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Pence Dodges Questions on Wiretapping Claims; Trump to Take Obamacare Pitch Straight to the People; Crumbling Relationship Between Trump, Obama; Trump Picks Jon Huntsman as Russian Ambassador; Battle Against ISIS Heating Up; Some Feel Left Out on International Women's Day. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:02] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Isha Sesay.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

SESAY: President Donald Trump is preparing for an all-out blitz to sell the new Republican health care plan. Two things are getting in his way, lingering allegations about his campaign's links to Russia, and the allegations that President Obama wiretapped him.

VAUSE: A growing number of Republicans, now including the vice President Mike Pence are sidestepping questions about that wiretapping claims.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The president has alleged that the former president committed a felony in wiretapping Trump Tower. Yes or no? Do you believe President Obama did?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I can say is that the president and our administration is confident the congressional committees in the House and Senate that are examining issues surrounding the last election, the run-up to the last election will do that in a thorough and equitable way. They'll look at those issues and other issues that have been raised.


VAUSE: The president is about to take his health care pitch straight to the American people.

We get details from Jeff Zeleny.



the biggest sales pitch of the young President Trump presidency. Sean Spicer says the president is ready to hit the road to make his case.

SPICER: This will be an aggressive approach to making sure every American understands there's a major problem and we're here to fix it.

ZELENY: Never mind the Democratic defiance.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Trumpcare is a health care handout for the wealthiest Americans and fake health care for everybody else.

ZELENY: It's the fierce Republican opposition the president must first overcome.


ZELENY: A point he made to GOP lawmakers.

TRUMP: I got elected, a pretty good chunk, based on the fact we repeal and replace Obamacare. And many of you people are in the same boat. Very important. So let's get it done.

ZELENY: That was the president's message to GOP leaders on Tuesday, but today for the second time this week, he had no public appearances at the White House.

The vice president was taking his turn at explaining the plan publicly, hitting the air waves in six states across the country, all of which he and Mr. Trump turned red in November.

PENCE: The president indicated this is the framework. We're open to improvements in the legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: The gentleman from Ohio, Jim Jordan.

ZELENY: Yet, some of the loudest resistance is coming from Congressman like Jim Jordan from Ohio, a Tea Party member who railed against Obamacare on the campaign trail.

REP. JIM JORDAN, (R), OHIO: Let's vote Donald Trump the president and let's make America great again.

ZELENY: But now he has this to say about President Trump's health care bill.

JORDAN: I believe when you look through it, it's Obamacare in a different form.

ZELENY (on camera): It's no question this is the biggest sales job of Mr. Trump's young presidency, and he'll take it on the road. He will make the case starting in Kentucky on Saturday, we're told. It's the home of Senator Rand Paul, one of the most outspoken Republicans against this health care plan. We'll be traveling more next week as well. Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: Joining us here in Los Angeles, talk radio host, Mo Kelly; and Republican consultant, John Thomas.

Thank you for being with us.

We have the House and Senate intelligence communities looking into the wiretapping allegation made by the president. Lindsey Graham says he wants the intelligence agencies to offer up more information and he's willing to use subpoena power if he has to.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The president has asked Congress to look into whether or not his campaign was wiretapped by the Obama administration. I'll take up that challenge. And send a letter to the department of justice and the FBI asking them for any information that they have used to obtain a warrant. The purpose of this is to find out if a warrant was issued directed at the Trump campaign.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And if they don't provide this information?

GRAHAM: Then I'll have done my job. Either they're lying to me or there's no information. I don't believe they would lie to me about this. I expect them to come forward as to whether or not a warrant was obtained.

RAJU: Will you subpoena the information if you don't comply?



VAUSE: John, does Lindsey Graham want to prove the president's claim or is he getting James Comey to refute the claim?

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: That is possible. I mean, this is the way I see it. In campaigns, we do public records requests. You write them narrow or broadly. Lindsey Graham, if he asks narrowly, the answer is probably no. If he asks broadly, did Barack Obama ask for a wiretap from the FBI, it might tell a better story? I don't know that Senator Graham wants to tell the story.

[02:05:05] SESAY: Mo, as you look at the lack of evidence provided so far and the Republicans kind of backing away --


MO KELLY, TALK RADIO SHOW HOST: It's a function of who are his friends right now on Capitol Hill. I'm not sure Lindsey Graham is acting as a friend of Donald Trump. He's hedged his bet. He's called for the information so he can be seen as a friend to the party, but I'm not sure he's looking to have the president vindicated on this.

VAUSE: OK. The White House is really struggling to explain just exactly what is going on. Look what happened to Sean Spicer during the White House briefing when he was asked if the president was under investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the president the target of a counterintelligence investigation?

SPICER: I think that's what we need to find out. There's obviously a lot of concern.


VAUSE: OK. So that was answer number one. Moments later, a White House aide comes in, hands him a piece of paper and we have another answer.


SPICER: There is no reason that we should -- that we have to think that the president is the target of any investigation.


VAUSE: Mo, no reason to think the president is a target of any investigation except for what the president tweeted out over the weekend. This is the issue?

KELLY: It's clear that the president believes one thing and no one else has anything to back up what the president believes, and the White House staff is spinning tirelessly trying to come up with some way to extricate themselves ever so delicately without making the president look bad. I don't know if there's a clean way to get out of it.

THOMAS: I think the president believes he isn't the target of an investigation. It was simply eavesdropping on the president when he was on the campaign trail. So I think it's not uncommon for an aide to come out and correct a statement during a briefing. But this is a very difficult thing, because the president jumped to a conclusion when he may or may not have had hard evidence in his hands.

SESAY: We saw individuals like Lindsey Graham take his stand. What about rank-and-file Republicans? Where are they in this?

THOMAS: They're letting the president go out on his own. They're not privy to the evidence at this point. Congress has to do an investigation. If they yield something, I would imagine Republicans will jump on board, but at this point, they're not privy to the intel that President Trump may or may not have. Why risk political capital defending him on this?

VAUSE: Mo, do you think the president doesn't understand the powers of the presidency?

KELLY: No, I don't think he understands it. I don't mean or the blunt --


KELLY: The president cannot order a wiretap. I think if he understood that, to start with the conclusion that the president called for a wiretap, he's calling for his own investigation which puts his own presidency in greater danger, and his credibility in greater jeopardy. I don't think he thought beyond the moment as far as making the accusation.

THOMAS: I think he understands the power of the presidency. People like him because his charm, he speaks like every man. He's making an accusation. Does that mean that President Obama wired the wiretap or they were eavesdropping? The details may be different, but I think part of his charm is he says what he's thinking.


KELLY: But he specifically said President Obama. He didn't leave himself any room. He started in the corner.


THOMAS: And he called Lying Ted, Lying Ted. Does that mean he's a liar all the time? No.

SESAY: We come back to where we were in the campaign. You say he understands the power of the presidency. Again, he doesn't seem to understand the power of words and that the words you put out matter. People scrutinize them and take them at face value. That lesson still hasn't been learned.

THOMAS: I think you're right. The power of words, but that's different than the power of the presidency.

VAUSE: OK. Let's move on to the plan to replace Obamacare. The president amid all this controversy is struggling to win over members of the Republican Party. Just don't call it Trumpcare.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISOR: I'll call it Trumpcare if you want to. I didn't hear President Trump say I want my name on this. This isn't about branding according to someone's name. This is serious business.


VAUSE: Mo, to you. For a guy who puts his name on practically everything, from steaks to vodka to airplanes, why doesn't he want his name on this dog of -- I mean, this health care plan.

(LAUGHTER) KELLY: You break it, you bought it. They're trying to break it, but they've bought it because they won the election. They have seven years to get a reasonable replacement. We saw the first draft last week and now not everyone is coalescing behind this plan.

To your point, you made, they should be talking about the job numbers which is a positive. Instead, they're fighting for this health care plan, and also trying to fight off the wiretapping claims.

[02:09:55] THOMAS: When President Trump took the oath of office, he's the president for America. To make America great again. This is not a branding opportunity for him. It's no surprise he doesn't want his name on this legislation or any legislation, for that matter. And this process is messy. It doesn't matter whether you're a Republican or Democrat. I like that my party has the competition of ideas.

SESAY: Mo, for the Democrats, the strategy here seems to be chase down countless amendments and just stall. That seems to be the process.

KELLY: Possibly, but we're only talking about a slim majority in the Senate. They can flip a Lindsey Graham or a John McCain. Rand Paul spoke out against the health care bill. You talk about competition of ideas, we're late in the game to start the competition. This competition should have started earlier so they had a more developed draft in the game. You flip two or three Senators and that bill goes down in the Senate.

SESAY: Can they be flipped, John?

THOMAS: Depends on where Trump's approval ratings are and the news cycle that day.

VAUSE: Good point.

Finally, she's back. Hillary Clinton back on the national stage marking International Women's Day in Washington.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our voices have always been vital, but they've never been more vital than they are right now, not just in far-away countries but right here in the United States.


CLINTON: And we are just getting started.



VAUSE: Is that an indication she's running for 2020?

THOMAS: She's the perfect spokeswoman for this. She always gets up despite getting kicked down. Good for her.

VAUSE: This is good news for you. We beat up you so often.


THOMAS: Really? Really, John?


VAUSE: Donald Trump finally, he has -- he's polling better than Hillary Clinton. The latest numbers are out. His approval ratings are higher than Hillary Clinton. Hers continue to fall. I guess --

THOMAS: Which is actually interesting, because, typically, when politicians are out of the spotlight like Bush, their numbers go up, but in this case she's unlikable.


KELLY: And another mistake made by the Democrats. America has decided on Hillary Clinton. And if she's the loudest voice in a Democratic Party still, they haven't learned, and they're going to keep suffering.

VAUSE: OK. John and Mo, thank you so much for being with us.

SESAY: Always appreciate it.

THOMAS: It's a pleasure.

SESAY: You love it when we beat on you.

THOMAS: I kind of do.


VAUSE: That was just weird.


SESAY: It was, actually. Yeah.

VAUSE: We'll take a break. They said they'd stay in touch that they'd talk, pick up the phone.

SESAY: Call me.

VAUSE: But things haven't been so good lately between President Trump and former President Obama. We'll check their relationship status in a moment.

VAUSE: Plus, as Mr. Trump tweets on International Women's Day, thousands march in protest of him.



[02:16:36] SESAY: Hello, everyone. Sources tell CNN President Trump has not spoken with his predecessor since the inauguration, but their staffs have been communicating.

VAUSE: Those familiar with this say White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has not spoken with the former chief of staff since President Trump made his wiretapping claim.

SESAY: Joining us to explore about the crumbling relationship between President Trump and former President Obama is CNN presidential historian and author, Douglas Brinkley.

Douglas, good to have you with us.


SESAY: We're hearing that President Obama was irked in response to Donald Trump's evidence free wiretapping claims. The fact is President Obama is essentially being accused of committing a felony here. Put this in some kind of context for us. Before now, have we ever seen a former president assailed by his successor in this way?

BRINKLEY: No, we haven't. Not even in the age of dueling did somebody accuse somebody of a felonious act when you were a sitting president like Donald Trump's done to Barack Obama. Different presidents have rocky relationships. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter didn't get along. Franklin Roosevelt took Herbert Hoover's name off the dam. You get petty things that happen if they don't like each other, but this was a tweet too far, accusing somebody of a felony, and it's kind of shattered the idea of the special relationship, the special club, if you like, between ex-presidents and a sitting president.

SESAY: The current president and his administration appear to be doubling down on this notion of being under siege by the media and the previous administration. Historically when an administration takes on this kind of bunker mentality, what are the implications for the country?

BRINKLEY: That the country gets unnerved, fear, and paranoia spread across the land. True facts get replaced by alternative facts. We see that now. The main role of a president is to unite the country, not just your followers, and Donald Trump has yet to kind of shift into that gear. The attack on Obama is going to create an issue this spring. It's not just a distraction. There may be a hearing going onto determine the falsehood of Trump's claim. So it's a bit nutty, and the other problem Donald Trump passes in my writing of presidents, the successful ones, none of them like the press, but the successful ones know how to fake it. People like John F. Kennedy or Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan. In this case, you see Trump acting like Nixon, seeing the president as an enemy. That's somebody who doesn't understand the First Amendment properly. And in the end the press works out double hard to find out things about you and it doesn't get you anywhere. [02:19:58] SESAY: We're hearing presidents Trump and Obama haven't

spoken since inauguration. This relationship appears to be heading south. How important is it for sitting presidents to have a good relationship with his predecessor?

BRINKLEY: It's helpful, because nobody knows dc Barack Obama knows a lot about what's going on right now in the war on terror, what's happening in the middle east, what's going on with China, climate change. Donald Trump could tap him as a resource. I mean, after all, Bill Clinton came in in 1992 and regularly started calling Richard Nixon, the failed Republican president, for advice on Russia, because he treasured Nixon's perspective on the USSR back then or the Soviet Union. All I'm suggesting is it's not helpful or good for our democracy that Donald Trump's tactic against Obama, but maybe they'll find a way to heal it. Perhaps Trump will apologize or there will be an investigation and they'll find Obama didn't wiretap. Barack Obama and Trump were doing well after the election and even on inauguration day they seemed to be getting along all right, but things have blown up right now.

SESAY: Indeed. And to date President Obama has been essentially silent. He said before he left office he would speak out if he felt American values were under attack from the Trump administration, but he has held back from directly taking on President Trump. Do you think that the can continue along that path, so to speak?

BRINKLEY: I think largely so. I don't think President Obama wants to respond to every half-baked tweet that Donald Trump does at 6:00 a.m. It would be a never-ending job. I think he has to hope our Democratic process takes hold. In this case, there will be an investigation of Trump's claim. He'll be proven innocent, President Obama, and perhaps we're seeing difficulty with the Affordable Care Act. History has a funny way of turning things around, and I think Obama knows he left the White House with the 60percent approval rating. He's secure in his role in history. And will only go after Donald Trump sparingly on occasion he feels he needs to. This was so absurd that I think he was best just to have surrogates comment on his displeasure.

SESAY: Finally, that being said about the president, the former president not taking on President Trump every time he puts out a tweet, what are your expectations for the memoirs? We know that President Obama and the former first lady have sign third down multimillion dollar deal to write the memoirs. What are your expectations for the books and how much insight we're going to get from them, their feelings on what's going on right now?

BRINKLEY: Well, I know that President Obama's book is going to be very definitive. It's going to be a serious memoir. I've spoken to him about it before. Most presidents do a slap dash job cobbled together policy papers, have a ghost writer, an assistant does the lion's share of the work. President Obama is a writer, and that's how he came to public notoriety in many ways. So he's going to put a lot into this presidential memoir. We'll have to see how much he deals with after Hillary Clinton loses, meaning the end of his presidency, whether he wants to get into issues pertaining to the Trump presidency, but I bet he does at least in the context of 2006 campaign and his sentiments and what he really feels about Donald Trump. He was paid a lot of money for these books, so was Michelle. I'm sure they'll deliver some of the tidbits that were we're all going to be interested in reading.

SESAY: It will be.

Douglas, so good to speak to you. Thank you for the perspective and insight.

BRINKLEY: Thank you so much.

SESAY: Thank you.

VAUSE: It's just the Barack Obama presidency seems like 10 years ago now, because so much has happened.

SESAY: It'll be a juicy read though. It sure is.

VAUSE: We'll take a break. When we come back, we'll take a closer look at the U.S./Russia relationship. It's kind of complicated. President Trump just named the man he hopes will sort all of this out. The challenges Jon Huntsman faces if he becomes the U.S. ambassador.

[02:24:30] SESAY: Plus, dealing with North Korea. Pyongyang's provocations draw some choice words from the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.


SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Just 11:28 on the west coast.

Time to check the headlines this hour --


SESAY: President Trump has chosen former presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman, to be the next ambassador to Russia. If the Senate confirms Huntsman, he'll take a post at a low point in Washington/Moscow relations.

[02:30:00] VAUSE: The House Intelligence Committee is planning a public hearing March 20th on Russia's possible influence on the presidential election. And two senior Senators are asking the FBI and the Justice Department for any information on Trump's unsubstantiated claim that the former president, Barack Obama, ordered a wiretap on Trump's phones during the campaign.

Lindsey Graham is taking a hard line with Moscow as well.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The only way you'll do business with Russia is to make them pay a price for the activity they've been engaging in all over the world. I did a hearing with Baltic nations and, for 25 years, Russia has been trying to destroy these young emerging democracies, and it's time for them to pay a price.


ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Fred Pleitgen joins us with more.

Fred, those comments from Senator Graham underscore the hopes for a different relationship with the Trump White House.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're right. I think during that meeting that he held there with the foreign ministers of Washington, Poland, and Ukraine, he also said that he believes that sanctions against the Russian federation shouldn't be lifted until Russia hands Crimea back to Ukraine. Of course, the Russians have been saying that's not something that's going to happen. And also, some of the new secretaries that are in place now in the Trump administration do take a harder line on Russia than apparently the president, than President Trump himself. At this point it seems as the though the Russians who were, I wouldn't say euphoric, but not unhappy to see Trump elected, they're in a much more sober mood at this point. They now say they believe the lifting oh of sanctions is not something that's going to happen soon. Generally, many here are unhappy at the pace at which relations between the U.S. And Russia are evolving. As you said before, they seem to be heading toward a low point. Right now, Russia isn't holding the president responsible for that yet. But the Russians for their part, by this time into the Trump administration, would have hoped for those relations to be at a better state or in a better state than they currently are -- Isha?

SESAY: We're hearing that former GOP presidential hopeful and ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, has been offered the job of U.S. ambassador to Russia, and he's accepted. He needs to be confirmed by the Senate.

It's an interesting pick given the number of scathing remarks Donald Trump has made about Huntsman in the past. Let's put up this for our viewers. Back in 2012 this is what President Trump tweeted. He said, "Jon Huntsman called to me see me. I said no. He gave our country away to China."

So let's be clear. Not good enough to handle the relationship with China. That was the view of Donald Trump then, but now he's the man to handle the job with Russia?

PLEITGEN: Yeah. I know President Trump was critical of Jon Huntsman in those days in 2011 to 2012. That was around the time Huntsman was the ambassador to China. And Donald Trump back then tweeted some negative comments. Also, Jon Huntsman was critical of Donald Trump during the election campaign when some of Donald Trump's attitudes towards women came up as well. It seems as though the two after mended their ties, and now it appears as though Jon Huntsman has been offered this post. That is something that is really being debated here in Moscow. It's on the front of the task news agencies, Russia's official news agency. On the one hand the articles there are saying Jon Huntsman is being offered this job. It's a matter of fact article. At the same time, also some of the negative things that Jon Huntsman has said in the past about relations with Russia saying that the U.S. needs to remain tough on Russia, saying while the U.S. wants better relations with Russia, there are certain things that the Russians need to do first saying the Russians need to change their behavior. Those are things being seen here as well.

So in many ways, it is for some maybe a surprising appointment given the fairly negative history that President Trump and Jon Huntsman have. But it's an important appointment, arguably one of the most important ambassadors the U.S. has. You look at past appointments, Michael McFaul, who has a difficult tenure here, and had to leave the country in the end, it really is a very, very difficult post to have and certainly for some a surprising appointment -- Isha?

SESAY: Certainly is.

Senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, joining us from Moscow. Always appreciate it, Fred. Thank you.

VAUSE: Breaking news here. Hawaii is the first state taking President Trump to court over the new travel ban. It's asking for an emergency order to hold the ban, which would restrict travel from six Muslim-majority countries.

SESAY: Mr. Trump signed the executive order on Monday. It keeps people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days. All refugees would be banned for 120 days. The order takes effect of March 16th.

VAUSE: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. not mincing words about North Korea's missile launches. Nikki Haley spoke at the Security Council meeting on Wednesday. She explained the need for what's known as the THAAD missile defense system being set up in South Korea right now.


[02:35:15] NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Tell me why we wouldn't be the THAAD in light of two nuclear tests, knowing we're going to protect our allies? We are not going to leave South Korea standing there with the threat of North Korea facing them and not help. We have not seen any good will at all coming from North Korea. I appreciate all of my counterparts wanting to talk about talks and negotiations. We are not dealing with a rational person.


SESAY: Haley says U.N. members are trying to figure out how to get North Korea's attention to top the provocations. So far, sanctions and resolutions aren't working.

VAUSE: The U.S. bringing out the big guns, moving heavy artillery into northern Syria. When we come back, a decisive battle against ISIS could be imminent. We'll have a closer look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [02:40:03] VAUSE: Three minutes before midnight here in Los Angeles. Welcome back, everybody.

The battle against ISIS in Iraq in heating up. Iraqi forces entering western Mosul on Wednesday. ISIS used snipers and suicide car bombs to defend their stronghold.

SESAY: Bomb blasts tore through a wedding party in a village in Iraq. At least 20 people were killed and dozens wounded when suicide bombers targeted the party. No group has claimed responsibility but ISIS has carried out similar attacks as it fights for Mosul.

VAUSE: The battle to retake the city of Raqqa in Syria from ISIS could be weeks away. U.S. officials say Marines equipped with heavy artillery have been deployed in northern Syria.

SESAY: This artillery would add tremendous firepower to U.S.-backed fighters as they edge closer to the ISIS stronghold.

VAUSE: CNN military analyst, Rick Francona, joins us from California. He's a former U.S. military attache to Syria and retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Colonel, thanks for being with us.

There was a similar deployment last year in Mosul. Marine provided cover for the advance on Mosul. It's safe to assume this is a sign the military offensive on Raqqa is now imminent?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm not sure how imminent it is. There's a lot of preparation to be done. But you're right. What we're seeing is reminiscent of what we saw last August when the Marines were brought in to provide that firepower to advancing Iraqi forces as they neared Mosul.

But, John, I think we need to be careful of drawing a relationship or a parallel between these two deployments, because when we deployed the Marines in Iraq, they were supporting the Iraqi army, which had two years to reconstitute itself. It had a lot of armor provided by the United States, and it had reconstituted itself as a cohesive competent military force. What we have in Syria is altogether different. We've basically got a light infantry militia-type of position made up mostly of Kurds. Very effect, but to take a fortified city like Raqqa is going to require a lot more firepower. I wonder where that firepower is going to come from. I don't think the Marine artillery is going to be enough. We may have to put in additional troops. Once you start down that slope, where does it stop?

VAUSE: The U.S. Marines are deployed into the region. There's no need for presidential approval. As you say, if there is a need to ramp it up, could you see the president and the Pentagon sending in greater numbers of U.S. troops?

FRANCONA: I think if they're serious about having the Syrian Democratic Force, that's this mixture of Kurds and Syrian Arabs, who we are supporting with air power and supplies and training and U.S. Special Operations personnel on the ground and now the Marines. If we're using that as the force, we'll need additional firepower. And I know that's what the United States would like to do because -- we talked about this time and distance. The Kurds are right there. They pretty much surrounded and isolated Raqqa. Whereas the Turks and even the Syrian army are over 100 kilometers away. If time is of the essence -- and General Townsend has said it is, he said the people and ISIS fighters in Raqqa are planning attacks against the West -- he needs to get in there and eliminate that pocket. That will require more firepower than on the ground right now. That will require the president to decide what our policy is and how many troops we'll put on the ground in Syria.

VAUSE: We have the Kurdish rebel fighters, backed by the United States, on the ground in position almost ready to go. You also have the Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian regime forces also wanting to be part of this liberation of Raqqa. If it gets to it, there's a multilateral assault taking place, could you have U.S. artillery cover for forces loyal to the Syrian government?

FRANCONA: Yeah. That's a real possibility. We've already seen - and all this will be done through the Russians. We're not going to talk to the Syrians. We'll talk to the Russians. We've done that. There were American air strikes in Palmyra, which is south of Raqqa. It's gone back and forth between ISIS and the Syrian regime. We saw last week were American air strikes in support of a Syrian military assault to retake Palmyra. So, it could happen. But the coordination will be done through the United States and Russia. If the Turks are involved and the Free Syrian Army, that will be through the Turks. So we will have basically the sponsor states will be the ones that make the decisions and the ones that do the coordination.

VAUSE: One U.S. official said the increasing pressure on ISIS in Raqqa appears to be working. Explain to me working in what way? What is this pressure doing to the ISIS leadership and the ISIS fighters inside that city?

[02:45:00] FRANCONA: What we saw in Mosul, you're seeing Raqqa -- they know the assault is coming. This is not a secret. So they've taken the same precautions they took in Mosul. They put a lot of tarps around the city, big, huge tarps to try to mask what's going on. They are raising taxes, cutting salaries, and they're doing their fortifications. People are trying to flee at the same time. We're seeing more defections in the ISIS ranks. So it has a lot of pressure.

And if you look at the map now between the Kurds, the Syrian army, and the Russians, and the Turks, there's nowhere for them to go. They're completely surrounded. They're bottled up. They're not getting any more reinforcements. The situation is getting dire. And as you know, a cornered animal is dangerous, and this is going to be a fight to the finish. It's going to be very difficult. We're going to see the same kind of fighting in Raqqa that we're seeing in Mosul right now.

VAUSE: OK. Colonel, thank you for being with us. Colonel Rick Francona with some insight into what's happening and will happen there in northern Syria. Thank you, sir. SESAY: Still ahead, women urged to take off work and join a one-day strike. But not everyone believes it's a good idea.





[02:50:07] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What freedom means to me is everything. It means standing up for those whose voices has been silenced. It also means fighting for justice and coming together in complete unity to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the power to say and think what you think in society.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom means the ability to live according to you.


VAUSE: CNN is teaming up with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern-day slaver with the launch of My Freedom Day on March 14th.

SESAY: Driving all of this is a simple question, what does freedom mean to you? Send us your answer by text, photo or video. Use "My Freedom Day" hash tag.

The U.S. First Lady Melania Trump is mocking the struggle for gender equality. She hosted a luncheon at the White House and honored International Women's Day. The first daughter, Ivanka Trump, was also there.

VAUSE: Demonstrators held a Day Without Women marches across the U.S. Most peaceful but more than a dozen women were detained for disorderly conduct while protesting in front of Trump Tower in New York.

As for the president, he marked the day with a tweet, "I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy."

SESAY: Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of women rallied around the world on International Women's Day.

VAUSE: The demonstration was aimed at promoting gender equality. It also protested the Trump administration, but some say the movement left them out.

Here's Kyung Lah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Isha, it's Los Angeles rallies like this that have been filled with energy, determination and the belief that this is the global next step in the opposition to the Trump administration.


LAH (voice-over): A crowd in red to symbolize action, from Washington, D.C. --


LAH: -- to San Francisco, where women were out in force for the Day Without a Woman march.

In New York City, police detained the key organizers for blocking traffic outside Trump International Hotel and Tower.


LAH: As women march in honor of International Women's Day from Moldavia --


LAH: -- to Mexico City, the American president loomed large.

The movement asking women to flex their economic and political power by not showing up for work, paid or unpaid. In North Carolina and Virginia, schools shut down after teachers said they wouldn't show up for work, drawing mild criticism from the White House.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: People have a right to express themselves in our First Amendment, as the president is doing today by making sure that we appropriately salute the contributions that women make to this country. But there's clearly an impact in the case of schools.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's over 180 marches happening just today in the United States raising awareness. Women are walking out of work. And it's just showing that, again, how much women play a role in not only our economy, our society, everything.

LAH (on camera): Why are you working today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To get my paycheck. I live -- I pay my own rent. I need to work every day.

LAH (voice-over): Bonnie says she'd march if she could. But doesn't have the luxury of not working.

Same story for Katie. She supports women's rights but says the Day Without a Woman ignores a woman like her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The luxury to take the day off as a stance are people who make more, who have a bigger cushion, who can afford to not do that.

LAH: In Los Angeles, we spoke to women who say, yes, they have the financial ability to be here, but others like these assistants at a Hollywood talent agency, straddled need to work with need to protest, asking their bosses for the time off so they could join the movement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think oftentimes people limit feminism to white privileged women. It's more than that. It was more inclusive. It's all encompassing.

LAH (on camera): There is an awareness of that criticism at this Los Angeles rally. One of the first mentions from the podium was that they represent the many people who had to work and couldn't come out to protest -- John, Isha?


VAUSE: Our thanks to Kyung Lah for that report.

A new statue of a child in New York is getting attention.

SESAY: It is. It's named Fearless Girl. It's staring down the symbol of Wall Street, the bull. It was placed there on Tuesday as part of a marketing campaign to increase the number of women on corporate boards.



[02:55:09] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do need more women in power. We need to acknowledge women's rights in the workplace, in government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think by bringing in more diversity, whether it's racially or across gender, I think it's going to be good in leadership and boards.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's important to have something like this in the middle of this showing women are here and capable of doing anything a man can do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we've come a long way. America has come a long way. We could do better, absolutely better. Having more women on the board should not be a question we're asking in 2017.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It empowers young women and girls to say you can do whatever you want.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No matter how big that bull is, women can defy the odds.


SESAY: Yes, we can.

VAUSE: It's Women's Day. Happy Women's Day. SESAY: Thank you. Even though you're not wearing red.


SESAY: You're watching CNN live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause.

The news continues with Max Foster in London.

We'll take a quick break. You're watching CNN.