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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama Signs Up For Obamacare; "Duck Dynasty" Star Speaks Out; Public Relations Chef's Shocking Tweet; Al Qaeda: Sorry for Attack on Hospital; Parody Video Lands Man In Prison; Family Battling to Keep Girl on Life Support; Bionic Leg Reads Brain Signals
Aired December 23, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Happening now, new Obamacare confusion. President Obama signs up for coverage, but not really. Today's the deadline for enrolling if you want coverage on January 1st, but not really. We will explain.
Terror groups usually don't say sorry for attacking innocent people, so what's behind al Qaeda's apology for a deadly attack on a hospital?
Extraordinary progress by medical researchers, a bionic leg that reads brain signals. How it may one day help amputee war veterans. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama has signed up for Obamacare, well, sort of anyways. White House officials acknowledge his weekend enrollment in a D.C. health care exchange is symbolic and that he'll be keeping his current insurance provided by the U.S. military. But the move serves as a reminder to other Americans that if they want coverage at the beginning of the New Year, they need to sign up today. Sort of.
Actually, the clock will keep ticking a little bit longer. The president is vacationing in Hawaii where CNNs Athena Jones is. Kind of confusing here, Athena. Explain to us what happened.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. It is a bit confusing, but the deadline has been pushed back a day to make sure people have time to sign up. And of course, some states have already pushed back the deadline to make sure people have time to pick a plan. But as expected, as this deadline approached, this news didn't come out until today. As this deadline approached, we did see a surge in the number of people trying to sign up for health coverage all across the country.
JONES (voice-over): A last minute scramble for Washington's Cris Bidae to get federal insurance for the start of the year, to cut down the $5,000 or so she spends each year treating her diabetes.
CRIS BIDAE, SIGNING UP FOR INSURANCE: I know I'm kind of late, but this is the only time that I have given myself.
JONES: Across the country, from Georgia to California, millions of Americans got an extra 24 hours to sign up for insurance coverage that starts January 1st. The cut-off was today, but officials delayed the deadline until midnight on Christmas Eve to pick a plan. It's a welcome delay for Karla Johnson whose helping people sign up for new plans in Atlanta.
KARLA JOHNSON, CONSUMER OUTREACH DIRECTOR, GEORGIA WATCH: So, that's great for the consumers. Consumers have somewhat of an early Christmas gift for them, you know? So, I'm excited that, you know, the powers that be made this possible for more enrollment.
JONES: The federal exchange, healthcare.gov, saw a million visitors over the weekend, an early sign of a surge in interest. And the visits kept coming on Monday. Joining the crowd, President Obama, whose staff signed him up over the weekend, in a move that was entirely symbolic since he uses military doctors. The president sounded a positive note Friday about the overall pace of enrollment, so far.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since October 1st, more than one million Americans have selected new health insurance plans through the federal and state marketplaces.
JONES: And while the president said more than half a million people signed up through healthcare.gov in the first three weeks of December alone, enrollment is still far short of the 3.3 million the government expected by this time. Meanwhile, members of the president's own party continue their push to delay until 2015 fines for people who don't buy insurance by the end of March.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: The end of the day, if it's so much more expensive than what we anticipated and that the coverage is not as good as what we've had, you've got a complete meltdown at that time. So, this transitional year gives you a chance to adjust the products to the market.
JONES: The administration offered a reprieve last week to people whose policies are being canceled and who haven't been able to find affordable plans on the exchanges. They'll be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage or be exempted from the fines. And some states and insurance companies have extended the deadline to sign up for coverage starting in January to December 27th, or even December 31st to give people more time to pick a plan.
JONES (on-camera): Now, health officials are pointing to a record day for healthcare.gov today with 850,000 visits to the site as of 2:00 p.m., and one more update we just got on those numbers over the weekend, more than 1.2 million visitors to the site over the weekend -- Brianna.
KEILAR: -- covering the story all day long. Athena, thanks so much.
And public support for Obamacare plummeted to its lowest level yet, according to our latest CNN/ORC poll, and more importantly, a key base of supporters for the White House. We're talking about women. They're increasingly disappointed with the law. And CNN's Tom Foreman joining us now to break all of this down.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The president's sign-up may have been symbolic but frustration over this law is absolutely not. Look at the number here right now. This is where it is now. Thirty- five percent of the public favor the health care law, 62 percent are against it. Look at the change that's happened to this over time. If you were to go back to November of 2012, just over half the people were against it.
But it started ticking up well before the Obamacare website came online, you may note, and has been steadily ticking up to this level we're at right now. We talked about women a moment ago. This is an important change to notice here. You'll see that between November, and now, men increased a tiny bit, but the biggest change in that overall number is happening here. Women, this has been a demographic the White House has absolutely counted on.
They helped elect Barack Obama. They helped re-elect Barack Obama. And they're the ones who are getting really irritated about this. Beyond that, what's the ideology behind this? Who is against this law? Thirty-five percent favor it, of course. Those who oppose it, who say it's too liberal, 43 percent. That's the biggest number. But about 15 percent of the people disagree with Obamacare because they simply say it is not liberal enough, it should provide more things.
Here come two last key things I want to point out here. Payment on this whole thing. Is your cost going to be less or more? Remember, one of the key promises of this from the beginning was we're going to insure more people and because we do that, everyone's costs will go down. The public absolutely not buying that now. Only seven percent think their health care will now cost them less because of this.
Sixty-three percent think it's going to cost them more. And in the end, big picture, what happens to your family, are you really better off or not? Will the health care affect the law affect be better for you? Better off, only 16 percent of the public now believes that. Forty-two percent think they're going to be worse off because of Obamacare and 40 percent think they'll be about the same.
These are tough, tough numbers, Brianna, and the White House cannot be happy about them this Christmas season.
KEILAR: Yes. Very tough numbers. Thank you for breaking that down, Tom. And let's go ahead now and bring in CNN political director, Mark Preston. So, what's going on, Mark, with the Obama White House today, sort of some weird developments where the president signed up for essentially Obamacare, but didn't really need to, and also, P.S., he didn't actually do it himself, someone did it in person. What's going on here?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And he's going to pay for it, but he's not going to use it.
KEILAR: Not going to use it.
PRESTON: You know, clearly, this is damage control right now by the White House. I think what they view as stories that can be critical, certainly right before Christmas, are going to be forgotten and can they actually lead to some kind of movement ahead on getting these numbers up. So, let's just look at the damage control part of it. If the president did not sign up for it, would he come under criticism for not doing so even though we know it's symbolic?
In some ways, you have to ask yourself why even waste your time on that. They move the goal line forward, goalpost back, some would say, 24 hours. Why do you that? To try to get more people enrolled so that by January 1st, more people will have health insurance. But really, the bottom line is that you can still get health insurance. The deadline is March 31st. Just that we're talking about today and now tomorrow, Brianna, because if you want to have continuous coverage, if you want to continue your coverage from December 31st into the New Year on January 1st, you need to get it done by the close of business or by midnight tomorrow night.
KEILAR: And he didn't have to do it this month. He could have done -- because he has insurance, he could have waited a month, two months, a few months. Obviously, I think what they're trying to do is kind of gin up a little awareness about the fact that this is the deadline. But it's sort of, maybe, I guess, you could say it seems a little fumbled in the way they did it.
Now, the other thing obviously for President Obama is that what do Democrats think? You know, are they on his side? And we've heard from Senator Joe Manchin. He said that Obamacare could have a meltdown. I mean, how much of a concern is that for Democrats and how big of a deal is this for them in 2014?
PRESTON: Well, it's a huge problem right now to have a prominent Democrat such as Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia, a former governor, somebody who is required to get things done as CEO in many ways, to come out and be critical of how the whole rollout has begun. In the end, Joe Manchin believes that Obamacare should be put in place. It's just that he's been critical of the rollout.
And I think the Democratic Party as a whole, if you don't hear them say it publicly, are telling us privately that this is a problem. There are several Senate seats that are up in 2014 in states such as Arkansas and Louisiana, up in Alaska. We have a couple of open Democratic seats in states such as Montana.
This is not good for the Democratic Party. It shows that perhaps they're not governing correctly so they're very upset at the rollout. They're not so upset at the fact that they're getting health care, but the fact is this was bungled.
KEILAR: They're vulnerable. They're tied to it and they want it to be turned around in time. All right. Mark Preston, thank you so much.
And next, suspended from his show and taking heat for controversial comments about homosexuality and race, the patriarch of TV's "Duck Dynasty" is now speaking out. And an offensive and tasteless tweet turns a public relations executive into a former public relations executive. What was she thinking?
KEILAR: New developments in the uproar over controversial remarks by the star of the reality TV series "Duck Dynasty." They prompted the A&E network to suspend Phil Robertson from the show but plenty of people are coming to his defense and he's not backing down. CNN's Nick Valencia is following developments for us. So, Nick, what's the latest here?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, the fallout from the "Duck Dynasty" controversy definitely isn't going away any time soon. Now, days after he first made the comments, we're hearing from the man at the center of it all.
VALENCIA (voice-over): Speaking publicly for the first time since his controversial comments about race and homosexuality in "GQ" magazine, reality TV star, Phil Robertson, was defiant. "I will not give or back off my path," he reportedly told a bible study group in West Monroe, Louisiana. "I'm a lover of humanity, not a hater."
In an interview, the British tabloid, "The Daily Mail," spent the day with the "Duck Dynasty" patriarch in his hometown. "I'm just reading what was written over 2,000 years ago. Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom," Robertson told the church group, defending his comments. "All I did was quote from the scriptures but they just didn't know it. Whether I said it or they read it, what's the difference? The sins are the same. Humans haven't changed."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me, this is an issue about religious liberty.
VALENCIA: Despite the controversy, Robertson has received both the support in Louisiana, where the program is shot, and beyond. The latest from the state's lieutenant governor who criticized A&E for suspending him and jeopardizing Louisiana's tourism industry. And now this. Under pressure from loyal fans, the restaurant chain, Cracker Barrel, reversed its decision to pull some "Duck Dynasty" merchandise.
"You told us we made a mistake and you weren't shy about it. You flat out told us we were wrong." Others think it's ironic the reality TV star was punished for saying what he really feels.
SHERIFF PHIL MILLER, DOUGLAS COUNTY, GEORGIA: I believe that a person's right to believe in the bible --
VALENCIA: A Georgia sheriff who has supported A&E in the past says he won't work with them again.
MILLER: I said I'm not going to change my mind about A&E, unless, they change their mind if a person that's a Christian speaks about the bible, I don't think they should be punished and I think Phil Robertson was.
VALENCIA (on-camera): A lot of this comes down to money. With audiences as high as 14 million per week, "Duck Dynasty" merchandising is estimated at a value of about $400 million. Now, the new season premieres on January 15th. And although he's currently suspended, that new season is expected to include scenes with Phil Robertson -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. Nick Valencia, thank you very much.
Now, some are defending Phil Robertson, you heard that. No one is defending, though, the woman whose tweet was not only offensive and tasteless but shocking, considering her job. CNN's Pamela Brown explains.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Social media is calling it the tweet heard around the world. "Going to Africa, hope I don't get AIDS, just kidding, I'm White." Now, three days after a P.R. exec, Justine Sacco (ph) sent out that tweet, she's out of a job and apologizing.
On Sunday, Sacco issued this statement saying, "Words cannot express how sorry I am and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet for being insensitive to this crisis and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed."
Sacco was head of P.R. for IAC, the media company owned by Barry Diller, that operates websites like the "Daily Beast," "College Humor" and Match.com, but on Saturday, the company said Sacco is no longer a good match, firing her. The now former P.R. exec found herself the target of a social media mob on Friday, sending out that tweet right before logging offline while on her 12-hour flight from London to her native South Africa.
JOE CONCHA, COLUMNIST, MEDIATE: Not only is this a publicist's worst nightmare, it's any public figure's worst nightmare. To send out a tweet, it's kind of like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. You can't take it back.
BROWN: Her Twitter page immediately filled with hateful comments. The hash tag has Justine landed yet trending worldwide. One guy following the hash tag, even awaiting her arrival at the Capetown airport. A trial by twitter, as many are calling it. According to her LinkedIn page, Sacco was also formerly a publicist for the WWE.
And on her now disabled Twitter page, she has a cache of vulgar now deleted tweets like "I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night." And, "I can't be fired for things I say while intoxicated, right?" Leaving many to wonder how could a P.R. expert not know how to manage her own social media. CONCHA: I don't think people like Justine realize the immediacy of Twitter. One tweet, one statement is all it takes in the world of Twitter and the world of social media to cost somebody their career.
BROWN: Pamela Brown, CNN, New York.
KEILAR: Joining me now, Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent and the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources." Andnot only that, Brian, but you actually know this woman. So, I guess tell us how you know her, but also, what is she like in real life?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: She is the P.R. person, she was, for IAC. So, me and other reporters would frequently reach out to her with questions about all the different companies that IAC owns. They own companies like Match.com and they have investment in aero. They own the "Daily Beast," things like that. So, I would check in with her from time to time on different stories.
But I didn't know she had a Twitter account. I don't think many people did. She only had a few hundred followers. Maybe that's why she thought she was tweeting in relative obscurity at the time.
KEILAR: And that's the thing. I think it sheds light on another issue which is she's not the first one to put a regrettable tweet out there.
STELTER: And she won't be the last.
KEILAR: And she certainly won't be the last. How is it that people think almost in a way that they don't have reach on Twitter or that they're kind of anonymous?
STELTER: Another reporter, Jeff Bercovici (ph), wrote a column today about -- he writes for Forbes, wrote a column about Justine and how he recently went out for drinks with her and they talked about Twitter. And he said that Justine was commenting about how it's the edgier, more provocative tweets that seem to get the most attention online. And I can understand why if you're a newer user of the service, if you haven't got a lot of experience with it, you might try to walk right up to the line and see how far you can go.
You know, some people have even wondered if she was trying to make some sort of really smart commentary about AIDS. But botched it in such a bad way that no one got what she was trying to say.
KEILAR: And certainly, it would be very difficult for her to kind of get through the noise now that her tweet has made to make that point.
STELTER: If that is the case, and by the way, I don't know if it was or not. She wouldn't be able to explain at this point. You know, there was so -- on Twitter or on Facebook, there's no real ability to have context. You can't really explain what you're saying. There's no way to have hand gestures or vocal cues or anything. So, you're out there on your own and that's maybe why it's risky.
KEILAR: OK. So, that said, looking at this tweet, I think most people can say it was slightly a no-brainer that this could upset some people.
STELTER: Right. You wouldn't write it. I wouldn't write it.
KEILAR: Sure. So, you basically live on Twitter. I mean, you're on Twitter all the time. Can you relate at all? Has there ever been a moment where maybe you're trying to be snarky and you think, you know what, maybe I'm not --
STELTER: There have been. I mean, there's been a few. There are also been times where I accidentally posted a message to the whole world that I meant to send as a private message, those sorts of things. You know, the biggest maybe problem for Justine Sacco (ph) is that she did this as she boarded a plane.
You know, as the times where I posted dumb tweets, it's been -- I've been able to correct it right away. You know, delete it five minutes later or apologize for it ten minutes later. If you're on a flight for 12 hours with no internet, as Justine Sacco (ph) was, there's no way to reverse what you did.
KEILAR: Exactly. Now, let's turn to "Duck Dynasty." The controversy there that is capturing so much attention. Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the show, makes homophobic comments. A&E sidelines him, suspends him immediately. Do you think A&E did the right thing here? There's been a lot of pushback.
STELTER: There has been. And I'm glad there has been pushback, because you know, it's understandable people think that A&E went too far and acted too fast by doing it. I think the network was in a sort of impossible position, though. If they hadn't done anything, there would have been an outcry on the other side from gay rights groups and from anybody who believed that what Phil Robertson said was wrong.
A&E maybe was reacting to learning from what the Food Network did with Paula Deen, you know, by having her out there for a while before moving her shows from the schedule. You know, maybe in the P.R. handbook these days, it says act quickly, do something to stop the outrage but in this case, of course, by suspending Phil Robertson, it created a whole other kind of outrage.
KEILAR: Well, and then, let's talk about this. They now have, as we speak, a marathon of "Duck Dynasty" going on with Phil Robertson and all the episodes. So, what kind of mixed message are they sending?
STELTER: It's probably rating really well because "Duck Dynasty" is still trending on Twitter. You know, I'd guess if I'm A&E, I guess if I'm a channel executive, I'm going to keep airing the episodes, A, because they're the highest rated things on the network, and B, because they've been promoting this marathon for a while. But it does go to show how reliant these channels are on these stars.
You know, on stars who have private lives, who personal lives and personal beliefs that no channel can control. You can edit what's in "Duck Dynasty." I mean, on "Duck Dynasty," you don't hear about homophobia. It's a family comedy. It's a lot of fun to watch. But you can't edit the person's private life.
You can't completely stop them from sharing what they feel with the world as Phil Robertson did with GQ. This is probably the best example we've seen in a long time of how much of a problem that can be for cable channels.
KEILAR: Brian Stelter, thank you.
STELTER: Thank you.
KEILAR: And coming up, sentencing for an American man charged over this parody video. Why he's being jailed thousands of miles from home?
Plus, a rare apology from al Qaeda. The terror group is saying it's sorry for this attack.
KEILAR: Checking some other stories coming in to the SITUATION ROOM right now. Same-sex couples can head back to the altar in Utah. A federal judge denied the state's request to halt same-sex marriages after the same judge struck down the state's ban last week.
Republican governor, Gary Herbert, filed the stay as he and other officials explore their options to quote, "defend traditional marriage." Same-sex marriage is already legal in 17 other states and the District of Columbia.
Now, check out this record-breaking pass. Peyton Manning connects with wide receiver, Julius Thomas, for a 25-yard touchdown, breaks the NFL's record for touchdown passes in a single season. Manning in his 15th season was named Sportsman of the Year by our sister publication, "Sports Illustrated." And with the win, the Broncos have clinched a first round bye in the playoffs.
And his name is linked to perhaps the world's best known weapon, Mikhail Kalashnikov (ph) assault rifle, the AK-47. Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the rugged reliable firearm died today at age 94. The AK-47 was adopted by the soviet military after World War AII and then by other armies around the world. It became a symbol of revolutionary movements, guerillas, and terrorists. An estimated 100 million have been produced.
And the president signs up for Obamacare, but not really. And today is the enrollment deadline for Americans to get coverage on January 1st, but not really. Is this a case of more stumbling and fumbling by the Obama White House? Joining me now, CNN "Crossfire" host, S.E. Cupp and CNN political analyst, Ron Brownstein, editorial director of the "National Journal."
Let's start with you, Ron. What is the White House doing?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Improvising --
BROWNSTEIN: And playing for time, really, because this really is a game about playing for time for them. They are looking at very difficult numbers in public opinion, as the polls showed again today, that aren't likely to get much better any time soon. I mean, it's been pretty consistent throughout. They have had enormous difficulty convincing most Americans that this will benefit them and their family or even benefit the country overall.
So, that's very tough. On the other hand, the other set of numbers that they're watching are how many people can they sign up and get into the system because, ultimately, if this is going to endure beyond his presidency, I think the key is building a constituency for it both in people who are obtaining the benefits and within the medical community that believes this is something that benefits them. And I think that race, they're doing better on but still a long way to go on that front, too.
KEILAR: What do you think? I mean, when I heard that he was signing up for this, part of me thought this is like when he absentee voted to kind of show people the way, look, this is what we want you to do, we want you to sign up, the January 1st deadline is looming. You think it accomplishes that?
S.E. CUPP, HOST, CNN'S "CROSSTALK": Well, no. I mean, this was a symbolic sign-up. He doesn't need health care. He already has health care.
KEILAR: He doesn't need it and he won't use it.
CUPP: He's going to pay for something that he's not using. We all can't afford that kind of symbolism. But I think the White House and Democrats, frankly, are real confused on what to do and you see that I think represented if you look at three Democrats. Joe Manchin comes out and says this could be a meltdown if the prices are higher than people expect.
Then you have Nancy Pelosi who's basically saying Democrats are going -- aren't going to benefit from Obamacare next year, and then you have someone like Chuck Schumer who's saying we're not going to run on Obamacare. We're going to run on the middle class. I think you're seeing Democrats really divided on how to handle this and not really knowing how to best move Obamacare through.
BROWNSTEIN: And look, I mean, I think this could be very tough again for Democrats in 2014 when you consider that the off-year election is older and whiter than the presidential year election, those young and diverse, you know, components of the democratic coalition turn out less and those older and Whiter voters are very dubious about Obamacare. So, if you're in West Virginia or Arkansas or North -- you know, or Alaska, this could be tough.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. On the other hand, I mean, there is a point at which repeal becomes problematic in a practical sense. There is some number of people who once they're in the system, I think it becomes very politically difficult to undo. We don't know what that number is. And I think the key for the Obama White house is to try to just build that base as much as they can in the three years while he has the veto pen to defend it.
KEILAR: OK. So, politics, let's put that aside for a second and talk logistics. Some in the insurance industry say this is confusing when you're saying the deadline -- well, first it was mid-December, then December 23rd, which is today. And now, it turns out actually it's tomorrow, if you sign up tomorrow you will still get through.
And the Connecticut exchange is going whoa, whoa, whoa. Actually, no, today is the deadline.
Is this confusing to actually get people signed up?
S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, yes. And the White House's own communications director Jen Palmieri came out to basically say, ignore the deadline. We don't want the deadline changed. We don't want people thinking that they --
KEILAR: This is a --
CUPP: Well, it's incredibly confusing. Then why did you change the deadline. The administration is mucking around in this too much for its own good.
Just stay out, let people sign up, let people come to it, and stop making these changes. It's bad P.R.
BROWNSTEIN: I agree. It just feels incredibly improvisational. As Mark Preston pointed out before though, the real deadline that matters is the end of March. That's the end of the open enrollment period.
For the insurance industry, they are understandably perplexed, not only by this, but the bigger change last week on allowing people whose plans have been canceled to stay out or obtain catastrophic care. They need those, those tend to be healthier people, the people with individual insurance now, and they need them in the new market to make it a balanced risk pool.
KEILAR: That's right. So, let's change gears a little bit, talk about one of our favorite subjects, "Duck Dynasty."
S.E., I'll start with you on this. You're a big fan of "Duck Dynasty". You have some connection to the loveable folks on the show. What do you think about -- obviously one of the show's biggest stars causing so much controversy because of his homophobic remarks? A lot of people felt he was very lovable before. They don't feel that way now. CUPP: Well --
CUPP: I spent some time with the Robertsons. And if you've watched the show at all, I'm not sure you'd be surprised to learn any of this about him. They are a Christian family. They pray at the end of every show. He quotes Scripture on the show.
So, I'm not sure where the outrage and shock and surprise is really coming from. For folks who know them, this isn't very surprising.
It also feels I think a little ungracious of A&E. They have the right to do whatever they want, but the reason the show in part is so popular is because of these wholesome Christian values.
Now, I don't agree with what Phil Robertson said. I'm a demonstrably, you know, vocal proponent of gay rights and gay marriage. But it feels like the reason people tune in and turn off the trash reality show are to see these families coming together over a dinner table, praying, talking about God. I mean, that's a huge -- that's been hugely profitable for A&E.
BROWNSTEIN: Two quick things. I mean, it's a reminder of why culture is eclipsing class as the fundamental dividing line in our politics. Every Republican, so many leading Republicans helped propel support for him at a time when I think his comments are clearly on the wrong side of history in the sense of where American opinion is going. And when the pope is saying who am I to judge, to double down in the way he did in saying, I know what's right and what's right and wrong seems to me again, on the wrong side of history.
KEILAR: All right. S.E., Ron, thanks so much to both of you.
CUPP: We sure did.
KEILAR: Thank you guys for being on. Appreciate it.
KEILAR: And next, terror groups usually don't say sorry for attacking innocent people. So what is behind al Qaeda's apology for a deadly attack?
And a bionic leg that reads brain signals. How this stunning medical advance may one day help amputee war veterans.
KEILAR: Terror groups usually don't say they're sorry for attacking innocent people, but a leader of al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate has done just that. In a video message, he apologized for an attack on a hospital this month which left dozens of people dead.
Meantime, the U.S. is still shrouding its drone strikes in secrecy, including those that inadvertently kill civilians.
Joining us to talk about this, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, as well as Phil Mudd of the New America Foundation.
So, I'm going to start with you, Peter, real quick.
It's not every day that al Qaeda apologizes. So what do you make of this?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think they suddenly realized there's a cognitive dissonance between saying hey, we protect Muslims and we're defending them, then in fact killing many Muslims. I think within al Qaeda there has been quite a discussion about the necessity of trying to avoid civilian casualties. And now, this is a rare public apology for the same.
KEILAR: And, Phil, let me ask you this. The U.S. has had obviously problems with some of, you know, what is sort of I think called in a way the collateral damage of drone strikes, civilians who are killed in drone strikes.
Recently, there was actually a wedding party that was taken out. What do you think about if the U.S. were to apologize for killing civilians? Is that something that should be done? Would an apology go I guess a long way?
PHIL MUDD, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I think the U.S. has apologized in the past. The U.S. has paid victims in places like Afghanistan. But one of the things we as Americans have to understand is when we refer to something as a precision weapon and that's how we refer to drones, we start to -- we start to believe that war is somehow antiseptic and that war and contrast for example, World War II, World War I, doesn't have civilian casualties. It does. It's part of war.
KEILAR: What do you think? Should the U.S. -- do they apologize enough, because it does seem at least, I mean, I cover the White House and when reporters press White House officials on this, you don't get a sort of major apology coming from the administration.
BERGEN: Yes, as Phil says, the United States apologizes and compensates civilians in conventional military conflicts in Afghanistan. That's the U.S. military.
What it doesn't do, you know, when the CIA, which has killed hundreds of civilians in drone strikes because it's a secret program, they won't apologize for something that essentially is secret. So -- and they don't compensate civilians who were killed in these strikes.
So, you have two different programs. The civilian program where there is no apology, no compensation if civilians are killed and a military program where there is.
KEILAR: And let's talk about, we just heard Phil say, will the U.S. compensates victims. You are talking about the U.S. compensating victims. Al Qaeda is specifically saying they will compensate the families of victims. That is a pretty organized group it sounds like. What can you take from that, about how much we should be weary of al Qaeda?
BERGEN: Well, I'm not holding my breath for al Qaeda to follow through on that. I think that's in the realm of propaganda. Clearly, you know, their apology is self-serving. But the point is they kind of get it that they can't conduct this war in defending Islam and then kill lots of Muslim civilians as they did in Iraq and in many other places.
KEILAR: So, it seems like, I don't know, what do you think, Phil? You think it's just P.R.?
MUDD: Absolutely. You have to -- we think of al Qaeda as a terrorist group. You have to expand your understanding of what they're about. They're about recruiting people from places like Saudi Arabia, from places like Europe, United States.
They are also about fund-raising. And when they kill innocents, they start to lose a base that's beyond just Yemen. So, I think this is a P.R. campaign where they are going out saying hey, it's OK to kill policemen, OK to kill government officials but we're not about killing innocent Muslims.
KEILAR: Let's talk a little about Syria now, just turn to that. The former ambassador to Iraq in Afghanistan actually has said that Assad winning is the better option rather than al Qaeda taking over. What do you think of that statement?
MUDD: I don't think there is a good option here. That's why we have been so reluctant to get engaged. At the beginning, people would say look, we have a rogue dictator, like some of the rogue dictators who were ousted in North Africa. It's good for people to have a voice. So, let's support those people to overthrow Assad.
Now, we have a rock and a hard place. We've got a dictator who has massacred his own civilians and we have militants who represent a violent form of Islam we don't support. So, I don't think we have a dog in this fight.
KEILAR: What do you think, Peter? Has the ship sailed on getting involved in Syria in a way that could somehow push it towards a better resolution?
BERGEN: Well, eventually there will be a resolution so the ship never completely sails. I mean, there's not going to be --
KEILAR: But the U.S. sort of being involved in it or trying to shape events, is it just now to the point of sitting back and seeing what kind of horrible resolution comes to be?
BERGEN: Well, the Obama administration's view for a long time is who are the two most effective groups fighting there. It's al Qaeda and Hezbollah. In the sense, you know, neither of these groups we want to sort of promote. So, it's a very difficult situation.
That said, this is one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes in the modern era. You have almost half the population are refugees. And every time you delay making a decision, it just gets worse.
So, it's something, of course, in life not to make decisions or not to do anything. But in this case, you know, there are things we could do certainly in terms of creating safe zones, perhaps going after Assad's air force. Those are very difficult decisions but they are conceivable.
KEILAR: All right. Peter Bergen, Phil Mudd, thank you so much to the both of you for joining us. We appreciate it.
And it is the kind of parody video that you see all over the Internet. But what started as a joke for one American man has become a nightmare. He was sentenced today to one year in prison in the United Arab Emirates.
And CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott has details on this.
So, first, Elise, tell us -- you know, you think of a video that landed someone in jail. What did it really entail and how did the UAE respond to it?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: OK. Brianna, we are talking about a 29-year-old Shezanne Cassim. He's from Minnesota, now, he's living in Dubai as a consultant. And in his spare time, he makes videos spoofing life in the UAE.
Let's take a look at his latest creation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say naad (ph), then you throw it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Naad!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LABOTT: OK, so this is grandmaster martial arts sheikh here. He's teaching his combatants the art of battle. What are his tools? A headdress, shoes and twitter? It's kind of stupid, right?
LABOTT: This got him in jail. He was arrested under this new cybercrimes law which prevents use of technology, making it illegal to use technology to criticize the government. He landed in jail in April.
After months of detention and a trial, he was just found guilty along with his Emirati friends for a year, and now, he was a year in jail and for threatening national security for this stupid video.
KEILAR: So, that sort of -- OK, we were talking about the gentleman who is in the gray t-shirt here. I mean, when I think of the UAE, the sort of being so restrictive, that's not exactly what I would think of just sort of on the surface.
LABOTT: Well, that's the contradiction here, OK? The UAE is supposed to be this modern country, the center for international tourism. It just had an international film festival and is going to host the World Expo.
But the truth is this is just a veneer. This is a very conservative Arab society. You know, the leaders look at what happened in the Arab spring. They see that the Internet was a place for protest, spreads like social media, and they want to prevent that from happening at home.
So, you have this debate in society going on right now between those who say we are a progressive country, we have to move in those directions, and those who say we don't want to see what happened in the rest of the Arab world at home. We need to stay close.
KEILAR: And of course, there are a lot of people around the world looking at this and they have an interest in this. You've been talking to sources and learned that there is back channeling going on, right?
LABOTT: Well, the U.S. has been working this privately behind the scenes for a long time. The U.S. ambassador Michael Corbin working it, Secretary of State Kerry speaks regularly to the foreign minister. And he's supposed to do that again.
I think they want us to try and solve this privately. And the message is, you are a progressive country, you're a close ally, and this type of thing is really hurting the relationship. Not only these cases, but the whole idea of cracking down on freedom of expression.
And I think you saw for the severity of the crimes, of threatening national security, he only got a year -- and is going to get credit for time served, have to pay a fine. He'll probably get deported from the country pretty soon. So I think it's a signal in the UAE that the leaders saw that we might have gone a little too far but the warning here is foreigners that are going to the UAE.
You think you're just going to have a wild time in Dubai. You've got to be careful about how you behave because it's still very traditional.
KEILAR: And amazing, one year is minor. Fascinating.
Elise Labott, thank you so much.
And just ahead, U.S. Marines poised to rescue Americans trapped by escalating violence. We'll have the latest on a growing crisis in the world's newest country.
Plus, a so-called bionic leg. How it could change life for wounded veterans.
KEILAR: Well, this is a heartbreaking battle, pitting the family of a 13-year-old girl on life support against the hospital that she's brain dead, but we may soon see a resolution. An expert is about to examine the girl to determine whether there's any hope of recovery.
CNN's Stephanie Elam is following the story for us.
What's the latest you hear, Stephanie?
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it's the kind of story that just hurts you in your chest when you hear what's going on. A family is fighting for the chance that there could possibly be some chance that their daughter will come back and show signs of life, while meanwhile, the hospital says what's done is done.
ELAM (voice-over): The family of Jahi McMath continues to pray for a miracle.
NAILAH WINKFIELD, MOTHER: I'm still nervous about it, but it still gives me another day to spend with her.
ELAM: On December 9th the 13-year-old had surgery to have her tonsils adenoids and some sinus tissue removed at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, California. Soon after surgery, the family says Jahi's condition quickly deteriorated and she went into cardiac arrest. After several tests, the hospital declared her brain dead.
DAVID DURANO, CHIEF OF PEDIATRICS: It's a result of her very complex surgery.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It was a tonsillectomy, right?
DURANO: It was much more complicated than a tonsillectomy, although that was part of the surgery.
ELAM: According to court documents, the hospital said it had, quote, "No duty to continue medical intervention ports to seize minor patient." But the family went to court to prevent the hospital from taking Jahi's off life support until an independent doctor examines her.
WINKFIELD: I feel like my daughter is on death row. Because I never know when they're going to pull the plug or make that decision.
ELAM: The judge granted the family's request, and the two sides agreed upon a review by Dr. Paul Fisher, the chief of pediatric neurology at Stanford University's Children Hospital. The hospital in Oakland says it welcomes the review but maintains that the ventilator cannot reverse brain death.
DOUGLAS STRAUSS, ATTORNEY FOR CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OAKLAND: This is obviously a tragic situation. A young lady has died. And no one takes it in a callous or uncaring manner, but she is dead.
ELAM: The judge encouraged both sides to work together.
JUDGE EVELIO GRILLO, ALAMEDA SUPERIOR COURT: This is a very, very charged case, the stakes are very high with a young girl involved, and I think it would suit both parties well if you tried to speak with each other about how we want to get through these next few days.
ELAM: Ultimately the fight pits the family's faith against what the hospital calls false hope.
WINKFIELD: I cannot imagine my daughter in the freezer on Christmas. It's just -- that is heart-wrenching.
ELAM: At this point we know that the judge does not plan of making a decision on this case until after Christmas. As far as if the new doctor comes in and makes a decision here and decides that, yes, it is time to take her off life support, the family has said that they will appeal and go to a higher court to see if they can keep her on life support or move her to someplace else, but that is something that we'll have to wait to see. Just a very, very painful story -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Yes. Your heart just goes out to that family.
Stephanie Elam, thank you.
Now coming up, a smart prosthesis offering new hope to wounded veterans. We'll show you Why it's being called the bionic leg. And tomorrow night on Christmas eve, we'll look at Pope Francis celebrating his first Christmas as pontiff. We've got an hour-long special starting at 6:00 Eastern right here on CNN.
KEILAR: Finally medical researchers have come up with an extraordinary development that may one day help amputee veterans. An artificial leg that reads brain signals. It's already being put through its paces.
Let's get a closer look now from CNN's Brian Todd.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, this amputee feels he's got a new lease on life. This leg can do things just about no other prosthetic can do. And the technology that converges for this is stunning.
TODD (voice-over): This is the bionic leg that can read your mind. When Zach Vawter wants to take a step, he thinks it and it happens.
ZAC VAWTER, BIONIC LEG PATIENT: There's nothing special about it in the sense that -- of what I've had to learn. I just get up from a chair and walk.
TODD: Vawter lost his leg in a motorcycling accident, but his brain is still sending commands to a leg that isn't there. This prosthetic has electrodes to read signals in his thigh, a computer to process them, and a mechanical leg to execute them.
On this monitor is a readout of the signals Zac's leg is getting from his brain when he thinks about moving.
VAWTER: The knee out, from my toes down to back up. And leg back in.
TODD: Over time a team of doctors and designers led by Levi Hargrove taught the computer which signals mean what.
DR. LEVI HARGROVE, REHABILITATION INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO: We can figure out using our pattern recognition if he was trying to move his ankle, knee, ankle, it doesn't matter, we learn the pattern and tell the bionic leg how to move.
TODD: The result?
VAWTER: I'm going to extend my leg and put my toes down. With this leg, it brings me right back to basically in terms of interacting with stairs right back to not having an amputation.
TODD: To prove it Vawter climbed the stairs of one of the tallest buildings in America, the Willis Tower in Chicago. It is kind of noisy, and it's not flawless. But the designers say they're working on improvements, maybe even the ability to run in three to five years. Doctors hope to make these legs available to patients including over 1,000 amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
HARGROVE: The Wounded Warriors, they've been given so much. And anything we can do to help them a little -- do a little bit better or a lot better, that's what we're trying to do.
TODD: But for now the bionic leg is still in the lab in the test phase.
VAWTER: You know I would love to take it home sometime.
TODD: The U.S. military is supporting the project with an $8 million grant. The goal, for amputees to be able to participate as fully in life as possible, maybe even return to active service -- Brianna.