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Excitement Rising up in France; Back from the Dead; Agreements by Countries on Syria's Safe Zones; Provocative Tone. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired May 5, 2017 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN HOST: It is the final day of the French presidential campaign. We're live in Paris with a special preview of the showdown between these two candidates.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN HOST: Celebrations at the Trump White House after House republicans squeeze through a controversial health care bill, but the political battles are far from over.

HOWELL: Plus, several countries sign on to a deal that could help ease the suffering of some war weary Syrians. We'll have that story for you.

ALLEN: It's all ahead here coming up this hour. Welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Newsroom starts right now.

ALLEN: And thank you again for joining us. It's now 9 a.m. in France where the high stakes presidential race is coming down to the wire.

HOWELL: Friday. Friday is the final day of campaigning before Sunday's vote. Let's go live to the French capital. Our colleague Cyril Vanier is live there covering this upcoming election. Cyril, this election that the world will be watching.

ALLEN: Hi, Cyril.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN HOST: Absolutely, George, the world will be watching. Because they know it could have repercussions that could go far beyond the borders of France. It could move markets; it could have a very significant long lasting impact for the European Union.

Now, we mention it's 9 a.m. local time here in Paris. That means 15 hours left of campaigning. After that it officially ends at midnight in here in France. And voters have about a day to think it over.

On Saturday there's a media blackout in this country during that time. So coverage of politics will all but disappear from the screens. The idea being that it's supposed to be a moment of reflection when you can think about your choice carefully.

Then they cast their ballot on Sunday. The election as we said, the outcome of that election will be felt across Europe and around the world. On the one side is far right candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front. Now she wants France to close its borders and reclaim the sense of national identity outside of the E.U.

Here's part of a recent campaign speech. You'll hear her mention the (Inaudible) S-list that's the terror watch list here in Paris.


MARINE LE PEN, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): I have a program to fight against this place. I have concrete measures. Yes, I will close down radical mosques. I will expel with no hesitation those who preach hatred, who spread a deadly ideology. I will strip of their nationality those with dual nationality who are convicted of Jihadism and I will expel them as well as S level foreigners.


VANIER: Her rival is former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, he is a pro-business, pro-globalization, and pro-E.U. He wants France to stay in the European Union and remain an important player on the world stage.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): The people of France stand together and it will be my responsibility with all of you to bring about this profound change to reconcile our people, to reconcile each other, our territory, our social class and a shared project.


VANIER: Now Emmanuel Macron begins his final day of campaigning with a very unusual endorsement. It comes from former U.S. President Barack Obama. U.S. leaders verily weigh in foreign elections, but Mr. Obama says the French election is just too important to stay silent.

All right. And joining me now with her insights in this historic moment is French journalist Christine Ockrent. Christine, you've covered many elections, the polls predict a resounding victory for Emmanuel Macron to the tune of 60-40. Is there still, do you think, is there still a path to victory for Marine Le Pen?

CHRISTINE OCKRENT, FRENCH JOURNALIST: Seriously, I don't think so. There hasn't been for some time. Actually it's remarkable that she would manage to be on the second round. Her father managed to do that 15 years ago but with a much lower number of votes.

Marine Le pen really spoiled it all. She spoiled it all last Wednesday when there was the one and only TV debate between the two contenders and her tactics were so aggressive that, indeed, the whole process she had managed to do, you know, to destabilize the French far right, fell apart.

And so I think Macron has a good chance to show to people who are still undecided that he has the calm and poise to actually rule the country, which is absolutely unheard of because, again, Macron is 39 years old.

[03:05:10] If elected on Sunday, he would be the youngest president ever in this country.

VANIER: Christine, I'd like your opinion on something as a long-time executive here in French. Marine Le Pen says that Emmanuel Macron is and was and has been throughout the campaign supported by the media. It's also something I heard a bit in the street here in French. Do you feel that French media have been pro-Macron?

OCKRENT: Well, you know, that's what all candidates tend to say at some point. When they feel that their campaigning is not holding its promises Le Pen has had a formidable social media support, including from her Russian friends who actually distillated a few days ago rumors about Macron having a forbidden bank accounts in the West Indies.

So, Le Pen against the establishment, it's part of her story that, indeed, the media have been against her. Again, it's the routine. I think her propaganda machine has been very much up to the task. And again, don't forget she's credited at this stage with 40 percent of the vote, which is just enormous.

VANIER: Esteemed French journalist Christine Ockrent, thank you so much for coming on the show. We'll speak 24 hours from now during the media blackout in France. And you'll be telling us whether you think that's a good idea and whether that's still relevant in this day and age. We'll speak to you then. Thank you so much.


VANIER: And let me return to our Paris correspondent Melissa Bell -- thank you. So Melissa Bell, who's followed the entire French presidential campaign. She joins me for more on this. And Melissa, you're going to tell us about a fantastic piece of reporting. And you take us into the minds of voters of the far right. But first, if you allow me a moment of levity, tell us about Rene the Renaud.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rene the Renaud. OK. It was time to get away from Paris. We'll be seeing in recent election whether it was in the United Kingdom during the Brexit vote whether it was in the United States during the presidential election, there is a tendency when you're inside the cities of a country not to hear what's happening outside.


BELL: And often, especially in this time of populism it is easy to underestimate the anguish that is out there and it is going to teach the populist vote. So we thought what better way to get out into those parts of France that we don't necessarily reach as often as we like. Then a car (Inaudible). It's sort of iconic car here in France and

we've been crisscrossing the country to try and understand both the votes of Emmanuel Macron and the electorate of Marine Le Pen. This time we went off in a search in search of the far right's vote. Have a look.

Rene the Renaud is nearing at the end of her road. With France preparing to go to the polls we've taken one last drive to seek out the far right electorate. Down in Poitiers (Ph) we found Marine Le Pen's supporters worried about national identity. Her northern stronghold of voters are more worried about industrial decline and poverty but what of her support in France's cities?


BELL: In Francois in the suburbs of Paris Alain, Daniel, and Mikhail have all agreed to jump in and tell us why they support Marine Le Pen in her battle against the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can afford living in Paris, it means that you've gained from globalization. You are part of the happy few.

BELL: So what kind of a change would a Le Pen victory bring to France?


BELL: But what chances are there given Macron's substantial lead in the polls?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Human nature is such that it will in many occasions favor, you know, stability over change. But the situation we're in right is not sustainable.

So, either we go on this way with Macron, and then we die. Because this is what's going to happen, we are going to die as a country or we face the hardships.


BELL: They are an idea of just how Marine Le Pen supporters are feeling here in Poitiers (Ph) in the outskirts of Paris just ahead of the big day. And as you've seen they really believe that she can still do it.

For them, she represents the change that France needs and what they say is that even if the polls are right and Emmanuel Macron does win on Sunday, then Marine Le Pen will seem to be a revolution waiting to happen the next time France goes to the polls.

Now Cyril, you made a very good point. As we were listening to that that just a few years ago you would have struggled to find Marine Le Pen supporters, the people who are planning to go out and vote far right who are willing to speak to openly on camera.

And of course, that is one of the big shift that we've seen over the course of the last few years here in France, that effort by Marine Le Pen to achieve what her father hadn't, and that is to make the idea of the National Front acceptable, possible and nothing to be ashamed about.

And what they tell us all is that they used to get a lot of anger when they went out campaigning and those who have been on the party for a long time. Now they find that they can have conversations with people. They are not seeing the same level on the most. On the contrary they say, there is a huge level of anger out there. And they still believe as doing that report that on Sunday Marine Le Pen could defy the polls and make it to the presidency.

VANIER: All right. Melissa Bell, our CNN Paris correspondent. Thank you very much. We have by the way as you may have seen an unparalleled ability to drive and talk and even to drive without holding the wheel by the way. All right. Back to you, George, Natalie.

HOWELL: Gets us all nervous.

ALLEN: Yes, yes. She did a good job. We appreciate the English subtitles too in that story.

HOWELL: Excellent reporting and good driving as well, Melissa. And Cyril, thank you so much.

ALLEN: Very nice.

BELL: Thank you.

HOWELL: Still ahead on CNN Newsroom, emotions run high at talks aimed at bringing peace to Syria. Why opposition representatives stormed out in anger.

ALLEN: Plus, the war is far from over, but U.S. President Donald Trump wins an important battle on health care.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is -- make no mistake, this is a repeal and a replace of Obamacare, make no mistake about it.



[03:15:04] KATE RILEY, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: I'm Kate Riley with your CNN World Sport headlines.

Manchester United in Europa League action against Celta Vigo in Spain. It's their first leg of the last four. Jose Mourinho and his men looking to take a major step towards silverware this season. And it took 66 minutes for special free-kick from Marcus Rashford to break the deadlock for Man U. That's the young to second Europa League goal in the competition.

United take a huge advantage back to England.

On Wednesday LeBron James reached another milestone in his career. The Cavaliers superstar surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time playoff scoring list in Cleveland the 125 and 103 victory over Toronto which gave the Cavs of 2-0 series lead. LeBron 5,762 points put him second only to Michael Jordan.

LeBron has average over 33 points from the Cavs two victories.

And San Antonio Spurs may have evened the series against the Houston Rockets in a 121-96 win but they lost their point guard in the process. Also on Wednesday, the four-time NBA champion from France, Tony Parker landed awkwardly collapsing in the floor in pain.

An MRI confirmed the 34-year-old ruptured a tendon in his quad, he will require surgery and will miss the remainder of the playoffs.

And that's a look at all your world sport headlines. I'm Kate Riley.

ALLEN: Welcome back. U.S. President Donald Trump is claiming a big win on health care reform. House republicans joined him in the White House Rose Garden after they narrowly passed a bill to replace Obamacare.

HOWELL: Listen here. You've seen the vote there, but in the background you can hear the democrats singing good-bye to their republican colleagues in the House. They're convinced that voters will punish lawmakers who took away healthcare from millions of Americans in next year's mid-term elections. Debate on this bill was emotional.


JIM MCGOVERN, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Pathetic. That is the word to describe this process and this bill. If the American people could sue Congress for malpractice, my republican friends would be in deep trouble. You are taking away essential health care protections. You're allowing insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.

You're supporting a bill that will throw 24 million people off of their health care and cut Medicaid by $880 billion to give a trillion dollar tax break to the wealthiest people in this country world. What is wrong with you guys?

LUKE MESSER, (R) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: We have to remember that Obamacare made things worse for millions of Americans. And that's where the national anger has come from. I've heard from countless Hoosiers who tell me the story of their premiums going from $500 a month to $1500 a month with deductibles that are through the roof 10,000 plus a month. They have to spend $30,000 out of their pocket before they even get to their insurance. And for middle class families that means they have no meaningful insurance at all. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Well, the bill now goes to the Senate where major changes are expected.

HOWELL: Still, President Trump is predicting victory there as well, as CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump savoring a victory tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bill has passed.

ZELENY: The first major legislative victory of his young presidency.


TRUMP: Make no mistake, this is a repeal and a replace of Obamacare. Make no mistake about it. Make no mistake.


And I think most importantly, yes, premiums will be coming down. Yes, deductibles will be coming down.


ZELENY: The president taking an impromptu victory laugh in the Rose Garden surrounded by House republicans who narrowly passed the plan to remake America's health care system. A new era of confidence for the president and new promises to voters.


TRUMP: As far as I'm concerned, your premiums, they're going to start to come down. We're going to get this passed through the Senate. I feel so confident.


ZELENY: Presidential promises on health care can be hard to keep. Just ask President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor under the reform proposals that we put forth. If you like your private health insurance plan, you can keep it.


ZELENY: Under his watch democrats lost control over the House and Senate largely over health care. The healthcare debate now a mere image from nearly eight years ago with republicans trying to make good on one of their biggest campaign pledges. The question ultimately facing voters, is Trump care better than Obamacare?


TRUMP: We suffered with Obamacare. I went through two years of campaigning and I'm telling you, no matter where I went, people were suffering so badly with the ravages of Obamacare.



[03:20:05] ZELENY: The president basking in the moment. Vindication from failing to pass the bill more than a month earlier. He delayed a trip to New York for few hours to meet with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.


TRUMP: How am I doing? Am I doing OK? I'm president. Hey, I'm president. Can you believe it, right? I don't know. I thought you needed a little bit more time, they always tell me, more time, but we didn't.


ZELENY: Jeff Zeleny, CNN, New York.

HOWELL: Jeff Zeleny, thank you. Now some from the former Obama administration are lamenting the end of the Affordable Care Act. Former Vice President Joe Biden called it, quote, "a day of shame in Congress."

ALLEN: Hillary Clinton urged Americans to fight back on behalf of the millions of Americans whom she says will be hurt by the bill. I'm sure Americans right now don't know what to think.

HOWELL: Well, you know, many of the politicians they haven't read the bill yet.

ALLEN: Well, that's important to say. And House democratic leader Nancy Pelosi blasted republicans for passing the reforms without any cost or coverage analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.


NANCY PELOSI, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES MINORITY LEADER: The CBO score from the original Trump care bill was devastating enough. Forcing a vote without an updated CBO, score shows that the republicans are terrified, they're terrified of the facts of what that CBO report would say. They're afraid of the truth of what it means to American people, and people are understanding what this means to them.


ALLEN: Well, now, eventually one republican defending his vote is New Jersey Congressman Tom MacArthur. He's come up with a key amendment that swayed the votes of a number of his colleagues.

HOWELL: That's right. He spoke to our colleague Dana Bash at the Capitol. Listen.


TOM MACARTHUR, (R) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: I can't allow political considerations to determine what I think is right to do, and there's been a lot of misinformation about this bill. I am doing just the opposite of what they claim. I'm trying to protect people that are vulnerable.

I have lived through that personally and I know what it's like to struggle with medical bills. I lost my oldest daughter and we had tons of medical bills. And I watched my father for my whole life paying off medical bills for my mother who died when I was 4 because he had no insurance. That has been what's motivated me.

And if I have a target on my back, so be it. This isn't about politics, it's about people. And despite all the noise and all the millions of dollars spent confusing people, the reality is they're going to lose their insurance if we don't save this crumbling system and that's what this is about for me.


HOWELL: You know, and just going off that point, you know, left, right or center, this is a story that has a lot of personal stories with it when it comes to healthcare.

ALLEN: absolutely.

HOWELL: A very important legislation that's being considered here. The president says that he's confident this bill will pass the Senate. But it could be a fierce battle. Senators are working under special budget rules which require only 51 votes instead of the usual 60.

ALLEN: They say they will wait for the Congressional Budget Office to weigh in on the plan's cost and impact on the uninsured. That could take weeks.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, "A bill finalized yesterday has not been scored, amendment is not allowed and three fours final debate should be viewed with caution."

HOWELL: All right. I also want to tell you about new information we're learning about a controversial U.S. air strike in northern Syria. A U.S. defense officials now say that a March 16th air attack targeting Al Qaeda, that it did, indeed, hit a building that was part of a, quote, "mosque complex."

ALLEN: The U.S. originally rejected reports that a mosque was hit and there were civilian casualties. Dozens of people were killed.

Well, let's turn now though to an encouraging development in the effort to end Syrian conflict. Russia, Turkey, and Iran have signed on to a plan to create de-escalation zones in Syria. The blueprint for security zones was initiated by Russia.

For now about it let's turn to Arwa Damon. She is live in Istanbul for us. That's the first time I've heard of anything like this in all the years I've been talking about this and you've been reporting on it, Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, perhaps to a certain degree because it is talking about specific de-escalation zones that would be located in Idlib province and then small parts of Homs province as well out of Damascus and then on the southern part of the country.

But at this stage I would not want to read too much into this because it really is just a piece of paper. We still don't know the exact details on how it is going to be implemented who is going to be patrolling these various de facto borders of these de-escalation zones and exactly what that is going to mean for the future of Syria.

[03:24:54] One of the many reasons why the opposition ended up refusing not to sign on to this deal was not just because of the participation of Iran who they say its hands are too drenched in blood given the various different acts of violent they say were carried by the Iranian militias on Iran's practice on the ground in Syria.

But also because they don't necessarily trust Russia's either desire or capability to actually implement the de-escalation zone but also because they say that Syria itself should not be partitioned.

Now the regime at this stage has hypothetically speaking said that it would to a certain degree sign on to this, but they have not 100 percent put into paper at this stage. So, a lot of people are really very weary at this stage about what this is going to mean and exactly what kind of a bargain to place behind closed doors to get Russia, Iran, and Turkey to actually sign on to this.

ALLEN: We'll wait and hear more about it. Thank you so much, Arwa Damon for us live there. Thank you.

HOWELL: Still ahead here on CNN Newsroom, we return live to France for more on that country's presidential race.

ALLEN: Plus, Mr. Trump takes another shot at news media accusing reporters of exaggerating a tense phone call he had with Australia's leader. We'll tell you more about that.


HOWELL: A warm welcome back to our viewers right around the world. You're watching CNN Newsroom. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. Let's update you on our top storied this hour.

Donald Trump is celebrating his first breakthrough in the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare. An amended version of Trump's American Health Care Act narrowly passed the House. It's on its way to the Senate where it is expected to undergo significant changes.

[03:30:00] HOWELL: Russia, Turkey and Iran have signed on to a new plan to create de-escalation zones in Syria. The blueprint for security zones in areas under rebel control was put forth by Russia. The preliminary agreement was signed at a cease-fire talk taking place in Kazakhstan. Syria supports the proposal. The opposition says it rejects any plan to divide the country.

ALLEN: China's first domestically built jetliner has taken its maiden flight. That puts the country in an exclusive club with only seven other nations. The state-run company that built the airplane has even bigger plans challenging the dominance of Boeing and airbus.

VANIER: Hi, everyone. It's time to recap the news that we're following here in France for you. It's the final day of campaigning. Voters choose their next president on Sunday and their choice is between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron.

At stake, France's role in the E.U., and indeed, in the world. Le Pen of the far right National Front wants to exit the European Union and NATO. She is a protectionist she wants to strict fully controls French borders.

Macron on the other hand is a self-proclaimed centrist. He didn't have the backing of a major political party so he formed his own. He's leading in the polls to the tune of 60-40. And he has the endorsement of former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Le Pen, in contrast, have been praised by U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So for more on all of this, I'm joined by bel -- in Belgium by Sophie Rauszer. She is an adviser to the former presidential candidate Jean- Luc Melenchon. He was the far left candidate.

Now why are we talking about a candidate who's no longer in the race? Well, simply put, he scored 20 percent in the first round and who his supporters ultimately vote for in the second round will go a long way to swinging the election. So Sophie, who are you voting for?

SOPHIE RAUSZER, FORMER ADVISER TO JEAN-LUC MELENCHON: Well, who I am voting for is a best personal matter, but it might make the difference, you are right, but even beyond the presidential election what matters now is also the legislative election, the parliamentary election that we will have.

Because it will be very hard for Mr. Macron to win and to be able to govern, you know, after he's elected. Then would come the question of with whom will he be able to govern? With whom will he be able to have a majority in the national assembly to pass have, to pass this law on.

And so what we are saying to our voters, you know, that maybe we represent more than seven million voters is that what matters now is already the next fight. What we have seen in the last, the final debate this Wednesday...


VANIER: Sophie, can I interrupt you for a second.


VANIER: Sophie, you are conspicuously not answering my question. And you know that it matters. Who are Mr. Melenchon's voters are going to vote for. The reason it matters is because very controversially Mr. Melenchon despite the fact that he loathes the far right did not throw his support behind Mr. Macron. Do you agree with that strategy?

RAUSZER: Yes, because what we are seeing now is an extreme right and an extreme market that are fueling each other, you know? And that last debate we've seen Wednesday was clearly a Trumpization with a very -- a Trumpization of the political life in France with a very aggressive TV show but no one offering a clear vision of what the country, what France could look like.

So yes, citizens are grown up. They will decide for themselves what is for sure is that for us Francois (Inaudible) and Jean-Luc Melenchon our fight has been always against Marine Le Pen and this kind of extreme right, very extreme right, deeply rooted and very fascist origin.

So we say clearly there's no vote must go to Marine Le Pen. No, absolutely no vote. But people will decide for themselves what they want to do. Abstain or vote for Macron. That is their choice. But what matters also is Francois Fillon, you know you have also another right wing candidate. While his voters, one-third of his voters will go to Marine Le Pen.

VANIER: Right. But for the moment I'm not talking to a representative or policy adviser of Francois Fillon. I'm talking to a policy adviser of Jean-Luc Melenchon.

[03:34:55] For as much as you dislike the far right, you are -- you just can't bring yourself to call on your supporters to vote for Mr. Macron? So it looks like, you are actually willing to take a slight chance of increasing Marine Le Pen's score. That's how I read it.

RAUSZER: I understand seeing from abroad how difficult it can be. But after this on TV show it's pretty clear that Macron...


VANIER: I'm not looking at it from abroad, I'm looking at it from Paris City center.

RAUSZER: OK. But it's pretty clear that Macron will win. The question is how much -- how much big score? How much legitimacy we will get in this election, this is the challenge currently.

VANIER: Sophie Rauszer, thank you so much for coming on the show. It's been a pleasure speaking to you. All right. And with that, I'm going to toss it back to George and Natalie in Atlanta to the rest of your world news. Thank you very much. HOWELL: And Cyril Vanier, again, has been covering French politics.

He's from France. It's good to have him with CNN, but again, reporting there, live from the city center in Paris with this very important election. Cyril, thank you.

ALLEN: Thanks, Cyril.

U.S. President Donald Trump was in New York City for the first time since he took office. Anti-Trump protestors lined up Thursday to greet the president outside a aircraft carrier where he attended a gala honoring the military.

HOWELL: Mr. Trump was also in New York to meet with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. He used that occasion to downplay media reports of a testy phone call between the two in January as, quote, "a big exaggeration."

Let's go live to CNN's Anna Coren following this story live for us in Hong Kong at this hour. It's good to have you with us, Anna. So, the president saying that this is all over blown, an exaggeration as he put it. But he admitted in the same sentence that it was a testy conversation.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, George, no doubt that it was a testy conversation that they had back in January when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wanted Donald Trump to honor the agreement that Australia had made with the former administration under President Barack Obama for the United States to take 1250 refugees.

If you recall Donald Trump got off the phone saying that that was one of the worst phone calls he had with a foreign leader. He then went on to say that the deal that had been struck between America and Australia was dumb deal.

And there was real concern, George, that perhaps this was going to have a huge impact on that strong alliance between Australia and the United States which as we know dates back almost 100 years. They fought side by side certainly in the Second World War, that was a war that cemented that strong bond between the two countries and every conflict since.

And that is why they were meeting in New York to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea which was a war in which America came to Australia's aide to stop the invasion of the Japanese.

But boys laid this play down that testy phone call. And whilst Donald Trump made references to it actually being testy when there was that buyout between the two leaders. They certainly play that down. Why don't we have a listen to what they had to say?


MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: We had a good telephone call. We had a great cool.

TRUMP: You guys exaggerated that call. TURNBULL: Yes.

TRUMP: That was a big exaggeration. We had a great call. I mean, we're not babies and we had a great call, right?

TURNBULL: Yes, in part.

TRUMP: We had a very, very good call. That was a little bit of fake news. That's it. It's exactly right.

TURNBULL: Exactly right.


COREN: Yes, perhaps a little bit of embroilment going on there. But certainly for the cameras it was all smiles and a great deal of respect, not just for each other but also for that bond that America and Australia shares. Donald Trump later went on to say that Americans have no better friends than the Australians and that the ties between the countries was sealed with the blood of our fathers and grandfathers, George.

HOWELL: U.S. president saying that that call was exaggerated, at the same time saying that it was testy. Anna, also given the relationship how this started, fair to say this was a very important face-to-face meeting but there was some criticism that the prime minister was kept waiting while Mr. Trump celebrated his legislative victory in D.C.

COREN: Yes, that's absolutely right. The bilateral meeting was delayed by three hours. It was meant to take place at a hotel in Washington. Instead it was pushed out to that event on the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier on the Hudson River which is where that gala took place.

Of course, the Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten and the Australian press making a big song and dance about the fact that the prime minister was kept waiting. But I think it's fair to say that Donald Trump was in Washington, he was held up in Washington celebrating his legislative win in an attempt to repeal Obamacare.

[03:40:02] And I think there would be something to complain about if Trump had snubbed Turnbull altogether but he didn't. He honored that bilateral meeting. They held that. And then they attended that gala together, George.

HOWELL: Anna Coren, live for us in Hong Kong, we appreciate the reporting. We'll stay in touch with you.

ALLEN: And ahead here, some fracturing in the alliance between North Korea and China. How that tension is bubbling to the surface in state media.


HOWELL: Welcome back. One of Afghanistan's most notorious war lords is in Kabul. After nearly two decades in exile. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his entourage were greeted at a ceremony Thursday at the presidential palace. His return comes eight months after the government signed a peace deal of representatives of the insurgent faction that he leads. His followers are accused of committing atrocities against Afghan civilians during the 1990 Civil War.

There are some new cracks in the forming alliance between China and North Korea. On Thursday, North Korea warned its strongest and some say only ally that it's not just crossing but violently stomping on a red line in the country's relationship.

ALLEN: State media also reported that Pyongyang values its nuclear program more than its friendship with China.

Matt Rivers is live for us in the Chinese capital with more about China's reaction to this story. Matt, hello there.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Natalie and George. Yes, China really didn't take the bait officially. The ministry of foreign affairs press conference a spokesperson really just completely ignored those harsh words that you just read that appeared in North Korean state media.

But we did see an editorial that appeared in the Global Times, a state sanctioned tabloid newspaper here in which that they call that editorial nothing more than a hyper aggressive piece completely filled with nationalistic passions.

[03:45:07] It really is some tit-for-tat really in the state media of both countries. But really this is just the latest example of some tense times between China and North Korea. There's no love lost there at the moment. China is not happy with the continued weapons development program. And you're continuing to see that out and escalate in state media.

ALLEN: And on another story in the region, Matt...

RIVERS: She wants to get along with China and that has led to a major change for U.S. policy in the South China Sea for now. During the Obama administration the U.S. navy occasionally sailed within 12 nautical miles of Chinese made artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The so-called freedom of navigation operations were designed to challenge the Chinese territorial claims as illegitimate. Each operation prompted an angry response from Beijing which argues these islands are legal.

In the last 18 months there were three such operations all under President Obama. A senior U.S. defense official told CNN the military requested to conduct another after President Trump took office but the request was denied as first reported by the New York Times.

The official said several reasons were behind the lack of action including an effort inside the Pentagon to turn down the temperature of operations that could be viewed as antagonizing China or North Korea. That official also said there will be a broader review of all freedom of navigation exercises.

The change in policy is a stark departure for the administration but not the first such about face. During his confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson even proposed preventing the Chinese from accessing the artificial islands.


REX TILLERSON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: In my view, building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia's taking of Crimea.


RIVERS: The change in policy is a part of a number of things that President Trump promised to do with regards to China but hasn't so far. He has backed off on threats over things like currency manipulation, tariffs on Chinese imports and on re-evaluating the one- China policy. It's a new approach that appears to center on the biggest joint issue of them all, North Korea.


TRUMP: We have a very big problem in North Korea. And I said, I really think that China is going to try very hard and has already started.


RIVERS: The president wants to prod China to use its economic influence to force Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program. The administration seems to believe that provoking the Chinese on issues like South China Sea island building or perceive on fair trade practices might make that harder.

So for now, it looks like they're on the back burner while the Chinese continue to militarize e those artificial islands and increase their strategic capabilities far beyond its shores. As of now the United States won't challenge them.

And, Natalie, so what you're seeing there is just a continuation of -- or, rather, a lack of a continuation of those Obama administration policies. But we should note that the Trump administration does appear according to another U.S. defense official that talk to CNN to just be taking an overall broader review of these freedom of navigation operations.

And that official does expect them to resume at some point, but the fact remains that as of now the U.S. is not challenging China when it comes to those artificial islands.

ALLEN: All right. We thank you for your reporting, Matt Rivers for us. Thanks.

HOWELL: The TV comedy Veep is supposed to make you laugh, it's not supposed to make you choke. A weird turn of events in Australia as newsroom continues.


DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Several days of relentless rain this past week have left scenes like this across much of the Central United States. This is coming out of the St. Louis region, specifically Fenton, Missouri. Look at the flooding blanketing this region and it's all thanks to a slow moving area of low pressure that is starting to press eastward, but just because the rain is exiting Missouri and the central U.S. doesn't mean that the flood threat doesn't remain.

We still have over flooding rivers and banks across this region. So, definitely flood threat going forward over the next 24 to 48 hours.

Look along the East Coast, we have a wet day starting the weekend off on a wet note for places like D.C., New York, into Boston. We're anticipating anywhere between 25 to 75 millimeters of rainfall over the next day and a half.

Talking about temperatures, we are cooling things down dramatically. Look at Atlanta, 12 degrees. Seventeen for New York, 16 for Chicago. But really warming up across the inner mountain west. Look at the heat building across that region.

There's a cold shot of air for the East Coast and even cooling down along the West Coast as well. Look at the daytime highs through the course of the weekend. We do start to rebound into Atlanta and Charlotte staying rather mild into the nation's capital. Check this out, more flooding into Haiti as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obi-wan never told you what happened to your father.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told me enough. He told me you killed him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even more frightening than that. I am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark Hamill, oh, my God. No! What?


ALLEN: That's a good one. You've got to give it to Mark Hamill. You know it's full of pranks on "Star Wars" fans, isn't that "Star Wars." fan. May 4th is the unofficial holiday known as "Star Wars" day.

HOWELL: May the 4th be with you. As part of the charity force change Hamill channeled both his own character Luke Skywalker and his inner Darth Vader to surprise fans. They thought they were filming a video to celebrate "Star Wars" 40th anniversary. Hamill either snuck off on them more and wore a disguise to act alongside and surprised fan.

ALLEN: And brought them to tears.


ALLEN: That's awesome.

All right. Well, the U.S. political comedy Veep has earned quite a few Emmys during its six seasons on HBO.

HOWELL: But now it has even a better prize to add to the trophy case. Being so funny, well, it could be dangerous.

Jeanne Moos has the story for us.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Veep is a political comedy that's supposed to leave you in stitches, but not these stitches. An Australian member of parliament, Graham Perrett was at home watching the show.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened to your lip?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You should put her down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my daughter, ma'am.


MOOS: Soon it was Perrett being asked what happened to your cheek bone. It all started with a little takeout sushi in front of the TV. Perreet told BBC radio.


GRAHAM PERRETT, AUSTRALIAN MP: I just laughed at the wrong time and I think some rice like went down my airway and I started coughing and choking and laughing at the same time.


MOOS: The sushi got stuck while Perrett was laughing at this scene.






MOOS: A TV anchor discovers a congressman shaving his head to say he had cancer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He recently had a closed shave with cancer.


MOOS: In the feat of choking and coughing, Perrett stumbled to the kitchen.


PERRETT: I think I hit the wall and then hit the kitchen island like a granite top.


MOOS: For a second he was knocked out. Next thing he knew his wife was there. She came running thinking she might have to do the Heimlich.


PERRETT: Had blood everywhere.


MOOS: They ended up going to the emergency room where Perrett got three stitches. Reminds us of the time President George W. Bush choked on a pretzel while watching football and fainted. Check out the bruise.


[03:55:05] GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Always listen to your mother who told me chew your pretzels before you swallow.


MOOS: And swallow your sushi before laughing. The star of Veep Julia Louis-Dreyfus said Perrett exchanged tweets. He praise the show was pure gold and called her your highness. "For God's sake, be careful," she replied. When President Bush choked on his pretzel he woke up to barney and spot while Perrett woke up to his wife, at least she didn't give him the Veep treatment.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Be careful because that cabinet is valuable.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

ALLEN: Well, he deserved to go watch the show in person I think.

HOWELL: There you have it.

ALLEN: He's a fan.

A quick programming note for you. Be sure to join us later today for our new show CNN Talk with Max Foster. It features 30 minutes of topical debate with some of the U.K.'s sharpest talkers.

HOWELL: You could get involve too. It will be streamed live on CNN Talk premiers Friday at noon (AUDIO GAP) in the U.K.

ALLEN: And Max Foster the sharp talk (AUDIO GAP).

HOWELL: It will be a good show. I'm looking forward to it.

ALLEN: Thanks for watching CNN Newsroom.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. I have more news right after the break. Stay with us.