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Trump Expected to Appeal Colorado, Maine Ballot Decisions on Tuesday; GOP Rivals Criticize Haley for Civil War Comments; California Braces For More Dangerous Waves and Flooding. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 29, 2023 - 18:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, CNN is now learning when Donald Trump is expected to appeal decisions removing him from the ballots in Colorado and Maine. Stand by for more details on that. We'll also get reaction from the top election official who disqualified Trump from that ballot in Maine. She'll join us live this hour.

Also tonight, the horrific aftermath of Russia's biggest air attack on Ukraine since the start of that war nearly two years ago, with dozens dead and injured in multiple cities tonight. Will the deadly assault convince a very divided U.S. Congress to send more aid to Ukraine.

Also here in the U.S., powerful storms are sending 20-foot-plus waves crashing into the California Coast, causing flooding, danger and panic, as you can see here, with people racing to escape from walls of water and it's not over yet.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Kaitlan Collins and you're in The Situation Room.

And we do start with breaking news this hour. CNN has now learned that Donald Trump and his legal team are expected to file appeals this Tuesday, challenging his removal not just from the ballot in Colorado, but also in Maine.

CNN's Paula Reid has more reporting on the next steps in these disputes over who is going to be on the ballot, with so much at stake for the 2024 election.


PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Supreme Court facing increasing pressure to weigh in on whether states can remove former President Trump from the 2024 ballot after Maine became the second state to kick him off based on the 14th Amendment's ban on insurrectionists holding public office.

SHENNA BELLOWS (D-ME), SECRETARY OF STATE: No secretary of state has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, but no presidential candidate has ever engaged in insurrection and been disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

REID: In Maine, ballot eligibility questions first go to the secretary of state, not the courts.

Trump has called for Democrat Shenna Bellows to recuse herself in this case because of previous comments about January 6th, where she tweeted, the Jan 6th insurrection was an unlawful attempt to overthrow the results of a free and fair election.

She did not remove herself from the matter, and now the issue heads to the courts as Trump and the state's Republican Party vow to appeal.

JOEL STETKIS, CHAIR, MAINE REPUBLICAN PARTY: Our voting rights enshrined in the Constitution are sacred to us, and to have one particular person remove really the top candidate from the ballot because she dislikes that person just smells of politics.

REID: The question of Trump's ballot eligibility has been debated in multiple states, with only Maine and Colorado taking him off the primary ballot. Even California on Thursday opted to include him.

In a statement, the Trump campaign accused Colorado and Maine of election interference, attempted theft of an election and the disenfranchisement of the American voter. Even some of Trump's rivals have criticized states taking him out of the running instead of leaving it to voters.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It makes him a martyr. You know, he's very good at playing poor me, poor me.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Can you have a Republican secretary of state disqualify Biden from the ballot because he's let in 8 million people illegally?

REID: The Colorado GOP has already appealed that state's ruling to the United States Supreme Court, asking the justices to take up three key questions, does Section 3 of the 14th Amendment apply to a president, and is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to be enforced by states, and also asking whether the GOP has a First Amendment right to choose its candidates.

Trump is also expected to appeal.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're trying to take the election away from the voters.


REID (on camera): With Trump expected to appeal in Maine and Colorado on Tuesday, then the big outstanding ballot eligibility question is Oregon. Just moments ago, Trump's team asked that state Supreme Court to dismiss that challenge and a decision could come at any time. But, Kaitlan, if the Supreme Court does not weigh in here, this question could continue to loom over the 2024 election through November, because even in states like Michigan and Minnesota that opted to keep Trump on the primary ballot, they left the door open to re-litigate this issue for the general election.

COLLINS: Yes, a bit of election chaos potentially in our future. Paula Reid, thank you for that reporting. Stand by because I do have more questions for you and your analysis of what's happening in a moment.

But right now, I want to go to the official who is at the center of this, Maine's top election official, the secretary of state, Shenna Bellows. And thank you so much, Secretary of State, for being here.

Obviously, as Paula is reporting there, the Trump team is planning to appeal this decision that you made to Maine's Superior Court on Tuesday. How do you expect them to respond?


BELLOWS: This -- thank you for having me. And the appeal to Superior Court is the logical next step in the process. And, indeed, in my decision, I suspended the effect of the decision pending that appeal to superior court in a superior court's ruling.

COLLINS: Well, it was expected. I mean, it was no surprise that they were going to appeal this. They did not necessarily expect you to make this decision. But on the basis of how you came to this, critics have said that someone in your position, the Maine secretary of state, does not have the authority to do this and that the procedures that happened before you made this decision weren't up to par. What is your response to that criticism that you've seen?

BELLOWS: So, it's really important for viewers to understand that the Constitution directs the states to administer elections, and every state has different laws with regards to election administration. Maine has a process, and as far as I understand, it is unique in its process in that the legislature passed a law that requires me as secretary to ensure that no candidate placed on the presidential primary ballot that every candidate meets the qualifications of office.

And furthermore, under Maine law, if a registered Maine voter wishes to challenge the qualifications of any candidate for office, they cannot go directly to court. They must bring that challenge to the secretary of state. And I, under the law, was required to hold a hearing within five days of the challenge and required to hold and issue a decision. I could not and did not have the discretion to decline to issue a ruling within five days of the conclusion of the hearing proceedings.

COLLINS: You've cited that hearing a bunch, and we looked into it. I mean, at that hearing, there was only testimony from three witnesses. Two of them were complainants. One was a law professor. None of them have firsthand factual knowledge of the events that are at issue.

So, how did you decide that what you heard in that hearing was enough to draw the conclusion that you did hear that Trump should not be on the ballot because of your determination that he engaged in the insurrection? I mean, that's not even something Jack Smith has charged him with. BELLOWS: It's important to understand that an administrative hearing under Maine's Administrative Procedure Act and in terms of implementing election law is different than a criminal proceeding in a criminal court. Sure, the standard is preponderance of the evidence.

And furthermore, part of the hearing record, and my decision was based exclusively on the record before me, is not only live testimony that is subject to cross examination, but also exhibits that are produced and submitted by the parties. And, in fact, in this situation, there were thousands of pages of exhibits which I reviewed, including the bipartisan January 6th report, a bipartisan Senate report, a GAO report, a defense Department report.

So, there was substantial evidence that complied with the Maine Administrative Procedure Act submitted in this proceeding that was subject to my review. And my decision was based solely on the facts before me at the hearing and on the Constitution and the rule of law. And it's part of a process here in our state that now goes to superior court and then potentially to the main supreme judicial Court, and then potentially to the U.S. Supreme Court.

COLLINS: But, Secretary, you looked at those documents that came from outside groups, the January 6th committee, the GAO report that you cited. I mean, you cited also news articles. There was a YouTube clip. I don't know that that would necessarily be admissible in court.

And so when critics are scrutinizing this decision, I don't think that they would believe that that rises to what would meet the standard in a courtroom or that would meet the standard for due process. What do you say to that?

BELLOWS: I encourage everyone to read the decision. It is available on the Maine Secretary of State website. I encourage people to read it carefully and understand that the decision is made in accordance with Maine law, the Maine Administrative Procedure Act, and the requirements set forth by the Constitution and my obligation to uphold the Constitution and Maine election law. And these decisions are decisions election officials make every day across the country in terms of ballot access.

Now, in Maine, the legislature has specifically directed me to ensure that every candidate on a primary ballot meets the qualifications of office. Now, in 2022, for example, I held a similar hearing on the issue of qualifications for a district attorney candidate. Just a few weeks ago, I barred Mr. Chris Christie from Maine's presidential primary ballot because he failed to submit sufficient signatures. That went to superior court, and my decision was upheld.

Now, this decision was certainly a more complex question of law and fact, and yet it was something I was required, indeed obligated to do under Maine law.


And that's what's so important, rule of law, the Constitution --

COLLINS: He's appealing --

BELLOWS: -- that is supreme in our country. It's really important.

COLLINS: And I should note, Chris Christie is appealing that decision, which he himself noted last night. But you talked about what you're expected to do in Maine. I mean, Republicans and Democrats alike in Maine, Senator Susan Collins, Senator Angus King, and Independent Congressman Jared Golden, they are all criticizing your decision, saying that it's not up to someone, with all due respect to your office, which is an important one, and, obviously, secretaries of state have been through a very challenging time since the 2020 election, but that it's not up to you, given you're not democratically elected, you're chosen by the state legislature, you're not a lawyer, and that this hearing only had one fact witness who was a law professor. And so the criticism has been that it's not really your decision of whether or not someone can be on the ballot.

BELLOWS: Every elected official swears an oath to the Constitution. I swore an oath to the Maine Constitution and the United States Constitution. And Maine election law requires me to hold a hearing of this sort. Now, Mr. Trump could, of course, have produced witnesses, should he have chosen to do so. He did not. That being said, my decision was based exclusively on the record before me in that hearing, in accordance with Maine law. That is my sole obligation, and I could make no other consideration.

Now, I do really appreciate that Senator King also made a comment in his statement that I did what I was required to do by the law. I didn't have an option of declining to hold that hearing or delaying or not issuing a decision. It was my obligation as secretary of state. I take that responsibility very seriously.

And keep in mind, the events of January 6th were an attack not just on the Capitol, not just on government officials, the former vice president, members of Congress, it wasn't just an attack in which seven people lost their lives. It was an attack on the peaceful transfer of power. And the evidence submitted at the hearing demonstrated that it happened at the behest of and with the knowledge and support of the outgoing president, Mr. Trump.

COLLINS: I was in Washington that day. I remember it very well what happened. And I hope you understand why these questions are so important, because this is such a monumental decision that you're making here for someone who is right now the front runner of a major party, expected to potentially have the nomination for that party to be on the presidential ballot.

And when you made this decision, you mentioned January 6, one of the things that the Trump team did in the days before your decision was ask you to recuse yourself because they cited post where you said January 6th was an insurrection.

BELLOWS: I must interrupt. They did not. Ma'am, Kaitlan, they actually did not ask me to recuse myself until after the hearing that actually happened earlier this week. And under Maine law, any request for recusal have to happen prior to the hearing. COLLINS: Okay.

BELLOWS: It's really important to understand that Maine law required me to issue a decision. And should they have made that in a timely way, I would not have recused myself because of my obligations, but also because my political affiliation and my personal views of January 6th have no bearing on this case. My decision was based on what was presented in that hearing and the testimony and the exhibits.

COLLINS: I'm glad you said that.

BELLOWS: I just wanted to correct the record that that request was after the hearing.

COLLINS: Yes. I said it was before your decision was made. But I understand what you're saying, that they were required according to Maine law, you're saying to do that before the hearing had even happened, which they did not do. They just did it in recent days.

But the basis was your social media post, which you say had no bearing on your decision. But in the response to your decision, we have seen Trump world attacking you, coming out, post -- sharing photos of you that you've taken with President Biden. Obviously, we do know you're a Democrat. That's not surprising. But you saw Trump himself sharing on social media ways to contact your office, the information to contact your office.

I wonder, given the position that you're in and the decision that you've made, if you have concerns for your safety since making this decision.

BELLOWS: I was prepared for the possibility of threats. And I really appreciate law enforcement and the people around me who have been incredibly supportive of my safety and security. My safety and security is important. So, is the safety and security of everyone who works with me. And we have received threatening communications. Those are unacceptable.

But regardless, my considerations in this proceeding is to adhere to the process.


We are a nation of laws. Maine law required me to hold a hearing and issue a decision, And now it goes to the Superior Court. And I will uphold the ruling of the courts. That is the process that we are due.

And, again, looking at the evidence and the events of January 6th, it was an insurrection because people attacked not only the Capitol but also that process of the peaceful transfer of power.

COLLINS: It's notable to hear you say that you have gotten threats because of this decision. I mean, how concerning have those threats been to you?

BELLOWS: Those threatening communications are truly unacceptable. And I certainly worry about the safety of people that I love, people around me, and people who are charged with protecting me and working alongside me.

That being said, we are a nation of laws. And that's what's really important. And so I've been laser-focused on that obligation to uphold the Constitution.

COLLINS: Main, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, obviously, no one should get thoughts like that for carrying out what they believe is their job. Obviously, this is a matter that we know will be handled in the courts as well. I want to thank you for coming on, for taking our questions on something that is obviously such an important subject, no matter what your opinion, what your view of it is. Thank you very much, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.

BELLOWS: Thank you.

COLLINS: And our legal experts are here. They've been listening to that interview. We're going to get their reaction to talk about this, the Maine secretary of state saying that she has gotten threats as a result of her decision to remove Trump from the ballot in that state.

We'll have much more right after a quick break.



COLLINS: And we're back with our legal experts following our breaking news as CNN has learned that Donald Trump is expected to file his appeals not only to what happened in Colorado, but also in Maine, both decisions to remove him from the ballot made by one by the Supreme Court of Colorado, one by the secretary of state. My panel is here.

Elie, I want to start with you because you have been pretty critical of this decision in Maine talking about how this went down. What did you make of what you heard from the secretary of state there defending not only the hearing that she had but also her decision to not recuse herself from making this decision?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, Kaitlan, really insightful interview. I give the secretary a lot of credit. She's been out there answering questions. Good for her, that's transparency. And also, it is shameful and disgraceful that she's being subjected to threats. I think we have to condemn that in the harshest terms and support her.

Now, as to the first question, due process, the secretary was correct when she noted that this does not have to be at the level of a criminal trial. However, there still does have to be some minimum of due process, and I think there's going to be a real question there. As you noted, there was really only one not even fact witness. It was a law professor, who I guess was an expert witness, technically. Now, the secretary said to you just now, well, Donald Trump could have

called witnesses if he wanted. The problem is that's not his burden legally. And the secretary acknowledges that in her opinion. It's the burden of the complainants. One witness is really hard to justify. The documents that were submitted, there were some very important reports, the January 6th report, which is, in my view, quite credible.

The problem is these documents, many of them contain hearsay, double hearsay, triple hearsay, would absolutely not have been admitted in a civil court, in a criminal court. And so while it's not at the level of a criminal trial, there is some due process, and this is going to be scrutinized very carefully.

On the recusal issue, I'm completely unconvinced. The secretary said publicly in a tweet, well before this hearing, that there was an insurrection and Donald Trump was guilty of it. She had pre-decided this issue before the hearing happened.

She had this sort of technical thing about the timing, but she also said, I didn't need to recuse anyway. That's just wrong. Any judge who did this would immediately recuse himself or herself. So, I respectfully disagree on that point.

COLLINS: Temidayo, you worked on the January 6th committee. She cited that as part of what she used to establish this decision. What do you make of how she came to this decision, notwithstanding the criticism of those who have questioned whether she has the authority to actually take this step?

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE LAWYER: Well, I take a slightly different view than Elie. I mean, I think there's an immense amount of evidence that's already in the public forum here. Our Jan. 6 report, obviously, I find to be extremely credible and to have laid out the facts in excruciating detail over multiple hearings and extensive report about how the former president did, in fact, engage in insurrection.

So, I think the fact that, in Maine, there was one witness, I think that's a little bit of not how I would characterize it. I mean, you have to look at the full evidentiary (ph) record here, and a lot of these actions happened in public. The American people saw them. The American people saw the speech on The Ellipse, where he told these folks to go and fight like hell. The American people saw the tweet on December 19th that said to go to D.C., be there, will be wild.

So, a lot of the facts are in the public forum already. I think it's entirely appropriate for these adjudicators to rely on them. And the distinction between a criminal process here and a civil process is immensely important.

And I think it's a bit of a red herring to have the focus on what would happen in a criminal proceeding. We have those protections in a criminal proceeding because you can lose your liberty. You can end up in prison. No one is putting the former president in prison because he may be kicked off a ballot here.

So, I think conflating those two standards, I think, is not fully proper here, and we should be looking at this as what it is, a civil case deciding a civil issue. COLLINS: And, Paula Reid, you and I both covered Donald Trump when he

was in the White House, and you know well, obviously, the influence that he has on his supporters. What did you make of her saying that she has gotten threats for making this decision and that she's concerned? She didn't even just mention -- she didn't even mention her safety. She talked about her loved ones. She talked about the people who are protecting her, her security, saying that she's concerned for their safety.


REID: Not surprising at all. We know when former President Trump uses his bully pulpit to go after you, your family, your staff, you face an enormous barrage of threats. It can be very scary. It doesn't matter if you are a state official, if you are a jury foreperson, if you are a judge or a journalist. We've seen this again and again. And I think the point she was trying to make is, look, this wasn't something I volunteered to do. This is the process. No matter how imperfect, this is the process in the state of Maine.

And now the larger question that the Supreme Court will likely have to decide is, is this process, right, a political official in the state, is that who they thought should analyze the Constitution and decide whether or not someone is an insurrectionist and whether they should be on the ballot, is that what was intended, that is a very serious question that should now be decided by the Supreme Court. But she is adamant. She's like, look, I did what I was supposed to do.

COLLINS: Elie, any final thoughts on what Tuesday could look like once we do get those appeals from the Trump team?

HONIG: Yes, we're on to the next step here, Kaitlan, for sure. I think this will go to the Supreme Court. I think the fact that we now have two states that have gone down this road make it imperative that the Supreme Court take this case.

A lot of people are asking, how long will it take the Supreme Court? The answer is as long or as short as they want. They're not on any external timeline. I hope that the justices recognize the importance of this, the time sensitivity of this. They can move very quickly if they need to, and I think they need to do that here.

COLLINS: We'll see how quickly they did move, if they move at all. Thanks to you all for being here.

Coming up here on The Situation Room, there is new reaction coming in for Russia's deadly bombardment that we have seen in Ukraine today. It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, since the early days of the war, homes, schools, even a maternity hospital all hit.



COLLINS: A new warning tonight from the United States on Russia's new multicity aero assault on Ukraine. President Biden saying it shows that Vladimir Putin remains intent on wiping out the country.

CNN's Oren Lieberman has more on what happened in this massive and deadly attack. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The explosions across Ukraine quickly drowned out the air raid sirens Friday morning, the largest Russian air attack since the war began, according to the Ukrainian military, wreaking havoc on the people who've been the target of the Kremlin's barrages for nearly two years.

SEHIY, KYIV RESIDENT: Nothing changes. Russia's goal is the same, to destroy Ukraine as a state and to destroy all rebellious Ukrainians as a nation.

LIEBERMANN: The attack killed dozens across Ukraine, a number that threatens to keep rising as rescue workers dig through the rubble, pulling some out alive and some not.

In Dnipro, Russian missiles tore apart a hospital and its maternity ward. Ukrainian officials said only a frantic rush to the air raid shelters spared 12 pregnant women and 4 newborn babies inside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is where the maternity rooms are. This is exactly the side of the building that was on fire,

LIEBERMANN: Russia's array of deadly weapons hammering many of Ukraine's major cities. Hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, S-300s, anti-ship missiles and Shahed drones fired on Kyiv, Dnipro, Lviv, and more. The attack coming just days after Ukraine sank a Russian landing ship in Crimea. Russia's Ministry of Defense said the Novocherkassk was damaged, but U.K. defense intelligence said the ship was destroyed, another blow to the Kremlin's Black Sea Fleet.

On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise visit to the frontline city of Avdiivka in Eastern Ukraine, wishing his troops what may seem impossible right now, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: It is hard. It's pain and losses. And these are to the people who keep Ukraine alive. Life is being fought for here. And we are grateful to every warrior, to every soldier, sailor, sergeant and officer bearing this war on their shoulders.

LIEBERMANN: Ukraine calling for more help. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba saying on social media that he wishes the explosions could be heard in all major capitals, headquarters and parliaments, which are currently debating further support for Ukraine.

This week, the U.S. announced an up to $250,000,000 security package to Ukraine, but it's the last shipment unless Congress approves a White House request for $60 billion more to support Kyiv. President Joe Biden urged Congress to act Friday, saying the latest attack was proof that Putin seeks to obliterate Ukraine and subjugate its people. He must be stopped.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LIEBERMANN (on camera): Meanwhile, the apparent effects of the barrage, not just limited to Ukraine. Poland says a Russian missile entered their airspace before it disappeared. They say they were tracking it, and they summoned the Russian charge d'affaires to provide an explanation as to why a missile or an unidentified object entered Polish airspace. The Russians have said they will provide an explanation only when they're presented with more evidence. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: More evidence of their own missile going into Polish airspace. Oren Liebermann, thank you for that report.

Joining me now for everything that we've seen happening in Ukraine in the last several hours, Congressman Jim Himes, the Democrat of Connecticut and the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks for being here tonight.

What do you make and what is your assessment of why Russia is doing this now, why this massive bombardment, which some officials say is the biggest that they have seen since they started counting just how many missiles and everything that Russia was sending to Ukraine?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Yes. Well, Kaitlan, this is a well established pattern with the Russians. We've seen it time and again, where the Ukrainians, against all odds, have a stunning military victory, in this case, of course, the obliteration of a landing ship, which was quite probably carrying immense amounts of ammunition for the Russians. They hit that and destroy it. And the Russians respond, of course, not with attacks on military targets but with attacks on civilian targets. So, the Russians score a military victory, whether it's what happened or the attack on the Kerch Bridge, and the Russians respond by attacking civilians.

And I say that because it's a good reminder of what's at stake here, about the fact that this is not just a distant conflict in Eastern Europe that we don't need to worry about, this is, in our lifetime, pretty much as close to a war between the forces of democracy and of good against a 19th century-style dictator who, if he is not defeated in Ukraine, will look for more.


And so, again, sadly, too many of my colleagues are drifting away from that understanding. And we will, if that ultimately compromises our ability to provide aid, pay the price for that attitude for decades to come.

COLLINS: And so given that, what's the message that Putin has that he's getting from your colleagues on Capitol Hill as the U.S. is not yet prepared, or it's an open question of whether or not they will pass a new aid bill for Ukraine?

HIMES: Yes. Look, I mean, I think I can cut through all the baloney. I've watched now the excuses for being against aid to Ukraine for a very long time. People say, oh, well, we're concerned that there is no plan, no strategy this coming after a year in which the Ukrainians actually managed to recapture about half the territory that they'd lost to Russians and score staggering military victories. There is complaints about, well, we don't know where the weaponry is going. You know what? I'm ranking member of the intelligence committee. I know where the weaponry is going. As soon as it crosses into Ukraine, it is used against Russia.

And at the bottom of this, Kaitlan, is something dark and ominous, which is we are approaching the election of 2024. Donald Trump really, really, really doesn't like Ukraine because it was the source, ultimately, of his first impeachment. And, therefore, about half the Republicans in the House are not risking doing what their Republican forebears going back to Ronald Reagan, going back to well before Ronald Reagan would have done, which is to say, think about this as a fight of freedom and democracy against dictators and authoritarianism. Think about what President Xi is going to take away from the United States, cutting and running, thinking about what the Iranians and the North Koreans are going to think of us as the sort know leader for freedom and democracy if we cut and run.

COLLINS: Congressman, given that, and obviously, we've seen how House Republicans feel about aid to Ukraine, a lot of them, not most of them, I should say, a lot of them don't want to pass it again. But what is on the table right now, because there are Senate Republicans who do want to get aid to Ukraine passed, but they say that Democrats are going to have to swallow some agreements when it comes to -- on immigration, on the southern border. And, obviously, those are ones that a lot of Democrats don't like. But do you believe that your Democratic colleagues in the Senate should work with Republicans, should kind of bite the bullet here on this to get another aid bill to Ukraine passed.

HIMES: Well, let me say two things about that, which feel like they might be in tension with each other. Imagine, imagine saying that unless we get what we want on the border, Ukraine gets it in the head. Imagine had FDR said that, well, we'll fight the Japanese empire which just destroyed Pearl Harbor, but here are a whole bunch of domestic priorities that are important to me. So, at some level, it's just another reason why the Republicans have drifted away from their commitment to defending freedom and democracy around the world.

But to answer your question very specifically, look, they are in the majority in the House. We should do better on the border. No question about it. We could do an awful lot with respect to immigration reform and border security and stopping the inflow, the uncontrolled inflow of people. So, yes, let's engage. Let's have that conversation.

I know it's going to be hard, but recognize that immigration is one of the hardest things that the Congress does. It's why we haven't passed an immigration bill in decades. And so contemplate the possibility that it may not work. And if it does not work, you don't get a border deal and Ukraine gets swallowed by Vladimir Putin. Is that really the structure you want to do?

But to answer your question, yes, let's negotiate a border deal. Let's see if we can get that done. And if we can get it done, terrific. But either way, we need to support the Ukrainians in this existential fight. COLLINS: We'll see if they do. Congressman Jim Himes, thanks for your time.

HIMES: Thank you, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Just ahead, after stirring up a political controversy during her campaign swing in New Hampshire, Nikki Haley has moved on to Iowa. But the backlash appears to be following her.



COLLINS: Nikki Haley campaigning in Iowa tonight with just over two weeks before the caucus is there hoping to move past the backlash that she has seen in the last two days after she was asked about the cause of the civil war. Her Republican rivals, though, not letting her walk away from the controversy just yet, as they are continuing their criticism.

Our political panel is here, Bakari Sellers, Scott Jennings, thank you both. And let's start with what Chris Christie had to say about this today. Obviously, he benefits from Nikki Haley being under attack. He is taking full advantage of this. This is his assessment of why she gave that answer on Wednesday night.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This has been her whole campaign. She does not want to offend anyone. She won't tell the truth about Donald Trump, even though she knows that he was the cause of January 6th, she won't say it, even though she knows that he regularly lies, she won't say it.

She was asked by a voter again in New Hampshire, would she categorically rule out being Donald Trump's vice president, and she won't answer the question. These are simple questions to a smart woman. And when she doesn't answer them, you have to believe she's being a slippery, slick politician.


COLLINS: Scott Jennings.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, whacking away on the person that's between him and third place, I guess. I mean, that's the issue here for Chris Christie and Nikki Haley. They're competing for a sliver of Republicans in New Hampshire who are never Trump or want to move on from Trump definitively. And also this big chunk of independents, it's a semi-open primary. Independents can cross in. He figures, and she figures that there's some anti-Trump independents out there that would love to see the Republican Party nominate someone else.

The trouble is she's way ahead of him in the polling and he's hoping that this reminds people about some of the things that maybe they didn't like about Nikki Haley in a preconceived way. I don't know if it's going to work and I don't know where he goes from here. If he were to somehow get close to her or eclipse her in New Hampshire. But that's the play. And as long as he's in the race, she's going to have a hard time, I think, overcoming Trump in New Hampshire.


COLLINS: Bakari, what does that mean for Nikki Haley in these final crucial days where she is trying to go after that more moderate coalition? Does this have lasting impact on that?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it does. I don't think the issue per se has a lasting impact. I don't think people are going to be voting against Nikki Haley when they see her in the street, of who started civil war, what was the civil war fought over.

But it does show she is not prepared for the limelight, it makes sense that, you know, she is somewhat like Icarus and the sense that she got too close to the sun. She got too close to Donald Trump and when the lights were brightest, she folded. I think that's the larger takeaway from this.

And Chris Christie is right. I mean, those of us who know Nikki Haley, who have campaigned against her, who worked with her, who sat besides her, who legislated with her, we know this to be true, she is someone who will try to apiece everybody and every audience and she got caught on the issue that's very, very simple.

This is not something that's a very difficult issue for most Americans who are genuine and intellectually honest. But when you try to cater to many bases, you get caught like this. She'd much rather be talking about Clemson's -- and I hate talking about Clemson or anything, but Clemson's victory today over Kentucky, and talking about this issue of slavery, but here we are.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think one other issue, Kaitlan, on this back and forth that she is having now with Chris Christie and the slavery issue is these campaigns are often not just about the issues, but people are looking to see how you will react when adversity hits. She benefitted from being probably the most polished politician in the Republican field so far. She hasn't really had a gaffe for a media cycle that's been super negative.

And so, I think people were looking to see, hey, how is she going to react when it's her time in the barrel. I am not certain the cleanup day was all that impressive. I don't think, you know, most sort of hardcore Republican voters aren't all that worried about media outrages. But I will say, these independents both in New Hampshire -- and, by the way, anybody can caucus in Iowa. They might have been looking at her as an alternative for the party to move on from Trump and this may have given them some pause. It's hard to measure, I don't know how you poll it at this point. But I'm guessing it gave a few people some pause.

COLLINS: It is a good question in the sense of what this looks like. But, Bakari, I mean -- something David Axelrod said the other night was it's only a gaffe if it reveals something deeper or something that's true about a politician, I believe. And with the fact that the focus now is on how she does answer. She is so much more closely scrutinized even now since this answer and she was asked, you know, about whether or not she would be Donald Trump's vice president if he asked her that.

Obviously, Donald Trump is not the nominee yet. It's not real situation. But it is a hypothetical. Others have been asked. They said yes or no. She didn't answer with a yes or no.

SELLERS: Yeah, I mean, this shows who she is. First of all, Nikki Haley is not racist. I think that there are a lot of people in the media and particularly to my left who want to deduce that from her remarks. That's not the case at all.

What it does show -- and David Axelrod is right. I mean, these presidential campaigns, they show who you are. They show your true character.

And Nikki Haley is Eddie Effors (ph). I mean, she's a fence sitter and she doesn't really stand for much. And that is what happens when you run for president of the United States.

Donald Trump showed us one thing and I can't wait for Twitter to blow up about this because it's true. But if you are going to be ignorant, stand in it. Like Donald Trump owns his ignorance. He owns his bravado, he owns his -isms, his racisms, his xenophobia. He owns those things.

Nikki Haley is not able to stand in it. And I think that is the problem she is facing today.

COLLINS: Bakari Sellers, we'll see what your Twitter mentions look like after this.

Bakari Sellers, Scott Jennings, thank you both.

JENNINGS: Thank you.

SELLERS: Thank you.

COLLINS: Coming up here on THE SITUATION ROOM, California communities reeling tonight still from these remarkable images, massive waves. They are now bracing for more. An update right after this.



COLLINS: Tonight, officials are warning of high waves, dangerous rip currents and coastal flooding in California throughout the weekend, with San Francisco expecting potentially 40-foot waves. These monster waves have been pounding the California coastline, causing injuries and also damage to property.

More on what they have been seeing from CNN's Lucy Kafanov. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The terrifying moment a monster wave slammed into the Ventura, California coastline.


KAFANOV: Bystanders running for their lives.


KAFANOV: The surge sweeping people and vehicles down the street, at least eight people taken to the hospital.

JOHN FRIZZELL, WITNESSED LARGE WAVE: This wave just came seemingly out of nowhere. Just this rush. We saw it. It was 6 to 8 feet deep. I'm kind of just shaking. I'm just trying to hold on to positive thoughts.

KAFANOV: The wave so strong, this lifeguard had to be pulled to safety by Good Samaritans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is insane. When I was up on the pier, I actually felt the pier shaking. It doesn't seem real.

KAFANOV: The massive waves pummeling the coastline, wreaking havoc, flooding streets and businesses.

Like this beach front restaurant in Santa Cruz.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just feel bad for the restaurants. I know they just went through renovations from the last time this happened.

KAFANOV: While coastal restaurant residents have seen plenty of Mother Nature's wrath, there's still concern.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a pure state of panic, and to be honest, as far as the community goes, you know there's plenty out there that are not prepared.

KAFANOV: Crews and residents now dealing with the aftermath.

JOHN HYLAND, VOLUNTEER, STINSON BEACH FIRE DEPARTMENT: Right now, we're just trying to keep the houses from flooding.

KAFANOV: While also preparing for what's to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are expecting higher waves coming in and it only takes one for you to be locked out.

KAFANOV: Parts of the California coast can see towering waves through the weekend. Coastal floods and high surf alerts stretching from the southern border to the Bay Area.


Officials urging caution. CHIEF JESSE PERI, STINSON BEACH FIRE DEPARTMENT: The ocean is a very

dynamic, dangerous place. Always, as a kid, it was never turn your back on Grandmother Ocean. So, make sure you know that.


KAFANOV (on camera): All Ventura County beaches remain closed through New Year's Eve, as massive waves pound the California coast. Things a little bit calmer here in Manhattan Beach. The piers have supposedly been closed all day. But as you can see, Kaitlan, clearly not heeding the warning to stay away -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yeah, they saw the videos from earlier. They may not be up there.

Lucy Kafanov, stay safe as you continue to monitor this. Thank you.

We'll be back after a quick break.


COLLINS: A new intelligence assessment warns that the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square remains a, quote, attractive target for terrorists and extremists. With that assessment saying that the Israel/Hamas War has created what they say is a heightened threat environment.

The New York City Mayor Eric Adams says there are no specific threats to the weekend celebrations, I should note, but officials are not taking any chances. The New York Police Department says it's going to expand its safety zone that thousands of officers are going to be deployed to the area on Sunday. Obviously, we will keep a close watch on that.

For now, I'm Kaitlan Collins, filling in for Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But I'll be back at 9:00 on "THE SOURCE" for one last show before we close out 2023.

Happen New Year to everyone.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.