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Trump's Options on North Korea; Flying Supplies to Iraqi Troops; White House Defends Inviting Philippine President; North Korean Family Separated for Six Years; President Trump Calls on Congress to Support Health Care Bill; U.S. Forces Fly Supplies to Allies Fighting ISIS; Mock Makeovers for Trump's Executive Orders. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 1, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:11] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Playing his cards close to his vest, Donald Trump refuses to take military action off the table over North Korea.

A dangerous delivery, we get a first hand look at the tough job of supplying Iraqi forces fighting ISIS.

And a trail of devastation -- deadly tornadoes rip through several states in the U.S.

It's all ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you for joining us. We're coming to you, live from Atlanta, Georgia. I'm Natalie Allen.

We begin CNN NEWSROOM with this. U.S. President Donald Trump saying the North Korean leader is quote "a pretty smart cookie". The U.S. is hoping for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis although Mr. Trump is not ruling out military action. Kim Jong-Un has been accused of brutal human rights violations including allegedly ordering the killing of his uncle.

But listen to what the President said in a new interview about the North Korean leader.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People are saying, is he sane? I have no idea. I can tell you and a lot of people don't like when I say is 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. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie. But we have a situation that just cannot let -- we cannot let what's been going on for a long period of years, continue.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ALLEN: President Trump is also being criticized for inviting the Philippine president to the White House. Rodrigo Duterte is accused of human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings in his crackdown on drugs. The White House says Mr. Duterte was invited because he is essential in dealing with North Korea.

CNN followed this story from across the region. Our David McKenzie is in Beijing for us but let's start with Paula Hancocks. She is in Seoul, South Korea.

Paula -- you have President Trump calling Kim Jong-Un a very smart cookie, also within the past couple of weeks saying won't rule out military action. It's kind of hard to tell where he is in his approach to this regime.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie -- we have heard from President Trump and also more and more from the other officials within the Trump administration that obviously all options are on the table. But they have been specifying more.

We certainly heard from the U.S. Secretary of State that sanctions are important, that potential negotiations are important. There is a sense that the policy of the Trump administration is that the military option is the very last option.

Now, obviously, it's slightly different to what we're hearing from President Trump himself. He is specifying that there could be a potential military option saying things like you will soon find out, won't you, as he was walking around a factory tour when someone asked him if that was an option so really, keeping people guessing.

When it comes to what's happening in the region at this point, we know that the USS Carl Vinson is still carrying out military drills with the Korean navy which obviously is infuriating North Korea. The annual military drills, those two month-drills that raise tensions most years, those have now ended. Those ended on Sunday so potentially we could see a slight dip in the rhetoric -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes. And meantime, talk about the THAAD missile defense system that South Korea wants. The question is who will pay for it. Let's listen to the national security advisor.


GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, the last thing I would ever do is contradict the President of the United States. And 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 will adhere to our word.

What the President has asked us to do, is to look across all of our alliances and have appropriate burden-sharing and responsibility- sharing. We're looking at that with our great ally, South Korea. We're looking at that with NATO.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ALLEN: So it sounds like, Paula, the national security advisor there is walking back. What Donald Trump indicated was that perhaps South Korea could pay for this missile defense system.

HANCOCKS: It certainly sounds like it, Natalie. And it's caused a bit of a stir here in South Korea. There were great concerns when the U.S. President suddenly said that South Korea should pay for THAAD when you consider many people here don't even want THAAD.

[00:05:02] The recent polls from Gallup Korea said about 40 percent do not think it needs to be in the country. 50 percent say that they do support it. But we've certainly seen many protests against THAAD. Some people really don't want it.

And we know that the defense ministry spokesman today was questioned about this significantly by journalists. He said that there won't be a change. This has already been negotiated. It's been signed. There's not going to be a change in who pays for it. The deal was between the U.S. and South Korea. South Korea gives the land and then the U.S. pays for it -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. Paula Hancocks for us there in Seoul -- we thank you.

Now to David McKenzie in Beijing. David -- I want to first talk with you about the other story that we mentioned. That Rodrigo Duterte is being invited to the White House, the Filipino leader who is, the needless to say, a complicated figure and one who perhaps has carried out some egregious acts toward people involved in drugs in this country.

Let's listen to Trump advisor Reince Priebus talk about that.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The issues facing us, developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure that we have our ducks in a row. So that if something does happen in North Korea that we have everyone in line backing up a plan of action that may need to be put together with our partners in the area.


ALLEN: So the White House inviting Rodrigo Duterte, saying we need more people to help us with North Korea. Help us make sense of this one -- David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a little bit unclear what the White House is suggesting there. They're saying that the Philippines is very important when it comes to dealing with the crisis in North Korea. But most foreign policy experts you speak to and just understanding that region wouldn't necessarily place the Philippines at the top of the list in trying to figure out the Korean Peninsula issues. However, certainly the Philippines in recent years because of its President Duterte has had a worsening relationship with the U.S. and a closer relationship with China. Certainly the Filipino president has pushed closer relationships with China on the South China Sea issue. He's rolled back some of the Philippines' real strong objection to China's look at those -- claim on the disputed islands. And you had just 24 hours ago or less, the summit of Southeast Asian nations really putting out a watered-down statement on that issue.

And the relationship between Duterte and the previous administration in the U.S. was extremely bad for several months and even years between Obama and Duterte because of the criticism of the very brutal anti-drug crackdown in the Philippines.

Now you have this situation that President Trump has all but praised that crackdown in the official readout of their conversation and invited the Filipino president to the U.S. So it might say more about the U.S. trying to realign its relationship with long-time ally in the Philippines than anything else -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. We'll wait and see. Thank you -- David McKenzie for us there in Beijing, thanks.

We are getting a glimpse of how painful life is for families divided by the border between the two Koreas. Our Will Ripley is the only journalist in North Korea and he brings us the story of a family that after six years apart, still hopes to be reunited.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seoul, South Korea -- tens of thousands of North Korean defectors have fled South since the late 1990s.

Kim Ryong-Hi (ph) is one of the rare few who's ever asked to do back. She came here thinking she could work for a while to earn money to pay for medical treatment and then go home. But instead, like all defectors, she lost her North Korean passport, was made a South Korean citizen. Her old home, just a 20 minute flight away, if you could fly. South Koreans are banned by their government from visiting or even communicating with anyone in North Korea.

I'm taken to see Kim Ryong-Hi's husband and her daughter.

We sent a crew in South Korea to go speak with your wife and your mom and she recorded a video message that she wanted you to see.

[00:09:58] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so sorry. Your mother is so sorry. I am so proud and thankful to see you all grown up.

RIPLEY: I am also taken to meet Kim Ryong-Hi' aging parents; her father is 75, her mother 72.

When you see her, I can't even imagine what you're thinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the first time I have seen her in six years.

RIPLEY: Since she left, her mother has gone blind in one eye. She's losing sight in the other. She worries time is running out; that she'll never see or hold her daughter again.

They can't call, they can't e-mail, they can't even write a letter. No way to communicate. We let her husband and daughter use my phone to send a video message back to South Korea.

Ryong-Gun (ph) tells her mother how she just graduated from catering school. Now, she's a chef. She hopes that some day her mother can taste what a good cook she's become. She shows off their new apartment. They moved in here after she left.

No matter what's happening in the outside world, this is reality for this family and many others on the Korean peninsula. So many families divided.


ALLEN: That was our Will Ripley with that story there.

And earlier, my colleague Amara Walker spoke with Will. She asked whether North Korea could punish this family because their mother defected.


RIPLEY: North Korea says that families are not punished and, of course, they've taken us to meet other families of defectors to show us that their living conditions are the same or, you know, have even improved. And that the community has actually come together to embrace people when loved ones defect.

But there are other reports and a number of reports that indeed family members are punished and are, you know, banished from Pyongyang, sent out to the countryside or even the labor camps if their loved one defects. And certainly if a government investigation were to find that they helped in some way for this to happen.

So we get -- we get mixed reports. You know, South Korea says that people are often punished. North Korea says that's not the case. We only know what we can observe on the ground here.

But in the case of Kim Ryong-Hi, you know, she really started speaking very vocally in the media a couple of years ago about this, saying how much she wanted to come back, how it was a mistake that she left.

She went to South Korea because the medical care for the illness that she has was not available here in North Korea. Went to China, couldn't afford the care in China but was told if she went to South Korea, she could work and pay for the care there and then come back. She didn't realize that once you cross they take your passport, you have to sign a document renouncing your citizenship, and you can never return. She claims that she didn't know that until it was too late and now she's desperate to come back and has not been able to find a way to do it. The fact that she is so vocal about it from the North Korean perspective, this plays into their government's narrative that, you know, defectors are tricked, that they actually do want to come back here even though very few of them ever actually make that request.

And so her family in this case has actually been, in a sense, rewarded. They've been given a large very nice modern new apartment here in Pyongyang. I mean you saw it in the video there. It's a really comfortable home that they're living in.

The father still has his job. The daughter has, you know, graduated from catering school and now she's working as well. So the family is doing all right. But we don't know if that's the case for all the families. And in fact reports indicate that's quite the contrary.


ALLEN: So many families split apart between North and South Korea. Thanks to Will Ripley for his reporting.

Still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM, a closer look what President Trump has accomplished in his first 100 days and what's still left to be done.

Also one of the top items on President Trump's to do list, repealing and replacing Obamacare. He has a message for Congress about that, coming next.

And later, deadly tornadoes ripped through the southern U.S. destroying homes and businesses. Now that weather is heading north. The latest forecast ahead.


ALLEN: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

The U.S. Congress is a critical step closer to keeping the government funded through September. Republican and Democratic negotiators have reached a deal on a huge spending bill. If approved it would add billions of dollars for the Pentagon and border security but it will not provide any money for President Trump's promised border wall with Mexico. The House and Senate are expected to vote on the plan this week.

One of President Trump's biggest promises throughout his campaign was to repeal and replace Obamacare as soon as he was in the White House. But that promise was in jeopardy when the Republicans' healthcare measure died without a vote.

Now Mr. Trump says a new version of the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare is on the way and he's urging lawmakers to pass it quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: We're going to give Americans the freedom to purchase the healthcare plans they want, not the healthcare forced on them by the government.

[00:19:59] 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. They'll get it done. We know them, they'll get it done.


ALLEN: President Trump insists the Obamacare replacement measure will guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

But as Athena Jones reports for us, there are concerns about that.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another big week ahead on Capitol Hill. The White House is hoping the House can vote on this latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare in the coming days, perhaps as soon as this week.

One big issue that's being discussed right now, one key sticking point, is this issue of pre-existing conditions. You have a lot of moderate Republicans who are very concerned about making sure that folks who have pre-existing conditions can continue to get coverage and to get coverage that is affordable.

This latest GOP proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare does require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions but it says that they can charge them more than other folks on the plan if at any point they allow their coverage to lapse. So there are some concerns about that and there are some details still being worked out.

You have concerns among Republicans and others outside of Capitol Hill who are trying to influence the votes of members of Congress who are concerned about whether these high risk pools that have been mentioned as a way to cover folks with pre-existing conditions will truly be able to make coverage be affordable. Will they be subsidized enough to make coverage truly affordable?

And separately on state of the union, it was interesting to see a Trump supporter, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, giving the President a bit of advice about how to approach legislation. Watch.


RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR: The President has to be more engaged and involved in these issues. There's one failing I would give the President that maybe isn't talked about very much is he really needs to get his policy chops, you know, in line.

He has to start understanding the details, particularly when it comes to healthcare and understand that unless he engages and is convincing members not I will run somebody in a primary against you but here's the policy reasons why we need to do this. Here's why this is best for America. We're going to be in trouble. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Interesting to hear Rick Santorum, Senator Santorum saying that President Trump needs to be more engaged on the policy front. He also had some words for his former members of congress as well, former fellow members of Congress I should say, saying that Congress dropped the ball on this repeal and replace effort, at least the first time. He said they put together a plan that wasn't passable.

Key question now is whether this latest effort is going to be passable in the House and, of course, later on, whether it's going to be passable in the Senate which is a bigger uphill climb.

Back to you guys.

ALLEN: President Trump hoped to push through a replacement for Obamacare during his first 100 days in office. That did not happen. But let's take a look what he did accomplish.

Since becoming president he has signed 29 bills into law. But there hasn't been any major legislation meaning a bill that delivers on a campaign promise or has a significant impact nationwide.

He did however become the fourth U.S. President with a successful Supreme Court nomination in his first 100 days. And Mr. Trump has also signed more executive orders than any other president in the last 72 years, that is, since President Harry Truman.

Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times" and she joins me now. Lynn -- thank you for talking with us.


ALLEN: Let's talk first about the first 100 days, which on the campaign trail, Donald Trump said you're just not going to believe all the wins. And then now that 100 days have passed, he said, it doesn't really matter. Where do you come in talking about the first 100 days?

SWEET: Well, if I was giving him a grade, I would give him an incomplete. I think that the young, still young Trump administration is hardly formed at all. If we look at most of the markers from important appointments, important and major legislation passed, he hasn't really done much even though he says he has.

And I just tell our listeners that you could sign bills and not all of them are equally important. When I say major, I mean for example he had promised to repeal and replace and improve our health insurance system called Obamacare. That hasn't happened yet.

One of the notable things in these 100 days, by the way, is his flip- flops. 100 plus days ago he thought NAFTA was obsolete. With little change -- excuse me, he thought NATO was obsolete and now he discerned that NATO was not obsolete anymore saying that they now address terrorism when in fact they did.

[00:25:07] And another quick example is he said he was going to, on day 100, by then just have ripped up the NAFTA trade agreement. He now decided to renegotiate it.

ALLEN: Right.

SWEET: In some, it doesn't mean that, you know, evolution is bad in a leader, but on almost all the ways you mark somebody in 100 days, there aren't a lot of solid accomplishments to describe, even though we have the 100-day marker in American politics that may in the end not be all that important.

ALLEN: Right. And he's walked back a lot. You just mentioned that as well. Healthcare -- brought it up for a vote. It went down. Now, they're trying to do it again. They did not bring it up for a vote this past week.

Now, he's invited Rodrigo Duterte to Washington. This is a man who has a very, very -- how do we say -- sketchy leadership, as far as what he's doing to people in his own country. Where are we considering Donald Trump and the next 100 days?

SWEET: Well, it's all unchartered territory. Usually when you have a foreign leader come and meet the President, you have an agenda. You want to have what they call a deliverable. We had the leader of China, President Xi come and there wasn't a deliverable, a set of deliverables on it. We did get some more perhaps cooperation in dealing with North Korea.

But having a foreign leader come to the Oval Office is not the same thing as them saying as a result of this meeting we have some policy changes. Also the Oval Office visits in the United States historically have been given to leaders we more or less want to support and give that honor to.

In the case, as you just mentioned, of this leader, it's a little more puzzling as to why the meeting is going to take place.

ALLEN: Do you get a sense that he is getting to a place where he is fully in charge of the White House?

SWEET: I think it's very much a learning curve. He demonstrated even in an interview he did on one of the American networks that ran on Sunday that he didn't have any mastery of his healthcare policies that he is advocating and wasn't able to explain a very important point to a lot of people in the United States what the status of their insurance coverage would be if they have a pre-existing condition and what, if any, the change would be in the affordability of it.

There is a sense that for some people, that would be a higher price to pay. So that's just one example.

The most general thing I could say is that everything is new. There's not one box you can do to compare President Trump to other presidents. We're making a new lane (ph), we're opening a new box, wildly unpredictable, everything about this administration.

ALLEN: Thank you so much, Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times". Thank you, Lynn. SWEET: Thank you.

ALLEN: And coming up here, a severe storm system sets its sights on the northeastern U.S. after spawning deadly tornadoes and flooding across the South.

Also, it's a lifeline for Iraqi troops fighting ISIS but the job of flying weapons and supplies to the battle front is just as dangerous as being on the ground. We'll have a report. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Atlanta.


[00:32:04] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta, Georgia. I'm Natalie Allen and here are our top stories this hour.

U.S. President Donald Trump says the North Korean leader is, quote, "a pretty smart cookie" for holding onto power since he took over in his late 20s. Kim Jong-un has been accused of brutal human rights abuses including allegedly ordering the execution of his uncle.

President Trump could lose one of his top national security aides. Administration officials say this man, Sebastian Gorka will likely leave the White House soon. Gorka is a former editor for the far- right "Breitbart News." He has defended the president's travel ban and has been outspoken about confronting Islamic terrorism.

Negotiators in the U.S. Congress have reached the deal on a few spending deal. If the House and Senate approved it, it will keep the government funded through September and add billions of dollars for the Pentagon and border security, but it would not provide any money for President Trump's border wall with Mexico.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is raising concerns about U.S. patrols along the Turkish-Syrian border. U.S. forces began the patrols after Turkish airstrike killed Kurdish fighters who are helping the battle against ISIS. Turkey considers the Kurds terrorists.

Air strikes against ISIS have accidentally killed at least 352 civilians in Iraq and Syria since August 2014. And the anti-ISIS coalition says 42 other incidents are still being investigated. The U.S. and its allies are firing so much ammunition against ISIS. Airplanes are being used to re-supply the troops.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen flew on one of those missions in this exclusive report.


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. It's going to deliver munitions to some of the frontline troops.

(voice-over): We're riding along on C-130 Hercules taking off from a U.S. air base in an 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 names.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just maintain vigilance. Situational awareness are big when there's always other things going on. Everybody gets pretty task saturated so we just make sure that we keep our 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 this 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 countryside. The crew wearing helmets and flak vest in case they take enemy fire. The aircraft's commander, who we can only name as Colonel Buck, has decades of experience.

[00:35:00] COLONEL BUCK, UNITED STATES ARMY: Obviously flying in a war zone, the danger of getting shot at is always there. But we're always prepared for that. We train hard for that, so 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. 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. air base in the Middle East.


ALLEN: Now here in the U.S., at least 12 people are dead after a string of violent storms tore through the southern U.S. this weekend. In fact, there's four people who were killed and dozens injured when at least three tornadoes touchdown east of Dallas. That's one of them. One person is still missing.

And let's get the latest on these storms from Pedram Javaheri.

It is that time of year.


ALLEN: Well, it's no secret, President Trump loves signing his executive orders. He likes to hold them up. He put his fingers on so many, but his critics are now mocking them and our Jeanne Moos takes a look at that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [00:41:15] ALLEN: U.S. President Trump has signed 30 executive orders since taking office covering everything from border security to abortion, and now his critics are having fun giving those orders a mock makeover. Here's our Jeanne Moos with that.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump rarely seems happier than when he's signing executive orders.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody want to watch me sign?


MOOS (voice-over): And he's getting lots of practice.

TRUMP: I'm very proud of this. OK.


MOOS (voice-over): He has signed more executive orders in his first 100 days than any president since World War II.

TRUMP: It doesn't get much bigger than that.

MOOS (voice-over): Though he used to bash President Obama for doing it.

TRUMP: And he goes around signing all the executive orders. It's a basic disaster. You can't do it.

MOOS (voice-over): Oh, yes, he can.

TRUMP: So do we have the executive order, please?

MOOS (voice-over): But holding up an executive order can leave the President holding the bag, make that the fox with a panda or the microwave. At the Twitter account, TrumpDraws, the President draws like a kid and spells like one, too.

Often the drawings relate to the news. For instance, when the President informed China's leader over dessert that U.S. missiles had been launched against Syria.

TRUMP: And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen.

MOOS (voice-over): That resulted in this. "New York" Magazine says an L.A. visual effects artist who wants to remain anonymous told the magazine that Twitter account wrote itself when he saw the leader of the free world holding up paper.

There's even a meme generator that lets you create your own executive orders. For instance, you could decree grab them by the you-know-what jokes shall be banned. Or after an audience in Berlin dissed his daughter, hissing at Ivanka Trump shall be punishable by flogging.

So the next time the President holds up one of those executive orders, blowing his own horn, that order could keep on trucking who knows where.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ALLEN: And that is CNN NEWSROOM for this hour. I'm Natalie Allen. "World Sport" is next and I'll be back at the top of the hour with more news from around the world. Thanks for watching.