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The Lead with Jake Tapper

McCarthy Confident He'll Have Votes To Be Elected Speaker Tonight; Biden Honors 14 With Presidential Citizens Medals For Actions On January 6; Pennsylvania Governor-Elect Shapiro Taps Al Schmidt, Republican Targeted By Trump, For Top State Elections Job; Ukraine Dismisses Putin's Call For A 36-House Ceasefire As "Hypocrisy". Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 06, 2023 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

It is day four of this protracted and dysfunctional standoff over the House speakership and for the first time this week, we are getting signals that we may, in fact, be nearing the finish line. Right now, the House is adjourned until 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

Just moments ago, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy confidently told CNN he will, will have the votes, to be elected speaker tonight. That prediction coming following a remarkable turnaround today for the Republican leader. McCarthy promised progress. He promised it Tuesday and he promised it Wednesday, promised it Thursday.

Today, we finally saw it, even as he failed on his 13th ballot. Fifteen rebel holdouts today switched their votes in favor of McCarthy, giving him for the first time this whole week more votes than the Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, but despite this break in the Republican resistance, six hardliners remain, Congress people Matt Gaetz, Bob Good, Andy Harris, Eli Crane, Matt Rosendale.

Andy Harris is not actually one of them. They had the wrong -- Andy Harris is not one of them. It's a different individual. In any case, the six are keeping McCarthy two votes short of the magic number needing -- needed to realize his dream of clinching the speaker's gavel.

Let's go straight to CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju live for us on Capitol Hill.

Manu, McCarthy won over much of the Republican opposition today. He's still short of enough votes to win. How does he get the final two votes he needs?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, right now, the top leaders are huddling in Kevin McCarthy's office, the speaker's office, he hopes to assume as soon as tonight. They are trying to figure out their final push here to lock down those couple of votes. I talked to Steve Scalise, who's the number two Republican on the way

into that meeting asking about two individuals who are central to the effort, Eli Crane, who is a -- Eli Crane, who's an incoming Republican member from Arizona and also Matt Rosendale, who is a Republican from Montana. Both of them seen as essential to flipping here as McCarthy's push to get to 218.

But there is a belief among McCarthy in particular that he has the votes. He told me yes, he has the votes. He said he will count the votes, he can count, he knows he's confident.

I asked about these two members specifically, he would not comment about them, but they have been concerned about the politics of supporting McCarthy in their individual situations. One, Crane, potentially facing a prime challenger and in the next cycle as well as Rosendale himself eyeing a possible Senate run in 2024. All those issues need to be sorted out tonight.

And also, the House is adjourned because they want two absent members who have attended to various medical family issues to return in time, Ken Buck, one of them from Colorado, flying back at 9:00 p.m. tonight. So they expect to have the votes by 10:00 p.m.

So, the next several hours here, essential to locking down everything that they have been working over the last several days. And, Jake, this deal that has been cut in order to get the holdouts to flip today is still being finalized. It has not been publicly released. We have some sense of what it includes, including giving them more power, more say over the legislative process, some key committee assignments and one major issue, allowing -- ensuring that a debt ceiling increase, to avoid a national default, must be included, must include spending cuts.

That is a demand that the hardliners have made. That is going to set up a huge fight with the White House and Senate Democrats in the New Year, a potential default fight that has never happened with the U.S. economy, but this is part of this agreement that was essentially was sealed in order to clinch McCarthy the speakership. So, that is a major issue that will play out in the months ahead. McCarthy now confident he will get there.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks.

Let me correct the graphic before. The six holdout are Biggs, Boebert, Crane, Gaetz, Good, and Rosendale.

Let's bring in Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah who has voted for Kevin McCarthy on every ballot this week, 13 times.

Do you have a 14th vote in you, Congressman?

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): Yeah, we got 14, maybe even 15, Jake. It could be what Kevin indicated is we might get there tonight.

TAPPER: Do you think it's going to go to two more ballots or just one more? STEWART: I mean, we really don't know, obviously. We haven't known

all week. I was on CNN yesterday, I think right after you and said I think we'll get there in the next day or two and I think that's true. I think it's possible we get there tonight, I would say likely, but I don't think it's the end of the world if we don't. It may be we have to have one more round tomorrow.

TAPPER: So, according to our math, assuming that Buck and Hunt get back here tonight, and that McCarthy holds the 214 votes he just got on the 13th ballot, he'll only need to pick up two more, or there are other ways it can be done with trying to get some of these rebels, these holdouts, to vote present, which would bring down the margin.

You think that one of those things is going to happen tonight?


STEWART: Yeah. I do. And, of course, I hope that they'll all vote for Kevin. It would be wonderful for the party and wonderful for unity within the Congress, if all of them voted for Kevin.

Look, some of these guys are actually good friends of mine, people that I respect, and some of them were advocating for rules changes and some other structural changes that almost all of us agreed with and we were glad to have that conversation. But I think we're talking to them now about something that's more than that. I think there's honestly probably an element of pride in this, in the sense you have to give people an off ramp, you got to give them a way to save face and not humiliate them.

I think a couple of them, maybe even more, are actually at the point where they'll say yes. I think that I can support Kevin. As you said, though, Jake there may be another option and that is maybe they just don't vote or they vote present. But either way, I think -- I think we're going to get there.

TAPPER: The couple you're referring to is it Crane and Rosendale, that's what we've been told is the focus of McCarthy's campaign?

STEWART: Yeah, and I don't want -- I don't want to characterize for them. It would be awkward for them and awkward for me and allow them to speak for themselves. But it could be there's others as well who are actually closer than some people think.

TAPPER: Oh, interesting. The big question among some Republicans who have been with McCarthy from the beginning are -- has he given away too many concessions that would set the stage for a rather chaotic reign as speaker? Obviously, some of the rules changes seem to make perfect sense, 72 hours from introducing a bill until voting on it. Of course, everyone understand that makes more sense than being thrown a 2,000 page bill and told to vote on it in 15 minutes. But there are lots of other provisions that could make it much more difficult to just do the business of governance.


TAPPER: Are you worried at all?

STEWART: Well, I don't think I'm worried. I just think I accept it's going to be difficult to be the speaker of the House with the four- seat majority, and particularly with the Republican majority. I mean, you have to give Nancy Pelosi credit, one way or another she kept her caucus in line. I don't know how she did it.

I mean, I genuinely have sat down with some of my Democratic colleagues in the last few days and asked how did she do it? For whatever reason, Republicans are more political entrepreneurs, and more willing to take a stand against their own party, against their own leadership, and I think we all recognize that. We saw that under John Boehner and we saw that under Paul Ryan, and it's certainly going to be true under Kevin McCarthy.

The question you have though, Jake, have we weakened the speakership to the point where what is an already difficult job is impossible and that's something many of us have worried about. I got to tell you, I don't think that we have. Honestly, take the one thing that people focused on or at least one of the things, is the motion to vacate the chair. Whether that's one individual or five, in a practical way, it hardly matters.

If there's one person that feels that way, there's almost certainly five. So, for Kevin to say I won't have five required, we'll go down to one, it was a bit of a concession, but probable doesn't make much difference. The important considerations are, does everyone in the conference feel like we were all treated fairly or do they feel like maybe some of these holdouts were treated with preference, and that's the one thing that Kevin has had had to be very careful of and hasn't stepped over that line. Because if he would have stepped over the line and made it appear like some of these individuals were given preferential treatment or preferential assignments that would have made others angry. Fortunately, I don't think that he's done that.

TAPPER: I hear you on the motion to vacate, which was in existence until 2019 when Pelosi got rid of it. So, it doesn't necessarily mean chaos. But something that your colleague Congressman Fitzpatrick expressed concern about, and I've heard from other allies of McCarthy they're worried about, is that putting some of these rebels on the rules committee, might make it so must pass legislation -- appropriations bills, raising the debt ceiling, et cetera -- will not be introduced on the floor of the House unless enough Democrats and Republicans go and sign a discharge petition, forcing it on to the floor of the house, and thus, forcing Democrats to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to basic legislation.

Are you worried about that?

STEWART: Well, once again, we've seen that happen in the past where the primary reason John Boehner retired, he was forced into the position because he couldn't get the, you know, his right flank to support spending bills, and he had to pass them, so he ended up having to get some Democrats to support them.

You know, that could happen again. I worry about a lot of things, and that's one of them. But the interesting thing, though, Jake, I think by having these -- some of these Freedom Caucus individuals on the rules committee, for example, which actually sets out the rules of how bills will be brought and amended on the floor, it actually helps that process once we get there because they will have been involved with it, rather than one of their primary objections they feel like these bills come to the floor and we have no input to them and then we're forced to support something we have not been able to influence in any way.


And I think that's going to minimize that. That's Kevin's intention and one that I support. Let's bring in some of these people who have been advocating for some of these changes and difficult to get to a yes on some of these votes, let's get them involved in the process and I think it's going to help them be more agreeable when the bill is brought to the floor.

TAPPER: One hoped so, I mean, they'll be the dogs that caught the bus, right?

STEWART: Yeah. We've done that in life, haven't we, sometimes, and a lot of us feels like that way in Congress.

TAPPER: Sometimes it works out, sometimes it does not. I hope it does.

Congressman Stewart, it's always good to see you. Thank you so much. We'll see what happens this evening.

STEWART: Thank you, sir.

TAPPER: More of the special coverage of this historic vote for House speaker not seen in more than 150 years since the civil war era. Marking two years since a very different event at the U.S. Capitol, how President Biden today honored those who protected and saved lives against January 6th insurrectionists.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back.

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy says he has the votes to become speaker of the House and whether or not that's true, he is closer than he has ever been before in his entire life. All that is left between him and the gavel is a 14th ballot which will be late tonight and a couple members' flights landing on time and two Republicans who have been holdouts flipping their votes or a few more than that voting present.

It gets complicated but that's what those guys make the government paid bucks for. Dana Bash, let me start with you, let's listen to what leader McCarthy

said just moments ago.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It's not how you start. It's how you finish. Because it took this long, now we learned how to govern.


TAPPER: What does that mean? Because it took this long, we learned how to govern? What did they learn how to govern this week?



TAPPER: What could they possibly have learned?

BASH: I don't know.

TAPPER: How to get to the vote I guess? I guess. Or I mean, there's so plane ways you can look at that. One way is that the sort of, I don't know what you call them, rebels, anarchists.


BASH: Opponents is very kind

They learned how to exact things that they want out of him.


BASH: Another way to look at it, and I am telling you this is going to be a big thing that we hear from the 200-plus who have been on the pro-McCarthy side these entire three, four days, is, there was no way they could let go because, again, it was not necessarily about Kevin McCarthy. It was pushing back and saying, we're not going to let you win, to the rebels or whatever they're called.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I have to say this because, you know, we just have to mark the moment -- Kevin McCarthy is a lottery winner. He won the lottery when he was 19 years old and he would win the lottery for a second time today if he becomes speaker. I do think what he did learn was, exactly who these 20 people are, right? Were they just people who hated his guts? How many of the people really just hate his guts, right?

TAPPER: Five or six.

PHILLIP: Five or six. The truth is, is that earlier in this week they really didn't quite know where those numbers were. How many people did they have on their hands who they could twist some arms to get to the table? How many people just would never deal with him at all? And I do think that's really important for him to know, as he tries to figure this out for how long his speakership might last. TAPPER: So we interviewed in the last 15 minutes, two McCarthy

supporters, one, French Hill, Republican for Arkansas who was basically like, I don't think we necessarily conceded too much, these are all good things, oversight and changing the rules, blah-blah-blah.

And the other one, Congressman Chris Stewart who was like, yeah, I don't know. This doesn't -- I'm really worried how we're going to govern. I mean, I think that's a good Chris Stewart impression without the beard.


TAPPER: He seemed kind of like, man, I don't even -- how are we going to govern with these rules?

HUNT: I don't necessarily think he's wrong. When I look at it from a reporter's perspective, I'm kind of like, man, I don't know how the next two years are going to go under this. This was always sort of my suspicion, I think when you talk about what they've learned from this process.

I mean, in theory, they learned how to get to 218 votes, but like, that's the project when you're in the majority. Get 218 votes and pass legislation on the floor. If doing every tiny thing takes what we've seen for the last four days for this Republican majority, it's going to be worse -- I had sort of anticipated this would be lurching from crisis to crisis from the debt ceiling to all these unpredictable things, I think what we've seen laid out this week is going to be worse than we could have imagined.

TAPPER: And, Jamie, CNN's Manu Raju is reporting Matt Gaetz, perhaps the leader of the rebels, the most virulent anti-Kevin congressman, walking off the floor of the House acknowledged McCarthy will likely become speaker, although he said, we basically -- he'll likely win, but we fitted him in a nice straightjacket.

GANGEL: What a way to start to govern. Look, I think to your point, the -- there are more of these members who are like Congressman Stewart. They do not know what was given away.

BASH: Exactly.

GANGEL: When we all sat down together the first time, a year ago, whenever that was, I think the word I used was ugly. This is an ugly way to get to be speaker. And I think we've seen that this week, but I think it's also going to be an ugly way to continue to be speaker.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is an ugly way. And Kevin McCarthy, he said it after he came out of there, that he has the votes. He said he has the votes and he can count. That's the big test, can he count? Is that the lesson he learned because to go back in time a little bit, his initial strategery misundersestimated the opposition by a lot, by a lot.

[16:20:09] You don't take something to the floor when you lose on 14 votes. You just don't. You negotiate beforehand. So, let's see if he's learned that lesson.

I want to come back to those interviews you mentioned, that's the fascinating part going forward. This is just about personnel who leads us. Now we have to deal with the whole host of very hard issues, a narrow majority, in a divided government, with a Democratic president, and a Democratic Senate, whether it's Ukraine spending, whether it's raising the debt limit, there will be more -- immigration issues and more, the governing conservatives, French Hill, Chris Stewart, Fitzpatrick on earlier. They want to try to govern.

They're willing to talk to Democrats. The question is, after this hostage crisis of the last four days, do they have any more room to do that? Do they have less room to do that? Is everybody bruised enough to say let's stop fighting an giving this a chance? We talked about the rebels and the holdouts and how they're anti-government -- how they're anti-establishment, anti-system, anti-democracy in some ways, realizing they're outnumbered.

The governing conservatives like French Hill, David Joyce, Congressman Stewart, they're thoughtful people, polite, Democrats are saying we disagree with it, Chris Stewart gave credit to Nancy Pelosi, how did she figure this out --

GANGEL: She does know how to count.

KING: There are a lot of thoughtful Republicans -- there are a lot of thoughtful policy-based Republicans who understand the predicament of divided government with a tiny majority who still want to do some things. Can they?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: We still don't fully know what happened behind closed doors and what the concessions are. We don't have a final list. We know what it looked like yesterday. We talked about how much it diminished the power that Kevin McCarthy will have if what he is saying does become true tonight.

We still don't know what that's going to look like. I'm curious which members it is he believes are going to cross the line because Eli Crane and Matt Rosendale the two we're speaking of I'm told are in the top three of the most opposed to Kevin McCarthy. What is he giving them? What is it going to look like?

Because when we've been speaking with people who are McCarthy supporters, they've said, he will still be an effective speaker but not going to be powerful. They wanted the power to be returned to the members. That is what a lot of them agreed on when they looked at this.

And so, a lot of these people, you know, Abby was saying, a lot of them are new members, a lot of them, even if not new members, have never been in the majority before and don't know what that looks like. That will also be this whole new world for them of where this is the easiest vote they're supposed to be taking. Look how long it's taking. PHILLIP: Can I play devil's advocate about how this played out

because there is some psychology in the Republican conference about voting against Kevin McCarthy. I think there were some people who needed to cast a vote against Kevin McCarthy to be able to go the other way or in the case of some of the six who are remaining, some might need to vote present. Some might never be able to cast a vote for Kevin McCarthy.

So, they're -- if you're McCarthy, you probably know that about some of your members, that you have to get to the votes, you have to go through this exercise as painful as it was, I'm just saying, I don't think Nancy Pelosi would have ever gotten to this point, but I also think he's dealing with a different crop of people here.

TAPPER: Let me bring up one issue, we still don't know what the concessions are, right. In the 1970s after the CIA accesses there was a church committee and they looked into CIA accesses and put guidelines and restrictions in place. There is a desire among the Freedom Caucus folks and the rebels to have a Church-style committee looking at the FBI and the Department of Justice. The big fear among establishment Republicans is that this is not going to be the Church Committee.

This is going to be an effort by individuals who have defied congressional subpoenas during the January 6th investigation, to actually obstruct justice from the, you know, with a gavel in their hands, from a committee. I mean, there are real fears here.

GANGEL: So, let's talk about one of them. Scott Perry whose phone was taken by the FBI, we have a number of people -- by the way, including Kevin McCarthy, who it appears is about to become speaker, who defied the subpoena.

The other group that I hear about is, there are supposedly still Republican defense hawks, Republicans who care about national security. They may have given up a lot of money --

TAPPER: Seventy-five billion dollars.

GANGEL: Seventy-five billion dollars in defense spending. How do they live with that?

HUNT: The thing with that, I will say it's not entirely up to them. Funding our defense department is a whole government, whole of government enterprise, that also involves Republicans in the Senate that is still not quite as far gone as the House of Representatives. So, I do think there's some questions about, you know, we'll see if these hardliners really actually won concessions that they think they did.


BASH: I also think it bears repeating today is January 6th and we watched earlier the president have that ceremony where he gave honors to people who defended democracy and maybe by the end of the day on January 6th, Kevin McCarthy will be speaker, but it was two years ago that some of these holdouts helped stage a coup, a violent coup, that almost took down this country.

HUNT: If he becomes speaker on the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection, I don't think we should let that go.

KING: Coming back late at night to finish their business two years later.

TAPPER: Yeah. Can I just go back to the defense thing for one second because I want to give the rebels credit for this, which is, I think it was Senator Fred Thompson who once said, nobody who has ever been to the Pentagon thinks that they couldn't have some of their budget cut.

HUNT: Have they not seen the "West Wing" episode where they throw the ashtray to the wall.

TAPPER: So the idea that they actually want to cut defense spending, which is really actually in their view, I'm talking about the view of the rebels, cutting money going to defense contractors, cutting money going to fund what Eisenhower warned was the military industrial conflicts, that actually is consistent with actual wanting to drain the swamp. It is.

And in general, Republicans and Democrats have been reluctant to touch that budget, especially Republicans, and I give them credit for that.

PHILLIP: Call me skeptical that this one sticks for a couple of reasons. First of all, Democrats would love what you are describing. They have been asking for that for a long time.

TAPPER: I don't see they would love most of these rule changes.

PHILLIP: That particular one, I think Democrats would be all for it. But, this is happening at the same time that Republicans in both chambers are trying to make the argument that Biden and Democrats are too soft on China, Biden and Democrats are not willing to fund the military enough. I just do not think, to Kasie's point, and as I've said before, McCarthy is giving away things he doesn't have the power to give away.

He's basically just saying to them, this is going to be our starting negotiating position, and if you are on the other side of the aisle, whether you're a Democrat or a moderate Republican, all that says to you is that this is where they're going to start and we're just not going to do that, we're going to divide and conquer, and move forward with another plan.

I think it just shows McCarthy's weakness, it he shows his hand, and I don't think it's going to be that hard for a lot of Republicans in the House or Senate to steamroll over that.

HUNT: On the defense question, I think I take your point about the defense contractors and overspending, et cetera, I think this is more about the kind of isolationist stream we've seen in the populist Republican Party than it is about anything else.

TAPPER: You don't think it's about the swamp. It's like we don't need a big military because we don't need to be overseas.

HUNT: Right. It has more to do with the fact that there are a love Trump supporters in the populist wing of the GOP who just want -- and this has been a strain in American public life for over a century, right, just get us out of there, we don't want to be involved, the Rand Pauls of the world.

So I think that's a little bit of what it is and that's a huge ideological divide inside the Republican Party.

TAPPER: Oh, sure.

HUNT: It's still a hawk wing in the Republican Party and that's why I think people have focused on this as something that McCarthy may have steamed have given away and angered a significant important chunk much people who have been supporting him so far.

GANGEL: Could I ask Kaitlan? We have not said the "T" word, Donald Trump.

COLLINS: I was thinking, should I bring it up?

TAPPER: Do it.

COLLINS: If this goes according to Kevin McCarthy's plan, and he does ultimately become House speaker in a few hours, Trump will come in and take credit. I don't think that would surprise any person on this panel.

It is worth noting we he said earlier, Trump was calling some of the holdouts this morning and I imagine he's on the phone with some of them now. He's not the reason their votes were changed. It was the --

BASH: That's an important point, though.

COLLINS: -- backdoor negotiations and we're going to ask, you know, what were the concessions, what does it look like, when we find out once this is passed.

Trump did not have the influence he sought to have. If he had, what's happening today would have happened on Tuesday, and it didn't. It took much longer.

So, I do think that's part of this. Trump is still a factor in this, of course, he did have influence on this, I'm not saying his influence overall is diminished, but in this we saw it changed.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all for being here. Really appreciate it.

Now we're going to go to the end, the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Biden, marking two years since the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: More of our politics lead now. President Biden today marking the second anniversary of the January 6th insurrection with a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. President Biden awarding the Presidential Citizens Medal to 14 individuals whom he said played a key role protecting democracy both on January 6th at the Capitol and also in actions taken to protect the integrity of the 2020 elections.

CNN chief White House correspondent Phil Mattingly joins me now.

Phil, the juxtaposition of the White House observing January 6th while House Republicans edge closer and closer to electing a speaker who was part of the big lie that led to January 6th, it's pretty remarkable.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. And a number of the insurgents, some of those who have flipped their votes, voted against certifying the election. Many of them were key players in the efforts to spread former President Trump's lie and perpetuate that lie in the course of the lead up to January 6th.


And while the president did not mention at all what's happening on the House floor, it is just very clear how these things tie together. There is a thread here, and it actually gets to the idea that the president was trying to convey today during his remarks, and the real effort to elevate these 14 individuals. These were not just individuals from the day, from the attack on the Capitol. There were certainly law enforcement officials who received these medal, but this is about the thread and the lead up to January 6th, starting with the election, starting in the days following the election, and all the way through, a thread that when you talk to officials when you speak to the president about this, he makes it clear that goes back further than that. It is something that needs to be addressed on the whole.

And to some degree, when you listen to the president's words today, he acknowledged not only is this about making sure the American people understand who these individuals were and what they did and just how at risk the country was in that moment, but is trying to ensure it never happens again. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On this date two years ago, we were reminded about the most fundamental of things, democracy itself. As I've said before, we faced an inflection point. January 6th is a reminder that there's nothing guaranteed about our democracy.


MATTINGLY: And, Jake, I think to some degree, what you hear in that is the idea that even though when you talk to White House officials, they feel like a corner is being turned to some degree, maybe the fever is breaking, not for the most hard-core believers and what happened on January 6th and what the former president has pitched to some degree, but more broadly as a country something they think the midterm elections helped kind of lock in, however this is very clearly and you just need to look on the House floor to see it, very much something that's that still exists and can still come back with full force. That's what the president was trying to underscore today.

Ruby Freeman, the Atlanta election worker who received one of the awards she was attacked by the former president on Truth Social just a few days ago once again.

TAPPER: Yeah. Phil Mattingly at the White House, thanks so much.

One of those awarded today for not yielding to Pressure from Trump and his mignons to alter the outcome of the 2020 election is poised to play a new bipartisan role in a key battleground state and he will join me next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Incoming Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro announcing that he is tapping Republican Al Schmidt to become secretary of the commonwealth, the secretary of state for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That's also the top elections official in Pennsylvania. Schmidt, as you may recall, was a leading opponent of Trump's efforts to disrupt and delay and stop the counting of votes in the 2020 election and his efforts to overturn the election.

And Commissioner Schmidt joins me now.

Commissioner, first of all, let's start with the reason why I'm talking to you and you're in the White House on the North Lawn. You received the Presidential Citizens Medal from president Biden for your efforts, your heroic efforts, during the aftermath of the 2020 election and the efforts to count the votes of every Philadelphian.

You are -- were a strong supporter of John McCain and strong supporter of Mitt Romney.

Is it unusual for yourself to -- to find yourself there with a Democratic president?

AL SCHMIDT (R), FORMER PHILADELPHIA CITY COMMISSIONER: I have to say it's just such an incredible honor, and not just to receive it, but really to know that I'm receiving it as a representative of all of the hardworking election officials across our country, Democrats and Republicans, in big cities an rural counties, that make sure our democracy function. When democracy is done right, it's not Democratic and it's not Republican. So for me, it doesn't seem strange at all.

TAPPER: So there's an interesting split screen going on, because while you were literally fighting for the right of my mom's vote to count in the Pennsylvania election in 2020, individuals like Scott Perry, the Republican congressman from a different part of Pennsylvania, was exacting concessions from Kevin McCarthy in order to become -- in order for McCarthy to become speaker of the House, even though Perry was a big part of the scheme to overturn the election and voted against counting the electoral votes from Pennsylvania. So this fight doesn't seem quite done to me.

SCHMIDT: Yes. And I think, you know, so many of us, including myself, probably took the strength of our democracy and our republic for granted and 2020 and January 6th and the events that we've seen since then, have really, I think, been a wake-up call for the need for all of us to do our part to strengthen democracy, Democrats and Republicans alike.

TAPPER: You've described receiving death threats and angry messages from Trump supporters for your role in the 2020 election. And yet, you are putting yourself back into the position of the person in charge of elections in Pennsylvania. I don't know that it's going to be any less contentious in 2024. Why?

SCHMIDT: Well, I truly believe in public service and the opportunity to work for Governor-elect Shapiro and to work in that administration and to work on behalf of the voters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a real -- it's a civic responsibility. So at the end of the day, it really didn't feel like a choice to make. If I can be of service, I want to be of service.

TAPPER: Are you ready for another round of death threats and being targeted by the likes of Donald Trump, who is the only Republican as of right now who said he's running for election for president in 2024?


SCHMIDT: Well, at least right now, I have the curious luxury of having been through all of that in 2020, and my family, obviously, did as well, but they're big believers in public service as well and are truly just completely supportive of this effort. Hopefully, we won't see any of that in the future, and we have to do everything we can to prevent any opportunities for bad faith actors to undermine the strength of our democracy.

TAPPER: So it's interesting because Josh Shapiro was running against Doug Mastriano who was present at the January 6th protest, he was an election liar, there was a whole bunch of stuff I could say about him, but one of the big fears was that the governor of Pennsylvania appoints the secretary of state, the secretary of the commonwealth, thankfully he didn't win, an election liar didn't win.

What did you think when the Democratic governor called you, a Republican, the governor-elect, Josh Shapiro, called you, a Republican, and said do you want to be my secretary of the commonwealth?

SCHMIDT: Well, although we might be registered in different parties, there's nothing during the campaign at all that the governor-elect expressed as part of that campaign. There was no daylight between that perspective on democracy and the needs to improve it and improve voter access and improve the integrity of the process from my perspective at any point prior to that. So it's a real -- it's a real honor to serve Governor-elect Shapiro.

TAPPER: Have you been sworn in yet?

SCHMIDT: No, not yet. The incoming governor will be sworn in on the 17th of January.

TAPPER: OK. I just didn't know if I should say thank you to Commissioner Schmidt or thank you to Secretary Schmidt. I will say thank you to Commissioner Schmidt. I hope your Eagles win this weekend. Thanks so much.

SCHMIDT: Thank you.

TAPPER: This note, CNN is going to air a special presentation of the Discovery Plus original film called "January 6th". That is tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern.

Other big news this hour, the strike given Ukraine reason to dismiss Russia's claims of a ceasefire.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, Ukraine claims that Russia is still launching air strikes against them, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering a temporary cease-fire in honor of orthodox Christmas. It's a cease-fire that has been dismissed by both the U.S. and Ukraine.

As CNN's Scott McLean reports from Ukraine, air raid sirens went off during prayer services today.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Christmas Eve in the Ukrainian capital, but orthodox Christmas, January 7th, leaves little to celebrate this year.

These men have known nearly a year of grinding war, with no end in sight. This service, led by the head of the orthodox church of Ukraine metropolitan, to pray for Ukraine's victory, this Christmas more than most, they need all the prayers they can get.

Russian President Vladimir Putin invoked Christianity when he said he would go along with an appeal for a Christmas cease-fire from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, a man openly supportive of the invasion.

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, rejected the ceasefire declaration as pure deception. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Now

they want to use Christmas as a cover to at least briefly stop the advance of our guys in Donbas and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized men closer to our positions. What will this bring? Just an increase in the death toll.

MCLEAN: Despite Ukraine's rejection, Russia claimed it was going ahead with a unilateral 36-hour cease-fire, though shortly after it began, CNN reporters on the eastern front line witnessed incoming and outgoing fire. No surprise to Ukrainians.

This cease-fire is a complete lie, she says. Putin said the cease-fire will take place only on the front line, and unfortunately we have to expect missiles in the rest of the country. Midway through the prayer service, air raid sirens sounded across Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine.

We don't trust their statements, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine says. The air raid sirens just went off during the service. They want to use the so-called cease-fire for their own reinforcement. We are aiming for peace and want a just peace, but this will come only when Ukraine wins.

In rejecting Moscow's cease-fire, Russia's former president, Medvedev, accused Ukraine of rejecting the hand of Christian mercy.

Can we say Russia's war against Ukraine is mercy? Any talks of mercy from the aggressor are nothing but a lie.

In Ukraine, there is nothing Christian about Russia's bloody invasion.


MCLEAN (on camera): And, Jake, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed, who was in Kyiv just as the White House announced a new round of military aid which includes the Bradley fighting vehicle. I asked Reed whether sending those might lead to the U.S. sending actual tanks, which Kyiv has also been requesting, but Reed said there is simply no connection there.

TAPPER: Scott McLean in Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you so much.

Coming up next, what to expect as House members now head for a 14th ballot in attempts to find a House speaker.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD.

I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, the notable ceremony marking two years since that deadly Capitol riot, and only one Republican showed up for the occasion. Plus, a murder mystery. Court documents revealing how police tracked

the steps of a suspected killer, even possibly stalking his victims before death, but why?