURBIN: Well, my -- my prayers will be answered if it does.
But we have got a few remaining issues. I think we can work them out. And, if we can and bring this forward, I just hope that Senator McConnell will let us bring this matter to the floor as quickly as possible. We have a lot of work to do and just a few days to do it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Any doubt that he will?
DURBIN: I don't know the answer to that yet. He's expressed some interest, positive feeling toward the effort. I hope he feels that way when he gets a chance to read it in detail.
But there are five Republican senators who have been working night and day, five Democratic senators as well. And it really is a superhuman effort on our part to get this together in time to help the American people as quickly as possible.
Think of the millions of people who are going to lose -- 12 million will lose their unemployment insurance the day after Christmas. Think of the businesses that are trying to decide now, in heartbreaking moments, whether or not they can continue.
Think about the vaccination logistics that we serve with money in this bill. We want to make sure that this vaccine is on the road and vaccinating people all across America as quickly as possible.
These are really life-and-death issues. We ought to address those quickly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The compromise has now included new direct stimulus checks and that’s caused Bernie Sanders and other progressives to oppose the compromise, calling it, quote, wrong morally and wrong economically.
What do you say to your colleague Sanders?
DURBIN: We had a limit given to us of $900 billion. You mentioned, 908, it's in that range, $908 billion for the next three or four months.
The program that you talked about, the $1,200 check, it cost we believe nationally $300 billion to give you an idea. The Democrats have always wanted a larger number, but we were told we couldn't get anything through the Republicans except this $900 billion level.
So we worked to that number. If there is more money available, certainly, I would want to see more help to the families across America.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump was supporting bigger bills earlier in the process before the election. Was it a mistake not to accept that then?
DURBIN: Well, you know, it was different. If you listened to the Republican explanation of it now, they say many things that were promised by the president were before the election, and now, we're in the sub reality after the election.
Whatever the political reasoning, put it behind us. Whether it's good for Democrats or Republicans, we all want to be in this together.
The American people would be heartened this holiday season after what we’ve been through in the year 2020 to see that kind of bipartisan effort coming out of Congress.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If you pass this bill now, might it make it more difficult to pass broader relief once President-elect Joe Biden takes office?
DURBIN: I don't think it will make it more difficult at all. We finish with these in three months or four months, we're going to be into the vaccinations and we’ll have I hope a much better view of where we're going with this national pandemic. But we may need more. We may need more money, for example, for the logistics of the vaccine to get it out and administered across the United States.
I think the American people will respond and Congress will follow and come up with a bipartisan response that's needed for this nation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, is that will happen, could depend on what happens in the Georgia Senate runoffs. What will it mean for the Biden agenda if the GOP wins those runoffs, worried that his administration will be handicapped out of the box?
DURBIN: Well, it's going to be an interesting thing. The Senate would be 52-48, Republican has to be one that is dedicated to working with the new president. I hope they will. I’m hopeful they will, but I can't say for certain that they will.
There have been so many political divisions.
But I think if Joe Biden succeeds, and I want him to, America will succeed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin, thanks for your time this morning.
DURBIN: Thanks, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable is up next.
We'll be right back.
ON SCREEN TEXT: Who was the first astronaut elected to Congress?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (November 3, 1974): One of the more glamorous better known candidates running tonight was former astronaut John Glenn. He is the projected winner by ABC News over his Republican opponent, Cleveland Mayor Ralph Perk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: There's your answer.
Roundtable's ready to go. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT FOR THE UNITED STATES: There have been more than several sitting Republican senators who've privately called me to congratulate me.
And I understand the situation they find themselves in. But I'm confident that, on the things that affect the national security and the fundamental economic necessity to keep people employed, to get people employed, to bring the economy back, there's plenty of room we can work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: President-elect Joe Biden right there. Let's talk about this all in our roundtable, joined by our senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce; our chief White House correspondent Jon Karl; Jaime Harrison, the 2020 Democratic Senate candidate in South Carolina, also associate chair of the Democratic National Committee; and Sarah Isgur, a veteran of the Trump administration who's now a political analyst for CNN and The Dispatch.
And, Jon Karl, let me begin with you. You hear what -- Joe Biden's take on Republican senators who call him privately, even though they won't say publicly that he's the president-elect. We just saw Senator Mike Braun as well, and President Trump overnight in Georgia.
How do you explain, first of all, President Trump's state of mind?
Does he believe what he's doing right now, or is it a more cynical attempt?
And then how do you explain his hold on the party?
JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, George, in Georgia last night, he made several comments that seemed to suggest that he knows full well that he is packing his bags on January 20th.
That said, here's what's going on over there at the White House with the president. He is making calls, and has been for much of the past couple of weeks, to state legislators in these key states, particularly in Georgia, mid-level state legislators who are thrilled to get a call from the president of the United States, and are telling him exactly what he wants to hear.
They're saying that, if a session were called, if the vote came up, they would vote to nullify the election results, that they would vote to send a slate of Trump electors to the electoral college regardless of what happened in those states.
So the president believes -- when he says, "I won Georgia,' he believes that, if there was an emergency session called, which as you pointed out, the governor has refused to do, that he has enough votes there with these Republican state legislators to overturn the election.
Does he think he can do that in enough states to win? Is that plausible in Georgia?
I mean, no. But I believe he's also fixated, frankly, on the number 306. That's the number of electoral votes that Joe Biden has. It's also the number that he had in 2016. And if he's not going to win this election, he's going to want to at least chip away to make sure that -- that Biden doesn't have the same number that he had four years ago.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mary Bruce, you cover the Senate and the House every single day. We've seen very few Republican senators -- Mitt Romney we showed leading the way -- willing to say that President-elect Biden is indeed the president-elect.
Do they believe that there is any doubt about this election?
MARY BRUCE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think what you are hearing publicly from Republicans is often very different from what you are hearing privately from them.
I mean, just look at the hoops that Senator Braun was just jumping through there in your interview.
And, you know, The Washington Post did this really remarkable survey of Republicans that they published yesterday, and it found just 25 Republicans, after speaking with all of them on Capitol Hill, were willing to admit the reality that Joe Biden is going to be the next president.
Only two of them, though, were willing to come out and say that Donald Trump was going to be the next president.
That means that 90 percent, they found, of Republicans on the Hill simply weren't willing to answer the question. That silence is deafening. And of course, it is making this transition much more harder for Joe Biden, as he tries to get to work.
But it also -- what it does is enable the president in this deluded quest of his to try and overturn the election results and repeat these just blatantly false claims.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jaime Harrison, you saw these up close as a Senate candidate in South Carolina. Lindsey Graham went from being one of the prime targets of President Trump to perhaps his most fierce defender in the Senate. How do you explain it?
HARRISON: I -- you know, George, it's mysterious. Listen, this is sad, it's shameful and it's dangerous.
You know, these members of Congress put their hands on a Bible, took an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to carry the water of any president regardless if it's a Democrat or a Republican.
And I believe that their constituents have to hold them to that. They have to do their job, which is to make sure that they are doing the things to protect our democracy. And that means following the Constitution of the United States.
I mean, it is just criminal to hear these members in legislatures and -- and to have the president calling folks, asking them to overturn the elections, when the folks in this great nation of ours went out to vote. He just needs to deal with the fact that 81 million folks said that they wanted to turn away from this reality TV show; they were tired of it, and they were ready to bring and build back better.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sarah Isgur, you're a veteran of the Justice Department. It's really hard to overstate how extraordinary what we're seeing now is?
ISGUR: That's exactly right. And I was national Election Day operations director for Mitt Romney. I have been a lawyer on several recounts.
I was so glad when you were talking to the secretary of state for Georgia, and you talked about that video with the ballots that were found under. I talked to Gabe Sterling, their Georgia operations director, earlier this week.
And that's exactly right. The ballots that were being in those suitcases, that's how you transport ballots. That's how you have to move ballots around and have to count them.
And Donald Trump has a big problem, because, if those two senators lose in Georgia, and he thinks he's running again in 2024, there will be lots of Republicans who blame him for losing the Senate come 2024.
That will be a big problem for Donald Trump's future election if he actually thinks he's going to run in 2024.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jaime Harrison, do you think Democrats can win that seat -- those seats?
HARRISON: Listen, I believe that the Democrats are going to win that.
We have two fantastic candidates in Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. And they're running against the Bonnie and Clyde of the United States Senate. These are folks who care more about their portfolios, instead of the fact that there are food lines in Atlanta that are going around various blocks.
They don't care about the fact that these small businesses in Georgia are closing and they're not going to open again. And it's been months, months since the HEROES Act passed in the House, and the Senate did nothing, and it sat in that legislative graveyard by Mitch McConnell, because that's what these guys are. They're rubber stamps for Mitch McConnell.
And it's important, it is important for folks to go out and vote and make sure that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win this race.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mary Bruce, we're seeing a preview right now of what could be to come in these COVID negotiations now going on in the Congress.
Of course, this is before we know the final results in the Senate. And Mitch McConnell, we just heard Senator Durbin there saying he's not sure that McConnell will put any compromise package on the floor.
BRUCE: Yes, look, there is growing optimism, certainly on Capitol Hill, and we have seen a lot of momentum over the last several days. But this is far from a done deal. And while Mitch McConnell has said he thinks a compromise is in reach, he still hasn't even endorsed this latest bipartisan compromise.
What has really changed though, is the involvement of Joe Biden. We saw, since he came out and was willing to back this compromise, promise Democrats that this would just be the beginning -- he keeps saying that they're going to do more once he is in office.
That, of course, is a big X-factor as well. But that was enough to get Democrats on the Hill to be willing to back this compromise, even though it falls far short of what they have been demanding.
And part of the reason Joe Biden is so optimistic is because he thinks that he can ultimately get Republicans to work with him. We know he has been having those conversations on the Hill. It certainly seems that he has been speaking to Mitch McConnell.
I asked the president-elect on Friday point blank, has he been having conversations with the Republican leader? And he notably didn't answer. He paused. He smirked. And he gave a classic nonanswer.
But it just goes again to underscore the fact that, if they can't even confirm that they're talking, that's part of the fact that Republicans aren't politically willing and able to recognize that Joe Biden has won this election.
And Republicans are really in a box here. But Joe Biden is confident that, once he is in office, that he will be able to get them to work with him, that they will be able to do a larger package later on in January, February. And he is confident that this compromise bill will pass.
The question is, is Mitch McConnell going to get on board, and when will they be able to pass this?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jon Karl, you have covered both the president-elect and Mitch McConnell for quite a long time. They have a working relationship, but that can only get you so far. It still comes down to who's got the votes.
KARL: Absolutely, George.
And they did serve together for many years in the Senate, but they actually really developed their relationship while Joe Biden was vice president. We know -- we remember the Obama years for Republicans, largely opposing every significant initiative of the Obama presidency.
But there were points of agreement. There were accomplishments. And almost all of those were done with the direct involvement of Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell, when they -- when they dealt with the fiscal cliff, when they dealt with the extension of the Bush tax cuts, when they dealt with raising the debt ceiling.
These were almost always done at some level directly with McConnell working with Biden. And if you talk to people very close to Mitch McConnell, they're bullish about this relationship. They say that they think that Biden is somebody that they can trust, that they can work with.
And you hear it from Biden, an optimism of being able to work with McConnell.
But what you don't hear, George, is similar optimism from the rank-and-file, from the -- really the center of gravity for each party. Each party sees the other as unable to work in good faith.
So, the challenges will be enormous. But there is a real relationship, a real McConnell-Biden relationship.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Sarah Isgur, one of the questions is going to be, does the center of gravity shift to this group of some moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republicans who’ve been willing to buck at least their party in some issues in the past, like Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska?
ISGUR: It, in fact, moves them to almost, like, a swing vote on the Supreme Court, right? They become these deal makers in the center.
Joe Biden is the first president in a long time to come into the presidency without having both houses of Congress, and what I think we're going to see is whether that, in fact, will turn out to have been an opportunity. So many presidents in those first two years have shifted very partisanly because they have both houses of Congress, and when they lose in the midterms, trust has been eroded.
But you wonder whether with those deal makers in the Senate, with Joe Biden recognizing that he will need them to push through his agenda, whether, in fact, he will be better off, get more done, and if he’s learned from the last two administrations which really failed to accomplish much legislatively.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, some would argue the Affordable Care Act for President Obama was a pretty major accomplishment, and the tax cut for President Trump, including the Supreme Court nomination, were significant accomplishments for him as well.
But, Jaime Harrison, let me bring you in on this right now.
We're already seeing the cross pressures at play on the president-elect as he names -- as he nominates people for his cabinet. On the one hand, he’s got to worry about Republican opposition. On the other hand, he's getting pushed by progressives in the party for more diversity, more progressive views.
HARRISON: Listen, George, I think at the end of the day, this is going to be probably the most diverse administration that we've ever seen in this country, and the folks that Joe Biden are nominating, these folks are qualified. They're competent and they're not his family members.
I mean, that's what makes this so great, that he is putting together some of the most accomplished people I have met in government.
Neera Tanden who is up for OMB is smart. She’s confident. She's a fighter, and she's going to be that next OMB director.
Cecilia Rouse at the economic advisers, having her be the chair is historic. Janet Yellen at Treasury, historic.
And that is what we expect to see more of in this administration.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mary Bruce, Jaime Harrison says Neera Tanden is getting confirmed. But a lot of Republicans, so far, say she's a nonstarter.
BRUCE: Yeah, she is certainly facing the most pushback so far of any of Joe Biden's picks.
Look, she is known for really skewering Republicans on Twitter, in her cable news hits. She also, of course, within the Beltway, is a well-known figure, the leader of a liberal think tank.
I don’t think Biden ever expected all of his picks certainly to get a rubber stamp from Republicans, and it seems that they are digging in, targeting Neera Tanden, as one where they are going to put up the largest fight.
Now, of course, Democrats are quick to point out the irony in Republicans crying foul over some mean tweets after four years of President Trump and his very active Twitter feed, but she certainly faces I think the largest uphill battle of any of President-elect Biden's picks so far.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Meantime, Jon Karl, we still have more than 40 days left for President Trump's term. He hasn't been seen a lot in public, been quite active on Twitter and there's a lot of focus on what he's going to do on the way out, including the possibility of pardons.
KARL: You know, he's still making appointments, nominations, clearly trying to reward some supporters, punish some of those who he saw -- who he’s seen as betraying him, but I do expect that really, George, issue number one in these final days will be figuring out who exactly he wants to pardon.
There are discussions among Trump allies of not just, you know, pre-emptive pardons for the family, but potentially for dozens of officials, current and some former officials in the Trump administration to protect them from further prosecution -- you know, from prosecution down the line even though there's -- there's been no charges, and in some cases, no investigation.
But I think he will be very business on the fronts of trying to figure out what he can do to pardon people and it’s the one power that the president has that is virtually unlimited.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Protect them from federal prosecution, not state or local prosecution.
KARL: Not state, not local, yeah.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Sarah, the other issue is that generally when you give somebody -- grant someone a pardon, it includes -- it imputes guilt.
ISGUR: Exactly right. So, again, you look at this at the lens if he actually is planning to run again in 2024 which we have heard from several reporters now that he is seriously considering announcing in January that he'll run for that. If he then has pardoned his family members and people around him, is that tacitly admitting that those people created -- committed federal felonies?
That would be an awkward position to be in, but perhaps no more so than the positions the president has put himself in in the past.
So again, I think he's actually far more focused on making sure those Georgia races come out the way they need to because of his rhetoric in Georgia and so many now votes in his base saying that they don't want to vote because the election's rigged. That seems to me to be a bigger problem, a bigger hurdle for him to overcome, although the pardons can't help if they basically acknowledge that his family members committed felonies before leaving office.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mary Bruce, this has put the president-elect in somewhat of a complicated position as well, facing some pressure to investigate President Trump for possible crimes as well in office. There's also been some pressure on Capitol Hill for that as well, but he doesn't seem too eager to go down that road.
BRUCE: No, it seems Joe Biden certainly doesn't want his administration to be consumed with divisive investigations into his predecessor. But that said, he's also really focused on re-establishing the independence of the Justice Department. So any time he's pressed on this, whether they will prosecute the president and his administration, he says, look, that's up to the Justice Department, that they will be making decision based on fact, not on politics.
But, of course, the president does set the tone. And it certainly doesn't seem that Joe Biden is eager to spend a whole lot of time and energy looking into the past. He wants to be focused on healing the country and uniting the country going forward and launching a bunch of investigations would certainly be a counter to some of those goals. It's hard to bring the country together at the same time that your administration may be going after the previous president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jaime Harrison, how should Democrats handle this question?
HARRISON: Well, listen, you know, the Justice Department should not be the political extension or the White House political department. And I think under Joe Biden will bring see that he will bring dignity back to the White House. Justice will once again become blind. And that's the way it should be. It has not been in the past four years because we've seen the way that Donald Trump has used the Justice Department. And it's unprecedented. We've never seen this in any administration until this one. And so, you know, I believe that Joe Biden is going to focus -- he's going to focus his efforts and his energy on the problems that people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. You know, as Donald Trump thinks about pardons, you don't pardon innocent people. It must mean that they did something that they shouldn't have done. And at the end of the day, the American people are going to take them to task for it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all very much.
We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today.
Before we go, a big welcome to our new viewer, Sofia Tejera, born this week to our executive producer Dax (ph) and his wife Veronica. We are wishing them all the best.
Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, and I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."