Return to Transcripts main page


Soldiers Run Center for Veterans; White House Christmas Decorations Discussed

Aired December 25, 2013 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's December 25th, 7:00 in the east. A warm merry Christmas to you all. We are honored to have the choir here with us. They are helping us. Young people's chorus of New York City, can't say it enough. They are under the direction of Mr. Francisco Nunez, known to us as Francisco. They'll be singing some of your favorite holiday carols all morning long.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also ahead on NEW DAY, from the Kennedys to the Obamas, Washington has a special knack for capturing that Christmas magic. We're going to take a look at what it takes to turn the White House into a winter wonderland.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: We'll also look ahead to tomorrow. It is one of the biggest return days and sales days of the year. We'll tell you how you can navigate it all, including what products will net you the biggest savings.

BOLDUAN: I like that already.

Going to the extreme, the lights, excitement and lengths many people have gone to make this holiday special. That's all coming up.

CUOMO: That is impressive. That was good.

Let's get you over to the news desk for the latest things making news right now. Here are your headlines.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning and merry Christmas to you. I'm Miguel Marquez. This is the first Christmas for Pope Francis's leader of the world's Catholics. He read his first orbi et orbi address, calling for peace in Syria, South Sudan, and all the world's hotspots. Earlier he held his first Christmas midnight mass, preaching a message of love and forgiveness and urging the faithful to give up on hatred.

The first family is celebrating Christmas in Hawaii and issuing a video message marking the holiday. In it, the president and first lady thanked the service members for helping protect the nation overseas, talk about being kind to loved ones and neighbors, and doing service for others.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So many people all across the country are helping out at soup kitchens, buying gifts for children in need, organizing food or clothing drives for their neighbors. For families like ours, that service is a chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and live out what he taught us, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to feed the hungry and look after the sick, to be our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper.


MARQUEZ: First couple saying we should all pledge to help each other in the new year.

A pair of Taliban rockets have hit the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul, Afghanistan. It happened just before dawn, sending diplomats and workers there scrambling into bunkers. Embassy officials are calling the strike indirect fire and say there have been no deaths or injuries as a result. The Taliban is claiming responsibility and the embassy is assessing damage to the facility.

Thousands of more international troops are on their way to South Sudan as the country falls further into civil war. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to send more than 5,000 peacekeepers to the African nation with hopes of protecting civilians, that as 50 U.S. marines have now been stationed in nearby Uganda. They are said to be ready to go in to help evacuate any Americans in South Sudan. There are increasing reports of violence in the country, including possible ethnic killings.

More time may be coming for those who may have missed the deadline to sign up for Obamacare. The administration announcing anyone who couldn't sign up by the midnight deadline on Tuesday could get more time to complete their applications, but only if you can prove they ran out of time because of problems with It's not clear yet just how you would go about proving that. The site has already seen heavy traffic the last few days as millions race to sign up for coverage to take effect January 1st.

And a federal appeals court is letting gay marriages continue in Utah, the court refused to issue an emergency stay, blocking same-sex nuptials there days after a judge ruled the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. The state is challenging that ruling, but marriages will go on as the appeal moves forward. The state attorney general's office says it is now prepared to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to ask the justices to stop the weddings until the appeals court can rule on the merits of the case.

But 100 residents evacuated because of a big California wildfire are being allowed back into their homes. They were moved out as the fire roared through the Big Sur region burning just under 1.5 square miles. And 34 homes were destroyed by the blaze which was fanned by high winds, very dry vegetation also helped fuel that fire. Officials are said to be close to figuring out what caused it but have not yet speculated on what may have been behind that fire.

For most of the country, the Christmas forecast looks pretty darn nice. Expect a few flurries in the great lakes and showers are possible in parts of south Texas and Florida. But the rest of us should see sunny to partly cloudy or partly sunny skies as the case may be. There will be cool temperatures but pretty much in the normal temperature range for this time of year.

Those are the stories that we are following right now. A very merry Christmas to you and yours. I'm Miguel Marquez.

BOLDUAN: The holidays are a time for family and friends, of course. Many of you will spend these special days with them. But for some, being home still doesn't feel quite right. There are service members home from war overseas and still trying to adjust. Barbara Starr is at the pen gone for us this morning with that story. Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. I want to introduce everyone to two veterans who have made a remarkable journey and now have an unshakable commitment to helping those coming home from war.


DAVID SUTHERLAND, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: I'm Colonel Dave Sutherland. I'm a veteran with great pride. I'm a father. I'm a husband. I'm an uncle. I'm a son. I'm an American soldier. I serve for you. I fought with you. And I would die for you.

STARR: Dave Sutherland led 5,000 troops in Iraq. We first met him on patrol in 2007.

SUTHERLAND: They were sick and tired of Al Qaeda.

STARR: Now retired, his journey to serve continues with one passion, helping veterans coming home.

SUTHERLAND: We believe in everything we do that our veterans, our military families, our families of the fallen, can thrive where they live.

STARR: A journey of absolute commitment he's made with colleague Kim Mitchell, a former naval officer. They are here talking to veterans and veterans advocates.

KIM MITCHELL, PRESIDENT, DIXON CENTER: Something in my heart told me that this is what I was meant to do, given my background, given the fact that the only reason I'm here is because of the Vietnam veterans.

STARR: They left military service in 2012 and opened up the Dixon Center, working with communities across the country, organizing locally based help with jobs, education, and housing.

NICHOLAS STEPHANOVIC, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERAN: This is the new approach that everyone is looking towards more local community-based services to help veterans, which is essentially going to be the answer for all of things the V.A. hasn't been able to cover.

STARR: He knows how bad the post-traumatic stress can get.

STEPHANOVIC: It pretty much destroyed my life. But it was the common issues of PTSD, the anger, the sleepless nights, the substance abuse.

STARR: Army veteran David Barr now a social worker. He and Sutherland hope to work together. Barr says veterans like him often feel alone when they come home.

DAVID BARR, IRAQ VETERAN: You're going to need a community, you'll need a town. You'll need a block, the neighborhood to re-establish that bond.

STARR: Sutherland and Mitchell have gone to more than 500 communities across the country organizing local help on their journey born of grief and hope. Dixon center is named after Sutherland's friend, Staff Sergeant Donnie Dixon, killed before his eyes on an Iraq patrol. Kim's journey, born of the Vietnam War. More than 40 years ago a South Vietnamese soldier had orders to blow up a bridge.

MITCHELL: There is one last survivor stumbling across the bridge carrying a bundle, a hat with a baby wrapped up in a towel. He found me alongside of the road clinging to the body of a dead woman.

STARR: Kim was adopted by an American service member. Last year after reading an article about her, that Vietnamese soldier now living in New Mexico found her again. We meet up on Skype. He tells us it was beyond belief she was the baby he saved. He could not imagine how she survived.


STARR: And this holiday season, Dave Sutherland and Kim Mitchell believe strongly that America's veterans can do more than just survive. They can actually thrive in the communities where they live with a little bit of help from towns and neighbors across the country. So their message, if you see a veteran, ask them how they're doing. Kate, Chris?

BOLDUAN: No kidding. Barbara, what an amazing story to be able to connect those two after so long. Thank you so much. That is amazing.

CUOMO: It really is, and a message, especially on this day but every day, to find ways to help veterans adjust and show them how much we do support the troops.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Coming up here on NEW DAY, 'tis the season to find some deals. Nothing says Christmas like shopping, right? We'll have tips for you for finding the best way to save some money after the holidays.

BOLDUAN: And turning the White House to a winter wonderland, a look at the history of decorating 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.



PEREIRA: I thought we were going to sing back in. CUOMO: My gift this year at Christmas is for me not to sing.

PEREIRA: Save your voice for New Year's.

Welcome back to a special Christmas edition of NEW DAY. We're taking a closer look at an annual holiday spectacle -- Christmas at the White House. It is always an amazing display there. What 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue looks like can be really different depending on who's living inside. Here to talk all about it is Coleen Christian Burke, the author of "Christmas with the First Ladies." What a tremendous collection. Thank you for joining us.


PEREIRA: You like terribly festive today as we would expect.

BURKE: Very merry.

PEREIRA: I want to talk about this year. We have the Obama family living in the White House.

BURKE: We sure do.

PEREIRA: Tell us what their house looks like right now.

BURKE: We actually started decorating this Thanksgiving and after six days that house looked spectacular. So everyone should try to see the decorations. Mrs. Obama's theme is gather around. Gather around your family, your tradition, all the good stuff. She always cuts to the heart of the matter.

PEREIRA: You worked closely with them to find that theme, or do they come to you?

BURKE: I like to say the first lady is the commander in chief of Christmas. It's her vision. We execute it. We're her foot soldiers and we work very hard for six days nonstop and we make sure it's what she wants it to be. And it's fabulous.

BOLDUAN: And then having the fortunate opportunity to stroll through there during the holiday season, I've noticed with the -- Michelle Obama, with the Obamas, she uses not necessarily the colors that you'd associate normally with Christmas. She kind of uses nontraditional colors.

BURKE: Exactly. We're green and red but she's more purple and blue and turquoise and pale pink and pale blue, and really kind of steps outside the box but shows us that Christmas decorating can really be done with just about anything in any way as long as you have the true meaning behind your (INAUDIBLE).

PEREIRA: We also know that you are also the chief decorator, if you will.

BURKE: Not the chief decorator. I was one of the decorating team. PEREIRA: Oh, one of the elves.

BURKE: One of the elves, right.

PEREIRA: For Ms. Bush. It was very important for Ms. Bush. Tell us about that.

BURKE: So that was, first of all, it's a pinch-me moment to be able to get there, to be in the White House and then to be decorating it for all the thousands of visitors who come to see. That year it was a red, white and blue Christmas. It was very patriotic.

You just can't help when you're standing in the White House to be in awe of everyone who's come before you and the people who live there right now. It was a very special time.

CUOMO: That's an interesting dynamic, that I would think of, having been there since President Reagan, I date myself.

But how do you deal with the different presidents wanting different things? Or the first ladies, whoever it is, who's making the decisions? I'm sure it's more than one person. But is there any pushback? I want nine trees, and I want my tree white with blue lights.


BURKE: How about 49 trees under Barbara Bush? The number can get up there.

I think everyone is in line with what the first lady wants. If you follow her vision you'll see her personality and what she wants the experience to be for the American public. That's really a very special privilege to be able to get to watch.

We've seen everything there. We had Nancy Reagan who had Mr. T. come to the White House.

PEREIRA: I remember that.

BOLDUAN: What doesn't mean Christmas other than Mr. T.

CUOMO: A lot of bling, a lot of bling.


BURKE: I mean, we've seen everything over the years. But what I found to be really remarkable is that this is a place where people actually live. And that you really get a sense of it being a home for our first families.

Some of the pictures I found first for the book were the Kennedy family. Just really poignant of these young kids, John-John and Caroline, re-enacting the nativity for their parents. It just was really sweet. BOLDUAN: A cute side note. We opened the book up and found a little blurb about, speaking of President Reagan, he had an allergy to some of the live Christmas trees.

BURKE: To the live trees and also President Clinton. They had to scale back the live, especially in the Oval Office and in the living quarters. But President Reagan especially said he would suffer through for the American people.



BOLDUAN: Is there a common theme throughout in your research when you're looking back at Christmas with the first ladies? Is there a common theme or have you seen the trends and the themes change over the many administrations?

BURKE: Some of them definitely repeat themselves. Jackie Kennedy was the first one who said if we're going to have thousands of people over for the holiday, let's put thought into it. So she came up with the idea of the theme and then it's progressed over time.

But Ms. Reagan pretty much always had the same theme, an old-fashioned Christmas for children.

But then you have Ms. Obama who picks these themes that are really about the heart of the holiday. She had simple blessings, now we have gather around. We've seen all sorts of things.

Lots of times they like to commemorate and remember our military and also children at Christmas. Those are two things that pop up. Ms. Obama is big on honoring our service people.

CUOMO: You also made an important point there. I guess everybody assumes this. But the fact that they live there, probably also allows the exercise of celebrating Christmas in the first place.

If it were just an office building they wouldn't be able to do any of this. That's something that's important to keep in mind.

PEREIRA: Well, it's interesting. I was thinking about the fact if we all, especially if you have guests over in the holidays, you take a great amount of pride and also there's an amount of stress to make the house look just right. It's a different game when it's the White House. There's a different level of expectation because of all the eyes that will be on it.

BURKE: It is executed with military precision. We --


BURKE: Right. Just the way it is at your house.

BOLDUAN: How many holiday receptions do they throw during the season? Dozens? BURKE: During the Clinton administration they were having parties two and three a day. And they had to curtail how many pictures they could take because it just goes on and on. But they actually start baking for the parties the summer before.

There's hundreds of thousands of cookies and tarts and pastries. It starts in the summer and the actual planning for Christmas starts almost after this Christmas is over.


BURKE: Probably like a month or so.

CUOMO: Just like Santa.

PEREIRA: Let the first lady know if she needs my rum ball recipe, I'm happy to oblige.


CUOMO: Some people won't remember what they're saying there anyway.

PEREIRA: The book is entitled, "Christmas with the First Ladies." This is a fantastic gift, especially if you know a decorator or a Christmas maven in your house.

Coleen Christian Burke, what a delight. Thanks for sharing.


BURKE: Merry Christmas.

PEREIRA: Merry Christmas to you.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, Christmas is always a big time at the multiplex. We have the buzziest, must-see films in theaters this holiday along with a lookout for our favorite classics.


Also ahead, tomorrow -- let's talk about today. Tomorrow you have got that, one of the biggest gift return days of the year. How to get the best deals while beating the crowds.




CUOMO: Beautifully done. The Young People's Chorus of New York City. We'll clap like thousands although we are only five.

Welcome back to NEW DAY. Merry Christmas to you. Let's head over to the news desk for a check of the stories that are making news right now. MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very good morning to you and a very Merry Christmas. I'm Miguel Marquez.

A call for peace from the pope in his first Christmas message overlooking St. Peter's Square. He called for humanitarian aid access in Syria and a calming of violence in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Pope Francis also delivered his first Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter's Basilica last night. He preached love and forgiveness, urging people to cast aside hatred.

The president and first lady sending their holiday wishes to the nation. In a video message, they encouraged Americans to use the holidays as a time to come together and care for each other. The president also called special attention to the military, noting that many soldiers are home for the holidays.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many of our troops and newest veterans, this might be the first time in years that they've been with their families on Christmas. In fact, with the Iraq War over and the transition in Afghanistan, fewer of our men and women in uniform are deployed in harm's way than at any time in the last decade.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: And that's something that we all can be thankful for.


CUOMO: The first family also urged Americans to support local communities that can use a hand.

Ms. Obama also had a little Christmas fun. She spent half an hour taking phone calls from children calling the NORAD Santa Tracker hotline, the aerospace defense command tracks Santa's progress every year and has over 1,000 volunteers helping -- or elves -- helping update callers from around the world.

The tradition dates back to the 1950s. It has since moved online in 1998.

And no secret about this message from Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, delivered a traditional alternative Christmas message to the United Kingdom today, assailing the level of global surveillance.


EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEADER: A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that's a problem. Because privacy matters.

Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.


MARQUEZ: The U.K.'s channel for alternative Christmas message has been a tradition since 1993.

Thousands of Christians packed the town of Bethlehem in the West Bank for Christmas Eve celebrations. A top Roman Catholic leader in the holy land said the message of Christmas is peace, love and brotherhood.

Very Merry Christmas to you all. I'm Miguel Marquez in New York.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. If you are a fan of good movies, this time of year is what you've been waiting for, folks. The studios are putting out their biggest and best films. And this year there are a lot of them getting a ton of buzz. Nischelle Turner is here taking a look at it all.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I don't know if you guys are like me and my family, but we like to go to the movies on Christmas Day. Once you're done with all the opening presents and you've eaten and all that, then at night you like to take a trip to the movies.

And if you do, there are great movies out this holiday season for you to check out.

First of all, the movie that we've all been wanting to see, "Anchorman 2" is out. That's a great one for all the family to go see and have a good laugh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You burn calories.

TURNER: The gang is back, they're in New York now, it's the '80s. And this is going to be --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just as inappropriate.

TURNER: Exactly, just as inappropriate. They've been doing a ton of promotion for this. They've been everywhere. And this was a great movie to go see.

CUOMO: I'm still uncomfortable looking at them.


TURNER: You were Ron Burgundy's intern?

CUOMO: I was. That's how I got my start in the business.

TURNER: And he still doesn't know you name.

CUOMO: No, he doesn't. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never look him in the eye.

CUOMO: I've moved on, I'm just happy I have all of you now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Poor Chris. We'll give you (INAUDIBLE).

TURNER: But also don't forget about "The Hobbit: The Decimation of Smaug." And it's like loud or bowed you're supposed to pronounce that, Smaug. So yes, it looks like Smog but it's Smaug. So this is going to be one of the huge movies this holiday season, $74 million it's already made so far.

But it's going to be one of the blockbusters of this year. People have been waiting for this, fans of "Lord of the Rings" have definitely been waiting for this film.

And also we can't forget about "American Hustle," which just got seven Golden Globe nominations, cleaning up with the nominations, it is definitely becoming one of the frontrunners as we go into the Oscar season. So this is a good one to check out if you have a little time over the holiday as well.

But if you want to see that brand new movie that opens up on Christmas, we've got a couple for you, too, "Wolf of Wall Street." "Wolf of Wall Street," which is a fantastic movie. If you got a little time, it is three hours long but it's a fantastic movie.