Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

President Trump Announces Ryan Zinke Leaving Post as Interior Secretary; Mick Mulvaney to Become Acting White House Chief of Staff; Texas Judge Rules Affordable Care Act Unconstitutional; Former Trump Attorney Michael Cohen Publicly States He Will Provide Further Information to Special Counsel if Asked; President Trump Visits Arlington National Cemetery; Republican Legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan Strip Powers of Incoming Democratic Governors. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired December 15, 2018 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:00] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: -- on this Saturday. Right now, the future for health care for millions of Americans is up in the air. A federal judge in Texas has struck down Obamacare in a controversial ruling that is setting the scene for a major legal battle ahead. This could once again be the fate of President Obama's landmark health care law in the hands of the Supreme Court.

This is happening as another shakeup happens at the White House as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Twitter this morning is out, and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, the man who once called Trump a, quote, terrible human being, is in as the acting chief of staff.

So let's begin with that latest turnover in the Trump administration with CNN's Boris Sanchez. Boris, this came kind of out of the clear blue sky, this Zinke resignation. What more are you learning?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Alex. Yes, The White House has been monitoring Zinke's situation for quite some time. He is of course under investigation by the Department of Justice for allegedly using his position to advance his personal -- excuse me, to advance himself personally. Of course, the inspector general at the Department of the Interior has opened a number of in inquiries into him, including a casino deal in Connecticut as well as his communications with the head of Halliburton, among other dealings.

He has said that he is innocent, that these investigations are politically motivated, though, of course, the concern here at the White House is that he could be exposed, not only by these investigations, but potentially by the Democratic-led House of Representatives, who could open any number of investigations in his dealings and also force him to publicly testify. With the White House already under pressure by that Democratic-led House and by the Russia investigation, his departure likely not a coincidence, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And Boris, on Mick Mulvaney taking over as acting chief of staff while he stays the head of the OMB, are we supposed to read into this that this is just a temporary hire, or do we think that he is actually going to stay in the job more permanently?

SANCHEZ: Well, it's a good question. Two noteworthy points here. First, months ago, as long as we've been reporting, the rumors about John Kelly's departure, sources had indicated to CNN that Mulvaney was interested in the position. It appears he had a change of heart because this week he told several people close to him, according to sources, that he wanted to remain as the head of the OMB, or move somewhere else within the administration, but that he wasn't interested in the chief of staff job.

Secondly, if you recall, part of the reason that the vice president's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, didn't take the role is because he didn't want to stay on for two years, which is what President Trump was urging him to do. He wanted to be temporary within that role. Ultimately, it appears that the president had to settle for a temporary chief of staff anyway. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right, Boris Sanchez at the White House, thank you very much.

Joining me now is Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University and a CNN political analyst. Julian, you just heard what Boris was saying at the White House there, talking about Zinke's resignation. To date, that brings us to around 11 cabinet members who have left the Trump administration. And then you add to that the administration officials who have left during the past two years who were not in the cabinet, and the numbers frankly are staggering. Can you put this into some historical context for us?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. This is an unprecedented number of people leaving an administration in the first two years. The turnover we have seen, just in the first 14 months, let alone everything that happened, already was more than we had seen in 20th century presidencies. So this is a very unstable cabinet and White House in addition to this very unconventional and unstable president.

MARQUARDT: And Julian, Mulvaney is taking over as acting chief of staff as the Russia probe is possibly coming to an end, but certainly getting into a very dramatic period here, and new investigations are under way. Do you anticipate that the position of chief of staff will change? It has seen several evolutions in the past. What do you think Mulvaney is going to look like in this White House as chief of staff?

ZELIZER: Yes, I don't think he is going to bring any significant change. The challenges he will encounter trying to bring order in the Oval Office will be just as great as what John Kelly faced or Reince Priebus faced in terms of how the president conducts his White House, and in terms of all of the other kinds of challenges that this administration faces. And even worse, he is coming in right in the heat of an investigation. It is like when Alexander Haig took over as chief of staff for Richard Nixon in May of 1973 right as the investigation of Watergate was heating up. So it's going to be very hard for him to do anything productive. I imagine in a few months we will have the same conversation, if he's still in that position.

MARQUARDT: And Julian, we've just gotten a statement from now exiting interior secretary Ryan Zinke, who explains why he is stepping down. [14:05:02] I'm going to read. It reads, "It is a great honor to serve

the American people as their Interior Secretary. I love working for the president and am incredibly proud of all of the good work we've accomplished together. However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations. It's better for the president and Interior to focus on accomplishments rather than fictitious allegations."

So he is roundly denying the allegations against him. We know that there are a number of ethics investigations into his time in the Interior Department. The phrasing of that statement makes it sound like he took that step himself. Do you think that's the case? Or do you think he was pushed out by President Trump?

ZELIZER: I would suspect what we've heard, that he was pushed out, might be true. This is a very controversial person. Ordinarily, President Trump is fine with controversy, and he doesn't mind if someone is being investigated, but I think he's at the point right now where he's concerned about trying to clean a little bit of the house so appearances of corrupt interests and conflict of interest are not surrounding him when he is being looked into for some of these issues as well. We don't know yet, but I don't think this was all voluntary.

MARQUARDT: But if you look ahead to 2019, now he's got to replace the interior secretary, he's got to replace the attorney general, he's got an acting chief of staff, a new chief of staff, we don't know how long that is going to last. You've got Democrats taking over the house, you've got the Mueller probe that's really ramping up. So put this into context for us in terms of where we stand and how the Trump administration is really going to attack the first part of next year.

ZELIZER: Well, it's going to be a little bit chaotic, or very chaotic, as it has been in the past. But now the president is going really without any kind of counsel, with any kind of stability in the people who surround him. So the kind of advice he needs on policy, or the political advice that often comes from cabinet leaders, really isn't there. And the next year is going to be much more contentious in terms of the House Democrats and what he confronts from Capitol Hill.

So the president in the end will handle this on his own like he likes to do. But as we've seen, there is a cost to him for doing that, and the situation is only going to escalate in terms of the challenges he faces, again, without being surrounded by very strong counsel.

MARQUARDT: All right, Julian Zelizer helping us decipher the gamut of shakeups going on in this White House. Thank you very much.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Now to the significant ruling from the Texas federal judge who struck down the entire Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Texas judge's decision centers around the individual coverage mandate which requires all Americans to get health insurance or pay a penalty. Congress effectively eliminated that penalty as part of the 2017 tax cut bill. Now that judge in Texas is saying that the mandate is unconstitutional. So, in his opinion, the entire law is invalid.

We're joined now by CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue. States, Ariane, are vowing to appeal this ruling. Tell us how we got here.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Wow, it was really a broad ruling. Not only does he strike down the individual mandate, he says the whole thing has to go away. And keep in mind, this is one district court judge and this will be appealed, right? And he also said something important. He said that the law will remain in effect for now pending the appeals.

But it was a broad ruling. And I can help you a little bit to understand where it came from if you look at the history of the Supreme Court, right, because it was only in 2012, that the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate, and it was that controversial vote with Chief Justice John Robert, remember, the one that stunned conservatives. And he said that it was OK under the taxing power. So then you fast forwards until 2017, and Congress decides to get rid of the tax penalty. So this judge last night, he said, look, Congress has gotten rid of the tax penalty, it's gotten rid of the legal underpinning that the Supreme Court relied upon, so I'm going to strike the individual mandate, and I'm also going to strike the entire law. And that's the part that is going to be a little bit controversial for sure in this broad ruling.

MARQUARDT: It's broad. You've remarked on its breadth. It goes beyond what the Trump administration was asking for, which means it would have been appealed anyway, but now we're certainly going to see it appealed. We've already seen those wheels starting to go into motion. And then the assumption is it could make its way to the Supreme Court.

DE VOGUE: Remember, the Trump administration, they refused to defend it. So California and other Democratic leaning states stepped in, and said all right, and they said last night we are going to a federal appeals court. And that federal appeals court will now look at it. And if it upholds this broad ruling, it will go straight to the Supreme Court. There is a chance the federal appeals court might look at it and dial way back on it and then maybe it won't go to the Supreme Court.

[14:10:00] But when the Supreme Court sees major pieces of legislation like this, usually they like to step in, they like to have the last word. So we will see it go before the Supreme Court. And it's a different court. It has got Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, two of the president's nominees. The court is now more solidly to the right. And we'll see what happens.

We know that the court has upheld this law two times. And they might be worried about the breadth of this opinion because it has to do with something called severability. He went after one provision and he struck one provision. But can one district court judge take one provision and then strike down everything else? Because keep in mind what else was in here, right -- the protections for people with preexisting health conditions, the Medicaid expansion. It would be gigantic. And the court might worry about that. And also they might look at the fact that in 2017, Congress didn't strike down the whole law, right? It just got rid of that tax penalty, and they might say, look, the intent of Congress sure doesn't seem to be matching up to what this district court ruled. So that's what we could be looking at as this thing once again comes before the courts.

MARQUARDT: And it has a lot of supporters of Obamacare very nervous because of that unpredictability of what could happen on the Supreme Court.

DE VOGUE: Exactly.

MARQUARDT: Ariane, thank you so much.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Coming up, President Trump's long-time fixer Michael Cohen says he is done being loyal to the president, and he's willing to cooperate more with Special Counsel Robert Mueller if he's needed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:15:42] MARQUARDT: President Trump's former fixer and attorney Michael Cohen is heading to prison, but he is not going quietly. He is calling his old boss out, and for the first time since being sentenced to three years in prison, he has spoken extensively about the hush money payments and President Trump's personal involvement. CNN's M.J. Lee reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I am done being loyal to President Trump.

M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He spilled his secrets to prosecutors, he begged for mercy from a judge, and now Michael Cohen speaking to the American people.

COHEN: And I will not be the villain, as I told you once before. I will not be the villain of his story.

LEE: President Trump's former fixer and personal lawyer opening up for the first time since he was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday. In an interview with ABC, the 52-year-old convicted felon still agonizing over what he says was the toughest day of his life.

COHEN: I have to be honest. It has been very rough.

LEE: Cohen pleaded guilty to numerous crimes including tax evasion and making false statements to a bank. But it was his crimes involving the now infamous hush payments to two women that have directly implicated the president of the United States. Trump, lashing out on Twitter this week, saying he never directed Cohen to break the law. But Cohen now telling a different story. COHEN: He directed me to make the payments.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he knew it was wrong?

COHEN: Of course.

LEE: Saying the order to pay off former playboy model Karen McDougal and silence her before the 2016 election came directly from his boss.

COHEN: Nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump.

LEE: The president's former fixer also addressing Trump's biggest headache, the Russia investigation. Cohen has already met with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office for more than 70 hours, offering them information about his contacts with Russians and conversations with people close to the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The special counsel did say that you were doing your best to tell the truth about everything related to their investigation, everything related to Russia. Do you think President Trump is telling the truth about that?

COHEN: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a big statement.

LEE: And he says he is not done talking.

COHEN: If they want me, I'm here. And I'm willing to answer whatever additional questions that they may have for me.

LEE: Cohen says the person in the White House now is not the Trump he once admired.

COHEN: I think the pressure of the job is much more than what he thought it was going to be.

LEE: Cohen reports to prison in March and will pay more than $1 million in restitution, a stunning fall from grace for a man who says he was loyal to Trump for too long.

COHEN: The man doesn't tell the truth. And it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.

LEE: M.J. Lee, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: Joining me now is Michael Moore, a former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Georgia. Michael, first, your reaction to Cohen's comments there and his total 180 turn on the president.

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It is not surprising at all. Most of the time when somebody gets in trouble, they look for a way ultimately to help themselves, and I think he has realized that the president is not going to be loyal to him and he doesn't have any hope of a pardon at this point. I think he also was sending a good signal, and I'm sure Bob Mueller's team knows this, that he's got more information and he can talk.

And it has really been sort of a stroke of genius on his part and his lawyer's part to keep that information out there so that he can get additional information now after this charge, and he will be eligible for what is called a Rule 35 under the federal rules, and that allows a prosecutor to come in and ask the judge to reduce the sentence even further. So that's still out there as a possibility, and I think he is telling us that. But it is certainly a remarkable fall from grace.

MARQUARDT: Is that why he hasn't fully cooperated with the southern district of New York -- that's according to their filing -- because he wants to -- he's still got more to say and he wants to keep it as leverage?

MOORE: He may in fact have more to say. I don't know if there is some other specific reasons that his lawyer had for not having him fully cooperate in their definition. They have their own way of doing things. The southern district of New York is a unique district in the country. But I really do think that he has the hope of a Rule 35 reduction, and I think he knows, and certainly his lawyers are confident and know that that is a possibility.

MARQUARDT: Michael, we're also hearing that the president, then Mr. Trump, civilian Trump, was in attendance, was at meeting with Michael Cohen and David Pecker, who is the chairman of American media Inc., which owns the "National Enquirer."

[14:20:08] And in that meeting they are said to have discussed a plan that would protect Trump from damaging stories that could come out during the campaign. So what is it -- can you speak to the liability that the president now faces?

MOORE: Yes. It is a damning day for the president when both these men, accused by now a convicted felon, participating in a federal crime, and also we now know that he has been a participant in this payment, and that's a federal election crime. He has apparently hidden for some number of years behind Mr. Pecker. And now the public will wait and see what's in Mr. Pecker's vault. And we don't know what other stories may be out there, what other information is out there.

What is incredibly troubling to me is that the president of the United States can be essentially manipulated by porn stars and playmates in committing these under the table offenses, and I wonder how he could possibly stand up to the leaders of other countries around the world. And that ought to send a little bit of a chill up everybody's spine.

MARQUARDT: Let's talk about the other Michael in the Russia probe that we heard from this week, Michael Flynn. In a Friday court filing where the special counsel's team also appeared, Robert Mueller's prosecutors dismissed suggestions, and allegations, in a sentencing memo, by Michael Flynn's lawyers that he was set up when he was interviewed by FBI agents. Why do you think Flynn's lawyers would have done that coming out essentially swinging in that sentencing memo when up until that point it seemed like the two sides were getting along quite well, both sides suggesting that Flynn did not deserve any prison time? What was the legal strategy behind that?

MOORE: That's hard to say that there is any real legal strategy behind it. I think it was a foolish move on their part to come out. Judges aren't ignorant people and they can see through things. In this case, you've got to remember that Flynn's lawyers negotiated this deal. They negotiated this plea and this sentence and recommendation.

So we're in a place where they now want to come back and say maybe we really didn't understand everything, we're not sure that he wasn't pressured, we don't know. This guy was the director of a high intelligence agency and he knows good and well that you don't lie to the FBI. I'm so tired of hearing about people saying they are going to get caught telling lies and caught in a perjury trap and all this. You know the way not to do that? Don't tell lies. Don't lie to the FBI. Don't commit perjury. That's how you don't get caught in these traps.

And so it is a little disingenuous now after they've negotiated the plea, after they've relied on this sentence, to come back in and complain about it. They ought to be happy that Bob Mueller and his team didn't say, that's fine, young man, if that's how you want to handle it, let's go ahead and go to travel and see where Mr. Flynn ends up.

MARQUARDT: We know that Flynn has had 19 interviews with Mueller's team, 62 hours and 45 minutes. So, clearly, he's said something about the president. And so we've seen Flynn and Cohen cooperating extensively with the special prosecutor. But for his part, the president has repeatedly attacked Cohen, both on camera and on Twitter, but has not done the same thing with Flynn and has said that he thinks he is a strong man, essentially. How do you square the different approaches there?

MOORE: You may be seeing that the president's attacking Cohen because Cohen had such information about his previous life and the business goings-on with the Trump organization and the business empire out there. I imagine at this point he's probably scared to death about what Michael Flynn has told Bob Mueller and his team, because it was Flynn who was in contact with the Russians during the transition. And you remember the president has said all along, I've had nothing to do with Russia, we didn't talk to Russia, we didn't know anything about it. This is going to be a case where ultimately Flynn talks about one dime that passed back and forth or one ruble that passed back and forth or whether or not there was some quid pro quo or offer to reduce sanctions. That's going to come back on the president. I think he probably feels the walls closing in around the Oval Office.

MARQUARDT: All right, Michael Moore, thanks so much.

MOORE: Glad to be with you.

MARQUARDT: All right, now, President Trump has just arrived at Arlington National Cemetery to lay wreaths. Let's take a listen. [14:25:00] You can see President Trump there across the river from

where we are, at Arlington National Cemetery. He is with a group called Wreaths Across America. This is Wreaths Across America Day, where wreaths are laid at 1,400 different locations across the country to honor fallen veterans. You can see the president there amid the tombstones, accompanied by members of the military as they pay tribute to those veterans on Wreaths Across America Day.

We'll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:31:08] MARQUARDT: You are looking now at President Trump walking through Arlington National Cemetery, specifically section 60, on Wreaths Across America Day, a day when veterans are honored and wreaths are laid at their tombstones, not just at Arlington National Cemetery, but at 1,400 locations across the country.

This comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the president, lots of changes amid staff shakeups. Today we learned from the president that his interior secretary, Zinke, Ryan Zinke, would be stepping down at the end of the year, at the same time that he has named a new acting chief of staff that will also take over at the beginning of next year.

So joining me now to discuss all this is Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator Dave Jacobson, and the former lieutenant governor of South Carolina and CNN political commentator Andre Bauer. Andre, let's start with you and the departure of Zinke that was announced today. He is the latest to resign amid ethics concerns. We have also seen the same with HHS secretary Tom Price and Scott Pruitt at the EPA. So what does this say about the people who President Trump chose to fill his cabinet?

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, some of them I was very strong on. Some of them not so much. I think some of the folks from the beginning were a bad fit given the fact that he was going to drain the swamp, and some of the very people he put in at the beginning were the swamp. As a guy that supported Trump from the beginning early in February of 2016, some of them, quite frankly I wasn't happy with. I wanted to see folks, and I'm excited, my good friend that I actually served in the Senate with, Mick Mulvaney, is a true conservative. I mean that in the idealistic sense of a Republican and someone who believes in being a budget hawk and trying to really run government like a business. Mulvaney is that guy.

So I'm excited for Mulvaney to get in there. I hope he lasts and stays. I hope he will take a full time roll in that. I understand that that's not what his interest is. But I hope for the country and for the president's success as well as people in this country, I hope Mulvaney will stay for a long time because I'm a believer in him. Some of the other folks I haven't been nearly as excited about quite frankly. I was disappointed to see some come in. But I also think that President Trump is vastly different than folks that have risen through the ranks of government and kind of keep folks in there --

MARQUARDT: All right, Andre, I'm just going to interrupt because the president is speak can about the ruling from Texas overnight against Obama care. Take a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, comment on the court ruling?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a big ruling. It was a great ruling for our country. We'll be able to get great health care. We'll sit down with the Democrats if the Supreme Court upholds. We will be sitting down with the Democrats, and we will get great health care for our people. That's a repeal and replace handled a little bit differently, but it was a big, big victory by a highly respected judge, highly, highly respected in Texas. And on the assumption that the Supreme Court upholds, we will get great, great health care for our people. We'll have to sit down with the Democrats to do it, but I'm sure they want to do it also. Thank you very much.

MARQUARDT: Dave, in light of what the president just said, obviously happy about the Texas judge's ruling. What's your reaction? Do you think that this actually has a chance of overturning Obamacare, which the president of course campaigned in favor of?

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's plausible that it goes to the Supreme Court, and I think at that point it is a jump ball. The Supreme Court has already struck down other cases that had tried to rip apart the Affordable Care Act.

I think the challenge that the president is going to have is that the American people are on the side of the Affordable Care Act. Gallup put up a poll November 30th that showed 64 percent of Americans support, or want the Affordable Care Act to remain in place. That is a massive majority of this country.

Democrats, moreover, just had a resounding victory across the country campaigning on health care, campaigning on protecting those with preexisting conditions. Making sure that kids can stay on their parent's health care plans up until the age of 26. Those with cancer, diabetes, asthma, cannot be discriminated against because of preexisting conditions. And so Democrats I think are going to advance a commonsense solution to sort of protect the Affordable Care Act, perhaps make some tweaks.

It is going to be incumbent upon the president and Republicans in the Senate to cut a deal with Democrats to expand and protect health care coverage, because the message that voters sent on November 6th, earlier this year, was that they want access to high quality and affordable health care that is universal for everyone.

MARQUARDT: But Andre, the way that this will play out, we expect it will not be up to voters. It could come before the Supreme Court, which is now firmly a conservative Supreme Court. So how do you -- if it does come before the Supreme Court, now with the additions of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, how do you see them ruling?

BAUER: I think they will rule in favor, just the way the judge did today. Look, to mandate health care is far beyond what the majority of Americans believe is right. This was put in without any help from Republicans. President Trump, I would say, two years ago ran to disband Obamacare. And so look, as many Americans, I want to make sure people with

preexisting conditions are able to get health care. But as a Republican, I also believe to mandate someone to carry health care coverage and to penalize them if they don't is wrong. And so hopefully the two parties will come together, and cooler heads will prevail, and in a nonelection year they'll try to work this out.

They only fell one vote shy of getting this changed anyway in the Senate. And so with a new makeup of the Senate, a bigger majority in the Senate, hopefully the two side will come together and we'll get a better, somewhat of the same bill, but tweak it. Make it better. And try to take off some of these provisions where we mandate, for example, someone carry health care coverage and penalize them if they don't have it.

MARQUARDT: Dave, I want to get back to the shakeup at the White House. Now we've seen Mick Mulvaney accepting a position as acting chief of staff. This will be the third chief of staff in less than two years during the Trump administration. A similar thing happened in terms of turnover of chiefs of staff under President Obama. Do you feel that this is different?

JACOBSON: Well, look, I think the amount of disarray, more broadly speaking, in the Trump administration is unparalleled. You have individuals and cabinet secretaries who wreak of corruption and fraud against the American people. Zinke of course is being investigated for taking advantage of taxpayers, exploiting his position, spending lavishly on private travel, Scott Pruitt. Ben Carson spent $31,000 on a dining set, among others, have done the same.

I think when it comes to Mick Mulvaney, his transformation from 2016 to today was astronomical. This is a plan who according to "Politico" said that Donald Trump was not a good human being -- or, pardon me, a terrible human being. And as a deficit hawk, one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus who campaigned against raising the debt limit, to then go and being budget director for the White House, begging his Republican colleagues to raise the debt limit -- this guy has become nothing more than a hypocrite.

Now, at this time we need somebody who can cut deals with Democrats who are going to be in control after January 3rd. The question is now, the one thing that I think he's got an advantage of is that he did serve in Congress with Nancy Pelosi. He's got some relationships. So the big issue is whether or not he's going to build any consensus with the White House and Congress.

MARQUARDT: All right, Dave Jacobson, Andre Bauer, thanks so much.

BAUER: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Now a parting shot. In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker signs a controversial bill to strip power from the incoming governor and his attorney general. Those details straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14:43:34] MARQUARDT: Many are saying a power grab is unfolding in the Midwest. Democrats dominated in the midterms in Wisconsin and Michigan last month, two states that were vital to President Trump's victory in 2016. Now Republicans are doing what they can to limit the powers of incoming Democratic leadership.

Yesterday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a lame duck piece of legislation stripping power from incoming governor Tony Evers, the Democrat, as well as the state's incoming attorney general, also a Democrat.

Meantime, in Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder also signed legislation aimed at preventing incoming Democrats from following through on their campaign promises.

So with more on this we have CNN political reporter Rebecca Buck who is joining me now. Rebecca, Democrats are outraged about this new legislation. Republicans, at least in Wisconsin, have responded that this is not about limiting executive authority. So if it's not about that, what do these new laws actually do?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: They do strip away some powers of the executive, Alex. And despite what Republicans are saying, these new measures do limit the ability of Democrat Tony Evers to implement some of his campaign promises. And so what Democrats are saying is Republicans saw the way the vote went in November, Democratic Tony Evers beat Republican Scott Walker, and that they're going against the will of the voters by limiting Evers' ability to implement these promises, tying his hands before he even takes office.

[14:45:00] For example, Evers ran on the promise that he would pull the state out of the multi-state lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. Of course, we just saw a ruling in that case last night. And Republicans, as part of one of these measures, blocked him from being able to do that. They insisted that the state stay in that lawsuit. And so Democrats are calling this a power grab, saying Republicans are just being sore losers.

MARQUARDT: And this is kind of the play book that we saw in North Carolina a couple of years ago. And is there anything that Democrats can do, especially if they don't control the state legislatures?

BUCK: Right. Well, now that Governor Walker has decided to sign these measures into law this week, Democrats are saying they plan to challenge this in the courts. Of course, we don't know how that will turn out, whether the courts will find that this was indeed unconstitutional or whether they will uphold these laws. But that's their only recourse at this point. Of course, once Governor Evers takes office, he will have the normal executive authority of the governor. He still will have veto power. He will have line item veto power. But of course, Democrats very upset because Republicans decided to just strip away a few of his powers in advance.

MARQUARDT: Wisconsin has been getting most of the attention, but what's going on over in Michigan? BUCK: So similar -- different, but similar. Democrats in Michigan

saying that Republicans there are also attempting a power grab, also attempting to work against the will of Michigan voters. But the slight distinction here is that so far Republicans and Governor Rick Snyder, the outgoing Republican governor, have targeted measures that were supposed to be on the ballot, Republicans took them off the ballot -- increasing the state's minimum wage, increasing the mandatory sick pay that someone can receive. And Republicans took those measures off the ballot, decreased, watered them down, essentially. And Democrats saying that's not what voters wanted.

MARQUARDT: All right, Rebecca Buck, thanks so much.

BUCK: Thanks, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Facebook is under fire again. Millions of private photos exposed across other apps without user consent.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:51:34] MARQUARDT: Facebook is now saying that a software bug exposed the private photos of millions of users without their permission. The bug allowed third party app developers to access photos that weren't necessarily made public by each of those users. The photos of almost 7 million users were exposed for a 12-day period back in September.

I want to bring in CNN's resident Facebook expert Donie O'Sullivan who has been following this story. Donie, I've lost track of all of the apologies that Facebook has had to issue lately. So if this incident occurred back in September, why are we only finding out about it now?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER: That's a very good question, Alex, and that's what we asked them yesterday. They told us it apparently took them almost two months, actually almost three months, to figure out the nature of this breach and what had happened, and also to figure out a way to tell affected users, almost 6.8 million users whose photos were exposed, to figure out a way to tell them.

There is new law in Europe as of May, GDPR, which requires companies like Facebook after they discover a breach, to report it to authorities in Europe within 72 hours. So clearly, this is not within that 72-hour timeframe. But Facebook argues that they were trying to figure out, well, was it actually a breach or not?

As a result, as of what you mentioned, there's been numerous incidents this year. It has been scandal after scandal for the company. In September, they announced they suffered their biggest breach ever where hackers accessed the data of tens of millions of Facebook users. EU regulators, regulators in Dublin in Ireland have begun an official inquiry into the company to try to get to the bottom of is are they protecting their user's information.

MARQUARDT: Donie, we only have a few seconds, but I understand that amid all of this scrutiny about their security, they actually held an event this week where they were giving out security advice as well as hot chocolate?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes. On Thursday here in New York City, they set up a pop-up store in Bryant Park at a Christmas market here in Manhattan, and were trying to tell people how to make their Facebook accounts more private as well, as you mentioned, handing out hot chocolate. That was less than 24 hours before they announced, on Friday, another breach.

MARQUARDT: All right, interesting tactic. Donie O'Sullivan thanks so much.

And thank you for joining us. I'm Alex Marquardt in for Fredricka Whitfield. Newsroom continues with Ana Cabrera right after the break.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: For Molly Burdick, bouldering is more than a passion. It's her way of waging an uphill battle against a hidden illness.

MOLLY BURDICK, PROJECT MANAGER, NIKE: I feel like I'm not a heart patient when I'm climbing.

GUPTA: Molly has congenital heart disease. It was undetected until she had an incident that nearly sent her into cardiac arrest.

BURDICK: I just woke up one night, my heart was about 180 beats per minute. I was in a really dangerous arrhythmia. They needed to cardio avert me, which is when they take the electrical shocks to your heart.

My heart got really weak after that. I was just living on the couch for probably three years. I just remember breaking down one day in bed and crying, because I realized that this is no life. I'm going to start doing things that make me feel alive.

[14:55:05] GUPTA: Molly discovered bouldering at a rock-climbing gym as a way to help build up her strength. Now with a heart monitor constantly checking her pulse, she is pushing herself to new heights and not looking back.

BURDICK: It made the healthy parts of my heart stronger and pump a lot better. I always tell people that rock-climbing saved my life.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)