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First White House Briefing in 42 Days; Netanyahu: Non-Jewish Israeli Citizens Not Real Citizens; Zidane Returns at Real Madrid Manager; U.S. Women's Team Sue U.S. Soccer Over Gender Discrimination. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 12, 2019 - 00:00   ET

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


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JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everybody, wherever you are around the world, thanks for being with us. I'm John Vause and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this hour, a breakthrough concession which could save the Brexit bacon or is it just January reheated leftovers? (INAUDIBLE) the majority in Parliament. We will find out in the coming hours when the British prime minister presents a new tweaked deal to get out of the E.U. (INAUDIBLE).

Is Boeing's best selling aircraft safe to fly?

Two deadly crashes in less than six months and now a growing number of airlines around the world are grounding their 737 MAX 8s.

Five days and counting and no end in sight to the massive power outage in Venezuela. The self-declared president has declared a state of emergency. The sitting president blames the U.S. (INAUDIBLE) useful as the other (ph).

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VAUSE: British and E.U. leaders have announced concessions to the Brexit deal which they say specifically meet demands by the U.K. Parliament. In particular, legally binding measures to install the so-called Irish backstop does not become permanent.

If it did, it would mean, in terms of trade, the U.K. would be forever stuck in a permanent limbo within the E.U. customs union. It's still from a far deal with Parliament. Lawmakers are set to vote in the coming hours.

If they reject it, that will lead to a new vote on whether to pursue a no-deal Brexit. And if that vote fails, they will vote again on Thursday on whether to delay the March 29th Brexit deadline.

Here is Ms. May on Monday after those talks with E.U. officials in France. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Tomorrow the House of Commons will debate the improved deal that these legal changes have created. I will speak in more detail about them when I open that debate. MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop.

Today, we have secured legal changes. Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.

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VAUSE: CNN's European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas is with us now from Los Angeles.

And so it goes, Dominic.

OK. May (INAUDIBLE) short appearance (ph). It was all very somber like, kind of funeral like in a way, not much joy and not much detail as well, especially over how this arbitration would work.

Just to back up here and to explain this problem Theresa May is facing, 70 days from now a post Brexit world will see the only land border dividing the U.K. from the E.U. will also happen to be the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

But one of the pillars of the Good Friday peace deal, no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. So this is the problem. They need that border to enforce tariffs on goods and customs. So there has to be some kind of border by the E.U. And this is the problem, Bianca Nobilo explains it from here. Listen to this.

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BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Under the terms of the agreement, the whole of the U.K. would stay in the European customs territory during a transition period. This would run from Brexit Day until the end of 2020.

During that time, a new trade deal would be negotiated and people and goods could continue to cross the border as they do now. If a trade deal that avoids the need for a hard border hasn't been reached by the end of the transition period, the backstop would then kick in.

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VAUSE: OK, the backstop enters a single customs territory with the E.U. but under the previous terms, the U.K. could actually linger in that forever. Out of this, the E.U. still has this control over U.K. trade policy. So now with these legally binding commitments -- but if you look at the actual devil in the detail, there is not much here that is any different to what it was before.

(INAUDIBLE) under the new arrangements, if the U.K. wants to leave the backstop, the E.U.'s legal advice is to consider in six months and then after six months, you could just say no.

So where do we stand now with this and going before lawmakers?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, the whole thing is absolutely extraordinary. The whole of Brexit was about taking back control over money and the laws and the borders.

And yet in this particular case, they are trying to do everything they can to avoid a border with one particular part of the European Union.

Yes, she came back today -- well, she is on her way back from Strasbourg after her visit there with these three alterations that, in theory, pertain to the whole question of, you know, the backstop. So expediting the period of the transition so they can arrive at some sort of trade deal and making sure that it's temporary and engaging, you know, almost immediately in the process of discussing that post Brexit world and emphasizing the temporary nature of.

At the end of the day, it really was never ultimately completely about the backstop for the --

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THOMAS: -- far right ERG Brexiteers who want -- and what they don't like about Theresa May's deal is the ongoing risk of alignment, the obligations and so on.

So on the one hand, this deal hardly satisfies them. On the other, even if they do extricate themselves from the backstop, the basic fact remains that, in order to trade with the European Union without there being a border there, they are going to have to abide by E.U. regulations.

And there is going to have to be the kind of alignment put in place that the Brexiteers all along have been contesting.

VAUSE: Yes, so the focus now on the advice coming from the attorney general Geoffrey Cox, that's expected in the coming hours. The "Financial Times" reports for Theresa May is to succeed in Tuesday's vote, Mr. Cox would have to change his previous legal advice to MPs that the backstop could leave Britain trapped in the customs union.

Mr. Cox told Ms. May the draft agreement in Brussels will not allow him to change his mind. That was an agreement being discussed over the weekend; we just don't know the terms of this newly announced deal, how different it is. But regardless, it seems that Cox is unlikely to change his opinion.

THOMAS: Well, he is. And imagine the pressure that he is under to go about this because he will be the fall guy, right, if the deal doesn't go through. At this stage they were blaming the European Union first; now they're looking to potentially blame him.

He is in a situation now, unless he absolutely believes that there has been significant transformation here, which really doesn't seem that likely, that, suddenly at the 11th hour, Theresa May is able to bring something back that is so juridically binding and clear that he can see sign off on this, is taking an enormous fiscal (ph) calculation in making this particular decision that ultimately will shape the debate in Parliament tomorrow.

If he weighs in, in favor of this, her deal has a much greater chance of going through. Of course, if he doesn't, it will be game over, as it probably is anyway.

VAUSE: For the E.U. this seems to be about as far as they are willing to go, in terms of concessions they've made. It seems that Theresa May has done well getting this far.

Again, listen to Jean-Claude Juncker.

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JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: I hope and I trust that today's meaningful legal assurances will be meaningful enough for the meaningful (ph) vote tomorrow. Let's now bring this withdrawal to a good end (ph). We owe it to history.

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VAUSE: You know, for all the talk about legally binding mechanisms and unilateral statements and that kind of stuff, the voting in Parliament will ultimately come down to politics.

THOMAS: It will, it will come down to politics. And no matter what Juncker says, as far as the European Union is concerned, if the U.K. is going to leave, this is indeed the best deal. They will be much happier with this than to go into an extension period of discussions, which is a distraction for the European Union and introduces a greater risk of a no deal, which is of no interest to them.

The fact, is there is a mechanism in place, which is if Theresa May's deal, the withdrawal agreement with all these amendments does not make its way through Parliament, there will be a vote on a no deal and there will be subsequently a vote on whether or not to extend these discussions.

And the European Union will forced into those. Ultimately when it gets down to the debate tomorrow, Theresa May has a very thin majority in Parliament as it is supported by the DUP.

And unless she can win over the far right fringe of her party, which is the wing to which Juncker's comments are appealing, is to essentially say to them, if you don't support this deal tomorrow and compromise, the future remains highly uncertain for you. And there's an even greater likelihood that you might not even get a Brexit if this particular process goes along. It's the same argument Theresa May has been making all along.

VAUSE: That comment, this is as good as it's going to get and it may not even be a Brexit, it will be incredibly interesting (INAUDIBLE) Juncker (INAUDIBLE) essentially the warning that is coming from Brussels now. Dominic, a lot to get to with this story so we'll talk to you next

hour, there's a lot of other issues we need to get to. So we'll see you in about an hour from now.

THOMAS: Thank you.

VAUSE: Now to Ethiopia where crews have found both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder from Sunday's Ethiopian Airlines crash. It could help explain why the jet went down minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board.

It's the second deadly crash in less than five months involving Boeing's prize new plane, the 737 MAX 8. As a result, a growing number of airlines in countries, including China, Indonesia, India, South Korea and Mexico and Argentina are all grounding their MAX 8 fleets as a precaution.

Boeing stock dropped more than 13 percent at one point during trading on Monday before recouping some of those losses. The company says it's saddened by the loss of life and has a technical team in Ethiopia to help with the investigation.

Also announced (INAUDIBLE) that's been in the works since the Lion Air crash back in October but it says it's too early to know the cause of Sunday's crash.

CNN's Farai Sevenzo is in Nairobi, Kenya, that's where the flight was heading. He's joining us now.

Farai, how much do you -- read a tweet for you. (INAUDIBLE) passenger was on board that flight. Her name, Danielle Moore from Canada, 24 years old, among a small group of people who had been invited to a U.N. environment conference in Nairobi.

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VAUSE: "I'm so excited to share that I've been selected to attend and am currently en route to the U.N. Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. I can't wait to share what I'm learning along the way."

This is one story of so many stories that are heartbreaking.

What more to know, not just about the passengers but all those who didn't survive this.

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, the stories are starting to come out about who was on that fated two flights from Addis. We know, of course, there is a cross-section of the world's nations, 35 nationalities all. One, a police person; one Sudanese person, one Ugandan person.

We're getting to hear some very personal stories, including one man who was the father of eight. He was an official of Kenyan Football Association, including a medical engineer, who was traveling for work out here. Don't forget that third year law student of Georgetown. He originally came from Mombasa in Kenya and traveled to attend his fiancee's mother's funeral. So they're really -- all these stories of lives terribly cut short in the middle of life as we know it.

And, of course, were talking about the pilot (INAUDIBLE) Nigerian born scholar. He was a very (INAUDIBLE) university (INAUDIBLE) tell you about it, and a former CNN commentator. He won the Penguin (ph) prize for African writing in 2010.

So really the kind of people that were on this plane you can only describe as Africophiles (ph), people who love Africa, were here to do humanitarian work. And that environmental conference was happen in Nairobi, Kenya. There's a lot of these U.N. conferences. Kenya is a hub of U.N. activity.

And many of these stories, we will also hearing of a priest that died on the plane and many other stories as well as including a former Nigerian diplomat who worked for the foreign service.

So they were not backpackers on a jolly; they were real people dedicated to developing Africa. So as the day wears on, I'm sure we're going to hear many more of these stories.

VAUSE: All of them tragic and sad. Farai, thank you.

CNN safety analyst and former aviation safety inspector David Soucie joins us now from Denver, Colorado.

So, David, it's been a while. Nice to see you.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Hello, John.

VAUSE: I want to read the list of countries now and the airlines which have grounded the 737 Max 8. Obviously, we have Ethiopian Airlines, China; Garuda Indonesia, Indonesia's national carrier; Mexico has suspended operations for its six Max 8s, so do the Cayman Airways. They have just two of the planes.

South Africa's Comair has grounded its only Max 8. Airlines in India, South Korea and Argentina have also decided to -- and Singapore as well -- to park the Max 8. Here's CNN's Tom Foreman to explain why.

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TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're thinking as much about this other accident which happened off the coast of Indonesia last fall that was the Lion Air crash there, 189 people died in that accident, very similar, shortly after takeoff.

And at the time, even as the investigation began, the Federal Aviation Administration here issued a directive to pilots saying there is some software issue with this plane which can cause difficulty controlling the airplane, significant altitude loss and possible impact with terrain.

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VAUSE: For now the FAA says it's collecting data and it continues to issue continued airworthiness notifications which means the plane is safe to fly but action will be taken if new information comes to hand. Explain why one airline would ground the plane and others don't think it's necessary?

SOUCIE: You know, I really don't have a good explanation for that to be honest with you. This is something that I think needs to be done the aircraft do need to be grounded. The FAA is saying in their bulletins that we don't have any new information. Actually let me step back. They're saying that we haven't been given any information that would act -- that would that we could act on.

The challenge with that is why are they not looking for that information because I have been able to find that information. The ADSP is very clear it sends out information about what the angle of attack tack indicator does through flightradar24 which is a public site. I can get this information. I have a subscription to it and that helps. But within that I can see that the aircraft is running down the runway.

It shows erroneously that there's a 2,500-foot per minute climb, while the aircraft is still on the runway. That's impossible. So, what that's telling me is and there were three hits on that, it wasn't just a single erroneous thing. It was actually three hits on that showing that this had happened. That the information that was coming from the angle of attack indicator.

Now, this doesn't go through a computer or anything like that, it goes straight from the angle of attack indicator to the transmitter that transmits that information. So that the -- we've checked it, double- checked and triple-checked it --

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SOUCIE: -- we have that information.

SOUCIE: Why does the FAA, why does Boeing say that they don't have that information? That's the question for me?

VAUSE: And just put this in context of the Lion Air crash is this a similar situation that they've played out of the Indonesian Airline?

SOUCIE: Most definitely. We took the information from Lion Air, we laid it over the top of this. It's strikingly familiar or similar, it looks very much the same. You have her this erroneous movement of the angle of attack indicator. You have vertical speeds that are being reported incorrectly.

And so, but yet, you see the aircraft making a smooth acceleration. That you see the aircraft do its flight up and back down. There's a few movements. Now, the difference with this in the Lion Air is that Lion Air was fighting against it the whole time. In this aircraft, it appears to me as though, he did was able to turn off the MCAS that which is augmentation system for flight controls. But, if there's something different about that, there's no question about it.

But the fact is, those erroneous signals are what triggered this aircraft accident. There's no question in my mind about that.

VAUSE: David, just very quickly. I want -- I want you to -- I want you to take a look at some of the images that we're getting from the crash zone. You know, these photographs they show, inserting no big chunks of debris. Some sizable pieces but nothing -- you know, that's really essentially large.

In fact, quite the opposite of this. A lot of small debris scattered the area. So, what does it tell you about the crash and the impact? Also, it appears that -- you know, the area hasn't been closed off from the public. And is that a concern?

SOUCIE: Well, let's start with that. That's a great concern. If there's an information on site, now, we're relying a lot on the cockpit voice recorder. Relying a lot on the data recorder and what's going on with those boxes. And they record things, they record movements. What it doesn't tell us is was the angle of attack indicator itself faulty? Where there wiring issues? Where there's something else going on the airplane?

It -- many accidents that you -- that I've been to where you get there a little bit late and people have been there, there's actually pieces of airplane that have been taken and moved.

Now, through public outcry, you can say, "Hey, we need these pieces, bring them back." And surely enough on two different accidents, the Air -- a lot of the parts showed back up on site after we had done that. So, that's an effective way of getting things back on site. But that's a great -- a really difficult thing for these investigators because they may not have all the information they need.

But with regard to on site and I know this is terribly difficult for many people to hear about how this aircraft hit the ground and I don't want to be too insensitive about that. But this -- they're definitely was no chance of survival in this looking at the rate of descent, the acceleration versus the impact.

You know, you're talking about incredibly high rates of speed and then sudden decelerations that really the aircraft starts taking itself apart as that happens because the momentum has to go somewhere. The energy from that aircraft has to go somewhere and as it does, it propagates through the aircraft fuselage itself.

VAUSE: Yes, the head of the flight attendants association in the U.S., Lori Bassani, wrote to her member saying in part, "It is important for you to know that if you feel it is unsafe to work the 737 MAX, you will not be forced to fly it."

Is that a sort of fairly standard procedure in the industry? And if flight attendants have that option, do passengers?

SOUCIE: Well, certainly, the flight attendants do and yes, passengers have that option, but they're not going to necessarily get a refund on it because the fact that the airlines are still flying these aircraft, they believe that they are airworthy and in fact, they are airworthy.

I don't want to make that assumption that the aircraft are not airworthy. Now, there's a certain level of hazard and risk with every single flight that anybody steps on to. And that decision, that safety decision belongs with the person that steps through the door. It doesn't belong to the airlines, it doesn't belong to the FAA.

You have to understand your own acceptable level of risk. And you assume that --

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SOUCIE: -- every time you get on any airplane. So, there is a risk. I think with people have asked me would I fly on the airplane? And I think where I'm at on that is that I would fly on these aircraft, I've looked at the bulletin that came out.

I'm satisfied that the FAA and the aircraft certification of Boeing have taken five critical steps towards making sure that they're safe. They've looked at the maintenance procedures, they've looked at the operational procedures. They've looked at the way that the angle of attack indicator is tested. They've looked at all of these things, there's actually five steps to it so far that they've completed. And there's about five or six more that they're still going to go through. So, I'm pretty confident that this aircraft is safe for me.

Now, when it came to my granddaughter, my 5-year-old granddaughter, I am not going to take her anywhere very soon. Not on a MAX 8. I'm going to wait and see what comes out of this investigation before I do.

VAUSE: Wow. Interesting take there, David. I like -- you know, good advice, I guess. So, thank you for sure being with us.

SOUCIE: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: Still to come, Venezuela spending yet another day in the dark. Lawmakers are taking their own action to try and end the power blackout. But the U.S. and other countries may actually have to play a crucial role.

And after a break of more than 40 days, the White House press briefing returns. The focus was on what the press secretary would not say.

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VAUSE: Five long days without electricity for most of Venezuela is now taking its toll on the country already in the grips of a political crisis. This is sparking anger and reportedly sporadic looting across the country.

The embattled president, Nicolas Maduro, tweeted his pledge to try and find a solution to this electricity crisis. But meantime, the national assembly, the opposition if you like, took action declaring a state of emergency.

That means lawmakers can seek international help to end the blackout. The self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido, asked for the 30-day declaration which can been extended for another month.

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JUAN GUAIDO, INTERIM PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): I understand perfectly the desperation that all of us here today have and that's why today we are requesting that the chamber approve this state of national alarm decree for Venezuela.

An emergency, a tragedy, a catastrophe that Venezuela is going through today that wasn't a product of a mudslide or an earthquake, a tornado or tsunami. No, it was the product of corruption.

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VAUSE: Kevin Middlebrook is a professor of Latin American politics at University College London and he joins me now --

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VAUSE: -- from San Diego, California.

Professor, thanks for taking the time.

KEVIN MIDDLEBROOK, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: Good evening.

VAUSE: Guaido's declaration of a state of emergency, it sounds presidential and it's sounds like something that's actually being done.

But what's the reality here?

MIDDLEBROOK: Well, this is mainly, I think, a gesture of symbolic politics. He's trying to recover political momentum. His failure to push through humanitarian aid across the borders with Colombia and Brazil a couple weeks ago was a setback for him. So this is an effort to take advantage of a very dire situation for the country and try to regain momentum by promising that he's doing something, though his capacity to deliver aid, even under these circumstances, is, I think, limited.

VAUSE: We saw Nicolas Maduro, a president very much under siege, appear on national television Monday, telling the nation how it was slowly being restored but he also made it clear who he believes was responsible for the outage. This is what he said.

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NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): All the options against Venezuela are on the table and one of them is the electricity war, the cyber attack. Yes, it is one of the options and this is a cyber attack against Venezuela. This is high technology that only the United States has.

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VAUSE: OK, so could this extended power outage in a country which has already gone through so much, could this be the one event which tips the scale in favor of the self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido?

And what are the chances that the electricity plant was actually sabotaged?

MIDDLEBROOK: I think it is possible that it was sabotage; the U.S. probably does have or now has the intelligence and the capacity to do that. The U.S. has interrupted nuclear fuel processing in Iran and missile launches in North Korea, both of which have much better security protection systems than Venezuela does.

But had it been sabotage, the timing is, I think, a bit wrong. It would have been much more effective had it preceded Guaido's effort to force humanitarian aid across Venezuelan borders and had it been coordinated with Guaido anyway, he would have reacted much more quickly than he has done. He waited four days into the crisis before this step, the step of the national assembly.

So I think it is much more likely that this is infrastructure breakdown. There have been reports for a couple years about highly paid technicians deserting their positions in the state-owned oil companies. It's quite likely that something similar has occurred at this hydroelectric plant, making it very difficult to correct a mechanical breakdown.

VAUSE: On Monday, we also heard from Guaido, speaking out against Cuba, one of the big supporters of Nicolas Maduro; here's what a part of what he said.

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JUAN GUAIDO, INTERIM PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): We have requested and decreed that no more petroleum be sent to Cuba. They will not continue stealing Venezuela's money. Servants (ph) of the armed forces, you know the Cuban meddling in Venezuelan intelligence and counter intelligence.

We aren't going to continue to indirectly finance the participation of Cubans to suppress the armed forces. We are going to continue letting our people go hungry while they steal Venezuela's money.

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VAUSE: It could just be coincidence but I want you to listen to this sound bite from the U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Monday, also very critical of Cuba's relationship with Venezuela.

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MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including Venezuela's military and their families, than the Communists in Havana.

Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Are we seeing a coordination here?

And is there a wider shift suddenly to focus, at least for a time, on Cuba both by Guaido and Pompeo?

MIDDLEBROOK: There could be a (INAUDIBLE) of coordination between the two of them. For many conservatives within the Trump administration, behind the target here, behind Venezuela lies Cuba, has been Cuba and even socialism. Vice President Pence has talked, predicted the imminent end of socialism in the Western Hemisphere.

Why focus on Cuba now is not particularly clear; it's an effort to play up national resentment (ph) within the armed forces. Guaido's strategy still remains to try to peel back military support for the Maduro regime. That has not been successful so far and I doubt very much that attacking Cuba will really have much effect in that regard.

VAUSE: OK, Professor Middlebrook, thank you so much. It is always great to have you with us. Very much appreciate it.

MIDDLEBROOK: My pleasure.

VAUSE: And we have this last note, the U.S. State Department is pulling the rest of its staff from the embassy in Caracas. Here's the tweet from Secretary Pompeo.

"The U.S. will withdraw all remaining personnel from the embassy in Venezuela this week. This decision reflects a deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the president of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy."

Well, still to come here, after going missing for more than a month, the White House press briefing returned on Monday and President Trump's latest attack on Democrats was one line of questioning. The press secretary's response -- just ahead.

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[00:31:59] VAUSE: Welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for staying with us. I'm John Vause. Headlines this hour.

Call it new and improved Brexit, and the British Parliament is set to vote on in just a few hours. Theresa May wrapped up talks with E.U. officials on Monday and says they've agreed to include legally binding changes on the issue of the Irish backstop.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is calling on lawmakers to reject the deal.

A growing number of airlines are grounding their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after Sunday's deadly crash in Ethiopia. It's the same brand-new model of plane as the Lion Air crash back in October. There's no evidence, though, as of now, that the two incidences are linked. Boeing says it's upgrading the software for the entire Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet.

Venezuela's national assembly has approved a request from self- declared president Juan Guaido for a state of emergency. The decree will allow for international help to end widespread power outages now into the fifth day. Meantime, the U.S. says it's pulling all remaining personnel from its embassy in Caracas.

It has been 42 days, but did anybody notice? The White House finally held a news briefing on Monday. It fell on the same day President Trump submitted his budget proposal for 2020. But as CNN's Jim Acosta reports, that's not what most of the questions were about.

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JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Asked about one of President Trump's latest line of attacks, accusing Democrats of hating Jewish people, the White House doubled down, standing behind the incendiary comments.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's a question you ought to ask the Democrats.

ACOSTA: Over the weekend, Axios reported the president made that false claim in a private speech in Florida, essentially repeating what he said Friday.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've become an anti-Jewish party, and that's too bad.

ACOSTA: Press secretary Sarah Sanders, in her first briefing in more than 40 days, defended the president's remarks, pointing to anti- Semitic comments made by Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. But she tried to sidestep Mr. Trump's troubling rhetoric after the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville.

(on camera): Don't you think that just sort of drags down the rhetoric of the debate, when you're -- you're saying something that's just patently untrue? I mean, obviously --

SANDERS: Stating their policy positions is not patently untrue.

ACOSTA: But Democrats don't -- but Democrats don't hate Jewish people. It's just silly. It's not true.

SANDERS: I think they should call out the members by name, and we've made that clear. I don't have anything further -- April.

ACOSTA: But president -- President -- SANDERS: Sorry, Jim. April, go ahead.

ACOSTA: But the president, his rhetoric after Charlottesville saying that there are very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville, essentially suggesting that there are very fine people in the Nazis.

SANDERS: That's not at all what the president was saying. Not then, not at any point.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Sanders was also pressed on the Russia investigation, refusing to rule out a pardon for Paul Manafort.

SANDERS: The president has made his position on that clear, and he'll make a decision when he's ready.

ACOSTA: And again, accusing the president's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, of lying to Congress when he denied seeking a pardon from the president.

SANDERS: What I can tell you is that Cohen's own attorney stated and contradicted his client when he said that he was aware that those conversations had taken place. I think that it's time to stop giving him a platform, let him go on to serve his time.

ACOSTA: Sanders declined to comment on the checks signed by the president that Cohen says were used to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels.

[00:35:05] SANDERS: I'm not aware of those specific checks. The president has been clear that there wasn't a campaign violation. Beyond that, I can't get into it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the president also said he didn't know.

SANDERS: I would refer you back to the president's comments.

ACOSTA: The briefing was supposed to be about the president's newly- proposed budget that seeks more than $8 billion for a border wall. Gone is the promise that Mexico will pay for it.

SANDERS: As the president has stated a number of times, through the USMCA trade deal, that we look forward to getting passed soon. That will be part of how that takes place.

ACOSTA: The White House tried to blame Democrats for the mounting debt in the president's budget, with trillion-dollar deficits projected over the next decade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress has been ignoring the president spending reductions for the next two years

ACOSTA: That's despite the president's promise to eliminate the national debt.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know more about debt than practically anybody. I love debt. I also love reducing debt, and I know how to do it better than anybody.

ACOSTA: The president is still playing cleanup after he referred to Apple CEO Tim Cook as "Tim Apple."

TRUMP: You've really put a big investment in our country. We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.

ACOSTA: The president treated that he quickly referred to Tim plus apple as "Tim Apple" as an easy way to save time and words. Sanders didn't answer that question as she ended the briefing.

SANDERS: Thanks so much, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, why did the president deny saying something that was caught on tape?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Press secretary Sarah Sanders implied that the president has condemned Republican Congressman Steve King for his remarks praising white supremacy. But the president has never done that publicly.

Sanders said she was referring to her own comments about Congressman King, but that's not the same as a statement of condemnation coming directly from the president.

Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it clear she believes the U.S. president is unfit for office, even though she does not support forcing him out. Speaker Pelosi told "The Washington Post," "I'm not for impeachment. Impeachment is so divisive to the country that, unless there is something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he's just not worth it."

Pelosi's comments come on the heels of the House Judiciary Committee launching a sweeping investigation into Mr. Trump on allegations of corruption, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power.

On another note, CNN is partnering with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery. It happens March 14. In advance of My Freedom Day, we're asking what makes you feel free. Here's the British singer/songwriter Pixie Lott.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIXIE LOTT, SINGER/SONGWRITER: What makes feel free is being on the stage. It's always made me feel free, since I was a little baby, and the passion has never died down, so I don't think it ever will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Tell the world what makes you feel free. Share your story using the hashtag, #MyFreedomDay.

Here's your break. We'll be back in a moment. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Well, after facing weeks of protest, Algeria's ailing and aging president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, says he will seek a fifth term in office. He also announced a delay to the election, slated for April 18.

Even so, protests were replaced with celebrations on the streets on word the president would not seek another term.

Algeria's prime minister also resigned Monday, replaced by the interior minister, who's being tasked to form a new government.

First elected back back in 1999, the now 82-year-old president has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke six years ago.

To the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. His non-Jewish citizens are not really citizens. At least that's what he said. That divisive comment is stirring a lot of criticism, not just for its nature but also its timing, in the lead-up to an election.

Here's CNN's Melissa Bell. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's one of Israel's best-known faces, an actress who's now at the center of a political firestorm, only weeks before visit Israel goes to the polls.

It was in response to an interview of Benjamin Netanyahu's ultra-loyal culture minister on Saturday that Rotem Sella posted this question on Instagram: "When will anyone in this government tell the public that this is a country of all its citizens and that all people are born equal?"

Netanyahu replied directly to Sella's comment, at his weekly cabinet meeting.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Israel is a Jewish democratic state. This means it is the national state of the Jewish people alone. Of course it respects the individual rights of all its citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, but it is the national state, not of all citizens but only of the Jewish people.

BELL: The prime minister's words set the Internet alight. Even Wonder Woman weighed in. The Israeli actress Gal Gadot calling on Instagram for a dialogue for peace, for equality, for tolerance between one another.

The Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism, warned against the vilification of Israel's Arab minority population, saying, "This anti-Arab rhetoric is a deeply troubling trend."

(on camera): So what does Israel's Arab population, its Palestinian citizens, think of what the prime minister said?

(voice-over): They represent nearly 20 percent of Israel's population. We've come to a Lod (ph), a mixed town, to find out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I don't want to talk politics, but Bibi should give us the chance to live in peace and care (ph). We are living here like brothers and family. I love my Jewish neighbors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We really are like a family. And politicians had never succeeded in changing that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The most important thing is that we are clever enough to live peacefully with each other.

BELL: That message echoed by a leading Arab lawmaker.

AYMAN ODEH, ISRAELI LAWMAKER: Netanyahu is -- encourages incitement between one population and other, to stay in his chair. And we have to find a way to connect.

BELL: It's not the first time the prime minister's been criticized for the use of inflammatory language ahead of a vote. On election day four years ago, he warned that Arab voters were heading to the polls in droves, later apologizing but only after he'd won the election.

Once again, Netanyahu is accused of using highly-sensitive language as an election campaign appears headed down to the wire.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Lod.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. WORLD SPORT starts after the break.

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(WORLD SPORT)

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