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President Trump Says He Will Not Attend The White House Correspondent's Dinner; National Security Advisor H.R. Mcmaster Says Using The Phrase Radical Islamic Terrorism Will Be Counterproductive; A Look At The French Elections As Protests Erupt Trying To Stop A Marine Le Pen Event. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired February 26, 2017 - 02:00   ET


CYRIL VANIER, HOST, CNN NEWSROOM: The White House Correspondents Dinner in the US is a tradition for journalists and for the president. But this year, the guest of honor will not be attending.

Well, as Democrats elect a new leader and he's coming out swinging against President Trump.

And not welcome as protest breaks out in France ahead of a visit by controversial candidate Marine Le Pen.

Hi, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

US President Donald Trump has a busy week ahead of him. Tuesday night marks his debut appearance as president before a joint session of Congress. Also, this week, the White House is expected to roll out a revised executive order banning travelers from seven mostly Muslim nations. But one future event is off the president's calendar in April.

On Saturday, without explanation, Mr. Trump tweeted, I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening.

The head of the correspondents' association had this to say about it.


JEFF MASON, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION: 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.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I know you insist the dinner is not going to be canceled, but 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 will impact the dinner, it will impact who sits up on the dais with the rest of the board.

But, no, we're not going to cancel the dinner. We're going to uphold our mission and we do that and celebrate that at that dinner.


VANIER: So, I spoke earlier about this with CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein and he says the president may have done himself and White House correspondents a favor.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Given the kinds of relations that have been established between this White House and the mainstream press corps from the outset, the remarkable language from the president, the escalation of kind of conflict between the two sides, it would have - I think, for many in the press, it would have been kind of the height of hypocrisy to kind of sit at a dinner and laugh while the present kind of made fun of this daily conflict, which is what you would be required to do.

So, in some ways, him announcing that he will not come makes it easier for the dinner to go on because I think it will be very hard for many of the mainstream media organizations to go through with a White House correspondents' dinner in this atmosphere with the president himself there.


VANIER: The phrase radical Islamic terrorism, Mr. Trump loves to say it and slams opponents who don't. But CNN has learned that his new national security advisor dislikes the term and thinks it will not help fight groups like ISIS.

Global affairs correspondent Elise Labbott has more.


ELISE LABBOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: President Trump's new national security advisor appears to want a more moderate approach to the Islamic world than his predecessor Mike Flynn and even the president himself.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster held a meeting with his staff at the NSC a few days ago. According to several people who attended the meeting, he said that the term radical Islamic terrorism was unhelpful because terrorists like ISIS are perverting the religion and, therefore, their behavior is un-Islamic.

Now, both the president and Flynn have frequently used that term to describe jihad terrorists. McMaster made the argument that this only plays into their propaganda that this is a religious war against Islam and that hurts US efforts to work with Arab and Muslim allies to defeat terrorist groups.

And we're told McMaster had a strikingly different tone than Mike Flynn who was forced to resign last week after the controversy over his discussions with the Russian ambassador.

Now, in contrast to President Trump who has praised Vladimir Putin, McMaster said Russia was an adversary. So, all of this really a repudiation of President Trump's language and worldview. The president doesn't seem to be that bent out of shape about it. The White House acknowledging a difference of opinion on language, but not about the approach to fight terrorism.

[02:05:02] President Trump does seem to be impressionable to the opinions of his aides. And so, career staff, many of whom agree with McMaster's worldview, are hoping he can push a more moderate US foreign policy. Officials say his arrival and his discussions with staff are really boosting morale which was sinking under Flynn. We'll have to see whether this views will carry the day.

Elise Labbott, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: After a devastating loss in the November election, the Democratic party has a new leader. Former US Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected Saturday as the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee and he wasted no time pledging a vigorous party- wide challenge to the Trump administration.


TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Someday, they're going to study this era in American history and they're going to study it alongside the no-nothing movement and they're going to ask the question of all of us, where were you in 2017 when we had the worst president in the history of the United States. We will all be able to say the united Democratic Party led the resistance, ensure that this president was a one-term president and elected Democrats across this country.


VANIER: Former US President Barack Obama congratulated the new Democratic leadership with this statement.

"I am proud of all the candidates who ran and who make this great party what it is. What unites our party is a belief in opportunity, the idea that however you started out, whatever you look like or whomever you love, America is the place where you can make it if you try.

And from former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, "Congrats to DNC Chair Tom Perez and Deputy Keith Ellison. Excited for a strong, unified party standing for best of our country into the future."

Let's go to Malaysia now and get the update there where authorities have given the all clear to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. A weekend sweep found no toxic chemicals at the scene of Kim Jong-nam's killing nearly two weeks ago.

Police say the estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader was poisoned with the nerve agent VX. It's so deadly the UN considers it a weapon of mass destruction. The suspect in the murder says she was given $90 to smear Kim's face with what she describes as baby oil.

There is widespread suspicion that North Korea may be behind the attack. Pyongyang denies any wrongdoing.

In Germany, terrorism is not suspected after a man rammed his car into a group of people killing one and injuring two others. Police say the suspect was armed with a knife and tried to run from the scene Saturday in Heidelberg. Officers shot him. He was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. No motive yet is known.

And tensions are running high in France as some fear a major political surprise. The presidential election is two months away and protesters in Nantes are trying to block a Sunday Rally by candidate Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front.

Demonstrators and riot police clashed on Saturday. Four people were arrested. So, what are the chances of Marine Le Pen winning the French presidency? For context on that, I spoke with Dominic Thomas, the Chair of French Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Dominic Thomas, Chair of French Studies, UCLA: The Brexit vote caught many people by surprise. The election of Donald Trump caught many people by surprise. And the French election has a surprise in the making, to the extent that the entire election has focused on Marine Le Pen, to the extent that all candidates are thinking back to 2002 when her father made it through to the second round. And at that time, the majority of the French population came out and returned a fairly unpopular president, but nevertheless returned Jacques Chirac to power.

In this particular case, it looks like, in the second round, against Marine Le Pen that has enough of a base to drive her through into that second round with somewhere between 20 and 30 percent that most likely no major political party will be standing against her in that round.

Both main political parties - the socialists, are, of course, incredibly unpopular after five years of the Hollande presidency - ran a primary that the most popular candidate on what was at least the left at the time Emmanuel Macron decided to run as an independent.