PBS NewsHour full episode, January 21, 2021

PBS NewsHour full episode, January 21, 2021

Show Video

JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm Judy Woodruff. On the "NewsHour" tonight: the Biden agenda. Facing major crises and challenges, a new presidency begins with a flurry of executive orders, overturning many of former President Trump's policies. Then: one-on-one. We discuss the new administration and the Democrats taking control of the Senate with voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

And getting the vaccine. The disconnect between production and distribution leads to an alarming backlog of doses. HOLDEN THORP, Editor in Chief, "Science": This is the largest logistical challenge that the country has ever taken on. JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour." (BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: President Biden is moving on a broad front tonight to put his stamp on national policy, leading the list, the war on COVID-19. Our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, begins our coverage.

JOHN ROBERTS, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court: Please your right hand and repeat after me. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: A new president and a new packed agenda. Today, on his first full day in office, President Biden was eager to hit the ground running. JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: This executive order I'm signing...

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: He unveiled a number of new measures. He also pledged to confront the nation's public health crisis head on. JOE BIDEN: We didn't get into this mess overnight. And it's going to take months for us to turn things around. But let me be equally clear. We will get through this. We will the defeat this pandemic. And to a nation waiting for action, let me be the clearest on this point. Help is on

the way. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Today, he signed 10 executive orders to accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, bolster their supply, along with testing, by ramping up manufacturing, require masks on all public transportation, and address the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on communities of color by establishing a task force to offer recommendations. President Biden's actions are at the center of a nationalized response. They stand in stark contrast to the Trump administration's approach, which relied heavily on the states to address the crisis. Today's orders also come exactly one year since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the U.S. Since then, well over 400,000 Americans have died. And in the last 24 hours alone, the nation reported another 4,300 deaths.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID Director: Obviously, we are still in a very serious situation YAMICHE ALCINDOR: At the White House today, Dr. Anthony Fauci did not sugarcoat the challenges. He said that, from now on, the science would speak for itself. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: One of the things that we're going to do is to be completely transparent, open and honest, if things go wrong, not point fingers, but to correct them, and to make everything we do be based on science and evidence. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Dr. Fauci's, now the president's top medical adviser on COVID-19, also acknowledged

the difficulties he had working under President Trump. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: I can tell you, I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president. So, it was really something that you didn't feel that you could actually say something, and there wouldn't be any repercussions about it. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Fauci is also leading efforts to return the U.S. to a major role in the

global response to the virus. He is seeking to mend ties broken by President Trump. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: The United States also intends... YAMICHE ALCINDOR: This morning, via videoconference, he addressed leaders of the World Health Organization. He spoke about president Biden to move to resume funding and staffing support for the U.N. agency.

He also said, through the global initiative known as COVAX, the U.S. will join in securing vaccines for poor countries. The WHO's director-general, in turn, hailed the announcement. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WHO Director General: Thank you so much, my brother Tony. This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Beyond the pandemic, the new administration moved to unravel President Trump's hard-line immigration policies. Mr. Biden specifically rolled back the all-inclusive approach to deportations. Instead, a memo from the Department of Homeland Security last night focused on priority targets. It also paused all other deportations for the next 100 days. The president has already sent his own immigration plan to Congress. It was unveiled, along with an initial 17

executive actions signed by Mr. Biden hours after the inauguration. Some relate to immigration, including preserving the DACA program that bars deportation of those who arrived in the U.S. as children. Others direct that the United States will rejoin the Paris climate agreement, revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and extend a federal moratorium on home evictions. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives moved to advance Mr. Biden's nomination of retired Army General Lloyd Austin for secretary of defense.

MAN: On this vote, the yeas are 366, the nays are 78. The bill is passed. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Lawmakers voted to waive a ban on recently retired officers serving in that role. The Senate approved the waiver as well. And, today, there was also a hearing for the president's choice for transportation secretary. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, and once a primary rival of Mr. Biden,

promised to work to rebuild an economy ravaged by the pandemic. PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. Transportation Secretary Nominee: Infrastructure can be the cornerstone to all of this. And you have my commitment that I will work closely with you to deliver the innovation and the growth that America needs in this area.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that's one pledge from the new administration among many. JUDY WOODRUFF: And Yamiche joins us now from the White House. So, Yamiche, this was day one for this new administration. Overall, how would you say it's going? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: This is day one, the first full day of the 46th president of the United States' term. President Biden hit the ground running. He is signing executive order after executive order. Now, they say that they are really focused, this administration, on changing

the tone, turning the page away from Biden's predecessor, and really focusing on a number of issues, top among them being the COVID-19 pandemic, wanting to really talk about that and sign several executive actions really based on trying to fight that, that virus, trying to really, they say, do it in an equitable way. But they're also focused on a number of pillars. They have four pillars. It's COVID-19, the economy, climate change, and racial justice. And they say racial justice includes immigration, because we have seen a number of immigration executive actions as well. But, overall what they're saying is, this is really a complete change of tone, even today at the White House Briefing Room. Of course, I should say we're already in a second White House briefing, which is a big change, since the Trump administration was not holding those briefings regularly.

But they say, and Dr. Fauci in particular said that he feels more liberated because he's letting science lead the way. That, he said, is a big difference, because, at times, he felt uncomfortable when President Trump was out there distributing information that he said was not scientifically based.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, as we heard. And, Yamiche, you mentioned what a priority COVID is for this administration. What more is there to say about what they're doing on that front? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The chief thing that I have heard today, talking to Biden officials about their COVID-19 response is, they inherited a mess.

I'm told that they're not starting from scratch, but they are very close to it. They say, yes, it's true 16 million people have been vaccinated with the COVID-19 pandemic and -- the COVID-19 vaccine, but I just talked to a number of officials who told me that the vaccine plan for the Trump administration was essentially dumping it into states and letting the states deal with distribution. They say that can't be the way that this is done. Instead, they're going to be working with pharmacies, community centers, a number of other ways to try to get vaccines into people's arms as much -- as quickly as possible. They also told me that the Trump administration, in some way, they had some plans that they're going to build on. So, they weren't at all saying that the Trump administration was completely all bad. But what they really said was that this was a federal response that really didn't

have all the tools and resources necessary to fully respond to the vaccine and -- fully response to the virus, rather. They also said that testing, which, of course, has been something that we have been struggling with, is still something that they need to deal with in this country. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Yamiche, I think almost everywhere we have seen the new president in the last day or so, we have also seen Vice President Kamala Harris. What more are you learning about what her role is so far? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The role of Vice President Harris, I'm told, is going to be evolving, but it's going to be including a number of different areas, including the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to be in a number of meetings, trying to really be a counselor to the president. She's also going to be involved in, I'm told, the economy and labor and jobs and racial equity across the agencies. I was also told something very specific. Yes, it's true she's

a former prosecutor, but they're stressing, her team, not to make her -- not to make it too narrow of a focus on criminal justice. They say they have a whole Department of Justice to deal with that, and that she is not going to be overly involved in the Department of Justice. But she is, of course, interested in criminal justice as well. JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Yamiche, the question of when and how the impeachment trial for former President Trump will take place in the Senate. The White House has been asked a lot of questions about that. What are they saying?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, first, I want -- we should say, Nancy Pelosi today held a briefing, and she said that President Trump, even though he's gone, cannot get a pass. Let's listen to what she had to say. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): You don't say to a president, do whatever you want in the last months of your administration. You're going to get a get-out-of-jail-card free because people think we should make nice-nice and forget that people died here on January 6.

It will be soon. I don't think it will be long. But we must do it. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Now, Lisa, of course, our congressional correspondent, she's really been digging into this. She said that her sources are telling her that McConnell wants to start the impeachment trial on the week of February 14.

Yes, that's right, February 14. That's a long way away. Essentially, McConnell also put out a statement after Lisa's reporting saying that he wants to make sure that President Trump has the proper time to get his defense ready, and that the House should not be really trying to push this too quickly. He said that this has, of course, been a short process. And it was a short process between when they introduced the articles of impeachment and when they voted on it, much shorter than the first time around. But, of course, Democrats say that the evidence is so clear that the

president incited insurrection, that this should not be really a hard thing to prove. That said, President Trump is building his defense team. I was giving a call to a lawyer that essentially is going to be part of his defense team. Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, might actually not be part of that defense team. He's -- I'm being told now that he might be a witness, because he was part of the rally before the mob stormed the Capitol. So, all of this, we need to watch, but Mitch McConnell making very clear right now that he wants this to go into February, so this was not going to be something he wants to go into next week. We're waiting to hear what Democrats have to say, of course, because

it's now Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. He's going to have a big say in that. JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And, of course, McConnell's the minority leader now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. We will certainly have to watch and see how that gets worked out. Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, thank you so much on this first day. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Thanks so much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As we have been hearing, the president is calling for a full-scale wartime approach to the pandemic and its effects. William Brangham gets an assessment of what needs to be done and the challenges of matching rhetoric with reality. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That's right, Judy. To look a little deeper at the Biden administration's plan for the pandemic and just how steep a hill it has to climb, I'm joined now by Dr. Michael Osterholm. He runs the Center for

Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and he recently served on the Biden team's Coronavirus Advisory Board. Dr. Osterholm, great to have you back on the "NewsHour." DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, Director, University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research: Thank you. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Before we get into the policy changes, can you just help us understand, what has been the hiccup so far in our ability to get vaccines to people? I mean, we know it's improving. But what have been the stumbling blocks so far? DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: Well, actually, there are three point to this.

First of all, there has been a lot of misunderstanding of what's happening. When you actually look at the number of doses distributed to a state, which has been what everybody has been publicly seeing, that actually means that the Operation Warp Speed has decided to send you the vaccine. And, in many cases, for states, that vaccine doesn't arrive for days to a week. And so, in a sense, we have been overestimating what the states can even put into people's arms. Second of all is, the doses received by individuals has also been underreported, because, sometimes, it takes up to two days to get that information from the time the person was vaccinated into that system. So, the numbers are not nearly as far apart as one would think.

The second piece of it, though, is, we had no plans. When the -- one of the individuals you were mentioning just now said the vaccine was virtually dumped into the states, and that's what happened. They had plans that were general in nature for how to distribute this vaccine, but they didn't know who was going to be prioritized. They have had no financial resources to actually hire people who do vaccinating or who would carry out the plans. And finally has been the uncertainty. There have been a number of major clinics scheduled in states out there that had to get canceled at the last minute because they suddenly found out the vaccine wouldn't be arriving for that clinic, which has really held up trying to set up clinics five days, 10 days, 15 days in advance.

So, those three, in combination, have led to the challenge we see right now of getting vaccine into people's arms. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, the Biden administration comes in today and says, we're going to do all of these things that we can to ramp up that process that you're describing. They're going to set up these massive public vaccination sites that FEMA is going to work on, get pharmacies working quicker, set up mobile clinics. How difficult is it to start that process and to get that going? I mean, are we talking weeks? Are we talking months? How long? DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, we have to understand that the state health departments, in some cases, local departments, depending on where you live, are the air traffic control towers for your state. They are the ones who have to coordinate across all populations, no matter where you live, no matter what your racial ethnicity is, where you might work. They coordinate that. So,

what we're really talking about is the federal assets, which is really an important addition to this, being coordinated in a statewide manner. You don't want just a group of different organizations descending upon a state and said, hi, we're going to open a vaccine shop. And so one of the challenges right now that is being addressed is, how do the states and the federal government coordinate to do this kind of rollout? State governments and health departments in general have a lot of ability to understand how to do vaccinations. We do this every day, in terms of childhood immunizations. So, I'm confident that, over the course of the next seven to 14 days, we're going to see that kind of coordination resulting in more immunizations. Finally, states need resources. We have to move that money that was just approved by

the Congress to the states as soon as possible, so that we can hire the kind of people who can help us do this, who can serve as a coordinator for the volunteer organizations, who can help bring the National Guard in where they can best be used, who can work with the pharmacies to make sure that certain populations are covered. And until we get that, that's still going to be a challenge. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The president also stressed that he was going to use the Defense Production Act, which is his executive power to basically force companies to turn their attention where it's needed. What are the supplies that we are short of right now? And are there enough domestic companies to fill those needs? DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: Well, the Defense Production Act obviously can be used for a variety of different reasons, for developing personal protective equipment stockpiles, or at least delivering those personal protective equipment to the front lines right away, and, surely, as been pointed out, could potentially be used for the vaccine world.

I was not involved with the reviews of what the current manufacturing companies need in way of resources they are not currently getting. It's not evident that that's going to be an immediate tool that will need to be used. But let's make no mistake about it. Right now, these companies are pledging to deliver between 12 million to 18 million doses a week. Now, remember, a dose is just one-half of the required need for one person. So, in other words, two doses mean that that's somewhere

between six million and nine million new people a week that can be vaccinated with both doses. So, we are going to be challenged for some time. We have to understand that. We're hopeful that additional companies will have their products approved that will then also bring vaccine into the market and for us to use. But, right now, we can't sugarcoat it. We

have to tell the public we're doing best we can. The companies are putting out as much vaccine as they can. And it's going to be short for some time, and that's just the reality of it. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That's right. I think it was Dr. Fauci today said that, if we can get roughly three-quarters of the country vaccinated by this summer, we might approach some level of normalcy by the fall.

Of course, that is many, many months away. We know, also, that these new variants are spreading around the country. They seem to be more contagious. Does that emergence of these variants make you argue that we should change our public health measures in any way? Are there things that we should be doing differently because these new strains are out there? DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, we have to recognize what the implications are.

And what I mean by that is, we have basically shifted our baseline of what we accept for the COVID-19 in our communities. Remember back in April, when we had 32,000 cases reported a day? and we got the case downs to 20,000 cases a day by Memorial Day. And then we hit 72,000 cases a day in July, when the Southern states were on fire, and we got our cases back down to about 26,000 cases a day by Labor Day.

And then, of course, we saw these big peaks. We went from 26,000 cases a day to 100,000, then 200,000, and finally we hit 300,000. Today, we are back to about 185,000 cases a day being reported as our base. Now, given that, if we do see this major transmission increase because of these variant isolates, we are basically in for the very worst days of this pandemic, no mistake about it. We have to understand that. So, we have to start talking now about, how are we going to control it? What did the European countries do to try to control this? They literally had to go and take major, major restrictions in -- as everyday life in their countries.

And I think, based on what we see with these variants right now, I think the country has to be aware that the next months could be very challenging. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Michael Osterholm, thank you for a very sobering assessment. Good to have you back on the show.

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: Thank you very much. JUDY WOODRUFF: On this first full day for the new Biden administration, there is no shortage of crises or challenges. Jen Psaki is the new White House press secretary. And she joins us now. Jen Psaki, congratulations on the position. Welcome back to the "NewsHour." It is not a slow day...

JEN PSAKI, White House Press Secretary: No. JUDY WOODRUFF: ... by any means. JEN PSAKI: Certainly not. JUDY WOODRUFF: As we just heard from Dr. Michael Osterholm, who is considered one of the leading figures in public health on the question of this pandemic, it sounds as if we are far in this country from getting this pandemic under control.

We heard him say at the very end he thinks it's very possible for the U.S., to do that, there are going to have to be extreme restrictions placed on the country, as Europe had to do. Is President Biden, is he able to rule out that there will be extreme restrictions, like a lockdown? JEN PSAKI: Well, the president doesn't want to lock down the country. He's been clear about that, and his point of view on that has not changed, including with the advice of his medical experts and health team, Judy. But he did announce a number of steps today that do put some serious restrictions in place, including masking on airlines and federal transportation, on federal property, requirements about testing before individuals come over from overseas. We have also -- we're also, of course, stepping up our vaccine distribution and supply production efforts, which will help get it into the arms of more Americans. But he's hopeful that we

can take all of these steps and help expedite this process. But you're absolutely right. And he said today -- and I will repeat here -- it's going to take months and months. And it's our responsibility here in the Biden administration to be honest

with the American people about not just the sacrifices that will be required and that Americans will have to continue to take, but also the length of time that it's going to take to really get this pandemic under control. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of leveling or being direct with the American people, the president is promising 100 million doses in the first 100 days. But it's our understanding that there were -- there are going to be twice that many doses available, because there are already, what is it, 300 million that have been promised that are on track right now. So, are you underplaying, underestimating what can really be done in the first 100 days? JEN PSAKI: Well, the goal we set, a bold goal, it was called at the time and still continues to be, is 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in the first 100 days. And, certainly, we welcome the expanded production and expedited production of more vaccine supply. But we also need ensure that Americans know how to get the vaccine, where they can go to get the vaccine, that we do a great deal to address vaccine hesitancy, something that you heard Dr. Fauci talk about today.

So, it's not as simple -- we wish it was -- as lining everybody up on their way into a football stadium. It requires a much greater, Herculean operational effort than that. JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying it's more than just about the number of doses available. But I do want to ask you about the period beyond the 100 days, because what manufacturers and others, federal and state health officials, are saying is that there just won't be vaccine available until April or later for the vast majority of Americans. Is that -- is the administration acknowledging that? JEN PSAKI: Well, Judy, the reason that we laid out all these steps, or the president laid out these steps today and yesterday, is because, if we don't take steps now, it is going to slow not just the supply, but slow distribution in a couple of months. And we have, as you noted, supply, a vaccine supply now. But it's something we need to

look ahead, we need to look down the horizon to April, May, June, to ensure that we're able to continue to get shots into the arms of Americans. So, this is a long-term effort. We set this goal for the first 100 days because we feel it's important to hold ourselves accountable and hold ourselves to a bold goal. But it

is going to continue beyond that. And we need to keep looking in the months ahead, beyond the first 100 days, to make sure we're prepared when we get there. JUDY WOODRUFF: So much else to ask you about, Jen Psaki. Certainly, the pandemic has affected the economy. The president is talking about an economic

relief package. But, as you know, Republicans are already pushing back, saying it's not targeted enough, especially these $1,400 direct payments. Is President Biden prepared to compromise, as necessary, in order to get some more help out there? JEN PSAKI: Well, Judy, the package was designed -- it is a large package. Nobody is denying that, certainly not the president.

But it was designed with the advice of economists and the advice of health experts on what was required for this moment in the crisis the country is facing. As you noted, it's the pandemic. It's also the economic crisis. And about half of the package is for unemployment insurance. There's money in there for vaccine

distribution, for reopening schools. And the tricky question here is, what exactly do you want to cut? Because nobody wants to be having a conversation in May or June about why schools aren't reopening, as an example. So -- but he's doing what -- how he thinks the process should work, and, frankly, how it hasn't worked in some time, which is, the president of the United States lays out his proposal, lays out the parameters of what he thinks should happen, based on the advice of policy experts. Then he has a discussion with Congress. They have a discussion with each other. And rarely does the sausage look exactly like it does coming out of the machine as is it did going in.

And he's certainly prepared for that. But we're at the early stage. And we will continue to have those conversations in the days ahead. JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, you have -- again, this is coming from Republicans, who are saying it's all well and good, the president's early days, but these first executive orders, what is it, 16, 17 of them, look like a wish list, a progressive wish list, something that doesn't sound very much like the president's outreach for unity.

If he -- in other words, they're saying, if he really wants to work with us, why is he putting such an agenda out there that we can't go along with? JEN PSAKI: Well, I think the question there, Judy, is, what exactly are they opposed to? Do they not think there is a climate crisis, or do they not think -- the critics, I should say, not all Republicans, far from it. Do they not think that Americans should wear masks? I mean, you look at polling, and that's not what it says. So, I think the president's outreach and success in engaging with members of the Republican Party is going to be judged by his words and by his actions. And that is going to be whether

he can work with them, listen to them, hear from them, take feedback from them on legislation, and find a path forward. But the executive actions that he proposed were what he felt are essential actions to take immediately to bring relief to the American people and overturn some of the most detrimental steps of the prior administration. But he's pretty confident there's still a path forward with Republicans. JUDY WOODRUFF: One other thing, Jen Psaki.

And that is, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is saying today, late today, that he believes the impeachment trial for former President Trump should be delayed until the middle of February to give President Trump time to pull his defenses together. Is President Biden prepared to see that wait? JEN PSAKI: Well, Judy, the president's focus is primarily on the COVID relief package that he announced just a week ago. And that's what he's having conversations with members of both parties about. We're going to leave the mechanics and the timing and the process of how an impeachment trial will proceed to leaders in the Senate. And we're certain that Senator McConnell and

newly -- new Leader Schumer are going to have some interesting discussions about that. But we will leave them -- we leave it to them to determine what the path forward is. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the president isn't objecting to a delay? JEN PSAKI: Well, there's a lot of proposals out there that have been out there even over the last two weeks, and we will see what members of Congress of both parties agree on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, on, what, a very slow first day. (CROSSTALK) (LAUGHTER) JEN PSAKI: Very slow around here, Judy. Very slow. No news at all. Thanks for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Not at all. Thank you so much for joining me. JEN PSAKI: My pleasure. JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news, another 900,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week. It was the latest evidence of economic wreckage from the pandemic. The number was down slightly from the previous week, but it remained historically

high. In Iraq, at least 32 people were killed today by suicide bombings in Central Baghdad. Two blasts tore through a busy market, injuring more than 100 people. It was the first attack on the Iraqi capital's main commercial district in three years. Hours later, the Islamic State

group claimed responsibility. Twitter has temporarily locked the account of China's embassy in Washington over the repression of Muslim Uyghurs. The embassy had defended forced birth control for Uyghur women, claiming that they are no longer -- quote -- "baby-making machines." Twitter said that that tweet amounted to dehumanizing the group. Beijing responded today by asking for clarification. HUA CHUNYING, Spokeswoman, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through translator): We are confused about the restrictive measures taken by Twitter against the account of the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. We hope that Twitter will uphold the principle of objectivity and

impartiality, avoid double standards on the issue, and to strengthen the screening of what is true disinformation. JUDY WOODRUFF: In one of its last acts this week, the Trump administration accused China of committing genocide against the Uyghurs. President Biden is proposing a five-year extension of a longstanding nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Otherwise, the New START treaty is set to expire February 5. It's the last remaining agreement between the two countries that limits nuclear arsenals. The president has also asked FBI director, Christopher Wray, to stay on. The White House

made that official today, and said that Wray has agreed. He was heavily criticized by President Trump for refusing to back false claims of voter fraud. And on Capitol Hill -- or, rather, on Wall Street today, stocks mostly drifted. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 12 points to close at 31176. The Nasdaq rose 73 points, and the S&P 500 added one. Still to come on the "NewsHour": We discuss the new presidential administration with voting rights activist Stacey Abrams; and the disconnect between vaccine production and distribution leads to an alarming backlog of cases -- of doses.

As President Biden tries to pass major legislation in the months ahead, he will have to navigate the narrowest of margins in the Senate. But the fact that he has an advantage at all is due in large part to Democrats winning both U.S. Senate seats in Georgia earlier this month. Stacey Abrams is the founder of several voting rights organizations, including Fair Fight, that fueled higher voter registration and turnout in Georgia and elsewhere. She ran

for governor of Georgia in 2018, lost by less than 2 percentage points, after serving as the state House minority leader. Her work is a big focus of a new documentary, "All In: The Fight for Democracy," which she produced. It can be seen on Amazon. And Stacey Abrams joins me now.

Welcome to the "NewsHour." I want to talk to you about the documentary. But, first, let's talk about yesterday, the inauguration. What did it say to you? What do you make of this new administration so far? And is anything missing? STACEY ABRAMS, Founder, Fair Fight: President Joe Biden is the right man for this moment. Vice President Kamala Harris is reflective of so much progress that we have made. And

I think, as a team, they are going to lead a renewal of our democracy. But we cannot forget that the very people who attempted to overthrow our government just a few weeks ago, that they're still out there. And, unfortunately, some of their sympathizers remain in the state -- in the -- in our congressional legislative body, but as well as our state legislative bodies.

And so our work has to be to leverage this extraordinary opportunity for good leadership to ensure that, both in D.C. and in our state legislatures, that we do not see a rescission of the advances we have been able to make in voting rights and voting access. JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much difference do you think the work that your organization, Fair Fight, and others like it did to make a difference in the fact that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were able to win? STACEY ABRAMS: We believe that the work fighting against voter suppression, not only in Georgia, but in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, in Michigan and Arizona and Nevada, that this was incredibly instrumental. In fact, if you talk to the leaders of those parties, the leaders of those voter protection operations, they will tell you that, yes, we had new voters, but we had voters who had been precluded from participating in 2016 who had an opportunity to show up in 2020 and make a difference. And we know absolutely in Georgia that there was a sea change because we were able to push back against some of the most egregious voter suppression in the nation. And the result

was that we were able to deliver 16 Electoral College votes for a Democratic nominee for the first time in 28 years, and, a few weeks later, we were able to flip two U.S. Senate seats. JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about President Biden's agenda, Stacey Abrams? I mean, we know he's got a lot on his plate, certainly, the coronavirus, the economy, the environment. The list goes on. How concerned are you? He's -- there's so much focus for him right now on unity. He, understandably, is talking about bring the country together after the last four years, but how concerned are you about how much he can get done? STACEY ABRAMS: The fact that he began his administration by rescinding so many terrible statements that were made by Donald Trump, that he has privileged and given primacy to COVID relief, that he is absolutely intentional about democracy, those are important steps, because he's not only saying, we need to have unity. He's creating the space so those actions can speak for him, because COVID relief is not just about a Democrat or a Republican. It's about the people of our country. Climate action

is about making certain that, when we have disasters that hit our states, that we are prepared to respond and that we can anticipate what is to come. And I think what is so remarkable about his leadership is that he's bringing together not only different people across the country, but he's built a Cabinet that reflects the diversity of our nation, knowing that that diversity is actually a strength. And I'm just deeply impressed with what he's done so far, and I have a great deal of hope for what's to come. JUDY WOODRUFF: He's also made it clear that he's prepared to compromise, when appropriate.

Could that be bad news, frankly, for the progressive agenda? STACEY ABRAMS: I think progress is always a good thing. And, sometimes, progress requires that you have to compromise your actions, but not compromise your values. If we can move forward on a host of issues that will improve the outcome for the people of our country, then we should want that to happen. We are not going to get everything we want. And we know that every change that needs to be made in this nation can't happen overnight and may not happen in four years. But what we have to hold him accountable for and what I think he's asking to be held accountable for is doing the hard work of moving us forward. We have a lot of gain to reground -- a lot

of ground to regain because of Donald Trump. But we know that that ground is fertile. And I think he's going to do his best. But leadership isn't just about getting your way. We saw what that looks like with the last four years. Leadership is about moving forward and bringing the people with you, and sometimes letting the people lead. And I think that's the ethos that we will see from President Joe Biden. JUDY WOODRUFF: About this documentary you have produced, "All In: The Fight for Democracy," it is all about the right to vote.

For those people who remember, say, the civil rights movement, and remember the very clear and blatant obstacles to voting then, how do you explain to them what the obstacles are today, because they're not as visible in many ways as they were 50 years ago? STACEY ABRAMS: Well, this is one of the reasons for the documentary. Earlier, last year, I wrote a book called "Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America." And the first half of the book really sought to lay out the history of voter suppression and bring it into the president day.

But I know that not everyone's going to read a book about it. And what we wanted this documentary to do is to do exactly the same thing, to ground in the history, the horrid history of what voter suppression looks like, but then bring it to present day, so that we would know that it's not always guns and hoses and billy clubs. Sometimes, it's long lines that make you stand for eight hours and miss out on a day's wage. Sometimes, it's being purged from rolls even though you have done nothing wrong. And, sometimes,

it's intentional information about who can vote and how. We know that voter suppression exists across this country. We were able to mitigate it, in part, in 2020. But we already see state legislators led by Republicans seeking to

reinforce and to renew past practices because they see that, when more people can vote, regardless of party, that when more people vote, they may not win. My mission is not to say that any team, any party gets to win every election, but every voter should always have a voice. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, what we saw in 2020 and at the end of the election, President Trump and the people who support him making almost the opposite argument, that too much has been done to go out and to make sure minority voters can vote, people who may not be citizens can vote, they claim. How -- I mean, there's a wave of belief out there today that something went wrong in this election. They're coming at it basically from the opposite direction. STACEY ABRAMS: I wouldn't put this in terms of opposite direction. I would put this in terms of truth and lie.

We know that it is true that voters have been purged from the rolls, thousands of whom should never have been removed. We know that there are communities that experience multihour lines, when communities that are better situated and whiter have a faster attempt and a faster capacity. We know that the issues of voter suppression played out in plain sight when we saw state after state try to force people to go to the polls in unsafe conditions, rather than allowing them to use the safety of voting by mail. Then you have the lies that were told by Donald Trump and by his adherents. We had more than 60 lawsuits where evidence could not be produced. We saw Donald Trump himself at the outset

of his administration convene a voting fraud task force and dismantle it because they could not find proof. There has been absolutely no proof of widespread voter fraud. It did not happen. And, this year, Republican leaders acknowledged that that was true. And so the moment we create this false equivalence between voter suppression, which has been baked into our nation since its inception, and voter fraud, which largely in the 20th century and 21st centuries has been a figment of imagination, then we cannot give them equal time and equal measure. We have to dismiss and push back against voter fraud, so we can focus on ensuring that every eligible citizen in the United States of America has the same ease of voting, no matter who they are, where they live, or the color of their skin. JUDY WOODRUFF: Stacey Abrams, who leads the organization Fair Fight, very good to have you on the "NewsHour."

Thank you so much. STACEY ABRAMS: Thank you for having me. JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, let's dive in deeper on another concern about vaccinations, adequate production and supply. As we have discussed tonight, President Biden is planning to invoke the federal Defense Production Act more frequently. That's to make sure that companies, manufacturers and states can get what they need. Science correspondent Miles O'Brien looks at what some companies are already doing to avoid a bottleneck in production and delivery.

MILES O'BRIEN: Hurry up and wait. The Warp Speed effort that created COVID-19 vaccines much faster than conventional wisdom predicted has slowed to a crawl in the last mile. The federal government had promised 20 million vaccinations by the end of 2020, but it left the responsibility and the planning to the states. Only about 17 million Americans have been vaccinated so far. The devil, it turns out, is in the distribution. Biochemist Holden Thorp is editor in chief of the journal "Science."

HOLDEN THORP, Editor in Chief, "Science": Well, if you just take the us, with 300 million people, and you have got to dose the vaccine twice, that's 600 million vaccine doses. That's 600 million hypodermic needles. That's 600 million appointments to go get your vaccine. This is the largest logistical challenge that the country has ever taken on. MILES O'BRIEN: One of the potential bottlenecks, the vials in which the vaccines are shipped. Are there enough of these suits? This could be a potential bottleneck too. I am suiting up to visit a clean room at SiO2 Materials Science in Auburn, Alabama. My guide?

Lawrence Ganti, chief business officer. This is a very busy place. What we're seeing here is just a taste of what's to come? LAWRENCE GANTI, Chief Business Officer, SiO2 Materials Science: Oh, this is just probably one quarter of what we're going to have. MILES O'BRIEN: The vials they manufacture here for several pharmaceutical companies are unique, made mostly of plastic, until now not an option for holding drugs because it is not airtight. Air causes chemical interactions that spoil the medicine. To bring plastic up to snuff

for medicine, they use a process called chemical vapor deposition, which bathes the vials in a blue plasma containing microscopic particles of glass. This hermetically seals them. LAWRENCE GANTI: We're basically bring an outer shell of plastic and applying a nano-layer, so really, really, really thin layer of glass on the inside of the container. And when we say thin, it's 50 times thinner than a human hair. So, it's taking the best of plastic and fusing it with the best of glass. MILES O'BRIEN: They have been researching and developing the technique for 11 years. Coincidentally, it has reached maturity at this momentous time.

And they are sprinting to answer unprecedented global demand. The privately owned company received $143 million in taxpayer money from Operation Warp Speed, and is investing another $200 million of its own to expand. They plan to add more than a quarter-million square feet of manufacturing space by mid-2021.

Right now, they are producing 10 million vials a month. Each can hold up to 10 doses. Fast as they ramp up, SiO2 still cannot meet all the demand. Corning is producing glass files that could ease some bottlenecks.

Brendan Mosher is general manager of Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies. BRENDAN MOSHER, General Manager, Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies: We developed proprietary low-friction exterior coating that we put on the outside of the vials. That allows them to run at filling speeds that are 20 to 50 percent faster. This is a benefit that really matters for the pandemic response. Every hour, the more doses you can produce, means more patients and more citizens can get the vaccine. MILES O'BRIEN: Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are using a new technique that carries the genetic blueprint of the spikes that cover the surface of the novel coronavirus.

It's a way of teaching the body to make more spikes, which, in turn, prompt an immune reaction. But vaccines like these are very unstable. So, Moderna's vaccine has to be shipped at minus-four degrees Fahrenheit, and Pfizer's 94 degrees below zero. WES WHEELER, President, UPS Healthcare: That's ultra-low temperature. That's dry ice, and

very, very difficult to store in large quantities. MILES O'BRIEN: Wes Wheeler is president of health care at UPS. The shipping giant is plumbing its deep pockets to buy deep freezer farms in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Netherlands. Shipments containing vaccines are packed with dry ice, or frozen carbon dioxide, which is minus-109 degrees. Inside the package is a device they call a sentry, which records location,

altitude and temperature. They are tracked in real time at command centers like this to insure the cold chain is not broken. WES WHEELER: So, we will be taking batches from pharma companies into our freezer farm, storing them for one day, two days, one week. The question now is, how do we manage that cadence between incoming and outgoing vials? MILES O'BRIEN: No more than 30 countries in the world have an ultra-cold infrastructure. Huge swathes of South America, Africa and Asia, home to two-thirds of the global population, are not well-equipped to handle ultra-cold chain deliveries. DR. SETH BERKLEY, CEO, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance: In a case where there is a worldwide pandemic,

nobody is safe unless everybody is safe. MILES O'BRIEN: Dr. Seth Berkley is CEO of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. The 20-year-old public-private enterprise focuses on vaccinating people in emerging countries. Gavi has immunized more than 822 million children and prevented 14 million deaths. Along with the World Health Organization, Gavi has created COVAX, a multinational initiative to ensure vaccines are available everywhere. COVAX has agreements to distribute two billion

doses, at least two-thirds of them earmarked for poorer nations, this year. In 2018, Gavi found a way to maintain an ultra-cold chain to get a new Ebola vaccine into parts of Africa, where deep freezers are practically nonexistent. DR. SETH BERKLEY: And we were able to vaccinate 330,000 people using an ultra-cold chain. So, in the most difficult circumstances, it is possible, but it's expensive and, obviously, it's complicated. MILES O'BRIEN: There are no less than 250 potential coronavirus vaccines in various stages of development right now. Some do not require the ultra-cold kid glove treatment,

and some will only require only one dose. Ultimately, the vaccine that people get may have much to do with how easy it is to get it to them. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Miles O'Brien in Auburn, Alabama. JUDY WOODRUFF: In tonight's Brief But Spectacular, we hear from Matt Nathanson, a musician known for his blend of folk and rock.

Perhaps best known for his 2008 single, "Come On Get Higher," Matt shares his thoughts on getting older, gaining confidence, and finding his voice. This is part of our arts and culture series, Canvas. MATT NATHANSON, Musician: Music to me has always been the answer. It just -- it makes

everything work for me. It brings down the anxiety, and it cracks open the roof. And it's just -- it's -- it's just the only way I know how to handle life. I love music so much that, when I get to make it, I'm bringing so much baggage to it. I have to wade through that thing to get to what I actually mean to say. For so long,

I wanted to be my heroes. I wanted to make songs that sounded like the Indigo Girls, like Bob Dylan, like U2, like Stevie Wonder. Like, as a kid, I got into a Public Enemy record, and I was like, oh, it's got to sound like Public Enemy. And I would betray my own self because of my -- well, because I wasn't -- because I'm just not a particularly confident person. And I would think that something else

was obviously better than I was. And, really, my only real job as an artist is to, as honestly as possible, get what's in me out. And I was like, I'm going to write anthems, so that my fans and that humans can sort of galvanize around something that's positive and that's like, hopeful. And, all of a sudden, the first song that came out, and it was like, "Why'd You Leave Me?" I was like, OK, this must be just the cleaning out the tap because I'm in a great relationship, the best it's ever been. All right, let's get to the next one. And the next one came out, and same thing. It was like, don't go, don't go. I'm worth it. Aren't I worth it? So, I kept cleaning out the tap, essentially, and I just ended up with 15 songs about, why'd you leave me? So I was awkward throughout my entire life. I was a heavyset kid. Then, when I finally

lost weight, I still thought I was a heavyset kid. From the first cassette Walkman, I lived my entire life with headphones on my head, and I listened to records, and I soundtracked my entire life with them. I spent most of my childhood and most of my life in the pleasing-other-humans department. That was like -- that's probably why I'm a performer. And so being late to the confidence game has meant that I have spent a lot of years writing songs that I thought other people wanted to hear and doing things I thought other people wanted to see. The only real gift of age is the experience that goes along with it. That's the lesson

that you get from being young, is that you squandered so much of it. You thought it was going to be forever, so that, by the time you're in your 40s, you're like, I definitely know this is not forever. I better get on with enjoying myself as best I can. My name is Matt Nathanson, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on confidence. JUDY WOODRUFF: And we like those child pictures. And you can find all of our Brief But Spectacular segments on our Web site. That's at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief. On the "NewsHour" online right now: Twenty-two-year-old Amanda Gorman drew raves with her reading of a poem written for President Biden's inauguration.

Now you can read another of her works about finding a way out of grief during the pandemic. That's on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour. All that and more is on the Web site. And that's the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening.

For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please stay safe, and we'll see you soon.

2021-01-23 17:14

Show Video

Other news