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President Trump Announces Ryan Zinke Leaving Post as Interior Secretary; Texas Judge Rules Affordable Care Act Unconstitutional; Interview with Congressman Lou Correa; Seven-Year-Old Immigrant Girl Dies While in Border Patrol Custody; Trump Administration Tax Cut Reportedly Benefits Jared Kushner; North Carolina Officials May Order New Election for Congressional Ninth District; Largest Diamond Ever Found in North America Mined in Canada. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired December 15, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: -- story of the day for me. Maison Hullibarger, 18-year-old from Michigan, dies and that's the treatment he gets at his funeral. Disgraceful. I'll see you next week.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. So glad to have you with us. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Breaking news this morning in the CNN Newsroom. President Trump says Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is out by the end of the year.

PAUL: Back in October we reported Zinke was being investigated by the Justice Department for possibly using his office for personal gain. CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood has the very latest for us. Sarah, what are you hearing this morning?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Christi and Victor, President Trump announcing this morning that yet another top administration official is heading for the exits as his West Wing and administration undergo an extended period of turmoil and change. The latest to leave embattled, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He has faced a number of ethics enquiries during his tenure, including those allegations that he used his post for personal gain and that he abused agency resources.

Earlier this the inspector general started looking into a number of issues with Zinke conduct, including his relationship with the chairman of Haliburton and decisions he made on a couple of projects under his purview. And as you mentioned, CNN reported in October that the Justice Department started investigating Zinke's conduct after a referral from the agency's inspector general.

President Trump announced Zinke's departure via Twitter just moments ago, writing "Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will be leaving the administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years. Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our nation." Then he goes on to say "The Trump administration will be announcing the new secretary of the interior next week." Zinke's departure could prevent him for having to face questions about

his conduct before Congress. Democrats about to sweep into the majority in the House had signaled that they were going to look into Zinke's various scandals. Of course, this is the latest vacancy that the president has to fill. Just last night he announced he has a new chief of staff only on a temporary basis, and only recently he announced his new attorney general, his new U.N. ambassador. So Victor and Christi, there are are a lot of Senate confirmation battles on the horizon with yet another cabinet vacancy open just this morning.

BLACKWELL: Let's detail here the job that we know that the president and this administration, they have to do. Let's keep this up. He has got to find a permanent chief of staff, get his attorney general nominee confirmed, find a new interior secretary, have his U.N. ambassador nominee confirmed, reach a budget deal with the Democrats, and deal with this growing Mueller investigation. The president and this administration, they have a lot on their plate now.

WESTWOOD: That's right. It's a tricky period for the president to be without a permanent chief of staff, to be without Senate confirmed permanent heads of some of the most important agencies within his cabinet because, as you mentioned, the president is dealing with the Mueller investigation, with the prospect of Congressional probes as Democrats come into the House vowing to exercise oversight over this administration, and now is a really difficult time for the president to be introducing new people to this environment. And we may not have even seen the last of the departures, Victor, so that is something obviously that is going to cause some problems in the weeks ahead for this administration.

CAMEROTA: Sarah Westwood, we appreciate it so much. Thank you.

And listen, also happening this morning, health care coverage for millions of you, a lot of people waking up this morning thinking I don't know what is going to happen with my health care coverage because a federal judge in Texas has struck down Obamacare. He did it late last night.

BLACKWELL: He says the core part of the law, the individual mandate, is unconstitutional, and without it the entire Affordable Care Act is invalid.

CAMEROTA: Attorneys general in several states have already been preparing their appeals, others in some red states are joining the White House to cheer this decision. This is happening of course on the same day as the year's Obamacare signup deadline is here, it basically ends at midnight tonight in most states, we should point out.

BLACKWELL: It's important to say that the judge did not block the law, so you can still sign up.

Joining us now to explain what happens next potentially in this case, CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue. So in the short term and the long term as people look ahead to the Supreme Court potentially getting this case, what's ahead?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right, this was a very broad ruling. Not only did he strike down the individual mandate, but he said the whole law should go. This was just one district court judge, Reed O'Connor, out of Texas, and it's going to be appealed, for sure. And he did say that, look, it could remain in effect for now.

[10:05:02] But this puts in question a lot of people's health care decisions coming down the pike. And basically, let me take you back a little bit to explain where this game from, this ruling. Remember, back in 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate. Chief Justice John Roberts, he wrote that opinion that really stunned some conservatives. And he said, look, it is upheld under the taxing power. Flash forward to 2017, Congress got rid of that tax penalty in the law, so last night the judge said, look, the tax penalty is not there anymore, therefore we've lost the legal underpinning of this law, which he said the individual mandate falls, and he went further and said the whole law will fall.

The Trump administration isn't defending it. California and other states have stepped in to do so. They said they're going to go to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the Fifth Circuit up holds what O'Connor ruled last night this will definitely head to the Supreme Court.

BLACKWELL: All right, Ariane de Vogue, we'll look ahead to what is coming. Thanks so much.

PAUL: Attorneys general from several states, as we said, vowing to appeal this ruling out of Texas. The attorney general who started the suit, Xavier Becerra, called the ruling, quote, an assault, and a spokesperson for his office indicated an appeal would be filed. We want to go to CNN legal analyst Shan Wu. Shan, you sent us a note saying that President Trump bragging about this reflects one truth. What truth would that be?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That truth is the only thing that his administration can get done successfully is to pack the courts with conservative judges. Their biggest accomplishment, of course, is really transforming the majority of the Supreme Court to a solid wall of conservative partisans.

And now what they have done is they have successfully set up a possible challenge to go to the United States Supreme Court. We are absolutely not quite there yet, that has got to go to the Fifth Circuit. But that's what this judge was trying to do. This judge unnecessarily reached out, it's an overbroad ruling, it's unfounded legally, because there are two principles of restraint he is violating. The first is generally you don't reach out unnecessarily to the side issues you don't have to, that's the principle of judicial restraint. The other is the doctrine of severability. And severability means, it's a basic contract principle -- if one provision of the contract is wrong or illegal, the whole contract doesn't fail.

And in the Supreme Court that is regularly complied in construing federal statutes, which if there is one piece of it that's problematic, that doesn't mean that you toss the entire statute. This judge deliberately did that, he tossed the entire statute, claiming that it's too complicated to go through all the provisions. That's exactly what Congress did. Congress has been going through the provisions. It's been redrafted not once, but twice here. And really as Judge Roberts wrote a few years ago that by exercising this kind of judicial overreach, the judiciary exercises an editorial function upon the will of the people, the legislature, and that's wrong.

PAUL: So Shan, with the new makeup of the Supreme Court, and it's expected by many legal experts to be going there by the time this is all said and done, any prognostication on what will happen?

WU: It's a very interesting question. I think Judge Roberts is interested in having the court look less partisan. And of course, he wrote the previous one upholding the Affordable Care Act. I think with this new majority it may indeed be struck down. I think that's a real danger for it.

I think the Fifth Circuit here actually I think is very important. How they decide the case may also help tee up those issues. But I think one important point to realize is that we won't be finding any support from the Trump Justice Department because they abdicated the responsibility here. Normally the department defends the constitutionality of federal legislation, and they didn't do that here. So they're really attempting to get accomplished through the packing of the judiciary what they may not be able to do through other means, and I think that's a very dangerous situation generally for the country, and I think it bodes poorly for the future of people needing the protections of this legislation, those particularly with preexisting conditions.

PAUL: Shan, what do you make of the timing of this? It happened late at night last night, kind of overnight, and just hours before the final hours in which people can sign up for the options?

WU: Yes, the timing is particularly troubling, although I note that the judge somewhat limited the action, saying that the law could go forward. But from a political standpoint, I think it's sending a message, which is as you approach the deadline for signing up they are calling into question the whole validity and future protections for people.

[10:10:04] PAUL: Before you go, I just wanted to ask you what your reaction is to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke leaving, this of course coming after former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price stepped down in September after seven months, multiple investigations into him, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July amid questions regarding spending and housing, now Zinke is going to be gone. Your thoughts?

WU: Zinke somewhat overdue. Way too many problems in terms of the personal conduct. Overall for the administration, it is an administration in great disarray. The White House is in disarray. The administration overall is in disarray. It's hard to imagine how they are going to get anything done, particularly once the Democrats take control of the House, and I would predict a large number of investigations will commence.

PAUL: Shan Wu, always appreciate your perspective, sir. Thank you for being here.

WU: Nice to see you.

PAUL: You, too.

BLACKWELL: We are pushing forward on the breaking news out of the White House, the president has announced that Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, is stepping down at the end of the year. He's the latest top official to leave the Trump administration. We're told by the president that a replacement will be announced next week. We'll get reaction from a Democratic congressman, next.

PAUL: Also, President Trump is the subject of a half-dozen investigations right now, including the investigations led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. How the intense scrutiny could endanger his administration at the end of the day.


[10:15:44] PAUL: We continue to follow two big breaking stories this morning. First of all, secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, is stepping down at the end of the year, and a Texas judge ruled the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, potentially endangering the health care of millions of Americans.

Right now with us, Democratic Congressman Lou Correa from California. Thank you so much, Congressman, for being with us. We certainly appreciate it. I wanted to first and foremost get your reaction to the news about Secretary Zinke, this, of course, coming after health and human services secretary has gone and Scott Pruitt of the EPA has also left under questionable circumstances. Your reaction to this news now?

REP. LOU CORREA, (D) CALIFORNIA: And you also have General Kelly that is about to resign, or has resigned. And to me it's very troublesome when you have an administration that doesn't seem to be able to hold on to good people. General Kelly, a 40-year general, marine, whose son made the ultimate sacrifice to this country, I can't think of a more committed individual to this country than General Kelly, yet we are losing him as well. This is not good. It's not good for the country to have this kind of instability in our federal government.

PAUL: How do you see Democrats bringing some sort of stability to the House?

CORREA: Well, all of us have to work together. We need to bring back the Ronald Reagan, the Tip O'Neill. Nancy Pelosi has said she's willing to work with whoever wants to work with her to make sure that we do what is best for the country. And I think that's the attitude we have to have, which is everybody come together to do what is best for America and for Americans.

PAUL: Since you mentioned Nancy Pelosi, I want to ask you about the Affordable Care Act and the ruling that was brought about by this Texas judge late last night. Nancy Pelosi tweeted "While the district court's absurd ruling will be immediately appealed, Republicans are fully responsible for this cruel decision." The judge basically invalidating the entire Obamacare act. What are Democrats prepared to do about this?

CORREA: We have to do everything we can to make sure Americans are covered with health care, that their preconditions are taken care of when it comes to health care. We need to make sure we fight for the Affordable Care Act. I am a Californian, and California was the first state in the country to apply the Affordable Care Act, and it's working well in California. I think it's important to move forward, not backwards when it comes to health care. Americans want good health care, and we as Democrats and my Republican colleagues need to join us and say we need to make sure Americans are covered with good, solid health care.

PAUL: Going out of the 2016 election, there were some Democrats who admitted there are issues with ACA, there are issues that do need to be fixed. What remedies do you see that need to be worked on?

CORREA: Absolutely. Remember, Medicare took about 60, 70 years to get where it got. The Affordable Care Act has had about six, seven years. There's a lot of tweaking. We need to bring down the costs. We need to make sure it's affordable for everybody, make sure small businesses can afford it. A lot of challenges for the Affordable Care Act. But you know what, it's a great start. Preexisting conditions, very important to a lot of us, a lot of good things in the ACA. Let's move forward.

PAUL: All right, I wanted to ask you about something that you had tweeted out a couple days ago. This, of course, in regards to the death of that seven-year-old girl at the border earlier this week, Jakelin is her name. And you tweeted, "The Department of Homeland Security leadership must be held responsible for their failure to properly care for migrants in their custody and their inability to lead the hardworking officers under their command."

She got to the border, as we understand it. As soon as Border Patrol agents realized that she was ill, they got her medical help. When they realized her illness was beyond anything that they could care for at that site, they airlifted her to a hospital. What exactly do you think the Border Patrol did wrong?

[10:20:05] CORREA: Well, let me start with the big picture, which is today we have a humanitarian crisis, we have a refugee crisis, and Homeland Security, border patrol is not prepared to address this issue. Think about it. In Mexico thousands of refugees, OK, this is an Americas crisis and we're not addressing this. We are talking about a border wall, instead of sending health care folks into Mexico, making sure the border patrol can take care of these individuals as they approach America.

We're used to thinking about refugees as something that happens in Europe and the Middle East. This is happening in our own backyard, and we have to address it. Central America, Mexico -- go ahead. PAUL: I'm sorry, you said the Department of Homeland Security

leadership needs to be held responsible. Who specifically?

CORREA: Well, I want to make sure they understand that the message, the mission that they give those hardworking men and women at the border is one that addresses the specific issue. The issue isn't a border wall, the issue isn't terrorists. Terrorists, there's more suspected terrorists caught at the Canadian border than the Mexico border. Let's deal with the facts. And that's what I am saying -- leadership has to say these are the problems and move on. When Secretary Kelly was head of Homeland, we would have frank discussions in front of the public, and he would say, Lou, the issue is we have to stabilize Central America, Mexico. We have to address our insatiable appetite for drugs, and get down to business.

PAUL: Do you think that's possible?

CORREA: It's not a matter of being possible. We have to do it. It's for our own national interests that we take care of the issues and the problems that are before us. Let's get away from political rhetoric. The American public wants answers, they want solutions, and that's what we have to do, give them solutions.

PAUL: Congressman Lou Correa, we appreciate you taking time for us today. Thank you, sir.

CORREA: Thank you very much.

PAUL: President Trump has named his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, to be his acting chief of staff.

BLACKWELL: The decision came after the president reportedly grew frustrated with the perception that no one wanted the job. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement "Mick Mulvaney will not resign from the Office of Management and Budget, but will spend all of his time devoted to his role as the acting chief of staff for the president. Russ Vought will handle the day to day operations to run OMB."

PAUL: And meantime, President Trump is the focus of more than half- dozen investigations. We don't actually know how many there are because of course some may not have been made public thus far.

BLACKWELL: Here's what we know -- the Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation and the Trump campaign and the Trump inauguration and the Trump transition and the Trump administration are all under investigation. And now CNN has learned Special Counsel Robert Mueller still wants to speak in person with President Trump about obstruction of justice.

Joining us now is CNN's Erica Orden. Erica, good morning to you. What are we learning about the administration's, or the team, rather, their response to Mueller wanting to speak with the President Trump even after he submitted the answers to those written questions?

ERICA ORDEN, CNN REPORTER: So all along the Trump legal team has sought to avoid a situation in which the president was sitting for an interview with Mueller's investigators and the Special Counsel team. They went through the process, as you mentioned, of written questions and answers from the Mueller team with the president providing his written answers. And now it seems as though they have reengaged somewhat with the special counsel prosecutors in a discussion about potentially sitting for an interview. The Trump legal team seems, I would say, displeased at this project, Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, said yesterday that he was disgusted with the special counsel's approach to this.

And the big question is whether Robert Mueller will ever subpoena the president to do this. It remains to be seen. It appears as though the Trump team is fighting that as hard as they can.

BLACKWELL: Erica Orden, thanks so much.

PAUL: So President Trump signed an executive order this week that will boost investments in low income communities via a tax break. Among those that will benefit, apparently, his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner through his real estate firm.

BLACKWELL: CNN business correspondent Cristina Alesci has details for us.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: More controversy for Jared Kushner. That's because the Trump administration has been pushing a policy that might help Kushner's investments. Here's the background. As we reported, Kushner has hung on to a stake in some of his family's real estate deals and other assets. That includes a company called Cadre, and some of those holdings have actually become more valuable because of a new tax break backed by his father-in-law, the president.

[10:25:02] This tax break is aimed at boosting investments in low income communities. Those areas that qualify for the program are called opportunity zones, and Jared's family business, Kushner Companies and associated entities, already own some property in the New Jersey area which was designated as an opportunity zone earlier this year. And they spent about $13 million buying new properties that are eligible for the tax break.

In addition, Cadre, the company that Jared owns a piece of, recently announced it would be soliciting investments in these areas. To be clear, no one is alleging that the company or Jared or Ivanka did anything wrong, but ethics experts and administration critics argue that these situations create questions about whether Jared is profiting from Trump's policy.

Adding to this, Ivanka Trump in her official role has been publicly supporting opportunity zones. She was at the signing of the executive order this week, promoting the investment program, and she participated in a White House roundtable with business executives and elected officials earlier this year.

The White House, Kushner, and Cadre all declined our request for comment on this story. It's important to note here, there's no evidence that Jared Kushner or

Ivanka Trump or anyone else from the administration, for that matter, had any role in actually designing the opportunity zones, which are actually determined at the state level. But again, this story reminds us that Jared has financial interest outside of the White House which will continue to come under scrutiny for two reasons -- there's little transparency about these holdings, and critics will always wonder about potential conflicts of interest and whether he stands to gain from the very policies that his family is promoting.

PAUL: Cristina, thank you so much.

We're following breaking news out of the White House this morning. Ryan Zinke is out as secretary of the interior. We'll break it all down for you next. Stay close.


[10:31:23] BLACKWELL: U.S. secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, is out. He will be leaving the department by the end of the year. President Trump tweeted, this is part of his statement here, "Ryan Zinke will be leaving the administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years. Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our nation."

PAUL: In October CNN reported the Justice Department was investigating Zinke for ethical violations. Zinke is facing multiple inquiries from the inspector general's office. The president says he'll announce a replacement next week. Zinke was one of the president's more colorful secretaries. His first day at the office, take a look at that, he commuted by horse. And who can forget his flag system, much like the queen of England, hoisted above the building, but only when he was at the office.

BLACKWELL: OK. Joining me now to discuss, the president and CEO of Paramount Consulting Group Tharon Johnson, and Republican strategist Brian Robinson. Welcome back, gentlemen. So Brian, let me start with you. Time for him to go?

BRIAN ROBINSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, the president signaled this even back in November. Very early in November he said he will be making a decision on him very soon. We're going to look into some of the allegations against him. And when you put out the tweet and you say you already know who is going to be announced next week, you know this has been in progress for some time.

BLACKWELL: You assume that he knows who is going to be replacing him.

ROBINSON: I think they're signaling. Aren't they signaling, though?

BLACKWELL: Yes, he says there's going to be an announcement next week, but President Trump's next week often doesn't come.

ROBINSON: In fact in November he said it will be next week when he makes an announcement, and here we are a month and a half later, but it did get done. And look, in his defense, this was right after the midterms. There has been a lot of staff change, a lot of personnel turnover. So --

BLACKWELL: But he's also got a Justice Department investigation and several lines of inquiry from the inspector general?

ROBINSON: And the president said he was concerned about that, was going to look into it, and now obviously has acted.

But look, I think the big picture takeaway for the Trump administration cabinet secretaries is, we have seen what doesn't work. You have got to hold yourself to a higher standard, you've got to represent the president better. The president is going into his election cycle now, and you need not to be in the news. That needs to be their marching orders.

BLACKWELL: Your thoughts?

THARON JOHNSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, PARAMOUNT CONSULTING GROUP, LLC: The challenge with Zinke is that I think I read anywhere between 15 and 17 investigations on his conduct and his unethical behavior. And so Brian wants us to believe that this was sort of a decision by the president as he tries to move forward to get ready to govern better and also go into the midterms. Zinke should have been gone a long time ago.

To be fair, some of those investigations were thrown out, and this is a man since day one has been under a cloud of investigations for some of the things that he has done. So I think that while, you just said it, Victor, we don't really know who is number one and wants to take that job, because President Trump put this atmosphere out there that, number one, he can condone and let illegal, unethical behavior. He's had now almost 10 cabinet members who have left who have had some questions or investigations on unethical behavior.

BLACKWELL: Can we put up just the faces of the high-ranking members of this administration who have left? I wish the people on the radio could really see what is here. Dozens of people who have left this administration at the top of the ranks here.

Brian, let's look just what the job is for this administration over the next several weeks. They have got to now find a new interior secretary, and find a new permanent chief of staff, get Heather Nauert confirmed for the U.N., get Barr confirmed for the A.G., deal with an incoming Democratic majority in the House, they have got to deal with this expanding Mueller investigation, and in the short term come to a budget deal to keep the government from shutting down. What is going on and how can this team get it done?

[10:35:10] ROBINSON: I don't think that what you are describing is really all that unusual. There's always a lot going on in Washington. There's always a lot in front of the federal government. And all of those nominations that you mentioned, those are all critical, they're all going to be important to the success of the Trump administration in the next two years. But we still have a Republican Senate. We don't have to get those nominations through Nancy Pelosi's House. So it's going to be through Mitch McConnell, and they'll be able to get that done fairly quickly. They just named a new A.G. You're not seeing a lot of controversy or stand over hoopla over that appointment. That seems to be going just fine.

So I think maybe they are getting their groove, they're getting some good people in. I think Mick Mulvaney is somebody who has a lot of respect, people trust his ability to manage the White House. You've got to think that Mulvaney, like Nick Ayers, had some things set up or promises from the president that they would have control over the staff.

BLACKWELL: Here's -- and I want to talk about Mulvaney in a moment, why he is accepting an acting Mulvaney but wouldn't accept an acting Nick Ayers, maybe because he couldn't get anybody to take it permanently. But Brian says that I am overstating the case, that I am inflating what is on the table for the president.

JOHNSON: Not at all, Victor. Look, Brian is really good at spinning things, and he just did that, but the bottom line is that this administration is in trouble. Since President Trump has took office, he has not had a consistent three months of just stability. You've just got to look at day one of his administration, it has been total chaos.

And so to have this ongoing investigation that I believe drives him crazy and a lot of folks around him crazy, but to not have to consistency when it comes to governing, you need to have people who have a vested interest in outcome, people who are there. And most people usually leave at the end of the first term, but going into the end of this president's second year to have all this chaotic instability and not having the people in place to help govern this country is a big problem for him.

And I'm going to tell you who is more worried is these Republicans who are going to have to go back to their districts and defend this unsuccessful record that this president has put out.

Now, I'll tell you this -- when it comes to the issue of cabinet members, these are usually folks that the president has a great deal in vetting. He usually vets these people. These are folks who fit the model that he sets and the tone he sets in his administration. Again, I want to say this, and your picture just showed it. This is a very corrupt and unethical administration. And I think that it will continue as long as President Trump is basically scaring people who work for him who doesn't agree with him, because the one moment they step up and try to bring some ethical stability to the administration, they get fired or they are forced to leave.

ROBINSON: The Democrats talk about chaos. Republicans voters don't care if there's chaos internally in the personnel decisions. They want to see decisions and leadership that backs up their worldview. And they're getting that in Supreme Court cases. They're getting, even with Zinke, with more mining, more fossil fuel development, more energy development.

BLACKWELL: I am glad you brought up policy, because that brings us to the breaking news before the breaking news, which was the ACA, this judge in Texas saying the individual mandate is unconstitutional therefore because they cannot be severed that the entire law is invalid. Let's put up the poll. This is the latest number from FOX News right before the election. The opinion of likely voters, 54 percent favorable opinion of Obamacare, 43 percent unfavorable. Republicans on the wrong side of this?

ROBINSON: I think 43 percent this far into it, we're almost a decade into ACA, that's a high number.

BLACKWELL: Yes, but 54 is 11 points higher than that, though.

ROBINSON: That's true. But poll any other benefit where people get money from the federal government and see where it is. It's going to be much higher than this.

BLACKWELL: OK, are you OK with sticking with the 43 percent instead of the 54?

ROBINSON: If we can come up with something better. And that's where -- Republicans have a fight ahead of them. They have been against Obamacare, and in politics -- I am a political communicator, it's really easy to be against things. It's much harder to be for things.

BLACKWELL: We saw that last July.

ROBINSON: And we need to be for something. And we need to be able to present a more scaled down version of this that does protect people with preexisting conditions without robbing Generation Z and the Millennials, which is what this system does.

BLACKWELL: So let me come to you. Are Democrats just going to run on protecting the ACA, or are you going to actually try to do something? In 2016, Democrats said we know there are problems with Obamacare. We have plans to fix it. Where are those plans? And are you going to bring something to the table that potentially, I know we are going into the 2020 hold for the presidential election, but something that could get some support.

JOHNSON: Democrats are going to do both. You're exactly right, Victor, even before 2016 you had Democrats saying, hey, there are some things about Obamacare that needs to be fixed, right. But the underlying theme was, and this is something that Republicans adopted during this past midterm was protesting people with preexisting conditions.

[10:40:02] When I saw that interview that you interviewed the mom, I think her name was Allison (ph) and her son, Evan (ph), this morning, it brought me almost to tears.

BLACKWELL: Ethan (ph)

JOHNSON: Ethan, I'm sorry. And it brought me almost to tears because there's a level of humanization to this. And this is the other thing. Just this week on our podcast, Political Breakfast, Brian basically said, hey, Obamacare is here and it's going to be constitutional, it's here to stay because he was basically --

ROBINSON: I didn't say constitutional. I didn't say constitutional.

BLACKWELL: That's what John Roberts said in 2012.

JOHNSON: That's my point. So the Supreme Court, John Roberts in the Supreme Court five-four decision said it was constitutional. And so now what I want to say to Democrats is that, to your point, now we've got to get on the offense. We know that there will be appeals made in states where they have attorney generals, so you're going to fight this out on the attorney general level. So it will be delayed. There will be appeals. And I just want to say to the American people that you're not waking up this morning and your health care is going to be taken care of. You guys have done a good job of saying apply for it by midnight tonight.

But I do think that this is something that the president is owning. He tweeted out basically saying millions of Americans --

BLACKWELL: But are Democrats going to present plans, because to end your answer with the president is going to own, are the Democrats going to come forward with some plan?

ROBINSON: There must compromise.

JOHNSON: The president owned this Texas -- and by the way --

BLACKWELL: They must compromise after what we saw last summer and Republicans trying to repeal it on just Republican votes and couldn't get it done. What was the reach out --

ROBINSON: It passed on just Democrat votes. Victor, what's the difference?

BLACKWELL: Fair. Fair. I'm saying --

ROBINSON: There has been no bipartisan solution brought forward.

BLACKWELL: But last summer, what was the there must be compromise? The president didn't tweet anything about compromise. The president said remove -- he was trying to remove the filibuster to get legislation through.

ROBINSON: If this court case moves forward and the Supreme Court takes it up, what is going to happen is that we are going to be paralyzed for a period of time with uncertainty. If all of these states decide whether or not they want to expand Medicaid, who is going to do it under these circumstances? I think that there is a lot of reason, a lot of motivation to get something fixed. Democrats have a reason to come to the table with reasonable solutions.

BLACKWELL: I've got to wrap it here, but there is also the motivation to try and ride it into the White House in 2020 from the Democrats position and from the Republicans as well. Ryan, Tharon, thank you both.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: So next, Carolina Republican under fire. He's speaking out. A state official weighs ordering a potential special election.


[10:47:00] PAUL: This morning new signals that North Carolina officials will order an election redo in the state's ninth district -- Congressional district, I should say.

BLACKWELL: Republican Mark Harris admitted in a local TV interview that he personally hired an operative who allegedly committed voter fraud by illegally collecting mail-in ballots. CNN's Kristen Holmes, what does this admission mean for Harris? And is there a guarantee that he'll be on the ballot in this next potential election?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Christi, let me break this down in two parts. Let's answer the first question. What does this mean? Well, it depends if you are talking legally or politically. If you're talking legally there's no real clear indication that much is going to change with this admission. Of course, he said he hired McCrae Dowless, that operative we are talking about, but he also was adamant that he had no indication Dallas was going to break the law at any point.

But if you are talking politically, this ties into your next question, this does have an impact on Harris. This is somebody who we have seen Republicans distance themselves from publicly and privately. In fact the GOP controlled legislature passed a mandate, they sent it to the governor's office, saying that if there is a new election, they want it to be linked to a new primary, essentially saying we want a second chance to pick our candidate.

So he is now admitting that he hired someone with a criminal record that included felony indictments for fraud, whether he knew it or not. That's not going to build a lot of confidence within the party.

PAUL: Kristen Holmes, thank you so much for breaking it down for us.

BLACKWELL: Up next, this is major. The largest diamond in North America, but where it was found, that might surprise you.

PAUL: And listen, while you are making New Year's Eve plans, do not miss these two. Anderson Cooper, Andy Cohen co-hosting CNN New Year's Eve coverage live from Times Square. Brooke Baldwin, Don Lemon are going to the fun. It all starts at 8:00 p.m. eastern on December 31st.


[10:53:27] BLACKWELL: Big rock here, huge diamond. In Canada, a really lucky find. The largest diamond ever found in North America. Dominion Diamond Mines says it has unearthed a diamond the size of a chicken egg.

PAUL: It's 552 carats, look at this thing, a yellow diamond there found in Canada's northwest territories. Very apparently unique place to find it. You wouldn't find something this large in that part of the world. But it's too early to determine the stone's value apparently. It's not going to be sold in its rough form that you see there. We understand a partner will cut and polish the stone. I don't even know, 552 carats, how do you wear that? What do you do with that?

BLACKWELL: It's really difficult to put that into context because I have never seen a diamond that big.

PAUL: Nor have I.

BLACKWELL: Really? Really?

PAUL: Is it a necklace?

BLACKWELL: It's just a diamond.


BLACKWELL: In this season of giving, we want to show you how you can help our 2018 top ten CNN Heroes continue to do their important work. And we have come up with a way to match your donations dollar for dollar. Here's Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I am Anderson Cooper. Each of this year's top ten CNN Heroes really proves that one person can make a difference. And again, this year we're making it easy for you to support their great work. Just go to and click donate beneath any 2018 top ten CNN Hero to make a direct contribution to that hero's fundraiser on CrowdRise. You will receive an e-mail confirming your donation, which is tax deductible in the United States.

[10:55:10] No matter the amount, you make a big difference in helping out heroes continue their life changing work. And right now through January 2nd, your donations will be matched dollar for dollar up to a total of $50,000 for each of this year's CNN honorees. CNN is proud to offer you this simple way to support each cause and celebrate all these everyday people who are changing the world.

You can donate from your laptop, your tablet or your phone. Just go to Your donation in any amount will help them help others. Thanks.


PAUL: Listen, if you know someone who deserves to be a CNN hero, go to to nominate them right now. We would love to get to know them.

We thank you so much for sharing part of your morning with us and hope you make great memories today.

BLACKWELL: There's much more ahead in the next hour of CNN Newsroom after a quick break. And we have a baby in the studio.

PAUL: Yes, life is good.

BLACKWELL: Oh, you are bald like me.


PAUL: No, he has got more hair than you.

BLACKWELL: You are not into this television thing, are you? Please don't cry. Please don't cry.