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Trump to Address Joint Session of Congress; Hollywood's 89th Academy Awards; Sean Spicer on White House Leaks; Hollywood Actor Bill Paxton Dead at 61; Autopsy of Kim Jong-Nam Released; Father of Killed Navy SEAL Wants An Investigation; New York Times TV Advertisement During the Oscars; A Transgender Boy Wins Girl's Wrestling Title. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 26, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:00] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Plus a brand new version of his controversial travel ban is expected any day now. In the meantime tonight, President Trump is hosting his first major social event at the White House, a black tie gala called the Governor's Ball. The president tweeted this, "Big dinner with governors tonight at the White House. Much to be discussed including healthcare."

And of course we also have a spotlight on Hollywood's biggest night of the year, the Academy Awards. With millions watching, will anyone on stage get political and how will Donald Trump respond? I want to bring in CNN's White House correspondent Athena Jones and Athena, it sounds like the president is ready to talk healthcare but do we think he's going to give any specifics not just behind close doors tonight but also of course when he addresses Congress this week.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Dana, and also that meeting he has with the governors tomorrow here at the White House. It's not at all clear that the White House is ready to deliver specifics. We know there are proposals going around on Capitol Hill and we know this is a huge priority and a huge challenge for this White House and for Republicans on Capitol Hill.

This was one of the president's main campaign promises and not a big speech goes by without him talking about the need to repeal and replace Obamacare -- Republicans on Capitol Hill on the house side, having voted already more than 50 times to replace the law. The problem is what to replace it with And how to make sure that the 20 million people who gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act don't suddenly lose it.

We're seeing a lot of town halls, as we've been porting in the last several weeks, Republicans and districts across the country being confronted by constituents who are angry and who are worried about losing their health care. Ohio Governor John Kasich who met with the president here on Friday and talked about Obamacare, talked about these town halls this morning's on CBS' "Face the Nation." Take a listen.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I don't understand everything that's going on with these town halls, but what I think it's having an impact from the standpoint of, hey, people are watching, I don't think they mind reform, but don't take everything away.


JONES: Right, don't take everything away, and then part of his point was don't take everything away from these 20 million people. Now as you know, Dana, the president has said he promises to have a terrific plan that will cover everybody and costs less. It's just not clear exactly what that plan is going to look like. Dana.

BASH: Not clear at all. Athena, thank you so much for that report. And let's bring in our panel now to discuss this and more, Ryan Lizza, CNN political commentator and Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" and Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner." Before I talk about the president's speech, Ryan, I want to start with you.

CNN can now confirm a report from "Politico" earlier today that Press Secretary Sean Spicer is cracking down on leaks at the White House, so much so that he called staffers into his office and demanded to see their cell phones to make sure that they weren't part of corresponding with reporters and he actually asked that staff not leak information about the meeting, where he was talking about cracking down on the leaks, oops, where we hear about it.


BASH: Yes, I mean look, you know, I covered the White House and obviously we talk to sources, all of us, all day long and hope that their communications aren't being looked at by anybody especially their bosses. What do you make of this? Let's start with you, Ryan.

LIZZA: Well, it always suggests a certain amount of paranoia when you have senior staffers to the extent that they don't trust the people working for them that they have to do something like this. I can't remember anything specifically like this where the press secretary actually demanded to look at the personal electronics but certainly in other White Houses, people go looking for leakers in different sorts of ways.

But I think just the big picture here is, this is a White House where a certain amount of paranoia has set in because you have multiple power centers and the leak, according to Dylan Byers' piece on, he said that Spicer was upset because the new communications director, the name of that new communications director was leaked a week ahead of time.

Now, he is a friend and ally of Spicer, so perhaps he saw this leak as somehow undercutting him, right? And you know, that's when White Houses start to get really dysfunctional, when the factions start to go to war with each other in the press and then they try and clamp down on the leaks and that doesn't work and it just -- you get into that vicious cycle.

BASH: Absolutely. And Sarah, on the one hand you have the president saying, you know, that the press is making up fake sources and fake news and yet, this seems to be an acknowledgement that they do believe that real information,

[17:05:00] as of course we know is a fact, is coming from people who are giving that information, but asking that their names not be used?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: It's clear that this is starting to bother the president. The fact that he used, he dedicated a significant portion of his speech at CPAC to lamenting his White House's relationship with the media, but specifically the prevalence of anonymous sources and stories that are unflattering about his administration. Clearly this is starting to bother President Trump.

The pressure is on Sean Spicer if the leaks are coming from the communications department as it appears some of his leaks are. So Spicer is under pressure probably from President Trump to put a stop to this to the extent that that's possible. Maybe that's why he's taking such aggressive measures. The problem is that it seems to be a vicious cycle.

The more the White House tries to crackdown on these leaks, the more aggressive they are in going after people who are potentially talking to reporters, the more information we seem to get from people who are a little bit disgruntled with that kind of treatment. So it's a double edge sword this kind of approach can show the leaks for people who might be afraid to lose their jobs but it can also cause people to leak more out of frustration.

BASH: Although I will say before we move on to the speech, that, you know, it might not be the worst thing if you're Sean Spicer for us to be reporting that he's looking at people's phone, if he wants people not just in the White House but around the administration to cut the leaks.

But let's talk about the speech that's coming up this week, very important speech. Ryan. before we talk about what we expect substance wise, let's just talk about the atmosphere that the president is in, his approval ratings. Look at this new poll from McClatchy-Marist. The question there is how does Trump's conduct as president make you feel? Fifty-eight percent say embarrassed, 33 percent say proud. What do you make of that, vis-a-vis the fact that the president is of course going to be addressing the country, but a Republican-led chamber.

LIZZA: Well first of all, with those numbers at 58 percent, that means you have a good number of Republicans who are saying --

BASH: That's right.

LIZZA: Who actually support him because Republican support is like at 90 percent almost, who are still embarrassed by him so sort of interesting dynamic there. So you know, it's hard with any kind of opinion poll these days about Trump to get anything but a 50/50 split. So that means there's a lot of Republicans who are saying that.

Look, his approval -- his overall approval rating is obviously lower than any modern presidents at this point in time. The issues that he has wanted to focus on -- intended to focus on since he's been inaugurated have been security both immigration, which he has reframed as a security issue, crime and terrorism with the travel ban. What he hasn't focused on to nearly as much as I think a lot of congressional Republicans would like him to is his domestic agenda and that's really been lost.

There's no infrastructure bill. There's no detailed health care plan yet. We don't have obviously a tax reform bill. So, I think that balance will be interesting to see Tuesday night is how much does he lay out as a traditional president would in their first speech to congress, a detailed legislative agenda that he asks this Republican congress to push through.

BASH: No question.

LIZZA: -- and puts out his budget, how much detail do we get?

BASH: No question. And let's just drill down on one of the things you mentioned there. Obamacare, Sarah, he's obviously going to need support from Republicans in Congress to do that. I is the Republicans that are trying to figure out how to make this happen. Let's take a listen to what their former leader, the former House Speaker John Boehner had to say about Obamacare.


JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I shouldn't have called it repeal and replace, because that's not what's going to happen. Basically they're going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it. It's not all that hard to figure out. Except this, in the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like, not once.


BASH: Nothing like not being in office to tell the truth, right? That was pretty remarkable. But Sarah, he is truth telling there. He is being candid because he doesn't really have any reason not to be at this point. They don't have a cohesive plan and also he's talking about the fact that even though he led the way for House Republicans to vote umpteen times to repeal Obamacare. He doesn't really think the full repeal is going to happen, what do you make of it?

WESTWOOD: You're exactly right. The Republicans are moving much more slowly than I think the Trump administration would like to issue a full repeal of Obamacare because they don't have a consensus as to what will replace it. This speech on Tuesday is a well timed opportunity for Trump to put pressure on Republican members of Congress to do that full repeal, to say these are the promises you made when you were elected starting in 2010.

[17:10:00] These waves of Republican victories came almost entirely on the promise of repealing Obamacare. This is their one and only opportunity to repeal Obamacare because after 2018 even though the map favors Republicans heavily, you just never know what's going to happen. And so, they shouldn't take this opportunity for granted to deliver on that promise if that's what they said they were going to do.

Republicans are clearly anxious about what's going to happen, they need to end this uncertainty because all of Trump's other agenda items, tax reform, the federal budget are so inter-connected with Obamacare that this healthcare reform has to happen basically before they can move forward on much of anything else.


BASH: Well thank you so much to both of you. I'll tell you, every time there's a first with this president, it is fascinating to watch and just the image of President Trump walking into that chamber and walking down that aisle and taking that very large stage is going to be really, really interesting to watch. Thank you so much for your insight.

LIZZA: Thanks Dana.

BASH: And as we mentioned, President Trump, as I was just talking about, that first address before congress will be Tuesday. You can see it live right here and stay tuned also for the Democratic response and reaction from across the country. Our coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. eastern, and one more programming note, I'll be moderating a town hall with two outspoken GOP senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. That happens this Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

And coming up President Trump says the race for DNC chairman was rigged. So, what's the reaction from the man who won? We'll bring that to you plus, remembering actor Bill Paxton, from "Twister" to "Titanic" to the "Terminator." We look back on his incredible career.

And later, a commercial seeking the truth. The political message behind an ad you'll see during tonight's Oscars.


BASH: It didn't take long for President Trump to tweet about the election of the Democratic National Committee's new chairman Tom Perez.

[17:15:03] Earlier today, Trump tweeted, "The race for DNC chairman was of course totally rigged. Bernie's guy like Bernie himself never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez." Listen to how Perez responded to that tweet this morning right here on CNN.


TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: 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. And frankly, what we need to be looking at is whether this election was rigged by Donald Trump and his buddy Vladimir Putin.


BASH: Perez may have tried to brush aside the deep chasms that developed in the Democratic Party following the ugly primary fight between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and equally quick to embrace his chief rival for the job of DNC chair, Representative Keith Ellison in a show of unity, you see right there.

He named Ellison as his deputy chair, but as Donna Brazile, now the former chair, announced that Perez won last night in Atlanta, angry progressive activists who supported Ellison tried to shut her down. It's fair to say all is not quite healed yet in the Democratic Party.

I want to talk about that, the perceived divisions, where we go from here with Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman, also a member of the Democratic National Committee. So Robert, let's start right there. Has the healing begun? What was the vibe that you got after that vote when you were in Atlanta?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Let's be clear, Dana, of course there were some tensions, but as a Democratic party, we're out of group therapy, the Haagen-Dazs is back in the freezer and Donald Trump has really given us a renewed energy and focus. Obviously, let's understand there were certainly protests there.

I think "The Washington Post" said nine that stood up and protested. But the ideals that bring us together. The philosophy that really unites the Democratic Party, that's what's going to be the driving mission.

Our challenge though, is to make sure the Democratic Party becomes relevant to the over 2 million protesters that took to the streets January 21st and the hundreds of thousands that were standing up at airports to protest the Muslim ban and protesting around our country to preserve affordable health care.

They don't see the Democratic Party to protect the affordable healthcare. They don't see the Democratic Party s being relevant in their work and that's our challenge to provide that path.

BASH: So what's the answer? How do you harness all of the energy? By the way, I should just say, I love that you said Haagen-Dazs and not Ben & Jerry's. You just outed yourself as a Hillary person and now Bernie Sanders person. But anyway --

ZIMMERMAN: OK, I'm guilty. You got me. That's why you're a great reporter.

BASH: But back to the whole issue of harnessing it. It is really happening organically. It's happening on social media with lots of very strong, very robust groups really pushing the grass roots to push lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, so how does the Democratic Party fit into that and capture it?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, it's really the critical determination that's going to evaluate whether the Democratic Party is relevant going forward. And let's understand, we have the legislative agenda. I give enormous credit to Senator Schummer and his colleagues and to Nancy Pelosi and Joe Crowley for the leadership they have. We have the agenda.

The problem is we have really become a presidential party, and by that I mean the Democratic Party for all too long is focused on presidential politics, and so in a sense, our infrastructure has really been ineffectively not been in all 50 states in the grassroots level.

And in the past election cycle, the focus of the party was more about how much you were worth than how hard you worked. That's got to change. We've got to make sure the internet (ph) donor has the same seat at the table with a political leadership. The grass roots activist is brought into leadership roles and Tom Perez is well positioned to do that. That's his background and I think that puts him in a very unique position to do that and the party recognizes the essential need to do that.

BASH: But I want to play something for you. I was with Senator Dianne Feinstein in California on Friday. She had an event, and she like lawmakers all over the country, had some protesters standing up, protesters coming at her from the left, she's a Democrat. Let's listen to some of it.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm getting little signals, are the greens good?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you commit to spend your next recess holding a series of town halls where you devote your time?


FEINSTEIN: I will try to do it based on my schedule.


BASH: First of all, I will just say that she could probably hold a master class on how to deal with crowds that are not loving her or at least challenging her, but it does speak to a real situation when talking about the midterms that you were just discussing, that even people who are strong Democrats like Dianne Feinstein are getting a lot of push from the left to be more liberal. How does that play when you are not from California, but you are from Missouri or other more moderate, even red states?

[17:20:02] ZIMMERMAN: You know, honestly, Dana, I think we make a mistake in trying to define every issue from the conventional notion of left or right. It doesn't really apply. Remember, 54 percent of America voted against Donald Trump's agenda and voted against Donald Trump's candidacy for president, and the country stands in every poll out there, stands strongly for immigration reform, recognizes climate change is real, recognizes the rights of the LGBT community, stands up for raising the minimum wage. So, I think we've got to get away from unfortunately labels that paralyze the discussion. There are senators from conservative states who'll agree with many of the issues I raised. And I think while each individual senators politics is unique, the most important point is it has to be an infrastructure from the Democratic party that's going to empower them, that's going to give voice to the protesters because quite frankly, Donald Trump has not only changed the rule book for the Republican Party, he's redefined what the mainstream is in America because he's become so extreme, so demagogic and divisive in his rhetoric and his policies that I think it's forging new coalitions in our country.

BASH: There's no question that the coalitions and sort of right left as I described it and you rightly pointed out are scrambled. Thank you so much for that Robert Zimmerman. Appreciate it.

ZIMMERMAN: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: And coming up, an international murder mystery deepens, what an autopsy has just revealed by the death of Kim Jong-Un's half brother. That story is next.


[17:25:08] BASH: The father of a U.S. Navy Seal is furious at the White House for ordering what he calls the stupid mission that his son's -- it turned out to be his son's last. This weekend, that father is demanding answers. Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owens died late last month during a raid on Al Qaeda target in Yemen. It was an operation President Trump signed off on just a few days after his inauguration. CNN's Ryan Nobles is following this for us, and Ryan, this is the first time we're hearing from Owens family about their son's death. What exactly do they want to hear from the Trump White House?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Dana, it is the father of Ryan Owens who is speaking out and what he wants more than anything is a full accounting of what happened to his son. Bill Owens is a military veteran himself and he's questioning the motivation for the mission that killed his son. Listen to what he told the "Miami Herald."

"Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn't even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen -- everything was missiles and drones because there was not a target worth one American life. Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?"

Owens of course not the only one with concerns about the mission -- Republican senator John McCain was also critical of its execution and necessity in the days after the problems with the mission were revealed. Now at that time, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer evoked the death of Owens as a way to rebut McCain's criticism. But in the interview with the "Miami Herald" Bill Owens warned the White House not to, quote, "hide behind my son's death to prevent an investigation."

The White House is being careful to not be too critical of the Navy Seal's father, but they continue to point out that the mission did uncover valuable intelligence and resources they claim that helped save Americans lives and other lives. President Trump made a special trip to Dover Air Force Base when Owens' body returned to the United States and Dana, his father told the "Herald" that he refused to meet the president.

BASH: Heartbreaking no matter the politics, that is for sure. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much for that report.

Overseas now, new details about the mysterious and sudden death of the North Korean leader's half brother. Health officials in Malaysia are now saying that Kim Jong-Nam died just 15 to 20 minutes after someone rubbed something on his face at an airport. This is the moment, right there, nearly two weeks ago when a woman approached Kim from behind and wiped that substance on his face.

Now Malaysian officials this weekend confirmed that it was the very deadly nerve agent. Let's go live now to Kuala Lumpur and CNN's Matt Rivers is there with a report for that -- on this for us, Matt, wow. I mean first of all, this is like a murder mystery that you would, you know, buy tickets to, but this is reality. And we're talking about a nerve agent in the middle -- potentially in the middle of an airport. What are you hearing about this and could there be traces lingering around?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the big question that everyone's been worrying about. We've got a couple interesting things that have happened over the last 24 to 48 hours. Let's start with the completion of the autopsy on Kim Jong-Nam's body. Basically, it confirmed what we've been hearing from Malaysian police.

On Friday, the police confirmed that it was that VX nerve agent, a very deadly chemical that was used to assassinate Kim Jong-Nam allegedly by two women -- one, a Vietnamese national, the other an Indonesian national. So that autopsy really just backing up what the police have said. As far as those two suspects, while both of them are in custody and what they're saying is that this was all just part of a prank show that they were a part of.

They didn't know exactly what they were going to be doing. They're claiming they're just victims in all of this. They were tricked by other people involved, other men that they say they were influenced by. That's what they're telling their respective consulates here in Kuala Lumpur.

And finally you mentioned the concern over what might be lingering in the airport, it was late Saturday night into Sunday morning that for the first time in nearly two weeks, Malaysian officials finally went through the airport and did a HazMat search -- went through, looked for any signs of any chemicals that might be left over.

Thankfully they didn't find anything. No one has been reported sick over the last two weeks, but it begs the question, it would seem like a pretty basic thing. If this deadly chemical was released in this airport, it could really cause a lot of problems. Why wasn't that HazMat search done earlier? The question has not been answered so far, Dana.

BASH: And it is a very good, very important question. Matt, thank you so much for that report.

And coming up, an Oscar nominated documentary captures the dangerous journey one Syrian family went through to escape their war ravaged country. How tonight's ceremony is a bittersweet reminder of someone they lost.


BASH: The Syrian civil war will be in the spotlight at tonight's Academy Awards. Three of the five films nominated for Best Documentary Short offer intimate eyewitness accounts of the devastation in the country. One of them "Watani: My Homeland" depicts the lives of Hala Kamil and her four children leaving in abandoned building in Eastern Aleppo. And after some worry about the president's travel ban, we now know that Hala will be in the audience tonight at the Oscars. CNN's Atika Shubert has the story.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over: It's not the gun battles or violence that draws you into the film, "Watani: My Homeland." It's the quiet rhythms of life in the midst of war. Hala Kamil and her family lived on Aleppo's front line. Before them, the relentless snipers of the Syrian regime -- behind them the death squads of ISIS.

Her journey with four children from Aleppo to Turkey to Germany was captured in the documentary now up for an Oscar. Hala had tickets and a U.S. visa, but when she heard that Syrians would be banned from entering the U.S., she was worried.

HALA KAMIL, SYRIAN REFUGEE: At first, I was so sad. As when you want to visit somebody and he closed the door in your face. It's really -- it's really bad and sad for me.

SHUBERT: President Donald Trump's executive order has left tens of thousands in flux, not sure if the United States will welcome them, even if only for a short visit like Hala.

KAMIL: And I respect Trump so much because he don't mince his words with us. We haven't any problem with him but we want to speak to the people in U.S. I want to send message to the world that there's a lot of family, a lot of children in Syria have this dangerous thing. But I want for us to look for this

[17:35:00] story as a fact, as the truth, what happened in Syria, what happened to these people, to come here, to Europe.

SHUBERT: Despite the daily shelling and gun battles, the family refused to leave for years. Until their father, Abu Ali, a rebel commander with the Free Syrian Army was captured by ISIS.

KAMIL (translated text): They took him right in front of me promising to slaughter him and I couldn't do anything. That's the last time I saw him.

TEXT: Goodbye Aleppo. Goodbye to my school, my friends, my cousins, my grandma.

SHUBERT: The film shows the children offering tearful goodbyes as they leave the destroyed streets of Aleppo, and how they keep their resolve in the tented camps at the Turkish border. Even as they bring their trauma with them, the youngest, Sarah, still running in fear for planes.

The camera follows them to the cobblestone streets of Goslar, Germany where the family lives now. The children have quickly made friends in their new home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tour it was present, a big, big, big world around the court.

SHUBERT: Hala cried when the Oscar nominations were announced. She shows us photos of her celebratory breakfast with the filmmaker Marcel Mettelsiefen. Hala explains her husband, Abu Ali always stayed up late to watch the Oscars no matter what.

So he loved movies, he loved films.

KAMIL: And he know every (INAUDIBLE).

SHUBERT: Hala knows that her husband is probably dead. But she still searches through photos of bodies for proof. The children, especially the younger girls still believe or hope that one day he may arrive at their door. For now, Hala only hopes that people will see the film to understand what she and millions of other Syrians have endured. Atika Shubert, CNN, Goslar, Germany.


BASH: Incredibly powerful. Atika, thank you for that report.

And tonight, Hollywood is remembering Bill Paxton, the actor known for his roles in "Twister", "Weird Science" and of course HBO series "Big Love," died suddenly due to complications from surgery according to his family. Paxton was 61 years old. As we go to break, here's a look back at some of the highlights of his long career.


TEXT: Bill Paxton's most memorable roles.

BILL PAXTON, ACTOR: I think this guy's a couple cans short of a six pack.

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


PAXTON: You're stewed, butt wad.


PAXTON: You know what time it is?


PAXTON: Time to pay the fiddler.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a main bust undervolt down two. It's reading 25.5. Main bus B is really zipped (ph) right now and we've got a wicked shimmy up here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got to go, Julia, we got cows.


PAXTON: Actually I think that was the same one.

PAXTON: Are you ready to go back to Titanic?

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.


BASH: It hasn't run an ad on TV in seven years, but during tonight's Academy Awards broadcast that "The New York Time" will air a commercial for "Truth." Here's a sneak peek.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The truth is our nation is more divided than ever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The truth is alternative facts are just plain delusional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth is the media needs to be --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth is locker room talk is harmless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth is we need to put the safety of the American people first.



BASH: Well, not surprisingly, that ad has already gotten the president's attention. The President Trump was early to rise this morning tweeting about it. He said, "For the first time the failing "New York Times" will take an ad, a bad one, to help save its failing reputation. Try reporting accurately and fairly." I want to bring back Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New

Yorker" and Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner." Ryan, can you remember a time when a major news outlet like "The New York Times" felt it was necessary to run an ad advocating for truth?

LIZZA: Well, the truth is that we are experiencing an increased demand for what the three of us do right now. "The New York Times," "The New Yorker" where I work has experienced pretty serious growth in the last few months. CNN obviously has. I assume the "Washington Examiner" has as well, and "The New York Times" is experiencing a surge in subscriptions because there is a demand for truth. I don't know how else to put it.

We have had a president that has not been forthright in a lot of his public statements and our job in the media has never been more important. And that has, I think that's partly what explains the "Times" doing this. They're feeling flush enough that they can afford an ad like this and they know there is greater demand for their product than there has been in a long time. You know, when things are going swimmingly, you know, our jobs are less necessary.

BASH: Absolutely. Certainly, that they clearly have more money to put into advertising, but it's the message that also is so stark, and it's not just "The New York Times." "The Washington Post," take a look at this, they have a new branding campaign under the header of the "Washington Post," "Democracy Dies in Darkness." I think that's brilliant.

Sarah, you know, obviously, they're a bit of a competitor here, the "Washington Examiner" but we're all out for the same truthiness as Stephen Colbert liked to say. What do you make of this?

[17:45:00] WESTWOOD: I think the media as an institution is more polarizing than ever. There is a substantial portion of Trump supporters who trust the media, who think that media is not reporting accurately or fairly on the Trump administration, who think that maybe the media is exaggerating some of the problems within the administration.

And so Trump still feels like it's an effective tactic for him to attack the mainstream media when he feels backed into a corner because it's something that resonates with a key group of his supporters, the ones who attend his rallies, the ones who defend him on social media. It's something that he thinks he can use to galvanize the base even as those attacks galvanize another group of people to rally in defense of the media. So the media is becoming a more polarizing issue than it's ever been before.

BASH: It's right. Look, it's not new and it's not a surprise that a politician attacks the media, but there's no question he's taken it to a completely different level. And on that note, the president announced in the last couple of days, Ryan, that he is skipping the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Twitter went to town after that with ideas of who could fill in. Actor Zach Braff tweeted the following, "@AlecBaldwin, time to suit up." That's obviously taking it to a completely different level. I mean perhaps Mike Pence, the vice president will go, which is not unprecedented.

We have been to White House Correspondents Dinners where the vice president goes but it is important to know that as we talk about this, this is not a dinner just to toast the president. It's to toast the presidency and the importance of the press, and the free press, and an adversarial press. So, what do you make of kind of the concept of who would be in that chair?

LIZZA: Well, I think the question on Pence is if President Trump has decided not to go, does that mean he doesn't want anyone from his administration either on stage speaking or in the audience as guests. That will be an interesting question for the White House this week. So we'll see where they stand on that.

On the -- I have seen a lot of funny ideas for who should replace him. I don't think it would be in good taste for the White House correspondents Association, which I'm a member of and I assume you guys are members of too, to replace Trump with, you know, someone like Alec Baldwin who, you know, I think his impersonations of Trump are hilarious. But I don't think -- I think when the president is there and you have a comedian roasting him, I think that's appropriate for the White House Correspondents' Association to, you know, sponsor that kind of event.

I think it would be unusual for the White House Correspondents Association to not have Trump and then to just mock him for the entire evening. I think that would be unusual. It think it's much better to turn the event into a celebration of the first amendment and to raise awareness about how frankly the White House Press Corps is under attack by this president. I was one, I said this publicly several times, I didn't think it was appropriate for Trump to be there after he called the press the enemy of the American people.

So unless he was coming to that dinner to apologize, I frankly did not think, Dana, it was appropriate for us to be there and to toast him. Because I think that his attacks on the press have been extremely troubling.

BASH: And I don't think there's any chance that the White House Correspondents Association is going to invite a comedian. That was kind of in jest from a comedian.

LIZZA: Absolutely. But it's a difficult decision now on what to do, you know, you got to get the balance right.

BASH: No question. No question.

LIZZA: Just because Trump is attacking us, that does not mean we should -- he wants us to be the opposition and we have to be very careful to do our jobs the way we've always done them and not turn into the boogie men that he wants us to be.

BASH: I could not agree with you more. Before we go, Sarah, I just want to ask about tonight, the Oscars, you know. They have been political. All of the award shows so far and the Oscars is obviously sort of the climax of that. But the president isn't going to be watching, apparently, maybe he's going to have it on DVR.

He's going to be hosting his first big social event tonight, but what is kind of your expectation? Is your expectation that we're going to get some political speeches and he's going to be tweeting back and forth what we have seen so far since he's been in the White House?

WESTWOOD: I would really be surprised if we didn't see a political speech this evening. The Oscars is known for people sometimes making provocative statements like that and certainly President Trump, there's plenty of fodder out there for celebrities to make a statement if they wanted to tonight.

BASH: And remember, Meryl Streep is a presenter and she was the one who got him going the last time she was up there, I think it was at The Golden Globes. Ryan Lizza and Sarah Westwood, thank you so much.

LIZZA: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: And coming up, competition, controversy, a transgender boy takes on the title after being forced to compete in a girls wrestling championship. A look at the heated argument on both sides, next. You're live in the "Newsroom."


BASH: A transgender teenage boy has won the girls state wrestling championship in Texas. Mack Beggs takes the male hormone testosterone in his transition from a girl into a boy. Many think that gives him an unfair advantage on the mat, but CNN correspondent Polo Sandoval reports Beggs is abiding by the current rules of high school athletics in his state.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the dramatic end to a competitive and controversial weekend for Mack Beggs. The 17-year-old Dallas area high school student won the title of champion in the girl's state wrestling competition Saturday. A mix of cheers and boos directed at the wrestler as he fell to his knees appearing to soaking the win. Many in the audience feel Beggs has an unfair advantage on the road to victory.

[17:55:00] Beggs, is a transgender athlete, or a girl transitioning to become a boy. He takes testosterone injections to make that transition happen. Many believe that provides the young wrestler with an added competitive edge. The strength and agility are hard to miss in the mat.

MELISSA ROUGH, COUNSELOR: So there's the big issue right now, right. And I think if he has been taking hormones or steroids, he should be wrestling boys.

SANDOVAL: That can't happen though according to the University Interscholastic League which oversee public high school athletics. Current UIL rules state "boys may not wrestle against girls and vice versa and gender shall be determined based on a student's birth certificate." For Beggs, that means he's got no choice but to wrestle girls. Then there's the issue of the hormone therapy that would typically be disqualifying. Not in this case as UIL deputy director Dr. Jamie Harrison says.

JAMIE HARRISON, DEPUTY DIRECTOR UNIVERSITY INTERSCHOLASTIC LEAGUE: The law is very, very specific that a student who is being administered performance enhancing drugs by a physician cannot be made ineligible.

SANDOVAL: The UIL says it's willing to review its existing laws to see if they need to be changed by legislators. Now, the state stands by this weekend's competition calling it fair. Today, Beggs shares the gold with his peers.

MACK BEGGS, TRANSGENDER WRESTLER: I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for my teammates. That's honestly what the spotlight should have been on, is my teammates.

SANDOVAL: The young athlete wrestles with a new uncertainty next season. Will he still face off with girls as a boy? Polo Sandoval, CNN, Cypress, Texas.


BASH: Polo Sandoval, thanks for that report, and we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[18:00:04] BASH: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Dana Bash in Washington. President Trump us facing his most crucial week yet since moving into the White House.