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Interview With New York Congressman Peter King; Fight Against ISIS; Interview With Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy; Punishing Russia; U.S. To Send 200 More Troops To Syria; GOP To Control Congress & White House In 2017; Top Goal For Republicans, Repeal Obamacare. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 28, 2016 - 16:30   ET



REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: This was one of his biggest disappointments, is when, basically, the Israelis gave the Palestinians almost everything they wanted.

That was Prime Minister Barak at the time with Arafat. And, in the end, Arafat walked away from the deal, even though President Clinton spent the last, I guess, six weeks of his term in office trying to close that deal.

And the Israelis made the concessions that were required. I was over in Israel in 2005, when Prime Minister Sharon gave up Gaza. And that was -- again, he did that really resisting many people in his own country.

So, Israelis have made sacrifices over the years. And I don't think John Kerry gave them enough credit. Listen, I was actually in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Rabin in 1993 the very day that the agreement was reached in Oslo with Peres and Arafat. I remember meeting with Peres, Shimon Peres, several days later.

And so over these years, from 1993 on, since Oslo on onward, I think the Israelis have made many steps toward peace, and they have not been reciprocated by the Palestinians. And I don't think John Kerry made enough of that today.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Peter King, thank you so much. Sir, happy new year.

KING: Thank you. Happy new year to you, Jake. Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Mess with our election and you will pay the price -- how the White House is preparing to punish Moscow for meddling in 2016 -- that story next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Revenge may be a dish best served digitally. Digitally. Digitally. Sorry. Today, we are learning that the Obama administration is planning

retaliatory messages against Russia for meddling in the U.S. election. Officials telling us the actions are expected to include covert action, sanctions and, additionally, possibly cyber-attacks back at them.

In return, Russia is promising to respond to any "hostile steps that the United States government might take."

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining me. Appreciate it.



TAPPER: So, possible retaliatory measures against Russia might include covert operations. If that's true, why announce that you're going to do it?

MURPHY: You know, especially if it's paired with public sanctions, it does seem a little strange to signal that there are going to be covert actions.

And, of course, you also don't want to fall into the same trap here. To the extent that we are decrying the Russians' attempts to influence an American election, you also don't want to be caught doing the same types of things inside of Russia.

I would argue that robust sanctions could likely be enough to send a strong message to the Russians that this is unacceptable. And I also think that we have to start communicating to them about what the consequences would be if they continued this.

So, I think it is a little strange to convey that you are going to do something secretly. It's not that secret if you convey it in that manner. I think robust sanctions would be a pretty strong message.

TAPPER: The other thing that's odd about it is before the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated, the president and the administration had said something similar about responding in kind, although maybe Russia wouldn't know the time and place, et cetera.

And that was used in propaganda against the West and against the United States, suggesting that President Obama and the West -- inaccurately, let me emphasize -- had something to do with the assassination.

MURPHY: Well, listen, I think we have to make clear that, no matter what we do, it is going to be misconstrued, it is going to be turned into propaganda.

And so I don't think that we can try to tailor our actions in U.S.- Russia policy to avoid it being used in propaganda efforts. Right now, Putin, given the weak state of his economy, relies on anti- Americanism in order to prop himself up.

And so whether we engage in sanctions or we let this interference in U.S. elections go, Putin's only path to remaining in power is to create this boogeyman, this straw man of America on the other side.

So, I am not as concerned about that. They are going to always try to twist what we do to create us as a convenient enemy to sustain his popularity inside Russia.

TAPPER: But, Senator, there have been sanctions against Russia since the annexation of Crimea. And all that did was dissuade Vladimir Putin to interfere in our elections.

What evidence is there that any sanctions work on Putin?

MURPHY: I think we have to understand that there is a long game to be played here. The Russian economy is incredibly weak.

And right now, he has been able to sustain his popularity and his power through this kind of nationalism and anti-Americanism. But the sanctions ultimately will create a weakness around him that will make it hard for him to preserve his power.

So I understand that we may not get in the short-term the Russian reaction that we want. But we have to look back to what we did in the wake of the invasion of Afghanistan. We imposed sanctions that we held for a long time on the Russian economy that eventually led to the Soviet Union's collapse.

We may be in for that kind of long game again here.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about comments made by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina talking about the support that so many senators have for the intelligence community and its conclusions that Russia did interfere in the elections. Let's roll that clip.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There are 100 United States senators. Amy Klobuchar is on this trip with us. She is a Democrat from Minnesota. I would say that 99 of us believe the Russians did this, and we're going to do something about it.

Along with Senator McCain, after this trip is over, we're going to have the hearings and we're going to put sanctions together that hit Putin as an individual and his inner circle for interfering in our election. And they're doing it all over the world, not just in the United States.

Estonia is hit all the time. They are interfering in elections in democratic countries' efforts to self-determination all over the world. It's just not in our backyard.


TAPPER: Do you think that the U.S. Senate led by Republicans will push back on president-elect Donald Trump, who has been dismissing the conclusion of the intelligence agencies?

MURPHY: I mean, it strikes me as a little optimistic.

I like Lindsey a lot. But he may have heard his leader, Senator McConnell, say something in private that he hasn't said publicly. McConnell right now favors an investigation in the Intelligence Committee, much of which will happen behind closed doors.

None of the members of the Republican Caucus have yet taken on Donald Trump directly on this issue of his support for Russia. It looks as if they are going to support a nominee for secretary of state who has no interest in broaching any of these tough issues with Putin.

So I am not as optimistic as Lindsey is that we are going to get a real public investigation and a bipartisan consensus to push back against Russia. I just have seen no signs so far, aside from a little bit of rhetoric from Senator McCain and Senator Graham, that Republicans are actually willing to take on Trump in his fantasy in which he believes that he can achieve some new detente, some new understanding with Vladimir Putin, this vicious, brutal dictator who needs anti-Americanism inside Russia in order to politically survive.


TAPPER: All right, Senator Chris Murphy, thank you so much. Happy new year, sir.

MURPHY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: President Obama increasing the U.S. investment to fight ISIS as he leaves office. So what is the state of the battle that Donald Trump is about to inherit? That story next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

More on our world lead now. German police say they have detained a man who might be linked to the Berlin Christmas market attack that left 12 dead. A prosecutor says the 40-year-old Tunisian's phone number was found an the attacker's cell phone.

Meanwhile, Dutch police say it's likely that the terrorist, Anis Amri, traveled through the Netherlands before finally reaching Italy, where police killed him in that shoot-out in Milan.

ISIS claimed it inspired the Berlin attack, prompting the ISIS-related Web site to release video of Amri pledging his allegiance to the terrorist group.

But, on the battlefield, ISIS might be suffering major losses in Syria and in Iraq. A senior military official telling CNN as many as 50,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since the war against the terrorist group began.

Just days before leaving office, President Obama is trying to make a final push against ISIS by sending more than 200 additional U.S. troops into Syria.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr filed this report.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S.-backed fighters near Raqqa, Syria, preparing to attack, hoping to drive ISIS out.

CNN cannot independently verify this new video. Getting to Raqqa has been a top U.S. military priority. Now Donald Trump is inheriting an ISIS war that just got even more dangerous for U.S. troops since his tough campaign talk.

[16:45:00] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We got to get rid of ISIS quickly, quickly.

STARR: The first of 200 additional U.S. troops authorized by President Obama to go into northern Syria will begin moving in and out of the area in the coming days, a U.S. official tells CNN. But the region is so perilous, American troops will only stay for a few days at a time.

Training local forces no longer a main focus. U.S. troops will have orders to help Turkish and Kurdish troops, who are close to outright war between themselves, focus on ISIS.

The Pentagon is concerned that as the Turks approach the down of al- Bab, they fight Kurds instead of ISIS and they turn towards Manbij, a hard fought victory for the U.S. backed forces. It is Raqqah to the south that the U.S. wants everyone to head for.

The Turks want U.S. support, even air strikes. The U.S. ground forces could call those strikes in for Turkish President Erdogan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are talking to them about how to help them in their efforts.

STARR: One U.S. official tells CNN the U.S. troops will not initiate combat but may well find themselves in a combat situation. The Pentagon believes the risk is vital to stop future ISIS attacks in the West.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know that central to external operations plotting is the city of Raqqah. And that's why we need to get down there and isolate that city as fast as we can.

STARR: U.S. officials say there are specific buildings in Raqqah where they believe top ISIS operatives may be hiding. U.S. drones and communications intercepts are gathering intelligence on those targets, waiting to strike them when civilians are not there.

The big unknown, will Trump hand over the Raqqah fight to Russia and the Syrian regime?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you pull completely out, you watch focus drift away from defeating ISIS and capturing -- recapturing Raqqah and eliminating the terrorist threat that emanates from that city.


STARR: So what could President Donald Trump do differently about ISIS than President Obama? Well, he could, in fact, turn some of this fight, if you will, over to Moscow, but it is not clear that Moscow shares the same priority about getting to Raqqah, and the U.S. intelligence community believes Raqqah is a threat to U.S. national security because of the ISIS plotters. Jake --

TAPPER: It's a big question. Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Republicans may have the White House and a majority in Congress come January 20, but that doesn't mean it will be smooth sailing. We'll look at the battles awaiting lawmakers in 2017 next.


[16:51:20] TAPPER: We're back with more on our politics lead. Next Tuesday, the 115th Congress will be sworn in. And once Donald Trump takes office, January 20, the Republican Party will control both the executive and the legislative branches of the government for the first time in more than a decade.

Now a senior leadership aide says top House Republicans are already planning to move quickly to pass three measures including a House resolution condemning the recent vote at the United Nations on settlements. They're also threatening action against the U.N. such as suspending funding.

Two other bills will address federal regulations it passed in the last session. CNN's Manu Raju filed this report on what to expect in the incoming Congress.


MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the first time in nearly a dozen years, Republicans will control all of Washington. And they're plotting an ambitious agenda on Capitol Hill. A sweeping rewrite of the tax code. New infrastructure projects. A ninth Supreme Court justice. And their top goal, a repeal of President Barack Obama's signature legacy item, Obamacare.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The Obamacare repeal resolution will be the first item up in the new year.

RAJU: But Republican leaders privately acknowledge it won't be easy, especially repealing the healthcare law without a clear plan to replace it. And, in the aftermath of surging enrollment numbers for Obamacare.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happens to those 20 million people who have health insurance? Are you going to just kick them off and suddenly they don't have health insurance?

RAJU: Next month, Republicans will immediately try to pass a budget, a process that will allow them to repeal much of Obamacare, including subsidies to buy health insurance and an expansion of Medicaid, all on a party-line vote in the Senate.

But some key aspects of the law cannot be repealed through the budget process, including prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions, and the mandate requiring people to purchase health insurance.

Conservatives determined to scrap the law are already warning of a revolt if President-elect Donald Trump accepts anything short of a full repeal.

RAJU: If he pursues just amending Obamacare, how would you respond?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not going to agree with that.

RAJU: The process to replace Obamacare will be even tougher because Republicans will need to overcome a Senate filibuster, meaning they'll need the support of at least eight Democrats to enact a new healthcare law. But the new senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, is already warning that his party won't help the GOP replace the law.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Just repealing Obamacare, even though they have nothing to put in its place, and saying they'll do it sometime down the road, will cause huge calamity from one end of America to another. They don't know what to do. They're like the dog that caught the bus.

RAJU: To ensure people don't lose their coverage, GOP leaders say Congress will effectively delay the repeal from taking effect until legislation is approved to replace the law. A process that could take years.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: There needs to be a reasonable transition period so that people don't have the rug pulled out from under them.

RAJU: But that approach is only bound to cause tension with top conservatives who want immediate action.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Look, I think healthcare will be better and cost less when Obamacare is gone, so why would we want to take three years to get rid of it?


[16:54:53] RAJU: And Jake, GOP officials tell me that rather than a comprehensive Obamacare replacement, they're actually looking at passing a series of smaller healthcare bills that they hope can win bipartisan support. Setting that aside, though, another huge fight looming over reforming the tax code for corporations and individuals, and that is expected to dominate action on the hill for much of next year. But adding to that, a slew of major confirmation fights, including Trump's pick for the Supreme Court, and you can see that Trump's agenda next year could be filled with huge accomplishments or it could get quickly bogged down in capitol grid lock. Jake -- TAPPER: Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Did China lay down the gauntlet for the next space race? Where that country is promising to go by 2020. That story next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD and THE WORLD LEAD TODAY. China is aiming upward with a plan to be among the major space powers in just the next few years. The plan calls for a landing on the dark side of the moon by 2018 and on mars by 2020.

That's ambitious for a nation that came pretty late to the space race. China did not launch its first satellite until 1970, just after Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon. China has been pumping billions into research and training in the decades since. The nation's space agency says it still wants to put a human on the moon but will focus on robotic missions for now.

Pop culture lead. All right. You've already taken our Prince, now our princess, the guy who had faith and Ziggy Stardust and countless others. We have had it with you, 2016. One guy will be damned if you dare lay your hands on the last surviving Golden Girl. A man in South Carolina set up a gofundme page hoping to raise enough money to do whatever it takes and travel wherever he needs to protect the 94-year- old national treasure, Betty White, through the end of the year.

Now he's hoping to raise $2,000 and says he'll donate it all to a local little theater if Betty White tells him, thank you for being a friend but buzz off. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. Turning over to Jim Sciutto, in for Wolf Blitzer, in "THE SITUATION ROOM".