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Brennan: Trump Response to UN Vote "Beyond Outrageous"; U.N. Votes 128-9 to Condemn Trump's Jerusalem Decision; Interview with Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 16:30   ET



[16:31:45] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with the world lead.

Remember yesterday how United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the U.S. would be taking names of countries that supported a resolution critical of the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital? Well, let's hope Haley brought a lot of pens and paper, because 128 countries voted against the United States today, many of them U.S. allies.

Only nine countries voted with the U.S. There were 35 abstentions. Among the 128 countries that voted to condemn the U.S. on this issue were some countries with rather questionable records of their own. Take Venezuela's representative today.


SAMUEL MONCADA, U.N. PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF VENEZUELA: The world is not for sale. The world is not for sale, and your thoughts imperil global peace.


TAPPER: The U.S. imperils global peace says the representative of Venezuela, a country in a humanitarian disaster. With violence in the streets and economy in complete collapse, citizens malnourished, citizens malnourished, dying children being turned away from hospitals, starving families joining street gangs to scrounge for food. On what moral platform does the government of Venezuela stand today?

Not to be outdone of course, the U.S. also got an earful today from, Syria. We're in the seventh year of the brutal Syrian civil war that's killed half a million people and displaced millions. Syrian President Bashar al Assad has used chemical weapons against his own citizens including children.

Also feeling a bit preachy today, Yemen, which helped draft the resolution condemning the U.S., seemingly more focused at least during the speech on where the U.S. puts it's embassy on Israel than on the 7 million Yemenis on the brink of starvation in that country's civil war.


KHALED HUSSEIN ALYEMANY, U.N. PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF YEMEN (through translator): In light of the circumstances that our region is experiencing and which constitutes a threat to international peace and security.


TAPPER: Yemen concerned with stability in the region, interesting.

There are plenty of policies and actions that are perfectly valid to criticize about the United States and about Israel and certainly whether this move will help the peace process in any way seems one of them. But listening to these countries including North Korea and Myanmar and Turkey and China, lecturing the United States in any way about human rights and peace might seem a bit much.

But here is a bit of context that you might not know. According to U.N. watch which monitors the United Nations, the United Nations General Assembly from 2012 and 2015 has adopted 97 resolutions, specifically criticizing an individual country and of those 97, 83 of them have focused on Israel. That is 86 percent.

Now, certainly Israel is not above criticism, but considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful of weapons, you have to ask, is Israel truly deserving of 86 percent of the world's condemnation? Or possibly is something else afoot at the United Nations? Something that allows the representative of the Assad government to lecture the United States for moving its embassy?

Some fierce criticism from the newly launched Twitter account of John Brennan today, the former CIA director, over the president's threat to pull foreign aid to any country who voted against the U.S. at the U.N.

[16:35:01] Quote: Trump administration threats retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right and U.N. to oppose U.S. position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous. Shows real Donald Trump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone, qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats. Not mincing words there, the former CIA director.

Let's bring in Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, can we actually expect President Trump to follow through on the threat to not give foreign aid to countries that voted against the U.S.?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Nobody's holding back today. And it is possible. It seems like between Haley and then Trump, they really want to hammer this point home.

And we know that this administration has been wanting to cut foreign aid drastically, especially funding to the U.N. And by the way, it's worth noting that the U.S. by itself pays about $10 billion a year to the U.N. It pays about 22 percent of the entire U.N. budge, about a third of all U.N. peacekeeping is paid for by the U.S.

So, there are plenty of people out there who think, well maybe the U.S. does pay too much of it's share, but, when you see most recently Congress passed spending bills, what they've been doing is saying, and Republicans too by the way, well, there are so many humanitarian crisis going on, we need partnerships on so many issues that are important to U.S. national security that they've been keeping these spending levels for foreign aid at what they were and in some cases what they were in the Obama administration and increasing those.

So, to try to get a sense of what is the White House going to do immediately on this, the State Department framed it somewhat similarly. Listen.


HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: I just wanted to reiterate what the president had said yesterday and that that was the U.N. vote is really not the only factor that the administration would take into consideration in dealing with our foreign relations and countries who have chosen to vote one way or the other. So, I just want to make that clear.


KOSINSKI: OK. So, she said that that's -- this vote is not the only thing that will be taken into consideration. It seemed like the president was framing it -- as well as Nikki Haley saying, well, you vote against us, your name's on our naughty list, you know, we'll remember this.

So -- but, you know, for many there as well as some in congress, that threatening language they feel like it could just further isolate Israel and now the United States.

TAPPER: All right. Michelle Kosinski, our State Department correspondent, thank you so much. Appreciate it. I want to bring in Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, always good to see you.

I want to get your reaction to former CIA Director John Brennan's tweet calling President Trump's threat to those who don't vote with the U.S., he called it outrageous, saying the president has qualities or at least displaying qualities of a narcissistic, vengeful autocrat.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Well look, I think the people I represent who are paying those dues to the U.N. and again about one-third of the peacekeeping is paid for by our tax payers. I think, you know, they deserve to have a representation in the U.N. which is Nikki Haley that stands up for us. And I think it's totally appropriate. I think it should be an aggregation of all positions, in other words, not just this one position. You've got to look at our alliances around the world to determine who's helping us and who's not. And that should be one of the factors that's considered. By the way, Jake, we are blessed right now. We've probably got the

greatest alliance any country has had in the history of the world, despite all the concerns people talk about and the expressions of concern about countries, you know, splitting with us on individual issues like this one, we've got a great alliance right now. And it's very important. We have to keep it.

TAPPER: What are your thoughts on the U.N. condemnation of the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem? The vote was 128-9 in favor of condemning America.

PORTMAN: Well, I think it reflects, a continued effort by the United Nations and frankly a double standard with regard to Israel. I am concerned about it, but it's not surprising. The whole issue of boycotts and divestments and sanctions, BDS, is something that Senator Ben Cardin have been involved for sometime, trying to get the United States, including the United Nations Human Rights Commission and other groups to, you know, understand that Israel's being held to a different standard than other countries.

You mentioned some of the countries that violate human rights. You missed Iran and North Korea, by the way. You know, it's ironic that here we are talking about the move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is being the seminal issue in the Middle East peace which are so many other issues that need to be addressed as you mentioned in Syria, as you mentioned the human rights violations going on in other countries in the Middle East as well that are far more important for the U.N. to be taking a look at.

TAPPER: So, why do you think it is that the United Nations over the last five to ten years that more than 80 percent, every year, the resolutions they have condemning a specific country, more than 80 percent of that time it's been Israel. What do you think is the reason? Other than they bash Israel all the time, why do they single out Israel all the time?

[16:40:04] PORTMAN: Well, I think it is a double standard, holding Israel to a higher standard in terms of these specific issues, including human rights issues. But I think it's also a reflection of the fact that, you know, a lot of the Arab countries in the region have decided to take this position and, you know, it's frankly despite the fact that their commercials ties with Israel have increased, their diplomatic ties have increased.

So, there's sort of a public stance and then a real world stance where you actually see more support interestingly for Israel in the Middle East broadly.

TAPPER: Do you worry, I know you supported the move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but do you worry that that takes the United States out of the peace process as an honest broker in any way that it doesn't advance the peace process?

PORTMAN: You know, I would like to think that individual act that we take might have a big reaction in terms of the peace process, but you have to look over the last two decades and see all the efforts we have made. None of which have been successful in bringing the Palestinians and Israelis together.

You know, I served in the Bush administration, we made a valiant effort in the Obama administration, Senator Kerry and Secretary of State Kerry made an effort. None has been successful. So, I have a hard time believing that this one is going to have a detrimental impact. We'll see.

I think it could actually open up a dialogue, conceivably that may not be there now. I do think the United States needs to continue to promote this idea of a two-state solution. I support that. I think, you know, most observers believe that that's the ultimate solution here. And I think the Trump administration is very sincere about trying to, you know, come up with some new ways to encourage the sides to come together and come up with a more lasting agreement.

TAPPER: Before you go, I have to ask you, I know you're happy about the tax bill that passed. There's a provision in it that I'm wondering if you would comment on. It's going to impose a 12.5 percent tax on profits made in foreign companies in the U.S. tax world. Puerto Rico, which is of course part of the United States, it's considered a foreign country. Now, you have said, you've been active saying that the U.S. needs to play a pivotal role in the recovery of Puerto Rico after the hurricane devastation. The governor of Puerto Rico says that this provision in the tax bill could devastate their economy which is already incredibly fragile.

Does this need to be fixed?

PORTMAN: You know, I think it does need to be looked at. And I think the concern that Puerto Rico has more broadly is about losing a particular tax incentive for companies to invest in Puerto Rico. And that's something we have to look at as well.

And frankly, some of us were promoting a proposal in the tax bill that would create sort of an enterprise zone in Puerto Rico. That was not ultimately successful because the parliamentarian here in the Senate said that it didn't meet the budget requirements we've taken out. But there's an interest in helping Puerto Rico more in terms of encouraging investment, encouraging jobs because that's part of the way of getting Puerto Rico back on its feet.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, thank you. Merry Christmas, sir. Good to see you.

PORTMAN: Thanks, Jake. Thanks for having me on. You too.

TAPPER: Former president Trump advisor Steve Bannon is out there in "Vanity Fair" and according to the reporter, ripping members of another first family. That's next.

Plus, a live look at the house floor where voting is under way right now to keep the federal government open through mid-January. Stick around.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with the political panel. I want to begin with the new report in Vanity Fair, a juicy one from Gabriel Sherman. He says -- that says that former White House Senior Strategist Steve Bannon of the Breitbart empire is disillusioned with President Trump's chaotic governing style. The President considers Bannon a self-promoter. The story says that Bannon even told an advisor this Fall that he would consider running for President if President Trump doesn't run for reelection in 2020. You've looked into this.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I'm told by a source who works with Bannon, Jake, they say that's ridiculous and that Steve Bannon is 100 percent not running for President. I can't believe I even have to say this but apparently, we're in a place where Steve Bannon might have considered this at one point, but the latest, he's not going to.

TAPPER: I mean, Donald Trump is President and he'd never run for office before. It's not that crazy. Anybody can be President.

BERG: Although Steve Bannon I would argue does not have the name I.D., the money, the charisma of a Donald Trump, but certainly he does understand the politics that brought Donald Trump into office, and of course he was his Campaign Manager for a Time. He is using that now, not on the presidency but focusing on some of these front-line Senate races in sort of a proxy battle against Mitch McConnell. We saw the start of that in Alabama. He's planning to continue that next election.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'll jump on the Bannon rumor. There's been lots of other Republicans that have run for president to sell books, create films. I mean, we've seen this movie before, but, Steve Bannon -- Trump is right, Steve Bannon is an opportunist. He jumped on the forefront of Breitbart in the wake of Andy Breitbart's death. He didn't get on the bandwagon really until Donald Trump secured the nomination. And now that he sees that Donald Trump might be a little shaky, he's feeling the waters out hedging his best. This is what Steve Bannon does.

BERG: What Bannon does is he gets attention. He knows how to get media attention --

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Absolutely. But -- why does he need to run for president? He is like leading the Republican Party right now. May I remind everyone that the RNC came out of the Alabama race and Steve Bannon basically said Roy Moore should be your guy, Donald Trump, and then Donald Trump said, I'm sticking with Roy Moore, and the RNC sent money into that race. So as far as I can see, you know, the party is listening to him, at least in politics. Maybe not on policy because he attacks the kind of tax plan that just passed, but he does seem to be in control of the party. So why does he need to run?

TAPPER: That's what Bannon was actually proposing when he was in the White House. He proposes raising the top tax rate to something like 44 percent for people who made more than $5 million. Obviously --

[16:50:08] TANDEN: Obviously they went in a different direction.

TAPPER: They went in a different direction. Another exchange from the Vanity's point of view, Bannon is talking about his dislike for the Bush's. We know this is long establishes dislikes for the Bushes and he thinks they've been too quick to attack President Trump. He said this about George W. Bush. "I really detest them about the Bushes. I mean, the old man is a pervert. He's a pervert, grabbing these girls and grabbing their rear ends." That's interesting that he would say that given that his tolerance for other politicians allegations against them including President Trump, including Roy Moore has been a little bit more -- he's been defending --

TANDEN: Flexible. Flexible.

TAPPER: Yes, they're more flexible, but that allegation about George H.W. Bush has been out there for quite some time.

BERG: Right. Well, this is, of course, more politically convenient for Steve Bannon because his whole brand is built around being anti- establishment, around taking on Republicans who have been around for years and years, these power brokers in the Republican Party. It is in his (INAUDIBLE) for him to take on Donald Trump of course or someone like Roy Moore who he took in as sort of his insurgent's candidate there.

CARPENTER: I will say that part was eye-popping but even more eye- popping that Steve Bannon said -- he's saying that President Bush didn't get enough blame for 9/11. I mean, that is conspiracy, whack a doodle stuff that Donald Trump was messing in against Jeb Bush during the Republican Primary. Donald Trump danced, waltzed all over that line. It's one of the reasons that Jeb Bush went down in the South Carolina primary. Steve Bannon is still twisting that line.

TAPPER: And one of the things he said is that if it happened, if 9/11 had happened during the Trump administration, and that the Trump people had said along the lines of we're just getting our sea legs when this happened that the Bush people would have been brutal in their attacks. Anyway --

TANDEN: Yes, I mean, I guess I say they're interesting takes and he obviously is pretty good at giving a quote to reporters. But I say, at the end of the day, look at what's actually happened with this administration. Steve Bannon, who I find to be a repugnant human being, on everything he does on race and attacking women, but, you know, he did make an argument about helping working class people. He had a populism, an economic populism that has been completely thrown aside by this administration. This tax plan is a tax plan he attacked a couple of months ago. And the Republican Party just passed a tax plan that helps hedge fund managers, Wall Street, every group he attacked. And actually raises taxes or premiums for working people who just voted for Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Speaking of the attack, what is that opposite of attack? Praise. I want you to take a listen to this little montage that we've put together of praise for President Trump from some top Republicans.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Thank you, Mr. President, for all you're doing.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: But more importantly, thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your boundless faith in the American people.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Mr. President, I have to say that you're living up to everything I thought you would.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Something this big, something this generational, something this profound could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership.

REP. DIANE BLACK (R), TENNESSEE: All I want to say thank you to Mr. President, thank you, President Trump, for allowing us to have you as our president and to make America great again.

PENCE: Honestly, I would say to the American people, President Trump has been making history since the first day of this administration.


TAPPER: Put that to music, you can play it at night a little slow jam. I want to get your reaction. We're going to take -- first, we're going to take a quick break. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Now we're back with some breaking news. The House has just voted to fund the federal government through mid-January. The measure passed 231-188. But I'm back with my panel. And I want to talk about all the praise for President Trump which was very interesting. The Washington Post analyzed Vice President Pence's three-minute speech and found that he had flattered President Trump once every 12 seconds in that three-minute speech. And then tweeted a reaction to that saying there's a word for a person who would praise somebody every 12 actions and the word is sycophant -- if you want to click on it -- a little shade from Why? It's odd. I get that people were glowing about George W. Bush and people had thrills up their leg about Barack Obama, but this is something else.

BERGl Sure. Well, there are two factors at play here I think, Jake. First of all, Republican approval for the President is still relatively high. It's not as high as it's been for past presidents, but Republicans by and large support President Trump. And so Republican Lawmakers as you saw, are expressing their support as well.

TAPPER: Yes, but the word exquisite?

BERG: Exactly. And so this is the second factor I think, which is President Trump personally. These lawmakers understand and it's not rocket science here that President Trump appreciates praise especially public praise. If you've taken a look at Lindsey Graham's Twitter feed recently and the fuse of praise that he has piled on President Trump, it's a window into what works with this president. And so, it helps them build their connections --


TANDEN: Latin American dictators get more criticism from like their sycophants than this guy.

Tapper: It is pretty remarkable. Everyone, thanks so much. Great panel. That's it for THE LEAD, I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" which is an exquisite show by the way.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, shutdown averted. Their big win on taxes has already in the rearview mirror. GOP Congressional leaders scrambled to keep the government open past tomorrow night.