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THE SITUATION ROOM

Munich Police: Imminent Threat of Terror Attack; Feds: New York Man was Planning ISIS Attack Tonight; Interview with Congressman John Garamendi; New Trump Attacks, Three Top Carson Aides Quit; Obama to Announce New Executive Action on Guns; The Technology That Changed New Year's Eve. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 31, 2015 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: -- order an attack?

[18:00:02] And tower of fire -- flames engulfing a huge high rise hotel, as guests are preparing to ring in the New Year and multiple explosions rocked the wreckage. What caused this disaster in major international city.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar and you're THE SITUATION ROOM.

(MUSIC)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We have breaking news tonight out of Germany. Two rail stations are being evacuated and train service stopped because of concerns about a New Year's Eve terror attack. We're getting new information about this situation in Munich. Stand by for those details.

And then also breaking, federal authorities say a 25-year-old man now is in custody and he was planning an attack tonight at a bar and restaurant in Upstate New York. We just learned that fireworks have been cancelled in the city of Rochester because of that arrest. And officials say this suspect received direction from ISIS members overseas that allegedly planned the attack and that he planned the attack in order to join this terror group.

Tonight, 6,000 police officers are being deployed to Times Square to guard against terror. President Obama has been briefed on potential holiday threats to three U.S. cities, New York, Los Angeles and here in Washington.

And I'll be asking Congressman John Garamendi what he's learning about terror threats tonight. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Our correspondents and analysts are also standing by to cover all of the news that is breaking right now.

And we begin with breaking news in Germany. Munich police warning of an imminent threat of a terror attack and

ordering two of the city's train stations evacuated.

CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is working the story for us.

Fred, what are you -- what are you hearing?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Brianna, it's a very urgent warning from the Munich police. And they say they have what they call credible information that there was possibly an attack planned in the wider Munich area for tonight.

Now, they are urging people to stay away from larger crowd gatherings. It is interesting because actually, right at this moment of time, it's midnight in Munich. This would be the main time of celebrations in the city.

The other thing they have also done is evacuated the main rail way station, the Munich central rail way station and another in the west of Munich called Munich Pasing, and stopped all rail traffic from those places.

They have not given details at this point in time as to what exactly this threat was, where they got this information, who might be behind all of this, but they are saying that they don't want to take any sort of chances and treat this as a very credible threat. And I can tell you from reading the press releases in German, they are a lot more urgent than you would normally find from German authorities.

They also say that while they have the celebrations under way, they also have put additional police officers on the ground to try and come to terms with this as fast as possible and also try to find whoever might be behind this, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Fred, thank you so much for that report.

I want to go to now to talking about this threat of terrorism on this New Year's Eve in this country. Federal authorities foiled an attack planned for tonight in the name of ISIS, but the city of Rochester, New York, just cancelled fireworks because of this plot.

CNN justice reporter Evan Perez has more on this.

What are you learning, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, you know, just what happened in Munich, people -- officials in Rochester New York, about 100 miles north of where we are here were very concerned about this arrest.

Emanuel Lutchman, 25 years old, was plotting, according to the FBI, to attack -- carry out an attack at a restaurant bar club in Rochester. The idea was to attack it with bombs and knives and to kidnap a couple of people and kill them. Now, this is all according to the FBI and they say that he was

plotting to do this on behalf of is. That he was in touch with someone overseas who was a member of ISIS and that he was being directed to do this, sort of a way to prove his worth in order to join the group.

Now, this is a person, Lutchman, who has a criminal history in New York. He served five years for robbery, and he also had mental health problems, but really what this case illustrates and what Munich illustrates is really what I'm told by U.S. officials to be an extraordinary, almost unprecedented set of threats. We've been following them from Brussels to Turkey, to Switzerland to Munich and Indonesia.

U.S. officials were aware of the Munich threat for instance and they say they are very concerned about this and many others they are following, Brianna.

KEILAR: And you have 6,000 officers, right, to be deployed to protect one of the biggest, I would say the most iconic New Year's Eve celebration in the world, New York City.

PEREZ: That's right. And that's part of what this warning or this threat that President Obama was briefed upon before he left for his vacation in Hawaii, Brianna.

[18:05:08] There was this threat that came from an overseas source, it was a single source, but it is one of those things. You have to take seriously the threat mentioned Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, of course, in New York. The immediate concern is the Times Square celebration in Los Angeles tomorrow. The concern will be the Rose Bowl. You'll see a lot more security there.

And really what I'm told is this kind of caps an extraordinary year in terrorism with the Justice Department has done about 60 prosecutions this year alone. That breaks all records. It's worse than anything even that these officials saw right after 9/11. People who've been in the counterterrorism game say they never seen a year like this.

KEILAR: Yes, it is -- everyone feels it on a very real level.

Evan Perez, thanks so much.

PEREZ: Absolutely.

KEILAR: I do want to get more with former FBI assistant director and CNN enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

When we look at that threat in Munich where we have officials closing two train stations, it certainly is a very busy time. What kind of information would they have gotten that would have prompted them to do that?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think in this case, Brianna, it had to be very specific, that it's going to happen tonight, possibly name names who is going to do it, maybe they went out to look for individuals, couldn't find them, so they believe they might be out in the street on the process of carrying out an attack. So, that's, you know, major concern.

One of the biggest difference is why this year is so much different is that we've had al Qaeda issue fatwas over the years, OK, followers do an attack. We'd have ISIS over the last couple years do an attack. Wherever you are in the world, go ahead and attack.

What's different now is that ISIS has a couple thousand zombies all over the world that when they get these things, they go out. Who would have expected San Bernardino? Who would expect Rochester, New York? You might expect Times Square or Washington, D.C., a major city.

But, now, it could be anywhere and could be any one of these zombies, if you will, that listen to these orders and decide, I'm going to go do it.

KEILAR: It seems more now than any time and you see when Evan is talking about statistics, it's a very real verifiable thing, but it also seems to be this thing in the consciousness of so many Americans and people around the country in Brussels. They are cancelling New Year's celebrations. Paris scaled down.

I mean, we're really seeing changes when it used to be the mentality of don't let the terrorists win. We're seeing people change the way they operate and big cities change.

FUENTES: Because they actually carried out attacks and it's been from lone wolves or a pair of people that couldn't be tracked or couldn't come up on the radar to be tracked. So, that's the difference, as you have that.

But look at all of what's happened this past year. How many flights have been landed because of a bomb threat to the flight? A terror threat. How many events cancelled like we're seeing tonight on several parts of the world, cancelled because if they receive the slightest threat, it could happen?

In the past, they thought, oh, it's not going to happen here. It's not going to happen in Rochester New York and here they make this arrest and yes, it was going to happen in Rochester, New York.

KEILAR: It's amazing. All right. Tom Fuentes, thanks so much for that.

Joining me now, Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's a leading Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us today and let us know if you have any information about this possible terror threat in Munich. What are you hearing?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, just exactly what you've heard. We've seen the clear accounts. We've seen some of the translated press releases from the Munich police. Obviously, they're very, very, concerned. And as you said a moment ago, it's 12:00 in Munich.

So, that city and I think most every city around the world is experiencing much higher level of potential threat and much more awareness of it and we certainly are here in the United States, not just the big cities, New York, Chicago, L.A., but also smaller cities, all of us on alert, all of us paying attention and hopefully, all of us going to enjoy a great New Year's celebration.

KEILAR: What's your biggest concern in terms of potential terrorist threats or is that really your biggest concern that you can't pinpoint where the terror threat would be?

GARAMENDI: Well, I think that's obviously everybody is looking over their shoulder and that's good. But at the same time, this is a huge country. We're a very, very successful country and we've had extraordinary law enforcement.

If you put aside the San Bernardino issue and other domestic shootings that have occurred, we're basically a safe country. And so our police are out there, our FBI, our security agencies, they're watching, they're doing their job. Obviously, they found somebody in Rochester and they found, as we said, 60 others across the nation this year doing what they need to do.

[18:10:00] We're ramping up, we're paying attention and we're looking for these kinds of one off incidents where someone is brought into the ISIS orbit and encouraged to commit some sort of terrorist act. So, the neighborhood, the neighbors, all of us need to be aware and reporting what we see. This is New Years and all across this nation, it's our opportunity to celebrate this nation celebrate our family, celebrate the success that we have and look forward to a much better year next year.

KEILAR: Can I ask you something? You said that we all need to be vigilant.

GARAMENDI: Sure.

KEILAR: And this is really -- you know, this is a line of defense in this is people paying attention. This man in Rochester who was arrested and charged got through a Walmart checkout purchasing zip ties, a ski mask, ammonia, rubber gloves. Is that -- I mean, when you hear that, that he without anyone noticing or even raising any red flags, what do you think about that?

GARAMENDI: Well, I think it's worth worrying about. I think it's worth -- the police in that city apparently he was, has a criminal record. Whether he's out on parole, probation, we don't know yet, nor do we know how the police agencies discovered him.

What mechanism did they use to find this individual? That's going to be a very, very important piece of this puzzle somewhere, somehow, the security agencies in this country discovered this individual before he could do anything except buy some stuff at Walmart, which in and of itself may have meant nothing. But we need to watch closely and we really need to support our police agencies as they go about their very difficult task trying to keep us aware and to keep us aware and to keep us secure and safe. It's difficult. I mean, you have millions of people out in the street gathering, watching fireworks, celebrating, the bars are busy. The restaurants are busy.

So, there is a lot of potential for problems, but there is also even greater potential for celebration for happiness and for really revealing the reality of America. And that we are really in good shape in this nation.

A lot of things need to be done. We have a lot of work out ahead of us, actually had a productive year in Congress. Hopefully have an even more productive year next year as we deal with this issue of ISIS, the war in Syria, and all of the issues of our economy, getting people back to work, getting the middle class wages up. It's our task.

So, we all have a piece of this puzzle but, hey, it's New Years. It's New Year's Eve and we ought to be celebrating but at the same time, cautious and careful.

KEILAR: That's right. There is a lot to celebrate and a lot to be concerned about as well.

Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for being here. Happy New Year to you.

GARAMENDI: And to you, happy New Year.

KEILAR: Just ahead, a fiery New Year's Eve disaster that sent luxury hotel guests running for their lives.

And Donald Trump explains why he's bothering to attack Jeb Bush in the closing hours of the year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:17:12] KEILAR: We have more breaking news in the wake of a major fire at a luxury hotel. The U.S. consulate general in Dubai now suggesting U.S. citizens avoid this area of the fire at Dubai's Address Hotel. Reports say at least 20 floors of the 63-story hotel burned.

This is a fire that started about 2.5 hours before midnight and witnesses tell CNN they heard explosions as flames devour this hotel. Dubai officials say at this point that 16 people were injured.

I want to turn to presidential politics here in the United States. Donald Trump is wrapping up 2015 in familiar fashion. He's on the attack.

And as Republican candidates gear up for the first real votes in just a few weeks, some of Trump's rivals are dealing with shakeups in their campaigns. Three top officials in Ben Carson's camp just called it quits.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray is covering the GOP race. This is a rough time and rough day for the Carson campaign.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: You're absolutely right, Brianna.

And, look, shakeups happen in campaigns, but you do not want them happening right before Iowa. And it turns out Ben Carson isn't the only candidate who's going to kick off 2016 on rocky footing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): As 2015 comes to a close, several campaigns are ending it in disarray.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everything is on the table. We're constantly looking at everything, looking to see if there are ways to improve things. You know, if there are personnel changes that need to be made, everything is on the table. Every single thing is on the table.

MURRAY: Today, Ben Carson losing three of his top aides -- his campaign manager, deputy campaign manager and communications director resigning, wishing him the best of luck and saying, "We have enjoyed helping him go from far back in the field to top tier status."

That top tier status now in jeopardy as Carson's poll numbers slide.

Jeb Bush is muddling through his own campaign shakeup, cancelling pricey ads, moving staff to early states and insisting voters flirtation with Donald Trump will soon come to an end.

JEB Bush (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're living in this reality TV kind of political environment where he fills the space by saying outrageous things. I think the emotion of the here and now will subside.

MURRAY: Trump, the candidate known for biting insults, firing his parting shots of the year at Bush. Launching a Twitter assault saying, "People ask why do you tweet and retweet to millions about Jeb Bush when he is so low in the polls? Because if his big dollar hit ads on me."

Those ads starting to irritate Trump.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It bothers me seeing a guy spend $60 million on ads against me a lot of it, right?

MURRAY: For his part, the GOP front runner is looking ahead to 2016 with a little expectations management.

[18:20:03] TRUMP: I'm setting myself up, because they will show these words, if I come in second by two points, they will say, oh, this was a terrible defeat. Terrible -- it's not terrible.

MURRAY: A sharp shift from just a month ago.

TRUMP: I don't like being second. Second is terrible to me.

MURRAY: Trump vowing to start spending millions a week to ensure victory.

TRUMP: We're going to start spending a lot of money because I don't want to take chances.

MURRAY: And reminding losers he doesn't take kindly to losing.

TRUMP: If I don't win, I will consider this and I mean this -- a total and complete waste of time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: So, over the next couple weeks, we'll get a sense of whether Donald Trump really means what he says, whether he's really going to start spending money. Right now, political operatives on the ground in the early states say there is no sign of this huge advertising blitz that Donald Trump says is coming -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Sara is going to stick around with us as we bring in Rebecca Berg. She's the national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics". We also have David Swerdlick, he's the assistant editor for "The Washington Post", and we have CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's the director for "The National Journal".

So, we're hearing Donald Trump here, Ron. He's saying this is war. Going after enemies and doing well right now. But do you see any vulnerabilities for him as we get into the home stretch towards Iowa?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Before we get to the vulnerabilities, though, the use of the word "war" is extremely revealing about why Donald Trump is doing so well, because I think Donald Trump is appealing to the portion of the Republican base that really does feel fundamentally that the country is slipping away from them. They feel economically marginalized, culturally eclipsed, and what made Trump so attractive to the voters is that he seems to be willing to say and do anything to restore what they feel is being taken from them.

And so, the more outrageous he gets, the more he attacks, the more he kind of barrels through the boundaries of traditional political dialogue, the more he affirms their belief that this is someone who will go to war on their behalf. So, him using that language I think was very, very revealing.

The risk to him is this constituency is not by itself enough to win. It is enough to win a crowded field. As the field narrows, ultimately, he will have to reach beyond it, and the question for Donald Trump has always been whether the extreme things that bind him to the voters most attracted to him also push away the voters he will need to win the nomination -- and ultimately, if he is the nominee, the general election. KEILAR: Rebecca, where do you think other candidates are seeing there

may be an opening? Sometimes I look at Donald Trump to answer that question. I saw him. He sort of pulled out his Bible the other day and said, eluded that Ted Cruz isn't really an evangelical, even though he's Baptist, is that right? I think he is. I think he is an evangelical.

But where do you see candidates zeroing in on maybe some chinks in his armor?

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, that's the thing. So far, we haven't seen attacks on Donald Trump work and so what we're starting to see among some of the other candidates is a new tack, not attacking Donald Trump as much and focusing on the candidates who are in direct computation with them. So, we're seeing Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Chris Christie and John Kasich all going at each other instead of going at Donald Trump as much because they realize his voters aren't likely going to come over to them, at least not until the very end of this race. And so, they are really focusing on the more immediate threats to them.

You could say the same for Ted Cruz, focusing on Marco Rubio and maybe at some point Donald Trump. But it's a race right now with many lanes and that's what makes this very complicated. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of voters yet to sway.

KEILAR: Do they have to stay away from hitting Donald Trump? Do they eventually have to? I mean, Ted Cruz is sort of coming in close to Donald Trump in Iowa. It's going to be awfully tempting but he hasn't done anything at least publicly to ding him at this point.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I think it worked well for Cruz to kind of hug Donald Trump early in the race and now that they are coming up on the Iowa caucuses, we're seeing some separation and some more computation and some more jabs.

For the other candidates, it hasn't worked and now, they're discovering too late that you have to take swings back at Donald Trump. Jeb Bush has taken some jabs at him since the last debate. I just think for him right now, it's too little too late.

KEILAR: Yes, he's not doing too well and he's actually saying that Jeb Bush -- Jeb Bush is saying that Donald Trump's appeal is going to fade soon, but Bush obviously struggling and pulling back on advertising buys, he's redeploying his staff to early voting states and check this out. This is a moment when he referred to a South Carolina official as Hurricane Katrina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know why your great state senator reminds me of a hurricane but she does. She's strong and she's fierce and she is solving problems for you at the state capital. You should be honored to have her as your elected official. I hope you agree with that.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: That's your new nickname, the Bush family gives out nicknames, yours is now Hurricane Katrina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[18:25:02] KEILAR: Oh, that -- OK. That's a tough -- that's a sore spot for anyone in the Bush family to be making a joke about Hurricane Katrina.

MURRAY: Yes, it's a Jeb moments where you're just like why? Why did you do that, Jeb? Why did you go there?

That's the thing that dogged Jeb as a candidate and even as people sort of look at him, even as people take -- if they want to take a second look, there are still moments like that and that seems to be who he is and I think that's what his campaign struggled with is -- look, you can build whatever kind of operation you want, you can raise as much money as you want, naturally, it comes to the candidate.

You need to have a candidate who is good at campaigning but you also need to have someone who can attract voters. And when your last name is Bush and when you fall over yourself like that it's a little tougher.

KEILAR: Is he toast do you think?

BERG: It doesn't look good. This latest move to cancel ad buys in Iowa and a little bit in New Hampshire to move his staff from Miami to the early states and mostly New Hampshire, it shows a campaign that is on life support, and the problem for Jeb Bush is no matter how much money he spent, no matter how many resources he has committed to these states, no matter who much he himself has been there, it hasn't made a difference and in many cases has actually gone done in the polls.

And I think Sara is absolutely right, it just comes down to the candidate himself. And he isn't connecting with voters.

KEILAR: His super PAC still has a boatload of money and you talk to Jeb folks, you know, prior to this and they say, they say you know what? He can stay in this money-wise until April, but at a certain point just having the money to stay until April really isn't enough, right?

SWERDLICK: No, it's not. I think the money will propel him until the March primaries and he'll be able to stay in the race. He has the name ID and people want to see him do well but hasn't succeeded in campaign, and he has had too many of these, as Sara said, Jeb moments.

At first, he was too timid and too professorial, and now, he's trying a little too hard to have these glib comments and it's not working for him. Hasn't found his campaign niche in this campaign where Donald Trump is taking up all the oxygen.

KEILAR: What do you think, Ron? BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, Brianna, since the modern primary began in

1976, Republicans have never nominated someone that did not win either Iowa or New Hampshire and one thing we'll see this year is whether that pattern is broken.

Republican races have usually reduced to two candidates quickly. This time, a lot of people expect a three-way race with Trump having a solid hold particular on blue collar Republicans, nearly 50 percent of them in the last CNN poll. Ted Cruz, evangelicals and other staunch conservatives kind of his sweet spot.

And then the question of whether anyone can consolidate that white collar, center right wing of the party that is usually picked the nominee. And you have Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, John Kasich treading water trying to emerge from the group in New Hampshire. The question is, though, whether anyone can consolidate that. Most people assume that Marco Rubio eventually will. But if he finishes behind Chris Christie in New Hampshire in particular that could remain fragmented, and you could easily imagine a world now where Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are the two finalist and outcome that many Republican strategists in Washington are reluctant to envision because they view each of them as the most difficult to elect in a general election.

KEILAR: Yes, it's fascinating. So, Ted Cruz is bringing in, he's bringing in boatloads of money $20 million in the fourth quarter, the expectation.

So, is that what you see? You see Ted Cruz really being the one taking on Donald Trump here?

BERG: Well, for the time being, absolutely. And so, Ron mentioned the outcome in New Hampshire potentially being a one, two finish with Donald Trump moving on, and then a moderate candidate, as well.

But until then, Ted Cruz has one of the strongest campaign infrastructures. He's obviously appealing to a sector of the Republican Party that has grown very strong and has a very strong message for that group. So, I see him going very far.

What's going to help him in this election is the map because after these first few primaries that establish basically the last three people in the race, we go to a number of southern states and that's where Ted Cruz is very, very strong including Texas, his home state and he could get a lot of momentum from that and that is what he sees as his path to the nomination as well.

KEILAR: How worried is the Republican establishment when they are seeing the path to the nomination for these candidates but they are not necessarily seeing the path to the White House, right?

MURRAY: Right. I think that's exactly true and I think, you know, there are a number of them deluding themselves into thinking that these guys could never even make it to the nomination still. They sort of think that Donald Trump will just go away somehow on his own -- KEILAR: Little magical thinking, perhaps.

MURRAY: Right. If you are an establishment Republican, you look at the coalitions you need to win the White House, you're looking at how badly you've been beat by Barack Obama and you're looking at someone like Ted Cruz and you're looking at someone like Donald Trump who alienate a lot of voters, especially when we're talking about Trump and the controversial comments he's made and that's a worrisome moment for establishment Republicans. They don't know how someone like Ted Cruz or someone like Donald Trump can build the coalitions to win a White House.

[18:30:02] All right. You guys stick around. We have more to talk about politic politics. Our last little discussion here of 2015. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We are back now with our political experts and a new response by President Obama to deadly gun violence across the nation. He's getting ready to announce new executive action to expand background checks on gun sales.

And our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is in Hawaii with the president and with all of the details here.

This is really a big deal, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A very big deal, Brianna. And during his vacation here in Hawaii, President Obama has been working with his top aides on his upcoming State of the Union Address. The speech is expected to set an ambitious tone for what the president is vowing, will be a busy end to his eight years in office. And right now at the top of that agenda is gun control.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): For President Obama, the final round is about to begin.

(CHEERS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In 2016, I'm going to leave it all on the field.

ACOSTA: Up first in the president's eighth and last year in office, Mr. Obama's long promised response to mass shootings in the U.S.

[18:35:06] Sources familiar with the plan say it will be a package of executive actions on gun control.

(APPLAUSE)

ACOSTA: Expected before the January 12th State of the Union and aimed at the gun show loophole which allows firearm sellers to conduct background checks on customers. (on camera): And so, the beginning of this year?

ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think that would be fair, yes.

ACOSTA: OK.

(voice-over): The White House argues the president's actions will be within his executive authority and in line with polls that show broad support for tightening background checks.

SCHULTZ: Unfortunately, Congress hasn't shown the courage to do so. So, that's why the president asked his team to look at what we can do administratively.

ACOSTA: Vowing to fight the move, the nation's biggest gun lobby, the NRA, says the president is doing what he always does when he doesn't get his way, defying the will of the people and using executive action.

Another controversial proposal coming in the New Year, the president will ask Congress to shut down the terror detention center at Guantanamo, facility Mr. Obama may close on his own if lawmakers balk at the White House plan.

OBAMA: It will be an uphill battle.

ACOSTA: The president also hopes to travel to Cuba and perhaps more than a dozen other countries in what is shaping up to be a global farewell tour.

But the president's agenda could be up ended but setbacks in the war on ISIS, a foreign policy crisis that could complicate White House plans to have the president campaign heavily with the 2016 Democratic nominee, a prospect that may well put him and Hillary Clinton on the trail together again.

OBAMA: I think we will have a strong Democratic nominee. I think that Democratic nominee will win. I think I will have a Democratic successor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: But first, the president will layout his plans for the final year in office at the fast approaching State of the Union Address, which is less than two weeks away. A White House official say don't expect a long list of proposals in part because the president is running out of time.

But, Brianna, getting back to this executive action on gun control, it's not only going to set the agenda for the next year in Washington, but I think the White House wants to set the agenda out on the campaign trail as well -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, very good point there. Jim Acosta for us in Hawaii, a very happy New Year to you as you celebrate in a beautiful, beautiful place.

ACOSTA: You too.

KEILAR: Thank you, Jim.

All right. Let's get back to the lovely political panel to talk about this.

Ron, what do you see going on where the president is taking this executive action on an issue that Congress has been and he -- they have been unable to do anything on but Americans are so in favor of this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It really is the converging of two important strains I think in his party and his party and presidency. The first is his increasing relying on executive action on number of issues, immigration which is now being held up in the courts, climate, health care bill. He has pushed the boundaries of executive power and Congress and especially the courts to stop him.

The other big change is in the Democratic attitude toward gun control. After 2000 when Al Gore lost, gun control was deemed radioactive really by most Democrats and that was in a point where they need a lot of blue collar whites, rural whites. They were counting on those Appalachian states like West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, the Democratic coalition has evolved. Those voters are now Republicans and you can see they are the same voters powering Donald Trump's rise.

Instead Democrats relying on a different coalition and urbanized coalition, younger minorities, college educated, socially liberal whites who are more receptive to gun control. It's the rare issue, Brianna, that activates both bases. Hillary Clinton has embraced it in a way no Democratic candidate has in years, even Barack Obama in 2008 largely kept his distance because she recognizes that within the voters the Democrats need to win, it is largely a winning issue. The price is it does energize and antagonize the voters that moved away from them, the same voters powering Donald Trump's rise.

KEILAR: It's New Year's Eve, so I think it's time to add levity to the evening, if we can. This is sort of unscripted President Obama that I want you to check out. He had an appearance with Jerry Seinfeld on comedians in cars getting coffee. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY SEINFELD: We're just going for quick coffee. We'll be right back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry it's not possible.

SEINFELD: I do this little show "comedians in cars getting coffee".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a comedian with the president going anywhere. Back it up.

SEINFELD: Yes, sir.

Don't you think every American child is a president, then you grow up loving the president?

OBAMA: I do really well with the zero to eight demographic.

SEINFELD: Oh, really?

OBAMA: Yes, they love me partly because my ears are big, and so I look like a cartoon character.

SEINFELD: Right.

So --

OBAMA: This is just a little gin I take midday. You asked what part of the day, what part of the day. It's right about now.

SEINFELD: Yes, that gives you a little zip.

If I slid open your underwear drew, one brand or a number.

[18:40:05] OBAMA: You got to go with one brand.

SEINFELD: One brand, one color?

OBAMA: Yes, of course.

This is a critical concept.

SEINFELD: What sport is politics? Is it chess? Is it liar's poker?

OBAMA: That's interesting. That was a good question. It's probably most like football.

SEINFELD: Football.

OBAMA: Yes.

Because a lot of players, a lot of specialization, a lot of --

SEINFELD: Right.

OBAMA: A lot of hitting.

SEINFELD: A lot of attrition.

OBAMA: A lot of attrition, but then every once in awhile, you'll see an opening.

SEINFELD: How many world leaders do you think are just completely out of their mind?

OBAMA: A pretty sizable percentage. And at a certain point, your feet hurt and you're having trouble peeing, and you have absolute power. SEINFELD: Does it help with your stress level? This son of a

(EXPLETIVE DELETED). This rat (EXPLETIVE DELETED) comes in here.

(LAUGHTER)

SEINFELD: Really, blow off a little steam, huh?

OBAMA: Yes.

Bad stuff or stupid stuff is happening constantly, right? Every day. So, you have to be able to just make fun of a lot of that, right?

SEINFELD: Of course.

OBAMA: That was even dumber and more annoying than usual. That's when cursing is really valuable.

SEINFELD: Right.

All right. We --

OBAMA: Are we done?

SEINFELD: We're about done.

OBAMA: The only problem is I didn't work in Obamacare.

SEINFELD: Please try Obamacare today.

What's your most embarrassing president moment?

OBAMA: This may be it.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I don't know that that actually is. I found that to be really fascinating. At one point he talks about how one of the things he likes least about being president and he's talked a little bit about this, but he says it's losing anonymity. He wishes he could go on a walk and bump into a friend. He is asked by Jerry Seinfeld, do you ever touch the thermostat? He's like, no, I make a call.

So, you get insight of his day is like. Do you think we'll see more of this? Do you think this is beneficial to kind of get a sight of it?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I feel like President Obama is the one whose always trying to escape from the White House grounds to like go out and get coffee and talk to people and the Secret Service is like please don't do this.

But I think between this, he was on the bear grills show and out in the wild eating salmon by a bear, look, I think this is the year where Obama really feels like he can leave whatever he can left on the table, whether that's his personality, whether gun control initiative. This is your last shot. So, you kind of want to go out on a high note one way or another and doing things like this, that's one way to do it.

KEILAR: Do you think we take this at face value what we're seeing, that he seems unguarded here? Do you think this is calculated? What do you think?

DAVID SWERDLICK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I think he's a funny guy and likes talking to people outside of the political spear. He did "Between Two Ferns" with Zack Galifianakis, he did the Mark Maron podcast, he's done some other things like this. I liked the walk about, the bear is loose video that he did last summer.

He enjoys doing those things and it's been an effective messaging tool for them. Sometimes a lot more effective, Brianna, than what they have gone to the East Room or Oval Office, frankly.

KEILAR: Ron, final thought to you.

BROWNSTEIN: I agree. It's striking how much he's been trying to reach Americans not paying attention in the political channels and does matter, Brianna. His approval rating may be the single most important number in shaping the 2016 election.

KEILAR: All right. Ron Brownstein, Sara Murray, David Swerdlick, Rebecca Berg, happy New Year to all of you. Thanks so much for being on tonight.

And I want to shift gears to this big moment that is on most people's minds right now. It's the countdown to midnight, it is on and the party is getting started. So, keep your TV tuned to CNN. There is really no better way to celebrate that than with the dynamic duo of Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin. And I'm not just saying that because I work at CNN.

This is the show that I watch because it is fantastic on New Year's Eve.

And Anderson is joining us live now from New York.

Anderson, what do you have in store for us and honestly, do you even know?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I really have no idea. By the way, I don't know in the dynamic duo, if I'm Batman or Robin, but I'm guessing I'm Robin in this situation.

Yes, I never know what Kathy is going to do and every year, you know, people in management talk about her not coming back because she's done something to, you know, shock people, but she makes people laugh. She makes me laugh more than anybody else out there, and I'm looking forward to spending the night with her with no guilty feelings the next day.

(LAUGHTER) KEILAR: I don't know -- well, I guess she would probably feel the

same way about that.

OK. We do have a clip I want to show. This is looking ahead to your special. Let's watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHY GRIFFIN: Anderson Cooper and I are here together in New York City -- we're not. This is like a green screen. I'm in Los Angeles in a hotel room.

Cut, cut, cut. I need my Anderson. You know what? I'm going to New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: OK. She's hilarious. In one of these promos, she's actually in your bed in your apartment getting close to you and you're sort of like rolling your eyes at her.

[18:45:02] But what are you --

COOPER: I'm away, yes.

KEILAR: What are you looking forward --

COOPER: She's actually up in a hotel room right now and I've got to try to get her to come down here so I'm hoping when we start at 8:00 tonight because last time I saw her, she was wearing leopard print pajamas.

KEILAR: Really? She can just wear those on TV, right? That would be --

COOPER: She is rocking it, yes. She looks very good. That's true.

KEILAR: OK, Anderson, I cannot wait to check this out at 8:00. Thanks so much for giving us a preview.

Anderson is going to be back with Kathy Griffin a little over an hour from now. Their New Year's Eve special beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. I will certainly be watching.

And wherever you celebrate New Year's Eve tonight, chances are you'll have your smart phone close by to snap a photo, maybe you're calling a loved one. So, as we head into 2016, CNN's Tom Foreman looks at the influence of iPhone technology on our everyday lives.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the ball comes down, the phones will go up as millions take pictures to welcome the New Year. And in many ways, each click is testament to the earth- shaking impact of one product.

To understand, you have to go back to 2007 when the cell phone industry was exploding.

UNIDENTIFEID MALE: Everybody loves chocolate.

FOREMAN: And everybody thought it might be a big mistake for computer giant apple to get in on it.

But when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, it was different.

STEVE JOBS, APPLE CO-FOUNDER: An iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN: Despite early growing pains, it was a game changer. As music player, the iPhone took the best elements of the iPod. As an internet link, it was elegant. As a phone, it was fine. And as a camera, it had everyone snapping.

And soon, the release of each new generation was spurring another long line of eager fans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got to keep up with the latest technology.

FOREMAN (on camera): Certainly the rise of social media platforms have helped the iPhone prosper and undeniably, many other phones now do many of the same things.

(voice-over): But the iPhone remains iconic, one of the most popular ways for us to capture and share popes, presidents, puppies, preschoolers, private moments, and public amazements -- whenever is at hand or foot, no matter what the New Year brings.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Well, for more on the man behind the iPhone, be sure to check out this CNN film "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine". This is airing Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern only here on CNN.

And you are right now looking at a live picture of Times Square where all of the excitement is building. We have more news ahead and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:52:29] KEILAR: As we end a very busy and tumultuous 2015, we want to recognize the thousands of CNN employees worldwide who worked tirelessly to bring you the news every day. There are too many to name here but we want you to know that we are very thankful for all that they do.

And as we bring in the New Year tonight we also want to show you the celebrations that are already happening around the world, as well as some of the names of those here behind the scenes who get THE SITUATION ROOM on air each night. (MUSIC)

[18:55:58] KEILAR: Thank you so much for watching. I'm Brianna Keilar.

And "All the Best, All the Worst 2015" is coming up next.

And Anderson Cooper will be back with Kathy Griffin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, live from Times Square.

From all of us here at CNN, we wish you a very happy New Year.