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Pope Gives Christmas Address and Blessing; Religious Leaders Reflect on Role of Religion in American Life. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 25, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Best to you for the New Year, and I hope you're enjoying this day, as well. Thanks for being with me on it.


CUOMO: So, we have a lot to discuss this Christmas morning. What do you say? Let's get after it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was the largest audience ever to ever witness an inauguration, period.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have now decided to recuse myself.

TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the president needs to step up. It's white nationalism and it's unacceptable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The stunning no vote sinking the GOP's effort to repeal Obamacare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a reason the stock market is at an all- time high.

CHARLES SCHUMER, (D-NY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The president ought to stop tweeting and start leading.

TRUMP: We've have A-pluses on Texas and on Florida and we will also on Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything is burned down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Historic year for California wildfires.

TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners say get that son of a bitch off the field?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people run this country, damn sure not him.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Harvey Weinstein facing new allegations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Enough is enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One woman can make a difference, but together we rock the world.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to a special Christmas Day edition of NEW DAY. Merry Christmas to you and all your families. Chris Cuomo, Alisyn Camerota here with you. And we have a big show. We're going to look back at 2017, all the big news stories. And we can't talk about this past year without focusing on the number one dominant news story, President Trump's first year in office. From firing his FBI director to overseeing a booming economy, we're going to break down the defining issues of the Trump presidency so far.

CAMEROTA: So, what did we learn from Washington this past year? Chris Cillizza gives us the top political lessons of 2017, including that it is possible to attempt to govern through Twitter. And the Democrats are now fired up.

CUOMO: Well qualified. All right, another one of the year's big stories, the hurricanes devastated Houston, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and, of course, Puerto Rico. But you know who was a standout in a good way? NFL superstar J.J. Watt. He raised more than $37 million for the survivors of hurricane Harvey. We're going to get an update on how Houston is recovering.

CAMEROTA: And on this Christmas Day we'll have a look at the role that faith has played this year. How do people live their faith amid all the political turmoil and the international crises? So all of that and more ahead. But first, let's get a check of your headlines at the news desk.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn and Chris, and merry Christmas. I'm Alison Kosik. Pope Francis celebrating his Christmas address and blessing. He's touching on critical conflicts notably in the Mideast. CNN's John Allen is live for us in Rome. So the pontiff not shying away from controversy, even on Christmas.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Hi there, Alison, merry Christmas to you and yours. And you are absolutely right. Pope Francis famously does not pull his punches, even on the holiest of days on the Christian calendar, and we saw him at it again today.

From the beginning he has seen himself as a peace Pope, and it was peace that was on his mind and heart today in light of the recent decision by U.S. president Donald Trump to relocate the American embassy in Israel and the controversy it has generated. Pope Francis began by praying for peace in Jerusalem and reiterating the Vatican's long-standing support for a two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

He mentioned Myanmar, a country he visiting this year, where he called for greater dignity for threatened minorities there, though very carefully without actually using the word "Rohingya," a word he also avoided on his trip there out of fear of inflaming popular opinion and making things worse. Then he mentioned Venezuela, Iraq, Syria, several African nations, the conflict in Korea and the threat of a nuclear exchange, basically anyplace a conflict under way or threatening to break out.

So Alison if you were looking for a preview of the Pope's diplomatic agenda in 2018, that's essentially what we got on this Christmas Day.

KOSIK: It is certainly a Pope engaged on the world stage. CNN's John Allen, merry Christmas, thanks very much.

Guatemala announcing plans to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The country's president said he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and instructed Guatemala's foreign ministry to initiate the process to make it possible. The Central American nation is the first country to announce it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem since President Trump's issued his announcement earlier this month. The U.N. voted overwhelmingly last week to condemn the U.S. move.

[08:05:04] At least 10 killed and five injured in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan. It took place near Afghanistan's intelligence headquarters in Kabul. The site is close to the U.S. embassy and several other diplomatic missions.

I'm Alison Kosik. More headlines coming up in 30 minutes.

CUOMO: All right, so let's begin this morning talking about the role of faith during such a politically charged times. Families can sometimes clash over the heightened feelings surrounding issues that affect their lives. So what is at root of these disagreements, and is there a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, or is it just the train?

We have a very special group with us, CNN religion commentator Father Edward Beck, senior Rabbi of Central Synagogue Angela Buchdahl, and founder and president of Cordoba House, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Thank you for all of you being with us this morning. Father Beck, let's start with you. This is your day, it is Christmas. Where do you think we stand from a spiritual perspective?

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm so interested that if you go to mass today, Catholics, the gospel is not about the nativity. It's the gospel of John that says a light has come into the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it.

So for me it's a season about where is light coming into the darkness. If you look what's happening right now in our country and the world, take the Me-Too movement. Women, thousands of women coming out of the shadows, out of the darkness into the light. That's a Christmas message. You saw the Pope this month in Myanmar and Bangladesh there to visit his small Christian communities, but is that where he's shown the light? No. On a small Muslim oppressed group, the Rohingya, and he actually said the presence of God's name is Rohingya.

Yet a kid being bullied and they posted a video online, and millions of people said this is darkness, this cannot stand. So for me, this is where you see the light, this tax bill. The president saying this is the Christmas gift, the tax bill. Well, the U.S. bishops have come out against it for a reason. Most of the United States populous does not support it. Why? Because it disadvantages the working poor and advantages the rich.

I mean, this is a story about holy family leaves, why do they go to Bethlehem? To register in a census. It's about taxation of an oppressive regime. And then they have to flee as refugees into another country. So this is not just about reindeer and snowflakes. This story is about refugees. It's about taxation. It's about fleeing oppression. So, you know, it's a hard and maybe a political message this morning, but that is really the meaning of Christmas in the light and the darkness.

CAMEROTA: Look, no getting away from politics this year. There just isn't. It has become intertwined with everything in our lives. And I like you find beacons of light this year, because it's been a bitter, toxic year, Rabbi. And so what is the message for people? How will 2018 be different when we feel so sort of dug in to this?

RABBI ANGELA BUCHDAHL, RABBI, CENTRAL SYNAGOGUE: Well, the political has certainly been very personal, and I think that you see this with families, that families are at each other's throats at holiday celebrations, which should be uplifting times for love and celebration, and oftentimes you just bring up one topic and then the family doesn't want to speak to each other and go into separate rooms.

CUOMO: If you're lucky.

BUCHDAHL: If you're lucky, or they leave. You cut the turkey without me. And I think that the issue is being able to find points of not just connection, but really trying to hear each other with what I call resilient listening, which is the kind of listening that's not just so that we can argue with each other or make our point or prove we're right, but actually to truly understand where people are coming from.

And I'm reminded that there is a light of divinity of course in every human being and of course in our family members, and I think that the goal here is to be able to listen with a goal of understanding why do they think this way, what is the pain or the fear that they are speaking with, and to have a different kind of compassion when we listen. That to me is a form of light and is a spiritual practice for us in this season when we're with our family and arguing and with our friends and arguing a lot.

CUOMO: Look, nowhere is this sensitivity more acutely felt than your n your community right now, Imam. To be muslim in America, we hear it all the time. America has millions of Muslim Americans and they feel very much like they're in the crosshairs, that they are being blamed for terrorism, that there's an overshadowing of it. What's the message to your community?

IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, CORDOBA HOUSE: The most important message to learn is that every prophet was a window to God, and every human being needs to connect with God. It's the connection to God that unites us, not only with God, but with each other and with creation.

[08:10:02] And it's the disconnect from God that divides us and that causes such division. To me the thing that we have lost, many of us, even Muslims have lost, is that spirituality, the connection to God. We revere Jesus as a prophet, revere mother Mary as a prophet, and we believe that every prophet came with a particular signature. And Jesus' message was particularly strong on the spiritual aspect. He taught his disciples to speak through and with the power of the Holy Spirit.

And when we fill ourselves with this connection, the connection to God actually and spiritual practices fill us with not only this light of God unites us, it brings an intensification of love. It helps us overcome divisions. It gives us hope because prayer itself is the embodiment of hope. And our Christian brothers say God is hope, love, and charity. And this is what unites us together, and it's the need to recapture that, to intensify it, to do practices together that intensify and heighten, amplify our spirituality that will enable us to enjoy our diversity, celebrate our diversity, and yet have as we call ourselves in Americans, there is an overarching unity while we celebrate our diversity.

CAMEROTA: Well, that is beautiful. On that note, Imam, Rabbi, Father, thank you very much for giving us hope today as we celebrate Christmas. Thank you very much for being here.

BECK: Thanks for having us.

CAMEROTA: Up next, the year in politics. What were the defining issues of the Trump presidency this year? We discuss next.



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Listen to our beautiful music and beautiful graphic for Christmas day. Merry Christmas, everyone.

So, there were too many defining moments to count during this eventful first year of the Trump presidency. Let's now focus on four big issues that have had a real impact on the White House and the country.

And let's talk about it with CNN political analysts, David Gregory and John Avlon. Merry Christmas, Great to see both of you. Let's start with the firing of James Comey and what has led to the Russia investigation and all of the ripple effect. That's been a defining moment, I think fair to say.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No question about it. Here you are in the first full month of the Trump administration coming in with his American carnage inaugural, but really an administration taking shape, Michael Flynn goes, there's a Comey firing, and all the dominos start falling that dominated the rest of year with the Mueller investigation.

Fights between the president and the press at unprecedented pitches and an investigation that normally doesn't happen in the first year of a presidency. This is serious stuff that all begin right there.


DAVID GREROGY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And the real notable piece of that is the president then brings upon an obstruction of justice investigation on to himself. What was a real investigation into whether the campaign was somehow working with the Russians to influence the election became an obstruction case, which is much easier to prove and has led to a level of paranoia on the part of the president that he brought on himself.

CUOMO: If he hadn't fired Comey, he wouldn't be in the potential jeopardy that he may or may not be in.

GREGORY: Absolutely. And he also had some pretext to do it, given how politicized Jim Comey had made the FBI, who certainly made a lot of mistakes, but just an incredible moment in this investigation.

CUOMO: So, on the probe in 2018, what do you think? Do we believe it wraps up this year? Do we believe it happens early this year? What do you think happens?

GREGORY: I actually think that it will wrap up sooner rather than later. My hunch is that Mueller and his team are streamlined about this, focused about this. They understand given at the end of year all the criticism of the investigators, a bias, and even among mainstream conservatives.

I think you have to believe this takes on a financial dimension. I think the potential financial relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign, Trump and his family. I think that's got to be an area of inquiry. We've got some indications of that, given their banking relationships. That's something I'll really be looking for in the year ahead.

AVLON: By any measure this investigation is moving fast, but it is vast, and the idea that it's going to be done in the first quarter --

CUOMO: See what he did there?

AVLON: He's not wearing a Christmas vest.

CUOMO: I don't have the skills to pull off that.

AVLON: I agree with David, I think financials are going to be a key part. We've already seen with the indictments of Manafort and Gates that's an aspect, but also where Trump attempted to draw a red line.

Look, it's got to be contained if you start going into the past in financials and raising the specter of firing Mueller, which he has pushed back upon, but that's another thing to watch, too. Will Congress try to make that more difficult for the president to do?

Are we heading to a Saturday night massacre type situation, or will we see the Mueller report and then respond as a deliberative democracy is supposed to do? But I would expect that this will come to a head at some point in 2018. I don't think it's in Mueller's interest or intent to stretch it out.

GREGORY: One thing about that, about the attack on Mueller, I mean, at the end of the year, the president made clear he doesn't want to fire him, but make no mistake, they are following the Clinton playbook on discrediting Mueller, which is how they'd like it to play off.

CAMEROTA: OK, next defining moment, in a year of incendiary talk, Charlottesville and what happened in Charlottesville and the protests in Charlottesville stood out. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.


CAMEROTA: It was the on many sides that people objected to.

GREGORY: Yes. It was just repugnant, a harkening back to ancient patriots, to racism that is part of this country to anti-Semitism, it was ugly.

[08:20:06] And for a president of the United States to engage on that I think was, if not shocking, it rattled the ground that people stood on. Even in his own party to think this is a guy that does not have a sense of moral authority in this office and is sufficiently disrespectful, to engage in the kind of talk that gets people digging into conspiracy theories, who start questioning the press and the very nature of truth. This is more tyrannical talk than anything else. This is not the stuff of democracy. It was just awful.

AVLON: And look, the oval office is primarily an office of moral leadership. Different presidents have succeeded or failed by that standard, but one of the things Charlottesville did for the country is made us confront the neo-Nazi next door.

You know, there were these white kids in polo shirts holding torches talking about blood and soil, and it was so repugnant, and for any equivocation to occur, I think that really crystallized the dangerous forces we've been playing with in our politics in a way that was absolutely undeniable. That, I think, was a crystallizing moment for our national conversation about what we're confronting and how far we have to go.

CUOMO: For the haters too because, you know, those who loved what the president said the most was the white supremacists. But this was also a value trade on Trump. He was never a strong moral candidate. The trade was, but he'll be good for the economy, and the economy by just about every metric other than wages, is doing great. So, what credit does the president deserve and what's that forecast going forward?

GREGORY: It's hard to say. He gets the credit that any incumbent should get, right? Just as no incumbent should get all of the blame, there are forces not just about what's happening in the economy around the United States, but around the world.

There is a global advance in economies around the world, which is great. Still lots of underlying problems about wage disparity and so forth, but there was, interestingly, an expectation throughout the year that drove this bull market around tax reform, which I think is an incredibly mixed picture.

But still this expectation for him to deliver in some ways that did fuel the economy. So, I think that's true. But this other point about a politics that is about blaming other people for economic circumstances is still the ugly underside of what we've seen in terms of the strength of the economy.

AVLON: But what you can say is, the presence of a businessman president who wanted to focus on deregulation and cutting taxes did give an additional boost to the economy. There has been a slow recovery under President Obama.

These things are interchanged, but after his election, there was a lot of expectation the inherent destabilization of this man in the office would make markets nervous. A lot of specters on the global stage that would make you think people would be skeptical.

As you point out, the gap is wages, and the key is that this president campaigned appealing to main street, not Wall Street. People that felt left behind from the recovery of the great recession, and can he reach out and can those folks find relief and optimism in real terms, that's going to be one of the real test in 2018.

GREGORY: Also the nature of the tax plan and how this president, not just the president, but Republican leaders really screwed blue America, went out of their way to punish wealthy people living in blue states around deductions, property, things like that. Really striking feature of how he's tried to navigate the economy. By the way, enrich himself and those in the same kind of business.

AVLON: Fitting with the Christmas season.

CUOMO: They Scrooged them. They Scrooged.

AVLON: That's what David meant to say. CAMEROTA: North Korea, we have to end on this. It's reached a boiling point, feels as though it's reached several boiling points in 2017. Where are we?

AVLON: This is as yet unresolved, but it has accelerated. From the Trump administration's perspective, they are trying to avoid repeating the mistakes previous administrations have done, kicking the can, which gets North Korea closer to a missile that can hit the United States of America.

We're right at a tipping point, and the rhetoric has escalated on both sides at times. Trump has tried to pull together a global coalition. Here's where you see the gap between what the Pentagon says and what the president says.

But I think in 2018 we have the Olympics at the beginning of the year, incredibly close to the DMZ. But the real question will be, do they feel they have an obligation to try to contain Kim while they still can and what that means for 2018, very high stakes.

CAMEROTA: Does the United States sit down with North Korea this year?

GREGORY: I think so. I mean, I think if there's a willingness, I think they'll do it. I actually think there's two sides to this. Obviously, plenty of alarm. I think there's been a real process they should get credit for, for operating at different speeds.

[08:25:09] Still, my fear in all of that, despite the diplomacy, is that this administration may be willing to do something preemptively, which I think would be catastrophic and I hope and pray that the north does not, you know, put America in a corner where it feels it can't not do it.

AVLON: Teddy Roosevelt used to say speak softly, carry a big stick. This president seems to think speak loudly and carry a big stick. That could back fire.

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you.

So, what have we learned in politics in 2017? Chris Cilizza with our top five political lessons of the year, next.


CUOMO: Good morning. I hope you got lots of good stuff for Christmas. Welcome back to this Christmas special edition of NEW DAY. We've got a lot to get to this half hour. The 2017 is a big year. A lot of change in politics. Chris Cilizza is going to take a look back and breakdown what we've learned.

CAMEROTA: And we'll check in with the one and only J.J. Watt, the NFL star raised more than $37 million for Houston after the city was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. But first, let's get a check on your headlines at the news desk.