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CNN NEWSROOM

Pop Superstar George Michael Dies at 53; Netanyahu Lashed Out at Obama over UN vote; Trump Says he will Dissolve Foundation; Obama: Democratic Plan Better for Economy. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:16]

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Suzanne Malveaux in for Carol Costello. Thanks for joining me, Happy Holidays. We begin with sad news, however, the sudden death of pop singer George Michael, shocking fans and entertainers around the world. The wham singer shot to fame in the 1980s with this cult classic. Later in his solo career he went on to sell more than 100 million albums. Tributes now pouring in as fans learn the news. Our CNN's Ian Lee is live outside his London home with more. And Ian, I understand that there are people outside the home who really want to express their condolences today.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne. And you can actually see right here all these tributes that are coming, a lot of personal messages like one saying last Christmas, you gave us your heart, we give you ours this Christmas, a lot of people just devastated by this news. We are also hearing on Twitter from Ellen DeGeneres saying, "I just heard about my friend's @GeorgeMichael's death. He was such a brilliant talent. I'm so sad." And then, George Takei said, "Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael. You've found your freedom, your faith. It was your last Christmas, and we shall miss you."

A lot of people in shock because he was so young, 53 years old, and it is being reported that it was heart failure was the cause of death. There are people here, you know, sharing personal memories and just sharing their thoughts about him as an artist. I have one here with me, Tonia. Just tell me what was George Michael, what did he mean to you?

TONIA KATSANTONIS, GEORGE MICHAEL FAN: George is everything to me. I loved George from when I was 7 years old, followed him for over 30 years of his career, went to countless tours, everything was George. My son was born on George's birthday. My second child was born on George's day. My connection to George and his music will go forever.

LEE: This news, how shocking was it?

TONIA: I thought it was a hoax. My phone was -- there was messages coming out of my phone every second. I genuinely believed it was a hoax. And then I got home and I just crumbled into a million pieces. I can't even tell you what I'm feeling. I have no feeling. LEE: You know, this is someone who also had an impact on people, not just through his music but he was a strong advocate for the LGBT community, as well as a strong advocate for AIDS awareness. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Yes, Ian, I loved George Michael, grew up on him. And he certainly was courageous and soulful and just a wonderful talent. Thank you so much, Ian. Appreciate that.

A blistering rebuke from Benjamin Netanyahu, threats by Republican lawmakers now to withhold U.N. funding and the U.S. ambassador summoned by Israel. This is just some of the fallout after the U.N. Security Council voted 14-0 to condemn Israel's settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu, now, is accusing the Obama administration of coordinating that vote while the U.S. says it had no role in proposing or drafting the resolution.

I want to bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann. He's joining us now from Jerusalem. And Oren, Israel is now voicing new concerns this morning. Why don't you lay out that for us and tell us where we are going with this, this morning?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the new concern is that there could be another U.N. Security Council resolution, one that would try to lay out parameters or conditions for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It would try to move forward the process on discussion of some of the most sensitive complex issues, borders, how to look at Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees.

Israel is absolutely against this but fears it may happen either in the next week before the end of the year or sometime in the first two weeks of 2017 when there is supposed to be an International Peace Conference in Paris but Israel has said it will not attend. That resolution is Israel's greatest concern right now and yet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu very much not afraid to lash out at President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

As you pointed out, he blames them pretty much directly for this resolution saying, he colluded on drafting it and getting it through. Those are accusations that Israel -- that the U.S. and even the Palestinians deny. Netanyahu summoned not only the U.S. ambassador but ten other ambassadors from countries that voted for this resolution. But those other countries, they met with the Foreign Ministry.

It was specifically the U.S. ambassador to Israel, President Obama appointee, who met privately with Netanyahu. Netanyahu is expressing his anger not only in that meeting but as he has in so many other times over the course of the last couple of days. Netanyahu has left no doubt here. He's done working with President Obama and he's very much looking forward to working with President-elect Trump.

Suzanne, as you pointed out, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has said that the U.S. would consider cutting funding to the U.N., U.S. portion of the U.N. budget is quite high. Israel has already taken its own steps diplomatically against the U.N.

MALVEAUX: Oren, thank you so much. This is a - It's a lot to digest and of course, it's going to be a lot for Donald Trump to handle in the next administration. Well, Donald Trump also says that he is now closing down his foundation. This was a Christmas Eve announcement. The president-elect released a statement reading in part, "to avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as president,

[10:05:16] I have decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways." But the New York attorney general's office is putting the brakes on Trump's plans. A spokesman says the foundation cannot legally close until an investigation into the foundation's charitable practices has been completed.

Ryan Nobles is following the story from Washington. So, tell us where it stands from here. We know that there was a shakeup in the Trump communications team over the weekend. Tell us about that as well as what can be done with the foundation.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well Suzanne, let's talk about the foundation first. And you know, logistically, it shouldn't really take too much to shut the foundation down. It currently has no paid employees and Trump himself hasn't raised any money for the foundation in some time. He hasn't even donated to the foundation since 2008. But legally, it's a bit of a different story. A spokesperson for New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, he was a Hillary Clinton supporter during the campaign. He launched an investigation into the charity in the fall, and he said the foundation cannot dissolve until his investigation is complete. And Schneiderman has been investigating how Trump used the foundation to settle his personal business dealings.

Democrats aren't very impressed with Trump's move. The Democratic National Committee releasing a statement that reads in part, "Trump's announcement is a wilted fig leaf to cover up his remaining conflicts of interest and his pitiful record of charitable giving." Of course, the much bigger chore for Trump is figuring out how to isolate himself from his vast business interests around the world in a way that avoids potential conflicts of interest. Now, Trump has said that he will outline that process but the details of that plan won't be revealed until after the New Year.

And as you mentioned, Suzanne, this all comes at a time where Trump is dealing with a bit of a staff shakeup. He had intended to appoint Jason Miller, who worked for him during the campaign, as the next White House communications director, but Miller on Christmas Eve, putting out a statement saying, that he's decided not to take that powerful job because it would be too demanding for his young family. So, that among the many things that Donald Trump is being forced to deal with here as he prepares to take office in the next few weeks. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: All right, Ryan, absolutely a lot to deal with. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. With me now, to walk through all of this, Timothy Naftali, he CNN presidential historian, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator, Andre Bauer, former South Carolina Lieutenant Governor, he supported Trump in the 2016 campaign. Thank you all for joining us during the holiday. Appreciate that. Errol, I want to start with you here. I want to talk about the Trump Foundation we had just discussed previously. Trump says that he's going to dissolve it but the New York attorney general's office says that the Trump Foundation can't officially shut down until after this investigation is over. So, tell us about this limbo that we're in now.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND POLITICAL ANCHOR "SPECTRUM NEWS": Well, I don't know if I would call it limbo necessarily. I mean, what happened, Suzanne, is if this foundation has collected money from people who then took tax deductions for those contributions, that's got to be looked at. If this foundation used foundation funds to settle business debts, private debts of Trump organization, which might be illegal, that's got to get looked at. There are transactions this foundation might have made that might have to be unwound, that might lead to sanctions, fines, reversing of the transactions or even criminal penalties.

So, the attorney general is speaking the law as it stands when it comes to regulating nonprofits. That's what the New York attorney general does. For the Trump organization, I should say, for the foundation, they are trying to solve a political problem and saying that they clearly intend to wind down operations is a good first step toward trying to put this behind them.

MALVEAUX: Yes, I know a lot of people think that at least they are going to start to figure out how to deal with the issue of conflict of interest which is something that they did not believe was going to happen previously. I want to switch gears here. Timothy, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials are now saying they have evidence that the U.S. orchestrated the U.N. Security Council vote which was critical of Israel regarding the settlements. And they say they will share this evidence with the incoming Trump administration. We see President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu historically have had this tense relationship. So, what do we make of what is happening now? How much of this do we think is personal, is perhaps positioning before President Obama leaves, and how does that impact the next administration?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN AND FORMER DIRECTOR NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Well, the first thing is that the U.N. resolution will have -- has no practical effect for the next administration. It's just useful for Donald Trump, frankly, as a way of distracting people from his -- from the problems of his administration's links to Russia. As regards Obama and Netanyahu, that's a really fraught relationship. And the United States -- sort of quietly threatened to remove its diplomatic cover at the U.N. for Israel in 2014 when

[10:10:16] Netanyahu came to the United States to campaign against President Obama's approach to Iran.

So there's a very personal element. But let's -- we got to put this in some context. Since 1977, since the government of 1977, there has been tension between - the bipartisan tension between Republican and Democratic administrations and the government of Israel on the question of settlements. Some Israeli Prime Ministers, like Ehud Barak and Olmert, have both offered to give away most of the West Bank privately. But publicly, the Israeli government has been very tough on settlements.

The U.S. government has tried to keep this dispute private. The difference here is the Obama administration has decided to show the world the frustration that Presidents Reagan, Carter and the first Bush had with Israel. That's what makes this unprecedented. The policy of being against settlements is actually not new for the United States government. It's just now very public and there may be a personal element to it in the fact that President Obama's leaving office and he wants the United States effort to be an honest brokering in Israel and in the Middle East to be one of his legacies. He's tried and he's failed.

MALVEAUX: Andre, I doubt that Trump is going to be very private about some of these things in light of the fact that he does like to tweet. And Trump's choice for Israel's ambassador really very much more aligned with Netanyahu's policies and values. So, what does it say about his views on the U.N. where we might have a relationship, significantly different relationship with the United Nations?

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND (R) FORMER LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think you are going to see that. You know, Nikki Haley will go in there. She's a young aggressive person. I think they will have a pro-Israel standpoint like so many in this country have had, but to me this was a parting shot from the Obama administration against the state of Israel. We know we have had a special relationship with Israel for decades and I think you are going to see Donald Trump as a pragmatist take a much different approach in trying to -- he said, "direct negotiation between the parties." And I think you're going to see a businessman's approach, sit down with parties on both sides and try to come up with some type of an agreement that we can live by and move forward, but you are going to see a friend in Donald Trump to the state of Israel.

MALVEAUX: Another question here. President Obama's time obviously up in office, almost over. Now, Trump has said he's going to establish peace but the choice for ambassador, again, is an opponent of Palestinian statehood, a supporter of Israeli settlement. So Errol, tell us, where does it go from here? Are we going to see a significant shift in U.S. policy regarding Israel?

LOUIS: It seems hard to imagine that there would be a significant shift but you never know. Donald Trump of course is the exception to many rules. The reality is from 37 percent of Americans who opposed or who favored economic sanctions against Israel because of its settlement policy, that was last November, that's increased to 47 percent over the last year. We are talking about 350,000 settlers in a nation of eight million. The settlers are controversial within Israel. We should never make the mistake of thinking that Netanyahu speaks for some vast majority of Israeli opinion. He doesn't. In fact, two-thirds of Israelis say they would like him to reengage with Mahmoud Abbas and start a peace process again.

So, these politics are not something that Trump is going to simply, I think, walk into and say, well, I'm going to stand with Netanyahu and come hell or high water, that's going to be what we do. That is not in keeping with Israeli public opinion, it's not in keeping with U.S. American -- public opinion and it's not in keeping with what generations of not only American but Israeli administrations have done.

I mean, you've got to remember, -- everybody from Olmert to Sharon, dismantled settlements. You know, this is not something that's really up for a lot of discussion about whether we should have them or we should not have them. The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that many of them are illegal. So, Trump is going to find a much more nuanced position. I'm pretty sure, the minute after he takes office.

MALVEAUX: All right. We will see how nuance fits the next president, Donald Trump. Appreciate that. Timothy Naftali, Errol Louis and Andre Bauer, thank you so much and Happy Holidays.

Still to come, the Democrats lost the White House. President Obama is confident his vision is what the American economy needs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democratic agenda is better for all working people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So does he have a point? That's up next.

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[10:18:16] MALVEAUX: If you look at the economy, the numbers show things are looking up but if this election proved anything, many voters aren't feeling up. It is hard to argue that President Obama isn't handing Trump a much stronger economy than he was given. So where is the disconnect? President Obama spoke about it in an interview with his former chief strategist, CNN's David Axelrod.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: In retrospect, we can all be the Monday morning quarterbacks. Here's what I -- here's what I would say prospectively, is that the Democratic agenda is better for all working people. This division that's been put out there between white working class versus black working class or Latino working class -- look, an agenda of raising minimum wage, rebuilding our infrastructure, you know -

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Education.

OBAMA: Education, family leave, community colleges, making it easier for unions to organize, that's an agenda for working class Americans of all stripes. And we have to talk about it and we have to be present in every community talking about it.

See, I think the issue was less that Democrats have somehow abandoned the white working class. I think that's nonsense. Look, the Affordable Care Act benefits a huge number of Trump voters. There are a lot of folks in places like West Virginia or Kentucky who didn't vote for Hillary, didn't vote for me, but are being helped by this.

AXELROD: Right.

OBAMA: The -- the problem is, is that we're not there on ground communicating not only the dry policy aspects of this, but that we care about these communities, that we are bleeding for these communities.

[10:20:16] AXELROD: Right.

OBAMA: That we understand why they're frustrated. There's a - there's a --

AXELROD: And the values behind these things.

OBAMA: And the values. And there's an emotional connection, and part of what we have to do to rebuild is to be there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Timothy Naftali and Errol Louis are back with me, along with finance expert, Monica Mehta. I want to start with you, Monica here, because we want to unpack a lot of this here. There was something about messaging but there was also, really, a Democratic plan here that the president was talking about that is good for America's working class and that he makes an argument that it is better than what the Republicans have presented. What do you think about how the president laid out those things that he says cuts across racial lines?

MONICA MEHTA, FINANCE EXPERT AND MANAGING PRINCIPAL SEVENTH CAPITAL: Well, I think both parties really have been ignoring a lot of the needs of the American public. I don't think this is a Democrat or a Republican thing. I think what you saw in this election is a lot of people really speak out against globalization. Bernie Sanders did it on the left and he got a really huge response. Trump did it on the right. And what you are seeing is over the past several years, GDP has hardly cracked to 2 percent whereas over the past 60 years it's been 3.5 percent. And for every percent that's missing, it's $180 billion that that's just missing from the economy. And people feel it. So, while they see these unemployment numbers coming down, they are not really realizing that benefit in their everyday life. And Bernie is talking about it on the left. Trump's talking about it on the right. And that's where both parties really missed out and the independent revolution came in.

MALVEAUX: Errol put this into perspective because we all remember the economy that President Obama was handed in the beginning. It was pretty devastating here. He talks about the accomplishments through his two terms in office here, but some people say he's politicizing this -- that there is an alternative that the Republicans are offering here that could be more beneficial to the American people. What part is politicizing? What part of it is real? Give us a sense of where he's going with this.

LOUIS: Well, it's all politics, especially in an election year, especially for an administration that's being replaced by a rival from the rival party. But I think it's really true and kind of funny actually to hear President Obama speaking in a calm analytic way about the need to be in communities and to get more emotional with people. I mean, you remember, Suzanne, back in 2008 at the convention in Denver, I remember interviewing somebody who was one of those unfortunate factory workers who had to literally help his final team of workers pack up a factory and ship the parts overseas. That was the kind of emotional connection that the Obama team had, the kind of touch they had at sort of making clear that this was real people with real problems and they were going to do something about it. Now, they didn't do quite enough and they certainly didn't keep the emotional pitch where it needed to be. And that's what left the opening. And that is called politics.

MALVEAUX: Then, we all remember Joe the plumber, the role that he played in the very beginning of getting President Obama elected. But Tim, you are a presidential historian. What is your take on this? So, when you look at the big picture and his legacy here and the economy?

NAFTALI: Well, I can imagine for President Obama this is very frustrating. You think about how he helped rescue the auto industry in Michigan and his third term didn't happen because Michigan went for Trump. I suspect for him, he's wondering what more the Democratic Party needed to do to show working class Americans that it stood behind them. I think the Democratic -- the brand for the Democratic Party is in trouble not throughout the country but in the areas most affected by international trade. There is just no doubt. Your first guest mentioned it. The Democratic Party has to figure out how to deliver a message to all Americans in a way that the white working class doesn't feel it's been left out.

I think the issues are as much cultural as they are economic but the economic side mustn't be forgotten. The thing about this is the Republican Party has not addressed the issue of the concentration of wealth that we have seen. In some states that voted for Mr. Trump, there's more wealth concentrated in fewer numbers of people than has been the case since the 1920s, Wisconsin, for example.

Now, that's part of the reason that people are feeling the pinch and finding it so hard to manage. Will the Republican Party, congressional Republicans in particular, have a way of freeing up money so the people in those states feel that they are participating in our economy? That's the real question for congressional Republicans. The Democrats have to remind people that they stand for all working class Americans and that message just didn't get through in 2016.

MALVEAUX: And the two things that I think that the Trump supporters really resonated with, one was of course the trade deals and looking at the trade deals how that impacted their lives and also immigration policy here.

[10:25:16] Monica, talk about the economy because it is doing better but based on Trump's policies do we think that he can improve upon that?

MEHTA: So the economy is doing better but where you really get into the nitty-gritty is looking into the details like where we have added 600,000 jobs over the past several years is in fast food service and these low-wage positions. At the same token, we've evaporated 35,000 manufacturing jobs. So, while these top line numbers may tell a story that looks like improvement. These are not bread winner jobs where a family of four can support themselves.

And some of the policies that we have been trying to institute over the last several years in terms of giving health care benefits and $15 minimum wage in these fast food type industries are creating a lot of stress for the employers because it's just not sustainable for such unskilled work. And so, again, while the economy looks better depending on the statistics you look at, the big metrics like GDP, again, we haven't cracked 2 percent and that's very telling of where we are.

MALVEAUX: I want to quickly just turn, if we can, pivot a little bit. The Obama interview, he also spoke about he wasn't always a driven person, he partied in college, cleaned up his act but also spoke about how money was tight for him and Michelle in the early days of their career. And so, he's really been there and he can connect with the working class. So Tim, give us a sense of how did Trump get this message across better than Hillary Clinton and why didn't that transfer from President Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton?

NAFTALI: That is a question we are going to be debating for a long time but I will say this. There was a time when Franklin Roosevelt was such a powerful figure, years later after his death in West Virginia, people admired Roosevelt and associated the Democratic Party with helping them get out of the depression. That's gone. And one of the mistakes the Clinton campaign has admitted is that they didn't spend enough time in parts of what they thought was their blue wall.

Why President Obama didn't connect with these folks, let's keep in mind a number of the people who voted for Trump in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, voted for President Obama. So -- it's the Democratic Party lost these people. Hillary Clinton lost these people. These people may still respect Barack Obama. We don't know yet the extent to which the Trump election is a pivotal moment in American electoral politics. His election was a narrow victory. And so, we will see whether these folks have left the Democratic Party forever or whether they just chose the less bad of two options. We will see.

MALVEAUX: We will be discussing and debating this for quite some time. Thank you so much, all of you. Monica Mehta, Errol Louis and Tim Naftali, appreciate it.

And still to come, remembering the life and the music legacy of George Michael.

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