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Debbie Reynolds: 1932-2016; Israel Reaction to Kerry Speech; Trump Talks to the Media, Takes Victory Lap on Economy. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2016 - 05:00   ET



JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Mourning the loss of another icon. Debbie Reynolds passing away just a day after losing her daughter Carrie Fisher. We're live in Los Angeles with reaction.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: The Mideast peace parameters laid out by Secretary of State John Kerry not being met with warmth. Israelis are pushing back hard after Kerry blamed Israeli settlements for the stalled peace process. We're live in Jerusalem.

JOHNS: And not one, but two appearances from Donald Trump speaking with groups of reporters for the first time in months. What did he say about the Middle East and Russia and transition?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Joe Johns.

KOSIK: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. It's Thursday, December 29th. Coming up on 5:00 a.m. in the East. John and Christine are off.

And we have sad news to report overnight. Beloved actress and singer and dancer Debbie Reynolds has died one day after the passing of her daughter Carrie Fisher. The bubbly performer was one of Hollywood's biggest starts in the 1950s and '60s with a career stretched into TV, music, Broadway, and nightclubs. Reynolds was known as much for her irrepressible, unsinkable spirit as for her multifaceted talent. She was 84 years old.

CNN's Paul Vercammen joins us live from Los Angeles.

Paul, this is a shock to everybody just waking up this morning and kind of -- trying to get over Carrie Fisher's death.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they almost can't believe that we're reporting this, that this happened, Hollywood is floored and just devastated.

And what happened was, Todd Fisher telling CNN, he's the son of Debbie Reynolds, that his mother is having breathing problems, that were planning the funeral. She was rushed to Cedar Sinai Hospital where she passed away at the age of 84. He said, earlier in the day, she said that she missed Carrie, and now

she is with Carrie.


DEBBIE REYNOLDS, SINGER-ACTRESS (singing): Alone now and I'm singing my song for you --

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Singer, dancer, actress Debbie Reynolds was a Hollywood triple threat and America's sweetheart. Her film career begun at the age of 16 after being spotted in a beauty pageant.

[05:00:02] REYNOLDS: I'm laughing at clouds --

VERCAMMEN: Her star officially launched just a few years later after a spirited performance opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in 1952's "Singing in the Rain."

REYNOLDS: They picked me to put me in "Singing in the Rain". And they just locked me in a studio and for three months, I had five teachers. One for tap and ballet, jazz, modern, and I just worked, worked, worked, you know, until I would just fall apart.

VERCAMMEN: Other roles followed, including 1957's "Tammy and the Bachelor", which resulted in her number hit song "Tammy". She played opposite Gregory Peck in "How the West Was Won" and her performance in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" earned her an Oscar nomination.

Beloved on screen, at times, Reynolds' life off-screen overshadowed her success. She had two children with the first husband, crooner Eddie Fisher, producer Todd Fisher and actress/author Carrie Fisher who died just one day before her mother. In 1959, the marriage ended in a highly publicized divorce when Fisher left Reynolds to marry her close friend Elizabeth Taylor, a painful betrayal.

Reynolds was able to joke with the scandal years later.

REYNOLDS: I was a Girl Scout. I really was really a simple little girl. That's what I was. He fell madly in love with Elizabeth. Now, I understand, you know, so many years later. It's in the past.

VERCAMMEN: Her second and third marriages also ended in divorce, each time causing Reynolds financial pain. However, she had quietly collecting Hollywood memorabilia over the years that would prove to be a wise investment. In 2011, Reynolds sold Marilyn Monroe's white subway dress at auction for $4.6 million.

She also never quit performing, though, she stepped away from film for much of her career, Reynolds continued to entertain on Broadway stages and in Las Vegas nightclubs.

In addition, Reynolds had several TV roles over the years, notably playing Liberace's mother in the 2013 Emmy-winning TV movie "Beyond the Candelabra." Her wide array of work was recognized in 2015, when the Screen Actors Guild honored Reynolds with the lifetime achievement award. Reynolds said she loved every minute she spends in show business in

her 2013 autobiography, "Unsinkable". She credits the love she had for her friends and family for personal and professional resiliency.

And it is that spark and sense of humor, along with her talent that Reynolds will be remembered for.

REYNOLDS: I love you. Good night, everybody. Thank you.


VERCAMMEN: And speaking of a family sense of humor as we look at Debbie Reynolds star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you may know that Carrie Fisher's service dog has his own Twitter account. If you don't, about 20,000 followers. Even this morning, it says, "If Carrie were here, I bet she would make a joke it would be just like her mom to upstage her even in death."


KOSIK: I was thinking the same thing. That humor spoke to people who followed them. I understand you were lucky enough, 20 years ago, Paul, to interview Debbie Reynolds. What do you remember from that experience?

VERCAMMEN: One of the things I remember, I wanted her to contrast old Hollywood. She came up in an era, like her daughter, a very young age. It was new Hollywood. She said, it was very collegial, almost like a university. You would see writers, directors, actors, everyone being trained.

And she said they hung out all the time, had great fun, parties, dancing, singing, all of this. And she felt that modern Hollywood became a little more isolated, Alison and Joe.

KOSK: All right. Paul Vercammen, thanks so much.

JOHNS: All right. Just a little bit more on that. A little while ago, we spoke with the legendary actor, writer, director, producer Carl Reiner. He starred with Debbie Reynolds in the 1959 comedy thriller "The Gazebo." And he offered this remembrance for his friend and co-star.


CARL REINER, ACTOR/DIRECTOR/PRODUCER (via telephone): What a sad, sad, sad, sad, sad day. I can't believe it.

Debbie I knew very well because we did "Gazebo" together. She invited me to write, produce and act in her first television series. She was absolutely amazing, doing three characters.

The other day I was watching "Singing in the Rain." That kid was dancing. She took six weeks of dancing to learn to dance with Kelly and O'Connors. I couldn't believe it. This is the most extraordinary talent this

business of ours has ever had. In my life, I have seen one woman and one woman shows, Mark Twain, Hal Holbrook and Williams doing Charles Dickens, and Carrie Fisher doing a one-woman show that was called "Wishful Drinking."

[05:05:09] I could not believe. I'm 95 years old. They were 60 and 82. I said, they belong here yet. I'm past my prime.


JOHNS: Reynolds' death reverberated through her wide circle of the Hollywood community. Albert Brooks who starred with Reynolds in the 1996 comedy "Mother" tweeted, "Debbie Reynolds, a legend and my movie mom. I can't believe this happened one day after Carrie. My heart goes out to Billie." That's Carrie Fisher's daughter, Debbie Reynolds' granddaughter.

Reynolds also played Debra Messing's mother on the sitcom "Will and Grace." Messing posted this on Instagram. "My heart is literally broken. An inspiration on every level. A legend, of course. The epitome of clean-cut American optimism, dancing with Gene Kelly as an equal, a warrior woman who never stopped working."

KOSIK: All right. Switching gears now. Secretary of State John Kerry criticizing Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Middle East policy speech just weeks before Kerry leaving office. The secretary the state warning the two-state solution is in jeopardy and blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for standing in the way of peace.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Israelis prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution. His current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history with the most agenda driven with the extreme elements.


KOSIK: Kerry defending U.S. support of Israel and the decision by the U.S. to abstain in the U.N. vote condemning Israeli settlements. That abstention allowing the resolution to pass.

Now after Kerry's speech, a top national security adviser to President Obama is softening the blow a bit, telling CNN the White House would veto any U.N. resolution dictating a peace solution or recognizing a Palestinian state.

Reaction from Israel to the Kerry speech was swift and strong, especially from the prime minister who called it a bias attack that pay lip service to Palestinian terror.

Let's get more from CNN's Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem.

Good morning, Oren. OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's response came very quickly. First in Hebrew, which was a fairly short response, and then in English, a very long, angry response that was clearly intended for the U.S. and specifically for President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

One of the Israeli commentaries, as pointed out that these two leaders were not speaking to each other. They had one person in mind when they spoke. Kerry had himself in mind and Netanyahu had President- elect Donald Trump in mind.

They didn't so much respond to each other as they made their points. Kerry talking about settlements in the Israeli government and then the settlements in the Middle East.

Here is part of what Netanyahu had to say.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state remains the core of the conflict, and its removal is the key to peace. Palestinian rejection of Israel and support for terror are what the nations of the world should focus on if they truly want to advance peace. And I can only express my regret and say it is a shame that Secretary Kerry does not see this simple truth.


LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu reiterating his position he doesn't believe settlements are obstacles to peace. But that stands in opposition to what is clearly now and international consensus that settlements are part of the problem. The Palestinians for their part welcome the speech. They say it's part of what is required along with the United Nations Security Council resolution to hold Israel responsible for the West Bank. They say once Israel freezes construction, they are ready to get back to negotiations.

Alison, it doesn't seem like it's happening anytime soon here.

KOSIK: You know, it really does. It brings me to the question. I don't know if you can answer this. We watch these speeches. They were almost like dueling speeches. Not really responding to each other as you said. You know, kind of in a stalemate at this point.

Where do they go from here?

LIEBERMANN: Well, that's a good question. It depends on which "they" you are talking about. It's very clear that Benjamin Netanyahu is simply waiting three weeks. He cannot wait for the three weeks to go by quickly as possible. He wants President-elect Donald Trump in office. Trump expected to be far less critical of Israeli construction in the settlements, in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and much more closely aligned with what Netanyahu thinks about the Middle East. As for the Palestinians, I think they look at a Trump presidency and

they are worried. They said that if Trump moves the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, they say a two-state solution is dead.

KOSIK: Well, we did see President-elect Donald Trump say things will be different after January 20th. We shall see.

CNN's Oren Liebermann, thanks very much.

JOHNS: And speaking of Donald Trump. Guess who actually met with the media last night? The president-elect. What made him decide to speak to a group of reporters twice?

[05:10:03] More coming up from Florida.


JOHNS: After avoiding packs of reporters for more than five months, President-elect Donald Trump finally spoke to journalists Wednesday not once but twice. Mr. Trump clearly trying to dial back the heat with President Obama after days of feuding. And so, apparently was President Obama who phoned Trump. The White House says the call was, quote, "positive and focused on continuing a smooth and effective transition.

Trump seeming to agree speaking later to the media at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: He called me. We had a very, very good talk about generally about things. He was in Hawaii. And it was a very, very nice call. And I actually thought we covered a lot of territory, a lot of good territory.


JOHNS: That agreeable tone came just hours after Mr. Trump had tweeted this, "Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition. Not."

Sunlen Serfaty has more on the transition, smooth or otherwise, from Mar-a-Lago.



As President-elect Donald Trump continues his time here in Florida, it's this public feud with President Obama which has really escalated in the last few days. But it seems that both sides now are taking steps to at least publicly lower the temperature on the spat. Now, Donald Trump here in Florida also taking steps to really reclaim

and redirect the narrative around his transition, focusing now on the economy.

Trump coming out, making a rare appearance here in Florida, telling the press that two companies will have jobs saved or created here in the United States, but very similar to the Carrier deal, Trump not divulging any additional details beyond just taking a small victory lap.

[05:15:01] TRUMP: I was called by the head people at Sprint, and they're going to be bringing 5,000 jobs back to the United States. They are taking them from other countries. They are bringing them back to the United States.

And also, One Web, a new company, is going to be hiring 3,000 people. So, that's very exciting.

SERFATY: And here in Florida, Trump has been holding interviews with potential contenders for these big cabinet positions that are still left remaining. Among those, the secretary of veterans affairs and secretary of agriculture. Those two big posts are still outstanding.

We know, according to transition officials, though, that Trump potentially is inching toward some decision and we should expect at least one of those big announcements before the end of the week -- Joe and Alison.


KOSIK: OK. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much.

And from Florida to Russia to the Middle East, plenty to dissect. We're going to break it down with the managing editor of CNN politic digital Zach Wolf.

JOHNS: And we'll have more on the life and legacy of Debbie Reynolds. The legendary actress passing away a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher left us. More from Los Angeles ahead.


JOHNS: In an eight-hour span yesterday, the White House transition went from not smooth at all to completely fine if you believe the president and president-elect.

So, let's bring in CNN politics digital managing editor Zach Wolf.

Good morning, Zach. Thanks for coming in.

So, which is it? First of all, smooth transition or not? And why would the president-elect and the president get engaged in this back and forth and suddenly both back out?

[05:20:05] ZACH WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, you know, I think there is what we're hearing publicly and there's what's going on behind the scenes when the two sides are talking to each other. That's probably the big distinction right there if you talk to some of the transition officials, if you look at the things that President Obama is doing that might irk an incoming President- elect Donald Trump. That would lead you to believe that these things are in turmoil.

But then you have Trump saying, oh, we're talking on the phone and things are fine. So, I'm sure there's a little bit of a difference there between what we're hearing from the principals and the behind- the-scenes.

KOSIK: Also dominated the headline yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry giving that speech on Middle East peace and then interesting to see the reaction. First of all, from President-elect Donald Trump. Listen to this.


TRUMP: We have different views. We have to have peace. I think it set us back. We're going to see what happens after January 20th, right? I think you're going to be very impressed.


KOSIK: And then we heard from the incoming Democratic -- the Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer saying this very strong and sharp disapproval, saying, "While Secretary Kerry mentioned Gaza in the speech, he seems to have forgotten the history of the settlements in Gaza, where the Israeli government forced settlers to withdraw from all settlements and the Palestinians responded by sending rockets from Gaza into Israel. While he may not have intended it, I fear Secretary Kerry has emboldened extremists on both sides."

You hear the strong language. Obviously not just from the incoming Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer, but from the president-elect himself with, you know, we know the history, Republicans in Congress have tried to defund the U.N., and now we have President-elect Donald Trump being very direct about threatening to do that.

WOLF: Yes. It is really extremely interesting to see Schumer come out so definitively yesterday. It is important to remember, he is a New York Democrat. He represents an area with a large Jewish population. They are a huge part of his constituency.

So, while he is the Senate Democratic leader, he's also Chuck Schumer, senator from New York. I think it's important to separate those two things specifically.

But it does show you the Obama administration is leaving and Democrats will be controlled by somebody who is more in line with Trump on the specific issue.

JOHNS: And we also have that continuing reluctance to acknowledge that Russia tried to interfere in the November election. Donald Trump asked about it last night. Here is what he had to say.


TRUMP: I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think computers complicated lives greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows what's going on. We have speed. We have a lot of other things. But I'm not sure you have the security you need. I have not spoken with the senators and I certainly will be over a period of time.


JOHNS: So, the inference there is it is not Russia to blame for hacking. It is computers. How does that play especially when you have a lot of members of the Senate who are pressuring Donald Trump to at least acknowledge the role of Russia in the last election.

WOLF: We were talking about how Schumer is in a different place than Democrats on Israel. I think Trump is in a different place than some top Republicans on Russia. You will continue to have, I think, particularly from people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. These kind of elder voices in the party continue drum beat on Russia. So, that's a place where Trump is going to have to come back to be with the rest of his party.

And, you know, the other interesting thing is the computers have complicated our lives. Everybody can agree computers are a complication, but they're also a progress. So, that was kind of an interesting statement from him.

KOSIK: Do you think Donald Trump has the political capital to be dismissive about this Russia issue?

WOLF: Yes. Part of it will have to do with how sort of many Republicans start to gather on with McCain and Graham and their push for an investigation from Capitol Hill. That will be sort of the things he is at odds with his party. But for the time being, I mean, he's going to control so much on January 20th when he becomes president that he will sort of set the pace of the game.

JOHNS: All right. Thanks for that, Zach Wolf. We'll be back in touch with you.

KOSIK: See you in a bit.

All right. Time for an early start on your money.

Retailers, they've got a lot to be thankful for this year. The U.S. is on track for the best holiday sales season in years.

[05:25:01] That's according to data from multiple research firms. One group project this year, we'll see the greatest increase in holiday sales since 2005.

So, what happened here? Well, analysts say last minute shopping and online sales, that helped fuel growth. But the success was not equal among retailers. That online surge came at the expense of brick and mortar stores. Physical store sales fell 10 percent from last year. The year end

retail boost is just another sign Americans are spending more, thanks to higher wages, lower food and gas prices. That put more money in their pockets. And we're seeing consumer confidence at a 15-year high as well.

JOHNS: More good news, at least so far.

KOSIK: Let's hope it lasts.

JOHNS: A devastating one-two punch. The day after Carrie Fisher passed away, we've now lost her mom, Hollywood star Debbie Reynolds. More on her decades long career coming up next.



KOSIK: A brutal week. Gets worse as we mourn another Hollywood icon. Debbie Reynolds passing away just 24 hours after her daughter Carrie Fisher. We're live in Los Angeles with more.

JOHNS: Not a warm reception for the Middle East peace parameters laid out by Secretary of State John Kerry. Israelis pushing back hard after Kerry blamed Israeli settlements for the stalled peace process. We're live in Jerusalem.

KOSIK: And Donald Trump at long last taking questions from a group of reporters not once, but twice. His take on the Mideast, Russia and the transition, ahead.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik. Good morning.

JOHNS: Good morning. I'm Joe Johns. It is 29 minutes past the hour. Christine and John are off.

Sad news to report overnight. Beloved actress, singer, dancer, Debbie Reynolds has died, just one day after the passing of her daughter Carrie Fisher.