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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Special Counsel Request To Fast- Track Trump Presidential Immunity Dispute; Detroit News: Trump Recorded Pressuring Michigan Republican Canvassers Not To Certify 2020 Election; U.S.-Israeli Hostage Confirmed Dead, Wife Still Held By Hamas; Border Authorities Encounter Record Number Of Migrants; Biden Puts Pressure On Mexico To Do More To Stem Flow Of Migrants At The Southern Border; California Startup Tests Rock Batteries As Potential Energy Source. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 22, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The U.S. Supreme Court just weighed in on Donald Trump's immunity case, what they have to stay.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Special counsel rejected, turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear immunity for the former president right now as opposed to later on. The decision as we learn of new evidence of Trump's alleged efforts to try and overturn the 2020 election, a recorded audiotape of him pressuring two election officials in Michigan.

Plus, an American hostage killed by Hamas. Seventy-three-year-old Gadi Haggai, the news broke this morning, making at least 54 Americans killed by Hamas since and including October the 7th. Is President Biden doing enough to bring home those Americans still captive?

And unprecedented number of immigrants coming across the U.S. border as President Biden makes an urgent call to Mexico to help manage the situation.


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

And we start today with breaking news that could and, and will have major legal and political implications when it comes to the 2024 presidential race. The U.S. Supreme Court has just rejected a request by the special counsel Jack Smith. Smith wanted to have them urgently decide the matter of whether Donald Trump has immunity for the crimes he allegedly committed while he was still president. Instead, the justices want the issue to play out in the lower courts at least for now.

This is a huge win for Donald Trump. It means that federal election subversion trial could be delayed. This ruling comes just hours after a story in "The Detroit News" which reviewed recordings that until now we did not know existed of Donald Trump allegedly pressuring local officials in Michigan to not sign the certification of the results of the 2020 election in Wayne County, Michigan. That's the most populous part of the state.

We're going to cover every angle of both of these developments starting with CNN's Katelyn Polantz.

Katelyn, walk us through the U.S. Supreme Court's decision here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Justice Department when they went to the Supreme Court said that this is an issue of great constitutional moment, in what the Supreme Court did today was they said, it's not our moment just yet on this.

We didn't actually see anything from the court substantially about why they're choosing not to hear this case at this time. But there are denying, they're saying we're not going to weigh in yet on this issue of presidential immunity, can a former president be immune from going to trial because he's being prosecuted for some things that have happened while he was in office. That's what Trump is saying that he should be immune from trial.

Ultimately here, though, the Supreme Court is very likely watching what happens, first of the D.C. Circuit, in just a couple of weeks. The D.C. Circuit, that's the intermediary court between the trial court and the Supreme Court. They're scheduled to have oral arguments already. They're already getting briefs in on this. They're looking at the legal arguments and they're going to make a ruling very, potentially very quickly in that because they're going to be hearing this case on January 9th.

And so, once that happens, then, it could be going back into other courts like the Supreme Court.

TAPPER: Right, and just to be clear, there's no way that the U.S. Supreme Court is not going to weigh in on the merits of the argument, not just the schedule which is what we're talking about now, but the merits at some point, right?

POLANTZ: That's to be determined.

TAPPER: Even if they decide to not hear it, they're weighing in on the merits, right?

POLANTZ: Potentially. I mean, that is going to have to come before them again. It's very likely that Trump's team would ask again because Trump strategy here is there should be no rush to trial, the court should do lots of things, looking at this, take the time the need, he doesn't want to go to trial in March.

And while this quest is still in the appeals court, he can't sit for a trial. But, you know, when it gets to the Supreme Court again, which is very likely to happen especially if Trump loses at the circuit, they will have to make a decision whether they want to hear this case.

And the trial court judge was quite clear previously. She thought this wasn't a close call. Nobody would give the president -- a former president an immunity.

TAPPER: So, Katelyn, stick around because I want to keep you here and bring in CNN's Joan Biskupic and also Marshall Cohen.

Joan, are you surprised that the U.S. Supreme Court made this decision and was it all nine justices?


How -- what happened here?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, Jake, first of all, they didn't reveal who voted which way. And there were no recorded dissents, but it doesn't mean there weren't some dissents around the table. An unsigned order, one sentence, it was a heavy lift for Jack Smith. I thought he made a very compelling case but he needed five votes, normally it only takes four votes to grant a case. But to jump over lower court, he need the vote of five of these justices. We know, we have a conservative super majority on the court.

The Trump lawyers really played to some of the Supreme Court justices fears. They said, first of all, if you come and you'll be acting hastily, wait for the lower court, but you also appear partisan. It's a --

TAPPER: Oh, I hate that. John Roberts hates that.

BISKUPIC: Yes, right, right, exactly.

Donald Trump's lawyer stressed that Jack Smith was all about the election year calendar even though Jack Smith never even talk about the 2024 calendar. I think that kind of thing could have resonated with the justices that they might have looked like they were favoring the anti-Trump forces by deciding it. But this is the highest court in the land. This is a question that's never been tested at all.

Does the former president have immunity from a criminal prosecution for a case as a special counsel Jack Smith said, it's all about trying to hold him accountable for actions he took to try to stay in office and defy democracy. So, I have to say, Jake, the more I look at the filings, the more I read into my thought, I think we definitely going to need an answer today before the holiday weekend, and I think this in some ways was predictable, and I just don't want people to think it was unanimous.

TAPPER: Marshall, the general strategy of Trump's strategies and any lawyer would have this strategy, is to try to get it dismissed, or try to delay. This certainly seems to fit in with the strategy of delay, delay, delay.

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Delay, delay, you've been hearing it all day and that's what carried the day here. But, look, remember, Trump's opening gambit for this case, he wanted the trial to actually happen in 2026, right? He didn't get that. The judge set it for next year, for April. But, look, he'll take what he can get, a little delay here, a little postponement there. That's also the strategy he's been pursuing in Florida with the Mar-a-

Lago case as well. Look, the underlying concern or fear is that this gets pushed until after the election, right?

That's an issue for two reasons. Number one, it deprives the voters of an opportunity to find out of one of the two leading candidates for office is a criminal, and criminally attempted to steal millions of votes to disenfranchise millions of voters, the words of Jack Smith. And number two, of course, if it is delayed past the election and if Trump wins, he could order the Justice Department to dismiss the case. And that would almost bring us into a constitutional crisis.

TAPPER: And, Katelyn, to be care, if the U.S. Supreme Court eventually does take the case, and if they ultimately decide Trump does have immunity for any criminal prosecution for actions he committed as president of the United States, what does it mean for all the criminal charges Donald Trump is facing?

POLANTZ: Well, in this context, even if the circuit, right, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decides that he has immunity, which they could, it would dismiss the case against him. That is what he's asking for.

He's not just asking the courts to look at presidential immunity. He's asking to dismiss the case because he should be immune from prosecution. And so, that's the question here. This case could get toss.

Now, the other thing to remember here, too, is that if the judges decide, or the justices decide that that isn't the case there is a presidential immunity and he goes to trial, or the Supreme Court decides not to weigh in, there's always the possibility that this could be something resolved later on that he could -- he could look -- want to look at later. But this is one of those very rare issues that appeals courts need to figure out for criminal defendants so that they can have their rights preserved before he goes to trial. There's very few issues he can actually take out at the Supreme Court.

TAPPER: Joan, does today's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court give us any insight into how they might ultimately rule on other matters before them, such as the actual immunity claim, or other issues such as the Colorado Supreme Court case, and their decision in Colorado that Trump engaged in an insurrection and therefore isn't eligible to be president and will be on their ballots?

BISKUPIC: No, I think that ultimately, on the immunity question even that is its own discreet question of whether a former president could be immune because once the Supreme Court could ultimately say is that, no, he is not that it could still allow him plenty of defenses before it goes to trial. So, however, the justice -- not a signal on the immunity question and even when they get that, if they rule that he must stand trial, there's lots of other ways he can fight things at every turn.

[16:10:02] And in the Colorado Supreme Court issue, I think it's a whole another ball game because that really is so novel. I have a feeling that's the kind of case for the justices that might be easier for them to reject that rather than in this case, how they postponed for now how they're going to rule.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all. I appreciate. It

Today's move by the U.S. Supreme Court is a big win for Donald Trump. But what does it mean for the appeals process that his team wants to play out. New legal perspective from a high-profile conservative attorney is next.


TAPPER: We are back with our breaking news coverage. The U.S. Supreme Court handing Donald Trump something of a win today, rejecting special counsel's request to urgently decide the issue of presidential immunity. That is whether Donald Trump has immunity for alleged crimes committed while he was president.

Joining us to discuss, conservative attorney, George Conway. We should note for full disclosure reasons, he's not a particular fan of Donald Trump.


TAPPER: So, what is your reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision?

CONWAY: Well, I want to issue a correction in your -- from your opening, and something you said in the last segment that this was a big win for Donald Trump --


CONWAY: -- I don't think it's a win.

TAPPER: You don't think so?


CONWAY: I don't think it's a big deal at all.


TAPPER: It's not a correction so much as a disagreement.

CONWAY: A disagreement, a friendly disagreement.

I think it's not a big deal because I don't think it's going to affect the schedule that much. And I think it actually shows the -- likely I think it shows the weakness of Donald Trump's immunity claim. And I say that as somebody, as Norm Eisen pointed out in agreement with me, I'm the only person in the universe who ever won a -- wrote a brief that won a Supreme Court immunity case for a president against the president. TAPPER: That was against Bill Clinton --

CONWAY: Bill Clinton, Paula Jones, yeah.

And so, the -- I can go through the -- how this works. I mean, we've got the D.C. circuit which has acted really, really, really fast in prior appeals. They've set this case down for argument on January 9th. I would not be surprised if we saw a decision from them in a matter of days.

TAPPER: Really?

CONWAY: Yes. I think if I were that -- if I were on that panel, and I were the presiding judge, I'll be right in the opinion now because I just don't think -- I just don't think there's anything there to the claims that Trump has been making. I mean, there's just -- I mean, I could go into that, but we don't have time.

But -- and so I think this case will be deposed in intermediate appellate court by the middle of January -- by the third week in January at the latest. And I think at that point, the stay, I mean, the mandate issues, technical board, they could just -- the stay will lift. And they can immediately start proceeding toward trial in the district court.

TAPPER: In March, as soon as March?

CONWAY: As soon as March. And what will happen at that point is the onus will shift to Donald Trump and his lawyers to go to the Supreme Court, go to the Circuit Justice, Justice Roberts, the entire court, and say, stop this, stop this train now.

So, all of a sudden, you're going to see a reversal, and Trump's going to say, you've got to move fast, you've got to move fast. And at that point, the Supreme Court -- they could stay the case. They could grant certiorari, they could -- but they're going to hear the case pretty quickly, too. And even if they heard the case and had argument in February or March, they could still decide this case by April or May, or even June. And this case could still get tried and the summer.

But there is another possibility that I wouldn't discount, which is this case is so merit-less that the Supreme Court could decide we are not going to hear it right now. We are going to deny cert. And I know, you know --

TAPPER: Meritless because your argument is, there's no way that what he was trying to overturn the election was in the course of the presidency --


CONWAY: Correct, and there's no -- the cases he relies on are civil cases and that just does not carry over to immunize a president from committing crimes against the very country that he's sworn to uphold the laws of. But to go back to the point, is they could easily just decide, oh, well, he got -- he got his crack in the court of appeals, we're not going to hear this case now. And what will happen is he'll still get a chance to go to the Supreme Court but after he's convicted.

And so, you know, like every other criminal who's convicted in the United States district court, he can have his arguments heard, the immunity argument and in the other argument after he is convicted and sentenced.

TAPPER: I want to also ask you about this Michigan story, that "Detroit News" reviewed a type of a call, part of the tape of a call from November 2020. Trump and Ronna McDaniel from the RNC were allegedly, according to this reporter who heard part of the tape, pressuring local officials to not sign the certification of Wayne County vote, Wayne County, the biggest, most populous county in Michigan. It's where Detroit is, Trump reportedly said on this call, quote, we've got to fight for our country, we can't let these people take our country away from us.

And the two Wayne county canvassers went back, and even though they had voted to certify the election, they said we're not going to sign the certification. The rest of the board said it doesn't matter if you're going to sign it, you already voted that way, who cares. As far as Michigan is concerned, this wasn't an official disruption of the election because they got their little too late. But that doesn't mean that Jack Smith might not try to find the state if it exists and use it to his ends, right?

CONWAY: Yeah, I think it shows, I mean, I think it's consistent with the criminal conspiracy and the criminal intent that Jack Smith is going to be trying to prove here in the District of Columbia. And I also think it's consistent with the conspiracy that's been alleged against all the defendants in Fulton County, Georgia.

And I don't think it necessarily has to be prosecuted itself as a separate crime. And there may be a problem with that because of that fact, as you point, out the certifications had already -- the approval had already -- these people no longer had the power to take it back. So that would present a legal obstacle.

That being said, this was enormously, enormously corrupt, the desire to pressure state officials who have a sworn duty to uphold the law, to violate their oath if they can, and -- I mean, you know, it's of a piece for Donald Trump. Donald Trump has done that many, many times in many, many situations.


And I have to say this as a former member of the Republican Party. I mean, for a political party chairman to participate in this, any normal decent party would fire an official that did what Ronna Romney McDaniel did. You know, this woman who changed her name for Trump.


TAPPER: According to "Detroit News", yeah. A Michigan law enforcement official told me, quote, to try to make this into a crime would be a stretch, based on the information and "The Detroit News" article, and assuming more information does comes out, not of this means this an unethical, egregious, and grotesque, unquote.

CONWAY: All -- check, check, and check. I totally agree with that.

TAPPER: George Conway, always good to have your views.

CONWAY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, sir.

Also today, major developments in Israel's war against Hamas. Why the U.S. decided to abstain on a U.N. Security Council resolution vote today, calling for a temporary ceasefire.

Plus, another American killed while in the captivity of the terrorist group, Hamas.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, another American hostage killed by the terrorists of Hamas. Today, the Missing Persons Family Forum confirmed that 73-year-old Gadi Haggai is dead. His body apparently is still in Gaza, while his wife Judy is still believe alive, held captive by Hamas. Gad's family says he and his were on a walk on the morning of October 7th when he was shot and badly wounded.

The family says Gad who had joint citizenship in the U.S. and Israel was a gifted man, a father of four, a grandfather of seven. He loved playing wind instruments and will be remembered by his family and friends for his sharp intellect. May his memory be a blessing.

Meanwhile, after days of delays, the United Nations Security Council finally got the U.S. to be willing to abstain on a vote, instead of veto its Gaza resolution, rather than outright it. Russia also abstained. And the vote ultimately passed 13-0. That resolution approved today calls for, quote, urgent and extended humanitarian pauses.

An Israeli official tells CNN that the vote was unnecessary but said he was grateful to the U.S. for its efforts.

CNN's political and foreign policy analyst Barak Ravid is in a very rainy Tel Aviv for us right now. He's also a political and foreign policy reporter with "Axios".

Barak, so this is -- it's not something Israel necessarily has to adhere to. What does this vote really mean for Israel as it's going to widen its military operation in Gaza today? BARAK RAVID, CNN POLITICAL AND FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: I think that

as we saw, since the beginning of this operation, Israeli officials understand that when you want to widen the operation in Gaza and expand it, this means you need to increase humanitarian aid. And we saw it from really from day one of this operation, and every phase of this war when Israel went to a new area, it also agreed to another U.S. request to increase humanitarian aid.

And as you can see behind me, it's pouring rain. So, when it's pouring rain in Tel Aviv, it's also pouring right in Gaza. And this means that it's not going to help that humanitarian crisis that is already happening there. And I think that the Israelis are very much aware that they're going to be under growing pressure to give more and more humanitarian aid to Gaza.

TAPPER: The U.S. was also hung up on the U.N. created monitoring mechanism for aid going into the Gaza Strip. The U.S. thought adding another layer of United Nations involvement could actually slow down the delivery of this critical assistance. Why would the U.S. be so opposed to this monitoring mechanism?

RAVID: You know, it's sort of, you know, a strange anecdote, the story of inspection mechanism, U.N. inspection mechanism. It was an idea initially that the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres put forward. But then when the U.S. started looking at it more seriously, and not just at a headline level, it realized it might not be such a good idea. And eventually yesterday, and I heard it from U.S. officials, it was the U.N. that came to the U.S. and said, you know what? We know we brought up this idea but actually we don't think it's a good idea anymore, so we need your help to kill it.

So, that's what happened with this resolution. And that will see some sort of new coordinator from the U.N. that will try and get more humanitarian aid in, but without some big mechanism.

TAPPER: Barack, today, a Gaza border official told CNN the director on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom crossing. That's between -- that's a crossing between Israel and Gaza, that director on the Gaza side was killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Now, the IDF insists as it almost -- always does that it was attacking Hamas militants and any other casualties were inadvertent. That strike reportedly temporarily suspended operations at Kerem Shalom. What does this tell us about Israel's intentions when it comes to the aid crossing?

RAVID: I think it tells us again that what we see in that last few weeks is that Israel's air campaign, unlike the ground operation, causes much more civilian casualties. And when Secretary of Defense Austin was here a few days ago, he told his counterpart, Yoav Gallant, more ground, less air.

And, you know, the Israelis are saying that, you know, everyone are Hamas operatives or they're doing everything to avoid casualties.

[16:30:01] I think we saw and part of it we saw in this case of Israeli hostages that were killed, that the Israeli soldiers on the ground, and I think it's the same for the Israeli air force, I think it's -- they are shooting a lot of things and not always it's Hamas operatives.

TAPPER: You have some new reporting in "Axios" today. Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada -- they sent a joint letter to President Biden to pressure him into strong-arming Hamas back to the negotiating table for a new hostage deal.

Tell us more. How did the senators want Biden to strong-arm Hamas?

RAVID: Well, they want him to forest strong-arm of Qatar. And they rode the president in their letter that Qatar is designated as major non-NATO ally. U.S. has bases there. There are many, many Qatari interests in America.

And I think it's part of what we saw since day one of the war. That Qatar is under huge scrutiny in Congress over its relationship with Hamas. And Senators Ernst and Rosen wrote to the president to tell him that you need to leverage the U.S.-Qatar relations, to tell the Qataris if they don't deliver Hamas back to the table for a hostage deal, this will have negative influence on the bilateral relationship with America.

TAPPER: The Israeli military officer charged with coordinating aid into Gaza claimed today, quote, there is no food shortage in Gaza, unquote.

But, Barak, I mean, that's not true. Every day we hear more and more dire warnings about widespread hunger. Are you surprised that this IDF official is just blatantly denying something that we all see with our own eyes?

RAVID: I'm not surprised at all. I think it's the same line we hear every war in Gaza and this time around, too. And, you know, let's just go to what we heard from the Israeli hostages who are held in Gaza, that they basically almost had no food. I don't think that situation of the average Gazan was any better. And we know that for effect.

So, you know, the fact that the Israeli military says there is no food shortages in Gaza, well, you know, I wouldn't trade with anybody in Gaza right now when it comes to how much food he has on his table.

TAPPER: Yeah. And we should also note, some of those hostages said they almost died and Israeli airstrikes and they wonder about how good Israeli intelligence about their whereabouts was.

Barak Ravid, in Tel Aviv for us, thank you so much as always for your great reporting.

Another crisis, this one at that U.S. border with Mexico, a record number of migrants coming into the United States, the response as President Biden calls on Mexico for help.



TAPPER: In our national lead, migrant encounters along the U.S.- Mexico border are among the highest ever recorded in U.S. history. A Department of Homeland Security officials is the seven-day average of migrant encounters in December, just December alone is more than 9,600 a day. That's nearly 2,000 more than what was recorded at the end of November.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is at the White House for us.

Priscilla, what's happening at the border right now, driving these unprecedented numbers?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Jake, there's always multiple reasons why there are surges at the U.S. Mexico border. And this case, it's happening against the backdrop of record migration across the western hemisphere, that got worse after the coronavirus pandemic. Then, took, there is transportation networks that will advertise travel to the U.S. southern border and smugglers who spread misinformation.

Take all of that together and this amounts to a worsening situation that officials tell me is bringing that U.S.-Mexico border to up breaking point. As you mentioned in December, the seven day average was 9,800 migrants. That's over November where we were at 6,800. And one more point of comparison, in 2019, at the height of the border crisis, encounters only barely rate 6,000.

So this is a logistical challenge for the administration, not only because of the numbers, but because it's happening across the U.S. southern border. So, multiple sectors are seeing more and more migrants crossing and that nationalities make it difficult to levy consequences.

And so, all of that puts the White House in a very difficult situation to try to manage what is a growing issue on the border.

TAPPER: Does President Biden, does his administration have any plan to curb this massive influx?

ALVAREZ: Officials cite three categories when they're talking about their response at the U.S.-Mexico border. All of them, though, Jake, have their limits.

Number one, shoring up resources. Simply getting enough personnel, transportation, anything to help manage the border. But the White House supplemental requests that included $48 billion for border security remains stalled.

Levy consequences -- that includes, for example, deportation flights. They're simply not enough because there's not enough flights and because sometimes countries have issues with taking back their nationalities at a certain pace. Then there's leaning on regional partners. But even those partners have limits as to what they can do. And so, all of this puts the White House in a position where they're

trying to patchwork that situation or that response on that U.S.- Mexico border. So much so, and the situation becoming so dire that President Biden picked up the phone yesterday and called the Mexican president to place pressure on them to do more in their country.

TAPPER: What does President Biden want the president of Mexico to do?

ALVAREZ: This really boils down to more enforcement. Historically, that U.S. has leaned on Mexico. Before, when we've seen calls like this, what will happen is Mexican authorities moving migrants further into Mexico, to the south, trying to help alleviate the U.S. southern border, Mexico's north border.

It also includes keeping migrants from making it up to the U.S. southern border. Now, senior U.S. officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will be going down to Mexico next week to continue these discussions. But clearly, Jake, this is not a situation the White House wanted to find itself in on the cusp of the 2024 presidential election, when immigration and border security are going to be a key issue.

TAPPER: All right. Priscilla Alvarez at the White House for us, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss, Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales of Texas. He represents Texas' 23rd congressional district which covers a large portion of the border with Mexico, including Eagle Pass where thousands of migrants are still waiting to be processed.

Congressman Gonzales, you were in Eagle Pass just the other day, talking with -- dare I say -- desperation about the U.S. going in the wrong direction. When it comes to how this migrant surge is happening and how it's being handled, Congress isn't getting back from the holiday break until January 9th.

What are you most worried about, what could happen before January 9th?

REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): Yeah, we are beyond breaking point. Let me share what's happening on the ground and then let me share what I believe the president should do today to alleviate this problem. On the ground, the people that live along the border are completely exhausted. Imagine if you have an accident, you dial 991 to go to the emergency room, and there is an eight or ten hour wait, or even worst, they tell you, there are no beds, you're going to have to drive an hour away to another town.

That's going to frustrate you.

When there's large numbers of people that come over, what ends up happening is border control get overwhelmed, and what they end up doing, they have to feed and they have to clothe and house these people. So where do they go? They go to the local grocery store.

Just the other day, they brought 1,000 loaves of bread, cheese, food, to feed these people. Well, guess what happens when you go shopping at the grocery store? You don't have groceries.

Then the other piece is, these border communities, they are really one community. Half of it's in Mexico, half of it is into United States. Family members go back and forth. It's the holidays.

And right now, the bridge in Eagle Pass is down to one lane. There's two bridges. One is closed, the other one is down to one lane. I spoke with a passenger the other day. She told me it took her 15 hours to go through that.

I asked her, why would she go through that? She said it's because my daughter -- it is my daughter's birthday. So the frustration is boiling along the border.

TAPPER: On the Senate's negotiations on immigration reform, sources tell CNN that some of the current proposed poll changes include turning back migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border without a chance for asylum. So, tougher restrictions there.

Expanding the fast-track deportation procedures, so that more undocumented immigrants can be fast-tracked, deported more quickly. And then raising what's called the credible fear standard for asylum seekers.

Do you support these changes to make it tougher for asylum seekers to get into United States?

GONZALES: I do. And I have been -- and others. And I've been heaven literally daily conversations with senators on both sides of the aisle to come up to a package that they could ultimately not only get 60 votes in the Senate but also 218 votes in the house.

Let me talk about what the president can't do today to alleviate this problem ahead of Christmas. The number one issue is you have to send people back to their country of origin via deportation flights. Right now in the Del Rio sector, there is about 4,000 people come in over a day and zero are getting sent back.

In the El Paso sector, which is also in my district, it's about 1,500 people coming over illegally a day, and about 100 getting sent back. So it's a drop in the bucket. You have to turn on these deportation flight. You do them immediately, the numbers go down and to alleviate some stress.

Some other things that happen is, long term, is we need to surge immigration judges to the voter. This is America. You get your day in court. And if you do not qualify for asylum, which not out of ten tonight, you get sent back to your country of origin via these repatriation flights. You do the type of, things raising the credible theorist and, of all the Mexican. But we need solutions today, not this long term, whose fault it is, and round and round we go.

TAPPER: So, I -- you know, you and I have talked about this for a long. And, obviously, there is a crisis at the border. And obviously, lawmakers need to do something. You heard Democratic Senator John Fetterman say his fellow Democrats need to understand there is nothing xenophobic about wanting or having a conversation about securing the border, although he's pretty progressive when it comes to immigration policy.

But I wonder, when you hear former President Trump talk about how immigrants from South America are, quote, poisoning the blood of this country, does that make your job more difficult because that demonizes an entire group of people, just based on their skin color and their heritage as opposed to just talking about the need for border restrictions so that we can have organized immigration, and so that cities and localities are not taxed beyond their means.


GONZALES: Jake, this is no longer a person or a party that's circling behind, you know, rhetoric. There are people that are absolutely furious in this country. I would say the bulk of the people are furious at what is happening, and I'll share -- I was just in El Paso yesterday. And what I saw in El Paso, early in the morning, were dozens of people just loitering around.

And while many people were fleeing economic persecution, there are also bad actors in this -- in this group. It's just you don't know who they are. And so, what ends up happening is people no longer feels.

El Paso was one of the safest cities in the United States and people no longer feel safe. So, I'm done with the rhetoric.

What ends up happening is this open border crisis makes it more difficult for us to have a long-term solution to immigration. I've been a proponent of legal immigration, but when you are just letting everyone, and ultimately the people that are trying to do it the right way are the ones getting pushed to the back of the line. Everybody is frustrated.

President Trump is tapping into that frustration. And if President Biden doesn't act soon, he will lose to no matter who's on the ballot.

TAPPER: Right. We even have people like former Attorney General Barr suggesting that language President Trump is using is borderline racist, because he's talking about poisoning the blood of America with the blood of South Americans, Africans and Asians. He's not talking about all undocumented immigrants from Russia or from Europe, he's talking about ones with different skin colors.

Doesn't that make your job more difficult, trying to have a reasonable conversation about this?

GONZALES: The open border crisis makes it more difficult. Now, I'll drill down a little bit more. My district is 70 percent Hispanic. And this crisis is in our third year.

I'm starting to hear from first and second generation Americans saying I do not want these people in my country. I mean, it's absolutely turned upside down. Why? Because when they go to the grocery store, they can't get bread. When they, you know, when they call to go to the hospital, they can't get a bed. They're falling further and further behind, not to mention the high

speed chases that are so dangerous. Our schools going into lockdown. So, yes, all of it makes it more difficult for someone like me, where immigration reform is critical that I want to protect those fleeing from persecution across the country. I want to protect those that want to come and live the American dream.

I also want to protect the Americans that live here.

TAPPER: Right.

GONZALES: We deserve to feel safe in our own country.

TAPPER: A hundred percent.

Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales of Texas, thank you, sir. If I don't see you, have a merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad to you.

GONZALES: Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Thank you.

TAPPER: What could be a quick fix to help one of the most pressing issues of our time solved with a big box of hot rocks. You're going to want to stick around to see how this works.



TAPPER: In our "Earth Matters" series, one start-up in California believes that rocks, that's right, cheap durable rocks, could be the answer to avoid a climate catastrophe.

CNN's Bill Weir got a closer look at this experimental technology.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time in human history, the two most affordable forms of energy do not come from burning fossil fuels, but from catching on shore wind or clean abundant sunlight.

ANDREW PONEC, CO-FOUNDER AND COE, ANTORA ENERGY: Most days in the middle of the day in California, electricity is free. Electricity on the wholesale market is worth zero dollars, sometimes even negative dollars, because there's so much solar that's now been installed in California.

WEIR: The same thing is happening in the American wind belt. So while Andrew Ponec was the kind of kid who built solar panels in the garage, he relies that renewables are great for topping up batteries and cars and homes. But the factories which make everything from steel to baby food made a lot of energy all the time.

PONEC: The problem is you can't shut down your factory when the sun goes behind a cloud or the wind stops blowing. WEIR: So with $80 million in investment from backers including Bill

Gates, he started a company called Antora to store clean energy with --

PONEC: This is it.

WEIR: -- a box of rocks.

I had a hard time explain it to my kids what nuclear fusion is, but this is just a hot rock and a box. He hit up by the wind or the sun, right?

PONEC: People sometimes feel like insulting us when they say it's really simple, we said, no, that's exactly the point. You know, there is nothing more than a steel box with insulation inside of that and some carbon blocks inside of that. That's it.

WEIR: Antora's batteries heat up blocks of carbon like this until they like little suns for a full day.

PONEC: What's right in the box right now is about 1,600 degrees Celsius. So, this is hotter than that melting point of steel and it's just a couple feet inside that shell.

WEIR: But cracking open the box, Andrew says they can release enough heat to make a factory steam and enough light to generate electricity, as it goes into a special solar panel.

And while the box is tricky to build, the rocks are cheap and abundant.

PONEC: There is plenty of production of this, even just 1 percent of the production of carbon blocks would be enough to make to terawatt hours of battery, which would be enough to power, you know, the United States.

WEIR: A competing company called Rondo uses even cheaper bricks in their thermal batteries to create megawatts of power for a single factory without the need for a grid upgrade, which means places with a lot of sun and wind could become magnets for new industry. Both companies were present at COP28 in Dubai, where big oil had a big presence.

But Andrew came back convinced that clean, simple ideas are the future.

PONEC: The transition is inevitable. It's going to happen, and actually if you talk behind closed doors to most of the people in the fossil fuel industry, they'll say the same thing. They understand that. But I'm confident that we're going to be able to take that huge totals we have in solar and wind and displaced fossil fuel faster even than most people think.

WEIR: Really?

PONEC: Yeah. WEIR: Why? Why? What gives you that faith?

PONEC: It's really because of that technologies that are coming down the pipe. If you ask me five or ten years ago, I would have said, I'm not sure we have everything we need to decarbonize. But today, we have the tools we need. We just need to deploy them.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Bill Weir for the report. And Bill will join me Sunday for a special "STATE OF THE UNION" in which we focus entirely on the climate change crisis. That Sunday, 9:00 a.m. Eastern and noon, only on CNN.

Coming up, new analysis into Israel's military operation in Gaza, finding that hundreds of 2,000 pounds so-called dumb bombs have been dropped on the densely populated area. The deadly destruction by these weapons of war and why -- next.