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Republicans Celebrate Tax Bill Victory; U.N. Showdown Over Jerusalem; Virginia House Balance of Power in Limbo; South Korea Fires Warning Shots Along DMZ. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:28] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: This is what victory looks like. Republicans celebrate passage of an historic tax overhaul, but the party will be short if the GOP can't approve a spending plan to keep the government open by tomorrow night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump with a veiled threat to world leaders as the U.N. prepares for a showdown vote over Jerusalem.

BRIGGS: And how do you pick a winner in a tied election? Wait until you hear how Virginia will determine balance of power in the bellwether state. It is a fascinating process.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday morning. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

A major victory for the Republicans, delivering on tax cuts, killing the Obamacare individual mandate, opening up ANWR for drilling, all in one move. The GOP tax bill now just awaits the president's signature, but in touting the bill as a huge tax cut, the president reveals a hidden agenda all along.


TRUMP: The individual mandate is being repealed. So in this bill, not only do we have massive tax cuts and tax reform, we have essentially repealed Obamacare. We didn't want to bring it up. I told people specifically, be quiet with the fake news media because I don't want them talking too much about it, because I didn't know how people would -- but now that it's approved, I can say, the individual mandate has been repealed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Important to note, Obamacare has not been repealed. Those GOP efforts failed miraculously this year. It's true, the tax bill may destabilize Obamacare by reducing the incentive for young, healthy people to buy insurance.

The Congressional Budget Office has said repealing just the individual mandate will likely raise the premiums to help cover older, sicker people, but it will also save the government money as people drop out of the subsidized Obamacare marketplaces.

ROMANS: Yes, that individual mandate really the glue that keeps Obamacare together.

BRIGGS: Also the most unpopular part of Obamacare.

ROMANS: Right, right, right. Republicans say it's a tax.

Now, by admitting the tax bill was a vehicle for hurting Obamacare, the president handed Democrats a powerful talking point for 2018. None of that got in the way of the Republicans' big celebration yesterday. Even with funding for the government set to run out tomorrow.

For the very latest, let's bring in CNN's Abby Philip at the White House.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Dave, the president and Republicans were jubilant at the White House with the passage of the first major legislative victory of his administration. The president talked a lot about the corporate tax rate going down and the money that will be coming back home from overseas.

But Republicans had nothing but praise for him and his leadership, getting them over the finish line on this bill.

Take a listen.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Something this profound could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: This has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration.

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

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Donald Trump delivered a great victory for the American people.

TRUMP: All friends, I mean, I look at these people, it's like we're warriors together. PHILLIP: But the battle for Republicans may still be ahead with just

a third of Americans supporting the tax bill that they just passed, and about 66 percent of Americans say that the middle class will not benefit as much as the wealthy.

The White House is fully aware that they have a little bit more work to do to sell this bill, Christine and Dave. That's going to be next on the agenda for President Trump.


ROMANS: All right. Abby, thank you for that.

Less than 48 hours to go before funding runs dry and the federal government shuts down, and there's no deal right now. House Republicans frustrated after a closed-door meeting last night. Members giving widely differing accounts of a proposal that's being cobbled together to keep the government running past midnight Friday. One thorny issue, whether to add to a stopgap bill a three-week extension of the mass surveillance program that collects intelligence on non-U.S. citizens.

Looming on the Senate side, the GOP's failure to deliver for Susan Collins. The Maine Republican received assurances from majority leader Mitch McConnell that she would get a vote on two Obamacare stabilization bills in exchange for her yes vote on the tax bill, which repealed the individual mandate, but Congress will leave town for the holidays without voting on Obamacare funding. She was not at that signing ceremony yesterday.

For the Republicans, the afterglow of tax reform victory could wear off if they don't pass a spending plan.

[04:35:02] A new CNN poll shows voters prefer Democrats by an 18-point margin, as we get closer to the 2018 midterms.

A blunt warning to president Trump from the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- don't fire Bob Mueller. Mark Warner of Virginia launching a preemptive strike. He's calling on Congress to respond with significant consequences if the president does try to neutralize the special counsel.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Any attempt by this president to remove special counsel Mueller from his position or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of executive branch's responsibilities and authorities.


ROMANS: White House counsel Ty Cobb responding to Warner's warning, telling CNN no consideration is being given to firing Mueller. He adds: If the media is going to continue to ask for responses to every absurd and baseless rumor, attention-seeking partisans will continue to spread them. Mueller is facing a growing number of Republicans who claim there is an anti-Trump bias in his Russia investigation.

BRIGGS: This morning, the U.N. General Assembly votes on a resolution rejecting president Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The administration says it will remember which countries oppose the U.S. position. America's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, writing her fellow ambassadors to say she and the president will be carefully monitoring their votes and taking them personally.

ROMANS: That follows this tweet from Haley on Tuesday: 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. The U.S. will be taking names.

President Trump pushing it a step further, warning financial assistance to nations could be cut off if they vote against the U.S. position.


TRUMP: 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.


ROMANS: Let's go live to Jerusalem and bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann.

And, Oren, we know that that kind of stance from this president is something his supporters really adored on the campaign trail, but it plays very differently on the world stage.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And this vote will show in just a few hours. It's very much expected that the U.S. stands alone or nearly alone with its foreign policy, and that's because President Donald Trump's threat isn't really expected to change any votes at the 183-member U.N. General Assembly. And if you want an idea of how this vote could go, take a look at a vote from a couple of days ago on Palestinian self-determination. That passed 176 for and only 7 against or abstaining. Israel and the U.S. in that against and abstaining category.

And tonight's vote, which is in emergency meeting of the general assembly, could have much the same result, a vast majority of countries voting to attempt to nullify President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Now, it is a nonbinding vote, which means that they can't actually change President Trump's position or have any sort of facts on the ground effect on what happens. But it is a stinging rebuke of U.S. foreign policy and serves to highlight how much the U.S. stands alone there as Trump makes this threat to cut off foreign aid. Does he carry through on that threat? We'll see what comes after here.

It's worth pointing out a couple things, Christine, that first, Israel is the biggest receiver of U.S. foreign aid, at least military aid, more than $3 billion a year. Second, a lot of that aid, or some aid, goes to the United Nations budget, so that could be a threat against the U.N. as well.

But again, at the end of the day here, this isn't expected to change any votes at the U.N. an overwhelming vote trying to or attempting to nullify President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

ROMANS: All right. Oren Liebermann, we will be watching. Thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: Another twist in the Virginia House race leaving the balance of power in limbo. Now it basically comes down to the luck of the draw. A recount had given Democrat Shelly Simonds the victory by one vote over Republican David Yancey, but a three-judge panel has now declared one more valid vote for Yancey, so now the final tally with 11,608 votes each.

ROMANS: Virginia law says in the event of a tie, the election board will determine the winner by lot. The board of elections process involves printing the candidates' names on to equal-size sheets of paper, then putting them in a container. The first name drawn would be declared the winner and the loser could then petition for another recount. A victory for the Democrat would split the control of House of Delegates. A win for the Republican would mean the GOP maintains the majority.

All right. Breaking overnight, more than a dozen people hurt in Australia, where a car plowed into pedestrians outside Melbourne's iconic Flinders Street Railway Station. Two adults and a young child with a head injury have been taken to the hospital in serious condition. Police do have the driver and another person under arrest.

Police say the action was deliberate, but they are not specifically calling it terrorism. We will have more information as it becomes available.

BRIGGS: All right, ahead, shots fired at the DMZ. South Korea opens fire after soldiers from the North pursue a defector. We're live in Seoul ahead on EARLY START.


[04:44:49] BRIGGS: Another eruption of gunfire along the DMZ. It started when a North Korean soldier fled across the demilitarized zone toward the south. Later, when North Korean soldiers appeared in the DMZ, searching for the defector, the South Korean military says its troops opened fire as a warning to the North Koreans.

[04:45:06] CNN international correspondent Paula Hancocks joins us live from Seoul with more.

Good morning, Paula.


Well, the latest information we have from the South Korean military is that this North Korean soldier was young. I think he was late teens, early 20s. They say that he was a low-ranking soldier, and he was armed as he came across the border, but no firing at that point, but that was 8:00 this morning.

A couple of hours, an hour and a half later, as you say, South Korean soldiers did fire 20 warning shots as North Korean soldiers approached the demarcation line, obviously trying to find that defector. And then shortly afterwards, North Koreans were heard firing as well, although none of them landing in South Korea.

So, no direct military engagement between the two sides, but certainly a great concern to have any shots fired near the DMZ. And this isn't the first time that we have seen this. Just last month you saw that very dramatic video of a North Korean soldier making a desperate dash for his life, being shot at by his former comrades, shot four times, critically injured but has survived.

So, the question, of course, is: why are more and more north Korean soldiers making that once considered very deadly run across the DMZ? It is the demilitarized zone, but it's the most heavily militarized border on earth. And certainly, it was once a very rare defection route, but certainly, more soldiers are making that desperate attempt now -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Fascinating stuff. Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul -- thank you.

ROMANS: Outrage over this morning's Vatican funeral for disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law. Sexual abuse survivors are seething, saying law does not deserve the dignity of a full cardinal's funeral, including a final blessing by the pope. Law died yesterday 15 years after resigning among revelations he covered up for sexually abusive priests.

BRIGGS: One survivor, Alexa MacPherson, saying Law's death did not give her peace of mind.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With his passing, I say I hope the gates of hell are open wide to welcome him.


BRIGGS: Another victim, Robert Costello, saying instead of a funeral, Law should just disappear. His desire, chop him up and drop him in oceans around the world. Law's successor in Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, says he thinks going forward someone like Law would not have kept the title of cardinal or been afforded a Vatican funeral.

BRIGGS: All right, the tax bill is passed. Wall Street really wanted this, but is it celebrating? We'll tell you why on "CNN Money Stream" next.


[04:52:04] ROMANS: Still no answers one month after a border patrol agent was killed and another injured in a nighttime incident in Texas. A Justice Department official tells CNN FBI investigators have been considering a few possibilities, including an accident, an attack, or maybe even a fight between the two agents. The Border Patrol Union says the surviving agent, Stephen Michael Garland, suffered head trauma, and he cannot remember what happened that night.

BRIGGS: But the fiancee of the agent who died, Rogelio Martinez, believes Garland holds the answers.


ANGIE OCHOA, FIANCEE OF ROGELIO MARTINEZ: And I figured eventually he'll start remembering things and then they'll catch the ones that did it. But now it's just, it's become so hard to -- to believe that he can't remember anything.


BRIGGS: Two weeks ago, a search warrant showed agents were chasing a tip that two undocumented smugglers attacked the agents, but sources familiar with the investigation say the FBI no longer believes the smugglers had anything to do with it.

ROMANS: A grand jury recommending criminal charges against members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at Florida State University. They say members engaged in hazing and underage alcohol abuse, leading to the death of 20-year-old Andrew Coffey last month. Coffey died of accuse alcohol poisoning.

BRIGGS: Police say when a fellow FSU frat pledge found him unresponsive, he texted five other members first instead of calling for help. A grand jury document says the 11-minute delay did not cost Coffey his life but was broadly representative of the culture of the fraternity. FSU officials suspended all fraternity and sorority activity in the wake of Coffey's death.

All lanes of Interstate 5 in Washington state are back open this morning for the first time since Monday's deadly derailment that killed three people and injured about 100 others. Crews lifted the last of the derailed cars off the roadway on Wednesday. The investigation shifting back to Washington, D.C., where the national transportation safety board is reviewing the train's black boxes.

ROMANS: Investigators still trying to figure out why the train came around a 30-mile-an-hour curve at 80 miles an hour. Washington Governor Jay Inslee says Amtrak will pay for expenses for the injured and their families, plus the total cost of cleanup and repair of the roadway.

BRIGGS: "The New York Times" lifting the suspension of political reporter Glenn Thrush next month but is taking him off the White House beat. The 50-year-old thrush was sidelined over allegations of sexual misconduct involving younger female journalists. Claims made in a story written by one of his accusers last month.

In completing its own investigation, "The Times" says thrush behaved in ways the paper does not condone but he does not deserve to be fired. As part of the reinstatement, Thrush will receive training designed to improve his workplace conduct.

[04:55:00] ROMANS: Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney says U.S. gymnastics paid her to keep quiet about abuse by longtime doctor, Larry Nassar. Now she is suing USA Gymnastics and others. Maroney's attorney says, as the victim of child sex abuse in California, Maroney cannot be forced to agree to a confidentiality agreement.

BRIGGS: In a statement, USA Gymnastics says Maroney's attorney initiated the confidentiality agreement. The attorney, Gloria Allred, declined to comment. Nasser admitted to sexually abusing underage girls, including at least three members of team USA.

ROMANS: A CDC study says America is losing the battle against opioid addiction to the point it is lowering life expectancy. New statistics show overdose deaths spiking to over 42,000 in 2016. That's the most ever and more than the annual breast cancer deaths.

West Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire have the most overdoses. The death rate in West Virginia is 2-1/2 times the national average. President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October but allocated no money to combat it.

All right, last-minute holiday shopping. Martha Stewart recently expanded her domestic empire to QVC, offering clothing, skin products, garden tools. Constant evolution has fueled her nearly 30-year business career. I recently asked Martha about that legacy.


MARTHA STEWART, ENTREPRENUER: We want people to live better. And as a result, I think people do live better. We've made a big dent in the way people perceive their homes, their lifestyles, their cooking styles.

ROMANS: What do you think about the struggles of women who are trying to be perfect at home and they're also trying to kill at work?

STEWART: It's one of the most difficult things to do, that balance, which is so elusive to most of us. It didn't work for me. I thought, oh, I can do it. I can do all of it.

I had to sacrifice a marriage because of the lure of the great job, but I don't regret it at all because what I've done is something bigger and better than just one marriage, probably. I shouldn't say that. People who are happily married, don't hate me for saying that. But for me, it's true. It's impossible for most of us to get that balance.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: So interesting, people are even saying you shouldn't call it a work-life balance, because it's always out of balance.

Martha says you have to experiment to stay relevant, like her latest successful partnership with rapper Snoop Dogg, but certainly someone who stayed on top in business for a very long time.

All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream" this morning. Global stock markets are lower today following Wall Street. The Nasdaq composite was flat after big-name tech stocks fell.

There is an old saying in markets, Dave Briggs, buy on the rumor, sell on the news. That's what I think happened yesterday. The rumor of tax reform had fueled the stock market for months and months and months, and then the Dow and the S&P 500 closed lower on the news after Congress approved corporate tax cuts.

With six trading days left, the Dow alone is up 25 percent this year. It has hit multiple milestones, is less than 300 points from its next milestone, 25,000.

U.S. home sales hit their highest level in 11 years. Wow, a really hot housing market, folks. Existing home sales surged 5.6 percent in November, the third straight monthly rise, an end of the year turnaround for a stalled housing market until now. Demand is high but tight supply and rising prices have kept down sales.

BRIGGS: With some fears at least in this part of the country that this tax bill could negatively impact home sales.

ROMANS: Yes, and everyone's trying to figure out New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, even in parts of California and Illinois, maybe, 10 percent holding back home prices maybe 10 percent over the next year or two. We'll have to see.

BRIGGS: Because the mortgage deduction.

ROMANS: And because of the SALT protections, because you won't be able to deduct so many state and local taxes and property tax.

BRIGGS: We shall see.

EARLY START continues now with more on what this tax bill means to you.


BRIGGS: This is what victory looks like as Republicans celebrate passage of its tax overhaul, but the party will be short if the GOP can't approve a spending bill to keep the government open by tomorrow night.


TRUMP: We're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President Trump with a veiled threat to world leaders as the U.N. prepares for a showdown vote over Jerusalem.

BRIGGS: And how do you pick a winner in a tied election? Wait until you hear how Virginia will determine the balance of power in the bellwether state. A very intriguing scenario unfolding in Virginia.

Good morning. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, December 21st. Oh, my gosh, only four more days of shopping. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East, 7:00 p.m. in Seoul, it is noon in Jerusalem.

And in Washington, D.C., a major victory for the Republicans, delivering on tax cuts, killing the Obamacare individual mandate, and opening up ANWR for drilling, all in one move. The GOP tax bill just awaits the president's signature.