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Trump: I Won't be Happy If N. Korea Conducts Nuke Test; Trump on Kim Jong-Un: "He's a Pretty Smart Cookie."; WH Sends Mixed Messages on Korean Missile Defense; McCain to Allies: Watch What Trump Does Not What He Says; At Least Four Dead, Dozens Injured After Tornadoes Hit Texas; U.S. Planes Delivering Supplies To Frontline Troops; Comedy Meets Politics As Trump Skips Annual Event. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired April 30, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Happening now in the NEWSROOM.


JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS HOST: What do you make of North Korea?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really, you know, have no comment on him. People are saying is he sane? I have no idea. I would not be happy if he does a nuclear test. I will not be happy.

DICKERSON: Not happy meaning military action?

TRUMP: I don't know. We'll see.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Is the president considering a preemptive strike on North Korea?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't think so, Jake, but as somebody said, this could be a Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.



Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

President Trump's 100th first day in office finds the leader of the free world tackling a number of controversial topics and issues. In an interview that aired this morning on CBS, the president touches on everything from health care to his income taxes and his distaste for the media.

But we begin with Trump's thoughts on the North Korean crisis and the young unpredictable leader of the rogue nation.


DICKERSON: Mr. President, you and the administration said to North Korea don't test a missile. They have tested a missile. Is the pressure not working?

TRUMP: Well, I didn't say don't test a missile. He's going to have to do what he has to do, but he understands we're not going to be very happy. I will tell you, a man that I've gotten to like and respect, the president of China, President Xi, I believe has been putting pressure on him also. But so far perhaps nothing's happened and perhaps it has. This was a small missile. This was not a big missile. This was not a nuclear test which he was expected to do three days ago. We'll see what happens.

DICKERSON: You say not happy. What does that mean?

TRUMP: I would not be happy if he does a nuclear test. I will not be happy. And I can tell you also I don't believe that the president of China, who is a very respected man, will be happy either.

DICKERSON: Not happy meaning military action?

TRUMP: I don't know. We'll see.

DICKERSON: The Chinese are allies, have been allies with North Korea. How are sure that they're not using this as a way to test you?

TRUMP: You can never be sure of anything, can you? But I developed a very good relationship. I don't think they want to see a destabilized North Korea. I don't think they want to see it. They certainly don't want to see nuclear from their neighbor. They haven't like it for a long time. But we'll have to see what happens. The relationship I have with China, it's been already claimed as being something very special, something different that we've ever had.

But again, we'll find out whether or not President Xi is able to affect change. I hope he is.

DICKERSON: Why do these missiles keep blowing off?

TRUMP: Well, I'd rather not discuss it. But perhaps they're just not very good missiles. But eventually he'll have good missiles.

DICKERSON: You don't want to discuss it because maybe we have something to do with it?

TRUMP: I just don't want to discuss it. I think you know me very well where you've asked me many times over the last couple of years about military. I said we shouldn't be announcing we're going into Mosul. I said we shouldn't be announcing all our moves. It is a chess game. I just don't want people to know what my thinking is.

So eventually, he will have a better delivery system and if that happens, we can't allow it to happen.

DICKERSON: What do you make of the North Korean leader?

TRUMP: I really have no comment on him. People are saying, is he sane? I have no idea. I can tell you this, and a lot of people don't like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died. He's dealing with obviously very tough people in particular the generals and others. And at a very young age he was able to assume power. A lot of people I'm sure tried to take that power away. Whether it was his uncle or anybody else. He was able to do it.

So obviously he's a pretty smart cookie, but we have a situation that we just cannot let -- we cannot let what's been going on for a long period of years continue. And frankly, this should have been done and taken care of by the Obama administration, should have been taken care of by the Bush administration, should have been taken care of by Clinton.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's discuss all of this with our panel now. Julian Zelizer is a professor and historian at Princeton University. Balbina Hwang is former senior adviser to the former Korean ambassador, Christopher Hill. And Elise Labott is a CNN global affairs correspondent. And Colonel Cedric Leighton is a CNN military analyst. All right. Good to see all of you.

All right. So, Colonel, your impressions of what the president has to say. Does it sound like he has a clear cut strategy on how to deal with North Korea?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Fredricka, it might be evolving at this point. Some of the things are quite interesting when he talks about not telegraphing his intentions and he's kind of buttering up for lack of a better term, Kim Jong-un. It's a very interesting technique. I'm not sure it's a full-blown strategy yet. But the fact that he is doing this is clearly showing a degree of engagement that we haven't necessarily seen with some other issues.

So he's beginning to I think put his foot forward in this area and he knows that it's a very serious problem and he's acting accordingly.

WHITFIELD: And, Julian, you know the president is talking about China playing a major role in solving the North Korea crisis. Are you seeing any signs that China is engaging or will if through with the president's urging that it will be more involved?

JULIAN ZELIZER, POLITICAL HISTORIAN, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, there are indications that China has been putting more pressure to calm the situation. We don't know how much. There's many skeptics who doubt whether it's going to be effective. We don't know President Trump's claim that this is the most special moment we've had with U.S./China relations on this issue. This is not Nixon and China back in 1972.

So I think the verdict's out and I think the question is not simply what happens on the ground but how the president handles this with his rhetoric at this point.

WHITFIELD: And the administration sent South Korea some rather mixed messages this week. The president saying that South Korea should pay $1 billion in the tab for the THAAD missile defense system. But his national security advisor told the South Korea the U.S. would pay for it. So here he was this morning trying to clarify that message.


H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, the last thing I would ever do is contradict the president of the United States. That's not what it was. In fact, what I told our South Korean counterpart is until any renegotiation that the deal is in place, we'll adhere to our word. But what the president has asked us to do is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden sharing responsibility sharing. We're looking at that with our great ally South Korea. We're looking at that with NATO.


WHITFIELD: So, Balbina, South Korea is critical ally for the U.S. when it comes to North Korea. What kind of confusion or mixed messages do you think there are here?

BALBINA HWANG, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO THE FORMER KOREAN AMBASSADOR, CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, I think there are quite a number and it's interesting you introduced the story as the unpredictable young leader of North Korea. Actually, North Korean leaders have never been unpredictable. They're very predictable. It's president Trump right now that is the one that is unpredictable. That's not necessarily bad.

But unfortunately the other messages being sent to South Korea, by the way, one week before a very crucial election, presidential election is -- the messages about chorus. The chorus FDA and that possibility that that might be either aggregated or renegotiated. So there's a lot of mixed signals to South Korea and South Korea is absolutely the crucial lead role in the North Korean issue.

WHITFIELD: So, Colonel, what's your view on that? Do you believe Kim Jong-un is predictable or unpredictable?

LEIGHTON: I think he's predictable within his own context. The big debate about whether he's a rational leader or an irrational leader, I would say he is rational, but it's a type of rationality that is something that we're not used to. So when we try to mirror our ideas on to him, it usually doesn't work. And so we fail to understand exactly what he's going to do. We failed to understand how he's going to actually react to certain things.

And I think Balbina is right. There are a lot of different aspects to this where they're all predictable. They will go for the hard line. They will do things that we find unacceptable or very tough to mitigate. And that's really what we'll find here.

WHITFIELD: And perhaps he may predictably want to get attention, but what's unpredictable is how.

LEIGHTON: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: So earlier today, you know, Senator McCain was on State of the Union and also asked about these rather mixed foreign policy messages coming from the Trump administration. Take a listen.


MCCAIN: I tell him that he has surrounded himself with an outstanding national security team. I can't guarantee to world leaders that he will always listen to them, but he has so far. Sometimes it's important to watch what the president does rather than what he says. I think that some of the things that he -- actions that he's taken, particularly the cruise missile crisis, including examining the fact that we are not winning in Afghanistan, that we're going to need more troops there, as you mentioned earlier, 16 years, and we're losing a war, certainly not winning, and there are measures that he is listening to these outstanding military leaders and taking their advice.


WHITFIELD: So, Balbina, I saw you shaking your head a little bit on that. I want to get you in a moment. But first, Elise. Is -- and this offering some clarity to allies about how to read President Trump?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think Senator McCain is right. I think President Trump, sometimes, he's trying to send messages, as the colonel said, with trying to buttering up Kim Jong-un, but also I think he may not be predictable in terms of what he's going to do, but he definitely is laying out some red lines for North Korea that if they have a certain type of missile, a certain type of delivery system, that's going to cause some military action.

But I think when he's saying a lot of things, President Trump doesn't understand necessarily the impact and the power of his words and how they might be interpreted by a country like North Korea. I think when you look at some of the European nations or even some of the other Asian allies, who have closer relationships with the United States, there's a certain stability.

As Senator McCain said, you have a very strong national security team with General McMaster, with Jim Mattis at the defense department. And so I think there's a certain assurance from that that the United States would not step over some kind of line.

But when North Korea, when Kim Jong-un listened to these messages, maybe I'll take action, I don't know, we'll see what happens. I don't think the president understands that North Korea, because of its unpredictability might act. That's when I think allies, and you heard this week at the United Nations, allies warning about a miscalculation.

And so I think that's what President Trump isn't taking into account. But I do agree with Senator McCain. We have to look at what President Trump does and not what he says. Because he might say things that people are getting up in arms about, but some of the actual military action, such as the measured action in Syria, such as that attack in Afghanistan, those have been very strategic. I think with North Korea, even though he may say some outlandish things, I think you also see a policy shaping up that is quite establishment and quite mainstream.

WHITFIELD: So, Balbina, that's the part that has you, again, shaking your head when it's words versus actions.

HWANG: No. I agree completely. It is actions. Elise is right. It's mixed signaling. But the problem is that one signal to one country is a global signal. So even when President Trump is talking about NAFTA, it affects South Korea and it affects North Korea and so on.

WHITFIELD: You know what, Colonel? I wonder is it in part strategic when you hear the president who in his interview almost sounds like he's empathizing with Kim Jong-un saying what a huge responsibility it would be to be 26 or 27 and to now, you know, have this leadership responsibility.

In your view, you know, is that being philosophical or is he, President Trump, using that in some way as a signal to North Korea or strategic in some way?

LEIGHTON: I think it's definitely a signal to North Korea. I think what it does it also humanizes the North Korean leadership and that's kind of hard to picture when you're dealing with such a, frankly, brutal regime. But what it does from a strategic standpoint is it, perhaps, shows a pathway forward to negotiations.

Secretary Tillerson had mentioned that we would seek to negotiate with the North Koreans if they behaved in a certain way and didn't explode to nuclear device. That is I think part of this messaging that we are looking at the North Koreans as possible partners in a negotiated not necessarily settlement, but at least a truce of some kind when it comes to the Korean peninsula.

And as we look at this, it becomes pretty clear to me that the president wants to engage with them, wants to change the dialogue. And it's really the opposite of what we've done before with enemies or adversaries. We have dehumanized them. And this is a different attack and it's certainty a very interesting one.

LABOTT: I just want to quickly add, you also heard Secretary Tillerson say several times this week that the U.S. is not seeking regime change. Now you know, over the years, the Obama administration has kind of, you know, said something, you know, we might be willing to offer assurances. This was a very clear message to Kim Jong-un that if you are willing to play within the norms of the international and your commitments, we're not seeking to end the regime. And I think between that and what the president said, that's a very clear message that if Kim Jong-un is willing to, you know, play by international norms, he can have a very long rule.

WHITFIELD: Quickly on that, Julian. Clever?

ZELIZER: Well, I think it's not so clever. Let's remember, this is an administration where there's little evidence of a big diplomatic strategy. The state department hasn't even been staffed at many levels. And where there's no clear idea of where they want to go in this region other than some immediate military responses and threats. If you don't have that, you're in dangerous water.

And so I think we have to remember even with some of the words that we hear, it's true. We have to look both at what he does and what the president is doing behind the scenes with his diplomatic core where we could be headed toward some kind of military confrontation.

WHITFIELD: An interesting point given the state department is looking at other potential job cuts in the near future as well. All right. Thanks so much. I'll have you all back. Julian Zelizer, Balbina Hwang, Elise Labott, Colonel Cedric Leighton. Thanks for now. Appreciate it.

LEIGHTON: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Next, the state of the health care bill. Back in focus this week. The president is pushing hard for a victory after republicans failed to gather enough support to hold a vote on Friday.


TRUMP: Do we have -- we're going to have lower premiums. Before you start there, let me just tell you something. ObamaCare is dead. ObamaCare right now, all the insurance companies are fleeing.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

So after a second stumble to get a new health care bill through congress, the president is offering guarantees that he will include in the plan going forward coverage for pre-existing conditions.


TRUMP: This has evolved over a period of three or four weeks. Now, we really have a good bill. I think they could have voted on Friday. I said just relax. Don't worry about this phony 100-day thing. Just relax. Take it easy. Take your time. Get the good vote and make it perfect.

Mostly important, we're going to drive down premiums, we're going to drive down deductibles, because right now deductibles are so high unless you're going to die a long, hard death, you never can get to use your healthcare because the deductibles are so high.

DICKERSON: So what I hear you saying is pre-existing is going to be in there for everybody. It's not going to be --

TRUMP: Pre-existing is going to be in there and we're also going to create pools. And pools are going to take care of pre-existing.

DICKERSON: few crucial questions. It's not going to be let up to the states? Everybody gets pre-existing no matter where they are -- TRUMP: No. But the states are also going to have a lot to do with

it. Because we ultimately want to get it back down to this. Look, because if you hurt your knee, honestly, I'd rather have the federal government focused on North Korea, focused on other things than your knee. OK? Or then your back. As important as your back is. I would much rather see the federal government focused on other things, bigger things. Now, the state is going to be in a much better position to take care because it's smaller.

DICKERSON: People out there with pre-existing conditions, they are worried. Are they going to have the guarantee of coverage if they have a pre-existing condition or if they live in a state where the governor decides that's not a part of the healthcare or that the prices are going to up, that's the worry the American Medical Association says effectively make coverage completely unaffordable.

TRUMP: We actually have -- speaking about unaffordable, what's unaffordable is ObamaCare, John.

DICKERSON: So I'm not hearing you, Mr. President say that you guarantee pre-existing conditions?

TRUMP: We actually have a clause that guarantees.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones.

So, Athena, what do the president's words signify?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: hi, Fred. Well, this has been one of the big sticking points among republicans on this effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. You have a lot of moderates who want to be certain that people with pre-existing conditions are going to be covered and have affordable coverage. That's why you're hearing the president described it as a guarantee. In this latest GOP proposal, insurers would be required to cover people with pre-existing conditions but they could charge them more than others in the plan if they allow their coverage to last.

And in an interview on Meet the Press on NBC, Vice President Mike Pence was a bit more explicit than the president in explaining how this would work. Vice President Pence said that states would be able to opt out of guaranteeing people with pre-existing conditions if they set up federal or state high risk pools for those people that will assure they can get affordable coverage.

So it's a little bit complicated here, Fred. But the bottom line here is that even this latest proposal doesn't at this moment have enough votes among republicans. That's why it was interesting to hear the president criticize democrats during his interview with CBS' "Face the Nation." Watch.


TRUMP: Well, I think things generally tend to go a little bit slower than you'd like them to go.


TRUMP: Just the system. It's a very, very bureaucratic system. I think the rules in congress and in particular the rules in the senate are unbelievably archaic and slow moving. And in many cases unfair. In many cases you're forced to make deals that are not the deal you'd make. You'd make a much different kind of deal. You're forced into situations that you hate to be forced into. I also learned, and this is very sad, because we have a country that we have to take care of. The democrats have been totally obstructionist. Chuck Schumer has turned out to be a bad leader. He's a bad leader for the country and the democrats are extremely obstructionist.


JONES: So, again, Fred, you're hearing the president complain about democrats being obstructionist on Capitol Hill talking specifically about the senate. He's speaking generally there, but it's an interesting contradiction in a way, because we're talking right now when it comes to this huge GOP promise to repeal and replace ObamaCare, something that they've been promising for years now, it is actually republicans that can't get together on what this new bill should look like. Not democrats.

WHITFIELD: It was former house speaker Nancy Pelosi who also said this morning responding to the democrats being obstructionist, she says, he hasn't proposed anything except the GOP plan that had 17 percent American support. That was her response to what the president had to say on "Face the Nation" as well. All right. Thanks so much, Athena.

All right. Let's talk more about this with my political panel. Julian Zelizer is a professor and historian at Princeton University. He's back. And CNN political commentator, Alice Stewart is a republican strategist. She's also the former communications director for Ted Cruz. All right. Good to see both of you.

So, Julian, you just heard Trump say that he wants government to focus on North Korea, not necessarily a knee injury as he was equating that to health care. Did he just kind of reduce the importance of tackling health care after he professed that it would be a top priority of his America first agenda?

ZELIZER: Well, part of it is downplaying that as a priority. Part of it is making an argument that this isn't a federal issue, this is an issue that should be left to the states which sets up this new proposal to allow states to have waivers to do what they want with many of the regulations. The problem is he's promised to make this a central issue. Republicans have wanted to repeal ObamaCare since the program was created.

And let's remember the federal government is and will always be deeply involved in health care. He himself has defended Medicare throughout the campaign and that is a federal program, so it kind of goes against part of what he's saying. WHITFIELD: And then, Alice, there's this. This is the president last night at the 100th day rally that he had in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


TRUMP: We're going to give Americans the freedom to purchase the health care plans they want, not the health care forced on them by the government. And I'll be so angry at Congressman Kelly and Congressman Marino and all of our congressmen in this room if we don't get that damn thing passed quickly.


WHITFIELD: OK. So now he's pointing out people by name to be on board with his strategy or else, Alice.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Fred, if you remember not too long ago, he's doing the same thing with others in the house Freedom Caucus in terms of getting on board.

WHITFIELD: How does that help him with his agenda, pushing his agenda, getting things done?

STEWART: Well, what he learned with the last attempt to pass health care, it didn't influence them to get on board. What will is the fact that they are working on a piece of legislation that will do what they campaigned on and what they won on and that is coming up with a health care plan that will repeal and replace ObamaCare and will provide that lower costs and greater access to health care.

The first one didn't quite get there. They all wanted to get to yes but the legislation didn't get them there. That's what they're working on now. Putting forth a piece of legislation that will answer all of the promises they gave to their constituents. Not just Donald Trump, but members in the house and the senate who campaigned on this. And that's what they're doing.

The good thing is that we are hearing from the president that they're going to slow down. They're not going to put a timeline on it. They're going to make sure that they get it right this time and provide meaningful response to ObamaCare which they believe and all indications are is just not sustainable.

WHITFIELD: So, Julian, whether it's a federal or state, you know assurance, these contradictions, the messages coming from the White House, or maybe some people call them flip flops, does this do potentially more damage to the president's credibility problem?

ZELIZER: I think if you do it well, you can flip flop or you can say different things. Many presidents have done this. Franklin Roosevelt did this. Lyndon Johnson did this. And they often use those changing positions to try build a coalition. But what they all had was some sense of where they wanted to go with the ultimate legislation. At least one or two or three or three key parts of the program that had to be in there. It's unclear whether on health care President Trump has that. And I think in some ways that's weakened him a bit. Not with democrats we talked about but with his own party. He needs to bridge the Freedom Caucus, the very conservative wing of the party that wants to do away with most of the regulations and the more moderate republicans both in the house and senate who now say this program is in place and taking away a lot of these benefits is going to be politically damaging.

WHITFIELD: And it's not just policy, it's also about messaging, Alice. At Trump's rally, that rhetoric said this is the same man that you heard on the campaign trail and he is here to say despite any successes or failures in the first 100 days, he demonstrate that he feels things could turn around in his favor potentially from this point forward.

STEWART: well, if you ask him and certainly his team, they think things are heading in the right direction. They feel they're on track with regard to their accomplishments.

Look, with regards to some of the flip flops or course corrections on some of these issues, they're clearly learning that governing is much more difficult than campaigning. I think some of this is a good thing with regards to campaigning saying that China is a currency manipulator.


Now he's using that as a negotiating tool to encourage China to pressure North Korea to back off its weapons program. Some of this is good and it is a sign that he's willing to negotiate on certain issues and it's a sign that what may have sounded good on the campaign trial might not work on the White House.

He's certainly learning that with building a wall and Mexico will pay for it. But I think the fact that he is using the power of the pen, executive orders to further some of his policy initiatives are successful, but in terms of meaningful legislation with regard to health care, I think that will come over time.

WHITFIELD: Except a lot of those things with executive orders, they don't happen immediately, it kind of gets work under way to one day, you know, bring about some sort of change. So Julian, you wanted to punctuate that --

ZELIZER: Yes, the overtime gets harder. Every president realizes as time progresses, the politics turns against you often. The closer we get to first set of midterms, the more politicians in both parties are going to be skittish a lot about what the president does. So he doesn't have unlimited time. That course correction I think really needs to happen soon before members are starting to turn their attention toward the campaign trail.

WHITFIELD: All right, Julian Zelizer, Alice Stewart, thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it.

All right, straight ahead, at least seven dead and dozens injured after tornadoes and flooding strikes the Midwest and parts of the south. Details after the break.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to hit the power lines. Oh my God.


WHITFIELD: That's a monster. Terrifying footage showing a tornado sweeping through parts of Texas. At least four people were killed and more than 50 others injured when at least three twisters touched down east of Dallas last night.

Right now, rescue crews are digging through the rubble searching for any survivors and residents are learning this is all that's left of homes and businesses, cars, property, period. CNN correspondent, Polo Sandoval, has been following this story. Frightening stuff.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Canton, Texas, Fred, about an hour's drive from Dallas, that seems to be the city that was hit the hardest here with at least four people killed after this series of tornadoes struck the region.

The mayor of the city speaking this morning describing the scene as heart breaking and upsetting. We also heard from some of the storm chasers who have seen all of this damage and devastation firsthand. Here's one of their accounts.


CHRIS COLLURA, STORM CHASER WHO SHOT VIDEO OF TEXAS TORNADO (via telephone): You can feel the rumble in your chest. The video doesn't do it justice. It's a very low subtonic rumble. It does sound like a train. It does kind of sound like Niagara Falls. Your ears are popping pretty much and you're getting slammed by the rear flank downdraft winds, which are 100 mile an hour winds that come in on the back side of the tornado.


SANDOVAL: Yes, storm chaser, Chris Collura, is right. These images are not doing this any justice, though, but we are hearing some of the numbers from officials here. A destruction path, a path of destruction here carved in the area, 35 miles long and 15 miles wide is how the mayor of this town describes it.

There are also some remarkable stories of survival we're going to work to bring you. One of them is a church that was destroyed but yet two dozen people who were seeking shelter nearby, all of them walked away unscathed. So it will interesting to see how the recovery happens and of course, as we will work to bring you that story.

WHITFIELD: They continue to search as well. All right, thanks so much, Polo. We'll look for more information from you. Appreciate it.

All right, next, new developments unfolding overseas, U.S. troops have been deployed along the Syria/Turkey border. Details behind the move next.



WHITFIELD: U.S. troops are take on a new role in the fight against ISIS. They are patrolling the Syrian-Turkish border trying to keep the peace between two U.S. allies in the ISIS battle. Turkey and Kurdish forces in Syria.

There have been recent skirmishes between the two groups. Turkish airstrikes on Tuesday reportedly killed about two dozen Kurdish fighters. Turkish's president says he is seriously concerned about the U.S. patrols and the plans to bring up the issue when he meets with President Trump next month.

The fight against ISIS is also intensifying in neighboring Iraq where American troops are flying in extra supplies to forces on the front lines. The U.S. and its allies are firing more ammunition as they move closer to ISIS strongholds. And they need these flights to resupply teams on the ground as quickly as possible.

In an exclusive report, CNN senior international correspondent, Frederick Pleitgen went along on one of these delivery missions and saw firsthand the dangers facing American troops in the region.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): An explosive but also vital cargo for American and allied forces fighting ISIS, munitions bound for Iraq.

(on camera): Apparently, it's rockets that are being flown into Iraq going to deliver munitions to some of the frontline troops.

(voice-over): We are riding along on a C-130 Hercules taking off from a U.S. airbase in undisclosed location in the Middle East. For the crew, flights like this one are common but never routine they say. For security reasons, we can only identify the crew by their ranks and first mates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just main vigilance. Situational awareness when there's always other things going on. Everybody gets saturated. We make sure we keep focus on getting the mission done.

PLEITGEN: The Iraqi Army backed by U.S. forces is fighting an intense battle trying to oust ISIS from its largest stronghold, Mosul. As the war intensifies, the troops unleash more firepower and need new ammo to come in fast.

That makes cargo flights like this one so important. Landing is the most dangerous part. The C-130 is vulnerable as it flies low over the Iraqi country side. The crew wearing helmets and flask vests in case they take enemy fire.

The aircraft's commander who can only name as Colonel Buck has decades of experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously flying in a war zone, you can get shot at. We're always prepared for that. We train hard for. That we're ready for anything that pops up.

PLEITGEN: Unloading only takes a few minutes. The engines running and the plane and its cargo secured by two heavily armed soldiers.

[14:45:08]Then the C-130 takes off again. Ready for another mission to keep up the fight against ISIS. Fred Pleitgen, CNN reporting from an undisclosed U.S. airbase in the Middle East.


WHITFIELD: And we will be right back.


WHITFIELD: All right, comedy meets politics at the Annual White House Correspondents Dinner and although President Trump was a no show, that did not stop the headliner, "Daily Show" comedian, Hasan Minhaj, from delivering a long distance roasting.


HASAN MINHAJ, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, "THE DAILY SHOW": We've got to address the elephant that's not in the room. The leader of our country is not here and that's because he lives in Moscow. It is a very long flight. It would be hard for Vlad to make it. Vlad can't just make it on a Saturday. It's a Saturday.

[14:50:07]As for the other guy, I think he's in Pennsylvania because he can't take a joke. We are here to talk about the truth. It is 2017 and we are living in the golden age of lying. Now's the time to be a liar and Donald Trump is liar-in-chief.

And remember, you guys are public enemy number one. You are his biggest enemy. Journalists, ISIS, normal-like ties and somehow you're the bad guys.


WHITFIELD: I want to bring in SiriusXM political talk show host and comedian, Pete Dominick, and comedian, Mike Loftus, host of the TV show, "The Flip Side." Good to see both of you.

All right, so Pete, you first, you were at the dinner last night. You've been there before. One of the key moments of the White House Correspondents Dinner is to see the lighter side of a president. I saw it there for President George H.W. Bush, President Clinton and even Obama. So was it different in your view without having a sitting president there? PETE DOMINICK, POLITICAL TALK SHOW HOST, SIRIUSXM: Yes, it was a very, very different atmosphere. It was obviously a different president, too, so there was hardly any celebrities. I was sitting next to Howard Stern's producer, Gary Delibate (ph). He was like the biggest celebrity there for SiriusXM table.

But it was different I think also, Fred, because the president of the united states has called the press, journalists enemies, the opposition and so it's a totally different tone, which is why last night was supposed to be a celebration of the first amendment, of free speech.

WHITFIELD: And so Mike, you're a writer and headlining comedian. Love or hate, you know, his politics calling the president liar-in- chief, that's what we hears, is that going a little too far?

MIKE LOFTUS, COMEDIAN: No. This whole thing has gotten out of hand. The entire evening went exactly as it would have gone if Trump would have been there. I'm so glad Trump didn't go. Let's call him a liar, let's all Steve Bannon a Nazi. It's business as usual. If conservatives like it, it's evil and if Democrats do it, it's great.

So it was standard operating fair. I wish he would have made more fun of the press. It was nice to see a couple of my jokes up there. Let's be happy that Donald Trump golfs. That was a joke that I did about Obama two years ago. So great minds think alike. It was awesome.

WHITFIELD: So then in your -- then, Pete , is it a missed opportunity that the sitting president wouldn't be there to show that he's self- deprecating and that he has some humor?



DOMINICK: It's a huge missed opportunity. It's responsibility as well. Reagan is the last president who didn't go. It's because he got shot but he still phoned in. It's a really important place for the president of the United States to be and it doesn't matter whether the president is a Democrat or Republican.

The comedian whether he's a liberal or a conservative takes equal opportunity shots at the president. I've been in the White House Correspondents Dinner four times when President Obama was there and every comedian beat up on the president very, very good.

I mean, remember how Larry Wilmore ended it last year. So it doesn't matter. It's our job as comedians to make fun of those in power, to point out hypocrisy, to point out when the president is a liar and nobody has lied like this guy.

This president makes comedy so easy. All we have to do is say what he did or said and therein lies the punch line -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then something that's very characteristic of this president, the tweeting. Minhaj actually made a few funnies about that late night tweeting. Listen.


MINHAJ: You know Donald Trump doesn't drink, right? Does not touch alcohol, which is oddly respectable. But think about that. That means every statement, every interview, and every tweet, completely sober. He tweets at 3:00 a.m. sober. Who is tweeting at 3:00 a.m. sober? Donald Trump because it's 10:00 a.m. in Russia. Those are business hours.


WHITFIELD: I love Minhaj's eyes too. He really speaks a lot with his facial expressions. So Mike, was this good material all the way around?

LOFTUS: It was kind of average, the whole Russian thing. Here, I'm going to give him extra credit for not doing the orange skin, you know, standard fare. I thought he did a wonderful job. I loved him poking some fun at CNN and Wolf Blitzer. Wolf didn't look too happy.

[14:55:05]And I like the MSNBC jokes. I love making fun of MSNBC. I like checking in every morning to see if Mika can hold it together and try not to cry.

PAUL: So in other words, everyone is fair game. Pete, you agree, disagree?

DOMINICK: Totally. I mean, I think the comedian's job is to make fun of both the president and the press and Hasan did that really well last night. He was very, very original. It was awesome that you had a Muslim-American, a kid who's first generation who is -- it's a really, really good point.

In the past comedians usually read. It's kind of a roast. He performed. He was looking right in the camera. His eyes, he was really a great, great performer. Of all the comedians and I think I've seen I think five times, I've got to say Hasan was definitely the best.

WHITFIELD: All right, Pete Dominick --

LOFTUS: It was a tough room and now he's going to do a tour of bunch of Muslim countries, so I'm wishing him well.

WHITFIELD: OK, Mike Loftus, as well. Thanks so much, gentlemen. Appreciate it.

We've got so much more in the NEWSROOM right after this.