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Feds Warns ISIS Might Target U.S. Churches; U.S. Abstains in U.N. Vote Against Israeli Settlements; Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham; Israeli to Re-evaluate Relations with United Nations; Trump Releases Letter from Putin; Trump Struggling to Book Inauguration Talent; Trailblazing Senator Mikulski Says Goodbye; Popular Holiday Movies and Songs by the Numbers. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 24, 2016 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:08] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Dana Bash in for Poppy Harlow.

This weekend when much of the nation is focused on family, goodwill and peace, the FBI is warning that there are people out there who want nothing more than to ruin the American holiday season. Federal officials say there's no specific credible threats about this holiday weekend but that some pro-ISIS Web sites are showing their followers where churches are and other places where people gather for holiday events.

Now this isn't the first time ISIS has made threats around Christmas and Hanukkah. But this year, it is different.

CNN national correspondent Polo Sandoval is here. Also, Graeme Wood and he writes about politics for "The Atlantic." Also he wrote this book, "The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State."

And Polo, let me begin with you first. The FBI, they say that these warnings are just out of an abundance of caution. But doesn't ISIS make threats like this pretty much every year at this time?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Dana, you made a very important point. We have been here before. The intelligence community here in the U.S. has gotten wind of these potential threats against possible targets in the U.S. and they usually follow up with a warning or advise or bulletin. That seems to be the case here. This is simply a precautionary measure according to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI who issued this yesterday. And this is after some pro-ISIS Web sites ended up calling for attacks on houses of worship, churches mainly, here in the United States and other parts of the world. And also included a listing of several houses of worship as well.

Now is this threat credible? This is really the main question right now. The FBI weighing in just a short moment ago through a statement that was released to CNN affiliate WJLA. I want to read you a very small portion of where things stand regarding the investigation into this possible threat.

The FBI there in Washington saying, quote, "The FBI is aware of the recent link published online that urges attacks against U.S. churches. As with similar threats, the FBI is tracking this matter while we investigate its credibility."

And that really is key here is that officials here in the intelligence community, they are still poring over potential chatter among terrorist organizations overseas and still looking at that initial posting. In the meantime, the big recommendation and the main headline here for the general public as they prepare to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah is not be afraid but just be alert as they spend time with their family -- Dana.

BASH: Right. If you see something, say something as they say.


BASH: Graeme Wood, let me bring you in. Just in the past couple of months, ISIS has its fingerprints all over attacks in Belgium, in Pakistan, in Ohio, in Berlin. Does that make officials take maybe more idle sounding threats seriously? And obviously the questions, should it?

GRAEME WOOD, AUTHOR, THE WAY OF THE STRANGERS: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE ISLAMIC STATE: Well, for a long time, ISIS has been saying that it will attack where it can. And it's been telling its followers, don't even ask us for permission. Just do it. Attack wherever you are. That includes the United States. And the fact that there have been attacks recently in western Europe I don't think really changes the equation.

What ISIS has realized, from these attacks in western Europe and from our reaction in the United States, where remember we've had a few very bloody attacks but nothing like the spate of attacks that they've had in western Europe. But what they've realized is that all it takes is to say maybe it would be a good idea to attack churches and attack synagogues and it will get our backs up, it will make us worry about what might happen. And there is some reason to worry. But it's a cost-freeway for them to exact a price from us.

BASH: Yes. No question. And, you know, the Berlin attacks, let's sort of focus in on that, more arrests today including the nephew of the man who drove the truck into the market. Officials say that the two men were communicating with an encrypted app. Once again it shows how challenging it is to track terrorists, specially with these high- tech tools, right, Graeme?

WOOD: Yes, that's right. It's an app that I have on my telephone that it buzzes at me every 20 minutes or so with a message from an ISIS-supporting channel. And you can --

BASH: Wow.

WOOD: You can bet that anyone else who is either watching ISIS or is part of ISIS or aspires to be part of ISIS gets exactly those same messages. So those messages are glorifying the Berlin attacker. They are saying, why don't you consider other attacks? Those of you who haven't activated your cells. So, yes, the message is being heard loud and clear.

BASH: Well, the good news is if you can get that buzzing sound on -- in app on your phone so can law enforcements so that's at least a start.

Thank you so much, Graeme Wood and Polo Sandoval, for that reporting and that discussion.

Now elsewhere in the world this weekend, Israeli officials are furious to say the least about America's decision to not back Israel in a crucial vote at the United Nations Security Council.

[15:05:03] Last night, they passed a resolution formally condemning Israel for building settlements close to Palestinian territories and disputed parts of Jerusalem. Now the U.S. could have vetoed it which could have killed the resolution. But the Obama administration instead chose to abstain allowing it to pass.

Israel's top diplomat at the U.N. angrily took to Twitter. These were his words. "I have no doubt that the new U.S. administration will usher in a new area."

CNN's Oren Lieberman is in Jerusalem for us today. And Oren, this resolution obviously has created a lot of waves diplomatically but when it comes to the reality on the ground, how much will this change, if at all?

OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In terms of the effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it's very possible this resolution will have absolutely no effect. It's non-binding resolution. It's effectively a guideline or a recommendation. And it requires follow-up action at the U.N. for it to really have any teeth. That's where President-elect Donald Trump has promised to protect Israel at the U.N. so it could be at least four years, possibly more, possibly much more before this has any real effect on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

In fact that's what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promising. He spoke on the first night of Hanukkah just a short time ago, what affect does this had now he is taking diplomatic action against the U.N. He says he'll re-evaluate the status of U.N. representatives here and he S canceling Israeli funding to five different U.N. organization totaling nearly $8 million. Meanwhile, he fired off one of the harshest criticisms we've ever seen from an Israeli administration pointed at an American government specifically at President Barack Obama.

As have many of his other ministers accusing President Obama of being anti-Israel and allowing this to pass. Many of Israel's ministers, many of the right-wing ministers here have said, the proper response to this resolution should be more building in the settlements, more building in the territories and annexation. Some of these ministers have called for annexation for parts or all of the West Bank. That would fly immediately in the face of this Security Council resolution.

BASH: It sure would. And it is an indication that perhaps it could backfire, which is what a lot of critics of the resolution are saying.

Thank you, Oren Lieberman for that report.

And speaking of critics, I'm joined now on the phone by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina.

Senator, first of all, thank you for joining me on this Christmas eve. I appreciate it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas.

BASH: Thank you. You too. I want to start with what Oren was just talking about, news today, that Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, said that they would re-evaluate relations with the United Nations effectively saying that they would withhold money for five of its organizations. I'm guessing that you think that that is a good idea?

GRAHAM: Yes. I talked to Bibi yesterday. This is a real affront to the state of Israel. It's been decades old policy for the United States -- by the United States to make sure the parties negotiate on the ground in the Mideast, not in the U.N. Security Council. And he told me that when it comes to the U.N., the gloves are off. And I told him, that's my view, too, so I will respond in kind. 22 percent of the United Nations' budget comes from the American taxpayer. And I'm going to lead the charge to withhold funding until they repeal this resolution.

BASH: Now you've been talking about that but I guess when I hear you say that, my question is what makes you think that that will turn around the entire Security Council on this settlement issue? I realize that 22 percent is a lot of money. But it's certainly not the whole ball game from them.

GRAHAM: Oh, no. I mean, it's up to the body to decide what kind of body it would like to be. Here's my view of the peace process. Israel gave Gaza completely to the Palestinians years ago. They withdrew. They've gotten 10,000 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip controlled by Hamas.

Who in the hell is Israel supposed to do peace with? The Palestinian Authority pay young Palestinians money to kill Israelis and Americans. Taylor Force was a young man whose parents live in South Carolina, West Port graduate, went to Israel on a visit as part of a graduate exchange program and was killed by a Palestinian, and the body was sent back to Ramallah, and he was given a state funeral. His families were paid a big lump sum of cash by the Palestinian Authority because he was a hero in their eyes.

Not only am I going to lead the charge to suspend funding to the United Nations until they correct this problem, we're going to suspend funding to the Palestinian Authority until they stop paying young Palestinians to murder innocent people.

BASH: You think you're going to get enough support for that to withhold that kind of funding for Palestinians?

GRAHAM: I think it will be a very interesting vote. And what is so upsetting about this, I am an internationalist.

[15:10:02] I went to the new secretary-general designate about four weeks ago talking about a marshal plan for the developing world. I have been very -- in the forefront of trying to create aid programs to combat terrorism. You're not going to war on terror by joining terrorists. You've got to build up the lives of others and the U.N. does a lot of good work in the refugee area. But I said, please, don't single out Israel.

The reason we don't have peace is not because of settlements. Again, Israel gave all of the Gaza Strip back to the Palestinians. And in turn they have a terrorist organization launching rockets into Israel. So it's not settlements, it's the idea that the Palestinians won't accept the recognition of the Jewish state as being about the entity.

So I think most members of Congress believe that the Obama's administration to break with 40 years of policy is unacceptable. The U.N. needs to be put on notice that the Congress is a player when it comes to American foreign policy. And I don't believe most Americans want to fund an organization who can't see the difference between a democracy Israel and a terrorist organization, which is Hamas and the Palestinian Authority heading in that direction.

BASH: And let me just put a button on this U.N. issue. I mean, there has been no love lost historically between your party and the U.N. at various points. But given the fact that a President Trump is coming in who has the same view on this as you, what do you think this means for the future of the United Nations?

GRAHAM: I think the United Nations needs to understand that Israel is not always the bad guy. What resolution has been passed by the United Nations condemning the slaughter of 500,000 people in Syria? Does the U.N. say anything when Israel is attacked viciously by Hezbollah and Hamas or a 13-year-old girl was killed in her bed by a -- by a Palestinian terrorist?

I think most American political leaders in the Congress believe that the U.N. has been one-sided and that the prime minister of Israel told me that the three threats to the Jewish state, Iran with a nuclear weapon, the ayatollah with a nuke, the marginalization of the Jewish state by international bodies like the United Nations, and traditional, radical Islamic terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL.

So what I want the U.N. to know is that I understand you do good things. I would like the U.N. to be a better organization for helping people to advance the cause of liberty. The only democracy in the region is Israel. And it's odd to me that the U.N. singles out the one place where people can elect their leaders and the rule of law trumps religion to punish them and have a one-sided view of this situation.

BASH: Senator, when you spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu, did you discuss with him whether or not he thinks that this is kind of personal with President Obama, maybe a final poke in the eye from somebody who he didn't get along with for eight years?

GRAHAM: You know, people say that. No, we didn't talk about that.


GRAHAM: But name one party in Israel who likes this? The left in Israel is not embracing this resolution. The entire political infrastructure of Israel, left, right, and middle, all the major parties opposed the Iran nuclear agreement. So President Obama is just not giving the finger to Bibi, he's putting the entire Jewish state, the state of Israel, at risk by having the international community, calling it an outlaw, taking a one-sided view of the dispute.

I would like a two-state solution. I'd love the Palestinians to live in dignity along beside a secure Israel. That's not going to happen any time soon. And this last effort by Obama and Kerry to be cute as they leave office has made it harder to restart the peace process. I don't see any situation where Israel can constructively engage in the peace process as long as this resolution is in being.

BASH: Senator --

GRAHAM: And so to the U.N., if you want to restart the process, rebuild the resolution.

BASH: Senator, I want to play for our viewers and for you some of what the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said explaining why the U.S. abstained yesterday. Take a listen.


SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The Israeli prime minister recently described his government as, quote, "more committed to settlements than any in Israel's history," end quote. And one of his leading coalition partners recently declared that, quote. "The era of the two-state solution is over," end quote. At the same time, the prime minister has said that he is still committed to pursuing a two- state solution. But these statements are irreconcilable. One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict.


BASH: So, Senator, what she is saying is effectively that the settlements antagonize Palestinians and, therefore, hinder peace.

[15:15:05] She is not the only one who thinks this. So what's your response to that?

GRAHAM: My response is that the reason there is no peace between the Palestinians and Israel is not because of land. Israel gave up the entire Gaza Strip. They withdrew completely. Gaza now is in the hand of Hamas, 10,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. So the settlement issue, the land problem, is not why we don't have peace. The problem is that Hamas wants to drive Israel into the ocean. And

the Palestinians are educating their young people to hate the Jewish people and are paying young Palestinians to kill Jews. That's the problem. This is not a land problem.

If I was an Israeli politician, every time a rocket was fired at my schools and at my kids, indiscriminately trying to kill as many civilians as they could, I would grab some land, too, because you've got to push back. So where is the U.N. when it comes to indiscriminately killing of Israelis by Palestinian terrorists? Hamas firing trying into Israel indiscriminately trying to kill children? Where are they then?

Not a word coming out of the body. It is not a land problem. It is an attitude problem. How do you do peace when people are committed to destroy you?

BASH: Well, Senator, that is a very tough question that has been vexing, obviously, for almost 100 years, if not more. I appreciate you coming on with me now, specially on this Christmas eve and for your insight into this -- into this issue. Again, appreciate it. And Merry Christmas, Senator.

GRAHAM: Merry Christmas. Thanks.

BASH: Thank you.

And coming up in the NEWSROOM, reading between the lines. Donald Trump revealing a personal and intriguing letter from Russia's President Putin, an eight-day-old letter released hours after the president-elect suggested starting an arms race. So what are the risks of what seems to be a schizophrenic foreign policy? We'll discuss that.

And later, midnight mass, live to Rome where Pope Francis is getting ready to celebrate Christmas services at St. Peter's Basilica. We'll take you inside.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


BASH: No shortage of diplomatic tension today between Israel and the United States. So much that Israeli officials are publicly saying they are eager for the Trump era in Washington to begin.

[15:20:08] And as we've been discussing it got even more tense yesterday when the U.N. Security Council voted on a measure to condemn Israel and its settlement construction policy. The United States declined to vote and the measure passed.

Aaron David Miller is our global affairs analyst. And Aaron, I have to say I love talking to you about the Middle East because you've worked for administrations going back a few years, sat at more negotiating tables than you probably want to count, trying to work through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So I leave it to you to give us some context here. How significant is it that the U.S. abstained yesterday?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, I think it's very significant. Not since the '90s, there have been quite a few resolutions in which the United States has actually been quite critical of the Israelis under Democratic and many Republican administrations on any number of issues from Lebanon to Gaza to Jerusalem to deporting Palestinians. But under the Obama administration, the record frankly, and that's the paradox here, has been quite extraordinarily positive. The administration has essentially come to Israel's defense in international forum.

I think this is clearly a change. And it's a change at five minutes to midnight, which makes this less than four weeks, Dana, until we have a new president. My own sense here is that this is a migraine headache frankly for just about everybody. If you consider, the U.N. -- you just heard Lindsey Graham, the U.N. may lose a significant amount of funding. The Palestinians are going to suffer as a consequence of this if Congress reduces aid to them.

The Israelis interceded both with President-elect Trump and Egyptian President Sisi and couldn't turn this off. And the Obama administration is being hammered mercilessly.

BASH: Yes.

MILLER: For introducing a resolution that is fraud and will probably have precisely the opposite impact of what they intended if they want to constrain or restrain Israeli settlement activity, that's not going to happen. And our policy is confused.

BASH: Yes. I mean, they say that they didn't introduce it but obviously by not vetoing it, they allowed it to go down or to be approved. But I want to ask you about something that you mentioned, which hasn't gotten a lot of attention, given that the focus has been about this resolution, which is that the Obama administration helped fund the Iron Dome which does help protect Israeli citizens and has proven to be effective in recent years.

Just had a huge aid package, $38 billion. I believe, correct me if I'm wrong. But even with all of that, there is this personal animosity between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. How much is that what this is about?

MILLER: I mean, I think it's a factor. I think what drove this relationship to be probably the most dysfunctional and unproductive of any Israeli prime minister and any American president certainly in my experience was yes, personality differences, but also driven by fundamental differences in policy.

I mean, where you stand in life has a good deal to do with where you sit. And the president of the United States on issues relating to how best to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace in Iran has a fundamentally different view than the current Israeli prime minister. So yes, I think it was a soap opera. It was a soap opera from the beginning between two guys who clearly didn't admire one another and who are wrestling almost from the beginning over fundamental questions relating to American interests in Israel's national security.

And I think what you saw at the end frankly after eight years of soap opera was quite fittingly more soap. And I think it almost had to end this way in my judgment.

BASH: Fascinating. Always great to talk to you, Aaron David Miller. Thank you very much. Happy Hanukkah to you.

MILLER: Thank you, Dana. Same to you.

BASH: Thank you.

And coming up, from Russia with love, President Vladimir Putin penning a friendly Christmas letter to the next U.S. president, this as Donald Trump appears to suggest it's time for a new arms race. Does that sound confusing? Well, maybe that's the point. We'll explain next. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[15:27:16] BASH: A "Dear Donald" letter from Vladimir Putin, with warm Christmas greetings and a wish list for the new year. In the letter which of course was much more than that, Putin urges the U.S. president-elect to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation. And for his part, Trump called the dispatch, quote, "very nice," adding, "His thoughts are so correct."

But Trump also warned that he hopes both sides are able to live up to these thoughts and that we don't have to travel an alternate -- excuse me, an alternate path." Of course, this all comes as the U.S. points the finger at Russia for hacking that occurred during the presidential campaign.

And joining me now to talk about all this, CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post," Josh Rogin. Also with us historian and Princeton University professor, Julian Zelizer.

Thank you both for joining me on this holiday afternoon or evening.

Josh, let me start with you. When President Barack Obama was asked about Russia, he was asked about the hackings, here is what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections, that we need to take action and we will at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized, some of it may not be.


BASH: OK. So that was last week. Fast forward to this week and Trump's response to a letter he received from Putin. His thoughts are so correct. So what is the risk, Josh, of the U.S. seemingly having this schizophrenic foreign policy towards Russia or is there kind of a method to that madness?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think there is any method to it. I think if you're any country around the world, especially in Europe, but not only in Europe, you've got to look at this situation and say, how do we plan for this? OK. You've got one outgoing administration promising to punish the Russians and an incoming administration promising to embrace the Russians. It's sort of a policy mess. And it makes it very hard for people to know where that -- how that will affect other countries, how will that affect our alliances.

Some of this will be worked out. Some of it may not be worked out. You know, overall, you know, if Donald Trump wants to have a reset of Russian relations, he's welcomed to do that. That's what previous presidents have tried. And they haven't succeeded. There is no harm per se in trying again. But when you do it via tweet and without sort of a base agreement of what is the status of the relationship, what are the facts about Russian actions, and what are the differences between U.S. and Russian interests causes a lot of uncertainty. And I think that's a problem.

BASH: That is true, but playing the devil's advocate here that is old school, that is tradition, that is convention.

[15:30:04] Julian, bringing you in on this, you know, that's not happening in a vacuum. He, Donald Trump, is weighing on other things. Trade with China, negotiating government fighter jet contracts, the potential for a nuclear arms race, for example. He tweeted this. He tweeted the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes. He later told MSNBC let it be an arms race.

So -- actually before I ask you my question, I want you to listen to what the incoming press secretary for Donald Trump at the White House, Sean Spicer, told CNN.


SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If the president- elect wants to get things done, he's going to get things done.


BASH: OK. So that's sort of where I was going with this question before I gave you the litany of things that are done -- already being done so differently. Is this what the voters wanted? Is this what they asked for? Somebody who does things unconventionally.

JULIAN ZELIZER, PROFESSOR AND HISTORIAN, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, some of the voters asked for that. Some didn't. But some --

BASH: Good point. The ones who voted for him.

ZELIZER: Some did like this and some did like his unorthodox approach to politics and his willingness to defy convention. I would also add that in the 1980s, we sent mixed signals to the Soviets. Reagan reached out to Gorbachev between '85 and '87 at the same time continued to make provocative statements. But what we don't know if there is any strategy here and we don't know if they're just inconsistent claims coming out from the president-elect. And some could have very dangerous implications.

To say there will be a new arms race is not clearly connected to a deliberate, thoughtful strategy about how to improve relations with Russia and that's the fear. And it's no longer Russia versus the U.S. or Russia and China versus the U.S. We are now dealing in a world with stateless terrorists and with other kind of rogue government threats that will be part of a new arms race that I am not sure that president-elect is thinking through.

BASH: That's a really good point. There are sort of controlled and controllable countries and then there's the unknown when it comes to the arms race.

Josh, we are not hearing anything from President Barack Obama right now on this latest toing and froing. What do you make of that?

ROGIN: I think President Obama made his views very clear in his press conference before he left for Hawaii. He remarked that, you know, President Ronald Reagan would, quote, "roll over in his grave" if he saw that 30 percent of Republicans are now pro-Russia and pro-Vladimir Putin. It just shows how the Russia view just totally flipped in our politics.

And again, yes, it's conventional to be sort of antagonistic towards Russia. But having a good policy process, and as was noted, having a strategy, if you're going to change the policy, that's not convention. That's just good government. OK. And so you have to sort of separate in a sort of Russia-U.S. history from the idea that OK, we have a system of alliances, a system of policies. It's about to go -- undergo a major change. That seems clear. But let's do it in a thoughtful way. And I think that was the other message that President Obama said -- that he gave Donald Trump directly.

BASH: Yes. Good government and maybe just good old-fashioned common sense, right?

ROGIN: Ideally.

BASH: Yes. Julian, you're the historian here. You know, there are lots of reasons why the Soviet Union fell, one of them was just guns and butter, whose money, right? And so right now, we're looking at oil prices, which do tend to determine the strength of the Russian economy. Oil prices are low. How much is that going to factor in to the leverage that Putin has or may not have vis-a-vis the incoming administration?

ZELIZER: Well, it's true that in the 1980s, the internal pressures on the Soviet Union were as important as anything. So the weaker the Russian economy is today, the more room that President-elect Trump would actually have to change the direction of policy if he wanted. Back then, of course, we were talking about the Soviet empire, not Russia. So it was a much bigger operation and these economic strains were much bigger than anything Putin faces today.

So I think there is still much less pressure on him, Putin, to really change policy and the places that Russia has now annexed or in his support for the Syrian government. And I think that's why presidents before Trump have discovered even if there seems to be a window for new relations, in the end, Putin doesn't really change his ways.

ROGIN: Yes. And I would just quickly add that that's what the sanctions were supposed to be for. OK. The sanctions are to push back against Russian intervention in the Ukraine, their actions in Syria, the things that they are doing in Eastern Europe that are really not only against the world interest but also against American national security interest. So if we're going to get rid of those sanctions, the question is, what do we get in return?

[15:35:01] It's not clear to me that Donald Trump is asking for anything in return. Maybe they're going to figure that out later. But this warming is something that Putin really does want. The Russian economy does need help.

BASH: No question.

ROGIN: It can benefitted. What do we want? What are we going to get? Is he going to make a good deal? I'm really curious to find out.

BASH: Well, he mentioned one or two times or a thousand times on the campaign trail, that's what he is going to come in and do. So we'll see how that works.

Josh Rogin, Julian Zelizer, thank you so much and happy holidays to both of you.

We have been having a very heavy --

ZELIZER: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you. Very heavy, very important conversation but remember it is Christmas eve. So let's now go to the Christmas celebration already underway on the other side of the world. You are looking live at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City where Pope Francis is leading a Christmas eve mass. Thousands flock there every year to hear the Pope's Christmas eve blessing and tomorrow he will deliver his annual Christmas Day address to the city and to the world.

And coming up, Carrie Fisher is hospitalized after going into cardiac arrest during a transatlantic flight. The latest on the beloved "Star Wars" actress's condition when CNN NEWSROOM returns.


BASH: Welcome back. Actress Carrie Fisher remains hospitalized in stable condition after going into cardiac arrest. The 60-year-old is best known for her role as Princess Leia in "Star Wars" and my personal favorite Marie in "When Harry Met Sally." She became ill during a flight from London to L.A. yesterday. Her brother told CNN she is in intensive care.

Fisher's "Star Wars" cast mates are expressing their concern on Twitter. From Peter Mayhew who played Chewbaca, "Thoughts and prayers for our friend and everyone's favorite princess right now, Carrie Fisher."

[15:40:04] Less than a month until Trump's inauguration and source tell CNN his transition team isn't having the easiest time booking top-notch talent to perform. The president-elect is suggesting that that's just fine with him. He said this on Twitter, he said, quote, "The so-called A list celebrities all wanting tickets to the inauguration but look what they did for Hillary, nothing. I want the people."

Well, one group did manage to get themselves booked. The famous Radio City Rockettes. But after one of the dancers voiced criticism online the company that manages the group put out a statement clarifying that any dancer could choose to skip the performance. Saying, quote, "For a Rockette to be considered for an event, they must voluntarily sign up and are never told they have to perform at a particular event including the inaugural."

I want to bring in CNN media analyst Bill Carter now.

Bill, you have been covering all things not just entertainment but Donald Trump for a long time. What's your reaction to all this?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Well, it's obvious that there is an issue between Trump and the major entertainment industry figures. Clearly he sent out feelers to some of the bigger names and they've all said no. It kind of is of a peace with this whole election, which was, you know, a scorched election the whole time. And it's continuing. I don't think there is a place in America that's more opposed probably to Trump than Hollywood. They didn't like him before the election. They don't like him now.

And probably a lot of the entertainers who might be sort of thinking well, it'd be worth doing for the exposure in the inauguration, don't want to be subjected to the criticism they might face in Hollywood for appearing to sanction probably a lot of issues that they really don't agree with him. And you know, Trump has said a lot of things that you would think are the anathema sort of to Hollywood including things about, you know, women issues, and bigotry and gay rights and things that they also make their causes, so it's surprising in a way this kind of consistent opposition.

BASH: But he has been known to be friendly with celebrities like Elton John. And I want to put up on the screen.


BASH: So that he is somebody who apparently has declined to perform. He, David Foster, Celine Dion. It's a huge event with a huge audience. Can you remember another inauguration where stars weren't just jumping at the chance to perform?

CARTER: Well, I think that they weren't particularly jumping in the George Bush era. But he had very big names performing.

BASH: Sure.

CARTER: I mean, Destiny's Child performed, well, that Beyonce was in the group. You know, I mean, he had very big names. And in the past, there's been a lot of support from the country music industry for conservative candidates. It's odd he is not getting at least a big portion of them either.

BASH: Yes.

CARTER: There is much more of a concerted opposition here than there ever was before, and it's partly because let's face it, there was this hostility toward him and he's a very unpopular president right now in terms of favorability ratings, and clearly the popular election vote. So it is a little safer for I think entertainers to say well, you know, he wasn't even a majority, you know, winner. So the reluctance has a little bit of validity to it.

BASH: Billy, you covered Donald Trump way pre-politics, during "The Apprentice" years when you were at the "New York Times" and, you know, my understanding is you spent a lot of time with him. Knowing him and knowing the way that he approaches the idea of celebrity, how do you think this is sitting with him, that he is having some trouble?

CARTER: I think it's deeply galling to him. You know, I think he -- he has a big ego. Of course we know that. And he does have good relationships with a lot of celebrities. But a lot of bridges were burned in this campaign. And I don't think Donald really realizes yet that this is going to be kind of the way it's I think going to last. There's a real resistance to his policies, especially because you can argue that the people that he's named so far are only confirming to some of these Hollywood types their worst fears. That they don't see him, you know, reaching out to be sort of a president of the whole country. He seems to be veering even further to the right in issues they don't really accept. So I'm not surprised by that. But knowing him, he will not be -- take this lightly. I don't think he'll take it lightly.

BASH: Yes, I would imagine not. But as we are watching the replay of his entrance at the -- at the convention, maybe he doesn't need another celebrity. He knows how to make an entrance, though, you know. That's probably --

CARTER: He does.

BASH: Something that's going on in his mind. We have to leave it there, Bill Carter. Thank you so, so much. Have a happy holiday. Thanks for joining me today.

CARTER: Thank you, Dana. Thank you very much.

BASH: And straight ahead, when she was first elected, women weren't even allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor. But now Senator Barbara Mikulski leaves the chamber a very different place.

My candid interview with the longest serving female lawmaker next.


[15:48:02] BASH: Washington is saying good-bye to a living legend, Senator Barbara Mikulski, who has served in Congress longer than any women in history, is retiring after 30 years in the Senate, 40 years overall in Congress.

I recently sat down with her for some of her final thoughts on her time in office and on Hillary Clinton failing to break that highest, hardest glass ceiling.


BASH (voice-over): When Barbara Mikulski was elected senator 30 years ago, it was really a man's world.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: When I came to the Senate, you know, senators were Tom, Dick and Harry. Now --

BASH (on camera): Literally.

MIKULSKI: Yes. Now they're Barb, Tammy, Dianne.

BASH (voice-over): When she arrived, Senate women weren't allowed to wear pants. There were only two of them. She is now leaving as one of 20, a bipartisan group Mikulski gathered for monthly dinners.

MIKULSKI: We disagree on issues but what we said was, number one, we were going to be a zone of civility even when we disagree.

BASH: Mikulski is the longest serving woman in the history of Congress. Still, she's retiring disappointed. Her old Senate colleague failed to become the first female president.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The best things really do some in small packages.

BASH (on camera): On a scale of one to 10, Hillary Clinton's defeat for you was?

MIKULSKI: A 52. I mean, really, I couldn't believe election night as I watched the returns. And it was enormously disappointing.

BASH: Do you think America was just not ready for a female president?

MIKULSKI: I'll let the history books analyze that.

BASH: What do you think? You're a female trailblazer. You have some informed opinions, I would think.

MIKULSKI: I think that there were a lot of biases against her. You know what we find when you break the glass ceiling? You end up leaving in a glass office where everything you do is scrutinized.

On behalf of all the women who have broken down barriers for others -- BASH (voice-over): It's not just Mikulski's feminism that makes

Clinton's defeat so crushing, it's that her own Democratic Party lost touch with the kind of working class voters this Baltimore native says she never stopped fighting for.

[15:50:12] MIKULSKI: There are people right now in Baltimore that have, you know, three part-time jobs. Many of my constituents feel that they're either losing their job overseas or they could lose it to a robot.

BASH (on camera): You know you sound like Donald Trump, right?

MIKULSKI: No, I think I sound --

BASH: Or you sound like you?

MIKULSKI: No, I think I sound like Barbara Mikulski.

BASH (voice-over): She admits the election results make it tougher to leave, worried a lot of her work on Obamacare and beyond may be undone.

MIKULSKI: You cannot take a wrecking ball to the very agencies that are designed to help American workers get on their feet.

BASH: Still, the first woman to ever chair the powerful Appropriations Committee tells us behind the scenes bipartisanship she witnessed in this historic room gives her hope.

MIKULSKI: We sit next to each other and rather than at the head table, our job is to bring together when the best ideas and the most affordable ideas. Not to square off.

BASH: The 4'11" senator made a long career out of people underestimating her.

MIKULSKI: I bring my own stool to have longitudinal parody. It's not easy being 4'11" in an institution like this.

BASH: She has a reputation for sometimes being intimidating, making male colleagues cower.

MIKULSKI: Let them feel the hard landing that my constituents face.

I've suffered this wrath before.

BASH (on camera): Yes.

MIKULSKI: And I think that when women are persistent and insistent, we're viewed as tough. Now I view it as just being effective.

BASH (voice-over): One of her proudest achievements -- legislation giving women equal pay for equal work. The first bill signed by the first black president.

MIKULSKI: He said, "This pen is yours." BASH: Now it's the end of the Obama and the Mikulski eras, and the

trailblazing senator walked out the door, dropping important pearls of wisdoms.

MIKULSKI: Always listen to the people. They really do have the best ideas.


BASH: Yes, they do. Senator Mikulski, thank you very much for spending that time with me.

And coming up, you know them well, "Miracle on 34th Street," "It's a Wonderful Life." But which of these holiday classics still bring in the big bucks year after year? Stay with us to get the answer.


[15:55:32] BASH: And finally this hour, CNN's Frank Pallotta on the holiday favorites still bringing in the big bucks years after they were made.


FRANK PALLOTTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's that time of year again, frost in the air, snow on the ground and Jimmy Stewart is wishing old buildings and loans a Merry Christmas.

JIMMY STEWART, ACTOR: Merry Christmas, you wonderful old building and loan.

PALLOTTA: The holiday season decks the halls with a potent amount of pop culture, everything from the Grinch to Kevin McCallister.

Just how big is the season for your holiday themed TV, film and music. Billboard ranked the tune that is bound to get stuck in your head its number one Christmas song of all time. Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You."

It was streamed almost 44 million times during the 2015 holiday season. Not bad for a song released in 1994.

As for the most popular Christmas song recorded by multiple artists that distinction goes to, no surprise, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas."

On-screen holiday television programming reached more than 90 percent of American households in 2014. No doubt a favorite in those households was the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart classic "It's a Wonderful Life." However, the film wasn't a theatrical hit after all. And was so forgotten that the rights lapsed in the public domain in 1974. The film was subsequently shown over and over on TV during the holidays, not because it was beloved but because it was free.

The most lucrative Christmas blockbuster of all time is "Home Alone" which made $285 million upon its initial release in 1990. And that doesn't include the cash that came from constant TV reruns since then. It also spawned a sequel that included a cameo from an unknown businessman.

MACAULAY CULKIN, ACTOR: Excuse me, where's the lobby?

TRUMP: Down the hall and to the left.

CULKIN: Thanks.

PALLOTTA: Ah, the holidays, a great time to spend with friends and family even if they're not real.

CHEVY CHASE, ACTOR: Nobody is walking out on this fun old-fashioned family Christmas. No. No. We're all in this together.

PALLOTTA: Happy holidays, everybody.