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The Lead with Jake Tapper

W.A. Auto Repair Shop Owner Upset GOP Opponent In Red District; Rep.-Elect Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, (D-WA), Is Interviewed About Her Winning Against Republican Joe Kent; Records Contradict Santos' Claim His Grandparents Fled Holocaust; McCarthy Says Ukraine Won't Get "Blank Check" After Zelenskyy Speech. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 22, 2022 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Parts of Wyoming seeing minus 42 degrees without the wind chill factor. And the bomb cyclone is expanding, unleashing blizzard conditions in some places, making travel in some places nearly impossible.

More than 2200 flights have already been canceled today as people try to make it to their holiday destinations. We're going to start with CNN's Lucy Kafanov in Denver taking a look at Mother Nature's wrath coast to coast.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Millions of people experiencing the peak of what the weather service is calling a once in a generation type event, others still bracing. The arctic blast affecting more than 105,000,000 people across the country. Winter alerts from coast to coast for snow and icy conditions. The dangerous cold has over 150,000,000 people or nearly half the U.S. population, under wind chill alerts with below zero wind chills as far south as Texas. In the Midwest, more than a foot of snow and possible blizzard conditions expected.

South Dakota's famous Sioux Falls, frozen. In some parts of Kansas, the national weather surface reporting wind chills below negative 30. There and in the plains, the cold expected to stick around for Christmas weekend, likely making it the coldest Christmas there in roughly 40 years.

JARED BRIGGS, BUSINESS OWNER IN EVANSTON, WYOMING: Your nose hairs literally freeze.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Even those used to the cold in Wyoming are feeling the arctic blast.

BRIGGS: I mean, it's cold, but when it's negative 20, it's just another level.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Slick ice and snow making driving conditions dangerous, abandoned vehicles, stranded drivers. SGT. JOSH RASNAKE, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, UINTA COUNTY, WYOMING: I want people to have things in their vehicles, kits ready to be deployed if they get stuck in their vehicle somewhere.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Weather hazards causing road closures in various parts of the country. Zero visibility, making it hard for emergency workers to respond.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's hand warmers, some socks, a beanie, and LIKE some hygiene products and then some water and a blanket.

KAFANOV (voice-over): In Colorado, outreach workers trying to provide help and keep people warm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said it's going to be cold. So I see get off the streets. If it's a real extreme emergency, they really be right on there.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Buses of people seeking shelter at the Denver coliseum to stay out of the freezing cold.


KAFANOV: And Jake, I can't emphasize how cold these temperatures are. It might look like things are getting back to normal. The sun is at leaf out, but it still feels like negative 20 here. The streets are largely empty. Folks are trying to stay out of this cold.

These conditions are incredibly dangerous. The city of Denver even opening up new warming centers to keep people safe. There is some good news on the horizon. However, we are expecting the temperatures to start lifting by tomorrow, and by Christmas day, it could be as high as 50 degrees here. Of course, there is not as much relief in sight for the rest of the country, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Lucy Kafanov, go inside. Go inside, Lucy. Thanks so much.

CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean is at Chicago's O'Hare airport. He is inside.

Pete, today was supposed to be the busiest pre-Christmas travel day, but hundreds of flights have been canceled, and the problems seem to be shifting east.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: We're talking hundreds of cancellations today, Jake, hundreds more tomorrow. Just check FlightAware. We're talking 2,029 cancellations. It goes up every moment across the U.S., 6,500 flight delays. Denver tops the nation for flight cancellations right now, followed here by Chicago O'Hare, then Chicago Midway.

One in every four flights has been canceled here out of O'Hare today. And that is so big because this airport is crucial for connecting flights. It is a huge hub for American Airlines, it is the biggest hub for United Airlines. I just got a tour of United Airlines network operations center, and it says it's scrambling there to try and save some of these connecting flights to keep passengers trips from falling apart, putting them on different connecting flights out of different hubs. Want you to listen to the United V.P. of Network Operations, Joe Heins. He says, it's the snow here, plus the cold that is making things so difficult for the airline and driving these delays.


JOE HEINS, UNITED AIRLINES V.P. OF NETWORK OPERATIONS: Winter operations like this temperature, wind, snow, it's going to drive delays. Well, we know the challenges. We have experience around the winter storms. There's only so much you can do. We'll operate. We'll operate slowly, but we will operate safely.


MUNTEAN: The single best tip from airlines and from travel experts, download your airlines app. That is the best way to get up to the moment information about your flights delays or cancellations if those do come to pass, hopefully not. Tomorrow, things could be pretty bad. We've already seen 1,600 flights canceled across the U.S. according to FlightAware. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, I'm downloading right now, Pete, just so. I'm downloading my airline right now. Will the cancellations have a ripple effect into the weekend? Because that's when my flight is.


MUNTEAN: Yes. You know, that is a great question. Tomorrow is when things are going to get really tough here at Chicago O'Hare United says, because that is when the cold really sets in and the temperatures will plummet here. The high here tomorrow, two degrees Fahrenheit. That makes it especially hard for ground crews to work out in that.

Marshall planes, we're talking about loading bags. It's hard just to even get the airplane out of the gate. So, we will see as this goes on. United thinks its operation will be recovered by Saturday.

TAPPER: All right, Pete Muntean, as always, very helpful, at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Thank you so much.

I want to bring in Meteorologist Derek Van Dam. He's in the CNN Weather Center. Derek, where is the biggest threat in the next 24 hours?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, this is a multifaceted storm. We're hearing our reporters on the ground talk about so many avenues of this, but kind of to summarize it as best as possible and as succinctly as possible, it's all about the blizzard and the Arctic air. It's those combinations that are really working together to create this recipe for a real trouble headache and just in time for the holidays. This is the Winter Storm Severity Index from the National Weather Service. And I want to highlight these areas of red right along the west coast of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and then just outside of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. This is when you factor in the significant winds and snow, the visibility being reduced to nearly zero. And also the potential for power outages and flash freezes because of this Arctic air that's settling in. Those are the areas that will get hit the hardest.

Of course, the impacts from this storm being felt from coast to coast, top to bottom, you can see the windshield alert stretching from the border of Canada all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. And mind you, these are places in the Deep South that don't normally get this cold. So, the potential here to see below freezing temperatures for over three days exists in places like Jackson, Mississippi, Birmingham, Alabama. Houston, you'll have nearly two days with temperatures below that freezing mark.

So that means you not only need to protect your family, but also your house. You want to get those pipes covered to prevent any kind of damage to your home. Check this out, this is important as well. When we're talking about windshield values of negative 45, right, that is cold. But in five minutes time on exposed skin, you can get frostbite.

And if you look at some of these numbers that have come into the weather center here in Atlanta, we're talking about negative 76 degree windshield temperatures in Casper, Wyoming. That certainly exceeds that threshold for frostbite within a five minute period. So, who's next from this arctic blast? We'll pay attention to this, because at Nashville, you're sitting at 50 degrees, you're windshield 45. Let me advance this, this is in a matter of 6 hours, you're dropping nearly 30 degrees.

Atlanta, you're next. And that arctic air presses all the way to the east coast. Jake --

TAPPER: All right, Derek.

VAN DAM: -- clever writer on your side. You said it was the nightmare before Christmas. This is truly it.

TAPPER: All right, Derek Van Dam in the CNN Weather Center, thanks so much.

How one incoming congresswoman beat the Trump backed Republican in a ruby red district without any help from Democratic Party leaders. Her story is next.

Then, a terrifying look at the new Taliban crackdown in Afghanistan targeting women and girls. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our politics lead on this Thursday, one of Washington State's newest members of Congress ran on a familiar message, reduce government regulations, get tough on crime. While those might stereotypically sound like Republican campaign platform points, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is a Democrat and tough to pigeonhole in a solidly red district. She also put abortion rights at the forefront of her campaign. As well as reducing the cost of child care. She narrowly beat a Trump endorsed army veteran and election denier Joe Kent in what the Nation calls, quote, "the biggest upset of the 2022 midterms."

Congresswoman-elect Marie Gluesenkamp Perez joins us now.

Congresswoman-elect, first of all, congratulations. Second of all, I wanted to have you on because I read that interview in the Nation, which is really interesting. Democrats traditionally do not do well in rural districts. What made your campaign different? And how can other rural Democrats hopefully apply that to their campaigns in the future?

MARIE GLUESENKAMP PEREZ (D-WA), CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: Well, I mean, I think one of the critical differences is, you know, my biography. I live in a rural district. I live in rural Skamania County and Timber County. I work in the trades. I own an auto repair machine shop with my husband.

You know, we're a small business that, like you said, we've been broken into four times, had another break in yesterday. And I think that really connects with Americans. Like we just want a Congress that works again. We want a Congress that looks like America, that understands what it's like to try and run a small business in this economy and make a place for the trades.

TAPPER: Do you think speaking of your machine shop being broken into, do you think that too many national Democrats are too dismissive of the concerns of American citizens when it comes to crime, pointing to statistics and telling them that they're not experiencing what they're experiencing?

PEREZ: Yes, I think that's a fatal flaw in the Democratic strategy, is people are always trying to explain things to people. They're obsessed with, you know, being right all the time.

And you know, I think that it's important to understand the underlying feelings around an issue and not just the statistics, because those statistics, unless you understand the facts on the ground, those statistics can sometimes be hollow.

TAPPER: You beat your opponent, Republican Joe Kent, by only 2,600 votes yesterday. Despite being an election liar, he finally conceded after the recount. Are you confident you can represent a historically red district, especially with so many people in your district willing to put aside the fact that he was an election liar and vote for him? It was pretty close.

PEREZ: Yes. You know, I'm here to represent everyone, not just the people who voted for me. I think we have a lot of shared interests. Like I said, we all want a country that works again. We want opportunity for our kids. You know, I'm part of the generation that, you know, work as hard as I want. I'm not going to make as much money as my parents. And I think you're seeing an increasing, I guess, disenchantment, you know, with the way things are working for folks. You know, I'm running on really bread and butter issues of right to repair laws are something that are really critical to me and one of the things I'll be working hard to pass in Washington, D.C.


TAPPER: Let's talk about that, because that's one of the interesting things about your appeal in your rural district. This Right-to-Repair legislation. Probably a lot of people right now watching this don't know what that is. It essentially allows Americans to fix their own stuff from cell phones to tractors, despite attempts by corporate America and corporations internationally to try to stop that. Tell us more about that and why it's so important in rural districts such as yours.

PEREZ: I'm sorry, Jake, actually the Internet quality cut out here. Could you repeat that question?

TAPPER: Tell us about Right-to-Repair, what it means.

PEREZ: Yes. So Right-to-Repair bills are -- you know, we in America have the belief that we can fix our own things, but increasing the terms of servants and contracts exclude people from that right. You don't have the right to fix your own tractor, your own iPhone, home medical equipment. So, it's not just about cars, it's about everything.

We're seeing, for instance, BMW not having dipsticks in their cars anymore. It's a disenfranchisement from the technology we rely on. And I and many people believe that DIY is in our DNA. The middle class relies on things being repairable and maintainable. And it feels like we're getting shoved into a culture of consumption where we are not able to fix the things and the technology we rely on. I think that's a crisis for the middle class and for American culture.

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman-elect from Washington State, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, thank you so much. Let us know when you're here. We'll have you in studio. Got a lot of issues to talk to you about and you seem to be a very interesting voice.

PEREZ: Thank you so much, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Merry Christmas to you.

The Chinese government says there are only a handful of COVID deaths. So, why then are Chinese crematoriums overwhelmed? We're going live to Beijing next. Stay with us.


[17:21:54] TAPPER: Our health lead now. Just two weeks after China relaxed its strict zero COVID policies, cases are now skyrocketing, overwhelming that country's healthcare system and even putting a strain on crematorians. But perhaps not surprisingly, the Chinese government is painting a different picture, reporting only a few COVID deaths since easing restrictions. CNN's Selina Wang is live for us from Beijing, an area that's experiencing its worst outbreak since the pandemic began.

Selina, tell us what you're seeing.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, I mean, the picture on the ground looks very different from the government narrative. So I went to a major crematorium in Beijing this week and it was very packed. The parking lot was completely full. Several people there told me that their loved ones had died from COVID and employees said they've been swamped with work.

I also saw these metal containers that were filling up with yellow body bags, and I saw workers loading more coffins in. I spoke to some of the stores nearby selling funerary items, they said they're much busier than normal. And I also stopped by a COVID designated hospital where a worker told me elderly patients with COVID are dying every single day.

But despite all of that, China has only reported less than ten total COVID deaths for this entire month. And amid the skepticism both at home and abroad over those numbers, the government now says it is changing the definition of COVID-19 deaths to only include patients who died of respiratory failure directly caused by the virus. So, Jake, that means that those who died because of another underlying condition will not be counted as a COVID death, even if they were sick with COVID at the time. That goes against the World Health Organization's guidelines. The WHO says it will severely underestimate the true death toll of COVID in China.

TAPPER: A new study from the University of Hong Kong suggests that China could have nearly 1 million COVID deaths following this abrupt change from the country's strict and severe zero COVID strategy. Is China under prepared for this wave of infections and deaths?

WANG: Well, that is the resounding agreement from health experts that China has basically squandered the last few years while it was enforcing zero COVID. It did not vaccinate enough of the population, it did not boost up its hospital capacity enough or stock up on enough antivirals. And so now the country is scrambling to do all of these things.

But that reopening, it was abrupt, it was unexpected. It was like virtually overnight, this country went from harsh lockdowns to just let it rip. And we are seeing hospitals coming under major pressure. Fever and cold medicine is running out.

The local versions of Tylenol and Advil here are pretty much impossible to get at drug stores. And some local governments are even resorting to rationing the amount of medicine for sale down to the exact number of pills. And that vaccination rate, it is still lagging for people over 60. Only about 42 percent of those, over 80 have received a booster shot. And experts say that third dose is necessary to get enough protection in China since they are using less effective vaccines compared to the mRNA ones used overseas, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Selina Wang in Beijing for us. Thank you so much.

Turning now to our world lead where women in Afghanistan are protesting against the Taliban's latest crackdown on their rights and freedoms. The Taliban this week banned all female students from receiving college education. It's a devastating move that some fear will ultimately be extended for girls below the 6th grade when it comes to their education. CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports on yet another setback for Afghan women and girls since the U.S. left.



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL HOST (voice-over): Another week, another dramatic reversal of women's rights in Afghanistan. The Taliban's new edict suspending university education for females is a major setback for millions of women there. And the ministry of education says the rule will take immediate effect.

KAYANAT HASI, AFGHAN STUDENT BANNED FROM ATTENDING UNIVERSITY (through translator): There is no life for women in Afghanistan anymore since they've closed all the routes towards success for women.

When the doors of schools and universities are closed for the women who are half the society, it means the process of human evolution and development is paralyzed.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Young women showing up to class of universities across the country are now being told to go back home. Even worse, fears the ban could extend to elementary schools. The principals of three Kabul girl schools tell CNN the Taliban have written to them telling them to shut down. Students quickly showed their opposition to the new law, both men and women, including at Nangarhar University in the city of Jalalabad. According to Reuters, male medical students there even walked out of their final exams to support their female classmates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They can't go to school. Why? They cannot work. Why? Could somebody, somebody please tell me why.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): This new policy is the latest announcement on what many are calling the systematic expulsion of Afghan women from all aspects of public life. When I traveled to Kabul this spring, I confronted a Taliban official the very day they demanded that all women in work, even on television, had to be masked.

(on camera): Afghan women are afraid that this is the beginning of your efforts to erase them from the workspace.

(voice-over): Back then, the most senior Taliban government official, Sirajuddin Haqqani, told me that he would safeguard the rights of Afghan women, including the right to an education.

SIRAJUDDIN HAQQANI, INTERIOR MINISTER OF AFGHANISTAN (through translator): There is no one who opposes education for women, and already girls are allowed to go to school up to grade six. What I am saying to you is that very soon you will hear very good news about this issue, God willing.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But that promise never materialized. And this week, women's and girl's rights have taken a major step backwards. In fact, officials who pledged they would be different than Taliban 1.0 are now accelerating their march back to that same harsh version.

This is my interview with the Taliban official back in 1996.

(on camera): A lot of people want to know what you're going to do about the women issue. What about women's education? Girl's education? Women working, widows who have no other way to support themselves?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that, especially in western news media it's a propaganda against that we are against women education, which is not right, not correct.

AMANPOUR (on camera): But the girls can't go to school. We've been to schools here that are all closed.

(voice-over): Since the Taliban came back to power last year, women have been banned from most workplaces, from politics, and from entering public paths and public bars. They even now require a male guardian for long distance travel.

More pragmatic Taliban sources tell CNN these bands come straight from the Taliban's so-called supreme Leader Ameer Akhundzada and his kitchen cabinet based in Kandahar, they form the core of the hardline religious leadership.

The United Nations says it's outraged and is calling on the Taliban to reverse the decision. The United States said that it would further alienate the Taliban from the international community and deny them the legitimacy and recognition they crave.

In the last two decade since the Taliban was first driven out of Afghanistan, many urban women were excelling in school and in the workforce, contributing to the country's economy, society and culture. Now that half the population is being erased from public view and public works, this country is falling ever faster, ever deeper into extreme poverty and hunger as another bleak winter takes hold.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, London.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Christiane Amanpour for that report.

They aren't the headlines. An incoming congressman wants new resume contradictions raising serious questions about the character of the newly elected Republican congressman from New York. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: In our politics lead, Republican Congressman-elect George Santos was already facing something of an avalanche of scrutiny over allegations that he falsified multiple parts of his biography and his resume. And now a CNN file investigation has found his claims that his grandparents, quote, "survived the holocaust" by fleeing to escape the Nazi regime are contradicted by multiple sources and records reviewed by Genealogists. This latest revelation coming just after another examination found the education and employment history from his resume was inconsistent with public documents and court records.


Let's discuss. Heidi, I'm not even sure how to properly characterize somebody who lies about being the descendant of Holocaust survivors. What do you make of this story in general? Obviously, "The New York Times" first broke it after Santos was elected. And the silence from Republicans.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Well, the first reaction was, how did this happen --


PRZYBYLA: -- in an age where candidates are just from out of the gate, given opposition research combs by the opposition party, that said it was a short election. So, now I think the most important question, Jake, is going forward on how did he make his money and what don't we know? Because this guy appears to have gone from being evicted and having really no assets on record in 2020 now to having a million dollar apartment in Rio, 750,000 in cash for his campaign.

That's the real problem for McCarthy because right now McCarthy is not going to say anything. He needs every single vote he can get coming up for speaker. He's not going to say anything. These ethics investigations take a long time, but Letitia James is onto it. There will be investigations and eventually he may be faced with having to weigh in on this.

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SENIOR DIRECTOR: We do have a record in Congress of some members, Jim Traficant from Ohio comes to mind who stay in office despite being in prison. So, there are characters in Congress. And Senator McConnell said that, he said that the Republican recruiting season, these were not the best candidates that he had. All eyes, though, were on Herschel Walker because that would -- that seat would flip the balance of the Senate.

No one really anticipated that New York would collapse as a blue wall. And that is where you would have candidates who not only ran as Republicans and won, but showed that the New York Republican -- rather, Democratic Party was in disarray.

TAPPER: Well, in addition to the New York Democratic Party being disarray, I think it also shows, sadly, the demise of local news because there are two who used to be great newspapers in Long Island where this congressional seat is, and local newspapers are just dying and being starved of advertising dollars, which means that reporters get laid off.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Right, right. I mean, it's always going to be a matter of basic resources, and when there are fewer resources, you have to kind of prioritize what you cover. In a race that wasn't the top tier of everyone's radar, that's something that, in terms of reporting resources and political resources would be deprioritized slightly. I think, going forward, what will be really interesting to see is how Republican leaders react. Obviously, we know that they have not condemned or they have not said much, if at all, about this action.

We know Mr. Santos will speak about this next week. I would guess that perhaps he just kind of doubles down and defends his record, even though it does seem to be nonexistent at this point. But it remains to be seen how the leadership will respond. But I would be surprised if they rebuke him for the misrepresentations that he had made to the public.

PRZYBYLA: Apparently he's going to weigh in about a week, and some of the replies under that tweet, you just have to go look at it for yourself. They say you need a week to decide whether you're Jewish. What's the answer? Yes or no.

TAPPER: Right. Right. He's made a lot of claims about a lot of things in his history that "The New York Times" uncovered aren't true.

I remember one of the first stories key file broke for CNN was a Democratic official who had plagiarized part of a graduate paper that he had written, and that led to the end of his political career. But now we're in 2022, and I feel like you can almost get away with anything as long as you just stick it out.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, FELLOW AT GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE: Well, I guess the question is he has gotten away with allegedly things thus far because the opposition campaign and the local media did not do their jobs. And so, in addition to him, allegedly deceiving voters, there are supposed to be all of these checks in the system where if you run for office and you've got anything in your past, it's supposed to be dug up. You know, this was alleged -- supposedly in a DCCC opposition research document about him, a lot of these allegations --

TAPPER: Is that true?

ANDERSON: -- but they were buried -- it was like 87 pages, and it was buried under a lot of he's just a standard issue MAGA Republican. And I think part of the problem is when you just say, oh, we're just going to use the same bucket of arguments against all of these people at once and just kind of give into the polarization. It means that the stuff that was, you know, on page 50 or wherever it was in this report that's actually meaningful winds up getting glossed over. So, we don't know if he's survived yet because, again, there could be further ethics investigations. This may not just be him being a fabulous, but if he's broken laws, that's a very different matter. But I wouldn't say anybody has survived quite yet. He hasn't even been sworn into Congress yet, Jake.

TAPPER: Well, I'm just saying, like, I -- we'll see what happens.

HAQ: It wasn't disqualifying, let's put it that way, right?

TAPPER: Yes. I mean --

HAQ: I mean, we're not necessarily hearing uproar locally, but that's part of the challenge. How would we even know about local uproar given the lack of resources and media attention on how local voters work? But we've seen this. So time and time again with a certain set of Republican candidates that as long as you toe the line on key specific issues, your character doesn't matter. How you approach lies, and the truth doesn't matter anymore.


TAPPER: My only --

ANDERSON: Let me disagree with that a little.


ANDERSON: Madison Cawthorn will not be coming back to this new Congress. You know, there are examples of folks who --

TAPPER: Because he was defeated in a primary correct.

ANDERSON: Correct. And It would not surprise me if this gentleman winds up getting seated in Congress and surviving all sorts of ethics investigations. It would not surprise me if the NRCC is not out there looking for, please goodness, anybody, anybody, anybody to run in that seat.

TAPPER: But what happened with Cawthorn, just to go back, and he had been embarrassing his party quite a bit. And I believe what happened is Senator Thom Tillis, the Republican Senator from North Carolina, helped get a bunch of money together to fund an opponent in the primary. Right? I mean -- but it wasn't like, you're an embarrassment. You're saying, you know, you visited Hitler's nest, we want you out of Congress right now. It was, OK, well, we're going to do this methodically.

My point is, the money is -- the good money is always on the politician. If they deny it being able to survive and stick around, at least until somebody figures out a way to get them out on their own timeline. No?

HAQ: I think a good parallel is the Herschel Walker race that we just saw, because it was two candidates that on paper had a similar identity, which is in this race as well, you had two white male gay candidates. And so, that identity piece, when that gets, I guess, eliminated from the conversation, really has people looking at, oh, well, what's the R or D next to their name going to get me? And we're seeing some really interesting voting patterns as a result.

PRZYBYLA: There are observations being made about what the tradeoffs Republican Party is making in order to try and diversify its party, because that's the thing that all of these candidates have in common, is they represent some minority group. And at the same time, they have what, in past elections would have been considered fatal flaws.

TAPPER: Interesting. Despite an overwhelming positive response to the -- and bipartisan reception to Zelenskyy yesterday, the reaction by some MAGA Republicans in the chamber at least was notable, refusing to stand, refusing to applaud. McCarthy repeated afterwards his line about, we're not going to give you kind of blank check, which literally no one is proposing that they give.

What do you think is going to happen? Is there going to be a change in policy when House Republicans take over?

KIM: Well, it's not going to be something that's immediate action for some time, because the Congress is poised to pass additional $45 billion of aid to Ukraine. The administration is confident that that money is going to last for some time, but we don't know how long this war is going to persist in Ukraine, and we don't know how much more resources that Zelenskyy, Ukraine, will need.

So that's why I think his line yesterday to House republic or to the House -- or to the Congress when he said, this money is not charity, it is for global security and democracy. It is being handled well. That was a message directly to House Republicans who had been saying, we want inspector generals, we want oversight of this money. And you see that declining appetite to fund this effort abroad.

So, I think at this point, if and when there is another need for more aid because of the Democratic support and because of the parts of the Republican Party that feel strong about this, it still will be likely to pass, but it'll just be harder because of that growing kind of America first pocket in a Republican Party.

HAQ: This is a situation in which every week matters, right? Three hundred thousand rounds of artillery with one howitzer usually takes a year to produce. They go through it in two weeks in the Ukraine.


HAQ: Right? And there is a time and place to talk about the military industrial complex. Fourteen trillion dollars in Afghanistan. What did that get us, right? But the $60 billion that have gone to Ukraine is a drop in the bucket for just the Pentagon in one year, let alone what the United States is capable of doing when we're in peacetime, we're at peace time. We're at peace.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks, one and all. If I don't see you, Merry Christmas. Great to see you all. Coming up, after making the two and a half month journey from Venezuela to the Rio Grande, one family crossed into the U.S. But now they find themselves back in Mexico. Their harrowing journey that is not over. That's next.



TAPPER: In our national lead now, the future of Title 42, that's the Trump era pandemic policy, which permits border agents to quickly expel asylum seekers from the U.S. is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. And while this policy is still in place, most migrants are willing to take the risk anyway, despite the uncertainty. CNN's Ed Lavandera highlights one migrant family's perilous journey.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Yeison Virguez and his wife Zuleema (ph) walked across the Rio Grande with their two children last week, the family felt like they had finally escaped their lives in Venezuela's socialist nightmare. They were overwhelmed with tears of relief and joy. They survived an often terrifying two and a half month journey traveling from South America into Central America and Mexico.

(on camera): Did you think reaching this point was going to be so emotional?

(voice-over): He says, they never thought the journey from Venezuela would be so painful.

Zuleema tearfully said they took this risk for their children. The family stepped across the Rio Grande, thinking they had reached the mountaintop.

Where are you?

The family is now in Mexico City. Yeison says the day after the family turned themselves into U.S. border agents, they were flown to South Texas and bussed across the border to Matamoros. He says Mexican officials then drove them and a bus full of migrants to Mexico City. It took just five days to get pushed back down the mountain.

(on camera): This has to be very confusing for you.

(voice-over): I don't understand it, he says. We were all scared on the airplane. We didn't know what was going to happen, and we didn't even get a chance to ask for asylum.

(on camera): There are still hundreds of migrants lining up at the border wall to get into the United States. But getting in is far from guaranteed. The Department of Homeland Security reports that over the last week here in the El Paso area alone, 3,400 migrants have been expelled under Title 42.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sitting down following instruction.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Thousands of migrants keep turning themselves into border authorities. The public health restriction known as Title 42 is still being used to quickly expel migrants. It's a confusing system and difficult for those migrants to figure out who stays and who goes.

Yeison and Zuleema now have to figure out what to do next.

(on camera): When I saw you crossing into the U.S., you were crying. Have you lost faith?

(voice-over): I'm an optimist, he says. I hope to touch someone's heart. My wife and son are depressed. We just want an opportunity.

Right before Yeison, Zuleema and their children crossed the Rio Grande last week, they were so hopeful, they snapped this family selfie. Yeison says his family will not forget touching U.S. soil, even if it was just for a brief moment.

(on camera): He says it was a strong blow to be sent back to Mexico, but that he doesn't want to give up and that he wants to do whatever is necessary to give his wife and children a better life.


LAVANDERA: And Jake, here on the streets of El Paso tonight, a troubling situation. In the last day or so, we've noticed that the dynamics here have changed quite a bit. Many of the migrants we had seen had documents such that they had already been processed by Border Patrol.

But all of these people, the majority of them that we've spoken with throughout the day now show that they do not have documents. And that means that they're not able to get into the shelter space. And that is troubling because tonight temperatures will get down to about 19 degrees. And many of the people you see standing around here -- around us here tonight on the streets, just have nowhere to go right now. Jake.

TAPPER: An absolute humanitarian crisis. Ed Lavandera in El Paso, Texas, thank you for that story.

Turning to our politics lead, Congress looks to be on track to prevent a government shutdown. The House of Representatives is set to vote on final passage for the $1.7 trillion spending bill tomorrow morning. There are some notable absences in this legislation, including efforts to protect Afghan allies who helped save the lives of U.S. service members during that country's war. The Afghan Adjustment Act did not make it into the spending bill. That legislation would have given evacuees from Afghanistan a pathway to lawful permanent residency before their temporary status expires in 2023.

A letter sent just Saturday urged Congress to act and pass that bill. It was signed by nearly two dozen former top leaders of the U.S. Military. Retired Admiral Mike Mullen served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He signed on to that level and told me this week, not helping these Afghans now may hurt American forces in the future. Listen.


ADM. MIKE MULLEN (RET.), FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: If we're unable to support those who gave so much, others will look at us in the future and we might fall short in gathering that support. We work hard to take care of our friends and our allies, and nobody was closer to us on the ground, in particular in Afghanistan, than those who supported us.


TAPPER: Admiral Mullen called helping the Afghans a moral imperative. There is no word on where there may be an attempt at similar legislation.

There was one notable amendment that did make it into the $1.7 trillion spending bill. This after an urgent plea from the wife of a U.S. Navy lieutenant. Her name is Brittany Alkonis. She appeared here on THE LEAD back in August after protesting at the White House, trying to get the attention of President Biden for months. She's been begging for the Pentagon to make an exception to a rule so that she and her kids could be financially supported.

Her husband, Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis is serving a three year prison sentence in Japan. In May of last year, he suffered a medical condition while driving on a family trip near Mount Fuji in Japan. The car crashed, and, sadly, two other people died. Between insurance money and donations, Lieutenant Alkonis paid more than $1 million to the families of the victims, which is an act that is customary in Japan. But his paid leave was set to expire next week.

Three days after Christmas, his wife Brittany and their children would have been stuck in Japan with no funds coming in. Her story caught the attention of Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah. I spoke to both of them yesterday about their frustration trying to get the Pentagon to make an exception for their family. Take a listen.


BRITTANY ALKONIS, WIFE OF U.S. NAVY LIEUTENANT IMPRISONED IN JAPAN: It has seemed from day one that they have worked against us. And as people ask why, as Senator Lee asked why, and it seems what it always comes down to is we're afraid of offending Japan, and they're afraid of setting a precedent. But I don't think that's a valid reason.


We've been told at every turn of events that this is unprecedented, that they've never seen anything like this happen in the 60 plus years that the U.S. government has -- our military has been here in Japan. So, to say that dealing with this in an unprecedented manner, this unprecedented situation is going to set a standard for the future just -- it's a weak argument.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): I was told that the Department of Defense would act on this as soon as possible, and that stretched out into nearly six months. Eventually, the department told me that they lacked the authority under 37 USC Section 503 to grant this relief. It's not true. I strongly disagree with that.

It shouldn't have taken this long. It shouldn't require an act of Congress, because the fact is, many decades ago, Congress gave this authority to the secretary of Defense.


TAPPER: Good news for the Alkonis family, the Senate did pass that amendment offered from Senator Mike Lee. And once the House passes the final spending bill and President Biden signs the law, a spokesperson for the Alkonis family says the family can move back into military housing in Japan.

Coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM," the January 6 committee releases even more transcripts. Stay with us.