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New Democratic Party Leader Vows To Take On Trump; McMaster Term "Radical Islamic Terrorism Is "Unhelpful"; Issa: Sessions Should Recuse Himself From Russia Probe; Voters Confront Lawmakers At Tense Town Halls; Pro-Obamacare Rallies Across U.S.; Hard-hitting Diplomacy As U.S. Boxers Fight In Cuba; Oscar-Nominated Film Follows Family Fleeing Syria; Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 26, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN HOST: I'm Christina Macfarlane in London. And this is CNN.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN HOST: The president of the United States states that that he will skip the White House Correspondents' dinner and democrats celebrate a new party leader, will have details ahead. Plus in contrast to his boss, the new National Security Advisor says the term "Radical Islamic Terrorism", well that term is not useful, "Not useful," he says. And we speak to a Syrian refugee mother who will be watching the Oscars to see if the documentary about her family wins.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell. "CNN Newsroom" starts right now. It is 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast. Good to have you with us. Fair to say, this will be a very busy week ahead for the U.S. President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump speaks before a joint session of congress come Tuesday night. This will mark his first address as president.

Also this week, the White House is set to roll out a revised executive order banning travelers from mostly -- from seven Muslim nations. But there is one event coming up later in April that the president is declining now. Mr. Trump tweeted this on Saturday, "Without explanation, I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening."

After losing big to the president in November, the democrats now are regrouping under new leadership. On Saturday, Democratic Party officials meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, elected former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. CNN's Ryan Nobles has more on this.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Democrats have a new chairman, but it didn't come easy. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez won the position after falling one vote short on the first ballot. Perez was able to gather enough support to win on the second ballot. But Perez understood that while he did win, there was still a major part of the party, the progressive wing of the party, that wasn't necessarily happy with his victory. That's why he brought up the man who came in second, Keith Ellison,

the Congressman from Minnesota and named him as Deputy Chair. 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. Tell me the phrase I'm supposed to utter? That was fine? Okay. I'm not -- did I hear a second?

CROWD: Yeah!

PEREZ: All for?

CROWD: Yeah!

PEREZ: Oppose?


PEREZ: Hey, wait a minute. The silence -- the silence is deafening. The motion passes.


NOBLES: Tom Perez and Keith Ellison for that matter now have a big job in front of them, bringing together all these different fractions of the Democratic Party with the goal of being a true check on President Donald Trump. Not only do democrats not on the White House, but they have minorities in both the house and senate in Washington. They own far fewer legislative seats across the country and far few governorships.

Perez promised to get the house back in order and become the Democratic Party that their supporters hope they can become. Ryan Nobles, CNN, Atlanta.

HOWELL: Ryan Nobles, thank you. The former U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the new democratic leadership with this statement, it reads, quote, "I'm 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, 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 tweeting this, "Congrats to DNC Chair Tom Perez and Deputy Keith Ellison. Excited for strong, unified party standing for best of our country into the future." The U.S. President offered this back-handed compliment to Perez after he won. It reads as follows, "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." Perez

then fired back on Twitter. "Call me Tom and don't get too happy. Keith Ellison and I, and democrats united across the country, will be your worst nightmare," he said. The democrats may be off to a fresh new start, but to be successful they will need to reach out to a lot of voters who rejected their message earlier and responded instead to President Trump's promise for jobs.

That promise, though, is already being put to the test in the heart of the country, in coal country. That is where coal plants are being shut down. In Ohio some residents now are asking President Trump to not only save their jobs, but to save their entire town before it's too late. CNN's Martin Savidge has this report.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Ohio it's hard to find an area more remote or more red than Manchester where two of every three votes were for Donald Trump.





SAVIDGE: The tiny town sits along the bucolic banks of the Ohio River.

WILSON: It's something about the water here. You get it in your blood and you don't want to leave.

SAVIDGE: Folks can tell you when the town started, 1791. And when they believe it will die.

HILDERBRAND: I say 2018.

SHELTON: June of 2018 is the last I personally heard on.

SAVIDGE: That's when two large coal fired power plants on either side of the town are projected to close. The news broke just after the election.

RICHARDS: It was definitely a shock to myself and my friends and coworkers, family, people in the local community. I mean, I think some people are still in shock.

SAVIDGE: As it stands now, the union says about 700 jobs will be lost in the town of just 2,000 people. The coal supplier says it will cut an additional 1,500 jobs. Tax revenues and property values will plummet. So what about all those rallies?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love Ohio. You know, I worked in Ohio.

SAVIDGE: All those promises of jobs and of reenergizing coal.

TRUMP: Jobs, jobs, jobs.


SAVIDGE: So if he is the energy coal president, why are coal plants still shutting down?

SHELTON: I don't think it's a 100 percent up to Trump. I mean, I think he's got a lot to say so in it, but to me it's poor business decisions.

SAVIDGE: The mayor agrees it's not Trump's fault. He blames plant owners and management.

HILDERBRAND: Men in overhauls built this country. The men in suits to work destroyed it.

SAVIDGE: But he is a man in a suit.

HILDERBRAND: But he is touched the working people. He stood up for the working people.

SAVIDGE: Did you vote for Trump hoping he would save your job?

SHELTON: That's not the only reason I voted for him, but I did vote for Trump because I just, I liked the way his views are on stuff. And I liked the way he don't try to be all political correct on everything.

RICHARDS: He was very positive towards coal where others weren't.

SAVIDGE: You don't feel like despite all his talk of coal, bring the jobs back, that somehow your coal-related job?

SHELTON: No, I personally don't feel let down. But I'm personally hope that he steps in on this part as well.

HILDERBRAND: Puts some pressure on, you know, let's rework this coal industry around.

SAVIDGE: These Trump voters are trying to convince now President Trump to keep his promises about jobs and coal. If he can't, if he doesn't?

RICHARDS: Well, you know, I don't know, I guess I'll have to see what the future holds. I won't necessarily hold it against him, but I guess more of a disappointment.

SAVIDGE: If they were just empty promises, then in Manchester, in other towns with coal fired power plants, futures once so bright will soon face much darker days. Martin Savidge, CNN, Manchester, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOWELL: Martin Savidge, thank you. And to talk more about this, let's bring in Scott Lucas live in Birmingham, England. Scott is a professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham. Good to have you with us, Scott. Let's talk just a bit more about what we just heard in Martin Savidge's report there. This is the heart of America, talking about coal country, for many people who voted for the president of the United States, they were hoping that he would save their jobs and bring more jobs, bring in new jobs.

We are just a little more than a month into this new administration, so certainly, you know, we're just in the beginning here, but given this snapshot right now that the hopes, the aspirations of so many Americans, where do you put the president as far as delivering his promises?

SCOTT LUCAS, FOUNDER & EDITOR, EA WORLDVIEW: Well, the president has been hoping he can just deliver with slogans. He really hasn't projected coherent economic policies as much as you heard in the clip, jobs, jobs, jobs, lame or economic problems on foreigners, like the Mexican and Chinese, and somehow I'll bring you an economic program that will save you. We haven't seen that economic program so far and it's going to be difficult.

Because let's take coal, the issue regarding coal is that we've had changing patterns of energy mix, including nuclear power, including new forms of power like solar power. And that coal has been on the back foot. We saw it in Britton here a generation ago with the turn away from coal. Now, Trump is not going to be able to remedy that. But beyond this, a lot of America's issues regarding changing economic patterns in employment has to do with technology, not to do with foreigns rip -- foreigners ripping us off.

And none of Trump's policies or proposed policies deal with that issue of changing technology. So, I think we're going to see a long time of uncertainty. And I do think we'll see disappointment amongst those who voted for Trump within the next year.

HOWELL: Scott, let's also talk about disappointment, maybe you should call it surprise by any of the journalists who covered the White House. The president tweeting that he will not attend the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. This, as you know, an annual dinner where the president of the United States is the guest of honor, typically, you know, the butt of the jokes in many cases.

So, many presidents before Mr. Trump had taken part in this annual tradition, but President Trump saying that he will not have a part in it this year. Your thoughts on that?

LUCAS: Well, I don't think you should be surprised. I mean, the president has declared (inaudible) let's be clear, that President Trump is saying and his advisers, like Steve Bannon, if you give us good press, we'll treat you as friends as they did with the gaggle this week where they shut out others. But if you don't give us good press and if you run reporting that is challenging us, then we will hit back at you. And we will keep hitting back at you. Now, Trump's tweet is just the latest, and it's just a symbolic blow,

albeit one that's interesting, and that he's the first president since 1981 to not appear at this dinner. What is going to be important on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday this week is how they keep rolling out fake news who they attack with it. Will it be CNN? Will it be "The New York Times"? Will it be NBC?

Because -- let's be clear here, they are trying to intimidate the media to back off stories regarding the alleged Trump administration's link with the Russians. They don't -- they fear what may come out and the way to try to overcome what might come out, is to say it's all fake. It's all this liberal media who are attacking us.

HOWELL: You know, it's not the job of journalists to be friendly with politicians. You can certainly have friendships, but our job, rather, is just to dig for the facts to ask questions. We'll continue doing that. There's no way the press will be intimidated in that fashion. Let's also talk about this coming Tuesday, a very important day for the president of the United States. He'll be addressing congress, his first address as president. What do we expect to hear?

Obviously, we know there will be a new travel ban. There are some very important items on the president's agenda.

LUCAS: Well, I don't think you're going to hear much in terms of specific substance out of this effective State of the Union Address. Because the administration is not in a position to repeal Obamacare. It is still doesn't have its tax plan in place. I do think you may, and I stress may, get a new version of the Muslim ban which was struck down by the courts.

And I think you'll get some old line -- one-liners, we'll build a wall with Mexico, we'll make America safe, we'll withdraw from trade partnerships. My question is whether you get the Trump that we have gown to see, love or hate, who is almost off the wall in what he says. You know, look at how big my moderation was, how big electoral result was. Or do we get a more settled Trump with a speech written for him, which is much more conciliatory recognizing that at some point he's going to need congress to get his legislation through.

HOWELL: It will be a very important address. We'll be watching. The world will be watching as the president speaks on Tuesday. Scott Lucas live in Birmingham. Thank you so much for your insight and perspective today.

LUCAS: Thank you.

HOWELL: I want to tell you about a situation now in New Orleans, Louisiana. Festivities turned tragic there, this at a Mardi Gras parade, a pickup truck slammed into a crowd of people. Five people seriously hurt. The youngest victim, we understand, just three years old. The suspect taken into custody. Police say that he appeared to be highly intoxicated. The witness told CNN affiliate WDSU the truck barreled right into a group of people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I heard the impact over here, I seen the

truck hitting people on the ground, coming through the crowd. It ricocheted off of one car to another when he hooked a hard left. And that's when he hit all the people, the ground over here. People were just -- everybody was trying to help one another, trying to get them to make sure everybody was all right.


HOWELL: The witness to the truck crash in New Orleans speaking there. The city police chief says that there's no indication at this point that this crash was a terrorist act. Still ahead here on "Newsroom," Malaysia says that you are safe at the capital's main airport. We'll take you live to Kuala Lumpur for more on the investigation into the poisoning death of Kim Jong Nam. Plus, another Trump administration official appears to break with the president. Details ahead as "Newsroom" continues.


HOWELL: Welcome back to "CNN Newsroom." I'm George Howell. Officials are responding to a new concern raised by the murder of Kim Jong Nam. They want to make sure that people know there is no trace of toxic chemicals at the airport, the scene of his killing. Kuala Lumpur international airport was swept this weekend, two weeks after the estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader was apparently poisoned there with a banned nerve agent.

We are following the story live in the Malaysian capital, CNN's Alexandra Field joins us this hour. Alexandra, let's talk about this. The airport wants to make sure that people traveling through that very busy airport, that they know that it is safe.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and with good reason. Because the health minister is now saying that it was just about 15 or 20 minutes between the time that Kim Jong Nam was attacked and the time that he died. And they say that he was attacked with the VX nerve agent, an incredibly, lethal and potent nerve agent. Just a couple of drops or a swab of the liquid, or even some of these vapors can kill you.

So, the fact that this airport has been open, that this terminal has been filled with travelers going in and out for almost two weeks, certainly did raise alarm among the public after authorities came out and said that VX agent had been found on the face and in the eyes of Kim Jong Nam. But they went in overnight. Police sent in team of forensic investigators along with fire department and the atomic energy group all dressed in protective suits to scan the airport, to look for hazardous substances.

They say that the entire terminal came up clean. They also say that they have sent all of the staff members who came into contact with Kim Jong Nam for medical checks. And that everyone has checked out, no illnesses have been reported. So, they are sending a strong message to the public, the flying public saying that that terminal is safe to be in, George. HOWELL: So many angles to cover here. So, that's the airport, right? So, let's talk now about the investigation, Alexandra. Is there anything new to report at this point?

FIELD: We are hearing more from the two women who remain under arrest, that's the Vietnamese woman and the Indonesian woman who were seen on the CCTV video who believed they attacked Kim Jong Nam armed with that poison. Both of them have now told diplomatic officials from their home countries they thought that they were participating in some kind of prank.

There have been a lot of questions about how these women would be able to handle something like VX nerve agent and not themselves suffer any symptoms. Well, we now know from police that the Indonesian woman did throw up in a taxicab after leaving the airport, following the attack. Both are reportedly in good physical condition, which is now why police now stated that they are looking at the possibility that the women may have been given some kind of antidote or certainly trained to protect themselves against that deadly chemical, George.

At the same time, officials here still trying to talk to as many as seven North Korean citizens who they believe are connected to this attack.

HOWELL: And Alexandra, just briefly, to get a sense of the situation between Malaysia and North Korea, North Korea, obviously, they don't want this investigation to happen.

FIELD: They have vehemently denied any involvement, first of all, with the poisoning of Kim Jong Nam. They had contended that they were told that he died of a quote/unquote "heart stroke." And they've actually gone to partially blame the Malaysian government saying that the Malaysian government is responsible because he died, quote, in their land. Malaysian officials are putting a lot of pressure on the North Korean authorities to help track down the seven suspects.

And just on Thursday, George, we are now learning that police actually raided an apartment right here in Kuala Lumpur, they say had been rented by the four suspects who they believe provided the women with that deadly weapon and then fled the country right after the attack.

HOWELL: Alexandra Field, live for us in Kuala Lumpur, following very complicated investigation mystery. At that, we'll stay in touch with you. Alexandra, thank you. In Germany, terrorism is not suspected after a man rammed his car into a group of people killing one of the men and injuring two others. Police say the suspect was armed with a knife that tried to run from the scene Saturday in Heidelberg.

Officers then shot him. He was taken on to the hospital with serious injuries. No motive is known at this point. In Russia, opposition is holding a march in Moscow to mark the second anniversary since the Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov was murdered. CNN's Matthew Chance is live in the Russian capital with more on this story. And I see, Matthew, since last hour a crowd is growing behind you there.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's a lot more people here. And this is what was expected would happen. Several thousand people arriving here at this location in the center of Moscow to demonstrate on the second anniversary of the death of the killing in central Moscow of Boris Nemtsov, one of Russia's most prominent opposition figures. You could see there are many people arrived here in the course of the path arrow.

So, some of them are waving Russian flags and banners with various opposition slogans bearing the image of Boris Nemtsov. Of course, it's still a very live political issue in this country. Five people from Chechen origin in Southern Russia have been -- have gone on trial already accused of involvement in the killing, although they all say they had nothing to do with it.

But family members of Boris Nemtsov, we have spoken to and also his colleagues as well in the opposition movement in this country fear that the person who (inaudible) people that ordered the killing of Boris Nemtsov may never be brought to justice. And so, it's a big issue at the moment. Vladimir Kara-Murza who is another opposition figure here in this country and he was very close to Boris Nemtsov.

He was recently poisoned for the second time in as many years. He issued a statement on Facebook and social media calling on the people of Russia to, whether or not they support the politics of Boris Nemtsov who was a fierce kremlin critic, calling on them to come out and to protest for freedom of speech, which is what opposition figures say Boris Nemtsov really stood for.

And why they say he was silenced in that brutal fashion on a bridge as he walked home from dinner with his girlfriend two years ago by a gunman, he was killed by four shots.

HOWELL: Matthew, just put it in perspective for us, because, you know, our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world are seeing these images behind you. And we had a wider shot showing, you know, the larger crowd that has gathered there, but many times people hear the stories about Vladimir Putin, the extreme popularity in that nation for him, rarely do they see events like this where there are protests.

Put it into context for us, I mean, is it welcomed to see protests like this? And how big are these protests protest, in fact?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, I think it's certainly true to say the opposition has a, you know, tiny minority of support in this country. And Vladimir Putin is by far the most popular political figure here with approval ratings in the mid-80's in terms of percentage points. And that hasn't changed. And one of the reasons for that is because the Kremlin controls the news media. And, of course, it is dangerous.

There's a dangerous, deadly, political climate in this country when it comes to political opposition. And that's what Boris Nemtsov was victim of. It's important to point out, I think, that the family members of Boris Nemtsov don't accuse the Kremlin of ordering his killing. And in fact, Vladimir Putin said it was a violent, cynical act. But they do accuse Vladimir Putin of presiding over a country where political killings like this are common place. Boris Nemtsov is just one in a line of Kremlin critics who have met

this untimely death.

HOWELL: Matthew Chance live in Moscow where it's 1:24 in the evening. Matthew, thank you for the reporting. We'll stay in touch as the crowds there continue to gather. Now to France, tensions there are rising ahead of the nation's presidential election. Riot police and protesters clashed in the countries northwest. The election will test the rise of populism across Europe. Our Paris Correspondent Melissa Bell filed this report on Saturday.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The protests (inaudible) where a sign of the fact that this is a presidential race that is really heating up. With just eight weeks to go before the first round of voting, far left groups and anti-fascist organizations have gathered to show their anger. The fact that the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, the woman who is currently leading the polls, is to be in the city of (inaudible) to hold a rally.

They vowed to try to and keep parts of the center of the city closed ahead of that rally to try and prevent it taking place. And today there were disruptions during the protest, tear gas was fired and projectiles thrown. Four people were arrested according to local police. Now, the protesters have said they'll do all they can to prevent tomorrow's rally going ahead. Local police say they will do all that is necessary to ensure that it does go ahead.

Marine Le Pen will be speaking to her supporters. Emmanuel Macron, the man who is immediately behind her, the independent centrist who is now hoping to be the man to face her off in the second round of voting, that is what the polls suggest will happen at this stage, has also been holding meetings this weekend. He's hoping to keep up the momentum in order that he can be the one to take on the far right in the second round of voting on the 7th of May. Melissa Bell, CNN in Paris.

HOWELL: Still ahead here on "CNN Newsroom," American boxers will have a fight on Cuban's soil. What the fight might mean for U.S./Cuban relations ahead. Plus more tense moments at town halls across the United States. Why constituents are angry and what they want from their elected officials. It's 5:26 am in Atlanta, Georgia. We are live across the United States and around the world this hour. You're watching "CNN Newsroom."


HOWELL: A warm welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching "CNN Newsroom," it is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines are following for you this hour. Kuala Lumpur international airport has been declared safe this after it was swept for toxic chemicals. Kim Jong Nam was fatally poisoned there just about two weeks ago.

Authorities say, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader was killed with the VX nerve agent. Malaysia's health minister says now that Kim died within 20 minutes of being poisoned. At least 28 people are injured after a truck ran into a crowd of people in New Orleans, Louisiana. This happened on Saturday during a Mardi Gras parade. Police say the suspect is in custody and that they say he appeared to be highly intoxicated.

New Orleans police chief says that there is no indication the crash was a terrorist act. The former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez is the new leader of the Democratic National Committee. Perez won the chairmanship on Saturday in a tight race against Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison. His biggest job will be to rebuild the Democratic Party after Hillary Clinton's loss to the president of the United States in November.

The president says that he will not be attending the annual White House Correspondents' dinner come April 29th. This is a break in tradition as the president is usually the guest of honor there. Mr. Trump has a rocky relationship with the media referring to it as the enemy of the American people which it is absolutely not. A top republican lawmaker is calling for a special prosecutor to lead the investigation of Russian involvement in the presidential election.

Darrell Issa says the attorney general Jeff Sessions should recuse himself. Sessions was part of President Trump's election campaign. Law enforcement officials have told CNN that Trump aides were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to U.S. Intelligence. There's an apparent disconnect between Mr. Trump and his new national security adviser. This over the phrase "Radical Islamic Terrorism." And it may not be the only area where they disagree. Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has more for us.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now President Trump's new national security adviser 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 U.S. efforts to work with Arab and Muslim allies to defeat terrorist groups. Now, we are 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 repudiation of President Trump's language and world view, 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.

President Trump does seem to be impressionable to the opinions of his aides and so career staff, many of whom agree with McMaster's world view are hoping he can push a more moderate U.S. 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 his views will carry the day. Elise Labott, CNN, Washington.

HOWELL: Elise, thank you for the reporting. Another weekend and another round of angry town halls. U.S. voters have not been shy about making their voices heard. They want to meet with their elected representatives to get answers now on health care, the Trump administration and the question about Russia. Sara Ganim has this report for us.

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we have seen, there's been a wave of anger at town halls across the country in the last week making force and pretty contentious moments. On Saturday, 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 giving our (inaudible)

REP. GARY PALMER (R), ALABAMA: Because science is not (inaudible) on it.



GANIM: It's moments like those 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 halls if they are just going to divulge into a, quote, screaming session. Saying that angry town halls trivialize and diminish democracy. But it is not just republicans who are backing off of the traditional meetings with constituents.

Some democrats, particularly 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 possibly contentious situation. And there's another reason some democrats might want to hold off on a town hall right now. I talked to one strategist, he explained it.


LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: I think they are avoiding stepping on the anti-republican story, because it is the republican town halls that have become very controversial. And its video clips from those town halls that have made it onto 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GANIM: Now, to be fair, many are holding events, just not the

traditional town hall. For example, Senator Jon Tester in Montana opted for a Facebook live, which is a much more controlled environment. Democratic strategists are telling me the traditional town halls are just 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. Sara Ganim, CNN, New York.

HOWELL: Sara Ganim, thank you. Improve Obamacare, don't destroy it. That was the rallying cry on Saturday in more than 100 marches across the United States, including the one you see here in Las Vegas, Nevada. Republicans in congress they are planning to dismantle Obamacare saying that they will replace it. Critics, though, they aren't so sure. CNN's Karin Caifa was at a rally in Atlanta at Atlanta Healthcare and has this report.

KARIN CAIFA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A number of the gatherings and rallies were slated to take place today, February 25th. The call had been issued by Senators Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders earlier in the month. This is a particularly crucial weekend coming at the end of all the lawmaker town halls that took place during the president's recess. And, of course, as lawmakers prepare to go back to Capitol Hill.

But here in Atlanta, organizers sense a unique opportunity. The Democratic National Committee holding their winter meetings here and, of course, electing a new chairman. And so, the one-and-a-half mile march route went past the hotel on Peace Street here in downtown Atlanta where those meetings were taking place. The organizers saying they really had a message for both parties out of all of this, the supporters of the Affordable Care Act saying to democrats, fight harder.

Saying to republicans, don't repeal the ACA without a replacement. And saying to both of them, try to work together a little bit harder. Of course, this has been a very polarizing debate on Capitol Hill, but lawmakers have had an earful from constituents back home really putting a personal side on all of this. And in the crowd of marchers, you did see some signs today with people referring to what the Affordable Care Act, what Obamacare has meant to them over the last seven years and what it would mean if they did not have it.

So, lawmakers as they return to Capitol Hill from Atlanta and all across the country next week, certainly a lot to take back with them as this debate continues to go on. Karin Caifa, CNN, Atlanta.

HOWELL: Karin, thank you. Still ahead, one family's dangerous journey escaping Syria is captured in an Oscar-nominated documentary. Why the Academy Awards mean so much to them? After the break.


HOWELL: Welcome back to "Newsroom." The U.S. president has threatened to rollback in relations with Cuba. But a thaw between the U.S. and Cuba, between these adversaries that has resulted in some unlikely diplomacy. The group of amateur U.S. boxers recently traveled to the island for a fierce contest with Cuban fighters. CNN's Patrick Oppmann has more on their story.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It may not look very friendly at all. But this is U.S./Cuban diplomacy in action. The nine amateur boxers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were able to fight in Cuba was further proof of the thawing relations between the U.S. and communist- ruled island. A two-year old change in U.S. policy allows athletes competing on the island to skirt the American travel ban on Cuba. For the American boxers all in their teens and early 20s, it was their chance to face seasoned opponents.

ROSALINDO MORALES, U.S. BOXER: They are probably the toughest fighters in the world. You're not going to get anything like them in the ring. Training wise is phenomenal.

OPPMANN: Cuba may be just 90 miles from Florida, but for the U.S. boxers, it seemed a world away.

RICH DONNELLY, U.S. TEAM COACH: They didn't know what to expect. And they are just saying how great this trip is, they are impressed with the people, they are impressed with the architecture of the buildings, they are impressed with the weather, they are just all around impressed with everything.

OPPMANN: This was the second boxing tournament between the U.S. and Cuba. In 2016, American fighters faced the Cubans on their home turf in Pittsburgh, losing four matches to seven. The fights' organizers say are meant to unite athletes from two countries long divided by politics but would share a common passion for boxing. Since the thaw in relations has become far easier for the U.S. and Cuba to cooperate on exchanges like this one, but President Trump has promised to take a tougher stance on Cuba.

And many here are now worried that activities designed to bring the two countries together will once again become a thing of the past. Cuban officials say despite the many differences between the U.S. and Cuban government, there should continue to be exchanges and that Cuba hopes to host for the first time professional boxers from the U.S.


OPPMANN: We are studying the possibility of having a match. Cuba's top boxing match official says, between the leading U.S. professional boxers and our Olympic world champion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Head, body, head, body, head, body.

OPPMANN: Even though the 1959 revolution banned professional sports, Cuba has remained a boxing powerhouse. Well, the Cubans swept the tournament six matches to three, for the Americans who beat heavily favored opponents, victory was sweet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) we were supposed to all get beat up, but I proved that wrong. OPPMANN: But in the end, both side success wasn't based on jobs or knockouts, but on bringing youth athletes from very different places together. Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Pena del Real Cuba.


HOWELL: Patrick, thank you. So now, let's talk about a solar eclipse that will be visible a part -- from parts of the planet. Derek Van Dam is here to tell us about it. This is going to be very cool for people.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. Two thousand countries, three continents, millions of people all going to be awarded a nice surprise here in the next three to four hours depending on where you are located. Let's show you what a solar eclipse looks like. This is not the one that's about to occur. This is from Indonesia in 2016, but I just want to give you a preview of things to come if you're tuning in from South America or Southern Africa.

Because you are in the path of totality. Check my graphics behind me. Let me explain what a solar eclipse actually is. We know the sun emits the light rays that help give us life here on earth, but every once in a while the moon blocks the sun's rays and casts a shadow right on our planet. And depending on where you are located, that can be just a line perfectly to block out the sun.

Now, a total solar eclipse is an incredible sight to see, but what it's even more unique is what is known as annular solar eclipse and that's what's going to occur today in South America and in Southern Africa. Remember, the moon travels around the earth in an elliptical fashion. And this has consequences on the -- how far away the earth and the moon happen to be. And how big or small the shadow that is cast on our planet actually is.

So, today with the annual solar eclipse is going to occur, we're going to see what is known as the ring of fire. So, the outer periphery of the sun will still be visible as the shadow from the moon is cast across the star. Here's a look at the path of the eclipse if you're watching this morning from South America. Prime viewing spot right across Patagonia, Argentina and to Southern Chile.

We have upwards of 90 to 99 percent visibility. If you're located in, perhaps, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, parts of South Africa and for my friends in Cape Town in South Africa, you have the potential between 50 percent to 60 percent of blockage across the sun. So, get outside, check it out. Of course, use protection with your eyes. Don't ever look directly into the sun to see a solar eclipse. Little hint there.

I want to take you to Antarctica because scientists have found something incredible. Tough to see what is going on with this image, but what we have noticed is that there is a new iceberg. That's the size of Delaware. Half the size of Jamaica. Three times the size of London. That is just about ready to break off into the ocean. A new iceberg ready to form. Take a look at the video from. This is an aerial shot that scientists have found. And there is the ice shell trying, attempting to break off. It's 1900 square miles, a 100 stories deep.


VAN DAM: And when it breaks off in the (inaudible) ice shell it will be one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. We've got fingerprints of climate change all over that story.

HOWELL: That is impressive video. And, yes, it really tells the story about climate change.

VAN DAM: It really does. I agree.

HOWELL: Derek, thank you.

VAN DAM: Thanks, George.

HOWELL: Still ahead, an Academy Award nominated documentary captures the dangerous journey at one Syrian family went through to escape their war-ravaged country. Why the Oscars hold a special place in their hearts? Straight ahead.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Patrick Snell with the world sport headlines. It's turning into quite a compelling race to (inaudible) La Liga Real Madrid and Barcelona both playing on Sunday. But Saturday, Sevilla able to move, joined top of the table with Real after beating Betis. Sevilla relying on a pair of second half strikes from Gabriel Mercado and Vicente Iborra to give them a two-one victory and their fourth straight win in all competitions.

After Claudio Ranieri was sacked from Leicester on Thursday, there have been speculation Claudio actually lost a support and confidence from some of the players. (inaudible) striker Jamie Vardy took to Instagram taking issue with as well saying, "He believed in me when many didn't and for that I owe him my eternal gratitude. There is speculation I was involved in his dismissal and this is completely untrue, unfounded and is extremely hurtful! The only thing we are guilty of as a team is underachieving which we all acknowledge."

To Rugby 6 Nations Tournament where Ireland maintained their hopes of a third title in four years after winning a thriller against the French. Nineteen points to nine on Saturday. (inaudible) bracing into a six points to nothing lead, but the double and faithful were awarded when Conor Murray (inaudible) to try and put the lead. Johnny Sexton a little bit (inaudible) with two penalties and a drop goal. Sexton, by the way, surpassing the 600 point mark in the international rugby and the process as well. And congratulations to him. Those are your world sports headlines. I'm Patrick Snell.

HOWELL: A story of a Syrian family escaping their war-ravaged country. That is the subject of a short documentary that is coming up for an Oscar on Sunday. The mother purchased tickets for herself and her children with hopes of traveling to Los Angeles to tell the world about the war in Syria. But she's worried that confusion over the U.S. president travel ban that could force her to watch the awards ceremony from home. Atika Shubert has the story.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not the gun battles or violence that draws you into the film Watani: My Homeland. But 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 a documentary now up for an Oscar. Paula 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: In the first, I was so sad. And when I really 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 expect him so much because he don't make this (inaudible) 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 support that there's a lot of family, a lot of children in Syria have these dangerous things. But I want his heart to look for the story as a fact, the truth of 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: (Speaking in Foreign Language)

SHUBERT: The film shows the children offering tearful goodbyes as they leave the destroyed streets of Aleppo. And how they keep their resolve attempting camps at the Turkish border. Even as they bring their trauma with them, the youngest, Sara, still running in fear from planes. The camera follows them through the cobblestone streets of Goslar, Germany where the family lives now. The children have quickly made friends in their new home.

KAMIL: The (inaudible) present. Big wall around the (inaudible)

SHUBERT: Hala cried when the Oscar nominations were announced. She shows us photos of her celebratory breakfast with 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: Yes. And he know every (inaudible) anything for --

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.


HOWELL: And now, we know that at least this part of the story has a happy ending. We just learned a little while ago that Hala has arrived to Los Angeles safely and she will be watching the Oscars actually in person there as supposed to be in a way. Thanks for being with us for this hour of "CNN Newsroom." I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers in the United States, "New Day" is next. For other viewers, we'll have a check on the headlines. From CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, I'm George Howell. This is "CNN News" now.