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President Obama's Legacy; Remembering George Michael; Israel Upset With U.N. Vote. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:05]

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Martin Savidge, in for Brooke Baldwin.

And this just into CNN, and it involves arguably the most important ally the United States has in the Middle East, Israel. Moments ago, we learned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended working ties with the 12 nations, the countries, including Britain, France, and Russia, all voted for a United Nations resolution that condemned Israel settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu blames the Obama administration for allowing that vote, which the United States chose to abstain from.

Let's go to CNN's Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem.

Oren, explain for us just what Netanyahu has just ordered and what's the impact?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Martin, more than anything else, this is a statement. It doesn't have any real practical effect, but it is a statement meant by the Israeli government, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express his deep, deep disappointment over this Security Council resolution.

What it does is, it stops Israeli ambassadors and Israeli ministries and ministers from meeting with their counterparts from other embassies and other ministers. But it doesn't affect ambassadors is are already in those countries, so there still are working relationships.

This is a temporary -- essentially a temporary move meant to express disappointment. It's a very big statement from that perspective. Netanyahu still very angry about the Security Council countries that voted at this resolution and no doubt still very angry at President Barack Obama.

That's the point of this. It's a statement meant to convey anger, anger that he's been conveying, that he's been putting now for quite a few days.

SAVIDGE: Thank you, Oren Liebermann, for sort of putting that into perspective.

Palestinian officials now applaud the United Nations resolution.

Here's more from a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUSAM ZOMLOT, SENIOR ADVISER TO MAHMOUD ABBAS: It's a victory for the cause of peace, because if Mr. Netanyahu means the two-state resolution, he should be happy and celebrating this resolution. It's a victory for internationalism and the international responsibility to bring about peace and security worldwide.

And this is not a resolution against Israel. This is a resolution against Israel's expansion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: For analysis of all we're talking about, I want to bring in CNN global affairs analyst Aaron David Miller. He has advised six administrations on Mideast peace.

Aaron, first, let me get your reaction to hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu in that he has suspended working ties with the 12 nations who condemned the settlements. Are you there?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes.

Largely symbolic, Martin, but I think it reflects deep disappointment and anger on the part of the prime minister, also a sense on his part frustration, because he tried to mobilize the president-elect. He tried to mobilize Egyptian President Sisi, and he did not succeed.

Let's be clear. Egypt voted for that resolution as well. I guarantee you, the Israelis are not going to risk damaging and undermining that functional relationship with the Egyptians and to whom they have become much closer in recent years.

SAVIDGE: And just so there is no misunderstanding, this is not like he's cut off diplomatic relations with any of these nations, correct?

MILLER: No. And I think that's an important point. I think Oren had it right. The risk here though is clear in two respects.

Number one, the more the Israelis, the louder they complain and the louder they object, the more satisfaction, clearly, they will give to the Palestinians. And they're going to encourage the Palestinians to believe they actually have won, and this is an arguable proposition, a significant victory.

The other thing is in creating this symbolic but clearly temporary wall, the Israelis don't want to wall themselves in, which I think is a key consideration here. You don't want to bring about the very consequence that you seek to avoid, which is greater international isolation and cutting yourself off from the international community, which the resolution clearly lays the basis -- a basis for action on the part of the international community in the future. SAVIDGE: So, we have been hearing a lot, of course, from the Israeli

leader there. How do you think the United States should respond to this? What's the proper way?

MILLER: I mean, look, we have supported and abstained on...

SAVIDGE: All right. We're having a bit of a connection problem Internet-wise. We will get back to Aaron David Miller in just a minute.

Oren Liebermann, let me bring you back into this conversation here. When we talk about how the current administration, the Obama administration, who has only got three weeks left, how should they respond, do you think? What would we expect as far as a response?

LIEBERMANN: I think we're seeing how they have responded.

In fact, Ben Rhodes did an interview with Israeli Channel 2 here today and he laid out a continuation of what it was that Samantha Power said, the American ambassador to the U.N. And they made it clear why they voted for this resolution.

[15:05:02]

Ben Rhodes, just like Samantha Power, condemned Palestinian incitement of violence and glorification of terrorism as a central part of his message. But when it comes down to it, again, they brought the focus back to settlements.

They made it clear that's why they voted for this resolution. And they're going to keep making that clear to try to convince those who doubt them about that. They will also point out why it is that the Obama administration claims it's one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history. They will point out the $38 billion deal, the military deal, that was signed between the U.S. and Israel. That's the biggest military aid deal in history.

They will also point out, and we have heard this a couple times before, and I suspect we will hear it said quite a few times again, that this wasn't the preferred choice. Obama had vetoed every U.N. Security Council resolution about the conflict Israeli-Palestinian until now.

They didn't want to do a resolution, but they made it clear they felt there was no other option with settlement -- the settlement population growing and settlements expanding.

SAVIDGE: Let me ask you this, Oren. It's clear, and we have known this for a long time, the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the two of them just have never seemed to have gotten along. And it's been very, very rocky. Is this just a continuation of that sort of personal falling out?

LIEBERMANN: It's kind of almost an explosion of that personal falling out. We knew it was strained. I don't know we knew it was this bad, but now we're seeing this go

from something diplomatic, which is to say the U.S. decision to abstain and let this go through, to something that feels, especially on this end with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashing out at Obama, this feels like something personal, almost as if the prime minister is getting a weight off his chest.

It's no secret here that Obama and Netanyahu didn't get along. But that also leads us to another point. Netanyahu has made it clear he's very excited to work with president-elect Trump. Netanyahu has been in power for a long time. He was elected back in 2009. And then he was also in power from '96 to '99. He's never worked with a Republican president, right?

He's had Obama and he's had Clinton. Now finally, Netanyahu, considered a right-wing lawmaker, will have a Republican president to work with. That, I think, is part of the relief he sees in just a few weeks.

SAVIDGE: Lastly, before I let you go, how is all this being taken in by, say, the average Israeli on the street, if that's the way to put it? How are they reacting to the dust-up between these two great allies?

LIEBERMANN: I would say many of them side with Netanyahu on this one. Obama is not a particularly popular president in Israel. This certainly didn't score him any points, even if some of his advisers, some of his staff are going on Israeli TV to make the case. It's unlikely to score him any points with the Israelis.

They believe the U.S. should have, once again, protected Israel at the Security Council. They believe Obama should have vetoed this and not let it go through. In that sense, I don't know if they're using the same sort of language as Netanyahu, but they are, I would say, on a whole still pretty angry about this.

SAVIDGE: Oren Liebermann, thanks very much.

Coming up, President Obama has a new message for Donald Trump. He says he could have beaten him if he were allowed to run for a third term. We will hear his new interview and how he says the Democrats need to change right after this.

The loss of an icon, more on the life and legacy of pop star, superstar, George Michael.

Plus, a heartwarming story of twins conjoined at the head now separated by surgeons. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks with their parents as the two begin a whole new life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:12:02]

SAVIDGE: In just 25 days, Obama's presidency will be committed to the history books. The president sitting down for a lengthy interview with his former senior adviser and CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod, and they talked about the 2016 election.

Obama had a pretty surprising assessment. He believes he could have beaten Donald Trump if he had run for a third term.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the wake of the election and Trump winning, a lot of people have suggested that somehow it really was a fantasy.

What I would argue is, is that the culture actually did shift, that the majority does buy into the notion of a one America that is tolerant and diverse. I am confident in this vision because I'm confident that, if I -- if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could have mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: Joining me now, CNN's Athena Jones.

Athena, what else did we learn about how the president is now looking back at his time in office and also about the future of his party?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Martin.

What I think is really interesting here is that you're listening to two friends having a conversation. These are two people who have known each other for a very long time, more than two decades. And so you heard a very relaxed, contemplative President Obama reflecting back not just on his term in office, but even going back further.

One thing I thought was interesting was that David Axelrod asked him about that famous 2004 speech that the then-senator gave at the Democratic National Convention. That's the speech that put him on the map. It's also the speech where he laid out this very optimistic vision, saying there's not a red United States of America or a blue United States of America. There's one United States of America. There's more that unites us than that divides us.

Given the rhetoric, the harsh rhetoric we heard throughout the campaign, Axelrod asked him, how is that working out for you? The president says he still believes in that vision. He still believes Democrats have a better argument. They have to do a better job of communicating it to all voters. Here's more of what he had to say on that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA: If we can't find some way to break through what is a complicated history in the South and start winning races there and winning back Southern white voters without betraying our commitment to civil rights and diversity, if we can't do those things, then we can win elections, but we will see the same kinds of patterns that we saw during my presidency, a progressive president, but a gridlocked Congress that can't move an agenda for us. (END AUDIO CLIP)

[15:15:00]

JONES: And so that is the challenge he laid out for the Democratic Party, being able to communicate, not just with the people who have already been won over, not just with that so-called Obama coalition, but with a lot of other voters.

He has talked about how he was able to do that during his run for the Senate and obviously during his two runs for president. It's a point he's made over and over again. An implicit criticism, I should say, of the campaign that Hillary Clinton ran -- he's been very complimentary of that campaign, but one point he's been making is that Democrats have to compete everywhere.

They have to talk to everyone. They cannot be seen as these coastal elites, latte-sipping, politically correct folks. They have to be able to talk to farmers and factory workers, people in rural America and in cities. He put it this way at that press conference he held right before departing here for Hawaii.

He said that: "We have to make sure we can rebuild the party as a whole so there's not a county in any state, I don't care how red, that we don't have a presence in, and we're not making the argument because I think we have a better argument."

I think we're going to hear this from the president going forward -- Martin.

SAVIDGE: Athena Jones, thank you very much for the insight.

Joining me now, Dana Bash, CNN chief political correspondent, and Doug Wead, presidential historian and author of "The Rising of a President" -- "Raising of a President" -- excuse me.

Dana, when you hear the president saying that his hope and change vision, if he had run again and articulated this vision, I would have been able to get a majority of the American people to rally behind me, do you think he's right?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Who knows. If you look at the data, which, as we know from recent history, is a very dangerous prospect, his approval rating is very, very high, especially for someone who has been in office for two terms.

He certainly does have a different dynamism than Hillary Clinton did. I think Hillary Clinton even admits she's a better person putting her head down and working than campaigning, than the art of campaigning.

But I also think that he -- I haven't listened to the entire thing. I have listened to a number of parts of it. But at least the parts you played, it seems as though his focus is too much on the whole question of us vs. them and, you know, questions of tolerance.

This was an economic election, just like every other one was before, maybe a little less so when he won because it was an anti-war election. But it was an economics election. It was the people who have been lifelong Democrats, union members in the Midwest, in the Rust Belt who were drawn towards Donald Trump because they weren't hearing what they wanted to hear on the message and the substance from Hillary Clinton.

Was there some tinges of racism? Maybe, but it really wasn't about that. And I think that's the whole point of what everybody who wasn't out there at Trump rallies and looking at data, but not talking to people missed.

SAVIDGE: Right. And something I found covering many of these key swing states was that you had voters when they would basically say, am I better off four years later, many of them felt they were not.

Doug, what do you make of President Obama kind of saying, if I could have run for third term, I would have won?

DOUG WEAD, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It reminds me of Michael Jordan who said, my body can stand the crutches, but my mind cannot stand staying on the sidelines.

I think he could see there were some boxes she hadn't checked. The Catholics are a big example of that. These were not just white Rust Belt voters. They happen to be Catholic. She did a great job at the Al Smith Dinner, but Bill Clinton urged her to speak at Notre Dame on St. Patrick's Day and she wouldn't do it.

When the leaked e-mails came out about the Catholic spring, it wasn't discussed widely in the news, but I tell you, that was a hot topic among Catholic bishops across the country.

BASH: You're absolutely right.

WEAD: And all she had to do is come out and say, no, no, no, we're not doing that, that's wrong, but she didn't check that box.

There were several boxes like that left unchecked. And I think that's what Obama's seeing from the sidelines.

SAVIDGE: All right, Doug, keeping with the theme of sort of legacy here, we heard Newt Gingrich who told FOX News yesterday that President Obama's legacy is "like one of those dolls that as the air comes out of it, it shrinks and shrinks."

He says the president is in a desperate frenzy, that's the word he used, to try to save his legacy. From a nonpartisan perspective, do you think history is going to be kind to President Obama?

WEAD: I think that the election of Barack Obama transcends all discussion of his presidency.

The idea that an African-American would be elected in a country where the authors of these documents saying all men are created equal themselves had slaves, that is so transcendent, it's such a historic moment that I don't think historians are going to nitpick what happened on his watch.

[15:20:10]

SAVIDGE: Yes. No, I agree. I think that's the overwhelming attitude.

Dana, take a listen to what the president said about his post-White House future.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA: I have to be quiet for a while. And I don't mean politically. I mean internally. I have to still myself.

Now, that doesn't mean that if a year from now or a year-and-a-half from now or two years from now, there is an issue of such moment, such import, that isn't just a debate about a particular tax bill or a particular policy, but goes to some foundational issues about our democracy, that I might not weigh in.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: We know he's still going to be in Washington because their daughter will be graduating from high school.

BASH: Exactly.

SAVIDGE: He's sticking around. What does that kind of involvement look like a year-plus from now?

BASH: It's so unclear, because we have such a different example in the most recent history.

George W. Bush, whom I covered when he was in the White House, he left and he said he wasn't going to get involved and wasn't going to muck up a very, very difficult job, that he knew how hard it was to succeed at.

And he was true to that. I mean, there were very, very few times, maybe one or two times where he engaged. It was more about the political campaigning and the process where you would have more of an obvious partisan engagement of a former president, not about the governing of the country.

And the fact that he says he wants to give himself to maybe have some eat, pray, love time, to be still inside, is understandable. But the idea he might engage in a year, hopefully he would do what, again, his most recent predecessor did, which is if he's going to do that, pick up the phone, call. If I do this, am I going to mess things up? What's happening that I might not know about?

Because it could be the same problem that we're having that his own aides are complaining about as we speak, which is they're supposed to be one president at a time.

SAVIDGE: Right. Yes. Yes. There could very well be that kind of a problem.

Doug, how do you think Obama will try to shape, I don't want to say his legacy, but he has 25 days left in office. Do you try not to rock the boat? We are already seeing this issue that has come up with Israel. Do you sort of try to keep things calm and just hand it over quietly?

WEAD: You remember, when Bill Clinton left, there was that Marc Rich pardon and Barack Obama spoke to that. That was outrageous to him. He publicly talked about it, so I'm sure he has that in mind that he knows that even though all the attention is on Trump right now, he's not going to get away with doing something that is considered unethical or inappropriate right now.

Why ruin a great presidency? What I cherish for him is that he would be transcendent and be this great historical figure that can have impact on the world. I think he could be the greatest former president in all of American history and could impact many nations around the world and have great impact in Africa and some places of the world that are forgotten.

My fear is that like a Ramsey Clark or other people we have had in government for a brief period of time, he was attorney general, that they become somewhat radicalized by their sociopolitical demographic base. I hope that doesn't happen to him. I hope he remains a hero of all the people and assumes some real stature as a former president.

SAVIDGE: Yes. Well, we will have the two of you to rely on to follow up on. Dana Bash, Doug Wead, thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

WEAD: Thank you.

SAVIDGE: Next, is Donald Trump starting to untangle himself from those potential conflicts of interest ahead of Inauguration Day? The president-elect announcing plans to shut down the Trump Foundation, but turns out dissolving the charity may not be that easy.

Plus, the legacy of George Michael. Where does he stand in music history? We will talk to an editor from "Rolling Stone."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:52]

SAVIDGE: Tributes are pouring in for pop superstar George Michael, who was found inside his home outside London on Christmas Day at the age of 53.

Writing on Instagram, Elton John said that Michael "was a beloved friend and the finest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist."

Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres expressed her sadness on Twitter, also calling Michael a brilliant talent. And then you had this poignant message coming from actor George Takei,

who said -- quote -- "Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael. You found your freedom, your faith. It was your last Christmas. And we shall miss you."

CNN's Ian Lee is in London.

And, Ian, have we learned any more about the circumstances surrounding how George Michael died?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Martin, the only thing we really know is coming from his manager, saying that they believe he died from heart failure.

The police saying that it was unexpected, but not suspicious. There will be an autopsy. They will get down to what was the cause of his death, but he was looking forward to producing a new album. He had a documentary coming out. So, this was really unexpected, not by the police, but also his fans, who I spoke with who said they just couldn't believe it.

SAVIDGE: And I was waiting to hear from some of them, but apparently I had no one at this point.

Ian, let me just get further into that. Standing outside of the house, as you were, was it a gathering point now? Were people sort of coming there to just reflect back on his marvelous musical career?

LEE: Martin, they brought flowers, they had candles, they had personal messages.

This is a community that really was rocked by this news. He sold over 100 million albums. He had fans all around the world. When I was talking to some people there, though, they have known him in the community, said he was very approachable, very kind, very generous.

And so you do have this community devastated. You know, he had a rough past. He rose to fame in the '80s, as we know, a megastar. Then into the '90s and 2000s, he -- he struggled with drug addiction, had a few run-ins with the law.

And, in 2011, he came down with acute pneumonia.