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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Budget Negotiators Reach A Deal; Has The White House Kept Its Promise On Guns?; Interview with Congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois; Obama Shakes Hands with Cuban President

Aired December 10, 2013 - 19:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up next:

Breaking news: Republicans and Democrats reach a crucial budget deal tonight. Who won? Who lost? We have the details for you.

Plus, a historic gathering of world leaders in South Africa today. But did President Obama's handshake distract from Nelson Mandela's memorial?

And a family of six found alive after two days lost in the freezing wilderness. Great news. We'll go to Nevada for the latest.

(MUSIC)

TAPPER: Good evening, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper, in for Erin Burnett.

Breaking news, there is a budget deal in Washington. Bipartisan negotiators announced less than an hour ago that two months of talks have finally produced something they could all agree on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET CHAIRMAN: I think this agreement is a clear improvement on the status quo. This agreement makes sure that we don't have a government shutdown scenario in January. It makes sure that we don't have another government shutdown scenario in October. It makes sure that we don't lurch from crisis to crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And it's a good thing since their deadline was Friday. Chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash is here with me. Dana, tell me the details of this deal.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first it is modest. Both of these lawmakers agreed on that, but it is a deal and let's sort of step back and take the temperature of that. The fact that you have a senior Republican and a senior Democrat standing side by side announcing a budget deal which hasn't happened, this kind of deal in almost 30 years, which is pretty remarkable. Having said that, it is modest, it eliminates the arbitrary for spending cuts for two years. TAPPER: The sequester cuts. They're gone.

BASH: At least part of them are gone and they're replaced with more flexible spending cuts that Congress can work toward. Basically what the idea is there, that people who are upset about thing like defense cuts, conservatives. You can work around those. And maybe the Democrats who are concerned about some of the cuts to domestic programs, they can work around those. Paid for with additional money going to federal workers' pensions, that is something the Democrats are not so happy about.

TAPPER: That is going to be a sticking point especially with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer from Maryland. He represents a lot of these federal workers.

BASH: Absolutely. He does and the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen also does. They were not there but, you know, everybody agrees that they have to give something. The other thing that Democrats are not thrilled about is the fact that unemployment benefits, long term unemployment benefits are not extended here. It is not just Democrats.

Conservatives are really probably among the harshest critics of the deal which is fascinating, given that you have the vice presidential running mate in the 2012 ticket, making this deal of Paul Ryan. You already have some of the most prominent conservatives. Marco Rubio coming out saying this is the wrong way to go. Lots of grassroots groups with a lot of support and money who are saying to conservatives, do not vote for this.

There is going to be a meeting tomorrow morning among House Republicans, which going to be critical to sort of gauge the temperature to make sure there is enough support among House Republicans. Paul Ryan said that he feels confident there will be. We've seen that movie before.

TAPPER: We know that some conservative Republicans are opposed to this deal. Some liberals are upset with it. Jim Dean, Howard Dean's brother who runs Democracy for America said by failing to include an unemployment insurance extension, the budget deal negotiators have declared war on Christmas and potentially sentenced millions of struggling Americans to a very bleak new year calling those who agreed this deal to be Ebenezer Scrooge impersonators. That's from the left.

BASH: That's from the left. That's exactly right. That is why, look, obviously, you are going to have a lot of people on both sides throwing bombs at something that is bipartisan. That is the nature of a bipartisan bill. As we take a step back and look at this, we haven't had anything like it in a very long time. It's the nature of compromise.

You heard it from Paul Ryan in his press conference standing next to Patty Murray. You heard Patty Murray say it as well. They don't each have everything that they want, but they have something and a baby step is much more than we've had in a very long time lurching from crisis to crisis. TAPPER: All right, chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, thank you so much. Let's to go John King along with CNN contributors, Reihan Salam and John Avlon. John King, what's the reaction to this deal from the White House and from congressional Republicans and Democrats that you've spoken to?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with the White House, Jake. The White House is very happy. I'll read this from an senior administration official who would not be named, but you'll get the point pretty quickly. "We're happy. It is a good package, balanced. Great to avoid governing by crisis. We don't love all of it, but that's what you get in compromise."

So the White House is very happy. Hope this goes through. But this now, this deal announced by, as Dana noted, once a hero of the right, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman is now the latest exhibit. The hot potato in what is a philosophical civil war in the Republican Party between governing conservatives and those who believe the best approach is confrontational.

You see it playing out already, Jake. The Tea Party doesn't like this. John Boehner and the establishment do like this. Here's one telling piece. Speaker Boehner says I like this deal. His deputy leader, Cantor in the House says I like this deal. The Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who faces a Tea Party primary challenge says, let me wait, read the details, I'll get back to you.

TAPPER: It will be interesting also to hear what John Cornyn, the number two Senate Republican who also faces a Tea Party challenge, what he has to say. John Avlon, you know, this is a big departure from Washington, taking up negotiations right up to the deadline. We're actually a few days ahead of it and we actually have a deal before the deadline. Not three days after the deadline. Do you see this as a as a result of the October shutdown?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is a step in the right direction. I do think members on the Capitol Hill remember the pain, the political pain that came after that 16-day shutdown and especially Republicans. Those who are responsible for governing in the house don't feel like re-creating that.

I mean, remember another shutdown loomed if this deal didn't come through. The far right and the far left are unhappy. That's usually a good sign. The fact that Boehner and Obama back it, that's a positive sign. There's going to be a lot of sniping and cross fire. That's one of the reasons why Paul Ryan spent much of the press conference trying to make the case that he wasn't a conservative sell out.

TAPPER: And Reihan, for Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican of Florida already rejecting the deal in a statement he says, quote, "We need a government with less debt and an economy with more good paying jobs. This budget fails to accomplish both goals." He also doesn't like the fact that the deal eliminates those force spending cuts, "the sequester" cuts. Paul Ryan predicts this deal will pass. Do you think that's wishful thinking or most Republicans in the House would go for this.

REIHAN SALAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think Paul Ryan would make that claim unless he knows there's solid support for the deal. But there's certainly going to be sniping from some of his critics. People are positioning themselves. The irony is the more solid this deal looks, the less costly it is.

If you're on the conservative side of the caucus, to criticize the deal and another thing that's happened is that it is true as John said. There are people who learned from the shutdown experience, but then there are others who say wait a second. Obamacare has been a big debacle. President Obama's approval ratings are declining. We can be confrontational not and pay a price for it.

I think that's a mistake and I think Paul Ryan is getting the politics right, but you'll certainly going to have some people who are going to in a cost-free kind of way lodge criticisms.

TAPPER: John King, it is a modest deal, two years, short term, no major, major deficit reduction although it certainly does reduce the deficit, but nothing like a grand bargain. It doesn't really address the debt ceiling, the debt standing at $17 trillion. It doesn't really address any of the major contributors to the growing debt. Is this even though I don't want to jinx some accomplishment that might be achieved here, is this still even though it is a compromise and people coming together, kicking the can down the road even though it is an accomplishment of some sort.

KING: That's the defining question, Jake, because it does kick the big questions down the road. It doesn't have tax reform. It doesn't have a lot of things Democrats want. It doesn't have a lot of things Republicans want. It doesn't get to the big drivers of the federal budget deficit like entitlement spending, Medicare, Social Security and the like.

So yes, it kicks the big decisions down the road. The question is, is it a down payment? Is the fact that at least got into a room, worked it out for months and agreed on a compromise where both of them say they can at least look, their folks in the mirror and say we didn't give up the store. We made a reasonable principle compromise.

Does that get a bigger one to build the trust necessary to get to those bigger decisions or does this become now just a huge lightning rod because we are so close to 2014 and we are saying do I have to stand with the White House anymore. How this plays out, how this debate plays out going in the final result will probably give us a little bit of a hint on whether you can go back for more.

Given that you pass this and then go right to 2014, I would be a skeptic that you are going to get anything big in the short term.

TAPPER: All right, John King, John Avlon, Reihan Salam, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Still to come, Vice President Biden meets with the families of the Sandy Hook victims today. Has the White House kept the promises they made to these families to prevent future massacres?

Plus, a family of six found alive and well after two days lost in the frozen wilderness. We'll take you to the scene tonight.

And what's your favorite part of the holidays? All I want for Christmas is coming up later in the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Has the White House done enough to deliver on its promises to find for measures to prevent future Sandy Hooks? Nearly one year since the devastating Newtown massacre, Vice President Joe Biden met today with families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He pledged $100 million in federal funding for a mental health initiative as one way to stem gun violence. It is part of a litany of promises the president has made over the past year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators. In an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: In the recommendations we provided to the president on Monday, call for executive actions he could sign, legislation he could call for, and long term research that should be undertaken.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We need everybody to remember how we felt 100 days ago and make sure what we said at that time wasn't just a bunch of platitudes, that we meant it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So let's keep him accountable. Has the Obama administration really done enough to fulfil all the promises that they've made to those families? Let's bring in Paul Helmke, the former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Michael Stolnik, the editor-in-chief of globalgrind.com.

Paul, major failures this year for those who want to pass more regulations and restrictions on guns, most significantly in April, the Senate failed to pass a bipartisan bill to expand background checks, any sort of ban on those weapons called assault weapons, semi- automatic rifles also failed. Probably even if it had passed the Senate, it wouldn't have able to pass the House. So has the president failed the families of Newtown and all the other families of gun violence on the one issue of guns?

PAUL HELMKE, FORMER PRESIDENT, BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: The sad reality is that a year since the Sandy Hook shootings, while we've made some progress in some states, we've got some executive orders from the president that are moving forward, the crucial things, to strengthen our background check system, to make it harder for felons and people who are dangerously mentally ill to get guns, nothing has happened there.

Taking steps to get some of these weapons of mass destruction off the streets, nothing has happened there. I think the sad reality is that as time has gone by there isn't the emphasis from the White House. When I headed the Brady Campaign, we gave the president an F for his first year in office because he hadn't done enough then.

His response to the Sandy Hook shooting was a good one in terms of what he called for, but in terms of accomplishments, we still got a long way to go. After the Virginia Tech shooting, within a year we were able to get some legislation through Congress.

And I think what we need now is some focus from this president and from the vice president to reach out to the other side. If we can shake hands with Castro, we cut deals between both sides, if we can deal with the countries in the Middle East, certainly we can get the NRA and gun owners to realize that nobody wants dangerous people to have guns and there are steps we all agree on to get some legislation pass.

TAPPER: And of course, the president and the White House when addressing the state, they talk about addressing this in a holistic way. Not just gun further restrictions on gun ownership but also, addressing the mental health system, talking to Hollywood about the culture of violence.

Michael, looking at the whole picture, do you think President Obama has done everything he can do?

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, EDITOR IN CHIEF, GLOBALGRIND.COM: Look, I've sat with the president. I sat with the vice president during the time of talking to thousands of people in the White House about these issues. I know what is in this man's heart. I know what is in the vice president's heart. These two men want to get this done.

To the gentleman's point about reaching to the other side, when will they reach out to us? 11,380 people have been killed by guns since Newtown. When are the Republicans in the House going to reach out to those families and say enough is enough? The president is doing everything he possibly can to get this done and the NRA are stopping every Republican in the House from voting in favor of his bills.

TAPPER: I want to raise the issue, if I could, about the mental health initiative that Joe Biden talked about, $100 million. But if you look at the budget cuts that have taken place across the states since President Obama took office. Obviously that's a as a result of the economic downturn, not President Obama taking office. But there have been $4.35 billion in budget cuts from mental illness programs from '09 to 2012. And the treatment advocacy center says a number of public psychiatric beds has fallen 90 percent since the 1950s.

Now, in the last year since Newtown, there has been increased funding for mental health programs in 36 states, Washington, D.C.

But Paul, I'll start with you. Are we doing enough on that front? HELMKE: No, we need to do a lot more with mental health in this country. And I'm glad to see this promise today from the vice president. Clearly more needs to be done.

One concern I have, though, is a lot of people just want to blame gun violence in this country on mental health. And that I think overly stigmatizes. You know, sometimes by definition you think anybody that could do a mass shooting has to be crazy or have something wrong with them. But recent studies have shown that people with mental illness are only four percent more likely than the rest population to get involved in violence. But when we find people with mental illness who's aren't taking their medicine, who are abusing drugs or who are abusing alcohol, then you do see 20 percent, 25 percent more likely for violence.

So, we need to make sure that when we put money into mental health treatment, that we're doing it for the outpatient treatment, making sure people are taking the medicine they need, make sure they are not abusing drugs, that's an important point. Clearly though, we need to do something with regard to gun legislation.

And I agree the other speaker. I know that the vice president and the president care deeply about this issue. I've talked to the both about issue. But what I'm afraid has happened is that the politicians too many times are keeping some of the politicians that advise them are telling them to stay away from the issue. And since April, we haven't seen the focus on this issue that we do need.

TAPPER: Michael, I know you talk about the gun lobby. But in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is working with the NRA and other firearms advocates to talk about ways in which penalties can be increased for people who commit crimes with guns. As has been pointed out, the number of individuals who commit crimes, who have mental problems, is very small percentage. A lot of it is criminals who have guns.

Should being president extend a hand to people who otherwise disagree with him on guns to talk about stiffer penalties for those who commit crimes with guns?

SKOLNIK: Sure. I think the president should have every, you know, person at the table, every group at the table have these conversations.

But let's be clear, Jake. We no longer have to have this rhetoric of being tough on crime. We have to be smart on crime. You look at the mental health issues that we have in this country. Just last month, we saw the governor's candidate in Virginia, (INAUDIBLE). His son couldn't get a bed in a meant health facility and ended up shooting -- stabbing his father and shooting and killing himself.

You know, these mental health issues in this country are serious. And on a good note, on the affordable care act, finally mental health is no longer a preexisting condition that you can deny someone coverage for. It is being treated like a physical illness. So, even the president and the vice president are making good head way on this, but they certainly need partners especially the House and the Republicans. TAPPER: All right, Michael Skolnik and Paul Helmke, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

I should disclose that about 15, 20 years ago I worked for the Brady center.

Still to come, after two days lost in the frozen wilderness, a family of six is found alive and well. We take you to the scene for the latest.

Plus, a historic gathering of world leaders in South Africa today, but did President Obama's actions steal the spotlight from Nelson Mandela?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Here's a good news story. We don't get to do a lot of these.

Now, an update on the family who went missing for two days in the freezing Nevada wilderness. They've been found alive tonight and we're seeing the first glimpse of them. This video just in to CNN shows one member of the group being brought on a stretcher to Pershing General Hospital in Nevada with three others walking along side. The group which included James Glanton and Christina McIntee along with their two children and McInteee's niece and nephew had ventured in to the mountains on Sunday to play in the snow, but they never returned. It prompted a frantic search that spanned more than 6,000 miles.

Stephanie Elam is at the hospital in Lovelock, Nevada where the family is being treated.

Stephanie, what are their conditions? How were they found?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is an amazing story when you hear it, Jake. They actually were all found in good condition. They're in here getting some treatment but there are no frostbite issues, we're being told. Apparently, the parents did their best here to keep the kids warm by warming rocks, starting a fire outside the car, warming the rocks and putting them in the car. We're also hearing that the dad here also had a candy bar in his pocket. So, they divvied that up and that's what they were eating and living off of the last couple days, Jake.

TAPPER: Thank God they're OK. Do we know what happened? How did they end up strand in the mountains?

ELAM: Well, where we are, it is pretty rural where we are and they were west of here heading back toward Reno. And they were out in the seven truss (ph) area which is a very wide wilderness filled place. And they were off road a little bit. And what seem to have happened is that they went into a soft area and the car tipped over. And so, they were in this soft snow, couldn't get out, basically huddling together over this time. They said that they could hear, we're hearing reports that they could hear that there were people searching for them but could not get to them but knew that somehow someone would rescue them.

TAPPER: Thank you, Stephanie Elam.

What a nice story to be able to give people good news about this missing family.

Still to come, it was the largest gathering of world leaders in decades. But did President Obama's actions distract from Nelson Mandela?

And a major shake-up from the top clothing company, the founder forced to step down after making controversial comments about his customers' bodies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: A memorial for the ages. It was the largest gathering of world leaders in recent history. Presidents, prime ministers, royals joined tens of thousands to honor Nelson Mandela. President Obama got the world's attention right from the start when he stemmed on to the stage and shook hands with Cuban president, Raul Castro. Obama was joined by former presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush Jr. who gave him a standing ovation after he delivered a tribute on Mandela.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People of every race and every walk of life, the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and your hope found expression in his life and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Despite the heavy rain and memorial was a celebration of Mandela's life which included a marching band and singing by American gospel singer Kirk Franklin. Thousands danced and cheered as huge posters of Mandela hung from the stadium where the icon made one of his last public appearances during the World Cup in 2010.

Congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois led the delegation from the U.S. and I spoke with him after he posted this picture on Facebook and wrote, quote, "Our group leaving the stadium after an awesome day." I asked Schock if it was a fitting tribute to Nelson Mandela today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. AARON SCHOCK (R), ILLINOIS: As I looked at the stage, I thought, how appropriately it reflects who Mandela was. Here was a guy who sat in prison and began the negotiations between the white rulers as well as the black people of South Africa who were being oppressed and was able to negotiate an agreement, a settlement between those two parties.

And yet even upon his death and in his tribute, we had a world stage that began with President Obama, the leader of -- I would argue -- the finest democracy on the face of the Earth, and was finished by Raul Castro, the president of Cuba -- clearly leaders who represent completely different ideologies in the political spectrum, leaders from countries that don't agree on a whole lot but who agree on one thing, and that is that Nelson Mandela is someone worthy of their praise and someone who inspired each one of these political figures from across the political spectrum.

TAPPER: And it may not surprise you to know that while you were caught up in this very moving event of international significance, there was a lot of politics going on here in Washington, D.C. Some reaction already to President Obama shaking hands today with Cuban President Raul Castro. One of your colleagues, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican from Colorado, blasted the shake, saying, quote, "If the president was going to shake his handled, he should have asked Castro about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba."

Now, of course, Mandela when he was alive praised Raul Castro's brother, Fidel Castro. What's your take on this? Was that handshake a mistake? Or obviously -- there's obviously a point that Marco Rubio is making about the lack of freedoms in Cuba. What's your take?

SCHOCK: Well, I think maybe people are receiving a bit much into their shared presence on the stage. Again, as I said in my opening, clearly these men who don't share a lot in common. We have the prime minister of India. We had leaders of all kind of countries on that stage.

And I think what was important today is to focus what unites us rather than what divides us, and what not only those elected leaders were united by. It was the same thing that 90,000 people in the stadium were united by, which is a man who brought a divide nation together, a man who led by example, who did not allow the wrongs done against him, the wrongful imprisonment of 27 years. Much of it in isolated.

So many people could have been bogged down by bitterness, by resentment, by spite. And instead, he moved forward.

TAPPER: You've been very effusive of your praise of Nelson Mandela. You tweeted a few days ago, "Honor to be leading the congressional delegation to South Africa, to honor the George Washington of our time." You've been criticized by some critics for that comment.

But do you think Marco Rubio and those who are talking about this handshake are wrong? They're missing the point of the day?

SCHOCK: Well, I'm not going on get into criticizing my colleagues at a time when I'm telling people that we should be focused on Nelson Mandela and not what may have happened at the ceremonies. And instead, focusing on what his life means to all of us individually. What we can be inspired by. And that's what I and my congressional delegation have been focused on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Our thanks to Congressman Schock. The question, though, was President Obama's greeting with Raul Castro just a handshake? Just politeness, or was it something more significant? The White House says it was not a preplanned encounter but many are calling it a symbolic moment. American Judy Gross is hoping it is an opening to new development relations. Her husband Alan was arrested in the Cuba in 2009 and he's been imprisoned ever since. The government there is accusing him of trying to destabilize the government.

Judy, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

JUDY GROSS, HUSBAND IMPRISONED IN CUBA: Thank you.

TAPPER: Our thoughts and prayers have been with you for the last four years. What went through your mind when you saw that handshake?

GROSS: I thought what a meaningful place to have a handshake like that between world leaders who basically have no relation with each other. And -- but I do think that we need to be very careful and not too much -- not to put too much meaning behind it.

TAPPER: Right. Congressman Albio Sires, Republican from New Jersey mentioned this today and actually mentioned your husband, saying, quote, "Instead of making grand gestures that only validate tyrannical regimes, the United States should be working tirelessly to bring Cuban prisoners like Alan Gross home safely."

Do you agree with that criticism?

GROSS: I think we have to make it really clear to the president that it is his job, it is up to him to bring Alan home. And I think that there needs to be negotiation, and you don't get anywhere unless you begin negotiations.

And I think the talk of the handshake was irrelevant considering what needs to be done. It's been four years.

TAPPER: How is he? How is his health? How are his spirits? What have you heard?

GROSS: You know, he's lost since he's been there, over 100 pounds. He has very severe arthritis. It is very difficult for him to walk. He is losing hopeful that's the worst part about it.

Alan is a very gregarious, happy go lucky guy. He held on as long as he could, but now, he is feeling like his country has just forgotten him. He worked for the U.S. government. He was working on a U.S. government project and he feels that they just dropped him there and left him off.

TAPPER: One criticism I've heard over the way the Obama administration has handled this is that there are three Cuban prisoners in American jails accused of being spies. And as happens with some countries, there might be some sort of swap. That certainly is the way that Israel does it with Palestinians, et cetera. It is a way the U.S. has done it with the Soviet Union when there was a Soviet Union.

But I've heard there are hard liners in Congress who would make such a negotiation difficult. Is that a fair assessment?

GROSS: I think there is some truth to that. But regardless of what they say, that's not important. What is important is what our leader of this country is doing. What is the secretary of state doing? What is our president doing?

They can do whatever they want. They don't have to succumb to people who don't want to talk to Cuba.

TAPPER: Judy Gross, thank you so much for being here. We hope that your prayers are answer soon and we'll be continuing to stay on top of the story. Thank you so much.

GROSS: Thank you.

TAPPER: Now for the diplomatic stage craft of the Mandela memorial.

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

Doug, thanks for joining us.

We talked about it last night and here it is. The handshake with Raul Castro wasn't President Obama's only diplomatic move. He also literally embraced Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who recently called U.S. surveillance tactics a, quote, "breach of international law" and, of course, took the step of canceling a U.S. state dinner that was to be held in her honor.

Whether it's the handshake with Castro or the embrace of Rousseff, strategic moves or just being polite on the dais?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Both. Of course, he's the president is being polite. If he would have stiffed Raul Castro, just refused to shake his handled, that would have made a lot of news and would have been an ugly moment in a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. And he's been -- Brazil and U.S. have been having a lot of tensions over American intelligence surveillance of Brazil. So, it may have been a healing hug in some ways.

I don't think the president could have handled the situation much better than he did yesterday. And as your guest you just had on, I also believe that Alan Gross needs to be freed. And if that handshake is the beginning of maybe getting him free from Cuba, it was worth it.

TAPPER: Yes, but -- I mean, absolutely.

Let's talk about memorial protocol there because I know you've been to and covered memorials all over the world. The crowds of this memorial were very noisy, mourners were singing, dancing, they were blowing vuvuzelas which people traditionally associate with World Cup names maybe in this county. They repeatedly interrupted speakers.

This -- it didn't seem inappropriate for the setting. It seemed a celebration, a party, but it certainly wasn't necessarily what I think a lot of people were expecting when they turn on to watch a memorial. BRINKLEY: Certainly not here in the United States. I mean, we tend to have a little more solemn occasion. There's laughter. The speaker tells something of interest. But -- I mean, you can at times get so distracted from the background noise. It was hard to follow President Obama's comments and other world leaders.

So, in that part of it, it lost a little of its grandeur. It may have made since if you were there in the stadium. But this was a world event and people watching it probably came away a little bit frustrated that you couldn't actually hear the speakers, as well as we should have been able to.

TAPPER: Let's talk about President Obama's eulogy for Nelson Mandela, which was very anticipated, huge global audience. Let's take a listen to one small excerpt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner but the jailer as well. To show that you must trust others so they may trust you. To teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws but he also changed hearts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Doug, you've covered a lot of speeches. What do you think about this one?

BRINKLEY: It was excellent. And because you knew Barack Obama was speaking from the heart, you knew he actually loves Nelson Mandela and it was one of I think a big moment for him just to be there and be part of that atmosphere.

So I don't think the president could have done a better job representing us. And for that matter, all the speakers I think did a great job of making Mandela's spirit alive.

You know, I was thinking "Time" magazine may be coming up with who is the man of the year. It might be Pope Francis or person of the year. But Nelson Mandela, after you listen to it yesterday, he seems to have united the world in a very rare way the last few days.

TAPPER: Doug Brinkley, thank you so much.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Still to come, breaking news, we're expecting doctors to give an update any minute now on that Nevada family, thankfully by the grace of God, found alive after two days in the Nevada wilderness. We'll bring it to you live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The money and power of General Motors, the automaker announcing its new CEO, a woman named Mary Barra will be the first female to run one of the three U.S. automakers.

Zain Asher has the story of how Barra moved into the drivers seat of America's largest car manufacturer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAIN ASHER, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Muscle, power, grit. When you say cars and manufacturing, that's what may come to mind. But now, make way for this -- woman.

General Motors tapped Mary Barra to be the company's next CEO starting in January. She is the first female to lead one of the big three automakers and the workers she'll be overseeing, mostly men.

Just 21 percent of the nation's autoworkers are women. But for Barra, the auto industry was a no brainer. She was simply following in her father's footsteps.

MARY BARRA, INCOMING CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: Automotive is kind of in my blood. I grew up in southeastern Michigan. My dad was dye maker at General Motors for about 39 years.

So, you know, from the days where you stood outside the dealerships looking to see the new vehicles, that was kind of how I was raised. So, it seems very natural to go into the auto industry.

ASHER: At 18, Barra took a job at G.M. to help pay her college tuition. She worked her way up to head a global product development, overseeing major product launches for G.M. like the Cadillac CTS, Motor Trend's car of the year.

And even though Barra grew up at G.M., she's got a different way of thinking.

PETER VALDES-DAPENA, SENIOR AUTO WRITER, CNNMONEY: She's recognized the way it worked in the past wasn't working. There needs to be less reliance on rules, less reliance on cost cutting, more reliance on what the company supposed to do, which is building great trucks and cars.

ASHER: And now as CEO, Barra will join the ranks of other top women in business. Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer, Meg Whitman of H.P. and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg.

The departure of her predecessor Dan Akerson marks the end of government motors. He is the last CEO appointed under the treasury's watch after the government this week sold its remaining shares of G.M.

The automaker is now in the driver's seat of its own company. And Barra is seizing the moment.

BARRA: Opportunities will arise that you simply cannot imagine today. Be open to those opportunities when they occur.

ASHER: Zain Asher, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Zain Asher, thank you so much.

Also in money and power, another shake-up in the corporate world. Athletic apparel maker Lululemon announced that its founder is resigning. Chip Wilson came under fire for among other things telling Bloomberg Television that Lululemon's yoga pants, quote, "don't work for some women's bodies."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIP WILSON, FOUNDER, LULULEMON: Some women's bodies actually don't work for it. It is really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, and how much they use it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The outrage over those comments forced Wilson to issue an apology but many say it really wasn't much of an apology at all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON: I'm sad. I'm really sad. I'm sad for the repercussions of my actions. I'm sad for the people of Lululemon who I care so much about, that have really had to face the brunt of my actions. It takes responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact that it's had on you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Earlier, on "THE LEAD", I spoke with Leigh Gallagher, assistant managing editor at "Fortune" magazine. I asked her about Wilson's comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEIGH GALLAGHER, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: We've seen this before in some executives, especially, I think founders and entrepreneurs tend to be, let's just say, you know, quirky sometimes. It's not uncommon. But I think the right thing to do is move him out of the scenes, and put in someone who can run this business.

I mean, this company is big and it's important and it's nowhere near the size of the company when he founded it. So, he's long ago, you know, been in the behind the scenes but now, this is really making it official. I think it's important. I think that Lululemon's customers and its shareholders need to see this happen.

TAPPER: When I first heard the comment he made about women's thighs and you need a certain kind of thigh, not a fat thigh in order to be the right person for a Lululemon pants, yoga pants, I thought, boy, this guy doesn't know who his consumers are.

GALLAGHER: Exactly. I mean, look, I think this, plus the Mary Barra story, I might be bias, but I think this is why we need more women in CEO roles. I know they're not replacing them with a woman. It's just -- it's -- there are tactical behaviors between men and women that you see in the CEO position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The management changes did not farewell for Lululemon or G.M. today. Shares of both companies closed lower by more than 1 percent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON: I'm sad --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Still to come, we take a look at some of our favorite Christmas classics from years past and try to figure out why they just don't make them like that anymore.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We are standing by for doctors to give an update any minute now on the family found alive, thankfully, after spending two days lost in the freezing Nevada wilderness. When that press conference starts, we'll bring it to you live here on CNN.

And now, "Jingle Bells", "Jingle Bell Rock", "Winter Wonderland", these are the songs we hear over and over again this time of year. They are among the dozens of carols that have been recorded in every style and genre possible.

Have you ever wonder why it's so hard for new Christmas songs to catch on?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): As you're zipping around, holiday shopping, attending religious services and generally spreading yuletide cheer, you're likely to notice something -- you're jingle bell rocking to yourself. Humming the same tune, probably the same one frost last year and the one before, too.

"White Christmas" by Bill Crosby.

(MUSIC)

TAPPER: Check. The classic duet, "Baby, It's Cold Outside".

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really can't stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Baby, it's cold outside.

TAPPER: That one premiered in the 1949 film, "Neptune's Daughter" from MGM. This year's twist on it, now you can hear it as sung by the gang from "Duck Dynasty." (MUSIC)

TAPPER: Every year, holiday stations churned out the same musty standards. The only twist it seems is belting them out but no new song seem to break the candy cane ceiling.

CHRIS KLIMEK, SLATE.COM: It's hard to figure out why it is that even though we have the top stars of today writing original Christmas songs, none of them broken through.

TAPPER: Chris Klimek wrote a piece for Slate.com pinning down this Christmas song trend. He points out that the latest modern holiday song to stick was -- well, take it away Mariah Carey with "All I Want For Christmas is You".

(MUSIC)

KLIMEK: It's not that there are no more good Christmas songs coming out. We as a culture stopped embracing the new ones. It's been 19 years since Mariah Carey released "All I Want For Christmas is You".

TAPPER: That's right. The newest of holiday standards is 19 years old. And before that, The Waitresses "Christmas wrapping" now a perennial holiday song on the radio, well, that came out in 1981.

It's hard to write a new standard. Klimek argues big pop names haven't stopped writing Christmas songs, it's just that we the public, we've stopped embracing. Maybe rightfully so?

Remember in 2008, Lady Gaga released "Christmas Tree".

(MUSIC)

TAPPER: In 2010, Coldplay offered "Christmas Lights".

(MUSIC)

TAPPER: How about 2011? Justin Bieber's "Mistletoe."

(MUSIC)

ANI JOHNSON, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC: They want to do something that's popular with their fan base, when really Christmas is about nostalgia, it's about harkening back to good times, to youth.

TAPPER: Ani Johnson is an associate professor of music business at Berklee College of Music. She's worked in the industry for years with everyone from Gloria Estefan to Parliament-Funkadelic.

JOHNSON: With Gloria Estefan, it was really easy. Often times, the artists do his at a point where they are trying to harken back to things they did at the beginning of their career that were wildly popular.

TAPPER: Are we no longer willing to embrace new Christmas songs? Are we only willing to enjoy stars regurgitating classics like Bing Crosby and David Bowie with "The Little Drummer Boy".

(MUSIC)

TAPPER: We'll just have to wait for the next generation of holiday tune risk takers to see what holds and if anything sticks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.