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Obamacare Under Fire; Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Quits Amid Investigations; Cohen: "I'm Done With Being Loyal To Trump"; Family Of 7-Year-Old Girl Who Died In U.S. Border Patrol Custody Calls For Thorough investigation. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired December 16, 2018 - 06:00   ET




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we are going to get really good health care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I think this is going to be the thing that crafts some type of massive bipartisan health care agreement? Of course not.

TRUMP: People don't realize it I have a lot of friends who are Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It'll be interesting to see exactly who the president is talking about when he says that Democrats may help him moving forward on that issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another day and another high level resignation at the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The secretary of the interior Ryan Zinke announced he is out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zinke has been accused of misusing agency resources who advances on personal finances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no doubt that we are a long way away from Iowa voters heading to their caucus sites for the first votes of the 2020 presidential campaign but it's never too early to get a sense of what Iowa voters are thinking.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you on a Sunday. I'm Christi Paul.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Martin Savidge in for Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you here.

PAUL: It's good to have you here.

SAVIDGE: The battle over health care coverage now center stage again in Washington thanks to a Texas judge's ruling striking down the Affordable Care Act.

PAUL: Now this time the debate is raging inside a divided Capitol. Democrats now controlling the House, Republicans have a stronger grip on the Senate. President Trump says a fix will happen but some Republicans are less hopeful after watching Democrats ride their defense of Obamacare to mid-term victories.

SAVIDGE: And we are also getting new reporting on the timing and reasoning behind interior secretary Ryan Zinke's exit from the Trump team as House Democrats continue to investigate him whether he's in office or not.

But we begin this morning with health care. As the president and the former president offer dueling messages in the wake of the Texas judge's ruling. CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood joins us live this morning. Sarah.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Good morning, Martin. And President Trump he is continuing to take a victory lap following that federal judge's ruling on Friday night. The president has claimed credit for predicting the demise of Obamacare that it would be named unconstitutional and he's calling on Congress to come up with a replacement plan for Obamacare.

Remember that that's something Republicans try to do on their own last year and they failed when they had control of all three branches of government now there's perhaps a recognition from the president that there is no path forward for a Republican only health care plan and he'll need Democrats to help replace, repeal, whatever they are going to do with Obamacare in the wake of this ruling if it stands. Now the president, last night at a congressional ball here at the White House, calls on lawmakers to come together and work on that plan. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I believe we're going to get really good health care. Exciting things happened over the last 24 hours. And if everybody is smart, because we have a lot of Democrats here tonight and I'm very happy about that.

People don't realize it I have a lot of friends who are Democrats. We have Democrats here. And if the Republicans and the Democrats get together, we are going to end up with incredible health care, which is the way it should have been from day one. And it's going to happen. It now has a chance to happen.


WESTWOOD: Now former President Obama continued to defend the law on Facebook last night as the enrollment period came to an end, saying that if voters are upset about this outcome in the court against Obamacare, they should continue to go out and vote for Democrats because Republicans are going to continue to pursue a repeal of Obamacare. That's obviously been a unifying goal of theirs for years. So the president finally getting something of a victory in the courts which haven't been treating his policies so favorable lately -- Martin and Christi.

SAVIDGE: I'm sure he looks at it as an early Christmas present. All right. Sarah Westwood, thanks very much.

PAUL: Siraj Hashmi, commentator -- commentary writer and editor for "The Washington Examiner" with us now as well as CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University. Thank you, gentlemen, for being here this morning.


PAUL: So when we talk about ACA -- good to see you as well -- Republican Senator Susan Collins was not necessarily in favor of this ruling that came down on Friday. She wrote this, "There are a lot of flaws in the ACA, but there are a lot of very good provisions as well, and tossing it out the window altogether is not the way to go. We can't have our position be to just repeal and not replace the ACA."

Siraj, is there any gauge of what the replacement is and do you see a divide in the Republican Party over this?

HASHMI: Well, already there's a divide in the Republican Party over this. Just with Susan Collins statement.


But you can look at the immediate replacement to Obamacare would be a piecemeal deal. So they would attack, you know, individual provisions within Obamacare and have individual votes. That was going to be the ideal aspect or the ideal approach I should say to try to replace Obamacare.

Kind of the skinny repeal or an overhaul is not really the way to go about it. But if you go say for example prioritize each individual (INAUDIBLE) starting off with preexisting conditions and working your way from there, I think at least the Republicans could probably come to give some consensus and actually build some bridges with Democrats who kind of want to tackle those same issues as well.

PAUL: How likely -- we heard the president there talking about how they can finally have a chance to make that happening, Julian. Do you see that same opening?

JULIAN E. ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all it's unclear that the Supreme Court if it reaches the Supreme Court will uphold this even with a more conservative majority. A lot of legal experts are really criticizing the tortured logic of this decision which really goes against what Congress, itself, said in 2017.

But politically, it's really hard to see the House Democrats accepting anything less than a very robust replacement if this would happen to the health care program and Republicans are pretty worried about this. They just got really beat up in the midterms on this particular issue. So they are going to have to offer voters, if somehow the law was dismantled, a pretty satisfying alternative.

PAUL: Yes. Siraj, I wanted to ask you about that. What about -- what does this issue, itself, do to say to Democrats before the 2020 election?

HASHMI: Well, what is interesting and to Julian's point is that Republicans got beat up for the reason they did not appeal Obamacare. And you know for years during the Obama administration they campaigned on trying to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Should they be able to control the House, Senate and president in the Oval Office and they did that in the last two (ph) years, they did not get it done. And so Democrats certainly, you know, in the Trump era everything, you know, sort of doesn't really matter so it's unsure -- I'm not sure whether this is a gift for Democrats or not, because, you know, every fumble that happens in the Trump administration happens to be a different gift for Democrats, but Trump somehow manages to recover.

So if 2020 ends up being about health care, if that is the primary issue, you know, Democrats have a really good chance of taking back the White House, but, again, it all comes down to messaging, it comes down to the ground game and they have a lot of work to do.

PAUL: Well, and there are some interesting enlightenments, I guess, coming out of a new CNN poll in Iowa and we will talk about that in just a little bit. So when we talk about who is leading in terms right now on the Dem side. But we do have some new details I wanted to ask you about as well regarding the interior secretary Ryan Zinke's departure.

According to "The Washington Post" White House officials had been pushing Zinke to resign for weeks. "The New York Times" reporting John Kelly's team told Zinke he could face a potentially humiliating firing so "The Washington Post" says, "Zinke didn't want to leave until he attended his Christmas party Thursday night where he had apparently invited activists and lobbyist and donors.

So gentlemen -- Julian, to you. I know you're chuckling because you think I don't even know what to make of this. Does this not just fuel the fire of all the criticisms against Zinke?

ZELIZER: Absolutely. Look, Zinke had become one of the embodiments in this administration of conflict of interest, of shady ethics at the cabinet level. What really forced him out was the fact the House is going to be controlled by Democrats and subpoena power come January, so the administration's hand was forced, but this little story on Christmas, you're right. I'm chuckling, in part, because it really embodies the problem with him and that is what is remarkable about public figures like this.

They often fulfill what people are thinking through moments like this. But he was someone who didn't see the lines between what a public official does and what happens in the world of private industry. PAUL: Zinke did tweet and he gave his own reason for the departure. Here's what he said, "After 30 years of public service I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations."

Siraj, your reaction to that?

HASHMI: Well, it's interesting and Ryan Zinke kind of lived in the shadow of former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. You know, there are so many stories about Pruitt and the scandals he was involved in.

What is interesting about both of these figures is that they were effective in what they did with respect to actual policy. They undid a lot of burdensome regulation and they actually -- with respect to Zinke he, you know, leased out a lot of oil and gas contracts and even coal contract to private companies from public lands.


And environmentalists and activists are not very happy about that. So with respect to him actually using agency resources for personal gain let investigation decide on whether he actually violated federal law. But with Democrats taking control of the House the Trump administration probably saw what was on the horizon, didn't like what they saw and.

I guess to Julian's point with the subpoena power, you know, that is going to be probably pretty powerful in the next two years.

PAUL: Right, right. The president did mention -- look. The president has a couple of notches that he can brag about. Tax reform, of course, they have gotten done. He's talking -- last night, he talked about the fact that infrastructure bill is coming soon and that criminal justice reform, he believes, is going to be addressed next week. But when you've got Zinke, you've got Mick Mulvaney as this temporary chief of staff. And I say temporary because when you look at who he still has -- the positions he still has to fill. He has to fill a full-time chief of staff, first of all.

He has got an interior secretary, obviously, who just left. He's got a U.N. ambassador and an attorney general, both need to be confirmed yet. So those essentially are still misplaced as well.

Is there a gauge, Julian, of what this president can functionally get done, despite all of this instability within the administration?

ZELIZER: Well, he can still get a lot done with executive power and that is what we have seen him do with EPA, with interior, and these positions will still have people who can move forward, even in the chaos that is going to exist. But you do have a president, an unconventional president running with historically high levels of turnover, and very few places of stable counsel surrounding him, heading in to a really contentious two years of politics and partially divided government.

So there will be limits on what someone who is already limited in his ability to get legislation can do. And so, again, if we are going to place political bets, the odds are this won't be another era of a great society or new deal, it's going to be much more of a defensive posture from the White House.

PAUL: All right. Siraj Hashmi and Julian Zelizer, always appreciate you both taking time to be with us. Thank you, gentlemen.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

HASHMI: Thank you, Christi.

PAUL: And Republican Senator Susan Collins by the way and Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, both on CNN later this morning. Don't miss "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper. It's at 9:00 a.m. and noon today.

SAVIDGE: Before he won the presidential election, Donald Trump vowed to rip up the Paris climate agreement. But this morning, that deal is still alive.

In Poland, they jumped on tables, hugged, danced all in celebration as delegates from nearly 200 countries finally reached a deal on rules to put the Paris climate accord into action. Each country now has to follow standards to measure emissions and to track climate policies.

The countries in agreement include, yes, the United States. Despite the president's vow to abandon it since the United States actually can't leave that agreement until 2020.

PAUL: So I know it's only 2018. Almost 2019.

SAVIDGE: Almost.

PAUL: The 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls are getting their first look at really what voters think of them. Coming up, who voters in Iowa, specifically, are backing at this stage of the game in the race to face President Trump.

SAVIDGE: Plus, Michael Cohen, he is headed to prison and he says he is no longer loyal to the president. So what information could prosecutors learn from his change of heart?

And then later this hour, "Saturday Night Live" looks at Donald Trump's presidency through the lens of "It's A Wonderful Life "and what might have been.




BALDWIN: Mike, is this what you're doing now?

BECK BENNETT AS MIKE PENCE: Hell yes Doug. It's so great to be myself. Thank God. I was never your vice president. I'd just be sitting in meetings with you and Pelosi and Schumer just staring out into space imagining this.





PAUL: Well, President Trump's right hand man Michael Cohen of course is going to prison and his cooperation with prosecutors could spell trouble for the president.

SAVIDGE: Cohen says that he is no longer loyal to Trump, claiming his devotion to his wife, daughter, and son and his country are to come first. Prosecutors say Cohen gave up crucial information showing how people close to the White House criminally influenced the election and Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says Cohen's sentencing could mean trouble for Trump and his family.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: I think not only has Michael Cohen sentencing really clarified how much trouble he and his family are actually in but it shows the depth of it. That it's -- it is collusion, it is fraud, it is obstruction of justice and all those allegations are real and I think what Mueller is trying to develop are the facts around these allegations and present it to the American public so we can have transparency. The most important thing that we can do in the Senate right now is protect the Mueller investigation.


SAVIDGE: CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger has more on Michael Cohen's relationship with President Trump.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: The words the media should be using to describe Mr. Trump are generous, compassionate --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): He was the ultimately loyalist --

COHEN: -- principled --

BORGER: -- protector and defender.

COHEN: -- kind, humble, honest, and genuine.

BORGER: The Trump fixer who said he would take a bullet for his idol, his boss.


COHEN: They say I'm Mr. Trump's pit bull, that I am his -- I am his right-hand man. I mean, there's -- I've been called many different things around here.

BORGER: Now in a plot twist worth of Shakespeare the fixer has flipped.

COHEN: I'm done with the lying. I'm done being loyal to President Trump and my first loyalty belongs to my wife, my daughter, my son, and this country.

BORGER: Prosecutors say he has provided relevant and useful information on contacts, with persons connected to the White House, and his own conversations with individual number one, AKA, candidate Donald Trump, to criminally influence the election.

In more than 70 hours of interviews Cohen confessed to his own financial crimes and past life and stands to pay the price, three years in prison.

TRUMP: He is a weak person and not a very smart person.

BORGER: A betrayed Trump says it's all a lie. The deceit only serving Cohen's self-interest.

TRUMP: Michael Cohen is lying and he is trying to get a reduced sentence.

BORGER: But wait. Just this past spring.

TRUMP: I always liked Michael. And he's a good person.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The man is honest, honorable lawyer.

BORGER: So what changed? Michael Cohen.

LANNY DAVIS, ADVISER TO MICHAEL COHEN: This man has turned a corner in his life, has hit a reset button and he is now dedicated to telling the truth.

BORGER: No longer dedicated to being Donald Trump's mini me as he was when he started working for the boss more than a decade ago.

SAM NUNBERG, TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Michael was, I'd like to say the Ray Donovan of the office.


NUNBERG: He took care of what had to be taken care of. I don't know. It had to be taken care of but all I know is that Michael was taking care of it.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, FRIEND OF MICHAEL COHEN: He is the guy that you could call at 3:00 in the morning when you have a problem. BORGER (on camera): Do you know stories of Donald Trump calling him

at 3:00 in the morning?

SCHWARTZ: Donald Trump has called him at all hours of the night.

BORGER (voice-over): He is not calling now because Cohen is singing admitting negotiations about Trump Tower Moscow continued during the presidential campaign, while Trump denied having any business interest in Russia. He says he wasn't touched with Trump's lawyers and White House staff as he prepared a false statement to Congress.

And Cohen says at the direction of the candidate, he coordinated payoffs to women accusing Trump of sexual relations. Even releasing a secret recording about one of them.

COHEN: When it comes time to the finance, which will be --

TRUMP: What financing?

BORGER: All part of the job.

COHEN: My job is I protect Mr. Trump. That's what it is. If there is an issue that relates to Mr. Trump that is of concern to him, it's, of course, concern to me and I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.

COHEN (on the telephone): It's going to be my absolute pleasure to serve you with a 500 million dollar lawsuit --

BORGER: Often with threats as in this 2015 conversation with a reporter.

COHEN (on the telephone): I'm warning you, tread very (EXPLETIVE) lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be (EXPLETIVE) disgusting. Do you understand me?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: This is also part of the Trump/Cohen methods is you skate on the edge of what is reasonable and maybe even on the edge of what is ethical or legal.

BORGER: Cohen, a sometimes Democrat, first came to Trump's attention after buying apartments in Trump developments. Then went to the mat for Trump against one of his condo boards and then won.

SCHWARTZ: Trump loved him for it. I mean, that was the beginning of it. And then after that, they became close. It was much more than an attorney/client relationship. It was something much deeper. Almost father and son kind of thing.

BORGER: For Trump, hiring Cohen wasn't about pedigree. Cohen, who was 52, got his degree from Western Michigan's Cooley Law School and eventually entered the less than genteel world of New York taxi cab medallions.

NUNBERG: If you look where Michael came from in his legal career before he started working for Trump board, it wasn't like he came from a white shoe law firm. He came from, you know, a hard-nosed -- a hard-nosed New York trial firm.

TRUMP: I will faithfully execute.

BORGER: But when Trump came president, he did not bring his brash wing man to Washington.

(on camera): Do you think he wanted to be in the White House, be White House counsel?

D'ANTONIO: There must have been a part of him was that dreaming of a great job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but he is also the guy who not only knows where all of the bodies are buried, he buried a lot of them himself and that ironically, disqualified him.

BORGER (voice-over): Maybe from working in the White House but not from working with Bob Mueller.


SAVIDGE: In other news, I meant to say, Guatemalan counsel says that the father of the migrant girl who died in the U.S. border patrol custody has no complaints about how she was treated.


But the 7-year-old girl's family is still calling for a very thorough investigation?

PAUL: They clarified in a statement that she wasn't suffering from a lack of food or water when she was taken into custody by U.S. authorities and haven't been crossing the desert for days. The statement read, in part, "Jakelin and her father came to the United States seeking something that thousands have been seeking for years -- an escape from the dangerous situation in their home country."

SAVIDGE: Still to come, the first lady spokeswoman is slamming a critical op-ed about Melania Trump and reminding everyone of the first lady's work in office so far. More on that ahead.

PAUL: And I know you may be making New Year's Eve plans but do not miss Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen co-hosting CNN's New Year's Eve coverage live from Times Square. Brooke Baldwin, Don Lemon, all going to be there going in the fun. It starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on December 31st.



PAUL: So we are more than a year away from the first contest of the 2020 presidential campaign and former Vice President Joe Biden is leading a crowded field in a new CNN Des Moines Media register poll.

SAVIDGE: Iowa is the first state in the presidential nominating process and CNN's Ryan Nobles explains potential caucus goers -- say that five times real faster -- warming up to some familiar faces. RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: There's no doubt that we are a long way away from Iowa voters heading to their caucus sites for the first votes of the 2020 presidential campaign, but it's never too early to get a sense of what Iowa voters are thinking and Democrats there are telling us exactly what their early thoughts are about the 2020 race for president. And what we are seeing is that their thoughts are matching up pretty closely with what we are seeing nationally.

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads the field there, 32 percent. Bernie Sanders who had a pretty strong performance in 2016 comes in second at 19 percent. And then the name that jumps off the page Beto O'Rourke, the congressman from Texas who just lost a narrow race for Senate to Ted Cruz is in double digits at 11 percent.

And keep in mind in the last Iowa caucus many Iowans probably didn't even know who Beto O'Rourke was. We could easily be in store for a wild card when it comes to this race. And there are some names that we threw into this poll just to see how Iowa voters are thinking about them.

Among them Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. It's pretty clear Iowa voters would prefer to not see any of them get into this race. Seventy-two percent of Iowans say that Hillary Clinton would be a destruction, 55 percent say that Oprah would be a destruction. What is on the minds of Iowans picking a winner, 54 percent of Iowa Democrats say that they are going to vote for something in the caucus who they believe can win the presidency and that is more important to them than necessarily voting for something who strictly aligns with their ideology.

This is about picking a winner. This is something that Democrats in particular have always cared a great deal about and that is exactly what they're thinking this -- at this early stage of this campaign.

So a long way to go. Fourteen months before the Iowa caucus, but we are now starting to see what Iowa voters are thinking. Ryan Nobles, CNN, Washington.

SAVIDGE: Thank you, Ryan, very much.

The first lady spokesperson issued a very staunch rebuke of the critical op-ed about Melania Trump. Stephanie Grisham said that the media only focuses on trivial and superficial matters when it comes to covering the first lady. The criticism comes after CNN's Kate Anderson Brower wrote a piece saying that Melania Trump doesn't understand what it means to be first lady.

Brower's remarks followed a FOX News interview last week where the first lady called journalists opportunists. Joining me to discuss HuffPost reporter Marina Fang.

Thanks for being with us this morning.

MARINA FANG, REPORTER, HUFFPOST: Happy to be here. SAVIDGE: Brower's piece claims the more Melania Trump becomes vocal, the less that people like her. A recent CNN poll shows that her popularity has dropped double digits from two months ago. And I'm wondering what do you attribute that to and what do you think is going on here?

FANG: Well, with a lot of polling it's hard to pinpoint one factor or one sort of catalyst, but I would say the overall trend with her is, you know, for a while we saw her a while in the shadows, not really being active and now she, I think she is trying to figure out her role as first lady. And as she does that and makes more public appearances and works on her initiatives, she is becoming a lot like her husband. She is taking on a lot of the same qualities in terms of dealing with the media, dealing with press coverage.

That statement from Stephanie Grisham is like a lot of the statements that she has put out on behalf of the first lady and also the first lady, herself, has made which is criticizing the press, lecturing reporters for not covering the first lady positively, not unlike the way the president sees the role of the press which is to cover him favorably.

SAVIDGE: When asked what was the hardest part of being first lady, this was Melania's Trump -- Melania Trump's response. Listen.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say the opportunist who are using my name or my family name to advance themselves. They like to focus on the gossip and I would like that they focus on the substance and what we do, not just about nonsense.



SAVIDGE: Now Brower claims that she played victim here and could have used this opportunity perhaps to highlight more of her work with children, the less fortunate military families something she was doing prior to that interview. Is it a fair criticism?

FANG: I think it is. I mean, we have seen her, for example, her signature issue right now is the "Be Best" initiative, focusing on cyber bullying and online safety, but it's difficult to make that a priority when, you know, the hypocrisy is very clear with her husband, sometimes simultaneously as she is doing some kind of "Be Best" event he is on Twitter launching his attacks and it's pretty unavoidable to cover the hypocrisy.

And so, yes, while she wants certain -- certainly she wants the media to cover the event, it's hard to cover that event and ignore the hypocrisy.

SAVIDGE: Her husband is unpopular in a lot of circles and I'm wondering whether that reflects and falls back on her as well. FANG: I don't know that there is a direct link. Unfortunately, the role of the first lady is often under a lot of sexist and gendered criticisms. It's a role that for anyone including her, is difficult to navigate. It's a role that's very much undefined.

It really depends on the person and it also, in some ways, depends on the president. I do think, though, going back to what we were saying earlier, is that she is heal really taking on these qualities of her husband and I think that can contribute to the negative perception of her, just like, you know, certainly her husband is an incredibly divisive figure.

SAVIDGE: All right. Marina Fang, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

PAUL: Well, the oldest sitting justice of the Supreme Court is back in the spotlight with update on her health. More than a month after falling and breaking three ribs at her office, look at that, 85-year- old Ruth Bader Ginsburg sat down for an interview in New York and said she is feeling much better.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How is your health?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And those ribs you busted?

GINSBURG: Almost repaired.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And did you -- have you gone back to your trainer, Brian (ph) Stephenson (ph)?

GINSBURG: Yes. We went back immediately after the fall, we could do legs only. But, yesterday, we did the whole routine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole routine?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole routine that most 35-year-olds can't do.


PAUL: Now despite her accident, Ginsburg never missed a day of arguments of the Supreme Court.

SAVIDGE: Up next, why the Chinese government has arrested over a hundred Christians, including this prominent Chinese pastor and legal scholar.



PAUL:: Forty-two minutes past the hour right now. And there are fears this morning that Chinese authorities may be cracking down on Christianity. The U.S. based nonprofit China Aid says a Chinese pastor and his wife are among 100 Christians who recently been detained.

SAVIDGE: The pastor is Wang Yi. He is seen here with George W. Bush in 2006. He was reportedly arrested on charges of inciting subversion of state power. For more, CNN's Will Ripley is live in Hong Kong.

Good morning, Will. What is happening here? And what's going on with this incident?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it has taken us days to even confirm these details because of the secrecy and lack of transparency in China when it comes to their legal system. But what we know this morning is that Wang Yi, a very high profile pastor, as you mentioned he has been in the Oval Office, he's a former legal scholar, he along with his wife Jiang Rong and 100 Christians were detained early last week in the Chinese city of Chengdu.

They are all members of the Early Rain Covenant Church. Wang is the pastor of that church and this is a church that has been targeted by China for quite some time because they are basically operating underground. Churches in China have to register with the national religion bureau which essentially guarantees that the communist party rules are being followed in church.

They opened themselves up to surveillance, the churches that are approved. But in this church, they do things that are considered highly provocative. I want to show you a picture of Pastor Wang holding up a sign which translates pray for the nation on June 4th, that's the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. And in China which has tried to erase Tiananmen Square from its history completely people are not supposed to talk about it. CNN gets blacked out whenever we mention it in China.

To have pastor of a church preaching to a congregation of hundreds about hot sensitive topics like that while that is enough to get a bull's eye from the communist party in authoritarian China. And so while the church's technical violation would be operating without registering the real crime religious groups that support this church would say is that they are just not supporting the communist party ideology.

PAUL: So, Will, what is the consequence for these people who were arrested? Do we have a gauge for that?

RIPLEY: We don't know. There is concern that they, like others who have been detained for religious crimes in the past, could be sent these kind of reeducation camps where China is accused of trying to brain wash people essentially.

You think about, you know, what China has been accused of, which is like this crackdown on independent religious practice, systematic almost, human rights abuse, talking about the hundreds of thousands of Muslim leaders, for example.


China says they are just trying to tackle violent extremism but critics say they have essentially setup an Orwellian surveillance state. The Buddhist in Tibet, another example.

The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large For International Religious Freedom has actually designated China as one of 10 countries of concern because people there don't seem to have a right to religion even though China, as an atheist state is supposed to guarantee religion under the law. And so we're going to have to watch this very closely but there is a lot of concern about these 100 Christians who have been detained -- Martin and Christi.

PAUL: No doubt.

SAVIDGE: Yes. And we will keep an eye on it. Thanks to you. Will Ripley, thanks. Appreciate it.

PAUL: Thank you, Will.

PAUL: Coming up, for the first time in the history of the miss universe pageant, tonight's competition is featuring an openly transgender contestant. We have more on what is to be expected.



PAUL: Well, the Miss Universe Pageant is making history by featuring the first openly transgender contestant.

Angela Ponce won Miss Universe Spain, that title earlier this year. Now she will compete for the international title tonight.

CNN's Natasha Chen reports.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From swimsuit to evening gown,

ANGELA PONCE, MISS UNIVERSE SPAIN (through translator): For me winning Miss Universe would give great pride.

CHEN: Quick changes for Spain's Angela Ponce will be nothing compared to the slow societal changes she has faced. Tonight she will be the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe Pageant. PONCE (through translator): I started working in fashion 10 years ago. In the past three years I started to compete in beauty contests. In 2015 I was (INAUDIBLE) representative in Miss World Spain. But the rules didn't allow me to get in the national competition.

CHEN: So Ponce turned to the Miss Universe Organization, a pageant that already dealt with the question of transgender participants in 2012.

JENNA TALACKOVA, CANADIAN MODEL: If it affected my score or my performance, no. I was giving it my best. I'm very proud of myself.

CHEN: Canadian Jenna Talackova was initially told she was disqualified from the organization's Canada pageant because she was born male but the pageant co-owned at the time by Donald Trump came under scrutiny and subsequently ended its ban on transgender contestants.

Talackova did not end up winning the Canadian title. Now six years later, Angela Ponce has won her competition in Spain and heads to the Miss Universe Pageant in Thailand.

PONCE (through translator): I think the mindset is changing. Today there are positive references. People speak about the LGBT community and transgender community.

CHEN: Ponce appearing on stage is already historic.

PONCE (through translator): If I don't win, I get great friends and a unique experience.

CHEN (on camera): But if she does get that crown, Ponce says this would also be a win for human rights. Natasha Chen, CNN.


SAVIDGE: Thanks, Natasha.

Next, "Saturday Night Live" delivered with a holiday inspired spoof on the Trump White House. Coming up, from a dancing DJ Mike Pence to a Supreme Court without (ph) Brett Kavanaugh we have their take on "It Is A Wonderful Life."



PAUL: So there was a memorable moment this week in the Oval Office. The president, congressional Democrats got a bit testy together in the corner, quiet there was the vice president.

SAVIDGE: Yes, he was. But it's Jeanne Moos reports the internet noticed.


TRUMP: It's a tough issue because --

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It wasn't just what they said it was how they looked saying it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I will shut down the government if I don't get my wall. None of us have said --

TRUMP: Do you want to know something?

SCHUMER: You've said it.

TRUMP: OK. You want to put that on my --

SCHUMER: You've said it.

TRUMP: I'll take it.

SCHUMER: OK, good.

MOOS: Anchors were agog.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was special.

MOOS: Watch the president pull a special face at the mention of Pinocchios.

SCHUMER: "The Washington Post" today gave you a whole lot of Pinocchios because they say you constantly misstate --

MOOS: But the guy the president glanced toward suffered the wrath of Twitter, merely for keeping his mouth shut. Mike Pence looks exactly like our elf on the shelf during this discussion. Someone even emptied his chair and moved him to the mantle.

MOOS (on camera): Vice President Pence seemed, pensive.

MOOS (voice over): And when he got that far away look in his eyes, the music mixes flowed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Hello darkness my old friend.

MOOS: Parodied as if zoning out, saddled with curb your enthusiasm.

TRUMP: Because I'm not going to get the vote of the Senate. I need 10 senators.

MOOS: Honorable mention to Pence for willing himself to blend in with the furniture. At times his head swiveled as if he were watching tennis. When he blinked, he got taunted with, Pence has powered down to save electricity. People put thoughts in his head about being president. This rug is the first thing I'm getting rid of. Wishing perhaps that he were anywhere but here. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Pass it right now.

TRUMP: No, we don't have the votes, Nancy.

MOOS: Senator Schumer wore the hint of a smile. But the guy who seemed uncharacteristically happy as the meeting broke up was White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. After all, in a few weeks, he's out of there.

But before the press is ushered out, we go live to Mike Pence. When you're at a smack down, it pays to wear armor.

TRUMP: And I am proud --

SCHUMER: We disagree. We disagree.

TRUMP: And I'll tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government --

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


SAVIDGE: And the folks on "Saturday Night Live" also had their take what the vice president might have been thinking in the Oval Office there.

PAUL: A reimagined version of the holiday classic "It's A Wonderful Life." A world where President Trump did not win the presidency.


BALDWIN: Wow. Everybody looks so different. What are those things on their faces?

THOMPSON: Those are called smiles.

BALDWIN: Wait. So Hillary is president?

THOMPSON: That's right. And in this reality, all she had to do to win was visit Wisconsin once.

BALDWIN: But (ph) did they find her emails?

THOMPSON: They did. They were all Bed Bath and Beyond coupons.

BALDWIN: What is that music?

THOMPSON: Mike Pence is DJ-ing.

BALDWIN: Mike, is this what you're doing now?

BENNETT: Hell, yes, Doug. It's so great to be myself. Thank God I was never your vice president. I would just be sitting in meetings with you an Pelosi and Schumer just staring out into space imagining this. MATT DAMON AS BRETT KAVANAUGH: When is this party getting started? Wow!


BALDWIN: Brett Kavanaugh, how's the Supreme Court?

DAMON: Me on the Supreme Court with my temperament?