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Shots Fires Along Demilitarized Zone; Trump Gets His Big, Beautiful Tax Cut; Catalonia To Vote For New Regional Leaders. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour, shots fired along the tense border between North and South Korea after another North Korean soldier makes a dash for freedom.

VAUSE: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Donald Trump gets his big beautiful tax cut. But most Americans aren't really sure they want it.

SESAY: Well, they're getting it anyway. Donald Trump threatens opponents of his Jerusalem decision.

VAUSE: Hello, thank you for being with us. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

VAUSE: Well, for the second time in less than two months, a North Korean soldier has defected to South Korea across the DMZ.

SESAY: The South Korea's military says, it fired sever warning shots as North Korean guards searched for the defector Thursday morning. Well, let's bring in Paula Hancocks who joins us now live from Seoul. So, Paula, aside from knowing that the young man -- well, the man involved was young, relatively speaking, 19 or in his early 20s, what more are we learning about this individual and how this all played out?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isha, we are getting you more information. We're hearing that he was a low-ranking soldier according to the military. As you say, 19, 20-years-old. So, relatively young. He was also apparently carrying a firearm. We understand from the military -- this happened about 8:04 this morning. He crossed into the South Korean side of the DMZ. And they say that it -- there were no fires, no shots fired.

But then about an hour and a half later, North Korean soldiers approached the border area because they were trying to find this defector. The South Korean side fired about 20 rounds of ammunition warning shots towards them. They said also, about half an hour later they heard some firing from the North Korean side but didn't land in the South Korean side. So, there was some firing, not direct firing back and forth, but certainly, it shows this does raise tensions along the border. Here's a little more from the joint chiefs of staff.


ROH JAE-CHEON, SPOKESMAN, SOUTH KOREAN JOINT CHIEF OF STAFF (through translator): Our military has safely taken the defector into custody. The reason for the defection or the circumstances will be investigated by the relevant authorities.


HANCOCKS: So, of course, what they want to find out now is to make sure that he's not a spy, to make sure that he has no nefarious reasons for coming to South Korea, and that he is a defector who just wanted to escape North Korea for safety.

SESAY: Earlier in the week, the White House security adviser accused North Korea of being responsible for the "WannaCry" cyber attack earlier this week. And I believe North Korea is now responding. What are they saying?

HANCOCKS: Well, they've denied that, that they were involved in the "WannaCry" cyber attack. This is a cyber attack back in May that hit about 164 countries. North Korea has said that they had nothing to do with it. This isn't a surprise; they said this in the past. Remember, a couple of years ago, the Sony hacking, the massive hacking of Sony Pictures. That was also blamed on North Korea, but they denied having done that either. This is really a pattern that we've even from Pyongyang that not taking responsibility for what other countries say they were to blame for. Certainly, here in South Korea, there have been a massive amount of cyber attacks on banks, on broadcasters, even on the military itself, all of those blamed on North Korea. But Pyongyang consistently denied it has anything to do with them. Isha?

SESAY: All right. We shall see if the White House provides any evidence to support their claim. Paula Hancocks joining us there from Seoul. Appreciate it. Thank you.

VAUSE: The U.S. President and Congressional Republicans have been celebrating their big win on tax reform. The first major overhaul of the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years passed through Congress without a single Democrat vote and the latest polling shows there's little support for the plan across the country. Details now from Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The President who promised if elected Americans would be winning so much they would be sick of it, finally scored a victory.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It' always a lot of fun when you win. If you work hard and lose, that's not acceptable.

ACOSTA: GOP leaders delivered on their tax cut plan promise after a last-second glitch forced the House to vote on the package a second time. But House Speaker Paul Ryan vowed taxpayers won't view the bill as a mistake.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The message to the families in America who've been struggling paycheck and paycheck, your taxes are going down and your paychecks are going up. This is the kind of relief that Americans deserve.

ACOSTA: The tax plan does offer modest cuts to middle-class families but there are far bigger gains for the wealthy and large corporations while creating uncertainty in the nation's health care system -- by repealing the mandate to buy insurance in Obamacare and adding more than a trillion dollars to the deficit over ten years. The President relished the idea of taking down Obamacare.

TRUMP: I hate to say this, but we essentially repealed Obamacare because we got rid of the individual mandate which was terrible.

[01:05:14] ACOSTA: The GOP bill also spares the so-called carried interest loophole preserving a massive break for billionaire investors, something White House Economic Adviser Gary Cohn blamed on Congress.

GARY COHN, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: We would have gotten carried interest. We've been trying to get carried interest. We probably tried 25 times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what happened?

COHN: We hit opposition in that big white building with the dome at the other end of Pennsylvania (INAUDIBLE).

ACOSTA: Democrats are accusing Republicans of raiding the treasury to reward their contributors.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER: There are only two places where America's popping champagne -- the White House, and the corporate boardrooms.

ACOSTA: Now, Republicans have to sell their plan at a critical time, with the upcoming midterm elections looming next year.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Absolutely, and we're looking forward to it. My view of this, if we can't sell this to the American people we ought to go into another line of work.

ACOSTA: A new CNN poll finds a big majority of Americans now want Democrats in control of Congress.

RYAN: It's laid upon the table!

ACOSTA: That maybe House Speaker Paul Ryan is not guaranteeing he's sticking around after 2018.

RYAN: I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. I'm so focused on getting our agenda done. On questions on way down the line, I'll address those way down the line. But in the meantime, we've got a lot of work to do. I'm here to stay. I'm not going anywhere. If something changes down the road in the future I'll address that down the road.

ACOSTA: Other distractions won't help the GOP from the President's son Donald Trump Jr., claiming forces inside the U.S. government are trying to sabotage his father --

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is and there are people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America.

ACOSTA: To the Russia investigation and its impacts on members of the Trump family. Like the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm telling you that he deserves this scrutiny. You know why? Because he was involved in the transition and involved in meetings that call into question his role. OK. Well, then if he's innocent of that, then that will come out as Mueller examines all the facts. And if he's not, that will come out too.

ACOSTA: Still the President said, the prayers should go to the media heading into the holidays.

TRUMP: So, with that, I'm going to ask Ben Carson. You can stay if you want because you need the prayer more than I do, I think. You may be the only ones. Maybe, a good solid player and they'll be honest, Ben, is that possible?

ACOSTA: No word on when the President will sign this tax bill. It could happen down at Mar-a-Lago, the President's winter retreat. White House officials aren't ruling that out, even if his ritzy resort may not be the best backdrop for signing a bill that's supposed to help working-class Americans. Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: Well, joining us now, California Talk Radio Host Ethan Bearman; and California Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steele. OK. Shawn, I guess, if nothing else, this was a demonstration of the political clout of a unified Republican Party. Does it get any easier from this point on for the President?

SHAWN STEELE, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEEMAN: It's a lot easier. Winning begets winning. This is the most epic, important tax policy shift since Ronald Reagan. With the Ronald Reagan tax shift, it's just like the JFK tax shift 30 years before that, the economy's going to explode. The economy is going to be -- there's $3 trillion that are sitting overseas. But more importantly, my daughter's going to discover something in February when she gets her paycheck, and she's going to get more of it than she's ever seen.

Because she discovered that this new job, this thing called withholding where the government steals your money. She's going to get it back. But millions and millions, 40 million Americans are immediately going to see that. And this stuff about it being Armageddon and people are going to die, it's going to be terrible. Actually, it's terrible for the Democrats that it passed because the economy is doing well. The bet is -- and it's a bet. There are no guarantees here. That the economy's going to explode and get much better, and particularly for the working-class and upper-middle-class

VAUSE: There are no guarantees in life, but, Ethan, one of the guarantees is everyone is standing around praising the President. The Vice President will do it best of all. Listen to Mike Pence.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You promised the American people in that campaign a year ago that you would deliver historic tax cuts. And it would be a middle-class miracle. And in just a short period of time, that promise will be fulfilled. And just -- I'm deeply humbled as your Vice President to be able to be here. Because of your leadership, Mr. President, and because of the strong support of leadership in the Congress of the United States, you're delivering on that middle-class miracle.


VAUSE: Just that part of being a middle-class miracle, the Financial Times, Ethan, reports the top 20 percent by income will receive almost 2/3 of the tax savings, is that middle-class?

ETHAN BEARMAN, CALIFORNIA TALK RADIO HOST: Nope. And on top of it all, when Speaker Paul Ryan was talking about the amount of money that an average family will get, it was the mean average. So, when a millionaire gets an extra $200,000, that skews it. How about the median number? Nobody wants to talk about that. It skews to the wealthy.

[01:10:05] VAUSE: Shawn, leave your phone alone. This now comes down to the midterm elections, OK? You say it's going to be this great boon for working families and for the middle-class. How do the Republicans sell a tax plan, which, for example, refuses to fund the children's health insurance program which costs $14 billion a year, covers about 9 million kids whose families don't qualify for Medicaid because they own a fraction too much? That's enjoyed bipartisan support since 1997. But, property developers got this last-minute tax break. It was slipped in on Friday. This is, you know, basically the least or whatever it was. Yes, they get this cut which basically gives them this huge incentive, and it costs the government $77 billion a year in lost revenue. $770 billion over ten years. So, give me your pitch on that one?

STEELE: OK. My pitch is that it was a bad idea that Trump opposed it and you've got a powerful K-Street crowd of lobbyists and it's not a perfect bill, but about 95 percent of it is. You've got a 2,000 per child deduction that we have -- never had before. Not only that 81 percent of the taxpayers are going to benefit, according to the Brookings Institute, a left-wing institution. And not only that, 40 million American people are going to see an immediate reduction in their taxes. Let's be naked -- let's be honest about politics. People that get money, that they don't expect to get become believers.

VAUSE: But what you're saying and what the Republicans are going out there, and they're saying we don't have money to put sick kids in hospitals, who can't afford it, that's a fact, but what we do have money for --

BEARMAN: Kevin Brady --

STEELE: That's unfair.

BEARMAN: Kevin Brady said they're going to start -- he's looking at cutting Medicaid next to pay for this.

VAUSE: So, you've got $77 billion --

STEELE: Vice President Pence says --

VAUSE: 14 members of the Republican Senate who will make bank out of this. But you don't have money for sick kids. I'm just telling you what the --

BEARMAN: And Hedge Funds managers still get a special carve-out --

STEELE: Completely untrue. Completely untrue.

BEARMAN: This is true.

STEELE: This is kind of the -- this is kind of the left-wing talk politics --

VAUSE: What's untrue about that?

STEELE: That's not accurate.

VAUSE: What's not true about it?

STEELE: Because that bill hasn't been finished. It's going to be voted on again. It's not part of the -- it's not part of the tax policy. This is part of the area that has --

BEARMAN: The carve-out for the Hedge Fund managers is real.

STEELE: This has to be visited at another time, but this isn't over. The fact is that most people are benefiting most of the time and this is something that is historic on all levels --

BEARMAN: But on the backs of those who are unable to --

STEELE: Not that it's backed up.

BEARMAN: Of course it is, because --

STEELE: It's your party that's been ignoring the --

BEARMAN: By undermining Obamacare, by removing the individual mandate the insurance costs are going to go up --

STEELE: Thank God for that.

BEARMAN: But who pays for that?

STEELE: Stop, stop, stop!

BEARMAN: Oh, I'm so sorry --

STEELE: You are forcing young to --

BEARMAN: They're actually going to be --

STEELE: No. You're forcing people to pay --

BEARMAN: Do you pay for car insurance?

STEELE: If you're going to drive a car. There's a lot of people that don't have car insurance because they don't drive a car.

VAUSE: Let's not relitigate Obamacare, but the reality is, because of this tax bill which has gone through, it does repeal the Obamacare mandate, which means essentially the end of Obamacare. It also means that 13 million people won't have health insurance. What's the plan?

STEELE: Hold on. 13 million people can buy health insurance. What you are doing is forcing 13 million people to buy something they didn't want.

VAUSE: They can't afford it, Shawn. They can't afford it.

STEELE: Then why were you taxing them, penalizing them, and putting the IRS on their --

BEARMAN: By removing the individual mandate, the CBO already said that already rising insurance rates are going to increase an additional 10 percent, and those people at the lowest ends --

STEELE: Bad guess all the way around.

BEARMAN: Are unable to --

STEELE: Wrong, wrong, wrong. Everybody --

BEARMAN: Destroy those who can't help themselves --

STEELE: Always gets care in America. Always gets care --

BEARMAN: All on the backs of those who can't help themselves.

STEELE: And secondly, those that don't want to get health -- don't want to buy insurance and make it a rational choice --

BEARMAN: Wealthy lobbyists that craft tax bills just for the wealthy.

STEELE: Unfortunately, that's fascist thinking when you go down that road --

BEARMAN: 6,000 lobbyists wrote the tax bill.

STEELE: Why are forcing people to buy something they don't want?

BEARMAN: 6,000 lobbyist that wasn't put out in the caucus.


STEELE: The Freedom Caucus won. The Fascist Caucus lost. It's a great day for America.

VAUSE: Shawn, the reality is that -- you say everyone in this country gets cared for, which is not true.

STEELE: Sure. Absolutely.

VAUSE: It is not true.

STEELE: Anybody who's sick goes to the emergency room.

BEARMAN: Which is the -- let me --

STEELE: The law requires the emergency room to --


VAUSE: It doesn't actually take care of --

STEELE: We have the best healthcare in the world.

VAUSE: You don't. And that's a fact.

STEELE: People fly all over the world --

VAUSE: If you're a millionaire or a billionaire, you've got the best healthcare --

STEELE: Canadians may come to America.

VAUSE: To this country, if you are a Medicare or Medicaid, you get treated.

STEELE: That's right.

VAUSE: It's this great, big chunk in the middle that will don't get cared for.

STEELE: Actually, the vast majority of them have private insurance. Obamacare --

VAUSE: let me finish.

STEELE: -- it touched maybe 10 percent of the population, maximum. And it a bad job doing it, and you know it. The rates went up. The care quality went down.

VAUSE: What --

STEELE: That's why the Democrats lost everything.

VAUSE: What is the plan now for the 13 million people who will not have health insurance?

STEELE: Ah, that's a great question and an important question.

VAUSE: Thank you.

STEELE: And an honest one. If I can get three seconds in here. One, the insurance premium plans have to change so it becomes more affordable. They larded it with all kinds of unnecessary services that most people, especially young people, don't really need. Secondly, they need to have the plans that you can be transported across all 50 states, not just one state. And thirdly, people have to have a greater variety of plans that they want. There's a lot of young people that think they're invulnerable and they don't see a doctor for years because they don't need to see a doctor. Why punish them and make them buy something they don't want to --

BEARMAN: The legislation is --

STEELE: Millennials are happy with it.

VAUSE: The answer, Shawn, is there is no plan because you don't have one.

STEELE: Oh, there are -- that's not true.

BEARMAN: That's a nice opinion of Shawn Steele --

STEELE: Paul Ryan has numerous plans, for years --

BEARMAN: It's wonderful. And that legislation is where?

STEELE: That legislation --

BEARMAN: Nowhere. It's nowhere, Shawn. So, you just put people out in the cold --

[01:15:46] STEELE: You're going to have to read a legitimate news source because there are many plans on the books right now ready to be voted on. But it's your party that objects, that obstructs.

VAUSE: OK. Quickly, let's talk about Jerusalem because in the coming hours there will be an emergency session of the general assembly. They'll be voting on a draft resolution, which effectively criticizes the U.S. for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump and his U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are now warning they're taking names, and there's a pretty big threat out there that U.S. foreign aid could be held back if they don't come out in support of the United States --

STEELE: Isn't that a great thing? Don't you like that?

VAUSE: Listen to this, Shawn.


TRUMP: This isn't like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they're doing. So, Nikki, that was the right message that you and I agreed to be sent yesterday. And I've had a lot of good comment on it, believe me. People are tired of the United States, the people that live here, our great citizens, that love this country, they're tired of this country being taken advantage of, and we're not going to be taken advantage of any longer.


VAUSE: OK. 30 seconds, quick.

STEELE: I almost hate to agree with Donald Trump on everything, but I'm adamantly pro-Israel. I'm adamantly pro-Jerusalem. And for those people that are against it, screw you.


STEELE: Sorry. We're taking names.

BEARMAN: Well, the bully pulpit has been taken to the global stage, is what's happening.

VAUSE: It's just the bully.


VAUSE: OK, Ethan and Shawn, as always, good to see you guys. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays.

BEARMAN: Merry Christmas.

STEELE: It's Merry Christmas.

VAUSE: It' both.

SESAY: Next here on NEWSROOM L.A. The future of Catalan independence faces a crucial test in a few hours as voters in the Spanish province choose new leaders.

VAUSE: And weeks before the Winter Olympics, South Korea tries to prepare for anything, including the threat of nuclear war, which is coming from the North.


SESAY: Hello, everyone! Well, voters in Catalonia, Spain begin casting ballots in the coming hours to choose new leaders. Madrid's hope here is that Thursday's vote will reaffirm national unity by squeezing out Catalan politicians who back separatism.

VAUSE: Like the former Catalan President who was ousted and fled the country after an independence referendum in October. That triggered a political crisis in Spain. CNN's Isa Soares has details.


rivals in Catalonia have been making a last-ditch effort to convince voters to back them in parliamentary elections. For those parties who have been in a bitter fight for an independent Catalonia, this is their chance to show Madrid, and, indeed, the rest of Europe theirs is not just a pipe dream. It's the case for the Republican left.

Their leader and candidate, Oriol Junqueras, here only in spirit, is in jail on charges of rebellion, (INAUDIBLE), and misuse of public funds. After independence referendum in October, held in defiance of the Spanish government. He says the charges against him are unfounded. In his place, is his general secretary, Marta Rovira, who wants to lift Article 155 under which Madrid governs Catalonia.

MARTA ROVIRA, CATALONIA LAWYER AND POLITICIAN: On December 21st, we will go out there to win, to free the political prisoners. We will say no to the repression of the state and Article 155. We will say yes to the Republic, and we will say yes to a more fair, dignified, and free country.

SOARES: Ousted President Carles Puigdemont, he was in self-imposed exile in Belgium, is hoping his party can finally bring victory.

CARLES PUIGDEMONT, FORMER PRESIDENT OF CATALONIA: We will not give up. We will not let the ideological confrontation generated by Article 155, make us give up on the country that we are, a free country.

SOARES: But the battle won't be an easy one. According to the latest polls, this will be a tight and highly-contested race. In this battle, the parties who oppose independence haven't been holding back. Ines Arrimadas, seen as a champion for Spanish unity, has been warning about the risks of an independent Catalonia.

INES ARRIMADAS, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT (through translator): Everything is at stake because we are risking our passports, we're risking our children's future, we're risking Catalonia's prosperity. A handful of votes can make a difference.

SOARES: Catalonia remains under direct control by Madrid, at least until a government is formed. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is hoping what he calls the silent majority, those who didn't turn out for the referendum the first time around will feel compelled to vote, especially if the Spanish economy is at stake.

MARIANO RAJOY, PRIME MINISTER OF SPAIN (through translator): Tourist numbers are down, sales are down, companies are growing less, other companies are leaving. We have had to lower the growth forecast for the coming year to 2.3 percent. But if the situation is normalized, we can return in 2018 to the growth of more than three percent by 2017, creating like in 2017 more than half a million jobs.

SOARES: But with no standout winner right now, a coalition government may be likely and that could mean another potentially protracted political mess. Isa Soares, CNN.


SESAY: Well, joining us now from Austin, Texas to discuss the future of Catalan independence, European Affairs Commentator, Dominic Thomas. Dominic, my friend, good to see you. So, do you foresee a clear winner emerging from this regional election?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Well, the whole question of even deciding what a winner would be -- I mean, it's an extraordinary situation as the leadup story pointed out. Where you have two of the candidates, one sitting in prison and the other in exile. And of course, this is not an election over, it's not a regional election, and not a referendum, although, of course, the outcome of this will provide a very strong indication as to where folks in Catalonia stand on the question of independence.

As the polls point to right now, it's extraordinarily divided. And on all sides of the political spectrum, you don't have the same kinds of alliances as you had back in 2015. And there's a sort of negative view of the way in which Puigdemont basically fled the country, and went into exile. And his former Vice President, of course, is the guy sitting in prison representing the ERC. So, it's also hard to see that if the independence parties do well, how they will be able to come together and form some kind of coalition with independence in sight.

SESAY: Yes, absolutely. I mean, when we look at it and we look at how fragmented the political landscape has become after that referendum -- I mean, it really does point to the fact that turnout is going to be key for this vote.

THOMAS: Right. And what all the sort of research points to right now is there are an awful lot of undecided voters and a lot of voters who are really divided over the question of economic prosperity and so on, that sort of goes against their perhaps deeper feelings and in support of independence. This is an extended, protracted problem that has deeply divided people within Catalonia, and also deeply divided the country in terms of the relationship of the region to Spain in a more general manner. And it's very hard to foresee how this particular election, which is a repetition of the one that was held in 2015, is going to bring any kind of closure.

[01:25:01] Rajoy, in many ways, is going to be seen to have shaped this election in a way to try and get a desirable outcome. But that does not mean that the question of independence and the valid grievances that folks in the region have which drive this move toward independence is going to go away overnight, just because of this outcome of a regional election.

SESAY: And to be clear, regardless of whether it's the pro- independence or, you know, those who favor pro-unity that emerge the victors and form a coalition, is the Madrid government ready to actually get to grips with the fundamental issues that continue to roil the relationship with Catalonia?

THOMAS: Right. Well, I think that the -- obviously, if the outcome produces a coalition government that is not an independent secessionist government that changes the conversation. That puts them in a dynamic where Rajoy can, from Madrid, help guide them along. If that doesn't happen or if it is extraordinarily divided as the polls are indicating at the moment, it's going to be absolutely essential for Rajoy to demonstrate a different kind of leadership than in the leadup to this particular situation.

And they're going to have to engage in meaningful dialogue or this situation is really going to negatively impact the region and the broader potential political landscape in Spain. And this is where Rajoy has a deep responsibility now to start to think about -- and of course, it's left all kinds of negative sentiments in the region because of what is perceived as the overreaching aspect of the Madrid government.

SESAY: Yes. It's going to be a very important vote, and we'll just see how many people turn out. As you talk about, you know, negative impacts of landmark decisions, let's talk Brexit, shall we? The European Commission, Dominic, says it would welcome a transitional period to help Britain ease out of the E.U. but only through the end of 2020, and that leaves about a year and 3/4 after the final Brexit deadline which right now is March 2019. But an amendment to Britain's E.U. withdrawal bill would allow that bill to be changed which would most likely mean even later. So, Dom, even though British Prime Minister Theresa May says that you know, that's more of an emergency plan than anything else I want you to take a listen to her view of the situation.

THOMAS: Right.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We'll be leaving the E.U. on 29th of March, 2019, at 11:00 p.m. The bill that's going through, though, does not determine that the U.K. needs these -- that's part of the Article 50 process, and it's a matter of international law. And it's important I think that we have the same position legally as the European Union, and that's why we've accepted the amendment. We would only use this power in exceptional circumstances for the shortest possible time, and an affirmative motion would be brought to the House.


SESAY: All right. Dominick, this deadline that the E.U. has set for the end of the transition period, what does it tell us about where the E.U. stands on these talks, and, you know, what's about to happen in this next round?

THOMAS: Well, what it tells us, first of all, is that we need to not only mark our calendars for the 29th of March 2019 but to be very clear, it's 11:00 p.m., Isha, OK. Not 11:15 or quarter of --

SESAY: Obviously.

THOMAS: Right. So, that's important. And that's also important to point out that in addition to that, of course, the second amendment is, which is that the parliament now in what can be seen as a kind of second rebellion in just a one-week period, that's specifically said they would like the opportunity to be able to change that date and if it doesn't look like things are going very well. So, that was another sort of knockback to particular policies. But the European Union has been very clear on this. First of all, 2020 is the cutoff. So, let's not go too far down the road thinking that it's going to be possible to extend this transition.

And of course, the hardcore Brexiteers in her cabinet, which are really obviously making the situation very difficult. Certainly, don't want to see it go much beyond 2019, because they, of course, are concerned that if we get into another election cycle, or if this government collapses there's a possibility this might not just go ahead in the way that they are expecting this to happen.

And of course, the paradox of all of this is the longer this goes on beyond the 2019 date, the more the U.K. has to conform to European Union laws, rules, and regulations beyond that period. But also accept rules and regulations that have been passed since then in which they will have absolutely no input. So, the whole very question of sovereignty comes up again.

SESAY: Yes, absolutely. And with the backdrop of two rebellions, two parliamentary rebellions in a matter of days, where does this leave Theresa May as she heads into this next round of talks? Is she going into them from a position of strength or deeply wounded, deeply weakened?

[01:29:55] THOMAS: Well, I think that first of all the only position of strength she has really right now is that there's absolutely probably nobody on the planet that wants her job. So, for the time being, that's what's keeping them together. What's further weakened her, of course, is this other scandal, which on top of the defense minister being embroiled, Michael Fallon, in sexual harassment problems, and Priti Patel who, of course, left not long ago because of her sort of, you know, extra-office activities that she was involved with Israel, is of course, that her deputy leader today, Damian Green, has had to step down because he also got himself embroiled in all sorts of problems and with pornography on his computer and with sexual allegations.

And that's a real blow to her because this was a strong ally for her in the cabinet. And she now, I think, as we enter the beginning of 2018 is going to have to think very seriously about a cabinet reshuffle so that her position is not further weakened because of these recent departures.

SESAY: Goodness gracious me, it's one problem after another for Theresa May. Dominic Thomas, we always appreciate the insight, though, you're always steady. Thank you.

THOMAS: Thank you.

VAUSE: Thank you. OK. I know how Theresa May feels. OK. Ahead of an emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly on Jerusalem, a warning from the U.S., be careful who you vote for. Billions of dollars in foreign aid could be at stake.


VAUSE: And you're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour: Another North Korean soldier has defected to South Korea across the DMZ. South Korea says it fired warning shots as North Korean guards searched for the defector early Thursday. In all, four members of the North Korean military have defected to the South this year.

VAUSE: In Spain, Catalan voters head to the ballot box in the coming hours to choose a new regional government. Madrid is hoping this election will see a big swing against pro-independence politicians. An unauthorized referendum on the independence in October triggered a crackdown by the Spanish government and the ouster of Catalan leaders.

SESAY: Well, U.S. President Trump celebrated his tax cut victory with Republicans that got the measure through Congress. The President says the reform will create jobs and fulfill a campaign promise. The critics argue the plan eases the tax burden on corporations and the wealthy while shortchanging the middle-class.

VAUSE: In the coming hours, the U.N. General Assembly will gather for a rare emergency session to vote on a draft resolution expressing deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem. The non-binding resolution is highly critical of a recent decision by the U.S. to recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel. And for any country supporting that resolution, President Donald Trump has a not too subtle warning. Billions of dollars of U.S. foreign aid might just hinge on how you vote.


[01:35:08] TRUMP: They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us. Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care. But this isn't like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they're doing. And we're not going to be taken advantage of any longer.


VAUSE: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, had also written to her fellow diplomats, telling them, the President will take their vote personally. And she tweeted out this warning as well. "At the U.N., we're always asked to do more and give more. So, when we make a decision at the will of the American people about where to locate our embassy, we don't expect those we've helped to target us. On Thursday, there'll be a vote criticizing our choice. The U.S. will be taking names."

And just to be clear, there's no need for Nikki Haley to actually take down any names because the votes are open, they're public, and on the record. Even so, the message from the Trump administration seems clear. Mark Dubowitz with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies is with us now. Mark, good to see you.


VAUSE: Again, this draft resolution at the Generally Assembly, it mirrors one which went to the Security Council on Monday. The U.S. used its veto power to kill that even though 14 other council members including American allies like Britain and France voted in favor. Nikki Haley described that as an insult. But that resolution on Monday, it was drafted by Egypt. Egypt receives more than a billion dollars in U.S. aid every year. So, is President Trump serious about cutting assistance to Egypt? Because if he is, and that comes with a whole lot of repercussions for Israel. And if the President doesn't follow through, then isn't this just a hollow threat?

DUBOWITZ: Well, Donald Trump always seems serious when he makes these threats. I'm not sure if he'll cut aid to Egypt but there are certainly lots of other countries that will be voting for this U.N. General Assembly resolution. And I think Nikki Haley is serious that she will be taking names. And she gets a lot of requests all the time in New York from all of these countries for the United States to do favors, and she's going to be expecting that these countries go along with the U.S.'s sovereign right to put its embassy wherever it wants.

VAUSE: Well, Turkey is one of the countries which requested the emergency session on Thursday. Listen to how the country's foreign minister responded to that threat of taking names.


MEVLUT CAVUSOGLU, TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): What will you do by getting these names? Will you allow invasions into those countries as well or will you punish them? The world has changed. The notion of "I am powerful, therefore, I am right," has changed. Now, the world is rising against the unfair. From now on, no honorable nation, no honorable state will bow to such pressure.


VAUSE: Now, is it possible that these types of threats could just backfire and see, you know, a lot of countries dig in and, you know, try and stand up to the U.S.?

DUBOWITZ: Look, Turkey's leadership has a lot to answer for themselves. I mean, this is an authoritarian President that's been arresting tens of thousands of journalists and dissidents and businesspeople who opposed President Erdogan. So, I think the United States is on much better moral footing than countries like Turkey or any other country.

And again, let's be sensible about this. The United States is recognizing something that the United States Congress recognized in 1995 by a vote of 93-5. In June of this year, 90 U.S. Senators, bipartisan basis, recognized Jerusalem as its capital. So, President Trump, all he's doing is he's following long-standing U.S. policy, bipartisan policy to recognize that the U.S. capital -- or the -- where the U.S. embassy will be in Israel's Capital, Jerusalem. And I think that it is a sensible policy, and I don't think the United States is going to be kowtowing to the likes of President Erdogan or anyone else.

VAUSE: I guess I'm sort of more referring to the tactic here which the U.S. is using, you know, threatening foreign aid if countries don't vote in favor of the United States, because as much as the U.S. has a right to decide where its embassy is located, countries around the world have a right to criticize that decision without having, you know, a threat to their foreign aid, right?

DUBOWITZ: Well, actually, the United States has every right to decide who gets foreign aid. I mean, this -- you know, this is the United Nations, everybody plays power politics in the United Nations except the United States? So, of course not. The United States is going to play power politics just like the Russians and the Chinese and the Europeans and everybody else, and that's taxpayer money, and the U.S. has a sovereign right to decide which countries get its money. And if those countries are going to be voting against U.S. interests, then I think it's legitimate that the United States decides to direct that money elsewhere, to support countries who are supporting U.S. interests. I mean, I think that's just basic politics.

[01:40:00] And I think there's certainly something that Nikki Haley is practicing in a long-standing tradition of people like Jeane Kirkpatrick, the great ambassador, a Democrat who crossed the floor and became Ronald Reagan's Ambassador in the 1980s. You know, Jeane Kirkpatrick and others also practiced power politics at the U.N. I think Nikki Haley is continuing in that proud tradition.

VAUSE: But just to clarify here, as a tactic for diplomacy, you know, something like Jerusalem, requires a scalpel and precision as opposed to a sledgehammer, which this kind of seems it is.

DUBOWITZ: Well, again, I'm not sure it's a sledgehammer. You know, the United States long-standing bipartisan support for Jerusalem to be Israel's capital, you know, that's not a sledgehammer. Recognizing that the Capital of Jerusalem -- the Capital of Israel is Jerusalem, that's where the Prime Minister is, the President is, the Israeli Parliament is, the Supreme Court is, you know, diplomats from Tel Aviv who are based at embassies in Tel Aviv have to every day drive one hour to Jerusalem to go visit their Israeli counterparts.

Everybody recognizes that Jerusalem is Israel's Capital. The United States is saying that now. It's establishing that as a matter of U.S. policy and now it's going to use that, I believe, as leverage to kickstart this negotiation. To me, that's a scalpel. There's a lot they could do where they could have used a sledgehammer. This is not it.

VAUSE: I guess the sledgehammer part is the threatening billions of dollars in foreign aids to poor countries if you -- if they don't vote the way the U.S. wants. DUBOWITZ: Again, it's not necessarily billions of dollars to poor countries, it may be billions of dollars to countries that we've been providing assistance to. They may, at this point -- I mean, Donald Trump has been reevaluating foreign aid, and there's been a lot of criticism, some of it legitimate, that the United States wants to cut foreign aid. I don't believe we should cut foreign aid but I think we should be using foreign aid to advance American interests and American objectives and we should not be directing foreign aid to countries that are acting against our interests. Whether it's on Jerusalem or whether it's on any other issue that's important to U.S. national security and foreign policy. I think that is a perfectly appropriately way to use our foreign aid and to direct our foreign aid to U.S. allies that help advance our interests.

VAUSE: Mark, appreciate the conversation. Thanks so much.

DUBOWITZ: All right. Thanks for having me.

SESAY: The South Korean officials have proposed delaying joint military drills with the U.S. until after the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. They say that's aimed at ensuring a peaceful games and nothing more. But it is raising eyebrows with the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula. Joint drills have long been a sticking point with North Korea, which considers them to be provocations.

Well, Thursday marks 50 days until the Winter Games begin. And though every Olympics faces daunting security challenges, the North Korean nuclear threat is in a category of its own. Our Paula Hancocks reports.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A SWAT team rappels down a high-rise building. A drone carrying a bomb is shot out of the sky. And a chemical bomb is removed by a specialist team. Pyeongchang Winter Olympics is preparing for any eventuality. These latest mock drills were the backdrop of the Olympic Stadium.

KIM JAE-YOUL, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, POCOG: We have a government body consists of 19 different authorities, military, police, intelligence, et cetera, and they're just preparing for all kind of scenarios including cyber attacks.

HANCOCKS: Kim Jae-youl is Executive Vice President of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee with North Korea just 50 miles or 80 kilometers away from the games, the focus is on security, but Kim points to the opportunities for more unity 30 years after Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics.

KIM: The Olympics are much more than just global sporting event because it's the events that bring -- that unite the global citizens through shared love of sport. And we saw this during the '84 games when the Eastern and Western bloc countries came together putting aside their differences to celebrate Olympic Games in Seoul.

HANCOCKS: North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik have qualified for the Winter Games. No word from Pyongyang if they'll be allowed to compete. North Korea boycotted the '88 games in the South. As for the IOC's decision to ban Russia for violating anti-doping rules, Kim says those wanting to compete under a neutral flag will be welcomed and treated fairly.

KIM: During the games, we'll have 300 international experts monitoring the whole doping process. Samples that we take will be delivered and analyzed at the state-of-the-art laboratory in Seoul, which will deliver the result in 24 hours.

HANCOCK: For Kim, the main legacy of the Olympics he hopes will be making Pyeongchang a famous winter holiday destination for years to come and sparking a Winter Sports movement among the youths of South Korea, creating the athletes of the future. Paula Hancocks, CNN, Pyeongchang, South Korea.


[01:45:01] SESAY: A quick break here. And still to come, U.S. President Donald Trump is offering support to Saudi Arabia after a Houthi missile was fired at King Salman's palace.


VAUSE: Well, this is just in, in Melbourne, Australia, police say a speeding car appears to have struck at least a dozen pedestrians outside the Flinders Street Station. This is an iconic part of Melbourne. A number of people have actually been hurt. At this point, it is unclear exactly what happened. This is a very popular part of Melbourne and the city. This is, of course, Australia's second largest city. It comes a year to the day after there was a similar incident in Melbourne.

SESAY: This is a situation we'll watch close and just figure out exactly (INAUDIBLE) what happened here.

VAUSE: We should note the driver has also been arrested.

SESAY: Yes, absolutely. So, we'll see what we can find out for you and bring you the details.

VAUSE: Well, Saudi Arabia appears to have to give in to international pressure, allowing a key port in Yemen to remain open for 30 days for food, fuel, and humanitarian supplies. The port is under the control of the Saudi-led coalition which has been waging a military offensive on Houthi rebels. The port was closed last month after a Houthi missile was fired at the Saudi Capital, Riyadh.

SESAY: Well, 2-1/2 year -- the 2-1/2-year war between the coalition and Houthi rebels have killed more than 8,000 civilians and created one of the world's largest humanitarian food crisis. The U.N. estimate 22 million people need assistance. Well, let's bring in Rasha Jarhum. She's a South Yemeni Senior Development Policy Advisor and an expert on security. Rasha, thank you so much for being with us, we very much appreciate it. As this conflict wages on and humanitarian crisis intensifies, how close is Yemen to becoming a failed state?

RASHA JARHUM, SOUTH YEMENI SENIOR DEVELOPMENT POLICY ADVISOR: I think that (INAUDIBLE) we are already in a status of a failed state or a chaotic state, I would say. I just -- I wanted to correct some information. I heard that the anchor just said now that the U.N. -- the Saudis are controlling the Hodeidah Port, and that is not correct. Unless I heard it wrong. The port of Hodeidah is controlled by the Houthis rebels.

And what happens is the ships going to -- they have a verification process that is facilitated by the U.N. and then cleared by the coalition to allow them to go, and then they go to the airport. So, it's not controlled by the Saudi coalition, yes? But the military operation is advancing towards Hodeidah. And it's my -- since they give this 30 days period, it means that they will withheld the military action a little bit to allow the humanitarian aid to go into the country.

SESAY: And tell me -- and not to cut you off, but just, Rasha, and what difference will that make that access to the Hodeidah Port for the next 30 days, how will that impact the humanitarian crisis on the ground?

[01:50:08] JARHUM: It's a very important port -- there is a lot of ports in Yemen but this is one of the most important entry points to the country in terms of commercial goods. It has more capacity to receive commodities. And so, it's very important -- it's a vital line, I would say, for Yemen. So, keeping it open is important. But I think the pressure to make it open or close is basically to put the pressure on the rebels, economically, because they are making money out of this. But also, the fear and concern from Saudi Arabia that there is some kind of illicit arms transfer that goes through that port. I think 30 days --

SESAY: The question is -- no, and --

JARHUM: And it's very --

SESAY: Go ahead. Sorry.

JARHUM: So, I think it should remain open. They should improve how they verify the contents of the ships to control the arms but it should remain open because food and medicine and everything the country needs -- that lifeline.

SESAY: And I think that's a question some people have whether Saudi Arabia has effectively been using food and humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war here for collective punishment.

JARHUM: In that term, I would say because they haven't blocked it for a long time, I wouldn't -- and they allow for -- they keep that line, but I think they should improve their -- because, in the U.N. Security Council resolution 2216, that is the main resolution or the framework for Yemen. It specifically and directly says that the humanitarian access should not be hindered. It should be -- the people have to have humanitarian assistance at all times, and that all parties have to facilitate that.

The problem with accessing the -- in terms of starvation or food, this is also a war tactic that was used by the Houthis especially in besieged area like (INAUDIBLE) where they have besieging the city there for more than two years and they don't allow any humanitarian aid to go in and people have resorted to very unconventional ways to get food assistance. Women are walking miles and miles there to just bring their basic needs to their families and medicine and food and everything. So, I think for Saudi, we can hold them accountable to make it -- to adhere to the U.N. Security resolution. It is very easier to negotiate with Saudi Arabia than really negotiate with the rebels. And that is -- yes, that is basically it.

But generally, the humanitarian response in Yemen have been failing the Yemeni people because even it's not only the access information but also the pledge. There was -- last year, the pledge -- or for this year, it was 2 billion and so far now we are coming to the end of the year and only 62 percent was allocated. Most of the funding that was allocated was not yet -- for example, on food and health are not met completely. So, there still needs to be support.

SESAY: Well, there's no doubt that the situation in Yemen is a very complicated one with people on both sides taking action that's have really led to great amount of suffering for the civilians. Rasha Jarhum, we have to leave it there. I'm afraid we're out of time, but thank you so much for the insight and perspective. Thank you.

JARHUM: Thank you.

VAUSE: And we will be back right after this.


[01:55:22] SESAY: U.S. President Donald Trump promised Americans a tax cut for Christmas and Republicans delivered.

VAUSE: Now, the wise men of Congress are bearing gifts for their king and there's nothing the President likes more than gushing hyperbolic, over-the-top compliments, and he got plenty. Here's CNN's Jeane Moos.


JEANE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This image says it all. President Trump hailing the Republicans who passed the tax reform bill. The Republicans hailing the chief. In fact, it was one big hail fest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're one heck of a leader.

RYAN: Could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: And we're going to make this the greatest presidency that we've seen not only in generations but maybe ever.

MOOS: Even President Trump seemed taken aback by that wet kiss. TRUMP: Paul Ryan just said how good was that?

MOOS: The President has been tweeting and talking about the tax cuts being a Christmas gift, and his fellow Republicans echoed that theme.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can say Merry Christmas.

PENCE: Merry Christmas, America.

MOOS: President Trump was so merry that when he thanked Congressman Steve Scalise, he made light of the fact that Scalise was shot and almost killed by a gunman at baseball practice.

TRUMP: It's a hell of a way to lose weight, Steve. You said you lost --

MOOS: Passing tax relief seemed like a weight off the GOP's shoulders.

TRUMP: We are making America great again.

PENCE: You will make America Great Again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is America's comeback.

MOOS: Remember when the President used to say --

TRUMP: We're going to win so much, you may even get tired of winning.

You may get bored with winning.

MOOS: Do they look bored to you? Jeane Moos, CNN, New York.


VAUSE: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. Be sure to join us --

VAUSE: You're amazing.

SESAY: -- on Twitter @cnnnewsroomla.

VAUSE: You're the best ever.

SESAY: We'll be back with more news right after this.