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Tom Perez Is Now The Chair Of The Democratic National Committee; President Donald Trump Will Not Attend The White House Correspondents' Dinner; Head Of The House Intelligence Committee Was Asked By The White House To Reach Out To The Media In An Effort To Knock Down Stories About The Trump Campaign's Ties To Russia; Questions About President Trump's Ties To Russia; Protesters Storm Town Halls To Rage Against Gop Lawmakers. Aired 7:00-8:00p ET

Aired February 25, 2017 - 19:00   ET



[19:00:09] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington.

The Democratic Party used the Democratic process and elected a new leader this afternoon at its delegate gathering in Atlanta. Tom Perez, the former U.S. labor secretary was chosen today to guide the Democratic Party through what he calls an all-out battle to deny Donald Trump a second term as President.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Atlanta.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, it was certainly a dramatic afternoon here in Atlanta, as Democrats picked their next chairman. And it will be the former labor secretary, Tom Perez. But it wasn't easy. Perez fell one vote short on the first ballot, before capturing the nomination on the second ballot. But he understood that this is a fractured party. And that he needed to welcome in those progressives that didn't necessarily support him. That's why he brought up the man who came in second, Minnesota congressman, Keith Ellison, and made him his deputy chairman. Take a look at that moment.


TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I would like to begin by making a motion. It's a motion that I have discussed with a good friend and his name is Keith Ellison. And the motion I would like to make to the body is a motion suspending the rules, if I may, to appoint Keith Ellison deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee.


PEREZ: Now, I'm not -- I'm not -- I'm not sure -


PEREZ: Tell me the phrase I'm supposed to utter. That was fine? OK. I'm not sure -- did I hear a second? All for? Opposed? Wait a minute. Wait a minute! The silence -- the silence is deafening! The motion passes. Congressman.


NOBLES: Perez and Ellison have a big job in front of them now. Not only do Democrats not own the White House or either the Senate or the house in Washington, they also have a serious deficiency with state legislators across the country. And they own far fewer governorships. Perez promised to get the democratic house back in order, unify the party, and become a true check on Donald Trump - Brianna.

KEILAR: Ryan Nobles, thank you for that report.

Now, Tom Perez, the new head of the Democratic National Committee is promising this all-out battle against the presidency of Donald Trump. And the first shots between the two men have already been fired.

This from the President, shortly after Perez was elected, tweeting, congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him or for the Republican Party.

And an answer from Tom Perez, call me Tom and don't get too happy. Keith Ellison and I and Democrats united across the country will be your worst nightmare.

Let me have David Drucker in here. He is a CNN political analyst and congressional correspondent for the "Washington Examiner."

OK. So Tom Perez is promising -- and he mentions his deputy, that is very much on purpose, Keith Ellison, saying that he is going to be Donald Trump's worst nightmare. What do you think the chances of that, of -- especially as the party's really kind of right to reestablish its relevance?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Yes, look. I think that what Tom Perez wants to accomplish and if Keith Ellison can help him do this, then it will be very beneficial, is he really needs to rebuild the party's infrastructure, because it's a depleted party. And it's not just that they don't have statehouses. I mean, they lost nearly a thousand state legislative seats under President Barack Obama. They are now down to about 12 or 13 governorships, when they were at one point up at 28 or so. And obviously, in the house and Senate, they are at a huge disadvantage.

And what he needs to do is raise money and then build the kind of infrastructure that can allow them to try and recruit candidates, locally, and all the way on up through Congress, and try to win back some of these seats.

Now, obviously, Brianna, you know this, that there are the congressional campaign committees that will take care of the house and Senate. But looking ahead to 2020, in trying to get a handle on the redistricting effort that's going to come up at the end of the decade, they need to start winning locally again. And that's where they really have their work cut out for them. [19:05:02] KEILAR: Yes. And he even mentioned -- he mentioned that


So, I also thought, I don't know if you noticed this, but when Tom Perez and Keith Ellison came out for the press conference, they had switched pins. Keith Ellison was wearing a team Tom pin and the reverse for Tom Perez.

Do you think that -- what does this really come down to, do you think, in terms of, yes, fund-raising. You talked about that. That's obviously so key. But part of this in addition to just winning the statehouses is cultivating that talent, right? I mean, when you think about President Obama as someone who was able to really succeed, this is someone who had served in the statehouse. So when you're talking about all of these seats that have gone by the wayside. I mean, essentially, they're -- they had fields that they were growing no crops in for all these years.

DRUCKER: Yes, it's one of the reasons why the bench is so depleted. We look around for candidates that can challenge Republicans in some of these key Senate races. We look ahead to 2020 and wonder who's going to run for President for the Democrats and we are not sure because the bench is so depleted.

I think one of the things with Ellison and Perez is whether or not they can unify the party. I mean, there is still a lot of divisions on the left coming out of the 2016 race where a lot of the progressives attracted to Bernie Sanders are still angry at the Democratic establishment because they think they didn't play fair and they rigged the game.

It was interesting to be in the room today, when the vote was announced and Perez was declared the winner. There was booing and shouting from a group in the back of the room, from a bunch of Keith Ellison supporters. And then the minute that Perez announced him as a deputy chairman, a cheer went up. The look on their faces totally changed, and this really mattered to them. And so, they now want to see if Perez is serious about including Ellison.

But I think what that tells all of us is that there are still some deep divisions. And the extent to which they can heal that, they will then able to take a lot of this energy on the left that has risen up in opposition to President Trump and try to do something with that in 2018.

KEILAR: Do you think -- you said, it's a matter if he listens to Keith Ellison, who was backed by Bernie Sanders. And Bernie Sanders put out a statement, in part, saying it is imperative Tom understands that the same-old, same-old isn't working and that we must bring in young people in a new way.

What is the tension when you're talking about these two sides of the party? Why is this so difficult to unify?

DRUCKER: You know, it's really similar in many ways to what the Republicans -- excuse me, what the Republicans -- excuse me. KEILAR: That's OK. Go ahead. No, I'm dealing with this. I just

think we have the same cold, probably. Go ahead.

DRUCKER: It's this change in weather. It's not supposed to be this warm in February.

Look. It's a lot of what the Republicans went through where you have a lot of grassroots Republicans that were angry at the party establishment, because they felt like the establishment wasn't listening to them. That they thought the establishment was catering too much to its donors and not enough to the grassroots and the issues that people cared about.

And so I think what we're seeing is now the same thing, but on the left. And you are also seeing, and this is in response to Trump, and I talked to a couple of voters today, they want to see Trump fought at every level. Big fights, little fights, they don't care. But they want to see a party that appears to be interested in catering to the issues they care about and to them and not to people in D.C. and New York. That's just the view they have. And it's because, in some ways, right now, there isn't a unified figure like a President Obama, as there was for eight years, to kind of keep these divisions under wraps. He was a cohesive, unifying figure on the left. He's gone, and this is what they are dealing with.

KEILAR: David Drucker, thank you so much, joining us from Atlanta with great insight there.

And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

President Trump not afraid to break with tradition. We know that, or to escalate tensions with the media. Well, now he has found a way to possibly do both, by skipping the annual White House correspondents' dinner, something we have not seen in decades.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My understanding is that the last time a President did not attend the correspondents' dinner was President Reagan in the early 1980s, after he was shot.



[19:12:10] KEILAR: Tonight, reporters reacting to the news that President Donald Trump will not be attending its annual dinner. This is an event that dates all the way back to 1920. The President of the association, Jeff Mason saying in part quote "the White House correspondents association takes note of President Donald Trump's announcement on Twitter that he does not plan to attend the dinner which has been and will continue to be a celebration of the first amendment. We look forward to shining a spotlight at the dinner of some of the best political journalism of the year and recognizing the promising students who represent the next generation of our profession." I talked to Jeff Mason shortly after Mr. Trump's announcement. Here's

part of our conversation.


KEILAR: When's the last time this happened, that the President decided not to come?

JEFF MASON, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION: My understanding is that the last time a President did not attend the correspondents' dinner was President Reagan in the early 1980s after he was shot.

KEILAR: OK, that's obviously a very different situation. So, this is - you are highlighting that this is about scholarships and it certainly is, but it has become this sort of huge spectacle to the point where people look forward to watching C-span for this. You know this. It's this Hollywood collides with Washington kind of circus. And then it also has this element of the President and members of the government come, members of the media, who hold them accountable come, and for one night, they sort of, in a way that has decorum they acknowledge the -- what is essential about that relationship.

So, since you don't have that, what is this signal that the White House, that the President doesn't want to have that acknowledgement.

MASON: Well, honestly, I will have to have the White House and the President speak for themselves on what signal they want to send with that. 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.

KEILAR: I know you insist the dinner is not going to be canceled.


KEILAR: It's still going to have a large attendance. But do you see it as being a different event than it has been in past years?

MASON: You know what? It was already going to be a different event. And we haven't had a whole lot of details about that yet. Obviously, the fact that the President has decided not to come there impact the dinner. It will impact who sits up on the dais with the rest of the board.

But, no, I am not beginning to cancel the dinner. We are going to uphold our mission and we do that and celebrate that at that dinner. But what exact changes we are going to make whether or not the President comes, we're still working on.


[19:15:23] KEILAR: Coming up, White House officials say they did nothing wrong by sending a top intelligence official to try to tamp down media stories linking Russia to the Presidential campaign and Donald Trump and his aides.

This is something they original I will wanted the FBI to do. Why the bureau said "no." that is next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:19:25] KEILAR: CNN can now confirm that the head of the house intelligence committee was asked by the White House to reach out to the media in an effort to knock down stories about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. This is news that follows exclusive CNN reporting that the White House asked the FBI to do the very same thing, but the FBI declined.

CNN's Athena Jones is joining me now from the White House north lawn.

And the White House, Athena, they are very clear about this. They feel like they did nothing wrong. They say that there was nothing inappropriate with these inquiries.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna, that's right. The White House insisting that this was not inappropriate for the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to talk to the FBI, to ask the FBI to knock down these reports about contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials during the campaign. And they maintain that it was the FBI who started that conversation in the first place.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying, we didn't try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth. Of course, the FBI declined. And now we are learning, as you mentioned, that the White House then asked -- we already knew they asked other agencies, but they also asked folks on Capitol Hill, including house intelligence committee chairman, Devon Nunez.

Here is the statement from Nunez. He did end up, you know, talking to reporters about this story. Here is the statement from the communications director of the house intelligence committee.

He says, Chairman Nunez did nothing inappropriate. He made inquiries into the allegations published by "The New York Times" and couldn't find evidence to support them. So he told that to multiple reporters and then a White House aide asked if he would speak to one more, so he spoke to that reporter, as well, telling that person the same thing he told other reporters.

So there you have, chairman Nunez does not feel what he did was inappropriate, either. Of course, you have critics who disagree. People like Senator Mark Warner, the Democrat, the vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, who says that he has brought his concerns to the head of the CIA and to the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee. He is concerned about what all this means for the independents of the investigation being run by the CIA and by the intelligence -- by the Senate intelligence committee. So, there are concerns on the democratic side.

We are also hearing concerns on the Republican side from representative Darryl Issa, who in an interview last night on "Realtime with Bill Maher" said that, yes, the house and Senate intelligence committees need to investigate this matter, but then more might be necessary. Take a listen to what he said.


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


JONES: So very interesting to hear a Republican suggesting that a special prosecutor of an independent review, separate from the house and Senate intelligence committees may be necessary - Brianna.

KEILAR: The former chairman of the house oversight committee, as well, of note.

Athena Jones at the White House, thank you so much.

JONES: Thanks.

KEILAR: Still to come, the new odd couple, Donald Trump and CPAC. Once shunned by this conservative group, the new President turns the tide in his favor. But can this relationship last?

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:25:55] KEILAR: The influential Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, just wrapped up its annual meeting and this time around, it was a gathering like we have never seen before. Donald Trump, once a pariah to conservatives, is now a star attraction.

CNN's Tom Foreman looks at the complicated relationship between the new President and the conservative establishment.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You finally have a President, finally! Took you a long time. TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For all the cheering at

CPAC, Donald Trump is hardly the champion many conservatives expected. In much of the nomination process, his support among them was extremely low. He is a former democrat, married three times, the voice behind those vulgar comments about women.

TRUMP: Grab them by the (bleep)! You can do anything.

FOREMAN: He struggles to explain his faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever asked god for forgiveness?

TRUMP: That's a tough question.

FOREMAN: He has slammed Republican Party cornerstones, such as broad free trade deals and on abortion rights, here's Donald Trump in 1999.

TRUMP: I'm very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still, I just believe in choice.

FOREMAN: That changed over the years and after the election, he made sure his position was very clear.

TRUMP: I'm pro-life. The judges will be pro-life.

FOREMAN: So aside from that last answer, what do conservatives like about him? Listen to the applause lines at CPAC.

TRUMP: It's time for all Americans to get off of welfare and get back to work. You are going to love it!

We are going to repeal and replace Obamacare. We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country. I'm not representing the globe. I'm representing your country.

FOREMAN: Those stances have drawn traditional party Republicans, like White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, much closer to more radical social conservatives like White House adviser, Steve Bannon.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: And I have got to tell you, if the party and the conservative movement are together, similar to Steve and I, it can't be stopped.

FOREMAN: Conservatives may yet find their faith tested, if President Trump strays too far from their orthodoxy. And he may find the party supports softening if his approval rating continues to fall in the polls. But for right now, as they say, everyone loves a winner, and conservatives believe they are winning big.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


KEILAR: Thanks, Tom. Democrats have picked their new leader. Tom Perez is now the chair of

the Democratic National Committee. The GOP's leader, meantime, is in the White House. The country's 45th President, Donald Trump, once the nemesis of the Republican establishment, as we were just discussing, Trump is now carrying the GOP banner. Yet in the 2016 election, left the Republican Party with deep divides and power struggles.

I want to talk all of this over with Ben Ferguson. He is a Republican who hosts "the Ben Ferguson" radio show. And we also have Anushay Housain, an American Muslim journalist.

As you know, Ben, Donald Trump ran on a platform that was very different from most traditional Republicans. And even now you have Republicans who are recalcitrant about the things that he stands for. He talked about free trade and being opposed it at CPAC, and --


KEILAR: You know, what was your reaction watching this address, for a guy who canceled last year?

FERGUSON: Yes, I think it was very interesting to see how the crowd responded to him, because he wasn't talking so much in a policy wonk description. And many Republicans have done that in the past.

He really put it down in layman's terms, that you elected me to put America first and to get America back on solid footing with other countries, where they have had an advantage with us on trade. And when you talk about it in that way, the room loved it. It's the same exact reason he was able to win the election and beat out all the other Republicans, because he was very plainspoken about his policies.

And the other thing he said was, this is exactly -- what I'm doing now is what I said I was going to do during the campaign. I don't understand why so many people are shocked by it. So I don't see there honestly being some big divide right now in the Republican Party. There may be a divide by old-school Republican leadership in Washington. I do think that's pretty clear. But guess what? They lost, he won, and now he is the President and they have got to work with him.

[19:30:36] KEILAR: Yes. And Anushay, I mean, as you listened to this address that he gave and you saw this reaction to him, what was your impression?

ANUSHAY HOUSAIN, MUSLIM-AMERICAN JOURNALIST: I was thinking, am I back in 2016? Are we still in campaign season?

Donald Trump thrives when he is around his supporters. And this was like another victory lap for him at CPAC. I think what we need to do with Trump is, you know, he doesn't want any hard questions about what's going on with Russia. He doesn't want any hard questions about the fact that his unconstitutional travel ban, aka, Muslim ban, has been halted by the courts. And he doesn't want to talk about anything that's negative. Donald Trump thrives in this kind of environment. It was another

victory lap. And quite frankly, the GOP doesn't care if he's a real Republican or not. They have the house, they have the Senate. They have the courts. This is about power.

FERGUSON: Well, let's clear, though. If you look at what he actually talked about at CPAC, the majority of the people there say that's exactly what the Republican Party should have been talking more about. So to imply that -- no offense, but you're a Democrat. To imply what you know what a real Republican is or isn't is kind of laughable --

HOUSAIN: Or a real Republican is Donald Trump? A real Republican is Donald Trump?

FERGUSON: There are many people just like me who understand a lot of the things that he's talking about. That's exactly why he won --

HOUSAIN: Like shutting out the press? Donald Trump is now a real Republican, sir? Is that what you are saying?

FERGUSON: What I said, and if you actually listen to what Republicans are saying instead of trying to imply that you know what we think, this is why Hillary Clinton lost, by the way. This is exactly why she lost, is you don't listen to the American people. There are a lot of Republicans that said, I want someone that actually starts to put American first on these issues, and fights for what we want in this country, first. Instead of trying to look at this whole Kumbaya situation with the world that has not paid off well for us --

KEILAR: A Kumbaya situation? Your President is a liar. He is shutting the press out. He doesn't want any tough questions. Are you disagreeing that this was a victory lap and are you saying that Donald Trump is the poster man for a real Republican?

FERGUSON: By the way, just so you know. When you win, it's OK to talk to the people who got you there. And what he said when he got on stage is one thank you --

HOUSAIN: No one's disagreeing with that, Ben. It's not about him addressing the crowd at CPAC.

KEILAR: Well, Anushay, may I jump in on this, though? He clearly was speaking -- and I think this is very clearly a double-end sword. And Ben, I will address this with you in a moment.

But he was speaking to the people who put him in the White House. And what I found interesting today is so was Tom Perez, in a way, because he was emphasizing after becoming the chairman of the party, I'm going to listen to you. And granted, he was saying this sort of, I think, to the liberals, but he was also saying this to people in the so- called rust belt, who were disenchanted with the Democratic Party. Who didn't feel like the Democratic Party was speaking to them.

HOUSAIN: Of course!

KEILAR: Is this -- is that sort of a lesson that maybe Democrats are picking up from Donald Trump?

HOUSAIN: I don't think so. I mean, you are talking about two extremely partisan events. I mean, Donald Trump was talking to his supporters, of course. I mean, at CPAC. It's the Conservative Political Action Committee. It's the largest conservative event of the year. And then -- one of them. And then you have Perez, obviously, speaking to our base. I mean, we are electing -- we elected the head of our party -- the head of the chair today. So I think that they're both extremely partisan events. I don't think anyone is taking notes from the other on how more to be.

FERGUSON: Brianna --

HOUSAIN: I think one thing we should definitely, definitely take from the GOP is that now we have elected a leader, we need to get behind that leader 100 percent. A lot of people were expecting it was going to be Ellison, it is Perez. We support --

KEILAR: And Ellison is the deputy. That was about, I think, the third -- that was like the third sentence that Tom Perez said up there from the podium, was, by motion, to make him his number two.

Ben, I want to ask you about this. Because you said it's not unusual -- and of course, I mean, Donald Trump is, of course, going to talk to his supporters at CPAC. I don't think we expect anything differently. He's going to speak to Republicans.

But we ended up hearing the "lock her up" chant and I wonder. At some point, doesn't he have to, if -- OK, fast forward to 2020. If he is up against a candidate that just even engenders even a little more enthusiasm than Hillary Clinton did, that was a big struggle for her, as we all know, doesn't he need to branch out? Doesn't he - he has already won over these people! I mean, how is he going to, against any other candidate, get past that low 40s and -- I mean, he can't just stay there and think he's going to win, right?

[19:35:42] FERGUSON: Well, no. And I think that's one of the reasons why you see that he is so focused on actually paying off, what you talked about in the speech, on his campaign promises.

Donald Trump does not want to be a four-year President. He wants to definitely win. He is not a guy that goes down losing well and takes it well. But I also think he understands that right now, the Democratic Party really has lost their identity when it comes to one core issue. Honesty and integrity and trustworthiness.

Look at Donna Brazile today handing off that gavel. What she did and passing questions to Hillary Clinton. The fact that he had to immediately bring someone else up on stage who was his opponent tells you how much, at least, he understood individually, that the Democratic Party, by many progressives, cannot be trusted because of what they did to Bernie Sanders. It was rigged against him in the primary. And --

KEILAR: Ben, in fairness, the Q poll showed that a lot of people don't trust Donald Trump. And also, the areas where he was performing better in terms of that have actually dipped.

FERGUSON: Well, but you also have to understand, there is a couple different things that the Democrats, I think, have done well. They have gotten out there and have been able to push a false narrative that, for example, the Republicans were going to cancel Obamacare, there was going to be a lapse in coverage, and you might not be able to have new coverage for months on end, which was never the case and was a lie. But it was a really good lie and that worked well. That's why you see the ratings for people approving Obamacare right now is almost at an all-time high since it was passed.

Why? Because people were terrified there was going to be a lapse on coverage, even though that was never on the table. So again, his 30 days end now. I think he has more than enough time to have these approval numbers come back up. And I think once these things start panning out. And also, he is still -- Democrats are blocking some of the cabinet positions. Look how long he has had to wait just on these basic things because of partisanship, which is pretty absurd.

HOUSAIN: Ben, he hasn't waited that long. You know, there are a number of other --

FERGUSON: More than Bush, more than Reagan, more than Clinton.

KEILAR: Yes, but -- well, no -- Bush, that was a weird one. I mean, he had them in right away. But it's not a record by any stretch. And I will say that it also took him longer to appoint -- I'm just saying, we have looked at that, that's debunked.

But Anushay, I want to give the last word to Anushay.

HOUSAIN: Ben, I know the concept of facts is something very difficult for the GOP to get their heads around. But this is the president -- you hit the nail on the head. He needs to expand his base. He needs to expand his supporters. Not keep reinforcing and talking to the same group of people. And also, at the same time, this is a President that has so many questions surrounding his election and his administration that he has shut out the press.

This is America! I think if there's anybody lying or something to hide here, it's not Hillary. Can we stop talking about her? She lost. It's over.

KEILAR: Yes, I'm going to have to leave it there.

Anushay, thank you so much. Ben, thank you so much, to you, as well.

HOUSAIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Republicans under fire. Protesters storm town halls to rage against GOP lawmakers on everything from President Trump's tax returns to Obamacare. Now one congressman says scenes like this quote "diminish democracy." Details, ahead.



[19:42:40] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband, (INAUDIBLE) among multiple other things, and you want to stand there with him at home and expect us to be calm, cool, and collected. Well, what kind of insurance do you have?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am troubled to hear the President of our country say complete falsehoods and I would like to know what you plan to do and how you will mobilize the other Republicans to push back against this man when he makes delusional statements.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that when the President misstates, as for example -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you support a bipartisan investigation of the Trump administration's dealing with Vladimir Putin and Russia?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure that an investigation, which would take up an awful lot of bandwidth in the Congress is


KEILAR: Those scenes that you just watched, that is what Republicans have been facing at town halls across the country alienate days, even in the most conservative pockets.

The White House claims the protesters are quote "professionals, organized by the left." Even some Republicans say the angry and pointed questions aren't coming from their voters.

CNN's Sara Ganim is following these town halls that are being held this weekend. And it's my understanding that there have been similar scenes of anger.

What can you tell us about that, Sara?


As we have seen, there has been a wave of anger at town halls across the country in the last week, making for some pretty contentious moments. Just this morning, Republican congressman Gary Palmer was booed in his home district in Alabama following a question on climate change.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you doing this? Why are you not getting --?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the science is not (INAUDIBLE).


GANIM: And it's moments like these that are making some lawmakers reconsider holding town halls at all. New York congressman Peter King said on Friday that he won't hold town

hall ifs they will just devolve into a quote "screaming session," saying that angry town halls trivialize and diminish democracy.

But it's not just Republicans who are backing off these traditional meetings with constituents. Some Democrats, particularly those in states that went for Trump in 2016, in vulnerable positions and up for re-election in 2018 are also shying away from town halls to avoid a potentially contentious situation.

And there's another reason that some Democrats might want to hold off on a town hall right now. I talked to one political strategist about why.


LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: I think they are avoiding stepping on the anti-Republican story. Because it is the Republican town halls that have become very controversial and it's video clips from those town halls that have made it on to the national news, night after night. So, if a democrat has a town hall and it turns messy, that steps on the story. That makes it a bipartisan story. Probably less interesting or less potent, politically.


GANIM: Now, to be fair, many are holding events, just not the traditional town hall events. For example, Senator John Tester in Montana opted for a Facebook live, which is a little bit more of a controlled environment. Democratic strategists are telling me that traditional town halls are simply too risky right now. They see no upside in putting themselves in a position where an exchange with an angry protester could end up going viral - Brianna.

KEILAR: Sara Ganim, thank you so much for that.

And coming up, as both the Senate and house investigate the links between Russia and President Trump, he just made a statement that alarmed many at the Kremlin. And it has nothing to do with hacking. The other side of the story on the other side of the break.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:50:31] KEILAR: Well, for all the questions about President Trump's ties to Russia, one thing that he has said has definitely put Russian lawmakers on edge according to Reuters and it is about nuclear weapons.


TRUMP: It would be a dream that no country would have nukes. But if countries are going to have nukes, we are going to be at the top of the pack. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Joining me now is the author of "Nuclear Nightmares: securing the world before it is too late," Joseph Cirincione. He is the President of the Ploughshares Fund. It is a global foundation committed to reducing nuclear weapons worldwide.

So Joseph, you hear this, and what is your reaction to Donald Trump saying this?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, NUCLEAR ARM EXPERT: Well, many Americans have questions about the President's temperament, even his mental stability, and no where are these concerning when it comes to the issue of nuclear weapons. And it includes concerns in other countries as well.

The President has unique authorities under nuclear weapons. Only he can authorize the launch of a nuclear weapon. And once he gives the order, no one can stop him. So when he makes statements like this, it raises real concerns about whether he understands the power that he has. The number of weapons that we have. He seems to want to disregard a treaty that we have with Russia that limits each country's weapons to equal amounts.

When the Russians hear that he wants to be top of the pack, whatever that means, they think he might want to start a new arms race. The Russians are perfectly willing to race. We just finished a cold war where we were characterized by the fear intentions of a nuclear arms race. The Russians are perfectly roll into race. We just finished the cold war where we would characterized by the fear and tensions of nuclear arms raised. He doesn't seem to understand that the entire U.S. military leadership embraces this treaty. They like the inspections. The predictability, the limits that he gives.

Robert Gates was our secretary of defense when the Senate considered this treaty. He said it was vital to our national security.


KEILAR: But do you think he could choose to renegotiate the new start treaty?

CIRINCIONE: He could choose to supplement it. In fact, it is fairly easy, (INAUDIBLE). We understand in the phone call with Vladimir Putin that he had. Vladimir Putin even suggested extending the treaty keeping it going. The two sides could agree to lower the limits, bring it down to by one-third the nuclear weapons they have.

If you did that, that would greatly ease foreign concerns and American concerns. That would bring greater stability. And remember, when we talk about limits, that's a relative term. Both countries still would have enough weapons to destroy the planet several times over.

KEILAR: Well, and so to that point, because he said that, to Reuters, that the U.S. is falling behind on nuclear weapons capacity. What is he referring to? CIRINCIONE: Yes. That's what has people puzzled. There is not a

general in this country that would trade our nuclear capacity for that of another country. It's only the U.S. and Russia that have weapons that we number in the thousands. The other seven country that is have nuclear weapons over have a few dozen.

KEILAR: The U.S. has 6800, is that right? Russia has about 7,000?

CIRINCIONE: If you look at the total arsenals we both have, about 7,000. Day to day it goes up and down, year to year, one might have 100 more, but at those levels, a few hundred don't matter. You still have more than enough weapons.

KEILAR: So you have no idea what he is talking about when he says the U.S. is falling behind on nuclear weapons capacity.

CIRINCIONE: He seems to be listening to some far right advisers like those of the heritage foundation or John Bolton who he has considered for a senior position who argue that we should pull out of these treaties. That we would be better off with the arms race who argue that we need to spend even more money for a new generation for nuclear weapons. We are on the hook for spending $400 billion on nuclear weapons over the next ten years. But some people want more. That appears to be the people that the President is listening to, not the military leadership of this country.

KEILAR: This is at the very heart what plow shares are against. Obviously, you bring a perspective to this. But what is your fear if he is to make good on this, what do you think could happen?

CIRINCIONE: My fear is that he will squander this opportunity. Republican Presidents have been the ones who have cut weapons the most. Ronald Reagan, H.W. Bush, W. Bush, all of them have cut the U.S. arsenal in half. Why? Because they have the confidence of the Republican Party and the Democrats will back them. When a Democrat proposes the same thing, Republicans attack them for being weak on defense. So Donald Trump has an opportunity here, an opportunity to reduce nuclear dangers, to stabilize it.

My fear is that he'll get carried away with this kind of nuclear brigsmanship and think he can gain advantage by racing. That increases the risk of the unauthorized and accidental and unintended nuclear launch or some miscalculation with Russia, with China, with North Korea that could lead to a nuclear exchange.

[19:55:38] KEILAR: Joseph Cirincione, with Ploughshares, thank you so much for coming on.

And coming up, the breaking news, Tom Perez elected is elected the new chairman of the DNC has been elected. Can he bridge the divide between the establishment and the more progressive wing of the party? We will have a live report.


[19:59:36] KEILAR: Top of the hour. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Brianna Kielar in Washington.

And we are following several major news stories right now involving the Donald Trump White House. One of them has to do with his calendar. And specifically where he will not be the evening on April 29th. That's the date of this year's White House correspondents' dinner. It's traditionally attended by the President. This year Trump's rsvp is in and it is a no. He is not going. We will look at why.

Also, the Democratic Party now has a brand new chairman. And the new leader of the part is already in a twitter war with the president tonight.

But first, CNN can now confirm with the head of the house intelligence committee -