'Special Report' on COVID

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report with Bret Baier’ on December 23, 2021. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

EMANUEL: With that, let's bring in our panel, Harold Ford Jr., former Tennessee Congressman and CEO of Empowerment and Inclusion Capital, Morgan Ortagus, former State Department spokesperson, and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. Welcome to all of you. Ari, I can't imagine cleaning up after the president is a great deal of fun for a press secretary.

(LAUGHTER)

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Oh, it's never pleasant when one person in the administration says x and the other contradicts them and says y, and the press secretary has to explain it all.

Jen is right. The government did a good job in procuring sufficient number of vaccines. The private sector has done a good job of procuring sufficient numbers of masks. But here's what they have all done wrong. Congress passed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package earlier this year. Where did that money go? Why didn't the federal government, the states and the cities stockpile testing kits? Why didn't they prepare surge capacities for hospitals and clinics for the inevitable variant that was going to create what omni has led to?

This is a failure at all levels of government to be prepared at a time when they had the money. There is no excuse for them not to have taken these steps, and we are in the spot we are now because everybody dropped the ball, federal, state, and local.

EMANUEL: Morgan, to that point, there are two antiviral drugs that have been approved by the FDA, and there doesn't seem to be much celebration at the White House. Is that because it's going to take weeks if not a month or more to actually get the pills to the people?

MORGAN ORTAGUS, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Yes, I don't know why they wouldn't celebrate it. I think it's a fantastic thing, especially because the vaccine mandates, maybe not the vaccines themselves, but the mandates have become so politicized that they are going to the Supreme Court.

So I think we should all rejoice at American ingenuity, right. We should rejoice at the fact that through Operation Warp Speed we have the vaccines available today. We see what's going on with China where their vaccine is just really ill-equipped at tackling this virus and its mutations. And to the extent that Americans next year are able to go to their local pharmacy and get therapeutics and not end up in the hospital and our hospitals aren't overwhelmed, that only happens by the private sector in the United States partnering with the government. And that's what we need more of to beat this pandemic and future pandemics.

EMANUEL: Harold, in your view, where are we in the fight against COVID at Christmas?

HAROLD FORD JR., FORMER TENNESSEE REPRESENTATIVE: First off, merry Christmas, and thanks for having me on.

I think that what both Ari and Morgan have said is largely right. I think our Christmas season, the celebratory aspects of it, have been notched down a bit in light of all that we are dealing with. But I look at some of the positives -- 72 percent of Americans 18 and older are vaccinated. A year ago today less than one percent were. Thirty-two percent of Americans are boosted, and that pace of boosting has gone up as we, unfortunately, have faced the Omicron battle.

Ari is right, though. The administration should have done a better job with regard to testing, and it sounds like they realize they are behind the ball. And I give President Biden great credit for acknowledging that and saying we have to do better.

I think as we sit back now and understand how much our nerves are a little rattled and how the community bond and national bond is a little strained as we head into the season around all of this, I think the real thing I'm excited mostly about is what you asked there last and what Morgan commented upon, that we may have a gamechanger in this Pfizer antiviral. We didn't have that a year ago.

So I think we should continue to encourage people to be tested, continue to encourage people, rather, to be vaccinated. And as these tests come about, we should encourage people to be tested. I think one of the great challenges we are going to have is figuring out how we do this testing in schools, Mike, when we get back from the Christmas break and holiday break as people travel to be with loved ones.

EMANUEL: OK, we are up against the clock. I would like to get around the horn really quickly on the vaccine mandates going before the Supreme Court January 7th. Ari, you want to lead us off?

FLEISCHER: I just think it's a total mistake to mandate it. You are going to get people to get their backs up. It's just the wrong approach. If you want to appeal to conservatives, you do it on the basis not of a mandate but, just a quiet, serious, encouragement. And it's not just conservatives. There's the RFK Jr. school, they are opposed to them, too.

EMANUEL: Morgan, 15 seconds or so.

ORTAGUS: Yes, the Supreme Court, I think, is going to strike it down. This wasn't legislation. This was executive regulatory action, so it's very different from the ACA, in my opinion. So I think it will get struck down.

EMANUEL: Harold, bring us home.

FORD: Look, they may be right, both Ari and Morgan. But in times of national crises and war, and I think we are at war with this virus, the court has always upheld or consistently upheld presidential powers. I'll live with the decision, but I hope they come down with President Biden.

EMANUEL: Panelists, thanks. When we come back, our focus on midterms looks at how Republicans are trying to retake the House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

EMANUEL: It is time for tonight's focus on the midterm elections. Here is my colleague, Bret Baier.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Thanks, Mike. In tonight's SPECIAL REPORT spotlight, the midterm focus, the Republicans are obviously optimistic about winning back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2022. Right now, Democrats hold a slim majority with 221 seats. That's just eight more than the Republican. Retiring Democrats could also help tilt the balance of power in the GOP's favor -- 23 Democrats have already announced they will not seek reelection in the House, 15 are planning to retire from politics altogether, eight are running for another elective office.

Joining us tonight to talk about some key midterm races across the country is the National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman and Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer. Congressman, thanks for being here.

REP. TOM EMMER, (R-MN) GOP CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Thanks for having me, Bret.

BAIER: First of all, 30,000 feet, as you sit today, and obviously we are a long way from November of 2022, but where do you put the Republicans' position to take back control?

EMMER: Well, I like our momentum. But Bret, we haven't won anything yet. There's a long way to go. You win campaigns with great candidates, with a winning message, and with another resources. I think Republicans are going to have all three. But, again, we have got a long way to go, and we are taking nothing for granted.

BAIER: You mentioned resources. The fundraising numbers, DNC, RNC, $10.7 million to $9.1 million for the Democrats, $147.3 million to $146.5 million cash on hand, roughly the same. Pretty close when you look at the money right now.

EMMER: Well, look, we have said from the beginning, we never have as much money as they do. We just got to have enough money. I'm proud of the work we are doing. We are almost $50 million ahead of where we were at this same point just two years ago. We are running almost at parity, which is unheard of, with the Democrats. Again, they always have more money, Bret. They burn it in the streets, it seems like. We just have enough to make sure that we can support great candidates, which we have a record number of candidates already filed for office as Republicans, even in a redistricting year, and get out that winning message, which is all about the economy, rising costs. It's about the crimewave that's taken over in this country, and it's about the, frankly, the mess at the border.

BAIER: When you see 23 Democrats retiring or deciding not to run for reelection in different races, what does that tell you?

EMMER: Well, it tells me that they see what's coming, especially it's not just the number 23. Keep in mind, when Republicans took back the majority 10 years ago, you had a serious number of Democrat retirements like you do this time. But there are more this time than there were at this time 10 years ago. Plus, it's chairmen, I think we have got three full committee chairs and one very powerful subcommittee chair from the appropriations committee. Those typically don't happen unless they don't see themselves being in the majority. And I suspect that's why they're all announcing they are leaving.

BAIER: Let's talk about a couple of specific races to be. Remember there are some primaries still yet to find out the Republican candidates, but let's go to Iowa three. This is Representative Cindy Axne, the incumbent Democrat. There are three potential Republicans, the Iowa state senator Zach Nunn, former Iowa state rep Mary Ann Hanusa, and Nicole Hasso. You think this is a pick-up.

EMMER: Yes, this is one of our targeted races, Bret. It has been. Donald Trump won this seat both in 2016 and 2020. The current incumbent, Cindy Axne, does not match the district. She barely got by. In fact, in both races that she has won, she won with less than 50 percent of the vote. This is a pick-up seat for us. Plus, the incumbent, we don't play in primaries. We trust the voters to decide who the best voice for them is. But when it comes to winning this seat next fall, look, it is ripe for the Republicans to pick up, not just because it is a Republican seat, but because the incumbent, she currently is under investigation for about half-a-million dollars in trades that she did not disclose. That just doesn't bode well.

BAIER: A couple more quickly. New Jersey seven, this is the incumbent Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Tom Kean Jr., a U.S. congressional candidate. So a rematch from before.

EMMER: That's right. It is rematch from before. The problem with Tom Malinowski is he was trading in about $1 million worth of tech and medical stocks that were COVID related during the pandemic, Bret, that he failed to disclose. This is a rematch that Tom Kean Jr. came within one point of winning back in the fall of 2020. He will win it this time.

BAIER: Last race here, Texas 15, this is Monica De La Cruz, a Republican congressional candidate, and this is a seat where the Democrat kind of switched seats run in a neighboring district.

EMMER: He switched seats to run because this is almost like the incumbent announcing a retirement. Texas 15 is the seat that Monica De La Cruz with, I think, about $400,000 and nobody paying attention to her almost won the last cycle. I think she lost by two points to the incumbent Vicente Gonzalez. And rather than run in his seat again, Texas 15, which, by the way, this seat where McAllen, Texas is located. McAllen Texas, you might recall, Bret, within the past few months elected a Republican mayor for the first time in something like 80 years. Rather than run for reelection in the seat, Vicente Gonzalez decided to move next door to Texas 34 in a seat that he thinks is more favorable. And yet he might even be susceptible to defeat in that seat.

But Monica De La Cruz is running again in Texas 15. She is a great candidate, and I expect that she is going to win that race.

BAIER: We'll continue to focus on individual races. We'll bounce around the country and follow all of these. Congressman Emmer, we appreciate your time.

EMMER: Thank you, Bret.

BAIER: All right, and we have invited the Democrats. We'll do the same thing with their targeted races around the country as well. Mike, I'll send it back to you.

EMANUEL: Bret, thanks very much.

Finally tonight, thousands of troops head home for the holidays. More than 45,000 military personnel nationwide at 20 different locations will go on holiday block leave. Welcome home, thank you for your service and, of course, merry Christmas.

Thank you for watching SPECIAL REPORT. I'm Mike Emanuel in Washington. I will see you back here tomorrow night. Good night from Washington.

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