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Trump, Governors to Talk Obamacare Replacement; Interview with Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois; Steve Bannon Makes Rare Public Appearance; Steve Bannon's Motivations and Misconceptions; White House Governors' Dinner; Live from the Red Carpet. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 26, 2017 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:05] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Dana Bash in Washington.

President Trump is facing his most crucial week yet since moving into the White House. His first speech before a joint session of Congress is in just two days. What's more? A brand new version of his controversial travel ban is expected any day now and in the meantime, tonight, President Trump is hosting his first major social event at the White House -- a black tie gala called the governors' dinner.

The president tweeted this, "Big dinner with the governors tonight at the White House. Much to be discussed, including health care."

And, of course, we are also focused on Hollywood's biggest night of the year, the Academy Awards. With millions watching, what will happen on stage with regard to the president? Will people get political and how will the president respond?

I want to start with CNN's White House correspondent Athena Jones.

Athena, let's start by talking about what the president tweeted, health care. So, he wants to talk about it, but do you think that means he's ready to get specific?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dana.

I don't think it necessarily means that specifics are going to be laid out tonight. We know this is a huge priority for this White House and for Republicans on Capitol Hill. It's also a huge challenge.

Governor John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, came here to the White House and met with the president on Friday and one of the big topics of discussion was Obamacare, and specifically how to deal with Medicaid, for instance. And he spelled out the challenge facing Republicans as they try to repeal and replace this law on "Face the Nation" this morning. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: You also don't want to be in a position of where you don't cover these 20 million Americans. You have to make sure that you have a system that's reformed, that's more affordable, and is going to work, but we're just not going to pull the rug out from under people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And that is really the main challenge. You have 20 million people who now have coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, and there a lot of folks showing up at these Republican town halls and districts across the country and confronting their representatives because they're concerned about losing access to health care. Some of them telling emotional stories.

So, that is a big challenge. It's going to be a big topic of conversation tonight. Also in a meeting tomorrow with governors and the president, but it's just -- it's just not clear that a real plan is going to come together in short order, Dana.

BASH: Athena Jones, thank you so much for that report from the White House.

And now let's bring in our panel, Ben Ferguson, a CNN political commentator and the host of "The Ben Ferguson Radio Show", and Wajahat Ali, a "New York Times" contributor.

And we're going to talk to both of you, of course, about -- let's start with the speech. The president's speech, what we expect.

Ben, I want to begin before we talk about that though --

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure.

BASH: -- to discuss what happened at the White House we believe last week. And "Politico" first reported, we should give them props, but our Dylan Byers has confirmed that the Press Secretary Sean Spicer is cracking down on leaks, so much so that he apparently called staffers into his office, demanded to see their cell phones to make sure that they weren't corresponding with reporters and asked his staff not to leak information about the meeting that he was having about the leak meeting.

Can you follow that?

FERGUSON: Yes, I can follow that.

BASH: If you can't, it kind of shows you how absurd it is frankly. But what do you make of this?

FERGUSON: Well, I think there's two things here. One, you have a staff that many of them are new to the White House and even some of them are very new to being in Washington and if you're at the White House the that gives you a lot of clout. And there's a lot of people that like to show off that clout.

When I was around the Bush administration, on the Bush campaign, there were people that wanted to be a bigger deal than they really were. And so, how they gained that stature was leaking information to reporters and kind of showing off what they know that maybe others didn't know. It's a problem. You have to crack down on it and I think what Spicer

was trying to do was make it abundantly clear that one, if you're using these apps, one, it's a violation of what the law is to put this information out there to reporters and I think that's a good point that should be made.

The second issue is you work for the president of the United States. You don't work for the press and you're t no going to, you know, basically use this to your advantage to in essence really help your own personal career moving forward by saying. hey, I gave a lot of information when I was at the White House, now I'm going to use it unto my next job.

So, I don't have a problem with them doing this. And I think it's important that your staff work for you and not use it to their advantage for their own personal gain.

BASH: All right. I want to look ahead now to what we expect this week. We mentioned the big important speech that the president is going to give, but he also plans to, we believe issue a revised version of his temporary travel ban targeting majority Muslim countries.

I want you guys to listen to what the president had to say about this, this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[18:05:04] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me state this as clearly as I can. We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country. We will not be deterred from this course and in a matter of days, we will be taking brand new action to protect our people and keep America safe. You will see the action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Wajahat, I want to go to you. How can the Trump administration revise the travel ban and make it more palatable to the Muslim- American community? I guess how can or I guess I should just say can't.

WAJAHAT ALI, "NEW YORK TIMES" CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think they can and thank you for calling it what it is. I'm going to call it what it is, it's a Muslim ban, and I appreciate Steven Miller who co-wrote the ban with Steve Bannon because for his incompetence and honesty when he said recently that it's not going to be that much different from the Muslim ban that was beaten down with 3-0 unanimous 20-page ruling from the Ninth Circuit, which was narrowly focused, by the way, and wasn't talking about the constitutionality of the ban but did remind President Trump that there is something called checks and balances.

So, he's not going to placate the Muslims. He's not going to placate the ACLU. He's not going to placate the Constitution. He's not going to placate the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which makes it illegal for you to ban people based on national origin -- and thank God for Rudy Giuliani. Yes, I'm saying that Dana, thank God for Rudy Giuliani, who admitted publicly once his first Muslim ban came out and was struck that Donald Trump came to him and said, I want to do a Muslim ban, how's the legal way to do it?

And so, the transparency of the Trump administration and his allies, when it came to the intention behind this ban, which is the Muslim ban, and the fact that it is targeting seven Muslim majority countries in which zero foreign nationals from those countries have committed violent acts of terror on American soil --

FERGUSON: Dana, let me jump in here.

ALI: -- and zero refugees have committed violent acts. So, it's not going to go well.

BASH: Ben, I want to bring you in, but I just want to say, so you're saying he's not going to placate the Muslim community, not going to placate the ACLU. I don't think he's trying to go there.

ALI: I don't think he's going to placate Muslim Americans.

BASH: Ben, go ahead.

FERGUSON: There's two things here that are just absolutely flat out wrong about what was just said. First off, we hear this talking point from Democrats. They say, well, of the countries on the list there's never been an attacker that has come from that country and hurt anybody in this country as a terrorist.

Let's be very clear. Many people go to other countries that allow for ISIS or al Qaeda to operate from some of those nations and they then become a terrorist and they actually train in other countries. So, the idea that well, no one was ever born in one of these seven countries and did an attack on this country, that's not dealing with the reality of the situation.

ALI: Are you going to put France and Belgium?

FERGUSON: Let me finish.

You look at these terrorists and where they are actually now. It is very clear for example Syria, that there have been terrorists from multiple nations that have gone into there and trained under ISIS and they've been successful at training there, and that has been a safe haven.

You look at the countries on the list and there is a hot bed right now, most of them don't even have central functioning governments.

So, how do you even check individuals coming from that country if you can't even check with a central government that is nonexistent?

The second issue is, when you say it's a Muslim ban, that's fear- mongering. More than a billion Muslims from many other nations are more than welcome to the United States of America today, tomorrow, the next days with this being enacted or there being some sort of extra protection with these nations. That is not a Muslim ban when a billion -- a billion Muslims from around the world can come to America, no problem from many other country in the world?

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Your response to that?

ALI: It's a nice alternative fact and a nice desperate spin.

FERGUSON: It's not alternative fact. It's a billion people.

ALI: But Donald Trump -- Donald Trump promised a permanent ban and then he said a temporary ban and as we know, he's fulfilling his promise with a Muslim ban which is from seven Muslim majority countries.

FERGUSON: Again, 90 days, it's temporary.

ALI: And, by the way, Dana, and I'm not for any country being placed on this ban just because certain individuals come from this ban. But if you really are worried about a national security, 15 of the 19 hijackers who brought down the two towers in the worst terrorist attack in American history were from Saudi Arabia. Two were from UAE.

(CROSSTALK)

ALI: One from Egypt and one from Libya. And by the way, none of those countries are on the ban and, by the way, Dana, of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Donald Trump has business ties with those countries.

BASH: So, let me ask you, Ben --

ALI: So if you're really concerned and add Europe in there. France, Belgium --

BASH: Ben, hang on, one second.

Would you feel more comfortable if Saudi was on there, if UAE was on there? You would be as critical, right?

ALI: No, of course not. This is a counterproductive ban. It's ineffective. There's a reason why counterterrorism experts have said this would be useless. Even John Brennan recently as of today said this will be a thoroughly ineffective, counterproductive ban which will not help our national security.

[18:10:05] He says go after cyber threats. Go after individuals who get radicalized. But he said, and he knows something about this because he's actually an expert, he said this will actually be actual counterproductive and ineffective.

BASH: Let's get Ben back in. Go ahead.

FERGUSON: One simple thing here. This is a huge reason why Donald Trump is the president of the United States of America and Hillary Clinton is not because Americans understood that there's an actual threat from terrorism and as he just implied there that oh, all these terrorists came, you know, weren't from Saudi Arabia, where did they train? Where -- what countries did they train?

ALI: Ben, are you fine with Europe?

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Let him finish. Let him finish.

ALI: Sure.

FERGUSON: When you're fighting terrorism you don't care about where the country, the passport of the person is from. You care about what country they're coming from and if that country is harboring, aiding and/or abetting ISIS, al Qaeda, or other terrorist groups. And the reason why these countries matter is because they have been active hot beds factually of terrorist organizations who have been bringing citizens from literally all over the world to come train in those host nations and most of them do not have a central government.

BASH: OK, gentlemen --

ALI: So Canada, France, Belgium, Netherlands. Got it.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: We're going to have to leave it there, gentlemen. Thank you very much for that spirited discussion. I appreciate it. Certainly won't be the last. Thank you so much.

And President Trump will make his first address before Congress this Tuesday. You can watch it live right here on CNN. And then stay tuned after for the Democratic response and reaction from around the country. Our coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And one more programming note, I will be moderating a town hall with Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham on Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

And coming up, new reports reveal the White House enlisted top congressmen to dismiss stories about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia as calls for an independent investigation grow.

I'll talk to one of the members of the House Intelligence Committee. You see him right there, Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. We're going to talk to him next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:15:39] BASH: CNN confirms the White House asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to reach out to the media in an effort to knock down stories about reporter communications between the Trump campaign and Russians known to the U.S. intelligence community.

That news follows exclusive CNN reporting that the administration asked the FBI to do the very same thing, but the FBI declined.

I'm joined now by Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley, also a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining me. Let's just start right there.

As a member of the committee, what do you make of that reporting that the White House asked your chairman to effectively do its PR work for him?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Sure. And let's begin with the request of the FBI.

I mean, the agency's job is not to be an extension of the press or the pr department of the White House. And is asking the chairman, you know, it's clear that there's an attempt to silence or to quell the investigation. It makes absolutely no sense.

I can't imagine that the intelligence community would listen to the chairman at this time when they're beginning a criminal investigation. What's perhaps most disturbing is it seems to have an attempt to be a chilling effect on the investigation itself. I can tell you the investigation has just begun, and it is absolutely critical to understand how this took place. The measures that the Russians took to attack our democratic process, they can't be quelled in the investigation's infancy.

BASH: I want you to listen to something that your Republican colleague Darrell Issa of California told HBO's Bill Maher this weekend about the FBI investigation into Russia's election meddling. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who was an appointee. You're going to need to you the special prosecutor's statute and office to take -- not just to recuse. You can't just give it to your deputy. That's another political appointee. You do have to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: What was your reaction when you heard that and just for context this is a man who did chair the House Oversight Committee and he did so when President Obama was in the White House and really investigated pretty vigorously across the board. To hear him say this about a Republican president, what do you make of it?

QUIGLEY: I welcome the news. Congressman Issa and I formed the Transparency Caucus in the House. So I guess it's welcome if not totally unsurprising the fact that he wants an independent investigator involved in this. I would only add that we actually what we need is a commission to look at this as well -- unfettered, independent, bipartisan, bicameral with the tools necessary to complete the job.

BASH: So, we're talking about two different things, of course. First and foremost, it's the FBI investigation into Russian involvement, meddling in democratic elections and second is what's happening where you sit on Capitol Hill. The House Intelligence Committee apparently has, you know, an investigation already going on.

I've spoken to several members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republicans and Democrats, who insist the probe is vigorous and will be even more so. Are you experiencing the same thing on the House side?

QUIGLEY: Well, what I think -- obviously we're talking about two things. I want an independent investigator, instead of Mr. Sessions.

BASH: Right.

QUIGLEY: I want the FBI's investigation. I want a House and Senate investigation.

Look, if we can't have an independent investigation, the next best thing is to have the House and Senate with the vigorous investigation. As I said, it's just the beginning. But we need the White House to cooperate and we need the chairman of both committees on the house and Senate side to say nothing is off the table.

And it was a little surprising to see Mr. Nunes say what he said just recently given he has assured us several times that nothing is off the table. The investigation will be complete.

BASH: Now, you just got back from Ukraine. I have to ask you just broadly, did you learn anything there with regard to Russian meddling in U.S. elections?

QUIGLEY: Well, I was there in 2014 as well, right after the revolution and just before the elections there.

[18:20:06] They are battling to implement democracy. At the same time they're fighting the Russians in eastern Ukraine after the invasion of Crimea. They need our help now more than ever.

And they don't need an administration telling the world that perhaps we should lift these sanctions when they gain absolutely nothing.

Our eastern European allies need our help now more than ever and the information is clear and the concerns in Ukraine are there that the White House might not be there for them and they're questioning the motivations.

BASH: Question the motivations of this president, but beyond that, my understanding is that there is -- you know, that there could be information in that country among its leaders about what happened in this country. Anything that you can share? QUIGLEY: Not at this point. Again, my briefings for the most part

were from being on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

I will just say that it adds additional reasons and arguments for a complete investigation as to all communications. Was there collusion involved between this administration as a campaign and anyone in Russia?

BASH: And based on what you know, what's the answer? Was there?

QUIGLEY: Based on that -- let me put it this way. There are more reasons now than ever to have an extraordinarily thorough investigation. I believe we should have an independent commission, but I'm going to do the best I can working with my colleagues on the House side investigating this, letting the facts take us where we need to go.

BASH: I realize you're --

QUIGLEY: And let the public deserving to know exactly what took place.

BASH: I realize your on the intelligence committee, but I would not be doing my job if I didn't ask if you'd like to elaborate on that?

QUIGLEY: I'll say is -- there's enough concern out there, nothing has taken place. Nothing I've learned so far has told me that as I've heard from others on the committee, there's no there there. There's enough there there to be very concerned as an American citizen and a member of that committee.

BASH: Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you so much. I appreciate you sitting with us and giving us a sense, of course, what happened on that trip to Ukraine.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

BASH: Appreciate it.

And coming up, he's been portrayed as the Grim Reaper, the puppet master and the manipulator. Caricatures aside, who is White House chief strategist Steve Bannon? We'll pull back the curtain with someone who knows, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:26:21] BASH: He's been called Donald Trump's brain, even President Bannon. Steve Bannon's name is well known but the man himself is not. That started to change just a little bit this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Steve Bannon's CPAC appearance wasn't just notable for what he said, but because he spoke publicly at all.

MATT SCHLAPP, CPAC: You know, Steve, you're a really likable guy. You should do this more often.

BASH: Don't count on it.

Bannon is just fine being the guy seen by the cameras but not heard -- Oval Office photo ops during world leader call, signing ceremonies and business meetings. He is a big thinker, laying an intellectual foundation of what he calls economic nationalism to Donald Trump's unorthodox brand.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He is extremely consistent, that as you can imagine, there are many things hitting the president's ear and desk every day. Different things that come to the president that want to move him off of his agenda, and Steve is very consistent and very loyal.

BASH: Bannon is a complex character, a Virginia native and former naval officer from a Democratic working class family. In many ways, it makes sense he'd dedicate himself to giving his brethren a voice. But he is also an elite, a Harvard Business School graduate who worked at Goldman Sachs and produced television and movies in Hollywood.

Despite that pedigree or perhaps because of it, he became editor-in- chief of the ultra right Breitbart and began trying to reshape the media landscape by throwing flames at the establishment, even the GOP.

STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: What we need to do is bitch-slap the Republican Party.

BASH: Now Bannon calls the man who chaired the Republican Party until two months ago his partner.

BANNON: The reason Reince and I are good partners is that we can disagree.

BASH: To be clear, Bannon has not change. The world has. By signing on to the Trump campaign in August and then becoming White House chief strategist and counselor, Bannon is now in a position to reconstruct the institutions he deplores from the inside.

BANNON: If you think they're going give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.

BASH: He is a warrior for his nationalistic cause, creating a think tank of sorts inside the White House to promote it. But Bannon only articulates his views with like-minded media, making way for publications like "Time" to call him the great manipulator, and "Saturday Night Live" to portray him as the Grim Reaper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's enough fun for tonight. Can I have my desk back?

ALEC BALDWIN, DONALD TRUMP IMPERSONATOR: Yes, of course, Mr. President.

BASH: Because he doesn't speak out, Bannon leaves high profile attacks like this unanswered. NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVE, MINORITY LEADER: It's a stunning thing that a white supremacist, Bannon would be a permanent member of National Security Council.

BASH: Sources close to Bannon insists he doesn't care what people think of him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And joining me now is Christopher Caldwell, the senior editor of "The Weekly Standard", who also wrote a fascinating op-ed in today's "New York Times" on Steve Bannon.

I'm going to ask you about that in one moment, Chris. But in that piece, I mentioned that Bannon genuinely doesn't care what people think of him. So, why do you think he agreed to appear at CPAC this past week?

CHRIS CALDWELL, SENIOR EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I suppose he's reaching out to people he thought of as -- as the hard line of the -- of the Republican Party, the people receptive to the old Breitbart message, the people who thought that part of the problem with American politics was in the Republican Party itself. And I think he turned out to be mostly true, although there were people at CPAC who objected to, you know, to his type of conservatism.

BASH: Now, there have been a lot of portrayals of Bannon in the media over the past several weeks. We showed one of them, the Grim Reaper. They also call him the puppet master, a person controlling Trump's brain, as we said, the manipulator, the Grim Reaper.

[18:30:15]

But that brings me to something that you wrote in your piece today and you said the following.

"Many accounts of Mr. Bannon paint him as a cartoon villain or Internet troll come to life as a bigot, an anti-Semite, a misogynist, a crypto-fascist," and then you went on to say, "while he is certainly a hardline conservative of some kind, the evidence that he is an extremist of a more troubling sort has generally either been massaged, misread or hyped up."

What do you mean by that?

CALDWELL: Well, I mean, let's take, for example, Bannon called Breitbart a platform for the alt-right, which is a description that's now used to include a whole bunch of right-wing groups that certainly includes a bunch of racists and white supremacists.

At the time Bannon said it, though, I think that alt-right had a much broader meaning and it was used to include a lot of Internet type dissidents from the Republican Party.

So I don't think it's quite fair to go from there, to call him let's say a white nationalist, for instance, as some in the Democratic Party have. So...

BASH: You also wrote this, that I also thought was fascinating.

You wrote, "There may never be a Trumpism and unless one emerges, the closest we may come to understanding this administration is as an expression of Bannonism."

Explain Bannonism.

CALDWELL: When you talk about ideological problems with the administration, I think the thing that a lot of Americans are -- or a lot of Trump's opponents are very unwilling to face up to is that that ideological problem comes out of American democracy, which is that Trump has kind of a mandate to do things like reform immigration policy.

However, he's not very good at articulating it. He's -- in fact, he's so poor at articulating it to the American public that one suspects that he either can't or he simply doesn't want to.

Bannon on the other hand is a much more -- has a much more systematic way of going about describing these things, at least if you can judge from his radio shows and his writings. So he might be a much better way to decipher what the -- what the administration really wants.

BASH: Do you think that the president and Steve Bannon would be better served if, because he is so articulate, he, Steve Bannon, for his thought and his intellectual premise, that he would -- should come out more and explain it?

CALDWELL: I don't really know. You know, I mean, for our sake, for the sake of clarity, for the sake of knowing exactly what's going on in the administration, yes, certainly.

For the administration's own purposes, I think they might be distrustful enough of the media that they don't want to sort of like offer Steve Bannon up that way.

BASH: We can only wish, Chris Caldwell, we can only wish. Thank you so much. And, again, your piece in "The New York Times" today was fascinating. I encourage all of our viewers to read it. Thanks so much for your time.

And coming up, dinner party diplomacy: President Trump and the first lady are getting ready for their first big social event at the White House tonight. A ritzy black tie dinner with governors.

So what's in store?

Well, we're already getting a sneak peek of the black tie affair. You see there, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner all dressed up, ready to go putting it -- where else?

On social media. Stay with us.

(MUSIC PLAYING) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BASH: It may be Oscar night for most of us but, here in Washington, governors from around the United States will be treated to a different kind of glamor, a black tie event at the White House.

The annual governors' dinner is the first big social event put on by the new Trump administration and it is one of the most important of the entire year. Let's bring in CNN White House reporter, Kate Bennett.

And, Kate, you've been doing some great reporting on this.

First of all, how big a deal of this is for the first lady, Melania Trump?

I mean, it's the first time she can put her stamp on a White House event.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely and this is sort of an unorthodox situation with the first lady, where she's splitting her time between Washington and New York.

So there's this inherent mystery about her anyway.

So are we going to see her really pull out the stops here?

Or is she going to set the tone for an elegant evening?

She released a statement earlier today, saying that the theme of tonight's dinner is going to be called it's "Spring's Renewal."

And she's really celebrating getting the country together, the governors together, and it's going to be nonpartisan and it's going to be filled with, you know, "the White House has come to life, gleaming with a dazzling, sensorial experience of eternal spring."

I mean it sounds really great and then, of course, like Donald Trump then tweeted that there's a lot to discuss, including health care. So here she is, saying it's going to be this nonpartisan nonpolitical evening with all the governors and then but POTUS -- President Trump has maybe a different idea about what the dinner table conversation will be.

Either way, it's a big deal. It's the first time the Trumps are entertaining at the White House on this scale.

BASH: That press release was amazing. And you didn't even talk about the jazz men, which we can talk about another time.

What are some of the details question besides the jazz men that go on and go into a dinner of this size? I mean, the advance and the work on it of course has to be pretty intense.

BENNETT: It really is. I spoke with Jeremy Bernard (ph), who was the Obama social secretary for many years and he said that he would start planning months in advance sometimes for a dinner of this size. Social secretaries like to prepare. So he would create three to four tables for the first lady to see, each set up with a different china or different flowers or different patterned tableware.

And then the first lady could choose and sort of see what she liked and what her style would be. I would assume that's going on in the Trump White House as well. There is a new social secretary, a woman named Rickie Enachetta Lloyd (ph), on staff, who was hired just a handful of weeks ago.

This will be her first big test in terms of setting the table -- literally -- for what the Trump White House does in terms of entertaining.

But it is, I mean, from flowers to music to entertainment to seating arrangement to the china, I mean, you want to incorporate everything you can because these are the governors from all 50 states. So I mean, it's a massive, massive undertaking and considering the first lady's office right now is not staffed to the hilt the way the Obamas' was, it might be a bit of a challenge.

But we're hopeful they'll pull it off.

BASH: And, quickly, before I let you go, I mean, we're just sort of taking for granted that the first lady's office is doing this, that she is doing this and people know that she doesn't live here --

[18:40:00]

BASH: -- she's staying in New York. Her son is continuing out the school year there. But this does mean that she is engaged on the traditional first lady level.

BENNETT: Correct, absolutely. (INAUDIBLE) she is the hostess of the White House. Ivanka Trump will be there tonight, too, with her husband. She's already Instagrammed her dress, et cetera.

But certainly this is Melania Trump's moment to really play the role of first lady and open the White House, the people's house, for this black tie event, this big gala. I'm hopeful we'll see more of it as the Trump administration goes on. But this is certainly a big jump for her to get her feet wet within the social atmosphere of Washington.

BASH: Kate Bennett, thank you so much, my friend. Appreciate that.

And coming up, we go to the West Coast, to the real red carpet on Oscar night -- and look at that. If you don't recognize him, "Hamilton" fans, without his beard and his long hair, that is Lin- Manuel Miranda with his mom. He spoke to our Stephanie Elam. He is going to speak to us after the break. You don't want to miss it. Stay with us.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BASH: It's Oscar night, Hollywood's biggest night for movie stars to take the red carpet in all of their glitz and glamor to and find out who will make the top honors in the 89th Annual Academy Awards. Let's go to CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam.

And you're joined now by a special guest.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am. Yes, I have with me right now Sting and J. Ralph, they're the men behind "The Empty Chair," the song that goes along with the HBO documentary about Jim Foley, the American journalist, who was killed in Syria.

And we've talked about this already before.

But now that we're actually here, you've both been nominated for it.

What's it like to be here now and having more attention on this film?

STING, MUSICIAN: Well, it's good to be invited to the party but especially when you have something important to do. And I think it's a very important movie for people to see at this time, when journalism is under attack and the truth itself is under attack.

James Foley was a man who put his life on the line to bring the truth to America. He lost his life. So we're here to honor him, to respect him and be grateful. And I think all Americans should be grateful for that kind of heroism.

ELAM: That heroism, indeed. (INAUDIBLE).

And J. Ralph, you said to me before that there's only one person that could do this job and write the lyrics (INAUDIBLE).

J. RALPH, COMPOSER: Because it takes a very specific sensitivity, somebody that can get past themselves and allow incredible compassion. It's very hard to do. It's next to impossible because everything to the left and right of it is just dead wrong.

So, you know, we wanted to celebrate the love and compassion of James.

ELAM: Well, it's a very beautiful song and when it comes on in the movie, you definitely feel it. Look at this. Look at this lovefest coming right here, these superstars, with these stories. John Legend and Sting, hugging it out here.

(CROSSTALK)

ELAM: So it's a lovely song and best of luck to you both and good to see you again. Thank you. 'Bye.

So, yes, Dana, you saw that little Hollywood moment that happened here on the red carpet, when you see John legend and Sting hug it out.

BASH: That was pretty cool, Stephanie, I have to say I'm very jealous of you right now.

Also incredibly jealous because you spoke to somebody else who is very well known, not just for L.A. and for Hollywood but he's there tonight for an Oscar nomination but because, of course, "Hamilton."

ELAM: Oh, yes. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a well decorated creator in Hollywood, on Broadway. I mean, the man is the man behind "Hamilton" and he's also the man behind the music in "Moana," the Disney movie that came out. I spoke to him a little bit about what it was like to be here. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELAM: (INAUDIBLE) are you like in full (INAUDIBLE) mode?

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, BROADWAY ACTOR AND DIRECTOR: Yes, yes, I am. No, I've seen this on TV so many times. It's a whole other thing to be in the middle of it.

ELAM: And you're performing tonight.

Right?

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Yes. So I hope I don't lose my voice in the 1,200 cameras between now and the theater.

ELAM: No, I don't think (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE).

Mom, what does it mean to you to have your son -- OK, he's super talented. He's done all these things. He's got awards. People know his name from Broadway, (INAUDIBLE), Oscar nominated Lin-Manuel Miranda.

LUZ TOWNS-MIRANDA, LIN-MANUEL'S MOTHER: From the time he was about 10, we watched the Oscars together, just him and I, and we talked about when he went to the Oscars, how I would be going with him. So this is a real dream come true.

ELAM: Awesome.

All right.

Is there anyone -- I mean, you can (INAUDIBLE) anybody.

Is there anyone you're looking forward to meeting tonight?

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: We met Gael Garcia Bernal, like right on the way in. So there's really nothing left to do here. Pack it up.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ELAM: He is just so charming and you know what else he told me when I interviewed him at the Oscars (INAUDIBLE) the first thing he did when he was done with "Hamilton" is cut his hair off. So I almost didn't recognize him at first because I'm so used to that hair.

BASH: Right, right, I remember that. He cut it off and then he went out with J. Lo and did a song. And I will say, as the mother of a son, how cool is it that he brought his mom?

ELAM: I love that he kept his promise from little him to bring his mom. It's so awesome.

BASH: It really is. OK, real quick, before I let you go, the actually awards tonight, what's the buzz about the big prize, Best Picture?

ELAM: Best picture, obviously "La La Land" is favored because it has the most nominations, 14 nominations going in. But there has been some buzz that perhaps one of the more dramatic films could make its way in there, Like a "Moonlight" perhaps.

But at the end, a lot of people think it's still going to go with the love note from Hollywood to Hollywood, which is "La La Land."

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: All right. Stephanie, thank you so much and because you don't have eyes in the back of your head, I'll tell you that Judd Apatow just walked behind you. So go get him.

(LAUGHTER)

ELAM: OK, I'm on it. I'm on it. Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Thanks, Stephanie, appreciate it.

And coming up, a new leader for the Democratic Party, whose liberal base is demanding confrontation with the Trump White House.

[18:50:00]

BASH: So is he ready for the job?

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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BASH: Kurt Busch is the winner today of the 59th running of the Daytona 500. The Florida race kicks off the NASCAR season. But if you're looking to get really close to the action, in Charlotte, North Carolina, visitors can suit up and experience the thrill of racing firsthand.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Charlotte. This is NASCAR's headquarters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The NASCAR racing experience is a program where people can come out and take a ride or a drive in one of these stock cars here at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

You can reach speeds of over 160 miles an hour. A lot of people say that it's kind of their bucket list to come out here. And when you take that ride, you can really feel the banking and the speed out here at the racetrack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our customers here are a little nervous as they're coming in, they're not sure what to expect. But after we put them through the class, we train them, we put them in the cars, they're instructed, the radio.

[18:55:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Almost every driver coming out of the cars has got a huge smile on their face.

Charlotte is a race-oriented area. A lot of the background of stock car racing comes from this area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well I don't think you need to be a NASCAR fan. I think we all drive a car that, you know, some of our vehicles are pretty mundane, so getting in a car like this just really makes you feel alive.

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(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Dana Bash in Washington.

Any minute now, President Trump is set to speak at his first major White House social event. He and the first lady are hosting a black tie gala called the governors' dinner, which brings together leaders of the 50 states.

And a short time ago, President Trump tweeted about it.

He said, "Big dinner with the governors tonight at White House. Much to be discussed including health care."

This comes as President Trump faces his most crucial week yet since moving into the White House. His first primetime speech before a joint session of Congress is just two days away plus a brand-new version of his controversial --