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Government Shutdown Averted for Now; Nikki Haley: U.N. "A Hostile Place" for Israel; Strong Obamacare Enrollment Numbers. Pentagon Says Russia Violating Syria Agreement. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 22, 2017 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Shutdown averted. Congress kicks the can another month. But major issues remain as lawmakers and the president leave out for the holidays.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Testimony from the deputy FBI director suggests he can backup Comey's claims about President Trump.

BRIGGS: And the U.S. is not backing down after a lopsided U.N. vote criticizing the president's Jerusalem decision. The response of a former CIA director, calling the president a, quote, "narcissistic vengeful autocrat." John Brennan with one heck of a debut on Twitter yesterday.

Welcome back. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. We're 30 minutes past the hour this Friday morning.

And the lights will stay on. The government running for another month. Crisis averted. The Senate approving a stop-gap funding bill last night to keep federal agencies open through January 19th. The House approved the measure earlier in the day. Pushing the measure through means lawmakers get to go home for the holidays.

BRIGGS: The president also getting away for the holidays. He heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing the Republican tax bill this morning. But after averting a shutdown, many issues still remain.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, in the end, the scent of jet fumes overwhelmed the idea of having a fight when it came to a potential government shutdown. House Republicans having the votes on their own to keep the government funded through January 19th. the Senate following suit shortly thereafter. There will not be a government shutdown, at least for now. What is actually in the bill they passed, it's more than just funding through January 19th. It's also funding through the end of March the Children's Health Insurance Program, a program that lapsed in September. This bill will have # billion to keep that moving forward. This bill will also extend through January 19th a key FISA surveillance program, a warrantless surveillance program the intelligence community says it desperately needs. It will also have some elements of funding for community health hospitals as well. Key components, but no doubt, setting up major fights for January. DACA, obviously, the program that President Trump said he would wind down by the end of March, that has been punted to January as well. And you also have a disaster supplemental bill basically funding for hurricane-ravaged Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico. While the House passed that with a vote, the Senate put that aside, so they didn't have the votes for it this time around. That will have to be addressed in January as well. Republicans and Democrats agreeing not to shut down the government, low bar, but that's progress on some level. But what it does do, again, is set up major fights in January. For now, though, everybody is going home to celebrate the holidays with their families -- Christine and Dave?


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

Still reported no deal on DACA, the law that protects DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants brought here as children. Just before the vote on the short-term spending bill, more than a dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus marched on Senator Chuck Schumer's office, calling for a no-vote on the spending bill, unless it contains a DACA fix.

BRIGGS: They say Schumer only committed to galvanizing support for the nation's DREAMers. Earlier this week, Republican Senator, Jeff Flake said he has a commitment from majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to vote on a bipartisan immigration bill next month.

ROMANS: Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe wrapped up more than 16 hours of testimony this week before members of three House committees. Multiple sources from both parties tell CNN McCabe described interactions with his one-time boss, former FBI director, James Comey.

BRIGGS: Testimony suggests McCabe can back up Comey's claim the president asked him to pledge his loyalty and to go easy on the Michael Flynn investigation. That's because McCabe told lawmakers Comey informed him about conversations with President Trump soon after they happened.

ROMANS: McCabe's closed-door testimony came amid growing calls for his firing from Republicans critical of the FBI's handling of the Russia and Clinton e-mail investigations. Democrats, like Congressman Jerrold Nadler, were pushing back hard, pressuring Republicans to stop demonizing Special Counsel Robert Mueller.


REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D), NEW YORK: Republican attempts seemingly at the behest of the White House to discredit, interfere and undermine Robert Mueller and his team must be called out and exposed as a systematic attempt to provide cover for the president as the walls close in on him and on his family and his inner circle.


BRIGGS: Another CNN poll shows a majority of Americans, 56 percent, disapprove of the president's handling of the Russia investigation. Meanwhile, 47 percent approve of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's approach to the probe. Polls also are sharply divided along party lines. No surprise.

ROMANS: Nikki Halley taking names, as promised, after a U.N. vote condemning President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capitol. The America's ambassador to the U.N. calling the United Nations a, quote, "hostile place for Israel" after a 128 to nine vote against the U.S.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world's largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.


[04:35:25] BRIGGS: Haley's remarks triggering a harsh response from former CIA director, John Brennan. His second ever tweet. Quote, "The Trump administration threats to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign rights in U.N. to oppose U.S. position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous. It shows Donald Trump expects line loyalty and subservience from everyone. Qualities usually found in narcissistic vengeful autocrats."

Thirty-five countries abstained from the U.N. vote and 21 others were absent.

ROMANS: Ambassador Haley inviting representatives from all 65 nations that did not vote against the U.S. to a thank-you reception in January. Part of the invitation reading, "Think of this as just a first symbolic step of the U.S. taking note of who supports us and who doesn't."

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

Oren, what is the reaction to the U.N. vote there?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Palestinians very much see the results of this vote, 128 voting against the United States, as a success. Only nine states voted with the U.S. They see this as a stinging rebuke of U.S. foreign policy and President Trump's unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. In speaking to the Palestinian representative to the United States, he says it's a rejection of unilateralism, moves done by only one country, and a sweeping acceptance of multilateralism, international law and a global approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the goal of recognizing and establishing a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capitol. Strangely enough, this is a situation where even Israel is celebrating the results of the vote to an extent. That's because of a third number, 35 abstentions. They see that as a diplomatic success, at least partially, by getting that many countries to stay out, nearly two dozen countries that were absent during the results of the vote.

So both sides claiming are a measure of success. And yet, as you pointed out, this is largely symbolic because it's a nonbinding resolution and doesn't affect anything on the ground here. And it certainly doesn't change President Trump's recognition as the capital of Israel -- Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Oren, thank you for that, live from Jerusalem for us this morning.

BRIGGS: A federal judge dismissing an ethics lawsuit against President Trump. An organization called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, claim Mr. Trump's business interests are causing conflicts of interest and violate the Constitution. Their argument resting on the president's decision not to sell his business holdings before the inauguration. On Thursday, the judge ruled CREW did not have legal standing to bring the suits since Congress must raise the issue first. CREW calls the ruling a setback and vows to appeal.

ROMANS: Mike Pence is now the highest-ranking Trump administration official to visit an active U.S. combat zone. The vice president making a secret visit to Afghanistan Thursday night, meeting with top Afghan officials and rallying the troops.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, on behalf of your commander-in-chief I say to all of you, in the days ahead, mind your mission, take care of one another, respect the unified chain of command, and never doubt every day every operation and every decision that you make matters.


ROMANS: The vice president has departed Afghanistan, we're told, and is heading back to the U.S. for the holidays.

BRIGGS: President Trump paid a holiday visit to wounded troops at Walter Reed Medical Center.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of the bravest people anywhere in the world. We're just going to wish them a merry Christmas and happy new year. And we love those people.


BRIGGS: During the visit, the president awarded the Purple Heart to First Lieutenant Victor Prado (ph), of the 127th Airborne engineer battalion, who was injured last month while deployed in Afghanistan. This is Trump's second visit to Walter Reed as president. His two predecessors also visited servicemembers there, wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Breaking news overnight, legendary sportscaster, Dick Enberg, has died.



DICK ENBERG, FORMER SPORTSCASTER: Oh, my, what an exciting day.


BRIGGS: Oh, my, what a voice. Family members of the beloved Hall of Fame announcer confirm Enberg was found dead in his home in California Thursday. His family suspects the cause of death was a heart attack. Long-time voice of UCLA basketball and the San Diego Padres, Enberg was heard for decades on NBC, CBS and ESPN. He covered 28 Wimbledons, 10 Super Bowls and eight NCAA championships. Dick Enberg, dead at the age of 82. But on that Mount Rushmore of sports broadcasters we grew up with, one of those legendary voices and talents.

[04:39:59] ROMANS: All right, 49 minutes past the hour. Strong signups for Obamacare, even as the White House refused to help enrollment efforts. We'll crunch the numbers, next.


ROMANS: The president may say Obamacare is imploding, but millions of Americans are still using it. And 8.8 million people signed up on the exchanges this year, just 400,000 fewer than open enrollment last year. An open enrollment period that was twice as long. The Trump administration cut the enrollment period in half, slashed the ad budget by 90 percent. That led Obamacare supporters to accuse officials of sabotaging health care enrollment. But advocates are cheering at the strong numbers. And the final count is likely to be higher. Americans affected by the hurricanes as well as Puerto Ricans have more time to sign up. Strong enrollment is key to the future of Obamacare. The exchanges need younger, healthier people to keep premiums down, a trend that could be hurt by the new tax bill because it eliminates tax penalties for Americans who don't buy health insurance.

[04:45:24] BRIGGS: The Senate has paid out nearly $1.5 million in workplace settlements in the past 20 years. The Senate Rules Committee released the figures. Thirteen settlements for claims involving Senators' offices and 10 more settlements involving offices not led by individual Senators. Taxpayers on the hook for all of those claims.

ROMANS: New legislation would make lawmakers personally liable for sex harassment claims. But there has been a delay advancing that measure. A bipartisan group of lawmakers say they will not be able to introduce a bill to reform how Congress handles sexual harassment until next month.

BRIGGS: So much for that unity in the Republican Party after the tax bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham not on the same page concerning future efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. Here's McConnell with NPR.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate, and we will have to look at that with a 51-49 Senate, but I think we will look at other issues.


ROMANS: Graham disagreeing, tweeting, "To those who believe, including Republican leadership, in 2018 there will not be an effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, well, you are sadly mistaken."

BRIGGS: Doug Jones will be in the Senate, 51 to 49 next year.

Vice President Mike Pence's effusive praise of President Trump after the passing of the tax bill is getting some ribbing online. First, a reminder.


PENCE: I am deeply humbled as your vice president, because of your determination and because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more.


BRIGGS: That got the attention of, which dipped its normally neutral pages in the political waters by tweeting, "There's a word for a person who would praise someone every 12 seconds, with a link to the word of sycophant." That's defined as self-seeking, flattery.

ROMANS: I love that. And you know what -


BRIGGS: That works with me, too.


ROMANS: I want to tell you, you are just a picture of perfection.

BRIGGS: Thank you. I appreciate that.

It works. Keep it coming.

Beautiful dress.

ROMANS: Thank you. Forty-seven minutes pass the hour. After 17 years with Google, the Alphabet executive chairman is stepping down. What's next for Eric Schmidt? Details on CNN, next.


[04:52:06] BRIGGS: The Pentagon thinks Russia is intentionally violating an agreement designed to prevent accidents in the skies over Syria. That accusation follows a recent encounter between American F-22s and Russian SU-25 jets that nearly resulted in a

collision. Now Russia's envoy to Syria says it's time for the U.S. to pack up and get out.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen, live from Moscow, with the latest developments.

Good morning, Fred.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dave. Interestingly, we also got a comment from the Kremlin on this as well, and the spokesman for Putin, Dmitry Peskov, saying that Russia believes that it is in Syria legitimately by international law, but the United States is not. Now, that, of course, echoes what you were saying, what the envoy was saying as well. What he was saying, and I quote, "The task of defeating the terrorists group in Syria" -- referring to ISIS -- "by the Americans has been fulfilled. And therefore, we believe that there are no compelling reasons for the unites to be located on the territory of Syria. The reasons are groundless."

There you can hear the Russians very critical of the United States. That seems to indicate there could be conflict between the U.S. and Russia over how to move forward in Syria. Of course, the two sides, for a very long time, both focused on fighting ISIS, but at the same time, differing views on how to move forward in Syria. Of course, the U.S. wants Bashar Assad to go. The Russians are saying that's not going to happen. Very much potential for a conflict. And also, it's going to be very interesting to see how all of this will play out with that relationship between Vladimir Putin and President Trump if, indeed, things heat up between the Russians and the U.S. in Syria even more -- Dave?

BRIGGS: Very intriguing relations.

Fred Pleitgen, live for us in Moscow, thanks.

ROMANS: A Wisconsin teenager charged in the so-called "Slender Man" stabbing of a classmate, she will be spared prison time. The judge choosing to send Anissa Weier Thursday to a mental institution for 25 years. She is 15 years old. She apologized for her actions at the hearing, having already pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree homicide due to mental illness.

BRIGGS: She and Morgan Geyser lured another classmate to a park three years ago where they stabbed her 19 times. He's a fictional Internet character known as Slender Man. The victim survived. Geyser pleaded guilty to attempted murder back in October and will also be committed to a mental institution.

ROMANS: The huge Thomas wildfire in southern California inching closer to being the largest in state history. Critical fire danger warnings back in place. Winds picked up overnight. And as that fire grows, so does the cost to fight it. Officials saying the fire consumed 400 more acres Thursday, bringing the total to more than 272,000 acres. The cost to fight it now passing $170 million. This thing is only about 65 percent contained. The winds a real problem.

BRIGGS: Thousands of people out of their homes ahead of the holiday in Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile, holiday travel worries. Snow in New England. Fridge temps across the country.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the details.


[04:55:08] DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine. So many of us traveling home for the holidays this weekend. Looks as if the weather will play a crucial role. Specifically, at the airports. From St. Louis to Atlanta, heavy rain moving through. And for places like New England. We could see major snowfall. Here's the national map. Mild air to the south of this warm front allowing for all liquid precipitation from Tennessee to Kentucky and portions of Alabama and Georgia. But north of the warm front, it's cold, and that means cold enough for snow. Anywhere from Michigan to Upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine where three to six inches of snow could fall in the next two days. Here's a look at your temperatures, 57 for Cincinnati today, 39 for the Windy City. D.C., 56, 48 for New York. Check out the temperatures, taking a nosedive right into Christmas Eve and Christmas day, although we should stay dry from Sunday night into Monday.

Back to you.


BRIGGS: Merry Christmas to you, Derek.

Meanwhile, a stunning admission from Major League Baseball all-star, Darryl Strawberry. In an interview with Dr. Oz about addiction, Strawberry confesses to be a sex addict during his playing days. In fact, he was so addicted to sex he used to have sex during baseball games.


DARRYL STRAWBERRY, FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: The middle of games, I would go between innings and stuff like that and run back and have a little party going on, and I thought it was pretty cool. That's just the addiction, the drive.

DR. OZ, HOST, THE DR. OZ SHOW: Your teammates and coaches, did they not know? STRAWBERRY: Some of them covered for me.


BRIGGS: Wow. Strawberry has gone through recovery and started a ministry aimed at helping people fix their lives the way he fixed his.

ROMANS: All right, 56 minutes past the hour. Let's move on to business, if you don't mind. Global stocks mostly higher. Wall Street snapped a two-day decline, closing higher due to energy and bank stocks. Congress approved that tax bill this week that slashes the corporate rate. Banks will be some of the biggest winners. Analyst expect a jump in bank profits by 25 percent.

The cracks are starting to show in Bitcoin's stunning rally. Bitcoin plunged to about 13,000 overnight. It's now down more than 30 percent this week. A few days of bad headlines for the cryptocurrency, including closed exchanges, something causing doubt about the reliability of the market. Unlike traditional currencies, Bitcoin is not tied to a central bank, and it's not regulated, and it's made up. Kind of.

Eric Schmidt is stepping down as executive chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Schmidt has been with that company for 17 years. As CEO, he played a central role in turning Google into a major powerhouse. Schmidt will remain on the board and continue to serve as a technical advisor.

Also stepping aside, the papa of Papa John's is leaving, the CEO. John Schnatter founded the chain in the 1980s. He'll step down in January. No reason given for the departure, but it comes after a string of debacles of slumping sales, including his blaming NFL player protests for poor Papa John's sales. Papa John's is an NFL sponsor.

BRIGGS: That really did not go so well for him. Now the question is, will he still be the face -- will he do the commercials.

ROMANS: I wonder.


BRIGGS: He's the brand.

ROMANS: Right. He's still affiliated, just not the top guy.

BRIGGS: Should be interesting.

EARLY START continues right now, with a government shutdown averted, but is another one looming in January?

Yes, shut down averted. Congress kicks the can another month. Major issues remain as lawmakers and the president head out for Christmas.

ROMANS: Testimony from the deputy FBI director suggests he can backup James Comey's claims about President Trump.

BRIGGS: And the U.S. not backing down after a lopsided U.N. vote criticizing the president's Jerusalem decision.

The response of the former CIA director comparing the president with narcissistic vengeful autocrats.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans.

It's Friday.

BRIGGS: Mar-a-Lago Friday.

ROMANS: It's Mar-a-Lago Friday. It's December 22, which means it's the Friday before Christmas. It's 5:00 a.m. in the east. And it's noon in Jerusalem and 1:00 p.m. in Moscow.

Good morning, everybody.

The lights will stay on in the government for another month. Congress did its job, and that's news. That's news.


The Senate approving a stop-gap funding bill last night to keep federal agencies open through January 19th. So we'll revisit this. The House approved the measure earlier in the day. Pushing the measure through means lawmakers can get away for the holidays.

BRIGGS: The president also getting away. he heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing the Republican tax bill this morning. But even after averting a shut down, many critical items remain unresolved.

CNN's Phil Mattingly not quite out of here for the holidays. He has more from Capitol Hill.