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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Tonight: House Votes On Rules Package Crafted With Hard-Liners; Georgia Special Grand Jury Finishes Trump Election Probe; Ukrainians Near Front Line Celebrate Somber Orthodox Christmas; 7,000+ Nurses Walk Out Over Pay Disputes, Staffing Shortages; Police Update Case Of 6-Year-Old Who Shot Teacher In Virginia; Buckingham Palace Yet To Comment On Prince Harry's Claims In Memoir. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 09, 2023 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Camila Bernal for us there in Felton Grove, thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: We feel for all the people out there who are dealing with that.

And THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Speaker McCarthy facing trouble uniting his party on a key vote tonight. Here we go again.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Republicans holdout setting the tune, this time from the establishment wing, balking over finalizing the very rules McCarthy conceded last week to hard liners to become the House speaker. Is this constant drama the new normal?

Plus, President Biden's upcoming meeting with the president of Mexico after visiting the border. Where critics say the true scope of the humanitarian crisis was hidden from his view.

And former Apache pilot, Prince Harry, dropping bombs, accusing his stepmother of leaking stories to help her own image, accusing British tabloids of radicalizing their readers with lies in order to hurt his family. What does the royal family have to say about all of this?


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start in our politics lead with the first test of newly elected speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy. In just a few hours, the House is going to vote on its new rules package. This will include one of the biggest concessions McCarthy made to the hard line rebels in order to get the gavel. That one-person motion to vacate rule, this means just one member of Congress can now force to remove McCarthy as speaker. McCarthy, of course, also made other concessions including, allowing

more Freedom Caucus members on the key committees that will decide what legislation will actually be voted upon. Caps on spending including, defense haws complained, the Pentagon budget, creating a special subcommittee to probe alleged weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI, although Republicans who might be targets of law enforcement investigations might be able to serve on that subcommittee. And another promise that Democrats are already calling a red line for them, pairing a vote on raising the debt ceiling with spending cuts.

Today, some Republicans are voicing concerns about the deal McCarthy made to secure the top House job.


REP. DAVID JOYCE (R-OH): I'm not the speaker so it should concern Kevin more than me. I don't think it's going to change the way we do business around here.


JOYCE: Probably not.

REP. MARK GREEN (R-TN): I understand the concerns on the right about addressing those issues, but at the same time, we've got to compete with China. We've got to compete with Russia.


TAPPER: We're going to start with CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill now where Congress is gearing up to vote on this rules package, which given that every Democrat seems poised to vote against it, it's far from guaranteed to pass.


RAJU (voice-over): After an ugly start to the 118th Congress and the longest speaker's race since before the civil war, House Republicans trying to prove they can govern, brushing aside their differences for now.

Think you guys looked good last week?

REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): No. But we're past it. We're going to look good from here on out.

RAJU: First order of business, organizing the House with a set of new rules, including a major concession Kevin McCarthy had to make, allowing just one member to call for a vote to oust him from the speakership.

Does that concern you that some members may take advantage of those?

JOYCE: I'm not the speaker. So, you know, it should concern Kevin more than it concerns me.

RAJU: A challenge for McCarthy, 222 GOP members. More than four defections could tank any party line bill. Already, at least one plans to vote against the rules package, citing McCarthy's deal that could threaten his hold on the speakership.

REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): If we can't get this right, it's going to be nightmare after nightmare.

RAJU: But the new House majority leader Steve Scalise defended the new rules.

There's a lot of concern it could keep instability in the speakership. What do you say to the folks who are concerned about that?

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): That's the way Congress works for over 200 years. Nancy Pelosi is the one who changed. We're changing it back to what used to be. And then ultimately, opening up the process.

RAJU: Yet in 2015, that threat push Republican John Boehner from the speakership. Later, Nancy Pelosi made it harder to seek such a vote.

Now, McCarthy forced to allow one member to speak put his speakership to the test.

REPORTER: How confident are you that you will have this job for a full two-year term?

MCCARTHY: A thousand percent.

RAJU: But when asked about the deal-cutting today, McCarthy would not weigh in.

What do you say to folks who are concerned about the concessions that you cut, particularly on vacating the chair?

To win the speakership, McCarthy cut other side deals with the far- right, causing concern in the ranks.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): We don't know what deals are made, and that's something that we should be transparent about.

RAJU: Among them, capping domestic spending in 2022 levels, something that could to cut defense programs as well.

GREEN: I understand the concerns on the right about addressing those issues.


But at the same time, we've got to compete with China. We've got to compete with Russia.

RAJU: Other concession concerning any increase of the national debt also cuts spending, raising the prospects of a huge fight with Democrats, and an unprecedented debt default. JOYCE: Well, it concerns me.

RAJU: All as the GOP is still picking up the pieces following Friday night's melee, when it appeared McCarthy speakers was stalled, one of its allies, Mike Rogers, lunged at McCarthy's foe, Matt Gaetz.

Could you explain what happened on the House floor on Friday night with you and Matt Gaetz?

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-AL): No comment.


RAJU (on camera): Now, House Republican leaders are confident that those rules package will pass tonight despite some concerns in the ranks. And assuming it is approved, then the House will move to adopt their first bill, a Republican bill, to pull back on funding authorized by the Democrats law to the Inflation Reduction Act, to bolster tax enforcement, provide more money to the IRS. They expected to pass as well.

And, Jake, the Republicans also naming new chairman to help drive the agenda going forward, just naming Jason Smith as a head of the Ways and Means Committee as a very powerful committee in Congress, a tax- writing committee, that Smith, a Missouri Republican, will now lead -- Jake.

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

Joining us now, newly sworn in Republican Congressman Mike Lawler of New York. I can't call you congressman-elect anymore. Thanks for being here.

So you supported Kevin McCarthy in his bid for speaker from the beginning, all 15 ballots.


TAPPER: McCarthy's had to make a lot of concessions in order to flip the hard liners. Are you worried about any of the concessions?

LAWLER: No. I mean, a lot of these rules were already negotiated over the last two months. The only thing that changed was the motion to vacate from 5-1, which I was willing to concede on long ago. I mean, at the end of the day, as Steve Scalise pointed out, that was the rule for over 100 years in Congress. So the person who changed that was Nancy Pelosi.


LAWLER: So reverting it back to the one and based on the fact it took 15 votes, clearly they can pull together five people if they wanted to.

TAPPER: Well, that's the only -- you're right in the sense that that's the only change that showed up in the rules that you're going to vote on. But there are all these other side deals that we don't know exactly what they are. They haven't been presented. We've heard some of them. For instance, tying any vote on raising the debt ceiling to some accompanying spending cuts.

I asked Congressman Chip Roy, one of the hard liners who eventually flipped to supporter McCarthy about this concession. I want you to take a listen.

LAWLER: Uh-huh.


TAPPER: If McCarthy fails to offer a debt ceiling bill that has offsetting spending cuts, if he offers what the Democrats in the Senate want, which is a clean bill, would you vote to vacate the speakership? Because it would now be able to be one person making that motion.

REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): Look, I'm not going to -- you know, I'm not going to play the what if games on how we're going to use the tools of the House to make sure that we enforce the terms of the agreement, but we will use the tools of the House to enforce the terms of the agreement.


TAPPER: Does that concern you at all?

LAWLER: Look, we have a conference of 222 members, inclusive of 18 districts such as myself that came from districts Joe Biden won in 2020. So, all of us collectively are going to have to work together. And it's not just the opinions of the Freedom Caucus or those that were holding out on Kevin McCarthy for speaker that are going to matter. It's all of us.

And so, my objective, regardless of the rules, regardless of, you know, what agreements there were, is to make sure that we can govern as a conference because that is what the American people expected. They wanted us to be a check and balance on the Biden agenda and the only way to do that is to collectively work together.

So as I will listen to and hear out my colleagues from the Freedom Caucus, they're going to have to listen to and hear me out as well.

Now, with respect to spending, let's be very clear -- spending from both parties has been excessive for a very long time. And there is no question that we have to rein in spending. And anybody who disagrees with that is honestly being dishonest here because we cannot sustain the level of debt that we have incurred in recent years.


LAWLER: You have to rein it in.

TAPPER: Look, the United States government spends considerably more than it takes in and that's been going on for decades. I think the issue is there's going to be a faceoff here, right? I mean, Democrats don't want to have a debt ceiling increase bill that's tied to spending cuts. And if there is the kind of showdown we saw in 2011 and U.S. credit is downgraded --

LAWLER: Right.

TAPPER: -- I mean, that could cost billions of dollars and hurt Americans' retirement accounts and really have staggering consequences. And I don't know of the 222 members of the House, that you're part of their conference -

LAWLER: Right.

TAPPER: -- I don't know that everybody understands that or cares.

LAWLER: Look, there's no question we have to pay our debts.


That is an obligation --


LAWYER: -- that we have incurred.

But the White House and the Senate must also understand that we are the majority in the House. And so there is going to have to be a coming together. There is going to have to be a bipartisan negotiation and it's not going to just be up to the Senate to say, oh, no, we just want a clean debt ceiling bill. There -- we have to get spending under control.

So from my vantage point, you have to work in good faith. You have to work with your colleagues. There's 222 of us. You need 218 to pass a bill.

So to my colleagues in the Freedom Caucus, they're not going to just be able to dismiss voices like mine and advance the ball forward. But the Senate and White House are going to have to work with us, too, and that -- and so I'm not concerned about the fact that there's going to be some hardball here, because you know what? Sometimes that's the only way you actually get the result that is desired.


LAWLER: You have to rein in spending somehow.

TAPPER: And Chip Roy said --

LAWLER: People are going to have to give and take.

TAPPER: And Chip Roy said on my show yesterday, he said, let's start the process now so there isn't this brinksmanship later in the year, but -- I mean, welcome to Washington. We'll see how that works.

LAWLER: It's not just Washington. Go back to Albany. Budget deadline, March 31st. They blow right by it for years and years and years.

You have to -- you have to force the hand here and I think everybody needs to come to the table sooner than later so that we can get serious about this.

TAPPER: Just a quick yes or no. Is the rules vote, is it going to pass do you think?


TAPPER: It is, absolutely.

Congressman Mike Lawler, good to see you and good to see you in person. Thanks for being here.

LAWLER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, a court filing today marking a key point in one of the many investigations facing Donald Trump. Could indictments possibly be next? What attorneys for Donald Trump are going to be looking out for?

Plus, new information coming this hour from police in Newport News, Virginia, after a 6-year-old boy shot his elementary school teacher.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: More on our politics lead now, the special grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, that's the Atlanta area, that has been investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election results in that state has been dissolved and is preparing its final report. That report could include recommendations for Fulton County district, Fani Willis, to pursue indictments.

Let's bring in CNN's Nick Valencia and Elie Honig.

Nick, walk us through exactly what happens now that the grand jury has been dissolved?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, their work is done but this process still has a long way potentially to play out. The special purpose grand jury has this whole time been told that they needed to create a final report and based on those findings, suggest recommendations to Fani Willis. That's the district attorney here in Fulton County. It's now in her hands on what she wants to do and whether or not she is going to take this to a separate grand jury to try to pursue criminal indictments in her investigation into alleged election interference in the 2020 election.

And, look, just because the special purpose grand jury did not have the power to indict didn't mean that did not have power. They certainly did have the authority to subpoena and that resulted in a number of high profile individuals, and the orbit of the former president coming down here to Fulton County to testify, names like Rudy Giuliani, the former attorney for the former president, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and the governor here in Georgia, Brian Kemp.

They all had to testify just to name a few. Many of these people I mentioned did not want to show up here and were ordered to, effectively coming down here kicking and screaming.

And while this investigation started with the now infamous phone call shortly after the 2020 election between the former president and secretary of state here in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, during which Trump pressured Raffensperger to find votes, it really broadened out in scoop of the many months that the special purpose grand jury was hearing testimony to include things like a fake electors scheme, during which Trump allies try to subvert the Electoral College to try to certify him as the rightful winner in Georgia. They were also interested in what Rudy Giuliani said in his statements both virtually and in person to Georgia lawmakers. In fact, he was said to be a target of this investigation.

There were even, also I should say, looking at unauthorized access to voting machines in Coffee County. Bottom line, Jake, here is Fani Willis is going have to decide what she does next and we don't know the timeline of when that will happen, Jake.

TAPPER: Elie, one of the questions going forward is whether the special grand jury's report will be even released to the public. Is that something that's normally done? Ands given that so much of this grand jury's activities, so far, has been in the public eye, would you expect it in this case at least to be released?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, Jake, it's highly unusual for a grand jury report to be released to the public at this point. And I think any responsible, ethical, focused prosecutor has to object to that.

First of all, this is a grand jury proceeding. By rule, it is supposed to happen confidentially, except for an extraordinary circumstances.

Second of all, you don't want to show your playbook to the other side as prosecutor. If this report comes out, the whole world is going to know who their witnesses are, what they said, what investigative tacks they're saying.

And, finally, Jake, as a prosecutor, you have an obligation to protect their reputation, the rights of people who are being investigated as a prosecutor, people who are being accused. But they have not yet been indicted and don't have a chance to defend themselves. You do have to take that into account and put out a report with all these negative findings, but not an indictment at this point I think would harm those interests.

TAPPER: Right, and it's a lower standard to the investigators, or to be indicted than to be found guilty. You say the special grand jury's report will be a bit of a legal fiction. What does that mean? HONIG: Yeah. So, the report itself, I'm sure, I will give the benefit of the doubt, will be based on fact. But the notion that the grand jury is some sort of independent, freestanding finder of fact is a legal fiction. This is a one-sided proceeding. I have spent plenty of time in grand juries.

The only people allowed in that room are the grand jurors, the witnesses, and prosecutors. It's supposed to be a one-sided proceeding. It is one-sided. There is no defense presence. There is no defense argument. There is no cross-examination.

So, we need to keep in mind whatever comes out in this report, if it comes out, whatever comes out of this grand jury, this is a one-sided proceeding. It is not yet been subject to meaningful challenge or testing.

TAPPER: And do you expect indictments in the case? And, if so, does anyone stand out based on what we know about the individual possible suspects or defendants involvement in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia specifically?

HONIG: Well, I think just going by what we've seen here in the public, there is a substantial foundation of evidence for Fani Willis to seek indictment.


She's going have a difficult decision to make. Of course, this would be a groundbreaking charge. It would be a first ever charge against a former president.

But it's also important keep in mind, there will be real obstacles if she chooses to seek an indictment, because you're talking about a local county level, elected D.A. bringing a charge that arguably touches on the presidency.

So, if there's an indictment, I would look for Donald Trump's team to run right up to the appellate courts and the federal courts in saying, she can't do this. You have to throw this out, only DOJ can bring this kind of indictment.

TAPPER: All right. To be continued.

Nick Valencia, Elie Honig, thanks to both of you.

Turning to Ukraine now. See what the Orthodox Christmas look like in a region where Russia's called for a temporary cease-fire despite efforts that we see there in Ukraine. CNN is on the ground.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead. Quote, one of the bloodiest places on the front line. That is how Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy describes Bakhmut. That's an eastern Ukrainian town at the epicenter of months of heavy fighting.

Russia claims its forces bolstered by the notorious Wagner group mercenaries just to get control of the village just a few miles away from that key town.

CNN's Ben Wedeman takes us now to the front lines where Ukrainians marked a somber orthodox Christmas in an attempt at normalcy almost a year into Putin's brutal, unprovoked war.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was no peace, no silence in Bakhmut on the eve of the orthodox Christmas. The unilateral Russian cease-fire never materialized. The guns did not go silent. At one of the city shelters, residents gathered around a table with food and tokens of the holiday.

Tetiana, a volunteer, tries to raise spirits.

We wish you good health, prosperity, peace and all the best. She knows it's important to put on a brave face.

Even though it's raining and snowing outside, I'm smiling, says Tetiana. I wish people a merry Christmas. I try to show them it comes for my soul.

She did manage to bring a smile to the only child in the shelter, nine-year-old Volodymyr.

And his wish on this day -- I want this were a war to end in all my friends to return, he says.

For the adults, the gift under this tree is electricity to charge your mobile phones. And the wireless router connected to a satellite link up, allowing for a tenuous connection to love one.

To reassure them however they can that they are still alive and well.

And here, there is warmth in a city where public utilities were knocked out months ago. Yet, it's hard to feel the holiday spirits, says Andriy.

ANDRIY HERIYAK, BAKHMUT RESIDENT: It's so sad. It's a sad, sad day.

WEDEMAN: As the day progresses, snow begins to fall. The shelling continues.

Christmas Eve dinner is a subdued affair in this basement. Home, for now, to a few of the doctors still left in Bakhmut.

God bless us with strength, patience, and strength is Doctor Olena Molchanova's toast. But here, strength has its limits.

I feel pain, she says, because I can't do with my family. I can't sit at the same table with my mother and daughter.

Christmas morning, and no letup in the shelling.

For months, Russian forces have tried to take this city, but so far have failed. But in the process, according to one local official, more than 60 percent of Bakhmut has been destroyed.

At the Church of All Saints, priest hold mass in the relative safety of a crypt. Candles provide the only light and warmth in this, the darkest of times.



TAPPER: We lost audio from Ben Wedeman in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Our thanks to him for that report. It is one of the many perils of reporting abroad in war zones.

Let's bring in Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state, until recently, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, now the Democratic ranking member.

Congressman Smith, we've heard Republicans on your committee talk about more oversight on Ukraine aid.

The latest spending bill includes $6 million for oversight and inspections. Do you think more oversight is needed?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, I think that's one of the great myths of this discussion. There has always been oversight. People have talked about it and the need for it, but it's been there and we've seen the results. I mean, the weapons and support that has gone to Ukraine has obviously been put to good use. That's why the Ukrainians have been as successful as they have been.

So when people talk about oversight, oversight is great. We already have it. But then there are a lot of people out there talking about oversight who just are using it as an excuse to try to advance the argument to cut off Ukraine.

There's really no evidence right now that there hasn't been advocate oversight. The Ukrainians haven't made very good use of the resources that we've sent them.

TAPPER: Your colleague, the new chairman of the committee, Congressman Mike Rogers, he is going to be -- his first introduction to the country in many way -- was losing his temper on the floor of the House, having to be restrained from getting into a physical confrontation with Congressman Matt Gaetz on the House floor Friday night. We are showing the images right now of Chairman Rogers being held back.