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Trump Will Not Attend White House Correspondents' Dinner; McMaster Says Term "Radical Islamic Terrorism" Is "Unhelpful"; New Democratic Party Leader Vows To Take On Trump; Malaysia Airport Safe From Toxic Chemicals; French Police And Anti-Le Pen Protesters Clash; Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired February 26, 2017 - 03:00   ET

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


[03:00:00]

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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): No show: Donald Trump will skip the White House Correspondents' Dinner in April, the latest chapter in his self-proclaimed war with the media.

All clear: Malaysian authorities say the Kuala Lumpur airport is safe with no signs of the nerve toxin that killed Kim Jong-un's half- brother.

And heating up: a protest breaks out in France ahead of a campaign event by far right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Hi, everyone, thanks for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

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VANIER: U.S. President Donald Trump has a busy week ahead of him. Tuesday night marks his debut appearance as president before a joint session of Congress.

Also this week, the White House is expected to roll out the revised executive order banning travelers from seven mostly Muslim nations.

One future event is off the president's calendar in April. On Saturday, President Trump tweeted, "I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening."

The head of the Correspondents' Association had this to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF MASON, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION: It's not a surprise to say that the president has said many negative things about the media and comparing the media or suggesting that the media is the enemy of the American people.

That, of course, is something that the Correspondents' Association and journalists reject. The media is an incredibly important part of a vibrant republic. And we celebrate that at that dinner. It's up to him to decide whether or not he wants to come.

But the Correspondents' Association and the members who work in this room every day will continue to do our jobs and write the news and tell the truth about this administration, as we have done about every administration before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: There's an apparent disconnect between Mr. Trump and his new national security advisor. It's over the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" and it may not be the only area where they disagree. Global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has more on this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: President Trump's new national security advisor appears to want a more moderate approach to the Islamic world than his predecessor Mike Flynn and even the president himself.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster held a meeting with his staff at the NSC a few days ago. According to several people who attended the meeting, he said that the term radical Islamic terrorism was unhelpful because terrorists like ISIS are perverting the religion and, therefore, their behavior is un-Islamic.

Now, both the president and Flynn have frequently used that term to describe jihad terrorists. McMaster made the argument that this only plays into their propaganda that this is a religious war against Islam and that hurts US efforts to work with Arab and Muslim allies to defeat terrorist groups.

And we're told McMaster had a strikingly different tone than Mike Flynn who was forced to resign last week after the controversy over his discussions with the Russian ambassador.

Now, in contrast to President Trump who has praised Vladimir Putin, McMaster said Russia was an adversary. So, all of this really a repudiation of President Trump's language and worldview. The president doesn't seem to be that bent out of shape about it. The White House acknowledging a difference of opinion on language, but not about the approach to fight terrorism.

President Trump does seem to be impressionable to the opinions of his aides. And so, career staff, many of whom agree with McMaster's worldview, are hoping he can push a more moderate US foreign policy.

Officials say his arrival and his discussions with staff are really boosting morale which was sinking under Flynn. We'll have to see whether this views will carry the day -- Elise Labott, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: After a devastating loss in the November election, the Democratic Party has a new leader. Former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected Saturday as the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee and he wasted no time pledging a vigorous party- wide challenge to the Trump administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: January 20th was an undeniably important day but January 21st and beyond was far more important for America. Millions of people stood up and said, Donald Trump, you do not stand for America. Donald Trump, we will not allow those values to divide America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: And U.S. President Donald Trump offered this backhanded compliment after Perez won.

"Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him for or the Republican Party."

And Perez fired back, "Call me Tom. And don't get too happy. @KeithEllison and I, and Democrats united across the country, will be your worst nightmare."

[03:05:00]

VANIER: Ron Brownstein's CNN senior political analyst is with us now from Los Angeles.

Ron, let me ask you this, when Republicans were unhappy with Barack Obama, when they were in the opposition, they pulled no punches. And the fights between Obama and Republicans was epic, even leading to a government shutdown.

So my question is, with this DNC leadership election now, how far do you think this new Democratic Party is going to fight President Trump?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's going to go further than they initially expected. And you remember, immediately after the election, Chuck Schumer, the new Democratic leader, the senator from New York, who has known Donald Trump, was talking in terms of ordering some from column A and some from column B.

We'll work with the president when we agree with him and we'll fight him when we disagree with him.

And then what happened?

Over 3 million people went into the streets the day after his inauguration. We saw another round of big protests around the executive order on immigration. We've seen the energy at the town hall meetings.

We've seen the same kind of demands from the bottom up in the Democratic Party reflected in this leadership fight. And I think what has -- in essence has happened is the course of the Democratic Party has been redirected by the base of the party very quickly.

I think Senator Schumer and the rest of the congressional Democrats have been compelled, I think, into a position of more undiluted opposition to President Trump than they expected by the visceral reaction to many of the things he's trying to do from their own voters.

VANIER: But assuming the Democrats are willing to go for the jugular and block Donald Trump when they can, how much does that actually matter to his presidency?

How much does he need them?

BROWNSTEIN: That's a great question. Essentially, in the modern Senate, you need 60 votes to do everything except those things that you can do under what's called our reconciliation process, which allows you to pass legislation through the Senate with only a simple majority. Those are the fiscal questions.

So, yes, they can pass a tax cut without Democrats. They can confirm the repeal of ObamaCare without Democrats.

But they can't do many of the affirmative things that they want to do without at least some Democrats. And the leverage that President Trump had was that there are 10 Democratic senators running in 2018 in states that he carried last year. That was his best chance of getting the Democratic votes that he'll need to break a filibuster on anything that he can't do through reconciliation.

But I think what we've seen in the early months at least is that both the level of discontent on the Democratic base is high enough and also the agenda items that President Trump is pursuing are polarizing enough that relatively fewer of those Democrats than we thought had felt much pressure to cross the aisle and indicate support for him.

VANIER: All right. Tell me now about this situation with the White House Correspondents' Dinner. You've been a political reporter for a very long time. Donald Trump has announced that he's going to eschew this traditional annual event.

And for our international viewers, I want to show them a bit of what that's like. Barack Obama in 2011 happened to be talking about one of the guests at the time, Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: For example -- no, seriously. Just recently in an episode of "Celebrity Apprentice" at the steak house, the men's cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around.

But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership and so, ultimately, you didn't blame Little John or Meat Loaf. You fired Gary Busey.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Ron, this is typically an event where the president is supposed to be funny and also be able to make fun of himself, not really one of Donald Trump's strong suits.

BROWNSTEIN: I was there the night. I've been to over 20 of these events and I think Donald Trump pulling out I think puts him out of his misery. Give the kinds of relations that have been savaged between this White House and the mainstream press corps from the outset, the remarkable language from the president, the escalation of the kind of conflict between the two sides, it would have, I think, for many in the press, it would have been kind of the height of hypocrisy to sit at a dinner and laugh while the president made fun of this daily conflict, which is what you would be required to do.

So in some ways, him announcing that he will not come makes it easier for the dinner to go on, because I think it would have been very hard for many of the mainstream media organizations to go through with a White House Correspondents' Dinner in this atmosphere with the president himself there.

VANIER: All right, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, thank you very much. You have to say though --

[03:10:00]

VANIER: -- you kind of would have wanted to see what would have happened in that situation, in that hypothetical.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, well, as you say, the president is required to make fun of himself. That's not something we've seen a lot of from President Trump. It might have been fascinating. But again, I think it might have been an empty room. It's hard to know exactly what would have happened. Now, at least, the dinner will go on, even if it's a shadow of itself.

VANIER: Ron Brownstein, thank you very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

VANIER: President Trump has a rousing message for coal country here in the U.S. and that message: your jobs are coming back. That promise is already being put to the test as large numbers of coal plants are being shut down across the country. In Ohio, residents are now asking President Trump to save not only

their jobs but their entire town before it's too late. CNN's Martin Savidge reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Ohio, it's hard to find an area more remote or more red than Manchester, where two of every three votes were for Donald Trump.

ROBERT HILDERBRAND, MAYOR OF MANCHESTER, OHIO: To Donald Trump.

JUNE WILSON, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: Trump.

WILL RICHARDS, EMPLOYEE, STUART POWER PLANT: To Trump.

CHUCK SHELTON, EMPLOYEE, KILLEN POWER PLANT: Trump.

SAVIDGE: The tiny town sits along the bucolic banks of the Ohio River.

WILSON: It's something about the water here. You get it in your blood and you don't want to leave.

SAVIDGE: Folks can tell you when the town started, 1791. And when they believe it will die.

HILDERBRAND: I say 2018.

SHELTON: June of 2018 is the last I personally heard on.

SAVIDGE: That's when two large coal fired power plants on either side of the town are projected to close. The news broke just after the election.

RICHARDS: It was definitely a shock to myself and my friends and coworkers, family, people in the local community. I mean, I think some people are still in shock.

SAVIDGE: As it stands now, the union says about 700 jobs will be lost in the town of just 2,000 people. The coal supplier says it will cut an additional 1,500 jobs. Tax revenues and property values will plummet. So what about all those rallies?

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love Ohio. You know, I worked in Ohio.

SAVIDGE: All those promises of jobs and of reenergizing coal.

TRUMP: Jobs, jobs, jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: So if he is the energy coal president, why are coal plants still shutting down?

SHELTON: I don't think it's a 100 percent up to Trump. I mean, I think he's got a lot to say so in it, but to me it's poor business decisions.

SAVIDGE: The mayor agrees it's not Trump's fault. He blames plant owners and management.

HILDERBRAND: Men in overhauls built this country. The men in suits to work destroyed it.

SAVIDGE: But he is a man in a suit.

HILDERBRAND: But he is touched the working people. He stood up for the working people.

SAVIDGE: Did you vote for Trump hoping he would save your job?

SHELTON: That's not the only reason I voted for him, but I did vote for Trump because I just, I liked the way his views are on stuff. And I liked the way he don't try to be all political correct on everything.

RICHARDS: He was very positive towards coal where others weren't.

SAVIDGE: You don't feel like despite all his talk of coal, bring the jobs back, that somehow your coal-related job?

SHELTON: No, I personally don't feel let down. But I'm personally hope that he steps in on this part as well.

HILDERBRAND: Puts some pressure on, you know, let's rework this coal industry around.

SAVIDGE: These Trump voters are trying to convince now President Trump to keep his promises about jobs and coal. If he can't, if he doesn't?

RICHARDS: Well, you know, I don't know, I guess I'll have to see what the future holds. I won't necessarily hold it against him, but I guess more of a disappointment.

SAVIDGE: If they were just empty promises, then in Manchester, in other towns with coal fired power plants, futures once so bright will soon face much darker days -- Martin Savidge, CNN, Manchester, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: After the break, police in hazmat suits, a busy airport and a chemical weapon. We'll be in Malaysia to bring you the latest on the investigation into the death of Kim Jong-nam.

Plus the red carpet is being rolled out for Hollywood's biggest night. Details on this year's Academy Awards coming up. Stay with us.

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VANIER: Welcome back.

Nearly two weeks after Kim Jong-nam was killed with the deadly VX nerve agent, Malaysian police have given the all clear to the airport terminal where the half-brother of the North Korean leader was poisoned. CNN's Alexandra Field joins us live with updates from Kuala Lumpur.

Alexandra, the airport really seems to be very concerned about possible damage to its reputation, especially with international travelers.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think with good reason because, certainly a lot of people would feel concerned knowing that they were passing through this airport terminal where a weapon of mass destruction had been. This is a highly lethal, very potent chemical weapon that can kill with a couple of drops or simply a swab, according to the experts.

So the site that should provide some comfort now would be those investigators in protective suits from police forensics unit, from a fire unit, from the atomic energy unit going into that airport, doing scans and reporting back that they had not found any dangerous material.

But this is jarring, considering the fact that that terminal has been up and open and running for almost two weeks with people passing through it.

Police did hold a press conference after doing that cleaning and that search overnight, again, reporting that they did not find any dangerous or hazardous materials inside. They further reported that there have been medical checkups for all those that came into contact with Kim Jong-nam after he had been exposed to the VX agent.

That should be providing some comfort. The ministry of health had also advised the airport that passengers who weren't feeling any kinds of symptoms immediately or within 18 hours of exposure were in the clear.

So the message from the airport, from the police, from public health officials is that people are safe, that there shouldn't be a reason for concern. But police say they did need to go ahead and make the decision to send in those people in those protective suits once they identified the fact that VX had actually been in that airport -- Cyril.

Pretty stunning, the whole thing, really.

VANIER: Yes, and meanwhile, of course the investigation into who actually ordered the killing of Kim Jong-nam continues.

Where do we stand on that?

FIELD: Right, that's the big question.

Who ordered this?

But officials here on the ground believe that they do know who is behind actually delivering the poisoning. That would be the Indonesian woman and the Vietnamese woman who they have fingered in that from the beginning.

We are learning more about what they are saying. Both of those women are actually now telling authorities that they thought that they were participating in some kind of prank, that they didn't know what they were handling or what they were up to.

That's raised a lot of questions about why they wouldn't have suffered from exposure. Police are now saying that they're investigating the possibility that the women had been given some sort of antidote. They're also looking into what kind of barriers they may have employed.

But police do tell us that one of the women, the Indonesian suspect, did get sick shortly actually leaving the airport. She actually vomited in a taxi once she left that airport.

Consular officials from Indonesia and Vietnam have visited with both of the suspects. They say now that both of those women show no signs of any physical distress. That's also what we've been hearing from police at this point.

They're carrying forward their investigation though beyond the Indonesian and the Vietnamese suspect. We've learned now that there was a raid carried out on a condo here in Kuala Lumpur and police are confirming that that condo was rented by four North Korean suspects who are believed to have left Malaysia shortly after that attack.

They're believed to be back in North Korea and those are the men who investigators think actually gave that poison, gave that dangerous chemical to the women who they say then deployed it at the airport -- Cyril.

VANIER: Alexandra Field, reporting live from Kuala Lumpur, thank you very much.

And tensions are rising ahead of the French presidential election which will test the rise of populism here in Europe. Protesters in (INAUDIBLE) are trying to block a Sunday rally by candidate Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front. Demonstrators and riot police clashed on Saturday. Four people were arrested.

So what are the chances of Marine Le Pen actually winning the French presidency?

For context on that, I spoke with Dominic Thomas (ph), the chair of French studies at the University of California Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[03:20:00]

DOMINIC THOMAS, CHAIR OF FRENCH STUDIES, UCLA: The Brexit vote caught many people by surprise. The election of Donald Trump caught many people by surprise.

And the French election has a surprise in the making, to the extent that the entire election has focused on Marine Le Pen, to the extent that all candidates are thinking back to 2002 when her father made it through to the second round. And at that time, the majority of the French population came out and returned a fairly unpopular president, but nevertheless returned Jacques Chirac to power.

In this particular case, it looks like, in the second round, against Marine Le Pen that has enough of a base to drive her through into that second round with somewhere between 20 and 30 percent that most likely no major political party will be standing against her in that round.

Both main political parties - the socialists, are, of course, incredibly unpopular after five years of the Hollande presidency - ran a primary that the most popular candidate on what was at least the left at the time Emmanuel Macron decided to run as an independent.

And on the right, the former prime minister and the former president were us pushed aside for Fillon. So Le Pen will be the candidate who did not participate in that, standing against now -- most people tend to believe and all the polling points to the fact that just about anybody who stands against Marine Le Pen will defeat her.

But I'm not convinced those running on what is considered the far left side and they've been talking about potentially forming a coalition would be willing to vote for a candidate like Fillon. And the support for Macron remains ambiguous on the right as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: And that was Dominic Thomas there, chair of French studies at UCLA, speaking with me earlier. The first round of voting is scheduled in France for April 23rd.

Now a solar eclipse will be visible across parts of the planet on Sunday. Derek Van Dam has got all the good stuff on that.

(CROSSTALK)

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I think it's time to listen up if you're in South America or in Southern Africa, you have quite the spectacle in the next couple of hours. Not just any old solar eclipse, it's an annular solar eclipse.

Here's a video of a solar eclipse that took place in Indonesia earlier in the 2016. Just giving you a preview of what's to come and we get the graphics behind me and we'll explain what a solar eclipse is.

We all know that big orange, bright light in the sky that provides so much on Earth provides light rays that come to us, allowing us to inhabit our planet. That light ray gets blocked every time the moon navigates around the planet. And when everything is aligned just perfectly, we receive what is called a solar eclipse.

So for us on the ground, we start to see the blackening of the sun. That is a total solar eclipse. That's called totality when the shadow from the moon actually blocks the entire sun but the annular solar eclipse is different. Because the way that the moon travels around the Earth is elliptical.

So sometimes it's further away or sometimes it's closer to us here on Earth and that has an impact on the size of the shadow. It actually becomes smaller than the visible disk of the sun.

So we're starting to see the ring of fire, which is the outer periphery of the sun being visible with this particular solar eclipse. So in South America we're expecting totality across extreme southern sections of Chile into Argentina and upwards of 90 percent coverage of the sun as far north as parts of Brazil and Uruguay and Paraguay.

If you're listening from Southern Africa, totality expected near Rwanda, in the country of Angola but even as far south as perhaps Cape Town, perhaps into Johannesburg as we work our way into Sunday evening. So that's at least partial totality.

In terms of the weather, will it be visible?

Will we have cloud cover obscuring our view?

Things are looking good in South America and relatively clear across Northern Africa as well. Chances of rain for the extreme eastern sections of Namibia, Zimbabwe and into the country of South Africa.

I want to take you to another story. It's in Antarctica. It's difficult to see what's happening but a large iceberg, half the size of Jamaica, equivalent to the size of three times of that of Greater London or in the U.S. the state of Delaware, is breaking off from the ice field in Western --

[03:25:00]

VAN DAM: -- Antarctica. You'll see exactly what I'm talking about. Scientists found this 70-mile rift that continues to grow. It coves 5,000 square kilometers. It's nearly 100 stories deep and it is poised to break off from the Larsson Sea ice shelf in Western Antarctica.

And can you imagine the ramifications for --

VANIER: Any idea where it's going to end up?

VAN DAM: Well, that's a good question.

Will it melt further once it finally does break off?

One thing's for sure, fingerprints of climate change all over this story.

VANIER: Derek Van Dam, from the International Weather Center, thank you very much.

And the Oscars take place Sunday. And before he was elected president, Donald Trump was an avid watcher of that. In years past, he live tweeted the Academy Awards, giving his take on the winners, the losers, even the afterparties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: A lot of people are asking me about the Academy Awards and what's going on around the Academy Awards. Well, I hear that the absolute worst party of the evening was the "Vanity Fair" party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: But Mr. Trump has not always been a fan of the show, tweeting in 2015, "Whatever happened to the good old days of the Academy Awards? This show is an insult to the past, just plain bad."

Another tweet, "The Oscars are a sad joke, very much like our president. So many things are wrong."

But he offered an idea on how to make the Oscars great again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The Academy Awards last night were absolutely terrible. Boring, ugly sets, everything. I have the perfect host for next year: me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: The White House says it's unlikely President Trump will watch the Oscars this year since he's hosting a meeting of governors Sunday. Anyway, join John Vause and Amara Walker for a special edition of NEWSROOM L.A. on Oscar Sunday. We'll have highlights and winners and celebrity reaction, that's Sunday, 9:00 pm in Los Angeles and 5:00 am Monday in London.

And just before we wrap up, to show the living dead walk the streets of the Greek capital on Saturday, it was for Athens' annual zombie walk for the city's carnival. Along with zombies, vampires, monsters and other creatures roamed the city center.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's the first time we have participated in this event and it looks like we'll do it again. It's nice, it's a chance to escape from daily life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The big surprise was for me, as I walked out from my house door, I just looked how everybody reacted accordingly or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: So turns out the theme of that walk was dedicated to the hit series "Stranger Things" and the 1980s movies that influenced it.

All right, thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back in just a moment with the headlines.