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Trump Keeps Military Option on Table on N. Korea; Trump Invites Philippines' Duterte to White House; Korean Family Separated by Border Still Hope to Reunite; Trump Calls on Congress to Support Health Care Bill; Deadly Tornadoes Sweep Across U.S. South; Turkey Concerned by U.S. Troops at Turkey/Syrian Border; Trump: N. Korea Leader "A Smart Cookie"; Trump Aide Gorka to Leave Post; Trump Administration Looks to Change Libel Laws; Trump Invites Philippines' Duterte to White House; Venezuelan President Raises Minimum Wage 15th Time During Economic Crisis; Russian Airline Punishes Flight Attendants for Weight. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 1, 2017 - 02:00   ET




[02:00:35] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to our viewers here in the United States and, of course, all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm George Howell, from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. NEWSROOM starts right now.

Good day to you. The U.S. president seems to be striking a curiously different tone toward the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un. In a new interview, Mr. Trump said that Kim Jong-Un is, quote, "a pretty smart cookie." The U.S. is hoping for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis, but Mr. Trump is not ruling out military action as well.

CHURCH: 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 this, 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. And 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: Meanwhile, the U.S. is reaffirming it will pay for an anti- missile system in South Korea as previously agreed. The THAAD system could cost around $1 billion. A few days ago, President Trump suggested South Korea should foot that bill, but now his national security adviser appears to be walking back those comments. Take a listen.


LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, the last thing I would ever do is contradict the president of the United States, you know. 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'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.


CHURCH: CNN is following this story from across the region. Our David McKenzie is in Beijing, and our Paula Hancocks is in Seoul, South Korea.

Thanks to you both.

Paula, let's start with you.

What are we to make of these mixed messages coming from the Trump administration? Not only is the president appearing to praise North Korea's leader, but now of course these doubts are being raised about who will pay for the THAAD anti-missile defense system. What's been the reaction to all this insult?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, there's certainly been some concern when President Trump first said that it should be South Korea who should pay for THAAD. We've had quite an unequivocal statement from the defense ministry within hours of that statement, again this Monday morning in a press conference, a spokesman saying that the deal has been done, that they have negotiated this deal, and it has been agreed upon. The fact that the South Koreans would give the land for THAAD, but the United States would pay for the deployment, the operation costs, the personnel costs, and that has been agreed upon, saying they don't believe that it can be renegotiated. We've certainly seen on social media as well people have been rejecting what President Trump said about THAAD. When you look at one of the recent polls, 50 percent said they support THAAD being in the country, but 40 percent said they did not according to Gallop, Korea. Certainly, they don't want to pay for it themselves.

When you mention about the almost praising Kim Jong-Un from President Trump, this is something we have seen from campaigning as well. We saw Donald Trump during the campaigning days saying that he almost gave him credit for the fact he was able to take over the country at such a young age. So this is really much of the same. One statement that has transferred from campaigning to the presidency.

[02:04:56] CHURCH: Interesting.

And, David McKenzie, to you now.

President Trump has invited the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, raising some eyebrows given his deadly and ruthless reputation as a leader. What's the logic behind this invitation, and what's been the reaction so far?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House has given the logic has being it's important for their move to try and curb North Korea's missile ambition. You know, most people and experts who follow this region would say in the short term, certainly the Philippines isn't the key player in anything to do with North Korea. But certainly long-term, it's a very important strategic ally of the U.S. and it's gone through a very frosty period under President Duterte, who at one point just months ago called the U.S. To go to hell, and that's probably the mildest thing that I can say he said on television. So certainly, under President Obama, there was a war of words going on particularly over the brutal crackdown on drug users and drug sellers in the Philippines, which human rights groups say is a gross violation of the rights of people in that country. You have also seen President Duterte getting a lot closer to China in that period, really stopping the objections on many levels of the Philippines towards China's move in the South China Sea and calling on more Chinese investment. So in terms of regional affairs, that is a threat to the U.S.'s sphere of influence with the Philippines. So that might be another reason that President Trump is bringing or at least asking the president of the Philippines to visit the White House. But as you say, it's raising eyebrows with human rights defenders in this region and elsewhere.

CHURCH: David McKenzie in Beijing, Paula Hancocks there in Seoul. Many thanks to both of you for your live reports. Appreciate it.

When talking about the North Korean crisis, what often gets lost is the real people that are caught in the middle. CNN is now getting a glimpse of how painful life is for families divided by the border between the two Koreas.

HOWELL: That's right. Our Will Ripley, the only western TV reporter in North Korea, he brings us the story of a family that, after six years apart, still hopes to be reunited.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRSPONDENT (voice-over): Seoul, South Korea, tens of thousands of North Korean defectors have fled south since the late 1990s.

Kim is one of the rare few who has ever asked to go 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 and was made a South Korean citizen. Her old home just a 20-minute flight away, if you could fly. I'm taken to see her husband and her daughter.

(on camera): 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.



RIPLEY (voice-over): I'm also taken to meet Kim's aging parents. Her father is 75. Her mother, 72.

(on camera): When you see her, I can't even imagine what you're thinking.


RIPLEY (voice-over): 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. The daughter tells her mother how she just graduated from catering school, and now she's a chef. She hopes that someday 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.


[02:10:30] CHURCH: Heartbreaking situation for that family.

Earlier, our colleague, Amara Walker, spoke with Will Ripley. 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 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 banished from Pyongyang, sent out to the countryside or sent to labor camps if their loved one defects. Certainly, if a government investigation were to find they helped in some way for this to happen. We get mixed reports. South Korea says 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, 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. She 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 that border, they take your passport. You have to sign a document renouncing your citizenship, and you can never return. So 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.

But 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. 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 graduated from catering school. 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 it's quite the contrary.


HOWELL: Will Ripley there, the only western TV journalist in Pyongyang.

You know, Will really just bringing us the story. We cover the tensions, we cover the politics all the time, but Will taking us down to the focus, these families that are divided, the personal stories. That's everyday life.

CHURCH: You put a face on it, and then you really understand the situation.

HOWELL: It really does, yeah.

Will Ripley, thank you for the reporting.

Back here in the United States, Congress is now at a critical step closer toward getting the government up and running, keeping it open, at least through September. Republican and Democratic negotiators have reached a deal on a huge spending deal. If it's approved, it would add billions of dollars for the Pentagon and for border security.

CHURCH: But it would 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.

HOWELL: President Trump says that Obamacare is dead, in his words, and a new health care plan is on its way. He's urging lawmakers to support it, and he's bluntly saying that he will be upset if they don't.

CHURCH: Yeah. The measure could hit the House floor as soon as this week, but as Athena Jones reports, there are questions about whether some people covered under Obamacare will keep that coverage.


ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE 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 some 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?

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.


[02:15:23] RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & FORMER 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 health care and understand that unless he engages and is convincing members, not, I'm going to 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.


JONES: Interesting to hear 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, his 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.

The 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.


CHURCH: Well, at least 12 people were killed as severe storms swept through the southern U.S. this weekend. Four tornadoes touched down east of Dallas, Texas, Saturday, killing four people and leaving widespread damage. One person is still missing.

HOWELL: Just look at that tornado, the size of it. Dozens of people were inside this church in Emery, Texas, when a tornado hit Saturday. That church was severely damaged but, thankfully, no one inside was hurt.

Let's get the very latest on this deadly storm, where it's headed now.

Our Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is here to tell us about it.

Pedram, this was a really, really tough situation for the state of Texas.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That footage was incredible. Just getting the latest numbers in the last couple minutes actually talking about the width of this tornado, guys. One mile wide or essentially 17 football fields across. At one point, tracked 55 miles across this region as well.

We're going to break down exactly where it's headed because there goes the center of the spin right there across the upper Midwest. Notice the strongest storm is pushing off towards areas of the eastern third of the U.S. About 20 million people in line for severe weather. We have increased the risk there a little farther towards the east. Areas around Philadelphia, Washington, just west of that region, the highest threat into Monday afternoon for strong thunderstorms that could produce tornadoes into the afternoon hours.

But look at this. We are going into the month of May, of course. This is the busiest time of year across the United States where you average over 260 tornadoes in the month of May. But this year so far has been well above average. Almost every single month, 50 to 100 more tornadoes than you would expect. You notice the average indicated in yellow. The red, the actual number of tornadoes reported in the month of April, spawning 152 now with 137 being normal. So you tally those numbers, we're talking almost 600 versus 270, which is what is normal. That's 200 percent of normal in just tornadoes in just the cold season. Again, we're going into the peak of it in the next couple of months.

You take a look at the perspective, a lot of rainfall, flooding concern very large across parts of the state of Missouri where we know as much as eight to ten inches has come down. How about this, upwards of some 70 or so river gauges reporting flooding across the United States. So you know tornadoes also get a lot of attention. Flooding is just as deadly if not more deadly in spots.

HOWELL: Certainly.

JAVAHERI: We're watching that as well tonight across the Midwest.

HOWELL: Pedram, thank you.

CHURCH: Thank you for keeping an eye on that. Appreciate it.

U.S. troops are on patrol along the Turkish-Syrian border. We will explain why Turkey's president is concerned.

HOWELL: And U.S. President Trump invites one of the world's most controversial leaders to the White House. Details ahead as CNN NEWSROOM continues.


[02:22:56] CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. U.S. Marines are back in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. It's the scene of years of fierce battles. There's a strong Taliban presence, and it's the center of Afghanistan's opium trade.

HOWELL: At least 300 Marines are being deployed to train and advise Afghan soldiers and police. The Taliban recently promised to carry out guerrilla warfare on foreign forces.

CHURCH: Turkey's president will raise his concerns about a U.S. troop presence with President Trump later this month.

HOWELL: U.S. forces started patrolling the Turkish-Syrian border after Turkish air strikes killed Kurdish fighters. Two Kurdish groups are helping to battle ISIS, but Ankara considers the Kurds to be terrorists.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is following the story for us live at this hour in Jordan.

Good to have you with us, Jomana.

First of all, these Kurdish fighters, the YPG, they are an integral part of the U.S. strategy in Syria and remain a major point of contention for the Turkish president, who is set to meet with President Trump in Washington later this month. Is it possible for these two leaders to form an even closer alliance given their differences here?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're going to have to wait and see, George. I think one of the biggest issues here is that, you know, when it comes to foreign policy in this new U.S. administration, things are not very clear. So we're going to have to wait and see how this meeting goes. And there are a number of key issues on the table for them to discuss. And the issue of the Syrian Kurds, the YPG group, is going to be a critical part of this new U.S. administration's relationship with Turkey.

Now, the YPG has been a key ally, the most reliable partner for the United States on the ground in Syria when it comes to the fight against is, described as one of the most capable fighting forces there on the ground.

But, you know, under the Obama administration, the policy has always been to fully back and support the YPG and to arm the group. And another key U.S. ally, of course, Turkey was really not happy about that. For Turkey, they see the YPG as a terrorist organization. They see it as, because of its affiliations with the PKK, that separatist group that Turkey has been battling since the 1980s, and they see the YPG as Turkey describes it as the Syrian branch of the PKK.

So it's a very complex situation there on the ground, of course. And we're going to have to wait and see how the United States is going to deal with this issue. Of course, it really needs the YPG right now, as they're making these steady gains towards the city of Raqqa, the de facto ISIS capitol, with that looming battle to recapture Raqqa.

And the main concern here is that whatever we're seeing, this brewing conflict between Turkey and the YPG, the concern is that it doesn't disrupt that battle to recapture Raqqa -- George?

[02:26:07] HOWELL: 9:25 in the morning in Jordan. Jomana Karadsheh, thank you for the reporting. Jomana, thank you for the reporting. We'll stay in touch with you.

This is CNN NEWSROOM. Still ahead, the U.S. President Donald Trump is moving beyond 100 days in office. Now that he's in the thick of it, you could say, we'll find out if the president's job is living up to his expectations.

CHURCH: And it's no secret President Trump doesn't like the media very much. Now his chief of staff is talking about changing libel laws that could make it easier to sue news organizations. We'll explain when we come back. Stay with us.


[02:30:06] HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: I'm Rosemary Church.

Let's update you on the top stories we've been watching this hour.


CHURCH: U.S. President Donald Trump seems to be giving some credit to North Korea's leader. In a new interview, Mr. Trump said Kim Jong-Un is "a pretty smart cookie" for holding on to power after taking over at a young age. Kim Jong-Un has been accused of brutal human rights abuses, including allegedly ordering the execution of his own uncle.

Joining me now to talk more about this is CNN contributor, Julian Zelizer. He is also a professor at Princeton University and a New America fellow.

Thank you so much for being with us. So let's start with comments made by President Trump over the weekend

about military actions still being an option in response to North Korea. Mr. Trump also called the country's leader, Kim Jong-Un, a pretty smart cookie for holding on to power after taking over at a very young age. What do you make of those comments given Un's human rights record?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR & ROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, one way to think about this is that he is trying to have a little diplomacy through saying some words of praise at the same time that he's acting tough with threats of military strikes and military action. That's the positive way to see it. The negative way is that there is no plan and that this is a president who is kind of all over the place and sometimes making comments about very controversial leaders who have human rights violations and other kinds of abuses and not really thinking through the implications of doing that. We don't know which President Trump it is. But these are comments that are scattershot, and that's how he's conducting this diplomacy.

CHURCH: Interesting. We are still getting contradictory comments from Mr. Trump's team. His national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the United States would stick to its agreement with South Korea for the THAAD anti-missile defense system but suggested paying for it could be renegotiated. Now, that's not exactly what President Trump said, and there are now concerns this issue has created nervousness in Seoul. How might this be resolved, do you think?

ZELIZER: Well, this is a problem because one of the best allies that we've had in this situation is South Korea. And so there can't be any signs of weakening that relationship because that in itself could embolden North Korea to be more provocative or to take more military actions in the coming months. And so I think that needs to be clarified. This is not a place where you can send mixed signals because those mixed signals can have disastrous consequences. So we're going to see in the next few days if the administration starts to clarify what its positions are and to take certain comments that he has made -- meaning President Trump -- off the table.

CHURCH: And presumably, we'll feel pressure to make that clarification.

But on to a completely different issue, what did you make of the news that Trump aide, Sebastian Gorka, will likely leave his post as national security adviser? What do you think is behind that decision and, of course, the timing of it?

ZELIZER: Well, part of that is an effort, at least, in the public to clean up some of the more controversial parts of the administration as the administration at least tries to present more of a mainstream face to American voters. He has been a lightning rod, controversial for his connections to anti-Semitic organizations. So in some ways, this is a little bit like Stephen Bannon being pushed a bit to the side as others, such as Jared Kushner and Priebus, become more of the face of this administration.

CHURCH: Julian Zelizer, many thanks for your analysis. We appreciate it always.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

[02:35:51] HOWELL: With his first 100 days behind him, President Trump is giving himself high marks. At the very least, he's certainly been busy. Among other things, he has signed more executive orders than any other president since Harry Truman in 1945.

In a recent interview, Mr. Trump reflected on the magnitude of the job. Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's a -- it's a tough job, but I've had a lot of tough jobs. I've had things that were tougher although I'll let you know that better at the end of eight years, perhaps eight years, hopefully eight years. But I'll let you know later on.


HOWELL: A constant theme of the Trump White House has been what it calls the unfairness of the media toward the president.

CHURCH: President Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, says the administration has looked into the possibility of changing libel laws that would make it easier to sue news organizations.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it's something that we've looked at and how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story. But when you have articles out there that have no basis or fact, and we're sitting here on 24/7 cable companies writing stories about constant contacts with Russia and all these other matters that --


UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: So you think the president should be able to sue "The New York Times" for stories he doesn't like?

PRIEBUS: Here's the thing. I think that -- I think that newspapers and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news. I am so tired --


UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: I don't think anybody would disagree with that. It's about whether or not the president should have the right to sue them.

PRIEBUS: And I've already answered the question.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: Changing U.S. libel laws would, of course, not be easy. They vary from state to state. And weakening press freedoms would require a constitutional amendment.

Well, the White House is defending a stunning invitation by President Trump during a phone call Saturday. Mr. Trump invited Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to Washington. The Philippines leader has spearheaded a controversial crackdown on drugs in his country.

HOWELL: He's also suggested he's been a cannibal at one point.

Critics say that he carried out human rights abuses, including ordering killings without trials. But the White House says Duterte would be helpful in dealing with North Korea.


Let's now bring in John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

It's good to have you with us, John.

This came as quite a surprise to many people in Washington. The president of the United States inviting Rodrigo Duterte to Washington. What are your thoughts?

JOHN SIFTON, ASIA ADVOCACY DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Inviting somebody who is a professed murder, somebody who says that he has killed people with his own hands and who boasts of his role in promoting a murderous war on drugs is not exactly an embracing of human rights principles. It's very disturbing what the White House has done here. They're basically sending a message that they believe that illegitimate violence is more important than human rights principles.

HOWELL: Just looking back at the previous administration, what are the differences here in how the Obama administration interacted with the Philippines and Mr. Duterte versus this new invitation from President Trump?

SIFTON: Well, he's only been -- Duterte has only been president for a little bit more than a year. President Obama was hands-off with him. He recognized that this was a man who had a very serious human rights record that was not -- this was not the kind of person you would invite to the White House. You might have to deal with him on Asia issues as they came up, but it would never be the kind of person that would be invited to the White House. And I think a lot of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and the House agree with that. They don't really see this kind of person as a person the United States should be doing business with.

So inviting him to the White House simply is amazing to most people in the United States Congress. Senators on both sides of the aisle on very disturbed by what happened today and will probably be making their concerns known to the White House. HOWELL: But to give some context here, the president saying obviously

that given the tensions in North Korea, this is an effort to just reaffirm alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, to reach out to Duterte. Your thoughts about that given what's happening on the Korean peninsula?

SIFTON: Well, look, human rights watch has worked on North Korea more than any other country in Asia. It's the worst human rights abuser in the region, and we support any effort to sideline and isolate that regime. But let's be honest. The Philippines is not a key player in that battle. China is, and some countries which have been flaunting nonproliferation and human rights sanctions on North Korea should be dealt with, not just China but countries like Malaysia, Angola, Nigeria, Uganda, countries which have been too friendly with North Korea. By all means, reach out to them and deal with them, but don't invite them to the White House. But don't reach out to the Philippines either because it's not a very important country when it comes to North Korea. They are right now the chair of an important ASEAN Commission that is dealing with North Korea, but it's simply not worth the price to invite him all the way to Washington simply for his support.

[02:40:21] HOWELL: This invitation from the U.S. president certain to get some pushback from people who certainly see it differently.

John Sifton, thank you so much for your insight.

SIFTON: Thank you.


CHURCH: We'll take a short break here on CNN NEWSROOM. Venezuela's president has raised the minimum wage for the 15th time, trying to ease the country's economic crisis. But hear why many doubt the move will actually help his people.

HOWELL: Plus, flight attendants working for a major Russian airline say they were punished because of their weight. Now see how they're fighting back.

Stay with us.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has decided once again to raise the nation's minimum wage.

HOWELL: But many wonder if that will ease the daily strain on people there as they struggle to find even their basic needs.

Rafael Romo has this report.


[02:44:24] RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the second time the minimum wage has been raised in Venezuela this year and the 15th time since President Nicolas Maduro took office in April 2013.

In early January, there was a 50 percent increase. This time it's 60 percent. It sounds like very significant increases, but the reality is that it has become virtually impossible for the government to keep wages rising on par with inflation.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts inflation in Venezuela will rise to 720 percent this year. This means that prices for food, essential goods, and medicines are skyrocketing, and most Venezuelans have trouble affording the products they need.

In addition to the minimum wage increase, the Venezuelan government is raising the food stamp allotment. What does this mean in dollars? At the rate people exchange dollars on the street, the value is a little less than $47 a month.

The new wage announced Sunday will apply to a range of professions including teachers, doctors, firefighters, police, and military personnel.

Venezuela has been shaken by violent protests in recent weeks as opposition leaders face off with President Maduro and his supporters, who complain about delayed elections, a lack of respect for democracy, shortages in basic products and crime. Nearly 30 people have died in the protests, including members of the country's security forces. President Maduro has been taking a confrontational tone with members of the opposition and protesters, whom he calls vandals and terrorists.

Rafael Romo, CNN.


HOWELL: Rafael, thank you for the report.

Now some flight attendants for Russia's national airline say their appearance is costing them money. Listen.




CHURCH: Wow. And company officials have not eased those concerns. Their response to claims of discrimination still to come.

Stay with us.



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [02:50:14] HOWELL: Flight attendants for the Russian airline Aeroflot accused that company for discriminating against them because of their size.

CHURCH: Aeroflot denies the allegations, despite some outrageous comments from its officials.

CNN's Diana Magnay has the story.



DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Perfect lips and the perfect manicure.


MAGNAY: The hammer and sickle of Aeroflot, staffed it seems by just the long legged.


MAGNAY: But what if you don't look like this?

(on camera): Did you do this?

MAGURINA: Yes, because my size is more -- so I had to change my -


MAGNAY: You've done this very well.

(voice-over): Last summer, Aeroflot flight attendant, Evgenia Magurina, was told she had to be photographed. And then her career with Aeroflot changed.

MAGURINA: I didn't fly international flights because they have said that I am fat, ugly, and old.

MAGNAY (on camera): Your boss said that to you?


MAGNAY: Here, an internal Aeroflot document, photographed, showing the salary deductions of up to 100 rubles, or just a little under $2, per flight hour to staff who don't meet Aeroflot's standards, size included. That adds up.

Evgenia and another flight attendant took Aeroflot to court, claiming discrimination, and lost.

An Aeroflot union rep tells me there are plenty of other female flight attendants who are too scared to speak out against Russia's national flag carrier. UNIDENTIFIED AEROFLOT UNION REPRESENTATIVE (through translation):

Several hundred have been affected by this, but most of them have families or small children, so they're trying to hold on to their jobs any way they can.

MAGNAY: At a news conference last week, a representative from Aeroflot's public council encouraged larger stewardesses to find another job or to lose weight like he had.

UNIDENTIFIED AEROFLOT PUBLIC COUNCIL REPRESENTATIVE (through translation): It didn't require any active exercise or expensive supplements or anything that would require spending a lot of money. I just corrected my meal plan. Now I weigh 80 kilograms. I don't understand why the requirement to be within this size range is such a mission impossible.

MAGNAY: Aeroflot says these men don't speak for the company. They also deny discrimination, but stand by their policies, saying cabin crew of a national flag carrier are the calling card of their country. Their deportment and how they serve passengers creates the first impression of and attitude towards Russia.

(on camera): Evgenia and her colleague plan to appeal, but this story with its suggestions of latent chauvinism widely covered in this country, and beyond, creates a nasty tailwind for one of Russia's proudest brands.

Diana Magnay, CNN, Moscow.


HOWELL: Diana, thank you for the report.

The U.S. president has signed 30 executive orders since taking office, covering everything from border security to abortion.

CHURCH: And now his critics are having fun, giving those orders a mock makeover.

Here's our Jeanne Moos.



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

TRUMP: Anybody want to watch me sign?

MOOS: -- and he's getting lots of practice.


TRUMP: We're very proud of this one. OK.


MOOS: He'll have signed more executive orders in his first 100 days than any president since World War II.

TRUMP: Doesn't get much bigger than that.

MOOS: Though he used to bash President Obama for doing it.

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

MOOS: Oh, yes, he can.

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

MOOS: But holding up an executive order --



MOOS: -- can leave the president holding the bag -- make that the FOX or the 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: -- that resulted in this.

"New York" magazine says an L.A. visual effects artist, who wants to remain anonymous, told the magazine the Twitter account wrote itself, when he saw the leader of the free world holding up paper.

(on camera): There's even a meme generator that lets you create your own executive orders.

(voice-over): 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 --


[02:55:14] MOOS: -- that order could keep on trucking who knows where.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --



MOOS: -- New York.



CHURCH: Thanks for spending this hour with us. I'm Rosemary Church.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. The news continues here on CNN right after the break.



[02:59:58] HOWELL: Live from CNN headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: I'm Rosemary Church. This is CNN NEWSROOM.