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McCarthy To Hold Call To Secure Support Ahead Of Speaker Vote; Santos' Claims About Mother, 9/11 Face New Scrutiny Amid Lies; Ukraine: Russian-Launched Drone Hits 2 Buildings In Kyiv. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired December 30, 2022 - 12:30   ET



AMARA WALKER, CNN HOST: CNN's Melanie Zanona live on Capitol Hill. Hi, Melanie. What is this deal McCarthy is working on, and will it get him to the votes that he needs?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. The big debate that's been going on behind the scenes is over this tool known as the motion to vacate the speaker's chair, and that is a vote on deposing the sitting speaker. Currently, it requires a majority of the entire House GOP to trigger that vote. McCarthy's critics want any single lawmaker to be able to trigger that vote.

Up until this point, though, McCarthy has been resistant to budge on the issue. He essentially would be giving away much of his authority. It would allow his critics to fire him at any moment. However, he has been struggling to lock down the vote. And so I am told that he has been having phone calls all week with some of his critics, and he has made an offer to them to come down on that threshold. In fact, he has offered to go as low as a five person threshold to trigger the motion to vacate the speaker's chair. So that would be a major concession for Kevin McCarthy.

Now, the trick for Kevin McCarthy is that he can't afford to lose many votes, so he has to get buy in from the entire conference on any concession that he makes. And I'm told that some of his critics still think the five person threshold is too low and some of the -- or too high, and some of the moderates think that number is too low. And so they're going to have to sort this all out on a conference for call at 1:00 p.m. today. But it really is going to be a make or break moment for Kevin McCarthy.

WALKER: Yes, and he's running out of time, right, because the vote is supposed to be held on Tuesday. What happens if McCarthy doesn't secure the votes?

ZANONA: Well, the House can't conduct any other business until they elect a speaker. So if McCarthy cannot get the votes on the first ballot, the House will just keep voting until somebody does. At that point, other candidates could jump in. McCarthy could try to adjourn the entire proceedings. I mean, we're really in uncharted territory here. The last time a speaker's race went to multiple ballots was in 1923. So we could definitely be in for a wild ride on Tuesday, Amara. WALKER: Oh, that would be remarkable. Melanie Zanona, thank you.

Well, more accusations today against New York Congressman-elect George Santos. He is already under intense scrutiny over lies he told about his career, education, and family ancestry. Well, now he's facing new questions about his campaign spending. CNN Sunlen Serfaty is live in Washington with the details. Sunlen, so why is Santos's spending being called into question now?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Amara, "The New York Times" here really dug into his campaign disclosure forms, really going through every line to look at exactly where his campaign funds were going. And they did raise numerous unusual, questionable line items in those disclosure forms that are definitely worth looking more into, including, one, a company called Cleaner One, Two, Three. It was listed they received $11,000 for the campaign. And that was listed as an apartment rental for staff. But "The New York Times" reports that's actually an address in Long Island where neighbors tell "The Times" that they saw him, Santos and his husband coming and going quite regularly.

Also reported, dozens of expenses for exactly $199.99, and that's an important figure here because that's only one set below the $200 threshold where you would have to turn over receipts. Another one that was flagged as he had travel expenses exceeding more than $70,000. That's quite high. Definitely deserves more scrutiny much more than other candidates running for equal office.

Now, important to note here, it is absolutely not clear yet if the spending was allowed under campaign finance laws or not. There needs to be more reporting there. Attorney for Santos did tell "The New York Times" in a statement about this, quote, campaign expenditures for staff members including travel, lodging, and meals are normal expenses of any competent campaign. The suggestion that Santos campaign engaged in any irresponsible spending of campaign funds is just ludicrous. Just noting all of this, of course, coming as federal prosecutors have already announced that they are separately looking into his finances.

WALKER: Yes, it seems like each new day brings another new claim to be looked at, including one about Santos's mother, her death and the 9/11 attacks. What are we learning about that?

SERFATY: Yes, a lot of important questions here on, frankly, a very sensitive subject to so many people. Santos has claimed multiple times that his mother was at the World Trade Center on 9/11 in 2001 and that played a role in her death. Now we're not clear here on some of the details. He tweeted out last year, he says clearly, quote, 9/11 claims my mother's life, but we do not know the details. He said she was at the south tower. She was caught up in an ash cloud, but she later went on to die 15 years later in 2016.

We've asked camp -- his campaign, his representatives for clarification on what exactly contributed her to death? Of course, Amara, a lot of first responders and survivors dealt with health issues for many years after 9/11.


WALKER: Right. They sure did. All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you.

And up next, new missile attacks from Russia, taking a further toll on Ukraine's power grid. We're going to take you live to Kyiv, next.


WALKER: New images today of the aftermath of a drone strike in Ukraine's capital. This is the result of a Russian launched drone hitting two buildings in Kyiv. Right now, it's unclear if anyone was hurt. The aerial attacks didn't stop there, though. Ukraine's military says it intercepted 16 more drone attacks overnight. CNN's Ben Wedeman joining us now live from Kyiv. Ben, what is the latest? And should Ukraine just continue to expect more attacks heading into the New Year?


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the assumption of the Ukrainian authorities is this will continue for the foreseeable future. Clearly, the Russians, after repeated failures on the battlefield, are using their long range weaponry as well as drones to strike at critical infrastructure, particularly power at this very cold period of the year.

But we continue to see fighting going on in the eastern part of the country, along the front line in the Donetsk region. The Ukrainian officials say Russian artillery opened fire all along that very long line in the city of Bakhmut, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting. Ukrainian officials concede that their forces are taking heavy casualties in the fighting there.

In the southern part of the country, in the Kherson region, much of which was liberated back in November, the Russians continued to mercilessly bombard that area. Reports are that within the last 24 hours, there were 80 individual artillery strikes and rocket strikes on that area.

On the border area in the northeast, in the Kharkiv region, three people were injured or killed, excuse me, in cross border fire there. So the war continues. The weather is getting cold. Perhaps the tempo of the fighting is going to slow down a little bit but the airstrikes are something people realize are probably going to go on for the foreseeable future. Amara?

WALKER: Not surprising, but obviously unfortunate. Ben Wedeman, thank you. I'm joined now by CNN national security analyst and former CIA chief of Russia operations, Steve Hall. Steve, I want to start by talking about today's video call between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and China's Xi Jinping. What do you make of it and is the timing of this significant?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Amara, what they're trying to do, the Russians and the Chinese, is to try to present some unified front to show that there's strong relations and it's a good, healthy relationship between the two autocracies. In fact, China is having to walk a very, very fine line here because while they might philosophically agree with Russia, with Vladimir Putin's Russia in terms of, you know, the ability to repress its own people, not to have an open society, not to have a real democracy, they agree philosophically with that.

But the problem is they have very strong ties, trade ties to the rest of the world, which they really cannot endanger without doing significant damage to their own country. So they're having to walk a very tight line, a public face, and then, I think probably a domestic and private face behind the scenes.

WALKER: Yes, that's a good point. And, you know, look, both leaders went into this, went into this meeting, both in weak positions, right? I mean, nearly a year later, Putin is still fighting this war in Ukraine. He suffered many setbacks, and Xi seeing his pandemic strategy, his zero COVID strategy unraveling and cases are just booming in China. Do you think any of their positions affected this meeting in any way?

HALL: Well, it's interesting, yes, they're both in relatively weaker positions than they were, say, a year or two ago. Make no mistake. Russia is definitely the junior partner here. China can do very, very well without really having much to do at all with Russia. I mean, it could probably use some of, you know, Russia's oil and some of their other natural resources. But, you know, China is the rising power. China is the one who's in charge here.

And the relationship between China and Russia has always been fraught with insecurities on the Russian side primarily. So, you know, yes, they're both weaker, but, you know, Putin is in a much weaker position than Xi is at this point.

WALKER: And we've seen Russia ramping up attacks on Ukraine over the last few days. Where is this headed? What do you make of that?

HALL: Well, that's the big question, you know, where is it headed and how long is it going to take to get there? Right now, I think we're in a phase, sort of the winter phase of this war, where the Russians are really left, as far as I can tell, with really only no other options but these standoffs, stand, you know, apart type. Of attacks where they don't have to actually commit those troops on the ground where the Ukrainians seemed to be doing very well against them. So instead they're using these standoff weapons like cruise missiles, long range artillery drones, those kinds of things that don't require these new recruits that they have called up that seemingly can't train or can't arm very well. So that's kind of where we are now.

What happens, you know, when the winter ends, of course, will be extremely interesting to see whether the Ukrainians can continue with the momentum that they have developed on the battlefield up to this point.


WALKER: Yes, all right, Steve Hall, thank you. Thank you for your time.

Well, Times Square is expecting its biggest crowd in years. Tomorrow night, what's being done to welcome around a million people for the first time since 2019, next.


WALKER: For the first time in several years, the New Year's Eve party in Times Square will return to full capacity. COVID had impacted previous celebrations, as you know. CNN's Gloria Pazmino is in Times Square, where preparations are underway. I'm sure security top of mind. What are those preparations looking like?


GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Amara, the party is just getting set up here. You can see the big stage behind me. These guys have been working all morning getting the stage together. This is where many of the performers will be throughout the evening, providing the entertainment that's going to keep this crowd alive tomorrow. It will be cold. It might rain. But people will be entertained at the very least.

You know, you also see these fence here behind me, this is what's going to help keep the crowds in. And right where we're standing at this time tomorrow, we expect to see those crowds starting to build on shoulder to shoulder. People will be standing together, counting down every single hour until the clock strikes midnight and 2023 rolls in. It is Times Square, Amara. It is, you know, the center of the universe in a way. It's crowded right now. But tomorrow it's going to be even more crowded.

WALKER: All right, Gloria Pazmino, thank you for that. And Tom Harris is the president of Times Square Alliance, a not for profit group responsible for organizing the New Year's Eve celebration. Tom, good to have you. So your alliance says this will be the first year that celebrations return to full capacity since COVID-19 restrictions. Tell us about that decision.

TOM HARRIS, PRESIDENT, TIMES SQUARE ALLIANCE: First, thanks for having me, Amara. We are very excited to welcome everyone back to Times Square this New Year's Eve. We have a great show. We have two dance performances. We have nine musical acts. We're so excited that CNN has Ava Max. You guys are going to have a musical performance for the first time. So we're very excited about that.

WALKER: And tell us about, you know, as you are returning to full capacity, you know, tell us more about the security preparations that are underway.

HARRIS: Sure, so. We work with the New York City Police Department, the greatest police department in the world, and all of the city agencies. We have meetings throughout the year to try to make sure that this is a safe event for all who could come. We remind people that backpacks, umbrellas, chairs, blankets, they're not permitted in the area. The police department will be screening people as they come into the viewing areas, and then they'll just come into the center of Times Square and wait for that ball to drop at midnight.

WALKER: Our Chad Meyers was giving a bit of good news about the weather, that the rain may hold off, although people should wear ponchos and if you can't be bringing umbrellas and things of that nature. But look, the weather might be wet tomorrow. Do you expect that to impact turnout?

HARRIS: Well, I think that most people who plan to come to New Year's Eve in Times Square are not going to be swayed by a little bit of weather. They come in the rain. They come in the cold. And it really is a fantastic time. We try to keep the crowd lively, energetic. They certainly come ready for a party and we're going to show them a party in Times Square.

WALKER: And I got to ask you about advice for those who will be heading out there in terms of access to bathrooms. What should people expect and how should they prepare in advance?

HARRIS: So reporters are always the ones who ask this question and the folks in the viewing areas don't seem to mind. They get together, they make friends with the police officers, they make friends with the folks standing next to them, and they figure it out and they always have a great time and many come back the following year.

WALKER: And lastly, I mean, this is the first New Year's in a couple at full capacity. What does this mean to you? You must be quite excited about that.

HARRIS: I am, and we are. And this event takes a real collaboration between one Times Square, between Jamestown, Countdown Entertainment, the city of New York, and we all have a lot of pride in this event. We managed to hold this event throughout the pandemic in a smaller way. We wanted to make sure we carried on those new traditions, those old traditions, in a safe and responsible way. But we are excited. Times Square is back. We're welcoming hundreds of thousands of people every day. And we are ready to have everyone in Times Square tomorrow night.

WALKER: I'm really looking forward to watching the ball drop with some friends at home. Tom Harris, really appreciate you joining us and the best of luck to you.

HARRIS: Thanks for having me. Happy New Year.

WALKER: Thank you. Happy New Year to you too.

You can ring in the New Year with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen live from Times Square. It all starts tomorrow night at 8:00 right here on CNN.


And quickly back to the breaking news we have been following this hour. We now know the name of the person arrested in connection to the murder investigation of four college students in Idaho. He is 28-year- old Bryan Christopher Kohberger. That is, according to state and local officials and court documents. He was arrested this morning in Pennsylvania. It's not clear if police are still looking for any other suspects, but we expect to learn more details this afternoon when authorities in Moscow, Idaho hold a news conference.

And that's our time. Thanks so much for joining me today. Abby Phillip picks up CNN's coverage right after a quick break.