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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Southwest Airliners Warns Cancellations, Delays To Continue For Days; Supreme Court: Trump-Era Border Restrictions Will Remain In Effect; Driving Bans Remains In Place In Buffalo After Deadly Storm; Republican Rep.-Elect George Santos Admits To Lying About Bio; China To Drop Its Quarantine Requirements For Inbound Travelers Starting In January. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 27, 2022 - 16:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: If you're flying southwest, you'll be lucky to get to your destination by New Year's.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Another disastrous day for Southwest Airlines, as it cancels more than 2,500 nights for the second day in a row. Executives say they'll need to cancel many more tomorrow.

Then, breaking his silence --


REP.-ELECT GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Did I embellish my resume, yes, I did. And I'm sorry. But I'm still the same guy, I'm not a fraud.


MATTINGLY: Republican Congressman-elect George Santos admits he lied about major parts of his resume, but wait until you hear how he explains his Jewish heritage claims.

And for the second time this season, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been placed in concussion protocol, hours after playing an entire game.


MATTINGLY: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Phil Mattingly, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin this hour with the winter travel meltdown plaguing a major U.S. airline. Thousands of Southwest Airlines passengers are still stranded, unable to get to their destinations. Some of those passengers, they've been trying to travel for five days or more, after a massive winter storm battered parts of the U.S. Southwest canceled nearly 2,600 flights today, accounting for more than 85 percent of all flights canceled in the U.S. and the company's telling passengers, expect more cancellations in the days ahead. Other airlines, they're not having these issues today. President Biden

tweeted this afternoon that his administration is working to hold airlines accountable for delays and cancellations.

CNN's Gabe Cohen begins our coverage with a look at why Southwest is struggling and what it's doing to try to make things bright for flyers.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The meltdown at southwest airlines just gets worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a total you-know-what show here.

COHEN: Southwest canceling more than 2,500 flights on Tuesday, more than 85 percent of all U.S. cancellations. And they've already canceled nearly the same total for tomorrow. Admitting this could go on for days.

Thousands of passengers stranded at airports, still hoping to see family or struggling to get home.

PAM SHELBY, STRANDED SOUTHWEST CUSTOMER: They said, keep checking back, because they said probably won't be anything until Saturday.

COHEN: Seventy-two-year-old Pam Shelby has been sleeping at Baltimore's airport since Saturday when her connection got canceled.

SHELBY: I doze off every once in awhile, but other than that, I mean, you know, I really haven't gotten any good sleep. I'm scared I'm not going to get out of here.

COHEN: Southwest blames last week's winter storm for the chaos, with flight crews stranded in the wrong cities. But the Southwest Pilots Association says there's more to southwest's problems than ice and snow.

MICHAEL SANTORO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PILOTS ASSOCIATION: The storm that hit last week was the catalyst to this. But what went wrong is that our IT infrastructure for our scheduling software is vastly outdated.

COHEN: Southwest executives acknowledge that in a message obtained by CNN, saying, quote, matching up those crew members with the aircraft could not be handled by our technology. Our system today cannot do that. We spent multiple days where we kind of got close to finishing the problem and then it had to be reset. So, they're canceling flights to help reset their systems and their crews.

The pilots union says the system is so old that the company is having a hard time tracking planes and crews.

SANTORO: They don't know where we are, they don't know where airplanes are.

COHEN: Travelers stuck in snaking lines or on hold for hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Calling Southwest, calling the airlines, nowhere to be found. I got hung up on multiple times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no option to rebook anything online. Oh, I've been on hold for -- five hours and 43 minutes.

COHEN: Customers trying to track down their lug and. Pam says she's diabetic and needs the medicine in one of her bags which maybe at a different airport.

SHELBY: Kind of scary, but I could do into a diabetic shock.

COHEN: Christmas with her family never happened. Now she's just trying to get home.

SHELBY: I love my family. And I really had my hopes up. That I was going to be able to see them. And it hurts.


COHEN (on camera): And Southwest tells me they are offering impacted customers a full refund or a flight credit. They've even created a website to make that easier, but in many cases, these lines to rebook are still hours long and the wait to reach customer service can be even longer.


Some travelers telling me the wait to rebook at this point, the delay, could be until New Year's Eve, even January.

And, Phil, the ripple effect now is that it's getting harder to book seats on other airlines, even to rent a car, as people try to find their way home.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, Gabe, a great window into the fact this is more than just a frustrating inconvenience. Gabe Cohen reporting live from BWI Marshall Airport, thanks so much.

Now, you just heard from one passenger looking for her bags. In reality, thousands of pieces of wayward luggage are scattered around the country. We see here in Houston, Las Vegas, and Chicago.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is at Midway Airport in Chicago, talking with passengers trying to find their suitcases.

And looking behind you, I think I know the answer to these questions. But are they having any luck at this point?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Phil, progress. But certainly not perfection, as travelers search through this sea of bags for their luggage. We've seen tears here throughout the day. Some crying, travelers crying, because they were unable to find their bags. Others celebratory tears, including one woman who I spoke with who found her luggage. She says inside, vintage skates linked to her childhood. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROLINE NICHOLE KIEFER, FOUND MISSING BAGGAGE: They're in this bag and I was just going to be sick if I lost them, because they're difficult to find. My daughter's were in there, too. So, I was excited to take her this week and go roller skating. So, I'm just really glad that we're going to get to do that and that they're not lost.

RAMI NASHASNIB, SOUTHWEST CUSTOMER: This is one of those moments where there needs to be federal intervention because this is just clearly whoever is guiding the ship has lost their way at this company right now, and they have completely bungled this in ways that have really caused great hardship to a lot of folks.


BROADDUS: And anger from some passengers. The Biden administration earlier today saying it will ensure airlines are held accountable. Meanwhile, back out here, you see this sea of bags. We spoke with travelers just a short time ago who were able to find their bags in this sea. And they drove 14 hours from Dallas, Texas, to pick up their luggage. Phil?

MATTINGLY: Unbelievable. Adrienne Broaddus, thanks so much.

I want to bring in Southwest Airlines captain and pilot Tom Nekouei. He's the second vice president of the Southwest Pilots Association.

Tom, thank you for your time.

Look, we've all tried to get our heads around what's actually happening here. Almost striking when you read what southwest executives have acknowledged in terms of this being a, largely a southwest problem, other airlines are getting back to normal, but this is something they should have been prepared for to some degree.

Is that a fair assessment?


And absolutely. It's interesting that our CEO and COO acknowledged that today, because just a few days ago, in an internal memo, the vice president of flight ops said this was a industry problem. So, I can tell you, dating back to 2016, that we sounded the alarms on the lack of IT infrastructure and there's documentation, communication between us and the company dating back to 2016, where we raised these alarms, and nobody's ever listened.

If you notice that our meltdowns are getting more severe and it takes longer and longer to recover from them. It's all, like -- listening to Mike Santoro earlier, he said the catalyst was weather. There's always a catalyst, whether it's air traffic control in Florida or weather, but if you look at our competitors, I'll take you United Airlines for, example, how they recovered right here in Denver from this, number one, they didn't have the cancellations we did. And then the recovery was extremely expedited. We're still recovering from that and canceling flights.

Right now, north of 15,000 flights have been canceled. It is absolutely an IT infrastructure issue and what we call reassignments. The software they use for that scheduling that reassigns pilots and flight attendants and the execution of getting those pilots and flight attendants to those airplanes is where this software and the company fails all the time.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, I mean, fails all the time, one of your colleagues at the union told CNN earlier today, quote, we're tired of apologizing for Southwest.

Why is the company making the decision not to make these investments that you've asked them to make?

NEKOUEI: Phil, I think -- I can say for myself, it's almost philosophical and cultural. It's ingrained in our history where we've done with less and less to get the operation completed from our inception, but it's no longer -- we're no longer that little Texas airline that was going between Austin and San Antonio and Dallas.


The problem is that they have -- if you remember earlier this month, we reinvested $428 million in dividends back to our shareholders. I am a shareholder, and I like that.

But proportionally we have not, in our entire history, put that capital investment back into the company. And -- but we've grown. We've grown to a 4,000-flight a day operation and pretty soon, the intent to be a 5,000 flights a day. But the IT infrastructure and our infrastructure in general, the tools that we're giving the pilots, the flight attendants, they have -- they're not there, so, we don't have the tools to do what we love to do.

We love our job, we love our company, we love our passengers. But the tools just haven't there and this is absolutely an internal problem that caused this with the reassignments that you get, where you get pilots and flight attendants out on duty that have never -- that haven't touched an airplane. The Columbus Day meltdown was a prime example last year. We had 33 percent of our pilots that were on duty never touched an airplane because they were reassigned in back on an airplane or stuck in a hotel.

And in 2023, those pilots, I listened to some of your passengers, the external customers, as we call them, being on hold for six hours, I can tell you that our pilots are on hold with the crew desk for four to six hours right now, and they can't -- and like many said, the company doesn't know where these pilots are. They are all over the country, some are driving in rental cars back to their homes and some are just stuck in hotels.

MATTINGLY: I admittedly can't really get my head around that as a corporate infrastructure, but you heard some of the passengers in Gabe's piece talk about the need for federal action in some way, shape or form. The U.S. Transportation Department says it will investigate what's happening. Is there accountability that you can pinpoint that would actually help change this if the company itself is not willing to do so?

NEKOUEI: You know, I don't know what the federal government getting involved, and if that's their purview, certainly, they can do that. This is a very simplistic problem to fix. Something that, like I said, we've been mentioning and trying to partner with the company since 2016 when we identified these.

And it is literally the reinvestment back into the company and infrastructure and better software system to be able to handle crew management or the crew scheduling part of it, and it is the addiction to reassignments, massive reassignments, when something goes haywire, whether it's weather-related or ATC-related. That's what's gotten us to where we are.

The pilots are willing to (AUDIO GAP). They just don't have the tools.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. It's a big problem. Captain Tom Nekouei, appreciate you walking us through at Southwest Airlines Pilot Association. Thanks so much.

I want to turn now to breaking news. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued -- has ordered Title 42 to stay in place while legal challenges play out. Now, Title 4 is the Trump era pandemic policy which allows border officials to expel migrants either back to their home countries or into Mexico.

I want to bring in CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.

Jess, what are you seeing right now in what's been released?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Phil, we've been waiting for this for about a week now. The bottom line here is that where at Title 42 was set to expire on December 21st, it will remain in place indefinitely at this point, because the Supreme Court has stepped in to definitively say that, yes, we're going to initially hear side with the Republican-led states who were challenging the end of Title 42, and we're going to schedule arguments on this case to decide one of the issues here in February.

In the meantime, title 42 will stay in place. It was supposed to end, then these Republican-led states jumped in, asking the court to then jump in, the Supreme Court did jump in. And now the Supreme Court is clarifying here, saying we jumped in and we're also going to grant the Republican-led states request to hear this case and to keep Title 42 in place until we decide that.

So, the Supreme Court is scheduling arguments on this case not until some time in February. Phil, that means that Title 42 will stay on the books until likely March, April, may, even maybe June here. So, we're looking at a broad extension of this policy, just when the Biden administration thought that they would be winding it down shortly. That will not be happening.

The Arizona secretary of state, Mark Brnovich, has already gotten on Twitter claiming this as a victory. Because remember, these Republican-led states had petitioned the Supreme Court to step in and give them what they want, because they said that they would face irreparable injury if Title 42 ended, because they were expecting a surge of migrants.

So, they have won an initial victory at the Supreme Court. Title 42 will stay on the books until at least early to mid-2023, Phil.


MATTINGY: Yeah, it's significant. More for a very complex policy.

Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

I want to bring in Priscilla Alvarez, who -- White House reporter.

Priscilla, you and I have talked about this quite often over the last couple of weeks, as we prepared for this moment. We know the administration has been preparing for this moment, but they were preparing for a moment where Title 42 would go away. That's not happening now.

How do you ready what does this means broadly for a very complex, very broken system at this point in time?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it's a complicated political moment, too, because this is a policy that has been criticized by immigrant advocates, by Democrats, but that has been used overall of President Biden's presidency. Now, the administration had wanted this to end, of course, it was a lower court order that forced them to, but in their filings to the Supreme Court, they said that it was time for this policy to come to a close, because it was based on public health.

But as you and I know, Phil, there is some sense of relief within the administration, because there was concern that there would be a surge of migrants as soon as it ended. Now, we don't know where this is headed next, litigation is ongoing, but the administration has been preparing for weeks, if not months now, for when this policy would end. Meaning when they would have to process my grants the way we used to for decades. Whether it be releasing them during their immigration proceedings, detaining them, or removing them to their native country. So, the administration was putting all of that in place. They will likely continue to do that, that has been the stance of the White House this entire time, but they will have a little more time just based off what the Supreme Court said moments ago.

MATTINGLY: And I do want to ask Priscilla before I go back to Jessica -- do you have any sense that they will hold off on implementing some of the processes, some of the regulatory elements that they were working through, I think rather intensively, over the last couple of weeks, until this lifts? Or will they consider putting that into place even though this is kind of on hold for a moment?

ALVAREZ: Phil, I've been talking to DHS officials and White House officials for months now, and they know they have to prepare, because eventually, this probably will go away. It's unclear when that's going to be, but they are moving forward with their preparations, because also, migrants continue to move to the U.S./Mexico border. That is the reality. They have been facing for months now. And so, they need to prepare for that eventuality, whenever that may be.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, whenever that maybe.

I want to go back to Jessica Schneider -- actually, I want to go to Rosa Flores right now, who's at the border in El Paso, Texas.

You know, Rosa, you have been reporting on this every single day. You've been talking to people at the border that have been waiting in limbo for this moment. What are migrants saying about this decision?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a mixture, and I got to say, there's also a lot of confusion and a lot of misinformation. I just talked to a few migrants moments ago, because as you know, we just learned this from the Supreme Court. And there is a lot of confusion.

They're trying to figure out how it impacts them. And the big question is, if they're already in the United States, how can it impact them? And it actually does and here is why.

There are two sets of groups of individuals around me. And some of them are undocumented and some of them are documented. What that means is that some of them turn themselves into border authorities, they got processed, they got a little packet of documents and information that allows them to travel through the United States.

Others decided, because Title 42 is still not lifted, they decided to enter the country illegally. They are undocumented. They don't have that set of documents. And the thing is, even though they made it to El Paso, Texas, there are checkpoints, as you leave the border areas, all along the United States, where border patrol checks your documents.

I, for example, have to declare I'm an American citizen, whenever I drive off. They have to do the same. And that is their concern in regards to Title 42 staying in place. They are concerned that that might impact them on the way out.

But here's the thing: Title 42 allows for the quick expulsion of migrants to Mexico without legal consequences. And that is the key. These migrants are able to return back to Mexico without legal consequences. They can try again.

That's why we've seen such a huge surge of migrant encounters, because a lot of those are repeat encounters. People go back to Mexico, as they have been expelled and then they try again. In this particular case, and I talked to an El Paso official last night about this, they say that because of Title 42, they went from an unsponsored migrant problem in El Paso to an undocumented migrant problem in El Paso.

And what that means is, months ago, when I was here covering this issue in El Paso, there were people out in the streets, but because they were unsponsored, they didn't have family members in the United States to help them with bus tickets, they didn't have family members to meet them in other parts of the country.


Now, the problem is because of Title 42, because it's been prolonged so much, people are so desperate in Mexico and we know at least 22,000 people are in Mexico in three northern Mexican cities waiting for Title 42 to lift. They're so desperate. They are entering the country illegally.

That's why we're seeing a lot of this situation in the streets, according to one official from the city of El Paso, because they're so desperate. And now, Phil, they're stuck here on the border because if they try to leave, they might be apprehended at checkpoints.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. The ripple effects are extensive. There's no question about it and have very real life consequences for people.

Rosa Flores for us in El Paso.

I want to swing back over to Jessica real quick.

Jessica, this was an interesting decision from the court in the sense that one of the conservative justices sided with the liberals. Tell us how this all kind of played out.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, Justice Neal Gorsuch, a conservative, a staunch conservative, Phil, siding with -- and dissenting from this, siding with Ketanji Brown Jackson, also Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. He actually wrote this dissent in conjunction with Ketanji Brown Jackson.

This has been -- and Justice Gorsuch touches on just how contentious of an issue this has been because this has been winding its way through the courts for many months now. And at the last minute, the 11th hour here, these Republican-led states have sought to intervene. They did it just a couple weeks ago when they didn't like a decision from the D.C. Circuit and the D.C. District Court in Washington and they immediately went to the Supreme Court.

And Justice Gorsuch here is saying that the states really shouldn't be allowed to intervene here. This was a policy, Title 42, that was put in place because of COVID in early 2020. It has sort of run its course. And Justice Gorsuch is saying here that, you know, the states here contend that they face an immigration crisis at the border and that's why Title 42 should remain in effect. All the while, Justice Gorsuch is stressing Title 42 was only put into effect because of COVID.

And at the end here, Justice Gorsuch says, and courts should not be this the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency, saying that, they put this in place because of COVID and then in the meantime, administrative, state, all officials have failed to address the immigration crisis, and he contends that's the only reason Republican-led states are stepping in now, because nothing has been done about the immigration crisis and the courts shouldn't be used in this way.

So, very interesting, Phil, that that very conservative justice, Neil Gorsuch, is in joining in this dissent with Ketanji Brown Jackson. He would have denied this application, as with the three other liberal justices here. But the bottom line is that Title 42 will stay into effect. The states will get to make their case before the Supreme Court.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, I'm mercifully not a lawyer, but he has a pretty good point about the complexities and inability to get anything substantive on a legislative basis when it comes to immigration.

Jessica Schneider, thanks so much for keeping us up to speed on the breaking news.

We're going to keep following that major news when it comes to Title 42.

Plus, the snow is done, but there is a new threat looming over Buffalo, New York, as temperatures start to rise after that deadly blizzard.



MATTINGLY: The death toll from the once in a generation blizzard has risen to at least 28 people in Erie County, New York.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Buffalo.

And, Miguel, the city still has a driving ban in effect. What are you seeing on the ground there?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we are seeing the very last bits of the snow. This is the last band to come across before the temperatures start to heat up a little bit.

I want to show you downtown desolate Buffalo right now. And it is desolate. Lots of roads are plowed, but officials want to get into not only cars that are abandoned, but homes and other areas to figure out if anybody might still be out there that they have not found. They are concerned that that death toll may go higher.

Officials begging people for now to stay off the roads.


MARK POLONCARZ, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: One hundred military police are being brought in, as well as additional troops from the New York State Police Department, are coming in to manage traffic control, because it has become so evident that too many people are ignoring the ban. At the same time, they're trying to remove abandoned vehicles and

people are trying to drive around in little Honda civics or -- the report that came from my department of public works, the vehicle that was stuck on ridge road was a Camaro.


MARQUEZ: Camaros and snow do not go together.

The other problem that Buffalo has right now is not just the snow, but tomorrow, it's going to be up around 40 degrees. Thursday, up over 40 degrees. By Friday, 50 and raining.

They're concerned with all this snow blocking the drains. Flooding is going to be a real issue here -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, just -- seems to compound a little bit.

Miguel Marquez, good work as always. Thanks so much.


MATTINGLY: Now, incoming Republican Congressman George Santos is finally breaking his silence, and he admits he lied about a lot of things but insists, don't call him a fraud.



MATTINGLY: In our politics lead, Republican Congressman-elect George Santos of New York is admitting to lying about his background and falsifying key parts of his resume, but he's insisting he's not a criminal and says he will take his seat in the next Congress, despite growing calls for his resignation.

But as CNN's Eva McKend reports, many questions remain about that history he's owning up to right now.



REP.-ELECT GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Did I embellish my resume? Yes, I did.

MCKEND: And an apology.

SANTOS: And I'm sorry. And it shouldn't be done.

MCKEND: After a week of controversy, Congressman-elect George Santos fessing up to lying on the campaign trail about parts of his resume, as he seeks to minimize and defend the extent of his tall tales on everything from his education and work history, to his philanthropic pursuits and Jewish heritage. SANTOS: I apologize, if anybody feels hurt or betrayed. I will gain

everybody's trust back by just delivering results for them and making sure they do not forget why they voted for me in the first place, which was to get stuff done.

MCKEND: Santos has boasted of working for investment backs, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. He now admits he did not.

The congressman-elect claimed he received degrees from both NYU and Baruch College.


He now says he did not.

But he maintains he's not a criminal, and still intends to serve in Congress.

SANTOS: I'm not resigning. I have to leave Congress, it's going to be by a pink slip by the voters November of 2024.

MCKEND: And then there are the questions surrounding his alleged Jewish heritage.

SANTOS: We're no stranger to persecution. My grandfather fleeing Ukraine in the 1920s to Belgium, then fleeing Belgium to Brazil in 1940.

MCKEND: Those claims were contradicted by family trees compiled by genealogy websites, records on Jewish refugees and interviews with multiple genealogists. Santos now saying he never claimed to be Jewish.

SANTOS: I always joke, I'm Catholic, but I'm also Jew-ish, as in "ish." And I made that joke because growing up, I grew up fully aware that my grandparents were Jewish.

MCKEND: But CNN learning that Santos described himself as a proud American Jew in a document he shared with prominent Jewish groups. Santos now drawing the ire of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who says they were deceived. Santos will no longer be welcome at RJC events.

SANTOS: I'm not a fraud. I'm not a cartoon character. I'm not some mythical creature that was invented. I'm no Russian puppet.


MCKEND (on camera): And, Phil, while we're not hearing from Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, at least two Republican congressmen- elect who will also represent Long Island have voiced concern. With Congressman-elect Nick LaLota calling for an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, and if necessary, law enforcement, too. While Congressman-elect Anthony D'Esposito described Santos' fabrications as hurtful and imploring him to tell the truth -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Eva McKend, thanks so much.

I want to discuss now. I'm not pausing for emphasis -- I'm pausing because the idea of him being a mythical creature is kind of what he created, to some degree.

Alex, I want to start with you. He admits to lying, but his defense is that he did not commit any crimes. Do you believe that is an argument that is sustainable over time?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, as a legal matter, as a procedural matter in the House, yeah, it probably is sustainable that if he didn't commit any trims, he probably has a two-year term ahead of him. Republicans are going to control the House of Representatives. We've seen nothing from leadership or from his colleagues so far to suggest that they wouldn't be willing to seat him or they would boot him out of Congress for being, yes, a fraud.

But if this starts to become a legal investigation, there are legitimate questions about his personal finances, about his campaign finances. If this starts to look like a public integrity issue, then yeah, I think that could look substantially different.

But, Phil, I think the really important context for this is, this is a tough district for Republicans to hold. They took it this fall in a localized wave in Long Island, where if they had dominated a cardboard cutout of a Republican, he probably would have won that seat and boy they wish they nominated that cutout now.

MATTINGLY: He talked about a pink slip in 2024, the only way he leaves. Just kind of wandering his way right into that.

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, ILLINOIS: He's an utter fraud, Phil. The Republican caucus should treat him like a pariah. In the before times, they would have, but they won't now.

But this really needs to be said. This isn't surprising. I mean, in a party led by Donald Trump, who in essence lies almost every time he opens his mouth, it's not surprising that Republican candidates and Republican elected officials, I mean, they learned from him. They learned from him.

MATTINGLY: Well, and I think, to some degree, that's the lesson to take away. Don't ever apologize, don't admit anything is wrong and keep pushing forward.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, this is the Trump effect. You can do pretty much anything. And what Donald Trump came in, he started, as soon as he became president, he was doing it before he became president, but he started doing all these things that weren't against the law, but they were things that people didn't do, right? So, it started to be this kind of thing, well, it's not illegal, yeah, but it's not really ethical or okay or acceptable behavior.

And it was just -- well, I'm going to do it and who is going to hold me accountable? I don't know what to make of this guy. Where he has lied -- even -- he calls them embellishments. That's not what that word means, right?

It's like embellishment is, like, dressing it up a little. These are just lies. They're just flat-out lies. What kind of person just makes up all these things -- also that are easily verifiable, right? He was going to get found out.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: The difference between what's happening here and Donald Trump is he acknowledged that these things were not true. He's just saying that he should still be allowed to take his seat in Congress and that he didn't do anything that was criminally wrong, but going back to the point that you were making about what a difficulty it might be for Republicans to win this seat again, that is a seat that had been held by Democrats for roughly ten years before Republicans flipped it in the last election.


So, if a special election were to be held, there is a substantial reason to believe that Democrats would take that seat back. Now, that wouldn't change whether Republicans control the House of Representatives or not, but certainly if you're Kevin McCarthy and you're looking at the situation, you're already facing difficulty with your majority, it's not hard to see from that circumstance from a political standpoint why he hasn't spoken out.

POWERS: Can I just say though? I don't think he has said that he didn't do these things, because he said -- he hasn't admitted that they're lies. He's calling them embellishments. He says people embellish their resumes. And so, he's portraying these things as embellishments. So, that's not what they are.

He didn't exaggerate, like, I was a really good student or something at this school. Like, he --

WALSH: He's pushing back like Trump taught them how to do. And remember the context. The former president is still lying about the 2020 election. Most of the party still believes that lie. This is just not surprising.

MATTINGLY: Can I ask you -- what I'm struck by, look, a lot of this is kind of funny, more of it is completely absurd. The comments and clear lies about his heritage and his faith, I think, have much longer range here, particularly inside that caucus, you have the RJC, obviously coming out very strongly.

I want to read the Republican chair of New York's Nassau County, which encompasses part of Santos' district, released damning statement, saying, quote, I expected more than just a blanket apology. The damage that his lie lies have caused by the Holocaust are profound.

Santos tried to explain this by saying he's Jew-ish. I'm sorry, that's not funny.

BURNS: No, it's not. I mean, candidly, I say this as a Jewish person, it's a little bit funny, right? MATTINGLY: Okay, I'll grant you that.

BURNS: But I'm not Jewish, I'm Jew-ish, you can't write this. But apparently somebody did.

I think a lot of Republicans were sort of waiting. He said last week, I'm going to have more to say on this soon, and I think a lot of Republicans expected it to be more like, you know what, you got me, I made it all up, that there would be some kind of tearing of the shirt to explain what on earth happened here.

But the reason, look, Eva explained this in her report, the reason why you have these other Republicans on Long Island speaking out right now is that what Republicans accomplished there in this election is not sustainable in a world where they start to be seen as this party that trivializes these lies about Jewish heritage that are very, very close to home to a lot of people who live up and down that stretch of New York state.

And if I were to point to one part of this story, part of the reason why he could hang on here, right, is that there's nothing in here that is a sort of red card offense in the vein of just totally indefensible, how could you possibly let this person serve in public office -- yet. But if you're the Republican Party and you are trying to make even incremental gains with Jewish voters and voters who know you Jewish voters in the suburbs around major cities like New York -- boy, it's a tough stuff to tolerate.

CHAMBERS: And there's a huge difference, as you said before, between talking about your resume and saying something like that. That is when it becomes a very serious problem for the Republican Party. Absolutely.

MATTINGLY: Hhow much do you think -- we have not heard from Kevin McCarthy yet about this. It's not overly surprising. He's dealing with a four-seat majority and can't afford to lose people at this point in time, but to Alex's point, this is a majority that was made by New York, right? Made by Republicans in the new maps that were able to win seats they probably wouldn't be able to in a presidential year.

How cognizant do they have to be of that fact in this?

WALSH: It's a big deal. I don't think you'll hear from McCarthy until after the fight to become speaker is over, but I agree with Alex. McCarthy ought to come out and support a Republican to run against him in two years.

MATTINGLY: Kirsten, can I ask you, when you look at kind of the dynamics of this House Republican conference, January 3rd is the speaker's race, Kevin McCarthy doesn't have the votes yet. This is the story that right now everybody's talking about related to that conference and where it goes. How do they govern?

POWERS: How do they -- I mean, that's the million dollar question. But -- first, they have to decide who their leader is going to be. And the fact that you have somebody who -- MATTINGLY: Yeah, who is that?

POWERS: Well, there's somebody that wants to be the leader very much and who under normal circumstances would be, but he has to figure out how to manage a few people, basically, who are holding up his chances of becoming speaker, and, you know, my guess is he's going to reach a deal with them, if he has to ultimately give them what they want. He probably will, other than not becoming speaker, right?

So, I think that it shows it's going to be very difficult to govern because there's such a narrow majority, which is why he's not going to say anything about this, by the way. They have such a narrow majority and he's got a group of people who are willing to hold him hostage, and so, it's going to make it very difficult, if he becomes the speaker, which he probably will, to govern this group of people.


MATTINGLY: Since long ago, this was your conference. Very different time, but in the few seconds we have left, who is going to be speaker of the House come January 3rd?

WALSH: I think it will be Kevin McCarthy, after --

MATTINGLY: What does he have to give away to get it?

WALSH: Every inch of his body and soul.

MATTINGLY: Soul is more important.

POWERS: He'll do it.

MATTINGLY: Guys, thank you so much. Appreciate your time as always.

And coming up, we go inside China as international travel restrictions are about to be lifted for the first time in three years.



MATTINGLY: In our world lead, Chinese citizens who have been isolated inside China are rejoicing at last. China's plan to drop quarantine requirements for all international travelers beginning in January is a sign the country is moving toward reopening its borders to the rest of the world.

But as CNN's Selina Wang reports, this abrupt change is colliding with an explosion of COVID cases in China.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The world's harsh quarantine is no more, as COVID sweeps through China, the country is scrapping quarantine for inbound travelers from January 8, and promising to gradually restore outbound tourism. Since the start of the pandemic, China has severely limited who can go

in and out of the country, drastically cutting the number of flights and cutting arrivals into government facilities.

I went through multiple quarantines in China this year, lasting as long as 21 days. There is no choice where you go or what room you get. Once the doors close, you can only open them for COVID tests and food pickups.

Workers sprayed disinfectant in the hallways every few hours. Food delivery is not allowed. But breakfast, lunch and dinner are part of quarantine fees. All of that is soon going away. It a huge relief for Chinese nationals living overseas like this woman in New York City.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really want to go back to my home immediately. Right now I'm emotional. I'm almost in tears right now.

WANG: When is the last time you went home to China?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four years before. I lost several of my family members during the pandemic. I lost my beloved golden retriever. I feel like I missed everything.

WANG: How is your family doing in China?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Almost everyone got COVID. And they are suffering. My grandpa give me a video call, I cry so badly. At that moment, I don't know if I will get a chance to see him. He just got COVID and I hope he will be okay.

WANG: On Chinese social media, people have been sharing everything they've lost during three years of border controls, while they were stuck out of their home country. One writes: I received the bad news of my father's unexpected death while I was in a quarantine hotel but I couldn't go back to see him for the last time.

Another writes: because of the pandemic, I didn't even know that my grandma passed away and I heard it from my mother a month later.

This new change finally ends China's ban on non-essential travel for Chinese citizens. I feel like the pandemic is finally over, the travel plans I made three years ago may finally become a reality she says.

It's exciting news for potential travelers but at home, the country is struggling to grapple with the explosion in COVID cases.

DR. HOWARD BERNSTEIN, BEIJING UNITED FAMILY HOSPITAL: The hospital is just overwhelmed from top to bottom. There was no preparation. Like nobody knew. There was no stockpiling of medications.

WANG: This viral video of the southern city of Guangzhou shows a man kneeling on the ground at a fever clinic, breaking down and begging the nurse to let him see the doctor after waiting for hours.

Fever and cold medicine are nearly impossible to get at drugstores across the country. Antivirals are also extremely hard to get but in a major move, Beijing has announced it's going to start distributing Paxlovid to the community health centers in the coming days.

So, there's chaos and confusion. But with zero COVID in the past, finally, there's light at the end of the tunnel.


WANG (on camera): But now as China is finally loosening the borders, Japan and India are increasing restrictions for travelers from China. They're worried about the spike in cases. Japan's prime minister saying travelers will be tested on arrival and those who test positive will have to quarantine for seven-days.

Japan has also restricted its plans to increase flights to and from China. India has put in place similar COVID testing guidelines but still, there's just so much pent up demand from people to finally get out and travel, travel website Ctrip, Chinese travel website, said within 30 minutes of China making this announcement, online searches for popular tourist destinations from China, they jumped ten times to the highest level in three years -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Remarkable. Selina Wang, great reporting as always. Thanks so much.

And in our pop lead, she's the voice behind hits like "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" and "Walk On By." A new CNN documentary looks at Dionne Warwick's story.



DIONNE WARWICK, SINGER: I became very vocal and very public about with the AIDS issue based on the fact we're losing so many people.


Something got to be done.

ELTON JOHN, SINGER: She was definitely a hero of mine and a hero to a lot of people. She was really the first person in the music business to actually speak up about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The royalties for "That's What Friends Are For" changed the trajectory of the epidemic in America.

WARWICK: I did what I could do and that's the way I move to this very day.


MATTINGLY: "Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over" premieres New Year's Day at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

I'm Phil Mattingly, in for Jake Tapper.

Coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with the one and only Wolf Blitzer, more January 6th Committee transcripts released, what we're learning from the witness interviews.