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New Poll Shows Majority Disapprove of President Trump; Lawmakers Say Attorney General Should Recuse Himself on Russia Probe; New Security Adviser Differs With Trump On "Radical" Islam; Bridging The Gap: Perez Appoints Ellison As Deputy; Perez To Trump: Dems "Will Be Your Worst Nightmare"; Secret Network Preparing To Hide Undocumented Families. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired February 26, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, thanks for being with us.

All right. President Trump facing another high stakes week. The president's agenda includes a prime-time speech to congress and a revised executive order on immigration. But first, he will renew his focus on replacing ObamaCare.

The president set to meet Monday with a group of governors at the White House where worries about replacing the Affordable Care Act is expected to dominate the discussion. CNN's Athena Jones joining me now from the White House. So Athena, are the governors expecting specifics from the president on the idea of replacing ObamaCare?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. It's not clear how specific that conversation is going to be, at least when if comes from the White House side of things. We know there have already been a few meetings, governors met for instance.

A group of governors met with the Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, just yesterday to talk about a lot of their concerns around medicaid and how to handle the states that did choose to expand medicaid under ObamaCare and the states that didn't. And the governors who spoke after that meeting said that Tom Price, the Health and Human Services secretary, didn't have much to say in terms of specifics.

Governor Kasich of Ohio, John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, met with the president on Friday to talk about some of these same issues and said that the president himself was in more of a listening mode.

But, Fred, this is both a huge priority and a huge challenge for this administration. The president ran on repeatedly promising to repeal and replace ObamaCare. The problem is there isn't a lot of agreement even within the Republican party about what exactly to do, what exactly to replace it with. One of the president's deputy press secretary has talked about this on ABC. Let's go ahead and play what she had to say and talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I know that the goal is that we make sure that people don't lose their coverage and that we have to put a high priority on the people that need it most. We have to lower costs. And we have to make sure that the people that need insurance the very most are covered.

But at the same time, George, we cannot survive under the current system. We have to make massive overhaul to the health care system in America because it's simply just not sustainable and everybody agrees with that. There's nobody that argues that we're on a track that we can maintain. So we're looking at every possible way to do exactly that, repeal a terrible, failed system and replace it with something better.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, CNN HOST: Again, I will just have to ask this one more time, you keep saying replace it with something better. So will the president guarantee that he will not sign a plan that will cause people who have coverage now to lose it?

SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to speak specifically for the president on that topic. But what I can say is he's made it a high priority and a number-one focus that we make sure that people that have insurance continue their insurance, particularly those in the highest need.


JONES: And so you see that George Stephanopoulos had a hard time pinning down Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president's deputy press secretary, on that promise to cover everyone. This is something that the president has said. He will have a terrific new plan to replace ObamaCare that will cover everyone and cost less.

And the real question is how are they going to get to that point? We heard from the former House Speaker John Boehner saying last week that essentially he never should have sold this idea of repealing and replacing ObamaCare because that's not what's going to happen. What's going to end up happening is that they make some fixes to the law, improve the law but not repeal and replace it. And that's simply because there isn't agreement on how to go about it. Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. And Athena, then there's this. I understand the president is also getting some rather mixed reviews on a new poll.

JONES: That's right. A new poll out. I believe we can put those numbers up on the screen. How the president is do -- his approval rating standing in this new NBC news/"Wall Street Journal" Poll, just 44 percent approved of the job he is doing, 48 percent disapprove. So his numbers are underwater on that poll.

Let's go to the next bit of news from that poll about the news media. The question was, does the news media exaggerate problems? This is interesting. 53 percent in the poll agreed, 45 percent disagreed.

And so, I guess you could maybe read that as a little bit of good news. The president might see that as a little bit of good news. He is constantly criticizing the media and those numbers would suggest that there may be some agreement among the public that the media gets things -- or makes a big deal out of things that they shouldn't.

but overall, those approval numbers, not good. And those numbers, Fred, are aligned with a lot of the polls we've seen lately with the president underwater, more people disapproving of the job he's doing than approving.

WHITFIELD: All right, Athena Jones at the White House, thanks so much.

All right. Now to the growing calls for a special (00:05:00) prosecutor to investigate Russia's communications with the Trump administration and the campaign. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle argued that the president's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, would be incapable of independent decision-making because he was an early supporter of the Trump campaign.


SEN. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The attorney general must recuse himself. But let's just take it back a step. You have seen a flurry of activities that are completely inappropriate, encouraging lawmakers, encouraging intelligence officials to say that something is one way or another. Let's have the investigation and find out the truth.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIF.: You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who is an appointee. You're 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.

TOM PEREZ, FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR: The American people need to understand whether the Russians in cahoots with the Trump folks and others rigged the election. And when Sessions and Flynn are out there together campaigning, they clearly lack the authority and the objectivity to conduct that investigation.


WHITFIELD: Meanwhile, the White House is pushing back, saying it is way too soon to make that kind of decision. The president taking it a step further, tweeting, last hour, "Russia talk is fake news put out by the Dems and played up by the media in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks."

Joining me to talk more about all this, Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russia operations and Julian Zelizer, a historian and professor at Princeton University. Good to see both of you, gentlemen.

All right, Julian, you first. What happens to the White House and the GOP if these growing calls for an independent investigator are ignored or dismissed?

JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, I think Republicans in congress, some of them are starting to feel that there might be political cost to this. And that's the point at which Republicans might break. There are more calls for a special prosecutor. I think there are many who feel that Attorney General Sessions can't do the job, that his connections are too close to President Trump from the campaign.

And I think it's all about the Republicans. When do they fear that the cost of not doing anything are greater than the cost of standing behind the president?

WHITFIELD: And, Steve, we've seen the tweet from Donald Trump this morning. But what if Trump addresses this issue on Tuesday when he addresses congress, could it add more clarity or perhaps muddy the waters? Do you see him going there?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: I really don't because I think that -- I don't think there's anything that the president could say at this point that is really going to clarify things one way or the other on either side of the aisle.

Let's remember the bidding if you will right now. The intelligence community has unanimously stated that the Russians did attempt to skew the elections. The real question that needs to be investigated, however, is whether or not there was a collusion or cooperation on the part of the Trump campaign prior to the election. Guys like Flynn, Manafort and the rest of them, whether or not there was cooperation. That's the part that really needs to be investigated before we can really go any further.

WHITFIELD: Wouldn't all of that be all-encompass?

HALL: Yes. You could wrap that up into one big ball. But I do think it's important to tease it out because the details are important here and the context is important. If the Russians were simply, as the intelligence community has indicated, trying to tilt the elections in one direction, that doesn't involve necessarily Donald Trump or his campaign.

However, if the campaign itself was cooperating with the Russians, that's an entirely different issue and calls into question lots of legal issues, (inaudible) power laws. Those were all matters of fact which need to be investigated and whether or not politically, it can be somebody who was part of that campaign like Jeff Sessions involved in that, so that's a legal and obviously a very political question as well.

WHITFIELD: And so, Julian, it could go both ways while it could show the White House, in its effort to be transparent, to say OK, let's go ahead with a special prosecutor, at the same time, all of these tweets and anything that Donald Trump has already said on the record publicly about this investigation could potentially, of course, be used against him or in the favor of, you know, a special prosecutor. So would it behoove him to say nothing more about this matter?

ZELIZER: Well, the thing about special prosecutors as we've seen, we saw this with Lawrence Walsh in the Iran-Contra investigation, they can go very far. It's hard to predict where they will start to search and how long their investigation will be.

And I think it's true. The more that President Trump tweets, the more that he says, the more that he might get himself into trouble. That's what happened with the executive ban on refugee. Part of the problem was what he had said about giving preference to people from christian nations. So I think the tweets actually might become material (00:10:00) in this kind of investigation which inflicting (ph) more and more like it might happen.

WHITFIELD: And then, Steve, now you've got a veterans group launching a new ad demanding that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell help in the investigation. It's that has put out this ad. How potentially influential do you believe that could be?

HALL: I think the more people that begin to call for this investigation, whether or not it's on the Republican side or the Democratic, you know, depending on how that all breaks down, the more people that begin to call for this and begin to organize in various and sundry groups that say, look, we really do need to look at this. I think the pressure is obviously going to continue to build as to get to the bottom of this.

It's going to be very difficult. It's going to be very complicate complicated. And it's going to be fraught with all sorts of political problems. But the more people that are behind this, the more obvious it's going to be that we need to really get into this investigation sooner rather than later.

WHITFIELD: And, Julian, especially given Donald Trump is surrounding himself by generals and then, of course, he has said that he's a big advocate for more military spending, et cetera, then you have a military vet group that is leading this kind of ad.

ZELIZER: And this is an issue not just with military people leading the ad but this is an area where many Republicans are not on the same page with President Trump, meaning Russia.

This is one key area of division. So many are already not happy with his sympathetic statements and views that he seems to have about Putin. So I think he's very vulnerable here. And I think there's many people who are simply suspicious of why he's been so defiant defending Russia and why he had so many people in the campaign that seem to have connections. And so I think, you know, he's in a red-hot area right now.

WHITFIELD: All right, Julian Zelizer, Steve Hall, thanks so much. See you soon.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. The president giving his first address to a joint session of congress Tuesday night. You will see it right here live on CNN. Our coverage begins at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. and on Wednesday night, a CNN politics special, a town hall with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. And that begins at 9:00 Eastern right here on cnn. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (00:15:00)

WHITFIELD: There will be an unexpected cloud over the Oscars tonight following the surprising news today that actor Bill Paxton has died at the age of 61. According to a family representative, Paxton died due to complications from surgery.

In a statement, the family asked for privacy, saying, "Bill's passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable. We ask to please respect the family's wish for privacy as they mourn the loss of their adored husband and father." CNN's Stephanie Elam is at the academy awards which starts just a few hours away on the red carpet there. So Stephanie, what has been the reaction to Paxton's death?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, there's been a lot of reaction on Twitter. So many superstars taking to Twitter to remember Bill Paxton. I mean it's just a shocking bit of news that at 61 years old that he is already gone.

And he's one of those actors that was always working. So many actors remembering him as a kind and gentle soul and a good person that you wanted to work with. So lots of people remembering that as that news is just developing today and hearing that news here.

But when you take a look at the red carpet here, obviously, the production is going on here. I want to just give you a little bit of a view of what it looks like here. You see some of the fans are already in the stands. The carpet is busy. Media from around the world is here getting ready for Hollywood's biggest night. This really is a big deal here. Some people call it the super bowl.

And as far as TV goes, it is the second most viewed event on television behind the super bowl. So it is a big deal here, Fredricka. And as you can see, everyone is out here with coats on because it is a little chilly. And there's also been a little bit of rain. So I don't know why it becomes an Oscar tradition of late that we have to have rain on Oscar Sunday but we're going in and out with that here today too.

WHITFIELD: OK. Well, hopefully folks can endure the inclement weather. All right. Thanks so much, Stephanie. You still look fabulous rain or wind or whatever. All right. We will check back with you.

All right. Meantime, Paxton's career spanned four decades. Here's a look now at some really memorable roles.


BILL PAXTON, ACTOR: I think this guy is a couple of can short of a six-pack.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: Your clothes, give them to me, now.

PAXTON: (Bleep) you (bleep)! PAXTON: Stay, buttwad (ph).


PAXTON: Do you know what time it is?


PAXTON: It's time to pay the fiddler.

PAXTON: Houston, we have a main thrust A under volt (ph) down two, it's reading 25 and a half, main Bust P (ph) is reading zip (ph) right now. But we got a wicked shimmy up here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got cows. Another cow.

PAXTON: Actually, I think that was the same one.

PAXTON: Are you ready to go back to Titanic?

PAXTON: This didn't just happen to you, OK? It happened to all of us.


PAXTON: And I am trying to make it better for all of us. The life we've chosen leads to eternity. But yes, there are consequences.



WHITFIELD: Today, we're getting our first look at the man police say drove into a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans last night injuring 28 people. Police say 25-year-old Neil Motorize was the driver. And police also say Motorize appeared to be highly intoxicated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something like you would have seen in a movie. I've never encountered anything like this before. And I seen people on the hood of the truck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eyewitnesses described the chaotic scene in New Orleans after a truck rammed into a crowd of Mardi Gras revelers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hit the ground because everybody said there was a gunshot but I saw the car. It sound (ph) like what happened here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I heard the impact over here, I see the truck hitting the people on the ground, coming through the crowd. It ricocheted off of one car to another one. He hooked the hard left and that's when he head off people on the ground over here. And people were just -- everybody was trying to help one another.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Police say a suspected drunk driver plowed into pedestrians, watching one of the most popular Mardi Gras parades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have one subject in custody who was driving a pickup truck behind me, who apparently on the opposite side of the parade that was active was traveling in the opposite direction from the parade. Struck two vehicles. And then reared off to the other side and struck a dump truck and came to rest in a neutral ground. The process before that truck came to rest struck a number of pedestrians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seven victims declined medical attention while 21 others were taken to area hospitals. Five of them in serious condition. The youngest victim, three years old. Bystanders helped triage victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had multiple bystanders that were helping us initially to treat the patients here. We had multiple medical providers here helping to triage and treat the patients.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fortunately, none of the injuries appear life- threatening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We suspect that that subject was highly intoxicated. He is in custody. He is being investigated right now. And he's at our DWI office.


WHITFIELD: The FBI has released a statement saying in part, we are currently coordinating with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to determine whether a federal violation has occurred.

All right. Still ahead, new details into the bizarre and chilling murder of Kim Jong-un's half-brother.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. The estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was killed by a nerve agent so toxic that he was dead within 20 minutes of being touched by it. Some of these new details are coming from the autopsy conducted by the Malaysian Health Ministry. CNN's Matt Rivers is following the case from Kuala Lumpur. Matt, what else is the latest?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we heard from a health minister -- the health minister here in Kuala Lumpur at a press briefing local time Sunday afternoon. And what he said was that the results of this autopsy were in line with the results of the investigation that we've heard so far from the Malaysian Police and that is, that these two women likely put this very, very deadly agent, this VX nerve agent, on to Kim Jong-un's face and that was the cause of death.

This autopsy and the health minister saying that what they discovered in the course of this autopsy was very much in line with what they expected given that information from police. And that as you mentioned right off the bat, this was a death very quickly within 20 minutes. And he also added this was likely a very painful death.

And one more note, the two women at the center of this case, a Vietnamese national and an Indonesian national, both met with consular officials from their countries over the weekend and both women were saying that they didn't know what they were doing. They were part of some prank show as they put it. But Malaysian authorities have said they're not buying that explanation.

WHITFIELD: And then, Matt, crews are still sweeping the airport where the attack happened. Have they found anything more, you know, like gloves or any of the cloth or bottles or anything that are connected to this investigation?

RIVERS: Nothing at all. Really, what they were looking for was any trace of this deadly chemical that might be in Terminal 2, anywhere that Kim Jong-nam went. And so they sent in hazmat teams, they searched the terminal for several hours and didn't come up with anything. And so that is good news.

But it really begs the question (00:30:00), this assassination or alleged assassination happened almost two weeks ago, there have been tens of thousands of people that have traveled through that airport since then and yet that was the first time that a hazmat team had gone through that terminal.

[14:30:13] So a little bit concerning. We should add no one has gotten sick. There have been no instances of anyone reporting any ill health. Still it begs the question what took officials so long to do what sounds like a pretty routine part of any type of investigation.

WHITFIELD: All right, very troubling set of circumstances, that's for sure. Thanks so much. Matt Rivers, appreciate that.

All right, fighting terrorism was a key part of President Trump's campaign platform. On Friday, he hit that theme one more time in his speech to CPAC.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: So let me state this as clearly as I can. We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.


WHITFIELD: Trump is already facing some dissent from his newly appointed national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who says using the term radical Islamic terrorism, doesn't help the U.S. in working with its allies to defeat terrorist groups.

I'm joined now by Colonel Peter Mansoor. He is a retired U.S. army colonel and a former aide to General David Petraeus. Good to see you.

So H.R. McMaster wrote a very uninfluential book about the failures of the Vietnam War called "Dereliction of Duty." In it, he says, quote, "The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the present pages of the "New York Times" or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C."

So explaining that the generals in the war failed to speak up to President Johnson in particular. You served with H.R. McMaster on the so-called Council of Colonels created by the Joint Chiefs.

How will he fit into this administration, which doesn't seem to have a lot of tolerance for dissent? And his book is considered a real playbook for many in the military.

COLONEL PETER MANSOOR, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Well, H.R. is a good friend and a valued colleague. We served together on multiple occasions, and he's a very forceful advocate for what he believes in. He's very intelligent. He's a proven war fighter, an American hero, and he will put forward his views candidly and with great force.

And I think that provided the president is open to a variety of viewpoints, he'll fit in just fine. General Mattis clearly has a different viewpoint than Steven Bannon. I think Rex Tillerson is probably different as well. So we'll see how this administration melds as time goes on.

WHITFIELD: So there have also been reports that General McMaster is considering reorganizing the White House foreign policy team, something that would give him greater access to military and intelligence agencies. Do you see that coming down the pipeline?

MANSOOR: Well, I don't know the inner workings of the National Security Council, but clearly H.R. has studied the workings of the National Security Council over time, has both dealt with the failures of the National Security Council upon our entry into the Vietnam War, and he will want all the right people in the room.

The exclusion of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of National Intelligence from Principal Committee's meetings, for instance, is something that has to be reversed. I think he will make an argument that we need to have all the responsible parties in the room when we discuss national security issues.

WHITFIELD: And just looking at his written sentiments in his book about Vietnam and even the president's involvement, you know, would you believe that General McMaster overall would think civilian oversight would be a real challenge for a national security adviser?

MANSOOR: Well, I think civilian oversight is absolutely essential and having a variety of viewpoints in the room at the same time is essential as well. It's actually wrong to think that better strategy is created when everyone thinks the same way. Better strategy is created when you have a diverse set of viewpoints that are argued passionately. That's what I see in this administration going forward. Now, let's hope it works out but time will tell.

WHITFIELD: You know, the president is all about negotiating a better deal. How would McMaster look at whether he could negotiate with the president on helping to convince the president to see things his way, particularly as it pertains to, you know, not using language of radical Islamic terrorism? MANSOOR: Well, it won't be a negotiation. It will be an issue of persuasion. You know, H.R. will be pragmatic about this, but one thing he will ensure happens is whatever strategy is created to, say, destroy ISIS or to work other issues around the globe, it has to be a strategy that does not expend American blood and treasure without a path to victory.

[14:35:05]This is what he claimed the Joint Chiefs failed to do in the entry into the Vietnam War, and he will make sure that any strategy that's agreed upon by the administration is one that can succeed.

WHITFIELD: So you and General McMaster both agreed on what became the troop surge in Iraq ten years ago, the different levels. What do you think might happen next with Iraq or even potentially Syria? We've heard President Trump talk about, you know, boots on the ground being a value in a different set of circumstances. But how do you see the approach potentially with Iraq and Syria?

MANSOOR: Well, I think the president wants to defeat ISIS as did the previous president. It's a question of how much time you're going to allow to make that happen. And if you want to defeat ISIS more quickly, you're going to have to put more resources on the ground and open up the various ways to use them.

I think this is going to be under discussion in the administration in the weeks ahead. The Department of Defense has a plan that it's presenting to the president. And H.R. will be part and parcel of examining the various options and putting forward a strategy that can succeed in line with the president's goals.

WHITFIELD: Peter Mansoor, good to see you. Thanks so much.

MANSOOR: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. The DNC officially has a new leader at the helm now. The progressives are now threatening a revolt after the election of Tom Perez. That's next.



WHITFIELD: All right. This morning, Bernie Sanders, said he does not believe the election for the new DNC chairman was rigged against Congressman Keith Ellison. He does, however, believe the system could use some retooling.

This morning, Jake Tapper spoke to the new chairman and former presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, on the future of the party.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to ask you about a tweet from President Trump this morning about the DNC chair's race. He wrote, quote, "The race for DNC chairman was, of course, totally rigged. Bernie's guy, like Bernie himself, never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez." I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond.

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, you know, Congressman Ellison and I got a good kick out of that. Donald Trump up again in the morning, tweeting about us. You know, our unity as a party is our greatest strength, and it's his worst nightmare.

Frankly what we need to be looking at was whether this election was rigged by Donald Trump and his buddy, Vladimir Putin. I'll tell you, having Jeff Sessions oversee such an investigation, it's really unfair to any foxes across America to say that would be the fox guarding the hen house. We need an independent investigation because that is a serious, serious issue.

TAPPER: You issued a statement saying, quote, "At a time when Republicans control the White House, the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and two-thirds of all state houses, it is imperative that Tom Perez understands that the same old, same old is not working." So Senator, did the same old, same old win?

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, Keith ran a great campaign. He took on, in essence, Democratic insiders, and yet he came close to winning. That was a very impressive effort when you realize that he was playing inside the establishment's House. But right now I think Tom Perez, who is a very, very good secretary of labor, has a real opportunity in his hands. I hope he seizes it.

TAPPER: You have a massive e-mail list that helped your presidential campaign raise $218 million online from 2.8 million donors. Are you going to give your list to the Democratic National Committee so that you can help them become more grassroots?

SANDERS: We are going to do everything that we can, and we have started that progress to transform the Democratic Party into a party that stands up for working families. And we have and we will strongly support those candidates who are going to take on the issues of income and wealth inequality.

We're going to work to support progressives who are running for the Senate, who are running for the House, who are running, and Tom Perez made this point, for school board, city council, state legislature.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk more about this. I want to bring in historian and professor at Princeton University, Julian Zelizer. All right, so Julian, you heard Bernie Sanders say, you know, we will do everything we can. I'm not sure if that does mean handing over of the list. But is he sending a message to progressives that it is time that everyone does come together, or do you still see some fissures there?

JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: There's fissures, but I think in the end the dangers that Democrats sense from the President Trump administration and from a Republican Congress are much greater than these divisions that exist over establishment versus anti-establishment Democrats.

So I think there will be unity, and I think Sanders has repeatedly tried to signal since the campaign ended it's time to come together around something that is a much greater danger than the tensions that exist in the party.

WHITFIELD: And was a pivotal -- potentially pivotal signal sent when Perez, when he won, said I'm making my deputy, Keith Ellison. That was a pretty sizeable gesture. Do you believe that is potentially influential?

ZELIZER: It's still symbolic, but he did it, and symbols matter in politics. We try to show this kind of unity. I also think what's significant are the comments we've heard right off the bat. He has already gone right after the administration with the Russia investigation.

He certainly has not signaled that he's going to be soft on the Republican Party. And you have to remember, he's not just an establishment candidate. He's been a longtime advocate of voting rights. He worked in a very progressive Democratic administration, President Obama's.

So I think sometimes there's a depiction of him which is not necessarily what we're going to get while he's the head of DNC.

WHITFIELD: And Tom Perez says a united Democratic Party is Trump's worst nightmare and he vowed an all-out war against Donald Trump. And the tweeting between President Trump and Tom Perez, the chair of the DNC, has already begun. I mean, is this going to be an ugly battle in your view?

[14:45:02]ZELIZER: For sure. I think that's what the Republicans taught the Democrats, that you have to remain united, and you have to fight an ugly fight if you're going to stand for principle. That's what the Republicans did against President Obama, and I think that's what Democrats are prepared to do now against President Trump.

And it will work at the grassroots level in terms of building the party. It will work on television in terms of him as a public spokesman for the party and now it will also take place on Twitter with the tweet wars.

WHITFIELD: Yes, at the same time Donald Trump tweeted, you know, Perez winning as chair, good for Republicans. What does he mean by that?

ZELIZER: Well, I think he wants to boast that that victory undercuts any effort by Democrats to bring the Sanders coalition into the party. He wants to play up on that with his rigged election comments, and he also wants to suggest he'll be weak.

He wants to suggest that this is not a strong leader and that the Democrats won't be able to do much to his administration as they move forward with legislation. So this is kind of a back and forth, a little bullying, a little warning, a little tough guy approach from the oval office.

WHITFIELD: All right, interesting times. Julian Zelizer, thanks so much. Always good to see you.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Up next, the dramatic steps some are taking to avoid deportation. We'll show you a secret network getting ready to keep families together.



WHITFIELD: Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE officers have a now found freedom thanks to a push from the White House. This week, the Trump administration said it wants to take shackles off of agents when it comes to the new far-reaching task of arresting and deporting more undocumented people. That has pushed some communities to fight back.

CNN's Kyung Lah shows us a secret network in California that is preparing to protect undocumented families from raids and possible deportation.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pounding, sanding, laying the groundwork at this secret home in Los Angeles.

(on camera): How many families would be --

PASTOR ADA VALIENTE, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF MAYWOOD: It would be about three families we could host here.

LAH (voice-over): Pastor Ada Valiente walks us through one safehouse for the undocumented running from immigration officers, an underground network.

(on camera): Essentially what you're doing is you're trying to hide people, is that right?

VALIENTE: But that's what we need to do as a community.

LAH (voice-over): On the other side of L.A., another safehouse in this man's home. We're not naming him or telling you where he lives because of what's at stake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard as a Jew not to think about all the people who did open their doors and their homes and take risks to safeguard in Jews where moments where they were really vulnerable as well as those that didn't. We'd like to be the people who did.

LAH: This is beyond sanctuary churches. What we've already seen at this Colorado church offering refuge for an undocumented woman. Federal agents don't enter religious houses without approval under a policy put in place during Obama's presidency.


LAH: But faith leaders believed that will change under President Trump. Private homes fall under Fourth Amendment protection and need a warrant before authorities can enter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something sort of like this.

LAH: Reverend Zach Hoover says faith groups across Los Angeles County could hide 100 undocumented immigrants today, and that number could soon be in the thousands.

REVEREND ZACH HOOVER, L.A. VOICE: People will be moving into a place so that ICE can't find them, so that they can stay with their families, so that they can, you know, be with their husbands, so they can avoid being detained and deported.

LAH: The idea comes from leaders across all faiths in Los Angeles. Just days after the election pledging opposition to Trump's immigration orders.

(on camera): People who may not agree with you would look at what you're doing and saying, you're simply aiding and abetting the violation of federal laws.

HOOVER: Look, I'll speak for myself. I feel really convicted that I answer to God at the end of the day. Like that's who I'm going to see when I die, and I hope that, you know, we can live up to our -- I hope we can live up to who we are.

LAH (voice-over): Pastor Valiente is clear-eyed about the risk.

VALIENTE: We're trusting in God that he would kind of help us, guide us, to make the right decisions.

LAH: It doesn't mean it's an easy choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's some element of what we're entering into that I don't know what the consequences are, but I know what the moral consequences are for me if I don't act. Like this isn't a moment to be standing idly by.

LAH: Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.


WHITFIELD: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM begins right after a short break.

[14:55:07]But first a programming note. The president gives his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night. You'll see it live right here on CNN. Coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

And on Wednesday night, a CNN politics special, a town hall with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham live. It begins at 9:00 Eastern only here on CNN.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Happening right now in the NEWSROOM, new calls for a special prosecutor to investigate reported communications between the Trump campaign and Russia. As the Trump administration fires back, saying, not so fast.

Plus a new leader for the Democratic National Committee. Will Tom Perez be able to unite the party? CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

Hello again and thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All right. President Trump facing another high-stakes week. The president's agenda includes a prime-time speech to U.S. Congress and a revised executive order on immigration.

But first he'll renew his focus on replacing Obamacare. The president is set to meet Monday with a group of governors at the White House where worries about replacing the Affordable Care Act is expected to dominate the discussion. CNN's Athena Jones joins me --